Chapter 32: Of Families and Friendships (Arc 7)
Evilness at end of chapter. Consider yourself warned.
Loud growling and shrieks of laughter echoed through the hallways of number twelve, Grimmauld Place, as Bernadette Pritchard and Cissus the house-elflet darted in and out of the rooms on the ground floor, fleeing for their metaphorical lives from the velvet-pawed swipes of a fully grown male lion. Cissus's twin Echo, now the equivalent of a human fifteen-year-old while her brother remained closer to Bernie's seven years of age, sat on the edge of one of the stairs, swinging her legs and watching the game. She might not, strictly speaking, be needed here—one of the participants was a grown-up, after all—but neither were there any pressing chores with her name on them, and it was fun to observe even if she didn't want to play.
A soft (for a human) footstep warned her of a presence behind her a moment before a voice, feminine, warm, thoughtful, spoke up. "Having second thoughts about that decision last year, Echo?"
"To stay growing up fast, instead of slowing down like Cissus did?" Echo craned her neck back and around, smiling up at Mrs. Danger. "No, ma'am."
"So formal?" The witch sat down on one of the steps herself, scooting close to the banister so as to leave enough space for a walker to pass her by. "You used to call me Aunty, you know."
"I know." Echo ducked her head momentarily, willing away her shyness. "But I was just a baby then. Now I'm almost grown up, and I have to get ready to be Harry Potter and Miss Ginny's house-elf. To take care of their baby, whenever she happens."
"She?" Mrs. Danger frowned, momentarily diverted. "You sound so sure."
Echo shrugged. "House-elves are meant to know things about their families," she said, her hand rising half-consciously to shape a line in the air, drawn outwards from the vicinity of her heart. "And Mummy belongs to Miss Ginny's family. It's a very strong belonging, even if it hasn't been a long time, and I happened after that belonging started, so they're my family too." She glanced up at Mrs. Danger again. "And on Daddy's side, even if he doesn't belong by the magic anymore, he still cares about his 'little master', who's a part of your family…"
"And so is Harry," Mrs. Danger finished. "So you get the awareness from both sides. That's amazing, I'd never realized it before—or is it one of those things that only works when all's as it should be, when the family is being respectful of the house-elf instead of abusive?"
"No, it always works." Echo grinned. "But the house-elf doesn't always have to tell the family about it."
Mrs. Danger laughed aloud.
Ginny surfaced from an intense session of Transfiguration studying with a feeling that she might, at long last, have enough of an understanding of the concept under discussion (the differing permanence of a transfiguration depending on whether one, both, or neither of the objects involved was living) to win a passing grade on an O.W.L. question about it. Yawning widely to clear the submerged sensation out of her ears, she had a look around.
The common room was about half-full, many of the absent older Gryffindors likely out on nocturnal prowls, the younger ones probably in bed. Hermione and Ron sat side by side on a sofa across from her, Neville leaning against its back and Meghan and Luna each perched on an arm, their heads together over the latest snippet of prophecy Luna had received earlier that afternoon. To her left, Harry sprawled in an armchair, absently shooting smoke rings out the end of his wand.
Or is he?
Looking a little more closely, Ginny grinned to herself. Harry might have his wand in his hand, but the smoke was actually emanating from his thumb.
But he's sending it so closely along the line of his wand that no one would see it who didn't know it might happen. He's good at that.
Setting her book aside, she got to her feet, stretched, and headed for Harry's chair. "Bored?" she asked, nodding towards the rings.
"Maybe a little." Harry smiled to see her, but the expression looked strained, and his scent held traces of annoyance and frustration—though, Ginny told her rising sense of petulance firmly, those emotions were not directed at her. They had spiked when Harry noticed her, true, but so had the far more familiar overtones of desire, wonder, satisfaction, joy.
And I promised to help him with his problems. Let's see if I can't start now.
"What's wrong?" she asked, drawing another armchair closer to Harry's with her own wand and dropping into it. "And just so we're clear, if you try and tell me 'nothing', I'm using one of Luna's extra copies of The Quibbler to smack you on the nose. 'Nothing you can help with right now' is fine, so is 'I don't know', but you're not getting away with a flat 'nothing'. Not to me."
