Harry was a person who enjoyed his alone time. It wasn't any real surprise to him, really. His childhood had been long stretches of isolation where he had no one but himself, sprinkled in with school and any time he was forced to interact with the Dursley's. As lonely as that had been, it had certainly rubbed off on him to an extent. He had friends now – not just the spiders under the stairs – but sometimes, when things got a little hectic, when Ron would become a touch annoying or Hermione would prattle incessantly about school work, he felt the need to get away. Not for long, mind you; a few hours here, a few hours there, enough to feel recharged. Perhaps that was a bit unkind to think, but Harry would be lying if he said that being around people constantly wasn't draining. Being the Boy-Who-Lived just made everything so much worse.

Which was why this whole situation was a bit surreal.

He wasn't sure exactly when it all started. A month ago? Two? Whatever the case may be, at some point it had started and it showed no sign of slowing down. While Harry now had friends, he wasn't what you would call a social butterfly. He knew he tended to stay in his own lane. Most of his close acquaintances were members of Gryffindor, though there was the odd exception. Luna, for instance, was someone he was incredibly fond of and she was in Ravenclaw. A number of Hufflepuff's had been in the DA, as well. While he wasn't particularly close with them, he still considered them friends. Well, not so much Zacharias Smith – he was a massive prat, but the others were good people. Loyal, as their house exalted.

He'd never been friends with a Slytherin before, nor had he ever really tried to be. Until now, apparently.

"Did you hear about Macmillan? He called out that Lisa Turpin from Ravenclaw to the Astronomy Tower," a voice he was becoming increasingly familiar with stated. She had a deep, husky tone, pleasant against the ears. "Well, why else would he call her there unless it was to confess, right? Terry Boot thought so too – you know he has been sweet on her for a few years, it was obvious to everyone but her. Anyway, Boot followed her and got into a duel with Macmillan, or so everyone is saying. Lisa isn't talking but ears don't sprout beanstalks for no reason."

There was a pause and Harry made sure to hum to show he was paying attention.

"So yeah, even Madam Pomfrey was at a bit of a loss," she continued. "So Macmillan has been visiting Professor Sprout every day after class for a bit of pruning. That's why he has been wearing that ridiculous hat everywhere, even in class. He is trying to hide it but everyone knows. Boot has been getting a bit of grief from the other Hufflepuff's over it, not that I blame them. Lisa is ignoring him, as well."

"Sounds like he is having a rough time," Harry commented lightly.

"Urgh – that should teach him not to be such a git. Who gets in the way of a love confession? If you ask me, he brought it on himself. Maybe next time he'll keep his nose out of it."

Harry took this moment to glance at his companion.

As always, her uniform and robes were immaculate, not a wrinkle in sight. Her hair was perfectly straight, not a hair out of place, flowing across her shoulders and down her back like a shimmering river of spun gold. Her green eyes were only a shade darker than his own and matched well with the green of her tie, house crest and the various accessories she wore; a simple set of emerald ear rings, a multitude of bracelets and bangles, inset with dozens of green stones, and a single jade-coloured hairclip above her left brow. Even her nails followed the same colour scheme, a glossy forest green speckled with glitter. Despite the clear effort she put into her neat appearance, she wore minimal make-up. Simply put, she didn't need it.

When she noticed his gaze, she smiled at him, pearly white teeth almost blinding.

Daphne Greengrass was certainly a sight to behold, right down to her cute little dimples.

She was also a chatterbox the likes of which Harry had never encountered before and he shared a common room with Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil. She just never stopped talking. She was the type of person who didn't understand the concept of a comfortable silence and right on cue, she started up again.

"So I was down by the Quidditch pitch the other night and you won't believe who I saw down there, and what they were doing! Go on, guess!"

Harry thought for a moment.

"Professor Snape making out with Professor Trelawney?"

"Eww, gross! What is wrong with you?" Daphne shoved his shoulder lightly. "Are you trying to make me sick? But you were close! It was that Ginny Weasley and her boyfriend, Thomas. You're friends with her, right? I mean, of course you are – so they were snogging under the stands, the usual sort of stuff, right?"

Harry made a face. A couple of weeks ago, hearing about Ginny and Dean would have given him indigestion. Now he felt what Ron probably felt each time he bore witness to his little sister swapping spit.

"Oh posh, what is that face for? So they were snogging away and I didn't mean to find them, but I was taking a walk after dinner and the Quidditch pitch looks beautiful at night, especially under the full moon. So I was minding my own business and there they were! Well, it was nothing special, right? I was ready to move on when – well, I don't know what happened, but suddenly they were having a right big row. That girl has a set of lungs on her, let me tell you."

On and on she went, talking about everything and nothing. Harry hummed when appropriate and answered with actual words when required, the sun hanging ever lower above the Forbidden Forest as time wore on. The crystal waters of the lake glistened and shifted colour as the sky went from periwinkle to the awe inspiring reds, oranges and deep purples of a magnificent sunset. All the while, Daphne continued to chatter away without a care in the world, her hands gesturing excitedly.

This was his alone time, his time to recharge, and yet even with Daphne there to keep him company, he felt refreshed. It didn't at all feel like he had spent the last few hours in her company. No matter how often she asked for his opinion, no matter what it was that she was talking about, it was oddly soothing to be in her presence. Hermione would have long worn out her welcome, as much as he loved her, or anyone else for that matter. Perhaps the only other person he could say had a similar effect on him was Luna, yet even she didn't talk nearly as much as Daphne did. She was no gossip.

Why was that?

Contemplate it he did, as they finally returned to the castle and exchanged goodbyes with small waves. He thought on it as he climbed the ever changing staircases, getting lost twice, and he thought on it some more as he made a quick stop at the fifth floor boy's toilet. By the time he reached the portrait of the Fat Lady, he was no closer to figuring out why her ever increasing company didn't seem to bother him as much as it should, especially when all he wanted during those times was a bit of peace and quiet.

"Where have you been, mate?" was the greeting he received as he stepped into the common room. Ron rushed over to him, distraught. "Hermione is driving me barmy, she is. You have to do something."

Harry could almost hear the eye roll from across the room. "Ronald, you said you wanted help with your defense homework – you asked."

"I just wanted to copy-"

Harry grimaced.

"I'm not letting you copy my work," Hermione snapped crossly. "Now hurry up, do you want to get this done or not? Or what do you think Professor Snape will do when you hand in uncompleted work?"

Ron slumped.

"Better get to it, mate," Harry said with a grin.

Nothing note worthy happened at dinner, nor for the rest of the night. In fact, Harry ended up going to bed rather early. Not because he was particularly tired, but because he didn't fancy sitting around in the common room with nothing to do. All his homework was complete, for once, and with Hermione still cracking the whip like a slave driver, it meant that Ron could do little more than attempt to finish his own. Perhaps he should have been thinking about his lessons with Professor Dumbledore and his task of obtaining the ever elusive memory from Professor Slughorn, but alas. Tired or not, he was asleep within seconds of his head touching the pillow.

