LAST WORDS

Sat. 13 July

They had arrived. Hermione should have been giddy. She should have been off the wall and near irrational. She loved being scored—being told how good she was at the tasks set before her. She had always been an exceptional student and so the positive feedback loop had run rampant leading to hysteria as a normative behaviour.

But underneath the envelope containing her O.W.L. scores was another one. Ginny had tried to intercept Ron’s envelope, but her mother had overruled her. Molly had said that it brought her a sense of hope—like a light at the end of long tunnel—and that Hermione deserved that as much as anyone.

Hermione and Ginny had shared an intense stare across the table as Ginny decided whether or not she was going to keep the secret or reveal exactly why Hermione shouldn’t be constantly reminded of Ron’s injured state.

But Ginny had stayed true and now Hermione possessed Ronald’s scores.

She stood just outside his room as she read through them. She was surprised at how well he had faired. Divination and History of Magic, sure; he had always been terrible in those. But other than Astronomy he’d managed Exceeds Expectations in all of his other courses.

Even Potions.

Pride mixed with her anxiety. She knew—justifiably—that her intervention in his naturally lazy demeanour had spurred much of his success.

But he should be here to gloat. She could see with her minds eye—his ebullient reaction as he pointed out to anyone that would listen his pride at his score. She could imagine his bemusement at Hermione’s own critique of her limited failures.

Humph, ‘limited failures’? In school perhaps.

He would want to see them. His scores.

Hermione opened the door to his room. She hadn’t been in here since he was injured. There was too much to remind her of him. And she’d already been visiting him each day as part of her ritual. It had just seemed unnecessary.

Hermione was so thankful for Ginny. She hadn’t put a stop to her penance. Only made additional rules. Now the two of them went to the arena together. Instead of firing at themselves they would spar. The rule was Ginny would return anything that Hermione was willing to cast at her.

This put a sort of self-limiter on the seriousness of the engagement.

It wasn’t really effective in masking her pain any more. But spending time with Ginny seemed to be displacing the pain with common purpose. Ginny had insisted that the goal be training. And fundamentally Hermione was fine with that. She didn’t want to let anyone get hurt on her behalf any more, so a raw physical regimen fit the bill.

And if she left herself open occasionally... Took her falls hard... Leaned into the blast...

All the better.

Hermione had always hated exercise. It was thoroughly unpleasant, and she didn’t understand the individuals that insisted that it felt good. Being sweaty, out of breath, and sore was not among her desired states.

But now she kind of got it. It wasn’t pleasant. Exercise still sucked. Stem to stern. From the moment she started until the moment she finished.

But after—when she was cooling down—there was a warm sort of ache. A righteous fatigue. It always arrived coincident with a sense of accomplishment. Hermione knew that this was probably a neurochemical effect. Dopamine maybe. She’d wanted to look it up, but hadn’t made time.

Allowing the memory of that pleasant sensation to drift away, Hermione turned to look around Ronald’s room. Where could she leave his scores so that he would see them if— when he recovered?

No... if.

She took a moment to collect herself and feel the room and to smell the air which in Ron’s absence had cleared of teenage boy smell, but still contained a hint of his scent.

Ever since Ginny had taken her hostage on the broom, Hermione had been doing this more.

Stopping.

Clearing her thoughts and tension and just feeling the world around her.

It made her feel more... alive? Present?

His trunk.

She would put his results in his trunk with his other school supplies. That way, even if he forgot about them, he would have them when they got to Hogwarts.

Ron’s trunk was old and worn. But the latch swung with reliable ease. The inside was neat and tidy. Very unlike Ron, but that made sense since it was probably a house elf that had to pack it for the trip back to the burrow.

She saw his wizard’s chess set. That would be a good place where he would find it for sure. She flipped the latch and swung open the lid. She set the envelope carefully inside the box and was about to close it when she noticed a small folded piece of parchment held to the lid with a pair of elastic bands.

Hermione was never devoid of curiosity. And thinking they might be a copy of the rules to wizard’s chess—at least according to Ron—she gently retrieved the scrap and unfolded it.

‘Dear Hermione.’

An electric shock ran through Hermione. It was a letter to her. Or rather it was a draft of a letter to her as testified by numerous sections that had been scribbled out and edited in between the lines.

‘I don’t know how to say I love you enough.’

He was speaking to her. It wasn’t dated so she didn’t know when he had written it. Her hands were shaking.

‘Words aren’t my thing, never have been. But I know they are yours. So I’m going to try. I know you’re angry about what I said at dinner. I shouldn’t have said that. I’ll make it up to you, promise.’

Hermione wished for the power to reach into the letter, to reach back in time to the temporal nexus where these thoughts had been bound in ink upon the parchment. She wanted to hug him. Tell him it was okay.

She didn’t even remember the fight. Or why she had been angry. And through the lens of her current thought space, every argument and every disappointment seemed immaterial. Hermione would give almost anything to be mad at him again.

‘Even if you can’t forgive me, I’m going to protect you Hermione. It wasn’t that you were just a girl. Or weak. You are the most important part of my world. The only thing that really matters. Please, don’t ever doubt how special you are.’

She couldn’t read any more. Maybe later, but not now. Not through the blurred tears of regret. Because she remembered now.

Ron had been boasting about how he would take care of her and keep her safe. And she had gotten offended at how he was putting her on a pedestal as though she had no agency of her own. No personal competence. She’d forgiven him but...

But then he’d thrown himself in front of a deadly curse meant for her.

~ diffindo ~

“Because you’re a bloody idiot, that’s why!”

Serigala had not let up on him for the entire week. When was she going to move on? He had only followed the traditions of the pack. They were the rules. He hadn’t made them up. Adusta knew what she was doing.

“But we haven’t seen a hit wizard in months. And they got Fenrir, so there’s no reason to believe they even know we exist.”

“On the contrary, they know Fenrir was active in this area so they are going to be looking for us, which would have been bad enough, but then you decided to stand shoulder to shoulder with Rip and then abandon him which forced Aurea’s hand.”

Lyko couldn’t have seen all of that ahead of time. Everyone was treating him like he was supposed to be some kind of seer. And what they’d done to Rip was wrong.

“And with all that noise. Who knows what heard us? So get yourself out of here and pack up. We head north at dawn.”

As Lyko left Serigala’s tent, he spotted the second-to-last person he wanted to see. Anthus was leaning against a tree and staring Lyko down with malice that he had never seen from him before.

“What?! When is this going to end?”

Anthus inclined his chin in an expression of disdain.

“I don’t forgive rapists.”

Fuck him. And fuck Seri. And fuck the pack if this continued. Lyko didn’t know where this confidence had come from. Anthus was a whelp. A weak nothing. But ever since that day—since the misunderstanding—Anthus seemed to have shed his puppy coat and finally taken some responsibility for himself.

“I’m not even going to respond to that any more. She announced herself. It didn’t start with me.”

“You’re blind as fuck then. You couldn’t read what was happening?! What Rip was up to?!”

Lyko had been hurt and defensive, but now he was mad.

