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Riddle Manor

In the attic:

Bellatrix Lestrange had never cared for Mudbloods, especially know-it-all ones like this one, who had the nerve to escape a well-planned extermination by the Dark Lord. And who was watching her half-fearfully and half-defiantly. Clearly this Mudblood witch needed to learn her place, which was on her knees, eyes on the floor, and head bowed, subject to a pureblood's every whim. Almost like a house elf. Though in Bellatrix's eyes, Mudbloods were lower than even those pathetic creatures. Mudbloods were scum of the earth and should have had their powers stolen and not be permitted to breed.

Bella gave this one her nastiest glare, and removed a long slender metal needle from her sleeve, it was about the size of a knitting needle, with a rounded head. She idly began to pick her fingernails and kept glaring at the girl huddled upon the bed, waiting for her to break and ask what was going to happen to her. Bellatrix would have enjoyed Crucio-ing the girl, but since her Lord might want her magically intact for whatever he planned to do to her, Bella had to forgo her favorite method of torture for now. The Cruciatus Curse depleted a victim's magical core and hurt it as well as the body. So she would resort to other methods. A wicked little smile crept over her face, reminiscent of a mad cat just before it stuck out a claw to torment the mouse between its paws.

"Poor little Mudblood, do you miss your mummy and daddy? Don't cry, poor baby thing, you'll be seeing them soon enough! Soon enough!" She cackled in anticipation. "You're the property of the Dark Lord now, Mudblood. And when he returns, he shall decide your fate. But for now . . .for now I get to play question and answer with you!" She clapped her hands and squealed. "Here's the rules. I ask a question and you answer. If you don't answer or I don't like your answer you get to experience my Needle." She stroked the shiny needle. "Needle used to be used for something Muggles call acupuncture once. But I learned from a former lover in Azkaban—he's dead now—how to use it to cause pain. Excruciating, exquisite pain. Such fun! Let's begin now."

"First, I have a question for you, Bellatrix," Hermione said suddenly, her brown eyes hard with hatred. "Why did you kill my parents, you bloody bitch? What did they ever do to you?"

"They were born, and they dared to have a Mudblood child, polluting the natural order of things," answered the other coolly. "Reason enough for them to die. My turn. What were you doing over at the dueling academy?"

"Helping a horse. What did it look like?"

"Mind your tone, young lady. You shall address me as my lady or Mistress Bella when you speak to me. And keep your eyes on the ground on my boots where they belong. You aren't fit to meet my gaze."

"Like hell. You're nothing special. Just a crazy bitch who likes to kiss a moldering wizard's arse." Hermione cried, her hatred finally coming to a boil. She spat right in Bellatrix's face.

"You dare?" Bellatrix cried and then she pointed her wand and cried, "Incarcerus!"

Thick ropes shot out of the tip and wound about Hermione, binding her fast. Hermione knew what was coming next and she lifted her chin and vowed to endure it soundlessly. If she could. This cold-hearted witch had helped murder her parents and she would never give Bellatrix the satisfaction of bending to her will.

Bellatrix approached, the needle held in her hand. She raised it high and then inserted it deftly in the muscles between Hermione's shoulder and neck and twisted it one quarter turn.

Hermione felt a vicious pain shoot up into her head and she bit her lip till it bled.

Bella smirked. "Are you ready to cooperate now? Where did the moon stallion come from? He is Marked by the Bright Lady, the sister of my own goddess, Hecate. Why would anyone permit a Mudblood to help him?"

"I don't know. I volunteered and that's what I was told to do. What's it to you?"

"Now don't be sassy. Sassy girls get hurt," Bella purred, and twisted the needle again.

The next morning:

Down the hall from the attic stairs, Draco heard Hermione screaming and he winced and backed away from the door. He felt terribly guilty that he had not been able to help the girl, he knew only too well what his aunt was like with a new victim. Especially one who had dared to defy her by surviving a first attempt on her life. Bellatrix did not tolerate being shown up by a mere Muggleborn.