While dinner had been unremarkable, breakfast was an entirely different affair. They'd barely been seated for a minute when a fourth joined them, much to their surprise. It wasn't Lavender in search of her Won-Won.

"You are so not going to believe what I had to put up with this morning," Daphne began right off the bat, not even sparing his friends a glance. As usual, she was immaculately put together and so drew every pair of eyes present at the Gryffindor table. "Pansy has been in a real sour mood lately, completely insufferable. I'm trying to sleep in a little but do you think she would let me? First thing I hear is Pansy and Tracey screeching at each other like banshees – I think she used Tracey's brush without permission? I mean, okay, yeah, I totally get it, but did they really have to shout like that so early in the morning?"

It took Harry a moment to gather his thoughts. "All over a brush?"

"Well, not just any brush. One of those new charmed ones that straightens your hair. I can't say I blame Pansy for trying to use it, her hair is pretty wavy and thick, you know? It can be a bit of a pain to control. But urgh, I can still hear them yelling – oh, marmalade!"

Looking around, Harry had to suppress a snicker at the way Ron and Hermione were gawking openly as Daphne buttered her toast and then smeared it with a healthy serving of marmalade. Carefully tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, she took a delicate bite, the toast crunching audibly as she pursed her lips in delight.

"Mm, this is so good! Hogwarts has the best marmalade. So, anyway, those two have been right terrors all morning-"

"E-Excuse me," Hermione cut in, finally having regained some semblance of composure. "What are you doing here?"

Daphne blinked slowly and helped herself to another bite of toast. Chewing thoughtfully, she swallowed before asking, "What do you mean?"

"W-What do I-" his friend spluttered. "This is the Gryffindor table."

"Uh-huh," Daphne agreed, taking another bite.

"You're in Slytherin."

"Yep," she replied with a popped 'p'. Harry noticed that familiar look on Hermione's face she usually reserved for Ron.

"So why are you over here?" Hermione asked slowly, as if talking to a dim witted child.

Daphne tilted her head as if in thought. Instead of answering right away, she finished off her slice of toast. Hermione was frowning severely by the end, not impressed with having to wait.

"Isn't it obvious?" Daphne finally said, shaking her head lightly. Her silky hair shimmered beneath the enchanted ceiling and the suns rays peaking over the horizon. "I'm telling Harry about my morning."

Harry was pretty sure Daphne was being obtuse on purpose, confirmed when she briefly glanced his way and her lips turned up slightly in a half smile. More than a bit amused, Harry reached for some pancakes as Ron decided to place himself in the firing line.

"I think what Hermione wants to know is why."

"Why, what?"

Ron stared at her blankly for a moment. "Why are you telling Harry about your morning?"

"Oh!" Daphne suddenly exclaimed. "Is that all? I mean, why wouldn't I?"

"We hang out," Harry decided to answer before Hermione could blow a gasket. "You know, sometimes."

Daphne nodded happily. "Yeah, we're friends. Best friends! So, anyway, I ran into Macmillan on the way here and he had forgotten his hat, so he was heading back to the Hufflepuff dorms. I saw the sprouts. Some of them are all curly and stuff, it was totally gross. I don't recommend the look, by the way. I don't think even that Fleur girl from Beauxbatons could pull it off."

"Uh, what?" Ron said, looking lost.

"Ernie asked Lisa Turpin to meet him in the Astronomy Tower," Harry explained before humming in approval as popped a mouthful of pancake and golden syrup in his mouth. "Terry Boot heard about it and confronted Ernie over it. People seem to think they got into a duel since Ernie now has bean sprouts coming out his ears."

"So you do pay attention," Daphne teased with a grin.

Ron looked confused. "Why would he do that? Does he fancy her as well?"

"You didn't know? Terry has had it bad for years," at their looks of surprise, Hermione hastily added, "Lavender and Parvati talk about that sort of stuff all the time. It really is rather annoying."

There was a brief lull in the conversation as they ate, Harry enjoying every bite. The house elves really knew how to make a good pancake. It was perhaps the single largest moment of silence he had ever witnessed from Daphne and he knew it wasn't going to last. As she finished her second slice of toast, Harry watched her mouth open – but she was beaten to the punch, Hermione leaning forward and cutting across her.

"So when did you two become such good friends?"

Daphne blinked at the sudden question and tapped her chin in thought.

"Sometime before Christmas, right?" she directed at Harry. He shrugged.

"Something like that, yeah."

Honestly, he could barely remember. One day he had never spoken to her in his entire life despite sharing classes with her for five years, then the next it was like she had always been there beside him. He'd been sitting in one of the courtyards when she first approached him. At least, he thought so – or was it that time he had been loitering around outside greenhouse seven? That greenhouse in particular always had a nice smell emanating from within from whatever plants were kept inside. It was a favourite place of his to relax.

Of course, Hermione wasn't done. "And how exactly did you two become friends?"

If Daphne was annoyed by this line of questioning, she didn't show it. If anything, she seemed delighted and smiled happily as she thought for a moment.

"I ran into him in the Owlery and he looked like he could use some company," now he remembered, he'd been visiting Hedwig and it was snowing outside. "So we started talking and here we are! Isn't that great? You never know what life has in store for you. I'm glad I ran into you that day, Harry, we get along so well. We really should have been friends sooner."

"Just like that?" Hermione asked dubiously.

"Sure! I mean, not all of us can be as lucky as you were."

Hermione held a look of surprise. "Lucky? What are you talking about?"

"Having someone swoop in and save you from a troll – that right there is like something out of a book! And then you become the best of friends? I was super jealous of that, by the way. I mean, yeah, okay, a troll nearly killed you, but it didn't, right? It must have been really scary but you ended up with two besties for life."

Harry almost burst out laughing at the look on Hermione's face. Ron didn't bother holding back. He was still chuckling a few minutes later when Ginny made an appearance, looking confused.

"Uh," she began, looking between the four of them.

"Hi! Ginny, right?" Daphne gave a small wave. "I'm Daphne. Daphne Greengrass."

"Uh, hi?" she replied uncertainly.

"Well, I'm done eating. Hopefully Pansy and Tracey have calmed down a bit, I don't think my ears could take much more yelling and I have to get my defense homework. See you in class?"

Harry nodded as she reached across the table and gave his hand a squeeze, her thumb brushing across his knuckles. Her palm was smooth and impossibly soft, and so very warm. He felt the hair on his neck stand on end at the sensation, accompanied by mild embarrassment. Standing, she waved goodbye and left the Great Hall with a skip in her step.

Ginny stared at his hand.

"Well, that happened," Ron said bluntly. "You two are really friends?"

Harry smiled. "Yeah."

"Blimey, I know she is a snake and all but – well, she's a bit of a looker, ain't she?"

