Chapter Eighteen

Armin had been pretty thorough in his telling of everything he'd been taught by Hermione regarding the Outside World. Not that Eren minded, of course, he was just as enthralled as Armin was when it came to anything to do with the subject. Everything from the volcanoes to the deserts to the oceans; the tropics and the poles, Eren wanted to hear it all – especially considering that now their chances of being able to see at least one of those was peaking at the greatest high it had ever been. Even Jean's attitude was more pacified than normal as he questioned the facts that Armin was currently churning out. Mikasa's voice drifted into and out of the conversation but Eren knew that she was just as interested as the rest of them.

As so, the walk back to their dorms had been packed with conversation and intrigue and Eren made a mental note to accompany Armin to the library at some point so that he could have a look at all the books Armin had recommended, including the large battered one he'd been carrying around with him. Unsurprisingly, there hadn't been that many people in the dorms, just Ymir and Krista from what Eren could see (so there might've been other people in the other rooms but Eren didn't really look, instead just heading straight for the boy's dorm – which was empty). However, it was to be expected that everyone would still be out exploring, despite the ticking of the clock.

"So," Armin said after he'd finished talking, "what exactly happened when you guys went with Harry and Ron to . . . ah, what was it called again . . .?"

"Quidditch?" Jean supplied, taking a seat on his bed. Eren sat down on his, next to Armin. Unpredictably, Mikasa took a seat next to Jean. Who's eyes widened as a faint blush of pink slowly spread across his cheeks, the tips of his ears burning as they turned red. I seemed he hadn't quite gotten over his crush on her yet. Mikasa, however, appeared unfazed. She was opposite Armin, albeit on a different bed, so it could just be presumed that she was making it easier to talk to him.

"Y-yeah, Quidditch!" Armin continued. "What happened? You all came back in a rather foul mood so something must've gone on,"

Eren scowled down at the unmade burgundy bed cover, pinching a small, ridged crease with his index finger and thumb in one hand, and using the finger and thumb of his other hand to drag down the crease a couple of inches before returning back up and repeating. He found the rough feel of the friction from the soft bed cover on his fingertips to be soothing.

"There was some asshat that thought he was above everyone else – it was that Malfoy kid. Me and the Captain ran into him when it was just us here as well; he's a right bastard." Eren spat out. His intense dislike for the other boy was shown through his venomous choice in words.

"Eren, calm down." Mikasa somewhat chided. Eren exhaled sharply through his nose but otherwise said nothing more.

Jean cleared his throat awkwardly. "Anyways, I'll just tell you what happened . . ."

Jean, Mikasa and Eren gaped in amazement as students flew about on broomsticks. Broomsticks of all things. None of them were too familiar with the concepts of witches and wizards to start with but this was pretty damn impressive. Jean didn't know about Eren, but he and Mikasa had definitely never heard about this sport before and they were definitely never going to forget it. How the hell could you forget about something this amazing?! It was breath-taking to see so many people soundly flying on inanimate objects, yet at the same time it was simply an unfathomable concept and there was just literally no way to possibly explain it. Except with magic, of course, this crazy place was a magic school after all, Jean had thought. He heard Eren cheering loudly when Gryffindor scored in their practice match against Slytherin.

"How the . . . How the hell is this even possible?!" Jean exclaimed for what must have been the fifth time since they'd been there, standing in the audiences section, leaning forward over the safety wall put up to prevent people from falling out - although it was highly probable that there'd be some sort of magical boundary to stop that happening anyways.

Mikasa nodded slowly at Jean's exclamation, her dark eyes widening in astonishment. "I know," She gasped quietly, "There is absolutely no logical explanation for this! It's breath-taking,"

"Well, the sport is amazing, alright, but those assholes over there are just running their mouths and ruining everything," Eren growled lowly, his dark eyebrows casting a menacing shadow over his eyes.

Mikasa looked from her childhood friend and then back to the pitch again, "What do you mean, Eren?" She asked. Eren bluntly swung an accusing arm out and pointed, rather rudely, towards Malfoy.

"Just listen to that bastard-!"

"I'd rather not," mumbled Jean, Eren took no notice, acting as if he hadn't heard him, and continued.

