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K is for Keilana by Jade Winter

Format: Novel
Chapters: 47
Word Count: 82,560
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Mild Language, Mild Violence, Scenes of a Mild Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse

Genres: Romance, Action/Adventure, Young Adult
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Lupin, Luna, Draco, Ginny, OC
Pairings: Harry/Ginny, Ron/Hermione, Draco/OC

First Published: 10/24/2006
Last Chapter: 08/15/2009
Last Updated: 08/15/2009

Summary:
What makes the ultimate bio-weapon? Heartless, soulless, mindless – Keilana Crowe appears to be all of the above, just another Slytherin princess. But much like Draco Malfoy, Harry Potter, and really just about everyone else at Hogwarts, Keilana has a secret. The youngest Death Eater is a girl with no past, no present, and no future.


Chapter 1: Prologue
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         The aura of death around the five Death Eaters could almost be felt as they walked down the steps into the dungeons Malfoy Manor was built over. The first was a strong, solid figure. The two behind him were a fair match in their carriage, although their forms varied even under the bulky cloaks (the second being much taller and broader than the third). The fourth, though barely seventeen, was a full head and shoulders taller than the third. The fully cloaked and hooded one holding fifth place was the smallest as well as the youngest of the group, barely reaching the fourth’s shoulder. His ears strained in the darkness, but their footsteps were the only sounds that echoed through the corridors.

         “Draco, my lad, give me the fangs.”

         His mind was on the ritual at another level as he produced the jar of werewolf fangs and handed it to the first. The magic circle this group was laying was said to be something no wizard had tried in so long that no one was really sure what it did anymore. He was fairly certain that the first had gone insane decades ago, but it was worth a shot.

         Except for the fact that it required the fifth’s help, and as far as he was concerned, the fifth was an annoying twit in every sense of the word. But he was forced to admit, if only to himself, that she was an excellent wizard. She called herself Keilana, but her real name was something he doubted the Dark Lord himself to be aware of.

         The next piece of his musing came out of nowhere. The notion that she was very pretty behind her heartless eyes and icy lips.

         She seemed to sense his line of thought, because her voice nudged it in a different direction. [Looking for another fight, dragon-boy?]

         [Yes, if you keep calling me that.]

         [Oh, don’t be so snappish,] she mindspoke in the flirty drawl he so hated. [Your name is Draco. What do you expect me to call you?]

         “Keilana?” the third interrupted without realizing that the two were conversing. “Do you have the eyes?”

         Silent beneath her cowl, Keilana extended a fist, palm down. She unclenched her fingers and four black pearls fell into the center of the circle. Draco tucked his hands into his pockets.

         Maybe this isn’t such a good idea.

         [Never judge something until you try it.]

         [Says the witch who judged the dragon at first sight. And you’re not supposed to do that.]

         [You’re the one who’s not guarding his thoughts.]

         She had to stop there though, because more Death Eaters had arrived upstairs. Including the Dark Lord. Putting the result of his constant banter with Keilana to good use, Draco clenched his fists tightly and merely grimaced as the Dark Mark in his palm glowed with the force of his hatred. A gentle nudge helped his mask stay in place, and Draco glanced at Keilana, who had pushed back her hood, revealing her long, fluttering hair and cold, dead eyes. Her pale face showed nothing, yet their mental connection transferred a twinge of empathy.

         Occlumency was something far in the past for these two. She had appeared at the Dark Lord’s door as a human sacrifice for one of his experiments, but had put up such a fight that he’d changed his mind and decided to keep her as a pet. She had eventually fallen into Draco’s care, and they had quickly discovered their queer connection when he’d begun teaching her Occlumency. Before the connection had progressed to where it was now, they’d both become quite good at it. As good as Snape, or even Tom Riddle himself.

         That was something he readily admitted she had been good for, because no one sensed his turmoil.

Chapter 2: Titans' Betrothal
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This is quite a while before the prologue, which I decided I liked too much to let go. No point in being mysterious now, right? To clear up any confusion, the Titans’ Betrothal is a spell which basically binds a woman to a man until she dies.







         “Draco, where have you been?”

         I stayed out past sunset, not liking this dark presence one bit – that’s where I’ve been. I glance uneasily over my mother’s shoulder. I’m not stupid enough to go wandering around Malfoy Manor off my guard, just because my family lives here. And it pays today, because HE is here.

         “Is something the matter?” she asks anxiously, still holding my arm.

         Chest rumbling, I managed to detach her. “Why’s the master here?”

         “He came to bring you a present,” she says, miffed. Then she smiles. Her mood swings are worse than Pansy Parkinson’s, I think to myself as she grabs my arm and drags me down the hall. “You’ll be delighted, Draco. She’s as beautiful as your grandmother.”

         Not you? I retort silently. Wait – what?

         She pushes me into the dining hall, where my father and the master are speaking in hushed tones. A girl stands in the corner with her back to them, staring up at the most recent family portrait. She has gold-tipped crimson chopsticks holding her black hair in a shiny knot on the back of her head. She wears a fairly simple green and white dress. Its particular fashions went out years ago, but somehow the silken folds of the material bring only grace her slender form.

         “Keilana,” Riddle says, noting my presence. He rises and escorts the startled girl to me. I could kick myself because I can only stare into her colorless face and think how much her eyes resemble mirrors. “Happy birthday, Draco. I trust you are doing well?”

         “Always, Master,” I say, bowing stiffly from the waist. “To what do we owe this honor?”

         “You raise your son well, Lucius,” Riddle says, nodding slightly at my father. He gives the girl an ungracious shove, and she bumps lightly into my chest before stepping back and really bowing from the waist. “This is Keilana. She was discovered near our headquarters a few weeks ago, but there’s nothing to be done with her. I decided that she might be of some use to you.”

         I look blankly at the girl. She stares back, clearly not aware of what’s going on. I looked back at the master.

         “Master, you cannot possibly mean to imply—!” my mother begins to exclaim.

         “Narcissa, it will be good for him,” Lucius interrupts her. “He refuses to associate with any of the girls in Slytherin – Salazar forbid he be the last Malfoy.”

         I have no intention of that. Yet the Slytherin girls disgust me. Spoiled, rich, vain – as clueless as the raven before me. But a marriage such as that of my parents will not work for me. How can it, with my true eyes and skin?

         As Keilana cocks her head inquisitively, a swath of ebony hair falls over her right eye, giving her a mischievous but rather fetching look. A strange contrast to her former lassitude. She retains her apathy even more easily than I throughout the evening, even when we’ve been pushed into an elaborate spell circle. The twisted runes decorate the floor beneath us, as well as the ceiling above. She doesn’t seem to care one way or the other; I, on the other hand, have a very bad feeling about this ...

         The master stays only for dinner once the ritual is completed, leaving quickly afterwards, my father in tow – one of the reasons I abhor the very idea of dying as a Death Eater. Once my mother begins complaining to the servants about the quality of the food, I excuse myself and head for my own wing of the manor. It’s the farthest from the master suite, warded against my own parents, if only to annoy them. I step into the bathroom briefly, and when I step out again, one arm still inside my shirt, Keilana is bent over my tank of nightshades, nose wrinkled in curiosity. Before I can scold her, one of them leaps for her face, hacking its grayish brown poison on the reinforced glass.

         “Wouldn’t get close to those if I were you,” I warn more than scoff. “What are you doing in here?”

         She smiles. “I’m yours, aren’t I?”

         I can’t really answer that. I drop the shirt and walk over to her. She stands perfectly still as I slide the chopsticks from her silken knot. A black curtain seems to fall around her shoulders, all the way to her hips.

         “You have long hair.”

          “The more to play with,” she rejoins with another smile. “Would you like for me to cut it?”

         “No, it’s fine long,” I say more quickly than I should have. I move to the desk and empty out my pockets. “So he was lying then. What are you really, and how did you get in here anyway?”

         “Through the door? And what you want is really what you get. It doesn’t make a difference to me.” Her reflective eyes shimmer. “Unless, of course, you plan to kill me, like he did.”

         “Whoa, whoa,” I exclaim, dropping my Malfoy signet ring on the oaken surface. “He planned to kill you, and you’re still alive?”

         “They couldn’t do it.”

         “Couldn’t do what?”

         “Kill me,” Keilana responds simply. She grows no less intriguing throughout the summer. And it’s not that she’s playing hard to get, or acting like an idiot. She really has no idea what she’s doing in our solar system. When I return to Hogwarts for my sixth year, she stays with my parents, unchanged for the most part – an innocent child with the will of a she-tiger. I don’t see her again until Christmas break. By then, I hardly recognize her. She’s been studying with my parents, so she says – academics with Mum and magic with Dad. I can’t imagine what either of them could possibly teach her.

         “Oh, Master Draco, it’s so good to see you!” she exclaims when I arrive, hugging me tightly as I step onto the front porch. “Did you miss me?” When I don’t answer, she pouts prettily. “You didn’t miss me at all?”

         “No.”

         “Positive?”

         “Yes.”

         “So you did miss me.”

         “No!”

         “Are you sure?”

         “Maybe just a little,” I admit grudgingly. The truth is that I missed her very much and wish she could attend Hogwarts with me. But she’s never had a formal day of education in her life. Her unnatural grasp of Occlumency is her only real means of surviving in a classroom setting at this point.

         She seems delighted by my admission. “Your nightshades died,” she announces matter-of-factly.

         “Wha—?”

         “Two of them, anyway,” she answers, apparently reveling in my confusion. “I wanted to find out what would happen if you mixed nightshade poison with griffin claw powder, and they didn’t like it one bit.”

         “Nightshades are allergic to griffins. I don’t believe you!”

         “They’re still in the tank – what’s left of them, anyway. You can take a look yourself.”

         “That’s not what I meant.”

         “What did you mean?”

         “You need to read some books on language and proper communication.”

         “That’s what your mum is teaching me, darling.”

         She bounces up the stairs ahead of me, long braids flailing about her back. Maybe she hasn’t changed as much as I thought. She’s still full of childlike energy and curiosity— That line of thought is abruptly halted when Keilana spins back toward me, hops down to where I am, throws her arms around me, and plants a warm kiss on my lips. I jerk back and storm down the stairs for my father’s office.

         “DAAAAAAD!”

         Keilana pads in behind me. “Geez, Draco – I don’t know what you’re so upset about.”

         “Dad, exactly what have you been doing to Keilana while I was gone?” I demand, steam hissing between my teeth.

         He looks up with disinterest. “I’ve been correcting her form.”

         “But he says I’m really good,” Keilana said proudly, hands on her hips. “After all, I can’t marry you and not be good, right?”

         “Who says I’m going to marry you?”

         “Well, if you don’t, your wife ain’t gonna be very happy about me hanging around. You’re not jealous, are you?”

         “What?!” I shake my head. “Never mind. What have you been doing while I was gone?”

         She holds up a sleek shaft of ebony with runes engraves in the handle and grins impishly at me. “Your mum got me a wand, so I’ve been working hard on my spell form,” she explains, holding up her other fist and flexing her biceps. Her teasing expression evaporates, and she lights up as though she’s just remembered something. Yet another emotional side. She arrived with two. Why couldn’t she have stayed like that? When we reach my room, she picks up a small package from my desk. “There was an alchemist here, and he taught me some basic gem-setting, and ... Well, I made something for you.”

         “You did?”

         “See, your mother gave me a pair of loose emeralds to practice with, and I started thinking about snakes because of one of your uncle’s tattoos, so I ended up with this,” Keilana replies all in one breath, abrasive air replaced only by an aura of uncertainty. “Kind of a Christmas present – go ahead and open it.”

         I take the box and open it to find a greenish silver snake resting on a bit of cotton. It’s twisted into an ornate oval pendant with the emeralds for its eyes. “You made this?” I say with silent amazement, lifting it from the box by the slender chain.

         “Yeah. What do you think?”

         I pause. “What am I supposed to do with it?”

         Keilana brightens despite my lack of outright praise. “Turn around,” she orders gently, taking the chain. She latches it around my neck and her smooth arms tighten around my shoulders as she hugs me. “Thank you, Draco.”

         “For what?”

         “No one’s been this kind to me since Doreen died.”

Chapter 3: A Life Suspended
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Self-proclaimed narrator: Meanwhile ...



         “Harry, I still don’t think I’m doing this right,” Ginny says, sliding off her broomstick. “I can’t see where I’m going when I lay out like that.”

         “You’re hugging your broomstick. Here.”

         As the Boy Who Lived, I never get much time to be normal. It’s either being hounded or fighting Dark Wizards, most of time. I’m only sixteen and I’ve seen some things no one should be forced to see in their entire life.

         Unpredictable as ever though, Voldemort’s been pretty quiet recently. It’s already Christmas of my sixth year, and there’s been almost no unrest since the battle in the Department of Mysteries. I’ll be leaving Hogwarts for once. I’m sixteen now, licensed to apparate. And I have a home to return to this year, even if I’ll be alone when I get there.

         Getting there without being seen is something I want to do very badly this time. That’s where Ginny comes in. But she wants some private coaching from the Gryffindor captain in exchange, so here I am. She’s one of the most amazing girls I’ve ever met. Smart, pretty, and ... quite honestly as good a Marauder as the twins, her older brothers Fred and George. I’ve been thinking of starting a new generation of Marauders, but of course this isn’t the best time to do it.

         “It’s been a while since we’ve been alone like this,” Ginny comments.

         “Too long?” I tease.

         She blushes prettily, and I wonder why I’m doing this to her. I know she still likes me, but I won’t do anything about it. And I do like her. Sort of. But I find it more amusing to make her suffer.

         Amusing? Merlin, I’m turning into Voldemort.

         “What’s wrong?” Ginny asks, flipping upside down and hanging by her knees from the shaft. That positions her face just in front of mine. “You’re starting to mope again.”

         “Sorry,” I reply, easily making her think that I actually mean it. Brooding has become something of a hobby for me recently. “I was just thinking about getting Snape to teach me Occlumency again, but he’d never do it.”

         “This is going to be his last year at Hogwarts, I think. Dumbledore was the only one who really stuck up for him, and he’s been in St. Mungo’s for most of this semester. I hope he gets better soon.”

         “He is awfully old, Gin. He might not get out alive.”

         “Don’t be so morbid.” She pauses to consider my opinion on the matter. “He is old though,” she admits after a moment. “I’m going to get Professor McGonagall to let me visit while you’re gone.”

         “That’d be a good idea.”

         My coaching and her teaching only take a couple hours, and she accompanies me to the train station. Her brother Ron and my other best friend Hermione see me off too. It’s rather hard to hate people who really care about you, isn’t it?

         “You make sure you rat out those horrid relatives of yours if they try to beat you or anything, promise?” Hermione says, hugging me tightly.

         “I will,” I lie easily. “Would you mind letting me breathe now?”

         Ron sticks out his hand. “Happy Christmas, mate.”

         “Always brilliant, Ronald,” Hermione’s face clearly says. I appreciate his simplicity though. I even wave as the train pulls away from the station. My usual mask falls back in place as I claim a cart. Malfoy isn’t on the train, for which I’m deeply grateful. He was licensed to apparate this fall too.

         Luna, a rather eccentric Ravenclaw, joins me in my cart as the Hogwarts Express begins to leave the station. “I’d go with you, you know,” she says softly, knowing that I’m really headed for the Potter house, not the Dursleys’. “I’d follow you to the ends of the earth.”

         “Don’t get all sappy on me. I wouldn’t take you away from your father for Christmas. Life isn’t something you can always count on.”

         She knows what I mean. She lost her mother when she was a young girl. “Two people isn’t enough to live life on, Harry – especially two girls. And we’re best friends. There’s already a good many rumors about the two of you. What’s gonna happen if they start suspecting me?”

         “I’m tolerating Ron and Hermione. Doesn’t that count?”

         “Baby, that’s only four people.”

         “Enough with the Southern accent.”

         She giggles. “I’m half Muggle. I can’t help it that we have a fair collection of movies at my house.” She eyes my scar. “Are you gonna do something about that before you go?” When I nod slightly, she adds, “Let me see.”

         Pretending to be annoyed, I perform one of the spells Ginny managed to teach me. Luna’s awe seems distant as I feel the aging taking affect, leaving me with a body aged perhaps twenty-one or twenty-two.

         “You look just like your dad – right down to the eyes.” She rubs her calloused thumb over my scar, and I can feel my skin begin to ripple. When I feel my forehead, nothing takes shape under my fingers. I look at her, too shocked to say anything. She winks and slides across the seat. “My mum was almost as good as a real morphmagus.”

         “I’ll have to get you to teach me that. I should have asked you instead of Ginny, actually. That would have been much faster.”

         She pulls up her legs, yawning. “Guess so. But it’ll have to be some other time.” She curls up on the seat and closes her misty blue eyes. Her snores soon fill the cart, but I’m not bothered by them. Even though she’s in Ravenclaw, we’ve become very close since last spring. We haven’t had much opportunity to explore that bond, but I think we’re both content to be well nigh best friends for now.

         I’m still wondering about that when I finally reach the manor. I forget quickly though, seeing the ruins spread across the estates. It seems so ... empty. I was expecting that, but to be honest, this is a bit much. I wander around in something of a stupor, picking out the old rooms (which I had memorized from an intricate set of blueprints provided by the lawyers in case I should want to rebuild it).

         Potter Estates is no small place. There’s dozens of bedrooms, let alone libraries and dining halls and history rooms— As I understand it, my parents decided to move to Godric’s Hollow because Potter Estates was too big.

         “This is where my dad grew up, huh?” I observe aloud. “No wonder Mum said he was a conceited bully.” A crystalline clatter sounds at my feet, and I look down to find a dark bottle. I pick it up and study it. A perfume bottle, maybe. Without really thinking about it, I pull the stopper free.

         Instead of liquid, a cloudlike substance flows from the open neck, forming a woman around my outer age, wearing hot pink work robes. She has long black hair hanging in a braid down her back. Her eyes are hazel, with a green fringe around the edge and golden speckles around the pupil. She’s tall and slender, both athletic and utterly gorgeous. At least until her dark eyebrows knit together and contort her face into a dark mask.

         “Wh-who are you?” I gasp out, dropping the bottle. It bounces on the remains of a pillow and rolls to the wooden floor. A trail of smoke reaches from its neck to the woman’s feet. The edges of her work robes flap in the wind, seem to dissipate for a moment, then pull back together.

         “I’m not in the mood for jokes, babe,” she says impatiently, hands on her hips. “Where—” She pauses when she sees my confusion, and she caresses my cheek tenderly. “James? Darling, are you feeling all right?”

         I stagger back and land on a rotting bed. “James?” I yelp. “Darling?!”

         She’s taken her eyes off me, and is staring at the remains of the house, stunned. “Wha—? What happened here?”

         “No one’s been here in fifteen years,” I reply quietly, releasing the illusion. I stare up at her and realize she’s taller than I thought at first. “Are you feeling all right, Miss—?”

         Her eyes widen again. “What’d you just do?”

         “This is my real body. I forgot to change back after I got here.”

         “What year is it?”

         “Ma’am?”

         “What year is it?” she repeats herself, more urgently than before.

         “It’s 1996.”

         She sinks onto a sagging bed. “Nineteen ninety—! Twenty years!”

         “Ma’am?” I say again, not understanding her sudden despair.

         “That means I’ve been in that bottle for almost twenty years! But if it’s 1996, why do you look sixteen, and why do you have that horrid scar?”

         “I’m not James,” I say slowly. “I’m his son Harry.”

         “His son? Where’s he? Why did he let the house go to shambles like this?”

         I struggle for a way to soften the blow, but come up with nothing. “He’s been dead for fifteen years.”

         “Dead?!” she shrieks, leaping to her feet. She grabs me by the collar and shakes me like a rat. “How? Why? Where?”

         “Um,” I manage to answer in rather choked voice. “Maybe that wasn’t the best way to break it to you. He was killed by Voldemort, because he was an obstruction, in Godric’s Hollow.”

         “An obstruction to what?”

         “To killing me.”

         “Why would this Volvo guy want to kill you?”

         I’ve never been asked that before. It sort of comes part and parcel with being the Boy Who Lived. As I struggle through an explanation, I have difficulty keeping my mind on my story. To an impartial bystander, this would be the most ironic, most ridiculous—

         The woman collapses in tears.

         “So, um,” I finally venture, “who are you?”

         “I-I’m J—” She hiccups and wipes her sleeve across her eyes. “—Jackie Potter, James’s twin sister.”

Chapter 4: James's Twin Sister
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         “What were you doing here?”

         “I live here – or rather, I did. I was working on a genie potion, and my stupid Kneazle knocked something extra into the potion, and I’ve apparently been stuck in that bottle for twenty years. Twenty years! Oh, James, I’m gonna die! I’m all alone now! There’s no way he’s waited for me for twenty years!”

         “I’m not James, and I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

         Sighing through her tears, she sat up and hugged her knees to her chest. “I’m sorry, Harry,” she groaned. “It’s just that you look almost exactly like he did when he was your age.”

         “So I’ve been told,” Harry replied dryly.

         She crawled across the bed and peered curiously at him. She let out a squeal and flipped onto her back, kicking her legs and laughing hysterically. Harry frowned, but waited for her to explain on her own.

         “Oh, Morgana! He did it, didn’t he! He went and married that Muggle-born redhead! You’re Lily’s son!”

         “Did you know her too?”

         “Know her? We were roommates for seven years, darling. How could I not know her?” Jackie’s feet landed on the floor and she leaned forward, eyes narrowed apprehensively. “Did I? Darling, please don’t tell me she’s dead too!”

         “She is.”

         Jackie began crying again. Harry moved onto the bed beside her and gently rubbed her back. This kind of situation was less than familiar to him, and he was unsure of how to respond. She began to sob and buried her face in his shoulder. Harry was amazed by the fact that she was taller than he and could still fit into his arms.

         “I’m really sorry about that,” Jackie managed to apologize a little later, sniffling slightly. “It’s just a bit of a shock. James and I were very close.”

         “I sort of gathered that,” Harry said as he got up, straightening his collar. “Did you live here with my grandparents?”

         “Yeah, I did. I drank that potion right after graduation though. I was supposed to become a medicinal researcher. That’s why I was working on the genie potion in the first place. Most researchers are quack, you know.”

         Harry blushed. “You got me.”

         “So. Are you here to fix up the house?”

         “Yeah,” Harry said, perking up. “Well, sort of. I was just going to look it over. Since you’re here though, you can tell me what it’s supposed to look like. I’ve never even seen pictures.”

         “Can I borrow your wand?”

         Harry cautiously surrendered it. To his shock and awe, Jackie muttered a long spell and went into a trancelike state. From the ruins all around them, walls began to rise. Within minutes, they were inside a perfectly whole house.

         “Whoa ...”

         Stepping out into the hall, Harry gazed around in amazement. Though not exactly in the best condition, there was no sign of ruin anywhere. He spun back to Jackie, who was shaking her head and offering his wand back.

         “How the hell did you do that?! Your spellwork is amazing!”

         “Oh, I don’t know about that,” Jackie said with fake modesty, and winked. “But James and I regularly blew up parts of the house, so we both got to be very good at fixing it.”

***



         “Why do I have to babysit you?” Harry whined, shifting his backpack.

         “You’re the one who opened my bottle, so you belong to me,” Jackie replied casually, opening a cart door for him to slide through. “Plus someone needs to carry me around. I need your help, and you have to give it to me.”

         “Why?”

         “Because when you open a genie bottle, you have to do whatever the genie says. That’s how it works.”

         “Muggles think genies give you three wishes.”

         “Well, what do they know?” Jackie said carelessly, sliding into the seat. Harry was strongly tempted to cork her bottle and force her essence back inside, but he was honest enough to admit that subsequent retribution would probably kill him. So he carried the bottle in one pocket and the stopper in another. So far no one had noticed the edge of Jackie’s figure fraying in a breeze.

         Harry pursed his lips, unsure of whether to be amused or annoyed. Jackie had apparently taken upon herself the task of being a mother to him, but she bossed him around often and always ignored his complaints. Nevertheless, he had already learned quite a bit from her. It didn’t make any difference that she was trapped inside a bottle – she was good.

         “You’re rewarding me for releasing you,” Harry had said to her earlier during vacation, “by teaching me new magic.”

         “Well, you do deserve something, and candy didn’t seem to be appropriate. Or a kiss or—”

         “I get the idea,” Harry had quickly broken in, and he had left it at that. But her determination to teach him all she could was actually rather intriguing. And he had an unhealthy level of curiosity anyway. Having her as a tutor might be very helpful.

         Though not thrilled by the idea, Jackie agreed to make a quick stop before returning to Hogwarts for the second semester. To Harry’s surprise, Luna was also at St. Mungo’s.

         “What are you doing here?” they exclaimed in sync, then grinned at each other and laughed. Luna explained what she had come to see how the headmaster was doing.

         “How is he?”

         “Not well, but cheerful. He’s a bit more loopy than usual though. Who’s this?”

         “Oh, sorry,” Harry said, ignoring Jackie’s half triumphant, half concerned expression. “Jackie, this is Luna Lovegood. She’s in Ravenclaw, one year behind me. Luna, this is my aunt Jacqueline Potter.”

         “Jackie, darling,” she corrected, smiling graciously. “Nice to meet you, Luna. Where is this Dumbledore person?”

         Luna told her the room number and Jackie was off, black mantle fluttering behind her. Harry headed after her with a sigh, and Luna followed him with a rather puzzled expression.

         “Who is she really?”

         “My aunt, apparently. I found here in a genie bottle when I went to check out the manor. She’s trapped in here, so if she wants to talk to Dumbledore, I have to keep close by. Godric, it’s annoying. Anyway, I was planning to have her DNA checked against mine, but I guess there’s no harm in saying hi to Dumbledore while we’re at it.”

         “Ginny’s here too, you know.”

         “She is?” Harry said, surprised. “Is anyone else from school here?”

         “Just Professor McGonagall.”

         “Warn me if she comes,” Harry said, slipping into the hospital room. Jackie was stretched out on Dumbledore’s chest, sobbing. Harry walked over with a wry grin. “You cry a lot don’t you, Jackie.”

         “Hi, Harry,” Dumbledore said with effort, extending one hand. Since there was no room for him with Jackie in the way, and Dumbledore was nowhere near strong enough to rise, Harry hugged the old man’s arm. “It’s been ... a while ... since I’ve seen you. Could you ... get this witch ... off of me?”

         Smirking slightly, Harry managed to pull Jackie off.

         “It’s nice ... to see you too ... Jackie. I haven’t ... seen you since ... you graduated.”

         “I got locked into a bottle,” was the offhanded reply. Jackie brushed her hair out of her face as she spoke. “Botched genie potion got mixed in with the drink. I guess I had a little too much at the grad party.”

         “Why would it only affect you then?” Harry asked, not even touching the subject of Jackie being drunk.

         “Because it was calibrated to my genetic structure. It wouldn’t have affected anyone else even if they drank the entire bottle.”

         “So, Harry ... what do you think ... of your aunt?” Dumbledore, now free from the weight on his chest, could put several more words together without stopping for breath. He had raised his bed a little as well, so that he was mostly upright. “Crazy, isn’t she?”

         “Every bit,” Harry responded instantly. “Why didn’t you tell me about her?”

         “No one’s seen her ... in almost twenty years. We decided ... she was dead. She even has ... a gravestone.”

         “I what?!” Jackie yelped. “Albus, that’s horrible!”

         Luna poked her head in before Dumbledore could protest Jackie’s familiarity. “Harry, they’re coming!”

         Harry quickly put the stopper in place, and Jackie’s form slithered through the neck and sloshed within the glass bottle as a clear blue liquid. Luna’s eyes widened and she mouthed “Wow” as the others walked in. Ginny squealed at the sight of Harry and hugged him tightly. Minerva McGonagall greeted him with a rather brusque smile.

         “Very nice of you to come see Albus, Harry,” she said shrewdly.

         “Hello, professor,” Harry said, hiding his anxiety. “Having a fun vacation so far, Gin?”

         “Everyone’s been home for the holidays this year,” Ginny responded cheerfully. “Not just a lot more of us than usual, Harry – the whole entire clan came. You have to come and visit us. Hermione is staying with us too, and Luna lives across town.”

         “You’re quiet,” Harry said, switching his focus. “Haven’t you done anything yet? Isn’t your dad taking you someplace for Christmas?”

         “We’re planning on going to Ireland—”

         “What, are you looking for moonbeam plants?” Harry teased.

         “We did find some last time we went, actually, but no,” Luna replied, eyes sparkling. “We went to Ukraine and Hungary. And we found some weird spell circles. Do you know what circle magic is?”

         “No, but we’re probably boring our headmaster here.”

         “Not at all,” Dumbledore replied, smiling. “The chatter of students ... is a sound vastly more ... treasured to me now.”

         “Circle magic makes use of a spell circle. Something like this,” Luna said, circumscribing an ornate pentagon onto the desk. She drew her wand and muttered something, and a pair of chopsticks pulled themselves from the wood. Luna broke them off, leaving a jagged hole in the side of the desk. “See? Circles strengthen spells which outrightly rearrange matter, basically.”

         “That’s what alchemists use.”

         Harry very nearly jumped. That had been Jackie’s voice. He looked around, but Dumbledore was the only one who seemed to have heard her. He was smiling at Harry, shaking his head slightly as though there was nothing to be done about it. Harry looked down. A soft glow encircled the stained glass stopper which protruded from his pocket.

         Jackie?

         [Yeah?]

         How’d you do that?

         [Don’t tell me you’ve never heard Exerency.]

         Oh, like telepathy.

         Jackie sighed almost audibly. [I forgot that you were raised by Muggles,] she lamented. [Nothing to be done about it except teach you how to use it too, I suppose.]

          Harry lowered his head so the others wouldn’t see him smiling. Ginny and Luna left with Professor McGonagall, leaving Harry to grab a butterbeer by the Fountain of Magical Brethren.



Author’s note: Circle magic can also be used for things like the Titans’ Betrothal. Obviously, the circles are based on Fullmetal Alchemist’s circles (transmutation circles, I think). Circle magic as an essential skill is basically something of a long-forgotten, unofficially forbidden art.

Chapter 5: Goodbye, Dursleys!
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         “I’m going to miss you,” Ginny said quietly, gaze on her feet. She stood on Platform 9¾, half hidden behind a column, flowing red hair practically all that could be seen of her head, glinting in the warm June sunlight.

         Before her stood a very different Harry Potter than the one she’d first seen on this very platform at the age of ten. True, his jet-black hair still stood in all directions, but his bright green eyes, no longer framed by his wire-rim spectacles, held that empty soul they had since Sirius Black had died. However uneventful his sixth year at Hogwarts had been, his godfather’s death had taken a toll on him. Especially since December.

         His response was slow. “I will too.” He hated to lie to her, but what else could he do? He had kept rather to himself over the second semester, mainly conversing only with Jackie and Luna. Luna was still his only schoolmate who knew about Jackie, and she had kept his secret for him.

         Unaware of his turmoil, Ginny could no longer resist. She threw her arms around Harry’s neck and pulled him down, burying her face in his shoulder. He didn’t respond, whether to wrap his arms around her, or to push her away. Ginny grew irritated.

         “You think you’re the only one who loved him, Harry? Do you think you’re the only one who’s hurting?”

         Someone called her name a few pillars down. “Ginny, we’re leaving. Where are you?”

         Biting her lip, Ginny moved back. Harry still hadn’t moved, eyes downcast. The gentle breeze seemed to brush his bangs from his head, revealing his lightning bolt scar. His gaze moved up her body and met hers. A flicker of something she didn’t quite recognize came to his eyes, and he embraced her. His lips found her ear, and between two gentle kisses, he whispered, “I’m sorry.”

         Eyes smarting, Ginny whirled and sprinted from his presence to join Dean Thomas, who was waiting with their respective parents. Harry’s eyes hardened as she disappeared.

         “I really am sorry, Ginny,” he whispered more to himself than to Ginny, sliding his hands into his pockets and heading for his own ride “But it’s better that you don’t know. You worry too much – about everything.”

         “Have fun doing magic tricks, Harry?” Dudley taunted him from the passenger seat of Uncle Vernon’s new car.

         “Yeah, I did,” Harry said absently, fingering the neck of Jackie’s bottle. He hadn’t informed his other aunt’s family of his leaving Hogwarts for Christmas, so it would be a big shock to them when he left permanently sometime this summer. Still, Jackie had a point: Potter Estates was far too lonely, and this family was better than none.

***




         Curled on in a window seat overlooking a peaceful village, Ginny kicked one foot lazily. Her right fingers were curled around her wand, the tip of which tapped the windowsill. Despite both her parents being wizards, Luna Lovegood’s home was located on the edge of Ottery St. Catchpole, a quaint Muggle village in Devon. A tall, towering house, it resembled the Weasleys’ cottage, but was designed so as to look quite Muggle, and consequently has no sight charms on it. These two, being best friends from a young age anyway, often got together to study during the summers, since they lived so near each other.

         “What are you daydreaming about?” Luna teased from where she was completing her own summer homework. She had been seen with Harry a lot during the last five or six months of school, and she seemed to have become slightly more serious under his moody influence. Getting together with Ginny more during the earlier year and a half had also caused her to put aside some of her more queer traits.

         “Harry. You know that look where you can’t exactly tell what someone’s thinking, but you know it’s something important?”

         Luna nodded. She had put down her wand for the moment, and was twisting her dirty blonde hair into a thick braid that reached past her hips.

         “He had that kind of look in his eyes last time I saw him. Somehow I can’t get it out of my head.”

         Tossing her braid over her shoulder, Luna got up and stretched her back. “Wish I knew what was bothering him,” she sighed. “His letters have been downright gloomy all month. Much shorter too. It isn’t like him to be long-winded, but he’s been awfully curt recently.”

         “Recently? Have you heard from him?”

         “Yeah,” Luna said, glancing at the window, where the village children were yelling over a street game. “I just got a postcard yesterday.”

         “He’s been writing to you?!”

         Luna frowned. “What are you so upset about? You weren’t together, were you?”

         “With that four-eyed dork? Not on your life!”

         “Ginny, wait!” Luna exclaimed as Ginny grabbed her things and stormed toward the door. “Where are you going?”

         “I’m going home!”

         The house shook with the force of the slamming door. Sighing, Luna closed her book and headed for the fireplace.

***




         “Are you Mrs. Dursley?”

         “Yes, that’s me.” Having opened the front door of No. 4 Privet Drive, Petunia Dursley had discovered a tall, somewhat skinny girl wearing a gray jumper and blue plaid skirt standing on the front step. Although her overall appearance was somehow otherworldly, she didn’t look particularly unusual. It was the atmosphere around her that caused Petunia to recognize the girl as a wizard. She stared down at the young woman, arching an eyebrow. “And you are?”

         “I’m Luna Lovegood. Harry’s girlfriend?”

         Harry’s aunt looked shocked. “Come inside,” she said, and led her to the kitchen. “I wasn’t aware that he had a girlfriend.”

         “I imagine there’s a whole lot about him that you don’t know,” Luna said, smiling slightly. It wasn’t exactly a lie – most of their classmates were saying they were together, that they had been since winter break. They’d never confirmed or denied when approached on the subject. “You’re aware, of course, of the shield protecting your house while he’s here?”

         “Yes, I am. And of the fact that it will become nonexistent after he turns seventeen this month.”

         “That makes this a little easier, then.” Luna thanked her for the drink, but she noticed something as she sat down. “Um ... where is he?” While his outlook (not his attitude) had improved since meeting her, Harry had grown into somewhat of a Marauder in his own right. There was no telling what he could be up to.

         “No, I don’t, really. He’s been more open with me this summer, but he said this trip was more private than the others.”

         “Others? He hasn’t mentioned any to me.”

         Petunia’s explanation was interrupted by the slamming open of the front door. Another door admitted Harry’s Uncle Vernon into the kitchen. Luna covered her mouth to keep from laughing. Harry called him a walrus, but Luna couldn’t help coming up with far more creative terms.

         “Petunia, what is this ... this creature doing in here?”

         “I’m a friend of Harry’s, and I’ve been petitioned by his remaining family to remove him from your care. Of course, this will require that you relinquish all control of his person, possessions, and finances. If you are willing to do so, my superiors have instructed that you read and sign these papers.”

         “You do realize what would happen if I left?” Harry asked, having appeared shortly behind his uncle.

         Luna squealed and hugged him, saying, “Yeah, but you’re turning seventeen this summer anyway. Why wait?”

         Harry laughed and glanced at his uncle, leaving one arm wrapped around Luna. “It’d probably for the best, Uncle Vernon. I’m sure it’d stop giving you indigestion and ulcers if I moved out completely and was done with it.”

         Vernon had already signed everything. Dudley walked – or waddled, more like – into the kitchen, and upon catching sight of him, Luna grabbed Harry by the arm to escape before she lost it completely. Harry’s things were packed quickly, and Harry went back downstairs to give his foster family a quick goodbye. When he came back, he was grinning from ear to ear.

         “What’s so funny?”

         “Nothing,” Harry replied with a very different grin that clearly stated he was lying. “You ready, babe? I’m taking you to Potter Estates – just finished getting it back up, but maybe we can clean it up a little.”

         “How’d you know—?”

         “Pried it right out of your head while you were talking to my aunt. Why’d you tell her you were my girlfriend?”

         “I couldn’t think of a better connection. Let’s go.”

         Harry cast the teleportation spell and they landed in the foyer of Potter Estates. Harry uncorked Jackie’s bottle, and she materialized beside the hat rack. She greeted Luna with a hug and scolded Harry for not letting her out sooner.

         “So where have you been going all summer?” Luna asked once her tour of the house had been completed. “Your aunt – the Muggle one – said you’ve been disappearing on and off since you got back.”

         “I’ve just been traveling,” Harry replied, dropping his backpack on the floor. “I was researching ancient magic and its history and things like that – everything, really. You can blame Jackie for that.”

         Luna stuck her tongue out at Jackie and attached herself to Harry’s arm. “He’s mine!”

         Jackie put her hands on her fists and glared right back but burst out laughing before she could come up with a reply. Harry opened the door they had stopped in front of last.

         “This’ll be your room when you visit,” he informed Luna. “I was planning on inviting Hermione and Ron over too. Maybe they can help do something about that place.”

         “And what’s wrong with it?” Jackie said indignantly. But she glanced about briefly, then gave a sheepish grin. “I mean, aside from needing some cleaning. I guess I didn’t do the greatest job on bringing it back up, did I? Housekeeping was never my strong point.”

         “Well, it was empty for twenty years,” Harry said with a shrug.

         “Eighteen,” Jackie corrected. “My parents took a whole year to die of grief.”

         “They died of old age,” Luna informed her. “You disappearing was just the last straw.”

         “How do you know that?” Harry asked, surprised.

         “My dad runs the Quibbler, remember? I know everything about that kind of stuff. By the way,” she added, facing Jackie, “can he have the first interview with you once you come clean?”

         “Sure,” Jackie replied, “but that won’t be for a while. Harry, you can’t invite anyone else to stay here!”

         “Aw, come on, Jackie,” Harry cajoled. “Let me have some friends over.”

         “It wouldn’t look good though, Harry,” Luna broke in. “Ron’s off working a summer job. Hermione would be in this huge house alone with you, and Jackie wouldn’t qualify as a chaperone because, officially, she doesn’t exist.”

         “I don’t need to be told that by you, thank you,” Jackie told her. She glanced offhandedly at Harry. “Why not invite the entire Weasley clan over? That way Ginny will be here too.”

         “What does that have to do with anything?” he snapped back.

         Jackie just grinned.

Chapter 6: Ah, Summer
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         “You’re doing what?” Draco exclaimed, shocked.

         “That’s almost six weeks!” Keilana chimed in. “Is that even legal?”

         “Don’t worry, darling— That is, darlings. Anyway, we’ll be back before you leave for Hogwarts,” Narcissa replied, as though it were perfectly normal to leave two teenagers alone for that long. “It’s not that I didn’t want to bring you with us, but I don’t see your father very much anymore.”

         “You mean since he’s so busy with work and all,” Keilana said, cocking her head. You’d think if he wanted to see her so much, he’d set out to make time to come and see her.

         [The hell he would,] Draco answered silently. Lucius hadn’t done anything like that since before Draco had begun attending Hogwarts.

         [I know, I know,] Keilana said, rolling her eyes at him. [He’s insane, right?] Her eyes opened wide in shock. She hadn’t meant for him to hear that. Why – what – how?

         Narcissa was still talking about what the two could do to entertain themselves while the older couple was touring France. Neither teen really heard her, but graciously let them leave without a fight.

         “So,” Keilana said aloud. “What do we do now?”

         Draco looked out the window. “Have the Bolts arrived yet? It’s a good day for flying.”

         “Are you sure about this, Draco?” Keilana said while they opened the packages. “I’ve never been on a broomstick in my life – it’s not just that I don’t remember it. I really haven’t.”

         “What, you doubt my ability to teach you?”

         “Well, no offense, darling, but you’re not exactly the most patient person in the world.”

         Draco smirked. “I’ll take my time with you.”

         “If you say so. Go easy on me though, okay?”

         “Cross my heart and hope to die.”

         “Why does that not make me feel any better?”

***


         “Thanks for inviting me, Harry,” Hermione said happily, hugging him. Then she jerked back with a blush. “Sorry. I forgot that you hate to be touched. It’s just that it’s been a while since you were overly friendly with—”

         “I don’t particularly mind being touched,” Harry interrupted her. “Your contact just happens to belong to someone else.” He grinned at the glare-blush combo he received in response. “Anyway, a certain redhead aside, let’s assume I wanted to make up for ignoring you all semester. Tonks and Charlie will be coming over later, but Luna’s already here. Would you like a room nearer to hers or mine?”

         “I’d feel safer with you around, but I should probably take one closer to Luna’s,” Hermione said, smirking. She followed him down the hallways. “This is amazing, Harry. I didn’t expect it to be so big, even with what you described.”

         “Your parents didn’t mind you coming over?”

         “Not at all. They’re going to America in a couple weeks anyway, so I think they were glad for me to be able to spend some time with a wizard friend, even it you are a guy.”

         “Do you have many Muggle friends?”

         “A couple,” Hermione said slowly. “I haven’t really talked to many of them in years.”

         “I guess Muggle-borns always have that problem. Don’t really fit in with either world.”

         “Yeah,” Hermione said with a sigh.

         Broom over one shoulder and bucket dangling her other hand, Luna bounced up. “Hey, guys. I’m not interrupting something, am I?”

         “Didn’t you invite Ron?” Hermione asked after greeting the younger girl.

         “Yeah, but he couldn’t come,” Harry replied. “Last I heard from him, he was in India hunting tigers with Parvati.”

         “Tigers?” Luna said skeptically, while Hermione deflated almost comically.

         “Why so surprised?” Harry asked, hiding his amusement.

         “I dunno. Just sounds a little tame for someone so obsessed with dragons.”

         “Which you would know of course. You spent almost as much time with him as you did with me last semester.”

         Luna stuck out her tongue. “You got a problem with that?”

         Hermione had recovered by this point. She inhaled deeply and rolled up her sleeves. “Well, I’m not staying all summer – let’s get to work! The housekeeping spells are all worn out, the place is in shambles, the—”

         Harry grinned and interrupted, “Just tell us what to do, okay, Mione?”

***


         [I don’t know about your father, Draco, but you are most definitely insane.]

         Draco smirked across the field. [Flattery will get you nowhere.]

         Keilana leaned forward and pushed herself into a dive. Draco followed with far less effort although there wasn’t much of a difference between a Firebolt II and a Silverbolt. Keilana pulled into an Immelmann and shot back over his head. Her hand closed around the snitch just as Draco caught up with her.

         “Not bad,” he said, half-grinning. “Not bad at all.”

         “Thanks,” Keilana smirked back, tossing it back in the air. It shook out its wings, then fluttered away. Gaining speed quickly, the snitch was out of sight in just a few seconds. They both went after it, but Draco caught it this time.

         “I don’t think I’m going to catch it again,” Keilana said several tries later. “You’re just too good for me.”

         Draco slid off the Thunderbolt (the third Bolt). They had both tried all three, and Draco had rather quickly singled out the Thunderbolt. Though not particular, Keilana had stuck with the Silverbolt.

         “Maybe not Quidditch, but you picked up flying so fast it’s almost scary. Do you have any idea who your parents are?”

         Keilana shrugged. “I know Doreen took care of me like my mum.”

         “Who is Doreen anyway? I thought you couldn’t remember anything.”

         “She’s the only person I remember before Master Riddle brought me here – the only thing at all, right back to the beginning of my memory. Funny, because I’ve decided my memory was wiped.”

         “Maybe your whole soul,” Draco said suddenly. “Remember you were so out of it when we met?”

         “Darling, that was depressants and anticonvulsants.”

         “Which are ...?”

         Instead of answering, Keilana crouched low and eyed him like a great cat stalking its prey.

***


         “Hello?” Tonks yelled into the main hall exiting the foyer. “Harry? Luna?”

         Charlie had already started down a different hall. “They’re down here.”

         “How do you know?”

         “Are you sure you’re an auror?”

         “Oh, shut up.”

         “Hey, Tonks,” Harry called. “Charlie. Glad you two could finally make it.”

         Greetings went all around, and Hermione soon had the two “chaperones” working just as hard as she did Harry and Luna. To her credit, however, she kept up with the rest of them and worked even harder besides. Luna got up around eleven to go make lunch, and Harry followed her.

         “Need some help?” Jackie asked, sliding out of her open bottle from the waist up.

         “No, I cook for my dad all the time when I’m at home,” Luna replied. “I love cooking. At least, when I don’t get distracted and burn it up or something. What would you like, Harry?”

         “I don’t really care, as long as it’s something good.”

         “You’re not exactly picky, are you,” Luna said thoughtfully. “You’ll be really easy to take care of when you get married, if your wife can get over how narrow-minded you are.”

         “I am not narrow-minded! I’m a wizard, Godric’s sake!”

         Luna flashed her tongue at him, then went about preparing lunch.

***


         “Do you tease all the girls like this?” Keilana inquired, stretched out in the grass. She giggled as Draco nuzzled her hollow midriff. She yelped as he moved up her arm and rubbed his cheek against her rounded shoulder. “Come on, Draco. Do you?”

         “Not really, no,” he answered into her wild hair. “You make me feel like I can be myself around you.”

         “What are you?” Keilana whispered, nuzzling his cheek. “A little orphan?”

         “Sometimes I think that,” Draco mumbled, burying his face into the crook of her neck. His hands gripped her bare shoulders tightly, leaving white marks on her as he let go and fell onto his back beside her. A peaceful silence engulfed them, broken only by the rustle of the grass and the occasional chirping of passing bird. Keilana stretched out on his chest, and Draco was asleep in a matter of minutes. His deep breathing lulled Keilana to a state of distant contemplation.

         It only took a few breaths for her mind to wander to the strange occurrence earlier. While she and Draco had become very good at Exerency, she had never once experienced hearing something he hadn’t been directly saying to her. He had never mentioned such a thing either. Like herself, Draco could find nothing in her mind. Whatever might have been there before her current memories started, it sure wasn’t there anymore. She had no past prior to meeting Riddle. While that annoyed her, she was also frightened of what she might discover if she regained her memories. What was her connection to the Dark Lord?

         “Sorry,” Draco startled her by waking, edging out from beneath her slender frame. “Your perfume ...”

         “Your mum said you would like it,” Keilana answered mildly. “I wasn’t expecting it to knock you out.”

         “Ha. That was you, not the perfume. Speaking of which, it’s moonbeam essence, isn’t it?”

         “Yeah. How’d you know?”

         “Like catnip.” Draco shot her innocent expression a scornful look. “And don’t give me that look – you know exactly what I mean.”

         Keilana aligned herself properly on his chest and pushed him back into the grass. She smiled sweetly as her long hair fall about their shadowed faces. “No, I don’t, actually.”

         “You’ve known for a long time, Kei,” Draco said severely, rolling out from under her and sitting up. “Why haven’t you said anything?”

         “Because you haven’t.”

         “What difference does that make?”

         “I dunno. If you wanted to talk about it, you’d say something. You kept it shielded off from me for a long time. What changed?”

         “You’re getting too strong to resist.”

         Keilana giggled as Draco rose and offered her a hand up. She hugged him and they headed for the house holding hands. As they reached the threshold, she pulled his head down and kissed him tenderly on the lips.

         “I’ll keep your secret if you’ll help me find out mine.”

         “Deal.”

Chapter 7: Another Train Ride
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         “Oh, Morgana – I can’t believe it’s already time for school to start again!” Ginny said, bouncing slightly. She and Hermione stood together on Platform 9¾, and the Hogwarts Express had just appeared on the tracks. “And you’re head girl this year! Isn’t that awesome, Mione?”

         “Yeah, I guess so,” Hermione said distantly as she looked over the platform. Harry was talking with Parvati Patil a few spaces down. He wore a look of disappointment similar to Hermione’s – Ron was nowhere in sight.

         Sighing, Harry picked up his backpack and slung it over his shoulder. He winced and quickly switched the weight to the other shoulder. Post-hospitalization syndrome, Jackie had labeled it. His normal light tan had all but vanished, he was squinting slightly against the bright sun, and he clearly favored one arm and shoulder.

         “Thank you,” Parvati said, chuckling slightly at the fact that Harry had pulled the door open for her. She stepped through it, dark eyes on an escalating argument just inside the next door down.

         “I’ve been spending too much time with Muggles,” Harry observed with a half-grin at Luna, keeping the door open for her as she stepped in behind them.

         As they stepped into the train and started for a free compartment, Pansy Parkinson crashed to the floor in front of them and would have brought Parvati down as well if Harry hadn’t grabbed her out of the way. They stared down in surprise, joined by many of the other students. A beautiful raven already in black robes towered over the pug-faced Slytherin.

         “If you ever say anything like that again, I’m not going to forget it,” she hissed, visible tendrils of her magical energy floating about her clenched fists. “And you don’t want me holding a grudge against you again – trust me.”

         Pansy scrambled to her feet and glared at the raven for a moment before turning on her heel and storming down the aisle. Draco Malfoy was leaning against the compartment door next to the raven, who studied Harry for a moment before turning to Draco. He inclined his head and disappeared inside. As she followed, the windows become solid black as opposed to their usual frosted translucence.

         “Hi, Harry,” Ginny greeted as he walked by her on her way to the front car. “You wanna sit together later?”

         Shrugging, Harry moved on. He slipped into Luna’s compartment and was immediately faced with three stern faces. Luna looked annoyed; Padma and Parvati were both livid. Ignoring the Patil twins, Harry plunked himself down next to the window and folded his arms, sinking his chin onto them. Luna closed the door and wisely erected a sound barrier.

         “Harry, how can you not even say hi to her?!” Parvati exclaimed, hands on her hips. “She’s been waiting to see you all summer – you could at least pretend to be glad to see her!”

         There was a pause. Harry wasn’t the one to break it.

         “Are you all right, Harry?” Luna asked, touching his shoulder. He winced and pulled away slightly. “Did something happen this summer that you haven’t told me about yet?”

         Keeping his head down, Harry nodded once and answered quietly. “Nothing major.”

         Luna gripped him tighter and forcefully turned his head upward. He looked at her briefly before averting his gaze to the window. His right eye had turned coal black – and what Luna made out to be his iris was a vertical slit. He settled back into his original position, and Luna addressed the Patil twins.

         “Sorry, you guys,” Luna sighed as Harry curled up even tighter. “You know how stubborn Harry is.” She sat down beside him, rubbing his back. Her eyes widened, and she glanced at the twins. “Could you leave us alone for a minute?”

         “Sure,” they said, exchanging knowing glances. They disappeared, shutting the door for her.

         Luna pulled her wand out as Harry slithered off his seat. She finished the spell and smacked her wand pommel into the base of his skull. His eyes turned green again, and though wavering from the force of impact, he managed to get up. The bony spurs that had been rising along his spine receded.

         “What happened to you, Harry?” Luna demanded. “Why were you transforming?”

         Averting his gaze to the window once more, Harry pushed his shirt off his left shoulder. Luna’s eyes widened at the nasty scars that had torn his skin open all the way across the curve. She recognized the bite, but hesitated to say it. Harry saved her the trouble.

         “Black dragon in the north of Romania. Jackie put it back on, but they said I still have some venom in me.”

         “ ‘Put it back on’? You got your arm bitten off?!”

         “Almost. Hey,  I was in St. Mungo’s most of August! Look – don’t say anything about it, okay? We killed it, so it can’t spread the poison now.”

         Out of a combination of a crush and catlike curiosity, Luna had extensively studied dragons with Ron. Black dragons had the ability to control the poison they injected into their victims. The only way to fully recover from a black dragon bite – if you survived the attack at all – was to kill the dragon that had bitten you. Luna shuddered at the thought of it.

         “Harry, they have a point,” she said, almost solely to change the subject. “Go apologize to Ginny before Parvati tells her we’re in here snogging.”

         “What?!”

         “For being the most powerful seventeen-year-old in the universe, you sure are dumb, Harry Potter!” Luna’s blue eyes flashed. “Get your butt out there and go apologize!”

         Harry glared right back up at her for a moment. He softened and, shaking his head in amusement, left the compartment. If only to quiz Luna, the Patil twins darted right back inside.

***



         “Sounds harder than it did last year, for some reason,” Ginny commented. “’Course, you probably have it worse than I do.”

         Hermione was rather unsympathetic. “You’ll do fine. You can’t change your mind once they pick anyway. Hey, have you seen that raven anywhere? I’d like to ask her what made her brave enough to punch Parkinson.”

         “It’s called possessional codependency. Much stronger than that chick’s petty affections,” the raven answered Hermione, startling both girls by suddenly appearing out of a shadowed boarding hall behind them. “Do you mind if I have a word with Miss Ginny, Head Girl?”

         Snorting at the title, Hermione headed to their compartment. Ginny faced the raven apprehensively, and then realized something. This girl was a complete stranger. Ginny had never seen her before, even at a glimpse.

         “Are you a transfer?”

         “Yes, I am, but that’s not what I wanted to tell you. Don’t you think it’s about time you took things into your own hands? Trust me – that boy would really appreciate a nudge in the right direction.”

