A/N: The last chapter was short, so I decided to get this one up fast. And I would recommend going back to re-read the last chapter if you read it the first day it was up, because it's been seriously revised.
Gabrielle's English is meant to be worse than Fleur's, but I'll try not to make it too confusing. The idea for Veela's age comes from a Chapter 10 review from Death-in-the-Shadows.
Oh, and speaking of Chapter 10, the line "Buy yourself some new robes, Moony" is a slightly modified version of a line from "Noir Et Blanc" by Tsurai no Shi. I found it on a re-read.
This chapter is concurrent with the last one, but takes place elsewhere. (Assume Harry's magic's estimate of time is off.)
Not counting this one, there are three chapters left planned in Meaning It; then we move to the planned sequel.
Disclaimer: Don't own, don't sue.
A slim, pale hand rose and knocked on the door of the ancient mansion. After a moment, it was opened from within by a tall woman wearing black silk robes that were overlaid by some kind of thin web.
"Madam Malfoy," said the lady of the house.
"Let's skip the formalities, shall we, Chimere?" Narcissa Malfoy said, pushing back the hood of her cloak. "It's rather too cold to pretend we don't know each other."
Chimere Zabini nodded and stood back, allowing the other woman into the house. No sooner had Narcissa crossed the threshold than a strange, rapid clicking sound came from the corridor and a spider taller than either of the two women emerged, approaching Narcissa.
Chimere made a strange chittering in the back of her throat that shouldn't have been possible with a human mouth. The spider looked at her with its many eyes and replied with its gigantic pincers. Chimere repeated the sound, and the spider scrutinized Narcissa carefully before extending one leg. Narcissa looked questioningly at Chimere.
"It is offering to take your cloak," Chimere explained. Impressed despite herself, Narcissa took off her cloak and laid it over the spider's leg. The giant spider carried it only slightly awkwardly to a coat tree in the corner, where it stayed crouched like the world's most demonic guard dog. Narcissa looked to her hostess. Cloak off, she wore black robes not unlike those of her hostess, except that hers bore silver trim rather than overlaid spiderweb.
"Spider-speak," she said to Chimere. "Impressive."
Chimere smiled. "Thought a myth even by our own kind." Narcissa assumed she meant wizards, as clearly Chimere knew Spider-speakers existed. "It's very useful. You can see, now, why no one ever dared stand against us. Acromantula venom is quite deadly. And in a family, they can do a great amount of damage."
"I assume that's only one of many reasons," Narcissa said.
Chimere threw back her head and laughed. "True," she said, returning cold eyes and a smiling face to Narcissa. "We also have the greatest spellcrafters in all the world, and the children who survive our family's tests are among the strongest wizards."
"Speaking of your family's decisions, why the change of heart?" Narcissa asked as Chimere beckoned her back through the house. Feeling eyes on her, she looked up. She had barely met the eyes of the boy on the landing above her and had time to recognize the disgust in his expression before his eyes flicked to the giant spider and he chittered something to it in the same language his mother had used before leaving, the spider following up the stairs much more nimbly than Narcissa would have expected.
"Blaise doesn't approve of my decision," Chimere said. Narcissa turned back to her hostess, nodding as though she understood. Chimere waved a hand. "Let us go into the parlor and discuss this further."
Narcissa followed the other woman into what had once been the den of the most famously neutral family in Britain.
Yaxley faced the Minister of Magic over the desk, waiting patiently and politely while Scrimgeour finished reading the list of formal accusations against the Director of Experimental Magic.
"I trust, Yaxley," Scrimgeour said at last, lowering the paper, "that you recognize the seriousness of these accusations."
"I do, Minister," Yaxley replied evenly. "But I trust I have given you sufficient evidence to support them."
Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour nodded thoughtfully. "You have," he agreed, and set down the parchment. "I will have a formal investigation begun immediately. If your suspicions are confirmed, Director Chang will be arrested within a fortnight."
Yaxley bowed his head. "Thank you, Minister," he said. "That is a weight off my mind."
I'm sure you've heard by now, but Harry's gone missing. Everyone's terribly worried, but the truth is that I've been worried about him a lot longer than this.
Harry's been acting very strangely all year. He spent a lot more time in his room than he normally does, and when he was around us he was very distanced. He knew things he shouldn't know, cast spells he shouldn't have managed. Over the summer he confronted me—irony of ironies—about the lessons I had with you when you were in Britain. I'm sure he's been learning a lot more than that. He cast a nonverbal spell not even Professor Snape had heard of the first day of class. I gave him the fantasy books I told you about, but I think I shouldn't have. I think that's what started this.
Oh, why am I worried about that now? Harry's missing! I don't know what to do! I can scry—you've said yourself I'm a fair hand at it—but scrying isn't exactly taught here. I don't think I should; I'd have a hard time getting any help getting him out of wherever he is even if I did manage to find him, and a harder time getting help to get him out without getting arrested.
