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Disclaimer: Everything you recognise belongs to the wonderful J.K. Rowling. I thank her for being allowed to play with her characters and create my own little world with them. The name ‘Alucard’ was inspired by the Castlevania game series, but the character is in no way connected to them.

Author's Notes: Thanks so much for the reviews, everyone! It's really appreciated over here. Writing this chapter made me want to throw my computer out of the window, so be prepared. ;)

~*~

Chapter Five

Those who are at war with others are seldom at peace with themselves.


~*~

Groaning inwardly, I scribbled through another sentence of my Transfiguration essay. Wrong, wrong, wrong – Vanishing animals and Conjuring them back could kill them, if you didn't possess enough determination. Right. I wrote down the correct facts above the part I had just crossed out. Next to me, Derek was Vanishing somebody's toad under his breath, sometimes following the incantation with a colourful vocabulary.

“I should give you detention for that,” I muttered, dotting the 'i's in my last sentence. "You're not allowed to use spells on living creatures outside of lessons."

"Oh, shut your gob, little prefect," Derek retorted, his face flushed with annoyance – though it could also be from the heat of the common room fire. "What else am I supposed to practice on? You all can already Vanish kittens, I'm still stuck on bloody mice. Stupid heads."

“You don't concentrate enough,” I shot back, leaning back in my chair. “Look, you have to –“

Before I could finish speaking, there was an outcry of victory from the dormitories. Several people, including myself, turned their heads, eager to have some distraction from their homework.

Three boys – I recognised them as first years – ran up the stairs leading to the dormitories, laughing and yelling at a fourth boy behind them. One of them was clutching a fat, shiny black rat. The animal was squeaking and thrashing, trying to break free with all his might, his long bald tail flipping up and down.

"Not Jack!" the fourth boy cried out as he ascended the stairs with his short legs. "Please, leave him alone, he hasn't done anything!"

The three others ignored him and ran towards the back of the common room, where the study tables were. The entire House fell silent as they kept calling out to their roommate, clearly taunting him.

"Come on, mates," the one who was squashing the rat said, "we're going to murder this stupid thing for being stupid and stinking."

"Smashing idea," one of the others, a short and chubby boy, agreed, "let's sacrifice it to Salazar Slytherin!"

I slowly got out of my seat. Slytherin had always been about power plays – the ones who didn't play along either followed or got rejected. If you got the choice to follow, that was. In general, the murkier your blood, the less importance you held. This boy – the one who looked on the verge of tears – was probably Muggleborn. I briefly touched my prefect badge, reminding myself of my duties. I had to cut in... these boys looked like they were actually determined to kill the rat.

Students that had previously been scattered across the room were now approaching, some looking merely curious, others had a hungry gleam in their eyes. My gaze crossed my brother's; his expression was one of amusement. I searched for Sally – I had rather not take this on my own. But she was standing in the corner of the chamber, with the rest of the girls, pointing and grinning at the first years. Her badge was not on her robes.

I sighed, rolled up my essay, thrust it in my pocket and strode over, taking no notice of Derek’s calls of ‘Alan!’ I could feel every person's gaze follow me. Yes, look at me. Nobody's going to dare and stop a Malfoy, even if he's not the heir. Pure blood, it mattered that moment.

I stopped in front of the little clique, staring down at them. They really were small.

The rat that had previously been struggling for its life was now flat on the table, quivering over its whole body. The boy who had been holding it had his wand out, but he was nervously looking at me, apprehensiveness written all over his face. This was the first year that had bumped into me on the first day back, I realised. Idiot.

I took care to hold my face expressionless. "What's your name?"

"Dan Pritchard," he mumbled, looking at his feet. His two friends were gazing up at me, though. The chubby one opened his mouth as to say something, but the other boy quickly stood on his foot and shared a look with him.

"Pritchard," I repeated, "what were you planning to do with that rat, again?"

Dan visibly swallowed, making me bite back a grin. Being a pureblood Slytherin – not to mention a prefect – was so enjoyable, at intervals. "I – we were going to kill it. Just for fun, you know." He glanced over at his friends for support, but they had all backed down. I saw the rat scuttling forward from the corner of my eye and I quickly slammed my hand on its long bald tail, preventing its escape. Pritchard jumped.

"Is that so," I stated, picking the rat up from the table by its tail. "And what has this rat done to deserve that?"

The rat squealed and thrashed again, trying to bite me. A lot of the people that were standing around us, looking on, sniggered. I eyed it warily and held it at an arm's length before turning to the first year again. He looked down at his feet, his hands held behind his back.

"The – it hasn't done anything," he said. "I – I mean, Clambert –“

"I haven't done anything to you either!"

