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: 2017.11.19


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 9: Chapter 9 Witch's Choice
Chapter 10: Chapter 10 Betrayed
Chapter 11: Chapter 11 O.W.L.s
Chapter 12: Chapter 12 Family's Consent
Chapter 13: Chapter 13 Department of Mysteries
Chapter 14: Chapter 14 Confessions
Chapter 15: Chapter 15 Horcruxes
Chapter 16: Chapter 16 Amortentia
Chapter 17: Chapter 17 The Prophecy


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 façade.

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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Chapter 9: Chapter 9 Witch's Choice

Author's Notes: Just returned home from the Harry Potter festival in Staunton. Definitely a fun weekend away and some truly ingenious costumes! Tremendous thanks to my wonderful beta, Arnel, for her work with this chapter!


Chapter 9

Witch’s Choice

“Charlie, I do believe you have rendered your mother speechless. It’s not a particularly common event.” Dad smirked for a moment before sighing heavily. “Perhaps we should give her a minute to collect herself. Let’s go into the kitchen and put the kettle on. A cup of tea will be just the thing to have on hand when Molly recovers her voice.”

“Sorry, Dad,” Charlie murmured as he followed his father into the kitchen. He had arrived at The Burrow only minutes earlier. After hugging his parents, he had quickly informed them that he had a problem and needed their help. He had then asked his mother to write a betrothal letter on his behalf for Anna. Her response had been wide eyes and shocked silence.

“Son, please forgive this question, but I have to ask,” he rubbed the back of his neck. “Over the Christmas holidays, the night you and Anna were both at Grimmauld Place at the same time…well, I know a bottle of Firewhisky went missing that night. I know things…sometimes happen when alcohol is involved, things people don’t…intend.” He sat on one of the kitchen chairs and gestured for Charlie to have a seat as well. “But everyone seemed perfectly sober in the morning, so I didn’t think much of it…” his father shrugged and cleared his throat. “Charlie, were you and Anna together that night? Is she pregnant?”

Charlie’s eyes widened in shock. “No!” He rose from the chair swiftly. “Merlin, is that what you and Mum thought when I said I had a problem and needed help? You thought I knocked up Anna?”

“Yes,” Mum whispered from the doorway. Her lips were trembling slightly. She clearly had tears in her eyes.

Charlie slowly pulled his wand from his pocket and held it up. “I swear on my magic that I have never inappropriately touched Anna.” His wand glowed briefly before he set it on the table and approached his mother. “The truth is I’ve never touched her in any way.” He shook his head at his own foolishness. He had not explained himself well at all. Of course, his parents had been confused.

“Oh, Charlie,” she murmured as she hugged him tightly. “I shouldn’t have doubted you. I know you are an honorable man. It’s just…”

Easing back slightly he looked his mother directly in the eyes. “I’m sorry for how it sounded when I asked you to write the betrothal letter.”

Taking his mother’s arm gently, he led her over to a chair at the table and sat with his parents.

Blowing out a breath, Dad smiled as he poured a cup of tea for each of them. “All right, son. Please explain what is going on, and perhaps start at the beginning this time.”

Nodding, Charlie collected his thoughts. “The problem I was referring to earlier is that Bill told me about two betrothal letters Augusta Longbottom received for Anna. The letters are from the Malfoy and Macmillan families.”

“Remus informed me at the last Order meeting,” his father said. “Son, if you’re worried about Anna and trying to protect her, you don’t need to.” He leaned back in his chair and took a sip of tea. “No one’s going to force Anna into a betrothal with the Malfoy boy.”

His mother patted his hand reassuringly. “Betrothal agreements are different than they used to be. It’s not just the parents or guardians who have to sign, the couple must sign as well or the contract is not valid. Anna is an intelligent young witch. She certainly wouldn’t sign anything she is not comfortable with.”

“But, she is very innocent, and rather quick to try to please others when she can,” Charlie quietly argued. “If Augusta presses her to accept a betrothal with the Macmillan boy, the grandson of one of her oldest friends, don’t you think Anna might agree, even if she doesn’t really want to?”

His parents looked at each other in silent contemplation before Mum replied. “You may have a point, Charlie.” She stared into his eyes, her lips pressed together for a moment. “However, it is their family business. Why do you want to get involved? Why did you ask me to write a letter for you?”

He raked both hands through his hair. “Because she needs to know she has options, and because I’ve been planning on courting her for a long time now.” His voice was soft as he made the confession. While his actions were certainly pure when it came to Anna, his thoughts were not always so virtuous.

“How long, son?” Dad asked quietly.

Charlie swallowed uncomfortably, but managed to meet his father’s gaze. “I…uh…I had a…dream about Anna the night before the World Cup.” He felt himself flushing, but tried to ignore it. “I really believed at the time it was just a dream. Bill talked me down when I panicked.”

His father nodded slowly. “I had forgotten you and Bill left the house that night. Seemed rather late to go for a swim.”

“You knew we left The Burrow?” Charlie asked.

He was met with a slightly incredulous look. “I have seven children. Don’t you think I have Alarm Charms on the doors to notify me if one of you leaves the house at night?”

Charlie chuckled. “I guess that explains a few things.”

“So, when did you decide you wanted to court Anna?” Mum inquired.

He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “Well, once I was back in Romania, I…uh…you see I was dating this girl at the time, and we were…close. Suddenly, being with her didn’t feel right. I wasn’t interested in…well…that is to say…”

“You no longer wanted to be intimate with her,” Dad guessed.

Charlie nodded. “I ended our relationship the day after I returned to Romania. Then, I put in transfer requests for the Welsh Green Sanctuary and the Hebridean Black Reserve so I could move back to Britain. Nicolas put in a good word for me, and both places have promised to offer me the next available position.”

“Oh, Charlie,” Mum set her tea cup down and smiled wistfully.

“They don’t get openings very often, Mum,” he reminded her. “That’s part of the reason I took the job in Romania in the first place. It’s so much larger, we have openings almost every year there. The reserves here have an opening maybe once every five years or so.” He shrugged. “Still, I figure time is on my side. Anna’s still in school. I’m bound to get a position at one of them in the next couple of years.”

Dad rubbed his chin. “Son, I’m not sure how to say this tactfully. As a matter of fact, I don’t think there is a way to say this well.” He sighed. “She might not be interested in you. It’s not just her age, but also your age difference. Seven years may not mean much when a couple are in their twenties or thirties. However, right now, she is a sixteen-year-old girl and you are a twenty-three-year-old man.”

Charlie laughed and felt himself relax at the slight frown Mum was sending Dad’s way. “Logically, I know you’re right. I understand that if she thinks of me at all, I’m probably just one of Ginny’s many older brothers. I can’t really explain it, but I know we are meant to be together. We just need the chance, the opportunity to get to know one another better. I planned to ask her out on a date this summer, figured with her being so close to seventeen by then, it would be okay to ask. I hoped she’d agree to be my girlfriend, and we could start exchanging letters.” His voice trailed off as he thought of the slow and careful courtship he had been planning. It couldn’t work that way now. The betrothal letters Augusta had received changed everything.

“A betrothal agreement is such a serious step,” Mum said. “The stigma of breaking a contract can be rather harsh in pure-blood society. Your father and I haven’t raised you children in that mindset.”

He nodded solemnly. “I know this is serious. If Anna agrees to the betrothal, I promise you that nothing will make me break it. I would never intentionally hurt her in any way.” He took a drink of tea. “Look, I understand my interest in her seems really sudden to you. I haven’t said anything because I was embarrassed about how my feelings for her would seem with our age difference.”

Charlie shrugged uncomfortably and his cheeks darkened. “I also didn’t want you to think that it’s just physical. I’m not going to lie and say I don’t want her in that way. I definitely do, but I also want to be her friend, her confidant. I want to make her laugh, to hold her when she’s upset, to be her husband and hopefully have children with her someday.”

His parents exchanged that long look that always seemed like a silent conversation was taking place.

“Well, then,” Mum said as she stood up. “I have an important letter to write.”

“Do you need help, dear?” Dad asked carefully.

She raised an eyebrow. “Of course, not! I was raised a Prewett. I can certainly manage to write a proper betrothal letter.”

xxxxxxxxxxx

Ginny rubbed her head in exhaustion as she attempted to finish her essay for Defense Against the Dark Arts. It had been a horrible week. The Quidditch match against Hufflepuff had been the beginning of the nightmare. Without the twins as Beaters, the team could neither score nor mount a proper defense. She knew the replacement Beaters, Kirke and Sloper, had tried. Unfortunately, they had virtually no experience and seemed to lack any natural talent. They were just as likely to send one of the Bludgers at their own teammates as at the opposition. One of them had even managed to strike Angelina with a bat.

Ron had continually failed to stop Hufflepuff from scoring. As annoyed as she often was with her brother, she felt nothing but sympathy for him. Ron was a decent Keeper when his head was truly in the game, but his lack of confidence was crippling. She was relieved when she finally managed to catch the Snitch and put an end to their misery. It was shocking that so much had gone so terribly wrong in a game that lasted less than thirty minutes. She had honestly been surprised they only lost by ten points.

The Quibbler had published the interview with Harry. Hermione and Luna were both very pleased with the article entitled ‘Harry Potter Speaks Out at Last: The Truth about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and the Night I Saw Him Return.’ While it was wonderful to see the truth finally out and available to the public, Harry suffered another week of detentions and was banned from further Hogsmeade trips as punishment for giving the interview. Of course, Dolores Umbridge’s intense negative reaction to the article ensured that every student at Hogwarts read The Quibbler within days. Ginny forced a reassuring expression every night Harry returned from detention. She, Hermione, and Anna always had Murtlap essence ready for his hand. The message ‘I must not tell lies’ was visible on Harry’s hand all the time now. Ginny wondered and worried if the hateful message would be a scar he carried for the rest of his life.

In the meantime, Neville and Anna were feeling the strain of maintaining a carefully polite demeanor when dealing with her potential suitors. Neville had allowed Ernie to accompany their group to Hogsmeade and later given permission for Ernie and Anna to go for a walk to the greenhouses and to visit Hagrid together. It wasn’t until Malfoy approached him that morning expecting the same privileges that Neville realized his mistake. Knowing he would be showing a favoritism he was not supposed to display if he refused, he agreed to their walk around The Lake stipulating that he would be following from a distance.

The moment Neville and Anna returned to the common room, Anna kissed her cousin’s cheek and went up the stairs. Relieved to have an excuse to take a break, Ginny set down her quill and rapidly ascended the stairs.

Entering the fifth-year girls’ dormitory, she saw Anna lying flat on her back on the bed with one arm flung over her eyes. “Are you okay?” Ginny asked softly as she approached her friend.

“Mm-hmm,” Anna mumbled, lowering her arm and patting the bed beside her in invitation. “Just tired and cramping a little.” She held up the small bar of Honeydukes dark chocolate in her other hand. “Want one?”

“No, thanks,” Ginny smiled as she stretched out on the bed beside Anna. “Sorry, I didn’t realize you were having your monthly.”

Her friend sighed. “Monthly is a misnomer. It’s only been three weeks since the last one,” Anna complained and took another bite of the chocolate bar.

Ginny stifled a giggle. “So, how did the walk with Malfoy go?”

“Fine,” Anna admitted. “He was polite, asked a lot of ‘getting to know me’ type questions about my childhood in Virginia, Longbottom Manor, favorite things. Amazingly he didn’t sneer once, not even when I mentioned how much I enjoy my lessons with Remus.”

“Are you…um…becoming...interested in him?” Ginny inquired.

Anna laughed. “Definitely not. The fact that Draco is apparently capable of acting like a gentleman doesn’t change the basic facts.”

“Which are?”

She held up her hand and began ticking off fingers. “First, his behavior at the Macmillan party was completely unacceptable. I don’t care that his parents probably told him to do it, taking a skin sample off my chest was not okay. Second, he has been insulting one of my best friends for years because of her blood status. Honestly, I think he’s jealous that Hermione is the top student in our year. Third, he is generally not a nice person to anyone, and I am not one of those girls who finds ‘bad boys’ appealing. Fourth, he thinks entirely too highly of himself just because he is a rich pure-blood from an influential family. Some of his attitude may be a façade. I realize he was raised to think that way, but some of it is his natural personality. I really think he believes he’s better than most people. Fifth, he’s a Slytherin prefect, and I don’t trust him.” Her voice had a cold finality by the end.

Ginny nodded soberly. “What about Ernie?”

Anna sighed and ate the last bite of her chocolate bar.

“If it’s too personal,” Ginny murmured. “Please don’t feel like you have to answer.”

Anna shook her head. “It’s not too personal. I just…I like Ernie. He’s kind, intelligent and funny. He’s a genuinely decent person and his grandmother is a good friend of Aunt Augusta.”

“But?”

“I’m not attracted to him,” Anna admitted. “I feel like he’s become more of a friend, but that’s all.” She groaned. “I don’t want to think about the stupid betrothal letters anymore.” She sat up. “Tell me about Harry.”

“What about him?” Ginny squeaked rolling up and hugging her knees to her chest.

“He’s been watching you when he thinks no one’s paying attention,” she explained.

Ginny bit her lip, a small smile on her face. “I thought he was, but then thought it might be just wishful thinking.”

“I do believe he has finally realized that you’re a girl,” Anna smirked.

Ginny laughed. “Over the Christmas holidays, Harry said something about not seeing me as just Ron’s little sister anymore. And, when he hugged me…” she sighed. “But, if he’s interested, why hasn’t he done anything about it?”

“Well, he is a fifteen-year-old boy,” she shrugged. “Harry may need more time to figure things out. He also might just not know how to start something.”

“So, I should just be patient,” Ginny muttered.

“That is one option,” Anna agreed. “Or, if the moment seems right, you could be the one to start something.”

Ginny raised an eyebrow at her friend incredulously. “Is that what you would do?”

“Definitely not,” Anna grinned. “You are much braver than I am, though, and far more certain of your feelings.”

“Ugh,” Ginny groaned, collapsing back on the bed as both girls dissolved into giggles.

xxxxxxxxxx

“You brought my sister?” Fred rolled his eyes.

Neville glanced around quickly wondering what the Weasley twins were up to this time.

Angelina raised an eyebrow as she pointed a finger at Fred’s chest. “You asked me to go find people to play the game. Then, you stipulated that I had to find an equal number of boys and girls, avoid prefects and anyone else who might turn us in, and oh by the way, I could only bring people who were good-looking and not gits.” She threw her arms up in exasperation. “How many people did you actually think would qualify and be in the common room?”

“Okay, simmer down,” Fred muttered, eyeing his sister warily as she fingered her wand. “Just a bit surprised, that’s all.”

“Uh, what kind of game are we playing?” Seamus peered around the seventh-year boys’ dormitory.

Neville was relieved that his roommate had asked so he didn’t have to. The beds had been shifted sideways against the walls leaving a clear space in the middle of the room. It looked remarkably like the set up a couple of months ago at Grimmauld Place.

“As a service to ourselves and others,” George began.

“During a ridiculously stressful year with the Toad,” his twin continued.

“We were planning a game of Spin the Bottle,” Lee Jordan concluded.

Seamus laughed. “Excellent!”

“Is this another drinking game?” Harry asked.

“Not exactly,” Katie admitted.

“Although, I think we should all take a shot, or three, from that bottle before we begin,” Alicia added, motioning towards the full bottle of Firewhisky in Fred’s hand.

“Wait a minute,” Lavender said. “Is this the game where we kiss whoever the bottle points to?”

“I do love half-bloods and Muggle-borns.” Fred smiled fondly. “Always so quick to understand the games we like to play.”

“I’m not sure we should be doing this,” Neville stated quietly with a glance towards Anna. This game seemed like a particularly bad idea given the current situation.

“What happens in this room, stays in this room,” George declared firmly. “Anyone who thinks they can’t abide by that should leave now.”

A few nervous glances passed around the room, but no one left.

“And, we’ll play by the rule of witch’s choice,” Angelina decided, with a reassuring look towards the younger girls in the group.

“That rather spoils the game, don’t you think?” Lee glanced around at the others for support.

Lavender raised her hand primly and smiled as though she was in class and had just been called upon. “What is witch’s choice?”

“It allows the witch to decide whether to have a kiss on the lips or on the cheek,” Alicia explained. “Given the age range and…uh…family relationships present, I think we should follow Angelina’s suggestion.”

Neville inwardly sighed in relief as everyone agreed and glasses were conjured so each player could have a couple of shots before beginning. The Firewhisky was quickly consumed, and the bottle was placed in the middle of the circle of students.

“I’ll start the game,” Fred announced, muttering a quick spell and tapping the bottle with his wand before spinning it. He grinned when the bottle pointed towards Katie. She bit her lip nervously for a moment before kissing him on the lips. They were both smiling when they parted.

Lee spun next and raised an eyebrow towards Angelina who kissed him thoroughly.

George smiled reassuringly at Lavender when the bottle stopped in front of her, and looked pleasantly surprised when she kissed him full on the mouth.

Angelina was the next to spin and looked up cheekily when she saw the bottle point to Seamus. “Are you ready, my lad?” she asked with a smile.

“I certainly hope so,” Seamus drawled.

They were still kissing when Alicia spun the bottle and peered at Neville uncertainly.

“I’ve never done this before,” he whispered when she was a foot away from him.

“No worries,” she murmured before pressing her lips gently to his.

The feeling was brilliant, though over before Neville was ready for it. He was sure his blush was deeper than hers when they parted.

Harry was the next one to spin the bottle. He swallowed audibly when it landed on Ginny and glanced nervously towards her brothers.

“Forge,” Fred said. “I think it’s time we turned our backs and hummed a happy tune.”

“Right you are, Gred,” his twin replied.

They both pointedly turned their backs and hummed loudly as Ginny slowly approached Harry. Neville could hear a few murmurings from the pair before their lips met. He turned away, suddenly feeling as though he were intruding on an intensely personal moment.

“Your spin, Anna,” Angelina announced.

“Okay,” his cousin murmured, spinning the bottle and sighing with relief as it landed on him.

Neville was slightly surprised that she kissed him on the lips instead of the cheek, but as she backed away, they were both trying and failing to suppress their laughter.

“What’s so funny?” Seamus asked.

“We are definitely cousins,” Anna giggled.

“Merlin,” Neville wondered aloud. “How do the pure-blood families who all marry their cousins manage to…uh…”

“Do it?” Fred asked with a grin.

Neville felt his cheeks burning as he nodded.

“Too many generations of doing what they’re told,” George replied, his eyebrows wiggling suggestively. He pulled out a second bottle of Firewhisky. “Let’s all have another round in celebration of cousins who do not wish to marry!”

Glasses were once again refilled and everyone drank before continuing the game.

Back to index


Chapter 10: Chapter 10 Betrayed

Author's Notes: Tremendous gratitude goes out to my beta, Arnel! I would also like to thank everyone who has been reading and reviewing! It was a wonderful surprise to see the Silver Trinket Award for this story!


Chapter 10

Betrayed

A tawny owl swooped into the Great Hall, its strong wings shifting gracefully as it descended towards the Gryffindor table.

“That’s Mista.” Ginny set her fork down and reached forward to stroke the neck of the familiar bird.

Most mail was delivered at breakfast, so she was surprised to see her friend’s owl arriving at the end of dinner. The Great Hall was slowly starting to empty as students finished their meals and headed towards the library or their common rooms.

“What are you doing here so late, my sweet girl?” Anna cooed at the bird as she removed the letter.

As Anna pushed her goblet of pumpkin juice towards Mista, the air was suddenly rent with the sound of a woman’s scream. Startled students dropped their utensils, rose from their seats, and headed towards the doors to the Entrance Hall. A few even pulled their wands as the sound was repeated. Ginny exchanged an alarmed glance with Anna and the two girls rose and joined the other students.

Ginny stopped abruptly as she reached the Entrance Hall. Professor Trelawney was swaying in the middle of a wide circle of students. She held her wand in one hand and an empty bottle in the other. Professor Umbridge advanced upon the frail witch with a look of malicious glee that infuriated Ginny. How could someone take such pleasure in the fear and humiliation of another?

