"Just because everything is different doesn't mean anything has changed."
~Irene Peter

Chapter 38 ~ Everything is Different

The gas lamp swung haphazardly from the wall, the brass hinges creaking noisily in the unearthly silence of Grimmauld Place. A fissure had torn down the drywall, an explosion during the violence that night having apparently torn one of the lamp's hinges away.

Now its oil dripped steadily down, the viscous substance pooling directly beneath where it hung in a thick puddle.

"Well, if that isn't an extraordinary example of fire safety..." Regulus leaned against the wall, twirling a glass of chardonnay between his fingers. He appeared to be watching the oil as it began to trickle between the floorboards.

He'd been watching that tiny river form for the better part of an hour.

"If you are contriving to imbibe yourself, before all those other squares return," he continued conversationally, tilting the tip of the champagne flute to indicate just what he meant by imbibing, "then you can procure your own from the second shelf of that concealed cupboard beneath my mother's charming portrait." Regulus' lips twisted as if he were indeed amused, taking a sip of his libation. "She really is such a pleasant woman when disturbed, but minors drinking I dare say would notbe on her list of complaints. Dirty blooded hands tainting her finest vintage though…" He positively smiled at his drink as if he and the wine were sharing a private secret with one another. "Perhaps."

Deciding to not comment, Kally lifted her hand, shoving errant strands of hair out of her face. The fact that she wasn't wincing...

The drawing...the drawing she'd done out there on the street, so as to find that man masquerading as the rat, had left her sore.

But not nearly as sore as it should have. Hell, she marveled, she should have been well and truly unconscious by now, having done two drawings far too close together, but she wasn't.

And she was slightly afraid to think of why. The steady throb in her head, one that sounded like the distant beating of horses' hooves, told her enough.

They stood within a quiet, dark hallway, but she could hear a herd running.

She didn't have to be a genius to realize that she was losing her mind, hearing memories she shouldn't be, because they were not her own.

They'd been within Grimmauld Place for the better part of two hours now, waiting for the others to return. By the time the Ministry Officials had gotten around to wanting to 'question them for the hexing of Dolores Umbridge,' Remus had ensured that both she and Potter were long gone, hidden within Grimmauld Place's walls once again.

It might be torn up slightly, but the Fidelius Charm was still intact.

Regulus had apparently had the same idea, when an uptight official had started ordering him to drop his identity-masking charm and reveal himself, on the grounds that he could be a Death Eater in disguise.

For obvious reasons he had found that shockingly amusing.

Now they were just waiting to hear from someone, anyone within the Order, to find out how the others were fairing.

Or if they were still alive.

Swallowing, Kally closed her eyes, letting her shoulders and the back of her head lean against the wall. Her arms still felt shaken, tremulous, as if they were not quite as steady as they ought to be. Still…

She was fairing far better than Potter.

As soon as they'd re-entered Grimmauld Place, ordered by Remus to not leave and to not be seen, so that the Order members within the Ministry could get things under control first, before any questioning was done, he'd begun pacing like a caged animal. Periodically he'd disappear to the upper floors, his thundering footsteps echoing loud. It sounded as if he were trying to break through the floor.

Regulus had made some choice comments about that. One in particular, a suggestion that she go and aid Potter's surly self with stress relief, since the apparent House of Black had already been defiled by them anyway, had earned him more than a sharp glare.

Breathing in the oil tinged air, she let out a long, slow breath into the relative silence. She had wanted to go with Remus, knowing where he was going - to wherever Tonks and Dumbledore were - but the look he'd sent her had bellied no argument. So she'd stayed. Eventually Remus would explain why he'd refused to take them with him. At least she hoped.

The wooden floorboards cracked abruptly within the hall, Potter clearly having returned. His hard voice cut through it immediately. "It's been too long." Cracking her gaze in time to see him pace past, his wand still clenched tight in hand, he tensely ground, "We should have heard something by now. If the others were alright."

"Ah yes, because matters of the medical persuasion and post-battle clean-up are well known for being resolved quickly, are they?" Regulus drawled at his glass, sounding bored.

Kally shot him a look. "Sarcasm really necessary?"

Swirling the vintage beneath his nose, sniffing it as if he had all the time in the world. "It is the only language I find enjoyable. Besides, I'm being downright tolerantgiven he's been wearing holes in my flooring."

"It's Sirius' flooring." Potter had stopped at the end of the short hall, his tone tight.

Regulus paused his self-inebriating attempts long enough to shoot an amused look in that direction. "Was his. But given that the dead cannot actually ownproperty, it goes to me."

"Might be a bit hard with the legalities," he bit caustically back, "when you're technicallydead to."

Casper looked unbothered. "A minor difficulty. One that will work itself out in due time I am sure."

"Oh yes, because I'm sure the Ministry will just be keento let Death Eaters own property after they throw them in Azkaban for life."

It was as if a switch had been thrown, Regulus previously unruffled demeanor suddenly changing, a thin vein of anger now visible, vibrating beneath his collected surface. "Do not," Regulus slowly, coldly said, " make assumptions about things you do not know." From where she stood, even through the heavy shadows draping the hall, she saw the whitening of his knuckles where he gripped the wine glass.

Potter ignored this. "It's not an assumption," he countered, "if its true."