"- Ron's trying his best and Malfoy's berating him!"

"Malfoy?" Jean snorted, "What sort of a name is that!"

"A stupid one." Eren supplied lamely with an angry huff.

"Why would anyone put a flying charm on a mouldy old log like that?" Draco yelled at Ron. Jean watched as Eren bristled with anger, he'd never been one to put up with any kind of bullying, or picking on, or anything of the sort unless it had something to do with Jean or it was deserved. He certainly didn't seem to want to put up with Malfoy laughing at Ron, even if they weren't exactly the best of friends at this moment in time.

"Just calm down and watch, Eren, they'll sort it out themselves,"

"I guess you're right," Eren shifted his stance slightly. He was quick to become absorbed in the practice again however as the Slytherins continued to roar with laughter each time someone made a mistake, each time they knocked down someone else's confidence due to their jeers, Jean felt himself getting more and more agitated, Eren even more-so. Jean noticed that even Mikasa had stiffened where she stood, her lips pulled tightly together, none of them seemed to be enjoying the mesmerising sight of flying people on broomsticks any more.

Jean watched as the cruel taunts from the Slytherins, mainly Malfoy and a girl who sported a face not unlike that of a dog's, began putting the Gryffindor team's concentration off. One of Ron's brothers passed to Angelina (Jean had overheard her name being used), where she reverse-passed to Harry. Harry appeared to catch the ball with a surprised look on his face but caught it nonetheless and quickly passed it on to Ron, who lunged for said ball and missed it by inches.

Angelina had yelled in annoyance as Ron chased the Quaffle, diving for the ground once again, telling him to pay more attention. The Slytherin team howled uproariously in laughter as Ron's face burned in humiliation. On his third attempt, Ron finally managed to catch the Quaffle, although the continued chant of "Gryffindor are losers," must've gotten to him, as he forcefully passed the ball to a girl, that Jean learned through watching the practice, was called Katie. However, the Quaffle soared straight through her outstretched hands and hit her hard in the face and her nose had instantly begun to bleed.

The rest of the practice had pretty much gone downhill from there, the Slytherin had come up with more and more stupid chants and the three of them had to leave prematurely before Eren went down there to kick some ass. They'd waited for Harry and Ron to finish practice and get changed before walking back to the Gryffindor Common Room, using the time it took to walk there to have a heated 'discussion' about how utterly stupid Slytherin were. It left Jean dearly hoping that Gryffindor would beat Slytherin in the official Quidditch matches.

Jean wrapped up the end of his story, which couldn't have taken more than five minutes if he were honest, but felt like much longer. He still couldn't work out why exactly what Malfoy had been doing was getting to him so much – he decided it was simply because he just hated the younger boy's guts. Nothing more, nothing less. Sometimes you just really damn hated people.

Armin whistled lowly, "Man, I wish I could've been there," he sighed, "I mean, I wouldn't have really done anything about Slytherin, but I would have at least liked to have seen Quidditch. From what I'm hearing it's pretty amazing . . ."

"Yeah," Mikasa agreed, "It was. It's just a shame that it was spoiled,"

"Stupid kids," Eren muttered sharply under his breath, "they don't know just how damn lucky and sheltered they actually are."

The following day, so far anyways, had been pretty uneventful. It was Sunday, and Harry had spent it surrounded by books and working through the day up until he was sure that somebody had taken a sledgehammer to his head. He really should consider getting more school work done during the school day, he thinks, making sure to mumble his thoughts to Ron – who was currently engaging a deep scowl, sporting blood-shot eyes, as he threw yet but another screwed up draft of some stupid essay they needed to hand in to Professor Sinistra regarding Jupiter's many, many moons. Harry found it cruel that they were wasting such a wonderful day indoors working when they could be outside enjoying the rare sunshine. He was sure that he'd heard some of the soldiers run past at some point; he suspected it was the bald boy and the brunette girl with a pony tail. Sasha and Connie he thought their names were, if he were remembering correctly.

