The better work men do is always done under stress and at great personal cost.
—William Carlos Williams, "Spring and All"
31 October 1996
Harry Potter was dreaming. He and Jackie were flying above the trees on Sirius' motorcycle. She felt perfect nestled behind him, her arms around his waist. The wind whipped through their hair and the sun shone down upon them. He was about to land in a grassy clearing when several Death Eaters came flying out of the trees on broomsticks. They attacked the motorcycle, stalling the engine. When the bike began to shudder in the air, Jackie lost her grip and fell off the side. Harry turned and tried to grab her but he couldn't reach her. As he watched her falling to the ground, out of the corner of his eye he could see one of the Death Eaters coming toward him—
Harry sat up in bed, trying to catch his breath. He felt his forehead but his scar didn't hurt. Just another garden variety nightmare, although he'd never had one of those dreams about any girl other than Hermione. Usually his girl-fantasy dreams, whether about Cho or one of the girls he'd dated last year, were separate from his getting-attacked nightmares but he didn't have enough brain cells firing to figure out why this dream was different.
Harry rolled over and peered out of the curtains at the faintly glowing magical clock on the wall. It was almost five a.m., late enough to just stay awake. He lit his bedside candle; it was a good two and a half hours until daylight. Then he reached next to his bed for something to read.
His hand came back up with the previous day's Daily Prophet and the new Witch's Weekly that his fellow Gryffindors had been teasing him with the night before. The cover photo was an unflattering candid of Harry taken near the start of the year in Hogsmeade someplace. (One advantage to being Jack that Harry hadn't thought about was that there were no cameras to avoid.) A large green headline proclaimed him Britain's most eligible wizard which he found revolting, as he was barely three months past the age of consent. Inside was an article full of lies and half-truths about his birthday party which was somewhat understandable as no one who'd attended would have said anything to the press. Lavender Brown might be a bit of a gossip but she never talked about Harry.
Harry moved on to the Daily Prophet. He skimmed the Quidditch results, noting with pleasure that Oliver Wood had been a success in his opening game as first-string keeper. He turned to the front page and saw more statements from Cornelius Fudge that recent disappearances had nothing to do with rumors of the return of "You-Know-Who." Harry rolled his eyes. He recognized some of the disappeared as the Death Eaters that he'd seen eighteen months ago during Voldemort's macabre ceremony. Thus far, according to Mr. Weasley, no Muggles or Muggle-born wizards had gone missing, only suspected followers of Voldemort, and for that Harry was thankful. He had a lot of friends to worry about, like Dean and Seamus. And Hermione.
He wondered about this new fellow that Hermione had been seeing. She hadn't been interested in anyone since she and Ron broke things off which Harry found odd. Hermione was a great girl. She should have someone special.
And why wasn't Ron as interested in the new boyfriend as he was? Weren't they both her best friends? Well, maybe Ron was distracted by Ginny and Draco. Ginny had always struck Harry as being fairly headstrong; he thought Ron was fighting a losing battle there. Or perhaps Ron was paying more attention to Padma these days. Harry had a new girl of his own—a truly wonderful girl, the girl of his dreams—but that didn't him from wondering about Hermione.
Clearly, reading the Daily Prophet was not going to dispel the anxiety brought by his nightmare. He flung it back on the floor in disgust. He sat in bed for a moment, feeling a bit sorry for himself to be honest. Then he reached for parchment, quills and ink. He owed Oliver a congratulatory letter on being moved up from reserve. Hermione had hinted that a housewarming present for Oliver and Percy would be appropriate but Harry didn't know the first thing about what to get them. Well, maybe Jackie could help him pick something out in Hogsmeade this weekend. She'd know who he was soon enough, anyway.
As he dated the top of his letter, he realized that it was Halloween. In the blur of classes and Quidditch practices he'd completely forgotten about it. He set aside his letter to Oliver and decided to write a quick note to Jackie. Since their second date, they'd been passing little notes via Seamus almost daily. Harry kept every one Jackie sent filed away in a box at the bottom of his trunk. As with the rest of his notes, he disguised himself by trading his usual scarlet ink for blue and printing in block letters:
Happy Halloween. I am sorry that we will not be able to sit together at the feast tonight but I hope you will have a nice time. I can't wait until Hogsmeade!
PS: Did I tell you that you are quite a dancer?