Umbridge seemed like a predator circling its prey as she stalked around the broken figure of the Divination professor. Her words were condescending and heartless as she fired the teacher and ordered her to leave the castle. The broken sobs of the distraught witch were interrupted by the sudden appearance of the Headmaster.

“Professor McGonagall, would you please escort Sybill back upstairs to her quarters?” Professor Dumbledore requested.

Ginny was relieved that the Headmaster had stepped in and halted the vicious scene. She was not a Divination student and had never had much contact with Professor Trelawney, but no one deserved to be treated that way.

“Come on.” Neville gently took her arm. “Let’s go up to the common room.” He had his other arm wrapped protectively around Anna.

Ginny walked with them quietly up the stairs. The students were all understandably subdued after witnessing such an event between their professors. Around them, Ginny heard the murmured comments about the empty bottle of alcohol in Professor Trelawney’s hand. Many were curious about the centaur, Firenze, who would be taking over the role of Divination professor. Everyone seemed shocked by the extraordinary cruelty of their Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.

Once in the common room of Gryffindor tower, they settled on a sofa near the fire.

“Do you think Hagrid will be next?” Neville asked.

Ginny shrugged and shook her head slightly. “I don’t know. That woman is so evil. Are we really certain she is not a Death Eater?”

Neville chuckled softly. “I’m not sure. I know what Remus would say though.” He looked at Anna and smiled.

She nodded. “He would say that the world is not made up of black and white, not just Death Eaters and those who are good. Many shades of gray exist between that are neither Death Eater, nor good.”

Ginny laughed. “That sounds like Professor Lupin. I wish he was here with us this year.”

“Don’t we all,” Neville replied. “Anna, was the letter Mista brought from Gran or Remus?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Anna rifled through her pockets. “I’d forgotten all about it.” She opened the letter and began to read, her eyes widening as she covered her mouth with one hand.

“Anna,” Neville said.

She wordlessly handed the letter over to her cousin.

Ginny turned from one to the other as she tried to read the looks on their faces and desperately wondered what could possibly be in the letter to have them exchanging such astonished looks.

“I’m going to bed,” Anna murmured. She carefully removed the letter from his hand. “Good night, Ginny. Neville.”

He stood and engulfed her in a tight hug. His lips moved as he whispered in her ear. She seemed to be nodding in response to his words.

Ginny chewed her lip as she watched her friend ascend the stairs. “Is everything okay?”

Neville rubbed his forehead. “Gran sent word that she received two more betrothal letters.” He closed his eyes briefly before focusing on her. “Would you…would you be willing to go and see if she wants to talk about it at all?”

“Of course.” She tried to smile reassuringly as she patted his arm and left the common room.

Entering the fifth-year girls’ dormitory, she saw that Anna was changing into a nightgown. Ginny sat on the edge of her bed. “Neville told me there were two more. Do you want to talk about it?”

Her friend nodded as she held out the letter. Ginny took it and gasped as she saw the two family names, Zabini and Weasley. Reading the note a second time more carefully, she paused at the words Charles Weasley. A mix of emotions flooded her system as Ginny tried to process what she was seeing and understand what it meant.

“Will you tell me about Charlie?” Anna bit her lip. “I mean, I know I’ve met him a few times, but…will you tell me stories about him? Tell me what he’s like?”

Ginny nodded and tried to smile. Her thoughts were bouncing everywhere at once in her mind. How had she not noticed her brother’s interest in her friend? Charlie wouldn’t be doing this unless he was seriously interested in Anna. She tried to remember any moment when he could possibly have ever been alone with her and came up with nothing.

Anna’s hand squeezed hers. “Please, tell me about him. Anything at all.”

The girls lay down next to one another on Anna’s bed as she cast a Silencing Charm. Ginny began telling stories about Charlie. She talked about how protective he was of her when she was a small child. He had played games with her and taken her on long nature walks, often pretending to find evidence of several magical creatures along the way. Ginny giggled as she recounted Charlie and Bill teaching her how to swim in the pond by The Burrow. She spoke of his fascination with dragons and his determination to earn the O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s required to work on a dragon reserve. She praised his flying skills and Seeking ability, comparing him to Harry as a truly gifted Quidditch player. Smirking, she mentioned Charlie’s difficulty in learning how to Apparate and his dislike of that form of travel.

“Has he had many girlfriends?”

Ginny paused, not exactly wanting to admit what she had overheard from Bill and the twins. “Kind of,” she replied. “I know he only briefly dated a couple of girls at Hogwarts, but…honestly, I think he has had…well, several girlfriends since he moved to Romania.”

Anna smirked at her friend. “Are you trying to subtly inform me that he has sowed more than his share of wild oats?”

“I think he and Bill both have to tell the truth,” Ginny admitted with a slight blush. “I mean…I don’t believe they’ve been irresponsible or reckless, but…”

“They’re grown men living on their own with professional jobs and solid incomes.” Anna smiled. “It would be odd if they didn’t enjoy that. It’s nothing I would hold against him, Ginny.”

She nodded thoughtfully. “I probably shouldn’t be asking, but…are you considering accepting Charlie?”

“I truly don’t know,” her voice was whisper soft.

Ginny sat up. “I should go on to my own room.”

“Thank you, Ginny, for telling me about Charlie.”

“Anytime.” She walked down the stairs with a hopeful smile on her face.

xxxxxx

Ginny focused on a wonderful memory, something powerful just as Harry had explained. She closed her eyes for a moment allowing the happy emotions to pour over her and drown out the sounds of the others in the Room of Requirement. She focused so intently on her memory that she could almost feel Harry’s lips on hers, his hand in her hair, his breath on her cheek.

Opening her eyes, she rotated her wand. “Expecto Patronum!” A silver horse emerged from the tip of her wand and pranced around her.

“That’s brilliant, Ginny!” Harry exclaimed loudly. “What memory did you use?”

She flushed but forced herself to meet his eyes. “I was thinking of something rather pleasant that happened a few nights ago,” Ginny replied softly.

Harry blinked and then blushed. “Well, that’s…um…that’s really great.” He touched her arm with his fingertips briefly before he was called away by another member of the D.A.

Ginny glanced about the room and was proud of her fellow classmates. She observed Hermione’s shining otter swimming through the air, Ron’s Jack Russell Terrier leaping about, and Luna’s hare bounding all around them. Cho’s swan Patronus glided over as Seamus produced something rather hairy she was unable to identify. Most of the class was at least managing the occasional thin mist of silver.

“Dobby, what’s wrong?” Harry’s voice betrayed his concern at the house-elf’s sudden appearance. Patronuses rapidly dissolved throughout the Room of Requirement.

Ginny edged forward to hear what was going on and was met with Hermione’s wide, angry eyes. She seemed to be glancing rapidly around the room.

“Is it Umbridge? Is she coming?” Harry asked.

Dobby nodded, and tried to throw himself to the ground. The house-elf’s distress helped to reinforce the danger they were all in.

“EVERYONE RUN!!!!” Harry bellowed.

The D.A. members bolted for the door, grabbing at each other’s arms, and fleeing as quickly as they could. Ginny didn’t even realize who had her hand until she was led into the library. Hermione forced her quickly into a chair, shoving a book into her hands.

Her eyes searched the room frantically for Harry. He wasn’t with them, though several other D.A. members had also sought refuge in the library.

“Who was it?” Neville murmured to Hermione. “Who betrayed us?”

The witch seemed to be staring into space, and Ginny could almost imagine her seeing the list of members in her mind and comparing it to those who attended the meeting this evening.

“I don’t know with certainty yet,” Hermione continued to gaze into empty space. “I think perhaps it may have been Marietta Edgecombe.”

Neville nodded slowly. “She definitely wasn’t at the meeting tonight.”

“What will happen now?” Anna asked quietly.

“Well, if Marietta is the sneak we will all know,” Hermione replied viciously. “She won’t be able to hide it.”

xxxxxx

The news of the Headmaster’s escape from multiple Ministry employees, including a couple of Aurors, spread rapidly throughout the school the next day. Neville and the other fifth-years listened intently to Harry as he explained the details of the exchange between the Minister and Professor Dumbledore.

“So, we’re not in trouble?” Ernie asked.

Harry shook his head. “No, the Headmaster took full responsibility for Dumbledore’s Army and claimed the names on the list just showed who was invited to come to the first meeting. He made it sound like the first meeting was to see who was actually interested in joining the group.”

Hermione sighed in annoyance. “I hope Marietta carries the sign of her betrayal for a very long time.”

“Knowing your skill with a wand, I imagine she’ll be lucky to have clear skin before the train ride home,” Anna smirked.

“Well, I can’t imagine Dumbledore being gone for too long,” Ernie stated. “Once the Ministry admits the truth about You-Know-Who’s return, we’ll have our Headmaster back at Hogwarts.”

“Yeah,” Ron muttered. “I just wonder how long that will take. My dad reckons Fudge is a bit of a power-hungry idiot. I think the Minister would actually have to see You-Know-Who in the flesh to believe he’s back.”

“I just wish we weren’t stuck dealing with Umbridge in the meantime,” Neville commented. “She is rubbish enough as a teacher without having full control of Hogwarts.”

Ernie sniggered. “According to the Fat Friar, she doesn’t have full control of Hogwarts. The gargoyles won’t even let her into the Head’s office.”

“You’re kidding!” Hermione smiled with glee.

“The Fat Friar told me she had a bit of a temper tantrum right there in the corridor!”

“I just wonder what she’ll do now,” Harry said quietly.

“What do you mean?” Ron asked.

Harry looked around at the others. “Well, it’s like Neville said. She has almost complete control over Hogwarts. A person with that much power can be dangerous enough when they are calm. A person who is angry and spiteful with that much power…”

Anna nodded. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, or I suppose in this case, women.”

“That sounds familiar. Who said it?” Harry looked curiously at Anna.

“Sorry,” she shrugged.

“It was Lord Acton, a Muggle politician,” Hermione supplied.

“Well, let’s hope things don’t get any worse,” Ron muttered.

xxxxxx

In the weeks that followed, life at Hogwarts became far more restrictive. The Inquisitorial Squad, led by Draco Malfoy and consisting only of students from Slytherin House, took points away from members of the other Houses for a large variety of infractions. They also had the responsibility of opening and reading all owl post. This not only significantly delayed the mail, but also made privacy a privilege of the past. The Floo Network was monitored, and students could not make Floo calls without the express permission of Professor Umbridge. Professor McGonagall had quietly spread the word among Gryffindor House that parents were being made aware of the situation.

Fred and George rebelled against the new regime to a startling degree, causing a level of mayhem previously unattained. It started with the pair releasing fireworks inside the castle which continually exploded for several hours one day. It ended with them creating a Portable Swamp in one of the corridors before Summoning their brooms and flying out of the castle.

The departure of the Weasley twins inspired many students to continue the rebellion they had started. Numerous pranks were occurring daily, most of them directed towards Professor Umbridge or a member of the Inquisitorial Squad. Interestingly, the other professors often ignored these antics or even quietly encouraged them.

Anna slipped silently from the castle early one Saturday morning just as the sun was rising. Making her way quickly to her favorite spot just inside the Forbidden Forest, she cut the palm of her hand with her wand and practiced the blood ward. The ritual was familiar and comforting. She placed her bleeding hand on each of the four tree trunks used to anchor her magic, murmuring as she moved her wand continually. The power rose, surrounding her in a protective cocoon.

Sinking to the forest floor, she took several slow, deep breathes. Aunt Augusta had encouraged them to not worry about the betrothal letters and to focus on their O.W.L.s. She assured them they would discuss the situation over the summer and decide then. Somehow that had seemed easier a couple of months ago. Now that the end of the school year was so near, Anna was feeling the stress of the coming decision. She was seriously considering refusing all four of the offers. Neville had promised her that he would support her. He had hinted that he would be very happy if she remained single and continued to live with him at Longbottom Manor after they finished school. The idea was certainly tempting.

Running her fingers through the sparse patches of grass surrounding her, she looked out at the lake. The dark water was easily visible through the trees this close to the edge of the forest.

Malfoy, Macmillan, Zabini, Weasley.

Ruling out Malfoy and Zabini was simple. She neither liked, nor trusted Malfoy and never would. The fact that he had been seeking her out regularly in recent months to spend time with her made no difference. While his behavior had been perfectly correct since the Macmillan Christmas Eve party, her feeling of uneasiness in his presence had not abated. Fortunately, Zabini had made no effort to spend time with her. She wondered if he was even aware of the letter his mother had sent to her aunt. Perhaps not, or perhaps he simply didn’t care.

Her thoughts turned to Ernie. While she did not believe Aunt Augusta would try to force her into an agreement, she strongly suspected that her aunt would be very pleased with that choice. Ernie was the grandson of one of her oldest friends. He was from a wealthy pure-blood family. It would be quite natural to form an alliance between the two families with a betrothal agreement. Ernie was kind, smart, and only a bit younger. She frowned. Would kissing him be like kissing Neville? Thinking about the complete lack of any romantic feelings she had experienced when kissing her cousin made her smile. She reflected on her feelings for Ernie. He felt like a friend, but that was all. He seemed to like her, but did he like her in that way? Anna wasn’t sure. He had been too much of a gentleman to try to kiss her.

Then, there was Charlie. In the case of the other three, Anna was certain that the parents were behind the offers. They were the type of traditional pure-blood families that approved of formal betrothals. The Weasley family was not. Charlie must have requested that the letter be sent. She recalled every interaction she had ever had with Charlie. There weren’t many. The couple of days at The Burrow and at the World Cup, the hour or so with the dragons after the first task of the Triwizard Tournament, and the night of the sleepover with Ginny at Grimmauld Place. They had never been alone. Closing her eyes, she groaned.

Anna stood up feeling suddenly restless. She canceled the ward quickly and began to walk towards the lake, almost bumping into Draco Malfoy.

“I’m sorry.”

“Anna, what are you doing out here?” he asked. “Were you in the forest?”

She swallowed. “I was taking a walk around the lake. It’s such a lovely morning!” She smiled nervously. “I thought I heard something, an animal in distress perhaps, but when I realized I was getting too close to the forest, I turned around.”

He cocked his head. “I don’t hear anything.”

“I don’t either anymore.”

Malfoy took a step closer to her. “This is actually quite fortuitous - us meeting this way.” He pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. She froze at his touch.

“I should get back to the castle.”

“Nonsense,” he took her hand gently. “You were going for a walk around the lake. I’ll come with you. There is nothing inappropriate about it. This will give us an opportunity to talk freely.”

She chewed her lip. They were at the far end of the lake, just about as far from Hogwarts as they could possibly be. “Of course,” she nodded. “Thank you, Mr. Mal…thank you, Draco.”

He smiled hearing her correct herself. He always seemed annoyed when she failed to call him by his given name. Tucking her hand on his arm, he led her slowly around the lake. As usual his conversation was perfectly polite, almost painfully correct. It set her nerves on edge so much that when her owl landed on her shoulder, she gasped.

Pulling away from Malfoy, she transferred her owl to her arm. “Mista, you startled me!”

“She’s a beautiful owl. Have you had her long?”

Anna smiled. “Yes, Aunt Augusta let me buy her just before third year. She is a lovely friend.”

“Your letters to your aunt and Remus Lupin have been very brief and dull of late,” Malfoy observed. “Why don’t you write a better letter to them now and send it off?”

She looked at him uncertainly. “We’re not allowed.”

“I’m the head of the Inquisitorial Squad. I will approve your letter sight unseen,” he promised.

“That’s very kind of you, but I don’t have…”

He opened his bag and pulled out a piece of parchment, quill, and ink. He set his bag flat on the grass creating a writing surface for her to use. “I’ll wait just over here,” he indicated a fallen log nearby. “Perhaps, Mista will even allow me to pet her. She truly is a beautiful owl.”

Malfoy walked over to the log and sat down. Her owl immediately flew over to perch on his knee, and he stroked her carefully.

Anna glanced at him uncertainly for a moment before picking up the quill and writing a long, detailed letter addressed to both Aunt Augusta and Remus. The lack of honest communication with them had been difficult, and she reveled in the ability to write a lengthy letter again. Finishing her letter, she called Mista to her and quickly sent her off.

She watched her owl fly for a minute before turning to Malfoy. He was standing now and slowly approaching her.

“Thank you,” Anna said. “That was truly very kind of you.”

He nodded. “You deserve the opportunity to send a proper letter to your family.”

He picked up his bag and offered his arm. She quietly took it, and they continued their walk towards the castle.

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

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Chapter 11: Chapter 11 O.W.L.s

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


Chapter 11

O.W.L.s

Draco smirked as he entered his empty dormitory in the Slytherin dungeons. His walk around the lake that morning had been interrupted by the witch who consumed most of his free thoughts lately. In response to his mother’s request for a couple of alternatives to Pansy Parkinson as potential betrothal choices, he had come up with Astoria Greengrass and Anna Henry. Both were attractive witches connected to wealthy pure-blood families. Much to his surprise, his mother had quickly selected the Gryffindor. Draco was still unclear about the exact reasons behind the choice. When he had asked, his mother had simply replied that Anna would be an excellent match. He knew his mother well enough to know it was more than that. Both his parents had written letters in recent months encouraging him to pursue a relationship with her. His mother had advised him to court the witch and offered a few romantic suggestions. His father had bluntly told him to seduce the girl.

Draco was pleasantly surprised when he literally bumped into Anna that morning while walking around the lake. Neville had permitted him to spend time with Anna; however, they had never been alone together for any length of time until this morning. She seemed calmer than previously. He wondered if the lack of an audience or the surprise of their meeting was responsible. The sudden appearance of her owl had given him the idea to offer her something no other Gryffindor at Hogwarts currently enjoyed. He gave her the chance to write a letter and send it off immediately with her owl, Mista. As a member of Dolores Umbridge’s Inquisitorial Squad, he promised to allow her to send the letter sight unseen. He had kept his promise and was certain he had earned a measure of trust and respect in return.

Setting his school bag on his bed, he pulled out the quill Anna had used to write her letter home. He looked at it thoughtfully for a moment before pulling out a blank piece of parchment. Anna could apparently be somewhat naïve. He was not truly disappointed by that fact. Sitting on his bed, he found himself wondering about the full extent of her innocence. Muttering the Duplication Spell, he placed the quill carefully on the parchment. Draco smiled with satisfaction as the words began to spread. He had not been certain of the spell’s validity, but clearly it had worked.

Picking up the parchment, he began to read an exact copy of the letter she had written.

Dear Aunt Augusta and Remus,

I have the opportunity to write and quickly send off a letter that won’t be read by others here at Hogwarts.

First, I want to assure you that Neville and I are both well and studying hard for our O.W.L. exams. Neville is understandably most concerned about Potions and History of Magic. I’m confident he’ll do quite well in Potions since Professor Snape won’t be administering the test. Hermione has been kind enough to share her notes to help us all study for History of Magic. Professor Binns is not a particularly effective teacher, though I don’t imagine it would be easy for him to be let go, since he is a ghost. My concerns, as I’m sure you can imagine, Remus, are about Astronomy and Arithmancy. I don’t know why I struggle so much in identifying the constellations in the night sky. I remember all the stories perfectly well regarding each one, but the stars seem to blur together for me rather than creating the outlines we’re supposed to see. Arithmancy is equally hit or miss. Hermione and I have been working together quite frequently on some of the more challenging concepts. I’m determined to pass both and not disappoint either of you.

We have truly tried not to worry about the betrothal letters, but it’s been rather complicated. Neville has separately allowed both Ernie and Draco to accompany us on various outings. Their behavior has been perfectly correct, but the stress of knowing about the decision to be made this summer has been occasionally overwhelming. I keep replaying the four names as a sort of litany running through my mind. I admit I’ve been entering the forest more often than required lately. The sense of calm that washes over me as I feel the power rise helps me relax. I know it’s a crutch and one that I should not be so dependent upon.


Draco frowned as he rapidly scanned the remainder of the letter. It contained the usual ‘miss you, love you, looking forward to seeing you soon’ type of drivel.

