"I think they were just being nice," Hermione said anxiously.

I was staring at the two cards in front of me with consternation. Neville and Potter had both sent me Valentine's day cards.

"Neville sent me one too," she said. She frowned. "Does that mean that he's fickle?"

"It means that he's a nice person," I said. "Who thought I wasn't going to get any cards and that would upset me."

"But... it doesn't?"

"I slipped these into Pansy Parkinson's stack and watched her open them," I said. "I've seen ghosts that had more color than she did."

She'd opened the first one without really looking at it, and only realized what she was holding with the second card. She'd screamed and thrown them away from her like she was holding a bomb.

"I think Neville sent one to Myrtle too," Hermione said. "And she's acting all... weird."

She'd been fifteen at death, and Neville was still eleven. I'd have been creeped out myself; and I was a little creeped out now.

"He says she's been stalking him," she said. "All morning."

I frowned. "My guess is that she never received many of these when she was alive, and probably none in the last fifty or sixty years. Maybe she thinks he's in love with her?"

"When it's more of a friendly think?" Hermione asked. She looked relieved.

"We're too young to be worried about romance," I said. "Potter probably thought he was being nice."

"He got a huge stack," Hermione said. She glanced over at the Gryffindor table where a group of boys were still gathered around Potter's stack.

"If he was smart he'd have gotten a Pansy... I mean patsy to check his mail."

Pansy gave me the finger from all the way across the table. She'd moved as far away from me as she could manage. She used the American gesture; apparently she'd gone to the trouble to learn that just for me. Apparently she'd been straining to listen in on our conversation as well.

Fortunately for her, the teachers had already left the room. We'd been given an hour to socialize.

"Tonight's the first study session," I said. That was code for our little group. "We'll see how Weasley fits in."

She made a face.

"He's been an ass every time I was around him."

"He grew up with Fred and George," I said. "You can't tell me that didn't warp him a little."

She nodded.

"And only one girl in a family of however many of them there are? He may not know how to talk to us," I continued.

"That's not an excuse," she said, but the tenseness of her posture had relaxed a little.

It was important for allies to get long. Strife in the ranks was something the enemy could use to get a foothold in your organization.

Not that I had an organization, of course.


Fred and George had people clamoring after them to help them with the dueling club. Hermione had even had some offers. That was likely part of the reason that she had a half dozen cards herself. The blush on her face told me that she considered them more than just friendly acknowledgments of each other; at this age that was all they should be.

"Well, we should be getting to class," I said.

The day went quickly after that. It seemed like hardly any time at all before it was the evening, and time for our study group.

"George? Fred?" the Weasley boy almost shrieked. "What are you doing here?"

"We heard you were going to ask young Taylor here out for a date," George said. "And we wanted to see you get disemboweled."

The youngest Weasley's face turned a chalky white, almost as much as Pansy's had earlier.

George grinned.

Potter murmured something in the boy's ear, and he turned red.

"You've been teaching The Terror?" he squeaked. "She's a Slytherin!"

"She's not a real Slytherin," Fred said., "She's actually a Gryffindor spy. Why do you think she gets into so many scrapes with them? A real Slytherin would have just kept her head down and kept quiet."

The boy frowned. "That's not really a thing. You told me you had to wrestle a troll to pick your house too."

"And Taylor did," George said. "Or at least stabbed one in the googlies. That makes her an honorary Gryffindor."

He didn't mention the fact that the others had chosen to fight too, even Draco. It was just that my heroism made for a better story. People always got that part wrong.

"What about all of these others?" he asked, staring at everyone suspiciously.

Millicent and Tracey were here, as was Hermione and Neville. So far, our group had five Gryffindors, one Ravenclaw, and three Slytherins. We still needed a Hufflepuff.

"There's more of us than of them, mate," George said. "But we don't do houses here."

I stood up and walked toward them.

"You know the real reason we're here, Ron?" I asked.

He stared at me and shook his head.

"Because we want to survive. Me and Hermione are Muggleborn... the Death eaters are trying to kill us all. Millicent, Tracey and Harry are Half bloods. They'll be next."

He frowned.

"But we're purebloods," he said. He stared at me for a long moment. I could almost see the gears grinding away in his brain. "But our Dad is on the side of the Ministry."

He wasn't as dumb as he sometimes liked to pretend then.

