A/N: This is one of my favourite chapters I've written so far, because I got to write about Professor Dumbledore. I truly hope I did him justice. I tried to capture the essence of the wise, kind old wizard as best I could.

Disclaimer: I own nothing but my character and my plotline. Everything you recognize, including certain plot lines, characters, and settings, belongs to JK Rowling.

--- CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR ---

From the Mouth of Albus Dumbledore

Fred Weasley

The last of the school year was hellish for the entire student body. The incredible shock surrounding Cedric's sudden death and Harry's claim about the return of You-Know-Who had everyone in a panicked state of terror.

Everyone was mourning the loss of Cedric, and even more were questioning the legitimacy of Harry's claim. It was bloody ridiculous if you ask me. How anyone could possibly believe Harry would make up some far-fetched tale about You-Know-Who and Death Eaters was beyond me.

But it happened nonetheless, and rumours began spreading like wildfire around the castle. They involved Harry conducting a few misdeeds ending with Cedric's untimely death, for the most part. Some students, however, began to speculate about Juliet's possible involvement of the tragedy. They viewed her sudden and bizarre break-up with Cedric as suspicious seeing as he had died so soon after they had ended their relationship.

With all the chaos surrounding the event it was quite obvious that there was absolutely no one in the entire castle who was more greatly affected than Juliet.

How she made it through those last days of school I don't think I'll ever know.

She didn't speak to anyone during the week that passed immediately after Cedric's death. She wouldn't voluntarily eat or drink anything either and she never responded whenever anyone tried to speak to her.

Most students kept their distance from Juliet. No one tried to converse with her much. Katie, Alicia, and Lee seemed to sense that nothing they said to her was going to make any of what she was going through easier, thus they backed off, leaving her alone. It was probably for the best. Juliet was so far gone it was a waste of time for anyone to try to get through to her. She was in shock.

George and I, however, were the opposite of everyone else in the school. We kept close to her, refusing to leave her side at all. We nearly had to force feed her during dinners, and walked with her everywhere she went. She never objected, allowing us to take care of her, but she never spoke to either of us either. That didn't matter, though…not at first at least. The most important thing to us was keeping her safe from all of the rumours and harsh comments. Juliet didn't need to hear the stories people were coming up with. They would have made things worse for her, and I wasn't going to let that happen.

At night she would crawl into bed with George, sobbing into his t-shirt until she cried herself to sleep. Neither George nor I slept at all during that time, but we never once complained or said anything…although it made my heart ache to know that she turned to George rather than me at night.

I knew why of course—why she wouldn't come to me. She was feeling guilty and depressed about what had happened between the two of us. She felt awful about leaving Cedric, even though she knew it was the right thing to do. I reckoned she was just angry with herself for filling his last weeks on earth with sadness. In good time I knew George and I would step up to yank her out of her self-pity, but we both knew it was a process she needed to go through.

I didn't blame her for not turning to me, of course. Frankly I wasn't overly surprised. Even though they weren't together when he was killed, Juliet didn't feel exactly right turning to me to mourn Cedric's loss. I actually felt pretty lousy about it myself. I knew I had never really liked Cedric, but I also knew he wasn't a bad guy. He took care of Juliet. He loved her. He was always good to her. I felt like a downright jackass for what had happened between Juliet and me. I knew she didn't regret it, and that her leaving him was for the best, but it wasn't how I wanted it to be between the two of us…and it certainly wasn't how I wanted things to be between Cedric and me either. I was man enough to admit that I had been the one at fault. Cedric had never once done anything wrong. He had never once done anything to hurt Juliet. I couldn't say the same, and I knew that.

It was downright unfair that a person so genuinely good as Cedric Diggory could have his life taken from him. I felt terrible…and the pain I saw in Juliet was nearly too much to bear. I shouldered it anyway, knowing I had to be there for her…even if she didn't want to turn to me; I wanted her to know she could. And part of me believed that somehow, it was helping her to know that even though she wouldn't turn to me—couldn't turn to me—I was still there, looking after her like I should have been her whole life.

Juliet had hit a hard time in her life, and I knew although she was a strong person, that she was going to have a difficult time getting through it on her own.

George and I were going to make sure she didn't have to.