"Ron!" Hermione – and surprisingly, Ginny – snapped.

Ron leaned back in alarm. "What?"

"Is that all you think about?" Ginny groused as she sat down in a huff.

Ron shrugged and returned to his bacon and eggs as he muttered "Bloody mental," while Hermione glared down at her bowl of oats as if it had offended her in some way. Like a hurricane, Daphne had swept in and had scattered his friends all about with naught but a few words – well, okay, a lot of words. If Harry had felt for even a moment that it had been intentional, that she had some sort of agenda like Malfoy often had, then perhaps it would have annoyed him a little bit. As it stood, Daphne had just been herself.

Classes for the day consisted of Defense Against the Dark Arts, Transfiguration and then Potions in the afternoon. Even though everyone completed their home work assignments – even Ron – Snape was still Snape, so that class went as well as could be expected. Silent casting was still as difficult as ever, though Harry had seen results. His final shield charm of the day had been completely non-verbal and as a result, Ron's spell had ricocheted off into the back of Malfoy's head. As it was only the disarming charm, it didn't do much damage other than knock him over and wrench his wand away, but the class had all had a good laugh over it until Snape had ruined it with his usual foul mood. Daphne in particular had been thoroughly amused if her smile was anything to go by.

Transfiguration with McGonagall was always challenging. They were still working on human transfiguration, but they had long moved on from changing the colour of their eyebrows. Now they were morphing their nails, something that could be very painful if done incorrectly. Something that Seamus could attest to when instead of growing out, his thumb nail grew in. His shout of pain had been accompanied by blood but it was nothing that Professor McGonagall couldn't handle, having reversed the spell and stopped the bleeding in seconds. Suffice to say, it wasn't something the rest of the class was very keen on repeating.

Potions was much more relaxed because of the Half-Blood Prince. Because of his repeated attempts to get Slughorn to cough up the memory Professor Dumbledore was so desperate to have, he was much more muted in his praise. Not that Harry minded all that much, and Hermione seemed a little happier that his increased proficiency in brewing wasn't being rubbed in her face. After finishing his potion, Harry spent the rest of class attempting to see the bean sprouts in Ernie's ears but his flappy hat kept any curious eyes disappointed. At one point, the boy in question had caught Harry staring and had turned bright red. Feeling a little bad, Harry stopped looking. He knew all about unwanted stares.

With Potions done with, it was the end of the school day. While Ron and Hermione made the climb to Gryffindor Tower, Harry instead decided to wander around the castle. Almost like she possessed the Marauder's Map, Daphne appeared from behind one of the many tapestries that concealed a number of hidden corridors. There was no way she hadn't known he was coming this way but he didn't mind.

"Harry!" she called out in surprise. "Come take a look at this!"

Curious, Harry followed her behind the tapestry and a little ways down the hall before spotting what it was that she wished to show him. Partially hidden in a small alcove were a number of sherry bottles, stacked haphazardly in a pile. Some of them were empty, but the vast majority were of them were still full. The smell was also a little overpowering, some of it having leaked out onto the floor.

"Who do you think these belong to?"

Harry recalled Slughorn's Christmas party – and the very drunk Divination's Professor. The smell was the same.

"I think those belong to Professor Trelawney."

"What?" Daphne looked surprised. "How can you tell?"

He explained what happened at Slughorn's party and she laughed.

"How do you think they ended up here? Do you think Peeves might have stolen them?"

"Peeves not stolen nothin'," a raucous voice from above called, causing the pair of them to jump in alarm. Floating above them upside down was Peeves the Poltergeist. "Haha, made ya jump, made ya jump~."

"Peeves, what are you doing here?" Harry demanded.

"Peeves not stolen nothin'," he repeated with a little twirl before a twisted grin crossed his face. "Yet!"

With a whoop of joy, he swooped down and gathered as many of the sherry bottles as possible before hightailing it out of there. They flinched as one of the bottles tumbled out of his arms as he passed under the tapestry, shattering with a loud crackle as it hit the stone floor.

Somewhere from beyond, Mrs Norris yowled.

"Okay, time to go," Harry said quickly, snatching Daphne's hand and beating a hasty retreat. It was still daylight but if Filch saw them anywhere near that mess, there would be hell to pay. He could already hear the cantankerous old caretaker screaming as they barreled down numerous corridors and up several flights of stairs. Daphne was panting harshly as they finally stopped. Harry glanced around quickly and noticed they were now on the seventh floor, not far from the Room of Requirement.

"Oh," Daphne gasped with her hands on knees. "I really need to get into shape."

"Sorry, I didn't mean to run so far. Filch can be surprisingly relentless when he gets a sniff of troublemaking."

"Talking from – haah, experience?"

Harry rubbed his neck. "Yeah, unfortunately."

Daphne grinned cheekily as she finally got her breathing under control. Looking around, she adopted a look of delight.

"Oh! This is near where you held those lessons last year, right?" Harry couldn't keep the surprise off his face. "Oh tosh, of course I know – everyone does. I actually wanted to join, you know? My – ah," for the first time, Harry saw genuine embarrassment in her expression, "I'm not really good at Defense. Not really good in many classes, actually – Transfiguration is confusing and I always mess up my potions, though I'm decent at Charms. Oh, and Ancient Runes. Your friend Hermione gets all worked up at me when I get higher scores than her in that class."

"You are pretty good at that. Riling Hermione up, that is."

Daphne grinned, though it faded a moment later. "I don't mean to, really. Well, okay, this morning I may have been teasing a little, but anyway – yeah, I wanted to join your group, that horrible woman Umbridge was a terrible teacher and even at the best of times, I need help. But those Inquisitorial Squad goons made it difficult. I didn't want to be the reason you guys got caught, you know?"

"We would have been happy to have you."

That was no lie. Daphne would have fit right in, Slytherin or not. Things may have been rocky at first because of her house, but you only had to spend a few minutes around her to realise that she was nothing like Pansy Parkinson or those two nasty gorillas, Crabbe and Goyle.

"Can you show me?"

Harry blinked. "Pardon?"

"The room! Can I see it? I heard rumors about it – like it isn't always the same room or something? That sounds totally cool, by the way. Hogwarts is great."

"Yeah," Harry said with a grin. "Hogwarts really is brilliant. Come on."

It didn't take them very long to arrive at the expanse of blank wall that hid within one of the castles greatest mysteries. Daphne looked at him oddly as he told her to wait to the side while he walked back and forth in front of the wall, no doubt looking a little mad. That was until a door appeared from within the stonework as if it had always been there, a exclamation of surprise leaving her lips.

"Come on in," Harry said as he pushed the door inward.