Returning his attention to the previous paragraph, he touched the word four with his finger. Who were the other two? He had personally read all of Anna’s and Neville’s letters, as well as any addressed to them for weeks. No mention had been made of two new offers. All four must have been reported to Anna and Neville prior to Dumbledore’s departure. Were they students? He had been watching carefully and was certain that no other student had approached Neville or made any attempt to court Anna. If they were students, they were not actually pursuing her. Of course, they might not be students. Two men he was completely unaware of could be interested in Anna. Recent Hogwarts graduates perhaps. He tried to recall who among the Sacred Twenty-Eight had a son complete school recently.

Scowling in frustration, he focused on the other odd section of the letter. Why was Anna going into the forest? What power was she talking about? She almost sounded guilty about it, as though she was aware she should not be doing it, but couldn’t stop herself. Of course, the fact that she was freely admitting it to her guardians hinted that whatever she was doing could not be too bad. He wished he had the opportunity to share the letter with his parents, particularly his mother and hear her thoughts. Staring at the letter once more, he knew full well he couldn’t risk keeping it. Picking it up, he quickly set the parchment on fire, letting it burn to ash as it fell to the floor.

xxxxxxxxx

Harry walked into the Gryffindor common room and sank happily into the soft cushions of the sofa next to Ginny.

She looked up from her book and smiled. “How was your lesson?”

He glanced around, pleased to observe that only his closest friends were near them. “Fine.”

Ginny raised her eyebrow questioningly, just as Hermione murmured. “Really, Harry. You always say everything is fine. Can’t you give us a bit more information than that?”

Ron chuckled as he looked up from the notes he was reading with Neville.

“The lesson actually went pretty well,” Harry admitted quietly. “Snape said that surprisingly I was making adequate progress in learning magic more advanced than that generally expected of a fifth-year student.”

“That actually sounds like a compliment,” Ron muttered. “From Snape.”

Harry nodded. “He made a point of reminding me that my connection to…Him…is rather unique. He warned me to not become cocky due to my ‘moderate success’ and to continue to be on my guard.”

“That sounds reasonable,” Hermione commented. “What about your dreams?”

“I told him they still happen, but are rare now instead of a nightly event. He seemed…I don’t know…understanding of that, I guess. Like he didn’t expect them to completely disappear,” Harry explained.

“That’s wonderful, Harry,” Anna said softly.

He smiled at her. The others didn’t know about their secret lessons, and he wasn’t about to tell them since it would ‘out’ Anna as an Occlumens.

“Time for you to work on your O.W.L. revisions, then,” Hermione announced. “Do you want to join Ron and Neville with the History of Magic notes, or Anna and me with Astronomy?”

Harry made a face at his best friend and leaned forward. “I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t think I have any chance at all of passing History of Magic, so I’m not going to waste any more time on it.”

Hermione narrowed her eyes and took in a deep breath just as Ginny patted him on the back. “Good decision, Harry. Most careers in the wizarding world don’t require an O.W.L. in History of Magic. Bill and Charlie both advised me not to worry about that class.”

He smiled at the lovely redhead beside him in relief. “What advice did your older brothers offer about preparing for the O.W.L.s?”

“Focus first on the tests you really need to pass for the career you most want,” Ginny explained. “Then, concentrate on the classes you believe you can definitely pass with a bit more revision.”

Harry nodded. “Professor McGonagall told me to become an Auror I need to do a bit better in Transfiguration and Potions.” He rubbed his forehead. “I think Divination is a lost cause, but I believe I can pass Astronomy.”

“Then, those are the three classes you should be focused on most during these last few weeks before exams,” Ginny smiled.

“How can you say that?” Hermione demanded. “Harry can’t just give up on two classes!”

Ron glanced at Neville, and they both carefully organized the notes in their hands. “Ginny’s right. Bill and Charlie both did well in school, and they have good careers. We can trust their advice. There’s no way I’ll pass History of Magic or Divination. Thank you for your notes, Hermione, but I really should focus on the other classes.” He held out the neat stack of notes to her with an apologetic smile plastered on his face.

Hermione huffed for a moment before taking them. “I suppose you feel the same way, Neville.”

He raked a hand through his hair. “Yeah, I’m really going to focus on Potions and Transfiguration. I want to make sure I pass them to please Gran and Remus. They won’t be upset about me failing History of Magic anyway.”

Anna rifled through her bag for a moment and pulled out her old Potions textbook. “The potions most likely to turn up on the O.W.L.s are starred. Be sure to read the notes written in the margins by each one.”

“You wrote in your Potions book!” Hermione exclaimed.

“Of course not! My grandmother wrote all the notes in that book the year before she died. She wanted to be certain she passed her knowledge on to me and that I wouldn’t forget her lessons.” Anna explained. She turned to the boys and held out the book. “Katherine was an expert at making potions. She received an Outstanding on her Potions N.E.W.T.”

The three boys moved to sit beside one another so they could all read the book together.

“Your grandmother really tried to teach you a lot before you came to Hogwarts,” Hermione observed.

“Yes, she did.” Anna smiled wistfully. “Would you like to continue with Astronomy or switch to Arithmancy?”

Hermione shoved her notes into her bag and stood up. “Let’s go over to the table to work on Arithmancy.”

Anna nodded as she rose to follow her dormmate.

xxxxxxxxxxx

Neville and Anna shouted themselves hoarse during the final Quidditch match of the year. Ron saved a remarkable number of goals allowing the Gryffindor team to be victorious over Ravenclaw when Ginny caught the Snitch from right under the opposing Seeker’s nose. Knowing that Gryffindor had managed to win the Quidditch Cup during this extremely challenging school year was a balm to the souls of every member of Gryffindor House.

The news from Harry and Hermione that Hagrid was keeping his half-brother, the giant, Grawp, in the Forbidden Forest, had been a shock to put it mildly. The fact that Hagrid expected his students to visit his brother and somehow teach the giant to speak English was ridiculous. Neville felt once again that this miserable school year simply needed to come to an end as quickly as possible.

The O.W.L. examinations began on a Monday with Charms. Written examinations were held in the morning with the practical portion in the afternoon. Transfiguration, Herbology, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Ancient Runes rounded out the first week. The second week began with Potions, then Care of Magical Creatures, and Astronomy the following morning. Wednesday afternoon was Divination and Arithmancy with the Astronomy practical scheduled for that night.

Neville carefully filled out his star chart while double checking everything in the telescope. Periodically, he closed his eyes, recalling his lessons over the summer with Remus and Anna to verify his work, before moving on to the next section. He was so focused on his chart that he flinched at the sudden loud noise from the grounds far below them. Peering around he realized most of his classmates were focused on the area around Hagrid’s house.

“No!” Hermione cried.

Her outburst was met by a scolding from Professor Tofty, one of the testing administrators, but the students could not tear their eyes away from the dramatic scene playing out below them. Aurors, led by Professor Umbridge, were trying and failing to subdue Hagrid. Spells seemed to bounce off him as he roared with anger. The situation only intensified when Professor McGonagall attempted to intervene on her colleague’s behalf. Several of the fifth-year girls screamed in horror as they watched four Stunners strike his Head of House, causing the witch to land hard on her back, clearly unconscious. Most of the students were too horrified to focus on completing their star charts, and the exam soon ended.

The final O.W.L examination was History of Magic on Thursday afternoon. Neville was writing his responses as quickly as possible. He knew he wasn’t going to pass this one anyway. He simply wanted it all to finally be over. He set his quill down just as Harry screamed before collapsing on the floor of the Great Hall.

xxxxxxxx

Anna’s eyes shifted from Harry to Hermione and back again as she listened to their heated exchange. Harry had experienced a vision of some sort while taking the History of Magic examination. He saw his godfather in the Department of Mysteries at the Ministry being tortured by Voldemort. Harry was terrified for Sirius and determined to travel there and rescue him. Hermione was desperately trying to reason with him about the improbability of his godfather being at the Ministry with Voldemort. He wanted to take immediate action, while she was determined to force him to slow down and think before he acted. Ron was occasionally joining in on the conversation sometimes backing up Harry and other times seeming to agree with Hermione. Anna glanced at Neville with relief when Ginny and Luna suddenly appeared.

“Harry.” Ginny looked around uncertainly. “What’s going on?”

“Never mind,” he replied roughly.

She raised her eyebrow. “I only wondered if I could help.”

Harry raked both hands through his hair. “Well, you can’t. I don’t want you involved.”

“That’s rather rude,” Luna said serenely. “Unless you’re being protective of Ginny, and then, it’s quite gallant of you.”

Harry flushed and turned away.

Hermione grabbed his arm. “We need everyone’s help! This could be a trick of Voldemort’s. We have to check on Sirius before we just set out on a rescue mission to the Ministry!”

“How are we supposed to check up on Sirius?” Harry demanded.

“I don’t know! I guess…we’ll have to…break into Umbridge’s office and use her Floo connection to call Grimmauld Place.” Hermione looked slightly horrified by her own suggestion.

Everyone seemed to consider the idea briefly before assigning jobs to one another to make it work. Ron set off to distract Professor Umbridge. Ginny and Luna kept a lookout at one end of the corridor, while Anna and Neville were at the other end. Hermione went with Harry under his Invisibility Cloak into Umbridge’s office to use her Floo.

As the minutes slowly ticked away, Neville turned to Anna. “What do you think of all this?”

She shrugged and chewed her lip. “I don’t know. Harry’s connection to Voldemort…” She grimaced. “He wasn’t asleep in the exam, Neville. I was sitting diagonally behind him. It wasn’t a dream. Harry was awake the whole time until he fell to the floor!”

He took her hand. “You think it was a vision, like what a true Seer might have?”

“I’m not sure, but I’m afraid,” she admitted. “For Harry and for Sirius.”

Anna shrieked as arms grabbed her roughly from behind.

“What’re you doing here outside Professor Umbridge’s office?” Vincent Crabbe demanded.

“Let go of her,” Draco seethed at his friend, who immediately released her arms. “I’m sorry, Anna. Neville. I’ll need your wands. Professor Umbridge will be wanting to speak with you both in her office.”

He took their wands, stowing them in his pocket, before taking them to the Defense Professor’s office.

Walking into the room, Anna flinched at the sickeningly sweet décor. Harry had not exaggerated about the lacy covers and doilies covering every piece of furniture and flat surface. Vases of dried and fresh flowers adorning all corners of the small room. The wall of decorative plates, each featuring a playful kitten, was particularly disconcerting when compared to the malice on the face of the woman who collected such innocent looking items.

“Well,” Professor Umbridge raised an eyebrow as Luna and Ginny were led into the room as well. “Mr. Potter, you do seem to have led a large number of students into trouble today. I wonder why they were so willing to risk punishment to assist you. Hmm,” she pursed her lips thoughtfully. “You were using my Floo. Who were you trying to call?”

Anna forced herself to remain calm as the interrogation continued. Harry was impressively self-controlled as he refused to answer the professor’s questions. She felt a moment of panic when Professor Snape was called upon to provide Veritaserum so that Professor Umbridge could question him under the influence of the truth serum. Fortunately, the Potions teacher denied having any more in his store cupboard. Harry even had the presence of mind to communicate a coded message about the danger Sirius was in before the man left.

Her moment of relief was short-lived as Professor Umbridge pulled her wand after pacing the office while mumbling to herself.

“Desperate times and difficult children…require forceful actions,” she announced, though she was apparently talking to herself rather than to any of them. “Regrettably, a breach of Ministry security cannot be ignored, regardless of the age of the perpetrator…a high level of response is expected in such situations.”

Anna glanced around at her classmates. For the first time, she truly doubted the sanity of their Defense Professor. As her eyes met Hermione’s, she realized she was not the only one who was afraid.

“The Cruciatus Curse can be highly effective,” Umbridge continued. “It will surely encourage you to make the right choice.” She smiled at Harry as she advanced upon him, her wand at the ready.

“No!” Hermione shrieked. “Please professor, you can’t. It’s illegal!” She glanced about the room desperately as if seeking inspiration. “The Minister would not expect so much from you. Mr. Fudge would never want you to break the law.”

Their professor sighed quietly. “Dear Cornelius.” A small smile lit her face. “What he does not know will not hurt him.”

Everyone seemed to hold their breath as Professor Umbridge circled Harry once before pointing her wand resolutely at him.

“I must do what is necessary,” she whispered. “Cruc-”

“Noooo!” Hermione screamed.

Anna was stunned as her friend spun a tale of a powerful weapon hidden outside the castle by the Headmaster. Hermione made it sound as though Professor Dumbledore had created a magical artefact that would take over the British wizarding world and enable him to become Minister. The performance was so obviously false that Anna was stunned when Umbridge fell for it and quickly led Harry and Hermione out of the office.

The others stood quietly looking at one another in various states of concern and disbelief.

“I’m taking Miss Henry to another room to question her,” Draco announced peering at his fellow Slytherins. “Guard everyone carefully until Professor Umbridge returns.”


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

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Chapter 12: Chapter 12 Family's Consent

Author's Notes: Tremendous thank you to Arnel for her beta work on this chapter! Trigger warning. Please note this story is rated R. This chapter is reminiscent of the first chapter in the original story.


Trigger warning. Please note this story is rated R.

Chapter 12

Family’s Consent

“I’m taking Miss Henry to another room to question her,” Draco announced peering at his fellow Slytherins. “Guard everyone carefully until Professor Umbridge returns.”

He pulled her out of the room quickly and down the long corridor to an empty classroom just around the corner. Closing the door behind them, he released his grip on her arm before pointing his wand at the heavy door and murmuring ‘Colloportus’.

The squelching sound of the door sealing caused Anna to take an involuntary step backwards.

Draco raised an eyebrow. “I just don’t want to be interrupted while we talk.” Stowing his wand in his pocket, he pulled out her wand along with Neville’s and set them on an old desk near the door. “Sorry I had to take your wands earlier.”

The sight of her wand relaxed her somewhat though she wished he had returned it to her.

“Anna, what weapon was Granger going on about?” he asked.

“I truly have no idea,” she replied with a bewildered shake of her head.

He stared at her for a moment as though trying to judge her sincerity. “I can’t really imagine Dumbledore creating a weapon to take over the wizarding world. He doesn’t have the ambition.”

She nodded. “I believe Professor Dumbledore has been offered the position of Minister for Magic a few times and has always declined.”

“So, why did she lie? What do you think Granger is doing?”

“I believe she was just…trying to distract Professor Umbridge. Draco, you do realize that woman was about to cast the Cruciatus Curse on Harry!”

He nodded, his expression closed. “She was upset.”

“She was unhinged!”

“Why were Harry and Hermione in Umbridge’s office?”

“Harry needed to make an urgent Floo call, and since communication out of Hogwarts has been nearly cut off, he didn’t have a lot of options.”

“Who was he trying to contact?”

“I can’t tell you that. It’s personal, a family matter.” She bit her lip. “I can assure you Harry is not trying to aid Dumbledore in taking over wizarding Britain, or create a weapon to attack the Ministry, or whatever other nonsense Umbridge believes.”

He raked a hand through his hair and paced the room briefly. Stopping to look at her, he approached her slowly. “Why were you in the Forbidden Forest the other day?”

“I…I told you. I thought I heard an animal in distress.”

“You don’t lie very convincingly,” he murmured. “Had you only been in the forest for a moment following the sounds of an animal, I would have seen you in the distance while I was walking. You were in the forest for quite a while. What were you doing?”

Anna clenched her hands together, trying to think of something to say.

“It’s not safe to be alone in the forest. You do realize it’s forbidden for a reason.” Draco added.

She nodded, biting her lip.

“You know every time you bite your lip, I’m very tempted to kiss you.” His voice was husky as his hand touched the side of her face, his thumb tracing her lips.

She flinched and backed up to the wall. It only put a couple of feet between them.

Draco allowed his hand to drop even as he took another step towards her. “Why were you in the forest?”

Anna swallowed. “I was practicing a spell, and I needed some privacy. I was only a short distance in. I wasn’t in any danger.”

He cocked his head. “Why did you need privacy? What kind of spell was it?”

“It’s...” she hesitated. “It’s perfectly harmless, a spell I learned a long time ago. It’s just not the kind of magic taught here at Hogwarts, that’s all.” She shrugged awkwardly.

“You mean like a folk ritual? Were you naked?” He smirked.

“Of course not!” she sputtered, her cheeks feeling hot.

“But, it was some type of folk magic…” his voice trailed off. “I suppose that is harmless enough.”

She nodded. “Shouldn’t we be returning to the others?”

“No,” he shook his head slightly. “We need to talk about the betrothal.”

Anna’s eyes widened. “There isn’t really anything for us to talk about. I mean, Aunt Augusta will discuss the situation with me when I go home.”

“Of course, we can talk about it,” he pressed. “This may be our only opportunity to discuss the betrothal privately before we all go home for the summer.”

“I just don’t know what there is to say,” she murmured.

“You can say you plan to accept a betrothal between us,” Draco said quietly.

“I can’t make you any promises. I’m sure you understand this process better than I, but my aunt was quite clear that the letters have to be carefully considered before we make a decision.”

“Who else have you received an offer from?” he asked. “I know about Ernie Macmillan, but I’m curious who the others are.”

Anna shook her head slowly. “I’m not sure I should say. Let’s go back to the others. Professor Umbridge may have already returned.”

“No.” He once again caressed the side of her face. “You need to promise me that you’ll accept a betrothal with me.”

“Draco, you must know I can’t do that,” she implored. “It’s not solely my decision to make. Augusta is my legal guardian, and Neville is my male Head of House. I can’t promise you anything.”

“They would surely listen to you and follow your wishes,” he argued. “My family is certainly the best of those who offered for you. We have more wealth and power than any other, even amongst the Sacred Twenty-Eight. You will never want for anything as my wife. I will shower you with jewels and fine clothes and anything else you desire.”

“I’m sure that’s true, but...”

“Then, say ‘yes.’ Agree to our betrothal right now!”

“I can’t, Draco!”

He gripped her shoulder. “Do you not understand how much I want you?” His lips were on hers before she had time to react. He held her firmly, his mouth pressing hard against hers demanding entrance. She opened her mouth to demand he stop, but realized her mistake when his tongue plunged into her mouth.

Forcing her hands up between them, she pushed hard against his chest. “Stop it, Draco!”

“Anna, I need you to agree to the betrothal!” he commanded.

She closed her eyes, breathing slowly. “Please, try to understand. I cannot agree to anything without my family’s consent. Surely, you understand the truth of that. Now, let’s return to the others.” Opening her eyes, she tried to force a calm smile only to see that Draco had removed his robe and tossed it aside. “What are you doing?”

His eyes pierced hers as he stepped closer and reached for her robe. “I’m guaranteeing your family’s consent.” His voice was soft and controlled as he rapidly unfastened the buttons.

She stood frozen, numb in disbelief as he eased her robe off her shoulders, and it fell to the floor behind her. Emerging from her stupor, Anna slapped his hands away from the front of her blouse which was already partway unbuttoned. “Don’t touch me!”

Draco pulled his wand from his trousers pocket and sent an Imperturbable Charm towards the door. “Don’t fight me, Anna. Your family will approve our betrothal when they understand that I’ve claimed you as my own.”

Replacing his wand, he moved her back against the wall and kissed her again, pushing her lips apart with his tongue. She felt his hands on her chest once more working at the buttons of her blouse. Reaching out desperately towards his trousers, she tried to find his pocket and retrieve his wand. Draco realized her intent quickly and grabbed both her hands pinning them to the wall. Panicking, she struggled to twist her body away from him, to free her arms from his strong grip. Turning her head to the side, she managed to break away slightly and scream.

He shook her, his fingers digging into the soft flesh of her arms. “No one can hear you. Don’t make me hurt you.” He gave her a stern, warning look before lowering his mouth to hers.

She bit down hard, grimacing at the sudden taste of blood.

“Damn it, Anna!” His eyes were hard, angry now, as a thin line of blood dripped from his lower lip. Grabbing her blouse, he tore it open, buttons popping as he shoved it off her shoulders and down her arms. The buttons at the wrists of her blouse were still fastened, so as the shirt descended her arms, her hands were effectively trapped in her own clothes.

Eyes widening in fear, she tugged helplessly to free herself from the tight cuffs. “Let me go! Please, Draco, don’t do this!”

Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he stared at her briefly before roughly yanking off her skirt and dropping it to the floor. He quickly removed his shirt and pressed himself against her. “You need to relax, Anna.”

