Scarlet Ribbons Collision

A superhero fanfiction by Sodoto.

-

"You haven't been sacked, Hagrid!" gasped Hermione.

"Not yet," said Hagrid miserably, taking a huge gulp of whatever was in the tankard. "But 's only a matter o' time, i'n't it, after Malfoy…"

"How is he?" asked Ron, as they all sat down. "It wasn't serious, was it?"

"Madam Pomfrey fixed him best she could," said Hagrid dully, "but he's sayin' it's still agony… covered in bandages… moanin'…"

Extract from "Chapter Six: Talons and Tea Leaves", from 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban'; J.K. Rowling.

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Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

(A/N: Thanks to k8 for picking up the "testicles" mistake)

-

SCARLET WARRIOR SIGHTED AT HOGWARTS IN DARING RESCUE

Yesterday afternoon, the legendary "Scarlet Ribbons" stopped a Manticore from ravaging a class of students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The Scarlet-suited warrior, who has displayed powers no other Witch or Wizard has ever had, showed up for the first recorded time in eighteen years.

Professor McGonagall, of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry declined to comment on how the Manticore achieved entrance into the school in the first place, but did snappishly tell this reporter that "no students were critically injured, thank god." This reporter did discover that Harry Potter was amongst the students injured, but sustained no more than surface injuries.

The Wizarding community had thought that Scarlet Ribbons was one of those figures destined to descend permanently into legend. This recent sighting disproves that theory. Scarlet Ribbons has shown up sporadically throughout the last couple of centuries leading historians to believe several wizards - probably in the same genetic line - have been passing down the mantle. Scarlet Ribbons has shown up previously in periods of great need, battling the Dark Arts in defence of muggles and wizards alike. The most recent sightings before yesterday included several battles against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's forces (when aforementioned Dark Lord was at the height of his power) and thirty years previously against Grindelwald's armies.

"Scarlet Ribbons appearance obviously spells trouble for the wizarding world" says historian Scraggy Barthes. "Not that he or she- do we even know Scarlet Ribbon's gender- is a bad omen. Just that he stroke she appears every time we're in danger. Oh, you know what I mean."

Millicent Bulstrode, a seventh year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, was present at the attack. "Scarlet Ribbons was so cool. He trussed up the Manticore like it was nothing." When questioned on her use of the pronoun he, Miss. Bulstrode had this to say. "Well, if Scarlet Ribbon's is a girl, she's really flat."

With He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named on the rise again, and Scarlet Ribbons showing up, it is clear that the Wizarding world clearly is in more danger...

(See more on Scarlet Ribbons' history on p13-17, a biography of Harry Potter - the Boy who Lived p18-21, a report on the safety of public magic schools on p22-23 and a list of precautions you should take in the case of an attack on p24.)

-

Draco sank against the cool surface of the wall in the toilet cubicle, letting the coldness soothe through his robes and into his skin. He was so over-heated at the moment... His father had said that might happen, as his blood adjusted to its new consistency, but it still sucked.

Absently running his right hand gingerly over his left wrist, he let his eyes slide shut slowly as he exhaled.

Well, the kneazle's well and truly out of the bag, he thought ruefully.

There was no way now he could not pretend that Scarlet Ribbons could stay firmly in retirement. Not with it all over the press like that. Draco had suddenly found that he could not turn a corner in Hogwarts without the words "Scarlet Ribbons" floating into the air, and it made him feel sick. As if the pain of it all wasn't enough, now he had to deal with all the attention that came with it.

It was awfully hard to have a single secret in Hogwarts. To have an entire secret personality was asking for trouble. Scarlet Ribbons is an evil omen, Draco thought slowly, for me...

His legs wanted to give out, and so he closed the toilet lid before sliding gratefully down onto it and burying his face in his hands. It wasn't fair. At that thought, he just wanted to laugh. Now you're just being self-indulgent and whining, he admonished himself. You don't see Harry Potter going around whining about the attention. Then again, he probably likes it. After all, that's what you've always said, isn't it?

Draco shook away those thoughts as they really weren't leading anywhere good at all. He wasn't Harry Potter and wouldn't ever be. No one could ever know what he was. No one.

He lifted his head, and was surprised to see moisture on his hands. He'd been crying. Blinking in astonishment, he reached out and yanked out several sheets of the toilet roll. Gently rubbing the coarse material over his cheek, he wiped away the tears methodically before crumpling the paper in his hand and dropping it to the floor.

He watched it drop to the floor as if he was completely detached from the event. It fell as if in complete slow-motion. He could see every crease, and the grey patch where his inexplicable tears had moistened it, and he watched it unfurl as it smacked into the ground, echoing with a resounding thud...