"Yes, but…" Harry shook his head, vanishing the smoke rings with a quick swipe of his wand and sliding it away. "Ginny, I don't know. And that's the whole problem, is that I don't know. I don't know what I should be doing, or feeling, or thinking, now that we're…" He trailed off, turning his wedding band on his finger, and Ginny wondered if it felt as heavy, as strange, as her own ring still did to her some mornings.
"I don't know what I was expecting out of being married, but this wasn't it," said Harry finally. "It's supposed to be this huge thing, life-changing, and in a lot of ways it was—and in a lot of other ways, it wasn't!" He groaned, pressing his fingers against his forehead with just enough of a theatrical flourish that Ginny knew he was playing it up for her benefit. "Everything and nothing changed at the same time, and I can't figure out which one I should be paying attention to!"
About to suggest he might consider paying attention to her, Ginny stopped as the truth of Harry's words, and the underlying meaning in what he'd done, shed a surprisingly revealing light on one another. "Stick with the nothing for right now," she advised, waiting to continue until he looked up at her in surprise. "And no, that's not because we're nothing to each other. It's the exact opposite. Don't you know why my mum and dad said yes to this, Harry? Why they agreed we could make this big a decision, as young as we both are?"
Harry frowned, clearly running back over her words inside his head. Then his face cleared, worry sliding away in favor of relief and understanding. "It's because of what we are to each other already, isn't it?" he said, his scent calming as he spoke. "Pridemates. Teammates. Friends." He extended his hand towards her, and she took it, feeling the strength and the control in the clasp of his fingers around hers. "We know each other, and we care. And we've promised to take care. To pay attention, and think about what's best for the other one before we think about ourselves."
"Yes, to all of it. And even more than that." Ginny stroked a finger along the side of Harry's hand, enjoying the little quiver through his muscles that resulted from even so small a contact. "You know how to make me laugh, and what to do when I cry. I know when you need me to listen, or fight with you, or just leave you alone for a while. Our lives are already intertwined, Harry, and from what Mum's told me, that's one of the hardest parts of being married. Making an 'us' without completely losing the 'you' or the 'me'. Because if we do…"
"Then we drive each other mad trying to be one person instead of two, the way Professor Dumbledore warned us about." Harry pressed his free hand against his pendants. "So it sounds like we're doing all right, to begin with. Though there's some things we still have to wait for."
"Like August?" Ginny suggested, squeezing Harry's hand gently and withdrawing her own. As much as she liked the contact, she had a feeling Harry was going to need a bit more distance to discuss this particular topic. "My birthday, when I turn sixteen?"
"Yeah." Harry's face, interestingly, was showing no signs of a flush, but Ginny caught the faintest whiff of suppressed smoke from his direction and had to hide a smile. Her love—her husband, now, though they'd have to wait until the date she'd just mentioned to make certain parts of that relationship official—was cheating shamelessly, using his fire magic to draw heat away from his face.
I think I'll take pity on him and cut this short. He doesn't need to overstrain while he's studying for final exams, even if this is his in-between year. Besides, the shorter we keep things now, the bigger the surprise will be when we actually get to that night…
"Do you want to talk about that when we get closer to it?" she asked, and had to work very hard indeed to keep her giggles from showing at Harry's fervent nod. Her scent, she knew, would give away her amusement, but the love and understanding permeating it ought to soften the embarrassment Harry was bound to feel.
It's a shame more people can't smell the way we can. Though of course, it does have its downsides.
A vivid memory of the morning her mother had been too busy scolding the twins to notice that the toast was burning intruded on Ginny. Her lips quivered as the thought of the sneezing fit which had sent her fleeing from the Burrow's kitchen, annoying at the time but hilarious in retrospect, intersected with the painful knowledge that such a simple, everyday thing could never again occur.
But there will be other mornings. Other kitchens. My kitchen—or I should say ours, Harry likes to cook too…
She breathed deeply, drawing down her tears, centering herself in the reality of this quiet moment with her Wolf. To anyone without her advantages, he would have appeared to be focused on the piece of string he'd drawn from his pocket to knot and unknot in one of the simpler Muggle magic tricks in his repertoire. Even if spending time as Lynx hadn't sharpened her human eyes and ears and nose correspondingly, Ginny thought the years-long friendship which had finally blossomed into love would have taught her to sense the strength and understanding and readiness which surrounded Harry like one of the auras Luna saw so easily.
