I let out a frustrated sigh and turned around. Apparently while I was distracted a group of second year Hufflepuffs had managed to sneak up behind us.
"Well Potter?" Ernie said. "I'm waiting."
I felt my eye twitch.
"I stunned her because she was having a panic attack and I could not remember the sleeping charm," I said as calmly as possible. "Now if that's all, Hermione and I are going to take Lovegood to the Hospital Wing."
"Really? Because it looks to me like you were tormenting the poor first and now you're trying to cover it up," Ernie said.
"How, exactly, is taking her to the Hospital Wing going to 'cover it up'?" I asked, my patience wearing thin. I needed to get Luna to Madam Pomfrey quickly. She should be okay while she was unconscious, but with what I sensed I had no idea if that was true or if she was still Seeing too much. "You know what, nevermind. If you're worried that I'm going to do something to her than I invite you to come with us."
That seemed to catch Ernie flat footed, so I turned and was about to cast the levitation charm when Perks–that bitch–piped in.
"I don't think Lovegood should go anywhere with you. I don't know what you did to her but…"
"Alex, didn't do anything!" Hermione said, easing Luna to the ground before standing.
"But," Perks repeated. "She looked like she was calming down until you looked at her. So why don't we take her to the Hospital Wing and Ernie can go with you to get a Professor." She said everything in a calm and reasonable voice that, quite frankly, made me want to punch her. But that was just my–entirely reasonable–dislike of her shining through so I ignored the urge.
"I'm sorry but there is information that I have that Madam Pomfrey will need. So I have to go," I said.
"So tell Sally," Ernie said, "and she will tell Madam Pomfrey." Next to him Perks and Zacharias Smith, the last Hufflepuff of their group, nodded in agreement.
"Sorry, but I'm going," I said.
"No Potter, you're not," Ernie said drawing his wand. Perks and Smith followed suit.
I stared at them for a moment before I started laughing. There was just something so absurd about the situation that I couldn't help myself. I covered my face with my hands and kept laughing.
"Alex?" Hermione asked, concern coloring her tone.
"I'm fine," I sighed, dropped my hands just so, and shook my head. The Hufflepuffs looked angry. Right, probably shouldn't have laughed at them. "Look, I'm going if you want to come, great. If not, great. Either way I'm done talking." I gave them a moment to do something before nodding and turning around.
I frowned when three voices roared out, "Stupefy!"
Hermione's wand snapped up. "Protego!"
I whirled around intime to see three red streaks slam into Hermione's hastily conjured shield. Hermione grunted but the spells failed to penetrate. Hermione dropped her shield and I raised my wand, pushing more power than was probably necessary into my own spell.
"Stupefy!" My spell hit home and Perks dropped. I jumped to the side to avoid Smith and Ernie's return fire before firing another stunner at Smith. Smith dropped and a split second later Hermione's own stunner hit Smith's toppling body.
"Protego." I raised my shield just in time to block Ernie's stunner. I held it steady as he fired again and again, each stunner hitting my shield with no visible effect. "Here's how it's going to go. Either Hermione is going to stun you and then we go to the Hospital Wing or you help us get everyone to the Hospital Wing. Either way, we are going to the Hospital Wing."
Ernie's face was drawn, his eyes flicked around nervously.
"Come on Ernie, be smart. We just want to get to Madam Pomfrey, after that we'll wait for the Professors before doing anything else," I smiled reassuringly.
Ernie blanched before turning tail and running for all he was worth.
"That was unexpected," I said before shaking my head. "Right, let's get theses three to the Hospital Wing before Ernie convinces Professor Sprout that we tried to kill him."
"Alex, your teeth are," Hermione trailed off. "Well they're sharp."
I tongued the back of my teeth. "What the hell?" I got out my mirror from my sleeve. My teeth looked like they belonged on a shark or a, "Dragon!"
My head was suddenly filled with laughter.
"Did you see his face?" Dragon asked. "Priceless!"
"You realize you just made this so much worse," I said. At Hermione inquisitive look I pointed to my head. She nodded in understanding.
"But it was funny, huh?" Dragon said.
I just sighed and got to work.
I could have just carried them or put them in my sleeves, but those options both revealed things I didn't want the rest of the school knowing. In the end Hermione and I went with the 'levitating transfigured board' method of transportation. With judicious use of sticking charms to ensure that everyone stayed in place.
We managed to get to the Hospital Wing without encountering anyone. Infact we managed to get everyone off the board and on to their own beds before Madam Pomfrey even left her office.
"Whats all this then?" Madam Pomfrey demanded.
I quickly described the conflict with the Hufflepuffs. "But that's not the important part. Luna, she," I shook my head. "She was using her Sight."
