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Introduction:

harry potter
Chapter 37: Creating New Bonds

A/N: Read, Review, and Enjoy!



Draco made sure to keep tight control over himself as he held his arm against Crabbe’s throat while pinning the boy to the wall. It was difficult but he knew why they were there and forced himself to be stronger than his outrage. "What do you mean you aren’t here for that?" Crabbe sputtered. Apparently he had been expecting retribution… and he would get it in good time. Draco hated this kid and everything that he represented in himself but rather than focus on those thoughts, he reveled in the pleasure at the whimpering fear Crabbe was unable to hide.

To counter that fear, he was sure to keep his voice strong and menacing. "I mean that you have other sins to answer for first… apparently ones that you were carrying out in my name."

"I don’t know what you’re talking about!" Crabbe wheezed out as Draco pushed a little harder on his throat. "I’m sorry okay! It was Tristan’s idea to go after you, him and Troy! I swear, Goyle and I didn’t want to! Not really anyway…"

"I already said this wasn’t about that!" He shouted. He wanted his former friend to know that this wasn’t revenge… and when it was, he would know it. His anger and frustration overwhelmed him and he grabbed Crabbe by his robes and slammed him against the wall, again and again.

"Draco!" He heard Ginny’s voice break through the cloud of fury, felt her hand roughly grab his shoulder as she tried to pull him back and force her way between the two boys. He’d entirely forgotten she was even there, but the moment he realized Draco felt the switch inside his head flip off as he instantly sent the wolf away… at least he was getting better at controlling it and felt a moment of pride. Until he looked at her and saw the brief flash of fear in her eyes, fear of him- she’d tried to hide it but hadn’t been quick enough.

He let go of Crabbe and watched as the boy slumped down to the floor. A small splatter of blood painted the spot on the wall where he’d stood. "Sorry." Draco said quietly.

"It’s fine. We just need to keep him conscious long enough to be able to talk to him. After we get what we need you can bash him into as many walls as you like I suppose… though I don’t think I’ll stay to watch it." She replied with a faint smile.

"I said I was sorry." Crabbe burbled out.

"No one cares." Ginny told him.

"Come on, I’m really hurt here." He pleaded.

"No one cares about that either." Draco snapped.

"You should. I think you cracked my skull open!"

"Oh you’re such a big baby." Ginny answered with a frustrated sigh. She knelt down to check on Crabbe who was clutching his head and trying not to cry in front of them. She roughly shoved his hands away so she could take a look.

"Hey watch it will you!" He yelled, clutching his previously broken and still bandaged hand.

"You watch it." Draco warned him. Apparently his tone was enough to silence the other boy as Ginny none too gingerly checked his injury. Her fingers came away bloody and she wiped them on Crabbe’s robes in disgust before rising to her feet.

"He’s fine, definitely no skull showing." She grinned uncomfortably. It seemed that as hardened as Ginny wanted to believe she’d become, this sort of thing made it difficult for her to hide who she really was. Draco began to feel guilty for bringing her down here with him, this was really the sort of thing he should have done alone… or possibly with Potter. At the same time, he wasn’t sure he would have the control over himself that he did had she not been there… in the few moments he’d forgotten her presence he’d already hurt Crabbe more than he’d intended. This was one more situation showing him what an odd pair they made, and one more reason for him to fear she’ll see how strangely mismatched they were.

"What do you want from me already?" Crabbe asked quietly as he tried to regain his composure and sense of authority. The quiver in his voice betrayed his efforts.

"We want to know what you know about Carter James." Ginny demanded.

He looked up at them in confusion. "Who?"

"Ravenclaw prefect, third year, ended up blind." Draco put it in simple terms that Crabbe would understand- the only reason he’d know Carter by name was if the kid had been targeted and Draco doubted that was the case.

"I don’t know who you’re talking about." He claimed again. But this time recognition flickered in his eyes and Draco knew he was lying.

"I think you do." He countered. "And it’s in your best interest to just tell us as quickly as possible everything you know about what happened to him and why his brother thinks I’m responsible."

"Oh come on Draco, we didn’t blame you for it! Everyone just always assumed you were involved in everything, we just didn’t set ‘em straight. It’s not like you got in trouble, they could never prove anything anyway."

"What couldn’t they prove? What happened?" Ginny asked, her irritation rising.

"Nothing. It wasn’t a big deal or anything. That guy shouldn’t have been there anyway, prefect or no prefect." Crabbe continued to stall. It was obvious he didn’t want to admit what he had been up to all those years ago making Draco all the more curious to know everything… and more frustrated with the lack of forthcoming information.

"Alright…" He reached down and again picked up the other boy by his robes before once more pinning him against the wall. "…I said we wanted answers quickly, so let’s get to the point."

"Okay, okay!" Crabbe tried to pull free but Draco held steady and remained unmovable. "I’ll tell you everything! Just get off me!"

"Fine." Draco released him, positioning himself in front of the exit in case Crabbe tried to flee again. But all the fight seemed to have left the other boy as he sank to the floor again, settling heavily before starting his story.

"It’s not like we were going behind your back then, not like you did to us last year." He started off, throwing in the jab to maintain a sense of rebellion. Draco let him have it, remaining silent so Crabbe would continue. "Me and Goyle, we were actually trying to help you but it went so wrong we worried you’d get mad, and since nothing ever came of it we never said anything. Remember your father told you to find out everything you could about Professor Lupin that year, he wanted you to try and find out why he was there and if he was helping Sirius Black. You told us Lucius and the others wanted to get him out of the way quickly and sent you to find out how."

"I remember." Draco answered stiffly. In light of everything he’d been through with Lupin since that time in his third year, he felt horribly guilty to be reminded of how he’d once spied on the man, trying to learn all his secrets. Then he was either supposed to kill Lupin himself or let him be destroyed by the then still underground Death Eaters. It was something none of the others had known and he glanced at Ginny to see what her reaction would be. But she seemed unfazed, relieved more than anything else… as if she’d expected something worse.

"Well, we found him walking off into the woods after dinner and decided to help. It was the day that bird thing bit you in class and you were still in the infirmary making like it was worse than it was so they’d fire that dumb giant."

"That giant is Hagrid." Ginny angrily interrupted. "And the bird thing is a hippogriff and his name is Buckbeak. And had you paid attention in Hagrid’s class you may have actually learned something."

"You weren’t even there." Crabbe snapped.

"Apparently I wasn’t either so why don’t you continue telling us both what happened." Draco demanded.

Crabbe sighed, now more angry than scared, though he still wasn’t brave enough to take a stand against them. With nothing else to do, he went on. "Like I said, it was after dinner and we saw Lupin heading out of the castle and towards the woods so we followed him. We didn’t know that prefect saw us and we certainly didn’t know he followed us. Lupin disappeared into the trees but before we could follow, the kid stopped us. He thought you were out there somewhere with us, kept asking where you were and why we were out of the school after curfew. We didn’t see Troy behind him until it was too late."

"Troy? Troy Mason?" Draco was confused. Until this year after teaming up with Tristan, Troy had always been on the quiet side… easily overlooked and often unnoticed by himself and the other more infamous and troublesome Slytherins.

"Yeah, we were just as surprised." Crabbe muttered. "We didn’t know he’d been following us. Anyway, he’s the one who cursed that kid. I think he was trying to stun him and use Obliviate at the same time and it came out wrong. That prefect dropped to the ground, he was screaming, bleeding from his eyes, covered in boils and coughing up blood. We didn’t know what to do, so we all ran knowing Filch or someone would find him. Of course we were hoping he’d die before someone came along."

"I’m sure you were." Ginny scoffed.

He ignored her and went on. "I guess they did find him and all he could remember was that he was outside looking for you Draco… but since Dumbledore and the other professors knew you had been in the infirmary at the time they couldn’t prove you had anything to do with it."

"But why would Troy do that? Why was he out there?" Draco mused.

Crabbe shrugged. "Afterward he came up to me and Goyle, tried to blackmail us to let him hang out with us… we beat him up for trying it and told him that if he didn’t keep his mouth shut we’d shut it for him permanently."

"Why did he want to hang around you two?"

"It wasn’t us, it was you. He wanted an in with you. He also tried to date Pansy last year while you were locked away in Dumbledore’s office but she wanted nothing to do with him of course."

Draco had no idea that Troy had been looking for power for so long- he must feel like he struck gold now that he had Tristan to team up with. "How come I never knew any of this? Why wouldn’t you have told me what Troy was trying to do?"

"We figured we scared him off and after finding out Dumbledore was going to keep the incident quiet we decided it would be better for us if you didn’t know. We didn’t want you to get mad at us and try to curse us again!"

"Again?" Ginny turned to him with her eyebrow raised.

But it was Crabbe who continued to spill all their secrets. "Yeah, second year we found out that Potter came across that stupid diary that Draco said Lucius wanted you to have, so we were planning on how to steal it and give it back to you… but then Draco found out. He used the Cruciatus Curse on us for trying to do something without him and then told us to just let Potter keep it, that it was better if it killed him instead of you. He said he was worried that if we tried to fix things we’d only make it worse. But then I guess you stole it back yourself." He was looking only at her as he recounted some of the horrible things Draco used to be capable of… that he still could be capable of.

Draco recalled the incident instantly. At the time he’d convinced himself that he’d only been upset that Crabbe and Goyle had tried to make a move without his orders, that he was merely keeping them in line by using an unforgivable on them. Of course now all these years later he knew better… it was that long ago that he’d developed a soft spot for Ginny. They were confusing and turbulent memories and he didn’t want to be reminded of them. "You’re getting off topic, we all know what happened with the damn diary. What I want to know is what Troy was up to then and what he’s up to now."

"I thought you wanted to know about that Carter kid." Crabbe shot back.

Standing tall and taking a few steps toward him, Draco made himself as menacing as possible. "You’re going to tell us everything we want to know or you’ll wind up worse off than ‘that Carter kid’."

"I don’t know! Okay?! I don’t know what he wanted back then other than to try and be part of your group and I don’t know what he and Tristan are up to now! They’re always off by themselves talking and planning. But they don’t come to us until they know exactly what they want us to do! Like on Friday, we were already outside when Troy came up to us and said we were going to follow you. We didn’t know what they wanted us to do until right before we found you!"

Draco and Ginny shared a worried look. If that was true then either Tristan or Troy knew about Luna’s powers and how to get around them… by putting off any decision making until the last possible moment. Of course it wasn’t a sure-fire way to ensure Luna wouldn’t receive a vision, but it seemed to at least hold them off.

"Can I go now?" Crabbe asked indignantly as he struggled to his feet, though he didn’t make a move to try and get past them.

"Until I think you’ll be useful again." Draco relented, figuring if Crabbe knew more about Tristan and Troy, it may be something only Potter and Luna could get out of him with their mind powers… he knew the other boy was scared of him and that’s why he’d disclosed as much as he had. Apparently he was more scared of Tristan and at this point, Draco couldn’t blame him.

"Just one more thing." Ginny quickly stepped in, pulling her wand out and waving it in Crabbe’s face. "Obliviate!" Draco watched as Crabbe fell back against the wall sliding back down to the floor before turning to her with a questioning grin. "Well, we couldn’t have him run off and tell everyone what happened, and we certainly don’t want him letting Tristan or Troy know that we’re asking about them." She replied as she grinned back at him.

Leaving Crabbe where he was, they quickly made their way back upstairs and out into the chilly afternoon. Lunch was over and many students were out enjoying their last hours of Sunday freedom before classes resumed in the morning. Making their way far past everyone, they settled themselves under one of the giant trees to discuss what they’d just learned. But as he listened to Ginny put it all together, he couldn’t help but focus on anything else except those few moments when she’d been scared of him. "So I’ll let Colton know before class tomorrow and then he’ll have no choice but to believe you didn’t do it." She concluded at last.

"I could care less what he thinks. As long as he leaves me the hell alone." He answered moodily.

"What’s your problem? I would’ve thought you’d be happy to know that for once they can’t blame you for something."

He shook his head. "Can’t they? If I wasn’t supposed to be spying on and trying to get rid of Lupin, those two morons wouldn’t have tried to follow him and Carter wouldn’t have had to come out to catch them doing something wrong."

"And if we all hadn’t gone to Knockturn Alley, Percy wouldn’t have had the chance to force Harry away and we wouldn’t have had to chase after him and George wouldn’t have died." She answered wryly. "We all make choices Draco and each one has a cause and effect. There’s nothing we can do now except try to make the right decisions."

Draco looked down at his hands where he saw that he still had a smear of Crabbe’s blood on his thumb. "It’s easier for you… you’ve had more practice making the right decisions… and I’m really sorry."

"For what?" She asked.

"For getting so mad back there and losing it a bit. It’s just that everything was so built up inside me- I was so mad for what happened Friday and then he was there in front of me and it was like he represented everything I hated in myself. And then you were there and I saw how scared you were of me and I felt horrible…"

"Oh Draco, you are just so silly sometimes." Ginny said with a smile as she gently took his hand and used her robes to clean off the blood, that last trace of the violence he’d inflicted. "I wasn’t scared of you, I was scared for you." She admitted at last.

He was taken aback, unsure whether he believed her. "What do you mean?"

"You think just because you haven’t talked to me about it that I don’t know how much what happened Friday is bothering you? From the moment you told me we were going to talk to Crabbe I was scared for you, that you’d let everything you were keeping cooped up inside explode out of you and make you do something you’d regret. We both know all about how bad that can be. So no, I wasn’t scared of you back there… never that, I promise."

"Don’t make promises you might not be able to keep." He warned. There was a part of him that could never let go, that would never let him rest until he felt he’d gotten even with Tristan, Troy and the others.

"Oh, but I can. It’s not like I was ever scared of you before." She teased.

"That’s because there was a lot I was a part of that you never saw, that you never knew about. You think letting you continue to use that diary was the worst? Or that I was only sent to spy on Lupin? They knew he was a werewolf, everyone from the first war knew and they sent me in prepared. I was supposed to find out if he was helping Sirius Black and then I was supposed to kill him. They gave me Lycosin, but then Potter, Granger and your brother got their hands on that time turner and mixed up the whole plan."

"Lycosin… that’s the poison created specifically to kill werewolves." She said as she recalled some long ago lesson. "But it was supposedly outlawed, put on the list of banned potions and poisons."

"Yeah, well so was Bickeross, Psychohemia and several other potions they were able to get their hands on. I was told back then that Snape had brewed the Lycosin, but knowing what I know now, I wonder if it would have even worked."

"With Snape, who knows. He and Lupin go way back and have a really bad history between them… though I suppose it was always more between Snape and James." She mused. "Either way, it’s all in the past now and that’s where it needs to stay. We can’t keep letting old feuds take over our lives as well. You and I are here now, together and on the same side and that’s all I need to know Draco. I really don’t care about anything that came before so I refuse to let it influence me now… and that’s a promise I can keep."

He shook his head and smiled, deciding she was right. He would deal with the past in his own way, but to keep dragging it up over and over was only going to hurt them in the long run. "Okay, I can agree with all that."

"Good, because I already told you that I love you and the way you keep trying to push me away by telling me all the horrible things you were forced to do is really starting to get irritating." She laughed before leaning in and kissing him deeply.

He kissed her back while hoping that there really was nothing in his past that could ruin what he and Ginny were building together. But he knew there had to be something and perhaps that was why he kept confessing to her… to find that one thing that would turn her against him now before they got in too deep. But as he pulled back and looked in her eyes, he realized it was already too late- he was past the point of no return. "I love you too." He smiled, taking her hand and bringing it to his lips as he prayed that there really wasn’t anything he’d done in the past to ruin his future.

(BREAK)

After dinner that night, Hermione had shut herself up in her room desperate for time to think, to process everything that had happened and what she’d been told over the long and turbulent weekend. There was so much information that had been gathered by so many of her friends, so many different puzzles seemed to be coming together to form one big one. And so many things had happened- from Draco’s assault all the way to him and Ginny telling them all that they had gone and demanded answers from Crabbe. And rather than focus on what was going on right in front of her for the past few days, her mind had been back in London wasting time with crystals and potions that quite possibly wouldn’t even work. Worse, she couldn’t get past what she’d seen that morning, no matter how she tried to distract herself.

When she had earlier agreed to do something as silly as help the guys with the quidditch team, she’d done so with the hope that it could help erase the image of the slaughtered bodies of those two little house elves. It hadn’t, and neither had working on the ministry documents, cleaning her room, or attempting to study. She wanted to talk to someone about it, but Harry had gone to bed right after dinner claiming a headache and though she saw that he’d once again left his door open for her, she just didn’t feel like burdening him. As much as she knew the incident bothered him, she also knew he and Ron had never felt as strongly as she did about the elves and their right to freedom. Perhaps if they had been given it, this would have never been able to happen… despite their protests that they like working in the castle. Of course she’d thought to call up Fred on the compact to see if he could offer anything that would make her feel better but she’d held off, worried that his non-seriousness would only make her feel worse. At least Harry could grasp the gravity of the situation, there was no way to turn this into a joking matter and that’s exactly what Fred tended to do when he was uncomfortable or scared.

Leaving her room, she quietly walked over to Harry’s and opening the door a little wider she could hear his soft snoring. So he really had gone to bed early… she began to worry that maybe this time he really wasn’t feeling well though she’d never known him to be sick, ever. He didn’t catch colds or flus and if it weren’t for the damage done to him, she knew he would never have needed to see the healers. At times Harry seemed invincible to her, but in other ways she felt him extremely delicate as if this unnatural strength he carried inside him could be extinguished at any time by anything. And so this headache he’d claimed to have suddenly felt much more significant- she knew he hadn’t been using the ring and so that couldn’t be the cause. But was she simply blowing all this out of proportion so she’d have something else to focus on? Worrying about Harry was easy; it came naturally to her and was a far more familiar feeling than her concern for the lives of so many house elves.

Deciding to leave him to his peace, she closed the door tightly so that no one else would be able to sneak in there. Then with a heavy sigh she went back to her own room where she collapsed on the bed and turned to stare at the ceiling. Everything was far too complicated these days and she wasn’t sure that this time she could overcome the fear, stress, and uncertainty. Other than her schoolwork, she just wasn’t sure about anything in her life anymore and found herself constantly questioning her motives.

Reaching under her pillow, she could feel the smooth casing of the compact and wrapped her hand around it liking the instant sense of connection it gave her. She suddenly didn’t feel quite so alone and decided that she had to talk to someone. She’d just make sure Fred understood how horrible the situation was and that she didn’t want jokes and nonsense from him… of course, she wasn’t really sure what she did want from him but she wasn’t going to find rest until she could unload all these things she was feeling. She flipped open the compact and before it even had a chance to grow warm in her hand, Fred’s voice filled the room. "Hey, I think I’m on the right track here." He said by way of greeting.

"Great." She answered unemotionally. The potion was the farthest thing from her mind and he must have picked it up in her voice as his softened with concern.

"Hey, what’s wrong?"

"Something bad happened this morning-" she began.

"What? What happened? Are you okay? Is everyone else okay? Ron, Ginny?" He interrupted in a panic.

"They’re fine. We’re all physically fine." She assured him.

"So what happened then?" He asked, not hiding his relief that everyone he cared for was unharmed. "Did they go after Draco again?"

"No, today he was the hunter not the hunted, but that’s a whole other story." She replied.

"And one I look forward to hearing." He answered with a hint of a smile in his voice before once more turning serious. "So what was it that was so bad?"

"Well, this morning after hearing Padma screaming, we all ran into the common room to see that she had found two house elves… dead… with their little throats slashed."

"You’re kidding!" He sounded upset and astounded. "Who would be able to kill a house elf?"

"I don’t know, but I can’t get the image out of my head. They were so small, and their faces were frozen in fear. They were just left laying there, in a small pool of their own blood. Whatever happened to them, they were the last creatures on earth to deserve it." She felt tears running down her face and used her sleeve to wipe them away.

"If their throats were cut, wouldn’t there have been a lot more blood?" He mused.

"I think you’re missing the point." She answered angrily.

"No, I think you are." He returned calmly. "I know you’re upset, any decent person would be after seeing that. But you aren’t being your normal rational self. Does Dumbledore know what happened?"

"If he does he’s not saying anything and neither are any of the other professors." She replied huffily.

"Aww come on, don’t be mad at me." He begged. "I’m just trying to figure out what happened. But obviously that’s not what you wanted so… what is it you want me to say?"

She shook her head. "I honestly don’t know. I just feel horrible that this happened at all."

"Of course you do! But sitting around moping has never helped anything, right? What do Harry and Luna think happened?"

"I don’t know. Luna claims she didn’t get a vision about it but as always she seemed to be holding back. And Harry hasn’t talked about it with any of us… of course none of us has even tried to talk about it with each other…"

"Well it’s harder when something so innocent is killed, it’s like watching some horrible person drowning a bag of puppies and kittens." Fred mused. "But if you feel this bad about it, maybe you should go talk to McGonagall or someone."

"McGonagall?" She asked, smiling at the thought.

"Hey, she’s a crafty old bird." He said, a grin once more evident in his voice. "Right on top of things she usually is, was the hardest professor for me and George to get anything past. And as tough as she seemed on the outside, she was always pretty soft when it came to helping her students… the ones she liked anyway."

"I don’t know. I just feel like I’m suffocating here… it’s never felt like this before. I can’t wait for this weekend, I think the time spent back at Harry’s house and away from this school is just what we all need."

"What are you talking about? Why would you all be coming here this weekend?" He asked suspiciously.

Hermione slapped her hand to her forehead, ashamed that she’d forgotten. "Oh no, forget everything I just said."

"Impossible, I remember everything you’ve ever said." He teased. "Two things, why are you all coming here and since when do you want to be anywhere other than school?"

"It doesn’t feel like a school here anymore." She protested, hoping that by grasping onto this thread of conversation he would forget the other. "It feels like the hunting grounds, where we’re all at once both predator and prey. I don’t like feeling the need to constantly look over my shoulder, or worry about whether it’ll be Harry or Draco to get attacked this time. I don’t like waking to find bodies in the common room or being threatened on the staircase… it just feels safer back at Grimmauld place."

"Well of course it’s safer, we control who walks in the front door where as at Hogwarts they have to let any old trash come in. But you can’t hide here forever."

"I know. But a break will be nice."

"Who threatened you on the stairs? Why didn’t you tell me?" He demanded suddenly, as if he’d just realized what she’d said.

She hadn’t intended on telling him, but thanks to her own big mouth she now had to. "It wasn’t as big a deal as you’re thinking and Harry and Ron were right there before anything could happen." She proceeded to tell him about her fright on the stairs to the Astronomy tower and how Tristan had been perfectly nice and perfectly horrible all at the same time.

"I really don’t like this guy." Fred replied when she was done. "He’s gone after and goaded all of you now. Can’t Dumbledore do something about it?"

"Without proof, it’s all a matter of he said/she said. And these days, our word isn’t good enough, not with Edmund and Voldemort just waiting for their chance to get in here. They would use anything that could possibly call Dumbledore’s judgement into question by the uninformed masses against him... and I think this place would be even worse without him. I’m sure you recall Umbridge and the lengths some had to go through to get away from her…"

"Ah yes, how is the swamp doing by the way?" He laughed.

"Anyway," She grinned and brought them back on point, "I don’t think there’s anything we can do about Tristan without some sort of proof that he’s done something horrible."

"Like kill house elves?" He put forth.

"You think he did it?" She recalled Tristan’s unfeeling and blasé attitude when the bodies had been discovered… at the time she’d associated it with his inhuman coldness but now… "I suppose he could have."

"As far as I’m concerned, he’s the only one who could have. Who else could sneak up on and kill a house elf besides a pureblood vampire? And you said yourself there wasn’t much blood."

"But if he had done it, wouldn’t there be no blood? And why would he have had to slit their throats? Wouldn’t he have just been able to bite them and have that be the end?" She asked.

The questions seemed to stump him for a moment. "Maybe he wasn’t really snacking, maybe he did it for some other reason."

"Maybe… but maybe doesn’t convince people and maybe won’t be enough to get him kicked out of here."

"Well, then I guess it’s a good thing you’ll all be heading home this weekend. And why was that again?" He asked with amusement.

"It was supposed to be a surprise. How am I supposed to explain to everyone that you found out?" She returned, upset with herself for mentioning anything about it.

"Other than telling them you have the compact you mean?" He taunted.

"Exactly." She said simply. At this point, she wasn’t sure how to explain to anyone, herself included, why she hadn’t told her friends that she had a way to communicate with Fred back home. At first she could have easily told Harry and Luna, who already knew about the potion, that they were still working on it… and to Ron, Ginny and Draco she could have said they were conferring on Fred’s Quick Cures. She could still claim the same now, but how could she ever explain why she’d been keeping their communications secret?

"So, are you going to tell me or what? You’ve already said too much, might as well go all the way." He asked in a light tone to break the sudden silence.

"Fine, but you better act surprised." She finally gave in as a distraction from a more upsetting train of thought.

"I think I can manage that." He laughed.

"Harry didn’t tell us until after Hogsmeade, but your dad found a way to get Willem secretly released sometime this week. He’ll be staying there at the house until they can find somewhere safer and more permanent for him."

"Hey, well that’s good news right?"

She hesitated. "I guess in the sense that an innocent man will no longer be sitting in prison. But Harry and Luna are convinced that somewhere in his subconscious he knows something more about Edmund and Jayalina than what he’s told them. So in an effort to get near him, they’re sending Ron to ask permission for us all to go home and attend your store opening."

"Really? You think Dumbledore will allow that? I mean, I’d love for you all to come back here, but I thought he had to be careful about everything he does and letting you all leave for the weekend could be viewed as special preference." He sounded hopeful yet skeptical.

"It’s a toss up at this point. With Willem being released, I’m sure Dumbledore will see through the ruse of Ron’s request and know that Harry is the one who wants to go home. And we all know how hard he tries to accommodate Harry in anything he wants… I think it’s his way of trying to make up for lying and withholding the truth from him for so many years."

He laughed again. "Whatever the reason, you have to admit it comes in handy for us all."

She smiled but remained serious. "Whatever you say. Just remember, you aren’t supposed to know any of this… and don’t get your hopes up too high. Dumbledore may not give in this time."

"Well I look forward to seeing you- and the rest of the unruly bunch. It’s quite lonely here without everyone. And having you around makes all this work such a more pleasurable experience. Instead it’s long hours, all by myself with no help from anyone." He made himself sound pitiful, though she could still hear his amusement underneath.

Hermione grinned in spite of having not wanted to be cheered up… or perhaps she had subconsciously wanted a few moments to not think of anything horrible and that’s why she’d given into calling him. It was all too confusing and either way she refused to let him try and play on her sympathy. "I’m sure you’re more than capable of working it all out. And besides, you can look at all this time without us as an opportunity to build up your relationship with your parents."

"You’re very amusing my dear. But this is no time for jokes." Fred replied in a wry tone. She could picture the offended face he was making at her suggestion and couldn’t help but laugh at the image. "Well, I’m glad you find it funny." He said sourly, though she knew he was smiling.

"I find you funny." She countered.

"Yeah, yeah. Let’s change the topic." He suggested.

"To what?"

"Well, what were you saying earlier about Draco being the hunter this time? If he went for some revenge I definitely want to hear all about it."

She shook her head uncertainly. "I don’t think it was revenge exactly. He and Ginny went to Crabbe for some answers."

"Ginny was involved?" He asked with surprise and a hint of anger. "Now I really must know everything."

Feeling he had a right to know, she proceeded to tell him everything Draco had told them at dinner and their fears about what Troy’s involvement in such a long ago occurrence meant for them in the present. She and Fred talked long into the night and only when she felt herself drifting off during the conversation did they finally say goodnight. She of course asked for and received his word that he wouldn’t mention anything they discussed until the others brought it up to him. It was evident he was grateful to be kept in the loop and Hermione took some pleasure in knowing that since he still hadn’t asked to speak to anyone else, he must be happy having her be his contact here.

Placing the compact under her pillow once more, she lay down feeling bad that she’d at first dismissed talking to Fred because of his lack of seriousness. He’d actually been quite logical and attentive when the topic called for it, and when it didn’t his jokes, teasing and antics had definitely lifted her into a better mood. Feeling less somber and more hopeful that tomorrow would be a less intense day, she was finally able to close her eyes and not see the horrible images she’d once thought to forever be permanently etched in her mind. She could now separate herself and her emotions about what happened to those house elves from her conscious life- just as she’d forced herself to do after Sirius, Neville and George left them. She would use this as one more event to fuel the fire of rebellion that was keeping her going in this war. As to the other emotional turmoil surging through her, she was getting used to squashing it down and wouldn’t allow herself to lose any sleep over it… after all there wasn’t much she could do about it now anyway.

(BREAK)

Harry woke early and was dismayed to learn that his headache had not only stayed with him, it had added a sore throat and stuffy nose to the mix. He couldn’t ever remember feeling this way and wondered briefly if he was dying before realizing he was being silly. Surely it was just a cold, perhaps karma for faking one a few weeks ago. Of course he knew Hermione hadn’t bought his act the last time and rather than seriously question why, he’d been grateful that she’d let him pretend. Would she believe him this time?

With a groan he forced himself to get out of bed and put on his school robes, sending a soft mental call out to Luna with the hope that she was already awake. Yes? He heard her alert reply, telling him she’d been awake for several hours. He asked her to meet him in the common room and she readily agreed, probably already aware of what he wanted to discuss. They hadn’t had a moment to find time alone since everything happened yesterday morning and so much had occurred since then. He needed to know what, if anything, she had seen and just how worried he should be.

Once both were ready for their day, they walked into the common room and met in the far corner, careful to keep their voices low even with the silencing charm she cast. He was a bit unnerved by her appearance, from her wrinkled clothes to her tired eyes. Her hair was unbrushed and messily pulled back and he could see she’d accidentally put on two different socks.

"Are you okay?" He asked right away.

"I’m fine." Luna answered stiffly, avoiding his gaze by digging in her pocket. "Here." She handed him a bottle filled with some leafy green liquid.

"What’s this?" He asked, sniffing hesitantly at the concoction. It was emitting a surprisingly pleasant odor.

"An old recipe from my grandmother, it’ll clear your cold right up. I asked Dobby to meet me and had him get me all the ingredients from the kitchen. He wasn’t too happy to break Dumbledore’s rule about students interacting with the elves but I think I convinced him not to punish himself." She smiled grimly. He didn’t bother to question how she knew he was sick.

"About the elves, did you know anything like that was coming?" Harry asked before bravely swallowing down the liquid in one gulp. It was cool and soothing on his throat, instantly taking away the uncomfortable soreness. Within seconds he found he could once again inhale through his nose as a blast of mint and eucalyptus rushed through his sinuses relieving the crushing pressure in his head.

"Better?" She asked, crossing her arms and looking at him in disappointment. He merely nodded and waited to see what was to come. Luna sighed deeply before continuing on. "Don’t you think if I knew that was going to happen I would have done or said something?"

"Well I would hope so, but I wasn’t accusing you of anything." He replied uneasily.

"Really? Because it seems like you thought I had kept some secret vision that led up to those poor creatures meeting with such a horrible death." She moodily replied as she ran her hands through her unkempt hair in agitation, leading him to believe her anger was directed more towards herself than at him. He once again took in the dark circles under her eyes, they way she’d haphazardly put herself together and realized something had been bothering her, that she was torturing herself over… something.

"Okay, so there wasn’t a vision. But there’s some reason you’re making yourself feel so guilty." He reached out and rubbed her shoulder in support. "Whatever it is, it’s not your fault."

"I know." She said quietly, hanging her head. "It just feels like I should have seen this coming. The things I’ve been dreaming lately… always so dark and troubling, they seem full of warnings but then I never get any sort of vision to make things clearer. Or I get one when it’s almost too late, like Friday and the whole Draco thing. I try to interpret what I see but…"

She looked up at him, searching for answers and reassurance. Harry could see tears of frustration, anguish, and guilt brimming in her eyes giving them a soft blue, crystal-like glow that only slightly diminished the shadow of horror that had taken over. Her entire demeanor held the feeling of a dying innocence and he hated to see it, wanting instantly to make things right again. But he had nothing to offer except more problems. Squeezing her shoulder, he smiled before giving the first comforting words that came to him. "Look, unfortunately your power is not something you can control. But you know what that means? It means you are in no way responsible for what happens, whether you receive a vision or not. What’s going to happen will happen, sometimes we can stop it and sometimes we can’t. Isn’t that what everyone is always telling me? Haven’t you said something along those lines at some point?"

"And aren’t you the one who always replies that knowing it isn’t your fault doesn’t make you feel any better?" She returned. "But how I feel- how any of us feel- doesn’t matter. We need to put aside the sadness and try to figure out what happened. Looking back at what I’ve been dreaming, I’m pretty sure Tristan is involved."

"But why?" Harry wondered, having already thought the same thing. He listed his arguments, hoping Luna could provide the counterpoints. "Why would he kill them that way, or at all for that matter? And why would he leave their bodies to be discovered?"

"That’s what’s all unclear. It’s nothing but shadows, no shape but large and ominous… and his presence is what I feel when I think of those shadows." She looked at him earnestly, hoping he would trust her judgement.

He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and hugged her close. "I believe you. And we’ll figure out something to do about Tristan before this all gets out of hand."

"But how? I mean it’s not like he’s above suspicion but without solid proof of anything there’s nothing that can be done without some other consequence." Her voice quivered as she hovered on the brink of tears, finally allowing herself to rest her head on his shoulder and take the comfort he was trying to offer. It was obvious that she was beyond exhaustion, that she’d been dealing with so much alone when he should have been there helping her- instead they’d added to their burdens by continually putting themselves at odds with each other. But what else was there to do? There had to be something, because the continued stress was clearly beginning to take it’s toll on Luna… on all of them if his sudden cold, Hermione’s aloof secretiveness, and Ron’s intuitive suspicions were any indication.

A few other students had begun to enter the common room, Draco and Ginny among them. Studying Draco carefully Harry realized that maybe there was someone who, with convincing, could tell them everything that was known about what had happened to the elves… surely Lupin had more reason to go against Tristan than the other professors. And since Harry knew that Draco’s desire to be rid of Tristan was quite possibly higher than his own, he may just be the one to help him convince Lupin to tell them.

Turning back to Luna he offered a warm smile. "Don’t worry. I’ll find a way to take care of Tristan." He assured her, wanting to make this one thing right when there was so much else he couldn’t give her.

But she shook her head sadly. "And that’s exactly what I’m afraid of Harry, that you’ll not only find a way, you’ll succeed."

(BREAK)

"We need to talk." Ginny said as soon as Colton rounded the corner. There was still ten minutes before class was to start and she’d been waiting for him in the corridor just outside the gargoyle. Though Draco hadn’t been pleased to let her go at this alone, they both eventually figured that it would be best if he wasn’t there so that Colton would be more receptive to listening.

"I’m really not in the mood." He snapped, mumbling the password and attempting to get by her.

She grabbed his arm and forced him to turn around. "And I wasn’t in the mood to listen to your accusations yesterday but I did. It’s only fair that you listen to me tell you what really happened."

"Oh?" He let her lead him down the hall and away from the other sixth years trickling up to Dumbledore’s office for class. "And what do you think the real story is?"

"I know what the real story is, from the mouth of one of the people responsible." She shot back before relating the whole of the story minus the small detail of how she heard it. At the end she could tell he didn’t fully believe her, but she felt hopeful seeing that he was at least thinking hard and not dismissing anything right away. "That’s why your brother thinks Draco was involved," she concluded, "because the last thing he remembers before Troy cursed him was being outside talking to Crabbe and Goyle and thinking Draco must have been there as well."

"So what, I suppose your lying conniving boyfriend told you all this?" He sneered, refusing to fully believe his brother had been mistaken all these years. "I mean it all sounds plausible, but he could easily just omit himself from the story who would contradict him?"

"Actually Crabbe told me." She admitted angrily. "Draco couldn’t tell me anything- truth or lie- about what happened because he wasn’t there. It’s an easy enough fact to check since he was logged in at the hospital wing and Madame Pomfrey herself signed his chart saying she’d just finished her last check on him at the same time Carter was being attacked." Ginny was more than certain of this, having snuck into the healer’s office before dinner the night before to see the records with her own eyes. She hadn’t for a second doubted Draco, she had just wanted to be sure that if necessary his innocence could be proven. As an extra measure, she’d made two copies of the records and found places to hide them both should Troy or Tristan decide to start destroying evidence.

"If he really was involved, why would Crabbe tell you anything?" Colton asked stubbornly, though he seemed more uncertain now that the idea of an actual paper trail to the truth had been presented.

"His motivation to tell the truth doesn’t matter, he won’t remember the conversation anyway." She answered darkly. "What does matter is that now you know who really deserves your anger. So direct it toward them and leave us alone."

He hung his head for a moment, lost somewhere in his own head. "If this is all true then… well then thank you for finally giving me answers. I’ll finally have something to tell my family, a reason however stupid for why this happened to him."

"And now you can forget Draco and I even exist." Ginny quietly answered before walking past him and making her way back towards class. She didn’t glance back, didn’t care to see how this affected him and hadn’t wanted his thanks. Her reasons for finding this truth had nothing to do with him, it was for her and Draco… she sensed it was better that Colton understand that right away. All through their first classes of the morning, she was careful not to pay him any attention no matter how intensely she felt him staring at her.

To keep herself strong in her resolve to no longer acknowledge Colton James, Ginny focused instead on Luna who appeared to be a mess. Sure the mismatched socks were something Luna may have done a few times in the past due to her lack of attentiveness, but the tangled mass of hair pulled untidily back from her tired and pale face was something else entirely. Apparently life was beginning to take it’s toll on Luna and Ginny found that she was reminded of herself only a few short months ago. Of course there was no fear that Luna would go off and do something dangerous or crazy as she just wasn’t the sort without Harry’s provocation, but she was scared to think of how her friend would finally express everything she was letting weigh her down. She wanted to help Luna, someone she actually did care about, but she didn’t know how. Never one to say anything more than what she wanted to say, Luna could be as open or as secretive as she wanted and though Ginny had a feeling she knew some of the things plaguing her friend, she doubted she would want to talk about them. Still, she felt she ought to try and made plans to accost Luna sometime during their weekend home… to try and help the other girl sort things out before they overwhelmed her completely. She felt it was best the conversation be attempted away from the school where the pressure they were all under seemed so intensified.

At last Dumbledore dismissed them all for an hour break before classes would resume. Ginny hung back, mentally giving Luna the okay to wait with her as neither of them wanted to go anywhere alone these days. "What can I do for you Ginny?" Dumbledore asked tiredly after all of the other students had left.

"I was hoping you’d be able to get this letter sent for me?" She hesitantly reached in her bag and pulled out the letter she’d penned the other night. She didn’t want to trouble him, but after all that had happened and was in the process of happening, she felt it more important now than when she’d originally written it. "I know it’s imperative that we not try to send things ourselves through the normal post." She added quickly to explain why she felt the need to bother him with such a trivial request.

"I’d be more than happy to ensure this safely reaches only it’s intended recipient." He smiled weakly at her before rising to his feet and gesturing towards the door. "Now I don’t wish to be rude, but if that it all I’m afraid I have much to do in this short break."

"Yes that’s all. Thank you very much." She answered quietly as she and Luna hurried out of the office, both uncomfortable with the rundown man who had once been their charismatic headmaster.

"What was that?" Luna asked as they walked toward the common room.

"Nothing important." She lied, breezing off the whole incident. They headed outside and down to the lake, letting a comfortable silence fall over them as they lost themselves in their own heads. Just having each other’s company was enough, conversation was unnecessary at this point as they both sensed it was neither the time nor the place. Ginny had felt uncomfortable at Hogwarts before- all of last year for instance. But the discomfort and pressure she felt here now was something completely different. She hoped Ron was able to convince Dumbledore to let them all go home for the weekend as she definitely needed some time away. For the first time, she realized just how grateful she was that she only had to spend one semester here… and then it hit her- next year she would have one more semester, with only Luna here with her. No Draco, no Harry and Hermione, and for the first time ever she’d be the only Weasley child… how would she survive?

(BREAK)

Ron felt like a victorious loser as he approached his friends who had all gathered outside by their study tree. They were waiting to learn if he’d convinced Dumbledore to allow them to go home and support Fred reopening his store. Deciding it was best to wait until after lunch when a full stomach may make the headmaster more agreeable, Ron had been too nervous to actually eat anything himself. Now that it was all over, he had to find a way to tell them what had happened.

"Well?" Harry asked as Ron sat down with them.

"Well, we have a classic good news/bad news situation." He answered hesitantly.

"Meaning what?" Hermione demanded anxiously.

"Meaning most of us get to go back to London for the weekend." He said in an upbeat tone, hoping to distract from what he was actually saying.

"What do you mean most of us?" Harry was anxious, and looking around Ron realized the others seemed just as uneasy. He hadn’t realized they were all so eager to go home.

Taking a deep breath, he threw out his answer, trying to get it all out as quickly as possible. "Well, it seems that Dumbledore thinks a visit home would be easy enough to arrange for me and Ginny since all it would require is a letter from mum. Same for Luna as long as Mr. Lovegood sends in a request to have her home. As for Harry and Hermione, he thought since mum and dad are currently listed as guardians for you guys that a letter from them would suffice as well…" He trailed off, letting the others realize on their own what exactly he was implying.

"So it’s me then. I can’t go with you guys." Malfoy picked up right away.

"Dumbledore said that without a letter from a parent or guardian, there was no reason he could find for you to accompany us." He shook his head in frustration, hating that he had to be the one to deliver the news. Ron may not want to like the guy, but even he had to admit that Malfoy deserved a break. It wasn’t fair that he be forced into their companionship but then not get to be treated as one of them.

"I thought Dumbledore was your acting guardian." Hermione turned to address Malfoy directly who merely shrugged in reply.

"I asked the same thing." Ron threw out. "He said that he was only appointed by the ministry to take charge of Draco’s academic decisions and basic needs like food and shelter. The way he explained it-"

"I don’t need it explained." Malfoy interrupted. "I remember the way kids of known Death Eaters were treated when left in the care of the ministry. Our rights and needs go right out the window whether we deserve it or not… and I probably don’t deserve a whole lot of their trust."

"Well, if Dumbledore can’t do anything with his hands tied by the ministry then why can’t mom and dad ask the be appointed his guardian like they did with Harry and Hermione?" Ginny demanded angrily.

"Because it’s not their responsibility." Draco answered before Ron could, leaving him surprisingly pleased with the other boy. "Besides, your dad already made such a difference at the ministry, think of what happened to Sarah when they found out who her father was- left wandless and pushed around from home to home each time knowing the people you’re supposed to rely on hate you. I think I can handle not getting to leave school for a weekend trip."

Ron saw Harry shudder and knew the image Malfoy had painted of Sarah’s youth had probably reminded his friend of his own very similar upbringing- that had been Dumbledore’s doing, moving outside the ministry to keep Harry "safe." Perhaps the headmaster was simply unwilling to do more for Draco than he already had, after all he hadn’t come to the headmaster as an innocent, humble and friendly young boy as Harry had. Since arriving at Hogwarts, Draco Malfoy had been sneaky, manipulative, and mean and who would want to help someone like that? Sure he may have changed enough to now use his attitude against the other side, but was it truly enough to erase the memories of who he’d been against for so many years? Apparently it wasn’t, not entirely- not for Ron and not for Dumbledore either it seemed. Still, the implication must hurt… that his wants and needs weren’t considered worth the risk like theirs were.

Having somewhere he needed to be, Ron left the others to figure out what they wanted to do about this upset to their plans. He was relieved to walk away, not wanting to see the hurt yet accepting look in Malfoy’s eyes. Besides, he’d seen Harry’s reaction to the news and knew his friend was already spinning his wheels trying to figure out a way around this hurdle. Moving quickly to put as much distance between himself and the unpleasantness behind him, he made his way back into the castle and up to the Gryffindor common room where, as a Gryffindor, he still had access. Seamus had been waiting impatiently for him and jumped up from the chair as soon as he walked through the portrait. "Where have you been? They’re all expecting the list to go up before dinner!"

"Relax, we basically decided who we wanted last night." Ron grumbled, sinking into the couch as Seamus stood over him in agitation.

"Yeah, but now I’m not so sure. I mean are they all really our best options?" He pulled the list of names they’d put together from him pocket and studied it as if it held all the answers to life.

Ron couldn’t help but smile. "We’ll just have to train them as best we can and then pray."

"So this is it then, we’re sure?" Seamus nervously ran a hand through his hair.

"I’m as sure as I can be, but you’re the captain and you’re the one who’ll have to play with them so it’s all really up to you."

He nodded decisively. "This is it then. We decided and there’s no turning back now." And without further hesitation he marched over to the message board and pinned the list right in the middle.

Then as if all of the other Gryffindors had been hiding in wait, they flooded the common room, rushing to the board to see who had taken those coveted spots. Dean came away looking both pleased and disappointed. "I guess chaser is okay." He said, walking up to Ron and Seamus. "I was really hoping for seeker though."

"Then you should have actually caught the snitch during try-outs." Seamus teased him.

Dean’s scathing reply was cut off as Dennis Creevey ran up to them. "Is that for real? I really made the team?!" He asked with nervous excitement as if waiting for them to tell him it was all a joke.

"You really made the team." Ron assured him. "And I think you’ll be a great keeper."

"I’ll do my best, I promise!" Dennis earnestly reached out to vigorously shake both his and Seamus’s hands.

Ron smiled at seeing how proud of himself Dennis was… but it was Colin Creevey who made his heart swell with happiness. The younger Creevey brother emerged from the crowd, his expression awed and his eyes shining with fearful excitement. "You made me seeker." He said in a trembling voice.

"You made yourself seeker." Seamus replied, walking over to the small boy and slapping him on the back. "You were the best of the worst out there Creevey, so there’s still a lot of work to do. But Ron and I both think you’re more than capable of handling it."

"That’s right." Ron agreed gathering the new team together. "You all have a lot of work to do before you’re ready for the first game so don’t get too excited." He took in their worried yet still happy expressions as he let Seamus take over the short meeting. After disclosing the practice dates- of which Ron already knew there were several he’d have to miss for class- they sent everyone off to rest up as they intended to get a few hours of flying in after dinner that night.

Making his way back down to his own room for a nap, Ron reflected that he wasn’t as tortured as he had thought he’d be at passing on his passion to a new generation. Instead he rather enjoyed being able to see how much it meant for Dean, the Creevey brothers, and the other three to be chosen. It reminded him of simpler, more naïve days and seeing the look in all their eyes had made him realize he was too far beyond that time in his life to have been able to really have enjoyed playing quidditch. And now for the first time since learning he couldn’t play anymore, he was really okay with it and much happier being in the position of passing on his love of the game- even if he never was the best player Hogwarts had ever seen. With these thoughts swirling through his head as he prepared to lay down for his nap, he suddenly felt very mature and decided he liked the feeling.

(BREAK)

Harry had awoken Tuesday morning already feeling impatient. As the day stretched on the feeling grew to the point where he felt he couldn’t stand it anymore and his friends began to take notice. He assured them nothing was wrong and was careful to particularly allay Hermione’s concern as she was far more observant than Ron, unwilling to divulge what had him so on edge lest she try to talk him out of it. Only Draco knew what was to come- Harry had sought the other boy out late last night to ascertain that they had similar goals concerning getting rid of Tristan, turns out they did. Of course Luna had an idea of what was going on and the more decisions he made, the more she’d probably know… but he refused to let her talk him out of anything either. After all, everything he was trying to accomplish now was to keep her, their friends and everyone else in the school safe.

Finally it was time for their last class of the day, Defense Against the Dark Arts. Harry eagerly followed Hermione, Ron, Draco and the other seventh years, his thoughts whirling in his head as he tried to figure out exactly how he wanted this to go. As soon as they sat down, he sent his mind out to Lupin’s. You have to ask me to stay after… Draco too. Please, we really need to talk to you. In reply, Lupin merely nodded as if to himself before standing in front of them all to begin his class. Unable to concentrate on anything other than the multitude of questions he had for his friend, Harry decided it was best to simply stare down at his book and try to will time to go faster. At last Lupin wrapped up the lesson and began dismissing his students. "Oh, and Mr. Potter, Mr. Malfoy- if you two could stay after a few moments? There are a few things we need to discuss about your last essays."

Waiting until everyone was gone, Lupin closed the door and cast a silencing charm before turning to his two remaining students with a deep sigh. He seemed to know what was coming. "Harry, before you even start let me tell you- I’ve been instructed not to tell any student anything about what happened yesterday morning."

"I figured. But we aren’t just any other students. We’ve already both been seriously threatened by Tristan, our friends have been threatened… we have a right to know if he’s killing in our own common room." Harry argued.

"What exactly are your intentions when it comes to Tristan?" Lupin asked suspiciously as he looked back and forth between the two boys.

"Only to find a way to catch him up and get him out of here." Draco answered quickly, leading Harry to believe that he was more than willing to do more to ensure safety from Tristan but didn’t want Lupin aware of it.

"And it would be easier if we could get a sense of what his plan is." He added.

Lupin sat behind his desk and leaned back, regarding them carefully before breaking out into an amused smile. "Well, I must say I’m glad to see you two so eager and willing to work with each- though I’m not sure if putting your separate talents together is a good thing or something that will ultimately get you both in more trouble on a grander scale than ever before."

Glancing at each other, both Harry and Draco shrugged. "Does it matter in the long run?" Harry finally asked.

"That’s yet to be determined I suppose." Lupin replied. "What makes you so sure that Tristan was involved in the murders of those house elves?"

"Common sense." Harry muttered.

"That, and despite a few questions and doubts there’s no one else who could have or would have." Draco reasoned out. "We just need you to tell us we’re right."

He sighed and shook his head in defeat. "Of course you’re right. Roscoe Drake found the bite marks on one of their necks… it seems Tristan tried to hide what he’d done when he slit their throats."

"You mean there’s proof?" Harry was incredulous. "Why hasn’t Dumbledore done anything?"

Again Lupin shook his head. "There’s no proof, Harry. We had to dispose of their bodies to ensure the vampire virus wouldn’t be spread. It was too risky… they hadn’t been fully drained of blood and there’s just no documented case of what the virus would do to an elf."

"Okay, I can understand there was an issue of safety…" Harry began, "But isn’t keeping Tristan here to continue trying to do whatever it is he’s doing more dangerous?"

"An argument I and a few other professors made. But Albus knows what he’s doing, we have to continue to trust that."

"Why?" Draco asked before Harry could. "I mean I have a ton of reasons to be grateful to him, but it just doesn’t seem like he made the right choice here."

"It’s not for us to question." Lupin responded tensely. "What’s done is done and everyone is keeping an eye on Tristan Macnair, so you two can put whatever plan you’re hatching to rest."

"There’s no plan yet." Harry replied angrily. "And having everyone closely watching Tristan doesn’t exactly calm my worries about him sleeping down the hall from me and all of my friends."

"Watching Tristan isn’t enough, he’s been here too long already." Draco argued on their behalf. "He’s already done something to Troy, I talked to Crabbe and he said those two were always off on their own, plotting who knows what."

"What do you want me to do?" Lupin shouted at them in frustration before regaining his composure. He leaned forward on his desk before raising his tired face to them. "I’m a professor, I’m supposed to be indifferent to all students, to care for them all equally and without prejudice… You don’t think I want to do something about Tristan? I do and for more reasons than just the blood feud between our species. When it comes to you guys, and Hermione, Ron, Ginny, Luna… there is no neutral ground for me. I care more about you all than the other kids in the school and that’s not good, it’s not fair to them that I would be willing to put all of your safety above theirs. I can’t let it influence me to do something that could only make things worse for you all later. And so I have to put my trust in Dumbledore who has lived longer and understands more than I could ever hope to."

"I just don’t want them to get us first just because we have to play nice." Harry said quietly.

"And hopefully by playing nice, we’ll keep that from happening. Other than that, there’s nothing left to tell you. Not that I know of anyway."

Harry felt defeated. He’d been expecting so much more, but he was certain Lupin wasn’t holding anything back. Perhaps he hadn’t been told much just in case this very situation arose- Dumbledore always had his secrets and knowing Harry had a new way of discovering them could have pushed the headmaster to be less forthcoming with certain members of his staff. He shuffled his feet, hoping the other thing he wanted to discuss with Lupin went better. "Okay, I believe you. I just wish there was more that could be done."

"You and me both." He replied.

"Hey Draco, could you please wait out in the hall for a minute?" Harry turned to the other boy who looked both surprised and upset by the request. "I just need to ask him for a favor. It’ll only take a few minutes." He added quickly, not wanting to hurt Draco’s feelings but also not wanting to give anything away until after he spoke to Lupin.

"Sure. No problem." He tightly replied, gathering his things and stepping out of the classroom.

Harry turned to find Lupin staring at him with his eyebrow raised. "A favor?" He asked with a smile.

"Yeah, but it’s not really for me… how would you feel about being a legal guardian?"

Lupin appeared to do a double-take, his mouth hanging open as he tried to make sense of what was being asked of him. "You mean for Draco?" He finally asked. "He’s already seventeen."

"Yes, but because he is currently under the care of Hogwarts, he must abide by their rules unless granted permission by a parent or guardian."

"I see. And what rule exactly are you trying to get around?" He asked.

"We all have permission to go home this weekend as long as Arthur, Molly and Mr. Lovegood write and request it, which is already in the process of being arranged." Harry explained.

"Hmm, and let me guess, because Dumbledore’s guardianship of Draco is limited he can’t rightfully give him permission to leave the school. I understand all aspects of why you’re asking me, but what you have to understand is what you’re asking." Lupin stood and began pacing. "I mean I’m a married man now, decisions like this have to be made with Tonks’s input. It’s not something to be taken lightly just because you all want a weekend pass."

"It’s more than that." He argued. "Right now he has no one to take responsibility for him. He’s been pushed around and forced on everyone since he switched sides. He’s done a lot for us and it’s not fair that we not try to help him out in return. Believe me, I never thought I’d be arguing on behalf of Draco Malfoy… but he needs to feel like someone wants him. His parents wrote him off, his father wants to kill him, and Dumbledore can’t give him the attention he needs while he’s here surrounded by enemies and people who would very much like to hurt him. I know what it feels like to think everyone has forsaken me… as do you. But I found the Weasleys, you found Tonks and we found each other."

"He has Ginny…"

"Who isn’t the authoritative figure he needs right now." Harry returned. "Look, you don’t have to say yes because I do know what I’m asking. I just thought that maybe this would be a good situation for you as well as him."

"Oh?" Lupin stopped pacing and turned to him with a quizzical smile.

"Well, he’s someone who has something in common with you that the rest of us will never have-"

"And I hope to keep it that way." Lupin fiercely interrupted as he was reminded of the werewolf curse both he and Draco were plagued with.

"As do I." He quietly replied.

There was a long silence, until Lupin finally sat on the edge of his desk and sighed heavily. "What does Draco think of all of this?"

"I haven’t said anything about it to him. I didn’t want to put you in the position of being forced into saying yes just to keep from hurting his feelings. This decision has to be yours."

Lupin sighed once more, shaking his head as he moved to once again slump into the chair behind his desk. "No Harry, it has to be his as well."

(BREAK)

Draco waited impatiently outside the Defense classroom. Normally he wouldn’t have stuck around, he’d never liked being ordered out of a room. But the fact the Potter had asked and not ordered went a long way with him… plus he wanted to discuss a few things with the other boy anyway. He had sensed that Potter’s disappointment was as deep as his at finding out that nothing serious was being done about Tristan and it was time Draco gave him a sad dose of reality- that sometimes playing nice would only get you killed faster. Potter was meant to be a good guy, it ran through him all the way down to his soul, but Draco also knew him to be capable of much darker things with the right incentive. In Tristan, they were dealing with someone very dark and kindness wasn’t the way to destroy him- it would only get them killed.

At last the door opened and Potter emerged with a grim look on his face. He spoke before Draco had a chance. "Lupin wants to talk to you about something."

"About what?" He asked suspiciously.

Potter simply shook his head and offered a small grin. "I’ll wait here."

Feeling apprehensive, Draco made his way back into the classroom and was surprised to see the professor waiting for him with a wide welcoming smile. "So I understand you all wish to go home this weekend." Lupin started.

"Luna and Potter want to try and talk to Willem Fritz. And everyone else wants to go support Fred opening the store again. I can’t get permission to go with them so I’ll be staying here." He shrugged as if it didn’t bother him. In truth it bothered him a lot that he be expected to be part of Potter’s group but wasn’t treated like the others. Of course he understood- he hadn’t earned the privileges and trust they had by being good students and good people in general.

"Would you like to go home with them?" Lupin asked gently.

Again he shrugged. "It doesn’t matter. I can’t."

Lupin gestured that Draco take a seat at one of the desks before coming to sit next to him. "But what if there was a way you could? What if there was a way for you to completely separate yourself from your parents control… and Albus’s?"

"I don’t know… is there a way?" He asked, unwilling to be honest about his desires unless the solution was more than hypothetical.

"There is..." Lupin hesitated before shaking his head and turning back to him with another friendly smile. "…if you emancipated yourself from your family and took on another guardian the few months you have left here at school."

Draco felt his throat tighten and his chest began to feel too small to hold his pounding heart as he realized what they were discussing. "What are you saying?" He asked breathlessly, needing to be sure.

"Well, I would have to speak to Tonks first… but since she’s your cousin and also an outcast from your family, I don’t think she’d have a problem if we took over your guardianship while you’re here." Lupin appeared as nervous about the topic as Draco felt. "You would be able to get permission to do things like the others and you’d have someone fighting on your side when it comes time for you to register with the ministry as a werewolf. And I think best of all for you is that you wouldn’t have to depend on Albus, Harry, Arthur or the ministry to look out for your best interests."

"And you’d really be willing to do that… for me?" Draco was in a daze, unsure how or what to feel.

"Draco, like the rest of them, you and I didn’t have the greatest history. You were obnoxious in class, mean to other students and tried to go after the son of one of my best friends… and I’m sure there are a million other things I don’t even know about. But like the others, I can separate who you are now and the decisions you’re making from the past." Lupin reached out and put a hand on his shoulder.

It was too much, Draco shrugged off the gesture of friendship and rose to face the professor. "Even if I tried to hurt you in the past?"

"Did you?" Lupin asked with an amused smile.

"Third year when you first came here." Draco confessed. "I was told to spy on you, told them all your secrets and how you were trying to help Sirius Black. I was suppose to kill you, get you out of the way since they looked at you as one more person protecting Potter. They gave me Lycos and everything! And I would have done it too, except the night I was supposed to do it, Potter and Granger used that time turner and screwed it all up." He had been pacing while disclosing the failed plot, but now he turned to stare the professor down, daring the man to still want to help him.

Lupin stared right back, still smiling. "Well, may I just say I am personally grateful that you failed, even if Lucius and the others weren’t as happy with you."

"I’m sorry about it now." Draco answered quietly. "I wasn’t then."

"You had no reason to be sorry then. We didn’t know each other and I’ve thought some horrid things about you in the past. What counts is that you are sorry now. Don’t you see? It proves how far you’ve come and that you deserve a second chance."

"Sometimes, it feels like I don’t deserve anything." He confessed, thinking of Ginny and happiness he had no right to experience with her- of everything Potter had done for him up to and including trying to give him back this sense of family- of Luna’s full acceptance of his change of heart from the beginning. He also recalled the kind words Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had spoken to him when he felt he had no right to receive them. And Lupin, he’d already done so much by making this whole werewolf curse bearable, by making him feel not quite so alone. How could he ask for more?

"We all have that point in life where we just don’t feel we deserve a chance. But all we need is someone to give it to us and that’s enough to change your whole life. You’ve already gone this far Draco, and yes with help and acceptance from some extraordinary friends. I’m sure normal people wouldn’t be able to forgive or forget past sins, but it seems you’ve changed everyone’s mind. I’ve noticed even Ron seems more accepting." Lupin paused to smile again. "Though I suppose it is harder to forgive the past when one’s sister is involved in the present."

"You really think this is a good idea?" Draco wanted to say yes, to accept Lupin and Tonks as the adults in charge of making sure he goes through life the right way. It was all he ever wanted- to have the feeling that someone not only took responsibility for him, but who wanted him to be happy and cared about him and his wants and needs. His mother and father had failed his whole life to instill that feeling of family, of belonging, of being accepted whether he succeeded or failed.

Lupin rose to come stand next to him. "Only if you do. I can admit that when Harry first presented this idea, I was apprehensive. After talking to you about it, I’m convinced that I want to do this for you Draco. If you’ll let me."

Draco thought hard. He desperately wanted to agree to this. And Tonks, who he hadn’t even recognized the first time he saw her at the Hogsmeade battle, was his family… the daughter of an aunt ostracized but his mother and the rest of the family for who she chose to love. He briefly wondered what Narcissa thought of the Quibbler article and learning that she had married a muggle born wizard. Getting to know Tonks over the past few months he’d felt her mother had made the right choice, picking a muggle over her family. But liking both Lupin and Tonks made it that much harder for him to accept this arrangement. He didn’t want to do anything to disrupt or ruin their lives. He was stuck going back and forth between what he wanted for himself and what he wanted for them. "It’s all so much harder when you actually care about people." He finally grumbled.

Lupin laughed before once more reaching out to place a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "Tell me about it. Look Draco, don’t worry about me and Tonks. We’ve both done things far more controversial than signing our names as guardians to the child of a Death Eater, starting with our marriage. My kind… well, your kind now as well… we don’t receive the same rights as fully human wizards, as you’ll learn when you get out in the real world. But as I said before, I want to do this for you. I remember what it was like to be convinced that no one cared if I was happy. This goes beyond needing permission to go home for the weekend. You’re lucky enough to have turned your enemies into friends but as I learned with my own friends, outside this school, there’s very little they can do to help you. As someone who’s already fought the good fight for werewolf rights against the ministry, I can help you. All you have to do is let me."

"Okay." He finally agreed. He wanted this, Lupin seemed more than willing… it would be stupid not to allow this to happen for himself. "Just tell me what I have to do."

Lupin smiled widely, squeezing his shoulder before heading back over to his desk. "I’ll draft a request to both Albus and Arthur. As soon as we get the proper paperwork, all you’ll need to do is sign."

"Thank you." Draco said more easily than he’d ever been able to say those words before.

"Hey, almost everyone deserves a second chance right?"

"Yeah, almost everyone." He responded, thinking of all the people he knew who deserved no such thing. Lupin sent him off to dinner, promising that he’d have news by the next evening. Stepping out of the classroom, Draco was surprised to see Potter leaning against the wall with his arms crossed, waiting. "I’d have thought you would have gone ahead to dinner."

"No one is supposed to go anywhere alone, remember? That applies to you and me as well as everyone else." Potter answered uncertainly. "So… how’d it go?"

Not knowing what else to do, how else to show his appreciation, he stuck his hand out. Looking apprehensive, Potter reached out his own and Draco took hold, shaking it vigorously in a show of friendship. "Thank you." He said, again finding it easier now that he felt he fully owed his new life to this other boy who was the first to give him a chance back during the trial. They both knew that no more needed to be said on the matter, that words would only mess up this moment of understanding. And so together they walked to the Great Hall in silence, each just a little more comfortable in the other’s company than they were before.

(BREAK)

The week flew by in a haze and Luna barely noticed. Although she had been as impressed and touched as the others by Harry’s initiative to help set up the arrangement between Draco and Lupin, she just wasn’t sure now was a good time for the two boys to completely solidify their friendship. The feeling was based on more than the horrifying images swirling in her head at night… she knew what they could both be capable of when backed into a corner and so the idea of them attempting to team up to solve the problem of Tristan was rather frightening. Sure Draco was more level headed, had more foresight, and was better able to control his emotions by keeping them inside rather than wearing them out on his sleeve like Harry… But he was also determined to prove himself worthy of what he now had while holding in a beast that was always struggling to be free, one that embodied what he considered that worst parts of himself. Meanwhile Harry had this compulsion driving him, this need to overcome and protect that ran deeper than his love for his friends… It all stemmed back to that time in his life when he’d felt weak and unprotected himself, and because of those feelings he couldn’t shake, he would always strive to not only be strong but to also be viewed as stronger than anything put up against him. If those two began collaborating as she was beginning to foresee… well, she could only hope she received a vision in time.

With Friday morning came a sense of relief. She had been looking forward to this time away despite the real reason they were going, feeling like once away from the constant fear and uncertainty she’d have a chance to breathe… perhaps even relax enough to provoke a vision. Trudging her way through classes and dinner along with the rest of her friends, they were finally allowed to grab their weekend bags and make their way out onto the lawn. The sun was nearly done setting as Dumbledore gathered them together, Draco included, giving last minute instructions. Drake and Lupin were also there as they were to be their chaperones home, though they all knew the latter was really going in order to see his wife. At last the portkey Arthur had arranged was produced and they all reached out together to grasp it.

As soon as the familiar tug came, she closed her eyes to avoid getting dizzy while being whipped through time and space. They quickly landed in a heap in the backyard of Number 12, Grimmauld Place and Luna instantly felt her spirits lift. Despite what she’d been feeling the last time she was here, she now felt at home. 



A/N: References to Riddle Diary not original to this plot from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling; References to the timeturner and all occurrences to third year not original to this plot from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling; Reference to Umbridge and the Weasley Twins’ swamp from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

Chapter 38: A Weekend Home

A/N: With this chapter we continue to collect answers and more pieces to the puzzle so Read on, Review when you’re done and Enjoy thoroughly!



As they all helped each other to their feet, Molly came running out the back door eager to greet her children. Watching as she grabbed up Ron and Ginny in bone crushing hugs, Luna, Harry, Hermione, and even Draco were all smiling… anxiously waiting for their turn to be greeted as nobody made one feel as missed and welcomed as Molly Weasley. They weren’t disappointed as she turned from her own children to cry and fuss over each of the other teens. Finally Lupin insisted they all venture inside where he quickly proceeded up the stairs to find Tonks. Arthur met the rest of them in the kitchen and a more controlled but equally happy greeting was repeated before Molly sent them all upstairs to get ready for bed.

"Harry, Luna, before you go upstairs with the others I’d like to introduce you to someone." Arthur said, raising a hand to hold them back as he and Drake shared a smile. The healer eagerly made his way past them and down the hall to the parlor where Willem was apparently waiting. "Now before you go in there, I just want to warn you that Mr. Fritz’s appearance may be shocking. He was very unhealthy when we got him out a few days ago and he’s still not all there."

Luna snuck a troubled peek at Harry, wondering how they were ever going to pull off continuing to keep their previous meeting with Willem a secret from Arthur and the other adults not already in the know. She could see him working his jaw as the wheels in his mind whirled, trying to figure out the best way to approach the situation. In that few seconds of silence she decided to let him take complete control, knowing he was better at fabricating stories than she was. Sure she was willing to believe all sorts of out there things, but when it came to creating something out of nothing she was out of her depth and didn’t want to be the reason they were caught up in their lies.

"I remember what an innocent man looks like when he’s finally let out after years of imprisonment." Harry replied, referring to Sirius as a way to distract from the fact that he didn’t want Arthur to know that they had already seen Willem at his worst. "I’m more than prepared."

"Okay, then let’s meet your newest houseguest." Arthur took a deep breath and shot them a reassuring smile.

With a nervous glance at each other, she and Harry followed him into the parlor where the familiar figure of the formally tortured Willem Fritz was settled comfortably in one of the big, blue chairs. Luna thought that he already appeared more healthy and happy, less like the forlorn man who’d uttered such howls of despair when helping them escape the prison. "Willem Fritz- meet your host Harry Potter, owner of this fine house. And this is Luna Lovegood, the sister of the victim in the last case you investigated. Of course you briefly met her years ago." Drake proudly introduced them. "I knew you’d want to get acquainted right away considering the role these two played in helping you get released." He added with a conspiratorial wink that left Arthur scratching his head.

Luna sensed the minister had caught on to the fact that maybe the healer was referring to something more than what they’d seen in Sarah’s head. Glancing at Harry, she saw that he was feeling the same and with their nervousness now tripled, they turned to Willem. It all rested on him now as Arthur was very closely observing the scene before him. Could he pull it off and convince the other man that he’d never spoken to the two teens before?

As Willem rose from the couch and moved toward them, Luna held her breath and tried not to appear suspicious while at the same time hoping that Harry had a story ready should they fail to be good actors. "Hello." He reached out with both hands, grasping hers and Harry’s at the same time, shaking them eagerly with a wide, happy smile across his face. "I’m so glad to finally meet you both!"

(BREAK)

"Well, I thought I heard the troops arriving." Fred grinned from the top of the second landing as Hermione, Ron, Ginny and Draco climbed the stairs. "Mum mentioned you were all coming home for the weekend, to what do we owe the pleasure?" He asked, sharing a conspiratorial smile with Hermione alone.

"Officially we’re here to support you, our big brother, as you reopen your store." Ron replied moodily, breezing past him and continuing up the last flight of stairs to his room. Apparently he was still unhappy with Fred, though Hermione reflected that he had seemed to let go of whatever anger he had with her and Harry.

"And Mr. Happy weighs in." Fred sarcastically called after him before turning back to the others. "So if that’s the official reason, why are you all really here?"

"Because Harry and Luna wanted to take a stroll through Willem’s head." Ginny answered as she walked into her room, gesturing everyone else to follow. "What’s he like?"

"Willem? I don’t know, he’s kept to himself since he got here." Fred shrugged as they all settled themselves. "His room appeared on the second floor with all the other grown ups Wednesday morning before dad brought him here and that’s where he’s spent most of his time."

Hermione felt uncomfortable knowing that the last time she was in this room, she had instigated a fight that had resulted in her receiving black eye. But if Ginny had moved past it, she had to as well. "It’s not surprising." She responded as she sat in the desk chair. "After all that time with all those crazy people I can imagine the desire to not be near anyone… especially a bunch of strangers."

"Yeah, but if he was locked up for six years with only crazies to talk to you’d think he wouldn’t want to spend all his time locked up in another room, albeit one much larger and more comfortable if the other rooms in this house are any indication." Draco added absently.

"Either way, I’m sure he’ll be more social now that Drake is here. From what I understand they grew up together and have been friends for a very long time." Hermione replied as she shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

"Yeah, well, I’d hope my friends wouldn’t let me sit in Azkaban for six years." Ginny shuddered.

"Even if you were guilty?" Fred teased. She stuck her tongue out at him in reply. "Well, this has been fun, but since we’ll have to wait on the wonder twins to get any more information about Willem I’m going to choose to spend my time wisely. And since I’m lucky enough to have my lab partner at the moment maybe I can actually make some progress." He turned to Hermione. "Care to assist?"

"I suppose." She replied reluctantly.

"There’s the enthusiasm I’ve been craving! Let’s go." He grinned before heading out into the hallway and down to his own room.

With an awkward wave to Ginny and Draco, Hermione slowly followed Fred with a sudden sense of the same nervous anticipation and dread that she felt whenever they were all about to do something scary or dangerous… Only it wasn’t necessarily a bad feeling like during those times, this felt more like as if there was a balloon growing larger inside of her that was on the verge of bursting. He’d left the door open for her and standing in the doorway, she saw that he’d already put his splattered lab coat on and was back at work. Taking a deep breath she felt the balloon deflate a bit and was able to enter with an amused smile. "So, where are you on all of these cures?" She asked, picking up the other coat -one Fred had bought for her, she knew George’s was packed safely away in the attic.

"I’ve already created enough to run tests and so far Zander is still alive and relatively unharmed." He grinned widely. "I’ve also gotten approval from the RCPP on all but one of the cures so I’m all set for the opening tomorrow. The only thing left to do it ensure there’s enough to stock the shelves… I’ve sort of ignored quantity while trying to perfect quality."

"Okay then. Just point me to a cauldron and we’ll whip up whatever you need."

"Ah, the optimism… that’s what’s been missing." He teased though she could tell he actually meant it a lot. She began to worry that without the others, Fred had lost a lot of his motivation if not his drive. Perhaps this half-cocked plan of Harry’s was a better idea than she’d thought, especially if she ensured they all put all their side projects aside tomorrow long enough to really show their support not only in the store, but in Fred’s progress toward life without George.

(BREAK)

Harry shook hands with Willem, trying to appear confident and unsuspicious while they greeted each other as strangers. It was an easier task for Willem who hadn’t actually laid eyes on them before while he and Luna had to pretend no familiarity. Arthur was watching closely and though the minister may not be sure exactly what clue he was looking for yet, it was apparent that he’d suddenly grown leery that there was something he wasn’t being told.

They all sat together though both Harry and Luna were reluctant to bring up the topics they really wanted to discuss while Arthur remained in the room, fearful that they’d accidentally give something away. They’d gone this long keeping their trip to Azkaban a secret, there was no turning back now. But no matter what they and Drake (who had caught onto their plight) tried in order to get Arthur to take a hint and leave, it didn’t work. He was firmly planted in his chair until Molly came to strongly suggest they all go to bed in preparation for their early morning. A wave of disappointment washed over Harry but he remained calm as Luna silently reminded him that they had until Sunday afternoon to find time alone with Willem.

They rose to follow orders for no other reason than to appease Molly. "Thank you again Harry, for letting me stay here and for helping get me released in the first place." Willem said, stopping him at the bottom of the stairs. "You have no idea the gratitude I feel to you. Both of you." He turned to smile at Luna also.

Harry glanced over his shoulder and saw that Arthur was still in the parlor caught up in conversation with Molly and Drake. "Don’t worry about a thing, we were happy to do it. But we do need to find time to talk to you while we’re here… maybe tomorrow night after dinner?"

"Of course, though if this is about Kane’s case I’m not sure there’s much more I can tell you." He shrugged apologetically.

"Don’t worry about that either." Luna assured him. "We have other ways of helping to find out what you know."

"So Roscoe has told me. Quite the impressive pair the two of you are." Willem said raising an eyebrow in curiosity.

"Only two of twelve." She replied absently without a trace of vanity or boastfulness making both Harry and Willem smile. After bidding him goodnight, they headed upstairs to his room, silently calling the other teens to join them. "You aren’t too disappointed are you?" she asked as he closed the door, leaving it slightly ajar for their friends.

"Hey, at least he’s here, we’re here… tomorrow night will be soon enough." He replied with false easiness.

But Luna had never been easy to fool and she saw right through his ‘glass half-full’ optimism. "Unless something happens between now and then." She finished his thought.

Crossing his arms he sat on the bed and stared back at her. "Well, it would be par for the course, wouldn’t it? If something bad happened to either us or him before we get the chance to talk?"

"Harry, even if something goes wrong tomorrow at the store, Arthur will be there. And having the minister with us pretty much ensures there will be an abundance of Aurors in addition to the small army they’ve taken to assigning to you and the rest of us while we’re in the city. And Willem will be staying here, the safest place he could be at the moment."

"Logic does nothing to alleviate my doubts." He pouted.

Hearing footsteps on the stairs signaling their time alone was over, she sat across from him in the desk chair and smiled. "I know. But at least I tried."

(BREAK)

It was very late and Ron knew everyone else had long ago fallen asleep. But his mind was working too feverishly to let him rest. His friends hadn’t been acting like themselves with him or each other for awhile now and it was bothering him even more than he cared to admit to himself. Thinking of everything he’d overheard and seen in the last few weeks, he began to fit the pieces of that puzzle together and didn’t like the picture that was forming. Harry, Hermione, Fred, and most heartbreakingly Luna- it seemed they were all preparing to once again spin the roulette wheel that was their entire group’s relationship with each other. He’d only just recently managed to barely come to terms with the last spin that had resulted in his sister dating Draco. That twist of fate had been hard enough, he wasn’t sure he could handle such an enormous change this time.

He wanted things to stay the same, for something to remain constant in his life. He didn’t want his two best friends to break up so that one could run to his brother and the other to his ex-girlfriend… especially since he’d had to swallow his own feelings for Hermione when Harry had set his sights on her last year. But he’d convinced himself then that it had been for the best, seeing how in love they’d been with each other. And to now see it fizzle out and know that not only had he stepped aside for their tumultuous love affair but rather than turn to him as an option, Hermione was now interested in Fred… And Luna! Harry had already gone and taken one girl, was Ron really supposed to let him do it again? Upon reflection, he knew his resistance to this idea wasn’t due to any torch he was still carrying for Luna- though he’d always love her, he wasn’t in love with her and was finally in a place to admit it. And it wasn’t that he still had feelings for Hermione either… He just didn’t want things to happen this way after everything that had come before.

Were Harry and Luna a good fit together? It seemed so, they had so much in common and they were both set up for spectacular lives should they survive the present. And as for Hermione and Fred, they were linked through their separate intelligence and provided much needed balance in each other’s lives… Hermione was slowly learning how to relax and let loose and Fred was beginning to see the benefit in taking some things seriously. Okay… so maybe they’d all be happier but it didn’t change the fact that he was once again left out in the cold. And as much as he could reason with himself, he could also argue.

Whose fault was this sudden shift of emotions among his friends? He knew Harry and Luna had always had their own little world to step into together, even back when their interests had been fully in their separate partners. After she and Ron had broken up, their interests had certainly begun to shift more toward each other even as Harry continued to proclaim and display his love for Hermione. Ron knew his best friends well and Harry especially was one to keep to his promises and commitments… and after the disastrous mess he’d made last year, Harry would never be the one to hurt Hermione… he wouldn’t leave her no matter how deeply he was in it with Luna. And Luna was all purity inside and trust was very important to her, she could never purposely do anything that would break up her two friends no matter what vision she may have received. Hermione certainly wasn’t the type to stray and Ron doubted she would actively pursue anyone beyond Harry. She wasn’t the kind of girl to easily give into temptation, but… It seemed of the four involved in this love square, Fred was the only one not fighting the feelings they were all apparently having about each other.

With that realization came another, that this was the reason he’d lost his anger with the others but maintained a grudge against his brother. At some point he’d decided to blame Fred for the emotional chaos swirling beneath the surface of their friendships… it had probably been the moment he’d caught him rolling around on the ground with Hermione in Hogsmeade the weekend before. While with Harry, Hermione had certainly given into her playful side but often only when they were alone if he was to believe the memories Harry had shared. But Ron had never known her to be so open and free as to playfully wrestle with a guy on the ground in the middle of a village with people everywhere. It was easy to get caught up in Fred’s antics, he’d often gotten himself in trouble following his brother’s lead… but he wasn’t sure he was ready for the kind of trouble that could result in shaking up their group’s dynamic.

It was simple- Harry would never leave Hermione unless she was the one to let him out of their commitment. Luna would never actively pursue Harry unless he was single. And Hermione had no reason to leave Harry so long as Fred stopped trying to tempt her away. If he wanted to keep everything as it was, in comfortable terms he was familiar with, he had to find a way to stop Fred. Distance wasn’t enough if they were going to find a way to be around him every weekend. No, he had to take a lead out of the same playbook Harry, Draco and Fred himself had been using last year when deceiving them all about the Hogsmeade battle. He had to be sneaky and after watching everyone else doing it over the years, he thought he had a good grasp on the best way to handle the situation- a tactic Fred himself had often used against his siblings many times over the years though often with George’s help. Ron would wage all out psychological warfare on his brother… and maybe a few of his friends, just for reassurance.

(BREAK)

Ginny awoke, keeping her eyes closed as she stretched luxuriously. No other bed was quite as comfortable as the one provided for her here at Harry’s house… of course that was probably because, like everyone else’s, it had been created specifically for her along with everything else in the room. Opening her eyes she turned to greet Draco only to discover he wasn’t beside her. Sitting up in panic she quickly searched the room but there was no sign of him. A glance at the clock told her that it was early, still a half an hour before her alarm was supposed to go off.

With a sense of urgency, she leapt out of bed and rushed to dress herself for the day, running a brush through her tangled mass of hair before hurrying down the hall to Draco’s room. She knocked loudly but there was no answer. Instead, the door across the hall opened revealing a sleepy and severely disheveled Luna. "What’s wrong?" She asked, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

Ginny suddenly felt silly, acting crazy for no reason. "Nothing. I was just looking for Draco. He wasn’t where I left him when I went to sleep last night. Sorry I woke you, you can go back to sleep for a bit if you want. It’s still early."

Luna smiled slightly. "Well I’m awake now. Might as well start my day. Molly’s probably already starting breakfast, I should go down and help her." She made to head downstairs but Ginny quickly stopped her.

"Don’t you want to get dressed first?" She asked her friend who apparently hadn’t bothered to change out of the clothes she’d worn last night before falling asleep. Likewise, her hair was still in the same messy pulled back fashion that it had been and appeared as if she hadn’t washed it in days. "Or take a shower?" Ginny lightly added. Remembering her own bout of depression and the lack of care she’d taken in her own appearance at that time, she was beginning to really worry about Luna.

Looking herself over as if she hadn’t considered the image she was giving out, Luna sighed deeply. "I suppose I should. Wouldn’t want to offend any customers Fred may have today."

"Are you okay?" she asked carefully.

"Sure." She weakly smiled in response before trudging off down the hall to the bathroom.

Determined to find the time to corner her friend at some point that weekend, Ginny shook her head and went downstairs to continue her search for Draco. She found him in the kitchen reading the newspaper as Molly, Arthur, Lupin, Tonks and Drake stood in the corner with their backs to him, talking in low voices, their expressions lined with concern. She couldn’t help but wonder what had the adults looking so troubled.

Finishing whatever article he was reading, Draco threw the paper down in disgust before realizing she was there. With a grim expression he got up and gestured her back into the hallway. "What happened? Why were you up so early?" She asked as soon as they were alone.

"I never went to sleep." He answered distractedly as he led the way back upstairs.

"What’s wrong?" Suddenly dread was gathering in the pit of her stomach.

"Maybe something, maybe nothing." He continued up the stairs to the top floor, going directly to Harry’s door and knocking loudly.

He answered looking as wide awake as they were. "What’s up guys?" He asked nervously.

"Mr. Weasley gathered all the adults this morning after he read the Daily Prophet, they were so distracted that they forgot I was in the room and left the paper on the table." Draco began without preamble, looking back and forth between her and Harry. "There was an article about Fred reopening the store and it was written by Elanya Delamora."

"So she went to work for the father she wants to kill?" Ginny was confused. Hadn’t they all just agreed that Edmund and Jayalina were Elanya’s parents and that he must be the one she intended for a revenge murder? "Why on earth would she do that?"

"Only she knows at the moment. But for us, it’s more imperative to figure out why she wrote the article and why Edmund included it in the paper." Harry replied, turning to Draco. "What did it say specifically about Fred and the store?"

"Nothing much… just a blurb really, talking about the fire and how the store has finally been renovated after months of sitting in disrepair. Mainly it was letting people know that the reopening was today and that the merchandise had changed from jokes to cures." He paused, shuffling his feet. "But the reason for the article was clearly the last paragraph suggesting Voldemort’s followers had been behind the fire that destroyed the store in the first place and…"

"And?" Ginny and Harry prodded at the same time.

"And they speculated that you would probably be there today Potter." Draco sighed. "They wrote the article so that the entire wizarding population would know where you and all your friends would be. So what we really need to figure out is why they would want to do that and who has what planned for today."

(BREAK)

It had taken a rather long discussion with everyone in the house but it was finally decided that it would be best to go ahead with the reopening as planned. Arthur sent Tonks and several other Aurors to Diagon Alley, preparing the shopkeepers for the possibility of trouble before setting themselves up all long the street as lookouts. Staying true to himself, Harry refused to be left behind though surprisingly very little debate was needed before the adults gave in. Apparently they were beginning to understand that Harry was his own guardian and didn’t need anyone’s permission but his own to go anywhere… at least he hoped that was the case. It was also entirely possible that they just had other things to focus on than figuring out a way to keep him at home.

This was the time Harry hated, the waiting. Something could happen today or they could spend all their time on edge only for nothing to come of it. No specific threat had been made and though he didn’t want to sour Fred’s day, he knew Arthur was right to take precaution- it was better safe than sorry. Rather than risk apparating or driving through the streets they used one of Arthur’s portkeys to bring their whole group to the store. Willem and Molly were the only ones to stay behind.

Everyone rushed around helping Fred and Lee as they took care of last minute problems and details. It had been decided early on in planning that Harry would keep to the office, denying those curious customers who’d only come to catch a glimpse of him yet allowing him to be in the area should there be trouble. Now sitting at Fred’s desk with the opening of the doors mere minutes away he felt nervously hopeful that there was some personal reason Elanya had for writing the article, that she was acting separately from her female counterparts and Voldemort as she’d claimed to Fred. Sure it was possible that she was just trying to stir up trouble, after all, other than the article coming from Edmund’s Daily Prophet there was nothing to tie this newest twist to Voldemort. Unfortunately there was nothing that could be done to find out anything for sure other than wait to see what happened.

(BREAK)

"Well, do you think we’re ready?" Lee asked impatiently as Fred continued to look uncertainly around the store. Everyone else was also staring expectantly at him, waiting for him to give the okay to open the doors. Surprisingly there was a line of people already outside, though Fred assumed it was due more to morbid curiosity than the desire to actually purchase his wares. Apparently the newspaper article had done it’s job, letting everyone know that this was the place to be.

Taking a deep breath, he nodded and Lee unlocked the door, letting in the potential customers. Without Harry in the main room, Arthur was the next target for the barrage of questions the public had. As they shouted out concerns about Voldemort and the way the ministry was handling the terrifying situations that had been taking place in the city and surrounding countryside, Fred watched his father grow tired and frustrated. He wondered just how Arthur was able to handle the stressful responsibility of such a thankless job and began to dislike every customer in the store for thinking his dad was required to answer for their happiness... but that was the job he’d chosen. After making a brief statement that he was simply there to support his son, he turned to Fred and muttered that he was going to help Harry in the office.

With a glance at Drake, Fred gathered everyone’s attention and went into his sales pitch before the restless crowd could disperse. Shockingly, only a few disappointed people left, everyone else took to either perusing the shelves for cures they needed or hassling his friends for information about Harry- Ron and Hermione were the most recognizable as Potter companions and were therefore bothered more than he, Ginny, Luna or Lee. Draco was keeping himself busy behind the counter and far from the continuous flow of customers, scowling at anyone who dared try to bother him with non-store related questions. After hearing some of the things people were asking about, up to and including his break with his family, Fred decided not to scold him on proper customer service. If those people were going to be so openly rude and nosy then they deserved whatever response Draco chose to bestow on them.

For the next couple of hours the store was a whir of activity with a continuous flow of people coming and going. "What would you recommend for this?" A large woman asked, thrusting her meaty hand in Fred’s face. It was covered in tiny angry boils. "Got into a fight with my sister and she jinxed me. It hurts something awful and I can’t do anything with it. I’ve tried all the other home remedies and was about to go see a healer, but thought I’d come here first to try and save some money."

Quite disgusted, Fred pushed her hand away from him before smiling up at her as if he wasn’t grossed out by her ailment. "I think I may have just the thing for you." He walked over to a far shelf with the woman shuffling behind him. "This should do the trick, it’s specialized for jinxed skin growths."

Thanking him profusely, she took the small vial and eagerly went to pay. Looking around he caught Hermione’s eye as she stood explaining one of the potions to another customer. They smiled at each other, though he still wasn’t sure whether or not he was grateful to her or George for helping push him to do this. So far it seemed to be going well, on it’s way to a booming success… but the day was still early and anything could happen.

"Hey, this just came for you." Lee said coming up to him with a small envelope.

Fred felt his stomach drop in dreadful anticipation. He knew things had been going too well. "From who?"

Lee shrugged. "I don’t know, but it must not be an explosive or anything because it was cleared by one of the Aurors."

"Which one?"

He pointed to the door. "That big guy standing right outside checking everyone as they come in. He said someone gave it to him to deliver to you. But you were talking to that woman so he gave it to me. Do you want it or not?"

Hesitantly Fred took the envelope. His name was scrawled out in neat, precise handwriting. "Thanks." He said absently as he headed down the short hall, past the office and out the back door where he had a little more privacy. There were of course Aurors placed in the alley, but they remained at either end and didn’t come to bother him.

With nervous dread gathering in the pit of his stomach he tore open the envelope and pulled out two pieces of paper. One was a copy of the Daily Prophet article from that morning’s paper and the other a letter from the author of that article. The second he read through very carefully, several times over.

Dear Fred,
I hope today is going well. Were you surprised when you read the newspaper? I couldn’t be completely sure you had read it this morning so I thoughtfully included a copy in this letter. I am sure that you’re wondering why I wrote the story… or why I’m working for the Daily Prophet at all. As to the last I’m afraid my reasons are my own, a girl is entitled to her secrets after all. But I’m happy to let you know that I had no sinister reason for writing my first article about you and your little store. I was hoping for nothing more than to help spread the word through a little free advertising. Consider it a gift to make up for the fire that destroyed the store in the first place.
Of course I had wanted to tell you all of this in person. However, with the multitude of Aurors and ministry employees about, I knew that wasn’t the best idea. But I just couldn’t wait to let you know that I was serious when I came to see you a few weeks ago. I want to accomplish my goals separately from the others, and I think you are the person to help me. And now that I’ve helped you with something, maybe you’ll be more willing to assist. Obviously I can understand how you may still be uncertain and not entirely trusting of my motives. But don’t worry, I have plenty of ideas for ways to prove myself and I can’t wait to show them to you. I think we’ll be seeing each other again very soon- a prospect I am very much looking forward to. In the meantime I hope you think of me, as I am always thinking of you… and how we can help each other.
Your new loyal friend,
Elanya Delamora

Fred’s heart was thundering in his chest. He didn’t believe a single thing she was trying to convince him of and was horribly worried as to the reason she was trying so hard. And while Lee or Zander may have been thrilled by her promise of another meeting, he was considering it a threat. She was up to something that she clearly needed him for… but what? Could it really only be about getting even with her father? Had she meant it when she’d claimed she was trying to give up Sarah, Elise and Voldemort? Was he willing to take the chance of believing her? As to the last question he immediately knew the answer- no, he wasn’t willing to take the chance, there was too much at stake.

But he also wasn’t willing to share this letter with anyone else. His parents would have no other choice than to close off the only way Elanya had to reach him, the store. And his friends would only worry about him more than they did now, it’s not like there was anything they could do. All she’d done was write an article and a letter… and neither of those had been appropriately incriminating to illicit an official response from the ministry other than to take precaution with today’s events. Despite her letter’s mention of the fire and her desire to break with the "others" there was nothing to specifically link her to even the suspicion of being a Death Eater. It wasn’t enough, yet. If he went about as normal, keeping the letter to himself, then he could wait and see what happened the next time she came. Part of him was certain he would be safe that far… that as long as he didn’t anger her too much, then her plans included keeping him alive. After this next meeting, he would make sure he came away with enough information to actually do something about it.