-------

Juliet Christie

It all passed in a blur. I can't remember any details at all of what happened. There had been a memorial service for Cedric…and Dumbledore had made a speech…

The only thing I know for sure about those last few days of sixth year is that I cried—a lot.

I cried more in one week than I had ever cried in my entire life put together. The shock of losing Cedric had devastated me.

I didn't speak to anyone during that time period…and no one tried to talk to me. Alicia and Katie kept their distance…whether on the advice of Fred and George, or their own conscience, I don't know. It wasn't just them though; almost no one tried to speak to me during the last days of school.

Fred and George stayed close. They never once left my side. At night I would crawl into bed with George and sob into his shoulder until I passed out. He never complained, and neither did anyone else. Whenever either he or Fred tried to talk to me, whenever they asked how I was feeling or tried to persuade me to eat something, I wouldn't respond. I allowed them to take care of me, but never once did I speak a word to them during that time.

They didn't try to force themselves on me, either. They never once urged me to speak to them. They knew I needed some time to mourn. I was devastated. I needed Fred and George to lean on. I needed them, and I was thankful that they understood enough about how I was feeling to let me be. They were angels during those last few days…and continued to be for the rest of my life.

Although my vocal cords didn't get much use during the days that passed, I did talk in my sleep. I tossed and turned during the night, sweating bullets and making George highly uncomfortable I'm sure. Looking back I feel sorry for how much pain I put him and Fred through. I know they hated seeing me like that. Seeing me in that much pain was probably almost as excruciating as feeling the pain first-hand, and I knew they had a difficult time dealing with it.

There were rumours sweeping through the building after what had happened with Harry and Cedric. Dumbledore had told us all about what had occurred—about You-Know-Who murdering Cedric—but not everyone believed what they were told. Harry was becoming known as a head-case, and those who had seen me punch Mad-Eye Moody had jumped to the conclusion that I was somehow involved as well.

Elaborate lies started to surface. Fred and George tried to keep them from getting to me, but the two of them couldn't be everywhere at once (as much as they tried to be). I would get Cedric's friends—Vince, and Rachel, even Codie on occasion—looking at me like I was the one who killed him. People began to piece together more and more lies…suddenly I had murdered Cedric and was using Harry to cover it up, making him claim You-Know-Who was back just to keep from getting caught.

It was utterly ridiculous, of course, and I had enough sense left in me to know I shouldn't let it get to me. Unfortunately, stuff like that always manages to worm its way in and make you feel worse when you're already down.

I spent days wallowing in despair. The worst was the fact that I knew it was upsetting Fred and George. I didn't much care what I was doing to myself by fixating on Cedric's death. Of course, no one expected me to get over it in one fell swoop. The wound was still fresh, but even so, I knew it was doing damage to me and my friends that I made it through entire days without speaking to anyone.

The day I managed to break free of my inner pit of despair was the day before the students were due to be sent home for the summer. It was a surprising event, and was brought on by the most unexpected of individuals…

Albus Dumbledore.

I had managed to sneak away from Fred and George for a few moments, trying to get some time alone. I knew their intentions were good, and for the most part I did truly appreciate having them around. But at times, I desperately needed to be alone.

It was during my moments of peace wandering down a deserted corridor that I ran into Professor Dumbledore. I hadn't realized I had strayed through several hanging tapestries to find myself at his office. I was certain I had been taking the staircases leading toward the opposite side of the castle…Perhaps the stairs had sensed I needed a bit of an intervention and had taken it upon themselves to deliver me to someone who could help. If that's the case I suppose I should be eternally grateful to them.

"Miss Christie," Professor Dumbledore said with mild surprise. "I was under the impression classes were in session."

It was true. Even though exams were officially over, each of the houses had to attend a final class with their head of house. Professor McGonagall was currently going over a recap of everything we learned during the school year, as well as cracking down on us about what to expect for the next. The next year would be our last, so there was a lot of pestering to listen to. Fortunately, I had managed a stealthy escape. The only time I ever managed to get away from Fred and George is when I wandered off to use the girls' lavatory. They would usually tag along and wait by the door anyway, but this time McGonagall refused to allow them to do it.

I swallowed nervously and cleared my throat. I was saved from explaining myself, however, as Dumbledore spoke first.

