Darkness Within II by MollyandArthur



Summary: Sequel to Darkness Within. This story begins the night before Harry's fifth year at Hogwarts. Canon couples accurate to JKR. The romance between Harry and Ginny will develop slowly due to their ages. Please note rating and warnings.
Rating: R starstarstarstarstar
Categories: Pre-OotP, Post-OotP, Alternate Universe
Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2017.07.30
Updated: 2017.09.16


Index

Chapter 1: Chapter 1 Serious Discussions
Chapter 2: Chapter 2 A Different Hogwarts
Chapter 3: Chapter 3 Thestrals and Snakes
Chapter 4: Chapter 4 Fears of Possession
Chapter 5: Chapter 5 Firewhisky
Chapter 6: Chapter 6 Drinking Games
Chapter 7: Chapter 7 Dreams and Letters
Chapter 8: Chapter 8 Decisions


Chapter 1: Chapter 1 Serious Discussions

Author's Notes: Tremendous thanks to the brilliant Arnel for Beta reading this story!!! Some important notes to remember from the first book: Cedric survived the cemetery incident by Apparating to Hogsmeade. Remus is the live-in tutor at Longbottom Manor for Neville and his cousin, Anna. She is the granddaughter of Tom Riddle Jr. and hopes that no one is aware of that fact. Charlie has dreams about Anna. Ginny never dated Michael Corner. She was Neville's date for the Yule Ball and spent most of her evening dancing with Neville and Harry.


Chapter 1
Serious Discussions

Narcissa Malfoy slowly ascended the main staircase of her home in Wiltshire, her fingers lightly trailing the solid wood banister. Turning left, she made her way along the wide corridor towards her son’s bedroom. Weak light from the setting sun filtered in through the tall window at the end of the hall, casting shadows along the walls in a strange orange hue. She paused at the closed door, knocked briefly, and eased it open.

Draco glanced up as she crossed the threshold and entered his room. “Good evening, Mother,” he said politely, before adding the books he was holding to his almost full trunk. “I believe I have everything packed and ready for the train ride tomorrow.”

She nodded and smiled. “You’re always very responsible about remembering to pack what you need for Hogwarts each year. If you do find that you need anything else, just let me know, and I’ll send it along.”

“Thank you,” he responded. Draco waited, likely expecting her to wish him a good night and exit his room. Instead, she calmly peered around the room, noticing that everything was in its proper place, except the window, which was open. The warm August air rustled the drapes. She was about to walk over to close the window when she saw the empty perch and realized his eagle owl must be out hunting. Moving towards his desk, she turned the chair to face his bed and sat down gracefully.

“Draco,” Narcissa began, smoothing out the long skirt of her dark gown, before indicating the place in front of her. “Please have a seat. I want to discuss something with you.”

He sat on the side of his bed, giving her his full attention. His face was calm, but his grey eyes were alight with curiosity.

“With you about to begin your fifth year at Hogwarts, your father and I were discussing the subject of you becoming betrothed in the near future. I realize you are still rather young, but these things can take time.” She paused for effect. “I wanted to hear your thoughts on the matter.”

Draco’s eyes were wide with surprise, as he opened his mouth, closed it, and tried again. “Well, I, um, I’m rather fond of Pansy,” he stammered. “Pansy Parkinson, that is.” He flushed slightly, looking uncharacteristically vulnerable for a moment, before carefully schooling his features.

“Yes, Draco, I know you are fond of Pansy, and she is certainly a witch worth considering,” Narcissa stated clearly. “Having said that, though Pansy is from an old, pure-blood family, her grandfather made a series of rather unfortunate financial decisions many years ago. While the Parkinsons still have enough resources to be perfectly respectable, she may inherit very little indeed.”

“I was unaware of that,” he muttered quietly.

She smiled slightly. “There is no reason for you to have been aware of it. Pansy may not be fully knowledgeable of the situation either, and lack of money, by itself, is not cause enough to exclude her as a potential match. However, I would like you to at least think about other options. Surely there are many attractive young witches in the various Houses at Hogwarts.”

“Yes,” Draco admitted. “But once you exclude the Muggle-borns and half-bloods, there are fewer than you might think.”

His mother nodded thoughtfully for a moment and stared past him out the window, at the ever-darkening night sky. She chose her words with deliberate care. “Draco, most of your friends are only children, just as you are. I have no doubt that most of the parents wished for more children, but were unable to have them. The Sacred Twenty-Eight have been intermarrying for centuries to keep the bloodlines pure. As you well know, the Blacks, Malfoys, and Parkinsons are among the Sacred Twenty-Eight. Fertility problems have become all too common among many of the old pure-blood families.”

She shifted slightly in her chair. Having this conversation with her son was proving to be more awkward than she had anticipated. Sighing quietly, Narcissa finally turned to look at her son and pressed on. “Please, just examine your options. That is all I am asking of you. When you come home for Christmas, I hope you will be able to name one or two other witches for us to consider.”

Draco’s grey eyes were unsettled, and his hands were gripped together, fidgeting and flexing between his knees. Reaching out a hand to cover both of his, she met his gaze steadily. “If in the end, your choice is still Pansy, I will support you.”

He nodded quietly, and she knew her son well enough to be certain his mind was actively contemplating everything she had implied.

“Good night, Draco,” she said softly.

“Good night, Mother,” he replied. “Thank you for explaining…” his voice trailed off. “Thank you,” he stated firmly.

She smiled with satisfaction as she rose and left his room.

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Neville followed Anna into the compartment on the Hogwarts Express and peered over her shoulder at the only occupant.

“Hello,” Anna said. “May we join you?”

Startled, the girl glanced up, but nodded in agreement. She had very long blond hair, was wearing what appeared to be a necklace made of butterbeer caps, and was holding a magazine upside-down in front of her.

Neville and Anna stowed their trunks, as well as the cages for Mista and Trevor, in the luggage rack and sat down across from the girl.

“I’m Anna Henry, and this is my cousin, Neville Longbottom,” Anna explained. “We’re both fifth year Gryffindors.”

“I’m Luna Lovegood,” she replied dreamily. Her pale eyes resting upon each of them briefly before returning to her magazine.

The compartment door opened, and Ginny walked in smiling, followed by Harry. “Hi, Anna, Neville. I thought I saw you come in here. Is there space for us to sit with you? Oh, hi, Luna.”

Anna hugged Ginny, while Neville stood up to help Harry stow the trunks and Hedwig’s cage in the rack.

“How are you, Harry?” Neville asked, once they had all greeted one another and sat down.

“Fine, thanks,” he said. “Or, at least, I was a lot better once I joined the Weasleys at… um, their place.”

“We were so relieved about the outcome of the hearing,” Anna said quietly. “Remus was so upset about what happened, and Aunt Augusta has been fuming about the Ministry and the Daily Prophet all summer.”

“Yeah,” Neville agreed. “Gran finally cancelled her subscription a couple of weeks ago. She decided there was no point reading a newspaper so clearly in the pocket of the Ministry.”

“Your grandmother sounds very wise,” Luna stated serenely. “My father’s the editor of The Quibbler.” She indicated the magazine she was holding. “He has been disappointed by the lack of accurate news in the Daily Prophet for a long time.”

Harry smiled at her. “Well, I’m glad to know not everyone believes the rubbish they’re printing lately. What House are you in?”

“Ravenclaw,” Luna replied. “Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure,” she continued in a singsong voice.

“Luna’s in my year,” Ginny added brightly, before turning to her. “Why are you holding the magazine upside-down?”

Luna glanced around at the others for a moment before answering. “I’m reading an article on ancient runes. By looking at them upside-down, they may reveal a spell to make your enemy’s ears turn into kumquats.”

Ginny blinked in surprise before scooting closer to Luna. “May I read it with you?”

“Well,” Luna murmured. “Yes, if you want to.” Her tentative smile disappeared behind the magazine along with Ginny’s, who was now sitting hip to hip with the other girl.

“Harry, do you want to see what my great-uncle Algie got me for my birthday?” Neville asked, as he reached in his schoolbag and pulled out the Mimbulus mimbletonia. “He brought it all the way from Assyria!”

“Neville!” Anna exclaimed.

The tone of her voice caused Luna and Ginny to look up in alarm, and Harry, who had been cautiously reaching towards the plant, backed away slightly.

“I wasn’t going to test the plant’s defensive mechanism again!” Neville promised. “Though it is amazing to witness.” He gazed happily at the plant.

“Oh, yes,” Anna retorted. “Amazing it certainly is! We were all in the garden room at the Manor when he demonstrated how well the Mimbulus mimbletonia can defend itself by poking it with a sharp quill.”

“What did it do?” Harry asked, curiously.

“It squirted out a slimy green liquid that smelled revolting and hit everything within several feet of it,” she explained, shuddering and wrinkling her nose as though she could still feel and smell it.

“First time I’ve ever been afraid of Anna,” Neville commented. “The look she gave me…” He shook his head and smirked slightly. “She pulled her wand, and I ducked. Of course, she just used cleaning spells to remove the Stinksap. Then, Gran told me to take the plant out to the greenhouse and stay there with it until it was time to dress for dinner. Remus and Tonks were laughing hysterically when I left. Tonks started shrieking with laughter the moment it happened, and Remus joined her a few seconds later.”

Anna’s lips twitched. “It was rather funny once it was over and the stench finally dissipated.”

“I didn’t know Tonks was over at the Manor,” Ginny exclaimed. “I would have sent a message with her.”

“She only came over the one time, and it was just last week,” Anna explained. “She was sharing a great deal of information with Aunt Augusta,” she nodded meaningfully. “I believe my aunt will be spending some time with your parents rather soon.”

Ginny’s eyes widened with understanding. “They will be so pleased to have her.”

“Also, their dog, Padfoot, will be able to visit the Manor and run around a bit,” Neville added.

Harry stared at Neville before exchanging a quick glance with Ginny. “Padfoot will enjoy having a bit more freedom.”

Neville nodded. “Once Remus explained the importance of the dog having more space, Gran was happy to agree to his visits. She is hesitant to do too much since she has the responsibility of the two of us, but she wants to help in any way she can. Gran has a lot of friends and acquaintances in important places as well, of course.”

“Best news I’ve heard in a while, mate,” Harry said fervently, still staring at Neville.

He grinned in response.

The compartment door slid open and the Seeker on the Ravenclaw Quidditch team, Cho Chang, came in. “Hi, Harry,” she said, glancing around at the others in the compartment.

“Oh…hi, Cho,” Harry said. “How is Cedric?”

Cho smiled briefly. “He’s doing really well considering. The Healers at St. Mungo’s were able to save his leg, but it will never heal completely.” She looked down for a moment, pressing her hands together, before meeting his eyes again. “Still, he’s walking quite well with a cane and has joined the group training to become Healers. Cedric didn’t know what he wanted to do after Hogwarts before, but now he says that becoming a Healer is his calling.”

Harry nodded. “I’m really glad things worked out as well as they did.”

“Cedric says…” she swallowed and took a breath before continuing. “Cedric says he wouldn’t be alive if he hadn’t Apparated away when he did. He thinks You-Know-Who would have had him killed.”

“I’m afraid he’s probably right,” Harry murmured, his eyes becoming suddenly unfocused. “Voldemort didn’t need Cedric, so he may very well have had him killed. Apparating away probably saved his life.”

Cho’s eyes were wide and unblinking. “I’m glad you think so, Harry. I’m glad you don’t think Cedric was a… a coward for, uh, for leaving you behind.”

“Not at all,” Harry said firmly, standing up. “It was the only thing he could do. I’m just glad he made it back to safety.” He reached out to give her arm a light comforting squeeze.

She nodded, suddenly blinking rapidly, as tears started to stream down her cheeks. “Thank you, Harry. I’m relieved you feel that way. I need to be getting back now.” Cho continued nodding as she backed out of the compartment and closed the door.

Everyone was silent for a time after she left. Ginny and Luna disappeared behind The Quibbler. Anna pulled out The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 5. Neville put his plant away before staring out the window. He took a few surreptitious glances at Harry and waited for the food trolley to come.

Pumpkin Pasties and Chocolate Frogs distracted them all until Ron and Hermione arrived. Everyone groaned upon hearing that the Slytherin prefects were Draco Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson.

“Who are the other prefects?” Harry asked.

“Ernie Macmillan and Hannah Abbott for Hufflepuff,” Ron said.

“Anthony Goldstein and Padma Patil are the Ravenclaw prefects,” Hermione added.

Ron began joking about the punishments he would like to dole out to certain Slytherins, particularly Crabbe and Goyle, causing everyone other than Hermione, who was determined to take the responsibility of prefect seriously, to laugh.

The group talked and joked good-naturedly for the rest of the journey to Hogsmeade. Hermione reminded them when it was time to change into their robes, and Harry helped Neville with the cages when they arrived at the station. They were all surprised to hear the brisk voice of Professor Grubbly-Plank instead of the gruff call of Hagrid when they arrived, but, other than that, the trip from Hogsmeade to Hogwarts was familiar and comforting.

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He kissed her tenderly, his hands moving from her silvery-blonde hair to gently caress her arms. Goosebumps appeared on her skin, as he pushed the short sleeves of her blouse up further. He massaged them until they disappeared; her skin warming under his touch. The feel of her in his arms was intoxicating to his senses. He groaned as he moved slowly from her lips down to her neck, kissing, licking, sucking at her delicate skin. She moaned softly, murmuring his name, stroking his back, the nape of his neck, encouraging him to do more. He needed little encouragement, and was soon unfastening the buttons of her blouse. He stared into her blue eyes, as he slowly undid each button and was entranced by the growing heat of her gaze. Pushing the blouse off her shoulders, he let it fall to the floor, before quickly unhooking her bra, easing it away from her body. His gaze briefly lowered to her perfectly enticing breasts, and his lips returned hungrily to hers. Tentatively cupping her breasts, he felt their weight in his hands, kneading them tenderly, seeking those sensitive places that would make her respond the way he wanted her to, the way he desperately needed her to. She bit her lip and whimpered, as her head fell back.

He picked her up, holding her securely in his arms, kissing her passionately as he carried her over to the bed. Lowering her to the center, he yanked off his shirt and covered her body with his. He was slow and careful, allowing her time to refuse if she wanted to, if she needed to. She didn’t refuse. She didn’t ask him to slow down. He continued to touch her, to feel her, his body trembling with need. His kisses became desperate as he pulled off the last of her clothes, the last of his clothes. His hands caressed her everywhere, making her gasp and moan. When he knew her need matched his, he entered her slowly, groaning at the immense pleasure coursing through his body. She whimpered and clung to him. He kissed her deeply, moving slowly within her for as long as he could. He desperately wanted her to find her release before he succumbed to his own.

His hands continued to stroke, to excite, as he moved more quickly, as he kissed her more intensely. Her shuddering release drove him to move faster, harder, until he joined her in the exquisite release. Languishing in the overwhelming satisfaction of his fulfillment, he was stunned by the sudden glowing light that assaulted his senses. He felt her sudden stiffening, her attempt to pull back, as his own body tried to resist the raw power flowing through them, between them, over them. They were helpless against it, immobilized by the intense power of the energy surrounding them.

They were strolling through the exotic, yet familiar, streets of Cairo, crowded with merchants, chatting with the vendors, purchasing trinkets for friends and family. They were lying on a nearly empty beach, enjoying the heat of the mid-summer sun, a mild breeze wafting off the ocean, tantalizing their skin. They were laughing, as they sat below a heavily blossoming pear tree in the orchard, enjoying a picnic in the warmth of late spring. She was shrieking with delight, clinging to him, as he maneuvered the broom and sped through the dark night, stars twinkling overhead. They were making love on the floor of an unfamiliar room with a fire roaring in the fireplace, nearly drowning out the sounds of the nearby ocean during a mild winter storm. He was kissing her tenderly, rubbing his hand over her slightly rounded abdomen, feeling a sense of wonder, satisfaction, and pride that he would have never thought possible. They were in a kitchen slicing a chocolate cake, whispering to each other and giggling as they fed each other small bites of the rich chocolate. She was smiling wistfully at a small, wooden crib in a nursery. They were singing along to a holiday song on the wireless, decorating a Christmas tree in the corner of a cozy room. They were chasing each other through a snowy field, throwing snowballs at one another. He was standing in an open doorway, watching her suckling a newborn infant as she hummed a lullaby.

He gasped sharply as his senses returned to the present, as the visions vanished. “Are you alright?” he asked, attempting to resist the overwhelming fatigue that assaulted his body. She nodded as her eyes met his, but they were wide and clearly frightened.

“Any idea what happened?” he murmured. She shook her head and began trembling, clinging to him, pressing her face to the side of his neck, gripping his red hair tightly with one hand.

“Not a Veela thing?” he suggested desperately. Her incredulous glare was response enough.

“Sorry,” he muttered, shaking his head slightly as though attempting to clear it. “Everything will be okay. I promise you. It will be okay.” He held her tightly to him and was shocked that he could still feel raw power flowing through them, between them, over them.

“We can’t tell anyone about this,” he quickly decided. “It must be our secret. I don’t know what happened, but I don’t think it would be safe to tell anyone.”

