AUTHOR'S NOTES: Life is strange. One moment, everything is hunky-dory and spiff-tastic and every other made-up adjective expressing positive results known to man. (This era is like a distant dream or a pleasant hallucination, but a part of me acknowledges that it was once so.) Then everything goes to shit and, ta-daaa! Eight months flies by in a blur until a number of persistent readers poke and poke and poke just to make sure I'm alive and still interested in updating.

God bless you poor few, and my most profound apologies for promising and promising without actually delivering. :is humble:

Aside from that, sorry it's taken me a decade to update. Frankly, I'm shocked anyone bothers to read HpatFH anymore, but maybe that's just me and my current (and hopefully temporary) maudlin perspective. Cheers to you, the faithful readers.

Onward. :promptly skips off to Vegas for a well deserved vacation:

Harry Potter and the Forgotten Heirs
Capricious Purple Clarity
Chapter Twenty

Existence is a spectacular marvel.

There was nothing that could match the wonder Quatre held for this world of magic neatly tucked away from the rest of the Earth and beyond. The root of every fairytale, the source of legends, an energy that defied logic -and a people capable of controlling said energy reflecting just that. Illogic. Charmingly so, and not applicable regarding a portion of the denizens of the magical world. But the seed was in the heart of every witch and wizard, taking root in soul and mind, and drew parallels between a wizard's inherent lack of logic and the source of their existence.

In the end, most wizards were clever enough to cope without a concept of logic in certain aspects of culture or thought-processing. In every aspect of a wizard's life, there existed a spell or charm or hex created for the specific purpose of overcoming otherwise unsurmountable situations; though at times, when he compared how wizards accomplished things opposed to the muggle way of achieving the same goal (and taking his own muggle upbringing into account), wizarding solutions often befuddled him. That alone was just one of the many reasons Quatre embraced the wizarding community with enthusiasm. It was a refreshing reminder that there was much more to life than what science and technology could explain and resolve.

The muggle world, while mundane to some, was far from ordinary. Every day technology improved and expanded; every day, science dared to test the limits of human comprehension. Yet magic in all its numerous forms, living and inanimate alike, proved that life was capable without technology and catapulted reality (or the lack thereof) far beyond comprehension in every sense of the word.

Take trees, for example. In reality, it was impossible for a human being to perceive the emotional consciousness of normal, non-magical plant-life. In the wizarding world, this general rule of thumb was nonexistent. The roots of a mandrake closely resembled humans, from adolescence to adulthood; mandrakes even experienced the embarrassing acne during puberty. Despite similarities to human growing traits, mandrakes were clearly a species of plant. It takes them less than a year to fully mature and they reproduce by spores.

Quatre was enraptured by the kinds of magical plants that existed in the covert world of wizards; none captured his fascination more so than the Whomping Willow, which was more than just a territorial tree. Much more.

The Willow's perception extended meters beyond her underground roots system, spread farther than her branches could reach. She was territorial not because of her nature, but because she felt as if she were constantly under attack by those not anchored to the ground. Sometimes Quatre had flashes of insight when he was in direct contact with her -more emotions than images, though there were so many perceptions being given to him that he could almost see her memories. Young "two-roots" darting tauntingly within and out of her reach, swinging sticks and throwing rocks. Other young two-roots and a fair number of older two-roots that knew her weakness and savagely took advantage of it. Each time her entire being would grow stiff with a sensation that could only be described as pain before numb nothingness overcame her. The nothingness was frightening and sorrowful and agonizing.

To the Willow, stillness felt like death. Temporary, but utterly undesirable. It was because of her vehement resistance to the stillness that her branches always swayed even without the presence of wind. It was a show of vibrance, defiance, and sturdy solitude.

Snow had fallen on the Scottish countryside early in November and had already melted, leaving the ground wet and frozen. More snow was soon to come, but the Willow had experienced the worst weather conditions with little trouble. Quatre's task was to pull the dead creeping vines from the base of her trunk and, in doing so, he projected emotions to her as he busied himself with maintaining her continued good health. As always, she was skittish when he worked around the knob that froze her, but she relaxed when Quatre contrived nothing but good intentions and soothing serenity and projected those emotions to her.