He knows how much I hate people petting and "there-there"-ing me when I'm upset. I either want to get myself under control, and do it by myself, or I want to go somewhere I can fall apart without being stared at or cooed over. And he's ready to help me with whichever one it turns out to be.
Was it any wonder, Ginny thought a little mistily, that she'd fallen out of infatuation straight into love?
As if he'd heard her thoughts, or more likely caught the change in her scent, Harry looked up and gave her one of the smiles which still caused fluttering in the back of the room (and the occasional death glare directed at herself) at DA meetings. "Need a brain break?" he inquired.
"Yes, please." Tucking her legs up underneath herself, Ginny settled more comfortably into the armchair. "I'll let Virginia sort out all the Transfiguration rules I just read. She has to earn her keep if she wants to keep on being my evil house-elf twin. Sock-stealing, boy-snogging, trick-doing, and banister-sliding just aren't enough by themselves."
Harry frowned a little at the first of Virginia's described exploits, as though trying to track down a stray thought, but then shook his head. "All right. Past, present, or future?"
"Past," Ginny decided.
"Past it is." Harry raised his voice slightly and angled it towards the Warriors on the sofa, drawing their attention. "Remember after our last History of Magic lesson this week, Neenie?"
"You mean when Professor Kettleburn happened by just when we were asking Professor Jones about that one piece of the story we got from Alex's wife?" Hermione handed Luna back the prophecy scroll to be placed in safekeeping. "Yes, that was very strange…"
"The cornerstone of Hogwarts." Professor Jones sat down slowly in the chair behind her desk, her eyes abstracted. "In the name of—all that's holy. Where did you ever hear of it?"
"From a family friend," said Hermione promptly, making Harry nearly choke. Still, he had to admit, it was accurate.
For given values of "family" and "friend", at any rate!
"I see." Professor Jones twirled her wand between her fingers. "Well, you may tell this friend from me that they're quite right. The cornerstone of Hogwarts did, and does, exist."
"Indeed it does," chimed in a thin voice from outside the door, "though only the current or former Head of the school, and only one whom the castle accepts as such, may call it forth."
Harry, Hermione, and Professor Jones all spun. Professor Kettleburn, standing in the doorway, flushed. "I do hope I'm not intruding," he said, glancing at the two students before nodding to Professor Jones, "but I'd had something to ask you, Hestia, and you'd said you might be free now—and then I'm afraid I couldn't help but overhear what you were discussing, the history of Hogwarts has always been something of a private passion of mine—"
Hermione made a small noise of understanding and set aside her copy of Hogwarts: A History on one of the desks in favor of The Lives of the Hogwarts Founders, which she'd borrowed from Moony. "There's an F. Kettleburn listed as contributor here, Professor," she said, flipping to the title page. "Any relation?"
"Yes, actually." Professor Kettleburn nodded, his smile oddly shy. "My mother."
"Well, then." Professor Jones waved him into the room. "You may actually know more than I do, Sylvanus. It's been a very long time since I studied the cornerstone in any detail. Would you care to share what you recall?"
"I, er…" Professor Kettleburn fumbled. "If you're sure you don't mind?" he addressed Harry and Hermione, looking oddly timid, though Harry recalled from Ginny's recountings of classes with the older wizard that he was fearless when confronting the various animals he wanted to show his students.
Animals don't judge you, though. Except on whether you're food or threat. Humans see a lot more shadings and divisions than that.
"Fine with me, Professor," he said aloud, accompanying Hermione's nod.
Professor Kettleburn nodded and drew his wand, beginning to sketch in the air, creating first the outline of a short, square pillar, then adding human figures standing on each side of it, as well as at its corners. "The cornerstone of Hogwarts," he said thoughtfully, regarding his creation. "Left by the Founders as a way for the school to draw upon its stored magic and repair itself, which it does naturally when time and weather work away at the stones of the walls—but should a battle or some other great disaster overtake us, the Heirs of the Founders can invoke the cornerstone to set all to rights once more. But." He raised a finger in warning. "It will work only partially, or even not at all, if the wrong people take the wrong places."