"And sooner or later they'll be coming for you, too," I said. "That's how evil wins, when good men look away because it does not yet affect them."

"We're first years," he protested weakly. "Why does it have to be us that fights?"

The fact that he was asking the question told me that he was already halfway convinced. I just had to keep pushing.

"I've had the cruciatus curse cast on me twice this year," I said. Technically one of those times hadn't been me, but that wasn't the point I was trying to make. "I'm not the only one."

Ron's head snapped around.


Potter shrugged, then nodded.

"We had a hard Christmas break," I said. "I've chosen to reveal this to you, because right now the only people who know about it are the kids of the Death Eaters involved."

"Warrington," Ron said.

"Yeah," I said. "His father died and he didn't like it that much."

"You killed his father?"

"He killed himself," I said. "When he came after me. The point is, he came after me and Harry here, at school. They didn't get in, but they could have."

I'd already told the twins; they'd heard vague rumors being spread by some of the Death Eater kids. I doubted that it could be kept secret for much longer, not after people were questioning Warrington's death and why he'd chosen to attack me in the way he did.

"No place is safe," I continued. "So we have to be ready."

"We can't fight adults!" he said. "I barely know any magic!"

"I'll teach you non-magical things you can do to survive," I said. "Which mostly means getting away."

Potter was surprisingly good at evasion. He'd mumbled something about Harry Hunting when I'd asked him, but he'd refused to say anything else about it.

"The best thing you can do is surprise them and then hide," I said. "And even that won't keep you alive if they know the human revealing spell. That means that you have to try to incapacitate them, and then you need to run until you are out of range of that spell. You have to keep running after that."

The boy stared at me, his eyes wide. He was listening, though, and not attempting to argue, which I considered a good sign. I doubted Crabbe or Goyle would have even understood what I was trying to say.

"Hogwarts is fractured," I said. "It's not enough to have the traits of one House. If you want to survive, you'll need to be as brave as a Gryffindor yes, but you'll also need to be as cunning as a Slytherin. You'll need to be as smart as a Ravenclaw."

"And the Hufflepuffs?" he asked.

"As hard working," I said. "And that's the kind of loyalty you'll need from your friends. People who have each other's backs have a greater chance of surviving. People who don't..."

He winced.


Potter had described him as bright in some ways but unfocused and undirected. He apparently had some social skills issues, but then so did most of the people in our group. I suspected that we'd self selected for that; the popular people were too busy being popular to even bother with a study group.

So we were a band of misfits. It was something I could work with.

"The fact that you are here means that you are a little smarter than the rest of them," I said. It was a lie, of course. He was here because he was Potter's friend, and it bothered Potter to have to keep secrets. Still, boosting egos was good for morale.

The military broke people down and then rebuilt them the way they wanted them. I couldn't do that to the boy yet; he hadn't agreed to the process, and at the moment he'd go running to his parents.

He had a deep seated sense of insecurity according to his brothers; likely that was in part their own fault. It was also likely where many of his less desirable traits came from.

Yet according to them he was loyal enough that they'd thought he might be a Hufflepuff, and we were going to need that. I just had to win his loyalty, and that would take time.

He frowned, but he straightened up.

Being told that you were special was Cult making 101. Finding disaffected people who believed that they'd been cheated out of what life owed them, and telling them that you had a way to get them what was due, that was what every revolutionary group did.

"This will be hard," I said. "But in the end we will survive."

Some of us, likely. The last thing I wanted to do was start giving them Legend's speech about how many of us were likely to die. I doubted that schoolchildren would accept that.

Even Hermione was just coming to grips with the concept of death. She'd known it academically for most of the semester, but Warrington's death had driven it home. I'd caught her giving me concerned looks.

"We fight because we have to," I said. "And when we don't have to anymore, we'll go back to playing exploding snap. Except me..."

Potter leaned over. "She figured out how to kill someone with ten decks of cards and some gum."

He only thought he was joking. Also, gum wasn't involved.

"So how are we going to get better?" George asked. "You don't have the same kinds of spells we do, but you're fast enough to fight both of us."

"One time out of three," I said. "I figure that fighting two gifted third years might give me a chance against a fifth or sixth year, at least until they start doing that thing with the silent spells."

