bit of an author note... Hey people... it's been a while... I was inspired to continue this even though I really should be working on my original writing or my blog (see my profile for details if you like). But it's been so long that I've sort of forgotten much of what I was doing with this story... Plots are minor details, right?

So this should be an interesting experience. If it feels different/weird/ooc, I am apologizing in advance (sort of). Of course, my posts will continue to be based on when I'm inspired so you may see a lot of time between chapters...

And with that said, I ask you to enjoy the fruit of my imagination. Know that I always love and appreciate your visits to my stories. -TK

Chapter 33: Dangling Dangerously

"Fuck, you're heavy!" Harry wasn't exactly used to holding up someone from the forces of gravity with only one arm while dangling over the edge of the astronomy tower. On the other hand, it was just a very short fall toward life getting as bad as it could possible get for Draco Malfoy and that thought was pretty cheerful for Harry… as morbid as that sounded.

Malfoy managed to shoot Harry with a sneer (which had little effect since - you know - life… hands…). Malfoy snarked in a somewhat high pitch, "Thanks, Potter, because the first thing I wanted on my mind as I fall to my death was vain concerns over my weight."

"Well, you could eat fewer turnovers," Harry retorted. "Pull your glove off your free hand and then grab my arm before you pull a Cliffhanger and leave me with a glove and a bad memory."

Harry didn't realize the male voice could reach such high pitches but Malfoy was truly impressive because his voice rose an octave. "I'm not sure if you noticed but I'm barely hanging on with two hands and you want me to let go with one? I don't have a free hand! Pull me up! Pull me up!"

"And if you haven't noticed, I barely managed to grab you! Suck it up and do what I told you before gravity interferes! I won't let you fall, and if you fall, I'll be stupid enough to fall after." Harry wished that Malfoy would just do what he was told, but the blond Slytherin couldn't apparently stop being stubborn even when his life depended on it - and clearly it depended on it.

"It's no wonder you're such a ridiculous failure!" Malfoy replied, "Because you barely manage to do anything!"

"I still beat you at Quidditch."

"And your only success is riding a broom! Look at you, sure to go places!" Malfoy continued in his mindless panic.

"And right now the only thing keeping you from the one place you're going is me."

"Alright, alright, you're Harry Fucking Potter, so you'll go places!" Malfoy was pretty well into a panic.

"What the hell did you do to piss him off?" Harry wasn't getting Malfoy to remove the glove was he? Well, the boy's iron grip better last, Harry thought. Because this wasn't a movie and there was no mattress beneath Malfoy for him to fall onto.

"Mind your own business!" Malfoy sounded like himself for the barest moment until his hand slipped a bit. It made it definitively harder to hold on.

"Dropping your arse here and now would be minding my own business! Talk, Malfoy, or I will start thinking it's good if you fall!" Harry was running out of patience and time and ideas.

Malfoy was pretty hysterical as he cried, "I didn't do what I was told! I was ordered to kill someone and I couldn't do it! I stood over them with a knife in hand, and I knew if I didn't do it my family would be in danger but I froze and I couldn't do it so I woke her! Please don't let me fall!"

Harry put his wand between his teeth and braced his legs, grabbing Malfoy's wrist with his free hand. He pulled Malfoy up, using his knees to brace on the wall and trying to ignore the pain in his back at the weight he was attempting to bench. It was a long process, but eventually they did manage to get Malfoy up far enough that he could grab the ledge and Harry could grab Malfoy's shoulders and pull him over.

Only when he managed to get Malfoy over the ledge did he realize he probably could have cast some kind of spell to make all that effort easier. They tumbled to the astronomy tower platform and Malfoy actually wept a little bit. Harry couldn't blame him, but he could make fun of him. "Are you crying? Seriously?"

"Something in my eye," Malfoy claimed.

"Uh huh." Harry agreed though he wouldn't believe it for a moment. For a moment, he chose to sit there and pant from the exertion while Malfoy shifted his injured leg in an attempt at being more comfortable with it. However, his curiosity grew too much, and he knew he wouldn't be able to stay there beside Malfoy forever. "So who was it?"

"Who was what?" Malfoy sneered in an attempt to cover up his earlier admission while he finally started to move to get his scattered Astronomy homework together.

"You know what I'm talking about… The person you were supposed to kill. The person you nearly got yourself whacked to keep alive." Harry insisted.

"None of your business."

"Tell me or I'll do the same as Marcus did." It didn't matter if Harry wouldn't do it, all that mattered was whether Malfoy thought Harry would. That meant pulling out the big bluff and making it pay off. It seemed to work, too, because Malfoy turned wide eyes on Harry and his papers crunched in his hands. For emphasis, Harry raised his wand. "I'm pretty quick with a wand, and didn't your wand fall over the wall?"

"Kagome Higurashi," Malfoy blurted out, proving Harry had managed to work something right in his life. If he could bluff and get Malfoy to spill, that was at least a start. But then again, Harry and Malfoy did have a poor history.

"Her? Why? What made her a target?" Was it because of the jewel? She had said it was special. Harry had to admit in his mind it was impressive that Malfoy froze at all. Even Harry's paranoia couldn't turn this into some kind of con Malfoy was playing because he didn't know Harry would be there to save him...and it had been a really close call.

Malfoy smoothed his papers out and said, "In the world's greatest and most powerful items made by Merlin himself, seven items to harness the power of the world's greatest creatures were made. All were lost but one woman hell bent on recreating such an item managed to do so. That item is the jewel on Higurashi's necklace. With it, one can command armies with greater control than the Imperious Curse. My father was stupid enough to speak of Merlin's seven items, but since they are all lost Higurashi's was the next best thing. My history with Higurashi made me the most likely conduit to get the jewel because it is protected. If I failed the Dark Lord, I was going to watch my parents die before dying myself."