"You mean if one of the Heirs stands on the wrong side, touches the wrong plaque?" Hermione frowned. "But how could someone mistake what line they were descended from?"
"Not only the Heirs are responsible for the flow of the deep magic here, Miss Granger-Lupin." Professor Kettleburn waved his wand once back and forth, causing the four people standing at the center of each wall to vanish. "The cornerstone might as well be called the keystone. It requires balance to work at its best. Thus, for the strongest and best effect, each Heir, whether wizard or witch…" He blushed, but continued speaking determinedly. "Must be joined in the working by a magical person of the opposite sex, whose heart is unopposed to the qualities of the Heir's House and whose strength is devoted to the restoration of the castle. And this witch or wizard, as it may be, is known as the Heir's Consort."
"Though if I understand my own research correctly, that doesn't necessarily have the physical component to it that the word might indicate," Professor Jones added from her own seat, imparting a slight upward tone to her sentence, as though she were unsure and asking for clarification. "Because it's always possible an Heir might be too young for that sort of thing when called upon to use the cornerstone, or they might be uninterested for some other reason."
"True, true." Professor Kettleburn nodded. "A Consort can be appointed in a ceremonial fashion, forming a purely magical bond between the two. But such an appointment will never be quite as effective as a Consort who takes his or her place at the Heir's side out of true devotion."
Harry directed a sideways glare at Hermione, who wasn't trying very hard to hide her smile. "Could two Heirs be each other's Consorts, sir?" he asked. "Or does it always have to be separate people?"
"I…" Professor Kettleburn frowned, considering this. "Honestly, Potter, I couldn't say. Hestia?"
"It might work," said Professor Jones, tapping her fingers against the desktop. "And then again, it might not. These are treacherous waters, Potter. I wouldn't recommend improvising any more than necessary. Though of course it's all speculation in any case, since I somehow doubt we're likely to find an Heir of Slytherin who'd satisfy the castle any time soon!"
Professor Kettleburn laughed at this, a trifle squeakily, and Harry managed a fairly natural chuckle as Hermione shook her head, smiling.
And if we're not all laughing at the same thing, what does it matter?
"But then what about these people, Professor?" asked Hermione, using her own wand to point out the four figures who stood at the pillar's corners. "They're not the Heirs or the Consorts, but you put them into the illustration, so they have to be important somehow…"
"They are, Miss Granger-Lupin, very important." Professor Kettleburn nodded earnestly. "The Heirs carry the strength of the past within them, the knowledge of the way the castle was. The Consorts hold the strength of the future, the way the castle ought to be. But these are the Champions, the chosen defenders of each House, and their strength lies in the present. They act as shields, as safeguards, and as channels, carrying the power of the cornerstone outwards to all the corners of the castle. So you can see that their presence is quite vital to its successful use."
"Yes, I can." Hermione nodded, walking around Professor Kettleburn's illustration. "Four Heirs, four Consorts, and four Champions. Is that how the Founders used the cornerstone, when they put it into place? Did they have their husbands and wives with them, and their children, or some of their best students, standing as Champions?"
"So we're told," said Professor Jones, smiling faintly as Professor Kettleburn placed the human figures back into place around the pictured cornerstone. "And you're more right the second time than the first, Miss Granger-Lupin. If legend has it right, none of the Founders' blood children stood as their Champions when the cornerstone was emplaced. Though there was indeed a blood-link between two of those whose magic first flowed there." Her wand darted out, highlighting Gryffindor's Consort, with her hand resting on her husband's right arm and her auburn hair tumbling down her back, and a tall young man with similar coloring standing at the left corner of Slytherin's side of the stone. "Between Lady Hestia, after whom I was named, and the Champion of Slytherin."
"Her son, by her first marriage." Harry peered around the side of the illustration to get a better look. "Emrys, who grew up to become Merlin."