“At least I’m not a murderer! You all killed him like he didn’t matter! You killed the strongest member of the pack, because you didn’t want him in charge. It was his right!”

Anthus didn’t respond to this because he knew that Lyko was right. That Rip’s death was no more just than what happened with Adusta. It was like Rip had said, when you live among monsters the monstrous will happen.

“If you wanted Rip to live maybe you shouldn’t have let yourself be distracted by a quick fuck.”

Lyko’s rage boiled over. It wasn’t his god-damn fault. She’d tricked him. He ran at Anthus. This was going to stop right now. If Aurea could kill Rip, then he could kill Anthus. And what honestly would be lost.

“Stop.”

Lyko stopped. His rage was extinguished in a cold drench of panic. He turned around to acknowledge her. She was stepping out of Aurea’s tent. His heart still rose into his throat whenever he saw her.

Adusta cast her eyes upon him. They were always sad now. His instinctive shame battled with his rationalization.

“Adusta...”

“Don’t talk to me. I’m just here to tell you both that you need to stop. The pack is leaving. We’re moving on. It’s time for you two to get over yourselves.”

She passed her gaze to Anthus and then returned back to Aurea’s tent where she had slept every night since he’d accepted her fake proposal.

She’d proposed! That’s what that was among the packs. It wasn’t unclear in any way.

~ diffindo ~

As the flap closed behind Adusta her eyes dilated to the dim interior of Aurea’s tent. She pushed down her anger and resentment. Feelings didn’t matter any more and if she was required to ignore what had been done to her then the least the rest of the pack could do was reciprocate.

Aurea hadn’t apologized. She hadn’t held her as she cried or told her that it had been evil. No, as Adusta had screamed into the dirt where he had left her, Aurea had approached covered in Rip’s blood and simply said ‘You saved the pack today, thank you.’ And then she had turned and left. No advice. No sympathy. No regret.

Adusta had been bubbling over with hate born of pain and for the long hours before the sun rose, a distributary of that crushing loathing had flowed in Aurea’s direction. After all, she had known that this would happen. That it might happen.

But as Adusta watched the sun rise over the horizon after that long sleepless night, she silently thanked Aurea for her honesty. At least it had meant something. If Aurea had confessed her regrets and apologies, then Adusta would’ve hated her for throwing away... what?

See that was the thing. Adusta felt a deep empty scar gouged in her being, but what had Aurea done? What had Lyko done? There wasn’t a clear rational explanation of why her mind broke whenever it queued to the beginning of that night. There wasn’t a clear rational reason to cower in fear when Lyko or Kullin or even Anthus approached her.

And so Adusta had chosen in that moment to become a clear rational being. That was the right way to think of things. The bright sheen of reality would cleanse away the mistaken feelings of a overly sensitive princess.

And it hurt less. It just hurt a little less.

“If they continue this behaviour, I’ll have Kullin intervene. It isn’t helping anyone.”

Aurea had not spoken of this issue since, except for indirect references like that one. At dusk subsequent to that first lidless crucible dark where she questioned her ongoing existence she had arrived at Aurea’s tent, entered, rolled out her mat, and laid down a few feet from the only person she might now trust.

Aurea hadn’t questioned her about it. She just provided an extra blank and went to bed without another word.

“What did you have to give Kullin to get his support?”

This unknown had worried at the back of Adusta’s mind just waiting for room to come forward.

“If you’re asking whether I agreed to support him as pack leader, then no I did not. And he didn’t ask for it. His agreement is really only with me. It isn’t an issue for the pack...”

Adusta didn’t really put up with crap from anyone any more and she had no intention of indulging Aurea even if she was her only ally. Her scowl said all that needed to be said.

“Fine. I agreed to carry his young. At least two.”

She screamed inside, so was a female’s power only tied to sex? Was that all there was? A weak body doomed to the predations of the stronger male.

“Adusta. Please listen. There will be more to life. I can’t promise it will be easy, but things are going to change. I already started. And before you hate Kullin, I want children too. I just couldn’t bring myself to have them with Fenrir. We’ve had this agreement for a while. It wasn’t about Rip. Not really.”

Life was what it was and naïvety wouldn’t move it.

~ diffindo ~

Amelia stepped up to the storefront. Its façade spoke of an eccentric maturity. For all that it was, it appeared every bit the normal muggle curiosities store. There was no one to be seen through the display window. A high pitched peal heralded her entry as she stepped over the threshold.

The first floor which was mostly filled with book cases was divided into sections. The potentially offending one was labelled ‘Occult’.

Her inspection of the shelves was interrupted by a thump followed by a yell from the second floor.

“Hold on. I’ll be right with you.”

The voice was muffled as it resonated through the floor and between exposed joists. A short wait later the proprietor came down the stairs.

“Hello, I almost never get customers at this hour. I was packing away some old inventory, so I appreciate your patience. How may I help you?”

The storekeeper was spindly with strikingly platinum blonde hair. Her face was at the threshold of betraying her middle age. She wore dark leggings under a grey skirt all of which was adorned by a simple white pea coat. Her hair was straight and her eyes blue... and knowing.

When Susan had said the woman seemed to know things, Amelia hadn’t really understood why. But now the glimmer of an acute focus resting in the back of her eyes testified to a discerning mind.

Time for the test.

Early in the history of the Ministry of Magic, the need to establish a unknown person as muggle or magic had become obvious. You couldn’t just ask if they were a wizard. The exact form of the test had varied throughout the years, but there were some common practices.

Step one. Amelia reached into her pocket and set a round piece of metal on the counter.

“Do you know what this is?”

The piercing blue eyes shifted to the gold coin sporting a dragon with wings unfurled. They rested there for a moment longer then expected. Their gaze returned to penetrate Amelia who redoubled her Occlumency blocks just in case.

They looked back and forth between the windows of Amelia’s soul trying to read the intent there.

Then back to the coin.

“It’s a coin. Fairly newly minted by the look of it.”

“Do you know more specifically then that? What is it called?”

The eyes remained on the coin.

“Well if the first word ‘unum’ matches the numeral one at the bottom edge it would be safe to say the coin is named in the second word ‘galleon’.”

Urm. Clever.

“Have you seen one of these before?”

“If it is a currency, it is probably common as money tend to be.”

Urm.

Step two. Amelia placed a shaped oaken stick on the counter.

“How about this?”

“I would say it’s a wand. They are common among the Wicca. I’ve seen more than a few in my time.”

“Have you ever performed any magic?”

“‘Magic is not a practice. It is a living, breathing web of energy that, with our permission, can encase our every action.’”

She said that like a quote of some kind. She was definitely being evasive.

Step three. Amelia leaned in and watched the corners of those deep blue orbs.

“Voldemort.”

There! That had been it. No long-time member of a British magical community could hear that word without forewarning and fail to flinch at least a little.

“Who are you?”

The woman slouched slightly.

“You can call me Artemis. Artemis Heartwell if you need my full name.”

“I need to ask you some questions about a book that you sold to a young man and woman some weeks ago.”

“My memory isn’t what it used to be.”

Urm.