Harry felt he could finally feel sympathy for Malfoy. That wasn't exactly an everyday occurrence. "So... your mum in the hospital?"

"Cruciatus Curse. The medics said there is little hope she will ever wake. She might be brain dead. My father was put under Imperious and ordered to stab himself repeatedly. Thirty-one times before he hit something and couldn't move. He bled out."

"And your leg?"

"Cruciatus as well. It began tearing my body apart. I'm alive only out of sheer will and stubbornness. My sister...I couldn't let her fall into his hands." Malfoy finished putting his things in his sack. Harry might have thought all of this was a play to help Malfoy get close to Harry, but it was too real. Malfoy couldn't have known Harry would be there, and Harry very barely managed to save Malfoy's life. Seeing Malfoy as he was currently… was like looking at a broken young man whose world once made sense but no longer did.

Maybe Malfoy understood how hard, yet important, it was to be able to choose one's own destiny… not fall in line behind some elderly bloke bent on world domination and immortality. It wasn't like listening to the brief-yet horrible-story made Harry feel like being best friends with Malfoy or anything.

But Harry did feel like he could help Malfoy. Already he had an idea forming in his mind, and it was one that would allow him to get answers to questions he'd had for years. He would likely have more questions arise from it.

"I'm going to help you, Malfoy." Harry stated bluntly. Malfoy's crisp blue eyes looked shocked at Harry's sudden profession. Harry supposed Malfoy wasn't used to anyone helping him freely. Malfoy's style was more to demand help and expect it. "Well, come on, you don't really think you can handle everything on your own with a bum leg and a manic toddler, do you? You've got a stack a mile high on your plate and they apparently want to kill you in Slytherin. It'll be better this way."

"Better what way?" Malfoy asked. "She's not manic. What exactly are you planning to do? Cast Expelliarmus on the lot and tell them to listen up or else? Slytherins have dealt with plenty of heavy problems before, and right now the only person Marcus wants to see dead more than me is you."

"I'm going to hide you in Gryffindor and take your place in Slytherin House." Harry got to his feet, dusting his clothes off.

If Malfoy's dropped jaw was any indication, he thought Harry had lost his mind. Harry couldn't help but laugh at Malfoy's expression.

"What, did you hit your head?" Malfoy demanded.

Harry felt on the tower floor for his cloak, picking it up and holding it out. "First I need to get something. Hopefully Hermione has it."

Malfoy looked from the cloak to Harry and back. "Is that an invisibility cloak?"

Harry nodded. "Yes. Put it over yourself and follow me. Marcus thinks he threw you over the edge and that someone would find you soon, so we have to work fast."

Harry could feel Malfoy's confusion flowing from him in waves. "Potter, I don't understand why you're doing this. You hate me. I hate you. What are you trying to gain here? There's no way you can just stuff me in Gryffindor, invisibility cloak or no, and take my place."

"I always achieve what I set my mind to, Malfoy. No matter how much we don't like each other, I wouldn't throw you off a building or into a nest of snakes. At a cost to you, you betrayed the Dark Lord. Now there's clearly a hit on your life and right now you're a liability to your sister and any friends you might actually have."

"I have friends! Don't make it sound like my having them is a shock." Malfoy spat.

"Parkinson sold out a time and place you would be alone for Marcus, all so she could get laid in an empty classroom." Harry retorted. "Do you know which of your friends you can even trust right now?" The news clearly hit Malfoy hard because his hand shook but he reached out for the cloak finally. "I'm not your friend, but I'm the best friend you'll get right now."

Malfoy asked, "So then what's your plan?"

Harry turned to leave the tower, twirling his wand in his hand. "I'm still figuring that one out."

Well, that certainly made Draco feel fabulously confident in Potter. Marcus had gone so far as trying to kill Draco, and Harry-BLEEDINGHEARTS-Potter had saved his life. The only good reason to feel grateful was that Shiva, Draco's precious and beautiful little sister, wouldn't have to grow up alone wondering who her big brother had been. If Shiva wasn't a part of the picture, Draco was sure he would have just said to let him fall. There wasn't a lot else to look forward to lately.

Nearly falling to his death actually put things in heavy perspective, honestly. Shiva was the only reason he did continue his struggle to live. If he had died today, what would have happened to his sister? And what a stupid way to die… as if he committed suicide, jumping off the tower.

Draco looked at the cloak in his hand and then shouldered his bag. He wondered what would have happened if he had just changed the course of things sooner… If the hand Draco once extended to Potter had been taken, would Draco's life be different? But maybe this was the second chance not everyone got? Only, to get such a chance Draco had to lose his father, his mother, and everything safe.

"Potter, wait up," Draco slid the fabric of the cloak around his shoulders and head, double checking that he couldn't see his feet. Potter was waiting at the door to the stairs. "How can I trust you?" Draco asked. "How can I be sure?"

He watched Potter's lips crack in a wide smile. "We're allies here, Malfoy. Voldemort," Draco winced at the name, but Potter just plowed on regardless, "wants me dead, and it's clear enough that you're not going to be dining with him any time soon."

Draco couldn't help but ask, "How do you know you can even trust me?" After everything… was Potter really just willing to help him?