I turned around, staring at the boy who seemed to be the owner of the rat. His face was streaked with tears, but it was also contorted in anger as he pointed at his classmate. I raised my eyebrows.

"Yes? Clambert, I assume?"

"They… they..." The boy had trouble forming words in his fury; his face was dark red and his hands were clenched into fists. "They just want to kill him because... because I'm not a pureblood wizard!" He stamped his feet, tears spilling on his robes, before he turned around and ran out of the common room.

There was a pregnant silence, and then students started laughing and spreading again. The show was over. Pritchard was about to walk away, but I managed to grab his shoulder, slipping the rat into my pocket with my other hand.

"Don't let this happen again, or it'll be detention, understood?"

He nodded, jerked his arm from my grip and joined his friends. I sighed. He'd probably think it was a nice adventure later that evening. Feeling the rat wriggle in my pocket, I threw Sally a filthy look as a thank you and followed Clambert into the dungeons.

It wasn't that hard to find him – I heard sniffles coming through the corridor and after trying a few doors, I discovered him present in an unused Potions classroom, sitting at a desk with his face buried into his arms. I let the door of the room slam behind me to make my presence known. He didn't even flinch, though the sobbing stopped rather abruptly.

I walked over and went to put my hand on his shoulder, but stopped myself before I could actually touch him. Right – now what? I hadn't thought so far to think I should console this first year. Why the hell did I follow him? This 'act now, think later' attitude was a little too Gryffindor-ish for my tastes.

"What do you want." The first year sounded tired and like he had a bad cold.

I didn't allow myself to hesitate and went to sit right next to him, placing my hand on his shoulder anyway. "Just checking on you."

"You don't have to. Go away."

This was going to be hard – and I didn't even know what 'this' was. I put my elbow on the desk in front of me and leaned on it with my head, facing him – what was his name again – Clambert. I nudged him a little with my other hand, trying to coax a reaction out of him.

"You remember my speech at the beginning of the year, right? If you have problems, authority is always there."

The boy snorted, but quickly moved his hand to his face. Ugh. I conveniently looked the other way as he wiped his nose on his sleeve. What an old dungeon this was. Probably used last about twenty years ago. It was a bit dusty and the open storage board revealed nothing except a dead mouse, which had probably kicked the bucket a few years earlier.

"I don't care about authority," Clambert suddenly said, catching my attention again. "They just don't do anything. I told the other prefect and she didn't care."

"Sally?"

"Yeah, her. She said I had to leave her alone and mind my own business, and that if I couldn't handle my problems myself, I didn't belong in Slytherin." He forcefully rubbed his eyes, his mouth setting in an angry line.

"Nonsense," I automatically replied. "The Sorting Hat is always right. He puts you where you belong." I tried to ignore the self-doubt rising in my gut, telling me that the Hat had told me I'd fit in better with the Hufflepuffs or Ravenclaws. Not that they were bad people, or dull people, per se... Just that I didn't want to belong in those Houses. No, I didn't. Didn't, didn't, didn't.

"But," Clambert said, shaking his head, "the Hat also said I looked like a Hufflepuff. Because I like working hard. But then... then it said I work hard because I have a goal, and it asked me if I'd do anything to achieve it. And I said yes, I would, and it put me right in Slytherin." He sobbed again. "I wish I hadn't."

Ha, another part-Hufflepuff. Speaking of the Dementor. I absently rubbed my chin, trying to think of a good reply. There was no way I would tell him I could have been a Hufflepuff too – that was private. What else could I tell him? Slytherins weren't all nasty; they just minded their own business?

"Do you shave already?"

I blinked at the unexpected question and the abrupt change of topic. "What?"

"You know, your beard and everything? How old are you?" Clambert asked with unabashed curiosity written across his suddenly much too eager face.

I raised my eyebrows. "Trying to change the subject, are we?"

"Or you are," he said, smirking and leaning backward in his chair. "If you started Hogwarts at eleven, you have to be at least fifteen, right? Oh, great," he laughed, all traces of tears gone, "my older brother is fourteen and he's been shaving for a long time!"

"I never said I didn't," I retorted, feeling my face with both hands now. Now that it was mentioned... it was kind of fluffy around the side of my jaw. How did I fail to see that each morning?

I heard Clambert snicker. "Too bad you don't have dark hair, hm? Blond blokes with facial hair look stupid."

"Why, thank you," I said mildly. "Why don't you act like this around your classmates, ridiculing people left and right? You'll be liked much better than if you keep moping around about some rat – oh, by the way." I took the rat, which I had entirely forgotten, out of my pocket. It had been fast asleep and didn't seem to like its removal at all.

"Jack!" Clambert exclaimed, grinning as I handed him the rat. "You're alive!"