“The book has no listed author or publisher only a title, ‘Occlumency’. The young man who bought it was kind enough to let me inspect it and it is clearly an object covered by the secrecy statute. So... where did you get it and why did you sell it from a unregistered muggle-accessible business?”

“You’re making several assumptions, Director. You seem to assume that you have jurisdiction here.”

Amelia smiled.

“First, my office has jurisdiction over all matters of law enforcement relating to or abutting the magical realm. This shop resides in Great Britain, you sold an artefact of shadows, and unless you intend to continue pretence you appear to be a member of magical society. But—”

Amelia raised a finger indicating pause.

“Second—and far more fascinating—I didn’t tell you I was a Director of anything. You seem to have me at a disadvantage. Given the potential statutory violations you are facing, I think it is time for you to even the table lest I come to the conclusion that you are being evasive. Truth can be compelled.”

The sharp blue eyes no longer contained any humour.

“I wish it were that easy.”

The woman Amelia now knew to be Artemis raised her left hand and began to wave it in the pattern of an incantation.

“Stop! I will not allow you to cast a spell upon me.”

Amelia’s Auror training hit full tilt. Her shields instinctively went up. Her wand snapped into her hand by mere mental call. Her legs shifted to a combat stance. Her mind started to catch up. The gesture was a mental awareness spell.

Nearly impossible to block. Amelia had to attack first. Her wand came up. She took a millisecond to aim. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Artemis doing something with her other hand.

No time.

Stupefy.”

As the spell left her wand Amelia new it wouldn’t hit anything. The gesture in the right hand had finally reached recognition. A relocation spell. Her spell passed through empty space and in nearly the same moment a whisper came from behind.

Intervigilum.

Her mind began to close. She didn’t have time to dwell on how stupid she’d been to underestimate this adversary. The Director of the DMLE did not get taken by surprise.

“I’m sorry Director. It wasn’t entirely up to me.”

In her last moments of consciousness Amelia sucked her cheek between her left molars and bit down hard, a secret signal to herself to check for obliviation and mental manipulation when she regained awareness.

~ diffindo ~

Gabrielle Delacour sat on a bench just off the promenade. The Paradigm Central Speyr towered far into the air reflecting off the auxiliary coolant pools. The many floors and faces abutting the outer surface of the speyr-complex glinted like the facets of an enormous crystal. The dome shaped shield was invisible behind the speyr curtain—the illusion of sky painted just within the dome—but a shudder ran down her spine as she contemplated the magnitude of magical energy being released from the apex to maintain the shape and volume of Paradigm City Central.

It wasn’t alone in it’s duty. The city had long ago outgrown the reach of even the magnificent central speyr, so now satellite speyrs maintained overlapping protected bubbles. They paled in comparison to the central tower but were stunning in their own right for the ability to shift load among each other to prevent auxiliary warnings.

One was deep within the history tomes before reading of the full failures that had brought disaster crashing down, and Gabrielle lived in the comfort that she and her fellow magical citizens were safer than any other witch and wizard in the world.

The promenade was quiet today. Most services chose to close their doors at least once a week and it seemed that Saturday had become the consensus. A family frolicked in Uther Park, but other than that it was quiet.

Gabrielle held a prized object in her hands. Mail did not travel quickly to and from Paradigm. The wards and seals that protected its location and very existence required extensive examination of anything passing in or out. Or so she had been told. Michael had heard rumours in the Banríon’s office that some elders were being allowed to communicate with the outside world directly for the first time in decades.

But she was not one of the elders, so her correspondence traveled at an excruciating snail’s pace. It wasn’t that bad really. But when internal communications occurred almost instantaneously, the slow crawl of the post was galling.

The letter was in a simple white envelop. It had been mailed to her parent’s in France since that was the only address that Gabrielle had been allowed to give to Luna even though Luna had lived in Paradigm on and off with her mother and father. After Pandora’s death, Luna never returned and so they had become pen-pals of a sort.

As Gabrielle opened the letter she recognized Luna’s unique script. Messy but very legible.

‘Dear Gabrielle.’

‘I would like to tell you that I am doing very well, but I am afraid that might be a lie. I don’t like to lie.

‘Events have been moving quickly here. You may have heard reports that Sirius Black was captured and killed and that in the battle Professor Dumbledore died. These reports are the typical lies put out by the co-opted press. Don’t believe anything you read about it unless it comes from the Quibbler.’

Gabrielle felt sad. It had always been hard to see Luna trust her father so blindly. He was incredibly intelligent, but it was impossible to divide the crazy from the genius. And Luna—being a good daughter—had chosen to assume genius.

The respected press did appear to be manipulating the truth.

The popular conspiracy theory was that Albus Dumbledore had broken into the Ministry on a fools mission to break into the department of secrets and steal privileged prophecies. And had been killed in the process. And that to cover it up Sirius Black had been executed in custody having never actually escaped Azkaban.

The reality according to a brief that crossed Michael’s desk on the way to the Banríon was that Sirius Black and Albus Dumbledore had fought together to defeat a reincarnation of the great British dark lord, Voldemort.

Both theories broached the incredible.

‘Trust me. I was there. The Quibbler has it right.’

Gabrielle was ashamed to admit that she had never bothered to read the Quibbler. She had seen a few excerpts years ago foisted upon her by Luna, but they always came off as unhinged.

But Luna had been there? Luna didn’t lie. Not usually. Why had Luna been in the middle of a fight between some combination of Albus Dumbledore, Sirius Black, and Voldemort? It didn’t make any sense.

‘About your new beau, he sounds like a spectacular person, but be sure to steer clear of Wrackspurts. They make people do funny things and you wouldn’t want to do anything you regret.

‘I have included a pair of Spectrespecs for your use in that regard. Sometimes they pick up other forms of magic, so you’ll need to double check. If you find you have them, check the April issue of the Quibbler. We publish a list of under-reported magical maladies and the corresponding remedies.’

Sure enough. Tucked within the innermost fold of the letter was a pair of folded cardboard glasses. One lens was red and the other blue.

Gabrielle smiled and shook her head. Luna was weird; but she was a cute, benign kind of weird. And her advice, once filtered—like light through the Spectrespecs—did make sense. Michael was perfect. He was everything. They fit together like it had always been meant to be.

She hoped.

He hadn’t picked up on her subtle clues. Her careful insinuations into the scenarios of his life. He was still very much her friend and that was becoming frustrating.

Fleur didn’t believe in fated love. In love at first sight. But Gabrielle new she was wrong. Maybe she was more in tune with her veela heritage, but a part of her pulled away to some distant destination. Some distant person. The key for her lock.

She wasn’t naïve. Destiny didn’t come with a welcome poster. You had to find it. Watch for him. Prepare for him.

But everyday had made Gabrielle more sure than ever that Michael was that person. He was confident—sometimes arrogant—but never cruel or dismissive. He would care for her. Protect her.

But Luna was right. She needed to be careful. Particularly if her heritage ever became common knowledge among the young members of Paradigm. Perenelle had been kind and had allowed Gabrielle to leave her veela ancestor off her induction forms.

It wasn’t shame. Gabrielle was proud her grandmother. Mamie was a powerful, dangerous, and independent enchantress. And she had lived in an era when that was a hard life for a woman.