Fred and George had entered the Common Room looking rather pleased with themselves yesterday and Harry soon discovered why. They seemed to have taken two of the soldiers 'under their wings' as they'd put it. George had stated that they'd need someone to show them around Hogwarts, that they'd need someone to show them the tropes, and besides, they'd given off a sense of excellent potential to become pranksters in the making. Harry had sighed at this, Ron had shook his head and laughed whilst Hermione and Ginny had proceeded to lecture the two about how Sasha and Connie were soldiers. They had a purpose and a job and by no means whatsoever should Fred and George interfere. The twins had supposed it was too late to mention that they planned on getting them to help out with their new 'products'.

Either way, Sunday crept by slowly, punctuated by frustrated sighs, the frantic scribble of quill on parchment as they rushed to finish all of their work, and the crumpling of paper when it inevitably went wrong. Nevertheless, the atmosphere was eventually ruined upon the arrival of a letter addressed to Ron.

"He is the world's biggest git!" Ron spat out angrily, tearing the letter into many pieces. His hands yanked jerkily, pulling apart the parchment until the only thing legible within the mound of scraps was Percy's signature at the bottom.

"Well," Harry began awkwardly, "I- er, if you want to 'sever ties' with me, you know I won't get violent,"

"I can't believe that git!" Ron fumed, tossing the torn shreds of parchment into the burning fire next to him and watching in disgust and the pieces turned to ash. "Absolute git!"

"Ron I think you're wearing down the use of the word 'git', calm down!" Hermione put her finished essay to the side, capping her petite ink bottle and setting her quill neatly next to it on the small coffee table besides the arm chair she was leaning forwards in. She'd had all of her equipment on her lap as she read Ron's letter from his older brother, Percy, over his shoulder. The letter, in brief, had mostly been telling Ron that he needed to avoid and get away from Harry. That Harry was 'Dumbledore's favourite' but also that 'Dumbledore may not be in charge at Hogwarts for much longer and the people who count have a very different – and probably more accurate – view of Potter's behaviour'. Then, he'd completely overstepped the line by bringing their (Ron and Percy's) parents into it, that they're 'rubbing shoulders with petty criminals' and so he feels he can no longer live under their roof. Of course, Ron knows just how distraught his parents are by this and can't help but spit upon Percy's name again. That absolute git!

"At least there was nothing in there mentioned about Eren or any of the soldiers," Hermione mused. Harry hummed in agreement, nodding his head. The Ministry either didn't know yet, they hadn't told Percy, or they knew and where planning something. Although having Umbridge at Hogwarts definitely heightened the chances of the Ministry finding out some way or another, sooner or later.

"Anyway . . . better get on with these stupid essays . . ." Ron grumbled, downcast and still mad.

With a sigh, Hermione suddenly outstretched both her hands. "Oh, give them here; I'll look through them,"

Harry and Ron looked to each other in surprise, eyes widening in joy when it clicked in their heads what she were telling them.

"Life-saver! You're seriously a life-saver!" Ron said, passing what little work he'd done to his friend. Harry smiled as he handed his over with a happy "thanks, Hermione,"

Harry settled back into his chair, blinking tiredly but not able to sleep. Not that he wanted to sleep in the middle of the Common Room, but if he did, he wouldn't have been able to. His mind was too overrun with the things the Ministry had said in Percy's letter. Harry was already aware of all the hateful tales going around about him, a sizeable half of the school hated him, the Daily Prophet had been making rude and untrue comments about him for months and he'd just dealt with it. Well dealt as best he could with it anyways. Yet, after reading that letter, seeing it all written down, about how Percy advises Ron to stay away and go over to Umbridge's side, gave the situation a newfound depth.

However now there was the situation with the soldiers and the titans. Harry at least hoped that the attention from the students would be directed away from him through this – and so far it mostly had. Why focus on 'The Boy Who Lived' when there were strange and mysterious child soldiers, giant slayers, potential monsters upon their midst? Now it wasn't like they'd never faced off against anything along those lines before, but somehow . . . this time it had a different feel. Every year at Hogwarts seemed to offer something new to Harry; this time around he felt that it wasn't just going to be his journey but something which may affect everyone. Something had felt off since the moment Eren and Levi had crashed through the ceiling via Portkey in the middle of assembly on that first day at school, and now, things were only getting weirder. Weirder and dangerous. The whole of the school was to be lost if things went wrong. It wasn't like they'd be able to stop the titans without help.