"Of course he is. Did you think I would have left him there?"

"Er..." He blushed faintly. "Well, yes."

Hmpf. So much for making a good impression. I stood up and dusted my robes off. Clambert got up as well, Jack the rat peacefully on his shoulder.

"Are you going to the Quidditch match tomorrow?" he asked me, looking interested. "I've never seen one before – I'm Muggleborn, you see. Are they fun?"

"Yes, I'm going," I said, the image of a certain Gryffindor briefly coming up in my imagination. "And yes, they are lots of fun to watch, actually. It can get quite rough sometimes, especially between Gryffindor and Slytherin."

"Can I come with you? To the match?" Clambert asked eagerly, biting on his lip. "I don't want to go alone."

Surprised, I raised my eyebrows again. "Why don't you go with your classmates? You'll never get accepted by them if you keep avoiding them."

He frowned. "They'll just say I have to go away. Maybe I don't want to be accepted by them. I probably never will be, anyway."

I shrugged and held the door open for him. "That's life. Sometimes you have to adapt to survive. If you don't try, you lose by default."

Smiling a little, Clambert walked over and followed me out of the dungeon. I shut the door – it jammed a bit – and planned to go back to the common room, expecting Clambert to follow me again. He stayed, however, his shoulders hunched a bit and his hands in his pockets.

"I – we – shall –" He took a deep breath. "I won't go to the common room just yet. I'm going to walk around a bit. Don't worry, I won't get lost." He quickly turned on his heel and went in the opposite direction. Fine, I thought. Let him mind his own business. I turned as well. I needed to finish the Transfiguration essay.

"Oh, Malfoy?"

I stopped. "Yes?"

"Don't try to act and talk like an old wise man. It doesn't suit you."

I looked just in time to see him grin and hurry into the dungeons. When did I do that, again? I don't think I'm an old wise man. Faintly amused by the thought of myself as old and wrinkled, I walked off. Brat.

~*~

"I can't believe it took you a first year to notice that, Alan."

"It was barely visible. You can't blame me."

"You've said that about ten times now. Now stop drooling over your reflection, you vain person, we're going to be late for the match."

I glanced at the mirror one last time, moving my hand over my cheeks. "All right, all right. Let me put my shoes on and we can go."

"Good," Derek's voice sounded peeved. "You've been in there long enough. Like she will notice you in the stands when she is up there in the air looking for the Snitch. Hah. No way."

I got out of the bathroom and dropped to my knees, looking for my shoes under my bed, while Derek droned on. "Honestly, Alan. I'm over the shock, and now I don't know why you like her. I mean, she's not even pretty."

"Because Salazar forbid me from having different tastes," I muttered, retrieving one shoe from the depths of my bed. "Do you know where the other one is, Derek?"

It narrowly missed my head as he threw it at me, and it hit the wall behind me with a loud thump. I looked up, annoyed.

"What is wrong with you?"

"Oh, nothing, just the fact that we're being late. Hurry up."

Fifteen minutes later we were running up to the Entrance Hall, passing a few stragglers and people who apparently rather studied instead of watching a Quidditch match. Mental. Sitting inside was an activity you could do at all times – Quidditch, on the other hand...

As we walked outside, my foot hit something black laying on the ground. Derek huffed impatiently as I bent down to pick it up. It was some kind of necklace with a black star-shaped pendant hanging from it. The stone was chipped and dull, as if it had been worn for a long time. Apparently the lace it was attached to had worn down so much it had broken.

"Alan, this is not the time –“

I stuffed the object in my pocket and headed towards the Quidditch field, Derek right behind me. We got into the stands (I took care not to look down before I sat as my stomach was rather queasy that day) and Derek began to tell me about his plans to try out for the Slytherin Quidditch team next year.

"When that seventh year Beater leaves, I think. Do you think I'll be a good Beater, Alan? Don't answer – I know I will be. I'll work out over the summer too – buff tends to work well if you want to get that spot."

Just as I nodded, the Slytherin changing room doors flew open and the players marched onto the field. I saw Ivan Crabbe and my brother talking to each other as they approached the middle of the field, the other players trailing behind them. There was only one girl on the team – the first one in decades, too – Angela Vow. She was quite possibly the best Chaser in the school, apart from perhaps James Potter. She was in the back of the line, looking at the ground. The rest of the team was herded together, and even as I sat there, up in the stands, I could hear their sniggering.