"I knew something was up with you. I had my suspicions that you were going to do something crazy… But I thought it was something you were going to do, not something you'd already done." Potter ran his hands through his hair impatiently. "Look, Malfoy… Kagome told me a bit about what happened to her… So it's not like this comes to be all that surprising. You can turn to someone like Dumbledore for help, but what's he going to do? Plop you on the doorstep of some muggle and explain that love will protect you? No, the only thing for blokes like us to do is to stick our necks out for each other whether we like each other or not. Things were going to go south for Kagome whether you did what you did or not. You might just have saved her life. Maybe she never comes to see it that way, but with you or without you, her family was going to be in danger."

Draco wanted to curl up in a fit of depression and cry himself to sleep. Potter could say such things so easily, but how could he not see the bigger picture? If Draco had spoken sooner, Kagome's family might still be alive. At the very last second, he had a change of mind and heart, and that was the only reason she was alive.

Would anyone ever understand it? The things he had done had been in defense of his own family. His father died, his mother may as well be dead, and his sister-well, she was certainly not going to grow up the way she should. She had already been exposed to too many muggles. It was just as Harry said. Going to Dumbledore had been a mistake that cost some muggles their lives.

Was it worth it? Was any of it worth it? Draco had to believe that protecting Shiva now was the most worthy cause he could devote himself to. Nothing else mattered.

"Er… thanks… I think." Draco finally said grudgingly.

"Don't force yourself to thank me. Thank yourself. Can't you see it, Malfoy? This opportunity you have isn't because of me. We're two sides of a coin. Wealth and beauty, courage and cunning, intelligence and experience. Any way you want to swing those traits, we have them between both of us." Draco felt grateful to be hidden by the cloak, because he didn't need Potter to see how choked up he was feeling. "We never fight as hard as we do when it is against each other. Imagine how much we can accomplish together. Honestly, I'm not at the point where I give two fucks about school. I'm here because it's required of me. I'm using it as a temporary safe house to learn things that might save my ass."

"Potter..." Draco saw how serious Potter was and it kind of threw him off.

"The house isn't safe anymore. You know that. Follow me and don't let yourself get seen. It's hard to explain random feet even in a magic castle. I don't want my cloak getting confiscated."

To say that Hermione didn't trust Kagome Higurashi-a Slytherin-was about the biggest understatement a person could make. At first, Hermione had been excited to hear that a student was transferring from another part of the world. Visions of multiple cultural exchanges danced in her head like sugar plum fairies. It had been wonderful news. Impressive for many reasons.

But then this exchange student turned into a slimy Slytherin. Hermione had only ever had bad experiences with Slytherins. They started out bad, but only got worse as the years went by. Case in point, Draco Malfoy. It was a week into school and Harry was sure Malfoy was up to something already.

Being the logical minded person Hermione was, she of course wanted to scream, "Yes, he is, Harry! We should find out what he's up to!" Instead, she found herself saying things like, "Harry, please, Malfoy is a prefect-he's allowed to go certain places and required to do certain things. He hasn't done anything wrong."

She did feel like she was starting to alienate her friend a little with her placating words and tones. Hermione pushed her bushy hair behind her ear in haste as she reached for the door to the library. She was startled from her thoughts when her hand bumped into someone else's arm.

Looking up, Hermione found herself meeting Blaise Zabini's eyes. Oh, look, another Slytherin. He was an especially slippery one and she couldn't trust him for a moment. Unconsciously, her hand went to cover her mouth. She had to make sure he didn't have access to it again.

"Granger." he had a smile on his lips that made her feel uncomfortable in her skin. He opened the door for her. "After you…" He waved her into the library.

"You're not a prefect. You shouldn't be out of your dorm at this hour." Hermione told Zabini flatly, but she marched into the library so he could close the door, stopping just inside. After a few hours spent with Higurashi studying a Japanese text using experimental translation goggles that just might explode in her face she was slightly testy.

"Oh, but I have a pass, Prefect, ma'am." He showed her the slip of paper, but when she went to reach for it he pulled it back and folded it back up and tucked it in his robe. "Professor Potter is most kind and willing to hand them out to such studious young minds as myself."

"I'll be speaking to Professor Potter about that, then." She turned and went to find a table. Though it was late, she felt like she was too far behind on every subject she wanted to study. Harry and Ron didn't take school as seriously as they ought to. If they did, they would know they shouldn't be messing around with Quidditch… not that she didn't secretly enjoy Quidditch herself, but she only liked it as a passing sport. Something that she could listen to in the background as noise while she studied or did something productive.

"Actually, Granger, I must admit I didn't come here for nothing. As we Slytherins tend to have, my ulterior motive is a little… less than honest."

"Oh, here we go." Hermione reached in her robes and pulled her wand out. She wasn't as fast as Harry, but she wouldn't go down without a fight!

Zabini held up his hands in defense. "I've come in peace, Granger. Take my wand if it makes you feel comfortable." He slowly reached for the collar of his open robes and turned the side open. His wand rested in a sheath on his hip.

For a second she debated what he wanted. He didn't come with any other Slytherins, but that wasn't saying they couldn't be hiding somewhere. Then again, it was Saturday night, a week after classes started. It hardly seemed like school began only a week earlier. How could it? It felt like years-a lifetime!-ago. She cast a quick spell to scan his wand for traps before whispering another spell on him that would keep him from touching his wand. Disarming him by getting close to him wasn't the smartest idea in her mind. Her fingers came up to brush her lips, hoping to get rid of the memory of his lips on hers.

"What was that just now?" Zabini asked, reaching for his wand. Blue electricity danced from his wand to his hand, causing him to yelp. "I've never seen anything like that before," he said.

