The door to the staff-room was jerked open by an annoyed McGonagall at my frantic knocking. She had an ink-blotch on her cheek and her glasses were askew; a pack of what looked like lesson-plans were squeezed under her arm. I looked past her, over her shoulder and into the room, searching for Vincent. I found him sitting in the armchair in front of the fire, nose deep in a book.

"Vincent! Help!" I said, incoherently, "I think they're broken!"

"I am curious as to why you let your students address you by first name," McGonagall said, looking faintly disapproving.

"I am more curious as to what is broken, actually," Vincent said, easily avoiding the answer to her unspoken question.

"I am curious as to why he talks to you instead of me," Snape said, looking up from his own lesson plans.

"It doesn't matter!" I snapped, "They're broken!"

"Who are you referring to?" Vincent asked.

"Millie, Draco, Pansy; everyone! They're broken!" I was quickly becoming panicked.

I could almost see the little wheels clicking around in Vincent's mind, as he quickly worked out what I was talking about. He dropped his book and joined me in the hallway, starting towards our Common Room, ignoring the indignant enquiries from Snape behind our backs. As Vincent half-walked, half-ran down to the dungeons, I tried to keep up and explain at the same time. '

"You told them? You've been here less than twenty-four hours, Zabini." Vincent sighed, obviously annoyed with me.

"They gave me a perfect opening," I protested, "It isn't as if it's something I can just put in a conversation, in between asking for Millie to pass me that salt, now is it?"

"Nevertheless, it was irresponsible." he said, then added; "And stupid."

"Do you want me to slap you?" I enquired tersely, "I did the best I could."

"You know my opinion about telling anyone, much less several people," Vincent was trying not to snap; I could tell. "The more people aware, - "

"The bigger the target I am," I finished wearily. "I know, I know, but I'm not like you. I can't exactly keep my distance from it: I'm in the middle. You might be able to keep out of it, but I can't. It's impossible: and you know I'm sick of keeping secrets."

"Sometimes, keeping secrets is the only thing you can do," Vincent shrugged, not looking at me. "You should know that, being a Slytherin. But I can understand; sharing trouble eases it, for a moment. However, if you're not careful, Granger will find out as well, and she will tell Potter and Weasley, and they won't be able to keep their mouths shut."

"I'll knock down that bridge when I come to it." I sighed. "She's not one to go talking about other people secrets."

Neither was I. In our third year, I'd suspected something was wrong with her; she turned up in lessons a minute later than everyone else, but no one saw her come in. After a week or two, I started watching her, trying to find out how she did it, and most importantly, what it was she did. Once, I saw her vanish right in front of my eyes, and since it was impossible to Apparate on Hogwarts' grounds, she must have done something else. Later that year, I saw her outside the castle, watching herself. No one could be in two places at once; it was an impossibility. After some research, I'd narrowed it down to that either I was hallucinating, or she was using a Time-Turner.

Even when I made sure she had a Time-Turner, I didn't enlighten anyone about it. It wasn't my secret to tell. I was quite sure she would keep my secret, if she figured it out.

''''''''''''''''

They were all where I had left them, though when we entered, they looked up as one and stared at me. Millicent seemed to have returned more or less to normal, though she still looked slightly shocked, as had Theo and Agnes, but Cain stared at me as if I had two heads, and Pansy was shaking her head constantly, Draco stared at the roaring fire with his jaw around his knees.

"And so the triumphant returns," Millicent said by way of greeting. "You might want to give us some time to get used to the idea of your specialised insanity before dumping something like that on us again, Blaise."

"And how would you have liked me to put it?" I asked, acidly. "´Pass the salt, Millie, and oh, by the way, I do magic without a wand´?"

"The term is ´mage´, Zabini," Vincent informed me. "Remember it. I assume you're handling yourself, Ms Bulstrode?"

"I've been Blaise's sounding-board for years," Millicent rolled her eyes, "Few things he has to tell me actually surprise me any more. The fire was a bit of a shock, but now, I wonder why i haven't seen it earlier. He's been acting like a nervous wreck for a year, and he didn't return our owls over summer."

"Alright. Mr Nott? Ms Lestrange?"

"Fine," Agnes said, "Angry that he's been keeping secrets, understanding the reasons, but fine."

"Same here," Theo echoed, though he was holding onto Agnes' hand quite tightly.

"Mr Malfoy, Ms Parkinson, Mr Angevine," Vincent turned to the three remaining people in the room. "It seems you're not taking this at all well."

"H-he frightened me," Cain confessed. "Is he dangerous?"

"Immensely, but you're in no more danger now than you were last year. In fact," Vincent looked amused, "you were in more danger then than you are now. Zabini had a habit of losing control every now and then last year. That won't happen this year, at least not as often."