But toilet paper doesn't make that sound, he thought dully, until he realised that he was feeling sick, and that meant... Another attack!

"Shit," Draco breathed, grabbing his bag. Launching himself off the toilet, he pushed the door open and methodically dashed down the row of cubicles, pushing the door open of each one. No one was in. Yes! Casting around for somewhere to store his bag, he flung it up on the column where the sinks protruded out from, and - hiding back inside a cubicle in the off-chance that someone was about to come in - he waved his hand over the charmed stone.

He felt the transformation whistle over him like a strong wind, and he ran out of the cubicle. He caught a flash of himself as Scarlet Ribbons in one of the large wall mirrors and shivered. It wasn't him at all. Not that slim, dangerous figure...

Secure now in the knowledge that he was fully and properly concealed, Draco let his senses take over. Something was happening outside...

He burst out of the toilets running at full speed, and semi-registered dashing past a surprised group of first-year girls, who squealed upon seeing him. Draco ran the way he knew to the closest window - if it was happening outside, it was best to go out that way, seeing as the inside ways were often too crowded... and his heart sank. The east-side corridor to the large window which would get him outside the easiest was literally teeming with students - a lot of them seventh years. He shouldn't have been surprised. He'd left them there as it was to go to the toilet...

Cursing his own lack of pre-planning, Draco adjust his gravity swiftly and leapt cat-like to land on the wall. He kept running, not pausing to stop at the figures that turned and gaped and pointed, and made for the window. He passed Professor Snape, who looked a little winded, and he grinned under the security of his mask, knowing no one would recognise him.

The window was just ahead, so he leapt again, landing on the ground in front of it. He pushed at the latch and the large window moved outwards. He turned on a whim, and gave a cheeky wave to the seventh years watching him in bewilderment, tipped a wink to the startled Potions Master and - adjusting his gravity again - flung himself out of the window.

He heard a few screams behind him as he leapt, obviously from those students who hadn't seen him spinning like a top in mid-air the day before, but he couldn't concentrate on that now. The inexorable tug of whatever was wrong pulled him onwards and he ran down the wall, his feet nimbly soaring over the large sandstone blocks Hogwarts was made from.

The lake!

Landing on the ground, Draco sped up towards the large glistening mass of water, near the entrance. On the ground he could run faster than at any weird angles, and even though Draco knew it was psychological - his father had told him constantly to try and speed up on different angled surfaces - it didn't stop him from being faster on the ground than on the ceiling.

It was a few seconds before he saw it. The giant squid, but it had gone absolutely mental. His eyes were shimmering a deep red, and its skin was bubbling. It's been hit by an Enraging Potion, Draco realised, moderating his breathing as he swiftly approached it, and a strong one.

Rolling under one of its undulating tentacles, and narrowly avoiding being impacted into the ground by one, Draco leapt to attack, and the squid petulantly spouted water at him. It knocked him back, and he rolled a fair few metres before coming to a halt. He threw his weight onto his back and sprang back onto his feet gracefully. Yanking the knife out of its holder, he slashed expertly at his wrist.

A strong Scarlet Ribbon shot out of his wrist and Draco directed it as carefully as he could to the largest of the enraged Squid's tentacles. It thudded and attached itself with a satisfying thud. And then the squid retracted that tentacle, howling in pain in a high-pitched squeal that hurt Draco's ears. The motion of the tentacle moving back forcibly yanked more blood from Draco's arm, but he ignored it in the face of the next stage of his plan.

Taking a deep breath, he rolled forwards. Each of the large tentacles in turn tried to smash down upon him and do him damage. Rolling, and switching his gravity briefly, Draco danced amongst them. The tentacles whistled past his head, whipping scant millimetres from his body, but did not hit him. After dancing in that fashion, and narrowly avoiding being smacked by the giant enraged creature, Draco surreptitiously severed the ribbon, and stashed his knife away.

Draco stepped backwards, and the squid - upon seeing it - whistled another high-pitched shriek and tried to stretch its tentacles further to hit him. Draco ran with the ribbon another few metres, and then securely tied it to one of the mooring posts on the edge of the lake. The squid let out another loud howl, and then careered to one side, landing with an almighty splash in the lake. Large bubbles escaped to the surface as the squid thrashed, but its tentacles were wrapped up tightly in the crimson blood ribbon.

Smirking, he turned to see Professor Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall, breathing heavily, wands extended. A wide expression of surprise was on McGonagall's face, and a shrewd look was playing on Dumbledore's face.