Satisfied, he folded the note to give to Seamus later, and turned to his letter to Oliver. One of the songs from that evening of dancing came back to him, and he sat writing and humming to himself, the gloom of his nightmare dispelled by the memory of a girl not named Jackie.
Ron and Padma sat in their usual nook, playing chess. Just finding time to play was difficult, between Quidditch practices and classes, not to mention Padma's music. As it was Halloween, however, there was no practice for anyone, so they met up after lunch.
"Ron, what's distracting you?" Padma asked, concerned. "That's the second bad move you've made in a row."
Ron looked down at the board to see one of his knights scowling back up at him. "Sorry," he mumbled, moving another piece in its place.
"You're lucky I'm not a Slytherin or I'd take advantage of you." Padma reached over and placed her hand on top of Ron's. "Well?"
Ron looked up at Padma. Something in her eyes made him think she'd be understanding. "My sister and that arse she's running around with," he muttered. He turned his hand and laced his fingers with hers.
"Hmm. I always felt rather sorry for Draco, actually," Padma admitted.
Ron raised one eyebrow. "Really?"
"Narcissa kept that house like a museum," Padma said. She sat back from the table but kept hold of Ron's hand. "My family has plenty of old, nice things but Mum puts them in glass cabinets so we don't have to worry about breaking them. At Parvati and my fifth birthday party, there were kids running around all over the place, but Draco just stood in the corner by himself, watching. It wasn't until we started the broomstick races that he really interacted with anyone." She shrugged, then continued, "A couple of months later, we went to his house for his party and there was no playing at all. You couldn't touch anything. Malfoy Manor is a cold, cold place." She shook her head. "Narcissa was kind, but distant. It's too bad he doesn't have a sibling. I can't imagine being alone in a house like that."
Ron didn't want to be compassionate about Malfoy, even for a second. "But Harry grew up in a house where no one cared about him and he's never been an obnoxious creep," he pointed out.
"I didn't say I like Draco. I said I feel sorry for him. There's a difference," Padma said gently. "I suppose I'd feel sorry for anyone growing up alone. I can't imagine it. I'm sure you can't, either." She winked at Ron.
Ron shook his head, smiling. "Though I wished for it, sometimes."
Padma laughed. "Me too, especially when Parvati was being idiotic. She's a smart girl but you'd never know it." She held Ron's hand a little tighter.
Ron looked down at their hands and then at Padma. "So, what do you think I should do about Malfoy?" he asked earnestly.
"Nothing," she replied flatly.
Padma sat up in her chair. "Ron, it's none of your business," she reproached. "Ginny's what, fifteen? She's old enough to make her own decisions. It's not like she's eloped."
Ron gasped. "Don't put ideas like that in her head!"
"Do you trust Ginny?" Padma asked quietly.
Ron grumbled, "What does that have to do with it?"
Padma leaned further toward Ron, her voice still calm. "A lot. Do you trust her?"
Ron slumped in his chair. "I suppose," he admitted.
"Then that should be the end of it. I know you don't like it but it doesn't really matter what you like or don't like." Padma shrugged.
"That's what Ginny said." Ron frowned. "You don't think I'm being stubborn?"
Padma smiled. "Not exactly. A trifle overprotective but stubborn may be overstating things."
Ron looked at Padma. He realized suddenly that she'd never raised her voice but she'd gotten her point across. He decided to take a chance. "What are you doing next weekend?"
"Nothing." She looked up at Ron and grinned. "Are you asking me out, Ron Weasley?"
"I am," Ron replied, nervously.
Padma's smile grew broader. "Well, it's about time. I'd love to go."
Ron smiled, relieved. "Hey, let's forget about the chess and go for a walk by the lake."
"I'd like that." Padma gave Ron's hand a quick squeeze before letting go. She started putting her chessmen away, ignoring their protests over the interrupted game. When she finished, she looked up at Ron who was staring at her.
"Ron? Aren't you going to put your chessmen away?" she asked.
Ron shook his head slightly, as though she'd startled him. "Oh! Right. Sorry." He opened his own box and took his pieces from the board.
Padma leaned back in her chair, her hands behind her head. Ron may not have noticed it but she'd definitely won that match.
"Are they spinning fast enough, Dean?" Hermione asked.
Dean looked up from where he was standing in the middle of the Great Hall to the small pumpkins twirling overhead. Professor Dumbledore had given Dean responsibility for decorating the hall for the Halloween feast and he in turn had asked Hermione to help him with the charms. He'd kept the usual large pumpkins in the corners of the hall and was adding old-fashioned candlelit jack-o'-lanterns to the lights above the tables.
