Disclaimer: Occasionally, there may come a Harry Potter who is aware that he is JK Rowling.

A/N: Well, I'm back. I actually wanted to do another Christmas chapter this year, but real life got in the way. Instead, I posted the first chapter of my next Dramatic Reading story, A Terrific Tale, on Christmas. Go check it out.

My New Year's Resolution is to post one non-Dramatic Reading chapter per month in 2023. I'm also hoping to finish Dramatic Reading, but I haven't settled on a schedule, so that's still up in the air. Wish me luck.

Also, people were complaining after the last chapter that the leaflet drop went wrong, or was even a failure, and it part of a larger pattern of the good guys never being able to catch a break. I wasn't planning for it to go that way, but after I wrote Voldemort being at the play, I felt like I had to do it. However, I don't see it as a failure—just that it wasn't a total success. This chapter was partly a response to that—not entirely, of course. It started as just a scene, but it took on a life of its own as I was working out my plot development.

Chapter 33: Keep Calm and Do Something Crazy

The trip back to school on the Hogwarts Express (which, oddly, no one had bothered to rename yet) was usually a joyful time to catch up with friends after the holidays, but like so much else, this year it was anything but. Indeed, across Britain, December had brought an early winter, which was quickly shaping up to be the coldest and darkest in years as it rolled into January.

That was mainly due to the Dementors roaming the countryside, but the national spirit hardly needed them around to be depressed.

Mandy certainly felt the chill as she boarded the train and searched for a compartment. She'd got there early, but the place felt empty even accounting for that—empty, cold, and draughty, like the life had been sucked out of it. Everything at school felt empty this year, what with half the students having fled overseas—half the ones who were worthwhile, anyway.

She avoided the Junior Death Eaters (everyone called them that openly by now, even though they mostly weren't Marked) and staked out a compartment for herself. As the highest-ranked person in her friend group (by the Death Eaters' standards), there was an unspoken agreement that she would hold the proverbial fort against any unwelcome interlopers. Like it or not, being a member of a Noble House gave her some leeway. The other purebloods, with their own cliques, kept their distance. It wasn't forbidden for purebloods to socialize with half-bloods, but it was frowned upon, which actually worked to her advantage. Not worth talking to for the Junior Death Eaters, but also hard to touch because of her House, they left her to herself in the compartment.

The compartment remained empty for a while as Mandy heard the rest of the train filling up. She started to get worried as eleven o'clock approached, and when the chimes rang out, and the train started to roll out of the station, she feared something had happened to them. But just then, Lisa Turpin was the first of her friends to arrive, hurrying into the compartment. "Mandy! Sorry I'm late," she said. "Dad didn't want me left on my own longer than I had to. I think I saw the others down the hall."

As usual, they made a brief and, if they were being honest, probably insufficient effort at verifying each other's identities, and then Lisa hugged her. (They suspected the Junior Death Eaters had bigger fish to fry than impersonating other students to spy on them regardless.) "It's so good to see you," she exclaimed. "I was worried about you."

"Hi, Lisa. How was your break?" Mandy asked.

"I feel like I should be asking you that," she said. "I saw what happened at the Christmas Play. All the fire…"

"You were there?"

"Of course I was," Lisa said indignantly. "I wouldn't have missed that."

"Oh, no. Were you hurt?"

"No, no, we got out pretty quick. We were fine. And the show was great, so you know. But I was scared for you, Mandy. And the Theatre. That's your whole family's legacy."

"We'll be alright, Lisa," Mandy stopped her. "It looked worse than it was, really. The damage to the Theatre wasn't that bad. Mostly just the front facade and the lobby. "

Lisa sagged with relief. "Oh, that's good. I got a glimpse of You-Know-Who trying to burn down everything before we Apparated out, and…" She shuddered and pulled her coat closer around her.

Mandy shuddered too at the memory. "Oh, I know," she said. "Part of me is glad he got distracted by the leaflets and didn't stick around to…I don't know, congratulate us or something. I don't even know what he'd even say to a Theatre cast, but I'm happy with him not saying anything to us."

"Yeah, I'd be, too." Lisa glanced nervously at the compartment door. Then, she leaned closer and whispered, "I have to ask, did you get a look at the leaflets? We got out too fast to see anything. I heard rumours about them taking Lockhart down a peg."