         “A nudge in the right direction being a shove into the Chasm of Hades?” this year’s head boy asked with a smirk, earning himself an elbow to the gut. Draco Malfoy bowed courteously to Ginny. “I’m going to kidnap her for a while, eh, Weasley?” He dragged her off without waiting for a response.

         What was that about?

         “Hey, Gin.”

         Startled, she spun around and found herself face to face with Harry Potter, hands shoved in the pockets of his jeans. She jerked back in surprise. He chuckled slightly, looking sheepish and uncertain. He also looked stronger and more fit than she had ever seen him. She blushed at the very thought.

         “Luna sent me over to apologize, so I thought I’d ask exactly what I did to hurt you.”

         “Nothing,” Ginny said, looking away. “I shouldn’t be so sensitive. You have a girlfriend and all. Why would you sit with me?” She was puzzled to find him latching a simple pendant around her neck. A heart-shaped sapphire set in silver, with worn wings on each side seemingly guarding it. She touched it in surprise. “What is this?”

         “Compliments the sparkles in your eyes.”

         Harry turned and sauntered off. The rest of the train trip was fairly uneventful for both of them, although the Patil twins kept things interesting for Harry. He found that Hogsmeade came very quickly. He and Luna stared at the thestrals together, sharing a silent empathy. Harry glanced over and noticed that both Malfoy and his girlfriend could see them as well. Not surprising, considering who they were, but the expression on the raven’s face puzzled him.

         Further conjecture was interrupted by a loud “Hiya, Harry!” coming from the front gates of Hogwarts. Parvati ran over to Ron Weasley and hugged him around the neck, earning a glare from both Hermione and Ginny. They exchanged news quickly as Ron strode over to Harry and clapped him on the shoulder – his good one, gratefully. Harry found that Ron couldn’t help staring as the best friends greeted each other. It wasn’t surprising, since Harry had put on half a foot during the summer alone. They were almost the same height now.

         “Long time no see, man,” Ron was exclaiming. “What have you been up to?”

         “Breaking your sister’s heart, apparently,” Harry replied with a mock sigh. “What is it with women anyway?”

         “Who knows? I haven’t figured them out yet either,” Ron replied, by this point hugging Ginny, who suddenly exclaimed, “Hey, wait a minute. Why are you already here? How’d you get here?”

         “A friend of mine dropped me off,” Ron said with a wink at Parvati, who laughed gleefully.

         “What did Snape think of that?” she asked eagerly.

         “He resigned over the summer, apparently. I haven’t seen him.”

         “Not that you would want to.”

         “Oh, you know it.”

         “So are you two dating now?” Ginny asked coldly, interrupted their rapid banter. Hermione had drifted past them into Hogwarts, refusing to look at Ron. Headmistress McGonagall was waiting for her there, and dragged her off along with Malfoy. Head boy and head girl. This would be an interesting year for the two of them at the very least.

         “Us?” Parvati’s laugh brought Harry’s attention back to his friends’ conversation. “Not on your life. We’re just really, really close from being partnered up for the summer.”

         “Doing what?” Harry asked curiously.

         “Secret,” Ron said mischievously. He grabbed Parvati’s hand and headed up the steps. “Come on. You’ll never guess who’s teaching alchemy.”

         “You’d think they were copying us,” Luna commented to Harry. Ginny had already taken off, leaving the pair alone.

         Harry smiled and intertwined his fingers with her. “No sense in letting a perfectly good rumor go to waste, right, love?”

            Grinning, they joined the last group students into the Great Hall. Luna blew a kiss over her shoulder and joined the other Ravenclaws. Harry settled between Ron and another fellow Gryffindor, Neville Longbottom. The Sorting Ceremony began as soon as all the sorted students were seated, and Malfoy’s girlfriend was the first to be called up.

Chapter 8: First Night Back
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         Harry scooted down a little to make room for Parvati to squeeze in beyond Ron as the Sorting Hat sang this year’s song. While they whispered briefly, Harry was surprised to take note that the only teacher in sight was Minerva McGonagall, and she wasn’t a teacher anymore. Upon Dumbledore’s death in the spring, she had reluctantly – but remembering the injustice inflicted upon the students under Umbridge – stepped into the office of headmistress. The only other people on the dais were Rubeus Hagrid, the half-giant gamekeeper, and Argus Filch, the non-magical caretaker.

         “Keilana Crowe,” the headmistress called out.

         There was a pause as the raven made her way up the steps onto the stool. She sat down and allowed the Sorting Hat to be placed on her head. Her eyes slid shut as the hat hummed. It spent several moments thinking before calling out its decision.

         “Slytherin!”

         “Why would someone going into Slytherin take so long to be sorted?” Ron asked rhetorically as Keilana made her way over to the Slytherin table and gracefully settled into the empty seat beside Malfoy.

         “That wasn’t the hat’s idea,” commented Harry, squinting through his glasses. He looked back at his friends. “I think it might have wanted to put her in Ravenclaw. Slytherin was her idea.”

         “Heh,” Ginny said. “Probably because of Malfoy.”

         “Is that her?” Ron asked. “The one who had a fight with Parkinson?”

         “Yeah.”

         “Pretty thing. No wonder she’s his girlfriend.”

         Hermione was silently stirring her straw in her pumpkin juice, and Harry noticed her disappointment from down the table. Parvati turned her attention to scolding Ron, but Harry couldn’t hear what she was whispering. Nor did he wish too. He’d been involved in enough fights concerning Ron over the summer. Ginny sat across from him, and Harry could literally hear Jackie chortling all through supper.

         It didn’t get any easier afterwards, because Ron went to talk to Hermione, and she went off into the girls’ dorms, and Ginny, after giving her brother a full berating, followed. By the time Harry had gotten to his own bed, he actually wanted Jackie to show up and knock some sense into his best friends. But he knew it was a bad idea, and he turned his mind to different things.

         Since everyone was still settling in, Harry went for a walk. He went down to greet Hagrid and Commodore, who were both very happy to see him. In fact, Commodore nearly killed Harry, being far larger than Fang. Anyway, wolves were usually more vicious than boarhounds, and Fang (in manner, at least) wasn’t much of a boarhound at all. He was glad to see Harry too, so Harry resolved to take a shower when he got back to the Gryffindor Tower.

         “You’re a cruel partner,” someone commented behind Harry just as he reached the main gates. He turned around and found Keilana Crowe leaning against the wall. She grinned and laughed, drawing Harry’s attention to her strange eyes. Where they had been empty a moment before, they now glimmered with sparkles of mischief.

         “What do you mean, partner?” he said sharply, putting on his glasses. This girl’s aura was an emotionless silver, broken only by tendrils of smoky black and wisps of sky blue.

         “Isn’t Ginny-ray your girlfriend?” she said with a very convincing look of surprise. She seemed to notice what his glasses did, because a spark of yellow cracked her aura. She enjoyed her game with all her heart – that much was certain.

         Harry muffled a snort. “Ginny-ray?”

         “She’s so radiant I couldn’t help it,” the raven replied with a chortle. She possessed her own version of Malfoy’s drawl, sounding something like an American Southerner. She leaned closed to his ear and whispered, “Don’t let this one get away from you, Master Potter. I’m sure Draco would love to hound his new partner.”

         “Now wouldn’t that be enjoyable for you.”

         “I was talking about the head girl.”

         Harry jerked away. He hadn’t thought of that. Laughing, Malfoy’s girlfriend patted his shoulder and sauntered away. Harry limped toward his own dorms, trying not to pass out from the sudden pain. Jackie slid out of her bottle to put a pain-relieving spell on his shoulder.

         “You okay, babe?”

         “Yeah, I’m fine,” Harry replied through clenched teeth. “It’s been hurting on and off all day. Good thing Luna knows so much about dragons, huh? I might have destroyed the Hogwarts Express.”

         “She’s a smart girl. She’s in Ravenclaw, after all.”

         “True. Wonder what I’d be like in Ravenclaw.”

         “Completely unsuccessfully,” Jackie replied with a teasing grin, releasing her invisibility spell as they got to the top of the stairs. “You have no academic curiosity at all.”

         “For your information—”

         “Who are you talking to, Harry?”

         “Ack!” Harry yelped as Jackie evaporated. “Neville! Hi. What are you doing up here already?”

         “I was going to settle in before the rush, but if you had plans ...”

         Harry shook his head slightly. “You go ahead and settle in. I was just talking to myself. Did you have a good summer vacation?”

         “Yeah. Hey, we missed you at Grimmauld.”

         “Wha—?”

         “Hermione invited me,” Neville explained, kicking off his shoes. “She said being the only teenager there was boring, so Dean and Ginny and Luna spent a lot of time around there too. Tonks and Charlie had their hands full just trying to keep up with us.”

         Harry gave an envious sigh. “That must have been fun.”

         “Didn’t you enjoy your vacation?” Neville asked with a frown.

         “Well, I spent most of June exploring, most of July at Potter Estates, and most of August in St. Mungo’s.”

         “Are you all right?”

         “Yeah, I’m fine,” Harry replied, smirking slightly. “You looked just like Ginny when you said that.”

         “You really should have come. She would have enjoyed your company. And it’s not like you hate her, right?”

         “Well, I don’t hate her, exact— Oy! Why is everyone suddenly trying to set me up with Ginny?” Harry looked at Neville slyly. “I have half a mind to tell Luna you’d like to ask her out.”

         Neville looked as though he couldn’t quite decide whether to blush or faint. Harry laughed and slapped him on the back.

         “Don’t worry – I wouldn’t. But she’s not my girlfriend, and she’s over Ron too, if you were wondering.”

         Neville’s answer was cut off by Ron himself, who stormed in and flung himself down on his bed. Neville slid off of Harry’s bed and moved to his own, while Harry walked over to Ron’s bed.

         “What’s wrong with you?”

         “What isn’t? Bloody hell – that chick drives me crazy!”

         “Hermione?”

         “Yes! She’s so stubborn!”

         Harry looked at Dean Thomas, who had entered with Seamus Finnegan, wearing something of a smirk. They claimed their beds and listened as Harry attempted to coax the story out of Ron. Apparently, Hermione had declared she was tired of being Ron’s default girl, and refused to have anything more to do with him. Ginny poked her head in as Dean finished explaining what Ron had left out.

         “The boys’ dorms ought to have a shield to keep snitches out,” Dean commented.

         Ginny grinned and bounced onto his bed. “Just thought my bigot of a brother might need a good kick in the seat.” She twisted her hair up and fastened it with silver clip. Harry was relieved to see his pendant still hanging from her neck. “Hermione does like him. She just doesn’t appreciate being held at arm’s length. I hope she’ll be all right.”

         “What makes you say that?” Neville inquired. As Ginny’s brown eyes roved his form, Harry realized what had subconsciously bothered him. Neville was about even with Harry’s chin, and had filled out over the summer to form a potentially very handsome young man. However, the rodent-like look of his peering blue eyes gave him the air of ill ease that Jackie so hated.

         Harry vigorously shook away the thought of the rat Peter Pettigrew.

         “She’s head girl, ain’t she? Don’t you know who the head boy is?”

         “Malfoy,” Seamus said in understanding. Ron growled into his bed cover.

         “Which means I have to date Ginny to keep Hermione from getting killed,” Harry commented. He immediately regretted it, because he was met with a combination of floored stares and vicious glares. “You know the Crowe girl? She said if I didn’t, she’d get Malfoy to hound Hermione, whatever that might mean.”

         “Let him,” Ron said with determination. “You’re not getting anywhere near my sister.”

         Ginny sighed and fell back. “Ron, you’re hopeless.”

         “That’s not a bad idea,” Dean commented. “Too bad Ron’s too stubborn to do anything about it.”

         “The hell is that supposed to mean?!” Ron exclaimed, indignant.

         “Aw, get over yourself, man!” Dean and Seamus retorted together.

         Chuckling, Harry withdrew from the conversation and walked over to the window. Ginny joined his moon-gazing a few minutes later. The arguing around Ron’s bed hardly reached them behind the heavy curtains.

         “Harry, I’ve been wondering,” she said slowly, elbow lightly brushing across his arm as she came to a stop. She turned to look up at him. “Why did you give me this? It’s not like you to just give me something for no reason.”

         “Didn’t I give you one?” Harry teased, running his finger down her jaw and gently shaking her by the chin. He studied her for a moment. “Maybe I didn’t need to though. You have the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen, you know that?”

         “Is it enchanted though?” Ginny asked, stubbornly refusing to be sidetracked despite the blush working its way through her soft cheeks. “Does it tell you how I feel, or if I’m in danger? Does it let you listen in on what I’m saying, or even thinking?”

         “Ginny, Ginny, Ginny!” Harry scolded teasingly. “Don’t you trust me?”

         “No, not really.”

         Harry couldn’t help grinning. “Smart girl.”

         That grin finished her, and Ginny smiled back. But she held on to her line of question. “Seriously, Harry. Why did you give me this?”

         Sighing, he turned back toward the window. “Why? All right, fine. It shields your mind. When you wear that, you’re protected from having your thoughts intruded. You won’t fall for magical illusions, and judging by what I know of you, it’ll probably heighten your intuition.”

         Ginny didn’t answer. She was pulling out her wand. Harry watched as she whispered something and touched the curtain lightly with the tip of her wand. A chorus of yells came from the other side, and when Harry pulled the curtains back, he found his dormmates sprawled across the floor, engulfed in some sort of golden substance. Ginny shook her head and started for the door.

         “Good night, Harry. Good night, insufferable twit. Good night, Neville, Dean, Seamus. Ronnie, d’you want me to put a good word in for you or a bad with Hermione?”

         “Don’t bother,” Ron sighed, rubbing the shine off his arm. “You’re gonna have to teach me that one.”

         “Get the twins to teach you. Night, y’all.”

         Harry grabbed a towel as Ginny shut the door. His final year at Hogwarts was going to be a very interesting one.

Chapter 9: Hogwarts' New Arsenal
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         “Potions right off the bat – and with Slytherin,” Ron sighed. “Unbelievable.”

         “At least we haven’t got Snape this year,” Harry said, eyes on Tiffany McGonagall, Emily Sharpe, and Lavender Brown. They were talking with Hermione across the hall, and all of them were giving Ron dirty looks. “Do you know who’s teaching?”

         “Only that we’ve got a whole bunch of new teachers, not just in this class.”

         Neville was fidgeting nervously, and Harry fought back a grin at how Jackie would have scolded him. A beautiful woman in her late twenties with flowing dark auburn hair and slanted dark glasses breezed past them, black robes flapping. She glanced briefly at Harry before shaking her head and unlocking the door with a flick of her wand. The students slowly filed in, and the woman walked around the front of the room, checking everything.

         “Good morning, good morning,” the woman said, rapping on her desk to get their attention. The room fell silent almost instantly. “Class is now in session. I am your new Potions professor, Wizard Crowe. Please refrain from the use of wands in this class, as wands are apt to be the first thing ever confiscated. Now, this being your final year at Hogwarts, you will be learning more advanced potionry, most notably poisons and antidotes. Rest assured, I will not test your poisons on you.”

         There was a collective sigh of relief, and Harry bit back a grin.

         “Nevertheless, you will be testing your own antidotes, so be sure to read your instructions carefully, and follow them to the letter. Also, make sure your equipment is sterile and in good condition. Now for today, I want you to get acquainted with your curriculum, so it will not be necessary for you to remain here. The assignment is on the board. If you have any questions before you leave, I would be glad to answer them.”

         There was a moment of silence, and several hands went up. Despite her fairness, Harry gratefully recalled that Transfiguration would be Gryffindors only. He sat down outside the door and flipped his Potions text open. The first potion they would be working on was something called the Ratana Virus. After reading the description, Harry smiled to himself. It sounded rather like something the Weasley twins would make.

         “Why aren’t you in class?”

         Harry got up. “Wizard Crowe decided to do an orientation sort of thing today. Transfiguration is my next class, so I thought I’d wait here.”

         The speaker was a tall, stringy man in his mid-thirties or so, with dark hair and eyes and a ruddy complexion. He also had an unusually charming smile, Harry noted as he amicably gestured toward the interior of the Transfiguration classroom. “I didn’t have a class first hour, if you’d rather wait inside. I’m not busy.”

         Harry stared at his retreating back. “You’re the new Transfiguration teacher?” He put his book down on a desk in the back. “I knew McGonagall had become headmistress, but I didn’t expect her to find someone so quickly.”

         “She’s replaced a lot of the teachers.”

         “I heard that, but no one knows who or which classes. Other than Filch and Hagrid, no one was in the Great Hall last night except for her, and that was only for the Sorting Ceremony, and to welcome the students.”

         The professor grinned at Harry over his shoulder. “You’ll be seeing some old friends today.”

         “Sir?”

         Chuckling, he refused to answer. He walked to the front and opened a large box. Instead of using his wand, he picked up the box and manually put a Galleon-sized disc of green wood on each desk. Harry watched all of this with a dumbfounded look on his face. As the other nine Gryffindors filed in, Harry put away his potion book. Tiffany McGonagall sat at the next desk with a friendly grin, and Harry smiled back.

         “Good morning, students. I’m your new Transfiguration teacher, Professor Henley. Feel free to call me Greg, but with discretion, as it would earn both parties a stern reprimand from our most revered headmistress.”

         A ripple of laughter went across the room.

         “Each of you should have a base disc, and due to the nature of your former teacher, you should all be able to employ substitutionary locomotion. As this is our first day, this is something of an aptitude test. Go ahead.”

         After thinking for a moment, Harry tapped his disc with his wand. It grew legs and did backflips as Tiffany’s grew two long appendages and swung from the side of her desk. Harry signed “monkey freak” under the desk, and Tiffany covered her mouth to muffle another laugh.

         While they were doing this, Greg was walking up and down each isle, quickly taking in how well each student had down. He seemed pleased. Harry glanced over his shoulder to find that even Ron had managed it.

         Greg moved back to the front. “As your new head of house, I’m expecting great things in this class.”

         Surprised exclamations filled the room. Harry was glad at that news, but he was still slightly nervous about the rest of the day. The next class was history, but not until after lunch. Having seen how hard Muggle students worked, Harry was very grateful that Hogwarts only had four or five core classes a day, beginning at nine in the morning. Much more relaxing than what Muggles went through.

         Transfiguration let out early too, so Harry settled in an outer courtyard to look over his alchemy book. Jackie had told him hollows came in handy, and he had to agree. His book bag weighed hardly more than the book he was now holding, but in actuality, it contained several dozen, some even bigger than this text.

         “Equivalent exchange – the law that to obtain, something of equal value must be lost.” Makes sense. Don’t know why Jackie’s making me take this class. I can learn metal-carving without it, and she could have taught me herself. Maybe she knows the teacher. It was a guy, right? Now wouldn’t that be ironic. High school sweethearts. No, that’s not right. What would you call it if you’re a wiz—

         “You’re out early too?”

         Harry nearly jumped. “Hey, Luna. What are you doing out of Arithmancy already?”

         “It was mostly introduction and review today. Lady Vector is still here, and so is Professor Flitwick. Who did Potions and Transfiguration?”

         He told her, and was then forced to give a full account of his morning. Luna did the same, adding that she was glad her Head of House was still at Hogwarts, to which Harry muttered, “However distracted he might be.” Luna pretended to be annoyed, but her amusement quickly became apparent.

         “Well, never mind your head’s personality,” Harry said. “Let’s go get some lunch.”

***





         “Harry Potter, eh?”

         Shock crossed Harry’s features. He’d repeated himself in showing up early, and a man in his mid twenties had been seated at the teacher’s desk, flipping through a large tome. Apparently, the new headmistress had really gone for younger teachers.

         “What happened to Professor Binns?”

         “He decided to move on,” the young man said with a careless shrug. “About time one of us carried on anyway. My father didn’t want to teach history, but I find it fascinating.”

         “You’re his grandson?”

         “Great-great-grandson.”

         “I guess he really was ancient.”

         “Well, he was a ghost.”

         Harry chuckled sheepishly and claimed a desk. “That’s true.” He was amazed how quickly the class ended, and not just because he feel asleep either. Dr. Binns was a good teacher. However, the next class was the one Harry had really been worried about. Defense Against the Dark Arts – with Slytherin.

         “Great Marduk!”

         Remus Lupin grinned down at Harry. “Is that all you have to say to your new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher?”

         Laughing, Harry hugged Lupin and exclaimed over his being let back into Hogwarts. Lupin explained that McGonagall had managed to get him hired back despite his lycanthropy, due to a new treatment developed by her daughter. Given Lupin’s credentials, the Ministry, as well as the parents for whom Lupin had originally resigned, had reluctantly welcomed him back.

         “Looks like everyone’s here, so we’ll go ahead and begin,” Lupin said in a rather general tone, and he walked back to the front, where an attractive brunette who looked to be in her late twenties was reclining on top of the desk, feet kicking idly behind her head. Lupin grasped her shoulder and whispered something in her ear. She hopped to the floor and shut the book she’d been reading. “Welcome to Defense Against the Dark Arts,” Lupin said, facing the class. “I’m Professor Lupin, and this is my lovely assistant, Professor Garner.”

         “Yo!” Professor Garner said, putting one hand up.

         The entire room stared. Lupin looked amused.

         “Seeing as this is your first class with me this year, we’re going to have a practical dueling match instead of a formal class. To help us determine your skills, you will all be attempting to disarm— Cassi, what are you doing?”

         “Huh? Sorry, Remmie. I seem to have misplaced my wand.”

         Lupin handed it to her with a sigh. Even without his glasses, Harry saw the immediate change that came over her. He seemed to be the only one to notice it though. First one up was Seamus Finnegan. He was halfway through the first syllable of Expelliarmas when his wand was knocked from his hand. Cassi yawned, her robes’ hems falling about her athletic denim-clad legs.

         “If this is what the rest of the class is like,” she commented in a completely different voice from before, “it appears we have our work cut out for us, doesn’t it, Remus?”

         “Pansy Parkinson,” Lupin said, as though he hadn’t heard her. Pansy walked up slowly, and Harry recognized the ripple of a spell barrier around her. She was dispensed nearly as quickly, and so were the next few students, some more quickly than others. The longest survivor was Malfoy, at about three minutes. Eventually, Harry and Keilana were the only ones left.

         “Harry Potter.”

         Gripping his wand nervously, Harry walked to the front. He had yet to manage visually catching her spellwork. She’d defeated nearly twenty students without batting an eyelash. Harry closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. Focus.

         Cassi bounced on her toes. “Bring it, Potter.” A ball of cobalt exploded through where Harry’s shoulder had been seconds before.

         “What are you doing, playing tennis?” Harry shot back, and hissed the first spell that came to mind. A shaft of brilliant pink light shot past her ear, ruffling her close-cropped sugar brown hair.

         A snicker went up from the Slytherins, then fell into silence. Cassi’s hair was turning pink and growing longer, wrapping around her body. Her large gray eyes went wide and she quickly performed a spell of her own, freeing herself. They went on like that for about five minutes, Harry attacking and Cassi countering, until Cassi effortlessly slipped through his defense and knocked him out.

         When he came to, he was leaning against the bookshelf facing the desk, and Keilana was walking to the front of the classroom. Cassi did her bounce again, but Keilana’s eyes had changed as well. She had a look of raw determination that Harry could almost feel from where he sat. Lupin stood next to him, arms folded. To Harry’s surprise, Keilana mouthed what looked like Legilimens, adding several syllables at the end. Her eyes turned the same solid gray as Cassi’s, and her body went slack, wand falling to her side.

         Cassi frowned and sparks of orange flew toward Keilana. They were blasted away by a screen of blue. Harry watched in amazement as the opposite of his duel was played out. Cassi kept on attacking, but Keilana performed the countercurse each time, her wand seemingly controlling her. Cassi stopped attacking and rolled her eyes at the class.

         “How many people know what this is?”

         Harry got up. “She used Legilimens Inimicus.”

         “Why don’t you explain what that is.”

         “It means she’s no longer in control of her body,” Harry said as he moved back to his own seat. “She automatically reacts to harmful spells with the correct counterattack or countercurse, pulled directly from her opponent’s mind.”

         Several of the students, even a few Slytherins, looked impressed, but that was probably just Harry’s imagination.

         “Liberatio,” Cassi said, waving her wand at Keilana, who immediately straightened up and looked around through ice-colored eyes. “I’ll admit a draw this time, but next time I will defeat you.”

          Keilana gave a sly grin and headed back to her seat.

Chapter 10: Ron and ... Keilana?!
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         “I’m bored,” Ron announced.

         “Do your homework,” Hermione shot back.

         “I did.”

         “Do it over.”

         “Why?”

         “Because you didn’t do half of it right. No harm in trying again.”

         “Hermione, it’s Saturday. Most of the house isn’t even up yet. And it’s our first weekend here. No one has homework first weekend here. Why should I? I’m not a bookworm like you.”

         “What’s so wrong with being a bookworm?” Hermione demanded, shutting her charms book and glaring at Ron. “At least I have a promising future!”

         “Who cares?”

         “I do! I want to be able to pick my own job when I get out of school. You’re not going to be able to unless you tighten up some. The only things you can do are ... Oh, that’s right. The only thing you can do is Quidditch!”

         “What’s wrong with Quidditch?” Ron complained, offended now.

         “Everything! It’s barbaric! A pointless pastime!”

         Ron’s face turned red and he got up, biting his lip almost hard enough to draw blood. He hurried from the common room before he could say something he would regret. Hermione just went back to her book, but Parvati found Ron at Wizard Rayne’s door a few minutes later. She didn’t say anything, just squeezed his hand.

         “Long time no see, Master Reg,” she greeted, sliding into the office when Rayne opened the door.

         “Well, my dear, you don’t take alchemy,” was his smooth answer. But the corner of his mouth twitched slightly the way it always did when he was amused.

         “Hey, I’ve been wondering for a while now – how come you do alchemy? Doesn’t really go with dragons, does it?”

         Reginald Rayne shrugged slightly. He was stocky man in his late thirties, with poster boy blonde hair and blue eyes. Behind his partially rimless glasses, his right eye bore three claw-type cuts – only a few of his many scars of trade. His hands belied his trades too – both as a dragon specialist and as an alchemist. He was the sort of person who took everything in stride and never lost his cool.

         And Ron and Parvati would know. They had spent most of the summer with him.

         “I never really planned to do alchemy,” he replied after a moment of thought. “That’s the family trade – it just happened. Studying dragons was my rebel streak.”

         “Funny,” Ron said with a straight face. “I never thought of you as having a rebel streak.”

         Parvati giggled. “Don’t mind him, Master Keeper. He says every little thing that comes to mind.”

***

         Keilana studied the bit of chalk she had stolen from one of the classrooms. She bent over and drew circles on the ground, then began hopping from one to another.

         “Never thought Slytherins played hopscotch.”

         She turned slightly on one foot, cocking her head. “It always gets my brain working. Ronald, isn’t it?”

         “Ron,” the redhead replied a bit peevishly. “Ron Weasley.” He leaned against the wall and folded his long arms, looking at her curiously. “You’re Malfoy’s girlfriend, aren’t you?”

         “Keilana Crowe.”

         “Unusual name. Pretty though.” Ron slid down the wall and, settling against it, crossed his legs Indian-style. He watched her silently for a moment. “My sister played a lot of hopscotch. She was friends with all the Muggles kids around our house, and they played all kind of street games like that. Me and my brothers played Quidditch whenever we could get away with it.”

         “I didn’t start playing Quidditch till this summer, but I really like it now.”

         “Really,” Ron said in a tell-me-more tone.

         “You can’t quite beat the sensation of flight.”

         “Right on.”

         Ron didn’t say anything else, and Keilana kept hopping from circle to circle. To her amazement, somehow it didn’t bother her to converse with this Gryffindor. With the exception of Harry, she had found Gryffindors altogether too cocky, too arrogant, and entirely too conceited. While Harry wasn’t abrasive either, every time he saw her, he either disappeared straight off or escaped as quickly as he could. Unlike most of her fellow Slytherins, Keilana was fairly friendly outside her house, and Harry’s apparent hostility offended her.

         To give him the benefit of the doubt though, life had become more than crazy after the failure of Keeper Abraxas’ latest experiment. Keilana and Draco were no longer your ordinary Titans. But the results of the explosion were so confusing the pair had yet to sort them out. And Keilana hadn’t exactly been normal before that either.

         Keilana reached the end of the trail and spun to skip back. Despite all that had happened, she had really liked Draco’s supposedly deceased grandfather. He was fairly weird and downright freaky, but he was fun to be around, and those parts of August had been enjoyable.

         “So why did you pick Slytherin?” Ron asked suddenly.

         “What? Well, the hat picked it.” She saw immediately that he didn’t believe her. “I don’t know why, really. I’m smarter than your garden-variety wizard, but I think my evil ambition outweighs my brain.”

         “Don’t seem very evil to me. This is the longest conversation I’ve ever had with a Slytherin.” Ron grinned lopsidedly. “Aside from beating up a couple guys my sister was thinking about dating.”

         Keilana couldn’t suppress a giggle. “So I’ve heard.”

         He looked surprised. “You have?”

         “I’ve been with Draco a little over a year now. He keeps up with strange things.”

         Ron got up. “Mind if I try my foot at that?”

         Keilana laughed outright this time. “Go ahead.”

         He started at the end opposite her and slowly worked his way through the circles. “I never really did this kind of thing. Quidditch is much easier to play – less to remember.”

         “At least once you have the form down. You play keeper, right?”

         “Yep.”

         “Yep?”

         “You’re one to talk. You sound like an American. What do you call them? Rednecks?”

         Keilana pouted and replied with perfect British inflection. “I am not a redneck. I’ve hardly any color in my skin at all.”

         “But you don’t usually sound British,” Ron said, muffling a laugh. “Did you grow up anywhere around here?”

         “I don’t know, really,” Keilana replied with a meek shrug. She was surprised that she had no qualms about admitting that to him. “I don’t remember much of anything before last summer.”

         “Amnesia?”

         “Yeah. Lady Malfoy took me to St. Mungo’s a couple times, but the healers can’t figure out what’s wrong with me. I guess this is the kind of thing that happens when you become a Death Eater.” She gasped and covered her mouth. “Oh, Morgana. Ron, please—”

         “I won’t tell anyone,” Ron promised, rolling his eyes. “You’re in Slytherin, and you’re Malfoy’s girlfriend. I’d actually be kind of surprised if you weren’t a Death Eater. Is Malfoy one too?”

         Keilana nodded before she could stop herself, but his eyes were downcast, concentrating on the circles, as though hadn’t seen her movement. But by the swirl of anger in his aura, he had heard her silent assent.

         “So we’re on a first-name basis already?” he asked, and a sudden change came to his mindstream. Surprise, then confusion and a fair bit of horror.

         “Would that bother you?” Keilana inquired coyly.

         Ron’s gaze came up, that lopsided grin curling his mouth. “It might be fun to try out.”

         “In that case, you can call me Kei.”

***

         “Ron, what’s up with you?” Hermione said when he reappeared in the common room. Though still annoyed, she looked a little concerned. “You look like you walked through a ghost.”

         “Crazy – absolutely crazy,” he muttered more to himself than in reply to her question. “Utterly impossible.”

         “What are you talking about?”

         Ron just shook his head and headed upstairs. Harry was leaning against the window, and he jerked in surprise when Ron exclaimed over his presence. The curtain flattened against the wall as Ron walked over.

         “What were you doing?”

         “Just watching the view, but I won’t tell Mione what I saw. Wish I could get that close to her,” Harry continued enviously, ignoring Ron’s grimace. “I can’t get within five feet of her without feeling like I’m going to be sick.”

         “What’d you do this summer, mate?” Ron asked with a half-laugh.

         Harry tried to grin, and he ended up with something of a smirk. “You don’t wanna know.”

Chapter 11: Hermione's Birthday
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         The common room was empty and the dorms silent as the tombs as Harry crept out of Gryffindor Tower. At least, all was quiet until he stepped out from behind the Fat Lady’s portrait to find Keilana leaning against the wall outside. She giggled at his yelp of surprise.

         “What are you doing here?”

         “I’m waiting for Ron.”

         “For Ron.”

         “Yep,” Keilana replied with a definitive nod. “We’re going to Hogsmeade.”

         “Like on a date?”

          Keilana gave an innocent shrug. “Who knows?”

         “You don’t like to answer questions, do you.”

         She wiggled her eyebrows impishly. “Depends on my mood.”

         Ron appeared halfway through Harry’s laughter.

         “Harry!” Ron said in surprise. “What are you doing out here so early?”

         “You should talk. Breakfast hasn’t even started yet.”

         “Well, next Friday—”

         “—is Hermione’s birthday,” Harry finished for him. “Why Crowe? Why not Ginny?”

         Ron shrugged. “Oh, sure, like I was going to ask her. My whole family teases me about anything to do with Hermione.” He frowned. “Wha— Who said anything about Crowe?”

         Laughing, Keilana winked at Harry and scampered down the hall. Harry’s green eyes flashed obsidian so briefly Ron barely noticed.

         “Of all the—”

         “Morning, boys,” Parvati’s voice said behind them. “You coming too, Harry?”

         “Actually, I was on my way to sneak Luna out of the Ravenclaw dorms. I’m sure you two could use the time together.”

         “We’re not exactly together,” Parvati said slowly as they started down the hall and into the Stair Tower. “I don’t like Ron enough to risk his life.”

         “Oh, really?” Ron said, punching her in the arm. “What about all the times you nearly got me killed this summer?”

         “That’s completely different. You know, if you could duel properly, it wouldn’t be such a problem.”

         “Fighting a dragon is completely different from a wizard’s duel.”

         Harry was trying very hard not to laugh aloud. “Haven’t had any of those recently.”

         “You should get yourself into one,” Ron said half-seriously. “You need all the help you can get.” He and Hermione had both found out about the prophecy after Dumbledore’s death – Harry had no longer been bound to keep it secret then. But he was still hesitant to spread such a foreboding.

         “I guess that’s true,” Harry admitted. “Hey, want me to get Padma while I’m up there?”

         “Sure.”

         Luna apologized and said she couldn’t go, so Harry and Padma chased down Ron and Parvati. Harry already had a gift in mind for Hermione, but Ron had more of a problem with it. They were at Hogsmeade most of the morning, and stayed for lunch. By the time they got back to the school, Ginny was ready to tear Ron’s head off.

         “Where have you been?!”

         Ron regarded her casually. “Why are you so freaked?”

         “Hermione had her first head girl meeting this morning.”

         “What does that have to do with me?”

         “You could have said good luck or something. Where did you go?”

         “We were at Hogsmeade,” Parvati interrupted, cutting between an apprehensive Ron and a vindictive Ginny. “Chill, Gin. Hermione’s the reason we went in the first place.” She hugged Ron and headed upstairs.

         “Ron ...” Ginny growled. “Exactly what have you been up to all morning?”

         “We went to buy Hermione a present,” Harry finally came to Ron’s rescue. “Her birthday’s coming up.”

         Ginny immediately melted. “Oh, Ron!” She hugged him. “Morgana – I’m really sorry. You should have said something.”

         Ron shrugged and patted her on the head. “Don’t worry about it,” he said seriously, scooting back to avoid a vengeful swat. He laughed and settled into one of the chairs, grinning up at Ginny. She sighed and curled up in his lap.

         Harry smiled. While Ginny claimed to like the twins best of all her brothers, she and Ron were also extremely close. Harry’s throat suddenly constricted at the idea of Ginny being in his lap instead of Ron’s, and he quickly went to hide his own gift for Hermione.

***

         Hermione and Draco reached the office within a few minutes of each other that morning. Hermione watched Draco suspiciously as he entered and sat down. He looked expectantly at her.

         “Well?”

         She blinked. “Well what?”

         Draco rested his feet on his desk. “What exactly are we supposed to do?”

         Hermione paused. “The headmistress asked me to go through these entrance essays.” She opened the folder with a wry grin. “Why couldn’t we have had these when we arrived at Hogwarts?”

         “Eleven-year-olds shouldn’t have to worry about what they plan to do by learning magic,” Draco said lazily. “Especially Mudbloods.”

         Hermione stiffened. Maybe this wouldn’t be as easy as she had begun to think. But Draco remained mostly civil throughout the morning and even dutifully looked through a few of the essays with her. McGonagall arrived with lunch a little before noon.

         “Doing well?”

         “Yes, ma’am,” Hermione said promptly.

         Draco didn’t answer. “How long do we have to stay in here?”

         “You may leave after lunch. Bon appetite.”

         Draco muttered something under his breath, and Hermione shot him a startled look. McGonagall seemed not to hear and left them again. Hermione picked up a glass and the pitcher of pumpkin juice.

         “You speak French?”

         “All Malfoys have to learn it,” Draco replied distantly. “We’ve lived in France for several centuries. My father decided to move to this manor when he married Mum.”

         “Must be nice to be so entrenched in one world.”

         Draco looked at her, a hint of surprise slipping through his pale eyes. But he didn’t say anything. Hermione sipped her juice and remained silent throughout the rest of the meal.

***

         “Hermione, wake up,” Tiffany said, shaking her roommate. “Come on, girl! Wake up!”

         The only response was a tired groan. Tiffany looked at Emily with a sly grin.

         “What do you think?”

         “I think she’s really asking for it,” Emily replied impishly. She pulled her wand out and muttered a drenching spell. Hermione was washed from her bed in a torrent of icy water. Emily flicked her wand through a circular motion and the water evaporated.

         Growling, Hermione crawled to her feet. “Damn wizards,” she mumbled, stray droplets landing around her bare feet.

         “My, oh, my,” Tiffany said mockingly. “Did the Muggleborn genius just swear?”

         “I sure as hell did,” Hermione snapped, drying herself. “I stayed up late last night, you guys. Let me sleep in for once.”

         “Not on your life!” Emily retorted, waving her wand again.

         Hermione found herself dressed and standing by the door. “Damn it, Emily!” she shrieked, diving back into bed. “Leave me alone!”

         “What’s she so mad about?” Tiffany asked aloud.

         Emily shrugged. “We were asked to bring her downstairs, and that’s what we’re going to do. Mione, if you don’t get out the door by the time I count to three, I’m going to strip you naked and drag you down there by the hair.”

         Hermione didn’t budge. Tiffany shot her friend a “Would you seriously do that?” look. Emily grinned and winked.

         “One.”

         Tiffany started backing away.

         “Two.”

         She turned and darted down the stairs to where most of the house was waiting in the common room. She didn’t hear Emily say three, but a short blast of light filtered down the stairs. Emily appeared, dragging Hermione by one foot. To Tiffany’s relief, she wasn’t naked. But even as her head bumped each step, she also didn’t come out of her rag doll-like state.

         “Okay,” Ron said slowly. “That’s different. Emily, what did you do to her?”

         Emily propped her up and prodded her with her wand. Hermione came alive with a yelp. Everyone in the common room yelled together, and she sat down from the force of the greeting.

         “Wha—?”

         “Happy birthday, Hermione,” Ron said proudly, barely managing his courtly bow. “On behalf of the House of Gryffindor, you are officially the oldest and the wisest of this pack of scalawags. Please put up with us evermore and guide us through our final year at Hogwarts.”

         “Who wrote that for you?” Hermione said weakly, eyes very shiny despite her lingering stupor.

         Harry laughed. “Give him some credit, Hermione. And happy birthday from the House of Ravenclaw as well.”

         Luna and Padma both hugged Hermione, and Padma presented her a wrapped box measuring about four by ten. “Come on,” she said eagerly, grabbing Hermione by the arm and dragging her up to the girls room.

         “I’m glad you thought of this, Ron,” Ginny said. “Even if we do have class in an hour and a half.”

         When Hermione reappeared, she was wearing an off-shoulder kahki-green top and flared boho skirt. While her manner was awkward, Ron and Harry agreed that she looked like a different person. Harry gave Ron a shove.

         “Bloody h—”

         Glaring right back, Harry insisted, “Go on – tell her she looks nice.”

         Hermione was sitting in the window seat, overwhelmed by the festivities. Ron swallowed hard and walked over to her. She didn’t look up. The makeup applied by the Patil twins showed faint tear tracks from her eyes to her chin.

         “Was this a bad idea?” Ron asked uncertainly.

         Hermione didn’t answer. She just patted the cushion beside her. “Sit down, Ron.” She pulled her knees to her chin and turned her head slightly. “Was it Ginny’s?”

         “No, actually, it was mine,” Ron replied, suddenly noticing how beautiful she looked. Her brown sugar-colored locks gently framed her face, drawing attention to her sensitive doe-like eyes. She had changed a lot during her years at Hogwarts. Ron quickly averted his gaze.

         “Really?” Hermione was saying, surprised. “I didn’t think you would do something so sweet.”

         “Sweet?” Ron said amusedly, looking back at her.

         Hermione smiled at him. “Yes, sweet. Thank you. I was actually a little upset about it. No one said anything, you know? I guess now I know why. How did you get the whole house in on it?”

         “Well, having Harry around came in very handy,” Ron replied in a completely serious tone.

         “Thanks, Ron,” she said with a giggle, leaning against him. “This is the nicest thing anyone’s done for me since I got to Hogwarts.”

         Ron stiffened slightly as her weight eased onto his shoulder, but saw Parvati glaring at him across the room. She touched her arm and nodded violently. Ron stifled a sigh and wrapped an arm around Hermione.

         “Anything for the Gryffindor goddess,” he whispered into her ear.

         Hermione’s face came ablaze like a summer sunset.

Chapter 12: Erm, Happy Halloween?
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         “We’ve already been at school for almost two months,” Harry said aloud, staring at the calendar hanging in their dorms. “It’s amazing how time flies. In fact, it’s downright scary.”

         “Oh, just you wait, babe,” Jackie whispered in his ear, eliciting a yelp of surprise. “It only ever goes faster.”

         Groaning, Harry just hopped down the stairs. He left the common room after quickly checking to see that it was indeed empty. A short walk led him to Wizard Slughorn’s Head of Slytherin office in the dungeons. After two months of careful consideration, and detailed deliberation with Jackie, Harry had finally decided to ask him to make an antidote. According to Jackie, he would probably be willing to help.

         “Hello, Harry,” the short man said. “Haven’t seen you at the Slug Club meetings. What are you doing here?”

         “Sorry, Master Wizard,” Harry replied sheepishly, taking the offered. “I’ve been busy. I’m thinking of taking the CATs instead of waiting to take my NEWTs in the spring.”

         “You could certainly manage them.” Slughorn’s face crinkled as Harry placed Jackie’s crystal bottle on his desk. “What is that?”

         “Something I need some help with,” Harry replied, uncorking it.

         Gasping out several curses from the sheer surprise, Slughorn jerked back as Jackie materialized. She clucked disapprovingly.

         “Aren’t you glad to see me, Horace, my darling?” she asked with an impish sparkle in her eyes. She slid off his desk and threw her arms around the old man, squealing like a schoolgirl. “Oh, Morgana – it’s so good to see you!”

         While aware that Slughorn had been very attached to his mother, Harry was rather shocked to find his aunt on first name basis with the head of Slytherin. He dragged her into the other chair and addressed Slughorn.

         “She’s a genie.”

         “A botched one – yes, I see,” Slughorn said, waving him off. “I suppose you want me to make an antidote? How troublesome the young folk of today. But it shouldn’t be too hard for someone of my skill and experience.”

         “Good,” Harry said with a nod. “So you can fix her.”

         The potions master paused to consider the situation. “I believe it is possible. If you could fetch me a sample of the original, that would be most helpful, but Jacqueline, am I right in assuming you drank this potion around the time you disappeared?” He clicked his tongue against his teeth. “I’ve always told you to be more careful with your potionry.”

         “I’m sorry!” Jackie wailed, startling Harry. He settled back into his chair and bit back a grin. Despite the fact that she was legally thirty-eight (or rather, had been born thirty-eight years ago), Jackie was no more than nineteen in both body and spirit. Slughorn expertly soothed his former student, and Harry remained silent.

         “So if we can’t get a sample, what’s the ETA for an antidote?” he asked finally.

         “Several months,” Slughorn admitted grudgingly. “But if you leave her down here, I would be able to work faster. The only classes I teach at the moment are supplementary potions for the advanced class.”

         “Is that okay with you, Jackie?” Harry said, turning to her. “You’re probably eager to be freed, huh?”

         “Definitely,” Jackie said, perking up. “But you have to come visit me.”

         Harry shrugged and turned to leave, but he tripped over a cauldron and landed amid a waterfall of green. He got up, wiped his eyes, lost his balance, and hit the floor harder than the first time. All this time, Jackie was trying very hard not to laugh.

         “Are you all right, Harry?” she asked in a strained voice as Slughorn moved to help him up.

         “No, I’m not all right! I think I swallowed some. That wasn’t some kind of poison, was it?”

         “Nothing but a little lubrication for a first-time animagus transformation.”

         “I guess it won’t affect me then.”

         “Your father stole some of this when he was in his fifth year,” Slughorn said, nostalgically. “Why, your mother nearly ate him alive when she found out what they’d been up to.”

         Though grateful that the old man loved his mother and Jackie enough to work on an antidote, it made him somewhat nervous to be around yet another person who knew more about him or his parents than he himself did. So Harry escaped quickly.

         Someone giggled behind him. “What happened to you, Harry? Fall in a vat of paint?”

         “Crowe! Don’t do that.” Harry glanced down at his hand. “I’d offer to shake your hand, but you might turn into a snake, so I won’t do it.”

         “Lymn Oil,” she confirmed after curiously sniffing him. When his green face crinkled in confusion, she explained, “It forces a first transformation if you’re an animagus.”

         Harry’s eyebrows twitched. “I see.”

         Giggling, she patted his arm and scampered away. Harry stared at his arm, dismissed the throbbing for his imagination, and went to his dorms to take a shower. Once he had gotten all the potion off, he headed for Hagrid’s home, now three large huts sealed together. Commodore greeted him with a half-bark, but Harry climbed onto a pile of wood to avoid Fang.

         “Hi, ’Arry,” Hagrid greeted. “Nice off you t’ come visit Commodore s’ oft’n.”

         “Well, I did find him,” Harry replied with a shrug. He’d discovered the snowy wolf pup at the edge of the Forbidden Forest right after coming back from Dumbledore’s funeral. McGonagall had reluctantly allowed Hagrid to keep it for him. “He looks much better than he did this spring. Bigger too.”

         Hagrid laughed, a big, booming noise that rattled Harry’s chest. Commodore was indeed bigger. He was almost as big as Harry now, while he had been small enough to carry in two hands at the start. Apparently, he was a wizard hybrid that grew extremely quickly.

         “Where’ve you been, Harry?” Luna inquired, hugging Harry as he walked up the steps to where Luna and Hermione had been talking. “We were starting to think you’d followed your Halloween tradition.”

         “Never,” Harry said, squeezing her around the waist.

         “Well, since we’ve found him,” Luna said to Hermione, “I should go now. See you later.” She hugged them both and headed back into the castle. Harry sank against the wall, inhaling deeply.

         “Are you all right, Harry?” Hermione asked, looking almost as worried as Ginny.

         “I’m fine,” he replied through gritted teeth. The pulse had spread to his shoulders now, and the bones in his forearms were aching. He closed his eyes and concentrated hard. The pain subsided slightly. “Do you know where Ron went?”

         “Yeah, he went to the pitch,” Hermione replied. “Something about a practice match with the Hufflepuffs.”

         “Don’t you have meetings with Malfoy Friday mornings?”

         “Yeah, I’m on my way now. As strange as this sounds coming from me, I’m really glad to have an extra day off this weekend. Although, I’m a bit worried about what might happen today. It is Halloween, after all.”

         “Nothing happened last year,” Harry protested. “Maybe my luck will hold.”

         Hermione’s lip quirked. “Don’t jinx yourself.”

***



         This is ridiculous. He doesn’t show up for one meal and I’m afraid he’s gotten murdered. Ginny fingered her pendant thoughtfully. She was completely incapable of Occlumency, much less Legilimency or Exerency. It had been sweet of Harry to give her something like this, but she was still worried about him.

         “He’ll be here,” Hermione reassured her. “Don’t worry.”

         “Where’s Ron?” Ginny asked.

         Hermione shrugged, preoccupied. “He’ll be here too. You know he wouldn’t miss a meal.”

         Parvati, sitting next to Lavender, suddenly spoke up. “Ron went down to Hagrid’s.”

         “Why does he tell you this kind of stuff, and not me?” Hermione asked. She apparently realized what that sounded like, because she blushed and added, “Or Harry, or even Ginny?”

         “Wizard Rayne partnered us up over the summer. It became kind of automatic.”

         “He teaches Alchemy.”

         “Not during the summer. We were exploring old caves and collecting data and all kinds of cool stuff. Went almost the whole way around the Ring of Fire. Lots of volcanoes have dragons in them, see?”

         “He’s a dragon specialist?” Ginny said, awed. “Wait, Wizard Rayne ... I think Charlie apprenticed with him for a summer before he got his first job too. How old is this guy?”

         At the Ravenclaw table, Luna suddenly stood straight up and sprinted out the main doors, long hair flying in all directions. Ron jumped out of her way at the doors, barely avoiding a collision. Ignoring this, he hurried to the dais and informed McGonagall of something apparently very important. She immediately got up and walked rapidly from the hall. Wizard Rayne had just walked in with Lupin and Cassi, but Rayne got abducted halfway to the dais by Ron, who pulled him toward a different door – in the direction of the Hospital Wing.

         Ginny and Hermione both bolted upright and headed after them. When they got there, Harry was in one of the beds, twitching sporadically. The dark red glow flickering around his limp body made it clear that he had been heavily sedated. Hermione and Ginny both rushed forward. Everyone who had left the Great Hall in such a hurry was gathered around his bed. Hagrid was also there, having apparently carried Harry in.

         “What happened?” Ginny asked, hesitating by his side. Harry’s eyes opened at the sound of her voice, and he reached out a feeble hand. Ginny immediately sat on the edge of the bed and grasped his hand tightly. She looked at Madame Pomfrey in horror. “He’s so cold ...”

         Luna moved to the other side and grasped his hand there. “Harry?” She leaned closed to his ear and began whispering. A change came over Harry’s face. The suppressed convulsions slowed considerably, and Madame Pomfrey eased the sedation. Ginny prickled with jealousy at the pair’s close bond.

         “Heh,” Harry said weakly. “Admit it, moon-girl. You’ve got the Eye.”

         Luna shook her head and, brushing his fringe from his forehead, kissed his scar. “It wasn’t me. Someone warned me that you were—” Her eyes went wide with shock as realization hit. “Sweet Morgana ...!”

         Wizard Rayne had somehow put a complete stop to whatever seizure Harry was having, and Madame Pomfrey was consequently reversing the sedation. To Ginny’s surprise, Harry was strong enough to sit up now. Actually, he appeared to be fully recovered. Ginny suddenly noticed that she was still holding his hand and quickly let go, causing an electric jolt to go up her arm. Harry didn’t seem to notice.

         “The feast!” he suddenly said, flying out of bed. He looked at the girls with a slight frown. “Well, aren’t you coming?”

         Laughing at his heels, his classmates fled the Hospital Wing – and Madame Pomfrey’s yells of outrage.

Chapter 13: The Room of Requirement
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         “Hi, Haaarry.”

         Startled, Harry looked up from his book on genie legend. Ginny was leaning against the door, looking quite dizzy. She took a tentative step, then one more and fell to her knees. Harry got off the lounge and walked over to her. Her shield pendant hit the floor as he touched her shoulder.

         “Are you all right?”

         “I’m fiiine.”

         “No offense, Ginny love,” Harry said, tucking the necklace in his pocket, “but you look and sound drunk.” She whimpered slightly as he easily swept her up and carried her over to the lounge. “Where have you been?”

         “With Greg,” she sniffled, cheek against his shoulder. “I guess I got the last spell wrong.”

         Harry eased her down. “What kind of transfiguration spell gets you drunk?” he wondered aloud, glancing at the wall. Two rows of shelves morphed aside from the floor up and a sink and counter appeared. He got a glass of water for Ginny, who could barely sit up.

         “Guess it was stronger than I thought ...”

         Harry’s eyebrows went up. The Weasley kids were a wild bunch, but that Ginny would think nothing of being drunk ... Best not decide that until she’s sobered up, he thought with a smirk. “You should head back to your dorms, Gin. Ron would kill me if he found us like this.”

         “So bothersome,” Ginny said with a loud sigh. She attached herself to his arm. “Please don’t make me leave. My roommates always go crazy if I’m the least bit out of it.”

         Harry had noticed that she avoided most of the girls at Hogwarts, but had assumed it to be because she was the former girlfriend of nearly all the guys her age.

         Ginny propped herself up and looked at him with her eyes half open. “Harry, do you like Luna?” she asked, completely out of the blue.

         “Yeah,” Harry replied honestly.

         “Why do you like her?”

         Harry pulled a book off one of the many shelves currently housed in the Room of Requirement. “I’m not really sure. She’s not exactly like Ron and Hermione, but she’s not like you either. Why?”

         “So you don’t like her like her,” Ginny persisted as he settled down beside her. “You’re just good friends.”

         “I don’t think I could manage a girlfriend anyway,” Harry commented, cringing slightly as she leaned against him. “It’s too much trouble.”

         “Trouble is your middle name,” was the resonant response. “Besides, you’re Harry Potter – you could manage anything.”

         Harry grew quiet. “There’s one thing I couldn’t manage.”

         “Oh, Harry,” Ginny sighed, honeysuckle breath ruffling his hair. Black Ecstasy? “You’re not thinking about Sirius again, are you?”

         “No, I’m not,” Harry reassured her, admiring her silky red hair and sweet brown eyes. He almost physically recoiled at the idea of hitting on her – while she was drunk, of all the times to have the notion. “I’m mostly over Sirius. I miss him though.”

         A sad smile turned her mouth as she leaned back, pulling him down with her. “I miss him too.”

         “Getting tired now?” he asked softly, stroking her cheek.

         She nodded slightly. “Harry, what happened earlier? With the sdation and all tha-at?”