A tear slid down her cheek. “I’m a virgin. Please…don’t hurt me. I’m begging you.”

He used his thumb to wipe the tear from her cheek. “It will be okay. The pain will only last a moment. Then, you’ll be mine. Our betrothal announcement will be the toast on everyone’s lips this summer.” His mouth crashed down on hers, hard and demanding. His hands went to her chest, stroking, squeezing, pinching.

Even as Anna continued to struggle against him, to try to free her hands from the restraining material of her blouse, she began to feel a welcome hollowness come over her mind. She was only vaguely aware of his hands settling on her hips, his fingers squeezing her bottom, his growing hardness pressing into her belly.

“You have such a beautiful body,” Draco murmured huskily, his breathing labored. He took a step away from her as he unfastened his trousers and pulled them down, his eyes continuing to survey her form hungrily.

Anna blinked, her vision clearing just as Draco stepped out of his trousers. She caught a glimpse of the tented fabric of his boxer shorts before he pressed himself against her. One knee pushed between her thighs trying to force them apart. The hollowness that had overwhelmed her minutes before vanished in a haze of fury laced with fear. Feeling carefully behind her back, she grabbed the left sleeve of her blouse tightly and yanked as hard as she could. The muscles of her right arm strained with the effort, and she grimaced at the burning pain shifting slowly down her left hand as she finally broke free. Forcing her hands between their bodies she pushed at his chest, pouring all her rage into her hands as she shoved with every bit of strength she possessed. He looked momentarily startled as his body flew backwards across the room and struck the far wall before dropping heavily to the floor.

Anna stretched her left hand out awkwardly towards her wand, moaning in relief as it flew towards her. She pointed her wand at Draco sending a large flat net of rope to completely cover his motionless body. Rushing to the door, she murmured “Alohomora” and “Finite Incantatem” before reaching out for the door knob. Anna growled in frustration as she realized her right hand was still stuck in the sleeve of her blouse. Sinking to her knees, she set her wand on the floor and yanked brutally on her sleeve, finally freeing herself entirely of the blouse. She tried to hold back her tears as she saw how red and raw her wrists looked resting against the pale white skin of her naked thighs. Rising from the floor, she hurried over to her school robe and yanked it on. Too impatient to manage the buttons, she used a Sticking Charm to close the front.

Anna was breathing hard now. Fear and fury seemed to be warring with one another in her system. Her gaze returned to Draco’s still form. A red haze seemed to cloud her vision as she walked slowly towards him. Straightening her arm, she pointed her wand, a flurry of spells passing through her mind. She wanted to hurt him. She wanted to hurt him so badly that he would never be able to hurt her again. Never again. Lowering her wand, she cocked her head for a moment trying to remember the correct conjuring spell. With a nod, she murmured the incantation and smiled as a serrated knife appeared on the floor in front of her. Picking up the knife, she focused on the young man before her, trying to see past the red haze that obscured her vision.

“Anna!”

She heard Neville’s booming voice echo down the corridor. The knife dropped from her hand with a reverberating clang. Her eyes widened as her vision cleared. She looked from the knife to Draco and back again in utter horror. Glancing around frantically, Anna grabbed Neville’s wand from the desk Draco had deposited it upon as they entered the room and hurried out the door only to fall hard as she tripped.

“Anna!” Neville yanked her up from the floor. “Are you hurt?”

She started to pull away, and then winced as she felt her left leg crumpling under her. “I think my ankle is broken.”

“Oh, no!” Ginny exclaimed.

“Malfoy broke your leg?” Ron yelled in shock.

“No,” Anna shook her head. “I broke it just now when I fell.”

“Where is Malfoy?” Neville asked.

“Back there,” Anna gestured awkwardly behind her. “He’s…uh…out cold.”

Ginny nodded. “We finally escaped the others. Do you have any idea where Harry and Hermione are?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know.”

“We should probably head towards the forest,” Luna mentioned calmly. “It’s really the only place where a weapon could possibly be hidden from Professor Umbridge as well as a school full of students.”

Ron raised an eyebrow. “You do realize there is no weapon, right Luna?”

“Of course, but Hermione had to lead the professor somewhere, didn’t she?”

“That does actually make sense,” Neville admitted. “Look, why don’t the rest of you head towards the forest while I take Anna to Madam Pomfrey.”

The teens glanced at each other and nodded quickly in agreement before hurrying off.

“No,” Anna argued, squeezing his hand. “Harry and Hermione might really be in danger from that woman. I can make it to the hospital wing. Go with them, Neville.”

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“Of course. Go on, now!” She pressed his wand into his hand and gave him a shaky smile.

“We’ll find them,” he promised as he ran off after the others.

Anna leaned against the wall for a moment, trying to catch her breath and calm down. She hadn’t even tried to heal herself, though a broken ankle was not exactly a simple injury. After trying the “Episkey” spell twice, she admitted to herself that she really did need to see Madam Pomfrey and began to slowly make her way to the hospital wing.

xxxxxxxx

Madam Pomfrey glanced around her empty hospital wing and sighed as she turned towards her office. This school year was certainly not the worst of her many years as matron, but it was admittedly one of the most frustrating. That woman!

Professor Umbridge was an absolute menace. As though it wasn’t bad enough she had forced Albus out of the castle, now Poppy also had to worry about Minerva and Hagrid. The thought of Minerva being struck by four Stunning Spells to the chest at her age. It was a cowardly attack, completely unprovoked, and now her friend was at St. Mungo’s. She had no idea where Hagrid was, but suspected he was hiding in the forest, or in the mountains nearby. He was a good and dependable colleague, even if he was rather rough around the edges. Who would be driven from Hogwarts next, she wondered bitterly?

Poppy was by nature a no-nonsense woman. She enjoyed the order of her well-stocked hospital. She appreciated having the magical knowledge to heal all manner of minor and even some major afflictions. She was discreet enough of teenagers to never ask too many questions. She was genuinely grateful for every month that passed without Harry Potter having to be brought into her hospital wing. Sighing again, she wondered how the boy was. Poppy was rather used to seeing him more often. Between Quidditch injuries and the Triwizard Tournament, he had been a bit of a fixture in here for years. Frowning she opened the door to her office, just as the hospital wing doors were pushed open.

“Miss Henry?” She approached the young witch with an appraising eye, noting the limp immediately.

The girl glanced quickly around the empty room. “May we speak in your office, please?” Her voice wavered slightly as she spoke.

“Certainly,” Poppy replied with a reassuring smile. She led the way to her office and closed the door quietly behind them. “How may I help you?”

“I need to use your Floo to make a call to Longbottom Manor,” Miss Henry said.

She shook her head. “I’m sorry, dear. Professor Umbridge has forbidden students Floo access except in emergency situations.” She hesitated. “May I ask why you are limping?”

The girl nodded slowly. “I think my left ankle is broken.” Her voice was void of emotion as she raised her wand to the front of her school robe and murmured “Finite.” The robe fell open.

Poppy forced herself to remain professionally detached even as she pressed one hand to her lips, a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. Miss Henry removed the robe entirely, revealing that the only clothing underneath was a bra and knickers. Angry red marks were visible against her pale skin, on her arms, her hips, her thighs. Poppy noted the red, raw skin on both wrists, evidence she had been restrained and struggling to break free. “Who did this?”

“Draco Malfoy…in an old classroom along the corridor from Professor Umbridge’s office.” She pulled the robe back on, wrapping her arms around her middle protectively. “May I please speak to Aunt Augusta?”

Poppy nodded swiftly. “I’m going to lock you in this office. I need to alert a few staff members of this incident.”

The girl shook her head frantically. “Please, don’t tell anyone!”

“Miss Henry, we will be discreet. I promise you. We must secure the boy and the classroom where this occurred. When I return, I’ll also need to examine you.”

Anna nodded and sank to her knees before the fireplace.

Poppy hurried along the corridor. With Albus and Minerva both gone, she wondered who she should seek out. Hoping a professor was still near the Great Hall since the dinner hour had recently ended, she almost sighed in relief when she saw Pomona Sprout and Filius Flitwick.

“Oh, I’m glad you’re still here. I need your assistance.” She indicated for them to follow her to the Chamber off the Great Hall.

“What is it, Poppy?” Pomona asked.

“Miss Anna Henry came to the hospital wing a short time ago,” she explained. “I have not yet fully examined her, but it is clear she has been injured and…well, she may have been raped.”

Filius made an angry noise quite unlike anything she was used to hearing from him. “Who?”

“Draco Malfoy,” the matron replied. “She said it was an old classroom not too far from Professor Umbridge’s office. I need the room identified, if possible, and sealed. Also, Mr. Malfoy needs to be confined, and Severus will have to be informed about the situation.”

“I think we can investigate first, and inform Severus later,” Pomona announced with a glance towards Filius.

He nodded in obvious agreement.

“Well, I’ll leave you to it, then. I need to return to my patient.”

Returning to her office a few minutes later, Poppy saw the young Gryffindor sitting awkwardly before the fireplace. “Is Madam Longbottom on her way to Hogwarts?”

The girl shook her head. “No, I didn’t tell her. I started to. I told her everything that happened just before, but then…I stopped. Maybe she…doesn’t really need to know. Maybe…no one needs to know.” Her eyes were pleading as she looked up from the floor.

Poppy swallowed and tried to smile reassuringly. “Well, let’s not worry about that just yet. I need to examine you. Perhaps, we should start with your leg. How was it broken?”

The next hour passed slowly. Miss Henry seemed to be almost in shock. It turned out that Mr. Malfoy had nothing to do with her broken ankle. She had apparently tripped and fallen after getting away from the boy. The rest of her injuries were slowly identified and catalogued, once Poppy convinced the girl to allow a nude examination in the privacy of her office. Helping her into a pair of pajamas, she settled Miss Henry into a bed in the hospital wing and sat next to her, as she waited for the Potion for Dreamless Sleep to take effect.

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Chapter 13: Chapter 13 Department of Mysteries

Author's Notes: Thank you to everyone who has been reading and reviewing! We are veering off increasingly into AU territory. Tremendous thanks to Arnel for her work with this chapter!


Chapter 13

Department of Mysteries

Harry watched in horror as a jet of red light hit Ginny in the face. She sank to the floor, unconscious, her fiery hair covering her face. Hermione and Luna had already been struck down, their forms as still as Ginny’s. Ron was battling the tentacles of the brain he had Summoned from a tank. The feelers wrapped around his body, tightening like a constrictor trying to suffocate its prey. Neville was the only one left standing and fighting beside him in the Department of Mysteries.

Harry had been tricked, manipulated by Voldemort, into coming to the Ministry to retrieve the prophecy he had never known existed. As Neville continued to hurl Stunning Spells at the approaching Death Eaters, Harry realized he may have led his closest friends to their deaths. How could he have believed the false vision of Sirius being tortured by Voldemort? How could he have allowed his friends to accompany him on a mission to rescue his godfather who was clearly not even here? He had to somehow lead the Death Eaters away from his friends.

Lifting the prophecy above his head where it would be easily visible, Harry ran out of the room and down a series of steep stone steps. He felt a momentary sense of relief when he realized the five Death Eaters had followed him. Perhaps his friends could still escape, could still make it out of this mess alive.

“You’re all alone now, Potter,” Lucius Malfoy announced with a smirk. “You cannot escape from us. Hand over the prophecy.”

Backing up slowly, Harry stalled. “If you let my friends leave the Ministry, I’ll give you the prophecy.”

“Do you really feel you are in the best position to bargain with us?” Lucius drawled. Gesturing to one of the others, Harry was shocked to see Neville shoved forward down the last of the stone steps. He hit the floor hard with a stifled groan, but rolled over immediately and tried to sit up. “I do believe this is the Longbottom boy.”

“Longbottom? Well, isn’t that an interesting coincidence?” Bellatrix licked her top lip menacingly as she sauntered towards Neville. “I had the very great pleasure of meeting your parents many years ago.” She pouted thoughtfully. “I’m not sure they enjoyed our acquaintance as much as I did.”

“Stay away from him!” Harry ordered.

“Give us the prophecy,” Bellatrix demanded holding out her hand.

Neville wiped blood away from his mouth. “Don’t do it, Harry!”

“Crucio!” Bellatrix spat, pointing her wand and grinning viciously.

Harry flinched as Neville screamed, his body twitching as he fell over onto his side.

“That felt good,” Bellatrix purred. “Always nice to warm up with a small dose. Now, if you don’t hand over the prophecy, we’ll see how well your friend tolerates something a bit stronger.”

Harry held out the prophecy, his attention focused on his friend who still lay shaking on the ground. Malfoy stepped forward to take the sphere just as two jets of red light struck his torso. The combined power of the spells sent him careening into the air before he dropped to the ground, unconscious, several feet away. Peering up in shock, Harry saw Lupin, Moody, Tonks, and Kingsley. Their simultaneous attack with Stunning Spells had taken out two of the five Death Eaters. Only Bellatrix, Rookwood, and Dolohov were still standing.

Slipping the prophecy into his pocket, Harry dodged the spells flying rapidly throughout the room and crawled over to Neville. “Are you okay?”

“Yes,” he muttered thickly, spitting out a mouth-full of blood. “Don’t think I can walk.” One knee was twisted at an odd angle making Harry suspect that it was broken.

“And Ron?”

Neville grimaced. “Okay, I think. I almost had the brain completely off him when I was grabbed. Ron was still conscious.”

Harry watched the duels taking place around them. The Order members were certainly holding their own, but so were the remaining Death Eaters. It seemed that no one would fall quickly or easily. They were too evenly matched. Lupin and Tonks were fighting together to overcome Bellatrix, who was clearly the strongest duelist of the group.

An errant spell struck the floor a few feet away from them, leaving a deep gouge in the stone. “We need to move!” Harry grabbed Neville around the waist and started to hoist him backwards several feet.

“Look out!” Neville shouted, grabbing Harry and forcing him to the ground.

A jet of green light flew over his head as he collided heavily with the stone floor. The sound of glass smashing was quickly replaced by the image of a pearly-white figure a few feet in front of them. Harry tried to focus as he saw the woman’s mouth moving, but with the noise of the duels being fought around them, he only caught a few words of the raspy voice before it vanished.

“Bloody hell, Harry,” Neville groaned. “Did you hear it?”

He shook his head and glanced up just as Sirius and Dumbledore ran into the room and down the steps to join the fray. The relief of seeing his godfather and Headmaster was immediate and overwhelming. They were safe. His friends were going to be alright.

The tide of the battle seemed destined to shift immediately. Dumbledore joined Kingsley in his fight with Dolohov, while Sirius leapt onto the raised stone dais in the center of the floor, immediately capturing the attention of Bellatrix.

“Well, well, cousin,” she murmured. “Come to play?”

Sirius growled as he threw a curse at his cousin. The pair exchanged spell fire so rapidly Harry could not keep track of which spells were flying from each wand.

“Surely, you can do better than that!” his godfather yelled.

Bellatrix snarled as a spell flew from her wand, catching Sirius in the chest and sending him towards the stone archway with the veil. His head struck the thick stone pillar with a sickening crunch. Harry’s eyes widened in horror as he saw blood spatter to the stone floor. His godfather fell heavily to the ground, eyes open and glassy.

The witch cackled with glee before sprinting up the stone steps and out of the room.

“Nooooo!” Harry screamed.

“Sirius!” Tonks cried, running to her cousin and dropping by his side.

A fury Harry had never felt before consumed him. His godfather was dead. Sirius was dead. Bellatrix had killed him. Her own cousin. It was all Harry’s fault.

He ran through the corridors blindly. Anger fueled him, drove him. His godfather was dead because of him, because of her, because of Voldemort, because of hate, because of fear. He had to find her. He had to kill her. He had to make her suffer for what she had done.

Bellatrix was in the Atrium of the Ministry when Harry reached her. He shot a spell blindly in her direction to make her stop, to make her face him. She whipped around and laughed, a high-pitched giggle that only intensified his fury.

“Has little Harry come to play?” she smirked. “Oh, are you upset about poor dear Sirius?”

“Crucio!” he bellowed.

Bellatrix fell to the ground and screamed. His spell had hurt her, but not caused the pain it was meant to. She quickly regained her feet, though she peered at him with more caution.

“You have to really mean it when you cast an Unforgivable Spell, Harry,” she panted. “If you don’t truly mean to cause pain, if you won’t sincerely enjoy the suffering you are causing, it won’t work very well. Perhaps you need some tuition. Crucio!”

Harry dropped to the floor, rolling quickly out of the way before regaining his feet.

“Well, aren’t you the agile one!” Bellatrix smirked. “Of course, you can’t stand against me for long. Give me the prophecy, Harry.”

He laughed. Even to his own ears, he realized it was not a sane laugh. “Really? You’re still asking for the prophecy. You don’t know it’s gone?” He grinned through the pain exploding in his head. “The prophecy smashed! Voldemort’s going to be so angry! What do you think he’ll do?”

Bellatrix’s eyes widened in terror as her master appeared, his tall thin frame advancing slowly. Voldemort’s high cold voice echoed through the Atrium. “So, Harry, did you really smash the prophecy?”

“Master, I didn’t know,” the witch desperately explained, throwing herself to Voldemort’s feet. “I was fighting the Order members. I did not hear it.”

“Silence, Bella,” he ordered. “I will deal with you and the others later. For now, it is long past time to rid myself of a small problem. Avada Kedavra!

Harry stood quietly waiting for the spell to hit him. He did not attempt to move, did not even raise his wand to resist. It took a moment for Harry to realize that the spell had not hit him, that he was not dead. A statue had suddenly appeared before him, absorbing the spell meant to kill him.

“Dumbledore,” Voldemort murmured as he turned in search of his nemesis.

“Hello, Tom,” the Headmaster spoke quietly. “The Aurors are on their way. It was not wise for you to come here.”

“Not wise!” he yelled, sending a Killing Curse towards the Headmaster. He growled when the spell missed. “You are a tired old man. I will kill you and the boy. We can see how the Aurors handle that.”

The duel that followed astounded Harry. He had never seen silent, deadly spells cast so quickly or so accurately at an opponent. It was both thrilling and terrifying, the blinding speed, the unbridled power, the unparalleled sophistication of this fight. As suddenly as it began, it appeared to be over. Voldemort disappeared, leaving only empty space where he had stood moments before.

The unexpected pain was overwhelming. A burning fire had entered Harry’s body and taken over his mind. The throbbing, aching agony swept over every part of him, until only the stinging torment remained. He didn’t realize he was screaming until his voice subsided into a rasping howl. The torture of Voldemort entering his mind, possessing him entirely, and then leaving him was intolerable. Harry shuddered violently as he realized he was still alive and that Voldemort had fled.

The sound of several voices speaking at once reached Harry’s ears as Dumbledore lifted him to a standing position. The Atrium was filling with people, some were asking questions, others simply glanced around at the destruction.

Harry felt numb, completely detached, blissfully unaware and uncaring. He swayed to the side, unable to maintain his balance, indifferent to his surroundings. A strong arm tightened around him, holding him upright. Harry stared blankly, seeing nothing but his godfather falling, the blood on the stone. Sirius is dead. You killed him. It’s all your fault. An object was thrust into his hands. He stared down at it unblinkingly. It was a piece of a statue.

“Take this Portkey. I’ll see you soon.”

Harry nodded vaguely before disappearing in a swirl of colored light and empty sound.

xxxxxx

The Headmaster’s office looked the same as it had the last time he had been here, many months ago, before Dumbledore fled Hogwarts. Harry paced the room angrily, raking his fingers through his hair in frustration. Sirius was dead because of him; his friends were injured because of him. Gritting his teeth, he realized he didn’t even know for sure who had survived the fight. Were the girls okay? The last he had seen, Ginny, Hermione, and Luna were all unconscious. Were they all alive?

Harry tried to ignore the portraits of the previous Heads of Hogwarts as they woke and attempted to engage him in conversation. He didn’t want to talk, didn’t want to think about what had happened, and about how it had all been his fault.

When Dumbledore finally appeared, many of the portraits called out in welcome.

“Thank you,” he said softly. Turning to Harry, the Headmaster paused for a moment, as though organizing his thoughts, before speaking. “First, I must tell you that your classmates are all in the hospital wing under the care of Madam Pomfrey. I spoke to her briefly, and she has assured me that none of the injuries are life-threatening. Sirius is, of course, at St. Mungo’s as his injuries are rather more severe.”