But there was only one thing all people knew about veela. And they never considered it from the veela perspective. Veela did sex. They fucked. It was the key to their identity and an evolutionary imperative. And this was the first and often last thing someone bothered to know about an ange de l'amour.

Men and women both would unshackle their carnal nature in the false assumption that all veela wanted sex all the time. Rape was an ever-present threat to the lesser veela. Full veela still carried the ancestral defense. The blue fire. Flamme d'azur. But, in the mix, this ability faded first. Some half veela could conjure the fire with great effort. But Gabrielle was only a quarter, so she had to be careful.

‘I—’

Here Luna had scratched out several lines.

‘Daddy worries me.’

Gabrielle felt an odd sense of anxiety. It wasn’t like Luna to mince words and the tortured care with which she had considered this section brought her pause.

‘He’s always been broody—ever since Mummy at least—but he’s been getting angry. I worry that I am not able to fulfil his needs. Mummy used to predict his needs. She was always exactly enough, but I just am not enough. Or maybe I am too much.’

Gabrielle didn’t know what to think. The Lovegoods had always been a close knit family. If Xen was isolating himself from her, she must be hurting bad.

‘He’s keeping me home from Hogwarts. He says I am not safe there. I—’

Then there was another break of several scratched out lines.

‘I have friends. I made them this last year. I haven’t really had any Hogwarts friends before. But now he’s taking them away and it makes me feel angry. He’s right, of course. He’s... Daddy. But sometimes I feel like he doesn’t understand.’

Luna was rebelling. Gabrielle had rebelled young. That ran in the female line of family. And Luna—sheltered for so long—probably was a latecomer.

But to pull her out of Hogwarts... seemed so extreme. On the other hand, what had Luna been doing in the Department of Mysteries?

~ diffindo ~

Gringotts was bigger on the inside than the outside. Not just the seemingly endless caverns and tunnels below, but the hallways of the ground floor turned corners that could not exist. Intersections that should obviously exist did not. Harry wasn’t even sure if following the path back the way they came would lead them out. Though he was hopelessly lost anyway.

The waiting room was named or numbered—he couldn’t tell which—in gobbledegook that he could best describe as scratch-swirl-cross-bang.

The interior of scratch-swirl-cross-bang was sparsely decorated in muted neutrals somewhat different to the conspicuous consumption evinced throughout the rest of Gringotts. Perhaps in respect for the solemnity of the ritual ahead.

Augusta Longbottom sat just to his right. She had not been invited to the will reading and could not attend, but had offered to accompany Harry as emotional support.

He didn’t deserve it. Her ladyship had every reason to be done with him.

But he needed it. Harry was doubting himself more than ever. He’d really screwed things up for Lady Amelia. First, by doing whatever he’d done to make Susan angry and then by forcing her hand in the Wizengamot.

“Lady Augusta?”

“Yes, Harry.”

“What exactly will happen to Lady Bones in the Wizengamot? I know that there must be more than the obvious implications. And I am grateful to her beyond measure, but I don’t know how guilty to feel about it. Is Amelia going to be fighting Malfoy now? Is that the problem?”

Neither Augusta nor Amelia had spoken about his adoption—if you could call it that—after the drama on the floor. Harry had just sat in the witness room until Augusta had come and collected him and flooed home to Longbottom Manor.

And yeah, Harry hadn’t really thought about it, but it did feel like a home. Perhaps because he was going to be leaving it for the next week or so to check in on Hermione.

Hermione hadn’t arrived yet, but many others had come by. The Hogwarts heads of house. Hagrid. Lavender Brown. Elphias. Narcissa Malfoy. The session started in a few scant minutes, so where was everyone else? Shouldn’t there be more?

Augusta leaned over to confide her answer to a question that Harry had almost forgotten he’d asked.

“Amelia represents the House of Bones which is one of the oldest and most prestigious of the noble houses. In general, this means her house has greater sway over the proceedings in the Wizengamot and out. But the nobility of the houses is largely on paper. In the past, the houses maintained their own land, economies, and even military forces. The houses flourished in feudal times.

“As the age of renaissance seeped into the magical realm, the powers were merged into the overall Ministry authority and in exchange the houses were granted privileged positions with the government. The Wizengamot, essentially. This happened coincident with the signing of the secrecy statute which required some central authority to keep both the populace and the houses in check.

“Ever since then the real power of the houses has faded. We are now echoes of an older time, but the general public tolerate us because we keep the floo stations fired and maintain the peace.

“However, particularly in the last century, resentment has risen among the commoners. They feel that it is unfair we hold privileges by nothing other than luck of birth and it is hard for them to perceive the weight of responsibility that comes along with it, particularly when some young noble lords-to-be are content to gallivant around the magical world and live in excess.

“So there is an unspoken rule in the Wizengamot that the houses do not claim priority over each other or even elected members. The power of the noble houses is to be wielded with the highest dignity. Not dispensed for matters of convenience or efficiency.

“We must remain above the fray or the whole edifice may be torn down by regular people misguided in the belief that there is nothing of value left in the noble institutions.

“So no, it isn’t really about Lord Malfoy though he will seek retribution if he can. It’s more that she used a power we would rather not see used.”

Wow. That was a lot to take in. Harry hadn’t ever thought about it that way before. He really did see the noble houses as dead weights holding back what could be steady progress. The magical world was far behind the muggle world in that way.

“With respect, Lady Longbottom, what is the value of the noble houses? They seem to just hold good things back.”

Augusta smiled ruefully.

“Your viewpoint is quite common unfortunately. The value is exactly what you just indicated was the cost. The magical nobility are the anchor of our society. It is true that much good progress has been held back or slowed because our influence. But it also holds back the bad and the evil.”

Harry thought back to their previous conversation in the garden.

“Because it’s treacherously easy to fall.”

“Correct. Slow and steady progress. Back breaking blood and sweat over many lifetimes. That is what you see around you today. Even in the muggle world, the modern societies were built over centuries not decades and months the way the radicals wish.”

Harry felt a loss. It didn’t hurt like the grief he’d gone through recently. But some part of his idealistic perspective had died.

~ diffindo ~

“No ma’am. This is scratch-swirl-stroke-bang. You need scratch-swirl-cross-bang. It’s three doors back. A right. A left. And then it’s the third door on the right.”

Pansy left the young goblin grumbling about how ‘it was perfectly easy to read’ and that ‘if wizards would bother to learn the civilized languages’.

This was of course how this was going to go. She’d be lucky to make it on time and she had no idea if she would be allowed late entry. She definitely wouldn’t have time to talk to Potter before the proceeding, so she was stuck with exactly the worst case scenario. A tired, emotional Harry.

And if she was honest, she would probably be tired and emotional too. If she was right about the headmaster’s interest in her. And what else could it be.

A right. A left.

There weren’t any doors in this corridor. At all!

Shit.

She could see that little gremlin in her mind laughing at her. He’d led her astray on purpose.