         “I’m not sure. I think it was Lymn Oil that did it to me, but I don’t understand why it would have affected me.” Harry leaned back. He had dropped by Hagrids’s with Ron before dinner, and the pain had become so unbearable he had passed out. He wasn’t sure what it was that he had seen, but upon regaining his own mind, he had been under sedation in the Hospital Wing. Luna’s lullaby had somehow pulled him from that swirling abyss. “Do you think I could manage becoming an animagus?”

         “Didn’t I just say you could manage anything?”

         “Even you?”

         Ginny didn’t answer for a moment. “Can I sleep with you?”

         “What?!”

         “You don’t come back to the dorms on Fridays. This is where you stay, isn’t it?”

         “Do you trust me that much?” Harry said, not showing his amazement that she monitored his coming and going.

         “I’d trust you even if you tried to kill me.”

         Not bothering to ask if she really meant it, Harry slid off of her and lifted her legs onto the lounge. She rested her cheek on her arm and watched him through mostly closed eyes as he continued reading.

         “Harry?”

         “Yeah?”

         “Do you like anyone?”

         “Didn’t you already ask that?”

         Ginny shifted on her side. “You said that you didn’t like Luna. You didn’t say if there is someone you like.” She grimaced slightly.

         “Are you all right?”

         She rolled onto her back. “I’m starting to feel kind of queasy ...”

         “You really had better get back to your room,” Harry said, starting to rise.

         She grabbed his arm. “Oh, please, Harry – let me stay with you!”

         “Well, if you trust me enough that you wouldn’t care if I made an attempt on your life, I can’t really say no, can I?” Harry said half-seriously, a wicked look coming to his eyes as his fingers closed around the shield pendant she no longer wore. “And you’re asking me, but do you like someone?”

         “I like you.”

         Harry was surprised – he hadn’t realized that the protective aura of the necklace was so powerful. “After all this time?”

         Ginny nodded slightly, already only half conscious.

         “How much?” he asked while he had the chance. “Enough to marry me?”

         “Yeah ...”

         “You don’t care what I put you through? Even if this prophecy about Voldemort means I won’t seriously date anyone, or even allow myself to like anyone, until it’s over one way or the other?”

         “I’m not sure what prophecy you’re talking about, but I’ll wait for you.”

         “You promise?”

         “Cross my heart and hope to die.”

         Overwhelmed, Harry leaned over and kissed her. She smiled up at him, and her eyes slipped the rest of the way shut. Harry climbed onto the lounge beside her and wrapped his arms around her. The lights slowly went out as Harry closed his eyes and allowed himself to push Voldemort from his mind – at least for one night.

***

         Ginny awoke to a splitting headache. She rolled over and fell out of bed, awaking her roommate Samantha Kensington. Ginny groaned aloud as trains rumbled through her skull. Samantha pounced.

         “Where were you last night, Gin?” she asked eagerly, voice bringing Karin Moore and Mary Anne Knox out of their own slumber. Of her four roommates, Ginny liked Terra Small the best, but Terra was slow to wake – especially on the weekend.

         “I was out,” Ginny said, pulling herself up by her bedpost.

         “Out where?” Karin asked eagerly.

         “Probably out with Dean,” Mary commented. “Or Seamus.”

         “I haven’t dated either of them since this summer,” Ginny said, wavering on her feet as she tried to reach the door. She escaped surprisingly quickly, considering how determined her roommates usually were. She stepped into the shower and turned on the water before turning her mind to the night before. She had only a vague memory of it – mostly struggling to master some spells with Greg Henley. For some reason images of Harry danced through her mind.

         “Sleep well?”

         Ginny squealed in horror, wrapping her arms around herself. Harry locked the main door and walked over to her stall. He seemed only amused by the situation he had just placed her in.

         “Harry, what are you doing in here?!”

         His answer was offhanded, his focus more on the necklace he had given her as it dropped from his fist. “Just wondering how you fared after last night.” He smirked at her. “Would you like this back?” he asked slyly as the pendant swung gently from his fingers.

         “Where’d did you get that?”

         “The clasp broke. You dropped it.”

         Ginny’s brow crinkled. “What was I doing anywhere near you?”

         Harry leaned against the stall door. “I was going to ask you how you managed to get from Greg’s to me, but I’m guessing you wouldn’t remember that either. In any case, I dropped by his place and stole some hangover meds for you.”

         “I’m perfectly fine, thank you very much. Would you get out please?”

         “Why would I do something like that?”

         Ginny glared. “Just get out of here, Harry Potter!” she exclaimed, snatching the pendant from his hand.

         His eyebrows went up, and he obediently left the girls’ bathrooms.

***

         “Hey, Hermione,” Ron said. “Have you seen Harry around anywhere? We need to get in some practice before out game.”

         She shrugged. “He hasn’t been practicing with you much, has he?”

         Ron sat down beside her. “It’s not like the seeker needs to work with the team as much as the others, but he does need to get some practice in with us. I’d like to win our last games at Hogwarts.”

         “That would be nice,” Hermione said distantly. Being the kind of student she was, she had already started studying for her NEWTs and was currently buried in a book on magical history.

         “I know you don’t like Quidditch, Mione, but let’s make a deal.”

         Startled, she looked back at him. “What kind of deal?”

         “I’ll be more supportive of you being head girl, and you can at least hold a little more respect for Quidditch, okay?”

         Hermione stared for a moment, then kissed him on the cheek. “Deal.”

         Ron contemplated really kissing her, but changed his mind before it was made and got up. “I’m gonna go for a walk. Good luck with Malfoy.”

         She smiled and Ron left the common room. He headed for the Room of Requirement to find out where Harry was, and was surprised to discover Keilana in a dance hall of some sort, moving to some kind of orchestral music. She didn’t acknowledge him, so he remained leaning against the wall.

         “Are you looking for someone?”

         “You heard me come in?”

         “I’m not deaf, darling,” Keilana laughed. “And you’re not exactly the quietest person in the world.”

         He paused, eyes on her grinding hips. “So sue me.”

         “Up here, babe.” She gestured with her fingers, bringing his gaze back to her face. “It’s impolite to stare at people.” She turned slightly, lean muscles standing out across her bare stomach. “Care to join me?”

         “I might if you change the dance.”

         The music rippled into a sprightly waltz. Keilana looked inquisitively at Ron.

         “How is that?”

         “I’m not too sure about this one, but you can make me do it if you want to.”

         She did. Dancing wasn’t Ron’s strong point, but he was able to follow Keilana fairly easily. Her soft fingers dug into shoulder, sending a shudder down his spine. Even as a charmer, he was still affected by someone like Keilana. She wasn’t a true siren, but she was still extremely powerful.

         “I get on the head girl’s nerves, don’t I, darling?” she said, nuzzling the crook of his neck as the music slowly faded. Ignoring the sudden lack of response throughout his entire body, she wrapped her arms around him. “I’m sorry, but Harry won’t let me talk to him, and Draco is pretty quick to annoy me.”

         Though startled by the familiarity he suddenly realized that they shared, Ron lightly draped his arms around her waist. She silently laid her cheek against his shoulder and said nothing. They remained that way for quite a while, but Keilana eventually pulled away and grabbed her jacket.

         “I’d better go before Draco starts abusing your girlfriend. It was fun playing with you.”

         That’s your definition of playing?

         The music died into a stifling kind of silence as she disappeared. Ron stood there for several moments before remembering why he had wanted to come to the Room of Requirement. He closed his eyes and called up a map of the school grounds.

Chapter 14: A Simple Quartz Sphere - Ha!
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         If only to block the implications of his actions from his mind, Harry headed from the girls’ showers straight to the Ravenclaw dorms (which just went to show how thrown off he was). The common room was empty except for Padma, who was working on her divination homework.

         “You really shouldn’t break in, Harry,” Padma scolded. “Just because you’re dating Luna—”

         “Lucky day, girlfriend – I ain’t datin’ ’er.” Harry snickered as she choked, and added without the overdone Southern accent, “Is she still sleeping?”

         “Yeah, I think so. It is Saturday, after all. Hey, you can’t go up there!”

         “Already have,” Harry said over his shoulder, pushing the door to Luna’s dorm room open. Her roommates were all asleep too, unbothered by Luna’s muffled snoring. Harry tiptoed over and pinched her nose shut. She choked and sat up.

         “Harry!” she yelped.

         “Shhh. Wanna go visit Jackie with me?”

         “Sure. Just give me a minute.”

         Harry went back to where Padma was chewing on her inkpot cork. “Anything interesting in there?”

         “Oh, hush up,” she said, sitting back. “I know you don’t believe in divination.”

         “No,” Harry admitted, “but I’m bored.”

         Padma placed her cocoa-colored fingers on either side of the quartz and peered intently into the murky darkness inside. Harry placed his fingers over hers and closed his eyes. He jerked in surprise, but could not let go of the crystal ball.

         And he was suddenly standing in front of the spell circle. As in the spell circle the black dragon had come out of and attacked him.

         “What the—?”

         Who are you? What kind of creature are you?

         Harry spun around. The thought was not his own. It didn’t come in distinct words either, but he knew what the question was all the same. He looked around fearfully, trying to find the mindspeaker. Its curiosity gave way to apprehension.

         Why have you come?

         “Who’s there?’ Harry demanded.

         What are you doing to me?

         Harry’s knees buckled as overwhelming anguish washed over him.

         No! Leave me alone!

         The anguish turned to stabs of pain, and Harry gripped his abdomen and gasped for breath. The pain grew even more intense, the presence growing panicked and terrified. Harry staggered to his feet and leaned against a crumbling wall. It collapsed and he fell at the feet of a couple Death Eaters. They dragged him to his feet.

         “Wha—?”

         “Blasted sniffling beast,” one of them muttered as Harry attempted to free himself. Steel shackles spread over his body, sprouting from his mouth. By now, the fear and anger and desperation was no longer separable from his own confusion. “Don’t see why the master needs him.”

         Then a soft voice began to sing, soothing his fear. He stopped struggling and lay still. The lullaby was familiar, something he was certain he had heard before. But his mind was numb. He couldn’t remember where.

         But as the voice grew louder and began to permeate his being, Harry suddenly shook off the presence. The spell circle activated, and Harry lost consciousness in an explosion of bright light.

***

         “Come on, Harry. wake up. I know you’re still in there.”

         “What was that you were singing?”

         “It’s a dragon’s lullaby. Ron taught it to me last year. Come on, Harry.”

         Harry opened his eyes to find Padma and Luna gazing anxiously at him. He sat up and began to cough violently. Padma immediately ran for Madame Pomfrey, but Luna calmly locked her housemate’s knees together and brought her down with a disjointed clunk. Luna, after mumbling the first soother that came to mind, tucked her wand back into her pocket and rubbed Harry’s back.

         “Are you okay, Harry?”

         He wiped his mouth on the back of his sleeve. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

         “Luna, let me up!” Padma demanded.

         “What?” Luna said, surprised. “Oh, I’m sorry.” She reversed the spell and Padma walked back over to them. Luna turned her attention back to Harry, who looked confused and scared. “Are you all right, Harry?”

         “What just happened?”

         “I’m not really sure. You just looked into the crystal ball, and went into convulsions,” Padma said nervously. “You must have seen something awful.”

         “I’m not really sure what I saw,” Harry replied slowly, his mind still spinning from the trip. The explosion of light had ended in a stream of images Harry hadn’t been able to keep up with, much less comprehend. A few had stuck, but the rest were gone. “You know what, Luna? Never mind. I’ll be at Hagrid’s.”

         Which wasn’t exactly a lie. He just stopped by Wizard Rayne’s on the way there.

***

         Commodore was no ordinary wolf. He was smart enough to know when the top dog was troubled. He was also used to it. But today Harry’s silent contemplation of the November sky seemed to be more vexed than usual.

         Unaware of Commodore’s silent concern, Harry exhaled deeply and turned his problems over again. After his discussion with Rayne, he had come to the rather difficult admission that he had started to transform last night. He had yet to tell Jackie, but he was honest enough to see draconian traits slowly working themselves into his DNA. Looking into the crystal ball had awoken the memories residing in his system as well. Someone else’s memories.

         The current someone troubling Harry was Raén-Iant, the black dragon Keep Abraxas had somehow managed to summon to Harry and Jackie’s location in July. Raén-Iant was one of the less violent black dragons, but a black dragon all the same. From past experience with humans, his only instinct had been to attack them.

         Between Voldemort and Raén-Iant, Harry might be forced to lock himself up soon. He had fragments of both of them embedded in his mind and spirit. He wasn’t sure which had caused him to give the pendant back to Ginny in such a manner.

         Still, he couldn’t exactly say that he regretted it. And it didn’t help that Ginny was one of the most beautiful girls he’d ever seen.

         Commodore whined, and Harry was alerted to Ron’s approach. Ron plopped down in the grass beside them without saying anything. Harry looked over briefly, then leaned back into the wolf’s ribs.

         “Looking for something?” Ron asked, locking his fingers behind his head.

         “I’ve never really decided what it is.”

         “I don’t blame you. Sometimes I hate you for not having to worry about money like my family does, but then when I think about, you’re the only you have to spend it on.”

         Harry didn’t answer.

         “And then you start getting reckless,” Ron continued, propping himself up on his elbows. “When there’s no one to stay around for, there’s no reason to treasure your life.”

         Harry turned his back to Ron with a muffled grunt. “What do you know?” he muttered into the grass. But somehow Ron’s attempt cheered him up. Harry pulled himself to his feet and dusted off his jeans. “Did you want something?”

         Ron shrugged as he rose beside Harry. “Are you planning to come to any of our Quidditch practices?”

         “Would you let me skip again?”

         “Could I stop you?” Ron inquired with something of a smirk.

         Harry laughed. “Thanks, mate.”

         Ron grinned and headed back for the pitch.

***

         The Great Hall was nearly half empty, both due to students sleeping off the feast and to many of them returning home for the harvest weekend. A few had even acquired permission to return home for the entire holiday.

         Ginny quietly worked on her meal, blushing every time she thought of Harry seeing her naked. Luna eventually gave up on trying to coax the story out of her and left for the library.

         “Hey, Ginny,” Harry said, nearly scaring her out of her wits as he settled on the bench beside her. She grunted and looked away. Harry chuckled nervously, reaching for the roast duck. “Guess you’re mad, huh? You have every right to be, and I’m sorry. Anything I can do to make up for it?”

         “I’d like to know why I have the distinct impression that I spent the night with you.”

         “Well ... you did. I mean, we didn’t do anything, but you stayed in the Room of Requirement with me.”

         Ginny considered whether or not to believe him. Her imagination’s memories lacked the clarity of her experience’s memories (two pasts she was fairly good at differentiating, sadly), so she decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. She handed him the pendant and looked at him expectantly.

         Harry almost laughed. “Turn around.” She obeyed and he gently latched the clasp under her sweet-smelling locks. “I really am sorry, Ginny. I can’t exactly tell you what’s going on yet, but I’ll explain sometime.”

         “You promise?”

         “Cross my heart and hope to die.”

         That sounded familiar, but Ginny couldn’t remember why. So she hugged Harry and continued with lunch.

Chapter 15: Harvest Holiday
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         “Hey, Hermione.”

         Draco looked up as the Weasel pushed open the door and stepped into the head students’ office. Hermione stacked her papers up and placed them neatly in her desk. Ron looked at Draco briefly before turning his attention back to Hermione.

         “Are you done already?” he asked in surprise.

         “Yeah,” Hermione said.

         Ron looked back at Draco. “Where’s Keilana?”

         “She’s impossible to find,” Draco replied with a slight smirk. “Why?”

         “It’s always interesting with her around.” Ron shot him a stern glance. “You be careful with her, Malfoy. She’s not something you can buy with gold.” He escorted Hermione out before Draco could respond.

         “Not so dense, after all, huh?”

         By now, Draco was too used to her sudden appearances to scold her. She perched on his desk and shot him impish grin. He began to gather his own belongings, struggling to not snap at her.

         “Why are you spending so much time with a Gryffindor, much less the Weasel?”

         “Because conspiracy theories got boring.”

         Draco didn’t voice his disgust. Giggling, Keilana tucked her arm through his and they left the office. Draco turned to Keilana, staring in surprise. Words didn’t usually convey without some attempt from one or the other, but desires ...

         “How could you possibly want ice cream in November?”

         Keilana grinned sheepishly. “It was only October yesterday, and I like ice cream. Can’t we get some?”

         Draco smirked. “Would you let me say no?”

         “I probably wouldn’t,” Keilana admitted, shrugging slightly.

         “All right then. Let’s go to Hogsmeade.”

         “Why Hogsmeade?”

         “You can’t apparate out of Hogwarts.”

         Keilana looked surprised. “You can’t?”

         “Have you done it?” Draco asked apprehensively.

         “Yeah. I didn’t have any problem at all.”

         Draco closed his eyes. The crack of an apparating sounded, but he remained where he was. “You must have a different type of teleportal magic from the one they blocked. Where’d you go?”

         “To see your mom. Your dad went on a business trip, and she said she was feeling lonely.”

         “I’m never going to understand you.”

         “Isn’t that why you like me?”

         Draco grunted. “Meet me in Three Broomsticks. We can apparate to Diagon Alley from there.”

***

         “Hey, Hermione.”

         She looked up, startled. “What is it, Ron?”

         “You have six months to study for your NEWTs,” Ron told her seriously, closing her book. He continued on to tuck her books into her bag as he spoke. “Let’s go for a walk.”

         “B—”

         Easily slinging the bag over his shoulder, Ron hauled her up and led her out of the library. Hermione sighed loudly and fell into step beside him. Ron looked expectantly at her.

         “What?” she asked irritably.

         “Come on, girl – it’s Saturday. Take a break from studying. Get some fresh air. Do something fun.”

         “Like beating you half to death?” Hermione muttered.

         Ron laughed. “At least you don’t feel like killing me. Why don’t we go visit Hagrid?”

         “Fine.” But she tucked her arm through his and walked beside him with an air of complete contentment. “So what have you been up to? I haven’t seen you much since you took over the captain’s office from Harry. How’s the team doing?”

         Ron shot her a scandalized look. “Is Hermione Granger actually showing interest in Quidditch?”

         Hermione shrugged. “You picked me up at the office and didn’t start a war with Malfoy. That warrants some interest. Besides, I really would like to know. Last semester with Harry, we won every game except for the one against Slytherin. I was just wondering if you could do better.”

         Ron didn’t answer for a moment. “If Harry couldn’t, I probably can’t either.”

         “But Harry was distracted,” Hermione countered. “And you’re not really doing anything outside of classes except for Quidditch. So you have more heart invested in it than he did.”

         “I also have brothers who’ve done a lot more than I have. Prefects and head boys and Quidditch captains—”

         “You’ve been a prefect and you’re Quidditch captain. Can’t your parents appreciate that?” Hermione released him as they got to Hagrid’s porch. “I wonder if Maggie ever feels like that. Adriana and I are both very academic, and Maggie is much better at working with her hands.”

         Hagrid was not to be found. Ron decided that he had probably gone on his grounds patrol, which Minerva McGonagall had instigated shortly after her admission to the office of headmistress. Hermione squealed at the sight of Commodore and clutched Ron’s arm tightly to herself.

         “That’s not the puppy Harry rescued this spring, is it?”

         “Yeah, that’s Commodore,” Ron replied amusedly. “He doesn’t bite, Hermione. The only person he even touches is Harry.” He chuckled softly, shooting Hermione his disarming half-grin. “Who he attacks with great vigor.”

         Hermione giggled, but remained apprehensive of Commodore. Commodore, on the other hand, was content to lay in the sun and watch them through half-closed eyes.

         “He acts an awful lot like a cat, doesn’t he,” Ron commented as turned back toward the castle. “Or at least like a normal cat, or a normal Kneazle.”

         “Don’t get started on Crookshanks, okay, Ron?” Hermione said, her grip on his arm tightening.

         “I wasn’t going to say anything,” Ron replied, putting his free hand up in surrender. “Hey, have you seen Harry anywhere around? He missed practice – again. Actually, he’s missed every practice except the first one.”

         “That’s Harry for you.”

         Ron laughed. “I guess so.”

         Somehow dinner rolled around, and they headed to the Great Hall. Luna walked over to the Gryffindor table and settled beside Ron. Padma had followed and she sat beside her sister. Ron looked around and suspiciously noted that neither Harry nor Ginny was present.

         “Have either of you seen Harry?” Luna asked, apparently having noticed as well. “He came to our dorms this morning, and he was really upset when he left.”

         “What happened?” Parvati asked, leaning toward the Ravenclaws.

         Padma shrugged slightly. “We’re not really sure. He was looking into my crystal ball, and he had a seizure or something. Luna managed to wake him up, but he couldn’t explain what happened, and it really freaked him out.”

         “Not that he showed it, being Harry Potter,” Luna sighed.

         “What was it that he saw?” Hermione asked. “Did he say anything?”

         “No. He said he didn’t understand it and that he would be at Hagrid’s.”

         “That’s probably when I found him,” Ron said.

         “Ron?” inquired a small brunette, coming to a stop beside them. “Have you seen Ginny?”

         “Not since lunch,” Ron replied. “You know,” he added to his own gaggle, “that was the last time I saw Harry too.”

         Terra Small sucked in her lower lip. “Okay.” She walked back to the rest of Ginny’s roommates. When they heard whatever Terra conveyed, they began to whisper excitedly.

         “I don’t think she told them what you said,” Hermione commented wryly.

         “They never get it right anyway,” Ron replied, snickering. His eyes narrowed slightly. “Do you think Harry and Ginny are together?”

         “Even if they are,” Hermione said firmly, “Harry would never do anything to warrant being killed, okay?”

         Ron snorted derisively.

***

         “Evening, Headmistress,” Luna said cheerfully.

         “These are the times when I wish Albus was still here,” Headmistress McGonagall said in a tired tone, rubbing her forehead. “Good evening, Luna. How was your weekend?”

         “Fine. Harry and Ginny are missing though.”

         “They’re not ‘missing,’ Luna,” McGonagall said calmly. “They’re both right here in this school.”

         “They are together?” Luna said, shocked. “Where did they go?”

         “No, they’re not together. I believe Harry is with Wizard Slughorn, but I don’t know where Ginny is.”

         “So they did get it wrong,” Luna said aloud, immensely relieved.

         “Who, dear?”

         “Ginny’s roommates were saying that Harry and Ginny snuck off together.”

         The headmistress actually laughed. “Bring that book on the stand behind you, would you, Luna? I need to check something.” Luna obediently plopped the large volume on the desk as the older woman added, “Did you need something, sweetheart?”

         “Nope,” Luna said cheerfully. “I just dropped in to say hi. Could I help you with something?”

         “You could do something about the storm. I very nearly had to bodily drag the teams off the pitch when I called off the practice match this afternoon.”

         Luna giggled, but bit her lip as McGonagall frowned at her amusement. “I’m sorry, Headmistress,” she said, snorting her laughter back, “but that really was fun to watch.”

         The headmistress sighed, and Luna excused herself. She went to the Astronomy Tower and marked a square on the stone floor. Then she drew a circle through it and added a directional rune at each isolated corner. She stood in the middle and pointed her wand at the sky. A silver beam connected from her wand to the dark clouds. She closed her eyes and concentrated on the spell, unaware that she was being watched.

Chapter 16: Target for a Bounty-Hunter
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         “Thanks for the ride,” Ginny said as she slipped off Harry’s broomstick onto Gryffindor Tower. “Think anyone saw us though? They’re liable to think we spent all weekend together.”

         “So they’ll think we went on an extended date,” Harry replied with a shrug, obviously muffling an impish chortle. “Don’t worry about it. No one’s awake anyway. Sleep tight.”

         Ginny smiled and crept into her room as Harry melted through the window of his own dorm room. Ginny crawled into bed and fell asleep instantly. Her roommates apparently didn’t notice her in the morning, because Terra was the one who woke her up.

         “You’re back!”        

         “Hey, Terra. What time is it?”

         “Quarter of nine.”

         Ginny shrieked and flew out of bed. Terra watched with a slight smirk as Ginny uncharacteristically went for her wand. She was ready within ten minutes, and rushed to her first class with a bemused Terra in tow. First class was Care of Magical Creatures with Wizard Crane. To Ginny’s surprise, Malfoy’s girlfriend was serving as Crane’s assistant.

         “So where were you?” Terra whispered as she and Ginny tended the Kneazle kittens they had been given to raise. “You were missing most of Saturday and all yesterday, and Harry Potter was too. You two weren’t together, were you?”

         “Yeah, we were. He kidnapped me.”

         “Kidnapped you?” Terra yelped back. She bit her lip at Crane’s stern glance, adding in a whisper, “Seriously?”

         Ginny shrugged and grinned. Keilana ambled over to look at the kittens. Terra immediately took off.

         “Are you keeping them?” Keilana inquired.

         “I might,” Ginny replied testily. But the Slytherin’s tone had not been particularly threatening. “Do you have any pets?”

         “I’m too lazy to keep anything,” Keilana replied, tossing her head slightly. A swath of hair about half an inch wide slipped over her shoulder and fell to the ground. A fine line appeared across her cheek, blood rising quickly. She dived headlong into the grass.

         Ginny spun toward the woods behind the barn Wizard Crane kept all the animals in. An enshrouded form ducked behind a tree. Ginny looked back at Wizard Crane, who was carrying on with his lecture. Ginny was about to alert him when he effortlessly moved the entire class indoors without arousing the suspicions of any of them. Ginny joined them inside but remained next to the door, peeking out.

         Keilana pulled herself from the grass and drew her wand. The black figure fired off another spell, and again Keilana moved just in time for it to make contact with her hair instead of her head. She evaded the nearly invisible spells of her attacker for several minutes, and then very suddenly cast a spell which sent a foggy gray beam shooting toward the figure. It enveloped him, and when it dissipated, the figure was gone too.

         “Are you all right?” Ginny asked automatically when Keilana slipped in.

         “Yes, I’m fine. You were watching?”

         “I saw your hair fall the first time.”

         Keilana smiled, and the shorn hair rippled back to its full length. Ginny could not mask her awe, and Keilana laughed softly. Ginny nodded toward the now closed doors.

         “Who was that?”

         “One of Tom’s goons, most likely.” Keilana frowned slightly, recognition coming to her silver eyes. “You’re the Weasley boy’s sister.”

         “Ron’s sister, yeah.”

         “I called him Ronald when I met him. I see the resemblance.”

         Ginny snickered. “Why is this Tom person after you?”

         “I’m not really sure. He all but erased my soul last year.”

         “Sweet Merlin.”

         “I know. Do you have plans for lunch?”

         Ginny paused. It was probably not in her best interest to disappear over the weekend at the same time as Harry, and then be seen constantly with him immediately afterwards. “No.”

         “I’m having lunch with your brother today. Join us in the Room of Requirement?”

         “What about your boyfriend?”

         “Draco? Don’t worry about him – I’ll keep him in line. You’ll be a welcome change in conversation.”

         “Is Malfoy not interesting to talk to? Having Ron around at the same time must make it awfully volatile.”

         Keilana shrugged. “All we ever talk about is Death Eaters and Quidditch. Gets very boring after a while. And Draco doesn’t have any more emotional depth than your brother.”

         Ginny choked back her laughter, but Keilana saw her amusement. When lunch came, Ginny had decided to go to the Room of Requirement if only to find out what Ron was up to, associating with a Slytherin.

         “Hey, Gin. Kei invited you, huh?”

         “Yeah— Kei?”

         Ron shrugged. “Keilana gets to be a mouthful.”

         “Why not just call her Crowe?”

         “Because she’s really more of a raven.”

         “Huh?”

         Ron laughed. “Just kidding.”

         Ginny started as she finally noticed that Draco was also in the room. He was sitting on one of the bookshelves, leafing through a old tome that appeared to be on the verge of disintegration. Keilana was standing over a mahogany dining table, eyes closed.

         “Hiya, Ginny-ray. Any requests?”

         “Um ... no?”

***



         “That was scary,” Ginny announced with utmost sincerity as she and Ron left the Room of Requirement. “I never knew you and Malfoy could be so civil in the same room.”

         “We did get into a fight once, and Keilana laid us both out,” Ron admitted, ears reddening. “I’d say she’s strong for a girl, but you would beat the life out of me for that, so let’s just say she could easily take the average guy out.”

         “Take out knock out, or take out kill?”

         “Both, I imagine. Just because I hang out with her doesn’t mean I don’t think she’s a Death Eater.”

         “Why do you hang out with her then?”

         “I’m not really sure. Even Malfoy can barely control her. It’s kind of weird, but she gets really quiet around me. Unlike Hermione. So I enjoy being around someone I have a calming affect on.”

         “She wasn’t exactly quiet today.”

         “Quiet mellow, not quiet silent.”

         “Oh,” Ginny said. “Malfoy seems a lot quieter around you too, not just because of Keilana, but like he’s being set at ease.”

         “That can’t be my fault,” Ron laughed. “He’s given all of us a hard time since the first time we set foot on the Hogwarts Express.”

         “That’s true.”

         “Hey, guys,” Luna said. “Where have you been?”

         “We had lunch in the Room of Requirement,” Ron replied before Ginny could mention Keilana. “Ginny’s third period is with Ravenclaw, right? I’ll leave you two here then.”

         He was gone before Luna responded. She put her hands on her hips, turned to look at Ginny, and tutted her disapproval.

         “And to think I once had a crush on him.”

         Ginny nearly choked. Luna pounded her on the back until she stopped laughing, and they joined the rest of their group in Greg’s classroom.

***



         “Are you sure that was a good idea?” Draco said as he and Keilana walked to their own next class.

         “She saw one of the Suppression Squad. I couldn’t just let her walk away.”

         “They were here?” Draco said, looking almost alarmed at the prospect. He exhaled loudly. “Diagon Alley, I can understand, but if they can follow you all the way here ...”

         “Draco, listen to yourself. You’re supposed to be proud of them for managing it.”

         “Why is he still trying to kill you when he already gave you to me?” Draco wondered aloud. “We really have to work out who or what you are.”

         “Don’t make it sound like you’re expecting to find out that I’m some kind of mythical beast.”

         We know that your parents were both wizards, although we don’t know if you’re pureblood or not. You have an unnatural grasp on magic, especially spellcraft involving the mind and thought.

         “Like this.”

         Technically, this isn’t a spell. We have to find out what this is too.

         “Wonder what another girl would think of this.”

         They wouldn’t bind me to another girl. Although I’ve been surprised before.

         “Can you get a sample of my DNA and check it against someone else’s?”

         Like who? Draco asked dryly. He pulled the door open for Keilana and they stepped in to join the rest of the seventh-year Slytherins. Pansy Parkinson glowered at Keilana from where she sat with Millicent Bulstrode, but she pasted on a sickeningly sweet smile at the sight of Draco. He shook his head slightly and settled at the other table. Keilana slid into the seat next to him.

         “Today, we will be worked on a potion which, when used in conjunction with a blood sample, will locate people of the same blood – in other words, family members. This is very helpful in the case of a patient who is unable to tell you his name or who to notify.”

         Remind me why we’re taking pre-med?

         “You’re so stupid. You’re the one who was just saying we have to find out who I am. What better way than to find my family?”

         Do you have one though? Draco asked, relaxing his frown.

         “Good question. Cross your fingers and hope she doesn’t call on me.”

         Draco looked down to hide his amusement. And Madame Pomfrey did call on her. Keilana walked stiffly to the center of the Hospital Wing foyer and took the vial from Madame Pomfrey. She bit her finger without hesitation and let a drop of blood fall into the translucent green potion. It turned a reddish brown and let off a small puff of khaki smoke.

         “Now what?” Keilana asked. All the class saw was her disdain; Draco could almost physically feel her terror.

         “Now you pour the potion onto your cut.”

         The cut healed instantly, and tendrils of khaki smoke stretched out from the gel dripping off her fingers. They hovered for a moment, then shot off in all directions. Keilana slumped to the floor. Madame Pomfrey closed her eyes in concentration as the spell took effect. Her eyes shot wide and she spun to Keilana. But when Keilana pulled herself from the trance, Madame Pomfrey helped her up with her usual brisk tenderness.

         Draco stayed afterward as Madame Pomfrey attempted to abduct Keilana.

         “So did you find her family?” he asked sharply.

         “One person,” Keilana replied, eyes shimmering dangerously.

         “Isn’t that good?” he asked cautiously.

         “Draco,” Keilana said, as close to real tears as he had ever seen her, “it was Harry Potter.”

Chapter 17: Sisters! Who needs 'em?
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         “So, Harry,” Ron said. “Where were you all weekend?”

         “I was in the Room of Requirement,” Harry replied distantly. He was leaning against the window, staring up at the moon. “I could kiss Healer Winthrop.”

         “Wha—?” Dean Thomas said, having just ascended the steps along with Seamus Finnigan. “Who’s Healer Winthrop and why would you kiss her?”

         “It’s full moon.”

         “What’s that got to do with a thirty-something mother of two?” Neville said in shock. Due to his frequent visits to St. Mungo’s to visit his parents, he would know Angie Winthrop, Harry thought to himself. At least in passing. Dean and Seamus were more amused than shocked by Neville’s revelation.

         Harry put up with their ribbing for a moment. “You can’t honestly tell me you don’t like having Lupin back.”

         “She’s the one that developed the new Wolfsbane, right?” Seamus asked.

         She’s also helping Wizard Rayne figure out if there’s something they can do about me if I start transforming.

         “Harry?” Ron said.

         He jumped. “What?”

         “Are you all right?”

         “Fine,” Harry replied firmly.

         “Ron!!!”

         All five of them started in shock. Ginny came flying into the boys’ dorm and crashed into Ron. She bounced off and slid to a stop three feet away, panting heavily. Ron gripped her by the shoulders and shook her.

         “What?”

         Ginny’s chest heaved as she struggled to catch her breath. “Keilana! Someone tried to kill her today, and more came back!”

         “What?!” Ron shouted. “What do you mean, someone tried to kill her?”

         “You’re asking me?”

         Harry had already grabbed his broomstick. “Where is she?”

         “Why do you care about Keilana all of the sudden?” Ginny asked with a frown.

         Harry paused to think about that, then tossed the Firebolt to Ron. “Good call, Gin. I don’t give a damn about Crowe.”

         Ginny shook her head in despair. “She’s out by the lake. Malfoy’s with her, and he has some kind of barrier up. But Luna says he can’t hold it much longer, and I would trust her on that.”

         Ron shot out the window, and Harry frowned at Ginny.

         “What were you and Luna doing anywhere near them?”

         “Luna wanted to ask her about something she thinks she did Friday night. Remember how fast we found you? Luna said someone told her that you needed us, and also gave her a general feeling of where to find you.” Ginny’s brow contorted slightly. “Why do you have a halo?”

         Harry tilted his head back, and noticed again the faint khaki-colored halo hovering around his head. His gaze came back down to rest on the shield pendant hanging at her neck. “Well, duh.”

         “What?”

         “Nothing. Nightmares are one thing, but seeing things is completely different. It was starting to freak me out, because no one else could see it.”

         “Luna probably could.”

         Harry nearly kicked himself. “I should have thought of that.”

         “So who did it?”

         “Who did what?”

         “I’m pretty sure that’s a gene halo,” Ginny replied, hiking herself onto his bed. “It’s supposed to mark your biological family members.”

         Jackie wouldn’t do that, would she? Harry settled beside her. “How do you know that?”

         “I take pre-med. So does Luna. We learned this earlier today.”

         “And here I was wondering when you got smart enough to know what you were talking about.”

         Ginny grinned. “I’m a woman. We take all the advantages we can.”

         Harry rolled his eyes and walked back to the window. Several flashes of different-colored lights came from the direction of the lake, and a low roar reached the residents of the boys’ dorm in Gryffindor Tower. Harry growled in defeat and hopped out the window. Ginny let out a shriek as he fell fifty feet down before sliding into a thick distortion that enveloped him and brought him to a gentle stop in midair. It set him down lightly, and he was immediately sprinting for the lake. Ginny sighed and headed for the stairs.

***

         Luna dived behind a boulder in order to avoid a red spell. She yelped as the boulder was sliced in half. Draco tackled her in a flying leap and they both landed in the water as the rest of the boulder exploded into fine gravel. Luna surfaced, gasping for breath, and was immediately yanked back under by Draco. A greenish glow flowed from his palm and encircled her neck, and Luna let out a screech of pain. Gills formed along the sides of her neck, the final touch to the burning sensation that had worked from her lungs up her throat.

         “Thanks,” she said, then giggled when she discovered that she could speak underwater, even if she did sound strange.

         Draco had sprouted his own gills by now, and he kicked his way deeper. Luna frowned slightly as he went completely still, but understood why when she turned over and looked up as well. The smooth surface above them showed the battle almost clearly. Someone else joined Ron and Keilana full-tilt, and the remaining Death Eaters were steadily pushed back into the forest.

         Luna blinked in surprise, ignoring the stinging for the moment. Wandless magic? she wondered silently as Draco pulled his wand from his jeans.

         He clearly had lots of experience with aquatic dueling, because he dropped the transformation at the same split second he leapt from the water. By the time Luna managed to dispel the gills and crawl ashore, the fighters were standing alone among the unconscious Death Eaters. Luna pulled herself up and looked them over. They all seemed to be uninjured aside from a few cuts and bruises from evading the attackers’ spells. After drying herself, Luna turned her attention to Harry.

         “How’d you get here?”

         “Why are Death Eaters after you?” Harry asked Keilana, shrugging at Luna.

         “Because they want me dead,” Keilana said simply, after looking briefly at Ron. “They’ve been trying to kill me for three years.”

         “Three years?” Ron said in amazement. “The only other person who’s survived Voldemort’s assassination attempts is Harry.”

         “There are others,” Harry said blandly.

         Keilana was looking at him strangely. She closed her eyes, and the halo dissipated. Harry looked up and saw what had happened. He turned his gaze back to her and eyed her suspiciously.

         “You did that?”

         “Whose blood did you use?” Luna asked curiously when Keilana nodded slowly.

         “Mine,” she all but whispered, causing Luna to utter a shriek of disbelief.

         Harry looked between the girls in confusion. “What does that mean?”

         “It means Keilana is biologically related to you,” Luna murmured, more to herself than to Harry. “Your halo was khaki, right? That would make him a half-brother, wouldn’t it?”

         “Impossible!” a stunned Ron declared.

         Draco gave him the look. “Done interrogating her yet?”

         Ron smiled sweetly, and the timid look on Keilana’s face gave way to her usual blank mask. Draco’s glare became positively venomous. Keilana flashed her silver eyes at him, and he remained silent. The two took their leave without saying another word. Harry couldn’t formulate a reaction. He glanced over at Ron, who nodded slightly, and then at Luna, and he knew without asking that neither would mention it to anyone.

         “Are you guys all right?” Ginny asked, finally arriving. “Looks like you finished them up pretty quick.”

         “Ron knew the shield spell, so Malfoy took over some fighting,” Luna replied. “Guess I wasn’t much more than a hindrance.”

         “You did pretty good,” Ron said, putting an arm around her and squeezing affectionately in spite of Ginny’s displeased look. “These were lower-level rookies, but Death Eaters all the same. Not many sixteen-year-olds can say they’ve fought with Death Eaters more than once and come out on top.” He looked down at the much shorter blonde. “Malfoy didn’t abandon you down there, did he?”

         “He did after putting some gills in me. He can do wandless magic.”

         “It isn’t that hard,” Harry protested, obviously taking offense to her tone.

         Ron and Ginny both stared. Luna sighed.

         “People like Harry and Hermione have no empathy for the rest of us who have to work our tails off to master spells,” she observed, ducking a playful swat from Harry. “It’s true!”

         “You guys, it’s curfew soon,” Ginny said. “We better get inside.”

         “Right,” Harry said. “Good call, Gin.”

         “Quit saying that.”

***

         “Ron?”

         He rolled over to find Ginny one her knees next to where he had just been sleeping. He jerked back with a gasp of surprise.

         “Bloody hell, Gin – don’t do that!”

         Ginny gave an impish chortle and slid off his bed. A sound barrier protected them from waking his roommates, although Ron saw at a glance that Harry was not among them.

         “What are you doing in here at ... five-thirty in the morning?”

         “I just wanted to talk to you,” Ginny said innocently, poking at the clothing strewn at the foot of his dresser. “Now that the twins are gone, I can’t sneak in to see them when I have a problem or a question.”

         “I’m not the best person to come to with a question.”

         “No, but you are my brother.”

         Ron propped himself up on his elbows. “You didn’t have agree so fast,” he muttered. He yawned and pulled himself into a proper sitting position. “So what’s wrong?”

         “Kei Crowe. You spend a lot of time with her, right? How is she related to Harry?”

         Ron stiffened. “What do you mean?”

         “Death Eaters swarmed the lake yesterday, and none of them went after Harry until he joined Crowe’s fight. Does that mean Crowe is now Voldemort’s primary focus?”

         “I don’t know why she would be.” Ron reached for his wand and chewed on the tip while cleansing his mouth. Aside from being a sub-dragonling, anyway. I guess that could make her pretty interesting.

         “Sloth,” Ginny murmured.

         “I burned the roof of my mouth at the feast. It hurts to use a toothbrush.”

         “Whatever.”

         “Is that all you wanted, or do you want to watch me get dressed?”

         “Ewww! I’ll meet you out on the pitch for some early practice.”

         “Good idea. I’ll be there in five minutes.”

         Ginny stayed on the ground while she waited. She didn’t notice Luna sneak out one of watchtowers as Ron arrived. Harry shot out the top on his Firebolt, pretending he hadn’t noticed them. As Ron and Ginny rose on their Cleansweeps, Harry turned from his long arc and leaned close to his broomshaft. He shot between them, came to an abrupt stop, and turned to look at them with a look of surprise.

         “Bloody hell, Harry!” Ron exclaimed. “Watch where you’re going!”

         “What are you doing out here?” Ginny inquired, surprised to see him.

         “You didn’t think I wasn’t practicing at all, did you?” Harry laughed. “I come out here a lot in the morning. Helps work off the night chill and that kind of thing. Are you two out here to practice too?”

         “Yeah,” Ron replied. “Ginny couldn’t sleep, and she woke me up.”

         “I did not!” Ginny said in mock outrage. “I wanted to ask you about Crowe. I mean, no offense, Harry, but Voldemort hasn’t seemed all that interested in you recently.”

         “He has been pretty quiet since Sirius died,” Harry admitted. “I didn’t really think anything of it. He could just be gathering more power. That’s not surprising, considering who we’re talking about.”

         “Maybe he switched attention to Crowe,” Ginny observed, repeating her suspicions to Harry. “She was attacked twice in one day. Wouldn’t you say that means he’s pretty interested in her?”

         “So I’ve been put on the back boiler,” Harry said wryly. “Good chance to get stronger, right?”

         “Yeah,” Ron said, grinning. “Maybe even as strong as Keilana.”

         Harry grinned slyly at his best friend. “Prepare to go down, mate.”

Chapter 18: Keeper Abraxas
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         “Hey, Kei,” Ron said cheerfully, dropping his book bag on the floor by the door. “Feeling any better?”

         Keilana smiled tightly. She hated being cooped up, but had been forced to remain in the Room of Requirement for several days now. She had been feeling badly for a couple weeks – ever since the Death Eater attacks. Draco had also seemed a little out of it – lethargic instead of lazy, and uncharacteristically quiet. Of course, that was probably due to Hermione’s influence. The two were getting along very well, for school-long rivals. Ginny had been spending a lot of time with Luna, and Ron hadn’t really had opportunity to talk with anyone except Keilana. And that was only at mealtimes.

         Even Harry— Harry had been avoiding everyone since discovering that Keilana was his half-sister. Since she had black hair like him and Jackie, he had apparently assumed that his father had been unfaithful. After all, if she was a half-sister, her close age range made it impossible to have been Lily.

         Ron paused. He didn’t actually know how old Keilana was, come to think of it. He shook the thought from his head and pulled a small canister from his pocket. “I brought you some life balm, if you think that would help.”

         “I don’t think so. I think they did something that affects us a species.”

         “Maybe the old man resurrected again,” Draco said, having arrived in time to hear the last of Keilana’s comment. “Because human or not, you weren’t a dragonling before that wormhole blew up.”

         “That’s true.”

         “What wormhole?” Ron asked, confused.

         “Back in the summer, we got trapped in a wormhole,” Draco replied, if only to spare Keilana the energy it required for her to speak. “It was a spell circle my grandfather used as an experiment to control black dragons, and it didn’t work out very well.”

         “It exploded – with us inside,” Keilana broke in. “Draco acquired more powers than he already had, and I ... We’re not sure what happened to me. We don’t even know if our link is from that, or from our Betrothal.”

         “Your what?”

         “They performed a Titan’s Betrothal on us,” Draco said, waving Keilana to silence. “We developed a connection beyond Legilimency and Occlumency – even Exerency. No one has managed to explain it yet.”

         Ron leaned back in his chair. “This is unbelievable.”

         “What?” they both asked.

         “For Draco Malfoy to be freely telling me something like that.”

         Draco glared. “Technically, it’s not ‘freely.’”

         Ron laughed sheepishly. “It’s not my fault there’s no one to teach me how to control it. Besides, I don’t even know how it works. There aren’t many of us left anymore.”

         “You mean not many of you born anymore.”

         “Whatever.”

         Keilana grinned from her position on the couch. “You two are so funny.”

         “You think he’s funny,” Draco piped up, “you should see his brothers.”

         “Which ones?” Ron asked.

         “The twins.”

         “Ah, yes,” Ron said with exaggerated fondness. “Gred and Forge, the celebrated troublemakers of Hogwarts, possessing mischief not managed since the era of the infamous Marauders.”

         Falling forward, Keilana choked and began laughing hysterically. Ron and Draco both smiled.

***





         “Malfoy. Crowe.”

         They looked up from Keilana’s Muggle Studies make-up work. Dr. Rowling walked over to them and quietly informed them that they were to report to the headmistress’s office immediately. They closed up their books and headed down the hall.

         “Why would McGonagall want to see us?” Keilana wondered.

         Draco didn’t answer for a moment. “Hey, do you feel that?”

         “Yeah. Guess you were right.”

         They stepped into the office to greet Keeper Abraxas. He nodded curtly to Draco, but gave Keilana a brief hug. Keilana giggled and settled in the seat McGonagall indicated.

         “What are you doing here?” Draco asked his grandfather.

         “I heard you two were delving deep into the art of Exerency.”

         “Oh, it goes much deeper than that, sir,” Keilana piped up. “But how did you hear about it?”

         “Through the survivors of the idiots he sent to annihilate you this time,” Keeper Abraxas said, exasperated. “They reported that you showed an unnatural partnering in the attack. However, I see that you suffered some interesting affects from the wormhole as well.”

         “Yes, sir,” Keilana said. “Some kind of DNA infusion.”

         “Would you like to tell me why she’s answering all my questions instead of you?” Abraxas asked with a shrewd look at Draco.

         “Because she actually likes you, maybe?”

         Abraxas hummed softly. “Does anyone know about this?”

         “No, sir.”

         “Then the spell was intended for you alone,” Abraxas murmured, almost to himself.

         “What spell?” Keilana asked.

         “It was intended to weaken dragons. I suppose trying it on Draco would be a good experiment, should it not work properly, since Draco is currently under suspicion of treachery. Have either of you been feeling strangely at all?”

         “Draco’s been really tired, and I’ve been sick.”

         “This is ridiculous,” Draco commented suddenly, drawing an amused glance from McGonagall.

         “What?” Keilana and Abraxas asked together.

         “Oh, sure, like one isn’t bad enough,” Draco retorted, rolling his pale eyes.

         “At least your grandfather knows what he’s doing,” Keilana shot back.

         “Exactly, and he hones right in.”

         Keilana paused. “That’s true.”

         “What are you talking about?” Abraxas asked.

         “We’re talking about your draconian charm,” Keilana replied sweetly. “See, there’s one here at the school, and he doesn’t know how to use it properly – or even control it very well. We were just saying the other day that he couldn’t get someone to teach him either, because there aren’t many around.”

         “Introduce me to this young man. I should like to find out how strong the next generation of charmers is.”

         “Yes, sir, but could it wait until after we’re done with all our classes for the day? He’s in Gryffindor.”

         Abraxas bristled. “Gryffindor!”

         Keilana bit back a smile. “Yes, sir. Gryffindor.”

***





         “Hey, Harry,” Ginny said with a pinched grin.

         He settled between her and Hermione without answering. Ron glared at him across the table, and he croaked, “Hi.”

         “Whoa – you sound awful,” Hermione observed, half horrified and half worried. “Are you all right?”

         “I’m fine,” Harry said quietly.

         “You’ve pretty quiet since the attack,” Ginny said. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

         “I’m fine,” Harry repeated emphatically.

         Luna put her arms around him from behind and whispered something in his ear. He nodded tightly and she continued on to her own table. Ron frowned at him, but it was Ginny who asked what she had said.

         “She asked me to meet up with her later.”

         “You know, if you hung out any more than you do, you’d be literally inseparable,” Dean Thomas commented.

         “Very funny.”

         “Why did you start hanging out with her anyway?” Ginny asked, obviously a bit jealous. “You barely knew her until what, your fourth year?”

         Harry shrugged. “Empathy is a funny thing.”

         Further badgering was cut off by Keilana sliding to a stop behind Ron. She leaned over his shoulder and whispered seductively into his ear. Ron nodded and turned to answer her, but she had already skipped back to the Slytherin table.

         “I’m guessing she does that a lot,” Hermione observed, noting the resigned look on Ron’s face.

         “Yeah – but you wouldn’t get away with it, so don’t even try.”

         “Wouldn’t dream of it,” Hermione said primly.

***





         “Hello?” Ron said nervously, sticking his head through the Door. The Room of Requirement had taken on the form of a training hall with several ornate circles in the mosaic tile on the floor. He took a tentative step inside, all too aware of the innumerable weapons decorating the walls. But the hall itself appeared to be totally empty. “Hello?”

         “Hi, Ron,” Keilana said, alerting him to her sudden appearance. He very nearly bolted out the door, but she grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him toward the center of the hall. “Oh, no, you don’t. You need some training, and we have a visitor willing to teach you.”

         “Who said I was willing to teach a Gryffindor?’

         Ron turned wide eyes to the speaker. With a long silver beard and straggly hair sticking out from beneath a plain green hat, he looked to be quite old, but still energetic and bright-eyed. He was also entirely suspicious of Ron.

         “Hello,” he said gruffly.

         “Sir,” Ron acknowledged him. He turned back to Keilana. “What?”

         “This is my grandfather, Keeper Abraxas,” Draco said, rippling into appearance in the middle of the room. He smirked at the surprise on Ron’s face. “And he could see us fine.”

         “So what you’re saying is―” Ron turned to Keeper Abraxas with wide eyes. “―you’re a charmer too?”

         “Indeed. The lovely Lady Keilana requested that I teach you the art, but it seems you haven’t much talent for it.”

         “Draco just happens to be very powerful,” Ron answered mischievously. “And Kei’s even worse.”

         “Would that mean I’m better or not as good?” Keilana asked, throwing her arms around his neck and wrapping her long legs around his waist.

         “I mean you appear out of thin air habitually. At least Draco only does it in here.”

         “You’re a Gryffindor, yet you are at ease with my grandson,” Keeper Abraxas said as Ron swung around, pretending that he was attempting to free himself from Keilana.

         “Yes, sir. We have a mutual interest.”

         Abraxas looked bemusedly at Keilana, who was shrieking laughter like a young child. “A very beautiful interest indeed,” he agreed with a tender smile.

         Keilana slid down Ron’s lanky form and hugged his leg like a six-year-old. She looked up with adoration, silver eyes shining like stars.

         “Seems she likes you quite sincerely, else she would be much slower to succumb to your worthless ability.”

         Ron didn’t retort, only glared at Keeper Abraxas. Unlike Draco and Keilana, Ron’s fellow dragon-charmer only responded by steadily meeting his gaze. Ron had at least figured out how to make them back off, but Abraxas was totally immune to whatever skill Ron had taught himself.

         “Maybe I could learn something from you.”

         “Look at it this way, Ronnie,” Keilana piped up. “At the very least, you would learn to get along with someone holding a great determination to think of you as an absolute idiot.”

         “Very funny.”

Chapter 19: The Palantir Glass
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Anyone who doesn't know where Palantir comes from should swear off fanfiction and start reading the real authors.






         “It’s three-quarters counterclockwise, down flick, and draw up,” Harry instructed with a muffled voice. He was lounging on a long sofa in the Room of Requirement, watching Luna struggle to master a particularly difficult Elemental spell. His chin rested on his palm, and his jaw barely moved as he spoke.

         “You’re starting to worry me,” Luna commented. “Just because Keilana is your sister doesn’t mean—” She bit her lip and sighed loudly. “Harry, look. Don’t worry about it. You can’t change whatever happened.”

         “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know anyone was in here.”

         Harry immediately stiffened.

         “Hey, Keilana,” Luna greeted cheerfully. “You don’t mind me calling you that, do you?”

         “No,” Keilana said, smiling shyly. “Hi, Harry.”

         “Hi,” Harry said curtly. “Anything we can do for you?”

         “Yes, you can begin treating her like a human being.”

         “Even though she isn’t.”

         “Oh, shut up, chameleon.”

         Ron and Draco had walked in behind Keilana, who looked rather sheepish at their arrival. Luna settled on the sofa next to Harry and waved some more sofas into existence.

         “Chameleon?!” Draco was exclaiming indignantly. “What do you mean chameleon?!”

         “Nothing, just that I could step on you and never notice.”

         “What?!”

         “This is all of us, isn’t it,” Luna suddenly spoke up. “The ones who know about the gene halo?” Silence immediately enveloped the room. Luna gestured slightly with her wand. “Anyone wanna try and find out why it showed up over Harry? You don’t know, do you, Keilana?”

         “No,” Keilana replied sadly. “Tom did a soul sweep on me. I can’t remember much of anything from before I met Draco.”

         “Would you be open to using a Legilimency-type spell to find out? Between the five of us, we should be able to figure something out.”

         “What are you planning, Luna?” Harry asked, now completely awake and alert despite the pain starting to tingle in his bones. “You can’t be wanting to do five-way Exerency.”

         “I’m not that crazy. It’s called the Palantir Glass.”