Madam Pomfrey's eyes widened and she hurried over to Luna's bed and started casting spells. Some of the basic diagnostic spells I recognized from my reading, but most were over my head.
"Her Sight? But we aren't supposed to learn how to use that until sixth year," Hermione said. With the fight done we had rushed over here as fast as possible, leaving little room for conversation on the way.
"And there's a very good reason for that Ms. Granger," Madam Pomfrey said. "The Sight is dangerous, very dangerous. See the wrong thing, or even the right thing and it can easily cause mental instability." She summed a potion vial from a nearby shelf, carefully poured it into Luna's mouth, before using a spell that made the first year swallow.
Mental instability was putting it mildly. The Sight let you see the world as it truly was and it never let you forget. All the comforting illusions stripped away. Every inconvenient truth seared into your soul.
And poor Luna had gotten a front row seat of me and head mates.
"Will she be alright?" I asked.
"Yes," Madam Pomfrey said, before moving to check on the Hufflepuffs. "Some calming draughts, something to make sure her Sight is closed, some time to adjust and she should make a full recovery."
"Good." I nodded.
Professor McGonagall chose that moment to bustle into the Hospital Wing a severe look on her face. "Ms. Potter, Ms. Granger, I just heard the oddest tale of fighting in the corridors. Would you care to share your side of the story?"
Hermione and I exchanged a look, before she took her turn explaining what happened. By the time she was finished Professor McGonagall's expression had shifted to one of concern.
"Is that true, Madam Pomfrey?" Professor McGonagall asked, moving closer to Luna's bed.
"It is," Madam Pomfrey said, between casting spells over the Hufflepuffs "At least as far as Ms. Lovegood using her Sight is concerned."
Luna screamed and sat bolt upright, sweat slicked hair sticking to her face. Professor McGonagall hand found Luna's shoulder and she stared into the blond's eyes a worried frown tugging at her lips. Her scream cut off, Luna closed her eyes, curled in on herself, and started shaking.
Professor McGonagall stood back, her face absent any emotion, as Madam Pomfrey closed on the bed, another potion vial in her hand. The Professor stood there for a moment before shaking herself and hustling us out of the room and to her office.
Ernie was waiting there with Professor Sprout.
Professor McGonagall and Professor Sprout went into an adjoining room leaving Hermione and I with Ernie.
"So Potter, ready to get what's coming to you?" Ernie said.
I turned away, I had to ignore him. If I didn't I'd do something regrettable.
"What's your problem?" Hermione demanded.
"My problem?" Ernie mocked. "I don't have a problem, but Potter does."
"Oh," Hermione said when I continued to look away. "And what is her problem?"
"She's arrogant, she's a glory hound and she consorts with ghosts!" Ernie said.
Well, they consort with me. If you want to be accurate.
"She's been nothing but nice to you and the ghost wanted to talk to her not the other way around!" Hermione said. I nodded in agreement, exactly!
"I've seen the way she looks at us when she thinks no one's looking!" Ernie shouted. "She is a menace! She hates Hufflepuffs!"
Not true. I only hated one Hufflepuff. I just disliked Ernie.
"Is that why you attacked her from behind?" Hermione demanded.
"Yes!" Ernie said.
Hermione just stared at him for a moment before she started smirking.
A second later the Professors walked back into the room with frowns on their faces and dark eyes for Ernie.
Needless to say nither Hermione or I received detention.
As happy as I was that we didn't get detention, in fact we earned House points, the rest of the school seemed to disagree. Well the Hufflepuffs and the Gryffindors at least.
"They're staring again," Padma said idly cutting her pancake.
"Oh?" I mumbled around a breakfast sausage. I twisted around and waved at the Hufflepuff and Gryffindor tables. Most of the onlookers turned back to their breakfasts, to those who kept looking I offered a megawatt smile before going back to my meal.
"The Hufflepuffs I understand, but why are the Gryffindors glaring at you?" Anthony asked.
I finished my sausage and shrugged. "Who knows, maybe they think Hufflepuffs are innocent my default." I smiled when Dragon muttered 'Incompetent by default, maybe.'
"They start a fight, lose and then have the audacity to blame you," Hermione harrumphed. "Didn't even mention me."
"Granger, are you upset that they're playing the victim or because you didn't play a starring role in their story?" Pansy asked amused.
Hermione glared at Pansy over the top of my head.
"Clearly she's upset that they don't recognize her evil genius," I said. "I was just a pawn in her master plan. No choice in the matter really." Hermione turned her glare to me and I cowered against Pansy.
"Clearly," Pansy agreed, resting a protective arm over my shoulder.
Hermione's glare turned into a smirk before she went back to her food.