He wished there were something he could do for her, but he knew that if he tried anything with Bellatrix, it would only end with him in a worse predicament than before. At least he still had his wand. He turned to pick it up from where he had left it upon his bed, only to find that it was gone. Shit! Father must have taken it when he came up here this morning to wake me up for breakfast. I was half-asleep and wouldn't have noticed him snitching it. He had forgotten what an excellent thief Lucius Malfoy was, though the suave wizard would deny it to his last breath.

Without his wand, he had limited options, but one of the first things he had to do was to get out of this room and see what was going on with Moon Fire. He knew that no one at the manor would have a care for the horse's wellbeing, and the stallion had been hurt by a Cutting Curse as well as being previously injured.

Bellatrix's high pitched laughter rang out, followed by another sobbing groan from Hermione.

Rotten harpy! Someday, you'll get yours, Aunt Bella. By Selene's Eternal Light, I promise it!

Since there was nothing he could do to help Hermione at the moment, he decided to turn his cunning brain down another path and try and do something to help poor Moon Fire. He had always loved horses and had been quite content to spend most of his summers at Andromeda's dueling camp, mastering not only spells but equestrian pursuits as well.

He moved over to the window and examined it. It was one of the kind that had two old fashioned panels that you could pull inward to open. A latch at the top kept them shut. Draco spent several minutes trying to undo the rusty old latch using his quill sharpener which he had in a pocket of his robes, plus some good old-fashioned elbow grease.

After ten long minutes, the latch finally gave and Draco tugged the window panes open. Luckily there was no screen, and this particular room's window overlooked an overhang of the roof. Draco was almost certain he could climb out the window onto the overhang and then the rest of the way to the ground. There was a bunch of climbing ivy all over the walls, which themselves were in disrepair, and had missing bricks and broken ones along the side that Draco could see.

The Slytherin paused, calculating how much time he might have to find Moon Fire and see to him before anyone came up to check on him. He estimated maybe an hour or two.

He quickly shimmied out the window.

Once on the roof, he picked his way carefully along the overhang, watching out for loose tiles as he did so. Then he chose a side of the wall thick with ivy and prayed that he wouldn't fall and break his neck. He wrapped two hands firmly about the thick vines and then swung himself over and down, his boots scrabbling for purchase upon the vertical surface. Lady, help me. Please!

There! He had found a foothold. He wedged his toe into the crack and then felt for another.

Slowly he made his way down the side of the mansion and finally to the ground. His shoulders were sore and the climb had pulled a bit on the welts he had received, but he was otherwise unharmed from his daring descent.

He breathed a sigh of relief and wiped his forehead. Then he crept about the side of the manor and looked around.

There was no one in sight.

Now all he had to do was to find the stables.

Moon Fire dozed in the dark stall, having worn himself out trying to batter down the door earlier. His leg was sore and the sweat had dried upon him, causing flies to swarm upon him. He kept them off by swatting them with his long tail, but his skin itched and he longed for a cool bath, such as Harry used to give him in the heat of the day. He rubbed the offending patches against the side of the stall, nearly stripping the hide off of himself.

For several long moments the only sounds in the stable were the flies buzzing, the swish-smack of Moon Fire's tail against his flanks and the stallion's breathing. Not only was he driven mad by the fly bites, his shoulder throbbed from the slash across it and he was thirsty and hungry as well. No one had brought him decent food or water in almost twenty-four hours and the stall smelled rank from not being cleaned either.

Moon Fire had refused to touch the moldy hay and hated the stench of the dirty straw beneath his hooves, he was unaccustomed to being in such slovenly surroundings and wanted to get out in the worst way. But the stall door was, unknown to the big horse, magically reinforced oak and refused to fall down despite his battering with his hooves and gnawing with his teeth. Exhausted and weary, Moon Fire slammed one hoof against the door in token defiance, and whistled shrilly. He needed fresh water soon and some hay would not be amiss either. Real hay, not that moldering pile of dung they had tossed in here with him. Hungry as he was, some instinct had warned him not to eat such spoiled fodder, or else he might colic and die an agonizing death.