Mandy held up a finger to wait and leaned out the compartment door. Looking around, she didn't see anyone particularly worrisome. She locked the door and opened her suitcase partway. Inside, she pulled out a sheaf of parchment, and from that sheaf, she handed Lisa a page. "Yeah, I got them," she said. "I don't like that there are benefits to being pureblooded…but there are benefits to being pureblooded."

"Oh, wow, thank you! I wanted to see this, but I didn't trust anyone in the neighbourhood enough to ask. Did you grab it while you were fighting the fire?"

"No, my Dad pushed me along when it happened. He didn't want anyone to see me reading them anywhere near You-Know-Who. We got these later. Probably better if you don't know the details. But I have it on good word that a lot of people did get hold of them eventually."

Lisa hurriedly read over the leaflet. "No way!" she hissed. "The actually called Lockhart a muggle-lover? He straight-up stole his book?"

"That's what they say," Mandy answered quietly. "I don't know where to look to see if it's true, though."

"Well, I can believe it. I just didn't think he'd actually do it. And right under You-Know-Who's nose, too. See, I thought the title sounded familiar, and Mum said there was an old muggle film with that title, but she didn't know much about the plot, so—"

"Whoa, back up, Lisa. You saw your mum?" The last Mandy had heard, Lisa's muggle mother had disappeared to hide out somewhere in the muggle world.

"Yes! It was really nice," she said, but they were interrupted by a knock on the compartment door. In a blink-and-you'd-miss-it move, Lisa half-crumpled the leaflet in her fist and sat on it. Mandy looked up, saw the face in the window, and flicked her wand at the door to unlock it. Lavender Brown hurried into the compartment, with Michael Corner following close behind.

"Hi, Mandy. I'm so glad you made it!" Lavender gushed once they were settled. "What happened at the Theatre was horrible."

"It wasn't as bad as it looked," Mandy repeated. "The mess was mostly in the street."

"That's good to hear," Michael said. "Did anyone get hurt? In the Theatre, I mean. I know people did in the street."

"Just a little singed," she assured them. "Great Grandfather says they'll have to close for a bit because of repairs, but it won't be that long. Plus," she added more quietly, "my Dad came through for us. If you want to know about the leaflets…" she held up a sheaf of parchment with the corner of one of them sticking up.

"I already know," Lavender said, and she held up her own stack of parchment with a corner visible. "I got them from Tracey, who got them from—well, you can probably guess." From Daphne, she meant, who got them in the same manner Mandy had. Daphne Greengrass was the one you wanted to go to if you really wanted the latest scuttlebutt from the Junior Death Eaters, although she largely acted through Tracey to keep up appearances. But in a way, Lavender herself was doing their dirty work. Lavender Brown, former roommate of Hermione Granger and skittish about Death Eaters even before they took over the school, was quiet and deferential in public. But the queen of gossip was still the queen of gossip.

"Nice." Mandy said. "I still think it's crazy what that Lockhart did."

"Augh. I know. I can't believe I had a crush on that git when he was a teacher," Lavender groaned.

"Sounds to me like he was counting on it with the seventh-years," Michael pointed out.

"Blech. I'm glad I wasn't a seventh-year that year. I might've actually fallen for it. And can you believe he still has that same girl on his arm?"

"I'd like to forget," Mandy said. "Anyway, Lisa was just saying she got to see her mum over break."

"You did?" Michael said in surprise. "I thought she was in hiding."

Lisa waggled her hand back and forth. "Not hiding so much as living out in the muggle world and not telling us where she is. We don't know her address or—what is it, again? Wired telephone? But we can contact her on her new mobile telephone. She showed it to me. It's really cool. It looks like it's straight out of Star Trek." She looked around and saw the blank looks on her friends' faces. "Never mind. Point is, she said she ought to be around to see me for Christmas, even though it wasn't exactly safe, so she came over."

"That was nice," Lavender said. "How is she doing?"

"As well as she can being kept away from the rest of us. And with the weather and everything." She motioned out the window to the dreary, grey sky. A few sad snowflakes were flitting by the window as the train raced across the landscape.

"It's been awful," Michael groused. "I've never seen it that cold in the South East."

"I know," said Lisa. "I read in the paper yesterday that the Thames froze over down to Windsor."

Mandy blinked in surprise. "It did? That's rare isn't it? When's the last time that happened?"