Knowing the man was too wise for his own good, Draco turned to leave, not wanting to give Dumbledore time to analyse him.

"Wait," McGonagall all-but-screamed. "Who are you?"

He turned his head, and instigated the first step in his decoy plan. In a lilting voice, reminiscent of the accent of his old cook, who had come from a sleepy wizarding village near Abertawe, he said, as if it explained everything"Scarlet Ribbons."

Then he ran.

-

Draco entered the school by one of the lesser known windows, and quickly - after checking no one was around - activated the stone again. Instantly he appeared again in his uniform. His hair was a little wind-swept, but he was safe from being recognised.

Well, relatively safe. If he didn't get somewhere private soon, he was going to collapse in the middle of the corridor and be taken to the Infirmary howling in pain, and then his secret would inevitably come out.

Dashing quickly up the stairs past a group of third-years going the other way, he skidded down the corridor and went the long way around the area of that floor, knowing his other classmates were down there, and slid into the toilet.

And no one is here again, Draco thought, in absolute relief. It probably wasn't a coincidence, as they were all probably gathered by the window, still goggling at where Scarlet Ribbons had been. He took a second's detour to grab his bag, and then went back into one of the cubicles and bolted the door.

Just in time. The pain hit, washing over him like he was drowning in urine and it was wet and hot and acidic and boiling up behind his eyes, and everything inside clenched around something that wasn't there. He bent over on the toilet, his toes curling up from the pain, and he clenched his teeth. Oh god, oh god, oh god, kill me now. Please! It washed over him, curling low in his belly like a hot iron, and all he could do was shake his head furiously until it ebbed away.

It had taken a few minutes, but his eyes were watering again - but this time from pain - and everything ached. But he could probably function again. He stood up, wavering on his feet, and he vaguely registered the door opening into the toilet before he turned around and promptly threw up into the toilet.

Coughing, he ran the back of his hand against his mouth, and sheepishly slid out of the cubicle. Blaise was standing there, hands folded across his chest, as he shook his head slowly.

Draco crossed to the sinks, turned on the tap and took a couple of mouthfuls of water, watching his spit spiral down the plug hole. He turned the tap off, and twisted to look at Blaise.

"You okay, man?" Blaise asked. Concern had obviously overridden his excitement over what had happened outside.

Draco pulled a wry face. No. "Shouldn't have eaten so much cake at my party last night," he said, wrinkling his nose.

"Told you," Blaise said in a reproving tone, smiling, but concern was on his face. "Come on. You feel up to eating anything?"

Draco thought. "I could probably manage some soup," he said, hoping it would be enough to pacify Blaise.

"Good," Blaise said solemnly, and, as if that was consent for him to speak on other topics, grinned enthusiastically. "You missed it again. It was so cool."

"Missed what?" Draco said, trying to think of the appropriate response in this situation.

"Scarlet Ribbons is what," Blaise said, starting to rabbit on about cool it was. Draco just smiled, and nodded, and let him speak.

-

"Guys in leather are so hot."

Pansy received various askance looks at that statement, but it was probably due to the fact that she was surrounded by a guys. Malcolm Baddock, again being tutored by her, tried to sink behind the large pile of Herbology books he'd been surreptitiously arranging around his plate like a barrier. She grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and lifted him up, glaring at him, and moving a couple of the books from the pile so she could keep a closer eye on him.

"Naw, girls in leather are hot," Blaise broke in with a wink at Draco, pushing large tureen of Cream of Tomato soup in Draco's direction, and just as subtly pushing a large basket of white bread rolls at him.

Draco's stomach did a private revolt, but he dutifully ladled a few spoonfuls of soup into his shallow soup bowl.

"Yeah, like there's any of those around," Pansy snorted. "Scarlet Ribbons is a guy and you so know it."

"Could be a girl," Gregory commented from Draco's other side, looking heavily around as if he'd made some sort of profound statement.

"Yeah, but how flat-chested?" Pansy commented, rolling her eyes. "That was a guy, I'll bet you guys anything."

"All right," Blaise said. "Greg, Vince, you in?" The two grunted. "Draco?"

Draco squinted. "I don't think so," he said, and Pansy squealed.

"See, he thinks it's a guy," Pansy gloated. "He believes me over you." She only just stopped short of sticking her tongue out going nuh-nuh-ne-nuh-nuh.

"Do not," Draco said tiredly, as Blaise, Gregory and Vincent glowered at him evilly. "I just haven't seen Scarlet Ribbons yet and cannot agree."

"Yeah, that's true, you haven't!" Pansy said. "Why were you in the toilets for so long?"