         “I’ve heard of that,” Keilana piped up. “That’s where you fill in each other’s blanks, isn’t it?”

         “Yeah,” Luna replied. “You can never completely remove a memory, and between Draco and Harry, we should find something. Would you like for us to try?”

         Keilana inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly before answering. “Yes. There aren’t many things worse than not knowing who you are.”

         Luna crossed her legs Indian-style. “All right then.” Since no one was averse to helping Keilana find out where she came from, Luna explained the spell and taught them the words. “Ready? Okay, on three.”

         The light left the room with a whoosh. They found themselves standing in a circle on a black plane, surrounding by darkness, and yet clearly visible to each other. Green runes appeared on the floor as concentric circles shot around them. Two were within the ring the five teenagers formed; three beyond them.

         “Wow,” Ron said. “I wasn’t expecting something like this.”

         “How does it work?” Harry asked. As if in response, the area within the innermost circle glimmered green the whole way across the circle and a silver mist began to issue from it. “Okay, that was unexpected.”

         Luna chortled. “Hello, Palantir.”

         “Hello, young wizardess,” the mist answered. “Have you come seeking knowledge of each other?”

         “Yes, we have.”

         “Are you all in agreement?”

         “He’ll want to know if you’re in the spell willingly,” Luna had informed her companions beforehand. “Tell him your name and answer.” Now, she answered first. “Luna Lovegood. Yes, I am.”

         “Ron Weasley, fully agreed.”

         “Draco Malfoy, yes.”

         “Harry Potter, agreed.”

         “Keilana Crowe, willing.”

         “Welcome to my looking glass,” Palantir said. “What shall I divine?”

         “We would like to know how Keilana and Harry are related,” Luna prompted a bit tersely. Supported by Harry, she was carrying the majority of the spell’s stability. If she lost control, Palantir would be gone too.

         “Miss Keilana is Sir Harry’s half-sister, his junior by approximately two years.” That at least could be confirmed by their mere presence, but now the mist emitted an aura of confusion. “Your body tells a strange tale, Miss Keilana,” it marveled with all the awe of a human being. “Born of woman you were, and yet ... not the child of your mother.”

         Keilana frowned. “Not the child of my mother? Doreen?”

         “Doreen Perry, a Muggle nanny.”

         “Yes, she was a nanny,” Keilana remembered slowly. “She was my nanny. She was supposed to keep me alive. Between ...” She gave a shriek and dropped to her knees, clutching her skull. Draco and Ron both started toward her, but Luna yelled at them not to move. Keilana forced herself to breathe slowly, and eventually was able to get back to her feet by herself. “What was that?”

         “Your Master Tom wanted to breed a new kind of fighter. Children adapted to change so much more easily than his Death Eaters.”

         Keilana whimpered softly. “He got scared of what he had made.”

         “Yes.”

         “But who am I? Where did I come from?”

         Palantir’s mist concentrated into a human form. The five were transfixed as Lily Evans Potter appeared in the center of the circles. She looked at Harry and smiled, but to Keilana, though kind, she showed no personal recognition. The figure reshaped into James Potter. Like Lily, he smiled at Harry, but he didn’t recognize Keilana at all. James’s form rippled into a tall blonde woman with eyes like a summer storm. Keilana burst into tears at the sight of Doreen, the only mother she had ever known.

         “Lily is your mother, yes,” Palantir said, the forms dissipating into its silver mist, “but she didn’t give birth to you. And Doreen gave birth to you, yes again, but she was not your mother.”

         “How is that possible?” Harry asked.

         “What about my father?” Keilana broke in. “Who is my father?”

         “My apologies, Miss Keilana, but none of you know the answer to this, and I cannot divine it.”

         When they said nothing, Palantir decided to interject a comment of its own. “A siren betrothed to a dragon is a deadly match indeed,” it observed. “Their safety remains in the hands of you, Sir Ron.”

         “Me?” Ron yelped.

         “Miss Keilana is another matter altogether, but your skill will keep the dragons from destroying themselves – both Sir Draco and Sir Harry.”

         The only one who didn’t look at Harry in shock was Luna. (She already knew about Harry's encounter with the dragon.) She thanked Palantir and began to release the spell as Harry grinned sheepishly at the others.

         “Remember Halloween?”

         “You had some kind of attack and had to go to the Hospital Wing,” Ron said as they were pulled apart and began to be moved out of their standing positions.

         “I slipped in Lymn Oil and started transforming.”

         “You’re an animagus?” Keilana said in surprise.

         “No, I’m a weyr.”

         Keilana’s ice-colored eyes widened even further. “What kind?”

         Harry looked over at Draco. “I’m a dragon.”

         The blackness had faded, and they found themselves broken from the circle. The Room of Requirement was now something of a kitchen, which Harry knew to be because Luna adamantly believed that the kitchen was the real family room. And for the time being he agreed, because he knew from his limited experience that the moments he’d felt closest to having a real family had happened in a kitchen.

         “That was freaky,” Ron commented, now sitting on the raised counter by the sink. He didn’t seem that surprised about Harry being a weyr. He had seen enough of dragons over the summer to know the dragon instinct when he saw it.

         “This has been one strange year,” Harry observed from where he and Keilana were rather awkwardly seated next to each other at the open bar. “It was almost a year ago that I found Jackie, and now I have a sister too, by some stretch of the imagination.”

         “Who’s Jackie?” Ron asked.

         “Introduce her, Harry,” Luna said. “Like you said, it’s been almost a year. It’s about time your best friend meets her.”

         “What about Hermione?” Harry asked cautiously. “And Ginny?”

         “They don’t need to know yet.”

         “If you say so. Any ideas on how to get her away from Good Ole Horace?”

         “She’s with Slughorn?” Draco asked skeptically. “Who is she?”

         “Jackie Potter, Harry’s aunt,” Luna replied since Harry was already halfway gone. “She got trapped in a genie bottle, and Wizard Slughorn is attempting to find a way to free her.”

         “Be right back, hopefully,” Harry said, and then he closed the door. He walked slowly, if only to give himself some time to think about everything they had just learned. Well, let’s see. I have a half-sister in the same year as me, even though she’s two years younger. She was created by Voldemort from my mum’s DNA. She was born to a Muggle who raised her and took care of her between heinous experiments that Voldemort was performing in order to create stronger Death Eaters.

         [Why would that shock you?]

         Harry jumped. [That depends on how much you just heard. I’m talking about Keilana. She’s my half-sister – we have the same mum genetically.]

         Jackie’s reply nearly blasted Harry’s skull open. [WHAT?!]

         Holy hell, Jackie! That hurt!

         [Sorry. Lily had an affair with the Dark Lord?]

         “Not unless she was still alive a year after he killed her. Besides, Keilana’s a tube baby,” Harry answered aloud, since Jackie had now appeared not ten feet away from him. “He used a Muggle woman for the tube though, so I guess― How’d you get out here?”

         Jackie smiled tearfully, and Harry could not keep the grin off his face. He scampered the last several paces to her and swung her right off the floor. Jackie wrapped her own arms tightly around his neck and buried her face in his shoulder. Her cry of elation was little more than a whisper.

         “I’m free!”

Chapter 20: New Dress Robes
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         The morning found Harry and Jackie on the lakeshore. Harry had fallen asleep sometime before dawn, using his backpack for a pillow. He was curled into a tight ball, and his shirt had come untucked. The cold draft up his back was what awoke him. He rolled over sleepily and rubbed his eyes. He felt about for his glasses briefly before remembering that he didn’t wear them anymore.

         “Good morning, Harry!” Jackie cried out. She was standing on top of one of the boulders, arms extended to the breeze. Her skin was blue from the morning cold, but the ecstasy on her face explained her coat being draped over him. Harry admired the swirl of the breeze in her raven hair from where he was sprawled on the sand beside the rock.

         “Morning, Jackie. Have you slept yet?”

         “No. Wonderful, isn’t it?” Jackie said eagerly, hopping down beside him and peering inquisitively at him. “Absolutely wonderful, Harry James! Do you know what it’s like being wrapped in cowhide and mummified for twenty years?”

         Harry rolled onto his back, resting his head on his backpack. “I don’t want to imagine.” He sat up and stared east. “Did I miss the sunrise?”

         “Yes,” Jackie said. “It was beautiful.”

         Harry couldn’t help but laugh as he got up and dusted the sand off his clothes. “You’re glad to be free, huh?”

         “Oh, Morgana, yes!”

         “Shall we have Poppy check on you?”

         “No!” Jackie shrieked. “Not on your life!”

         Harry grabbed her arm. The solidity of her body distracted him only for a moment. “You’re corporeal now, Jackie. The least you can do for me is get a check-up. I don’t want to lose you.”

         However more dangerous being corporeal made Jackie, she could not argue with that. She picked up her coat and pulled a hood up. Harry’s eyes widened as the cowl dropped over her eyes, hiding all but her mouth.

         “I’ll have to teach you wandless sleight sometime,” Jackie remarked, laughter in her voice. “Shall we go?”

         Harry straightened his clothes and grabbed his backpack. They walked back into the castle and up the stairs, and to the Hospital Wing. Madame Pomfrey was awake already, amazingly, and sat the admittance desk, rifling through some records.

         “We give you a lot of extra writing to do,” Harry said sheepishly, “don’t we, Aunt Poppy?”

         “I’ve resigned myself to the fate, Master Harry,” Madame Pomfrey said with something of a laugh. She looked at Jackie’s robed figure in surprise. “Who is this?”

         Harry reached over and yanked the hood back. He hid his surprise when it disintegrated. Anyway, Madame Pomfrey was voicing her own surprise at seeing Jackie.

         “Miss Jacqueline!”

         “Hi, Aunt Poppy,” Jackie said rather shamefacedly.

         “You call her that too?” Harry said in surprise.

         “Are you kidding? James was the one who named her that. ‘Madame Pomfrey’ got to be such a mouthful after the first couple months here.”

         “I’m sure,” Harry snorted.

         “What are you doing here, Jacqueline?” Madame Pomfrey said, a hand over her heart. “How are you alive?”

         Jackie began to explain, but her face suddenly lost its bluish hue and became quite pale. She covered her mouth, shoulders trembling. The first cough burst forth quite suddenly, followed by a cacophony of strangled noises. Madame Pomfrey ran for a throat-soother, which Jackie managed to drink, but the twitching didn’t cease. Harry rubbed his aunt’s back, looking fearfully at the head nurse.

         “Is she all right?”

         Madame Pomfrey helped Jackie into bed and placed a sedative spell on her. The seizure was calmed, but Jackie no longer knew the difference. “I suppose I should be surprised by nothing after finding that she’s alive,” Pomfrey said wryly. “Where has Jacqueline been all this time?”

         Harry held up the bottle, which he had retrieved from Slughorn, for posterity’s sake. “She drank a corrupted genie potion.”

         Madame Pomfrey swore aloud – she actually swore – and she began bustling about in her usual way. Harry watched in silence as she scurried through the medicine closet and mixed several potions. Finally, he voiced his worry.

         “What’s happening?”

         “That’s what I’m trying to figure out. Never once have I heard of a genie surviving after being restored to a wizard.”

         Harry curled up in one of the waiting chairs and watched silently. At last, Madame Pomfrey was able to remove the sedative. But Jackie remained quite still. From the rise and fall of her chest, Harry was relieved to deduct that she was sleeping.

         “Why don’t you go get some brunch, Master Harry?” Madame Pomfrey recommended. “I shan’t be letting her leave for a while, even if she does feel better.”

         Harry sighed. “Yes, mum.”

         Elsewhere, Hermione had just finished her Student Head meeting with McGonagall and Draco, and Ron was arriving at their office to pick her up. She shrugged into a cropped pink jacket as Ron easily picked up her overfilled book-bag.

         “Shall we go to lunch now?” he asked.

         “I suppose,” Hermione said. “I am hungry. I overslept and didn’t get to have breakfast this morning.”

         “And the headmistress was meeting with you today, so you couldn’t be even a little late.”

         Hermione faked a frown. “Really, Ronald.”

         “I wasn’t joking,” Ron protested, offended.

         That only served to cause Hermione to giggle outright. When they got to the Great Hall, only a few people were even there. One of them was an absolutely defeated Harry, slumped over some bacon and eggs.

         “Are you all right, Harry?” Hermione asked, sitting across from him.

         “Jackie’s in the Hospital Ward,” Harry muttered so quietly that only Ron, who had settled next to him, could hear the words.

         “Bloody hell,” Ron muttered quietly. Like the others who had done the Palantir Glass, he had met Jackie last night. He had been surprisingly quick to note Harry’s attachment to the “older” wizardess.

         Hermione heard neither of them. “Are you all right?” she repeated.

         “Yes, I’m fine,” Harry said. A very convincing excitement slid over his face. “Are you two doing anything this afternoon?”

         “Hadn’t planned on it,” Hermione said with a furtive glance at Ron.

         “Could you go to Hogsmeade with me?” Harry asked. “I want to go Christmas shopping.”

         “Can I come?”

         They turned toward Ginny, who was just walked up, hugging a stack of library books. Hermione and Ron both looked at Harry, who shrugged slightly and nodded. Even Ron noticed that the cheerful look was a little less fake.

***




         “How did this happen?” Harry muttered quietly.

         “Most double dates have moments like this at some point, I think,” Ginny observed as they watched Ron and Hermione moving off through the crowd and eventually vanishing.

         “Double dates?” Harry yelped, spinning on her. “Who says we’re on a date?”

         “I’m kidding,” Ginny laughed. Such a pretty laugh ... “So who should we find something for first?”

         Harry wiggled his eyebrows mischievously. “Let’s start with someone easy – Ron.”

         “Ron’s easy?”

         “Well, he won’t care if I put much thought into it or not,” Harry explained with a knowing wink. He already had plans for gifts care of Gringotts, but he also wanted to get everyone a present he would take credit for. He looked over at Ginny. “Would you object to me hugging you?”

         “What?” Ginny said, a blank look crossing her face. “Uh, no, I-I guess not.”

         “Come on.”

         Harry led Ginny to a hidden crevice and wrapped his arms around her. He closed his eyes and murmured a simple transportation spell. They arrived before the brick wall entrance to Diagon Alley. Harry reached up and tapped in the code as Ginny regained her footing.

         “What was that?!” she yelped as the archway appeared.

         “Something I learned last semester. Works much better than a portkey, don’t you think?”

         “Definitely,” Ginny agreed. “But it surprised me just as much as my first portkey trip did. I know you’re so powerful you don’t think anything of this kind of thing, Harry, but could you please give me some warning next time?”

         “I like you scared.”

         Ginny pouted prettily. “You’re mean.”

         Harry laughed. “Come on.”

         They stepped out into the street and began walking. Harry was fairly sure Ron’s gift would be found in Quality Quidditch, but something else caught his eye as they walked. Not a gift for Ron, but for Ginny.

         “Are you going to the Yule Ball this year?”

         “Yes, if someone asks me,” Ginny replied, looking away.

         Harry suddenly realized the thought he had just inserted into her mind. He bit his lip hard. Well, how bad could it possibly be? He grasped her gently by the chin and turned her face toward his. “Would you go with me?”

         Ginny’s innocent brown eyes grew teary. Instead of answering, she bounced up on her tip toes and planted a butterfly kiss on his lips. The contact, though brief, sent an electric jolt down his spine. Harry’s eyes shot wide and he stared down at her mutely.

         “Well,” he said finally. “I guess that means yes.”

         Ginny laughed and tucked her arm through his. She moved toward Quality Quidditch, and he moved toward Madame Malkin’s. Laughing again, Ginny followed his lead and they headed into the dress shop. She was puzzled by his choice.

         “Why would you buy Ron dress robes?”

         “They’re not for Ron,” Harry replied gently. “They’re for you.”

         “Wha— Harry you can’t do that!”

         “Are you daring to tell the great Harry Potter what he can and cannot do?” Harry asked in his best impersonation of Draco Malfoy. He put a finger to her lips – oh, what tender lips! – when she continued to protest. “Come on, Gin,” he cajoled, quickly moving his finger and leaning over to look at a row of ribbons. “Give me someone besides myself to spoil for once. Please?”

         Ginny bit her lip hard, but the soulful look Harry was projecting up at her overpowered her stubborn streak. She sighed loudly and tucked her hands in her pockets.

         “All right, fine. Do what you will.”

         Harry straightened, a genuine grin on his face for once. “Awesome. Madame Malkin, you in here?”

***




         “Where do you suppose Harry and Ginny got off to?” Ron suddenly said.

         “They’re probably at Madame Rosmerta’s,” Hermione said distantly, shivering as they stepped into the newest store in Hogsmeade. A rather large this and that store called Crowe’s Curios. “Sweet Morgana – I should have changed before we left.”

         Ron looked over at her, taking in the wild hair and soft lips, the flowy slate-colored dress and cropped jacket, and most of all the eyes. He liked Ginny’s eyes too, but Hermione’s rivaled them any day.

         Hermione noticed him staring. “What?” she asked with a slight blush.

         “Nothing.” Ron focused on a box of charmed socks. Guess she wanted to look pretty for her meeting. She never wears makeup during the week.

         “Is something wrong?”

         “Not wrong, exactly.” Ron looked back at her and touched her cheek tenderly. “I was just thinking how beautiful you are.”

         Hermione’s face went completely red, and she jerked away. Ron kept his mouth firmly shut for the next several aisles.

***




         “Wow.”

         Ginny was blushing violently, but Harry had insisted she oblige to Madame Malkin’s taste. Even the seamstress and her assistants were in awe of Ginny as she stood on the dressing stool. The long white dress had a wide, off-shoulder necklace lined with slightly darker blue lace that made the white fabric look like an ice blue. The smooth, fitted bodice bore embroidery in both blues, and the long train swept gracefully around her satin slippers. The short angel sleeves were slit open on the outside, showing up Ginny’s wiry arms, and a long blue sash was tied low on her waist.

         “Godric, woman – you look gorgeous,” Harry exclaimed before he really had time to think about how she would take it. “I think I would I buy that for you even if you weren’t going to the Yule Ball with me.”

         “The season is getting to you awfully early this year, Harry,” one of the assistants chortled.

         “More gold for you, right?” Harry shot back with a sparkle in his eye, eliciting laughter from all of them. He turned back to Madame Malkin. “Aunt Faye, how long will it take you to make the dress?”

         “A few weeks – I shan’t dare shoddy work on this one,” Madame Malkin said, fighting a smile. “I’ll send you word when the dress is finished. Ginny Weasley, is it?”

         “Yes, mum,” Ginny said, nodding. “But could I have a scarf or something?”

         “Hmm,” Madame Malkin said thoughtfully, frowning at Ginny’s exposed shoulders. “No. But if you have a cameo or some such pendant, it would take a little focus off your breast. Is that the problem?”

         “Yes, mum. Harry, give her the shield pendant. It’s in with my wand.”

         Madame Malkin magicked the pendant to Ginny to gauge the contrast. The sapphire and silver pendant glinted proudly against Ginny’s fair skin.

         “Yeah, that definitely takes some focus,” Harry affirmed, and Madame Malkin pulled the necklace back to herself. She took the pedant off the chain and slipped it onto some white silk ribbon instead. She then affixed a clasp of some kind to the ends of the ribbon and offered the restrung necklace back to Harry.

         Ginny changed back into her own clothes while Harry counted out the estimated cost to Madame Malkin. They stepped outside and stood there for a moment, enjoying the sunlight and autumn air.

         “Harry, you really oughtn’t be spending so much on me,” Ginny said guiltily, though pleasure was also evident on her face. Her tangle of emotions rather amused Harry.

         “Is there someone else you’d like me to spend it on then?” he teased her. When she didn’t answer, he lifted the ribbon over her ginger head and kissed the tip of her nose. He laughed at her blush and moved to her side. “Shall we?”

         Ginny looked down at his offered hand, and then back up at him. She smiled, and their fingers intertwined as they started down Diagon Alley.

Chapter 21: Former Enemies
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         “I’ve never met a guy who enjoyed shopping as much as you,” Ginny observed, amused, swinging a paper bag from Flourish and Blott’s. “I suppose you’re not used to being able to buy presents for people. You didn’t get access to any of your money until you started going to Hogwarts, did you?”

         Harry shrugged. “That’s one way of looking at it.”

         “Is there another way?”

         “Not one I would care to share with you,” Harry replied with a grin. She pretended to be outraged, and he deftly swung one of his own bags around to smack her lightly on the behind. Her face flushed.

         “Harry Potter!”

         “Ginny Weasley!”

         She stood glaring at him for a moment, then burst in laughter. “I hate you, Harry. You do know that?”

         “Of course I do. Come on. Let’s go see your brothers.”

         Fred pretended to cry when he saw them walk in holding hands. “Our little Ginny all grown up,” he said, hugging the youngest of the Weasley bunch. “Looks like someone else is laying claim to you now.”

         “Hey, she’s still yours,” Harry said immediately. “I’m just borrowing her for the Yule Ball.”

         “Oh, really,” George said rather forbiddingly, appearing from the back. “Did you go to Madame Malkin’s then?”

         “If we told you what we were doing here, there wouldn’t be much point in having come here,” Ginny observed cryptically, and Harry had to laugh. She grinned at her brothers, but suddenly turned toward Harry, eyes wide. “We have to get back! They’re going to notice we’re gone soon.”

         “Considering that this is Ron we’re talking about, they probably will. All right. Nice seeing you, map-masters.”

         “At your service,” Fred said with a bow, while George leaned against the shelf and commented, “You take care of our sister, Harry. We’ve got one of ours to watch you in Hogwarts.”

         “Ron’s rather busy at the moment,” Ginny said with a laugh. “We left him and Hermione in Hogsmeade.”

         “Oh, so that’s what you’re doing here,” Fred said. “I guess Ronnie can use all the help he can get.”

         “Hermione’s actually quite taken with him,” Harry informed them. “He’s been a lot nicer to her this year. So far, anyway.”

         Both twins laughed heartily. Harry willingly allowed them to occupy Ginny while he went and picked out a few gag gifts. He would have to find a proper gift for Ginny too, but what could he give her?

         They found Ron and Hermione waiting in Madame Rosmerta’s.

***






         “Hey, Draco. What do you know about genies?”

         Draco looked up from his Potions book. “Genies.”

         “Yeah,” Keilana said, plopping down beside them and giving Crabbe and Goyle a “move along, boys – show’s over” kind of look. She snuggled up against him and laid her cheek against his shoulder. “Like Jackie.”

         “I haven’t heard that much about genies,” Draco admitted. “The potions were banned years ago.”

         “Apparently, Jackie never heard about that.”

         Draco snickered. “I guess not. Kei, gimme a hand for a sec, huh?”

         “Where?”

         Draco rolled his eyes and slid the textbook to the knee closer to Keilana. “I can’t figure the reaction out.”

         Keilana sighed. “You really are helpless, Draco Malfoy.” She did help him out, but then she forced him to consent to being dragged out to the lake. She climbed onto a boulder and crossed her legs Indian style.

         “Come on, Kei,” Draco said impatiently, glaring up at her. “What are we doing there?”

         “You can transform, right?” Keilana said. “Lemme see.”

         “What, out here in full view of everyone?”

         “Who’s looking?”

         Draco paused to cautiously survey their surroundings. The Head Girl and her Weasel had just entered the castle, followed at a distance by Saint Potter and the Weasel-girl. Keilana frowned down at him.

         “Must you insist on calling them names, Draco?”

         Yes, I must. It’s tradition.

         Keilana rolled her eyes. “Well, can I see?”

         No one else was in sight. Draco dropped to his haunches and concentrated. Keilana squealed at the sight of the medium-sized silver dragon he had turned into. She actually slid off the rock to touch him. Draco closed his eyes and stayed close to the ground, drinking in the feeling of her magic against his scales.

         “Dragons are illegal to breed anymore. You do know that?”

         Keilana jumped. Saint Potter hadn’t gone inside after all. He was looking at them with something of an amused smirk. Keilana walked over to hug him, at which Draco was surprised to feel a twinge of ... something. Keilana didn't seem to notice.

         “Harry, you said you were a weyr-dragon. Can you transform at will?”

         “Not well, but yeah.”

         “Try it.”

         “What? No!”

         Keilana gave him The Look. Harry licked his lips and closed his eyes. Draco’s eyes glowed with interest as Harry’s body began to shrink. His clothes fell in an empty heap, and a small green dragon crawled out of his shirt. It looked at the clothes and released a small puff of white smoke.

         [I really need to figure out how to make my clothes come with me.]

         [It’s not that hard,] Draco answered carelessly. He nudged the creature with his snout. [Are you always this small?]

         [I’m a weyr-dragon, okay? Not a dragonling. And I’ve only been able to transform at will since your girlfriend so kindly pushed me into a vat of Lymn Oil. Which was at Halloween so I haven’t had that long to practice.]

         [Hey, now,] Keilana protested mildly. [You were already covered in it when I found you.]

         [That time the pain wasn’t really your fault. It started with the potion.]

         [Pain?] Keilana and Draco said together.

         [Before, whenever she got near me, my very bones would hurt. Even that first day I saw you, on the train? I guess I’ve gotten used to it now. It hasn’t been hurting as bad at any rate.]

         [Is that why you stopped avoiding me?] Keilana asked hopefully.

         [Partially.] Harry look curiously at Draco. [Doesn’t she do that to you?]

         [Do what?]

         [The deathly pain in the bones thing.]

         “I excite the blood,” Keilana replied with a smirk.

         [She suppresses it too – but I'm immune to that particular form of trickery now,] Draco informed Harry. [The closest description we’ve come up with is half dragonling, half dragon-charmer.]

         [Ah.]

         Harry dragged his clothes behind the boulder, one piece at a time, and reappeared a few minutes in human form. He look expectantly at Draco, who easily reformed his scales into his school uniform.

         “You’ll have to teach me how to do that.”

         “Give me one good reason.”

         “You want me to make a habit of hanging around you naked in front of your housemates?”

         Draco rolled his eyes. “Fine, I’ll teach you.”

         “So Harry,” Keilana began slyly, “what is going on with you and the Weasel’s sister?”

         Harry frowned slightly at her. “You don’t hang out with anyone else, do you.”

         “I knew her name in the Express, didn’t I?”

         “True,” Harry admitted. “And nothing’s going on. We were Christmas shopping.”

         “And?”

         “This talent of yours is really annoying. Has Malfoy told you that yet?”

         “Numerous times.”

         Draco was listening with an amused smirk. “Answer the question, Potter. Even a few of our housemates would love to date Ginny, if she weren’t a blood traitor.”

         “Since when is she Ginny to you?” Harry asked sharply.

         “Ginny is much shorter to say than the Weasel’s kid sister. Besides, we’re kind of friends with her brother now, you’re Kei’s brother, and I’m Head Boy alongside the Mudblood. About time we stopped calling each other names, don’t you think?’

         “Then stop doing it.”

         “Never.” Draco glanced at Keilana. “Why is your talent annoying?”

         “Because I knew something happened, which he wasn’t planning on telling anyone.”

         “For fear of being lynched,” Harry muttered quietly.

         “Lynched?” Draco echoed.

         “Ginny has six brothers. Use your imagination.”

         “What’d you do to her?” Keilana asked incredulously.

         “I just kissed her. But that could be more than enough with her brothers. Are you two coming to dinner?”

         “Hunh? Oh, yeah. Come on, Draco.”

         Harry distanced himself as they approached the castle, and the familiar facades were back in place as they ate. Later, Keilana and Draco went up to the Astronomy Tower. And for once, they actually had an assignment. Keilana’s thoughts wandered pretty quickly.

         Pain, huh? There was no good reason for Harry to no longer feel it. She had not been conscious of projecting anything toward him, and if it was waning, there was only one reason for that: whatever has caused the pain was dying within her.

         Keilana had noticed, of course. When they had attacked her on the 3rd of November, 1997. It seemed like such a long time ago now.

         “Are you all right, Kei?” Draco asked gently, turning from their astronomy homework toward the pensive Keilana. “You’ve been awful quiet tonight.”

         She shot him a soft smile. “Just thinking.”

         Draco didn’t buy it, but he didn’t ask either. Keilana impulsively hugged him, and then went back to the assignment.

         That night though, she had a dream. A dream that she could feel with her entire body. A dream that sat her straight up in bad, drenched in cold sweat, at three in the morning. A dream that sent her flying into the boys’ dorms. A dream that kept her under Draco’s blankets, cowering against his lithe form, for the rest of the night.

         A dream that she could not remember.

Chapter 22: Post-Trauma Symptons
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         That same night, while Keilana was yet attempting to shut her thoughts down and go to sleep, Harry sneaked out of Gryffindor Tower. His mind was still whirling from how fast things had been moving the last few days, but he didn’t want to slow down long enough for the ramifications to catch up. He might get bogged down again, just as he had after discovering that Keilana was his half-sister.

         He would have to look into that sometime. But for now, he would cheer his aunt up with stories of seducing Ginny. She always liked stories about Ginny.

         “Hey, Jackie.”

         She looked up from the pillows and smiled weakly. “Are you allowed to be sneaking in here after hours?”

         “Like I’m actually gonna let you stay in here all alone,” Harry teased right back, dropping his book bag by the hospital bed and settling on the mattress next to her. “And I can’t come during the day. What choice do I have but to sneak in?”

         “You could let me suffer on my own,” Jackie offered, obviously not serious.

         “I suppose I could,” Harry said. “But then how could I live with myself if you died?”

         “Harrison James, I am nineteen years old. Don’t you go putting thoughts of death in my mind. Especially right now while I’m on Godric knows what.”

         “Yes, you’re suicidal,” Harry teased fondly. “But if that wasn’t your personality, you wouldn’t have gotten yourself stuck in the bottle in the first place.” He gently lowered himself onto the mattress beside her.

         Jackie closed her eyes and breathed in his scent. ”So what did you do today?”

         “I took Ginny to Diagon Alley.”

         Harry laughed aloud when he saw the interest fill Jackie’s eyes. He good-naturedly answered all her questions about the day, even admitting to the kiss. Jackie was ecstatic, but Harry warned her not to get ahead of herself. She just grunted, albeit softly.

         “Jackie? Did you know Sirius and Remus?”

         “Mm-hmm. James was always with them, and I was usually with James. I’ve actually dated both of them.”

         “Both of who?”

         “Sirius and Remus.”

         “Did you know Cassi too?”

         “Cassi Garner? Yeah, I know her. Remus had a crush on her for years.”

         Guess things haven’t changed much, Harry thought with a smile. “Would you like to see him again?”

         “Of course I would. I miss all my friends a lot.” A single tear slid down Jackie’s cheek. “But there’s no one left.”

         “Remus is still alive, and so is Cassi.”

         “What about Sirius?” Jackie asked cautiously.

         Harry turned his head away. “I’m sorry, Jackie. Sirius got killed almost a year before I found you.”

         Jackie remained silent, but she was crying hard now. Harry laid his head on her arm and concentrated on something Luna had learned from Ron. A peaceful hum filled their little corner of the Hospital Wing. Jackie choked and began laughing through her tears.

         “What?” Harry asked.

         “You’re turning into a dragon, and yet you can use a charmer’s hum to calm me down.”

         “Well, it worked, didn’t it?”

         “It cheered me up – that’s good enough.”

         Harry laughed with her, but his laughter died quickly as Jackie began to cough. He helped her sit up and handed her the bottle from the nightstand. She managed to drink the potion, but she kept coughing. Harry rubbed her back, earnestly worried now. Jackie covered her mouth, but blood seeped between her fingers and spattered the pristine sheets. She began to cough harder, and Harry took off for Madame Pomfrey’s office.

         “Poppy!”

         She awoke quickly and squinted at him. “Mr. Potter, what are you doing here? I have a patient who needs—”

         “You have a patient who’s coughing her guts out!” Harry shouted. “I thought you said she was stable!”

         Madame Pomfrey grabbed a robe and ran into the ward. Jackie had passed out and was twitching violently. Madame Pomfrey very quickly made some assessments before casting another sedative spell and rushing out of the ward again. She returned a few minutes later with the headmistress.

         “What’s going on here?”

         “This is my aunt, Jackie—”

         “I know who she is, Mr. Potter,” McGonagall coldly cut him off. “How did she get here?”

         “Wizard Slughorn just cured her of being a genie,” Harry said quietly, gaze on the floor. “But being in there so long did something to her body, and Madame Pomfrey was trying to fix her.”

         “And none of you thought to mention this to me.”

         “No, headmistress,” Harry said even more quietly. “She only collapsed this morning.”

         McGonagall removed her glasses and pinched the bridge of her nose. “I’m glad to see she’s alive, Harry, but she won’t be for long at this rate. Would you agree, Poppy?’

         “Yes, mum,” Madame Pomfrey said over her shoulder. “She needs to go to St. Mungo’s immediately. I don’t have the resources to fix this here.”

         “Take her there, then. Harry, you have permission to be absent from Hogwarts until her life is out of danger.”

         Harry’s gaze snapped up, and he stared at her in amazement. “Can I hug you?”

         McGonagall actually laughed. “For your sake, Harry, I hope she gets better soon.”

         “Harry!” Aunt Poppy called after them as they left in the St. Mungo’s escort. “Get yourself checked while you’re there. No sense wasting the trip.”

         “Yes, mum!” Harry called back.

         And then the doors of the carriage closed.

***






         “Mr. Potter, you really must get some rest,” was the constant pronouncement of the healers within a few days. But Harry stubbornly remained in Jackie’s room and would not be provided a room in the nearby family quarters. After all, he insisted to the head healer, if Jackie woke up under such circumstances, there could be no way of predicting her reaction.

         But he had to admit boredom came quickly. And then his thoughts would shift invariably to Ginny. He hadn’t realized how much she lit up his world ...

         Healer Winthrop was driven to exasperation within a few days of him becoming a certifiable zombie. She finally knocked him out, dragged him outside St. Mungo’s, and left him in the back alley. When he awoke, his wand was gone, and he couldn’t get back into the hospital. Groaning, he went through his pockets for some money. He found a plain envelope with his name on it, containing a card with the name Angelina Winthrop printed on the front in a beautiful script.

         “ ‘Dear Harry, Sorry for the rough treatment. Enclosed are directions to my husband’s office at the Ministry. Come back once you’re rested, and I’ll return your wand. Happy hunting. Sincerely, Angie.’ That little—!”

         Harry kicked an innocent can, which went flying against the brick wall and crumpled into a mangled bit of tin. Harry consulted the directions and found his way to a Medic Carson Winthrop’s office. “Head of the National Animagus Registry” was etched below his name. Why did that sound familiar? The man was sitting behind a desk, studying a new registration, perhaps.

         “Um, hello?”

         Startled, the man took off his reading glasses and stared toward the door. “Harry Potter?” he said somewhat incredulously.

         “Yes, sir. Your wife kicked me out of St. Mungo’s. That is, if you’re Carson Winthrop?”

         “That’s me,” he said, crossing the room in a couple strides. He shook Harry’s hand energetically. “Wonderful to meet you, Mr. Potter. What can I do for you?”

         “She didn’t really say,” Harry replied awkwardly, handing him the card. “Although since I’m here, would you be the one to consult about discovering your transformation?”

         Carson handed the card back. “I would indeed. Why?”

         Harry glanced over his shoulder. “Well, if you have a few minutets, and a good sound guard on your office ...”

         “That can be arranged. Have a seat, Harry.”

***






         “Is she awake yet?” Harry asked eagerly, almost the exact second Angie let him back in three days later. After spending several hours with Carson, he had rented a room in the Leaky Cauldron and slept for almost thirty-six hours straight. If that didn’t qualify as getting rested, Harry didn’t know what did.

         “No, she isn’t awake yet,” Angie said with an amused smile, returning his wand. “But she is stable. It should be safe to remove the sedation, but we’re running a few more tests before we do.”

         Harry slumped. “I was hoping I could talk to her.”

         “Well, if you’d be willing to talk to someone a couple years younger, I do have a substitute.”

         “A couple years younger than what?”

         “Than nineteen. I know your aunt was born more than nineteen years ago, but that is her age.”

         Harry sighed. “That’s what she keeps telling me, but she still ought to be in her thirties.”

         Angie laughed, but now they had reached a door in Ward 49. Of all people, Tiffany McGonagall was walking out. And, of all the people to be walking hand in hand with, she was accompanying Neville Longbottom. She didn’t let go when she saw Harry, although she did blush under the healer’s probing gaze. Angie shook her head in amusement and walked off to attend to business in her own ward.

         “Here to see your parents?” Harry asked.

         “Yeah,” Neville said, averting his gaze.

         “How are they doing?”

         “I think they’re actually getting better,” Tiffany said when Neville didn’t respond. “At least, Alice is beginning to remember things. I mean, not things from before, but things that have happened, like when we visit her.”

         “She is,” Neville said. “But Dad ...”

         Harry grasped his friend’s shoulder tightly. “At least they’re alive, Neville. As long as they’re alive, there’s always a chance that someone will discover a way to bring them back.”

         A timid smile came across Neville’s face.

         “Hey!” Tiffany said suddenly, pointing at Harry with her free hand.

         “Now, Miss McGonagall, you know it’s not nice to point,” Harry scolded playfully.

         “You’re here!”

         “What’s she talking about?” Harry asked Neville.

         Realization was dawning on his roommate’s face. “You’re here,” Neville said more slowly. “You’re not missing at all.”

         “Did you think I was?”

         “Are you kidding?” Tiffany exclaimed. “Everyone thinks Voldemort kidnapped you. Hermione’s been worried sick, and Ginny.”

         Harry couldn’t help himself. The Americans had such interesting expressions.

         “Oh, crap.”

Chapter 23: Stabilized
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         It was already December by the time Tiffany and Neville reported, rather cryptically, that they had seen Harry at St. Mungo’s. With Hermione and Ginny both hysterical, Ron gave up on maintaining the appearance of sanity and hunted down Loony Lovegood.

         Luna was sitting in the Astronomy Tower, robes drawn tightly about her. “Hello, Ronald,” she greeted with a hint of her old vague expression.

         “Hey, Luna. How are you holding up?”

         “In regards to what?”

         “Um, well, we’ll be taking our pre-Newts this week.”

         Luna smirked. “Liar. You’re worried about Harry.”

         “So sue me,” Ron said grudgingly. As he came to a stop next to her, he was surprised to find that the air around her was actually quite warm. “Wow. How long have you been up here?”

         “Just a couple hours. It’s an air shield,” Luna explained patiently, getting up and dusting off her robe. “Keeps my warmth from dissipating. And to answer your question, I’m not worried about Harry. You know he’s fine, wherever he is.”

         “Well, seeing as he’s Harry Potter, we’d know if he was dead,” Ron conceded as he followed her back inside. “But being alive isn’t the same the same as being fine.”

         “If your sister would settle down long enough to listen, she wouldn’t be worried either,” Luna informed him, releasing the air shield. The cool air of the stairwell quickly overtook them both.

         “Why not?” Ron asked, not voicing his surprise at her wandless spellwork.

         Luna pulled a long bronze chain from her shirt and dangled a crystal pendant for Ron to see. “This is something I made Harry give me when he started disappearing on and off. It’s kind of like a shield pendant, but it shows me his vibrancy. Or rather, I have it set to show his vibrancy. I can make it show anybody’s.”

         “What does blue mean?” Ron asked, referring to the dark blue fringing the clear glass. Actually, it wasn’t clear, Ron realized, noticing the thin green core of the crystal.

         “He’s worried, but fine,” Luna was saying confidently.

         “That’s not very comforting.”

         A streak of black coiled around the green center. A streak of red followed and twisted around the black. The tendrils of light twisted together, forming a vine that twisted and swelled within the crystal, smothering the green tendril.

         “That could be bad,” Luna murmured, expressing Ron’s worry.

         A powerful golden light filled the crystal and pulsated so brightly that neither Luna nor Ron could stand to look at it. The emerald green appeared in brilliance amid the gold, and those colors combined. A misty blue appeared, aiding the green and gold as they fought down the red and black. When the golden light faded, the red and black tendril was still there, but nestled in the very bottom bit of the crystal. A green core remained dominant in the center of the crystal, pulsing rapidly.

         “He must have just been in a fight, if he’s breathing that hard,” Luna observed. “That’s odd though. Harry’s never had such a strong sense of self.”

         “The green is his sense of self?”

         “It’s generally your eye-color. It’s the same with soul stones. That’s where the expression about windows of the soul comes from.” The flashing had slowed somewhat, and Luna checked her watch. “His pulse is back to normal. I wonder what happened.”

         “Does that thing show you how to find him?” Ron asked. “Wait, did you just say that Harry has a weak sense of self?”

         “He may project confidence and all that, Ronald, but between Voldemort and Raén-Iant, he’s barely holding on.”

         “Okay, I know Raén-Iant is the black dragon that attacked him and Jackie, but what does Voldemort have to do with anything?”

         “They both reside in him. Not in entirety, but they’ve both got some blood and soul vested in him. Harry told me so himself. I could see the self-bashing on my own. My guess is something just happened that made Raén-Iant’s instinct take over, and Voldemort’s will made its move.”

         “So can we find him?”

         “Are you crazy? We don’t have time to go hunting Harry. We have pre-Newts this week!”

***




         “You all right there, Harry?” Carson asked, offering him a hand.

         Harry exhaled loudly. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he said, pulling himself up. “Man! That was unexpected.”

         “I didn’t consider the possibility of an instinctual transfer as well,” Carson said, tucking his wand back in his pocket. “I apologize.”

         “It’s a good thing you knew that suppression spell,” Harry responded sheepishly, shaking out his jeans and quickly putting them on. “I knew he might be in there somewhere, but I wasn’t expecting him to be so strong.”

         “You’ve never felt this, morphing?”

         “Never. But I always end up being something much smaller.”

         “You’ve never tried to take Raén-Iant’s form.”

         “No. I’ve just tried dragons in general. I hadn’t thought of taking his original form.”

         “He wouldn’t have been so hard to manage,” Carson commented, not at all to boast but merely as a matter of fact, “but something else made him much stronger and drove him mad as you synthesized his body.”

         Voldemort, Harry thought to himself, but didn’t say anything.

         “Hey, Honey. Are you two going to join us for dinner?”

         Carson walked around the cabin to the front yard. “Hello, Angel,” he said solemnly, putting an arm around his wife and kissing her. “We were just practicing Harry’s weyr magic.”

         Harry waved at Tiffany, who had just arrived at the Winthrops’ country house in a magicked Muggle car. She was standing by the back door, and she waved back cheerfully. She leaned down to help someone out, and Harry let out a yell of delight when he saw Jackie.

         “Not so loud,” Jackie murmured with a wince, but she good-naturedly hugged Harry back. “Nice to know I’m appreciated, after the scare of waking up in the hospital with all those strange people around.”

         “I’m sorry about that. Angie got tired of me being so restless. What are you doing here, Tiffany?”

         Tiffany shrugged. “Headmistress asked me to come tell you that you have to come back to Hogwarts to take your Newts, especially since Jackie is better. Auntie’s gonna give her a room in the in-patient rehab dorms.”

         “Miss Jackie, Tiffany,” Angie scolded, but a smile was on her face.

         “This is where we officially met, isn’t it?” Harry said to Tiffany as he helped Jackie onto the porch swing.

         She nodded. “Yep.”

         “You two met here?” Carson said in surprise. “I didn’t know you’d been here before.”

         “I was just flying around when I saw her throwing her cauldron out the window,” Harry replied matter-of-factly, at which Tiffany blushed violently. “You did get that potion figured out, didn’t you?”

         “Yeah, I did, thanks to you. I was really surprised because I thought you were really bad at potions.”

         “I’m really bad at getting along with Snape is what I’m bad at,” Harry muttered darkly.

         Jackie’s eyes widened. “Snape teaches Potions?”

         “He used to,” Tiffany replied. “He left this year, and Alyson Crowe teaches Potions now.”

         “I’d like to see Snape again,” Jackie said wistfully, “even if he was a two-faced sniveling toad.”

         Harry was glad no one had explained Peter Pettigrew to her yet.

***




         “So that’s what happened to her,” Minerva said, almost to herself.

         Harry stirred his sundae in silence. Having lunch at Florean’s with the headmistress of Hogwarts was awkward enough. Explaining Jackie and his own weyr-like condition in a public place was even worse. Only Minerva’s businesslike personality had saved Harry from running off screaming.

         “Can we go back to Hogwarts now?” Harry asked hopefully.

         “Are you that embarrassed to be seen with me?”

         “Yes, mum.”

         Minerva laughed and stood up. “Shall we, then?”

         They caught the Floo Network to Hogsmeade with the plan of walking back to Hogwarts from there. When Harry caught sight of Draco and Keilana leaving Madame Rosmerta’s, however, he got permission to return to the castle with them.

         “Harry, you’re all right!” Keilana said happily, throwing her arms around Harry and squeezing tight.

         Draco didn’t hug him of course, but he did look a tiny bit relived. “She was starting to think you’d been killed.”

         “Couldn’t you tell I was alive, at least?” Harry chided her.

         “I couldn’t,” Keilana said, immediately releasing him. “I should have, I know, but I couldn’t.”

         “Are you all right?” Harry asked, worried by her admission.

         “She’s been sleeping really fitfully,” Draco informed him. “And I would know. She’s been sleeping with me.”

         Harry’s eyes narrowed suspiciously, and Draco put his hands up.

         “Not like that. She just comes and hides in my bed.”

         Harry believed him for the time being and changed the subject. “Do you know what a DNA test is?”

         “That Muggles use?” Keilana asked. “Yeah.”

         “Could we try that on you? I figured out how to make that work kinda like the gene halo thingy. Maybe we can find out who your dad is.”

         Draco rubbed Keilana’s back as they walked. She was silent for several paces.

         “I’m not sure I really want to know who my dad is,” she said finally. “What if he’s someone really awful?”

         Draco muffled a snicker. “I think having Saint Potter’s mum would balance things out, Kei.”

         “That’s true.”

         “Hey!” Harry said indignantly.

         Keilana took off running. “Race ya!”

         Draco and Harry exchanged glances and sprinted after her.

Chapter 24: Pre-Newts and a New Dress
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         Naturally, Draco and Keilana split off and went their own way as soon as the trio reached the castle. Harry scampered up the steps and into the warm inner halls of Hogwarts. Ron and Luna were walking down the hallway, discussing something in undertones.

         “Hey, guys.”

         Luna shrieked and hugged him. “Oh, my gosh, Harry! Where have you been? Who did you fight with? Are you all right? What took you so long to get back here?!”

         “Nice to see you too,” Harry choked out.

         “And you claimed you weren’t worried,” Ron said dryly. “Hey, mate.”

         “Hey, Ron. How’s it going with Hermione?”

         “Very funny.”

         Luna pulled back. “Seriously, Harry. Where have you been?”

         “Jackie got worse, so we went to St. Mungo’s,” Harry replied, kissing her on the cheek. “I didn’t know I was missing until I saw Tiff and Neville day before yesterday. But Jackie’s in rehab now, so I have to come back for my pre-Newts. Have I missed anything?”

         “You’ve basically missed most of November is what you’ve missed,” Luna informed him. “You better hope Aunt Minerva can arrange for make-up periods.”

         “I’m sure she will. Have you had dinner yet? I’m starving!”

***


         “HARRY!”

         He very nearly fell down as Hermione hugged him. Ginny looked to be barely holding herself in as Harry finally detached Hermione and settled at the tables. Hermione was quizzing him a mile a minute, and Harry laughed as he answered as many of her questions as he could. As they left the Great Hall and headed back toward Gryffindor tower, however, Harry dropped back to talk with Ginny. They went several steps in silence.

         “I missed you,” they chorused impulsively.

         Ginny blushed and looked away. Harry took her hand and pulled her to a stop.

         “Did you really?”

         “I did, surprisingly,” Ginny whispered tremulously, staring up at him.

         “I did too,” Harry said, wrapping his arms tightly around her and holding her close.

         Ginny laid her cheek against his shoulder and gripped him tightly. “I thought I’d never see you again.”

         “I thought I couldn’t see you again soon enough.”

         She squeezed her eyes tightly shut, tears brimming onto her smooth cheeks. “I thought I was over you.”

         Harry pulled back to get a good look at her. “So did I. I couldn’t believe how blind I’ve been. And it might be too late to tell you how I feel, but can I say it anyway?”

         Ginny was surprised. “How do you feel?”

         “I love you, Ginny,” Harry said simply.

         Her mouth dropped open and she stared up at him in utter shock. “You .... do?”

         “I do.”

         Ginny buried her face in his chest. “I love you too, Harry,” she finally managed to react. “I love you so much!”

         Harry couldn’t express the feeling those words invoked within him. He snatched Ginny right off the stone floor and swung her around. Ron and Hermione had been watching from about halfway up the stairs.

         “Are you two gonna get back anytime soon?” Hermione yelled down at them.

         “Aww, let them have their privacy, Mione,” Ron said good-naturedly, grabbing her hand. “Come on.”

         Hermione was so shocked that she was easily led to the Fat Lady’s frame.

         “Password?”

         “Hermione?” Ron said tentatively, ignoring the Fat Lady for the moment to look at his second best friend.

         “Yes, Ron?” Hermione asked, eyes drifting toward where Ginny and Harry were chattering happily as they came up the stairs.

         “Would you go to the Yule Ball with me?”

         Hermione’s jaw dropped completely. “What?” she choked, snapping back toward him.

         Ron swallowed hard and repeated himself. Hermione’s mouth worked for several seconds, but no sound came out. Ginny arrived and smacked her on the bum.

         “For Morgana’s sake, spit it out, Mione!”

         “Yes!” Hermione gasped. “Yeah, I’ll go with you, Ron.”

         Ron’s grin nearly split his freckled face.

***


         A few days later, a long shout nearly deafened several students. But Ron and Tiffany joined in with Harry’s cheering, and so did most of the other seventh-year Gryffindors nearby. Hermione looked at them and shook her head. Pre-Newts were finally over, as evidenced by the cheerful demeanor of the students as they made their way to dinner.

         “Yule Ball is Saturday night,” Ginny commented later that night as the Gryffindors lounged around in their common room.

         “Oh, that reminds me, Ginny,” Hermione said from where she was curled up on the end of the sofa. “You are going to the ball with Harry, right?”

         Ginny blushed as she nodded. “Yeah. He actually asked me back before he disappeared.”

         “Are you serious?” yelped Ron, recently never to be found far from Hermione. “He’s been thinking about you that long?”

         “I’ve been thinking about Ginny a long time,” Harry replied, evicting her from the armchair. When she put her hands on her hips and glared down at him, he opened his arms to her and grinned widely.

         “Honestly, Harry,” Ginny said, rolling her eyes. But she plopped into his lap anyway.

         “I can’t believe you didn’t tell us that,” Hermione said, looking a bit put out. “You’ve been in love with Harry so long I would have expected that to be something really big for you.”

         “Well, it was kind of an accident how he ended up asking me out.”

         Harry laughed sheepishly. “You could tell?”

         “Of course I could. You shouldn’t have given me this, hmm?” She dangled her shield pendant before his eyes. “But I knew you were just being nice anyway.”

         “I wasn’t just being nice,” Harry protested. “I wouldn’t want to go with anyone else. The opportunity presented itself, so I asked.”

         Ginny kissed the tip of his nose. “You seriously have no idea when to shut up, do you?”

         “What opportunity?” Ron asked suspiciously.

         “You’ll see,” Ginny said mysteriously. “Oh, yeah, Harry. It arrived yesterday, and it’s gorgeous!” She hugged him suddenly and kissed him again, on the lips this time. “Thank you so much!”

         “What did you get her?” Hermione asked curiously.

         “Ball gown,” Harry replied simply. “It’s a Malkin original. You’ll love it.”

         “Have you seen it?” Ginny asked.

         “She showed it to me before she sent it,” Harry explained, hand on the small of her back.

         “Was it your idea to seep the blue into the hem?”

         “Yeah.”

         Ginny hugged him again. “Thank you so much, Harry.”

         Hermione’s eyes had opened wide. “I don’t have dress robes ....”

         “Well, we’ll have to go get you some,” Ginny exclaimed. “Harry, could you—?”

         “No, Ginny,” Hermione interrupted. “I can buy them. I just forgot that I grew out of my first ones.”

         “I was going to ask him if he could give us a ride,” Ginny said, smirking, “but I guess we can use the Floo in Hogsmeade.”

         “You get her something pretty, y’ hear?” Harry ordered his almost-girlfriend. “I’ll cover whatever she can’t afford.” She didn’t miss the chagrin on Ron’s face, and neither did Harry, so Harry grinned slyly and said to Ron, “We’ll make that my Christmas present to you, Ron.”

         “Shall I go low and tight then?” Ginny managed to ask through her laughter.

         “No, you don’t!” Hermione shrieked. “I shan’t wear some skimpy stripper’s gown to the Yule Ball.”

         Ron had picked up on the joke. “You hate me!” he pouted, pulling his best puppy eyes.

         Hermione glared at them all for a moment, but she had caught on now and she couldn’t contain her own laughter. “Honestly, you guys.”

         They all turned in for the night, but Harry did take the girls to Hogsmeade in the morning. Hermione was more than surprised by Harry’s spell. Ginny could barely keep from laughing at her reaction.

         “That was rather unexpected,” she exhaled rather than spoke.

         “You really hate giving people the head’s up, don ’cha, babe?” Ginny said to Harry, shaking her head in amusement.

         “Sorry, couldn’t resist,” Harry laughed, preparing to use the teleportal spell again. “Guess I’ll be at the pitch with Ron while you’re gone, but should I come get you?”

         “Nah. We can come back by Floo.” Ginny pulled him down to kiss his cheek. “Have fun, Harrison.”

         Harry disappeared in a flash, and the two girls entered Diagon Alley and headed for Madame Malkin’s. She was delighted to see Ginny back, and the two discussed the dress robes that were currently hidden away in Ginny’s closet at Hogwarts. Hermione quietly looked through the fabrics until Ginny joined her.

         “That must have been some dress Harry got for you,” Hermione observed.

         “Oh, yeah, it’s gorgeous. Didn’t I say so? No other word for it. So have you picked a color?”

         “No, not really.”

         “A style?”