Fred carefully folded the letter and put it in his pocket, clearing his thoughts and reinforcing the walls around his mind to keep Harry and Luna out. He decided he wouldn’t tell Hermione either. She already had to worry about all the crazy plans Harry was always plotting, why put her through his insane schemes as well? Besides, he didn’t need her to tell him this was a bad idea, he already knew it. Shrugging off his agitation and uncertainty he made his way back inside, happy to see that the store was still milling with customers. Maybe every day wouldn’t be this profitable, but today was an optimistic start to his new venture. Hopefully everything else in life would follow suit and begin going this well too.

(BREAK)

Fed up with being around so many nosy strangers, Draco announced that he was taking a break and walked back to the office without waiting for a reply. If providing humiliating free labor was required in friendship, then it was definitely his least favorite part of the experience. Potter and Mr. Weasley looked up from the files they were perusing when he entered the room, staring at him inquisitively. "I needed a moment away." He explained, leaning against the wall.

Mr. Weasley looked at his watch before rising from his chair and stretching. "Well, it’s about time for lunch, I suppose I’ve been hiding long enough. It’s only fair to give someone else a turn." He grinned at the boys. "I think I’ll go around and gather food orders, bring everyone back something from the Leaky Cauldron."

"Need any help?" Potter offered.

"No I think it’s best everyone continue to think you aren’t here. I’ll see if Ron and Hermione want to tag along." Mr. Weasley insisted. He took their orders before heading out to the others, closing the door behind him.

Relieved to be off his feet, Draco sank into the vacated chair. "Consider yourself lucky that you get to stay back here all day." He grumbled to Potter.

"Is it that bad?"

"I just find that I really don’t like people in general." He sighed. "Guess I’ll have to find a job far away from sales and customer service. Fred seems made for it though."

"Yeah, his secret is making fun of people he doesn’t like in his head to keep himself entertained while dealing with them." Potter smiled as he shared what he’d seen in his friend’s mind.

Realizing they were alone and that the possibility of being interrupted was slim, Draco decided now was as good a time as any other to finally take steps towards trying to pay Potter back for everything he’d done for him. He knew how desperately the other boy wanted to get rid of Tristan Mcnair but was held in check by his sense of fairness and decency, no matter how naïve and vulnerable that made him. Normally for Potter to take action, he must believe a serious crime committed against him, but even Draco could see the struggle he was going through in trying to justify keeping the vampire around. He would help Potter get in touch with his darker side, to ensure that they neutralize the threat Tristan presented before it was too late and Potter could thank him later. "Listen, I think we need to have a serious discussion." He began carefully, leaving certain thoughts open for viewing to make the conversation go easier.

"Okay. We seriously can’t do anything to Tristan." He frowned as he immediately grasped the topic.

"And we seriously can’t sit and wait for him to do something to us. You can’t always be on the defensive you know, sometimes it’s necessary to take the offensive position."

Potter shook his head. "Believe me, I understand the logic. But there’s also having to deal with the consequences of making the first move… I already talked to Luna about it and as she pointed out, a lot of people will be forced into action should something happen to Tristan. The Macnairs certainly wouldn’t just let their son disappear, Voldemort would know who was responsible and best case scenario, he’d just send another spy- one who’s identity we don’t know. And if another student came up missing or dead after everything that happened last year, well it’s like an invitation for Edmund or anyone else to challenge Dumbledore for the position of Headmaster."

"And if left to his own devices, one of us could die or worse, be turned into a vampire... his possession, his puppet, having no choice but to do as he says, even be forced to turn against the rest of us. Would you want that for Hermione or Luna or Ron? I certainly don’t want it happening to Ginny." Draco countered, laying it out in the basest terms. In his estimation, there was no argument that could measure up to that and he could see Potter struggling to hold his position of righteousness. "What if we figured out some way to get rid of him without provoking all those other things?"

"How?" He asked, his curiosity highly peaked.

"I don’t know yet." Draco admitted. "But I figured if we put our heads together, between the two of us and our separate specialties we should be able to figure something out. I just need you to be on board for this, to see that there’s nothing else to do but get rid of him."

"Trust me, I’ve thought that since Ron had that first encounter with him." Potter assured him. "But we have to keep the others out of it… can you pull off not telling Ginny?"

"As long as you can handle both Granger and Luna." He smirked.

Potter shook his head again, deliberately ignoring the ambiguity of the statement. "Hermione is pretty sharp, but Luna is the one who actually gets visions of what everyone is up to. I think she’s the one we have to worry about the most. She made it pretty clear when we talked that she thinks getting rid of Tristan is a bad idea."

"And it is. But keeping him around is an even worse idea." Draco replied, as careful as Potter was not to actually say the words kill, killed or murdered. He knew the way to keep the other boy on his side was to work in terms he was comfortable with… "getting rid" of Tristan was a noble necessity and an action that was still open to interpretation, whereas "killing" Tristan was a dark, evil deed bred from fear and very exacting in its finality. If Potter thought he was doing no better than Voldemort’s people then he’d be less willing to embrace the necessity of doing anything at all.

"Right. But if- IF- we’re going to do something, it’s imperative the others have deniability and more over, it’d be best to find a way that wouldn’t trace back to us at all."

"Agreed. You sound like you have a few ideas already." Draco grinned. He hadn’t realized just how close Potter already was to wanting to unleash his more vindictive side.

He looked down, appearing almost ashamed. "Well, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been thinking about it… a lot lately."

A sudden knock on the door interrupted their discussion as Luna opened up and poked her head in, giving them both a funny look. "They sent me to make sure you two were okay back here."

"We’re fine." Potter stared back at her as he twisted his face into a mask of confusion. "Why?"

"I don’t know, Arthur seemed concerned that you two were back here alone." She shrugged, not quite meeting either of their gazes. Draco glanced at Potter and saw him nod slightly to answer his unspoken question- Luna was lying. She was the only one worried about what the two of them were up to.

"Why would he be concerned? It’s not like Draco and I are at each other’s throats all the time… anymore."

Again she shrugged. "I don’t know. I was just told to make sure you guys were alright."

"Well, we haven’t killed each other yet if that’s what you’re asking." Draco replied snidely.

"Yours aren’t the deaths I’m worried about you two plotting." She muttered just barely loud enough for them to hear as she turned to leave, once more closing the door behind her.

"Well, it didn’t take her long to catch on, did it?" Potter grumbled. "She probably knew you were going to come talk to me before you did."

"This is for her safety too, whether she likes it or not." Draco reminded him, worried that Luna’s displeasure with the idea of what they were going to try to do would keep the other boy from acting. "Weren’t you the one who told us that Tristan very specifically threatened her right in front of you?"

"Okay! I already said I was in." He said, throwing his hands up. "I just hope we can handle the fallout that’s going to come along with this because even if we can keep it from being traced back to us, they’re all going to suspect one or both of us anyway. We haven’t exactly hidden the fact that we want him gone."

"But who would turn us in? Lupin? Dumbledore? Luna? Let’s face it, anyone who catches on isn’t going to do a damn thing about it other than be happy they can breathe just a little easier."

But Potter was shaking his head smiling. "There is no breathing easier. The world may always be in short supply of heroes, but villains never seem to die. Each time one is taken out, another comes forward to take their place… for example, if you were still working with Voldemort and your father and Cho hadn’t been caught, do you really think they would have needed to send Tristan at all? You two left a void there and they filled it, just like they’ll do again when Tristan is no longer there."

"You make us all sound so disposable while you are all what… irreplaceable?" Draco replied, suddenly feeling angry and insulted.

"It’s not that exactly, but I know you can admit that people don’t care as much about each other on Voldemort’s side." Potter carefully countered. "Besides what do you care what anyone says about that side? You aren’t a part of it anymore and from what I understand, you wouldn’t exactly be welcomed even if you wanted to go back. Can you honestly say that since you came over to our side, you haven’t begun to feel a little more irreplaceable?"

Draco sat in silence, contemplating that that was exactly how he was starting to feel…. wanted and irreplaceable. But he couldn’t say it aloud, he was worried that to voice his happiness was to lessen it somehow. Potter nodded, understanding without him having to say anything. After all, he’d also been thrust into the unfamiliar world of feeling loved and wanted after years of the exact opposite.

"See, it’s not that any of us couldn’t be replaced with another person of equal or greater power… it’s that every one of us is deeply cared about by several others and that is were the sense of irreplaceability comes in. Because we know there isn’t another Weasley family or Luna Lovegood or Hermione Granger or Remus Lupin… only someone else to sit in for them, someone uniquely their own. It’s like with Neville, he died and left a void in our group that you filled when you joined us… but you haven’t replaced him… you are your own person just like he was."

"By that logic there isn’t another Tristan either." Draco returned, feeling awkwardly pleased by Potter’s strange compliment.

"Nope, he was sent in to replace you and Cho. But he’s his own unique creature, which is something not considered by anyone other than us. His side may want to avenge his eventual… disappearance… but ultimately he’s just one more pawn in their game, right?"

"I think to Voldemort, most everyone is a disposable pawn." He scoffed. "Except apparently his sister and Bellatrix LeStrange, but they’re both dead now."

Potter looked away, suddenly on edge. "Yeah, they are. And I’m still sorry every day that I had to kill her."

"Bellatrix? I thought it was a- you or her- situation… nothing to feel bad about. I certainly don’t miss her and she was my aunt." Draco tried to assure him. After all, he didn’t see a problem with defending oneself and Bellatrix was an evil, crazy old bat who would probably only be missed by Voldemort.

"Actually, it was a her or Hermione situation. And I know it shouldn’t bother me, but it does, as will this whole thing with Tristan." He got up and walked over to the tinted window, looking out over Diagon Alley. "Which is why I’m still going to go through with it. Hopefully the fact that I’m not completely okay with it means I’m better than Voldemort, that I’m not just taking a life out of fear but to actually save lives. And hopefully knowing that will keep my soul intact."

"Look, I don’t want to push you into doing anything that you think will jeopardize your soul." Draco muttered, remembering his own time wrestling what he knew to be right against what he felt was right. "I can figure this out on my own and take care of it for you. I’d be more than happy to do at least that much to repay you."

Potter looked at him in amusement. "You don’t have to repay me anything. We’re… friends… now, I guess… and anyway everything I did was simply what people should do for each other."

"You are so naïve." Draco grinned, shaking his head.

"And you’re so cynical." Potter shot back. "We can do this, I’m just never going to be happy about it."

Draco shook his head. "I’m afraid I can’t say the same. I’ll be thrilled to get him out of our lives."

(BREAK)

It was near the end of the day and despite the worrying start, it had been a rather quiet and successful event. With only a few customers remaining in the store everyone else had retired to the office to rest, but Hermione and annoyingly, Ron, had stayed in the front to help close up. Finally the last patron left and Fred was able to lock the doors. "So, are you happy?" she asked him.

"Absolutely. And if we close up and get out of here before the Death Eaters descend then I’ll consider the day a completely successful and victorious endeavor." Fred grinned in response, reaching out to place a hand on her shoulder. "And I couldn’t have done it without you."

"Sure you could have." Ron interrupted. "You just didn’t want to."

"Fair enough." Fred replied, clenching his jaw as he bit back the words he really wanted to say. "But sometimes it takes a little push in the right direction."

"It’s all about the right incentive, isn’t it?" he taunted.

"Whatever the case, the store has officially been reopened and is off to a good start." Hermione said, physically placing herself between the two brothers in an attempt to quell their argument. "There’s nothing to fight about!"

"It’s obvious you’re an only child." Fred pouted. "There’s always something to fight about."

"Some things more important than others." Ron added, crossing his arms.

"Hey! Ready to go home?" Arthur asked happily as he walked into the main room. It was obvious that in his excitement to get home without trouble breaking out, he was oblivious to the tension flowing between his sons.

"Sure, let me just go through the inventory. Then I can grab all the receipts and handle the paperwork back at the house." Fred answered with false brightness, trying to mimic his father’s mood. "Actually, why don’t you take everyone else home and come back for me so you all don’t have to wait? I want to make sure Lee leaves alright anyway."

Arthur regarded his son suspiciously before speaking. "Fine, but the Aurors are staying in place until every one of us is safely home so don’t get any ideas about taking a stroll."

"Wouldn’t dream of it." Fred assured him, though Hermione could see that it bothered him to be told what to do.

"Okay then. Ron, Hermione… shall we?" Arthur gestured toward the office where everyone else was waiting.

Ron made to follow, but Hermione hesitated. "If it’s okay, I’ll stay and help go through inventory. No offense, Fred, but your organizational skills need work and if you try to do it alone you’ll be here all night."

"Then I’ll stay too." Ron declared automatically.

"She said we need to go faster Ronnie, not slower. Hermione knows the inventory, she helped make half of it." Fred argued. "It’ll only slow us down to have to explain everything to you so that you could help."

"I think I can group and list like things." Ron replied angrily.

"Of course you can." Arthur interrupted. "But I agree with Fred, today is about getting everyone home safe as quickly as possible. If Hermione can help the boys get things done, then she can stay." He turned to his other son. "I’ll give you half an hour before I come back and if you aren’t ready to go by then too bad."

"Deal." Fred agreed.

"Alright. Let’s go Ron." Arthur led an extremely unhappy Ron into the office.

"Whoa!" Lee emerged as they heard the whooshing sound indicating everyone else had touched the portkey and left. "I guess now it’s just we three." He grinned as he walked toward them.

"Right, let’s get to work before my dad comes back." Fred replied distractedly. Hermione had a sense that he wanted to talk to her alone and was upset that they still had Lee to get rid of.

"You know, when you and George first approached me about all this, I thought ‘sure, it’ll be a fun way to make some cash until I find my real calling.’ But good lord man!" Lee came over to pat Fred on the back. "I never thought I could find the way into early retirement!"

"Don’t get too excited." Hermione warned him. "This was only one day."

"Well thank you Mary Sunshine." He rolled his eyes.

"Hey, do me a favor and round up all the receipts." Fred instructed him. "The more math you can do back in the office now, the less I’ll have to do at home later."

"Whatever you say boss." Lee rolled his eyes once more before gathering all the necessary papers. "You’d think everyone would be a little happier after having a good day." He muttered as he made his way to the office.

Fred picked up a clipboard and with his back to Hermione, began going through the shelves. "There’s a quicker way to do that." She offered.

At last he turned to face her, a slow smile spreading across his face as he crossed his arms. "Okay, show me."

Waving her wand as she muttered several charms under her breath, she concentrated on separating each vial of potion into sections before grouping them in bunches of ten for easier counting. Then she carefully floated them all back to sit neatly on their shelves. "There, that should make things a bit easier." She grinned.

"Always impressive. You start on that side, I’ll be over here and we’ll meet in the middle." He winked.

Unable to keep a smile off her face, she quickly jotted down numbers, eager for the work to be done. Within ten minutes, they had gotten though all the shelves and sat behind the counter to double-check their numbers. "So, was it what you were hoping?" She asked at last to break the silence.

"Hey according to this, we sold have the stock!" He turned to her with a happy smile. "Like I was trying to say earlier before Ron lost his mind… thank you. You really helped make this all possible for me."

Feeling her face grow red, she looked away. "I think you’re overestimating my role in this." She laughed nervously.

"Hey, you made the product suggestion, helped me maneuver all the legal hoops, took a hand in making the actual potions and more than that, you made me think I could do it all without…" He trailed off, staring off into space for a moment.

"Without George here beside you." She finished his thought. "It’ll never be right that he’s not here." Hermione tentatively put a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

"No, it won’t. But I guess you help make every day that goes by a little easier so… thank you." He replied quietly, reaching up and taking her hand in his.

Feeling uneasy and a little scared she gently pulled away and stood. Then needing something to do, she moved over to the windows to draw the shades. Turning back to look at him, she saw that he remained where he was but there was a silent struggle playing across his face. "You’re welcome." She finally answered. "So Arthur will be here soon, is everything locked up?"

"I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable you know." Fred looked hurt and confused. "I was just… saying what I felt."

"I know." She answered quietly.

"So I’ve got good news and more good news." Lee announced brightly, coming out of the office. "Which do you want first?"

"The good news." Fred grinned at his friend, hiding the emotional upset he’d been going through moments before.

"We more than broke even on the cost of repairs and being closed for those few months." He replied, brandishing the paper holding his figures.

"And the more good news?" Hermione prompted.

"We also covered the cost of licensing, product manufacturing and operations… with a thousand galleon profit left over! On the first day! Talk about making magic happen my friends!" Lee laughed. "I might actually start getting paid well… and I thought that was only a dream!"

"Well, let’s hope people continue to get sick then." She said sarcastically.

"Boy, you really know how to kill a good mood." Lee made a face at her before turning to Fred. "Are you guys done up here? You’re dad will be back any minute."

"All closed up." He answered.

"Alright, guess I’ll head out then. I’m supposed to meet Kingsley and Tonks in the Alley, it’ll be nice to have someone walk me home." Lee grinned again.

Letting him out the back door, Fred made sure Kingsley was there before closing it and locking up. Before he even had time to turn around, they heard Arthur arrive. "Guess it’s time to go back." He muttered.

(BREAK)

"It doesn’t bother you?" Ron asked incredulously. He and Harry were alone in his room, playing chess to pass the time until dinner.

"It really doesn’t. She’s been helping Fred with his potions and getting the store opened for awhile now." Harry shrugged.

Uh oh. Harry was apparently willing to see what would happen if Fred and Hermione were left to their own devices. Time to intervene, and the best way with Harry was always to play on his guilt. "And how do you think this all looks to Hermione?"

"What do you mean?" He looked up quizzically.

"Well, if it seems to me that you’re giving up on your relationship what must she be thinking? Did it ever occur to you that if you actually paid more attention to Hermione, she wouldn’t be spending so much time with Fred?"

Harry shook his head, obviously becoming upset by the conversation. "What does it matter to you?"

"Look, when you and Hermione first started all this together, I had to put aside some very strong feelings that I’d been having for a long time. I stepped aside because I thought you and her were supposed to be together. The last thing I want is to know that I gave up without a fight for nothing… for you to now try and push her off on Fred and for what reason?"

"I’m not pushing her off on Fred." He answered defensively. "There’s no reason for me to." He added quietly.

Ron knew he was lying but let it slide in the interest of his plan. "Do you still love her?" he blatantly asked.

Harry appeared adequately shocked. "Of course I do, just-" He cut himself off before too much honesty could come out. But Ron had an idea of what his friend had been about to say- "Of course I do, just not in the same way."

"Then show it a little more!" He insisted. "You’re losing her because you’re pushing her away, not because she’s losing interest. Fred wouldn’t even be in her sights if you hadn’t been pushing her there. It’s not what she wants, it’s what she thinks you want for her." He could feel Harry trying to push into his mind, to find out what he was up to. But he wouldn't let him in and focused on keeping his barriers strong. Of course Ron knew that if he really wanted to, Harry could rip his way right through but he was counting on his friend’s sense of morality to hold him in check… and thankfully it did as he felt the foreign presence leave his head.

"How do you know?" Harry finally asked after studying him carefully.

"She told me." He lied.

That seemed to take Harry back. "She did?"

"She said that she knew you were pushing her towards Fred, that she saw your indifference to how much time they were spending together. You have no idea how hurt she is by it all, but after everything you’ve been through and everything you still have to deal with, she doesn’t want to be one more thing for you to worry about. She figured you were looking for a way to get out of your relationship with her and so to keep you happy, she’s been doing what she thinks you want her to do. Is that what you wanted? To push her onto someone else, someone she doesn’t really want to be with but will do so just for you?" Ron let out a deep breath. He felt horrible after telling so many lies, especially seeing how tormented, confused and guiltily uncertain Harry was. But he had to go through with it, to keep things the way he thought they should be. Sooner or later this would all blow over and they’d be glad he’d gone to such lengths to stop them all from making a mistake.

"She said all that?" Harry swallowed hard as he looked at Ron, his eyes almost pleading with him to say it wasn’t true.

"Maybe not in those exact words but that was the gist of it." He answered steadily, not wanting to give away anything.

"Hey!" Ginny shouted as she knocked on the door. "Dad’s back with Fred and Hermione so mum said it’s time to come eat!"

"We’re coming!" He responded before turning back to Harry. "Just think about what I said. She’d be mortified if she knew I told you, but I had to say something before it was too late."

"Yeah." Was all he had to say as they both headed downstairs and to the kitchen for dinner. Harry’s head was definitely left spinning and Ron felt proud of himself. After all, it was Harry who had proved many times over that no one could mess with someone’s head like their best friend…

(BREAK)

Luna was on edge as she tried to figure out what to do about the small alliance Harry and Draco had struck between themselves. Sure she also wanted Tristan gone, but not at the expense of her friends. She’d thought she’d gotten through to Harry before, but apparently she’d been right not to hope that he’d hold onto reason. Part of him wanted to do this, despite the part of him that knew it wasn’t right, and Draco was the best person to draw out the darker and more primal instincts and desires in his nature… Not that she blamed Draco… She could understand his desperation to be rid of the one person organizing everyone else against him, and she knew he felt he was without a doubt doing right. Could she stop them? Should she? Oh how she desperately needed a vision!

Ginny knocked on her door to announce dinner and feeling like her legs each weighed a thousand pounds she trudged down the stairs, eager to get through the meal and onto later in the night when she and Harry were to talk to Willem. Everyone was gathered round the table and talking excitedly about their day, though most conversation seemed to swirl around Elanya’s article and the reason for it. A sudden spark caused Luna to turn to Fred who was trying extra hard to be as confused as everyone else… something told her that he may know more than he’d let on. She shook her head, feeling frustrated and more than anything, tired of all the secrets… hers, Harry and Draco’s, Fred’s, Ron’s… everybody was keeping things from everyone else and trying to keep track of it all was starting to wear her down. How was she supposed to get visions and help out if everyone was on different paths shrouded in secrets and essentially working against each other? Neither Harry nor Draco paid her any attention during the meal, both staring purposefully at their plates and barely conversing with anyone else. Molly however was in an excellent mood since, for once, nothing bad had happened when they’d all gone out in a group together. She provided most of the conversation, leaving everyone else the simple task of offering a response when required.

When at last they were all excused from the table, Luna chose to go wait in her room alone until it was time to talk to Willem. Ginny had tried to follow her, but she’d insisted on her solitude, claiming a sharp headache as her reason. She knew her friend was worried about her, but it didn’t matter. As long as she felt in control, that she knew what she was doing, no one else’s opinion mattered… she was entitled to feel blue after all… they all had a reason to feel sad, angry and frustrated. So what if she was in too deep this time to be the positive one, the one to look on the bright side. Didn’t she ever get a turn to be unhappy? Every time she tried someone was there telling her it was wrong, desperate to make it right for her… maybe this time she wanted the luxury of wallowing, so long as she didn’t let it interfere with her openness to receive visions. Maybe this time there was only one solution to make things right and until it came to pass, she would allow herself to feel however she pleased.

(BREAK)

At last Arthur turned in, though Harry waited another hour before searching out Luna. The minister was the only person in the house that he worried would find out what they were up to, he just couldn’t let it happen and therefore preferred caution, waiting anxiously to the point where he could literally feel his skin crawl. Not being able to take the anticipation any longer, he quietly made his way down the first flight of stairs, stopping only to knock on Luna’s door. Together, they crept down to the next floor, both sending their minds out to ensure Arthur and Molly were both deep in unconscious sleep. Creeping past their room, they went all the way down to the end of the hall and knocked lightly on Willem’s door, though it was Drake who answered. "Well, look at that, ghosts in the night." He smiled, gesturing them in. "Willem and I have just been catching up a bit."

"Yeah, In addition to what Minister Weasley has told me, I’ve had Roscoe here fill me in on six years of life in London… apparently it was safer and less troublesome where I was." He replied, grinning at his friend. "I was floored to discover that not only has Drake become a teacher, my dear brother is in the newspaper business."

"Along with his suspected daughter." Harry muttered.

"His daughter? I have a niece?" Willem asked in pleased surprise as he turned to Drake for confirmation.

"I hadn’t gotten to all of that yet, but yes, all signs point that way." He answered. "The kids here put together that Edmund must have had some kind of affair with Jayalina Delamora… and that resulted in Elanya who seems to be following in her parents footsteps."

"Maybe." Luna corrected. "We still aren’t completely sure what she’s up to other than she claims to want revenge on her father for killing her mother."

"So Edmund killed this Jayalina woman? Why?" Willem looked at them, completely overwhelmed with information. Apparently Arthur had been slowly integrating him back into life as it is today… well they didn’t have the luxury of time so hopefully Willem had been able to hold onto most of his wits during his imprisonment.

"That’s what we’re hoping to find out tonight." Harry replied. "We need to see your memories, all the ones pertaining to your interactions with either Edmund or Jayalina. We’re hoping there’s some clue there that maybe wasn’t important enough for you to pay attention to then, but that may be relevant now."

He once more looked to Drake before shrugging. "I guess I don’t see the harm in it. What do I have to do?"

"Be asleep." Harry grinned. "We’ll do the rest."

"And you’ll look at everything having to do with my brother and Jayalina…"

"We hope to."

"But what about… you know, that day…" Willem glanced at Luna meaningfully. "By the time Jayalina was there, his body was gone… but still."

"I can handle it." Luna bravely assured him. "I’m doing this to help solve Kane’s murder, so if I have to see parts of it I’m prepared."

Though Harry remained unconvinced of her ability to watch the sham of an investigation into her brother’s death, Willem seemed to take her at her word. "It won’t hurt will it- you two going through my head?"

"We don’t know. The only other person we did this to was in a coma." Luna answered nonchalantly, eliciting smiles from all the others.

"Don’t be such a baby, Willem." Drake teased. "All you’re going to have to do is lay there, Harry even asked me to bring a sleep potion for you to make things go even easier."

"Yeah, yeah." He brushed off his friend, turning to stretch out on his bed. Drake handed him the potion, which he drank down without question. Harry thought it nice that even after all these years apart and all the things he’d been through, Willem could still completely trust someone. "See you all on the other side I suppose." He closed his eyes and instantly drifted off.

"Care to have an audience?" Drake asked as Harry and Luna pulled chairs up to the side of the bed.

"I’d prefer it actually, in case something goes wrong." He said, taking Luna’s hand.

He could feel the deep swirling emotions that had been dragging her down though she was shielding the worst of it from him. He instantly felt torn in two… he certainly couldn’t let Luna continue to hurt so deeply, but after his talk with Ron he wasn’t sure what to do about it. He’d begun to be so certain that Hermione’s heart was leading her away from him and had felt gratefully relieved that it was happening at the same time his was leading away from her. But had he been wrong? Had she simply seen his falter in emotion and reacted accordingly? Could he leave her if she wanted him to stay?

"Are you ready?" Luna asked quietly.

Mentally shaking off his questions and doubts, he cleared his head and nodded. Linking their minds, they entered Willem’s head as one, traveling back quite a ways until they found what they were looking for- six years in the past.

***

Willem stood behind the Malfoy mansion in complete shock. Not only had a missing ministry worker been traced to this house, but the Auror sent to investigate had met with what could only be described as a murderous end. But he wasn’t here to arrest Lucius Malfoy, whose current story is-he doesn’t know anything about Julian Heath and Kane Lovegood had fallen off the balcony all by himself. No, instead he was yet again waiting for Fudge’s new agent who, while claiming the wandless ability of post-sight, had the uncanny ability to exonerate anyone with the money and standing to keep the minister in office… even a suspected Death Eater like Malfoy. Glancing to the side, he took in Malfoy’s demeanor… he appeared at ease, completely unconcerned with the fact that someone had just died on his property. He’d kept the man there under his watchful eye so he couldn’t tell the psychic anything, and to try and get a gut reading on him. And what had he figured out? Lucius Malfoy was a cold, unfeeling man- no big revelation there.

Willem shook his head. It just wasn’t right that these people continue to get away with murder simply because they were good at playing the game of politics. What this Miss Delamora got out of it he wasn’t sure… in fact, he wasn’t even sure she was really psychic since no matter what the facts proved she always saw it happen however the suspect said it did. He’d already gone to the Department Head of the Auror division with his concerns, but this time an Auror was killed in a way in which it was nearly impossible not to conclude murder… so maybe they’ll finally listen.

At last the woman rounded the corner with Minister Fudge himself in tow. "Miss Delamora, it’s nice to see you again." Willem bowed and politely shook her offered hand.

"Auror Fritz." She nodded in return. Behind her kind smile, he felt the same loathing for him that he felt for her and it took him by surprise. Well, he didn’t like to be foiled doing his work, apparently she took exception to the fact that he was trying to foil hers.

"Go ahead, Miss Delamora. Tell us what happened." Fudge prodded her, obviously in a hurry to be done with this charade.

"Everyone step away from me." She ordered. "I don’t want your energies interfering."

Though he couldn’t be sure what she’d been prepped on, he knew Malfoy at least hadn’t been given the opportunity to tell her anything. So he was truly shocked when she closed her eyes for a moment before walking right to the place where Lovegood’s body had been discovered. Willem himself had been sure to erase all traces of the incident after all the evidence was collected, there was nothing, not even a speck of blood to give it away. She dropped to the ground, her haunting golden eyes shooting open as she stared blankly across the garden.

"He fell here. He was leaning over the balcony railing trying to see into the garden and lost his balance, just as Mr. Malfoy said." She said, finally coming out of her trance.

Willem regarded her suspiciously. "And how exactly do you know what Mr. Malfoy’s account is? Who told you?"

"No one." She icily replied, shooting daggers at him through her fiery gold eyes. "I know it must be his version as it is the way I saw it happen."

"And there you have it." Fudge said, shaking his head in mock regret. "The poor boy tripped himself up, a tragic accident. I’ll personally inform his family. Xenophilius is a good man."

"With all due respect sir," Willem cut in, "I’d rather go to tell the father myself. It is my report after all."

"Certainly." Fudge waved him off, seemingly happy to be relieved of the burden.

"I trust this will end the intrusions on my home." Malfoy sneered.

"Well, there’s still the matter of Julian Heath…" Willem decided to try and pick up where poor Lovegood left off. If they couldn’t get Malfoy on Kane’s murder perhaps they could still link him to Heath’s disappearance and for once make the man pay for his actions.

"Actually that case has been closed." Fudge replied.

"He’s been found?"

"Well, not exactly." The minister shifted his gaze nervously. "But his family is now convinced that he has run away, decided to desert his life and start over somewhere new, somewhere he can’t be found."

"Oh, I believe he’s somewhere no one will find him… I’m just not sure I buy that he’s still alive to enjoy the new surroundings, sir." Willem replied steadily.

"I’m sure he’s alive… at the moment." Malfoy grinned wickedly.

Willem turned on him. "Meaning?"

"Meaning we all die sometime and of a multitude of things." He smoothly answered. "Now if you would all kindly get off my property I’d greatly appreciate it. Otherwise I’ll have to file a harassment complaint with the ministry."

***

"You okay?" Harry whispered to Luna.

Keeping her eyes closed, she simply nodded. "Let’s just get this over with."

"I take it things are going well?" Drake asked them, a bit of concern coming through in his tone.

"As far as we know." Harry answered, giving as much truth as was possible. Whether or not their intrusion into his head would have any negative effects they wouldn’t know until Willem woke up. Closing his eyes again he once more linked up with Luna and delved deeper, hoping for his first glimpse of the now infamous Edmund Fritz.

***

The house towered in front of him, a monstrous thing with gothic towers, menacing stone creatures and surrounded by dark, dense trees. Willem hated being summoned, especially by his brother and especially here. How Edmund could call this place home, he had no idea… to him it felt like he was walking into a dangerously haunted mansion. Straightening his shoulders and looking as confident as he could he rang the bell, prepared to walk into the lion’s den. A tall lanky man with thinning brown hair and drooping eyes answered the door. "Good evening, Mr. Dunham." Willem greeted the man who was acting as his brother’s personal valet.

"Mr. Fritz, do come in." He replied in a deep, quaking voice as he slightly bowed and gestured toward the entry hall. "May I take your hat?"

He took it off and decided not to hand it over, knowing that holding it would keep his hands busy and stop him from being overly fidgety. "That’s okay, I don’t plan on staying long. Where’s my brother?"

"Master Fritz is in his study. He is expecting you." Dunham nodded and led the way down the dark hallway.

"Trying to save on lighting?" Willem asked, feeling a bit anxious and even more nervous. It was how he always felt when he anticipated a meeting with Edmund.

"Master Fritz prefers less light." Dunham answered simply.

"Oh, I remember." When they were still young boys living in their more modest lifestyle, they’d had the misfortune of sharing a room and he remembered the fights they had about shuttering the windows. He’d wanted the bright sunshine but his brother had always insisted on candle or wand light- being older and more prone to anger and abuse, Edmund had always gotten his way. Apparently though his circumstances had changed considerably, he still held onto who he was in their more humble beginnings.

Dunham left him at the large double doors leading into the massive study. Without bothering to knock, Willem barged in and right up to the desk Edmund was seated behind. His eyes sparkled with devious displeasure in the same clear, crisp shade of blue as Willem’s, but that’s where the similarities between the brothers ended. It had been several months since the last time he’d seen Edmund and was surprised to see the slight patch of gray that had begun to creep in at his temples, marring his jet black hair. Though seated he seemed taller, wider and more menacing than the last time they’d met… though in Willem’s eyes, Edmund had always had a very threatening, larger-than-life feel about him. "You called for me?" He tried to sound as put out and angry as he felt, not wanting to show the weakness his brother had always despised in him.

"Relax, Lemmy." Edmund smiled, reverting to the hated nickname from their childhood. "Have a seat, there are some things I want to discuss with you."

"Actually I’m kind of in a hurry. So why don’t you get to your point, Eddie?" Willem shot back, refusing to be made to feel like the eternal little brother, to feel lesser than.

"Very well." He looked even more displeased which actually made Willem feel happier, bolder. "I was having a lunch meeting with Minister Fudge and he mentioned that you have reservations about Miss Delamora."

He was taken aback, it wasn’t what he’d been expecting. "What’s it to you?"

"My interests in Fudge and this woman are of no concern to you. But I understand that you have gone to the Head of the Auror Department and they’ve decided to open an investigation into Miss Delamora." Edmund rose and moved around the desk to stand right in front of him. " I can’t have this leading back to me Lemmy."

"What exactly is going on?"

But he smiled and shook his head. "Don’t worry about it. You and I, we’ve never had similar goals in life but it’s evident which of us came out of top. I’m a very wealthy man and on my way to being one of the most successful and influential in London."

"I’m aware. But you can’t keep progressing at the expense of innocent hard working people. What have you done now, Edmund?" Willem demanded. He knew some of the despicable ways his brother had gained his fortune, had even tried to step in and stop him a few times before but Edmund had always been good at making the right contacts and therefore remained unchecked in his behavior.

"I’ve done nothing that concerns you. I’m simply working my way into the good graces of the right people. Big things are coming little brother, things Fudge and the rest of the pathetic ministry are wholly unprepared for. I’m warning you to get out of there now, to leave your position and stop your investigations."

"Why? What’s coming? Surely nothing greater than He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?" He knew that particular threat had been handled ten years earlier, and by a child of all people.

But Edmund merely shook his head and smiled before moving to regain his seat behind the massive desk. "Vanquishing isn’t exactly the same as killing, not quite as final."

"What are you saying?" A sudden chill went down Willem’s back as his head willfully refused to interpret the meaning in his brother’s words.

"Ah, Dunham! Tea time already?" Edmund looked past him to the valet who had just entered with a tray of tea things. "Willem, I must insist you stay."

Willem sat hesitantly. He wanted to leave, but not as much as he wanted to try and figure out what was going on. "It’s not poisoned is it?"

Edmund laughed wickedly. "Please, Lemmy. I may have committed many sins against you and I’m capable of a multitude more, but I could never take your life. You are my little brother after all."

"Your affection warms my heart." He answered sarcastically, taking the offered tea cup from Dunham.

***

"NO! Don’t drink it!" Luna yelled, bringing both her and Harry out of Willem’s head.

"What? What did you see?" Drake demanded.

Harry turned to Luna, his shock quickly turning to concern. Something had felt off about her presence while they’d been watching the memory, as if she where there but not at the same time. "What was that? What happened?" He asked, ignoring the fact that Drake was there at all.

She shook her head, looking as bewildered as Harry felt. "I don’t know… but I think I just had a vision while we were in there…"

 



NOTE: Sorry this one took so long to get out, life has been busy and hectic lately with little time left for writing. But now I have a job that actually allows me time on my computer so hopefully these chapters will get done and posted more quickly. Coming up… we discover everything Willem knows, Harry and Draco both get to go on surprise visits, Ron continues to work his friends emotions, and a whole bunch more so stay tuned!

Chapter 39: Meeting Edmund Fritz

A/N: This chapter seems to be all about family interactions… lots of clues and information forthcoming here so pay attention J Read, Review, Enjoy!





"A vision? About what?" Drake demanded.

Luna shook her head, still uncertain about what had just happened. She’d never felt something like that before… of course, she didn’t usually go running around in other’s memories. "About Willem drinking the tea Edmund offered him, there’s something in it."

Drake looked confused but Harry was downright befuddled. "But… but that happened in the past. I thought you were only precognative."

"You mean, you’re saying you had a vision of the past-future in a memory?" Drake was still trying to catch up despite the fact that both she and Harry were pretty much ignoring the fact that he was there.

"I am only precognative… I don’t know why it happened, it’s not like I can change what happened six years ago…. But while we were watching Willem talk to his brother it just came to me, that man Dunham had mixed something into the tea at Edmund’s request. It was just like any other vision but it felt so odd."

"Are you okay?" Harry asked, concern clouding his features as Drake came forward to examine her, checking her temperature and pulse while studying her pupils.

"Well you seem perfectly fine." The healer gave his professional diagnosis.

"I am, it didn’t hurt or anything." She assured them both. "It just felt really strange that’s all… like I was watching myself having a vision while watching them… I really don’t know how to explain it better than that."

"So what was in the tea?" Drake asked eagerly as he moved to check on Willem, who was still sleeping peacefully.

Luna shrugged. "It was red, probably the Sulpanus potion they used to keep him from telling anyone anything he found out."

"Well, let’s go back and see." Harry suggested, looking her over very carefully. "Unless you want to stay here. I can try it by myself for awhile."

She smiled back reassuringly. "Really, I’m fine. It just took me by surprise, that’s all."

His eyes said he was still unsure, but luckily he knew better than to push the issue. With a deep sigh, Harry once more closed his eyes and took her hand. Closing her own eyes, she tightened her grip on him as they yet again leapt into Willem’s mind.

***

Willem took a tentative sip of the tea. Though it’s color was questionable, it tasted normal. Glancing across the desk, he saw Edmund pour his own cup from the same pot and drink heartily… it gave him a bit more piece of mind about taking the offered beverage. Once Dunham left the room again, Willem prepared to get to the bottom of his brother’s most current misdeeds. "You were saying before? Something about aligning yourself with forces Fudge and the ministry were unprepared for?"

Edmund regarded him with a sinister smile. "Yes. I’m making powerful allies that will put me in the right places when he comes back."

"When who comes…?" He trailed off, realizing what he’d feared his brother had been alluding to was true. "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is gone, vanquished if not one hundred percent dead. Anyone who would try to bring him back would be considered a criminal of the worst kind." He warned.

Edmund’s smile only grew wider. "I’m not necessarily involved… yet. Let’s just say that plans are being made now that a certain child is coming of age."

Willem shook his head, trying to put all the clues together. "You can’t mean Potter. He can’t be more than ten."

"Just recently turned eleven actually and finally out in the open, on his way to Hogwarts in a few days."

"Who cares?!" Willem shouted. "Without He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named there is nothing for the kid to fight!"

"That’s where you’re wrong, Lemmy. There are several of us who would prefer the boy be neutralized early, before he has the chance to fulfill any prophesies." Edmund leaned forward on the desk.

"There was only one prophesy and he already fulfilled it." He argued. He wasn’t exactly sure what he was trying to talk his brother out of, but he knew it was important. Especially if there were Death Eaters out there looking to resurrect their fallen master, as Edmund seemed to be implying.

"So you know of that one as well?" Edmund appeared pleased. "He did not fulfill it. The Dark Lord had gone to Godric’s Hollow that night to take care of the prophesy himself but something went wrong. But that doesn’t mean an infant won, it simply means the boy’s mother was a craftier witch than had been anticipated for a half muggle."

Willem stood, not believing what was taking place. "Are you really admitting to being a Death Eater – to plotting something so dangerously insidious right in front of me, an Auror? Brother or not, it is my job to do something about this."

This time, Edmund’s twisted grin shot right through him, sending shivers of fear down his spine… there was something he’d missed… his brother would never be so stupid as to reveal more than he intended. "Sit back down Lemmy. I’ll answer all your questions."

He remained standing. "Why?"

"Why not? I already warned you to get out of the ministry. If you don’t you will be forced out one way or another so I am unconcerned. Besides, I took precaution to ensure our conversation remains private."

Willem slowly sank down into his chair. "The tea…"

"The tea." Edmund nodded. "Like I said, nothing that will end your life, just a very strong truth suppression potion that’s just been created."

"You did this to torture me, didn’t you?" Willem shook his head sadly. Why couldn’t he have had a normal loving brother like most people?

Edmund laughed. "You have yet to experience anything truly torturous little brother. But if you try to fight the potion, if you try to fight me, I promise you will know exactly what it feels like. I know you, and I know how important it is for you to feel like you’re doing the right thing. This time, I’ve simply taken the precaution of ensuring you don’t stick your nose in the wrong place. Believe me or not, everything I do now is for your protection as well as my own... I may not always have liked you Lemmy, but I do love you, as much as I can I suppose. I won’t see you killed because you don’t know when to give up."

Willem felt helpless, there was nothing he could do at the moment other than leave and try to figure out his next step. But he wanted to stay, to gather as much information as he could so that hopefully he could give someone a warning as to what kind of hell was trying to be unleashed. "Jayalina Delamora, Julian Heath, and Kane Lovegood… how do they fit in all this."

He shook his head. "Your Auror was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and got a broken neck as a result. Perhaps next time your department shouldn’t send someone so new to the force to the Malfoy Mansion."

"No one sent him, Lovegood’s investigation and intuition led him there."

"And had he been a little more seasoned at his job, maybe he would have known- or had the intuition- to call for back-up before heading into the Dragon Pit. Lucius may have been exonerated for his crimes by the ministry but he’ll soon have to answer for his disloyalty to an entirely different organization and it has him nervous and desperate. He’s even using his son to try and get at the Potter kid so that the Dark Lord will be pleased and less likely to punish." He slid a document across the desk. "Sign this."

Willem saw that it was another copy of his earlier report on the days events, only this time it concluded that Kane had accidentally fallen all on his own. So this was why Edmund had been stringing him along offering information… he had wanted something in return. He stood and threw the paper back across the desk. "Malfoy murdered that kid! Auror Lovegood was onto something and that’s that. You’ll never convince me otherwise, nor will Fudge and his lying psychic. I refuse to sign this! I refuse to cover up a murder on the word of a scam artist!"

"Save your indignation Lemmy." Edmund leaned back in his chair, looking completely at ease. "Miss Delamora is the real deal. Maybe she isn’t always honest about what she sees… women are fickle that way… but she always sees the truth."

"How would you know?"

"Who do you think brought her to Fudge? She and I have known each other for many years… but you won’t have to worry about her much longer. Unfortunately I’ve been told that she’s outworn her usefulness. Not a problem so long as there’s someone to take her place and I’ve recently learned that there is."

"You make it sound like this woman is about to be killed off…" Willem was nervous. He may not like Jayalina, but he didn’t feel she deserved death. Of course, she had put herself in this terrible situation when she chose the company she kept.

"She has sent away her own replacement, hiding the girl from me and everyone else. As long as she tells someone where the girl is, there’s no reason Miss Delamora can’t live a long, happy life." Edmund looked at him closely before smiling again. "And don’t bother yourself about trying to find and warn her after you leave here. She’s already with some friends."

"Are you really this cold and cruel Edmund? Does no one’s life hold weight with you?"

Edmund turned very serious, his easy grin disappearing altogether. "As I said, yours is one I will not allow taken if it is at all in my power. And right now it is. Sign this Lemmy and then go do what I know you will do and seal the fate I’ve provided for you. But always know I did it for you, to keep you safely away from all this."

He was unsure. If it was true that his brother refused to kill him, then what consequences would there be if he refused to sign? And what had Edmund meant when he’d told him to go do what he knew he would do? Did that mean everything was in Willem’s hands now? What act would he carry out that would set Edmund’s plan in motion? "No." He stood tall and reminded himself to breathe. "Lovegood’s family deserves to know the truth and so does the rest of the wizarding world."

Edmund nodded. "So predictable… Don’t make me force you to do this, Willem… I’d really rather not use an unforgivable on you again. There is no choice here, I apologize if I gave the impression that there was."

And he was right. Willem didn’t doubt for a second that Edmund would use the Imperious Curse to get what he wanted… he’d used it on him all the time when they were in school together, just to impress his friends. He wanted to refuse, to prove his defiance in any way possible just to force Edmund to do something he really didn’t seem to want to do. But in the end, it would prove nothing and he’d still wind up signing the report. With a sigh of defeat, he leaned over and penned his name, feeling despicable the entire time. He looked Edmund right in the eye. "I hate you."

"And that is my cross to bear. Fortunately I think I can handle it." He rang a bell and Dunham instantly appeared. "Someday you’ll thank me Lemmy."

"Someday I’ll figure out a way to stop you." He promised as he walked toward the door.

***

"Wow." Harry said as they took a break.

Luna turned to the still sleeping Willem, looking at him with new respect and admiration. "He wanted so badly to tell the truth…" She trailed off, not wanting to let loose the tears of gratitude welling in her eyes. Harry squeezed her hand and offered a supportive smile.

"Well?" Drake looked at them expectantly. She left it to Harry to relate what they’d seen, instead focusing on what they’d learned.

"At least we now know why Jayalina was killed." Luna said when Harry was done. "For some reason she’d decided to tell Edmund he had a daughter, then sent Elanya away and refused to tell him where his daughter was, probably in hopes that neither of them would be killed since Edmund claimed she was no longer proving useful. But what had she done to make them want to replace her in the first place?"

"Who knows… with them it doesn’t seem to take much." Drake muttered. "I knew Edmund was an evil jerk nearly my whole life but this is ridiculous."

"Well, we know what happens next. Willem tries to tell what he knows despite the potion and gets himself investigated as a result." Harry said.

Drake nodded. "I remember. Without Jayalina around to talk to, Fudge refused to collaborate her involvement in the investigations. They made Willem look like a liar no matter how many of us stood up to testify on his behalf. Eventually, Edmund got what he wanted and Willem was out of the way, locked up in Azkaban."

"Right. So now we need you to wake him up." Harry nodded eagerly.

"Why?"

"Because I’m not sure what else there is to see in his memories right now. We can always sit and really dissect what we already saw later when there’s more time, but right now we need to gather as much information as we can before we go back to school." He answered.

Luna nodded, picking up his train of thought. "Exactly, and right now we need you both to tell us everything you know about Julian Heath."

(BREAK)

Ron was sitting up in his room waiting for Harry and Luna to finish up with Willem. The time was ticking by at an impossibly slow rate and he felt like he was ready to bounce off the walls, despite the late hour. The need to do something was strong upon him and after feeling like he’d made headway with Harry earlier, he decided to keep the momentum going. Confidently leaving his room, he walked down the stairs and strode purposefully up to Fred’s door.

He answered after the third knock. "What do you want?" He asked grumpily.

Ron pushed his way into the room, looking around expectantly. "What, Hermione’s not down here tonight?"

"Was she supposed to be?" Fred asked, closing the door and casually leaning against it with his arms crossed.

"I know what you’re doing." He said quietly, turning to face his brother.

"Glad someone does because I usually don’t have a clue." Fred grinned. "Want to fill me in on what I’m doing that has you acting so dramatic?"

"I see what you’re doing with Hermione." Ron answered darkly.

"So does everyone else! We’re making potions!" He threw his hands up in frustration, turning to pace the room in agitation.

Now Ron was sure about his brother’s feelings and it hardened his resolve. "You want her to break up with Harry." He accused.

Fred stopped and hung his head for a moment. "So what if they break up?" he said at last. "It’s not like they’re the couple they once were."

"And whose fault is that?"

"What are you getting at?" He asked suspiciously.

"I mean you’ve been drawing her in with all these projects! We all know how much she likes all this stuff-"

"You mean academic pursuits?" Fred interrupted. "I guess not everyone likes to be an ignorant fool." He added the insult, his anger evident.

"You’re right, and I refuse to remain ignorant on this anymore. I see how you try to be alone together and so does Harry!" Ron shouted.

"What do you mean? He’s always off somewhere with Luna. Like now for instance." His tone was steady but he seemed uncertain.

"I talked to him today about that and he explained how he and Luna were drawn to each other because of who they are. But they felt the same way about Gabby when she came to the castle too, it’s a coven thing." He was surprised by how easily the lies came to him… unlike Harry, Malfoy or Fred himself, Ron had always needed time to put his stories together, they hardly ever came off the top off his head. "He doesn’t know what to do right now, he’s heartbroken! He thinks Hermione is getting ready to break up with him for you, and you know Harry… he’d give her whatever she wanted and he wouldn’t even be mad at you for it, he’d blame himself. But can you live with the guilt?"

"I haven’t done anything!" Fred protested.

"So I saw in Hogsmeade." He replied smugly. "You’ve witnessed the depths of devotion those two had for each other… well it’s still there but you and Luna were mucking it up. Now the whole thing with Luna has proven innocent… can the same be said with you? I don’t think so. And just so you know, after I explained to Harry how Hermione had told me she was feeling about him and Luna, he now intends to make clear to her that he and Luna are merely friends."

"And what exactly did Hermione tell you?" He asked anxiously.

Ron shook his head and smiled inwardly. Fred had taken the bait. "She said she’s confused. That while she feels drawn to you, it’s nothing compared to what she feels for Harry. But she was worried that he wanted Luna and was therefore struggling to deal with whether or not to give into her lesser feelings for you so that Harry could break up with her guilt free." Taking in his brother’s face, he felt himself waiver a bit. "Sorry if the truth hurts, but you asked and I think you deserve to know."

"To know what?" Fred turned away angrily.

"That if she chose you, it was only because she didn’t think Harry was a choice anymore." Ron answered softly. "Look, I know I shouldn’t be getting involved in all this, but you’re my brother and they’re my best friends. I’d hate to see you all make a mess of things based on several misunderstandings."

"Well aren’t you wonderful." He muttered in reply.

"Just back off Hermione okay? Ultimately it’s not you she wants and you’ll only get hurt in the long run."

"Gee, Ron, can I still be friends with her?" Fred asked sarcastically.

"Look, I know you’re going to do whatever you want anyway… I was only trying to warn you. Besides, if you really care about Hermione, you wouldn’t want to mess this up for her… You wouldn’t want to be responsible for driving her into that moment of weakness that ruins what truly makes her happy… And you wouldn’t want to be with her knowing you’re her second choice, would you?"

"I think you’ve made you’re point, Ron. Now if you would kindly leave." He opened the door and gestured to the hallway.

"Fine, but just think about it at least." He said as he walked out.

"No reason, nothing to think about is there?" Fred slammed the door behind him.

Returning to his room, Ron was unsure whether he’d fully reached his brother. But there was still Hermione and Luna to talk to… surely he could make this work.

(BREAK)

Harry watched Drake wave the smelling salts under Willem’s nose in tense anticipation. The man shot awake, startling the others. "Well, did it work?" He demanded.

"You didn’t feel us in there?" Luna seemed surprised. "Then maybe Sarah doesn’t know we went in her head…"

"Well, what happened?" Willem asked.

Together, Harry and Luna filled him in on the two memories they’d watched and lived through with him. "Why didn’t you just tell us about all of that?" Harry asked when they were done.

Willem shook his head. "I guess you were right, I didn’t think it important and forgot about it… or rather I may have misgauged the important parts. I figured since most of it was revelatory about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s return- which has already come to pass- it was an irrelevant conversation. Plus how was I to know that the girl he referred to was my niece? Besides, what good would it have done to let you know how easily I was tricked and how miserably I failed to bring the truth to light."

"I thought it was important to know how hard you tried." Luna offered with a kind smile as she reached out to pat the man’s shoulder. "I really appreciate it."

"I only wish I could have done more." Willem hung his head in defeat.

"Hey now." Drake gave his friend a playful shove. "You aren’t in Azkaban anymore, positive thoughts and optimism are welcomed here."

"Right, there’s plenty you can do now. Especially since the potion is no longer binding your tongue." Harry assured him. "And you can start by telling us everything you know about Julian. He seems to be the only piece of this puzzle we have no information about."

"Well, do you remember him at all from the ministry?" Willem turned to Drake.

The healer shook his head. "He came way after I parted ways with the ministry. All I’ve heard is that he took over working on some of the werewolf experiments in the Department of Mysteries, which was quite far from the department I worked in."

"That’s right." Willem nodded. "Secretive lot they are, but from what both Kane and I were able to gather Julian Heath wasn’t just a potion-maker, he was a rather skilled alchemist. Other than that he was a young man of twenty-seven, average height, brown hair and eyes, and had a scar across his chin from a childhood accident, very little is known about the man. Did they ever find a body?"

"Not to my knowledge." Drake answered. "Were you able to find out what he was working on?" Harry perked up with interest, eager to hear what Willem had to say.

"It was my understanding that rather than look for a cure, he was working on ways to control the werewolf curse, to take it and manipulate it to the point where someone could change at will rather than at the whim of the moon. As far as I was able to find out, he had so far been unsuccessful."

"It was for Harland." Luna surmised. "That’s the only thing that makes sense. Who else would enjoy the ability to change whenever they wanted and why else would Lucius be interested in Julian? We know he had already hidden Harland for nearly a decade and that Lucius was scared of him the whole time. What if Harland demanded they take Julian so he could make the potion only for him?"

"That’s got to be it." Harry agreed instantly. "Like you said, it’s the only thing that makes sense here. So what happened to Julian?"

"Well, it’s obvious Harland never got that potion, otherwise he would have just turned that night he bit Draco in the hospital and tried to take care of you all right then." Drake observed.

"Okay, so are we assuming that after six years and no apparent success, Julian is dead?" Willem put forth.

"I would say so." Harry answered, trying to tie together everything he knew about everything. "Why else would they have kept Snape alive… or not try to kill him when he escaped? He’s also really good with potions but the only reason they’d need him was if Julian was no longer around to try making all the things they need."

"I can agree with that, but…" Drake looked from Harry to Luna, appearing unsure, "there’s nothing to suggest Severus Snape is still alive either. He escaped some time ago and yet still there’s been no sign of him." He said delicately.

"No bodies don’t necessarily mean he or Julian are dead I suppose. Peter taught us that." Harry replied.

"So where are they?" Luna asked softly. They all looked at each other, but no one had an answer.

(BREAK)

It was well after midnight when they all gathered in Harry’s room to find out what he and Luna had learned from Willem. Thankfully it didn’t take long and everyone decided to take some time and think on everything, see if separately they could come up with a few more connections between what they’d already known and the new information they’d just received. Though relieved to be continuing to get answers, Fred was irritated with the fact that those answers only seemed to breed more questions.

Of course, the irritation and frustration currently keeping him awake and agitated in the early morning hours probably had less to do with the many puzzles taking over their lives and more to do with the things Ron had said to him a few hours earlier. Had the words his brother spewed all over him held any truth? He certainly didn’t think he’d been doing anything to come between Hermione and Harry… not that he hadn’t wondered what life would be like under different circumstances. But daydreams didn’t equal reality and in reality Harry was his friend, an adopted brother… he would never do anything like what Ron had accused. Would he? Had his subconscious thoughts been influencing his behavior?

Fred flung the covers away and sat up in bed, running his hands through his hair in agitation. Certainly one part of what Ron had said was true, he was second choice material… at least next to Harry Potter. Never before had he felt the need to compare himself to Harry, simply content in his friendship. But now that his brother had forced him to size the other boy up as a romantic rival…

"Arghh." Fred grunted in frustration and got up to begin pacing. He wouldn’t allow his mind to start doubting himself and the first step to that downward spiral was to compare himself to Harry- as Ron had proven for many years. There were certain facts one had to accept in life and one of those is that there is always going to be someone who makes everyone else look like a second choice. In all probability, there was some guy out in the world who was so wonderful that next to him, Harry had all the appeal of Crabbe or Goyle. If- IF- something were to happen that put Hermione in his path could he accept her always wondering what could have been? Maybe.

And maybe Ron had overreacted so convincingly that he’d drawn Fred into making this all into something it wasn’t. Sure it was true that Hermione had worked her way under his skin like no other… but that didn’t necessarily mean anything romantic was brewing, right? Perhaps, with him losing George and Hermione dealing with the epic that is life with Harry, they had simply found a kinship with each other… a relationship built around helping each other cope. Surely a close friendship such as they’d been building could be misconstrued as something less innocent by an outside observer… or even by the two involved? Was the way he felt about Hermione different from how he felt about his other friends? When Ron had accused him of wanting her and Harry to break up he hadn’t denied it… but…

He couldn’t take the doubts anymore and he couldn’t keep going around in circles. He needed to talk to someone… someone who should be here helping him figure life out but was no longer able. Creeping from his room and up the stairs, Fred hesitated before knocking on Harry’s door. Hey, you awake in there? He thought out, not wanting to bother him or anyone else this early but having no choice.

**No. Harry’s groggy voice filled his head. Moments later the door flung open. "What’s wrong?" He demanded, rubbing his eyes and trying to look alert.

"Nothing. Sorry I know it’s late but… I really need to use the ring." Fred felt horrible but there was nothing to be done. They were leaving tomorrow and he had to be at the store, there was no other time.

"The ring?" Harry looked confused, still trying to make his brain accept that it was awake. "Oh, okay." He shook his head and went somewhere into the depths of his room, returning with the monstrous piece of jewelry. "Just give it back in the morning. Goodnight." And without waiting for a reply, he turned to presumably climb back in bed.

"Thanks!" He called through the closed door before heading back down to his own room.

Taking a moment to calm himself, Fred sighed deeply and then slipped the ring on. George appeared within a matter of moments. "Well, it’s been awhile hasn’t it? Glad to see you’re getting along Freddie."

"By all appearances it seems that way, doesn’t it?" He answered.

"Uh oh. What’s wrong? From my understanding here, things went great at the store today."

"Everything with the store is fine." Fred assured him. "It’s just… I guess I just don’t know what to do."

"About what? Your new lab partner?" George asked slyly.

"She’s become a really good friend." He answered defensively. "And Ron seems to think I’ve some horrible agenda to get her and Harry to break up."

"Since when do you listen to Ron?" George shook his head in amusement. "Let’s face it, our little brother doesn’t handle change easily, no matter how often he has to deal with it."

"Normally I wouldn’t listen to Ron… but what if this time he’s right?" Fred was nervous, he didn’t want to turn out to be a horrible friend to Harry and he certainly didn’t want to do anything to make Hermione unhappy.

"If he’s accusing you of vicious alterior motives then he’s absolutely wrong, isn’t he. You aren’t out to hurt anybody Fred, it’s not who you are so stop worrying about it. Besides, Ron doesn’t know what he’s talking about half the time. Why not go talk to Luna? She’s the one who would actually know what the future holds for you. And besides, she’d have comforting words like ‘if it’s fated to be then it will be’ or something like that."

"Maybe I don’t want to be comforted." He stubbornly replied. "I mean Hermione is so logical and annoying, she always has to be right, you have to practically twist her arm to get her to loosen up, and most importantly, she’s already in a relationship with my close friend who is considered a son by our parents. Maybe Ron was just making something out of nothing. Maybe I misinterpreted the emotions she brought out in me, you know, mistaking gratitude for something more. Maybe-"

"Maybe an arm will grow out of your forehead." George interrupted. "And maybe it’s not your feelings for her that you’re questioning… maybe what you’re really confused about is her feelings for you. What exactly did Ron say?"

"Nothing I wasn’t already thinking on some level." Fred shuffled his feet, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable. "He said he’d talked to Hermione… Basically what it boiled down to was she felt Harry was sort of encouraging our friendship because he really wanted Luna… she said she was debating giving into lesser feelings for me in order to give Harry what he wanted because he’ll always be the one she really wants."

"She said all that… according to Ron."

"Why would he lie? What would he have to gain from it?"

"Who knows? But I’ve talked to Harry, and to me it just doesn’t ring true. From what I know of, the four of you are getting along fine… or at least you were until Ron started talking to everybody." George replied, his tone suggesting he was strongly hinting at something.

"If you have something to say, just say it." Fred pushed.

He sighed and shook his head. "Look, I can be your sounding board but I refuse to get involved in this, too many things are at stake for me to influence anyone. All I’m saying to you now is not to doubt yourself so much. Regain some of that confidence you used to have and it’ll get you through this and everything else in life. And if nothing else, at least you won’t be so whiny." George grinned widely.

"You’re so much help." He rolled his eyes. "You really think Ron’s full of it?"

"I don’t know, but you just can’t always trust hearsay."

"Maybe…" Fred answered thoughtfully.

(BREAK)

It seemed he’d just laid down again when Harry was once more roused from sleep. This time, rather than Fred’s voice invading his dreams, it was a light knocking at his door that startled him awake. With an agitated sigh, he yet again threw back the covers and unwillingly got up to see who wanted what. "I told you, you could just give it back in the morning…" He opened the door expecting Fred and found Arthur instead. "Oh, sorry. I thought you were someone else." He muttered.

"So I gathered." Arthur answered, glancing behind him nervously. "It is morning Harry, very early, but still morning. Look, normally I would never willingly involve you in this and I heavily debated what to do last night… but I guess I need you there, as sort of a human lie detector."

"Where?" Harry asked, now definitely more awake and highly interested. Usually it was him going to Arthur to beg to go along somewhere, it was nice to have it go the other way for once.

"To see Edmund Fritz." Arthur looked directly at him.

"Really?" He felt his heart beat faster. After seeing the impressive man through Willem’s eyes, he was very interested to meet the real thing to size up for himself.

"I trust I don’t have to tell you that he is a very dangerous man and taking you to see him could have very bad consequences." He said steadily. "I am being very serious when I say that if you come with me, you must do everything you are told, not speak to Edmund unless absolutely necessary, and above all else, do not goad the man or let yourself be goaded."

"I can promise to try." Harry answered honestly.

Arthur shook his head and offered a grave smile. "I suppose that’s the best I can ask for."

"But… I think Luna should come too." He said hesitantly. "Edmund may know about my powers and be blocking his mind, but when Luna and I are together, our powers are strengthened… even more so when Gabby was around but I guess that’s not really an option at the moment."

"I don’t know… taking you there is bad enough…"

"It’ll be fine. If nothing else, she’ll help me not lose my temper should Edmund decide to push me." Harry argued.

"Okay, you win. I’ll go wake her." Arthur said with a heavy sigh. Harry realized the man knew he had alterior reasons for wanting Luna there but had decided not to push the issue. "Go get dressed, we have to leave in a few minutes."

"Why so early? The sun’s not even up yet."

"Well, apparently Edmund is a very busy man, too busy even for the Minister of Magic. I have to investigate Elanya’s article and the only opening he had for a meeting was at 6 a.m., which is just as well if you two are coming with because…" He trailed off, looking rather sheepish.

"Because you’d rather leave the house with us before Molly finds out." Harry grinned, finishing his thought. "I’ll be ready in a minute."

Harry closed his door and quickly rushed around getting himself dressed. He desperately wanted to find out why Elanya had submitted that article and why Edmund had hired her in the first place… surely he knew who she was, she had used her real name. Of course… she could have done that for this very reason, to draw them out and into some kind of trap. But how could she know that Arthur would risk bringing him or Luna straight to the Daily Prophet? He was sure that the only people in the world who knew Harry was going to Diagon Alley today were the he and the minister. Truthfully, he was just as nervous and unsure about bringing Luna along as well. But there was something they needed to know and Edmund was the only one who could give them the answer… and Luna was the only one who could help him reach into the man’s head to get that answer. Today, they would learn exactly what fate Jayalina Delamora met with.

Hurrying downstairs, he met up with Arthur and Luna in the parlor. She had apparently read his mind to see what his plan was and he could feel the doubtful dread radiating from her. Are you sure this is going to work?She demanded.

Luna, I’m really not to sure of anything anymore. He answered as Arthur quietly spoke to his Aurors through a communication device, preparing their departure.

What if he feels us in his head? We’ve never tried this on someone awake before. She shot back.

We’ll deal with that as it comes. He quickly answered as Arthur rounded them up to leave. Trying to be as quiet as possible, all three apparated to the alley behind the Leaky Cauldron.

The sky glowed a pinkish light blue in the early morning hour and going through the secret gateway, Harry saw that there weren’t very many people out on the street. Pulling his hood down and his jacket tighter around himself, he knew it was more than the crisp, late September air that was sending a chill down his spine… anyone could be out here, any number of people wishing to do harm to them. Stepping closer to Luna, he swallowed those fears as they met up with Kingsley just inside the Diagon Alley limits- after all, if he worried about all those plotting against him then he’d never leave the house at all.

There were three other Aurors with Kingsley, unfamiliar faces Harry was sure he’d never seen. The tall, lanky man with tattoos covering the exposed skin on his arms and neck was introduced as Apollo Addams. The other man was called Magnus Grover and he was shorter and of a stockier build, with thick, bushy black eyebrows and a shiny bald head. The last was Althenia March, a slight woman who looked like a good gust of wind would carry her away. But looking in her eyes, Harry saw a determined hardness that made him think twice about her waif-like appearance. She stepped forward to shake his hand, her grip like iron. "Please, Mr. Potter, Miss Lovegood, everyone calls me Nia."

"Well, everyone calls us Harry and Luna." He returned with a friendly smile. At once he made the connection to where he’d heard all of their names before… it seemed like ages ago when Arthur had asked Tonks and Kingsley if they knew of any other Aurors who could be completely trusted and these three had made that short list.

Flanked by the Aurors, they proceeded down the street to the Daily Prophet offices. "Well, this is different." Luna said as she stared up at the monstrous building. Harry followed her gaze, attempting to take it all in. It was an eyesore that towered toward the sky with all sorts of unnecessary additions and looking nothing like what he remembered.

"Yes, Edmund has been making quite a few changes… all with the proper building permits of course." Arthur said, his tone heavy with disgust. "It certainly stands out now, doesn’t it?"

"I can’t wait to see the inside." Nia replied, wrinkling her nose in displeasure as she took in the sight before them.

Entering the large double doors, the group was admitted into a cavernous lobby, dimly lit with dark mahogany walls. It made Harry feel like he was once more about to descend underground in pursuit of the ring, only this time he was after information. Their shoes clicked against the shiny floors as they crossed the lobby, striding confidently up to the desk at the far end where a very pretty, very bored-looking receptionist sat. "Can I help you?" She asked, barely looking up from the book she was reading.

"Minister Weasley, here to see Mr. Fritz." Arthur answered with authority.

She glanced up slightly interested yet still contemptuous for the interruption. "Elevator is over there. All the way to the top, he’s expecting you."

Making sure to keep his head down and to stay crouched behind Kingsley and Apollo, Harry eagerly followed to the elevators, feeling like the woman’s eyes were on him the entire time. Of course, that was probably just his paranoia… either way he refused to turn around and look, wanting to appear as sure and steady as the others. Stepping into the elevator, Harry felt his stomach lurch uneasily as the doors closed behind them. The entire car was mirrored and the seven all found themselves staring uncertainly at each other, repeated and refracted into infinity. "It feels like a funhouse." Kingsley muttered.

"Yeah, except I’m not having much fun." Nia shot back. "It’s kind of making me queasy."

"We’re almost there." Apollo assured her.

"Fifty floors up, hope no one is afraid of heights." Luna said kindly with a knowing air.

At last the car came to a stop and the doors slid open to reveal a small reception area. Straight ahead was another pretty young woman sitting behind a desk, guarding the office door behind her. On either side the walls were made of darkened glass, allowing them a dim view straight out over all of Diagon Alley. "Too late to worry about height issues now, isn’t it." Magnus grumbled. Peeking in his head, Harry saw what Luna had already known about the man- that he was in fact terrified of heights. But to the Auror’s credit, he strode up to the desk with the others as if he hadn’t a fear in the world.

"Minister Weasley? Mr. Fritz is waiting for you." She gestured brightly to the door behind her.

"Thank you." Arthur replied, making his way to the door with the entire group following him.

"Just a minute!" The woman said, her voice still cheerful. "You can go in Minister, but the others must wait out here."

"That’s not happening." Kingsley answered with authority.

"It’s okay." Arthur reassured him before turning back to the woman. "The Aurors will wait out here, but those two are coming in for the meeting." He pointed at Harry and Luna without giving away their identity. Harry turned away slightly under her gaze, pulling his hood lower.

"I only have you on the books, Minister. May I have the names of your guests please?" She asked politely.

"You may not." Arthur replied shortly. "Come on." He grabbed Harry’s shoulder and bustled both him and Luna through the door, leaving Kingsley and the others to deal with the overzealous receptionist.

"Minister!" They turned to find Edmund Fritz, tall and impressive looking as he stood, coming from behind his desk to greet them. "And young guests! How… unexpected." His smile sent shivers through Harry’s body, making him certain the man had recognized him on sight. Up close, he could see that Edmund had aged very little in six years. The only thing to give away the passage of time since Willem had last seen his brother was the spreading of gray hair along the man’s temples… and even that only made him look more distinguished.

"Mr. Fritz. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me." Arthur stepped forward to shake the other man’s hand, ignoring his comments entirely.

"Please, call me Edmund. Well, I knew this matter had to be serious if you were coming yourself rather than sending an Auror to investigate." He returned to his place behind his desk and gestured to the three seats in front of him. Harry’s gaze was drawn to yet another floor to ceiling darkened window directly behind the man and he wondered if Edmund had some kind of fear of enclosed places in addition to bright light… he certainly enjoyed having a view. "Please have a seat, Minister and… young friends."

"Let’s not play games Edmund." Arthur said seriously as he sank into one of the seats.

"Very well." He answered with a sinister grin. "Won’t you also have a seat, Mr. Potter and Miss Lovegood, isn’t it?" He once more politely gestured to the chair.

"Thank you." Harry answered steadily, pulling his hood off and sitting next to Arthur. Luna remained silent as she also sat. He could feel the dark emotions swirling within her as she finally met face to face the man who had facilitated the cover-up of her brother’s murder. He sent her his silent support which she gratefully accepted, for once being the one to let his calmer emotions soothe her agitated ones. Turning his attention back to Edmund, Harry was more determined than ever not to let the man unnerve him, for Luna’s sake if nothing else.

"The kids are here because they have an interest in the topics I have to discuss with you, Mr. Fritz. But their roles in this meeting are as silent observers." Arthur said in a warning tone.

"I see." Edmund replied, turning to Harry. "Well, it’s not often one gets to meet a celebrity hero. Though I must say that from the things I’ve heard about you young man, I thought you would be more impressive in person… but hey, appearances can be deceiving, can’t they?" He sneered. Harry forced himself to hold back any reply and felt both Arthur and Luna’s pride in him. Instead of verbally responding to such an obvious attempt to get under his skin, he simply stared the other man down in a test of wills… a test Harry had yet to fail due to his own competitive stubbornness. He smiled when at last Edmund uncomfortably shifted his gaze back to Arthur… one small victory out of the way. "So, to what do I owe the pleasure of this impromptu meeting Minister?"

"It has come to the attention of the ministry that you have recently employed a person of interest to us. Elanya Delamora?" Arthur let the name slip smoothly from his lips.

Though his face gave nothing away, Harry could see the dark, anxious thoughts swirling through Edmund’s mind. He was trying to determine his best course of action, though Harry could also see that this wasn’t wholly unexpected. "She came looking for a job and after having her submit a sample of her work I hired her on a trial basis. There’s little else I can tell you."

"Oh, I think there’s quite a bit more you can tell me, Mr. Fritz." Arthur slyly insinuated.

"Such as?"

"Well, surely you know where she lives, what with having to send her a paycheck."

Edmund shook his head. "She has us directly deposit it into an account at Gringott’s. We have no address on record for Miss Delamora."

He’s telling the truth. Harry assured Arthur who nodded slightly.

"And is that standard practice here- to not collect the information you are required by law to have from your employees?"

"It is not." Edmund replied huffily.

"Then may I ask why Miss Delamora was exempted from the policy?"

"What are you suggesting Minister?" He asked in a calm, steady voice with small undertones of agitation. Harry smiled inwardly, knowing Edmund was becoming very angry and defensive but was unable to show it... the newspaper man knew better than to let on to what he was really feeling.

"Absolutely nothing, I was simply trying to find out why no one seems to be able to point us in the direction of this young woman…" Arthur made himself appear confused and a bit suspicious. "Why, are you feeling guilty about something?"

Edmund rose and turned to stare out the enormous window, his hands clasped easily behind his back. But Harry could see the wheels turning as he mentally prepared to give them the speech he’d prepped should a situation like this arise. "Okay, I should have done what was right and demanded she produce the required information to hold a job. But she came to me, begging for a chance. She claimed she’d run away from her family because they refused to support her dream… Said all she wanted to do was write. She said she had no where permanent to stay in London, was going from friend to friend sleeping on floors and couches. Pretty little waif of a thing, I felt bad for her- I didn’t want the city to chew her up and spit her out broken and defeated. Of course girls like that, they go through their whole lives getting what they want because of how they look and they know it too. Maybe she played me with her sob story, but I couldn’t help it. I took a chance and gave her a shot at being a reporter. That little article yesterday was something she’d submitted and just to ensure she made some money I let it run in the paper."

All lies. Harry and Luna both thought to Arthur.

"You’ve quite the generous heart, Mr. Fritz." He said, letting a bit of sarcasm slip into his tone. "Perhaps she told you why she chose to write her first article about the reopening of my son’s store?"

Edmund turned back to face them, his expression one of boredom. "As to your son, she claimed she knew him from school and wanted to do him a favor. But regarding her employment with the paper, make no mistake, she is not officially a Daily Prophet reporter… it was more of a freelance trial. I understand I openly defied policy and if there is a fine to pay I will gladly do so."

"At the moment we aren’t here to investigate you, Mr. Fritz. There will be no need to take any action now that I know you understand the necessity of following said policy." Arthur replied almost mockingly.

"I’m much obliged." Edmund nodded distractedly as he sat at his desk again and started pulling out files. "Now unless there is anything else, I do have a rather full day ahead of me and I’d hate to get behind schedule. The news waits for no one after all." He began reading through some of his papers, a sign of dismissal for them.

But Arthur stayed where he was. "If you are unable to tell us how to find Miss Delamora, perhaps you could at least tell me when you next expect her here in the offices?"

Letting out a quiet sigh Edmund put his papers aside, no longer bothering to hide his irritation. "Unfortunately I cannot. As I said, she was never hired as regular staff. The next time I’ll see her is when she has another story to turn in and who knows when that’ll be? For all I know, the girl’s taken the small amount she did make and used it to skip town to go look for bigger and better."

That much is true. He really doesn’t know where she is and he doesn’t like it. Harry said, taking a close look through the man’s thoughts.

Arthur nodded. "If you say so, Mr. Fritz. But I will warn you that if another article by Elanya Delamora runs in the paper, her information had better be on file in your magical resources department."

"Understood Minister Weasley." Edmund smiled as his eyes shot daggers through them all.

Stall him, please… Harry silently begged Arthur.

He shifted in his seat to show he’d heard the request, his mind full of questions. But Harry saw he intended to do as he’d asked. "Now perhaps we could discuss the fire that occurred a few weeks ago at the Quibbler offices. We have sources telling us that perhaps someone at the Daily Prophet might be responsible…"

"And why would anyone here care anything about the Quibbler? No offense to your father, Miss Lovegood." Edmund returned.

"That’s what’s so suspicious… the lack of care such a large paper as this had for such a large story. One small article to report on such a big fire? And no mention at all of the questionable nature of the blaze itself… one has to wonder why the Daily Prophet wouldn’t investigate further."

Leaving Edmund and Arthur to volley that subject back and forth, Harry tuned out everything but Luna. You ready?

I guess so. She replied uncertainly. Let’s just try to be extra gentle so he doesn’t feel what we’re doing.

They both discreetly dropped their arms between the chairs, tightly clasping each other’s hands. Here goes nothing. He thought out as they stealthily made their way into Edmund’s subconscious, looking for signs of Jayalina in her last moments.

***

Edmund followed Lucius and the others down the long somber corridor. He forced himself to remain hard and emotionless in front of them. She was supposed to mean nothing to him… She didn’t mean anything to him, he had to remind himself, not for a long time at least. He used his anger with her to power himself on, after all she had been the one to force herself back into his life, using his supposed daughter to get whatever she wanted from him. And now she had the audacity to hide the girl, thinking that would keep them both safe… well she’d been half right, the girl was safe.

"She refuses to say anything. You are her last chance, make sure you make that clear to her." Lucius said as they stopped outside a heavy steel door.

"I doubt she cares." He answered nonchalantly, as if the outcome didn’t matter to him either. And it didn’t. If the woman didn’t want to save her own life then that was her decision, but he had to try… they needed information that she had.

They opened the door long enough for him to slip through, slamming it shut with a resounding slam. Edmund glanced around the room taking in everything but acknowledging nothing, not even her, all huddled against the wall, her golden eyes wild and dangerous like a cornered animal. She looked so much smaller, more vulnerable but he knew the strength of insanity she carried with her and remained alert.

He used his wand to produce a chair, feeling her watching as he sat as far as possible from the single bare bulb lighting the room. "A rather dreary existence this is, Jaya." He said at last.

"I had asked for a room with a view but they aren’t very accommodating here." She shot back bitterly. "And don’t pretend familiarity with me Edmund. Not anymore."

"Very well Jayalina. Or would you prefer the even more formal Miss Delamora?" He sneered. "You are capable of changing your situation you know. All you have to do is tell us what we want to know."

"I think I’ve told enough lies on your behalf. I’ll save the truth for someone more worthy." She spat out.

He was struggling to hold his temper. The woman was infuriating, refused to play by anyone’s rules… especially his. It was why he’d tried to expel her from his life so many years ago, if only he’d known of the child then, things would be so much simpler now. "There is no one more worthy than those capable of saving your life." He replied.

"Even if they’re the ones threatening it in the first place?" she countered.

"Tell me where Elanya is. I have a right to know." He demanded.

"You have a right to nothing!" She yelled back.

Edmund clenched his hands into fists. "If you don’t start giving answers, there’s nothing I can do to help you." He warned.

"I don’t want any more of your help." She said, rising to her feet. "I’ve twice accepted your help and both times it has ruined my life. I’m ready to let things happen as they will."

"You’re a fool!" He shouted, also standing.

Jayalina smiled mockingly. "You should look in a mirror when you say that. What exactly do you think you’re accomplishing Edmund? Do you really think you’re going to be somebody among all of these idiots? Even if everything they’re planning comes to pass, do you really think you’ll be anything more than another puppet to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named? You are all fools!" She laughed loudly and freely.

"Stop it!" He screamed at her. "You know nothing about it!"

"I may not see the future Edmund, but I’ve seen your past, I know where you came from! You’re destined to fail! Any success you have is only setting the stage for a harder fall to the bottom, know this if you know anything at all! You are doomed, cursed for failure! It is your fate!" She screamed in his face, beating her hands against his chest.

He angrily grabbed her arms and shoved her away. "You don’t know what you’re talking about." He said low and dangerous.

"Then why do you look so scared?" She asked softly with a sly smile.

That smile, he hated that smile… that ‘I know something you’ll never know’ smile. He wanted to wipe it off her face. "Where’s Elanya? And what have you done with Julian?" He asked through clenched teeth, just barely able to contain himself. No one had ever pushed his buttons the way this woman, it was like she instinctively knew how. Not even Willem had dared defy him to the point Jayalina had.

"My daughter is safe. As for Mr. Heath… I simply set him free that day at Malfoy’s mansion, before I was taken."

Edmund stood back in shock. "You didn’t."

"I did." She crossed her arms, looking smug.

"You idiot! You know what he’s become!" He started pacing trying to figure out what to do.

Jayalina simply watched him, smiling wider as his agitation grew. "Of course I know what he’s become… And to think, your brother and that poor Auror you made me lie about almost saved him from that fate."

"No they didn’t. They arrived right in the middle of the process, so rest assured, Julian was never going to be rescued from his fate. The fact that you think setting him free a few hours later is going to save him, proves you’re delusional."

"So be it. I’ve been called worse." She shrugged.

"I have my orders Jayalina. You know what I have to do if you refuse to cooperate." Edmund said, raising his wand.

"Do what you have to do… I’ve already withstood all the truth potions and endured the other two Unforgivables… I spent my life learning how to overcome them. But you’re right, there is one thing none of us can escape."

"You’re choosing death?" He wavered a bit, becoming unsure in her certainty.

"You’re the one who will one day have to explain all this to our daughter." She replied coldly.

"And when I find her, I shall." He once more raised his wand, hardening his resolve. She was nothing to him anymore, he had to remember that.

Jayalina laughed. "Just be sure she doesn’t find you first!" she happily warned, once more wearing that sly knowing smile.

"I am not scared of her or any other child." He sneered.

She laughed again. "Who are you kidding? You are all scared of a child, why else is anyone trying to resurrect such a dangerous man?"

It was over in a flash of light… With two words, Edmund ended her life. Jayalina dropped to the ground, her laughter still echoing around the room. He took a few moments to collect himself, to convince himself that she never would have told them where Elanya or Julian were, that it was better he be the one rather than hand her over to the others.

"Well?" Lucius asked when Edmund finally emerged from the room.

"It’s over. In the end, she proved completely worthless." He shook his head. "We’ll have to find them on our own."

"Them?" Lucius raised an eyebrow.

"Turns out you were right, Malfoy. Julian Heath didn’t die in the crash. She helped him get away."

***

Harry, we have to stop. Arthur’s running out of things to talk about with him. He heard Luna’s voice bore through his concentration.

He mentally shook his head to clear it of the horror of what he’d seen. There was no reason for Edmund to have killed Jayalina, none at all other than that she chose to defy him. He glanced at Luna to see that she was struggling hard with being around this man and he suddenly felt anxious to leave, for her sake. We’re ready. He thought out to Arthur.

"You’re right, Mr. Fritz. There’s absolutely no proof to tie anyone at all to that fire. I just thought you should be aware of what’s being said and where the investigation is taking us." Arthur said, rising from his seat and indicating the teens stand as well.

"Well, I appreciate the warning." Edmund replied with a tight smile. He gave no indication that he knew anyone had invaded his head, which allowed Harry to breathe a little easier.

"No before we leave, I need you to sign this." Arthur ordered, producing a piece of paper and leaning over to place it in front of the other man. Harry and Luna were both struck by the similarity to the memory they’d seen in Willem’s mind though they’d yet to tell Arthur anything about it. Harry was surprised and a bit intrigued to note that Edmund’s mind had also gone back to that moment. He was even more surprised to discover that when this Fritz brother recalled the scene, it was with hardened regret and sadness. Perhaps in his own twisted way, he really did care about Willem.

"What is this?" Edmund sat back in his chair, refusing to even glance at the paper.

"A confidentiality agreement that will place everyone in this entire building under gag order not to mention, discuss, or print anything about our meeting today, including the identities of any of my companions. I trust there’s no reason you wouldn’t want to comply?" Arthur challenged.

"None at all." Edmund answered immediately, grabbing up a quill and calmly signing his name. On the inside, Harry could see the man was fuming mad to have such restrictions placed upon him.

"Great." Arthur took the paper and put it back in his briefcase. "It was a pleasure, Mr. Fritz. Keep up the great work here."

"I wasn’t aware you were a fan of the things we’d been printing lately." Edmund raised his eyebrow in interest.

"Don’t be ridiculous! As minister I must know every time my name appears in print and I do so enjoy a good work of fiction… especially when I’m the inspiration for it." He replied smugly. Harry smiled, apparently Arthur wasn’t going to be following his own advice about goading the other man.

"An amusing assessment, Minister." Edmund replied. "But not all of our reader’s share your rather liberal view of what this paper has to say. After all, one can’t argue with facts."

"And just because a ‘fact’ is printed doesn’t make it true." Arthur countered. "Thank you for your time this morning. We’ll let you get back to your schedule." He turned and led them back to the door.

"Anytime Minister, a pleasure to see you in person. You as well Miss Lovegood." Edmund called after them. "And Mr. Potter, it was wonderful to meet you at last."

They ignored him and returned to the reception area. The Aurors were standing just outside the office, ready to escort the Minister wherever he wished to go. Signaling that none of them were to speak to each other, Arthur led the way to the elevators. The group remained silent on the way down and through the enormous lobby. In fact, no one spoke until they were once again on the other side of the barrier between the Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley. "Well, how did it go, sir?" Kingsley asked at last.

"Perfectly. Hopefully we’ve given Edmund enough rope to hang himself with, there’s a good chance he’ll either violate the confidentiality agreement or print another of his daughter’s stories without the proper paperwork on file."

"And if he doesn’t?" Harry asked, now knowing the other reason Arthur had wanted him along… It was a mighty big temptation to print a story about the Minister once more involving Harry Potter in official ministry business, it was too good a chance to yet again attempt to cast doubt on Arthur’s ability to handle the job. And by getting him to sign that agreement, they would finally be able to do something about it.

"That’s where the second part of the plan came in." Arthur held up what looked like an altered version of the twin’s extendible ears. "Sorry I didn’t have time to completely fill you in on what we were doing, but I also wanted to be sure Edmund didn’t see me placing these in his office. I worried that if I told you what I intended, you’d be watching me and could have drawn his attention to what I was doing when his back was turned."

"Are those what I think they are?" Harry asked, at once forgiving him for not telling him the whole story. After all, he was getting it now.

Arthur smiled. "Fred and George really were brilliant when they put their minds to it. I’ve always wished they’d have put those talents to better use as Fred is doing now, but for once their mischievous tendencies have proven extremely useful. I gave some of those extendible ears to the weapons department and with a little tweaking they were able to turn them into rather effective listening devices. As we speak there is someone back at the ministry monitoring what’s going on in Edmund’s office."

"And the reception area." Apollo grinned, holding up a few devices himself.

"Hopefully we’ll be able to do something about Edmund Fritz very soon." Arthur nodded happily. Harry mirrored the sentiment as they prepared to apparate home. He couldn’t wait to tell the others what had happened.

(BREAK)

Molly hadn’t been pleased to find out where Arthur had taken Harry and Luna so when they returned, the teens left the two elder Weasleys to talk it out among themselves. They all gathered in Harry’s room to talk about what he’d found out and Ginny was impressed to learn the lengths her father had gone through to legally stop Edmund. However the other part of their story, about what they saw in Edmund’s head, she found completely disturbing. After they were done, everyone dispersed to their separate rooms to make sure they were all packed and ready to return to school later that day, except for Fred who handed Harry the ring and bid them all goodbye before heading into work.

Ginny ran around throwing things haphazardly into her bag before heading over to Draco’s room. Although he’d been right next to her that morning, she’d clearly seen that once again he hadn’t slept. Now she was determined to find out what was bothering him and how she could help. He answered her soft knock and offered a small smile. "Come on in."

"What’s going on?" She demanded, coming in and closing the door behind her. She knew he hated being cornered, but she also knew that sometimes it was the only way to force him to open up.

"With what?" He asked, playing dumb.

"With you! For the last week you’ve been withdrawn and grumpy and now were back here and you aren’t sleeping anymore. So what’s wrong?"

Draco shook his head and sank down onto the bed. "I guess I think I’m having doubts about this whole guardian thing…" He admitted.

"Why? I thought Lupin said he and Tonks want to do it?" She sat next to him and rubbed his back reassuringly.

"Maybe… but Tonks hasn’t so much as glanced in my direction since we’ve been here. I mean, not that we’d become best of friends or anything, but as estranged family I thought we were getting on pretty well… As soon as I agreed to this whole thing I had a feeling she wouldn’t be happy about it… I think she’s mad at Lupin for doing this without talking to her. After all, her family was looked down on by mine her whole life, why would she want to help me now?"

"Because she’s Tonks." Ginny said confidently. "She doesn’t hold grudges like that. She probably just doesn’t know what to say. In case you hadn’t noticed, she is a bit socially awkward."

"Maybe… I just feel bad being a burden on her after looking down on her for so many years without knowing why, without even knowing what she looks like."

She smiled. "I doubt even Tonks knows what she really looks like anymore, she changes her appearance so often. Besides, this doesn’t affect you or them that much. You’re already seventeen so as soon as you leave school in a couple of months their part is done."

A knock on the door interrupted his reply and shooting her an uncertain glance, Draco went to see who was there. Surprisingly Lupin, one of the two topics of their discussion, was on the other side. "Hey Draco, do you have a few minutes? I want to talk to you about something."

"Now that this weekend is out of the way, you want to revoke your guardianship, right?" He asked.

Lupin looked at him in confusion. "Whatever gave you that idea?"

"Self-loathing." Ginny answered smugly as Draco turned to glare at her.

"Well, no, it’s nothing like that. Come on down to the parlor for a minute, okay?"

Draco shrugged and glanced her way. "Go ahead." She encouraged him, I have a few things I want to take care of anyway."

Walking out of the room with them, Ginny waited until they’d descended the stairs before going to knock on Luna’s door. "Hey!" She brightly greeted the other girl as soon as she opened up. "Do you have a minute?"

"For you, I suppose." Luna answered with a soft smile, inviting her in. "What’s on your mind."

"Well, you actually. I’m kind of worried about you Luna." She admitted, taking a seat at the desk.

"Why?" She asked uncertainly.

Ginny offered a friendly smile. "Because you always look so unhappy. I was just wondering if there was anything I could do to help…?"

Luna shook her head slowly. "There’s nothing wrong."

"Except all the confusing things happening between you and Harry, right?" She said, seeing the uncertainty cross her friend’s face.

"I don’t know what you’re talking about."