She let out a choked sob and held him tightly. “I love you,” he whispered, gently smoothing her silvery-blonde hair back behind her ear. He felt her breathing calm, as she gained control of her emotions. “Please keep this a secret.”

She nodded in agreement, and he sighed. “We will get through this. Whatever has happened will make us stronger, I know it.”

He held her securely, rubbing her back, and felt her gradually becoming calmer. Soon, she was sleeping peacefully in his arms, and he was staring out the window into the night sky, wondering what the hell had just happened.


Author’s Notes: Disclaimer — Part of this chapter comes from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

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Chapter 2: Chapter 2 A Different Hogwarts

Author's Notes: Tremendous thanks to Arnel for her beta work with this chapter!!!!!


Chapter 2
A Different Hogwarts

As they approached the stone steps to the Entrance Hall, Ginny glanced around to the others. “I wonder if Professor Grubbly-Plank will be teaching the Care of Magical Creatures lessons. Do you suppose Hagrid’s sick or something?”

“Dunno,” Ron muttered. “He’s always been here to take the first years across the lake. Odd he missed it this year.”

“Well, his cabin’s dark,” Harry observed, looking out across the grounds and towards the Forbidden Forest beyond. “I don’t think he’s actually at Hogwarts right now.”

Hermione nodded. “Let’s go on in and get seats,” she said, leading the way into the Great Hall.

“Hey, Seamus, Dean,” Neville called out, raising a hand in greeting and pausing to wait for them, as the others entered the Hall.

The boys smiled and walked over. Seamus had just reached them when he was shoved forcefully from behind and stumbled into Anna. They both ended up in a heap of tangled limbs on the hard stone floor.

“Bloody hell!” Seamus cursed, looking down at the girl under him and quickly shifting off her.

“Anna, are you alright?” Neville asked, kneeling to help her and Seamus. “You didn’t hit your head, did you?”

Anna winced as she sat up and shook her head slightly. “No, I’m fine. What happened?”

“Couple of Hufflepuff second years,” Dean gestured towards the two boys who were clearly being told off by their irate prefects, Ernie Macmillan and Hannah Abbott. “Barmpots playing tag in the Entrance Hall. Looks like your bleeding, mate,” he said with a slight grimace as he helped Seamus up off the floor.

Ernie hurried over to them just as Neville pulled Anna gently to her feet. “I’m sorry about them.” He jerked a thumb in the direction of the second years, who were still being berated by Hannah as she pushed them ahead of her into the Great Hall. “Do you want me to get Madam Pomfrey?”

“Nah, no need,” Seamus replied, looking down at the blood slowly dripping from his heavily scraped right forearm. “I’ll just wash up. You all go ahead in or you’ll miss the Sorting.”

Anna heard Professor McGonagall’s brisk voice nearby and realized the first years were indeed rapidly approaching. “Go on ahead, Neville. I’m going to wash up as well.” She smiled reassuringly at him and turned to follow Seamus towards the bathrooms.

Once he turned the corner, Seamus slowed down to wait for her. “Sorry about that, Anna. Are you really okay?”

She nodded. “You broke my fall quite effectively.”

He blushed. “I’m thinking you might have a couple of bruises though. Didn’t mean to grab you like that. It was just instinct I guess.”

He had grabbed her tightly around the waist with his left arm and managed to turn slightly as they fell so that his right arm hit the floor first.

“Come on,” she smiled, her cheeks slightly flushed. “Let me fix your arm.”

They went into the boys’ bathroom. Anna pulled out her wand and carefully pulled up the sleeve of his shirt before muttering a quick “Episkey” to heal his wound and “Tergeo” to remove the blood. “Reparo” mended the torn shirt.

“Thanks, Anna,” Seamus said, as they both washed their hands. “The Sorting’s probably started by now.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “I think I’d rather wait in here and slip into the Great Hall once the feast starts.”

“Sounds like a good plan,” he said, buttoning the cuff of his shirt. “So, how was your summer?”

“Good… a bit quiet,” she sighed. “Aunt Augusta wouldn’t let us leave the Manor, except once to go to Gringotts. She wouldn’t let us have anyone over either. Remus was away a lot more than usual, and tired and tense when he was at home.”

Seamus nodded slowly. “Me mam didn’t want me to come back to Hogwarts.”

“Why wouldn’t she want you to come back?” Anna asked quietly.

He shrugged awkwardly before replying. “The news in the Daily Prophet has been a bit concerning, you know?”

She nodded. “They’ve been reporting so many half-truths lately. Aunt Augusta finally cancelled her subscription because she was so tired of reading erroneous information.”

“You definitely think it’s false then, the bad stuff they’ve been printing about Harry and Dumbledore,” he inquired.

“Of course, it’s false!” Anna exclaimed. “I mean, everyone knows how brilliant and powerful Dumbledore is. I’m not saying he never makes mistakes, but he’s not wrong about this. We know Harry. He would never make up a story to gain attention. He hates being in the spotlight — well, except for Quidditch, of course.” She took a deep breath. “I’m quite sure Voldemort is back, horrifying as that is.” Her voice cracked slightly, and she pressed her lips together hard.

Seamus grabbed her hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. “You’re right, of course. Not fair for the newspaper to print rubbish about Harry and Dumbledore.”

She nodded and forced a smile. “Not fair at all.”

They began to talk about the better aspects of their summer holidays. Seamus had just finished telling her about an unfortunate yet highly amusing incident involving a pile of steaming manure and the vegetable garden at his parents’ house when they both noticed a slight rise in the noise level coming from the Great Hall.

“Ready to go sneak in?” he asked, holding out his hand.

She smiled and took his hand. They made their way quietly to the seats Neville and Dean had saved for them at the Gryffindor table.

“How did the Sorting go?” Anna asked as she sat down and fixed her plate.

“Well enough,” Neville replied. “The Sorting Hat gave a warning to the students though. It said Hogwarts was in danger, and the Houses needed to unite.”

“Well, that’s certainly comforting,” she muttered.

When the meal was over, the Headmaster rose to make the usual start-of-term notices, including welcoming back Professor Grubbly-Plank as the Care of Magical Creatures teacher and introducing the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Umbridge. Anna was as startled as the rest of the student body when Professor Umbridge stood up to make a speech. She couldn’t remember anyone ever interrupting Professor Dumbledore previously. Umbridge’s sycophantic tone when referencing the Ministry of Magic combined with her redundancy, in emphasizing the need to stop progress for the sake of progress and the importance of preserving what ought to be preserved, was mind-numbing. By the end of the speech, Anna was having difficulty focusing, and Hermione were staring at the woman with barely concealed contempt.

Finally, the exhausted and thoroughly bored students were dismissed. Slowly ascending the stairs towards the Painting of the Fat Lady that guarded the entrance to their common room, Anna couldn’t help laughing when Neville told her the new password for Gryffindor was Mimbulus mimbletonia.

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Ginny grabbed Anna’s hand the moment she saw her enter the Gryffindor common room. “Please come upstairs. I need to talk to you!” she murmured, as she pulled her towards the stone spiral staircase leading to the dormitories.

Anna hissed in pain and pulled her hand out of Ginny’s grasp.

Ginny turned back questioningly and looked down at Anna’s left hand in surprise. “I’m sorry,” she said contritely, noticing the vivid red scar there. “Is that why you missed dinner?”

Anna nodded and continued walking up the stairs, following Ginny to the relative privacy of the dormitories.

“How often do you practice the blood ward?” Ginny whispered.

“Once or twice a month,” Anna responded quietly. “I usually practice on a weekend, but…Professor Umbridge…there’s something about her.”

“What do you mean? What happened in class today?” Ginny sat on the bed and looked up expectantly. “Everyone was talking at dinner about how Harry got into a shouting match with her and she gave him detention.”

Anna nodded and sighed. “Well, that’s certainly true, although in Harry’s defense, he didn’t start it.” She rubbed her forehead and sat down on the edge of her bed next to Ginny. “Hermione asked Professor Umbridge about the course aims, since they didn’t include any actual use of magic. Once she pointed it out, everyone realized that the professor doesn’t intend to teach us any real magic this year. Dean was upset as well, and questioned her on it, but she won’t be allowing us to practice any defensive spells in her class.”

“But, how will everyone pass their exams?” Ginny sputtered. “I mean the O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. exams always have a practical, don’t they?”

“Yes,” she agreed. “That’s what Parvati pointed out, but the professor didn’t seem impressed by that argument.”

Ginny shook her head in disbelief. “How could she not let us practice spells in class? That’s madness.” She leapt up and started pacing in front of the bed. “I mean Voldemort’s back. He’s back, and the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher is not going to let us do magic!”

“And that’s what caused the shouting match between Harry and Professor Umbridge,” Anna continued. “He insisted that Voldemort is back. Umbridge denied it and called him a liar. He started yelling at her, she assigned him detention, and then sent him to Professor McGonagall.”

Ginny sat back down on the bed. “What are we going to do?”

“I have no idea,” Anna murmured with a shrug. “I think I’d better start some homework though. It’s only the first day, and this year already feels like it will be even more fun than last year!”

Ginny stared at her for a moment and then burst out laughing. Anna quickly joined her, and was wiping a few tears from her cheeks by the time her giggles subsided.

The rest of the first week of school continued rather quietly for Ginny. As she watched her friends in fifth year struggle to keep up with their homework every night, she was glad she still had a year to go before facing her own O.W.L. year. Harry returned late to the dorm every night due to his detentions.

Listening to the gossip around Hogwarts, Ginny realized that most Gryffindors quickly decided that Professor Umbridge was a horrible teacher. She was also pleased to note that just about everyone in her House accepted the fact of Tom Riddle’s return, even though most spoke in hushed whispers about the danger from You-Know-Who. Unfortunately, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff seemed to be about evenly split in their belief that Voldemort was back, though most acknowledged disappointment in their new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.

Friday night, Ginny was happy to celebrate the end of the first week of school with the rest of the residents of Gryffindor Tower. Her brother, Ron, had joined the Quidditch team as the new Keeper, and Harry was finally, hopefully, finished with his week of detentions with Professor Umbridge. Fred and George had managed to obtain a large case of butterbeer, and everyone was relaxing as they enjoyed the relative freedom of their first weekend.

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“He did what?” Ginny seethed, staring at her brother in frustration.

Ron swallowed. “Percy sent me a letter congratulating me on being a prefect and encouraging me to… well, to not be friends with Harry any longer.”

“Give me the letter,” she demanded imperiously, holding out her hand. “I want to see exactly what that git wrote!”

“I tore it up and put it in the fire,” Ron admitted.

Ginny sighed angrily. “Well, that’s something, then.” She sat down, and pushed both hands through her hair before sitting up straight. “What else was in the letter?”

“Percy…” he began, looking from his sister to his twin brothers and finally to their friends. “Percy said some stuff about Mum and Dad. Basically, he wrote that they’re misguided and should choose their friends more wisely.” Ron paused as he rubbed his hands together for a moment. “He wrote that he would accept their apology when they realize how wrong they are about Harry and Dumbledore.”

“Bloody moron,” Fred exclaimed.

“More like a pompous arse,” George corrected.

Neville looked at Anna with a raised eyebrow, but remained quiet. He knew it was better to let the Weasleys vent their anger with each other about their older brother rather than join in the conversation. Judging by their silence, apparently, Harry and Hermione felt the same way. It was shaping up to be a horrible start to the school year. Harry had landed himself in detention with Professor Umbridge for the second week in a row. Hermione had started the confrontation in the Defense classroom, just as she had the first week, and Harry had joined in, clearly unable to restrain his temper.

Harry hid the truth of his detentions initially, but by mid-way through the second week, the scars forming on the back of his right hand had become apparent to his close friends. Neville had been horrified when he realized that “doing lines for detention” with Professor Umbridge meant using a blood quill to repeatedly cut a message into his skin. I must not tell lies was now clearly visible on the back of Harry’s hand. Ginny’s jaw had locked in silent fury when she saw the words. Anna had tried the “Episkey” spell to heal his hand, but the charm had no noticeable effect. The girls had decided that either the cumulative effect of the continual use of the blood quill or some Dark magic in the object itself made it difficult to heal his wound. Hermione prepared Murtlap Essence, which at least eased the pain, though it did not make the scar disappear.

Lessons were also being interrupted by Professor Umbridge in her new role as “High Inquisitor” of Hogwarts. She was observing many of their classes and taking copious notes, as well as questioning students about what they were learning. It quickly became evident that Professor Trelawney was one of her targets. The Divination Professor had been extremely uncomfortable during the observation and had made a rather wild and unspecified prediction that Professor Umbridge was in grave danger and might soon face mortal peril. Neville noticed a few of the students had looked momentarily hopeful before remembering that Professor Trelawney frequently predicted horrible events that never actually occurred. The other professors had not seemed intimidated by her presence in their classrooms, though all were clearly irritated by her questions and constant interruptions.

All in all, Neville was very pleased when they finally escaped from the castle for the first Hogsmeade weekend at the beginning of October. Hermione had invited a large group of students to meet at the Hog’s Head pub to discuss the creation of a defense club. She was determined that they practice defensive spells rather than just reading about them in their Defense Against the Dark Arts class. Many of the Gryffindors from fourth year to seventh year came to the pub, bought bottles of butterbeer, and settled in chairs around Harry. Several members of Hufflepuff House, including Ernie Macmillan, Justin Finch-Fletchley, Hannah Abbott, and Susan Bones arrived shortly thereafter and joined them at the bar to place their orders. A few Ravenclaws also arrived led by Cho Chang, Padma Patil, and Luna Lovegood. Once they were all gathered in the back corner of the pub, Hermione stood up.

“Thank you all for coming,” she began somewhat nervously. “We…well, we all know that we need to be learning more defensive magic than the rubbish we’re learning in class. I mean…well, we need to be practicing real spells, and…getting ready to…to defend ourselves properly.”

“Not to mention some of us are hoping to pass our Defense Against the Dark Arts N.E.W.T.,” mentioned Angelina Johnson.

“And, our O.W.L.,” added Susan Bones, before turning to look directly at Harry. “My Aunt Amelia said you can produce a corporeal Patronus.” She glanced around quickly and lowered her voice. “She’s concerned about the possibility of Dementors not always being under the control of the Ministry. Knowing how to produce a Patronus could be really important in defending ourselves from them. Would you try to teach us how to cast one?”

Harry nodded slowly. “Two Dementors came after me this past summer in my neighborhood.”

Several students gasped in alarm. Those who already knew about the incident nodded solemnly.

“I was able to conjure my stag Patronus and drive them away,” Harry continued, rubbing his chin. “I don’t know if that was an isolated incident, or if Dementors really could be roaming freely about sometime soon.” He took a drink from his bottle of butterbeer. “I can try to teach you all how to produce one. It’s advanced magic, though, not easy to learn, and it could take a while.”

“Harry, I think many of us would really like to learn to defend ourselves from Dementors,” Ginny said quietly. “I know I would.”

He focused intensely on her for a moment and then nodded.

“Harry knows a lot of other spells as well,” Ron stated as he glanced around at the assembled group. “Stuff he learned for the Triwizard Tournament last year.”

“Yeah,” Neville agreed. “Getting past the dragon, and all those creatures in the lake…” his voice trailed off as he thought about the maze. Everyone was quiet for a moment.

Hermione nodded. “So…are we all agreed that we want to take defense lessons from Harry?”

A murmur of general agreement was immediately followed by her asking how often the group should plan to meet.

“Once a week would be good,” Ernie suggested. “With You-Know-Who back, we’ve all got to learn to defend ourselves. I still don’t understand why the Ministry would give us such a useless teacher.”

“Well, we think Professor Umbridge may be trying to prevent us from learning defensive spells so that we can’t ever be used as a force against the Ministry,” Hermione explained.

“What?” several voices muttered in confusion.

“Some important members of the Ministry apparently believe that Dumbledore could use students to create a private army that would be loyal to him alone,” Harry said. “They would rather leave us defenseless and powerless than ever have to face us in a conflict.”

“Hard to imagine them being that paranoid,” Fred muttered. “So, we’ll meet once a week. We just need to avoid the Quidditch practice times.”

The other Quidditch players from each House nodded.

“We also need a place to meet,” George added.

“It would have to be a rather large space,” Ginny commented, glancing around. “There are a lot of us, and we’ll need room to move around to cast spells.”

The group was quiet for a moment.

“The library?” Katie Bell suggested with a shrug.

“Madam Pince wouldn’t like that,” Harry said smirking.

“We could use the Come and Go room,” Anna murmured.

“The what?” Hermione asked.

“The Come and Go room,” Anna repeated, focusing on Harry. “It’s on the seventh floor. I can show you the room and we can start meeting there.”

He nodded and smiled. “Alright, so…I guess we’ll spread the word about the first meeting soon.”

“Before we leave, we need everyone to write their name on this parchment,” Hermione said. “That way we know who is interested in being part of the defense club. And, I think we need to all agree not to tell anyone about this - especially Professor Umbridge.”

There were a few uneasy glances, particularly among the members of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, but soon everyone had agreed to keep the meetings a secret. One by one, they wrote their names on the parchment before exiting the Hog’s Head.