~ diffindo ~

“Greetings. My name is Grabthar. I am the senior bereavement coordinator for Gringotts. Many of you may have noticed the unusual nature of these proceedings. However, given the special relationship between the Gobelin Syndicate and the deceased, the General Ledger has given special permission to carry out the instructions of the will despite their unusual nature. In normal course, the complete text of the will—minus any private messages—shall be provided to you at the consummation of this proceeding.”

Hermione had barely made it on time. The floo had been unusually busy and there had been a delay in transit. She had never seen that before. As she had burst into scratch-swirl-cross-bang, she caught sight of Pansy just a few meters ahead of her.

Grabthar’s assistant had ushered both of them into the presentation room with the expected grumbling about the witches propensity to ignore simple schedules.

Hermione had wanted to sit near Harry, but unfortunately—as the last to arrive—there were only a couple seats open and these lie across the room from her friend. Pansy took one and Hermione took the remainder.

“Mr. Dumbledore has asked that each attendee receive their portion of the decedent’s will in private or in small groups as I shall indicate. He has included private messages for each of the attendees which will be delivered in the form they were provided which is by pensieve memory. Gringotts has gone to some trouble to acquire two pensieves specifically for this occurrence. And we thank Hogwarts for the temporary loan of theirs at no cost.”

Hermione was excited and anxious at the prospect of experiencing a pensieve for the first time. She was saddened by the circumstances though.

“If anyone needs a private room to grieve, there is just such a room available through the doors to your left. The pensieves are each through the doors to your right. The order and grouping was predefined in the will, so I am obliged to ask some of you to wait.”

She didn’t want to wait. This whole affair was stirring up conflicting feelings. Pride that the Professor would single her out, but unworthiness for that recognition. Excitement at the unknown, but anxiety at what it might mean. Warmth at the thought that Ginny and her family would be waiting for her when she was done, but emptiness at the thought that Harry continued to isolate himself.

“For now I ask the following individuals to follow me. Minerva McGonagall, the first door... Severus Snape, Pamona Sprout, and Filius Flitwick, the second... Alastor Moody, the third.”

So she wasn’t in the first group, but as they rose from their seats Hermione saw an opportunity to sit closer to Harry and took it. As she worked her way over to the seat just evacuated by Filius, she caught Harry’s attention.

“Hermione!”

She wasn’t quite prepared for the rush of emotion that ran from her stomach and extremities into her chest. She had so much she needed to tell him, so much she wanted to express, and so much she darn’t say.

He rose as she closed the last few feet and hugged her eagerly. He spoke in a muted tone not wanting to break the solemn mood of the room, but Hermione almost beat him to it.

“I’ve been away too long. I’m sorry. I just—”

“No, it’s okay, Harry. I—”

The two broke off simultaneously and shared a glance communicating that neither knew exactly what needed to be said. Instead, he gestured for them to sit.

“How mad is Ginny?”

She was angry, but honestly more hurt. Hermione understood why Harry hadn’t been able to come running and it was not as if she was worth it. But she understood Ginny’s perspective, too. It was easy to feel abandoned when associating with Harry Potter. Events always seemed to swell past the normal breach line of everyday life.

“You can imagine, Harry. I think she’s just worried.”

“You can tell her I’m fine, Hermione.”

“Tell her yourself. You’re coming back to the burrow, right?”

“I— yes. Yes, I will, but I also need to talk with Amelia Bones. She did something for me and I need to know what it really cost her.”

“Yeah, Arthur mentioned it yesterday. It sounds like she really saved the day. From a fate worse than...”

“... Malfoy.”

Harry completed her sentence and the two giggled lightly before remembering where they were. Hermione glanced around and there were a few glares, but not too bad.

“Here isn’t the place, but when we get back to the Burrow. I need to ask you about how girls think. What a particular girl might have meant. Or not meant.”

Hermione had no idea what Harry was talking about. It sounded like he might be flirting with a relationship which Hermione was totally supportive of. Shockingly excited about actually. But he was right. Not here.

“Okay, but Harry, please remember that females aren’t some homogeneous mystery. Sometimes we make less sense to each other than guys. Sometimes we make the least sense to ourselves.”

That cut a little close to her heart.

“I don’t think that’s a girl thing, Hermoine. I think that’s a human thing.”

Hermione just nodded.

“On the topic of girls though, Pansy has been staring at me ever since she arrived. And she has been trying to talk to me ever since Dumbledore’s funeral. Maybe before. I don’t know what she wants.”

“Why don’t you just talk to her?”

“I wanted to, but Ginny said I shouldn’t trust her. I’ve been avoiding her ever since.”

Hermione shook head. Ginny was amazing, but she could hold a grudge.

“I’m not suggesting that you trust her, but maybe you should talk to her. Just don’t accept everything she says as a fact. You know... grain of salt.”

Harry nodded.

~ diffindo ~

Pansy channelled hatred well. It wasn’t a virtue, but it was a fact. When Professor Flitwick had risen to head over to his room, Pansy had seen dashed the opportunity to intercept Harry and take care of her mission before he got emotional from listening to what the Professor had to say. The bushy haired goody-goody muddy-muddy beat her to the seat.

But Pansy took a moment to calm herself. She wouldn’t get into Harry’s good graces by insulting his best friends. And she was probably going to need every bit of his childish good will intact to get him to consider meeting with her father.

She wasn’t in control and that was what made her so angry. It was why she felt the need to run over and tear Hermione out the chair and replace her. Make him listen. She would wait. Carefully watch. If she had to catch him after then she would. She could get aggressive then.

~ diffindo ~

It was hard to look upon him again. Albus had been her friend and ally. He had been her role model as a young instructor. And now—looking at this facsimile—she felt dull. A pale replacement.

“Greetings Minerva.”

Oh.

“It would seem my will is being carried out as instructed. It is a kindness. As such, you are the first. I am afraid I have left you a mess. No matter what end I have met it is unlikely that your road will be easy. You are more than up to the task to replace me.”

She couldn’t help but reply. Even though he was only an echo—less than a ghost.

“Albus, I could never replace you.”

“Yes, you can, Minerva, and you must.”

Minerva stepped back in shock. Her eyes were wide and wary.

“You can respond to queries. How?”

“Some magicks are better left unexplained. Suffice it to say that am here for today and gone tomorrow.”

“Albus. What happened? What magick did you do? Can we bring you back?”

“No! Don’t even think it. I damn myself with even this.”

“But you’re here. You can speak.”

“And I will do so again when I awaken in my frame, but that isn’t what you mean. You mean that I am still alive. Partially, yes. But it cannot last. It mustn’t. And I have binding assurances from the General Ledger that my remains will be properly disposed of.”

“But...”

“It’s best not to think on it. Tempus fugit, Minerva. I am sorry, but as always we must do our business first.”

“Of course, Albus.”

“The board is going to be on your back. It took all of my political capabilities to keep the faculty independent. And even then, there was the inquisitor. I don’t have any leverage that I can share with you, so you will have to expect them to come with demands. And you aren’t going to like them.”

Oh, the board. The Board of Hogwarts were some the oldest, stodgiest, and most arrogant fools in the magical alcoves.