But his nose told him there was a whole field of fresh grass and probably water as well just outside this wretched door and he could not get to it. It was driving him insane!

Suddenly he heard a scuffling sound and he froze, his every nerve alert, ears swiveling towards the sound. What was that? A rat?

No, it did not smell like one. It smelled like a human, and one that Moon Fire was familiar with. It was the boy with the hay-colored hair that sometimes came and brought him to the soothing water place along with the girl who smelled like sunlight. He snorted sharply and moved restlessly as the footsteps increased and suddenly the barn door was opened and light filtered down the row of stalls.

"Moon Fire? You in here?"

The stallion gave a low whinny, letting the scent blind boy know he was indeed inside this wretched place.

Draco moved over and took down the small lantern that was hanging on a hook just to the inside of the barn door. He turned the knob and the magical lantern began to glow softly. The boy quickly made his way down the row of stalls and then halted when he saw the big black horse.

He bit back a gasp of dismay. Moon Fire's shining ebony coat was dusty and sweat spattered and he could see flies buzzing all about the poor animal. He had a nasty slash from the Cutting Curse across his shoulder and patches of skin were almost rubbed raw. "Selene's Grace, what have they done to you?" Draco murmured.

His eyes quickly took in the dirty straw and the empty water bucket and moldy hay. "Stupid gits! No water, spoiled food, what the hell is wrong with them? Do they want you to die or something? Even my father knows better than this. He grew up around horses too."

Moon Fire whickered at him hopefully.

Draco walked up and gently stroked the stallion. "Easy, boy. I'll help you as much as I can, okay?" He went to try and unlock the stall, but found that the door was padlocked and that was one lock he didn't know how to pick and he didn't have his wand to cast an unlocking charm. He swore and then decided that he might be able to risk climbing into the stall to get the stallion's water bucket. A dehydrated horse did not heal well and Moon Fire was already injured.

He climbed to the top of the stall and gently nudged the stallion's head away as he snuffled Draco's shirt. "Shhh! I need to get your water bucket. Be still and for Selene's sake don't step on me."

He slid carefully off the door and landed in the mucky straw. "Ugh! This stall probably hasn't been cleaned since the year one. Disgusting!"

Moon Fire neighed but made no move to try and step on or bite Draco. He seemed to sense that the boy was here to help and not harm.

Draco grabbed the water bucket and managed to toss it over the stall door before climbing out himself. He filled it halfway at the stable pump and then held it up so Moon Fire could drink.

The stallion drank thirstily, then slobbered all over the boy after he was done.

"Real nice!" Draco scolded. He refilled the bucket and found a rag hanging on a hook further down. "Now, remember, I'm trying to help you, so if you kick me to pieces, you're on your own." After dipping the rag in the water, he moved into the stall and began to wash the ragged slash on Moon Fire's shoulder.

Moon Fire shuddered, for the wound was painful, but he did not attempt to savage the boy. Once or twice he spun his head about, teeth bared, but each time his teeth clicked shut on empty air and Draco managed to clean out the slash and rub some liniment on his sore leg. He had had the liniment in his robe pocket just before Lucius had shown up, intending to rub down Moon Fire's leg after the spa treatment. He also rubbed some on the stallion's coat where he had rubbed it nearly raw, hoping it might help soothe the itching.

That done, he placed the bucket with the remaining water inside the stall so Moon Fire could drink some more and he went to gather up some grass in an empty feed sack. From the looks of things, this stable had not been used in years and Draco suspected that all it contained was musty straw and moldy oats and hay.