What am I meant to do? I want to help him, but I can't go find him without using forbidden magic.
I wish you were here.
Viktor read the letter one more time. He noted once again her concern with getting caught using forbidden magic, her assumption that she could find Harry if she tried, and the way she had written "Love" before she'd remembered herself and scratched it out—not too effectively, though, as though unsure of herself. Once more he remembered his respect for her, his exasperation with her, and his care for her, and why he wanted to respect her wishes and return. Then he set fire to the letter, pocketed his wand and headed outside to Apparate to Hermione.
"I can't finish this."
"It's not that simple, dammit!" Draco slammed his hands into the sink. "I have to do this, or my mother's life is forfeit!"
Moaning Myrtle placed her hand just above Draco's shoulder and made an awkward patting motion. "Can't you get help? From anyone?"
Draco hesitated, unwilling to admit that he had an offer of protection from the Golden Boy, of all people. Myrtle caught the hesitation. "Who is it, Draco? Who will protect you?"
"Potter," Draco admitted at last. "Potter offered my mother and me protection, as Lord Black."
"Then take it!" Myrtle cried. "Take the offer, Draco; you've said so many times you can't finish this. Take the way out!"
"I can't!" he said. "Even if he didn't hate me, he's been so different lately I'm not sure he'd honor his agreement."
"He made a promise to you as the head of a pureblood family," Myrtle said. "He'll keep his promise."
Draco looked away. "I don't know if I can take the offer even if he will," he whispered. "It's Potter. What chance does a Muggle-raised halfblood have in protecting me and Mother against the Dark Lord?"
Myrtle sighed. "He's meant to do it, Draco. You know that. Ask for his help or don't, but you won't survive this experience without him. You've already figured that out."
I am glad to hear from you, and distressed to hear that Harry Potter is in danger. I am headed to Britain and will meet you at the Hog's Head in Hogsmeade as soon as you can get away from school.
Hermione walked up to the Owlery, shaking over what she was about to do. It wasn't like her to break so many rules—and laws—without the prompting of Harry and Ron, but she didn't have a choice anymore. Harry had been gone a week in body, and far longer than that in mind; and the presence of Rookwood and Greyback at the scene of his disappearance confirmed he'd been kidnapped. Of course, of the two, Rookwood was dead and Greyback had run before any officials showed up, werewolf power deflecting all the spells the youths had sent his way and werewolf speed rapidly outdistancing them; but it was evidence enough for all involved.
The Owlery was fortunately empty. Hermione cast a Temporary Locking Charm on the door, setting it for five minutes; then she took a breath and began to change.
Her hair ruffled as though in a breeze, strands plaiting and fusing; her clothes melded seamlessly into her skin before the colors swirled and the fabric rose in a different pattern and texture. Under her skin, her bones shifted, cracking and hollowing, arms moving and adjusting, fingers changing shape and spreading wide, legs shrinking while her toenails became talons. Her mouth and nose hardened and slid out into a point; for one terrifying moment she lost her senses before her sight and hearing returned, sharper than before, while taste and smell remained empty and touch largely unchanged. The ground rose up to meet her; she flapped her still-developing wings and hopped off the floor, out of the window before she'd finished changing. As she struggled to balance herself the way she knew she could, her talons sharpened, feathers layered and settled, hair shortened, beak curved, and then she was off toward Hogsmeade to meet Viktor.
"I love you."
Ginny looked across the study table in the Room of Requirement, looking not at all surprised. She smiled at Luna. "I thought you did."
Luna smiled back. "I've loved you quite a while. Much longer than this year. Since DA, actually. You always seemed quite interested in men, but I have a terrible tendency to not give up."
"I'm glad you didn't." Ginny was quiet for a while as they returned to their homework. After a few minutes she said, "I love you, too."
Luna looked up. There was surprise in her gaze.
"I can't say for certain that I'm in love with you, as I've never experienced it before…" Ginny took a breath. "But I was glad you were the one to come see me when I came out, and I'm never happier than when we're in here, and I thought about that Hogsmeade weekend like it was a date. I thought about it for hours, wondering what I was meant to wear and whether I should hold your hand on the way there and if a date with a girl was the same as with a guy and if we were going to kiss and a whole host of other things that I never really thought about when I went on dates with my boyfriends except because other people asked first. I really want to go to Hogsmeade again with you, Luna… only this time not as friends."
Luna smiled delightedly. "I'm very glad to hear that. And I won't rush you," she said. "This is all very new for you, and I wouldn't expect you to know, yet, exactly what your feelings are. But I do love you, Ginny, very much."