The dark gaze of Regulus Black bored into his wine, as if he were afraid to look at Potter, out of fear of what he might try to do to the younger wizard if he did. "The only reason," he calmly, collectedly drawled, "that you or any of the Order have been allowed to remain here, was by my consent. You'd do well to consider that, lest my hospitality waver."

"Hospitality?" Potter practically snorted. "A lot of good it did us. Voldemort still managed to show up right outside our front door." Tilting his head, he bitterly spat, "Care to elaborate on how he did that?"

Regulus head jerked towards him, his tolerance clearly waning, his mouth opening to throw something sufficiently nasty-

"Will both of you stop it?"

Clenching her gaze shut, she dropped the back of her head back against the wall, feeling dizzy. The ordinarily comforting scent of lamp oil only worsening it. "Please," she murmured, "will you both please stop? My head hurts enough as it is without you two shouting."

For a long moment there was silence, then...

"I had not even begun," Regulus stiffly told, "to shout." Glancing at him, she saw him tug his robes straighter. "I have more self-possession than that."

Despite herself, a wane smile touched her lips, her eyes falling closed again. Regulus, however, kept talking.

"I was merely pointing out that the rest of the Order has better things to be doing right now, than apparating back to update us on the health statuses of the others at a moment's notice."

From farther down the corridor, Kally was fairly certain she heard Potter grunt in annoyance.

She sighed. "If he really was still a Death Eater, Potter, don't you think he'd have taken the opportunity to hex one or both of us by now?" Not even bothering to wait for response, she tiredly slid down the wall, resting on the floor.

It had been a long, long day.

From above her she heard Regulus snort. "Have a drink, Potter. Really, you seem tense."

Despite herself, despite every reason not to, Kally's lips curved into a slight smile at that.

Perhaps it shouldn't have surprised her, perhaps not, but a moment later she felt Potter crouching down beside her. She knew it was him. She didn't even have to ask.

"How's the head?"

A slight, silent laugh shook her. "It feels," she relayed, "like I have a forest on surround sound, intermittingly." The hooves...she could still hear them on and off. It was like a child playing with the volume on a remote control. Still...

Cracking her gaze, she let her gaze linger upon him for a moment, studying him. She might not know a great deal about magic, but what she did...

She did not think that just anyone could disappear in a swirl of flames, only to reappear as he had, saving Dumbledore. Just like she knew it ought to be impossible to levitate in a golden dome while dueling.

For some reason the thought of him doing things like that, things that should have killed him, shook her.

Wetting her lips, eyes not once leaving his, she questioningly murmured, "You?" Brow furrowing, concern creeping into her tone whether she wanted it there or not, she incredulously whispered, "I saw you fall, from-" Stopping, shaking her head ever so slightly, a strand of golden hair slipped over her eyes. She didn't know how to articulate it. She didn't even know where to begin.

Apparently she was not the only one.

His solemn regard studied her, every line of his face strained as his jade gaze roamed over hers. "I'm more concerned," he finally, lowly told, "on if the others are all alright." He remained crouched on the ground, elbows resting upon his knees, but a tension could be seen moving through him.

The hard part of his throat rose and fell in a hard, nerve-wracking swallow. "Dumbledore...has to be okay." A steely edge entered his tone. "He hasto be."

Before she could respond, to tell him that any old man that could transfigure an entire fire truck into a stuffed toy would not die easily, another voice answered for her.

"He is."

Both her and Potter's heads jerked around, Regulus having already lifted his wine glass in cursory greeting.

"Remus."

Not even thinking about it she was already moving, shoving herself away from the floor and all but launching herself at him. The startled oomphhe made she ignored. Instead...

She was just grateful to see Remus, there in person, to see him alive and safe.

The weeks that he had been absent...they had been far too long for her.

Arms tight around him, burying her face against his chest, Kally felt herself positively shake for a moment. "If you ever," she muttered, shaking her head against his robes, "disappear in self-induced isolation again..." Taking a deep breath, feeling Remus slowly move to return her hug, she breathed, "I will find a way to hex you I swear." He'd nearly bit her and Harry. She understood that. She understood that after what had happened with his fiancé why he had been scared but...

She'd missed him. God she had missed him. More than she wanted to admit to.

Swallowing, she finally allowed her fingers to slip away from where they clenched in his robes. Stepping back, only slightly, she looked at him for a moment, as if afraid he'd disappear on her again. But...he wasn't. "How's Tonks?"

"Again, I repeat," Regulus drawled, as if a question about another's life had not just been asked, "isn't my dear cousin a little young for you?"

The brief, angered look Remus shot Regulus was almost disturbing. But finally he managed a nod, "She'll live." His gaze immediately broke away from her, Lupin looking past her towards Potter. "As will Dumbledore. But they will both require...a great deal of recuperation."

Glancing back towards Potter, she watched as tension literally drained from him. Thinking back to that day in Dumbledore's office, when the Headmaster had said that he was expecting Harry to be by any minute...

It occurred to Kalliandra that Harry and Dumbledore were closer than she had realized.

Potter was visibly swallowing, his tone masked, "How long until...?"

Remus shook his head. "Several weeks. There were..." A shadow appeared to pass over his face for a moment, before he collected himself. "Internal injuries, for both parties. All others in the Order though will be healed within the week." Remus' gaze turned back to hers, his brow deeply lined. "We were lucky. Very lucky."