He was almost done when he felt her reach out to him once more, as she had done many times before. Two-roots were approaching -two of them, one whose step was quick and light and walked like a female; another whose footsteps were solid yet subtle with a assured gait. Both were familiar to the Willow.

Almost a minute passed before Quatre heard voices approaching.

"-industrious house that hard work reaps great benefits."

"Oh... Thanks!"

Quatre absently gave the trunk of the Willow a comforting caress before he moved away, only partially aware when the branches of the Willow parted for him. He beamed at his visitors.

"Trowa, you found me!" he exclaimed warmly.

"You didn't make it easy," replied Trowa, not unkindly, "but I managed."

Quatre's brow furrowed in thought before he realized he hadn't told anyone what he had been planning to do with his unexpected free time. Cheeks pinked slightly at his faux pas, he amended sheepishly, "This proves you're talented and persistent when searching for someone, at least."

Quatre gave his house mate a welcoming look. "Hi, Susan."

"Hey, Quatre," Susan greeted back, matching the blond's smile. "You've got to tell me your secret to taming the Whomping Willow. I must say, it's very impressive."

Quatre chuckled softly, reaching out to touch one of the branches. "She's far from tame, Susan. I guess you can say I share a sort of empathy with her."

Trowa hummed in amusement. "Sort of."

Quatre gently prodded Trowa in the side with his finger, grinning back at the taller boy when he was given a pointed stare in return. "Let's go sit by the lake. I'm finished here anyway, and this is too beautiful of an afternoon to waste indoors."

When four o'clock struck, the three of them could be found lounging in a small enclosure of trees. Trowa picked through the rocks on the shore of Black Lake; when he would find a good candidate, he picked it up and skipped it across the surface of the still water. Seven, eight, nine skips before the rock would sink. The next one made it seven skips before it disappeared under the surface of the water.

Quatre and Susan sat with their backs against a large oak tree, idly chatting about classes and the news and what their holiday plans were.

"I'm going to visit my family in L4," Quatre told her with a softly smile. "Duo is coming with me. I think he is going to try to convince Draco to come along, too."

"Good luck with that," Susan said with a choked laugh. "I don't even think Malfoy has been outside of wizarding societies, much less off-world."

"It certainly would be a sight to see," Trowa added, skipping a rock eleven times before it plopped into the water.

"You won't be going, Trowa?" Susan asked.

"I'm still debating it," he replied placidly. "It would be nice to see my sister again, although she may be upset with me for not keeping in touch."

"Catherine would get over it really quickly," Quatre assured him. "But even if you can't make it, I'll be sure to give her your regards."

Trowa returned his boyfriend's smile.

"Did we change the meeting place?" Duo called out, making his way to Trowa (who he could see) with Heero and Wufei followed close behind him. "Somebody forgot to tell us. Oh, hey, the lovely Susan Bones is here!" Duo smiled charmingly at the girl and winked. "Hey, cutie, good to see you outside of class."

Susan blushed but knew that Duo didn't mean anything by his flirtatious words. She stood up and brushed away the grass that clung to her uniform. "I was just leaving, actually."

"Aww, how disappointing," Duo complained, pouting. He recovered his good-humor quickly. "I guess we'll see you at dinner then?"

Susan agreed before she left them to their gathering.

They immediately went to the Willow and ducked under the drooping limps with Quatre leading the way. When they settled in a circle near the base of the tree, the limbs knitted up around them, effectively protecting them from sight.

"Right," Duo said finally, grinning as he fiddled with his satchel. "First item on the table-"

"Rufus Scrimgeour," Quatre suggested, "followed by Blaise Zabini's proposal, and our choices from hereon: espionage, infiltration..."

"Or detonation," Duo interrupted smoothly, grinning as he offered the book he had pulled from his satchel. "The fun stuff always comes first, Q-Bean."

"We are not going to blow up the Ministry of Magic, Duo, that would be too excessive and counterproductive to our needs," the blond vetoed emphatically as he thoughtlessly accepted the book and glanced down at the title.

"I was talking about the book," Duo informed his friend dryly, "but I must admit, I was leaning towards the plan with the most explosions."

No one thought to doubt the truth behind the American's comment. After all, his comrades were well acquainted with Duo's preoccupation with blowing things up.

