Nearly one thirty. Alanna squinted again at the moon's position, sure that she hadn't been off before. Nope, definitely somewhere after one. She glanced worriedly into the shadows from which Blaise normally appeared. He'd been a bit reluctant to meet tonight; that much was clear. However, Alanna needed to find out what had Blaise so anxious, and she couldn't do that without him there.
The sound of rattling chains arose from within the Shrieking Shack and Alanna coolly glanced at the foreboding building. Her first time in the building had been years ago, though it was hardly something she could forget. It was a short while after she found that her magic was never going to develop, and though her parents had been understanding and comforting, her grief had been inconsolable. She'd run to this field, blinded by both her tears and the rain that had started to fall. The Shreiking Shack was the only shelter available to her, and she'd dashed inside with only a moment's consideration.
Since then, Alanna rarely went in the building. She hadn't seen anything amiss, but the building reminded her of the hopelessness she had first felt. Even as a child, it had been fun to dress up in her mother's gowns and "play witch", admiring herself in the mirror. With her dark hair and eyes, Alanna had thought she looked just like a witch ought to, and awaited her coming magic eagerly. And then, when she realized it never would come…
Her head whipped toward the forest, and she intently stared at the area where she'd thought she'd heard a noise. All that greeted her eyes was pitch-blackness, and not for the first time, she wished her night vision was better. Blaise didn't usually sneak up on her, and if he chose to, Alanna knew that she would have heard nothing. Feeling slightly nervous, she cast her gaze downward, resting it on her hands, clenched in her lap.
For years she'd been coming out to this very field, and never had she had a problem with the panic that was beginning to set in. Alanna berated her stupidity, then glanced upward again, noting that the sky was beginning to lighten. Her parents would fret if she wasn't home before they woke, she reasoned, standing and beginning to walk back to Hogsmeade. Blaise had to have forgotten or something, however much she thought it was unlikely. She broke into a jog after only a few seconds, suddenly gripped with a terror that she couldn't explain. The high grasses clutched at her legs, hidden brambles scratching her cruelly, and she forced herself to slow into a quick walk. Even so, she couldn't muster the courage to turn around, and it was all she could do to curse the inexplicable fear and think bitterly of how defenseless she truly was.
"Draco, she's asking for you."
Draco grunted almost inaudibly, but didn't move. Ron stared at the back of his
head until he started to get up and move towards his dormitory. He stopped when he was even with Ron. "How is she?"
"Shaken and scared, even though she won't admit it. Pansy doesn't want us asking anything about the incident because she thinks it will just upset her more."
"I know … have you talked to Severus yet?"
"On my way there now." Draco nodded to him and Ron started to walk away, only to be stopped by Draco's hand on his arm. "Yes?" Draco avoided his gaze for a moment, before offering his hand. Ron almost smiled as he shook it tightly before walking away.
Draco entered his dormitory silently, to find that Ginevra had drifted into a light sleep. He watched her for several minutes; there was a bruise forming on her cheek and he absently noted that he'd need to get a salve for it from Severus. He sat down on the bed, causing her to stir. She stared sleepily at him, reaching out for his hand. He leaned down and kissed her forehead, his own crinkled by deep furrows.
"How are you feeling?"
"Severus gave you some potions in the hope that it would help you sleep." He turned away from her and raked his hands through his hair. "Ginevra, I …" He sighed heavily, searching for words. "Pansy yelled at me for thinking this is my fault, but I can't help but …" Draco trailed off, looked back to Ginevra to try and judge her reaction, only to discover that she had fallen asleep.
A petite brunette slipped between the last two shelves in the Library; the ones farthest from the door and Madame Pince. "They're never going to let her out of their sight now."
"They have to slip up eventually, everyone does." Her hand disappeared into her robes and reappeared a moment later holding a small slip of yellowed parchment. "The latest communiqué. Dumbledore's investigating what happened, Snape too, so this will be the last one until things quiet down. He doesn't want anything to be traced back to him, so we're supposed to stay under the radar and just watch."