Author’s Notes: Disclaimer — Part of this chapter comes from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

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Chapter 3: Chapter 3 Thestrals and Snakes

Author's Notes: Special thank you to Arnel for her wonderful work as beta!!!


Chapter 3

Thestrals and Snakes

A loud, wailing sound echoed through the girls’ dormitories just as the stairs transformed into a smooth stone slide. Ron fell back awkwardly, landing on the floor with a soft grunt. Several girls took the slide down to the common room in rapid succession, giggling as they landed.

“Why aren’t boys allowed in the girls’ dormitories?” Ron sputtered in frustration as he scrambled to his feet. “Girls can come up to our rooms!”

Hermione stood up and checked on her book bag as she exited the slide. “It’s a rather old-fashioned rule, I’m afraid,” she said. “The founders felt that boys were less trustworthy than girls. Why were you trying to come up, anyway?”

“We wanted to show you the newest Educational Decree,” Ron explained, as he pointed to the notice board.

“What’s wrong?” Anna stood up from the stone slide.

“All student organizations have been disbanded,” Harry said quietly.

“Someone told Umbridge about our new Defense Club,” Ron added.

“No one told,” Hermione said. “Or, if they have, we will know when we see them. I put a jinx on the parchment everyone signed.”

“What kind of jinx?” Neville inquired.

“The kind that will make it quite obvious if someone betrayed us,” Hermione replied. “The person’s face will be covered in spots. Completely covered.”

Anna’s eyes widened in surprise, and Ginny giggled wickedly. “You can be a bit scary sometimes, in a brilliant sort of way.”

Hermione smiled in satisfaction, and the group made their way down to the Great Hall for breakfast. After quietly spreading the word to everyone that the Defense meetings were going to begin as planned, Harry set the first meeting for eight o’clock that evening.

The six friends arrived early in the seventh-floor corridor near the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy so they could create the room they would need for the Defense club.

Harry turned to Anna expectantly. “How do we make the room appear?”

“Think very carefully and precisely about the kind of space we need. You need to concentrate clearly as you walk up and down the corridor three times,” Anna explained.

“I take it you’ve used this room before,” Hermione observed.

Anna nodded. “Our house-elf, Litty, told me about it a while ago. She knew I needed a private place sometimes here at Hogwarts.”

Neville put an arm around her and smiled down at his cousin. “Litty is always full of surprises,” he murmured.

Harry began carefully pacing along the empty stretch of wall. A door handle appeared suddenly, with the remainder of the door rapidly materializing. He pulled it open slowly to reveal a spacious room with bookcases along one wall and dozens of thick cushions on the floor.

“These cushions will come in handy when we practice Stunning,” Ron enthused.

“Look at all the books!” Hermione exclaimed as she walked along the bookcase and began quietly reading the titles.

“This place is perfect, Harry,” Ginny said with a grin.

A quiet knock was heard at the door, and students slowly made their way into the secret room, murmuring with delight.

“It’s bizarre,” Fred muttered to George. “Do you remember that time we hid in here to get away from Filch?”

George nodded as he looked about. “Yeah, but then it was just a broom cupboard.”

Once all the students had arrived, Harry locked the door, and everyone fell silent. Hermione led the group through the formality of naming Harry as their leader and suggested that the group come up with a discreet name so that members could refer to it safely.

“We could call it the Defense Association,” suggested Cho. “It can be the D.A. for short.”

“The D.A. sounds good, but let’s make it stand for Dumbledore’s Army,” Ginny said. “Isn’t that the Ministry’s worst fear?”

Nods and chuckles were heard throughout the room.

“That’s perfect, Ginny!” Harry exclaimed.

Hermione wrote Dumbledore’s Army across the top of the parchment with all their names and posted it to the wall. Over the next few weeks, Harry led the group as they practiced the Disarming Charm, the Impediment Jinx, and the Reductor Curse. He was a patient teacher, always offering encouragement and slight redirection where needed. The D.A. meetings were going well, with the only difficulty being trying to remain discreet as they passed the day and time of each meeting through the three Houses.

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

One Sunday afternoon as they were finishing their Arithmancy homework, Hermione wondered aloud to Anna how difficult it might be to create something for each D.A. member to carry with them that would display the day and time of meetings. The pair spent a few hours in the library and came back to the common room with very satisfied expressions on their faces.

“What have you two been up to?” Ginny inquired.

Anna peered at Hermione expectantly. She grinned and nodded. The three girls rushed up to the dormitory so Hermione could explain the new D.A. Galleons to Ginny.

“So, Harry can set the meetings on his Galleon, and it will warm up and alert everyone at once when the next meeting will be?” Ginny confirmed.

Hermione nodded. “I think it should be a great help since D.A. meetings are held on different days and times each week to avoid Quidditch practice.”

“You were quite correct, Ginny,” Anna smirked. “Hermione’s brilliant!”

xxxxxxxxxxxx

Sirius stepped just out to the landing of the front door of Grimmauld Place. The sky had darkened considerably that afternoon as clouds gathered overhead. A brisk wind sent the rapidly falling sleet into his face as he Apparated to the side gate of Longbottom Manor. Remus saw him immediately and quickly tapped the gate with his wand to open it, beckoning his friend into the grounds, before resealing the gate.

“Glad you could make it,” he said, clapping him on the shoulder. The men began walking rapidly, shivering slightly as they hurried along the path towards the house. The sleet turned to snow when they were halfway to the house and was quickly accumulating on the frozen ground.

“It’s good to be out of the house, even in this weather,” Sirius commented. “Is Tonks here yet?”

Remus shook his head. “She should be arriving soon via the Floo from the Ministry. You were right on time for once,” he smirked as he opened the back door of the Manor. The warmth of the house welcomed them as they shrugged off their cloaks and hung them up before making their way to the garden room.

Augusta turned in her seat as the men entered. A blazing fire roared in the hearth behind her casting a gentle glow to the cream-colored walls. “Oh, good. Remus, Sirius come join us. Tonks, please pour two more glasses of Firewhisky. This weather makes it practically medicinal.”

“Beautiful women and Firewhisky,” Sirius sighed happily as he sat on the sofa. “Augusta, you truly know the way to a man’s heart.”

Tonks chuckled as she handed over the Firewhisky. “So, what’s the news from Minerva?”

“Well, as far as I know, the professors are still unaware of the kids’ secret Defense Against the Dark Arts group,” Sirius replied. “Also, Minerva confirmed that Harry’s owl, Hedwig, suffered a minor injury, so we can assume that at least some mail is being tampered with going in and out of Hogwarts.”

“You were lucky not to get caught by that Umbridge woman during your Floo call to Harry,” Remus commented.

“I know,” Sirius muttered as he took a swig of his drink. “I won’t be trying that again anytime soon.”

The Floo flared suddenly, and Arthur’s head appeared in the flames. “Hello, Augusta, Remus,” he called out, looking around the room.

“Arthur,” Remus answered quickly bending over the flames. “We’re here. Is everything alright?”

“Certainly, certainly,” Arthur replied. “Just wondered if it was a good time for me to pop over for a quick visit?”

“Yes, of course, Arthur,” Augusta said as she came over. “You’re always welcome.”

Tonks looked at Sirius with a raised eyebrow. He shrugged in silent agreement that something was going on, just as Arthur stepped through.

Glancing around, he greeted everyone and accepted the glass of Firewhisky Remus handed him before sitting down.

“What is it, Arthur?” Augusta asked quietly.

“Minerva just Floo called to inform me that Fred, George, and Harry have been given a lifelong Quidditch ban due to an altercation that occurred just after today’s match against Slytherin,” he said.

“What?” Sirius roared as he leapt from his seat and began pacing.

Arthur nodded grimly. “Minerva was being very careful about what she said, almost as though she was certain the Floo call was being monitored,” he took a sip of his drink. “It was clear to me that the ban was ordered by Dolores Umbridge and will not be rescinded anytime soon.”

“I’ve never even heard of anyone receiving a lifelong ban from Quidditch at Hogwarts,” Sirius grumbled. “What kind of altercation was it?”

“Apparently, Harry and George attacked the Slytherin Seeker, who happens to be Lucius Malfoy’s son, Draco, while they were still on the pitch,” Arthur explained. He rubbed his forehead. “Fred wasn’t actually involved since the Chasers were holding him back, but he was banned as well.”

Remus sighed. “Well, clearly two against one wasn’t particularly well done of them, but having spent time with Draco Malfoy, I have no doubt he must have said something truly despicable to provoke them,” he paused and emptied his glass. “How did Molly take the news?”

“She wasn’t home to hear it,” Arthur admitted. “Molly’s visiting her Aunt Muriel. She should be home…” he glanced at the old grandfather clock against the wall. “…in about an hour.”

“Well, we were about to have dinner,” Augusta announced. “Arthur, you must join us. Some good food will no doubt fortify you for the difficult conversation ahead.” She turned to Remus. “Will you please let Bitty know we have an extra guest?”

Remus nodded with a smile and opened the door to find Bitty and Litty in the hallway just a few feet away. They had no doubt heard Sirius’s outraged shout and come to investigate. He smirked as they both blushed slightly and hurried away to finish the dinner preparations.

Turning back into the garden room, he grinned as Augusta firmly told Arthur that he was perfectly well attired for a simple family dinner, and requested that he escort her into the dining room.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Anna smiled as she listened to Harry recount their meeting with Hagrid the previous night. He, Ron, and Hermione had snuck out of the castle to visit Hagrid in his house by the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Clearly, having their Care of Magical Creatures teacher back had lifted Harry’s spirits considerably.

“I wonder what he’s planning for lessons this week,” Ginny said softly as she gazed out the window at the heavily falling snow.

Hermione sighed loudly. “I tried to ask him, but he wouldn’t tell me. If that Umbridge woman makes trouble for Hagrid…”

“He’ll be fine,” Ron cut in. “We’ll just do our best to make him look good if Umbridge is there during our lessons. With luck, she’ll observe him talking about unicorns or something.”

“When are we ever that lucky?” Hermione muttered under her breath.

That Tuesday as they followed Hagrid into the Forbidden Forest, Anna had an uneasy feeling that the lesson would not be about unicorns.

“The creatures I’ll be showin’ you today prefer the dark and are pretty rare,” Hagrid explained as he led the class into the forest. He was carrying what appeared to be the back end of a cow and walking briskly among the dense trees.

“I reckon they’re the only trained ones in Britain,” he announced with obvious pride as he stopped abruptly and dropped the large bovine carcass on the frozen ground of the forest.

“Now, the smell o’ the meat will attract ‘em, but I’ll call as well,” Hagrid continued. He made an odd, shrieking cry that caused Anna to flinch. Looking around the class, she saw that everyone seemed to be on edge. Neville’s hand suddenly clasping hers was very welcome indeed.

Glancing at his face briefly, she followed Neville’s line of sight to the large winged horses that were slowly emerging from the darkness of the forest. They were the same skeletal beasts that pulled the carriages from the Hogsmeade Station to Hogwarts each year. Anna remembered being rather startled by the sight of them her first year, but, clearly, they were gentle animals. She watched one bend down and tear a chunk of meat from the carcass, raising her eyebrows in surprise that the horses ate meat instead of grass.

“Now, who can see ‘em?” Hagrid asked. “Put yer hands up if ya see ‘em.”

Anna raised her hand feeling confused. Why was Hagrid asking who could see them? They were very large animals. How could anyone miss seeing them? She glanced at Neville who was also raising his hand with a rather closed expression on his face. Looking around quickly, Anna realized that only one other student, a Slytherin, was raising his hand. Near him, Draco Malfoy had opened his mouth to speak, but suddenly closed it and stared at her. She felt her cheeks growing warm and let her arm fall to her side.

“What’s eating the cow?” Parvati suddenly demanded with a frightened expression on her face.

“Thestrals,” Hagrid announced, earning a soft “oh, of course!” from Hermione. “We have a whole herd of ‘em here at Hogwarts. Now, who knows why some o’ you can see them an’ others can’t?”

Hagrid called on Hermione, who was raising her hand enthusiastically. “Thestrals can only be seen by people who have seen death,” she explained.

Anna felt hollow, detached from her surroundings, as she gazed at the leathery black-winged creatures. They looked so innocent, so harmless, even though their skeletal appearance was somewhat disconcerting. Vaguely, she was aware of voices around her - the slow, deep voice of Hagrid and the higher, quicker ones of others - but her mind refused to focus on anything.

A sudden, firm squeeze of her hand, combined with a “hem, hem” brought her attention back to her present surroundings.

“I’m sorry, Professor,” she murmured. Her voice sounded oddly remote even to her own ears.

“It’s quite all right, dear,” said Professor Umbridge, patting her upper arm in what was surely supposed to be a comforting gesture. It left Anna feeling strangely unsettled. “I merely asked whom you saw die that allows you to see the Thestrals.”

“My grandmother,” she answered softly, blinking rapidly as she forced herself to focus, to regain control.

“And, you Mr. Longbottom?” the professor continued.

“It was my grandfather,” Neville said firmly.

“I see,” Professor Umbridge nodded. “And, what do you think of these animals?” She gestured vaguely towards the place where the Thestrals continued to eat.

“Well,” Neville swallowed loudly. “They’re very interesting animals.”

“Hmmm,” the professor said as she made a brief note on her clipboard.

Anna’s spine stiffened. “They’re more than interesting,” she commented clearly. “They are proof that even that which seems dark can be pure and beautiful. The way they move is mesmerizing and really rather graceful.”

Professor Umbridge pursed her lips and raised an eyebrow at them before turning to Hagrid and informing him that his inspection report would be ready in ten days.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Ginny had very mixed feelings about being named Seeker of the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Part of her was thrilled of course to have made the team, to finally be able to show her Quidditch skills. Objectively, she knew she was not even close to Harry in Seeking ability. She definitely had far more confidence as a Chaser, but the Seeker position was available, and she had been selected. Hopefully, she could prove her ability well enough this year to get a Chaser position next year, when positions would be open due to Angelina and Alicia finishing their seventh year.

Arriving early for the last D.A. meeting before the Christmas holidays, Ginny took a deep breath and approached Harry. “Hi, Harry,” she said, smiling awkwardly. “I wanted to let you know that Angelina held try-outs and…well, I…um…I was selected to be Seeker,” she ended in a rush.

Harry blinked and stared at her for a moment. She was about to turn away when he reached for her hand and clasped it securely. “Congratulations, Ginny,” he murmured. “I’m really happy for you.”

“Thanks, Harry,” she whispered. “I’m not even close to as good as you, but…”

“I’m sure you’ll do brilliantly,” he said. “Just don’t let Malfoy beat you to the Snitch!”

She laughed softly. “I’ll catch every Snitch, or die trying.”

His eyebrows raised in sudden alarm. “Don’t…”

“I’m joking, Harry,” Ginny assured him. “Fred said Oliver told you that before a game once, and…” her voice trailed off.

Harry nodded and chuckled. She suspected he was remembering the time Oliver Wood had used those words, and Harry had almost died in his determination to catch the Snitch.

The door opened and the rest of the D.A. came in for their last lesson before the Christmas holidays. They practiced all the spells they had been working on for the last several weeks, and Harry promised some new spells in the coming year, including the Patronus Charm. Ginny was determined to learn this spell, determined to learn how to defend herself from the Dementors. As the meeting ended, she was very pleased to note that Harry chose to walk beside her all the way back to Gryffindor tower.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Neville woke with a start. Rising quickly from his bed, he started walking blindly only to hit the wall. “Bugger!” he exclaimed grabbing the foot that had collided painfully with the wall as he realized he was not at home at Longbottom Manor, but at Hogwarts.

Looking around rapidly, he identified what, or rather who had caused him to wake. Harry was writhing and moaning in his sleep.

“Harry!” he exclaimed, rushing over to him, just as Ron jumped up and hurried to lean over Harry’s bed.

“Harry!” Ron shouted, trying to grab his flailing arms. “Harry, wake up!”

Seamus and Dean came over just as Harry leaned over the side of his bed and vomited on the floor.

“Your dad,” Harry gasped, reaching for Ron. “He’s been attacked…. Bitten!”

Neville grabbed Ron’s shoulder. “I’m going to get Professor McGonagall,” he said rapidly before running out the door. His mind raced as he moved quickly down the corridor to the quarters of the Head of Gryffindor House. Pounding on the door, he shouted. “Professor, we need help! Please, something’s wrong with Harry!”

The door opened suddenly, and Professor McGonagall hurried out securing her dressing gown as she rushed towards the painting of the Fat Lady. “What’s happened, Mr. Longbottom?” she demanded.

Neville shook his head as he kept pace with his Head of House. “I don’t know for sure,” he exclaimed. “It seemed like maybe Harry was just having a bad dream or was sick, but then he said Ron’s dad had been bitten…or something.”

They soon arrived at the dormitory of the fifth-year boys, and the professor leaned over Harry. “What is it, Potter? What’s happened?”

“Ron’s dad has been attacked by a snake,” Harry explained. “I was dreaming, but then it changed.” He looked around frantically at everyone in the room before focusing again on their Head of House. “It really happened, Professor! A huge snake attacked Mr. Weasley and there was blood everywhere!”