Harry’s head snapped up in disbelief. “Sirius is alive?”

Dumbledore sat in the chair behind his desk. “You may have noticed Nymphadora Tonks intervening quite quickly on her cousin’s behalf. Just in the past decade Aurors have been required to learn emergency healing techniques for use in the field. They are rather effective, particularly when implemented as rapidly as Miss Tonks managed it this evening.”

“He’s alive,” Harry breathed.

“Yes,” the Headmaster assured him. “I will not pretend that the injuries Sirius suffered are not extremely grave. What I can tell you is that he is currently receiving the best care available while being guarded by Remus, Tonks, and Moody.”

He laughed, a pained, tortured sound as tears streamed down his cheeks. “I thought he was dead.”

Dumbledore sighed. “I’m so sorry that you had to go through this tonight. I know it does not make up for my mistakes, but I must confess the knowledge I have kept from you.”

“The prophecy,” Harry murmured.

“Yes, the prophecy,” the Headmaster nodded. “It was made shortly before your birth by Professor Trelawney and stored in the Department of Mysteries all this time. Voldemort knew of the prophecy. A Death Eater overheard a small portion of it the night it was made and repeated the words to him. Voldemort has been quite desperate to hear the prophecy in its entirety since he regained his body at the cemetery last year, though he has been unwilling to go to the Ministry himself. I should have warned you that he might try to lead you to the Department of Mysteries.”

“How did he do it, sir?” Harry asked, finally sinking into a chair. “The vision I had of Sirius being tortured. It was so real.”

Professor Dumbledore shrugged. “Please understand, Harry, I don’t have all the answers you seek.” He rubbed his forehead. “Professor Snape has been rather pleased by your progress in learning Occlumency these last few months. However, he informed me a while ago that the connection you share with Voldemort is not exactly Legilimency, and therefore, Occlumency may not be enough to completely protect you from his influence. Again, I should have informed you of the possibility of false images being forced into your mind.”

Harry nodded. Professor Snape had even admitted to him that the connection between Voldemort’s mind and his own did not follow the normal rules of Legilimency. Eye contact and proximity were clearly not required. “I did try to verify Sirius’s whereabouts. I spoke with Kreacher using the Floo in Umbridge’s office, and he told me Sirius was gone.”

“Kreacher lied. Since you are not his master, he was able to lie to you quite easily. I have no doubt Sirius will be having a very important conversation with his house-elf once he is released from St. Mungo’s. Hopefully, Remus will be present to keep things from…well, from becoming too volatile,” the Headmaster murmured.

Harry barely managed to contain a snort. He couldn’t imagine Sirius doing anything Kreacher wouldn’t thoroughly deserve. The image of the severed Black house-elf heads being displayed on a wall in Grimmauld Place came to mind. Closing his eyes, he forced himself to focus on the fact that Sirius was alive, that he would be able to see his godfather again.

“Sir,” he said. “The prophecy fell. It shattered, and I didn’t hear it.”

Professor Dumbledore stood and walked over to a cabinet. He removed a shallow stone basin, carved with runes along the edge. “This is a Pensieve. Since I was the one who heard the prophecy from Professor Trelawney so long ago, I can show you the memory.” Using his wand, he slowly pulled a thin, silvery thread from his mind and deposited it into the basin. A ghostly figure soon rose from the misty depths and spoke.

“The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches…born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies…and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not…and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives…the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies…”

Harry sat in stunned silence for a moment. “What does it mean, sir?”

“It means that the only person with a chance of defeating Voldemort is a boy born at the end of July sixteen years ago to parents who had defied him three times.”

“And that’s definitely me?”

“Honestly, it could have been you, or Neville Longbottom.” The Headmaster replied. “However, we know with certainty it is you because Voldemort marked you as his equal.” He gestured to the lightning bolt looking scar on Harry’s forehead.

He shook his head. “What’s the power? I don’t have any power. The way you and Voldemort dueled at the Ministry.” He shrugged helplessly. “How can I possibly defeat him?”

“You can, and you will,” Professor Dumbledore replied. “You have a capacity to love, a heart that is so open that Voldemort fled in pain when he tried to possess you this evening. If there is one thing in all of this I am absolutely certain of, it is that you have power he neither knows nor understands. That power will give you the opportunity to defeat him in the end.”

xxxxxxx

Molly Weasley rushed ahead of her husband into the Hospital Wing of Hogwarts. “Madam Pomfrey!” she called as she pushed open the doors and hurried into the room.

“They’re all going to be fine,” the matron said firmly. “Just give me a moment to finish administering these last few potions.”

Molly nodded, tears gathering in her eyes as she looked from one bed to the other at the teenagers. She wanted to yell at them and hug them at the same time.

Arthur came up behind her and pulled her firmly to him. She sighed and relaxed into his strong arms, allowing him to finally offer the comfort she so desperately needed. Now that she was here, now that she could see her children, she could breathe again.

Madam Pomfrey approached them just as Augusta Longbottom and Xenophilius Lovegood hurried in. “All of the children are healing nicely; however, I just gave them Dreamless Sleep, so you won’t be able to talk to them for a while. Ginny, Luna, and Neville will be released once they have had a good night’s sleep and a decent meal. Ron will be staying here for a few more days. He has some deep welts on his forearms, and I’m determined to minimize the scarring as much as possible. Hermione will also be staying with me for some time. I have started her on a strict regimen of potions to heal the curse Dolohov threw at her.”

Molly hissed involuntarily at the name of the man who had murdered her brothers during the first wizarding war.

“Hermione will recover,” the matron continued, reaching out to pat her arm. “She was quite lucky.”

Molly nodded, pressing her lips together hard as she tried to regain her composure.

“Arthur,” Madam Pomfrey touched his arm briefly. “I wonder if you would take Xenophilius to the kitchens for some tea. The children will not be awake for a while, and I’m sure you gentlemen could use some refreshments while you wait.”

Molly’s glance shifted briefly from the matron to her husband. What was going on?

“Of course,” Arthur agreed readily. “Xeno, let’s go for some tea. We’re just underfoot here anyway until the children wake up. I really enjoyed your article about Harry in The Quibbler.” He put his arm around the other man and steered him towards the doors. Xeno smiled enthusiastically and launched into a story about how he came to publish the article.

“What is it, Poppy?” Molly asked quietly.

Madam Pomfrey turned to her. “I was hoping you would sit with the children, Molly, while I speak with Madam Longbottom in my office.”

“Of course,” Molly agreed, fear gripping her as the matron led Augusta into her office. The door was closed firmly behind the two women.

Molly walked slowly between the row of beds, passing each sleeping child, touching a hand, smoothing a blanket as she went. Harry was not here yet. Undoubtedly, he was still with the Headmaster in his office. Hopefully, he would be joining them shortly. The last bed in the ward was curtained off. Molly realized it must be Anna’s. She had not gone with the others to the Ministry due to a previous injury, though she had alerted Augusta and Remus with a Floo call hours ago. Remus’s quick action had helped mobilize the Order members into sending a team quickly to the Department of Mysteries. Walking around the curtain, she smiled at the sleeping girl and took a step towards her bed to straighten her blanket properly. Adjusting the covers, Molly froze at the sight of the angry, red marks on the girl’s wrists.

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 14: Chapter 14 Confessions

Author's Notes: Thank you to my beta, Arnel, for her work on this chapter! Thank you to everyone who has been reading and reviewing!


Chapter 14

Confessions

Poppy exited her office as the hospital wing doors opened. Seeing the Headmaster with his arm around Harry Potter, she hurried over to the boy.

“Harry, come over to this bed,” the matron directed, guiding him efficiently to the empty bed next to Ginny’s. With a wave of her wand, a curtain appeared, allowing her to examine the boy privately.

“I’m glad you’re back at Hogwarts, Albus,” Molly said quietly.

He smiled, though his eyes were void of their usual twinkle. “It’s good to be here, though I wish the circumstances of my return were rather different.”

She nodded. “Any word from St. Mungo’s?”

“Nothing yet, though I’m sure someone will come as soon as possible to update us on Sirius’s condition.”

“They’re all lucky to be alive,” Molly murmured.

“They are indeed.”

The curtain vanished, revealing a sleeping boy with messy black hair. Poppy slipped the bottle of Dreamless Sleep back into her pocket.

“Albus, if you could please come into my office for a moment…” she began.

The hospital wing doors opened once more. Tonks hurried in, followed by Mad-Eye Moody.

“The Healers say Sirius is stable,” she announced. “He’ll be there for a couple of weeks, and he’s on a dozen potions, but they believe he’s going to be okay. Remus is staying with him.”

Poppy smiled. “Thank goodness. I always had a soft spot for that boy.”

“Spoke to Kingsley just before coming here.” Moody smirked at Albus. “Word is you’re about to be reinstated as Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot. He’s laying the groundwork to push an acquittal for Sirius through as soon as possible.”

The Headmaster nodded. “I’ll contact Amelia Bones later today. It would certainly be wonderful to have Sirius formally cleared before he leaves St. Mungo’s.”

“It’s well past time for that boy to finally be exonerated.” Poppy sighed. “Tonks, please come into my office. I suppose you had better come along as well, Alastor.”

The Aurors exchanged pointed glances as they followed the matron and Headmaster.

As the door closed behind them, Molly went to Harry’s bedside. She smoothed his dark hair back from his forehead. In all honesty, Sirius was not her favorite person, but she was relieved to hear that he was going to be okay. He deserved to have more time with his godson, and perhaps having his name finally cleared would help Sirius focus more on his responsibilities as a godfather. Looking around the full hospital wing, she struggled with her emotions. Children should not be in such danger. How could this be happening again? Losing her brothers in the first war had nearly broken Molly. If she hadn’t had her husband and children to distract her and help her focus…

The office door opened. Tonks and Moody exited first, murmuring to each other in hushed tones as they left the room. The Headmaster followed them, looking older and more tired than Molly was used to seeing him. Augusta’s face was rigid as she walked quietly towards Anna’s bed, Poppy a few feet behind her.

Standing by the girl’s bed, Augusta took her hand gently in her own. “You’re sure?” she asked quietly.

Poppy nodded. “I’m very sure. I examined her quite thoroughly. She wouldn’t tell me anything about what happened, but I know he didn’t succeed.”

“Can’t you heal her, now?” Augusta murmured.

The matron shook her head. “I’m sorry. We need to wait. Tonks will be back soon, hopefully before Anna wakes. It’s important for an Auror to see the bruises first, before we heal them.”

“Why didn’t she tell me? She Floo called and told me everything else that happened yesterday evening, including Hermione leading Umbridge and Harry away.”

Poppy shrugged. “It’s not an easy thing to tell. Many girls, and women, feel embarrassed or guilty, even though they did nothing wrong. I truly think she intended to tell you. Perhaps when she was just about to, she couldn’t quite find a way to say the words.”

Augusta nodded and looked up. Her eyes met Molly’s across the room. Holding out her hand, she whispered, “I don’t know what to say to her when she wakes up.”

Molly blinked away her tears as she walked over, taking the older woman’s hand in her own. “Just remind her that she’s safe, that you love her.”

“I never thought such a thing could happen at Hogwarts,” Augusta murmured.

The three women waited together in silence, lost in their own thoughts as they watched over the children.

xxxxx

Tonks was furious. She looked carefully around the empty classroom moving her wand slowly as she gathered evidence. The blouse and skirt were near the wall. Buttons were missing, the cloth was slightly torn on both garments. Draco’s wand was on an old desk near the door. Moody performed the Reverse Spell, revealing that the last spell cast by Draco’s wand was an Imperturbable Charm.

Gritting her teeth, she continued to move slowly about the empty classroom.

“Check out this knife,” Moody said.

She walked over to her mentor waving her wand carefully above the short, serrated knife on the floor. “It’s conjured.”

“Correct,” he replied.

Tonks frowned.

They both moved to the large flat net of rope towards the back of the room.

“Ever seen anything like that?” she asked.

“Nope. Let’s go talk to Flitwick. He managed to remove it,” Moody said.

Sighing, she followed her partner to the Ravenclaw Head of House’s office. He was clearly waiting for them.

Once they were seated and had declined tea, Mad-Eye began to question the professor. “What did you first notice when you entered the classroom last night?”

“The first thing I noticed was Mr. Malfoy lying flat on his back under a net, hanging out of his pants. I mean that quite literally,” he spat.

“So, I take it he was not wearing trousers at the time,” Moody observed.

“No, he was not,” Flitwick stated. “The boy was undressed to his undergarments.”

“And the net?”

The Charms professor leaned forward. “Quite a wonderful piece of magic. I’ve never seen anything exactly like it before, although it is similar to the old hunting nets used by the ancient Picts to catch birds.”

“You were able to move it though,” Tonks said.

“Well, of course,” he admitted. “Though it took me a few tries to shift it over. Lovely bit of magic!”

“What did Mr. Malfoy say and do after you revived him?” Moody asked.

The professor gritted his teeth. “He complained about not having…uh…finished his task…not having claimed Miss Henry. The bloody…” He breathed deeply. “Mr. Malfoy expressed disappointment that someone, he wondered if it was Mr. Potter or Mr. Weasley, managed to interrupt him before he had the opportunity to cement his family’s alliance with Miss Henry.”

“Fucking git,” Tonks whispered.

“Quite,” her former professor agreed.

Moody snorted. “Did Mr. Malfoy express any concern for Miss Henry, any belief that she may have misinterpreted his intentions?”

“The only concern he expressed was that the betrothal might not take place, that he may have lost the young lady to another.” Flitwick explained. “He was concerned about the identities of those who had shown interest in a betrothal with Miss Henry.”

“Where is Mr. Malfoy now?”

“I turned him over to Professor Snape since he’s the Head of Slytherin House.”

Moody thanked the professor for his time and led them down the stairs back towards the hospital wing. “Your turn now,” he said gruffly. “Girl’s been through too much to face me. Better you question her alone.”

“Damn it, Moody,” Tonks spat. “My cousin attacked that girl. She’s just a kid, Remus’s student!”

“And what’s Remus to you now?” Mad-Eye inquired.

She scowled. “He’s my friend.”

“Mmm, hmm.”

“Oh, shut up!” Tonks muttered.

He smirked. “I’ll go see Severus and talk to the Malfoy boy.”

Pushing open the hospital wing doors, she walked quietly towards the last bed. Augusta, Molly, and Poppy were all waiting silently. They were tense, nervous because she was there to question the girl they all wanted to protect. Sometimes she hated being an Auror.

Closing her eyes briefly, she walked up to Anna and touched her hand lightly. “Are you awake?” Tonks half expected her to lie still and quiet, pretending to be asleep.

“Yes.”

“Can I get you anything, a cup of tea, perhaps?” Tonks asked quietly.

“No, thank you.”

“Please tell me what happened between you and Draco Malfoy yesterday evening.”

“No.”

The other women shifted uncomfortably beside them.

“Anna, I know this is difficult, but in order to press charges and secure a conviction, I need to know what happened.”

“What happens if I press charges?”

“We arrest Draco Malfoy,” Tonks explained. “He goes into a holding cell at the Ministry until the case goes before the Wizengamot.”

“And, what sort of evidence is necessary for conviction?”

“You would need to provide testimony about what he did to you. Professor Flitwick would be called to provide evidence since he found Mr. Malfoy and spoke with him last night. Madam Pomfrey would discuss the medical evidence,” she said.

“What kind of sentence would he receive?” Anna asked.

“It depends upon the findings. Attempted rape is usually one year.”

“And when the accused is underage, a minor?”

“It varies, but typically the sentence is reduced.” Tonks admitted.

“So, basically, if I tell everyone what happened, Draco might spend less than a year in Azkaban and would likely be let off with a slap on the wrist because he’s a minor.”

“I know it’s not a perfect system, but if you don’t press charges, he walks away from this like it never happened.”

Anna finally looked her in the eyes. “And, if I don’t press charges, I don’t have to testify, don’t have to see my name in the newspaper, don’t have to be questioned about whether or not I led him on in some way, don’t have to have my medical records made known to the Wizengamot.”

“You’re a pure-blood witch from a respectable family. Malfoy practically confessed to Professor Flitwick. He will be convicted if we press charges.”

“I’m not pressing charges,” Anna said quietly. “He’d spend one year in Azkaban at the most and probably a lot less. He’s a minor from a wealthy, pure-blood, influential family. He’d likely be let off with a warning, house arrest, or community service. I’m not willing to sacrifice my privacy for that.”

“Anna, please…”

She shook her head, pressing her lips together in a stubborn line. “Is everyone else okay?”

“Yes, dear,” Augusta softly reassured her. “Everyone is going to be fine. Sirius was the worst injured and is in St. Mungo’s, but he is expected to recover.”

“I’m glad,” she murmured. “May I have some bruise paste, please?”

“Of course,” Poppy forced a smile. “Go ahead and undress, and I’ll start applying it. We’ll wrap your wrists in bandages soaked with Murtlap essence as well.”

xxxxxx

Tonks and Moody walked into Sirius’s room at St. Mungo’s. One of the perks of being a convicted mass murderer and former inmate of Azkaban prison was a private room at the hospital. Remus glanced up tiredly from his chair and forced a smile. “He’s holding his own.”

“Course he is,” Moody growled. “Always was a tough kid. Go home to the Manor and get some sleep. You look like you need it.”

Remus stood and stretched. “Thank you. I’ll be back in a few hours.”

“Don’t come back ‘til morning. I’m not going into work until nine, and you two have things to discuss.” He gestured vaguely between Tonks and Remus before enlarging the chair Remus had vacated and relaxing into the cushions.

Tonks and Remus Apparated to the grounds of Longbottom Manor, walking along the path towards the house.

“How are the kids?” Remus asked.

“They’ll all be fine. Ron has some scarring on his arms. Poppy plans to keep him for a few more days. Hermione is going to have a slow recovery and will be taking a lot of potions for a while, but I think Poppy plans to release the others tomorrow.”

Remus rubbed his head tiredly. “I still can’t believe Harry ran after Bellatrix like that. He knows Sirius is going to make it, right?”

“Yeah, he knows. Poppy says he’s fine, and unlike when he says it, she actually means it.”

He chuckled.

“Remus, sit down,” Tonks said quietly indicating the stone bench under a nearby tree. “Augusta asked me to tell you about Anna.”

“What about her?” he murmured sinking onto the bench. “Anna mentioned she wasn’t with the others because she fell and hurt her ankle.”

She nodded. “That’s true.” Tonks sat beside him, straddling the bench so she was facing him. “Remus, let me just say this quickly, okay, and then you can ask questions.”

“Alright.”

“Draco Malfoy was part of the group that caught the kids using Professor Umbridge’s Floo. He separated Anna from the others and took her to an empty classroom. He…he tried to force himself on her. She stopped him. She won’t tell anyone exactly what happened, and she’s refusing to press charges.”

Remus stood up and walked over to the tree. He was breathing heavily and his hands appeared to be shaking. “Are you telling me that Draco tried to rape Anna?”

“Yes,” she whispered.

“Why isn’t she pressing charges?”

“She doesn’t want the publicity, doesn’t want everyone to know, but Augusta told me to tell you. Molly knows as well. She was in the hospital wing at the time. Anna didn’t seem to mind her hearing our conversation.”

“And the Malfoy boy?”

“He’s gone,” Tonks said. “Narcissa came to Hogwarts. She was both absolutely livid and quite frightened. For fuck’s sake, she was actually trembling. It was…odd.” Tonks bit her lip as she replayed the scene between mother and son in her mind. “First, she just asked him what he was thinking, and how could he do such a thing. She sounded completely appalled that he would try to force himself on the ‘pure-blood, underage heiress’ they were trying to secure a betrothal with. Narcissa seemed a bit relieved when I told her Anna was not pressing charges, but not as relieved as she should have been. She kept saying things like ‘do you realize what you’ve done?’ and ‘what if he finds out?’ and then, she told Draco to pack all his belongings. She said they were going to stay with friends in Finland.”

“They left the country?” Remus turned back to stare at her.

“Yeah,” she nodded. “I have a friend in the International Portkey Office. They left about an hour ago.”