Draco was grateful that Blaise jumped in to answer here, as he felt as if maybe he'd be sick again if he had to say it. He wondered briefly if there was another monster on the loose around Hogwarts, but his heart was slow and he doubted that whomever it was doing it had realised that the squid attempt had failed yet.

"He was sick," Blaise said. Instantly Pansy's eyebrows drew together in concern for him.

"Aw, are you feeling okay? I can go with you to the Infirmary now if you want," she offered genially.

"No, I'm okay," Draco said, lifting up a spoonful of soup and forcing himself to swallow it. "See?"

"Yeah, nothing keeps you down for long, does it, Draco?" Pansy said, with one of her horrible winks, which caused Blaise to give him one of those 'manly' jostles, which had the result of him feeling half-winded. "You'd look great in leather, you know."

Blaise burst out laughing as Draco suddenly started choking on his mouthful of soup. Gregory leant over and started to pat him on the back.

Stars burst across Draco's vision as his back exploded in sudden pain. Fire made its acquaintance painfully with his spine, and he hid his face in the tablecloth for a second. When he raised his face, a crimson blush was splashed awkwardly across his normally sallow cheeks.

"Th-thanks," he forced himself to tell Gregory, who smiled in that slow sort of way that sometimes made Draco want to reach out and smack him.

Pansy opened her (big) mouth and was about to say something else, when a loud voice rang out. "Can I have your attention, please?"

The entire student body quietened, and they turned to see Dumbledore standing up before them all, a serious look on his normally cheerful face.

"I'm sure you're all aware of the attacks on Hogwarts over the last forty-eight hours," Dumbledore intoned solemnly. "From the words of the governors, and a lot of your parents, the general consensus is to implement tight security measures, such as the procedures carried out four years ago, which some of you may remember."

Draco's throat tightened. If that happened, he'd never be able to protect anyone. Someone would definitely be hurt if he couldn't go out... and he couldn't tell anyone about being Scarlet Ribbons. He wouldn't be the first scarlet warrior to go out of the family with the truth. He wouldn't.

But maybe he'd have to.

"However," Dumbledore said, as if hearing Draco's thoughts, "the staff and I think otherwise. For these first two... incidents... Scarlet Ribbon's freedom has prevented any harm coming to the students. While I am loathe to leave the safety of you all to one person, no matter how brave, I am loathe to restrict their freedom too. So I am leaving it to a vote. If you would please get your wands and shoot up blue sparks for safety measures, and red sparks for Scarlet Ribbon's freedom, then I would be grateful. First years, if you do not know the incantation, I give you a minute now to ask your more experienced neighbours."

The minute passed, and small showers of colour sparked all over the hall. Draco heard his heartbeat now, thudding painfully in his ears, but knew it had to do with a different sort of impending doom. If the room was covered in blue sparks, then he would have to tell Dumbledore. No doubt about it.

"All right," Dumbledore said after a minute. Professor Flitwick had stood up on a table to observe the right-hand side of the hall, and Professor Snape had swept around to the front of the staff table to observe the left. "Vote now!"

Wands were raised and incantations muttered. Draco held up his own wand, spilling out red sparks, and was grateful to see his friends following his lead and splashing up red sparks. Draco explained his choice out of the side of his mouth, "I'll never get to see Scarlet Ribbons with those stupid martial law-ish safety precautions."

He looked out into the hall, trying not to appear too keen to know the results. The Hufflepuffs were mostly shooting red sparks, which was gratifying, but the logical Ravenclaws were mostly shooting blue. Slytherin itself was a mixture, leading slightly towards red, and Gryffindor was a mixture too. The Weasel was holding up red sparks, as was Granger, but Harry Potter had shot up blue sparks, surprising some people.

But then- if I had the choice to keep him from having to fight monsters, I'd vote for that too, Draco realised softly. It took someone with the experience of having to fight to make a choice like that. Harry was looking determinedly away from his friends, who were all shooting up red sparks, with his wand still outstretched in his fingers.

"Very well. Red it is," Dumbledore said. "Although, if you were shooting up blue sparks, please feel free to liaise with Professor Flitwick here, who is willing to co-ordinate with any students wanting to set up their own independent safety measures. You will have the full co-operation of the staff if you choose to do so."

Draco noticed a small contingent of Ravenclaws move up immediately to go speak with Professor Flitwick, and then was surprised to see Harry Potter excuse himself from the Gryffindor table and go speak to Flitwick too. But not before looking over at Draco and sending him an indecipherable look.

Shaken, Draco turned back to his soup, and realised that his appetite had partially returned. He took a sip of the soup and then sighed. Cold. Typical.

