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Seven Years (and counting)

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August 31th, 2008
The Green Bedroom, Malfoy Manor

“Hello, my darling dragon. Aren’t you ready yet?”

Draco Malfoy looked up from his trunk and smiled when he saw his mother at the entrance of his room. Despite the late hour, Narcissa Malfoy nee Black was dressed meticulously in lavender-coloured silk robes, her pale golden hair pinned up and slightly curled. He could smell the gentle perfume of her skin powder as she came closer, but he also noticed the almost sad look she gave him that she had worn ever since he had received his Hogwarts Letter. He loved her dearly, he really did, but he wished she was a bit happier to see him finally go to school.

“Not quite, Mother. I can’t decide which books to take with me. Tween and Coco should soon be finished with my clothes, though.” He carelessly waved towards the two house-elves that were carefully folding his clothes (and a pair of Falmouth Falcons’ pyjamas) beside the big four-poster bed before sorting them into his school trunk. It was a fine piece of work, made out of dark, polished wood that was carved to depict a flock of splendid peacocks. The silver clasps and trims had been fashioned to look like serpents and the inside was lined in rich, dark green satin. His father had used it in his own school days, and his father before him, and his father before him.

“I could charm them to be smaller if you wish. I am sure one of the Prefects will reverse the spell for you. That way I might spend a little more time with you before I have to say goodbye tomorrow.”

He couldn’t help but scowl a bit at that, even though he didn’t really want to upset his mother. “I won’t be gone forever, and I promised to write to you as often as I can. I’m eleven, Mother, not an infant.” Deep inside, however, underneath his sullen reaction, he was pleased. It was very clear that his mother loved him just as much as he loved her. He just wished she wouldn’t cling so much now he was eleven at last.

“Oh, my little dragon. I’m your mother, dear. Each day will be an eternity for me.” The soft sigh got his attention and he hurried towards Narcissa when he saw that she was upset, in a sad and quiet way. When he was close enough to reach, his mother bent forward and gave him a hug before running her hands through his platinum blonde hair. “But like every other mother, I too will endure it. How about we sweeten the evening with a cup of hot chocolate?”

“Maybe two, mother. Who knows if the elves at Hogwarts know how to make a proper cup?” He smiled for her, bright and sweet, and was relieved when he saw some of the sadness disappear. He even hugged her a second time before turning around towards the house-elves.

“Tween, don’t forget my good pair of boots. Coco, once you’re finished with my robes, do place the books I considered on the table for later! And don’t forget to put ‘Erikson's Adventures’ into my bag, I might want to read it while I’m on the train!” The house-elves gave a small chorus of “Yes, Young Master Draco, sir!” and the boy finally let his mother drag him away.

~~~

September 1st, 2008
Great Hall, Hogwarts

The Great Hall was everything and more that his parents have told him about. Despite growing up in a large manor, Draco was very much impressed by the splendour of the castle, the rich feeling of its magic on his very skin. To see the Hall, the four tables, the night sky high above and the thousands upon thousands of floating candles above their heads, to hear the murmuring of hundreds of other wizards and witches… it was overwhelming and exciting.

The train ride had been pleasant enough. He had spent most of the ride with his friends Theodore Nott and Pansy Parkinson, as well as his sort-of-friends Gregory Goyle and Vincent Crabbe. He’d known them since he was a toddler, what with all of them having parents in the same social circles, and while Greg and Vince were not the smartest blokes, they’d been told to protect him should someone get funny ideas about the Malfoy Heir.

Draco soon spotted another familiar face and smiled. There sat Severus Snape, a long-time friend of his father and his own godfather. It would be Professor Snape from now on, and wasn’t that weird? Instead of a smile, he received a nod from the stern man which didn’t surprise Draco one bit - his godfather had always been a rather strict figure in his life, but he liked him well enough.

All in all the day promised to be one of the best in his life. Only two things were missing to make it perfect - him sitting at the Slytherin table and one Harry Potter sitting next to him. Despite a rigorous search of the train with the help of his friends he had been unable to spot the famously missing boy and even now he couldn’t see anyone amidst the First Years with the lightning bolt scar on the forehead. Which was why he started to pay a lot of attention when Professor McGonagall started to call the names of the First Years to be sorted into the Houses.

“Crabbe, Vincent!”
“Slytherin!”

“You owe me a Galleon, Nott,” Draco heard Pansy whisper. He snickered softly and watched the big boy walk towards the House of green and silver before guessing the sorting of the next kid.

“Goyle, Gregory!”
“Slytherin!”

“Granger, Hermione!”
“Gryffindor!”

“Greengrass, Daphne!”
“Slytherin!”

He watched as the pretty girl with the long, blonde hair floated towards the table, and clapped with appreciation. The Greengrass family was, after all, quite Noble, and it was always good to show your support, as his mother would say. “I hope you haven't bet on me,” he whispered towards his friends when another Galleon changed the owner in a flurry of movement.

“Malfoy, Draco!”

He quickly strode forward when he heard his name, and before he even had a chance to start worrying, it was over. The hat had barely touched his head before shouting out “Slytherin!” and he couldn’t help but smile victoriously towards Theodore and Pansy, who were both trying and failing to look indifferent. He did, however, notice that no coins had been exchanged, which he counted as a compliment.

The rest of the ceremony was just as exciting as the start of it. Draco dutifully clapped after each sorting (once or twice for every Gryffindor and a score for every Slytherin), remembering his mother’s instructions quite clearly regarding manners, and scanned the thinning crowd of unsorted children after Pansy had joined him. But alas, Potter was obviously still missing, which was a shame but not enough to spoil Draco’s fun for more than a couple of minutes. The last boy, “Zabini, Blaise!” joined the gaggle of green-clad Firsties soon enough and took a seat on Draco’s left side, looking quite satisfied with his sorting.

“Zabini, like Lady Serena Zabini?” Tracey Davies was the first one to speak up, as she was often wont to do. She had quite a talent for recognizing what others wanted to do, have or talk about, and the right mind to use it, which was very useful in conversations. That talent and her friendship with the aloof Heiress of House Greengrass made it not only acceptable but also intriguing to interact with the chipper half-blood. Especially when she was right in her guess - the boy’s smooth, dark skin, his sharp eyes and his handsome features had reminded Draco a lot of the devastatingly charming Lady Zabini who sometimes joined the pureblood festivities of Wizarding Britain. He had, however, not known about a son (an Heir!), nor that said unknown son would be one of his classmates.

“Just so,” was Zabini’s answer, a faint Italian accent noticeable in his voice. And then he smiled, showing his white teeth and causing a faint blush to appear on not only Davies’ but also Pansy’s cheeks.

“My name is Malfoy. Draco Malfoy,” he said quickly to regain control of the conversation. Draco had watched his father doing so often enough and was careful to emulate the posture he had seen on those occasions. The smile, however, was that of Narcissa. “And these are my friends Pansy Parkinson, Theodore Nott, Daphne Greengrass, Tracy Davies, Millicent Bullstrode, Gregory Goyle and Vincent Crabbe. Please excuse Tracey’s manners, I am sure she was just about to introduce herself.”

He smirked in Tracy’s direction, who sniffed and rolled her eyes at the jab. Next to him, Pansy was giggling softly while Greengrass shook her beautiful head at his antics. Zabini, however, had finally deigned to look at Draco and slowly raised one eyebrow, immediately making Draco quite jealous as he was still unable to do so. It was one of his godfather’s favourite expressions, and the boy had spent a lot of hours in front of the mirror trying to copy the stern man.

“I think I might just forgive her. Blaise Zabini, but please. Call me Blaise.”

For just a moment, Draco hesitated. Zabini was poised, charming, nearly as pureblooded as himself and definitely just as rich, what with a mother like Serena Zabini. This marked him as a clear rival for the role of the leader in Slytherin, First Year. But Zabini was also smiling at him and didn’t seem to be a bookworm like Theo, and surely he wasn’t as thick as Greg and Vince and, most importantly, he wasn’t a girl. With the Potter boy failing to show up, someone had to be his best friend, and his options were a bit limited. Draco knew of the importance of a good best friend to sweeten seven years of magical schooling. Everybody knew that. Draco had to ask himself: Did he want a rival, or a friend?

And so, they shook hands.

~~~

September 12th, 2008
Grounds, Hogwarts

Blaise Zabini was both the perfect best friend one could wish for and the biggest wanker walking this world. He fulfilled every label Draco had heaved on him that first night, but he was also intelligent, cunning and more of a gossip than Draco had ever met, including Pansy Parkinson who, of course, delighted in the company of one of her own kind. This resulted in her being constantly in their dorm despite the fact that they spent most of their days already in close company.

The Slytherin First Years were, indeed, a very close-knit group. Even Daphne deigned to bless them with her presence more often than not ever since Tracey Davies had attached herself to Theo claiming she needed one friend who understood her need for books. Which was fine, really, as long as Draco managed to cut the study sessions short by sacrificing Greg and Vince (“Really, do you want Professor Snape to assign real study groups? You really ought to pull your weight, because I don’t want to sit the whole day at a table just because you two can’t even transfigure a needle out of a matchstick! Go ask Davies or Nott for help.”) and thus incapacitating his overstudious friends with remedial lessons. Two weeks into term was far too soon to start with daily visits to the Library, thank you very much.

Especially not at such a crucial time. Today was the day they would finally be allowed to fly, and didn’t that still hurt, to part with his broom and then to wait for instructions before he could do so much as a lap around the castle! Draco Malfoy was simultaneously annoyed about the school’s policy that barred First Years from bringing their own brooms and excited to finally have a chance to properly show off his superior skills.

Which was, in a nutshell, why he was currently trying to out-do that horrible Weasley.

“... and then, out of nowhere, there was this muggle practically right in my face! Up in the air! Like, can you believe that? I later asked my Dad and he said that muggles are really crazy and do stuff like hang gliding. Hang Gliding! That’s what that muggle was doing! You know those kites on strings? It just looked like that, only far bigger, and the muggle clings to it. Really crazy, if you ask me, but there he was, eyes as big as saucers. I just managed to evade him with an Oswald Barrel Roll before diving down low enough to hide in the trees. Nearly gave me a heart attack, I tell you...”

“Well, I never saw these… Hang gliders for myself. Ridiculous idea, of course, and how would that work? But I did see one of those helicopters once, up close and all, and it was horrible, I tell you. The top of it spins real quick, you can barely see it, and I bet it would have crashed had I not reacted as fast as I did, but then I have been flying since I was four, naturally. Didn’t even start to worry, everything was perfectly under control…”

“And then there was this thing called an airplane! But not the big ones you sometimes see over Diagon, up in the sky, but a small one with only two seats and it was painted bright yellow. Didn’t know why the muggle was flying right over our house, mind you, but my brother Charlie said that he might have lost his way, but I was already flying up, you see…”

“Oh yeah? Well, have you ever heard of a jet?”

The shrill whistle of Madam Hooch disrupted the heated banter of Draco and Weasley, much to Draco’s relief. He had only once heard of a jet (some kind of faster planes and he really had to learn what planes were about, maybe Davies knew more?) and had scrambled for a good story to spin. He could practically feel Blaise’s smirk and scowled briefly in his direction before meeting eyes with Weasley who now stood in the midst of the gaggle of Gryffindors. Draco sneered, which was answered with a glare and a series of quick hand signs every Quidditch enthusiast should know. He nodded once before directing his attention back to the flying instructor.

“Did you just agree to race Weasley on school brooms?” Blaise asked incredulously while positioning himself next to one of said atrocities.

“Why, of course, Blaise. Everyone knows that the Weasels are practically raised on brooms. It might even be a bit of a challenge. Up!” And with a satisfying smack, the broom shot up against his palm.

~~~

December 25th, 2008
The Lavender Salon, Malfoy Manor

On a very basic level, Draco knew that he was a spoiled child. There was not much he really had to ask for, and what he asked for, he usually got quickly. That said, he never received more than five neatly packed presents from his parents, not on Christmas Day and not on his birthday. He did, of course, receive a sizeable number of presents from his friends and his parents’ friends, but his parents always stopped at five. Two from his father, two from his mother, and one joint gift, always the best of them all.

“It’s the new Nimbus 2000! Didn’t you say I was to wait until summer for one?” He was almost too afraid to touch the sleek, gleaming broom handle. His other gifts, some books and sweets, a new pair of dragonhide gloves, a set of beautiful dress robes and the introductory book on the Italian language from Blaise (together with a small booklet about famous and infamous Italian spells), laid forgotten around him as he knelt in front of the broom.

“You know as well as I do that Malfoy’s don’t wait for others, Draco,” his father admonished softly before smirking. “ Not even for other Malfoys. And I thought you could profit from it while you are here at the Manor. I do look forward to seeing you playing for your House next year.”

“I promise I won’t disappoint you, Father. I will certainly make the team. What a shame that I won’t be allowed to bring it with me!” He ignored the rolling of his father’s eyes and gave both his parents a woeful look, but to no avail. Placing the broom gently down, he raised to give them hugs and his mother a kiss on the cheek. He would try again to persuade them later, for sure.

It was later that day at dinner when he saw his father again. His parents had allowed him to test his new broom, and he had done so with great pleasure. The Nimbus 2000 was marvellous and he still mourned the fact that he would have to leave it at home come January when he returned to Hogwarts for his second term.

His mother greeted him with a hug before they sat down. She had been doting on him since his return for the holidays, but after more than three months without her, he had relished her open displays of motherly love. He was surprised, however, at the curt nod his father gave him. While not the most openly emotional man, Draco was used to a certain degree of warmth from the man, especially at Christmas. Lucius Malfoy, however, seemed tense and not well pleased, but even after a few seconds of contemplation, Draco couldn’t say why.

He should have known that his father chose that exact moment to enlighten him.

“I have just opened the report letter your school sent to me, Draco. First term, and already you show much promise. Severus is quite taken with your aptitude in Potions.”

The boy had to force himself not to smile at that. He was spoiled, that he knew, but he was not daft - he knew perfectly well that there was a ‘but’ attached to that statement, and it was not the right time to preen.

“It is a very interesting subject, father. I do enjoy it very much.” He picked his words very carefully, something his mother noticed almost immediately. He could see how she shifted her weight so that she faced father more than himself. He felt a measure of relief.

“That it is, Draco. That it is. Second best in Slytherin this year! How unfortunate that Miss Davies has not been sorted into Ravenclaw. Young Mister Theo and your friend Blaise also come close, which ought to keep you on your toes.”

It felt like stalking through the woods, Draco thought. A dense, dark forest known for its many pitfalls and traps. You knew they were there, but you didn’t know where and thus had to walk so slow, so careful. It was an awful feeling, especially when his own father was the one to make him feel that way.

“To be honest, I wasn’t sure if Blaise had beaten me or not. He does his mother proud.” He watched his father closely and saw the soft purse of his lips. Which meant that he didn’t agree with Draco, but saw nothing wrong with being friends with Blaise.

“We will see. Still, you did very well this term. Fifth place overall, with Miss Davies in third place. I see one Sue Li on second and one Anthony Goldstein on fourth. I do not, however, recognize the name Granger, a Gryffindor First Year.”

And there it was, the reason for his father's ruined mood. Hermione Granger, muggle-born. A mudblood, as his father would say, even though Draco tried not to parrot that term when at school, not when Millicent Bulstrode’s mother was a muggle-born herself, a girl that could hold her own against Greg or Vince. Especially not when his own godfather was known for his harsh punishments whenever a Slytherin so much as muttered the slur outside of the dormitories, for reasons yet unknown. Draco even suspected that his mother had a disdain for that term, if only because it was rather uncouth to use it in public.

Still, the fact remained that she was a muggle-born, and without a doubt a proper genius. He didn’t know a lot about her besides whatever piece of gossip Pansy and Blaise were able to force down his throat and what Ronald Weasley had to say about the know-it-all at their weekly broom race (they had recently been joined by Weasley’s friend, Seamus Finnigan, and a Ravenclaw boy named Terry Boot).

He did know, however, that her only friend was Neville Longbottom, which was likely the reason why the boy had not yet flunked most of his classes.

“It would be near impossible to beat her, to be honest. She spends most of her time in the library and I heard she’s already working on extra credit. The teachers love her except uncle Severus and they say that she can remember almost everything she reads. And she reads a lot.”

That was probably the wrong thing to say. His father’s eyes narrowed on him, his mouth pressed into a thin, angry line. Next to him, his mother stiffened for one single moment, eyes on her husband.

“And when exactly have I raised my only son and Heir to give up so easily, especially when it comes to mudbloods?” Draco had not once heard his father scream, not even today. Instead of getting louder, the silken voice of Lord Malfoy went cold and distant with silent fury and cut like a sharpened knife. Draco flinched, but he also felt a rising annoyance to be blamed for not being on the same level as the obnoxious girl, muggle-born or not. “I won’t have it, Draco, and you will do better-”

“Lucius.” Draco relaxed ever so slightly. His father, however, found himself silenced by his wife’s soft voice and gentle smile. “Do not pressure our son overmuch. After all, his marks are even better than yours had been when you were his age, remember?” Hers was a gentle knife, but she knew how to twist it - it was one of the many things that Draco admired about her. “It’s depressing just thinking about my darling dragon spending all his time learning when he should make friends instead.” She smiled again before continuing eating her meal - she already knew she had won, she always did when she chose to challenge her husband. It didn’t happen often, but it was mostly for his sake, something Draco would treasure for always.

“Of course, my love.” His father’s voice was rather tight, but he did let the matter drop, for which Draco was thankful. He hated it when his father became angry over such small things. It didn’t make the rest of the meal any less awkward, though.

~~~

February 12th, 2009
The Library, Hogwarts

Everyone knew that the Granger girl was a genius. She had entered the world of magic and wonders and declared that she would do her best. Her best, as it turned out, was a standard so high that even the Ravenclaw Firsties had given up to match her stellar and outstanding theoretical work and, often enough, exemplary practical work too.

But what she had in brains she lacked in her social life. Her roommates still hadn’t warmed up to the bookish girl and the Gryffindor boys were known to occasionally tease her ever since she had dared to correct Weasley in a most snobbish way, or so rumour had it. Her only friends were Neville Longbottom, a perpetual friendly and painfully shy boy, as well as a Ravenclaw girl named Lisa Turpin, though Pansy had once said that Turpin only hung out with Granger to benefit from her well-organized study schedule and otherwise was wont to gossip behind her back.

It wasn’t like Draco was suddenly obsessed with her. He only sometimes listened to Blaise’s and Pansy’s banter at breakfast or watched the bushy-haired girl a couple of times when he was at the Library. It was a strange mix of curiosity and disdain he felt for her. Curiosity because she was a muggle-born and a Gryffindor and still ahead of them all in her studies, disdain because she had been the reason why his Christmas holidays had been a bit of an awkward business for the last week, with mother and father talking in very polite tones to each other and Draco tip-toeing around to not upset either of them. It wasn’t a fight per se, but he knew that his parents had a very different view on his upbringing and that his mother’s protection was the only thing that saved him from a boring school life dedicated to outdoing Granger.

“You know, her hair is rather unique, I can see why you are suddenly so taken.”

The wry remark came from Blaise and was followed by the soft snickering of their friends. Draco scowled and lifted his chin, chiding himself for getting caught staring at Granger. Because he was not obsessed, damn it! He was relatively sure of that. He just happened to get lost in his own thoughts while looking in her direction.

“I have no idea what you are talking about, Zabini. But if you like her hair so much, why don’t you go and ask her out?” he retorted. Pansy was practically chortling now, while Vince looked around rather confused - he had tried to understand Davies lecture about the DADA assignment before the conversation had gone from the tickling curse they were ought to learn to dating Granger.

“Why would Zabini want to go out with a mudblood?”

And with that little remark, the whole table fell silent. Silent enough to clearly hear the soft gasps from other students. Because, of course, Vincent had spoken loud enough that those sitting close had heard it. They were in the library, for Merlin’s sake.

“You should better go apologize now, Vincent,” Pansy said evenly, but her hands were clenched around her DADA book. “Because Granger looks close to tears. Professor Snape doesn’t like her, but he’s really prissy when it comes to that word.”

“I still don’t get it, I mean it’s what she is, right?”

“Crabbe!” This was Davies, and she practically hissed his name. “Just go and apolo- Oh, dear!”

This time, Draco did turn around, and he was fast enough to watch Granger throw her books into her bag before running out of the library, her Gryffindor friend on her heels. Longbottom looked visibly worried and, surprisingly, very angry when he glanced back towards the Slytherin First Years. Other students were watching them too, a mixture of indifference, anger and offence. Curiously, Draco felt himself squirm slightly under the collective disdain.

“I’ll go if you won’t do it, or else it will only get worse,” he offered. Blaise looked surprised and oddly pleased by that statement.

“Let me keep you company then.”

They were quick to exit the Library. Draco had no intention to listen to Davies hissing reproachfully at Vincent for the rest of their study session or to watch Pansy as she tried to keep her face free of open disdain for the stupid boy. Not because of the looming detentions or the threat of lost points. No, their little world had changed after Harry Potter had survived the Killing Curse. His father loved to complain about it. About how good the old days had been, when mudbloods knew their place and the purebloods had been at the top. Always at the top.
Draco knew that Pansy’s father was the same, just like Greg’s and Vince’s parents and Theo’s father. And he was keenly aware of how Draco’s own mother never said these things, only that he had to be clever and cunning, that he had to understand the crowd before he could rule it. And the crowd hated the term mudblood and those who openly used it. It was something to say behind closed doors, something to be hidden, to be hissed and spat around in anger and disgust.

Something Draco had no intentions of copying from his father, regardless of how much he loved him, because it was the very reason why the boy occasionally feared Lucius Malfoy.

“We don’t really have purebloods in Italy, you know.” Draco was startled out of his reflections and turned his head around to stare at Blaise. They were heading towards the staircases because according to the students they asked a Firstie with really bushy hair had run towards the Gryffindor Tower.

“You don’t?”

“Si. We have old families, and some are pureblooded according to the British High Society, but no one cares about someone’s parents. The old families judge others depending on how rich you are, or how influential. But mostly they judge you by how powerful you are. Especially when it comes to marriage. An Heir might marry a muggle-born, but only if they are capable enough with their magic. Mother says that this is the reason why she decided to raise me in Italy, so that I won’t grow up with… outdated ideas.”

Draco was silent for a long time. He had noticed that Blaise was very comfortable talking to other students, regardless of their Houses and blood status. But it was Blaise, charming and poised and well-liked, and no one gave him a hard time for his ‘quirk’. Only that it wasn’t a quirk. For Blaise, it was normal to talk to muggle-borns. For Draco, who had grown up with a father who thought that only purebloods were worth his time, with the occasional well-bred half-blood thrown into the mix, it was a daunting thought.

“I… will think about it. Is it a secret? I won’t tell if it is.”

Blaise smiled, showing off his white, even teeth.

~~~

They had followed Granger until they finally caught up with her on the sixth floor. Longbottom was still with her at that point, and luckily she had stopped crying. Her eyes were red and puffy, though, which made Draco nearly squirm again.

“What are you doing here?” Longbottom sounded angry and accusing and he actually tried to stand between Granger and them. It was surreal to watch the normally shy boy showing some backbone.

“Following you. More precisely, Miss Granger here.” He hesitated for a moment before looking at said girl who glared right back, distrustful and sad and angry. He remembered his mother being sad (he couldn’t remember her ever being angry or distrustful towards him), and how ugly a feeling that had been for him. Like the squirm he had felt, just a lot stronger. Which was why he raised his hands in a peaceful manner. “Only to apologize for Vincent’s words, I promise.”

“Because it’s not like you all think about me that way, anyway!” Granger spat, clenching her hands into trembling fists. Yes, definitely angry.

“Yes, because that is a given - all Slytherins are, after all, blood purists and bigots, right?” Blaise’s drawl caused both Gryffindors to flinch back a bit and Draco to roll his eyes. “Millicent Bullstrode is a half-blood, and so is Tracey Davies, and her mother is a muggle. And while some of our parents do have certain… opinions, that doesn’t mean that we agree with them. Now that we have established some facts, we are really very sorry about Vincent’s remark about you. I assure you that he likely didn’t mean it as a slur.”

Longbottom snorted at the last part, but he had the decency to look guilty afterwards. Granger, however, quickly lost her anger, which left her exhausted and sad.

“And how did he mean it, if not as an insult?” She still sounded weary. It was beyond Draco how one could not understand what Blaise had meant, but then, she was a Gryffindor and likely to think differently. He scowled a bit, but was quick to explain.

“It’s how we’re brought up, that wizards and witches born from muggle parents are called mudbloods. Now, most of us can think for ourselves, which is why we use the correct term.” She didn’t need to know that one of the biggest reasons was a reasonable fear for uncle Severus. “Vincent, on the other side, is not the best cauldron in the cupboard. He knows that your parents are muggles, therefore you are a mudblood. It’s not that he hates you, or even dislikes you, it’s how he learned it. I promise you, Davies is currently doing her best to correct that.”

Draco stopped his dry lecture and lifted his chin imperiously while watching their reactions. Longbottom looked shocked. Granger looked thoughtful. Which was better than her looking angry again, or, Merlin forbid, sad.

“So he… doesn’t know better?” she asked tentatively and sighed in relief when both Slytherin boys nodded at that.

“He usually just does as he’s told,” Blaise added to be on the safe side.

“Apology accepted?” Draco asked.

Hermione Granger smiled.

~~~

May 24th, 2009
Snape’s Office, Hogwarts

“Mr Malfoy, please come to my office after dinner.”

The last three months had passed without any major incidents. Exams were closing in, resulting in Draco spending much more time in the library than he thought was healthy, but other than that, life in Hogwarts was just as fun as he had imagined it. The Slytherin First Years had become a tight-knit group, so much so that his tentative friendship with Granger and even Longbottom, one that had started after the Mudblood incident, was not frowned upon by his friends. He had also been very careful not to alert any of the older Slytherins of his association with the two Gryffindors. There were too many sons and daughters of his father’s business partners in his House to risk being too open about it. It had helped him tremendously, however - he was closing in on Davies in terms of grades, so much so that he wasn’t sure if he would place second or first within his House at the end of the term. All in all a very nice end of his first year.

Which was why he was so startled when he heard the request of his godfather and Head of House.

Oh, he’d been invited by his godfather a couple of times to spend some quality time with him, but those invites had always come by owl. And never to his office, too - Draco was one of the very few who had the privilege of being allowed to enter Snape’s private rooms to join his godfather for a spot of tea and a couple of biscuits while talking about his studies and friends. This, however, was definitely not an invitation from his godfather, but from his Professor. It was something serious, certainly. But what about? Surely he had done nothing bad?

Blaise and Pansy were practically glued to his side after he left the Potions classroom, discussing possible reasons why Draco had been called out. But they, too, were clueless - the only thing that came to Pansy’s mind was Vincent’s slip-up back in February. Blaise’s guesses were Draco’s association with Granger and Weasley. Especially Weasley and the whole Quidditch club that had formed out of the rivalry between the two and which now had eight members of all Houses in it. Draco hoped it was neither. He would never hear the end of it should it reach his father’s ears. Not even his mother would be able to prevent Lucius from sending Draco off to Durmstrang should it be known that he was spending time with muggle-borns and blood traitors.

“Good luck,” Blaise whispered when it was time for Draco to face the music.

~~~

When the door closed behind him Draco could not only hear the audible click but also a faint sizzling sound that indicated that a privacy spell had been activated. That didn’t help to calm the anxiety that only grew when the boy saw his godfather behind the large desk. Parchment was stacked high on both sides, framing the stern Professor in a very severe way. In front of the desk stood a wooden, high-backed chair that was dreaded by a large population of the castle, one which Draco never had the displeasure to sit on before.

“Take a seat, Mr Malfoy. Do not dawdle.” Snape waited for Draco to sit down on the uncomfortably hard chair before sifting through some of his parchments. Draco couldn’t quite make out what was written on them, but he saw that it was solely filled with his godfather's spidery script. He knew better than to speak out and waited until Snape was ready with his preparations and once again looked at the boy.

“I will not waste my time with idle chit-chat. I called you here to clarify a couple of things that I have noticed during your first year at Hogwarts, things that I first want to talk through with you before deciding how to continue with the information I have gathered. You will answer me truthfully - you know that I will notice should you decide to lie to me, as well as the consequences of such a decision.” He paused for a moment, but not in hesitation. It felt like the kind of pause that served to drive the message home. Draco swallowed and nodded his understanding. He had a hard time not to look down or away, but he knew that such behaviour was frowned upon by his godfather.

“Yes, Sir.”

“Good. There are a couple of things we will be talking about today. More precisely, you will tell me about how those situations came to be, and what your thought process was in each individual case. First is your little Quidditch Club that started September 21st, not two weeks after your first Flying lessons. As of now, the members are Mr Boot and Mr Entwhistle, Ravenclaw First Years, Mr Hopkins and Miss Abbott, Hufflepuff, Mr Ronald Weasley and Mr Finnigan, Gryffindor, as well as Miss Davies and yourself from Slytherin. Explain.”

And so, Draco did. As best as he could, he described his banter with the youngest Weasley, their little racing bet during Flying lessons and the ongoing meetings that were the results of the said race. That he and Weasley weren’t quite friends, but that the time spent on a broom with the slowly growing group was enjoyable enough. Furthermore, there had been a refreshing absence of House bias between them and provided the opportunity to meet potentially useful allies in other Houses, something that was not very prominent in the upper classes. It was also a way for Draco to spend some time on a broom, so much that he felt confident enough to try out for Seeker next year.

Not once did Snape interrupt him in his careful, yet honest explanation. Not even when Draco started to talk about Granger and Longbottom, the other two people outside of Slytherin he had met on a regular basis since February. It encouraged him to talk about everything - about the views of his peers, the pressure from the upperclassmen, about what had happened at Christmas. About Vincent’s slip-up and Draco’s apology. About how much he had benefited from knowing Granger, at least when it came to his studies, despite her being a muggle-born.

When he finally stopped talking, he felt strangely empty, but in a good way. Like a weight had been taken off his shoulders. His anxiety was gone, and he had no problems looking his godfather in the eyes. There was only anticipation and then elation when he saw approval in them, followed by a single nod.

“I was worried,” Snape started, and with a flick of his dark wand, the chair suddenly felt much more comfortable. “Worried about how you would fit into Hogwarts. But I was wrong to worry about you. I am quite proud, Draco.”

“But why? I… I mean, I am glad that you are, Uncle Severus. But you know Father. You’re friends. Why would you be proud of the way I’ve behaved behind his back?”

“Because you are more than the son of a friend. You are my godson, and thus I expect you to think for yourself and form your own opinions. It is true that your father and I have been friends for a long time now, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I share his values and opinions. A Slytherin should never eschew an opportunity when the gain outweighs the cost, but for many years this had been the norm - to wave away anyone who doesn’t meet a certain wasteful standard. But it has been my decision to watch and observe how you would act when on your own - a decision, I might say, that has been supported by your mother.”

Draco looked up sharply, his eyes wide when Snape mentioned his mother. For a couple of long moments, he examined the sallow face of his godfather before he smiled at him. It felt good to know that two of his three most favourite adults were firmly on his side.

“Thank you, Uncle. And I will make sure that I won’t try to keep things a secret from you next year.”

Snape snorted. “Don’t make me promises you can’t keep. I was a student once, too.”

~~~

June 20th, 2009
Kings Cross Station, London

“There you are, darling!” His mother’s embrace felt warm and welcoming, and Draco delighted in the sweet smell of her perfume and the soft touch of her hands on his hair. He did, however, sigh when she placed a kiss on his forehead, if only because he was twelve and it was something boys of his age did.

“Hello, Mother. Hello, Father. I missed you.” His smile and his words were genuine. And if they were more heartfelt for his mother, no one would ever know. He still loved his father, after all, and felt warm and affectionate when he noticed the small smile on Lucius’ lips - that would not change, he was sure, just because he valued different things than his father.

He might even talk with him about those differences. Maybe in a year or five.

Today it was enough for him to know that only Narcissa noticed his discreet wave across the station towards a certain bushy-haired girl. To know that, despite this, her smile would never grow cold for him.

Chapter Text

September 1st, 2009
Hogwarts Express

He would never say it aloud (a bloke’s got his pride, you see), Ronald Billius Weasley was looking rather forward to the meeting of the ‘Racers’, a small club of former First Years that enjoyed to fly together during the previous year. It was weird, but also exciting - the unofficial club had, after all, a couple of Slytherin attending. Draco Malfoy is one of them.

Ron just hoped that his brothers wouldn’t notice. Or his little sister, who thankfully clung to Percy instead of him, even after the Prefect tried to explain to the eleven-year-old girl that he would have to attend the Prefect’s meeting.

“Ron! There y’are! Come on!” That was Seamus’ voice. And there he was, the gangly Irish boy, leaning out of a window to wave him in. So Ron kissed his mother goodbye and hurried over to the train before Ginny could latch onto him instead, as fast as he could with his heavy trunk in tow. It was his sister’s first train ride, and like him, she ought to find some friends on her own without bothering him.

Inside the train, it was easy to lose the prying twins to their friend Lee Jordan. It was rather crowded - it seemed like a Weasley tradition to arrive late, but Ron didn’t mind since it cut short the time in which his mother would smother them with kisses and hugs. For a moment he felt a bit bad about that though, but he soldiered on. He was a big boy now, and while he still missed his parents while in school, he had missed his friends (and fellow Quidditch enthusiasts from Slytherin and Ravenclaw, since, you know, he couldn’t call them his friends, now could he?) just as much during their summer holidays, and he was eager to sit with them.

“Morning, Weasley.”

“Hey, Ron!”

“How was your summer?”

It was nice, he thought, grinning madly at the seven other children already sitting in the compartment. It was a tight fit, more so since the girls and a couple of boys had grown quite a bit, but they managed after a bit of shuffling around while launching questions about each other’s summer and, ugh, the assigned homework, until they reached their favourite topic over which they had bonded during their last year.

“Who’s going to try out then? Hufflepuff is already full, but the other teams have open spots, I heard!” Wayne Hopkins was a slightly chubby Hufflepuff with golden curls and even more freckles than Ron. He was also very enthusiastic about the Beater position and once told Ron that he admired Ron’s elder twin brothers for their skills.

“You reckon there won’t be any tryouts for you, then?” Terry Boot, a Ravenclaw, frowned heavy at this, but Hannah Abbott, another Hufflepuff, was quick to answer.

“Oh, I’m sure there will be. Wayne is ever so sure that our Beaters are better than him, is all.”

Her smiles were really nice, Ron thought. All big and bright and with dimples on her cheeks.

“Well, they are! Anyway, I think I will try next year. Daman Bakshi told me that he’ll probably stop playing for his seventh year.”

Malfoy hummed at that. “I want to try out. Can’t hurt to start early, I say. Seeker’s open.”

“Ours, too. My brother Percy told me that Wood, the Captain, was rightly pissed off with that wanker McLaggen.” The last part was said with fervour - there was no friendship lost between the Gryffindor lads and the arrogant Cormac McLaggen. The rest of his friends accepted this with due cheer, even the Slytherins (who, of course, were still not his friends. The were just… acquaintances).

“So you going to try out? You too, Finnigan?” Kevin Entwhistle leaned forward, eager for an answer, and whooped when Ron gave a decisive nod. Seamus, however, shook his head.

“Not me, mate. I’m kinda with Wayne here, but the Weasleys aren’t gonna quit anytime soon.”

“That’s tough,” Malfoy commented, but his sharp eyes swiftly moved back to Ron himself. “You sure you want to play Seeker? You are best as Keeper.”

Terry Boot hummed thoughtfully. “Well, he can start as one before swapping places, can’t he? But I reckon you’d outgrow Seeker in a couple of years, Ron. You’re already one of the tallest blokes.” He said the last part with a touch of envy - he and Wayne had grown the least over summer.

“I can’t very well play Keeper, not with Wood there…” Ron shook his head, but he knew that Seeker wasn’t what he wanted. Now, to block the enemy from scoring? That was really neat!

“It’s a shame that there are only four teams, anyway. They have clubs for everything but sports,” Terry sighed.

“We could always ask to make it official. I’m sure ol’ Dumbledore wouldn’t mind, and we are old enough to have our own brooms.”

Ron nearly missed the quick glance between Malfoy and Tracey Davies, the Slytherins, while the rest of them started to excitedly talk about the idea. It was weird - as if they didn’t need to talk at all, just like Fred and George sometimes. And whatever they were thinking, it wasn’t very nice for Malfoy who frowned.

“Don’t you want to have a club?” he blurted out while petting his pet rat Scabbers. He wasn’t friends with them (maybe a little, because they all liked Quidditch, see?), but Malfoy was a good Seeker and Davies was fearless on a broom. He would miss them - and wasn’t that surprising for him to think? To miss two Slytherins who were a bit okay, behind their poncy behaviour?

The other kids stopped talking, eyes on Ron, Malfoy and Davies. The blonde girl grimaced slightly at all the attention. “It’s not that easy, Weasley,” she said and fiddled with the fabric of her pretty blue robes. “For us, it’s a big thing. And there are still a lot of people that wouldn’t like the idea of us spending time with you. Any of you,” she added quickly and gestured around.

“Most of our year know about it, mind you,” Malfoy took over. “And they don’t care about that. But others would care a great deal, especially my father, and I absolutely can’t let him know. Which isn’t that bad, because I wouldn’t be able to join an official club anyways the moment I join the House Team.”

And suddenly, Ron felt so very foolish. Of course, they all had known that Malfoy and Davies had kept their meetings a secret, but then most of them had treated it as such, thinking it a nice game. It was Malfoy who had chosen the place where they would fly, well out of view, but Ron hadn’t thought much about it.

To think that they had to hide it just so that they could keep on flying was baffling for the young Weasley. It felt so complicated, and he didn’t envy them in the slightest. Still, he felt a pang of something. No more flying with them…

And then Davies’ voice interrupted his thoughts. “But I think I can join,” she said and nudged Malfoy when he narrowed his eyes. “Come off it. You know perfectly well that Millie and I aren’t under as much pressure as any of you.” She smiled, then, and turned back to the others. “And it might help with getting some other Slytherins on board. If we start a club, it needs to be open to everyone, after all. We might get a lot of attention, who knows. There are lots of people who like to fly, but who aren’t good or popular enough to make the teams.”

“Oh, thank Merlin you’ll stay! I would hate to be the only girl here!” Hannah said to the great amusement of Davies while the boys were booing her. “And Draco, we’ll keep your secret, I promise. We can still come together when we all have the time for it. Friends should stay together after all.”

Ron wasn’t the only one who was surprised by that. Malfoy looked genuinely shocked when little Hannah Abbott leaned forward to pat his hands.

~~~

September 20th, 2009
The Library, Hogwarts

“Let me see,” Susan Bones said and made for Ron’s half-finished Herbology essay. For a moment the young redhead bristled, but Hannah nudged him with her elbow and he let go of the parchment for Susan to have a look at it. Next to them, Seamus and Dean were giggling behind their hands - he threw them a look of utter betrayal.

It was all Terry’s fault, anyway. Kevin and he had gone to Hannah and Wayne, and somehow that had lead to more invitations because Hufflepuffs had been involved. From their little racer’s club everyone but the Slytherins had met up in the Library (and even then, Malfoy and Davies had managed to organize another study group - almost all of their Slytherin year mates sat only a couple tables away), but more had joined to make up for that. Seamus had dragged Dean with him, and Hannah had managed to bring most of the Hufflepuffs with her. And it was nice enough, Ron reckoned - Susan Bones had a way to explain Herbology to him, and Justin Finch-Fletchley was really good at History.

He only wished that they wouldn’t be so very enthusiastic in checking his work, really.

“That’s better. You need to add more about the harvesting methods, but otherwise it’s solid.”

“There’s not much more in the book, though,” Ron said and frowned at his essay. Ten inches on Swaying Poppies, from seedling to harvest. “I could try for the extra credit, two inches for the use of them.”

“That or a couple of sentences more on what you have. I think Domesticated Greenery has a chapter on Poppies, too. Both are enough for an E.”

Ron scrunched up his face, making Hannah and Susan grin. “An A would be more than enough,” he muttered but he got up all the same to grab the book Susan had mentioned. It wouldn’t be too much extra work after all. And it was something to write home about, even if it will probably be old news, what with Percy’s perfect marks every year.

On his way back to his group (who had pushed two tables together to make place for them and their books and parchments) he passed a single table with only two occupants. Hermione Granger looked up and frowned at him before bending down over her work again - she was working on her Transfiguration homework, Ron saw, but it was way too long again. He stopped for a moment, hesitating, but when Neville Longbottom gave him a warning look, he was quick to continue.

“Granger’s at it again. Double the length that’s needed and she’s still working on it,” he whispered to Dean and Seamus. It was rather unthinking, especially in their current group. Granger didn’t have many friends (only Neville, really), but Hannah had been angry with the Gryffindor boys anyway when she had found Hermione crying in a girl’s toilet last year. It had led to a long talk with their Head of House, McGonagall, who had made the Gryffindor boys apologize to Granger before the end of term. It was better now, but she was still an outsider in her own house. Even Neville got along with the other boys (despite him being very defensive for her) - Parvati and Lavender were just not interested in making friends with the bushy-haired girl, and Ron couldn’t fault them. She was a bit too stuck up and fast to belittle you if you got something wrong.

Of course that didn’t matter much when it came to Hannah. She was a fierce one and didn’t stand for teasing another girl - or boy, for that matter.

“Ron!” she hissed.

“What? I’m not calling her names or anything! Just telling the truth. McGonagall keeps telling her that she doesn’t have to write as much. Can’t see how a teacher would even want that, it’s just more work for them to do.”

“There’s a reason she has the best grades in our year. Still, you shouldn't talk about her when she’s not here to defend herself.”

The little squabble between them didn’t go unnoticed and soon Susan, Justin and Kevin were huddling closer to Hannah and the Gryffindor boys while the others were still working on their assignments.

“What’s the deal with her, anyway? She only ever hangs out with Neville. I know he’s sweet, but it still must be lonely. I know for a fact that she doesn’t go with him whenever he visits the Greenhouses to help Professor Sprout,” Susan said, eyeing the bushy-haired girl who had started to hunch over her length of parchment. There was a bit of ink on her fingers which were almost cramped around her quill.

“She doesn’t have any other friends. Kind of botched that up real fast, what with her showing off all the time last year. Granted, we teased her a lot for it, but it wasn’t without a reason.” Dean shook his head, doodling on a piece of scrap paper while talking. Hannah frowned again, but Justin beat her to it.

“And I bet you never told her why you lot were teasing her in the first place.” Three identical baffled faces had him grinning. “My sister was just the same, you know. She was sent to this really good school for really bright kids, so it never became a problem, but at home she would start to show off. She was used to it, didn’t realize how it looks to us normal brains, until our father took her aside. I reckon Granger has the same problem, with her being really smart.”

“Well… we don’t really have an extra school for that sort of thing,” Hannah allowed, fiddling with her quill. “But that makes things a lot easier to solve, yes? We ought to explain to her. I like Neville a great deal, but he’s just so shy, he would never say anything like that.”

“Not to Granger he won’t, but he had a lot to say to us,” Ron said, wincing a bit at that memory. The usually shy boy had looked more furious than McGonagall and had given his dorm mates a good talking to about how to treat a girl and all. Next to him, Seamus’ ears reddened, likely thinking of the same. He quickly shoved the memory aside, however, when both Hannah and Susan stood up and scurried over to Granger’s desk.

“Oh, bother,” he murmured when, after a couple of minutes during which the girls chatted with Granger and Neville, all four of them made their way towards their group after quickly gathering their books. He ducked away a bit, turning more towards the other blokes.

“Stop making such a fuss. Her joining us won’t be so bad, anyway. She’s top of the class in most subjects, and by a large margin too.” Anthony Goldstein, a friend of Terry and another Ravenclaw, eyed the girl in question just as she took a seat between Neville and Hannah. Neville looked around warily, but also hopeful - Granger looked mostly surprised.

“Just what I needed. More learning,” Ron groaned.

~~~

October 3rd, 2009
Headmaster’s Office, Hogwarts

Ron felt more than just a bit nervous - it was his first time visiting the Headmaster’s office, after all. Why he had been elected to make their pleas, he couldn’t fathom, but here he was, together with Davies and Hannah, sitting on plush chairs and facing Dumbledore himself who smiled brightly at the three students.

“Sherbert lemon, anyone?” he offered and showed them a beautifully carved wooden box filled with small, yellow candies. There was a sizeable dent in them already and the old man was eyeing the sweets with a fond look.

“Thanks, Headmaster,” Hannah said, being her usual cheerful self as she took one of the candies. Davies, more polite, declined, but Ron took one, too, just to have something to soothe his nerves.

“Now, what is the matter? I know for certain that none of you is in trouble. It’s rare for students to visit me without the presence of their irate Head of Houses.” Dumbledore winked at them and Ron felt himself relaxing as he sucked on the sour-sweet.

“It’s about Quidditch, sir,” Davies started and took a deep breath. “You see, we had something like a club going on last year, since we couldn’t try for our teams, but now we still can’t, or have not much hope for a place. And we thought, well, since only so few can play on the House teams, why isn’t there an official club for this?”

“And we wanted to ask if we could make one. For all those who don’t care or aren’t good enough for the teams but wouldn’t mind a pick-up game or two, and maybe even training. Without the Quidditch lessons, most don’t think they can use the pitch for themselves,” Ron helped her out, leaning forward eagerly. It was almost like the sour edge of the candy helped him keep a clear head, but maybe it was Dumbledore himself - he looked like he had a jolly time with them, not angry or annoyed at them at all, as Ron had feared.