That was going to be a bitch to work around. I'd seen it in some of the upper year duels. Although none of them had been particularly gifted, it was a huge advantage not to be shouting out the names of your attacks like one of Greg Vedar's anime heroines.

"Just fighting you has made us better," George said. "Practice and all. But we need new blood, or all we'll be doing is getting used to each other."

"That's why I've called someone else in," I said.

I nodded, and Terence Higgs stepped into the room.

George and Fred stiffened, and they stepped forward.

"What?" they asked, almost in unison. While they were more open than most, Quittich rivalry went a long way in their world.

"I want to be part of your group," Higgs said. He looked uncertain, even though he was the oldest student in the room by a year.

"Why?" Fred demanded suspiciously.

Higgs closed the door carefully behind him.

"My uncle was murdered by Death Eaters three days ago," he said. "My family swore allegiance to them yesterday."

I could hear almost everyone in the room freezing. Admitting that was a bombshell, one that could get every member of his family placed in Azkaban. The fact that he was admitting it to enemies was even more telling.

"They didn't want to," he said. "But it was the only way to keep the other kids safe. Sooner or later I'm going to have to fight."

"So we're going to teach you how to kill aurors?" George asked harshly. His tone wasn't as severe as it had been moments before.

Higgs shook his head. "I loved my uncle. He was the one person in my life who convinced me that it was all right to be a good person. If the Death Eaters killed him, then I'm going to fight them, with, or without your help."

His eyes were moist as he stared at us, but his mouth was firm.

"Taylor came to me, and she offered me this," he said. "And I'm ashamed that I didn't help more in the past."

I'd been spying, looking for Death eater kids who were communicating with their parents. Most of them did so through letter; I'd read a few of them, and the contents had been eye opening. Most of the letters had been burned shortly after reading, so I'd had to read them using bug vision, which wasn't the best.

"How she knew..." he shook his head.

I turned to the others. "Are we going to accept him?"

George frowned, then stepped forward and held out his hand. He was followed by Fred, and then surprisingly by Potter, then Millie and Tracey. Ron was the last, and he seemed somewhat reluctant.

However, eventually he agreed to do so.

It took a little while to get everybody focused on what we were going to do.

"I'm going to teach you the Reductor curse," Higgs said. "It blasts things into pieces."

He looked at me uncertainly, and I wondered if he thought that I planned on using that spell to blast people into a fine mist. His mouth firmed, though and he nodded.

"You've already got the stunning spell, and the shield spell," he said. "But I've been studying ahead. My parents got me a tutor over the summer break, and I'm a year ahead of where I should be. I'll teach you the Banishing charm, which is the opposite of the summoning charm, the fire making spell, the full body bind curse, and whatever else I think you'll need."

He looked around at us.

"All of you have talent," he said. "It was the lack of having the right spells that kept you from going farther. Except maybe for Taylor... in her case it was being meaner than the snakes that tried to bite her."

Everyone laughed uneasily at that. It was still a little early to be making jokes about the death of a student.

Professor Travers had already been pulled off the dueling club as a result of it, and Snape had replaced him. The Board of Directors had tried to shut the dueling club down, but there were enough traditionalists who believed that the club represented core Wizarding values, whatever those were, that dropping the club wasn't going to happen soon, unless there was another incident.

I suspected that Travers wasn't going to be back next school year, which was a shame. According to the older students, he was the best student they'd had in a while, even if he was something of a blood purist.

Speaking up, I said, "This is more than just a study group, you know."

Everyone turned to stare at me.

"We've got a purpose, we have each other's backs. I'd fight for any of you, and I hope you'd do the same for me. That makes us an organization."

It made us a gang, really, but I wasn't sure that Hermione would approve of framing it that way.

"Organizations need names," I said. "At least once other people know about them. Maybe we can think of some names that might represent what we aspire to be."

"The Mongooses!" Ron said suddenly. "Because they kill snakes!"

I cleared my throat, as did all of the other Slytherins in the room.

"Sorry?" Ron asked tentatively.

I'd listened in on his conversations with Potter sometimes, and it still amazed me how sometimes he sounded like an idiot, while other times he was incredibly astute. I suspected that when he actually focused on something he was good at it, but that most of the time he just didn't care enough to bother.

With luck, he'd live long enough for me to beat that tendency out of him. With luck, all of us would.