Neville looked from Harry’s earnest face to the professor’s horrified one before finally resting on the pure anguish of Ron.

He heard an angry inhalation from Harry just as Professor McGonagall spoke. “Potter, Weasley, put on dressing gowns. We’ve got to go see the Headmaster.”


Author’s Notes: Disclaimer — Part of this chapter comes from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

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Chapter 4: Chapter 4 Fears of Possession

Author's Notes: Thanks to the wonderful Arnel for her beta work on this chapter!


Chapter 4

Fears of Possession

Sitting up with a gasp, Ginny pulled her wand from beneath her pillow and pointed it at whoever had just touched her.

“Miss Weasley!” The voice was sharp and familiar.

She blinked a few times before lowering her wand. “Professor McGonagall…I…uh…”

“Never mind,” her Head of House said briskly. “Put on your dressing gown and follow me.”

Ginny scrambled out of her bed in Gryffindor Tower. Stepping into her slippers and yanking on her dressing gown, she hurried to keep up with the professor. In the common room, she saw Fred and George waiting impatiently, but had no opportunity to ask any questions. Their Head of House continued out of the portrait hole and moved swiftly along the dark, empty corridors.

“Professor, please,” George began. “What’s happened?”

The professor sighed without slowing her steps. “There isn’t much I can tell you, Mr. Weasley. Your father has apparently been injured,” she paused before the stone gargoyle that guarded the entrance to the Headmaster’s office and gave the password. “Mr. Potter somehow witnessed the event, and help has been summoned.”

Ginny whimpered as she imagined what kind of injury would be cause to rouse them out of their beds in the middle of the night. She felt Fred grab her arm, pulling her along up the spiral staircase. Stumbling into the Headmaster’s office, she caught sight of her brother, Ron, and Harry.

“What’s going on?” she asked, her eyes searching for an answer from Harry, who had apparently somehow witnessed what happened to her dad.

“I am sorry to have to tell you that your father has been injured,” the Headmaster explained calmly. “He is currently at St. Mungo’s Hospital. I am sending you all to Grimmauld Place by Portkey. Your mother will meet you there soon.”

Ginny felt oddly disconnected as she heard the professors talking. Fred grabbed her hand and put it on the blackened old teakettle that was their Portkey just as it began to glow. Her eyes locked briefly with Ron’s as the Portkey activated. She could see the panic in his face as they were yanked through space. The confusing whirl of wind and colored light was fortunately over quickly. She landed roughly on the cold, hard floor of the basement kitchen of Grimmauld Place.

Sirius gently lifted her up off the floor as he looked inquiringly at her brothers. “I was told Arthur has been injured,” he said.

George nodded. “We don’t really know any details,” he said, looking from Ron to Harry.

Fred cleared his throat. “Harry, the professor said you’d…well, sort of…witnessed it, or something?”

Ginny could see the fear in Harry’s eyes as he nodded quietly and seemed to be trying to gather his thoughts.

“I had this, well, I guess it was sort of a dream, but not really,” he tried to explain. Harry closed his eyes for a moment and rubbed his forehead. Slowly, painfully, he recounted seeing Dad attacked by a huge snake in the Ministry.

It was obvious to Ginny that he was leaving something out, or perhaps altering the retelling in some way. She struggled to breath normally, wondering if her father had bled to death, and Harry was too afraid to tell them. Her brothers seemed to be arguing with Sirius and she understood without hearing their words that they wanted to go directly to St. Mungo’s. Waiting for news to come about their father was physically painful. They all ended up sitting silently around the kitchen table drinking butterbeer and staring at one another. Ginny tried to catch Harry’s eyes, but he was focused morosely on his bottle of butterbeer. A brief note had come from Mum saying only that Dad was alive and she was going to the hospital. Ginny lost all track of time as the minutes and hours passed. She couldn’t think, wouldn’t think, about anything.

When the kitchen door finally swung open and Mum walked in, Ginny needed only a brief glimpse of her face to know that her father was okay. She barely heard the words coming out of her mother’s mouth that confirmed what she knew from one look at Mum’s tired smile. Rising swiftly from her chair, she caught her mother in a hug just as George wrapped his long arms around both of them.

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Ginny woke from a restless sleep with a feeling of relief that she would soon be able to see her father in the hospital. She had to constantly remind herself that he was okay, that he was still alive after the vicious snake attack. The Weasley siblings and Harry ate breakfast rather quickly in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place and prepared for the journey to the hospital. They would be accompanied to St. Mungo’s not only by their mother, but also by Tonks and Mad-Eye Moody.

By the time, they arrived at the hospital, Ginny was fidgeting continually as she attempted to reign in her emotions. Her patience was not in good supply as she waited to see her father after his near-death experience. Entering the ward, she saw that her dad was one of only three patients in the “Creature-Induced Injuries” room. Seeing him propped up by several pillows and currently reading the Daily Prophet relieved her fears immensely.

“Hi, Dad,” she murmured just as her father was telling her mum that Bill had only recently left to go to work. Ginny leaned in carefully to give her father a gentle hug.

“I’m perfectly fine,” he said as he patted her back. “Once they can get these bandages off me, I’ll be able to come home.”

She leaned back and smiled, forcing away the tears that were threatening to gather in her eyes.

“Why can’t they get the bandages off now?” Fred asked.

Dad sighed. “I start bleeding rather badly every time they try to remove them,” he admitted. “But, don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll figure out a solution to the problem quite soon. In the meantime, I just have to drink a large amount of Blood-Replenishing Potion. Nasty stuff,” he added quietly with a slight shudder.

Ginny stared at her father forcing a confident smile as Mum continued the conversation. She wasn’t listening so she was unaware of what the twins had said to cause them all to be cast out into the hallway, but when George offered her an Extendable Ear, she accepted it.

The conversation between her parents, Tonks, and Moody was somewhat confusing until Mad-Eye suggested that Harry may have been possessed by Voldemort at the time of her father’s attack. She watched Harry yank out his Extendable Ear, his eyes widening with fear.

They left the hospital soon thereafter and spent a quiet day at home. Harry completely ignored any efforts she or Ron made towards talking about the situation. He seemed to be hiding in various rooms throughout the large house, moving at regular intervals and not even bothering to appear for meals. Ginny had tried to approach him several times, but he always managed to slip away. By the time Hermione arrived in the late afternoon of Christmas Eve, Ginny was determined to make him listen to reason or hex him if need be.

Fortunately, Hermione was equally prepared to do whatever it took to reach Harry, and they ended up having a confrontation in Ron’s room.

“Harry, we need to talk about what happened!” Hermione insisted.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he snapped, leaping off the bed and pacing the room. “I don’t want to even think about it!”

“Why not?” Ginny demanded.

“Because I think Moody was right, and I may have been possessed by Voldemort!” Harry yelled, gripping his hair in both hands as he paused to glare at her.

“And, worrying about that, it didn’t dawn on you to talk to the one person in this house who’s actually been possessed by Voldemort,” Ginny said angrily.

Harry stared at her quietly for a moment before responding. “I should have asked you about it,” he murmured, rubbing his face tiredly. “I’m sorry. You’re right. That was stupid of me. It’s just…” He sighed. “You’re not that Ginny.”

She opened her mouth in shock before taking a deep breath and trying to respond calmly. “What do you mean, I’m not that Ginny?”

Harry shrugged in obvious bewilderment. “You’re not the same Ginny who was in the Chamber of Secrets. That was Ron’s little sister. I don’t think of you that way…” his voice trailed off.

Ginny’s hand pressed hard against her chest as she gazed at him, not sure how to respond or what to say. Trying to focus on the matter at hand, she formed a question. “Harry, do you think Voldemort was possessing you?”

“Yes…no…I don’t know,” Harry gasped. “It felt like I was the snake. It felt like I was attacking your father!” His body shook slightly at the admission, his hands fisting by his sides.

Ginny closed her eyes for a moment as she took a slow breath. Opening them, she looked directly at Harry. “Do you remember everything that has happened over the past few days?”

He nodded cautiously.

“Are there any big blank spots? Times when you don’t remember where you were, or what you were doing?” she asked.

Harry shook his head slowly.

“Tom hasn’t been possessing you,” Ginny said softly. “If he had, you would have big empty places in your memory. You would know that you were missing time, that something was wrong.”

“You’re sure?” he pleaded, taking a step towards her.

“I’m very sure, Harry,” she stated. “I hope the next time you have doubts about Voldemort, you’ll come to me.”

He nodded grimly, his clenched fists relaxing before reaching out to her and pulling her into a tight hug. Ginny was surprised, but held him securely, enjoying the feeling of being in his arms, of offering him comfort.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Anna sat still in the small chair before the vanity while Litty slid a few more pins into her hair. The house-elf had managed an elegant twisted chignon low on the back of her head. She was now carefully putting on the vintage screw back earrings that had belonged to her grandmother, Katherine. The emeralds sparkled in the light as Anna turned her head to check her appearance.

“Now for the pendant, Miss Anna,” Litty said, slowly putting the heavy chain around her neck and securing the clasp. The emerald and white gold pendant rested on her chest just above the sweetheart neckline of her gown. The pieces of jewelry were not Anna’s favorite, but they complemented the dark green gown she wore quite nicely.

Standing up, she moved in front of the full-length mirror in her bedroom, looking at herself critically. “Well, Litty, what do you think?” Anna asked, as she turned on her heels in a quick circle, causing the full skirt of the dress to flare out and swirl around her.

“You look lovely, Miss Anna,” the little house-elf replied, a proud smile on her lips.

“Thank you for your help, Litty,” she said fondly as she applied a thin layer of gloss to her lips. Aunt Augusta had informed them the day they arrived home for the Christmas holidays that they would be attending the Christmas Eve ball at the Macmillan residence. Neither she nor her cousin, Neville, were looking forward to the formal event. Augusta had spent the past few days offering gentle reminders of the proper rules of etiquette.

A perfunctory knock heralded the arrival of her cousin into the room. “Are you ready, Anna?” Neville asked, quickly glancing at her before offering his arm. “You know how Gran gets when we’re not on time for things.”

She nodded, taking his arm, as they left the room and descended the stairs.

“You look beautiful, by the way,” he complimented.

“Thank you, Neville. You look quite dashing yourself,” Anna responded lightly. “How long do you think we will stay at the party?”

“A couple of hours, I imagine,” he replied with a sigh. “At least Ernie will be there. We can spend some of the evening talking with him.”

She nodded. Ernie was in Hufflepuff House at Hogwarts and the grandson of their hosts for the evening, John and Emily Macmillan.

“Oh, good. You’re right on time,” Augusta said as she surveyed her grandson and great niece. “You both look very well indeed. I knew that color green would look lovely on you, Anna.” Augusta herself was wearing a long flowing gown of deep red with a pearl choker. Neville was in pure black dress robes for the occasion. “Now remember what I said about staying together.”

Both teens nodded agreeably, and soon they were off.

The Macmillan residence was a stately manor with a grand entrance hall and an extraordinary ballroom. Anna’s grip on Neville’s arm tightened slightly as she took a calming breath and smiled politely. They followed Aunt Augusta towards their hosts, John and Emily. The adults greeted each other warmly with hugs and kisses on cheeks. John pointed out to his wife how much Neville had grown since they last saw him at a summer party a few years prior. Anna was introduced and welcomed formally to their home. She began to relax once the ladies had completed the obligatory admiration of each other’s gowns and jewelry, as well as commenting on the splendor of the house and the holiday decorations. The teens were able to slip away to the ballroom fairly quickly.

“Well, we survived the receiving line,” Neville murmured as he took two glasses of white wine from a passing tray and handed one to Anna.

“Most people enjoy fancy holiday parties like this,” Anna observed softly, taking a sip of her wine. Several small tables were arranged along the walls of the huge room for those who wanted to sit and talk. Waiters moved smoothly throughout the space with trays of hors d’oeuvres and drinks. Several couples were dancing in the middle of the room. There was soft laughter and the moderate hum of multiple conversations coming from every direction. “Everyone seems to be having a rather nice time.”

“Most adults enjoy formal parties,” he agreed glancing around. “Personally, I’d rather be at home. Do you see Ernie or anyone else our age here?”

Anna scanned the ballroom. “No. Do you want to go claim a table?”

Neville shook his head and smiled down at her. “Let’s dance for a while.” He swallowed the last of his wine and waited while she quickly finished hers. Depositing the empty glasses on a tray, he led her out to the dance floor.

Dancing with Neville was fun and relaxing. Since they had taken dancing lessons together for the past two summers with Madam Jones, they knew the steps and could maintain a conversation as they moved to the music. Neville murmured the names of those witches and wizards he recognized and what he knew of their families and occupations. Anna laughed as she listened to his commentary and occasionally asked a question or made an observation.

They were sitting at a table drinking wine and enjoying a few canapes when Ernie joined them. They soon entered a spirited, though softly spoken discussion about the many faults of Dolores Umbridge, the chances of each of the four teams winning the Inter-House Quidditch Cup, and the O.W.L. examinations they would be taking at the end of the school year.

As a waiter stopped at their table to clear away the empty glasses and plates, Ernie asked Anna to dance. Smiling, she agreed, and they were soon twirling about the ballroom. “So, what do you think of the old place?” he inquired.

“I think the ‘old place’ is perfectly lovely,” she replied with a giggle. “Did you grow up here?”

“No,” Ernie shook his head chuckling. “My mum and grandmother get along well enough, but they both need to be the mistress of their own homes. Mum and Dad live in a cottage here on the property. It’s a nice, rather large, place, and Mum never had to worry much about me making a mess as a kid or accidentally breaking some precious heirloom.”

Anna nodded in understanding. “The house I grew up in was smaller and less formal than this place, a bit smaller than Longbottom Manor as well.”

“Do you miss it?” he asked quietly. “It was in Virginia, right?”

She smiled slightly. “Yes, I miss it. Not so much the house exactly, although it was a lovely, sprawling place. I miss my grandmother,” she swallowed and took a shallow breath. “I miss the ocean, the smell of the salt air and the sound of the pounding waves. We used to walk along the beach collecting shells and sharks’ teeth and watch the dolphins leap in the air. My grandmother didn’t like to swim, but I would swim and float for hours,” Anna sighed as her voice trailed off. “I even miss the sweltering heat of an August afternoon and the sudden thunderstorms rolling in.”

Ernie smiled. “It sounds like you have a lot of great memories.”

The song ended. He was about to ask her if she wanted to continue dancing or get another glass of wine when someone tapped his shoulder.

“May I have the next dance with Miss Henry?” Draco Malfoy asked politely.

Ernie glanced at Anna as he slowly forced a smile. “Of course,” he agreed. “Neville Longbottom is her escort for the evening,” he informed him.

“Then I shall return Miss Henry to Mr. Longbottom when the dance is over,” Draco replied smoothly.

Ernie nodded curtly as he handed Anna over to Draco, turned, and walked away.

Draco took Anna firmly into his arms and began the dance. “Are you enjoying the party?”

“Yes,” she said with a slight nod. “It’s lovely. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves.”

He spun her and pulled her back tightly against him. “Your gown is quite becoming,” he complimented looking down at her. “Your dressmaker should be commended on a job well done.”

“Thank you, Mr. Malfoy,” Anna murmured, suddenly feeling a bit too warm, as she resisted the urge to back away.

“Really, Anna,” he drawled. “You must call me Draco. We are well enough acquainted after all, though I would like to get to know you even better.”

She blinked and wondered if perhaps she had consumed a bit too much wine. Her mind raced to come up with an appropriate topic of conversation. “So…um, Draco,” she murmured. “Are you having a pleasant holiday at home?”

“I’m having an excellent holiday,” Draco admitted, pulling her even closer against him. “My mother feels the need to rather spoil me when I’m home,” he whispered against her ear. “Malfoy Manor is quite the most beautiful property in all of England. I would enjoy showing you around the grounds sometime.”

“Aunt Augusta doesn’t allow me to leave Longbottom Manor very often,” Anna replied.

“Quite understandable, of course,” Draco said, pleasantly. “As your guardian, it is her responsibility to safeguard your reputation and make decisions for you.”

Anna nodded uncertainly. She wished the dance would end. Dancing with Ernie had felt comfortable. The way Draco was looking at her and talking was quite different, and he was holding her too firmly.

“Your emerald pendant is quite exquisite,” he murmured. “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anything so lovely against such beautifully white skin.”

The dance finally came to an end, and Anna tried to back away slightly. Draco’s grip did not relax, however. He held her tightly with his left arm. The forefinger of his right hand traced her skin around the pendant he had been admiring. A strange burning sensation followed the progress of his finger as he touched the skin of her chest. She gasped, and he released her suddenly.

“It really is a perfect emerald,” he commented. “May I escort you back to your cousin?” he inquired politely, offering his arm.

Anna squeezed her eyes shut for a second. “Yes, thank you,” she managed as she took his arm. She felt oddly unsteady walking back towards Neville.

“Mr. Longbottom,” Draco spoke formally as they approached. “I hope you are enjoying your evening. Anna,” he murmured, kissing her hand and bowing slightly. “Thank you for the dance.”