“That’s a very bright idea you had!” he exclaimed and took another candy out of his box. “Why, in my time we had something similar, and the Captains were wont to pick out their players directly from the pitch. A really good idea, indeed. Now, let’s see…”

He opened a drawer of his impressive desk and fished out a sheet of parchment. “Ah, here it is! You will need a supervisor for the club. Normally, a prefect or even an older student would suffice, but since this is Quidditch we are talking about and none of you is old enough yet, why not ask Madam Hooch? She only has two lessons a week, three at the most when a year has many students, but other than that she hasn’t got much to do. I am sure she would be delighted...”

The rest of the meeting went on without a hitch and when the Racers left the office, Ron couldn’t help but grin.

“Let’s go search for the others to tell them! Trace, do you think Draco is finished with his tryouts already?” Hannah kept on bouncing along the hallways, her pigtails merrily bobbing along.

“It’s almost lunch, so he should be back. Let's tell the others after, though, to keep them on their toes a little,” Davies said and broke into a mischievous smile that had Ron laughing.

“Yes,” he agreed with a chortle. “Let’s!”

~~~

“Lunch is over, Weasley, now talk,” Seamus said excitedly the moment they left the Great Hall. Dean was walking beside them, but Ron didn’t mind much - the boy was pleasant and he wouldn’t mind him joining the club, now that it was only a matter of time for its formation, so him listening in wasn’t much of a deal.

“Just a couple more minutes, we want everyone to hear it the same time. That’s why we’re meeting all up, remember?”

“Spoilsport,” the Irish boy muttered, making Dean laugh. “We already know the gist of it, with the way Hannah was smiling the whole time. Just say yes or no, Ron, we’re mates!”

“Maybe,” Ron laughed as an answer, earning a cuff on the side of his head. “Oi!”

“Ron, wait!”

“Oh, bother…” He turned around, a grimace on his face. Dean and Seamus looked at each other and burst out laughing, which made Ginny, who had run up to them, scowl.

“You don’t have to pull that face, Ronald,” she said sharply. Her Ravenclaw friend, the ditzy blonde girl with huge, blue eyes, trailed after her and stared intently at Dean, who slowly stopped chortling under her stare. “I just wanted to warn you. Percy just heard someone saying that you had been up to the Headmaster’s office. He’s in a right fit about it and probably waiting for you in the common room.”

Ron felt a bit ashamed after that. Here he was, trying to avoid his baby sister, when she was only trying to warn him. “Thanks, Gin,” he offered her his apology, which she accepted with a small nod. “I will be up in a bit. Speaking of that…” He suddenly perked up and eyed his sister. “When I’m back, I need to tell you something, too. I might add a chocolate frog if you keep Percy from writing to mum right away, yes?”

“Sure,” she answered easily, taking the hand of her friend almost instinctively when the blonde walked up to a nervous-looking Dean, still staring at him. “Luna, if you want to say something, do it now, I want to show you our common room.”

“She can’t go there,” Seamus protested.

“Of course I can,” Luna said serenely. Her voice was as breezy as her whole demeanour. “It’s not against the rules. Everybody can enter the Ravenclaw tower if they can solve the riddle, after all.”

“And I won’t tell her the password.” Ginny sounded extremely exasperated and rolled her eyes just to emphasise her point.

“Well, still…”

“Are you, perhaps, related to Väinö Mäkkinen?” Luna asked suddenly - since she had not taken her eyes of a squirming Dean during the whole conversation, Ron was, for a moment, not sure to whom she was talking to.

“Erm… who’s that?”

“He was a Saami artist, of course,” she said and scrunched up her face. “You have his chin, you know. I think he vanished around 1683.”

“I don’t think that I’m related to a Saami,” Dean answered a bit weakly after giving his hands a long look. He made eye contact with Ron who couldn’t help but to stifle his laughter.

“What a shame,” Luna mused, but she didn’t seem to be too sad about it. “He was a bit of a curiosity up in the north. His art was very abstract. It shouldn’t have moved like that. I will give you the article about him, it’s from the Quibbler.”

Before Dean could do more than open his mouth, Luna turned around made her way towards the moving stairs, a little bounce in her steps. Ginny looked after her with fondness and confusion equally on her face before shaking her head.

“I better go after her. See you later, Ron, Seamus. Minsky.”

That broke the boys out of their stupor. Ron laughed the whole way to their meeting.

~~~

December 23nd, 2009
The Burrow

“You promised me, Ron!”

“Of course I did, but I didn’t know back then that McGonagall had written to Mum already. There’s not much I can do right after her shouting, Ginny. There’s still time before we go back to school, I’m sure she’ll see reason soon enough.”

“It wasn’t even that dangerous, I just did a roll is all. I told her that I had done them before.”

Ginny was sulking, and Ron couldn’t tell her that that was most likely part of the problem. He didn’t begrudge her her bad mood, after all. After telling the Racers all about their meeting with Dumbledore, he had gone straight to his baby sister and told her about the club, knowing that she would like to be part of it. Her other brothers had always been careful not to let her play with them, after all, and Ron knew too well how it felt to be outshone by a host of elder siblings. To have this taken away from her even before she could try it out was harsh.

She had worried back then, too, if their parents, especially their Mum, would allow her to participate. And with the club starting properly after the Christmas hols, she had asked Ron to help her persuade their Mum.

It had been one great fiasco.

“I will try again after Christmas Day, I promise. Just let her think about it a bit. And even if she doesn’t say yes, we can still smuggle you with us. Hooch is only supervising until we find some older students to do it for her.”

“It’s still unfair, and she knows it. She just doesn’t care.” Unshed tears pooled her eyes and Ron had to look away, feeling rather uncomfortable with the thought of his sister crying.

“It is. Maybe we can ask the others to help us out a bit…”

“Oh, you know she won’t listen to Fred or George, and Percy thinks Quidditch is too dangerous for me, anyway,” Ginny snapped and rubbed her eyes with fervor.

Ron sighed and stood up, with a last pat on her shoulder. “We should still try it out. If we all ask for your sake, she has to listen to us. I’m going to ask them now, you want to come with me?”

She shook her head and rubbed at her eyes again. Ron understood why she wouldn’t want the twins to see her like this. She was fierce, and normally the twin's antics didn’t bother her as much as they bothered Percy or himself, but that didn’t mean she wanted them to see her tears.

Letting himself out of her room, Ron swiftly began to search his twin brothers. It was always a bit risky to ask them for their help - it was just as likely that they would think it great fun to egg on their Mum even further -, but he was relatively positive that they wouldn’t actually do that to their little sister. They all loved Ginny dearly and, since she wasn’t a boy, were actually able to show it, too.

~~~

“Ronnikins!”

“Good to see you!”

“Just the man we wanted to talk to!”

Just a moment after he had knocked on their door, Ron found himself inside the twin’s room. It was just as chaotic as them, with all kinds of stuff littered around. Old shelves, pilfered from their older brothers, had been fixed onto the walls and were filled with various books and knick-knacks, and their shared table had stacks of parchment on it. He looked around cautiously - you never knew what exactly the twins kept in their room, after all, but soon enough he turned around to eye his kidnappers.

“Funny thing,” he managed to say with fake casualty. “I wanted to talk to you, too. It’s about…”

“Ginny, yeah, we figured. Need help with Mum, do you?” Fred grinned sharply and leaned against the door while George let himself fall down upon his bed.

“Our help, I think, Gred,” he added and looked smug as ever.

Ron huffed and ruffled his hair before he shrugged. “‘Course I do. Gin is in a right state about this.”

“No wonder, with how she normally needs to sneak around.” George took a good look at Ron’s expression and laughed. “What, you thought we didn’t know? I think even Percy does. Merlin, Mum is probably the only one who never caught a glance of her on her way out.”

“And normally, we would really like to help you with that, Ron, we really would. But…”

“We have a bit of a problem, you see. With that club of yours.”

Ron gulped under the intense observation of the twin brothers. He always felt nervous when they did that, what with their tendency to test out their pranks on him and Percy first. But there was also a bit of anger in the pit of his stomach - he could guess what their problem was, and it made him bitter to think about it. Still…

“And what is the problem?” he asked, feigning ignorance.

“The members. See, we have nothing against you making friends with other houses, and that little Miss Davies ain’t that bad-”

“But we noticed that she isn’t the only Slytherin that meets up with all of you,” Fred said with a hint of accusation.

Ron bristled, but he also felt a bit of dread. Malfoy had always insisted on secrecy after all. He knew, mostly from Davies, that there were consequences waiting for the Malfoy heir if somebody finds out. That his brothers knew could be a very fortunate or very, very unfortunate thing.

And it all depended on himself how this would end.

“So what? He’s in my year. He has a right to it,” he tried to blunder through it. A scowl kept pushing through, but he fought it off his face.

“So what he says, you heard that, Forge?” Fred shook his head. “It’s about the principle, Ron! Draco Malfoy is, well, a Malfoy. You saw how they are, they aren’t good people. The Junior even had to bribe his team to get into position, and now they’re all strutting around like peacocks!”

The point Fred had made was a sore one - Ron himself had been angry when he had seen the new brooms, so much so that without Hannah holding him back he would have given Malfoy a few nasty words about rich kids with no talent. But Hannah did hold him back and sat him down, urging him to stay quiet until Draco could explain himself.

Seeing him so mortified and angry about the bribe, listening to Malfoy’s own harsh words against his father…

“He’s good enough,” Ron said, and his voice betrayed his anger. He had his hands balled into fists and blood rushing in his ears. There was a bit of fear, too - you didn’t talk to the twins like that. You just didn’t. But Ron also couldn’t let this stand. “You don’t even know him! You haven’t seen him afterwards. He was mortified about the brooms, he didn’t even know about them himself! I don’t care if he’s a Malfoy, you don’t get to talk about him like that!”

He had tried not to shout, but he had gotten louder at the end. The dumbstruck faces of the twins were almost funny, but he was still too angry to care about that.

“And anyway, what’s that to do with you other than Slytherin having a decent Seeker? What if Malfoy’s part of the club? Is that reason enough for you to make Ginny cry about it? Or are you actually afraid that Malfoy would be able to corrupt Gin? You know what, I shouldn’t have asked you in the first place!” He turned around and made for the door. “This is bollocks.”

“Hey… hey, wait, Ron!”

Fred squared up and kept the door closed while George jumped off the bed. They had a bit of a struggle, but in the end the twins managed to keep a hold of their younger brother, still with those dumb expressions on their faces.

“Merlin, where did that come from?” George wheezed, holding Ron’s arm firmly.

“You defending a Malfoy-”

“Like you are friends with him-”

“Not that we mind, not anymore-”

“Well, maybe a bit, Gred.”

“Yes, a bit, but really, Ron. You are not that stupid, are you?”

“And what does that mean?” Ron snapped, but he had stopped his useless struggle. They clearly didn’t want to hurt him, and besides, George’s words were just now clicking into his head. Friends. With Malfoy. Ugh, no!

“That we’ll help you with Mum, you idiot,” Fred said fondly, but with a calculating look in his eyes.

“We’ll even talk with Percy, how does that sound?” George offered and patted Ron’s shoulders.

“And we won’t tell anyone that you are friends with Malfoy,” Fred added with a shudder.

“We’ll trust-”

“For now-”

“That you won’t mess this up. Keep your eyes open with him.”

Ron groaned, but he nodded. Now he was angry with himself - he had given himself away, and that was purely his fault.

At least his brothers were now firmly on Ginny’s side.

~~~

“Ron, there’s another one for you! Go put it under the tree!”

He rushed into the kitchen where a great horned owl sat on the window sill. Upon seeing Ron, the owl hooted imperiously dropped a little box onto his waiting hands before taking off. It was a poshly wrapped parcel, all done up in green and silver from Malfoy himself.

Ron suddenly found himself immensely relieved that he didn’t forget the Slytherin when he made those cookies and fudges for the Racers at the start of the holidays.

“That’s seven in a row. I’m so proud of you, making so many friends!”

“Yeah,” Ron agreed as he placed the gift onto his stack. “They’re great.”

~~~

January 9th, 2010
Quidditch Pitch, Hogwarts

“I still can’t believe that Percy talked to Mum. Or that it worked out at all!”

“And I can’t believe that Fred and George managed to persuade Perce in the first place.”

Ron and Ginny were sniggering all the way down to the Quidditch pitch, Ron with his broom clutched in his hands, Ginny with a gleam in her hazel eyes. She had pulled her long, red hair into a high ponytail that bobbed with each step she took. Not even the bitter cold of the Scottish winter could dampen their spirits.

Today was the first official meeting of their Quidditch club, and both Weasleys were determined to enjoy every second of it.

Down at the pitch, the rest of the Racers were waiting with equal glee. Madam Hooch stood with them and talked with both Hannah and Tracey, who had been announced as the club captains by the other founders, but there were also a number of other students clustered around. Ron didn’t know every one of them, but he recognized Neville and Hermione sitting next to Susan, and even Draco and Pansy Parkinson a few rows behind the Gryffindors. They would be watching, however, instead of joining the club.

“Oh, there’s Luna!” Ginny ran the remaining distance as if the thick layer of snow didn’t exist for her, until she reached her blonde friend who stood close to Madame Hooch. Seamus, Ron noticed, had moved away from her. Remembering the last time he had met Luna Lovegood up close, Ron decided that it was a good idea and joined his friend.

All in all, the first meeting was a huge success. Neither the cold, nor the soft snowfall an hour into the session had hurt the enthusiasm of the original Racers, and the other students, a handful of upper years mostly, had enjoyed the playful games and lessons more than enough. Even Luna, though not a very good flyer, managed a couple of the throw-and-catch games they played on their brooms, but only after Ginny had taken her aside and taught her how to cling to the broom with her thighs to free up her hands.

Ron was still feeling elated when they made their way back to the castle. His face felt positively sore, his limbs half-frozen and his muscles exhausted, but adrenalin was thrumming through his blood and the success of the club put a spring into his steps. He wasn’t the only one - he caught Draco whispering excitedly to Davies when the Slytherins broke off the group, followed by the Hufflepuffs, and Seamus was still describing his moves to Neville, who was polite enough to listen closely. And Ginny…

Ginny was talking with Hermione, of all people, her hands in quick motion and her face aglow.

Huh.

Instead of wondering how, of all people, Ginny would want to make friends with the bookworm, Ron decided to ignore it as he led the other Gryffindors into their common room. The couple of upper-years that had been at the club meeting were swiftly pulled aside by their friends, but the others managed to get away quick enough to first change into dry clothing before piling up on some seats closer to the roaring fireplace. Even Hermione, after a few seconds of hesitation, followed them there and sat beside Ginny, with Neville on her other side.

It didn’t take long for the two third-year students to join them, too. They were not alone, however - they had brought one of their friends with them, and when Ron looked up to greet the boys, he just barely managed to swallow a groan when he saw Cormac McLaggen taking a seat.

“Hello, Cormac,” Seamus bravely greeted the other boy, though he didn’t seem too enthused about his presence. “What’s up?”

“Heard about your little club,” McLaggen answered with a bit of a haughty voice, but then it was hard to find a moment when he didn’t use it. “Phil and Joshua told me about today.”

“If you’re interested, you can just come to the next meeting. Madam Hooch told us that we can easily fit double the people without needing more supervision,” Ginny chirped in.

This time, Ron had to hide a grimace with his hands, faking a yawn, before exchanging a troubled look with Seamus. Neither boy liked Cormac, not when he joined the Gryffindor team last year and definitely not after the huge tantrum he had when Wood threw him out again after the season.

“Not really sure about joining. I mean, it’s not a bad idea. Just a lot of riff-raff there, if you know what I mean,” Cormac said with a dismissive tone. Next to him, Joshua winced a bit and shot his friend a glare which went ignored.

“Riff-raff?” Neville asked rather sceptical.

“I haven’t seen any riff-raff,” Ron added sharply.

“Doesn’t surprise me, Weasley,” Cormac said, his voice growing a bit nasty. “By the way, was there any reason for neither of you being club captain?” He looked between Ron and Seamus, ignoring the increasingly stiff atmosphere between the kids.

“Not really interested in that,” Seamus said, ignoring the jab at Ron. “I just wanna fly, mate.” Ron, however, was not about to ignore McLaggen’s words.

“Hold on a moment. What do you mean, you aren’t surprised? Surprised by what?”

“You talked an awful lot with this Davies girl, Phil said,” Cormac said smugly.

“Cormac…” Phil started to look embarrassed, but Ron had no sympathy for him - he was, after all, friends with the git and should have known better than to let him tag along.

“I mean, a Slytherin? That Duffer is not so bad, but I won’t play under a Snake,” Cormac interrupted both Phil as well as Ron’s petty thoughts, accusation ringing in his voice.

“Look, if you don’t want to join the club, fine, but you shouldn’t talk about Hannah or Tracey like that!” Hermione told him, suddenly defensive.

“What Cormac means is that it could be used against the other teams. Malfoy was watching, and he’s Slytherin’s seeker,” Joshua tried to defuse the situation, holding up his hands, but it was too late.

“I’m not sure that’s what he’s saying,” Ron said hotly, angry now. “All that I hear is him being against my friends playing with us just because they aren’t Gryffindors.”

“Wait, you are friends with a Snake?” Cormac’s voice, audibly alarmed by that notion, grew louder - a few heads turned their way.

“We all are if you haven’t noticed yet!”

Before any of them could continue the argument, a girl from Fred and George’s class chimed in from where she sat with a few other fourth-years. It took Ron a few moments to recognize her as Angelina Johnson, one of the three female Chasers of the Gryffindor house team. “What’s the big deal, anyway? Let Weasley have the friends he likes, it doesn’t hurt anyone.”

“She’s a Slytherin! A baby Death Eater, for Merlin’s sake, it’s betraying anything Gryffindor stands for!” Cormac smirked at his own words. A sudden urge to punch the older boy rose in Ron when he saw that face.

“Shut your face, McLaggen, my cousin is in Slytherin too! You’re just jealous because Wood’s found a new Seeker,” Joseph Farnese, a stocky seventh-year, cut in from where he was reading.

It was enough to quell Ron’s violent emotions. Blinking, the boy looked around him and noticed quite a few sceptical, if not outright annoyed faces - the upper years seemed to not take Cormac very seriously, either not caring about who got to captain the new club or being offended by his words.

Cormac didn’t take the last jab too well, either - he swiftly jumped to his feet, all hurt pride, and turned to the rest of the common room. His friends groaned and hid their faces with their hands. Ron felt pity for them, but really, they should have known better.

“That has nothing to do with this. Besides, Faywind is a joke on a broom.”

“Yeah, but at least he’s a decent person,” another one called out.

A few of the older students were laughing now, which had Cormac flushing a bright red of anger and embarrassment. “Shut up!” he shouted. “That’s not the point! The point is that he...” He pointed at Ron. “...has left the Quidditch club in the hands of Snakes and Duffers.”

“So what?” Ron said, bristling, and stood up. “It’s not your club, you haven’t even contributed to it. Hannah and Tracey have worked harder than the others for this, they’ve earned it.”

“I knew that you were lazy, but that’s just-”

“Just what, McWanker?”

“You got something to say to our little brother?”

Two arms wound themselves around Ron’s shoulders and two pairs of sharp, blue eyes were trained on the now floundering third year. Everybody knew that you didn’t want the Weasley twins as your enemies, and right now they were eyeing Cormac like something very slimy. But the biggest surprise came with the voice of his third brother.

“Leave it alone, it’s not your business. I think it’s great what they’re doing. Now move along before I have to take some points for causing trouble.” Percy squinted a bit at Cormac, shooing him away from Ron and the twins, who watched closely as the boy retreated.

“What an arse,” Seamus said under his breath.

“Yeah. Like he has any right to complain about how the club is handled.” Ron took a deep breath and looked up to his twin brothers. “Thanks, guys.”

“No problem.”

“It’s what big brothers do, right?”

They shared a bright grin and jumped after Percy, likely to hassle the Prefect. Ron didn’t follow.

“I’m really sorry for that,” Joshua blurted out. Phil nodded, his ears bright red.

“‘S okay I suppose. Just don’t understand how you can stand him.” Neville looked quite rebellious himself, but that was no surprise for Ron - he knew for sure that Hannah was one of Neville’s few genuine friends.

“It’s complicated. Usually he’s a lot nicer, but ever since Wood ditched him, he got really bad with his temper.” Phil shrugged helplessly before getting up. “Listen, we don’t think it’s bad having the girls be captains. Don’t listen to Cormac, Josh and I’ll try to sort him out.”

“Good luck with that,” Ginny said without much optimism.

Ron waited for the two third years to walk away before dropping his voice. “I’d have liked to punch Cormac,” he admitted. Most of the others nodded, probably feeling the same, but Hermione looked aghast.

“Ron,” she hissed, and her voice got that righteous tone that grated on his nerves. “You shouldn’t even think about starting fights in the common room!”

“What, so it’s okay for him to speak bad about my friends in front of everyone, but it’s not okay for me to punch him? Tracey and Malfoy aren’t bad just because they are Slytherin, he was totally unfair to them, the great git!”

“Of course they aren’t… wait, you’re friends with Draco?” Hermione stared at him as if he had grown a second head.

He squirmed under her stare, immediately getting flustered, and he knew, he knew that his ears were bright red right now. “That’s none of your business,” he tried to cut her off, but she wouldn’t have any.

“How would that even happen? You don’t talk during lessons, you don’t talk during breaks, and I have never seen you two together when Davies isn’t there!”

“That’s actually a good question, Ron,” Ginny noted, and even Neville looked confused and curious.

Seamus sighed when it became clear that Ron wouldn’t speak up and leaned forward. “Listen, this is a secret, okay? Draco was part of our group back in first year, but he couldn’t join the club now that he’s Seeker on his team. We kept it to ourselves because Draco can get in real trouble if his dad finds out, so we haven’t been able to tell anyone.”

Both girls’ and Neville’s eyes grew large at that. Especially Hermione looked like somebody had slapped her forehead a bit too hard. She blinked once, twice, then stared at Ron with a look that he couldn’t even start to decipher.

Thoroughly embarrassed, the boy jumped off the couch. “I’m going to bed,” he announced hastily before he fled the common room and the inquisitive stares.

~~~

June 13th, 2010
The Burrow

“Mum?”

Ron stood at the entrance to the kitchen, watching his mother washing up the dishes. Ginny and he had asked her if she needed help right after dinner, but she had insisted on doing it alone while they were to go unpack their trunks. Now that this task was finished, however, he had decided to make use of the absence of his other siblings.

“Yes, dear?”

Shuffling his feet, Ron hesitated but a moment before entering the kitchen fully. His mum continued to dictate the movements of the soapy sponge with little flicks of her wand, but her attention was now on her youngest son. Had her eyes always been so keen?

“I just wanted to ask about inviting some friends over during summer break?”

He hated how nervous his voice sounded, but either Molly didn’t notice, or she didn’t comment on it. She did, however, paused in her work to give her son a searching look.

“Why not? But only after you have finished some chores around the house, I think. It’s such a mess…” She pointedly looked around.

Ron couldn’t help but agree - the moment Fred and George (and maybe he, too, but just a tiny bit) had come home, they had worked their usual chaos. Somehow, cleaning out their trunks meant to scatter their belongings into every available room. Ron pulled a face, but nodded after a few moments.

“Very good! Now, who did you have in mind, then?”

~~~

“I don’t know if we can go with it. Won’t his mum snitch on us?”

They sat close to the Black Lake, the three of them. It was supposed to be only two, really, but he couldn’t be angry at Hermione for wanting to help her friend. It was his fault, anyway, for talking with Ginny about his plans - ever since Ginny joined the club and met Hermione on a more personal level, she had taken to the bushy-haired girl like a duck to water.

Maybe she just liked the hard cases. She was friends with that Luna girl, after all.

“I don’t think she would, Granger. See, Lady Zabini is very different from British pureblooded families. At least that’s what Blaise said, and we would want to talk to him anyway when we go with the plan.”

Where Hermione had been asked by Ginny, Tracey had been asked by Ron to help him out with his problem. Her insight as a Slytherin was very valuable, and her close friendship with both Draco and Daphne Greengrass had given her a good look into the dynamics of the purebloods. Ron would have never guessed that there were major differences between the High Society of two European countries.

“Let’s do that, then. I just hope he doesn’t want anything in recompense for us foisting Draco onto him for part of the summer,” Ron said with a contemplative face.

“I’m sure he doesn’t mind. Just make sure to invite him too.” Tracey’s words soothed him, making Ron smile.

“I’m already planning on inviting half of our year, so hopefully Mum won’t mind one more kid.” He shook his head a bit before leaning backwards, pushing his hands into the soft, green grass. “As long as it gets Draco to the Burrow without his dad knowing any better, I’m game.”

“That’s awfully nice of you, Ron,” Hermione commented, giving him a short smile.

They were still a bit uncomfortable around each other, their personalities too different. Ron knew he was a bit too laidback for her tastes. He also knew that he couldn’t stand her obsession with correcting people. But they had a common ground here, and really, the other girls he knew would give him hell for continuing being an arse to her.

“Eh, I already embarrassed myself by announcing being friends with that ponce,” he said, trying for nonchalant. It didn’t quite work out - his ears had a shade of red on them. “No reason not to go all out, really.”

He threw a handful of grass at Tracey when the girl started snickering.

~~~

The quill scratched against the parchment as Ron patiently wrote the invitation letters. All but one of them would go out tomorrow; the other one he would keep until he got the letter from Zabini that Draco was with him.

Scratching his left wrist, Ron looked over his shoulder to the slightly open door between the living room where he sat, and the kitchen. He knew that what he did was rather rude, but it wasn’t that hard to listen in to his parents. And since it was about him, well…

“I’m just a bit worried, Arthur. Don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful that Ronnie has so many friends, but I never thought that he would end up being friends with Malfoy’s son.”

He grimaced but continued writing. He couldn’t fault his mother for her worries, no matter how angry they made him. It wasn’t like the kids at school, who could simply walk up to Draco and see for themselves what kind of a person he was (a ponce, for example, but also really nice) - his mother only had the example of Draco’s parentage, and even Draco said that his dad could be stupid. Point in case: the bribing of the Slytherin team.

“I know what you mean, Mollywobbles, but don’t be too harsh on the boy yet. We should be thankful that he has made so many friends in all the Houses, and if he thinks that Draco is a good friend, we should encourage that. Not blindly of course, not with my history with Malfoy senior…”

Ron sighed and collected his parchments to fold into letters. It wasn’t perfect, but it was reasonable enough - and more than he had thought.

Chapter Text

September 2nd, 2010
Black Lake, Hogwarts

The afternoon after their first classes was a mild summer’s day, but most students chose to spend the time in their common rooms, socializing with their friends after a long summer break.

Hermione was not in her common room, but that didn’t mean that she wasn’t socializing. That she was also doing her homework (for Professor Snape was sure not to coddle them on their first day in school) was a mere convenience, and she wasn’t the only one of the five kids currently sitting next to the Black Lake that had a book outside. Anthony and Draco, for example, had followed her lead, albeit with other classwork.

It was quite nice outside - just a bit of wind, not more than a gentle breeze, paired with the warm sun and soft grass below, their little hidden nook between the lake and a couple of trees made for the perfect spot to relax and enjoy some privacy. Sadly, this was a must for Draco to join these meetings. He was, after one and a half years, comfortable enough with their year mates, but he still didn’t dare to slip up in front of his seniors, something that irked Hermione like nothing else.

Still, she didn’t comment on it. Not anymore. It had been a hard thing to accept, but she couldn’t force her way onto him on this matter, not as she would usually do.

Hermione only listened with one ear to the pleasant chatter of her friends. Another thing that had changed with time and a bit of effort, other than her newfound tact: She had friends, a lot, for her standards, which had been very sad indeed before she went to Hogwarts. Her year mates were unusually close with each other, no matter what Houses they belonged to, and the current mix, which was just a small sample really, still reflected that: Hannah Abbott was a Hufflepuff, Anthony Goldstein a Ravenclaw, Draco Malfoy a Slytherin, and Neville and her were in Gryffindor.

The main culprit for this anomaly had mostly been the Quidditch club, more accurately the unofficial group of enthusiasts that had met up in their first year to simply fly together. Now an official club, even more kids had joined the fun, bringing their own friends with them to either watch or join them, too. All in all, Hermione thought, an elegant solution for the division of the Houses.

“...and he sent me this really neat bracelet with a protection rune! He didn’t tell me what it means, the wanker, but I took Ancient Runes, so I’ll just ask Professor Babbling. Speaking off, I’m kinda looking forward to the new Professors…”

She looked up to Seamus, who was indeed flashing a handsome braided bracelet on his left wrist. Little copper beads were woven into the strands, but the main decoration was a flat disk of polished copper the size of a fingernail. A small rune had been etched into it, but she didn’t recognize it from the introductory book she’d bought for Ancient Runes.

“I’m curious too. I‘ve heard a lot about Professor Vector already, she teaches Arithmancy. I asked Percy Weasley about her. She’s bound to be very strict from what he told me,” she said. After a moment she wrinkled her nose. “The only one I don’t look forward to is the new Defense teacher. I’m starting to wonder if we’ll ever have one that stays longer than a year! I don’t even want to know how much this damages our marks!”

“Well, I’m just glad that Quirrell didn’t stay! Remember him in our first year? Couldn’t get a word in, and he wouldn’t teach us any interesting spells. I even checked the curriculum, just to see if it really was supposed to be this boring.” Anthony snorted and set his spellbook aside.

“Don’t remind me.” Draco sneered and shook his head. “Professor Lowell at least wasn’t half bad. Knew his stuff around spells, with him having been an Auror.”

“He was nice, yeah. A bit spell-heavy, but after Professor Quirrel that wasn’t so bad,” Anthony admitted.

“Either way, I wouldn’t get my hopes up, Granger. There’s a rumour that the position of Defense professor’s actually cursed. I looked into it when I heard about it and this has been going on for decades.” Draco shook his head.

“That sounds highly ominous,” Hannah mused. “And here I hoped that this one would stay a bit longer. Professor Scamander has been really interesting today.”

“Well, she’s a bit bonkers, too,” Anthony added thoughtfully, startling Neville into laughter. Anthony paused for a moment, then said, “You know, I think she might be a distant cousin.”

“Really?” Hermione said.

“American side,” Anthony said. “But I think the bonkers is more important - the last time I saw her was at a family gathering and her husband had three nifflers in his pocket. They wrecked grandma’s silverware.”

“Not that being bonkers is very unusual for the average Hogwarts teacher,” Draco added dryly, making the lot of them snicker, even Hermione. “At least she ought to be competent.”

~~~

“You’re back!” Ginny hollered after pushing the door to Hermione's dorm room open. The younger girl was already dressed in pyjamas, her long, red hair tied into a messy ponytail. She also sported more freckles than ever.

“Yes, we got a bit carried away with the time. You could’ve joined us, you know?” Hermione got up to give Ginny a hug.

The friendship with Ron’s younger sister had come, like so many others, as a big surprise. She still isn’t quite sure how exactly it happened - only that she had decided to watch the Quidditch club a bit, if only for Hannah’s sake. On the way back to the castle Ginny started to ask her some questions about muggle sports and, well… somehow, they got along.

Hermione couldn’t help but smile at those thoughts and laughed when Ginny beamed right back.

“Oh, don’t worry about it! I got to talk to some others, I figured you wanted to have some quality time with Malfoy,” Ginny shrugged and sat down onto Hermione’s bed. “But now we’re all here and your giggly roommates are still downstairs, do you have it?”

“Oh, of course!” The bushy-haired Gryffindor started searching her trunk. It only took her a few seconds to unearth a slim muggle notebook. “Sorry again for teasing you like this. I would have sent the article to you, but I got carried away and put it into my scrapbook right away!”

“Just show it, show it!” They both huddled together, heads bowed above the scrapbook. The pages had been decorated with pictures and newspaper articles, colourful pens and carefully copied lines and quotes. The handsome face of a male muggle was overrepresented, carefully groomed and in stylish clothes.

“So, that’s Stark, huh?” Ginny asked and smirked. “You’ve got an awful lot of pictures of him.”

“Oh, shut it,” Hermione said hastily, but she couldn’t help but blush a bit. “He’s a genius, and… well, maybe a bit good looking, but that’s not important!”

The redhead snickered and got lightly shoved for her troubles. “Sure, sure,” she said gamely before she started to skip pages, searching for the last one used. When she found it, she swiftly started to read through the last glued-on newspaper clipping. Once again Anthony Stark’s face adorned the pages, but other pictures mingled with him - pictures of a bright red and gold armour, a bright blue light on its chest.

“This happened earlier this year,” Ginny noted, tracing the armour with her fingers, awe and wonder on her face.

Hermione was suddenly struck that this must be how she had looked like, back when Professor McGonagall had come to explain magic to her. This was Ginny’s magic - something she didn’t know even existed, something fantastical and hard to understand.

Muggle magic.

“Yes,” she said and pointed out the date. “But my parents didn’t think of writing to me about it, and of course you don’t get any muggle news from the Prophet... “

“And it can really fly? Without any magic? Are people sure he isn’t secretly a wizard, then?”

“Of course he isn’t a wizard, Ginny. He’s one of the most brilliant minds in the world. Stark Industries produce a lot of really good tech, and he’s the one who comes up with the ideas and then builds them.” Hermione stopped her gushing for a moment to take a deep breath. She almost sounded like a fangirl, which she was not. She just... liked his brain, is all.

“Either way, they say it’s repulsor technology he uses for flying. Of course, for most people, it’s impossible to fit it into such a small frame, but he has the brains and the resources to figure that out. He’s just that smart.”

Ginny looked up and smiled. “You really like him, do you? Is he your idol, then?”

“I guess,” Hermione answered, not entirely sure. “Before Hogwarts, I really wanted to go into physics or maybe engineering, mostly because I wanted to work for Stark Industries.”

“Oh!” Suddenly, Ginny leaned forward, looking a bit upset and anxious. “Oh, Hermione! Don’t tell me that your Hogwarts letter ruined it for you?”

Hermione hesitated for a moment before shaking her head decisively. “No, don’t you worry about that,” she soothed and nudged Ginny’s shoulder. “It was just a little daydreaming - with homeschooling being a thing, Hogwarts didn’t have a very big impact on my decision. My interests simply changed - I got other dreams and projects now.”

~~~

October 18th, 2010
Great Hall, Hogwarts

Neville was pensive when he walked through the hallways of Hogwarts, on his way to the Great Hall. Lunch was about to start, and as usual, since the start of their third year, Hermione wasn’t anywhere to be found.

Not that Neville was worried anymore. Not about that. She would be there, in the Great Hall, already waiting for him even though they had left Transfiguration together.

Neville knew that the schedule of his best friend was ought to be impossible. Hermione had taken all of the electives instead of two or three, electives that he was sure would overlap. But she did it, and she aced it. For one solid month the Gryffindor girl had been at every class, always on time, always with her homework ready.

The boy sighed and tried to think of something else. He had already talked to her. To her, to Draco, to basically every one of their friends. Nobody knew how she did it, but they all knew that it had been done before. Percy Weasley, for example, had gotten 12 OWLs in his fifth year, and Draco knew of another Slytherin who was keeping this insane schedule.

“It’s magic,” Justin Finch-Fletchley had said when Hannah asked him how she might do it. That had earned him a glare from her and a laugh from Wayne Hopkins.

“I can’t tell you how I do it. I promised Professor McGonagall not to. Just trust me, it’s safe, ok? It’s regulated and everything,” was all Hermione had told him and the others, apparently done with their hovering and questions.

And yet, Neville was still anxious about all of this, fretting how much Hermione was doing, how many essays and charts, all the work in the library, the amount of books the girl was reading. And through all of that, she still came to most of the Quidditch club’s meetings (albeit she was more concentrated on the homework she brought with her than whatever shenanigans the students were doing on their brooms).

“Ditch Divination,” Blaise had told her just yesterday. Neville, he and Hermione shared the class, as well as Seamus and Dean, who mostly did it for the easy O’s. Hermione hated the class with a passion ever since Professor Trelawney had told her that she possessed only very little talent in the art.

But she was determined, if nothing else, to see the year through.

“Maybe we’ll get a new teacher next year,” she had jokingly answered. “We ought to see if we can’t redirect this curse to her tower.”

He pulled himself out of that memory and, still snickering, entered the Great Hall. He immediately found Hermione sitting next to Ginny, with an open seat on her other side. Neville hurried forward and claimed his seat with a greeting to his fellow Gryffindors. He smiled, he chatted, he didn’t even comment on the dark smudges under Hermione's eyes. She had asked them to stop investigating the matter, and he would honour that.

He was paying so much attention trying not to be worried about his best friend that he didn’t really notice the flurry of post-owls that entered the Great Hall on hasty wings, not until Parvati pointed them out.

“Are they bringing- is that the Prophet? But they already brought them this morning!”

A good portion of students soon got their answer, Hermione included - she had subscribed to the newspaper in second year, and she got, like any other subscriber of the Daily Prophet, what looked like a very thin special edition, so fresh out of the press that the paper was still damp.

That wasn’t what shocked Neville, however. Neither was it the sudden outbreak of whispers and outright shouts in the Hall. Not even the sudden flurry of activity at the teachers table got his attention.

His eyes were locked with the crazed Sirius Black who silently shouted at him from his printed picture, and the bold headline above.

BREAKOUT FROM AZKABAN! MURDERER SIRIUS BLACK ON THE LOOSE!

~~~

October 31th, 2010
Hogwarts

Hermione was forever thankful that her friends had stopped questioning her weeks ago - it made some things so much easier if they weren’t worrying about her. As she was running through the hallways of Hogwarts, however, she wryly thought that having a little more paranoia on her side could only help her right now. She hadn’t once confused her timetable back when her friends were still trying to pry answers out of her. The fact that she was running now, to be on time of all things, looked like some sort of joke to her.

Ha ha, cosmos, very funny.

Skidding around a corner, she spotted her goal - the door leading to the Arithmancy classroom, still open but without any students lingering outside. She barely made it through before the bell rang, and with bated breath Hermione made her way to her desk, eyeing the very strict Professor Vector. Luckily, she made no comment - she had made it in time, then.

She sat down close to Tracey and Daphne, but not next to either - she chose a row behind the two girls, exchanging a discreet nod with Tracey. Daphne didn’t bat an eyelash at it, making Tracey grin mischievously. Hermione rolled her eyes but let it be - she might not understand all of what happened in Slytherin, but she could follow Tracey’s request of doing it their way, at least until Hermione found a way to beat some common sense into the most political House of Hogwarts.

“Attention. Today, we will study primes and their effect on the equation we draw between…”

Hermione stifled a yawn and briefly toyed with her quill before starting to write in the shorthand Susan Bones had taught her. It helped to be quick about taking notes, giving her time to filter through the information and extract what was important. With a flick of her new quill the ink changed into a nice sea-blue which she used to underscore some points the Professor made.

It was almost embarrassing how long it had taken her before she had finally listened to her friends, and not only when it came to taking notes - Anthony and Tracey had taken one look at her ambitious class schedule before having a Talk with Hermione about the appropriate length of homework essays. Hermione still blushed furiously whenever she remembered that - the two had taken her to Professor McGonagall, and the Gryffindor Head of House had made no secret that she didn’t appreciate the extra work done if it wasn’t explicitly for extra credit.

Together with a few other tips and tricks to cut some time (and stress), Hermione had managed to keep up with her doubled workload without dropping any class or activities. It was still extremely stressful, but she took care to plan out her naps and sleeping hours. Really, with her homework only taking half as long as usual, she’d been able to save a lot of time already.

Fingering the golden chain around her neck, hidden behind her uniform, she smiled at her little pun.

The only thing that really put a damper on things was the breakout. Almost two weeks had gone by and the murderer Black was still at large. There had been some rumours that the Minister wanted to let the Dementors hunt him down, but after reading about the wardens of Azkaban, Hermione was very glad that that plan had been shut down immediately.

The effect the breakout had on two of her friends was even worse for Hermione than the reaction of the Ministry. Draco had become stiff and worried, and Neville…

Neville had become very, very quiet, which worried Hermione like nothing else. Both were also the recipient of daily letters from home. Hermione knew that Draco was receiving them mostly from his mother - he had told her as much, after explaining exactly who Sirius Black was and what he had done.

He didn’t tell her why he or Neville were behaving so oddly. It was another mystery to solve, a worry to soothe.

At least she had time.

~~~

Back in the tower that night, Hermione woke up with a pounding heart, blood rushing up into her head, ears ringing from the screams and shouts of panic around her.

~~~

November 6th, 2010
Hogwarts

The following week was the hardest Neville ever had to go through. Without his friends, he wondered if he could have gone through it at all - there weren’t enough words to express his gratitude for them.

It also helped that the other boys in his dorm were gladly lapping up the attention and that Hermione was much more sensible and took care of him whenever he felt the panic rise up again.

“Dunno how he came in. McGonagall asked the Fat Lady, but she said she didn’t let anyone enter.”

“Maybe he took to a broom and flew up?”

“They say he was a former Gryffindor. Hard to believe, but if that’s true, he might know some secret tunnels or something?”

He bit into his eggs. They tasted like ash, but he kept on eating while he tried to not look at the cluster of students surrounding the area Ron held court. His bravery in the face of certain death was well-received. Dean, who had allegedly thrown his Potions book after Black when the man fled, came a close second.

“What kind of knife did he have? Weren’t you afraid?”

“Of course! I mean, imagine waking up and you’re staring at some stranger with a knife in your face! It was a wicked one, with a curve to the blade and all. I screamed, no shame in that, and he stumbled away. He must have gotten the wrong dorm or something…”

“Maybe he doesn’t know that Potter’s missing. He’d be in our year if he’d arrived.”

Again Neville cringed, this time putting down his fork - he couldn’t stomach any more food. For a moment he thought about taking Professor McGonagall up to her promise - the usually stern Professor had taken him aside almost immediately after the assault on Ron and had told him that he could go visit his Gran whenever he needed.

But no. He was thankful for the consideration, he might even want to do it (desperately, to hide and be comforted), but he also didn’t want to worry his Gran any more than he already did. As it was, he wrote her daily letters. It helped a bit.

“He’s out for how long now? I don’t know, man, the whole country knows about Potter’s disappearance act, it would take a special kind of idiot to not know after weeks of being free.”

“Well, they say he’s crazy, right? Potter’s parents were Gryffindors, I read that in a book. And Black went straight for the Gryffindors, right year and all.”

Now outright grimacing, Neville stood up and excused himself softly. When Hermione made to abandon her meal, too, he shook his head.

“Don’t worry about it. I just need some fresh air, is all.” And some alone-time. He felt guilty about worrying Hermione so much when she had enough problems of her own - he wasn’t yet so inattentive as to miss the dark rings under her eyes or the stressed expressions she wore most of the time, what with the numerous tests and quizzes the teachers piled onto them before Christmas.

He turned around and walked away before she could decide to follow him anyway, making a beeline towards the main entrance.

The cold, crisp air of the late autumn was excitingly refreshing, as was the lack of whispers about Black and his numerous, nefarious plans. Neville wandered away from the entrance in search for a dry place to sit and drink in the solitude when he encountered someone else fleeing the chaos of breakfast in the Great Hall.

“Malfoy.”

“Longbottom.”

They eyed each other warily. They had gotten along with each other just fine ever since Malfoy decided to make friends with Hermione, but that never meant they saw each other as close friends - not with the history of their families lying between them. But they tolerated each other and shared a number of friends beside Hermione.

Ever since Black broke out of Azkaban, they hadn’t spoken more than a greeting to each other.

Neville saw the hesitation in Malfoy’s eyes. The boy wanted to talk about something, but the Gryffindor didn’t really want to hear about it. So he broke the eye contact and moved to walk away.

“I think it would help if you were to talk to a friend about your worries,” Malfoy said in a halting voice, each word hitting Neville in the gut like a well-placed punch.

“Excuse me?”

There were no words, not really. He didn’t feel shame, not for them, not ever. But they were his, weren’t they? Malfoy had no right to know about this. How did Malfoy know, anyway? Was it some kind of sick bed-time story his parents had told him?

“Mother never made a secret out of why Aunt Bella is in Azkaban,” Malfoy answered, deliberately searching for Neville’s eyes. He had a curious expression on his face, but his voice was even now, expressionless.

“Aunt Bella,” Neville repeated. His hands balled into fists, but he pressed them firmly into his sides.

“Mother insists,” was the explanation. Only that it wasn’t. Malfoy scanned their surroundings before taking in Neville’s desperate and angry expression. Why did Malfoy’s eyes look softer now?

“Do you know what Mother fears most, Longbottom?”

The question came unexpected and cut through Neville’s barely suppressed outrage. He sucked in a few lungfuls of air, staring at Malfoy, waiting for the answer. Or any reason to hit the ponce.

“That her beloved sister will be next to break out.” The flicker of soft burned away and left a steely grey in Malfoy’s eyes. “That Black will go and free his cousin. That Aunt Bella will decide to find shelter with us. She is family - she can’t be turned away. So Mother fears with all her might. Talk to Granger, Longbottom.”

And with this, the Malfoy heir turned away sharply, all poise and elegance and dignity, all the things Neville usually lacked. But there was an edge there in the stiff posture, and the shoulders, not yet grown to their full width, looked heavy. He was carrying a weight with him. A thirteen-year-old boy, carrying the problems of generations.

Neville swallowed. And then he followed Malfoy back into the castle.

~~~

January 2nd, 2011
Hogwarts

Coming back to Hogwarts after the Christmas holidays was a bittersweet experience.

On the one hand, Hermione had thoroughly needed the time off at home and the calming presence of her parents. Christmas had been a merry affair, with lots of laughs and love all around. Ever since attending Hogwarts (ever since knowing why their daughter was so different from other kids), the formerly somewhat strained relationship between parents and child had warmed up significantly. Her father especially had embraced her magic entirely, and Hermione couldn’t wait to turn 17 and show him how much she had learned. Diagon Alley, as magical as it was, just wasn’t enough to include her parents into her world.