"It's a disarmament spell used by Japanese Aurors." Higurashi had mentioned it earlier that night while they were studying and Hermione had asked if Higurashi would teach it to her. Hermione had been sure that the Slytherin would say no, but she had immediately obliged. The spell was, in theory, similar to Expelliarmus, except that it wouldn't send the weapon off in some other direction to possibly get lost or in the hands of some other bad guy. Hermione had always been pretty good at study once she understood theories and rhythms.

But apparently she had a flaw. Someone asked a question and she had to answer it. She really ought to work on that one. Perhaps she should spend a whole day not answering a single question in class to practice keeping shut when someone asked something… Or start small. Two class periods.

Half an hour of one class.

"I like it." He shook his hand when he was shocked again. "Does it wear off? Or do you have to remove it?"

"I don't know." Hermione responded honestly. "I just learned the spell an hour ago." She saw Madame Pince come out of some stacks pushing a floating cart. Hermione quickly put her wand up her sleeve to hide it. If Zabini's expression was any indication, he was surprised she used a spell so efficiently when she only just learned it. "Move to a table. You can tell me what you want while I study then."

Zabini began walking and Hermione followed, mentally kicking herself. Why, why why why, was she going along with this? There was no back up here. She cast a spell with which she had no way to determine the lasting effects of. Him being close to her was dangerous because who knew what he was planning! It wouldn't be like he was the first Slytherin with an agenda.

However, he was being rather open about having an agenda.

Hermione wanted to see the good in everyone. Really, she did. But after five years of pure-blood commentary, she was still trying to be the resolute good girl, giving everyone a chance to make fools of themselves.

Something Ron had said that summer hit Hermione and stuck, though she knew he never intended for it to. In the game of chess, everything was about knowing what the pieces could do. What were they capable of, and how could a person use even the enemy's pieces to their own advantage? It made so much sense that Hermione found herself looking at the world differently.

She wanted to be that young, naive girl again who found people should be redeemable no matter what they had done.

Tell that to Neville's parents.

Tell that to Harry's parents.

Tell that to Harry.

People had suffered whether they deserved it or not. Maybe Slytherins weren't evil…? Maybe they just knew how to play the game better, and Hermione was insecure because of it. She didn't like to be behind in anything. She preferred to be in first place. She had only ever quit two things in her life; flying lessons, and Professor Trelawney's class.

Maybe she just wanted to lump them all into a class of great evil so that she could feel better about herself?

She watched him carefully as he sat on one side of the table. She let her bag fall on the table and sat across from him. She didn't pull her pages out. She supposed it would be best to give him her full attention, just in case he tried to pull something. Even if she did say she would be studying while he talked.

"What is Zabini the Slytherin's ulterior motive with a dirty little mudblood like me?" She asked.

Zabini winced at the word mudblood. It could have been a perfectly timed action to make her question his feelings, she supposed. If anyone had to be good at acting, it would be a Sytherin. Zabini said, "Granger, I'm not here to insult you. You're an intelligent woman, and I want to get to know you. The truth is… ever since we kissed," she held up a hand to stop him from talking.

"You mean, ever since you forced yourself on me."

"I-yes, it kind of… was for the wrong reasons…" he lowered his voice further and leaned closer to whisper, "I need a spell to get you out of my head. I won't make it the entire year like this. I close my eyes and I feel you. I can smell you."

"Oh, and here I thought I was the only one violated." She said sarcastically. "Zabini, nothing on this Earth would make me happier than to report you."

"Why don't you?" he demanded.

"As much as you like to think you're going to get away with it, believe me when I say you're not." Hermione watched as he pulled his pass slip out and for a moment he stared at it before beginning to fold it and tear it like origami, as if needing something to keep his hands busy.

"Draco Malfoy and I had a bet going to see who could make you fall in love with one of us by the Yule ball." he mumbled. "Of course I took the bet. Only a few days ago, you were the same Gryffindor bookworm as ever. There's never been a woman I couldn't snap my fingers and have at my beck and call. Draco's the same way. You learn the tricks and go with it, and you don't have to work for love. And then there's you."

To say she was floored would be yet another understatement of the year. He was rambling. He was going on about a bet like she was some kind of cheesy star in a muggle teen romance drama. Like she was some unattainable woman.

"Why are you telling me this?" She asked, unable to really build up anger. She should be mad. Was she sympathizing with this bloke? He kissed her! Without her permission!

"Everything about me aches to know more about you. If I understand you, if I just know you… Granger, you don't know what it's like, do you? Or maybe you do… But to have a puzzle, a challenge, right there in front of you that you can't solve… it's enough to drive you to madness. But part of me doesn't even want to understand. Solving what you present to me means an end."

She got to her feet and shouldered her bag. She didn't want to hear any more. Whatever it was, it was his problem.

"Wait, Granger, where are you going?" Zabini asked, grasping her wrist as she walked by.

"You're sick, Zabini. You need to seek help. Probably from professionals, and before you do anyone harm." She wrenched her hand away and left. She didn't want to hear more.

Who did he think he was? Coming up to her under the pretense of wanting something, and then it turned out he just wanted to have sex and brag about it. When she got back to Gryffindor Tower, she went straight to her room, climbed in her bed, and closed the curtain around her. With a touch, the glow lamp turned on and she tried to focus and take a deep breath.

That was when she realized she held a tiny little origami flower. It was slightly crushed. Who was she kidding? She knew why she didn't report Zabini. She liked it. His kiss brought a fire to her she had not yet felt.