"Dad wasn't sure, but he thinks it was sometime in the sixties. Mum said the muggles are noticing, too. The muggle weathermen are talking about some kind of…I don't know—high pressure system or something that's stuck over Britain and making it so cold."

"That's not good," Michael said. "The Death Eaters say they're supposed to be keeping up the Statute of Secrecy."

"Well, it's not like if there's a bad winter, the muggles are going to think 'magic,'" Lisa countered.

"But it's probably going to get worse," Lavender said, suddenly as serious as she ever got. The Death Eaters have influence all over Europe, and they always give the Dementors free reign. If the bad weather spreads, the muggles might start to think. And…" She looked nervous, got up, and pressed her face against the window, checking the hallway.

"What is it?" Michael asked.

"I don't know for sure, but I've heard there might be worse out there. Have any of you heard anything about what's happening in Serbia?"

"Serbia?" Mandy said. "I know they're having lots of problems on both sides of the Statute. Lots of fighting internally, and it's just like Bulgaria; there's lots of refugees going cross-ways through it."

"Well—listen, I only just heard this from Tracey, and she wasn't completely sure either, but there are rumours that Inferi were seen in Serbia."

Her three friends gasped in horror. In a world already full of horrors, Inferi were the bogeymen that people still feared lurking in the unknown shadows. "At least there aren't any Inferi around," they said when everything else seemed hopeless. Even though Dementors might be objectively worse, they were more familiar. Inferi were implacable soldiers. They were mindless and rotting, but they were also frighteningly strong, had limitless endurance, feared nothing, and were hindered only by fire. They were some of the worst dark magic the average wizard had heard of.

"Inferi," Michael breathed. "What were they doing?"

"How should I know?" Lavender said. "And maybe someone was just mistaken, but it's a bad sign."

"But why Serbia?"

"You-Know-Who probably thinks it's the next soft target," Mandy reasoned. "He wants to take over the magical world, right? I know he wants to get Dumbledore and Potter eventually, but he'll take over anything else he can in the meantime, right."

"Yeah…" Michael said absently. "Although…"

"What?" said Lavender nervously.

"I don't like it," he muttered. He stood up and retrieved his history book from his trunk. Flipping to the maps, he exclaimed, "there it is." He turned the book around to show them a map of Wizarding Europe. "Think about the countries that have been weakened by attacks since England fell. "Czechoslovakia, Poland, and now Serbia. Sure, they haven't fallen, but they're all struggling. Travel through them won't be certain. Take those down, and You-Know-Who is close to cutting off Europe from the East."

"So that means…" Mandy said as she studied the map, "the only reliable route left is—"

"Hungary," Remus said, sticking the pointy end of a flag down in Budapest on the large map of Europe that covered the table in the War Room of the Ministry-in-Exile. "Hungary is the last east-west route that we can rely upon without worrying about the Ministry collapsing in the next few months. I'd put a high risk assessment on attacks there in the near future."

"How sure are we about this?" asked Minister Fudge.

"We're not," said Edward Grayson.

"No, we're not," Remus admitted. "But we've been trying to figure out Voldemort's game in setting up a werewolf puppet state in Poland for months. This makes the most sense of anything besides some basic 'throw darts at a map' strategy."

"And it makes sense," growled Mad-Eye Moody. "It's just like Jugashvili did after Grindelwald's War, and we know he's advising Voldemort. Line up a whole row of weakened Ministries across Europe, and then knock them all down at once. After that, all he has to do is take out either side of the Strait of Gibraltar, and he breaks all of the Portkey routing to Western Europe."

"That would be a huge operation," said Amelia Bones. "A lot bigger than what he did in Britain."

"He has more resources now," Remus pointed out. "Especially if the rumours about Inferi are true. And there's less risk to not hitting them all at once. Our intel is pretty solid that he was behind at least some of the attacks in Serbia, and that's where the most fighting has been over the past couple months. It fits the pattern."

Fudge studied the map. "Aren't there other Portkey routes?" he asked. "What about through Sicily or Sardinia?"

"They're not set up for it," Remus said. "International Portkeys rely on well-maintained magical borders, and those are a lot more complicated over water. We only set them up where we have to. There are a handful of isolated places like New Zealand that have long-distance Portkey casting, but it's just like long-distance Apparition: the farther you go outside the rune stone networks, the harder it is to do safely."