As he turned and walked away, Anna gripped Neville’s arm. “Do you think we can go home now?” she asked.

“Yes, we’ve been here almost three hours,” Neville replied. “Are you okay? I lost sight of you for a moment. Did Malfoy do something?”

“No, not really,” Anna said uncertainly. “I think I’m just tired.”

He nodded and led her to Aunt Augusta, who was talking to Emily Macmillan and another witch he did not recognize. After a quiet discussion, they thanked their hosts and left the party.


Author’s Notes: Disclaimer — Part of this chapter comes from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

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Chapter 5: Chapter 5 Firewhisky

Author's Notes: Huge thanks to Arnel who, among other things, taught me the correct spelling of Firewhisky!!!


Chapter 5

Firewhisky

Remus chuckled as he took another sip of his Firewhisky. He was glad Sirius had decided to drop by for a brief visit while Augusta and the children were at the Macmillan’s Christmas Eve party. These recent opportunities to reminisce with Sirius about the Marauder days were wonderful. They focused on tales that included James, and sometimes Lily, while purposely avoiding any mention of Peter. His old friend was an amusing storyteller and recounted some of their bawdier exploits with true relish. The fact that some of the stories were rather exaggerated did not lessen them in any way. Remus greatly appreciated that Sirius had become such a frequent visitor to Longbottom Manor. He knew that Augusta sincerely enjoyed his visits as well.

The Floo activated, and Anna stepped quickly from the fireplace, her hand covering the necklace at her throat.

“Hello, Remus. Sirius,” she murmured with a nod, walking purposefully across the room towards the door, apparently intending to leave the room. “Good night.”

“Wait a moment, Anna. You haven’t told us anything about the party,” Remus asserted as he set his glass on a nearby table.

She paused and seemed to take a deep breath before turning back to look at him. Her gaze was too carefully blank, setting his nerves on edge.

“How was it?” he inquired, with a slight frown.

“The party was lovely,” she replied, her smile too frozen to be completely genuine. “The Macmillan home is simply exquisite! The ballroom is huge and elegant, just as Aunt Augusta described. It was wonderful dancing with Neville and Ernie…” her voice trailed off as she bit her lip. One trembling hand still hovered over her chest in a strangely protective manner as she spoke. “I’m rather tired. I think I’ll go on up to bed.”

Remus exchanged a glance with Sirius, whose eyebrow was raised. Remus had, unfortunately, become accustomed enough with Anna’s attempts at faking a calm demeanor to recognize it easily, and truly she wasn’t even trying very hard now. Perhaps she was in fact too tired to maintain a fašade.

Standing up, he slowly approached her. “What happened, Anna?” he asked softly.

She closed her eyes and shook her head briefly. “Nothing really. I overreacted.”

Neville stepped out of the Floo and went directly to Anna, grabbing both her arms and turning her to face him. “Did Malfoy do something?” he demanded. “Ernie was just telling me he thought he saw Malfoy touching your neck.”

She nodded slightly. “My skin is still burning,” Anna whispered. Her eyes betrayed her confusion.

Augusta exited the Floo expertly and settled herself comfortably in a high back chair near the fire, accepting the glass of Firewhisky passed to her with a grateful nod.

“Neville, Anna,” she began.

The teens turned to her respectfully.

“You both handled yourselves perfectly well at the party. I’m quite proud of you,” Augusta continued. She focused her gaze intently on Anna. “Now, please sit down and explain to me exactly what occurred between you and the Malfoy boy.”

Anna pressed her lips together hard, standing rigidly for a moment, before sighing softly and sitting on the sofa with Neville. Remus pretended not to notice the glass of Firewhisky Sirius handed her. She took a slow sip of the amber liquid.

“Draco asked Ernie for permission to dance with me,” she explained. “Ernie agreed of course. I mean, Draco was being perfectly polite and correct, so Ernie had to agree. He couldn’t really have refused.” She absently took another sip of her drink. “Draco was holding me…a bit too tightly. He kept talking about wanting to get to know me better and show me the grounds of Malfoy Manor. It was…uncomfortable. He wasn’t doing anything wrong, but I felt…” she shuddered slightly. “I was relieved when the music stopped, but he didn’t let go of me. He was complimenting my emerald pendant, and…he sort of traced around it with his finger.” She mimicked the motion with her own finger touching the skin of her upper chest lightly and winced. “His touch was…rough. It almost felt like a carpet burn. I think I…gasped, perhaps, and he backed away. Then, he offered his arm like a perfect gentleman, and escorted me back to Neville.” Anna shook her head slightly, looking lost in thought as she drained the remainder of the Firewhisky from her glass. “I overreacted,” she murmured, setting the glass down as she stood and walked over to her aunt. “He was…um…forward, but he didn’t actually do anything terrible. I’m sorry. We shouldn’t have left the party so early.”

Augusta took her hand gently. “You don’t need to apologize. You did nothing wrong, and it was a reasonable time for us to leave anyway,” she said reassuringly. “We were at the party for three hours! A perfectly adequate amount of time for you young people to be out for your first formal holiday party. And, it does sound as though the Malfoy boy was not behaving completely correctly,” her lips pursed in disapproval. “Though apparently, there’s no harm done. Now off to bed with you both. Christmas morning always comes early.”

With murmured ‘good nights,’ the teens went off to bed, leaving the adults with their Firewhisky.

Remus sipped his drink and gazed into the burning embers of the fire. “Why did Anna say that her skin was still burning?” he suddenly asked, glancing from Sirius to Augusta.

“I must have missed that part,” Augusta replied slowly. “Though I did notice her wince when she was demonstrating Draco’s admiration of her necklace.”

“Well, I can’t imagine her chest was burning because she was enjoying his attentions,” Sirius drawled before taking a long swallow from his glass.

Remus narrowed his eyes at his old friend and was about to make a heated reply when Sirius set down his drink decisively.

“Is Anna a pure-blood?” he inquired, focusing on Augusta. “An heiress?”

“Yes,” she replied slowly. “I mean Anna is certainly a pure-blood, though her father was a Squib. All her grandparents were definitely magical. Katherine attended Hogwarts, of course, and the other three were all Healers. Her Gringotts account is not huge, but she has a respectable inheritance which she will have complete control over when she comes of age in the coming year.” She paused uncertainly. “What does that have to do with anything? What are you thinking, Sirius?”

He rubbed his chin quietly for a moment lost in thought. “I’m wondering if young Malfoy took a skin sample. It would explain the burning sensation she described.”

“Why would he want a skin sample?” Remus asked, frustration evident in his tone. “How could he even take a skin sample with his finger?”

“Anna mentioned that his touch was rough,” Sirius reasoned. “Draco could have slipped a thin layer of dragon hide over his finger, like a glove. He pressed just hard enough on her skin to pick up a sample. He probably chose her chest to ensure a clean, uncontaminated skin sample. I doubt anyone else touched her there this evening. Once he had the sample, Draco slipped the dragon hide sheath off and into his pocket.” He picked up his glass and drained the amber liquid. “He could have accomplished it quite subtly, without much danger of Anna noticing.”

Augusta swore softly, earning a quick grin from Sirius, though it faded rapidly.

“Just as hair is most useful for a Polyjuice Potion, skin is most useful for a Paternity Potion,” Sirius continued. “Though the name is a bit of a misnomer. It doesn’t truly show paternity. It works as more of a general indicator of family affiliation. It was once used rather commonly in pure-blood families to prove that an heir really was an heir. Of course, with cousins marrying cousins, and the potion results being rather indistinct, it’s not exactly a valuable indicator most of the time. However, if the Malfoy family is interested in Anna being a potential match for young Draco, I can well imagine Narcissa wanting to verify that she is indeed related to the Longbottom family.”

Augusta rubbed her head tiredly before looking up sharply. “Damn it! They’ll have taken a skin sample from my Frank for comparison.”

Sirius nodded grimly. “I’m sorry, Augusta. That would be the simplest solution and probably very easy for them. The Malfoy family has made several charitable donations to St. Mungo’s in recent years, and Narcissa is a regular visitor. If my suspicions are correct, she has likely already been to the Janus Thickey ward to get a sample from Frank.” He paused thoughtfully. “A simple inquiry with Gringotts will confirm the general health of Anna’s vault. The goblins won’t give specific information, of course, but they have always provided basic information to pure-blood families intent on cementing alliances with betrothal contracts.”

Remus could feel his body tensing, muscles flexing in mute frustration. His nails dug into the arm of his chair as a low growl escaped his lips.

“Easy there, Moony,” Sirius murmured. “Full moon’s not ‘til tomorrow.”

Lupin glared at his friend before turning his attention to the lady of the house. “Please tell me you would not even consider betrothing Anna to the Malfoy heir.”

Augusta huffed indignantly. “You should know me well enough by now to be certain that I would never betroth Anna to anyone against her will!”

Remus pinched the bridge of his nose and exhaled slowly. “I apologize, Augusta,” he said formally. “I know full well you would not do such a thing. I’m not myself tonight.”

“It’s quite alright,” she assured him, reaching over to pat his arm gently. “I’m not opposed to betrothal contracts. I had one, so did Frank and Alice, but I will not enter either of the children into that kind of understanding unless they choose it.”

The werewolf nodded in solemn agreement, rubbing his forehead tiredly. “We may be jumping to conclusions. It’s possible he was just touching her somewhat inappropriately to see what he could get away with. His hands could be rough from all the Quidditch practice at Hogwarts. Anna herself said she overreacted, which is perfectly understandable of course. She’s not used to being handled in such a way, thank Merlin,” he glanced at the others. “We may be imagining more sinister motivations than actually exist.”

“I certainly hope so,” Augusta replied. “In the meantime, let’s be careful what we say to the children. They don’t need to know about our suspicions yet.”

Sirius stood up with the bottle of Firewhisky in hand and carefully refilled their glasses. “Well,” he drawled. “Let’s drink to that, and hope for a complete lack of requests for a betrothal in the coming year.”

xxxxxxxxxx

“Order meeting tonight,” Ginny announced as she walked into the library of Grimmauld Place. “Mum just told me we are going to have an early tea. Then, she wants all of us to stay upstairs during the meeting.” She sank gracefully to the floor beside Ron and Harry, who were engaged in a game of Exploding Snap.

“Well,” Fred smirked from his spot on the sofa. “I’m sure we can find a way to obtain a bit of information.”

“Right you are,” George agreed, pulling out an Extendable Ear from his pocket and flashing a smile.

“She asked me to remind the two of you that she will be putting an Imperturbable Charm on the door during the meeting,” Ginny continued.

Her brothers scowled, while Hermione just sighed as she turned the page of her book.

“Any good news?” Harry asked.

She grinned and nodded. “Charlie’s coming in from Romania for the meeting and will be staying overnight,” she replied. “Mum also said that Professor Lupin and Augusta Longbottom are coming for the meeting, so Neville and Anna will be here this evening. We’re supposed to prepare our bedrooms for them to stay over because the meeting will probably run late.”

“Well, that is good news!” Harry smiled. “Merlin knows we have plenty of room in this old place.”

“We should plan some fun activities since we’re all going to be trapped upstairs all evening while the adults are in a meeting,” Hermione enthused.

Fred glanced at his twin and raised an eyebrow. George nodded and smirked.

“No need to plan a thing, Hermione,” George began.

“We’ve got this completely covered,” Fred agreed.

They leapt up from the sofa and left the room with cackling whispers and a definite spring in their steps.

“Why am I suddenly feeling a bit worried?” Hermione muttered as the door closed behind the twins.

“Because you feel the need to be correct and responsible most of the time,” Ginny quipped.

“Well, I am a prefect,” Hermione exclaimed. “And, so is Ron!”

“Hermione, I think we could all do with a bit of harmless fun,” Harry said. “Besides, you’re not prefects here.”

xxxxxxxxxx

Narcissa gave the potion a final stir and carefully siphoned off the required amount to the center of the parchment. It would take several minutes to set before she could read the results and compare it to the results from the skin sample she had obtained from Frank Longbottom the day before Christmas Eve. The Paternity Potion was not commonly known outside of the Sacred Twenty-Eight, and it was not a perfect test of fatherhood. However, the potion was reliable enough to suit her purposes.

Draco had come home for the Christmas holiday and supplied his mother with two extra names, Astoria Greengrass and Anna Henry. Narcissa knew the Greengrass family well and had been aware of Astoria since birth. Miss Henry was more of a mystery. She wanted to confirm that the girl was indeed related to the Longbottom family before seeking more information about her. Draco had clearly been quite taken with her at the Macmillan party. Narcissa had carefully observed them from a distance and noticed his obvious interest. The young lady appeared to be a calm, polite witch and certainly an accomplished dancer. She was not truly beautiful, but was pleasantly attractive and had the type of figure that would certainly appeal to any wizard.

Glancing over at the parchment, she saw that it was ready and set it on the table next to the one of Frank Longbottom. A slow smile spread across her face as she recognized that they were indeed a match. Miss Henry was definitely a Longbottom relative. She was reaching for the two parchments to add them to her files, when her hand froze.

“Oh, Merlin,” she whispered, glancing around the room fearfully even though she was quite alone.

Moving swiftly to her filed parchments of all the Paternity Potion tests she had ever completed, she thumbed through them until she reached the one labeled D.L. Her hands were shaking as she removed the precious parchment and set it next to Miss Henry’s. Her memory had not failed her, though it had been so long. She recognized the match immediately.

“How is this possible?” she murmured to herself. “Daughter, granddaughter… and does he even know? Does she know?”

Again, she glanced around the empty room fearfully. Her heart pounded painfully in her chest as she considered the possibilities and the opportunity. Her mind raced as she carefully labeled A.H. on the newest parchment and filed all three away. She needed time to think before making any kind of decision.

xxxxxxxxx

“Eww, I can’t believe you had to dance with Draco Malfoy!” Ginny exclaimed. “He’s so vile.”

Anna nodded. “It was definitely an uncomfortable experience, but you know how it is at a polite society event. I couldn’t exactly refuse.”

“Why not?” Ron grimaced.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “As Anna just stated, Ronald, it was a formal occasion, and he requested the favor of a dance in the way a gentleman does. She couldn’t have really said ‘no,’ and neither could Ernie.”

“I think I’d have pleaded a sudden headache or something,” Harry murmured to Ron. Neville nodded in silent agreement.

The twins had been leading the group upstairs towards their bedroom. They stopped and turned dramatically just outside their door.

“My dear witches…” Fred began.

“And, gentle wizards…” George continued.

“We have prepared for you…”

“An evening of pure edification…”

“A true opportunity for you to learn…”

“Each other’s deepest and darkest secrets…”

“With the utilization of strong libation…”

“And, the willingness to participate in an activity of open inquiry…”

“We invite you to enter our humble abode…”

“Lift a glass…”

“And, bare your souls.”

The younger teens entered the room silently to find a wide-open space on the floor with a circle of eight glasses, each filled almost to the brim with an amber liquid. Two small bowls with slips of parchment were in the middle of the circle.

“What are we doing?” Ron asked, his brow wrinkled in confusion.

“It’s a drinking game, Ronald!” Hermione exclaimed.

“Right you are!” Fred praised as he clasped her hand and bowed over it.

“The Never Have I Ever Drinking Game,” George proclaimed.

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Hermione protested.

“Stop thinking so much, Hermione,” Ginny giggled. “It’ll be brilliant!” She sat on the floor before one of the glasses and looked around expectantly.

One by one all the other teens joined her in a circle around the glasses on the floor.

“How do we play the game?” Harry inquired.

George quickly explained the rules to the group and said that he would go first to demonstrate. “We’ll start with this bowl. It has easier questions,” he announced with a smirk. He grabbed a small slip of parchment from the bowl and read.

“Never have I ever ridden a horse.”

“So, if I have ridden a horse, I must take a sip,” Anna confirmed.

“Yes,” Fred nodded. “Have you ridden a horse?”

“Um-hmm,” she nodded as she took a sip.

“I’m guessing you’ve had Firewhisky previously,” George mentioned with a smirk.

“A time or two,” she agreed.

The game continued with each of them in turn pulling a slip of parchment and reading the statement. The questions were all rather innocuous. They learned that Hermione was the only one who had ever eaten snails. Neville and Harry were the only two who had never traveled outside of Britain. Everyone had broken a bone at some point in their lives. Hermione and Harry were the only ones who had never danced in the rain. Anna and Hermione were the only two who had been surfing in the ocean. They had all played Wizards’ Chess. Only the Weasleys had ever milked a cow.

“That was the last question in this bowl,” Harry announced.

“Yes, indeed,” Fred exclaimed, reaching for the other bowl. “Now that we’ve all had a few drinks, we’re ready for the next set of questions. I’ll start!”

xxxxxxxxxx

The Order meeting finally ended. Charlie stood up and stretched. He wasn’t used to sitting that long. Most of the discussions had been about things he wouldn’t be involved in either, so his mind had wandered a bit. Since he lived and worked at the dragon reserve in Romania, his main task for the Order was recruitment and information gathering there. He had requested a transfer to one of the dragon reserves in Britain well over a year ago, and hoped there would be an opening soon. Bill was the only one in the family who knew about his plans to return home and the reason behind his decision, the young witch upstairs. Though now that a war was likely, he had even more motivation to move back to Britain as soon as possible. He had caught a brief glimpse of Anna when she arrived with her family, moments before the meeting was scheduled to begin. Unfortunately, Mum had hurried all the teens upstairs before he had a chance to even say hello.