From the other side of the pitch, the Gryffindors came out of their rooms in their scarlet red Quidditch robes. My eyes automatically fell on the only black-haired girl of the team. Louisa was walking behind her brother, her broom held over her shoulder as she talked with one of her teammates who I didn't know the name of. James Potter swaggered forward to shake Madam Hooch's hand – that woman was way too old to sit on a broom – and told his team to line up. Ryan Rosario was slamming his Beater bat on his palm while he took his space next to Potter. Merlin, they were such arrogant pigs.

The Slytherins lined up as well and I saw Ivan Crabbe shake Potter's hand. They then mounted their broomsticks, and as soon as the whistle – well, whistled – they were off.

"Yes!" Derek yelled, jumping right out of his seat. "Get the Quaffle, get the Quaffle –“

The rest of his chanting was drowned out by the voice of Andrew Weasley, who was commentating.

"And the first Quidditch match of the season has started – this is bound to be a good season for everyone – well, I wouldn't know about other Houses, but Gryffindor certainly has gotten new talent – say hello to their new Keeper, Justin Javensen!"

There was a roar of noise from the other side of the Quidditch field and I dutifully booed along with the Slytherin crowd. Javensen had just stopped the Quaffle thrown by one of our Chasers and threw it to James Potter, who immediately flew off with it.

"...And a brilliant pass by James Potter – he gets it passed back – dives – throws the Quaffle – SCORES! Ten-zero to Gryffindor, the noble House!"

"He's bloody biased!" Derek yelled above the loud cheers from the Gryffindors. "Noble House, my arse!" This exclamation was met by approving statements left and right until Slytherin was in possession of the Quaffle again. Derek sat down, grinning widely. I glanced at Louisa, who was circling above the game like an eagle eyeing its prey. As I was looking, Aiden flew up behind her. I could see his mouth moving, but what exactly he was saying I didn't know. Louisa, however, turned around and made a rude hand gesture. Smirking, I returned my attention to the game again.

Slytherin scored three times in quick succession, leaving the wave of red and gold in the stands screaming with disparagement. Andrew Weasley's commentating got so out of hand Professor Granger, who was sitting next to him, jerked the megaphone from his hands, leaving him yelling: "Múm! You can't do that!"

"I'm your mother, I can do whatever I want. Keep your commentating unbiased."

"Yeah, you tell him, Professor!" I heard Isaac call somewhere behind me. Like you wouldn't be biased, Isaac, I thought distasteful.

Weasley managed to get his megaphone back and resumed his reporting of the match. "All right, Potter plays to McDonald, who gets a nice throw at the left hoop – nope, Montez has it, he passes to Davies – ah, Potter intercepts and is flying towards Montez at top speed – look out James, a Bludger! Ack, bad luck, mate."

James Potter dropped a few feet before he managed to pull up again – Isaac Crabbe, who had sent the Bludger at him, punched into the air, tossing his bat up as well. A Slytherin Chaser had snatched the Quaffle when it had fallen from Potter's grip, and after pulling a feint on Javensen, put it right behind him.

Weasley cursed loudly into the megaphone, turning away from Professor Granger. Before she had the chance to reprimand him, however, two different coloured figures suddenly dived, taking all the attention. I jumped up quickly, excitement flowing through my veins.

Aiden and Louisa were hurtling downward in such a steep angle with the ground I was afraid they'd both be smashed. I looked down, searching for that glint of gold that was the Snitch. I nervously leaned towards Derek, who was stomping with his feet on the ground while pounding his fists in the air. "Do you see the Snitch?"

Derek's antics stopped, and he looked as surprised as I did, his gaze frantically taking in the field. "What – no, I don't. Where –“

Just then, Aiden broke off the dive, hurtling upwards again. With wide eyes I watched Louisa pull up just in time to avoid contact with the ground. Now she was a bit closer, she looked thoroughly shaken. Aiden, on the other hand, was looking rather smug, waving off the cheers from the Slytherin stands.

"A Wronski Feint," Andrew Weasley said dully. "Yes, yes, it was almost successful. Try harder next time, Malfoy."

There was some appreciative laughing throughout the stands as Aiden threw Weasley a filthy look. The game went on again, a few scores on both sides, and I was getting bored. I took out the necklace again. The pendant had been of fine quality – that much was obvious – it had probably worn with age. The star – which consisted of connected lines – was encircled with another line. Now I could look better, there were some very dark green blots between the black. Interesting. I turned it around, to see if there were any initials carved into it. But no – it was completely smooth. I checked the lace. It was black as well, though faded. It had snapped where the pendant had hung all that time, as there was a small knot in the middle. Without thinking clearly, I repaired it and put it on. Finder keeps, right?

Again, both Seekers suddenly shot through the air, leaving the stand up and screaming. I hastily put the pendant under my robes and stood up, cheering on – though for whom, I didn't know. Derek was hollering at Aiden, beating my back multiple times in his enthusiasm.