On the other hand, however, Hogwarts was her second home, the place where she could be with all of her friends, where she was learning new and exciting things every day.

It helped that ever since Halloween, Black hasn’t been seen at all, not even around the school. There had been no other attacks and the atmosphere in the castle had calmed down significantly. Even Neville looked more relaxed on the train, chatting with her about his holidays and the gifts he had gotten from his elderly family. They had shared their compartment with Anthony, Ginny and Luna, all in all a very pleasant experience.

After the feast, however, trouble found her.

“I’m so sorry, Ron,” she said tearfully, holding tight on her new cat. Crookshanks meowed loudly, his large, yellow eyes staring at the shivering bundle in Ron’s hands. “I hadn’t thought he would behave this way! I asked the vendor, he told me that he’s a part-kneazle, he should be smart enough to know not to attack another student’s pet.”

Ron tried to shove the stressed rat back into his pocket, but the little thing was wriggling madly in his hands. “Stay, Scabbers!” He sighed and gave Crookshanks a half-hearted glare. “I don’t know how that will work out, Hermione. Scabbers is sick, he needs to rest and not worry about your cat prowling around.”

That was when Ginny came around with the wicker basket Hermione had used to transport Crookshanks during the train ride. The big cat hissed when seeing the basket, and redoubled his struggle to get away.

“Crookshanks, stop!” With Ginny’s help, Hermione managed to put the irate cat back into the basket, face drawn. She worried her lip, but no idea came to her.

“Gosh, Ron, that’s what you get for never bothering with a cage in the first place. It’s a wonder that Crookshanks is the first to try and catch Scabbers,” Ginny complained, staring at the cuts the cat had given her.

“He never needed one before!” Ron protested. “And now it’s too late. Hogsmeade doesn’t have a pet store like Diagon and Mum will kill me if I ask her now.”

“That’s it!” Hermione exclaimed. Ron nearly dropped his rat.

“Blimey, Hermione, keep it down!”

“Sorry,” she said hastily, petting the wicker basket in hopes to calm down Crookshanks. “But I just got an idea. We could go and ask Professor McGonagall to transfigure you a cage, can’t we? She’s a Mistress of her subject, it shouldn’t be too hard for her to make it last for the term. That way, you can be sure that Scabbers is safe and sound during class, and I don’t have to keep Crookshanks in his basket the whole day.”

“Yeah, but Scabbers wouldn’t be able to walk around anymore,” Ron complained, only for his sister to punch his arm.

“All he does is sleep, anyway,” she reminded him. “Besides, you just told us he needs rest. Go ask McGonagall, I don’t think this basket will hold that devil for that long.”

She pointed at the shaking basket. Apparently, the cat was trying to claw his way out.

“Fine!” Ron threw his hands in the air, Scabbers still dangling from one. “Let’s do it now, then.”

~~~

“And he hasn’t attacked any other pet, only Scabbers?”

She watched the big feline prowling around the lake. They were sitting in their hidden spot, just Neville and her. Ron was setting up Scabbers’ new, unbreakable (and thus Crookshanks-proofed) cage and she had agreed to take Crookshanks for a walk outdoors to get the mad cat out of the way.

“Fortunately, yes. He doesn’t seem bothered by the owls and other cats, and even the toads don’t interest him. But the moment he sees Scabbers, it’s like he’s hunting a regular mouse.”

“Maybe it’s because he’s a rat. Even a half-kneazle might forget that they aren’t supposed to hunt other pets.”

“Well, I hope he’ll learn fast,” Hermione said glumly, but she soon smiled again watching Crookshanks hunting down snowflakes. A thick layer had covered the grounds in a blinding white, but thanks to a few handy spells they were still able to make do with their hidden nook without getting wet and miserable.

“By the way, how’re things going with school?”

Hermione threw him a startled look, but he only looked worried instead of curious. After a moment, she shrugged and faced forward again. “Well enough, I think. It’s a lot of work, but I think I can manage. Although…”

She stopped for another moment, biting her lip. “I’m thinking of dropping at least Divination. Blaise was right, the whole subject is so useless for me. And Professor Trewlany always gives essays as homework, stuff that takes a lot of time to finish.”

“I think it’s a good idea. You won’t need Divination, anyway, not when you want to do something with law-”

A loud meow interrupted Neville. Two heads turned around, but it was Hermione who sprung up upon seeing a truly large, black dog sniffing at Crookshanks. She hesitated, however, when she saw how her cat stretched out to return the favour, ears twitching forward and tail pointing up in confidence. After a moment or two, the big dog started to wag its tail.

“Look how thin he is,” Neville whispered, stepping beside her. Hermione nodded and slowly made her way over to the two animals. Crookshanks meowed a greeting and ambled over, the dog, however, didn’t move at all. He was staring at Hermione, all attention and wariness.

“It’s okay,” she murmured as she bent down to swoop up Crookshanks. “I won’t hurt you. It’s okay.”

Reaching out, she let the dog sniff her free hand. Hermione waited with bated breath until the dog was finished. Then she carefully petted him. It was a large beast, with shaggy, unkempt fur. Despite that, she could easily see how very thin the poor dog was.

“He might be a stray from the village. If he got lost in the forest, it would explain…” She turned to look at Neville but gave a startled yelp when the dog suddenly turned around and ran away. They realised why when they heard loud voices echoing over - a group of older students had left the castle and were making their way to the lake, presumably to greet the Giant Squid.

~~~

March 12th, 2011
Black Lake, Hogwarts

The dog, it turned out, was most definitely a stray. One that kept coming back to their spot, if only to chase Crookshanks around, much to Neville’s amusement. Soon most of the third-years, as well as Ginny and Luna knew about the dog. The deal was sealed when Seamus brought food with him after taking a long look at the thin frame of the beast - after that, they never went out without at least a sausage or a bit of ham in their pockets, stolen from the breakfast table.

“We should call him Beast,” Wayne said while petting the dog. Its tongue lolled out and he gave them a woeful look. Hannah produced a bread roll from her pockets to feed him with.

“I’m thinking Grim. He looks like one,” Blaise said and pulled his cloak tighter around him. He still couldn’t deal with the cold as well as the other children, which was why he was closest to the jar of bluebell flames Hermione had carried into their midst.

“Mutt,” Malfoy said, earning a snort from Dean and a laugh from Hermione.

“Just because he didn’t like you,” the Gryffindor girl admonished and took her turn to give the dog a pet. “You shouldn’t have used Scourgify on him, it’s not his fault.”

“He stank,” Malfoy deadpanned, but Neville knew he didn’t mean it - the Slytherin never failed to bring a few scraps of food with him when he actually made it for their post-class meetups. Between Quidditch training and his need for secrecy (which both Tracey and Blaise had abandoned for themselves a couple weeks ago), Malfoy had a hard time joining his friends from the other Houses.

“Oi!” Ron’s voice drifted towards them, followed swiftly by the teen himself. His face was flushed from running in the cold and the pockets of his thick winter robes were full with snacks that he dumped on the blanket they had put upon the still somewhat frozen ground. Immediately, the dog got up and barreled towards the hoard, sniffing around excitedly.

“Out, Snuffles,” Ron demanded and shoved the dog aside, who sat back on his haunches.

“Snuffles?” Wayne sounded aghast.

“He’s always sniffing around for food, so yeah,” Ron explained with a shrug.

“We are not naming him Snuffles!” Malfoy exclaimed in horror.

“Try renaming him, then. I spent the last couple days calling him that, though.” Ron sounded extremely smug as he sat down. The others groaned, even Neville, but soon they sorted through the foodstuffs the House-elves had made them. It had been Justin who had showed them the way to the kitchen (Ron had tried to ask his brothers, to no avail), and ever since then, they had abused that knowledge to the fullest extent.

They quickly settled back, wrapped up tightly against the chilly air, puffing out small clouds of visible breath and eating their snacks. Snuffles got his fair share in food and pets and ended up lying between Malfoy and Neville, warming their sides.

“I’m really worried about Scabbers,” Ron said after a long discussion on which Quidditch team should be supported (his ears were still a bit red after defending the Chudley Cannons against his friends). The snacks were mostly destroyed, but the bluebell flames were still crackling merrily. Neville felt full and satisfied, with one hand buried in the clean-ish fur of the dog.

“You should go home for Easter,” Wayne suggested. “Take him with you and bring him to the Menagerie in Diagon. They sell rats there, too, I bet they have some medicine for him.”

“He’s stressed out.” Neville shuffled into a more comfortable position. Snuffles perked up a bit and placed his heavy head on his knee.

“Yeah, especially when I come back from playing with Snuffles. I think he smells him on my robes or something, he just goes nuts.” Ron shook his head and sighed, but he quickly regained his smile when Snuffles woofed in his direction.

“How old is your rat, anyway?” Malfoy asked, presenting the last piece of a ham-and-cheese sandwich to the dog who quickly licked it up. The great beast didn’t stop paying attention to Ron, however, as if he was listening to every word said.

“Dunno, maybe… yeah, like ten years? He belonged to Percy before I got him for as long as I know.”

“That’s really old for a rat, Ron,” Hermione said carefully. “He must be like… like a grandpa, now. And smelling Snuffles doesn’t help his poor heart.”

“But I don’t want to not come down here,” the teen answered guiltily.

“You could try to socialize them,” Neville said slowly. “Bring him here, let them sniff each other out. Snuffles’ been on good terms with a cat, he might get along with a rat, too. If Scabbers knows where the smell comes from, maybe he won’t be so stressed out by it?”

Ron visibly perked. “That’s not a bad idea!”

“And see that you visit the Menagerie, they might have something for his old age, too,” Hermione added and looked up towards the sky. “Either way, we should go back to the castle. It’s getting late and I still have two essays to write.”

“Ugh, don’t remind me.” Ron stood up and wiped some crumbs from his trousers and robes. “We should meet with everyone after Quidditch club tomorrow, tell them that Snuffles has a name now.”

“Actually…”

They stopped in their motions, looking at Malfoy who had yet to move. Snuffles had cuddled up to the Slytherin when Neville had climbed to his feet.

“What’s the matter then, Draco?” Blaise asked. He had reached out with one hand, presumably to help Malfoy onto his feet.

“It’s about this spot,” Malfoy said, finally taking the hand. The dog whined when he was pushed aside. “I think I can’t really risk it, for a while. People have started to talk, they notice when I’m not there. This…” He gestured around. “It’s too open.”

Neville looked away, but Hermione had no such reservations. She stepped around the bluebell flames and put a hand on Malfoy’s arm. “Then we’ll find something else, don’t you worry about it.”

She sounded so earnest that Neville couldn’t help but nod in optimism. After Malfoy had confronted him about Bellatrix Lestrange, they had become a bit closer, a bit more trusting with each other - this he could do. The castle was big and full of unused rooms - there should be a place for them to simply enjoy the presence of each other.

“Let’s put that on our list, then,” he said aloud, stepping off the blanket and onto the grass. Hermione smiled at him and extinguished the bluebell flames before folding up the blanket.

~~~

March 19th, 2011
Black Lake, Hogwarts

“Down, Snuffles! Down! Get away from him!”

It was a good thing that Draco couldn’t come today. Hermione doubted that he would have escaped notice, not with all the chaos they were creating right now. Already other students were drawing near and she saw at least one Prefect from Hufflepuff in the forming crowd. It was only a matter of time for the first Professor to show up, too.

She didn’t know how to explain a big dog viciously shaking a caged rat, which was why she panicked, joining in the frantic shouts of the others. Ron, of course, was the loudest, but Anthony and Seamus weren’t far behind. Hannah was sobbing.

Hannah was sobbing.

“I’m sorry, Snuffles,” she whispered as she whipped out her wand. She didn’t want to hurt the dog, only scare him into dropping the cage. Ron had brought Scabbers with him - they had talked about it so that Hermione could leave Crookshanks in her dormitory this afternoon. They had thought it a brilliant plan - up until the moment the great, black dog had jumped up and bitten the cage. Scabbers squeals were almost as loud as the shouts - high pitched and panicked.

Consuo!”, she cried, watching as a bright bolt shot out of her wand. It found its mark on the dog’s bum who gave a startled whelp from the sharp sting, but Snuffles was loath to let go of the cage.

“DO SOMETHING!” Ron screamed, trying to grab the cage himself. It was a tuck of war he was bound to lose, but just as he lost his grip, his fingers managed to pry the cage door open.

With the next shake, a small, brown lump flew out of the cage. Several onlookers shouted out and pointed at the poor rat, but that seemed to catch Snuffles’s attention. The dog let go of the cage and jumped forward.

“What is going on here? This is… by Merlin!”

The voice of Professor McGonagall made Hermione lose focus of her next stinging hex, which went wide above Snuffles, who had pounced on Scabbers. Ron was throwing lake pebbles, and Seamus was just about to throw himself bodily onto the great dog when something very unexpected happened.

It wasn’t Snuffles, who finally closed his strong jaws around the rat.

It wasn’t Professor McGonagall, who had lifted her own wand, incantation on her lip.

It wasn’t even Seamus, who managed to land his scrawny body on top of the black dog.

It all happened at the same time as the unexpected thing, though. There was a loud shriek coming from Scabbers as Seamus landed with an “Oof!” just to be wrenched around as Professor McGonagall’s spell hit all three. They separated and started to rose up from the ground, presumably to dangle in the air to neuter any more attacks.

It didn’t, however, prevent Scabbers to swell up rather alarmingly until not one, but two people hung above the damp ground, together with one paddling dog who was barking rather madly at the cringing little man.

Nearly everyone gasped in shock. Professor McGonagall didn’t, but only because she clutched her chest, eyes wide and face pale from the shock. “Peter..?” she murmured, loudly in the sudden silence. Whatever she thought, it interrupted her spellwork long enough for the three to fall down again.

Long enough for the bleeding, shivering man to shrink back into the form of a skinny, sickly rat that speedily ran away, barely visible through the grass.

~~~

May 28th, 2011
Three Broomsticks, Hogsmead

They met at the Three Broomsticks, commandeering multiple tables by pushing them flush to each other after asking Madam Rosmerta. They had come early, which had been a good idea - it was the early afternoon, and already students and villagers were flooding the Broomsticks, eager to listen to the latest gossip.

Neville looked around, clutching at his mug of butterbeer. Wayne, Kevin and Anthony sat together, close to Tracey and Hannah. Susan sat next to her friend, with Seamus and Dean on her other side. Justin and Blaise had taken to Ron and Hermione. Terry was quietly talking to Draco, who had taken a seat next to Neville, Ginny and Luna.

The last time they had all met up like this has been almost a year ago - most times, they met up in smaller groups. It was a natural, fluid thing - Neville would always prefer Hermione’s presence over all others, whereas Kevin had attached himself to Anthony and Luna to Ginny. Still, when the call was made, they all came.

Even Draco came, despite the location they had chosen to make use of their last Hogsmeade weekend of the school year.

“Everyone got their drinks?” Hermione was checking up and down their tables. “Good. We should start this, then. Ron?”

The redhead grimaced but obediently sat up straight. Blaise smirked, Wayne snorted, but mostly, they were as attentive as they could be, eyes on Ron.

“Okay, so we were called to testify in front of the Wizengamot, since we had been there. That is, Hermione, Seamus, Anthony, Hannah and I. Professor McGonagall was there, too, to escort us, but also because she had identified the wanker…”

~~~

When the Aurors came after the lake incident to take their testimonies, it was the first time for some of the teens to ever hear of the name Peter Pettigrew. Some others knew, of course, of the brave man who tried to get to Black right after his betrayal and got blown into pieces for his trouble.

To listen to Professor McGonagall telling the young, dark-skinned Auror named Shacklebolt, that she had just seen a rat morphing into said Peter Pettigrew, formerly dead, had been a shock for the kids as well as for the Aurors.

It had also been a shock for the whole of magical Britain. Chaos ensued, the Prophet started to print one theory after another, the Wizengamot was abuzz and Minister Fudge went from firm denial to utmost support when Professor McGonagall testified again, this time under the influence of Veritaserum - Peter Pettigrew was alive and had posed as a pet rat for twelve whole years.

That, however, had only been the beginning of two very confusing months, because a week after everyone had finally acknowledged Pettigrew’s status as a living individual and exhausted themselves with questions about the why, how and where, the Daily Prophet got their hands on an extremely juicy piece of gossip: Sirius Black never had a trial.

Magical Britain gasped and started to point fingers at the Ministry. This time, Minister Fudge didn’t waste any time to firmly put the blame where it belonged - the former administration. Cries for another trial became louder and louder, the search for both Pettigrew and Black busied the whole Department of Law Enforcement and finally, the Ministry sent out a call for both Pettigrew and Black for an official trial to determine what had really happened that fateful Halloween night and the days thereafter.

Sirius Black gave himself up to the Aurors not a day later, well-fed and not nearly as crazy looking as most people had thought him to be. Pettigrew, on the other hand, never showed up, and thus the trial was held in absentia. It was a very thorough affair, with dozens of testimonies of people who had known Black, Pettigrew or both before and during the war.

Even the Headmaster, Professor Dumbledore, commented on this, saying that he had never thought Black would ever betray his best friend, which was why it had been so devastating for him when Black had been allegedly found ‘guilty’.

The students themselves came after the personal testimonies and obediently told the Minister and the looming Wizengamot how they had exposed Pettigrew. An Auror testified Professor McGonagall’s statement. Various members of the Weasley family could account for the longevity of the pet rat. Molly Weasley had been in tears, ashamed that she ‘let a grown man sleep in the same bed as her baby boys’.

When Sirius Black finally came to the front and told his story, the public was a mob of rage and outcry, one that was out for Pettigrew’s blood. And Sirius Black walked free from the court.

~~~

“My aunt says that he’s suing for reprisal. I’m still shocked that they actually threw someone into Azkaban without trial.” Susan Bones shook her head.

“It was wartime, but still. Now they’re checking every record they have, I heard my dad talking about it,” Ron offered, his voice a bit dry after his retelling of the main trial. Most of the teens who had been called for their testimony had to go back to school right after, but since almost the whole Weasley clan had been there, Ron had been allowed to stay with his parents to answer a couple more questions afterwards. He hadn’t told anyone what he had been asked, but Neville didn’t even want to know - not after Mrs Weasley’s outcry at the main hearing.

“Black spoke to Mother,” Draco said absentmindedly, picking at his sleeve. He was slouched in his seat and leaned towards Neville so that most people in the Broomsticks couldn’t see him right away. “Said that he’ll try to keep contact. She was confused by that - they didn’t get along very well when they were younger.”

“That’s right, he’s your what, second cousin?”

“Mother and he are cousins, so he’s my uncle once removed.”

“That must be really weird, mate…”

“I’m just kind of happy that it’s over.”

“Yeah, but Pettigrew is still out there, right?”

“Eww, don’t remind me! I’m all kinds of glad that I put him into a cage this year, he used to sleep on my pillow…”

The table soon erupted into loud chatter, jumping from one topic to another. More drinks were bought, snacks and food were ordered. A few people stood up for a quick trip to Honeydukes, and others joined them (Draco had slunk away at one point - they really had to find some kind of Headquarters fast).

“I wonder what happened to Snuffles,” Neville told Hermione at one point. “He was really the hero of this all, wasn’t he? Bet he could sniff Pettigrew out right away.”

The girl nodded, looking thoughtful out of the window. “I guess,” she said. “I just hope he isn’t afraid of us now. I really didn’t mean to hurt him with the Stinging hex.”

And for some reason, she smiled rather mischievously after that statement.

~~~

June 10th, 2011
Hogwarts

“Snuffles?”

Ron was the first to meet the great black dog who barreled towards him, and he got a generous lick across his face for his troubles. Hermione gasped, but she didn’t say anything when Ron dissolved into sputters, nor when Neville started to laugh.

“The others are inside, Snuffles. How long have you waited here for us, anyway?” she finally dared to ask, earning an excited woof from the dog. She kept him within eyesight of her and gave him a quick scratch behind the ears while she inspected the body of the dog. He looked well-fed and freshly groomed - his fur had a healthy shine to it.

“That’s right… we don’t meet up at the lake anymore, not often at least,” Neville said, face falling. “What should we do about him, then?”

“Let’s smuggle him inside,” Ron grinned. “Fred showed me a hidden staircase last week, we can totally pull it off. We just need to be careful and enter the castle from one of the side entrances.”

Stifling a laugh, Hermione let Ron and Neville go forth. The boys jumped forward, eager to take the dearly missed dog to their companions.

“I think I know exactly where you’ve been,” the bright girl told the dog who stumbled in reaction to her words. Both exchanged a look. “Don’t try to look innocent, Mr Black. You’d better come clean when we arrive. I don’t plan to lie to my friends.”

Snuffles whined softly, but he didn’t turn away. She hoped that Draco was there, too - she dearly wanted to see their faces when her friends finally realized to whom they had been giving treats to this whole time.

Chapter Text

August 29th, 2011
Parkinson Estate

Dear Pansy,

I am certain that you have already read in the Prophet about what happened at the World Cup. This letter is partly written to ensure you that yes, I am in good health and have not been in any danger. And now that this is out of the way, I shall indulge your insatiable need for news to gossip with Blaise about.

Naturally, I watched the game in the Minister’s lounge. What I didn’t anticipate was the fact that Weasley and his family would join us there. Father wasn’t thrilled, though I think that Mother couldn’t care less about their presence. She did hold Father back from embarrassing us with a lack of manners, especially since our illustrious Minister seems to have a soft spot for the family in question.

During the game, Mother chose to seek a distraction by way of talking to the lovely wife of the Bulgarian Minister. They both shared a disinterest for Quidditch, something that I still can’t understand. Surely the flawless performance of the Irish team, as well as Viktor Krum’s spectacular catch of the Snitch, should enchant even the casual viewer of the sport? Alas, she decided that no, it wasn’t to her tastes, and I shall not judge her for it.

Indeed, her seeking out the presence and company of Mrs. Oblansk turned out to be quite a good thing. Did I mention to you that Mother speaks Bulgarian? She also taught me in my younger years, which came in handy when Mother introduced me as well. Mrs Oblansk was visibly pleased by this and shared her impression with Minister Oblansk as well. Funny thing, this - the man is perfectly able to converse in English, yet he chose not to inform Minister Fudge of this fact which led to much amusement before the actual game.

But I digress - as I mentioned, Mother’s need for any distraction that excluded Quidditch made it more than possible for Mrs Oblansk to make certain introductions. You see, she invited us to a get together where both teams were to attend, and Mother and I agreed upon attending. Father, quite sadly, wasn’t able to come with us - he claimed that he needed to talk to other important people.

Someone invited Ronald Weasley to come with them - I can’t explain why else he would have arrived at the party the exact same time Mother and I did. I hope Hogwarts won’t hear from any rumours that I have started to take Weasleys under my wing - my decision to introduce him to various famous Quidditch players was made out of pity and nothing more. I am just glad Father wasn’t there to witness it, nor did he hear about that blunder. Mother is more used to extend a hand to those beneath us. I think she approved.

Viktor Krum, I must say, is a very interesting person. Of all the attendees of the party, he was also closest to Weasley and I in age. Weasley couldn’t stop talking about this little club of his, but Krum was either patient or interested enough to endure it.

The rest of the night was less pleasant. As you have without a doubt already heard, the campsite of the World Cup has seen a vulgar display of violence. I can only wonder how much these people must have drunk to gather enough liquid courage for this tasteless task - imagine dangling helpless people from thin air, one of them still a young child! Mother was livid, but in her quiet, cold way. Father wasn’t back at that time, but I am sure that he would have been displeased as well.

Thankfully the Aurors did their job before it got out of hand. Several civilians had helped them to tackle the problem and I heard that a number of the masked ruffians got caught and are now awaiting their trial. Good riddance, I say. We really don’t need people that are willing to break the law for something as petty as Muggle baiting, nor do we need the level of stupidity displayed that very night - rare are the events that see more Aurors gathered at one place than the World Cup.

Pansy, I think my father is worried about me even more after this. He started ever since Mother’s cousin, Sirius Black, got exonerated this summer, as if he was fearing for me to be absconded with by the very same man - my presence in a public space just a day after the trial (when I escorted Blaise to the Three Broomsticks, remember?) is a notably sore spot for him, though I can’t see why.

Now, after the dangers of the attack Mother and I had to go through, he watches me like a hawk. I have already complained to Mother, but she reckons this is something we can’t avoid - it is his right to worry about his only son, though I am tempted to fight for some privacy. I can barely write a letter to my friends without him hovering over me. I hope he won’t be too mad when he finally notices that I write them at night now. A teenage boy needs his own space, after all.

I look forward to the end of summer,

Yours truly,
Draco

It didn’t make much sense to write up a letter in answer - she would see Draco in a couple of days when school started again. It was an interesting letter though, one that was worth a lot of contemplation later in the day. Draco’s strained relationship with his father, for example, was bound to become a problem for her, too. Her own father was far too concerned to keep in good graces with the Malfoy patriarch.

“Good thing I don’t care a wit about Quidditch,” Pansy Parkinson mused and stood up to put the letter away. She knew that her mother was wont to go through her things, which was why she kept her diary and her private correspondence in a charmed box underneath her bed - a gift from an estranged aunt back when she was still a young child. She never had much use of it before, but ever since she had decided to overlook Draco’s rebellious acts it had become quite handy.

Pansy had just closed the wooden box when a soft pop proclaimed the arrival of one of the two house elves that lived in the small Parkinson estate. Triffy was a tiny thing with bulbous eyes and a tiny skyward nose. She was Pansy’s favourite, what with her manners and the way she was so very efficient.

“The Master and Mistress are wanting Young Mistress Pansy for lunch,” Triffy announced with her high-pitched voice. She eyed Pansy a moment before giving her a bright smile. “Triffy has been making you eclairs for dessert as well.”

“I’ll be down shortly, then,” Pansy said and finished hiding the box. She didn’t fear exposure through house elf, not as long as none of her parents actually thought about asking her directly for hidden things.

Triffy nodded, big ears flapping with the movement, and vanished with a second pop which urged Pansy to quickly check her appearance before joining her parents at the table downstairs. Roasted squabs and vegetables, buttered green peas, and a fluffy prawn pie - it smelled heavenly.

The meal itself went down without a hitch. Her parents talked about their day, about some planned meetings, outings, invitations, about the current economy, about the cheek of goblins these days. Pansy mostly listened in or made comments about what she had heard at school, about her plans as well and, of course, what kind of robes and clothes were must have this season and really, one last trip to Diagon Alley wouldn’t be too much, would it?

It wasn’t until the last bit of truly wonderful eclairs had been eaten that a distinctive shift happened - her parents shared a look before facing Pansy, who tensed up just for a moment before forcing her body to relax. She was not about to show her parents that she was on alert. She wasn’t stupid.

“Pansy, darling, your father and I wanted to talk to you about… well, about young Draco.”

Her mother’s hesitation didn’t go unnoticed. Either her mother was against whatever her father was about to say (because it was always Father’s idea first, with Mother supporting him all the way) or both of them weren’t too sure how to proceed with a perceived problem. Pansy hoped for the latter - Rose Parkinson, much as Pansy loved her, had never dared or even wanted to go against her husband, and while Cassius Parkinson adored his little daughter very much to the point of nearly spoiling her rotten, the man had a stubborn streak reaching all the way up to Scotland.

Which was why Pansy decided to play dumb - it was one of her more favoured masks to wear, since being underestimated opened up a lot of doors. “Oh, whyever? He hasn’t lied to me, has he? He told me that nothing had happened to him at the World Cup, but he is always far too noble to say if he is hurt…”

Her quick, worried chatter took a lot of the building momentum out of her parents. Especially her father looked a bit gobsmacked and hurried to regain control over the conversation. “No, no, nothing like that, sweetheart. I am sure he is quite alright. It has more to do with a bit of a rumour that we heard, darling.”

“There are many, Father, most of them not really worth listening to,” Pansy answered quickly, her false worry discarded in a fashion. “I try to hear them all nonetheless, just like you told me to. Draco’s status causes a lot of jealousy, I say.”

That, at least, was true enough. Of all the boys and girls in their year, Draco had to endure the bulk of scrutiny by the upper year purebloods. Like swimming with sharks, as Blaise had once said.

“True,” Cassius said - now he sounded even more hesitant, but he still soldiered on. “But you shouldn’t dismiss all of them, darling. You are a bright girl, which is why I trust you with this: Rumour has it that Draco Malfoy makes friends with all… kinds of people, even those that would shame the Malfoy name. Lucius is furious, even though he can hardly prove any disobedience.”

Of course not, Father, Pansy thought with a mental sigh. She loved her parents dearly, she really did, but they were not the very brightest bunch. “Oh, I heard those ones. But Father, Mother, you shouldn't worry too much. Someone saw him in Hogsmeade, sitting with Blaise who talked to some other, and drew his own conclusions.”

She is quite proud of her put-upon pout, as if she had to explain this scene one too many times already. Her mother already looked relieved, her father at least contemplative.

“As I said, I trust you, Pansy. Keep your eyes and your options open, in case that young Draco’s reputation suffers any more. We can still dissolve the contract - I heard that you are fast friends with Blaise Zabini and Theodore Nott?”

For a moment Pansy was speechless, but she hurriedly put a fake smile onto her face. She was fourteen years old and she was already so good at lying to her parents. “Yes, I am. They are very nice on their own, though not as… refined as Draco himself.” A dreamy edge, a far-away look - her mother started to giggle behind a soft hand, her father looked fondly at her. She used to be proud of fooling them not four months ago before Lucius Malfoy started doubting his only son and making trouble for all of them.

~~~

September 1st, 2011
Great Hall, Hogwarts

“...and with no further ado, I have the honour to announce the return of the Triwizard Tournament!”

For one moment, the Great Hall was perfectly silent. And then it wasn’t. Hundreds of students jumped off their seats to excitedly shout at their friends, their rivals and, occasionally their professors. Pansy herself didn’t jump, but even at the Slytherin table, she was part of a tiny minority.

It took a few minutes for the chaos to calm down and for the students to concentrate again on their beaming Headmaster. “Yes, yes, it is all very exciting, isn’t it?” the old man said, spreading his arms as if to hug them all. “After years of planning and contemplation to ensure the utmost safety for all participants, the Ministries of Britain, France and Bulgaria have finally decided on it. Alas, most of you will not be bothered by it, I fear - this year’s Tournament will begin it’s rotation in Beauxbatons, our french sister-school, which is why only our hopeful participants will make their way to the continent. Participants, which I have to say, must be at least seventeen by the time the Champions are chosen, which would be the 31st of October this year.”

This time the Hall was filled with various complaints, mostly from those who were too young to think about competing. It wasn’t nearly as loud as the clamour before, though, and gave Pansy a chance to think about what this meant for her. A quick glance towards her friends confirmed that she wasn’t the only one thinking about the fact that most of Hogwart’s NEWTs students will be missing for a whole school year.

Most of Slytherin’s NEWTs students, too.

A power vacuum, she mused, polishing off the last of her dessert while the Headmaster tried to be stern for once in his life after the Weasley twins threatened to hijack Hogwarts transport to France. Not that the fifth years are weak, but with two whole years missing, the whole hierarchy shifts. And this was something she needed dearly with Draco’s failing reputation. The boy was too caught up in his unusual friendships to do something against those who wanted to harm him. And at least one person already did it - someone had seen him in Hogsmeade and promptly told Lucius.

Rotten friendship, she thought on her way to the Slytherin common room, walking between Blaise and Draco. Trying to shield Draco will make things just that much more complicated. I surely can’t set myself up, and they will never accept one of our halfbloods. Not with people like Titus Mitcham and Miles Bletchley running around… And those were only the students that were present for the duration of this school year. Whatever was done in their absence was bound to be challenged once the summer was over, if not before.

The younger students weren’t much of a problem. Her own year had seen a lot of children from influential families starting at Hogwarts, true, but she blamed the timing of the war for such a coincidence. Of course, there was the occasional younger sibling striving to show their competence, but all in all, Pansy looked up when watching for trouble.

Draco and Blaise were, sadly enough, out of the running. Pansy wasn’t involved in their doings outside of Slytherin house, but there was a lot of speculation going on. Blaise wasn’t even subtle about it, and neither was Tracey. Both Crabbe and Goyle were hopeless anyway - they had attached themselves firmly to a continuously baffled Theodore Nott, who himself preferred the company of books over joining the political game of his house. A good pawn, if she was inclined to set him up, and miles better than Millicent, who was neither very popular outside of their year nor a Pureblood.

So, Theo or Daphne it was, and Merlin knew that the latter would be quite difficult to work with. She had plenty of access to the aloof beauty that was Daphne Greengrass - Pansy was getting along nicely with both Tracey, Daphne's best and only friend, and her little sister Astoria, a second-year Hufflepuff, but Daphne was known to be disinterested at best and cuttingly distant at worst. Someone who liked being left alone by but a few, not someone who’d like to take a position in the proverbial spotlight.

She could, of course, still try for herself - her reputation was spotless, after all. She had decent grades, the right family name and a good head on her shoulders. But it would require her to distance herself from Draco and Blaise more than she was willing to do. So a pawn it was.

Now she only had to get ready for the long game.

~~~

September 27th, 2011
Room of Requirement, Hogwarts

Pansy met Draco’s eyes without hesitation, and just like that the group of three accepted a fourth.

The problem with any plan came was a lack of information. She was very keen on protecting Draco - ever since their parents had drafted a token contract to declare their wish of a future wedding of their children, she had felt particularly protective over the boy with the pretty, grey eyes. That was why she had never said anything about Draco’s wishes to spend time with the likes of Weasley, Granger and Abbot.

That said, she had never felt a wish to meet with those people herself, ever. An oversight she couldn’t ignore anymore - she needed to know what exactly her friends were doing when they snuck out of the Slytherin common room.

Pansy only looked back once when they exited the room - Daphne wasn’t paying attention, never mind that her best friend was traipsing around with Blaise, Draco and her. Millicent was watching them, however, sitting close to Theo, Crabbe and Goyle. She lifted a bushy eyebrow and received a tiny shrug from Pansy as an answer.

Behind them, Bletchley was following her every move. Pansy looked away.

There wasn’t much to say during their brisk walk through hallways and corridors, up some stairs and the occasional secret passageway. Blaise filled the air with thoughtless chit-chat, talking about their new professor in Defence (an old ex-Auror named Alastor Moody who favoured none but seemed to dislike Draco), their classes, the students preparing for their year in France. It was a relatively long walk, all the way from the dungeons up to the seventh floor, but on the other side of Gryffindor’s tower entirely. They ended up in a hallway empty of any students and far away from the closest classrooms - even the decoration got sparse on their way up, with only one decidedly ugly tapestry lending some colour to the stone walls of the castle.

Pansy snorted when she saw Barbabas the Barmy and a collection of trolls dressed in tutus.

“This is it, then?” she asked and stared at the large double-door on the opposite wall.

“It is. We found it just before the summer holidays started. Nobody cares to come here, so it’s ideal for this kind of thing as long as Draco needs to lay low.” Without further ado, Blaise raised his hand to knock on the door - if there was any pattern to it, Pansy couldn’t hear one.

It took a moment for the doors to open. Longbottom looked out and visibly hesitated for a moment when he saw her, but then he smiled to Pansy’s surprise.

“One more? The girls will be happy, they say it’s too many boys,” the Gryffindor said, inviting them in. His smile did nice things to his round face… only that it wasn’t fully round, anymore. The boy had lost a few pounds and gained some inches during the summer, something Pansy had failed to notice before.

He was also greeting Draco with a genuinely warm smile before shaking hands with Blaise and Tracey when they entered the room behind the double-doors.

It was spacious and bright, with high ceilings and windows, whitewashed walls and a dark, wooden floor. Several old rugs had been thrown in front of a fireplace and an assortment of mismatched furniture provided enough space for the students to lounge around. On the left side Pansy spotted three tables - two had been pushed together, reminiscent of what these people did to the library tables when they wanted to study together. The other one stood alone, a bit further away, and was currently being used for a vicious card-game by (and here Pansy did a double-take) most of the Hufflepuff kids.

“Did you steal all this furniture from other rooms?” she asked Blaise in a low voice. He walked her towards the fire where Granger, the little Weasley girl, Goldstein and Finch-Fletchley talked in hushed voices.

“Most was already here when we found the room,” Blaise said and took a seat. Pansy did not - she had finally realized what kind of discussion Blaise was about to enter, after a short, but enthusiastic greeting.

“Imagine it,” Anthony Goldstein, Ravenclaw, said, his voice decidedly dreamy. “I mean, sure, we have those mirror things, which is practically FaceTime, but a working StarkPhone…”

“Or any phone from this century,” Justin Finch-Fletchley, Hufflepuff, sighed. A phone?

“There’s an awful lot you guys have access too. I’m thinking about consoles,” Ginny Weasley, Gryffindor, said rather enviously.

“Wait, where have you seen one of those? Hermione?”

“It’s not that I’m using it that often,” Hermione Granger, Draco’s Gryffindor friend, said. “It’s just an Xbox.”

“We can stay friends,” Blaise said, causing Pansy to blink twice. “I can’t stand Playstation people.”

“Blasphemer!” Goldstein hollered. Finch-Fletchley was laughing.

“There are more? What’s a Playstation?” Weasley exclaimed.

Hermione pulled a face. “Nothing important…”

Pansy searched Blaise’s face - he was laughing, his pretty face alight with it, at Goldstein’s and Finch-Fletchley’s sputtering. The subject was nothing Pansy knew anything about - as it was, she was too absorbed in watching one of her best friends interacting with these people. Relaxed and without caution.

She didn’t know if she was supposed to feel jealous, which was why she turned around to search for her other best friend. She found him with Longbottom who was looking over Draco’s Herbology essay.

“Well, at least now I know how you beat me in Herbology. Longbottom is an unfair advantage,” she said evenly and took a place with them, enjoying the startled look of the Gryffindor - after all the surprises she just had to go through it was nice to share the feeling.

“Oh please, Pansy. It’s only unfair because you have never thought about it,” Draco responded. “I think it’s perfectly sensible for me to get some pointers from Professor Sprout’s best student.”

“That’s not…” Longbottom, who turned slightly red at the praise, stopped his denial when he got a pointed look from Draco. How very interesting. “I mean… I like to help. Anyone who asks.” He had quickly turned to Pansy, cheeks still aflame. “So it doesn’t have to be unfair. And Professor Sprout is really happy because there’s so many good students this year, she said. You’re Draco’s friend, you can totally come to the study group.”

“You’re awfully nervous, Longbottom,” Pansy said and smirked when the boy stuttered. Draco sent her a quick look and the smirk turned into a smile. “You needn’t be. I think I might come more often. I would be a fool to turn down your help, after all. Or Granger’s, for that matter.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to Slytherins,” Longbottom whispered to Draco who choked on a laugh he tried to suppress.

“Speaking of Slytherin, Blaise seems to have a lot of fun talking about things I can only guess are… Muggle?”

“He grew up in Italy,” Draco said and shrugged about it. As if it meant nothing. “They like what Muggles come up with, so he knows a lot about this… technology.”

“It’s really exciting what they can do,” Longbottom agreed and wrote down a note on Draco’s parchment. “When I was visiting Hermione over summer, she showed us all these things some Muggle invented. If I didn’t know that they couldn’t do magic, I would swear that’s what it was.”

Pansy cut a sharp glance at Draco, but he only nodded. Sucking in a breath, she had to force herself to calm down again. Muggles doing magic? Unthinkable. But then, she didn’t know anything about them - Draco might have taken an interest in flying vehicles when he was small, but Pansy had been raised strictly traditional. It was another thing to investigate, but Draco being so nonchalant about these topics was worrisome. It only needed one talkative person…

“Anyway,” she said and was glad her voice was calm. “I saw that you got another letter from your new boyfriend. What does Viktor say, then?”

Yes, she thoroughly enjoyed the boys’ sputtering and the sight of two pairs of furiously blushing cheeks.

~~~

October 11th, 2011
Hogwarts

Pansy remembered the first time she had met both Daphne and Astoria Greengrass. Their parents, pureblooded and well-off, had thought it a great idea to organize playdates for their daughters. Pansy had been five and jealous of Daphne’s hair, which had led to a fight between the little girls. The adults had thought it amusing until Pansy ran away crying.

It had been little Astoria who had found her afterwards and the two of them became fast friends in their childhood. Hogwarts had cooled their friendship to some degree, but Pansy still took some time to meet up with the younger girl, despite her being in Hufflepuff.

The Sorting of the youngest Greengrass had been a point of controversy in Slytherin - a few students saw fit to comment negatively on it in front of Daphne, who was fast to put them into place with cutting words and a couple of well-placed hexes. It had been the first time for her to show her temper in school. Most people had been surprised by the violent outburst of the normally calm girl; Pansy wasn’t one of them.

She might be the only other person besides Astoria’s friends in Hufflepuff to know exactly why Daphne was so very protective of her little sister - and, coincidentally, very glad that Astoria had been sorted into the House of the loyal, friendly badgers. Hufflepuff wouldn’t allow anyone to bully the girl despite her condition. They would keep the secret safe and away from prying ears.

I should really feel bad about this, Pansy mused as she approached Astoria between classes, keenly aware of the people around them. Astoria’s Hufflepuff friends were already used to her and not alarmed, but a gaggle of fifth-year Ravenclaws close by were eyeing the Slytherin with a certain amount of suspicion.

Good. That will make them pay attention.

She exchanged pleasant greetings with her childhood friend who was eager to engage in short chit-chat with Pansy. It was easy to drop her voice just so during their talk and to ignore the looks she garnered from the Ravenclaws who were clearly listening in. They were of a vicious kind - funny enough that Slytherin always got described as the most cutthroat house when Ravenclaw itself primarily hosted individuals with a very competitive nature. Astoria shared her keen mind with her sister, but other than Daphne she had honed her skills in academics to a frightening degree.

Poor Astoria didn’t even notice what she was doing, thinking Pansy’s soft inquiries about her health an act of caring, nor would she ever know the truth as long as Pansy had a say in it.

She liked Astoria a great deal, but she wouldn’t let her affection hinder her plans.

The bell rang through the corridors and both girls stopped their little talk, one noticeably missing the true meaning of what has been said while the other was content with the looks on the Ravenclaws’ faces.

~~~

November 2th, 2011
Slytherin Common Room, Hogwarts

“Diggory?” Blaise scrunched up his nose. “Cedric Diggory, the Hufflepuff prefect?”

“Yes,” was Draco’s answer. He even held out the letter to Blaise so that the other boy could re-check for himself. “Krum says that he is a likeable sort and most of Hogwarts’ candidates were not too angry about this.”

“At least he looks pretty,” Pansy said gravely, still holding onto the moving picture Krum had sent with the letter - it was a nice shot of all three champions in a delicately decorated ballroom. “Not as pretty as the Veela, but pretty enough. Poor Krum, he has to go on fame alone.”

“I bet he’s happy to share the spotlight - he’s looking not as grouchy than usual.”

They laughed a bit at that, listening with rapt attention when Draco continued to read out the letter aloud for his friends. They were sitting in a secluded corner of their common room, books and parchment were strewn about. Some people were watching them, but Pansy didn’t mind - they had been watching the whole term. If they still hadn’t made up their mind it wasn’t her concern.

They were interrupted by the entrance of an unusually angry looking Daphne Greengrass. Her lips were pouted, her eyes narrowed and her pretty eyebrows drawn together. Even her hair, normally impeccable, showed her distress with loose strands that had escaped her braid. Pansy watched her on her way to the dormitories and waited until she heard the sound of a closing door before she stood up.

“Should I come with you?” Blaise offered, but she shook her head.

“I’ll just check on her real quick. You stay here and enjoy some juicy French gossip for me.”

She put her unused quill away and sauntered away. When she entered her dormitory, Daphne was pacing around and not in the mood for visitors.

“What do you want?”

Pansy halted her steps for a moment before lifting her chin, dark eyes narrowing. “Oh, I don’t know,” she said flippantly. “Maybe trying to see what has you in a snit?”

She raised her eyebrows when Daphne bristled up, her arms crossed in front of her chest.

“It’s none of your business, Pansy,” the blonde girl said. When Pansy snorted, shock and anger contorted her usually pretty face.

“Something’s up, and Tracey won’t be here for a couple more hours. So yes, this makes it my business too - she will kill me if I don’t ask and let you to stew in it. And just so you know, I won’t go away until you tell me what’s upset you so much.”

Pansy sat herself down onto her own bed, already searching her night table for a book or her make-up bag to prepare herself for the long wait. She was surprised then, when Daphne deflated after a few minutes of more pacing and muttering, just when Pansy started to paint her nails a fetching dark silver.

“It’s Astoria,” she said and sat down primely on her bed facing Pansy. “She’s being picked on by some Ravenclaw bitches. I found her crying in one of the bathrooms today.”

“They were always eyeballing her ever since she aced her first year,” Pansy said evenly, as if dismissing the issue. True to her nature when it came to her sister, Daphne immediately bristled up.

“They were picking on her for having Scaling,” she hissed and there were two bright, red spots of anger on her cheeks.

For a moment, both girls went silent. Pansy took her time to sort through her words. Daphne was angry for a good reason, after all. Scaling wasn’t a terribly dangerous illness, but it was a persistent one, disfiguring for most as it turned parts of the human skin into hard scales, thus the name. Even now there was no treatment for it. Astoria was one of the lucky few that could hide her illness.

At least until now.

“Do you need a hand? Making them regret it?” Her face felt tight in a way it did when she genuinely worried about something, and it was only half-faked. She couldn’t rightly bring herself to regret her decision, but it didn’t make it any easier.

“I don’t,” Daphne answered briskly. “I will manage just fine. But…” For a moment, she hesitated, and Pansy waited with bated breath. “You can be there for her. I know you two are friends, she needs it.”

Pansy allowed herself to smile at that. “Yes,” she said and adjusted her grip on the bottle of nail polish. “I can do that. However, my offer still stands.”