-

Harry let his footsteps take him briskly out of the Great Hall, as he knew Ron and Hermione would want a furious whispered conversation about the state of his mind before they caught up him. Hands in his pockets, he walked towards the Gryffindor common room. He had a free period, and planned to spend it getting ready for the DA meeting the next day.

He exhaled bitterly. Why had his friends reacted so badly to him sending up blue sparks? Ron had been immediately outraged, quietly but furiously saying 'you of all people' and glaring at him. Even Hermione had been surprised. Harry had been surprised to find the only understanding for his choice in the cool, pained gaze of Draco Malfoy.

Even though Malfoy had sent up red sparks, and he had his own theories for that, Malfoy understood. For a second, their thoughts were running on the same line, and it unnerved Harry a little.

He brushed it away, irritated, but the image of Malfoy's wrist still came back to him. Those cuts didn't look deliberate, like he'd always imagined a cutter's wrist would look like, but as if they'd been done in a hurry. Malfoy didn't seem the self-hurting type, either, but then - as the book he'd taken out yesterday had said - you couldn't always tell from the outside. Plus Malfoy didn't eat much, both Ron and Hermione had noticed it at dinner the night before and breakfast that morning. So he could be a self-harmer, or...

Harry delved into his pocket for the small length of scarlet ribbon, and held it between his fingers as he stomped determinedly up a staircase, absently hopping one of the disappearing steps as he did so. The ribbon felt weird. It had a texture he'd felt before. It felt like blood. Harry couldn't explain to himself why that was so, but he'd felt his own blood plenty of times, and the ribbon felt like solidified blood.

Besides, it coincided with what he thought he'd seen at the Manticore attack. He'd been the only one so close, and he thought he'd seen - just for a moment - a knife at Scarlet Ribbon's wrist. Slashing at the wrist. And then the ribbons sprayed out from there.

His instincts told him he was right, and that was when he resolved never to ever find out for sure. If Malfoy was Scarlet Ribbons, bully for him. He got to do the hero thing, and find out what a pain it was. And the school was going to let him spill his blood to protect them. Great.

To be honest, it riled Harry up a little, but there wasn't anything he could do, but look out and help Malfoy if he could.

He tried to stifle the threatening snort. If someone had told him in any of his other years that he'd spend his sixth year planning on how to surreptitiously help Malfoy, then he'd have probably been accused on being under Rictusempra.

Still, the whole thing didn't sit right with Harry. It didn't sit right at all.

He approached the Fat Lady. "Voodoo Lamp," he said, and the portrait obligingly opened.

"Oy, Harry, wait up!"

Harry paused as he began to climb into the common room, and saw Ron and Hermione taking the steps two at a time to catch up. He rolled his eyes and continued through the common room. It was mostly deserted, and he walked over to one of the more secluded corners, dropping in one of the chairs and yanking out his DA notebook. He pulled out his Charms textbook, and started outlining practical points of the expelling Charms, steadfastly ignoring Ron and Hermione as they sat down opposite him.

"Harry," Hermione said. Harry squinted up at her. "We just want to know why you shot up blue sparks."

He exhaled, and lay his quill down on the small coffee table in-between the chairs. "Because we live in a democratic country, last time I knew," Harry said evenly, looking her straight in the eyes.

Hermione blinked. "I just thought-"

"You thought wrong," Harry informed her, taking up his self-inking quill again. Knowing he'd hurt her, Harry sighed, but couldn't look at her. "I can't let anyone take unnecessary risks. I thought you of all people would understand that."

"-oh." Hermione's voice was small. "I- forgot."

"How nice for you," Harry retorted stiffly. He caught the bitterness in his own voice, and winced, looking up at her apologetically. "I just can't believe you'd corner me for having my own mind, either."

"Sorry," Ron whispered, still clearly caught up in what they'd done. "Anyway, what did you talk about with Flitwick."

"That's Professor Flitwick," Hermione intoned.

Ron sent her a withering glance.

"I've set up an escort with Professor Flitwick for our DA sessions," Harry said. "There's some Ravenclaws in our group, and I noticed they weren't very happy with the outcome of our vote. So we'll stop by every house common room and pick up everyone before we go."

"Every house?" Hermione blinked. "I thought we didn't have any Slytherins after last summer."

Last summer, a lot of the Slytherins' parents had been put into Azkaban, and as a result, had not really associated much with anything to do with the Gryffindor house, and, especially, with Harry.

Harry cringed, openly. "I sort of invited Draco Malfoy to join," he said, apologetically.

Ron's eyes bugged. "You what?"