The blond's lips parted in astonishment, Duo's jest filtering through one ear and out of the other as he reread the words printed on the cover. "Where on earth did you get this?"

"What is it?" Wufei asked.

"A guide to becoming an Animagus," Quatre replied, awed. "It's a restricted book. How...?"

"I asked Sirius if I could borrow some of his books. He didn't even ask which books I wanted to borrow," said Duo, proudly.

"He didn't even notice you take it?" Heero asked, already scanning through the preface once Quatre had passed it around.

"He was too busy looking for something on his mesk," Duo said gleefully.

"Mesk?" Wufei muttered, reluctant to hear the answer.

"A combination of mess and desk," the American said with straight-faced honesty, "therein concluding the event in which the desk and the mess became one seamless entity."

The Chinese Ravenclaw stifled a weary sigh. "Sometimes I wonder how and why you cerebrate the strangest thoughts, Maxwell..." Then I fear ever knowing the truth, he finished the sentence in a thought, keeping it to himself.

Duo beamed at Wufei cheerfully. "It's a gift." Then, immediately switching back to the topic at hand, he announced grandly, "And he had it filed in with his tribute to prankster inspiration. As soon as I made it known that I was interested in causing future mischief, he welcomed me to it." He pointed at the book. "Obviously, this applies to said future mischief according to Sirius Black's shelving system. I'd love to see him try to accuse me of swindling him!"

The American threw his head back and cackled.

Quatre tried to politely ignore the devilish laugh by waiting until Duo had purged the hilarity from his system. When he began to suspect the braided-boy wouldn't stop until someone spoke up, the blond said reasonably, "It is only fair that we give Harry and the others the option of participating. After all, we are borrowing it from his godfather."

There was a complete about-face in Duo's demeanor. Like flipping a switch, he went from laughing madly to nodding his head earnestly in agreement. "Well, yeah, no doubt about that."

"We'll bring it up to them tomorrow morning," Quatre concluded, inwardly pleased that Duo had managed to find them a guidebook for aspiring Animagi. The thought of gaining the ability to turn into an animal had been enticing from the very beginning; the only setback was the strict regulations the Ministry imposed on purchasing a book detailing the transformation process.

"Good deal," Duo said. "Next on the itinerary: Scrimgeour." The name had been spoken with a sour twist of the American's mouth, and he added litigiously, "I've never even met this guy, but I'm already sick of him."

"Unfortunately, he's proven to be highly efficient as Minister compared to Fudge's term," Wufei said gravely. "He's only officially been in office for a day, but he already has a battalion of Aurors taking twelve-hour shifts in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. The rest are focused on reigning in the dementors and searching for Death Eaters. He has reinstated protocols for creatures called Inferi, reanimated dead bodies Voldemort used during his last rise. He's also trying to declare martial law, of which one of the stipulations is that a man must first bare his arms before gaining entry into any official Ministry building."

"As efficient as the new Minister is, he's still a pain in the ass," Duo replied. "So how are we gonna handle this douchebag?"

The Gundam pilots spent the next hour and a half discussing -or, in some cases, not discussing -the answer to the American's probing question.

The sun split under the western horizon, and the descent spurred the nearby whooping of owls and the lazy whirring calls of insects that should have gone into hibernation shortly before the first snowfall; then again, creatures, even insects, rarely did what they were meant to do in the wizarding world. Exhausted from their long discussion, the five pilots trudged up the steep hillside and to the warm, welcoming confines of a castle that had become something of a home to them in the year since they began attending.

A smatter of students milled around the entrance of the Great Hall in preparation for dinner while the greatest majority already gathered within, eagerly anticipating the coming meal with ravenous attention.

Farthest from the large doors and closest to the exit, Draco and Blaise were having what appeared to be a very private conversation. Draco, facing the general direction of the exit, caught their movement in his peripheral. A throw-away glance revealed their identities; Draco's words hesitated before he whispered the last of them to Blaise.

Whether it was a warning or Draco insisting on a point was a mystery to them; either way, Blaise must have realized something was up. He looked around until he found what had briefly taken Draco's attention.

"Hello, Blaise," said Quatre mildly, owning the conversation with the first words.