~~~

December 17th, 2011
Hogwarts

“Draco,” Pansy said with an even, patient voice. “This is a dog.”

“Now that you say it, I do see what you mean,” he replied, just as deadpan and even as she.

“We found him close to the lake. When we moved camps it was only right for him to come with us,” Wayne Hopkins once said, without any explanation of how the big, black dog regularly made his way into the castle and up all the stairs without being noticed by other students, let alone the Professors.

Pansy turned towards Blaise, who lazily shrugged one shoulder. He had a small, flat thing in his hand and his wand in his other - the other Muggleborn and a couple interested Purebloods were crowded around him, more interested in this ‘Samsung phone’ than the giant, well-groomed black dog in their midst.

“His name is Snuffles, if that helps,” the boy said, giving her a cheeky smile. Pansy exhaled.

“Of course,” she murmured and turned back to watch the dog warily. “I’m not petting him, Draco. I won’t even ask why he’s here. Just… let’s get back to studying, yes?”

Sometimes she asked herself why she was exhausting herself for the blonde boy. Because he looks so happy here, she thought to herself. They all do.

~~~

The fact that she literally gained a large group of friends-by-association didn't occur to her until today, rushing down the stairs to make it to lunch on time. With her classes and most of her free time either spend with Daphne and Astoria or up in the Headquarters, this was the second time she had almost forgotten to send a letter to her parents who demanded weekly updates from her. It made for interesting bouts of running through the castle, hoping that people wouldn’t notice and cursing the fact that the owlery was so high up.

Upon descending into the Entrance Hall, Pansy started to walk slower, trying to catch her breath. Even on a weekend, the Slytherins were expected to be on time for lunch and dinner, but that was no excuse to enter the Great Hall huffing and puffing.

“Out of the way, snake,” a voice interrupted her thoughts, which was her only warning before, just a moment later, someone collided with her, shoulder and elbow first. Pansy gasped in surprise and a bit of pain, and stumbled in the direction she had been pushed, barely catching herself.

“Excuse me…,” she started, seething in disbelief, but the boy, a decently sized Gryffindor, simply kept walking away. With a smirk. On his face.

Her wand was in her hand before she knew it - it had been a while since the last time someone had given her much grief about her house, but she remembered the first years vividly. Big Gryffindors going after small Slytherins (and vice-versa, but she had always been more on the selfish side). Her fingers itched, her tongue already forming the spell that was subtle, but painful, but before she could take any action, two other students intercepted the path of one Cormac McLaggen.

Pansy had only started to get to know Susan Bones and Hannah Abbott. They were sweet girls, like most Hufflepuffs, though Pansy had to admit that both had a good head on their shoulders. Especially Bones, whose aunt was quite influential in the Ministry. Nonetheless, biases ran deep between the Houses - two months had not been enough to make Pansy question what everyone knew: Hufflepuff was the nice house, it’s members placid and naive.

She should have remembered that a badger guarded their colours, and not without reason.

“You stop right there, Cormac McLaggen!” Bones demanded, a displeased expression on her face, which was still a lot calmer than the furious glint in Abbott’s eyes. For a brief moment, all Pansy could feel was mortification strong enough to freeze her on the spot.

McLaggen, however, only raised his eyebrows. “What do you want?”

“Are you seriously asking that after what you have done? Go and apologize!” Bones was bristling, her words sharp and demanding.

“What for? She’s a snake, for Merlin’s sake!”

“That has nothing to do with it! How can you do that to someone?”

Abbott took a step forward, her voice a hiss. “Disgusting, that’s what that was! You brute!”

“We should go to Professor McGonagall, see what she would say to your behaviour! She could have been hurt!” Bones added, thoroughly disgusted. It was finally enough to push McLaggen into a more defensive stance, brows furrowed and jaw set.

“Should keep her eyes open, then -,” he tried to argue in a nasty tone, but he quickly (and loudly) got cut off.

“Don’t you dare! We saw what happened! What are you, some senseless troll, clubbing on girls when you think you are alone?” Abbott was nearly shouting now, cheeks reddened from anger. She was a hothead, Pansy noticed - Bones was colder in her behaviour, if no less angry than her blonde friend.

“Please, Pugface barely qualifies as a girl.”

Abbott’s wand slashed forward and a painfully looking hex hit McLaggen right in the crotch. He howled with pain, his hands forgetting his own wands as they flew downwards.

“She’s worth ten times of you, you condescending git,” she spat scornfully, her round face red with anger. “And if I catch you saying something like that ever again, I will go through with that spell! Let’s see how many people you can still fool into dating you without your gonads!”

Bones had been watching the exchange, but now she stepped forward and put a hand on Abbott’s shoulder. “Hush, Hannah. I think he learned his lesson.”

“I bloody well hope so!” Abbott turned away from the pained boy who had dropped his wand and eyed Pansy, who was staring rather gobsmacked at the two Hufflepuffs who had just defended her. “Are you okay, Pansy?”

She swallowed her own confusion and took a deep breath. “Yes, I think so. And thank you, Hannah. Susan.”

“Let’s go inside,” Bones decided with a last, withering glare towards McLaggen. Pansy startled when both Hufflepuff girls stepped beside her, ushering Pansy into the Great Hall. The Slytherin only just managed to smooth down her face before entering, but even so, her entry between Bones and Abbott didn’t go unnoticed by the other students from her House. Her shoulders tensed when she met Bletchley’s eyes.

Then she saw Draco and Blaise who simply nodded at her.

“Thanks again,” Pansy suddenly told the girls, her voice not in the least toned down. “I owe you one.” She smiled as she broke from them and took her seat between Draco and Millicent, and ignored any incredulous looks she garnered.

~~~

January 14th, 2012
Slytherin Common Room, Hogwarts

“Can I help you?” Pansy asked when Daphne let herself into the bathroom of their dorm. She didn’t mind the presence of the other girl while doing her evening routine - you didn’t last long in a boarding school if you were shy in your underwear.

“It’s more the other way around, isn’t it?” Daphne stepped forward, brush in hand, and started on her hair. Pansy pushed down a spark of envy - she would rather concentrate on the conversation, thank you very much.

She answered with a general hum, applying the moisturizer onto her face. Daphne grimaced but didn’t stop her own care.

“I owe you one for Astoria. I am also aware that Bletchley and his ilk are planning something with Draco. I don’t particularly care for the schemes within this House, but I also don’t want to be in any kind of debt.” She twirled the brush in her hand and risked a glance towards Pansy who was watching the blonde thoughtfully.

“Sometimes I almost forget how smart you are, Greengrass,” Pansy finally said, her voice carefully void of any real emotion. It wouldn’t do to jump around whooping.

Daphne scoffed. “Spare me your compliments, Parkinson. The thing is, Astoria will need you a lot, probably for a long time. For reasons unknown she clings mainly to us and tries to spare her fragile Duffer friends any detail. I love her dearly, but she doesn’t quite understand what this means. You do, however.”

“I could use some help,” Pansy allowed and watched as Daphne finally relaxed. She could understand that reaction very well - better to know a threat than to anticipate a surprise. “You’re better at putting people down, after all. He wants to hurt Draco in some way, and he might go after me as well.”

“True,” Daphne hummed and continued brushing her hair out. “But if I do it for you, you won’t gain any reputation.”

“Maybe I don’t need it,” Pansy answered with a tight smile.

~~~

February 15th, 2012
Hogwarts

“I really don’t envy them, having to face a manticore,” Theodore exclaimed with a grimace. He had an open textbook in his lap, but he had listened to Krum’s letter with just as much rapt attention as the others had.

They sat, as they ever so often did, in ‘their’ corner of the Slytherin common room. They didn’t hang out in full numbers as often as they had in their first two years, but on occasion every one of the Slytherin fourth years found the time to spend some time together. Even Daphne attended, albeit under protest, preferring to read next to Tracey instead of actively talking or, Merlin forbid, socializing with the others.

“Whoever designed the tasks must be mad,” Goyle added.

“It’s a tradition. People apparently used to die a lot back in the day,” Tracey said with a bright smile. “Which reminds me, next time will be in our seventh year if all goes well this time. Any volunteers?”

Her words were followed by a bit of posturing and bragging, as it often went with teenagers no matter the social standing, but their fun soon ended with Blaise perking up and narrowing his eyes. Naturally, the others (some faster, some slower) followed his gaze.

Pansy felt her gut clench painfully.

“You lot are really loud,” Bletchley said with a condescending smirk. His dark eyes, topped with strong, bushy brows, settled on Draco and the letter in his hands after scrutinizing each one of the fourth years.

Miles Bletchley, Slytherin Beater, was a tall young man with strong arms and shoulders that showed even through the casual robe he wore. He wasn’t someone who you would call handsome, but he had a very intense face, the eyes his most striking features. Too young to enter the Triwizard Tournament, the sixth year was apparently keen to use his stay at Hogwarts to further his standing, just as Pansy had anticipated.

That he was trying to use Draco for that was his most glaring deficiency.

“What’s that, then? News from home?”

He looked awfully eager. Pansy’s eyes narrowed down before she put on her prettiest smile. “Not from home, no,” she said and fluttered her lashes at Draco. “Just an update on the Tournament in France. Viktor is very diligent.”

It didn’t take Bletchley long to get the hint, his gaze going from Pansy to Draco and back to her. The line of his smile tightened and his brows pulled together with that revelation. “Viktor Krum?” He took a step forward to take a look at the parchment. “You are friends with Viktor Krum?”

“Since summer,” Draco said amiably, but there was a hint of cold steel in his voice as he folded the letter back into the envelope. “Do you mind? You did learn to not read other people’s letters quite so openly, right? It’s called good manners.”

Immediately, Bletchley’s whole demeanour changed to a rigid stance. To his credit, his face didn’t waver too much from the nasty expression he had carried the whole time.

“I would watch out, Malfoy,” he said with a sneer. “No matter what friends you rally around you, in the end, it won’t help you.” His lips stretched into a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “You’ll notice soon enough.”

He turned around and stalked back to his friends, leaving an unsettling mood behind.

~~~

“Are you sure you don’t want us to come with you?”

Draco grimaced a bit, still clutching the letter his mother had sent him as a warning. Pansy felt anxious about the situation, and Blaise’s constant fretting didn’t make it any better. Not that she blamed the Italian boy - she was worried, too, for Lucius Malfoy was at Hogwarts to have a private talk with his son.

They were close to Snape’s office. Draco had managed to send off the others, but Blaise and Pansy were still with him, standing close and protective, eyes hard despite their worries.

“I will manage. Besides, Father won’t allow you to stay. Just be glad that Professor Snape will be there as well.”

“He’s your father’s friend,” Pansy cautioned, but Draco scoffed.

“He’s my godfather. I know what comes first for him.”

It helped a bit, to know that Snape would keep an eye on the situation, but Pansy didn’t walk away when Draco entered the office, and neither did Blaise. They didn’t talk to each other. Both were busy straining their ears.

Minutes passed by without a hint of what was going on behind the door. Pansy’s gut didn’t stop clenching painfully. This was the reason she went through so much stress for Draco, betraying others so easily, disregarding her own upbringing by befriending his Muggleborn friends - she cared, deeply and almost unconditionally, for the blonde boy.

It frightened her, but she kept waiting until finally raised voices reached her ears. They were coming closer.

It was Draco who stormed out first, face pale and eyes glaring. Lucius looked equally angry despite his better attempts at hiding it, and the look he gave both Blaise and Pansy was withering in its quality.

“Mister Zabini, Miss Parkinson,” he greeted without any welcome, nostrils flaring. Snape exited the open doorway, body tense. “Why, it seems like you were waiting for my son. You shouldn’t worry about him, especially you, Miss Parkinson. There is plenty to worry about yourself if I understood your parents correctly.”

Draco whirled around, mouth opening in protest or to defend his friends, but Lord Malfoy wouldn’t have it. With a hiss, he stomped his foot and his cane on the floor to silence his startled son. “You will stop with this, Draco, or I will do so. If so much as one more rumour of you disgracing our name comes to my ears, I will see to it to remove you from the temptation!”

Draco’s open, livid face twitched and rearranged itself into a cold, blank slate. Pansy heard Blaise soft noise of protest and saw the look of loathing Snape gave Lucius Malfoy. Her heart hardened with sudden resolve, however, when she heard Draco’s overpolite voice.

“Of course, Father.”

Lord Malfoy seemed pleased with the submission Draco showed, which confused Pansy more than anything. Did the man know his own son so little not to see that it was fake? Or did he not care at all? Disgust welled inside her when the older Malfoy nodded once and briskly walked away.

“Don’t worry,” Draco said, watching his father’s back. The polite tone had fallen off. Pansy looked sharply at him, then at her teacher, but Draco didn’t mind them listening. “Mother won’t allow for me to change schools. He can’t do anything.”

“She is a formidable woman,” Blaise said slowly, carefully. He was just as aware of Snape’s presence as Pansy was.

“You would know, would you?” she added and primly took the arm Draco offered her.

They didn’t look back when they made their way to their dungeons, but Pansy did feel Snape’s stare all the way down the hallway.

~~~

“Someone snitched on you,” Pansy articulated what they all thought. She was still holding onto his arm, Blaise on her other side like a chaperone.

“Likely,” Draco answered shortly, still a bit on edge. Anger suited him, but she would rather like him to smile. The hard resolve she had felt before returned with a vengeance. Her hand was gentle, however, when she patted his arm.

“Don’t you worry about it. I will settle the issue soon enough, both the snitch and my parents.”

Draco stopped in his tracks and turned to look at her properly. She didn’t know what exactly he found, meeting her eyes, but he nodded more decisively, as if coming to a decision.

“I wanted to show you something for some time now. I think I have waited enough.”

Blaise whistled, sounding pleased, and together they meandered up the stairs instead of down. It didn’t take long for Pansy to notice that they were heading for the Headquarters. Her head tilted in curiosity, but she didn’t comment on it, not even when they stopped in front of the door.

Only three people were there at that time: Ronald Weasley, Hermione Granger and Neville Longbottom, who opened the door for them. Three people and the dog they claimed not to own.

“Pay attention,” Blaise murmured into her ear. It was easy, with the way the Gryffindors startled, to do so, even if it took a few moments for Pansy to really understand what happened. All Draco did, after all, was closing his eyes in concentration. The result: A lovely, comfortable recliner materializing in the middle of the room, one she knew well. She had seen it often enough in Malfoy Manor.

“Draco..?” she said with a hint of something in her voice. She couldn’t place it. Was it worry? Awe?

Did he just do silent, wandless magic?

“Blimey, mate! Warn a bloke beforehand, would you?” shouted the Weasley, but Draco’s eyes were on the dog when he answered.

“It’s the room, not me. We found it by chance, but the House Elves know about it, too. The Room of Requirement.” He smiled at her, pleased and sharp and trusting. “It changes into anything you really want. For us, it changed into this room.”

Again he looked at the dog who was watching in rapt attention. After a few moments of silence the big beast sighed and flopped down from the couch he was lounging in. The change in its form was just as fluent as the making of the recliner, like water flowing from one form into another.

When the dog stood up, it was as a grown man with long, black locks and a neatly trimmed beard.

“Pansy, this is my cousin, Lord Sirius Black.”

Pansy started. And stared. But finally she got it, and then she smiled, bright and reassured. “It’s a pleasure, Lord Black.”

~~~

February 15th, 2012
Slytherin Common Room, Hogwarts

They arrived at their common room hours later, with just enough time to spare before dinner to freshen up a bit and maybe share the news with their other friends. Tracey was sitting with Daphne at one of the smaller studying tables, History books open between them, while Nott was hosting the other boys. Millicent just came out of the dorms, her hair slightly damp still. She waved when she saw Pansy, a short, questioning look in her eyes.

Pansy tilted her head, but her lips were still tugged up enough to almost form a smile, which was enough of an answer for the tall girl.

“Oh, Merlin’s saggy balls,” Blaise breathed just loud enough for Pansy and Draco before they were face to face with a smirking Bletchley.

“Well, good evening! Say, Malfoy, is it true that your father was here today?” His voice carried through the whole room and made him visibly pleased with himself. It caught the attention of the other students inside. Some wary, some worried, most curious.

“Bletchley,” Draco greeted him. The hours spent in the hidden room had done wonders to his mood, and Pansy was proud to see him slip on his ‘Narcissa’ face - cold to the bones, but lovely nonetheless, a sharp knife hidden under the softest of silks. “I see that you still lack common etiquette, but then I shouldn’t have such high expectations in the first place. Let me indulge you, however, seeing your avid interest in such gossip: My father was, indeed, at school today and we took advantage of it for a brief meeting.”

“And what was this about, hm? I don’t think that it’s normal for parents to visit the school… oh, wait. They do, don’t they, when their children are in trouble.”

“Certainly,” was the calm answer. “But most parents aren’t also on the Board of Governors, and thus expected to come to Hogwarts at least a couple times a year. But what’s with your dreadful curiosity? You weren’t asking these questions the last three times my father visited with the Headmaster last year, after all.”

Someone sniggered in the background, which was all Bletchley needed to really get angry. His piercing glare hit all three of them, Draco and Blaise and Pansy, but they refused to flinch away from it. If anything, they just stood their ground more firmly, being challenged like that.

It was a delight to cut him out just as he opened his mouth. “Is that all? It’s drafty at the door and you are standing in the way,” Pansy purred.

“No, not at all,” Bletchley pressed out, eyes narrowing down. “I would look out if I were you, Parkinson. His daddy is already fed up with him, and I’m sure yours aren’t that happy with your choice, either.”

“And next it’s my mother you try to speak for, yes?” Blaise said sharply. “I wasn’t aware that you’re a seer now. Now stop emulating a boulder, we’ve all seen and heard how well you do with that.”

“You dare…,” the older boy started, but suddenly there was someone else close by, blonde hair fanning out with every graceful step.

“He’s right, you block the way,” Daphne Greengrass said evenly, not even bothering looking up from the book she still held in her hands. It was obvious that it wasn’t the case for her - she had deliberately chosen to be bothered by Bletchley, who looked startled and furious.

“It’s none of your business, Greengrass!”

“It is. You are causing a scene, bothering me and my studies. That simply won’t do, Bletchley. My grades are very important to me, and they should be for you as well. After all, your family’s business relies rather heavily on my family’s business, and where would we end if I fail my classes?”

Each word was perfectly audible, spoken in Daphne’s regular, disinterested voice. She never stressed the obvious threat in them. She didn’t need to.

And with that, the attention of the Slytherins shifted from Pansy and Draco to Bletchley and Daphne. They observed keenly how Bletchley backed off.

~~~

February 22th, 2012
Library, Hogwarts

Dearest Pansy,

I know that we already told you this at Christmas, but your father and I are very proud of your latest accomplishments regarding your grades. As you know, next year you will be faced with an important time for every witch and wizard in Britain: Your OWL year. Thus it is of utmost importance for you to perform well. It warms our hearts to see you perform so well, and we hope that this trend will only continue.

Your latest missive about the young Malfoy heir has been very informatory for us. The fact that he is trying to ally himself with other influential heirs in other Houses is certainly of interest. Despite that, however, we have been informed by others that it might be better for you to cut your ties to young Draco and concentrate on your other friendships. I was told by Madame Greengrass that you have finally befriended her eldest daughter, dear Daphne. Know that your father and I fully approve of this! Daphne is a lovely lady and will do her family proud.

I will not burden you with the reasons why a further relationship with young Draco will only prove to negatively impact your own reputation, but know this: His own father, our dear friend Lucius, fears for his son and the decisions he has of late. He is a trustworthy and highly influential man and I hope that he can salvage this situation for the best of his family, but he advised us to step back on the marriage contract for now. It wouldn’t do for you to continue encouraging young Draco.

Do not worry, my darling, about the repercussions of this decision: Your father is already considering a number of young, promising and respectful men in your generation. We will inform you of any decisions made, so that you can enjoy yourself in the future by making new friends.

Love,

Lady Rose Parkinson

Pansy waited for Draco to reach the end of the letter, sitting comfortingly next to him. They’d arrived early for some regular studies with their fellow Slytherins (from time to time even Draco had to show his face in-between meals and classes, after all), which was why the both of them made use of the nearly empty table by reading each other’s letters from their respective mothers.

Draco’s, Pansy relented, was much more uplifting than her’s.

“I guess we won’t marry anymore, dearest Draco,” she said with false cheer. Not that either of them was in love with the other, but it had been a safe promise, something they could fall back on if someone made unwanted advances.

“Why are they doing this?” Draco shook his head and crumpled up the letter in his fist. Pansy pouted a bit and extracted the parchment from his firm grab.

“Because they’re idiots. At least your mother seems to have some common decency, so that’s that.”

He took a deep breath and leaned back, running a hand through his fine, blonde hair. “True enough, but still… He just. He makes me so angry, and he shouldn’t do that, right? He’s my father, but he never thinks about me, only about the family name.”

“It happens.” It was all Pansy could say to defend the adults of their lives. She knew that her parents had been raised the same, but they probably never rebelled in the same way Draco did. Or myself. In for a Knut, in for a Galleon, she thought wryly before flicking her wand against the crinkled parchment to smooth it out. “Be glad that you have a way out with your cousin. I shall bring him some treats next time he visits.”

Draco laughed at that. She knew she didn’t love him the way her parents had once hoped she would, but his laugh still made many things worth it.

“Merlin, Father will be so mad if it works,” he finally said, a bit out of breath. “But I hope he will see some sense. Mother is sad that it needs to be done all the same.”

“He will have to come to his senses one way or another, Draco. Only time will tell.”

~~~

March 4th, 2012
Slytherin Common Room, Hogwarts

Each of Pansy’s steps echoed throughout the dungeon’s hallways. Her back was ramrod-straight, her black hair carefully pulled up into a swinging pony-tail. She ignored the looks of the stragglers on her way to the common room. The letter in her pocket felt as heavy as the world.

“Belladonna,” she said and the hidden doorway swung open. The noises of a room full of students greeted her - the soft murmur of private discussions, the scratching of nibs against parchment, the laughter and merriment of children playing games with each other.

Her friends sat in their usual space. They looked up when she entered, but she didn’t take her eyes off of Bletchley, who was in the company of his ill-begotten friends. He, too, noticed her, and the smug look on his face filled her blood with the chill of cold rage.

“Hey, Parkinson,” he called to her. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw her friends perking up even more. “Everything’s good?”

Like he cared. Like he even knew her.

Merlin knew she would do many things for Draco, but this. This was for herself.

“Bletchley,” she answered with a sweet smile on her face. She could see the triumph in his eyes and held back a snarl. Kept it deep down in her chest with the screams and insults and scratching nails. “Why, yes, of course! How thoughtful of you to ask. I just got a letter from my dear father.”

She pulled said letter out of her robe’s pocket without taking her eyes from him. Every line on his face, every detail of this expression - she wanted to burn it into her memories. And then never see it again in real life.

“You know,” she continued, not in the least trying to keep her voice down. Something Bletchley hadn’t anticipated, judging his falling expression. “I’ve never known that you like me quite that much. You never said a word to me about asking my parents for a marriage contract.”

It was not in her nature to be ignorant about her own qualities, or the lack of those. And so Pansy knew very well that she wasn’t considered beautiful. One may call her cute, but even that cut it close to a lie most of the time.

Boys didn’t look at her like they looked at Tracey or Daphne. Least of all boys like Bletchley, who thought of women as trophies to be won and displayed.

“Really, Miles? Her?” One of the fifth-year boys, Titus Mitcham, couldn’t help himself but laugh. Pansy ignored it just as she ignored the alarmed looks of her friends or Blaise’s obvious bristling at her behalf. She depended on those very reactions.

And just as she had imagined, his face scrunched up in displeasure, if only for a moment. “The Parkinson’s are a good match,” he told his friend before looking her up and down. Judging if the trouble was worth it, most likely. He thought her a pawn to use against Draco, one that had annoyed him before.

He had no idea.

“It’s not about liking you, Parkinson. I am thinking of our families here and your father agrees. I’m being quite generous, picking up where Malfoy failed.” He managed a grin that looked as roguish and arrogant in equal measure.

“And why should I accept it?”

Her words rang through the now silent common room with all the charm she could muster. She cocked her head to the side, knowing how it made her look all the more naive when in reality she knew that a marriage contract held no true value anymore. It was a relic of the past and while once it was binding, nowadays it wasn’t much more than a promise between two families that was easily broken.

Funny how most people never thought about it like that.

“You… what?” Bletchley fumbled for words, giving their audience the time to process the situation. “Don’t joke around, Parkinson. I’m the best option you can get!”

“Well, you are certainly of proper breeding,” Pansy sniffed. This time, it was her who let her eyes wander across Bletchley. “But really, I can’t see the appeal. I’m not that interested in dating, and obviously not in love with you, which means I will have to look at your other… assets. Which aren’t that many. What exactly do you offer to the House of Parkinson?”

“More than that little shit!” Bletchley said, pointing at Draco. This caused Pansy to really look at her friends. Draco was watching her with a blank face, but Blaise was livid on her behalf. Theodore had to hold him back, lest he tried to storm forward to give Bletchley a piece of his mind. Millicent was scowling fiercely, while Tracey whispered hurriedly into Daphne’s ear.

Daphne, however, looked more annoyed than anything else. It made Pansy feel oddly giddy.

“That’s not answering my question, Bletchley,” Pansy said and took her eyes away from the fourth-years. “It’s not like your family has the Galleons or the lands to make your offer attractive. Your influence is also bound to other Houses, isn’t it? That doesn’t bode well for your future loyalty towards the Parkinsons.” She took a moment to breathe and then went in for the kill. “Or what would you say, Daphne?”

“I’m still wondering why your parents ever thought it would be a good idea to set you up with Bletchley in the first place. My parents know perfectly well that there are better prospects in Slytherin alone.”

“True,” another girl said, quite unexpectedly. It was a tall, willowy sixth-year, and Pansy recognized her as Clarissa Winters - one of Bletchley’s former girlfriends. “You should write your parents that he’s not a good fit. Trust me on that.” She shook her head and threw Bletchley a truly nasty look.

“I think I will do that, thank you, Clarissa. Daphne.” She left Bletchley sputtering, with people laughing at his face, laughing that the Quidditch player got dumped by the pug-faced Parkinson girl.

Maybe it was the fact that it was Pansy who had started this, or that others saw this as their chance to joke about Bletchley’s poor handling of the fairer sex - Pansy only knew that on her way to her friends, Blaise suddenly jumped up, not hindered by Theo but actually followed by him. Their wands were up and soon joined by others.

“Put that down, Bletchley,” Blaise snarled, and Pansy turned around to see the man in question pointing his wand at her.

It took her all her nerves to not flinch away from it. “Really, Bletchley? That’s pretty low, even for you,” she said instead and forced herself to carry on, to trust her friends and the peer pressure in the room, in the people throwing judging looks at Bletchley, his friends trying to calm him down.

Her hands shook a bit when she finally was safely ensconced with her friends.

“Are you alright?” It was Draco that asked her, softly. Caring.

“Yes. It was worth it.”

~~~

April 10th, 2012
Hogwarts

My dearest Pansy

Your father and I are so very sorry to have put you in this unfortunate position! We had no reason to anticipate such behaviour from young Miles, as he had only been very polite to your father during their conversations. But rest assured - we have already set up a meeting with his parents and will cancel negotiations as soon as we can.

We also want to congratulate you on your decision of befriending Daphne Greengrass. Her parents are delightful and have been very helpful with the Bletchley situation. Please do ask her if any visits over the summer are needed to deepen your friendship with her!

On another note, your words about young Theodore are not ignored. Your father and I are very proud of your insight and we will contact the Notts the moment we have solved the Bletchley situation. Young Theodore is of the very best breeding, just as you mentioned, and we have heard nothing of the sort of trouble young Draco has been getting into. As your mother I must congratulate you on your decision - such a calm young man will fit very well to yourself and won’t cause too much trouble, but don’t tell your father!

Please continue to attend to your studies, and be sure to not engage young Draco more than necessary. Your father is also curious about his relationship to young Blaise Zabini and asks you to keep an eye on him - there is a good chance that young Blaise is also prone to trouble, and with a mother like his it’s not worth to further your friendship with him.

In love,

Your mother, Lady Rose Parkinson

~~~

April 15th, 2012
Hogwarts

My darling Draco,

How was your week? Have you had just as much fun as the last one? Sometimes I wish we could write each other daily, but I remember too well the years of schooling and the little time I had to do all the things I wished for. I do hope your friends have enjoyed the chocolates I have sent to you.

The situation at home is still not solved. Your father is a very stubborn man, my sweetheart, something you have inherited. But unlike you, your father still struggles with overcoming his mulish moments. He is quite obsessed with the idea that you might change if only you were taken from Hogwarts. It’s silly, really, but proves difficult for us.

I must be truthful, my darling: I might not be able to change your father’s heart before summer, which is why I have acted on my right as your mother, and on my maiden’s name. He is quite furious with me, but he can’t possibly send you away now. This, however, is not the environment I want you to spend your summer in. I have made arrangements for you to go to my dear cousin Sirius, who is just as glad to take you in, no matter how long I need to correct your foolish father.

All my love,

Your mother, Narcissa.

~~~

May 2nd, 2012
Hogwarts

Dear Mother, dear Father,

Thank you for your latest letter. I look very much forward to visiting Theodore and his parents over the summer! He is quite agreeable to a marriage contract and we spend more time studying together.

Blaise is still attached to Draco. But, dear Father, I still can’t see either of them doing anything foolish. They might hide it from me, which is easier now since I don’t spend much time with them, or I am still blinded by fond memories, so excuse my lack of attention for their doings.

The end of the year draws nearer, and with it the time I am finally able to see you again. I have talked with dear Daphne, and she and Astoria are excited that I might be able to spend a couple of weeks with them. Please, please see to that! It would be so delightful and like old times! Maybe Millicent will be able to come with us, although she is attending her own plans diligently, so do not worry too much about her.

Until then, your loving daughter
Pansy

~~~

“Do you think it will work?”

Draco looked nervous. Pansy couldn’t begrudge him that - a summer away from his family had to be awful for the boy, no matter how much his father angered him at the moment. Blaise had already told Draco in no unclear terms that they would spend a lot of time together, and from what Pansy had heard during her times in the Headquarters, quite a lot of the other students were planning trips to London where Draco was to spend his summer.

“It had better,” she scoffed and patted his hand. “I wrote with Lady Greengrass herself, they won’t tell a soul. And Tracey has buttered up Daphne. My parents have no reason to say no, so stop fretting.”

All was better well at this point.

~~~

June 25th, 2012
Hogwarts

Здравейте, Draco!

I write this in the evening after the last task in the hopes that it reaches you before the news make it into your newspaper, otherwise it wouldn’t be quite the same surprise!

The task was very intriguing, with many riddles and obstacles to overcome. Good thing that I have trained a lot. Sadly, I did not win and ended up in second place, but you will like that Hogwarts is bringing home the trophy. Cedric has earned it, as well as much respect for his performance.

I can’t take too much time writing this, but in a couple of days I will write you more details and news when I am back home. Better to move on to the next topic: I will be leaving my team in Bulgaria and search for a new one in Europe. I am young and want to see the world for longer than a few days each tournament - my time in France and the many letters we have exchanged have been great for me (and my English!). Fleur and Cedric have their own plans, but both will be spending a lot of time in Britain, which means that a lot of my friends are there come summer. I hope I will be able to join a British team.

When I visit for negotiations, I want to meet up with you and your friends. You always talk a lot about them that I am very curious. I will send you my schedule as soon as possible.

Greetings to your friends, in hope to see you soon,

Viktor.

~~~

July 28th, 2012
London

“Thank you very much, Lord Greengrass,” Pansy said with a bright smile. The elder man laughed and shook his head.

“Nothing to thank me for, Miss,” Johnathan Greengrass answered amiably. “You’ve done us a great favour for looking after Astoria this year. And to be honest, I don’t think much of parents trying to tell their children whom to befriend. With such a bright head on your shoulders you deserve a bit of free time, but make sure to call us every other day via floo.”

“I will make sure of it. Ah, there they are!”

They had reached the Leaky Cauldron and entered it from the Alley’s side, swiftly making out both Draco’s bright hair and the dark, unruly locks of Sirius Black. Both stood up to greet Lord Greengrass, who was friendly enough but reminded Black once more to keep a good eye on Pansy.

Draco caught Pansy’s eye and grinned. It was a nice, open expression, one she wished to see more often. She had a feeling that in the next two weeks she would get exactly that.

Chapter Text

August 5th, 2012
The Burrow, England

Ginny smiled, holding onto a glass of iced ginger tea. It was a busy day at the Burrow, not because lots of work had to be done but because the Weasleys were hosting a lot of young guests today. It was a bright, warm summer day; perfect weather for such an occasion.

The summer had been eventful so far. Ron and she had visited their friends many times, something that brought a big smile on their mother’s face every time they asked to go out for the day. Visiting Ireland had been especially fun, what with Seamus’ big family.

Yet his time, it was very special. Charlie was on a visit home, and Draco had brought Viktor Krum as well, who had asked for both Cedric Diggory, who lived nearby, and Fleur Delacour, who had taken a job at Gringotts, to come. The original Quidditch Club members were especially excited and tried to divide themselves into teams for a couple of games.

“Ginny, come help me with the brooms!”

She looked up and saw Ron struggling with their old family brooms. He’d done a lot of work for that day because mum had thrown a right fit when they’d told her the number of kids visiting. Right now she was preparing some snacks in the kitchen with Hermione and Fleur helping her. She giggled, thinking about the prim and newly-elected Prefect who had blanched at the thought of Quidditch.

“Do we have enough for everyone?” she asked Ron, taking hold of half of the brooms.

“I guess. We have seven brooms right here, but one looks pretty beaten up. Draco brought a couple himself, and Viktor and Cedric have their own, as well as Wayne and Terry. Fred and George want to join us, though. I asked Percy, but he’s still busy with work, but Charlie wants to give it a go.”

“He’s pretty taken with Fleur,” Ginny said with a smirk. Ron blushed.

“She is very pretty, isn’t she?”

“Prettier than Hermione?”

Ron spluttered and Ginny laughed, running along to avoid being tripped by her brother.

~~~

“Bill!” Ginny didn’t care that they were still in the midst of a fierce game, with her as a chaser and Cedric the seeker of their team. They had a lot of those playing - Charlie, Draco and Viktor had to rotate for their favourite position as well.

Now, however, she was too occupied diving down towards the lawn where her oldest brother stood. His long hair was ruffled by apparition and he had a wide grin on his handsome, roguish face. She jumped off her broom to throw herself into the waiting arms of Bill. Both ignored the shouts and jeers of the other teens.

“Uff!” he shouted, trying to hoist her up in his arms. “You put on some weight, little lady! How is my favourite sister?”

“Trouncing all the older boys!” she replied with a laugh and threw her arms around his neck. “What a surprise! You didn’t tell me, Bill!”

They finally let go of each other when other people started to descend onto them. The Weasley siblings found themselves in a tight huddle, with those not belonging to the family hovering around with curious eyes.

“Oi! You lot never met him, right? That’s Bill, our oldest brother, and he’s a Cursebreaker with Gringotts!” Ron said, his chest puffing out. He hadn’t made Prefect that year, but he didn’t begrudge Neville his post. He was happy enough to take over the Keeper position from the departed Oliver Wood, finally joining Ginny and the twins in the air. They were already calling it Team Weasley instead of Gryffindor.

“And he’s supposed to be in Egypt. Are mum and dad in on that, or is this a surprise visit?” Fred craned his neck to look up to the Burrow.

“A surprise one, so I better go up and tell mum. I’ll be around for a couple of weeks if she’ll have me.” Bill winked, and Ginny saw Tracey blush.

~~~

September 2nd, 2012
Gryffindor Girl Dorms, 5th year, Hogwarts

“Hurry, Hermione!” Ginny sat down on the other girl’s bed, her legs folded under her.

Hermione snorted and put away her bag before reaching for her trunk. “You act like you’ve never seen one before, Ginny.”

“Well, never in Hogwarts, duh.”

The bushy-haired Prefect rolled her eyes, pulling an old Starkpad out. The casing was a bit scratched and the design a couple of years old, but otherwise it looked in good condition. Ginny knew it very well - she’d learned how to use them when visiting Hermione during summers. It still looked strange in Hermione’s hands, what with being in Hogwarts after all.

“So, do you think you can make it run? It’s not a mixer,” she asked when Hermione sat down next to the redhead.

“I’m not sure, but the principle should be the same. Professor Babbling is looking forward to it, though, so I’m glad I chose it as my project.”

“Dad uses charms for his stuff.”

They both looked at the sleek, flat design, almost perfect to carve runes in.

“I might have to ask Professor Flitwick for some pointers. Your dad’s methods are too… haphazard for this, I think. Professor Babbling already told me that I need to work with both runes and charms, so I’m going with that.”

“Have you tried turning it on already?”

Ginny grinned at Hermione who shook her head in exasperation. “Really, Ginny,” the older girl said, wrinkling her nose. “I was there when Dean tried it with his mobile and the thing practically melted in his hands.”

The redhead snickered. “Yeah, I remember that! Poor Dean, he had to run down all those stairs to Pomfrey!”

“That’s not funny, Ginny,” Hermione reprimanded her, but the twitch in her lips betrayed her words. “I only have this one to spare for the project. I doubt my parents will allow me to bring my new model to Hogwarts.”

“It did take a while for the mobile to start sparking like mad,” Ginny hedged.

“I’m not risking it.”

“I’m just saying that it took really long, like, half a minute at least.”

“Ginny…”

“We can switch it off right away! Just- let’s see if it works at all?”

Hermione sighed, but Ginny saw from the tilt of her head that she was as curious as she was. She swallowed down a cheer when Hermione finally nodded and crowded closer.

“Ready?”

“Yeah…”

Both sat there, stunned by the screen when it flared to life. The image was pretty grainy and glitchy, oftentimes flickering out of the frame. But when Hermione touched one of the apps, the program sprung up as fast as both girls were used to. They exchanged a startled look and then they cheered.

“By Merlin, can you believe it! And it doesn’t spark at all!” Ginny crowed and flung her arms into the air.

“It even has a bit of reception! Look, there - there’s a bar!”

They played with the Starkpad for a good half-hour before they had to go down for dinner. The last test they did was to prod it with a wand, at which point the poor thing stuttered to a halt and switched off.

“Hah. You should write them a letter and tell them it won’t work at our school,” Ginny joked as they exited the dorm room. Hermione snorted and waved towards Neville and Ron when they reached the common room.

“While it does still have a bit of warranty left, I’m sure it won’t help when I put magical interference in the complaint box.”

They continued their walk in contemplative silence for the next minute. Then they exchanged another look and grinned.

~~~

September 4th, 2012
Defense Against The Dark Arts, Hogwarts

“Welcome, class! My name is Professor Lupin and your new Defence teacher.”

He had a lovely voice, Luna thought, calm and soothing, but beneath it, he sounded tired. Luna was used to recognising that: most of her classmates were tired, especially during exam season. He was tall, too - skinny but lanky, with short sandy hair and clear brown eyes. For all his tiredness he seemed focussed, which was more than could be said for some of the other professors.

He had scars too, long dark ones across his cheek and jaw and neck, the lowest edge disappearing under the collar of his rather well-worn robe. Luna chewed her quill thoughtfully. There were probably going to be a lot of crushes this year.

“Since you’ve had so many different teachers I’ve taken some time to review their previous work,” he continued. “Most of it looks decent, but it looks like you’ve all missed out a bit more on curses than I’d like. We’ll divide this year between catching up on that and some of the more dangerous dark creatures. Please open your textbooks to page 32. We’re going to be covering the basics of restricted-use curses and hexes.”

The room filled with the rustling of turning pages and soft whispers as the other students started to try to chat. There were more than a few giggles too. Definitely crushes, Luna thought. Nargles and Wrackspurts. Luna didn’t join them, though, keeping her eyes on the professor. The scars on his face were odd - familiar in a way she wasn’t entirely sure of, but which niggled at old memories. Perhaps something she’d studied at home? Absently, she tapped her un-inked quill on the blank page of her notebook, doing her best to ignore the Hufflepuffs on the next table over, whispering and glancing at her.

She was used to that. People always thought she was strange for watching but how else were you to learn if you didn’t? Staring didn’t count. Besides, what else was she to do? Her textbook had gone walkabout the night before. Negblins, if she had to guess. They liked the glue.

Professor Lupin, it seemed, noticed her lack of a book after a moment, striding over quickly, worry wrinkling his brow.

“Hello, Professor.” She did her best to smile reassuringly. Ginny - kindly - had said that she tended to look rather unsettling when she smiled any other way.

“Hello there. Miss Lovegood, wasn’t it?”

Well, that was new. Not every professor remembered student’s names from one reading of the register.

“Luna,” she said. “Although sometimes people get it wrong. I’m not sure why. ‘Loony’ doesn’t look much like ‘Luna’, does it, sir?”

There was a muffled noise from a few rows behind. It sounded, to Luna’s ear, like Isobel Somerfield trying not to laugh. She wasn’t very good at it - Luna knew it well. For a moment the Professor’s eyes darted a few rows behind Luna.

“That’s hardly very polite,” he said reprovingly before his gaze returned to Luna. The laughter quickly cut off. “Where’s your textbook, Luna? Do you have one?”

“I have one,” she said. “But not right now. It’ll come back eventually, though. They usually do, the things that go walkabout.” She smiled again - reassuringly, she didn’t want to unsettle the new professor.

For a moment Professor Lupin stood there, mouth opening and closing. “Well,” he said and sighed. “That might make keeping up in class rather tricky for you,” he added. “You’ll need to read it for some of the homework.”

“I can’t do that if it’s not there,” she said. “I could try to borrow a copy, though, but then that one might go walkabout as well. The Negblins like the glue, you see.”

“I see.” Professor Lupin’s voice had gone cold, his eyes fixed two rows behind Luna. She suspected that Isobel Somerfield, who was seated there, was doing her best to look utterly innocent. “Still,” he said. “You’ll need to have a copy of the book, and it’s new enough I don’t think the library has any copies.” He cast his eyes over the classroom. “Is anyone willing to share their book with Miss Lovegood?”

He looked, first, to the Ravenclaw members of the class, and, when none of them raised a hand, to the Hufflepuffs. There were several raised hands there, at least, and the tense set of Professor Lupin’s shoulders finally relaxed.

“Thank you,” he said, looking at the nearest student with a raised hand. “Miss-” he paused for a moment, “Eggton, yes?”

“Eloise Eggton,” the girl said, “Yes.” She glanced quickly from the professor to Luna and gave a bright smile. It made the freckles that smattered across her cheeks like dust-motes in sunlight shifting slightly. Luna though she remembered her from the year before - she hadn’t minded listening to Luna’s stories while they’d been pruning the Flitterblooms in Herbology.

She answered in kind and made her way towards Eloise. The classroom was almost silent by the time Luna sat down next to the other girl who rearranged her book for both of them.

“Thank you,” Luna said, not bothering to whisper her honest words. Professor Lupin didn’t seem to mind, returning to his own desk next to the old-fashioned blackboard.

“Oh, you’re welcome. And you’re quite alright, Luna - don’t mind those hens.” The girl nodded towards the other side of the class, her voice lowered and her stern glance disapproving. “Maybe you’ll want to sit with us ‘Puffs from now on, that way they’ll think twice about bothering you!”

Luna slowly blinked before she remembered to smile in that way Ginny had taught her. For a moment they just sat like that, eyes locked and a bit tentative, but that was alright with Luna. It was nice.

At the front of the class, Professor Lupin’s soothing voice started the lecture.

~~~

September 28th, 2012
Room of Requirement, Hogwarts

“I really like him. Far more competent than Quirrell and even Lowell. He’s a Hogwarts alumnus, too and he knows so much about dark creatures…”

“And he’s easy on the eyes, isn’t he? Homely, but not, you know, too soft.”

“Why, Ginny, cheating on Stark already?”

Ginny flipped Blaise the bird, but she joined the laughter of the others. The room was not quite filled today. Despite it being early in the term, most of the fifth years were already struggling with the amount of homework the teachers were giving them in preparations for their OWLs. Only Blaise, Draco, Hermione, Anthony and Justin had made it to the meeting, as well as Ginny herself. They all wanted to take a look at the wonder that was the somewhat functional Starkpad Hermione had brought to Hogwarts.

“He’s a decent guy, I guess. Friends with Sirius, too - visited him at the end of the summer holidays. I’ve never seen grown men cry before.” Draco was scratching out a line of runes after frowning at his note. He had been talked into helping the small group with the configurations they might need to fix the Starkpad. Since this meant loads of free help from Hermione he had been willing enough.

“He knows Snuffles? They do look kind of the same age,” Hermione wondered aloud. She held the Starkpad up, hesitant to switch it on. Ginny and she had wasted precious battery by playing around with it, taking pictures of the dorms and testing out how much magic they could cast around it until it turned itself off again.

“Apparently they were both friends since school. Gryffindors.”

“As long as he knows his subject I can overlook that,” Blaise said in a faux-patronising tone and laughed when Ginny slapped his shoulder. “Careful there, Weasley. I’m working here!”

“You are just lounging around,” Anthony scoffed and pushed a tome in his direction. “Make yourself useful and see if you can find anything in there relating to electricity. It needs to be low-powered unless we want to fry it.”

“Hey, Hermione, you’ve got mail,” Justin cut in, surprise in his voice. Ginny hadn’t even noticed him finally turning on the device, but now near everyone looked up, startled.