Hermione landed just outside Hogsmeade and transformed back into a girl, a process somehow much more uncomfortable than the painless first change. She took her wand out of her pocket, cast a few spells to change her appearance and one to make her school robes into robes more appropriate for Hogsmeade's usual clientele, and headed to the Hog's Head.
It was easy to spot Viktor; he was sitting in the corner he'd always reserved for himself when he went out during the Tournament, the same spells on his appearance she'd used to change hers, so that they looked like the couple they'd appeared to be on their more illicit dates her fourth year. The dark-haired, dark-eyed young woman who had once been Hermione approached the bulky-framed messy-haired brunette who had replaced Viktor.
"I ordered you a butterbeer," Viktor said in a voice that was a little too high and too heavily accented for the person Hermione knew, passing her the bottle. "I thought you'd come today."
Hermione smiled ruefully. "You thought I'd come sooner," she translated in a voice that was just a touch throatier than hers. "You just ordered one today because you were getting impatient."
Viktor motioned her to a seat, smiling in return. "Your owl made it seem urgent. I expected you to be more concerned."
Hermione sighed and lowered her voice. "And I told you in that owl that I don't know if I'm okay with this, with using semi-illegal spells to find Harry."
Viktor responded in kind. "You used fully illegal spells to get here. Semi-illegal should pale in comparison."
Taking a swig of butterbeer, she answered, "Yes, it should. But no one but you knows how I got here. If I find him using that semi-illegal magic, I'll have to say something to someone. And what I say will probably have to be true."
"And this would be so terrible?"
She looked at him pleadingly. "You don't understand! Everything is—it's just hard for me. I'm trying not to turn out like Voldemort, looking for knowledge I don't need or want and using it until something breaks. But with Harry ending up the way he is, and now with him gone… I don't think I can do it."
"Again, this would be so terrible?"
"Yes!" she insisted.
Viktor covered her hand with his. "Finish your butterbeer. We'll go somewhere private and find him. No one will have to know." What was meant to be a reassuring look only reminded her that Viktor had been among the Durmstrang students to sit with the Slytherins, and would dodge the consequences of scrying by lying his arse off. She nodded slightly and finished her drink.
Gabrielle stopped three stairs from the bottom when she heard the familiar voices of her sister and her brother-in-law-to-be.
"Gold for ze bridesmaids' dresses, I sink—but did you 'ave a plan for les costumes for your groomsmen?" Fleur was asking.
Bill sounded surprised. "I hadn't really thought about it, yet," he said. "I mean," and Gabrielle guessed he was on the receiving end of one of Fleur's glares, "I have a few ideas, but I hadn't really decided yet."
"Well, we should do zat!" Fleur said.
Gabrielle scowled at the book in her hands. If they saw it, they would be crushed. She set it down on the step and descended into the room below, smiling broadly.
"Gabi!" Fleur exclaimed on seeing her young sister. "Qu'est-ce que tu voudrais?"
Gabrielle responded in English. "I just wanted to say that you probably want to wait a bit longer to get the dresses for les demoiselles d'honneur," she explained, smiling. She reached behind her head and unclipped her hair, shaking out the blonde curls to let them see the shine they'd developed. Stepping further into the room, she twirled so they could see how much taller she'd grown in just a week.
Fleur screamed in delight, clapping her hands and standing to view her younger sister. "My little Gabi is growing up!" she said. "C'est magnifique!"
"You're right, of course," Fleur said. "You'll be growing much too fast, and anyzing you wear now might clash later. So we will wait." She looked back at Bill, who was staring at Gabi, apparently thunderstruck by the change.
Gabrielle chose to explain. "Veela don't really age until we reach puberty, which is right before our magical majority. I'm almost fifteen, so…" she smiled. "I only looked ten because any older and Veela start giving off notre lumière d'amour."
"So looking young is a defense mechanism," Bill said, nodding. "I mean, I knew Veela had a late puberty, and a short one, but… jeez, it looks like you grew three inches in a week."
"Probablement c'est vrai," Gabrielle giggled. She looked at Fleur. "There was something else I wanted to ask you about, ma soeur."
"What is it?"
Gabrielle almost didn't ask. Then she remembered the book, and the trust she had in Harry, and her conviction that he was the only one who could help her now. "I want to go to Hogwarts until the end of the school year," she said.
Fleur looked surprised. Gabrielle explained. "You're here, planning the wedding; and Maman never went through the Change. You're the best to ask about anything that comes up. And les garçons à Beauxbatons are intolerable at the best of times. This will make it worse. Besides, I want to help plan the wedding."
Fleur hugged her sister. "Of course, ma petite soeur! That would be wonderful! We can set it up immediately!"
Gabrielle hugged Fleur back, trying to smile and not cry, trying desperately not to think of the book she'd left on the step behind her, and refusing to think of what it would mean for the planned wedding… or the lack thereof.