It took him some time to fill up the sack with grass for the stallion, as a result he almost ran into Lucius and Wormtail coming down the dirt path to the stables. Draco dropped to the ground beneath an oak tree, watching the two men approach, schooling himself to immobility.

"What do you mean, you haven't been back to see to the horse since we brought it here?" Lucius was demanding of Peter.

"It's a vicious brute!" whined Wormtail nasally. "I tried to put some food into the stall and it attacked me. Nearly took my arm off! So I figured, let it starve for a bit, that'll teach him!"

"Idiot!" Lucius snarled, giving the other wizard a glare of intense dislike. "I want the stallion alive, dead he's no good to me. I want him weak and angry, not a candidate for the knacker's yard. You continue to amaze me with your stupidity, Pettigrew."

"But Lucius . . .it wasn't my fault!" whined Pettigrew annoyingly. "You'll see . . ."

Draco lost the rest of the conversation as they moved into the barn. He remained prone on the ground for a moment more, then crept up and over to barn door. He wanted to see how his father reacted to Moon Fire.

Sure enough, the next sounds he heard was Lucius berating Pettigrew, a yelp as the other wizard gave him a smack with his cane, and then Moon Fire shrilled a battlecry.

Draco peered around the door frame and saw the stallion rearing up as much as he could in the narrow stall, hooves flailing, teeth bared, raging in his hatred for the two men standing before his stall.

Pettigrew was cringing against the opposite side. "See? See? He's crazy! A maniac! He needs to be put down."

"Quit your babbling. Of course he's furious. He's starving and thirsty. And his stall needs cleaning too, before he founders. Get to it."

"What? I can't! He'll kill me!"

"You cowardly boggart's whelp! Didn't you learn a damn thing in school?" Lucius spoke a word and the padlock was opened. He carefully swung the door open.

Moon Fire charged it and Lucius froze him with a Body Bind right in his tracks.

"There! Now do you remember, Peter? He's now harmless."

Peter eyed the frozen stallion uneasily. "I still don't like it. Or him."

"You don't need to like it, you just need to start mucking out the stall. Hop to it!"

"Me? B-but Lucius, I don't know anything about a horse."

Draco wanted to laugh at the stricken expression upon the rat's face. Serves you right. I mean, are you that thick, thinking that Father would help you clean out a stall? That's what hired help is for. And guess what, Mr. Stinky, you're it.

"This isn't about the horse, it's the rake and shovel and wheelbarrow you need to get acquainted with." He gave Pettigrew a smirk. "I'll be back to inspect it later. Right now I have to see how Bella is coming along and then I can check on Draco. After that, I'll return and remove the freeze spell."

Yikes! Draco quickly ducked and went around to the left side, where all manner of junk was piled haphazardly. He ducked behind a large cardboard box.

Lucius swept past, on his way back to the manor, his shoes making little puffs of dust that tickled Draco's nose and nearly made him sneeze. He could also hear Wormtail mumbling, "Why me? Why do I get stuck doing this job that nobody wants? I hate horses! Bloody rotten creatures!"

Draco silently apologized to the stallion for not getting back in time with the grass, and then he began to make his own way back to the manor. He climbed up to the window and carefully removed his boots, they were filled with muck and smelled like a stable. He would have been hard pressed to explain that to Lucius.

Then he slipped inside, shut the door, and sat down on his bed. Well done, my son, the goddess whispered in his mind. Draco concealed a grin of triumph and waited for Lucius to come to him.

Up in the darkened attic, Hermione curled on her side, aching and scared, yet still with that unusually strong sense of determination and hope, tears trickling down her pale face. Once again she heard that familiar silvery voice.

Do not despair, child, for I am always with you. I love you, my daughter.

Hermione fell asleep, and dreamed of a crystalline stream in a secret grove where white and golden unicorns frolicked, and she was made welcome to them, and invited to run and jump in the meadow along with the foals. It was great fun, until she stopped to drink at the pool and saw her reflection in the water.