         “Not at all.”

         Ginny frowned at the girl. “Hermione, you know you’re like an older sister to me, but seriously! Don’t you have any ideas on what you want this dress to look like? Because if you don’t, Aunt Faye will come up with something of her own, and you’ve grown quite a lot since you got your first set of dress robes.” She shot Hermione a sly look. “If you know what I mean.”

         Hermione blushed deeply. “Well, since I’ve got them, I may as well keep them, right?”

         “All right, you – who are you and what have you done with Hermione?”

         “Look, I am willing to go a little crazy, but keep it modest, all right, Ginny?” Hermione pleaded, moving her hand from a beautiful deep emerald silk. “You can pick everything: the colors, the style, the trim – everything! But only if you keep it modest.”

         “Fine,” Ginny pouted. But she brightened quickly. “I think we should go with peach. You do look lovely in pinks, especially pastels. Aunt Faye!” she called around the silk rack. “Are you busy?”

         “I am now,” Aunt Faye said with a smile. “What scheme would you like to go with, love?”

         “She wants pink,” Ginny answered for a rather skeptical Hermione. “And could you do something with a lot of sheer?”

         Aunt Faye’s eyebrows wiggled mischievously. “Are you questioning my skill?”

***


         “Think they’re doing all right?” Ron called out as he and Harry practiced some dives.

         “Of course they are,” Harry replied, pulling his Firebolt up at the last second and skimming his heels along the grass. “Hey, I’m sorry I missed the game against Hufflepuff. Did you do all right?”

         “Yeah, we won. Ginny cut it kinda close with their Seeker, but the rest of us were all right. They’re just not the same without Flint.”

         “We play Ravenclaw next, right?”

         “Yep,” Ron said with a nod. “Hope they practice during vacation. They’re gonna need it.”

         “I dunno,” Harry said. “Gryffindor vs. Slytherin gets a lot of attention just because it is Gryffindor vs. Slytherin. Ravenclaw has a pretty good team. We just have to practice harder.”

         Ron looked at him for a moment. “I hate you, Harry. Seriously.”

         Harry grinned right back, but his eye caught movement along the street to Hogsmeade. “Hey, they’re back! Wanna fly over and pick them up?”

         “Pick them up on what? Our broomsticks?”

         “It’s been done before.”

         “Harry Potter, if you even think of getting Ginny on that shaft with you—!”

         “Race ya!” Harry yelled over his shoulder.

         Ron sighed loudly and turned his own broomstick toward Hogsmeade. They dropped to the ground near the girls, and Harry summoned his Firebolt’s carrying case. Ron summoned Ginny’s case, commenting that he really needed to buy one of his own.

         “You should buy a whole new broom,” Ginny retorted as she linked arms with Harry and the four began walking toward Hogwarts. “That one barely flew when you got it, and it’s falling apart now.”

         “Maybe I should get you that instead of Hermione’s dress,” Harry commented, elbowing Ron.

         “I like my Cleansweep,” Ron replied adamantly.

         “I don’t understand why you enjoy Quidditch so much,” Hermione said. “It’s nearly gotten you both killed more than once.”

         “But it didn’t,” Harry said with a sweet smile.

         Ginny laughed. “Don’t bother, Hermione. No way are you gonna get either of them to criticize Quidditch.”

         “Boys,” Hermione muttered darkly.

         “Would you even like us if we were girls?” Ron said, looking completely serious. Hermione gaped at him for a moment, and her shock brought a grin to his face. She snorted and smacked him lightly on the arm.

         “Did you get the dress?” Harry asked Ginny as Ron and Hermione continued to poke fun at each other.

         “Yeah, we got it. It’s beautiful.”

         “What’s it look like?”

         Ginny put a finger to her lips and winked impishly. “Hi-mi-tsu.”

         “Aw, come on.”

         “You’ll see it Saturday. But, but! It’s pink. I’ll tell you that much.”

         “You’re impossible, Ginny,” Harry said, slipping his arm around her waist.

         She smiled up at him. “Now really, honey. Isn't that why you like me so much?”

         Harry just smiled and kissed her ear.

Chapter 25: Father ....
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Sometime in the distant past ...

         “You’d be my queen.”

         Something about the way he said it just ticked Lily Potter off. She gripped her wand tightly, fighting the trembles working up her spine.

         “There is no way in all the bloody cosmos I would ever consent to be your whore!”

         Tom Riddle’s veins grew obvious in his forehead. He grabbed the woman by the hair and cast her against the wall. “I would give you anything!” he shouted down at her, towering over the petit redhead at his full six feet. “I would take good care of you!”

         “I wouldn’t take anything from you if you were the last man alive!”

         “Lily!”

         James never had a chance. Taken off guard by the presence of the Dark Lord in his front hall, he hit the hardwood flooring, limp as a dead fish.

         In fact, he was dead. Snuffed out, just like that. Lily’s eyes, still smarting from the flash of green energy, were immediately swimming with tears, but she shook them away. One thought crossed her mind.

         Harry!

         She only got there a few steps ahead of Tom. She waved the door closed and locked it with every tendril of her magical capacity. She rushed to the crib and picked up Harry, holding him close as Tom cursed outside, unable to unlock the door.

         “You’ll be okay, Harry,” Lily whispered as Harry began to whimper. “You’ll be okay. You’ll be okay.”

         The whole hallside wall exploded into flame. The force of the blast pushed Lily onto the crib – Harry landed back among his blankets and began to cry in earnest. She leaned down to kiss him before facing the Dark Lord again.

         While she had been regaining her footing, however, he had stolen her wand. He crossed them a couple inches from the tip and pointed the twofold channel at her. She faced him bravely, sparkles of her innate magic flying through her emerald eyes.

         “This is your last chance, Lily,” Tom said, though he now wore a mocking smile. At this point, even if she yielded, he would still kill her.

         “I will not join your ‘Death Eaters,’” Lily said in what she hoped was a tone of finality. “I will not rule this new empire with you. I will not give you my child.”

         “Avada kedavra lente!”

         Gold energy flew from her entire body, even as an off-green light shot from Voldemort’s wand. The magic clashed in the air above Harry’s crib. The gold whooshed through the green and enveloped Harry. The green refocused itself and smashed through Lily’s chest, knocking her to the floor. She screamed at the sheer intensity of impact – the pain itself was much worse. She gasped for breath, unable to move, blinded with tears from the pain of it all.

         “James ...”

         Her whisper drew Tom’s attention, and he kicked her in the stomach, none too softly. Lily coughed blood on the carpet as his heavy boot dug under her ribs.

         “You think he can save you, you pathetic little Mudblood bitch? He’s dead!” His hazel eyes flashed triumphantly. “Dead!” He squatted down to look inquisitively at Lily. “And do you want to know why he’s dead?”

         Lily sobbed once.

         “Because he stole you from me.”

         Lily was too stunned to keep crying. The pain seemed to fade, or at least Lily’s awareness of it did. But only for a moment. Her insides began to twist; she felt as though she would be turned inside out at any moment. Her vision was beginning to swim, growing foggy around the edges. She only saw a brief gleam of metal before Tom imbedded the needle in her thigh. She screamed by pure reflex. He yanked the needle free, coaxing a weaker scream, and plunged his wand elsewhere.

         By now, Lily was too deteriorated to feel what he was doing, much less fight back.

         “That spell was something I perfected,” Tom announced proudly, tucking two vials into his coat pocket as he rose. He kicked her once more before walking over to the cradle. “You will live long enough to see me kill your child.”

         “No!” Lily tried to scream, but all that came out was a choked whimper.

         “Don’t look so distressed, Lily. Think about it this way. He never got to find out the few beauties of this hellhole, so he won’t miss them in the one I’m sending him to.”

         By now, Lily could hardly breathe. She gasped loudly, but could not find the breath to curse the Dark Lord.

         Lord Voldemort raised his wand, green energy beginning to glow at the end of it. A different green from the one he’d used on her, but not quite the original Avada Kedavra either. Lily managed to prop herself up on one elbow at the expense of a good bit of blood. The green energy suddenly mushroomed and whistled toward the helpless baby.

         But as it drew near, a golden barrier flashed, and the green spell rebounded. Before Voldemort had much of a chance to react – his own fault for building such speed into this new spell – he was struck by it himself. He staggered back on impact, and was engulfed by the inferno his own wand had created to gain him entry.

         As her eyes began to slide shut for the last time, Lily saw figures leaping through the window to rescue Harry from the crib. She dimly felt hands on her own body as well. Breath for only one thought was left within her.

         “Thank you ....”

***








         Keilana sat up, panting. The other fifth-year girls in the dorm room were asleep, oblivious to her sudden waking. She slid to the floor, muffled a yelp at the icy stone, and quickly shoved her feet into some slippers. Instead of going to Draco for comfort, as she usually did when she had these nightmarish awakenings, tonight she went to the Room of Requirement. She had a close brush with Argus Filch, but slipped by the caretaker undetected. To her surprise, there was a door in the Wishing Wall already. She cautiously stepped into the Room of Requirement.

         “Harry!”

         He gave a yelp and spun toward her. He sighed in relief when he recognized her. “Don’t do that.”

         “I’m sorry,” Keilana said, suddenly aware that she was only in her gown and robe. “I didn’t think anyone would be here.”

         “Are you all right?” Harry asked before she could continue explaining.

         “Yes, I’m fine. Why?”

         He walked over to her and peered intently at her. “I thought you had gray eyes.”

         “I do. Well, kind of gray.”

         “They’re black.”

         “Black?” Keilana called for a mirror, and it materialized in her hand. She studied her eyes carefully; they were indeed an extremely dark gray. “Draco never told me that.”

         “Are you sure you’re all right?”

         Keilana fought the tears. “I-I’m sorry, Harry,” she mumbled. “I didn’t want to ruin your image of your mum.”

         “You didn’t. You were born after she died.” Harry gave her a tender squeeze. “And technically she’s your mum too.”

         Keilana relaxed slightly in his grasp. “What are you doing out here so late?”

         “I come here all the time – it’s easier to work at night. And I couldn’t sleep anyway.” Harry walked over to a long table covered in a mixture of wizard and Muggle glassware. He picked up a vial with a bit of off-color blood in the bottom. “I got this while I was at Mungo’s. You know what it is?”

         She sniffed it. “Snake blood.”

         “Kind of,” Harry admitted. “But not exactly. Snake weyr. Some of Voldemort got transferred to me when he tried to kill me – everything he knew up to that point, in fact. Like, I’m a Parseltongue.”

         Keilana hissed softly. “Maybe we’re more alike than we knew.”

         Bemused, Harry ran his fingers through his unruly hair. “Maybe this isn’t so strange after all then.”

         “What isn’t?”

         “We have this blood in common.”

         “I’m not a snake weyr,” Keilana protested, insulted.

         “This is Tom Riddle’s blood.”

         Keilana’s jaw dropped. “What?”

         “I have three sets of genes. One naturally, from my parents. And then this summer, I got attacked by a black dragon, which infused my blood with the venom. Dunno if you knew this or not, but black dragon venom acts like a virus, turning the victim into a dragon weyr. But in my new weyr blood, I also still have traces of his blood. See, when he tried to kill me, some of his bloodstream got mixed into mine right along with all the memories and knowledge. It never did fuse like the venom did, thank Merlin.”

         Keilana bit back a smile. “What does that have to do with me?” she asked. The boy had a bad tendency of explaining things in a way that made sense to no one but himself.

         “I did a DNA test,” Harry explained patiently. “I tested Tom’s blood against yours – which I got from the Hospital Wing, and please don’t kill me for that.”

         “Why?” Keilana asked aloud, ignoring the privacy invasion for the moment. “I mean, what could possibly give you an idea like that?”

         “Because when I told Jackie about you, she said something about Mum having an affair with the Dark Lord. So, being bored out of my mind as I was trying to make myself go to sleep, I got to thinking. What if that was true? If he was going to all the trouble to grow the perfect fighter, why use anyone else’s DNA but his own?”

         “My father is Voldemort?”

         Harry nodded tightly. “Yep.”

         The dream came flooding back, and Keilana hit the floor with a groan. Harry dropped to his haunches beside her, clearly worried.

         “Are you all right?”

         Keilana opened a channel, and Harry dropped to his seat as the dream played across his mind’s eye. He opened his eyes after a few minutes, an awed look on his face.

         “You’re a seer?”

         “Not that I know of. That’s all I saw anyway. Maybe he gave me some memories in exchange for the ones he took away, just like he did with you.”

         Harry swallowed his awe at the golden magic just enough to start theorizing again. “I don’t suppose Doreen managed a barrier for you the way Mum did for me, if she was a Muggle.”

         “Probably not,” Keilana said softly. She blinked suddenly and frowned slightly at him. “Wait, the perfect fighter?”

         “Well, think about it. He created the perfect fighter, who then turned on him and refused to become a Death Eater. So he tried to kill you. Didn’t work. So he killed Doreen and erased your memory, then gave you to Draco. With the powers you’ve got, what else could you be but the result of some kind of human experimentation? It all makes sense when you start with the fact that I’ve been put on the back burner.”

         Now Keilana wore the bemused expression. “Of course it does.”

         “Kei?” a sleepy voice said at the door.

         They turned around.

         “Oh, hi, Draco,” she said.

         “What are you two doing up so late?” Draco asked, running his fingers through his bed-head hair.

         “How did you know where to find us?” Keilana shot back.

         “You think I can’t feel you if you’re the whole castle away? Hardly. What are you doing?”

         “Harry just found out that my father is Tom Riddle.”

         Draco stared for a moment. “I must be dreaming. Tom Riddle?”

         “Shall I start over?” Harry asked, mouth curving into a smile similar to Draco’s.

          “Yeah, I think you’d better.”

Chapter 26: The Yule Ball at Last
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         “Oh, Morgana – you look so beautiful, Ginny,” Hermione said tearfully.

         “You’re not my mother,” Ginny laughed as she spun energetically, causing the long skirt to lift from her ankles. “Why are you crying?”

         “I’m scared,” Hermione admitted softly, dabbing her eyes with a makeup-soiled handkerchief. “I’m not sure I want to go.”

         “But think how disappointed Ron would be,” Parvati protested, fastening the last clasp on her silk sari. “After all this time, he’s finally gotten together the nerve to ask you out, and you’re gonna stand him up?”

         “I wasn’t gonna stand him up. I was gonna make him take me someplace else where I could wear my normal clothes.”

         “Hermione!” Ginny admonished. “Ron deserves to see you looking this beautified—” She grinned mischievously. “—at least once before the wedding.”

         Hermione blushed deeply. “I’m not gonna marry him.”

         “Of course you are. The only person who doesn’t know it is you. Now hold still while we do your eyes – again.”

         “I’m really sorry,” Hermione said, keeping her eyes very still as her friends wiped them clean and started over. “I don’t know why I cry so easily. I never used to.”

         “You’re in love,” Lavender said, rolling out the love, as she finished teasing her own hair. “It’s called puberty, Hermione.”

         “I mean just in the last couple months,” Hermione retorted, glaring at her roommate.

         “Atch!” Ginny said, jerking the eyeliner back. “Hermione, now we have to start over again.”

         Hermione sighed softly. “Sorry!”

***


         “Ron, quit pacing! You’re gonna wear a rut in the carpet.”

         His best friend paid no attention to him, so Harry just sat there and watched Ron walk back and forth across the common room. The Gryffindor boys had been ready for a while now, but the girls were for the most part still upstairs. Harry’s thoughts drifted.

         Wonder how Jackie’s doing .... Maybe I should go visit her while I’m on vacation. Or even better, maybe I could get Miss Angie to let me stay at St. Mungo’s again.

         A ripple of gasps distracted him. He looked toward the reason, and his eyes grew quite wide. Hermione was making her way down the stairs, dressed in a shimmering pink gown. The entire common room watched in breathless awe. She stepped up beside Ron, who was gaping like a dying fish.

         “Do I look all right?” she whispered tentatively.

         “Unn-hunh,” Ron said, still staring.

         Hermione looked relieved. She tucked her arm through his and looked toward the stairs. Harry followed her gaze. Lavender made her way down next, amid respectful silence. She found her way to her date as Ginny appeared, looking like a fire-tipped ice princess. The reaction to Ginny was even greater than the one to Hermione. The entire room – Harry included – stood spellbound as Ginny elegantly made her way down the stairs and came to a stop beside her own date.

         “What do you think?” she asked slyly.

         “You look wonderful,” Harry said, kissing her on the cheek. “Shall we, my lady?”

         Ginny tucked her arm through his. “You’re surprisingly romantic, Harry.”

         Neville had left earlier to pick up Luna, and as the processions converged, that particular couple was utterly awed at the sight of both Hermione and Ginny. Luna herself didn’t look so bad, wearing a surprisingly pretty combination of orange and pink. Neville didn’t seem to mind the garish colors. Hogwarts’ students moved slowly along the halls, actually mingling for once.

         But tonight, Harry had eyes only for Ginny. And she noticed.

         “You’ve seen me in the dress already,” she commented during the first dance. “Why so amazed?”

         “You do realize I was able to answer you when you first came down?” Harry replied with a wink. “I’m glad I’d seen you earlier. I might have died on the spot if I hadn’t had some idea of what to expect.”

         “Merci beaucoup, mon ami.”

         “De rien, mon chou,” Harry replied instantly, all smirks.

         “Ton chou?” Ginny practically yelped, shocked.

         “I’ve already told you I love you,” Harry replied, mouth close to her ear so as not to be overheard. “Are you surprised for me to call you that?”

         “You just called me a cabbage,” Ginny protested, looking both a little hurt and a little angry.

         Harry chuckled. “Obviously, you didn’t learn your French in France.”

         “No, my mum taught me.”

         “It’s a compliment. Like—” Here, he pulled back to bow with flourish. “—de nada, mi corazon.”

         “I don’t speak Spanish,” Ginny pouted.

         Harry laughed aloud now, pulling her close. It was rather surreal, being together like this. Harry still found it almost unbearable to be in her presence, and yet he couldn’t stay way from her. Two years he’d been in love with her, and by the time he’d realized it, she’d already lost interest. Heartbroken, he’d immersed himself in his studies, both at Hogwarts and by himself. Then, that Christmas, he’d found Jackie. She’d made him stronger. She’d talked him into admitting he still liked Ginny.

         And now here they were. Almost a year later, he and Ginny were together at the Yule Ball.

         “Is something wrong?” Ginny asked.

         “No. Why?”

         “You look a bit misty.”

         Harry hugged her tightly. “I’m just glad you said yes. That’s all.”

         “So am I,” Ginny replied into his shoulder.

***


         “Unbelievably, she’s a lot prettier when she’s not dressed up,” Keilana observed from across the room, kicking her legs slightly. She was looking tenderly at Harry and Ginny, intertwined on the dance floor. She and Draco were sitting on one of the benches along the walls of the Great Hall, seeing as another migraine had struck Keilana.

         Draco was looking at Hermione. “You sure about that?” He was of the tentative opinion that tonight, the Muggleborn could have passed for the most sophisticated of Purebloods.

         Keilana smacked him playfully. “Wrong girl.”

         “Ginny’s pretty too – for a blood traitor,” Draco replied without missing a beat. His date winced, hand rising to her temple, and he reached over, gently taking her hand. “Are you all right, Kei?”

         She nodded briefly. “My head just hurts, is all.”

         “It hasn’t gone away yet?”

         “We should really see a doctor.”

         “They’d tell my parents.”

         “Well, maybe we could find one who wouldn’t,” Keilana replied, fist clenching against her cheek. “It’s getting so bad I can’t think straight sometimes. I really need to see someone.”

         “All right. I’ll take you to St. Mungo’s before we go back to the manor. We’ll stay at the Cauldron or something.”

         “Hey, guys,” Harry said, smiling down at them. “Enjoying yourselves?”

         “Oh, sí,” Keilana said, smirking. “Y tu? Con esta chica muy bonita.”

         Harry reddened, and Ginny frowned at him.

         “What did she say?” she said to Draco.

         “I don’t speak Spanish,” Draco replied with a slight shrug.

         Keilana hopped up. “Draco, could you take care of Master Harry’s date for a bit? I’d like to talk to him.”

         “Ask her, not me.”

         Ginny looked at Harry, who gave her a reassuring pat. She sat on the bench beside Draco, keeping well out of elbow’s reach, and the Potter siblings disappeared out into the garden. Biting her lip nervously, Ginny looked over at Draco.

         “Malfoy, could I ask you something?”

         “You just did.”

         “About Keilana.”

         He smirked roguishly. “I might not answer, but you can ask if you want to.”

         Ginny found herself smiling. “How did you two meet?”

         “She was a birthday present last summer,” Draco replied, completely matter-of-fact.

         “Right, you’re a Death Eater.”

         “She didn’t really have anything to do with them. He just decided her didn’t want her anymore and dumped her on me.” Draco smiled with a tenderness that surprised Ginny. “Not that I’m complaining or anything.” He frowned at her. “And I’ll have you know I’m not a Death Eater.”

         “Yet!”

          “Draco, be nice to her,” Hermione said sternly, suddenly standing in front of them with Ron. “Is something the matter?”

         “No,” they answered together.

         Hermione looked amused; Ron looked worried.

         “What happened to Harry?” he asked.

         “He went outside to talk with Kei,” Draco replied, tone casual but eyes meaningful.

         “Ah.”

         “Why does that not surprise you?” Ginny asked suspiciously.

         Keilana and Harry arrived back at the bench just as she said so. “Because he’s too used to us to be surprised by a little conspiracy,” Keilana sweetly informed them as she pulled her arm from the crook of Harry’s. She offered her hand to Draco instead. “Shall we, darling?”

         Draco shook his head amusedly and got up. They moved off to dance, and the Gryffindors looks soberly at each other. The evening continued as though none of them had come in contact with Keilana or Draco. But Ron was obviously burning with curiosity. And as soon as he had a chance, he asked about it.

         “What did she want?”

         Harry’s response was a mischievous grin. “Up for some Mystery-raiding this Christmas?”

         “Depends on your definition of raiding. What mystery?”

         “The Department,” Harry explained patiently. “The three of us are all going to St. Mungo’s before the shut they main clinics down for Christmas. We’ll all be staying at the Leaky Cauldron. So, since we’re gonna be in London for a few days, we’re going to sneak into the Ministry and see if we can find out what’s going on with Keilana.”

         “Is something wrong with her?”

         “Some kind of spell attached itself to her when she got attacked a couple months ago. She’s losing her mind.”

         “Should that worry me?”

         Harry punched Ron lightly in the arm just as Hermione and Ginny came scampering back from a crowd of girls that Harry had mostly never talked to. Even their arrival didn’t keep the guys from bursting into laughter though.

         “What’s so funny?” Hermione asked, tucking her elbow around Ron’s other arm.

         “Nothing. We were just talking.”

         Ginny looked over her shoulder at the band. “Last dance, you guys. Come on.”

         Harry laughed as Ginny pulled him out onto the dance floor. She was an amazing dancer, and Harry was very grateful that Jackie had “taught” him how to dance so well. Something about Ginny’s aura drove him quite crazy, and he—

         Crazy? Oh, hell. But it makes sense for her to have it too. I’ll have to ask Ron later ....

         “Harry, didn’t you say something about being a normal couple?”

         Startled, he focused his gaze on her. “What about it?”

         Ginny smiled up at him. “When are you going to kiss me?”

         “What do you mean?” Harry asked, genuinely puzzled. “We’ve kissed.”

         “No. I’ve kissed you. You haven’t kissed me.”

         “Sure I have!”

         “Well, on the cheek, yeah. And the nose, but that doesn’t count.”

         “But I have k— Oh. Never mind. No, I haven’t. Do you want me to?”

         Ginny frowned. “Why is this something you remember that I don’t?”

         “Well, you were drunk at the time,” Harry said awkwardly, averting his gaze.

         “So you did do something that night!”

         “Hey, I’ve already apologized.”

         “What was it like?” Ginny asked, ignoring his retort.

         “Hunh? Well .... it was very nice.”

         Ginny shook her head, sending fire-colored ringlets dancing about her freckled face. “No, genius,” she said with a laugh. “Show me.”

         Harry stopped moving. Right there in the middle of the dance floor, he bent his head and gently pressed his lips to Ginny’s. The electric charge exploded through his skull like a silent thunderclap, and the swirl of energy filled his body. Ginny was the one who broke the circuit. She sank against his chest with a soft moan.

         “The one I was thinking of wasn’t that long,” Harry commented as they walked to the nearest bench. Ginny landed in a way that suggested her knees had simply given way beneath her. To be honest, Harry’s knees weren’t feeling too strong either. He lowered himself onto the wood beside her.

         “I don’t think it matters now,” Ginny replied softly.

         Harry wrapped an arm around her and held her close. “May every kiss only grow sweeter as time goes on.”

         Ginny laughed and leaned into his side. “I love you, Harry.”

         “I love you too.”

Chapter 27: Winter Break Begins
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         Ginny yawned loudly and wriggled toward the edge of the bed. It came more quickly than she expected, and she sprawled onto the cold stone floor. She looked about, wide-eyed, realizing this was not her bed, or even her dorm room.

         “Morning, sunshine,” Luna said with a laugh, flicking her wand toward the wayward covers on her bed. “You really need to master the finer points of mixing drinks. You’re absolute rubbish at coming up with a drink that doesn’t knock a body out cold.”

         “Well, excuse me,” Ginny retorted sleepily, “but weren’t we trying to get knocked out?” She shifted slightly so that as much of her body touched the floor as possible. “What am I doing here?”

         Ginny’s best friend smirked slightly. “We went to the Room last night after the Ball, remember? And yes, we were trying to get knocked out. And, seeing as you and Harry are going steady, I didn’t think sending you home with him was such a good idea, not with both of you staggering drunk.”

         “Luna! You know Harry is a perfect gentleman.”

         “Of course I do. I’m just teasing. You gonna do the walk of shame, or should I get you some of my clothes?”

         “Find some clothes you haven’t given back yet,” Ginny said, rolling her eyes and finally picking herself up off the floor. It had felt good somehow, cool to the raging tingle swelling inside her.

         Luna found some of Ginny’s clothes without too much difficulty – the best friends were shaped enough alike that much their clothing could be worn interchangeably. Even here at Hogwarts, they traded their casual clothes quite frequently. Ginny pulled her missing lime-colored sweater over her head and got to work on her bed-head tangle. Luna found her a comb without teasing her too much.

         “Which train are you taking?” she inquired, finally settling behind Ginny and working the tangles out herself.

         “The one leaving after lunch,” Ginny replied, gripping her knees tightly as Luna attacked a particularly stubborn knot. “You’re leaving tomorrow morning, right?”

         “Yeah. Are you going to Grimmauld Place this Christmas?”

         “Mm-hmm. You should come. The more the merrier.”

         “My dad’s been feeling a bit under the weather recently, so I think I better go home. But if you’re open Christmas Day, maybe I could bring him over for a little bit?”

         “Sure,” Ginny said. “I’m sure Mum would love to have him. She’s used to unexpected visitors. And she is rather fond of your dad. I am too, actually. He tells such funny stories.”

         Luna laughed her old guffaw. “I’ll be sure to tell him that.”

***




         “Welcome back, Harry,” Tom said, smiling up at Harry as the young man stood at the check-in counter. “Your usual room?”

         “Yes, sir,” Harry said, lowering his trunk long enough to receive the keys. “Thank you.” He had taken the morning train, not wanting to face deal with his friends’ .... friendliness today. With the hangover he’d awakened to, talking was not going to be his strong point for a few hours. By the time the Express reached King’s Cross, the nausea and headache had mostly passed, and the short walk to the Leaky Cauldron had refreshed him after the long ride.

         The room – the same one he had gotten every time he’d stayed here – shook several times as he settled into it. The trains never rested in Muggle London. Just as he finished unpacking, someone knocked on the door. He opened it to discover Keilana and Draco standing in the hallway.

         “Wassup, big bro? We’re staying across the hall from you.”

         Harry shot Draco a hard look, and the Slytherin put his hands up.

         “I know, I know. She’s not mine.”

         Keilana had already bounced into Harry’s room. “Oh, this is so cool. Is that King’s Cross down there?”

         “Yeah, it is,” Harry said, stepping back into the room behind her.

         “For the record, Harry,” Draco commented as he closed the door behind them, “if I was going to do anything to her, I would have done it already, and I wouldn’t have tried it anywhere near you.”

         “Death Eaters,” Harry muttered, but he was laughing. “So do we have a plan? Or are we just gonna randomly storm the Ministry of Magic?”

         “Oh, do be serious, Harry,” Keilana exclaimed, pretending to be annoyed.

         “Why?” Harry smirked back. “You’re the one going insane.”

         “Harry!” Keilana wailed.

         Ignoring their bickering, Draco unrolled a map on top of the worn table. Immediately quite serious, Harry whistled appreciatively as a detailed blueprint of the Ministry rippled across the tattered parchment. Keilana looked curiously at him.

         “You recognize it?”

         “The spell, not the map,” Harry explained. “I have one of Hogwarts.” He saw the eagerness on her face. “Which, unfortunately, is where I left it. I’ll show it to you when we get back, okay?”

         Though disappointed, she nodded. “Okay.”

         Draco ran his finger lightly over the moving ink. “Should we start with the Hall of Prophecy?”

         Ron chose that moment to come bursting through the door. “You know, if you wanted me to help, you could have told me where you were staying,” he complained half-jokingly as he put down his own trunk. “It took me forever to get Tom to tell me what room you were staying in!”

         “Sorry, Ron,” Harry laughed. “I wasn’t expecting you to escape so early. You ready to go?”

         “I was born ready.”

***




         “Nothing,” Keilana sighed, plopping onto the stone ring around the Fountain of Magical Brethren. “No prophecies about a Keilana even unrelated to Voldemort. And none for him at all besides the one about you, Harry.”

         “What about the Record Hall?” Ron asked. “Can’t we find your birth certificate?”

         “Ron, I’m not even legitimate. I seriously doubt that you’re going to find Keilana Crowe in the Record Hall.”

         Harry’s eyes narrowed slightly, a sure sign that he’d had an idea. “Well, maybe not Keilana Crowe, but the best fighter is one that can go anywhere, right? A registered identity would make you blend in with everyone else.” He paused to frown thoughtfully. “I doubt it’s going to be that name though.”

         “Wonderful. First my memories, now my name.”

         Draco was thinking hard. “Look under Riddle. He’s conceited enough to use his own name. If any of the names under Riddle seem suspicious, I’d say it’s a safe bet that the certificate is hers.”

         “That’s a great idea!” Keilana exclaimed, kissing him on the cheek. “Let’s go.”

         The guys followed her with mild amusement. There were four names under Riddle: Amanda, Kassidia, Tom, and Vernon. Tom was classified – Voldemort through and through. Vernon, on the other hand, was some immigrant’s son. Neither of the girl’s certificates were classified, so they opened them up to check the information.

         “Well, this one isn’t you,” Ron announced, waving Amanda’s certificate. “She was born in 1977.”

         “And this one has red hair and hazel eyes,” Harry said in defeat.

         Keilana deflated. “It was a good idea though,” she said to Draco.

         “Thanks,” he said dryly.

         “Kei, when is your birthday?” Harry asked suddenly, keeping Kassidia’s certificate out.

         “Ummm ....”

         “How the hell should she know?” Draco snapped. “She barely even remembers her mother.”

         “Please,” Harry said, ignoring Draco’s outburst. “Can you remember what month?”

         “I know I was born in late ’82 or early ’83,” Keilana replied slowly. “I barely managed to get away with rooming in the fifth-year dorm.” Her eyebrows scrunched tightly together. “August,” she finally said. “August 11th, 1982.”

         Harry handed Kassidia’s file to Draco. “There you are. That’s Keilana’s real name.”

         “Kassidia Lily-Anne Riddle,” Draco said in a tone of bored skepticism. “Born August 11th, 1982. Female. Red hair, hazel eyes. How can this be Keilana when Kassidia has red hair and hazel eyes?”

         “My mum had red hair. Tom has hazel eyes. The soul sweep explains what you looks like – if he erased your mind, it would makes sense for him to change your body while he was at it. And the timeframe is good too.”

         “If he moved very quickly.”

         “Well, give him a month or so to find a host, and another month to talk Doreen into having the baby for him. This is Voldemort we’re talking about, Malfoy. You of all people should know how good he is at manipulating people.”

         “Shut up.”

         Keilana had taken the file from Draco was reading the information with an almost ravenous look on her face. She whispered the name softly to herself, drinking in its sound. The look on her face was such that neither Draco nor Harry had the heart to continue into a full-blown fight.

         “You’re exactly a year younger than Ginny,” Ron observed, having recovered from the shock of discovering that Keilana was so much younger than them.

         “I am?”

         “That’s her birthday too.”

         Keilana beamed, but Draco suddenly launched himself at her and brought her crashing to the floor. A bolt of gray energy exploded against the shelf exactly behind where her head had been. The Gryffindors instinctively dived for cover as Keilana curled up around the file. The second spell shattered inches from the Slytherins, and several fragments penetrated Keilana’s shoulder. She let out a scream of pain and Draco used himself for a shield as he attempted to finish his incantation. Ron finished it for him and the spell-repellent ripple appeared solidly around the four of them.

         “Thanks,” Draco said, giving the whimpering Keilana his full attention. She was shuddering violently, breath coming in gasps. Leaving her to Draco for the moment, Harry pulled his wand out and began to fire multi-colored flashes of light back at their attackers.

         “What’s wrong with her?” Ron asked loudly, letting fly a few spells of his own, as the warning sirens came on throughout the Ministry. The spells shooting toward them tapered off, and a scuffle sounded as the figures escaped.

         “I don’t know!” Draco yelled back, sliding his arms under Keilana’s shoulders and knees. “But I don’t think we can delay the trip to Mungo’s any longer.”

         “Ron, hug them,” Harry ordered, the light of his wand changing from rainbow to a cloudy silver.

         “What?!”

         “Just do it!”

         Amazed, Ron obeyed. Harry wrapped his free arm around Keilana’s dangling legs and spoke authoratively in Latin. The shield sucked in around them, and the teleportation spell lit up against their very skin.

         The four found themselves collapsing away from each other in Angie Winthrop’s empty office.

Chapter 28: The St. Mungo's Emergency Ward
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         “What in the world?”

         Harry quickly got up. “Hi, Miss Angie. Sorry for the unconventional entrance, but our friend here just got hexed, and we need to see a healer right away.”

         Angie had opened the door only seconds after the boys had gotten their breath back. She stared at Harry open-mouthed for a few more seconds, then quickly pulled her wand free. Six more seconds to get Draco to uncurl his arms, and Keilana was being magicked down the hall. Draco gave Harry the look, and Keilana’s half-brother quickly followed. Like the Boy Who Lived with an amnesiac raven would be any less conspicuous than Draco Malfoy with an amnesiac raven. Especially since Harry had already spent some time here with Jackie.

         Draco ran his fingers through his hair, turning it a reddish brown; his skin lost its pallor, and freckles sprouted across his face. Ron stared.

         “I’m not sure if I should be insulted or humiliated.”

         “It’s not like I’m gonna ask to be adopted into your family,” Draco replied with a slight shrug. “Chill.”

         “So now what?” Ron asked, leaning his head against the wall and exhaling loudly.

         “Let’s go see his aunt,” Draco said spontaneously.

         “You’re kidding, right?”

         “Nope.”

         Ron got up. “Well, I guess there’s nothing better to do. Where is she staying?”

         Jackie was more than glad to see them. Having mostly completed her rehabilitation, she was energetic and youthful and still very much out of her mind. She greeted them both with hugs and asked what they were doing at St. Mungo’s. Ron explained as best he could.

         “Fata morgana,” she said, grasping Draco’s shoulder tightly. “Is she all right?”

         “We don’t know yet,” Draco said. “She’s in the Mew with Harry.”

         “Let’s go find out,” Jackie said, perking up.

         “She can’t be out of suspension yet,” Ron protested. “They probably won’t even know what’s wrong with her for a few hours at least.”

         “Well, let’s call it a walk then,” Jackie said, winking at him. She offered her elbows, and each boy tucked an arm through on either side. “So what are you two planning to do while you’re out of Hogwarts?”

         “I was going to celebrate Christmas at Grimmauld Place with my family, but then Kei decided to break into the Ministry,” Ron said wryly. “I don’t really mind though. Until we go attacked at least, it was actually kind of fun.”

         “Did you say Grimmauld?” Jackie interrupted, both surprised and eager.

         “Yeah,” Ron replied. “Why?”

         “That’s the portal to the Blacks’ home, isn’t it?”

         “Please keep in mind that you’re talking in front of a Death Eater spy.”

         “Hey,” Draco said, releasing the morph.

         “Oh, come on – you looked good with red hair.”

         “Well, it’s not like anyone’s looking, and Keilana is far enough removed that no one would connect us now. Miss Potter, what are you doing?”

         “Right, you’re a Malfoy,” Jackie had remembered, and she was examining him more closely. “Who did Lucius end up marrying anyway? You look a lot like Narcissa Black.”

         “That’s who he married,” he admitted, pale eyebrows rising incredulously at her astute observation. “Like my mother, huh? Wow. I don’t get that one very often.”

         “Oh, the personality is your father’s to a tee. But the face is definitely your mother’s.”

         Ron was looking the other way now, trying hard not to laugh. Draco didn’t bother to threaten him. They had reached Mungo’s Emergency Ward now, and the one-way glass allowed them to see that Keilana was still on the table. She looked stable, but the healers were still milling around wands in hand.

         “I’m guessing they haven’t found out what’s wrong with her yet,” Jackie observed.

         “Ron?”

         He quickly pulled his arm free and spun around. “Ginny? Hermione! What are you doing here?”

         Ginny’s eyes had narrowed considerably. “None of your business. Why are you here with Malfoy and this .... this— Who is this?”

         “Jackie Potter,” she replied proudly, managing a bow without applying too much undue pressure to Draco’s shoulder. “And that’s Keilana in there. I understand she attends Hogwarts with you”

         “Keilana?” Hermione said worriedly, stepping up to the glass. “What happened? Is she all right?”

         Ginny really didn’t care about Keilana, so she didn’t really listen to Draco’s response. She was staring intently at Jackie’s long raven hair and attentive hazel eyes. She obviously saw the uncanny similarity quite clearly. She grasped her shield pendant tightly as she spoke.

         “Did you say Potter?”

         Jackie glanced a bit self-righteously at Ginny. “Yes, I did. Is there a problem with that?”

         “Any relation to Harry Potter?”

         That got everyone’s attention. Hermione, looking again, noticed the resemblance too. Draco appeared entirely bemused; Ron just waited for the temper tantrum.

         “Oh, yes.”

         When Jackie offered nothing further, Hermione finally said, “Related how?”

         “He found me in a genie bottle last Christmas,” Jackie said indifferently, turning her attention back to the glass. “Say, do either of you know what color that spell was that hit her?”

         “It was gray,” Draco replied immediately.

         “What kind of gray?”

         “Umm, gray like pewter.”

         Jackie fished through her hospital gown for her wand and, upon finding it, slipped directly through the glass. The students watched wide-eyed as she chased all the healers out. She examined Keilana even more closely than she had Draco, looking up only when Angie burst in. Her verbal assault was cut off by a few long words from Jackie. Angie immediately opened the door and yelled for a hex specialist.

         Inside, Harry suddenly grew out of the floor. (He had been sitting against the wall underneath the window.) Ron tapped on the glass, and Harry turned to look out. He saw the others standing in the hall and quickly exited the MEW to join them.

         “What’s going on?” Hermione asked. “Is she all right?”

         Harry looked rather stunned. “Unbelievable.”

         “What?” Draco and Ron said together, tones varying somewhat.

         “That spell back in November? Jackie thinks it’s eating away her magic.”

         “What about the spell today?” Draco asked impatiently.

         “It’s some kind of illusion. Jackie said it’d wear off on its own in a few hours. But Keilana should be fine, since we’re not gonna use it to interrogate her.”

         “Will someone please tell us what’s going on here?!” Ginny exclaimed. “What are you all doing here?” She spun toward Ron. “I thought you were going to drop by Wizard Rayne’s before going to Grimmauld!”

         “I was going to,” Ron protested. “But I don’t think I’ll make it now.”

         Inside the MEW, Keilana was sitting up and opening her eyes. She was quickly ushered into a private room a couple floors away. The other students followed, Ginny and Ron arguing most of the way. Harry suddenly yanked Ginny to a stop and kissed her full on the lips. The others stopped to watch Ginny’s reaction.

         “Ginny!” Harry said intensely. “Jackie is my aunt, okay? She got trapped in the genie bottle so she’s actually nineteen, but she’s my aunt.” He let got of her shoulders. “And Keilana? She’s my half-sister, but she has amnesia. That’s why we were in the Department of Mysteries. We were trying to find out who she really is.” His eyes opened wide and he forgot Ginny completely. “Oh, crap. What happened to the file?”

         “Keilana never let go of it,” Ron said. “It must still be in Healer Winthrop’s office.”

         They took off running, and Ginny just stood there, round-eyed and open-mouthed.

         “She’s his what? He has a who?”

         Draco had managed to slip through the door into Keilana’s room, so only Hermione stood out in the hall with her now. Ginny spun on her, eyes flashing.

         “Did you know about this?”

         “No, I swear! I always thought there was something odd about Keilana, but I had no idea she was Harry’s sister!”

         “Half-sister,” Ginny said. “How can that be?”

         “You’re a wizard and you can’t imagine?” Harry almost laughed as he and Ron got back. He tapped on Keilana’s door and Draco leaned out. “How’s she feeling?”

         “She’s fine,” Draco said, rolling his eyes to show that he was quoting her.

         “Can we come in?” Ron asked hopefully.

         “Kei, can they come in?”

         Draco waited a moment for Keilana’s response, then opened the door for them. Ron and Hermione both went in at once, but Harry grabbed Ginny’s wrist to keep her from entering. Draco politely closed the door.

         “I’m really sorry, Ginny,” Harry said sincerely, barely noticing the tingle that was shooting up his arm. “I wanted to tell you right away, but Jackie wouldn’t let me tell anyone.”

         “That’s all right, Harry,” Ginny said, putting her fingers to his lips. “I’m used to you keeping secrets.” Her eyes hardened and she lowered her hand. “But I have to ask you something. And our future relationship depends on your honesty.”

         Harry only kept from laughing because of the serious look on her face. “Okay.”

         “Did you do anything to me? That night I slept with you in the Room of Requirement.”

         “No,” Harry said firmly. “I just spent the night on the couch next to you.”

         “But you didn’t actually do anything.”

         For once, Harry didn’t have to struggle to sound completely sincere. “No, I didn’t.”

         “And nothing any time since then?”

         “Nothing. I’d rather die that lay a finger on you. You know that.”

         Ginny sighed softly and sank against him. “Guess that means someone else did it.”

         “Did what?” Harry asked hesitantly, wrapping his arms around her.

         “I’m not really sure,” Ginny replied helplessly. “I’ve been feeling really strange for about a month. I told Hermione about it, and she agreed to bring me here secretly today.”

         Harry frowned at her. “How could you not tell anyone?”

         “Well, it hasn’t been that bad until recently. I’ve been getting these .... like hot flashes, I think, except I can really, physically feel them. I just fill up with this hot energy, and my whole body burns.”

         “Should I tell you what that sounds like to me?” Harry asked, smirking slightly.

         Ginny groaned. “I don’t know how to describe it. Just that it’s some kind of energy. Here, give me your hand and I’ll see if I can show you.”

         He obeyed, and she cupped her hands around his. Their hands were soon almost on fire where they touched, a silent buzz growing between their skin. Harry’s eyes slid shut as the tangible vibe spread from his hand throughout his entire body. Ginny’s eyes opened wide and she yanked her hands away.

         “What’d you just do?”

         “Nothing,” Harry said slowly. “Why?”

         “You just sucked the heat out.”

         “What heat?”

         “The heat I’m worried about that’s been building up in me? You just sucked it out of me.”

         “Are you two coming in to see Keilana?” Jackie asked, leaning out the door.

         “Sure,” Harry said. “Come on.”

         Ginny followed slowly, obviously puzzled. Harry abruptly stopped and turned to look at her.

         “Have you been to a healer yet?”

         “No.”

         “When you do, ask him to look for dragon’s bane in your blood.”

         “In my blood?”

         “Yeah. Dragon-charmers have traces of it right in their blood. That’s why they can charm dragons.”

         “What’s that got to do with anything?”

         “Your brother is a dragon-charmer. Charlie probably is too. For all we know, you could just need some training.”

         Ginny’s mouth had dropped open. “A dragon-charmer?” she said, glaring into the hospital room at Ron.

         “He’s been working on it by himself, but he’s gotten pretty good. I think Keilana got him some help. But anyway, you could have developed some foil to whatever it is that I developed from being attacked by a black dragon.”

         “You what?!”

         Wincing slightly, Harry darted inside. He walked briskly to Keilana’s side and kissed the top of her head. “Hey, girl,” he said kindly. “You look terrible.”

         “Hey, I found out my name. It’s totally worth it.”

         “What, did you lose it?” Ginny asked bitingly, stepping into the room but remaining at the door.

         Keilana offered her the file. “No, we just found out what my real name was.”

         When Ginny didn’t walk over to take it, Hermione did. She read with interest, while Ginny watched jealously. Even the smartest wizard their age was completely occupied with this girl. Ginny leaned against the wall and folded her arms tightly to her ribs. Luna, standing beside Hermione, didn’t miss the expression on her best friend’s face. Muffling a groan of disgust, Luna grasped Harry by the arm and pulled him back out into the hall. She closed the door and moved several steps away. Harry followed out of pure curiosity.

         “What’s wrong?”

         “Harry, that girl has been head over heels in love with you for six years, and you’re more worried about someone you’ve known only four months!”

         He stared. “She almost got killed this afternoon. Why shouldn’t I be worried?”

         Luna covered her eyes with one hand and sighed loudly. “Never mind. Just .... be nice to Ginny, okay? It’s really hard for her to find out about Jackie and Keilana all at once. And did I hear you tell her about Raén-Iant?”

         “I didn’t explain it.”

         “Well, you should.”

         Harry just walked back into the room. Luna followed, watching keenly to see what he would do. To her disappointment and annoyance, he looked at Angie and inquired how Keilana was doing.

         “There’s really nothing we can do for her without doing more tests to find out exactly what it is that she has. We’ll need your aunt for that – I hope you don’t mind.”

         “Trust me, Miss Angie. There’s nothing more destructive than Jackie with time on her hands.”

         Angie giggled. “We’ll keep her busy then.”

         “Is there anything I can do to help?”

         “No.”

         “Alrighty then. Ginny! Come with me.”

         Completely shocked, Ginny was easily led out of the building. She refused to hold his hand when he let go of her wrist, but kept even with his stride, exhibiting the exact same obstinacy as Ron.

         “Where are we going, Harry?” she asked coldly.

         “I dunno. I thought we’d find a nice Muggle café and sit down for a talk.”

         The forbidding aura emanating from Ginny’s petite body eased ever so slightly. “For a talk?”

         “Yes, Ginny, a talk,” Harry said with a grin. He held up three fingers. “For three hours, I will answer your questions with absolutely honesty. Once we find a safe place, anyway.”

         Ginny threw her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. “Thanks, Harry.”

          “Anything for you, Ginny.”

Chapter 29: Home For the Holidays
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         “So how’s she doing?” Harry asked, peeking through the curtains at his half-sister sleeping in her hospital bed. Draco was perched in the visitor’s chair like some sort of gymnast, and even more amazingly, he was sound asleep. Hermione, Ron, and Ginny had returned to the flat in Grimmauld Place for now, and Luna had gone home to her father. Only Harry and Draco had remained in the hospital for these three days of healers testing Keilana and arguing about the results.

         “I don’t think her life is in danger,” Jackie replied quietly. “But her magic definitely is. She’s slowly losing it, and we don’t know when it will stop.”

         “Can a wizard live without magic?” Harry asked, looking at Angie.

         “We don’t know,” she answered helplessly. “No wizard has ever lost his magic.”

         “When can she come back to Hogwarts?”

         “That depends on how much you want us to do for her,” Jackie replied, half-jokingly.

         “But you don’t know what’s wrong with her.”

         “Therein lies the problem,” Angie sighed, checking one of Keilana’s vitals and marking it on her clipboard. “I suppose we could give her a potion for the pain, and some pills for mental clarity, but you should talk to her first. That might make her even worse.”

         Harry woke Draco up and updated him on the latest theories. Draco looked stricken. He reached over and gently grasped Keilana by the shoulder. She murmured slightly. When he shook her, she rolled onto her back and glared at them.

         “What?”

         “Your tests came back,” Harry said gently.

         Keilana struggled upright. “Well?”

         “Jackie thinks that you’re losing your magic.”

         “What do you mean, losing?”

         “I guess, basically, you’re turning into a Muggle.”

         Keilana’s black eyes flickered just a bit lighter, looking almost brown for a moment. “If that happens, will I still be able to go to Hogwarts?”

         “You won’t be able to do anything,” Draco protested. “Why would you want to go?”

         “I’d been with you,” Keilana said, leaning back against her pillows. “I don’t want to stay with your parents.”

         “They’re not that bad,” Draco said, pretending to be insulted, as he sat on the bed next to her.

         “What about Harry? He’s the only blood family I’ve got.” She saw the look on Harry’s face. “And no, Jackie does not count as family. She’s your dad’s sister, remember?”

         “Well, not blood-related ....”

         Draco smiled tenderly. “You can stay here if you want, Kei. It’s your choice.”

         “Are you crazy?! I’ve only been here a few days and I’m already about to die of boredom. Of course I want to leave!” She leaned forward eagerly. “When do I get to?”

         “Angie says she’s could give you something for the pain and the headache, and you could leave already, but it could make you worse.”

         “Can’t they do something about me losing my magic?”

         “I don’t think so.”

         “Well, then – on with the potion!”

         Amused by her energy, Harry and Draco went to talk to Angie. She agreed to release Keilana, and Draco took her home to Malfoy Manor. Harry remained to visit Carson, and he bumped into Jackie on his way out. She was sitting next to the fountain, looking utterly dejected. Harry plopped down next to her.

         “What’s the matter?”

         “With Keilana gone, I have nothing left to do.”

         “You could come to Black Moor with us.”

         “What’s the point if Sirius isn’t there?”

         “Did you like him that much?” Harry laughed.

         “No, he had too many girlfriends. But he was fun to hang out with. I swear, we got James into so much trouble.”

         Harry laughed, and took his leave. All the same, early in the morning on Christmas Eve, he and Ron slipped into her room in the Leaky Cauldron. Harry stunned her, and using Harry’s invisibility cloak, they discreetly carried her out of the inn. Upon reaching Grimmauld Place, Ron unlocked the door of Number 12.

         “Get the door,” Harry barked, struggling under the weight of a limp form that he couldn’t see. Ron quickly found the day’s transporting closet, and the boys squeezed inside with Jackie supported precariously between them. Ron selected a portkey to a shed in the Blacks’ yard, and the stuffy closet whirled into a stuffy garden shed. When they had sufficiently regained their balance, they propped Jackie up against some sacks of potting soil. Harry quickly revived her.

         “What in the world?!” Jackie shrieked, leaping up.

         “Morning, sunshine,” Harry laughed, catching her from behind as she reeled from the rude awakening. “Tomorrow is Christmas.”

         “It is?”

         “Yup,” Ron said. “And you’re coming with us.”

         “I don’t wanna!” Jackie whined as Ron opened the doors to the sight of the far-flung manor. She whistled appreciatively as they stepped into the crisp December air. “This place never changes.”

         “Is that good or bad?” Harry asked as he helped her up the front steps.

         “Good. I’ve only seen the place a couple times, but it sure holds up to memory.”

         “I’m glad you think fondly of it. We’re used to it being dark and dirty.”

         “That’s sad. It never was a happy place, but it did used to be beautiful.”

         “OH. MY. WORD.”

         They snapped toward the balcony above. Cassi Garner stared open-mouthed down at them. Lupin walked through the doorway behind her just in time to be deafened by ecstatic screams from both women. Cassi vaulted over the railing and landed lightly in front of Jackie. Jackie threw her arms around the assistant professor and jumped up and down with her. Gripping the railing tightly, Lupin could only stare.

         “This is what happens when you pick the wrong pleasure,” Harry called up to him. “Come down and say hello, professor.”

         Lupin chose the stairs, but he arrived as quickly as he could. “Jackie?”

         Jackie’s eyes widened and she stopped squealing. “Goodness, is that you, Remus? You look awful.”

         “Thank you,” Lupin said dryly. “It’s nice to see you too.”

         “I’m just kidding, Rem,” Jackie laughed, hugging him. “I knew it would happen. I just missed it in action.”

         “We thought you were dead!” Cassi said, still bouncing in place. “What happened? How did you get here?”

         Jackie explained her story while Harry and Ron headed up to where the rest of the populace was preparing for Christmas. The girls were wrapping presents, and Ginny immediately got up to hug Harry.

         “Welcome back,” she smiled. “Did she get here all right?”

         “Yes, she’s being attacked by Cassi and Lupin right now,” Harry replied with a mischievous grin. “What are they doing here?”

         “A whole bunch of our guests for tomorrow are spending the night tonight,” Hermione informed him, looking puzzled at the almost-fake frown Ron was projecting in her direction. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

         “Why don’t you ever get up to greet me?”

         Hermione rolled her eyes and got up. After hugging him, however, she bounced up to kiss him. Ron lowered his head to give her more of a fighting chance, and Ginny and Harry averted their gazes.

         “Get a room, you two!” Ginny exclaimed. “Honestly.”

         “Oh, come on,” Hermione teased. “You two have done the exact same thing.”

         “Well, we were drunk.”

         “Crap,” Harry murmured.

         “What?” Ginny asked, turning to look at him.

         “I forgot to bring my gifts with me. Leave some tissue for me, okay, Mione?”

         “Okay,” Hermione replied.

         Ginny chased him out the door. “Harry, wait! Can I come with you?”

         He paused to stare down at her. “Okay.”

         She tucked her arm through his and they stepped into the portal.