"Right, Luna. Because I’m deaf, dumb and blind."

"Meaning?" She asked, being purposely obtuse.

"Meaning I can see what’s going on between you two... and between Hermione and my brother. Why don’t you all just sit down and talk it out? Take care of things once and for all."

"And how is a conversation like that supposed to go? ‘Okay everyone, switch partners!’" Luna replied with uncharacteristic sarcasm.

"Why not?" Ginny shrugged. "Whatever happens, it’s got to be better than what you’re all going through now, right?"

"Everything happens when it’s supposed to." She sighed, sinking down onto the bed. "If things are rushed who knows what kind of consequences that will have. If that’s the way it’s supposed to be then someday it’ll happen."

"And so what, in the meantime you just suffer through?"

This time Luna shrugged. "There really isn’t another option. And I’d really appreciate it if you kept your theories to yourself. There’s no need to go and stir the pot."

"And there’s no need to punish yourself anymore." Ginny shot back. "If you really believe that it’ll happen when its meant to, then there’s no reason for you to be this upset until it does, is there?"

"I guess you’re right." Luna replied uncertainly.

"I just don’t like seeing you so upset." She moved to sit next to her on the bed. "I messed up a lot last year Luna, and looking back, I know you were trying to help me and all I did was push you away. If I can help stop you from making the same mistakes, then I have to try."

"Well, I suppose I appreciate the effort." She shrugged, looking away uncomfortably.

"Just pull yourself together! There’s no reason for you to let this or anything else defeat you." Ginny insisted. "You’re supposed to be one of the special ones, start acting like it!"

Luna smiled. "Well, aren’t you the inspirational one today…"

"Hey, we don’t get a lot of chances to look on the bright side. Might as well take the opportunity when it comes." She smiled back.

"And what’s the bright side here?"

Ginny smiled wider, glad to see that she was boosting her friend’s mood. "That no matter what happens, you’re the only one who knows for sure how this will all turn out and luckily, patience is a virtue you are capable of possessing in spades. Someday it will all turn out as it’s supposed to and you are in the lofty position of ensuring the future swings in whatever direction you desire."

(BREAK)

Draco followed Lupin into the parlor and was startled to find Tonks sitting there, waiting for them. He nervously sat in one of the chairs across from her, anxious to find out exactly what was going to happen. To his surprise, she smiled warmly at him. "Well, we haven’t had much time to talk about anything have we? Especially this new arrangement Remus has put together."

"I’m sorry about all of this… maybe I shouldn’t have agreed to it…" he stared down at his hands, feeling extremely uncomfortable.

"Why not? I wholeheartedly agreed as soon as he got a hold of me to ask permission, even if it was after he’d already committed us to it." Tonks laughed.

"Well if he’d already said yes, then there wasn’t really any way for to say no." Draco pointed out.

This time it was Lupin who laughed. "Someday you’ll learn it’s never too late for a woman to override your plans and say no, no matter how awkward a position it leaves you in."

"Well said my love." Tonks replied sarcastically, rolling her eyes. "The point is, if I had wanted to say no to this, I would have. Look Draco, I know it’s hard to learn to get used to people accepting you without alterior motives when you come from the kind of background my mother escaped."

Andromeda had escaped the family… that was one way he’d never thought to look at the situation, having been told his whole life that his aunt had instead been cast out, banished as punishment for what was in their eyes an unforgivable crime. "I guess I just feel bad asking for any kind of favor now." He replied honestly.

Tonks smiled wider. "It seems you’ve come a long way from the person I used to hear about. Listen, I have sort of a proposition for you. I think it would do you some good to know that you have family on this side of the war too and I only regret that I didn’t do something about it sooner. So with that in mind, how about if rather than go back by the train, Remus and I bring all you kids back to school, with a short stop at my parents’ house along the way?"

"I don’t know…" He looked to Lupin who was nodding encouragingly.

"I’ve already spoken to my mum about it and she was absolutely thrilled by the idea… she’s nothing like her sisters Draco, a rather spectacular woman if I do say so myself." Tonks laughed, infusing the moment with positivity. "I promise there’s nothing to worry about."

"Well, I guess if no one else minds…" He was still unsure but also strangely excited by the thought of having family on this side, curious to see just how different his aunt was from Narcissa and hoping she was something like Mrs. Weasley. He was also glad Ginny was going to be there.

"The kids don’t have a choice." Tonks grinned slyly. "Arthur’s permission is all we need and after agreeing to an additional Auror escort, we have it. Everyone else is simply along for the ride."

Draco smiled back before a sudden thought struck him, instantly recalling bits of the conversation he’d had with Potter the day before. "Maybe Potter should go back by the train, he could take some of the others with him for company."

"Why?" Tonks asked, her face a mask of confusion.

He hesitated, not wanting to betray any confidences. "Well, I sort of know that it’s really bothering him about the whole thing with Bellatrix. I of course told him I understood and wasn’t mad at him… To me she was only an aunt I really didn’t care for and who never really cared for me, but she was your mum’s sister."

"I see." Tonks turned to look at Lupin. "I really don’t think anyone holds it against him, he did what he had to do and to be honest, the hatred Bellatrix and Narcissa felt for my mother went both ways. They took sibling rivalry to a whole new level."

"Still, if Harry’s struggling with it, it may be a bit much to throw him in front of the woman’s family, no matter how they feel about it." Lupin put forth.

"He’s fine around me and Draco, I think he can handle it." Tonks argued. "I also think he’d be stubbornly insulted if we suggest otherwise."

"You have a point there." Lupin conceded. They all knew what Potter was like.

"Okay, so it’s decided then. I’m so happy! I haven’t had a chance to see my mum and dad in over a year. They couldn’t even make it to the wedding, it was only luck that they happened to be in town this weekend." Tonks grinned widely, reaching for Lupin’s hand.

Draco left it to them to inform the others of the change of plans, instead going straight back to his room where he hoped Ginny was waiting after taking care of whatever she had to do. Thankfully he wasn’t disappointed. "Hey, what’s got you looking so rattled."

"I just talked to Lupin and Tonks, apparently we’re all going back to school with them and on the way I’m going to meet Ted and Andromeda Tonks…"

She looked surprised and highly interested. "Really? You’re going to meet your aunt and uncle? I think that’s great!"

"So does Tonks… I’m just not sure." He shook his head and started packing up the few things he’d brought home for the weekend.

"Is it just because you’re nervous of what they’ll think of you?" She asked, handing him his jacket.

"Maybe… I think I’m also nervous of what I’ll think of them. I mean, I really don’t even know what to guess they’re like. but I have an idea of what I want them to be like…" He wanted them to be just like Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, like Lupin and Tonks, like any other number of normal, happily married people with no dubious intentions… who simply wanted to live their lives peacefully but were courageous enough to fight for the privilege. They were his last chance at a real family, he wanted them to be perfect.

"But you’re sure you want to meet them, right?" Ginny took his hand and forced him to stop moving distractedly around the room, pulling him to sit next to her on the bed. "If you’re not ready, you should tell Tonks now."

"No, it’s now or never. I have to be ready." He insisted. "They could be the next best thing to ever happen to me, why put it off just because I’m nervous. That’s never a reason to not do something, right?"

"Hey, if you want to do this, then I’m all for it. After all, look at how Tonks turned out, they can’t be all bad." She smiled.

"Half an hour until we leave!" They suddenly heard Lupin yell up the stairs, his voice amplified by a spell to reach every floor of the house.

"Well, I guess that’s that then." Draco smiled, feeling almost relieved that this first meeting would soon be over.

"It’ll be great." Ginny assured him. He squeezed her hand, hoping she was right.





NOTE: More to come soon!

Chapter 40: The Death of Jasper

A/N: Some of you may notice that I changed quite a few things about Andromeda and Ted Tonks from how they were in the real books including their appearances and the fact that Ted is a full muggle here rather than a muggle born wizard. Also I’ve changed a little bit of the Black family tree, though minor characters barely mentioned at all in the real series. These choices were made to keep the tide of this story turning so bear with me, after all most of this stuff was revealed in HBP and DH which these stories are supposed to replace in the series. As always Read, Review and Enjoy!

 

"This is going to be horrible!" Harry exclaimed as he paced his room in agitation after hearing Lupin’s announcement about their plans to stop by the Tonks’ house. Hermione and Luna were there with him, going through ministry documents to pass the time. And if being enclosed in the same space alone with the two girls wasn’t an awkward enough situation, he now had to figure out how to prepare to meet members of the family of the only person who’s life he’d taken.

"Relax, it’s not like we’re going to see Narcissa." Hermione looked up from the papers, her expression sympathetic. "She’s the one who actually cared about Bellatrix, and even then she doesn’t seem the type to care very much."

"Yeah, I’m sure Andromeda will be far more understanding." Luna added.

"How sure?" He asked nervously.

She smiled. "I haven’t gotten a vision, but I doubt Tonks would take you there if it was going to be a problem."

"I agree." Hermione said, gathering the documents to start putting them away.

"Look, I know I’m being difficult and I know Draco’s probably ten times more nervous than I am but… I just… how am I supposed to face her?"

"Well, how do you face Draco and Tonks? Bellatrix was their aunt after all." Luna shrugged.

"It’s not the same… I know them and I know they would have killed her if they had to, and she would have done the same to them." He hesitated, not really sure how that made it different. "I mean, I talked to Draco and he said he understood. And Tonks had already gone against Bellatrix way back at the Department of Mysteries."

"So you’ll talk to Andromeda and I’m sure she’ll tell you she understands too." Luna reasoned.

"Plus, she already went against the whole family before, when she chose to leave them." Hermione added logically. "Besides, this isn’t supposed to be about you."

"I know." He answered miserably, sinking down into his desk chair. "I just have tried really hard not to think about Bellatrix at all… or about anything else I’ve done in any battle. It’s easier that way to go on to the next one, you know?" He looked back and forth between the two girls, for a moment actually liking that they were both in front of him… they were the two people he always wanted to go to when he needed comfort as well as a hard dose of reality.

"FIVE MINUTES AND YOU ALL NEED TO BE DOWN HERE READY TO GO!" They heard Tonks’s magically amplified voice call up the stairs.

"Okay, I think that’s all the documents." Hermione was instantly distracted, rushing between their rooms in an effort to ensure they were both properly packed. He and Luna watched in amusement as she literally became frazzled before their eyes. "Whew, that should do it." She said, dropping her bags next to his and collapsing on the bed. "Harry, all you can do is go get it over with. Afterwards when you see it isn’t the disaster you’re making it, you’ll feel better."

"Well, I’ve run out of time to argue with you." He said with a smile as he shook his head. Even when flustered, Hermione could maintain her focus.

"There’s nothing to argue." Luna put in. "You and Draco both feel the same way about this you know, just for different reasons. At least neither of you will have to overcome your fear of facing Andromeda alone."

They walked down to the parlor where Lupin, Tonks, Drake, Ginny and Draco were already waiting with Arthur, Molly, and Willem. Harry didn’t even have to use his powers to know that Draco was just as anxiously nervous as he was, though there was more in the other boy… Draco was also trying to hide the happy hopefulness he felt. With a sigh, Harry put his own reservations aside. He wouldn’t sour this for his new friend, Draco probably needed this more than even he knew… to have his own family to look to for support rather than those he was forced to depend on. After all, as Luna and Hermione pointed out, there was probably no love loss between Bellatrix and Andromeda. He could only hope the Tonks family was as understanding as their daughter and nephew.

(BREAK)

"Almost there!" Tonks said happily from behind the wheel as she sharply turned around a corner, throwing all the occupants of the ministry car around.

"Thank Merlin." Healer Drake grumbled as he picked himself up off the floor.

"You’d think with her driving, they’d give us a vehicle with seat belts." Ron whispered to the others with laugh as he settled back into his seat.

"Or at least a handle to grab onto." Ginny grinned.

Draco squeezed her hand tightly, feeling more anxious the closer they got to their destination. So many thoughts were trying to push their way to the forefront of his mind, all involving his hopes and concerns about this meeting. The one worry that stood out was whether or not he would be disappointed by his aunt and uncle and therefore he refused to try and imagine them, hoping that by having no expectations he couldn’t be let down. Of course the next natural and more troubling thought was whether or not he would disappoint them. Tonks had said her parents had been pleased with the idea of meeting him… but would he, could he measure up to what they were expecting? He’d already proven a disappointment to his parents, could he handle being rejected by another part of his family? He wasn’t sure and felt the ball of dread in his gut grow larger. Ginny squeezed his hand back, smiling in amusement as everyone joked around. Draco remained silent as the others teased his cousin about her lack of driving skill, but he couldn’t help but grin when she told them all to shut up or get out and walk.

"It may be safer if we walk." Lupin said with a smile, also teasing his wife.

"Walking will definitely be safer for you if you don’t stop egging them on." Tonks grumpily threatened, though a small smile tugged the corners of her mouth.

Draco looked out the window, trying to figure out where they were heading. They’d already left the more densely populated city far behind them and had traveled deep into the countryside. Now they were making their way through thick forest, the trees so plentiful that the small, dirt road they were on was covered in shadow without a hint of daylight. Tonks turned on the little lights at the front of the car, washing the path ahead in brightness and illuminating an even smaller road up ahead. "This will be it then." Tonks grinned widely as she turned onto the small path, this time far more gently than the last time. It as barely wide enough for their car to pass through and Draco stared ahead expectantly, waiting with great impatience to see where he’d been brought. As the trees thinned, he was able to make out a clearing ahead that was bathed in sunlight.

Tonks stopped just outside the tree line, hopping out before remembering to turn off the car. "Come on!" she excitedly beckoned the others. Lupin shook his head and smiled as he waved his wand, shutting off the engine. They all climbed out of the car and breathlessly took in the sight before them. Rays of sparking sunlight shone down on a small stone cottage with a heavy thatch roof surrounded by a sea of colorful wildflowers. Wisps of white smoke fluttered from the chimney, indicating that a warm homey blaze awaited them. Off to the side was a small stone well and beyond that an arched wooden footbridge wrapped in bright flowering vines that led over the small stream and into the woods. A symphony of bird songs greeted them as small animals scampered through the unkempt garden. Draco found that he couldn’t take his eyes off the pleasant yet strangely uncomfortable picture that was unlike anything he’d ever known or imagined… it was surreally perfect, as if a dream or… or…

"It’s like a fairytale." Luna marveled, providing the words he’d been struggling for. That was exactly what he thought of the little home, that it was fairytale perfect. However, he knew some of those stories began with an innocent picture like this only to end somewhere much darker. He hoped this wasn’t one of those deceptive tales, knowing better than to take something at its face value. He couldn’t imagine any member of his family living here… this was a place for someone like Luna, who seemed a walking fairytale herself with her ethereal presence.

"Come on!" Tonks said again with more impatience, leading them all up to the small wooden door. She knocked vigorously, an expectant smile across her face.

A tall man answered, his eyes a kind blue and his hair a deep chestnut. He looked very much like Tonks when she chose to look more normal. "Dora!" He exclaimed, wrapping his arms around his daughter. They embraced tightly before she pulled back and gestured to her husband.

"Dad, you may vaguely remember Remus Lupin." She reintroduced the two men who amiably shook hands.

"Well, we’ll certainly have to get to know each other now won’t we!" Mr. Tonks laughed. Lupin offered a weak grin and Draco realized that his new guardian was also nervous, this being the first time officially meeting his wife’s parents. It made him feel better, knowing that Lupin and Potter were just as uncomfortable as he was.

"Come on in, all of you! We’re glad you’re all here." Mr. Tonks invited, happily leading the way back into the house. Muggle or not, Draco found he instantly liked the man and could see why his aunt would chose his warm openness to their family’s cold indifference.

The inside of the house was as cozy as one could imagine from the outside, instantly giving off the feeling of being the home of a happy family. They were brought to a small parlor crammed so full of evidence of the Tonks’ life together that there was barely enough room for them all to fit. "Hold on." Tonks smiled, waving her wand. The room stretched out, expanding to comfortably fit them all. "Where’s mum?" she asked as she went about creating enough seating for everyone.

"Oh Dromeda darling!" Mr. Tonks called up the stairs. "Dora and the kids have arrived. And she brought that bloke she married!" Above their heads they heard a heavy thud, as if someone had just dropped something heavy. Then the quick patter of light footsteps making their way down. "I hope whatever that was didn’t break." He shook his head and grinned at his daughter. "We’ve managed to be here three days without her having an accident."

"Mom’s a bit more accident prone than I am." Tonks explained as Andromeda rushed into the room.

"Oh I didn’t even hear you all!" She cried, wrapping her arms tightly around her daughter. As introductions were made between all the adults, Draco took the time to discreetly study his aunt. She had the same long, flowing blonde locks as his mother though Andromeda’s were more golden than icy. Like Bellatrix, her eyes were chocolate brown though without that touch of sinister insanity. If Narcissa was considered a statuesque beauty and Bellatrix a strangely exotic creature, then Andromeda could only be described as radiantly divine. The three sisters were each so different and yet their kinship was undeniable.

Turning from Lupin and Drake, Tonks began to introduce the teens but her mother interrupted her, walking directly over to him. "You must be Draco." Andromeda smiled, though he could tell she was sizing him up the same way he’d just done with her. "I’d know you anywhere, there’s so much of your parents in you."

"That hasn’t always been a good thing." He mumbled.

She smiled wider, placing a slight, delicate hand on his shoulder. "Well, in appearance, it is definitely a good thing." She complimented him before pulling him in for a warm hug. He was momentarily shocked into stillness before stiffly returning the embrace. She stepped back and looked at him closely, a friendly smile still in place. "Well, I can see you still aren’t used to all this. Took me quite awhile after I left the family to realize not only that people could be warm but that it was okay to be so as well. Isn’t that so Ted?" She turned to her husband with a laugh.

"First time I tried to hold your aunt’s hand, she cursed me with one of those binding spells you all do." Ted laughed along with his wife.

"Bet you’re thankful she got over that!" Drake joked and the two men laughed together.

Andromeda gave her husband a small playful shove before turning back to her nephew with a bit more seriousness. "You and I, we’ll go talk in a few moments. There is so much I need to say to you, and so much about you I’d like to learn." She squeezed his shoulder. Then she looked to Potter, her eyes filling with sympathy. "You of course are Harry Potter. Another parental resemblance that is impossible to ignore." She laughed lightly before wrapping him in a hug as well.

Potter appeared as shocked as Draco had been. "It’s nice to meet you." He said politely. "You knew my parents?"

"Not very well. Our paths crossed a few times all those years ago. It was heartbreaking to hear what had happened… though we were also glad that it had meant the end of all that madness. Or so we’d thought." She shook her head sadly.

"As much as we knew them, Lily and James Potter were wonderful people." Ted added with an encouraging smile.

"Mum, dad, let me also introduce Hermione Granger, Ron and Ginny Weasley, and Luna Lovegood." Tonks gestured proudly at the teens assembled before her.

"It’s wonderful to meet you all. Sirius had told me a bit about some of you and I must say I agree that you appear to be some of the best examples of your generation." Andromeda said, gaining a bit more formality with the others. The way she held herself slightly aloof from those not immediately important to her was evidence of who she had been raised to be, a left over conditioning to never let strangers get too close. Though a warmly genuine smile still crossed her face Draco saw more traces of his mother in the stiffly regal way his aunt now held herself. He felt his heart plummet, seeing that even after all these years there was still a part of her that she couldn’t overcome. After all, her husband and daughter were both equally warm to everyone.

But Potter was of course more hung up on her actual words than the way she delivered them. "You spoke to Sirius before he died?"

"You mean before my sister murdered him… Dora has filled us in on all the particulars." Andromeda answered regretfully. "I really liked Sirius, despite his obvious character flaws."

"Mum was always looking to reach out to anyone willing to break free of the family." Tonks said with a wink in Draco’s direction. "She always has to keep the blaze of rebellion alive."

"I chose my side during the last war, if by no other action than inaction." Andromeda told them all with a deep sigh. "This time, with Dora right in the thick of it, I am forced to defend all the choices I’ve made. I like the life I’ve made for myself and only wanted to help others like me in the family see that they could have better. When Sirius showed up at my door a few years ago, asking for a temporary place to hide I couldn’t say no. In the few weeks he stayed with us, we bonded even more than we had as children over our extreme desire to separate our images from those of our family… he had been worried that for him it was already too late." She looked to Potter, her eyes full of sadness. "He told me how much he cared for you especially Harry and how happy he was to be able to try and fill in for James as the one to guide you… not that he was one who should be offering guidance to anyone." She laughed.

"When we found out he was also taken away… Dromeda was devastated." Ted added, wrapping an arm around his wife’s shoulders.

"I was mad too!" she said with a bit of bitterness. "Bellatrix had been trying for years to destroy my life, it wasn’t fair that she got Sirius before he ever had a chance to really live."

"So you aren’t mad at me then." Potter asked quietly.

Andromeda seemed to melt before their eyes. "Of course not Harry! As I said, Dora has filled us in on all the particulars. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted it to go the other way! There’s no excuse to murder children, especially when this battle should really only belong to the older generation."

Draco hung his head, knowing that by his silence alone he was guilty of Neville Longbottom’s death. He’d known what Cho had intended, that more people had been expected to die and he’d done nothing except take the blame for a short time. But you knew it was wrong, that’s what’s important. Luna’s voice flowed through his mind. I knew what was going to happen and I didn’t say anything either. It’s guilt we will just have to carry with us the rest of our lives.

So she had gotten a vision before the stands blew… he’d always wondered. And then he remembered that in order for her to have answered his thoughts, at some point his shields must have gone down. He reinforced them now, not wanting his thoughts out in the open.

Tonks suggested that everyone not part of the family go outside to stretch their legs after such a long car ride. "There are protection charms everywhere so don’t be afraid of taking a stroll through the trees." She assured them. "It’s quite relaxing out there."

Taking the hint, they all filed out leaving Draco alone with Lupin and the Tonks family. He met Ginny’s questioning eye as she stood to follow her friends and shook his head, indicating he didn’t need her to stay, that he thought he’d be okay. Shooting a dazzling, reassuring smile at him, she went along out the door with Luna. Draco held his breath in anticipation. But the words Andromeda spoke were surprisingly unexpected.

"I’m so sorry, Draco." She hung her head as she took a seat next to him.

"For what?" He asked in breathless confusion.

She shook her head. "That I tried to make it so you’d never be born."

(BREAK)

Hermione watched as Harry, Ron, Luna and Ginny walked towards the woods. Drake had decided to sit down and meditate, to rejuvenate himself before returning to the school. She had claimed to her friends that she wanted to meditate as well and though she’d received some odd looks, luckily none of them chose to question her. Once certain they had all crossed the little footbridge into the trees, she walked around to the back of the house away from the healer and seated herself in the soft grass. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out the compact and quickly opened it. She had noticed a slight change in Fred, he’d been standoffish when they’d said goodbye to him that morning and she wanted to know what could possibly be wrong after such success with his store… but he didn’t answer. She waited several minutes before deciding he must have forgotten to take his compact with him to work, though she’d never known him to be without it before. Sighing heavily, she put the device back in her pocket and lay down among the flowers, staring at the patch of sky and wondering what her life was and how she’d gotten there.

"Hermione?" She felt someone shaking her and bolted upright, unaware that she’d dozed off. Feeling disconcerted, she glanced up to see Ron grinning at her. "So I take it the meditation went a little too well." He smirked.

"Where is everyone?" She ignored his teasing.

"Harry, Luna and Ginny are out front talking to Drake. They wanted to let you continue napping but…"

"But?" She pushed when he faltered.

"But I kind of wanted to talk to you before we went back to school." He said slowly.

"About?"

"You and my brother." He answered, looking her directly in the eye.

Hermione instantly felt her chest tighten with guilt. But she tried to hide it, to remain calm and inconspicuous on the outside. "What on earth are you talking about?" She demanded.

"Oh come on Hermione, I see how whenever he’s around you’re always paying him extra attention, always running off to help him with potions or the store. When did this interest in Fred develop?"

"Since he became my friend years ago. I like to pay attention to and help all of my friends." She answered defensively. "And why do you care anyway?"

Ron shook his head, his eyes full of accusation. "I don’t. Harry does."

"Harry knows Fred and I are working on projects together. He’s fine with it." She said confidently though inside she suddenly wasn’t so sure anymore.

"So he tells you. But when he talks to me, he’s devastated." He insisted.

She was suddenly skeptical, feeling that if something were bothering Harry that bad she would have noticed. As far as she knew, he as absolutely fine with her spending time with Fred, encouraging even. "What do you mean?" She had to be sure. Harry could very well have talked to Ron, not wanting to upset her.

"I mean he thinks you’re getting ready to break up with him for Fred!" He declared as if it should be obvious. "Is that really what you want to do?"

"Of course not!" Hermione insisted.

"Good, because… well, I mean you already gave up so much to be with him. When you picked him over your parents, you seemed so certain that only the Grangers questioned you. Do you want to prove your parents right? That you and Harry were simply in the throes of ‘puppy love’?"

Her suspicion grew deeper and intuition pricked at the back of her neck. Something didn’t seem right here, Ron was pushing hard, trying to guilt her into… what exactly? Staying with Harry? It just wasn’t making sense. "I didn’t choose him over them, I chose all of you, this entire life over the life my parents wanted for me. Did Harry have something to do with the decision, of course! But he wasn’t the only reason."

"Whatever you say." He shook his head. "I just don’t want to see you make yourself and Harry unhappy because of some temptation. You two are the real thing… at least you used to be."

"We still are." She insisted, feeling herself begin to become angry.

"Well, you might want to let Harry in on that fact. He’s been trying to figure out how he was going to be able to let you go." Ron pushed even more. "He told me that all he wants is for you to be happy and was resigned to doing whatever it took, even if it meant letting you go."

Hermione stood, brushing grass and dirt from her clothes. "If that’s true at all, it’s only because then it’ll free up more time for him to spend with Luna." She said cruelly, using his ex’s name in hopes of upsetting him as much as he as upsetting her.

Ron also stood, rolling his eyes. "Yeah, I asked him about that. Come on, Hermione! We know their pull to each other comes from being in the Coven. You saw it was the same when Gabby was around, she ignored all the rest of us once introduced to Harry and Luna, as if only the three of them existed. Don’t be stupid because you’re jealous."

She’d never felt so insulted in her whole life. "Thanks for your concern Ron." She said through clenched teeth before deliberately walking away. Rounding the front of the house, she saw Luna and Ginny sitting off together talking while Harry and Drake walked the yard, also deep in discussion. When he saw her, Harry shot her a friendly smile, gesturing her to come join them. Sighing away the tension built up during her conversation with Ron, she walked over feeling her friend had overreacted. There was a lot going wrong between her and Harry, but who was to say what the reason was? There had been so much growing between them that her attentions to Fred couldn’t possibly be the thing that finally topples them… But as she took his hand and walked by his side, she sadly reflected that eventually there would be something that drove them apart. She felt her heart swell with pain at the thought of not being with Harry, but at the same time, there was a tiny part of her that wondered how life would be without him. As soon as the thought crossed her mind she chastised herself… Whether or not they were a couple there was one thing Hermione was completely certain of- Harry would always be in her life. There was no other way it could be.

(BREAK)

"What do you mean you tried to make it so I was never born?" Draco asked nervously. Tonks reached over to rub his shoulder reassuringly while her mother gathered her thoughts.

At last Andromeda raised her head to meet his eyes. "You know very well what life was like for you growing up… it was worse for me and my sisters. Once Narcissa married Lucius, he pretty much kept her as his, away from the Black family. Unlike Bellatrix and her husband Rodolphus, Narcissa had no desire to join the Death Eaters and so for the most part you were protected. But before my sisters and I married, we were fully raised as Blacks. Cousin Sirius and I always got on well as we were the two who never quite fit in, but that family is full of not only evil, but a whole lot of insanity as well. Bellatrix was the one who always embraced that life the most and she was the one who carried on her hatred for me after I left the family for Ted. When I heard that she was to be married, I took the chance, armed myself well and went to see her. I managed to slip the potion into both of their glasses and get out with my life. But it was worth it." She paused, obviously trying to gather her thoughts.

"What potion?" Draco asked nervously.

She smiled sadly. "One to ensure they never bore a child. I already had Dora to think of… I couldn’t let the evil of our family continue to spread. A child born not only of a Black, but a Lestrange as well? I could easily imagine the monster that would produce and couldn’t let it come to be." She paused again. "Draco, when I found out your mother was marrying Lucius Malfoy I was horrified. The Malfoys had their own reputation as well, maybe not as barbaric as the Lestranges, instead they were viciously cunning. I could also easily picture their child, very intelligent, highly civilized and extremely dangerous. I didn’t want a more advanced version of Lucius running around in the world."

"But he’s not a Malfoy! And I’m nothing like him." Draco insisted, feeling himself begin to panic. He had so wanted these people to like him. Lupin and Tonks moved to sit closer to him, trying to offer reassurance. But he could only look at his aunt.

Andromeda smiled sadly. "No, you aren’t like Lucius… and it very well could be because he wasn’t really a Malfoy. And I’m very glad that by the time I was able to approach Narcissa with the potion to prevent her pregnancy it was too late. You were already on the way and obviously meant to be here."

Draco shook his head, thinking hard about the fact that because of who his parents were, he was almost never born. "I’m sorry." He said softly.

"For what dear?" Andromeda asked gently.

"For the way I acted all those years. I’m sorry I almost proved you right, that it would have been better if I hadn’t been born."

"Oh no, don’t think like that." She cooed, kneeling before him and hesitantly reaching out to caress his cheek. "I was the one who was wrong Draco, don’t you see? You deserved a chance and I’m so happy you had it. And no matter what has come before this moment, I am grateful that you are here now. I just had to tell you… to make you understand that even after leaving that life behind, it was so difficult for me not to think like them. Even to this day I find myself scheming the easiest way for me to get what I want, but it gets easier to ignore those impulses. Perhaps if I had family to turn to, if Sirius hadn’t been wrongly imprisoned… maybe it would have been easier for me. I want to help you now, to be here for you and make this as easy as possible."

Draco didn’t know what to say, what to do. Andromeda was a mixture of what he hadn’t admitted he’d been expecting. She was both cold and warm, distant and comforting, scared and courageous. She was someone continually battling her genes and upbringing to be the person she wanted to be and he found that he liked her very much. Searching her eyes he saw no alterior motive, only concern for him. Other than with Ginny, he’d never been the one to initiate affection of any kind, often finding the displays awkward though comforting. Now, acting on impulse he threw his arms around his aunt hoping it was the right thing to do. As he felt her instantly return the embrace, he knew it was what she’d been hoping for. In her arms, he felt safe and secure in a way he never had before… it was the way he’d always wanted to feel around his mother. Though he felt his eyes stinging, he refused to shed any tears. He never cried and wasn’t going to allow himself that weakness now. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ted, Lupin and Tonks discreetly make their way out of the room.

"Well then." Andromeda said when they broke apart. He could see that she was also on the verge of tears, and was just as stubborn in her refusal to shed them. Cupping his face and smiling kindly, she then rose and returned to her own seat continuing on in the conversation as if the moment that had passed between them hadn’t happened. He was grateful. "I suppose my only regret at this point is that I didn’t try to seek you out sooner. Perhaps I could have helped save you quite a bit of grief over the years. It was my mistake to assume Sirius and I were the only ones not to entirely fit in."

"I think it was better this way, even if it is harder. I never would have listened to you before now, I had to find my own way out, like you and Sirius." He answered thoughtfully.

She smiled. "You’re probably right." Then she once more turned somber, lowering her eyes as she asked a question she was clearly uncomfortable asking. "How is your mother? I imagine it must be difficult to be abandoned by one’s husband and child."

Draco shook his head. "The last time I saw her, she was more frazzled than I’d ever seen her, but immovable in her way of life. I guess I was disappointed, I sort of hoped she would have chosen me over Lucius."

Andromeda sighed deeply. "Narcissa was a strange creature… always needing things to be just so. She tends to lose herself a bit when surrounded by chaos… she even brought you to me once during the last war."

"What?" he was astounded by the revelation.

"That’s right… she was so overwhelmed by things being out of her control, she accidentally went sane." She smiled. "It was the first and last time I saw you before today, and Lucius came pretty quickly to collect you both. But for a moment I thought I had her convinced that for your sake it was better she disentangle herself. Ted and I offered to hide you both, to send you away until things were more settled. But when your father showed up with Bellatrix and Rodolphus, disgusted by the fact that she’d brought you to us of all people, Narcissa became who she always was… a beautiful sculpture that was trying to hide the cracks in her finish. It was how she’d trained herself to survive… I didn’t want to let her go back but I was no match for Lucius and Bellatrix both. Dora was a little girl and Ted wouldn’t have stood a chance against their magic. I was too scared for the family I made to try and save the one I’d left behind. I’ve had no contact with any of them since… I just thought you should know, if she could, your mother would choose you. But she can’t, not because she’s choosing your father, but because she’s choosing herself. She loved you Draco, probably still does. It’s her flaws that keep her from showing it, not yours."

"Sorry to interrupt." Ted said brightly as he reentered the room carrying a tray. "I thought everyone could use a little refreshment. Dora and Remus are outside handing out snacks to the others."

"Thank you." Andromeda smiled warmly at her husband as he handed her a cup.

"I hope you are both getting on well." He returned her smile as he sat next to her.

"Better than I’d hoped actually. It seems Draco is a bit further along in his acceptance of a different life than I thought." Now she turned her smile on him as she became teasing. "It makes me curious as to which of those lovely ladies you decided to fall on your sword for…"

Draco felt himself blush and shifted uncomfortably. "Well… I…"

"Don’t worry… if I hadn’t met Ted, who knows if I ever would have chosen to leave. We all find our reasons. Sirius had his friends, I had Ted and you have…"

"Ginny." He admitted at last. Who better to understand betraying everyone for someone they loved than his aunt?

"Ah, a Weasley. I believe there was someone else in our family who was blasted off the tree for going after a Weasley… my grandfather’s cousin I believe… fell for one of young Ginny’s great aunts. A very old family, but not quite as respected as they ought to be." Andromeda sighed.

"But Dora has said that Arthur is doing his best to change that. Says he’s doing great things with your ministry." Ted added.

Before Draco could reply on just how great Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had been to him, Lupin and Tonks reentered the house and came into the magically altered parlor. "Sorry to interrupt, but Remus has insisted it is getting to be that time. Albus will be furious if I’m late returning two of his professors and six of his students." Tonks grinned regretfully at her parents.

Andromeda stood and embraced her daughter. "And when will be the next time we see each other Dora?"

"Much sooner than a year this time I hope?" Ted added, going to his daughter’s other side.

"Hey, you were the ones out of the country almost that whole time!" Tonks protested as they said their goodbyes.

They all headed outside where the others gathered round to politely thank their hosts. Draco walked over to Ginny and was grateful when she instantly reached for his hand. It had felt so intense while talking to his aunt, it was nice to be back in the presence of someone who reminded him of the lighter, more fun side of life. Ted and Andromeda walked them back to the ministry car, pulling him back for a more private farewell. This time, Ginny stayed at his side. "Well Draco, I’m so happy to say that it has been a pleasure to meet you." Ted reached out to shake his hand. And so Draco did something he wouldn’t have done a year ago, he cordially shook hands with a muggle- with no alterior motive, with nothing more than mutual respect. It was strange yet freeing to accept someone for who they were and not what they were.

"Please know that you are always welcome here now Draco." Andromeda placed her hand on his shoulder before turning to smile at Ginny as well. "You and your friends."

"Thank you. I wish I had something to offer in return." He replied, feeling more than a little embarrassed by all of the attention he was being given.

"You do. Keep an eye on Dora for us, keep her as safe as she’s sworn to keep all of you." She whispered so her daughter wouldn’t hear. Then she pulled him into yet another hug. "All of you be careful." She said loudly when they parted. "And Dora, we expect you here at least one night this week for dinner."

"Whatever you say mum." Tonks laughed as she ushered the teens into the car.

Draco was the last to get in, following Lupin and Ginny. There was no place to turn the car around and so they had to go in reverse down the narrow road. He kept his eyes trained out the front window even after the clearing faded, his only regret being that he hadn’t left his parents years earlier.

(BREAK)

Ron was glad to be back on the road to Hogwarts. After his talk with Hermione, she’d spent the rest of their time at the Tonks house glaring at him. This hadn’t bothered him so much, he’d expected her to be mad. No, what made him uncomfortable was the other look in her eye, the familiar focused intensity she always wore when trying to figure something out. The last thing he wanted was for her to catch onto what he was doing. Perhaps he’d pushed his luck trying to manipulate Hermione… she wasn’t as easy to guilt as Fred and Harry and certainly far more aware. But what was done was done and if the way she was tightly holding Harry’s hand was any indication, he’d gotten into her head a little.

Three out of four taken care of, that just left Luna. He glanced in her direction and shook his head. No, he wouldn’t be talking to Luna about any of this. Of the four, she was the one who would see through him in an instant. Between her powers and her uncanny way of reading people through careful observation, there as no way he’d get away with it. Hopefully he’d done enough already without involving her. It wasn’t like she’d do anything sneaky or underhanded to get what she wanted the way Ginny had tried last year. Even in her darkest times Luna was all goodness and light; if Harry and Hermione remained a couple, Ron was certain she wouldn’t do anything about it. In time they’ll all forget they were even thinking of shaking up the group, and maybe then he tell them how hard he tried to keep them together. He couldn’t wait for the day when they’d all thank him for his effort… especially since in the current moment, he felt horrible for the lies he’d told his friends and his brother.

"We’ll be at the school in about two hours. Just in time for dinner." Drake said happily as he turned onto the main road. Now that they were going somewhere familiar, he’d insisted on driving, much to the relief of all other passengers.

Ron’s stomach rumbled in reply, apparently the cakes and tea they’d had at the cottage hadn’t been as filling as he’d hoped. Putting aside all unpleasant thoughts, he settled back against his seat and tried to think only of how close he was to being back at Hogwarts.

(BREAK)

"So?" Ginny asked Draco as soon as they were locked away in his dorm room. They’d both decided to skip dinner.

"So what?"

"So how do you think it went? Did you like them? I mean I thought they were nice and they seemed to really like you so that makes me like them even more. Did she answer all your questions? Were they what you expected? Was-" She was cut off as Draco placed a hand over her mouth.

"Why do you seem nervous? It’s all over now." He grinned.

"I’m not nervous." She protested, pulling his hand away. "You said very little the whole way back here, I just want to make sure you’re okay."

"I’m fine. Just… I don’t know. I guess I just feel a little bit stupid right now." He admitted, sitting on the edge of the bed.

"What do you mean? We both now you’re irritatingly smart." She joked lightly as she sat and threw her arms around him, resting her chin on his shoulder.

"It just took me so long to decide to leave… and even when I did I was always questioning myself… well, except when you were around."

"You say the nicest things about me... for you anyway. But flattery is flattery I suppose, I’ll take what I can get." She grinned with another light joke, finally eliciting a small smile from him.

"I’m just tired of all of this." He sighed. "Sometimes I wish it were years in the future and everything was settled and everyone finally knows where they stand and who they are."

"You think you’re the only one who wishes for that?" She asked gently as he leaned to rest his head against hers. "I’m sure we all long for the time when this whole war is over and settled, I know I do. But you are happier now, aren’t you?"

"I’m happier than I was yesterday I suppose." He sighed.

She leaned up to kiss his cheek. "That’s all any of us can strive for at this point Draco… so whatever else you’re feeling, just know that by that measure, today was a good day."

(BREAK)

Fred grunted in frustration as the compact yet again grew warm in his pocket, shattering his concentration. Hermione had been trying to call him all day, but after his talk with Ron, he wasn’t sure he should always be there to answer her call. And after his talk with George, he wasn’t sure he shouldn’t answer. So standing in indecision led him to try and ignore the problem altogether. But the infernal compact had been growing warm all day while he was at the store and with even more frequency since he’d gotten home. He pulled the offending object from his pocket and slammed it on the table where he could no longer feel it.

Turning back to his potion with new determination he managed to get two steps further before clumsily spilling the whole thing. He glared at the compact, as if it had forced him to be so careless as it continued to call out for him. Picking it up he found that it was actually cold… she hadn’t been calling. He was too distracted and with an air of finality, he went to his dresser and shoved the compact to the bottom before angrily closing the drawer.

He paced his room restlessly, hating Ron for putting so many doubts and questions in his head. It was so much easier moving through the daze of feigned ignorance he’d been living in and he wanted to be back there again. Of course, it wasn’t Hermione’s fault that Ron had divulged a conversation she’d thought was private… if the conversation took place at all, which George seemed to doubt. And he’d given her no reason to think he wouldn’t answer… she could be sitting there worried that something had happened to him. He certainly didn’t want that, especially if she became worried enough to run to the others with her concern.

With a defeated sigh Fred went back to his dresser and dug out the compact. It was still cold. Before he could change his mind, he flipped it open and waited to hear Hermione’s voice. She was there in seconds. "Fred? Is everything okay?"

"Absolutely fine. I forgot to bring the compact with me this morning with all the excitement going on." He answered without emotion.

"Oh. Are you sure you’re okay, you sound weird and you were acting strange this morning."

He sighed again, always the observant one this girl. "Just having an off day I guess. I’m actually really tired, think I’m going to turn in early."

There was a long moment of silence before she replied. "Okay. Well, sleep well then."

"Hey, just so you know, I’m going to be kind of busy this week, so I may not always be reachable." He cautiously put out, desperately waiting for her reaction.

"I see. Did I do something to make you mad at me?" She asked very directly.

"Of course not!" He was stunned into honesty. "I just… It doesn’t seem like such a good idea for us to talk to each other every day, you know? Especially when no one knows about it."

"Why not?" She pushed.

"Because it can give people the wrong impression."

There was another long pause before she responded. "Ron talked to you, didn’t he?"

"No." He lied instantly, not wanting her to know that he’d been told so many of her private thoughts about him.

"Really? Because he tried talking to me today." She insisted.

"Today? You two didn’t talk about…things… before?" Fred was astounded. George’s intuition had been right.

"I haven’t had a serious conversation with him in a long time. All he does is spout off ridiculousness lately."

He hesitated. "But is it really ridiculous? He made some good points when talking to me."

"So what?" She demanded, making him smile. "What does Ron know about anything anyway?!"

"I guess I see your point." He answered slowly. "Listen, I really am tired, okay? I’ll talk to you again later."

"Sure, I guess. Talk to you later. Goodnight Fred." She sounded sadly disappointed.

"Goodnight Hermione." He replied softly as he closed the compact. He let out the breath he’d been holding, sitting back and crossing his arms as he attempted to think about what had just taken place. Maybe Ron had lied about talking to Hermione, but he he’d also made great sense. Fred didn’t know what to do, but he had to figure it out quickly.

(BREAK)

Harry woke Monday morning and instantly felt a sense of dread fill his gut as he thought about how he was supposed to make it through a normal day. There was so much plaguing him- from the mundane things like his studies to the more terrifying thoughts of dealing with Tristan to the impossible task of figuring out what to do about Hermione and Luna. If Ron was right, then things were coming to a head and he had to puzzle out what should happen. IF Ron was right… When he’d tried to see inside his friend’s head, Ron had shielded strongly. But what would he have to gain by lying, and why lie in the first place?

Turning to his side, he found Hermione stretching herself awake. Seeking comfort they’d slept together, but both had been suspiciously careful not to touch once in the massive bed. This mutually silent standoff between them was beginning to become as intolerable as the more vocal one he’d endured with Luna. "Good morning." She greeted him with an awkward smile.

"Good morning." He answered shortly, quickly rising to dress for the day.

"Are you mad?" She asked in confusion.

Harry shook his head and sighed as he sat to button his shirt. "No, just tense… stressed out, you know?" He said in a gentler tone.

"I know." She replied softly. She crawled across the bed and sat behind him, throwing her arms around his shoulders as she rested her head against his back. "It’s getting so difficult, isn’t it?" She whispered.

He reached up and ran his hands along her soft slender arms, basking in the comfort of being so close to someone he loved. "But are we the ones making it difficult for ourselves?" He mused.

He felt her lips curve into a smile against his back before she lightly kissed him. "That’s the problem isn’t it… we won’t know unless something changes… but we aren’t willing to give up what we have for the chance to see."

"Aren’t willing, or too scared?"

She hesitated, disentangling herself to move beside him. "Maybe both, I think." She finally answered, staring off out the window.

"Hey in there!" Ron’s voice rang through the door, followed by his insistent knocking. "I never thought I’d have to be the one to give a wake-up call to you!"

"I’m wide awake Ronald, we both are. We’ll be out in a minute!" Hermione shouted, not bothering to hide her irritation at being the one to be hurried for a change. She got up and went to the chair in the corner where she’d laid out her school clothes the night before.

"I’ll go out and appease him. I’m all ready anyway." Harry quickly grabbed his wand and book bag and hurried from his room, eager to leave behind the very honest if somewhat indirect conversation they’d been having. He was scared, terrified actually. But like every other terrifying thing in his life, he was going to have to find a way to overcome it.

"What’s wrong with you?" Ron asked as Harry burst into the common room, collapsing on the couch next to Ginny and Draco.

"Just really hungry. Eager to get down to breakfast is all." He answered simply as Luna emerged from the Ravenclaw wing.

"Well where’s Hermione? She’s the one holding everyone up." Ron insisted also eager to get down to a meal.

"Calm yourself Ron, I’m right here. Couldn’t find my Ancient Runes book, Harry was trying to help me find it." Hermione said, coming forward and making a face at their friend.

"Great, can we go now?" Ron asked, rising and marching toward the door. They quickly made their way to the Great Hall, finding enough seats for their group at the end of what normally would have been the Hufflepuff table. "Hey, where’s the food?" he demanded.

"Dumbledore is going to make an announcement." Luna answered, gesturing toward the Head table where the Headmaster was indeed rising to address his students.

"Good morning everyone. Before our day begins, I have a few announcements. To begin, as you all know the first quidditch match of the season will be held this Saturday. Because of events surrounding last year’s matches, we will be accepting the assistance of several Aurors sent by the Ministry. They are our protectors and our guests and are to be treated with respect and shown only the best side we have to offer here at Hogwarts. Anyone found to be acting or even planning to act out of line or in a devious manner will be held accountable for their actions and strictly punished. The event that took the life of Neville Longbottom was a devastating tragedy, one I will not allow repeated." Dumbledore looked out sternly at the sea of students amassed before him. Harry’s heart hurt at the memories brought up by the thought of the first match and looking around, he saw the emotion mirrored in most of the faces around him, especially those of his friends… of Neville’s friends.

Clearing his throat, Dumbledore continued in a lighter tone. "Now, the second and far more pleasant announcement is that with the arrival of today’s date, October 1st, we are one month away from celebrating Halloween. Due to the success of last year’s event and because of the request of several students, I’ve decided to bring back the tradition and hold Hogwart’s second annual Costume Ball. We all deserve some fun during these dark times and I am certainly in favor of you all having fun." He smiled as excited chatter rose up around the room. "That is all, enjoy your day."

Harry and his friends all stared around at each other blankly. "Well, it was fun I suppose, before Cho freaked out." Ron said, at last breaking the silence as he began piling his plate as soon as the food appeared.

"And after she was taken away." Luna joined in the light joking, also trying to ease the sudden tension.

"So, what’s everyone thinking they might dress as?" Ginny asked, picking up the flow of conversation.

"Not a knight again. That thing made an awful lot of racket." Ron shook his head as he reached for another biscuit.

The flapping of wings filled the hall as owls swooped in to deliver the few things still being allowed through the mail. Hermione quickly paid for her copy of the Daily Prophet before tearing it open to search the articles. Harry and Luna had told the others of Arthur’s plan to trap Edmund either with an illegal article about Harry’s visit or another story by Elanya. Now they were all eager to find out if anything had happened yet or if Edmund was willing to let things go in the name of caution. He watched as she scanned the pages, bringing it closer to her face as she studied what was written.

"Hey, wait a minute." Draco reached across the table and took the paper from her hands, paying attention only to a small article on the back page. "I know this guy." He said, turning it to show the others.

The headline read, Jasper Hawk Found Dead of Killing Curse – No Suspects Say Aurors. Beneath that was a short article detailing where the man’s body was found, but it was the grainy picture that captivated Harry. It was of an old man, staring out angrily as his shoulders seemed to sag further the longer one looked at the image. He was astonished to discover that he also knew the man and looked up at Luna for confirmation. She nodded in agreement- it was the man they’d seen in Sarah’s memory. "He was Voldemort’s seer." Harry said quietly.

Draco nodded in agreement. "He would tell them things that were coming and then it would get passed on to me or Cho so we knew when to act. But he was never as good as Luna."

"Which is why you guys saw Voldemort asking Sarah to bring Luna back to him. He wanted to replace Jasper." Hermione concluded, looked at the other girl in concern.

"But I’m right here, safe and sound." Luna said calmly. Only Harry could see the panic swirling through her head. "So why would they kill Jasper now?"

"Maybe they didn’t." Ginny shrugged. "Maybe someone else got him. The guy looks like he’d have enemies."

"Right, like Voldemort would let his seer walk around without protection." Ron scoffed.

"He lets Sarah, Elanya and Elise go wherever they want." Harry pointed out, hoping that this was an accident and not the beginning of some grand plot to steal another, more powerful seer… like Luna.

"They seem a bit more capable, don’t you think?" Hermione argued. "Maybe Voldemort’s people did do it because they’d already found someone else. I mean, the other person still wouldn’t be as powerful as Luna, but they wouldn’t know that. They have no way of knowing about the coven or that we’re trying to assemble one, right?"

"No way I can think of. We’ve been so careful." Harry answered distractedly as he tried to recall every instance where someone could have found them out. There wasn’t anything that stood out, he completely trusted everyone who knew their secret.

As the others continued to discuss what this man’s death meant, an idea began forming in Harry’s head. Maybe it was a bad idea, but in order to pull it off he needed someone else’s help. Luckily it was someone who had already talked him into an even worse idea. Hey, I need you to meet me in the Room of Requirement between classes today. He thought out to Draco.

Why? He replied.

You’ll see. Harry answered mysteriously.

(BREAK)

"Where are you going?" Luna asked as Harry breezed by her. She’d been waiting for him, knowing what he was planning to do.

He turned to her startled, having been too focused on his task to notice her. "Oh, hey Luna. I’m just going to meet up with Draco." He answered nervously.

"Why?" She pushed.

He sighed and shook his head, a slight smile at the corners of his mouth. "You already know don’t you?"

"I want to be there too."

"I don’t think it’s a good idea." Harry said slowly.

"I don’t care. I need to be there. If there really is some giant plot in the works to…" Luna faltered, unable to voice both their fears. "…then I deserve to be there." She finished with a strong insistence.

Sighing again, he simply nodded and gestured her to follow along. They walked quickly to the Room of Requirement where Draco was already waiting with Ginny. "What’s she doing here?" Harry demanded.

"Couldn’t shake her." Draco shrugged as Ginny grinned widely.

"Whatever. The more the merrier I guess." Harry grumbled as they waited for the hall to clear. Once they were able to enter the room they all arranged the plush chairs in a circle and sat, waiting for Harry’s instruction. He pulled out the ring and handed it to Draco. "I had only wanted you along because you were the only one who knew him. I can’t call up someone I never met… at least I don’t think I can. In any case, this will be easier."

"You want me to try and use this to call Jasper?" Draco stared down at the ugly ring. "I guess I could."

"We’ll help you feed it energy." Luna assured him.

"Right, we just need your memories of him." Harry added.

Ginny was the only one to look uncertain. "And there’s no way this Jasper guy can hurt us, right? I mean I know he’s dead and all, but he was a bad guy."

"If things start to go bad, we’ll just break off contact with the ring." Draco shrugged off her concern. "I’ll admit, there are a few things I’d like to ask Jasper myself. So is everyone ready then?" They all nodded their agreement as he slipped on the ring. Luna, Harry and Ginny each reached out to help feed the energy while Draco thought of the few times he’d met Jasper Hawk.

Though it took longer than it normally did with those they knew better, eventually a blurry shape began to form out of nowhere. They watched in amazement as Jasper materialized, looking more solid and less friendly than George and Sirius. Luna shuddered as he turned a toothy sneer in their direction. "Just as he foresaw, the article drew you to use the ring. You poor stupid children." The ghost cackled loudly.

"What are you talking about?" Harry demanded, rising to his feet.

"This is exactly what Jasper saw happen. I guess Voldemort was right after all, this was a brilliant plan!" He cackled louder and with more wild abandon.

Luna felt nervous... that tone of voice, those wild eyes, she knew them. "Harry, something isn’t right here."

"No kidding." Ginny mumbled.

"I will have what I came for!" Jasper, or the thing claiming to be him, screamed before swooping down at them. In a panic they scattered as the specter laughed and chased them around the room. Suddenly things began floating around them, whipping themselves at Luna and her friends as they scrambled to get out of the way.

"Look out!" Ginny shouted as a large bookcase hurled itself toward Draco. Harry used his own power to send it in the other direction just in time.

"You’re always in the way!" Jasper screamed, turning all of his wrath toward Harry as object after object assaulted him. Luna, Ginny and Draco did their best to help shield him as he tried using his own power to send the makeshift weapons back at his attacker. Unfortunately, Jasper had the advantage of being a ghost and therefore was unable to be hurt. However Harry refused to relent in his own defense, making the dead man even more upset. Letting out one loud angry shout, every piece of furniture in the room rose off the floor and went after different people.

Luna ducked the bookcase sent after her and quickly turned to check on the others. "Draco! Take off the ring!" She yelled across the room. He immediately ripped the thing from his finger only to be taken by surprise as a table hit him in the back, sending him flying forward and knocking the ring from his grasp. Ginny ran to his side as Jasper let out a victory yell and seeing what he intended to do, Luna dove to retrieve the ring first. Her hand went through his, leaving an icy imprint across her skin that immediately began to burn, as if she’d been scalded with acid. Letting out a shriek of pain, she recoiled as Harry grabbed her under her arms and dragged her back.

Jasper floated before them holding the ring, an impossible sight. "How are you still here?" Harry asked as he hugged Luna to him in fear.

"Silly child. I’m never who you think I am." He responded with a sinister smile.

"Sarah?" Luna asked softly, not wanting to believe it was true.

"Ding ding! Give the girl a prize!" Jasper/Sarah laughed maniacally. "It was very helpful that the old fool foresaw his own death. His mistake was divulging it to the wrong person. But now I use it to my advantage. Harry, Luna, it’s been delightful to see you again."

Harry dove toward the ghostly hand holding the ring, but Jasper/Sarah moved quickly and his entire body passed through the specter. He landed hard on the ground, howling in pain as his entire body welted with burns. And then the image was gone… and so was the ring.

***

"Luna… Luna! Are you okay?" A distant, muffled voice called to her.

She opened her eyes to find Ginny hovering over her. "I’m fine." She insisted, sitting up with a start and looking at her hand. There was no mark, no burn.

"Was it a vision?"

Luna shook her head, trying to bring herself fully into the present. "Yeah, a bad one." She answered simply. It had never been like that before… so intense… so real.

"What was it about?" Ginny asked, helping her to her feet and steadying her as she regained her balance.

But she could only shake her head again, unable to speak it aloud yet. And when she did, she only wanted to have to do it once. "We need to find Harry and Draco. Right now."

(BREAK)

"How is that possible?" Harry asked in bewilderment as he held the ring out to examine. Luna had run to gather them all in the Room of Requirement before he could put his plan of calling Jasper into action, telling them of the rather horrifying vision she’d received. He didn’t doubt her for a second, but part of him still wanted to take the chance… especially now that they had warning of what could happen.

"Astral projection." Hermione answered his question. "Well, a very advanced, extremely rare form of astral projection. I started looking it all up after you told us how Sarah used Cho to try and get you at the prison. Apparently Sarah wasn’t kidding about mastering wandless abilities to make up for being kept from receiving a wand. There are only a handful of people in the world who are capable of what she seems to be, if she really can trap and move through the souls of the dead."

"Okay, I can go along with all of that…" Ron said slowly. "But how would she be able to take the ring with her?"

"I don’t know… I’m still reading that book. It’s rather large and I have been a bit distracted by actual schoolwork." Hermione admitted sheepishly. "Plus Sarah was supposed to be in a coma, how was I supposed to know how important it was to keep trying to figure her out."

"Well one thing is for sure. Sarah is most definitely awake now." Luna said with a slight shudder. She had slight tears of frustration in her eyes.

"That is definitely not a good thing." Harry crossed his arms to keep from reaching out to comfort her… he definitely knew how she felt.

"Well, all I can say is thank Merlin that Luna really is a better seer than Jasper was." Draco shook his head in awe. "To think what could have happened."

But that was a thought none of them were too keen to dwell on.

(BREAK)

It had been a long, frustratingly difficult week. But at last it was over and the morning of the first quidditch match of the season had arrived. Even though his team wasn’t playing, Ron was truly excited. He and Seamus intended to study their competition closely today, though from the practices he’d snuck in to watch, Ravenclaw was more of a worry than Hufflepuff. The others trudged down to breakfast with him, not nearly as eager as he was. This being just another game for Hermione and Luna to watch, neither girl seemed all that interested- Hermione had even brought a book to take down to the stands with her. Leaning in to see what it was, he realized it was the book she’d told them about, detailing the practice of advanced astral projection. Well, at least she’d be using her time well… but then again, when didn’t she? Harry, Ginny and Draco seemed both excited and depressed at the same time, none of the three particularly interested in watching something they no longer had a way to be part of. But love of the game ran deep and before long, Ron was able to engage them in a rather lively discussion about their predictions for the upcoming match.

At last it was time to head down to the field, and for once he led the group as they headed out to the pitch. "You ready for this?" Seamus asked, falling in step beside him.

"As ready as if we were playing. Time to find some weaknesses." Ron grinned viciously.

"You two sound ridiculous." Hermione said, rolling her eyes. "As if you were preparing to go into battle."

"Oh but we are. We most certainly are." Seamus said seriously until he couldn’t help but laugh. "And to the victor goes the House Cup!" He added in a mock war cry.

"My mistake. I didn’t realize this was so serious." Hermione shot back.

They all settled together in the stands, watching the tensely excited faces of their peers as they filled in the spaces around them. It was apparent everyone was waiting to see if anything unexpected happened. "It’s strange to be on this side of the stands." Draco mumbled.

"Hey better with us than them." Ron pointed across the field to the Slytherin stands where Tristan, Troy, Crabbe, Goyle, Pansy and several others were glaring back at them.

"Point well taken." He said, settling beside Ginny.

"This is it then. Oh crap I hope they aren’t better than I am." Dean bellowed as he joined their group.

"It wouldn’t be that difficult to be better than you." Seamus teased his friend.

"One of these days you’re going to get a bludger to the head." Dean shot back, playfully shoving his friend.

"So who’s announcing this year?" Harry asked.

Dean shrugged. "Who cares?"

"They asked Evan Fruggle to do it." Luna said quietly. "He was one of the Ravenclaw players Cho put under the Imperious Curse."

"I thought they were all banned from the game?" Hermione mused.

"They were. But just because they were forced to do bad things doesn’t mean they were bad people." She answered.

"True enough I guess." Ron said, turning his attention back to the field as Madam Hooch prepared to start the game.

(BREAK)

"I need something to drink, anyone else want anything?" Luna offered after the game had been going for awhile.

"I’ll go with you." Draco offered, seeing Potter’s reluctance to let one of them go off alone. He was also aware of Potter’s plight and his inability to offer to escort Luna himself while Granger was around. Besides, he needed a moment away from feeling like a Gryffindor while surrounded by so many of them. It was becoming unsettling.

"Thanks." She smiled. They took everyone’s order and went down to the small snack stand located outside the locker rooms. In the past it had been run by the house elves, but after what had happened in their common room they had apparently assigned Hagrid the task. "You okay in there?" She asked the giant as they approached the counter. The structure appeared far too small for him though Draco guessed it was charmed to be much bigger than it looked.

"Doin’ great!" He smiled down at them. "Wha’ can I get fer you two?"

They gave their rather long order, waiting as Hagrid fumbled around trying to remember everything. He was certainly less adept at the job than the elves had been and watching his unintentional comedy routine, Draco could see why the others had taken a liking to the giant. He was quite endearing- his hulking mass combined with his desire to be useful made for quite the entertaining show.

Walking away from the stands with their arms full, they headed back to the stairs that would lead to the Gryffindor stands. "Wait, did you hear that?" He stopped them. His sensitive hearing had picked up on… something… someone…

"I don’t hear anything…" Luna said, straining her ears to try and hear further. "Wait, there it was I think, under everyone else’s shouting. Is someone calling for help?"

She started walking under the stands towards the sound. He dropped half of what he was carrying to grab her arm and hold her back. "If it is then we’ll go tell an Auror. If it isn’t, I’d rather not be trapped under there."

"There’s no Auror over here." She pointed out.

"What? That can’t be… two of them were standing right there by the stairs when we came down here." He turned around wildly, searching for the men he knew he’d seen. But there was no one, the area was completely deserted.

"I don’t like this." Luna said nervously. "Let’s get back to the others."

Dropping everything, they ran towards the stairs, only to slam into an invisible barrier. They quickly climbed to their feet, pulling out their wands as they spun to face down their would-be attackers. Tristan grinned back at them and Draco was surprised to see that he appeared to be alone. "What do you want?" He demanded of the vampire. Allowing the wolf to awaken, his more primal instincts began to overwhelm his human ones and he stepped slightly in front of Luna, determined to protect what was his, a member of his pack.

"I want many things." Tristan calmly answered. "Right now, I want you to move out of my way. Luna and I have things we must discuss."

"Walk away." Draco warned, feeling the anger at being challenged swirl in his gut. He crouched down, his stance prepared to fight and his wand all but forgotten as he absently clutched it in his hand. A large part of his mind told him he’d have to drop it to have both claws ready for attack… a smaller part was screaming at him to remember he didn’t have claws and very much needed the wand.

"Walk away? After all the trouble I went through to try and have this little private meeting?" Tristan mocked him, wearing a sinister grin. "Those Aurors weren’t easy to put under my power… I am a bit weak from lack of feeding out here… a situation I’ve been in the process of correcting."

"So I saw with Troy." Luna said aloud in a steady voice. Silently, she was in a panic as she delivered more bad news. Draco! I can’t reach Harry! There’s something blocking me from calling for help!

"Troy is only the beginning. But my plans aren’t what bring me here at the moment. I am merely trying to deliver a message for others." Tristan answered, taking a step closer. Draco emitted a low vicious growl from deep within him and though the vampire didn’t retreat, it was threatening enough to stop him from attempting to come closer… for now. "I don’t have time to play with puppies right now, Draco." He sneered.

"Then leave." He answered fiercely, as if that were the only choice.

Tristan crouched as well, letting out a strange hissing sound. "You refuse to stand down?"

"You better believe it." Draco replied, preparing himself for a fight.

Without warning, both boys were in action, colliding together as each tried to tear the others throat out. "Stop!" Luna screamed, using her wand to rip the two boys apart. Tristan was thrown several yards by her spell and landed in a heap, but Draco merely fell back at her feet. "Run!" She grabbed his arm and helped pull him up. Fighting every instinct telling to stay and finish the fight, he ran with her in the opposite direction of the invisible barrier hoping to find an Auror or professor. Instead they both slammed into yet another invisible barrier, dropping to ground as they rubbed their heads.

Tristan let out a callously amused laugh from behind them and they turned to find him holding up a strange square device. "You think the Aurors are the only ones with gadgets? I’m afraid you’ll find yourselves a bit boxed in with me at the moment… oh and the forcefield also disrupts all energy transmissions including the brain waves used by telepaths to communicate. I do hope you haven’t been wasting you time calling for help, Harry Potter won’t be coming to the rescue this time."

Draco felt his stomach drop and had to remind himself that Luna and Potter were no ordinary telepaths. Even the Psychohemia potion hadn’t destroyed that ability, so he had to believe that Luna would find a way to get through whatever this was holding them hostage. Seeing that their wands had landed a few feet away from them when they’d fallen, he tried to inconspicuously inch his hand towards them. "Expelliarmus!" Tristan shouted just as he felt the wand brush his fingertips. "I’m done playing!" the vampire shouted, directing a spell at him. Draco felt himself lifted through the air and slam into something hard yet invisible. As soon as he landed, he tried to scramble to his feet but Tristan was quicker. "Crucio!"

He felt his entire body convulse with pain and his only relief was the knowledge that he’d been through this curse before many times over his life and knew how much he could stand before he thought he was going to lose his mind. He tried to focus, to ignore the searing, torturous agony sweeping through him. He heard Luna scream something and wretched his head in that direction, seeing that while Tristan had focused on him, she had retrieved her wand and was now trying to engage a duel so that the curse would lift off him. "No!" He shouted out in a strangled voice as he watched her fly back through the air and land in a heavy, unmoving heap.

And then Tristan was standing over him, a wicked smirk on his face. "Had enough?" He asked sweetly as Draco convulsed in pain at his feet. "Well, I think you have too. Besides, you can’t go insane or die just yet… there are things in the works for you… ways you may prove useful to us yet. But I still can’t have you getting in my way."

In a miraculous second it was over and white-hot relief washed over him as the pain subsided, leaving only an uncomfortable tingling, aching sensation all over. He gasped for air, his lungs no longer constricted and his brain desperately tried to relay the message that he had to get up to the rest of his body. But before he could even try to move Tristan threw him in a binding, throwing in a muting spell as well. "Speak no evil, Draco… but you can certainly watch." He smirked again before walking back toward Luna.

(BREAK)

"Luna and Draco have been gone way too long." Harry finally voiced his concern aloud, looking nervously and expectantly toward the stairs as he waited for his friends to emerge instantaneously. They didn’t and no one else seemed worried.

"It was probably just a long line." Ron shrugged, turning back to the game to shout criticisms at the players.

"Just wait until we play you guys!" One of the Ravenclaw beaters shouted back as he flew by.

"From what we’re seeing there isn’t much for us to worry about!" Seamus taunted back.

"Guys I’m serious, what is taking them so long?" Harry insisted, his gut telling his something wasn’t right. He’d been trying to call out to them, and maybe Luna had some mysterious reason to tune him out again, but Draco sure didn’t. So why wasn’t he responding?

"Relax, Tristan is still sitting over there with all his cronies." Hermione pointed out before returning to her book.

Harry studied the other boy from across the field. While Crabbe, Goyle and everyone else around were moving as they shouted and jeered at the players within earshot, Tristan was sitting stiffly still as he looked out over the pitch and appeared to be watching neither the game nor anything else in particular. Harry felt his pulse quicken as he realized something wasn’t right about the other boy… it must be a spell, a double conjured up to fool observers. So where was the real Tristan? "I’m going to go find Luna and Draco." He announced, careful not to betray his panic as he rose to his feet.

"Do you want me to come with?" Ron asked, looking pained at the thought of leaving the match.

Harry shook his head. "No, you all stay here. I’ll get one of the Aurors to help me."

Hermione looked up sharply. "Why, what’s wrong?"

"Just stay here. And if at all possible, keep an eye on those creeps." He gestured towards Tristan’s new friends. "If they act suspicious or leave, tell someone that something’s wrong."

"Okay." She and Ron said together.

But Ginny remained unconvinced. "You think something happened to Draco and Luna?" She asked, beginning to rise to follow him.

Ron grabbed her arm and pulled her down. "Don’t worry. We’ll all stay here, even if some of us have to sit on the others to accomplish the task."

"Try it." Ginny replied darkly.

Harry tried to look nonchalant as he made his way to the stairs, not wanting to draw the attention of anyone looking to come help his enemy. He was halfway down when Luna’s voice tore through his head with more intensity than ever before. HARRY!! She screamed his name, her tone filled with fear. He rushed down the stairs, nearly falling head first in his rush to run to her aid. Seeing her and Tristan ahead under the stands, he jumped down the final steps and raced forward only to be painfully thrown back as he slammed into some kind of invisible shield. Reaching up to feel the damage to his now tender face, he felt a sticky substance and his fingers came away bloodied. His nose was bleeding. Not caring to find out whether or not it was broken at the moment, he scrambled up and began banging on the barrier, watching in helpless horror as Tristan tightly grasped Luna’s wrist and smiled… every single one of his teeth now sharpened to fine points.

(BREAK)

Luna gave into unconsciousness as soon as she felt herself thrown against the barrier. With nothing else in the waking world to distract her, she sent herself partway into her own mind and attempted to magnify that part of herself that could communicate with Harry. Then putting everything she had into it, she screamed his name, imagining her message shatter through the resistance.

"Time to wake up now…" A deceptively gentle voice called out to her as she was shaken awake.

Luna opened her eyes, determined not to look into his. She knew the power Tristan possessed and refused to let herself be put in a trance. Instead she searched for Draco and saw him struggling against the full body bind he’d been put in. She sighed in relief. At least he wasn’t being tortured anymore. Tristan held out a hand to her, but she backed away, getting to her feet on her own. She continued to back away until she felt the barrier behind her. Looking at the ground, she decided to try and talk to him. "What do you want?" She asked, trying to sound brave.

"I know what you can do, you know. We all do." He answered, his tone amused.

"I’d assumed as much. What does it matter if you’re just going to kill me?" She returned.

Taking her by surprise, he reached out and grabbed her face, forcing her to look up. Rather than stare in his eyes, she looked at his forehead waiting to see what would happen. "No one is going to kill you my dear girl. Rest safe knowing that with old Jasper’s death comes your guarantee of life." He roughly released her and she rubbed her jaw as she pressed herself against the barrier. "In fact, it’s been decided that perhaps you are even worthy of immortal life."

She unconsciously grabbed the collar of her coat, turning it up to cover her exposed throat. "I don’t want that."

"What you want is immaterial." He answered with a dismissive smile.

She shook her head, wondering how she’d gotten into this mess. "Why can I never see what you’re up to?" She asked quietly.

"Oh Luna." He sighed. "When one has the prospect of forever stretched out before them, one must learn how to overcome the magnitude of eternal life. I’ve learned to live in the moment, I don’t make decisions so much as choices once presented with a situation." He took a step closer, bringing his voice down to a whisper. "I don’t care whose blood flows through your veins, you’ll never foresee what I’m up to."

A large thud sounded to their left and she turned to find Harry sitting up after running into what he couldn’t see. Just knowing he was there on the other side brightened her hopes, even if she knew there was no chance he’d find a way through in time. "Well, they told me he was persistent, but that was an understatement." Tristan glared as Harry rose to his feet and began pounding on the invisible separating them.

Then he turned back to her, his lips curved into an evil grin. She pulled her collar tighter, more determined than ever not to meet his eyes. "Oh Luna, you silly girl." He reached out and grabbed her arm in his steel grasp. "There’s more than one place to bite someone." He roughly pulled up her sleeve as she struggled against him. "Look at me!" He demanded, using his other hand to once again capture her face. But it wasn’t his gaze that transfixed her… she watched in horror as his smile grew wider, exposing two rows of razor sharp teeth. And then she started screaming.

 



A/N: Thought I’d bring back some excitement this chapter… Hope you stick around to find out what happens next, see you all soon!



Chapter 41: Dealings With Dangerous People

A/N: Read, Review, Enjoy!





Draco searched around for anything to help, feeling as desperate as Potter looked trying to break through the barrier. Glancing to check on Luna, he saw Tristan hovering menacingly over her as she cringed away holding her collar to protect her neck. His eyes wildly searched the ground, looking for something, anything… and then he saw it, the square device that Tristan had shown them. At some point the other boy must have dropped it, and it was clear now that he’d completely forgotten about it. Using all his strength, he managed to roll himself closer. He wasn’t sure how it worked and unfortunately didn’t have use of his hands to inspect it. Vaguely he could make out what appeared to be three large buttons on the side facing him. What should he do, what would make it work? And then Luna screamed and knowing there was no more time to think he simply rolled over the device, hoping he managed to push one of those buttons with the weight of his body.

"Stop!" He finally heard Potter’s voice ring through the air. Draco laid back in the grass with a relieved sigh. Surely everything would be alright now…

(BREAK)

Harry pounded on the barrier, more frustrated and scared than he ever remembered being. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Draco rolling across the ground but dismissed it, barely having the capacity to notice the movement let alone wonder what the other boy was up to. His angry gaze was transfixed on Tristan as he reached out and grabbed Luna’s arm. "Stop!" He shouted uselessly. He pulled out his wand and used every spell he could think of, but nothing happened. Those teeth, Tristan was now forcing Luna to look at his teeth and Harry knew she was screaming.

"Stop!" He shouted again, furiously beating his hands against solid air. And then he was falling forward… his mind barely taking the time to register that the barrier was gone. He flew forward, determined to stop what was seconds from taking place. Knowing Luna was going to go down with them, he hurled himself into Tristan anyway figuring it was his best chance… using his power or a spell could only hurt her worse. They all three rocketed to the ground, but Harry was in motion before they’d even landed, swinging his fists with as much force as he could, demanding the other boy let go.

At last Tristan released his grip on Luna to defend himself against Harry’s attack. He felt cold hands close around his throat and squeeze. Pushing aside the discomfort of his air supply being cut off, he focused on holding the vampire down as his eyes desperately searched for his wand. He saw it a few feet away and raising one hand, called it over to him. Just as it was in his grip, he felt himself fly backwards through the air. He slammed into the stands, Tristan’s steely hold still strong around his neck. Glancing down, he saw they were both hovering several feet in the air. His mind was becoming dim as he struggled to breathe but he fought the darkness, trying to remain conscious.

"I’m not like the others you’ve fought, Harry." Tristan viciously hissed out. "I’m not some ordinary little wizard that you can just roll over. You are not equal to me… a shame for you to have to learn it this way."

(BREAK)

As soon as he released her, Luna was in motion and propelled by her fear. She quickly found her wand and raced over to Draco, fumbling and stumbling out the spell to release him. "Are you okay?" they asked each other at the same time before turning to find out what was happening.

"Draco!" She grabbed his arm in panic as she pointed up in horror. Tristan had Harry pinned against the stands, twenty feet in the air.

"Well this doesn’t look good." He replied. They could both see that Harry was having trouble, his wand uselessly clutched in his hand as his arm dangled at his side.

"He’s killing him!" She screamed, feeling completely useless. Draco grabbed her wand from her and directed a stunner at Tristan. But the other boy’s instincts kicked in and he dodged away, at last releasing his hold on Harry. Grabbing her wand back, she rushed forward to bring him safely to the ground. He landed gently before them, clutching his throat and gasping for air. "Harry are you okay?"

Rather than answer, he forced himself to his feet and raised his wand. Turning, Luna found Tristan standing calmly behind them, an evil smile across his face. His teeth were once again normal. "And I thought they told me you all would be a challenge." He laughed. "I guess now I know better."

"Well come on then." Harry said through clenched teeth.

Again Tristan laughed. "Oh, so brave. Perhaps foolishly so… learn to walk away when given the opportunity Harry. Next time, I won’t let go so easily."

"Maybe it is you who should learn to walk away, Mr. Macnair." Someone said from the stairs. Everyone seemed surprised to find Lupin, his wand out and ready. Luna wasn’t sure how the others felt about it, but she was immensely relieved that someone, anyone of authority was present.

"Well, well. A full grown doggie to play with now." Tristan smirked. "You scare me even less than they do,professor."

"I’m not here to scare you, I’m here to ensure you don’t do something you’ll eventually be forced to regret." Lupin returned. "Where are the Aurors who were stationed here?"

"I’m sure they’re around somewhere, enjoying some well needed rest. They work so hard you know." He replied condescendingly.

"It’s time to turn around and walk away Mr. Macnair. You aren’t going to be able to get away with anything now."

"Maybe not today… but there are a lot of tomorrows coming up." Tristan threatened before bowing to them slightly. "Luna, Draco, Harry, it has been a pleasure." He laughed as he walked back toward the castle.

Lupin turned to the three teens remaining and shook his head in disbelief. "What the hell just happened here?" he asked, moving closer to Harry to inspect the bruises beginning to appear on his neck. Then he turned to Draco, who was displaying all the symptoms of someone exposed to the Cruciatus Curse… all of which the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor would be familiar with. "And you! Look at you! What the hell went on here?"

In a rush, they all three started telling their stories revealing nothing but the truth. Unfortunately they were all so worked up, they couldn’t help but try to talk over each other until at last Lupin raised his hands in surrender. "Okay, okay. I think I get the idea at least." He said grimly.

"Not that we aren’t glad to see you, but what are you doing here?" Draco asked.

"Hermione, Ron and Ginny came and told me something was wrong. Seems I was some kind of compromise they’d struck among themselves to keep them from coming after you three on their own. I’m glad some of you are starting to have some common sense." Lupin replied, looking past them in surprise. "And where have you two been?" He demanded of the two Aurors now stumbling out from deep beneath the stands where Luna and Draco had originally heard the noise that had stopped them.

"I’m not sure." The tall one answered, settling himself heavily on the stairs and holding his head.

"Me either… I thought we were here the whole time…" The other one said questioningly as he sat next to his partner and stared up at them in confusion.

"Well, you weren’t." Lupin said harshly, walking over to pull at their collars and thoroughly inspect their necks and then their arms for a bite. "Well, luckily it seems he only put you both in a trance. Consider yourselves lucky that he seems to have someone else’s agenda to serve rather than his own."

"What now?" Harry asked, his voice slightly strained as he rubbed his throat and the back of his head.

"Now you all sit here and wait, comfortably but fully aware of everything around you, while I send Drake to make sure you’re all okay. Then you are all to come down to the Headmaster’s office." He said with authority. "That includes you two." He told the Aurors. "Make sure Drake and the kids make it to Dumbledore’s office. And kids… make sure these two make it there safely as well." He added with a smile before running off for Drake.

"There it is." Draco mumbled as he bent to pick up his wand and something else as well before walking back over to them. At the moment, Luna didn’t care what he’d found. Intense and immediate relief overwhelmed her as she realized it must really be over for now. Unable to stop herself, she went up to Harry and Draco and threw her arms around them both as the terror she’d been gripped with finally released her. She was okay, they were okay… there were no words to express the insane happiness she felt. They both returned the embrace, clinging to her as tightly as she was holding them as they relished in their shared alleviation.

(BREAK)

Harry didn’t say anything through Drake’s examination of them or as they were led through the castle… there was nothing to say. He held himself slightly apart from the others as they walked the halls, feeling too many things to be close to anyone at the moment. Hermione, Ron and Ginny were waiting outside the Gargoyle standing close together, their faces lined with worry. As soon as she saw them, Ginny ran from the group, throwing herself in Draco’s arms as she demanded to know that he was okay.

"What the hell happened?" Ron asked.

"We’ll tell you all upstairs." Luna answered wearily as she continued to follow Drake and the Aurors up to the office.

"Are you okay?" Hermione asked quietly, coming over to take his hand. She searched his eyes, hers showing fear and concern as her gaze drifted to his neck. Harry simply nodded in reply, squeezing her hand and pulling her close to wrap an arm around her shoulders as they climbed the stairs together.

As they entered the office, Harry was astounded by the multitude of familiar faces surrounding him. Dumbledore, Lupin, Drake, McGonagall and Professor Flitwick made up the Hogwarts faculty present to hear the account of the latest attack at their school. Tonks, Kingsley, Mad-Eye, Nia, Apollo and Magnus were all there to represent the Ministry and especially the Auror division. Interspersed between all the adults were the questioning faces of Hermione, Ron and Ginny along with the haggard faces of Luna and Draco who had lived through the experience with him. All of these people, so many faces… they were overwhelming… Especially when all he wanted was a moment alone.

Harry maintained his silence throughout Mad-Eye’s loud reprimanding of the two Aurors as well as Dumbledore’s questioning, allowing Luna, Draco and eventually Lupin to tell the whole story. He simply stared out the window, trying to put back together the image of himself that Tristan had shattered. He’d begun to think that no matter the difficulty, he and his friends would always come out on top. But now it seemed the vampire was simply toying with them, having the ability to end their lives at any time he wanted. But if the fight had continued, could they have overcome their enemy? An hour ago he would have said yes without hesitation- now all he could say was maybe. He was more determined than ever to put his and Draco’s goal into motion… all they needed was a plan. But they had to come up with one quickly. He’d been worried once that without his power, Sarah would kill him… well with his power, he was terrified that Tristan could still kill him, he was no ordinary vampire after all.

"You wanted to see me Headmaster?" Everyone turned to find Tristan himself standing by the door.

"Yes, Mr. Macnair. I’ve been hearing some very disturbing things about you." Dumbledore replied calmly, gesturing the boy to come stand before him. "Particularly what you’ve been up to during the quidditch match today."

Tristan grinned sweetly. "But sir, if you ask anyone they can tell you, I was sitting in the stands the whole time. I’m sure you saw me there yourself."

"An easy enough spell to learn, conjuring a double." He returned. "And the complaints are not only coming from students. Professor Lupin was there to witness your actions."

"Beg pardon, but what exactly did Professor Lupin see? Because if he did see anything, it would only have been at the end, when Mr. Potter and Miss Lovegood had their wands pointed at me while Mr. Malfoy stood threateningly at their side, growling like a good guard dog. Not that any of that happened of course." He grinned wider. "As to my conjuring a double, prove it. Everyone saw me in the stands… everyone except your special students and your special professor. If you tried to act on this, I’m not certain you’d be believed… it does look a lot like a witch hunt… or vampire hunt as the case may be."

"These students have injuries and I’ve detected the use of an unforgivable on Mr. Malfoy." Drake insisted.

The vampire grinned. "And who’s to say Harry and Draco didn’t get into a fight themselves? Their history together is well known and well documented, who’s to say there aren’t a few cracks in their new sham of a friendship? And who’s to say that after Professor Lupin broke it up, they didn’t all plot to blame me so as to keep themselves out of trouble? I know there are those in the Ministry’s Education Department who would see it my way."

"Very convincing Mr. Macnair. Might I go so far as to compliment you by saying your cunning far surpasses that of your uncle." Dumbledore sighed, looking almost helpless.

"You don’t have to tell me that. The man may have been evil, but he was also an idiot as far as I’m concerned." Tristan sneered. "Will that be all sir?"

"Yes, please return directly to your dormitory and consider yourself warned when I say that we will all be watching you very closely from this point on."

"Challenge accepted, Headmaster." He replied, staring very directly at Dumbledore before turning and practically skipping out of the room.

Dumbledore turned his back to them all, obviously distraught by the position he was in and the many ways in which his hands were tied from protecting his students- all of his students. "Who is it?" Harry asked quietly, at last breaking his self-induced silence.

"Who is who?" Tonks asked in confusion.

But Harry stepped forward and continued to address only Dumbledore. "Sir, who is it?"

The Headmaster turned around to face him with a deep sigh. "Who do you mean?"

"The person in the Education Department that you think is a Death Eater, who is it? It’s the only thing to explain why you’re so worried about taking the chance of trying to expel Tristan." He said, hoping for honesty.

Again Dumbledore sighed. "There is more than one that I suspect." Was his tired reply.

"Officially, we only suspect a woman named Tamara Hartwig." Tonks added helpfully. "She was hired a few months ago to work in the Disciplinary offices, all complaints from Hogwarts go directly through her first and her job is to then make a judgement and pass on her findings for approval. Ms. Marchbanks doesn’t seem to care for Miss Hartwig at all."

"What are we going to do about this Albus?" Lupin demanded, his frustration as great as Harry’s. "Something has to be done after what just happened, after what he tried to do to Luna. He used an unforgivable on Draco and could’ve killed Harry."

"I’m well aware of what has happened." Dumbledore said loudly. "And yes, something must be done. But it must be done carefully, with great finesse and planning which none of us are capable of at the moment with our emotions running out of control. Rest assured, Tristan Macnair will not get away this or anything else much longer."

Harry couldn’t agree with the sentiment more. But as he locked eyes with Draco, he knew it wouldn’t be up to the Headmaster to accomplish the task. Both boys had been challenged by Tristan and neither were willing take the chance any longer. It was time to start planning the vampire’s demise.

(BREAK)

"It’s just ridiculous!" Ginny said as she paced her room. Draco was sitting quietly on her bed, annoying her even more with his calmness. She felt like a ball of nerves. "I mean you leave my sight for two minutes and bam! Catastrophe!"

"I suppose reminding you that we’re all okay wouldn’t do any good, would it?" He asked with a frustrated groan. "It’s not like Luna and I went looking for Tristan you know. It’s not my fault this happened!"

"Of course it isn’t…" She said quietly.

"Then quit yelling at me about it already."

"Sorry." She grumbled. "I just feel so frustrated and angry and useless. I can only imagine how you must be feeling since I think I’m completely overwhelmed right now." She grabbed his hand and pulled him to his feet, wrapping her arms around his waist. He held her tightly and she reveled in the sense of secure comfort. "I’m just really glad you’re not dead."

"That makes two of us." He pulled back slightly to smile down at her.

"I’m being so thoughtless, I know… here you are trying to make me feel better when it should be the other way around." She shook her head, angry with herself.

"Hey, I went through it all, I’ve had time to process it. You just found out so don’t be so hard on yourself… Besides, I like that you care so much you get yourself all worked up. Next time just try not to yell at me so much about it." He kissed the tip of her nose and grinned.

"Ugh, don’t remind me that there’s going to be a next time." She groaned, burying her head in his shoulder.

"Okay. Let’s only think about right now." He said softly. "Right now you and I are here, together and safe."

"But it could’ve turned out so different-"

"Hey!" He cut her off, pulling away to gently cradle her face in his hands. "That was before and this is right now." He scolded. "In right now, that all never happened."

She smiled, reaching up to wrap her arms around his neck. "You’re a good guy… right now." She teased.

"And that’s the beauty of right now." He pulled her in close to kiss her deeply. "Of course in the world of a few minutes from now, I may not be such a good guy." He added in a low seductive voice.

"Well, then forward and onward." She laughed as he scooped her up in his arms.

(BREAK)

"Harry?" Hermione knocked on his door, even though it was left open for her.

"Come on in." He tiredly called out.

She walked into the room and found him sprawled out across his bed staring at the ceiling. "Hey there, you." She said softly, climbing onto the bed to lay next to him.

He opened his arms to allow her to lay close, and absently toyed with her hair as he continued to gaze upward. "I’m tired of being scared." He said at last.

"I know. I am too." She said, wrapping her arm around him in an attempt to offer comfort. "We all are I’m sure."

"I’m tired of fighting and getting nowhere." He added as if he didn’t hear her. "I’m so tired of learning about new enemies when the old ones are still around. I’m tired of having to be careful and of being forced into civility. I’m tired of being relied on by everyone when there are so few people I can rely on myself. I’m tired of being the target and the reason everyone else keeps getting hurt. I’m tired of pretending I care about being here when all I want to do is go out and start searching… of pretending there aren’t people I wish were dead or that I had killed them… of pretending I’m okay when everything is just so wrong."

They both fell into thoughtful silence. "You know what then Harry? Just stop doing all that." She said simply.

He turned his head to look at her… and then burst out laughing, real unbridled laughter. "As if it were so easy." He said, at last getting control of himself as he wiped amused tears from his eyes.

She sat up and stared down at him. "And why not? You manage to accomplish everything else you set your mind to."

"This is different." He replied, now serious as he also sat up.

"Is it? You don’t want to be the victim anymore? Then don’t be. There are only certain people you can rely on, then stop worrying about everyone else, focus on them and consider yourself lucky you aren’t completely alone. You don’t want to be civil to people you don’t like then don’t be, but be smart about the steps you take against them. You don’t want to be the target, then start taking the initiative. If you don’t want to pretend you’re happy here then don’t! But know that it would be foolish to quit now with only a few months to go. You’re anxious to start searching, then begin with research… learn about the places we have to go to so that you’ll know what to expect when you finally can leave. As for all that death and killing… it’s okay to admit you have a darker side, Harry. We all do. And if I’ve made you feel bad in the past for thinking those things, I’m sorry. But for your sake, if you aren’t okay then don’t pretend to be… do something to make yourself feel okay again." She let out a breath, knowing that half of the advice she’d just given him, she could apply to herself as well.

Harry smiled and shook his head. "Always so smart."

"It’s what I do." She smiled back.

He took her hand and brought it to his lips. "Thanks for being you."

"You’re welcome… but you don’t really feel any better do you?"

"No. But I definitely feel more inspired." He offered. "Maybe tomorrow, when this is all just a little further behind me."

"What did Tristan say to shake you so badly?" She asked gently. Seeing how he seemed to close into himself, she knew she’d hit on target. "He did say something… didn’t he?"

"Nothing I wouldn’t have expected to hear." He shook his head.

"You and I both know… something is different between us. But I hope you also know that no matter what, I love you completely and will always be here for you... the way I know you feel the same for me."

"I had my suspicions." He teased before turning serious again. "I just really don’t want to talk about what he said."

"Well, is there anything I can do to help right now? Are you hungry, do you want me to attempt to be stealthy and sneak down to the kitchens? Think big because right now I’m willing to break rules to make you happy." She grinned, trying to brighten his mood.

He smiled back. "Well, as much as I enjoy the image of you attempting to sneak into the kitchens… I don’t think it’s necessary. But… well, could you do me a favor?"

"Absolutely."

"Would you go find Susan Bones and ask her if she’ll take over running DA? Tell her I’ll help her with whatever she needs to get started?"

"Okay. But why?" Hermione was confused. This whole request seemed to come out of nowhere.

"Because I think she’ll do a good job. I was going to go myself, but now I think I’m just too tired... it’s probably all the herbs Drake gave me." He sighed. "I just want to go to sleep and leave this day behind me."

"So why not wait and ask her tomorrow?"

"Because by then I want to be planning try-outs. I need you to convince her to do it tonight so that she can start spreading the word. That kid Devon was right, DA needs to happen and the sooner the better. And the first lesson they’re all going to learn is how to defend against a vampire."

She shook her head. "But Harry… who’s to say what they’re taught will work against Tristan?"

"At least they won’t be completely clueless." He argued back, stifling a yawn.

"Okay, fine. I’ll go talk to her. I take it you’ll be skipping dinner?"

"Probably." He answered, crawling under his covers.

"Well, goodnight then. I’ll let you know what she says in the morning." She got up and leaned over to kiss his cheek.

"Goodnight, Mione." He said sleepily.

She turned off the light and walked out, closing the door tightly behind her to ensure no one could just walk in.