“Who could she be afraid of? I mean…she wasn’t referring to Lucius, was she?”

“Mad-Eye told her Lucius was caught at the Ministry and was about to be sent to Azkaban. Narcissa was clearly upset by the news, but…” she shrugged. “I don’t know who Narcissa is afraid of, but I know who she should be afraid of.”

“Are you referring to me, because I fully admit, I’d like to rip the kid’s fucking head off,” Remus growled.

Tonks raised an eyebrow. She had rarely seen Remus look like the werewolf he was. He radiated power, anger, and strength. The mild-mannered tutor was gone, replaced by a man who had the potential to be extremely dangerous. “I was actually thinking of Charlie Weasley. I told you when the betrothal offer came in that Charlie must be very serious about her. We were in school together, and…he was fun, smart, easy-going, a great guy. He was also intense, driven, and passionate when he cared about something.”

Remus blew out a breath. He looked as though he was determined to regain control of his wilder instincts. “Tell me everything you know, please.”

“I don’t know much. Anna wouldn’t tell me anything.” She hesitated. “I’m curious though, do you think Anna is capable of wandless magic?”

He glanced over in surprise. “I’ve never seen her perform any wandless magic. She’s only sixteen. I mean I know some wizards can manage it. We’ve all seen Albus perform wandless magic, and…I suspect Harry wandlessly cast the Wand-Lighting Spell this past summer. Why are you asking?”

“Officially, there is no investigation since Anna refuses to press charges, but Mad-Eye and I already collected some evidence. Draco was clearly Stunned. He thinks one of the boys did it because he had her wand on a desk by the door, but none of the other boys entered that room.”

“She must have taken his wand.”

Tonks shook her head. “The last spell cast by Draco’s wand was the Imperturbable Charm on the door.”

Remus rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. “Anna must have been terrified. If a witch is scared enough…”

“She seems to have cast a pretty interesting version of an Incarcerous Spell as well. Flitwick was impressed. Took him a few tries to remove it. We think she also conjured a small, serrated knife.”

“Did she use it?” he inquired.

“Nope, Draco didn’t have a mark on him. According to Flitwick, his…uh…member was hanging out, so Mad-Eye thinks she may have been about to…cut it.” Tonks felt her cheeks becoming warm as she stumbled over the words.

“Draco was that close to…” Remus gestured awkwardly as she nodded. “Anna should have used the knife. He deserved it.”

xxxxx

As the days passed, Harry tried to shake himself out of the fog clouding his mind. An update from St. Mungo’s came almost daily. Sirius’s condition was slowly, but steadily improving. The Wizengamot was scheduled to meet in a few days. Harry had been assured that an acquittal was almost guaranteed. His godfather would soon be a free man. At least some good came of this mess, he thought bitterly. He felt guilty every time he visited Ron and Hermione in the hospital wing. His other classmates had been released fairly quickly by Madam Pomfrey, but Ron and Hermione were still undergoing treatment for the injuries sustained at the Ministry.

Then, there was the prophecy. The words kept floating through his mind. ‘Neither can live while the other survives. He will have power the Dark Lord knows not.’ Professor Dumbledore was convinced Harry’s power was love, but the Headmaster didn’t know. He wasn’t aware of what Harry had done.

Walking into the hospital wing, he stopped and grinned at the sight before him. Ron was helping Hermione tie her shoes, insisting that Madam Pomfrey didn’t want her to bend over too much yet. They were finally being released from the hospital wing.

“I’m perfectly capable of tying my own shoes, Ronald.”

“There’s nothing wrong with accepting a bit of help once in a while, Hermione.”

Neville and Ginny were both smirking. Luna was staring dreamily at something near the window. Anna looked as though she was trying to smile, but wasn’t quite managing it. Harry frowned. She’d been acting oddly since that night, but so was he, so he certainly shouldn’t be judging her.

“Let’s go for a walk,” Hermione suggested. “I want to be outside and feel the sun on my face.”

“We could go sit by the lake,” Ginny agreed.

They found an isolated spot and sprawled on the grass. Everyone was quiet for a while, enjoying the warmth of the June sun. The slight breeze causing ripples on the surface of the lake.

Harry looked around at his friends. He suddenly felt that he had to say it, had to confess to someone.

“There’s something I want to tell you all,” he began slowly.

Everyone turned to look at him.

“What is it, Harry?” Ginny asked.

“When I told you all about running after Bellatrix and about Voldemort appearing in the Ministry Atrium, I…I left something out.” He rubbed his hands on his jeans. “I was just…so angry. I thought Sirius was dead, and I wanted…I wanted to hurt Bellatrix. I wanted to kill her.”

“I think we can all understand that, Harry,” Neville said quietly. “The things she said about my parents. What she did to them all those years ago. I don’t mind admitting I think Azkaban is too good for someone like her.”

Harry locked his gaze on Neville. “I used the Cruciatus Curse on her.”

Hermione gasped beside him. He didn’t look her way but remained focused on Neville. If anyone would understand, if anyone could forgive him, it was Neville.

“Good.” Neville nodded. “She deserves to feel the kind of pain she inflicts on others.”

“No, it is not good. How can you say that?” Hermione demanded. “The use of an Unforgivable Curse is…well, it’s illegal to start with!”

“Did you enjoy it, Harry?” Anna asked quietly. “I mean…are you glad you did it?”

“Not really.” Harry shrugged. “I guess that’s why it didn’t work very well. I mean it did hurt her, but not like when she casts the spell. Bellatrix told me herself that I didn’t want to hurt her enough, didn’t enjoy the idea of causing her pain enough, but…I still did it. I cast an Unforgivable. I’ve never felt that way before, never….” He shook his head, gripping his knees tightly. “Do…Do you think I’m…like Voldemort? Sometimes I feel like there is this…darkness inside of me just waiting to come out.”

Ginny grabbed his hand tightly in her own, drawing his attention to her. “You are nothing like Tom Riddle. He is not capable of kindness, decency…of having true friends. You acted out of love for Sirius. I’m not saying using that spell was the right thing to do, but you were angry because you thought your godfather was dead. You had every reason to be furious.”

“Ginny’s right,” Anna agreed. “Voldemort hurts people just to hurt them. Just because he can and he likes it. He kills people for no reason at all. You were trying to hurt Bellatrix because she hurt you and almost killed someone you love. I’m not about to judge you for seeking revenge.”

There were murmurs of agreement from his friends, and Hermione reached over to pat his knee. Harry almost sighed with relief. Without thinking about it first, he pulled Ginny closer to him, enjoying the warmth of her pressed against his side.

“My turn to confess I guess,” Anna began softly. “I’m going to say this really fast.”

She took a deep breath and reached out for Neville’s hand. He looked at her curiously, but waited for her to continue.

“When Draco took me away to question me, he locked us in a classroom. First, he just asked me what was going on, but then, he tried to make me promise to become betrothed to him. I refused, and he…he…it happened so fast.” She blinked rapidly, her breathing becoming shallow.

“Oh, fuck,” Ron murmured under his breath. If Hermione heard him, for once she didn’t bother to correct his language.

“I fought back. I was so scared when he tore my clothes off, and Draco was undressing himself so calmly, like it was all normal or something. I lost it completely. I’m not even sure exactly how…but, I conjured a knife and…I wanted to hurt him. I wanted to cut it.” Anna wiped at her eyes with a shaking hand.

Harry flinched involuntarily at her words, realizing what she was saying and what she meant.

“Then, I heard you, Neville. I heard you calling for me. I dropped the knife and ran out the door. I can’t believe I tripped and broke my ankle. I really am ridiculously clumsy sometimes.” She tried to laugh.

Neville pulled her firmly into his arms. “Don’t you dare feel guilty, Anna. No one in their right mind would blame you for anything you did to him. You probably would have done the world a favor had you permanently ended any chances of him ever reproducing.”

“Where is Draco, now?” Ron asked.

“Finland. His mother took him away.”

“He’d better stay away,” Harry glowered darkly.

Back to index


Chapter 15: Chapter 15 Horcruxes

Author's Notes: Thank you, Arnel, for your beta work on this chapter, and thank you to everyone who has reviewed this story! I truly appreciate it!!!


Chapter 15

Horcruxes

The shot glass shattered in Charlie’s hand. Pieces embedding themselves into his palm as liquor and blood dripped onto the table beneath his clenched fist. Bill glanced around uneasily, wishing they weren’t in a Muggle bar. At least they were tucked away in a corner of the dimly-lit establishment.

“How is Anna doing, now?” Charlie asked quietly.

“From what Mum and Tonks have said, she’s managing. The kids will all be going home tomorrow on the Hogwarts Express. Knowing Remus and Augusta, I’m sure they’ll keep her and Neville close for a while,” Bill gestured towards the clenched fist resting on the table. “Are you planning on doing anything about your hand?”

“Hmm.” Charlie looked down at his bloody palm with a frown before quickly pulling out the glass shards and pressing a wadded-up napkin against his hand. “And Sirius? You said he’s at St. Mungo’s?”

He nodded. “Sirius cracked his skull in the fight, but he’s healing remarkably well. Remus thinks he’ll be released in a few days.”

Charlie picked up the bottle of Scotch they’d ordered when they arrived and took a long swallow. “Where’s Malfoy?”

“Lucius Malfoy is in Azkaban. Narcissa took Draco to Finland apparently.”

“Where in Finland? Helsinki? Tampere? Ostrobothnia?”

“I have no idea, and even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you,” Bill said softly.

Charlie took another swig from the bottle. “If anyone deserves an unfortunate accident, it’s that kid.”

“I’m not disagreeing with you, and if he ever shows up near Anna again, you’ll probably have a werewolf and a few others ready to help with that accident. But for now, you’re better off letting it go.”

Charlie set the bottle down with a sigh. “Do you think they’d let me see Anna?”

“Not now,” Bill murmured. “You were planning on coming the last week of July. Stick to that. Hopefully, you’ll be able to see her then, and before you ask, as far as I know there has been no discussion about the betrothal letters.” He took another sip of his drink as the waitress came with their food. The fact that she cleared the broken glass off the table without comment and quickly brought over another shot glass was mute testimony of the bar’s usual clientele.

They ate in silence for a few minutes, absently observing the other patrons in the crowded bar. “So, tell me about you and Fleur. You’ve been dating almost a year, right?”

“Yeah, it’ll be a year next month.” Bill relaxed for the first time since they sat down. “Actually, I wanted to tell you that I asked her to marry me a couple of weeks ago. She agreed, and we’re planning a wedding for next summer. I’d like you to be the best man.”

“Wow! Seriously?” Charlie grinned. “Congratulations! I’d be honored to stand up with you. Now we have something to drink to.”

xxxxx

“So, how does it feel?” Remus asked. “Walking out of St. Mungo’s a free man?”

Sirius laughed. “Positively brilliant! I’m still amazed the acquittal went through that fast. The Wizengamot is not exactly known for quick action to rectify past mistakes.”

“That’s the truth,” Tonks said. “Listen, if you’re not ready to return to Grimmauld Place yet, Mum would be happy to put you up for a few days.”

“Andromeda was wonderful to visit me yesterday, and I definitely want to spend more time with her soon, but I need to go home and deal with my house-elf.”

Remus and Tonks exchanged a concerned glance.

“Augusta wants you to visit Longbottom Manor. Why don’t we go directly there?” Remus suggested. A raised eyebrow was the only response. “I understand you being upset with Kreacher, but…”

“If you’re about to tell me not to chop off his head and mount it on the wall, save your breath,” his friend snapped viciously.

Silently the trio entered Grimmauld Place. Remus sighed in resignation when the house-elf responded immediately to his master’s summons. This was bound to become ugly.

“Master has come home. My poor Mistress. Having a blood traitor son. Blew you off the family tapestry for the shame of having such a son.”

“Enough!” Sirius roared, grabbing the elf around the neck. “Because of you, my godson and a bunch of other kids almost died. We all could have died at the Ministry, and for what? For the pure-blood nonsense my mother always spouted, for Voldemort and his followers.” He shook the elf viciously. “You do realize my brother, Regulus, the one you always liked, was killed by those Death Eater fools!”

Kreacher’s eyes widened alarmingly, and Remus was about to intervene when the house-elf spoke. “Master Regulus wasn’t killed by Death Eaters.”

“Well, if he wasn’t killed by them, he was killed by Voldemort himself!” Sirius spat, releasing the elf with a disgusted glare.

“Master knows nothing. Master is the nasty swine who broke his mother’s heart.”

“Right,” Sirius yelled. “Of course! I’m the horrible son of the family because I was Sorted into Gryffindor instead of Slytherin like every other Black. Well, I don’t know how you think I broke my mother’s heart since I assure you she didn’t have a heart! And, if you somehow know anything about who killed my brother and why, I order you to tell me now!”

Kreacher broke down into tragic sobs as he told of how Regulus had volunteered the house-elf’s services to the Dark Lord for a special mission. He divulged how he had been taken to a cave by the ocean to test the defenses surrounding a magical locket. As the story unfolded, Sirius’s face changed from one of anger to one of clear astonishment.

“Regulus told you to take him to the cave?” he asked.

The house-elf nodded miserably. “Master Regulus ordered me to leave with the locket and to destroy it. The Inferi were coming out of the lake and surrounding us. Kreacher could not escape with Master, could not help him.” Tears trickled down his face.

“My brother died trying to thwart Voldemort,” Sirius murmured. “What happened to the locket? Where is it?”

“Kreacher could not destroy it. Kreacher tried so many times, so many different ways, but it could not be broken.” He paused to glare at Sirius. “When Master and the blood traitor Weasleys were cleaning the drawing room, the locket was almost thrown out.”

Sirius frowned thoughtfully. “The locket we couldn’t open. I remember it. Was it actually thrown away, or is it still in the house?” He bent down and stared the elf in the eyes. “Kreacher, if you can find the locket, bring it to me. I will find a way to destroy it!” Sirius declared.

The house-elf looked startled but quickly left to do his master’s bidding.

“What do you think the locket is?” Remus asked.

Sirius shrugged. “Dark magic of some kind. If it was important to Voldemort and my brother was willing to die to destroy the thing, we need to learn what it is.”

xxxxx

Remus and Sirius strode into the Headmaster’s office at Hogwarts. He was sitting behind his desk with a messy array of parchment beside a pot of tea.

“Ah, welcome,” Albus greeted them. “Your timing is excellent as it offers me an excuse to put off this rather tedious paperwork for a bit longer. Would you like some tea?” He gestured towards the chairs before him.

“No, thank you,” Remus replied as they settled into the chairs. “I hope you received our message.”

“I did indeed. It sounded rather urgent. What is it you wished to show me?”

Sirius pulled the heavy gold pendant from his pocket. Numerous small green stones created an ornate S on the front of the large locket.

Albus’s eyes widened in surprise. “Was that Salazar Slytherin’s?”

“I don’t know,” Sirius admitted. “According to Kreacher, it was extremely important to Voldemort during the first wizarding war. My brother stole this locket from a cave and ordered our house-elf to destroy it. Kreacher was unable to do so.” He hesitated. “I can feel the evil in this thing. It’s almost pulsing like it’s alive.”

The Headmaster took the locket from his hand and examined it closely. “This makes three,” he murmured to himself. “How many more?”

“Three of what exactly?” Remus asked, leaning forward.

The older man’s head shot up. “I tend to forget how exceptional your hearing is.” His gaze was thoughtful. “I had a bit of an accident yesterday.” Albus held up his hand. It was blackened and shriveled up, looking disturbingly as though the flesh had been burned away.

“That looks like rather more than a simple accident,” Sirius observed quietly. “It has the appearance of a Dark spell. I certainly hope it wasn’t a fatal one.”

The Headmaster paused a moment too long.

“No!” Remus gasped. “How did it happen? Have you had it examined by an expert? Perhaps the Dark Magic can still be contained.”

“Calm yourself, please.” Albus smiled briefly at his former students and lowered his charred hand to his desk. “You are quite correct of course, Sirius. It was Dark magic. I succumbed to a very foolish temptation. My need for information outweighed all sense of reasonable precaution. I seem to be making a number of rather significant mistakes lately.” He stared at his hand for a moment. “The spell has been contained, but naturally the damage has been done and cannot be stopped from progressing.”

“How long do you have?” Sirius asked.

“A year,” he replied. “Perhaps a bit more, perhaps less. It is done now, and we must move forward.”

Albus examined the locket thoughtfully for a time before sighing in apparent resignation. “I have not told anyone what I am about to tell you, but I suddenly feel rather compelled to share this burden. Sirius, what do you believe this is?” He held up the locket. The sunlight from the window reflected off the object.

A muscle twitched in his jaw as the old Marauder considered vocalizing the insane thought that had entered his brain from the moment Kreacher handed him the cursed object. “I’m concerned that it may be a Horcrux.”

The Headmaster nodded solemnly. “I wondered if a member of the House of Black would have knowledge of such things.”

“What is a Horcrux?” Remus inquired.

“My understanding of it is limited.” Sirius admitted. “However, I believe it is an object that somehow holds a piece of a wizard’s soul, allowing him to achieve a type of immortality.”

Albus nodded. “That is correct. I am unfortunately quite certain that Voldemort has made multiple Horcruxes. Harry destroyed the first years ago, the diary that forced Miss Weasley to open the Chamber of Secrets. I destroyed another yesterday.” He held up a ring. “This belonged to Voldemort’s grandfather, a wizard by the name of Marvolo Gaunt. And, now you have brought me what I am certain is a third.”

Remus leapt from his chair to pace the room. “How is this possible? How are Horcruxes even made?”

“They are made from the act of murder, from tearing one’s soul, destroying the essence of one’s humanity,” the Headmaster explained. “Of course, for the wizard cruel enough and desperate enough to perform such an abomination, the soul is not truly valued, only immortality. Our problem is that Voldemort cannot actually die as long as a Horcrux exists.”

Sirius rubbed his eyes tiredly. “How are Horcruxes destroyed?”

“They are not easily defeated, but it can be done. Harry eliminated the power of the diary by driving a Basilisk fang into it. I was able to destroy the ring with Fiendfyre,” Albus paused thoughtfully as he attempted to pry open the locket. “Every Horcrux has measures of protection to make it difficult for them to be found and neutralized. I will need to spend some time working on how to exterminate the piece of Voldemort’s soul currently residing in this, particularly since I fear it will have to be opened first.”

Remus nodded. “If you need us to assist in any way, research perhaps, we would certainly like to help.”

“I will keep you informed of my progress,” Albus smiled. “Thank you for bringing this to me. I’m beginning to realize that while secrecy is of vital importance in our efforts, sharing information with a select few is perhaps even more valuable to our cause. I do ask that you refrain from mentioning the specifics of what we have discussed to anyone. We certainly don’t want Voldemort to learn that we are making strides towards his ultimate destruction.”

“Agreed,” Sirius replied. “At least for now, no one else needs to know about this. While I’m here, I wanted to inform you that I will be collecting Harry from his aunt’s house tomorrow morning.”

“Tomorrow! He’s only been home for a few days.”

“Nevertheless, I am moving him to Grimmauld Place tomorrow. He is my godson and now that I have finally been exonerated by the Wizengamot, I have full legal guardianship over Harry. He will live with me.”

“Sirius,” the Headmaster sighed. “Please understand, the blood wards protecting Harry at his aunt’s house cannot possibly hold with such a short stay. He must live there for a longer period of time, at least another week.”

He shook his head. “I won’t leave him there for another day. Harry has never said anything directly, but Fred and George told me some rather disturbing facts during their stay at Grimmauld Place over the Christmas holidays. My home is under a Fidelius Charm. Since it is secure enough for the Order to use as its Headquarters, I am confident it is secure enough for my godson.”

“What sort of disturbing facts?” Albus asked.

“The twins said that Harry’s bedroom had bars on the window when they went to rescue him just before his second year at Hogwarts. They had to remove all of his school supplies from a locked cupboard under the stairs of the house.” Sirius exhaled slowly. “Fred and George told me they didn’t really put it together in their minds at the time, but later they realized Harry was being severely neglected, perhaps even abused, by his relatives.”