She smoothed the creases in the flower and brought it to her nose, closing her eyes and smelling it. It smelled like paper, of course, but she imagined it to smell like the little rose it was shaped after. Oh no… she wasn't infatuated, was she? Go figure…

She'd claimed to Ron and Harry that she had a plan to deal with Malfoy and Zabini's plot to get any girl in school on a date with them, but really, what did she know about dating? It was all posturing! She was a bookworm. Simple as that.

Maybe Ron could just notice her for once and like her back? Wouldn't that solve a lot of problems? It might…

She set the origami flower on her pillow and lay her head down.

...Or it might not.

Harry thought about going to Hermione as he walked through halls. He had to move slower because Malfoy couldn't keep up with his brisk pace. He really didn't know what he was going to do. Harry was a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants guy. His plan was to know a lot of spells so that when he had to fight Voldemort, he stood a marginal chance of winning.

Often times, it was Hermione who came up with the plans. But in this case, he didn't think bringing Hermione in on what he intended to was a good idea. First of all, he would just end up dealing with her logical side and a ton of points toward why it was a very, very bad idea. Second of all, it was going to be hard enough dealing with Malfoy's objections to Harry's plan as it was.

So, Harry led Malfoy to the third corridor and walked thrice in front of where the Room of Requirement would appear, all the while thinking of what he wanted. He could feel Malfoy watching intensely with nervous anticipation. When the door appeared, Harry opened it and waited until he heard Malfoy's awkward footsteps going in. Then he looked both ways in the hall just to verify no one was coming, and closed the door behind him. Malfoy was pulling the cloak off.

The room was just what Harry wanted. It had a jar of floo powder next to a fire place. Several chairs were around the room. Malfoy had sat on one and was tenderly touching his leg. It wasn't the most decorated room. It seemed to have exactly what Harry needed; places to sit, floo powder, and a fire place. He had no need for more beyond that. It was sort of a shame that for all the magical wards the place had, there was a room that could give everyone what they needed with just three passes.

Harry didn't waste time. He walked to the floo jar and said, "Hey, Malfoy… Do you know how to make floo calls?"

"The wards of the castle won't," Malfoy started.

Harry stopped him, "I asked for a fireplace with unlocked floo wards to make a floo call. It stands to reason that I wouldn't get the fireplace unless it could provide it, right?"

Malfoy crossed his arms over his chest. "Fine. You risk your own neck. I can't believe you don't even know how to make a floo call."

"I don't know a lot of things most people consider commonplace, yet I'm the savior of the wizarding world. Tell me how that makes sense." Harry retorted a bit bitterly. He hadn't intended to come out that sharply and by Malfoy's expression, Malfoy was realizing how stupid it sounded too. He said nothing. "The floo call? I did do it a few times before, but I want to make sure I'm doing it right."

"You just… take a pinch, toss it in the fire, announce the location, and stick your head in the fire. Some places have floo-call only wards on their fireplace preventing transport."

Harry nodded, taking the handful of floo powder and tossing it in the fire. It exploded in a brilliant green.

"I said a pinch, Potter!" Draco said in exasperation.

"That was a pinch." Harry leaned toward the green, saying, "Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes, Apartment Forge." Yes, he had said that correctly. George and Fred had labeled their floos oddly, since they had three between one building. George had complained of the expense. Fred had said it could be worse-they could have paid an ear for it.

After a few seconds in the fire, Harry's eyes began to water while waiting for an answer. Finally, though, Fred and George appeared, entering the living room from the same bedroom and tying on bathrobes quickly. Harry wondered what they had been up to, but pushed it aside for expedience toward his situation.

"Harry?" Fred asked, shocked to see Harry in the fire, no doubt.

"I don't have a lot of time." Harry said. "I need help to put something in motion and really fast. Do you think you can help me?" The twins typically came through for Harry in a pinch. Harry didn't want to use them overly much, didn't want that to be their relationship, but his options were slim at the moment and the twins were very good at what they did and the most likely suspects to be able to follow through and not ask too many questions or object too much.

"Of course, Harry. Anything." George said, both of them kneeling by the fire. "What do you need?"

"I need Polyjuice Potion. Lots of it. And I need help setting up one of your Twin Swap cons, like you said you used to do on your girlfriends, except on a much, much larger scale." Fred looked like he was going to ask questions so Harry said hastily, "Can you do it?"

"Harry," George scratched the back of his neck, "Maybe with a few weeks prep," he began.

Fred finished, "At least a few weeks, if not more."

"It's getting sticky at school earlier than usual. Voldemort usually waits until the end of the year, but not this time. I need help, and I've only got a few hours to set things in motion at best."

George and Fred looked at each other, communicating silently as they so often did. Harry wondered not for the first time if twins with magic blood might have telepathy or something. "It'll be a rough start," Fred started.

"But Polyjuice Potion is a safe bet to go unscrutinized as we saw with the fake Moody." George finished Fred's sentence.

"That was kind of my thinking." Harry agreed. "It could be a long term thing. Two people so far were involved in an attempted murder." The twins looked completely taken aback at the seriousness of the situation.

"Harry, are you okay?" George asked.

Fred suggested, "Maybe we should take you out of the school… There was talk of it."

Harry shook his head, "No one is taking me anywhere. All the members of the Order think they know what's best for me, all while forgetting that I'm not some security blanket to be held for comfort."

"Hey, now, Harry," Fred started.