"All the more reason," Regulus interjected, "to have a celebratory drink." The man politely gestured at his glass. "So rude to leave me drinking alone Remus, won't you join me?"

Lupin shot Regulus a rather strange look. "I am fairly certain there are more pressing matters right now than..." his gaze drifted down, "to imbibing. Like returning these two to Hogwarts, now that things are under control." Before she could even inquire what he meant by that, Remus seemed to read her thoughts.

"I had to ensure that we had a way of returning you and Harry there without the Ministry knowing about it." Kally's brow furrowed, her heart skipping unnaturally at his words. Did they-

"No," he interrupted her thoughts. "They have not caught on to your...disposition. But given that the Ministry of Magic is wanting to question you bothabout the hexing of Dolores Umbridge, we did not think marching you out of Grimmauld and past where the authorities are still swarming would be wise, on the off chance that they act irrational and demand-"

Regulus snorted. "What else is new?"

Remus shot him a reprimanding look before continuing, "There is the chance that they may demand that you both be taken to the Ministry, and right now..." shooting them both a meaningful look, "With what we know of Voldemort's new talents, we cannot count on the Ministry being secure." Kally wasn't entirely certain what talent of his was 'new' but...she had seen enough to be afraid.

Remus was continuing.

"One could never apparate onto Hogwarts' grounds to begin with, and as of right now no one can apparate in or out of Hogsmeade without a Ministry approved portkey given that their...investigation there is still underway." His words carried a resigned note. "The only one who has ever been able to make portkeys on or off of Hogwarts property has been the Headmaster, and with Dumbledore temporarily out of commission Minerva McGonagall is the acting Headmistress of Hogwarts, so finding a way to get you both back onto its grounds was rather...tricky."

With that he reached into his pocket, holding up a rubber duck. "Your portkey back to Hogwarts. It turns out that with the transference of power McGonagall is now capable of making them." With that he tossed the portkey towards Potter, the King of Idiocy catching it deftly.

The number of things he had done that had nearly gotten him killed...

She found herself utterly shaken at the thought.

A hand fell upon her shoulder, Kally's gaze pulled back towards Remus. Every line of his face appeared aged, his tone tired. "For the moment...things are under control, and I am going to do my best to give them a statement regarding tonight's events. But we cannot count on them taking the word of a werewolf. We need the two of you to get inside of Hogwarts walls though, for once inside you are out of their jurisdiction."

"Didn't stop them from interfering last year."

Potter had been the one to speak, his tone laced with bitterness she did not understand.

Opening her mouth to ask what he meant, Remus interceded. "There has been a...new development, Harry." Remus' gaze remained steady on him, as if no one else were within the room. "The Ministry has formally withdrawn any and all involvement that it once had with Hogwarts. The Board of Governors has temporarily rescinded its license to educate, pending further review..." A shadow crossed over him, something off about his tone. "Out of," he persisted, his words sounding forced, "concern for student safety."

That was when she realized what was wrong with his tone.

It had something far too close to self-loathingwithin it.

Swallowing, a cold feeling sweeping through her, she feebly murmured, "Remus..."

Lupin ignored her, nodding stiffly towards Potter. "I believe it is time you both returned to Hogwarts, for the time being."

Brow furrowing, feeling like something had been drug out from beneath her, Kally tried to process the implication. He couldn't mean...

"What do you mean," came Potter's hardened tone, echoing her own thoughts, "for the time being?"

Remus looked, for a moment, almost saddened. The sudden change upon him was startling. "Harry," he began, "do you understand what it would mean if the Board of Governors withdraws Hogwarts credentials?" Holding up his hand to prevent any interjection, Remus continued, "It would mean that in order to receive your certification as a fully qualified wizard, all of its students would have to transfer elsewhere. Hogwarts, as you know it, would end."

Regulus let out a derisive sound, his hold upon the goblet seeming a bit more loose. "That certification process those old drones call a system," he criticized, "ought to end." Waving a solitary hand about in the air, he mimicked, "As we knowit."

Staring at him, for something seemed rather off, Kally's lips parted in slight astonishment as Regulus looked down into his glass of wine and began to mutter about dodgy old, Muggle-hating bats, who thought they were god-like up on their Wizengamut thrones. Something about gavels smiting those who failed to comply was thrown in to, though she could not quite make it out.

Remus' torn gaze had also fallen upon Regulus, his expression looking almost sad. "Perhaps," he suggested, "you have had enough of that for one evening."

Regulus again snorted, dismissing Remus' concern with a contemptuous flick of his hand. "Forgive me, old Prefect, for having a small, private celebration." Lifting the glass with a regal air, he bitterly continued, "It is not often one gets to meet their former family, friends, and allies all within one night, only to have them all doing their utmost best to kill them."

For a second she did not understand.

And then suddenly she did.

She did not know what circumstances had torn Regulus away from the Death Eaters, but something must have, and tonight...

Must have been the first time he had encountered any of them in a great long while.

A dim part of her mind, one she had attempted to bury months prior, quietly questioned what she would do, if she were suddenly faced with classmates from her old life. With the families of those who she had nearly died with besides. With anyonewho had known her before...