Harry was broken out of his chain of thoughts when he suddenly noticed a rather unnatural shape in the fire. His eyes darted over to it and . . . no, it couldn't have been Sirius? Could it? What would he be doing in the fire at a time like this, when there was such a high possibility of him getting caught? Albeit there wasn't really anyone around right now, but that didn't automatically mean that there'd be no-one entering the Common Room late or coming down from the dorms to collect something they'd forgotten. Harry slid from his chair and onto the threadbare rug, the reflection of the flames dancing across his glasses. He faintly registered Hermione talking to him but he didn't really hear her over his attempts at concentrating.

"Sirius," Harry whispered breathlessly, not exactly addressing the man he thought he saw, but more confirming to himself that's who it was.

"Harry? What are you -"

"I just saw Sirius's head in the fire," he said quickly. Ron looked confused before looking into the fire for himself.

"You mean like he did during the Triwizard cup?" Hermione questioned. Harry nodded, gasping when Sirius appeared for real.

"I've been checking the fire every hour to make sure the coast is clear," Sirius whispered with a smile.

Harry gave a short laugh, "but what if you'd been caught?"

Sirius looked thoughtful for a moment, his dark fair falling into his face, "well I think this first-year girl might have seen me but don't worry, even if she had she wouldn't have been able to think anything of it – could chalk it up to trick of the light,"

"But Sirius you could get into trouble -" Hermione began.

"But this is the only way possible to answer Harry's letter," Sirius interrupted her, "the only other option was via code, but code can be easily broken by anybody. Anyways, Harry, tell me about these new people,"

"Well, a lot has happened since I sent that letter, so it's going to be quite a lot to explain, maybe a little confusing . . ."

"Never mind that, Harry, I'm curious!"

So Harry, Ron and Hermione proceeded to tell him about the strange happenings at school. About Eren and Levi, and then the titans, how Eren transformed, how the other soldiers turned up. He told Sirius everything in as much detail as he could without making everything sound so much more confusing than it actually was. Sirius threw in his own questions every now and again, but other than that, he remained quiet throughout the retelling; it was impossible to miss the surprise written all over his face that grew slowly more apparent the more he learned.

Sirius hummed, "do you think the Ministry has anything to do with all of this?"

Harry shook his head. "Somehow, I don't think it does but it will do very soon. Umbridge seems bent on getting rid of the soldiers."

"Well, it makes sense that Umbridge would get involved. And it makes even more sense that she would hate Eren considering he can turn into one of those beasts!"

"What do you mean?" Hermione asked curiously.

"Half-breeds. Umbridge absolutely hates half-breeds. Why do you think Remus hates her so much?" Sirius gave a short laugh, "I swear, you should hear him once he gets started on her! Anyways, thank you for telling me all of this, I'll make sure to keep a look out in case anything else goes on and I'll write to you in the case that you need to know something,"

"Okay, thanks, Sirius," Harry nodded his head in gratefulness.

Ron suddenly made a noise as though he'd remembered something. "Wait,"

Harry, Hermione and Sirius all looked expectantly at him.

"Hagrid." Ron said, "do you know anything about Hagrid?"

"Ah," Sirius's face darkened slightly, the emotion intensified by the flames his face had burst forth from. "He was supposed to have gotten back by now, but since Dumbledore doesn't seem particularly worried, I presume he is fine. Perhaps he's taken a detour."

"But Dumbledore wouldn't tell any of us if he was worried about Hagrid's whereabouts," Hermione supplied. "And besides, with everything else going on, I don't think he'd of had chance to worry too much about him."

"Let's just hope he gets back soon then," Ron sighed.

"Indeed," Sirius agreed. Suddenly, he looked behind him and gave a short growl. "It looks like I'm going to have to go now," he said hurriedly.

"But Sirius-" Harry started; said man cut him off.