Pansy and I exchanged worried looks.
"What?" I asked, eyeing Hermione.
"Oh nothing," Padma said looking at the three of us. "Nothing at all."
Sweat dripped down my body and landed in a steadily growing pool under my head. I flexed my arms, slowly pushing my body up before, equally slowly, lowering myself stopping just before the top of my head could touch the puddle.
I let a satisfied smile work its way onto my face.
This was by far the most vertical pushups that I had ever managed in on one go. Not that the workout was really the point. There was only so much strength that could be eked out of a prepubescent body and given my schedule I was already getting as much as I could ask for.
Far more important than the pushups themselves, was how I was able to do so many. Namely communing with Wolf and Dragon, allowing our minds and strengths to mix. Going from three distinct entities to one unified whole. Perspectives intertwined, senses at once new and familiar. Sight, sound, smell all magnified a hundredfold.
The concentration necessary to maintain this blending was prohibitive, not something I could yet manage sparing, let alone in the stress of actual combat. Still just the possibility was so enticing I couldn't help but try.
I shifted my weight so that I was balanced on just one hand, my other hand held out to the side. I slowly started moving again. Aside from the future prospects I had to admit that vertical pushups just looked cool. Which was, I had to admit, a quarter of the reason I did anything.
"Hey Alex," Hermione said, completely shattering my concentration. The sure and inexhaustible strength faded from my arms leaving them little more than limp noodles. I fell face first into the puddle below me. As exhausted as I was it took a good ten seconds before I worked up the energy to roll away.
There was a moment of entirely too smug silence before Hermione spoke again. "Are you alright?" She asked her tone one of complete innocences.
I reached up and slowly wiped my face off. "Fine." I opened my eyes and glared balefully at her. "Was there something you needed?"
"Pansy's already left for the night," Hermione said, "and if we don't want to be late we need to be going."
"That late already," I mused making no move to get up.
Last year it didn't matter if Pansy didn't make a show of going to her room. Slytherins all got their own rooms and little attention was spent ensuring that everyone was in house come curfew. This year the Professors were paying closer attention as anyone who wasn't in their dorm by curfew had a fair chance of being lost instead of just canoodling about. Which meant that Pansy had to be seen going to her room before using the portal join us.
"Yes, it is. So let's get going," Hermione said motioning to the stairs. We were currently on the sixth floor of the Room's Library and the thought of going down those stairs and then making our way to our room had absolutely no appeal.
"Or we could just stay and watch the snowfall," I said and turned my head towards the nearby window.
In my last life snow was at best a once a year thing, and despite twelve years of much more frequent snowfall, watching the snow pile up was still as magical as ever. Which was why I was on the sixth floor in the first place. On on the other side of the floor there was a window showing a scene of a picturesque meadow in summer time. This window showed a frozen plain and in the distance there was a great frozen citadel.
At least that's what it usually showed.
Right now it was showing two people going at it like a pair of rabbits.
The woman I knew immediately was Mab. Long flowing white hair, pale skin, green slit eyes and a presence that–even in a simple reflection–demanded respect and obedience.
The man, who I presumed to be Harry Dresden, did not look to be enjoying himself. Despite the presumably pleasurable activity in which he was engaged.
It may have had something to do with how rough he looked. Beaten and bloody, bags black as pitch under his eyes and his clothes were torn to shreds. Though whether that happened before he met Mab, I could not say.
Behind me, I heard a squeak as Hermione finally noticed what I was looking at. "Whats going on?!"
"Ma-The reining Winter Queen is anointing a new knight," I said faintly. Mab's smile, already twisted with fierce pleasure, widened just a little and her eyes seemed to look at me.
"Like that?" Hermione demanded blushing, looking firmly away.
Adrenalin sent my heart thundering. I jumped to my feet and grabbed Hermione's hand. "It's late, we should go to our room. Now!"
"What about a shower?" Hermione asked as we descended the stairs. "You really need one."
"I'll shower when we get to the dorms." I said focused on just getting out, because suddenly The Room Of Requirement didn't feel safe any more.
We made to Ravenclaw House in short order and once again Hermione answered the Knockers riddle before we'd even had a chance to slow down. A good thing too, as agitated as I was answering riddles seemed daunting prospect.
My housemates were accustomed to my oddities and would not usually give us a second glace. Today seemed to be an exception. Between the entrance and the stairwell we managed to draw the eyes of most of the common room. Thankfully no one said anything, but I could practically feel the stares following us as we ascended the stairs.
Their attention slid from my mind the moment we entered our room. I had much bigger things to worry about.
I was not a pacer by nature. When something shocked me I usually froze. My mind would take on the quality of molasses, things simply would not register. I'd stop and try to take things in, to understand, but more often than not the full impact of any revelation would be blunted.