Harry cut him off, "Fred, George, if it weren't for your efforts this summer to keep me in Diagon Alley, I know I would have been shipped back to Privet Drive. When you two quit school, you did it with no regrets, and look at how much you're growing already. No matter what I do or where I go, I'm going to be in danger. You can't run back to the Order with what I'm doing. This has to stay between us."

If Fred and George couldn't be trusted, Harry realized he had an alternative plan. He was sure they could be, but in the case that the Order tried to stop Harry or got involved in any way, Harry realized the best option he could have was to leave Hogwarts entirely. To take his enemy, Draco Malfoy, and go. Malfoy's sister, too, would be safer away from Hogwarts.

"You're right, Harry." Fred agreed. "George and I can be there in a few hours."

"We can get our hands on some Polyjuice Potion, but it won't be a lot right off the bat. We'll have to start brewing it. Where should we meet you?"

"Room of Requirement. Whatever you have to spend, go ahead and invoice me or something. I'll make my client pay." Harry coughed a bit. The fire was getting to him. He pulled back just in time for the fire to return to normal. Malfoy could compensate Harry later.

After he had composed himself, regained his normal breathing, Harry was able to turn to Malfoy and inwardly hope that he got through to the twins. Malfoy was giving him a look of disbelief.

"What?" Harry asked.

"Let me see if I have this straight…" Malfoy drawled from his seat as Harry sat down in another one. "I was almost murdered tonight so that it would look like a suicide, and you want to Polyjuice into me, go into a house full of Slytherins-most of whom will follow the Dark Lord to the end of the world-and start sniffing about? How stupid are you?"

"Oh, and the other part of the plan is to have you Polyjuice into me and pretend to be me while I pretend to be you. Not only will I have greater access to the one who tried to frame you for your own murder, but I can use your face to figure out if anyone knows anything about Voldemort's movements or plans. And between you and me, we might be the only ones who know Kagome's enemies are in Britain. The man who tried to kill her, Naraku, must have been brought into Voldemort's fold. She thinks Naraku is in Japan looking for her, and her Guardian might think the same, that keeping her here under Dumbledore's vaguely defined protection is the best option." Harry leaned forward, elbows on his knees as he looked straight into Malfoy's eyes. Malfoy was scared-for himself, or what they would be doing, or for Kagome, or maybe for what would happen to him or them if Voldemort caught up. It was unclear what Malfoy was afraid of. But Harry knew without a doubt that finally things were going somewhere.

Could he trust Malfoy? No, not explicitly. One thing he could trust about Malfoy though was the other boy's need to survive. "There's one other issue," Harry said. "A major liability that can't defend herself."

Clearly Malfoy didn't need further explanation to know what Harry talked of. "Shiva… She's just a little girl. I can't put her in harm's way! They found us in a muggle home, if anything happens to her," Malfoy stammered.

Harry held up a hand. "You brought her here. Sometimes kids break into duels in the hallways, sometimes staircases disappear, and sometimes giant basilisks escape from tunnels or ogres get loose in the dungeons. Professor Tetsuya sent your sister into that freaky arena thing. Professor Nells is completely off his rocker, having class in a tree-house in the Forbidden Forest at the crack of dawn. How is any of this safe? You stepped out of the room for a second and she turned ink pots into exploding liquid bombs. She transformed a room of sixth year students into cowering fools, going as far as getting her hands on a dropped wand and casting spells left and right." Malfoy could smile at that, which Harry thought was a step up at least. It must have been hard to think his sister was a Squib all that time, so hearing that she wasn't was probably a relief for him. "Think about it, Malfoy. We need her somewhere safe. Somewhere that doesn't involve the insanity you and I are going to face here. Somewhere very far away. I'd say you should go with her, but we both know that until the threat on your life is gone, being with her will endanger her."

Malfoy brought his hands up to his face, shielding his eyes. He wasn't able to hide them before Harry saw them fill up though, and it certainly didn't take long for the salty tears to begin streaking down Malfoy's cheeks. "I don't know what you want me to say, Potter. I've always been a coward. You outright tell me this can be dangerous and you expect me to want to stick around and see it through?"

"Yes, and I know you'll do it because if you don't, you won't be the one who suffers. Voldemort will get his hands on Shiva and she'll become his plaything. His puppet." Malfoy tensed. Harry wished he didn't have to resort to saying such truths, but Malfoy needed motivation. Harry continued, "You could have killed Kagome this summer. Instead, you woke her. You clearly overcame powerful forbidden curses to rescue your sister and mother and get them free. Do you want to waste all that effort by running? Stand here with me. I'm not out to get Voldemort for the glory. I don't want to seek him out. I'm here to survive. How about you?"

"Freedom comes at a price, Malfoy." Potter said softly, in a voice that was probably meant to encourage Draco to believe that Harry was on his side in the matter. It was a lot to take in. Almost being murdered, the idea that he had to send Shiva away even if it made sense…

Draco didn't ask for any of it. He didn't ask to become a Death Eater, or to have his life ruined by a returned Dark Lord. When it came down to things, really, Draco just wanted to get married to someone beautiful and as vain as he was, live in a very ancient mansion, be served by hundreds of house elves at his beck and call, and throw parties-rich, fancy, delicious parties full of people of consequence.

Was that too much to ask for? A trouble free life, a son to inherit, a daughter to dote upon and who his wife could take on expensive shopping trips to keep the wife from straying her eyes to men outside the house.

Draco didn't have any grand delusions about finding true love. Life didn't work like that. He needed good stock to breed with. That meant finding someone of quality upbringing and heritage. He had that with Pansy.