The second woman took the parchment from her, read it quickly, and then whispered, "Incendio." The parchment dissolved into a puff of smoke and, satisfied that the communiqué was destroyed, the brunette grabbed a random book from the shelf and walked out of the Library, the other woman following a few minutes later.
Severus Snape had just
sent his last detentionee sniveling back to their dormitory, and he
surveyed his newly sparkling cauldrons with satisfaction. There was
really nothing that remained for the day except to head back to his
rooms, help himself to a large glass of Firewhisky, perhaps peruse
the latest Potions Weekly...
This is why upon hearing the knocking on his classroom door, Snape had to resist the urge to throw a tantrum. "What do you want?" He called resignedly, looking longingly at the door to his chambers.
The door opened a crack and Ron stuck his head through. "Sorry, I thought since you were done with classes…" At seeing Severus' wave and resigned look, he stepped into the classroom. "Ginny's been in and out … she's got a pretty nasty bruise. Draco wanted me to ask you for some salve for it."
"You've bothered me after hours to obtain a salve that could just as easily be obtained through the student stores or, prepare yourself for this, the Hospital Wing? Spare me the formalities and get on with what you came here to ask me."
"Ron glared at him; as much as he was gaining respect for his teacher, it didn't mean he had to like him. "What are you planning to do about this? Its only going to get worse, you know. Sooner or later, the Gryffindors will find out about Draco and Ginny and when they do, there will be no stopping their wrath. And that's not even considering whoever planned this attack. So I'm wondering, what, exactly, you're planning on doing to protect my sister? After all, you and Dumbledore have done a bang-up job of it so far this year!"
Snape narrowed his eyes. "Keep in mind that despite your rising favor among my House, I am still your professor and I have still observed years of interaction between you and Potter, not to mention the mooning you've done over Granger," Snape sneered on this last comment, stalking over to his desk and taking a seat behind it. "I'll thank you to remember that no matter who you are currently, what you were still exists."
"I was mistaken, there is nothing else I can say about it. I won't apologize for who I was, but I have changed. Everyone has a past, Professor, and, with all due respect, I would expect you, of all people, to understand that." Ron moved forward and closed the door behind him. He was not nearly as intimidated by his Professor as he once had been; Snape was slightly shorter than Ron now and after seeing Snape's kindness towards Ginevra, Ron's respect for the man had grown exponentially.
Snape considered Ron for a long moment, and then motioned wordlessly to the seat before his desk. "It seems you are unaware," Snape began after Ron was seated, "of the fact that your sister has not been particularly high on a list of people to protect since her second year." Ron began to interrupt, but Snape just continued silkily, "That is, of course, since her involvement with certain members of my esteemed House. Now then, let's see how well you can draw parallels as a changed person."
"Why would someone want to harm your sister?"
"We've discussed this; if someone wanted to hurt Harry, they'd go after Hermione first. And if it was me they wanted to hurt, they'd go after Pansy, because it would be less conspicuous that way. Blaise and Ginny don't have that strong of a connection, which only leaves Draco. And whatever's threatening Draco is probably threatening Blaise, and maybe even Pansy as well." Snape was looking more bored than Ron had ever seen him, and Ron quickly brought his musings to a close. "But what I don't understand is this: how did they get into Hogwarts? The only one who was ever capable of that was He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and he's gone."
"What an asinine thing to say, Mr. Weasley. You and I are both in Hogwarts at this very moment."
Ron leaned forward, resting his forearms on the edge of the desk. "So you think it's someone who was already here?"
"I don't see how it could work any other way. Unless, of course, someone has managed to get to Draco or Blaise on one of their many little outings from the grounds—unlikely." Snape scowled at Ron's surprised look. "Mr. Weasley, exactly how senile do you think I am? You think I'm not aware of the goings on in my own House?"
Ron chuckled softly. "Do you think McGonagall knows everything that goes on in Gryffindor?"
"If by some perceptual anomaly you were unable to discern this for yourself, I can assure you that I am not Professor McGonagall."