Harry shifted uncomfortably. "Just so I can keep an eye on him," he said. "Besides, we're going to be regularly inspected now, and-"

"Well, I think it's a good idea," Hermione said, surprising Harry. She'd obviously decided to try extra hard to back up all of Harry's decisions. "Maybe we can influence him onto the good side of the force."

Harry laughed.

Ron blinked in confusion. "The good side of the force?"

Harry and Hermione exchanged a scandalised glance. "He hasn't seen Star Wars," Harry said, in the same tone as someone saying he's never slept before.

"He hasn't seen Star Wars," Hermione added, sounding dazed. She was frowning, as if to figure out a particularly difficult equation. "A lot of muggles haven't seen it either," she said, but she might as well have said 'war's a great idea!' for the conviction in her tone.

Ron looked between the two of them, lost. "I don't get it."

"Don't worry about it, mate," Harry said comfortingly, "we're not the droids you're looking for."

Hermione cracked up, and laughed so hard that Ron accused her of being of being hit by rictusempra.

-

Draco yawned, and stretched languidly as he approached the portrait to the Slytherin common room. He hadn't felt anything weird going on all day, although he had felt a little queasy, but he put that down to having not eaten much all day.

He'd just spent a good three hours in the library doing his Potions homework. Professor Snape had better be pleased with this one. He couldn't bear getting a lower grade than Potter in Potions. Not that it had ever happened, of course. In fact, Professor Snape had once gleefully told him, it had never happened. Potter was abysmal at Potions. It was a miracle in itself Potter was even in Sixth Year Potions, but Draco wondered if it had something to do with the Remedial lessons Potter had been taking.

Tiredly, he told the portrait the password ("Ulric the Ugsome") and clambered through. He walked straight past a yawning Malcolm Baddock, although he sniggered as he noticed the copy of Mad Miggs in his Transfiguration textbook (Pansy's face when she realises!) and he wandered to his room with all the intention of collapsing on his bed and sleeping.

No such look.

The room was empty, except for Blaise, who was sat perched on Draco's bed. As soon as Draco pushed the door open, Blaise excitedly sprang forwards, and employed a locking Charm on the door, followed by a silence Charm.

"What are you doing?" Draco demanded, as he forced himself not to panic and he dumped his heavy bag on his bed and plonked himself down straight after. Blaise ignored him and sat down on his bed, parallel to Draco's own, and faced him.

"Draco! It is Alex! It IS. I knew it!" Blaise's voice was terse with excitement, and he shook a piece of parchment at Draco.

Draco frowned at his friend. "What? What are you blathering on about?"

"Scarlet Ribbons!" Blaise hissed. "It really is Alex! Can you believe it?"

"What the hell are you talking about?" Draco demanded.

Blaise didn't seem to realise Draco's extreme panic. "After you burned your letter up, I got curious, and did a reconstituting spell on the entire contents of the bin! I couldn't get a full letter of any of them, but I got a few very illuminating scraps! Listen to this!" Blaise lifted up the scrap of parchment in his hand. Draco realised it looked very patchy, and realised Blaise had, actually, done what he said he had. "Destroy this as soon as you've read it, and remember, the longer you can hide your identity, the better. Better for Scarlet Ribbons to be retired and not another dent in You-Know-Who's armour to be made, then for there never to be a Scarlet Ribbons to protect the world."

Draco listened to his father's words in horror. Father! You idiot! You just said to burn the letter! You didn't say I need to put a permanence Charm on the remains! Blaming it on his father felt a little wrong, though. You should have thought of it. He shouldn't have had to tell you to do it.

"Is that all you got?" Draco said, trying to keep his voice even.

"Just another bit, from a different letter. Different handwriting. When I became who I was always destined to be this afternoon, no doubt you'll have heard of the Manticore attack already, I knew that it's already too late. I have changed. Draco, do you realise what this means?"

"Yes," Draco said, trying not to hyperventilate as he reached forwards to take the scraps of parchment. Blaise unwittingly let him take them, and as soon as he had them, Draco brought out his wand and set fire to them, and then, before Blaise's widened eyes, stuck that damned permanence Charm to the ashes before floating them to the bin. He leant forwards on the edge of the bed, trying to keep Blaise's gaze. "Blaise, it's not Alex," he said, as evenly as he could manage in the circumstances.

Blaise looked completely shocked. "But of course it is, he was the only one not there both attacks! Well, him and you-" And then Blaise stopped, his eyes going wider. "You?"

Draco felt the question like it was a physical slap. "Yes," he admitted, his voice cracking as he voiced the syllable. "Blaise, you can't tell anyone. You can't!"