He would have thought Pansy would wait until they were wed before she started selling Draco to be murdered. Then again, he never thought Pansy would sell him out. She would get no money if…

It dawned on Draco that he had missed one tiny, yet extremely important detail. "My money." Draco sat upright, wincing when he shifted his leg wrong. "The accounts. Potter, this is bad…" He looked at Potter's face. Green eyes swam with confusion. Potter looked akin to a lost sheep. "Where do you think the money comes from, Potter? The money that fuels everything the Dark Lord does? Pureblood families siphon money from their accounts into shell companies-fake businesses! With it, the Dark Lord has the ability to pay himself and his followers. Whatever money the Dark Lord and his followers make illegitimately gets deposited into pureblood legitimate businesses for goods and it gets cycled through and basically cleans dirty money."

By the end of Draco's little speech, Potter's brows had disappeared into his hair fringe and his eyes were wide and stunned. "Wow… I had no idea. I never thought about that… You know a lot about that…"

"The family business is what I've been groomed for since birth. The Dark Lord wasn't around most of my life, but the Malfoys have several legitimate businesses. They tried to kill me for my money. It makes sense!" It was all clicking into place for Draco. "If I'm out of the way, then the last remaining Malfoy would inherit rights, which means that Shiva would… They're going to want Shiva. I left Shiva with Chavi. They might have her already." Draco got to his feet.

Potter stood quickly and put a hand on Draco's shoulder. "As hard as this is for me to say… you're right. That does make sense. You proved unwilling to cooperate with them, and they had a way to remove you from the picture and have a more malleable person. But until you're found dead, they can't do a thing. You don't even have your wand at the moment. Wait here for the twins, Fred and George Weasley. I'll go see to your sister." Potter found his cloak on the chair beside Draco's chair.

"Potter, what are you going to do? Walk into a den of Slytherins and say, 'ooh, sorry, just passing through.'" Draco criticized the young man.

"Actually, I thought for once I would rely on someone who hated me. Snape's not here, but my apparent uncle certainly fits that bill and he's looking over the Slytherin House in Snape's absence. Just stay here."

After a long evening studying with Hermione Granger, teaching the young girl how to do a disarmament spell from Japan and going over materials on Fusion, Kagome had been very tired. Unfortunately, lessons weren't over for Kagome just because she was tired. She had to meet Sesshoumaru for extra lessons on defense, basically to pick up where she had left off before leaving Japan.

Kagome really didn't want to see Sesshoumaru after the talking-to she received earlier that day, but seeing him was inevitable and she had to get it over with sooner or later.

When she arrived, Sesshoumaru was sitting on a cushion. His private quarters were rather large. She pictured the room to be a place more intended to house large quantities of guests for a party of sorts, but it had been done up as a bedroom instead.

Kagome supposed the theory was that if Sesshoumaru decided he wanted to transform to sleep, he could. She knew enough about him by now that he wouldn't transform indoors unless necessary.

With Sesshoumaru, seated on a cushion beside him, was Kikyou. Sesshoumaru's top was off half of his torso so that his left arm was out. The stub was revealed and with the bandages off it was easy to tell he had a long way to go to heal. Because he had such a fast healing rate, Sesshoumaru was more prone to things such as abscesses which had to be drained and cleaned. Kikyou was currently focused on cleaning Sesshoumaru's arm, and both of them had straight and stony expressions on their faces.

"You are late." Sesshoumaru intoned, eyes half-lidded in a manner that displayed his disappointment without actually seeming to change his expression. She supposed it was unique the way she could understand the tiny nuances in his voice, or the minute details in his expression that no one else could get. Well, except for Ilyes Llewellyn, or Nells as he preferred to be called.


"After the discussion in the kennel today, I had thought you would take things more seriously." Sesshoumaru said flatly as the door suddenly slammed shut behind Kagome, making her spin around in fright. Nells stood there now, blocking the door with a devilish look on his face. Sesshoumaru continued, "You need to learn control over yourself. Over your body. Over your internal powers. Over the environment that surrounds you."

Nells began to stretch his arms over his head. "Oh, I'm so happy when you take off my leash, my lord," Nells said, referring to Sesshoumaru by a respectful title in private chambers whereas in public he was quite openly disrespectful. Kagome didn't understand why the sudden change.

Who were they kidding, here? Kagome could feasibly be hidden, sure. She was a mere conduit for harnessing the power of the jewel around her neck. If it weren't on the rosary, she would be unnecessary. Her fame-the reason she was called the Dog Princess-was based on a stone that had incarnated from her flesh. Some of the power of the stone had left residual abilities after fifteen years in her body, but most of it was harnessed through the jewel itself. She was chosen to guard the jewel, to bear its curse. That was why she was famous. But she could easily hide the jewel and be hidden away.

Nells was a brilliant Elf with psychotic tendencies, but he had no political or great connections with the exception of being a classmate of Sesshoumaru's (and, she thought, possibly having a crush on Sesshoumaru). His abilities in deception, in stealth, in manipulation… He was chosen to come to Britain with Kagome to be a silent watcher over her and Kagome would have no doubt that he would live up to and exceed any expectations for doing that task. She would neither be able to go places, or speak to people, without expecting that Sesshoumaru could and likely would find out about it. Nells could easily hide Kagome if he wanted to, but he had everything against Kagome because of her status as the Dog Princess… because of the jewel itself and the powers it had. Even so, he could hide her and they wouldn't be found provided no one found out about the jewel she wore.