The familiar circular room greeted his eyes, the walls lined with bookshelves teeming with tomes dedicated to defense and various dark detectors, all of which were silent. Daphne skipped ahead, running her hand across the spines of countless books as she gazed around in wonder. Instead of the usual free space in the middle, a series of cushioned chairs sat. Harry supposed that his legs were feeling a little tired after all that running. Taking a seat, he watched as the Slytherin girl walked the entire room twice, pulling books and objects from the shelves to inspect. When she was finally bored, she wandered over and took a seat of her own, groaning in approval.

"This chair is the best," she bounced up and down on the cushion. "This has to be charmed in some way, it feels way too good."

Harry shrugged. "Probably. The room knows what you want and gives it to you – well, within reason. I'm sure there are things it can't do."

"And this is where you taught everyone else?"

"Yeah."

Daphne stared at him happily. "That is really awesome, seriously. Urgh – our defense teachers have been the worst. Well, Professor Lupin was pretty good until the whole werewolf thing came out. I really liked him. Moody was kinda sketchy, though, right? He was teaching us some really heavy spells. I mean, the Unforgivables – really? And that eye! I was so not happy about that eye. If he could see through desks, what was to stop him taking a peek through our clothes? It was super uncomfortable, let me tell you."

Harry wondered if Crouch Jnr had ever done what Daphne was implying and decided he really didn't want to think about it.

"And don't get me started on Professor Quirrell. He was just a mess, don't you think? It was really hard to understand him with all that stuttering and the smell! I like garlic – in my food! I felt like that was all I could smell on days we had his class, like it had seeped into my clothing. Not cool! At least Lockhart was pretty hot."

Daphne rolled her eyes at Harry's look of revulsion. "Oh, come on. He totally was. That was all he had going for him, though. Even I could tell he didn't understand half the things that came out of his own mouth. His books were utterly ridiculous. Half the girls in our year had the biggest crushes on him, though – not just our year, either. A ton of the older girls were super into him. Some of their discussions in the common room were really awkward to stumble across when you are twelve, though. Not the sort of things you want to hear, you know?"

Harry could imagine.

"So, this might be a little out of the blue and everything – and you can totally say no since you are probably super busy with your own classes, but do you think you could teach me some spells?" Daphne asked in a rush. "My defense grade is really, really bad and my parents aren't too happy with me about it. I mean, especially with everything that is happening now, it seems like a really good time to learn some things. You never know when you might need it."

"Sure," Harry replied without much thought. "I can do that."

"Really?" Daphne squealed as she clapped. "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

Harry had never planned on continuing the DA and had told Luna as such, when she had inquired at the beginning of the year. He remembered the disappointment on her face and her words; that the gatherings had almost been like having friends. In that moment, he had almost changed his mind. While lessons with Snape had been stressful and not nearly as much fun as they should have been due to his attitude, the man was still competent. And yet when Daphne had asked, he had caved instantly.

"Do you mind if some others tag along?" Harry asked. "A friend of mine, at the very least – do you know Luna Lovegood? I think she would interested in joining us."

Daphne beamed. "That's the girl you took to the Christmas party, right? The one from Ravenclaw? She was really pretty in that silver dress, I was totally jealous. Are you two dating?"

"Er – no, we are just friends," Harry corrected hastily.

"Hmm," Daphne tilted her head and peered at him shrewdly. "I suppose you are telling the truth. There is no way people wouldn't be talking if you two were an item and I haven't heard a thing. Sure! I'd love to meet her."

Other than Luna, Neville would probably want to tag along as well. Ron would come if he wasn't busy with Lavender, though that relationship looked like it was on its last legs. Hermione was a given. Harry wasn't keen on it becoming a big thing, though.

"So, do you think I could have a turn?" Daphne asked after a few moments of silence. She bounced excitedly. "The room, I mean. I wanna give it a try."

"Oh, sure," Harry stood up. "I think we have to leave first. Otherwise it would change all the time whenever people were inside."

Stepping out into the corridor, Harry moved aside as the door vanished and Daphne followed his instructions.

"Walk back and forth three times, and think hard about what you need."

Her look of concentration was almost comical and Harry was forced to stifle his laughter at how serious she was taking it, her brow furrowed as each step was carefully measured. With each pass, she muttered under her breath – a chant, almost. When the door appeared, Daphne whooped with joy and pushed it open. Harry followed her in.

"Er – what were you thinking about?" Harry asked in confusion.

"At first I was thinking about somewhere secret and cool, you know? But then I remembered I hadn't read this weeks Witch Weekly and I started thinking about that – but then I sort of realised that and tried to go back, but then I kinda started just thinking about random things," Daphne gave a sheepish grin. "I mean, you know when you try really, really hard not to think about something but you just can't help it and it makes it worse? I guess this is sorta what happens..."

"Well," Harry said after a moment. "There is probably a copy of Witch Weekly in here somewhere."

The room was enormous and seemingly without end, the ceiling so high that it was obscured in shadow, and it was filled with towering piles of – well, junk. Old furniture was stacked haphazardly; chairs, desks, tables and cabinets, missing legs or doors, wood scuffed or cracked or covered in mysterious stains. There were shelves overflowing with countless books or in teetering stacks, melted cauldrons, rusted swords and misshaped suits of armour, piles and piles of cloaks, robes and hats, broken broomsticks and a massive stuffed troll that loomed ominously. But it wasn't just junk, Harry quickly realised. There was jewelry as well; gold chains and silver tiaras, laden with rubies, sapphires, and emeralds. Ornate goblets set with gems, inscribed with runes and decorated with all manner of magical creature. Portraits by the dozens, some moving, some still, and some still with blank canvases, all surrounded by elaborate frames.

He had never seen anything like it.

"It's like a maze," Daphne said in wonder. "Wanna check it out?"

Harry shrugged. "Sure."

They walked and walked and walked, following whatever clear path they could find. There was so much more than what they had seen from the entrance. Around one corner there were cages filled with bones, some of which were disturbingly human. Around another were stacks of chipped crystal vials filled with congealed potions. Even stone sculptures – one of which Harry recognised immediately. It was one of the chess pieces from Professor McGonagall's protection of the Philosopher's Stone. It was a knight, the horse cracked from a blow from one of its fellow chess pieces.

"How do you think this all got here?" Daphne asked.

"I dunno. Maybe the house elves?"

A Monster Book of Monsters growled and scuttled by their feet. Daphne shrieked in alarm and almost fell into a pile of discarded bronze dinner plates. She glared as Harry chuckled – before laughing herself when several keys with wings decided his hair was a suitable place to nest. Waving them away, they continued until something colourful caught their eye. Buried in the side of the nearest towering pile of lost goods were magazines by the hundreds, their glossy cover pages flashing with not yet faded charms.

There were copies of Spellbound, Quidditch Times, Seeker Weekly and of course, Witch Weekly.

"Oooh," Daphne hurried over and peered at them with interest before gasping, "These are vintage! Look at this – February, 1908. May, 1899. Oh! Oh! No way! Impossible! June, 1937! The edition with the fabled two-page spread of Celestina Warbeck! She was only twenty at the time, at the start of her career – this is legendary!"