“Just remember. Hogwarts is more than just a school. It is a home and it is a crucible of dreams. Hogwarts must remain.”

He paused waiting for Minerva to respond. When she didn’t, he continued.

“You’ll need a new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor. When you leave here, I hope to have guilted Alastor sufficiently to take up the position. If not, you may need to rely on Severus. And if so, you will need to call upon an old friend. He’s been in hiding, but you should be able to locate Horace. I would start in the township of Budleigh Babberton.

“Then comes the matter of the secret words of Hogwarts. The wards and embedded magicks should have already transferred into your control. But in order to create and revoke them yourself—or to access certain special areas of the grounds—you will need the Hogwarts words of power.”

He was motioning her forward. He leaned in to her left ear and whispered.

“Said the Hogfather: they’re not meant to be safe.”

“I don’t understand, Albus.”

“I think you will. Give it time. And speaking of time, I must now bid you adieu. You were well met, Minerva.”

And then he was gone.

~ diffindo ~

“I’m sorry madam. You can represent Master Malfoy for the purposes of receiving the public will. However, you cannot receive the private message meant specifically for him.”

Narcissa found this beyond degrading. This little monster didn’t know who he was talking to. Draco shouldn’t miss out just because he was still weak from his accident.

“Do not dare to speak to me of what I may and may not do for the benefit of my son. Do you have any idea who I am? Who my husband is?”

Draco was not going to debase himself by attending a proceeding with such riff-raff and this obstreperous little gremlin was not going to get in the way of what was rightly his.

“My duty is to the will of the deceased. If you demand redress of your concern, you may bring it to the attention of the General Ledger. He’ll be in the bank again and available for official business on Monday.”

And then he turned his back on her and walked away.

“Ms. Parkinson, as one participant is not present, you may proceed at this time.”

Narcissa’s lips curled as she held back disgust at the presumptuousness. Grabthar’s days at Gringotts were numbered.

~ diffindo ~

As Pansy lowered her face into the pensieve, the swirl of disorientation mirrored her feelings. The more she had considered it the more certain she became that he could only be interested in her for one reason. It was pathetic really.

“Miss Parkinson.”

As the memory resolved, Pansy found herself face to face with the half-moon bespectacled wizard. She locked her feelings away in a familiar vault and stood tall—ready to hear his message. As if he could understand her and what she had been through.

“Would you like to sit down I was hoping we could talk for a while?”

Pansy was wary. She’d experienced memories of lost relatives and they were rarely this interactive. The powers of magic didn’t usually violate causal information flow. That was the second rule of cognitive magicks. You can’t know what hasn’t happened only all things that can happen. Pansy remained standing.

“Hmm. It makes sense that you would be sceptical. How is young Mr. Malfoy? I hear his injuries were severe.”

That had happened after the professor’s death. This was no mere memory.

“What is this? How can you do this?”

“A mysterious wizard must be mysterious. Mystery is important. Rest assured this condition is temporary... as all life is.”

Now Pansy was acutely uncomfortable. Sitting through a recording of the professor’s memory recounting the destruction of her first best life would have been excruciating, but to talk about it. No one must ever talk about it.

“What do you want from me?”

“Miss Parkinson, I am dead. I want nothing from you. But I have some idea of the burden you carry and how important it is to you that no one ever find out about it. So who better to listen than a dead man. ... Walk with me.”

The memory around them shifted. A flower-lined garden path materialized around them. It was beautiful. Pansy took a moment to hit a stride matching the ambling remnant of Albus Dumbledore.

“I didn’t know you aspired to be a gardener, Miss Parkinson. Your family is not known for it’s green thumb.”

“What do you mean?”

The professor looked at her with surprised amusement.

“I am very limited in my current form. This environment was born of your mind, not mine. It is quite remarkable really.”

As Pansy took in each plant and leaf and flower, she realized that he was right. This was the garden she imagined in her dreams. Her sanctuary when she ran from the nightmares. She felt at peace here.

He wanted to talk about it and he was right, she would never have another opportunity to talk about it again.

“I thought you knew everything that happened at Hogwarts...”

“... so why didn’t I protect you? It is a very fair question and one that I cannot answer to your satisfaction. I was busy. Distracted by the politics and the machinations of the death eaters. I do not excuse myself.”

“So that’s it. You say you’re sorry and I’m supposed to just accept that.”

“I do not apologize, Miss Parkinson. My decisions were correct and you fell victim to that.”

“I— what?!”

“Miss Parkinson, your assault was horrific and—”

“And you don’t know anything about it! I can’t tell anyone and no one would believe me if I did! Every night I see his face. It torments me! But I’m glad you made the right decisions. I’m very relieved.”

Pansy did not disguise the venom in her voice. She spat her disgust at him. She’d lost everything. Years of control and careful consideration. Maintaining her integrity and her reputation, and it was all gone in a few minutes.

“Tell me about that night, Pansy. It may not feel like it, but in organizing your thoughts into a story that you can tell, you might find some resolution. I will not interrupt, only listen.”

It wasn’t the professor’s fault.

It was his.

“I see his face every night. I remember his eyes the most. They were empty and grey and staring through me like I didn’t matter. He never spoke a word. He just set that pointy jaw with a look of disgust like I was beneath him. I was nothing to him but an accessible body. A convenient place to seek his pleasure.”

Dumbledore—good as his word—didn’t stop her for a moment as she spilled the whole of her long hidden saga. The story came out in disjointed pieces never quite as clear as Pansy thought she had remembered it.

~ diffindo ~

“I regret that Mr. Weasley couldn’t join us. I was informed of his circumstances. Alas, time will not wait for his recovery.”

Hermione thought she was taking this rather well honestly. A talking spirit of a dead person should put one off. Really, was he alive or not? She was more puzzled though by the lemon drops that Grabthar had forced into her and Harry’s hands—one each.

“Miss Granger, I have both a gift and a test for you. First, the gift. It may seem cliché, but I offer you my personal library. Before you get excited, it is only about one hundred books and most are not about magic, but I can think of no better home for them.”

“Thank you.”

“I am not done. You also have a new responsibility. When you return to Hogwarts, you will find yourself in possession of a key. I have—as one of my final acts as headmaster—added your name as an honorary librarian. Madam Pince was not amused, so use the privilege wisely.”

Librarian...

“As a librarian, you will have access to review any book in the library. I suspect you may need information in the future that would not be available anywhere else. But be warned, some things once understood will change you and no book can be unread. Use your judgement.”

The speaking, thinking avatar of Albus Dumbledore now turned away from Hermione whose eyes were betraying her with blurring moisture. An empty hole of regret was punching through Hermione’s heart and soul.

“Mr. Potter. Harry. I have done you much wrong. I cannot seek to apologize for it, because more of it was necessary than was not. The information I have been supplied makes me quite certain that in my final hours I determined a way to lock Tom away forever. I regret somewhat that I did not leave myself a note as to how that was done. I am very curious.”

Hermione felt empty as though something precious has been lost and could never be replaced. And she saw that emptiness on Harry’s face.

“To you, too, I leave a gift and a responsibility.”