There was still an hour until dinner and Hermione decided she could wait until then to talk to Susan. Going back to her own room, she pulled the compact out of her pocket and flipped it open, eager to fill Fred in on the horrors they’d faced that day. Ever since the one odd conversation she’d had with him the week before, things had pretty much returned to normal between them, and they still talked everyday… mostly about potions and the cure. In fact, she reflected that Fred had begun to take a more business like approach to their conversations, though sometimes it was almost as if he couldn’t help but break that more serious character to become himself again. Things were weirdly different and she didn’t like it. That one day and the discussions she’d had- first with Ron then with Fred about Ron’s discussion with him had been enough to make her start to wonder why her friend was trying to ruin the friendship… or whatever –ship that she and Fred had built. Pushing it aside for later contemplation she opened the compact, eager to hear his voice.

(BREAK)

Harry woke in a panic, drenched in sweat. Flinging back the covers, he realized he’d fallen asleep in the clothes he’d been wearing that day and quickly got up to pull them off, air rushing to relief his flushed skin. The nightmare had been awful, that much he was certain of, though he could no longer remember the particulars. But he did know he hadn’t had a nightmare that bad in a long time. He sat back down on his bed feeling restless, on edge, agitated. Hermione had tried to make him feel better but…

He knew why he wasn’t feeling as relieved as the others. He had to talk to her, to find out in private what she hadn’t been willing to disclose publicly about what Tristan had said to her… and he couldn’t find solace in the fact that it was all over until he really made sure Luna was okay. He’d been trying his hardest not to think about her now that it was over. But here alone in his room, she was all he could consider. How had she fared through all of this? He recalled the sheer terror he’d felt seeing her in such eminent danger, how his only goal had been staying alive to protect her, how he’d even forgotten Draco was there as well. He remembered how desperately he’d wanted to hold her after, to reassure himself that he’d gotten there in time and how he’d held himself back and forced himself to be content when she’d embraced both boys. He’d clung to her through Draco then and wanted nothing less than the real experience now. If he felt the way he did, then how did she feel?

Unable to hold himself back, he quickly pulled on a fresh shirt and pants to go see her... after all, Hermione had told him that if he wasn’t okay, to do something about it. Checking the clock he saw that it was just past eleven… late enough for most to have turned in but still early enough for some to be awake. Sending his mind down the Gryffindor wing and around the common room, he made sure the coast was clear before heading out himself. He quickly made his way to the Ravenclaw wing, searching the doors for the one bearing her name. Luna… He called out to her when he found it, not wanting to wake her if she’d managed to find peace. The door opened quickly and she stood facing him, her eyes red from crying yet shining with surprised happiness at seeing him. "Harry, what are you doing here?" She asked with a shaky smile.

Hearing the quiver in her voice was all it took. He stepped forward and wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her close as he buried his face in her soft golden hair, wanting desperately to offer the comfort to her that he’d originally come seeking for himself. She threw her arms around his neck, pulling herself even closer into the embrace, both clinging to each other as if the world would stop spinning if they let go. At last Harry felt the lingering horror of the day melt away, there was nothing but him and her and this peace that finally soothed their minds as all others thoughts and worries and hopes and fears disappeared. There were no voices to hear but their own and between them, words weren’t necessary. He ran his hands up and down her back, through her hair, happy to be so assured that she was unharmed, that his terror for her life was at an end.

"Okay?" She asked softly, her voice clogged with emotion.

"Okay." He agreed reluctantly and they broke apart, but unable to leave her completely, he held on tightly to her hand. They both knew it had been enough… any longer would have put them in a difficult position considering that one of them was technically engaged to someone else. They had gotten what they’d needed from each other in those few moments, perhaps not entirely… but enough.

"I’m scared Harry." She admitted quietly.

"What did he say to you?" He asked. If the few words Tristan had uttered to him had made him feel so shaken, he could only imagine what the vampire had said to Luna.

But she shook her head. "Not for me. For you. You and Draco if you go through with this."

"There’s nothing to go through with. We haven’t planned anything-"

"Yet." She interjected. "But after today…"

"After today what?" He demanded angrily. "After today, when he could have easily killed all three of us, you don’t think that warrants something being done?"

"Harry!" She squeezed his hand and reached out the other to gently grab his chin. "You’re letting your fear overwhelm everything else. Think of what we’ve learned about his plans today… there are other ways to stop him, we just have to figure it out."

He took a deep breath, trying to make himself believe her. "What did we learn? Besides the fact that he’s stronger and more dangerous than we thought…"

"According to Draco, Tristan had claimed to let him live because they believed there was still some way for him to prove useful. Think about it Harry, how would Draco be of use to Voldemort?"

He sighed and shook his head, putting it together. "If they sent in Harland. If Draco isn’t strong enough to resist his creator, they can use him against us during his transformation."

"Exactly. And he told me that with Jasper dead, they wanted me very much alive." She said slowly, obviously unsure just how much of her dealings with Tristan to disclose without upsetting Harry more.

"Well, personally I find the news comforting." He replied, running his thumb over the back of her hand. And then it struck him, what she was telling him. "So wait then… if he wasn’t going to kill you then he was trying to bite you to turn you?"

"An immortal seer… I can see why Voldemort would want one." She said, looking down.

"Don’t do that!" he shouted, at last letting go of her hand in his sudden anger. "Don’t talk about it like it’s not you they’re after!"

"Fine! But take in my point! He didn’t kill anyone today, not even those Aurors... and he easily could have. There’s some other plan in the works Harry, some reason he can’t go far enough to be caught, some reason he needs to continue to be here… and it’s probably important that we figure it out!" She shouted back.

"He was going to kill me!" He yelled, all of the emotions he’d been closing up inside himself that day- fear, anger, frustration, terror- they were all surfacing now that she was forcing him to confront it. "He basically threw it in my face while we were in the air that I would never be equal to his power, implying that I wasn’t strong enough to protect you or anyone else from him! Don’t you see Luna, I have to do something!"

"Okay…" She carefully stepped forward, gently running her smooth, soft hands delicately over the bruises on his neck before grabbing his shoulders to ensure his attention. "But Harry, he didn’t kill you."

"Because you and Draco did something to interfere." He stubbornly replied, shrugging her off.

"You said yourself, he believes himself stronger than you. If he wanted you dead today, then he believes he could have easily accomplished the task and continued on with his plans. If he thought himself greater than you, then who were Draco or I or even Lupin to stop him? Why didn’t he just kill you? It would certainly make things easier for him and everyone he’s working for."

"He was outnumbered by then… you, me and Lupin all had our wands out and Draco was free from the binding and able to fight. You heard Tristan, he intends to try again. I won’t give him the chance."

"A well intentioned sentiment. But I am very serious when I say there is something deeper going on here. I may not be able to get visions of what he’s up to, but he can’t block my feelings and intuition." Luna sighed and sat on the edge of her bed, dropping her head in her hands. "There’s a reason he didn’t kill you and I’m scared about the why… about what it could have to do with…"

He knelt before her and took her hands, suddenly feeling bad for arguing with her. Who was he to question the power she had? "Just tell me what you think."

She sighed and squeezed his hands. "I think he may know about the coven." She whispered.

Harry was dumbfounded. "Why do you think that?" he asked carefully.

"When I asked why I couldn’t see what he was up to… he said all this stuff about making choices, not decisions and then… and then he said he didn’t care who’s blood flowed through my veins, I would never see what he was up to. He had to have meant Gwendolyn, no one else is all that impressive in my family." She hung her head, defeat written across her face. "If he knows, we have to assume Voldemort knows which means they really researched everything about me. And from there, we have to assume that they probably researched you and everyone known to you. They would have to know that you also trace back to the coven, to Lyraline."

He took a deep breath, determined not to panic. She was staring at him, clutching his hands as she waited and hoped for him to find a way to contradict her. He had to stay strong and levelheaded here, for her sake and his. "Look, all we can know for sure is that Tristan was most likely referring to Gwen. The rest is all supposition… and worst case scenario they know we’re better off, stronger than they thought. There’s still no way for them to know we’re looking for the other coven members."

"Isn’t there? And even if they didn’t, knowing about our connection may lead them on their own hunt for coven descendants."

"So we’ll just have to find them first. And we will, unless you’ve seen otherwise…"

"Not yet." She sighed and dropped her head once again in defeat. "I just wish I could see Tristan’s plans. It’s all so frustratingly complicated."

"So why not make it a little easier on ourselves… on yourself. Let’s figure out a way to get rid of Tristan that won’t get us in bigger trouble." He replied, wanting her approval rather than her actual assistance in the matter.

She raised her face to him, her eyes once again brimming with unshed tears. "I can’t. And you shouldn’t. There’s no way for this to not blow up in our faces."

"Okay." He nodded, accepting that she would never like the idea of him or Draco chancing hurting themselves emotionally by taking a life... another life in his case. "But if I find the opportunity, I don’t think I could stop myself… would you… Would you hate me?"

"Never that." A tear slid down her cheek as she smiled down at him sadly. "It could never come to that. Remember last year by the lake? After I threatened to tell the others what you were up to… you said you didn’t think you could ever hate me. I feel the same now. I can dislike your actions, but never you."

He kissed her fingers, intertwining them tightly with his before rising to his feet and pulling her along with him. He reached up to cup her face, staring painfully down into her hopeful yet slightly resigned gaze as he caressed her cheek with his thumb. "I’ll find a way to make this right Luna, to make it how it’s supposed to be. All of it, everything."

"I believe you." She whispered, closing her eyes.

He gently brushed away the tears that escaped her lashes before leaning down to kiss her forehead. She threw herself in his arms again, burying her head in his shoulder and he was happy to stand there and hold her for as long as she needed him to.

(BREAK)

"You should go. It’s getting late." Luna said when she finally felt she’d pulled herself together enough to stand on her own again… to be without him. She stepped away and wiped her eyes, determined not to get close again.

"Right." He said, clearly as upset as she was. "I’ll see you in the morning."

She walked him to the door and they stood staring at each other, the tension between them charged with electricity. "Goodnight Harry." She said at last.

He nodded, accepting that this was the way it had to be and it was partly his fault. "Alright. Goodnight Luna."

She closed the door quickly, collapsing against it but refusing to cry. Ginny had been right, she knew how things were supposed to be so why torture herself now. She lay down in bed and stared at the wall, hoping sleep would overtake her. Of course it didn’t, her mind was too full to rest. Pushing aside the drama of what was occurring between her and Harry, their interaction with Tristan that day was playing itself over and over in her thoughts, looking for clues and answers that may not even be there. But she had to find a way to make sense of what had happened to stay sane, to not completely lose her mind in her fear- of Tristan, of Harry and Draco’s determination to go against him and the chance that they could fail, of the plot to steal her away and hold her as a pet psychic, of knowing she couldn’t get warnings of what the vampire was up to, of what Voldemort could know of her, Harry and the coven. It was all more than she could bear. In fact, she could already feel herself starting to break.

She wasn’t aware of how long she’d sat contemplating all the problems in her life until the room began to brighten with the sunrise and she was startled into realizing it was morning. She turned to face the window with a sigh, watching as bright hues of orange and pink spread through the sky. And then came the familiar feelings, the roaring in her ears, the dimming and eventual loss of sight. She lay still and gave into the vision.

Luna walked cautiously into the white room… so it was to be a warning then. Pictures began flying by her, beginning with a flash of Fred at his store. Then came in Elanya, grinning wickedly as she grew larger and larger, towering over some strange yet familiar boy. Upon closer review, she recognized him as Zander and remembered seeing him a few times over the years, participating in trials for Fred’s products. She watched in horror as Elanya lunged like a viper, swallowing down Zander in one gulp before flashing her evil smile at Fred.

She sat up with a start, panting as she tried to catch her breath. It seemed that even if she had been able to find it, rest and peace of mind were not hers to have. She knew she had to warn Fred and she knew the way to do it. But that also meant she wouldn’t be able to tell Harry about this vision or the fact that Fred could be in trouble. If he found out about the compact from her now, it would only seem like the petty move of someone desperate to speed things along by starting a fight and she was terrified of doing anything to derail what she knew was eventually supposed to happen on it’s own. Then again, if she warned Fred in time, there wouldn’t be anything for Harry to know anyway. Besides, it was probably better he wasn’t aware that there was one more person he cared about in danger while he wasn’t currently in the position to help.

Not caring how early the hour was, she got out of bed and made her way to Hermione’s room. There was no way to tell when something may come of this and she wasn’t going to make the mistake of sitting on the information this time. Hermione probably wouldn’t be happy to know her secret wasn’t so secret, but there was no time to be concerned with that right now. She knocked softly, staring nervously down the hall towards Harry and Ron’s doors. Of all people, they were the two she didn’t want finding her out there.Hermione! It’s important! She called out to the other girl, hoping to rouse her.

She finally answered the door looking sleepy and annoyed yet aware. "What’s wrong?" she whispered. Luna pushed her way in, closing the door tightly behind her. "Hey! What’s going on?" Hermione demanded.

She felt guilty just looking at the other girl, knowing she was unaware that Harry had been in Luna’s room the night before. She pushed it aside, knowing she had nothing to feel guilty for… not really anyway. "I need to use the compact. I have to talk to Fred."

"Excuse me?" Hermione appeared stunned, her eyes darting to her pillow.

"I know you have it, I saw it in a vision when we first got here. You don’t have to explain, I understand." Luna assured her. "But I got a warning and I need to talk to Fred."

She looked uncertain, but eventually her concern won out over her embarrassment. "Okay, fine." She went to her bed and retrieved the compact from under her pillow, flipping it open.

Fred’s voice floated out almost immediately. "Hey you’re up early."

"Hey, you’re awfully alert. Have you even gone to sleep yet?" Hermione asked with a smile.

"No time for that now. I’m onto something here with the wolfie potion." He answered excitedly. "I need you to go look something up for me, of course I was waiting for a more reasonable time of day to ask."

"We can talk about that later. Right now… Luna needs to talk to you." She replied hesitantly.

There was a long pause. "Luna needs to talk to me. Guess there are no such things as secrets eh? I suppose she’s standing right there… Hello Luna!"

"Hello." She called out. "Sorry about all this…"

"Hey, all good things must come to an end I suppose." He laughed.

"I won’t tell anyone else." She promised.

"Luna had a vision. A warning about you I guess." Hermione said, looking to her with anxious worry.

"About me? I’m honored." He joked. "Please pray tell, what new calamity is about to befall me?"

"I’m not entirely sure. But Elanya is involved." She relayed everything she’d seen, hoping he knew something that would make things clearer.

"Well, I certainly believe the woman’s a man-eater." Fred said after a brief pause. "Guess I’ll have to have a talk with old Zander, let him know the dangers of taking candy from strangers before she tries to use the idiot against me."

"Why would she pick Zander?" Hermione mused.

"Because he’s weak in the head." He laughed, though Luna could tell that underneath the brave front he was putting on, he was actually quite worried.

"You need to be serious about this." Hermione scolded.

"I am, but what else can I do right now? Shall I take to roaming the streets calling out Zander’s name? I don’t know where the kid lives, he’s nothing more than a tester to me, someone who barely graduated from school. We aren’t friends, never were. All I can do is put out word that I have new products to try and wait for him to show up, he always does. It’s why I like using him, he never asks questions as long as he gets paid and I return the favor as long as he eats whatever I give him."

"Just be careful." Luna said, brushing off his sarcastic cynicism for what it was… concern for himself and Zander.

"I can sure try." He promised.

"We’ll let you go now." Hermione said in clipped tones as waves of disapproval emanated from her. "You and I will talk again later."

"I’m sure we will… on top of everything else now coming my way, I see a rather large argument in my future." Fred replied in a tone that suggested he was smiling.

"You better believe it." She answered before snapping the compact shut and turning to Luna. "How bad do you think this will be?"

"I really don’t know." She answered honestly.

"Should someone else know… Arthur or Tonks or Harry?"

"Getting Arthur and the Aurors involved won’t help… Elanya hasn’t done anything and to send them after her would only make it look like Arthur was using the ministry as personal and unnecessary security guards in his son’s store. Edmund would love to print a story like that."

"And Harry?"

"Do you want to be the one to tell him how we were able to warn Fred?" She returned. "Or get yourself all worked up when he runs off to try and help?"

"And he would too. Now that he knows he can, he’d apparate right out of here and straight to Fred’s store." She shook her head, frustrated with her lack of ability to be helpful. Then Hermione once again looked at her, studying her carefully. "As to the compact, I don’t think he’d care… not really."

"So why haven’t you told him?" Luna asked just as carefully.

"I don’t know. It… it doesn’t seem right." She admitted, her eyes pleading for the advice she wasn’t brave enough to ask for.

Swallowing hard, Luna gave the answer she knew she had to give. "When it does feel right, you’ll tell him."

"When will that be?" Hermione practically whispered.

"I wish I could tell you. I really do." She sadly replied.

(BREAK)

"You have to tell someone. You can’t deal with this whole thing by yourself." Hermione scolded through the compact.

"I did tell someone. I told Lee." Fred grinned as he moved around his office, looking for his order log.

"Oh, well that makes me feel so much better." She replied sarcastically.

"Hey, you said yourself that you and Luna talked it over this morning. Well, I agree with her argument about not involving my dad. And we all know telling the impulsive Harry Potter wouldn’t be a good idea. So who else can I tell?" He argued.

"You’re one to talk about impulsiveness." She mumbled.

"Well, I’ve been working very hard on this thing you call control. It’s not a good fit though, too itchy." He joked.

"So what are you going to do if she shows up?" She asked seriously, ignoring his attempts to lighten the conversation.

"I don’t know. But I doubt she’ll come in here and start cursing people. That girl wants something… maybe it’s better to just try and figure it out." He tentatively suggested.

"By making yourself an easy target?" She pushed.

"By pretending to go along with whatever she’s got cooking."

She sighed heavily and he could tell she was unhappy- with him and the situation. "Look, I’m not there to stop you… none of us are which means we aren’t there to help you either. Just remember that and be careful, okay?"

"Well, this certainly isn’t the battle of wills I was expecting." He teased.

"If I’ve learned anything, it’s that you are all going to do what you’re going to do no matter who says what about it. I’m tired of trying to be the voice of reason only to wind up saying I told you so." She shot back.

"Fair enough. So putting this unpleasantness aside for the moment, did you find that information I needed?" He asked, desperate to return to comfortable conversation. He’d found it impossible to go without talking to her, but he also realized that if he restricted what they talked about to potions then he didn’t feel quite so guilty about it.

"Essence of Ogre." She replied sullenly.

"Well that’s gross." He made a face. He’d hoped the last ingredient he needed wouldn’t be quite so disgusting.

"You really think you have it?" Hermione asked, her voice suddenly full of curious interest.

He smiled again, having known it was only a matter of time before her academic interests were peaked. "We won’t know until Lupin and Draco try wearing them, but I do believe I may finally have an amulet worthy of getting their hopes up for. As soon as I add in Essence of Ogre that is. The full moon is next week…"

"Well, we’ve got that Hogsmeade outing planned this weekend. Dumbledore is letting all the older students go into the village to shop for the Costume ball."

"They’re doing that again? You know nevermind I don’t care." He remembered seeing her and Harry last year at the dance and didn’t want to imagine them having fun together all over again, especially since Cho wouldn’t be there to interrupt. "The important thing is Hogsmeade. You need to get Lupin and Draco to meet us in the Shrieking Shack and then we can tell them all about the amulets. It’s perfect, because afterwards I can visit that store again. Crysta-Belle had some amazing things there."

"I can’t believe you really could have done it…" She replied, her voice full of awed excitement as she ignored everything but what he’d said about the cure.

"Hey, we really could have done it… you, me and even George. We all helped make this one possible. Of course if it works it’s something I’ll be marketing and therefore taking the credit for… though I suppose I could find some small place on the label to put your name." He teased.

"Hey just remember that if you want to make more, only one of us currently has access to those crystals." She teased back, in a much better mood now that there was actually something to be happy about. Part of him was extremely pleased that he was the one to make her happy while everything else around her was dark and depressing.

"Like I couldn’t easily sneak into Hogwarts." He scoffed.

A loud knocking on the office door interrupted her response. Lee stuck his head in, his eyes wide. "Fred, you have got to come see this…"

"I’ll talk to you later, something’s come up here." He said nervously to Hermione.

"What? What’s going on Lee?" She demanded.

Fred shook his head, indicating that even if there was a herd of centaurs stomping around the showroom his friend was to reveal nothing. "Oh, just a customer that needs special assistance with a rather unique and disgusting ailment." Lee said quickly, looking at him inquisitively.

"I call you back later Hermione. Bye." He snapped the compact closed and shoved it in his drawer, not wanting the distraction of carrying it in his pocket should she decide to call back to yell at him again.

"Come on… apparently Luna knew what she was talking about." Lee said, pulling him from the office.

They walked to the front to find Elanya Delamora perusing the shelves, looking as stunning as the last time she was there. This time she wore a thin autumn coat, belted to reveal a slender hourglass figure, a short skirt and tall boots to accent her well toned legs, and her long, dark auburn strands were tied back to fully reveal a spectacular face. She was a vision alright, luckily he’d been fully warned that her beauty was indeed only skin deep… of course with creamy skin like hers, that normally wouldn’t be an issue for most. He reminded himself he was better than that, unlike Zander who was tightly clutching her hand as if he’d just won the lottery and she was his million galleon prize. The boy was simply standing there beside her, staring like his eyes would never see again and practically drooling. Fred didn’t know whether Zander was under a spell or his own stupidity, but this definitely wasn’t good.

"Can I help you?" He asked steadily, stepping up behind the counter. Though knowing it was irrational, he felt slightly safer having something between them.

Elanya turned, a slow seductive smile spreading across her face as she trained her sensual, honey colored gaze on him. "Zander and I were on our way to lunch and thought we’d stop by to invite you along. Both of you." She turned her smile on Lee. "I do so want to get to know Zander’s friends."

To his credit, Lee remained strong. "And why would you want that?" He asked casually, crossing his arms and leaning against the wall as if the girl had no effect on him, even though they all knew it wasn’t true. But he’d made his point, he wasn’t going to roll over for her just because he thought her very, very pretty.

"She’s my girlfriend." Zander happily blurted out, still in disbelief over what he obviously considered his good fortune.

"That’s right. I woke up this morning and decided I just had to be with this wonderful man." She put her arm around his shoulders and pulled him close, turning to place a soft kiss on his cheek. He melted before their eyes.

"What do you want?" Fred demanded angrily.

"To go to lunch… she already said." Zander replied in confusion.

"Sweetheart? Why don’t you go wait outside? I want to talk to Fred for a moment. Perhaps you and Lee could go on ahead and get us all a table at the Leaky Cauldron?" Elanya cooed to Zander, never once removing her eyes from Fred.

"I’ll stay here too. I’m not feeling all that hungry at the moment." Lee insisted, unwilling to leave his friend alone with her.

"Okay, I’ll see you there." Zander replied happily as he walked out, oblivious to the situation brewing behind him.

"So, what do you want in exchange for leaving him alone?" Fred cut right to the point.

"Only what I tried to politely ask for before. Your help." She returned.

"And that entails what exactly?"

"I can only tell you my desired outcome which is the death of one Edmund Fritz. The planning involved in accomplishing this, that is where I need your help."

"You really want to kill your own father?" He asked, delighted to see his words affect her just as he’d hoped.

"So, you all figured it out then." She was upset and for a moment, lost the smug certainty she’d walked in with. "It doesn’t matter. I can’t imagine you would have a problem helping me rid the world of our mutual enemy. The man is after your father’s job you know… of course Dumbledore’s job will do in a pinch for him and then he’d be up at that school with your little brother and sister. Don’t you want to get rid of a man who is so threatening to your family?"

"Why not get your own friends to help you?" Fred asked, unmoved by her attempt to get him on her side.

"Because they are thinking on a much bigger level. I’m here and a part of all this for one reason and one reason only- to kill my father for the things he’s done to my mother. After that I could care less if Lord Voldemort takes over London or if Harry Potter vanquishes them all. I have no stake in this war… Sarah, Elise and Cho do. I had originally thought teaming up with the side full of murders would get me what I wanted. But now I see that maybe it’s better to blackmail the good guys to help me… after all, I don’t want the whole building blown up so that countless others suffer the fate meant for only one man. I told you before, I’m no monster. But those girls aren’t concerned with taking the time to ensure the right person suffers, they are content with taking the simple way and destroying everything around the man."

He wanted to believe her… very badly. She’d done nothing to hide her coldness, had laid it all out as she saw it and Merlin help him he thought she was telling the truth, he really did. But that still didn’t mean he wanted to help her kill Edmund. "My father has been setting traps for Fritz to stumble into, eventually they’ll be able to arrest him."

She shook her head. "And I’m sure if they do, they’ll see to it that he answers for all of his crimes. But there is only one that concerns me. Imagine you’re ten years old and never knew your father, had never seen him in your life but had heard of all the horrible things he’d been a part of. My mother was no angel, but after she had me she fled that life, hiding from him and the rest of her mistakes until we had nowhere left to run. Then imagine being told that you’re going back, that you’ll get to meet your father and what’s more, you’ll have a stable life, going to school and coming back to an actual home. It worked- for about three years until my mother got tired of doing all of the horrible things Edmund made her do in order to continue receiving his financial support. All she wanted was a better life for us, but he used her, abusing her talents and making her lie for all those people until she broke and then he demanded she hand me over to be used next. She refused and sent me away so he killed her. Could you just get past that? Could you go on in the world knowing that man was still breathing, still using people and spreading evil?"

"You’re the one who went to work for him." Lee said, for once holding himself together better than his friend. Fred had already known all of this about her life, Harry and Luna had even seen Jayalina’s death in Edmund’s memories. He felt for her situation, more than he cared to admit. And he definitely felt sympathy for her, now knowing she wasn’t lying, hadn’t added to or embellished her story. But Harry and Luna had also seen Elanya agreeing to get close to and use someone she went to school with in Sarah’s memories… he was as determined now as he was the last time she’d come to the store not to be the fool she uses.

"I only went there to see him, and to let him see me. I’m aware of the resemblance I bear to my mother and I thought it best Edmund be reminded of the ghosts from his past. He was upset to learn that I was already in Voldemort’s service, apparently he’d wanted to be the one to hand me over, to gain points with his master. But I lied to them all, I serve no one but myself." She insisted, baring her arms to prove she didn’t have the Dark Mark.

"Why me? Why are you after my help?" Fred asked. He had to know, had to see if she would continue to be truthful… unless of course this was all a lie and she was the best actress in the world. Either outcome was possible and neither would really surprise him.

"Because you have all the right qualities." She shrugged.

"Meaning?"

Elanya smiled, regaining some of her sensual confidence. "You’re the minister’s son, but not the one constantly at Harry Potter’s side so you aren’t as well known but still have some sort of standing in society. You own your own business just down the street from the Daily Prophet, so location is good and potentially private. You aren’t tied down in some ridiculous relationship so you have the ability to focus on the task at hand without some silly girl coming to bother you. And most importantly, your sense of right and wrong makes you the perfect candidate for blackmail. Agree to help me and Zander will never see me again, even if it does break his pathetic little heart."

"You’re cold, lady." Lee shook his head.

"I prefer realistic opportunist, and it’s helped me survive this long on my own that your opinion does very little to change my mind." She shot back before turning to Fred again. "Understand that I’m not here looking for friendship or alliances. It’s obvious you’re too smart to be led around by your groin like your friend Zander so you want the truth, fine. I couldn’t care less if you live or die, I don’t know you and I don’t really want to. I don’t care about your family or friends or anyone else’s. I’m not a good girl, I’m not a bad girl, I’m me and that’s all I need. That… and your help infiltrating the Daily Prophet."

"What do you mean infiltrate? You work there." Fred replied, choosing to ignore everything she’d said before. He would let her think this was working… he just also had to remember that he was supposed to be the one playing her now and not give in to these feelings of wanting to believe her.

Elanya laughed. "I don’t work there. I went to turn in the story about your store in an attempt to learn the layout of the building. My plan was to sneak back in there late at night and just take care of the problem with no help from anyone. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be the case, it seems he’s turned it into a fortress of sorts. There are always guards there at night after everyone else goes home but the real problem is, there doesn’t seem to be anyway to sneak in. I remember the reputation you and your brother had managed to build in the short years we were at Hogwarts together… you two were out discovering every secret that old castle had to offer. I’m sure by the time you left, you’d found them all."

"I’m sure if you remember Hogwarts, then you know it’s impossible to discover all of the castle’s secrets." He returned, beginning to feel uneasy. She was disclosing too much, she was pushing too hard for his acceptance of her. Could this be about more than her desire for revenge against father? He suddenly felt certain that it was. But what could her other goal possibly be?

"Luckily, the Daily Prophet offices aren’t nearly as mysterious. Just a big ugly building with some secret door somewhere."

"Why must there be a secret door?" Lee asked her, stepping up beside Fred and placing a hand on his shoulder. He’d also begun to pick up on how she was pushing all the right buttons to try and get his friend to agree to help her. Fred was glad to see that Lee wasn’t as hopeless about girls as it had seemed.

"Because I’ve watched the building all night waiting for him to leave. He never did. But then there he was, bright and early in the morning walking up to unlock the front doors. Then the guards appear to leave and they’re open for business for the day. I’ve watched for several nights since, it’s always the same. He must get out at some point, but I’ve never seen him."

Fred knew right away what that suggested to him about Edmund’s methods, but he remained silent on that, instead turning the conversation back to it’s main point. "What do I have to do exactly to get you to leave Zander and everyone else alone?" Lee squeezed his shoulder but he ignored it.

"Get me in that building so I can kill my father." She replied simply.

He hesitated… he would need time to plan, to ensure this doesn’t blow up in his face… And then he had a stroke of genius. He knew exactly who to turn to for help in not only dealing with her, but perhaps even stop her from murdering Edmund. He wasn’t sure whether or not she’d killed before, she was cold but seemed to have a bit of humanity about her… after all, she’d said she didn’t want anyone but Edmund to suffer for his crimes... if she was telling the truth. If she hadn’t killed before, starting with one’s own father could have untold effects on such a fragile psyche as hers, could potentially push her all the way into that life she was already walking the line on. "Okay." He said at last, wrenching himself out of Lee’s claw-like grasp. "Give me a week to do my own research on the building."

"Deal. Then in one week exactly I will be back here at closing. If you’ve decided to doublecross me in some way by then, just know that I know exactly where your brother and sister are sleeping at Hogwarts and I have my own friends there as well." She threatened in a low soothing voice. Then she smiled. "Be sure to pass on my apologies to Zander about not making it to our lunch plans. I’m sure you’re both bright enough to come up with some reason why he won’t be seeing me anymore. Until next week then?" She gave a little wave before turning to seductively slink out the door.

"What are you doing man!" Lee said as soon as she was gone, shoving him in his disbelief.

"Don’t worry. I know exactly what I’m doing. Just make sure you keep your mouth shut about it." Fred grumbled, not really sure of anything at the moment.

"Whatever you say, but I’m not letting you go anywhere alone with that girl." He insisted.

"If all goes right, I won’t be." He assured his friend as he silently made his plans.

(BREAK)

"Miss Weasley, would you mind staying for a moment?" Dumbledore asked as he dismissed the rest of his class for lunch.

Glancing behind her, she was relieved to find that Luna had stopped to wait for her. She may not be the great protector the others were, but she certainly wasn’t just going to let some vampire walk up and steal her friend away. "Yes sir?" She turned back to the Headmaster.

"I just wanted to give you this." He held up an envelope. "It seems you’ve finally received a reply to your letter."

She eagerly grabbed the envelope and tore it open to read right then and there. Relief washed over her as she read that her request had been approved, she just needed to name the time and place. "May I write another to send off now?" She asked excitedly.

Dumbledore smiled. "Of course you may." He handed her the necessary materials and waited patiently as she wrote her response, deciding on using their Hogsmeade outing that weekend as a meeting place. Never in her life would she have thought she would be excited for this, but she felt she really needed it.

"Thank you." She sealed the envelope and handed over her letter.

"It is my pleasure. I’ve always wondered what it was like to be a mail owl." The Headmaster let out a small chuckle. "I’ll see to it that this gets to it’s intended recipient immediately."

"Thank you so much, sir." Ginny smiled back at him.

"You are more than welcome. Enjoy your lunch break." He replied, nodding to her and Luna.

The girls left together, walking down the halls with quiet alertness. "So, are you ever going to let me in on all this letter writing?" Luna asked as they entered the Great Hall.

"Right now, this is just for me." She answered awkwardly. She wasn’t ready to admit to everyone else what she was doing. She didn’t even want to admit to herself that she wanted this.

"If you say so." Luna smiled and shook her head as they sat with the rest of their friends.

"What took you two so long?" Draco asked immediately.

"We got held up with Dumbledore. Relax, it’s fine." Ginny assured him.

"Next time let us know." Harry grumbled, tapping his head to remind them they could have mentioned something. It was obvious that both boys were worried and Ginny knew she would have to try harder to stick to a routine for the sake of their nerves. Clearly they were on edge and not being where she and Luna should be when they’re supposed to be there was just the kind of thing to throw them off completely.

"Sorry, it was my fault." She replied. "So, what was everyone talking about?"

"Hogsmeade." Hermione answered. "We all have to go to the Shrieking Shack when we get there."

"Why?" Ginny asked, a sense of dread gathering in the pit of her stomach. After all, she’d just arranged her own plans for her time in the village.

"She won’t tell us." Ron said impatiently. "But she swears it’s a good surprise."

"It is." Hermione answered defensively. "Better for some than others but good all around. At least, I think it is." She added with a smile, obviously happy to be irritating Ron so badly.

"I don’t know why you had to tell us now with days before we’re to actually go there." He grumbled.

Hermione grinned wider. "It’s more fun for me this way. Especially since you’re the only one bothered by it."

It wasn’t true, Ginny was also bothered by it but she hid those feelings of panic, deciding that if they went to see whatever surprise Hermione had cooked up early enough it wouldn’t affect her plans. The next difficulty was how she was going to slip away from the others… and whether or not she really wanted to be walking around the village alone anyway. Perhaps bringing Draco along wouldn’t be a bad idea, after all, he’d been supportive in the past. Well, she had a few days to decide… though remembering her vow to be more careful for Draco and Harry’s sanity, she knew which she’d inevitable have to choose… but perhaps Luna could go with her instead. That was if Harry ever let her out of his sight. Ginny had a feeling that if he could, he’d go to class with Luna. And she was in no doubt that there was some part of his mind he kept in constant contact with hers and all the rest of them when they were out of his sight.

Looking over at Harry, she saw a grim determination marring his features as he absently moved food around on his plate. He flicked his eyes up, but it wasn’t her he was looking at. Glancing to her side, she caught the look that passed between Draco and Harry and knew the two boys were silently talking to each other. And based on that look, they were in plotting mode… From what she knew of each of them separately, she was certain that whatever they were planning to do or whoever they were plotting against, their efforts would end successfully. Whether or not that was a good thing, well that depended on how the boys decided to use their combined focus. And considering their most likely target was Tristan, she could only hope she was right in thinking Draco and Harry a force to be reckoned with because she knew there was no talking them out of it. Once either of them decided to do something, it was near impossible to change their minds. Oh how she hoped she was ready for what was to come and knew she needed this trip into Hogsmeade now more than ever.

(BREAK)

Slipping away from Ron and Hermione between classes later that afternoon as they’d planned, Draco quickly went down to his room with Potter right behind him. Closing the door tightly, he cast a silencing charm for good measure. It was the Slytherin wing after all, Tristan could walk by at any time. But they had figured this was the last place the others would come looking for Potter and Ginny had class for another hour so they would be able to talk in uninterrupted privacy. "We really need to figure out what to do." He said without preamble.

"No kidding." Potter grumbled, collapsing in the desk chair. "The sooner we can get rid of him, the better."

"I have an idea, I’m just not sure how we could make it work…" He said hesitantly.

"Well, this is meant to be a brainstorming session, isn’t it? Let it rain." Potter smiled grimly.

"Well, we can’t connect his disappearance to us, so the best option is to find a way for him to still be seen after we get rid of him." Draco began pacing as he thought, feeling restless. Of course, that could also have to do with the nearness of the full moon. Just a little over a week away in fact.

"Okay, I’m with you so far." Potter replied slowly. "I’m assuming you have some idea as to how to accomplish that?"

"Vaguely." He sighed. "I thought we could brew Polyjuice potion… then when it’s ready, we have someone take it and walk around doing things that would certainly be enough to prove Tristan should be expelled. Then his fake is sent away and if he never gets home, who’s to say something didn’t happen to him once he left here?"

"I like it, but who’s going to pretend to be Tristan?"

"I said I wasn’t sure how to make it work, just that I had an idea. Why don’t you apply some of your mighty brainpower to the situation?" Draco replied grumpily.

"Well, what we need is someone who won’t be missed and is brave enough to try and pretend to be Tristan. If we can figure it out, it’s bloody brilliant Draco." Potter said, sitting up as he began to get excited. "Think about it, the fake Tristan could meet with Troy and the others, find out what they’re all up to before leaving the school to disappear."

"Yes, it all sounds good. But whom do you suggest we send into the lion’s den like a sacrificial lamb? Because of all of us, I’m the only one who could possibly pull off the attitude needed to not be caught up by the other Slytherins. But if I disappeared, Lupin and Ginny would be sure to notice if no one else."

"Maybe we could bring Lupin in on it. He doesn’t like Tristan anymore than we do and is just as frustrated that he’s still here." Potter replied thoughtfully. "Not that I’m saying you should be the one to do it." He replied quickly. "Unfortunately neither of our disappearances would go unnoticed, neither of us can be the one to pretend to be Tristan. And I don’t want to send in any of the others, not even Lupin."

"So…?" Draco pushed. After all, he’d come up with this idea. If they couldn’t make it work then it was the other boy’s turn to think of something.

"So, maybe there’s someone from the outside we can bring in…" He said slowly.

"Like who, Fred? Who else is there to trust?"

Potter shook his head quickly. "We can’t send Fred, I can’t risk his life like that."

"Why not let him decide? It’s perfect actually. If anyone could come up with an excuse to Mr. and Mrs. Weasley for why he won’t be around the house for awhile, it’s Fred. And he knows so many secrets about this place, escape routes and such. Plus, as a naturally gifted liar I’m sure he’d be able to fool those idiots Tristan’s surrounded himself with."

"Even Troy?" Potter said, rising to his feet to also pace away the restlessness brought on by his anxiousness and frustration. "Firstly Fred hasn’t so much as seen Tristan before, he doesn’t know how he acts, talks, carries himself, nothing. Secondly, Troy would certainly know something wasn’t right if he is or was indeed being turned. There’s a chance he wouldn’t feel that draw to someone using Polyjuice potion… it only changes one’s outside appearance."

"So we figure out some plan to keep him out of our way." Draco shrugged. "And Fred could sneak up here while the potion brews, use that time to spy on Tristan and pick up his mannerisms."

Potter sighed and slumped back down into the chair in defeat. "Okay, here’s what we’ll do. Since it does take so long to brew, we’ll start the Polyjuice potion now. In the meantime, we’ll keep trying to think of plan with fewer risks and complications. Then with a week left, if we haven’t come up with anything better, we’ll contact Fred and see if he wants to do it."

"Alright. Compromise struck." Draco agreed with a grim smile. "So, which of us is going to attempt getting some of Tristan’s hair for the potion."

"I guess it’s best if we both try… hopefully one of us can get it." He rose and moved to the door before turning back as if he’d forgotten something. "You and Lupin are going away next week, right?"

He shifted his feet uncomfortably. "Yeah. What of it?" He asked defensively.

Potter stared at him with something like pity. "Just… be careful, okay? And aware. Careful and aware."

"Anything in particular I should be aware of?" Draco asked in confusion.

Potter looked down, debating what he wanted to say. "It’s just that I don’t think we should take any of Tristan’s threats lightly." He carefully replied.

Then it struck him, what had the other boy so worried, as he recalled what the vampire had said to him about still proving useful. "You think they may send Harland out to find me."

"Draco, I’ve no doubt that if you really put your mind to it you could fight whatever influence Harland Myers may have over you. But none of us would ever want you put in the position of testing our faith in you."

"Especially if I failed, right?" He crossed his arms.

"Even if you failed. I never again want to look across the enemy line and see you looking back at me."

"It wouldn’t be me." He answered defensively.

"Do you think it would make it any easier?" Potter asked incredulously.

"Look, you want me to be honest… Tristan was right. If they sent Harland and you weren’t able to fight his influence, you would be very useful to them because we don’t want to fight you."

"And you think I want to fight you?" Draco ran his hands through his hair in frustration. "It’s not fair! I switched sides because I was tired of being some helpless puppet!"

"I know you did. But this is the way it is and we’re trying to help you deal with it, to go through it with you." Potter came over to awkwardly place his hand on Draco’s shoulder in an attempt at friendly reassurance. "All we can do is be on our guard. And when you leave next week, you’re going to have to make sure you keep yourself alert. But at least Lupin will be with you, you won’t be out there alone. I’d go too if I could. If you want, I’ll go anyway…" He offered.

Draco smirked. "It think it best we not test whether or not Harland could get me to tear people apart when Harry Potter is around."

"If he even shows up. Look, I know this is hard and I didn’t want to bring it up, but I figured it’s best to know what could be in the works."

"Yeah. I suppose bliss is only found by those who can afford to remain ignorant." He sighed.

"Well put." Potter squeezed his shoulder before walking back over to the door. "I better go find Ron and Hermione before they get worried. I’ll see you later when it’s time to go to class."

"Yeah, okay." As soon as the door was closed, he lay down in his bed and stared at the ceiling. He felt tense, anxious, and angry. There had to be something he could do to prepare for a chance meeting with the beast who’d turned him into a monster. He certainly couldn’t let himself be used to hurt the others and he didn’t want them to have to make the decision to defend themselves against him, especially Ginny. It was a horrible position to be in… He sat up as a sudden thought struck him. He quickly scrambled off the bed and over to his trunk, pulling out the square device. He’d picked it up yesterday when he’d recovered his wand, though he’d ultimately decided not to tell anyone about it and put it away for later study. Staring at it now, he felt a vague idea forming in his mind. Obviously the device was some kind of pocket forcefield, there had to be a way he could use that to his advantage. All he had to do was figure out exactly how it worked and he was certain he could figure out how to use it to keep Harland from forcing him against his friends.

(BREAK)

"I hate my brother." Ron said moodily as he sank into the couch in the common room after dinner. And he was still complaining about their final class of the day, Care of Magical Creatures, as had become his custom every time they had that particular class. "Charlie isn’t even a real professor, what does he know about teaching anything to anyone."

"Other than that part of his normal job is going around educating people about dragons?" Hermione asked with a smirk.

"Still! To call me out in front of the entire class!" He protested.

"You didn’t know the answer, Ron." Harry pointed out. "It’s not like he sat there and ridiculed you like Snape would have." He winced as he realized he’d brought up their still missing Potions professor.

Hermione shook it off, returning to her teasing. "What exactly should he have done, rewarded you for being wrong?"

"Whatever." He crossed his arms and continued to pout. It wasn’t what Charlie had said it was how he’d said it… so condescending, so all-knowing. Of course he could be overreacting, but still, it wasn’t easy to deal with girls oogling your older brother while he was admonishing you in class. He knew his argument was silly and buried in simple sibling rivalry so he remained silent. But it still bothered him.

"So, have you talked to Susan?" Hermione asked Harry, changing the subject.

"Yeah, and we both went to McGonagall. Try-outs for DA will be held next Monday night after dinner. You guys want to help out that night?" He turned to look at them both.

"Sure." Ron shrugged. "If only we could really be a part of it again…"

"Hey Ron?" Parvati came up to them with a nervous smile. "Can I talk to you in private for a moment?"

"Oh, uh, sure." He scrambled to his feet and followed her out into the hallway. "What can I do for you?" He asked, smiling down at her.

"Well, I was wondering if you were going to make me be the one to always ask you out." She answered bluntly.

"Huh?" He asked, feeling completely thrown off.

She grinned widely. "It’s okay, I don’t mind. So, I know it’s still pretty far away, but do you want to go to the Costume Ball with me?"

"Really?" He’d forgotten the stupid dance as soon as Dumbledore had finished talking about it. But now with the prospect of actually having a date for the second year in a row, it suddenly felt very important.

"Really." She reached out and took his hand. "I enjoyed our lunch together in Hogsmeade, and I know things have been hectic since then. But I was quite serious when I said I liked you."

"Okay." He answered without thinking. "It’ll be fun."

Her eyes seemed to light up, making him feel even happier. "Great! So then maybe we could have lunch again in Hogsmeade this weekend?"

"Sounds perfect." He agreed, enjoying the feeling of normalcy the moment brought over him. Right now he could be any other kid, simply making a date for the weekend with nothing else to worry about. How he wished he really was that kid… Parvati made it easy to pretend and so he found he really did enjoy her company. He couldn’t wait for Saturday, to sit in the tea shop with her for an hour and forget the rest of his life for a little while.

(BREAK)

Harry woke to brisk knocking at his door. Glancing over, he saw that Hermione had decided not to sleep next to him and for a moment he thought maybe she’d changed her mind. "Mr. Potter?" He heard a clipped voice call out to him. It certainly wasn’t Hermione. Rubbing sleep from his eyes, he fumbled for his glasses before rising and stumbling over to the door.

"Professor McGonagall?" He was instantly alert as soon as he opened the door and saw her standing there, looking both amused and annoyed at the same time.

"You have a visitor Potter. Perhaps next time you could advise them to come at a more reasonable hour?" She said sternly.

"I didn’t invite anyone." He replied in confusion. "Is Gabby back?"

"I’ve never seen this person before in my life. But she’s asking to talk to you, Miss, Lovegood and Mr. Weasley." She moved on to knock on Ron’s door.

He answered looking disheveled, the sleepiness draining from his eyes as he saw who was knocking on his door. "Professor?"

"Both of you come with me." She instructed, leading the way back into the common room. "Wait here." She made her way over to the Ravenclaw wing, emerging a few moments later with Luna. "Come along, quickly now."

They walked briskly through the hall towards her office, Harry’s heart pounding against his chest in anticipation. They walked in to find a young girl about their age. She was exotically attractive… her hair a mass of wild black curls, skin a perfect olive tone and eyes a clear green-hazel. Feeling the familiar connection, Harry felt his heart swell with hopeful happiness as he realized who she must be. Glancing at Luna, he saw that she was feeling the same.

"Hello, I’m Jacinda Nicolau." Her expression was grim as she addressed them, her voice clearly altered by a translation spell as spoke with a thick Greek accent. "I believe one of you has wrote to me about this what you call, the coven."





NOTE: Lots more coming up as I figure out this plot, so stay tuned! Thanks for reading!


Chapter 42: Firestarters, Potions and Amulets

A/N: Okay, so we already met Gabby, time to introduce another coven member to this story. Another full chapter here with lots going on, as always- Read, Review, and Enjoy!

 
 

At McGonagall’s insistence, their little party was moved to Dumbledore’s office before anything at all could be discussed. Ron felt nervous, knowing he was the reason Jacinda had come and hoped he hadn’t messed anything up. McGonagall left them all alone in the office to go rouse the Headmaster. Everyone was silent, he and his friends staring expectantly at the strange girl. Ron’s stomach leapt to his throat when she turned her sharp gaze in his direction. "You must be the one who was writing to me." She said in her thick accent. "I know these two are what you call coven descendants, I can feel it the way they can feel it in me. This means they must be this Harry Potter and Luna Lovegood you told me about. That leaves you to be Ron Weasley."

He swallowed hard, nervous at not only being addressed by someone so beautiful but someone who was also so assured of themselves. "I am."

"So you are having no powers then?" She pushed.

"He’s excellent with his wand. Helped keep me alive all these years." Harry came to Ron’s defense. "Listen, Jacinda-"

"Jacey." She interrupted.

"Ok, Jacey-"

But again she interrupted Harry as she moved to the fireplace. "It is being too dark in here for proper conversation." McGonagall had only lit a few candles and wall sconces in her haste, but Jacey made to quickly correct the situation. Simply glancing at the logs in the hearth before her, she started a roaring fire almost instantly. Ron followed her gaze around the room and everywhere she looked, flames burst to life on candlewicks, burning bright and strong right away. In the growing light, he was able to see their visitor better and he found her more appealing the more he was able to clearly see. He suddenly didn’t care if writing to her was a mistake, she was here now and he wouldn’t want it any other way… because they needed her and the rest of the coven. At least, that’s what he convinced himself was the reason he was feeling so oddly happy that she was here.

"I’ve seen you many times in my visions. It’s nice to finally know your name." Luna offered kindly, not that she knew any way but kindness. The girl was all good intentions and hopefully Jacinda would be just as friendly. As it was now, she was more than a little stand offish.

"Was I supposed to come to you now?" Jacey asked her in surprise.

Luna shook her head. "Not that I knew of."

"Look, not that we aren’t thrilled to meet you but, why are you here now?" Harry asked, finding it difficult at this point to fully trust the motives of anyone he didn’t know.

"An excellent question." Dumbledore said as he and McGonagall entered the office. "Hello, I am Albus Dumbledore, the Headmaster here at Hogwarts. I understand you are one Jacinda Nicolau?" He reached out to shake her hand.

Ron saw her glance curiously at Harry who nodded in response to whatever silent question she had asked. Apparently she’d been imploring whether or not the Headmaster was worthy of her approval because it was only after that silent conversation that her expression warmed as she stepped forward to shake hands with Dumbledore. The smile she returned was dazzling. "It is a great pleasure to be meeting you." She said at last.

"Please, don’t let our presence impede the conversation." He chuckled, gesturing to himself and McGonagall. "I do believe you were about to inform us all of the reason for your visit?"

"I am in need of a safe place to stay, but there are few people in the world that I know. I am deciding the best place to go would be where there are people looking for me and who are like me." Jacey gestured to Harry and Luna.

"What happened?" Ron couldn’t help but ask. "I know in your letter you said where you were wasn’t very secure, did the Death Eaters come?"

"They have been underground in Athens for longer than I can remember, perhaps they were being drawn to the energy fields, but they spread until they are reaching Messini, the town where I was living, which is why I was marrying and fleeing to France in the first place. But Paris is slowly being occupied as well now that they are invading the ministry there." She replied sadly.

"You are married then, where is your husband? Will he be joining you here?" Dumbledore asked, politely pulling out a chair for her to sit.

"No he will not. I do not care where that man is." She scoffed. "He was a means to an end. I was having no money, no means for travel, he did and I was needing to get out of Greece. Our marriage has since been dissolved." Ron felt something akin to relief, knowing for sure what they’d already read about her in her records, she was divorced.

"What about your parents?" The headmaster probed further.

She looked at him steadily. "I am not lying when I say I am having few people to turn to. I am never knowing my mother, the one who passed on these powers to me… my father was killed ten years ago. I was to hope that there were people here I could trust."

"Not as many as you’d think." Harry scoffed.

"If you are truly in need of a safe haven, I am more than happy to provide one, Miss Nicolau." Dumbledore said, ignoring his student’s comment.

"I have no other idea as to where I could be going." She replied. "To stay in Paris would be suicide. I am brave, not foolish."

"What exactly is happening there, Miss Nicolau?" McGonagall asked. "A few moments ago you said the ministry in Paris has been invaded… Well, our ministry has been having difficulty communicating with anyone at all in France’s wizarding government."

"This is not surprising." Jacey gave a hollow laugh. "From what I understand, your minister is not working with this Lord Voldemort they all speak of. The same can not be said in Paris, Minister Moreau has clearly chosen his side. It only stands that other governments will be to follow quickly… maybe even a few muggle ones."

"My father is the minister in London. He would never side with Voldemort." Ron declared proudly.

"Let us hope you are right." She replied sadly. "There are many I would never have been thinking would join and fight for such horrible ideals, but I am no longer having surprise when someone I was thinking I can trust defects. The man running our ministry was at one time a good man, Moreau was giving promises to fight for the people… but eventually even he was being convinced to work against the people instead. Fear and desire for power are strong motivators, it is why I am being on my own for the last six months. I can trust myself."

"Arthur Weasley is different." Harry insisted, knowing Ron was too offended to reply civilly. "He can be trusted without question."

Jacey nodded. "We shall see I suppose. I do not know the man and I am not the seer of this group."

"That’s right you don’t know him." Ron said at last. "And you don’t know me, yet you came all this way because of my letter. As his son, my word that he is a good man should be enough."

"It is because of your letter that I come looking for you and the two coven members you are telling me about." She looked at him strangely. "But trust is having very little to do with it. I do not know you either and therefore your word means very little to me at the moment."

"It is understandable to be suspicious." Dumbledore said, placing a hand on Jacey’s shoulder. "But you are here seeking help. At some level, you must sense there are people here you can depend on."

"Those two." She pointed at Harry and Luna before bluntly going on. "They are the reason I come and they are the only people in this world that I know I can put my faith in at the moment. I am seeing too much in life to rely on kind words, even though you all seem to be lovely people." She added the compliment, obviously aware that she could be perceived as being rude.

Dumbledore nodded, glancing at Harry as he replied. "Constant fear, pain and suffering will take their toll, these things can drastically alter the way one feels, thinks, or behaves. No offense is taken by your words or attitude, I assure you." He smiled down at her and Ron saw her smile back. It was clear the Headmaster was on his way to charming their new guest… after all they were still young, even Jacinda was still a teenager, and secretly they wanted someone in a position of authority that they could turn to for answers and comfort. Even Harry’s attitude toward the older wizard had softened considerably this year… though his frustrations with Tristan could upset all that again.

"It is rather late." McGonagall reminded them, breaking the silence that had descended over the room.

"Yes. We must find a comfortable place for you to stay, Miss Nicolau." Dumbledore agreed, looking around at them all. "It is imperative that no one be aware of your presence in order to keep the wrong people from knowing you’re here. Therefore, I would like to offer you the room right here off my offices. It will do as it is for tonight and tomorrow we can work on making it more suitable to your indefinite stay."

"I thank you very much. I have come a long way without stopping to rest." Jacey replied as he led her to the door of the room that had originally been set up last year to house Draco.

"Then sleep is indeed what you are in need of. And I can personally assure you that you may rest securely. In the morning, Mr. Potter and Miss Lovegood will be excused from their first classes so that you may all speak to each other." Dumbledore smiled down at her.

"Thank you again, Headmaster." She once more returned the smile before looking to Harry and Luna. "I will be seeing you both tomorrow then."

"Oh you can count on it." Harry replied.

Then she turned her gaze to Ron again and he felt himself frozen in place. "Thank you for writing to me, it was giving me the opportunity to escape. I am sure we will be seeing each other again sometime. I look forward to it."

"Me too." He said lamely. She simply smiled again before walking into the room and closing the door. "I swear I didn’t invite her here." Ron said immediately as everyone’s gaze turned to him.

Dumbledore shook his head in amusement. "Of course you didn’t. She seems a bright and capable young woman, I’m sure she was able to figure out where you all were and how to get here."

"This can all be discussed at a more reasonable hour." McGonagall said sternly, reiterating her displeasure with how late it was for them all to be out of bed.

"I am in complete agreement. You may all return to your rooms. Luna, please inform the rest of your peers that class will be held in the Great Hall tomorrow. Then you, Harry and Miss Nicolau may have use of my office throughout your first classes. Any longer than that may draw suspicion."

"Can I come too?" Ron asked hopefully.

McGonagall shook her head. "I think it’s better for your grades if you go to class Weasley. Need I remind you what’s at stake if they begin to falter?"

He sighed, knowing he’d rather maintain his position as quidditch coach than sit silently in the room while Harry, Luna and Jacey discussed all things coven. Still, he would have liked the opportunity to get to know the girl better... plus he’d rather not Harry and Luna have any more time alone together than they already had. "I understand." He answered grumpily before following the others back to their common room.

He made sure both Harry and Luna went to their own rooms before retiring back to his. Laying in bed and staring at the ceiling, he realized that tonight had been one of those small moments that would change his life forever… just like when he’d first met Harry. Jacey’s presence was more profound than Gabby’s had been because unlike the healer, the firestarter would be staying indefinitely. To Ron, she represented the actual beginning of this quest Harry and Luna had them on, making it feel more real and therefore a more looming challenge. She was going to be the first to actually join the coven, the first to help plan and possibly fight, the first to help convince people they could actually do this… and he’d been the one to bring her here, however indirectly. Sure they would have found her eventually, but he’d helped give them the advantage of bringing her now. He smiled and closed his eyes, enjoying the feeling of being useful.

(BREAK)

"Wow. A coven member is going to be staying here." Draco marveled as he pulled on his school robes.

"There are already two of them living here if you recall." Ginny laughed. Ron had knocked on her door early that morning to inform her of what had happened during the night. Not wanting to deal with her brother seeing her boyfriend in her bed, she’d let Draco sleep and talked out in the hall. Now she was filling him in on all the particulars.

He rolled his eyes. "You know what I mean… it just seems like things are actually happening now."

Ginny picked up her bag and together they began to make their way down to the Great Hall for breakfast. "This is a good thing… and a sign that good things are coming. It has to be." She said as they rounded a corner.

"Hey, don’t make this anything more than what it is… one more person on our side. It’s a mistake to attach any kind of significance to her arrival that will affect your happiness." He warned.

She reached up to squeeze his face. "Sooo cynical." She grinned as he grabbed her wrist and pulled away. "Though I do like hearing you say ‘our side’."

He pulled on her arm unexpectedly, causing her to lose her balance and tumble into him. He roughly captured her mouth with his, and she immediately gave into the spontaneous passion. The closer he got to his time to change, the more exciting she found their time together… he was less inhibited during this time, more prone to giving into his feelings and instincts.

"Well, if this doesn’t just churn my stomach." A voice said from behind her.

Breaking apart, they turned to find Pansy Parkinson glaring at them, a look of disgust across her face. "Then move along. No one asked you to watch, weirdo." Ginny replied cruelly.

"Honestly Draco, how could you let yourself fall so low?" Pansy sneered, ignoring Ginny completely.

"Considering my options before, I think I’ve actually taken quite a few steps up." He said angrily in defense of his girlfriend’s honor.

"Oh, was that supposed to hurt my feelings?" She mocked. "A pretty face means nothing. Beauty is an easy thing to destroy."

"Guess it’s a good thing she’s smart and capable as well." He shot back, taking Ginny’s hand and starting to walk away. She was relieved that the situation hadn’t escalated though she was also touched that he’d chosen to defend her, not that Pansy was someone she felt she couldn’t handle on your own.

"Guess we’ll find out about that." The other girl called after them.

Draco stopped in his tracks and Ginny began to feel nervous as she silently hoped he’d let it go. Of course he didn’t, pulling his hand free as she tried to drag him along toward the Great Hall. She didn’t want him getting himself in trouble, especially not because of her or Pansy. He strode back up to his former friend, towering over her menacingly. "Involve yourself with Tristan and I promise you, it’ll be the last thing you ever do." He growled out in a low voice.

Pansy appeared nervous, but foolishly decided to stand her ground. "You wouldn’t hurt me."

"No? Why don’t you ask Crabbe how serious I am." He returned with a wicked smile. Ginny felt she was watching him de-evolve back into someone else, as she had when they’d gone to deal with Crabbe. Part of it disgusted her, but a much larger part of her was finding it enthralling… he may not want to be that person anymore but when he was forced to, he became so confident, so assertive. It was clearly who he as comfortable being in personality if no longer in spirit.

Pansy grinned. "You don’t have it in you anymore Draco. Before, a broken hand would have been the least of Crabbe’s concerns if he had crossed you. I’ve seen you use the unforgivable on him and Goyle, remember? You’ve lost your ability to provoke fear and it’s because of all the trash you’ve decided to bed down with. Cho was bad enough, but now her!"

"Cho?" Ginny couldn’t stop herself. Draco froze and she could see both fear and fury in his eyes as he glared at Pansy, not daring to look anywhere else.

Pansy grinned wider. "She didn’t know? Well, this is even better than I thought!"

"Shut up." Draco quietly threatened, his hands curling into fists at his sides. Had Pansy been male, it was clear she would have been laid out on the floor by now, possibly in one blow. But Ginny didn’t care whether or not he used the other girl’s face as a punching bag, too many things were going through her head, too many emotions clogging her heart to care about anyone else… least of all this horrible girl who had just ripped her world apart.

"Well, it seems my work here is done. I’ll see you around Draco." Pansy laughed.

"Pray that you don’t." He replied in a low, venomous voice. For a moment Pansy looked nervous, then being smarter than Ginny would have given her credit for, she walked away without saying anything else. Draco turned to face her, his gaze now only full of anxious fear. "Ginny-"

"No…" She put up her hands and backed away. "Not now, I can’t talk about this right now…" It was too much, too inconceivable and she just didn’t want to deal with it.

"Okay." He took a step away from her, furthering the distance between them in an effort to make her feel more comfortable. "But I can’t let you just run off on your own…"

She nodded, fighting back angry tears. She knew she couldn’t just walk away to be alone as she wanted, it was too dangerous with Tristan roaming the halls. But she didn’t know how she could possibly be around anyone at the moment. She could have him walk her back to her room, but then that would leave him to go to the Great Hall on his own. She may be mad at him- and a whole lot of other things she couldn’t even think about feeling at the moment- but she still didn’t want anything bad to happen to him. Without saying anything, she simply turned and walked to the Hall, knowing he was a few steps behind her. They entered and sat next to each other as always, but she saw that he was careful not to make any physical contact with her at all. Clearly he was nervously waiting to see what would happen, placing it all in her hands.

Luna. She called out to her friend.

What’s wrong? She answered, obviously picking up on her suddenly sour mood.

Will you guys walk back to the common room with me before you go to Dumbledore’s office? I don’t feel well and want to go back to my room. Ginny requested, careful to hide her memory of what had just occurred.

Sure… I can wait to go see Jacey you know, she’ll be here until we leave. If you want, we can sit and talk…Luna offered.

Thanks, but I don’t want to talk to anyone right now. She said, turning off her mind again. She stared at her plate until it was time to go, getting up and walking out with Harry and Luna without so much as glancing at Draco. The whole way back to the common room, she caught the other two shooting looks at each other and wondered if it was her they were discussing. Muttering "thanks" at the door, she quickly made her way down to her room to shut herself in.

Finally alone standing in the middle of her room, she wrapped her arms around herself and started crying. She dropped to her knees, wishing she knew why she was so upset. She sure didn’t want to judge Draco for this or anything else he’d done before she decided to let herself love him. But she had asked who he’d been with… he’d assured her it was someone who meant nothing. Cho Chang wasn’t nothing. She was Harry’s ex, someone who had tried to kill her along with Harry and Luna, and she was someone who was still trying to pose a threat to their safety. Draco had quite literally slept with the enemy… but that was when he’d been the enemy himself… so why hadn’t he just told her about it before? If he’d decided to hide something like this from her, what else was he hiding? Had he simply been embarrassed? After all, admitting to a mistake with Cho wasn’t quite the same as her mistake with Gem… but if he hadn’t tried to hide it, she could have understood… at least she thought she could have…

It was all a mess in her head and all she knew for sure was that she was unhappy. Eventually she would talk to Draco, but she didn’t know when that would be, when she would want to talk about this. She didn’t want to know about it, deal with it, or even acknowledge it as truth. She had no reason to feel betrayed… but that was exactly how she felt. It wasn’t fair to her and it wasn’t fair to Draco but she’d long ago learned, sometimes life just isn’t fair.

(BREAK)

"So, what’s wrong with her?" Harry asked after they left Ginny in the common room. He knew Luna was always more capable of breaking through barriers in the mind than he was. Perhaps it was that extra power she seemed to have of sensing and soothing emotions.

She shook her head. "I think she and Draco had some kind of fight. It’s all pretty unclear at the moment."

And then they descended back into awkward silence as they approached the gargoyle. He didn’t know how much longer he could handle things as they were between them, and between him and Hermione. He’d vaguely thought they were on their way to a resolution, but after talking to Ron he just didn’t know. Maybe it was time he and Hermione actually sat down and talked to each other rather than through their friend… if Ron was actually speaking for her as he’d claimed.

Entering the office and finding Jacey stretched out on the couch reading one of the books from Dumbledore’s shelf, Harry put everything else aside to feel the relieved joy at having a coven member that would actually be staying with them. Some sort of planning could finally commence. Maybe she could even go off early and find some of the others for them… no, he dismissed that thought immediately. It was far too dangerous for her to be out there on her own, that was why she had come here in the first place.

"Good morning." She smiled at them, putting the book down and sitting up.

"Feeling better today?" Luna asked as she took a seat next to Jacey.

"Sometimes there is nothing like having a good night’s sleep." She sighed contentedly. "I am finding it agreeable, this place. I am wishing I was able to finish school." She pulled out her wand and waved it at the chair next to where Harry had chosen to sit. The chair shook off it’s stiffness as it became animated, moving it’s legs to take a stroll around the office. "I just learned this from the book." She said proudly, watching her creation as it tried to shove the other furniture into moving as well.

"You don’t have to prove your capability to us." Harry grinned, waving his wand to end her enchantment of the chair.

"I am hearing of the name Harry Potter from both sides of this war and so I am knowing fully of what you and your friends have done. I am just wanting you to know, I can learn anything I do not already know and I can learn it quickly." Jacey insisted, wanting to assure them of her usefulness.

"Well, that’s one more trait that seems to run through us all." Luna said with an amused laugh, thinking on hers and Harry’s capability to pick up on new things with ease.

"Also reading of minds, yes?" She looked to them both. "I am sensing you two are having this power as well."

"I guess they call it telepathy, and yes, every descendant should have the ability." Harry answered. He pulled out the paper on which he’d written a list of names, hers included, and handed it over to her. "This is everyone else we’ve figured to be in the coven so far. We’ve only made contact with Gabriela Hernandez and now you."

Luna pulled out all the documents they’d already translated and studied from her bag and handed them over as well. "And this is everything we know about the coven. I went ahead and used a spell to translate it all into Greek for you… I wasn’t sure whether or not you could read English. I’ve also included a written transcript of a first hand account from someone who was with the first coven."

"How is that possible?" Jacey asked, looking overwhelmed by all the papers in her hands.

"I explain all about Professor Binns in the transcript." Luna assured her. "We knew we wouldn’t have much time with you so rather than try to explain everything quickly, we figured you could sit and read at your leisure."

"After lunch, everyone has break at the same time so we can bring the others for you to meet." Harry looked nervously at Luna. This morning at breakfast they’d silently debated what to do about Draco, knowing not everyone would be comfortable being so close to a werewolf. They wanted to be fair to Jacey and warn her, but they also didn’t want to be unfair to Draco by alerting the girl to what he was before she had a chance to meet him. In the end they decided it’d be best to warn her, not knowing her or how she’d handle a surprise like that. "There’s just one thing you should know about one of our friends…"

"His name is Draco Malfoy and this summer he was attacked by a man named Harland Myers." Luna picked up the story when Harry faltered. "Well, you see… Harland is a werewolf, and now so is Draco."

Jacey stared blankly at them both, carefully concealing her thoughts. "But you both trust him?"

"That’s a long story, but the short answer is yes." Harry assured her.

"Then I am having no problem with him so long as he proves to be no problem to me." She smiled. "For a moment I was having fear you were to say he was a vampire."

Harry and Luna once again nervously locked eyes. "That would have been a problem?" He asked slowly.

"It most certainly would." She said, her anger coming on swiftly and suddenly. Jacey rose and began pacing the office, clearly agitated. "I hate them. They took my father, my brother, my friends from me. Messini was being infested with them years ago, it was a bloody massacre of wizarding families that I and few others were being able to survive." She raised her hands, studying them as if she’d never seen them before. Harry jumped in surprise when each of her fingertips burst into tiny flames. But they didn’t spread, they merely danced above her nails, fully in her power. "This is why I am surviving and I am wishing more than anything that I was there in time to save the others. Those creatures, they were wearing those hoods, vampires and rogue Death Eaters obviously waiting for the time when their master was to once more rise." She closed her hands into fists, extinguishing the flames.

"We’ve all lost people we love in this… members of our family, friends, people we respected." Luna said softly, rising to put an arm around Jacey’s shoulders. "But we have to stay strong for them, so that their deaths weren’t completely in vain. And the first step is to maintain control over ourselves."

"What are you meaning?" She asked in confusion.

Harry shook his head. There was no way to put it delicately, no matter how hard Luna was trying to find one. "There’s a student here who is a vampire. A pure born vampire who may just be going around turning people."

Jacey’s eyes darkened. "What is his name?" She demanded.

"Macnair." He answered despite the look Luna was giving him. They may have the reputation of only going after muggles between the wars, but if Tristan’s parents had anything to do with what happened in her town then Jacey had a right to know.

But she was furiously shaking her head. "The name is unfamiliar. But clearly he cannot remain here."

"He has to. Believe us, there’s no choice. This war isn’t only fought in battles, there’s also the politics of keeping the right people in positions of power so that the wrong people can’t inflict worse damage from inside the infrastructure of society. We are trying to keep what’s happening in the Paris ministry from happening here." Luna insisted. Jacey appeared unconvinced.

Harry sighed, deciding to give her the whole picture. "He’s already made several moves against us, but he’s careful about it. If they try to expel him without concrete evidence of his crimes, it paves the way for them to try and oust Dumbledore and put a Death Eater in his place. Could you imagine one of them here, in charge of so many young impressionable and moldable minds?"

"So why not just get rid of him? It is no colder an act than the ones his kind are perpetrating on others." She argued. Here Harry faltered… he agreed with her completely and therefore left it to Luna to explain.

"He can’t just disappear. It would immediately be traced to us, even if we weren’t responsible. The last thing we need is the wrath of his parents and their friends, not to mention the waves it would make here having another student come up missing or dead." She explained wearily, clearly exhausted by the thought that there was one more person she had to talk out of such a dark deed.

"So the answer is to sit as targets? I am not agreeing with this." Jacey shook her head and crossed her arms as she sat again.

"You have to. There’s nothing else that can be done right now." Luna said firmly.

Harry. He heard Jacey’s voice whisper uncertainly through his mind. "If you say so, but I can not be promising that if our paths cross I will not act accordingly." She said aloud to Luna.

Yes? He answered her thought, careful not to draw Luna’s attention as she replied to Jacey’s spoken words.

I am seeing that you are thinking differently than her about this vampire. She paused to answer Luna again.We must find time to talk alone. She insisted.

Harry wasn’t sure. He’d already been certain that with his and Draco’s combined efforts they would figure out a way to get rid of Tristan. Draco had already used his invisibility cloak to steal some of the boy’s hair and they had plans to begin brewing the Polyjuice potion later that day. With the addition of Jacey and her obvious determination, they could possibly think of something even better… but that also meant he would be allowing something to happen that Luna was fairly calling a mistake. As she’d said the other night, she may not be able to see Tristan, but he couldn’t interfere with her intuition and Harry himself put a lot of stock in what she thought since she was usually right. But this time he may just have to disappoint her by doing what she clearly considered a bad idea… Okay. He finally agreed. Luna had already assured him that she wouldn’t hate him and with that in mind, he knew he could deal with her anger and disappointment far easier than if something happened to her because Tristan was left to roam free.

Jacey nodded ever so slightly to indicate she’d heard him before once more replying to Luna. "I am understanding your point. And all I am telling you is to keep the boy away from me."

Luna shook her head, not buying for a second that the other girl was any more complacent on the issue than Harry was. "I just hope I see something soon to give us a clue as to how to properly proceed."

"Maybe if you haven’t been seeing, it is because it is up to us to be figuring out the answer…" Jacey carefully suggested.

A knock on the door interrupted their conversation. McGonagall opened the door and nodded around at them all. "Excuse the interruption. The Headmaster has asked me to remind you both that you are expected in your next classes. I’m sure you will be afforded more time to visit with Miss Nicolau later."

"It’s already time?" Harry asked without hiding his disappointment. He had hoped to learn everything about Jacinda, to determine exactly what kind of asset she’d be aside from her power.

"It is fine. Apparently I am having some reading to do." Jacey picked up the stack of documents they’d given her. "After lunch then?"

"Absolutely." Luna agreed for them both before they left the office.

Harry insisted that he and McGonagall walk Luna to the Great Hall for her class before going on to Transfiguration. Taking a seat next to Hermione and Ron, he merely nodded in answer to their unspoken question. Yes, for what it was, their first conversation with Jacey had gone well and he knew they were anxious to meet her. But his mind wasn’t on the next meeting it was on the one after that, which would take place that night after everyone else had gone to sleep. He and Draco had already agreed to use their cloaks to sneak to the Room of Requirement and begin brewing the Polyjuice potion. Knowing Jacey would now be a part of it added a whole new level to their planning.

Glancing at his secret partner in crime, he noticed Draco looking down sullenly as he barely followed along with the lesson. Hey, you okay? Something happen with Tristan? He asked in concern.

Draco shook his head and sighed. Nothing quite so simple I’m afraid.

Is there anything I can do to help? Harry offered. The other boy appeared crushed, as if his whole world were slowly shattering apart around him.

But again Draco lightly shook his head, still refusing to raise his eyes. Not unless you can go back to last year and keep me from being an idiot.

If I had that power, don’t you think I’d have used it for myself by now? He joked, trying to ease his mood. He could feel Draco’s smile in his thoughts, but outwardly his expression remained painfully strained in unhappiness. What happened?

Just what I always knew would happen… Ginny found out something about my past that she can’t deal with.He admitted after a brief hesitation. Clearly he was desperate if he was willing to try and discuss his problem. Usually finding out what was bothering Draco was like pulling teeth, as he obviously didn’t want anyone to see him as weak or a complainer.

Give her a little credit… and some time. Whatever it is, I’m sure it was just a shock. She’ll come around.Harry answered, extremely curious as to what Ginny had found out. But he knew better than to ask and honestly, he wasn’t really sure he wanted to know anyway. Draco and Ginny were both different people from who they were last year and realistically, they were probably directly responsible for the growth in each other.

This time, Draco raised his eyes to look at Harry, both boys completely ignoring McGonagall’s lesson by this point. I hope you’re right. I really do.

Harry felt bad for him, he seemed completely flattened by the thought of possibly being without Ginny. You could ask Luna…

Maybe… He sadly replied.

Are you still up for later tonight?

Draco nodded slightly. Yes. A threat is a threat and Tristan is one we need to be rid of. Neither of us can let ourselves be distracted.

If you’re sure you’re up for it… Jacey will be joining us. Turns out she’s got a reason to hate vampires and I’m positive she’s the type to keep a secret. Harry said, unsure how the other boy would react to decisions being made without him.

But Draco seemed pleased. When it comes to going against Tristan, I think it’s the more the merrier.

(BREAK)

Fred grabbed the tongs and carefully pulled the crystal from the boiling cauldron, staring at it in triumph. Turning it in the light, it shimmered first silver and then a light blue and looked almost like moonstone. He’d done it… or at least he thought he had. Placing the crystal carefully in the diluted silver setting he’d had made, he used his wand to fuse stone to metal, creating an amulet one could easily wear around their neck. It wasn’t a cure to the werewolf curse, but hopefully it would be enough to stop the transformation from man to beast. He knew there wasn’t enough silver to hurt Draco and Lupin, but he was still nervous so he waved his wand once more, wrapping the exposed metal in a layer of solid gel to ensure no contact would be made with their skin.

Holding up the finished necklace, he felt extremely proud of himself. Drake had said there wasn’t a cure and maybe he was right, but Fred had found his own way around the problem… admittedly with some help, but still, for the moment he felt like the world’s smartest man. "One down, one to go." He said aloud, grinning around at his room. His eyes landed on the compact. He wanted to call Hermione and tell her of his success, but they’d already spoken once that day. She’d called early that morning to tell him of Jacinda Nicolau’s arrival at the castle, an exciting announcement indeed. And she’d already promised during that conversation to call again later after she’d actually met the girl… it would be silly for him to call her now, surely he could wait to share his glee.

He sighed and put the other cavern crystal in the concoction to brew, suddenly feeling less happy and excited. Deciding that since he’d already taken the day off from the store to ensure the amulets would be done by the weekend, he knew the best thing to do would be to spend his time usefully. So while the stone took a soak, he went in search of Willem, desperate to get going on his other problem… Elanya. He’d already done his own research on the Daily Prophet building and following his instinct, found out exactly how and where Edmund was leaving his offices. All that remained was trying to salvage this whole thing and hopefully keep it from happening at all. Fred went straight to the man’s room, knocking loudly and insistently.

"Is something wrong?" Willem asked nervously as he opened the door.

"Not this moment, but soon there will be something very wrong unless you try to help stop it." He replied.

Willem gestured him in, closing the door behind them. "Well, you’ve certainly peaked my interest. What is it that I can help with?"

Fred turned to face him, nervous but confident. "You’ve basically said yourself that your brother is beyond saving… how would you like the chance to save your niece from the same life Edmund has embraced?"

Willem sat at his desk looking stunned. "Well, now you have my full attention. Please, start at the beginning and tell me everything you know about her and how exactly I can help."

(BREAK)

Luna forced herself to remain calm and collected throughout her morning classes. There was so much more to worry about today than there was just yesterday and she’d begun to feel like she really was losing her sanity amid the growing chaos. Jacey seemed as stubborn and willful as Harry and Draco. Those boys were on a path to find trouble on their own, adding the new girl’s quite literal firepower to their arsenal would be just the thing to convince them all they could be successful. Maybe she as worried for nothing, maybe they would come up with something that got rid of Tristan without tracing it back to them… but then again, maybe this would blow up in their faces just like everything else they’ve ever tried to plan.

By lunchtime, she felt she was at the end of her rope. Both Harry and Jacey had made it clear that they intended to do something about Tristan if they had to, if they could find a way. And Draco had been determined since the first time he’d been forced against Tristan to protect Ginny. To be honest, Luna hoped they would find a way… but she also wasn’t willing to take the chance that they could either fail, or succeed and destroy themselves in the process. But how could she stop them? And should she? She needed a vision and hoped that once one of them made a definite decision, she’d receive at least a warning as to what they were up to. Of course, with Harry and Jacey working together against her, there was a good chance they’d prevent that from happening.

Ginny was the only one not to show up to lunch, she hadn’t been in class all morning… another worry for Luna to add to her list. Seeing Draco push food around on his plate as he stared forlornly off into space, she knew there was something that had upset the couple. Again she’d received no vision and for her own piece of mind, she was certain that whatever this something was they would get past it. Unfortunately, it was obviously going to be harder than the other things Draco and Ginny had fought about… she would have to be sure to keep herself open to visions concerning them as well. She didn’t care if the picture did change, the idea of those two not together was unfathomable to her at this point and Luna decided to ensure they stayed a couple no matter what, knowing they’d be better people for it. But first she’d give them time to try and work it out on their own.

"Well, you guys ready to go?" Ron asked impatiently as he pushed his empty plate aside.

Hermione looked at him incredulously. "We just sat down three minutes ago, Ron."

"Yeah, some of us like to chew our food, maybe taste it." Harry teased.

"Well hurry up." He grumbled in reply, placing his elbows on the table and resting his head in his hands.

Luna smiled to herself, knowing the reason Ron was so anxious to be done with the meal. He had been instantly infatuated with Jacey and was eager to spend more time with her. The minute she’d seen the girl, Luna knew who she was… besides a fellow coven member. She’d seen Jacey many times in the future and always beside Ron, all she had lacked was the girl’s identity. Now knowing who she was, Luna was impressed at what fate had set up for her ex-boyfriend, who also happened to be the first boy she’d ever loved. She shook her head and glanced at Parvati, once more thinking the poor girl had no idea what she was in for trying to hitch her wagon to Ron’s… but then, Luna couldn’t exactly have warned her about it. Shifting back to Ron, she smiled inwardly. At least one of them was finally going to be happy.

(BREAK)

"Everyone ready now?" Weasley asked impatiently after everyone had cleared their plates.

"Okay already, jeez Ron. What’s your problem?" Granger rolled her eyes as she gathered her bookbag.

Draco hesitated. "You guys go on ahead. I’m sure I can meet the firebug later…"

"Where are you going?" Potter asked. He’d clearly wanted him to meet Jacey before they were to all conspire together later that night.

"I have a horrible headache and don’t feel in the mood to put my best face forward at the moment." He replied aloud while silently telling the other boy his real intentions.

Potter nodded in understanding. "Okay, we’ll walk you there before we head up to the office."

Draco agreed, vaguely amused by the pained look on Weasley’s face. This Jacey girl must be some looker to get the red head so anxious. Thankfully no one asked him any more questions, simply leaving him to his own devices inside the common room. He nervously strode down the Gryffindor wing and straight up to Ginny’s door, knocking with a confidence he didn’t feel. "Go away!" She shouted through the door.

"Come on Ginny! Talk to me!" He pleaded.

"I don’t want to right now." She yelled back.

"Please! I didn’t know you then and I didn’t know myself until I knew you." He desperately reasoned. "I barely knew her! It was nothing!"

"You think it makes it better to know that?" She shouted through the door. It was clear she was right on the other side, but she still stubbornly refused to open up and face him. "You think I don’t know I’m acting irrationally? I can’t help it!"

Draco sighed, resting his head against the door. "And I can’t change the past."

"Why her?" Ginny asked softly.

"Because I had no one else." He whispered, hearing her trying to hide her quiet crying. "She was the only one there, it was a way to pass the time… to try and regain control in some part of my life. I didn’t like myself for it even as it was happening, and I never liked her at all. I figured it was better if I convinced myself I was using her before she could try and use me." He pressed his ear to the door, waiting for her reply. There wasn’t one, now he could hear nothing but silence. "Ginny?"

"I need to think for a minute…" She finally answered.

"Please, just come out and talk to me about this." He begged. He had to find a way to make her understand… he couldn’t lose Ginny because of Cho.

A loud chuckle startled him and he turned to find that idiot Colton standing outside the door to his own room. "Trouble in paradise? Can’t say I didn’t see it coming." He sneered.

"Shut up." Draco muttered, glaring at the other boy and silently daring him to make a move. He wasn’t in the mood to deal with someone so below him, and with the coming moon beginning to affect his hormones, he knew he was in the right frame of mind not to care whether or not he tore the kid to pieces.

"Oh? Are you going to make me?" Colton taunted, taking a few foolish steps closer.

Draco balled his hands into fists, struggling to hold onto his control. And then he smiled threateningly, deciding he didn’t want to control himself. "Yeah, maybe I will." He relished the sudden terror he saw pass through Colton’s eyes, took glee in the scared, stumbling steps backwards the boy took. Pansy had been wrong, Draco could still evoke fear if he really wanted to and his only wish was that she was standing here now instead of this jerk. After all, Pansy had been the one to destroy his life with a few hateful words. "What’s wrong? I thought you wanted to fight." He taunted.

Draco noted the wand now gripped tightly in the other boy’s hand, the whiteness in his eyes as they widened with the fear he couldn’t hide, the way he slightly shook with nervousness. Draco could practically smell the sweat beading at his brow. It was clear the kid realized he may have bitten off more than he could chew… but those darn Gryffindors, always having to prove their foolish bravery, it was also clear that he wasn’t going to stand down. "You don’t scare me." Colton answered steadily as he once more stood tall. But Draco could hear the other boy’s racing pulse and pounding heart.

"Prove it." He pushed for the fight. He felt dangerous right now, he wanted to act the feeling out and get rid of it… and this fool was ready to provide him the way.

Ginny’s door swung open and she emerged full of fury. "Stop it now!" She yelled at them both. "Get lost Colton, before you get yourself hurt. This doesn’t concern you."

"There’s a Slytherin werewolf banging on the door next to mine, I’d say that concerns me considering you never know what he’s up to." Colton stubbornly replied, more confident now that it was obvious Draco wouldn’t act with her present.

Ginny sighed and shook her head, turning to Draco. "Just go away right now, okay. Please… There’s no need to get yourself in trouble, it won’t help anything. You’re upset, I’m upset… give us both some time."

"Fine." He reluctantly agreed, still feeling overwhelmingly angry. But Colton had assumed correctly, Draco wouldn’t fight him with her there… at least not without a better reason. He’d known finding out the truth about Carter wouldn’t change anything despite Ginny’s certainty that it would. But one day soon he was going to have to get Colton James off his back and if meant a fight then so be it, there were far more terrifyingly impressive people to deal with.

Draco walked down the hall feeling a failure. "Hey-" But whatever taunt Colton was going to call after him was silenced.

"Shut up already! No one cares what you have to say about anything!" Ginny yelled at the other boy before slamming her door closed.

Draco continued on his way, stalking through the common room and out the door into the hallway. He was on a mission and at the moment, fear of walking the castle alone was the last thing on his mind… his rage, humiliation and terror were too great to be concerned with practicality or his own safety. He needed to find Pansy and make her understand just how scary he could still be when crossed. It was time to direct his anger at the person responsible for it. Unfortunately, after searching for more than an hour he realized she was probably avoiding him and had locked herself up in the Slytherin common room. As a member of that house, he could still go in there after her but he knew better. The knowledge of his certain fate should he go there was enough to break through his single-minded fury. But she couldn’t hide forever… and eventually she’d be alone.

(BREAK)

Hermione shut herself up in her room after dinner, eager to call Fred and update him on all things coven. She’d wanted to use the compact right after their brief meeting with Jacey but with classes, homework and dinner, she’d had to put it off. Now her anticipation for hearing his voice was so great, she nearly jumped out of her skin when he did answer. "Well hello there! I was expecting to hear from you a bit sooner but later is definitely better than never." He greeted her with a smile in his voice.

Feeling herself smile in response, she sat comfortably on her bed for the conversation. "Life got in the way. I got to meet Jacinda… or Jacey as she prefers."

"And? Is she everything we all hoped she would be?" He asked.

"I think she might be. She certainly gives me and everyone else hope for when we meet the others. At least, I sure hope they all turn out to be like her and Gabby." Hermione replied. "I liked her almost instantly. She’s very interested in learning new things, by the time we sat down with her, she’d already gone through all our ministry documents and caught herself up on the little progress we’ve made. Of course she was nice to me, but it was very clear that she was untrusting of new people. But Harry and Luna acted as if they’d known her their whole lives and she was the same with them, so I guess that’s what’s important."

"So she’ll be a good fit then." He seemed as pleased as the rest of them had been.

"I believe your brother would agree completely." She laughed, remembering the dreamy look Ron wore the entire time they were with Jacey.

"Really? Well, tell him to always reach for the stars I guess." He joked. "Or I guess I could tell him this weekend. You did say you got everyone to agree to go to the Shrieking Shack right?"

"Yes, it’s all set. It’ll be the first place we go when we get there. The only person left to convince is Lupin but I figured it be best until we actually got into the village to tell him about there being a surprise… you know Tonks will be there waiting for him and I think it’d be nice if she came along as well."

"Whatever you think is best. You’re the genius."

She smiled. "You’re not so bad yourself, making what everyone thought impossible."

"Hey, it’s not a cure remember?" He gravely reminded her. "Drake could have been right about that being impossible… especially since even Gabby couldn’t fix it for Draco. This amulet simply works with the werewolf curse, vibrating with and altering the hormones used in transformation… and they’re both ready."

"Really?" She felt excited and awed. The thought of being a part of creating something that would help so many, it made her feel very small yet extremely significant. "And you’re certain that’s it, you’ve got it?"

"Like I said before, there’s no way to be certain until Lupin and Draco slip them on and step under the full moon. But yes, I think I’ve got it… they look perfect Hermione…" His voice was shining with anxious pride and it was clear he was nervously awaiting her verdict on the matter.

"I’m proud of you Fred… even if it doesn’t work, because I know eventually you’ll figure it out. If anyone could, it would be you. Whether the amulets work or not, this is simply amazing."

"Aww shucks, you’re making me blush." He joked, though she could tell he was pleased by her words.

"So, anything else new going on back home?" She asked to change the subject, feeling odd now whenever they began to enter into playful banter. Damn Ron and his interference… there were so many questions and doubts floating through her head she didn’t know how to be normal, not around Fred and certainly not around Harry… in fact, she wasn’t even sure what normal was anymore where they were concerned. Whether Ron was lying or not was no longer the issue, he’d come in and forced her to confront thoughts and feelings she’d been fine ignoring.

"Nope all quiet on the home front." He said, suddenly sounding like he was trying to hide how tired and stressed he was.

"You sure everything’s okay? Elanya still hasn’t shown up right?" She pushed.

"Nope, no sign of her." He answered quickly. "Guess my little chat with Zander was effective." He added with a laugh that sounded forced.

She paused, knowing for sure that he was lying but unsure what to do about it. Since they’d become even closer friends, it seemed he had begun having difficulty with being able to lie to her… at least over long periods of time. Hearing how he was wavering now made her wonder just how long he’d been hiding that Elanya must have shown up again. "Something’s wrong… you sound different."

"I’m just tired. I’ve been talking to Willem all day. That guy sure knows how to talk someone’s ear off." Fred replied easily, brushing off her concern.

"Why talk to Willem?"

"He does live here you know, and he’s a nice alternative to conversations with mum and dad. Even Tonks has gone back to staying at her and Lupin’s flat. It’s a lonely place here for a guy like me, I have to talk to whoever, whenever I get the chance or I’d go crazy talking to myself." He reasoned. "Listen, I’ve got to get going. There are quite a few things bubbling around me here and as welcome a distraction as you are, I feel it best that Harry have a home to return to."

She sighed. Obviously he wanted to end the conversation before she could push further. Fine. Saturday was only two days away and it would be a lot harder to ignore her in person. "Okay, it’s better you not burn anything down. We have Jacey for that now."

"I’ll talk to you later." He said tentatively.

"Yeah, you will." She agreed.

(BREAK)

Harry stood under his invisibility cloak outside the gargoyle and quietly said the password. He winced as the statue moved aside, hoping no one had heard the sound. He waved his wand to mute any other noises he may make. Quickly ascending the stairs, he practically ran across Dumbledore’s office and knocked lightly on Jacey’s door while glancing around to be sure he hadn’t disturbed any of the portraits. Pulling down the cloak enough to reveal his head, he grinned at the startled look on her face when she opened the door. Quietly.He reminded her, opening the cloak for her to slip under as well.

Where is your friend the werewolf? She asked as they struggled to walk together.

Draco has his own cloak. He’ll meet us in that room I told you about. He replied, a little upset that all she saw in Draco was his affliction. Of course she still hadn’t met the boy in person, so to be fair, that was all she could judge him by.