"So we need to ensure Hungary stays favourably disposed to us and is secure against attacks," Fudge reasoned.

Remus nodded. "Which I would hope my Hungarian counterpart will have figured out already, but we need to reach out to them regardless."

"How long do you think we have before Voldemort makes a move?" Bones asked.

"It's hard to be sure of anything there, but I'd wager not until after the ICW meeting at the end of the month. Don't want them to escalate before he can pull off his masterstroke. And more likely than not on a full moon. That would put the first opportunity on the night of February twenty-first. But as Mad-Eye says, we need constant vigilance."

"Damn right," Moody muttered.

At that point, Dumbledore spoke up. "I will see what we can learn about upcoming attacks by Divination, though as you know, that is often unreliable. Cornelius, I suggest that you and I begin working on our ICW contacts."

"Yes, quite, Dumbledore," the Minister agreed.

After that cheery conclusion, Lavender and her friends turned the conversation away from the war and caught up on all of the non-horrifying, life-threatening things in their lives. They had to keep going today, no matter what waited for them tomorrow. As Lisa said, "Keep calm and carry on."

She also said it felt more comforting when you weren't in occupied territory, but it still helped.

They were a good group of friends to have, Lavender thought. Of course, they all looked out for one another, but also, with one person from each "blood status" group, they could pass word around the school quickly, and that was vital at times like these.

Eventually, though, they had to separate. The students were expected to be divided up by blood status once they reached the castle. Plus, Lavender had more gossiping to do.

"I'd better get going," she said. "Romilda's going to go spare if she doesn't get her hands on one of these." She indicated the leaflets again.

"Good to see you," Mandy said. "Stay safe."

Lavender slipped out of the compartment and started searching down the train for Romilda Vane. Romilda was one of the first people to come to her pestering her for information on the war at the start of autumn term. It had left Lavender a little overwhelmed at first. She was used to dealing in the kind of gossip that came in Witch Weekly, not Le Monde Magique, especially when it was dangerous to even try to get a copy of it. But she had connections, after her own fashion, and she felt like she was starting to develop a knack for it.

As for Romilda, well, Lavender still thought she was a little over-excited, but that was precisely why she didn't want to leave her hanging. That girl was trouble in more ways than one.

She spotted Romilda in a compartment farther down the train, sitting with a couple of other former Gryffindors. Unlike with Mandy's group, she used the secret knock to identify herself here. Both Lavender and Romilda being "Group 2" purebloods and thus sharing a common room made it easier to arrange signals between them.

No one in this group had seen the leaflets yet, so Lavender passed a copy around.

"Oh, this is too good!" Romilda said eagerly when she read it, lounging sideways on the seat as she leaned against her…was he her boyfriend? Between her and Cormac McLaggen, it was hard to tell. "Lockhart's a real character. Wish I'd been here when he was teaching."

"Trust me, you don't," Lavender said, rolling her eyes.

"How many people have seen this?" said Julian, a fifth-year boy who had taken to hanging out with the group.

"I don't know," Lavender told him. "Probably a lot by now, but we can't get to everybody."

Romilda sat up straight with a jolt and turned to face them. "Well, we've got to get the word out," she said eagerly. "Pass some more leaflets around. Ooh! Or how about we arrange a drop of our own?"

"Romy, can we try something that won't get us hexed? Or worse?" Lavender groaned. Punishments for rule-breaking had gradually increased over the past term. Headmaster Crouch (she still hated to even think that) had brought back corporal punishment immediately, and they were starting to work up to curses. No one had been tortured yet—who would confirm it to her face, anyway—but she suspected they would get there eventually, especially if the rumours Tracey told her about Amycus Carrow teaching the Unforgivables next term were true.

Romilda, however, didn't slow down. "No, it'll work. We could do it like the broom riders," she said. "Make enough of them that they can't get all of them and arrange for them to be dropped in the middle of the Great Hall."

"Arrange how?" said Julian. "Carrow's not gonna just let us carry a stack of those to the Owlery."

She frowned and thought. "Okay, yeah, that was dumb. Not thinking," she said. Lavender briefly sighed with relief, but then, she followed it up with, "I actually had a better idea over break. How about this: we sneak out of the dorms tonight and put up big posters of the leaflets on the walls."