Aiden was in the lead, soaring after the little golden ball with his hand outstretched. He almost had it... it was almost over... only a few more inches…

WHAM.

A Bludger had hit Aiden full in the head and the red and gold supporters screamed with excitement, while all the Slytherins groaned. Aiden had fallen off his broom; he was probably unconscious. The side of his head looked particularly nasty, even from that distance. Andrew Weasley was beside himself.

"Ryan Rosario, one of Gryffindor's Beaters, forced a Bludger against the big fat head of Slytherin's Seeker! Revenge is sweet indeed! And now Louisa Rosario is heading for the Snitch – she has no competition!"

I watched how Louisa desperately stretched out her arm, her hand reaching for the Snitch. After several heart-stopping seconds, she snatched it out of the air and held it high above her head. Gryffindor had been the victor this match.

Regarding Aiden still lying motionless on the ground, I climbed out of the stands together with the other Slytherin supporters and approached my brother, who was just being heaved onto a stretcher by Professor Malyras. He nodded at me and jerked his head in the castle's direction before setting off. The rest of the Quidditch team was shuffling back to the changing rooms. None of them seemed to go with the Potions Master, so I did.

"Professor?"

He grunted, what I took as a sign to go on.

"Do you think he's seriously injured?" I was careful to keep the concern out of my voice.

Professor Malyras merely shrugged. "Not a Healer." Sheesh, that man really didn't have a way with words.

We entered the hospital wing and Madam Meddletin, the nurse, immediately came bustling over to lay my brother on a bed. She shooed us out and pulled curtains around the bed. Malyras shrugged again and left, muttering to himself about some potion. I sat down on a bed close to the one where the nurse was working on my brother, clasping my hands in my lap.

It took long. I watched the hands on the clock opposite of me move. Fifteen minutes... thirty... an hour...

Finally, Madam Meddletin emerged. When she saw me sitting, she smiled reassuringly.

"He'll be fine. It's a cracked skull – in several places as well. I'll need to be with him for one more hour and then feed him a few potions. Don't worry; it'll be all right. You can go down to your common room."

"No," I said. "I'm staying here." There was nobody from the Slytherin team here, and I didn't want my brother waking up with nobody there. Madam Meddletin raised no objections, but she did shake her head a little.

I kept sitting, and dusk began to fall. I hadn't noticed the length of the match, but it had to be at least three hours. Not to mention it was November; it was bound to get dark early. I pulled my scarf from my neck, absently wrapping it around my wrist and poking holes through the wool.

I suddenly heard the door of the infirmary open and footsteps walking towards me. I was too tired to look up; my back was aching from where Derek had been hitting me and my shoulders were sore of the tension. I wanted Aiden to get up and walk to the common room with me. Or at least have somebody of the team here, to see if anybody except me cared about him.

"I'm sorry; where is Madam Meddletin?"

My stomach lurched and I slowly lifted my neck, which was totally stiff from sitting in one position for so long. The sight of a tanned girl dressed in scarlet Quidditch robes met me. My mouth formed a small 'o'. For once, I wasn't really in the mood to see her.

"Oh. Hi."

"Are you..." she started, shuffling her feet. "Are you also... hurt?"

"No."

An awkward silence settled between us.

After what could have been a minute, but felt like an hour, Louisa approached me and nudged my knee with her foot. "Move over."

Startled, I asked: "What?"

"Move over, I said." She sat next to me as soon as I gave her space, making the bed creak softly. My mind was still occupied with the bed next to us, where Madam Meddletin was working on Aiden, and for that I was rather glad - otherwise I would have been racking with nerves at the mere idea of sitting on the same bed as Louisa Rosario. Now I only felt a warm sort of glow in my chest. Louisa took a deep breath. "Are you here for your brother?"

"Yeah."

Another pause.

"Where's the rest of the team? Surely they dropped by?"

"No."

She nudged my knee again. "Come on, talk. Don't look so grouchy."

"You'd look grouchy too if your brother was lying in there with a cracked skull," I replied dully, working my index finger through my scarf and pointing at the curtains with my other hand.

She raised her eyebrows. "He's got a cracked skull? Well," she sighed, "I shouldn't be so surprised. That Bludger was rather hard, don't you think? Anyway, I assume that's where Madam Meddletin is. I think I twisted my wrist when trying to get out of that steep dive and it didn't hurt that much, just a little bit, but I ought to have it checked out just in case." She said that all very fast and breathless, glancing at me from the corners of her eyes. I shrugged, and suddenly feeling very fatigued fell backwards onto the bed, groaning softly.

"I think I'm dead."

I heard her giggle. "You can still talk."