Draco leaned forward. “A mail? What’s that again?”

“Something like a letter, just instantly send. Let’s see… oh!”

Hermione laughed, a bit breathless and overwhelmed, before shoving the Pad into Ginny’s hands. She took it greedily and, after reading the short text, joined Hermione in her laughter.

“They really replied! Hermione, they did a scan and everything!”

“No wonder the battery is so low. It was probably sitting in the trunk, and with the bad reception the upload must have been horribly long.”

“What did you two do?” Anthony demanded and the Starkpad was surrendered to the boys. “‘We are sorry to say that Customer Service has not been able to… unusual problems… will transfer your request to Stark Industries R&D Department’? You send them a, what, a warranty issue?”

“It was Ginny’s idea,” Hermione defended herself, but there were tears in her eyes and laughter in her words, making it hard to understand her. “She said… she said we should send them a complaint since it works so shoddy in H-Hogwarts.”

“You are crazy,” Justin said in awe. “And lucky that it got through at all. The R&D site’s in New York, after all.”

“Why is it lucky? You all told me ages ago how fast Muggle communication is around the world.” Draco looked wary now. Ginny knew that look - she saw it often enough whenever one of the Purebloods or magically raised Halfbloods didn’t understand what was said by their little research group.

“Don’t,” Blaise interjected, looking at the incredulous faces of his friends. “A lot of people don’t know. Britain is really cut-off from Muggles, don’t forget that. It’s not like the Prophet ran a story about it.”

“Sorry, Draco,” Hermione apologized, looking sincere. “It’s just… it’s pretty big news around the world. I thought, with you living in London you would have heard. New York got attacked, around March. Stark Tower got hit pretty badly.”

“Like, terrorists?”

“Aliens,” Blaise said. Draco stared at him.

“Okay, that’s it. We are going to see if this thing can play some videos,” Ginny said decisively and took the Starkpad back into her possession.

~~~

October 5th, 2012
Hogsmeade

“Look, there’s Loony! Crazy Loony!”

“Here to go visit the Shrieking Shack? Must feel nice and homey to you!”

Ginny hissed and turned around, wand in her hand and spell ready on her lips. She didn’t care that Luna barely acknowledged the calls from the older girls - she didn’t need that to feel protective and angry at the ongoing bullying directed at her friend.

”VOLATILIS LUTUM!” she shouted out and grinned when her aim proved true. “You leave her alone, or next time it’ll be worse,” she added when one girl hastily pulled her hexed friend into the safety of a stationery shop.

“You got better with it,” Luna said with her typical airy voice, admiring the yellow-ish bats from afar. Ginny’s hands still shook with anger, but she took a couple of long breaths to calm herself down. She liked Luna a great deal. She was, after all, Ginny’s oldest female friend, with both of them living close to the same Muggle village.

“Thanks, Luna,” she said and even managed a smile, but inside she was still fuming.

~~~

“A bat-bogey hex?”

Ginny nodded, unrepentant, and took another sip of the warming butterbeer. Blaise looked very interested, his handsome face thoughtful. Hannah and Susan, with whom Ginny had wanted to meet originally, were visibly impressed by that bit of spellwork. And Luna… well, Luna hummed a melody under her breath, stirring her glass of shimmering gillywater.

“Luna,” Ginny said and waited until her friend looked up. “I’m going to teach you that spell. I know Professor Lupin is quite good, but that’s also the reason he won’t teach us anything worthwhile to use against other students, too.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Hannah interjected. “He’s very thorough with us so we can make it through our OWLs. Maybe he knows you’re up to no good?”

“It’s good, alright. I can’t be with Luna all the time and those twits are constantly harassing her. It’s not nearly as funny when you are actually there.”

Blaise pursed his lips. “I can imagine that. There are some people that had been unpleasant after coming back to school this year. Things got a bit… hectic in Slytherin.”

“Oh, so you will finally tell us what happened?” Susan leaned forward.

Blaise smiled. “Of course not.”

“The point is,” Ginny said, this time a bit louder when the two started to bicker. “That I think I will set up a bit of a practical Defence group. I know a few handy spells from my brothers that are really useful.”

“I don’t want to attack them, Ginny,” Luna protested.

“It’s defence, Luna. Nothing wrong with that.”

“I can help when it comes to spells,” Blaise offered. “But I might be a bit stressed for time.”

“We can always cancel card night,” Ginny answered flatly and weathered the protest that followed.

~~~

November 3rd, 2012
Room of Requirement, Hogwarts

“If you could just concentrate for a minute? I have little enough time as it is!” Hermione snapped, halting in her work with the delicate carving knife.

Draco mumbled something Ginny couldn’t quite make out, but it still caused her to grin. She felt smug ever since she had caught the Snitch in the game yesterday, and right under Draco’s nose at that! Her grin wilted a bit when Hermione sent her a glare and she quickly ducked her head.

“I’m done with the crystals,” Anthony said and put the last one of the small, bluish obs on the stone slab they had worked on. Seven crystal orbs in total, sitting in small indentations. A bigger space in the middle was reserved for the old smartphone Hermione was working on, with strings of runes leading from the flickering balls towards the centre.

“I hope it works this time. We’re running out of mobiles,” Justin added and glared at the one in Hermione’s capable hands.

“We will see,” Hermione answered, adding the last rune to the case of the phone. They had bespelled it before already, using a series of charms that Ginny’s dad had provided for them.

They all crowded around the stone slab when Hermione put the mobile in the middle and touched her wand to one of the crystals. It lit up with stored energy. With a crackle and the odd smell of too-hot stone, the bluish light arched from crystal to crystal before jumping onto the runes and from them to the mobile itself. They held their breath when the device, previously out of battery, lit up as it charged.

And then the mobile made a hissing sound and started to melt on the slab.

“Fuck,” Justin said with great feeling and threw his hands in the air.

“I told you, we ought to use something from Stark. It’s his Pad that works in here.”

“Stark tech is expensive, Ginny,” Anthony protested. It wasn’t the first time they had discussed this, and Ginny knew all the arguments by heart.

“So what? Justin’s parents are loaded. You have a Stark Phone, don’t you?” She rounded on the Hufflepuff boy now, who held up his hands in defence.

“I’m not going to pay for one as long as I’m not sure that it works,” he argued. “We only recently switched to them, anyway. That’s why I have all the spares in the first place.”

“We can talk about sacrificing Stark tech after the holidays,” Blaise cut in and flicked his wand to douse the fire that sprung out of the melted phone. “Maybe we can adjust the power outlet before, as well. For now, we don’t have the time. The others will be here shortly for your Defence classes, Ginny.”

~~~

“That was fun!” Luna later exclaimed when they were wandering the hallways to their respective Houses.

Ginny could only agree - the past hour had been unorganized but refreshing, with people offering to show the group the odd spell, hex and curse. Ginny’s bat-bogey hex hadn’t been the only popular one. When the time came to prepare for dinner, the students had been forced to write down a list of spells to practise another time. Ginny looked forward to the mean-looking one that Hermione had found in a dusty tome in the library.

“Next time they want to pick on you, they won’t know what hit them,” she said to Luna.

“But Ginny,” the girl answered in her dreamy voice. “I’ll be saying the incantation. Of course they’ll know.”

~~~

December 14th, 2012
The Burrow

“Mum, can I go to the village?”

“Again? Maybe Arthur is right and we ought to get one of those landmines he was talking about. Be so good and bring a bag of flour back, would you?”

“Landlines, mum. And sure, can do.”

“And say hello to Hermione, too! Maybe she wants to visit, the dear, without half the school as well...”

“Yes, mum.”

Letter clutched in her hand, Ginny hurried down the pathway that would lead to the main road crossing the farmland as well as the little village of Ottery St. Catchpole. She knew the way by heart with how often she had walked it to talk with Hermione over the little payphone next to the post office. Dad should see to get a landline for us. No hopes that I am getting my own mobile any time soon.

“Hello, Mrs Granger! It’s Ginny. Is Hermione there?” she said breathlessly, tugging at her hair and the sleeve of her jacket. It was cold outside, the ground covered in snow, and quite early as well. She had gone as soon as she had gotten the letter.

“Of course, of course. Just a moment… Hermione, your friend Ginny wants to speak to you!”

Ginny winced a bit when she heard Hermione shriek in the distance. Hasty steps followed and then the phone was yanked around.

“Ginny, you won’t believe what happened yesterday, I mean I can barely believe it myself and it happened to me, I should trust my own senses, right? Right?”

“I’m sure you’re right, Hermione, but…”

“See! And I still can’t believe it! It’s just… those things don’t happen, they just don’t, but then it did, and I…”

“Hermione, I’m paying by the minute here!” Ginny almost shouted to be heard over the chatter of her riled up friend. “Just tell me what happened!”

“Tony Stark wrote to me!” Stunned silence followed, with both girls breathing heavily into the phones.

“Please what?” Ginny asked with wide eyes.

“He wrote to me, Gin. Said that his team couldn’t figure out why reception and performance were so wonky, that’s why we never got an update. Anyway, Stark got involved and he’s super curious, so he asked me if I would mind sending the Pad over for him to figure it out himself because he doesn’t want that kind of trouble for his stuff. I sent it with the mail this morning.”

“You better have,” Ginny choked out. “Merlin’s balls, Hermione, that’s so cool! I’m not even sorry that we don’t have a project anymore!”

“It’s so surreal, isn’t it? Not that he’ll manage it, but still…”

~~~

January 7th, 2013
Hogwarts

Luna liked to watch Professor Lupin, in class or outside of it. He was never angry with her when something went missing and even let her keep her seat next to Eloise.

She never minded listening to Luna, unlike her fellow Ravenclaws. Their heads were too filled with Nargles, judging the way they were always whispering to each other and about others. Ravenclaw didn’t foster strong group bonds as the other Houses did. Even Slytherins had their webs of connections.

Ravenclaw had competition and small, tight-knit groups of friends. Small bubbles with limited space and no patience for Luna.

Professor Lupin was also a very good teacher. Easy to understand, able to work through problems his students might have, ever so patient and nice to everyone. Maybe it was his youth, no matter how much grey was in his sandy hair, or his easy-going attitude - the students loved him.

Which was why Luna was pondering over her findings, debating if she should tell her friends or not. Those different than the majority tended to be ostracised- she herself knew very well how outsiders fared in the world. Most of the times she was one, after all.

Not that she was a hundred percent sure about Professor Lupin. His recurring illness during the full moon, the tiredness the days before, the many scars on his skin and the grey in his hair…

Luna didn’t care about it. She was, if all, very curious to finally see one in person. They were very hard to track down - most people confused them for Werewolves, after all.

~~~

“I think Professor Lupin is an Umgubular Slashkilter.”

It was a sign of their friendship that Ginny simply turned towards Luna with a curious look on her face. Luna knew, of course, that Ginny didn’t believe a lot of the things she said - the things her parents had taught her and those she discovered herself -, but the fact that Ginny was taking her serious enough to be interested in her words created a constant, warm feeling Luna held close to her chest.

“What makes you think that?”

“His eyes. They reflect the light a bit different when we get close to the full moon.”

“Aren’t only werewolves affected by the moon?”

Luna shook her head. “Oh, no. There are a lot of things and beings affected by the moon’s phases. Even potions and spells. The Umgubular Slashkilter is one of them, naturally. Daddy had printed a couple of articles about them. Oh! I can ask him to send them over, I think you might enjoy them. Anyway, it’s okay that Professor Lupin is one. He is nice.”

Ginny hummed, eyeing her oldest friend. They were close to the juncture where they had to go their different ways to reach their respective towers. “He is very nice. Tell you what, I kind of want to read those articles now.”

Luna smiled and patted her hand. “I know. You don’t lie very often,” she said with a bright smile before she departed.

The corridor was long and narrow, with lots of high, beautifully coloured windows. Scotland was in the throes of winter, the world beyond the stained glass blanketed with thick snow. Luna slowed down before coming to a halt - it was always hard for her to ignore the urge to look out and scan the snowy grounds for the elusive Jesterlok that was said to love snow. And the entrails of chickens, but that was nature for you.

She didn’t know how much time has passed - seconds, minutes maybe? Time was a slippery thing, lingering when she was waiting for something and running away the moment she took her eyes from it. Luna shook her head and turned around to continue walking, but she tripped and fell, her hands scraping against the rough flagstones that made up most of Hogwarts’ flooring.

“Ouch,” she said and sat up, looking at her hands. These parts of Hogwarts were not as unforgiving as the lower floors, but it still stung.

“Oops, Loony, did you fall again? Should look out instead of daydreaming the whole time!”

“Sheesh, she’s useless, isn’t she? Without that ginger cunt or the upper years there to protect her.”

“Ten points for using foul language, and another ten for hexing a fellow student!” Anthony Goldstein’s voice brought an end to the giggles. A shocked silence followed. It wouldn’t last long.

“Hello, Anthony,” Luna greeted the older boy. Behind him she saw Hermione hovering - both had their Prefect badges pinned on their chests. “Hello, Hermione.”

“We didn’t do anything! Why are you always on her side, anyway?” one of the girls, Jenna Trenton, asked with a high-pitched voice and anger in her eyes.

“Oh, that’s rich. Let’s see what Flitwick has to say, then, if you don’t like my decisions,” Anthony snarled back. Luna looked back and forth before settling on Hermione, who was kneeling next to her with a tissue in her hands.

“Here, let’s clean this up.”

“Thank you, Hermione. It’s really bothersome, every time the Nargles infest this corridor I tend to trip on my own feet.”

“Luna, that’s-” Hermione wasn’t like Ginny. She didn’t enjoy Luna’s quirks but tolerated them. They liked each other well enough, but Hermione was all facts. Hermione always said it was like dreams and reality - for some they felt the same, but only one could really exist.

Luna thought that a terribly sad worldview.

This time, however, something changed. There was no patronizing smile or an eye-roll following Luna’s words, but a long, searching look that ended in a hesitant smile. “Let’s let Anthony deal with these girls,” she whispered and helped Luna back to her feet.

Luna didn’t mind doing just that - Anthony was on a roll, berating her classmates and not afraid to take points from his own house. The threat of Flitwick worked its wonder and the girls were able to slip away and towards Ravenclaw tower.

“What gets broken if it’s not kept?” the doorknob asked, eyeing Luna and Hermione.

“A promise,” the Prefect said swiftly, and with a nod the door opened.

It felt nice, the way Hermione squeezed her hand as a good-bye. “You would have been a wonderful Ravenclaw,” Luna told the Gryffindor and walked through the entrance. “You have just the head for it, if not the heart.”

~~~

March 2nd, 2013
Avengers Tower

“Let’s test it again, JARVIS. One through seven and keep an eye on the resonances.”

Tony Stark leaned back in his chair, watching the numbers dancing across the screen. He knew he had more important things to do, but truth be told, he didn’t want to deal with any of them right now. Better to finish with this mystery - one that didn’t try to kill him for once. He also didn’t want to make the girl wait any longer because one of his products was faulty.

Not that it was something that happened often. Almost every warranty issue stemmed from the bad handling of the customer, not the item itself. And for one item to go through R&D testing without them figuring out the problem? Tony had snatched that case as soon as he heard from it.

While the device was, once again, put through numerous tests to determine what kind of radiation it had caught to mess with it, Tony brought up the other data they had found on the Stark pad. Most of it was pictures, but the girl had left some notes as well on books she had read and problems she had solved for fun. A bright one, clearly. He would get her a newer model to play with, once he’d solved her problem.

He flicked through the pictures, grinning a bit. Still a kid, playing tricks for the camera.

“Sir, you shouldn’t go through the private data,” Jarvis admonished him, making Tony roll his eyes.

He did close the folder, though, and soon forgot about the grainy pictures of two girls holding onto wooden sticks.

~~~

March 15th, 2013
Room of Requirement, Hogwarts

“Hey! You! Stop!”

Ginny ignored the angrily shouting Filch as she dashed through Hogwarts. It was dark and stormy outside - excellent training weather, as Angelina had described it - and Ginny hadn’t bothered to change her clothes or put away her broom. The moment they’d ended training, she had raced the others to the castle and left them behind somewhere on the 4th floor.

Mud and rainwater sprayed around when she pushed the double doors open, eyes wide and hair wet. Dean, Seamus and Tracey flinched when they were hit by some of it, but Ginny ignored their protests as readily as everything else, eyes fixated on Hermione.

“Ventucalidus,” the girl said before Ginny could barrel them all over. The usual people were sitting close to the fireplace, with Blaise lounging on a whole sofa on his own. Hot air hit her wet clothes and Ginny could feel how quickly they dried off under the spell.

Her hair was a mess.

“What’s this mess about, then?” someone called over - Terry Boot, but it was hard for Ginny to concentrate on anything else than the flat parcel in front of Hermione.

“Can we open it?” she breathed as soon as she had enough air in her lungs to do so.

Blaise laughed and waved Terry off. “Just a thing we ‘Muggle fanatics’ are doing,” he said and sat up. “Hermione’s been waiting for you, just so you know. We should all get first touching rights as retribution.”

“Shove off, Zabini, I’ve been waiting for ages.” She slumped down next to the dark skinned boy who took one look at her hair and swiftly pulled out his own wand to set it to rights.

“Now that everyone is here, let’s see what we got. Hmh... look, a letter and some vouchers for… Wait, that’s actually a lot!” She had opened an envelope that was sitting on top of some cardboard fillings. The letter was printed, with the official S.I. logo on top and Stark’s messy signature at the end. The vouchers were numerous and fluttered out of Hermione’s hands.

Justin whistled. “Well, now we can buy some Stark tech for testing!” He inspected one of the vouchers and showed the others the number printed on it.

“Ugh,” Ginny said and pulled the neglected parcel out from under the paper. “I don’t care. I want to see what he did to it…”

“He wrote that he thinks it’s good to use now. Something about creating an alloy that would deflect the disrupting particles. He also says that he wants another system scan as soon as possible, and if I ever have other problems with it, I should just mail him or give him a call.” Hermione put a hand over her mouth as she scanned the letter fully. “I think he put his number in my Stark pad.”

“That’s it,” Ginny huffed and started digging for the elusive pad. It looked a bit different - Stark had replaced the case with a soft blue material.

She didn’t wait for the others to gather close before she switched it on. Her breath caught in her throat when it actually worked and went through the logo and loading sequence without a hitch.

“It works. Merlin’s saggy ball sack, it works and it has reception!” Her voice rose to a high-pitched scream, causing quite a commotion outside of their small group.

“We can stream stuff!” Justin realised and whooped.

~~~

May 20th, 2013
Hogwarts

Ginny’s thoughts were on Quidditch - Angelina was putting them hard on task for the next game, and her whole body was aching after a rigorous training regime. She sighed and readjusted her backpack in a less painful position but came to a sudden halt when two familiar voices wafted towards her.

“...is okay. I knew, you see… but I just. Thought he would become less angry over time. But he didn’t.”

“And that is his own fault, Draco, not yours and not your mother’s. She’s protecting you and herself.”

“I know, Nev. But it’s… He’s still my father and I haven’t even seen him in a year, and now they’re getting divorced. Sirius is ecstatic, of course, bringing the family together. He’s talking about it nonstop. But I think that Mother… she loves him. And she’s choosing me. I... I don’t want this.”

Ginny turned around. She had heard enough. Besides, there were plenty of other ways to reach the Gryffindor tower - no need to interrupt the two.

And no need to talk to anyone about what she had heard.

~~~

May 23th, 2013
Lupin’s Office, Hogwarts

Luna was really lucky to have such good friends. Without them, she surely wouldn’t have bothered learning all those spells and hexes.

She flicked her wand upwards and watched as Jenna and Marissa, her most vicious bullies, slid across the suddenly slick floor.

“I’m sorry,” she said, but truth be told, she wasn’t that sorry. It had never bothered her too much to be picked on - watching the Nargles and Negblins at work was sometimes even worth the occasional bruise. That said, she also never liked it. “Ginny told me that she’ll only worry more if I don’t learn to defend myself, so I learned it. I don’t like to let my friends worry, you know.”

“Well said, Miss Lovegood.”

Luna smiled as she turned around, the girls already forgotten. “Professor Lupin,” she greeted the older man. “Do you need any help with those?”

The books looked pretty heavy, but he only let her take three of the pile he had in his arms. “Thank you, Miss Lovegood. I’ll also not take points for hexing your fellow students since they haven’t business being here with you in the first place. Haven’t I told you to leave her be?”

The last was addressed towards the girls, who had a hard time standing upright. Pink suds clung stubbornly to their shoes. Marissa looked abashed, but Jenna had a hateful look on her face. “Yes, Professor,” she got out between her teeth.

“See to it, then. Miss Lovegood, a word, please? My office should do.”

The walk to Professor Lupin’s office was not a long one - a flight of stairs down and the second door to the right. It wasn’t the first time Luna had visited the young Professor, who sometimes kept smaller creatures for his third-year in his office. This time it was a Grindylow who peered through some water plants in her direction.

“She’s a pretty one,” Luna said with a smile as she put down the books. Her eyes followed the twitchy movements of the small creature. “Oh, and I wanted to ask… how are you, so close to the full moon?”

She didn’t turn around to see his reaction, but she did hear the clatter of books falling to the ground. The Grindylow was more interesting at the moment - it showed all its sharp teeth when Luna wiggled her fingers against the glass of the tank.

“Ex-excuse me?” Professor Lupin said after gulping.

“Of course,” Luna answered and finally turned around. The man was pale - poor thing, he must be very afraid, with his kind being misunderstood most times. “I’m sorry I never told you that I knew. I didn’t tell anyone else besides Ginny, and she will keep the secret. People can be very terrible, especially when it comes to Slashkilters. We don’t want anything to happen to you.”

If anything, Professor Lupin only turned paler. Luna worried for a moment that she had triggered some sort of fight-or-flight instinct. Slashkilters could be incredibly sensitive to specific things. Her eyes went wide, attention zeroing in on her teacher. A niggling voice told her to better use her wand, but Luna didn’t want to miss anything. Little was known about Slashkilters, so it was her duty (and her delight) to observe this.

But Lupin had much more control over his natural instincts. She tried not to feel too disappointed.

“Slashkilter,” the man said, easing himself into a seat and staring at her. Ever since Luna had turned around, their eyes had stayed locked. “I fear I don’t know what that would be, Luna.”

“Umgubular Slashkilter,” Luna confirmed and took the other free seat, rearranging her skirts while doing so. “It’s what we call your kind, I guess. You don’t have a sudden crave for poppy seeds, do you? I brought some along.”

“I… no. No, I don’t crave poppy seeds. Luna, are you sure about that?”

She blinked and then smiled. “Of course. It was very hard to connect all the signs. You don’t have to worry about it, I promise.”

Professor Lupin laughed at that. Still very shaken, still pale and nervous, the poor man, but a bit more at ease now.

“I trust you on this, Miss Lovegood. Now, I actually have something I want to talk about. I know I didn’t take points for the hex you used, but I don’t recognize it from any textbook.”

Not the smoothest attempt to change the topic, but Luna let it go. She would have ample opportunities to study Professor Lupin over the next couple of months. It was a pity that he would leave Hogwarts at the end of the year.

“Oh, Blaise taught me this one. We have a bit of a club, learning each other’s spells and doing mock-duels for training. Ginny insists that I do it, too.”

“Blaise Zabini?” Lupin eyed her with open interest now, his eyes reflecting the light like amber, so close to the full moon. “I see. Maybe I have a good spell I can share with you. It wouldn’t hurt to have at least a few Hogwarts’ students that have learnt how to duel before graduating.”

~~~

June 8th, 2013
Room of Requirement, Hogwarts

“Ginny?”

She turned away from the window. Sometimes, the Headquarter’s windows were angled just right to watch the Quidditch pitch. Right now Hufflepuff was training. “Hm?”

Blaise raised an eyebrow before looking around. With the OWLs so close, the fifth years were spending more and more time in the library. It had become quiet, the last couple of weeks. Next year it would be her and Luna missing some meetings.

“Can I do something for you?” Ginny asked, amused at Blaise’s antics.

“I’m just checking if your brother’s here,” he answered with a smile that crinkled his eyes. “I like him well enough, but I saw how he hexed Wayne when he thought he was making eyes on you.”

“Yeah, he’s like that. But why... oh.”

“Oh, indeed. What do you say? Tomorrow’s the last Hogsmeade weekend.”

Ginny hesitated for a long time. Blaise was a friend, like most of her brother’s year. But he was also handsome, funny and cunning enough to survive the attention of her brothers. “You met Charlie and Bill already.”

“Of course.”

“And you know Ron and the twins.”

His dark eyes were alight with amusement and his lips curled into a smile just so as he nodded.

Ginny felt a grin blooming on her face.

Chapter Text

August 1st, 2013
Department of Mysteries, Ministry of Magic

Anthony looked around with eager eyes, struggling to keep his expression calm. The other three teenagers next to him were not as successful as he. Hermione kept turning her head around, trying to examine everything at once. Justin and Zacharias Smith (who had yet to join their after-school group) were gaping like fish.

To be fair, neither of them had thought to actually go through with this. At the end of their fifth year, the students had to apply as interns for some work experience. As far as Anthony knew, a lot of students had added the Department of Mysteries to the list as a joke. When the acceptance letter arrived, he was just as surprised as his parents.

After all, everyone knew that the Department of Mysteries almost never took in a summer intern.

“Those aren’t bluebell flames,” Hermione muttered next to him. Her words drew Anthony’s eyes to the eerie torches lining the curved walls. The room was round and build with stone. A dozen identical doors stood between the students and the secrets of the Department. He gulped and turned his head away, eyeing the young man that had brought them here.

The man had introduced himself as Unspeakable Harley. His face was unremarkable, but his smile was oddly reassuring. His robes were a dark grey, but underneath them, Anthony had spotted a pair of jeans and sneakers. After a moment, the man caught his' eyes and his smile grew a bit.

“No need to be nervous, kids,” the man said. “I’m sure Unspeakable Makepeace will be here soon.”

“Sir,” Smith piped up, craning his neck a bit to look over Hermione’s bushy hair. “Not to be rude, but how is it that you take interns again? The last time anyone got approved by your department was more than ten years ago.”

“Well, we hadn’t had much need for them, now did we?” The man winked, but he didn’t say more, turning around towards one of the doors instead. How the man knew that it was the right one, Anthony couldn’t say. When they had first entered the Department, the walls had spun around them until they had lost their orientation.

And yet, the right door opened up. Glittering, brilliant light formed a halo around the dark silhouette of a person. Anthony tried to get a glimpse of what the source was, but before he could focus on anything the door closed again.

“Are these mine?” a female voice asked. It took a few moments before Anthony’s eyes readjusted to the dim light of the blue torches.

It was a woman, he realized, who was eyeing them with scrutiny. Two curly strands of dirty-blonde hair framed her round face, the rest formed into an elegant updo. Her eyes were startlingly blue and heavy-lidded, the nose buttoned and pouty lips painted cherry-red. It was hard to tell her age. Older than thirty, Anthony thought. But not as old as his mother or his aunts.

“Unspeakable Makepeace!” Harley exclaimed. “These are indeed yours. They have already signed a confidentiality agreement.”

“Perfect.” Unspeakable Makepeace smile was razor-sharp and she clapped once. “My name is Celestine Makepeace, but you can call me Miss C. I will be your supervisor for the next month. You all have read and signed the contracts before coming here, but for safety’s sake I’ll say this part again:

Everything that happens within or in association with the Department of Mysteries is absolutely confidential. You’ll not bring any substances, objects, information or intangibles outside. You’ll not share any information with your friends, family or teachers. Before we engage in a task, you’ll be informed of any potential risks we can think of. Please keep in mind that this very place isn’t considered safe. So while we’ll try to keep you unharmed, we can’t promise anything. I hope you are ready for this.”

~~~

August 9th, 2013
Department of Mysteries, Ministry of Magic

Justin Finch-Fletchley felt giddy coming to work. Most students had groaned after the summer internships had been announced, but he didn’t feel any of the boredom that some of his friends wrote about. Especially Ron, who’d been a bit late with his applications and thus had to intern with his father.

To be fair, working with one’s parents sounded horrible to Justin.

Being an intern in the Department of Mysteries wasn’t boring, though. It was a right challenge. Sure, a lot of stuff they did there was more than frightening. And sure, their boss was a bit too laissez-faire with the handling of their safety. But they all agreed that it was worth the trouble.

Even Zacharias, who was still shouting about the brain incident a couple of days ago.

Justin wore the grey robe of the Unspeakables like a badge of pride. They were surprisingly well fitted and easy to move in, with lots of hidden pockets. The best thing was a charmed lining that changed the temperature to the wearer’s preferences. Like any other intern inside the Ministry, he too wore a tin badge on his chest labelling him as one, but the robes…

Nobody garnered so many looks like the four interns in their DoM-issued robes as they entered a free elevator.

“I just hope she doesn’t give me brain duty again,” Zacharias Smith said with a sigh, swatting away a purple memo that fluttered too close to him. “I swear that woman does it on purpose. She’s a demon.”

“I like her well enough,” Justin said with a shrug, feeling up his pockets. Drinks, a bite for lunch, some notes and a set of replacement clothing… He wondered if he could put those undetectable extension charms on his school robes as well. “She never excludes us.”

“Risking our lives and limbs,” Blaise added

Hermione snorted. “We’ve also been warned beforehand, so it’s not like we aren’t choosing to risk it.”

“When you put it that way, it makes us look like the crazy ones.”

They had to swallow a laugh after Blaise’s comment. The elevator stopped to let more people in, effectively stopping their discussion. Under the curious glances of the adults, none of the teens dared to continue their banter.

~~~

Justin was sorting through some old files when something odd happened. Not for him, personally. But it was plenty odd to happen during work time.

Justin was the first person ever to receive a genuine phone call within the Ministry of Magic.

“Merlin…” he murmured and whipped out his new generation Stark Phone. His mother’s ID on the screen.

“Mum, I’m at work.” Holding the phone between chin and shoulder, he started on the next pile of paperwork.

“No, I’m not sure when I’m finished today. No… Mum, no! Listen, the connection is bad as it is, you know that the Ministry is located underground, I’m not going out right now. Mum. Mum, this is not the right… No, I’m not yelling at you, Mum, I would never… She isn’t here. Yes, I can ask her. Yes. But...! Mum, not during work!”

His voice had grown in volume, partly to gain the upper hand against his well-meaning yet fretting mother, partly because the reception was really off. Regular Stark Phones were wonky enough when exposed to magic (the only well-working one being Hermione’s custom Starkpad). The fact that he was multiple floors below the ground made it hard to understand each other without yelling.

This, of course, drew the attention of other workers of the department. Many weird and wonderful things happened here on a daily basis, but a young man having a one-sided and loud conversation with his mother was not of the usual sort.

“Justin, what are you…” Celestine Makepeace, his minder and boss, stopped in the middle of the sentence upon entering the office. For a few seconds, she simply stood there, staring at her intern. Justin himself didn’t dare move, caught in the act as he was. The tinny voice of his mother calling his name was the only thing that disturbed the silence that settled over them.

“It’s not how it looks like, Miss C.” The words tumbled out of his mouth. His mother finally shut up. “It’s just my mum. I kinda forgot to turn off my phone.”

“Your phone,” the Unspeakable echoed, face paler than usual. She stalked closer, eyes fixed on the offending device.

Justin chanced a glance as well. His mother had ended the call, traitor.

“It’s working.”

Startled, Justin looked up again. His boss was standing much too close to him and he couldn’t help but shrink back a bit. “Uhm… yes? It’s just a phone, Miss C.”

“Just a phone!” she exclaimed. There was a small commotion at the door. People were gathering to see what was happening. “I’ve been trying for years to marry magic and electricity, and you just… how did you do it?”

“They just... work. Only Stark Tech, mind you. We found out in Hogwarts and since then I kinda got used to it. It’s not like I did anything to it.”

Not yet, anyway. When he turned back to the door, he saw Hermione standing there as well, looking a bit nervous. Miss C followed his gaze, eyes lighting up when she found her favourite intern close by.

“Hermione, darling, go search Anthony and Zacharias and bring them to my office, would you? They should be with Cummings right now, try the Time Chamber. Justin, come with me. And bring your phone with you,” she added with a glance thrown over her shoulder.

~~~

“You are really excited over this, Miss C,” Zacharias said when they were all assembled in her office.

“Of course I am!” the Unspeakable said and made her way around the cluttered desk with quick steps. “We never got the budget we wanted for this project. Sophisticated technology is pretty expensive. The Minister didn’t like the prospect of us playing around with ‘Muggle stuff’.”

She leaned against the table with her canted hip, arms crossed in front of her chest and chin tilted upwards like a woman ready to take on the world.

“But why even bother? I guess it’s impressive that Muggles have managed to make their own Floo calls, but I don’t get why you want to make a project out of it.” Zacharias’ tone was as challenging as always. It reminded Justin of all the failed attempts to get him to join their ‘club’.

“That’s the Pureblood speaking,” Miss C said, waving the words away with one hand just as the door to her office opened again.

“British Pureblood,” Anthony interjected. “But also true. Smith, you didn’t take Muggle Studies, did you?”

“He didn’t.” Hermione locked gazes with Justin until the boy nodded slightly. Then she smiled and closed the door behind her.

“And you all knew about this? Cheeky brats. Working technology, in Hogwarts and in the Ministry and I only hear about this now?” Miss C sighed and finally sat down proper. “We tried it ourselves with other brands. How did you figure it out?”

“To be fair, we didn’t. I brought my old Stark Pad to Hogwarts for a project in Muggle Studies. One of my friends convinced me to switch it on and that’s how we found out.” Hermione didn’t even blush despite the huge chunk of information she left out. Justin was impressed. “We tried to find out why it worked, but we never got behind it. The working reception might be because Stark Industries has its own satellite network for their customers.”

“Impressive ones, I guess, when Mrs Finch-Fletchley managed to call her son even this deep underground.” The Unspeakable tapped her chin and then leaned back.

“Did she?” Anthony looked at the Hufflepuff, both eyebrows raised. Justin nodded, too embarrassed to speak.

“It’s not a very reliable connection,” Hermione added, drawing the attention back at her. “And most of the functions of the devices are prone to glitch out or shut down completely. But we did get internet connection as well as phone reception. Any means of getting a location aren’t working at all when in a hidden area like Hogwarts - I didn’t test it out in the Ministry, so I can’t say if it works here or not. Down- and uploads of data packets are also slowed down, but I never had a problem with my mobile contracts, so I reckon they manage fine enough to track calls and internet usage. I also noticed that…”

“Hold on, girl, not so fast!” Hermione shut up when Miss C hopped onto her feet to gather some sheet of parchment and a Quick-Quotes Quill. “I need to write this down… With this much proof, I wouldn’t mind paying for the equipment myself… Everything’s set up, keep talking!”

And after a startled look Hermione complied.

~~~

August 23rd, 2013
Greenwich, London

“Granger! Everything’s ready?” Zacharias asked. The bushy-haired Gryffindor nodded and held up her notebook and quill.

The day had been not bad, as far as work went. The only thing Zacharias had cursed was the fact that they were operating in Muggle London. It forced him to forgo his comfortable robes, putting up with Muggle clothing that Justin had lent him. The trousers fitted well enough, but the jacket’s sleeves were too long, which annoyed Zach.

Still, the day was alright. They might work in Muggle London and wear Muggle clothes, but at least they did solid, magical research. The last couple of weeks had been torture for the proud boy, all because Justin took some weird Muggle gadget to work, getting the adults all excited over it.

He had applied for the Department to delve into ancient and unknown arts of Magic, not to tinker away with phones and tablets! Worse, despite those things obviously working within the Department, Miss C had developed a right nasty temper during research. This was due to the fact that she just couldn’t figure out how the things worked at all.

And despite assembling a small team of Halfbloods and one Pureblood (Zach was still baffled that Miss C was a Halfblood herself) to work with, she kept involving the four interns as well to the point where Zacharias was almost asking for brain duty. Sure, it was all very interesting, but not worth spending all his precious time with the Department on it, right?

Thus, the not so bad day.

Zacharias flicked a lever on the side of the clunky device he was handling. It didn’t make a sound, but when he touched the leathery outside, he could feel something turning on the inside as the apparatus started to do its work. The Thaumoscope was definitely awkward to handle, especially after half a day’s worth of lugging it around, but he could appreciate its workings.

The main part of the Thaumoscope was a wood-and-leather box, sitting on top of three brass legs. With the prismatic lens at the front and the clear-glass display at the back, the whole thing looked a bit like old Muggle camera boxes. The Thaumoscope was a proper artefact, one of the few that Zacharias had been lucky enough to handle during work. And as such, it had a proper use as well, although it had been slightly modified for this specific task.

The Thaumoscope could detect and display forming magic as well as a whole plethora of other radiations. It was often used within the Department to show the specific make-up of spells and enchantments or to ‘dissect’ unusual magical objects (and sometimes subjects). Right now it helped the teens to pinpoint the location of a specific future event.

It all started a few days ago when another section of the Department of Mysteries had caught wind of a natural spatial phenomenon that was happening all around the world. Miss C, frustrated by her inability to figure out Stark’s genius, joined the effort shortly after.

Cummings, who was an expert in temporal and spatial manipulation within the Ministry, took leadership of the research group. He also didn’t scoff at the free labour force the four interns provided. He made ample use of them: Fetching and checking data, sorting through haphazard notes, writing down even more on endless pages to be sorted anew. It was exciting as it was messy - the Department of Mysteries was lacking any concrete theory about the phenomena Cummings called ‘loops’. This, even Zacharias could tell from the frenzy the Unspeakables entered, was new knowledge.

Hence why Zacharias and his fellow interns were now measuring out some very potent magical
radiations around Greenwich College.

“It’s definitely close by the library,” Anthony remarked after taking a look at the display. “See those peaks? It’s a strong one when we go by the previously measured loops. Pre-event shouldn’t be so prominent in the beta particles.”

Zacharias couldn’t help but agree. “It’s westside from the building. What you say, call for Miss C and Cummings? That’s accurate enough to prepare the perimeter.”

“Isn’t it too… I don’t know. Exposed?” Granger worried her lower lip as she stared at the college library.

“Not our problem,” Zacharias cut in. He wanted to milk this project until their month was over instead of dealing with burning circuity again. This was their first and probably last chance to watch the Unspeakables do their work up close and during field research. “The Ministry is interested, so they might get approval for some stronger Anti-Muggle wards to isolate the event location properly.”

“Well, I guess you’re right.” Granger shook her head and grabbed the bulky Thaumoscope by its legs. “We better keep some distance, though. We don’t know the exact location and I don’t fancy random teleportation.”

Goldstein hummed, sorting through his notes. “Imagine if this was the last one. The final loop within the Great Convergence.”

Justin laughed. “That's still no proof that both events are linked. The Convergence is a strictly astronomical occurrence.”

“Yeah, but doesn’t Astronomy play a big role in a lot of magical fields? Not to say that it has to be connected, but it would be pretty awesome. The last Convergence happened before Hogwarts was founded, so we don’t have much data to go on.”

Zacharias rolled his eyes, but he didn’t bother to argue with the excited Ravenclaw. “We don’t have much longer with the Department,” he said instead. “So no matter how it turns out, I doubt that we will be there when they find out.”

“Way to ruin the mood,” Granger piped in. She eyed the surroundings of the library before settling on a small alcove of the outer wall. “How about there? Should be far enough from the loop.”

“And it has a bench for Cummings.”

“He’s 70, Smith, not a hundred.”

It didn’t take long afterwards to set up shop in the small alcove. There was a small lawn hugging this side of the library, a few decorative planters surrounding it. A good place, as Zacharias found that fewer people walked by to stare at the students. The Thaumoscope drew a lot of attention as it was, so they were lucky with the overall positioning of the pre-event.

Zach himself didn’t pay too much attention to the Muggles, too busy trying to perfectly adjust the Thaumoscope while Smith was making a call to Miss C. That was, until Zacharias noticed a group of three Muggles, one of which was carrying a bundle of metallic-looking pipes and tidbits.

“Granger,” he said, keeping the group in his sight. The elderly man wore shorts and a grey sweater, a combination even Zacharias wouldn’t wear as a disguise. He was also directing the other two, a young man and a young woman, to start assembling the pipes and tidbits into a thing that looked like a less bulky and much shinier version of their very own Thaumoscope. “Is that normal for Muggles?”

“Merlin’s hat,” Granger breathed when she looked over. She did a double-take. Then she pulled out her mobile phone and started to hammer her fingers against the display only to gasp after a few moments.

“What is it?” Zacharias eyed the girl with trepidation. Something was wrong and he didn’t like the fact that he couldn’t say what.

“I, uhm… I might know that guy,” the Gryffindor answered before showing him her phone. Pictures of the man littered the display. “His name is Erik Selvig. He’s an astrophysicist and widely known in that field. I don’t know if it’s good or bad that he’s here.”

“Let’s hope it’s for the Convergence and not for the loop.” Zach shook his head and did some readjustments, trying to ignore the uneasy feeling in his stomach. He wished for the Unspeakables were here to set up the Muggle-Repelling Charms. It didn’t sit right with the teen that that group was doing something similar to him and his kind.

Zacharias didn’t relax until he saw a familiar group of people drawing closer. Cummings was at the front, talking to Smith who had gone to meet up with them at the rendezvous point in the nearby park. Behind the two, Miss C and Harley were carrying more equipment in nondescript boxes. They all wore pretty accurate Muggle clothing, as far as he could tell, if a bit dusty in Cummings’ case.

“Everything’s alright? Sorry that we’re late, we got some weird readings down in the Department and the Aurors were really prissy about us working so close to a Muggle college.” Up close, Unspeakable Harley looked just as uncomfortable in his Muggle garb as Zacharias felt.

“No problems so far, except for some Muggles milling around. This one’s looking to be a big one, though. The secondary readings are peaking like crazy.” Granger handed the man her notes while Zacharias made some space for him to take a look at the current data displayed. Harley hummed with excitement, his eyes flying over the numbers and graphs.

“I’ll take over the Thaumoscope. Good work, by the way! Cummings and Celestine want you all to stay close for the rest of the day. Take some fresh notebooks out of the smaller box, you’ll need them. Oh, and there are a few Aurors joining us soon for safety’s sake, don’t mind them.”

~~~

The Aurors, it turned out, didn’t think much about the Unspeakables taking their interns with them into the Muggle world. Zach scoffed at that, being very content with his place close to Miss C. The research team, as well as three disguised Aurors, were milling around the piece of lawn on the northside wall of the library, with Cummings and Harley at the Thaumoscope. Two other Aurors had started to spell the area with a few repelling charms to make it easier for the Unspeakables to do their work.

“We can do some more serious ward work when we manage to stabilize the loop point,” Unspeakable Cummings said to an attentive Goldstein. The elderly man had taken a great liking to the bright Ravenclaw, which was why Goldstein was often tasked with taking Cummings’ notes during work. “But wards are not easy to erect, nor to take down. If this one collapses like the previous loops, any preemptive wards are nothing more than a burden.”

“What spells do they use, then? This might become a bit too flashy for the usual Notice-Me-Not…”

With a sigh, Zacharias stopped listening in. According to their readings, it shouldn’t take too long for the first anomaly to happen. He was looking out for the Muggles he had seen earlier and was startled when he did spot them at a distance, running towards the library. They had left a while ago when the Aurors had started their spellwork, but whatever drove them to such haste was strong enough of a reason to forgo the urge to turn around again.

Zacharias was just about to open his mouth when he heard a loud exclamation from the alcove.

“It’s starting!” Harley hollered, causing a sudden rush of activity within the group. Zach could see Hermione joining Cummings and Goldstein. Justin was making his way towards Harley. He himself made sure to stay close to Miss C, already forgetting about the weird Muggles a few paces over.

“It’s in the air!” Someone called. The Aurors were looking decidedly uncomfortable, clutching their wands out of a need to feel safe. The wind picked up around the campus, ominous despite the general cloudiness of the day. Zach wished for his robe, shivering when the temperature dropped. He made a note of it, just to make sure, and looked up to the grey sky.

It was barely visible, the first tiny ripple of space. Granger had tried to explain it to him with Muggle terms (even Cummings was fond of referencing Muggle sciences in his work, as they were accurate to the extreme), and Zacharias wished he had paid much more attention as he watched bleak air fold in on itself. He wondered how the Thaumoscope displayed it, but Miss C was already talking in a rapid pace to herself and her Quick Quotes Quill which barely kept up with it all, urging him to start taking notes as well.

It didn’t take long for him to stop, however. He didn’t even notice that everyone else had stopped in their tracks as well.

Something gigantic and black fell out of the loop in the sky, ripping the opening in space into a formidable, very visible hole. The sheer mass of the Thing was enough to break through the temporary charms like a thrown stone could break through thin glass.

Still, they gaped, Unspeakables and Aurors and Students alike. In between the campus buildings, on smaller boats floating around the river, on the streets and in cars and all-around in London, Muggles gaped as well. For a second, nothing was heard but the ominous thrum of the Thing and the distant sounds of the city.

And then the screams started. Aliens, Zacharias heard them scream. Not again! and Chitauri! followed close by. People were running around and away when the Thing didn’t stop in its movement. It was too big, a massive black pole gliding vertically through the air, the top flared out like a deformed head of some strange, limbless creature. At the top, akin to a malevolent eye, a red light shone.

The Thing descended in its approach of the college until it hit the pavement not far from the wizards. Shards of stone and chunks of dirt and gravel flew through the air as it dug itself deeper and deeper with every meter it went forward until finally, it stopped.

“Set up new wards! Fast! O’Flannigan, with me! Unspeakables, retreat to a safe position…”

The Auror was interrupted by Cummings. “We’ll not retreat. Harley! Take Goldstein and get a read on that!” The old man continued ordering the other Unspeakables into a new frenzy, eyes gleaming under grey brows. The Aurors were agitated but started setting up defensive wards nonetheless, keeping a close eye on the Thing.

“It opened up!” Justin’s voice pulled Zach out of his shocked stupor.

“The sky as well! I count nine anomalies!” Another voice hollered.

Zacharias clutched his notebook tightly, eyes wide but jaw set, as he marched forward to get a better look at both the appearing holes in the sky and the towering Thing. Justin and Granger stood close to Goldstein, who was shouting out numbers that Harley was hastily writing down. The Thaumoscope was glowing brightly - the whole Thing emitted a mixture of exotic radiation Zach had only ever seen on a theoretical paper in the Department, but there was definitely magic to it as well.

As did the figures exiting what must have been some sort of vehicle and the one approaching through the same loop as the ship.

“I count one dozen, two dozen… 38 entities, eight magical, exiting the ship and one magical approaching from above! Sir, I think it’s Thor!” Goldstein looked up, face pale and brows furrowed.

“Thor?” Zach asked. He knew the name, of course - some sort of mythological figure. He didn’t understand the shocked gasps of Justin and Granger, nor the incredulous face of Unspeakable Harley. “And what are those? They don’t look human!”

“How should I know? Some sorts of aliens, I gather. And Thor is… Watch out!”

Granger’s scream was shrill and carried far, but the sounding Boom! was louder. Blue lightning crashed against something else - something red and dark and fluid that made Zacharias’ skin prickle.

Things soon fell into total chaos after that. Most of the Unspeakables stood their ground, and so did the interns, desperate to stay close to those they knew best. The fight erupted between the two parties, soon causing the first casualties of Muggles despite three of the Aurors running towards the danger zone. There was a flash of silver racing across the river - a Patronus, Zacharias thought, likely to call for help -, but soon the campus was dominated by crackling lightning and silky red.

And above it all, the nine loops started to align, growing bigger and brighter, beautiful and terrifying as they shifted into place.

The Convergence happened, and Goldstein had been right with his little pet theory, had been right that the astronomical anomaly and the spatial anomaly were connected.

The Convergence happened, and Zacharias couldn’t help but stare at the worlds on display as they encroached on each other, the border between here and there blurred by grey clouds being sucked into the void in-between.