They walked up to the Room of Requirement where Harry asked for a place to conspire in secret. He opened the door to find Draco already at work mixing things together at a large table set up with everything needed to brew any number of potions. "About time you got here." He mumbled as they dropped the cloak. He was clearly still in a bad mood.

"Hello. I am Jacey. It is nice to… to meet you." She said, struggling to speak like they did, without the broken translations. Harry was amused that she wanted to fit in so badly but hoped she would never lose her thick Greek accent, he enjoyed hearing the signs of other languages in peoples’ speech.

"Sorry, I was rude." Draco shook his head and came around to properly greet her. "I’m Draco and I’m not exactly at my best right now."

"Girl trouble." She smiled knowingly before taking in his frown. "Sorry, it is seeming… it seems that since coming around Harry and Luna, I am hearing things louder than before." She added in a half successful attempt at mimicking their speech patterns.

"Thanks for the warning." He mumbled and Harry felt him strengthen the walls in his mind.

"So, what is it exactly that you are planning for this Tristan." Jacey asked, walking over to look at the open book on the table. "Polyjuice potion?"

"We can’t have his disappearance trace back to us and he won’t be sent away from here unless he’s actually caught doing something. Draco thought of brewing the potion and after… getting rid of him… someone could take his place and get him caught in the act of something that would warrant expulsion."

"Preferably against someone other than us." Draco added. "That way no one came blame the headmaster of favoritism."

"Right… the only problem is the only person we know and trust to drink the potion and become Tristan is our friend Fred, Ron’s older brother. Fred had a twin named George who was murdered last year under tragic circumstances. I’m not willing to risk his life even knowing he’d gladly volunteer to do this. So that’s where we’re at… Polyjuice takes a long time to brew, and if we can’t come up with a better idea before it’s ready, we’ll have to ask Fred to help us… there’s no other choice. Mine or Draco’s disappearance would certainly be noticed." Harry sighed in frustration.

"Mine wouldn’t." Jacey said slowly.

Harry shook his head. "No, that’s not why we’re including you in this. You’re supposed to help us think of something better."

"And I am thinking there is nothing better." She argued. "I could be telling… I could tell your headmaster that I am leaving to go talk to other coven members. No one else is to know I am here anyway."

"Why not let her?" Draco said with a shrug. "She’s no more or less valuable to you than Fred, right?" He asked coldly. Clearly his break with Ginny was already affecting him negatively and Harry hoped they’d make up soon.

"You don’t want your friend in danger so why not let me?" Jacey stood next to Draco, both teaming up against him.

"You’re my friend now, right? And you’re in the coven… too much could go wrong. We need to think of something else." Harry stood his ground.

"No we don’t." Draco argued. "Her being a coven member is a better reason to send her instead of Fred. You all have the uncanny knack for survival against all odds. I don’t have to tell you the number of times you and Luna lived when it should have been otherwise. Both Jacey and Gabby were able to be among the few to survive massacres in their separate towns. Even Binns told us how the original coven beat the odds for survival until after Marquees was defeated."

"Harry, you’ve told me of the things this vampire has already done to threaten you and yours… I’ve made a promise to myself to rid the world of all vampires choosing to live their infinite lives in evil… let me help us both with our goals. He won’t be the first I’ve helped vanquish." She was convincing, they both were.

But Harry saw the thought Jacey tried to hide from him, finding his own powers also improved since her arrival. "But you’ve never come across a pure born vampire."

She shrugged. "This means nothing. We will be having… We will have a little time to figure out how to accomplish the deed properly which also means I will have time to observe the boy and his mannerisms. As far as I am seeing, it is perfect."

"Give into it Potter. This isn’t just the best option, it’s the only one." Draco said, going over to stir one of the cauldrons that had begun to bubble.

"I am willing and able Harry. I want to do this." She insisted.

"Okay. But if something goes wrong at any time we abort the mission and figure something else out. We can’t have this come back to hurt us or anyone we care about." He finally gave in, knowing if he didn’t they would simply do to him what they were all three doing to the others now, go ahead behind his back. Harry figured it was better he be kept in the loop.

"I can agree with that. I am not so willing to test Draco’s theory of our survivability." Jacey smiled at having gotten her way. "But I can never be resting easy while there is a vampire here."

"You and me both." Harry agreed. "All right then, let’s get this potion brewing and get back to our rooms before someone realizes we aren’t there."

(BREAK)

"This isn’t going to take a long time is it? I have other things to attend to while we’re in the village." Ginny said sourly as she crossed her arms. They were all riding together to Hogsmeade and she didn’t want whatever this surprise Hermione was dragging them all to interfering with her meeting. She’d already gotten Luna to agree to go with her since asking Draco wasn’t a viable option at the moment. Hopefully by the end of today, she’d figure out the reason why she was so upset and have it be over.

"Yeah, I’m supposed to meet Parvati for lunch." Ron added as he stared absently out the window.

Hermione rolled her eyes. "You could all at least act like you’re excited."

"Well, I see you’ve all planned how you’ll be spending your time." Lupin grinned. "Not plotting anything dangerous I hope…?"

"Not at all." Hermione grinned. "And actually, you need to come with us. The surprise includes you, though I figured you’d want Tonks along as well."

"Me?" He appeared taken aback though pleased.

"What is it?" Harry asked suspiciously. Ginny was surprised that she hadn’t even told him… either this secret was really big, or things between them were more strained than she’d thought.

"You’ll all see when we get to the Shrieking Shack." Hermione answered mysteriously.

Tuning them all out, Ginny snuck a glance at Draco. He’d carefully chosen to sit across from her so as not to raise any questions, but it was clear he was trying hard to give her the space she’d asked for. Judging from his expression, he appeared as miserable as she felt and she began to feel worse than she did before. She was the one making them both so unhappy and she couldn’t stop it. Being forced into such close proximity with him when he felt a million miles away was making her feel anxious and uncomfortable.

Thankfully they drove through the gates into the village and were finally let free. She stretched out her legs, eager to get the morning over with so that she could attempt to save her sanity. After collecting Tonks and filling her in on their plan, the group moved away from the shops and straight to the Shrieking Shack. She followed everyone in and was as equally surprised as they were to see Fred standing in the parlor, holding up two necklaces and grinning like a madman.

"What’s going on?" Ron asked, voicing the confusion they all felt.

Hermione gestured to Fred and he stepped forward to hand one necklace to Lupin and the other to Draco. "I do believe you both may just owe me for the rest of your lives."

"Meaning?" Lupin asked breathlessly.

"Meaning these won’t cure either of you, but if you wear them during the full moon, they may just stop you from turning." Fred replied proudly.

Ginny felt her hope dashed instantly by doubt. "What do you mean they may stop them from turning?"

"Well, it’s not exactly something I can test, is it?" He answered defensively.

"You really think it’ll work?" Draco asked quietly, reluctant to let everyone see how much the idea affected him. But she could see it in the way he now stood straighter, in the twinge at the corner of his mouth as he fought the hopeful smile, and the way he tightly clutched the amulet in his hand.

"I’d say I’m ninety-five percent sure." Fred nodded.

"I guess we’ll find out in a few days." Lupin said, looking at Tonks as she gripped his hand in support.

"You should both definitely still take the Wolfsbane, just in case." Hermione warned, looking nervous at being the one to possibly sour their excitement.

"Of course. Drake will have the first dose ready tomorrow morning to make things a bit easier for us to handle in the next few days." Lupin agreed, grinning from ear to ear. "I guess wearing these stones may help with some of those pre-change symptoms."

"Couldn’t hurt." Fred shrugged, smiling around at them in amusement. "What… you guys think just because I created the things I know how they work?"

"This is simply amazing." Tonks laughed, reaching up to kiss Lupin’s cheek.

Ginny longed to reach out to Draco, to show him she was happy for him despite what was currently going on between them. But she couldn’t bring herself to do so and she couldn’t stay here, torn between happiness and despair. "Luna and I have to be somewhere. We’ll see you guys later." She said quickly, grabbing her friend’s arm and dragging her out before anyone could question them.

"Are you okay?" Luna asked breathlessly as she struggled to keep up with Ginny’s pace.

"Fine… do you sense her here?" She asked impatiently.

"Yeah, she’s walking around the orchard waiting for it to be time. We aren’t supposed to meet her for an hour yet." Luna answered, looking a bit hurt by the sharp tone her friend had taken with her.

"I know." She sighed. "I’m sorry, I’m just anxious."

Luna shrugged and smiled in support. "So let’s go. She came all this way to see you, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind you being there a bit early." Ginny smiled back as a sudden feeling of serenity washed over her. Somehow, she knew Luna was responsible for the shift in her mood but she didn’t care, instead choosing to be grateful. They quickly made their way past the village to the small orchard that had also been walled in with the rest of the town. Luna stopped to send her mind out, wanting to pinpoint the woman’s exact location among the trees. "This way." she said, linking her arm with Ginny’s and leading the way.

They only had to walk a short distance into the trees before they caught sight of a figure ahead of them. "Laurel!" Ginny shouted, running ahead. The healer turned in surprise, smiling widely as she saw who was approaching.

Just seeing Laurel, she felt the façade of togetherness she’d wrapped herself in shatter as she came completely apart. Fighting tears of relief, she threw herself in the woman’s arms. "What happened? Are you okay?" Laurel asked, pulling away to cradle Ginny’s face, studying her eyes.

She shook her head and answered honestly. "I don’t know."

(BREAK)

"Well that was strange." Fred remarked after Ginny had left, literally dragging Luna behind her.

Ron turned to Draco, curious to know what their sister was up to. "And what was that all about?"

He shrugged, his expression carefully blank. "I guess they wanted to shop for costumes."

"I doubt Ginny would leave for that when Fred has just basically handed you both a way to stay human…" Ron said suspiciously. "I mean, it’s a pretty big moment. Are you two fighting or something?"

"Way to be observant Weasley." Draco snapped before turning to the others. "I’m going to go wait outside." He stalked from the room, slamming the front door behind him. They could hear his angry footsteps as he paced on the porch.

"Jeez Ron. They’ve been fighting about something for a couple of days now." Hermione said quietly. "I’d have thought you of all people would have noticed." Fred remained silent, knowing that he wasn’t supposed to know there were problems between Ginny and Draco. But he did, Hermione had already filled him in on her suspicions that the couple was fighting. Apparently his brother was the only one here not to notice something was off.

"What’s that supposed to mean?" Ron demanded.

"Well, you’re the one going around acting like the relationship doctor lately." She angrily replied. "Maybe you should focus on the people actually having problems instead of inventing ones between everyone else."

Lupin let out a nervous laugh. "Oh, the dramas of youth." He shook his head and grinned.

"I wouldn’t be seventeen again if you paid me." Tonks shuddered. "We’ll leave you all to sort out whatever’s going on"

Lupin stepped up to Fred, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Thank you for making an attempt at this. I hope it works, but even if it doesn’t… I think it’s wonderful that you tried." He squeezed Fred’s shoulder before putting on the amulet. Then taking Tonks’s hand, he led them to the door.

"Have fun kids." She called as they left.

"So… is it lunch yet?" Fred asked, trying to break the tension.

"What time are you going back?" Ron asked him moodily.

"It’s great to see you too Ronniekins." He grumbled in reply. "What is you’re problem? You should be in a better mood, I thought you had a date today."

"How would you know?"

Uh oh, time to think quick so as not to reveal that Hermione had told him two days before. "I ran into Padma in the village on my way up here. She told me all about how her sister suddenly went crazy enough to think you her perfect match." He added the slight insult to get back at his brother for his poor attitude.

"Whatever. I’m going to go find Parvati, you guys do whatever you want. I don’t care anymore. Ruin everything!" Ron threw his arms in the air, clearly agitated.

"What are you talking about?" Hermione demanded as she and Harry looked on in confusion.

"That’s it, Hermione. Keep pretending you don’t know what I’m talking about. If you all want to ruin your lives, that’s up to you from now on." He yelled before realizing how worked up he was becoming and calming himself slightly. "I’ll see you guys later."

"Ron!" Harry ran to stop him from walking out the door, concern for his friend overriding the sudden tension between them. "You can’t just walk around by yourself. Let us walk you to meet Parvati."

"Hey, I’m not you, Luna or Draco. No one is after me." He replied nastily.

"You’re the minister’s son, moron." Fred stood up for Harry. "There’s always going to be people after you if for no other reason than to try and blackmail dad."

"There are Aurors everywhere and I’ll stay on the main roads." Ron insisted.

"There were Aurors everywhere at the match last week too… Tristan can find ways around them." Hermione argued, crossing her arms and clearly fed up with her friend’s behavior.

"Exactly. So if he really wanted to do something, will having a walking buddy stop him? I just want to be by myself right now, alright? If something happens then it’s my own fault." And without waiting for further discussion, Ron pulled his arm from Harry’s grasp and ran out the door.

Fred sighed and shook his head. "He needs to grow up." He muttered after his brother’s departure.

"Tell me about it." Hermione rolled her eyes and collapsed on the dusty couch.

"Hey, are we leaving?" Draco asked, walking back into the house. "Because Weasley just ran off down the road."

"He’s taking some alone time." Harry answered quietly. Hearing the hopeless exhaustion in his voice, Fred glanced over to really study his friend. Harry’s eyes were tired, surrounded by dark circles that emphasized his problems sleeping. His shoulders were slumped and seemed to sag even further now that Ron was out foolishly wandering alone. He seemed sad underneath the obvious frustration he now constantly wore in his expression. Fred felt bad for him… if there was anyone who looked like they were carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders, it was Harry in that moment. And then he seemed to shake himself out of it, putting on that shell of lies telling anyone who didn’t know him that he was okay. "Hey, so let me check that thing out." He pointed to the amulet Draco still had clutched tightly in his hand.

He handed it over to Harry before going to sit next to Hermione on the couch. "Pretty amazing huh? You may have really outdone yourself Fred." Draco looked to him, trying so hard to feel the happiness he wanted to feel about this… but whatever was going on between him and Ginny was really hitting the kid hard and Fred was surprised to find that he felt bad for him too.

"Well, lucky for you and Lupin, these are prototypes. Should they work, I’m going to charge a pretty penny to everyone else who wants one." He grinned, trying to lighten the other boy’s mood a bit.

"Then I guess it’s good to know the right people." Draco answered with a half smile.

"This is impressive… how did you come up with it?" Harry asked, handing the necklace back to Draco.

"Well I brewed the potion the stones are infused with, but Hermione’s the one who figured out which crystals to use." He answered without thinking, proud of what they had accomplished.

Harry looked between them in confusion. "So you guys were working on this too? I thought you were only still collaborating on the quick cures… how on earth were you two able to work on something like this in the few times we’ve all seen each other since school started?"

Fred opened his mouth, praying that what came out would be a convincing lie. But Hermione beat him to it, clearly having prepared for this situation as she did everything else in her life. "Through Dumbledore. After they closed off most of the mail service, I asked him if he would see to it that the business letters Fred and I wrote got to each other safely… I thought I mentioned it to you."

Harry stared at her a moment and it was obvious he didn’t believe her. But he just shook his head and decided to play along. "Maybe you did. So much has happened since we’ve been here." He looked distractedly out the window. "I think we should go make sure Ron got back to the village alright."

"I’m sure he did." Hermione said, rising to her feet. "But I’ll admit, I’m a bit worried too. It wouldn’t hurt just to make sure."

They all walked onto the porch, but looking down the road that led to the shops and dozens of milling students, Fred suddenly had no desire to go down there. "You guys go ahead, I have a few things I’d like to look for in Crysta-Belle’s shop. If something’s wrong, Harry, you can call for me, right?"

"Sure." He nodded in understanding. He probably wasn’t too keen on the thought of being around a crowd either.

"Um, I think I’d rather just wait here alone until it’s time to go back to the castle, so I’ll stay too." Draco said quickly.

"Okay. Tell you what, we’ll make sure Ron is okay and then we’ll bring you guys back some lunch." Hermione offered sympathetically.

"Sounds good." Fred answered for them both. He watched as Harry and Hermione walked down the road, completely separate from each other. Though they seemed to be talking comfortably, they weren’t holding hands, weren’t acting in any way like anything more than good friends. He felt a bit of hope but quickly let it die down… he was probably only seeing what he wanted to see.

"Don’t let me stop your shopping spree." Draco said, gesturing to the house as he leaned against the railing.

"Ah, they told you about the secret shop here." He answered absently, still watching Hermione and Harry grow smaller as they walked on.

Draco sighed unhappily. "Ginny mentioned it once. I asked what she was talking about and she explained about the clue that led you guys here last year."

Hearing the distress in his voice, Fred turned his attention fully on the other boy, going to lean on the railing next to him. "So you’re fighting with my sister, huh?"

"I guess." He answered, shifting uncomfortably.

"I don’t suppose Ron’s been talking to you guys? He seems pretty intent on disrupting everyone else’s relationships lately." Fred asked, hoping it was as simple as sorting out what his brother may have said.

"No. No offense, but your brother and I aren’t exactly confidants." Draco shook his head. "I’m afraid I have no one to blame but myself and the stupid things I did back in my other life."

"Like…" He pushed and sensed the other boy’s hesitation. "Look, I’m not here to judge you… I like to think myself a tiny bit more levelheaded than Ron and I can see what a good influence you and Ginny have on each other. If being with you makes her happy and you can continue to hold onto this new personality, then I’m happy to try and help…"

Draco stared off into space, debating what to do. He must have decided the best person to help him figure out Ginny was her brother. "She found out I slept with Cho last year." He admitted quietly.

"Oh." Fred looked down. "Yeah, I can’t see information like that making her too happy. But it had to have been long before you two were together… unless Azkaban has started allowing conjugal visits."

"Of course it was that long ago… the last time was during Christmas break last year, before Ginny stabbed me." He shook his head. "Even as I was doing it I knew it was a mistake. I hated her, but…"

"Hey, I’m a guy. You don’t have to explain it to me." Fred grinned.

Draco shook his head again. "It wasn’t even that… Cho thought she could wrap every guy she met around her finger and she figured I would be the same. I guess I thought if things happened on my terms then she wouldn’t be using me, I would be using her… I would have the control. I mean everything else in my life was so far out of my control, everything I did or said or thought was because someone else told me to… It was the one place where I felt I was making my on decisions."

Fred looked down, trying to figure what he could say. "I can always say I can imagine what your life was like… the same way I can say it to Harry. Because I can picture it… but I can never feel or experience it the way you have. And neither can Ginny. There’s a difference between knowing and understanding Draco. But if you explain it to her just like you did for me, I think she’ll be able understand a little better."

"I tried… she won’t talk to me." He said sadly.

"Give her time. She obviously had something planned today and she took Luna with her… maybe she’s trying to do something to get herself into a place where she can talk to you." Fred suggested.

"I hope so." He mumbled. Then he sighed and straightened up, looking down at the necklace in his hand. "All I can say is thank you for making these amulets. It’s hard enough hanging onto myself in the days before I change, feeling like I do now it would have been impossible, even with Wolfsbane and Rowena’s crystals."

"Well, it’s still Rowena’s crystal… It’s just amplifying the potion I infused it with." Fred smiled. "And you’re welcome. It shouldn’t have happened to you, and I’m glad to attempt to find a way to right the wrong."

Draco grinned slightly. "Guess when this war’s all over, you’ll go on to be some famous alchemist. It must feel good to have a plan."

"Assuming I make it through the war." He allowed himself a moment to feel the dark thought before shaking himself out of it. "But if I do, I’m reopening the joke shop. A serious life after all of this is just not the life for me."

"That’s not so surprising, I suppose." He smirked before once more falling into his gloomy mood. "Do you think it’ll ever be over?"

"It’ll have to be sooner or later. Things can’t go on like this forever."

Draco nodded and both boys fell into a comfortable silence, each contemplating their own lives and all the ways they were going wrong. "Maybe I should have just told her about Cho in the beginning, when she first asked who else I’d been with." He sighed, at last breaking their separate thoughts.

"Why did you tell her at all?" Fred asked. "I mean I know honesty is supposed to important in relationships but I think the ‘who I slept with’ conversation is one where lies are not only expected, they’re encouraged."

"I didn’t tell her-" He paused as something down the road caught his eye. His mood instantly switched from sadly melancholy to vengeful fury. "She did." He growled out.

Fred followed his gaze and saw Pansy Parkinson walking toward them with Crabbe and Goyle in tow. He instantly felt nervous, knowing how angry Draco was at these kids… especially Pansy if she really had been the one to tell Ginny about Cho. "Put on the amulet." He suggested quietly, knowing the first batch of Wolfsbane wouldn’t be given to him until the morning.

Draco clutched the necklace in his hands before deliberately throwing it aside. "No. It’s time, they need to know who they’re really dealing with."

 



NOTE: This is the last chapter until the queue reopens after the holidays. I hope everyone has a great end of the year and thank you for reading. See you all in 2013 with new chapters!



Chapter 43: Vendettas

A/N: Welcome back! Hope everyone had a great holiday season, no matter which of the many you celebrated J Well, let’s jump back into this whole epic- you know what comes next… Read, Review and Enjoy!



After Ginny had managed to calm herself enough to feel rational, she and Laurel sat beneath one of the apple trees. Feeling that too much had happened to properly explain it all, she once more allowed the healer to link into her mind, showing all her memories- good and bad- since returning to school. Luna walked further off to pick some fruit clearly wanting to give them a bit of privacy… though she was sure to keep them in her sight while carefully remaining in theirs. "I guess things are getting dangerous around here." Laurel said absently after viewing the things Ginny had wanted to show her. She was staring off thoughtfully seeming to watch Luna dance freely yet warily among the trees.

"To say the least. I feel like I’ll never stop being on edge." Ginny grumbled.

The healer turned to her, her warm eyes carrying that genuinely friendly smile. "Is that all you’re feeling? You seemed so… frazzled… a moment ago. And I get the idea that it has more to do with this upset you’ve had with Draco than the constant danger swirling around you and your friends."

She shook her head. "I’m used to feeling scared, but when it comes to… well, I feel like the whole world has dropped out from under me and all I can do is keep flapping my arms in an attempt to fly rather than fall."

Laurel nodded. "A lot has happened, up to and including learning something less than appealing about your boyfriend’s past. I’d be worried if you didn’t feel a bit overwhelmed."

"I’m not overwhelmed… I’m completely devastated and I don’t even know why." She replied, feeling a few hot, angry tears slide down her cheek. "I have no right to feel betrayed." She added in a whisper.

"Ginny, you have the right to feel any way about anything as long as the feeling is genuine." She reached out and placed a steady hand on her shoulder. "Just because you can’t explain why you feel a certain way doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It simply means you have to take a deeper look at the situation."

"Nothing else Draco did back then bothers me!" Ginny cried in frustration.

"Doesn’t it?"

"No, I can understand that he was trying to please his father, that he felt forced into doing a lot of the things he did… But with Cho…" She trailed off, not sure what was different.

"But with Cho?" Laurel prodded, forcing her to try and understand.

"But with Cho, nobody made him sleep with her! He said he did it to use her before she used him, he said he had no one else then… he chose to be with her." Ginny sighed, upset to be upset.

"Did he?" She asked meaningfully. "Because when I watched your memories of talking to him about it through your door, it seemed to me that he was trying to explain that he had chosen to try and control his life in any way possible. Cho could have been anyone else… it just happened to be her. And is it so dissimilar a situation to your tryst with Gem last year? You claim you had been with that boy to try and make yourself feel better."

"But I only made my mistake once, Draco slept with Cho a couple of times from what I gathered when he was trying to explain. Besides, Gem isn’t Cho." She stubbornly argued.

"In terms of your world versus the one he used to live in… I think they are the same." Laurel argued back. "Gem is a perfectly nice boy by anyone’s standards I’m sure… and to those on the other, darker side, Cho is a perfectly horrible girl. Neither is outstanding, either in goodness or evilness. It’s all about perception and you’re choosing to perceive only the girl he was with rather than the reasons he was with her."

"I hate her so much." Ginny grit her teeth.

"Why should you?" She smiled. "Why give Cho Chang so much power over you? Are you really willing to let how you feel about this nothing of a girl ruin how you feel about what you have with Draco? Hate doesn’t hurt anyone but the person feeling it. Do you think Cho would be hurt to know how you feel… or would she be pleased that you’re allowing her to continue torturing you?"

She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly as she tried to take in the healer’s words. "So how do I forget?"

"You don’t Ginny. You can’t. Like it or not, Draco’s experience with Cho is one more thing that makes him who he is today. The same way all of your mistakes and successes have led you to be the person you are. And it will continue on that way until you die… it’s the same for all of us. You don’t have to like his past, you don’t even have to approve of it. But you do have to realize that without being with Cho, he could have made completely different decisions and led himself down an entirely different path."

"Now you’re starting to sound like Luna." She grumbled.

Laurel’s smile brightened. "Then she must be a very insightful and clever little girl." She joked before turning serious. "All you can do is talk to him, you owe him and yourself that much. And if you don’t like what you hear, then you can make a decision. Cutting yourselves off from each other has obviously made you both miserable, you can’t end it without talking first."

"I don’t want to end anything." Ginny whispered.

"I know you don’t. That’s why I’m trying very hard to get through to you. Whether or not you and Draco are meant to be together forever, it’s clear that he has been really good for you now… and vice versa I’m sure. Don’t be the destroyer of your own happiness."

"I don’t want to ruin myself, or our… what we have together… I just want to understand."

Laurel sighed. "But the only person who can really explain is Draco. He lived it, I’m sure he’s spent a lot of time trying to explain to himself why he did this and a lot of other things. We often tend to relive our regrets because whether we know it or not, we’re trying to figure out why we let ourselves make the mistake in the first place. And once you let him fully explain, I think you’ll see that you weren’t as different from each other last year as you both may have thought."

"I told him I loved him." Ginny blurted out.

"Did you?" Laurel smiled encouragingly. "Did you mean it?"

"I think I did… every time I said it. I didn’t even care if he said back, but he did. And I think he means it too."

"Well, then the question is- do you still mean it? Do you still love him even after learning all of his sins, his mistakes? And if he knew all of yours, do you think he’d still love you?"

She shook her head. "I want to say yes… I really think so…"

"If so, then don’t you think it’s worth talking it out with him? I can’t define love for you Ginny, if you said it then you must know what it feels like to you. If you aren’t sure then maybe it isn’t love, but this isn’t for me to judge. I can’t give you the miraculous answer that’s going to make this all better. But I can tell you what I think. I think if you can see someone at their worst, if you know all their darkest deeds and yet you still can’t bear to think of being without them and if you both make each other better people… well, I think that hints at love. So, ask yourself- what is it that you want to do about this?"

Ginny thought hard. She already felt horribly numb and lonely being so separate from Draco… was it a feeling that would pass with time and after meeting new people or was something telling her that he the only one she needed to feel whole again? She opened her mouth to share her honest thoughts on the subject only to be interrupted as Luna swept up to them, trying to hide her panic. "Sorry to interrupt, but Ginny, you and I need to go somewhere… right now."

Laurel grinned and climbed to her feet. "Go on ahead." She assured them. "I suppose it’s a good thing I rented a room at the Three Broomsticks for awhile."

"You did?" Ginny was pleased at the thought of having the woman and her comforting yet firm words so close.

"You’ve caught me on holiday from my usual practice. I figured a few weeks here on personal business wouldn’t hurt…"

She and Luna shared a confused look. "You didn’t tell my parents I requested to see you?"

Laurel shook her head. "I told you before Ginny… you’re more than a job. I want to be your friend, you… well, you just remind me of someone… a lot. I couldn’t help that girl, but I know I can help you."

"Thanks, for not telling them. I’d rather they didn’t worry." She smiled, curious about this other girl and her mysterious fate.

We have to go! Luna’s insistent voice tore through her mind. Fred is calling for help, Draco is about to destroy Pansy, Crabbe and Goyle.

"What?!" Ginny turned to her friend, startled into responding outloud to the silent message. Taking in Laurel’s confused expression, she instantly realized the mistake. "We really have to go now… can we talk again soon?"

"I’ll be here through the first week of November." The healer assured her. "Then it’s back to the real world."

Quickly saying goodbye, Ginny and Luna ran off back toward the Shrieking Shack. "What’s going on?" She demanded breathlessly.

Luna shook her head. "I don’t know. Fred just said to get there quickly."

(BREAK)

"Well, he’s in there." Harry said sullenly as he and Hermione peered through the window of the teashop, spotting Ron and Parvati at a table in the back sitting awkwardly together.

"Safe and sound." She mumbled, turning to lean against the wall with her arms crossed. "The big idiot… running off so that we all worry about him and forget what an annoyance he’s made of himself."

"What you said to him back up at the Shack… do you really think he’s going around making things up about us all to each other?" He asked as they began walking toward the Three Broomsticks to order lunch.

"Well, has he said anything to you claiming it was from me? Because he certainly decided to come talk to me on your behalf." She answered in frustration. She was clearly irritated, had finally reached some breaking point after Ron had been pushing her buttons for so long.

"Wait, what did he tell you I said?" Harry gently grabbed her hand so that she would stop and look at him.

Hermione eyed him warily. "What did he tell you I said?" She countered.

"I asked you first."

"Oh that’s mature."

"Come on Mione. What did he say to you?" He pushed.

She looked around, nervous and uncertain. "Really? You want to do this here and now?"

He shook his head. "We’ve been dancing around it for days, weeks… we have to talk about this sometime right? It can’t keep going like this… everyone is so unhappy."

"But what if Ron’s right? What if we do wind up ruining everything?" She squeezed his hand, her eyes desperately asking for answers that he just couldn’t give her.

"What if he’s wrong and by doing nothing we ruin everything?" He argued. "And no matter what happens, nothing will change the way I feel about you Hermione."

"I know. I just… I love you so much. Is it worth it to try and love someone else?" She wrapped her arms around his waist, holding him tight.

He instantly returned the embrace, fear of letting her go suddenly overwhelming him. "I don’t know." He answered honestly as they clung to each other. He took a deep breath and plunged headfirst into that place they’d both been avoiding- total openness. "But we’re both already on our way to finding out, aren’t we? And through no fault of our own?"

She laughed through her tears, squeezing her arms tighter around him. "I don’t know, maybe… but you seem more certain." She lifted her head and smiled up at him, seeming to be at once both sad and happy.

Harry! Luna! You guys better get here fast! Pansy, Crabbe and Goyle are making their way here and Draco has decided he’d like to greet them. Fred’s voice filled his head, interrupting the emotional turmoil he’d been close to unleashing within himself.

"What’s wrong?" Hermione asked, instantly concerned as she felt him tense up.

"We have to go back to the Shrieking Shack, before Draco does something he’s really going to regret." He answered, pulling away and grabbing her hand to begin running toward the brewing fight.

"Should we go get Ron?" She asked breathlessly as she tried to keep up.

"I don’t think there’s time. Let him enjoy himself with Parvati." He answered, pushing to go faster. They needed to stop Draco from self-destructing before he did something he couldn’t take back.

(BREAK)

Fred quickly scooped up the amulet before leaping off the porch after Draco, sending out a silent alert to Harry and Luna as he went. He caught up to the other boy and grabbed his arm, pointing out his new concern. "Draco wait, they aren’t alone."

Pansy, Crabbe and Goyle had stopped down the road to meet up with four others who had emerged from the trees. Troy, Millicent, Liam and Denny had joined the group and luckily, it seemed none of the Slytherins had seen them. Draco simply grinned viciously. "Good, the whole lot of them."

"Exactly." Fred argued. "All we’re missing is that Tristan guy and as they’re all gathering, he’s probably not far behind."

"I don’t care."

"Well I’m not nearly as suicidal as you seem to be."

Draco shrugged. "No one said you had to come with." And then he turned and continued down the road.

Swearing under his breath, Fred debated what to do. He’d never met Tristan Macnair, and from everything he’d heard he knew he never wanted to meet him if at all possible. But he couldn’t in good conscience let Draco do this alone… not that he was worried about the other boy being outnumbered again. This close to the full moon and with Draco fully aware of what was before him, there would be no taking him by surprise this time… he fully intended to be the hunter, not the hunted.

"Hey!" Draco shouted, successfully getting the group’s attention. Fred saw them size up the boy angrily stalking up to them before glancing past at him, Draco’s only apparent ally at the moment. Then taking in how many of them there were, they worked their slow-witted math and decided they weren’t as scared as they probably should be.

"What do you want?" Pansy sneered, stepping forward to be the voice of the dimwits.

"Your head on a silver platter." Draco growled out, stopping right in front of the girl and towering over her. Troy and Goyle stepped up behind her and Fred pulled his wand out, waving it menacingly at the two boys should they decide to intervene.

"Aww, still fighting with your Weasley? Guess she’s too disgusted to forgive you this sin, eh Draco? Imagine, you talk her into getting past all the other things you’ve done only to be destroyed by your whore-seeking libido." She seemed either unconcerned or unaware of how much trouble she was in should Draco decide to give up his control. Despite the crisp autumn air, Fred began to sweat. He hoped Harry and the others came soon.

Without warning, Draco lashed out and everyone flinched, especially Pansy. But he had reached past her on either side of her head and grabbed Troy and Goyle by their throats before lifting them off the ground and slamming their heads together. Fred winced at the sound, a loud shattering crack. Both became limp in Draco’s grasp, their heads bleeding from where they’d made contact with each other. He released them, letting the two boys fall heavily to the ground where they remained, unconscious and unmoving. So much for Hermione’s fear that Troy was being turned into some all-powerful vampire like his creator… apparently Tristan still needed to work on his new pet.

Fred watched in morbid fascination as Draco then stared down at Pansy with a wicked smile. The girl was shaking, her eyes wide and nervous. It was clear she nor the others had actually expected a retaliation… but they weren’t dealing with Harry this time, they were dealing with one of their own, someone who grew up being told and believing that it was always an eye for an eye. If they had expected Draco to have turned into a Harry Potter double now that he’d joined their side, they were about to find out just how sorely mistaken they had been.

"What… what are you doing?" Pansy sputtered out.

"They had that coming. That and a whole lot more. As do you three." He paused to look at Crabbe, Liam and Denny who were all but shaking next to Millicent. Then he turned his attention back to Pansy, still wearing that evil smile that made even Fred uncomfortable. "But they can wait, so long as they stay out of my way now."

Fred cautiously stepped forward and placed a hand on Draco’s shoulder. "Hey, come on. Remember she’s a girl… you scared her and probably the rest of them from the looks of it… let’s just go."

He shrugged him off, never moving his eyes off Pansy. "Go ahead if you don’t want to stay. There’s a reason you weren’t cut out for Slytherin, Fred, I understand. But this all ends today one way or another."

"I’m sorry." Pansy whispered.

Draco shook his head and laughed. "No you’re not. But you will be."

Fred looked desperately down the road, searching for any sign of their friends. Hey, you guys better hurry! Things are getting serious pretty quickly up here. He thought out to Harry and Luna. He was ready to defend Draco if necessary, but what was he supposed to do if Draco was the one doing all the damage?

(BREAK)

He was alive, alert, focused in on his prey. Draco wanted them all to suffer for what they’d done to him. Knocking Troy and Goyle out had been immensely satisfying… but they weren’t his main focus. He’d already healed from their wrong against him but the wound Pansy had inflicted was still a wide, gaping hole, hemorrhaging pain and despair. If he couldn’t heal, then he’d certainly destroy the tumor that had caused his suffering. "Okay, I’m not sorry." She said slowly, obviously trying to figure a way out of this. But she wasn’t that smart and she probably knew it. "But what did you expect me to do? You betrayed us first Draco, remember?"

He shook his head. "You shouldn’t have taken it so personally. It had nothing to do with you, it was my father and Voldemort I turned against. You’re the one who decided to stick your nose in. What did you expect me to do? Sit there and take it?" In his fury, he took another step closer and was satisfied to see her fearfully stumble as she backed away. "What’s the matter? Thought I wasn’t so scary anymore… I thought you said I lost the ability to provoke fear." he taunted.

"Draco!" He heard Fred’s warning but ignored it this time.

"Come on Pansy, if you can dish it out, you can certainly take it back." He pulled out his wand, holding onto that small part of his humanity that told him it was wrong to strongarm a girl… but he had no qualms about cursing her, he just needed to decide which spell was most fitting.

"Do something, would you?" She demanded, turning to Crabbe, Denny, Liam and Millicent. After watching Troy go down, someone they obviously considered stronger than them after so much time spent alone with Tristan, they had wisely decided to stay back and pretend to be part of the scenery.

Fred raised his wand. "Go ahead, do something." He antagonized. Clearly he didn’t know whether he wanted to stop the fight or help it. Still, Draco was grateful to have his support if not his approval.

Draco! Stop whatever you’re doing! Luna’s demanding voice tore through his head. We’re almost there!

He ignored her. He didn’t care if Luna disapproved either. All he cared about was proving that he wasn’t going to pushed around and that the punishment for destroying his happiness was going to be tenfold. "You should have stayed out of it." He again scolded Pansy, bringing the focus back where it should be. "I had nothing against you, you should have kept it that way." He waved his wand and shouted his favorite hex, leaving the girl covered in boils and blisters. She dropped her wand in shock and fell to her knees before him and Fred, howling in pain as her sores burst, oozing pus. But more continued to appear in their place and she desperately searched for her fallen wand in order to end the hex and her suffering.

Fred stepped back in disgust as she groped at their feet. "I think you made your point." He said quietly, obviously imploring him to make it stop, though he clearly wasn’t going to be the one to step in and interfere. It seemed Fred understood the need for revenge, he just wasn’t too keen on watching it.

Draco waited until she found her wand before stepping on it, breaking it in two before her eyes. "You bastard!" She screamed at him. "Make it stop!"

He ignored her and looked at the others huddled together watching the scene with wide eyes, scared yet fascinated by what they were witnessing. "Well, any of you want to step up next?" He challenged, feeling dangerous, mean and deadly. He could smell their panic, hear their thundering hearts. The wolf in him was pleased, the prey was aware of the predator and that meant the game was afoot. He tensed, preparing himself should they decide to flee.

"Draco!" Someone very familiar screamed. The wolf fought the boy, intent on instinct and revenge.

"Give me the blasted amulet." He demanded of Fred through gritted teeth. He had no other idea as to how to pull himself back when he’d been so close to the edge.

Fred immediately handed it over and Draco slipped it over his head, feeling a sense of calm rationality come over him. He was in his own world, fighting the demon within himself. Vaguely he could hear people arguing. And then she was there, her hands on his face forcing him to look at her, a blurry image that was too close to comprehend. She was begging him to come back, to let the wolf sleep. Blinking rapidly, his eyesight returned to normal… he hadn’t realized his pupils had grown so small and focused. He breathed deeply, trying to will away the intense hatred he’d been feeling a moment ago... the last thing he wanted was to not be in control of himself and wind up hurting the wrong people by mistake. He could never live with himself if that happened.

(BREAK)

Ginny raced forward, not caring that Luna was falling behind. If Draco really was face to face with Pansy and the rest of the Slytherin bullies then she knew he wasn’t in the right frame of mind to think rationally… and that was her fault. Her own uneasiness had led them both astray, but it had made him downright vengeful. Pansy deserved whatever she got, but Ginny would be damned if she let Draco be the one to get in trouble for the girl’s meeting with karma.

At last reaching the path to the Shrieking Shack, she prepared herself for whatever she may find. But as she rounded the bend, she realized there was nothing that could have prepared her for the sight. Fred and Draco were standing together, looking down in disgust as Pansy writhed on the ground covered in oozing sores, begging Draco to make it stop. A few feet from her, Troy and Goyle lay unconscious on the ground, both appeared to be bleeding from their heads. Beyond them, Millicent, Crabbe, Denny and Liam all stood huddled together looking like they wanted to run but were frozen in place by their fear.

"Well, any of you want to step up next?" Draco asked the Slytherins, raising his wand at them.

"Draco!" Ginny yelled for his attention, to show him that she was there for him and there was no need to continue on with this. Luna came to a stop next to her, panting and out of breath as she finally caught up.

"Well… that’s… good." Luna wheezed, pointing out Draco as he took the amulet from Fred and put it on. "Wait for it to work!" She tried to grab Ginny’s arm to keep her from running into the fray.

Pulling free, she ran forward only to be stopped again. Fred threw himself in her way, trying to corral her from the danger. "Make sure it works first!" He insisted, mirroring Luna’s concern.

"He won’t hurt me." She said confidently. She faked left and ducked to the right under him, running right up to Draco who was still staring intently at his intended victims as he fought some inner battle. Without thinking she grabbed his face in her hands and forced him to look at her. His eyes were different, more wolf than human. "Come on Draco, you’re in there. I’m here so you can come back. Let the wolf sleep for a few more days." She remained calm, keeping her words clear and concise with the hope of breaking through his anger. She could sense Fred and Luna behind her, could hear Harry and Hermione arriving and uncertainly joining to watch the show. She ignored it all, trying to focus only on Draco. He blinked several times before she felt that he was really seeing her, his eyes once more filled with that self-awareness that made him human. He took a deep breath and then another. Then he pulled away from her and sighed. "Okay." He said quietly, waving his wand and ending his hex and Pansy’s suffering.

No one said anything, there was nothing to be said at the moment. No one felt sorry for Pansy, not even her own friends. It was Draco everyone present was worried about, whether it be concern or fear that drove them to hope that he had returned to normal.

"Well, well." Tristan stepped from the trees, an amused grin across his face. "That was very interesting to watch."

Draco made to remove the amulet, but Ginny reached over to stop him, shaking her head slightly to indicate that this wasn’t the time. He looked unhappy but ultimately didn’t fight her and they both raised their wands along with the rest of their friends, ready to defend themselves if necessary.

(BREAK)

Ron felt anxious, nervous, and like he didn’t want to be there. Parvati was chattering away, happily holding up both sides of the conversation as he wallowed in his own misery. He should be thrilled that he was sitting there with a girl who so clearly liked him and instead he was meditating on how much closer his friends all seemed to switching partners. It was as if his meddling had affected them in the exact opposite way he’d intended and all he could do was sit there and figure out where he’d gone wrong. It had to be when he talked to Hermione… she was so much sharper than Harry or Fred, not that they were exactly morons- just less observant. Going to her had been one step too far, he should have stopped with the boys and let their own sense of guilt work on them. But he just had to push his luck and go after Hermione too. He should have known he wasn’t clever enough to manipulate her. Of course he also hadn’t counted on just how honest she and Harry were willing to be with each other. It was almost as if they really did want to split up but where just unsure how to do so.

Faking a laugh along with Parvati as she told some story he wasn’t hearing a word of, Ron decided he couldn’t do this anymore. He couldn’t go on worrying about his friends making everything different… it was starting to affect his own happiness. In time he’d accepted that Harry had bested him with Hermione, surely he could eventually be okay with the idea of his friend also getting to have Luna. And so what if Fred came in and swooped up the girl he’d long ago wanted as his own, surely he could accept that his brother had also bested him where Hermione was concerned. So what if she had looked past him twice now for those closest to him. So what if Luna had been wanting Harry over him for awhile now. He had Parvati to date… and he had Jacey to get to know.

The firestarter seemed to have decided he was okay, and the more he went with Harry and Luna to visit, the more they seemed comfortable in each other’s presence. Ron had to admit, there was something about the girl (beyond her appearance) that was drawing him to her… and thankfully Jacey seemed to feel the same way. She smiled at him every time she saw him, a different smile from the one she used with the others- at least he thought so. And the last time they’d gone to see her, she’d chosen to sit right next to him though all that was discussed were coven topics. Still, he was grateful to be a part of the planning involved in searching out the others.

"Are you okay?" Parvati broke into his thoughts, placing her hand over his.

"I’m fine, why?" He shook his head and focused in on her.

"You just suddenly got this big grin on your face and started staring off." She said, looking worried yet amused.

He smiled and squeezed her hand. "Just thinking about something good."

"Sorry if I’m boring you, I know I’m babbling on." She said, stifling a yawn.

"I’m not at all bored, though you seem weary of me." He joked.

She shook her head and smiled back at him. "Not at all. I just haven’t been sleeping well, I’ve been having awful nightmares. When I’m too tired, I tend to babble and chatter."

"What kind of nightmares?" He asked in concern. He took the time to really look at her, notice her. Her eyes were puffy and tired, despite the make-up she used to try and hide the full extent of her exhaustion. She was resting her head in her free hand, as if it were too heavy to hold up on it’s own, and her entire expression seemed to be tinged with weariness.

"Oh just what could be expected with everything that’s been going on." She waved it off as no big deal.

"Like what though? You know, sometimes talking about them makes them go away… gives them less power, you know, if you confront them during the day." He offered.

Parvati grinned wider, obviously pleased to have his full attention. Then she turned thoughtfully serious. "Well, what with those house elves being killed in the common room and having someone like Tristan walking around…" She stopped and shook her head. "No, it’s too ridiculous to discuss. You’re right, it all seems so silly in the daytime."

"Nothing about Tristan is silly." Ron said seriously. "He hasn’t been trying to talk to you or Padma has he?"

"Of course not. We’re too creeped out to go anywhere near that guy." She assured him. "Besides, his little friend Troy bothers us enough for the both of them."

"Troy?" He felt his concern double.

"Yeah, the little creep keeps trying to talk to us but Padma and I pretty much ignore him." She insisted, wrinkling her nose at the thought of the boy bothering her.

"Well, keep staying away from him. He spends too much time with Tristan for my liking." Ron grumbled, releasing her hand to grab his teacup and angrily take a sip. It seemed these guys were trying to invade the lives of anyone even associated as a friend of either Harry or Draco.

"I’ll say. He’s even starting to act like Tristan." Parvati replied absently. "Maybe that’s why he’s started showing up in my nightmares."

"Him? I would have thought Tristan…"

She shook her head. "So would I. But Troy is the one I see stalking me at night." She gave an involuntary shudder.

"Well then, it’s a good thing he’s been kicked out of our dorm and back into regular classes." He said, picking up a menu to order.

"I’m not so sure it’s enough to keep him out though." She replied, staring forlornly down at her own menu. Ron reached out to once more hold her hand and smile in reassurance. If she was worried about it, then he would see to it that Troy was unable to gain reentry to their dorms.

(BREAK)

Harry had never been so uncertain about what to do in his entire life. Three people lay on the ground because of Draco, two unconscious while bleeding from the head and one still trying to recover from the side effects of the hex she’d been under. And now before he could make sense of it, there was Tristan, grinning like a madman as he too surveyed the group. "Well, well. That was very interesting to watch."

"You mean you were there the whole time?! You could have helped me?!" Pansy screamed her outrage from the ground.

Tristan looked down at her, completely disinterested. "Why would I? You’re the one who made yourself such an easy target. Draco had a point, you should have kept out of things if you didn’t want to play rough."

"Get out of here." Draco demanded, the fury that had never been completely quelled once more rising. Harry knew he was itching to take off the amulet and face down the vampire, but being unsure of how that would end he also knew he couldn’t let it happen.

"Or else?" Tristan asked calmly.

We have a plan. Stick to it. You’ll have your chance with him soon enough.

He reminded Draco and watched as the message sank in. Thankfully the other boy decided to hold his tongue and simply took to glaring at everyone, clearly miserable to be put on a leash, for lack of a better analogy.

"I thought so. All bark and no bite." Tristan taunted.

"He did pretty well a moment ago." Fred replied defensively.

"Against them? Who cares? They are nothing." He laughed as Troy groaned, the first to come back into the waking world.

"What the hell happened?" He sat up looking dazed and completely confused.

"You proved how weak you are." Tristan sneered at him before returning his attention to the rest of them. "Imagine the story I’ll have to tell the headmaster… Draco Malfoy and former student Fred Weasley walked up to a group of students minding their own business and started a fight. Guess this is it for you here Draco. You’ll be expelled and I’ll be here to watch over those you’ll leave behind."

"Go ahead." Harry at last broke his stunned silence and stepped in front of Draco, hoping to keep his friend from attacking. "To tell that story, you’ll have to explain why Troy, Crabbe, Goyle, Denny and Liam- five students currently under house probation- have broken that probation and come to Hogsmeade. I’m sure the Headmaster would be equally interested to know not only how they got here, but why they came. And all five would certainly be expelled as well… you heard Dumbledore last time, if they so much as stepped into the courtyard they were gone."

Tristan narrowed his eyes and regarded him closely before looking around at his comrades in disgust. "You see!" He shouted at the Slytherins. "Your own stupidity and carelessness is a constant burden to me!" Then he turned back to Harry. "I’d say attacking students is a bit more serious than sneaking out. I’m willing to lose them to also lose Draco. Think of it as a kindness, I could just kill him if he weren’t so potentially useful."

"I didn’t see him attack anyone." Hermione said smugly, stepping up next to Harry. "For all we know, Pansy, Troy and Goyle got into a fight among themselves and then you all decided to blame Draco. After all, the in-house fighting between the Slytherins is well documented and there are some on our side in the education department who would see it our way. I mean, it does seem like you’re trying to get back at Draco for helping accuse you of certain misdeeds last weekend."

"Looks like it’s your witnesses versus ours." Harry added. "And since more than half of them aren’t supposed to leave the castle, I think we’re going to look more credible."

For a moment, Tristan seemed upset. Then he grinned. "Ah well, there’s more than one way to skin a dog. After all, I was only trying to take advantage of an opportune situation. I guess everyone here will just call this a draw… no way to implicate one side without bringing down the other."

"But-" Pansy started to protest. Tristan silenced her with a look.

"What happened to you, you brought on yourself. Actions have consequences, be prepared or suffer." He told her harshly. "We have other things to take care of anyway, let’s go." He ordered all of his followers.

"Go where?" Harry demanded, unable to stop himself.

Tristan merely shook his head and smirked. "I don’t think so. I already gave you all this little episode… the next will be mine."

Troy tentatively stumbled to his feet, rubbing his head. He seemed surprised to discover that he was bleeding, though Harry noted that the wound already seemed to be healing over. It may be too late… Tristan may not be the only vampire they had to get rid of. "What about Goyle?" Troy asked, shaking off his confusion.

Tristan shrugged. "Pick him up and carry the oaf with us." He watched as the other Slytherin boys came forward to hoist up their friend before retreating into the trees with Pansy and Millicent. Then he turned back to them. "And don’t try to follow us. I will use whatever means necessary to keep my secrets."

Harry watched along with the others as the vampire also disappeared into the thick forest. "What do we do?" Fred asked uncertainly, looking like he wanted to follow despite Tristan’s threats.

"Stay here." Harry answered decisively. "The last thing we need is to try and defend ourselves in there, it’s hard enough out in the open when there’s nowhere for them to hide."

"But they could be up to anything." Draco protested, also obviously eager to follow those he considered to have escaped his wrath.

Again Harry silently reminded him that they had their own plan for getting rid of Tristan and then finding out what he and his cronies were all up to before turning to address the others. "Whatever they’re planning, at least we know for sure they’re all working together. We’ll just have to be extra careful from this moment on."

"You seem awfully calm about all this." Luna said, her voice dripping with suspicion.

He shrugged. "What else can I do? We can’t chance following them and Tristan getting trigger-happy with either his wand or his teeth. There are too many of us that they are specifically targeting, it’s not smart to try anything else now."

"How unusually rational of you." She replied, still unconvinced by his reasons for not reacting with more passion as he would have had he not already decided how and when to rid themselves of the danger.

"Speaking of being more careful and rational, where’s Ron?" Ginny asked, looking around.

"Last we saw, he was at the teashop with Parvati." Hermione answered. "He’s still perfectly fine I’m sure."

"Hey, I’m just going to go back to the castle the secret way, alright?" Draco said suddenly. He wasn’t looking at any of them and clearly didn’t want to stick around long enough for anyone to question his actions that day. He seemed sad, furious and defeated all at the same time. "I don’t want to be here anymore." He quietly added before turning and walking back up to the Shrieking Shack without waiting for a reply.

"Let him go." Fred told them all quietly. "It was pretty intense a few moments ago, I can’t imagine how he was feeling about it… let him be alone for awhile."

"What happened?" Ginny demanded of her brother before anyone else could.

He sighed and shook his head. "We were standing on the porch talking quite amicably when all of the sudden he saw Pansy, Crabbe and Goyle. And then it was like a switch flipped in his head and there was no talking him out of going down there. He said it was time they knew who they were dealing with… I guess one can only take so much before they crack."

"But he was wearing the amulet when Harry and I got here." Hermione said.

"That was only after Ginny showed up." Fred corrected. "At first he threw the thing aside completely, he had no desire to control himself. So I grabbed it and followed him, in case he needed help… or in case they eventually did. But then Millicent, Denny and Liam showed up with Troy and I thought for sure things would get out of hand but…"

"But what?" Harry pushed.

"But Draco pretty much dominated the situation the whole time. First thing he did was knock Troy and Goyle together… I thought for sure he’d cracked their skulls open it was so loud. And then he just went off on Pansy… she made some snide comment and he showed her he wasn’t going to take it. It was pretty gross, all those things all over her, just oozing and pus-"

"Okay, we get the idea." Luna interrupted, looking sickened. "We all caught a glimpse of it, it was bad."

"Then Ginny showed up and he asked for the necklace… I guess she helped him fight down the wolf part of him that was ready to tear them all to shreds and you all know the rest." Fred concluded, looking tired yet exhilarated.

Ginny shook her head angrily. "I’ll see you all back at the castle." And then she ran off after Draco, leaving Harry, Hermione, Luna and Fred alone together.

"Now what?" Hermione asked uncomfortably, as they all tried not to look at each other.

"I guess we should go back to the village, let Ron know what he missed out on." Fred suggested. "That’ll be fun. We all know what an even temperament he has and how much he enjoys missing out on the action." With no better idea forthcoming and the tension between them all so thick it was blinding, they all began the journey back into town.

"We should also figure out how to explain to our chaperones that Draco and Ginny won’t be joining us on the way back." Harry said to break the silence.

Fred grinned. "Give me awhile to mull it over, I’ll come up with something for you guys to tell them."

(BREAK)

Once in the house, Draco raced to the secret door and ran full speed through the tunnel, eager to get back and lock himself in his room. He was near the end when his oversensitive hearing picked up a voice calling out to him. Stopping in his tracks he strained to hear better… it was Ginny, yelling his name as she hurried to catch up with him. Slowly, uncertainly, he began walking toward her. Why had she come after him? Had what she seen been enough to finally make her call it quits between them for good? Had he finally proven to her that he was unacceptable? If that were the case, he didn’t want to hear it. But there was that small glimmer of hope that drove him forward, that slight chance that she would tell him she just needed more time and from there anything was possible. He would do whatever it took to prove whatever she felt he needed to prove to her.

He saw her wand light growing brighter and stopped, unable to go further, stuck in place as his fate hung in the balance. At last she rounded the corner and they came face to face, with several feet separating them. He didn’t dare speak, fearing anything he said would send her running away. They stared in silence, studying each other as if they were meeting for the first time. At last she sighed. "I talked to Laurel today."

It wasn’t what he’d been expecting. "Oh?" He wasn’t sure what she wanted from him, but as soon as he figured it out, he was willing to give it.

"I don’t care about what happened today, Draco." She went on, taking a deep breath as she prepared herself to say whatever it was she needed to tell him. "You were angry at all of them, you have the full moon bearing down on you and the way things are between us certainly couldn’t have helped how you were feeling. So you see, that whole situation and things like it, I can understand all of it. Because I know you and because I trust you and who you say you want to be. But that’s also why I can’t understand your decision to be with Cho… I know what you said, please, help me understand it. I think I do, but I… I just need for you to tell me."

He shook his head sadly. "Don’t you remember how you felt last year? So alone, so unhappy and uncertain of everything you were doing… just take that and multiply it by ten and that’s how I felt Ginny. You had friends and family you could have turned to if you had decided to. But I really was alone, there was no one I could have gone to with my doubts, I would have been punished for doubting in the first place. I was stuck between two worlds, neither of which I felt I belonged to, neither of which I felt even wanted me. Pansy, Crabbe, Goyle… they were nothing, just people I had to keep conning so that they wouldn’t turn on me. Cho… she was smart, she was aware but as I was learning she was also dangerous. Every misdeed only seemed to strengthen her resolve to be a part of Voldemort’s side and it was almost like she was going insane before my eyes. She thought she was so cunning, and already my father was prouder of her accomplishments than mine, thought her more capable. I hated her more then than I did before I knew she was on our side."

"Then why?" Ginny asked, her eyes pleading with him to make this better.

All he could do was continue to be honest. "Because I hated myself too." He said quietly. "I hated feeling both used and useless. I hated feeling an unwanted burden, and I hated feeling like Cho was more successful at adapting to the life in a few months when I’d been struggling to fit in for years. We were in the Room of Requirement, plotting and drinking… she thought she was so irresistible. She tried using her charms to seduce me and I fended her off to go pass out in the hallway, where you found me the next morning. After that, she kept thinking she could find a way to control me, to use me like everyone else… I couldn’t do anything about Lucius or Voldemort, but with Cho I felt like I could somehow control things. I figured that if things only happened on my terms then I would be the one controlling her, that maybe I could have one area of my life to call my own. It was only after I turned on her that I realized either way, she’d gotten what she wanted and I was never in control of anything. I was a puppet to them all, something to be paid attention to when convenient and then discarded to the side until once more proving useful. I hated her, I hated myself, I hated being with her even while it was happening. I guess… I guess I thought I deserved it, to feel so low… or maybe that I thought I just didn’t deserve better."

She closed her eyes, nodding her head slightly. "Last year, at the costume ball… I had gone with a boy named Gem. I didn’t know more than his name and I didn’t care to know more, didn’t even want to be there with him. All I could see was everyone else so happy around me, while I was stuck pretending so that no one would see how horribly miserable I was… because I knew how I was feeling was wrong and I wouldn’t be able to explain myself to them."

"I don’t need you to tell me Ginny." He took a step forward before remembering that she wasn’t quite his to comfort at the moment.

"Yes I do. We need it all out in the open, so nothing will ever shake us like this again. You just bared out your weaknesses, I have to bare mine." She opened her eyes and stared at him with such self-assuredness that he couldn’t bring himself to argue. "You were right, I did feel all those things last year… but I guess being so happy with you the last few months, I forgot what it was like. I have to tell you now, so that you will know that I really did hear you, so that we can both trust that this is something I can understand after all."

"Whatever you think you need to do, I just want you to know I don’t need you to." He said quietly.

She nodded and went on with her story anyway. "Fred and George brought the fun wherever they went and that night neither had a care in the world. Ron was off wooing Luna and Harry and Hermione were so sickeningly involved in each other… they were all so distracted it was easy to hide how jealous I was of their happiness- Harry and Hermione especially. Seeing them together was confronting my hope that they’d fizzle out and give me the chance to pick up the pieces. It hurt and at the same time, I knew it was my own fault. And Neville, I had found out too late that Neville had liked me and all I could think was how different it could be if he was alive, if I’d given him a chance. Between him and Harry, my head was spinning with regrets and I couldn’t have thought clearly if I’d wanted to."

She paused to take a deep breath, shaking her head sadly as she continued on. "Then Cho made a scene with Harry and they all went to take care of it. I was left feeling so alone in a room full of people… I felt sad, and angry and dangerous. I wanted to do something reckless, something wholly unconnected to any of my friends, something that was just for me. Gem was there, and he seemed to like me so much… I was mad at myself as soon as it was over, for letting myself go so far with someone I didn’t care about at all. A little while ago, Laurel brought up my decision to be with Gem. She tried to point out to me that people do things they often regret when we’re feeling not in control of ourselves. I brushed it off, but now I know I was being stupid, blaming you for something very similar to what I did. I got hung up on the fact that it was Cho instead of the fact that you were hurting."

Draco looked at her uncertainly, desperate to find a conclusion to this debacle. "I don’t know what you want me to say, what you want me to do… just tell me and I’ll say it, I’ll do it… because it was the same for me Ginny. Being with you, I forgot the true depth of unhappiness I used to feel and I can’t stand being reminded of it anymore."

"I can’t stand it either. That’s why we needed to tell each other, to really know that being apart is hurting us as badly as we were back then, when we were both making terrible mistakes." She smiled tentatively, now seeming nervously unsure.

He felt himself fill with hope, a bright balloon expanding in his chest to the point of bursting, making it hard for him to breathe. "So… what are you saying?" He asked tightly, scared to hear her answer.

"I’m saying that all happened so long ago… and this is right now…" She smiled more seductively, using his past words to her. She walked up to him almost shyly, nervously running her fingers up his chest and wrapping her arms around his neck. "And right now, in this moment, I know that I love you and that’s all I need to know… right now."

Draco remained stiffly standing with his arms at his sides, unwilling to believe that he could be so fortunate. He silently thanked Fred, more grateful than he could describe that he was wearing the amulet and that in these lesser days before the moon it seemed to work, letting him maintain a weak yet firm hold on his senses. "Right now… but what about tomorrow? Could you still love me then?"

"Ah, but that’s the beauty of right now!" She laughed, once more using his past words. She ran her hands through his hair and he savored the feeling. "Eventually every minute of tomorrow will be right now." She added in a whisper.

"You seem so sure…" He hesitated. "I love you Ginny, I so want to believe that this is over, that we’ll stop doubting each other and ourselves."

"I’m ready to live in the moment and leave everything in both our pasts behind." She assured him, once more wrapping her arms around his neck before pulling herself close against him "From now on, nothing bad exists for us before right now… except the good memories of course… and the dirty ones…" She added with a seductive wickedness. "Give into it Draco, stop doubting because I have, I promise."

And so he did give in, finally allowing himself to wrap his arms around her waist, lifting her off her feet as he crushed her as close against him as possible. She had been anticipating his kiss, welcoming his lips with the same hungry need that was currently coursing through him and making it clear that she had missed him just as much as he’d missed her. His desire for her swirled within him and he felt the amulet send another wave a calmness through him to soothe the more animalistic reactions that had been rising up. But nothing could quell that electrically desperate need flowing between them, feeding both of their actions and he fully gave into it, ready for whatever was to come.

(BREAK)

Ginny knew she was making the right decision and in that moment she’d never been more pleased to have faced a problem rather than run from it. Though it had been only days, it felt like a lifetime since the last time she’d felt this close to Draco and now she knew she never wanted to go through that again. Though his coming change may be helping to fuel his passions, she was certain her own was on the same instinctual level. She didn’t care where they were, who could find them. Nothing else existed but her desire.

She broke the kiss and pulled at his jacket, eager to feel closer to him. After freeing himself of the cumbersome garment Draco tore open hers, completely unconcerned with mundane things like buttons. She felt her eyes widen with curious excitement and he stared down her, his eyes full of lust and a wolfish smile across his face. She smiled back before grabbing his face to once more capture his lips. His hands were tangled in her hair, protecting her head as he pushed her back against the tunnel wall, loose dirt crumbling down on them. Wrapping her arms around him and pulling him closer, she could feel his heart racing against hers as she ran her hands across his back, digging in her nails as his lips traveled down to her neck.

They could have been down there for hours, days, years… time ceased to exist from that moment on and all that remained was them and their desire to please each other, ending at last in a heavenly culmination which they reached together.

(BREAK)

Monday’s classes flew by in a blur until finally Ron was able to find a few hours to call his own. Of course he had to wait until after dinner and skip out on helping Susan and Harry with their DA try-outs in order to find those few hours. But he knew what he wanted to do to fill his time and had argued his case well. "I can’t believe Harry agreed to let you do this without him." Luna marveled as she followed along toward Dumbledore’s office.

"He’s too involved in the idea of helping set up DA." He answered, gripping Mykele’s ring tightly in his hand. Truthfully he couldn’t believe Harry was trusting him to do this either, though he hadn’t been completely surprised when his friend insisted that Luna go with him. After all, Ron wasn’t the most reliable when it came to remembering information so having a second person there to hear the conversation wasn’t such a bad idea. And this could be important- at the very least, it was an excuse to see Jacey again. "You know Harry when he gets an idea in his head." Ron went on as they approached the gargoyle. "Besides, he doesn’t care who gets the information as long as he gets told everything."

"True enough." She shrugged, once more sinking unhappily into herself.

"You okay?" He asked, at last noticing how hollow she seemed to be.

Again she shrugged. "Nothing that can’t be solved with time and/or distance I’m sure… depending on what happens that is."

Everything about her was dimmer- that positive aura of light that used to pour out of her was now dusted gray with weary unhappiness. It appeared Luna was resigned to dealing with however she was feeling, as if she knew there was nothing she could do until the solution presented itself. And since he had an inking that he knew what the solution was, he was now awash in guilt for the part he played in trying to derail it. And in addition to witnessing the affect this was all having on Luna, Harry and Hermione had been obviously and deliberately avoiding each other since returning from Hogsmeade on Saturday evening, making Ron start to think that his plan had done far more damage than good.

He was at a loss for what to do… clearly his best bet was to do nothing and hope everything sorted itself out. They stepped onto the stairs together and he tried to put it all out of his head. He had to focus- they weren’t just visiting Jacey, they were there for a reason. Opening the door to the office, they found her lounging on the couch, reading one of the books from a stack next to her on the floor. She smiled as she sat up to greet them. "Hello Luna and Ron! What a great surprise."

"How are you today?" He asked, bravely sitting next to her on the couch… though he did catch the sly smile Luna shot him as she sat in the chair across from them.

"I am completely bored. But I suppose this is to be expected when everyone I know here has to attend classes." Jacey sighed, closing her book and putting it aside.

"Well, we were hoping to talk to you about one of your ancestors… to see how much you may know about him and something he created." Luna said, getting right down to business. Usually she was all about being polite and friendly, apparently she wasn’t in the mood to act normal tonight.

"Him? Then you are not meaning Alexandra…" She looked back and forth between them, confused as to why they could be interested in anyone but the original coven member she was descended from.

"No, we’re talking about Mykele." Ron clarified.

Recognition flashed in her eyes and she smiled. "Ah yes, stories of him used to amuse me very much. My Papou, my grandfather on my mother’s side, he passed this blood onto us… well he knew a great deal of our ancestors, said it seemed sometimes that his generation was the last to care about continuing these stories of the greatness running through our families."

"Wait," Luna interrupted. "how could he know anything about what other coven descendants of his generation were telling their children?"

"He tracked them all down, it took him nearly twenty years but once he found them, he kept tabs on them, their children, and their grandchildren… all without them knowing." Jacey answered with a shrug. "When he noticed that most of the parents and siblings of our generation of coven descendants were dying or being killed off, he figured something big must be on its way."

"So, are you telling us that your grandfather had not only a complete list of everyone we’re looking for but everything about them including their exact location?" Ron asked in disbelief. "Why wouldn’t you mention that sooner?"

Her face turned hard. "You have said it yourself already. He had such documents. They were destroyed along with everything else in our house when he set it on fire to try and kill the vampires that were inside tearing apart my father."

"I’m sorry." He said quietly, unsure what else to say.

"What do you mean all the parents and siblings were being killed off?" Luna asked.

Jacey shook her head. "I don’t know, but it seems to be true does it not? Harry has told me his parents were killed by Voldemort, and you said yourself that your brother was murdered and an attempt was made against your father, the one who passed on your powers. You have also told me that Gabriella has no family aside from her husband. As for me, well my mother died when I was very young… and then years later… Messini is such a small town, and there were so many vampires… after my brother was killed, Papou told me that it was up to me to survive and carry on our legacy. And then they got him too, while he was trying to help his friend. That is when I went to Athens and decided I would begin helping rid the world of those vampires choosing to live their lives destroying others. But I am sure that when we find the others, they will have similar stories… apparently fate is weeding out those in our families not meant to carry on the legacy. After all, only one needs to be in the coven now, right?"

They were all quiet, none of them quite sure where to go from there. At last Luna broke the silence, clearing her throat and going on as if nothing out of the ordinary happened, completely ignoring the other girl’s vendetta against vampires as well as the idea of her brother Kane needing to die so that she could flourish. "So, what do you know about Mykele?"

Jacey seemed relieved to move on and took a deep breath, letting go of the emotions that had clearly risen in response to the memories she had shared. "Only that he was clumsy and that he was an inventor who eventually ended his own life by mistakenly using one of his own inventions."

"That’s basically what we know. But have you heard anything about a special ring he made?" Ron asked.

She narrowed her eyes, looking them both over suspiciously. "What do you know of the ring?"

He grinned and went into his pocket, pulling the ugly piece of jewelry from his pocket and holding it out to her. "Just that Harry found it and it works pretty well." Holding her breath, she reached out and took it from him, studying it closely.

"Actually, Harry’s parents and their friends found the ring back when they were in school. They hid it then and last year, Harry used the clues they left behind to lead us all to it." Luna specified as Jacey breathlessly inspected a piece of her family history. "We’ve used it to talk to those we’ve lost, Draco and Ginny used it to become invisible and hide from Dementors, and I used it in battle to save Harry… yours is an interesting power to possess, I couldn’t control it very well."

"Mykele was very smart and very talented. We had never doubted that the ring would work, only why he didn’t pass it down through the family." Jacey shook her head, disbelieving that she was actually holding the ring. "I was told we weren’t to talk about it, that it was best the artifact be lost to history rather than having it fall into the wrong hands. Papou said it would come back to us when it was needed." She carefully placed it on her finger and held up her hands for them to see. As she had showed them before, flames burst from her fingers, dancing above her nails completely in her control. Only this time the flames were higher, bright streams of fire shooting three feet into the air. Jacey smiled in satisfaction. "It will work for anyone, but only those carrying Mykele’s blood can truly master the ring. It’s the same for the other artifacts I’m sure."

"What other artifacts?" Luna asked eagerly.

"You will have to ask your family about it, but my Papou said that at some point in history every branch of coven descendants had created their own family tool. Ours was Mykele and his ring."

Ron shook his head in disbelief. "So you’re saying that somewhere in the past, one of Luna and Harry’s ancestors also made some sort of object infused with their wandless abilities?"

Jacey grinned and nodded. "According to Papou."

He turned to Luna. "Well?"

But she was shaking her head. "My grandmother has never said anything about it. And my father has never really given in to having these powers so I doubt he knows about Gwendolyn let alone anyone else in the family."

"Hmm. Maybe that is why he is still living…" Jacey mused. "Destiny can’t catch up to someone who doesn’t embrace it, right?"

"Whatever the reason, I’m grateful." Luna said, clearly uncomfortable discussing such a topic. "Anyway, I plan on visiting her after school, before we all head off looking for the others. I can ask her about it then."

"And who are you going to ask about Harry’s family history?" Jacey asked meaningfully. "I doubt that his mother’s sister would have taken the time to learn something she found so abhorrent."

"Boy he sure told you a lot about his past, didn’t he?" Ron asked, surprised that she knew so much when it had taken Harry quite awhile to open up to the rest of them.

"No he didn’t." Luna answered for her, tapping her head to remind him of their shared coven power. "Harry hardly ever closes up his mind… not unless he’s around someone he knows to be an enemy."

"I was not meaning to pry, but he puts so much out there for others to see." Jacey added quickly. "He really should be more aware of it, not everyone who seems to be a friend is one."

"Oh, you don’t have to tell us." Ron assured her, remembering Cho’s deception… and Scabbers as well, a well loved rat who had turned out to be a greatly hated man.

"In any case, Harry probably has all the information he needs." Luna interrupted, bringing the conversation back to a point. "He copied those documents about himself from the ministry, remember Ron? He hasn’t been able to bring himself to go through any of it, but it seems he no longer has a choice. I mean, if each family at different points throughout history created these special artifacts, well they had to have done it for a reason right?"

"I would say so." Jacey nodded. "It could be very important that we all be reunited with these objects… I certainly feel more powerful wearing mine."

"Um, well actually…" Ron trailed off, looking to Luna for help in explaining his unease.

"Actually, Harry was kind of hoping that as long as you didn’t need to use it…" Luna paused, obviously continuing the conversation silently between them. As they talked in their heads, Ron saw Luna come alive again, almost sparkling with that luminosity that drew people in and made them want to give her whatever she asked for. She was clearly working Jacey on Harry’s behalf, turning off her despair in order to convince the other girl to give up something that rightfully belonged to her.

Eventually Jacey nodded, slipping the ring from her finger and handing back to him, though she was still looking at Luna. "I would not want to sever anyone from those they have already lost once… but you are sure?"

Luna smiled sadly. "As sure as I was about my own brother… which I choose to look at as a comfort. Your family is no longer there for you to talk to, but that means they’re either on their way to being reborn or to their final eternal peace."

Again Jacey nodded. "It was too much to hope for anyway. Perhaps if the ring had found me sooner… but they have been gone from me for a long time. I am used to it by now I suppose."

Ron let them talk, silently hoping that one day he would feel used to the fact that George and Percy were really gone. Of course with George so available at the moment, it seemed he would never really have to accept it… except one day he really wouldn’t be there, gone the way of Kane and Cedric and Jacey’s family. They would all eventually have to lose their brother all over again, and Sirius and Neville too. And Harry would once again lose his parents, would again feel what it was like to have Sirius disappear before his eyes. Ron began to think Luna and Jacey were the lucky ones, to have such definitive answers to the fates of their lost loved ones. Of course, as he listened in he realized they didn’t feel that way. Still he remained silent, having learned the futility of trying to compare one person’s pain to another. They were all sad, that’s what mattered.

(BREAK)

"I think this went really well." Susan smiled. She turned to begin helping clear the mats and put the tables back the way they were.

Hermione watched as the last of the DA attendees filed out of the Great Hall while gathering the notes she and the others had taken. "Even more showed up than last year, though it was mostly first and second years."

"Hey, the little guys are the ones who have to learn to defend themselves the most." Ginny laughed, once more able to behave normally now that she and Draco had made up. "I’m almost sad I won’t get to be apart of DA this year…"

"Well, you’re leaving it all in capable hands, I assure you." Susan said, waving her wand and sliding the table across the room to its proper place.

Harry grinned at her. "I have no doubt."

"I wonder how Ron and Luna are doing with Jacey." Ginny pondered quietly, handing her own notes to Hermione, who was tasked with combining all of their observations into workable data for Susan.

"We’ll soon find out." She answered with a sigh, hoping this wouldn’t take her too long to sort through. Why was it whenever she volunteered to help her friends, she was stuck with the unexciting task of paperwork? It was just expected of her at this point.

Within a short while they had returned the Great Hall to normal, ready for breakfast in the morning- though it was still well past ten o’clock by the time they were done. With so many try-outs and so little help, things had taken much longer than expected. Susan and Ginny hurried off back to their dorms, leaving Harry and Hermione alone. She flashed back to last year, remembering how then the nervous tension between them had been because they were on the verge of becoming a couple. A bolt of sadness shot through her heart as she realized that now it was the complete opposite. It was obvious neither of them was willing to outright admit that they were wanting out of their commitment, no matter how close they had been to doing so the other day. That had to be why they’d been avoiding each other for the last two days, after all, how do you leave behind someone you still completely love?

They met each other’s eye across the room and Hermione held her breath in anticipation. "We really need to talk, don’t we?" He asked slowly, moving his gaze downward as he nervously kicked at the floor.

"I suppose we do." She answered quietly, walking over to take his hand. She led him out to the front doors and smiled. "Let’s go for a walk." She suggested, fully embracing the parallel to that time in her life almost an exact year before. They had started this journey together out there, walking in the night… perhaps it was just as good a place to end it.

(BREAK)

Fred checked his watch again, it was now seventeen minutes past ten… Elanya should have been there by now. He nervously looked around his shop, hoping the girl had lost her nerve and changed her mind. This certainly wasn’t how he wanted to spend his Monday night, but he had no choice. But then he also wasn’t going to wait forever- if she didn’t show up by eleven he was out of there.

A sudden tapping at the window startled him and he stumbled into one of the displays, knocking over several potion vials. Straightening himself and checking to be sure no one had seen him, he was thankful that he’d already drawn the shades. "Hey, wake up back there. She’s here." He called toward the back office.

Fred took a deep breath and unlocked the door. Elanya stood on the doorstep, smiling innocently, as if she weren’t planning to murder her father in an hour’s time. "Aren’t you going to invite a lady in?" She batted her eyelashes.

"Show me a lady, I’ll let her in." He shot back. "Though I suppose it’s best we not conduct business out here on the street."

He stepped back and reluctantly gestured her inside. She looked around, taking in the mess he’d just made when he’d knocked over the display. "What happened? Overly excited to see me? I didn’t realize I made you that nervous." She turned and smiled again, this time with wicked amusement before getting right down to business. "It’s past ten, all of the employees have gone home and the guards have set up their stations."

"From what I’ve observed, Edmund never leaves before midnight." He replied.

"Great, then we have plenty of time. Let’s go, show me where the secret entrance is." She demanded, moving back to the door.

"Wait!" He called. "There’s someone you have to meet first."

She paused and turned back to him, a look of suspicious fury twisting her features. "You told someone about this? I thought I had made myself clear."

"Relax, neither of us will stand in your way if you really want to go through with this, we wouldn’t dare try." Fred quickly replied. "But he wants the chance to talk to you first."

"Who is he?" She asked, her voice low and venomous.

"Your uncle." He said quietly before turning to call for the man. "Hey Willem, you can come out here now." Willem slowly emerged from the back and offered a cautious smile to his niece. Elanya simply glowered at him, unmoved by his presence. Fred anxiously stepped forward. "Willem Fritz, meet Elanya Delamora, or Elanya Fritz had things turned out differently." He chuckled nervously.

"But they didn’t." She said, turning to him in anger. "I hope you didn’t expect this to change anything. We made a deal and you will carry through your end."

 

NOTE: Coming up next- Will Elanya carry through her plan to kill her father and does she have another agenda involving Fred? Will Harry and Hermione finally be honest with each other? Will the amulets keep Draco and Lupin from turning? Will Harry, Draco and Jacinda’s plan to take care of Tristan work out?- Stay tuned and find out, more chapters to come soon!

Chapter 44: Beginnings and Endings

A/N: Here’s to keeping things going! Read, Review and Enjoy!


Fred knew Elanya was mad, it was written all over her face. She felt he’d gone back on their deal by telling Willem and he had to make things right lest she carry out her threats to let Ron and Ginny suffer the consequences. "I already told you. Neither one of us is going to stop you if you really want to do this." He quickly reiterated.

"Do you really think I couldn’t understand your feelings about my brother?" Willem asked, taking a tentative step toward the girl. "Six years ago I tried to stop him- from joining Voldemort, from going around lying and hurting people, and ultimately from killing your mother, though I had no idea that’s who she was or even that you existed Elanya. But I failed because Edmund saw to it that I was falsely imprisoned."

"The point being, you failed." She said coldly.

"There was nothing I could have done then that wouldn’t have lowered myself to my brother’s level. But now there is, don’t you see? Fred’s father, Fred’s friends and everyone they know, they’re all working to take care of Edmund in a civilized manner, one that will leave everyone’s hands clean of blood." Willem insisted.

"My hands are already dirty." Elanya sneered, though Fred could detect a hint of something like regret in her eyes. "What’s a little more blood to paint them red? Edmund has it coming." She added with hardened resolve.

"I don’t disagree." He sighed. "My brother has done some horrible things and is capable of many more I’m sure. But why would you want to do something that would make you so much like him, someone you hate?"

She shook her head. "After this I’m going to walk away from that life. Everything I’ve done both good and bad has been to lead me here, to tonight. It will end one way or another and then I really will be free." She studied her uncle carefully. "I know you want that too, to be free of him. You seem to be one of the good guys, suffering terribly while fighting the noble fight just to hang onto your rather limited view of good and evil. Well I’m not one of the good guys, and I can’t be as long as my father is breathing."

"Your mother wanted out too. That’s why she sent you away and tried to detach herself from Edmund, Lucius and the rest. Why go against her last wishes and put yourself in this?" Fred argued.

Willem shook his head remorsefully. "If only Jayalina had told me her true relation to my brother, or that you even existed … but until Edmund told me he intended to get rid of her and I tried to stop him, until she actually disappeared… I just never considered she was anything but their ally. She helped them work against me so many times."

"Maybe she thought you too weak to know the true depth of your brother’s cunning." Elanya taunted bitterly. "Or too stupid. Nineteen years… I’m nineteen. You really expect me to believe that for all that time, you never even suspected he had me and my mother on the side?"

"Apparently you don’t know Edmund as well as you think you do. The man refused to allow anything to make him look weak, and to those on his side of this war having loved ones made you weak-"

"He never loved us." She interrupted.

He smiled sadly at her. "I never meant to suggest he did. I honestly couldn’t tell you if Edmund is truly capable of love as we understand it. But like myself, your mother was someone he considered as belonging to him and therefore something that could be taken away, so he got rid of us first before anyone else could. As I understand it from what Fred and his friends have pieced together, my brother had no idea you even existed until your mother came back to London some nine, ten years ago. What they had between them I’ll never know, but I do know it ended when she came to her senses and had enough of him. She sent you away to protect you. And when she wouldn’t tell him where you were, he killed her. Don’t you see Elanya? Your mother died to keep you out of this life and away from Edmund. She knew she’d made a mistake in coming back here to him and she didn’t want you to make the same one."

She laughed, unmoved by his words. "My mother knew me to be more capable than she was and always told me so. With the powers we possess, there is nothing to guide us but the past and so that is what I’m doing. Once Edmund is dead, I’ll walk away- from Sarah, Elise and Cho, from Voldemort, from London altogether. But I have to do this first and if you aren’t with me, then you’re against me. So which is it, Fred?" She asked, turning to him as her patience had clearly reached its end. "You know the consequences to your brother and sister if you try to walk away from this, a family reunion with this sad excuse of an uncle isn’t going to change my mind about that."

He sighed and turned to Willem helplessly. "I tried. But you heard her, I have to take her to the entrance. I won’t protect Edmund at the risk of Ron or Ginny."

Willem shook his head and placed a hand on his shoulder. "I wouldn’t ask you to. My brother has done some terrible things, if he must face his punishment now, then so be it. It’s not your fault." Then he turned back to his niece. "Elanya, I wish you would reconsider. Not for Edmund’s sake, but for your own. You have no idea what this will do to you, carrying around this weight. Even if you have killed someone before, it is nothing compared to taking the life of a parent." He told her sadly, almost as if he were speaking from experience.

She eyed him warily, giving nothing away. "One murderer killing another. That’s the only way to look at this. Tell me Uncle… would you still want to know me after the deed is done?"

Willem seemed surprised. "Of course! Why wouldn’t I?"

"Would you turn me into the ministry for the crime?" She pushed, giving Fred a horrible sinking feeling. Elanya was testing Willem and he began to fear that if the man didn’t give the right answers, she would take care of him before he became a problem.

Willem must have sensed it too, having spent his life dealing with her father who had apparently passed on his cunning ruthlessness to his daughter. "There’s no need to eliminate me. I have no plans of standing in your way, I have no move to make to stop you. No one is supposed to know I’ve been set free and so I can’t risk doing anything without causing trouble to those who’ve helped me. And though I know nothing about you other than what I’ve been told, I obviously can’t use my wand and chance hurting you, you’re still my family Elanya… And after tonight, you may be the only family I have left."

She looked at him for a very long time, deciding whether or not she believed him. At last she nodded. "Okay then we agree. After tonight, you and I will be the only members of the doomed Fritz family left alive. Fred, it’s time to go."

(BREAK)

The night was chilly but Harry didn’t feel it as he and Hermione walked in laps around the castle, neither willing to venture too far into the night with so many enemies lurking nearby. They had been walking silently for awhile, unsure what to say or how to start and Harry was now nearly sweating in anticipation of what was to come.

"Well, we can’t walk forever I guess." Hermione said at last. "Besides I’m getting cold. Maybe I didn’t think this through enough, we can always try again tomorrow night, make sure we dress warm…"

Harry smiled and put his arm around her shoulders, pulling her close to help warm her up. "Nothing will be different tomorrow, just like nothing was different a week ago, two weeks ago… back to who knows when."

"I know." She sighed, resting her head on his shoulder as they continued their leisurely pace. "It’s just that in moments like this… I miss the good times and I really miss you."

"Right back at you." He turned to kiss her forehead. "But there haven’t really been any good times for awhile… at least…"

"At least none lately where some part of us wasn’t thinking of someone else." She finished his thought, stopping and pulling away to turn and face him. "I don’t regret one minute of being with you Harry."

He took her hand and grinned. "And I can’t believe I was lucky enough to be with you at all."

She laughed. "Well, you certainly tried to mess it up every chance you got." She teased, squeezing his hand and returning his smile. "But I’m glad that I had the chance to love you."

"Forever Hermione." Harry whispered, stepping closer to her and reaching out to cup her face. "Remember that’s how long I will love you, forever." He leaned in to gently kiss her lips, feeling his heart break into a million tiny pieces.

She stared up at him, still smiling though her eyes were brimming with tears. "That’s why I’m keeping this one." She grabbed the chain around her neck where she’d been wearing the two rings he had given her. Now only the ruby promise ring remained. "I want to keep this one, to remind us both of that promise. But this one, I’ll happily give back so you can find who it really belongs to." She took his hand and placed the other ring in it, his mother’s ring, the one that he had used when he’d asked Hermione to marry him.

"What we had… It really was real wasn’t it…" He stared at the ring he now held, feeling the weight of the significance attached to it.

"I think it still is." She whispered, closing her eyes against her tears. "It’s just not what it once was anymore. We needed each other then… now we need other people."

"I just… I never want you to think-"

She put her hand over his mouth to stop him. "I know what I mean to you Harry, and I hope you know what you mean to me. It’s because we care about each other so much that we’re able to let each other go. More than anything I want you to be happy, just like I know you want the same for me."

"Of course I want that." He said, removing her hand and once more clutching it in his. "But I also… I guess there’s some small part inside me that’s always going to want to be with you."

"I know." She smiled sadly. "I think there’s something in both of us that will always feel that way. You’re the first boy I ever loved…"

He shook his head. "No Hermione, it’s deeper than that for me. I think you may be the first person I ever loved… and only because of that was I able to admit to myself that I loved the Weasleys and Sirius and Lupin and…" He stopped, wanting this to only be about them and their relationship.

But Hermione knew, she always knew whatever he was trying to hide from her. "And Luna." She laughed, reaching out to wrap her arms around his neck and hug him close. He tightened his hold around her, knowing that once they let go of each other he would be left spiraling down into the vast depths of the unknown. "I loved you with everything I had, Harry. And I know you did the same." She whispered in his ear. "Now we both go on knowing that even if we never love again, at least we did it right the first time."

He laughed quietly as tears stung his eyes. "Who could ever fail to love you?"

They stood holding each other for what seemed like eternity but was actually far too short a time. On impulse, Harry pulled back slightly to once more capture her lips, kissing her deeply and passionately. She returned the kiss eagerly, both knowing it was the last time. Reluctantly they broke apart, stepping back and staring at each other uncertainly. "Now what?" She asked quietly. He shook his head and shrugged unsure himself how to leave that spot knowing that once they did, their relationship was over.

(BREAK)

"The bookstore?" Elanya looked up at the storefront doubtfully.

"Technically the alley behind the bookstore." Fred answered miserably, leading the way around the building as Elanya and Willem followed. He hadn’t known what he’d been hoping to accomplish in bringing her face to face with her uncle but it was clear both he and Willem had failed. And no matter what the man told him, Fred felt entirely responsible for what Elanya was about to do. After all, he was the one leading her to the secret passage and thus straight to Edmund. The guy was bad, probably evil. But confronting the thought of being party to his murder was doing a number on Fred’s head.

"Well?" She asked impatiently as they stood next to a dumpster.

"Well what?" He snapped, having reached his limit. "This is it! The wall behind the dumpster… I’ve watched him come and go and this is the way he always uses. Even went down there myself last week to be sure it lead to his office. What more do you want me to do?"

"Come with me." She said simply, raising her wand. "And you don’t have a choice in the matter, neither of you." She added, looking at Willem and waving her wand threateningly in his direction too.

"Right, like I’m going to go in there and let you frame me for what you’re going to do." Fred crossed his arms angrily. "Was that the rest of your plan, to take someone who’s not only a friend of Harry Potter but also the Minister’s son and get them accused of murder?"

"Give me some credit. I told you, I have nothing against you and don’t want to have to hurt you or anyone you care about. I will gladly write my name on the wall in my father’s blood while we’re in there if you’re so worried about me setting you up. After all, I have no problem taking the credit for something I’m proud of." Elanya laughed, though she was sure to keep her wand steady. "But I can’t let either of you run off to tell on me while I’m in there and chance the deed not getting done. Don’t worry, you can close your eyes through the scary parts. Now go open the passage!" She jabbed Fred in the side painfully with her wand to get him moving.

"You’re the scary part." He muttered, rubbing his side as he moved to the wall. Carefully, he touched the bricks as he’d seen Edmund do and stepped back as they moved, creating an entryway into a long dark tunnel. "I do believe etiquette dictates that its ladies first." He gestured toward passage.

"Now I’m a lady?" She scoffed. "Get moving."

Sharing a look with Willem, they both sighed and ducked into the tunnel. Elanya lit her wand as the bricks closed up behind them. "This way." Fred wearily began walking, somehow feeling like he was heading towards his own execution. There had to be something he could do… some way he could stop her. Just because Willem was unwilling to take her on didn’t mean Fred shouldn’t. He knew his wand was in his back pocket and with the lighting so dim, there was a good chance she wouldn’t see him reach for it- but her next words stopped any plan he was trying to make.

"Remember nothing funny. I’ve told people what I have planned and what must happen if I fail. One way or another, a murder will occur tonight. It’s up to you both whether it’s Edmund’s or Ron and Ginny’s." She said ruthlessly, clearly growing more eager the closer they got. "If my friend doesn’t hear from me by a certain time, your little brother is the first to go, so I suggest you hurry Fred. Otherwise it’ll simply be a race to see if Ginny will survive the night as well."

He knew Ron and Ginny where already on their guard up at school. And Hermione had told him that Draco and Ginny had made up… as much as he hated thinking about the implications, he was glad to know she probably wasn’t sleeping alone and for once the fact that a werewolf slept next to her was probably a good thing. Fred was confident Draco would give his own life before letting anything happen to Ginny. And Ron… his room was apparently right next to Harry, who was a light sleeper when he actually did sleep. Surely Harry wouldn’t let anything happen to Ron… but could he take the chance? Fred began to wish he had told Hermione about this whole plan, so that she could have warned the others to be prepared. But fear of her being mad at him had stopped him and now he felt entirely stupid.