"What?! Are you crazy?" Lavender said, dropping her voice to a whisper. "We can't do that. Everyone says You-Know-Who is living in the Chamber of Secrets. What if he fancies a late-night stroll?"

Romilda didn't whisper, but she at least quieted down some. "No, see, I've been thinking about it. You-Know-Who came out on Halloween when they killed Peeves, and they told everyone to stay in their dorms, or else. But that's the only time they did that. I bet he only comes out when there won't be any students around."

"Why would You-Know-Who care if he runs into students at night?" said Julian. "He'd just curse them and move on."

"But he'd probably be annoyed, and the teachers don't want him to be annoyed."

Lavender sighed: "Or we could just pass the leaflets around through the grapevine, like usual."

"We need to start doing more," Romilda said. She smacked a fist into her palm. "Start fighting back, even if it's just information. Show them they can't boss us around all the time."

Julian held up a finger. "Um, they kind of can. The school's infested with Death Eaters, and they're not afraid to curse people who make trouble."

"So we make sure we don't get caught. Cormac's up for it, aren't you?" She patted the older boy's shoulder.

McLaggen looked down at her and smiled. "Sure, Romy. Sounds like fun," he said. He sounded completely sincere.

"See?" she told the others. "I bet Katie would be in, too."

Lavender shook her head: "Katie is trying to keep her head down and finish her N.E.W.T.s without getting killed so she can get out of here like the rest of the seventh-years. Like you probably should be, McLaggen."

"Please, I can handle it," he said smugly. "No Death Eater's gonna stop me."

"Yeah," Romilda agreed. "Come on, Lav. Harry Potter wouldn't take this lying down."

"Ugh. In case you haven't noticed, Romilda, Harry Potter's not here. He left the country last spring. If you wanted to fight so bad, you should have gone with him."

Romilda turned red with anger. "We all heard what Seamus said last year. Dumbledore made him leave. Harry was fighting harder than anybody when the Death Eaters took over the school. Dumbledore doesn't want him getting into it, but he'd totally be fighting if he were here. You know he would."

Lavender suspected she was right about that bit, from how Hermione always complained about Harry's reckless streak.

"I'm just trying to carry on his legacy," Romilda continued.

"He's still alive, you know," said Julian.

"You know what I mean!"

"You're trying to impress him, you mean," Lavender muttered.

Romilda stood up, her dark curls flying. "Just because you don't want to fight doesn't mean I don't!" she snapped.

"Not so loud!" she hissed. "And I'll fight when it'll do some good. Getting the word out out this—" she waved the leaflet around. "—that's doing some good. If we…I dunno, if we could kill the Death Eater teachers—and that's a big if—and do it without You-Know-Who coming upstairs and killing us all—that would be doing some good. But making a big, flashy statement isn't helping."

"It'll at least show Harry we stand with him. And who says we can't kill the Death Eaters?"

Lavender buried her face in her hands. "Oh, no!"

But Cormac spoke up then: "Now, hold on. Let's not get crazy, Romy."

"Thank you!"

"If we pull a stunt like that, it'll have to be on the last day of the term."

Lavender turned away from them and bumped her forehead against the window a couple times. "Why didn't I keep my big mouth shut for once?"

"Okay, we'll think about that later," Romilda conceded. "But I still think the posters are a good idea. In fact, I know what I'll do. I'll take a photo of one and send it to Harry."

Lavender glanced back at her. "Now you're really trying to impress him," she said. "You know he's still with Lovegood, right?"

"I just want him to know he still has allies at Hogwarts, and besides—" She flipped her hair over her shoulder and struck a pose. "What does Lovegood have that I don't?"

At the moment, common sense, Lavender thought, but she said. "Yeah? Send it to him how?"

"Well…I thought you could find a way to get a letter out, Lav," she said sweetly.

Lavender grumbled something rather improper, but when she thought about it, yes, should could probably find a way to get a letter out without it being read, even to Harry Potter. Eventually, she let the subject drop at that.

Even so, when they got off the train, she grabbed McLaggen by the arm and pulled him away from Romilda for a chat.

"Just a minute, McLaggen," she said. "There's something I need to know: Does it not bother you that your girlfriend is still obsessing over Harry Potter?"