"Oh, haha. Very funny. By the way, good game." It tumbled out, but I didn't feel sorry at all. Especially not when she was smiling at me like that...

"Thank you," she said quietly. After pausing for a few seconds, she added: "I'm sorry for your brother."

I snickered. "No you're not. Stop lying."

Her cheeks turned a dark red, which made her look even prettier. "I thought it would make you feel better. I mean, nobody of the team is here; I would have thought they would care about their Seeker being injured and everything. It must be hard on you."

I sat up and held her gaze for a while, scrambling my thoughts together before speaking them. When I did, I chose my words very carefully. "I am touched by the fact that you want to make me feel better."

Despite my carefulness, the words sounded far more intimate than I had intended, and we both quickly looked away. Luckily Madam Meddletin just came back and drew the curtains away, revealing Aiden with so many bandages around his head it looked like he was wearing a turban. He seemed to be sleeping very deeply. I threw the nurse a questionable look. She smiled again.

"I gave him a Dreamless Sleeping Potion. The Bludger addled his head a bit, but he should be able to talk to you tomorrow morning. I'm sorry you waited here for nothing, Alucard, but I'll be sure to tell him you were here the whole afternoon as soon as he wakes up."

I nodded and stood up. I'd go to the dormitory – I wasn't particularly hungry anyway, so why go to dinner? As I walked towards the door, I heard Louisa talk to the nurse. Fine. Don't say goodbye, then. Like I care, really.

It was stupid that something so simple as that could hurt me so bad.

~*~

The next morning, November eighteenth, was my birthday. Considering my brother was laying unconscious in the hospital wing, I didn't immediately jump out of bed to open my presents. I kept the blankets tucked around me, my face pressed into my pillow. Would Aiden be awake already? Probably not, if his injury really was as bad as the nurse had said. Had she told Aiden I had been there the whole afternoon, watching out for him? Surely he hadn't slept through the night without waking up. Though, to be fair, I couldn't remember the last time I'd had a Sleeping Potion – Dreamless or otherwise – so I wouldn't know their effects that clearly anymore.

It felt close to moronic to think about my brother with so much concern. Didn't he annoy me, licking Father's boots all the time? Wasn't I a little jealous – if I was completely honest with myself – that he often got Father's utmost attention? There were so many things I couldn't stand about him, from prancing around with his umpteenth new racing broom to pestering me about my OWLs. I should be glad he was down and out for a while.

Then again, he was my brother – my annoying brother, yes, but still my brother. It was only natural to worry about him, right? Anyway, it was just a cracked skull – Madam Meddletin probably mended it in no time, and when Aiden would wake up this morning, he'd be up and about faster than one could say 'Bludger'.

With that soothing thought still in mind I yawned, sat up and pushed my curtains aside.

"Happy Birthday, Alan!"

A pillow hit my head hard, throwing me back on the mattress again. Taken completely by surprise, I looked up. My roommates were already out of bed, dressed and well, all three looking at me with wide grins plastered on their faces. Derek was holding a large, square package, wrapped in eye-blinding neon green paper. I groaned and rubbed my eyes, last traces of sleep definitely gone.

"Well come on, Alan, we aren't going to hang around all day," Richard said, falling down on his own bed with a soft flop. "Open your presents."

I obliged, picking up the smallest one that was laying on top. A little card told me it was from Isaac. I looked up warily, holding the package up. "This isn't another mouse, right?" I wouldn't forget Isaac's last present anytime soon.

He grinned. "Don't be a wimp, Alan. Open it."

I did, carelessly ripping the paper off. Something brown and sticky jumped out immediately, landing on my pillow. Before it could get my bedclothes too filthy I caught it in my hand and, recognising what it was, bit its head off.

"One single Chocolate Frog," I said, my mouth full. "Very generous."

"I'll make sure to put in more next time," Isaac sniggered, sitting down next to Richard. "I'm sure you'll enjoy catching them."

After I had devoured the frog and cleaned my pillow with a wave of my wand, I unpacked several more artefacts. Most were from my mother – the book on piano plays I had looked for in Hogsmeade, a new pair of gloves for the upcoming winter and a fresh pair of black socks. Sally had sent me a small book called Prefects Who Gained Power and Aiden got me a sack of Bertie Bott's Every-Flavour Beans with the note 'This is a new edition – Exotic Tastes. Make sure to give me a few, but not the gross ones; I think those are neon pink', which made me grin appreciatively.

Even my father had gotten me something, though the hint it concealed was enormous. It was a large book with the title Purebloods: Here and Now, There and Then, which held the names of all the pureblooded wizards and witches that had lived in England. According to the index, I could search for gender, age, school results, last name – practically everything, by just tapping my wand on the cover and saying what I was searching for. Derek was rather fast with tugging the book from my grip and telling it to look for 'single, blonde witches, age varying between thirteen and seventeen'. We all had a good laugh when several of our classmates turned up as results, including Sally.