Kikyou was an excellent healer, descended from a long line of priestesses who once made it their mission to remove demons from the world. Her family line was old and powerful, yet deceased. Kagome had often wondered if there might be some familial relation between her and the older woman, perhaps cousins, since they looked so similar. Kikyou would have been the one directly approached about becoming Sesshoumaru's wife, since she had no family left alive. Even being the last of a family who once had great power and influence wouldn't jeopardize Kagome if she were to be in hiding. Kikyou could be around as a means of healing any injuries and keeping up with Kagome's magical learning, and no one would see anything except two Asian sisters.

No, the idea that Kagome was expected to remain in hiding, acting as if she was just an ordinary girl… that was almost too much to bear. Sesshoumaru claimed that was how she was supposed to be, and yet he was here, all diplomatic and making a big splash. The prince and heir to the Japanese magical community, son of the benefactor of Potter-Demon Industries, a collective research facility that paved the way in new magical weaponry and defense equipment for a country. Wands, swords, armor, you name it and P.D.I. made it. If they couldn't make it, they invented it. The world that knew about Kagome would know that Sesshoumaru had been chosen as Kagome's guardian as much as she had been chosen to guard the jewel.

All Naraku had to do was follow Sesshoumaru and he would find Kagome held at the end of a very short leash. No doubt some countermeasures had been put into place. The castle of Hogwarts was supposed to be in a pretty secret location so it wasn't like it could be Googled one morning.

It was all so stupid that it made Kagome feel a little embittered, because even Jesse Potter was there, building a state of the art Potter Dueling Arena. Jesse Potter was incredibly famous for his designs, his company, even for his bachelordom. The more she thought of things, the more she wondered if maybe someone was hanging big flashing neon light signs pointing in her direction. And then blaming her for attracting attention.

Follow the press. That was all Naraku had to do! And she got a speech saying she had to hold her head low and pretend to be normal?

She backed away from Nells who was rolling his shoulders in their sockets and twisting his neck from side to side as he approached her, the coins and janglies on his body tinkling with every step. She really didn't understand the curl tipped shoes or the flashy, noisy clothes. It was pretty, of course, but somehow it didn't fit with the understanding that Nells specialized in what amounted to thievery and quiet and subtle actions...when he was anything but quiet or subtle.

Kagome grasped the jewel in her hand, for comfort. Some days, she just wanted to rip it off and smash it with a hammer. Okay, that was most days. The burden it caused was very heavy. How could one person hold on to the power to control everything canine?

"Sesshoumaru-sama…?" she was feeling pretty cornered.

Sesshoumaru continued, "When faced with an opponent in close quarters, you lost. Allowing someone close enough to you, close enough to the jewel, is kin to allowing the enslavement of dog demons, wolf demons, fox demons. Those you would call friend or family could come under the control of someone. Every creature with a drop of blood that stone can control would be in danger of being controlled, as long as they are close enough to hear its siren song. Then, others who cannot be controlled can freely be slaughtered by those many thousands and thousands of controlled creatures." Sesshoumaru was only giving her more reason to want to get rid of the jewel. Smash it to pieces. "I have been generous, given you time to grieve for your loss, and time to settle into a foreign school. Now it is time for your training to begin anew. Nells."

The minute he said Nells, the Elf disappeared from her vision and a second later there was an arm gripping around her neck from behind, pulling her off the ground. Bolts of painful magic jolted off Nells' arm, leaving contact burns on his flesh but he didn't care. She struggled to get free-to breathe-but he was too strong and she kept thinking back to Naraku and how he pinned her down, slicing her clothes off, digging a blade torturously into her body.

Her vision swam, and flashed back and forth between the memory of Naraku and what she could see at that moment. Sesshoumaru, calmly seated. Kikyou, lips drawn tight but making no move to interfere. Kagome reached out toward Sesshoumaru, gasping for breath, begging him to help her.

"You will have to help yourself," Sesshoumaru said. "If I am soft, you will never be prepared for the enemies that will surely come for you. My life, the lives of those who live in the lands I will one day rule, they rest in your pathetic, small, weak human hands. For that alone, I will not be soft on you. The world can think me unkind for treating you, their precious trinket, like this. They can think me unfair, unjust. But I will not allow you to be the cause of disaster. Many races rely on me. You are my tool. I will hammer at your flaws until you break or until you are perfected. Throw her."

At Sesshoumaru's command, Kagome was able to breathe again but only because she was soaring through the air and crashed into a hard section of floor. She managed to roll but it wasn't very well and only served to protect her face from sucking on stone. Two feet over in any direction and she might have landed on soft cushion, so she felt that Nells had managed to land her exactly where he wanted her to land.

"Prepare yourself, Kagome. You will not leave here until the midnight bell tones, or you manage to throw Nells." Sesshoumaru said as Nells grinned in complete and utter glee.

She pushed herself to her feet, dropping her satchel with grave irritation for it being in the way. She knew she would hate the day… hate her life… this stupid shit. She didn't know how much. She took her wand out, but Nells moved faster than she had planned for and grabbed her wand away before sweeping her feet out from under her. She fell half on her school bag and half on the ground.

"No magic. You don't want to vex me, do you, dearie?" Nells asked, whipping it at Sesshoumaru without looking toward him. Sesshoumaru caught it as Kagome rolled away from a foot that would have connected with her gut while she was prone. At that point she noticed it. Nells wasn't making a sound. Tons of bells, coins, and various jangling attire and not a single thing on him made a noise. Maybe he did live up to the preceding reputation.

Her training back home had never been quite this intense, but Sesshoumaru had been under the watchful eye of his father. Sesshoumaru had two arms back then. And Kagome's family had been still alive.