With shaking hands, she snatched it from the pile – then froze as the towering wall of goods gave a shudder.

"Oh," she said faintly.

"Watch out," Harry called out frantically, grabbing her arm. With a roar of sound, the tower collapsed in an avalanche of chaos, the pair hastily retreating as books and chairs and pieces of armour flew every which way. As they ran, something exploded in a puff of putrid green smoke, the smell making their eyes water and almost throw up. Looking behind them, Harry watched as a marble bust of a venerable warlock tumbled through the air and crashed through a familiar cabinet with a crackling boom, before that was engulfed in a wall of junk.

They quickly found their way back the exit, Harry taking deep breaths to calm his racing heart.

"S-Sorry," Daphne stuttered, looking a little shook.

Something about her frazzled tone made him laugh and before he knew it, he couldn't stop. Staggering out into the hallway, Daphne tried to stifle her own laughter but it was no good. Soon they were both howling as they struggled to stand upright, the door vanishing behind them.

"Let's not do that again," Harry finally said several minutes later. The back of his head hurt from laughing so hard, his ribs protesting every breath. Daphne, ever so immaculate in appearance, now looked half mad with puffy eyes and hair in disarray. She had laughed so much she had started crying.

"Well, at least I got this," she said, holding up the June 1937 copy of Witch Weekly. "I am going to treasure this – seriously. And then sell it for a ton of galleons."

The following weeks went by in a blur but were far from uneventful. Between Ron being dosed with love potion and then being poisoned that very same night and Harry finally obtaining Slughorn's memory with a little help from Felix, things were more hectic than ever. His meetings with Dumbledore were picking up in both frequency and intensity, and now with Daphne's prodding, he was hosting small tutoring sessions on defense. Unlike the DA, these were only open to close friends. Neville and Luna attended every single one, while Ron and Hermione came whenever they could. Daphne was, of course, there every time. Add being Quidditch captain on top of everything else and Harry didn't have a whole lot of free time.

But it didn't stop him from noticing the sudden shift in a certain Draco Malfoy.

He had been acting weird all year. As much as his friends didn't want to believe something was going on, Harry was convinced of it. What he had witnessed at Borgin and Burkes and then the conversation he had overheard between Snape and Malfoy at Christmas was more than enough for Harry. And while he couldn't prove it, he was positive that what happened to Katie Bell on Hogsmeade weekend was Malfoy's doing. But no one – not even Dumbledore – would take it seriously.

The last few weeks, however – something had definitely changed. High-strung was an understatement, his usual pale pallor on the verge of sickly. Not only had Harry caught him snapping at Crabbe and Goyle on more than one occasion, he had even cast a snide remark Professor McGonagall's way one afternoon in Transfiguration, something he had come to quickly regret. But perhaps the biggest clue that something wasn't right came with Daphne, who had hurried over one morning with a wide eyed stare.

"Are you okay?" Harry asked with concern as she flopped down opposite him. At this point, most everyone at the Gryffindor table this early in the morning was used to having this particular Slytherin amongst them and so didn't even bat an eye.

She was barely able to open her mouth when someone came storming into the Great Hall. Pansy Parkinson looked a right mess, her cheeks ruddy and eyes puffy with tears. Harry watched as she stomped over to the Slytherin table and sat down with a huff, before burying her head in her arms. Several more Slytherin's followed her in moments later, all looking distinctly uncomfortable.

"What's going on?"

Daphne leaned in so they couldn't be overheard. "Malfoy has lost his marbles. He went absolutely apocalyptic in the common room this morning. Like, yeah, I know Pansy can be pretty annoying sometimes but you should have seen it – I thought he was going to strike her! We might not be friends but I was going to show him a thing or two, but he just yelled at her instead. It was awful. It was like he had lost his mind completely, I couldn't even figure out what he was talking about."

"What did he say?"

"He kept ranting about how it was all over," she shrugged, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "It was really weird. He was so angry – but if you ask me, he also looked terrified. Like something was out to get him, you know? I mean, he has been acting strange for months now. Usually he likes to run his mouth all the time. He can be a right git but I guess I don't need to tell you that. But since the start of the year, he has been kinda quiet. I thought that would be sooo much better but it wasn't – it just felt a little creepy, like he was up to something no good."

His elation at someone finally acknowledging this fact warred with his genuine concern that something big may have happened to aggravate Malfoy so much. Usually anything that bothered the pureblood would have been cause for celebration but Harry couldn't help but feel uneasy.

"Do you think this has to do with – ah – You-Know-Who?" Daphne whispered frantically, eying their surroundings as if the Dark Lord could pop up at any second. At Harry's surprised look, she said, "You know, because Malfoy's dad?"

"I don't know," Harry admitted. "I've been trying to figure out what he has been up to all year but whenever I'd tell anyone, they wouldn't believe me. Even Dumbledore."

Daphne frowned. "You told Dumbledore?"

"Yeah. And – well, it wasn't like he didn't believe me," Harry amended, remembering their conversation. "He just didn't seem to take it very seriously. I-"

Draco Malfoy chose that moment to enter. A hush fell over the Slytherin table as Pansy Parkinson stood and walked out without a second glance, using one of the side doors.

"Well, this is awkward," Daphne said bluntly.

"He looks terrible."

It was the truth. He had looked bad before but now he could pass for a corpse. Malfoy scanned the hall, his eyes lingering on the teachers table arrayed at the far end, before turning on his heel and leaving. Harry doubted he had even noticed Pansy at all.

"Crabbe and Goyle are beside themselves," Daphne revealed after filling her bowl with cereal. "Far as I can tell, he isn't hanging out with them much anymore. Those two idiots are lost without him to boss them around."

Unfortunately for Harry, the situation with Malfoy dominated his thoughts for the entire day. Not exactly the sort of thing he wanted his mind to linger on but he knew it was important. Whatever had upset Malfoy so much was not something he could ignore. Deciding to keep an even closer eye on him, Harry started periodically checking the Marauder's Map between classes, in the mornings, in the evenings, anytime he could without alerting his friends to what he was doing. But other than discovering that Malfoy had seemingly taken up haunting the second floor girl's toilet alongside Moaning Myrtle, nothing struck him as noteworthy. Even the brilliant idea of sending Kreacher and Dobby to shadow his movements yielded no results. He attended class and kept to himself, even going so far as to arrive late for dinner when most everyone else had already left.

Weeks turned into months, and the end of the year was quickly approaching. Gryffindor clutched the Quidditch Cup for the third time in a row, while exams were just on the horizon. In typical Hermione fashion, studying consumed her to maniacal degree in search of perfection. As usual, Ron bore the brunt of such behaviour.

"Granger can be a little scary, can't she?" Daphne whispered one evening as they gathered in the Room of Requirement. The pair watched as Ron bounced across the floor and into a nearby wall, the cushions stacked against it blunting the impact.