"A little too fast, I think," he replied. "They should be revolving, not spinning like tops."
Hermione nodded, adjusting their speed. She paused for a moment, then asked her question as casually as she could manage. "So, what's going on with you and Kevin? Are you going to Hogsmeade with him again?"
"Looks like," Dean answered absent-mindedly as he adjusted the boughs of gourds and cobwebs that adorned the head table.
"Is it getting serious?" she asked, curious. She'd moved on to regulating the course of the bats that flew around the ceiling, making sure they didn't run into the floating candles and jack-o'-lanterns.
Dean shook his head and said, firmly, "No, and it isn't going to. I've decided to break it off when I see him again."
Hermione was surprised. "Really? Why?" she asked, looking at Dean. As she did, she lost control of a few of the bats. They suddenly swooped down, just missing her head.
Dean ducked out of the way of the flying animals. "We don't have anything in common. He doesn't pay much attention to me. You'd think I was eye candy on his arm instead of the other way around."
Hermione waved her wand, casting a charm that pulled the errant bats back in line. "I dunno, Dean. I always found you attractive. I know a certain Irishman would agree with me."
"Really? Well, that's as may be," Dean answered. He studied the centerpieces on the tables for a moment, deciding a change of subject was in order. "What about your mystery man?" he asked.
"He sent me another note today, that he was sorry he wouldn't be able to sit with me at the feast tonight." Hermione grinned. "Which reminds me, I think Ginny's going to try to put Draco at the Gryffindor table."
Dean winced. "Talk about bravery. What does Ron think about that?"
"I don't think he knows yet. Heads up," she called, as she lifted the last of the candles from the floor behind Dean into the air above the tables. "What should I do next?" she asked.
Dean stood in the doorway, inspecting their handiwork. "I think we're finished. Thanks for your help with this."
"No problem." Hermione pushed her hair back from her forehead and looked at her watch. "Wow, it's almost time for dinner. I need to run back to the Tower."
As the two students reached the top of the stairs, they could hear loud voices coming from the common room. The Fat Lady shook her head, fanning herself with her handkerchief. "They're battling again, I'm afraid," she said.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Red rover," she said and the portrait hole opened.
Draco was standing next to Ginny, his arms crossed. "I was invited," he said. "Not that it's any of your business, Weasley."
Ron shouted back, "I don't care who invited you! It's bad enough that you're here more than in your own common room these days. I'm not eating my Halloween Feast with a obnoxious prat like you!"
"Can't you two knock it off for one night? It's Halloween!" Harry moaned in frustration.
Ever since Draco and Ginny had gotten back together, Harry had been attempting to keep Ginny's boyfriend and her brother from killing each other in the middle of the Gryffindor common room. After three weeks, the stress of the constant conflict was wearing him down. That, coupled with the lack of sleep due to his nightmare that morning, brought a desperate edge to his voice.
Ginny, for her part, stood rigid with anger and frustration, her fists clenched. No matter how many times she'd asked them to cool it, the fighting had continued and she was at her wit's end. Seamus stood behind her, rubbing her shoulders and trying to soothe her nerves.
Hermione was walking over to Ginny to give her a hug when she heard a loud voice behind her.
"Enough!" roared Dean.
The common room fell silent and everyone turned toward Dean. His eyes were narrowed and flashing, and he was pointing his finger at Ron and Draco.
"What, are you five years old?" he said. "Clearly, making Ginny upset every time you two go at it won't make you stop. But don't you think Harry has better things to do with his time and energy than being your referee? He's got some serious shit to deal with and you two sure as hell aren't helping him, you're distracting him. If You-Know-Who could see this, he'd be rubbing his little hands together." Dean paused, then said sarcastically, "In case you haven't noticed, there's a war coming. Guess what? You ended up on the same side. So you two can go out to the Quidditch pitch at dawn with pistols or swords or numchucks or fucking rubber chickens for all I care, or you can shake hands and behave like gentlemen." Dean crossed his arms and glowered.
Ron looked from Dean to Harry to Ginny. Seeing no one rushing to his defense, he sighed, lowered his shoulders and turned to Draco, his hand outstretched.
Draco, who'd been staring at the floor during Dean's lecture, looked up and saw Ron's proffered hand and reached out his own to shake it.