"Man, this is unbelievable!" Blaise got to his feet, staring down in horror at Draco before stalking away, and then he turned back. "How long have you known?"

"Pretty much all my life," Draco said wryly. "Although it only fully happened yesterday." Blaise looked torn. "Please Blaise. You have to help me. I can't do this on my own."

"You were going to," Blaise said instantly, but Draco's words seemed to have hit something in Blaise. "Man," Blaise repeated. "I can't believe it! You were so cool, the way you dealt with that Manticore-"

Draco couldn't help it. He grinned too. "Yeah, it was cool. You should have seen the squid I got today. Someone must have put an enraging potion on it, and it went bananas."

"So what did you do?" Blaise said, sitting on the edge of the bed. Literally, Draco realised, sitting on the edge of his seat.

"Attached one of the ribbons to one of the tentacles and jumped around until it had tied itself up," Draco said, raising his eyebrows coolly.

"Dude, this rocks," Blaise enthuses. "So how does it work?"

Draco rolled his eyes, and settled down to the reluctant task of telling Blaise everything, hoping desperately that this wasn't a mistake.

-

Blaise had taken the rest of it surprisingly well, and between them they'd worked out a plan to try and deceive the rest of the student population. The more people who thought it wasn't Draco, the better. Blaise had suggested they try framing Alex, which Draco was game for, and Draco had suggested they try and frame Blaise for it at certain points, which Blaise was definitely game for.

His father had been adamant that no one outside of the family should find out, but - Draco realised as he woke up after a great night's sleep - that's probably because he'd never found out how good it felt. It felt fantastic, having someone else know, someone else to share it with, someone to help. Today was already looking brighter than yesterday had.

That was until breakfast, when he'd actually got post.

Draco wasn't expecting anything from his parents except for the usual large food parcels, and no one else really sent him post, so when a school owl swept down and deposited a parchment on his knees he was immediately scared. What if someone had found out, and this was a blackmail note? What if-

He forced himself to stop with the what ifs already, and open the parchment. Blaise wasn't openly staring him, but he kept edging glances towards the parchment, and Draco knew his friend was thinking the same thoughts as he was.

Taking a deep breath, he unrolled it, and then his eyes widened a little at the content. "The DA meeting tonight starts at eight 'o clock. Please be ready at the entrance to your common room at quarter to eight, to escort to the room. H. Potter."

Draco felt like swearing. The DA. Potter had mentioned it to him, but he hadn't remembered it in all that was going on. Crap. Blaise was still looking at him curiously, so he leaned over and quickly whispered a brief summary of his problem.

Blaise leant back, looking a little disgusted. "You're going to Potter's Defence Association?" He asked, surprised and a little loudly. Draco was only relieved that Blaise hadn't employed that large mouth of his to blurt out his secret.

"Draco, why would you do that?" Millicent instantly demanded.

"Because I could do with the practise," he snapped back, feeling a headache come on. Millicent shrugged, as if to say "what did I say?", and Draco sighed slowly.

"Well, you can't go alone," Blaise said quietly as soon as the others had started chatting amongst themselves. He pushed himself away from the table and dropped his napkin to the bench. "I'll be right back."

Draco watched in amazement as Blaise sauntered up from the table, and confidently walked over to where Potter was sat with Granger and the Weasel. He was talking to Potter, who looked surprised, but animated. During the conversation, both of them looked across at Draco a couple of times, and he felt himself getting more and more annoyed because he couldn't hear what they were saying. For all he knew, Blaise had just ratted him out to his arch-nemesis. Ex-arch nemesis, possibly. Whatever.

Blaise walked back, looking inordinately pleased with himself, and quietly sat back down next to Draco and contentedly started to munch on his steak-and-kidney pudding.

"What?" Draco said, poking Blaise just above Blaise's right elbow, where he knew it annoyed him the most. "What did you say?"

Blaise just smiled at him.

"Zabini," Draco hissed, menacingly.

"Nothin' much," Blaise said sunnily. "I'll be joining you at the DA tonight, is all."

Draco raised his eyebrows.

"It's okay," Blaise assured him, "you don't have to say thank you."

That netted him a full-on growl from Draco, while Blaise just sniggered into his forkful of sweetcorn.

-

"I feel like a four year old," Blaise hissed quietly to Draco as they trooped along at the end of a long line of students, all quite happily chatting amongst themselves, while shooting small glances backwards at the two Slytherins tailing the party.

Professor Flitwick was up at the front of the queue, gesticulating wildly as he enthusiastically told some anecdote or other. Draco couldn't quite hear it all, but the words that floated back - "balloon" and "donkey" and "tutu" - made him pleased in a curious fashion that he couldn't hear it all.