Chapter 30: Something of a Date
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         Since Hogwarts had portal-type magic blocked, Harry and Ginny arrived in Hogsmeade.

         “You don’t mind walking, do you?” Harry said to Ginny.

         “No,” she replied, smiling. “I like walking. And you’re not exactly bad company.”

         Harry laughed. “Hey, come on.”

         They walked into Crowe’s Curios to look around. Harry watched Ginny carefully, and discreetly purchased some of the things she exclaimed over. She didn’t notice, so he teased her about buying something to go with her ball gown.

         “Oh, Harry, you mustn’t,” Ginny exclaimed. “I barely got my parents to let me keep it.”

         Harry’s eyes lit up. “I’ll be right back.”

         Ginny patiently waited for him in the book section. She was sneaking a look at a questionable romance novel when Harry surprised her by touching an icy can of Coke to the back of her neck. Ginny shrieked and dropped the book.

         “Wow,” Harry said. “I wasn’t expecting that dynamic a reaction.”

         “What is that?” Ginny inquired, quickly putting the book back on the shelf.

         “It’s a Muggle drink,” Harry explained, handing her one. “You find anything you like?”

         “I’m not really much of a reader.”

         Harry laughed. “Well, I guess we better get to Hogwarts. Your dear brother might start to worry if we take too long.”

         Ginny tucked her arm through his. “I’m sure.”

         It didn’t take them long to pick the items up from the boys’ dorm in Hogwarts, but the castle was so quiet that they couldn’t resist going for a short walk. “Short” here meaning only a couple hours.

         “Master Harry!”

         “Oh! Dobby, right?” Ginny asked, looking at Harry.

         “Yep.”

         “Happy Christmas, Master Harry,” the house-elf said shyly, holding a colorful box up to Harry. “Dobby is glad Master Harry came back to Hogwarts for Christmas.”

         “I’m sorry, Dobby, I’m just here to pick some things up. This is for me? Thanks, Dobby. Shall I open it right now?”

         Dobby nodded again, just as eagerly. Harry unwrapped the box and found a new pair of Quidditch gloves.

         “Oh, wow!” Harry said, pulling them up to his elbows and holding his arms out to admire the fit. “Thank you so much, Dobby. But I forgot your present in my room. I’ll be right back, okay?”

         Ginny looked worried, but she opted to wait with Dobby. Harry came charging down the stairs a few minutes later. He dropped to his haunches next to Dobby and offered a much larger box, tied by a wide silk ribbon. Dobby opened it very carefully and jumped up and down at the sight of his present. Ginny was puzzled by this, since the contents were simply a plain white shirt and a pair of brown britches. Dobby pulled the britches on under his garish purple and green robe. He then took the robe off and put the shirt on.

         “Dobby, you look ravishing,” Ginny said, hiding a smile.

         “Does the pretty lady really think so? Is Dobby really ravishing?”

         “Yes, you are,” Harry laughed. “Although I probably wouldn’t have said ravishing. There’s one more thing in the box, Dobby.”

         Multicolored robe forgotten now, Dobby dug into the box and came up with a soft leather vest. “Oh, sir! Thank you so much, Master Harry, sir! Dobby is respectable now to go calling on Winky.”

         “Ah,” Ginny said in understanding. “A courting suit. Well, good luck with her, Dobby. You’re a wonderful house-elf.”

         “Oh, thank you, Pretty Lady.” Dobby grabbed her hand and rubbed it against his cheek. “Pretty Lady is nice. Master Harry should court Pretty Lady.”

         “I’m planning on it, Dobby,” Harry said, flushing in spite of his laughter. “Happy Christmas.”

         Dobby waved energetically as Harry and Ginny walked back up the stairs to the ground level. Ginny leaned against Harry and gazed down the empty hall with a sad look on her face.

         “What is it, Ginny?”

         “Six months, Harry. Six months, and you’ll be graduating along with the only people in my house that I can openly talk to. And I’ll still have another year left here.”

         “Would you feel better if I promised to wait for you?”

         She looked up to see if he was serious. “Yes,” she said, when she saw that he was. “That would make me feel a lot better.”

         His serious expression immediately gave way to childish mischief. “Too bad. I ain’t promisin’ you anythin’.”

         Ginny smacked him. “Harry!”

         Laughing, he just ran down the hall. Shaking her head in amusement, Ginny chased after him.

***


         “Where did Harry and Ginny get to?” Jackie said, looking scandalously excited.

         “They went to get Harry’s Christmas presents,” Hermione replied, zipping the ribbon case shut. “They’ve been gone an awfully long time though, especially since Harry can do wand-portals.”

         “He can?” Lupin said, startled.

         “I taught him the spell,” Jackie said proudly. “Hey, Cass, since we’re all here, could you do me a favor?”

         “We’re not all here,” Cassi replied sadly.

         “No, I guess not. Isn’t there anyone else left?”

         “Reg is still alive,” Lupin spoke up. “He’s teaching alchemy at Hogwarts.”

         “Are you serious?!” Jackie squealed, dragging them toward the door. “You two have got to tell me all about what’s happened since I got trapped!”

         Hermione stared after them, rather amazed by Jackie’s enthusiasm. Ron had been sent to the attic to get some decorations for his mother, so she was cleaning up the wrappings by herself. Or she had thought she was alone, but Fred and George suddenly pounced her from behind.

         “Happy Christmas, new little sister!” they chorused into her ears, laughing when she gave a squeal of surprise.

         “Sweet Morgana, you scared me. Hi, Fred. Hi, George.”

         “Hello, Hermione,” they replied with sly grins.

         “Well, you two are acting more strangely than usual. New girlfriends?”

         “Yes, Ron’s,” Fred said with a wink.

         “Ron’s?” Hermione blinked twice. “Wait, me?”

         “Yes, you,” George laughed. “You think you can date our brother and get away without your fair share of teasing?”

         “Hey, we’re not going steady. We’re just—”

         “Testing the water,” Fred broke in. “Would you like some help? Some coltish candy, some naughty―”

         “Fred!” Hermione wailed. “Ron isn’t like you two – he’s an absolute gentleman.”

         George put a hand over his heart. “Oh! Oh, oh, Hermione, that hurts.”

         “Hey,” Ron said from the door. “What are you two doing to Hermione?”

         “Nothing we wouldn’t have done to her before,” Fred said, draping an arm around Hermione’s shoulders. “After all, why should we treat her any differently just because she’s your girlfriend?”

         “She’s not my girlfriend! She’s one of my best friends.”

         “That’s a very good basis for dating,” George said seriously. “We’re going to group your present, all right? No sense dividing it up.”

         “Huh? Wait—”

         The twins had already apparated away. HermihermioneHermione stared at her feet, face burning. Ron walked over to her and took her slender hand in both of his rough ones.

         “Would you like that?”

         “Like what?” she asked, breath catching.

         “Would you like to officially be my girlfriend?”

         Hermione smacked him with her free hand, and then hugged him tightly. “Of course I would, Ronald Weasley! How long you’ve been about it!”

         “Well, sorry.”

         “Now what’s going on here?”

         They turned to the door, where Ginny and Harry had just walked in, holding hands. Ron removed his arms from Hermione’s waist. She chuckled slightly as he looked suspiciously at the younger pair.

          “And just where have you two been?”

Chapter 31: Mistletoe
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         Harry looked at Ginny, and Ginny stared back. Still holding hands, they both gazed innocently back at Ron.

         “We just went for a walk,” Harry replied, a wistful expression flitting through his eyes as he let go of Ginny’s hand.

         “To where, China?” Hermione shot back.

         “Don’t tell me you were worried,” Ginny laughed, also aware of the broken circuit. “We went for a walk, Hermione. It was actually a lot of fun seeing what Hogwarts is like with nobody in it. Of course, if it was that way all the time ....”

         “That would be a bit creepy,” Harry agreed, suppressing a shiver as he rubbed his arm.

         “I thought you were going to get our presents,” Ron said, still frowning.

         Harry grinned impishly. “I have ’em in my pocket. Can’t let you guys see them already, can I?”

         “How many presents?” Hermione asked curiously, eying his flat pockets.

         “It’s called a hollow, Hermione. Do your research.”

         “Hey, y’all!” Luna said, sliding through the doorway. “What’s up?”

         Ginny ran over to hug her best friend. “Luna! I thought you weren’t coming!”

         “I talked my dad into it,” Luna said, slinging her arm around her best friend’s shoulders. “He’s downstairs talking to Jackie. Apparently, they knew each other when Jackie was in Hogwarts. She’s gonna have so much fun freaking her old friends out.”

         “A lot of them are dead though,” Harry said sadly. “Or as good as dead.”

         “Like Frank and Alice?”

         “Yeah. And Pettigrew,” Harry added through clenched teeth.

         “She used to be friends with Wizard Rayne,” Hermione spoke up, glad that she had something ready to distract him with.

         “She did?”

         “Well, she seemed excited to know that he was at Hogwarts.”

         “Huh.” Harry looked toward the door. Wonder if he’s the one who couldn’t possibly have waited for her for twenty years ....

         “What’s that?” Hermione asked, nodding to the box Luna had under her arm.

         “Genuine Scandanavian mistletoe,” Luna said, putting the box on the table. She removed the top to reveal several sprigs of mistletoe.

         “I thought mistletoe was infested with nargles,” Ginny said, elbowing Luna in the ribs.

         “Well, since you’re all dating, I figured we could risk them just this once,” Luna said seriously. But then she laughed. “And Jackie for one is gonna get a major kick out of it.”

         “True, true.”

         “So how long have you known about Jackie?” Ginny asked Luna, slipping her arm around Luna’s waist.

         Luna put her arm back around Ginny’s shoulder, and they headed for the door. “Well ....”

         “Have they always been that close?” Harry asked, looking at Ron.

         “Trust me, if one of them was a boy, they’d be married by now.”

         Harry’s didn’t find that very comforting. “Uh-huh. So what did you two do while I was gone?”

         Blushing, Hermione immediately began stringing the mistletoe to hang up. Ron looked quite a bit more awkward than he usually did, but he did answer Harry’s question.

         “We’re official.”

         “Official? What, like boyfriend and girlfriend?”

         “Yeah.”

         “All right!”

         Hermione handed Harry one of the sprigs. “Could you get the upstairs dining room door?”

         “Sure. Oh, and congratulations.”

         “Thanks,” the new couple chorused.

         Harry carried the sprig to the arch leading into the main dining room. As he got off the chair from hanging it, Luna burst out of a nearby door and knocked him to the floor. She straddled his waist and, holding him down by the shoulders, planted a loud kiss on his lips.

         “Luna!” Harry exclaimed as soon as she pulled back. “Are you crazy?!”

         She shrugged and got up. “You need a hand?”

         “I’m fine,” Harry said, sitting up and rubbing the back of his head. “That was weird.”

         “What?”

         “I hit the ground hard – It was really loud, right? – but it didn’t hurt at all.”

         “That is weird.”

         Harry (gently) slammed Luna against the wall, eliciting a loud squeal. He grasped her right hand and pressed it against the wall above her head, squeezing her shoulder with his other hand. He leaned close to her, speaking directly into her ear.

         “Exactly what was that about?”

         “It was Ginny’s idea,” Luna protested. “And besides, you were under the mistletoe. Told ya nargles were dangerous.”

         Harry laughed and let her go. “You watchin’, Gin?”

         She edged out of the door. “Yeah. I wanted to see your reaction.”

         “Well, you saw it. Come here and apologize.”

         Ginny hesitantly walked over to them, her head hanging so deeply that Harry could only see her fiery locks. Once she got to them, she muttered something, and Harry hid a smile.

         “You’re gonna have to try harder than that.”

         “Sorry,” she said, barely above a whisper.

         “Don’t you think you should at least look at the person you’re apologizing to?”

         Ginny’s head snapped up. “I’m s—!” The rest of her apology was muffled by a long, tender kiss from Harry. Luna was practically laughing her head off by the time Harry broke contact. “Harry!” Ginny shrieked, her entire face aflame with embarrassment.

         “Your idea,” Harry said, gently grasping her by the chin and sliding his thumb across her lower lip. “And you liked it.”

         “I did not!”

         “You two are perfect for each other,” Luna observed, smirking slightly. Her face lit up. “Hey! I finally bought a camera. Me and Colin are gonna be documenting this Christmas. And I get to do the Jackie parts especially.”

         “You got it with you right now?” Harry asked, rubbing his thumb against his first two fingertips. The shine he had picked up clung to his skin, spreading as he touched it. It seemed more magical than physical, which would have worried Harry if he’d been thinking at all.

         “Yeah. Why?”

         Harry forced the lack of skin contact from his mind. “Take one of us?” he said, wrapping an arm around Ginny.

         Ginny blushed again. “Harry ....”

         “Oh, come on. You know you like me.”

         “You’re incorrigible.”

         “Part of my charm.”

         Luna had gotten her camera out. “Say cheese,” she said with a laugh.

         “Cheese!”

***




         “Hey, Harry?” Ginny said quietly as the company sat around the long dinner table in the upstairs dining room. Aside from people like Mr. Lovegood and a few of the D.A. students, the other people were mostly members of the Order. Jackie was sitting with Lupin and Cassi, but everyone else seemed to know her too, and she was answering questions all around.

         Harry had been focusing on Luna and Ron’s discussion of the affect of silverstones on Norwegian gray-ridge dragons. More specifically, he was watching Hermione’s expression as she attempt to look like she had some idea of what they were talking about. Harry snapped toward the girl at his side, startled by her voice. “Yes, Ginny?”

         “Did you like it?”

         “Like what?”

         “The kiss.”

         “Yeah, it was really nice.”

         “Would you rather be with her than me?”

         Harry blinked in confusion. “Hunh?”

         “When Luna kissed you. Did you like it?”

         “Heck yeah.” Harry grinned mischievously at her indignant expression. “Don’t worry – Luna’s more like a sister to me than you are. And you know I’ve thought of you like a sister almost since I met you.”

         Ginny looked just a little relieved, but still a bit put out. “Do you still think of me as a sister?” she asked cautiously.

         “Of course not. I haven’t thought of you as a sister at all in over a year.”

         “You’ve liked me that long?”

         Harry’s face reddened. “Just about three years now.”

         “Wow. Good thing I gave up on you, huh? You never would have noticed me otherwise.”

         Harry muffled a laugh. “Probably not.” He was sitting on Ginny’s right, so no one noticed when he reached under the table to grasp her bare knee. Ginny snapped toward him wide-eyed, but Harry remained focused on his plate. The warmth shot up his arm, and he let go as soon as it reached his chest. “Sorry. Couldn’t resist.”

         “You like it that much?”

         “Uh – yeah!”

         Ginny burst out laughing. Harry looked cautiously at his aunt. As he had suspected, she was keenly observing them, a sly grin curving her lips.

***




         After dinner, Harry was walking Ginny up to her room when she turned suddenly to him. Harry was taken off guard by the glow in her eyes. Or actually, by the glow coming from her entire body. It was faint, but it was definitely there. I’ll have to get my glasses out later, he decided.

         She gazed up at him, brown eyes shimmering. Her red curls framed her freckled face, accentuating her fair skin. Somehow even the magical glow didn’t hold up to her actual personality.

         “What?” Harry asked, staring back down at her.

         “My test results came back today,” Ginny replied softly, dropping her gaze.

         Harry touched her arm, careful to keep his fingers on her sleeve. “Is it something bad?”

         “The healer says it’s some kind of allergy,” Ginny said, licking her lip. “Something is causing me to create excessive amounts of tendric glow. Most people only have enough glow to channel their magic through a wand. It’s becoming tangible for me, and for you too, apparently.”

         “Do you think maybe it is me?” Harry asked, drawing his hand away.

         Ginny sucked her lower lip in and bit down. “I don’t want to believe it,” she said finally. “But it does get stronger when we touch.”

         “I’m so sorry, Ginny.”

         She grabbed him at the elbow as he started to back away. “Don’t be sorry, Harry. You love me, don’t you?”

         “Of course I do.”

         “You’ll do whatever you can to find a way to fix me?”

         “I swear.”

         “Swear it with a kiss.”

         “If I am the one you’re allergic to, that’ll make you worse!”

         “But you’ll drink it all up,” Ginny rejoined, smirking slightly. “Please? We are standing under the mistletoe.”

            Harry looked up at the gently swaying sprig of mistletoe. He looked back down at Ginny’s expectant face. “You little witch,” he said affectionately. He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her to her tiptoes, bending his head to kiss her. Ginny cupped his face in her hands and pulled him deeper into the pulsating brightness.



Yay! My first new chapter as a trusted author!!

Chapter 32: Christmas Morning
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         The next morning, Harry rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. Been a while since I had a dream like that. Maybe I shouldn’t figure a potion out, just so I’ll have an excuse not to touch her.

         There was a warm pressure on his chest, moving with the rhythm of his own breathing. His green eyes shot wide, and he eased the covers back. Ginny was peacefully curled up in bed with him, and she murmured softly as the light hit her face.

         “Oh, God.”

         Someone was pounding on the door. “Harry, are you awake yet?”

         “Yeah, hold on!” Harry managed to yell back. He slipped out of bed and quickly pulled a shirt on over his .... T-shirt. He was completely dressed – not to go walking about in, but fully dressed so far as sleeping went. He spun back to the bed – just in time to see Ginny close one eye. “This time I mean it. You little witch!”

         Ron opened the door. “Like your present?” he said with a laugh as he entered Harry’s bedroom, Hermione close behind.

         “You almost gave me a heart attack!”

         Ginny wriggled about under Harry’s blankets. “I like it here. It’s safe and cozy.”

         Harry walked back over and got his eyeglass case out of the nightstand drawer.

         “Haven’t seen you wear those in a while,” Hermione observed, turning her shoulder to Ron in an attempt to avoid his stare a little. Apparently she hadn’t been in on this, because she was still in the loose T-shirt and long shorts she generally slept in. “Ginny, what are you doing?”

         Ginny had drawn her head back beneath the covers and was murmuring happily. “It’s weird,” she replied, voice muffled by the blankets. “Normally when I wake up burning like this, I want an ice bath or something. This time it actually feels pretty good. Course I don’t normally get near Harry when I feel it ....”

         “Excessive glow disorder,” Hermione said to Harry. “Doesn’t sound like an allergy, does it?”

         “We have different ideas of diseases than these people do,” he replied, recovered enough to laugh slightly. His amusement faded as he gazed thoughtfully at Ginny’s outlined form. “I think I can make a pill for you, Gin. I see what’s wrong.”

         “Can I still touch you if I take it?” Ginny asked, poking her head back out.

         “If I do it right, yeah.”

         “How did you get so smart?” Hermione pouted.

         “Well, private tutors always help,” Harry said wryly. “Especially if they chase you with hexes when you don’t learn something fast enough.”

         “Your aunt is scary,” Ron said decidedly.

         “Yeah, but she’s all right.” Harry walked over to the limited chemistry set sitting on the desk. “What time is it?”

         “Almost seven,” Ron replied. “Ginny woke me up and wanted me to help freak you out. Something about resonance and wanting to get back at you.”

         “Resonance?” Harry asked, looking at Ginny.

         She held up her shield pendant. “I forgot to take it off last night. I kind of picked up on your line of dreaming.”

         Harry chuckled nervously. “Really sorry about that, but you could always think of it as a form of flattery.”

         “Concerning what I look like, yeah,” Ginny replied as Hermione stepped away to answer her Mugen cell-phone. “But I don’t want you to like me for my body.”

         “I can’t help it that you’re so hot!”

         “I really don’t want to hear the end of this conversation,” Ron interrupted Ginny’s retort. “I can only see it ending in me punching Harry.”

         “Hey, you guys – Luna wants to know if she can bring Draco and Keilana over,” Hermione said, holding her fingers over the mic on her cell-phone. “Apparently Draco’s parents went off on some vacation.”

         “Probably a Death Eaters’ council or something,” Ron commented.

         “You don’t think Molly would mind, do you?” Hermione pleaded.

         “Say yes,” Harry said. “You can blame me. She is my sister, after all.”

         “Half-sister,” Ron and Ginny said together.

***




         “That was seriously not funny,” Harry said grudgingly as he curled his fingers around a cup of coffee a few minutes later.

         “I thought it was pretty funny,” Ginny grinned, joining him in the window seat. “Serves you right for―”

         “For the last time, Ginny, I can’t help what I dream about. I’m still not good at the mind arts.”

         Luna walked in. It had been about ten minutes since she’d arrived herself after calling, but she had been unable to find her way back to the “youngins’ wing” immediately. “Why are you two sitting there? You’ll freeze to death.”

         “Not if there’s two of us,” Ginny said, crawling behind Harry and wrapping her arms around him.

         “I thought you weren’t supposed to touch each other,” Luna said, while Harry sighed, “I thought you were mad at me.” He gave a slight shudder as her cheek rested against his ear, and as the warmth filled him, a soft moan left his mouth.

         “When are you gonna make that pill?” Ron asked, not entirely pleased by the sight of his sister wrapping herself around his best friend. “As the brother of Fred and George, I have very vivid ideas of where this is going to end up.”

         Hermione smacked his arm. “Ron!”

         Ginny pulled back, embarrassed. “It feels good to give it to him. It calms me down. You know, ’cuz when it’s tangible it makes me feel so jittery?”

         “Here’s Draco and Keilana,” Luna commented, watching the pair walk up the steps into the young people’s section of the mansion.

         “Poor Luna,” Hermione said. “You’re the only one without a date.”

         “Would you like to find someone for me?” Luna asked with a slight smirk.

         “Who is there?” Harry shot back. “There’s really no one for us to rip away from his family this morning.”

         “I’m fine,” Luna assured them. She greeted Draco cheerfully, and the Slytherin couple deposited several presents toward the stack under the tree that stood proudly next to the window seat of the upper east common room. “Wow. Any for me?”

         “Of course,” Keilana said with a smile. She looked eagerly at the other. “Can we open them now?”

         “Haven’t you ever gotten Christmas presents before?” Ginny asked, rather amused by the girl’s excitement. She still found it hard to believe that Keilana was a full year younger than she was, especially since she was in Ron’s year.

         “Of course,” Keilana replied, “but I’ve never seen anyone besides Draco open any.”

         “You start then,” Harry said, having looked over the presents to make sure he wasn’t the only one who had gotten her a present. He picked up a box with a big pink polka dot ribbon and handed it to her. “Happy Christmas, Keilana.”

         With every bit as much excitement as a young child, Keilana took the box and removed the top with trembling hands. Her eyes lit up when she saw the contents: a sort of wind chime with long glass crystals hanging from multiple brass rods.

         “It’s beautiful, Harry,” she said, giving him a hug. She pulled back and looked impishly at him. “What is it?”

         “Hang it up.”

         Keilana walked over to the window seat and hung it in the empty ceiling above the cushion. The rods immediately swung level to the floor. The crystals sparkled like prisms as the rods gently rotated. Keilana watched in admiration, rainbows flicking across her face. Harry laughed and got up. He grasped one of the crystals and closed his eyes. The crystal became quite green, like a long hexagonal emerald. As he let go, the green retreated to the center of the crystal, and flickered like a long, thin flame inside it.

         Luna pulled her vibrance pendant from her pocket. It showed the same green center. “Harry!”

         “Yeah, it’s a lot of them all together.”

         “That’s a wonderful idea.”

         “Is that your signature?” Keilana asked curiously, noticing the almost imperceptible golden streak swirling around the green flame.

         Harry nodded. “And you can imprint someone in each crystal. If you’re not going to be able to invade our minds, I thought you might enjoy having our souls bared to you.”

         Keilana began laughing hysterically.

         “I’ll make one for you too, Luna, if you want,” Harry offered.

         “I only need one,” Luna replied, smiling back at him.

         “Well, who next?” Ron said, after obediently imprinting one of the other crystals.

         “I want to see what you got Hermione, Ron,” Ginny said, slyly, as Draco reluctantly reached up and grasped a crystal of his own. “You did buy her something, right?”

         Ron gave a timid smiled and got a very small box wrapped simply in brown paper and tied crookedly with a red ribbon. “Sorry it’s not all wrapped up like the other presents.”

         Hermione just smiled. She slipped the ribbon off the package (it had only been tied round in one direction) and carefully ripped the paper off. Her eyes grew wide with delight when she saw the contents. “Ron! The earrings I was looking at in Hogsmeade!”

         “Give ’em here.”

         Hermione handed him the box, and he gently attached them to her earlobes. The silver earrings sparkled against her neck. She threw her arms around Ron’s neck and hugged him happily.

         “I’ll take it that means you like them,” Ron managed to say.

         Hermione kissed his cheek. “Definitely. Ginny, you go next.”

         She frowned slightly. “Should I just find one with my name on it?”

         Keilana picked up one of the presents she and Draco had brought and offered it tentatively to Ginny. “Hope you like it.”

         Clearly surprised, Ginny gingerly unwrapped the box and pulled the top off. A squeak left her lips. Inside was a large diary bound in sky-colored silk, held shut by twisted silver clasps. “Oh, my gosh.”

         “Since you’ve had bad experience with diaries,” Draco said meekly, “we figured you might like one that won’t try to eat you.”

         Ginny ran her hand down the Celtic patterns embossed on the front cover. “Thank you so much.”

         Draco pulled a smaller box from the pile. “This goes with it, if you want to open it now.”

         That box contained a pretty marbled green fountain pen, complete with multiple cartridges for different colors of ink. Ginny, without saying anything, got up to hug both Draco and Keilana. Her apology was clear, and the Slytherins accepted it in mutual silence.

         Luna tossed a small cylindrical package to Draco. “Ha! You next.”

         Expression somewhat suspicious, Draco opened it. He was surprised to discover a vial of purple powder inside. “Nightshade spores?”

         “Since Keilana killed your last ones.”

         “It was an accident,” Keilana said indignantly, but Luna just stuck her tongue out at her.

         “Thanks,” Draco said. He picked up a much longer tube-shaped object. “To Harry from Ginny,” he read off the sticker, and tossed it to Harry.

         “Holy crap,” Harry said when he had opened it. Inside was a tortoise-skin tube case containing a roll of maps. “Wow, Ginny.”

         Ginny grinned. “You’ve been traveling a lot, so I thought you’d like them.” She giggled softly as Harry kissed her cheek in thanks.

         Hermione picked up a moderately floppy package and handed it to Luna. “Your turn.”

         Luna tore the soft tissue off and squealed to find a knitted hat with radish bobs on the top. “This is so cute! Thanks, Hermione!” She turned to Ron. “Looks like you’re the last one. Here.”

         Ron opened the box to find a long chain with a blackish silver stone caged in steel at either end. “Thanks, Luna. What exactly is it?”

         “They’re called bane stones. It’s like a snake-charmer’s flute. If you spin them right, you can order a dragon to do anything – and he will!”

         “Spin?”

         Keilana extended her hand. “Can I see?”

         Ron tossed it to her. She folded the chain in half and grasped it a few inches from where the weights were aligned. She closed her eyes in concentration. The stones snapped out opposite each other and began to spin over her fist. Draco and Harry both blinked a few seconds later to see that she had already handed the chain back to Ron.

         “How is it that you can levitate those fine when you’re losing your magic?” Harry asked with a frown, shaking the remaining traces of the spell off.

         An odd look crossed Keilana’s face. “That is strange.” But this morning, she really didn’t care. “On to the rest of the presents!”

Chapter 33: Rayne's Apothecary
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         When they had finished opening their presents, Luna got up. She left the others there to discuss the affects of alcohol on magical beasts – having very little pity for poor Ginny and the equally lost Hermione – and went to talk to Jackie.

         “Why aren’t you with the other young people, Luna?” Jackie asked, looking up from the Hogwarts yearbook for her graduating year. She and Cassi and Lupin were in the lower east common room, discussing their former schoolmates. They appeared to be halfway through a late breakfast.

         “Six of them, three and three,” Luna replied, shrugging slightly, as though that was enough explanation. “I was wondering. Are you going to do a reunion? I mean, since Jackie is back and all?”

         “It was at a party that I got trapped in a genie bottle,” Jackie replied. “I’m not too keen on going to any more.”

         “But we should still have a welcome back party,” Cassi said. “Just imagine Reg and Jared when they see you.”

         “Is Jared at Hogwarts too?”

         “Yes, and so are David and Greg,” Lupin said, smirking slightly. Luna could tell that he enjoyed answering Jackie’s “Where is my ex-boyfriend now?” questions a lot more than he let on.

         “And Alyson,” Cassi had piped up.

         “The exchange student?” Jackie said disbelievingly. “She’s teaching at Hogwarts now? Sweet Morgana – what has the world come to in my absence?”

         Cassi laughed. “Luna, you have a good idea. Would you like to come with us? We’ll go find Jackie’s friends and have a new year’s party at the Grave, and you and the others can have your own party.”

         Luna gasped. “How’d you—?”

         Cassi smirked. “Honey, you can’t be around Remus for even a month and not learn a thing or two about the mind arts. What were you planning?”

         “Well, Neville is working a night shift down at the Dragon Grave,” Luna said shyly. “I was kind of hoping we could go support him. You know, let him know he has friends?”

         “What, do you like him or something?” Jackie teased.

         A pale pink color filled her face. “Don’t say anything. Please.”

         “Hey, we’re too old for gossip,” Jackie said haughtily. She grinned. “He won’t hear it from me.” Some thought seemed to occur to her, and her expression grew hopeful. “You think we could get Reg to come?”

         Cassi smirked. “Girl, no way you gonna get Reg to come out of his cave, even for New Year’s.”

         “He might come out for her,” Lupin commented. “There’s no telling what he’d do for her.”

         Luna was surprised to see a blush rise in Jackie’s face.

         “I’m game,” Jackie said, as though she didn’t care very much if Rayne agreed or didn’t. “Let’s go, Lune.”

         “All right!”

***


         “Christmas is very different here with these people,” Keilana commented, snuggling up with Draco in the lounge in front of the upper east fireplace. “They’re so warm. An’ .... happy.”

         “Is my family not a happy one?” Draco asked, twisting a lock of her dark hair around his finger.

         “Well, not offense, but your father is quite the joy-killer.”

         “You wouldn’t know what joy was if it threatened to drown you.”

         Keilana just laid her cheek against Draco’s chest. Hermione was sitting in the recliner at their feet, reading a large, thin book on the flight patterns of the spike-tailed Appalachia red dragon. She looked up at them, and a smile teased her mouth.

         “You two are very comfortable together.”

         “Well, I’ve only owned her for what? A year and a half, thank you.”

         Keilana giggled. “You must be careful, Draco. You’re liable to get yourself lynched, talking about owning me in front of my brother.”

         Draco looked across at Harry, who was dozing in the window seat. Ginny was curled up next to him, tucked under his arm. Draco looked down at Keilana with an amused smirk.

         “I don’t think he’s paying attention right now.”

         “What happened to Ron?” Keilana asked, after she finished laughing.

         “He said he was going to drop by Wizard Rayne’s,” Hermione replied. “It’s Luna that I’m worried about.”

         “Call her.”

         Hermione shrugged helplessly. “She left her cell-phone here. Honestly, she’s so forgetful.”

         “Is she close enough to find?” Draco asked Keilana.

         Keilana closed her eyes. “I do feel her, but she’s quite far―”

         “What is it?” Hermione asked, closing the book.

         “Ron’s with her.”

         Hermione’s knuckles whitened around the spine of the book. Keilana opened her eyes and smiled reassuringly.

         “So are Jackie, Lupin, and Cassi – quite close to them, anyway. I’m not sure who the other person is. Your Wizard Rayne, probably. I don’t take alchemy, so I’m not sure.”

         Hermione relaxed. “Can you talk to them?”

         “They’re too far away,” Keilana replied, shaking her head slightly. A look that was half sincere curiosity and half pure mischief crossed her face. “Do you think I could steal some of Ginny’s glow?”

         Draco looked over at the window seat. “Well, she’s not gonna notice whether it works or not – that’s for sure.”

***


         “What are you doing here?” Luna said, surprised to find Ron standing in the front of the shop that encompassed the first floor of the Rayne city house. “I thought for sure you’d be slobbering all over Hermione.”

         “I was not slobbering,” Ron rejoined indignantly. “And I was going to get Rayne’s take on the bane stones.”

         “Don’t you trust me?”

         “Nope,” Ron replied with a disarming grin. “What are you doing here?”

         Luna tilted her head slightly, indicating the shop window. Jackie, Cassi, and Lupin were standing on the sidewalk outside. Ron looked back at Luna, and burst out laughing.

         Alerted by the laughter, Rayne appeared from the back of the store. “The sign on the door does say Closed for Business, Ron.” He noticed Luna, who was poking one of his forecast globes. “Can I help you, Miss Lovegood?”

         “I’ll wait until you’re done with Ron.”

         “Any plans for New Year’s, Master?” Ron asked innocently as Rayne accepted the bane stones.

         “This shop is closed,” Rayne said wryly, pulling a black monocle from his pocket. “What does that tell you?”

         “That you’re holed up to pout,” Ron replied seriously.

         Luna giggled, but was interrupted by the sound of the bell hanging above the front door. A figure enshrouded in black from head to toe stepped into the shop. She walked over to the counter and placed fair, elegant hands on the wooden surface. Rayne quickly moved to stand behind the counter.

         “How can I help you, madam?”

         “What makes you think I’m a madam?” replied a sweet voice that Ron and Luna both immediately recognized as Jackie’s.

         “Mademoiselle?” Rayne corrected himself.

         She tittered beneath her oversized cowl. “Much better. I would like two bottles of basilisk blood.”

         Rayne looked surprised. “What are you going to do with something like that?”

         “Is that any of your business?”

         “Somehow I feel it ought to be,” Rayne said, brow furrowed. “Do I know you?”

         Jackie threw back her cowl and smiled up at him. “Do you?”

         Rayne almost fell down. As it was, he groped blindly for the stepladder and sat heavily on the top step. “Jackie?”

         She laughed. “Are you that surprised to see me? Surely they didn’t create that realistic a faux-skin to bury.”

         “You’re alive?!”

         “Kind of slow, ain’t cha, babe?”

         Ron watched the exchange with great interest. In his full summer apprenticeship, he had never once seen Rayne become the least bit ruffled, even when being rushed by wild beasts. The mere sight of Jackie had nearly caused him to faint. Lupin and Cassi had by now entered the shop; they seemed just as amused by Rayne’s reaction.

         Jackie stepped through the counter, becoming solid again as she reached the other side. She put her hands on her knees and bent over to look directly into Rayne’s eyes. “What’s the matter, Reg?” she teased. “Aren’t you glad to see me?”

         His mouth opened and closed several times as he shook his head in wonder. “You’re alive. How could I not be glad?”

         “Does that mean I can hug you?”

         Rayne answered simply by rising and wrapping his arms around the much smaller Jackie. She closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around his waist as he buried his face in her hair.

         “So were you two dating or something?” Ron asked―after a considerate pause, of course.

         “We were engaged,” Jackie replied.

         “WHAT?!”

***


         “Can you hear anything?” Draco asked after they had waited a few more minutes.

         “No, nothing,” Keilana replied.

         “You’re lying,” Draco observed noncommittally.

         Don’t tell Hermione, Keilana replied, vocally continuing, “But that other presence was definitely Rayne.”

         “How can you tell that from so far away?” Harry asked, settling in the recliner across from Hermione. He had been awakened by the minutes of silence, and had gently eased Ginny to the cushions in the window seat before joining them. “They’re in his shop, aren’t they?”

         “Yes, but I can sense their auras very strongly. You were right, Harry. My magic has degenerated far more than this. I shouldn’t be able to sense them at this distance.” She sat up and leaned against the lounge back. “Actually, I never have been able to sense something so far away that clearly. Exactly how far away is his shop?”

         Harry got his map case and spread one of his new charts on the coffee table. “We’re here,” he said, putting his finger on Black Moor, “aaaaaand .... there’s the Apothecary.” He pointed it out with his other hand. “That’s got to be at least four miles.”

         “That’s impossible,” Draco said, shocked. “She’s never been able to sense presence very much farther than she can use Exerency. It was the same way this morning too, when Luna called. She knew you were all here, and that we wouldn’t wake you up by calling so early.”

         “My psychic sense is getting stronger,” Keilana said slowly. “How can that be?”

         “The body compensates,” Harry said after a moment’s thought. “When a person loses his sight, his hearing improves. You and Draco spend so much time mind-speaking, your body must be channeling what’s left of your magic into your mind arts.”

           Keilana pulled her knees to her chin. “Your father’s not going to be happy about this.”

Chapter 34: The Dragon Grave
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         “For real?” Luna said happily. “Thanks, Neville!”

         “You have fantastic timing,” Neville replied with a charming smile. “Someone canceled their reservation for New Year’s Eve last night.”

         Luna smiled up at him. “You must really like working here.”

         “Having a character makes it easier,” Neville explained shyly. “Who should I reserve the rooms to?”

         “Potter and Potter,” Jackie told him. “It’s nice to see you looking so bright, young man.”

         Neville shrugged slightly as he wrote their names in the book. “I rarely look well, leaving St. Mungo’s.”

         Jackie had met him a few days ago, when he visited his parents with  Christmas presents. She had been very amused to find that Frank and Alice had gotten married, and very sympathetic when she learn about their current mental status. Neville had liked her immediately, although she did scare him a little bit. Okay, a lot. But not as much as his grandmother did, so he liked her all the same.

         “Well, there’s your receipts,” Neville said, closing the Dragon Grave register and signing both receipts for them. “Can I help you with anything else?”

         “No, that’s all,” Cassi said. “Thanks, Longbottom.”

         “Professor,” Neville replied, dipping his head briefly. “Thank you for choosing the Dragon Grave, and have a pleasant day.”

         Jackie and Rayne walked arm in arm ahead of Cassi and Lupin. Ron and Luna walked at the back, watching the elder couples in open amusement. Ron glanced over his shoulder back at the Grave’s simple brick front.

         “You’d never think a wizard’s club was behind that wall,” he commented wryly.

         “No. And you’d barely recognize Neville either. He seems so different.”

         Ron hid a grin. “Confidence will do that to a person.”

***



         “I can’t believe we’re actually doing this,” Luna gushed on New Year’s Eve as the doorman unclipped the rope to let the younger Potter group in. Cassi and Lupin had actually found quite a few old friends of Jackie’s, and that group had been allowed inside with little inquiry. The students, however, were having their IDs carefully checked, and the sixth-years were let in with stern warnings. (Wizards have a year’s worth of lenience regarding drinking age, but with strong limitations – similar to a Muggle driving permit.)

         “I can’t believe my mum actually said yes,” Ginny countered.

         Harry laughed. “Aren’t you glad to be here?”

         “Yeah, Ginny,” Hermione chimed in. “You get to torture Harry all night!”

         “Please,” Ron said, a grin teasing his mouth. “She likes him way too much to do that.”

         “I do not!” Ginny yelped.

         “Good evening,” their waiter said, bowing with flourish. He wore a princely white shirt, embroidered vest, and dark pants (with elegant leather boots). His mousy brown hair had been tinted blonde, and his eyes shone brightly. “Welcome to the Dragon Grave. My name is Neville, and I will be your host this evening.”

         “You’ve gotta be kidding!” Parvati squeaked, peering closely at him. “Oh, my gosh, Neville! You’re hot!”

         Neville reddened and, shrugging off her praise, quickly said, “Please follow me.”

         Luna didn’t seem surprised by Neville’s makeover. Keilana shot her a questioning look. Luna quietly explained that she’d been hanging out at the Grave quite a lot since Christmas. Neville’s host type had been definitively selected the day after Christmas, and she had gotten to watch them perform the physical makeover.

         “You must really like him,” Draco commented to his cousin. He received a bony elbow to the ribs. Luna ignored his yelp of pain and continued gracefully inside.

         Closer to the head of the procession, Fred and George were still teasing Ginny about Harry. Somehow, since Jackie had ended up with a party of her own, the twins were now the chaperones for the younger group. Obviously Molly had made that particular decision during a minor lapse in judgment.

         Upon reaching the reserved room, Neville unlocked the door and let them in. Ginny stopped short in the doorway, and the others jostled past her. Harry stopped beside her, worried.

         “Are you all right?”

         “It’s nothing. Just, with a name like the Dragon Grave ....”

         Harry laughed slightly and rubbed her back. “I’ll be careful,” he promised.

         The evening was quite a lot of fun, according to any of the Potter party. The food was the best, and so was the band that was playing the New Year’s Eve gig. Neville did his job more than competently, astonishing everyone with his change of manner. It was already almost eleven o’clock by the time they even got off the dance floor and back into their room.

         “That was amazing!” Emily shrieked. “I definitely have to get a cassette of them.”

         “Yeah, like you’re going to find a cassette of a wizard band,” Tiffany laughed.

         “How do wizards listen to music?” Hermione wondered aloud as she settled down at the ring-shaped table with her fellow borders.

         “They don’t, ’cos they don’t breathe it like we do,” Emily replied, glaring playfully at her best friend.

         Tiffany smacked her. “We do so! We just have to make it ourselves, instead of listening to someone else.”

         When everyone had found a seat, Fred placed a bottle of Fire Whiskey on the table in front of him. Unfortunately for Harry, no one seemed to have any misgivings, and a drinking game was soon underway. By his fourth shot, Harry’s head was pounding so hard that he could barely see. He folded and got up to “go to the loo.” It was completely empty, so Harry turned the water on over his head. The water was so cold that it nearly gave him brain freeze, which only made the headache worse. Harry gripped the edges of the sink so tightly that his knuckles turned white.

         The restroom door opened behind him, and a stall door slammed shut seconds later. Someone retched violently, and the scent was the last straw for Harry ....

         He turned on the water again and gargled.

         “You too, huh?”

         Harry turned slightly to see Draco coming out of a stall, holding a wad of toilet paper to his mouth.

         “Yeah. What’s in that stuff?”

         “Dunno, but it doesn’t like me at all. Should have known bet— Holy Salazar.”

         Harry looked down to where Draco was staring. He was still gripping the sink with his right hand, but what gripped the sink was not a hand. Cruel claws curled over the ceramic. Orange scales shimmered in the fluorescent lighting.

         “You too!”

         Draco’s ears had disappeared, slick patches of scales on either side of his head. His hair was shrinking into his scalp, rapidly being replaced by silvery scales. Harry looked down at his other hand. It had transformed as well.

         “This can’t be good ....”

***



         “Harry and Draco have been gone an awful long time,” Hermione observed, putting down her shot glass.

         Ron got up. “I’ll check on them.”

         When he got about five yards from the bathrooms though, the entire hall was in an uproar. Wizards rushed too and fro, attempting to seal the burst pipes, or put out the fires that burned in various places along the wall.

         “What happened?” Ron yelled to one of the kitchen staff.

         “Dragons! There were two of them in the bathroom!”

         Oh, no. Ron looked around as inconspicuously as possible. “Are they still in there?” he asked with well-feigned eagerness.

         “No, we chased them out.”

         Ron followed the scent, as Rayne had taught him (and Parvati) to do during his first week of apprenticeship. He found the transformed dragonlings on the roof of the building across the street.

         “What the bloody hell are you doing?!”

         “It’s the Fire Whiskey,” the reddish bronze dragon growled darkly, its voice reverberating from deep within its muscular body. “It doesn’t like dragons.” It gripped its spike-ridged head in its forepods. “Ohhh, my head ....”

         “You can talk,” Ron said slowly, shocked.

         The greenish silver dragon snorted, rearing its serpentine neck back slightly. “Evidently.”

         “Well, transform back. They’ve already noticed you’re gone.”

         “You think we haven’t tried yet?” Harry snapped, ridge visibly tilting forward. “We can’t.”

         “You’re stuck? How long?”

         “Probably until the whiskey wears off,” Draco replied, extending his foreclaws and dragging them along the cement roof like a cat. “You can cover for us, can’t you?”

         “What am I supposed to say? ‘I’m sorry, I couldn’t find them because they turned into dragons and ran away so no one would kill them’?”

         “That does sound kind of weird,” Harry admitted, completely missing Ron’s sarcasm.

         Ron stared. “Go drink a lake or something. The girls are gonna kill you if you don’t get back soon.”

         The dragons replied in perfect synchronization. “Right ....”

***



         “Where are they?” Hermione asked in a slurred voice. Other than Ginny, she was the only one still conscious. (Not counting the twins, of course; they weren’t competing in order to “properly chaperone.”)

         Ron stared. “What are you guys, suicidal? How many shots have you had, Mione?”

         “Seven, I think. Maybe it was eight. Or nine?”

         Ron’s eyes grew even wider. The average non-drinker would be in a coma by six.

         Ginny downed another shot, grew completely cross-eyed, and collapsed between the Patil twins. Hermione rocked back and forth for a moment, grinning stupidly, then clunked face-down onto the table. Ron sighed and called Neville in to help him with blankets and pillows.

         “You didn’t play?”

         “I’m not allowed to join in,” Neville replied, putting a blanket over Luna’s sleeping – not unconscious – form with unnecessary tenderness. “I have to make sure you get everything you ask for and all that kind of thing.”

         “Yeah, that’s probably a lot easier to do if you’re sober,” Ron said, shaking off his own delayed reaction to the four shots he’d had.

         “Did you find Harry and Draco?”

         “I did. But they’ve wisely chosen to withdraw from this particular game.”

         [Liar.]

         Ron started and looked around for Keilana. He finally caught sight of her slumped in the corner. Her eyes were half shut, but she was definitely still awake. He continued helping Neville spread the blankets around.

         They couldn’t transform back. Something about the Fire Whiskey.

          [That can’t be good.]

Chapter 35: New Year's Day
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         Ginny awoke the next morning to the worst hangover she’d ever had. She groaned loudly as she rolled over into a sitting position.

         Neville appeared at her side with a glass of water and two flat red pills. “Here. It’ll help with the migraine and nausea.”

         Lounging on top of the circular table, Keilana looked ready to take on the world. Nearby, Luna was leaning against the table (looking every bit like an audacious princess), but Ginny vaguely remembered that neither had actually played the game last night. She continued to look around, taking a very slow headcount. Harry and Draco were still missing completely. Ron, who was apparently completely fine, was helping Neville to administer the hangover meds to the three people (including Ginny) who had finally woken. Everyone else was still sleeping it off.

         “What happened?” Ginny groaned.

         “You passed out like half a second before Hermione.”

         “Hermione lasted that long? I have new respect for her.”

         Ron tapped the back of her skull (very) lightly, but the affect felt like a freight train roaring through her skull. Ginny clutched her mouth with both hands and ran desperately for the bathroom.

         “Are Harry and Draco back yet?” Luna asked, playing with the vibrance crystal that hung around her neck.

         “No,” Neville replied. “We’ve looked the facilities up and down, but we can’t find them.”

         “I don’t think they’re in London anymore,” Keilana commented, keenly observing the green center of Luna’s crystal. “But they’re too far away to feel much of anything except that they’re alive.”

         “That’s very comforting,” Ron mumbled.

         “Why is there black stuff in there?” Keilana asked curiously.

         Ron was suddenly right there with them. “How bad?”

         “It’s just simmering up in the bottom,” Luna replied. “If he doesn’t get out of his dragon form soon ....”

         “Can you check Draco?” Keilana asked hopefully.

         Luna cupped her hands around the crystal and whispered something in Latin. When she took her hands away, the center was cobalt blue, flaring up sporadically in a greenish hue of silver.

         “He’s fighting his dragon spirit,” Luna observed. “Does Draco lose himself when he transforms?”

         Keilana waited for Neville to pass them. “Not usually.” Her eyes widened. “But before I met him, he avoided transforming at all costs. He only started working on controlling it this summer.”

         “After the wormhole,” Ron said in realization.

         Luna arched a single eyebrow. “Can he control it without you?”

         “I don’t know. I’m never there when he’s without me.”

         Ron and Luna both shot her The Look.

***




         Harry shivered violently. “I thought you could transform your clothes with you,” he said, gratefully accepting the wizard robes from Carson Winthrop. They had made it to the Winthrops’ country house without being seen, and fortunately for them, Carson had a long weekend for New Year’s. He had been amazed to find a pair of talking dragons on his front step, but he equally amazed the dragonlings when he took it quite in stride. Surprisingly, he had used some sort of hangover medication to turn them back into their human forms.

         “I wasn’t exactly controlling it last night, was I?” Draco snapped, taking the robes Carson offered him. “Thank you, sir. May I ask who you are?”

         “Carson Winthrop. I’m the director of the N.A.R.”

         “You took us to a Ministry official?!” Draco hissed at Harry.

         Harry shrugged slightly, edging closer to the fire. “He already knows about me. You’re like me, not exactly an animagus, so he doesn’t have to report you either. I think.”

         “I’m closer to it than you are.”

         Carson put his hands up, laughing slightly. “If I don’t hear anything, I don’t have anything to report. Isn’t that true?”

         Draco dipped his head gratefully. “You wouldn’t happen to have a telemirror?”

         “What good would that do?” Harry asked as Carson pointed to a mirror on the far wall.

         “Keilana has a connected pocket mirror. I’m going to let her know we’re all right. Even she can’t use Exerency at this distance.”

         “You won’t tell his parents, will you?” Harry asked Carson, once Draco had a connection and was explaining the night’s events to Keilana’s reflection.

         “This doesn’t fall exactly into my category,” Carson replied thoughtfully, “but then, that’s what my office was created for. I’m the one who deals with the victims of strange spells or weyr venom. Draco, I think, is neither of those.”

         Harry grinned. “Thanks, Mr. C.”

         Draco walked back to them. “They’re going back to Black Moor once they get everyone safe for travel. It seems the Weasleys are throwing their own party tonight.”

         Harry groaned. “Enough with the parties ....”

***




         “Happy New Year, Harry!” Ginny said, hugging Harry as he arrived in the main foyer of Black Moor. She had evidently been sitting there waiting for him for quite some time. “Why’d you leave all the sudden?”

         “Something came up,” Harry said sheepishly, putting years of avoiding the questions of his professors into practice. “But I took care of it. Any plans for today?”

         “Other than my mum’s party? Not really, but I’ll have to help a lot with that.”

         Draco had just walked into the main foyer from the other door, and Keilana descended upon him in a well-performed outburst. Hermione waved to Harry, and called Ginny up. Harry inclined his head at Ron, who had been close behind Hermione, and Ron came down to where Draco, Harry, and Keilana were now standing.

         “How’d you fix it?” Ron asked quietly.

         “Hangover pills,” Harry replied.

         “You’re kidding.”

         “No, they really were run of the mill  hangover pills,” Draco replied, hiding a smile. “But they weren’t the combination kind. They were a purer kind.” He turned just slightly to address Harry. “Just for the headache, wasn’t it?”

         “Yeah,” Harry said, pulling a box of them from his coat pocket. “The Easy Pill for Headaches.” He snorted suddenly. “Made by Reginald Rayne – I should have known.”

         “Well, we know where to get more if it happens again,” Draco said, smirking.

         “What, from Rayne?” Ron said, incredulous. “He’d know why you really needed them in a heartbeat.”

         “Not Rayne. Henley.”

         There was a pause. “Who’s Henley?” Ron and Harry asked together.

         “Greg Henley?” Keilana said, shocked by their ignorance. “Professor of―”

         “Never mind, we know Greg,” Ron said, laughing softly. “We never call him Professor Henley.”

         “Lucky Gryffindors.”

         “Gryffindors get in the most trouble,” Draco informed his girlfriend. “Consider yourself lucky to be in a house where you’re supposed to be a bad person.”

         Keilana giggled. “Well, we better get back to the manor.”

         “You’re not staying for the party?” Harry asked.

         “We’ve been out of the house for too many holidays already,” Draco said apologetically, although he didn’t look it in the least. “The servants are going to start getting suspicious enough to tell my parents pretty soon.”

         “Oh. Well, bye, Lily-Anne,” Harry said, hugging his sister. “Have fun with the dragon.”

         Keilana laughed and moved to hug Ron. “I’m sure I will.”

         Harry and Draco shook hands, and as the couple left, Harry stared down at his palm. Ron leaned toward him.

         “What’s the matter?”

         “Do you think, if anyone had told me I was going to do that a year ago, I would have believed them?”

         Ron clapped his best friend on the back. “Come on, let’s go see if we can steal some cookies.”

***




         “I can’t believe you two are so functional,” Luna exclaimed, breaking an egg over a large coffee mug. She lowered her voice to a whisper. “I mean you were both raving drunk last night.”

         “We’ve both been tutored by Greg Henley,” Ginny said, laughing loudly, and hopped onto a stepladder to get a new bag of sugar off the top shelf. “It’s amazing how he manages to turn it on and off though. No one I know can do that.”

         “So you just binge?” muttered Hermione, who still had a terrific headache from all her drinking the night before. “I don’t see why you like the stuff. I’m never doing it again!”

         “That was the first time since after my fourth year,” Ginny said as she stepped down, suddenly depressed.

         “Sirius?” Luna asked quietly.

         “Mm-hmm. I miss him. He was a lot of fun.”

         Hermione snapped upright as Molly walked into their end of the Blacks’ enormous kitchen.

         “How are you doing, girls?”

         “It takes five egg whites for this recipe, doesn’t it, Ma-Molly?” Luna asked, switching over to addressing an adult as easily as Hermione could read runes. “Er, let’s see. One, two, three― Oh, four? Well, I’m good then.”

         “You’re certainly at home in the kitchen,” Molly said, smiling. She looked with loving disapproval at Ginny. “You should take some lessons from her, Virginia.’

         “With six brothers, you should be amazed I even set foot in the kitchen,” Ginny said, covering her depression quite well. “I remember loads of times when I almost got trampled while they were all looking for a snack.”

         Molly chuckled and went back to where she and Cassi were attempting to teach Jackie and Tonks how to bake apple turnovers. Ginny brightened as Ron and Harry stepped in.

         “Hey, handsome,” Hermione said, hugging Ron with one arm. “Lookin’ for a snack?”

         “You know me too well,” Ron chuckled, kissing the top of her head. “You got anything for us?”

         Ginny was looking shyly at Harry, so he came over and wrapped his arms around her. She laid her cheek against his shoulder and closed her eyes. The other three turned toward them, looking somewhat amused.

         “Did you already make her the pill, Harry?” Ron inquired, when neither made a noise.