The Headmaster shook his head. “I don’t believe that would be possible. Not with all of the wards and other protections surrounding the house.” He gestured towards half a dozen silver instruments on a shelf in his office. “I would have been alerted if Harry were harmed.”

Remus frowned. “These are all magical instruments, to detect magical problems. If Harry was deprived of food for a couple of days, or physically injured by a fist rather than a wand, would these actually alert you?”

Albus stared out the window. He appeared troubled by the possibility that Harry had been overtly mistreated by his relatives. “Please keep me informed of…anything I need to be informed of.”

xxxxxxx

“How are you, my dear?” Augusta asked as she walked into the garden room of Longbottom Manor.

“I’m fine, thank you,” Anna replied, closing her book to give her aunt her full attention as she sat up properly on the sofa. “Will Remus be starting our summer lessons soon?”

Augusta sat in the chair across from her. “Yes. He is rather preoccupied with Sirius at the moment, but I’m sure you’ll be starting lessons in another day or two. Harry may even be joining you and Neville periodically.”

“That would be great!” Neville piped up from his spot on the floor. “We normally don’t have the chance to see Harry over the summer.”

Augusta frowned. “What are you doing on the floor? I thought you’d be in the greenhouse.”

Neville moved to sit next to Anna on the sofa. “I think we should probably discuss the betrothal letters this morning.”

Augusta raised an eyebrow at her grandson. He really was growing up to be a wonderful young man, even when he was attempting to challenge her authority. “I have them here.” She handed the four letters over to the teenagers. “I’ve written a few responses to Narcissa Malfoy in the past week, but have burnt them all due to…well, unfortunate language shall we say.”

“At least we all agree that we are definitely rejecting the option of a betrothal agreement with the Malfoy family,” Neville proclaimed.

“Glad to hear it,” Remus remarked as he entered the room and settled into a wingback chair.

Augusta closed her eyes in exasperation. She had wanted to have a private conversation with Anna about the betrothals, yet somehow both of the men of the house were present for it. “Well, what are your thoughts about the other three?”

“I think we can all agree to a ‘no’ for Zabini, right, Anna?” Neville questioned.

She nodded.

“So, that leaves Ernie Macmillan and Charlie Weasley.” Augusta smiled. “They are both fine young men from good families. I’ve been told Ernie is a capable student, and of course, as the Macmillan heir he has excellent prospects. Charlie is well-established in his career and has already requested a transfer to one of the British dragon reserves.”

Anna sat still and nodded silently, her hands twisting in her lap as she chewed her bottom lip. Neville glanced towards her and then covered her hands with his own. “Let’s decline all of the betrothal offers.”

Augusta pressed her lips together and tried not to glare at her grandson. “That is far easier said than done. For a pure-blood witch to receive four offers and refuse them all? It would practically preclude her from making a proper match in the future.” She sighed. “I know this is difficult, especially after what the Malfoy boy tried to do.”

“Why are we not saying it?” Neville demanded. “He almost raped Anna because he thought he could! He thought he had the right! He thought it would force us into agreeing to a marriage between them! This is exactly where all of this pure-blood betrothal crap leads to!”

“Not every pure-blood tradition is abhorrent, Neville!” His grandmother insisted. “I was betrothed to marry your grandfather, and I loved him dearly until the day he died. Your parents were betrothed before their marriage. I assure you they were very happy! Anna has two excellent offers, and it would be very foolish indeed to not seriously consider accepting one of them.”

“How soon do I have to decide?” Anna asked.

Augusta examined the girl carefully. “We need to make a decision by the first of August to allow me enough time to write the proper responses to inform the families involved. I understand that this is very difficult, but I would like to sincerely encourage you to consider your options carefully.”

“What do you think I should do?”

“I would like to see you enter into a betrothal agreement with Ernie or Charlie. Either young man would be a wonderful choice. You could enter into a betrothal contract this summer and have the next two years to become better acquainted, in person if you choose Ernie or by letter if you choose Charlie. Typically, weddings take place the year after schooling is completed, so you have a great deal of time to develop the relationship.”

Anna nodded and stood up. “I think I’ll take a walk in the garden. Please, excuse me.”

“I’ll join you,” Neville said, taking her hand as they left the room.

Augusta rubbed her temples wearily. “Go ahead and say it, Remus. I know you must have an opinion.”

“I think you’re quite correct to encourage Anna to consider the offers. Dismissing them all out of anger or fear because of Draco Malfoy would be rather short-sighted.” He shifted in his chair. “Having said that, I can’t help but wonder if her father would approve of her being betrothed to marry at such a young age.”

“Andrew may have been a Squib, but he was raised by magical parents and had a great deal of respect for wizarding tradition.”

“And, what of her grandmother, Katherine? Didn’t she flee Britain to escape her own betrothal after finishing her education at Hogwarts?”

“My husband always thought that was the reason,” Augusta admitted. “Personally, I never believed it. Katherine was very fond of her fiancé. He was a couple of years older so they were unable to see each other much during the school year.” A small smile played at her lips. “I actually walked in on a rather private moment between the two during the Christmas holidays of her seventh year. They weren’t doing anything too scandalous, but it was abundantly obvious they were enjoying their time together.”

Remus frowned. “So why do you think Katherine left?”

“I honestly don’t know what happened. The note Katherine left for us was apologetic but revealed nothing. Other than a Christmas card, we didn’t hear from her for almost a year. At that point, she announced her recent marriage to an American Healer and a while later the birth of her daughter.” She sighed. “I regret that we didn’t communicate beyond a few letters each year and the occasional photograph as the children grew.”

“Sounds like a mystery that will never be solved,” Remus remarked as he stood up. “I’ll go find the children. Dueling practice may be a worthwhile stress reliever for our first lesson of the summer.”

Back to index


Chapter 16: Chapter 16 Amortentia

Author's Notes: With tremendous thanks to Arnel!


Chapter 16

Amortentia

Harry stumbled as he exited the Floo into Longbottom Manor.

Neville grabbed his arm and helped steady him. “How are you, Harry?”

“Well, thanks,” he said. “Just wish I could get the hang of magical transport.”

“You’re brilliant on a broom!”

“Yeah, but I have trouble with the Floo Network. I generally fall over when I have to take a Portkey.” Harry shook his head. “Yesterday, I Apparated for the first time with Sirius, Side-Along of course. I thought I was about to be squeezed to death. The pressure was unbelievable!”

“You did fine!” Sirius assured him as he brushed some soot off his clothes. At his godson’s raised eyebrow, he added. “Not vomiting after the first Apparition is a definite accomplishment.”

Remus chuckled. “It’s about the time I normally start lessons. Have you had breakfast?”

Harry nodded. “Kreacher made us breakfast this morning. He’s changed quite a bit.”

“That’s an understatement! The house is cleaner than it was when my mother was still alive,” Sirius added. “There are still several rooms that need to be completely cleared out, but it’s amazing the work a house-elf can accomplish when he’s cooperating.”

“Hi, Harry,” Anna entered the room and gave him a quick hug before turning to his godfather. “Hello, Sirius. I’m glad you were able to come today. Aunt Augusta is off on an errand, but she’ll be home in time for lunch.”

“Sounds great! So, what are you two working on today?” Sirius asked.

“I’d like to practice a potion,” Anna said.

Neville grimaced slightly. “Maybe we could each do what we want this morning. I really need to spend some time in the greenhouse.”

Remus nodded. “Alright, you can work separately on Potions and Herbology this morning. After lunch, we will work together on spell casting and dueling practice. Harry, which subject would you like to work on this morning?”

“I probably should work on Potions,” he admitted.

“Why don’t I make myself useful and go along with these two, and you can work with Neville in the greenhouse?” Sirius suggested.

The others readily agreed.

Anna led Harry and Sirius to the Potions Lab at Longbottom Manor. It was a small outbuilding close to the house with a main room for brewing, a storage cupboard, and a small bathroom. “So, what potion are we working on today?” Harry asked.

“I’m going to try to brew Amortentia,” Anna murmured.

Harry glanced at his godfather and watched his face morph from a smirk into a frown within seconds. “What’s that?”

She bit her lip. “It’s the most powerful love potion in the world. According to Advanced Potion-Making, it smells differently to each person according to what attracts them the most. The potion is only dangerous if one drinks it. Smelling the potion is perfectly safe.”

“Are you sure you should be brewing that potion, Anna?” Sirius’s gaze was fixed upon her.

“No, I’m not sure of much lately.” She set her book on the table and opened it to the page she had bookmarked earlier that morning. “But I only have about a month before I have to make one of the most important decisions of my life. Merlin knows I need all of the help I can get!” Anna’s voice cracked, and she fled to the storage cupboard to gather the supplies for the potion.

“She’s having a really hard time. Should one of us go and talk to Remus?” Harry whispered.

Sirius shook his head. “Draco took away her sense of power and her ability to control what was happening to her own body. If this helps her feel more empowered, she should absolutely do it. The best thing we can do is be quietly supportive.” He raked a hand through his hair. “Besides Amortentia is one of the potions studied for N.E.W.T.s.”

Anna returned from the storage cupboard with a wicker basket full of ingredients.

Harry turned his attention to the copy of Advanced Potion-Making on the table. “Doesn’t look as though your grandmother made any corrections to this potion.”

“No,” she agreed. “Just the notation about it often being part of the written portion of the N.E.W.T.s.”

Anna and Harry were soon following the rather complicated instructions from the text. Sirius looked on silently. The rose thorns and peppermint created a fresh, pleasant fragrance that permeated the room. Once the powdered moonstone and pearl dust were added, the potion took on the mother-of-pearl sheen described by the book. After a few more stirs, steam began to rise in spirals. The teens began to clean up their work stations as they waited the requisite thirty minutes for the potion to reach full potency.

A perfunctory knock sounded on the door, and Remus poked his head in. “Safe to come in? It’s almost time for lunch.”

“Yes, they just finished brewing Amortentia,” Sirius replied. “I think the potion is almost ready.”

“Isn’t that a love potion?” Neville asked.

Sirius nodded. “It is, and we’ll be disposing of it properly after you all have the opportunity to smell the fumes.”

“Why would we want to smell them?” Neville approached the cauldrons cautiously.

“Amortentia smells differently to each person, depending upon what attracts them most.” Remus glanced at Sirius as they all surrounded the potions.

Harry and Anna leaned over the spiraling steam. The scent was intoxicating, pulling him in, warming his blood. He closed his eyes as he tried to separate and identify the heady concoction.

“What do you smell, Harry?” Sirius murmured.

“Treacle tart…a broomstick handle…something flowery,” he leaned forward, inhaling slowly as he tried to specifically identify that last scent. It was making him feel sweaty, and he longed to put his entire face into that flowery something. With a sharp tug, his godfather pulled him away from the fumes. The heady scent remained in his nostrils but was less potent at this distance.

“Anna,” Remus said.

Harry glanced over to see that his friend was breathing deeply. Her eyes were closed, and she had a relaxed expression on her face.

“I smell…whiskey…and leather, perhaps? There’s a warm, outdoor scent. I can’t quite identify it, but it’s very…” she moaned softly.

Remus took her arm and pulled her away from the potion. “I think that’s enough, Anna. Did you want to smell it, Neville?”

“No, thanks. I’m not continuing with Potions anyways, and Harry and Anna both look a bit odd.”

Harry gave his friend a slightly disgruntled look as his godfather Vanished the Amortentia from the cauldrons. Glancing over at Anna, he had to admit she had a slightly flushed, dazed look about her.

“Anyways, Anna,” Neville continued. “One of the scents must have been chocolate. The only time you ever moan like that is when you’re eating good quality dark chocolate.”

xxxxxx

“Damn it, Sirius! Why’d you let her brew Amortentia of all things? The sixth grade Potions curriculum has plenty of other choices.”

Sirius gave his friend a side long glance. He’d expected something like this from the moment Remus told the teens to go ahead in and clean up for lunch. “It was her idea. I didn’t suggest it. Anna’s in a delicate place right now. If making that potion allowed her to feel like she has more knowledge, more control over her situation, I don’t think we should try to prevent that.”

“Really! And how exactly do you think that potion helped her,” Remus demanded.

“Anna has to make a rather life-altering decision in about a month. If she learned nothing else, at least, she definitely smelled something. At least the Malfoy boy didn’t take that away from her.” He rubbed his hand over his face. “Look, I know she’s important to you, but she’s not your daughter.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“It means we’re a couple of days away from the full moon, and since I was beginning to pick up on the scent of her arousal in there, I bloody well know you did, Moony!”

Remus growled. “Anna shouldn’t be in this situation! That Malfoy brat set this whole thing in motion with the first betrothal offer. If he’d just left her alone, I don’t think the other letters would have been sent.” He raked both hands through his hair. “I know she seems strong, but she’s scared, Sirius. I can smell the fear.” He closed his eyes. “And you were correct, her arousal was obvious in there. I’m not upset about that. She’s a healthy young woman. Her response was perfectly normal and appropriate. I just don’t want to see her hurt. I’m concerned that she’s emotionally closer than any of us realize to cracking.”

Sirius grabbed his friend’s shoulder. “If she cracks…let’s be realistic, when she cracks, we help her in every way possible. That’s all we can do. We can’t protect children from every horrible thing out there. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try, but in the end, we just can’t.”

“Merlin, they’ve reached a terrible age,” Remus muttered. “They’ll all be legally adults soon, Anna in just a few short months, but in some ways, they’re still so innocent.”

“Yeah, I’m guessing no one’s ever had The Talk with Neville,” Sirius chuckled. “I almost lost it back there when he mentioned that chocolate was the only thing that ever makes Anna moan. Perhaps you should mention that gap in his education to Augusta. I’m sure she’d be pleased to let you be the one to explain things to him.”

“You can laugh now, but do you honestly believe anyone’s ever had The Talk with Harry,” Remus retorted. “As his godfather, that’s definitely your responsibility.”

Sirius paled, then swore. “Let’s mention it to Augusta later. If both boys need to hear about the facts of life, we might as well team up and tell them together.”

Remus nodded. “Sounds like a reasonable plan.”

“I almost hate to mention it, but how much do you think Anna really knows,” Sirius said. “I mean obviously given what happened…” he blew out a loud breath. “I just wonder if she knows what it’s supposed to be like.”

“I’ll talk to Augusta later this evening.”

xxxxxxx

Tonks arrived at the Manor that afternoon in time for dueling practice. Between her job at the Ministry as an Auror and her work for the Order of the Phoenix she was rather busy. Over the past year, she had split her free time between her parents’ house, Grimmauld Place, The Burrow, and Longbottom Manor. This summer, she suspected she would spend most of her time at the Manor. The battle at the Department of Mysteries had convinced Sirius, Augusta, and Remus of the importance of daily dueling practice for the teens. While spells could certainly be exchanged in one of the empty rooms at Grimmauld Place, the extensive grounds surrounding Augusta’s home offered the perfect location for the kind of dueling practice Sirius was determined to offer Harry. Molly was not yet ready to allow her youngest two to participate, though since Arthur had not immediately denounced the plan when he heard it, Tonks suspected they may eventually join them.

“Alright,” Sirius began. “The rules are there will be no rules. Other than avoiding lethal spells of course. You need to fight like you would in a real battle. The Death Eaters don’t care that you’re still students. They will be fighting to win, and you need to fight the same way. Harry and Neville, you boys are up first.”

The boys squared off against each other, warily at first, but soon spells were speeding quickly through the air. By the time Harry managed to Stun Neville, he was breathing hard.

Remus murmured ‘Rennervate’ and helped Neville to his feet. “You did very well! Anna, your turn against Harry.”

She nodded and gripped her wand tightly. As with the previous duel, they started off slowly. Tonks wondered if they were trying to measure each other up, or if Harry might be feeling somewhat unwilling to throw curses at Anna. After a few volleys, the pace of the fight intensified quickly. Stunning Spells, Shield Charms, Leg-Locker Curses, Impediment Jinxes and Full Body-Bind Curses were cast with impressive speed and power.

“Stupefy!” Anna shouted.

Harry ducked to the side. “Flipendo!”

Anna fell backwards landing hard on the ground. “Expelliarmus!”

Her spell missed Harry by inches as he advanced on her purposefully. “Langlock!”

Tonks knew by the desperate, silent movements of the witch’s mouth that Harry had effectively silenced her.

“Expelliarmus!” Harry exclaimed, closing the distance between them to only a couple of feet as her wand flew out of her hand.

With a wild, terrified look in her eyes, Anna pushed both hands palm outward in what should have been a futile gesture. Harry flew backwards several feet before collapsing unconscious to the ground. Hand stretching out towards her wand, the instrument flew to her. She caught it and pointed it towards Harry, who was suddenly covered in a flat, round net of rope. Tears were rolling down the girl’s cheeks. She shook violently as she pointed her wand towards her mouth trying to undo the spell that had affixed her tongue to the roof of her mouth.

Everyone seemed to spring into action at the same time.

Remus and Neville rushed over to Anna, while Tonks hurried towards Sirius who was desperately trying to move the net that covered Harry, first with his wand and then with his bare hands.

“Finite Incantatem! Anna, you’re safe! Anna, look at me!” Remus demanded, grabbing the girl by the shoulders.

“Remus! Remus, I…oh, no, Harry!” she pulled away quickly and flicked her wand at Harry. She murmured a spell that was definitely not Latin. The net disappeared.

“Rennervate!” Sirius’s voice shook slightly as he waited for his godson to awake.

Fortunately, the spell worked almost instantly. Harry sat up with a confused expression on his face. “What happened?”

“I’m so sorry!” Anna whimpered. Tears continued to flow from her eyes. “I didn’t mean to. I couldn’t speak and my wand was gone, and I just…”

Sirius rapidly explained to Harry the events that had happened during his brief period of unconsciousness. Neville pulled Anna into his arms, holding her tightly. “It’s okay. Harry’s fine. He’s not mad at you. Everything’s okay, now.”

“It’s not okay,” she said, wiping the tears from her cheeks as she worked to regain her self-control. “I didn’t realize it was Harry. When he Disarmed me, I looked up, and I didn’t see Harry. I saw him. I thought I was back at Hogwarts.”

“Anna, that’s not unusual,” Tonks gently explained. “Traumatic events can cause people to experience flashbacks, moments when you think you’re back in the dangerous situation you survived. We learn about flashbacks as part of Auror training because it can even happen to one of us. Usually, they stop happening over time, but for a while, anything that might be a bit too close to what you experienced may trigger a flashback.”

She nodded. “I’m really sorry, Harry.”

“You did nothing wrong, and you won the duel.” He smirked slightly as he patted her back.

“Which leads us to a few things we should discuss,” Sirius began. “First, Harry you made a mistake that in a real duel could have led to your death. What was it?”

Harry thought for a moment. “I assumed she was harmless. I had her wand, so I thought the fight was over.”

“Generally, a captured wand does end a fight,” Remus continued. “But, even assuming your opponent is not capable of wandless magic, he or she may have a knife to throw at you, or they may attack you with their fists if they have no other weapons available.”

“So, I should have followed up the Disarming Charm with a Stunning Spell or Incarcerous Spell.” Harry rubbed his chin. “I’ll remember that next time.”

“It’s also not a bad idea in a real fight to break your opponent’s wand. Mad-Eye taught me that,” Tonks added. “Now I have a question for you, Anna. How many spells can you cast wandlessly?”

“I…I don’t know. I mean...” she frowned.

“You haven’t really thought about it, have you?” Tonks asked gently. “What you just did here, that’s how you escaped from Draco, isn’t it? You didn’t have a wand. He’d sealed and silenced the room, so you couldn’t scream for help, you couldn’t run away. You were scared and desperate, so you managed wandless magic.”

Anna stared off blankly for a moment, her face pale. “Yes, I suppose that’s what happened. I pushed him with both hands as hard as I could, and then I reached for my wand.”

“Have you ever knowingly performed any wandless magic?” Remus asked.

“No.” She shook her head. “But perhaps I should try.”

“You should definitely try, and we will work on it this summer,” Remus announced. “However, we are done for today. I think we should all go to the stream and cool off.”

xxxxxxxx

“How exactly did I get volunteered to have that particular conversation with Anna?” Tonks groused as she poured herself a generous Firewhisky and collapsed next to Remus on the sofa.