"A little warning next time," Ron shouted, irate. Hermione didn't seem to hear him, muttering the incantation repeatedly under her breath. While her silent casting had come a long way, there were certain spells that she still struggled with.

"You have no idea," Harry said with a laugh. "So, how is your silent casting coming along?"

The Slytherin girl rolled her eyes. "Urgh – non-verbal is such a pain in the tush. Before you taught me how, I couldn't even cast a shield charm with the incantation and now they want me to do it without one? I mean, it was only last week that my wand stopped flying out of my hand whenever I cast is the disarming charm."

Harry snorted.

"It isn't funny! I am meant to be disarming other people, not myself! I told you I'm pants at this type of thing," when he continued to snigger, she punched him in the shoulder. It felt like more like a nudge than an actual punch. "Yeah, laugh it up Mister Talent. I guess Snape was right all those years he said you had a big head."

Magic could be very peculiar sometimes. For whatever reason, whenever Daphne cast the Disarming Charm, it was her wand and not her opposite that ended up flying across the room. It reminded Harry a little of when Ron had tried to cast spells with his broken wand in second year, only there was nothing wrong with Daphne's wand. Not that they could figure out, at any rate. But after tireless practice, she had finally achieved a passable charm.

Now they just needed to work out why she had a tendency to overpower her spells and they would be golden. Getting hit with any of her spellwork was hazardous to your health, even harmless things like levitation. Something Neville could attest to when she had nearly sent him through the ceiling with a simple wing-GAR-dee-um leh-vee-OH-sa.

"Harry's head is not particularly big for a boy of his size," came the whispery voice of Luna Lovegood. She had only just arrived, her converse sneakers flashing a multitude of colours with each step. "Ronald's head is much larger."

"Thank you, Luna," Harry said with a grin.

"Oh my gosh, what are those?" Daphne pointed dramatically at Luna's shoes.

"Daddy bought them from the muggle world," Luna revealed. She looked extraordinarily pleased, showing them off.

"I didn't know muggles had things like this!" Daphne moved in to get a closer look. "Oh they are just the cutest, look at how they flash when you move. My parents would be horrified if I had a pair of these – where can I get some? You just have to tell me!"

"Um," Neville frowned as he wandered over. "Are those really muggle shoes?"

"Yeah, but I think Luna's dad must have charmed them to change colour. They definitely don't do that on their own," they watched the two girls gush over the shoes, a truly odd sight. Harry didn't think he'd ever seen Luna gush over anything that wasn't a Crumple-Horned Snorkack.

They all practiced their non-verbal casting for the next hour, Hermione a little less manic after some success. Daphne was even able to cast a single spell completely silent, yet it was the usual overpowered kind. Thankfully, Luna's shield charm was up the task. With curfew fast approaching, Harry decided to call it a wrap. They'd barely made it to the staircases when a small boy accosted them. He couldn't have been any older than a second year.

"T-This is for you," he said shyly, handing a letter over. Harry stared at the familiar script upon the parchment, the ink gleaming under the candle light.

"Uh, thanks," he said as the boy scampered away.

Breaking the wax seal, Harry read the contents. There wasn't much. Dumbledore wanted to see him tomorrow evening. Something about it, however – this wasn't an ordinary summons. It wasn't just a lesson.

"Dumbledore," he revealed after catching the curious looks of his friends. "He wants to see me tomorrow."

Hermione, Ron and Neville went on ahead, Harry lingering behind when he noticed Daphne catch his eye. Luna smiled at them vacantly as she wandered over to some nearby portraits, humming under her breath.

"Everything okay?" he asked.

Daphne twirled a lock of hair around a finger, looking strangely shy. It wasn't a look he was used to seeing from her.

"Um, well – I just wanted to thank you, you know? For these lessons, I mean. Normally I'm all in a panic about exams but this year I feel like it won't be so bad. Well, mainly just defense but my charms have definitely improved as well. Though I'm still totally lame with transfiguration, that one is so gonna suck. So, yeah – uh, thanks. You've been a huge help."

Harry smiled. "Sure. No problem."

"Right, so," she wavered for a moment before stepping over and embracing him. Harry froze. The first thing he noticed was how small she was. Not as tiny as Luna, but almost. She was warm, and soft – and he tried not to notice, but she smelled really good. It was a sweet scent, fruity, with a touch of vanilla and something spicy that made his brain feel a little foggy. He had to fight the urge to bury his nose in her hair, the top of her head fitting in under his chin. Instead he wrapped his own arms around her, giving her a firm squeeze.

"This is nice," she mumbled.

"Yeah," he said with a croak. He cleared his throat, "Nice."

"That looks fun," Luna said from right beside them.

Daphne jumped out of his arms in a flash, her cheeks more than a little rosy. Luna giggle-snorted.

"Okay, well," Daphne grabbed her hand and hauled the younger girl away. "Bye!"

"Bye Harry!" Luna called out over her shoulder as she was manhandled down the stairs.

The next day was torture. The anticipation he felt in regards to his meeting with Dumbledore only growing as he completed each class. After months of learning about Tom Riddle's past and the terrible Horcruxes he had created, they were finally going to do something. What that was, Harry hadn't a clue – but if he had to see another pensieve memory, it would be much too soon. That wasn't all, though. Not only was his mind filled with the various possibilities that Dumbledore had hinted at in his letter, there was a much more personal situation that wouldn't give him any rest.

What else but Daphne Greengrass?

Their hug the night before had been nice. Better than nice, really. He had always thought she was pretty. Exceedingly pretty. Prettiest girl in the school, even. And he enjoyed her company. A lot. If anyone else had talked for hours on end about the goings on at Hogwarts, it would have driven him insane. When Daphne did it? It was fun. Not something Harry ever thought he would ever think – that gossip was fun. Not that anyone could blame him, the gossip usually involved him. She never tried to pry out his opinion, either. She was fine if he remained silent, even if she herself could never stay quiet more than a few moments.

Was it any wonder that he had developed feelings for her when they spent so much time together?

It wasn't the same way he had felt with Cho, nor was it the strange, almost overwhelming sensation he had experienced at the beginning of the year when Ginny had started dating Dean. With Cho, it had been a slow build up over a few years. His eyes had been drawn her way for the first time in his third year and his interest had only continued to grow. Unfortunately, Cedric Diggory had loomed large over the whole thing – in life and in death. It was doomed at best to be unrequited, but reality had been so much worse. With Ginny, it had been a flash in the pan. One moment she was Ron's little sister, the next? Seeing her with Dean had lit a fire inside him, one he hadn't expected – a fire that Daphne had doused in no time at all, he realised. It could hardly be called anything but a passing fancy, maybe not even that.