“Thank you, Molly, for letting the children stay the night,” Augusta said as she hugged the witch. “Remus will be staying here, of course, and will bring them back to the Manor in the morning.”

“No trouble at all,” Mum assured her. “It’s almost midnight now. The girls are probably already asleep, and I’ll check on the boys and make sure they turn in soon.”

The Order members quickly departed, and Mum stifled a yawn as she finished cleaning the last of the dishes.

“Go on to bed, Mum,” Charlie suggested, kissing her cheek. “I’ll check on the boys before turning in.”

“I’ll join you, little brother,” Bill said. “I’m eager to hear about your latest adventures. We didn’t have much time to talk before the meeting started.”

“Thank you, boys,” Mum sighed tiredly before wishing them a good night.

Charlie and Bill headed up the stairs. “So, what do you think? Fred and George’s room first?” Charlie asked.

“Undoubtedly the best place to start,” Bill agreed. “You do realize they are probably up to something.”

Charlie grinned. “I certainly hope so! I’d be rather disappointed if they were all asleep already. Do you think they found a way around the Imperturbable Charm?”

“We’ll soon find out,” Bill replied, opening the door to the twins’ room after a single perfunctory knock.

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Chapter 6: Chapter 6 Drinking Games

Author's Notes: Special thanks goes out to Arnel for her beta work!


Chapter 6

Drinking Games

Charlie and Bill headed up the stairs. “So, what do you think? Fred and George’s room first?” Charlie asked.

“Undoubtedly the best place to start,” Bill agreed. “You do realize they are probably up to something.”

Charlie grinned. “I certainly hope so! I’d be rather disappointed if they were all asleep already. Do you think they found a way around the Imperturbable Charm?”

“We’ll soon find out,” Bill replied, opening the door to the twins’ room after a single perfunctory knock.

“Now that we’ve all had a few drinks, we’re ready for the next set of questions. I’ll start!” Fred exclaimed, pulling a slip of parchment from a bowl. “Never have I ever gone skinny dipping.”

Charlie’s eyes widened in surprise at the scene before him. All eight of the teens were sitting in a circle on the floor of Fred and George’s room. Each had a glass in their hand. His gaze settled on Anna just as she raised the drink to her lips and took a slow sip.

“Merlin, a drinking game!” Bill exclaimed as he shut the door behind them and placed a few charms on it.

Several flushed faces turned to look at him in shock.

“Hey, Bill, Charlie. You’re welcome to join us,” George muttered weakly. “We just got to the good questions.”

Bill groaned. “How much have you all had to drink?”

“Everyone’s still on their first glass,” Fred assured him. “We’re only taking sips.”

Bill sighed and exchanged a thoughtful glance with Charlie before facing the twins again. “Hand over the bottle.”

George passed the bottle of Ogden’s Old Firewhisky over to his oldest brother.

“Are you going to turn us in?” Hermione asked fearfully.

“No,” Bill replied, as Charlie conjured a couple of glasses for them. “We are going to supervise.”

Relieved sighs echoed around the circle as Bill poured Firewhisky in both glasses. Charlie drained half his in one long swallow as he moved to sit between the grinning twins. Bill quietly refilled it, and sat next to Charlie as everyone shifted slightly to expand the circle.

“So, Anna, am I allowed to ask where and when you went skinny dipping?” Bill inquired with a side long glance at Charlie.

“Had to be back in Virginia when you were a kid,” Neville supplied. “Right, Anna?” He looked at her expectantly.

She chewed her lower lip nervously for a few seconds. “Not exactly,” she admitted.

Neville’s eyes widened.

“Well, we have the stream right there on the Manor property,” Anna explained, a blush creeping over her cheeks. “I’m always careful to only do it when you and Remus are busy elsewhere, so it’s not like anyone has ever seen me.” She glanced around the group. “Surely, I’m not the only one whose been skinny dipping.”

“Course not,” Charlie murmured. “I’m sure most of us have at some point.” He lifted his glass and took a slow sip to indicate that he had. It turned out that all the Weasley brothers, except Ron, had been skinny dipping at The Burrow’s pond.

George read the next statement. “Never have I ever kissed someone on the mouth.”

Hermione took a quick sip of her Firewhisky, as did Bill, Charlie, and the twins. Ron was scowling slightly as he stared at his glass. Fortunately, no one brought up Viktor Krum or the Yule Ball.

Ginny grabbed the next bit of parchment. “Never have I ever smoked.”

Bill and the twins took a drink, causing Ginny to raise an eyebrow at them, looking almost as imperious as their mum at that moment.

“I smoked a water pipe in Egypt,” Bill admitted with a shrug. “They’re very common there, and it was helpful in my job to become friendly with the locals.”

“We smoked cigarettes with a few lads in the village once,” Fred said. “Seemed harmless enough, though I don’t think we’ll be doing it again.” George nodded in agreement.

“Never have I ever stolen or illicitly consumed liquor or potions,” Neville read.

Everyone took a sip of their Firewhisky, some avoiding eye contact, while others smirked silently.

“Guess we’re all guilty of that one after tonight,” Neville quipped.

Ron read the next statement. “Never have I ever sunbathed topless or in the nude.”

Hermione, Charlie, Bill, and Anna took a drink.

Ron huffed as he exclaimed, “Really, Hermione!”

“It’s quite common on certain beaches in the south of France, Ronald,” she sputtered. “And, obviously, it’s not so unusual since Bill, Charlie, and Anna have also sunbathed without being covered up!”

“Well, I just don’t think it sounds decent!” Ron asserted.

“Don’t knock it ‘til you try it, little brother,” Charlie quietly advised.

Harry reached his hand into the bowl and rolled his eyes before he read. “Never have I ever received a detention at Hogwarts.” He chuckled as he raised his glass in mock salute. “More than I can count.” He took a long swallow from his glass. Almost everyone in the circle joined him.

Hermione took the next slip of parchment. “Never have I ever had to cover up a love bite.” She blushed slightly, but did not take a sip of her Firewhisky.

As Bill, Charlie, and the twins took a drink from their glasses, Ginny leaned over to her and loudly whispered, “I bet you’re glad you didn’t have to drink that time.”

Hermione nodded as Anna giggled and read the next one. “Never have I ever gotten a tattoo or body piercing.”

Charlie was the only one who took a drink.

Bill smirked. “Really, little brother! Let’s see it then.”

Charlie stood up and shrugged off his shirt, revealing a tattoo of a dragon on his left shoulder blade.

“Is that a Hungarian Horntail?” Harry asked, standing up a bit unsteadily to get a closer look.

Charlie nodded and chuckled. “Yeah, the one you were up against in that first task of the Triwizard Tournament gave me my first scar.” Everyone’s attention was focused on him as he turned and pointed out the long slightly diagonal mark across his abdomen that disappeared beneath the waistline of his trousers. “It’s kind of a tradition on the reserve to get a tattoo of the first dragon that draws blood.”

As he looked up, his eyes locked with Anna’s. Her lips parted and a light blush suffused her cheeks. She slowly raised her glass and drained the remainder of her Firewhisky.

“Why’d you drink?” Neville asked. “You don’t have any tattoos or body piercings. Do you?” He blinked at her in confusion.

“Hmmm,” Anna mumbled, her glance shifting from Charlie to her cousin. “No, of course not. I…uh…that was the last one in the bowl.”

“The last what?” Ginny inquired peering into the bowl with a slight frown.

Charlie chuckled softly and yanked his shirt back over his head.

“The last question, and, it’s very late, so game’s over,” Bill stated, firmly. “Everyone drink a glass of water before you go to sleep, and, hopefully, you won’t be obviously hung over in the morning.” Pointing his wand at their glasses, he Vanished the remainder of the Firewhisky and filled each with water.

The teens quickly picked up their glasses and wished one another a good night. As they snuck off to their respective bedrooms, Bill and Charlie followed behind to make certain everyone made it okay. Charlie was rather impressed that the teens were all still capable of walking in a relatively straight line and, other than a few soft whispers and giggles, were being sensibly quiet.

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“Good morning, Severus,” Narcissa smiled as she offered him a seat in the small sitting room of her home in Wiltshire. “Thank you for responding so promptly to my letter.” She sank gracefully into an armchair and began to pour tea.

“I’m always delighted to accept an invitation to your lovely home,” Snape replied and accepted the cup of tea. He glanced around the well-furnished, but modestly proportioned room. This space was clearly for the lady of the house and decorated as such. “Will Lucius be joining us?”

“No, he has business at the Ministry this morning,” she stated. “I hope you have been enjoying a relaxing Christmas holiday.”

Severus nodded. They spoke of mundane topics for several minutes. While he had been a guest at Malfoy Manor on many occasions, he rarely met with Narcissa alone unless she wanted to discuss Draco’s education. Fortunately, he was a dedicated pupil and was generally successful in his classes at Hogwarts. Severus waited patiently for his hostess to introduce the purpose of this meeting.

“I was wondering what you might be able to tell me about Miss Anna Henry,” Narcissa paused. “Draco has mentioned her, and I am rather curious to hear your thoughts of her.”

Severus’s head cocked to the side slightly in thought. “Miss Henry is a Gryffindor,” he began slowly. At her answering nod, he continued. “She is a pure-blood, I believe, connected to the Longbottom family, and now resides with them, though her early childhood was spent in the States.” He paused. “Virginia, to be precise.”

Narcissa smiled. “I have never been to Longbottom Manor personally, but my mother attended a garden party there many years ago and described it favorably.”

“The Longbottom family is respectably well-off from what I understand and, of course, one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight,” Severus confirmed. “Miss Henry and her cousin, Neville Longbottom, have the benefit of a tutor during the summer holidays. While she does not require extra tuition, her cousin certainly needs the assistance.”

“So, she is a good student,” Narcissa inquired.

Severus nodded. “She is a capable young witch in a quiet sort of way. I’ve never heard my colleagues speak badly of her, academically or personally. She is intelligent, without apparently feeling a constant need to show off, and well-behaved in the classroom. I have no doubt she will do well on her O.W.L.s this year. I believe she will achieve an Outstanding in Potions.”

Narcissa took a sip of her tea and seemed to be considering his words. “Have you noticed…anything else…anything unusual about her?”

“Unusual?” Severus repeated. He took a sip of his own tea as he deliberated what, if anything more, he should say about the girl. He was still surprised by his inability to successfully use Legilimency on her. He had attempted on several occasions to gently probe the girl’s mind and had yet to succeed. Though Albus Dumbledore would never admit it, Severus rather suspected the Headmaster had also tried and failed to use Legilimency on Miss Henry. Deciding to share something Draco would also know, he cleared his throat. “I did hear that she proved herself to be highly resistant to the Imperius Curse when exposed to it in class last school year.”

“Draco mentioned Professor Moody casting the curse on his Defense Against the Dark Arts students,” Narcissa murmured, a slight frown on her lips. “Of course, we did not realize at the time it was actually young Barty Crouch using Polyjuice Potion.” She shifted slightly in her chair. “What would that mean about her? A young girl being so resistant to the Imperius Curse?”

Severus sighed as he set his tea cup on the nearby table. “Well, it is unusual to be sure. Generally speaking, only those who are very strong, very powerful magically, can ever resist the Imperius Curse. As to what it means or how she achieved it,” he paused and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I can only guess that something about the tragedies of her past plays a role in allowing her that level of self-control.”

“And, what do you know of her past?” Narcissa pressed.

“Not a great deal,” he admitted. “She is an orphan. Augusta Longbottom is her guardian. She was raised by her grandmother in Virginia until the woman’s death. Her father brought her to England, and she joined Hogwarts as a third-year student. It was an unusual circumstance, but not unheard of. Unfortunately, her father died soon after in a fatal accident of some kind.”

“The poor girl,” she said softly, staring out the window, clearly lost in thought.

Severus peered at his hostess carefully. “May I ask why you are so interested in Miss Henry?”

Narcissa seemed to consider a moment before responding. “We are examining options for a potential match for Draco. When I encouraged Draco to provide us with the names of a few witches he favored, he mentioned Miss Henry.”

“A betrothal? Between Draco and Anna Henry?” he responded. “I am somewhat surprised you are not focusing on members of Slytherin House.”

“The other two young ladies are of Slytherin House; however, house affiliation is only one of several factors to consider, and nothing has been decided yet,” Narcissa explained. “Such an important decision should not be made quickly or carelessly.”

“Indeed,” Severus replied, silently wondering what other factors Narcissa found important in the decision of a match for her son.

They conversed for a short while longer before he bowed over her hand and took his leave. The Malfoy family’s interest in the Gryffindor witch was curious, and rather unexpected; however, he was certainly not one to dwell on his students’ love lives.

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The owl from Gornuk arrived just as Augusta was about to enter the dining room for breakfast. Reading the missive from the goblin in charge of Anna’s Gringotts account, Augusta sighed and resigned herself to the conversation she had been avoiding since Christmas Eve night. Wordlessly, she handed the note to Remus as she entered the room.

The children were already at the table eating and talking about what they wanted to do on their last day home before returning to Hogwarts. Remus read the note, made eye contact with Augusta, and nodded. She waited until everyone was finished with their breakfasts before suggesting that they retire to the garden room for a talk.

Both children looked rather wary as they entered the room and sat beside one another on the sofa. Augusta and Remus sat in the armchairs facing them.

Augusta took a steadying breath before she began. “Anna, this is a letter from Gornuk. It arrived just before breakfast this morning.” She passed the letter to her great niece who opened it and leaned towards her cousin, so they could read it together.

“I don’t understand,” Anna said. “What does he mean that ‘an inquiry about my status has been made and responded to in the usual manner?’ My status regarding what exactly?”

“What Gornuk is telling us is that an established pure-blood family has made a request for basic information about your Gringotts account and financial circumstances,” Augusta explained. “By telling us that it was ‘responded to in the usual manner,’ we know that the family was informed that you will be coming of age this year and that you will gain complete control of your inheritance at that time. You are not rich by pure-blood standards, but you are respectably well-off financially.”

“So, that’s what the part about me being ‘a witch of respectable, independent means’ is all about,” Anna murmured.

“Yes,” Augusta confirmed. “Gringotts has long supplied this kind of information about pure-blood heirs and heiresses. It is part of the standard information gathering that occurs when a family is considering making an alliance.”

“Alliance?” she questioned.

“A marital alliance by means of a betrothal contract between a witch and a wizard. We don’t know definitively which family made the inquiry,” Augusta paused. “Based upon what happened at the Christmas Eve party at the Macmillan residence, I think we can fairly assume that it was the Malfoy family.”

“Absolutely not!” Neville exclaimed, standing up suddenly, his fists clenched at his sides. “There is no way in bloody hell Anna will ever be betrothed to Draco Malfoy!”

“Neville, please sit down and calm yourself,” Remus insisted quietly. “There is more we need to explain and discuss. Getting upset right now will not do anyone any good.” He glanced meaningfully towards Anna.

Neville looked at his cousin, noting her pale face and the way her hands twisted in her lap. He sat down and placed a hand over hers, squeezing gently. “It will be okay,” he assured her.

She nodded, but did not speak.

“Anna,” Remus continued. “When you all came home from the Macmillan’s Christmas Eve party, you indicated that your skin burned where Draco had touched you. Sirius wondered if it might be possible that Draco took a skin sample at that time to use in a Paternity Potion. The potion doesn’t really confirm parenthood, but it can confirm if family members are in fact related. If Sirius is correct, your skin sample was used to confirm that you are a member of the Longbottom family.”

“What would that prove?” Neville asked in confusion.

“It would help confirm that Anna is pure-blood, or at the very least, not Muggle-born,” Augusta explained. “Narcissa Malfoy was on the visitor’s log at St. Mungo’s just before Christmas Eve. She visited the Janus Thickey Ward, Neville.” She paused for a moment looking at her grandson. “I spoke with the Healer. She confirmed that Mrs. Malfoy spent some time with your father. There is little doubt in my mind, a skin sample was taken from Frank to compare it with Anna’s.”

“I’ve never heard of a Paternity Potion,” Anna murmured. “Is that how it works? Comparing two samples and looking for similarities?”

“That is my understanding of it,” her aunt confirmed. “The test is not specific enough to show exact relationships or to magically create an entire genealogy. However, the samples would confirm that you and Frank are related. Not that anyone who knew your grandmother could ever doubt it. You are looking more like Katherine as you get older.”

Anna nodded and tried to force a smile, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. “So, what happens now?”

“Now, we wait,” she replied. “If our suspicions are correct and the Malfoy family is considering you as a potential match for Draco, they are likely exploring other options as well. It is perfectly possible that nothing will come of this, that another witch will become the focus.”

“Well, that’s certainly something to hope for!” Neville exclaimed.

Augusta nodded. “If the Malfoy family selects you, Anna, Narcissa Malfoy will send me a letter of interest in establishing a betrothal contract. If that happens, I will send you an owl at Hogwarts and inform you of the situation. I will also respond to Mrs. Malfoy that we are honored by their interest and that I will be discussing options with you in person this summer and making a decision at that time.”