Taking in a shuddering breath, Kally forced herself to calm, to not thinkof that, or of any of them. Instead she glanced back at Remus, at his guarded expression, her brow creasing as she analyzed his guarded expression.

"Remus," she cautiously questioned, trying again, "what happened?" Something was bothering him. Something more than Tonks, than Dumbledore. She'd seen that shadow of expression cross his face when he'd said that Hogwarts safety had been drawn into question.

"When I was in my wolf form, I bit Ronald Weasley."

Potter stiffened immediately, and Remus noticed it to. Her tutors attention flew to him, every line of Remus' face looking suddenly so much older. "I am sorry, Harry."

Gaze flickering to him, she remained quiet, just watching Potter as he stood there, tense and quiet, holding a rubber duck. His jaw appeared to be working its way through a series of movements, as if he couldn't quite decide if he were going to speak or not.

Finally he all but grunted out, "He alright?"

The hall practically echoed with Remus' swallow. "As well as can be expected."

More silence passed, tension reverberating between the two men. Remus looking resigned, Potter's grip tightening dangerously around the rubber duck.

It was Remus who finally broke the quiet. "You need to be heading back to Hogwarts now, Harry. For your own well-being. Minerva..." Pausing, Remus took a long, deep breath, as if he needed one to speak normally. "She will be holding an assembly for the remaining students soon enough to further...explain the situation."

Potter did not move though. "Will it stay open?"

Remus' mouth opened, his tone apologetic, "Harry I-"

"Will," Potter interjected forcefully, "Hogwarts. Stay. Open?"

Lupin merely shook his head. "I do not know, Harry."

Closing her eyes, Kally felt like a cold shroud had been thrown over her. Hogwarts...it was the only place where she could be safe. Anywhere else that the Ministry actually approved of...

Would kill her. She was certain of it.

"Kalliandra, you need to take the port key with Harry now."

Eyes flying open, she stared at Remus for a moment, before looking at Potter.

The rubber duck in his hand had begun to glow yellow. Potter even looked surprised.

Knowing how quickly they worked, she hissed a breath, taking several steps towards Potter. Meeting his gaze, her fingers wrapped around the rubber deck with his.

Then her eyes flew back to Remus. Remus, who had done nothing but help her since she had been pulled into this magical world. Remus, who had experienced nothing but pain himself, for his entire life. Remus...

Who was blaming himself for Hogwarts closing. One could tell that merely by looking at him.

"Remus..." His gaze met hers, the port key warming up beneath her fingers. "Make sure my port key works." The surprise on Lupin's face at that indicated that he had been expecting remonstration, shunning. He'd been expecting anything but that.

Her port key to his home, where her tutoring during the school year had been taking place. At least it had, until a few weeks prior, when he'd isolated himself and deactivated her portkey after nearly biting her and Potter.

"Oh kiddos." Regulus lifted his glass in their direction. "Try to not spread around your newest little," making a regal gesture with his hand in their direction, "talentsto the other kiddos. Best to keep any one-horned neigh-ing and vision in the dark under wraps." And as Remus shot him an incredulous look, she swore Regulus actually winked.

The port key suddenly glowed brighter, Potter's hard voice cutting in.

"Hey Moony?" Remus looked back, startled. "Don't beat yourself up."

There was a sudden, harsh pull behind her bellybutton.

Then her and Potter were gone.


The finely crafted oak door swung closed behind his advisors, its firm thud resounding through the room, like a hollow-less hope. Finally, he had been left alone.

He stood before the expansive windows running the room's length, the city and its glittering, gleaming lights visible in the distance. Imagining a fertile past in which the hills had all rolled green, rather than the gray of concrete, was not so impossible. Gleaming glass buildings reflected the night's lights, pedestrian bridge's casting off their own softer ones. It resembled anything other than a black pool, the literal translation of its original Gaelic name, Dubh Linn.

No. Dubh Linn was indeed full of life, light. The movement and pulse of the city could be felt at all times, in a quieter way than one felt in other countries.

It was, in a word, beautiful.

But the reality of what was befalling the city, was not.

He had been trying to convince them for the better part of two days that a state of emergency needed to be declared in Dublin. He had tried to convince them that the city needed to be sealed, so that no one could enter, and so that no one could leave.

He had been told that he was out of his mind. That it was impossible and against Irish policy to suddenly shut an entire city down without reason. They had suggested that perhaps, in the wake of the death of his beloved wife, that the stress of leading the country was indeed too much, and that concessions could, perhaps, be made to allow him time to grieve, if only he dropped this persistent insistence that something was cataclysmically wrong.

One advisor though, just one...had quietly taken him aside, for a quiet walkto calm him down, keeping his tone hushed. He relayed that even if they did believe him, that sealing the city would only trap those within the city and condemn them to the plague. He had whispered that those within the city had the right to try to escape if that did indeed happen.

He had countered that they could not be allowed to leave and spread it farther.

He had been told that without proof of what he claimed, that he would be considered suspect himself if the disaster he touted came to fruition. He'd been told, in two word, to shut it. For the good of his political career.

As if he cared about that any longer.

Tonight though...tonight word of the rising death toll in the hospitals had finally reached his advisors. Individuals were flooding the hospitals and clinics with the same symptoms, more than a dozen already dead – including many children...