"Well, you look like one, if that helps," Draco deadpanned back. Blaise pulled a face at him.

"Come on, I'm doing a favour for you here," Blaise said. His voice lowered. "Two favours."

"I didn't ask you for one of those," Draco said primly.

Blaise sent him a withering glance as they walked the rest of the way in silence, up the staircases to the room Draco faintly remembered from last year. Now, of course, the DA was legal. And Draco was an entirely different person. It was definitely all-change, and Draco felt himself longing for those previous years, where everything was clear-cut and black and white.

It's all gone, and it's never coming back. You've got to get used to it, Draco told himself as he walked through the door into the room. It was larger than he expected. There were piles of cushions heaped up against the wall, and one wall was covered in Defence Against the Dark Arts books and objects. He hadn't got a very good look at the place last time he was here, and he was impressed.

Professor Flitwick moved to the front of the amassed. Draco thought it was obvious that he was leading this session, at least part of it, and not Potter, but Flitwick only told them they were in good hands before trundling away and leaving them with Potter.

Potter was better at it than he'd expected. He expected Potter to mumble a lot, and be bad at giving orders, but Potter was really a good teacher. He outlined what they were going to do, and broke the group into half - one half to watch, the other to practise knocking their partners into the cushion.

It was Draco's turn to watch events, and he was particularly caught up watching Longbottom being actually nifty with his wand and knocking Corner half-way across the room with his Charm, when the sickness struck.

Panic swelled in him completely, and he looked at Blaise for support, but Blaise wasn't paying attention. Freaking out a little, he wondered how on earth he could surreptitiously escape from here when he caught Potter looking at him with a strange expression. An expression of realisation.

Draco's stomach sank even further. He knows! Draco knew it was the truth, even if he didn't know how he knew (well, to be specific, he didn't know how Potter knew he was Scarlet Ribbons or how he knew it was the truth.)

Potter walked over, but did it so casually Draco caught himself actually being impressed, despite the urgency in Potter's eyes. Draco held his stomach, and tried not to look at the entrance too desperately.

"Draco, man, are you all right?" Blaise hissed. "No, there's not- an attack is there?" He asked hesitantly.

"Shut up!" Draco hissed, worried that someone was eavesdropping. No one was, but he couldn't afford to be careless at all. He watched Potter, too desperate now that people were getting hurt to even contemplate the horror that Potter knew. He only knew he had to get out, and that Potter was about to do something to help.

He realised what it was when Potter surreptitiously slid his wand under his wrist, and then, when Longbottom waved his wand to practise his charm against Corner, he added his own magic to Longbottom's Charm. The effect was instantaneous. Corner flew into the wall, and there was an audible thud.

Everyone stopped.

Potter waved his arms for attention. "I'll take him up to the infirmary. Malfoy, you're not doing anything, give me a hand." Potter's order caused a little stir, but not much. They were all obviously used to obeying his commands. Raising your own army here, eh, Potter? Draco thought, even as the sickness overwhelmed his throat. "Zabini, take over supervision, will you?"

Surprised, Blaise stepped forwards, and nodded. Draco watched Blaise from the corner of his eye even as he automatically walked over to help Potter with Corner. Corner was groaning, meaning he was alive (shame), and there was blood all over his face. Blaise was surprisingly good at both giving orders and with the Charm. Potter must have noticed during the practise that Draco got knocked over every time (and, very expertly knocked onto cushions every time.)

Draco slowly walked along the corridor with Potter and Corner.

"Why did you choose Blaise to supervise?" Draco asked. Silence may make Corner suspicious, after all.

"Because he's good at it," Potter said, the question surprising him. Draco noticed Potter had taken most of Corner's weight. "And I've seen him snap orders around to some of the other Slytherins when you weren't around. He'd make a good teacher."

Draco made a murmuring sound low in his throat. He was itching to go. Potter obviously noticed. "Look, Malfoy, why I don't I just do this on my own? Corner's lighter than I thought he would be. You go back, okay?"

"Okay," Draco said, relieved, and he turned to walk back. As soon as Corner and Potter had turned the corner, he turned back and quietly went back the same way, and down the corridor opposite the way Corner and Potter were slowly going.

Leaping out of the nearest window, Draco waved his hand over the stone Charm and kept running to where his senses led him. He'd deal with this, and then he'd deal with how Potter knew, and then he'd deal with whatever life threw at him next.

One step at a time. Nice and steady. That's all there was to this superhero lark anyway, wasn't it?

-

To be continued...