McLaggen shrugged. "We agreed not to be exclusive," he said. "Besides, she's three years younger than me. We'll probably move on when I graduate." He got a sly grin on his face. "In fact, if you'd like to make an arrangement…"

"Ew, no! I am not playing that game," Lavender snapped and shoved him away. "And I will be telling Romilda you said that." It was only then that she realised, Ugh, what does it say that I was more worried about McLaggen's feelings than hers? Harry Potter gets the genius sister and the weirdo who turned out to be super-sweet. I'm stuck with the fanatic and the adrenaline junkie.

War made people do weird things, she decided, and those two were weird enough to start with.

On Monday in the third week of the spring term, a stately owl arrived at Beauxbatons. Amidst the rest of the flock, it made a beeline for Draco Malfoy. Draco recognised it at once, but the letter it dropped was unusual one. It was a large and thick envelope, but not quite large enough for official documents, so he wasn't quite sure what it might be. As it had been trained, the owl dropped it on his (thankfully empty) plate rather than putting it in his hand. He waved his wand over it to check for obvious traps before picking it up. The envelope only read Draco Malfoy, Beauxbatons Académie on one side, but he saw it had the personal seal of the Head of the Zabini Family on the other.

Draco opened the letter. Inside was another envelope and a short note:

To Draco Malfoy, Heir Malfoy

From Don Umberto Zabini, Paterfamilias Zabini


Signore Malfoy, this was delivered to me from my sister. I do not know to what it pertains.

That was all he wrote. The second letter was addressed to Draco Malfoy, care of Umberto Zabini in Blaise's handwriting, with no address listed. The opposite side was sealed not once, but twice with the Zabini family crest.

Draco opened the letter from Blaise, and three items fell out: a proper letter, another envelope, which still looked larger and thicker than normal, and a note attached to the envelope:


I got asked for a favour, and I'm hoping you can hold up the other end of it. (Got a nice date out of it, too.)

Please deliver the enclosed letter. The recipient should be nearby if you're where I think you are.

Also, arrange a response if you can. You should be able to send it in the clear to my uncle. He can handle the rest.

Take care.


Draco looked at the third envelope. This one also had two seals on it: one the Zabini family crest, and the other…He looked close and squinted. It seemed to be a makeshift seal with the monogram LB. He looked at the address and then around the Hall to find the recipient. He debated the best way to go about it.

Eh, they could wait another day. No need to make himself stick out.

It wasn't until the Hogwarts expats were settled in to breakfast on Tuesday morning that the letter reached its destination, handed to Parvati Patil by one of the school's owls.

"What the…?" Parvati said in confusion.

"What is it, Parv?" Padma asked.

"It's weird. It's for me, but there's no address." Her name was printed on the envelope in block letters so she couldn't make out the handwriting, either.

"That is weird," Padma agreed, "Better check it for curses."

"I know." Parvati used a revealing charm, and nothing turned up. She held up the letter to break the seals.

"Wait!" Hermione called across the table.


"Let me try another one, Parvati." Hermione tried another revealing charm, only she only barely recognised, and handed the letter back to her. "Okay, if anything slipped past that, the school's wards should have caught it. You should be fine."

"Thanks, Hermione." Parvati opened the envelope, but inside was…only another envelope. No, wait, there was a short note attached to it:

Patil, you're free to check this for curses, but I already did, and the magical seals prove it hasn't been opened. Whatever secrets you have are safe. This was delivered to me for reasons I can only guess, but if you want to respond, you can talk to me privately.

Draco Malfoy

P.S. Burn this after reading. Don't be an idiot.

Parvati looked up from the note with wide eyes.

"Parv, what is it?" Padma said worriedly.

"A secret," she said when she found her voice again. Seriously, Draco Bloody Malfoy? She folded the note twice before laying it on the table and pulling out her wand. "Incendio."

"AH! PARV!" Padma yelled.

"It's fine, Padma. Trust me."


"That was…well, the person who delivered it didn't want to be known. This part isn't private…I think." She looked at the second envelope. This one also had her name printed with no address and in block letters, though it was in a noticeably different hand. Shrugging, she opened it, but the first thing she saw was yet another envelope. However, there was also a proper letter inside. She unfolded it, and her eyes widened when she spotted the flowery handwriting. "OH, MERLIN'S PANTS! IT'S—!"

"What?!" everyone yelled.