"Precisely." Professor Jones frowned. "I can't quite remember who stood as Helga's Champion, though…"
"Gabriela was her name," supplied Professor Kettleburn, turning the figure at the left corner of Hufflepuff's side to display a rain of dark hair around a serenely smiling, golden-skinned face. "A daughter of the Strega of Italy, as the story goes. And her dearest friend Helena, who stood as first Champion of Ravenclaw, and who died so tragically in the Battle of Hogwarts." He shook his head, looking at the image of the laughing witch in gray robes, her ash-brown hair drawn back in an intricate knot, who stood at Rowena Ravenclaw's left. "Defending—or should I say, trying to defend—a cluster of Muggleborn students."
"She didn't succeed," said Harry, making the words a statement rather than a question. He hadn't grown up in a Marauder-run household without learning how to hear the nuances in people's choice of words.
"No, she didn't." Professor Jones's hands had tightened into fists, her voice cold and hard as she spoke. "Salazar Slytherin, Bloody Baron Slytherin, killed her where she stood, and Brenna Ravenclaw's intended husband beside her, and his followers kicked their bodies aside like garbage in their hurry to kill the children the two had been trying to defend. All in the name of their precious purity—and it got them nothing in the end, for Gabriela and William, who was Godric's first Champion, killed them in their turn. The Baron made it the farthest from that place, and still William caught up with him before he could quite escape, and avenged his friends and his own family with his mentor's sword."
"So much death, and pain, and sadness." Hermione sat down in one of the chairs, watching the image of the cornerstone and its attendant humans rotate slowly. "And now it's our turn, isn't it? Our turn to fight, and hurt, and bleed, and wish it wasn't us. Wish it could be somebody else, anybody else."
"But really, we wouldn't want it to." Harry studied the erect back, the slightly narrowed hazel eyes, the mussed black hair of the Champion of Gryffindor where he stood on his mentor's left. Professor Kettleburn had obviously paid attention to his mother's research, as Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw all looked very like the people Harry knew from the Founders' Hogwarts. Slytherin, too, was recognizable as the original of the monkey-like statue in the Chamber of Secrets, though he was clearly younger here. Alex, Harry decided, must have got his looks more from his proud-faced mother, whose coloring made him think of Snow White at the same time as her expression recalled the wicked Queen from the same story…
The silence in the room brought him out of his thoughts. His sister and both Professors were looking at him quizzically.
"We wouldn't want it to what?" Professor Jones prompted after a moment or two.
"Wouldn't—oh." Harry regathered his scattered thoughts. "We wouldn't want this happening to anybody else. Because that would be just as unfair to them as it is to us. I may not like that I have to go up against an evil wizard three times my age, but wishing it on somebody else isn't the right answer. Now if there were some way to wish it onto nobody—to undo all the prophecy nonsense and just stop him, and everyone who's using him as an excuse to satisfy their own twisted little desires—"
"But the prophecy works for us as well as against us," said Hermione, a grimace flickering across her face but her words reluctantly sure. "It tells us how we can be sure of beating him, once we get everything else out of the way. And it also focuses Voldemort's attention—" She ignored the slight squeak from Professor Kettleburn and the small, admiring smile from Professor Jones. "—on you, Harry. Which means he isn't looking at all the other directions we're setting things up. And that's what will defeat him, in the end."
"From your mouth to the Lion's ears," murmured Professor Jones, then slid her wand away and got to her feet. "Now, I think we should all be starting downstairs, or we'll miss lunch altogether, and that would never do. Sylvanus, if you'll walk with me, we can discuss that question of yours along the way…"
Ron frowned as the story ended. "Is it just me," he asked, "or did they both sound awfully certain about some of that stuff? Things like how the Battle of Hogwarts happened, and who the Champions were and what they did?"
"They are both interested in history," Meghan pointed out. "Professor Kettleburn through his mum, and Professor Jones because it's her area. Why wouldn't they be certain?"
"Because it's been a thousand years, and the only reason we even remember the Founders' names from that long ago is because they named the Houses after themselves." Ginny waved her hand in a circle around her, denoting the Gryffindor common room, her voice managing to combine firmness with a reasonable degree of quiet. "If we'd never formed the Pride and gone 'upstairs' to meet them, we wouldn't even know the names of their children, much less their favorite students. And yes, all right, it's possible a professor of History of Magic would have access to some rare manuscript that had their names in it, and maybe it even makes sense that Professor Kettleburn would remember it from his mother…"
"But maybe it doesn't," Neville finished. "Maybe there's some other explanation."