"This doesn't mean we're friends, Malfoy," Ron muttered.
The corners of Draco's mouth turned up slightly. "I would hope not, Weasley."
Ginny let out a long-held breath. She walked past Ron and Draco to Dean and stood up on her toes to give him a kiss on the cheek. "My hero!" she said, beaming.
Dean smiled shyly. "I do what I can." To the others, he said, "Okay folks, show's over. Time for the Feast." He took Ginny's arm and led her out of the common room.
Seamus watched them go, then turned to Hermione. "I'm going to marry that man," he said dreamily.
"Of course you are, dear," Hermione chuckled. "But perhaps you should eat dinner first."
Draco had called a Quidditch practice for early the morning after the feast. He'd rebuilt the team almost from scratch, breaking with Slytherin tradition by choosing witches for two of the three chasers and the keeper position. Only their desire to win, and their grudging respect for Draco as a player, kept his teammates in line during practice. Otherwise he was just as much of an outcast as ever, particularly as he'd sat with the Gryffindors during the Halloween feast. However, Slytherin would be playing Ravenclaw in the first game of the season, which was less than a month away. The young team needed the practice.
Draco emerged from the broom shed, faced with six scowling Slytherins he somehow had to get to work as a team while he floated about with Cho Chang. How Flint had accomplished it he had no idea but he was dammed if a little thing like the Dark Lord (never mind Harry Potter) was going to keep the Quidditch cup from his grasp. He took out the Bludgers and the Quaffle, then took to the air. When he looked behind him, he saw that the team had not followed. He circled back to where they stood and hovered above them.
"If this were for my benefit," he said, calmly, "I would have gotten out the Snitch. But I'm not the one who needs the practice. Care to join me?"
Sullenly, the others grabbed brooms, bats and balls and followed their captain onto the pitch. Once there, Draco began to put them through their paces, drilling the chasers on reverse passes while the beaters, slightly above, batted the Bludgers back and forth. More than once, Draco ducked out of the way of an errant Bludger but chalked it up to the beater's inattention. After this warm up, the team ran through several plays and formations that Draco had drawn up for the season.
Draco weaved around the other players as they flew, shouting out commands and new plays, needing to be satisfied that they could execute them without his supervision. He knew he was not experienced enough as captain to keep one eye on the team and one on the Snitch. It seemed that more than his share of Bludgers were coming his way but he tried not to ascribe any significance to that fact.
Suddenly, he saw out of the corner of his eye one of the Bludgers heading straight for his head, and only a quick and perfect sloth grip roll kept him from the infirmary. He rolled upright, his eyes flashing. With a wave of his wand he removed the charm from the practice balls, so they hovered around him. The other players stopped, staring at their captain.
Draco floated above them for a moment, trying to keep his temper under control. He ignored the impulse to throw his broom down and flee the pitch. He reckoned he'd been doing enough running of late.
"While I'm aware that the first aim of any good beater is to take out the seeker," he said evenly, "it does the team no good if you can't tell your own seeker from the opposing one."
"Are you our seeker?" asked Crabbe sarcastically. "Lately you've been looking more like Potter's reserve." The rest of the team laughed at this—all except Darcy Hamilton, a fourth year and the new keeper.
Draco smirked. "Well Crabbe, we do have a reserve for you. If you'd rather not play, I can replace you easily, in time for next month's game. Just say the word."
The laughter stopped.
"I am the captain, chosen by our house master." Draco paused to let this sink in, as the rumor in Slytherin House was that Severus Snape had been a Death Eater himself. He then continued to berate the team. "I will not allow the petty pranks of infantile beaters to interfere with this practice. If you're not interested in winning the cup for Slytherin then go, by all means."
No one moved.
"I thought so. It would do you well to remember that while you're on this team, you will follow my instructions. Is that clear enough for you, Crabbe?" he asked dryly.
"Yes," Crabbe muttered, grudgingly.
Draco nodded. "Very well. The reserve team will be joining us soon; we'll run through formations until we start the scrimmage." He released the balls into the air and the practice began again.
As Draco flew to a lofty observation post, he could feel the eyes of Hamilton upon him. He turned to look at her and she kept his gaze for a long moment. It was the first time in months that he could remember a housemate looking upon him with anything other than disdain. Then he was distracted by Zabini dropping the Quaffle and Hamilton returned to the double eight loop drill he'd set for her.