He relaxed his arm, knowing he wasn’t going to reach for his wand. Suddenly he felt his pocket grow warm… the compact! He hadn’t intended on bringing it with him but habit had overtaken him and he’d grabbed it up that morning when he’d left. Considering that he hadn’t talked to Hermione at all that day, he should have figured he was due for a call. But he couldn’t just reach in his pocket… He felt so frustrated! A literal lifeline was in his grasp and at the same time may as well have been up at Hogwarts with Hermione.

But now he had something, some way to contact someone should he really need help… except like his wand, he knew he wouldn’t be using it. To call Hermione and tell her of the predicament he’d gotten himself into would only invite worry and a lack of caution. She would immediately go to Harry, who would in turn immediately come to Fred’s rescue now that he knew he could bypass the anti-apparation charms. The dark deed about to be committed was something that could never be connected to the name Harry Potter in any way. He wouldn’t risk the lives of his brother and sister, or anyone willing to stand up and defend them. So with no other choice, he continued to lead the way to another man’s murder.

(BREAK)

Hermione closed the compact, her heart still racing in anticipation. She hadn’t known what she was going to tell Fred, but she had wanted to hear his voice at the very least. Although slightly concerned, she was also glad that he hadn’t answered. She had returned to her room and retrieved the compact in a daze, without any conscious thought. The moment she and Harry had parted in the common room, she’d instantly felt lost, untethered and floating as she waited to fall. Maybe she’d wanted to call up Fred as a way to postpone that fall, but now that she had failed to reach him she knew she had to feel it. Now left alone she felt the complete weight of what had just happened between her and Harry… and it was crushing. Laying down and wrapping her arms around herself, she finally let the tears come in full force, sobbing out the pain she felt for her loss. She and Harry may not love each other the way they both needed anymore, but knowing that didn’t make the finality of their time together hurt any less.

But with the release of her anguish came a sort of calm rationality. She knew she had to feel every part of this torment in order to really move on and by confronting it, she was one step closer to accepting that her heart had changed it’s mind. Until then it wasn’t going to be fair to her or anyone else to pretend otherwise. Being with Harry, loving him, it had given her a great deal of happiness despite the struggles… it was only right that she gave herself time to grieve.

(BREAK)

Harry had watched Hermione head into her room before sinking into the common room couch to stare at the dying fire. It was well past eleven by now, time when the Hogwarts staff believed everyone should be in bed resting up for the next day’s classes. But there was nothing in the world that he believed would let him sleep that night and the thought of being stuck pacing in his room was unbearable. He felt both devastated and triumphant, anxious and relieved… it was as if the whole world had dropped out from under him only to leave him comfortably cradled in midair as he waited for everything to right itself again. He wasn’t okay at the moment, but he knew he would be eventually.

Sensing someone opening the door he instantly tensed up and leapt to his feet, expecting only danger this late at night. He nearly cried out in relief to see that it was Ron and Luna… until he met her eyes and he felt his heart tighten painfully as a reminder of what he’d just given up. "I didn’t think you guys were still up there talking to Jacey." He said, shakily sitting down again and strengthening the shields he’d begun putting up since Jacey arrived. He knew the girl had been in his head and though he had nothing to hide, the intrusion had begun to get to him. But now as he shielded against Luna, he knew it was because he had quite a lot to hide from her.

"We didn’t mean to startle you." She said, looking at him strangely.

"Yeah, I certainly didn’t expect you to be sitting there." Ron added. "You okay? You seem… not yourself."

Harry shook his head and grinned. "I must have fallen asleep." He lied, looking at Ron rather than Luna. "So, how’d it go? Did she know about the ring?"

"And then some, if her grandfather is to be believed." Ron answered with a wide yawn, handing Mykele’s ring back to him… the second time that night someone returned a ring he had given them, though this time it hurt a lot less. "But I’ll let Luna fill you in, she’ll have remembered a lot more specifically than I would."

"Where are you going?" He asked anxiously, suddenly nervous to be left alone with Luna… the minute he’d seen her, he had wanted to tell her everything. But in truth, what had happened between him and Hermione that night hadn’t been about Luna and he felt he needed to honor what had just ended by taking the time to actually accept it… which he still wasn’t sure he really ever could. Hermione had been more than his girlfriend, his fiancé- she had been and still was his best friend.

Ron once again yawned widely. "I’m exhausted, mate. The only reason we realized we’d lost track of time was because I could barely keep my eyes open towards the end there. And as much as I would have liked to have stayed and talked to Jacey, I would have hated having her see me fall asleep or worse, hear me snore." He laughed and headed toward the Gryffindor wing. "Goodnight!" He wearily called over his shoulder as he disappeared down the hallway, dragging his feet behind him. Apparently a dose of time spent with Jacey was enough to distract Ron from his vigilance of keeping them away from each other- a fine time to learn to mind his own business.

"So…" Harry turned his attention on Luna though he was still careful not to look at her. "…what did Jacey have to say?"

"A lot actually." She answered distractedly, sitting on the couch across from him. "Are you sure you’re okay? You look… upset."

He shook his head. "There are a lot of things to be upset about. It’s nothing." He lied, once more enforcing the shields around his mind.

"If you say so." She obviously didn’t believe him but thankfully let it go. He wondered if somehow she knew anyway… if she’d received some dream or vision telling her that he and Hermione were going to break up that night. After all, this would be something that would affect her… at least he hoped so. But if she knew, she gave no indication, simply going into her story and telling of everything they’d discussed with Jacey. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing, but coming from Luna and Jacey he never doubted it as truth.

"Do you really think your grandmother may know what your artifact is, if there are actually anymore to find?" He asked eagerly.

"I intend to ask her before we all leave to go looking for the other coven members." She answered. "I don’t know if it’s all true, but if it is, it could only be in our best interests to find the objects."

"I agree."

"Good. Then you know you have to start going through those ministry documents you stole. Unless Lily knows anything about this artifact, those papers are the only thing you have to turn to." She got up and came over to sit by him and he felt his pulse race with her nearness. She reached out and put a hand on his shoulder. "It’s time for you to learn all of the history known about you Harry. No more pieces handed out a little at a time by Dumbledore. You have to know whatever they know, whatever they felt they had to hide by locking those files away separately."

Between the weight of his turbulent emotions and the serious gravity of Luna’s words, he felt like he was ready to break. "My mother already lied about being from muggle parents for some unknown reason… what if there’s something worse in there, something I don’t want to know?" He asked quietly, once more turning to stare at the flames.

"You have to." She took his hand, the one holding Mykele’s ring. "And you have to use this and talk to Lily while you can... in limited amounts of time of course. But you have to do it, just like there are things I have to find out about my family. I need you to do this... for yourself and the coven."

"Okay." He agreed simply. She had said the magic words, she needed him to do this, and there was nothing he would deny her when asked even if it came at the cost of his own discomfort.

Luna squeezed his hand and offered him a gentle smile. "It’s time for all the secrets and lies to come out now Harry."

"Not all." He whispered, feeling his emotions begin to wander out of his control. "I’ll see you in the morning, alright?" He quickly rose and pulled himself out of her grasp. Without waiting for her reply, he practically ran to his room eager to put distance between them. All he wanted to do was throw himself in her arms, to have her comfort him and tell him it was going to be okay now, for them and for Hermione and Fred. More than that, he’d wanted to fall at her feet and proclaim that he loved her and he was now free to tell her, to show her… But he wasn’t, not yet. And not just because it would be entirely insensitive to Hermione and the importance of their time together.

How could he possibly approach Luna now, with all the secrets and lies between them? Whether or not she knew he was planning to get rid of Tristan was beside the point… he knew he was very specifically plotting to do something she’d very specifically told him she believed to be a bad idea. And what would his actions say to her when he finally told her? That he’d undermined her powers and gone against her warnings simply to satisfy his own comfort in knowing that he’d eliminated a serious threat. How could he try to start anything with her while knowing there would be this giant lie between them? She’d assured him she wouldn’t hate him if he took action against Tristan, but what would she feel? He was willing to take the chance and see in order to be assured that the danger to her was gone… but he wasn’t willing to take the chance on losing her once he’d had her. He’d rather never know the joy of sharing their feelings than to have it all ripped away so quickly. After what he’d done last year with Hermione, he’d definitely learned his lesson about the effects this kind of lie can have on a relationship.

No he had to wait until after Tristan was gone, then he could approach her with a clear conscience. Of course Luna was no idiot… she’d eventually realize what had happened between him and Hermione, and what would he say then? He shook his head and collapsed on his bed, figuring he’d jump that hurdle when he came to it. The Polyjuice potion would be ready the night of the Costume Ball, which was only two more weeks away. Thinking of what that meant in terms of his ability to approach Luna, it felt like a million years. All he could do now was lay there and stare at his ceiling, wishing Hermione were there beside him offering guidance. But that was impossible now.

(BREAK)

After walking underneath Diagon Alley for half a mile, they had come to the underground stairs Fred had found the first time he’d been down there. After climbing so many it felt like they were scaling a mountain, they had at last come to the top landing and the wall he believed Edmund’s office to be behind. They all took a moment to catch their breath and rest their aching legs. Poor Willem who was twice their age looked like he was on the verge of death, his face only turning redder as he struggled to breathe normally. "Well?" Elanya demanded in a harsh whisper.

"Well what? This is as far as I go. I have no idea what trigger he uses to open this, I couldn’t exactly follow him this far… I only snuck in here after he’d left." Fred answered defensively. "How about you start proving useful in this little endeavor?"

"Or you could take this as a sign." Willem suggested. "Just turn around and go back before it’s too late."

Elanya shot them a wicked smile. "Relax boys. My mother passed on many gifts to me. Just catch me when I fall, would you?" She walked up to the wall, reaching out to lightly touch it. And then she began swaying on her feet as her eyes rolled back up into her head. Fred had seen Luna do the same thing when having a vision and so he knew what came next. He quickly reached out and caught her as she fell backwards, saving her from a long roll down a lot of stairs. Part of him wished he’d let her fall.

"What’s going on?" Willem asked, kneeling down in concern as Fred laid Elanya on the ground.

"I think she’s having a vision in reverse." He answered as her eyes fluttered open.

"It’s called postcognative sight, idiot." She mumbled as she sat up.

"Hey, watch it with the name calling, Princess." Fred replied, feeling offended. "I just saved you the pain of a cracked skull or broken neck."

"My hero." She rolled her eyes and rose to her feet, brushing off Willem’s offer of assistance. "In any case, I watched the old fool open this wall, which means I now know how to do it to." And to prove her point she reached out and touched several smaller stones, hesitating over the last one. "You two better have your wands up, just in case. You never know what’s on the other side of this wall."

"Good thing Arthur was able to sneak mine out of the confiscation office." Willem said quietly as she pressed the last stone.

With his wand in his hand Fred was tempted to stun her and run away, but he couldn’t for the same reason he couldn’t have let her take a tumble down the stairs. She’d made herself clear, if she didn’t succeed within her time table, Ron was going to suffer for it. If she didn’t succeed at all, Ginny would also suffer… So he raised his wand in defense rather than offense, ready for whatever he was about to witness.

Elanya burst into the office, having the exact effect she’d more than likely been hoping for. Edmund shot out of his seat in total surprise, his eyes wide with fear as he perceived someone entering from where he’d previously thought a secret way only he knew about. The man lunged across his desk for his wand but Elanya was quicker, casting and shooting the wand across the room and far out of Edmund’s reach. "Hello Daddy." She said with an overly friendly smile. Fred could see the demented glee she was taking out of all this and it sent of shiver of disgusted intrigue down his spine.

"Hello Elanya." Edmund answered, gathering his composure and once more seating himself. He looked past his daughter and another wave of shock seemed to wash over him before he once more regained himself. "And my little brother too. Well, if this isn’t just a perfectly quaint family reunion. Though I am confused as to why the Minister’s son is here as well."

"We’re getting married." Elanya laughed hysterically, making Fred even more uncomfortable. "He wanted to be here to really be a part of the family."

"I know you’re joking and still it hurts. I had always hoped my daughter would end up with someone more impressive." He sneered.

"Always?!" She shouted angrily, emphasizing her fury as she pointed her wand at her father. Then she suddenly broke into laughter once again. "You didn’t even know about me until I was eleven. And even then, you have no right to hope anything for me."

"When did they let you out of Azkaban Lemmy?" Edmund asked, ignoring her and turning his attention to his brother. "Or should I alert the Minister that our lead story is going to be about yet another prisoner who has escaped?"

"I’m out free and clear no thanks to you Eddie." Willem replied, obviously trying to control his anger.

"Well I helped put you there, why would I help free you. How exactly did your release get arranged? And without me knowing about it?"

"That’s nothing you’ll have to worry about." Elanya answered threateningly as she stepped closer to her father, bringing his attention back to her where she wanted it. "In fact, in a few moments you won’t have to worry about anything at all ever again."

"You really think you’re just going to walk in here and kill me?" He rose to his feet to look her in the eye.

"I know it, in fact I’ve already halfway accomplished the task. All that’s left is the bit about the killing." She grinned.

"Elanya, there are other ways." Willem once more tried to reach out to her.

"Shut up Lemmy." Edmund ordered, never moving his gaze from her. "My daughter is proving more interesting than you ever have."

"Was he always this mean to you?" Elanya asked, also addressing Willem without looking away from her father.

"People like Lemmy are easy to pick on." Edmund answered for his brother. "They are always willing to let themselves be the victim. Your mother proved to be the same way in the end. So who do you really take after my dear? It’s time to see what you’re really made of… are you going to curse me and prove that you are your father’s daughter, that you are just like the man you claim to loathe? Or are you going to turn around now that you’ve made your big show and prove that you’re nothing better than your crazy mother and spineless uncle?"

Fred held his breath, feeling Edmund may have underestimated the dangerousness his daughter possessed. Goading her like that was a mistake, quite possibly the deadliest one the man would ever make.

Elanya stared her father down, her hatred and anger practically radiating from her. "Thank you." She said at last, low and venomous. "Because I am your daughter, I have the strength to seek vengeance- for myself, for my uncle and especially for my mother."

"Elanya no!" Fred and Willem yelled together, both seeing her intention at the same time.

But there was no stopping her. Edmund Fritz’s life was over in a flash of light, leaving only an empty shell to fall to the floor. She turned to them with a genuinely happy smile, which only made Fred more uneasy. "Well, that was satisfying… how does it feel to be free of him at last, Uncle Willem."

Willem shook his head as he walked over to Edmund’s body, kneeling beside it and reaching out to close his brother’s eyes. "I don’t know." He answered at last. Remembering his own mixed emotions after Percy killed himself, Fred knew how Willem must be feeling. He walked over and put his hand on the man’s shoulder in comfort, unable to bring himself to say anything aloud.

"Well, I better make that call so no one gets hurt by accident up at Hogwarts." Elanya practically skipped over to the fireplace, kneeling down and sticking her head in to speak quietly with someone they couldn’t see. Then she turned to him with an openly friendly smile. "Okay, that’s all taken care of. Your brother and sister are safe to make it through another night."

"So, are you ready to write your name across the wall?" Fred asked angrily, at last finding his voice. He still couldn’t exactly process what he’d just seen, but he knew he’d never forget it. If this was what it was like to be a Death Eater, then he was quite happy on the side he was already on.

"I have a better idea." She grinned, looking up and pointing her wand at the ceiling. The Dark Mark appeared before their eyes, burned into the plaster for all to see. "That should rake up a little confusion, eh?" She said gleefully.

"You’re insane." He answered calmly, moving away from where Willem was still grieving to look out the enormous windows and see if anyone had witnessed anything.

"Oh, don’t be mad at me." She cooed, walking over to him. "I’m very grateful for your help, whether it was given voluntarily or not."

"I’m sure." He muttered, turning to face her as his fear, anger and disgust finally overwhelmed him. "So is it like a switch in your head that you can flip on and off or what? I mean one minute you’re all fire and brimstone and the next you’re prancing around like a little wood nymph. So what is it? Are you really crazy or are you just really good at pretending to be?"

She smiled and reached out to ruffle his hair. "I’ll forget you just said all that because I know you’re upset and aren’t meaning to try and make me angry."

He roughly pushed her arm away. "Just stay away from me from now on, alright. I have nothing else to offer you or any of your other personalities."

This time her smile was slowly seductive and reached all the way to her amber eyes, making them glow with sensual electricity. He was drawn in for a moment, feeling suffocated in the sexual aura she was now putting out from all spheres of her being. And then she reached up to delicately brush her lips against his… just a whisper of a kiss, a promise that left him wondering if this was how the male spider felt when confronted by a black widow. "We’ll just have to wait and see what you have to offer." She said as she bit the corner of her lip and stared up at him through her eyelashes in an imitation of innocence.

He shook his head and snapped out of it, pushing her away. "Nothing. I don’t ever want to have anything to do with you ever again."

"Like I said, we’ll see about that." She laughed. "I understand people like no one else on either side of this war… no one is all good or all bad Fred. Not their Voldemort and not your Harry Potter… and that includes you and me as well. You all give into your darker sides sometimes, the same way some of us have to give into our noble side every once in awhile."

"You and I are nothing alike." He whispered violently.

"We are more alike than you think." She whispered back, reaching out to condescendingly pat his cheek. Again he pushed her hand away which made her laugh again. "Well," She said aloud, "you two better get going. I’m sure neither of you would benefit from being at the scene of this crime. Uncle Willem, I’m sure we’ll see each other again what with the holidays coming up and all. So until next we all meet, adieu!" With one last friendly smile she turned and happily began making her way back down the stairs, waving her wand as she went to delete any trace that she had been there.

Fred looked up at the Dark Mark… would the Aurors be fooled into thinking Edmund had been killed by his own people? Probably, it wasn’t exactly out of the ordinary… so she had thought of everything. But why had she insisted he be there? What other part of this was he just not seeing yet? It was clear the girl had an agenda where he was concerned, and she had used the secret tunnel as her excuse to involve him. But he knew it hadn’t been necessary, Elanya would have found a way in regardless. But she had even gone so far as to have someone up at Hogwarts threatening Ron and Ginny’s lives… she had wanted Fred to be apart of this… so why?

"She’s right. We should leave…" Willem said sadly, rising to his feet. "You, they might forgive for being here, but if I’m found they’ll only assume I did this to him… and maybe I should have, years ago." He sighed.

"Are you okay?" Fred asked, seeing that the man was obviously having trouble dealing with what had just occurred.

"I will be I guess." He shrugged and walked over to the door.

Fred was about to follow before he remembered something that horrified him. "Wait! We have to find the extendible ears!"

"What?" Willem turned to him in confusion.

"Those things my father planted here so that the ministry could listen in… they’re recording everything!"

His eyes widened as he realized what that meant. "She shouldn’t be punished for this… for many other things possibly, but not for this. Edmund… he…"

Fred nodded, stopping him from struggling through an explanation for having feelings there were no way to explain in the first place. "Taking the devices now won’t help…"

"Do you know where in the ministry everything is being recorded?" Willem asked suddenly.

Fred grinned, instantly knowing were the other’s mind was. "You really want to break in there and delete the recordings from tonight?"

"I don’t see any other way… unless you want to go to Arthur and tell him what’s going on. I’m sure he could delete them before anyone else listens in."

He shook his head. "No, I really don’t want to have to tell my father I had anything to do with this. Let’s head over to the ministry. George and I found an excellent way to sneak in last year after dad was promoted. I know I can get us in and out of there without anyone finding out."

Willem smiled. "I believe you… I’m just so glad you try to use these talents you have for good."

"Usually." Fred grinned back.

They made their way back down what felt like a million steps, though going down was a lot easier than coming up had been. They went on in silence until they reached the actual tunnel. "I’m sorry." Willem said as they walked. "I failed again… I know you were hoping I could talk her out of this…"

"I think I was just getting both our hopes up because in reality, I don’t think there was ever anything that was going to stop her."

"Should I just let her be caught?" He asked miserably. "I mean, well… do you think there’s any hope for her at all?"

Fred shook his head, wanting to believe this had been the last horrible act Elanya would ever carry out. "Honestly, I just don’t know."

(BREAK)

OWNER OF THE DAILY PROPHET FOUND
MURDERED

Edmund Fritz, who just this year acquired all of
the Daily Prophet holdings, has been discovered
very early this morning in his office at
newspaper’s newly rebuilt headquarters. Aurors
on the scene have confirmed that Fritz was the
victim of the killing curse sometime last night,
despite the added security measures recently
enacted throughout the building.
 
Kingsley Shacklebolt of the Auror Department
has released a statement telling us that there is
little evidence to point in the direction of one
suspect. However, Shacklebolt also confirmed
that the Dark Mark was found at the scene,
though he refused to state whether Fritz had
been branded with the tattoo. It is now being
widely speculated that Fritz was secretly a
Death Eater and had been done in by his own
people for reasons yet unknown.

In connection to this crime, another took place
last night at the Ministry of Magic. Minister
Weasley and the Auror Department had
apparently suspected Fritz of being a Death
Eater and as a result of their suspicions,
arranged to have listening devices placed
around the Daily Prophet office where Fritz
spent most of his time. The Minister has now
released a statement saying that when they
went to listen to the recordings to discover
the killer, they found that someone had
deleted all of last night’s information. When
asked whether this pointed to a mole within
the Auror Department, both Minister Weasley
and Shacklebolt made assurances that they
were looking into it.

Harry stopped reading, not quite believing any of it was possible. "Could it really be true? Edmund is dead?"

"Well it’s good news for dad and Dumbledore, isn’t it?" Ron asked, returning to his breakfast. "Now there’s no one threatening to take their jobs."

"At the moment. I’m sure Voldemort has a few more like Edmund Fritz laying around waiting to be useful." Hermione pointed out. She picked up the paper and began rereading the story, becoming more agitated as she read.

"And just because they aren’t immediately in danger of being replaced doesn’t mean we should let ourselves become careless." Luna added, looking directly between Harry and Draco. "Too many things could still go wrong."

"What exactly are you warning them of?" Ginny asked, picking up on Luna’s attitude towards the boys.

"Nothing specific. I just don’t think anyone should be making any rash decisions right now." Luna answered aloofly while still looking meaningfully at Harry.

He turned away, unable to stand the pressure of her disappointment. Oh she knew they had something planned… that was certain. But apparently their own indecisiveness in how to proceed was blocking her from clearly seeing what they were up to, only leaving her with enough to know they were up to something. He would have to work harder at hiding from her… if anyone had the power to talk him out of getting rid of Tristan it was Luna, but he didn’t want to be swayed. After all, all she really had to do was ask him not to, something she’d yet to directly request… she had warned him, implied that she didn’t want him to and told him he shouldn’t, but never once had she crossed the line of directly asking him not to. Perhaps she knew she had that power over his actions and was saving it for a plan B, but more likely she wasn’t willing to cross that boundary and he was thankful for it. But it was also one more reason to stay away from her until this was all over. If he weakened his resolve and told her he loved her and could now be with her, surely neither of them would fear crossing any of the boundaries they had been placing between themselves.

He had never denied Luna anything she’d asked of him from the time he’d first known her, and for reasons he was only now beginning to understand. If she was emboldened enough to ask or even demand that he leave Tristan alone he knew he couldn’t refuse her. After all, he already had plans to start reading those ministry documents between his classes today- just because she told him she wanted him to. The visit with Lily that she had suggested he was holding off on until he could learn more. But the point was, like Hermione, there was nothing he wouldn’t give Luna if she asked and more than that… unlike Hermione, he was willing to go against his own instincts to please Luna. Knowing she didn’t want him to do anything to Tristan was bad enough to deal with, he couldn’t give her the opportunity to flat out tell him not to.

(BREAK)

"Was it Elanya?" Hermione asked as soon as Fred answered the compact. From the moment she had read the paper, intuition had been poking at her… things Fred had and hadn’t said in the last week, the way he’d acted and the detached exhaustion in his voice… she’d known there was something he was hiding. So she had raced to her room after they were done with their first classes of the day and locked herself in, determined to find out what was going on.

"Hello to you too. I just love starting off the day with gibberish." He replied. "Sorry I missed your call last night, I was busy."

"You’re deliberately ignoring my question… and busy doing what? Where you there too?" She demanded, her heart hammering in her chest at the thought of him being a part of Edmund’s murder.

"Where?" He asked, being purposely obtuse.

'The Daily Prophet. It was in the papers this morning, that Edmund was murdered… It was Elanya wasn’t it?"

He paused, his silence telling her all she needed to know. "Why would you think I would know?" He asked, very careful not to outright deny that she was right.

"Because I think she came to see you last week and you lied about it to keep me from worrying." She answered very directly.

"Since when did you become the mind reader?" He grumbled.

"I can just tell when you’re not being honest with me. What happened?" She asked.

"What do you want me to tell you? Yes, okay! Elanya killed her father, but it’s not like I didn’t try to talk her out of it." Fred argued on his behalf.

More things clicked together in Hermione’s head. "And that’s why you were talking to Willem… you wanted his help trying to control his psycho niece."

"Hey, Edmund was an evil bastard. He killed the mother of his child, falsely imprisoned his brother for years to keep him out of his way, helped cover up that Lucius had killed Luna’s brother, and was now trying to either oust my dad and take over the ministry or oust Dumbledore and take over Hogwarts. And that’s just what we know of!"

Hermione was taken aback by his defensive anger. "Are you really defending Elanya right now?"

He sighed deeply. "I’m just saying I can see why she’d want to kill him… that maybe there was a method to her madness… It just helps me to think that we’re all better off with him gone, okay? That I wasn’t forced to be a part of something bad, but something that would ultimately be good for everyone..."

"You sound like you’re confused as to who the bad guy is here… or girl in this case." She snapped, unsure where her sudden anger was coming from.

"Really? Can you keep track anymore without a scorecard?" He snapped back. "Draco- good or bad? Keep in mind he did just walk up and ruthlessly seek revenge on a group of students the other day… and he probably would have done worse to them had Ginny not shown up."

"Are you really comparing Elanya to Draco? He’s helped save your sister’s life a few times over?!" She yelled, confused as to why they were fighting and what they were actually fighting about.

"Look, I like Draco alright. But they guy has a serious dark streak running through him that he may never be able to get rid of… as does Harry when he’s pushed too far. Why can they get away with wanting to seek revenge but Elanya can’t?" His voice seemed far off, as if he were in his own head and had forgotten she was there.

"Who are you trying to convince, me or yourself?" She asked harshly. "Look if you want to think happy thoughts and get to know the girl better then by all means. But know that she’s going to make you sorry for trusting her."

"Who said I trusted her?!" Fred yelled. "You think I’m some kind of idiot? That I don’t know she’s most likely got something else planned?"

"Well you’re the one who can’t seem to stay away from her."

"Oh you’re right Hermione, I go to the shop each day only to leave and wander the streets, hoping to run into her." He said sarcastically. "She comes to me, not the other way around."

"I’m sure." She rolled her eyes, feeling like she wanted to throw the compact against the wall in her frustration. "Look, you want to think she’s got something to redeem herself then go ahead, be just like Zander and Lee. I just thought you were different."

"What do you care anyway?" He demanded.

"I don’t." She lied. "Talk to any girl you want to, I had just hoped you wouldn’t become infatuated with the one who has you help her commit murder."

"I will talk to anyone I want and I certainly don’t need your permission to do it." He said angrily. "And it’s not like she said ‘hey, I’m going to kill my dad today, want to come with?’ I didn’t really have a choice in the matter."

"What do you mean you didn’t have a choice? So you were there last night?" She asked, concern overshadowing her horror.

"Oh so now you care to get the details? Look I’m at work, Edmund is dead and for now that’s a good thing. Let’s just leave it at that."

"And if Elanya comes by again today asking you to help kill someone else?" She demanded.

"Well, gee whiz Hermione. I guess I’ll just run along and help her, wagging my tail the whole way." He snapped. "So what if she comes back? She’s my concern, not yours. You and I are business partners if anything and I can assure you, she has nothing to do with the business. I don’t have to tell you anything else."

"Really Fred? Business partners?" She was hurt, stung that he hadn’t at least used the word friends.

"Yeah really. So I’ll get back to my part of actually running things and you can go to class and keep filling your big brain with all the knowledge we need to make potions. Or better yet, go find Harry, your boyfriend, the one you actually have a right to boss around and you can tell him what to do for awhile. After all, he’s the one you should worry about talking to other girls… unless of course he and Luna are already off somewhere together." Fred replied coldly, though under his anger he sounded hurt as well.

She didn’t know what she was feeling anymore, but it was all swirling and churning inside of her, ready to erupt. "Harry can talk to Luna or whoever else he wants whenever he wants. He’s a free man now. We broke up last night."

Fred was quiet for a moment, obviously processing what she had told him. Apparently it still wasn’t clicking for him. "What?" He asked at last.

"That’s why I tried to call you, but you didn’t answer because apparently you were too busy being an accessory to murder." She stuck in just to push his buttons more. After all, she’d been grateful that he hadn’t answered her call last night. Of course this wasn’t the ideal way to tell him either, not that she’d planned on telling him today at all.

"I told you already, I didn’t have a choice!" He yelled, clearly frustrated.

"Well, maybe next time Elanya comes to see you, she’ll give you one!" She yelled back.

"Hermione-"

"Look, I’m at school. Harry and I broke up, you were forced into helping kill a man… it was the worst Monday ever, let’s just leave it at that, business partner." She coldly interrupted, recrafting his words to her a few moments ago. "I’ll get back to class and keep filling my brain and you can go run the business while you wait for Elanya to show up with a new sob story. Or better yet, you can go straight to hell!"

She closed the compact before he could reply, angry at him, at Elanya and mostly at herself. She knew he couldn’t have willingly gone along with a plan like the one the evil girl had cooked up, and she should have taken the time to listen and to comfort him in what was probably a very upsetting and confusing experience. Instead she’d become angered by his desire to come to Elanya’s defense… and now that she took the time to think on it, she realized it hadn’t been anger she’d felt… it was jealousy. And worse, she could now see that he hadn’t really been defending the girl, he’d been rationalizing so that he could come to terms with his part in what had happened.

Hermione took a deep breath, feeling stupid for letting her emotions overcome her rationality. She wanted to call him back and apologize but couldn’t bring herself to do it. In fact, she didn’t want to talk to him again at all until they could do so face to face. That should give her enough time to figure herself out… at least, she hoped so. Besides, now that she had calmed down, she could just be trying to give him the benefit of doubt… who’s to say he wasn’t becoming infatuated with Elanya? Crazy could be exciting… certainly more exciting than she was, with her books and desire to avoid chaos. Confusion was never something she’d done well with and at the moment, Hermione wanted to rip her hair out just to distract her brain from thinking. Whether or not she was imagining Fred’s interest in Elanya, one thing was certain- just the thought made her irrationally jealous.

(BREAK)

"I don’t want you to go." Ginny said sullenly, making Draco laugh. They were laying in bed having opted out of going down to breakfast, neither eager to start their Wednesday knowing they wouldn’t end it together.

"Hey, Lupin already cut one day off thanks to the Wolfsbane and the amulets. But I have to leave today, the full moon is tonight." He answered, wrapping his arms more tightly around her.

"I hate the moon. I wish it would just go away." She pouted as she toyed with the crystal hanging around his neck.

"You and me both. But I think that would sort of screw up the whole planet or something, so I guess we’ll just have to suffer." He teased.

"Well, if you’re going to put it on a global scale… I still say screw them all if it means you don’t have to go away tonight." She grinned.

"Ah Ginny, the environmental champion." He said sarcastically as he rolled his eyes. "But hey, if these amulets work tonight, then Lupin and I won’t have to go away anymore ever."

"Then I hope my brother is as smart as he thinks he is." She sighed. "When do you have to leave?"

"In about an hour." He said, regretfully disentangling himself from her and rising to get dressed. "Unfortunately, I also have a meeting to attend before."

"A meeting with who?" She asked, sitting up and pulling the sheet around her. "And about what?"

He finished putting his shoes on and went over to lean down and kiss her. "You don’t want me ever lying to you, right?" He asked when they broke apart.

"I would hope that would go without saying." She answered uncertainly.

"Then I won’t, as long as you don’t ask about the meeting again." He grinned, seeing the face she made at him. "Don’t worry, all will be revealed sooner or later. And you’ll have plenty of time to be mad at me when I can tell you about it, I promise."

"Are you and Harry plotting something together?" She asked, clearly voicing suspicions she’d had for awhile.

He just smiled and leaned down once more to capture her lips. She unexpectedly wrapped her arms around his shoulders and pulled him back down on the bed with her. She rolled so that she was straddling him, letting the sheet fall away as she smiled down at him seductively. "And there’s nothing I can do to tempt you to spend your last hour here with me instead?"

"Yeah, okay. I don’t think I really have to be there anyway." He reached up and wrapped his hand around the back of her neck, gently pulling her down and eagerly crushing his lips against hers.

She broke contact to slyly run her finger down his chest. "Are you sure you don’t want to go to that meeting?"

"What meeting?" He grinned.

(BREAK)

"Where is Draco?" Jacey asked as she entered the Room of Requirement and looked around.

Harry smiled uncomfortably. "He’s going to be leaving soon because of the full moon tonight… so he and Ginny are… saying goodbye, so to speak. I really didn’t want to interrupt them so I figured he probably doesn’t need to be here."

"Well, how is the potion coming along?" She asked, coming to stand next to him and peer into the cauldron for herself.

"I think it looks right… Draco’s better at this stuff that I am." He admitted. "Probably because Snape actually liked and encouraged him."

"More likely it is because this is not very exciting and you are one who tends to tune out what does not immediately hold your interest." She grinned. "But Draco seems to be more cautious, more willing to wait and see rather than jump in head first. As friends you compliment each other nicely."

Harry laughed. "You have no idea how horribly received that compliment would have been a year ago."

"I have seen a bit of Draco’s past in your memories and those of your friends as well as his." She shrugged. "All I can say is we all do what we have to in order to survive."

"Well said I guess." He turned back to the cauldron and peered in, unsure about what he was seeing. "Perhaps he needed to be here after all."

"I think it is fine. I have been reading up on Polyjuice and from everything I now know, it is looking like we are right on course." Jacey assured him.

"And have you been using my invisibility cloak?"

"Several times every day." She smiled. "I love being free of that office."

He grinned back. "But you have been using it for the task at hand as well, right?"

"Of course! I am actually enjoying spying on Tristan. He is an evil little thing and I can’t wait to give him what he deserves."

"Just remember, don’t get involved in anything you see him do. We only need you to learn his mannerisms and speech patterns." He warned.

"I think I can handle this." She scoffed, crossing her arms.

"There’s just so much that could go wrong…"

Jacey reached out and rubbed his shoulder. "Relax. You are thinking on what Luna has said… but she also admitted she hasn’t seen anything useful. I trust her powers like I trust my own, but even if her intuition is right which would you rather deal with- constantly fearing Tristan will hurt her or someone else, or the possible repercussions of his disappearance? I may not be the future teller, but I know she’ll forgive us once she feels the relief of not having to worry."

"But that’s Luna’s point… there’s always going to be something to worry about." He argued. "After Tristan they’ll just send someone else, it just keeps going and going and going… I’m exhausted from having to worry all the time."

"You and everyone else aware of this danger." She returned. "But is this a reason to keep Tristan around? Because he is the one you have become used to worrying about? You know what he has been asked to do to Luna, it is probably one of the many reasons they sent him and he has already attempted it once. But she is a part of us, she belongs to us like every member of the coven belongs to each other. Are you really willing to give him the chance to take a second bite at the apple?"

"Of course not. Which is why I’m willing to face her anger and disappointment in me." He said. "There’s just so much more for me to lose now…"

"Why now?" She asked.

He shook his head. Hermione certainly hadn’t gone around advertising that they were no longer together and he liked that… it gave the right people here the impression that nothing was amiss. "No reason. I have to get to class, I take it you’ll be roaming the halls?"

"Like one of the ghosts." She grinned and then shuddered. "Except the Bloody Baron, I try to steer clear of him."

(BREAK)

"This is it." Lupin said, nervously clutching the amulet as it hung around his neck. Draco knew just how he was feeling… They had taken shelter under a large rock outcropping and bunkered down to wait for nightfall. After walking and sitting in the dirt all day he wished he could go back to that morning when he and Ginny had been warm and comfortable in his bed. But now with the moon beginning to rise in front of them, that was an intangible dream... The moment of truth had arrived. "Are you ready?" Lupin asked.

"No." He answered honestly. It was too much to hope for, that he would step out into the open and remain himself. But already he could feel a struggle happening deep within him as the wolf began to desperately fight whatever was trying to keep it caged.

Together they stepped away from their impromptu shelter, letting the moon’s rays wash over them. Draco felt he was two beings in one body. The amulet was a foe the wolf didn’t understand and was therefore unsure how to overcome it… it was nothing that could be stopped by teeth, claws or cunning. As himself he fought the temptation to rip the necklace from his body, fully able to comprehend the amulet and what it was doing to him. He and the wolf both wanted to end the struggle and so he now had to be stronger than both his wills.

At last a calm, soothing sensation washed over him, lulling the beast to sleep. All that remained was him, Draco, and with nothing left to fight he was once more completely in control of himself. Euphoric relief bubbled inside of him, desperate for release. He turned and howled at the moon, laughing in it’s face that he was still human, that there had been a way around it’s influence on him. Then remembering he wasn’t alone in this, he turned to check on Lupin.

He was sitting on the ground staring at his hands in amazement… his human hands. "I can’t believe this is really happening… after so long, it’s really happening." He whispered, his joy more internalized than Draco’s had been. Having battled and dealt with this curse for far longer, maintaining his humanness under the moon had obviously reached Lupin on a far deeper level.

Sitting next to him, he put out his own hands, holding them up to compare to Lupin’s. They turned and smiled at each other, grateful that their lives had been given back to them. "I guess this means we owe Fred pretty much forever." Draco said.

"I can live with that." Lupin said, staring up at the moon in total contentment.

(BREAK)

Luna tried to focus on her History of Magic homework, but every time she read a paragraph she would have to start all over realizing she hadn’t retained a word of it. By the time someone came knocking on her door, she was grateful for the interruption. She opened up and was nearly shoved aside as Hermione burst past her and immediately began pacing. Closing the door she turned to her friend in concern. "Are you okay?"

"Draco and Lupin are back… they said the amulets worked." She said, ignoring the question.

"Well, that’s great!" Luna felt herself get excited until she saw the look Hermione gave her. "Isn’t it?"

"I need you to do something for me." She replied, once more ignoring the actual question in her agitation. "You’re the only one who can because you’re the only one who knows about the compact and I don’t want to have to explain it to Harry or anyone else right now."

"Okay, calm down." She went over and put her arm around Hermione’s shoulders, leading her to sit on the bed. "I’ll do whatever you need me to."

She handed her the compact. "Call Fred and tell him the amulets worked perfectly and neither Lupin nor Draco turned."

Luna stared down at the object in confusion. "Isn’t that something you’d rather tell him? After all, you did help make them. This a success for you both to share together."

"Of course I want to tell him." Hermione groaned, once more getting her feet and pacing around the room. "I just can’t right now… I mean I’m so happy they worked and Lupin and Draco can have part of themselves back… And Fred should know too, he deserves to know right away, not in some letter Ron’s writing that will take days to get to him with the new restrictions on the mail service… I want him to be happy about this."

"I don’t think hearing it from me is going to make him very happy." She argued, getting the picture pretty quickly that Hermione and Fred must have had some kind of fight. "I think it’ll only make things worse."

"Please, Luna… you said you would." She pleaded.

"You’re right, I did." She sighed and opened the compact, waiting for Fred’s voice to float out of it.

"Hermione?" He answered immediately, a hint of desperation in his tone.

"No, it’s Luna." She answered. "Hermione wanted me to call and let you know how it went with Draco and Lupin."

There was a pause as he took in the meaning in her words. "Why can’t she tell me herself?"

"I have no idea, she just asked me to do her a favor. But she’s standing right in front of me and can hear everything you’re saying." She said, looking up at the other girl as she ratted her out.

You weren’t supposed to say that! Hermione’s anger tore through her mind.

I know. She calmly replied. But I had to.

"Oh she is, is she?" Fred asked, sounding hurt and angry. "Really Hermione… this is what you’re going to do? First you drop that bombshell on me before telling me to go to hell and disconnecting and now you’re having Luna speak for you? I really thought you were a bit more mature than this."

"Oh yeah?" Hermione yelled at the compact, letting her emotional uncertainty overwhelm her. "How’s this for mature- Luna would you please tell Fred that if he doesn’t know why I’m upset then there’s nothing for us to talk about?!"

They heard Fred scoff in reply. "Luna would you please tell Hermione that she’s being ridiculous?! And that of course I know why she’s mad but there’s no reason for her to be because she’s gotten the wrong idea about how I feel about certain people?!"

Luna shook her head. "I’m going to tell you both that I am so not getting involved in whatever this is going on here. Besides, don’t you want to know if the amulets worked?"

Apparently he’d been so focused on the fact that Hermione had refused to be the one to call him, he’d forgotten why they called in the first place. "Okay, yeah. How did it go, Luna?" He asked angrily.

"Perfectly. No one turned into a werewolf last night… at least no one we know." She grinned.

"Great, tell Lupin and Draco I’m happy for them. And tell Hermione that when she’s ready to talk like the young adults we are, I’ll be waiting to hear from her." Fred grumbled. "I’ve got to go."

"Bye." Luna called though she was sure he’d already closed his end. "Well, that was interesting…"

Hermione shook her head. "That’s not what I wanted to have happen."

"Really? Because that’s kind of what I warned you was going to happen and I didn’t even need to have a vision to know."

"Yes, yes, you’re wise and all-knowing." She muttered, turning to collapse on the bed and stare up at the ceiling.

"So, what’s going on between you and Fred?" Luna pushed.

She shook her head. "I can’t even begin to comprehend how to explain… I made the mistake of telling him-" She stopped suddenly and looked up at Luna suspiciously. "Hasn’t Harry talked to you at all?"

"About what?" She asked feeling completely confused.

Hermione laughed bitterly. "Of course, this is the one time Harry chooses to be the level headed one."

"What’s that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing, nevermind… I just need to go think some things over. Forget I said anything, forget I ever came in here at all, okay?"

"Okay." She agreed, walking Hermione to the door. But there was nothing that would make her forget the visit… something was going on, and if it involved Hermione, Harry and Fred… well it was probably something that involved her too, she just hadn’t been told yet for some reason. But if something had changed or was about to change, why hadn’t she been warned in a dream, or better yet a real vision? Something still needed to happen… something that was still yet undecided was standing in the way and she hoped she would soon find out what it was. Unfortunately, she had the sense that Harry was the one hanging on a choice and worse, intuition told her what that choice was… apparently Harry was still unsure whether or not he could go through with killing Tristan. This was good in the sense that she could still change his mind- if he ever stopped avoiding her as he had since they’d last talked. But it was bad in the sense that if he was this close to making a decision, then he and Draco must already have a plan in the works. She had to figure out what to do and quickly.

(BREAK)

Fred sat in his office, staring at the compact as it sat on his desk. He had one finger touching it, waiting to feel it grow warm and tell him that Hermione was calling.

"Hey!" Lee called, opening the door and barging in without knocking. "We’re all out of Bogger Wart Remover."

"There’s more in the back." He answered without looking up.

"Oh, now this is getting pathetic." Lee sighed, reaching out and taking the compact.

"Give it back!" Fred leapt up and lunged at his friend, but Lee stepped back, careful to keep the prize out of reach.

"It’s been a week mate!" He yelled as he shoved Fred off of him and waited for him to calm down. "A week since you had that argument with Hermione… and all you do is stare at this thing waiting for her to call. Grow a pair and call her or just give up altogether. But you have to do something different, you’re driving me insane!"

"I can’t just call her… it’s complicated."

"Well you can’t keep moping around either." Lee insisted.

"Hey, I can do and feel whatever I want!" Fred shouted, crossing his arms and pacing the small office.

"What is with you lately? Ever since last Tuesday morning you’ve been completely messed up… not yourself, you know? And that was before you fought with Hermione…"

"Hermione is only half my problem…" Fred muttered, shaking his head. "I’m just trying to figure out how to deal with a few things that happened, alright? Is that okay with you?"

"Hey, don’t go biting my head off because you’re having problems coping with life." Lee returned angrily. "I’m standing here trying to talk it out with you, help if I can."

"By taking the compact and telling me to get over it?" He shot back.

"Fine! Take the stupid thing back." Lee shouted, throwing it at him. "I hope you and it are very happy because one thing is clear… you did something to screw up, Hermione won’t be calling. I’m taking the rest of the day off, see you tomorrow." He turned and stormed out, slamming the front door of the shop behind him.

Fred took a deep breath, trying to bring himself to a more rational place. But he couldn’t find one… too much had happened in too short a time for his brain to have properly processed anything at all. The thought of now having to go out front and work the counter was appalling.

Just as he decided to go and close up for the day, he heard the bell above the door jingle, indicating a customer had come in. He waited a moment, hoping it was Lee coming back to talk things out between them. But apparently that wasn’t going to be the case. With a heavy sigh, he slipped the compact in his pocket and went to see who had come in.

He stopped short at the sight, not quite believing his eyes. His disbelief quickly turned to anger. "What are you doing here?" He demanded.

Elanya, looking dazzling in her blue dress and waist hugging coat, simply smiled as if greeting an old friend. "I was waiting for Lee to leave. I need to talk to you."

"Well I don’t need to talk to you. I’ve already helped you get what you claim you wanted, possibly at the expense of my own sanity." Fred replied stonily. "Get out."

"Or what, you’ll call the guards your father had assigned to the store?" She mocked. "I’m here to make a deal."

"I’ve no interest in a deal with you."

"Even if it means learning information about Voldemort and his Death Eaters?" She asked slyly.

"Go to my dad if you want to make some kind of deal like that… or one of the Aurors. I can’t help you." He insisted, though his curiosity was certainly peaked.

"But you want to, I can tell." She grinned. "Besides, I don’t want to go to anyone else because I don’t trust them. I know how Sarah was treated by the Ministry before she even had the chance to do anything wrong… do you really think I’d go to them when I already have so many sins in my past?"

He shook his head and sighed, knowing he was about to make a mistake but was also unable to stop himself. "So, what do you want this time?"

"I want you to hide me, to help me escape London. I have no money, no contacts outside Sarah and Elise, no way to break free of the situation I’m in. You can provide me with all of that so I can go off and begin my life over, now free from the anger against my father that was tying me down. In exchange, I tell you everything I know about Voldemort, his followers and their plans… with one exception."

"And that is?"

"I won’t turn on Sarah and Elise. All I’ll say is they are working independently of Voldemort while pretending to work with him. Their plans are their own and as they really have nothing to do with you or your friends, I don’t feel the need to disclose them." She stared at him, her golden eyes sparkling with amusement. "Of course should you decide not to help me, I feel it necessary to remind you not only of my friend up at Hogwarts, but the fact that you helped me kill a man. I don’t think that’ll make your father look so good, having two sons that are murderers… and I do still have clearance to submit articles to the Daily Prophet, I’m sure everyone would love to read my full confession on the front page… Just know, I am very willing to take you down with me. So what do you say, Fred. Do we have a deal?"

"You had this all planned from the beginning, didn’t you?" He asked angrily. "Everything you’ve done was so carefully planned."

"And you thought I was crazy." She laughed.

"Yeah, like a fox." He muttered. "Why now? Why make this deal at all?"

"Because when I met Voldemort I had a vision of the past and saw for sure what he had been planning to do the first time around. My mother had told me it was the reason she’d fled London when she found out she was pregnant with me but I had always doubted her, figuring Edmund had simply cut her off and she didn’t want to admit it. After she came back and found out Edmund and the others were trying to bring Voldemort back she got scared and that’s why she sent me away. She had no reason to assume they wouldn’t find a way to bring back Voldemort and had a feeling that he would try his plan again with more success this time. I have recently been given proof that it’s true." She answered, for once actually beginning to look scared.

"Okay, I’ll play along. What is he trying to do?" Fred asked, forcing himself to remain skeptical.

"He wants us, the ones he calls ‘his psychics’ to embrace immortal life. I know he wants to use his pure blood vampire to do it and so I’ve had someone watching Tristan Macnair up at Hogwarts-"

"I thought you said you didn’t have any connections." He interrupted.

"A school boy I have convinced to do whatever I tell him is not an ally, he is a tool." She scoffed. "A very useful one as it turns out, he really would have killed your brother and sister that night, was all ready to do it. And even better, he’s already made friends with the vampire."

"You can’t mean that fool Troy."

She shook her head. "I don’t know who that is. Regardless, my guy told me that Tristan has already tried getting that seer you’re friends with... for some reason, Voldemort really wants her. It’s his plan to have her turned before they leave school. And then it’ll be our turn, before the holidays. Sarah and Elise are entertaining the idea, I think they like the thought of living forever… well I don’t. One lifetime is more than enough for me."

"What makes you think I’m capable of hiding you from Tristan, Voldemort or anyone else?" He asked, remaining impassive though inside he was panicking. Hermione had been keeping his well apprised of what was occurring at the school and what they all already had suspected of Tristan’s plans for Luna. He’d already known the vampire tried to go after Luna and had damn near been successful. Surely Harry wouldn’t give him the chance to try again…

"Honestly, I’m not sure that you are. But I find I actually enjoy your company… and you can provide me with money and a link to Willem. I’ve lived a long time without family, and it looks like he’s all I’ve got. Plus he didn’t turn me in for what I did to Edmund and neither did you… that goes a long way with me."

"As you pointed out, there really is no way to turn you in without implicating ourselves… you made sure of that. After all, no matter what you did, I’m the one who showed you the way in and that’s all anyone will see and you know it. That’s why you’re threatening to turn yourself in now, because that also means turning me in." He turned away, too angry to look at her. With the addition of her threats against Ron and Ginny, she’d trapped him good.

"I’m sorry I had to do all that, but survival is key. Now, I have a few things to get in order before I can disappear… so why don’t I come back next Friday? By then you should have had enough time to scrounge up some money for me and figure out how exactly to get me out of London and where I’m going next."

"You’re the mastermind, why don’t you come up with a plan?" He taunted.

"Because I’m only good at thinking about myself… but you see I won’t be alone when I leave." She smiled. "You and Willem are going to come with me."

"Like hell I will." He sneered.

"Oh but you will, at least until I’m assured that no one has followed me and that my new life is secure. After all who better to have as a hostage than one of the Minister’s children, someone both sides would be interested in bartering for? But I promise, once I think I’m in the clear you can return here to run your silly little shop... if you still want to after seeing a bit of the world with me."

"Why are you trying to ruin my life?" Fred shouted at her, grabbing the edge of the counter to keep from tearing his hair out… or reaching out to strangle her.

"I’m not. I’m just trying to better mine." She smiled calmly. "If it’s at your expense then so be it. I like you Fred, but not more than I like myself."

"Well, there’s something I can actually believe." He muttered.

"I’ll be back next Friday, my advice to you is to be ready to leave. And don’t forget to bring my uncle with you, I’m surprisingly glad you went behind my back to include him before. I’d very much like to give him the chance to start over as well, whether he wants to or not."

He rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah. It’s all about you and what you want, I get it."

"Well then, I’ll see you soon." She blew him a kiss before walking out the door, letting it slam behind her.

Fred picked up a glass jar and threw it against the wall, watching it explode in a shower of shimmering glass. It wasn’t enough. He went on a rampage, knocking over shelves and breaking everything in sight. He kept going and going, trying to get out all of the pent up anger and frustration trapped inside of him. At last he was left standing in the middle of his destruction, panting as he tried to catch his breath.

Looking around at the mess, he felt the fight seep out of him and exhausted sadness take over. He dropped to his knees, not quite believing his life at the moment. He felt so alone, so trapped. There was no move he could make now that wouldn’t affect someone he cared about. Elanya had once more been clear about what refusing her meant for Ron and Ginny… and now she had Edmund’s murder to hang over his head as well. But to do as she asked and go with her… how could he ever explain that to Hermione? Not that she had given him much of a chance to explain anything anyway… but after calming down from their fight he could understand why, her own emotions over ending things with Harry had to be overwhelming. Still, Fred felt like he needed her now, her words, her advice, her comfort… Reluctantly he pulled out the compact, praying she would answer.



NOTE: Whew, that was a lot to get out and there’s still so much to come… will Fred help Elanya again? Will Harry go through with killing Tristan? Will Harry, Hermione, Luna and Fred ever sort themselves out romantically? Find out next time!


Chapter 45: Crossroads

A/N: Read, Review, Enjoy!

Hermione felt her pocket grow warm and at first she fully intended to ignore it as she was in class anyway. This stand off with Fred had been going for a week now and while she didn’t like not talking to him every day, she’d certainly had time to reflect on what he meant to her… She just wasn’t ready to make a decision on how to handle things, especially if someone like Elanya was in the picture. She wasn’t even sure why she was still carrying the stupid communication device with her since she just didn’t know how to talk to him anymore. He hadn’t tried calling her at all since their last fight, but apparently he wasn’t giving up now as the compact grew warmer and warmer while he continued to call. With the sudden fear that something may be wrong, she raised her hand and excused herself to the lavatory. She saw Harry’s glance, the one telling her that he didn’t like the thought of her walking alone in the halls, but she ignored it. Tristan was also sitting there in class so she had nothing to fear from him and though she had no idea where Troy was, her own safety wasn’t really her main concern.

Once in the girls’ bathroom, she locked the door to ensure no one else could come in before scrambling to flip open the compact. "What, what’s wrong?" She asked, trying to keep her voice neutral.

"Hermione…" He sounded so forlorn and more than a bit scared, making her forget everything that happened between them before that moment.

"What happened?" She asked nervously, her heart clenching in anticipation.

"Elanya showed up again today… I just… I just don’t know what to do anymore." He choked out, struggling to hide how badly he was suffering emotionally.

For his sake, she forced herself to remain calm and empathetic. "What did she want this time?"

"Too much." He said quietly. "I don’t know what to do."

"I can’t help you if you don’t tell me the problem." She said gently.

"I know… but you can’t help me. There’s no way out of this one." He said in complete defeat. "I got so mad, I ruined the whole store and then I guess I just… I needed to hear your voice."

"Come on now. You aren’t sounding like yourself… you don’t just give up like this." She said, trying to rally his spirits while at the same time hating Elanya with every fiber of her being… and she still didn’t even know what the girl had done yet.

"I don’t want to fight with you anymore Hermione." He said suddenly.

She was taken aback by the change in conversation but decided to be honest. "I don’t want to fight with you anymore either."

"If I have to go away for awhile… would you be mad at me?"

"What are you talking about? Where would you go and for how long?" She demanded, feeling panic start to rise up.

"I don’t know… just away. Would you be mad, even if I promised to come back?" He asked with so much hopefulness, she felt pressured into telling him what he wanted to hear.

But she couldn’t lie to him about this… If he was really asking how she would feel then she had to give him a real answer. "Yes, I think I would be mad if I didn’t know where you were going or why or how long you’ll be gone or what compelled you to go or who you were going with."

"Well that’s that then isn’t it? Because I can’t give you the where, why, how, what or who of any of this…"

"What’s ‘that’s that’ supposed to mean? I’m not allowed to be mad at you ever? And this hasn’t even happened yet!" She cried, confused beyond words as to what was going on. "Look, can’t this trip or whatever you’re planning wait until you and I can talk face to face… you know, sort things out?"

"Not unless you can get a pass to come home this weekend… Apparently I’m leaving next Friday." He said bitterly.

"And how would I explain the need for a pass? Besides, the stupid Costume Ball is Sunday night." She snapped.

"Well, by all means, I hope you go and enjoy yourself while I sit here and figure out my life." He said angrily.

"Like I care about some stupid dance! I’d come see you if I could but they’d never give me a pass without Harry, Ron or Ginny also needing one… It’s your parents permission I would need to come home, remember?" She shot back. "I just don’t understand any of this!"

"You think I do!" He yelled. Then he sighed and softened his voice. "Sorry… I’ve been snapping at all the wrong people lately. I think I already really made Lee mad at me earlier today."

"I know you’re upset and frustrated, I just wish I could say that I knew what you were going through. But you won’t tell me anything about it…"

"It’s too much this way… I wish I could just… I should have made it so we could also see each other in these stupid compacts." He grumbled.

"Well they were a rush job, remember?"

"I’m sorry, I can’t do this anymore right now… I have to clean up this mess I made before anyone sees it and… and I just need to think. Goodbye Hermione."

"Fred!" But this time he had been the one to hang up on her. "Now what am I supposed to do?" She asked aloud to the empty room.

(BREAK)

"You want to go for a walk?" Ron suggested, looking for a leisurely way to spend his Friday afternoon before being boxed in for one more class. Currently he and Parvati were sitting in the courtyard enjoying the unusually nice weather. "It’s a perfect day for it." He added, leaning his face up toward the sun.

"I’m kind of tired. I think I should go take a nap before Defense class." She said with a wide yawn. She certainly looked tired, and she was no longer even trying to hide it with makeup.

"Still having nightmares?" He asked in concern.

She nodded. "And maybe I’ve caught a bug or something, who knows…"

"Well come on, I’ll walk you back to the common room." He stood and offered his arm, worried about her wandering alone in such an unaware state of mind. Of course, once he did bring her back, he’d have to stay in the common room so as not to be wandering by himself at all, alert or not.

Parvati smiled up at him. "Such a gentleman." She teased, rising to her feet and taking his arm. As they walked, she slowly leaned on him more and more, eventually resting her head on his shoulder. By the time they reached the common room he was actually carrying her.

"What happened?" Padma asked, rushing over to them in concern.

"I think she fell asleep while walking." Ron answered, taken aback by Padma’s appearance… she now looked very different from her twin, more healthy and alive. Until really looking at the girls side by side, he hadn’t realized how much Parvati had changed… she looked thin, unrested and undernourished... almost sickly.

"Poor thing, she told me she’s been having bad dreams that keep her up at night." Padma whispered, looking over her sister. "Help me get her to her room."

"What do you mean help you? I’m the one carrying her!" He whispered back.

Together they placed Parvati in her bed and he stood back while her sister tucked her in. Then they crept back out into the hallway. "We’ll just let her sleep. Thanks for taking care of her."

"It was my pleasure… but is there something else, besides the nightmares?" He asked, trying to be delicate.

"Not that I know of, but something does feel off about her, doesn’t it?" She answered, worry and fear clouding her eyes. "I’ll talk to her, see what I can find out."

"Just let me know if I can help." He offered.

She thanked him and walked back out into the common room, leaving him alone in the hallway. He leaned against the wall, worried and hoping there wasn’t anything seriously wrong with Parvati. "So is that your girlfriend in there then?" Jacey’s thickly accented voice came out of nowhere, nearly giving him a heart attack. He nearly had another when she appeared from beneath Harry’s cloak laughing. "You should be seeing your face right now. It is hilarious!"

"I’m sure." He said placing a hand over his chest. "What are you trying to do, kill me?! You can’t just sneak up on people like that!"

"Sorry." She said, still giggling. "If you are still wanting to go for a walk, I will go with you… If you do not mind it looking like you are talking to yourself." She added with a mischievous grin as she gestured to the cloak.

"I think I can deal with it." He grinned back, part of him wondering how long the girl had been watching him and was annoyed by the intrusion. Another part was pleased that she had cared to spy on him at all.

Once more hiding herself, they walked back outside together, wandering toward the lake and into the woods. "I do not sense there is anyone else around." She said after awhile, again pulling off the cloak. "It is hard to breathe under there sometimes."

"Oh I know, believe me." He replied.

"So you did not answer my question earlier. This Parvati, she is your girlfriend?" Jacey asked confidently as they continued walking.

"Well, she’s a girl… and she’s my friend…" He felt uncomfortable coming up with an answer, especially for her. "We’ve been on a few dates and we’re going to the Costume Ball together."

She smiled and shook her head. "I see. Well she seems lovely."

"Parvati’s great."

"Is she ill?" She asked with apparent concern. "She certainly looks ill."

"I don’t know, maybe. She hasn’t been sleeping well at night."

"She did not seem to have any trouble just now… she must be new." Jacey said thoughtfully, staring off into the distance.

"What’s that supposed to mean? New to what?" He asked, suddenly feeling on edge.

"Nothing, I was just thinking out loud and I should not have." She smiled again. "So you are taking her to this dance I have been hearing all the students talking about?"

"That’s that plan." He answered distantly, feeling she was somehow trying to push his buttons and make him purposely uncomfortable. Well, two could play at that game. "It’s hard dating, I couldn’t even imagine… what was it like to be married?"

She squirmed a bit, losing some of that confidence she always carried with her. It made her seem more approachable, knowing she was capable of making mistakes. "I would not know. What I had was not really a marriage, it was convenience and we ended it as soon as we could. And that is all there is to say on the matter."

"Okay, I get it. You don’t want to talk about it." He raised his hands in surrender.

"And you do not want to talk about Parvati, I understand the point you were making Ron. I am not stupid."

"Oh I would never suggest that you were because I’m not stupid either." He smiled, trying to lighten the suddenly tense mood.

Thankfully she smiled back. "I have enjoyed getting to know you… ever since getting your letter, I just had this feeling that we had to meet."

He was flattered… and confused. "Then why does it seem like you’re about to say goodbye?"

Her smile saddened and she looked down at the ground. "Because I am. Starting Sunday night, there are plans… I will be going away for awhile."

"Why?" He asked, suddenly feeling desperate to find a way to make her stay.

She shook her head. "There are things I need to do for the coven, and to benefit all of you, the new friends I have made here."

"Like what?"

"When you need to know, you will be told." She answered simply.

"Urgh! What is it with you coven people?!" He said, feeling completely frustrated. "You sound just like Luna… always with her secrets and the ‘you’ll know when you need to know’ line of bullshit. So I’m not in the coven, haven’t I helped enough to be kept in the loop?!"

Jacey reached out and grabbed his shoulder, stopping him and forcing him to look at her. "I am not Luna. She keeps her secrets because she knows too much and sees things she can’t help. I am my own person entirely, with my own reasons for who I tell what and why. As are you. I have seen the memories in your head of the things you told your friends in an effort to manipulate them. It is not fair to indulge in your own secret deeds while judging others who do the same."

"Fine, point taken." He muttered, shrugging her off. "How long will you be gone?"

"As long as it takes… hopefully a few days, more realistically a few weeks." She reached out and brushed his hair out of his face. "Will you miss me?"

"I barely know you." He answered uncertainly.

"Ah, but that is not the question I asked you Ron. I asked if you will miss me…" She said with a smile as her hazel eyes with that secretive hint of green were sparkling with amusement.

"Yes, I’ll miss you." He admitted.

"Good. I will miss you too." She took his hand and squeezed it as she leaned in to kiss his cheek. "And now we both have the joy of our reunion to look forward to." She whispered, sending a thrill of excitement down his spine. Though he wasn’t looking forward to her departure, he was now certainly anticipating her return.

(BREAK)

"Time to settle down, we have an hour and a half together before your weekend can start so just get used to it." Lupin announced, regarding his class with a smile. "Today marks the beginning of our study on the humanoid species. This of course includes both vampires and werewolves- both of which we already have acknowledged to be in this room so let’s accept that fact and move on." Harry felt his heart tighten in excitement… they were about to learn everything about vampires, hopefully that included the best way to kill a pureblood one. He eagerly listened as his friend went on teaching. "Now, based on what we know and have previously learned, who can tell me what defines a humanoid?"

Hermione’s hand shot into the air as usual and she barely waited for Lupin to acknowledge her before speaking. "A humanoid is a species that while maintaining certain qualities or appearing as humans, they cannot be classified as belonging solely to the homo sapien family."

"That’s completely correct. Five points for Gryffindor." Lupin grinned. "And giving someone else a chance, who can tell me some other examples of the humanoid species besides the two I already mentioned? Padma?"

She lowered her hand, looking pleased to be called on. "Fairies and sprites, merpeople, centaurs and minotaurs, demons, giants, trolls, elves, animagi… that’s all I can think of right now."

"Excellent! Five points to Ravenclaw as well. Along with werewolves and vampires, those creatures all make up the most commonly known humanoids. Of course there are a few more lesser known, perhaps because they are all a bit on the darker side and most of us like to not think too much about them… until we meet one in a dark alley that is. Does anyone know what some of these creatures are?"

Draco was the only one besides Hermione to raise his hand and Lupin looked to him in encouragement. "Gorgons, sphinxes, harpies, furies, and if you’re in Japan, the Tengu." He said quietly

"Very good. Looks like it’s five points for Slytherin." Lupin nodded in approval before turning back to the rest of the class. "Many believe all of these creatures to be nothing more than myth, even werewolves. Well I am standing here before you and as surely as I exist, so do all the others. Their stories come from all over the world and date back far past recorded history. Many of them are essentially harmless, just like most humans. But there are those who have it in their nature to be more deadly- and for a fraction of those that are, they can’t even help it… it’s just how they were made. Therefore it is important to be able to recognize what you are dealing with and how."

"Can we start with vampires?" Harry asked, unable to control his eagerness for the only knowledge he desired.

"Why not start with werewolves?" Tristan snapped, glaring at him. "It’s just as important to know how to kill one of them, since you’re so excited."

"No one is going to learn how to kill anyone!" Lupin yelled, fighting to regain control of his class.

"I thought this was Defense Against the Dark Arts." Tristan sneered.

"Exactly. It’s a Defense class." Lupin argued. "Not a lesson in murder."

"I’d say killing is a pretty good way to defend oneself, Professor." The vampire grinned and Harry couldn’t have agreed with the sentiment more.

"And I’d say you are very narrow minded, Mr. Macnair." Lupin shot back. "Causing death should be the last option in your line of defense and I won’t be the one to teach anyone how to bring it about easier. You will all learn the standard material in this lesson and not one thing more! Now if that’s settled, we are moving on."

Harry tuned out most of the lesson, only listening in whenever he heard the word vampire. Apparently the differences between one that is made and one that is born are significant. Pureborns are stronger, faster and more agile, and they require more blood. They also had the ability to hypnotize their prey with their gaze, something both Hermione and Luna had already warned him about… Their ability to fly Harry had discovered for himself. Lupin also taught them that a pureborn’s skin is thicker, harder to penetrate. But what intrigued Harry the most to learn was that unlike his parents, Tristan’s heart was beating. Of course Lupin explained that the skeletal structure was like steel and rather than individual ribs, a fully closed breast plate of solid bone protected that giant weakness.

By the end of class, he felt disappointed and after sharing a look with Draco it was decided they would both stay after to talk to Lupin. Silently sending his plans to Ron and Hermione, Harry told them to be sure to stick close together when walking down to the common room and that they would meet up again in the Great Hall for dinner. Finally everyone filed out, leaving the professor to stare down his two remaining students. "I know what you want and I’m not going to tell you. In fact I don’t even want to know that you are both even considering this."

"We’ll figure it out one way or another." Draco said.

"We thought you’d want us to have the edge on our side." Harry added.

Lupin shook his head. "But have you thought of the repercussions?"

"It’s not like we have a plan or anything." Draco easily lied, though he was careful not to look directly at the man lest his newly discovered guilt for such actions take over.

"Right, we just want to know in case something like what happened at the quidditch match happens again." Harry said, keeping up the lie though he too found he couldn’t quite bring himself to look right at his friend while he did it. "Things are getting serious and it’d be so easy for him to get one of us… we need to hedge our bets. You saw what he did to us and what he tried to do to Luna. I mean sure we could cut off his head, but I doubt someone like Tristan will let us get that close."

"You’d be wasting your time anyway." Lupin sighed. "It doesn’t matter how sharp a blade you have, there’s only one thing that can penetrate his skin."

"What?" Harry and Draco asked in unison, both anxious to know more.

He sighed again and hung his head. "I don’t want to tell you. I don’t want either of you making a mistake just because you get mad one day."

"We’ll find out anyway, even if it takes awhile." Harry argued.

"Right, we have Granger, remember? If anyone could find out for us, she could." Draco added.

"I had feared that the two of you working together was going to be a dangerous thing." Lupin said with a sad smile. "I had also hoped I was wrong."

"So, are you going to tell us?" Harry pressed.

"Only if you promise to use the information responsibly… meaning only if you have to in order to save a life." He warned. Both boys agreed, figuring that was exactly what they were doing. Again Lupin sighed heavily. "The only thing that can cut through the skin of a pureborn vampire is the wood of an Ash tree. It was discovered centuries ago, by a muggle no less. History says he was a carpenter in Scotland, made all sorts of things out of every wood imaginable and was apparently very skilled at his craft and strove for art as well as function. For his own home, he made a collection of axes, one made of every wood known to man. They were meant to commemorate his trade, a symbol of the tool he’d used to harvest the wood in the first place. Well, as the story goes, there was a sudden infestation of vampires in the surrounding villages. It was the second to arise in that decade and so most knew how to deal with the creatures… but there was one who just couldn’t be stopped. Eventually this vampire reached the carpenter’s house and in defense the man picked up the nearest thing to him, the sturdiest wooden axe he’d yet to complete made entirely from the trunk of an Ash tree. He swung figuring he was making his last stand and was as surprised as the vampire when it sliced right through his flesh. Swinging again, the carpenter beheaded him and being a muggle who knew of the magical world, he immediately contacted our kind and the body was taken away. It was only then that they realized they had discovered the first pureborn vampire known to exist."

"None of that is in our history book." Harry said confidently though he certainly hadn’t read the whole thing.

"Of course it isn’t. I can only tell you what I know, but I’m sure Professor Binns could tell you more. He was the carpenter." Lupin grinned.

"You mean, that was one of his past lives?" Draco sputtered.

"One of the ones where he was a muggle anyway." He answered, looking amused at their surprise. "If it had been any other, our kind would have had a hell of a time cleaning everything up but thankfully he’s a past life regressor and recalled his more magical lifetimes. As it was, word started spreading among the villages that the only way to kill the vampires was with a wooden stake, getting many of the details wrong as usual. I'm sure the whole incident eventually inspired many muggle authors… and a few magical ones as well. But now I’m stepping into Binns’ shoes- I’m meant to teach defense, not history."

Quickly thanking him and excusing themselves, Harry and Draco raced off without even having to check with each other on where they were going. To their frustration, they had to wait a grueling fifteen minutes for the second years to finish their class with Professor Binns. But as soon as every last one of rather small looking children had exited the room, the two boys rushed in and right up to the ghostly man’s very real desk. Harry winced as he banged his knee against the wood. "What can I help you both with?" Binns asked, his normal far away expression twisted into startled confusion.

"We were wondering if you could please tell us about that vampire you killed when you were a muggle." Draco asked very directly.

For a moment the professor seemed confused, and then dawning recollection washed over him. "Ah yes, I believe I remember what you’re talking about Mr. Malfoy." The boys shared a look, surprised Binns had actually remembered a student’s name as things from this current life as a specter usually escaped his notice. The ghost chuckled. "It has often served my best interests to pretend ignorance and so I have gotten very good at playing the unobservant fool. But I assure you both that I know more than I let on. Just like I know that there is a student here fitting the description of the very creature whose demise you wish to know about. With any other students I wouldn’t question their motive for such knowledge, but when Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy come to me together, it is the only responsible thing to do."

Harry sighed, wishing for the millionth time that he couldn’t be so easily profiled. "If you’ve been watching and listening, then you must know that Tristan Macnair has caused several problems and made some very serious threats against us and our friends. We just want to know the best way to defend ourselves should the need arise." He continued the lie they had just given Lupin.

Binns nodded and leaned back in his chair as he hovered over it. "It is terrifying to know there is someone out to hurt you and feel there is nothing you can do about it. All I can tell you about my experience is that I was backed into a corner and was lucky enough to grab the one thing that would save me."

"And nothing anyone else tried on this particular vampire worked?" Draco prodded.

"The other vampires were able to be brought down the normal way, but this one… nothing else could touch him except the Ash wood, or Uisinn as we called it back then in our Gaelic tongues." Binns grinned before turning serious as his memories of that day came back to him. "I hadn’t really expected it to work you know. I thought for sure I was simply putting up a fight rather than just give myself over to death or worse, being made into one of them. I swung figuring the only thing that would happen was I would make him madder… he didn’t even try to duck out of the way, I don’t think he expected it to work either. So imagine both our surprise when it sliced through his shoulder… without thinking I swung again and the next thing I knew, his head was rolling across the floor and his body was crumbling at my feet. Knowing what I knew from my past lives in the magical world, I knew I had to find the wizarding community. I made a contact and they came to take the body away, studying it to learn just what had made this vampire so different. Meanwhile I lied to the other muggles, telling them that there was no body because it had instantly turned to dust."

"And with the body, our kind figured out the skeletal structure and impenetrable skin." Harry surmised.

Binns nodded. "Eventually they figured out he was a pureborn, two vampire parents had created something no one had thought possible- living offspring. Eventually it happened again within the werewolf clans as they also grew better at hiding their curse and therefore tended to live longer… at least long enough to begin breeding. And since then, such cases have been found among every branch of the humanoid species, some have even mated with muggles causing offspring that have come to be known as halflings. Pureborns or even halflings are much stronger and more capable than their parents and generally they tend to take on the darker traits becoming more fearsome than the creatures that bred them."

"Are there Ash trees around here?" Draco asked, looking uncomfortable with the topic of mating and breeding.

"Of course!" Binns laughed. "I’m sure there are plenty out in the Forbidden Forest, they’re a very abundant species… fortunately for you. Unfortunately you aren’t allowed in the Forbidden Forest and so I cannot condone the thought of you violating school rules to go in search of them. I will have to alert Mr. Filch that he will need to keep his eyes out- it is my responsibility as a professor here. But I’m sure bright boys like yourselves will figure something out." He winked at them.

Neither boy was trembling at the thought of Filch and so they thanked the professor and left, making their way down to the Great Hall for dinner. "Well I’ve learned one thing today…" Draco muttered as they walked. "I’m never having kids… never wanted them anyway. Now at least I have an excuse."

"You know, Tristan didn’t have to turn out the way he did… he chose to be like his parents." Harry pointed out. "There are plenty of vampires out there walking around living their lives peacefully among people. And you and Lupin both prove that werewolves don’t have to be the fearsome creatures they are thought to be."

"As long as we’re bogged down with potions and amulets." He shot back. "Sirius had to stop Lupin from attacking you, remember? He didn’t have his potion and without it, he couldn’t stop the wolf. He would have killed you, Weasley and Granger without even thinking about it."

"Point being that there are ways to control it. If he’d had the potion, there wouldn’t have been a problem." Harry argued. "Not that I’m advocating that you run off to start procreating. I don’t really want to have children either, it seems… why give yourself something even more precious to lose? Falling in love is bad enough."

"You’re telling me." Draco rolled his eyes.

"But besides children, all I’m saying is that you shouldn’t worry about what this curse will keep you from because there’s no reason you can’t live a perfectly normal life… once this war is all over of course."

"You know, I often wonder what it’s like to live in your head… I mean you really think everything is going to be sunshine and white picket fences someday." Draco gave a small laugh of contempt. "Maybe taking out Tristan will wake you up to the fact that in-between those few moments of happiness, life is a hard gritty mess. There is no war that has ever ended and brought about eternal peace. All that is ever left are the weary, damaged victors and the even more damaged, sore losers. And then it all starts again because one side or the other is always unhappy with the outcome."

"I was just trying to help keep things positive." Harry grumbled.

Draco grabbed his arm and stopped him just outside the doors to the Great Hall. "Well let me give you some advice- if you want to go against Tristan and be successful, you better start thinking some darker thoughts."

(BREAK)

"Hey you!" Ginny brightly greeted Draco as soon as he returned to his room. Earlier she had groggily begged him to let her sleep, deciding to skip breakfast and spend her Saturday morning sleeping in. His growling stomach had forced him to go on without her and only then because she had insisted the sound was keeping her awake. Now she was alert, fully dressed and ready to start her day.

"You’re awfully chipper… what are you up to?" He asked with a suspicious grin.

"Why do I have to be up to something? I can’t just be in a good mood?" She pretended to pout, crossing her arms.

"I don’t know, can you?" He grinned wider as he sat on his bed and stared up at her.

"Sure, when you aren’t making me mad." She teased back.

"Oh, I’m making you mad? What are you going to do about it?" He challenged.

Without warning she raced across the room and tackled him back onto the bed, uttering a warcry that instantly turned into laughter. A brief wrestling match ensued in which he happily allowed her to win. After pinning Draco and getting him to admit that she was the queen of everything, she collapsed next to him and rested her head on his chest as he ran his fingers through her hair. Taking his other hand, she held it hers, tracing the lines that supposedly could foretell his future.

"So, what’s on your mind?" He asked after a few relaxing moments.

"Nothing." She lied.

"Really, because you went from being all grumpy this morning to way too perky now… as I said before, that usually means you have those wheels turning and you don’t want anyone to know." He lightly tapped her forehead, as if he could find the magic button that would release her thoughts.

"It’s stupid." She sighed.

"And yet I’m still interested to know."

Ginny shook her head, interlacing her fingers with his. "I was just thinking… you know we don’t have to go tomorrow, right?"

He propped himself up on his elbows to look at her. "Where, to the Costume Ball?"

She sat up completely and turned to face him. "Yeah, we don’t have to go. I know it’s not exactly the kind of thing you enjoy… and to be honest I’m not sure I enjoy it either, being stuffed in a room with all those kids…"

Draco smiled and reached out to caress her cheek. "I think you want to go, you just don’t want me to know it. It’s okay for us to like different things you know."

"I know, and okay so maybe I do want to go." She reluctantly admitted, once more taking his hand in hers. "I just think I’d have more fun if no one else were there."

He laughed and brought their entwined hands to his lips to kiss her fingers. "I’m personally of the mind that I always have more fun when it’s just the two of us. But hey, if you want to add costumes to the mix I’m willing to give it a try."

She smiled and gave him a playful shove. "You know what I’m trying to say."

"Yeah, I get it. But we have to go."

"Why?" She asked, suddenly feeling suspicious.

"You know, I never thought I’d have to be the one to talk you into going to a dance." He replied, uncomfortably shifting his gaze away.

"Oh I see… this is one of those- you won’t lie to me so you’ll just change the subject- kind of things."

"Sort of." He grinned sheepishly.

"Okay, but we’ll just see how you like it when I have some big secret and the tables are turned." She teased, not as upset to know he was keeping things from her as she would have thought. Of course she believed whatever this involved, Harry was also a part of it and that eased her mind. Separately both boys were capable but together their different strengths and weaknesses seemed to compliment each other and she was sure they would be successful in whatever they had planned.

"I won’t like it at all. But I guess I’ll have to live with it." This time his smile was more confident, now that he realized he wasn’t in trouble.

"Okay, so then its decided… we’re going to the Costume Ball. The things I do for you." She shook her head, pretending to be extremely put upon.

"How will I ever make it up to you?" He asked, grabbing her legs and unexpectedly flipping her over. She shrieked with surprised delight as their wrestling match entered round two. This time he quickly pinned her, forcing her to admit that he was the monarch of the universe before letting her go, both choking from laughter as they fell back on the bed laying side by side.

"You’re right… It is more fun when it’s just the two of us." She said as she struggled to catch her breath. Then propping herself up she looked down at him, a devilish gleam in her eye. "And that was with our clothes on…"

He reached out and unzipped her sweatshirt. "Well then by all means, let’s try it your way."

(BREAK)

"I wish I could go tomorrow night." Jacey sighed. "A dance sounds like so much fun."

"Trust me, it’ll be a lot less fun than you think." Luna muttered as they worked to go through all the ministry records of their ancestors. Jacey had insisted on going outside, explaining that Harry had lent her his invisibility cloak so that she wouldn’t feel so cooped up. But the way the other girl hadn’t quite met her eyes made Luna aware that there was probably some other reason Harry had given her the cloak. The fact that Jacey now seemed to be hiding something from her as well made her stomach churn uncomfortably… the girl had been clear on her feelings for bad vampires, and she was just the type to urge Harry and Draco into doing something they shouldn’t. All three were bad influences on each other.

Jacey smiled. "I think you are only feeling this way because you wanted someone to ask you to go… someone very specific…"

"If I do then so what? It doesn’t matter." She sighed, knowing she and Harry had both been too late in strengthening their shields and the firestarter had seen a lot of things in their thoughts and memories that they’d rather she hadn’t… whether she’d meant to go looking or not.

"Especially since he said he was not going." She shrugged. "Something about not having a costume and not wanting to be there anyway."

"Harry and Hermione aren’t going to the Costume Ball?" Luna asked in surprise.

"Well I do not know about Hermione, but Harry said a few days ago that he was not going." She answered slyly.

"What’s that supposed to mean? I didn’t think they were fighting again." Luna prodded, her curiosity overwhelming her.

Jacey shook her head. "They are not as far as I can tell. They are just… doing a lot of things separately these days." She seemed to be trying to hint at something.

Luna’s heart clenched with hope that she didn’t dare feel… surely if the couple had broken up Harry would have told her. "What are you trying to say?" she scooted closer, the ministry documents now completely forgotten.

Again she shrugged. "Simply that you should all be there, taking the time to enjoy yourselves."

"Even if it doesn’t seem like it’ll be any fun?" Luna protested. "You don’t understand, you weren’t here last year… everything is different now."

"For the better I would assume. Or at least on it’s way to better. After all, if things were meant to be the way they were last year, they would still be that way. Would they not be?" Jacey argued persuasively. "You are all using so many excuses to not be happy and I just cannot understand it."

"It’s just a dance."

"It is an opportunity to pretend for one night that the world is normal." She returned. "Here is what I have been observing. Harry is letting a lack of costume and emotional turmoil hold him back. Draco and Ginny seem to prefer their own company above anyone else’s and therefore live in their own world excluding nearly everyone else, to their eventual detriment. Hermione is overwhelmed dealing with- I believe Fred is his name- leaving her unsure about everything else. And you, you have decided to hold yourself back from your own happiness by choosing to do nothing."

"I know all of that... But you also know a lot of things I don’t know about what’s going to happen tomorrow, don’t you?" Luna pushed, trying to get the girl to open up more.

"Things I am and am not supposed to know… you are used to that though are you not?" Jacey grinned obviously unwilling to give anything more away.

"Not from this side." She said unhappily. "Now I’m starting to see how everyone could get so frustrated with me."

(BREAK)

"Well, it’s ready." Draco said confidently as he poured the Polyjuice potion into several vials. "I’d say there’s about a month’s supply here."

"You’re sure?" Harry urged, still walking the line on whether or not this was a good idea… of course they still hadn’t come up with anything better.

"We could always ask Drake to check our work, though that may invite unwanted questions- like why we would brew this in the first place?" Draco smirked.

"Okay, I take your word for it. It’s looks the same as last time to me, doesn’t smell any better either. I’m just glad I don’t have to drink it this time." Harry wrinkled his nose at the smell now wafting through the Room of Requirement.

"What do you mean? When did you have to drink this before?" He asked suspiciously.

Remembering back to second year and their reasons for brewing the potion then, he looked at Draco warily deciding the other boy had always been honest about his past deeds. "Well, Ron and I did it to take Goyle and Crabbe’s places so that we could turn the tables and spy on you for a change. Hermione was meant to take Pansy’s place but things went a bit wrong with her potion… wrong hairs."

He stared for a tense moment before erupting in laughter. "Good to know I wasn’t the only cunning one. I’m glad Lucius and the others never thought to make me do that, I don’t think I could have handled being Weasley… how was it being Crabbe and Goyle?"

Harry grinned. "It was hard to have to act that stupid."

"I’ll bet." Draco laughed again.

The door opened and Jacey walked in smiling as she pulled off the cloak. "Is there a party going on in here?"

"Hardly." Harry scoffed before gesturing to the vials. "The potion’s done."

"Excellent. So then we are completely ready for this to happen tomorrow night?" She asked with more excitement than Harry thought was possible for the situation.

"Since I’m not going to the dance, I’ll be the one to lure Tristan away." Harry volunteered, his gut telling him this was a bad, bad idea.

"How are you going to lure him if you don’t go?" Draco argued. "And is Granger really okay with you not escorting her?"

"She doesn’t want to go either." He quickly replied. "And think about it, the temptation for him to come after me while half the school and most of the staff are locked away in the Great Hall completely distracted would be pretty great."

"I told Luna you were not going." Jacey confessed absently as she tried to nonchalantly inspect the potion book, as if she hadn’t just admitted to doing something she knew he wouldn’t have wanted her to. "She had wondered whether you and Hermione had a fight, so I also told her you had both been spending a lot of time apart." She added, tensing in preparation of his anger with her.

"Why did you do that?" Harry demanded. "She’s going to catch on-" He cut himself off before he could say too much.

"To the plan? Maybe." She smiled. "But that’s not entirely what you’re worried she’ll find out."

"Okay, this obviously no longer involves me and as intriguing as it is, I do have other ways I’d like to spend my night." Draco interrupted. "I’ll see you guys later." He picked up his own invisibility cloak and quickly left before things became too intense.

"She can’t know yet." Harry insisted once the door closed. He’d figured out pretty quickly that Jacey was aware of the new rift between him and Hermione. "And if she does figure it out… how am I supposed to sneak off to take care of Tristan if I have Luna’s attention on me all night."

"I did not think I would have to be the one to break it to you, but her attention would have been on you regardless, as it always is." She replied, crossing her arms. "Besides, I was just trying to undo some of the damage Ron tried to cause when he went around trying to talk you all into staying together."

"Ron messes aren’t yours to clean up!" Harry said angrily. "We figured out what he was doing even if we didn’t know why-" He paused as he caught something… a snippet of a thought she’d been unable to hide. Though they were growing stronger everyday, the shields Jacey put up around her mind were still weak since she hadn’t had to have them for as long as the others.

She knew he had seen and shook her head in denial. "It is not true. It was just a thought I had…"

"A thought? Because it seems like a plan you’ve already set in progress. You want me distracted by Luna because you intend to be the one to take out Tristan." He accused.

Jacey looked away for a moment, gathering herself before turning back to face him. "So what? I agree with Luna that this is something you should not be a part of, alright! I admit it, what we are planning is a bad idea… but it still does not make it any less necessary. Go to the dance Harry. Enjoy yourself. If all works out, Draco will let himself be distracted by Ginny and-"

"You haven’t gotten to know me at all if you think I’d let you do this alone." He interrupted.

"But then you would have nothing to hide from Luna, no fear that she will choose to reject you after this is over. So which is more important to you, Tristan or Luna?"

"Don’t do that." He warned her darkly, feeling his control on his temper slipping. "Don’t think playing on my feelings and guilt is going to make me forget that you want to take on a pureborn vampire by yourself."

"I went and found the Ash wood this morning and I have already used a spell to whittle it down to a sharp point." She argued. "If this Professor Binns of yours is correct and Draco’s assumption that coven members can survive anything has merit, then I do not see the problem."

"Anything could happen!" He threw his arms up in frustration. "Anything could go wrong! What if he bites you?"

"I have fought vampires before." She said defensively.

"Though not one like him, by your own admission." He returned, knowing Tristan wouldn’t be as easy to take down as the unaware vampire Binns had vanquished. "Either we do this together or we don’t do it at all."

She studied him closely, obviously ready to challenge how he would stop her and he tensed, preparing his mind should he need to defend himself. But she must have ultimately decided that using their powers against each other wasn’t the way to build team spirit. At last she sighed and shook her head. "Fine. But either way I did you a favor… it would look suspicious if you didn’t go to the dance."

"It’ll look even more suspicious when I have to disappear for however long it’s going to take to deal with Tristan."

"But should our deed ever be discovered, the fact that you were there to be seen at all would go a long way in providing you an alibi. Think ahead Harry. How would it look if they tried to figure out what happened, trace it back to that night and they find out that all you can say is that you were alone in your room?" She raised her eyebrow and grinned triumphantly.

He’d already thought that tomorrow night was going to be one of the most stressful of his life, and now by throwing Luna and her ability to catch onto things into the mix, Jacey had tripled his anxiety… maybe they shouldn’t go through with this… He felt trapped and every way he tried to step, a landmine awaited him. He shook his head. "Well, I guess now I’ll have to figure out a costume."

She smiled widely. "I wouldn’t worry, someone has taken care of it for you." He didn’t even bother to question her, deciding to just revel in his confusion. It was more a comfortable place to be than where his mind really wanted to go. "It is getting to be that time when I am to meet with Dumbledore for dinner. Shall I walk with you to the Great Hall?" She asked, picking up the cloak.

He shook his head. "No, to the common room. I’m not in the mood for dinner right now."

Come on now, I did not mean to upset you. Jacey voice entered his head as they walked out into the hall so that he would not appear to be talking to himself. I truly did what I thought was best.

Don’t worry. That’s an argument I am fully capable of understanding. He miserably replied.

Are you sure you do not want to go join your friends? She prodded.

I just want to be alone. He assured her as they came to the common room door.

He could feel her mental grin. Well, good luck with that. I’ll see you tomorrow. She said before he felt her turn and walk off.

You certainly will. He called after her, a reminder that he wasn’t letting her make a move against Tristan alone. Turning to open the door he paused, sensing Luna’s presence just on the other side. He had figured he’d have the entire dorm to himself, but apparently Luna was waiting for him… perhaps she’d already put together the clues Jacey had given her and wanted answers from him, or perhaps she’d simply gotten tired of being purposely ignored. Either way, he was reluctant to go in. But he couldn’t stand out there forever, just like he’d known he couldn’t avoid this in the first place. Taking a deep breath, he walked in only hoping he didn’t make things worse for himself.

"Oh hey." He pretended surprise at seeing her.

"Hi." She replied awkwardly.

"How come you aren’t down at dinner?" He asked, his heart thumping against his chest.

Luna looked away shyly before rising and bringing him the lumpy canvas bag she had sitting next to her. "I was waiting… I wanted to give you these." She handed over the bag, which was both light and slightly heavy.

"What is it?" He asked curiously, opening it and reaching in to pull out a small bow and a quiver of blunt arrows. Recognizing them as practice gear from the equipment shed where the quidditch balls were kept, he looked at her questioningly wondering what was going on.

"Madam Hooch said you could borrow them as long as you promise not to hurt anyone or even pretend to shoot it. I told her you’d never picked one up before in your life anyway… not that having never done it would keep you from being good at it on the first try, as we all know…" She grinned nervously.

"But why? What’s it for?"

Again she looked away, shifting uncomfortably on her feet. "Jacey said you didn’t have a costume… I thought… Well, since the book means so much to you…"

He smiled, realizing what she was trying to do. "Robin Hood? You got these for me so I could go as Robin Hood?"