Everyone looked at Luna.
Luna shrugged her shoulders. "They aren't evil," she said simply. "I would have told you a long time ago if they were. They are a little different, though, and Professor Jones is different in a different way than Professor Kettleburn. A stronger difference, a brighter one. More like Amanda used to be. Professor Kettleburn has…the shadow of a difference over him. Like he will be different, but he isn't quite yet."
"Have you ever seen that shadow of a difference on anybody else?" Harry asked curiously. "Anybody who will be different in that same way?"
"Yes." Luna stroked the crescent-moon scar on the inside of her left arm, clearly deep in thought. "Percy," she said at last. "He has it more strongly every time I see him now. It's almost as bright as Professor Jones's. And Madam Pomfrey, though hers is still very faint." She frowned. "Someone famous had a hint of it, I thought, the one time I saw him, but I can't remember who…" Shaking her head, she dismissed this. "And one other person we know, possibly. Though it's harder to see on her, because of who she is."
"What do you mean?" Hermione seemed equal parts worried and fascinated by the turn the conversation had taken. "Is it something about her that makes her bad, whoever she is? Something that means we should be worried?"
"Oh, no, no. Nothing like that." Luna shook her head again. "It's only that I'm not even sure it is the same thing. And I'd rather not name names if I'm not sure. I am sure that it's only a good thing, if it's there at all, so we don't need to worry. And I'll tell you if it grows strong enough for me to see it clearly."
"Good enough for me," said Ginny briskly, bringing her hands together in a clap to signify the end of the discussion for the moment. "All in favor?"
"Aye," chorused the Pride, and talk turned to the Hogsmeade expedition planned for tomorrow and the final Quidditch match, Gryffindor vs. Ravenclaw, to be played a week from that day.
Graham Pritchard was not terribly surprised when he awakened that Saturday morning to discover the unmistakable signs, on the spells he used to hold his bedcurtains shut, of a rather clumsy attempt at sabotage during the night. Those of his Housemates who followed the precepts of their Founder's later life, rather than the ideals with which Salazar had begun his career, had never much cared for Graham, and the feeling was mutual.
Of course, it doesn't help that I do well in all my classes, that I have friends in other Houses, that I'm one of the top-ranked medics in the DA and cross-training with the skirmishers to boot. Smiling to himself, he dressed swiftly, not forgetting the belt which held his potion piece, and headed out to the common room. They're jealous, and they can't admit it, not even to themselves, because what I have isn't supposed to be worth wanting. But they can't simply dismiss me, either, because I also happen to have what they do think is worth wanting. Pure magical blood, six generations on Father's side, four on Mother's…
After he had come safely home from his kidnapping two years ago, and again after the werewolf attack on Maya the previous winter, his parents had sat down with him to be sure he understood as much of what the war was about as he was able to comprehend. The second time, though not without some grave misgivings if he'd read the looks on their faces right, they'd also explained what some of Lord Voldemort's followers might want to do with the children of pureblood families if they got the chance.
And if it's true, and I believe it is, it almost makes me happy Maya was bitten. He snorted a quiet, ironic laugh. Which is an awful thing to think, I know, it's terrible that she has to be a werewolf, to go through all the pain of transforming every month, to drink the Wolfsbane Potion so that she can keep her mind on the full moon, but it does mean they can never do that to her.
Graham's fists clenched as he stepped out of the corridor from the boys' dorms and saw Artemis Moon sitting with Elayne Kreger, their heads together over one of Elayne's textbooks, Artemis patiently explaining a tricky passage to the younger witch. They could do it to other girls, though. Lock them up in little rooms, the way I was locked up. Make sure the only people they ever see hate them—but no, that's not quite right.
Leaning against the wall, he considered his memories. You have to care about someone to hate them, and the Death Eaters who saw me there didn't care about me at all, except for what I meant. What I could do for them. Another laugh, more bitter than the first, tried to escape him. At least I didn't have to really do anything, just stay quiet and out of the way. The girls won't get that option. Not with what the Death Eaters want from them. And the boys won't really have it any better, not unless they cooperate…
The thought of his friends, his Pridemates, even his own sister, robbed of their choices and trapped in an imprisonment worse than his own had ever been, drew a half-voiced growl from him.