With Daphne it had been a build up – but at the same time, it happened fast. One day he only knew her vaguely as a classmate, someone who he shared classes with over the last five years. A pureblood witch in the house Salazar Slytherin had built; a whole different world apart from his own. And then the next, they were friends. All it had taken was one ordinary afternoon and a chance meeting in the Owlery. They weren't friends like he was with Ron and Hermione. But they hung out, relaxed together, talked about nothing.

That was the key. They just did nothing together. He liked doing nothing with her. Talking about nothing. A normal friendship. One that didn't have the spectre of trolls and dementors and Voldemort hanging over head. No, it had things like who Ernie Macmillan wanted to date or what two boys had gotten detention for playing around in Herbology.

Now that he thought about it, Harry realised that they never really talked about him. Not in the way he would expect from a gossiper like Daphne. Much as he hated to admit it, his life was prime material for discussion. Pick a year, any year, and there was enough to make people like Lavender and Parvati drool.

Yet she didn't seem interested at all. Or at the very least, she wasn't interesting in bringing it up with him. Something he appreciated.

He really liked her – and with that hug, he was sort of sure she liked him too.

There was a third thought that weighed on his mind, but it was something he had a plan for. It was something that Daphne could help with, something he trusted her to do. She was the only one that believed him, after all. Well, Harry was sure Luna was behind him as well, but... it had to be her.

After classes but before his scheduled meeting with Dumbledore, he went looking for her. It didn't take him long at all, camping out the stairs that led to the dungeons and the Slytherin common room.

"Harry?" Daphne said in surprise, looking happy to see him. Some of her house mates eyed him with suspicion as they ambled by. "What are you doing here?"

"We need to talk. Walk with me?"

He wasn't sure but Harry thought she looked a little flustered. She followed him obediently, Harry leading her up a couple flights of stairs and down some abandoned corridors.

"Oho!" Sir Cadogan called out as they passed a massive portrait of rolling hills and dandelions, the knight popping into frame, his helmet crooked. "What do I witness with mine own eyes! An early evening rendezvous betwixt two young-"

"Ignore him," Harry muttered as he increased his pace, reaching out to grab her hand. He pulled her along. "He is a bit batty."

"An insult! Nay, a challenge! We meet at dawn, young squire! This ol' knight will show you-"

Daphne giggled as they were followed all the way down the hall and around the corner, before the knight was chased away when he entered the portrait of a gathering of witches that took none too kindly to his sudden intrusion into their slumber party. They finally stopped at a large arched window with a magnificent view of the Quidditch pitch. Taking a seat upon the stone ledge of the windowsill, Harry pat the space beside him.

"Have a seat."

Daphne hesitated for a moment before sitting, fiddling with her fingers.

"So..." she said slowly. "You wanted to talk?"

"I want to ask a favour," he began seriously, reaching into the folds of his robes. "Something important. Something I can only trust a friend with."

Daphne sat up straight. "What is going on?"

He pulled out what to most looked like a bare piece of parchment, worn from being handled too often over the years. The edges were curling, and small tears had begun forming where it was folded.

"My meeting with Dumbledore – I have a feeling about it. I've been using this to keep my eye on Malfoy, but I won't be able to do that tonight. So I was wondering if you could do it for me, since – ah, you actually believe me that something is up with him. I'd ask Ron or Hermione, but they think I'm barking."

Daphne blinked and stared at the blank parchment.

"Sure, I mean – I don't mind, though this isn't exactly what I thought you were going to say when you pulled me away."

"What were you expecting?" Harry asked curiously as she pouted at him.

"Never you mind," she answered with a wave of her finger. "But I don't get it. What does that," she pointed at the parchment, "have to do with any of this?"

Pulling out his wand, he tapped the parchment once. "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."

Daphne looked on with an expression of amazement as ink began scrawling across the surface, quickly forming the outlines of rooms and corridors that were familiar to the pair of them. Soon after, foot prints began appearing with names penned above each of them. Harry unfolded it further and quickly found their location, the names Harry Potter and Daphne Greengrass almost overlapped as they leaned in over the map.

"What is this?" she whispered. "Are those us? Wait, so those other ones are people in the castle?" At his nod, she beamed at him. "This is amazing! Did you make this?"

He shook his head. "I wouldn't even know where to start. No, this belonged to my father and his friends. Apparently they made it while still attending Hogwarts."

Daphne traced one of her well manicured nails around their names. "It looks like we are doing something naughty."

Harry coughed.

"So you've been watching Malfoy with this?"

Harry nodded. "Yeah, though I haven't really found anything out of the ordinary. Well, other than he seems to frequent Myrtle's bathroom."

"Myrtle?" Daphne asked in surprise. "Moaning Myrtle?"

"Yeah."

"I knew Malfoy could be a bit of a sad sack but I didn't think he would ever take up with that dreary girl. She is a right horrid thing, that girl is. Always screeching and yelling at us when we just want to use the loo," she rolled her eyes. "I've learnt to hold it but some of the other girls can't. Not the nicest thing, getting harassed while you are on the toilet. Like, yeah, okay – it sucks being dead and stuck haunting a bathroom, but come on. It isn't our fault, you know? She must get a bit lonely, though I'd prefer being alone if the other option was Draco Malfoy."

They spent the next few minutes going over how to the use the map, the incantation to both activate it and deactivate it, as well as how to quickly find what floor you wished to view. There was a bit of a trick on how to fold and unfold it, and which part of the castle would appear.

"A-Are you sure you are okay with me taking this?" Daphne finally asked when she slipped the map into her robe pocket. "I mean, this belonged to your dad."

"I'm sure," Harry said warmly. "I trust you with it."

Her smile showed off her perfect teeth.

"Actually, there was something else I wanted to ask you," Harry said suddenly. Butterflies erupted in his stomach, making him feel queasy.

"What's up?"

Harry gathered his thoughts. He wasn't sure how to ask this without sounding like he had a big head.

"You know how you are – you know, sorta like the Gossip Queen of the school?"

Daphne arched one of her beautifully sculpted eyebrows. "Gossip Queen?"

"Yeah – I mean, um, aren't you?"

She muttered the term 'Gossip Queen' under her breath a few times. "You know, I like the sound of that. Daphne Greengrass, the Gossip Queen of Hogwarts. Haha – yeah, I like it a lot. Who is higher than a Queen, after all?"

"A king?" he returned dryly.

"Of course you'd say that," she waved her arm dramatically. "Urgh, boys. Anyway, there isn't a Gossip King so I'm top of the food chain," she paused for a moment. "Well, now that Roger Davies has graduated. That boy knew things."

Harry blinked. That was news to him.

"Anyway, where are you going with this? I mean I totally dig the name – thank you for that, by the way."

"Right, uh – well, I guess I just wanted to know why you, er-," he was going to sound like a total pillock. "—why you've never really asked me about... stuff."

Daphne tilted her head slightly. "Stuff?"