“Why not just say no?” Neville asked.

“First, that would be incredibly rude,” she replied, frowning at her grandson. “Refusing to even take the time to consider a marital alliance with another member of the Sacred Twenty-Eight would not be wise, particularly with the social and political climate being what it is. Second, the fact is that multiple letters of interest may be arriving. It is better to politely thank each family and inform them that a decision will be made this summer. That way, we can delay for now and calmly consider what to do when we have more time. As a rule, it is far easier to decline offers with the news that another offer has been selected and a betrothal is imminent.”

“So,” Anna whispered. “If multiple offers are made, I have to select one of them.”

Neville opened his mouth and appeared about to stand again.

“No,” Augusta replied firmly, giving her grandson a brief quelling look. “We will never force you into a betrothal contract with anyone. Delaying a negative response simply gives us more time to handle this in the best way possible.”

Anna nodded, and Neville smiled reassuringly at her.

“With that being said,” Remus continued. “It would definitely be best not to encourage anyone’s regard at the present time.”

“Meaning?” Neville asked.

“Anna should probably refrain from dating anyone,” Remus explained. “As male Head of Longbottom House, Neville, you could even refuse to allow her to date or be alone with another boy.”

“Which is heavy-handed and not something I would ordinarily condone.” Augusta sighed loudly. “However, given the current situation, it might be for the best.”

Anna’s eyes were shifting frequently among them as she listened. “Am I in danger?”

“No, of course not,” Augusta assured her. “I will not enter you into a betrothal without your consent. This is a delicate situation, and I really should have anticipated it, but everything will be alright.”

Back to index


Chapter 7: Chapter 7 Dreams and Letters

Author's Notes: Thanks to Arnel for her work as beta for this story! The house described in the first section is based upon a real home on the water belonging to relatives. It truly is an awesome house for playing sardines!


Chapter 7

Dreams and Letters

Harry woke with a groan, and rubbed the scar on his forehead. Disappointment flooded through his mind. He had come so close to finally reaching the plain black door. His hand had been stretching out to push it open. He needed to see what was beyond that door. Dreaming about walking down that long corridor in the Ministry of Magic had been his nightly torment for weeks. What was in the Department of Mysteries? Why was it so important? What was the Order guarding down there?

Frustrated, he glanced around the quiet dormitory. The other fifth year Gryffindor boys were still sleeping. Soft snores emanated from a couple of beds, while an occasional muffled grumbling could be heard from others. Moonlight coming through the window illuminated the room well enough for Harry to grab his wand and glasses. Pulling on his dressing gown and slippers, he made his way silently out of the room and down the stairs.

The fire in the common room was blazing as though it had been recently stoked. Red-orange light danced over the logs and provided a welcoming heat to the pervading chill. Glancing around curiously, he saw the figure of a witch sitting in one of the armchairs facing the fire. Her legs were folded up close to her chest with her arms wrapped around them. A wand was held tightly in one of her fisted hands.

Not wanting to startle her, Harry cleared his throat as he approached. “Erm…hello.”

Her legs dropped swiftly to the floor as she turned in the chair and pointed her wand at him. “Harry?”

He stilled. “Yeah, Anna. Sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

She nodded and lowered her wand. Her eyes were red-rimmed, and her face was pale.

Harry moved to the chair closest to her by the fire and settled into the soft cushions. “Bad dream?” he asked.

“Yes,” she murmured, wiping at her face self-consciously. “You?”

He shrugged. “More weird than bad. I just keep dreaming about walking down the corridor at the Ministry towards the Department of Mysteries. I really wish I knew what was in there.” He paused. “Do you want to talk about your dream? I’ve been told it helps to talk about them.”

“No, thanks,” Anna sighed. “I do appreciate the offer, but memories make the worst nightmares.” She chuckled softly, but there was no warmth in her laughter. “It’s not like I’m afraid of some fictional monster and can talk myself rationally out of my fears.”

Harry nodded, his mind wandering over some of the dark memories in his own past. They sat in silence for a time watching the flames licking at the wood in the fireplace.

“How are your lessons going with Professor Snape?” Anna inquired.

“Badly,” Harry admitted. “He keeps telling me to let go of all emotion, to remain focused, to discipline my mind. It doesn’t work! I can’t keep Snape out of my head. He tells me to resist him just before casting Legilimens.” He raked both hands through his dark hair in irritation. “Then, he pours into my mind searching through my thoughts, finding the most…embarrassing memories, and throws my failure into my face!”

“I’m sorry, Harry. That sounds awful,” Anna said quietly. “Has he offered you any suggestions for how to discipline your mind, for how to maintain focus?”

“No,” he replied bitterly. “Maybe Ron’s right, and Snape isn’t trying to teach me Occlumency at all.”

Anna chewed her bottom lip. “Surely he’s trying to teach you.” She sighed and almost seemed to be talking to herself rather than to him. “We all know Professor Snape is not the most encouraging or helpful of teachers. Even in Potions, he lectures, gives us the directions, and expects us to learn everything quickly and accurately. There’s never much tolerance of mistakes or room for a learning curve in his class.” She turned to Harry. “Hasn’t he given you any specific instruction?”

He shrugged and leaned towards her. “The first lesson he implied that since I can resist the Imperius Curse, I should be able to learn Occlumency. He said that the magical power and skills needed for both were similar.” Harry shook his head. “I don’t think they are though. With the Imperius Curse, I wasn’t comfortable with that calm, floating feeling it gave me. I didn’t want to obey. It seemed so stupid to do what I was being told, and so I was…defiant.”

“You tend to be good at defiant,” she smirked.

Harry chuckled. “Yeah, I guess I have my moments.” He leaned back again, relaxing into the chair. “Hang on, you resisted the Imperius Curse. How did you feel doing it?”

Anna stared into the flames, a thoughtful expression on her face. “My experience was…different. I know what you mean though about the…artificially relaxed sensation. It wasn’t real. When the professor cast the curse on me, I felt immediately that I was…experiencing an emotional state that wasn’t coming from me. It was…uncomfortable because I felt a lack of real awareness. I felt vulnerable, so I…retreated.” She turned her gaze to him.

He looked at her intently and attempted to understand her perspective of resisting the curse. “What do you mean by retreated?”

“In my mind, I retreated,” she explained. “I withdrew so that I couldn’t be affected by it, so I wouldn’t feel that…fake floating happiness. I retreated so far away that it couldn’t reach me.”

“You make it sound almost like a place in your mind,” Harry observed. “Like you retreated behind something.”

Anna nodded. “Exactly.” She leaned towards him. “I went to the house on the island. The house itself is…a sprawling old place, filled with staircases and small hidden lofts. It looks as though it’s had rooms added on multiple levels. Some of the staircases are only half — six or seven steps, leading to a single room jutting out from the main construction. None of the staircases will take you to all levels of the house, so you must go up or down a single level and then along a corridor until you find the next set of stairs. The house has so many dead ends, such a confusing layout, that you could easily get lost.” She smirked mischievously. “It would be the best house in the world for a game of sardines!”

He smiled at her enthusiasm and tried to imagine such a unique and extraordinary house. “Tell me about the island,” he requested.

Her expression became dreamy. “The island is covered by a dense forest with the house in the very center. Towering trees grow so closely together that all the branches are entwined, forming a solid canopy of dark green above. The forest floor is blanketed by a thick layer of fallen leaves and tangled vines. The entire space is in perpetual shadow. There are no paths leading through the forest, no way to navigate through the endless green and brown. Impenetrable fog surrounds the whole island. The kind of fog that swirls just above the ocean waters, churning restlessly, but never dissipating. Fog so thick even breathing feels heavy.” Her eyes were closed as she concluded the description, a look of utter contentment on her face.

“Is it your grandmother’s house you’re describing?” Harry asked softly. “Was that where you grew up in Virginia?”

“No,” Anna whispered, a gentle smile on her face. “Grandma’s house was not nearly so complex, nor so isolated. The island is a complete fiction, but it helps me hide things in my mind. Such a place has so many hiding spaces, so many safe spots to store memories. It is the perfect retreat, where nothing I want to remain hidden can ever be found.”

He swallowed. His mind raced as he considered possibilities. “Anna, if I promise not to tell anyone, will you answer a question for me?”

She stared into his eyes and nodded slowly.

“Do you practice Occlumency?” Harry asked.

“Yes,” she breathed.

“Will you help me?” he inquired.

She nodded. “I’ll try, Harry. I don’t know if my method will help you, but I will try.”

“Thank you,” he murmured. He smiled at her gratefully, feeling that at least now he had a chance.

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Neville gripped the Daily Prophet tightly in his fists, wrinkling the front page. His breakfast lay untouched on the plate before him as he absorbed the news. Ten Death Eaters had escaped from Azkaban, including those responsible for torturing his parents into madness. He glared at the pictures of the nine wizards and the single witch. An unfamiliar feeling of pure hatred boiling up inside of him as he stared at the photos of Bellatrix, Rodolphus, and Rabastan Lestrange.

He felt Anna’s arm come around his back as she shifted closer towards him. Her fingertips made slow circles between his shoulder blades. Closing his eyes, he tried to relax the sudden tension that had seized his muscles upon seeing the morning headline.

On his other side, Ginny leaned against his arm quietly reading the list of names, along with the descriptions of the crimes for which they had been sent to the wizarding prison. “Antonin Dolohov, convicted of the brutal murders of Gideon and Fabian Prewett. Ron, he’s the one who killed Mum’s brothers,” she whispered as she glanced at him across the table.

Her brother nodded grimly, not looking up from the paper in Hermione’s hands. Harry and Ron were sitting on either side of her, their heads almost close enough to touch as they poured over the contents on the front page.

“I can’t believe Fudge is trying to connect this to Sirius,” Harry hissed softly.

“They’ll do anything to deny the truth for as long as possible,” Hermione whispered. “Fudge refuses to admit that Voldemort’s back, so his only option is to blame someone, anyone else, for the mass breakout of prisoners.”

“So, what do we do about it?” Harry quietly demanded.

Neville almost smiled at the determined expression on his friend’s face. Most students at Hogwarts would always be content to leave serious problems to the adults, but not Harry. He had a strength of will and a firm sense of justice that would not allow him to ignore or avoid conflict. Even among the members of Gryffindor House, Harry stood out.

“We do what we can to resist in whatever way we can,” Hermione replied reasonably. “We continue with the D.A. meetings. We learn the Shield Charm and whatever else you have planned to teach us next.” She paused and pointed to the article in the Daily Prophet. “With this mass breakout of Death Eaters, it is more important than ever that we learn to defend ourselves and protect each other.”

Ron nodded solemnly. “We also need to support Hagrid in whatever way we can. It’s complete bollocks that he’s been put on probation by that evil toad. Fudge needs to learn that he cannot control Hogwarts, and the best way to do that is to make sure Umbridge fails.”

Hermione smiled approvingly at Ron, a wicked gleam in her eye. Neville could almost see the wheels turning in her mind.

“We remember to have some fun,” Ginny supplied. “Our uncles did not die for us to be living in fear and anger.”

“You’re right,” Anna agreed. “Though that may be the hardest of all to accomplish.”

“Well, a good place to start is to get the hell out of this castle for a while,” Neville decided. “I, for one, am thoroughly looking forward to the Hogsmeade trip next month. Let’s all go together and make a full day of it! We can visit as many shops as possible, buy out Honeydukes, and drown ourselves in butterbeer and pub food.”

“Well, if we had some Firewhisky, I’d drink to that,” Anna smirked.

Hermione tried to look disapproving for a brief moment before the friends all chuckled softly and headed to their first class of the day.

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A clear, blue sky greeted the early risers on the first Saturday of February. Neville, Anna, and Ginny had gone to the Great Hall for an early breakfast with the intention of taking a walk around the lake before beginning their homework. They were almost finished eating when a tawny owl flew to the Gryffindor table. She settled between Neville and Anna with her two letters.

“Hello, Mista,” Anna cooed softly at her owl as she stroked the bird’s feathers and offered a bit of sausage. “Did Aunt Augusta send you with letters? Or, was it Remus?”

Neville carefully removed the letters, recognized Gran’s handwriting and set the letter addressed to Anna beside her plate. Noticing that the seal on his own letter was broken, he opened it and began to read.

My Dear Neville,

I hope you are well and enjoying your classes. I know this is a busy time in your academic career. I am writing to inform you that I have received two letters of interest regarding a possible betrothal agreement for your cousin, Anna. One letter was from the Malfoy family on behalf of Mr. Draco Malfoy. The other letter was from the Macmillan family on behalf of Mr. Ernest Macmillan. Naturally, I expressed our sincere appreciation to both families for their interest in our dear Anna. We will, of course, delay making any decisions on her behalf until this summer when we have more time to properly consider the options.

In the meantime, please remind your cousin that she is not permitted to date or have a boyfriend. If either young gentleman wishes to spend time with her, I trust that you will step into the duties of a responsible chaperone. Of course, as the male Head of the House of Longbottom, you may simply choose to decline permission for her to be in the company of either potential suitor. I do hope that you and Anna will remain focused on your studies and not allow this to distract you from preparing appropriately for your O.W.L. exams at the end of the school year.

With love,
Grandmother

Neville was torn between the conflicting desires of wanting to curse fluently and laugh loudly. Gran had obviously been concerned that the letter would be intercepted and read by others. Her words were stiff, pompous, and not at all like the usual letters he received from her. Unfortunately, he had no way of knowing whether her vigilance was necessary or not. The seal on his letter had been broken. That could have happened in flight, or Mista may have been intercepted.

“Does Mista look alright?” Neville quietly asked his cousin.

“Of course, she does,” Anna said brightly, before registering his expression. “Why wouldn’t she look alright?” She moved her hands gently all over her tawny owl. Mista patiently sat through the ministrations and received another bite of sausage for her cooperation. “What is it, Neville?” Anna murmured as her owl flew out of the Great Hall.

“You have a letter from Gran.” He tapped the letter next to her plate with one finger.

Her eyes widened under his steady gaze. Anna opened her letter and began to read, just as Harry, Ron, and Hermione sat down to breakfast.

Neville glanced up at the staff table and noticed Professor Umbridge sitting there eating her breakfast. She was focusing on the newspaper as she ate, looking around periodically at the students slowly assembling. He shifted his gaze to the Hufflepuff table and saw Ernie Macmillan eating while chatting with Justin Finch-Fletchley. As he looked beyond them to the Slytherin table, his eyes met the haughty gray orbs of Draco Malfoy, who smiled slowly.

“Oh, Merlin,” Anna whimpered, one hand rising to cover her mouth.

“What is it?” Ginny asked.

Neville grabbed Anna’s thigh under the table, squeezing it tightly. ‘Do it now’ he commanded himself. Releasing his grip, he stood and looked down at his cousin, willing himself to manage the domineering expression he needed. ‘Say it’ he thought viciously.

Forcing his voice to project without being obviously loud, he announced, “Anna, as the male Head of the House of Longbottom, I would like to remind you that you do not have permission to date, nor will I allow you to be alone with a wizard without my express approval. Do you understand?”

His cousin’s eyes were wide as she stared up at him.

Across the table, he saw Hermione’s face contort with indignation as she inhaled to speak. He almost sighed with relief when Ginny gave her a warning glance while shaking her head slightly.

“Yes, Neville,” Anna answered, her voice carrying, even though she swallowed nervously. “I understand.”

He nodded. “If you’re done with breakfast, please return to the common room.”

“Of course, Neville.” She stood immediately, grabbing the letters from the table. “I’m ready now.”

He took her arm and led her quickly out of the Great Hall.

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Glancing around, Ginny noted that half the Gryffindors as well as several Hufflepuffs had obviously heard the exchange. Pointed looks and whispered conversations followed the pair as they exited the Great Hall.

“What just happened?” Hermione hissed at Ginny, her eyes flashing with anger and confusion.

“Not here,” Ginny murmured. “We can talk about it upstairs after breakfast.”

They finished eating quickly and rose to leave the table. Ginny was not surprised to note that the twins were following them as they made their way back up to Gryffindor Tower. The common room was empty, so Ginny continued up the stairs to the boys’ dormitory.

When she opened the door, Ginny saw Neville standing in the middle of the room holding Anna tightly in his arms.

“Are you okay?” Ginny asked quietly as the others filed in behind her and closed the door.

Anna nodded as Neville released her. “Yes.” She rubbed her forehead. “I knew it was a strong possibility, but I’d convinced myself it wouldn’t really happen, you know.”

Ginny nodded sadly and walked over to her friend.

“How many?” George asked.

“Two,” Neville replied. “Thank Merlin there are two. If it was just Malfoy…”

“May I ask what is going on?” Hermione demanded in a slightly shrill voice.

“Gran received two letters of interest for a betrothal with Anna,” Neville explained. “One was on behalf of Draco Malfoy, the other was for Ernie Macmillan.”

“Betrothal,” Harry repeated. “Like for marriage?”

“Yes,” Neville nodded.

“That’s barbaric,” Hermione spat. “You can’t possibly force someone into a marriage, not in the twentieth century!”