You can't have them, he vowed silently in the direction of Voldemort and the Death Eaters, as he had every time he stepped into a DA meeting, every time he worked a spell to help build Sanctuary, every time he attended one of the time-marking events of the spell-breaking year. You can't have them, and you can't have me. Not for that—great Merlin, not ever for that—but not for anything else, either. Not with the sort of things you think are right. You can't have them.
I won't let you have them.
He grinned toothily, stroking a finger along the embroidered serpent of his crest. And I don't particularly care what I have to do to stop you, either. I won't make innocent people do my fighting for me, or hide behind them and use them as shields, and I'll try my best not to hurt them when you drag them into the middle of the fighting, but destroying you where you think you're safe? From behind, or far away? Especially using Muggle things, the way the Red Shepherds do? His eyes glowed for an instant with pure unholy glee as he thought about some of the stories Maya liked to recount. Proving you wrong about Muggles, and taking you out of the war for good, all at the same time?
It doesn't get much better than that.
Natalie Macdonald found it hard to keep herself from skipping in place as she waited in line for the official word that third years and up were free to depart for Hogsmeade. What had happened there a little over two weeks ago hadn't stopped being dreadful, but she was doing her best to take to heart the admonition that those who had died wouldn't want their deaths destroying all their friends' happiness. Besides, an unexpectedly giddy mood had come over her in the toilet earlier. Meghan was looking at her oddly, but she couldn't find it in her heart to mind.
How am I supposed to be unhappy when I'm going to pass all my exams, even Potions and Defense? Professor Black is amazing, and Professor Snape isn't so bad now that it's my wandwork or my essays I have to justify to him rather than every little thing I've done with my cauldron. And we have a whole day free to walk around the village, because no one thinks the Death Eaters will be back so soon after being defeated, and Maya said Selena said Roger said he's going to bring the baby to see us—
At the front of the line, with a grunt of disappointment that he hadn't caught anyone in wrongdoing so far today, Filch flung the doors open wide. Natalie pressed her hands against her mouth and bounced once or twice on her toes, her unusual energy fizzing higher than ever now that they were really on their way.
I'm going to get to hold little Zachary Cedric Davies, she crooned to herself. I'm going to hug him, and cuddle him, and play with him, and never let him go. Never, ever, ever let him go…
Finding Roger and Zach during a Hogsmeade weekend was never hard, as Graham knew from experience. All he had to do was follow the sound of squealing girls.
Though it's not as if there aren't boys there too. We just don't make quite as high-pitched of noises.
If the crowd around him got too thick, though, Zach was liable to object at the top of his considerable lungs, and most of the students who wanted to see him knew that already, so the scene along one of Hogsmeade's main streets wasn't as chaotic as it could have been. Artemis was just walking away with Adrian as Graham came trotting up, the former Slytherin Chaser tossing a casual salute to Graham over his shoulder before catching his girlfriend's hand in his and continuing on his way. Selena had already claimed her son and was bouncing him at arm's length, making him shriek with laughter, while Roger and Lee had Maya, Dean, and Lindz in a quiet, urgent huddle a few feet away.
I wonder what that's about.
Graham considered trying to sidle closer and listen, but dismissed the thought. Maya had already proved herself perfectly able to hear (and smell) him coming, even through the noise of a crowd, and neither Pridemates nor cousins spied on one another.
If she needs my help, she'll ask for it. Unless I violate her trust first, in which case she'd be perfectly justified in not telling me anything at all. Besides… He allowed his smile to show as he slipped behind Selena, ducking below one of her shoulders. Five gets you ten I can start her talking about whatever it is before our next den-night!
He popped up over Selena's shoulder, grinning broadly into Zach's astonished face. "Boo," he said, and Zach crowed and pumped his legs enthusiastically in appreciation of the joke.
Selena laughed herself, pulling Zach in to settle him on her hip. "He really likes you," she said, turning to face Graham. "Probably because you're not afraid of him, the way Nott always was…"
"I don't like it when he screams, so I try and keep him happy instead." Graham covered his face with his hands, then dropped them, making Zach gurgle cheerfully once again. "It isn't that hard to understand."