“You were here, and I’m an old widow,” Augusta replied, sipping her drink. “Better you than me, dear.”

Tonks snorted as she drained most of her glass in one swallow.

“Was it really that bad?” Remus inquired, concern evident by his tone. “You were up there even longer than we were.”

“No, it was fine,” she admitted. “I started off by telling Anna that you and Sirius were having ‘The Talk’ with Neville and Harry. Gave her the choice to either go join your conversation or chat with me.”

Remus choked on his drink. Tonks gave him a few firm pats on the back.

“Well, I think we’re all glad she decided to just talk to you,” Sirius smirked.

“Once she started talking, we had a pretty detailed discussion, which she definitely needed. Good call on that.”

“I’m rather surprised Katherine didn’t explain things to her,” Augusta mused. “I just assumed she would have since Anna was already thirteen when she came to live here.”

Tonks shrugged. “I asked her what her grandmother had told her. From what Anna said, puberty, basic anatomy, pregnancy, and childbirth were covered quite thoroughly. She just skipped most of the ‘how’ beyond the what must go where part and a firm warning to not let guys do that. Hermione loaned her a Muggle book on the subject, but it was also rather short on details. Didn’t even include any positions beyond the missionary one.”

Augusta cleared her throat. “And, that, my dear, is why I wanted you to have ‘The Talk’ with her. Thank you, Tonks, I sincerely appreciate it.” She stood up. “I think I’ll retire for the evening and let you young people chat. See you all in the morning.”

Tonks waited until the door closed behind the lady of the house to turn to the men. “Did I say too much?”

Sirius chuckled as he topped off all their drinks. “I have no doubt you gave Anna a proper and thorough education. I’m glad Augusta suggested we spend the night here tonight and get these conversations over with.”

“Well, the important thing is that she’s not afraid,” Remus murmured. “She deserves the chance to have a normal, healthy married life someday.”

Tonks took his hand in her own. “I truly don’t think she’s afraid, and she knows she can come and talk to me about absolutely anything.”

“Thank you for that.”

She smiled. “So, how’d your conversation with the boys go?”

“Rather brilliantly, if I do say so myself!” Sirius declared.

“They were definitely lacking some pertinent information, as well as suffering from some misinformation,” Remus admitted. “Although, I’m not sure that quite so many diagrams were truly necessary to their understanding.”

Sirius scoffed. “We were doing them, as well as the young ladies they will be with in the future, a tremendous favor by being so specific. I, for one, don’t want to have my godson leaving a witch frustrated and disappointed.”

“Yes, well, they are certainly not lacking in information,” Remus drawled. “I rather think you managed to mention a thing or two I was unaware of.”

“Glad I could be of service,” he waggled his eyebrows. “And, now I do believe I’ll leave you two alone. Good night, my dear cousin. Night, Moony.”

Back to index


Chapter 17: Chapter 17 The Prophecy

Author's Notes: With thanks to my beta, Arnel!


Chapter 17

The Prophecy

Ginny stepped out of the Floo into Longbottom Manor. Dad had finally convinced Mum to let her and Ron visit for the afternoon. Hermione had arrived at The Burrow just the night before and was eager to see her fellow Gryffindors. Harry had spent every day and a few nights at the Manor over the past week. Ginny wished they could spend the night, but Mum had insisted that Dad pick them up on his way home from work at the Ministry.

After a flurry of greetings, the six teens were quickly ensconced in the Garden Room.

“What have you all been doing here at the Manor every day?” Hermione asked eagerly. “I’m so jealous you’re having regular lessons with Professor Lupin.”

Harry smiled. “It’s been great! Remus and Sirius are here with us all the time conducting or supervising our lessons. Tonks drops by occasionally to help, especially when we are dueling or doing spell work. We have dueling, with a bit of charms and transfiguration practice for half the day, and work in the potions lab or in the greenhouse for the other half. Most days we have a bit of free time to go to the stream, fly, or take a walk around the grounds as well.”

“So, what are we doing this afternoon?” Ron inquired.

“They’ve given us the afternoon off,” Neville grinned. “We can do whatever we want. Of course, if we leave the house, Remus and Sirius will come with us.”

Hermione frowned. “I was rather hoping we would have lessons.”

“Yeah, well, I’m still sore from this morning,” Anna admitted. “We had a solid two hours of dueling practice just before lunch.”

“How does that work exactly?” Ginny asked.

“Usually we pair off and duel, but this morning, it was Sirius against the three of us with Remus monitoring, then they switched off.” Harry explained. “They switched off positions every twenty minutes or so, but we didn’t have a break all morning.”

“When practice is over, we discuss what went well, and what we need to work on,” Neville explained. “We’re definitely learning a lot, but it’s rather intense.”

“Doesn’t sound like much of a summer break?” Ron observed.

“Sirius is going to be pushing hard all summer.” Harry took a slow breath. “Listen, I’ve been waiting for us all to be together to talk. I need to tell you about the prophecy.”

Glances were exchanged throughout the room. “I thought it was destroyed in the Department of Mysteries and you weren’t able to hear it,” Ginny said.

Harry nodded. “That’s true. What I didn’t know at the time is that Professor Dumbledore would be able to tell me the prophecy. It was actually made by Professor Trelawney to the Headmaster before I was born.”

Everyone was silent for a moment as though no one was willing to ask the question racing through all their minds. “What does the prophecy say?” Hermione asked.

Harry closed his eyes in thought as he slowly recited. “The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches…born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies…and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not…and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives…the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies…”

Ron rubbed his forehead. “It really has to be you, then. I mean you’re the only one who can get rid of You-Know-Who.”

Harry nodded.

“And the marking you as his equal bit? Is that the scar?” Neville questioned.

“Yeah. Voldemort made the decision to come after my family. When he killed my parents and gave me this,” Harry pointed to the lightning-bolt shaped scar on his forehead, “I guess he made the prophecy start to become true.”

“It’s so vague though,” Hermione frowned. “I mean born as the seventh month dies obviously means an end of July birthday, and I suppose your parents were defying Voldemort because they refused to join him, but...”

“It could have been me, couldn’t it?” Neville interrupted. “I mean my birthday’s the day before yours. As Aurors, my parents were defying You-Know-Who.”

“Professor Dumbledore mentioned that it could have been you based on the description from the prophecy, but once Voldemort attacked me…” he shrugged.

Neville closed his eyes and hung his head, raking his hands through his hair in an agitated gesture.

“And the power that Voldemort knows not?” Anna asked. “Did the Headmaster explain that at all?”

“He said it was love. I’m not entirely sure what he meant by that, or how I’m supposed to use the power of love to destroy Riddle.”

“So, that’s why Sirius and Remus are training you this summer,” Ginny murmured. “They’re preparing you to be ready to face him. Again.”

Harry nodded. “I don’t think they really believe the dueling practice alone is going to help me destroy Voldemort, but until we understand how exactly I’m supposed to use the power he knows not…”

“Are the numbers important?” Ginny demanded looking from Harry to Hermione.

“What do you mean?” Anna questioned.

“The numbers. Thrice and seventh. Three and Seven. Those are powerful magical numbers!” Ginny insisted. “I understand that they helped to identify Harry, but could they mean more than that? I mean think about the reference to the seventh month. Why not just say July?”

“Well, it is a prophecy, told by Trelawney no less,” Ron muttered. “Born as the seventh month dies sounds more theatrical than just saying born at the end of July. I can see the old fraud flowering it up a bit for effect.”

“Yeah, but this is a real prophecy, not just her normal Divination class rubbish,” Neville argued.

Anna and Hermione, the only Arithmancy students of the group, stared at each other for a moment before Hermione spoke. “I need to do some research, but Ginny has a point. Three and Seven are powerful magical numbers. They’re vitally important numbers in the Muggle world as well.”

“What do you mean exactly?” Harry asked, his attention roaming among the three girls.

“Well, take three for example. It’s such an important number mathematically. Three is the noblest of all digits according to the Pythagorean school of thought. It’s the first odd prime number. Three is the rough approximation of pi. In Alchemy, the three primes, or tria prima, are salt, sulfur, and mercury,” Hermione explained.

“Three is a significant number in many religious and spiritual traditions as well,” Anna continued. “Many Muggles believe in the Holy Trinity which is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Triple Goddess of course is the Maiden, Mother, and Crone. In the Jewish mystical tradition of the Kabbalah, the soul consists of three parts. They are breath, spirit, and repose.”

“And the number seven?” Sirius asked. He and Remus were standing in the doorway with focused expressions on their faces.

“Seven celestial objects in the solar system are visible to the naked eye from Earth. Every seven years the Queen of the Fairies pays a tithe to Hell,” Ginny said.

“There are seven days in a week, seven colors in a rainbow, and seven notes in a standard musical scale,” Hermione added.

“The most common story of creation states that it was completed in seven days. There are seven Deadly sins. Honestly, we could go on for a long time.” Anna shrugged. “The question is whether the numbers three and seven are actually important in the prophecy. Do they influence the power he knows not in some way?”

“We have a rather extensive library at Grimmauld Place,” Sirius said. “If I bring some pertinent books…”

“I would love to do some research on the numbers!” Hermione exclaimed.

Sirius grinned. “Alright, then! You all need to go have some fun. How about we take the brooms and some games and snacks down by the stream?”

“Sounds great!” Ron agreed. “Do you think the house-elves have any pies in the kitchen?”

xxxxxx

Molly breathed a sigh of relief she wasn’t even aware of holding when the Floo activated and her husband came home, followed quickly by Ginny, Hermione, and Ron.

“You’re right on time,” she praised as she kissed her husband’s cheek. “I’ll have dinner on the table in just a moment!”

Molly tried to tune out the voice of the newest temporary member of her household as she finished preparing the meal and transferred it to the table. In truth, she did not really dislike Fleur Delacour. Obviously, the young woman was an intelligent and powerful witch to have been named the Triwizard Champion representing Beauxbatons. Molly just couldn’t understand the relationship between this tall, willowy blonde and her son, Bill.

He had announced his engagement only days before when he and Fleur had moved in, ostensibly to give the family an opportunity to become acquainted with the witch he intended to marry next summer. Molly had hoped for someone more down-to-earth for her oldest son than the graceful, elegant creature he brought home. She couldn’t deny that there was something powerful between them. She and Arthur had discussed the slightly odd magical connection that was sometimes visible when the two were together. Molly had suggested it had something to do with Veela magic, since the girl’s grandmother was a full Veela. Arthur disagreed, though he had not been able to explain the relationship between the two.

Molly waited until after dinner to talk to the girls. Bill and Fleur had conveniently gone for an evening stroll. She knew they would not be back for at least an hour. Arthur and Ron were playing a game of chess in the living room.

“How are Harry and Sirius?” she asked.

Hermione obliging went into a detailed analysis of how her best friend and his godfather were doing. Clearly, they were spending more time at Longbottom Manor than at Grimmauld Place. Harry seemed to be spending an inordinate amount of time on lessons rather than having the relaxing summer that Molly felt was more beneficial. Grudgingly, she admitted to herself that Sirius seemed to be doing a decent job as Harry’s guardian.

“And how are Anna and Neville?” Molly asked.

“Neville’s fine,” Ginny replied. “I think they’re having a pretty typical summer for the most part. They start dancing lessons again next week. Apparently, Harry will be joining them, so Anna will likely have quite the work-out while the boys will be able to take turns partnering her.”

Molly smiled. “Dancing lessons never hurt anyone. I remember teaching your father how to dance. He was rather light on his feet once he relaxed enough to actually move to the music.”

The girls both laughed.

“Anna asked about Charlie again,” Ginny volunteered. “We talked while the boys were having a splash fight in the stream. She didn’t make it seem like a confidential conversation, so I don’t think she’d mind me mentioning it.”

Hermione nodded. “If it was private, she would have asked to talk to you alone, instead of in front of me. Besides when the boys wandered over for snacks, she asked if Charlie liked swimming in the ocean.”

Ginny laughed. “I think she really misses the beach. Anna had the dreamiest expression on her face when she asked that.”

“Excuse me, ladies,” Arthur kissed his wife on the cheek. “Molly, I almost forgot to tell you. Augusta asked if we would allow Ron, Ginny, and Hermione to attend dancing lessons with Neville, Anna, and Harry. The lessons will be on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for the next two weeks from one to three in the afternoon. She suggested they could arrive at noon to have lunch at the Manor, and I can collect them on my way home from work each evening.”

Molly frowned as she considered the invitation. The girls were staring at her with hopeful expressions on their faces. A few years ago, she would have agreed instantly to such a proposal.

“Augusta reminded me that a war is no excuse to delay the children’s education in proper wizarding social traditions,” Arthur said quietly. “The wards around the Manor are as secure as the wards here, Molly. If I didn’t believe the kids would be safe there, I would have already declined the invitation.”

She swallowed and forced a smile. “I’ll send Errol off with a letter accepting the invitation. Dancing lessons are certainly a wonderful idea, and it’s kind of Augusta to want to include all the teens.”

xxxxxx

Harry glanced around the room taking note of each occupant. Anna was reading one of the books Sirius had just brought back from the library at Grimmauld Place. Augusta was writing a letter at the small desk by the window. Neville and Remus were playing chess.

“Sirius, do you want to maybe go take a walk?” Harry suggested.

His godfather glanced up and smiled. “Sure, Harry. Let’s go check out the moon.”

They walked in silence for several minutes. Harry’s appreciation for the many twisting paths in the vast gardens of Longbottom Manor increased with every step.

“Anything in particular you wanted to discuss?” Sirius asked.

“Yeah, I was thinking about things after our conversation the other night,” Harry began. “Well, I…erm…” He felt his cheeks flaming and suddenly wondered if perhaps they should simply return to the house.

“Do you have a question about sex?” Sirius smirked.

“No!” Harry exclaimed. “I mean I think you covered all of that. It’s just…well…I’m not sure how to get started.”

“I thought I covered that rather well. It’s always best to start with kissing and a few gentle caresses to gauge the witch’s mood.”

“That’s not what I mean!” Harry groaned and raked one hand through his hair roughly. “How do I ask a girl out?”

“Oh, well, that’s easy. Just ask the witch to be your date to Hogsmeade.”

“I’m not sure I really want to wait that long,” he admitted.

Sirius stopped walking and grabbed his arm. “Explain.”

Harry sighed. “I want to ask Ginny to be my girlfriend, but I don’t know how to say it.”

“What is it with Potter men and witches with red hair?” His godfather grinned. “Just ask her.”

“That’s it? That’s your advice?”

“Well, you can jazz it up as much as you want with compliments on her beautiful hair, her lovely skin, whatever…but you just have to work up the courage to ask her to be your girlfriend.”

Harry shrugged helplessly. “I’m just not sure I’ll be able to get the words out.”

“The other alternative is to take her into your arms and kiss her,” Sirius said. “Just, you know, be careful not to be too demanding. It’s never okay to force a girl into doing anything.”

“I would never force myself on Ginny! I wouldn’t hurt her.”

“I know that. I just felt the need to say it.”

He nodded. “Anyways, I already kissed her.”

“You did!” Sirius sputtered. “When?”

“Fred and George started up a game of Spin the Bottle a few months ago at Hogwarts. Ron and Hermione were on prefect rounds, so they don’t know about it.”

“And?”

“It was brilliant,” Harry murmured. “I keep thinking about it and wondering how to do it again, but…”

Sirius laughed, a happy booming sound that echoed through the trees surrounding them. “Just ask her to be your girlfriend.”

“Right,” he nodded. “I’ll just ask her.”

His godfather continued chuckling most of the way back to the house.

xxxxxx

Remus leaned back in the chair and stared at the dying embers of the fire. He’d drunk too much Firewhisky. Logically, he knew he should set down the glass and go to bed. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the energy or motivation to move. Glancing over at Sirius in the wingback chair, he saw that his friend’s eyes were closed. They’d been reminiscing about the old days when James had finally succeeded in winning Lily’s affection. He missed them both so much it was almost painful. James would be so proud that his son was finally falling for a beautiful red-headed witch. Lily would be pleased with the girl’s fiery spirit and fierce loyalty to her friends.

The door opened, and Anna walked quietly into the room. She went directly to the decanter, poured herself a double shot of Firewhisky, and drained the contents in one long swallow. Her hands were still shaking as she refilled the glass.

“Anna,” he said.

She turned quickly, raising the wand that Remus had failed to notice was in her left hand. Her eyes darted from him to Sirius, and she lowered the wand.

“Anything you want to tell us,” Sirius drawled, sounding rather soberer than Remus expected considering the amount of alcohol he had recently consumed.

“I didn’t think anyone would still be awake,” Anna murmured. She raised the glass to her lips and slowly emptied it.

“What are you doing?” Remus asked. “You shouldn’t be drinking like that!”

“Sorry,” she muttered, not sounding apologetic in the least, as she set the empty glass on the table. “I’ll go back to bed.”

“Sit down!” Sirius ordered. “You can’t come down here, sneak four shots and then leave. Talk!”

Anna frowned, but sat cross-legged on the sofa.

Remus rubbed his forehead wishing he was sober. “Did you have a nightmare?”

“No,” she replied. “Not really. It was just weird.”

“Do you need a dose of Sleeping Draught?” Sirius asked.

Anna shook her head. “I’ve already taken it three times this week. Madam Pomfrey suggested it not be taken more than twice a week.”

“Why aren’t you in bed with Neville, then?” Remus asked.

“What?” Sirius stammered.

“It’s platonic,” he explained with a careless wave of his hand. “They’ve been sleeping together occasionally for years now. Believe me, Augusta wished they were actually up to something so they could be betrothed to one another, and she wouldn’t be dealing with the stress of multiple betrothal offers.”

“Moony, you’re way too informative when drunk,” Sirius declared before shifting his attention to the witch. “Why aren’t you in bed with your cousin?”

“He was with me last night, and Harry’s in his room tonight.” She exhaled slowly. “I don’t want to risk waking them both up. It’s bad enough that Neville knows about my frequent sleeping problems. I don’t want Harry to know, too.”

Remus sighed. “Drinking is not the best way to deal with problems, Anna.”

“Of course it’s not,” she murmured.

He grimaced realizing she was perfectly aware that he and Sirius were far from sober.

“Well, now that we’ve all established our mutual misuse of the genial beverage, why don’t you tell us about the weird dream you had?” Sirius suggested.

Anna pressed her fingertips against her closed eyelids. “It started off fine, quite wonderful in fact. I was at the beach Grandma used to always take me to back in Virginia. She wasn’t there though. It wasn’t a memory from my childhood.” She inhaled deeply as her hands lowered to her lap. “It was a hot day, and the water was pleasantly cool. The salty air was heavy before the wind picked up. A summer storm was coming, and the waves were rolling in. The water started pounding against the sand, so hard and fast. I was in the water up to my waist. The waves pushed me over several times. It was exciting, the wildness of it all, the raw power of the ocean! It took my breath away, and I was laughing.”

Her smile slowly faded. “Then, the dream changed. I was eating something, or at least it seemed like I was. I kept chewing, but I didn’t swallow. The things in my mouth were so hard, like pieces of glass or small stones. Eventually, I realized I was chewing on my teeth. They were all falling out.” She shifted on the sofa, drawing her legs up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. “Even in the dream, I knew it wasn’t real, but it felt so…disgusting. I think I woke up just enough to tell myself to stop it. Then I started to see the fat people.” A shudder rippled through her form, and she shook her head slightly. “Not fat exactly, more like they kept swelling. I thought they would explode, but they never did. They just kept expanding, grotesquely. I couldn’t get them out of my mind. I was awake at that point, but every time I closed my eyes, I saw them. The image wouldn’t leave my mind. I just couldn’t handle it another second.”

Remus shifted uncomfortably. “I’m sorry, Anna. That does sound rather awful. Do you think you can sleep now?”

She nodded and finally gazed into his eyes. “It all seems so silly now that I’ve said it out loud. Teeth falling out and people swelling. I’m not sure why it upset me so much.” She stood up slowly. Her body was visibly more relaxed, a bit too relaxed. Remus realized she was at least slightly tipsy. “Good night.”

He and Sirius murmured ‘good night’ as she left the room.

“Fuck,” Remus murmured.

Sirius threw his glass into the fireplace.

There really was nothing else to say.

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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