"Perhaps it’s a bit childish… silly even. I just thought in a pinch the idea would do." She shook her head and moved towards the door. "Sorry if I overstepped or anything… I kind of feel ridiculous now."

Harry rushed to stop her, wrapping his arm around her. "Thank you." He said holding her tightly against him.

She pulled away quickly, taking a few steps back to look at him properly. "So you are going to go to the Costume Ball then?" Luna asked quietly.

"I guess I am." He finally admitted, knowing there was no way out of the uncomfortable experience now.

"Okay. At least if you’re there, you aren’t off getting in trouble." She said pointedly, daring him to contradict her, to tell her of his plans.

"I suppose so." Harry said carefully. He had to get away, before her next step was telling him directly not to go after Tristan tomorrow. "Are you ready to go down to the Great Hall for dinner?" He asked, figuring he’d be willing to give up his alone time if it meant not being alone with Luna and her valid suspicions.

She studied him closely before shaking her head. "I think I’d rather go lie down early. I’m glad you’re going to the dance tomorrow. I’m sure you and Hermione will have as much fun as last year."

So, it was to be a battle with words was it? He wouldn’t let her shake him into giving anything away… it was too important. "Probably not, but that’s our own fault isn’t it? Either way, I’d better go tell her that now that I have a costume we’ll be going."

She nodded, as if he’d just confirmed everything she’d been thinking. Surprisingly she didn’t seem upset, she simply smiled. "Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow then. Good night Harry."

"Good night Luna." He said, watching her turn and walk down the Ravenclaw wing. He wanted to stop her… To tell her how much it meant that she’d thought of that costume for him… to tell her how much he appreciated that she knew what the character represented to him… to tell her that he wanted to be there tomorrow night with her and no one else. But he had a feeling she already knew all of those things and that was why she’d made the gesture in the first place.

He went to his room and locked himself in for the night. There were so many choices waiting to be made and honestly, he wasn’t sure what he was going to do until he was forced into a decision. So much was riding on getting rid of Tristan, and a lot was riding on not getting rid of him. The pros and cons of both decisions had been made abundantly clear to him… the only variable was Luna and her reaction either way. So… was it better to let her live in fear of being bitten and kidnapped or let her live in the disappointment of him ignoring her warnings and possibly expose her and everyone else to some new terrible threat? He just didn’t know and wished he could get visions like Luna… of course, until he made a choice, she wouldn’t be receiving any glimpses of the future either. After all, how can one see what could still go either way?

(BREAK)

The bell above the door jingled and Fred held his breath before looking up as he’d been doing all week, expecting Elanya to come back with more outrageous demands. He was relieved to see that instead it was Lee finally walking through the door. "That was a rather long day off." Fred grinned nervously. "Almost lasted a whole week."

"Happy Sunday to you too." Lee replied, looking unsure. "I figured it was time I come save my paycheck if not a friendship."

He shook his head regretfully. "I’m sorry I snapped at you. I know you were just trying to help."

"We’ve never argued for real before… I guess it caught me by surprise." Lee admitted. "But the more I think about it, the more I realized you must really be into something deep… something more than a fight with Hermione."

"Well, better to be late in being observant than never." He joked, indicating he’d like to change the subject.

But Lee had apparently come here ready to talk. "It was Elanya, wasn’t? Two weeks ago, she got you to help her kill Edmund Fritz didn’t she?"

Fred turned away still unable to fully admit to himself that the event had taken place. "It’s good you came in today, I was going to call you." He said, ignoring his friend’s questions. "I’ve been getting things ready… I’m going to close the shop for awhile."

"Why?" He demanded.

"Don’t worry, I’ve arranged it so you’ll still be paid." Fred answered, again ignoring the actual question.

Lee walked over and put a hand on his shoulder. "What is going on Fred? And why won’t you let me help you?"

"Because you can’t!" He shrugged him off and walked to the other side of the store just as the bell jingled again and a customer walked in with her two small children. "I’ll be in the office." He muttered, leaving Lee to deal with the sale.

Once alone, he grabbed up everything on his desk and threw it to the floor, hoping to vent some of his frustration. Of course he couldn’t involve Lee in this, he couldn’t involve anyone… they’d only wind up another victim caught up in Elanya’s web. Part of him knew she was prepared enough to have anticipated him turning to his friends for help, and he hated to think what move she had planned to make. The feeling of being trapped grew tenfold and he knew he couldn’t just wait there for Lee to be free to come demand answers again.

There was only one thing in the world Fred could think to do, and luckily it was also the only thing he wanted to do at the moment. Quickly scouring the now messy floor for paper and quill, he scribbled a note to Lee and left it on the now clean desk. Then he gathered his things and quietly slipped out the back door. He hoped the boys’ friendship was as steady as he thought, because in order for him to pull this off he did need Lee’s help. Fred had left instructions for the other boy, already knowing that though he’d be mad Lee would carry them out so that no one would miss him when he didn’t return to Grimmauld Place at the normal time. Now he just had a few things to prepare before he could take at least one step toward feeling less terrible about leaving with Elanya.

(BREAK)

"I can’t believe I let you talk me into this." Hermione complained with an amused grin as she teased Harry. "Going to the Costume Ball and pretending we’re still together… oh the lengths I go through to make you happy."

He turned to her, his eyebrow raised as he returned her smile. "Obviously you aren’t too put out, you already had a costume."

"What, this old thing?" She laughed, stepping up next to him to also look in the mirror. She’d found an old black cape in Hogsmeade and along with a long white dress, it made for the perfect Druid priestess costume. As a finishing detail she’d purchased a silver diadem to encircle her head, it’s small obsidian crystal crafted in the shape of a crescent moon landing in the middle of her forehead just over her third eye. Staring at her reflection, she pulled the hood of the cape up over her long wild curls and was satisfied that she could disappear into a crowd of more brightly costumed students. "Well, I’m ready. Hey look it’s snowing!" She moved to the window and smiled at the large flakes floating by. Harry grunted in reply.

She turned to see that he was pulling on the thick brown boots Seamus had lent him. He’d also borrowed one of Ron’s shirts, a white long-sleeved one that was clearly too big on him, giving him the appearance of wearing a tunic as he’d possibly hoped. He’d taken the leather archer’s cuffs and put them over his wrists and having added a brown vest and dark pants, he certainly looked like a crook who enjoyed hanging out in the woods with his friends. Of course, Robin Hood was the supposed to be the good guy, presumably only doing wrong for the betterment of all. She could see how Harry would cling to a character like that. "I guess I’m ready too." He sighed, standing and moving to the door.

"Don’t forget these." She picked up the bow and arrows he’d used to help guilt her into agreeing to this. She grinned as she handed them over. "Luna must have put a lot of thought into picking these out for you."

"Don’t start-" He warned grumpily.

"I still don’t see why you don’t just tell her instead of putting us through the pain of pretending to still be a couple." She argued.

His eyes softened and he took her hand. "You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to… I would never want to hurt your feelings to save hers. I can always figure something else out."

She shook her head and squeezed his hand. "It’s fine. I just don’t understand why you haven’t told her."

"Have you told Fred?" He challenged, taking her by surprise and forcing her to instantly strengthen her mental shields.

"He’s not exactly around, is he?" Hermione crossed her arms defensively as she attempted not to answer the question directly. "It’s not like I see him everyday the way you and Luna see each other."

"I’ll just go by myself." He shook his head. "You’re right, I shouldn’t have asked you to do this."

"Hey, I already went through the trouble of dressing up, now you’re telling me I have no where to go?" She teased, lightening the mood. "You can’t just back out of the date now!"

Harry smiled slowly as he looked at her. "Okay, I guess an evening in your company wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. It’s certainly proved entertaining before."

"Don’t get any funny ideas mister." She playfully scolded. "I’ll be going home alone tonight… It’s up to you whether or not you do the same."

"Point taken." He opened the door and offered his arm. "Thank you."

"You’re welcome." She grinned.

Perhaps the evening wouldn’t be as horrible as she’d thought it would be. She and Harry had seemed to find an ease with each other now that the pressure to admit they weren’t working as a couple anymore had been removed. And maybe this was just what she needed, a moment to breath and enjoy herself, a moment to forget that everything was going wrong. Though her concern and fear for Fred hadn’t lessened any since last they’d spoken, perhaps tonight she could put it aside. Then tomorrow she could attack it with renewed vigor and hopefully connect the few dots she still didn’t have so she could figure out how to help him. Whatever it was Fred had gotten himself into, he’d been clear… He only had until Friday to find a way out. Wracking her brain over and over wasn’t helping because she could no longer concentrate on any clues he may have given in their conversations. Tonight she would attempt to clear her head and let it rest. And starting tomorrow, she was determined to find a way to help Fred, whatever it took.

(BREAK)

"Your creativity astonishes me." Ginny said sarcastically as she peeked out from behind the changing shade and rolled her eyes.

"In what world did you think I was the kind of guy who would like dressing up for Halloween?" Draco scoffed, looking down at his all black attire. "Besides, what’s wrong with this? I’ll just tell people I’m… a black hole or something."

"You look like you’re a burglar." She laughed. "All you need is a mask and a big bag with a galleon sign on it."

"And what are you going as?" He asked, crossing his arms impatiently.

"A water sprite!" She leapt from behind the curtain and did a little twirl, feeling the silky blue scarves that made up her skirt swirl against her legs. Though she could barely breath thanks to the bodice of her costume, the look in his eye was enough to make her feel it was worth it… it was also enough to make her consider skipping the dance altogether and spending the night here in her room with him.

"Color me impressed." He grinned, reaching out to touch the seashells she’d strewn throughout her hair.

"I can’t, black is the absence of color." She joked, leaning in to capture his lips in a lingering kiss. "So are you ready for this?"

"Do I have a choice?" He groaned.

"No, you sure don’t." She grabbed his hand and led him to the door but he stopped her.

"Hey, Ginny… can you promise me something?" He asked, not quite meeting her eyes.

"I can try." She offered, forcing Draco to smile.

Then he turned serious once more. "Just… no matter what, stay in the Great Hall tonight where everyone can see you, okay… Even if I disappear for a little while."

"Where would you be disappearing to and should I be a little worried or a lot worried?"

"I’d rather you didn’t worry at all."

She shook her head and put her hands on her hips. "That wasn’t one of the available options."

"Then… a little I guess?" He grinned sheepishly.

"Uh huh, which means I should worry a lot." She nodded as she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him passionately. Something big was going to take place during the dance and she began to worry that she hadn’t been worrying enough about his involvement. "You better not get yourself killed tonight Draco Malfoy." She whispered in his ear. "I’ll never forgive you."

(BREAK)

Harry was on edge as he and Hermione made small talk in the common room with other students while waiting for their friends to appear. At last Ron emerged from the Gryffindor wing, dressed as his favorite Chudley Cannons player and looking around expectantly. Spotting them, he made his way over just as the two girls they’d been talking to moved on. "Hey guys, have you seen Parvati yet?"

"She’ll be out in a minute." Padma replied for them as she also walked up to join their group. "What do you think?" She asked, doing a twirl for them. She was obviously a mermaid, with her long legs bound together in a skin-tight green skirt that exploded into tons of fabric meant to mimic fins. She wore a bodice made entirely of seaweed, seashells and starfish and had enchanted her hair to grow so that it cascaded down her back and was strewn with pearls.

"Impressive." Harry replied honestly. Glancing past her to the opening of the Ravenclaw wing from where she’d just come, he saw Luna emerge and his chest tightened at the sight. She wore a long, Grecian style dress in a soft shade of sky blue, making her own sparkling blue eyes shine more vibrantly. Her long blonde tresses were pulled up in a pile of curls and held back by decorative silver bands decorated with silver leaves. Soft tendrils of curls framed her face giving her a golden glow. She looked as if she’d stepped out of some ancient painting of Greek goddesses frolicking on Mount Olympus, though he certainly felt she was a masterpiece in her own right. Their eyes met for a few brief seconds before they both had to turn away.

"Who are you supposed to be?" Ron asked as Luna joined their group.

"Cassandra, ancient Greek princess doomed by the power to foretell the future and cursed by the god Apollo so that no one would ever believe her visions or those of her ancestors. I thought it was fitting." She smiled.

"Where would you even come up with that?" Padma asked.

Luna glanced at them before answering her. "A friend of mine from Greece was telling me about her."

"Finally!" Ron exclaimed, seeing Parvati emerge from the Gryffindor wing dressed like a movie star at a film premiere. Harry did a double take, not quite believing the difference in the twins. Padma looked very healthy, and from the way she expertly flaunted herself without seeming too easy, she knew it too. But Parvati, she looked so small and weak… he began to see what Ron was talking about when he’d mentioned his concerns before.

"So you decided on Celestia Abernathy." Padma grinned at her sister.

"Who’s that?" Hermione asked.

"My favorite movie star." Parvati smiled, though it seemed to be an effort. "She’s a brilliant actress, and they say her wandwork is amazing as well. I figured since Halloween is far from my favorite holiday, this would be an okay compromise."

"So are we ready to head down there?" Ron asked, wrapping his arm around her shoulders.

"We’re still waiting for Draco and your sister." Hermione pointed out with a grin.

"No you aren’t. We’re right here." Ginny called as they walked into the room together from the Gryffindor wing.

"You don’t really need me to tell you that you’re dressed completely inappropriately." Ron said warily as he eyed his sister’s costume.

"Perhaps in my brother’s eyes…" She smirked.

"Well, well." Tristan suddenly appeared from the Slytherin wing and sauntered over to them. "Don’t you all look spectacular."

Harry was horrified by the vampire’s chosen costume and turned to see Draco’s reaction, as had everyone else. Draco’s eyes were hardened with fury. "You aren’t really going to wear that tonight."

Tristan looked down at himself. He was dressed normally… except for the fur covered gloves he wore that ended in claws. Over his feet he’d worn boots trimmed in fur with more fake claws coming out of them. He’d used a spell to bewitch hair to grow from his face and after seeing what the vampire’s real teeth looked like, it was obvious he was wearing fake fangs. "What’s wrong with it?" He asked innocently, looking up to shoot Draco an evil grin.

The two stared each other down for a few tense moments before Draco controlled himself. He shook his head and smiled. "Nothing. I suppose imitation is the sincerest form of flattery after all."

"Oh there was no flattery intended, I assure you." Tristan returned. "I merely picked the most terrifying, disgusting thing I could think of… that is the point of dressing up for Halloween, isn’t it?"

It was clear Ginny had a few things to say, but Harry saw Draco grab her hand and squeeze it, implying she needed to keep her mouth shut. Let him have this. Harry thought out to Draco, trying to help the other boy keep control of himself as well as Ginny. In a few hours, he’ll never have anything to say to anyone ever again.

"Well, I guess I’ll be seeing you all downstairs." Tristan bowed to them in mockery before heading to the door. "I do hope you have a lovely evening." He called over his shoulder with a laugh.

"That guy is creepy." Ron said quietly.

"That’s because he’s not a guy, he’s a vampire." Padma shook her head.

"Hey, now. I’ve met a few vampires who were perfectly nice people." Luna protested. "Tristan is a creep because he wants to be, just like anyone else." None of the reasons why Tristan was bad meant anything to Harry because any way you looked at it, the guy was dangerous to have around… And for what it was worth, they had a plan to take care of the problem… provided he could go through with it.

(BREAK)

"Well this isn’t so bad." Ron remarked as he sat at a table with his friends and watched everyone dance.

"That’s because I haven’t made you go out there yet." Parvati joked.

"Nor would you want to." Ginny teased her brother.

"I can’t believe Dumbledore arranged a live band this year." Hermione marveled.

"I guess he’s serious about everyone having fun." Padma shrugged before laughing and pointing into the crowd. "At least Dean appreciates it." They all looked and grinned at their friend as he danced along to the music of wizard rock back, Dueling Wands. Dean was dressed up almost exactly like the lead singer, Spider Clifton, making it obvious what his costume was. Seamus who was more respectably dressed as a standard pirate was standing off to the side, watching his friend with a mixture of embarrassed amusement. "I think I’ll head out and join in the silliness." She added, getting in the spirit of the event.

They watched Padma go, everyone either wondering or fearing who would be the next to be dragged out there. Apparently Ron had drawn the short straw. "Come on!" Parvati urged him, standing and pulling on his arm. "It’s a slower one, you can do it!"

He threw back his head and sighed before smiling up at her. "Alright, if you insist."

"A regular Prince Charming you are." She teased as he led them out among the other couples. He wrapped his arms around her waist as hers encircled his neck. While they swayed to the music, he found that he liked the feeling of holding someone like this again. It had been so long since he and Luna had been together… to have someone in his arms who wanted to be there, who was comfortable there… it was a wonderful feeling. But it was bittersweet because he also knew the joy of desiring that person in his arms and he just didn’t feel it with Parvati. Soon he’d have to tell her, but first he had to make sure she was alright. After all, it wouldn’t a very nice thing to do to tell a girl you aren’t interested when she’s ill. And she felt so fragile as he held her… he could definitely wait until she was healthy again, why upset her when she seemed to like him so much?

He let her keep him out there for two more songs before he sensed she was tired but didn’t want to admit it. By that time their table far back in the corner was deserted except for Padma who had seen him lead her sister off the dance floor and went to meet them. "I don’t know what’s going on with me." Parvati said, looking up apologetically at them both. "I just… I just think I need to lay down for a minute."

"Come on, I’ll take you back." Ron offered, reaching down to help her. Padma of course insisted on coming with, which was fine with him as he didn’t want to have to wander through the halls alone. They got Parvati all the way to her room, waving off her apologies with insistences that her health was more important. He waited outside as the twins talked and at last Padma emerged, her face lined in worry. "Well?" He asked.

"I just don’t know. I think tomorrow I’ll have to force her to see Madame Pomfrey, maybe even contact our parents." She shook her head. "She was adamant that we both go back to the dance… we might as well I guess. She was clear that she didn’t want us fussing over her."

"If you say so." He agreed. With one last look at Parvati’s door, he turned and followed her sister back down to the Great Hall. Hesitating just inside, he decided he needed a moment to himself before having to pretend nothing was wrong. "You go on ahead and jump back in. I’ll be right behind you." He assured her.

She nodded in understanding before going off to join Dean and Seamus. Ron moved to the corner away from the light where he could remain unnoticed. He took a few deep breaths as he scanned the crowd for his friends, hoping to see how they were faring. "Is your girlfriend going to be okay?"

"Jacey?" He turned, startled to find the girl standing next to him dressed up in costume… one that definitely looked good on her. She was a cat, with the black pointed ears emerging from her black mane of curls and the black mask that slanted to give her clear hazel eyes a more feline feel. She wore a black body suit that hugged her every curve and she wasn’t shy about flaunting how comfortable she felt in it, making her only more appealing in her confidence. "What are you doing here?" He demanded once he could find his voice. "Someone will see you!"

"All they will see is a girl in a costume. Besides, I have the cloak stashed away in case I need to leave quickly." She smiled in assurance before once more turning serious. "So, will she be okay, your girlfriend? I saw you and her sister leave with her earlier."

"I hope she is." He said, having forgotten Parvati even existed for a moment. Now that he’d been reminded, he felt guilty. "I thought you were leaving tonight."

"I am, but I had hoped that perhaps I would be lucky enough to steal a dance or two before I have to go." She reached out and took his hand. "I was also hoping it would be you I would get to dance with."

(BREAK)

"Hey Luna, you want to dance?"

Hermione didn’t know who the boy was under his mummy costume, but glancing at Harry, she could see how upset he was that Luna had been approached by anyone at all. She grinned, figuring that was what he needed to see in order to finally make a move… that he wasn’t the only one interested. After all, the fact that they’d each developed feelings for other people was one of the reasons they’d broken up in the first place… he may as well get to move on even if she and Fred couldn’t at the moment.

"Maybe later Simon, I’m not really in the mood to dance right now." Luna smiled up at the boy apologetically as she politely declined.

"Aw, come on. You’ve just been sitting here the whole time." Simon insisted.

"She said she doesn’t want to." Harry burst out, his voice low and menacing.

Luna turned to look at him, her anger evident. Hermione didn’t have to be a mind-reader to know what the other girl was thinking… her eyes said how dare you barely acknowledge me yet be was mad when someone else does. She turned back to Simon. "You know what, actually I could use a moment away. Let’s go dance."

"Happy now?" Hermione whispered as she watched the couple walk away.

Do I look happy? Harry silently replied as he glared at poor Simon who hadn’t known he was doing anything other than asking a girl to dance. I’m not going to sit here and watch this, I’ll be right back. He added before storming off.

"Well, it’s good to know that move still works to make a guy angry." Ginny grinned as she looked over at Luna before realizing she was sitting with Hermione. "Sorry."

"It’s fine. Harry and I, we’ve discussed quite a few things lately." She assured the girl. Suddenly she felt the pocket in her dress grow warm and smiled, glad that not only had she ultimately decided to bring the compact with her tonight but that Fred was finally returning the calls she’d been trying to make to him since last they spoke. "Excuse me a minute, I think I should go make sure he’s okay."

"That’s fine, it’s about time I’m escorted onto the dance floor anyway." Ginny grinned, nudging Draco who looked none too pleased with the idea.

Hermione hurried off to one of the darkened corners and pulled the compact out, excitedly flipping it open. "Fred? Are you alright? Has something else happened? Did she come back?"

"Whoa, take a breath. You sound like you’re at a concert." He spoke up to be heard over the band.

"I’m at the Costume Ball." She admitted.

"Oh yeah, that was tonight wasn’t it… Well, do you think you could sneak out into the courtyard?"

"Why?"

"I’ve arranged to have something delivered to you." He answered mysteriously. "It should be there any minute."

"What is it? Fred?" But he’d disconnected.

Brimming with curiosity, she made her way through the crowd toward the giant doors. She’d almost reached them when someone grabbed her arm and she turned to find Luna. "Where are you going?"

"Outside for a minute. I need some fresh air and I wanted to see the snow." Hermione quickly lied.

"Where’s Harry?" She asked, looking worried and a bit scared.

"He went to collect himself after you went off with Simon." Hermione said, crossing her arms in frustration. She didn’t have time to stand here, she wanted to see what Fred had sent to her. There was only one thing she knew she could say that would send the other girl away without question and if Harry was mad at her for it, well he could just deal with it. "Luna, Harry and I broke up two weeks ago. Why don’t you go find him? It’s what you both want anyway." Without waiting to see if her now stunned friend would follow her advice she hurried out of the Great Hall, ducking by McGonagall who was stationed at the door.

Wrapping her cape around herself, Hermione stepped outside feeling like she’d entered a snow globe. Everything was quiet, the ground already blanketed with a layer of white powdery snow as more fluttered down from the sky. She walked into the courtyard only to find it completely empty. Confused, she pulled out the compact and once more flipped it open. "Did you go outside?" Fred asked immediately.

"Yes, but there’s nothing out here." She said, her teeth beginning to chatter.

"Well, the snow threw me off a bit. Turn around it should be there right about now."

Smiling widely and feeling her heart clench in anticipation, she turned hoping to see what she thought she would. Sure enough Fred was standing there, wearing his old school robes and smiling back at her. "Hi Hermione."

"What are you doing here?" She asked breathlessly.

"I thought I’d come see how the dance was this year…" He replied with a nervous grin as he gestured down to his school robes. "I came in costume."

"I don’t think it’ll be hard for many people to recognize you." She laughed.

"Yes, but I figured dressing as a mutilated zombie may have scared some of the other passengers on the train."

They both grew quiet and Hermione took a few steps closer. "What are you doing here?" She quietly asked again.

"I came to see you." He answered honestly, looking at the ground and shuffling his feet in his uncertainty.

She came closer and reached out to touch his face, making him look up at her. She smiled, feeling as unsure as he clearly was. "Well, if you came all this way I guess I can take the last few steps." She said quietly before pulling his face towards hers and softly pressing her lips against his.

(BREAK)

Luna watched Hermione walk away, feeling as though she’d been hit by a truck. In the last few days, she’d come to suspect that Harry and Hermione were either very close to breaking up or just had and were being sensitive to each other. To find out that it had actually happened two weeks prior was something she’d been wholly unprepared for.

"Hey Luna, you want some pumpkin juice?" Simon asked, coming up to her with two cups.

"Not one of those, I prefer my juice alcohol free tonight." She answered, having seen him with his flask out.

"Relax, only me and a few of my friends are enjoying some spirits. Yours is fine, what kind of guy do you think I am?" He sounded hurt.

She barely glanced in his direction, no longer caring to be polite. She’d sent out her mind and had been unable to find Harry anywhere and she was terrified that he had gone off to face down Tristan. "Listen Simon, thanks for the drink and the dance… but I really have to go find my friend right now, before he gets himself in trouble."

"But-"

She didn’t give him a chance to argue, instead simply walking away while chastising herself for giving the boy any attention in the first place. A brief scan of the room told her that Tristan was still there, meaning Harry had yet to do anything… but her intuition was raging at her, screaming that something was brewing. And then at last she felt them, all the familiar signs telling her that a vision was finally on the way. She quickly stumbled out into the hallway and behind the nearest tapestry so that no one could see, barely having time to lie on the ground before the sensations overwhelmed her.

She blinked, finding herself in the white room. Waves of hope rippled through her… if it was simply a warning then she would still have time to do something about it. Instantly flashes of images came to fill the white space… First some boy she was unable to recognize because he was dressed in a white mask and black cape, and next a glimpse of chaos which Harry and Draco use as an opportunity to slip away unnoticed. Then there was a long piece of wood that had been sharpened to a fine point, which was followed by Jacey holding a vial of potion.

Luna opened her eyes and sat up in a panic. She still wasn’t entirely sure what exactly was going to happen but one thing had been clear in her vision… somehow the boy in the white mask was going to give Harry, Draco and Jacey the chance to put their plan in action. Scrambling to her feet, she burst back into the Great Hall searching desperately for the mask she’d seen. She had to find him and by doing so, hopefully she could stop this from ever happening in the first place.



NOTE: Next chapter- Harry, Draco and Jacey VS. Tristan!... and relationships between all the characters become clearer...

Reference to Sirius protecting Harry, Ron, and Hermione from Lupin from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling.

Reference to Harry, Ron and Hermione drinking Polyjuice potion from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling.




Chapter 46: How To Kill A Vampire

A/N: Stuff is about to get serious J Read, Review, Enjoy! 



Fred didn’t know what he’d been expecting, but this certainly surpassed what he’d hoped. He’d actually thought the first thing they would do was argue, but if this was how Hermione wanted to proceed he definitely wasn’t going to try and change her mind. He felt her wrap her arms around his neck and fully give into the moment, eliminating the few lingering doubts he’d had. He deepened the kiss, pulling her closer to him and forgetting everything except how much he’d been wanting this very thing to happen. He reached up and pushed back her hood, running his fingers through her hair as he trailed kisses along her jaw and down her neck. Leaning her head back, she moved her arms down his back to encircle his waist, pressing herself more tightly against him. Cupping her face, he once more captured her mouth kissing her deeply, desperately, hungrily, passionately… wanting to show her exactly how he felt about her.

She reached up to caress his cheek and at last they broke apart, resting their foreheads together as they struggled to catch their breath which was mingling together in wispy white puffs. Large fluffy snowflakes continued to fall down around them and feeling how cold her hands where against his flushed face, he took them in his and tried to offer a bit of warmth. "I’m glad you came up here tonight." She smiled.

"Not more than I am, after a greeting like that." He said, watching her shift uncomfortably with the compliment.

"I just… I wasn’t sure you…"

He leaned in and silenced her with another kiss. "You’re sure about me now, right?" He grinned, squeezing her hands.

She laughed. "I’m sure you’re a teenage boy." She teased.

"I promise, there’s no one else but you. Old-what’s-her-name is a plague, nothing more." He said seriously. In truth after what had just happened, he knew that nothing Elanya could ever offer him would measure up to Hermione and he wished more than anything that he could go on without ever having to see the psychotic beauty again. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case… and damn Hermione’s cleverness, she knew it too.

"But she is around and you have to figure out what to do about it… before it’s you that gets killed. I’m sure Edmund wasn’t the first person she’s cursed to death for crossing her." She shook her head and let out a troubled sigh.

"I didn’t come here to talk about my troubles with Elanya." He said quietly. "I came to forget them for a night. To see you once more before-" He cut himself off.

"Before you have to leave." She finished for him. "Please tell me what’s going on Fred. We’re clearly in this together now… I know enough to know I should be worried."

Watching her shiver in the cold, he saw that she was determined to get answers and do what she did best- use her brain to find a solution. And maybe he should let her try… As long as he didn’t let her spy see him, there was no way for Elanya to know he’d come here, no way for her to know that someone here was aware of everything and was trying to help him…. And he certainly wasn’t going to so much as mention Hermione’s name in front of the other girl… More than anything he wanted to get it all off his chest, to say it all aloud and be released from the burden of secrecy if nothing else. "Okay." He said at last, reaching out to brush some of the snow from her hair. "But we obviously can’t talk out here. And for reasons I’ll explain shortly, I can’t let anyone see me in there."

Keeping his hand in hers, she led him around to the side of the castle where he knew one of the secret entrances to be and grinned as she gestured to it. "Why not use the way in that you found?"

"And where do we go once we get in?" He asked, figuring he could find a way that would keep them completely out of the main hallways as long as he knew their destination.

"Don’t worry, I’ll lead the way." She insisted with a rather mischievous smile.

(BREAK)

"Why did I never know you were good at this?" Ginny laughed as Draco once more spun her around before easily taking her in his arms and sweeping her around the dance floor.

"It’s not really something I look at as an achievement." He mumbled. "We all had to learn how to dance, what with all the stupid events we were forced to attend."

"And by ‘we all’ you mean the rich kids." She teased.

He shot her a look. "Yeah, I guess that’s what I meant. Of course, I’m no longer one of them… I’m actually quite destitute."

"Don’t worry. You get used to it after awhile… luckily we’re slowly finding out what it’s like not to be extremely poor."

"And?"

She shrugged. "It’s not much different… just nicer things."

The song ended and the band announced they were taking a ten-minute break. Draco sighed gratefully. "Wishes do come true. May we go sit now?"

"I suppose… I know you’ll want to be all rested for when they come back to play another set." She teased.

"Oh yes, you’ve read my mind." He grumbled as they went back to their table where only Susan, Dean and Seamus were sitting.

"Hey guys, where’s everyone else?" Ginny asked.

"Well, amazingly your brother is over there talking to the hot cat-girl." Seamus marveled. "I don’t recognize her, wonder who she is under the costume…"

"I wouldn’t mind going to find out." Dean grinned.

Turning to see who they meant, Ginny instantly recognized Jacey as the girl standing with Ron in the darkened corner. Sharing a panicked look with Draco, she turned back to the boys. "Oh just leave him alone, let him have a chance would you?"

"What do you mean? The he’s the luckiest guy I’ve ever known!" Dean protested.

"Yeah first Luna… I mean, she’s weird and all but she certainly makes up for it in the looks department." Seamus said, sharing a grin with Dean. "Then this year he has Parvati following him around and now this cat girl! I must ask him his secret."

"He’s not a jerk who sits around objectifying women." Susan smirked.

"Tell us how you really feel." Dean smiled.

Seeing how clearly uncomfortable Draco was to be sitting there, Ginny suggested in a whisper that he go tell Ron and Jacey that people had noticed them, adding the request that he bring her back something to drink. He gratefully agreed and practically bolted from his chair. "Has he seen what Tristan is wearing?" Susan asked quietly.

"Oh yeah, he’s seen it." Ginny replied, her anger over the whole thing resurfacing.

"I can’t believe Tristan would try to provoke him like that… I mean he’s a vampire, who’s he to judge what Malfoy is?" Seamus said, apparently having decided which of the two evils he thought the lesser.

"Yeah, you must have really tamed the beast Ginny." Dean smirked. "Before, Malfoy probably would have just hexed the guy right where he stood, now he’s letting him flaunt it in his face."

"Hey, Tristan Macnair is dangerous." Susan said quickly before Ginny could give her reply, which would have been no where near as calmly rational. "I bet you two wouldn’t have done anything either, except maybe run away."

"That’s it." Dean rose from his seat, trying to pretend indignant fury but unable to keep from laughing. "We don’t have to stand for your abuse!"

"Yeah, there are plenty of other people waiting to insult us." Seamus also rose, not bothering to hide his grin.

"You’re both ridiculous." Ginny rolled her eyes.

"Yet, unforgettable." Dean smiled before they walked away.

"No wonder it feels there aren’t any guys to be interested in around here." Susan joked.

"Yeah, they don’t exactly always recommend themselves, do they?" She laughed. "So, how’s DA going?"

"Great actually! Harry and Hermione helped me map out a plan for lessons each week and I think we’re finally starting to get into the swing of things…" She answered, trailing off as someone behind Ginny caught her attention.

"Hello ladies." A familiar voice greeted them.

She turned to find a boy standing behind her, dressed in a white mask and black cape under which he wore an old, ragged, black tux. "Let me guess, Phantom of the Opera?" She sighed, already knowing who would be under the costume.

"And she’s literate too! What an added bonus!" He said, reaching to push up his mask and reveal himself as Colton James. "The band’s heading back up on stage and your boyfriend is no where to be seen. How about one dance?"

"How about you just walk away and pretend I don’t exist. I certainly intend to do the same to you." She replied, saying goodbye to Susan and walking off.

Unfortunately, he followed her as she’d feared he would. "Why do you hate me so much?" He asked angrily.

"Why do you like me so much?" She stopped to turn and face him down. "I mean is it really just to get under Draco’s skin?"

"Honestly? That’s part of it… I don’t care if he wasn’t there, if his goons weren’t out trying to impress him then my brother would be fine today."

"Oh, that’s a really mature way of looking at it." Ginny said angrily.

"Right there! The way you act, that’s another reason! I used to notice you from the shadows like all the other boys, but you always seemed so far out of our reach, so perfect and completely unobtainable... You were intimidating because it seemed everything about you was nice and fun and exciting. I mean why do you think I was never able to approach you before this year? But now that you’re with him… you just aren’t who you used to be. You’re meaner, more angry, and you always seem sad." He replied, reaching out to put a hand on her shoulder.

She pushed him away. "If I am, it has nothing to do with Draco. The last couple of years, life’s been difficult to say the least… I lost two brothers, remember? So if I’m not the fun, carefree kid I was then blame life. But I really don’t care what your opinion of me is, I know that I’m happy when I’m with Draco and if that upsets some grand plan you had of riding in on a white horse then I could care less. I don’t need saving and even if I did, I’m not yours to save and never have been." She reminded him.

"Hey, is everything okay over here?" Luna asked as she rushed up to them, staring oddly at Colton.

"Everything’s fine. We’re done talking… forever as far as I’m concerned." Ginny said, glaring at the boy.

"Okay, good. Then there’s no reason to start a scene." Luna practically deflated as she sighed in relief, making Ginny curious to know whether she’d received a vision of something.

"I just don’t see how you could like someone like him." Colton went on, ignoring them both as the music started up again and the lights dimmed down. "It just doesn’t seem fair that someone like him has someone like you to care about him."

"I don’t just care about him, I love him. Get it?" Ginny said loudly to be heard over the noise, no longer wishing there to be any more confusion. "You aren’t going to be able to change my mind."

"As you’ve clearly stated. Fine. But if you insist on keeping up this madness with him, then you’re the only way I have to use to get him to do what I want."

"What’s that supposed to mean?" She asked darkly, taking a few steps toward him. There was no way in hell she’d let anyone use her for anything, let alone to get at Draco or any of her friends.

"I like you Ginny, or who you were anyway… and I’m definitely attracted to you, so if I can succeed in getting you away from Malfoy then that’s a bonus. But since you’re so insistent to stay with the jerk then all I can do is offer to leave you alone in exchange for his cooperation." Colton said, shaking his head as he was clearly uncomfortable with the idea of blackmail. Unfortunately, Draco had always seemed to bring out the darker side of people, whether they were on his side or going against him. Clearly Colton was a good guy who had gotten himself too deeply imbedded in the business of revenge.

Ginny wanted to protest, to tell him it would never work, that it would only make Draco more mad and less likely to do anything that was asked of him. But to her horror, before she could open her mouth, she saw Draco coming up to them having caught sight of who was standing with her and Luna. "What’s going on?" He asked as he warily approached the group.

(BREAK)

Ron felt his stomach leap up into his throat. "You really snuck in here just to dance with me?"

"It is the main reason" Jacey smiled seductively as she walked up and put her arms around him, beginning to sway to the music. "And to have you see me one more time before I go away so that you will not forget me." She whispered.

"I don’t think I could forget you even if I had amnesia." He joked as he nervously wrapped his arms around her waist, unsure what was happening or how he’d gotten so lucky. But as she rested her head on his shoulder and held him closer, he knew he wasn’t going to question it. Despite the changes in tempo they stayed that way, dancing slowly as they held each other, ignoring the music in favor of their own. Slowly everyone else faded away and he was left alone with her, breathing in her earthy scent as he held her even closer. He was at peace and knew there was nothing greater than this feeling, this girl and this moment.

When the band stopped to take a break, Jacey stepped away and Ron felt like the little world they’d been in together had been shattered. "That was lovely." She smiled.

"It was something alright." He smiled back, realizing everything he’d wanted to feel while dancing with Parvati- he’d just experienced it all with Jacey.

"I guess this is it then." She said sadly. "I should go and prepare."

"And you still don’t know how long you’ll be gone?" He asked desperately.

She shook her head and grabbed his hand. "As little time as possible. Trust me, I am not disappearing to go do something I want, it is something I must do."

"Hey." Draco said casually as he snuck up behind them, startling Ron. "Just to let you know, people have noticed you over here and the guys especially are wondering who Jacey is."

She shook her head and smiled. "You see? It really is time for me to go."

"I can’t believe you came here in the first place." Draco grinned. "You had to have known other students would wonder who you were."

"Some rewards are worth the risk." She answered, shooting Ron a special look that was meant just for him.

"Whatever you say." Draco rolled his eyes. "Are you all ready?"

"Wait, Malfoy knows about your trip too?" Ron asked, feeling hurt all over again at being left out.

"I was there when she and Potter talked about it." Draco said quickly.

"I am ready. I just want to say goodbye to Ron." She assured them both.

But Draco was no longer paying attention, having spotted something across the room. "Uh huh, sure. I’ll see you later." He said, walking off to make his way through the crowd as quickly as he’d joined them.

"So this is really goodbye then?" Ron asked, turning his attention back to Jacey.

"Only until it is hello again." She said quietly.

Without thinking he reached out and wrapped his arms around her, hugging her close. Thankfully she returned the embrace, clinging to him as tightly as he clung to her. He couldn’t explain his emotions, he barely knew the girl… but he also couldn’t help it. They broke apart, staring at each other as neither knew what came next.

And then chaos erupted across the room. Turning to find out why everyone was yelling, all Ron could see was a sea of students and the professors trying to break through the crowd. "What’s going on?"

Jacey paused, as if she were listening to something in her head. "I don’t know, but I think it’s my cue to leave." She turned and reached behind the tapestry to retrieve the invisibility cloak.

"Just like that?"

"It is important that I go now." She smiled and leaned up to kiss his cheek. "But I will be seeing you again soon, that is a promise." And then she disappeared beneath the cloak, leaving his sight for who knew how long.

(BREAK)

Reminding himself to remain calm, Draco walked away from Weasley and Jacey toward Ginny and Luna who were clearly arguing with that annoying idiot Colton. "What’s going on?" He asked, stepping slightly in front of the girls.

"Nothing." Ginny said quickly, looking to assure him and apparently Luna who seemed to be on the verge of panicking.

"Ginny was just sickening me by professing her apparently undying love for you and how there’s nothing short of death that could separate her from you…" Colton sneered before turning his attention back to her. "That was the gist of it, wasn’t it?"

"You added a few more adjectives and a bit more flourish but yes, that is essentially the message I was trying to convey." She answered crossing her arms.

"Which means you have your answer and you should just walk away." Luna urged.

"On one condition." Colton said, once more sneering at Draco. "Do one thing and I’ll promise never to bother either of you ever again."

"Oh I’ll do something to make sure you never bother us alright." He threatened, his already thin patience for the other boy becoming nonexistent..

"Come now, I’m trying to strike a gentlemanly deal. Keep the animal locked away would you?"

"Just go away!" Luna yelled at Colton, clearly having reached her breaking point. Ginny gently rubbed the other girl’s shoulder in comfort.

"Not until he agrees to something!" He yelled back, also reaching the end of his patience.

Draco shoved him back, away from Luna. "What? What is it you think I’ll agree to in order to keep you away when I have so many other options available to me?"

"Threaten all you want, but I will see to it that there is justice for my brother even if I have to use my attentions to your girlfriend as a bargaining chip."

"Ginny already told you what Crabbe said-"

"Whether or not you knew about it is no longer the issue for me." Colton interrupted him. "So if you really had no part in what happened to Carter, then I simply want you to go on proving how good you are at betrayal… I want you to turn on Crabbe, Goyle and Mason the same way you turned on Cho Chang." He smugly demanded.

"Because I don’t have enough of a target on my back." Draco replied angrily.

"That’s not my concern. I only want the people who hurt my family to answer for their crime. I’m not like you, I’m not just going to go curse someone… I’m willing to go through the proper channels, but I need both of yours and Ginny’s testimonies since you were the ones to get Crabbe to confess."

Putting her hand on Draco’s shoulder, Luna stepped forward as she addressed Colton. "I understand how you feel, believe me. Seeking justice for your brother can be an overwhelming driving force- and it’s certainly made me do some stupid and dangerous things. Take my advice, don’t let yourself make mistakes you can’t take back because you’ll only feel worse. This isn’t the time or the place and this is not the way to ask for someone’s cooperation."

Draco saw Ginny hold her breath and knew she was wondering whether Luna’s words would sink in or if they’d eventually wind up having to break up a fight. "There’s no other way to deal with someone like him than to play the games he’s used to." Colton argued. Apparently it was going to be the latter… although tensing himself to be prepared, Draco also struggled to hold onto his anger for the girls’ sake.

"You don’t even really know him." Ginny said defensively.

"Nor do I want to." He returned.

"Why not just ask if we’ll testify? Why go about it this way?" She asked, trying to help Luna keep the peace.

"Because he wouldn’t have, would you?" He turned back to Draco. "You haven’t exactly proven to be a stand up guy."

He shook his head and sighed, knowing Colton’s anger was justified… it was just extremely misguided and the fact that he continued to direct it at him was getting tiresome. "Doing anything for you certainly wouldn’t have been very high on my list of priorities." He answered meanly. "Ginny’s the one who pushed to find out what really happened to Carter, I could care less about you or your brother. You aren’t anything to me except someone who keeps making himself an annoyance. Besides, she deleted his memory of confessing, Crabbe doesn’t even know he told us so there’s another little problem for you to deal with." Colton roughly shoved him and both Ginny and Luna quickly put themselves between the two boys before Draco could return the attack. "That was really stupid of you." He said menacingly, though he made no move to get around the girls, worried they may be hurt by accident.

"So what? What are you going to do about it?" Colton taunted.

"You really are stupid, aren’t you?" Ginny marveled. "Just walk away, this isn’t helping you get what you want any more than you saying you would leave me alone if we testify."

"As if you wanted me to leave you alone… I think some part of you really likes the thought of the two of us fighting over you."

"You’re delusional." She sneered.

"Hey, just remember, next year he won’t be here. It’ll just be you and me and I’m sure with persistence, I’ll eventually be rewarded." He reached out to place his hand on her shoulder but Draco caught his arm first.

"Unless you want it broken, keep it to yourself." He growled, shoving the other boy away as he released him.

"You’re always threatening, but you’re never doing anything about it!" Colton shouted.

"Stop it! You’re trying to get him in trouble." Ginny accused as she reached out to put her hand on Draco’s shoulder, hoping to remind him to stay calm.

"How will getting yourselves expelled help you convince him to testify?" Luna reasoned.

But there was no reasoning with either of them and having an animal inside him, Draco knew why. They were acting at their basest instinctual drives, both being alpha males… it was the same reason he and Potter had so easily hated each other for all those years. But reason, circumstance and the human experiences they shared had pushed that feud down… this one between him and Colton, this was only at its basest terms. They were both looking to be the dominant one with all the rewards that come with it, territory, power over the loser and in this case- Ginny’s attention. He remained silent, knowing he wouldn’t make the first move while Ginny and Luna were there… but he certainly didn’t intend to walk away this time if Colton chose to make a move. Too much was between them now to not have this out once and for all. Even reminders of his plans with Potter and Jacey were disappearing from conscious thought.

"Just agree to turn in Crabbe, Goyle and Mason and I’ll walk away." Colton grinned at him.

"And give you the idea that you can continue to come up and blackmail me whenever you want?" Draco sneered. There was no way he was agreeing to anything now.

"Then you’re the one to blame for this!" He shouted, reaching past the girls to grab Draco by his shirt and punch him in the face. After being knocked around by a group of Slytherins and a nasty vampire, Draco barely felt the blow… but Colton came away shaking his hand in pain.

Having seen Ginny drag Luna out of the way, Draco pounced before the other boy had even finished swinging, knocking him to the ground where he took his turn to throw a fist in Colton’s face. Vaguely he could hear people shouting as they surrounded the fighting boys, and he reminded himself to hold back- that being completely human, Colton was more fragile than Tristan would be... though that’s who’s face he pictured, Tristan in his stupid costume. Colton struggled but Draco swung again, refusing to budge. He wanted to ensure the other boy never again made the mistake of thinking he could deal with beings stronger than he was. The kid definitely needed to learn a lesson about angering werewolves… He was only lucky to have run into one of the few who knew better than to kill him outright.

(BREAK)

Harry stared at his reflection, angry and frustrated that it was his fault Luna was free to be out there dancing with anyone who asked her. He hated that Simon kid… whoever he was. Shaking his head angrily he reached out and punched the mirror without thinking, only wanting to release some of what he was feeling. Staring down at his now bloody hand in shock, he was glad that he’d chosen to go to the farthest lavatory possible despite the danger of walking the halls alone.

He waved his wand to repair the damage he’d done and to clean up the mess he’d made before rinsing his hand and wrapping it in several towels. Then falling back against the wall and sliding down to sit on the floor, Harry stared absently across the room and wondered whether he had the fortitude to go through with anything tonight.

There was no way for him to tell how long he sat there stewing in his own thoughts and indecision, but eventually he felt someone trying to mentally break through his walls and call out to him. Opening up slightly, he recognized Ginny’s panicked voice fill his head. Harry! Colton is pushing for a fight with Draco and we don’t know what to do!

He leapt to his feet, his mind racing… and then a sort of clarity settled over him. Perhaps they could work this little scuffle to their advantage... and if things were going to line up so nicely, it must mean that they were meant to do what they’d planned… maybe this was one of those signs he’d been asking for. I’m coming. He answered her. But if they do start to fight, just stay out of their way and let them go at it.

Are you sure? She asked uncertainly.

Draco’s not the one you’re worried will get hurt, right? And after, there will be plenty of witnesses to say Colton started it so everything will be fine. He assured her.

Okay, just get here fast! She demanded.

And so Harry ran full speed back toward the Great Hall, hoping to get there late but not too late to save Colton’s life. McGonagall was no longer at the door so he had no worries about slipping past her, until he went in and saw the reason she’d left her post. There was an apparent fight going on off to the side, though it seemed to have just started. Still, enough students had mulled around the scene to keep the professors from reaching it and breaking things up. But with No-Nonsense-McGonagall heading over it would only be a matter of time. Scanning the rest of the room he saw Ron talking with Jacey, to Harry’s surprised dismay.Draco’s in the middle of that fight. He thought out to her as she and Ron had just seemed to notice the ruckus. It’s now or never. I’m going in to grab him, meet us in there with the cloak so we can all sneak out.

Knowing she’d do as he asked, he quickly made his way to the mob while trying not to draw attention to himself. Draco!

I’m busy right now! He answered almost cheerfully, and why shouldn't he be happy? He was winning as Harry saw after edging and half crawling through the mass of bodies.

Get unbusy, it’s time for us to go. He said just as McGonagall began calling out warnings.

"If you do not let me through this instant you will all be banned from school activities for the rest of the year!" the professor yelled over the roar of students cheering on the two fighting.

To cause more confusion, Harry reached out and started pushing people who in turn began shoving their neighbor. I am next to you. Jacey silently told him and he felt her tug on his shirt to give away her location.

Everyone was shoving each other now, the mob had turned into a mosh pit as the band continued to play in the confusion. Draco had rolled off of Colton and was trying to get to his feet. Harry reached out a hand.Come on! Helping pull the other boy through the crowd, he felt Jacey settle the cloak over them as soon as they were all together.

Careful to ensure it covered them completely, the boys hugged themselves against Jacey and all three began awkwardly making their way out into open space.

Ginny and Luna are in that crowd. Draco said worriedly as they finally broke free.

So is McGonagall, they’ll be fine… Look, she’s already making headway. Harry pointed out the professor who had begun using spells to gently move students aside as she ordered Drake to make the band stop playing. But his own concern for the girls made him send out his mind to search for them and ensure they hadn’t been trampled. He could feel them still in the middle of the chaos, but both seemed to be unharmed.

They proceeded out into the hallway and stopped, looking at each other uncertainly as they stood under the cloak. Now what? Draco asked.

Now we have to get Tristan’s attention. Jacey replied.

I’ll take care of that. Wait here. Harry slipped out into the open and cautiously walked back over to the door. Spotting Tristan standing a bit away from his Slytherin cronies as they all watched McGonagall try to make sense of the pandemonium, he sent out his mind to the other boy. Hey Macnair!

Tristan turned and instantly zeroed in on him, as if he’d known he was standing there the whole time.Something you wanted?

Yeah, you and I need to have a discussion. He replied.

Do we?

Meet me out in the trees behind the lake, if you’re brave enough to leave your pet morons here and come alone. Harry challenged him.

He saw Tristan’s eyes harden. Very well. I suppose tonight is a good night for you to meet your end. He returned with a smirk.

Funny, I was thinking the same thing about you. He returned with a smirk. Then he turned and made his way back under the cloak.

So, he’s on his way then. Jacey said, having heard the whole conversation.

Yes he is. There’s no turning back now I guess. Harry thought out, steeling himself for what was to come.Let’s go kill a vampire.

(BREAK)

"So this is where they chose to house all the smart kids." Fred said as he looked around the common room. "I still can’t believe Ron’s living in here too."

"When he makes an effort, your brother is very smart. He just lets his own laziness fool him and everyone else into thinking otherwise." Hermione grinned, feeling her stomach flutter nervously. "Come on, it’s this way."

She led the way to her room, gripped with anxious uncertainty. Fred had been in her room many times back at Grimmauld Place, but now things were clearly different and she suddenly wasn’t sure if this was the right place to bring him. Of course, it was the only place they’d be guaranteed privacy while they talked since no one could just barge in… Still unsure, she let him in and closed the door behind them.

"Very nice, much better than sharing with a bunch of other people." He said as he awkwardly sat on the window ledge. "Hey, there’s someone walking toward the lake… someone all dressed in fur it looks like…

"It must be Tristan off to do some more evil things. He dressed up as a werewolf tonight."

"Really? How’d Draco take that?"

"Surprisingly well." She sat at her desk and turned to him, ready to be serious. "So… What’s going on back home?"

He sighed and shook his head. "I thought I could handle her at first… I didn’t know she’d planned for everything that would or could ever happen." Fred got up and began pacing as he recounted in full the first time Elanya had come to visit him. He then told her of the note he’d received the day the store reopened before quickly moving on to her demanding his assistance in helping her break into the Daily Prophet to kill her father. Sitting on the bed, he seemed angry as he told her how he’d thought bringing Willem would help change Elanya’s mind but that he hadn’t anticipated how coldly unfeeling the girl could be.

As she listened to him recount his memories, she realized how desperate and scared he was feeling. She went and sat next to him, putting her arm around his shoulders and allowing him to rest his head on her shoulder as he relived the night Edmund was murdered before his eyes. He spared no detail until the end, there was something she felt he was leaving out but after finding out so much else, she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear more anyway. He went on to explain that he and Willem had been the ones to break into the ministry to delete those recording and how they’d not only done it to protect themselves but Elanya too… he had trouble explaining why other than they were caught up in the moment.

Finally he came to the last meeting, when Elanya showed up demanding that he find a way to procure her a new life and the deal she was willing to make in return… provided he and Willem go with her as both leverage and company until she was settled. "I don’t know what to do, Hermione." He said sadly. "She’s threatened Ron and Ginny and after seeing her kill her own father, I have no reason to believe she wouldn’t follow through. If I go to my dad, he’ll want to cover up my part in what she did which will only make me look more guilty. Plus she’s made it clear she will take me down with her."

"You only showed her a door." She argued.

Fred shook his head. "You know there are too many people in the ministry we can’t trust. They would never let it go at just that, Edmund was important to them and their plans. And even just having my name attached to something like this would be enough to make people start questioning whether dad should keep his job… there’s too much politics going on to tell anyone the truth."

"So what, you’re just going to drain your bank account, hand it over to her and then you all jet off to some tropical island for who knows how long?"

He sighed and took her hand. "Unless I can come up with a better idea by Friday."

"There has to be a way… maybe Willem could try talking to her again. You said she seemed to take a shine to him." She insisted, refusing to believe he’d gotten himself in so deep.

"Whatever affection she may have toward him, it’s not as strong as her mistrust of everyone." Fred shook his head. "I don’t think he or anyone else is capable of changing her mind. She’s been too careful and has come too far in her plans."

"Then we’ll think of something." She promised. "This can’t be as hopeless as it seems."

"Well it is, at least from every way I look at it. The only thing I can hope for now is that someone with a fresh understanding of the situation can see something I’m missing." He squeezed her hand and turned to face her.

Impulsively she leaned in and kissed him, liking the fact that she was free to do so. "Let me think on it awhile." She said quietly. "I’m sure there’s got to be a way."

(BREAK)

Luna felt Ginny grab onto her arm as kids started pushing, happily bouncing against each other in time to the music. Although she could sense that the part of Ginny not worried about Draco was really enjoying the light-hearted mob mentality going on around them, Luna felt like she was trapped in a nightmare. Vaguely she felt Harry touch into her mind, checking to see that she was okay before completely closing himself off. She’d obviously failed- he, Draco and Jacey had been given an opportunity to slip out and they had taken it, letting fate be their guide. But if it was fated that they go after Tristan, then why had she received a warning?

At last they were able to break free, still holding onto each other as they watched McGonagall make her way through the students. Drake finally got the band to stop playing which instantly got most of the kids to calm down. At last the professors were able to reach the middle of the chaos, only to find what Luna had feared- Colton lying alone on the floor with a split lip and black eye. "What happened?" McGonagall demanded.

He’s going to tell them Draco started it. Ginny worried.

But it seemed that even as enemies, kids would stick together over adult interference. "I fell when we all started dancing and someone must have accidentally kicked me." Colton answered steadily, using his sleeve to wipe the blood from his mouth.

Though many students had been there to witness the fight Colton had started with Draco, no one came forward to contradict him despite the suspicious looks the professors were casting around, looking for a guilty face. Luna felt Ginny’s pleasure that no one had turned on Draco as they would have last year. Unable to prove anything else had happened without using truth potions, McGonagall allowed the music to start and everyone to return to the dance… though she did warn them all that another incident would ensure their night ended early.

"Where’s Draco?" Ginny wondered, looking around anxiously.

Scanning the room herself, Luna was horrified to discover that Tristan was also missing. Whatever was going to happen was already underway. "Stay here." She tried walking away but Ginny grabbed her arm.

"Where are you going?" She demanded.

"I don’t know. But I have to find Harry, Draco and Jacey." She admitted, deciding that maybe she shouldn’t be going after them alone.

"Why, what’s going on?"

She shook her head. I think they may be trying to kill Tristan. She said, not daring to speak her suspicion aloud.

Ginny narrowed her eyes. "I thought it may be something like that…"

"Yeah well, we have to find them and make sure they don’t get themselves killed." Luna argued.

"Where would they go? Wait! I have an idea, come on!" She rushed off and Luna followed close behind all the way back to their dorm and Ginny’s room. "Luckily I forgot to give this back the last time I borrowed it." She said, opening her desk drawer and pulling out the Marauder’s map.

Quickly unfolding it, both girls scoured the parchment looking for their friends. "There, by the lake!" Luna pointed out all three of their names.

"Uh oh…" Ginny indicated the footsteps moving toward the lake that were labeled as belonging to Tristan Macnair. Sharing a look they ran off, leaving their dorm and heading for the front doors.

"And where do you two think you are going?" McGonagall asked, once more at her post just outside the Great Hall.

Should we tell her? Ginny asked.

I don’t know! Luna cried out desperately. Anything could be happening out there! .

Then it comes down to whether or not we trust that they can handle themselves. Ginny calmly replied, though the fear she was holding back was clearly ready to break her.

"Well?" McGonagall asked impatiently.

They shouldn’t be doing this at all! Luna reasoned, ignoring the professor.

That’s no longer the issue because they are… so I’m asking you… do you think they’ll survive it? Ginny was placing her trust in her, in her powers and in her opinion. So did she believe Harry, Draco and Jacey were a combined force capable of defeating Tristan?

"We wanted to see the snow." Luna finally answered McGonagall, using the lie Hermione had given her earlier.

"You can see it fine through the windows. Come on back inside." She urged them.

Sharing a scared glance, Luna and Ginny made their way back into the dance knowing nothing would be alright until they saw Harry and Draco with their own eyes.

(BREAK)

Here he comes. Harry warned the others from where they waited under the cloak with the makeshift weapons Jacey had created out of Ash wood. Earlier in the day she’d come out and stashed them under a tarp, ensuring their protection from the elements- a good thing considering the thick snow falling heavily down around them. Shifting the bow and quiver across his back, Harry decided it would be best to take them off. They would only slow him down and it’s not like the weapon would be useful, he wasn’t even sure of the proper way to load the useless arrows other than pointy end forward. So he carefully tossed them at the base of a tree trunk, thinking of Luna the whole time. She must have figured out what he was up to by now, he’d clearly decided what he was going to do… why else go so far as to lure Tristan out here? Would she come after him? Probably, just as Ginny would most likely come after Draco once discovering he was gone unless something stopped her. That thought strengthened his resolve, making him determined to end this quickly before either girl could find them and possibly get themselves hurt. He was unconcerned with his own safety… so long as he survived. Though muffled by the still falling snow, the crunch of approaching footsteps was unmistakable. Harry almost felt sorry for the disruption, realizing he’d been enjoying the quiet, peacefulness of a world being blanketed in white fluffy powder.

"Well, well. So you’ve finally decided to have that showdown we’ve both been wanting." Tristan said, emerging from the trees with a smile "Don’t insult my intelligence Harry, I can smell the blood from that filthy wolf and the mystery girl you’ve been hiding in the castle."

His heart lurched as he realized Tristan had known Jacey was staying there and he desperately wondered if he’d reported his suspicions back to the Death Eaters. Both Draco and Jacey emerged from beneath the cloak and threw it over by the bow and arrows. "So you know I’m not alone. Luckily I know that you are." He said confidently.

Tristan laughed. "As if I need those idiots to help me take care of you. And what’s that you two are holding… Ash wood? A troublesome development but nothing I can’t handle."

"We’ll see when one of these is sticking out of your neck." Draco said darkly, tossing one of the thick wooden stakes to Harry.

"I’m not worried, you won’t have the chance." Tristan replied as he reached up to remove his fake fangs exposing his very real, razor sharp teeth. "And who might you be my dear?" He asked, calmly addressing Jacey as if they were all meeting at a luncheon.

Flames burst from her fingertips as she smiled at the clearly startled vampire. "Someone who’s going to ensure that this is your last night alive."

"Another firestarter! So you saw Voldemort had collected one and went out to get your own, how delightful." Tristan smiled, quickly regaining his composure. Thankfully he didn’t seem to realize that Jacey was a step or two above Elise McKinney’s ability. The vampire turned serious, glaring around at them as they spread out to approach him from all sides. "Okay, I’m ready when you are… let’s settle this." He hissed, tensing himself.

Now! Jacey yelled and they all three moved at once toward Tristan, aiming for a spot to stab him. Moving quickly he leapt, spinning to catch Draco who had leapt up after him before he could fly away. The two struggled in the air, snarling and swinging at each other at Draco tried to release the vampire’s hold, despite the fall it meant for him. Harry and Jacey pulled out their wands and began casting, trying to use spells that wouldn’t accidentally hurt Draco as well. Suddenly Tristan let him go, at the same zooming down on Harry and Jacey who were forced to dive out of the way as he snapped at them. Slipping in the snow, Harry stumbled and fell before quickly grabbing up the stake and turning to see what was going on.

Draco was still laying on the ground, recovering from such a high fall. Tristan had gone after Jacey, landing on top of her and attempting to tear out her throat. He clearly wanted to take out Harry’s allies and make this a real showdown but Jacey wasn’t one to be caught. Her entire body burst into flame, instantly melting the snow around her and forcing the vampire to release her and fly backwards. He looked angry but even as his clothes were burnt and smoldering, Tristan remained unscathed. Extinguishing herself, Jacey rose to her feet and together she and Harry rushed the vampire, but again he leapt into the air, landing behind them and grabbing them each around their throats. "Drop the Ash!" He demanded as they struggled to free themselves, but he simply squeezed tighter.

Jacey still had her wand and she desperately tried to stun him but only succeeded in getting his foot. Yelling out he picked her up by her neck and threw her away from him. Harry watched as she hit one of the trees headfirst and fell to the ground… he wanted to go to her, to make sure she was still alive but was helpless to do anything other than try to pry the vampire’s steel fingers off his throat. "It wasn’t her I was after anyway." Tristan grumbled as he pulled out his own wand and released her partial spell on his foot.

Feeling the grip around his neck loosen as the vampire became slightly distracted, Harry tried to quickly spin and plunge the stake he still held through the other boy’s chest. But Tristan sensed the move coming and caught his arm. Now face to face, they glared at each other as Harry fought the resistance and continued trying to follow through. "Just drop the stake and I’ll let you go." Tristan sneered, once again tightening his grasp around Harry’s neck.

He couldn’t breathe, the world was growing dim. But he refused to give into it, forcing all of his focus not into his struggle for air but rather into plunging the stake through the vampire’s heart. But again Tristan laughed, squeezing Harry’s wrist until he felt it would break. No longer in control of his own body, he realized his numbed fingers had released their grip on the only weapon he had, letting the Ash wood fall uselessly to the snow. Tristan grinned evilly. "At last. Now the fun can really begin."

(BREAK)

Draco had been several feet in the air and landed hard when he fell, though he hadn’t realized he’d lost consciousness until he woke up. Shaking himself off, he fearfully looked around to see what he’d missed and was horrified by what he found. Jacey was lying in an unmoving heap over by the trees while Tristan was right out in the open trying to strangle the life out of Potter. Struggling to his feet, he felt a sharp shooting pain go up both his legs and he vaguely wondered just how hurt he’d been by the drop. Potter attempted a last ditch effort, wrenching himself around in the vampire’s grasp in an attempt to stab him. But weakened by lack of oxygen, he was too far gone and Tristan too strong… he forced Potter to drop the stake.

Ignoring the pain that came with every step, he stealthily made his way around and sized up the situation before pouncing. He landed on Tristan’s back, instantly wrapping both arms around the boy’s neck and squeezing. Angrily startled, the vampire did exactly as Draco had hoped and released Potter, letting him fall to the ground coughing and struggling for air. Tristan whipped around and once more leapt into the air but he held on tight and the boy was unable to shake him off.

Once more landing, Tristan reached behind him and Draco felt the vampire dig painfully into his shoulder blades. Against his will, his body loosened its grip on the other boy and he felt himself fly forward through the air as Tristan pulled him off and flung him away. Before he could move the vampire was on him, pinning him to the ground. "Look, my claws can come out whenever they want to." Tristan grinned, holding up his hand as Draco struggled beneath him. He watched as the boy’s nails grew before his eyes, lengthening into sharp talons. Without warning he slashed out and Draco felt a painful sting across his face.

And then the world exploded in fire as Tristan became quite literally engulfed in flame. It was enough distraction for Draco to kick the boy away and once more limp to his feet. "I did not get you, did I?" Jacey asked worriedly as she rushed over to him, bleeding from a large cut in her head from where she’d hit the tree. He shook his head as he quickly checked to be sure that he hadn’t been scorched. Gingerly touching his face, he was dismayed to see his fingers come away bloody.

While Tristan rolled himself in the snow in an effort to put out the flames, they desperately searched the ground for the wooden stakes and their wands. Draco was more than a little relieved to see Potter get up and start searching as well. "Are these what you want?" The vampire screamed. He now stood before them, his clothes almost all burned away while his pale flesh remained untouched. Using a scrap of fabric, he’d picked up the three stakes and was now holding them out tauntingly. "You can’t have them!" Full of fury, he threw them against the nearest three and Draco watched with his friends as their weapons shattered into slivers. "I told you, none of you are a match for me!"

Any bright ideas? He thought out to Potter and Jacey as his heart sunk into his stomach. Clearly they’d underestimated how difficult this would be.

(BREAK)

Harry didn’t know what to do. Their one way of saving themselves had just been destroyed and they’d come way too far for Tristan to just let them walk away now. Now I guess we go down fighting. He answered Draco hopelessly.

What about the killing curse? Jacey suggested.

You can’t kill someone who technically isn’t alive. Draco argued.

"So, what happens now?" Tristan taunted in their apparent silence, either unaware or unconcerned that they were mentally talking to each other.

But he is alive! Harry remembered suddenly, ignoring the vampire as a glimmer of hope flickered within him.Lupin said pureborns have beating hearts.

Okay so all we have to do is dig through all this snow and find our wands before he kills us. Draco answered miserably, clearly not giving in to any amount of hope.

Just call for the wands, Harry. Jacey told him.

I can’t call for something if I don’t know where it is. He argued.

You did it last year, after we found the ring you called our brooms. Draco pointed out.

Well I knew where they were being kept, didn’t I?

Just try. Draco ordered.

Figuring anything was possible, he gave it a shot but nothing happened and their last line of defense remained buried in the ever deepening snow. He felt their disappointment. Okay, Harry and I will distract him while you find a wand. Jacey suggested to Draco. Just make sure you curse him in time.

Hesitantly the boys agreed with her plan. "Well?" Tristan sneered. "Have you all run out of steam? Are you ready to give in to what you always knew was coming."

"Now!" Harry shouted. Jacey unleashed another furious firestorm, which Tristan predictably tried to dodge by flying up into the air. Concentrating hard, Harry focused on the boy and reached out his mind to grasp him. It worked and Tristan hovered above them, struggling to break free of Harry’s invisible hold. Using his power, he flung the boy around, knocking him from tree to tree until his mind exhausted itself and he could no longer keep the hold. As soon as the vampire landed Jacey stepped up to take over, once more engulfing Tristan in flame which he furiously tried to put out.

"I found one!" Draco shouted, running over with Jacey’s wand. He opened his mouth to utter the killing curse, but Tristan was faster. Giving into the fire that wasn’t damaging him anyway, he rushed them all still aflame and they scrambled to get out of the way and keep from being burned. Harry dove and landed near the remaining shards of their Ash wood stakes.

Seeing that Jacey and Draco were keeping Tristan busy as they attempted to dodge and find the opportunity to curse him, Harry desperately searched to find a piece that would still be big enough for them to use. He couldn’t use his burnt out mind to hurl it at the other boy himself, but perhaps he could find a piece sturdy enough to stab him should he get close enough. But they were all too small… and then his eyes landed on a few long though thin pieces that looked very much like the useless arrows he’d been carrying earlier that night. Deciding it was as good an opportunity as anything else, he whipped around and used a little of the last bit of mental strength he had left to call the bow from where he’d left it earlier. Seeing Tristan grab Jacey by the throat and lift her in the air, he clumsily fitted one of the wood pieces against the string and pulled back as he’d seen many others do during their archery practice. Before he’d thought it a useless hobby but now he wished he’d taken up the activity when he’d had a chance. He attempted to aim and released the string, but the make-shift arrow only flew a few feet. So much for Luna’s assumption that he’d be good at anything on the first try. He fitted the next piece of wood and drew back the string, feeling slightly more confident now that he knew what to expect. This piece flew further but landed uselessly in the snow and did nothing more than draw Tristan’s attention.

(BREAK)

Again the now flaming vampire dove at them and Draco quickly shoved Jacey out of the way before once more attempting to curse the son of a bitch. Unfortunately he had Jacey’s wand and not his, which made it more difficult to wield and he found his aim continually off. Of course that could also have to do with the fact that he had to continually throw himself to the ground so as not to also be set on fire. His face was numb, his legs were screaming in pain every time he moved and he knew he couldn’t keep this up much longer. Thinking quickly, he once more dove to the ground, turning and yelling "Aguamenti!" A stream of water burst from the wand as Tristan flew over him, extinguishing the fire at last. Jacey’s power was certainly impressive… until used against someone unaffected by it.

I am going to find the other wands! She yelled in his head, making him wince. My fire is only hindering us.She added as she crawled through the snow, digging for his and Harry’s wands.

Draco once more painfully scrambled to his feet just as Tristan did the same. They stared each other down, both predators standing still as statues in the falling snow as they attempted to anticipate the other’s move. Seeing the vampire tense, Draco immediately raised his arm before he could strike but the speed with which Tristan was able to move far overshadowed his attempt. He ducked but not fast enough this time, feeling Tristan grab hold of the other end of the wand before snapping it in two and landing behind him.

Whipping around to face the enemy, Draco angrily threw away the broken piece of wand he still held. Tristan merely laughed. "You know this is the end for you now, don’t you?"

"If it is so be it, but I won’t make it easy for you." He growled out. The wolf was rising up, wanting to take over completely so that the weaker human side could finally rest. He was inclined to let it, having left the amulet in his room for this very reason. He needed the wolf and only wished the full moon were tonight so that it could come out completely. Everything else left his mind, there was nothing but him and the enemy. He felt his senses become heightened as a grim animal instinct for survival invaded him.

"I would be disappointed if you didn’t put up some kind of fight." Tristan sneered, crouching as he prepared to attack.

And then there was nothing but the fight as the two collided together in a timeless struggle- werewolf against vampire- neither having chosen their side. They were both snapping at each other and though Draco didn’t have fangs at the moment, he was so overwhelmed by the wolf that he was confident if given the chance he’d rip Tristan’s throat out with his human teeth. He felt the vampire try to rise into the air and pushed down with everything he had, forcing them both to the ground. They rolled in the snow, each attempting to be the one to come out on top. At last Draco managed it just as Tristan struck him in the side, piercing through his clothing and painfully digging his nails in while trying to rip away the flesh there.

Howling in agony, Draco lashed out, striking the other boy hard enough to have shattered anyone else’s face. Instead he was the one who felt he’d broken his hand, while Tristan came away with nothing worse than a bloody nose. But even that was enough to make Draco happier, knowing no one else would have been strong enough to accomplish even that much. Then Tristan gouged his nails in deeper and as Draco struggled to be released, the vampire thrust out his other arm and stabbed him in the left side as well. Using just his talon-like nails, Tristan lifted him and he felt himself fly through the air.

Sitting up in an agonizing daze, he saw the snow around where he’d landed stained red with his blood and Draco weakly wondered what would happen if Tristan bit him… could there be such a thing as a werevampire? Shaking his head to clear it and bring himself back, he tried to focus on healing the gaping wounds on his sides while searching for Tristan. He didn’t have to look far. The vampire had picked himself up and was stalking towards him. "No!" Jacey yelled, giving up her search for the wands to come to his defense.

A fiery wall erupted between him and Tristan, stopping the vampire’s progress toward him… though it hadn’t left a mark, the fire must hurt him otherwise why not just walk through? Draco watched in horror as Tristan turned on Jacey. "You’ve proven troublesome enough!" He shouted.

She turned and ran but he was quicker. As Tristan grabbed her up by her throat, lifting her in the air so that her feet dangled above the ground, Draco scrambled to dump snow over the roaring flames that had been meant to protect him and were now keeping him from helping Jacey. At last they went out and he tried to get to his feet but his legs buckled, no longer able to carry his weight. He looked around for Potter and saw him desperately attempt to shoot what looked like an arrow at Tristan. Upon closer review, he saw that they were the remains of the Ash stakes they thought would so easily dispose of their foe. Unfortunately the first one didn’t fly very far and as Potter reloaded, Draco found himself cheering the boy on. After all, what other hope did they have? But the second piece of wood, though flying further, also stopped well short of its target… And this one Tristan saw…

(BREAK)

"Found yourself a toy?" Tristan called out to Harry, carelessly tossing Jacey aside. She landed in the snow, her hands at her neck as she coughed and choked.

He quickly reached for another piece of wood and fit it in the bow. "Just learning how to play with it." He taunted, trying to get the vampire to come closer, away from Jacey and Draco who appeared pretty badly hurt.

"Too bad you’ll never have the chance to perfect it!" Tristan yelled, running at him full speed. Harry drew back the string, this time using what little of his power he still had stored up to guide the Ash wood where he wanted it to go. If he couldn’t send it flying on his own, then he could certainly try to help the bow do it for him.

Tristan was still several yards away when he lunged through the air towards him, but Harry felt the shot was right and took it. He nearly cried in relief when it hit it’s target, easily slicing through the vampire’s skin and embedding itself in the hollow of his throat. A look of shock passed through the boy’s face as he fell, clawing at the wood which only scarred his hands. And then he was still, blood burbling up from the wound and spreading through the crisp white snow.

Once more everything descended into peaceful quiet, a world put to sleep under the spell of the coming winter. Slowly Harry got up and limped over to Draco but Jacey went to Tristan, picking up two more pieces of the Ash wood and jamming them in the boy’s eyes, wanting to be sure of the kill. "Are you going to make it?" He asked as he helped Draco to his feet, unsettled by the large blood stain beneath him.

"I think so." He said, trying to make his legs support him without Harry’s help. "How’s my face?" There were long nail marks across his cheeks and nose that already seemed to be starting to heal. One dose of herbs and they’d probably disappear altogether.

"By morning, it’ll be no less disfigured than it usually is." Harry assured him, trying to pretend this was a normal conversation, trying to pretend he hadn’t just taken a second life. But he’d said it himself earlier, Tristan’s heart was beating… and now it wasn’t.

"Well, he is definitely dead." Jacey came up to echo the thoughts Harry was having minus the guilt and uncertainty he felt.

"So, is it over then?" Draco asked.

"For him it is." She smiled weakly. "For us it is just beginning."

(BREAK)

"Where did Harry, Hermione and Draco go?" Ron asked as he approached Luna and Ginny who were sitting at the table looking as if the world were about to end. "And what’s wrong with you two?"

"Where did Jacey say she was going?" Luna returned distractedly as she continued to stare at the doors.

"You don’t know? I thought she said she was leaving to take care of stuff for the coven." He was confused, surely Luna was supposed to know about anything involving the coven. "Draco knew about it too, said he was there when she and Harry were discussing it… why, what’s really going on?"

"She said she was leaving?" Now Luna’s full attention was on him, as if he could provide her the last few pieces of a puzzle he was just beginning to put together. "For how long?"

"She said she wasn’t sure but not too long if she could help it… you really don’t know about it?" He demanded.

"No, but that must be why I saw her with the potion…" She stared off thoughtfully as if forgetting they were there.

"What potion? What are you talking about?" Ginny asked before Ron could, also desperate to know what their friends were up to.

"I’m sorry, but you guys need to wait here." Luna said sadly, quickly pulling out her wand and magically gluing their feet to the ground while pinning their arms to their sides.

"Luna!" Ron shouted. "What the hell?!"

"I’m so sorry. I’ll tell someone to come release you guys on my way out." She said apologetically.

"You can’t just run off on your own, it’s too dangerous!" he protested, feeling his sister struggle against the spell next to him. He didn’t bother, he knew Luna was too good at casting.

"I have a feeling things are a lot less dangerous than they were an hour ago… for now." She shook her head regretfully before turning and running off. They called after her but other than stopping to talk briefly with Seamus and point in their direction, she went on her way to do whatever she was going to do.

"What the hell was that, what’s going on?" Ron demanded of his sister who clearly knew more than he did.

"I don’t know about Jacey leaving…" Ginny shook her head, hesitating slightly before deciding to go on. "… but she, Harry and Draco just went off a little while ago to try and kill Tristan. Luna must have figured something else out and gone after them."

"What!? How are you so calm about this?!" He demanded, instantly scared for all three of his friends.

"Shut up, no one is supposed to know." She said quietly as Seamus approached them with a big smile on his face.

"So, Luna had to jinx you guys just to get a moment of peace?" He laughed.

"Shut up and release the spell." Ron grumbled.

"Ask me more nicely." Seamus taunted.

"Release the spell now or when I find a way out you’ll be sorry." Ginny replied darkly.

"Alright… but it’s not because I’m scared of you, I just have better things to do than stand here with you two all night." He waved his wand and grinned again before walking away to join Dean who was attempting to amuse a group of girls with his Spider Clifton dance moves. Clearly they were amused, just probably not for the reason Dean had hoped.

"Come on, we left the map in my room." Ginny grabbed Ron’s arm and pulled him toward the door.

"What are you talking about?"

"When Luna and I were trying to find out where Harry and Draco went, we used the map and left it laying open on my bed…"

"But?" He prompted when she faltered.

She shook her head. "We ran out so fast, I’m not sure I closed the door… If Luna remembers and really doesn’t want us following her, she might have gone to grab it first."

"She seemed pretty focused on something when she left, why would she remember that?" He argued, figuring the map was the best way to find their friends and figure out what was goin on.

They waited until McGonagall became distracted and slipped past her, running full speed toward their dorm. Bursting into the common room they ran down the Gryffindor wing to Ginny’s room. "The door’s closed." She said in relief, opening it so fast it slammed into the wall. They rushed in but the map was no where to be seen.

"Where is it?" He demanded.

"I don’t know! It was right here!" She said desperately as she dropped down to check under the bed.

Ron shook his head. "Well, I guess Luna got here before we did after all. Now what? Because I certainly can’t just go back to the dance and pretend nothing is happening."

She paused as Jacey had earlier, as if listening to something in her head. He was confused by the look that crossed her eyes- a mixture of relief, concern, fear, and desperation. "Just go to your room and wait for Harry to come back… I’m going to change clothes and wait here for Draco. There’s nothing else we can do."

"I suppose, I just can’t believe how calm you are about all of this." He replied suspiciously.

"What else can I do?" She asked, anxiously throwing her arms out in the air. "It would be stupid and dangerous to go after them without knowing what we’d be walking into… for them and us."

"Fine, but if you hear anything, you better come tell me." He relented, seeing how upset she was. He went over and hugged her for a moment, trying to offer comfort. She let him, hugging him back as she tried to comfort him as well.

With a sigh he stepped back and looked at his sister, certain that she knew something he didn’t. He reluctantly went back to his room but no sooner had he closed the door and leaned his ear against it than he heard Ginny’s open again, followed by her hurried footsteps as she rushed by. He cracked open the door and stuck his head out, watching her rush across the common room to the Slytherin wing.

Ron stepped out into the hallway and shook his head, apparently she’d decided to wait in Draco’s room and he understood the feeling, wishing he could find a way into Harry’s to wait so that he would be the first thing his friend saw when he returned. He definitely had some questions that Harry needed to answer regarding Tristan… and Jacey too. As he stared down the hall one thing stuck out in his head- if Harry, Draco and Jacey were off fighting Tristan… and Luna had presumably gone after them… Then where was Hermione? Suddenly concerned, he went to knock on her door, hoping she’d simply decided to turn in early.

(BREAK)

"You could send her to Castellumshire." Hermione suggested helpfully as Fred paced in front of her.

"Where and what is that?" He asked, clearly frustrated that she refused to let the subject drop.

"It’s a wizarding village… other than it’s on some secret island, I don’t know where it is." She sighed. She was just as tired of having to discuss Elanya, but he was the one who’d gotten himself tied up in the girl’s schemes. "From what I’ve read of it, they offer asylum to known criminals, refusing extradition requests from all magical governments. If you can find out how to send her there then you won’t need to go with her, no one can touch her there."

"Except other criminals." He answered miserably.

"Exactly, other criminals... because technically that’s what she is and what she’s trying to turn you into." She crossed her arms angrily. "Besides, what do you care what happens to her once she’s out of your life?"

He shook his head and sat next to her. "I can’t explain it… it’s almost like, well yes she clearly enjoyed killing her father… but at the same time, she was so insistent that she didn’t want to have to hurt anyone else. I mean she was scary enough to believe when she said she would hurt others if she had to but…" He shook his head again, unable to explain the unexplainable.

She stood and took his face in her hands so that he would look at her. "You’ve said yourself, she seems to be able to make herself into anyone… that she switches personalities the way others switch topics of conversation. She wants you to believe everything she says. That’s the way the con works, you of all people should know that."

"That’s why I thought I could deal with her…" He reached up to place his hands over hers. "But I don’t think she’s a con anymore… I really think she’s not playing with a full deck and so to make up for it, she threw a few wild cards in. Methodical and unpredictable, she knows what she wants in the moment and will do anything to get it. But does that always make her a bad person? She wants no part in the war either way- so she claims… And she wants no part in Voldemort’s plan to make her and the others immortal…"

"So now that’s she’s gotten her revenge and is well on her way to getting away with it, you really think she’ll just turn around and live the rest of her life in peace and harmony?" Hermione asked, releasing his face but keeping hold of his hands.

"Not if we ship her off to criminal island…" He sighed. "I just want this to turn out the best for everyone… you, me, us… my family, my friends, Willem and yes, even Elanya because all she really did was get rid of an obstacle for us."

"I realize Edmund not being around has its benefits for us. And I know you’re trying really hard to see the good in what happened but-"

"Please." He interrupted her, desperately squeezing her hands. "Please Hermione, I can’t talk about this anymore. It’s all I think about when I’m not thinking about you… now that I’m here, I don’t want it to be all we talk about…"

She paused, deciding in that moment that he’d obviously tortured himself enough over the whole ordeal. Tomorrow she would take up the struggle for him and help find a way out… but tonight he’d come a long way and it hadn’t been because he wanted to talk about Elanya. Reminded that he had snuck up here just to see her, she smiled. "You’re right. So what would you rather do instead?" She asked, leaning down to kiss him.

He let go of her hands to wrap his arms around her waist, pulling her to sit in his lap. "Well, I guess we could see where this goes." He said with a devilish grin when they broke apart to catch their breath. She returned the smile, putting her arms around his neck and pulling herself closer as he leaned in to capture her lips again.

They both jumped, leaping to their feet and springing apart when someone knocked loudly and insistently. "Hermione?! Are you in there?" They heard Ron call through the door.

"Now what?" Fred whispered.

She shrugged. "Pretend I’m not here." She whispered back nervously.

"Hermione? Come on, if you’re in there sleeping, wake up! I’m getting worried, you disappeared a while ago." Ron yelled, banging on the door again.

"Quick, under the bed!" She whispered, shoving Fred.

"You can’t be serious." He whispered back. "Just let him see us, you and Harry broke up two weeks ago…"

"I know, but do you want to take the time to sit and explain it all to Ron? He’ll have questions, concerns… he could be here all night talking to us…" She grinned, seeing his struggle between the desire to be alone with her and how much he didn’t want to climb under the bed. At last he groaned and dropped down to the floor, grumbling the whole time as he crawled to hide himself. "I thought so." She said with a satisfied smirk.

"Hermione!?" Ron banged on the door.

She whipped off her cape and quickly grabbed up her robe to put on over her dress. Then, ripping the diadem off her head, she quickly messed up her hair and rubbed her eyes so they’d be slightly red and puffy. Trying to feel as indignantly and sleepily angry as she would had Ron really awoken her, she threw open the door and faced him. "What?" she demanded.

"So you were sleeping?" He asked in surprise.

"Were being the definitive word. I wasn’t feeling well and the music was getting to me, so I told Harry I was going to turn in early." She lied knowing that if she got to him first, Harry would back her up.

"So you have no idea what he’s up to right now?!" Ron asked incredulously.

Assuming it had something to do with Luna, Hermione had no desire to know what Harry was doing… and she was sure he felt the same about her and Fred. It was one thing to accept each other being with someone else in theory, quite another to know it in reality. "He told me everything, we discussed it all. I told him to go do what he feels he needs to do."

"Really?" He raised an eyebrow.

Briefly she wondered if maybe he was talking about something else- but either way it didn’t matter. As long as Harry’s life wasn’t in any more immediate danger than it normally was, then she wanted to stay with Fred. And she was certain that if Harry were on the brink of getting himself killed, Ron would be a little more excited and scared. "Really. I have a headache that feels as if someone was trying to hammer a hole through my skull." She said, putting her hand to her head. "When Harry comes back you can talk to him about it if you really feel the need, but I have to get back to bed."

He studied her for a moment, as if he couldn’t quite believe her reaction. "Okay. Good night Hermione." He said at last.

"Good night Ron." She closed the door and turned around to find Fred sticking his head out and grinning.

"Well handled." He said as he pulled himself the rest of the way out from under the bed. "So now what?"

(BREAK)

Luna made sure to close Ginny’s door on her way out. At first she’d intended to go straight to the Room of Requirement, but while on her way she’d found herself wishing she knew whether Harry, Draco and Jacey were already there or not. That’s when she’d remembered the map and turned back for it. Ginny was a smart girl, she would surely remember the map and decide to use it to follow her. But she couldn’t let that happen, not until she found out for herself what was going on. Looking the map over as she went to her own room, she saw that four pairs of footsteps were making their way back to the castle- Harry’s, Draco’s, Jacey’s… and Tristan’s. Confused and more than a little concerned, she rushed into her room to grab the healing herbs she had a feeling they’d need and hurried out into the hall before Ginny and Ron could make their way out of the dance. Not caring who saw her or what they thought, she ran full speed through the school’s maze of hallways until at last she reached the Room of Requirement.

Pacing outside, she asked to be let into the place Harry had brewed his secret potions. Cracking open the door she peeked inside and saw a completely bare room. Smiling with slight amusement, she shook her head and started pacing again. This time she asked to be let into the place where Draco had brewed his secret potion. Once more opening the door, she was rewarded this time with an entire lab, complete with their already bottled concoction. She should have know Harry wouldn’t be the one to make potions, it was the class he’d always hated most- even with Drake now teaching it… it was an art that required too much patience.

Seeing a book laying open on the table, she went over to inspect it. Two words caught her eye, confirming what she’d feared- Polyjuice potion. Apparently, they’d come up with a way to cover up Tristan’s disappearance… and if what she’d seen in her warning was true, Jacey was the one who intended to take the boy’s place. It made sense, very few people knew she was here- who would miss what wasn’t supposed to be here in the first place? And she’d already made up some story to Ron, indicating they were all going to great lengths to give everyone else deniability should they be discovered. And she knew why Harry hadn’t told her anything, he was afraid that she’d try to stop him which of course she’d been trying to do anyway. All of the pieces were falling into place now.

That’s when it struck her, intuition instantly telling her that she was correct. It was more than his fear of her trying to stop him… Harry was scared of how she’d react, how she would see him after it was over for doing what he felt he had to regardless her warnings. That was why he hadn’t come to her after he and Hermione had broken up… He knew he was already lying to her and as always, he hadn’t wanted to make things worse. Knowing him, she could deduce that he thought he’d been trying to spare her the knowledge that he’d decided to do something she’d told him was a bad idea until after it was done. That way he could say,"See, Tristan is gone and there’s nothing to worry about, aren’t you relieved?" She knew he was probably terrified that he’d upset her to the point of losing her, but he clearly felt it was necessary to get rid of the vampire. So now she had to ask herself… how did she feel about it?

The door opened and she turned to find Harry and Jacey with Draco between them as they helped him walk. All three looked badly injured and completely surprised to see her. "Luna?" Harry almost dropped Draco in his shock. Remembering himself, he helped get the other boy over the small couch against the wall before turning back to her. "What are you doing in here?"

"I figured you’d all be back here sooner or later… don’t you want to close the door?" She asked, crossing her arms as indignant anger overwhelmed her immediate relief at seeing him alive.

"Not just yet." Jacey said, walking back out into the hall and waving her wand, as if directing something invisible into the room before slamming the door. "You may not want to be seeing this, it is not pretty." She warned.

"No, don’t." Harry said, reaching out to stop the girl from removing the invisibility cloak. "She doesn’t need to see it."

"It’s Tristan’s body under there, isn’t it?" Luna held up the map. "I saw all four names coming back here."

"It’s him." He admitted, hanging his head. "We lured him out, fought him and killed him… I’m sorry."

She had no words, nothing to say. He looked so completely lost, knowing that by doing the one thing he knew would ensure their immediate safety he may have ruined everything else. She wanted to wrap her arms around him and comfort him while at the same time she wanted to furiously shake him and demand to know why he’d done this.

"Whatever is done is done." Jacey said in the tense silence. "Whatever is to come because of it, we cannot change it now."

Draco got up from the couch, his legs shaky beneath him. "I think I need to go to my room and lay down."

"I think you all need to go to the infirmary." Luna returned.

"I’ll be better by morning… one of the few good things about being a werewolf." He insisted, moving to the door.

"Well here, take this with you to help the process along." She relented, tossing him one of the tubes of healing herbs.

"Thanks, will one of you tell Ginny to meet me there?" He asked, his voice shaking in his clear exhaustion and apparent loss of blood.

Ginny, Draco wants you to meet him in his room. Don’t tell Ron. Luna thought out quickly. "Already done." She assured him. He thanked her and left as quickly as he was able to in his condition. Then she turned and stared pointedly at Jacey.

"You know, I am thinking maybe we should do the potion thing in the morning… it will be better after a good night’s rest." Jacey said, picking up on the mood of the room and Luna’s all but spoken suggestion that she make herself scarce.

"Good night." She said, handing out another tube of herbs as the girl walked past her.

At last it was her and Harry, alone. "I’m sorry Luna." He said right away.

"For what?" She asked carefully.

"I told you, that night in your room… I told you that if given the chance I didn’t think I could stop myself from going after him."

"I know." She replied. "And I promised that no matter what I’d never hate you… And I don’t. It’s actually the complete opposite… which is why I’m trying to understand why you went through with it when I told you I felt it was a bad idea, and I swear I can follow your logic, I just don’t agree with it. Besides I knew you were going to be tempted to go after Tristan… what I didn’t know was that you and Hermione broke up two weeks ago!" She said, her anger and frustration taking a sudden swing.