Professor Dumbledore had given Harry enough responsibility. Surely he would not seek to add to his burden now.

“My gift is meagre recompense for what I have had to steal from you, but my estate—such as it is—minus any specific items set aside for others now belongs to you. I don’t have any investments or businesses. Just some modest personal belongings that you may do with as you please.”

“Sir, you don’t need to repay me...”

“Nonsense. I could never repay you enough, but I also must ask something of you. One last demand from your mysterious wizard.”

Hermione didn’t want Harry to hear this. It was the height of arrogance to believe that Dumbledore could request anything of Harry and have such a request be just. But the wizened one continued unaware of her complaint.

“Live your life, Harry. Live it your own way. Don’t let anyone tell you what you have to be, where you have to go, or what you have to do. You have earned the right to an easy and privileged life. Regardless, existence will—have no doubt—ignore that accrual and take from you in due course. But don’t accede to it. Don’t let fate take you quietly.”

Albus Dumbledore sighed. It was as though—finally at the end of a long workday—he had finished his quota. Filled his share. Done his work.

“I have seen many prophecies. You would be surprised how contradictory they can be. But knowing some of what is bound to come, I can only advise the two of you. Stay close to each other. Your best futures always intertwine.”

Albus waved his hand and a gumdrop appeared in his hand.

“So at the last, a toast—albeit an unusual one... To finding love, and then keeping it... if you can.”

~ diffindo ~

“Neville, do you think Harry and Hermione are doing okay?”

Hannah looked up from Neville’s cross-legged lap where her head now lay. His thigh was firm and warm. They were resting in Neville’s room and just talking. Neville had finally reached a critical plateau in his recovery. A place where he no longer feared each day. And so Hannah felt safe again. Stable. Secure. She felt she was enough.

In answer to her question, he just looked down at her with a shrugged smile and shook his head. But then his eyes shifted away and his smile faded. His gaze was lost, focused on empty space.

“What’s wrong?”

“Why did you do all of this?”

“Do what?”

“Help me. Stay by me. It couldn’t have been worth it.”

Hannah shifted. She rolled onto her stomach and pushed herself up onto her knees so she was facing him.

“It wasn’t about it being worth it. It was about being where I needed to be. Besides, I got what I wanted.”

Hannah rotated and nestled herself in the crook of his arm. His hugged into his warmth—found residence there.

“Oh sure. You got to push me around and listen to me scream and cry. You had to feed me and dress me... I hit you. Was that what you wanted?”

Hannah saw the cloud of shame coalesce over his brow. She moved again this time hovering her body over his. Her eyes gazing at his lips.

“You’re just jealous.”

“Jealous? ... Why would you say that?”

“Because I’ve seen you naked.”

Neville wilted inward. He must have realized that that had been a necessity of caring for him, but hadn’t really thought about it. Bashfulness was cute on Neville. She kissed him. It was soft and gentle and a rush of warmth left her burning for more.

“You have nothing to worry about. But do you think it’s unfair— is that it?”

Neville locked onto her eyes clearly following her thoughts. But he wasn’t bold enough to voice them.

“... M-maybe...”

Hannah put on a sultry, concerned face.

“Do you think I should fix that?”

Neville didn’t say a word. She could see the breath caught in his chest. His eyes were frozen wide in fascination. They blinked in spite of his will.

Hannah stood up. She gently eased her arm out through a sleeve. She push her arm out the bottom causing the hem of the garment to rise exposing her midsection.

She had been afraid that he might reject her. Hannah wasn’t the prettiest of the Hogwarts female student body. But the rapture in his anticipatory gaze wiped all doubt from her mind. She slipped out her other arm and then pulled the shirt over her head. She felt the cool air of the room lick at her bosom. She paused inviting Neville to examine her chest and mid-section.

Her hand moved to her jeans. She popped the button from it’s home releasing the waist and allowing the fabric to fall pooling around her ankles.

Now she had only her bra and knickers. She hadn’t really thought about how far she wanted to take this. She probably should have, but her own arousal was pushing her forward.

She reached behind her back with one hand and grasped the double clip that entrapped her breasts. A quick pinch later she felt a release from the pressure of the underwire.

Hannah felt a moment of modesty. She turned briefly away not wanting to be seen. She wasn’t very big—not really—not compared to other girls... Susan was much bigger than she was. But she could still feel his eyes upon her. Full of wonder and of a gentle lust.

She wanted to show him what he desired. She wanted to be desired. But this could go too far very quickly.

“Neville.”

His voice returned almost breathless.

“Yes?”

“You can look this time, but don’t touch. Not unless I tell you to. And no matter what, your trousers stay on.”

She looked back over her shoulder and caught his eyes. He swallowed hard, his Adam apple convulsing. He nodded.

“Okay.”

Hannah let the bra fall forward onto her elbows and then she opened her arms giving breath to her chest and allowing the cloth to fall to the floor. She turned to face Neville again.

He was looking at her like she was a goddess. Like the world had fallen away and all that remained was his essence and hers. Their minds danced over each other in a cadence of excitement.

He roamed her body. She revelled in the attention following his gaze until it landed at the apex of her thighs. It lingered there.

Hannah answered the wordless question as she slipped her fingers underneath the band and push down gently. She shivered as she was stripped of her last barrier of protection. They fell to join her jeans.

She was naked. Exposed. She wanted him to touch her. To trickle electricity through her body allowing his touch to follow in his eyes wake.

An unconscious force pulled her forward. One step. And then another. She approached him. He leaned back almost fearful. She knelt down to bring her lips to level with his. She leaned in and kissed him. Despite her slightly elevated position, the cotton material of his shirt tickled her nipples. Her mind yelled a wild ‘yes’ at the contact. She yearned for more.

The kiss deepened. It extended, slowly penetrating her desire. It continued even as her body cried for breath. When they separated, she found herself giddy from a deprivation of oxygen.

She only then noticed the tingle on each side of her mid-section. Neville had placed his hands on either side and was slowly rubbing them up and down producing a sharp tickle of arousal that radiated inward toward her core.

Her eyes pulled his with her as she looked down at the hand applied to her left side and back to his. With her lip turned up to one corner and her eye brows raised, she silently asked ‘are you sure you want to do that?’

He timidly and somewhat mournfully removed his hands.

Hannah sat back on her thighs coming to an erect position. She reached out took each of his hands in hers.

“Here.”

She guided each hand to a breast now flush with arousal. His touch was warm and tantalizing. Her nipples slid between his fingers sending a shiver down her back. He cradled them like precious glass.

“You can squeeze them a little. It feels nice.”

He did. And it did.

His jeans did not allow her to see his erection. But she could imagine how rigid he must be. She felt herself becoming moist.

She kissed him. Harder this time. Not waiting for his response. He became more aggressive. The gentle kneading turned to a proper squeeze. It hurt. She isolated her lips from his again.

“Not so hard... like you did before.”

His compliance made her feel powerful. His touch was so much better than her own. She wanted him. She wanted him to pick her up and put her on the bed and take her. Her friends had told her it would hurt. The first time at least. But her body didn’t care. The pain would wash away amidst the pleasure. It would be so easy. She was ready for him. Just a couple layers of cloth stood in the way.