~~~

The moment passed. Soon, the screams and shouts, the deafening thunder and rumbling buildings ripped him away from the skies and back to Earth. His eyes followed a deflected streak of the red substance, then they settled onto the display of the Thaumoscope.

It was magic and it wasn’t. The lightning was almost magic, but different. The dark beings were magic as well, again different from the normal parameters and what the lightning consisted of. The Thing, the ship, the vehicle - it was the same as the dark beings.

Alien was the word Granger had used. Foreign, different, unknown. Fitting, like most things the sensible girl said. Alien, just as the wounded sky above their heads. Zacharias shuddered as he jotted down the differences that the Thaumoscope showed him. Even with the defensive wards, it was hard to keep standing, to not run away, to not be thrown about by the force with which those aliens fought.

The Aurors were long gone to help the Muggles in secret, with only a small detail keeping up the wards, resigned to the fact that the Unspeakables deigned the events far more important than their health.

How they could stay this focussed, Zacharias had no idea. Every violent sound threatened to redirect his own attention away from numbers and theories shouted across the small area protected by the wards. With a blast, the red-caped figure of ‘Thor’ got thrown into the corner of the library, and Zacharias’ hands shook so hard that his self-inking quill spilled over half of his page. Lightning crackled and more pavement flew into the sky, forcing him to duck away from the debris that made it through the enchantments.

And then a trio of Unspeakables exited the warded area with their wands drawn to take down a couple of the dark beings in their silver masks (another visual that made Zach break out in cold sweat, clad in black as they were, their faces covered, like another group from a time long gone) that ventured too close for comfort.

“Where’s Hermione?”

The shout somehow made it through, causing him to turn around. Justin was looking around, eyes wide and face pale and panicked. A hollow, sucking sound echoed through the campus, another crash, another crackle and boom. His fellow Hufflepuff flinched before his eyes settled on something farther away. Determination followed, chasing the panic away from Justin’s face and causing Zach to feel something like dread coil up in his stomach.

“Justin!” he called, but the other teen was already running towards the fight zone and the chaos. With the Unspeakables running rampant and those aliens close by, the Aurors didn’t even notice the student getting away. They didn’t notice Zacharias following, despite his bellowed curses.

He ducked behind a pillar as he rounded the corner as a dark figure sailed past him. The being landed with a sickening crunch and Zach felt bile rise in his throat. For one, terrible moment panic overwhelmed him, but then a pair of hands cradled his face before landing on his shoulders.

“Come! Hurry!” The hands, Justin’s hands, pulled him further into the battle zone, past dark blood splattered over white pavement and upturned soil staining the walls. Scorch marks left a putrid smell in his nose, which was better than the stench of blood that had assaulted him earlier. Still, it took Zach some time before he could make out their destination - the bushy halo of brown curls behind a crumpled pillar.

It was Granger, wand drawn, crouching over the still form of another woman. There was blood there, too, running down her face from a shallow cut and pooling underneath the woman.

Staining the hands of a child who clung to Granger, too shocked to cry yet.

He wanted to run away, to go back to the adults and the relative safety of their presence. But he couldn’t, and not because of Justin clinging to his hand.

So Zacharias drew his wand instead, climbing over the broken pillar to crouch next to Granger. She didn’t take her eyes away from the battlefield where, with another hollow, sucking sound, a small group of the dark, masked beings vanished only reappear - tumbling out of empty air some 20 meters off the ground.

“The loops… they’re getting out of control,” she rambled, rubbing at the slowly drying blood on her cheek. Justin was kneeling to the side, prodding the unconscious woman with his wand. With a deft move, tight bandages wound themselves around her middle, unnoticed by the child still clinging to Granger.

“We need to bring them back to the others,” Zacharias said, too wound up to care about whatever happened with the loopholes. His hands were still shaking badly and he wondered if he could produce a spell at all.

It took them precious seconds to lift the woman between Justin and himself, with Granger hoisting up the now sobbing child. Zach’s fingers met something warm and sticky and he didn’t dare look at where he was holding onto the woman. Didn’t dare to pay too much attention at all at her, not with enemies so close by, wielding swords and spears and weird, foreign magic.

They just about reached the corner back to their group when another impact shook the ground. Justin cried out as he was hit by something (and Zach hoped fervently that it was something blunt, not the sharp rocks thrown around, not the twisted pieces of metal or, Merlin forbid, the vile red stuff he had seen earlier) and tumbled down, taking the woman and Zacharias with him. Granger spun around, a spell on her lips.

The brief golden glint of a Protego flickered between them and a chunk of thrown wall, the heavy projectile slamming against it and falling into huge pieces with the impact. Lightning crackled, blue licks of electricity turned the debris into dust and the air into static. The man in the red cape, his long, blonde hair in disarray and a giant hammer in his hand, stood there and stared down at them, at Zach and Justin, the hurt woman, the child and Granger with her wand in her hand.

“Are you hurt?” he asked, and Zacharias wanted to laugh, felt the hysterical need bubble up inside him. But Granger only shook her head, eyes impossibly big, and after another moment the man nodded and turned away, just in time to land his hammer against one of the dark things.

The head broke apart, spilling bones and blood and brain. Before any of it landed on the floor, the whole mess got sucked into another loop.

Zacharias lasted until they reached the protective wards before he vomited.

~~~

September 4th, 2013
Room of Requirement, Hogwarts

Nine teenagers stared at each other. The chairs were comfortable enough, but Anthony couldn’t get rid of a feeling of unease. The Greenwich incident had left the four interns shaken, something that made it hard to adjust to school. It was something that their friends picked on pretty fast.

Even Ron, who could sometimes be pretty dense when it came to the moods of others, was sitting close and protective next to his girlfriend, whereas the two Slytherins, Blaise and Draco, had suspicious looks to them.

“So… Hermione wouldn’t tell us what happened this summer,” Ginny started the questioning they all knew would come. “Only that, for some reason, she really wants to finish last year’s failed project on the tablet. Not that I’m against that, but why the sudden hurry? And why’s he here?”

She pointed a finger at Smith who immediately bristled with indignance. Anthony grimaced before speaking up. “She didn’t tell you because she can’t. You both know that we had to sign contracts before even thinking about interning with the Department of Mysteries, so everything we did and saw during our time there? It’s a secret we can’t tell.”

“And Zach is here because he knows his stuff. He constantly fights with Hermione for top marks in Transfiguration, and since Hermione has an insane amount of NEWT classes to prepare for, we need him to keep us on track,” Justin chimed in.

“I can speak for myself,” Smith murmured, chin jutting out. “But thanks, I guess. You heard it, Weasley. I have my reasons for being here and you don’t need to know them, so how about we start this off instead of discussing unnecessary things?”

Anthony eyed Smith for a moment while it was Ginny’s turn to bristle. The teen had been, in some sorts, vital to what they were doing here. After the Greenwich incident (which had been covered thoroughly by Muggle news outlets, but only marginally by their magical equivalents) it had been his and Hermione’s indignant voices that swayed Miss C to keep in contact. It was a mutual deal: Miss C wanted them to continue testing Stark Tech within Hogwarts’ halls, and they wanted information about Greenwich, the aliens, the Convergence and the anomalies it had caused.

It made Anthony a bit uncomfortable to involve the others, but Hermione had put her foot down. At least Ginny had to work with them, she had argued. But Ginny meant Blaise as well, since they were dating, which also included Draco and thus Neville. Ron was a natural inclusion since Hermione was involved. Zacharias was not amused by that. The month with the Unspeakables had softened the arrogant teen towards Hermione and Anthony, but that was not the case for their other friends.

“I think,” he said, interrupting Ginny before she could even speak out, “that we need to make some things clear first. Justin is right. We can’t speak about what happened during our internship. Ginny, Ron, you might already know this, since your father works in the Ministry, but everyone involved with the Department of Mysteries has to keep silent. It’s mandatory. Right now, Hermione, Smith, Justin and I are physically unable to talk about anything we did or didn’t do there.

But what we can say is that we need to complete our little project from last year. It’s actually pretty important to do so. And we need your help. You won’t regret it,” Anthony added with a smirk, making the Slytherins perk up. Hermione, too, raised an eyebrow. “It’s still our research, and it’s way bigger than we thought last year. We’re talking about making Muggle technology available in densely magical areas. Right now we are the only ones who have access to Stark’s solution. Do you know how many wizards and witches live in places where they can’t use phones and computers? How many people would buy them the moment they hit the market?”

“You want to sell the idea?” Hermione said incredulous, but there was a gleam in her eyes. Looking around, he saw it in all of them.

“The moment it’s ready. It doesn’t violate any contracts we had to sign, so we’re free to do it. But as I said… we need your help.”

Ginny frowned, but after a shared look with Ron and Blaise, she nodded. Next to Anthony, Smith stiffened a bit when Neville, without any hesitation, looked at Draco as the Slytherin consented for both as well.

“We trust you,” Neville said in his easy manner, a smile on his face. Anthony felt himself grin, the unease in the air clearing up.

“Let’s start, then. We need a working charger which is mostly rune work. Blaise and I will tackle that, it shouldn’t be too hard now that I actually understand the math Hermione’s used. Ginny, Justin, why don’t you take a closer look at the prototype? We need to know what alloy Stark has used to shield the fragile parts from magic. Zach, you join them. Your Transfiguration marks are the best in our group, maybe you can find a way to do something once we find out what’s what.”

“And what about us?” Draco leaned back, but Anthony knew he wasn’t as carefree as the Slytherin pretended to be. The Ravenclaw watched him, then Neville and Ron. The three were good friends - even more than that. They worked well with each other, no matter how rough Ron and Draco had started out.

“You don’t have to do this.” Anthony bit his lip, hesitating just a little bit. He didn’t like playing the blood card, but in this case… “But I really want you to do some marketing research. Draco, you can help with the Arithmancy stuff, but Ron and Neville… don’t take this personally, but neither of you are really that good with Runes or numbers. All three of you know people, however. And you are Purebloods - you have better access to their stance on Muggle technology than us. We’ll need funds, an idea of the overall interest, what the procedures is for opening up a shop and an idea of how to handle distribution. We won’t have much time next year, what with NEWTs and the next Triwizard, so we need to get things ready and prepared now or have to wait until after graduation.”

Ron looked interested (and a bit relieved). Neville didn’t seem to mind. Draco, however, had the most promising reaction - he smiled, slow and very deliberately, looking like a satisfied cat. “I like that,” he said. “I think you have a deal.”

~~~

September 4th, 2013
Hufflepuff Common Room, Hogwarts

“Is Malfoy dating Longbottom?”

Justin stopped in his tracks. He felt exhausted after having to deal with both Ginny and Justin for the last two hours. Both were his friends and he liked them a lot, but they didn’t have a great start. Not that Justin had any illusions about Zacharias’ attitude towards people he didn’t like. The problem was that Zacharias liked very few people outside of Hufflepuff and was prone to butt heads with outsiders.

“Not officially, no,” he answered after a moment and walked past the kitchen entrance and towards the stack of old, giant barrels at the end of the hallway. Most people from the other Houses thought that it was merely a room for the House Elves to store the wine for the Professors. That was true, of course, for all barrels but one. “And you better not tell anyone, Zach. I mean it. What happens in that room stays there. That was what you promised before we brought you in.”

“I know, I know.”

The warm, cozy common room of their house greeted them with dimmed lights and the smell of well-cared for plants. Were the rest of Hogwarts was built upon dark greyish stones, the Hufflepuff common room sported warm, almost mediterranian natural sandstone walls and polished wooden flooring. The white-painted ceiling was high above their heads, held up by thick, wooden beams. Bespelled round windows close to the ceiling showed the sky from above despite being located far underneath ground-level.

It was Justin’s favourite room in the whole castle, what with the multitude of worn and comfortable furniture, the little nooks that held books and games, the small clusters of tables to learn and read or just gather at. There were plants everywhere, a touch that had been added by Professor Sprout when she took over the duties of Head of House. They were in small, earthen bowls hanging from the ceiling, in big wooden planters along the walls. Tiny greenery sat atop the window sills, on shelves, on the desks. Bigger plants had been planted in small barrels or in red-fired terracotta.

Home away from home they called it. For Justin, it was just that, and he knew that most, if not all of his fellow badgers thought exactly the same.

“So… have you heard back from Miss C?”

Justin turned around. It was hard to make out, but he saw Zach fidgeting and knew that Greenwich was still fresh in his head. That was something all four of the former interns shared. They were kids, no matter how mature they fancied themselves, and the danger they had been in had made that very clear.

Sometimes he wondered why they all wanted so badly to stay in the know.

“You really should get yourself a phone these days,” was his non-answer. Zach groaned and Justin laughed, heading towards the door that would eventually lead them to their dormitory. Late as it was, the common room itself was empty. “But no, nothing new. They’re still trying to figure out the whole alien magic thing.”

“Close as we were, there should be more than enough recordings for them to figure it out.” Zach almost sounded disappointed, but then the boy had truly enjoyed his time with the Unspeakables. Justin wasn’t blind.

“We’ll see. Our main concern at the moment is to figure out that tablet.”

“My main concern is for Cummings to figure out if there’ll be more attacks or not, so I can sleep peacefully at last.”

Silence followed Zacharias’ dry words. There was nothing to say to that, after all.

~~~

October 13th, 2013
Room of Requirement, Hogwarts

“Oh, this is ridiculous.”

Zacharias looked up from the Evening Prophet he was reading. Headquarters was almost empty - it was a Friday evening, with a Hogsmeade weekend the next day, which always managed to bring most students into their respective Houses at time. They had just finished their work on the Stark project and he had hoped to get a chance to relax before walking back to the common room, which was likely packed at this time.

Instead, he had a frowning Granger in front of him, pointedly staring at the backside of his Prophet.

“Can I help you, Granger?” It was rare enough that the girl had the time to work with them on the tablet. One was more likely to find her ensconced at the far side of the room (which had grown larger in response, with more tables for her to use), working on her massive amount of school work. He knew that she was using a Time Turner - after the Department of Mysteries, Granger was of the opinion that she could tell him and the other two boys - which, in theory, made her a young adult now.

He still thought her crazy for the ten NEWTS she was working on. She was the first one since Percy Weasley to attempt it, something that didn’t surprise him at all.

“Do you still read that page?” She pointed at the article she had seen when approaching him. Zach checked it briefly before loosening the page from the rest of the Prophet.

“Here. Enjoy the letters.”

“I doubt that I’ll enjoy them,” she said darkly and took a place next to him. “Hah. What a joke!”

Zacharias sighed and folded the Prophet. Her angry exclaim had managed to catch the attention of the rest of their research group and already the older Weasley was coming closer, eyeing the Hufflepuff with clear suspicion. Zach gave the jealous bugger an eye-roll.

“What’s it now?” Malfoy asked from where he was sitting next to his not-boyfriend, a few violently colourful flyers spread before them. Granger’s boyfriend had brought them over, along with a lengthy letter from his twin brothers that Zacharias still remembered, if not fondly. He had heard about their shop in Diagon Alley, had even seen it more than once while shopping, but memories of noisy pranks had kept him well away from there, even more so than the paintjob of the building.

“Remember last week’s article about the Greenwich incident? Where the Prophet tried to calm everyone down from their fear of Death Eaters by releasing Muggle information about the aliens?”

It was not the first time the Prophet had tried to tackle the issue. Ever since the lackluster report they had published during the summer holidays, hundreds of Muggleborn and Halfblood wizards and witches had written angry letters to the Prophet, some of which got released. It had been a great disaster for the newspaper and it ended with the ugly firing of the witch that had managed to put some of the concerned and outraged letters into the paper.

But ever since then more people had sent letters to the Prophet, the Ministry and even to Fudge in person, demanding a better investigation of the case. Muggle pictures of the so-called ‘Dark Elves’ started to make the round, sending the population in a rare panic until the Prophet finally released a Ministry statement that heavily quoted Muggle sources. Prominently featured: the name the Muggles gave the aliens. Dark Elves.

“Who didn’t,” Blaise answered, voice dry. Hermione snorted and waved the page around.

“Well, it backfired. Listen to this! ‘How can we be sure that they aren’t, in fact, some sort of elvish creature? And if that’s the case, are they related to the common House Elf? I, for once, am very worried about the fact that any sort of elf attacked humans, no matter that they were Muggles’. And that’s not the only one. How paranoid can one be?”

Zacharias raised his eyebrows. “What are they trying to say, that we should be afraid of House Elves?”

Weasley laughed at that. “Yeah, and next are Flobberworms!”

“It’s not funny. Look who is writing this: Huxley, Bentham, Marlowe… those are Pureblood names. And most House Elves work for Purebloods. What if some are working for these readers?” Granger was looking almost ill, causing Zacharias to wipe of his own, amused smile.

“Granger,” he said, his voice more serious now. “Don’t worry about it. No one who has spent any time with a House Elf will think like that. It’s the nonsense of the hysterical, nothing more. Actually…” And here he did smile again, even if it was a sharp thing. “I bet they’ll get a good laugh at it. Remind me to take the article with me so that I can show the Hogwarts’ elves.”

He was met by stunned looks from everyone but Justin. “What… oh, please!” Now, that was insulting. Was it truly so hard to believe that he was sometimes talking to the House Elves? His House lived next to the kitchen, for Merlin’s sake. “They’re hardworking and good at what they do. What did you think, that I kick them around every time I’m in the kitchen or that I’m simply ignoring them?”

“To be fair, you’re an asshole to most people you meet,” Zabini said without a hint of shame, making Justin snort with suppressed laughter.

“I wonder why,” was all Zach was saying to that.

~~~

October 15th, 2013
Room of Requirement, Hogwarts

“Budge over, Finch-Fletchley.” And with that, Justin was shoved to the edge of the couch he was lounging in so that Pansy Parkinson could seat herself between the Hufflepuff and Ginny.

“We were working, you know,” the ginger-haired witch said, but her voice was cheerful instead of annoyed, clearly enjoying the chance for a break.

It earned her a brief smile from the normally poised Slytherin. “Don’t worry, I’ll make it short. Granger, I just got this from my parents. Draco told me that you were interested in it?”

“I swear I only mentioned it in passing, whatever Pansy is talking about,” came the muffled reply from Draco, who was currently reading a dusty economics book that he had found in the Library. He had already asked his mother and his cousin about more up-to-date material for ‘private interests’. Justin snorted and threw his own quill away, stretching his arms until he felt his joints pop.

“And I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Hermione snapped, not at all happy about the interruption. She still grabbed the letter Pansy was holding out for her. Justin had to bite his tongue when he saw the wary fascination in Pansy’s eyes - the Slytherin girl never had too much to do with the resident genius and never knew what to do when Hermione was in one of her moods.

Whatever was written in the letter didn't seem to improve her mood. Her lips moved with each word she read and her face became very red. “Is this a joke?” she asked, staring at Pansy, her hands clenched around the parchment.

“No, not a joke, Granger,” Pansy said and carefully leaned back into the fluffy cushions. “And I’m not the only one who got such a letter from their… worried parents. I heard that you predicted something like this.”

“But they can’t be serious, right? They’re not really afraid of House Elves?”

Pansy shrugged, but Justin noticed the tense line of her shoulders. He wasn’t the only one - Hermione eyed her too and drew her own conclusion.

“This isn’t good,” she said and sighed, releasing the letter from her iron grip. A flick of her wand smoothed it out again. “Thank you, Pansy, for telling me.”

~~~

January 12th, 2014
Room of Requirement, Hogwarts

Anthony took a deep breath. People were milling around, watching him and chatting with each other. Headquarters was packed - with the heavy snowstorm outside, only the brave and desperate had gone out to Hogsmeade. Which meant that most of Hogwarts’ sixth-years had gathered in the comfy room for snacks, games and general avoidance of homework.

It was also the day that Anthony and Blaise had decided to demonstrate their (hopefully) working recharge station, which drew quite a lot of attention.

“This is as close to an end product as we can get,” Blaise told the crowd. He pointed at the polished granite hexagon roughly the size of a dinner plate. “Granite is the most stable. It’s also non-conductive enough to weaken the effect of the runes since we were unable to tweak the rune sequence itself. It’s also relatively cheap and easy to transfigure into the right shape.”

“We also chose to use quartz for the deflectors instead of crystal. Specifically transfigured quartz sand. Crystal isn’t stable enough to transfigure reliably - thanks again, Smith, for demonstrating - and will break if it’s done even slightly wrong. Both are amorphous solids and similar enough for the exchange.” Anthony held up three smooth balls in his hands. Each was as big as a regular marble and slightly milky in colour. “They focus and redirect the runic spell towards the phone and will also absorb any excess electricity.”

One after another, he placed the quartz marbles into the indentations of the granite plate. His very own phone followed, placed in the middle of the construction where the granite was formed into a small pedestal.

“The only thing left is to activate the rune sequence by touching the activation rune with the tip of your wand,” Blaise continued and did just that.

Immediately all runes carved into the stone glowed up, from the activation rune to the ones surrounding the phone itself. A soft crackle followed and the dark display lit up with the stylised battery and a slowly growing percent number.

“The average time for a full charge is an hour. We call it the RuneCharger,” Anthony said, watching in satisfaction. A lot of clapping and whistling followed, as well as an avalanche of questions and well-wishes.

~~~

They had returned to a quieter corner of the room. If only he had more time, Anthony would dedicate a lot of it to get behind the charmwork of it. Watching a row of bookshelves grow between them and the rest of the students to provide them with some privacy was never getting boring.

“We should use invisible runes for the RuneChargers. Makes it harder to copy the sequence,” he said after browsing a few of the books. Most of them came from the Room of Lost Things which they had discovered early on while experimenting with the Room of Requirement. The thought led him to take two of the books out of the shelf. Those, he would keep.

“Good idea.” Ron wrote it down. Ever since starting on marketing (and conferring a lot with his twin brothers) he had become very eager with the whole project. It promised to pay well, after all, something that they all looked forward to. “There’s a special rune paint that can achieve that. It will up the cost a bit, but it’s also faster to apply.”

Hermione gave him a bright smile that made Ron blush with satisfaction. “We aren’t quite done with the composition of the alloy, but I think we might finish it before summer. Have you thought of what to do from now on?”

“Reception and connection,” Draco answered before Blaise could. “You’re using normal contracts, but we should think about something… more magical. Like the Floo network, but for mobile phones. That way it’s attractive for the more conservative wizard and witch. Purebloods hold a lot of money, it’s a lucrative market.”

“Sounds good to me. Anyone knows how exactly the Floo network works?” Anthony looked around, eyes hopeful. Smith snorted.

“Not a clue. But we know someone who does, don’t we?”

~~~

January 14th, 2014
Unused Classroom, Hogwarts

Zacharias glanced at the door, feeling rightfully impatient. Without his own means to safely contact Miss C, he was dependent on others for information. It wasn’t so bad to ask Justin, of course - the Muggleborn was one of the few people he actually liked. But even after accepting the ever-growing presence of Granger and Goldstein in his life (and, to an extent, their numerous friends as well), he never felt comfortable with the fact that it was Granger with the strongest connections to their former boss.

To have to wait for her to finish the phone call was torture, nothing less. Especially after waiting for half a year.

“Sorry,” the girl said when she re-entered the room. “She was really excited about our progress, is all. She said she’ll send us some material on the Floo network and other spatial magic.”

“That’s nice of her!” Justin exclaimed. Zach grimaced, but didn’t counter his friend. “Did she have any news besides that?”

Well, at least he wasn’t the only one eager to hear about the results of the Convergence.

“Quite a bit. Seems like they mostly continued their work on the Dark Elves, if nothing else. The good news is that it’s unlikely that they’ll return anytime soon - they used the Convergence and the loops to cross the distance and the next one is hundreds of years away.”

At that, Zach released a breath he didn’t notice he had hold. A grin spread across his lips and he saw it mirrored on Justin’s face. “Thank Merlin,” he said with great relief.

“And the bad news?” Smith frowned instead of smiling, but then Zacharias had always thought him to be a spoilsport.

“Well, the bad news is that they have concluded that we are on a timer. The Statute, that is. Those… Dark Elves were definitely magical - most of them the equivalent of Squibs, but with a decent amount of fully-fledged magicals between them. They also came from space. After the Chitauri invasion two years ago, this is the second time a hostile race did substantial damage to Muggles.”

Her words were met by shocked silence. Whatever relief Zach had just found evaporated. He didn’t quite feel dread - this issue was far too big, too unrelatable for him to be anything but confused by it. But it caused a vague and weird need for urgency, something he couldn’t quite follow. Urgency, yes. But for what?

“But… how does that threaten the Statute?” he finally asked, trying to find the cause for the sudden tightness in his chest.

Hermione shook her head. “Muggles are preparing for space, Zacharias. They always had a fascination with it. And ever since the Chitauri attack on New York, more funds are raised for space exploration than ever. This will just boost it. And once they get there? Beyond the moon and sun system, once they are able to explore it? We now know that there is magic beyond Earth. What’s to say that they won’t discover where the Dark Elves came from? Or find some other civilisation that is magical in nature?”

She looked almost eager, brimming with the possibilities she just mentioned and probably a thousand others as well. He had always scoffed at her nickname, but even Zacharias couldn’t deny that Hermione was indeed the brightest witch of their generation.

“It’s not like it’ll happen sometime soon. But at one point, Muggles will discover proper magic and then they will know what to look for. That’s what Miss C meant when she said we are on a timer. We were only ever be able to hide ourselves because Muggles forgot about us.”

“And that’ll change when they learn about magic,” Goldstein added, looking sick and fascinated at the same time.

~~~

March 2nd, 2014
Room of Requirement, Hogwarts

Justin took a moment for a quick stretch. He was currently helping Blaise and Anthony out with their project of developing a magical communications network. This was much less exciting than working on the recharging plate, since most of it involved coming up with feasible theories that could then be tested (something they were still far off), so most he did was reading one of the books or papers that they had gotten from Cummings.

Spring had started, and between the Quidditch club, their regular classes and their research-heavy after class activities he dearly looked forward to the end of the year. How others like Hermione managed with a much heavier workload, he couldn’t fathom. Hard working he might be, but he knew his limits fairly well.

He chanced a look to the two tables that Hermione commandeered. It was loaded with books and notes, rolls of parchment and discarded quills. More so, there was a neat pile of pamphlets sitting at the corner as well as a few new designs to her campaign to raise awareness for the plight of House Elves.

“I found something about the central Floo operations system,” Blaise said with a muffled voice. “But I don’t think I can copy it out of the book. It’s too old. Can you give it a try, Justin? Your spellwork is a bit more delicate than mine.”

“Sure,” he answered. It meant the chance to get up and move for a bit. The strain of constant work was slowly getting to him, and he was not the exception: The dry reading materials and theory-only brainstorming might have been right up Hermione’s alley, but even Anthony yearned for something to do, to start with the experimentation stage.

Justin took a long look at the book and the fragile-looking page before carefully touching his wand to it. “Here you go,” he said, satisfied with his Geminio charm. “Oh, this looks good… we might want to use something similar. Ron will be pleased, he wanted something to monitor the use.”

“True, but we’ll still need the recipient. Like a Muggle’s SIM card.”

They both sighed. This was the one problem they came across fairly often and served as a stark reminder of their own limits as students. No matter that they came up with the RuneCharger (which was, in the end, nothing more than a practical use of Runes and Transfiguration) or that the others were almost done analysing Stark’s mysterious alloy - a magical SIM card that was accessed through a Muggle phone and connected via Floo networking? Something had to give here, and Justin feared that it was their own limited knowledge in several fields.

“I mean… we only need those for magic purists,” the Hufflepuff hedged. “Not for the overall idea of marrying magic and technology together. Most of that can be done once we can recreate the alloy, or at least the magic-repelling properties.”

Blaise sighed and grabbed a fresh sheet of parchment. “True. It still feels like we’re wasting our time here. We can probably set up the network itself, but without the SIM cards and a way to make the phones work with them, we’ll miss out a big customer base.”

“Work with them? Isn’t that already done once we figure the alloy out?”

“Not entirely. We can shield the phones and their reception with the alloy, which make them work Muggle style. But any network we want to build ourselves will be magical in nature. It’s very different to shield something from magic, or to make it work with it. The RuneCharger only works because technically, the magic doesn’t directly interact with the phone. It just produces electricity that charges up the battery.”

They both fell into silence, feeling a bit let down by the substantial roadblock they had encountered. Justin patted Blaise on the shoulder and was just about to announce a break when Hermione interrupted him.

“If you have free time, you can help me a bit with SPEW.”

A muffled sound told Justin that he wasn’t the only one trying to swallow a laugh. Hermione was still buried in her books which allowed him to grin at least before he walked over. “Sure can do. What do you need done?”

Despite the hilarious name (that the Gryffindor stuck to, no matter how many people told her how it sounded like), he was fond of the movement itself. Ever since the first concerned letters had been printed in the Prophet, more and more worried parents had written their children at Hogwarts, which had a huge number of House Elves working within the castle’s walls. It got so ridiculous that Professor Dumbledore himself addressed the issue when a number of students refused to eat in the Great Hall, reminding them all sternly that House Elves had nothing to do with the previous attack on Greenwich.

It was all the reason Hermione needed to start producing the tasteful pamphlets in a quest to educate the paranoid students. She even send an owl to the Prophet, together with a letter. But while the students reacted fairly positive to the distributed information about Muggle folklore, their definition and thoughts on elves and the fact that the Dark Elves came from outer space, the Prophet had yet to even respond to her letter.

“I want to write an article about the history of House Elves and their employment in magical Britain. I know that they love to work, but some things I found out… imagine, they are counted as beasts, not beings! Utter nonsense, but I’m not even surprised that we got it so backwards.”

Her face was very serious, her hair pulled into a tight bun at the nape of her neck and ink smudging her cheek. She looked very much like any adult, and it hit Justin again that Hermione might as well be one. Using the Time Turner since third year…

“Anyway, I need someone to go over some of the books I found about the topic and compile the information for me.”

“No problem,” he said almost instantly, eager to help. He suppressed the urge to ask her about her use of the Time Turner, but he vowed to talk to the others in the know about the issue. It was a shame that he couldn’t talk to Ron as well, but he did make a promise back then.

“Thanks, Justin. I really appreciate that.” She smiled brightly, and for a moment Justin questioned his own intentions. It was something to think about, but for now he simply made his escape, the books she gave him in his arms.

~~~

June 25th, 2014
Black Lake, Hogwarts

“I can’t wait for summer,” Anthony said, lazily stretching out on the grass.

They were at the lake again, enjoying a hot, class-free day close before the end of term. Exams were over, no homework to do (with the exception of summer homework, but he had no intentions to start those any time soon) and the weather was excellent. Several students were taking a swim in the lake, making quite the ruckus everytime the giant Squid made its appearance.

“I can’t wait for the end of July,” Neville retorted with a sigh yet again. His head was pillowed on Draco’s stomach, the blonde accepting the close contact while reading one of the nondescript books that his cousin, Sirius Black, had sent him. “You’re all so lucky, you can just do magic right away.”

“You could, as well. I’ve no problems in Sirius’ house.”

“My gran won’t allow it,” was the depressed answer. Anthony couldn’t help but snicker. “Yes, yes, laugh at my plight!”

“It’s good that you don’t need magic for marketing, then,” Hermione tried to soothe him. It wasn’t very successful and all she got was a baleful glance.

“You can visit me,” Draco offered. “Weasley’s coming as well, bringing the twins with him.” Neville visibly perked up, sending the Slytherin a grateful smile.

“I kind of wish we could do another internship,” Smith noted from his spot under a tree, back leaned against the trunk and legs outstretched. It was an attractive thought for Anthony as well - to go back into the mysterious Department, to continue learning from those genius people…

“Can’t we? I mean, we can just ask Miss C if it’s possible. As far as I know, none from Ginny’s year applied for them this time.” He eyed the others. They all seemed interested, with Hermione actually biting her lip. But then she shook her head, the first to refuse.

“I don’t have the time. My parents want to have me with them on vacation, and I already promised to go. And Ron invited me to his home, as well.”

Justin shrugged. “Same with me. Mom is super excited for Bali.”

“Lucky you,” Smith said, closing his eyes again. “It’s France yet again, and in August.”

“Plenty of time to test the alloys, then.”

Smith groaned and Hermione laughed and Anthony felt content.

Chapter Text

July 10th, 2014
England

A man ceased to be a prisoner that night. There was rage in his head for all the years that were stolen. So the man went out to gather what he could.

He knew the old places. Knew the hiding spots and secret hideaways from older, better times. Places where his kind was still welcome, were information could be traded.

It was in one of those places that he found the rat.

The rat, the man knew, was a cowardly one. A traitor for many, a backstabbing kind that only sought out his own safety and well-being. The man cornered the rat and cowered the rat into rightful submission and he bound the rat to him with threats and magic.

“Tell me,” the man said. “Tell me everything.” And so, the rat did.

~~~

July 11th, 2014
Grimmauld Place, London

Ginny remembered the first time she visited Grimmauld Place, some two years ago. Sirius had still been busy clearing out the place, with Draco helping him as much as the boy could. Even then it was a dark and dank house, and Ginny hadn’t liked it back then, preferring the kitchen of all rooms.

Narcissa Black, Ginny thought when she stepped through the Floo, changed things up quite a bit.

Maybe it was a womanly thing. Something a mother learned by instinct, to make a place into a home. Almost everything had gone since she had moved to her cousin’s house - furniture, wallpaper, installations, art. Even the flooring had been ripped out, not to talk about a huge section of the wall between the landing and the parlour.

Ginny grinned - the screaming portrait that had been glued to that spot was gone as well.

Brighter woods had been used for the parquet flooring, the walls of the parlour lined with pastel greens and blues. Draco’s mother had definitely added a very feminine touch to the house, with tasteful decorations and bright and inviting colours.

“Good morning!” she called and made way for her other three siblings coming through the Floo. Ron quickly followed, with Fred and George the last to tumble out of the fireplace.

“Hello, Weasleys!” a happy voice answered her, and there was Sirius Black with a grin a mile wide.

Ron smirked. “How’s it going, Snuffles?”

It was a whirlwind of greetings, hugs and handshakes when Draco and Neville entered the parlour as well. From there, they moved to the big kitchen where the boys were quick to set up shop. The twins were already pretty far involved with what they had finally named “MagiTech”. With their own shop a huge success, Fred and George Weasley had the experience and the success to take them under their wings, especially since two of their siblings were involved.

“Good morning, Miss Weasley.”

Ginny, who had not yet taken place at the table, turned around to come face to face with Madam Narcissa. As a Weasley, she had been raised with her father complaining about the uppity Pureblood family head, Lucius Malfoy. There had always been bad blood between poor Arthur Weasley, the known Muggle lover, and the rich and pompous Lucius Malfoy, sitting close to the Minister himself and avid defender of old traditions.

Narcissa Black, however, had never been so much as talked about. The former Malfoy, sister of the infamous Bellatrix Lestrange, had for a long time been something of an unknown for Ginny. All she had ever known about the beautiful woman was that she had stood with Draco when his friendships had drawn his father’s ire. Even then, the first meeting had been difficult, if nothing else because of how refined and womanly Madam Narcissa was, and how Ginny wasn’t.

Even now, it was hard to meet those icy blue eyes set in a pale, powdered face, lips subtly painted and long, blonde hair carefully curled. She even smelled good, like roses and expensive lotion. Ginny was quick to feel clumsy around her, boyish and crude despite the fact that she never had a problem dating boys herself.

“Madam... Narcissa,” she greeted, feeling her face flush a little bit at the oddity of using her first name. Almost like she had a crush, which was, of course, utter nonsense. More like awkward admiration. Which was even more absurd - the only times Ginny wanted to be more like Narcissa Black were when the woman was close by. Especially when she smiled, flooding her doll-face with rare warmth.

“Come, sit with me. The boys are a bit too boisterous for me today.”

Madam Narcissa didn’t seem to mind it too much - the smile lingered on her face as she turned around, only stopping to tell Ninny, two of the young House Elves she had brought with her after the divorce, to prepare some tea and sweets. They made their way outside to the small kitchen garden to sit down at an wrought-iron table, the sun warm on Ginny’s skin. She watched the woman, not sure why they were here instead of inside, not really believing the reason Madam Narcissa had given her in the first place. Yet she waited until the tea arrived and the woman played mother.

“Is there any particular reason why you want to talk to me, Madam?”

Madam Narcissa’s smile only grew with a spark in her blue eyes. Setting the creamer aside, she focussed Ginny with her attentive gaze. “You are observant,” she praised and Ginny felt herself blush yet again. “That is a valuable skill to have, Miss Weasley. Draco always talks a lot about his friends.”

“I… thank you?” Ginny fumbled with her cup, annoyed with herself. It was unsettling, the way Madam Narcissa was watching her. She was nice and pretty and so very motherly with Draco, but she still felt extremely different from Ginny’s own mother that the girl couldn’t even begin to see her as simply that. She was a lady, from head to toe, without any noticeable slip-ups. “I’m glad that Draco is my friend,” she added after a moment of silence.

“And I’m glad that he has so many. It’s a good sign for a mother, you see. But let us talk about you, Miss Weasley. See, as a mother, I am used to looking out for my son. But I never quite got to indulge his friends as well beyond the occasional gift of sweets.” She took a sip of tea, not bothered that Ginny couldn’t quite find any words for an answer.

“I think I don’t understand,” Ginny finally admitted, confused and slightly wary. Madam Narcissa, however, only laughed, as soft as everything about her.

“Draco tells me that you play Quidditch. Exceptionally well, even. Tell me, Miss Weasley, what do you plan to do after Hogwarts?”

Ginny paused, a bit taken aback by the question. Then she started to think about it. MagiTech was ready to be launched the moment her brother and his year-mates graduated, but Ginny still had two years of school to go through. It was fun to work on that project, fun to spend time with her friends taking apart the puzzle, but to be honest, she didn’t see much of herself in the actual production. Neither did Hermione, that Ginny was sure of - the older girl had told her as much, admitting that she wanted to work with the Department of Mysteries if she had the chance.

Even Blaise had other plans, telling her about trips abroad, maybe as a diplomat of sorts. And Ginny…

Ginny had always wanted the same thing, really.

“I want to play professional,” she said, finally no longer fumbling or awkward. “I’m good as a Seeker and best as Chaser. I want to score goals at the World Championship.”

Madam Narcissa didn’t laugh this time, but she smiled widely, showing off her white, even teeth. “You are very ambitious,” she said instead, and it sounded like one of the best compliments to give someone. “Did you know that I used to play, myself? I was never very good at it, but I enjoyed the flying. A friend of mine has talked me into trying and I would like you to meet her next time she visits if that is alright. Her name is Tahlia Nithercott.”

So much for keeping calm and mature - Ginny almost spat her out tea when Madam Narcissa casually dropped the name of the former Captain of the Holyhead Harpies onto her. And this time, the lady of the house laughed.

~~~

August 19th, 2014
Malfoy Manor, England

A man visited another that night. He didn’t fear to be caught - his mask was holding strong, the face of his former prison ward protecting his true identity. For this visit, however, he had timed the potion just right.

The face of Malfoy, when his own changed, was priceless, and even then it was only a fraction of punishment this particular traitor had to go through.

“I know that you have something,” he said and Malfoy, not without force, confirmed this.

“You will give it to him,” he said, and this time Malfoy didn’t so much as hesitate before saying yes.

~~~

August 20th, 2014
Diagon Alley, London

“Ugh, I can’t wait until I get a job,” Ginny whined, her eyes set on the sleek and polished form of the Firebolt, which was still very much state-of-the-art, even four years after release.

Blaise snorted, clearly amused by her yearning, but at least he didn’t offer to lend her the money anymore. It was nice, in a way, to be sometimes treated by her boyfriend, but she drew the line at drinks and ice cream, scrounging up enough money to pay the bill a few times as well. He took it well enough, the stark difference between them when it came to money, but then he had always been sensible that way.

Diagon Alley was buzzing with life. The summer had been very pleasant so far - lots of sun with the occasional storm interrupting -, and with the start of school in less than a couple of weeks, they had managed to meet up to buy their school supplies.

Not only Ginny and Blaise, mind you - Ron was there as well, carrying books for Hermione and Draco and Neville were getting stationery supplies a few shops over. She had seen Tracey Davies talking to Justin not too long ago, and somewhere around here, Susan and Hannah were also shopping.

“Let’s see if we can find some of the others,” Ginny decided, turning away from the brooms on display. “It’s almost lunchtime.”

~~~

“You know, I’ve never been to Knockturn Alley,” Ron said slowly, with a thoughtful look on his face.

Ginny eyed her brother with a certain suspicion, spearing potatoes onto her fork. The twins had always been known for their mischievous nature, but she knew very well that most, if not all her brothers (and she as well) had an affinity for it. Even Percy had enjoyed taking his revenge on the twins from time to time, even though his serious side had taken over in the end.

This smelled like a plan that Mum wouldn’t like to hear from, nor find particularly funny. “Me neither,” she said, careful to arrange her face into a display of innocence. “They say it’s bad down there.”

Hermione and Blaise watched them warily. It made Ginny a little giddy that he already knew when to be worried. Draco looked confused for the moment. Neville only shook his head with a smile.

“You want to go?” Ron grinned now and finished off his plate. Hermione frowned, but she too had a curious look on her face.

“I’m not saying no,” she started, hesitating. “I mean… we are legal adults now. Most of us,” she added with a look at Ginny who stuck out her tongue.

“They have some book shops down there, too,” Ron said, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. It made Hermione laugh.

“Just a peek can’t hurt, right?” Neville looked from one face to another. “Anyway, it can’t be that bad, otherwise the Ministry would’ve done something against it already… at least that’s my guess.”

“It’s a bit sketchy,” Draco said with a dismissive shrug and emptied his glass. “But nothing to write home about. I’ve not been down there for years, mind you, but I don’t see why that should’ve changed. We have plenty of time to take a peek, Sirius doesn’t expect us back before five.”

~~~

“They must’ve been fake, yes? Those weren’t real fingernails, right?”

“Pshht! Let’s go in here, I remember that store… Antiques, mostly, and books. Dark stuff.”

“Better we don’t touch anything, I reckon.”

“Do they have poisonous stuff? Or cursed ones?”

They weren’t exactly inconspicuous - half a dozen barely-adults tromping about Knockturn Alley, peeking into dusty shopfronts and eyeing whatever was on display with disturbed fascination. It felt daring, it felt forbidden (no matter, Ginny thought, that Draco was with them, a veteran of Knockturn Alley himself) and it felt like some kind of adventure.

Ron had the right of it, she further thought, thinking those fingernails the worst thing we saw till now.

The store Draco indicated was a bit bigger and less dirty than the previous ones. In big, once-golden letters it proclaimed its name: Borgin & Burkes. The shopfront showed a variety of items, one of them a stunningly beautiful necklace made out of diamond-and-emerald encrusted silver chains. It was also locked in a tight glass container and had a morbid warning sign next to it.

The doorbell that announced their entry sounded a bit muffled. It fitted the insufficiently lit room and the packed, hoard-like atmosphere. Bulky furniture loomed from the walls, with even more standing crowded together in the middle of the room. On the wall to the left was a counter, but the spot behind was deserted. Every available surface was littered with odd and curious tidbits, piles of old books and closed cases, each item dutifully labelled with either a price or a “Price on Request” tag.

Ginny was one of the first to enter, right behind Draco and Hermione, who made a beeline to the next pile of books her eyes settled on. The others fanned out behind the Weasley, making soft remarks when they found something of interest, like a caged and mummified hand holding a candle, or a display of exotic looking butterflies, each larger than Ginny had ever seen.