Useful in some situations, horrible in others.
This time, though I just felt numb.
Once in the room I dropped into my desk chair and tried to process what just happened. Of course, before I could even begin Pansy–when had she gotten here?–and Hermione started talking.
"What happened?" Pansy asked, coming up behind me. She put her hand on my shoulder and I leaned into it.
"I'm not sure," Hermione said, worried. "The Room showed us Mab have-doing that, with someone and then Alex started panicking. She dragged me all the here before collapsing onto the chair. She hasn't said anything since we got here."
Pansy bent down and looked me in the eyes. "Alex, do you have any Calming Drought?"
Of course I did. Madam Pomfrey gave me one incase I had another freak out. I tried to tell Pansy that but my mouth didn't seem to be working so I just nodded.
"Good. I need you to get it," Pansy said. "Can you do that for me?"
Again my voice failed me so I nodded.
I reached into my sleeve and pulled out the bottle of Calming Drought. It took more time than simply saying the name of what I wanted but it worked. I tried to open it but I couldn't get the stopper out. After a few failed attempts Pansy took it from me, opened it, and held it to my lips before tilting my head back.
The moment the potion entered me it started working. My heart started beating normally, my breathing which had reached a uncomfortable rhythm, slowed and my thoughts flew freely.
"Better?" Pansy pulled the glass vial away.
I blinked. "Much."
"So what happened?" Pansy asked.
"Dresden is the new Winter Knight, the Room of Requirement is part of the Nevernever and The Reigning Winter Queen smiled and looked at me when I said her name," I said, detached. The Room being part of the Nevernever was worrying but not overly so. Mab noticing me was by far the most troubling. Nearly troubling enough for me to feel it through the Calming Drought.
But only nearly.
"Oh," Hermione said.
"The Nevernever, you're sure?" Pansy asked, taking a seat on the bed and taking me with her.
"Almost positive," I said, tilting my head.
"A controlled pocket of the Nevernever," Hermione said, consideringly."I've never heard of anything like that."
"I have," Pansy said, for some reason holding herself still. "But it takes power, lots of power. The kind of power that makes you a god, or something like it. Gods, Fay Queens…ArchDemons, they can all manipulate their domain, their portion of the Nevernever, to their will."
"The kind of power you might find on a Nexus of Ley Lines?" I asked, looking at her, concern making itself known even through the soothing feel of the Calming Drought. I took hold of her hand and gave it a squeeze.
"Yes," Pansy said, smiling softly. "That kind of power exactly."
"Okay, so that means the question becomes, does this change anything?" Hermione asked. "Because, as far as the Room goes, I don't think it does."
"What about something attacking us while we're in the Room?" I asked, fighting the urge to frown when Pansy started tensing up again. "Going from the Nevernever to Earth is difficult for anything not from Earth but going from part of the Nevernever another is much easier."
Hermione shook her head definitively. "Hogwarts has never been attack from the Nevernever, it's actually impossible to open a Way within the wards. In Hogwarts: A History there are multiple mentions of people that, for one reason or another, tried to attack from the Nevernever. King Sharp-Fang in particular actually sent multiple detachments into the Nevernever but they were never seen again. Anything that tries is never heard from again."
"You know, as hard as it is to break into Hogwarts, I'm starting to wonder if a school was all the Founders were trying to build," I said. "I mean, Gringotts goblins wared with the Erlking. They didn't win but they didn't exactly lose either, but somehow Hogwarts is completely impervious to them?"
"Everything I've read says that a school was always the end goal." Hermione shrugged. "Not that it matters now, though it would be an interesting research project for later."
"Yes," Pansy said slowly, eyes focused on Hermione. "Yes, it would."
I stood and stretched, my workout was starting to catch up with me. "I need to take a shower, but before I do, are we still planing to use the Room?"
"Yes," Hermione said. "It's perfectly safe. Hogwarts wouldn't let anything happen to us."
I looked to Pansy to see if she had anything to say but she just shrugged. "If Hermione thinks its safe."
"Alright," I said, "we keep using the Room." I started for the door.
"Alex?" Pansy said. I stopped and looked back. Pansy motioned towards my head. "Your hair."
I usually have my hair down to about mid-back but when I work out it gets in the way. So I shorten it to a pixy cut and grow it out again before leaving the Room. This time I had forgotten to grow it back out.
I ran my hand through my hair and winced. Or I would have winced if I wasn't still calmed. As it was I felt a dull wince like sensation.
"Thanks," I said, growing it back to its usual length before leaving. There were multiple potions that could be used to regrow hair in short order. No one would suspect a thing