As I put away the last presents, Derek approached, holding the neon green package.

"Here, it's from all of us. Be careful, it's pretty brittle."

I put the present on my lap and after taking off the paper I opened the box. Its contents clinked softly, like there was a good amount of glass inside. I curiously looked in, and a fabulous sight met my eyes.

It wasn't glass. It was crystal. Actually, it was a crystal potion set. The bottles varied in size, but each had a silver snake wrapped around it, set with little emerald eyes. It was quite beautiful. I silently took the smallest one out. The emerald eyes glinted in the light of the dormitory, making it look rather unsettling alive.

Richard suddenly started singing birthday songs at the top of his lungs, quickly followed by Derek and Isaac. The latter insisted on singing a slightly twisted version, however.

"Oh – please – Isaac, you know I despise those lyrics," I grumbled as I carefully put the box with vials away and searched for my most expensive robes in my trunk. It was allowed to show off on your birthday, right? And even if it wasn't, I didn't care. Perhaps Louisa would notice me if I looked fancy.

As the day went on, my classmates didn't appear to stop singing anytime soon. Even in class I wasn't safe. It was probably my face, hot with embarrassment, which kept Professors from docking points – though some of them seemed closer to laughter than giving detention. In Charms class, Professor Flitwick even chanted along.

"A very happy birthday, Mr Malfoy!"

"I'd enjoy it more if everyone would stop singing," I said moodily. "It's driving me barking mad." Not to mention my effing brother is in the hospital wing and I haven't even had a chance to see him yet, I silently added as an implication.

"Now, now, no need to get shirty," Isaac said, grinning.

"Yeah, you're just a little ray of sunshine today, aren't you, Alan?" Richard said, leaning over to ruffle my hair. I quickly ducked to avoid his hand, nearly hitting my nose on the desk. Derek took the opportunity to put a pink paper hat on my black wizard one – I took it off and set fire to it with my wand. Its ashes piled onto my desk.

Let's say I was glad when the bell rang.

Louisa and I were the last to get out. I had actually completely forgotten about her as soon as I had reached the dormitory last evening, and I hadn't really paid attention to her this lesson either. I was still thinking of Aiden, planning to visit the hospital wing, when Louisa and I both walked through the doorway at the same time and jammed.

"Watch out where you're going!" she snapped, angrily looking up at me. "Not everybody's going to move aside for you."

"What, you don't have a pair of eyes yourself?" I lashed out, desperately trying to ignore the fact that her body was pressed much too closely against mine. I could suddenly feel the curve of her hip, which was normally hidden by the heavy school robes. Her shoulder was squashed somewhere a little above my elbow, and my knee was at her thigh. She didn't seem to notice this, however, as she was merely glaring at me and looking not at all embarrassed.

"Yes, I do have eyes, but as you see – or maybe you don't – I was just walking to the door and you shoved me, and that's how we got here! Now if you will get off me, I want to go to lunch."

"I would, but I'm not on top of you," I snarled, attempting to wriggle out of the highly uncomfortable situation. I frantically tried to think with my brain – which had somehow turned to blubber, it seemed – and get out, despite somewhat enjoying nagging at her. After moving sideways and shifting my arm away, I managed to break free. Louisa smoothed her robes, settled me with one final glare and stalked off, presumably to the Great Hall. I walked over to Derek, who had been patiently waiting at the end of the corridor.

As I fell into step beside him, he inquired: "Trouble in paraside?"

"Nothing," I muttered. I didn't feel hungry at all. First Louisa didn't say goodbye in the hospital wing – which I still felt incredibly petty over; who got bothered by something like that? – and now we had actually had an argument with Derek and Flitwick within earshot. She didn't even wish me a happy birthday, something I hadn't actually cared about until now.

Next to me, Derek mumbled something about Louisa that sounded irritatingly insulting. I was quite sure that he'd muttered it just loud enough for me to hear.

"I'm going to see Aiden," I said, not waiting for an answer and nearly bolting to the other end of the corridor. A little voice in the back of my head told me prefects weren't supposed to run through the castle because they ought to set an example, but I shut it up as I stormed through the castle until I had reached the hospital wing. I glanced behind me before wrenching the door open – it appeared that Derek hadn't followed me. Whatever.

As I stomped into the wing, Madam Meddletin hastily got out of her office, looking distressed.

"Alucard, this is a clinic! Don't disturb the patients!"

"How is my brother," I demanded. "Bring me to him, now."