"Sorry," Ron said with chagrin. "But I just don't see who would want to hurt Ginny. Only a few of us know about her and Draco and she's really never done anything malicious. I know it's not a Slytherin and the other two houses wouldn't get involved. And Gryffindor is too caught up in their hero-worship to pay any attention to the Baby Weasley. No one's paid her much mind since her first year and even then, it wasn't her they were concerned about, it was Riddle."
"Oh, for the love of- " Snape started impatiently, startling Ron. "Eavesdropping is one of the least endearing activities to involve yourself in, Draco."
Ron was about to remind his professor that he, indeed, was neither eavesdropping nor Draco when the classroom door swung open, hitting the wall behind it with a bang.
Snape curled his lip in distaste. "Destruction of property is another."
"Sorry, Uncle Sev."
"You're not sorry, you're a despicable little cretin. And I am quite sure I'd already conveyed my opinion of any nicknames."
"Tut tut tut, Uncle Sev. Such flattery."
"Since you already know what we were discussing, do give your thoughts or get out."
Draco smiled smugly and sauntered over to rest on the edge of Snape's desk. "Well, firstly, no one has even spotted us on our outings. We're far too clever for that—" both Snape and Ron snorted in disbelief, but Draco merely continued as if he hadn't noticed, "—and the likelihood that anyone knows about our relationship is slim."
"A couple Gryffindors do know, though," Ron muttered absently.
"Yes, well, that's the fault of that little shit Potter," Draco replied serenely. "Where was I? Ah, yes. Really, all that remains is the idea that…" Draco trailed off, then frowned. "What remains?"
"Your incomparable idiocy," Snape said, massaging his temples.
"It's not very wise to insult a vampyre, you know," Draco ground out, glaring hard at his Godfather.
"Well, when the vampyre isn't very wise …"
Ron shifted uncomfortably in his chair; it was still difficult for him to tell the difference between Draco's anger and his mere annoyance: the latter of which involved much less need to duck and cover. "So the probability is that someone inside of the school knows about Draco and Ginny and has some sort of motive for hurting Draco. Which, I'm sorry to say mate, could be any of a million people."
"Oi!" Draco said indignantly. "I beg to differ!"
"Your begging doesn't really change anything," Ron said with a smirk.
"Actually," Snape began with a glare at the two men in front of him, "we can't rule out the possibility that this originated outside of Hogwarts."
"Draco, if someone really wanted to hurt you, why would they have waited until your seventh year, when you should be at your most powerful magickally?" Snape asked condescendingly. "If they've suddenly discovered a reason to want you out of the way, it didn't begin with them."
Ron steepled his fingers in a way that made Snape wince with familiarity. "So there may be a person inside the school doing the bidding of someone outside of it. Any Death Eaters still at large?"
"Well, obviously," Draco quipped petulantly. "The Ministry's incompetence still astounds all who encounter it. They only managed to actually imprison about a third of the Death Eaters. Another third were killed in some way or another… That leaves quite a few of them at large."
"And how many of those one third at large know that you and Blaise went against your fathers and didn't fight in the Final Battle?" Ron had learned from Pansy that when time came for the Final Battle, Draco and Blaise had refused to associate themselves with either side and had gone missing for two whole weeks in order to avoid the ordeal altogether.
"Probably half of the ones still out there and all of the ones that went to prison, I imagine. But if that's the reason, then that puts all three of us at risk, but only Ginevra was attacked. It doesn't make sense."
"If they had wanted-" Ron began, then gasped when the fireplace in the corner let out a puff of smoke. A thin figure stepped out, and Snape sighed. "Exactly how long will it be before my nightcap if the entirety of the school decides to visit me tonight?"
Albus Dumbledore coughed and then shook the dust from his shoulders before surveying the three men in the room. "Your night may have just gotten longer. I've got some news."
Pia: We're back! Yes, we have officially returned to the land of the living. No garauntees as we're both drowning in busy-ness, but we'll be working as much as our brains can tolerate. I'm sure you all just LOVED the cliffie, and why don't you review, to tell us just how much? JessReal life demanded attention with a vengeance... No promises this time, but we'd love to know we still have some faithful old readers.