Blaise briefly wondered if he wanted to wrest it away before deciding to follow the blond Hufflepuff's example. "Hello, Quatre," he smiled smugly, "Duo, Heero, Trowa, and Wufei."

Duo immediately broke into a grin. "Hey, Blaise, what's shakin'?"

Without missing a beat, Blaise replied serenely, "Everything seems awfully stable at the moment, though that seems like a positive import."

"It was an Americanism," explained Draco when his dark-skinned friend appeared bemused. "By the spirits, I can't believe I knew that," he added in a mutter, rather disturbed by it.

Duo snickered. "Just enjoy the moment, spoilsport. For once, you knew the basic meaning of something I said. That means you're learning."

"That is precisely what I disdain the most about it," Draco informed the American, matter-of-fact.

"Man, that was harsh," said American playfully lamented. "And I was trying to be helpful, too."

"I was under the impression the two of you were close," Blaise murmured.

"They are," replied Quatre, eyes shining with amusement. "Both of them always yearns for the last word. I believe they've turned it into something of a game."

"Unfortunately, that means the back and forth can go on four hours if we let it," Wufei said stoically. "Interrupting them at the earliest moment is a very effective way to deter them."

"Love you too, Wuffers," Duo quipped, bouncing on his heels.

"And you, Duo," Blaise prodded politely, "what is shaking?"

Duo laughed. "Everything. I'm permanently set on vibrate."

Trowa snorted, his hand flying over his mouth. This did not at all mute his audible snicker.

"I didn't mean it like that, you pervert," Duo said contritely, though he let a few chuckles slip by his defense. "Overtly lewd in hindsight, though. Good catch, Trowa."

The chatter from the Great Hall grew louder as the sounds of cutlery scratching on dinnerware, signaling that dinner was being served.

Duo's stomach exploded into desperate gurgling. Unembarrassed by his show of hunger, he latched on to Heero's arm and fluttered his eyelashes flirtatiously at his boyfriend. "Let's eat at your table, Hee-chan."

"Sounds like a plan," Quatre piped, tilting his head back to smile up at his taller boyfriend. "I think I would like to dine with the Slytherins tonight, too."

"You should come too, Woof," Duo chimed. "It'll be a historical moment in the history of Hogwarts -the day the representatives of all four houses sat at the Slytherin table. Maybe they'll even mention us by name in Hogwarts, A History?"

"Like you've ever read it," Wufei retorted mildly. "I'll join you if you swear to call me 'Wufei' for the rest of the evening."

"You drive a hard bargain, Wufei," Duo said grudgingly before turning toward the Great Hall. Though the American outwardly made no such oath, the fact he said the Ravenclaw's name, and not some twisted variation, was promising enough.

The rest of them were close behind, and continued one even as Duo came to a stop. The others passed him save for Heero, who came to a stop beside the braided boy and Blaise, who was to the very rear of the group and noticed the Gryffindor's strange behavior.

Heero glanced at Duo questioningly, but Blaise was already following the direction of his violet-eyed stare. The Divinations teacher was rapidly descending the staircase, which was odd in and of itself. Trelawney hardly ever ate her dinner with the rest of the school.

She was pale and trembling, her balance badly effected by her own tremors as she nearly took a serious tumble down the grand staircase. She managed to pull herself together with an inhaled sob, which she held as she rushed down the remaining steps. Trelawney didn't pay them any notice, despite that all seven of them were visibly gawking at her now.

Once she crossed the threshold, Trelawney broke down and wailed piteously, "It's been stolen!"

Duo's bag suddenly felt very heavy. He grimaced. Aw shit.

His friends and Blaise hurried to the doorway, curious and enraptured by the breakdown of Hogwarts most unstable professor. He chose that moment to quickly sneak away, clutching his satchel close to him as he ran all the way to the North Tower. The adrenaline pumped rhythmically with the beat of his heart, and his vision was overcome with a speckling of black dots.

He missed this; oh heavens, he missed the invincible feeling of an adrenaline rush, realizing suddenly that it was a natural addiction from which he suffered. He shook the wistful cobwebs from his mind as reality quickly set in. He had to put Trelawney's crystal ball back where it belonged and beat a hasty retreat before staff members came to investigate her claims.