Autopsies had already been begun upon those in the first family to be wiped out. A lad...no, he had not been a lad, for the lad's act of bravery had earned him the title of man. If using one's last breath to try to warn the physicians about how he thought his father had contracted the disease, rather than begging for more time as so many would, was not bravery, then he knew not what was.

The lad turned man's name had been Edward, and his father had been Patient 1.

Shortly after his mother had perished, as had his two younger sisters. This was all explained to he and his advisors by a thickly accented man in a business suit.

It was explained to them, the speed of the disease, and the concern about higher fatalities in the imminent future, in an almost bored tone., and as he lowered his face into his hand, a heavy sorrow hanging upon him, the others had not. Instead...

Their eyes had held abject fear as they looked at him, as if he had personally been responsible for this. Some of them had attempted to verbally deny what was happening. Some had slowly shoved back their seats, making their excuses to leave and call their families. And now...

A state of emergency had finally been declared. The militia was on its way, to close the city.

Somewhere in Dublin Kenneth Bothan stood before his office's window, looking out across a historic land. In the distance the Dublin-Wicklow mountains lay shrouded in fog, and a replica of the city's green flag flapped in the harsh breeze that had arisen up just outside his window.

Kenneth loved Ireland. He loved this land, for it was a land that teemed with life.

Only he knew soon, very soon that it would no longer teem with life.

And a quarter of the nation's occupants would soon be trapped within Dublin's city limits.


Hogwarts fired into existence, Harry feeling like he had just been dropped from a considerable height onto the ground.

The only improvement was that this time he actually landed upright, on his own two legs. Kaylens on the other hand, didn't. Instead she slammed into him, knocking him back against the stone wall with considerable force.

Grunting, the disorienting swirl that portkeys so often left abating, he found himself somehow still standing. Only Kaylens was against his chest, both of his hands having grabbed a hold of her upper arms to steady her. Apparently the snitch wasn't the only thing he could catch.

Though Kaylens was considerably larger than the snitch. Grimacing, he threw her a look. "It just me," he dryly ground, "or are these portkeys getting rougher?"

He could have moved. He should have, but he didn't.

Instead he stayed right where he was, his shoulders and spine digging into the corridor's stone wall, his grip on Kaylens remaining.

That did not stop him from looking around though. A surprise portkey years prior had taught him the importance of never trusting them. Never.

Cedric had been all but killed by one, because it had taken them straight to Voldemort.

Clenching his gaze the hell shut for a moment, the familiar surroundings of the seventh floor sinking in. McGonagall, of course, had transported them right outside their common room. Still...too many things daggered through his mind. Too much had happened. Dumbledore. Tonks. Hermione. Ron being bit. By Remus.Voldemort. Sirius' brother being alive. Grimmauld being attacked. Hogsmeade. Hogwarts ' credentials being revoked.

Kaylens.

He felt the sudden rise of her chest against his an instant before she spoke. "Potter, can I..?" Forcing the pounding muscle in his chest to calm, he felt her already moving.

She had pulled herself off him, slowly extricating herself from his right hand's grip.

Abruptly Harry realized he still had a hold of her other arm.

He let her go, his gaze remaining hard on her for a moment. The reality of the situation was sinking in. They were back. At Hogwarts. And whatever may befall the school, this was where he belonged, this was home, in every way that mattered.

Feeling the flickering warmth of a wall-mounted torch near his head, the same torch he'd been scalded by when he'd accosted Kaylens here, weeks prior under Voldemort's influence, forcibly entering her mind, he had a surreal moment where anything and everything that had transpired outside of the castle's walls seemed distant, unreal.

Only it had all been very real.

All he had to do to realize that was move. The bruising was bound to be dark by morning. And then there was the matter of the girl in front of him.

Just watching her move had him wanting to touch her. Two weeks ago he'd have wanted to hex her.

"So...we're back." Kaylens' was not looking at him. Instead her gaze was fixated upon the not far off portrait of the Fat Lady, the portly woman's large chin slumping down as she snored.

"Yes."

Kaylens glanced away from the portrait, her eyes flickering away down the hall, tone uncertain. "We should head in."

His gaze did not remove from her. "That really," he questioned heavily, "what you want?" Ron may be in there. Ginny. Neville. All the people he hadn't seen since he'd run off to play baitin Hogsmeade. And before that...

He'd done his damn best to shove Ron as far away as possible. To shove them all away.

Somehow going in, facing them now, after everything they'd just been through, had him feeling ill.

He didn't know if he could face them, yet knew he had to, if only because he needed to see with his own eyes that they were okay.

Kaylens was looking at him now, her brow furrowing, gaze flickering over his face with even more uncertainty. "What do you suggest then?" she quietly questioned. "We storm the hospital wing and demand to see Dumbledore?"

Had the very thought not already occurred to him, he might have laughed. "For starts," he lowly, seriously ground, "yes."

Remaining quiet for a moment, she finally let out a soft breath, shaking her head. "Harry," she murmured, the use of his name not lost on him, "you know they won't let us see him."

Shooting a glare down the corridor, in the direction one would go to get to the hospital wing, an irrational annoyance rose up within him. "I am really," he told darkly, "overallowing other people tell me who I can and cannot see." They'd told him that about Sirius, that he shouldn't contact him during the school year. Neither Sirius nor himself had listened, but...