"She told you?" He asked in surprise.

"She did, so why didn’t you? Didn’t you trust me enough to stand by you even if you decided to do something so dangerously thoughtless?"

He looked down at the floor. "I don’t want to do this here, with a body lying between us." He gestured to the still invisible form on the ground.

"You’re the one who put it there, literally and metaphorically." She answered.

"Fair enough." He sighed before going around and coming up her. "But I did it for you… and for me, because I couldn’t stand the idea that he’d succeed, that he’d take you away from me in every way imaginable to be put away in Voldemort’s pet psychic menagerie."

"I know why you did it… I just don’t think you realize how much worse things can be. I haven’t seen anything yet because none of them know there’s a problem with Tristan, but I’m scared of what I’ll see when they find out… Jacey can’t take his place forever. I’m not even sure she’ll pull it off for a day."

"We handled this and everything before it, we’ll handle what comes next." He insisted.

"I wish I were as confident as you seem to be." She shook her head sadly, unwilling to think of the consequences to their actions.

"There’s one thing I’m not confident about at all." He quietly admitted hanging his head. "Can you forgive me Luna? …Even if I can’t promise it’ll never happen again?"

She stared at him, her stomach swirling with too many emotions to clearly identify. She couldn’t stand the thought of him going off to do something so careless again, and the fallout from this was still yet to be seen. Could she forgive him… absolutely. But should she forgive him so easily right here in this moment? "I don’t know…" She saw his face fall, his eyes told her that she had just destroyed his entire world.

"What if I do promise it’ll never happen again?" He asked hopefully, desperately. "What if I promise to never again do anything without telling you first and getting your permission?"

Luna couldn’t take it anymore, her own desperation breaking through everything else. "I don’t want that Harry, everyone should be free to make their own choices. Someday I’ll forgive you. Right now… I just can’t stand the distance between us anymore." She said looking him straight in the eye.

"Neither can I." He took another hesitant step closer.

They were silent, each waiting breathlessly to see what the other would do. Her heart was beating so fast and so loud she was sure he could hear it. One of them had to be be daring enough to finally allow what they'd spent so much time fighting- Luna decided that it would be her, that it was time she take her fate into her own hands. "Kiss me Harry." She whispered.



NOTE: More to come soon!

Chapter 47: The Next Phase

A/N: Lots going on here so as always… Read, Review and Enjoy!



"Well handled." Thankful that Ron had finally left after what felt like hours but had only been a few minutes, Fred pulled himself completely out from under the bed. He stared at Hermione as she stood uncertainly before him looking as nervous as he felt. "So now what?" He asked, knowing full well what he’d like to get back to but unwilling to do anything to screw up or make her uncomfortable. She was too important to him now.

"I don’t know." She said honestly, remaining by the door and making no move toward him. This was a situation new to both of them but more so for her. He’d dated plenty in his time at school, albeit with girls that really hadn’t meant much and rarely deserved mentioning. In fact, Padma had been the only one he’d really cared for at all. But he’d let that go up in smoke after George had died in favor of Hermione’s comfort... even if it hadn’t been his to seek and even if he hadn’t fully realized that’s what he’d been doing. Meanwhile, Hermione had only ever been with Harry. Her brief time with Victor Krum wasn’t much of anything and had only served to make the wrong boy jealous, considering she had probably wanted Harry and not Ron to notice. Fred had plenty of experience in starting things with a girl, but never one who meant anything and Hermione only had experience with someone who meant a lot to her. Now face to face with each other, they were both clearly feeling as nervous as if neither had any experience at all and this was their first foray into the world of courtship. "Won’t Arthur and Molly be wondering where you are?" She asked cautiously after a long hesitation.

"Lee’s covering for me. I told them I was staying with him tonight… which is where I can go. If I leave soon, I can still catch the midnight train." He said reluctantly, before boldly walking over and taking her hand. "I’d rather stay here with you… just to spend time, to be around you." He wanted to reassure her that his intentions toward her were nothing but sincere, that he wanted her for more than just the physical aspect of being with her… though he very much wanted that as well. But he could be patient, especially for her.

"That’s silly." She smiled as she nervously wrapped her arms around him. "If you’re going to stay, we may as well make the most of the visit." She added in a whisper before lightly kissing him.

Fred had no choice but to instantly respond, his body overwhelming his brain’s attempt to be a gentleman. But hey, if this is what the lady preferred who was he to protest anyway? He couldn’t believe his reality at the moment but he certainly didn’t want to change it. Pulling at the belt around her waist, he untied her robe before gently reaching to gently slide it down her shoulders, letting his fingers lightly trail across her soft skin as he went. Once more she threw herself in his arms, caressing her lips against his as her fingers tangled in his hair. The fabric of her dress was sheer, sending a sensual tingle to his senses as he ran his hands across and down her back feeling both skin and silk.

Hermione pulled at his school robes, making it clear that they were a hindrance. He quickly made to help, pulling off his vest as well. Smiling with a shy coyness that made her all the more tempting, she reached out and grabbed the end of his tie, pulling on it as she walked backwards, leading him away from the door. She let out a surprised shriek of laughter as he pounced, scooping her up and playfully throwing her back across the bed. She sat up still laughing as she once more grabbed the end of his tie and tugged as he stood before her. Eagerly unbuttoning his shirt, he threw it behind him before letting her pull him on top of her. Their mouths met again, this time with a wild lustful abandon as they grew more certain of each other and themselves.

Without warning he rolled so that she was on top of him, leaning up to passionately kiss her surprised lips before laying back and throwing his arms out. "Okay, you’ve convinced me Miss Granger. I’m yours, do with me what you will."

She laughed in amused shock as he grinned up at her. "And if I just leave you here like this?" She teased, trailing her finger down his chest.

"Oh good lord no!" He said in mock horror, sitting up and wrapping his arms around her waist to once more crush his lips against hers.

She broke away, unable to stop her laughter. "Guys are so easily manipulated." She smiled, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling herself closer against his body.

"Well, you have all the necessary weapons." He said as his breath caught in his throat at the intensity of her nearness and the feeling of her body pressed so closely against his. Unable to stand it any longer, he reclaimed her mouth as his fingers deftly unzipped the back of her dress. His mind grew numb with joy and pleasure as they relished each other in the most primal of dances, the night growing foggy in a haze of unanticipated ecstasy.

(BREAK)

Draco carefully opened the door to the common room and peeked in to ensure no one was around. With a sigh of relief, he limped in and towards his room, his legs feeling like they were going to shatter beneath him at any moment. His sides where ablaze in pain where Tristan’s nails had pierced and gouged him, his face was stinging and numb to the touch- but he still felt happy. One threat was gone and for a short while, they would all be able to breathe a little easier.

Seeing Ginny pacing frantically outside his door, he braced himself for what was to come. "Hello." He said nervously, getting her attention.

"What the hell happened?!" She demanded, her face twisting into an expression of horror as she took in his appearance. Walking up to him she delicately reached out to touch his cheek, her eyes signaling the angry sympathy she felt.

"This isn’t even the worst of it." He said, flinching as a shot of pain erupted across his face. Opening the door to his room, he hobbled over to his bed and slumped down, relieved to be off his feet. He delicately pulled at the hem of his shirt, prying the fabric away from his skin and the drying blood. She came forward to help him remove the shirt fully. Looking down, he found five gaping holes on either side of his body, though they appeared to have begun trying to heal.

"Oh Draco." Ginny put her hands over her mouth as she visually examined the damage done to him. "Please tell me the other guy looks worse."

"Dead is worse, right?" He winced as he stood and moved to his trunk where he knew he’d put the emergency first aid kit. Drake had put it together for him to take with when he and Lupin went off to change and he’d never been more grateful.

"So you guys did it? You killed Tristan?" She asked, her tone carefully neutral.

"In the end, yes… though it was Potter who struck the fatal blow." He answered honestly. "Jacey made sure he was dead."

"Here, just let me do it." Ginny demanded, taking the gauze and bandages he’d retrieved. He also handed her Luna’s herbal lotion and made his way back over to the bed. Very gently, she rubbed the herbs over the wounds in his sides before bandaging them and finishing off with wrapping the gauze around his torso to hold everything in place. Looking at his face, she shook her head. "This looks awful."

"And here I thought you liked me for my personality." He lightly joked.

"You’d have to have one for me to like it." She shot back, delicately applying the lotion to the scratches even as her voice quivered with fear and anger.

Stopping what she was doing, he took her hands in his and stood before wrapping his arms around her shoulders and hugging her close. "I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, but we’d decided not to tell anyone so that you would all be safer."

"You’ve been hanging out with Harry too much." She said into his shoulder as she returned the embrace while being careful of his injuries. "That’s almost exactly something he’s said several times before."

"So? It’s as true now as it probably was every time he said it…" He pulled back slightly so he could look at her. "Maybe I just understand his motives better now that I feel I actually have things to lose and someone to live for."

She stared at him for a moment before deciding how she felt. "Okay, it happened and it’s done, right?"

"Not exactly…" He hesitated, unsure whether he should tell her. "Well, I guess since Luna figured it out and is probably getting answers from Potter, I don’t see any reason why I can’t tell you…"

"Sit down first, before you fall over." She insisted, helping him before seating herself beside him and taking his hand in hers.

"Obviously Tristan can’t just disappear, it would instantly come back to us. So we brewed Polyjuice potion and starting tomorrow, Jacey is taking over his life. She’ll be like a spy in the Slytherins and hopefully we can also find out what Troy is up to and find a way to stop him." He explained.

"It makes sense in theory… but what if someone figures out Tristan is a fake?" She challenged.

Draco shook his head. "We hadn’t really gotten that far." He admitted. "But you, me, Potter, Luna and Jacey are the only ones who know for sure that he’s dead so we’re going to try and keep it that way for as long as possible. Granger and your brothers can’t know yet either… it gives them deniability and will hopefully help Jacey keep up the charade by having them react to her as if she were Tristan."

"Except there’s a problem…" She said, nervously toying with his hand. "Ron got caught up with me and Luna tonight while we were looking for you guys. He knows you all went after Tristan and when he sees you alive he’s going to assume the rest."

"Well they aren’t going to be happy- Jacey especially hadn’t wanted him to know she was going to be taking Tristan’s place." He tried to stand, feeling the need to pace away the sudden agitation he felt but his legs had completely given up on him, demanding the chance to rest and repair themselves.

"Here." Ginny handed him the herbs. "Put this on your legs, I’ll be right back."

"Where are you going?"

She shook her head and smiled as she walked to the door. "I’m the one who told him, I’ll be the one to go fix it."

(BREAK)

"There’s one thing I’m not confident about at all." Harry quietly admitted hanging his head as he found he was unable to meet Luna’s eyes, terrified of what she’ll say. "Can you forgive me Luna? …Even if I can’t promise it’ll never happen again?"

She was quiet and his stomach began tying itself up in knots. Instant regret swept through him, if going after Tristan had messed things up between him and Luna he wasn’t sure how he’d handle it. He could feel himself start to panic. "I don’t know…" She said at last,

"What if I do promise it’ll never happen again?" He asked wildly, no longer caring what he had to agree to in order to make things right. He’d give up anything to once more fall in her favor, even his own free will. "What if I promise to never again do anything without telling you first and getting your permission?"

But she was shaking her head before he’d even finished his desperately hopeful plea. "I don’t want that Harry, everyone should be free to make their own choices." She said quietly. Her refusal to accept his terms only made him care for her more, knowing she would never be one to try and exercise control over someone else’s life. It was why she hadn’t come right out and told him not to kill Tristan. She didn’t like ordering anyone around. "Someday I’ll forgive you…" She went on and he felt his heart beat faster. "Right now… I just can’t stand the distance between us anymore."

"Neither can I." He took another tentative step closer as he met her steady gaze. He was instantly lost in the swirl of emotion he found there. Those softening blue orbs were telling him more than words could ever say and he became hypnotized in their depths. He wanted to stay there, wherever they were, forever.

"Kiss me Harry." She whispered, breaking the spell as she allowed herself to become vulnerable, walking out on the edge and waiting to see if he’d join her.

Harry didn’t hesitate; all he’d ever needed was her permission. He strode up to Luna, cupping her face and caressing his lips against hers. A bolt of electricity shot through him, reverberating through his body as he felt her respond with equal passion. Forgetting the aches and pains that suddenly didn’t feel so severe, he grabbed her around the waist and lifted her off her feet, deepening the kiss as he pressed her back against the wall for support. She wrapped herself around him, bringing their bodies even closer together. Trailing his hands up her back and into her hair, he pulled at the bands and released the golden tresses to cascade around her shoulders, running his fingers through the silky strands. He broke away from her mouth to kiss her cheek, gently tangling his hand in her hair and pulling her head back as he slid his lips down her chin to her throat. Groaning against her soft skin as she bit and nibbled at his ear, Harry allowed his hands to freely explore her body through the delicate texture of her dress. They each tried to take in as much of each other as they could, to fill the painful void that had been growing in the distance they’d placed between them. Their hunger was all consuming as it drove them in the their desperate desire.

Feeling her smile against his lips, Harry realized somewhere in the haze that had descended over his mind, he’d called the couch over to them. They both laughed as he spun and lay her beneath him, their lips once more crashing together. The long suppressed desire for each other was raging through them now that they had let it free. He helped as she tugged at his shirt, pulling it over his head and ignoring the tense soreness caused by the act.

Her eyes followed her hand as it trailed up his chest, examining the new bruises and old scars she found there. Wrapping her arms around his neck, Luna pulled him back down to her and kissed him with more tenderness than hunger this time, letting what she felt for him flow through her so that he could feel it as well. Their need for each other overwhelmed their minds, breaking down all barriers and allowing them to connect on an even deeper level as their thoughts slowly melded into one.

He kissed her shoulder, pulling the strap of her dress down to expose more of her creamy, sweetly salty skin. Now that he was able, he wanted to touch, taste and explore every part of her… feeling her racing pulse, hearing her soft moans and ragged breathing, seeing her eyes grow heavy with lust, it was all he could do to keep from exploding into a million pieces. He ran his hand up her leg as she wrapped it around him, pushing her dress up as he felt her fingers between them unfastening his belt. When they finally became one in every sense of the word, Harry’s world burst into brightness as he at last felt he was a whole person and not a lonely half that merely existed throughout life… Now he was really living life. Every movement brought another wave of self-aware pleasure, there was nothing else but Harry, Luna and the infinity they currently shared.

(BREAK)

Ginny closed Draco’s door, leaving it slightly open so he wouldn’t have to get up to let her back in before leaning against the wall and taking a moment to collect herself. She’d seen him hurt before. Hell, she’d stabbed him bad enough that he’d nearly died… though that had been back when he was fully human and therefore weaker... and she hadn’t had to see the damage she’d inflicted. Even though she knew he’d be fine, it wasn’t getting any easier to see him this way and the realization that it would only get worse as this war went on was nearly crippling. What would happen if one day he wasn’t able to overcome, if his enemy injured him beyond repair? Her heart dropped and she knew it was more than she could bear to think about. But to be continually presented with images like the one he gave her tonight, it was becoming an impossible thought to ignore.

Taking a deep breath, she stood up tall and forced herself to calm down as she strode across the common room to the Gryffindor wing. Tightly clutching her wand, she stopped outside Ron’s door and knocked quietly, her heart racing as she thought about what she was about to do to her brother. He opened the door, his expression tense and eager for information. "Well, are they back? What happened, did they kill Tristan?" He demanded right away.

"I’m really sorry about this Ron. But I promise I’m really good at this spell." She sadly assured him.

"What are you-"

"Obliviate!" She waved her wand in his face before he could finish, leaving him standing before her in a daze. Putting her wand away, she sighed heavily. "I get it, you had a great time with Jacey tonight." She said quickly.

"What?" He asked, looking at her in confusion.

"I can’t stand here all night while you relive dancing with Jacey. She’ll be back from her trip soon so just relax." She urged, wanting him to retain his happier memories of the night.

He shook his head and while he still looked confused, he was now smiling. "I didn’t realize I was going on about her."

"You like her, don’t you?" She asked slyly, enjoying the more normal conversation in favor of the darker one awaiting her back in Draco’s room.

"To say the least… but what do I tell Parvati?" He suddenly looked worried as everything not related to Tristan suddenly came flooding back to him.

"Take a night to rest on it. Besides, you don’t know how long Jacey will be gone, you have time to figure everything out."

He smiled again, this time at her. "When did my baby sister get so smart about life?"

"When I had to." She smiled back.

They said goodnight to each other and Ginny slowly made her way back to Draco’s room. She knocked lightly to let him know she was back before entering in time to see him slip under the covers fully nude. She closed her eyes but was unable to erase the image of his bruised and swollen legs. "I swear most of it will be gone by morning." He said, having seen her reaction to the full scope of his injuries.

"I know. You’ll be good as new in no time and ready to go off and hurt yourself all over again." She said as she sat next to him on the edge of the bed. "You’re not some immortal god you know, and neither are Harry, Jacey and Luna. You can all be hurt and you can all be killed."

He took her hand and kissed it. "I know. But I can take more than everyone else because I can heal more quickly. Why shouldn’t I put myself out at least as much as they do, if not more? Why not find a way to turn this werewolf curse into a good thing, to make the monster work for me rather than against me?"

"Because I’m scared that one day you’ll push yourself too far without even knowing it." She admitted honestly. "If you don’t want to think of yourself, then think of me because in this instance I have no problem being selfish… What would I do without you Draco?"

He laughed and winced as it caused him pain. He lightly squeezed her hand, maintaining his smile. "There’s always Colton. After all, you two will be here without me next year." He teased.

Ginny drew back her hand in mock disgust and playfully shoved him while being mindful of his wounds. "Don’t even get me started on all of that! Tell me, how do you start the night in a simple fist fight with one boy and end the night in a fight to the death with another?" She continued the banter, deciding to give into his desire to change the subject. After all, his demise was something neither of them wanted to think about.

"What can I say, we all have different sets of skills." He grinned before yawning widely as the herbs began working on him.

"You know if this isn’t better by morning, I’ll be forcing you to go see Drake." She said seriously, indicating his still bandaged torso.

"Whatever you say dear." He rolled his eyes as he lay back and allowed himself to relax.

Ginny got up and turned off the lights before stripping out of her costume and climbing in beside him under the covers. She gingerly wrapped her arm around him and rested her head on his shoulder, enjoying the intimacy of feeling his bare skin against hers. "I wish you hadn’t done what you did tonight, but I’m glad you guys won." She whispered, blinking away the tears that arose when thinking of how things could have gone the other way.

Draco turned and kissed her forehead as he wrapped his arm around her shoulders, pulling her closer against him. "I love you Ginny." He said quietly as he rested his lips against her hair.

"I love you too." She whispered back, closing her eyes tightly. Slowly he drifted off into a fitful sleep, aided by the herbs and his own total exhaustion. Ginny knew she wouldn’t be sleeping much that night… She would be too busy reassuring herself that he was still breathing as the sudden terror that she would wake to find otherwise flooded through her. What would she do without Draco? She wasn’t sure, but she did know it wouldn’t be good for her or anyone around her if she was forced to find out.

(BREAK)

Hermione woke up the same way she’d fallen asleep, smiling. Fred still had his arm around her though he’d flopped over on his stomach and as she turned to look at him, she had to stifle a laugh. His face was mashed into the pillow, probably to muffle his light snoring, and she was amazed he could still breathe. Sighing in contentment, she moved her head to look out the window and take in the bright sunshine streaming through the frost and casting sparkles of light around the room. Then she sat up in a panic, grabbing for the clock on her nightstand.

"What? What is it?" Fred jumped up, sleepy yet alert as his unfocused mind tried to remember where he was. Seeing her, he smiled devilishly. "Good morning."

Looking down she realized neither of them had bothered to redress themselves before falling asleep. Slightly embarrassed in the light of day, she quickly pulled the sheet up around herself. "Morning it is. Eight o’clock as a matter of fact."

Now he looked as concerned as she felt. "Really it’s already that late? Do you have class?" He asked as he too ensured his modesty, though she had a feeling he did so only for her sake.

She shook her head. "Dumbledore cancelled classes as part of the treat of having the Costume Ball. There will be students everywhere and anywhere…" She didn’t have to add her concern, she knew they were both thinking it. Without being certain who Elanya’s spy was, they couldn’t let Fred be seen by anyone lest she assume he came here to try and warn Ron and Ginny or get Harry’s help. Fred had assured Hermione last night that she was nowhere on Elanya’s radar and that he intended to keep it that way, which was one more reason for him to not be seen.

"So how am I going to get out of here? The nearest secret passage is three hallways from here." He groaned and covered his face with his hands as he lay back.

"I could always ask Harry or Draco if I could borrow one of their cloaks." She suggested helpfully. At this point- knowing how she’d spent her evening- she’d rather go to Draco and not take the chance on finding out Harry and Luna had shared a similar experience. He may always be her best friend, but there were certain things about Harry’s life she just had no desire to know.

"Yeah, okay." Fred sat up again, once more careful to stay covered. He looked at her hopefully for a moment before a look of intense disappointment crossed his face. "I’ll just get dressed and then wait here… I’ll go as soon as we have the cloak." He nodded sadly, as if confirming something to himself.

She knew this morning after wasn’t what he’d been hoping for… it wasn’t exactly going the way she’d wanted either. She smiled as she remembered the night before, how he’d made her feel so at ease, how he’d spent the whole night showing her just how much he’d been wanting her. "Well, with the cloak no one will be able to see you… So there’s really no rush, is there?" She asked softly. Feeling emboldened by the memories, she reached out to grab his chin, letting the sheet fall away as she brought his mouth to hers.

Smiling against her lips, he turned and tackled her back onto the bed, eager to follow her lead. Then he pulled away, hovering above her uncertainly. "I can go if you want me to Hermione."

"I’d thought my hints were clear… it’s not great for my self-esteem knowing how eager you seem to be to leave me, especially right now." She teased.

He leaned down and kissed her lightly. "I’d live in the closets here if they’d let me. I just don’t want you to think-"

She reached up and covered his mouth with her hand as she smiled up at him. "Right now, all I’m thinking is- stop talking."

"Fine." He returned the smile as he pulled her hand away. "But eventually you’re going to have to find a way to keep your hands off me long enough for us to have a serious discussion." He joked, kissing the tip of her nose before leaning in to nip at her neck.

"Yeah, because I’m the one who gets all handsy." She laughed as he proceeded to prove her point. Letting go of everything else, she gave herself over to the moment… Just as she had the night before. And yet again, she wasn’t disappointed.

(BREAK)

Ron woke to a pounding in his head. It took him a few seconds to realize it was actually someone knocking loudly and insistently outside his room. Sighing in agitation he got up and went to answer, rubbing the sleep from his eyes as he opened the door. "Hey Padma, what’s going on?" He asked with a wide yawn.

"Have you seen Parvati this morning?" She asked desperately.

Taking in the amount of fear and concern in the girl’s eyes, he suddenly felt instantly alert. "No, you just woke me up. I haven’t seen her since we brought her to her room last night. Why?"

She shook her head. "I went to wake her, to insist that she see Madame Pomfrey, maybe even Healer Drake… but she wasn’t there. I’ve looked all over, I just can’t find her." Padma broke down in tears and he stepped forward to hug her, trying to offer whatever comfort he could. "All through the night… I had this feeling I should check on her… that something was wrong with her… I should have gone." She sobbed as she clung to him.

Ron held her until she was able to gather herself. "Give me a minute to get dressed and I’ll help you look again. If we can’t find her, then we’ll go to Dumbledore, okay?"

"Okay." She sniffled, wrapping her arms around herself as she began pacing the hallway to wait for him.

He shut the door and immediately began dressing, still not quite believing what he’d just been told. Perhaps Parvati’s nighttime trouble had begun to include sleepwalking… perhaps she’d simply wandered off and they’d find her curled up asleep somewhere unusual.

He wasn’t sure why he knew, but he knew that Luna had the Maurader’s map. Her room would be their first stop and if she’d proven to be an early riser today then she would be also be on their list of people to find. If Parvati were still on Hogwarts grounds, the map would show them where.

(BREAK)

Luna kept her eyes closed, savoring the weight of Harry’s head as it rested on her chest. After her request that he kiss her, they hadn’t spoken aloud again for the rest of the night… They hadn’t needed to, they’d been able to fully communicate in every other way. Once completely sated of their built up desire for each other, they’d laid together on the couch and he’d rested his head over her heart, wanting to hear it beat in time with his as she gently ran her fingers through his hair. And that was how they’d drifted off to sleep, in complete bliss.

Opening her eyes she came back to reality, knowing it was morning and many people had already risen to begin their day. She reached down to brush the hair from his eyes, running her fingers over the lightning shaped scar on his forehead. It was the first and only scar he’d come into the wizarding world with… now it was one of many though by far still the most significant. She smiled as he sleepily reached up to take her hand and bring it to his lips, kissing her fingers, her palm, her wrist. What a delightful way to wake up. She thought to him, not daring to break the silence around them with something as mundane as words.

I was just thinking the same thing. He shifted his head to look up at her, leaning to trail kisses along her collarbone.

She ran her hands over his bare shoulders, which were becoming broader and stronger with each passing year as he added more weight to carry upon them. She lightly traced the bruises around his neck, and sighed. We should put some of the herbal lotion on you, before anyone else sees you.

You can rub whatever you like on me. He grinned up at her. Luna laughed and pulled his face to hers, kissing him deeply and liking that she already felt that she'd been with Harry her whole life.

Before anything could go further, she broke contact and gently pushed him back so she could sit up. "Well, I guess it’s time to go back to reality." He said with a smile.

"For now." She smiled back, reaching for his shirt. She pulled it on over herself before realizing it must belong to Ron as the hem dangled down past her knees... but then she was so much shorter than everyone else. Now semi decently covered, she got up and began hunting down the last of the three tubes of herbs that she’d kept for Harry. "Do you have any idea where it went?"

"Are you kidding, I just found my pants… I don’t even know how they ended up over here." He grinned from the far corner behind her.

As she walked, searching the ground for the herbal remedy, her foot struck something very solid and very invisible. It came flooding back to her in an instant. Glancing behind her, she saw Harry was busy looking under the couch as he tried to rub his sore shoulders and back… apparently now that he wasn’t quite as distracted, his injuries from the night before were creeping up on him. Turning back, she reached down and before she could change her mind, she pulled the cloak away to reveal Tristan’s corpse. The gasp she let out was involuntary, but it had brought Harry to her side in an instant. She turned and buried her face in his chest as he wrapped his arms around her, but she couldn't erase the image… it was too brutal. She didn’t know why she’d felt the need to witness it, but now it was a sight she’d never forget.

"I didn’t want you to see… I didn’t want anyone else to have to see. But I just- I forgot all about him." He said quietly as he stroked her hair.

"I wish they really did turn to dust." She muttered, pulling away and wiping hot angry tears from her eyes as she prepared herself for the conversation they’d put aside last night in favor of their own needs. But they certainly still needed to talk. "What happened out there Harry?"

He shook his head, leaning down to cover the body once more. "We fought him hard and managed to win."

"And?" She pushed, knowing he was holding in what he was feeling to try and spare her. But he needed to get it out now, before it festered inside of him. They both needed to get it all out now, everything they were feeling so they could move past it.

"And what?" He asked angrily as he stood. "What do you want to know, which one of us jammed the piece of wood in his neck and actually followed through on killing him? It was me, okay?! I did it and I’m sorry… and I’m not sorry too." He threw his arms out and began pacing, limping slightly as he went. "It had to be done, but I didn’t want to have to do it… Jacey pierced out his eyes after, she wanted to be sure… I had to! He almost killed Draco, was trying to kill Jacey… I didn’t want to… but at the same time I wanted nothing else…"

She nodded, understanding his actions even if he couldn’t. But she knew there was still something he was holding back, something that was bothering him and she sensed that somehow it involved her. Reaching out and taking his hand as he passed her, Luna led them to sit on the couch. "And?" She asked again quietly.

He took a deep breath and shook his head. "And I used the bow you gave me to kill him." He whispered before turning to her and grabbing her shoulders in desperation. "It was the only way at the time, I didn’t want you involved… in any way. I still don’t, just in case something bad does happen as a result. It meant so much to me when you gave me the bow and arrows, I had wanted to tell you then… I feel horrible for using them to do this…"

"Harry." She took his face in her hands and brought their heads together, resting her forehead against his. "If it saved your life- or Draco and Jacey’s- then I don’t care that you used my gift to you to do something I didn’t want you to do."

"But you’re still angry." He pointed out.

She sighed as it became apparent the connection between their minds had been opened so wide that hiding from each other now was impossible. "You know that I’m mad at you, but it’ll go away… I’m not sorry Tristan is gone, I’m just upset that you had to be involved in it. But I promise, there is nothing you can do that would make me abandon you." She assured him, lightly kissing his lips. "

"But?" He pushed, knowing she was holding back as well.

"It hurt to find out that for the last two weeks, you couldn’t trust that I’d stand by you. I know I’d made my objections to killing Tristan clear, but I never would have turned against you. Even when we disagree, I’m always on your side Harry… I just wish you believed it."

He reached out and tucked her hair behind her ear. "It was me I didn’t believe in." He admitted. "I didn’t think I’d be worthy after planning to specifically go against your intuition… You’ve never questioned me or my powers, I felt bad doing it to you."

She smiled. "But it’s not that you didn’t believe me. You know there are going to be consequences to this, I was just unable to give you the specific range of horror that was to come. And I still can’t, not until they know he’s missing. And I know how your mind works, since I can usually see right inside of it. You knew I was right that it was a bad idea, but without knowing how bad, you weighed the outcome against the danger of keeping Tristan here and made a decision."

"What if my decision just made it worse for us later?" He asked sadly.

"It’s too late to keep worrying about that." She said quietly as she caressed his cheek. "But either way, good or bad, we have to be in it together from now on, okay?"

"Okay." He agreed, taking her hand once more. "Together or not at all."

Good morning you happy couples! Jacey’s voice filled their heads. Time to rise and shine, I am on my way to the Room of Requirement. We must be getting things going before it gets too late in the day and people start questioning where Tristan is.

Luna and Harry looked at each other and then down at themselves and the state of disarray they were in before they both burst out laughing. "Well, I guess we’ll both get to experience what I’ve heard referred to as the walk of shame." He grinned as they began putting their costumes from last night back on, neither of them feeling particularly shameful for what they’d done.

(BREAK)

Good morning you happy couples! Time to rise and shine, I am on my way to the Room of Requirement. We must be getting things going before it gets too late in the day and people start questioning where Tristan is.

Draco sat up in bed so fast he nearly fell out, startled awake by Jacey’s loud voice echoing through his head. As soon as his brain registered that he was awake, a wave of pain flooded through his entire body. "What happened?" Ginny asked as she sprang awake, having only been lightly dozing and roused by his movement. Her eyes were red, puffy and lined by dark circles as if she hadn’t slept at all.

"I guess it’s time for phase two of the plan." He said, explaining Jacey’s wake-up call as he tensely reached for the herbal lotion.

"How’s it looking?" She demanded, brushing his hands aside to pull away the gauze and bandages around his torso. Together they closely examined him, finding only five small scars on either side where once gaping holes had been.

"See, I told you it would be better in the morning. It seems the more I give into this werewolf thing, the more the benefits grow." He smiled, trying mask the intense soreness he felt.

Without warning she flung away the covers, exposing his legs which were still very bruised and swollen. He knew nothing was broken now, but began to wonder if perhaps he hadn’t broken a bone or two the night before in his fall only to then aggravate it by forcing himself to walk. "I guess not everything is healing as quickly." She said, gesturing to his useless looking limbs. "I’m going to go get dressed, you use the herbs and after this whole potion drinking nonsense, we’re going to see Drake… just to make sure everything is alright. Whatever story you want to come up with to tell him is fine."

"So bossy." He said, both pleased and annoyed that she was so worried about him… though he did thoroughly enjoy watching her get up and walk across the room to put on his robe, making herself somewhat presentable should there be anyone in the common room.

"You knew what you were signing up for with me." She grinned as she tied the belt and walked to the door.

"Oh no, that I did not." He teased. She made a face and left, closing the door behind her to ensure his privacy.

As quickly as possible, he slathered the herbal lotion everywhere he could reach before stretching out to let them work a bit, trying to infuse his own healing energy in as well. When he finally felt that he would be able to get out of bed without collapsing, he carefully swung his legs over the side and slowly put his weight on them, testing his strength. Everything seemed okay, just very sore. Getting dressed for the day was an exhausting ordeal and he quickly cracked his door open before laying down again so that he wouldn’t have to get up to let Ginny in, wanting as much time to rest as possible before pretending everything was okay.

"Well?" She asked as she reentered. "I see you managed."

"You’re mad at me." He guessed, knowing it was true. The night before she’d been too concerned and scared, but after an obviously sleepless night, she’d clearly had time to calm down enough to realize why she’d been so worried.

"You abandoned me in a mob to go kill someone who nearly killed you instead. Yeah, I’m a little upset." She said irritably.

"Why don’t you stay here and rest?" He suggested. "I’ll come get you when we’re done and then I’ll go see Drake with no argument." He added, hoping that a compromise could be reached… especially if it was one that afforded her a nap and made her less cranky.

"That’s quite alright, I think I’d be more at ease knowing I was with you as you tend to get in so much less trouble that way." Apparently letting him keep his secret for as long as he had was all the compromise she was willing to afford him.

He sighed and rose to his feet once more, knowing he didn’t really have an argument. Had their situations been reversed he would have been livid with her for doing something so dangerous without him. He’d already been expecting things between them to be worse, so he figured it was in his best interest to shut up and take things as they were. He was surprised when she reached out and took his hand as they walked and thanked his lucky stars that maybe this little disagreement wouldn’t last as long as he’d thought.

(BREAK)

"You have no idea how good that feels." Harry said completely relaxing into Luna’s hands as she massaged the herbal lotion into his back and shoulders.

"I’ll bet. You’re one big bruise back there." She said in concern as she came around to sit next to him on the couch, her dress rustling as she moved. "Look up." She instructed, running her hands along his neck to coat the bruises and scratches there with herbs.

"What’s wrong?" He asked, sensing her uncertainty and fear.

"Vampire’s aren’t like werewolves are they? Their nails don’t carry the curse the way their bite does?"

"Not as far as I know. Lupin didn’t mention anything like that in class. Why?"

"Because Tristan got you really good in a few places… he broke skin but I can tell it wasn’t with his teeth." She put the cap back on the tube and handed him his shirt.

"I think I’m okay, but we can go ask Lupin later if it’ll make you feel better." He said calmly for her benefit though inside he began to feel nervous… Surely Lupin would have covered something like this in class, he’d gone on and on warning about how even a scratch from a werewolf was dangerous because it could pass on certain aspects of the curse if not full transformation depending on how deep the scratch went. He’d only ever told his class that the way to be turned by a vampire was with a bite, though the particulars involved were generally unclear. But what if pureborns were different? And worse than Harry being scratched, Draco had certainly received more horrible wounds from Tristan’s claws… what would that make him if this were true?

"Relax, you would’ve surely begun to experience symptoms by now." Luna said soothingly, picking up on his agitation. "I’m sorry I brought it up, I was just worrying out loud."

"Still, just to make us both feel better… we’ll go talk to Lupin." He insisted, now needing to know, to be sure.

Luna perked her head toward the door and turned somber. "Jacey’s here."

"Good morning!" The other girl said moments later as she opened the door and flung off Draco’s cloak. Her own injuries had faded quite a bit as she’d had the opportunity to dose herself with the herbs both last night and this morning. She was wearing the clothes she had stolen from Tristan back while she’d been spying on him and carried more in her arms. Looking them over and taking in their guilty faces, she smiled widely. "I was thinking these might come in handy." She said, handing them each a stack of clothes. "Luna, those are mine and I would like them back eventually. Harry, those are left over from my ex husband and you can burn them when you are through."

"Gee thanks." He muttered, looking at the enormous pants she’d brought him. "Was he half giant?"

"No, just a very tall man. But you can not exactly roam the hallways wearing what many saw you in last night. The point is to discourage attention and questions." She made her way over to the potion, stepping over the invisible body knowing it hadn’t been moved from where she’d placed it the night before. "You two must have really been wrapped up in each other to forget about him." She grinned.

"Don’t remind me." Luna said glumly as she changed clothes, completely unconcerned with their presence while she did so. "I guess we just forgot where we were."

Feeling slightly more modest now that Jacey was here, Harry stepped behind the couch to change. "After you told me to kiss you, I don’t think I could have processed anything else if I tried." He grinned at Luna.

"Wonderful, I am happy for you both that you have stopped being stupid about each other. But might I make a suggestion?" Jacey asked seriously as she looked back and forth between them. "Do not advertise it to the world just yet."

"Meaning?" He asked defensively.

"You both have a lot of enemies… I think it best that the world at large believes Harry Potter is alone. And Luna, they already want you for your visions, would you not agree it is safer not to place a bigger target on your back?" She smiled as she took in the outrage and defiance they both felt. "Before you get defensive, I am not suggesting you stop whatever it is you have started, it was… unhealthy I suppose is a good word… It was unhealthy for you both to fight it. But keep it as a secret for you and your friends. Do not let your enemies see, that is all I am saying. I would not want the other side to know if I had such an apparent weakness."

"Don’t you have one?" Luna asked slyly and Harry knew she was referring to Ron, who had seemed to captivate their new friend from the moment she’d arrived.

"Not yet." Jacey grinned. "But after I am done being Tristan, maybe. But I would not go around flaunting it for everyone to see. It is too dangerous these days to let others know what makes you happy, it gives them the idea that they can take it away from you."

There was a swift knock on the door before Draco entered, tightly clutching Ginny’s hand as she reluctantly followed him in. It had been generally assumed that he would tell Ginny and so they’d already expected her to be by his side. Unless they were fighting, they rarely did anything alone anymore if they could help it... It must have taken a lot for Draco to keep the whole plan from her in the first place, though the fact that they had been fighting during some of it had surely helped.

"You look slightly better." Harry observed. Though walking with an obvious limp, there was nothing else to outwardly give away the fact that Draco had fought a nearly losing battle the night before. The scratches across his face were completely gone and not a single bruise remained. Harry found himself wishing he had the ability to heal himself… but then remembering why Draco could do so made him quickly change his mind.

"Nice clothes Potter." He said as Harry attempted to roll up the cuffs of the pants, which went about six inches past his feet.

"I’m used to second hand, ill-fitting clothes." He replied, remembering the years he’d spent swimming in Dudley’s enormous shirts and pants... though those had always been too wide as opposed to too tall. "These apparently belonged to Jacey’s mysterious ex."

"There is no mystery. We hated each other but needed to use each other for a short time. He is not worth knowing, trust me." She said, rolling her eyes.

"And I’m guessing those are Jacey’s clothes as she’s a bit taller than you." Ginny turned to Luna with a wide grin. "And why exactly is it that you two couldn’t dress yourselves this morning?"

"Anyway, let’s get to this potion. Like Jacey said earlier, we don’t want anyone to notice Tristan is missing yet." Harry quickly changed the subject, embarrassed to be so completely caught.

"I thought so." Ginny said quietly as she grinned at Luna. Clearly the two girls were silently talking to each other but Harry deliberately closed himself off, not wanting to know what they had to say about him.

"Watch your step." Jacey warned as Draco began making his way over to the table.

"Oh yeah. What are we going to do about him?" He asked, looking down at the exact spot he knew the invisible body to be.

"Is that Tristan under the cloak?" Ginny asked, morbid curiosity getting the better of her. "I want to see."

"No you don’t." Luna said quickly, turning away as the other girl lifted the cloak.

"Ugh, yeah you were right. I didn’t want to see." She dropped the fabric in disgust.

Jacey picked up one of the potion bottles and uncorked it, letting loose the foul odor to permeate the room. "You have really drank this before?" She asked Harry as she wrinkled her nose.

"It didn’t kill me, though it was one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever tasted… right up there with the Rictheous potion." He shuddered as he remembered both incidents, one having happened just last year.

"So I add the hairs now?" She grabbed the jar containing the hairs they’d already gathered weeks ago from Tristan.

"Why not use fresh?" Draco suggested with a shrug. "I mean we didn’t know then that we’d have the option, but since we do, why not, it’ll be better for the potion."

"I’m not touching him." Harry said quickly. "Either of you are more than welcome to though." He added, already knowing that neither Luna nor Ginny would be volunteering.

Jacey stared Draco down. "I already have to be the one to drink this disgusting concoction you brewed. You can pluck a few hairs out of his head if it is going to make the potion work better."

"Fine." Draco grumbled. They all turned away as he bent down to do the deed. "Honestly, you can jam wood through his eyes but you can’t grab a couple of hairs?"

"I do not have to explain my levels of repulsion." She shot back as she held out the bottle for him to place the hair in.

"Are you sure about this?" Luna asked.

"No, but there is no choice… especially now. And since that is partly my fault, I must follow through on the rest." Jacey said confidently.

"You don’t have to." Harry insisted. "We can always find a way to deal with the fallout."

She shook her head. "No. We must use this to our full advantage. I am fine with doing this as long as I know I’m not alone anymore."

"Of course we’re all going to be here for you." He assured her.

Jacey smiled and raised her class as she looked around at them. "Well then, here goes nothing."

(BREAK)

"It’s like everyone has suddenly disappeared!" Ron cried in frustration as he kicked one last time at Hermione’s door. He and Padma had already tried Luna, Ginny, Harry and even Draco’s room but no one had answered. And now it seemed Hermione was gone as well.

"Maybe Parvati is with them." Padma said hopefully.

"And why wouldn’t they have come to get us?" He asked. "Come on, let’s go check the Great Hall."

"I was already down there." She protested.

"But not since you came to get me, maybe they all finished whatever they were doing and went to get breakfast."

With no better idea of where to start, they made their way down to the Great Hall, but she had been right. His friends and her sister were no where to be seen. They searched everywhere in the castle they could think of and came up empty… though Ron did get the feeling they were close when checking out the Room of Requirement. But either his gut feeling was wrong or he just hadn’t been able to think of the right thing to ask. "You want to try outside now?" Padma asked. It had been the one place she hadn’t gone to search, having not wanted to go alone.

Heading back to their rooms, they both bundled up to face the snowy world outside. Without a word to each other, they went back through the castle to the front doors, stepping out as an icy blast of air shot through them. "Look, there’s lots of footprints over here." He looked around to ensure no one else was outside, but unlike last year, there was no impromptu snow war to celebrate the first snowfall. The landscape was silent and deserted. "They lead toward the lake."

"There’s another set over here." Padma called, placing her own foot in the tracks and finding them a match. "I think they might be Parvati’s."

Ron went over to take a look. "They’re going the long way, but it seems these go toward the lake too."

They began walking without really coming to an agreement that they were going to follow the tracks. It had simply been assumed that it was the natural thing to do. Deciding to trace the ones they thought to be Parvati’s, they were led just inside the treeline of the Forbidden Forest and around Hogwarts grounds to the lake where they went deeper into the trees. "This makes no sense, they just stop right here." Padma said, clearly frustrated.

They were behind a bush facing a small clearing. "Something doesn’t look right over there." He said, cautiously going out into the open. There were large patches of snow melted away, and what there was of the soft flakes were clearly disturbed by lots of footprints. There were slivers of wood lying to the side, and a few branches around the area appeared to be scorched by fire. "What the hell happened here?" He knelt, seeing a few drops of blood that had been missed in the apparent clean up of the scene… but the scene of what, what crime had been committed here? Something poked at his memory but he wasn’t able to bring it into focus.

"Whatever happened, my sister was obviously here watching it." Padma gestured back to where the other footprints had stopped, as if someone were hiding behind the bush. "So where did she go, why are there no more of her tracks?" She was clearly starting to panic, tears were welling up in her eyes and her breathing grew shallow.

"Come on, let’s go back. We’ll go straight to Dumbledore." He insisted, knowing how he’d feel if it were Ginny they were looking for.

"Okay." She agreed, allowing him to lead her away. "I just feel like the worst sister in the world."

(BREAK)

"Well?" Jacey asked, standing before them with her arms out.

"This is creepy. You even have his voice." Luna remarked as they all stared at their friend in disbelief.

"So it worked then?"

"Oh, it worked." Harry assured her.

Jacey had drank the potion and rather quickly morphed into Tristan. Now as she regarded them with his eyes Ginny found the whole thing a but macabre. "How is it in there?" she asked, curious to know what it was like to be someone else, of course, she wouldn’t have chosen Tristan Macnair to turn into… in fact, upon reflection, there was no one she wanted to trade lives with. She was surprised to find herself satisfied in the moments between terror.

"It is not like I am in a Tristan suit. This is my skin, my hair, my eyes… I just look like him now, yes?" Jacey asked, moving to the small mirror to be sure.

"Yes, but there’s a problem…" Draco said worriedly. "I know you aren’t him."

"Well, of course you do-" Harry started.

"No." He interrupted. "I mean even if I hadn’t seen her drink the potion, I can tell it’s not Tristan standing in front of me… I don’t feel that pull towards instantly hating you, and if I can feel something is off, surely Lupin will as well. He’s been a werewolf for much, much longer."

"And what if Troy senses it?" Luna added. "Oh this is going to go so wrong…"

"Have you seen anything?" Jacey asked quickly.

"Have you decided whether or not you’re going through with this?" She shot back, angry and frustrated. "Make a decision and we’ll see. Pre- sight is different from post-sight… you can always see what happened already, but how can I see what’s coming if no one else knows what they’re going to do yet? It’s not something I’m happy about, but there it is. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen until you all decide how you’re going to handle Tristan."

"Well if Draco can tell and Lupin and Troy may be able to tell too, then you can’t go out there like this." Ginny insisted. "It’s time to figure something else out and let the potion wear off."

Jacey was silent, debating with herself and possibly with Harry and Luna as well since they looked unhappy when she finally spoke. "No, I am going to try." She declared. "I just will stop attending this Defense Against the Dark Arts so that your professor Lupin does not get the chance to observe me closely."

"That will get Tristan kicked out of the accelerated program… his people back home may realize something is wrong since he’s been trying so hard to keep his position at the school." Draco argued, knowing more of how Death Eater families operated than they did. "They wanted him in this program because of us, it’ll be suspicious if he gets knocked back to regular classes."

"Besides, Lupin isn’t the one we should worry about, he won’t kill you if he finds out." Harry added. "If we had to, we could bring Lupin in on this, I doubt he’d tell on us since it would get us in such serious trouble. It’s Troy that’s the problem."

"It may be more than Troy." Luna said suddenly as something clearly came into her head. "Ron and Parvati are looking for me because I have the map… Parvati has gone missing and they followed her footprints out to wherever you guys were. They don’t know what happened, but they know whatever it was, evidence shows Parvati had stood there and witnessed it."

Harry quickly turned to Draco. "Did you sense anyone else out there? Because I didn’t."

"No." He shook his head. "I could have sworn it was just us the whole time… of course we did become a bit distracted for awhile."

"I have to go bring him the map, I’ll help them try to track down Parvati. You all can decide how you’re going to dispose of your little transgression." Luna said, searching the floor for the map.

Harry found it first and held it out to her. "Be careful." He said, squeezing her hand. Apparently with Tristan gone, he felt the hallways slightly safer… at least safe enough to allow Luna to leave his sight and walk alone.

"Always." She assured him with a smile before turning to Jacey. "I need Draco’s cloak too. I’m not taking Harry’s while it’s being used as a corpse cover."

"What do you need my cloak for?" He asked as Jacey handed it over.

She gave him a strange look. "I just do. Are you really going to start questioning me on secrecy? I think you, Jacey and Harry have pretty much set the bar on secret-keeping around here, so allow me this small one."

Draco held up his hands in surrender. "Hey, take whatever you want. I already have Ginny mad at me, the last thing I need is the wrath of another girl."

"Except she can’t make you suffer like I can." Ginny muttered as Luna walked out to go find Ron. She felt Draco wince beside her and knew he’d heard her quiet threat.

"Well, convince us you can pull this off." Harry turned to Jacey. "Can you make his teeth grow?"

"I do not know."

"Don’t… you don’t know." Draco corrected her speech. Contractions seemed to be the only thing the girl had been unable to master in her translations into English though none of them could figure out why. Certainly they existed in the Greek language as well…

"I don’t know. How does one grow their teeth?" She looked at them helplessly with Tristan’s eyes. They watched as she opened her mouth and struggled. At last they were amazed to see sharp fangs take the place of Tristan’s normal teeth. "Well there we go." She said excitedly.

"The claws?" Draco pushed.

Jacey held up her hands, Tristan’s hands, and concentrated hard. After a short time, the nails began to grow into rather sharp, and very sturdy talons. Ginny held her breath, imagining those hands digging into Draco’s sides, clawing his face… she had the sudden urge to curse Tristan where he stood and had to remind herself that it was actually Jacey standing before her. "And look!" She said happily as tiny flames burst from her fingertips just as they would from her own hand. "I am still having-" She stopped, working to correct herself to sound more like Tristan. "I’m still able to use my powers as well."

"So if we can convince Lupin and if we can fool Troy and IF Dumbledore isn’t able to catch on, then this could work." Harry said, sounding half hopeful and half defeated.

"I say we take the chance." Jacey said. "We’ve already come this far."

"That’s no reason to go further and push your luck." Ginny argued, feeling that with Luna gone she now had to be the voice of reason… even she was able to grasp the irony in that, considering her actions for the past year or so.

"Okay, forget whether or not she goes out there like this for a minute… what are we going to do about the real Tristan?" Draco gestured to the floor.

"Can you just burn him?" Ginny asked Jacey.

She shook her head sadly. "I already tried, both before he was dead and after. His skin is impermeable."

"We can always go and get more Ash wood, sharpen it, and cut him up." Harry suggested even as he looked disgusted by the idea. "We obviously can’t just bury him, he could be found."

"Weight him down and throw him in the lake." Ginny said calmly, trying to maintain a certain detachment to the whole issue.

"Since when are you a body disposal expert?" Draco asked. "We thought of that too, but it’s the same problem… someone could find him. Especially with the merpeople living down there."

"Well then tie him to a rocket and shoot him into space!" She shot back. "I do know that he can’t keep laying here in the castle. Between students, professors and house elves, someone will definitely find him."

"Okay, so how do we trick Lupin into telling us how to dispose of a dead pureborn vampire?" Draco asked Harry.

"We don’t. He’s already beyond suspicious of us, any questions like that would give it away faster than if he sensed there was something off about Tristan. We don’t want to bring him in on this unless we have to, remember?"

Jacey cocked her head to the side as she seemed to be listening to something. "Well we had better make decisions quickly. I have- I’ve been listening in on the Slytherin common room and some of them are starting to wonder where Tristan is… apparently they were supposed to have a meeting with him today."

They all looked at each other uncertainly. "So, what are you three going to do now?" Ginny challenged them.

(BREAK)

"You get up first." Hermione said, playfully pushing Fred to the side.

"No, you get up first. It’s your bed!" He said, gently shoving her back.

"Exactly, which is why I should get to lounge around and you should have the responsibility of making us get up to start our day." She laughed.

Neither of them had been willing to end their time together, knowing that once they rose and dressed, it would be time for him to leave. But when Ron had come knocking on the door, banging and demanding Hermione’s attention, they knew their ability to be alone was at an end. Though they ignored him, pretending they weren’t there, they knew they had to get up and start making plans. That had led them to a light-hearted argument about who was going to get out of bed first and be the one to put an end to their first night together. "How about if I just stay until it’s dark again?" He suggested with a grin. "Then I can slip out in the cover of night."

"Oh please, like you wouldn’t just argue then that it would be better to wait until morning." She laughed again. "What are you going to tell your parents- that you’ve moved in with Lee?"

"And why not?" He teased, leaning in to kiss her shoulder and knowing he never wanted to leave, to have this moment end. "I could tell them that I’m living with Lee and then just stay here, living under your bed during the day and coming out at night to be your slave… It’s as good a life as any other I can think of." He grinned.

"Then you must have a limited imagination… I never would have guessed that of you." She joked, propping herself up on her arm to look at him properly. "You know I don’t want you to leave, right?" She reached out and ran her hand down his cheek.

"No more than I want to… but I have to, don’t I…" He sighed, taking her hand and kissing her fingers. "Okay, just tell me one thing… what did you do with my pants?"

She smiled and shook her head before tackling him so that she was on top, kissing him deeply as she ran her hands through his hair. He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her close against him, willing and eager for more of her. When yet again someone came knocking on the door, interrupting them before they even had the chance to get started, he was ready to curse whoever it was for the intrusion. Hermione looked at him for a moment before smiling regretfully and rising to find her robe. "I guess it’s time after all." She said. "It had to happen sooner or later."

"I had preferred later." He grumbled, getting up to gather his clothes from around the room.

"Hey, guys it’s Luna! I know you’re both in there, it’s okay… I’m alone." Luna yelled through the door to reassure them.

Hermione waited until he had put his pants on before opening the door. "What’s going on, is something wrong?" she asked the other girl.

"Ron and Padma can’t find Parvati. I’m going to go help them… but I know both Harry and Draco are busy and I also knew you were wanting to ask to borrow one of the cloaks, so here’s Draco’s. Harry’s is… being used for something else right now." She handed it over to Hermione and Fred began to worry. Just how open were their minds last night and this morning that Luna was able to pick up on things they’d discussed?

"I take it whatever Harry and Draco are into, it’s a secret?" Hermione smirked.

"Of course." Luna smiled tensely. "Well, I better go find Ron."

"Sure, thanks for bringing the cloak." She replied.

"No problem. Bye Fred." She called past Hermione, grinning at them both before walking away.

"Good thing she’s the one who saw me. No one can keep a secret like that girl." Fred stood to pull on his shirt.

"You know that if for some reason Harry asks, I’m going to tell him you were here and that we’re… whatever we are now." She said slowly.

"Why would he ask?" He asked, suddenly feeling tense. He knew Harry had been important to Hermione and would continue to be so… but there was no reason to be jealous about it, was there? "Would you want to go ask him if he and Luna had a good time last night?" He asked aloud, testing the waters.

"Of course not. I don’t want to know. And I’m sure he wouldn’t either. But I have no more reason to lie to him about you than he has to lie to me about Luna… I wanted you to know that." She said, taking his hand and staring up at him earnestly. "When he and I let each other go, we knew the reasons… all of them. It wasn’t just because we were looking to other people, we both knew our time together was over. There’s no reason to worry that you’re… a second choice or whatever ridiculousness Ron tried to put in your head."

"I saw you two together, we all did… It’s hard not to feel like a second choice compared to that." He quietly admitted.

She shook her head and smiled. "I’ll tell you right now, I will love Harry just as fiercely as I did then for the rest of my life and there is nothing that will change that. But it’s how I love him that’s changed… or was always this way and we both mistook it for something else… I’ll never know really. But he’s my best friend, my family… him and Ron they mean everything to me. But they aren’t the ones standing here in front of me now, you are. Because you’re the one I want Fred. I gave up what I knew I had with Harry for just the chance to see what I could have with you… what’s more powerful argument than that to prove what I feel for you is real?"

He shook his head and returned her smile. "And here I thought I was going to be the one to have to convince you I’m worthy of your time and energy."

"Oh and you still have to." She teased, leaning up to kiss his lips. "But you’ll have to wait for the next time to convince me. I’m satisfied knowing I have you on the hook."

"Hermione, you have this fish on the hook and all the way to the frying pan." He assured her as he pulled her in for a tight hug. "I don’t want to go back to London. Everything’s too hard to deal with there."

"It’s not much better here." She said.

"A little more than a month and you’ll all be home again." He said, happy to be reminded of that fact. He just hoped he would be there with them and not off trapped somewhere with Elanya. But at the moment, that was something neither of them wanted to think about.

(BREAK)

Luna walked away from Hermione’s room feeling awkward and slightly ashamed though she had no reason. After all, Hermione had been the one to practically shove her at Harry last night in her eagerness to be with Fred. Still, a part of her felt she was somehow betraying her friend… perhaps because she’d been wanting this to happen for so long. Either way, she shook her head to clear it of one problem and fill it with another.Ron, I know you’re looking for me. I have the map.

It took a moment for him to respond. We’re on our way to see Dumbledore, meet us by the gargoyle. He instructed in a tone that said he was not to be argued with. Even though Ginny had yet to tell her, Luna knew that the other girl had wiped away Ron’s memories last night of the showdown of Harry, Draco and Jacey against Tristan. He had no idea what exactly Parvati may have witnessed out wherever they followed her tracks, but he clearly knew enough to be scared for the girl. Luna was scared too. If Parvati had seen what happened, then what would she tell people? And where was she now? Had the wrong people gotten a hold of her? Was she telling their secret- that Tristan was dead? Was Parvati even still alive? She wanted to take a moment, to try and force a vision to come but Ron wasn’t to be deterred. If there was a way to find Parvati without involving Dumbledore and thus prolong discovery of Harry’s misdeeds then she had to try it.

She raced through the halls, ignoring the stitch in her side as she struggled to catch her breath around the last corner. Ron stalked up to her as soon as he saw her and she handed over the map, sinking to sit on the floor and lean her head against the wall. Letting him and Padma scour over the map, she closed her eyes and focused, trying make her power work for her for once rather than continuing to let it be the other way around. After all, there was no decision to make in this case… Parvati was already missing. After her night with Harry, Luna’s mind felt stronger now that she no longer had to focus so much on struggling against her feelings and herself. Latching onto that part of her brain that made the connections to her powers, she concentrated hard willing something to come. Flashes began popping against her eyelids and she opened them quickly as dread descended over her.

"She’s nowhere on this stupid thing." Ron said, throwing the map to the floor in his frustration. "Where could she have gone?"

"With Troy." Luna said, certain of what she’d just glimpsed. "I don’t know what happened last night, but right now… I see her walking with Troy… neither are wearing a jacket… they appear to be talking calmly… they’re somewhere in the woods." She played each image she’d seen in their heads so that they would believe her.

"But why?" Padma asked, completely confused.

"I don’t know, but we better go tell Dumbledore before Troy does something to her." Ron insisted, turning to the gargoyle and giving the password. Luna reluctantly followed.

Dumbledore rose from his desk to meet them, a look of concern already plastered across his face. "I’m afraid I am quite busy at the moment-" the headmaster began his apology but Padma cut him off.

"My sister is missing! Troy Mason has taken her somewhere in the woods!" She cried.

"Hold on, you are telling me Parvati Patil is missing as well?" Dumbledore took the girl by the shoulders to steady her.

"Who else is missing sir?" Ron asked.

He shook his head. "It seems no one can find Tristan Macnair or Troy Mason."

"Troy is with my sister! Tell him Luna!" Padma turned to her, desperate to make the headmaster understand the danger.

"In a short vision, I saw Parvati and Troy walking through the woods. But I just saw Tristan in real life a few moments ago outside the Great Hall." She said quickly, keeping her mind carefully blank and tightly locked.

Dumbledore regarded her suspiciously. "Very well. I suppose you have a better reason to keep tabs on the young man. As for Parvati and Troy I will send out a search party at once."

(BREAK)

Huddled together under the invisibility cloak, Hermione went with Fred all the way through the entrance of the Whomping Willow. Once in the tunnel he flung the cloak away and breathed deeply. "I forgot how suffocating it can be under there." He said.

"Well, I guess this is as far as I go." Hermione said, throwing herself in his arms as the reality of him leaving finally hit her. "I wish I could go home with you."

"Well, as far as I’m concerned, I wish we could both stay here. I’m not looking forward to going home… with or without you." He said, hugging her tightly as they both let the real world and all it’s problems descend on them once more.

"We’ll figure it out. We have until Friday." She tried to reassure him. But he’d been dealing with the hell of Elanya for too long now.

"It doesn’t seem like that much time…" He trailed off. Neither of them wanted to think about what would happen if they couldn’t find a way out for him.

Rather than reply, she lightly kissed him. It wasn’t fair that she had to say good-bye, that once he left and she went back to school, she would be without him while everyone else was happy. "A little over a month suddenly seems like forever." She whispered.

"I’m sure there will be plenty of distractions… and we still have the compacts." He grinned, pulling them both out of his pocket. "In fact I made a little adjustment to them while you were getting dressed." He opened his and gestured that she do the same.

She smiled when she saw his face appear in the mirror. "We’ll be able to see each other now?"

"A pity of a view for you, but definitely a bonus for me." Fred joked as he closed the compact and took her hands in his. "I was hoping it would make me miss you a little less if I could still see you every day."

"I think I’ll just miss you more." She hugged him again so he wouldn’t see her struggle to not cry.

"If I don’t go now I’ll miss the train." He said reluctantly. "Though I’d gladly wait for the next one."

She shook her head and looked up at him. "It’ll only be harder the longer we put it off. Soon I’ll be done with school and free to go wherever I want… I never thought I’d be so eager to leave Hogwarts." She smiled.

"Well… you like me more than school. I am deeply complimented." He teased her. "I’ll call you later tonight, okay?"

"You’d better." She said as they kissed once more. And then she allowed him to force himself to walk away from her. She waited until he rounded the corner and was out of her sight before turning and going back to the tunnel opening.

She had just barely crawled through the Whomping Willow when her pocket grew warm. Throwing the cloak over her arm, she looked around to be sure she was alone before pulling out the compact again and opening it with a smile. Fred was smiling back at her. "Just wanted to make sure these things work." He said.

"Hurry up before you miss your train." She warned, unable to keep her smile from growing wider.

"Yes ma’am. I’ll talk to you later."

"You certainly will." She promised.

"Well, until then." He sighed, closing his side of the communication.

Shaking her head in saddened amusement, Hermione put the compact back in her pocket and made her way into the castle just in time for lunch. Her rumbling stomach reminded her of the meal she’d skipped in favor of a very pleasant form of exercise and she rushed to the common room to return to the cloak and find her friends. But no one answered their door. Unsure what was going on, she left Draco’s cloak in her own room before heading down to the Great Hall, hoping to find someone there.

She was about to turn the last corner when someone came from the other direction, forcing them to accidentally collide. She felt the other person reach out to steady her and looked up to find Simon, Luna’s hopeful dance partner from the night before. "Sorry, I guess I wasn’t looking where I was going." She quickly apologized, moving to go around him.

He stepped forward to block her. "Actually I was hoping to run into you, although maybe not quite so literally." He smiled normally, but something about him was giving Hermione an uneasy feeling.

"Was there something you wanted to ask me about Luna?" She asked carefully, opening her mind to prepare to call for help should she need to. After all she’d been through, she’d learned to put her trust in her instincts and right now they were telling her something was wrong.

"No, she pretty much made it clear she wasn’t interested. I was actually wondering whether you and Harry were still together." He said, taking her completely by surprise.

"Why?" She demanded, curious to find out where this would go.

"It’s just, certain people thought they knew the dynamic of you and your friends… but then last night I went out to get some air and saw you out in the courtyard with someone. I couldn’t get close enough without risking you both seeing me, but the guy looked awfully familiar." He smirked at her.

"You went out for some air?" She asked doubtfully.

"Okay, so maybe I saw you rush out and got curious. After Luna shut me down I went to see what you were up to." Simon shrugged, giving an innocent answer that was actually quite devious- after all, he had admitted to following and spying on her.

"How is anything I do your business?"

"It wasn’t… unless I saw you with who I think I saw you with." He said, his smile turning more sinister.

"I still don’t see how it’s your business." She shot back, feeling her stomach clench with anxious fear. Surely this boy, this sixth year Hufflepuff, he couldn’t be Elanya’s spy… could he?

"That’s a matter of perspective I guess. If you were out kissing some guy in the courtyard, then you and Harry must have broken up… and you’re now with this new person?" He looked almost pleased, as if having information to pass around gave him purpose.

"Harry and I are together." She said confidently. "I don’t know what you think you saw, but I was just talking to a friend. Maybe your vision was impaired by the contents of that flask you thought no one saw you with, maybe the costumes threw you off."

Simon nodded. "Whatever you say Hermione." He reached out and squeezed her shoulder as he walked by. "You take care of yourself… I’ll be seeing you around." And then he walked away.

Once he was gone she fell back against the wall, realizing her heart was racing and her stomach was tied up in nervous knots. Her first instinct was to call Fred, to tell him she may have just run into Elanya’s spy and he may be onto them. But pulling herself together she decided that was a bad idea. He had enough to worry about with Elanya herself, she had to be sure before she accused Simon of anything. There could be any number of reasons for his strange behavior but considering she’d never spoken to the boy before that day, she had trouble coming up with one. Her next natural instinct was to tell Harry… but that was clearly a bad idea as well. He too had enough to deal with at the moment, how could she now add her and Fred’s problems to the pile he was already sorting through? Besides, Fred hadn’t wanted anyone else to know and unless things got really serious there was no reason to involve anyone else… it was obviously better to remain off Elanya’s radar if at all possible. But even if she was alone in this, one thing was clear- she had to find the root of Simon’s sudden interest in her and she had to do so quickly.

 



NOTE: Coming up in the next few chapters- Jacey takes Tristan’s body for a test drive, the search for Parvati, Ginny decides to have her own secret from Draco, Harry and Luna decide what to do about their new relationship, Hermione tries to figure out Simon and a way out for Fred, Fred must decide what to do about Elanya, Harry and Luna find some things out about their families and ancestors, word arrives about what Lucius has been up to since the Quibbler article, the last few coven members names are found and so, so much more. See you all next time!

Chapter 48: Being Tristan Macnair

A/N: A lot to cover so let’s get this underway… Read, Review, Enjoy!



"This is a bad idea." Ginny said as Jacey continued to circle around the room, trying to mimic Tristan’s walk.

Draco reached out to rub her shoulder. "It’ll be fine. She’s got the hang of it now." He assured her though he was no where near certain they were going to get away with any of this.

"Then I must go to the Slytherin common room. They’re waiting for me there... rather impatiently it seems." Jacey said, once more looking in the mirror to reassure herself that she looked the part.

"You can’t go there alone." Ginny insisted.

"I’ll go with her." Potter said, grabbing a blanket and removing his cloak before covering the real Tristan’s body once more. With an expression of disgust, he waved his wand to clean the cloak

"Draco, you should come too. You know the Slytherin dorm the best, as well as most of the kids in there." Jacey turned to him, clearly not knowing the havoc she was about to wreak.

Sure enough, Ginny also turned to him. "You said you would go see Drake." She insisted.

"I will." He said quickly.

She looked at him for a moment before nodding, her eyes turning hard. "After you go spy on the Slytherins." She added what they both knew he’d been thinking.

"Hey, I’ve been in there before… I’m sure we’ll be fine if you need to go get yourself checked out." Potter offered, trying to be helpful.

"No, he wants to go." Ginny sighed. "I wouldn’t want to be left out either if I’d been in something like this from the beginning." She grabbed Draco’s hand and pulled him away from the other two, lowering her voice. "Just promise you’ll go see Drake when you’re done alright."

"Where will you be?" He asked suspiciously.

"You don’t want me to lie to you, right?" She sneered. "I told you one day I’d have a secret, well today’s the day. You can sit here and worry about where I am and what I’m doing for a change. I’ll be back by dinner."

"What do you mean you’ll be back? You aren’t planning on leaving the school?" He asked incredulously.

"Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies Draco. I’ll be back later." She leaned up and kissed his cheek before turning and walking out the door without a backwards glance.

"That seemed to go well." Jacey said slowly.

"Let’s just get this over with." Draco grumbled, moving to join Potter under the cloak when what he really wanted to do was run after Ginny. His only solace as they walked out the door was knowing that with the body they’d left lying behind them, at least Ginny would be a bit safer wherever she was going.

(BREAK)

Having pulled herself together, Hermione rushed into the Great Hall and searched for her friends. Spotting Luna and Ron sitting with Padma, Dean and Seamus, she hurried over as the sudden need to feel safe and surrounded propelled through her. "What’s going on?" She asked as she approached, pushing down her own panic about Simon as she took in their troubled faces.

"Apparently Parvati has gone missing." Seamus answered as he gently rubbed Padma’s shoulders in comfort.

"Luna says Troy’s taken her somewhere." Dean added.

"That’s not exactly what I said." Luna protested. "I said I saw them walking together through the woods. She didn’t appear to be his prisoner or anything. And it could have been at any time in the future, five minutes or five weeks… though they were still wearing their costumes from last night."

"What reason would she have to go anywhere with Troy Mason?" Padma argued. "You must have seen it wrong."

"That’s not how her visions work." Hermione said, coming to her friend’s defense as she knew how much Luna hated having to explain herself. "She can’t see it wrong, she can only see what she sees."

"It was wrong!" Padma insisted angrily, getting up and walking out presumably to go back to her room.

"Poor girl. I’d be losing my mind if it where someone in my family missing." Dean shook his head sadly.

"Dumbledore has sent a search party into the woods." Ron quietly informed Hermione as she sat down with them. "I’m not sure how much good that will do."

"If Parvati and Troy are still out there, I’m sure they’ll be found." Seamus said confidently.

Ron shoved his plate away in disgust. "I’m going back to my room. Let me know if you hear anything."

"Wait!" Hermione quickly grabbed a sandwich and followed him out into the hall. It was only after she’d caught up to his long strides that she realized Luna had also come along, wanting to help support their friend while he was clearly suffering.

They all walked in silence to their dorm and into Ron’s room, the girls looking at each other uncertainly as Ron slammed the door and began pacing. "I just feel so guilty about this!" He said at last, flinging his arms out in frustration. "I knew something was wrong, that she wasn’t feeling well last night… I went back to the stupid dance anyway. And then Jacey was there and… I should have been with Parvati! She was the one I was supposed to be with last night, all she ever did was try to be around me and show me she liked me. And once Jacey came around I just forgot all about her!"

"That’s not your fault." Luna said quietly.

"I should have paid more attention! Something has been wrong with Parvati for awhile, I should have cared more!" He insisted, intent on beating himself up.

"How were you supposed to know something like this was going to happen?" Hermione said, walking over and hugging him.

He pulled away and ran his hands through his hair. "You’re right, I can’t know these things are going to happen… so why didn’t you know?" He asked, turning to Luna with an accusatory tone.

"Ron, you’re letting yourself get upset." Hermione warned, seeing the hurt look on the other girl’s face.

"Yeah, because this is upsetting! A girl I’ve been dating is missing and little-miss-secret-keeping-vision-maker over here had no idea!" He shouted, losing control.

"Hey, don’t get mad at me just because you feel bad for liking the wrong girl!" Luna yelled back defensively.

"Then quit pretending you’re some great visionary when in reality you’re practically useless!" He shouted in her face.

"Ron!" Hermione scolded, not quite believing what she’d just heard him say. She turned quickly to Luna, trying to repair the damage. "He didn’t mean it. You know he didn’t."

"Yes I did!" He said, continuing to add fuel to his fire. "She’s too busy running around after Harry to be of any help to anyone! She can’t see what Tristan’s up to, she didn’t know Troy was going to take Parvati… what good is she?"

"What good are you?!" Luna screamed. She roughly shoved him, also losing control as he continued to spew out all the insecurities about herself that she’d been letting weigh her down. "All you do is sit around whining and crying about how everything bad in your life is someone else’s fault while you secretly try to manipulate your friends into the lives you think they should be living and even at that you failed! What good do you do anybody? You can’t even help yourself let alone anyone else!"

"Hey! Everyone is a little excited right now and so you guys are lashing out to keep from feeling bad inside. Neither of you really feel this way about each other." Hermione tried to reason with them, feeling completely uncomfortable and particularly angry with Ron. They all knew how Luna felt about her lack of ability to be in total control of her power, to exploit it just to make himself feel better was a horrible thing to do… especially when she’d come to try and comfort him.

Without a word, Luna turned and walked out of the room, slamming the door shut behind her. Hermione turned to Ron, expecting to see regret and finding only more anger. "You happy? You chased away your chosen punching bag." She told him.

"What are you talking about? She pushed me!" He turned and sat on his bed, balling his hands into fists as he continued to let his rage at feeling useless consume him. There was nothing anyone could do to help Parvati at the moment other than wait for news from the search party, and they both knew it.

"Yeah well, I think you left her pretty battered emotionally. Those were horrible things to say."

"Why do you care?" He demanded.

"Because she’s my friend! And yours, you should care too!" She said angrily.

"Yeah, your friend who’s after your boyfriend." He rolled his eyes, obviously intent on remaining in a bitter mood.

"She can have him. Harry and I broke up two weeks ago." She crossed her arms as she confidently unleashed one of the many secrets she’d been keeping. "Sorry to let you know, you’re ill-conceived plan to guilt us into staying together failed."

"Really? Now is the time you want to have this out?" He rose and hovered over her. "You’ve apparently had two weeks to come accuse me of whatever you’re babbling on about! Right now Parvati is missing somewhere with Troy and no one but me and Padma seem to care!"

"We all care!" She shouted. "Get a hold of yourself, you’re letting your guilt override your reason! There’s nothing any of us can do."

"Really?" He sneered. "If it was Harry out there missing, don’t you think things would be a little different? Tell me Hermione… even now that you two supposedly aren’t together, if it was him out there with Troy what would you do?"

"I’d probably go after him." She admitted honestly. "As would the rest of us, you included… which would be very stupid."

"But we’d still go." He said quietly. "And Dumbledore would certainly have done more than send a small search party, there would have been scores of Aurors out scouring the woods by now along with every single professor and probably Dumbledore himself. So what makes his life more worthy than hers."

Hermione shook her head sadly. "You know why… It may be harsh to admit, but you know. We don’t love Parvati like we do Harry… think about it Ron… take your analogy and switch out Harry. If you, me, Ginny, or Luna had been the one to go missing, don’t you think it would be the same as if it were Harry? And I’m sure Dumbledore is doing everything in his power to find two missing students, as he would should anyone go missing, even if he doesn’t tell you all of his plans. Am I worried about Parvati? Absolutely. But the fact that we aren’t out there stupidly risking our lives doesn’t make us horrible people."

"It sure feels like it." He muttered.

"I know. But letting your misery push away the people who care about you the most is horrible, especially when you use their own fear about themselves against them."

He looked up at her. "And what if part of me really feels the things I told Luna were true?"

Hermione stared at him in disbelief. "Then I’d say you need to take a moment and look inside yourself to figure out why you’re really mad at her… because I can’t imagine you really think she’s useless." She turned and walked out, no longer wishing to partake in Ron’s ill-placed sorrow. She’d come up here hoping to make him feel better and only wound up angry with him. Besides, she wanted to leave before he turned his blame on her. She wouldn’t have been as diplomatic as Luna to just walk away… squabbling and fighting had been a normal part of her relationship with Ron for the seven years she’d known him.

With a troubled sigh, she made her way across the dorm hoping to find Luna in her room. She answered after the second knock and it was clear she had been crying as angry, frustrated tears were still welling up in her eyes. "I’m not apologizing to him." She said quickly.

"Neither would I if I were you." Hermione said, offering a small smile. "Can I come in?"

Luna gestured her in, closing the door behind her. "I shouldn’t have said what I said, but he made me so mad…"

She held up a hand to silence her. "I’m not here to soften your attitude toward Ron. I just wanted to make sure you’re okay…" She felt awkward being alone with Luna now… especially since she wasn’t entirely sure what had happened between her and Harry last night. But she’d cared about Luna long before the relationship conflict and she’d seen how hurt she was by Ron’s words. Giving into her instincts, she reached out and hugged the other girl, pleased when she felt Luna’s slender arms hug her back.

"I feel silly for being upset at all… I know he’s just scared and upset." Luna said after they let each other go, wiping her eyes as she moved to sit on her bed.

"Good, then you don’t need me to tell you that none of us really feel that way about you." She smiled, taking a seat next to her.

"No I don’t… let’s just forget about all of this." Luna shook her head and straightened herself, eager to put the unhappiness she was feeling behind her. "I got the sense there was something you wanted to talk to me about… before Ron’s little tantrum." She prompted.

Hermione wanted to be sure her friend was really alright, but she also couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try and get some answers. After all, she and Fred were on a very short deadline and Luna had Harry to comfort her now anyway and he would probably be a lot better at it given the situation. "It’s about that Simon boy who asked you to dance last night. What do you know about him?"

"Why?"

"Personal interest." She smiled, indicating her desire to keep her secret.

Luna returned the smile and shrugged. "I don’t know much, he’s a sixth year and in Hufflepuff. He doesn’t belong to any clubs or sports, he’s nice enough to everyone. Sometimes I get a bad vibe from him but I think it’s because he likes to secretly drink liquor all the time… nothing really serious."

"So you don’t think he’s dangerous?" Hermione pushed.

"Anyone can be dangerous in the right situation."

"That doesn’t really answer my question."

"Your question is a little too vague." Luna laughed lightly. "Do I think he’s dangerous on a daily basis, no. Do I think he has the potential to do bad things…" She paused and really thought about it. "Yes." She answered at last. "And what’s more, I think he’s keeping a secret because his mind is locked up tight and even seems to be getting assistance in shielding from some outside force that I can’t quite trace. Worse than that…" She trailed off, looking at Hermione meaningfully.

"If he’s shielding his mind that much, he must know there are people here with the ability to find a way in." She finished Luna’s thought and felt a rather depressing satisfaction that her hunch about the boy seemed to be correct.

She nodded. "Exactly. He may be up to something and it could be dangerous… maybe if Harry, Jacey and I work together, we can blast through those shields." She suggested trying to be helpful.

"That’s okay for right now. I’d rather be a bit more sure before he realizes I’m even looking into him at all, let alone involve three coven members."

Luna looked at her with a great deal of seriousness. "You know I’m not one to lecture you on the perils of secrecy considering my life right now… but if you really think you’re getting into something bad, you will tell someone right?"

"If that happens, can I come tell you?" Hermione asked unexpectedly. "It’s just, like you said, you’re good with secrets. And I trust your opinion a lot."

She smiled. "Thank you. And yes, you can tell me anything." She promised, both girls feeling closer to each other and thankful for it.

"Okay then. There’s nothing else you know about Simon? His last name maybe so I can try to research him a bit…?"

"Um… I think it’s something like McHinley, McKinley, Mc-something like that." She said uncertainly.

Hermione’s heart skipped a beat. "McKinney. Could it be McKinney?" she pressed desperately.

"Yeah! That’s it-" She stopped as she obviously reached the same conclusion Hermione had. "You don’t think…"

"That he could be related to Elise McKinney? It seems more than likely." She said somberly. Of course it made sense, who better to act as Elanya’s spy than a family member of one of the insane girls she’d been plotting with. But if Simon was connected to Elise, then how honest had Elanya been when she’d claimed to Fred that she wanted to cut ties with those girls and everyone else? Was there something else going on? Once more she couldn’t help but wonder what exactly had Fred gotten himself caught up in.

(BREAK)

Ginny opened the trap door and climbed into the Shrieking Shack, dusting herself off as she closed the door behind her. Being here alone, doing something like this all by herself, she felt both free and terrified. It was unusual that any of them went anywhere without someone else anymore, but her chosen partner was busy having his own dangerous adventures. Besides, even though she knew what she was doing wasn’t dangerous, it gave her a small thrill to go off by herself and give Draco a dose of his own medicine. She was tired of being the one to have to worry about him, she hadn’t done anything crazy or foolish in a while... surely it was her turn to do as she pleased while he sat and worried about her.

Pulling the hood of her coat up further around her face, she left the old house and made her way into Hogsmeade. Thanks to the snow, there weren’t many people out on the street but she did her best to avoid the ones that were. She didn’t want to have to answer any awkward questions about why there was a Hogwarts student walking alone in the village. Grateful to be out of the cold, she entered the Three Broomsticks and looked around the dining area. With it being around lunch time, she was hoping to get lucky… sure enough she spotted Laurel sitting at a table by the fireplace, reading and relaxing with a bowl of steaming stew in front of her. She tried silently calling out to the woman before remembering the healer wasn’t like Harry, Luna, Jacey or Gabby… she was only a healer, nothing more as far as ability was concerned.

Ginny carefully made her way over to the woman who looked up in surprise though she seemed pleased by her presence. "Well! I was hoping to see you again before my holiday ended." Laurel smiled warmly. "Though I take it you aren’t really supposed to be here…"

"I’d say that’s a matter of opinion." She replied.

Laurel laughed. "Yes, you certainly would. Come on, we can go talk in my rooms where we’ll have a bit more privacy." She rose and led the way upstairs, Ginny following close on her heels. They passed several doors, opening the last one on the left and entering a rather pleasant sitting room. Laurel moved to close the door to the bed chamber before seating herself on the couch and gesturing Ginny to join her. "Normally I wouldn’t condone a student sneaking away from school, but I sense there’s something you’d like to talk about… something that has you upset."

"There are several things, most of which I can’t talk about." She sighed, sitting next to the woman and thinking of how much she’d like to gain perspective on the whole Tristan fiasco. But she didn’t know whether Laurel’s claim of confidentiality would extend to murder so she had to hold her tongue, not wanting to get Draco, Harry or Jacey in trouble… not to mention herself and Luna who were now helping cover up the crime.

"I see. Did you and Draco find a way to make up after we spoke last time?"

Ginny nodded. "There’s no question about whether we want to be together."

"So… what is the question?" Laurel smiled encouragingly.

"Hypothetically, if someone you cared for a lot went out and did something very bad… something you don’t agree with but can understand the reasoning for… would you be mad?" She asked. "And if you were, how would you handle it?"

Laurel shook her head. "I don’t know, it would depend on how bad that something was that they did…"

"Something really bad. But it’s also something that maybe you were capable of at one point while consumed with grief and anger…" Ginny said, remembering that she had in fact almost killed Draco once, stabbing him in the back and leaving him to die. He and the others had simply been more successful in their attempt last night. Maybe he hadn’t struck the fatal blow, but she knew it had been his influence that had pushed Harry along into doing this… Harry was scared of Tristan, but he never would have allowed them to go through with such a plan had Draco not been feeding his fears. She didn’t have to ask either of them, she knew that was how it had happened because she knew both boys involved very well. And more than likely, Jacey had helped Draco push Harry into allowing this to happen, and it was much easier to be angry with a girl she barely knew. "…But now you feel like such a different person from who you were then, and you thought the one you cared about had changed too." She added, trying to give Laurel the whole picture without coming right out and saying what had happened.

"I would probably be mad, but if I really cared about the person and I really did understand the reasoning behind their actions… then I suppose I would find a way to express my displeasure and try to work it out with them. But I would also go in with the understanding that you can’t change people, and you can’t use your anger as a weapon to force them to change."

"What’s that supposed to mean?" Ginny asked defensively.

Again Laurel smiled. "When someone is mad at you, someone you care for a lot, wouldn’t you do, or say, or promise anything in the world to make things right? Of course you would, it’s a natural reaction because you don’t want that person to be disappointed or angry with you anymore. But you don’t always mean the things you say or promise in the moment and it only sets the stage for more anger and disappointment later when you are unable to live up to their expectations."

"I suppose I can see your point." She said begrudgingly.

"Listen Ginny, what I do and what you do are two different things because we are different people. All I can really do is give you advice… which is that you need to decide just how much you’re willing to accept in order to be with Draco. I assume he has something to do with this as you only seem so open to talking when he’s involved. I’m sure he’s made a lot of growth since making those tough decisions in his life, but ultimately he is who he is and it’s not fair to expect him to change completely… just like it would be unfair for him to expect more than who you are."

"I know." She said quietly.

Laurel reached out and put a hand on her arm in reassurance. "I know you do. You said you understand why he did whatever he did, now you have to decide if you believe yourself."

Ginny nodded. "I feel like such a mess lately… and all I keep saying is, everything will be better when things are settled and the war’s over… But what if it isn’t? I mean, there are times when I’m so happy and there’s nothing more I want out of life. And then something like this happens and suddenly I’m questioning everything again."

"Maybe you’re just scared that the happiness you do feel won’t last." Laurel accurately suggested. "Maybe you’re worried that every time some difficulty arises, it’s one more sign telling you that being happy doesn’t last forever. And maybe you’re arguing with yourself so much because you’re trying to convince yourself to end things before you get hurt even worse in some more tragic and permanent way… like Draco dying. It’s okay to be scared of losing the ones you love, especially during times like these. But you shouldn’t use that fear as an excuse to cut yourself off from feeling anything at all. That could result in an even more tragic result…" Laurel trailed off, losing herself in her thoughts.

"Like what?" She pushed, curious to know what was passing through the healer’s head.

Laurel looked at her sadly. "There are some who lose themselves so completely in their misery that no one can reach them, no matter how much they are loved they can’t find a way to be happy in this world and so they take themselves out of it. I don’t want that for you, you’re too bright, too lively, you have too much ahead of you. You have too many people who would miss you."

"I’m nowhere near that unhappy." She said reassuringly.

She smiled and squeezed Ginny’s arm. "I know. I suppose I was letting my own fears creep out."

"Because of that girl?"

"What girl?" Laurel asked in confusion.

"Back in the orchard, you said I reminded you of someone… was it another patient of yours who took her life?" She asked delicately, curiosity driving her past feeling the question an inappropriate one.

Laurel shook her head, getting up to walk over to the window. "I’m supposed to be the healer here, not the patient." She crossed her arms as she looked out over the street, clearly uncomfortable with finding a way to answer.

"I thought we were friends." She shot back. "You came out here on holiday to help me and you are helping… you know a lot about me and I know nothing about you… Don’t you want to retain my trust?"

"A nice attempt at manipulation." Laurel laughed, though when she turned, her expression was one of intense grief. "You’re right though, if I expect us to be friends then it must go both ways… I knew a girl once, she was a bit older than you and in her last year of school when her world started to crumble around her. Her parents were killed in a horrible accident when the boat they were traveling in sank in the middle of the night, killing everyone aboard as they slept. I was in Asia, taking part in my training program to learn how to harness my power to heal minds… It took a long time for the news to reach me and as soon as I heard I hurried back to London. By the time I got here, so much else had happened in the girl’s life… small things that perhaps she could have handled had they come at her one at a time, but everything seemed to pile up on her at once as life tends to let happen. She was so lost when I was finally able to reach out to her, her mind was so dim and bleak with despair and unhappiness. I wanted to believe she was stronger than that, that I could help her be stronger. Two weeks after I came home, she took her own life." She stopped and wiped the soft tears from her eyes. "Now I realize there was probably very little I or anyone else could have done to stop her, her mind was so dark at the end… but it doesn’t keep me from always wishing there had been a way."

"She wasn’t just a patient, was she?" She felt her heart sink in anticipation, feeling bad for the healer before she even spoke to confirm Ginny’s suspicions.

"She was my sister." Laurel smiled sadly. "In my grief, I remember wishing she had been the one born with my gift, that she would’ve been able to heal her own mind after our parents died like I did on my way to see her. She was five years younger than me, I’d been looking out for her our whole lives and when it really counted, I couldn’t help her. This has been my burden to bear and it is why I suppose I have taken such a keen interest in you. Your energy is so similar to hers… but thankfully your output seems stronger than hers ever was."

"What was her name?" She asked quietly as better memories with both George and Percy filled her mind, taking her back to a time when her family had been whole, back before the war took one of them and turned him against the others.

"Willow… we were both named for our mother’s favorite trees. If she’d had a boy, the poor thing would have been called Hickory." She laughed lightly as her own memories flowed through her. "So you see, I am able to understand your experience with losing a sibling… and we share even more experiences than you may realize. But that is perhaps for another time, as I said before I am not the patient and though we may be friends, it is you I am supposed to be here for."

Ginny shook her head and shrugged. "I don’t know what I need… maybe I need someone to tell me it really will be all better when this war is over… someone who can make me really believe it."

"I’m not that person. I can’t convince you of something I don’t know myself." Laurel sat next to her again and spoke in a soft voice. "There is no guarantee anyone can give you that things will be better, the only thing any of us can do is keep going and believing that what we are looking to achieve is a better future. But I will say, you can’t spend all your time looking ahead because then you’ll miss the good times you could be having now. Life is about finding a balance, with the world, with others around you and with yourself. There will always be laughter to counter the tears, relief to counter the horror and vice versa. Nothing can continue in a constant state, it’s unnatural. Everything grows and changes and it’s up to us to be in tune with everything so that we can successfully change with the world around us."

"I suppose… it’s just not always that easy." She said thoughtfully.

"Like I’ve told you before, you are entitled to feel however you wish about anything as long as it’s an honest reaction. It is only in experiencing and analyzing these feelings that we can learn about ourselves and then grow more confident in who we are, what we want, and how much we can tolerate before we feel we are compromising our own happiness and the happiness of those closest to us."

"So I guess I have to figure out what exactly I’m feeling and why?" Ginny asked uncertainly.

Laurel smiled again, this time with amusement. "I can’t tell you what you need or what you have to do, only you are able to know that. But I do suggest you take some time to yourself to ask some difficult questions."

"And if I don’t like the answers?"

"Well, then you’ll have some difficult decisions to make."

(BREAK)

Are you guys ready? Jacey’s voice whispered through Harry and Draco’s minds.

Like there’s a choice. Draco scoffed in reply, still clearly upset that Ginny was mad at him. Harry stood next to him under the invisibility cloak, terrified of what would happen should Jacey fail to convince the Slytherins that she was Tristan. He felt frozen in place, unwilling to walk into such a dark, negative place with two of his friends while they were all still recovering from the night before. None of them were at their full strength and to go somewhere filled with kids who were raised to loathe people like them didn’t seem the brightest idea at the moment. But Draco was right, they didn’t really have a choice. Jacey as Tristan had to go in there, and they certainly couldn’t let her go alone.

Harry? Jacey prodded him.

He took a deep breath. Okay, let’s just get this over with. He said with far more confidence than he actually felt.

Jacey opened the door and walked in, mimicking Tristan’s long graceful strides. "Where have you been?!" Crabbe said as soon as she entered.

"Are you really questioning my actions?" She asked in Tristan’s smooth voice, raising an eyebrow as she regarded the boy as if he were completely beneath her. She left the door open long enough for Harry and Draco to slip through before slamming it shut behind her.

"But… but you told us all to meet you this morning, that you had something to show us. Then you never showed up." Crabbe went on nervously as more than twenty other students of all ages gathered around. "And now no one can find Troy either."

"You should be less worried about what Troy and I are doing and more concerned with your own actions." Jacey said with authority. "Right now you are upsetting me and that could have very negative consequences f