Of all the crystal balls he could have borrowed, what the hell made him think it would be okay to take hers?




Duo warily poked his head into the classroom and frowned when he didn't see immediately see Trelawney. He wrinkled his nose when the overwhelming scent of incense struck him, but nonetheless, he steeled his resolve and cautiously entered the classroom.

When he was half way down the isle, the bug-eyed professor came out of the back room. She stopped half a second after he did and blinked at him owlishly before her dozy expression lit up with recognition.

"There you are, Mr. Maxwell," she exclaimed pleasantly. "Come in, come in!"

He reluctantly did so, winding up in the front of the empty classroom. He looked around furtively as Trelawney whisked to the opposite side of the room. He heard her open a drawer and rifle around within it as he looked at the window (wishing it were open), the door (wishing he were on the other side of it), and at the teacher's pink-clothed round table, upon which rested a crystal ball and a tarot deck.

He was startled from his visionary exploration when Trelawney suddenly appeared on his left, shoving an object at him. He gave a start and managed to grab it before she pushed it into his chest.

He stared blankly at the wooden box now clutched in his hands. It was an oak box stained ebony, with mismatched white lines cutting through fifty-five little squares and the fifty-sixth slot left empty. It vaguely recognized it as a puzzle box of some kind -the sort that had surprises inside.

"Aw, Lawney," he said wittily, "I'm touched. It's not even my birthday yet."

The woman blinked at him, befuddled. "What are you talking about, dear boy? I'm returning this to you."

It was Duo's turn to blink. "It's not mine."

"Of course it is," she murmured, patting his arm comfortingly. "It doesn't belong to anyone else." She abruptly turned and made a beeline for the room she had just left; Duo was surprised that, when the door was closed, it was hard to make out the doorway from the rest of the wall despite the wall itself being stone. There had to be some enchantment on it, likely so students weren't tempted to see what was inside.

Personally, Duo thought that was where Trelawney smoked her pot. The lady had to be on something good.

He sighed and shoved the box haphazardly into his bag, planning to inspect it more thoroughly later. His eyes were drawn back to her table, lingering on the tarot cards as he was attracted to the psychedelic design on the back of the cards. (Further proof that Lawney was a stoner.)

A strange billow of the smoke in the crystal ball immediately snatched his attention, and he stared harder at it. He leaned over it, frowning lightly when the smoke in the ball whiffed violently around until the image stirring the smoke finally registered in his mind.

It was fire.


End Flashback


And I was afraid I wouldn't get the same result with a different ball and snagged this one on impulse, Duo reminded himself sardonically. What a genius move. But he had used a crystal ball from one of the other tables to replace the one he had taken, not believing that Trelawney would be able to tell the difference.

And you know what they say about assumptions.

He made it to the North Tower(1) hardly winded, glad that Trelawney hadn't locked it up in her frenzied rush to the Great Hall. He whisked into the classroom and fished in his bag. He placed the crystal ball back on the empty stand, taking enough time to notice that it was oddly clear of smoke. He turned and rushed to the door, but stopped cold when he heard voices float up from the bottom of the tower.


He turned and looked around frantically before his eyes froze on the closed window. Without a second thought, he ran to it and flung it open.

He looked down for a moment. This is going to be one of the dumbest things I've ever done.

He climbed out of the window. Somehow he managed to cling to the wooden awning and haul himself up, using his boot to close the window again. He hoisted himself up and curled his body uncomfortably before he straddled the apex of the awning. He grimaced and shifted, hating his idea even more when his position put an almost unbearable pressure on his unmentionable bits.

He clutched at his satchel and the awning as the wind howled around him.

Yep. This was a stupid idea.


He didn't know how long he was on the awning, teeth chattering in the cold high winds. It felt like hours. It could have been minutes. He didn't budge until it came to a point that he could not take it anymore. He leaned over used a spell to open the window from the outside before he quickly scrambled in, breathing heavily once his feet were on solid ground.

No one was in the room. A triumphant laugh fought its way out of Duo's mouth, but he held it in check.

He was quite the sight when he finally entered the Great Hall, disappointed to see that dessert was already being served.

Trowa chuckled at him when he sat down heavily in the empty seat beside Heero, who raised his eyebrows knowingly at the American.