She sat back.

That would be too far. She had to stop here. They weren’t ready for more. Her breath was deep and measured as she controlled the euphoric adrenaline running through her. Her voice was breathy and quiet.

“Are we even now?”

~ diffindo ~

Pansy was shaking. She gripped the sides of the presentation room chair to hide the tremors. Her heart was impaled upon a knife. She had watched that night in horror as it was projected upon the back of her eyelids. Each night the screen came down and each night the film was the same.

A story once written could not be retold without becoming a different tale altogether. She told herself this each time, but it never seemed to bring the end any sooner.

But it had always been disjoint. It was different when you encoded it for someone else to understand. The hard authority of chronology and the unforgiving critic of consistency stood sentinel between her and any other human being. She had given a full statement to her father the next morning—a legal formality—but she didn’t remember anything from the days that had followed that night any more.

Telling her story to the now late professor had brought order to her thoughts. And it was terrifying. She could hide in ambiguity and subjectivity. But of course there were choices she could have made differently, ways she could’ve avoided that fate. And they were now more starkly obvious than ever.

If she hadn’t gone to the Yule Ball—hadn’t been Draco’s arm candy that evening. Then it wouldn’t have happened. Right? It couldn’t have... Right?

But it wasn’t that simple. It would’ve been someone, so who better than the pugnacious bitch of Slytherin. The evil queen with a heart of ice. I’m sure the authors of the universe found themselves quite clever. Fuck God.

‘Fuck. You. God.’

The words echoed through Pansy’s mind. She’d been religious. Still was. She needed God. She needed him now more than ever. But she could hate him. Job had hated God. Pansy hadn’t understood that lesson before. Now she did.

So preoccupied was she with her hate that it was a subconscious layer of her mind that brought to her attention that something was wrong. She had forgotten something. Her eyes came up. And her ears locked onto a voice that had just passed by.

“I’ll be at the Burrow soon, Hermione. I really do need to stop by and talk to Director Bones.”

Harry Potter! Shit.

By the time Pansy got up and grabbed her obscenely expensive bag, Harry was already turning the corner of the door exiting scratch-swirl-cross-bang. She had to catch up. It was everything. If she couldn’t do this, then what use was she.

She turned the corner and saw Grabthar escorting the pair of friends down the corridor.

“Harry!”

She called out but soft walls of the corridor ate her plea.

“HARRY!!”

It sounded almost panicked, but she did see the trio turn and notice her. Harry made some kind of apology to Hermione who returned a supportive pat to the shoulder. Then Grabthar and the... ‘muggle-born’ continued on. Harry waited.

Pansy hurried forward breathless from her urgency.

“Potter. You aren’t easy to contact.”

“Look. I’m only listening to you because Hermione said I should. I really don’t need this right now. So make it quick.”

She took a deep breath. She did not need her acute social sense to know that this was not the right time.

“My father would like to talk with you about your positions with regards to the Wizengamot. I think. He definitely wants to meet with you.”

His eyes narrowed and his lips turned up into a sneer. Pansy had seen that face on Draco on a nearly daily basis but never on Harry Potter. He was shaking his head at her like a nuisance.

“I don’t have time for this.”

And he turned to leave.

No! Not now. Pansy had too much banked in this pot. He couldn’t do this to her. She wouldn’t allow it.

“Stop!”

Harry kept walking.

Pansy’s fists balled. She stamped her foot. And knowing that it would appear petulant shouted at that boy-who-lived just outside the bereavement office following the last words of his legal guardian.

“Harry Potter, you will listen to me!”

He turned on the spot, seamlessly reversing his momentum. He stalked back at an alarmingly belligerent pace. He came up within inches of Pansy’s face. He was taller so she was left looking up at his rage-filled eyes. She hadn’t noticed how much taller he was. She felt small.

“Why?! What could you possibly have that I want? After everything that you’ve done to my friends, to everyone, why should anyone care one lick what you want? Who do you think you are?”

Pansy knew that she couldn’t yield, so she stared him down. She hid the fear she was feeling. Her heart was beating fast and her hands shaking through her closed fists.

“I want to answer that question. But I can’t unless you listen to me. Please.”

This last entreaty sounded more desperate than Pansy intended, but she wasn’t in any kind of negotiating position so maybe calling upon his ample white knight fantasy would help.

He stared at her. He was judging her and she felt the weight pressing on the other side of the scale. All of the horrible things she had done for years. All of the mean words. The manipulation. The bullying. She knew her entreaty didn’t weigh up against that.

“Two minutes.”

Pansy nodded shakily and extended a suddenly weak arm to indicate a bench resting against the wall of the corridor. She needed to sit down before her knees failed her.

As Harry sat down next to her, she sighed letting the adrenaline drain out of her. She felt so tired.

“My father has asked me to arrange a meeting with you. He says it is for your mutual benefit.”

“Why? What possible interest could you father have with me?”

“I— You should talk to him about it. I’m sure it has to do with your position in the Wizengamot.”

“Pansy, I don’t have a position in the Wizengamot.”

“But you could. There’s precedent for it and... And I’m supposed to arrange a meeting not explain my father’s position for him.”

“I can’t work with a death eater. Even if he isn’t one any more. I just can’t do that.”

Pansy had been on the defensive but she was sick of this death eater bollocks.

“My father is not a death eater! He has never been a death eater. You’re making assumptions about my family just because—”

“Because you collaborate with death eaters. You and your father both. I can’t believe you would be that intentionally ignorant.”

“Potter, I can assure you that my father never served the Dark Lord... at least...”

“Not so confident, now, are you?”

“He isn’t a death eater. Just come meet with him. Tomorrow. You don’t even have to unpack... I heard you talking to Hermione about the Burrow.”

Harry closed his eyes. He was considering it. This was good.

“Okay.”

Yes!

“But not tomorrow. I have other promises that I need to fulfil. Next weekend, though. Saturday. I’ll meet with your Dad on Saturday. But I am not making any commitments.”

Pansy pulled out a copy of Papa’s business card—signed Aster Magnus Parkinson—and handed it to him.

“His office address is listed at the bottom. Thank you, Potter— Harry.”

~ diffindo ~

Luna rocked gently. Soothingly. Her brain fuzzed with incomprehension. An unconscious part of her mind wanted to stay here. This place was safe. It was reminiscent of her memories in the womb.

But Luna’s sensory suspension was disturbed by a perception of pressure in her lower body. It felt strange. Like an odd fullness. Her mind still struggled for organized thought. But it was wrong. It seemed wrong.

She could feel her body, but not really control it. She felt herself moving, but she was no longer the agent. She felt her hands press against hard rough skin that wasn’t hers.

Something was inside her mind. She had to get it out. Whatever it was.

‘Get out! Get. OUT!’

She felt her body go slack as though the puppetmaster had collapsed. Eight terrifying words entered her mind unbidden from a foreign entity.

‘I’m so sorry, Luna, I wasn’t strong enough.’

Luna felt her muscles again. She could move. She opened her eyes and looked into her father’s.

And panicked.