It wasn’t until Ron was trying to open what was labelled as a Vanishing Cabinet (while telling Neville that he had seen a similar one in the Room of Hidden Things) that a stranger entered the store from the far back.

It was an odd man. Very thin and on the smaller side, he wore what once had been fine robes. His eyes were small and suspicious, his mouth twisted into a dissatisfied grimace. Owner or employee, Ginny couldn’t say, but she knew that he didn’t want them poking around. They were likely far from his usual clients - only very few students would be able to afford anything out of this shop with prices so high for most items on display.

“What do you want here, then?” he asked them sharply, eyes flickering from face to face. They finally settled on Blaise after taking stock of the rest, his face softening just a bit. It made Ginny’s skin prickle. Either the man had a good eye for clothing, or he knew her boyfriend’s face. “Going to buy anything?”

“We’re looking around,” Draco said, voice calm but icy. The man had only looked at him once before snorting, and Ginny wondered how much Draco was actually bothered by things like that. At school, he was well-liked in his year and by the teachers, and ever since the last of the upper-classmen had graduated (with the tragic exception of Cormac McLaggen, who had flunked his Transfiguration and Astronomy classes and was to retake them), Ginny hadn’t heard of any further problems in Slytherin.

Considering that her sources were no other than Tracey Davies and Pansy Parkinson, she was very sure about that.

Out of school, however, things were different. Draco looked a great deal like his father, with only the colour of his eyes and the shape of his mouth inherited from his mother. This wouldn’t be the first time that he had been snubbed, either because of his father, or caused by the divorce itself.

This time, Ginny thought, watching the man like a hawk, it was likely the latter.

“This ain’t no museum,” the man scoffed with a heavy frown. He looked Draco up and down, something nasty glinting in his eyes. Then he stared at Hermione, and Ginny felt her blood go cold. “I only sell to proper people.”

“And what,” Ron almost growled, quickly turning red in anger, “is that supposed to mean?”

Ginny didn’t think so much as moved, but she wasn’t surprised at all when she found herself next to her brother. Nor was she surprised that the others had stepped up as well, surrounding Hermione in a protective circle. The man flinched back, visibly not liking the display of loyalty in his store, nor his chances against the six students.

“Just go!” he said, growing impatient. But he didn’t elaborate on his point from before. “None of this is of any interest for you, anyway! Stop wasting my time!”

She kept on watching the man. The way his fingers twitched against the pockets of his robes… she didn’t like it. But it wouldn’t be good to start a fight in Knockturn Alley. “Come on, let’s just go. This place stinks.”

“True that. I was never a fan of bullshit.” Draco’s languid drawl nearly choked Ginny up with surprised laughter. This was Sirius’ influence, she had no doubt. But his words unclenched something in the others, and without any other word and under the angry glare of the man, the students turned around to leave the place.

Only that the door opened before they could reach it, for none other than Lucius Malfoy.

Mr Malfoy looked just as surprised (and displeased) as Ginny felt. A glance to the side showed almost the same expression on Draco’s face. They all stopped, slightly bumping into each other, as father and son stared at each other with varying degrees of hostility in their faces.

To Ginny’s surprise, Draco looked a lot more defensive than Mr Malfoy’s aggressive stare.

“Well, well, well,” the blonde man said, his deep voice a mocking drawl. “I didn’t know Hogwarts’ finest visit this part of Diagon.”

It was clear that he didn’t like the sight of them any better than the shopkeeper, who was likely encouraged by Mr Malfoy’s company. “Told them already to leave, Mr Malfoy,” the man said, suddenly smarmy in a way that had Ginny feel tainted somehow. “Nothing but trouble, I daresay, these kids.”

“Yes. I can see why.” And then Mr Malfoy’s eyes settle on Hermione as well, cold and distant, mouth twitching in dissatisfaction. He didn’t comment any further, though, before looking back at Draco. “Although the company you keep doesn’t surprise me, Draco. You must have inherited your mother’s more… depraved tendencies. The Black blood, you see.”

Draco flinched, but not backwards. His body leaned forward, eyes narrowed, face pale but for two red spots on his cheeks, his right hand already clamped around his wand. This time it was Neville holding him back with a strong hand on Draco’s shoulder.

“I think we should go,” the Gryffindor said, voice even. He had grown again this summer, Ginny suddenly noticed. He had been tall since his fifth year, but she never noticed the broadness of his shoulders, the stark line of his jaw. The fire in his eyes, however, she knew already, had seen it more and more often in the last few years.

Neville, just like Hermione, was already an adult.

“Yeah,” Draco said, his voice a bit unsettled at first. He licked his lips, before lifting up his chin. “Yeah, you’re right. It’s kind of sickening.”

Neville kept his hand on Draco’s shoulders when the group moved forward, forcing Mr Malfoy to take a step to the side. The man looked furious, so much that Ginny had her wand up and ready, a hex on her lips, when he stepped forward again to intercept Draco. What he whispered, she didn’t hear, but it had Draco recoil away from his father, slapping away the grip the man had on his satchel.

“Don’t ever touch me again,” Draco hissed and practically fled through the door, with Neville on his heels and the others not too far behind.

~~~

They didn’t stay in Diagon Alley for much longer, not after the ugly encounter with the older Malfoy. Hermione, Blaise and Neville went back to their respective homes after making sure that Draco was doing well enough. Ginny and Ron, however, were to stay at Draco’s for the night since Arthur and Molly were out and visiting a relative.

Neither of the teens told Madam Black or Sirius about Mr Malfoy. Ginny thought that Sirius might very well congratulate them on sneaking into Knockturn Alley, but most mentions of Mr Malfoy in the household tended to drag the mood down, something they didn’t want to risk.

“Ugh,” Ginny said, ruffling through her rucksack when they had settled in the kitchen. Ron had suggested that they do some tentative sketches for advertisement of the phones as a surprise for Neville. “Draco, you don’t have some spare parchment lying around, would you? I forgot to buy some after you-know-what.”

“Might have some. Just give me a moment… I think I have… huh?”

When he pulled his hand out of his satchel, Ginny didn’t see any parchment rolls but a notebook. Draco seemed to be rather perplexed by it and inspected it curiously. “Didn’t remember buying that one. It looks unused, though... Was wedged between the potions book from Twillers and Sherperd.”

“Mate, you stole something!” Ron grinned with glee and snatched the notebook out of Draco’s hands. “Looks second hand, must be from the store as well.”

“I didn’t steal it, Weasley,” Draco answered, although he looked a bit worried. “I don’t even remember it at all.”

“Must’ve slipped in between the purchases, then,” Ginny shrugged and grabbed it herself. The pages were a bit discoloured, but they were nice and thick and had practical lines. “And with how low the prices are there, this shouldn’t be too much of a loss for them. Can I have it?”

“Sure.” Draco shrugged after a last look at the black book. “It’s certainly good enough for notes.”

She smiled a thanks to him, already grabbing one of the pencils lying on the wooden table. Before she could put anything down, however, they heard fast steps approaching the kitchen. Ginny turned around just as Sirius entered the room, his long hair in artful disarray.

“There you are! Doing anything important? No? How about a movie?”

The three changed looks, then they shrugged. Ginny threw the notebook in her rucksack and forgot about it before they even reached the cinema.

~~~

September 1st, 2014
Great Hall, Hogwarts

Ginny applauded with the rest of the students when the last kid got sorted into Hufflepuff. There were so many each year now, easily dwarfing her own year and that of her brother, both who had been born while the war was still in full effect. This time, more than seventy new firsties had arrived at Hogwarts, and she could clearly see the happiness (and strain) on the teachers’ faces.

“Smile, Ron,” she admonished her brother after the loud clapping stopped and the food arrived on their table.

“Yeah, easy for you to be happy,” he murmured, poking at his plate. Then he sent a glare along the table. Cormac McLaggen, who had returned for a couple of NEWTs he had failed, was sitting with his younger cousin on the other end of the long Gryffindor table, a good stretch away from the rest of the seventh-years. “Can you believe that that tosser got angry at me when I told him he had to show up at tryouts if he wants to be on the team? Arrogant wanker.”

“If he causes problems, you have Neville and Hermione to take him down a peg. McGonagall won’t be amused when he loses us points.”

Ron smirked at that and turned his hopeful eyes to Neville, who snorted. “Only when he’s acting out,” the normally friendly Gryffindor said. “Won’t do us any good if I bend the rules and get kicked out of duty. I heard that Snape threw a right fit that neither Blaise nor Tracey got Heads.”

“Blaise didn’t even want to be one. And I’m happy for Hannah, as is Tracey,” Hermione chimed in.

The rest of the dinner went over in a better mood, although most of the boys were still ranting about McLaggen. Ginny couldn’t fault them for that - they had to share a dorm with him, after all, and everybody knew what a git McLaggen could be. There was no love lost between him and the seventh-years, not after him bullying Ron for being friends with Draco.

The Hall fell into silence when plates and cutlery disappeared. Ever since the Triwizard Tournament got revived three years ago, most students had known that it would be repeated this year. It wasn’t a secret, after all - only two things were unknown, the school where it was to happen, and the Champion who would represent Hogwarts.

“There are just a few points that I would like to mention before I send you all to bed,” Professor Dumbledore said, his old face wrinkling up even more as he beamed at them. “After the huge success of the last Triwizard Tournament, I am happy to announce that this year, Hogwarts will stand as host. As such, we will soon share the castle with the representatives of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang. I hope that we’ll all present us from out very best side. Sadly, this means that this year’s Quidditch Cup will not take place…”

“What? NO!”

“I finally wanted to try out this year…”

“They can’t do this, can they?”

“Oh, come on!”

It took Dumbledore a good while to calm down a good portion of the student body - most of them Quidditch players like Ginny herself, who had been horrified as well by the announcement. Ron took it even harder, him being team captain. It was his last year as well.

“I understand why you’re all distressed, but please hear me out. With the additional events this year, as well as the increased number of students we’ll host, it is simply impossible for all the necessary games for the cup to take place. However, the Quidditch pitch is, of course, free to use, as long as it isn’t needed for the Tournament itself. The House Teams, as well as the Quidditch Club and other enthusiasts, may approach Madam Hooch to book the pitch.”

“One last thing, then,” Dumbledore continued after his words had calmed the students down. “Since Professor Nobella has left us due to a surprising, yet very welcome inheritance which she decided to enjoy in warmer climates, I want you to welcome our newest addition to our staff: Andromeda Tonks was willing to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts this year.”

He started to clap, which the students followed. Ginny was not one of them - she was searching for a new face on the long table, finally spotting the woman at the far end. She looked her mother’s age, with long dark hair falling open onto her shoulders. Ginny couldn’t quite make out her face beyond heavy-lidded eyes.

When the clapping quieted down, Dumbledore bid the students a good night. Ginny left the Great Hall with a sense of confusion that she was unable to shake off by the time she reached her dorm. By now, however, the large meal and the late hour had caught up with her.

That night, she dreamt of Quidditch in a far-away land, playing against a team without faces throwing notebooks at her.

~~~

October 17th, 2014
Hogwarts

Ginny rubbed her temples, her eyes set on the still-green grounds of Hogwarts. Luna and she had snuck off from the majority of Hogwarts’ population tromping towards the main entrance, and made themselves at home at a hidden alcove on the second floor, almost right above the shivering mass of students trying to look presentable.

She didn’t think she could’ve easily endured the chatting teens, not with the steady pounding right behind her forehead.

With a sight, Ginny leaned her head against the cold glass panes. It shouldn’t be long now, for the students of Durmstrang and Beauxbatons to arrive.

“Feeling better?” Luna asked, for once not with her usual, detached voice. There was concern in her words, and in the cool fingertips she pressed against Ginny’s scalp.

“A bit, thank you,” she answered, half-closing her eyes when the other girl started to scratch and rub. A blissful sound climbed her throat. “Much better.”

“You should go to Madam Pomfrey with a Wrackspurt infestation so bad.”

Ginny hummed, cracking open her eyes once more. There was a dark spot in the sky, rapidly growing. The carriage Fleur had talked about, maybe?

Something was wound around her neck, but she knew Luna’s clever fingers and careful movements, didn’t even think about flinching away or hunching down. Instead, she relaxed even further and eyed the necklace that the blonde girl secured with a knot.

“How pretty… what’s it for?”

Luna hummed softly, rearranging the colourful stones, glass and wood beads. Some pieces were heavy and whimsically painted, others delicate and small and fragile looking.

“Perafoll pearls,” she then answers and moved around Ginny, to look out of the window as well. “It’ll help with the Wrackspurts. They don’t like the patterns.”

It didn’t, not immediately at least, although Ginny wouldn’t be too surprised if the necklace actually helped with her headaches. Sometimes, Luna just had a knack for these things, seeing connections that others were blind too.

Sometimes, they were just fantasies, but she liked those just as well.

“There’s the ship,” Luna whispered, eyes wide and reflective. Always afraid to miss something, which was one of the very few things Luna Lovegood was afraid of. Which was why Ginny tried to look as well, to point things out. For Luna to see.

“Let’s go, then. Percy said that Ministry folks will be there as well, we shouldn’t be late for dinner.”

Again Luna hummed, but she also grabbed Ginny’s hand. With her free one, Ginny grabbed her bag, making sure that everything was still inside. A couple of books, parchment, writing supplies, her notebook and the binder she used for all things related to their Stark related projects.

She didn’t bother fully closing the rucksack, simply shrugging it onto her shoulder as the two girls hurried down the halls.

They made it a bit earlier than expected - most of the students still stood at attention on the stairs leading up to the great double doors when they reached the Entrance Hall. Before Ginny could decide whether to join them or go inside the Great Hall, she heard a familiar voice calling out to her.

It was Percy, who stood next to the doors of the Great Hall. Not alone, but with two other men, neither of whom Ginny quite recognized.

“Hello, Percy! What’re you doing here?”

Ginny loved all of her brothers. They had always been close, her parents had seen to that. Ron was closest to her, especially growing so during their school years, and Bill always had Ginny’s special adoration of being the oldest and most mature, but right after them came Percy, something that flummoxed the others greatly.

Percy, Ginny knew, wasn’t very easy to like. He was less flexible in his thinking than the other Weasley kids, more serious and orderly. But he cared a lot, something that Ginny had latched onto from a very young age. She knew she could trust him, and trusted him in return.

“Hello, Ginny. Luna.” His voice was business-like, but his eyes shone with warmth. “I’m here with the Ministry. Sirs,” he continued, turning towards the two older men. “This is my sister, Ginny Weasley. And her friend, Luna Lovegood.”

“Lovegood, huh? Know your father, I love the Quibbler! Ludo Bagman, at your service, young ladies. This chap is Barty Crouch from the Department of International Magical Cooperation. We’re here as judges.”

“Pleasure to meet you,” the girls greeted and shook hands. Both names were more familiar than the faces they belonged to, especially Ludo Bagman, who worked with the Department of Sports and was well-known in the Quidditch world. He seemed nice, and genuinely so, with his boyish smile and bright eyes.

Crouch, however, was much more serious and had a gravitas to him that Ginny knew Percy would die for.

Adjusting her rucksack, she smiled brightly at both of them before turning back to Percy. “We better go inside, then. I look forward to seeing you a bit more often.”

“Your brother has a wonderfully organized head,” Luna said when the good-byes were done, a bit too loud for it not to be heard. Ginny swallowed a snort when she heard Bagman’s startled laughter, and snuck into the Great Hall.

~~~

October 18th, 2014
Malfoy Manor, England

“It’s with the wrong person. The wrong one, Lucius.”

The man was displeased. He was livid. But the traitorous Malfoy was unimpressed in the face of his rage. His eyes were cold, the face impassive.

“I gave it to him, just like you said. What happens afterwards is hardly my responsibility.”

“It ruins the plan!”

“It doesn’t,” Malfoy countered, eyeing the man with disdain. “She’s a pureblood, is she not? Blood traitor or not, she’ll do. Just take her instead. If we’re lucky, Draco’ll still be affected.”

The man was silent after that, turning the words around in his head. His hands stopped shaking, his vision cleared. “Yes,” the man said, slowly, testing it out. “It must do.”

Later that day, the man called the rat. The traitor was shivering, afraid and nervous.

“Tell me,” the man ordered. “Tell me all about the Weasleys.”

~~~

October 31st, 2014
Great Hall, Hogwarts

The Great Hall was buzzing with excited students. Both the contingent from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang had settled in well enough during the last couple of weeks and were now sitting with the Hufflepuffs and Slytherins respectively. All eyes were set on the artefact that would decide on who was going to represent the three schools.

Even Ginny, despite the headache that was still haunting her. Nothing Madam Pomfrey had given her had helped, to the point were Ginny had simply given up on asking her for help. She had not, however, stopped wearing Luna’s gift.

“Look, it’s brighter now,” Ron whispered next to her, pointing at the ancient Goblet of Fire. Blue flames danced inside of it, growing stronger for a moment before turning a bright, violent red. A slightly charred piece of parchment shot out, which Headmaster Dumbledore deftly snatched out of the air.

Hundreds of students held their breath while the old man unfolded it.

“The Champion of Beauxbatons is… Mathis Galloutier!”

Thunderous applause filled the Hall, making Ginny wince. A tall, handsome young man stood up and walked to the front, nerves making him walk a bit awkward, hands clenched into fists. He looked pale in the ghostly, yet again blue light of the Goblet and hurried past the teacher’s table to a door behind.

Just after the door closed, the fire in the Goblet turned red yet again, spitting out another name.

“The Champion for Durmstrang is… Bohdan Kravets!”

He was shorter than Galloutier, with blonde hair and a strong jaw. His steps were more composed, but Ginny noticed the tense line of his shoulders. Durmstrang’s students were howling and stomping in their support and the sound was like a dagger straight to Ginny’s head.

Dumbledore was smiling, wide and benevolent, as he caught the third piece of parchment as soon as it was pushed out of the flames.

“And the last Champion, representing Hogwarts, is… Cormac McLaggen!”

Ron groaned, and he wasn’t the only one. Ginny did too, but less because of McLaggen being Hogwarts’ champion and more because of nausea. She closed her eyes - somewhere down the table, McLaggen was loudly boasting, probably ignoring the unenthusiastic applause he received. Blindly, Ginny searched for her glass of pumpkin juice, hoping that the cold beverage would help against the throbbing pain.

Loud noises, she gathered, were not helping at all with her persistent problem.

She didn’t really understand why everyone became so quiet afterwards. It wasn’t unwelcome, not in the least, but she felt confused, having steeled herself for more noise and chatter about the Champions and their chances for the Tournament. When she opened her eyes, it took her a moment before she registered the red flames of the Goblet and Dumbledore’s raised eyebrows.

His hand, she noticed, held onto another piece of parchment.

“Ginevra Weasley,” the Headmaster said.

She felt hands on her shoulders, on her back. Her head throbbed, her stomach turned and her fingers were too weak to hold onto her glass. Someone talked to her, maybe multiple someones, and something wet coated her fingers when she let the glass slip out of her grip.

“What?” she asked, thoroughly stumped and with a weird buzzing in her ears. “What did he say?”

“Get up, Ginny. Come, get up.”

Cool, clever fingers touched her neck and temples. Ginny closed her eyes and took a deep breath before grabbing for the hands she knew best. Luna shouldn’t be here, at the Gryffindor table, but Ginny didn’t care. It was more important to follow her voice. Her feet felt heavy and clumsy as she moved away from the table and towards the door.

It was easier to concentrate with Luna’s hand to focus on. The necklace felt warm and comforting against her skin, another anchor to cling to. A door closed behind them and shielded her from the stares, mutters and the cold, blue light of the Goblet.

And just like that, the headache ebbed away from the painful stabbing towards a more manageable level, one where Ginny finally could make sense of her surroundings again. She was clutching Luna’s hand, her skin pale and sweaty, and faced two confused and one displeased champions standing in front of a warm fireplace.

“What are you two doing here?” McLaggen’s posture changed slightly - he never got over his disputes with Ron, nor with others of their club. Ginny herself still remembered hexing the young man through the common room after mocking Luna in front of her in a way to get back at her brother. It didn’t surprise her that he was still chafed from that.

“You have an awful amount of Wrackspurts in your head,” Luna said serenely, but her grip on Ginny was just as strong. She was worried, Ginny noticed suddenly. “Ginny was chosen as a champion. Why ever would we be here otherwise?”

“Another one?” Kravets lacked the obvious accent that Krum had, his English fluent. Durmstrang’s student eyed both girls before looking back at the door which opened before either Ginny or Luna could answer. “Headmaster, what is happening?”

“Something that has to be investigated, I’m afraid.” Dumbledore’s soothing voice interrupted as the Headmasters and other judges spilt into the room. Behind them, Professor McGonagall entered as well, closing the door firmly behind her. “Miss Weasley’s name came up after Mister McLaggen, despite every former assurance that the Goblet would only choose three.”

“But I can’t,” Ginny said, still feeling confused and slightly afraid. “Mum would freak out… I didn’t even enter!”

“What do you mean, you didn’t enter? The Goblet spat out your name!” Igor Karkaroff, Headmaster of Durmstrang, eyed her with thinly veiled distaste. There was anger in his posture, his lips pressed together and his pale skin reddened. Ginny felt herself bristling by the accusation in his voice.

“As I said,” she repeated, louder this time. “I didn’t put my name in the Goblet. Mum would’ve killed me had I done it. This… this is a mistake. I can’t be a champion.”

Her eyes searched the faces of the adults until she focussed on Percy, who stared at her with wide eyes.

“She will have to participate, regardless of who entered her name.” Percy flinched when the man next to him, Mister Crouch, stepped forward. His face was carefully blank, but Ginny thought she saw something like pity in his eyes. “The Goblet is an ancient artefact and creates a binding magical contract. This is your handwriting, isn’t it?”

He held the charred piece of parchment out to her. With a gulp, Ginny took it, studying the signature on it. A bit crooked and hurried, with a tiny ink drop next to it. The upper edge of the parchment looked like it had been ripped off a larger piece. Her hands shook when she nodded, reluctantly.

“Maybe the Nargles put it there,” Luna said slowly, eyes narrowed down on the ripped edge.

“Come off of it, Looney,” McLaggen scoffed. Ginny’s head whipped around and met his hostile glare. “Weasley must’ve hexed the Goblet to give out more champions. She’s good at hexes, you know.”

Dumbledore only shook his head. “This is nothing any student could do, my boy.” The old man reached forward and took the parchment out of Ginny’s hands. “But maybe we have the first clue at hand - somebody took this signature from a larger piece of parchment, likely an old essay. Maybe more had been given to the Goblet, all under a fourth school to sow chaos. ”

“I could forfeit? Isn’t that an option?”

“We have to check that,” Crouch said slowly. “The problem is that these kinds of contracts are binding, so we’ll have to be very thorough. If it’s possible, it’s an elegant solution. If not, you will have to participate, at least enough to fulfil the contract.”

“And what happens if she breaks the contract?” McGonagall had walked up to Ginny and Luna, placing a comforting hand on both girls’ shoulders.

“She can’t,” Dumbledore said with a sigh, looking older than before, more tired. “Not without suffering the consequences. It’s a contract bound by magic, Minerva. And magic it will cost to undo it.”

Ginny’s head felt too heavy for her neck, her mind dizzy. Magic? Her magic? The headache crept back when she felt something like panic bloom in her chest. She wasn’t bad in school, not at all - but this Tournament was for the best of the best. She wasn’t like Hermione, head full of obscure and helpful magic. Not like Ron, who was good at solving problems hands-on. She was decent in duelling her peers, but not as crafty with Transfigurations like Blaise, or ruthless with curses like Pansy.

But mostly, she felt horribly like a cheat. Hogwarts shouldn’t have two champions.

“If I have to compete,” she felt herself saying, voice a touch breathless in her hurry to placate the other champions. “If I have to compete, I’ll do the bare minimum. Otherwise it’s not fair, right?”

It helped a bit, she noticed that much. Galloutier smiled at her and Kravets nodded. Karkaroff didn’t seem too pleased, but the impossible tall Madame Maxime favoured her with gentle eyes. Percy finally released the breath he had been holding for too long. He, too, had probably been worried mad.

And then McLaggen decided to open his big, fat mouth to ruin the moment. “You better do that,” he said nastily. “Not that you have a chance, but I don’t want to be bothered by your sort.”

“Mister McLaggen…”, McGonagall started, but Ginny had enough. Her head hurt, her stomach felt queasy, she knew she would probably have a good cry later and she was just done with this shit. Finally letting go of Luna’s hand, she took a step forward, her wand already in her hand.

It didn’t shake anymore. Good.

“Shut up, McLaggen,” she hissed and was pleased when the young man took half a step away from her. Maybe he remembered her hexes as well. “I’ll gladly leave the others be, since they have nothing to do with it, but I never promised to be nice to you.”

“Mister McLaggen, Miss Weasley!”

Ginny held her glare for a moment longer before turning her head towards an irate Professor McGonagall. “I’m sorry, Professor,” she said without meaning it. Even the pain in her head was worth the look on McLaggen’s face.

“Maybe we should all go and rest, now,” Dumbledore suggested. “Tomorrow we will see what we can find out about the specific terms of the contract. Right now there is a good chance that Miss Weasley won’t have to do more than be present during the tasks. Let us hope that it will hold true.”

~~~

START OF PART 2 - START OF PART 2 - START OF PART 2 - START OF PART 2 -

November 5th, 2014
Room of Requirement

“You should go see Madam Pomfrey, Gin.”

Blaise’s worried voice was as soothing for Ginny as it was annoying. Not because he was wrong: she was perfectly aware that it was for the best to go see the Matron of the school, even though she had promised herself not to bother her anymore.

But ever since the stress of being a champion in the Triwizard Tournament had settled onto her shoulders, the pain had haunted her more strongly. Not every day, thankfully, but ever so often it struck out and wouldn’t pass for hours.

This day, however, was as bad as on Halloween when the Goblet had spat out her name. She had woken from it, and no matter what she did, it had only gotten worse during the day, leaving her exhausted and with frayed nerves.

“Fine,” she said, teeth clenched, her tone more angry than she wanted. It wasn’t Blaise’s fault, after all. She shouldn’t take her rotten mood out on her boyfriend, who had been nothing but supportive of her. If only he wouldn’t hover so much, as if her being a champion was a sign of impending death. “I’ll go.”

Patience, she told herself when Blaise helped her stand up. She hated the fact that she needed his guiding hands and firm presence as they walked out of Headquarters and down the many stairs. Coming here had been a bad idea, but Ginny couldn’t stand the stares and the whispers that accompanied her everywhere in the castle but with her friends.

At least nobody but a few idiots accused her of trying to steal Cormac McLaggan’s spotlight. Most sensible people didn’t like the prideful wanker, not with most of his buddies having graduated the year before. But there were rumours that many names had been wrongfully added to the Goblet, that poor Ginny Weasley got caught up in a mean-spirited prank or worse.

Pity. She hated it and had to remind herself that Blaise (and the rest of her friends) were only worried. They were not pitying her.

She wouldn’t allow it.

The whispered rumours didn’t quite reach her until they were almost at the Hospital Wing and a group of younger students walked past the pair.

“...and he said they were all dead. Reckon it was something from the forest?”

“What else? I heard there are giant spiders living there, they could have gotten to them.”

“Nah, they bite. Hagrid’s roosters had been strangled…”

Ginny winced and leaned heavier onto Blaise, who pulled her close to his side. The pounding of her head had spiked for a moment, muddling her thoughts before she could think too much about what the children had talked about.

“We’re almost there, hang on… Madam Pomfrey!”

“My goodness! Come along then. Here, now, carefully…”

Two pairs of hands guided her to one of the beds. When Ginny was coaxed to lie down, her stomach revolted against the sudden change in position, making her curl up and close her eyes. Blaise was talking now, in low, worried tones, but it was hard to make out more than that. Only pain and nausea until something cool touched her lips and deft fingers made her drink and swallow something that tasted like stale bread. And just as she thought she would vomit, darkness dragged her down and she knew no more.

~~~

“Thank you, Mister Zabini. You may leave now.”

“Do you know what’s wrong with her, Madam Pomfrey? I think she had those headaches for a good while now, but it got a lot worse ever since Halloween.”

“I’m not sure. It could be a migraine caused by stress… for now I’ve given her something to help her sleep and reduce the pain, but it’s not something I’m comfortable giving her too often. But don’t worry, now, we’ll find out what’s bothering her. Go, now. She needs rest.”

~~~

November 24th, 2014
Hogwarts Grounds

The taste of the potion still lingered on Ginny’s tongue. It had become a soothing experience; every time Madam Pomfrey allowed her to take a portion, her head felt wonderfully clear. She knew that the potion against the stubborn pain was addictive, though, and thus tried to avoid visiting the nurse as best as she could.

Today had been the fifth time she had asked for it, and she couldn’t bring herself to regret her decision.

“Out there, each of you will have to face something. The task is to get past it and retrieve a treasure chest, which will give you a clue for the next task. That’s all.” Ludo Bagman beamed at the four champions in the tent. Outside, Ginny could hear the uproar of hundreds of people gathered to watch the spectacle.

At least she wasn’t the only one feeling highly nervous about it all.

“So, to decide who goes first… Ah, yes. Here. In this bag, there are miniature versions of what you have to face. Each take a turn and take one out. Ladies first.”

Luna’s necklace around her neck felt cool and heavy as Ginny stepped forward. Her fingers brushed moving stone and sharp edges before she pulled out a small figurine. Her brain stuttered to a halt for a second as she stared at the thing in her hand.

It was a small, winged Manticore, the mane pitch black and the body a colour akin to dried blood. The thing hissed at her and spread it’s tattered, leathery wings. The tail swished and poised itself. The number 3 was carved onto its breast.

“Fuck me,” she heard someone - McLaggen? - say behind her. She couldn’t agree more.

A Manticore. She would have to face a Manticore.

Same as the other three, she noticed when all the figurines had been pulled out of the bag. Her own was an Indian Manticore if she remembered right - one of the very few that were winged. Kravets’ figurine was even more bloody in its colour, with a soft hint of orange licking at its heels. East Asian, the fire starter. Galloutier had drawn the African Manticore, face the most like a human’s, pacing in the young man’s hand in irritation. Lucky draw - it’s venom was slow-working, only incapacitating the victim after hours had passed.

She almost laughed in relief when she saw the way McLaggen stared at his figurine, which was a bit bigger than the others and the most threatening looking one.

“That’s a Red Desert,” she pointed out, almost unbelieving. A Red Desert Manticore. She had touched the spiky scales of that monstrosity, had almost picked it. This was one of the most dangerous species out there. Its body was covered in heavy scales that spiked out in every direction. Even the wings looked heavy and strong, and its tail didn’t end in just one sting, but in a whole forest of long, thin barbs. Not as venomous as other Manticores, but deadly in many other ways.

“Okay, now… everyone has theirs, yes? There are numbers on each figurine, it’s the order you have to do the task in. Let me see… Mister Galloutier, you are first! Come along then. There’ll be a loud whistle when it’s the next turn, so just keep to the order. Good luck!”

Bagman whisked away, followed by an alarmingly pale Galloutier. For a moment, the noise tripled when the two went outside. Then the tent flap fell into place, leaving the three students alone with their thoughts and likely fears.

~~~

Thank Merlin for Hermione, was one of the more fervent thoughts that went through Ginny’s head during the long wait. Galloutier had not returned after passing his task, leaving her only with a slowly panicking McLaggen after Kravets had left the tent to face his own nightmare.

Ginny refused to show her own frayed nerves. She could do this. She didn’t have to win this, didn’t have to impress the judges - but she could do this, could get past the Manticore and get the egg. Thank Merlin for Hermione, indeed. Hermione and Draco and Blaise and the others that had pulled away from their own endless NEWTs’ studies to help her cram… but thank Merlin for Hermione. She had been the one to look up all the previous records for the Triwizard Tournament. Of course she had, that brilliant witch, which was why Ginny wasn’t so much surprised about the fact that she’d have to face a creature within the hour.

“In seven out of ten times, they used XXXXX class creatures in the first task. We should prepare for that.”

“I’m going to kill the arse who put you in that Tournament, Gin.”

“Ron, don’t be absurd. Go and fetch me those books, will you?”

Ginny shook her head and eyed the exit of the tent. Kravets had been on it for the last 20 minutes. Galloutier had taken more than half an hour.

“Shit, shit, shit…” McLaggen said in an endless repetition. She wanted to hit him.

A sharp, loud whistle pulled her out of that pleasant contemplation. Drawing in a shaky breath and grabbing tightly to her wand, she turned around and stepped out.

~~~

The Indian Manticore wasn’t feared just because of it’s strength or it’s venom, although they weren’t to be dismissed. Ginny knew that - she had studied deadly magical creatures as much as she could ever since Hermione had brought them to her attention, trusting the other witch to be right with her statistics.

There was a barely noticeable shimmer in the air around the barren arena that separated Ginny and the crowd that confirmed her thoughts, which was why she raised her wand even before she could see the Manticore waiting for her.

“Surdi,” she whispered, the tip of her wand touching each of her ears, and the noises - of the students, the loud voice of Bagman, the clapping and shouting and whistling - were gone.

And still, she didn’t wait for the beast to show itself but moved away from the tent, further into the arena. The ground had been stripped from soil and grass and turned into solid stone, with large boulders lying scattered around. The audience sat high above, protected by a sturdy wall and numerous spells, with the judges sitting on the far end, presumably where the treasure was hidden.

The Indian Manticore wasn’t feared for it’s venom. Nor for it’s fangs or claws. The proof was in the soft pearly shimmer in the air above her - the audience would only hear muffled sounds from the arena.

Because the Indian Manticore was the only magical beast that could produce a deadly cry on par with that of a Banshee, on par with Mandrakes.

And Ginny Weasley had to fight it.

~~~

She clung to the little wooden chest when Madam Pomfrey got to her, wand at the ready and expression fierce. The hex still clung to her ears, which was perfectly fine with Ginny - she was sure that her brothers had been screaming quite loudly during the last part of her task when her plan to retrieve the treasure had gone tits up.

At least she didn’t die. And she got the treasure chest as well.

With a loud pop, a world of sounds came back to her and Ginny grimaced. Madam Pomfrey, who had broken the hex, gave her a stern look before she started to clean up the blood that was staining Ginny’s face. She had been lucky - the Manticore had decided to swing one of it’s paws at her instead of the poised scorpion tail, and really, the gash on her head wasn’t nearly as alarming as Kravets’ tightly bandaged chest on the bed next to hers.

“Congratulations, Weasley,” Galloutier said from where he was sitting. He didn’t seem to have been harmed, but he was still pale and sweaty. Ginny understood too well, really - fucking Manticores. “Your Stunner was very powerful, to affect the beast at all.”

“I wouldn’t have had to use it if my tactic had worked the first time,” she said, taken aback by the open compliment. Then she winced - Madam Pomfrey was prodding at the wound and closing it. “Sorry, I didn’t see anything from your fight. Or yours,” she adds, looking at Kravets.

“Got burned,” the Durmstrang student sighed and moved one hand to his chest, stopping himself before rubbing the soaked bandages. “I just hope that McLaggen will do poorly.”

A high-pitched shriek wafted from the arena into the medical tent, followed by gasps and cheers and moans from the audience.

“Well, he’s been in there for a while now, so let’s hope they’ll lower the score for that.” Ginny shrugged one shoulder, happy enough with keeping up with Kravets. She’d actually been quite surprised to learn that she got the same amount of points as the Durmstrang champion, both scoring 37 points each, which put them on second place after Galloutier, who had scored 45.

That is, as long McLaggen didn’t get more points than her.

She turned her head at Madam Pomfrey’s order and busied herself with the chest while Galloutier moved back to the entrance of the tent to watch McLaggen. A quick glance showed her that Kravets was still lying down, eyes closed, waiting for the healing ointment to work. With bated breath, Ginny tried to open the chest. It opened with a click, revealing a rolled up piece of parchment. Humming, she closed the chest again.

Outside, the crowd started to stomp and cheer and she could hear Bagman announcing the end of the task.

She smiled, not at all sorry when McLaggen only got 36 points. He had taken his sweet time, after all.

~~~

December 25th, 2014
Great Hall, Hogwarts

“Gosh, Nev, stop fidgeting. You’re worse than Hermione, and I haven’t seen her since noon.”

Neville dropped his hands from where he was trying to smoothen out his dark blue dress robes. They were new, a gift from his grandmother, and they looked utterly ridiculous on him no matter how many times his friends tried to convince him otherwise.

“I look like a prat,” he mumbled and had to fight off the urge to pull at the fabric.

“You look a whole deal better than Colin. His mum made his robes herself, he said, and he obviously loves them, but… Gryffindor colours are really a bit strong for a whole outfit.” Ron finished brushing his hair and grabbed a black ribbon to pull it into the world’s smallest ponytail.

Swallowing a snort, Neville turned back to the mirror while Dean and Seamus started to rate the various robes they had seen so far. Most girls had migrated into their dorm hours ago, though, and remained a mystery for the boys. “Should we go then? It’s almost time.”

“Just a second… there.” Ron looked very satisfied with his own get-up, despite having only second-hand robes. But he had bought them himself, with the Galleons he’d earned helping out in his brothers’ shop over the summer. It looked good on him, being proud.

Now, if only Neville could pull it off as well…

They marched downstairs and into a well-crowded common room filled with chatty and excited teenagers. The Yule Ball was a big thing, after all, what with the guests Hogwarts would be hosting tonight. Besides the students from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons (and most students from Hogwarts, at least those in 4th year and higher), Hogwarts had invited various known Ministry representatives as well as the press and, much to Ron and Ginny’s delight, the families of the champions.

Even the former champions would be there. It was meant as a surprise, but well… Draco was still good friends with Krum.

“Blimey,” Ron breathed a couple of minutes later after they had mingled with their housemates ready for the ball.

Neville turned around, following Ron’s line of sight. “Oh,” he added, eyebrows going up.

The girls were coming down the stairs, a few fourth years in a cluster, a couple of fifth years that were giggling to each other, Parvati and Lavender in a rush of fabric and curled hair… and their friends behind them, Ginny and Luna and Hermione, glowing from excitement.

He knew that Ron’s eyes were on Hermione, not that he could fault him for that. The young woman looked very pretty in her simple, marigold dress, a pair of charmed marigolds sitting in her curiously silken hair. No wonder that she’d vanished right after lunch - how Hermione had straightened her wayward curls, he couldn’t even guess at, but she had managed it, piling them into an elegant up-do with strategic strands framing her beaming face.

Ginny, on the other hand, had chosen a pale sage green dress made out of soft, light fabrics. Her freckled shoulders were naked, the slightly puffy sleeves starting low on her arms and adorned with colourful silk flowers. She, just like Ron, was obviously proud to wear it, what with her family having pitched together to buy it for her.

Last was Luna, and Neville had to swallow the laughter that bubbled up his throat. Someone had obviously taken care of her thick, dirty blonde hair - it lacked the messiness Luna normally allowed it to have, pulled back and up into a loose bun with blue and white ribbons holding up the mass. Instead of her dirigible plum earrings, she had chosen glittery icicles today, matching the frosty tiara on her head. Her dress was a massive tulle skirt in periwinkle and darker blues with stitched white and silver snowflakes dancing at the bottom and a snowy white bodice drowned in little blue flowers. What made him laugh, however, was the fact that with every step Luna took, magical snow powdered down from the skirt and onto the floor.

“You look wonderful, all of you,” Neville said, giving each girl a hug while Ron was still stammering over Hermione’s appearance.

“You’re a charmer, Neville,” Ginny teased, eyes alight. “Ron, stop gawking. Blaise and Draco are probably waiting, so let’s get going.”

It was something else, walking down the halls of Hogwarts in their festive getup, like a scene in a Muggle movie of times long gone. When they rounded the last corner to the stairs, Neville took a moment to take a deep breath before descending to the Entrance Hall, where a large number of students and guests were already waiting for the Great Hall to open up.

“There they are!” someone called. With the way Ginny started to wave, Neville had an easy time identifying Blaise’s voice. His mouth went a bit dry when he saw his company, his own steps gaining speed for the last stretch.

It was hard to give the other Slytherins more than fleeting attention, but maybe Pansy, Blaise and Tracey didn’t mind too much. He hoped as much, but neither his anxiety nor his manners could bring him to look anywhere else but at Draco, who seemed a bit nervous himself under his pleasant smile.

“Hey,” Neville managed to greet the other boy. He felt his mouth stretch into what he hoped was a nice expression. His face felt stiff and too warm, his dress robes rumpled and far too simple for the occasion. Draco, on the other hand, looked as handsome as ever, fair hair neatly brushed. He wore dark green dress robes, edged with golden hems and buttons.

He looked gorgeous.

“Look at you,” Draco answered, face softening after a moment. When he stepped closer to neaten Neville’s lapels, the Gryffindor could swear to see a bit of a blush on his cheeks. “I knew I was right saying yes.”

“Too late to change your mind anyways. And I’m a horrible dancer,” Neville blurted out. It made Draco stifle a laugh, so it was totally worth it.

“I’ll survive bruised toes.”

The rush in his ears stopped after that, and the world grew a bit bigger again, allowing Neville to sense the smirks of his friends. Pulling a face, he quickly offered Draco his arm. “Don’t worry, I’m not that bad. That would be Ron.”

“Oi!”

~~~

“They look really good together,” Neville said softly, watching Ginny and Blaise dance, together with the other champions and their dates. His thumb rubbed against Draco’s knuckles, their fingers interlaced below the round table they had seated themselves at.

“Hmh… We’ll look better,” Draco said, a sly smile on his face. Neville grinned and squeezed Draco’s hand as the song faded to a slow end, leaving the champions blushing and under loud applause.

“Shall we?”

They made their way to the dance floor as it filled up with more students, guests… and even faculty. A grin spread on Neville’s face when he spotted Professor McGonagall and Professor Vector taking position before he did the same, trying to remember where his hands belonged. The next song was, thankfully, a slow one as well, and in no time at all they found a comfortable rhythm, swaying across the dance floor, whispering and laughing at some of the faces they saw.

“As it had ever been a secret,” Draco scoffed when they passed a highly confused gaggle of fifth-years. “Look at them, gaping like a fish on land.”

Neville snorted. “Have you seen Professor Trelawney? I think she might’ve fainted!”

“Hadn’t seen that in her blasted tea dregs, I bet. Merlin’s hat, let’s change to the right, I can see Cousin Andromeda…”

Swiftly (and with only one misstep that made Draco grimace) they changed direction, away from Professor Tonks, who held onto a camera. “It’s still weird,” Neville admitted, squinting over Draco’s shoulder in her direction. “Hearing you call her cousin. Is she taking pictures for your mum?”

“Not if I have any say about the matter,” Draco breathed and continued steering both of them away from the dark-haired Professor.

To say that Neville had a great time would’ve been an understatement. It was a heady mix of the hilarity of their situation, the warm presence of Draco close to him, every single moment those grey eyes locked onto him under the sweep of dark lashes. Even the change to a faster pace in the music and the inevitable decline of what little dancing skill Neville possessed didn’t put a dampener on his mood.

Spotting Lucius Malfoy’s incredulous, stormy face at one table full of important Ministry employees, however, was enough to cause Neville’s steps to falter briefly mid-spin, especially after the Gryffindor had to take a double-take.

“Careful,” Draco murmured as he tried to stabilize the other teen. One hand grabbed Neville’s hip, warm and steady, bringing his attention back to the blonde. “What happened?”

“Your father. He’s here. And he looks like he wants to strangle us.”

Grey eyes widened for a moment before Draco’s jaw set. There was a defiant, stubborn look on his face, worrisome but no less attractive than usual. “Is he, now.”

“Yeah. Sitting on the Slytherin side, pretty close to the champion’s table. Next to the pink toad.”

Draco raised an eyebrow and made them spin again, slow and careful now. Using Neville as a human shield, he peered over his shoulder and snorted. “He looks like a boiled lobster. Do you mind if I succumb to your charms while he’s watching?”

“You are terrible, Draco Malfoy,” Neville chided him, but he felt his mouth twisting into a grin that was mirrored on Draco’s face. They spun again, Neville taking the lead for the occasion - he was taller than Draco, with more bulk, and it was easy to pull the blonde Slytherin close for a kiss.

It felt nice as ever, kissing Draco. Better, even, when they noticed how Lucius Malfoy stormed out of the Great Hall.

~~~

December 25th, 2014
Hogwarts’ Grounds

Had the man be any lesser devoted, the situation would have been a cause for amusement. But the man wasn’t amused - he was angry and disgusted.

But it was a means, one he needed. They were so very few that even the most cowardly and traitorous of them were precious to his plans.

Igor Karkaroff was easy to isolate during the Ball, which in itself was a well of information for the man. Despite the girl’s health he wasn’t worried - the man knew that it had already started. It gave him time to approach Karkaroff, the words of the rat still in his mind.

Traitor, perhaps the biggest of them all. And so easily bend to the man’s will, with the application of force and pain and threats. “You’ll live,” the man would promise. “But only so. Help me, and you’ll live. Betray me again, and I’ll keep you until our Master’s return, and then you’ll be my present.

Malfoy was harder to find, pacing the grounds. Livid again. But the man isn’t interested in the doings and failures of his offspring. There was one more snake within Hogwarts’ grounds, after all.

“You wouldn’t want to involve him,” Malfoy argued. “He was always independent, only ever loyal to our Lord. Without proof, you won’t get him to risk his position. A shame, that he’s a Halfblood - he’s very much Slytherin, isn’t he?”

He was. So the man let it be, knowing that his own reward would be so much bigger in the end.

“Pity. None of us is closer to Dumbledore. He’d have been valuable.”