I tried to look as harmless as I could, and Draco seemed to relax a bit. Pansy, to her credit, was stronger than she looked, and seemed to be coming to terms with my revelation. I hadn't meant to shock them so much, but a whole summer at the Lucas residence had made me used to expressing my wandless magic without restraint, and so I had just acted from habit. Again. It was becoming painfully obvious how much I had changed over the summer.

"There's some things you won't be able to do around me any more," I piped up when they began to calm down. "Sneaking up on me is not a good idea: I'll most likely attack you. You can blame Frederic for that. I am fully capable of hurting you severely."

"Frederic?" Draco piped up, dazed. "Who's Frederic?"

"No one important," I shrugged. "A maniac with a specialised case of multiple personality disorder."

"I have to impress on you the importance of secrecy," Vincent said, ignoring the implied insult towards his brother. "Zabini's talents must be kept a secret, at any cost. I don't care of eager you are to tell everyone about how powerful Slytherins can be, this will be kept under wraps. No one must know. If someone asks you point blank, lie. Make up a story, I know you can lie convincingly – and while we're at it, Professor Snape does not know either, so this is strictly confidential. I have confidence in you, that you can keep quiet. If you don't, I'll let Frederic loose on you. With his glasses."

The threat left them staring at him blankly. To anyone who had met Frederic and heard his tales about his bloodthirsty glasses would have known what a serious threat Vincent had just made, but my friends just sat there, until Millicent cleared her throat.

"It is against school rules for a teacher to threaten students," she pointed out.

"Have five points for intimate knowledge of the school rulebook, Bulstrode." Vincent said, looking perfectly blank. "It will come in very handy some day, I'm sure."

And then he just turned and walked out of the Common Room. I was used to Vincent and his off-handed threats, his sharp comments and acid humour, but my friends weren't, and they broke out in chatter as soon as the entrance shut behind him. I crossed my arms and listened to them with half and ear, not really paying attention to what they were saying.

"Completely crazy....."

"....Threatening students....."

"....Bloody mad...."

"......not our Head of House....."

"Yes he was," I broke in, hearing the last strain of the conversation. "Last year, after Snape went missing, and Sinistra refused, he was our Head. Don't know if he still is though."

"He seems to tell you everything," Draco bit out acidly.

"On the contrary," I snorted, ignoring his tone of voice. "He never tells me anything. He orders me around, he explains the things most necessary, but he never actually tells me anything. For all I know, his real name could be Francis, and he could be living in Ouagadogou with his three aunts, conspiring to take over the world. The only thing I've ever heard him say about his past before the day he arrived at Hogwarts was that he went to school with Snape and Sinistra. He's as close-mouthed as you can get before you become a hermit on Svalbard."

"Who's Frederic?" Theo asked suddenly.

"A maniac with multiple personality disorder," I said, "I told you. He once killed someone with his glasses."

"His glasses?" Draco squeaked.

"Yeah. He's harmless most of the time, though. If you consider excessive quoting of Muggle pop-culture, and cheerful insanity harmless." I shrugged, sitting back in the armchair. "The scariest part is, that now that Vincent's got his hair cut off, they look so much alike they could be taken for twins. Freaked me out at first."

"They related?" Theo again.

"Brothers." I nodded. "But don't let anyone know: Vincent's a bit ashamed of him, to tell the truth."

"I hate keeping secrets," Cain said miserably.

"It's time you learned then," I told him. "No heroes among Slytherins, remember?"

"And no honour among thieves," he grinned. "I remember."

"Good. And Cain, while we're all having a heart-to-heart, there's something you've got to know about Marise." I said, watching him frown. "She might be eleven, but mentally, she's six years old. She will always be six years old. Act carefully around her. I want you to do something for me this year, and the rest of her time here at Hogwarts."

"What's that?" he leaned forward.

"Look out for her. Make sure she has friends, even outside Ravenclaw, even if it's only you." I said seriously. "Protect her: she won't understand the rivalries between the Houses, and she'll believe that everyone should be nice to her if she's nice to them."

Cain nodded quickly, no longer looking so scared. I relaxed: now I no longer needed to worry quite as much about my sister any more. Having someone to look after her, someone closer to her own age, would give me some free time, while at the same time not neglecting her. It felt so good to finally tell someone my secrets, as well. Having to keep secrets from the people I trusted the most had been the hardest thing I'd ever done.

Now at least, they wouldn't be confused if I came back from class one day looking like I'd seen a ghost.