         “I’m still working on it,” Harry replied with a slight shrug.

         Ginny forced herself to wriggle out of Harry’s arms. “But since we started hanging around each other so much, I haven’t gotten the heat. I mean, I can feel it simmering, but it doesn’t blaze up like it used to.”

         “Did you come to help us, Ronnie?” Molly asked, looking happily in their direction.

          Ron started, but was unable to refuse. “Yes, Mum.” He shot Harry a desperate look. Laughing, Harry reached for the spare aprons.

Chapter 36: Wintery Terms
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         “Vacations go by way too quickly,” Hermione complained melodramatically, sneaking a hopeful glance at Harry. He continued to stare blankly out the window of the Hogwarts Express. Vacation had indeed gone by quickly, and all the students were back on the train, headed toward winter term. Needless to say, very few of them were excited. Even Hermione wasn’t particularly excited.

         “Maybe it’s because that was our last vacation,” offered Draco, who sat next to Harry. Hermione could not help but think that Harry and Draco had taken to a drastic role reversal during the last few days.

         “We still have spring break,” Ron protested from next to Hermione. “We’re seventh-years, remember?”

         “Yeah, but spring break is just a long weekend,” Hermione said, frowning. “Draco’s right – that was our last real vacation.” Tears welled in her eyes. “Oh, my gosh – our last vacation.”

         Harry looked briefly at her, just with his eyes, but his gaze almost immediately flicked back to the window. Draco slid down in his seat, ankles wrapping around Hermione’s even though hers were tucked under her own seat. Being the tallest, he had been placed across from Hermione, but even Harry’s and Ron’s knees were only a few inches apart.

         “Why you been so quiet, Harry?” Ron asked, kicking Harry without having to move far at all.

         “Just thinking.”

         “Couldn’t you have started a few years ago, when it would have made a difference?” Hermione teased.

         “Guess I wasn’t as smart as you.”

         “And you are now?” Draco scoffed. “This girl is a human library.”

         Hermione looked touched. “I’m glad you’re head boy, Draco. I never would have gotten to like you if we hadn’t been forced to spend so many Saturdays together.”

         “Should I feel threatened?” Ron asked, earning himself a smack.

         Harry continued to stare out the window, somewhat amused that they had so easily left him out of the conversation. But he was more worried about the conversation he’d had with Charlie Weasley the night before. His fingers clenched tightly around the stone in his jacket pocket.

         I gotta get out-a here. I’m gonna start transforming if I don’t get distracted.

         “Hey, where you goin’?” Ron said as Harry got up and clambered over Draco’s legs.

         “I’m gonna go find Luna.”

         “What about Ginny?” Hermione asked, looking irritated.

         “What about her?” Harry asked, completely serious.

         “You’ve hardly been apart all through Christmas break,” Ron said. “Are you gonna stop now?”

         Harry just closed the door. He tucked his hands into his pockets and sauntered out of the seventh-year car. The next car was mostly sixth-years, but he couldn’t find Luna anywhere. Eventually, he got to the luggage car.

         That’s weird. I didn’t see her.

         “Looking for someone, honey?”

         Harry jumped. “Hey, Lily-Anne. What are you doing back here?”

         Keilana shrugged. “Well, Draco was sitting with you guys, so me and Luna and Ginny were playing cards.”

         “Where? I didn’t see any of you.”

         She glanced back down the hall to check for the conductor. Satisfied that he was nowhere in sight, Keilana took Harry by the hand and led him into the luggage cart. The girls had apparently built themselves a fort out of the students’ trunks, and Luna and Ginny were on the floor inside it, playing an intense game of blackjack.

         “Why aren’t you playing?” Harry asked.

         “I got kicked out for counting cards,” Keilana explained.

         “Ooh, let’s play hearts,” Luna said suddenly, gathering up all the cards.

         “Luna!” Ginny shrieked. “I was about to win!”

         “But we have a fourth now,” Luna protested. “Come on, let’s play hearts. Please?”

         “You’re lucky you’re my best friend,” Ginny grumbled, scooting over to make room for Harry. “Wha’cha doin’ back here, Harry?”

         “I wanted to talk to Luna, actually,” Harry said, picking up his hand. “But this is just as good.”

***


         “You two have been acting really weird,” Hermione said, watching Harry disappear down the aisle.

         “So has Keilana,” Draco replied with a careless shrug.

         “She’s always weird,” Ron shot back. He paused a minute before frowning and adding, “But now that you mention it, she has been acting a little weirder than usual.”

         Draco leaned back in his seat. “Unlike Harry, she actually has a reason. She got caught.”

         “Caught doing what?” Hermione asked, lowering her voice.

         “She’s really a fifth-year.”

         “Bloody hell,” Ron yelped. “What was she doing in our classes? Did she want to graduate with you?”

         “How the hell should I know?” Draco wriggled over a few inches so that his legs were between Ron’s and Hermione’s. “But she got to be good friends with your sister. Maybe she’ll be able to graduate with her.”

         “That would be funny if our sisters got to be best friends.”

         “I don’t have a sister,” Draco retorted instantly, evoking a smile from Hermione.

         “In your case, it’s cousin,” Ron continued, not noticing the odd look that had overtaken Hermione’s smile. “So my sister, your cousin, and Harry’s half-sister.”

         “The new trio,” Hermione spoke up.

         Ron laughed. “There you go.”

         The welcome feast was fantastic. Hermione was glad to notice that Harry and Ginny sat next to each other. But as the winter term wore on, Harry seemed to grow more and more distant – not only from Ginny, but from all his housemates. This time though, unlike during his sixth year, he did confide in someone.

         Only, it was Luna Lovegood.

***


         Draco was sitting in the Slytherin common room about a week before Valentine’s Day when Keilana finally cracked. He was doing his homework, and she came stomping in, ranting under her breath about “those immature fifteen-year-olds.” She saw him and veered toward the couch.

         “I’m bored,” she announced matter-of-factly, plopping herself down on the coffee table in front of him.

         Draco closed his charms book. “Can’t you do your homework or something?”

         “I’ve already done it,” Keilana pouted. “It’s too easy.”

         “Why not see if they’ll put you into the sixth year?” Draco asked, reaching for the book on poisons that he had taken out at the library. “I don’t think there’s such a big difference between sixth and seventh other than the workload. That’s why they let us take classes together.”

         Keilana moved onto the sofa next to him and propped her feet up on the coffee table. “But all the classes I’m taking now are really boring.”

         “Don’t you have to get ready for your Owls?”

         “I’ve already taken them,” Keilana said with a frown.

         “No, you took the Bats. That’s different. You needed high scores on those to even get into Hogwarts.”

         “I’m still bored.”

         Fine, we’ll do it this way, Draco said, outwardly ignoring her. You help me with my homework, and I’ll kick back with you.

         Keilana snuggled up to him and looked at the poison book from beneath his shoulder. “Hey, that’s the genie potion, isn’t it?”

         “Ummm .... It says this is a way to trap people who are too powerful to kill. Doesn’t sound like a poison― Oh. ‘Because a suitable antidote has not been found, this potion has yet to be countered without the resulting death of the victim.’” Draco snorted softly. “That’s a really roundabout way of doing it.”

         “Yeah,” Keilana said. “Why not just kill them and be done with it?”

         Draco stared at her for a moment. You scare me sometimes, you know that?

         “I try,” Keilana thought back with a mischievous smile.

***


         While Draco and Keilana were teasing each other beneath Hogwarts Lake, Ginny Weasley was in Gryffindor Tower staring at the silk diary they had given her for Christmas. She had yet to write anything in it, perhaps more out of habitual suspicious than actual mistrust. The fountain pen was in her hand as well, and she twirled it between her fingers. She finally opened the diary and began writing.

         She was surprised by how the words flowed, once she had started. A month and a half of pent-up emotions poured out, starting with the resentment and anguish she felt now and working back to the happiness and intimacy she had felt with Harry during the holidays. She found herself crying as she remembered how safe she had felt, and her fingers shook as she wrote, but she continued.

         “Ginny?”

         “Nnha?” Ginny said, wiping her eyes on her sleeves as she turned around. “Hey, Terra. What is it?”

         Terra shrugged and headed for her bureau. “I just came up for a jacket. Are you all right?”

         Ginny tried to laugh, but she choked and began to cry. “I just thought he really cared about me, you know? But he hasn’t even talked to me since Pig disappeared two weeks ago.”

         “Harry?” Terra asked.

         “Yeah.”

         “He’s being an ass,” Terra announced matter-of-factly.

         Ginny choked again, and laughed this time. “Yeah, he is.”

         The two of them headed down to dinner once Ginny had cleaned herself up. As they arrived though, they saw that the students were not sitting, but had instead gathered in the middle of the Great Hall. Everyone was shouting and as the girls fought their way toward the inside of the circle, one word became discernable, over and over again:

          “FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!”

Chapter 37: The End of Friendship?
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         “So that’s the way it has to be, huh?” Ron said, staring down at the meal he suddenly had no appetite for.

         Harry remained silent beside him, black clouds swirling in his normally emerald green eyes. “Yes.”

         There was a pause, and Hermione looked anxiously between them as an almost tangible tension filled the silence. Ron abruptly swung his long legs over the bench and stood up. Harry gasped loudly as Ron gripped him by the collar and yanked him to his feet.

         “ARE YOU BLOODY STUPID?!”

         The entire student body turned to look at them: Ron, face red with rage, dangling Harry clean off the floor. Harry pulled up one leg and kicked Ron in the stomach. Ron let go and staggered backward, doubling over with a sharp whimper.

         “If I weren’t, I wouldn’t be here, would I?” Harry hissed back, jumping up from where he had landed.

         Ron hauled one off and punched him in the face. Harry muffled a yelp and put a hand to his nose and mouth. Blood showed between his fingers as the boys slowly circled each other, appraising the other’s defenses.

         “Guys, this isn’t funny,” Hermione said, voice shaking. “Stop it.”

         “You’re right, Hermione,” Ron said calmly. “This isn’t funny.”

         Hermione shrieked as Ron charged and brought Harry crashing to the floor. Before Harry could get his breath back, Ron was on top of him, raining down blows with all his might. Harry let out a cry and kicked him off, quickly retreating under one of the long tables. There was no place to run by this time though: all the students had gathered around and were shouting and cheering and egging them on. Ron stood panting in front of where Harry was crouched under the table.

         “What are you afraid of, Potter?” he said through gritted teeth. “I’m just a lowly wizard brat. Come out here and face me like a man!”

         Harry gripped the bench opposite Ron and pulled himself out, putting the table between them. “I’m afraid of a lot of things,” Harry growled back. “If you’d been through half of what I have, you’d do the exact same thing!”

         Ron paused to look at Hermione, uncertain. Harry took advantage of the opening and threw a goblet at him. It hit Ron in the shoulder, and the water splooshed all across his face and through his hair. Ron grabbed a goblet of his own, but his aim wasn’t as good, and it caught the person behind Harry. The base caught her in the forehead, and the goblet flipped over, emptying its contents on her head. Lavender’s mouth fell open, and there was a pregnant pause as she blinked stupidly through the pumpkin juice dripping down her face. Ron’s eyes flew wide open.

         “Er, sorry, Lavender.”

         Instead of answering, Lavender grabbed a plate of mashed potatoes and chucked it at him. Ginny had just arrived on the inside of the throng – it hit her in the face. She wiped the mess from her eyes and dived for something to throw back at the seventh-year girl. It only took a few seconds for the entire student body to become embroiled in a massive food fight.

         Diving for cover beneath the Ravenclaw table, Luna was the only one still watching Ron and Harry. They took advantage of the general confusion by discreetly popping a couple pills each from a box which Ron immediately tucked back into his robes. As they continued the fistfight, those near them stopped throwing food to watch. Blood flowed freely, and by the time teachers arrived to break it up, neither Ron nor Harry was immediately recognizable.

         McGonagall was furious. “Weasley! Potter! You two should be ashamed of yourselves!”

         “Why?” Harry asked sarcastically, purely Black-eyed, while Ron indignantly retorted, “He spent all Christmas vacation playing my sister, and you want me to be ashamed of attacking him?”

         Greg Henley was obviously having difficulty holding Ron back. He looked surprised by how angry (and strong) gangly-looking Ron was. Harry strained a little, but Lupin was having a lot less trouble holding onto him.

         “Take them to the Hospital Wing and get them cleaned up,” the Headmistress ordered, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Let me know when they’re ready to be lectured.”

***


         It didn’t take too long for Madame Pomfrey to clean up their wounds. She looked suspicious about that, but said nothing. Instead, she herded Ron and Harry into McGongall’s office. The headmistress sat at her desk, with Reginald Rayne standing a little behind her. Greg Henley and Remus Lupin were also present. Madame Pomfrey pressed the boys into the two chairs facing the desk before moving to the door, where she stood until they were ready to leave.

         “Have you two completely lost touch with you senses?” McGonagall demanded.

         “Yes, mum,” Harry replied immediately.

         Ron muffled a laugh.

         “This is no laughing matter, Mr. Weasley,” McGonagall said severely. Ron attempted to look sorry and failed miserably. McGonagall ignored this and continued into a full-blown lecture. “There really is no punishment I can give you that fits what you have done,” she said at last. “You two have been thick as thieves since you began attending, and now the whole school has seen you beat the hell out of each other.” McGonagall got up and walked to her window. “However ....”

         Harry didn’t like where this was going.

         McGonagall turned back to them. “Harry Potter, beginning next Monday, you will be serving detention with Wizard Rayne one hour every weeknight. You, Mr. Weasley, will be serving the same hours with Keeper Abraxas.”

         “What?!” Ron yelped. “He’s not even a teacher here!”

         McGonagall looked surprised. “You’ve met him?”

         Ron bit his lip. “Yes, mum.”

         “He’s been working with Mr. Hagrid and Mr. Filch in the guarding of the grounds,” McGonagall replied, although Harry privately thought that she was passing on an established lie. “You will both serve these hours until I decide otherwise.”

         “How long will that be?” Harry asked, pretending (very well) to be horrified.

         “Until graduation if necessary! You will both meet with Professors Henley and Lupin twice a week for two hours until they deem that you are ready for reevaluation.”

***


         Ginny stepped out of the shower and reached for a towel. She’d had cranberry juice all down her clothes, mashed potatoes and gravy in her hair, and a little bit of everything just about everywhere else. After soaping up several times, she had finally gotten every crevice clean. As she pulled fresh clothes on, her mind went back to her brother and her would-be boyfriend.

         What were they fighting about?

         “Hey, where are you going?” Hermione asked as Ginny walked through the common room.

         “I’m going to see Harry while he and Ron are both constrained to beds.”

         Hermione immediately closed her book. “I’ll come with you.”

         When they got their, they discovered that the boys had indeed been magicked upon the beds and could no get up. Which was probably why they were in beds right next to each other. Madame Pomfrey was wrapping Harry’s ankle when the girls walked in. Harry’s face was scrunched up, and he visibly flinched at Poppy’s every touch.

         “You’ve really done it this time, Ron,” Ginny observed. “McGongall isn’t like Dumbledore, and you’re not Harry – she’ll probably expel you.”

         “Oh, shut up,” Ron muttered. He was lying on his side with his back to Harry. He had no shirt on, and the sheets were pushed down to his hips. Dark purple marks covered his back and chest.

         “Oh, Ron!” Hermione exclaimed, hands to her mouth in horror.

         “There’s some wild yam gel right there,” Poppy said, indicating with a jerk of her head. “You can put it on him if you like.”

         Hermione opened the glass jar and scooped up some of the bluish white cream. Ron gingerly rolled onto his stomach and allowed her to put the cream on the bruises. Harry looked the other way – guiltily, Ginny hoped. But then she caught sight of a smirk, and she sighed in disgust.

         “What happened to your ankle?” she asked as Poppy finished securing the compress.

         “I tripped coming back from our lecture,” Harry replied. “Twisted it on the step.”

         “Boys are all idiots,” Ginny announced decidedly. “Come on, Hermione, let’s go.”

         “Let me finish this first,” Hermione said with a tender stubbornness, as Ron rolled over for her to finish with the ointment. Once she was done, the girls left the Hospital Wing, and the boys were left alone. They looked at each other slyly, then turned their backs to each other and went to sleep.

Chapter 38: Detention with Dragons
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         On Friday the Thirteenth, Draco should have expected something bad to happen. Having forgotten the date, however, he nonchalantly hopped down the steps into the little stairwell in front of Rayne’s office door. At Draco’s tap, Rayne opened the door and exited his office. Harry followed, and he closed the door behind them.

         “Thank you for coming, Draco,” Rayne said, shaking his hand.

         “You wanted to see me?” Draco responded with a contemptuous glance at Harry. Surprisingly, the Gryffindor seemed little the worse for wear after his recent brawl.

         “Yes, I’d like you to join us for today.”

         “With his detention?” Draco said, frowning.

         “Come with me.”

         Rayne headed back up the hallways to the main gate. Harry followed without a word, so Draco followed suit. They reached the shore of Hogwarts Lake within a matter of minutes.

         “Wait here. I’ll be back in a few minutes,” Rayne said, and headed toward Hagrid’s hut.

         “Any idea what he wanted me for?” Draco asked, looking at Harry.

         “I’ve noticed that he pretty much throws you in the water and lets you figure out how to swim on your own,” Harry said with a slight shrug. He looked rather bored, and clearly didn’t care at all that he was having to serve detention.

         Draco arched an eyebrow. “You realize this is copyright infringement? You’re turning into me.”

         An amused grin cracked Harry’s face, but he didn’t say anything. He just flopped onto the damp sand and, propping himself up on his elbows, watched the lapping of the water.

         “Draco stared at him in silence for a moment. “I’m just supposed to stand here until he gets back?”

         “I guess so.”

         It didn’t take Draco long to find an abandoned willow broom lying by the rock that Jackie had spent the night on just a few months earlier. He put his foot down on the broom where the bristles were tied around the shaft, and yanked hard. The handle jerked lose abruptly, sending Draco knees over shoulders. He landed with a loud grunt.

         “You can’t be that bored,” Harry grouched from where he had begun to flick pebbles into the tiny waves.

         “Rayne said he was going to be back in a few minutes,” Draco growled right back. “It’s been like half an hour!” He swung the broom handle by one end, testing its balance. He moved his grip a few inches higher and whirled it artistically. Harry was intrigued in spite of himself.

         “What is that?”

         “Dunno what it’s called in English, but if your parents were alive, I’m sure you would know it too.”

         “Hunh?”

         Draco had his weight on the balls of his feet, and was doing an intricate set of steps in the sand. “You’ve seen the gold in your account at Gringotts, right?”

         “Yeah,” Harry said slowly.

         “That’s not even a fifth of what your parents had. Don’t you think at least one psychopath would have tried to take you hostage to get some of it?”

         “I don’t see the connection.”

         Draco sighed loudly. “And he thinks you’re smart,” he muttered to himself. “Okay, my parents are rich, right? Possibly richer than yours were. They got me started into martial arts when I was six so I wouldn’t be a liability. I could kill a grown man barehanded before I even showed my first signs of magic. I almost did, this one time. He found me wandering around in Knockturn Alley and recognized me, thought I would be easy prey.”

         Here Draco shook his head, as though he felt pity for the foolish man. “He got me as far as the Leaky Cauldron before I realized that he wasn’t taking me back to my parents. It took the healers at St. Mungo’s a whole week to get him sorted out.”

         “You’ve been kidnapped?”

         “A couple times,” Draco said indifferently. “With a dad like mine, you have to be able to fend for yourself anyway.”

         “I wish I could say that,” Harry said softly. “It would be better than nothing.”

         “I’m not so sure about that.”

         Rayne picked that moment to arrive. “Sorry for the wait.”

         “You better be!” Draco exclaimed. “I’m not even serving detention! Why do I have to hang out with Potter?”

         “It’s part of his punishment,” Rayne replied. “The Headmistress knows how hard to it to actually punish him.”

         “But it’s hard on me too,” Draco protested. “And I didn’t do anything wrong.”

         “Would you rather watch your girlfriend flirting with Ron?”

         “She’s what?” Harry and Draco said together.

         “Actually, she’s with him to make sure your grandfather doesn’t just sit there. Draco, what did you do to the broom?”

         Draco looked from the staff in his hands to the bundle of twigs in the sand. “I was bored.”

         A faint twitch in the corner of Rayne’s mouth indicated that he was amused. “Let me see what you can do.”

         Draco turned without any warning and swung the staff at Harry. Harry barely had enough time to put his arms up to protect his head. The staff splintered in two. Harry’s mouth dropped open and he rolled up his sleeves. Below his skin, tiny scales formed an intricate pattern of hard ridges.

         “Scale armor?” Harry murmured, staring at the foreign swirls. “I thought my powers were limited to my internal organs.” The imprint of scales ebbed from his arms, leaving his normal tanned skin. “What the hell?”

         Draco whistled appreciatively. “Survival instincts, bro.”

         Harry got up and took the basic defense stance in the mantis flicker style. “Let’s try this out.”

         As Harry prepared to attack, Draco wrapped the fingers of both his hands tightly around the restored staff and pointed the end at him. Rayne backed away with a smirk and settled on the boulder to watch their match.

***






         Curled up in the window seat in the Gryffindor Tower, Ginny saw them leave the beach an hour later. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, she wrote in the diary upon her knees, and stared at the word for several moments, unable to formulate a related thought.

         Harry opened the portrait door and walked through the common room. He didn’t acknowledge Ginny, the only one in the entire room. He walked by as though she wasn’t even there.

         No sign of Harry talking to me anytime soon, she thought but didn’t write, so I may boycott it this year.

         “Hey, Ginny,” Hermione said, leaning against the wall across from Ginny.

         Ginny closed the diary. “Yeah?”

         “Draco’s outside. He wants to talk to you.”

         “You showed a Slytherin our entrance?” Ginny said skeptically.

         “He followed Harry back from detention,” Hermione replied. “I just found him standing out there. Anyway, he says he wants to talk to you.”

         Ginny put her diary in her bag and went out to talk to him. “What do you want, Malfoy?” she said suspiciously.

         Draco smiled down at her, every bit as charming as a prince straight out of a fairytale. “Would you do me the honor of taking a walk with me?”

         “Say what?” Ginny yelped back, a little shy at being addressed by this strange Prince Charming.

         “Come on,” Draco said, tucking her wiry arm through his much longer one. “I have something to tell you that I think you’ll be very interested in.”

         “What do you mean?” Ginny said, grudgingly allowing herself to be escorted down the stairs. “What could you possibly have to say to me?”

         Draco closed his eyes briefly. “It has to do with Harry,” he said, looking a little irritated.

         “Oh. Well, go on, I’m listening.”

         “He’s faking it.”

         Ginny hesitated. “Faking what?”

         “The fight?” Draco said, rolling his pale eyes. “He and Ron are getting on fine.” He saw the look on her face. “You learn Legilimency fast with a girlfriend like Keilana, okay? Besides, I saw them using a blue and purple Snackbox.”

         Ginny recognized the description as one the twins’ newest prototypes. It explained the spurting blood as well as Ron’s ridiculously large bruises. “Damn.”

         “Something forced them to pretend to fight,” Draco said quietly, nodding slightly to the shocked gaggle of Hufflepuff girls they were walking past.

         “But what?”

         “I think it was you.”

         “Me?” Ginny said, incredulous. “He hasn’t even spoken to me in ages!”

         “I do call him Saint Potter for a reason,” Draco said with a smirk. “He guards his thoughts pretty well out of habit, but I think he’s afraid we’d going to go after you if he officially dates you.” He snickered softly. “Of course, everyone knows how much he likes you, so if we were going to go after you, we would whether he was officially dating you or not.”

         “ ‘We’ being Voldemort and his Death Eaters, I suppose,” Ginny said blandly, turning her face so he wouldn’t mention her deep blush.

         To her surprise, Draco didn’t flinch. “Yeah.”

         “Hmmm,” Ginny said thoughtfully, leaning firmly against him. “Could you do me a favor, Draco?”

          “Well, that depends. What kind of favor?”

Chapter 39: Valentine's Day
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         Keeper Abraxas never got around to detention on Friday night, so just past seven in the morning on Valentine’s Day, Ron found himself being chased around the school grounds by Keilana Crowe.

         “Aw, come on, K.C.!”

         Ignoring Ron’s howl, Keilana continued to chase him down the hallway. Abraxas watched in boredom from where he sat on an enchanted high-back chair that hovered a few yards behind the teenagers. Ron was quickly running out of stamina, but Keilana was drawing on her infused dragon nature and not only keeping up with but gaining on him. Panicked and gasping for breath, Ron fumbled for his wand.

         He kept running until he got to a tighter hallway with nothing to divert the spell. As Keilana rounded the corner into the hall he was waiting in, Ron thrust his wand forward and shouted at the top of his lungs, “Dracos dormiense!” Keilana skittered to a stop and fell over backwards. A blue mist issued from Ron’s wand and enveloped the girl.

         “That’s right,” Ron said soothingly, recovering from his shock at the power of his own spell. “There’s a good girl.”

         Keilana slowly stood up. Her gray eyes flickered for a moment and turned a silvery black. Ron stared, but his curiosity was interrupted by Abraxas rounding the corner. Surprise flittered across the old man’s face.

         “It worked? Such a simple spell worked on Keilana?”

         Ron lowered his wand slightly. “Well, I had to do something. I’m used to flying, not running.” He gasped softly as the mist began to dissolve, and quickly realigned his wand core with the spell’s integrity.

         “You may have potential after all,” Keeper Abraxas said noncommittally. “Release her.”

         “Nox,” Ron murmured, flicking his wand down. The mist rushed back to his wand tip and vanished. Keilana blinked as the spell left her, and as she blinked, her eyes lightened to their normal gray.

         Abraxas was already guiding his chair back down the hall. “Come.”

         By the time he got out of detention an hour and a half later, Ron had never been so exhausted in his entire life. In fact, when he first saw Ginny walking by arm in arm with Draco Malfoy, he thought it was a hallucination.

         “Hey!”

         Ginny turned to look at him. “Yes, Ron?”

         Ron stared. “N-nothing.”

         Draco looked amused. “Then why suddenly yell at us?”

         “Why are you talking to him?” Ron asked his sister, ignoring the Slytherin.

         “He asked me to go to Madame Puddifoot’s with him,” Ginny said impishly, hugging Draco’s arm a little closer. “And since Harry won’t talk to me, I said yes.”

         “Fine. Blood’s on your head.”

         Ron turned and walk back toward Gryffindor Tower. He didn’t see or hear Draco and Ginny snickering behind him.

***




         Frightening dreams plagued Harry’s sleep after his match with Draco. Dreams of uncontrollable transformations and blind rages. Dead bodies lead a path to a serpentine monster. The monster feasted on his friends over and over and over again. Sleep did not come to him, and when it did, these bleeding faces and screeching half-dragons filled his mind. He twisted and turned beneath the covers, trying to find a more comfortable position, but a cold sweat clung to his skin, and a metallic roar filled his ears.

         I can’t let him hurt them. I can’t let him hurt her. He repeated it like a mantra, clenching his hand around his parting gift from Charlie Weasley. The night stone glowed red by his hip, growing hot as it sucked up the magical energy he lost in his instability. However, as he put both hands on the stone, completing the circuit, the energy rushed back into him. It felt much like Ginny’s Glow, filling him up with that strange tingle, but on a lesser scale.

         He passed out only a few minutes before Ron left for his own detention with Wizard Abraxas.

         A couple hours later, Harry was alone lying on his bed staring at the ceiling. The bed was made, and Harry had dressed – he just didn’t feel like leaving the seventh-year boys’ dorm room. A ball of white fur sat on his chest, moving with his breathing. He craned his neck to look down at it.

         “Who would think you could do so much, huh?”

         He rolled over, and the creature hopped away, landing on the pillow next to his arm. Harry stared out the window, thinking hard. Technically, he and Ginny weren’t dating, but the Death Eaters would see no difference. Draco had touched on that last night, as he rained down insults along with his blows. He had said as much to Ginny, Harry had found out from Hermione by way of Ron. His best friends knew that his distancing himself from Ginny came more from his desire to protect her than anything else.

         How am I supposed to publicly break up with a girl I’m not really even dating?

         Ron interrupted this circular confusion a little after nine. He stumbled in and collapsed on his own bed. “Unbelievable.”

         “What?” Harry asked half-heartedly.

         “Ginny’s on a date with Malfoy.”

         “He’s ‘Malfoy’ again now that he’s after your sister?”

         “Yes. Don’t you care?”

         Harry paused, then pushed himself upright. “Of course I do. But I’m not speaking to her, so what can I really do? And I’m not talking to you either, so how would I even know?”

         Hermione’s voice came from below the stairs. “Harry, are you up there?”

         “Yeah!” Harry yelled back.

         “Can I talk to you?”

         Ron pointed to the drawer where Harry kept his invisibility cloak hidden. “Sounds like you found your excuse.”

         Harry tucked the cloak in his pocket and went down to see what Hermione wanted. She had indeed come to tell him about Ginny and Draco. Harry, after pretending to protest, put on his cloak and went to find Ginny. He found her at the pitch, modestly protesting Draco’s offer to ride his broomstick.

         [What do you want, Potter?] Draco’s voice sounded clearly in his mind.

         Harry masked his surprise at being addressed. Draco had not even glanced his way. [Just want to make sure your intentions are honorable,] he answered meekly, remaining behind one of the towers.

         [Are they ever?]

         [Ha-ha. Look, you’ve got Keilana, all right? Leave Ginny alone.]

         [Why?] Draco sounded so serious, Harry stuck his head around the corner to see his expression. He looked just in time to see Draco lean over and plant a quick kiss on Ginny’s cheek.

         “Now, see here!” Harry exclaimed, forgetting himself.

         Ginny’s head snapped toward his hiding place. “Harry?”

         Draco smirked in his direction. [Yes, dear?]

         [Shut up!] Harry pulled his cloak off and, tucking it in his pocket, stormed over and punched Draco squarely in the jaw. Draco staggered back a step, stunned. He clearly hadn’t expected that much of a reaction.

         [What the hell was that for?]

         [That’s for calling her a whore! Did you really think I would let you get away with that?!]

         Ginny was scowling deeply. She handed the Thunderbolt back to Draco. “What are you doing here, Harry?” she asked, folding her arms unforgivingly.

         Harry tried to look as much like a jealous boyfriend as he knew how. “I’m watching out for you. I always do. Isn’t that why you’re mad at me?”

         “Draco, could you excuse us, please?”

         “Sure,” Draco said promptly. With a courtly bow to Ginny and another smirk to Harry, he hoisted the broomstick over his shoulder and sauntered back toward the castle. Thanks to his martial arts training, no doubt, the blow hadn’t jarred his brain in the least.

         Harry turned his attention back to Ginny. Damn, this ain’t gonna be pretty.

         Ginny looked cross, very cross indeed. She laid into him the minute Draco was out of earshot. “You haven’t spoken to me in weeks! You think I’m yours? Think again! Don’t look out for me ― I can handle myself. Draco is a nice boy, once you’ve gotten past all the Slytherin pureblood stuff. And do you really think that just because you’ve saved my life on countless occasions, you can make me wait for you forever?”

         Harry looked at her feet for a moment. “I’m sorry, Ginny.”

         “What?”

         “I should have been honest with you about my feelings from the very beginning, when I first noticed that you were a girl.”

         Ginny wrinkled her nose. “Harry, please don’t play sorry. It doesn’t suit you, and I can tell you’re lying.”

         Harry’s fingers tightened around the stone in his pocket. It was warm from his body heat, and he could feel the tingle within it as it swallowed the energy he was exuding. He pulled his hands from his pockets and cupped Ginny’s face tenderly in his hands. Her Glow tingled through his skin and rushed through his body, setting a buzz in his head that almost made him unable to see clearly.

         “Harry ....”

         “Ginny, I― I love you, Ginny. I can’t deny it anymore.”

         He hadn’t said those words since before winter break, and he could see her shock in her eyes. He steeled himself and pulled the white furball from the jacket pocket opposite the stone. It pushed out rubbery orange feet and hopped from his hands to Ginny’s.

         “Oh, how cute,” Ginny cooed, observing the large blinking eyes. “What is it?”

         “It’s a Fuzzle. When you get to tingling again, just hold him against you skin. He’ll have the same effect I do.”

         Ginny looked up at the catch in his voice. “Harry ....?”

         “I think it would be best if we didn’t see each other for a while.”

         “Oh, like we’ve been seeing each other up to now,” Ginny retorted, a quiver in her own voice.

         Harry could feel his heart tearing in two. “I literally mean it, Gin. For now, you don’t exist to me, and I don’t exist to you. Do you understand me?”

         The Fuzzle squeaked as Ginny’s hand tightened around it. “Harry, what the hell? You just told me you loved me!”

         “That’s why―” Harry swallowed hard and stepped back. “That’s why I can’t be around you anymore.” He turned and fled.

Chapter 40: Befuzzled
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         Keilana scowled as she walked along the hallway toward the Hospital Wing. After yet another misfired spell in the Saturday-morning remedial Charms class, Professor Flitwick had ordered her to visit Madame Pomfrey. The Charms professor was still in the classroom, trying to peel the students off the ceiling. A few were more de-gravity-affected than others, but only a couple had escaped the spell entirely.

         I don’t see why he had to make me leave class. It’s not like I was trying to hurt anybody. Ravenclaw wimp.

         She turned the corner and scowled more deeply. But I should have been able to do that spell. It’s about the easiest one I’ve ever learned. And I picked it right up my first day with Remus. Maybe my wand is broken.

         She looked doubtfully at the sheath pocket that held her flawless ebony wand. Maybe I’m broken.

         As she arrived at the doors of the Hospital Wing, she shook that train of thought from her head. I was still messed up from that spell Ron put on me. Would that account for it?

         “Hello, Keilana,” Aunt Poppy greeted her, obviously surprised. “A little early for your checkup, aren’t you? Weren’t you just in here last week?” She was mumbling to herself now. “I’m sure I gave you your potion last week.”

         “You did, Aunt Poppy,” Keilana broke in with a laugh, settling on one of the beds. As she made herself comfortable, she explained the mysterious symptoms she had been experiencing.

         When she had finished, Aunt Poppy was frowning. “That sounds like the Grey Curse.”

         “The what?”

         “It’s a debilitation spell. Depending on the strength of the victim, it slowly sucks away magical capacity. You’re going to become more or less a Squib.”

         Keilana had to think for a moment before she remembered what a Squib was. Anger filled her eyes. Aunt Poppy stepped back as all the sheets in the ward lifted into the air and spun wildly around just below the ceiling. Keilana closed her eyes and slowly brought the sheets back down.

         “Would I have such a handle of my telekinesis if I was truly losing my magic?”

         Aunt Poppy’s mouth hung open. “This is very interesting, Keilana,” she said at length. “May I document you?”

         Keilana sighed. “Eh, what the hell.”

***


         The wails coming from the sixth-year girls’ dorm were unmistakable. Hermione and Tiffany, who were cramming for their Arithmancy test, exchanged glances. At this hour on Valentine’s Day, most of Gryffindor house was in Hogsmeade or elsewhere out of doors. As far as Hermione knew, the only other people there besides her and Tiffany were Ron and Harry, snoozing down in the  common room ― and Ginny, evidently sobbing in her dorm room.

         “What do you suppose he did this time?” Tiffany said, a half-smile lurking beneath her worried eyes.

         Hermione shot her roommate a cockeyed frown. “Come on.”

         They left their books on Tiffany’s bed and went next door to where Ginny was sprawled on her own bed. Tiffany hung back awkwardly, but Hermione climbed right onto the bed next to Ginny and began to rub her back.

         “What did he do this time?” she said soothingly.

         Ginny couldn’t answer for a moment. “H-he brok-ke up w-with me-e,” she finally gasped out.

         “Oh, Ginny!”

         Tiffany noticed a ball of white fur on the floor and squatted down to look at it. “Hey, cutie,” she said upon realizing that it was an animal.

         Hermione laid down next to Ginny and pulled her close against her side. “It’s okay, Ginny, it’s okay,” she crooned.

         Golden sparks flew off of Ginny’s ginger locks. “No, it’s not okay!” she cried out. “It’s bad enough th-that we’re not dating. At least we were friends. He told me I don’t―” The word “exist” dissolved into a gargle of despair.

         “What?!”

         Tiffany held up the Fuzzle. “Hey, Hermione look at this.”

         Hermione and Ginny both looked at her. Ginny gestured for her to bring the Fuzzle over. When Tiffany got close enough, Ginny reached out and picked him up. The golden sparks in Ginny’s hair faded, and the creature’s white fur developed a creamy yellow tint. Ginny’s sobs grew less ferocious as she cuddled the Fuzzle against her cheek.

         “I even slipped a Valentine under his pillow,” she muttered in a voice that was not quite a growl but not quite a whine either. Her volume was low, but Tiffany and Hermione both heard her.

         “You did what?” Tiffany exclaimed. “Girl, we gotta get it back before he sees it. No way can you let him have it after he dumped you!”

***


         Harry growled as Ron snored loudly on his own bed. Exhaling roughly, Harry picked up his pillow to put over his head. A red envelope with golden trim caught his attention. He waved his bed curtains shut and carefully opened the card. His eyes stung as he took in the cheeky poem by his favorite little redhead. Ginny had signed her name with hearts after it, and an actual kiss (in bright red lipstick) had been pressed upon the bottom of the page.

         Musta put this here while I was in the shower. Knowing full well she would be with Draco a few minutes later. Harry sighed and got up. I guess I oughta find her something.

         He got up and grabbed his jacket. He knew exactly where to go.

         Keilana caught him on his way back from Hidden Treasures. She looked annoyed and a little scared. Harry tucked his purchase into his school robe’s deepest pocket.

         “Are you all right, Lily-Anne?”

         “Evidently, I have some horrible curse that slowly sucks away my magic.”

         “Didn’t Malfoy say that at Christmas?”

         “It was you, I think,” Keilana said, laughing softly. “It’s no big deal. I mean, my telepathy is getting stronger, and I can read minds even better than ever.” Her voice quivered and tears filled her eyes. She leaned her forehead against his chest. “I’m scared, Harry.”

         “Hey,” Harry said gently, gripping her by the shoulders and forcing her to look up at him. “You fight better than any guy I’ve ever met. You have nothing to be scared of.” He smiled. “And anyway, we’ll be around to protect you if you get yourself in a tight spot. Either me or Draco ― even Ron, I’m sure.”

         Keilana buried her face back in his chest. “Thank you, Harry.”

         “This is a disturbing picture on so many levels.”

         Keilana snuffled loudly and looked toward Draco. “What do you want?” she pouted.

         “I heard about what happened in your class. Came to look for you.”

         “Classes on a Saturday?” Harry said, surprised.

         “I’ve been failing my spell classes, so they’re making me take remedial classes on the weekends.”

         Harry burst out laughing. Keilana howled and chased him all the way into the castle.

***


         Ginny sighed over her lunch. “Well, he finally left, but we couldn’t find it anywhere. I guess that means he’s got it.”

         “What did you put in it?” Hermione asked. Tiffany had lost interest and was sitting with Emily, discussing how much bigger Dean Thomas’s biceps were than Neville Longbottom’s.

         Ginny lowered her voice and whispered the poem into Hermione’s ear. The elder girl’s face reddened.

         “Gosh, that’s mushy, Gin.”

         “Well, I wrote it before he told me to go to hell.”

         Hermione sighed. “I will never understand that boy.”

         Ginny excused herself and went back to her dorm room. She was about to throw herself down on her bed when she noticed the small velvet box on her pillow. She picked it up and opened it. Inside were beautiful silver earrings that matched the Shield Pendant perfectly. Her fingers trembled as she put them in. She brushed the gems as she secured the backings.

         A whisper surprised her. “Ginny is a pure jewel from the inside out. No wonder Harry Potter is in love with her. Oh, but his heart would break if anything happened to her.”

         “What in the world?” Ginny said aloud. She rubbed the sapphires again, and the message repeated itself. A warm glow filled her, and she suddenly understood why Harry had decided he was a danger to her. She dug the vibrance crystal Luna had given her from her bags and lifted the cord over her head. After making sure that the crystal still carried Harry’s signature, she tucked both necklaces beneath her collar and went back to the Great Hall.

         “Whoa,” Hermione said as Ginny dug into a plate worthy of any Weasley boy. “Weren’t you ‘not hungry’?”

         “I just feel like eating now. That’s all.”

         Harry had arrived in her absence. He was sitting a few seats away, talking with Neville. Seeming to sense her gaze, Harry glanced in her direction. His entire head snapped toward her when he saw the shielded hearts in her ears, and the silver chain of the pendant going around the back of her neck. Ginny looked at him and smiled for a brief moment. Then she turned her own head with a toss of her flaming red hair and commenced to flirt with Colin Creevey.

         Harry’s jaw dropped, but he didn’t look exactly displeased. Jealous, yes, but not displeased. (A fine line, Ginny knew from experience.)

         And it took a while for him to slip up. The second Thursday night in March, he had been deprived of Ginny’s touch long enough that he was in no mood to go over his mind blocks. Voldemort hardly ever tried to enter his mind anymore anyway. He dropped into a dead sleep almost before his head hit the pillow.

         Coincidentally, Ginny only took off the vibrance crystal before bed that night. After hours of terrible dreams about being ripped to shreds by a black dragon, she jolted awake, heart pounding. The shadows twisted as she hunched over her knees, shaking from head to toe. Her alarm clock’s pink LCD display blinked 3:02. The vibrance crystal that hung beside it was deep black.

Chapter 41: Friday the Thirteenth
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               Asleep in her own bed, Keilana awoke to the screams of a dragon. She looked around frantically, but none of her roommates seemed to hear the screams. She blinked rapidly, trying to get her bearings. As her senses cleared, she realized that the screams were not physically audible, but rather being projected into her mind.

               Slipping on her silk bed-shoes, Keilana scampered from the dungeons. The cries got louder and louder until she finally had to shut her mind to them. Even trying her very hardest to drown out the screams, she could barely continue toward it. But someone was calling ― wailing from a broken heart.

               After a blind chase, she found the source of the screams in one of the astronomy towers. Harry was curled up in a fetal position on the cold stones, arms protecting his head. Strange growths protruded from his spine; the exprint of scales filled his bare skin. The stretchy material of his sweatpants was shredded around his ankles ― both hands and feet had curved into wicked claws.

               Keilana could only stare. She had never seen an uncontrolled, spontaneous transformation up close. “.... Harry?”

               The pang vanished so suddenly that Keilana gasped aloud. A mixture of terror and fury shot through her, and Keilana nervously stepped back.

               What are you doing here?

               Had a metallic growl not underscored the thought, Keilana would have decided the question was her own. She backed toward the stairwell, the heartwails still pounding through her skull, but a disturbance in the power field stopped her. A small rock drew her attention, especially since it was glowing red around edges like a live coal. Keilana picked it up, and immediately dropped it again with a loud squeal ― it was very hot to the touch.

               It bounced when it hit the stone floor. Twice, and then it was within Harry’s reach. His dracine eyes flickered as he gazed at it ― with hatred, seemingly. But it seemed that he couldn’t help himself: one pod reached out, and even as the cruel claws grasped the stone, Harry’s partly-dragon body had begun to ripple away into a fully human one. The magic flickering in the air began to dissipate.

               Keilana’s eyes smarted, and she rubbed them with the heels of her hands. Now that Harry had stopped screaming, she felt another presence in her mind.

***


               Ginny had never connected with Harry outside of the few dreams she had accidentally wormed into. But she had been too frozen with fear to remove the Shield Pendant from around her neck, and the nightmare melted into a waking dream. Somehow she found herself seeing out of Keilana’s eyes, and she felt everything as the Slytherin girl did.

               When she saw the stone grow blood red in Harry’s palm as he regained his human form, and Keilana’s eyes grew blurry (most likely from tears), Ginny suddenly snapped out of it. She knew that crystal. It was one of the Night Stones her brother Charlie had brought back from Hawaii during the summer. They were supposed to be in the monastery in Old St. Ottery.

               Why does Harry have one? she wondered, falling back among her pillows. The Glow filled her, throbbing so strongly that she could hardly stand it. Why is it that even after almost a month, I still haven’t adjusted to being separated from Harry? I suppose the Fuzzle drains me more slowly .... Even now, he sat on her chest, only making a small dent in the energy buzzing through her body.

               She eventually made her way to the library to get her mind off the dream. She reached up to grab a catalog, but it stayed stubbornly wedged with the others. Sighing loudly, she gave it another tug, and the bookshelf almost dumped its contents out. Squeaking, Ginny put her arms up to protect her head. The catalogs poured down around her.

               Damn, Friday the Thirteenth, Ginny ranted silently as she shoved the catalogs back onto their shelf, this time with the help of a stepladder. One caught her eye: Hidden Treasures. Ginny returned the others and moved to a table to look more closely. The cover of the catalog boasted a beautiful brunette with astonishing resemblance to Remus Lupin. She wore an amber and mahogany version of Ginny’s own Shield Pendant.

***


               Keilana swore loudly as she missed the steps and landed facedown on the rug in the Slytherin common room.

               Draco laughed and reached down to help her up. “Are you all right, Kei?”

               “No, I am not all right! That’s the third time I’ve fallen down today! And it’s not even lunchtime yet!”

               Draco tried to contain his amusement, but Keilana glared up at him anyway. She picked herself up and stomped her foot. A wave of dizziness overtook her, and she quickly sat on the lounge. Draco settled next to her.

               “Where have you been?”

               “I spent the night in the West Astronomy Tower.”

               “Why?”

               “He wouldn’t let me leave.”

               Draco bristled. “Who?”

               “Harry.”

               Oh. Is he all right?

               Keilana projected the memory into his mind. She stopped when he snickered at the sight of her falling down the last six steps to the ground floor on her way to breakfast.

               “Oh, it’s funny, is it?”

               “Yes, actually,” Draco replied. “I mean, you’re obviously not hurt.”

               Keilana didn’t say anything. She just rubbed her arm. “I fell down again when I was leaving the Great Hall. I’ve never been this clumsy. Shouldn’t I be even a little worried?”

               “Maybe just a little.” He turned to smile down at her, but the sight of her eyes stopped him. They were normally pretty icy, but the edges of her irises had blended with the whites of her eyes. “Kei, you all right?”

               Her eyes rolled back in her head, and she leaned against him, a bit more heavily than necessary.

               “What the hell? Keilana!”

               Draco swept her limp body up and took the stairs from the dungeon at a dead run. By the time he reached the doors of the Hospital Wing, he was a little more than half dragon. He took a moment to reverse the transformation and catch his breath before bursting in on Aunt Poppy.

               She looked up, startled. “What is it, Malfoy?”

               Cassi was sitting on one of the beds, holding a cloth to her bare upper arm. She looked almost as stunned as Aunt Poppy. Draco barely spared her a glance. He laid Keilana on a bed, muttering an explanation in the Head Nurse’s direction. She quickly got a syringe and a bottle of bright white liquid. She injected the potion into Keilana’s arm. There was a pause ― a dreadful heartbeat full of despair ― and then Keilana opened her eyes.

               Draco gave a sigh of relief. “Kei, are you all right?”

               Her eyes jerked toward his voice, but something about them sent Draco’s heart sinking into his toes.

               “Keilana?”

               They were vacant and now completely white, almost like someone with cataracts.

               A frightened whimper hit his mind’s ears.

               Kei, your eyes ....

               Her lips twisted into a silent scream. “Draco, I’m blind!”

***


               Harry heard about Keilana’s condition from Remus Lupin, although why Lupin knew was beyond Harry. So was how the Defense Against the Dark Arts had known where to look for him. Resolving not to go crazy over it, he left the tower immediately and went to the Hospital Wing. The sight of Keilana lying on the bed with her eyes closed and with all kinds of wires attached to her body was enough to stop Harry in his tracks. He steeled himself and started toward her.

               “Lil?”

               She turned glassy eyes toward him, and although there was no emotion in her eyes, the shape of them was consistent with her smile.

               “Harry!” she squealed. “You came to see me!”

               Trying to laugh, Harry sat on the edge of her bed and gave her a hug. “How do you feel?”

               “Like I fell down the stairs.”

               “You did, huh? I thought I heard something, but my ears were so messed up I thought I was imagining it.” Harry couldn’t think of anything else to say. Keilana’s expression frightened him beyond words. “You don’t blame me, do you?”

               “Why would I?”

               “Well, because of last night. You’ve been hiding it, but I know you’re still carrying that gray curse. Being near a black dragon in mid-transformation could hardly be good for you.”

               “I came because I cared, Harry. You’re my brother.”

               Harry could find no words to answer that. Keilana reached out, felt around a little, and found his hand. She gave it a gentle squeeze, and Harry leaned down to kiss her forehead.

               “I’ll see if I can find anything to make you feel better.”

               Keilana smiled. “Thank you.”

            “And of course the first question is, ‘What would you like to eat?’”

Chapter 42: The Grey Curse
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         Hermione paced the hall outside the Class Heads’ office, trying to think of a way to greet Draco. Their relationship was pretty rocky: just when it looked like they might become friends, they had a fight, or Draco did something to make her doubt him again. She was still trying to figure out a way to ask after Keilana when Draco pushed the door open.

         “Can I help you, mum?” he said with a partly amused, partly annoyed look on his face.

         “Sorry I’m late,” Hermione said, slipping past him into the office and settling in her chair. “I’m also sorry I canceled this morning.”

         Draco shrugged slightly. “Little sisters can’t be bought.”

         Hermione had pushed back their usual meeting time to return to London for a talk with her younger sister Maggie, who was having a tough time with her boyfriend. “How did you know about that?” Hermione questioned a little tentatively.

         “I live with Keilana. I pay attention.”

         “How is she?” Hermione cringed. She hadn’t meant to ask it like that ― it had just popped out. She bit her lip under his piercing glare. “I saw you come out of the Hospital Wing, and I asked Aunt Poppy if you were all right.” She smiled at his confusion. “Hey, I live with Harry. I watch out for my friends.”

         “She’s doing better,” Draco said quietly, looking away. “She’s blind, Hermione.”

         Hermione gasped. “What do you mean, blind?”

         “Glass-eyed blind. She can’t see a thing.”

         “What’s gonna happen to her?”

         “I don’t know. Can we make this quick? I’m gonna go to the Menagerie to see if I can find her a Triffin or a Meowclops or something.”

         “Try for a Triffin. Meowclops have the worst depth perception you’ve ever seen.”

         Draco smiled ― one of the few sincere smiles Hermione had ever seen on his pointed face. He pulled out the last round of pre-Owl practice essays. “Well, let’s grade then.”

         While Draco and Hermione were going through the essays, Ginny and Terra were trying to do their own pre-exam homework. Ginny was propped up on her elbows as she tried to concentrate on the Potions textbook. Terra lay next to her with her own set of parchment and quills, obviously just as annoyed with the other three girls as Ginny was. Her roommates had to be the most giddy girls in the entire school. Terra sighed loudly and sat up, pulling her wand from under her leg. She magicked the bed curtains shut and performed a sound barrier spell.

         “Thank you,” Ginny said. “I can’t believe I didn’t think of that.”

         Terra smiled at her. Then she frowned. “Girlfriend, I can’t take you seriously with him on your head.”

         Ginny swatted the Fuzzle off her head and tucked him against her shoulder. “Better?”

         “Yeah. Okay, so what was Galpalott’s Third Law again?”

         The next few weeks went by quickly. Everyone was preparing for their finals, and even Ginny had little time to be worried about Harry. The seventh-years especially were working hard for their NEWT exams. May was right around the corner before anyone was really ready for it.

***


         It was the end of April when Keilana finally decided life was useless. Being blind and unable to perform magic and trying to stay in a school entirely designed for wizards was too hard, even as a telepath. She went to the Headmaster’s Office and quietly filled out the necessary forms while she waited for Minerva to return from a meeting in London. The headmistress actually jumped when she walked in to find Keilana and her Triffin Mowry catnapping on the desk.

         “Miss Crowe! Can I help you?”

         “I want to leave school,” Keilana said bluntly, handing the completed forms to the headmistress. She tucked Mowry into her pocket and slid off the desk completely.

         “You want to ... leave?” McGongall said, looking down at the withdrawal paperwork Keilana had presented her. She was visibly stunned.

         “I can’t be a wizard,” Keilana said with the calm of someone prepared to die. “I can’t do magic at all anymore. The only thing I can do is move things with my mind. And even then I can’t control it.”

         The Headmistress looked deeply troubled. “What are you going to do?”

         “Can you give me a letter? I’ll get a job and I’ll be respectable. Cross my heart and hope to die.”

         “Keilana, you can’t just drop out of school on a whim!”

         “I have been giving this a lot of thought,” Keilana said seriously. “Salazar knows I’ve spent enough time on my back in the Hospital Wing, thinking about things I should never worry about.”

         Minerva couldn’t think of anything to say that would dissuade the Slytherin girl’s cool determination. “Give me the weekend, and I’ll consider it.”

         Keilana pouted.

         “You need my approval to leave without a valid reason, Keilana,” Minerva said sternly. “And discomfort is not a valid reason.”

         “Yes, mum,” Keilana said. She left the office.

***


         That Monday, Aunt Poppy took Keilana to St. Mungo’s. Keilana, who had still not received an answer from Minerva, was in full pout when footsteps approached.

         “Good day, Madame Pomfrey. To what do we accord this honor?”

         Keilana had been forced to leave Mowry with the security guards, and she nervously clutched Aunt Poppy’s sleeve as they walked down the hall. The speaker had a nice voice, kind and friendly. Keilana focused intently and looked through Poppy’s eyes. The Healer was actually quite good-looking, even though he was probably nearing fifty or so.

         “Is this the prospective?”

         “My name is Lily-Anne.”

         Poppy’s eyes snapped toward Keilana, and Keilana found herself staring at her own face. Quite disconcerting. The medic looked curiously at her.

         “She’s blind?”

         Keilana frowned. “Stop talking about me like I’m not here. Who are you?”

         “Carson Winthrop, at your service, Miss Lily-Anne,” he said, kissing her hand.