They'd lost time. Time Harry wanted back.

Kaylens' brow had just furrowed, a wary look entering her gaze. "I wasn't telling you what to do," she carefully said, shaking her head. "Just..." Halting, her eyes flickered over him for a long moment.

Then she sighed, looking away.

Seeing that...bothered him. It bothered him enough that he was able to fight down his general annoyance with the universe long enough to focus on her. "I know," he lowly forced, keeping his voice un-raised in the corridor. "It's just..." Letting out a frustrated sound, he visibly tensed. "We should be doing something. Not hidingat Hogwarts." Words forceful, he could only look at the side of her head, the tip of her ear sticking out from beneath her hair as her tresses slid around it.

Swallowing, his fist tensed, untensed, methodically. "I've already had," he bitterly pressed, "a lifetime of other people telling me who and what I can and cannot see, what I can know, and when." And at that...

Hazel eyes abruptly flickered back to his. There was no disdain in her gaze, no argument. Instead Kaylens looked thoughtful, and he...

Was unable to look away. Beside his head the torch's flame crackled, its fiery light reflecting within Kaylens' irises. Irises that were locked onto him, their golden hue appearing to writhe with life, as if they were actually on fire themselves.

Watching her wet her lips, as if uncertain, she quietly spoke, "They shouldn't have done that to you."

Something bitter stirred within him. She hadn't argued. Hadn't told him that Dumbledore knew best, like Hermione always did. Hadn't insulted that he was damn self-absorbed to want to be told things, like Snape. Instead...she'd agreed.

And right then Harry didn't give a damn that she didn't know even 9/10ths of it.

Scent of the burning torch's oil strong in his nostrils, he managed a gruff, "Thanks," silence falling heavily. Only the sound of the torch's writhing flame broke it. That, and a rising sound from down the hall, one coming from beyond the Fat Lady's portrait.

The not-so-distant sound of arguing, or perhaps just loud discourse.

A pull to go towards it, to bolt to the common room with haste, to find Ron and the others, rose within him.

As did the desire to stay as far away from them as possible. For Hermione...wasn't there.

Thudding the back of his skull against the stone wall, he clenched his gaze the hell shut. Neither he nor her made a move to leave. After everything...he didn't know what the hell he was supposed to do, to say. The past days had been nothing but continual fighting, bastards in dark cowls attempting to kill or maim them, and now...

His throat emitted a bitter sound. "So," he coarsely ground, "we're just supposed to return to school, as if nothing's happened, with Hermione missing, and try to be...normaluntil the Board of Governors officially kicks us all out."

Frustrated, he thudded the back of his head against the wall, grimacing.

Kaylens just watched. "They'll find her." Cracking his gaze to see her brow furrowing, something determined crossing her features, she pressed, "And if they don't, we will. I'll help, even if it's just distracting the Professors long enough for you and Weasley to get out of here."

Something in his chest thundered at her words, the thought of going to find Hermione himself something he needed. He just didn't know where to start. The hopeless thought sent a dagger through him. "I don't even know where to start."

At this, her light colored eyebrows artfully arched. "I would think that would be obvious."

Heart still thundering, the thought of Hermione being tortured, or worseremaining in him, he shot her a dark, questioning look.

Her lips merely twitched at this. "Spells. You are a wizard aren't you?"

Spells? For a second the thought seemed absurd, but then...

His teeth ground together as he thought. Hermione...she always had been able to solve anything with spells. She'd always harped at he and Ron to take their studies seriously, to not wait until the last minute to begin work on their revisions.

She had been right.

Harry could have sworn right then, realizing that Kaylens was right. He'd ask the Order to let them help in the search. And in the damn meantime he'd scour the library. Finding Hermione might require Hermione-like tendencies.

But he was willing to do anything to get his friend back.

"The library." He muttered it without thinking, abruptly turning, his intention to go there clear-

Delicate, soot-covered fingers caught onto his arm.

"You're exhausted, Potter," she intoned, her gaze meeting his levelly. "You can't help her if words are just going to blur in front of your face." Opening his mouth to argue, her eyes merely narrowed at him, "Besides, your glasses are missing."

His hand flew to his nose. She was right. His glasses had been lost in that clearing, and he hadn't even noticed.

Somehow though he'd been able to still see, this entire time.

Just like he'd been able to see in the dark.

Unease twisted through him, and he ignored it, giving Kaylens a calculating look. "In that case," he dryly countered, "I'll just borrow yours." His out-of-place surprise upon seeing the wire frames perched on her nose as she read that first night at Hogwarts remained.

Her lips upturned just a little, a strange, mischievous glint sparking within her gaze. "Somehow, I don't think they'd fit you." Mouth curving just a little more, her intonations held something half-teasing. "The prescription is probably off anyway, and no offense Potter, but I don't fancy dealing with you with a headache. You're intolerable enough as it is."

He shot her a half-meant glare. "Could say the same for you, Kaylens."

"I've never denied being difficult to deal with," she agreed easily.

"Finally, we agree on something."

"Mhmm."

Silence fell once more, but only for a moment. Sounds from the not far off common room could again be heard, filtering through the Fat Lady's portrait and down the hall towards them.