"Don't worry Harry, everything will be fine. I'll write to you when I can and if I find anything you ought to know, as I said earlier. But I really have to go now, I can hear Kretcher." Then, before Harry could utter a goodbye, Sirius's head had vanished from the fire just as quickly as it had appeared in the first place. Harry sighed and looked to his friends and in return they looked back to him. Their faces were just as unreadable as he presumed his was. When Harry decided he'd go to Hogwarts all those years ago, he never quite imagined that this is what his life would become.

Later that evening, when everyone had finally returned to the dorms, the atmosphere was more positive than Eren had ever felt in his life. Despite there still being the threat of titans appearing at any given time, he didn't think that he'd ever felt so safe. Here, he felt secure, and he was sure that other people felt the same way. Here, he only had to ask and he could have unlimited assortments of food, he could have warm baths, showers, different beverages. He could go for long, calming walks if he wished to.

Whilst his mind was on the subject of walking, Eren decided that this was something he wanted to do. It was getting rather noisy and Eren was beginning to find himself with a headache, not to mention that he'd been cooped up inside without proper exercise for so long. He wasn't planning on going alone though – Eren still remembered the promise he made to himself when he was upset that Armin and the others weren't here, outside the Walls, when they deserved it more than anybody. Looking over at Armin, he noticed that his friend was, again, reading. He considered asking Mikasa, too, but she had only just gone back to the Girl's dormitory, and he didn't fancy walking in there whilst the other girls were in there.

Eren tapped Armin's shoulder and was almost surprised when he raised his head to look at him right away. He probably couldn't concentrate; had something on his mind – which reinforced the thought that going for a walk outside was a good idea.

Armin looked to him expectantly. "Hey, Armin," Eren began quietly, so as not to disturb the others in the room. Reiner and Bertolt had returned and were engulfed in their own conversation – a light-hearted one by the looks of it – and Jean was lying down, facing away from them, on the next bed over. Eren didn't think that he was sleeping, but even so, he didn't want to disturb him. No matter how much he hated him.

"Yeah?" Armin asked, closing the book he'd been looking at and sliding it under the bed before getting up and gently sitting down next to his friend on the bed.

"You wanna go for a walk?" Eren asked. Armin glanced out the window.

"It's getting dark though, isn't it?"

Eren hadn't considered that. "Oh. Well. I mean, we don't have to, we can always go-"

"No, no, no, it's fine, I was just thinking about whether there's a curfew."

"I think we're alright, let's just not stray too far away and we should be fine. I mean, I don't think Connie and Sasha are back yet, so it should be okay."

"Let's go then," Armin smiled. Standing up, Eren stretched his arms up over his head, his back cracking audibly after having been seated for so long. He grabbed his jacket off his bed and almost sighed at its warmth, not having realised how chilly it had been getting in the room. After putting his boots back on, Eren joined Armin by the door, looking behind him as he left. He made eye-contact with Levi, who was seated by the window, for a brief few moments before he looked away again.

As the two of them walked through the near-empty corridors, they conversed leisurely. An indulgence they hadn't had for quite a while, since there had never been much to talk about other than titans and war and loss and longing. So having something other than those things to talk about was quite heartening.

"Anyways, Eren," Armin began, breaking the silence after the finishing of their conversation about some funny things he'd been hearing people say in the corridors, "I don't think I ever asked, but what happened to your Gear?"

Eren gave a short, angry huff. "A teacher took it from me. Umbridge. But I like to call her Umbitch, it's much more fitting." Eren jumped slightly when Armin laughed.

"Sorry, sorry," he chuckled, "but you sounded like such a child just then,"

Eren's complexion relaxed as he smiled, letting out a quiet laugh of his own. "But she did! She used magic and she took it from me!"

Armin sighed, "And you haven't gotten it back yet I presume?"

Eren shook his head.

"And you haven't gone to her and asked for it back?"

Eren shook his head again.

"Well then why don't you?"

"I don't call her Umbitch for no reason, Armin," he glanced at his friend. "Besides, I doubt she'd give it to me even if I did ask. She hates me!"

"Well, you don't exactly come off as the most friendliest of people. . ."

"Hey!" Eren cried, "that was the point where you were supposed to back me up!"