         Keilana decided right then that she would begin wearing a bandage so people couldn’t see her eyes’ half-formed reactions. Or at least start remembering to wear the dark glasses Draco had given her. She could feel the blush rising in her cheeks.

         A blush? She never blushed.

         “Come into my office, Miss Lily-Anne. My mother-in-law tells me that you want to withdraw from Hogwarts.”

         “You’re his mother-in-law?” Keilana squeaked at Poppy.

         Carson chuckled. “Your headmistress, dear.”

         “Oh.”

         “I can get you a job. I think you’d be good at it.”

         “Even though I’m blind?”

         “You’d be perfect.”

         “Are you talking about the Stone Room, Carson?” Poppy asked suspiciously.

         “She’s blind, Alice,” Carson said. “How much more perfect could she be?”

         “What does being blind have to do with anything?” Keilana broke in.

         “If anyone who doesn’t work in the Department of Mysteries sees what’s inside the Stone Room, they’re to be executed immediately.”

         Keilana felt her eyes widening. “What’s inside?”

         Carson’s voice lowered to confiding whisper. “The secret of our origins.”

         “Why is that a secret?”

         “Because we wizards have suppressed our origins for years, hiding our true forms and colors until our children began to be born in the forms of these Terran humans.”

         “Carson,” Poppy said in warning.

         He leaned in toward her. “Do you know why the secret of our existence is so carefully guarded, Miss Lily-Anne?” Carson said to Keilana, completely ignoring Poppy.

         “No, sir.”

         “Because Muggles found out once before. There was a Cultural Revolution in the mid-seventeenth century. Do you know what happened?”

         A vague memory stirred in the back of Keilana’s mind. Something Doreen had told her before the explosion that had taken her life. Something about a violent overthrow and a plague that erased the consequences.

         Carson’s voice dropped even lower. “That’s when the Mudbloods were born.”

         “Are feeling all right, Carson?” Poppy said, clearly surprised by his use of the word.

         Carson looked at her, frowned for a moment, and then looked suddenly at Keilana. “Is this the prospective?”

         Keilana swore loudly. Poppy’s snapped toward her.

         “Miss Crowe!”

         “He didn’t know I was blind,” Keilana said, trembling. “Hide me!”

         “Hide you? Hide you from whom, Keilana?”

         “From Father!”

         Carson was totally confused.

***


         “Will I be safe here?” Keilana asked anxiously.

         “Our security systems are state of the art, Miss Crowe,” Carson said gently. “There are trustworthy wizards watching every level. Who are you so afraid of?”

         “Voldemort,” Keilana whimpered. “I don’t know how he knew I was coming to see you, but he was ready. And now he knows that I’m helpless.”

         “Perhaps the Dark Lord was watching me.”

         Keilana frowned. “Why would you say that?”

         “I had a visitor at the beginning of the year. A visitor that would draw his attention, with traits that would pique his interest.”

         “Harry Potter.”

         Carson’s surprise was clear. “How did you know that?”

         “I know about Harry. I know others as well.”

         “Others whom we shan’t mention?” Carson said, a smile carrying through on his voice.

         “Yes, sir.”

         A guard came in to drop off Mowry, whom Keilana welcomed ecstatically. Carson excused himself and left with the guard. That left Keilana and Mowry to explore her new quarters. There was a decent bed with a woolen blanket and two flat pillows. A wrought-iron nightstand with a mirror and a ceramic basin and pitcher. A small desk with three drawers. There was only one chair, but it was quite comfortable, and it was enchanted so that Keilana could direct it all about the room.

         Poppy returned that night with some fresh clothes. She returned later that week along with Minerva and Carson. After a long discussion in which Keilana actually had little say, Minerva gave her decision.

         “You may continue working in the Stone Room if you wish, Keilana,” she said. “They will report your performance directly to the school, and Carson will see to it that your education isn’t completely abandoned.”

         Keilana beamed. “Thank you, Aunt Minnie!” she exclaimed, throwing her arms around Minerva.

         That was the last day of April.

Chapter 43: Missing Keilana
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              “Yay!”

              Harry was standing in the hall, and he jumped at the loud cry. Ginny bounced out of the Potions classroom, recoiled at the sight of him, and continued down the hall, howling cheerfully. Luna exited more sedately.

              “How’d you do?” Harry asked, putting an arm around her as they started walking toward the Green Court.

              “As well as can be expected,” Luna replied serenely. She smirked up at him. “And Ginny did very well, I think.”

              “Oh, good. Hey!”

              Luna giggled. “You?”

              “I did all right in the Defense Against the Dark Arts Newt, but I’m not quite as sure about History of Magic. What have you got next?”

              “Defense Against the Dark Arts, but not until after lunch.”

              “Could you do me a favor?”

              “Sure.”

              Harry explained his idea to her, and Luna approved with great amusement. She gave him a hug and left to catch up with Ginny. She found the redhead in the Great Hall, about to dig into lunch.

              “Wait, Ginny.”

              She looked up. “What?”

              “There’s company waiting for you in the rose garden.”

              “Can’t it wait until after lunch?”

              “No.”

              Ginny sighed and picked up her book-bag. It took her only a few minutes to get to the rose garden. No one was here at this hour on an exam day, but a wicker basket sat on the stone bench directly in front of the gate.

              “Hello?” Ginny called cautiously, stepping into the garden. She looked down at the basket and tapped her foot impatiently. I’m gonna kill Luna later. “I know someone’s here. Come out.”

              Someone grabbed her from behind ― Harry, Ginny knew immediately by the scent. A warm hum filled the embrace, and Ginny leaned her head back against Harry’s shoulder.

              “Mmm― What do you want, Harry?”

              “I just wanted to eat lunch with my favorite little redhead.”

              Ginny couldn’t help it. She laughed. Harry spread a blanket on the grass, and Ginny ate lunch with him.

***


              While they were there, acting as though they had been best friends their whole lives, Ron and Draco were leaving their Alchemy final.

              “That was a lot harder than I was expecting,” Ron mumbled, shoving his hands in his pockets.

              “Well, it was our last final,” Draco said.

              “That’s not what I meant. It’s different doing it for real and doing it for a test.”

              “Oh. Yeah, I guess so. It’s harder to get psyched for a test.”

              “Unless, of course, your last name is Granger,” Ron said, catching sight of Hermione dragging along a picnic basket as she beelined for him. Ron greeted her with a hug and a kiss.

              “How was your exam?” Hermione asked, looking excited and a little lost.

              “Good,” Ron said, keeping his arm around her. “What’s in the basket?”

              “Lunch,” Hermione said enthusiastically. “Let’s go out to the lake.”

              Draco was looking enviously at them, and Hermione laughed.

              “You can come too, Draco. Luna’s coming, and some others from the D.A.”

              “I’m not in the D.A.,” Draco muttered, but he followed them outside anyway.

              “I miss her too,” Ron said to him over Hermione’s head.

              Harry and Ginny arrived well after the others, holding hands. Hermione was obviously more than a little surprised, but Ron just gave Harry an approving wink. He covered for Harry’s surprised reaction by snatching Harry’s seventh-year cap off his raven head and running down the garden path with it. Harry yelled and let go of Ginny, chasing Ron down to the beach. Ginny sat down with Luna, giggling.

              “Thanks, Luna.”

              Luna smiled. “Don’t mention it.”

              “Hey, you guys!” called a cheerful voice.

              Draco leapt to his feet and ran to greet her. Keilana squealed as Draco spun her around. He let her down gently, but pulled her into a tight hug. Harry and the others came over to greet her as well.

              “What are you doing here?” Ron asked.

              “I came to give you encouragement on your last exam day,” Keilana smiled. She wore black glasses, and a fluffy powder blue creature sat on her shoulder. She seemed to have adjusted to being blind quite well. “How have you guys been doing?”

              “We’ve been missing you is what we’ve been doing,” Hermione said. “Especially Draco, although he would never admit it.”

              “Yes, I would,” Draco retorted immediately, hugging Keilana again.

              “So how’s your job, girl?” Luna asked, squeezing her Slytherin friend’s hand.

              “Awesome! I never knew having a job could be so much fun. They basically pay me to clean out a bunch of gears and keep them oiled and running like a track star. Since I’m blind, they don’t have to worry about all the precautions and security, blah blah blah.”

              “Where do you work?” Ginny asked, having been removed from Keilana long enough to be feeling friendly toward her.

              “In the Granite Clock at the Department of Mysteries.”

              “What?!” Harry and Luna yelped at once.

              “Do you know what it is?” Keilana asked, just as surprised as they were.

              “Jackie talks about it a lot,” Harry explained. “She was a prospective for the Department of Mysteries, you know.”

              “A prospective?”

              Draco looked at Keilana for a moment, gave a short animal squeak, and hugged her tightly. It’s so good to have you here.

              The others seemed confused. Keilana laughed and hugged him back. She let go after a moment and stepped back, sliding her book-bag strap back onto her shoulder.

              “Anyway, I have some finals too,” she said cheerfully. “Gotta keep the old lady happy, yeah? I’ll catch up with y’all for dinner.”

***


              Bouncing excitedly, Keilana stepped out of her last exam. Mowry trilled on her shoulder. Professor Sprout had been a little suspicious of the Triffin, but there wasn’t really any way to cheat at a Herbology final that consisted of growing a tomato plant from a seed to its fruit-bearing stage. Keilana had managed it in exactly  twenty-seven and a half minutes – the longest in the entire class. But she had done it, and she was satisfied. So was Sprout. Actually, the Herbology professor had been quite impressed (in her mind where no one except Keilana could tell). She knew about Keilana’s difficulties.

              Keilana was so wrapped up in her own excitement – not just about Herbology but also about her Charms and Transfiguration finals – that she didn’t hear the footsteps behind her, slow at first, but then more rapid. The man was upon her before she even had a chance to glance for his aura. As a black oppression enfolded her mind, Keilana read one name.

              Antonin.

***


              “What’s wrong with you, Draco?” Hermione said, sliding onto the Slytherin bench beside him. Ron and Harry were at the Gryffindor table, keeping an eye on her, but they had ceased to worry about Hermione’s safety in Draco’s presence during the last couple months.

              “Keilana keeps her word,” Draco muttered into his plate. He had his head propped up on one hand, and he was absent-mindedly rolling chunks of pineapple through his mashed potatoes.

              “Isn’t that a good thing?” Hermione asked, sticking her tongue out at Millicent Bulstrode, who was glaring at them.

              “She said she would be here for dinner.”

              “Oh. Oh, she isn’t, is she. Have you seen her?”

              “No. You?”

              “Unh-uh. Hold on, I’ll ask.”

              Luna was already asking around her own table by the time Hermione got to the Gryffindors. No one had seen the Slytherin girl anywhere. Draco took one look at Hermione’s disappointed face and took off down the aisle. Pansy Parkinson followed closely, as did a few others.

              Ironically, Pansy found her first. She was on the other side of Hogwarts Lake, tied tightly to a large tree. Pansy barely restrained a cackle.

              “Well, well, well.”

              Keilana’s head snapped up. A long chain hung around her neck, suspending a black stone just a few inches out from her belt. Black, but glowing green. She had lost her glasses in a struggle evidenced nearby, and her alabaster eyes were wide with fear. “Pansy?” she gasped. “Pansy, please, help me.”

              “Now why would I do that? You can do some wandless magic, hmm?”

              “You know I can’t,” Keilana said, shaking her head in frustration.

              “Do I?” Pansy said coyly. She saw a dark cave opening about five hundred yards away. “Well, well, what do we have here?”

              “What!”

              The strange creature that had been riding Keilana’s shoulder lay stunned a few feet away. Keilana was helpless, and the glowing stone was obviously blocking whatever magical ability she had left.

              “I think you may have some eight-legged company coming,” Pansy replied, sweet as you please. “I’ll leave you to party, hmm?”

              Pansy turned and pranced off. Keilana’s frightened cries echoed behind her.

***


              “Pansy, where are you going?” Draco said, grabbing his housemate’s arm.

              “Back to the school,” Pansy said with a smirk. “I have to get ready for the ball.” The ball wasn’t until Saturday – four more days.

              Draco’s grip tightened until Pansy cried out in pain. “Where was she, Pansy?”

              The memory flashed through her mind only briefly, but that was enough for Draco. He took off running for the clearing. He arrived just in time to see a man in Death Eater robes grab Keilana by the hair and apparate from sight.

              Draco fell to his knees in the dirt and tilted his head to the sky.

          Across the lake, Harry and Ron both heard the blood-curdling cry of a despairing dragon.

Chapter 44: Prisoner
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              Keilana shivered in the damp of the Malfoy dungeons. She knew them by the smell – she and Draco had spent enough time in them last summer. Mowry had been left by the lake as far as she could tell, but her guard was fairly inept at Occlumency. She could only capture a weak image because of the defensive spells cast on the dungeons themselves, but she knew where she was and what was going on.

              Both she and Draco were counted among the Death Eaters, although neither bore his mark. Keilana, who had never been an active member, was excused for not being of use – rumors had begun to circulate that she was “the master’s daughter.” Draco, on the other hand, was not as easily excused. And people were becoming suspicious.

              The master’s daughter was a decoy.

              Stay away, Draco, Keilana wished she could call to him. Stay as far away as you can.

***


              “We have to do something.”

              The Defense Association had gathered in the Room of Requirement: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Luna, Ginny, Neville, Tiffany, Draco, and Parvati. Ron had taken charge of the meeting, seeing as both Harry and Draco were a little out of it.

              “We can’t just go off in search of ‘a Death Eater hideout,’ ” Hermione protested. “That’s hardly directions to an actual place.”

              “Can you tell us where she is?” Parvati asked, looking at Draco.

              “I can’t feel her at all,” Draco replied glumly. “Usually I can at least tell what direction she’s in, but right now?” He made a sound like a cork popping. “Nothing.”

              “Forget that then,” Ron said. He got up and walked around in silence for a couple minutes. “Try it from the other end then. Where would they take her?”

              “I don’t know!” Draco snapped. “If I did, I would-a gone to rescue her by now.”

              “How do we know she needs rescuing?” Hermione asked.

              “Oh, we know,” Luna and Draco said at the exact same time.

              “She’s bait,” Parvati murmured.

              “What?” Harry said.

              “V-V-Voldemort―” She said the name with a little more force than necessary. “―knows you wouldn’t come to face him if he just told you to. Either of you. Aren’t you in trouble for being so innocuous, Malfoy?”

              “Among other things,” Draco said quietly. “Meaning I should automatically know where she would be?” He thought for a minute. “Maybe I do.”

              Neville got up. “Let’s go.”

              “Why are you so eager to help?” said Tiffany. She was only there because Hermione had dragged her along. There was no love lost between her and the Slytherin girl.

              “Isn’t that what we do? As the remnant of Dumbledore’s Army, isn’t it our job to make sure Hogwarts’ students are safe?”

              “She’s not even a Hogwarts student anymore!”

              Neville looked quietly at her. “She doesn’t deserve to die.”

              “Where to, Drakes?” Harry said, elbowing Draco.

              “Uhh ....” Draco was obviously close to tears. He turned to Hermione and gave her the coordinates.

***


              “Hello, Kassidia.”

              Keilana gasped at the familiar voice. “Father.”

              There was a moment’s silence. She had surprised him. “ ‘Father’?” he repeated. “Who do you think I am?”

              “Only Tom Riddle calls me Kassidia.”

              “And why should he be your father?”

              Keilana sighed loudly. “If you don’t want to talk about it, I won’t say anything.” She turned her head away from the bars, wondering if there was some way to remove from her neck the choker necklace containing a sliver of a night stone. Though it had quite a variety of powers, its main purpose was to suppress magic of all forms. This one was working wonderfully. Keilana turned back to the voice. “What do you want?”

              “I’m just checking on you, sweetheart,” he replied softly. Keilana knew that voice well; a great many other women had been swayed by it. “I’ve missed you.”

              “You knew where I was.”

              “Indeed. I’m surprised, Kassidia. I never imagined that you would develop such affection for the Malfoy child.”

              “ ‘Affection’?” Keilana echoed him with scorn, but then her tone softened. “I suppose you could call it that.”

              Tom Riddle’s voice was guarded. Keilana had grown beyond his power to intimidate. Such defiance in one who had been Erased was beyond the comprehension of the Dark Lord. He left abruptly. Keilana pulled her knees up to her chin and quietly rocked back and forth.

***


              Sure hope this works, Draco thought as he swung his book-bag over his shoulder and headed up his front steps. Malfoy Manor had never looked quite so intimidating. A gray glow showed briefly on his hand as he moved to push the bell. The glow followed his hand as he quickly tucked both hands in his pockets.

              “Master Draco!” exclaimed the doorman. “Finished with your exams already?”

              “Had my last one this morning. Gotta rest up before the ball, right?”

              The doorman just stared after him as Draco headed down the hall. He walked slowly, never letting the soft pressure leave his wrists and ankles. The long robes he wore hid most of his movement.

              [Did he notice?] Harry’s voice whispered to his mind’s ear.

              [I don’t think so. The over-sized robe was a good idea.]

              [Thank Ginny later. She made it for us special.]

              Draco began to walk a little faster. Harry’s ghostic form, hidden within his own fully corporeal one, felt cold and weird. It took them four minutes to walk to Draco’s room. Harry, sensing Draco’s discomfort, quickly shook himself free. As Draco pulled the long robes off and began to change out of his Slytherin uniform, Harry looked around the Pureblood boy’s room.

              [Wow.]

              A model of the manor sat next to a tank of nightshades. Within the model, tiny figures walked about, minding their own business.

              [What kind of spell is that?] Harry asked, impressed.

              [It’s basic Auror magic, Potter. Get with the program.]

              Clearly a little offended, Harry didn’t answer for a moment. [Your dad’s not in there.]

              [He must be in the dungeons.]

              [Can you feel Lily ― Keilana ― yet?]

              Draco’s silence answered Harry’s question. The Gryffindor rose from Draco’s bed and switched from his Cadaveris spell to an invisibility spell. As he pulled his Invisibility Cloak over his fading body, Draco continued to study the model.

              [There.]

              Harry’s frown was in his voice. [You have more than one door to the dungeons?]

              [We have several. Only one actually reach it, and it changes every day.]

              [Oh.]

              Draco pulled Ginny’s custom robes back on. [Come on.]

              Harry trotted to keep up with Draco, whose legs were a little longer than his own. Draco stared straight ahead, but spoke to Harry’s mind.

              [Muffle your feet. I can hear you walking.]

              A soft hiss indicated that Harry had obliged. Draco listened carefully as he continued at a fast walk. Now he could only hear Harry struggling to stifle his panting. Draco slowed a little.

              “Draco!” a nasal voice said in obvious surprise.

              Draco spun around. “Hello, Mum.”

              “What are you doing here?”

              “I have tomorrow and Friday off before the Graduation Ball Saturday night. I figured I’d come and say hi, since the Master plans to ship me to Australia as soon as I graduate.”

              Harry remained perfectly still and held his breath as Draco effortlessly guided his mother’s train of questioning:

              “Where’s Keilana, darling?”

              “I thought she was here with you.”

              “She went to see you yesterday.”

              Draco’s pale eyebrows rose. “She did?”

              “Don’t lie to me, Draco,” Narcissa said angrily. “I know you’ve seen her.”

              “Either way, can I now?”

              “What do you mean?”

              “Well, don’t you know where she is?” he said slyly.

              Narcissa’s mouth puckered. Draco had never listened to her much, and at almost eighteen, he wasn’t about to start. He ducked his head to kiss her cheek, and she embraced him tenderly. Harry averted his eyes from the silent exchange. Draco turned and resumed his canter toward today’s entrance to the dungeons.

***


              Keilana jerked upright on her cot when the cell bars squealed, but she wasn’t quite on her feet when large hands grabbed her by each arm and practically lifted her from the cell. The men dragged her along without a word for several seconds before throwing her onto a flat, cold surface. Keilana felt around blindly to find that she was on top of a round pedestal about five feet wide, with strange grooves around the edge of it.

              “Oh, no.”

              “Oh, yes.”

              Keilana jerked toward the voice. “What are you doing, Father?”

              “You’ve lost your magic, haven’t you?” Tom Riddle said for answer.

              “I’m prepared to live like this.”

              “Are you? Chain her down.”

              Keilana had never missed her sight as badly as she was missing it just then. The Death Eaters chained her to the stone by her wrists. The voices started all around as they began the chant. The night stone in Keilana’s choker began to throb. Its pulsing light was so strong that she could feel it, even though she couldn’t see it.

              The obelisk began to whir, and Keilana heard the light whoosh on. The chain actually came in handy then, because the intense magic of the obelisk lifted Keilana off the stone.

              “What the hell?” Tom’s voice suddenly said.

              Loud yells ensued, not just from the Death Eaters, who had ceased their chant, but from two other voices as well. Keilana felt her tears floating upward in the light as she recognized them: Harry and Draco.

              The brightness was beginning to get to her, and she had to screw her eyes shut. Then a thought hit her: I can see the light. Shapes began to form as the light began to pour through her. She could see figures leaping around, trying to catch a smaller figure with blonde hair in long black robes. Something grabbed her from behind, even though she was floating head-down, six feet off the obelisk.

              “Harry?” she whispered.

              “Shh.”

              She could feel claws forming around her forearms, but Harry successfully transported them away before he became fully dragon. She could feel Draco with her mind, and he leaped for the pillar of light himself as soon as they were safely gone.

              But when she sat up, she could feel him nowhere. Harry was close beside her, working the chains off.

              “Where’s Draco?”

              “Throwing them off our scent.’

              “Where are we?”

              Harry pulled her up. Cold, damp sand was beneath her feet, and small waves lapped nearby. Harry murmured something and smacked her in the forehead with the side of his fist. Keilana was about to protest when a burst of color made her fall backwards into the water.

              “Holy hell!” Keilana said, breathless. The gray sky above Hogwarts Lake was blinding after weeks of absolute darkness.

              “Did it work?” he asked, folding up his cloak to tuck into his pocket. “Your eyes are still white.”

              “Yes, I think so. It started coming back when I was on the obelisk.”

              “I’ve only seen one of those, but I figured it was worth a shot. Those circle stones have amazing restorative power.”

              “Where did you see one?”

              Harry shrugged. “Jackie never told me where we were. We apparated in and out.” He grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the Forbidden Forest.

              “Where are we going?”

              “You’re going to stay with Hagrid until we find a safe place for you. Use your Lily form.”

              “Won’t that be even more obvious?”

              Harry shrugged. “No one at school has seen it. I’m going to go tell the others we got you back, all right? Stay with Hagrid.”

              Keilana nodded and slipped by Hagrid into the large hut.

***


              “Did you get her?” Hermione asked as soon as Harry made it into the Room of Requirement. “Harry, you’re bleeding.”

              Harry looked down. He had a deep gash across his forearm. “I didn’t even notice.”

              Ginny quickly pulled him over to the sink and washed the wound. “Did you find her?”

              “Yeah, she’s with Hagrid.”

              Luna smiled. “We knew you could do it.”

              Ron looked annoyed. “Of course we did. That’s not the point.” Tiffany and Parvati had gone to see their families before the ball, but Neville was still there. He and Ron looked like they had been planning some sort of campaign.

              “What is the point then, Ron?” Hermione said tersely.

              “Getting her out was not the problem,” Ron said. “What are we supposed to do with her now that we have her? Voldemort will track her down, and he will kill us for trying to free her.”

              “Not unless I kill him first,” Harry spoke up.

              Ginny’s hands jerked, and Harry winced as she drew the bandage a little too tight. “What?” she hissed.

              “It’s got to happen sometime. I don’t intend to lose.”

              “You can’t just say that,” Hermione said. “Are you capable of killing someone?”

              “Let me tell you what I’m not capable of, Hermione,” Harry said in a cold, hard voice. “I’m not capable of sitting here and watching him kill off my friends one by one.” He was thinking of Sirius, and Cedric, and so many others that had been lost.

              “What do you intend to do?” Neville said, rising.

              Harry’s mouth curled into an evil smirk.

Chapter 45: Allegiance
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              The gang headed down to Hagrid’s after supper, taking with them some food for Keilana. They found Keilana lying in front of the fireplace with a large book and a white wolf.

              “Hey, Commodore,” Harry exclaimed, almost forgetting his half-sister. “Haven’t seen you in a while.”

              Keilana placed the book gently a nearby table. “He migrated with his mate.”

              “You have a mate?” Harry said in surprise, scratching Commodore behind the ears.

              “And three babies.” Keilana picked up a spotted brown and white pup and brought her into the light. “Ain’t she cute?”

              “Lily-Anne ....”

              Keilana blinked innocent hazel eyes. “Yes, Harrison?”

              “What happened to you?”

              “You’re the one who told me to use my Lily form.” Her dark auburn hair fell in glossy waves about her shoulders, glowing gold in the firelight. The gold in the green of her eyes sparkled impishly. She was slightly shorter, now a little closer to Luna’s size, and slightly less graceful-looking. “Don’t you like it?”

              “It’s different. Last time you tried it, you looked a lot more like Ginny. It’s definitely different from that.”

              Keilana’s face had clouded.

              “Different in a good way,” Harry assured her, laughing.

              Hermione offered the basket to the younger girl. “We brought you dinner. You know, just in case you couldn’t eat Hagrid’s food.”

              “Thanks,” Keilana laughed. Harry was taken off guard by the warm delight on her Lily-like face. She looked so much like their mother that Harry was obliged to turn his gaze away.

              “I guess this means that you’re showing your age now,” Ginny spoke up.

              “Whatever do you mean?”

              “You looked like a seventh-year before,” Luna said. “Now you look younger than us.”

              “I am younger than you,” Keilana replied, squealing over the caramel sponge cake in the basket. “I’m exactly a year younger than Ginny.” She closed her eyes in ecstasy as she chewed the cake. After a moment, she opened her eyes and looked around. “Where’s Draco?”

              “We don’t know,” Hermione finally said. “He hasn’t gotten back since he and Harry went to rescue you.”

              Worry immediately crept into Keilana’s expression. “Do you know if he’s all right?”

              Luna held up a vibrance crystal. “Well, he’s alive.”

              There was a flash of silver inside the crystal. Keilana winced and turned quickly to Luna with petrified eyes.

              “What was that?”

              “Transformation. Can you feel him?”

              Keilana closed her eyes and concentrated hard. While the face was different, the expression was very familiar. Harry relaxed a little in the presence of this new Keilana. Her eyes popped open and she headed for the door, saying over her shoulder:

              “He’s coming.”

              It was only a few minutes before Draco appeared, frantically flapping his leathery wings. He transformed back about fifteen feet in the air, and he landed in the grass at Keilana’s feet. He pulled himself up slowly, looking at her through slitted dragon eyes. He wrapped his arms around her and squeezed tightly, then collapsed in a heap at her feet.

***




              “Sincerely, Harry Potter,” Harry finished reading his letter of challenge aloud to his audience. The Hospital Wing was quiet. Draco was lying on one of the beds, holding an icepack over his eyes. Keilana sat close at his side, holding his free hand in both of her smaller ones.

              “ ‘Sincerely’?” Hermione said from where she and Ron were leaning against the window sill. Ron had his arm around her, and Hermione leaned into his side. Harry suppressed his jealousy and nodded.

              “Should I sign it differently?”

              “Well, Harry, he’s killed millions of innocent people. ‘Sincerely’ is hardly a way to sign off.”

              Luna was sitting on the bed opposite Draco and Keilana. She was leaning against the wall; Ginny was lying on her back next to her, staring at the ceiling. Tiffany and Neville occupied the bed next to them. Dean and Seamus were leaning against beds of their own. Parvati leaned against the wall next to Ron’s side of the window.

              “Just my name, then? Anything besides that?”

              “Call ’im a git,” Seamus crowed.

              Harry snickered. “Can’t. Too informal.”

              Laughter filled the Hospital Wing. Madame Pomfrey walked in with a fresh potion for Draco, and Harry opened the window to call Hedwig. Neville laid their plans out on the bed. He explained them and looked around.

              “Everyone understand what we’re doing?”

              Draco swung his legs over the side of the bed. “I’ll talk to my housemates.”

              “I’ll talk to ours,” Tiffany said, studying the empty bottle Poppy now held. They left together, discussing the potion Draco had just taken. Luna and Parvati left behind them, heading for the Ravenclaw dorms.

              “Harry,” Ginny said, getting up, “can I talk to you?”

              He picked his hat up off the window sill and stepped out of the Hospital Wing behind her. Ginny led him to a quiet courtyard before finally stopping to look at him. Her hand lay clenched at her breastbone. Harry recognized the chain as the one attached to the Shield Pendant. He stopped a good three feet away.

              “What is it, Ginny?”

              “You’re going to go out there tomorrow and challenge the most powerful Dark Wizard in the world to a one-on-one duel,” she said softly, “and you’re acting like it’s a tea party.”

              “If I acted terrified, wouldn’t that just scare you more?”

              Ginny looked away. “W-who says I’m scared? I just don’t want him to win. That’s all.”

              “Of course.” Harry wanted nothing more than to reach out and touch her cheek. But he couldn’t touch her skin, not when she was actually touching the Seeing Stone. “I’m not gonna lose, Ginny.”

              She looked back at him, her eyes brimming with The Glow. “How can I know that, Harry? How can I know that you’re gonna walk away tomorrow, unharmed and alive?”

              “What makes you think I’m gonna be unharmed?”

              Ginny practically stomped her foot. “Harry, you’re not helping!”

              Harry closed his eyes tightly, inhaling her honeysuckle scent. Oh, to Hell with it. He threw up a mental shield and wrapped his arms around her. “Ginny, I love you. Nothing in the world will change that. I will walk away from it tomorrow, and I will come back to you.”

              Ginny would have believed him. But she barely heard his words. His cold cheek was pressed against her warm one, and The Glow was swirling through them both. She screwed her eyes shut, trying to shut out the images. But it was no use.

              “I don’t love you. I’ve never loved you.”

              Hatred filled Harry’s face as he moved toward her. Ginny stood trembling, unable to respond. Tears dripped off her chin as Harry got closer.

              “Did you think I would save you if you followed me?”

              Ginny’s voice caught in her throat, a sob shook her body. “Harry, please ....”

              “What did you say?” he hissed quietly into her ear. “Hmm? Are you going to beg for your life?”

              He touched her cheek with the back of his hand. Ginny could feel the magic draining out of her. Harry drew his hand back and struck her across the face.

              Ginny’s knees buckled, and she fell to the stone pavement, sobbing. Harry was immediately on his knees next to her.

              “Ginny, what is it? Oh, Merlin, I’m so sorry. What did I say?”

              She grabbed at his robes, clutching desperately. She was sobbing loudly now, and Harry grabbed her by the shoulder, alarmed.

              “Ginny, what is it?” he asked more urgently, his voice growing high-pitched.

              “Just―” She gasped and swallowed hard and looked intently into his darkened green eyes. “Just win tomorrow, okay?”

          She got up and ran from the courtyard.

Chapter 46: The Final Duel
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                 “You’re going to do what?” the Headmistress said, spinning to face Harry.

                 “It has to happen sometime,” Harry replied with resignation. But he added confidently, “Don’t worry, Professor. I won’t lose.”

                 “You can’t just challenge Voldemort head on,” she retorted. “There’s no way you could possibly win.”

                 “I’m not challenging him head on.”

                 “What do you intend to do?”

                 Harry explained Ron and Neville’s campaign idea. Completely apart from Harry and Tom’s inevitable duel, the Gryffindor boys had mapped out a very reasonable plan of battle. Minerva exhaled slowly and nodded.

                 “I’ll contact Carson.”

                 Harry nodded and left to make his on preparations. Among them would have been a few hours of rest, but Ginny’s sudden breakdown was very puzzling, and he only slept in short fits. The dreams came back too, and he eventually decided to give up on sleep.

                 Unknown to him, Ginny was lying away in her own bed, quivering with terror. The Shield Pendant enabled her to have an open window into Harry’s dreams, and they scared her almost as much as her .... vision? She would sob at that thought and close her eyes, but then Harry’s dreams would be painted in her mind again, and so it continued through the night.

***


                 Early the next morning, he and Keilana stood on Jackie’s Rock, as Neville had decided to call it. So much had happened there that even Ron had agreed they needed to name it.

                 Shivering even under his Invisibility Cloak, Harry felt a pang of pity for Keilana. She was wearing a pair of his jeans and a couple layers of shirts. She had opted to leave any coat or robe behind in her dorm, and her lips were turning blue. When she’d woken up that morning, she had been in her Keilana form, and she hadn’t fixed it yet. Her icy eyes didn’t help her general look of frostbite.

                 “This is a bad idea,” Keilana murmured, trying to keep her balance. “He’s gonna know you’re here.”

                 Harry shrugged. “So?”

                 Keilana exhaled softly and changed her Erased form to her true one. Harry’s aura rippled with pride, but he didn’t say anything.

                 “Here they come,” Keilana said, her hazel eyes flickering silver again.

                 The onslaught had been planned for a long time. Harry could tell by the way they moved and attacked. Minerva had warned the teachers, and all that could were lying in wait. Most of the older students, even those in Slytherin, were also ready for battle; Carson Winthrop had also managed to sneak in a few Aurors.

                 Harry pulled his cloak off and looked at Keilana. She squeezed his hand tightly, and they leapt from the rock and right into the thick of things. Time seemed to slow down as they downed one Death Eater after another. Draco appeared in the ranks and fired off some nasty grayish brown spells alongside Ron. Before long, Draco was in dragon form, breathing fire over the Death Eaters, and Ron rode on his neck, picking off the ones left moving with a bright green bolt-type spell.

                 Luna and Ginny were nearby as well. They stayed close together and brought down quite a few of their own. The sheer number of Death Eaters was surprising (and a little discouraging), but the presence of a dragon was equally shocking to the Death Eaters.

                 Harry found himself with his back to the lake, rapidly warding off any Death Eaters that approached him. One of them was suddenly Voldemort, and Harry fell backward to avoid the Dark Lord’s counter-hex. A pulse came from the center of the lake as Harry hit the water. Throwing up a shield, he slipped further back into the water to avoid the steady rain of devastating spells.

                 “What’s the matter, Harry?” Tom Riddle cajoled as Harry listened intently for the pulse. There it was again, stronger this time. “You challenged me to this fight. What-ever have I done?”

                 “You kidnapped my friend,” Harry said through clenched teeth, thinking quickly. “Draco and Keilana are both my friends.”

                 “A Gryffindor? Friends with Slytherins?” Tom looked genuinely surprised, but his tone showed that he was merely playing for the perfect moment to attack. “I knew the Malfoy son was a traitor, but not to that extent.”

                 Harry shouted the Bubble-Head Charm and dived into the water. Tom was momentarily taken off guard, but he followed a few seconds later. Harry swam quickly, slipping through the seaweed at the edge of merman territory. Tom wasn’t aware of the boundaries, and the piscine warriors were upon him in an instant.

                 Only pausing for a moment, Harry quickly continued toward the deeper parts of the lake. He knew that even these warriors would not hold Tom Riddle back for long. It took him a few minutes to find the source of the pulse, but he was well-rewarded.

                 At the deepest point of the lake, a magical dome kept a large black circle stone dry. Even the sand around it was quite dry. Harry swam up and felt the sparkling force field. Now I just have to figure out how to get in.

***


                 Keilana had just knocked out one of the last conscious Death Eaters when Hogwarts Lake exploded. She fell to the ground and covered her head as the water sprayed everywhere. Frightened cries came from Death Eater and Auror alike.

                 An enormous black sea-snake emerged from the lake, hot on the trail of an only slightly smaller reddish bronze dragon. No, not a sea-snake, Keilana realized ― a Chinese Wingless Dragon. Voldemort’s Animagus form.

                 Ginny would have observed their aerial battle longer, but the Death Eater she was dueling was very stubborn. Above her though, a different dragon swooped low. Ron slipped down Draco’s tail and landed in the dirt beside Ginny. The Death Eater, shocked by his sudden appearance, stopped attacking for half a second. That half a second was enough for Ron to stun him with his favored green bolt spell.

                 “Thanks,” Ginny gasped, struggling to regain her breath.

                 “Don’t mention it.”

                 A dragon’s scream rent the air. Ron looked up just in time to see Harry spiral away and land near the edge of the forest. Voldemort was shrinking as well, and he crashed farther away, landing in the forest. A flurry of startled birds rose into the air.

                 Keilana was still on the ground from the initial blast in the water. Ginny went over and poked her with her foot.

                 “You can get up now. There’s nobody left.”

                  Harry was rising ― slowly, but rising. He remained at the edge of the forest with his hands on his knees, hunched over and panting heavily. Keilana remained on her face.

                 “Kei?” Ginny said, rolling her over. She gasped. The Slytherin’s alabaster eyes were glowing brightly, like a pair of full moons in her pale face. “Kei, are you all right?” Ginny asked, glancing quickly toward Harry, who was starting to stagger off into the forest.

                 “I-I think so,” Keilana replied as she got up, but her vision was swimming. She tripped over a fallen branch and catapulted into Ginny, bringing them both down into the torn grass.

                 “Oh, Morgana! Kei?” Ginny wriggled out from under her and turned her onto her back. “Kei! Talk to me, Kei!”

                 “I’m fine ....”

                 “No, you’re not fine. You just collapsed.”

                 “I tripped ....”

                 Ginny put her hands on Keilana’s cheeks. The younger girl was cold and clammy. Draco skidded up to them, half human and half dragon. He dropped to his knees beside Keilana as his tail, the last dragon part of him, disintegrated.

                 “Kei?!” He shot a harsh look at Ginny, and nodded toward the reeling Harry. “I’ve got her. Get him!”

                 Ginny nodded blindly and took off after Harry. He was moving faster than she had expected, and he had nearly gotten to the Centaur’s Clearing before she caught up. A single form stood there, a bit indistinct in the enchanted fog.

                 “Hello, Harry.”

                 Harry was gasping in pain already. “How did you survive that fall?”

                 “I’ve drunk unicorn blood, remember?” the Dark Lord said contemptuously.

                 Ginny could see Harry shudder from where she stood behind a tree. Something about this scene seemed familiar to her. Harry snapped his wand up.

                 “Avis dracos!”

                 Tom’s laughter stopped abruptly as a horde of tiny fire-breathing dragons rushed him. Harry took the moment to perform a hasty healing spell. He dived to the ground as a silvery green bolt flew over his head. Ginny cringed as the duel went on. She never heard anyone coming up behind her.

                 “Hello, Miss Weasley.”

                 Ginny screamed as Lucius Malfoy grabbed her. There were now several Death Eaters in the clearing, and Ginny was shoved toward Harry. He immediately lowered his wand as she staggered toward him.

                 “Ginny ....” Harry whirledghy back toward Tom. “What is this?”

                 The Dark Lord’s eyes glowed red as he spoke directly to Harry’s mind. Although Ginny could not hear the words, she felt Harry growing frantic. He suddenly turned toward her.

                 “Leave, Ginny.”

                 “What?”

                 “Go back to Draco. Be happy.”

                 “I would never do that. I love you.”

                 “Well, I don’t love you. I’ve never loved you.”

                 Harry’s face grew dark as he moved toward her. Ginny stood trembling, unable to respond. Tears dripped off her chin as Harry got closer. Close enough for Ginny to see that his eyes had turned completely black.

                 “Did you think I would save you if you followed me?”

                 Ginny’s voice caught in her throat, a sob shook her body. “Harry, please ....”

                 “What did you say?” he hissed quietly into her ear. “Hmm? Are you going to beg for your life?”

                 He touched her cheek with the back of his hand. Ginny could feel the magic draining out of her. The drain was a lot stronger than usual, and Ginny could feel herself beginning to lose consciousness. There was a crackle along Harry’s arm as he grasped her throat.

                 “Hah?!” he said loudly, giving her a little shake. As her vision began to swim, she could have sworn Harry’s black eyes flickered green, then filled with tears.

                 “I love you, Harry,” she sobbed. I said I would trust you to death, didn’t I?

                 Harry drew his other hand back and struck her across the face. The crackle had been the sound of his scale armor surfacing, and it made his arm feel like a marble Bludger. Ginny’s eyes rolled back in her head, and she slumped to the ground.

                 HarHarryHarry turned back toward Voldemort. “There, are you happy?”

                 “Aww, he’s crying,” scoffed one Death Eater to another.

                 Harry staggered toward Voldemort. “She’ll never be the same. Are you happy now?”

                 Voldemort didn’t answer. He was watching Harry’s approach rather skeptically.

                 “Have you ever been happy?”

                 Before Tom could answer, Harry reached out and grasped him by the throat. The Glow pulsed and became a visible aura around them. Everything poured through Harry into Tom ― Ginny’s compassion, her love, her loyalty, her courage, her sense of justice. A cry rent the foggy air of the Centaur’s Clearing, and Harry bit back a cry of his own as the intensity built up beyond anything he had ever felt with Ginny.

                 “I feel sorry for you,” he said as The Glow began to spill out of his own eyes, now fully his if only in color. “You’ve never felt the touch of someone like Ginny.” He raised his wand. “And you never will.”

                 The Death Eaters started forward then, but it was too late. Whatever spell Harry had used, it caused The Glow to swirl back and shoot into Tom’s body. He fell to the ground, convulsing uncontrollably. A very solid black cloud billowed back of his mouth. It left behind an ashen shell that dissolved into the mulch. The cloud tried to fly away, but Harry was too quick.

                 “Lacarnum inflamare!”

                 Blue fire enveloped the cloud, and soon the cloud too was gone.

                 Harry turned around faced the Death Eaters with angry dragon eyes. Even Lucius and Antonin knew better than to challenge a dragonling in this state. They fled along with the rest of them.

                 Shoulders slumping immediately, Harry dragged himself over to Ginny’s side. She was already conscious, but still trying to regain her balance.

                 “Ginny, I’m so sorry.”

                 She grasped his arm and pulled herself up. “Harry?”

                 “I’m so sorry,” he sobbed, burying his face in her shoulder. The Glow was completely gone. Only a small flicker of it remained in the pit of Ginny’s stomach. Harry had poured the rest into Tom’s darkened soul. Such a shocking flood of light had killed him instantly.

                 “Shhh, Harry,” Ginny said, hugging him tightly. “It’s okay.”

                 “I’m sorry,” he said again, pulling away. He lost consciousness himself and landed face down in the mulch. Ginny practically dived to the mud beside him. His eyes had slid shut, and a peaceful expression overtook the pain on his face.

                “Harry? Oh, Merlin – Harry, stay with me!”

Chapter 47: Epilogue
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                 He opened his eyes to a fuzzy stone ceiling. His head hurt like nobody’s business, and he could barely see his surroundings. But he had woken up in this room so many times before that even without his glasses, he knew exactly where he was.

                 “Aunt Poppy!”

                 It came out all scratchy and squeaky. He cleared his throat and was about to try again when she appeared in his field of vision.

                 “Oh, Harry!”

                 He felt as though his skull had been stuffed full of hot coals, and he winced at her voice. When he drank the potion she gave him though, his vision spell started to work again, and things came into focus. The other beds were full as well. Quite a few cots had been set up on the floor, and a lot of Poppy’s pre-med students were helping to take care of everyone.

                 “How do you feel?” Poppy asked.

                 “Better. Haven’t got a train in my brain anymore.”

                 She managed a smile, but she still looked worried. “And Tom Riddle? Ginny says he’s dead, but she wouldn’t say anything else.”

                 “I can’t remember,” Harry asked, closing his eyes. No matter how hard he concentrated, he couldn’t remember anything after the explosion of circle magic from the obelisk in the lake. Ginny walked by with a pitcher of water, golden glints in her red hair. Harry’s eyes opened wide.

                 “I said I would trust you to death, didn’t I?

                 A smile tugged at his lips. “I’m not worried.”

                 “You should be. Because there are a lot of people out there who are very worried. One of them is your aunt. The Headmistress had to have Wizard Rayne and Professor Lupin physically restrain the woman.”

                 “Can I see her?”

                 “Now that you’re conscious, yes.”

                 While Harry was waiting for Jackie, Ginny came running in and flung her arms around him, pinning him to the bed. She was murmuring incoherently into his ear, but Harry could only comprehend that he didn’t feel the golden tendrils at all.

                 “Ginny .... I can’t breathe ....”

                 She let go, blushing. “I’m sorry. I woke up last night, and I was so worried Aunt Poppy let me stay.”

                 “I’m glad you like me that much.”

                 She blushed even deeper. “Well, Luna and Hermione are in here too.”

                 “Are they all right?” Harry asked quickly, feeling very selfish.

                 “They mostly had scrapes and bruises, but they collapsed from exhaustion while they were helping Aunt Poppy in the ward, so she kept them overnight.”

                 “What about the others?” Harry sat back up. “Where’s Keilana?”

                 Ginny was immediately solemn. “Something happened to her when you and Voldemort came back out of the water. Her eyes started glowing, and she fainted. They took her off the sleepers earlier this morning, but I don’t know if she’s woken up yet.”

                 “Where’s Draco?”

                 “Cleaning up the grounds. The Ball is tonight. Neville and Ron are out there too.”

                 “Figures. I’m the one stuck inside.”

                 “You’re the one who killed Voldemort.”

                 Harry smiled slightly. “Thanks.”

                 “Why did you want to know where Draco was?” Ginny asked hesitantly.

                 Harry didn’t answer. He didn’t tell her that unleashing the circle stone’s full magic could also have killed himself, Keilana, and Draco, not just seriously injured Voldemort. Instead, his brain locked onto the pain in his right leg.

                 “Could you get me a crutch? I want to see my sister.”

                 “Okay, but you might want to put some clothes on first.”

                 Harry glanced down. “Why am I in a ward gown?”

                 “Aunt Poppy had to operate. I had to help her with the magic, and I’ll never forget it. You even had bones showing in a few places.”

                 “That’s a lovely picture, Ginny,” Harry said dryly, concentrating. A T-shirt and a pair of shorts appeared on him underneath the covers, and he swung his legs over the side of the bed. His nerves had not lied: He had a pretty nasty cut on his right calf. “Wow.”

                 “She got all the major stuff done and moved onto the next endangered life,” Ginny said, offering a crutch.

                 “Triage. Where is Keilana?”

                 Ginny gave him directions, and Harry found Keilana in a private room, hooked up to a great many devices he could not name. There were Healers in this room ― Healers from St. Mungo’s.

                 “Miss Angie,” Harry said in surprise.

                 “Hello, Harry. Up and about, I see.”

                 “Yes, but it looks like I won’t get to dance tonight. Such a shame.”

                 Angie laughed. Harry hobbled closer.

                 “How is she doing?”

                 “Better than she was. She’s sleeping naturally now. Some kind of magical current knocked her out. For a little while there, I was afraid she would be permanently damaged. But I think she’ll pull through all right.”

                 “Is there any damage?”

                 Angie just shrugged. Harry kissed his sister on the forehead and left the room. Jackie was waiting for him outside. She hugged him tightly, practically crying in relief. Remus and Rayne looked on in amusement.

                 “Glad to see you up, Harry,” Remus said, clapping him on the shoulder. “Now we get to see you dance tonight.”

                 “Oh, no, I can’t dance. Look.”

                 Jackie swirled her wand and instantly healed the gash. Harry leaned the crutch against the wall, glaring daggers at her.

                 “Thanks a lot, Jackie. A perfectly good excuse ruined because you’re so good at magic.”

                 She laughed. “I’m sure Ginny will be delighted to dance with you. She brought you back from the forest, you know. Mobilicorpused you all the way up here.”

                 “Least she could do,” Harry muttered. “Hey, I ain’t even asked her to the ball. She can’t come if she’s not somebody’s date.”

                 “Maybe I am,” said Ginny behind him, exchanging a mischievous glance with Jackie. She looked seriously at Harry when he turned around. “I’ll be there.”

                 “Who asked you?” Harry said, not quite sure that he wanted to know the answer.

                 Ginny kissed him on the cheek. “You did,” she laughed.

***


                 Harry exhaled softly as he waited for Ginny to enter the common room. She had insisted on wearing the dress he had bought her for the Yule Ball, but Jackie had insisted just as vehemently on altering it. When Ginny stepped elegantly from the girls’ dorms, her hair was pulled up into a bouquet of golden fire, and her once-white dress was now a shimmery swirl of emerald green.

                 “Wow,” was all Harry could say. Laughing, Ginny took his arm, and they made their way to the Green Court.

                 Hermione arrived in the same color she had worn to the Yule Ball, but she had transmuted the dress itself into a sleek cocktail dress. Ron stared.

                 “Hermione Jane, you look amazing.”

                 “Why, thank you, Ronald. You don’t look so bad yourself.”

                 Ron slipped his left hand into his pocket and offered his right arm. Hermione took it graciously, and they made their way to the Green Court as well. Harry and Ginny were already there talking to Keilana and Draco, and they motioned for Ron to join them.

                 Draco arched an eyebrow as they exchanged greetings. “The charmer’s rather nervous tonight, don’t you think, Kassidia?”

                 “Who’s Kassidia?” Hermione asked, frowning.

                 “Me,” Keilana replied. “Kassidia Lily-Anne.”

                 “Is that why―?” Ginny asked Harry.

                 “Yup,” Harry replied. “Kassidia sounds too evil.”

                 Keilana laughed. “Yes, Draco, he does.”

                 Draco had lost track of the conversation. “Who does what?”

                 “The charmer looks nervous.”

                 Ron’s ears reddened. “Of course I’m nervous,” he said dryly, and pointing at Hermione, exclaimed, “Just look at her!”

                 Hermione covered her mouth to muffle a snort. “He’s a charmer?”

                 Draco and Keilana just smiled mysteriously. Harry chuckled.

                 “You’re here with him, aren’t you?”

                 Hermione smiled at Ron. “Yes, I am.”

                 Ron’s left hand clenched, and he impatiently waited through the address. As soon as the Headmistress was finished, he grabbed Hermione’s wrist with his free hand and gently pulled her away from the crowd.

                 “What is it, Ron?” she asked, a little worried.

                 “I just wanted to ask you something.”

                 “Well, shoot.”

                 “Hermione,” Ron began, stumbling for a place to start. “I’ve liked you for a long time, ever since you told me a I had dirt on my nose in the Hogwarts Express. That’s kind of been the basis of our relationship. But I realized recently that if that were taken away, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself.”

                 She just looked at him.

                 “I-I guess what I’m saying, Hermione, is .... will you marry me?”

                 He got down on one knee and opened the box that had been in his left pocket. Hermione’s mouth dropped open, she gasped a little, and then she burst into tears. Ron held her hand tightly, waiting for her reaction. She cried for what felt like an eternity, but then, almost imperceptibly, her head bobbed.

                 “Yes.”

                 Ron got up. “Yes?”

                 “Yes, Ron!” Hermione said loudly. “I will!”

                 She threw her arms around him and cried into his shoulder. It was some time before he actually got to slip the ring onto her finger. They walked back to the others hand in hand, Hermione still sniffling a little, and Ron practically illuminating the gathering.

                 “I take it she said yes,” Ginny said, grinning.

                 Luna and Neville had joined the group in their absence, and Luna squealed in joy. She and Ginny both hugged Hermione happily. Even Keilana shyly admired the ring. Around them, the Graduation Ball went on into the night.

                 In the morning, parents and relatives began to arrived for the actual ceremony. Harry was glad to see that Rayne and Jackie sat together in one of the pews. The seventh-years’ names were called – Harry only heard Finnigan, Granger, Longbottom, Malfoy – and then is was his turn.

                 Minerva McGonagall smiled brightly as she handed him his diploma. “I’m so proud of you, Harry,” she whispered.

                 Grinning back, Harry found his way back to his seat as Dean Thomas walked to the front. Ginny flashed him a thumbs-up from the back of the Great Hall, and the Weasley twins discreetly waved Congratulations! banners beside her. When Ron went up, the entire Weasley clan got a lot louder. Harry muffled a laugh and stared straight forward at the Headmistress.

                 “I’m glad to say that this year, all the students made it to graduation,” Minerva McGonagall began to wrap up. “We’re looking forward to seeing what you’re going to do in our world. Congratulations, graduates of 1998.”

                 There was a general tumult following that, but Harry slipped away as quickly as he could. Ginny heard his Legilimentic call more quickly than he expected, and they walked to the Rose Garden in silence.

                 “Congratulations, Harrison,” Ginny said as they stepped through the gate. “I never thought you’d make it to your ceremony.”

                 “Aw, thanks a lot, Virginia.”

                 They sat on the stone bench together and enjoyed the silence for a few minutes.

                 “Do you think it’s over?” she asked. “Now that Voldemort is dead?”

                 “An organization without a head can be even more dangerous than it was with the head attached,” Harry replied gloomily. “Especially since the shoulders both survived.”

                 “Oh, Harry, really. You shouldn’t be so morbid.” She leaned back and sighed heavily. “But I guess you’re right. Are you going to become an Auror?”

                 “At least until we’ve caught them all. Who knows what I’ll do after that?”

                 “Settle down and have a family?” Ginny said, her hopeful tone physically hidden quite well, but mentally open to Harry’s senses.

                 Harry leaned close to her ear to whisper, “Never.”

                 Ginny pulled away and rose to leave. Harry shot up behind her and grabbed her hand, pulling her to a halt.

                 “I want to go places, Ginny,” he said eagerly, gesturing to the clear sky with his free hand. “I want to walk the earth. I want to see her every mystery and secret.”

                 “Well, go. Catch all those nasty Death Eaters and go off into the sunset!”

                 Harry grasped Ginny’s other hand and squeezed both gently. “Won’t you come with me?”

                 Ginny’s mouth opened with a soft gasp.

                 “I don’t know what’s going to happen when we leave Hogwarts, Ginny, but I do know one thing.”

                 “What?” Ginny breathed.

                 “I love you, Ginny. And I want to be with you. I want to face whatever may come ― together.”

                 “Together?” Ginny said softly, gazing up at him.

                 “Together,” Harry said with determination. He pulled a small red box out of his white graduation robes’ pocket and slipped to one knee. “Ginny, will you marry me?”

                 Ginny let him sweat for a minute. But then her face melted into a beautiful smile, and happiness flooded through her very skin. “Yes, Harry. I will!”

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