'''''''''''

The rest of the Slytherins, Tracy Davies especially, gave us some strange looks when they came back from wherever they had been. It could, of course, had been because I was trying to explain blood spells to Millicent, in graphic detail. It was rather grisly details too, but I threw her a glance, and she hurried up the steps to the girls' dormitory.

"There any trouble staying in the same dorm as Davies?" I asked, nodding my head towards the stairs.

"Nah," Millicent shook her head. "She's always been a bit of a brat, so we're used to it. At least I am; I've got to put up with both her and Pansy. She's got a nasty mind though, and I'm not sure what she'll get up to this year."

"Your mind is nastier, Millie, a lot nastier," I chuckled, "Trust me on that one. Davies wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell of coming up with some of the tricks you've pulled."

"I don't have a nasty mind," she protested feebly.

"Oh no?" I asked, "Then who was it that came up with the plan to sacrifice a squirrel to find out whether blood spells work or not, just five minutes ago?"

"Alright, that might have been a little nasty," she laughed, "But you've got to admit that the blood spell sound impossible, at least to us. But speaking of dormitory arrangements, you and Draco must have it pretty cosy now, since Crabbe and Goyle got held back a year."

"Finally. Without Snape to favour them, I suppose they just couldn't scrape by any more." I said gleefully: Crabbe and Goyle had, from the initial beatings they'd given me to the grating stupidity they exhibited, never been my favourite people.

"Should we mock them?" there was an impish smile on Millicent's face.

"Nah; they wouldn't understand what we were doing, that takes all the fun out of it," I sighed dramatically. "Aside from Davies then, everything is peaceful on this front. I wonder how Potter plans to put himself in lethal danger this year. It'd be a shame to break such a wonderful record."

"He didn't do much last year," she reminded me.

"Aside from skulking around like a ghost and whistling ´God Rest Ye, Merry Hippogriffs´ in May, that is," I said. "Just because we didn't see anything doesn't mean he didn't do anything. But my point it, this is our last, and his last, year at Hogwarts, and more or less his last chance to have a shot at his arch-nemesis. Logic states that it's do or die this year: either he becomes everyone's favourite golden boy for the rest of his life, or we're leaving sleazy notes on his grave this time next fall."

"How 'bout a bet?" Millicent suggested. "We put some money on what we believe will happen, and whoever wins get the money."

"I'm putting ten galleons on the Dark Lord," Draco piped up suddenly. "Potter will be dead before graduation."

"Five says that they both die," Agnes said, turning away from Theo for a moment.

"Three Sickles on Potter," Theo said, "But he gets gruesomely hurt."

"He always does, Theo, he always does," Millicent grumbled, "I'm putting ten galleons on Potter in this one; what about you Blaise?"

"Twenty says he wins, but he'll have Weasley and H-Granger with him." I said, stumbling slightly over Hermione's last name; I'd become so used to thinking it in the privacy of my own mind over the summer that it felt odd to refer to her by her last name. "There's no way he'll pull it off by himself: he's too clumsy and disgustingly heroic."

"Cain? You betting?" Millicent asked.

"I say Potter doesn't fight at all," Cain replied. "Five Sickles says Dumbledore kills the Dark Lord."

"He did off Grindelwald," I said, "Might have been a fluke, but there's a chance."

"I'm keeping track of bets," Millicent decided. "I'm not trusting you with it, Pansy: you'll mix it up with your Herbology notes."

Pansy stuck out her tongue at the insult, but didn't protest. I had to keep from chuckling: Millicent was correct in her prediction, since Pansy was the notoriously worst organised person in the Slytherin dormitories. She was compulsively sloppy, and her class-notes were so disorganised that it was embarrassing. Good thing she'd chosen to take Herbology, Care of Magical Creatures, Ancient Runes and Divination, since only one of those classes required an orderly mind. Divination had been Draco and Pansy's choice since it meant they'd only have to turn up and lie their way through the exams to earn a passing grade: even the Divination-N.E.W.T was boringly simple.

"At least I don't doodle Gaspar's name over all my notes," Pansy shot back, and Millicent's face turned red.

"I don't!" Millicent snapped. "I've been writing letters!"

"Girls, don't argue," Draco interrupted. "Please."

"Save your energy to plot the downfall of Davies instead," I suggested, grinning.

The grins on theirs' and Agnes' face were positively evil. If Davies survived the term, she'd be deserving of a medal of honour. She'd never been particularly popular in our side of the House, though most of the others seemed to have made her their unofficial leader. It was sad, really, seeing how they always looked to someone to lead them, and turned their backs on everyone else.

'''''''''

Ending Notes: And there goes another chapter. I'm trying to move the plot along, since I have so many things to take care of: budding relationships, in-House and inter-House rivalries, Auror-questionings, the war and re- introductions to social life for Blaise.