"Sorry, sorry!" she squeaked. She leaned close to her fellow Hogwarts students and whispered, "It's from Lavender."

"Lavender?!" Padma and Hermione whispered in unison, and at the same time, several people jumped up to crowd around behind her.

"Yes. I got a letter from her during break, but I didn't think she'd be able to write me during the term."

"Well, out with it. What does she say?"

"She…well, this one is private, she says." Some of her friends groaned, but she held out the third envelope. "But this one's not, I swear. Harry, this one's for you. Sorry, I'm not used to this spy stuff. Just read that one." She handed the final letter to the confused boy and went back to her own:

Dear Parvati,

Please don't blurt out who this letter is from if you can help it. I'm glad I could write you again, but the important thing is the other letter. That one's for Harry Potter. Long story. He can share that if he wants, but we don't want people knowing how I got this to you. It was complicated, and I don't know if I can do it very often. Also, I had to agree to a date with Zabini to do it. Ugh. But don't worry. I demanded there be witnesses the whole time.

I'm safe for now. Things at Hogwarts are about the same as I told you in my last letter. That could change soon after the stunt Romilda Vane pulled, but I'm doing the best I can.

Also, please tell Harry to write back and tell Romilda not to kill any Death Eaters. She's only going to get herself killed at the rate she's going.

Much love,


Meanwhile, Harry was reading his own letter. A lot of it was also from Lavender, but he would later see that some of it was from Romilda Vane, and there were well-wishes from Seamus Finnigan, Katie Bell, and more. But what interested him most was the photos.

"Oh, wow!" he said.

"What is it?" Hermione asked.

"Look at this. It's the leaflets we dropped on the Diagonal Theatre at Christmas."

"Didn't those get burned?" asked Neville.

"We thought they wouldn't've got all of them. And look at this."

"Blimey! Is that the Hogwarts Entrance Hall?" said Ron.

"I think so," he said. The photo was taken at night, with only a couple of torches to light the poster, so it was hard to see, but it looked like the leaflet had been blown up to gigantic size and plastered all over the wall so that everyone could see it straight ahead as they came down the Grand Staircase to breakfast.

Ginny laughed behind him. "Oh, that is good," she said. "No one's gonna be able to ignore that."

"Who did that, Harry?" asked Luna.

Harry looked down and saw the signatures, and he laughed. "Oh, bloody hell. According to this, it was Romilda Vane and Cormac McLaggen leading the whole thing. I don't believe it."

"Vane and McLaggen? Hmm…I think I can," Hermione said after some consideration. "Somehow, it doesn't surprise me that those two would be the ones to finally snap and do something crazy."

"I think it's brilliant," said Ginny.

"Reckless," Hermione countered.

"But brilliant. "

Later that night, Harry started on a return letter. He had a general response thanking everyone who was involved in the prank. (Personally, he thought both Hermione and Ginny were right. It was a great prank, but scary-dangerous.) But this, as much as it annoyed him, was a personal message for Romilda Vane. He wanted to honour Lavender's wishes and tell her to keep her head down, but there was something that needed to be done back home, and if he had allies who were still willing to go out on a limb for him at Hogwarts, he ought to get some mileage out of that, shouldn't he?

Romilda, please don't try to kill any Death Eaters. You'll only get yourself killed, probably, and even if you don't, one or two Death Eaters aren't going to turn the tide. If you still want to kill something, the only thing you should be going after—and only do it if you're really, really sure you can kill it on the first try because you won't get a second chance—is Tom's pet snake, the big one. I can't tell you why, but it's important.

And then, he realised the obvious flaw in his plan, crumpled up that page, and tossed it into the fireplace. He started a new note, which he attached back to his general letter:

Romilda, please don't try to kill any Death Eaters. Don't start making plans to kill any Death Eaters. I know you want to fight, but this isn't something just anyone can do.

To anyone who stands against Tom and the DEs, if it's true that Tom's living in the castle, you need to be extra careful. Tom is a really good Legilimens, and it wouldn't surprise me if some of the other DEs are, too. If you want to try to do any high-level planning, the first thing you should do is see if there's any way for you to learn at least some basic Occlumency. Anywhere else, it might be different, but that's the most important thing if you're going to be face to face with the bastards every day.

If you manage to do that—be honest about it! Then write me again if you can.

And obviously don't let anyone see this letter who shouldn't!

Harry Potter