It was not that of a bushy-haired girl, but a snow white unicorn.

Back in the barn, Pettigrew finally finished his mucking out and heaped curses upon the stallion as he did so. The helpless Moon Fire could not respond, though inwardly he raged and struggled to throw off the spell. The rat-like man sneered at the black horse and whispered, "Now I know the way of it, I'll break you, you bloody great beast! I'll teach you who's really lord and master around here, Moon-touched scum! I'll make you rue the day you ever kicked me."

Moon Fire screamed silently, wishing he could sink his teeth into the scum's back.

Be strong, my brave one. Help is coming. Hold on till then, my beloved Prince. Hold on.

The voice was like silk and it comforted him like nothing else could, enabling the stallion to endure being trapped in that spell and waiting for someone besides that loathsome rat to come for him.

Sherwood Forest:

Harry woke to the sun shining in his eyes and he squinted and groped for his glasses. Once he had them on, he sat up on his bed of pine boughs and looked around. The clearing was empty of everything save for Jasmine, who was grazing idly, his pack, and Jack o' the Greenwood was nowhere in sight. Harry quickly kicked dirt over the remains of the fire wiped his face with a damp cloth he conjured, and drank some water from his water bottle and ate some trail mix bars. A simple yet filling breakfast.

He moved over to saddle and bridle his horse, gently stroking her and telling her what a lovely girl she was. Jasmine let out a ringing neigh of welcome, and Harry turned, hoping that it was Moon Fire returned.

But what he saw was not the ebony stallion, but a brilliantly white unicorn, his spiraling horn over one and a half feet in length, coat shimmering iridescently in the morning sun. The stallion's eyes, a cobalt blue so pure it outshone the finest gem, met Harry's own. The wisdom and magic in that gaze nearly overwhelmed him. He ducked his head, his eyes filled with tears, for never had he known such innocence and wisdom, love and wildness, and he understood then why Selene had taken the unicorn as her favorite animal.

"The Lady sent you to me, didn't She?" he asked respectfully.

The unicorn tossed his head and snorted. She did, young wizard. You and I have met before, though you may not recognize me.

"The Green Man said he would send me a guide through the forest. But I never expected it to be a unicorn."

The tall unicorn paced over to Jasmine and touched noses with her in greeting. The little mare made submissive movements and the unicorn nuzzled her again. Well met, little sister. I am Amicus and it would seem our paths travel together for awhile.

Yes, my lord. I am Jasmine and would be honored to be your companion upon your journey. The Arabian blew back into Amicus' nostrils.

The unicorn turned and trotted over to another trail that Harry would have missed entirely if he had been alone. Amicus stood there waiting patiently while Harry finished gathering up everything.

When Harry finally looked up from hooking his pack upon his saddle, he saw a familiar barefoot child in a rumpled violet tunic leaning against Amicus. "Titania! What are you doing here?"

The forest is my domain. In it I go where I choose, when I choose, and how I choose. And right now I choose to help you, Harry. She gave him a brief smile. Then she sprang up and onto the unicorn's back.

Harry remained gaping at her audacity and waited for the unicorn to go crazy and buck her off. But all Amicus did was nod quickly and accept it. "You're riding a unicorn! Selene's Grace, I never knew you could do that!"

The mysterious girl laughed aloud, then nudged the unicorn forward gently with her heels. Follow me, Harry! Beyond the borders of Sherwood, your real quest awaits.

Harry heeled Jasmine forward, and wondered anew just who Titania was to be able to ride a wild unicorn without fear. He supposed that was another mystery he would never solve. So many mysteries, so little time. I really hope that Moon Fire, Hermione and Draco are all right. Please, Lady of Magic, let it be so. He bent over his mare's neck, and urged the stout-hearted Arabian to a quicker pace, following the bright white flame of the unicorn's tail ahead and the purple tunic of his unexpected rider.

Hope you all liked this one!

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