Harry's gaze rested on it, lingering. "I still think we should be doing something, given half the Order is out of commission."

"Well I," she easily countered, "think that personally taking on Voldemort should earn you at least one night off of 'doing something.'" A solitary hand had rose, her fingers making quotes at this, her lips curving in a barely restrained smile.

Harry's head whipped away from the Fat Lady's portrait to regard the strange creation better known as Kaylens. Never before had someone actually smiledat him, in reference to him and Voldemort facing off. "You really," he gutturally ground, "don't know much about how the wizarding world works."

If possible, her eyes sparkled more. "You're right. Sometimes I actually like it that way. It allows me to think differently than all of you." Tilting her head thoughtfully, as if there was nothing else she'd rather be discussing so casually, her gaze narrowed contemplatively. "Except," she more critiqueingly said, "for when it gets me in brawls in Headmasters offices, because I've inadvertently complimented Death Eaters to a bit of a sensitive prat."

Staring at her, it took him a second to realize what she was talking about.

She was talking about him. When he, Ron and her had torn up Dumbledore's office until Hermione had immobilized them all.

Abruptly a hard, only half-bitter laugh shook him. The urge to leave, to be doing somethingremained, but for the moment... he moved, ever-so-slightly, just enough to be able to reach her. And when he did...

His dirty hand rose to the side of her head, his fingers finding and pointedly giving an errant lock of her golden hair a tug. "So," he questioned, the first good feeling he had in several days daggering through him, "how's the hair growing back in then?" He had torn out a sizeable chunk after all.

Her eyes narrowed, though now he gotthat her glares meant nothing. "You tore my hair out."

The feel of her soft lock between his fingers was...distracting. Somehow he managed a partially smug, "Yes."

Her lips part in exasperation. "I still oweyou for that."

An out-of-place dagger of guilt cut through him, for he was touching her when so much else was still wrong. Dumbledore, Hermione, Tonks...

Allowing his fingers to reluctantly slip away from her hair, he raised an eyebrow at her. "Do your worst, Kaylens. Really, I won't be protesting you throwing yourself at me."

Despite everything, he took some degree of satisfaction in watching her mouth fall open.

Still fighting back every darker thought in his head, he leaned further back against the wall, pointedly crossing his arms over his chest as he surveyed her. "What?" he questioned innocently. "I never said I'd mindit."

For a long moment she said nothing. Then, finally she shook her head, letting out a laugh. "What is it going to take," she questioned, "for you to obliviate that for me?"

"You actually meaning it when you ask?"

She scoffed, shaking her head, sending hair falling artfully in front of her eyes. "I'm still claiming I wouldn't mind."

The urge to throttle her renewed itself, warring emotions he didn't want nor need within him. "Why," he questioned, actually curious, "do we always come back to thisconversation?"

For a moment she said nothing, her gaze flickering over him, silence falling. Only this time he was acutely aware of the fact that he had snogged Kaylens, repeatedly, and of the fact that he'd liked it.

A lot.

Finally, sounding half confused herself, she quietly conceded, "I don't know."

And neither did he.

The cool of the stone wall seeped into his back, things twisting within him as he watched her, unable to say anything. He'd never gottengirls, and of all the times to have his chest pounding over one...

"I suppose," she finally murmured, breaking into his thoughts with an acceding smile, "it would be an awful lot to obliviate."

Harry only nodded, considering her. "It would." Throat feeling rather dry, he now found it difficult to keep his gaze away from her collarbone. The torn shirt she wore he hadn't before noticed, but now...

It was all he could do to avoidnoticing.

Everything had changed, and then again...

Nothinghad.

Voldemort still wanted him dead. Kaylens had seen that herself, even if she did not know why. And he'd seen where being near him had gotten Sirius, Ron, Hermione.

The thought of his missing friend had a sick feeling twist in his gut, his gaze suddenly drug away from her. Breathing harder, he forcibly reminded himself that Dumbledore was still alive. And as long as Dumbledore was alive...

They had a chance of getting her back.

And standing there in a corridor, talking with Kaylens, changed nothing.

She had stood there quietly, her expression softening as it flickered over him, the cursed witch seemingly reading his thoughts. "Potter..." her entire tone had changed again. "She'll be okay. They'llbe okay."

He wanted her to be right. Merlin he did. But for some reason hearing her, of all people, utter that stirred something within him. She of all people knew that things did not always turn out okay. "You don't knowthat."

She did not so much as flinch. "If they're anywhere near as stubborn as you, then yes," she quietly, calmly countered, "I do." Goosebumps had begun to trail over her neck, something Harry noticed whether he wanted to or not, as he met her challenging gaze.

Merlin he hoped she was right.

Closing his gaze, he released a tense breath, his voice a hard grind. "They just...they have to be..." Alright.

"They will."

Silence stretched, Kaylens finally letting out a quiet sigh. "Come on," she requested, casting him a wane smile. "It's been a long day, and no offense to using you as a pillow, but I'm looking forward to an actual bed." Her eyes lingered upon him for another moment...

Then she had set off towards the Fat Lady's portrait.

For a second he stood there, finding the abruptness of her departure startling.

Then he set off after her, reaching her and the portrait in a few strides. "You know," he lowly forced, stopping beside her as the Fat Lady begin to stir, "you were in an actual bed until a few hours ago." Thinking of that...it was so much easier than thinking about anything else.