“As long as our Lord is not back, he’ll be only on his own side. Don’t risk it.”

~~~

December 25th, 2014
Great Hall

“Fred? George?”

Ginny was glad that the champion’s families had been invited to the Yule Ball and even happier that all of her brothers had made it as well. Percy, of course, was with his colleagues when he wasn’t by Crouch’s side, and Bill was dancing with Fleur Delacour (he’d won her affection not during her summer visit, but afterwards when she applied for work in Gringotts. Charlie was still sulking about it, but the other Weasleys had commandeered one of the round tables.

“What can we do for you?” George asked, adjusting the horribly yellow tie that clashed spectacularly with the purple dress robes he wore. Fred had chosen a fiery red suit with a green bowtie and buttons.

“Hmh… I wanted to ask for help.” Ginny looked around, voice dropped to a low whisper. The music and the merry chatter was enough for her to trust that nobody would overhear her. Not even her mother, who was eyeing the trio suspiciously, but too distracted by Blaise’s charms.

She sat down next to George and pulled out a folded piece of parchment. Upon opening it, it was revealed to be the beginnings of a map, but only very few rooms and corridors, not all connected, were shown.

“It’s my clue for the second task,” she explained softly, their heads tucked together. “Cormac was trying to be nasty, telling me that he’d already discovered large parts of the map. Don’t tell him - I hadn’t had a clue about what this parchment does before. It updates when I concentrate on it, walking through the school, but I only know so many hidden passages.”

“And you want some tips, yes? Where you can find more?”

She nodded and watched the twins exchanging looks. They’d always been able to communicate without any word, just knowing what the other was thinking. She’d envied them, back when she was younger.

“I think we have something that might help,” Fred said slowly, after a few seconds of silent communication. “We’ll send it per owl, it’s back in the shop.”

“A new item?” She made an effort not to grimace - the twin’s prototypes were oftentimes a bit more dangerous than she liked.

“Something like that,” George said with a wink. “It’s older and we don’t need it anymore.”

“That way we can save on a Christmas present,” Fred added slyly.

~~~

January 7th, 2015
Hogwarts

“This is sick, even if it’s Filch.”

“Yeah… I mean, who does that? Do you think something went wrong? I can’t imagine anyone doing this on purpose.”

“I bet they fucked up some kind of spell and ran for it when it happened. At least Dumbledore said they would have the cure in a few months when the Mandrakes are ready.”

Ginny raised a hand to her forehead, gently rubbing the spot right between her eyebrows. The lesser pain potion she’d taken was helping, but she still felt sick and groggy, curled up on one of the soft couches in the Gryffindor common room.

Part of her craved for the soothing potion she knew Madam Pomfrey had in stock for her, but another, bigger part wasn’t all that keen to take the addicting medicine, no matter that this was the strongest migraine attack she had since Halloween. It was a Sunday, and with a bit of luck, the pain would recede in the afternoon.

“Hope they’ll catch them. Human transfiguration is risky at best, and to try and prank a human being with it… he could’ve died.”

Her friend’s voices were oddly soothing. Someone had pulled the curtains in front of the tower’s windows, dimming the light until it was bearable for her. Hermione’s lap was a warm, steady cushion for her head, the hand carding through Ginny’s red hair like a balm for the girl.

Maybe she could write a bit, later that day. Continuing her notes on… on…

With a sigh, Ginny curled up into a more comfortable position. Someone (big hands, callused - Ron?) patted her shoulder while they continued discussing the latest incident within Hogwarts’ halls - the petrification of Argus Filch in front of some flooded bathroom.

Now, what had she been writing last night?

She couldn’t remember and it frightened her, but Hermione’s hand was calm and Luna’s necklace warm against her throat, so she pushed the fear aside for now.

~~~

February 24th, 2015
Hogwarts

“Retrieve the treasure, my arse,” Ginny murmured, eyeing the hallway with distaste.

She knew that the champions were likely monitored during the task - not only for the judges to watch them but also for the audience’s sake. Which was why she looked up and repeated her words, louder this time.

“Retrieve the treasure, my arse.”

She scowled at the dark stone walls, the dark flagstones of the floor, the empty portraits. She was still in Hogwarts, of that she was sure, only that she’d never been to such a labyrinth.

Maybe she should’ve been warier when she discovered that the treasure map from the chest didn’t show the actual rooms and hallways of the castle during her exploration with the help of the Marauder’s Map.

Gripping the treasure map and her wand tight, she started to stalk forward. It was dark and damp, although not as cold as the dungeons in winter. Light was sparse, but she wasn’t keen on creating her own - it would provide too much of a target, and she was sure that there would be obstacles on the way. Potentially violent ones.

After fighting a bloody Manticore, she wouldn’t put it past the judges, after all.

The worst thing, however, was the fact that nothing of her belongings had been missing this morning, but Luna was. The blonde wasn’t there when breakfast started, and she continued her absence afterwards. Her worry and a terrible night’s sleep made Ginny extremely uncaring towards the whole Tournament.

~~~

“Oi, Zabini, your girlfriend seems to be a bit miffed.”

“Wrong, Weasley. It’s your sister who just turned that armour into scraps.”

“Cut it out, you two! Honestly.”

“Say what you want, Hermione, Ginny's face is scary.”

“Well, they took Luna, didn’t they? As a hostage.”

“Yes. I don’t know if I should be glad that it isn’t me, or suspicious why Luna is her treasure.”

“Jealousy doesn’t suit you, Blaise.”

“Why, thank you Neville...”

“Ginny’s fast. I thought she didn’t want to win?”

“Yeah, but she does know the labyrinth pretty well. She took a lot of walks in the last few weeks.”

“Hey, what’s happening there? Is that normal?”

“I think Kravets’ out. Look at Karkaroff, he’s super pissed!”

~~~

Ginny kept to her promise - she didn’t want to win, she only wanted to do the tasks to please the contract. And so she waited after finding Luna in a room with the other three hostages, talking softly with the curious blonde after she’d woken up.

It didn’t take long before Galloutier found his way to the hidden room through a portrait sporting a dragon, swiftly waking up his own hostage - his girlfriend, as it was, another student of Beauxbatons.

“Kravets ran into a trap. I saw some teachers retrieving him when I passed by,” he helpfully informed the redhead.

“Thanks,” Ginny said and took Luna’s hand. “We’ll give you a minute. I don’t want to risk Cormac actually catching up to us.”

~~~

Karkaroff was livid. Understandably so, with what happened to Kravets. Ginny didn’t understand, and neither did anyone else, because whatever petrified the Russian hasn’t been one of the traps in the labyrinth.

It had been the same spell that got Filch a month earlier, and like the caretaker, the champion had to wait until the Mandrakes were ripe for harvest.

“This is an outrage! First, Hogwarts cheats a second champion into the Tournament, and now Durmstrang’s champion got hexed into a statue? Someone is manipulating this for your benefit, Dumbledore!”

“Or to their own. Igor, I understand why you’re upset, but we must keep a level head about this. This level of transfiguration is beyond any student - it would need a Master of that subject to do such spellwork. Professor McGonagall is currently looking into the matter, and Professor Sprout is optimistic that the Mandrakes will ripen before the third task.”

“I insist on a rigorous ascertainment! Do you hear me? And if it turns out that one of your staff had a hand in this, it will have dire consequences!”

“Well, be that as it may, but do you need the students to be listening in this discussion?” Madam Pomfrey’s stern voice cut through Karkaroff’s rant, one hand on Ginny’s shoulder. Ginny wondered if the Matron sensed the approaching migraine of the girl.

“Get them out, then,” Karkaroff snapped, standing close to where they had laid down the petrified Kravets. It looked almost comical, with his wide open and confused eyes, wand pointed straight up to the ceiling. Almost.

Ginny didn’t try to resist when Madam Pomfrey ushered the other three champions and the hostages out of the Hospital Wing.

~~~

March 3rd, 2015
Hogwarts

Ginny stroke the back of the notebook with one careful finger, turning it in her hands. She hesitated to open it, hesitated to examine it any further.

And she didn’t know why. It was just a notebook, wasn’t it? One in which she wrote quite often. A notebook for her… notes.

Why then couldn’t she remember any details? Why did she feel reluctant to open it, now that she had the chance to do so?

Why was it so hard to remember how she got it?

She stared at the slim, black book and couldn’t bring herself to open it. Somewhere behind her eyes, a headache was building up and dread curled in her stomach like nausea. With a groan, she put it back onto her nightstand and pushed herself out of her bed.

“Ron!” She called as she hurried down the steps to the common room. “Ron, do you have a minute?”

“Sure. What’s up?”

Ron looked up from where he sat with Hermione and Dean. From his harried, hopeful look she instantly knew that they were most likely revising again.

“Just a quick question,” she said with a forced smile and beckoned him close, away from the others. Her voice dropped to a whisper, more urgent now. “Do you remember where I got my black notebook from?”

Something must’ve shown on her face. Ron eyed her worriedly and answered just as quiet, voice more serious. “From Draco. Remember, when we were in Diagon together? You needed more parchment and he found it in his books.”

“I did?” Even to herself she sounded oddly strained. The headache was building up faster now, a steady, painful throb behind her eyes. “I think… Ron, I think it’s what causes my migraine. Something’s wrong with my memory, too.”

Ron’s eyes flashed dangerously, but his hands were gentle on her shoulders. “Better put it away, then. And next time, you show it to Professor Tonks. If it’s cursed, she can get rid of it.”

“We should tell Draco, too,” she said, rubbing her forehead. “In case someone slipped it into his bag on purpose…”

“Good idea. Just put it away and don’t write in it. It’s too late today, but I reckon we can bother Professor Tonks tomorrow.”

~~~

She didn’t take a pain potion. It would go away, away, or at least she hoped as much.

It was hard to notice things. It was dark in her dorm, the thick curtains of her four-poster drawn around her.

Something was missing. Something she had to remember, yes? Maybe she’d written it down.

Maybe…

~~~

She dreams of darkness, of heavy limbs and a heavy mind. The taste of blood lingers on her tongue and a charming voice is in her ears. Movement, serpentine. The aftermath of fear. A hiss, a scream, laughter.

She dreams of darkness, and then there is nothing.

~~~

March 4th, 2015
Hogwarts

“...disappointed. To think that a student, no matter the attending school, would lower themselves to the use of such malevolent magic against other students and members of the staff! As it’s clear that the offender has no plans to come forth, but likely plans to cause even more chaos, I am forced to announce that Law Enforcement has been informed. From today on, until the offender has been found, Auror forces will investigate inside Hogwarts. I ask of every one of you to cooperate when asked, and to share every bit of information you might have.”

The Hall erupted into whispers, with gaggles of students putting their heads together. At the staff table, the adults looked grim, with Karkaroff being the angriest about it all. Both Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws were looking at the other two houses with suspicion, as if trying to gauge who was most likely the prankster.

It had been a Hufflepuff and two Ravenclaws who had been petrified this night, close-by to where Filch had been found.

“This is so sick,” Ron said to many nods. “Especially after Kravets.”

“I just don’t think it could’ve been a student; it’s Master-level, Dumbledore said, and they did it during a task,” Hermione said, looking with unease towards the teacher’s table.

Ginny sighed and ate another bit of sausage. She didn’t feel hungry, but rather exhausted. Fighting down the craving for the potion, she shifted in her seat.

“Gin?”

Startled, she looked up. Her brother had turned around to face her, face pinched with worry.

“It’s alright,” she said before he could ask. “I’m just a bit tired… and not very hungry as well.”

He nodded, slowly, before perking up. “You can maybe see if Professor Tonks is already at her class? She’s not here.”

“Hmh…” She eyed the staff table before pushing herself to her feet. “And maybe visit Madam Pomfrey. Just in case. Snape wants us to brew a Class 7 potion today and I don’t want to mess up.”

“Ugh, yeah. Just do the book first.”

~~~

“Hey, Weasley!”

Ginny scowled, identifying the voice right away. Feeling her shoulders tense up, she turned around, chin up and jaw set.

“What do you want, McLaggen?”

The young man eyed her and the corridor they were in. This early, most students were still mingling about the Great Hall or waiting closer to the classrooms. This corridor, close to the Defense rooms, but not quite there, was empty but for them.

She felt her hackles rise and grabbed her wand, hiding it in the pockets of her robe.

“Just wondering what you’re up to now,” McLaggen said. The way he held his hands, she knew that he’d his wand drawn as well. “What with you wandering the halls and people ending up petrified.”

Her eyebrows rose up before she snorted. “Oh, that’s rich,” she scoffed. “First I’m the one hexing the Goblet and now I’m behind the pranks as well?”

“Pretty convenient, isn’t it? With Kravets gone, you’re right behind Galloutier. Bet you wanted to get him, too!”

“Shut your mouth, McLaggen,” Ginny hissed, eyes narrowing. Her fingers clenched around the length of her wand, prickling with the need to do it for him. “I wasn’t anywhere near Kravets in the Labyrinth, and I didn’t do anything to Galloutier when I had every chance to. You’re just jealous because I’m doing better than your sorry arse.”

With a curse, McLaggen flicked his wand at her, eyes blazing with ill intent. Ginny spun around to avoid getting hit by a nasty yellow spell, her own hand snapping forward.

For a few seconds, spellfire lit the hallway until she managed to hit McLaggen’s shoes with a silent Accio, causing the older Gryffindor to tumble to the ground. She sent an Expelliarmus next, catching his flying wand with a deft hand.

“You disgust me, Cormac McLaggen,” she said, throwing the wand to the side as McLaggen stumbled back to his feet, face flushed with rage and humiliation.

It took her all the way to Professor Tonks’ classroom to notice the large rip in her bookbag - and the notebook that was missing.

~~~

He dreams of darkness. The taste of blood lingers on his tongue, and there is a voice in his head. When he opens his eyes, they’re red.

“You are mine now.”

~~~

March 4th, 2015
Room of Requirement

“It’s not like I can do anything about it anymore,” Ginny concluded, leaning back in the soft-cushioned chair, kicking her legs up and over one arm. “And my headache is gone. If it doesn’t come back this week it was the book. Good riddance I say, when McLaggen has it.”

Draco still looked slightly guilty, but Ginny had waved off any of his own concerns. After all, the Slytherin hadn’t known about the notebook and the cursed nature of it.

“Couldn’t have landed with a bigger wanker,” Ron agreed, flicking through his own, messy notes. He’d ditched Hermione’s frantic revision corner for some slow work for MagiTech while Ginny and Luna did some homework reading.

“We’ll know when he comes to Pomfrey for pain potions,” Ginny said with a shrug. “Anyway, has anyone seen Neville? I need to pick his brain about aggressive plants. Hermione says that the third task might be some kind of obstacle course.”

“He’s down at the greenhouses. He and a few of the better Herbology students are helping Sprout with the Mandrakes, now that they’re too big to handle safely.” Draco said dismissively, as if miffed by Neville’s absence.

“Bother,” Ginny said with a heartfelt sigh turned the page. She would have to reread the section later, distracted as she was by her friends. After staring at the same sentence for the third time, she closed the History book. “Anyway, who’s up for Exploding Snap?”

~~~

April 29th, 2015
Hospital Wing

She stared, dry-eyed but with a threatening heat building up, at the two faces. Voices were talking close by, but her world seemed to zoom onto those faces, their stillness so… wrong that it made her uneasy.

Neither Blaise nor Luna were meant to be like this, like statues of themselves, neither moving nor breathing, and it was wrong, wrong, wrong.

“And you really saw nothing?” someone argued loud enough for even Ginny to notice. Hermione, she thought, who had always been most passionate for those who couldn’t defend themselves. SPEW, slow-working but working, was a testament to that. For a moment Ginny wondered if Hermione had been as agitated had it not been for the three smaller bodies sharing a bed next to Luna - the House Elves, petrified as well, that had been found next to the students.

She turned around, watching the brunette pace, hands wringing in pent-up energy. The two Aurors, one young and tall man with dark skin named Shacklebolt and another with shaggy blonde hair named Dawlish, watched Hermione with empathy and pity respectively.

She wanted to punch the blonde one.

“They were found close to the kitchens,” Shacklebolt said, his voice deep and calm. “But neither the Hufflepuffs nor the other House Elves have noticed anything.”

Swallowing down harsh words, Ginny walked closer to the beds. She hesitated before taking Luna’s hand. It was warm, thank Merlin, but as unmoving as the rest of her. Not quite like stone, the flesh still yielding a bit, but stiff and unresponsive.

“Now, my dears, don’t worry too much. Professor Sprout is very optimistic about this year’s Mandrake crop. Give it a couple of weeks, a month at the most, and they’ll be right as rain,” said Madam Pomfrey as she tended to Filch, dusting him off with a deft hand.

“And when they wake up, they’ll hopefully have a name or a face to go by,” Dawlish added. “Just… with this many, we should probably speak to the Headmaster, Kingsley. It’s better when we tighten curfew up and have the Professors help with…”

Her fingers tightened around Luna’s hand, the necklace heavy around her neck.

This could’ve been me, she thought, dread pooling in her stomach. Should’ve been, maybe, although Ginny wasn’t in the habit of blaming herself when pure chance was involved.

But it could’ve been - all of them had wanted to get some snacks up to Headquarters. A late study session of the NEWTs students, spell-revising for Ginny. Blaise was just fastest to volunteer, and Luna wanted something so specific that she just went with him.

Ginny didn’t cry. She was far too angry for tears.

~~~

May 26th, 2015
Hogwarts

No headaches. No sleepless nights hunched over her notebook. Still no memories of what she’d written in it, or how she got it, but now that it was gone for a couple of months Ginny could safely say that it had been the source of her unrest and migraine.

She’d have been far more gleeful about the fact that McLaggen had ended up with it, but it was hard, being gleeful these days. Not with the Mandrakes taking too long because some idiot left the greenhouse door open over a rare, cold night when it shouldn’t even drop so low anymore. Not with the third task looming, still dangerous, still unwanted. Not with Karkaroff stalking the castle, cursing louder every day that Kravets still lay petrified in the Hospital Wing.

Not with Blaise and Luna sharing his fate and nobody knowing who it was, neither the students nor the teachers and not even the Aurors that were still patrolling the castle.

At least nobody else had been petrified, not since curfew got tighter in response to the last assault.

It was hard for her to keep the scowl down, to not clench her hands into fists. Hard to listen to Ludo Bagman, but she still forced herself to do it. She might not want to win, but she still wanted to survive this whole ordeal with all her limbs attached, and petty as that might be, she still wanted to kick McLaggen’s ass in the competition.

“We’ll go by the points,” Bagman said. Even his endless optimism has taken a blow, what with one champion out of the race. “Mr Galloutier, since you’re first, you’ll enter with a minute advance. Miss Weasley will follow, and after another minute it’s Mr McLaggen’s turn. You’ll have to make it through the course, but there are multiple ways and lots of traps, some which you can trigger yourself to make it harder for the others. Use your surroundings for your benefit and keep your eyes open for any clues to find the exit. Now, you can’t attack other champions directly using spells. You have to use the course itself. Keep that in mind. Now, Mr Galloutier, when you hear the whistle, you can go through that door and start.”

~~~

If it wasn’t for the stands, Ginny wouldn’t have recognized the Quidditch Pitch for what it was, and even then the stands lacked the familiarity won by years of Quidditch and idle flying. The House banners had been taken away, substituted by the colourful banners of the three competing schools (even though Kravets was still in the Hospital Wing, taking Durmstrang out of the competition), and they’d been lowered down for the audience to better see what Ginny could only describe as an overly elaborate obstacle course.

The sound of the whistle faded away, buried under the shouts and cheers of the audience as the Weasley girl stepped out of the waiting room. Her feet were met by wooden planks that covered the floor - or at least what she could see of it. Walls, floor and, in some parts, even ceilings had turned the pitch into a tangle of corridors, brightly lit under a benevolent late-spring sun. In the distance Ginny saw two small towers, and the way the start immediately moved up in a shallow slope, she imagined some lower level passageways as well. A maze indeed.

A maze trapped to high heaven, as she soon noticed when turning a corner, brushing a wall. Something lit up, just a lick of colour formed into a series of runes, and the floor right in front of her vanished, revealing a nasty pit. With a yelp, she barely managed to throw herself backwards, but she saw the flurry of pale blue.

Galloutier, she thought, and jumped back to her feet, turning to study the walls. It took her a precious few seconds before she found a difference in the panels, and more to deftly open the hidden door to slip through. Just as she closed it behind her, running through a narrow hidden passageway, the third whistle rang through the air. McLaggen had entered the course.

~~~

By the time Ginny met Galloutier again, she had fallen in love with the task - and hated it with a rare passion. It was a thing of beauty, no matter that she never wanted to compete in the first place. It was also tricky as hell to find a safe way through the obstacles without getting trapped or hurt - or, worse still, getting outed as to where she was.

The traps themselves were wonderfully made, either triggered by proximity, time, specific spells (most of which were needed to scan the area), or by being primed by the candidates themselves. You could find doors or trapdoors, leading around and under heavily boobytrapped corridors, but sometimes another champion had found the passage before Ginny, tampering with it the same way the open corridors were.

Sometimes, though, Ginny was the first one to find them, leaving nasty surprises for the others in her wake.

The clues, however, were harder to find. The first one she found through pure luck - Bagman hadn’t exactly told them what they were looking for, and at first Ginny had dismissed the set of runes underneath a trapdoor. She wasn’t exactly the best in Ancient Runes, using mostly traps that needed spells, charms and transfigurations instead of the pre-carved signs. But they weren’t all that hard to translate.

‘I open when it’s time, at the place where I am kept, when you say the word and hold the key.’

It wasn’t all that hard to understand this, either, although the mention of time made her worry about a limit. About the possibility that neither of the remaining champions might win this.

After that she kept her eyes peeled for the runes, some hidden, some outright invisible until you noticed the charms, most for the use of trapping the others, or of finding new passages. Twice she gave away her position due to a lack of patience (but she got the Word out of it, and enough time to try and hide it again before running away and back into the maze), once she managed to get McLaggen stuck on the ceiling of an underground tunnel.

And then, chasing the hints for the Time, she ran into Galloutier, and the maze became a full-on warzone between the two.

(It would later struck her as odd that McLaggen, not Galloutier, had decided to slink out of this. That Galloutier, not McLaggen, was almost aggressive in the way he fought, despite him knowing that Ginny would give him the win if it came down to it. Not then, though - then, she only fought back, the thrill of the challenge thrumming in her veins, backed by the anger she had nursed for the last couple of months.)

The fight was an odd one. They weren’t allowed to duell, and for that Ginny was more than happy. She was decent at it, downright vicious when she wanted, but Galloutier was freakishly fast with his spells, his Protegos silent and almost instantaneously. His transfiguration was better as well, his use of the material at hand downright frightening.

Ginny, though, had grown up with six older siblings. Percy, dear, serious Percy, was the least destructive of all of them, but even the twins knew not to prank him too hard for fear of his retaliation.

Ginny had grown up in Hogwarts, too, with friends like Blaise and Draco, with brilliant Hermione and wonderful Luna. Her spellwork might not be as good as that of the Beauxbatons student, but she was swift in sensing the traps Galloutier set up, cunning in redirecting them or putting down her own, and outright ruthless after Galloutier managed to burn some of her hair.

It took her more than half an hour before Galloutier was down, unconscious, tightly bound and purple from head to toe. But he also had a Key on him, so that was that, and after backtracking to the beginnings of their fight she also found the Time.

~~~

She didn’t know if Galloutier managed to get out of his bonds. She’d left him with his wand and out of the way, to give him a chance should he wake up.

The way the Beauxbatons students were cheering and whistling after a good fifteen minutes of sulking was a pretty good hint though.

It was only down to the place now. Time was a bit tight, but not unreasonably so. The towers had been disappointing, one trapped as if someone wanted to catch Merlin himself - after watching a hastily conjured bird being bombarded by two nets, a few solutions and spikes in the first room alone, she didn’t explore any further.

Then Ginny saw a bright beam of light from somewhere in the middle of the maze - a clear sign that someone hadn’t been careful enough and sprung one of the traps. Not Galloutier - she’d left him up north, and he wasn’t back up long enough to have made it that far.

McLaggen then. Maybe he had gotten lucky during her duel, maybe he found the Place. Ginny had no love left for him, so it was easy for her to decide to hunt him down.

It might’ve been petty, but she hardly cared, and with the way Galloutier had gone after her...

Merlin, but she really had a chance at winning the Tournament now, didn’t she?

It was a dizzying thought. But…

But she also didn’t want to lose to McLaggen. Didn’t want all her hard work (and that of her friends) to be for nothing at all. Ginny knew that without Hermione, without her brothers and Draco and Luna and Neville and Blaise, she wouldn’t have gotten half as far, wouldn’t even have a small chance today. She wouldn’t have thought about polishing up her transfiguration skills, wouldn’t have learned the detection spells she had used so many times already.

She took a slow, calming breath before moving on. If nothing else, this would be the deciding moment. Winning or not, it was the only way out of here, and she was short on time, tired as she was.

~~~

The way towards the beacon was eerily calm, most traps idle and unused and easy to overcome. It felt wrong after the chaos of the duel, and it left her feeling uneasy, causing her to choose hidden passages more often than the bright corridors. It took her a good amount of time to reach the still-lit beacon - it was placed in the middle of a crossroad.

Ginny, who was crouching nearby on an elevated part of the maze, stared at the empty space, when suddenly the crowd started to shout even louder. She looked up, startled, then made to turn around, but the tip of a wand pressed against her bare neck stopped her mid-movement.

“You can’t hex me,” she said as calm as she could manage.

“I know,” McLaggen answered. Something was wrong with his voice - he sounded almost charming. “But I am also positive that I can easily activate the trapdoor underneath you. It’s a rather long fall when you remove the steps underneath. Easy to break a bone. I wouldn’t suggest trying it.”

Yeah, definitely wrong. It reminded her of Blaise’s way of speaking, even if it missed the natural warmth of Blaise’s voice. This was a cool, distant charm.

It didn’t fit McLaggen at all.

“What do you want, then?” she asked, voice tight and muscles tense. “I already told you that I won’t lose to you.”

“You did, didn’t you?” McLaggen mused, and okay, this was getting creepy now. “Very well. A deal, then. I’ll show you the location of the exit. I assume you have the other pieces with you?”

“What do you want, McLaggen?” Ginny had no patience for these games, but the prospect of falling and potentially breaking her neck wasn’t all that alluring to her, as well.

She didn’t expect the soft laughter, however. “Stubborn as always,” McLaggen said before he moved behind her. “I want the key, the word and the time, Weasley. If you provide, I’ll let you through as well. I’ll also not tell anyone what you wrote in this notebook of yours.”

His voice was too close to Ginny’s ear, his words like ice-cold water on her skin. She shuddered, eyes wide, because she still couldn’t remember. It could be anything, really, from homework to MagiTech (and wasn’t that bad enough?) to secrets she only shared with her closest friends.

Or, she thought, panic making it hard to breathe, secrets she wouldn’t even share with those.

And she couldn’t remember. How, just how had she forgotten about this? She had known that McLaggen had found the cursed item. Had been gleeful about it, even.

“Fine,” she said, voice barely a whisper. “Fine, you can have them. For the notebook.”

“For the notebook,” McLaggen agreed and made to stand up. “Come, then. I’d rather have you as runner-up than that French peacock.”

~~~

“It should open about now,” Ginny said, eyeing the formerly hidden door. McLaggen had the key in his hand after she gave it to him on the way to this room, which was neatly snuck a bit off-center of the maze. She eyed McLaggen, who was leaning idly against the wall next to it, not bothering that he likely noticed her staring.

He was behaving oddly. So very different from what she knew of the older Gryffindor. Not as brash and idiotic, but thoughful and competent - a different person all together. Even now, when he met her eyes, he didn’t sneer or mock her - all he did was raising one eyebrow in a silent question Ginny didn’t answer.

The soft click of the door caught both their attention shortly after, and with a satisfied smile, McLaggen used the key and a murmured password to open it up. The noise of the crowd was a constant thing, but now it grew again, the end of the task so close. Behind the door was a long corridor, leading all the way up north.

“Let’s go, then,” McLaggen said, knowing that Ginny couldn’t hex him outright if she didn’t want to get disqualified, and feeling safe because of it. It made it worse that he was right - she wouldn’t attack him, not like this.

Not with spells at least.

The walk was quiet, with Ginny right behind McLaggen as they crossed the entire maze through the well-lit underground passage. No more traps, no sections of the walls or the floor open for transfiguration. This was the last stretch, and when they exited it, there was a patch of open grass, in full sight of the judges - and a gleaming, golden trophy mounted on top of a marble pedestal. The students watching started to shout and cheer, their feet stomping the wooden floors of the stands. The judges watched with apprehension.

Ginny gaped, seeing Percy sitting between Bagman and a scowling Karkaroff, with Crouch missing.

“Finally,” McLaggen said, almost a sigh. His steps were even, confident, when he walked towards the pedestal. Ginny swallowed, watching him getting closer to the trophy.

No. Not him.

And with a sprint, her wand clutched tightly in her hand, she threw herself against the larger, stronger boy, toppling them both over just when McLaggen reached for the handle of the trophy. Ginny jumped to her feet, hearing a sharp curse from McLaggen, felt his grasping hands, heard him shout “Accio!”

She grabbed it. McLaggen grabbed it. Together, they touched the trophy and were whisked away with a jerking sensation and blinding, multicoloured light.

~~~

May 26th, 2015
Forbidden Forest

“What is the meaning of this?”

Ginny gasped and released the trophy, the heavy thing falling to the ground with a thud. To her dismay, she found herself sprawled on the uneven soil, only cushioned by what felt like wet moss. A gnarly thing dug into her back and when she looked up, she saw a tree.

She saw many trees, dark and tall and old, the canopy a dense roof high above them.

Of course, fucking McLaggen was already standing, face twisted in something close to rage. He wasn’t looking at her, though. He was looking at two men standing in the middle of the clearing that they had been transported to.

Portkey, Ginny thought. The sensation of a hook behind her navel was extremely distinct, one she wouldn’t forget after her first time using one a couple of years ago.

“My, another one?” The taller of the strangers was looking unimpressed, glancing over McLaggen’s face like he was something small and unpleasant. “And here I thought that Karkaroff would take care of the others.”

Slowly, carefully, Ginny pushed her back against the tree, pushed herself up, her eyes set on the strangers now. A tall, lean one, and a short, pudgy man. She didn’t like the look on either of them, didn’t like the way the pudgy one was staring at her with small, nervous eyes and sweat on his skin.

Didn’t like the disturbing grin on the face of the tall man, nor the way the pudgy one looked so… so familiar.

“Karkaroff…?” McLaggen cocked his head. He had his wand out, like Ginny. Like the other two. It was at least making the pudgy one very uncomfortable and twitchy. “Oh. So it was you, then? Putting her name in the Goblet.”

“What?” Ginny didn’t mean to speak, didn’t meant to draw even more attention. But that… just, what?

“Sharp,” the tall one said, but his tone was still dismissive. Feverish eyes were focussed on Ginny now, who startled and raised her wand in defence. She flinched when the man just laughed at her - and that was all he needed, throwing out a silent spell before Ginny could dodge or block it. Ropes snapped into place, forcing her hands behind her back, and she was barely able to hold onto her wand.

“How cute,” he mocked, grin growing wider still. “But yes, it was me. Not that it was of much use, eh? Nobody died, just a handful of people left petrified. Useless.”

Something cold and hot burned in her stomach, rising up like a wave of nausea to her throat. Petrified, as if she had anything to do with it. But they knew, they knew, and all Ginny saw in that moment was the Hospital Wing filled with unmoving people. Filled with Luna and Blaise. “It was you,” she said, the accusation cold and cutting in her voice.

It made McLaggen look at her, eyes thoughtful despite the anger in them. “No,” he said, slowly, before he turned back to the two men. His wand went up, not straight ahead but enough to be a warning. “It was you, Weasley. Or, to be more precise, it was the notebook. Right?”

Ginny drew a sharp breath, eyes widening for a moment. “What?”

“How do you know about it?” the pudgy man demanded, and he too looked alarmed. His voice was a bit higher-pitched than his companion’s, his nerves and rising panic visible in the way he tried to keep both of them in eyesight, the tense line of his shoulders, the gleam in his eyes. “Let’s just kill them, Crouch, this isn’t good, it should be only her…”

“Shut up,” the tall one, Crouch, snapped. Crouch, like the Ministry man. Crouch, the judge, the man Percy adored. But he didn’t look that much like the older man, what with the unkempt blonde hair and crazy eyes. “We still need her, and having a second one can’t hurt.”

But he was eyeing McLaggen up now, his mouth twisted without any satisfaction. “You’ll tell me how you know about the book,” he said, impatient and abrupt. Stalked closer, wand raised and ready. “I don’t have to kill you, boy. I know quite a few interesting spells to make you sing, no matter what you want.”

It drew a smile onto McLaggen’s face, and again Ginny was thrown by how wrong it looked on the face of Cormac McLaggen. It was a cold, yet handsome smile. Sly, a bit crooked, a bit mischievous. Add more warmth to it, and it wouldn’t look out of place on one of the twins. “Know what? That you gave the book to Malfoy first, in hopes that he would be the one to open the Chamber? Know that, when you noticed that Weasley had it with her, you put her name into the Goblet instead of his?”

“You wanted to give it to Draco?” Ginny shouted, despite the risks of it, despite wanting to run. But her anger had had a long time to fester, to grow big and ugly and hot inside of her. The constant headaches, the way she’d been forced into the competition. Fucking McLaggen and his accusations and the few idiots who believed him. The way she still craved for a potion to take away a pain she no longer felt. Luna’s empty eyes and Blaise’s cold hands in the Hospital Ward.

She wanted to punch, wanted to kick and bite and hex and scream.

And Crouch didn’t care, eyes now constantly on McLaggen. “You know a lot, boy. That’s not very healthy,” he said, deceptively calm. “But you never ran to Dumbledore. Why?”

“Dumbledore’s a fool.” The sneer on McLaggen’s face was a better fit than the sly smile, but terrifying nonetheless. With a start, Ginny noticed that the usual blue eyes of the young man bled red. She wasn’t the only one - both men flinched away, but where the pudgy one expressed fear, Crouch almost lost it in rage.

“You dare,” he hissed, flicking his wand. A sickly yellow spell shot out of, heading right for McLaggen.

And McLaggen deflected it, as if it was nothing, with one casual move. “This is disappointing,” he said, his face once again smoothed out. “And here I was, thinking that this is part of a bigger plan, that someone used the book knowing what they are doing. Do you know no shame? Don’t you know who you are facing?”

Crouch almost roared in anger. Crazy, he was crazy. And McLaggen didn’t bat an eyelash. “You know nothing! For years I waited, the only one left truly loyal to our Lord! Who are you to question me! Peter, handle the girl. This one is mine.”

Ginny gasped. Peter. Peter Pettigrew, the one who fled so many years ago. Peter Pettigrew, the Death Eater and Traitor.

And Crouch. Crouch, like the Ministry man, like the judge who was missing today. Crouch, Percy’s much-adored boss.

Crouch, who had a son, a Death Eater like Pettigrew.

“Run, Cormac!” she shouts, because Merlin, she hated the older Gryffindor, but his hands were still free. Ginny didn’t understand what was happening to him (red eyes and confusing words, because how would McLaggen, of all people, know this much about the plans of these men?), didn’t know why he was still taunting the obviously unhinged Crouch, but she didn’t want him dead.

Yet he didn’t run away. He laughed instead, short and mocking, dancing away from more spell light only to return the fire. “Are you all that’s left? Tell me, is this the power of the Death Eaters? Failing to even recognize me, failing to even make proper use of what I once entrusted to one of you?”

He was fast. Unbelievably fast, even against two grown men. His words made Pettigrew hesitate and Crouch almost froth in rage, made both of them hasty in their casting. His duel was beautiful, efficient, elegant. There was no waste in his movements, and he was good, too good. Crouch, on the other hand, fought like a beast - strong and fast, running almost on instinct, ducking and dodging and sending out deadly curses.

It frightened Ginny more than anything and she knew she had to get away.

Shifting her wand in trembling hands, she tried to get a decent grip on it. It took her precious seconds to undo the binding spell, grinding her teeth as she hissed the counter-curse as softly as she could. All three men were occupied with their heated duel, though, and didn’t notice as the girl inched away from them. That was until Pettigrew tried to get a better angle at McLaggen.

“She’s trying to get away!” he shouted, already changing course. But before he could grab her, a spell threw him aside.

Ginny looked up, eyes blown wide. McLaggen was grinning, eyes still red as blood. “If it’s the book you want,” he said, voice cutting and vicious and smug, “you shouldn’t bother about her. You’ll never get it back to misuse my property.”

Crouch screamed and the duel picked up again, with Pettigrew still too dazed to get up properly, and Ginny suddenly didn’t care. All three were dangerous - even McLaggen, because he was behaving wrong, was even looking wrong, was talking like a stranger.

“I’ll not be mocked by a boy!” A spell detonated too close for comfort from Ginny, and only a hasty Protego saved her from injury. Then she was on her feet and behind the first tree.

“I am not a boy! I am your Lord, and you will-”

“Expelliarmus!”

“AVADA KEDAVRA!”

Red and green light lit up the surroundings, followed by a heavy thud, and when Ginny looked back, she saw both Pettigrew and Crouch on their feet as McLaggen hit the ground, his wand flying through the air.

Tears stinging her eyes, she ran.

~~~

Ginny ran, which was all she could do. Running through the Forbidden Forest, which was, even on a bright day, dark and dangerous. Running, hoping she had chosen the right direction.

Running, hoping that neither Crouch Jr nor Pettigrew caught up to her.

McLaggen’s falling body still vividly on her mind, she tried to ignore her aching limbs and the bleeding cut on her left arm, jumping over overgrown roots and thick underwood. Tangled heaps of brambles yanked at her trousers, low hanging branches had her duck and dodge. She tried not to think of what might live here, between the tall and dark trees, under a canopy that filtered out so much of the daylight to leave the woods in artificial evening.

Somewhere behind her, entirely too close still, she heard the heavier sounds of running men.

“Shit,” Ginny gasped as she took a turn and ran through an old spiderweb. The weirdly thick strands clung tight to her hair and clothing and it caused her to stumble. Next to her, a spell hit the trunk of a tree with enough force to leave a burnt-out hole behind.

“Come one, little girl! Stop running and I might not hurt you too much!” Crouch shouted. His mocking words couldn’t hide the churning anger of the man. Ginny knew he would kill her, if only to try to find the notebook afterwards.

Kill her like McLaggen, who hadn’t been like himself at all.

The thought left her feeling ill, even as she threw herself out of the way of another curse, this one a deep purple that splayed without effect against a branch. Another web dangled nearby, old leaves and dead insect hanging from the shredded remains. There were bits and pieces in the moss and around the roots, then again right in the way. Ginny closed her eyes and ran through it.

“There she is!” This was Pettigrew’s voice, shrill and fearful. She ducked behind a tree and between vicious brambles, keeping her head low. When the steps came closer, she slashed her wand in the direction, putting as much power as she could into the charm.

“DIFFINDO!” The spring-green spell-light curved in the air, slicing through twigs and leaves and one thick branch. Wood cracked as splinters rained down from the force. She heard a muffled, painful sound when the branch fell in the way of her persecutors.

She didn’t wait to gloat - for that, the threat to her life was far too great. Instead, she kept on running, flinging more curses and charms behind her. Haphazard ones, cast without looking behind her. It slowed them down, hopefully enough.

Another web, thicker this time, not quite in her path. Ginny went around it as it burst into flames. The roar of the fire almost drowned the rustling above. She went to ignore it, shielding her face from the heat of the flame, but a sudden movement had her stumbling in surprise.

A heavy thud, a faint click-click and the crunch of dead leaves and twigs breaking under eight long, hairy legs were entirely too close behind her, and when Ginny turned, she couldn’t help but scream.

The Acromantula reared up, sharp fangs clicking in anger as the spiderweb got consumed entirely by magical fire. Before it could snap at her, however, the red burst of a stunning spell hit the beast, making it turn around to face the offender. Pettigrew’s face was pale in his shock, his wand-hand trembling. He too screamed when the Acromantula dashed forward.

Above her head Ginny could hear more rustling and clicking. She had run right into their territory.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” she said, not caring how far her voice reached as she pushed away from the beast and Pettigrew, who, in his panic, threw more curses at the giant spider. Crouch was close by, face twisted in fury, wet with his own blood where McLaggen (dead, possessed Cormac McLaggen, still lying face-down somewhere up north like a puppet with its strings cut) had got him before.

“Avada Kedavra!” he screamed, but the moment the curse hit the spider, causing it to crumble on itself, even more of them reached the wizards, jumping down from the trees.

“Confundo!” Ginny whispered, voice shaky but still holding it together. Enough to try and use the situation, at least. She managed to hit Pettigrew just as the man turned to the Acromantula closest to him. He stopped mid-spell, staring at his wand-arm in confusion as if he was unsure what he was doing.

It was enough for the spider to bear down on him, and with a bite and a twist of its sharp jaws, Pettigrew was thrown to the ground, his arm landing a couple meters away.

The piercing, pained howl followed Ginny as she raced further into the forest, away from the blood and the spiders and the Death Eaters.

~~~

Bartemius Crouch Jr raised his wand high above his head before swishing it sharply like a whip. And into a whip it grew, with poisonous green flames trailing behind the movement. The spiders reared up and away from it as the wizard sent it against the beast. What the flames touched they didn’t let go, clinging to flesh and plants like heavy, burning glue. It was just enough to make the Acromantula wary, to make them back off a bit.

It was enough to buy him enough time to grab the rat, turning sharply on the spot.

They had lost the girl, but the situation was salvageable. For the moment they would hide with Lucius, then they would go. He had found enough information in Hogwarts and from Dumbledore to avoid calling this year’s work an utter failure.

His Lord’s book was lost, presumably hidden by the dead imposter. Further masquerading as his father was impossible as well - he’d been too fast, too eager to kill the man the moment he thought he wouldn’t need him anymore, leaving the corpse for Winky to find.

Salvageable, but still… when he landed close to Malfoy Manor, he couldn’t help but scream his frustration at the sky. He wanted to go back, to kill the blood traitor bitch and every person she’d failed to kill herself. But not yet.

First… First, he would make use of the precious little information he’d managed to get.

First, he’d go to Albania.

~~~

In a dark chamber, buried deep under Hogwarts, something shifted. Scales scratched against the ancient stone and with a soft hiss, the Basilisk nudged the small, black-bound notebook. For a moment, nothing happened, but then the pages shivered as if a soft wind was moving them. The Basilisk hissed again, causing an odd echo to fill the chamber. Then it curled up around the book and closed its eyes.

~~~

June 25th, 2015
Hogwarts Express

“Hey, Gin.”

Ginny looked up from where she sat, the rocking of the train as soothing as Luna’s firm presence next to her. She’d avoided the usual compartments, mostly because Ron hadn’t stopped fretting after she’d come back from the forest, bloody and miserable and shaking from panic not two weeks ago. But it wasn’t Ron who stood there, face carefully blank but eyes warm.

It was Blaise.

“Hey,” she said softly, half welcoming, half wary. During the investigation at the end of the Tournament, she’d almost missed her friends being revived. And after that, there was still too much to do. Everyone wanted to know exactly what had happened after the Portkey had taken away two students. And with McLaggen dead…

Blaise’s face softened as he came closer. His hands were warm and familiar on her own, but the small kiss on her forehead was almost chaste, which was definitely new. She looked up in confusion and apprehension, knowing that she’d avoided him too, like the others.

“We need to talk,” he said and it didn’t hurt as much as she feared it would. Not even when she nodded.

“I’ll go and find Draco,” Luna said cheerfully and without any pause, she stood up and walked out. She was wonderful like that, far more perceptive than people gave her credit for.

Ginny took a deep breath, but there was no panic, no gut-clenching moment of fear. She knew what this was about - she’d seen it in herself, and couldn’t fault Blaise for it. She liked him far too much to be petty. “I’m not sorry,” she said instead and gave him a warm smile.

He hesitated for a moment, dark eyes searching her face, before he, too, smiled. “We had to try, at least,” he said with a shrug. Ginny snorted, and for that alone she loved him. “But I know when I have no chance. We make great friends, Gin, and I’ll miss kissing you, but… I don’t want to be the third wheel.”

“You know that I’m not dating Luna, right?” Ginny leaned against Blaise’s shoulder when he took the seat that Luna just vacated. When he threw his arm around her, it was with the same ease as always.

“And you know that it doesn’t matter. We’re great friends, and you’re a great woman. I’m confident that I’m important to you, as you’re to me. Just not that way.”

She hummed in agreement, watching the land go by through the window of the Hogwarts Express. Then she turned her head back to him. It was a bit of a stretch - Blaise was fairly tall, one of the things she liked about him - but she managed, pressing a gentle kiss on his cheek.

“Thank you, Blaise.”

His smile was bittersweet, but there was no resentment or malice in it. Not even too much regret, really. For all that Ginny had enjoyed dating him, it never changed much between them. Not even this would change anything, and for that she was glad, more than she could put into words.

Chapter Text

First: For those who have yet to read the full Chapter 7, I have added the missing half to the chapter. When you scroll down, you'll notice that I marked the place where it got updated.

Thank you all for coming this far. Seven Years is officially finished, which means that the next time we are once more concentrating on Harry. That said, quite a few characters from Seven Years will stay with us. This was a bigger project than I anticipated, with word counts going through the roof. EssayOfThoughts had been, as always, the best help in this.

I'll take a break from the Main Story for a month or two before continuing, but I have several One-Shots planned to tide you over. As always, I notify any updates on our Discord first. We are also searching for a new Beta Reader to help with editing.

Merry Christmas, and see you next year!