"Trelawney accused Ron of stealing her crystal ball," Quatre said mildly, though his proper posture revealed his disapproval. "She said she saw him do it in a vision."

Duo groaned and let his head fall to the table with a solid thump. "You're kidding me."

"On the contrary, he's being serious," Wufei said. "Ron is with McGonagall and Dumbledore in the Headmaster's office at this very moment."

Duo sighed.

I hate my karma.


Ron was uncomfortable. It wasn't because he McGonagall was escorting him to the Headmaster's office because of something the batty old seer had claimed to envision. It was mostly because, upon entering the office, the atmosphere certainly didn't feel like he should prepare for a heavy scolding.

"Ah, Mr. Weasley and Professor McGonagall!" The Headmaster called merrily, comfortably seated in his chair. He was nursing a cup of steaming tea. It was the healthy serving of food, which immediately caught Ron's eyes. In fact, the surface of his desk had been completely cleared off to make room for a rather large, ornate tea tray. On the tray sat a delicate china, including two other tea cups sitting upon tiny saucers, but sugar, lemon wedges, milk, and honey. The rest of empty space was taken up by several heaping platters of food. "Just in time for dinner!"

Oh, Ron thought numbly. So this is the creepy grandfather side of Dumbledore that Harry's told me about. In his opinion, his green-eyed friend was remarkably descriptive for three simple words. The grandfather bit was rather... unsettling.

So he sat in his chair, absently nibbling at the food on his plate with a glass of pumpkin juice in front of him. His Head of House and the Headmaster were doing small talk -nothing mind-boggling, just a little about the weather, gossip on the more notorious students; Harry suspiciously being left out of that student-teacher faux pas. Despite the blatant omission, Ron perked up when they started talking about those he would privately refer to as Duo & Friends.(1)

McGonagall was exasperated. "Up all hours of the night, hardly ever in their dorms to keep the younger ones in line, and every one of them spends an abnormal amount of attention on patrolling for wayward youths hours passed curfew." She tsked reproachfully. "I wouldn't doubt they would let Duo Maxwell roam free if I didn't know he spends his evenings at Professor Snape's mercy."

Or lack thereof, Ron thought, rather spitefully. Still, Duo never seemed to mind his evening punishments a la Snape, and the redhead was all for it. Back in sixth year, Duo was an absolute headache in potions, and he bantered with the surly Potions Master with cheerful innuendos and blatant winks. (According to Harry and Hermione, that hadn't changed all that much.) All that mattered was that the American got on the greasy git's nerves, and if the Head of Slytherin House wanted to prolong his torture by assigning Duo detention, he had Ron's blessing (more like "curse").

For all of his dark thoughts about the mysterious Heir to Slytherin, Duo Maxwell was a pleasant, if not joyous surprise... in a creepy sort of way.

Wait a tick, Duo spends his evenings in the library with us, Ron mused, his brow puckering in consternation. How is he attending his detentions with Snape at the same time?

"I can't fathom as to whom or what pursued you to think making Messrs. Yuy, Black, and Chang part of the Student Council was a good idea," the Deputy Headmistress lamented, giving the Headmaster a scolding glance.

Man, McGonagall is lit, Ron mused.

"You failed to mention Mr. Winner," the Headmaster volunteered jovially, though his eyes were a little less bright than before.

"That's because the others are a bad influence on him," McGonagall remarked staunchly.

"Actually," Ron volunteered without thinking, "he's usual a really good influence on them." Which was true; whenever Quatre had input, the other four -and sometimes even Black -paid rapt attention. It wasn't surprising, seeing as how Quatre's advice usually turned out to be helpful most of the time.

Dumbledore didn't mind at all that Ron had interrupted them, saying rather lightly, "I thought as much myself."

"Is that so?" McGonagall said, a bit sternly. "Tell me, Mr. Weasley -you and your friends have gotten close to those five. Are they troublesome at all?"

"No," Ron said immediately, without having to consider the thought. Earnestly, he said, "They're actually really helpful, and they make things like studying worthwhile. And Hermione's gotten used to tuning out their antics, so it's a welcome relief for me and Harry." Ron rolled his eyes, slightly exasperated. "As much as I hate to admit it, even that blond nitwit Black is good for Harry. He never used to smile this much."