Standing in front of the portrait, she did not look at him, but he saw the corner of her mouth twitch a little. "It doesn't count," she countered, "if I can't remember it. Farshnickles."

The Fat Lady blinked blearily, sleep clearly still in her eyes, and as the portly woman's mouth opened to no doubt reprimand them for being out so late, Harry cut her off. "Tonight," he told her, "I'm in no mood."

He swore to things in the dungeons that the Fat Lady actually pouted, but to his surprise, she gave no argument.

Instead she swung open, only a pitying sound of, "Poor dears..." heard to be coming from her. Immediately, as the hall to Gryffindor tower was exposed, the noise from the common room exploded. It was like a sound wave hitting them.

Kaylens cast the short, empty corridor a strange look. "Clearly," she mused aloud, "no one is sleeping." He had been thinking along the same lines, but-

As Kaylens went to step into the space behind the portrait, his arm shot out, blocking her path. She cast him a confused look, his heart thundering louder as he realized what he'd have to do. "Kaylens, before we go in, about...before."

If possible, her golden gaze only swirled with more confusion.

He pressed on before she could say anything, his gut twisting as he heard what was unmistakably Ron's voice, engaged in argument, drift down the hall from the main room. "I don't think we should..." Stopping, frustration and unease churning in him, he shook his head in frustration. "You saw what happened...at Grimmauld..." With Voldemort. "And you..."

Explaining this was difficult, it made more difficult by the softening of her expression.

"I don't think we should say anything, to anyone, about what we've been...doing." Harry didn't even know what to callwhat they'd been doing over the past forty eight hours. He just knew that the twisting his gut suddenly had, at the mere thought of Voldemort ever finding out that he'd enjoyed snogging someone, and of what he might do..."You could get hurt," he continued, aware that he was not explaining this well.

Just one look at her told him that, for her countenance's expression was no longer soft. Instead...

It was hurt.

Merlin she did not understand what he was saying. Opening his mouth to explain, to try to explain properly, she beat him to it, her voice extremely quiet. "I see."

Immediately he knew that she didn't see. She didn't see at all. "No," he countered, tone firm. "No, you don't."

Her eyes flickered away from him, down the short corridor, as if she wanted to be down there already, to be anywhere butby him. "You don't want me to say anything to anyone in there about what you and I have been...doing." For a fleeting second something in her expression looked unbelievably hurt, but a moment later...

It was gone. Her gaze merely closing as she drew in a deep, steadying breath. "Don't worry, Potter," she quietly said, gaze flickering open to briefly rest on him again. "I'm not stupid. I didn't think that just because you...we had..." Shaking her head, she swiftly ducked beneath his arm to get past, her intention clear.

Hary's chest twisted, his arm hanging uselessly in mid-air. He made no move to stop her. "Kaylens," he instead forced, "it's not likethat."

She stopped not an arm's length away, her back to him as she went very, very still. For a second he thought she might not say anything, his arm dropping back down to hang at his side.

Finally though she did speak, words tearing at him. "Then what isit like?"

A moment later she was gone, disappearing down the corridor to the Gryffindor Common Room.

It took him a second to realize that her tone had been shaking.

It did not take him another to decide to go after her. Striding into the crowded common room, he caught a glimpse of her already across the room, Dean Thomas having let out a loud shout, the dark skinned wizard jumping off the step he'd been sitting on to grab her.

Something painfully jealous knifed through him at the sight of Kaylens being held by his dormmate, her hands sliding their way up his arms to clench onto him back.

"Harry?"

His head, torn away from the sight of Dean manhandling Kaylens, jerked towards the sound of the voice, his gaze landing upon the wide eyes of his best mate.

And of the bushy haired witch beside him.

Now it was Harry's turn to gape, his mouth falling open at the sight of Hermione Granger, safe, inside the common room.


A/N:

May I just say that you guys have blown me away? Thank you guys SO much for the amazing reviews and feedback! In particular I wanted to thank back2front, Trogo, peculiarxemma, ramenlover1050, and Katherinesparrow who had reviewed since the last chapter. If I missed anyone I am so sorry about that! Either way guys, you guys made my weekend so thank you so much! :)

Also, I made a bit of a 'writer's error' here and had Dumbledore announce that he had received Hermione's letter, and then had her letter arrive after the battle. *shifty eyes* This would be due to some severe sleep deprivation while writing, and I shall be editing this appropriately. We are going to stick with the 'Dumbledore got Hermione's letter prior to the battle.' So sorry about that guys! ((Repeat after me: Do not write after being awake for 24+ hours or holes in the plot will occur!))

Lastly, I'm trying to start something site-wide when it comes to getting people to review all the stories they read. So this is my plea again for everyone to go out and tackle some stories out there on the site, of any genre or type of fanfiction, that have no reviews or very few reviews, and to try to make that writer's day! :) I've been doing this myself where I'll go and find long, novel length stories that have 0 or next to no reviews (like under 20) and I'll review the entire thing for them while reading. So I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has PMed me on this site so far to join in this movement, to get reviewing sitewide really going! :) In particular I wanted to say thanks to FlyingPigMonkey, who has been going above and beyond in trying to get people to review stories around the site. Thanks you guys!