"You would be surprised," said Selena darkly. Glancing to one side, she let out a small sigh. "And now he will talk shop. Which is fine for the first hour or two, it's not as if I don't appreciate the time with Zach, I do, but I was also hoping to have some time with Roger today, to pick his brain about N.E.W.T.s…among other things," she added with a small, sly smile.
"I could come back in a couple of hours and take him for a walk, if you like," Graham suggested, as two familiar girls' voices caught his ear. "Natalie and I together, maybe, and Meghan if she isn't doing anything else. We know enough among us to handle him for an hour or two, don't we?"
Selena's smile turned to one of pure happiness, and Graham knew he'd made the right decision.
And if it just happens to leave me and Natalie walking by ourselves for a little while…well, not completely by ourselves, but I don't think Zach is going to blab about whatever we might say!
From her place of concealment in a stand of trees near the village, the watcher lay in wait. Her juniors approached at a leisurely walk, the one who carried the child wearing the same House badge as her own, the other branded with the mark of their rival.
But I've been working with them. Doing whatever they tell me. And it's too late to back out now, too late to change anything…
Firmly she forced down all such thoughts. She didn't want to change anything. The DA was going to pay for what they'd done to her, what they'd made everybody think of her.
I got the first part done this morning without a hitch. Now for the second.
Carefully aiming her wand, she gathered up the hatred and loathing of a year and a half of ostracism, letting them flow through her mind in a few seconds of purest misery.
Then she spoke a single word.
Graham nearly walked into Natalie as she stopped abruptly. "Whoops," he said, regaining his footing. "Here, let me take Zach for a moment—you must be tired—"
"No." The word was abrupt, almost curt, and Natalie clutched Zach tightly to her chest as she stepped swiftly out of his reach. "No. I'm not. Tired, I mean, I'm not tired."
"Are you feeling all right, then?" Graham stepped back, looking closely at his friend. "Maybe we should go back to the village, go to the Three Broomsticks for a butterbeer or a snack—"
"No!" Natalie shook her head, a swift, jerky movement, her eyes fixed on Graham's with a strange, pleading look in them. "No, I need to—I need to be alone. Just for a moment. I'll be right back. Wait for me. Don't follow—I'll be right back—"
She hurried off the path, towards the small grove of trees to their left, as Zach began to fret at how tightly he was being held.
This isn't like her. Graham hovered on the balls of his feet, uncertain as to his next move. Is she feeling ill? Sick to her stomach? But why wouldn't she just say so, or at least give me the baby? And what was the matter with her eyes—
He sucked in a breath as Mad-Eye Moody's gravelly voice echoed through his mind, straight out of his first year Defense classes.
"Watch the eyes…you can always see it first in their eyes…"
From beyond the trees, a blue light flashed, and Zach wailed loudly.
Graham's feet were already running before his brain had a chance to be consulted.
Thoughts came in flashes as he tore through the trees towards the kneeling figure beyond. I have to stop her—she's under Imperius, that was a Portkey—have to stop her—can't use magic, I could hurt them—have to stop her—
Lunging forward, he tried to knock the trembling, blue-glowing pebble from Natalie's outstretched hand.
He almost made it.
We've been kidnapped by Death Eaters, you need to help us…just joking. Meghan and her Pride wanted to play with Zach too, so we've all gone off to this little meadow they know right outside the village. We'll either bring Zach up to the castle with us when we go back so you can take him home by Floo or wait for Roger at the Three Broomsticks. Either way, enjoy your day together!
There's a hint in that note that maybe Graham isn't the one writing it…can you spot it?
In any case, yes, here come the Bad Things again. You can't say you weren't warned.
A reminder that the Grey Lady/Bloody Baron/Ravenclaw diadem plot does not exist in the Dangerverse. I already had my own plans for the final Horcrux before DH was released and chose to maintain them rather than conforming.
Thank you as always for reading. If you have a little spare cash, please consider investing in one of my originals: novels A Widow in Waiting or Homecoming, or short story collection Cat Tales. If you are broke, please take one minute and review! More in all universes Anne, coming soon!
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