"Like all the rumors over the years. Heir of Slytherin, or the stuff with the Triwizard Tournament and last year, the papers were calling me crazy and unhinged, and now they are calling me the Chosen One," Harry shrugged hopelessly. "I just thought this sort of stuff would be, I don't know – prime gossip material?"

"Oh," Daphne nodded in understanding. "I mean, yeah – I am super curious, don't get me wrong. Some of things people say about you, like you know there is a thing going around right now saying you've got a Hungarian Horntail tattoo. Can I see it? I mean, if it's true."

"What?" Harry said with a laugh.

"Yeah, I overheard some girls talking about it a couple weeks ago. That Romilda Vane, from your house. They were whipping themselves up into a frenzy over it," Daphne giggled then shrugged. "I mean, like I said, I am super curious but... well, I just didn't think you'd want to talk about it, you know? A lot of it sounds super sketchy and I'm sure you are sick of the attention. If you wanted to share, you would. It wasn't like I approached you because I wanted to know all those things."

He knew there was a reason he liked this girl.

As an extra measure of precaution, he asked Hermione to message as many of the former DA members as she could through their coin, asking them to be on alert. As skeptical as she was of the whole thing, she followed his request. There was no harm in being vigilant, right?

For an evening that started out so well, things soon took a sharp turn for the worse. Harry had been right. Their meeting had been no mere lesson.

Some might say that Harry was fearless, considering all the harrowing experiences he had endured in his life. For certain, they were not few in number. Every year, it felt like fate threw something his way, be they possessed wizards sustaining themselves on the blood of unicorns, giant serpents that kill with but a glance, or soul devouring monstrosities to name just a few. He had faced things that grown men and women would have cowered before. Some of the darkest creatures and magic known to the wizarding world and yet he had escaped with his life, time and time again. And while Harry knew that he was never really as scared as he should have been, he was far from fearless. Every one of those encounters had left a mark on him, not just physically. The dread, the hopelessness, the overwhelming pressure – it was more than enough to crush a person.

But he wanted to live, more than anything – and that, really, was all that he needed to keep a steady head, to fight and claw, no matter what stood before him; even Voldemort himself.

He wanted to live.

And yet, even with all those experiences, all those deadly encounters that had threatened his life, nothing had filled him with as much terror as watching the strongest person he knew, the wisest, most powerful wizard of his age, crumpled on the ground weeping like a child, begging for him to stop as Harry forced him to drink the potion that assailed his mind with images he could only imagine.

The dead bodies were a secondary concern, even as the Inferi clawed and grasped at him with puffy, water logged hands, their sightless eyes staring holes through to his very soul. The rancid smell choked him as he fought them off, forgetting to use fire as his calm well and truly left him. If not for Dumbledore snapping out of his daze as he finished the last of the potion, Harry was certain his life would have been forfeit, drowned beneath the frigid depths of the surrounding lake.

He very much wished to be back in that corridor with Daphne.

But that wasn't the end of it. No, even as they escaped the cave and Harry was forced to side-along apparate them back to Hogsmeade, he quickly realised fate had more still in store for him this night.

The sight of the Dark Mark looming above Hogwarts stilled his heart mid-beat.

They flew as fast as they could on a pair of brooms borrowed from Madam Rosmerta. As they cleared the forest and made for the castle, Harry noticed that several fires littered the grounds, people hurrying to extinguish them. In the state Dumbledore was in, Harry feared that he would topple off his broom but miraculously, they made it. The Astronomy Tower was alight with the green hue of the suspended Dark Mark, the silence eerie as their feet touched down upon the weathered stone.

"Under your cloak, Harry," Dumbledore ordered firmly, even with his weakened voice. He wanted to argue, but he had promised to obey.

No sooner had Harry slipped beneath his invisibility cloak did he feel his body freeze and snap together, instantly recognising the body binding curse. Teetering in place, he fell back against the nearby wall like a discarded piece of wood. Moments later, the sound of hurried footsteps approached, the door banging against the wall as it was flung open.

Draco Malfoy moved quickly. "Expelliarmus!"

Weakened as he was, Dumbledore stumbled as his wand was wrenched away. Malfoy didn't even bother catching it, letting it tumble away across the floor. He almost looked in disbelief at what he had done, his face pinched and pale. He looked even worse than when Harry had last seen him.

Dumbledore looked little better, just as pale but with no hints of distress or panic. "Good evening, Draco."

Malfoy scanned the room and quickly noticed the second broom. He frowned. "Who else is here?"

"A question I might ask you – or are you acting alone?"

"No, I-" Malfoy grimaced. "I-I've got help. There are Death Eaters here in your school tonight."

"Well, well," Dumbledore began but he was cut short by the appearance of someone else, pouncing through the open doorway with their wand brandished on high.

"Stop right there!" the familiar voice of Daphne Greengrass resounded across the tower. "Malfoy, drop your wand right no-"

A spell whizzed by her ear and exploded against the doorway, the stones fracturing in a shower of debris. Harry felt his heart pound in his chest as Daphne let out a shriek of surprise. When Malfoy went to curse her again, her wand slashed through the air in a panic.

"Stop!" she screamed. "Expelliarmus!"

There was a blinding flash of light and an exclamation of surprise. Malfoy's wand spiraled through the air but no one was paying attention as it clattered uselessly to the floor. Instead they all watched in stunned silence as Draco Malfoy cart wheeled through the air like a discarded doll, his well polished shoes clipping the stone railing that encircled the open balconies of the tower. There was a brief moment of utter stillness as he hung suspended over the edge, Dumbledore feebly reaching for him – and then, with a scream of horror, he vanished from sight.

Daphne opened and closed her mouth, shocked speechless.

"Oh," Dumbledore muttered, slumping against the railing. "Oh dear."

Seconds later, the castle shook from the force of an explosion. Harry would later learn that Professor Snape was caught up in an unfortunate potions accident. As for the Death Eater's that Malfoy claimed were in the school, there was not a trace.

AN: So this is the first Harry Potter thing I've written in forever. I'm not really sure how I came up with the idea exactly but it was after I read the first couple chapters of a story called The Last Ship in Suzhou over on Royal Road. It's written by a friend of mine, Lungs. I just loved the interactions between David and Alice so much that I wanted to write something like it. Wanted to write it so much that I stopped reading it just to do this. I really need to get back on it.

I've always been a fan of flipping the whole Ice Queen Daphne thing that is super popular in the fandom. Last time I made her an emotional hot head in Wizard for Hire, so this time I made her the Gossip Queen. I thought it worked out quite well.

This will have an epilogue chapter to tie up the rest of the year and the consequences of what happened. After that, I might just write a bunch of random moments scattered throughout the year. Or maybe even things that aren't canon to the main storyline, just for fun. I really enjoyed writing Daphne and Harry in this.

Shout out to cucio on DLP for the title idea. It was originally called Ditzy Daphne but I thought this title was pretty fitting when I saw the suggestion. Thanks.