Armin began to laugh again, stopping to look out at the darkening horizon. They were standing in the middle of a sort of tunnel. It was similar to a bridge, although it had a hut-like wooden roof to match the wooden floor. It was built, Armin supposed, so that students could easily get from one part of the school to the other.

Shaking his head, Eren walked the short distance to the wall of the tunnel, and leaned over the edge. "It really is beautiful isn't it?"

"Yeah," Armin agreed. "I never really had the chance to admire the land when we were back home, but even so I think that this beats it by miles."

"Definitely." Eren nodded, "besides, this land is untainted and it's just so peaceful. Sometimes I can't help but feel jealous of it all."

"Jealous?" Armin questioned, his eyebrows furrowed.

"I mean, like what I said earlier, the kids here have it so easy and they have all these nice views and this beautiful school and sometimes I don't think they see just how fortunate they are,"

Armin ran a hand through his hair before propping his elbow up on the wall and leaning out, just as Eren was. "I agree with you there. But at least we can appreciate it. And besides," he added as somewhat of an afterthought. "In a way it's kind of lucky that these kids are so innocent, it means that we get a break. If everyone was battle hardened and solemn, then that would reflect on us and make us feel even heavier than we already do, metaphorically of course."

"I get what you mean, we can afford to be happy because the atmosphere the school creates isn't weighing us down,"

"Exactly," Armin confirmed.

"We still have to stay on task though; we can't afford to lose focus."

"You never change, do you?" Armin smiled, "I like that about you, but please lighten up once in a while. If you refresh your mind, you'll find that you can focus even better than before."

Eren shifted and slid both his arms, down to his armpits, over the side, slouching as he looked down towards the ground. He was thankful that he wasn't afraid of heights – which, he supposed, he couldn't afford to be anyways.

"Ya know, I've noticed that you've been loosening up a little too, Armin,"

"O-oh," Armin stuttered slightly. Eren bet he was blushing. "I supposed it's the rush of being outside the Walls, you know how badly I've always wanted to see what's out there,"

"That's true," Eren agreed, "it's nice not seeing you so stressed all the time."

"Yeah, and here I just feel safer," Armin voiced Eren's previous thoughts, "I mean, even though there's still the chance of an attack, everything here feels so much more under control. And there's all the luxuries we've never had before, and all the new knowledge I have yet to gain; it's wonderful,"

"You know I refused to go for any walks like this until you and everyone else got here," Eren suddenly said. "You all deserve it so much more than me, so I didn't leave the building other than when I had to."

"Oh, Eren, you deserve this just as much as we do! I really wish you'd stop thinking about yourself as though you're some kind of monster! You aren't! You're my best friend and you're humanities' saviour!"

"You're bigging me up too much, Armin,"

"No I'm not!" Armin pulled Eren up from his slouched position and held him upright, his hands on Eren's shoulders, looking directly upwards and into his eyes. "Without you, I wouldn't be here right now! God knows how much of a coward I am! Neither would Mikasa! Don't you forget that you saved her, too! Even more, think of all the other things you've accomplished with your unique power and all the things you have yet to accomplish! Yes, you have made mistakes, but that just means that you are the very thing you seem to deny yourself of thinking you are; human!"

Eren's eyes widened the more he listened to, not expecting to have gotten so much of a response out of Armin, he couldn't help but hang on to every word he said.

"So do you see Eren?" Armin asked, "you deserve to be here just as much, if not more, than everyone else!"

Eren couldn't do much more than nod. For once, he'd been shocked into assuming a speechless state. The two of them stood and admired the scenery for a little longer before they deemed it too dark and too cold to be outside any longer; making their way back to the dormitories. As they walked, comfortably side by side, Eren felt as though a large weight had been lifted off of him. Armin, as usual, had been right, he felt as though he could think clearly again now that he'd reset his way of thinking, which would be beneficial to everyone.

Slowly, Eren felt his mood become more docile and calm, a state he wasn't used to feeling. He felt relaxed and happy, and didn't think his mood could possibly be affected by anything else that night. Of course, Eren didn't include the possibility that his 3DMG would be waiting for him once he opened the dormitory door. Which, to his absolute surprise, it was.

*Nervous laughter*