McGonagall's eyes widened at that announcement, and she humbly bowed her head to inspect the murky liquid in her cup. Despite the submissive retraction, she was actually smiling a little. Dumbledore, too, smiled brightly, obviously pleased with the news that the presence of the others were making profound changes.

Ron started, his brain promptly reminding him that he was in Dumbledore's office for a reason. "Er, well... I mean, aren't you going to-"

The door to Dumbledore's office sprung open, and Duo Maxwell boldly barreled in with a determined set to his shoulders. He marched to stand in the space directly between Ron and McGonagall's chairs, staring Dumbledore down with a stubborn jut to his chin. Dumbledore and McGonagall, however, were just as surprised as Ron had been when Duo burst into the office uninvited.

"I object!" Duo rallied in a loud voice.

"Mr. Maxwell!" McGonagall thundered.

"This is not in the interest of justice," Duo insisted. "This is brutally raping justice and leaving it in a ditch to die. I mean, c'mon! Ron is the kind of guy that would go around stealing crystal balls! Heck, he doesn't even like Divinations. Why would he want a momento?"

"So you know who the culprit is, Mr. Maxwell?" McGonagall retorted sternly, her expression explicitly stating that she thought stealing a teacher's tool was right up his alley.

"No, but it isn't beyond belief that Trelawney dreamt the whole thing up," Duo said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "I don't know why she accused Ron -isn't she supposed to be a seer or something? Why in the world did you even hire her?" This, of course, was directed at Dumbledore.

"Maxwell," McGonagall snapped, appalled that he would speak to the Headmaster in such a manner.

"Okay, okay, I get it," Duo placated the woman, making an effort to look humble. "I'm sorry. This is stupid, though -Ron didn't do anything!"

Ron gawked at Duo, hardly believing that the American had interrupted a meeting in Dumbledore's office just to fight for the redhead's honor. It was touching, but Ron didn't think it was strictly necessary. It wasn't often that he was sent to the Headmaster's office, but it happened to Fred and George loads of times. He'd been expecting an interrogation, not a private dinner.

"Indeed, I also find it hard to believe Mr. Weasley would do such a thing," Dumbledore announced with a twinkle in his blue eyes. "His presence here is to pacify our dear Divinations professor. Professor McGonagall has already confirmed that all crystal balls are accounted for."

"It's possible she had a dream," added McGonagall, "or her equivalent of a nightmare, at any rate."

Duo coughed and smiled brilliantly at the Head of Gryffindor House. "Fantastic! So I guess I'll-"

Duo's stomach erupted in a series of gargles.

"Ahem," he breathed, face reddening slightly as his gaze focused intently on the food laid out on the Headmaster's desk.

"Good heavens," McGonagall murmured, "didn't you eat anything at dinner?"

Duo answered with a weak grin. "Heheh, I'm still hungry. I should go... rectify that."

Ron placed his silverware down and stood up, looking strangely at Duo. "I think I'll go with you. That is, if I'm excused?" With this, he looked inquiringly at the Headmaster and his Head of House. When they granted him leave, he was only a step behind Duo.

The two of them were quiet until they were clear of the winding staircase. The gargoyle jumped back in front of the staircase, but Ron and Duo hardly paid any attention to it as they marched away.

Ron looked at Duo. "So... how did you manage it?" he asked lightly, though with a meaningful expression on his face. He wondered if what he suspected was true.

"Very carefully," Duo said craftily, "and I shan't say anything more for the risk of incriminating myself."

That would be an affirmative.


(1) I'm only guessing Divinations classroom is the North Tower. I'm kinda rushed and can't be bothered to check. Indulge me.

I'm not the least bit happy with this chapter, but it's the best I can do at the moment. It's shorter than my usual fair and the point-of-view randomly changes in places. I would hold on to it and try to work on it more, but it's 0346 and I've gotta leave for the airport in an hour. (And I'm not even showered or dressed yet.)

Thanks to everyone for their persistence, and I'm sorry if the quality is poor! I'll try to do better next time -for now, I need my bloody vacation.

(For obvious reason, this isn't beta'ed. Sorry, 'Zanne, I was in a rush. :sad face: )