"Watch your tone, boy, you're not at home," she said, looking annoyed. "There's no need to become so rude. Your brother is doing fine – he's in the eighth bed to the right. And keep your voice down."

"Thanks," I muttered, already feeling ashamed for my outburst. I walked along the row of beds, counting under my breath until I reached the eighth one.

To my utter relief Aiden was sitting up, reading a book while absently dog-earing a corner. His head was still covered with bandages, only a few wisps of platinum blond hair sticking out. He looked up as I approached and raised his eyebrows in surprise.

"Alucard? What brings you here?"

"You," I said, sitting down on the chair next to his bed. "You had a Quidditch accident, remember? Busted your head quite severely, if I'm not mistaken." Now that I was face-to-face with Aiden again, I didn't know why I had worried so much. He looked healthy enough, and he was doing schoolwork. Here I had been, thinking he would be in here at least a week. I leaned on my knees with my lower arms, towards Aiden. "How are you?"

"I'm fine, I'm fine," he answered, the corners of his mouth tugging up. "I can leave tomorrow, if I don't get headaches today."

"Good," I said, nodding. After waiting for a few seconds, I bluntly added: "I was worried."

"Madam Meddletin told me you were here the whole afternoon yesterday," he stated, closing his book and putting it on the table next to him. I shifted in my seat.

"Yeah, I was. Nobody else followed you."

Aiden slowly leaned back into his pillows. "I see."

I was seriously becoming annoyed with the awkward pauses that seemed to occur in my conversations lately. I coughed a bit to cover up my uneasiness. "So – er – I, you know – I just came to see you, that's all."

My brother inclined his head towards me. "As you should. How is your birthday so far?"

Glad he's back to his normal, superior behaving self, I thought, almost fondly. I started telling him about the presents I had gotten and the parade my classmates had held all day long. Just as I was describing my potion vial set in vivid detail, he suddenly interrupted me.

"What in the name of Merlin are you wearing?"

I blinked. "Robes. What else?"

Aiden shook his head. "No, no, I mean that around your neck."

My hand automatically went up to the star-shaped pendant and grabbed it tightly. Its outer circle cut into my palm. "It's a necklace," I said, bracing myself for the next question.

"I can see that," Aiden replied, scowling. "Where'd you get it? Is it a birthday present of some sort? Not to mention you shouldn't be wearing necklaces at all, that's something for girls."

I anxiously searched my brain for a nice answer. I couldn't tell him where I found it – it would set off a thirty-minute speech. Malfoys don't pick stuff up from the ground, Alucard… Malfoys don't keep things they find; they use it for bribery… Malfoys shouldn't be late for Quidditch matches… The list went on and on.

"Well?" Aiden prodded, narrowing his eyes.

"I – it – somebody – it was an anonymous gift," I said quickly.

Aiden's eyes went wide. The fact that they had been narrow a split second before made the effect so comical I had to fight back laughter, struggling to keep my face rigid and straight. "Oh?" Aiden said.

"Yes, it was one of my presents, but with no card. I really have no idea who sent it." My lying instinct played up again, hopefully saving me from the speech that was on the tip of Aiden's tongue. "I rather liked it, actually, so I decided to wear it."

"What if it was a Mudblood?" Aiden retorted, pulling a disgusted face. "I don't want you wearing something that might've adorned the neck of a Mudblood first. You do realise that thing is second hand, right? It looks pretty old, too." His arguments raged on, like he was desperate for me to take it off. "I've never seen anybody in Slytherin wear such a thing, so it has to be somebody from another House. Take it off."

"Fine," I muttered, pulling the necklace back over my head and stuffing it into my pocket. My breastbone, where the pendant had been pressed against, felt strangely empty now that it was removed. "Happy now?"

Aiden held out his hand. "Give it to me."

I clenched the pendant in my pocket in my fist. "No."

"Alucard…"

"It's mine. I'm sixteen, Aiden, you can't always keep ordering me around and telling me what to do."

He fell back against his pillows again. "If that's your final word, you can leave." When I kept sitting there, paralysed with surprise, he bellowed: "Leave, I said! I thought you cared about our name, but I was apparently mistaken. You are stubborn and won't listen to me. Well, if that's what you want, fine by me, but don't keep rubbing it in my face."

I'll keep waiting for you here another time, when your health is in danger, I thought angrily, standing up and stalking out of the hospital wing. Why I had bothered to come visit him in the first place, I didn't know anymore, but I certainly wouldn't do it anytime again soon. I jerked the necklace out of my pocket and roughly shoved it over my head. A few pale, silver blond hairs fell out and onto my sleeve.

Screw you, Aiden. I'm keeping it.

~*~

Author's Notes: Thanks for reading!

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