“Betrothals are a perfectly legitimate and acceptable way of arranging a marriage in traditional pure-blood families,” Ginny stated calmly, raising an eyebrow as she spoke. “Anna has received two offers, and her family is considering their response.”

Hermione looked on the verge of tears as she addressed Neville. “What was the meaning of that display in the Great Hall? How could you talk that way to Anna?”

Neville sighed, as Fred stepped in to answer. “Your use of the word ‘display’ is perfect. It was a display. Neville was protecting Anna and making it clear that neither Ernie nor Malfoy would be permitted to date her, or try to seduce her, while the betrothals are under consideration.”

“I know you don’t understand this, Hermione,” Anna acknowledged softly. “Even in pure-blood families, betrothals are not as common now as they were fifty years ago.”

“Why is this happening now though?” Harry inquired. “I mean…”

Neville nodded as Harry’s voice trailed off. “There was an incident at the Macmillan’s Christmas Eve party between Anna and Draco Malfoy. We didn’t mention it before because we weren’t sure what happened really, or if anything would actually come of it.”

Neville explained how Draco had apparently taken a skin sample from Anna at the party. He told of Sirius’s suspicions regarding a Paternity Potion and of the information from St. Mungo’s and Gringotts confirming the possibility of an interest in establishing a betrothal contract.

“So then, the offer from Ernie,” Harry wondered.

“Word of betrothal offers can spread quickly.” Neville shrugged. “One offer can lead to more. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if another offer or two arrived soon.”

“But you can just refuse to be betrothed, can’t you?” Hermione demanded as she touched Anna’s shoulder.

Anna nodded. “Aunt Augusta and Neville have assured me that I won’t be entered into a betrothal contract without my agreement. I admit this whole thing is…”

“Creepy?” Ron offered.

Chuckles filled the air.

“That pretty well covers it,” Neville agreed. “But, it will be okay.”

Author’s Notes: Disclaimer — Part of this chapter comes from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

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Chapter 8: Chapter 8 Decisions

Author's Notes: Thank you to my wonderful beta, Arnel!


Chapter 8

Decisions

Charlie glanced down once more at the letter he had received from Bill last week. It was a frustratingly brief note. Bill wanted to meet with him on his next day off at the Weinschenke Altes Presshaus in Durnstein, Austria. His brother had assured him that no one was ill or injured, but offered no reason for the sudden meeting. Charlie had sent the owl off with his reply that he would meet him at noon on Monday. He wondered what the urgency was and hoped that it might be good news for a change. Looking longingly at his broom for a moment, he stuffed his wallet into the pocket of his blue jeans. Charlie much preferred to fly, but didn’t have the time this morning. Exhaling slowly, he focused on his destination and Apparated away from the dragon reserve in Romania.

After two Apparition jumps, Charlie arrived at his destination near the Danube River. The small town was as picturesque as he remembered, but his eagerness to talk to his brother distracted him from enjoying the scenic location. Finding the restaurant, he saw that Bill was already at a table in the corner with a glass of beer in his hand.

“Hey, Charlie.” Bill stood up and gave him a quick hug. “I’m glad you were able to come.”

“I could hardly ignore your note,” he replied with a smirk.

The waitress came over and gave him a beer. Clearly, his brother had told her to bring it over as soon as he arrived.

“So,” Charlie commented. “Not that it’s not great to see you, but what did you want to meet me about?”

Bill rubbed his chin. “You might want to take a long swallow of that beer before I tell you.”

He chuckled as he picked up his drink and took a long, deliberate swallow. “Okay, now what’s going on?”

“Augusta Longbottom received two letters of interest for a betrothal with Anna,” Bill declared.

Charlie stared at his brother in disbelief as he tried to process the information. His abdomen clenching as though it’d been struck and was preparing for another blow.

“The letters came from the Malfoy and Macmillan families,” Bill continued. “According to Sirius, there was a bit of an incident between Draco Malfoy and Anna at the Macmillan’s Christmas Eve party.”

His brother described the way the Malfoy boy had taken a skin sample from Anna in the guise of admiring the pendant she was wearing. He explained the likelihood that a Paternity Potion had been utilized to confirm Anna as a member of the Longbottom family. Charlie felt a rushing in his ears as his jaw clenched and his face burned. “He touched her chest!”

“Breath, little brother,” Bill murmured.

If anyone else had talked to him that way, Charlie would have taken a deep breath and decked them. Coming from his big brother, he took a slow breath and forced himself to try to relax.

“Please, tell me she slapped the little sh…,” he broke off as the waitress returned.

Bill ordered their meals as well as another round of drinks while Charlie polished off his first beer.

“Of course, she didn’t slap him,” his brother muttered. “She is a sixteen-year-old girl who was attending her first formal holiday party. I’m sure she was confused and perhaps a little scared. Anna didn’t even admit to what happened until she was back home.”

Charlie rubbed the back of his neck. “So, how did Augusta respond to the betrothal letters?”

“Apparently, she graciously thanked both families for their interest and indicated that a decision would be made this summer,” Bill replied. “Remus is convinced that Anna will not be coerced into a betrothal agreement, but…” he shrugged. “The fact is, as much as the four of them act like a family, Remus is the tutor. He’s not the one who will be making the decision. It’s all up to Augusta, well, and Neville of course.”

“Merlin,” Charlie sighed. “Is Neville the male Head of House?”

Bill nodded. “Quite a responsibility for a fifteen-year-old kid.” He emptied his beer just as their food was delivered. He nodded his thanks to the waitress. “Neville and Anna are rather close. I can’t really see him trying to force her into something she doesn’t want to do.”

“Surely Augusta Longbottom wouldn’t want an alliance with the Malfoy family,” Charlie muttered.

“I seriously doubt it,” his brother agreed. “The Macmillan family though…Augusta and Emily Macmillan have been friends for decades. Both families are respectable members of the Sacred Twenty-eight, well-off financially, with similar political views, and rather traditional beliefs. The Macmillan kid is a Hufflepuff prefect and friendly with Neville.” He sighed. “Charlie, I really think you need to accept the possibility that Anna could be betrothed to him soon.”

Charlie drained his glass and stared blankly at the table. His mind raced through a confusing whirl of possibilities, hopes, and dreams. He couldn’t lose her. Even the idea of it left him empty, hollow in a way he had never experienced. She wasn’t his yet, but he knew that she could be, that she would be, if he had the chance. He had to secure that chance. With the decision made, he felt calmer.

“Bill, please tell Mum and Dad I’m coming home this weekend,” Charlie requested.

“What are you going to do?” his brother inquired.

“I’m going to tell Mum and Dad the truth, that I’ve been interested in Anna since the World Cup, that I’m trying to secure a transfer to one of the dragon reserves in Britain.” He met his brother’s eyes and smiled. “Then, I’m going to ask Mum to compose a letter of interest for a betrothal with Anna.”

Bill raised an eyebrow and stared at his brother. “You do realize the Weasley family is not exactly traditional enough to have recently been involved in a betrothal agreement.”

Charlie nodded confidently. “Mum will manage. She was a Prewett after all.”

His brother chuckled. “I’ll let them know you’re coming home.”

As they started eating their goulash soup, bratwurst and sauerkraut, their conversation turned to other topics, including Bill’s girlfriend. Charlie grinned as he listened to the near reverence in his brother’s tone when he talked about Fleur Delacour.

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“Ah, Severus,” Albus greeted his Potions Master. “Good of you to join me on this fine evening.”

Snape grimaced as he pulled his cloak more tightly around him. “The Astronomy Tower is perhaps not the most comfortable place to be meeting in February,” he replied, his tone as frigid as the air surrounding them.

The Headmaster chuckled. “The temperature is perhaps not the most hospitable, but the view of the stars more than makes up for any unpleasantness.”

A sigh escaped the other man’s lips. “I suppose there is a purpose in your request to meet me here.”

“Indeed,” Albus replied, turning his gaze away from the brilliance of the night sky. “How are the Occlumency lessons coming along with our young Harry?”

Severus leaned against the stone wall. “Surprisingly, Mr. Potter is showing definite improvement,” he replied.

Cocking his head, the Headmaster waited for more information.

“Mr. Potter is demonstrating that he can focus well enough to block my most mundane efforts to infiltrate his mind. I am unclear about the exact method he is utilizing, but some sort of thick fog seems to be protecting his most private memories. I have been unable to access any interesting or important thoughts these last few sessions,” Severus paused. “Whether he can hold out against me during a truly concerted effort remains to be seen.”

Albus smiled, his blue eyes twinkling in the moonlight. “I’m pleased to hear he has made such progress and appreciate that you have chosen to not yet make a truly concerted effort. You are an excellent teacher, Severus,” he declared. “I have long held confidence that you could rise to the occasion when called upon.”

The Potions Master sneered, but managed to contain himself somewhat. “Do you honestly believe Occlumency will be enough to keep the Dark Lord out of Potter’s mind? We both know that it was not truly Legilimency at work when the boy saw the snake attack Arthur Weasley.”

Nodding thoughtfully, the Headmaster sighed. “Occlumency may help,” he stated clearly. “The effort can only benefit Harry and appears to be causing him no harm. Every magical skill he can master will undoubtedly help him survive the trials ahead.” Shifting his gaze back to the constellations, he appeared lost in thought. “The connection between Voldemort and our young Harry seems to defy all logic. I am convinced he is not possessing the boy, but beyond that.” He shook his head slowly. “We must hope that your training is enough to protect him.”

Severus raised an eyebrow. “And, what of the situation here at Hogwarts?” he pressed. “Dolores Umbridge will not rest until she has driven you from this castle and taken over the school entirely.”

The Headmaster chuckled. “I’m aware of her aspirations, though I sincerely appreciate your warning.” He turned calmly to the other man. “I do hope that in the event I am forced to leave, you and Minerva will work together to maintain order and protect the students.”

He nodded grimly before turning on his heel and leaving the Astronomy Tower.

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Lucius strolled into his bedroom to find his wife in the process of changing for dinner. They were to dine out with the Minister and a few of his other guests this evening. Dismissing the house-elf attending her, he approached Narcissa and caressed the bare skin of her shoulders.

“We have to be ready to leave in an hour, Lucius,” she quietly reminded him.

He kissed her neck and shoulders before finally claiming her lips. Narcissa melted under his touch, whimpering softly into his mouth as his hands continued to stroke her smooth skin.

Finally ending his gentle assault, he smirked. “Unfortunately, I know you require the full hour to prepare, and it would not due for us to be late. I hope we will be able to continue this after dinner.”

She smiled warmly, and he was pleased to see the heat of desire in her eyes. He knew his wife well, and appreciated how she could relax and allow her true emotions to show in the confines of their home. Narcissa was rarely anything but coldly aloof in public.

Helping her into her dress robes, he noticed a letter on her vanity table. “Is that a reply from Augusta Longbottom?”

“Yes,” she nodded. “Augusta replied very graciously and perfectly correctly to my letter. The decision regarding a betrothal will be made this summer.”

Lucius frowned. “I rather thought she would immediately accept such an opportunity. There isn’t a family in Britain to rival our wealth and position.”

His wife patted his cheek. “Not every family thinks of wealth and position as the primary motivations behind a betrothal agreement. Miss Henry is a pure-blood heiress at a time when precious few are available. I have no doubt Augusta will have multiple offers to consider. We can only hope that ours is the most appealing.” She sat on the small stool in front of her vanity and began to brush out her long hair.

He nodded thoughtfully as he watched her reflection in the mirror. “My dear, I am somewhat unclear about why you have chosen the Longbottom ward as the focus of our efforts for a betrothal for Draco. Surely, one of the other young ladies he mentioned, both of whom are members of Slytherin House, would be a better option.”

“Ordinarily, I would agree with you,” Narcissa replied. “However, I can assure you that an alliance between Draco and Miss Henry would be…” Her hand stilled as her voice lowered until it was barely a whisper. “It would be…uniquely advantageous.”

Lucius stared at his wife. He knew she was hiding something. She had been pensive ever since the Macmillan’s Christmas Eve gathering. He had not considered that it might be something truly important absorbing her thoughts until this moment. “Why would it be so advantageous? What do you know about Miss Henry?”

Narcissa set her brush on the vanity table and stood to face him, gazing into his eyes.

He felt the probing almost immediately and hastily tried to block her. His Occlumency skills had never been particularly strong, and this day was no exception.

Sighing, his wife broke eye contact. “I think it would be better for you to not ask too many questions.” She rubbed his arm gently and kissed his cheek. Her actions softened her words and the implied disappointment behind them.

“Well,” he murmured. “If a match between Draco and Miss Henry is so vital, perhaps we should be advising him to ensure that the betrothal takes place.”

“Hmmm…you are quite correct,” she agreed. “I will send a letter off to him tomorrow encouraging him to court her properly. Dates in Hogsmeade, walks around the lake, a token of his affection before they part at the end of the school year. I’m sure he will charm her as easily as you charmed me.” Narcissa smiled at him before glancing pointedly at the clock. “Now if you really expect me to be ready on time, you will leave me alone for the next twenty minutes.”

Lucius grinned. “As you wish, my love.” He left the bedroom and headed towards the drawing room for a drink. He couldn’t help but wonder why his wife was so fixated on the idea of a betrothal between their son and Miss Henry. He admitted to himself that it was futile to speculate. She would not share her reasoning with him until she was ready. One decision he was comfortable making was to send his own letter to his son encouraging him to do everything in his power to successfully seduce the young witch.

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On Valentine’s Day morning, Harry felt a wonderful sense of calm wash over him as he walked along the path into Hogsmeade with his friends. Escaping the castle for a few hours was a much-needed reprieve from the reality of fifth year at Hogwarts. His Occlumency lessons with Snape had been going much better in the last few weeks, and he was grateful he had somehow managed to avoid another detention with Umbridge. Still, the professors constantly reminded them of the importance of their O.W.L. year, and the homework was never-ending. He often worked until past midnight and was still not confident that he would pass all the courses he needed to be considered for Auror training after Hogwarts. At least the D.A. meetings were a bright spot in every week.

Ron and Ginny were unable to come into the village with them because the Gryffindor Quidditch Captain, Angelina Johnson, had ordered a full day training to prepare for the coming match against Hufflepuff. With the loss of the team’s Seeker and both Beaters, Angelina was determined to give her new players as much experience as possible. Harry fought off a feeling of jealousy as he saw Ron and Ginny in the distance, soaring on their brooms above the pitch. He missed the rushing wind and the intense speed he could achieve with his Firebolt when diving for the Snitch. He desperately wanted to be up in the air with them, and he felt a confusing desire to observe Ginny flying from a much closer position.

Their group of four had been joined by Ernie Macmillan. The Hufflepuff prefect had approached Neville and Anna just after dinner the night before and asked for permission to accompany their group. Neville had agreed, and so far, it hadn’t seemed too awkward. The possibility of Anna soon being betrothed to be married was still a foreign concept to Harry, but at least Ernie was a decent bloke. Harry knew he had a lot to learn about the wizarding world, particularly about the rules followed by much of pure-blood society. This situation was another example of how his Muggle upbringing had left him somewhat unprepared. Harry, Neville, and Ernie walked and talked with one another while Hermione and Anna went ahead discussing which shops they wanted to visit first.

“Let’s go into Honeydukes,” Anna suggested. “I promised to get some dark chocolate for Ginny.”

Hermione nodded. “I should probably pick up some chocolate frogs for Ron. I know he intended to get some.”

They entered the sweets shop and purchased a variety of candy treats and chocolates before moving on to the next store. It seemed that they visited every shop in the village over the next two hours, spending the longest period of time in Tomes and Scrolls.

“We need to get to the Three Broomsticks,” Hermione announced as they departed the bookstore.

The others nodded and followed her into the pub where they approached Luna Lovegood and Rita Skeeter at a small table in the back.

“What’s going on?” Harry sputtered as Hermione guided him to a chair directly across from the journalist. He blanched as he observed Neville, Anna, and Ernie make their way to an empty table nearby, leaving him alone with Hermione, Luna, and Rita.

“Harry, you have an opportunity to tell Rita Skeeter the truth about Voldemort and his Death Eaters. You can explain how he came back last year,” Hermione said earnestly. “The Daily Prophet has been publishing nothing but lies for months. They will never acknowledge that wizarding Britain is in any danger from Voldemort and his followers. You must warn people. They need to be told.” She took his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Luna will make sure that the article is published accurately in her father’s publication, The Quibbler.”

He stared at his best friend with wide eyes and whispered frantically. “You…you just expect her to write the truth, to write what I say!” He gestured towards Rita Skeeter with a look of incredulity on his face.

“Of course,” Hermione replied calmly. “Unless she wants to write an insider’s view of the conditions in Azkaban, I firmly believe that Rita will report exactly what you say and that Luna’s father will publish it accurately.”

Harry blinked as he considered the hold that Hermione had over the intrepid reporter. In truth, he wasn’t certain that the threat of trial for being an illegal Animagus was enough to control the witch. Seeing the determined look on his best friend’s face, he sighed in resignation and decided to hope for the best.

Author’s Notes: Disclaimer — Part of this chapter comes from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

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