"I would think Professor McGonagall might object to you skipping her lecture," he said. His smile told me I wasn't in trouble. I was thankful. "But…as you don't appear to be causing mischief, I don't feel obligated to inform her."

I let my lips curl into a small smile. It was forced and uncomfortable, and felt unnatural on my face. I stood pondering the situation for a moment before something in my mind pushed the words out of my mouth.

"Professor Dumbledore," I said tentatively. It wasn't often that I had any one-on-one time with the headmaster. Any conversations we did have were few and far between. "Do you have a minute?"

I knew I had a few questions on my mind, but up until that point I hadn't had a clue about who could answer them for me. It was suddenly very clear to me that the wizard most suitable for handing out any sort of advice was standing directly in front of me.

He smiled at me with a curious look twinkling in his eyes.

"Well, I do believe I can do better than that," he said and he pulled a stopwatch out from his cloak pocket, giving it a quick glance before re-pocketing it. "Yes, it seems I have two minutes I can spare for you, Miss Christie."

He beckoned me up a small staircase and into his office, and I hurried in a bit nervously. I had never seen the inside of Professor Dumbledore's office before. Not many students ever visited his private space, aside from Harry Potter, of course. Even Fred, George, and myself as three of the biggest trouble-makers in the entire school hadn't been inside before.

I tried to look around, wanting to take in everything from the desk to the countless bookshelves and hundreds of portraits of past headmasters and mistresses, but I was far too distracted by my own thoughts and questions. My head was suddenly swimming with things I wanted answered, and I was anxious to have the mysteries solved.

"What was it you would like to speak to me about?" Professor Dumbledore asked, gesturing for me to take a seat in front of his desk. He sat down in his superior-looking armchair and looked at me with a friendly, yet penetrating, glance.

I cleared my throat, and decided not to waste any time. If he had been serious earlier, I only had a couple of minutes to converse with him.

"The day of the third task…when Cedric was killed…" I started, feeling less and less courageous once I was seated in front of the Headmaster himself. It was kind of intimidating. "I…experienced something bizarre."

I wasn't sure how I was going to explain myself, but with one nod of Dumbledore's head for encouragement, I tried my best to make him understand.

"I somehow knew something awful was going to happen that day, Professor," I said. "I felt as though…it's hard to explain…but I got this incredible feeling that something was about to go terribly wrong. I just…I just…knew."

I was suddenly very angry with myself for going to Dumbledore with my problems. He probably thought I sounded like a great buffoon. I couldn't even explain to him what had happened. I felt certain he was going to kick me out of his office for wasting his time.

"Mmm, yes," Dumbledore said, and I looked up at him in surprise. "Such a thing is not entirely uncommon," he muttered.

I looked at him with confusion written all over my face.

"In wizards, you mean?" I questioned.

"Well, I suppose it's not entirely unusual amongst wizard-folk either, but it is not a magic-related force…not in the technical sense of the word, anyway."

I shot him a confused look. "If it wasn't magic, then what was it?" I questioned.

Dumbledore gave me a small smile. "It is not uncommon for a bond to become so strong between two people that we become exceptionally in-tune to each other."

Clearly he must have noticed that I was still looking uncertain, so he elaborated.

"I believe what you are describing occurred because of the bond you and Mr. Diggory shared. It is entirely human to be connected to people in ways that defy the laws of normal communication. I believe what you experienced was simply that—an extraordinary demonstration of how greatly influenced we are by the people surrounding us, and how tightly connected our lives are to one another."

"So…you're saying…Cedric and I were joined by a paranormal bond?" I asked. My voice sounded uncertain.

He smiled.

"I once awoke in the middle of the night with a desire so strong for a morsel of fig-pie that I had to travel down to the kitchens for a late-night snack. What was most odd was the fact that I, ever since an unfortunate incident in which I slipped on a slice of the pie, cannot stand the taste of it."

I watched him curiously. I had always known Dumbledore was a bit obscure, but I was never aware of just how cryptic he could be.

"It was on my way down to the kitchens that I came across Professor McGonagall, stumbling through the darkness on her way to find a slice of the same horrid pie I was so suddenly yearning for," he continued, staring at me with meaning.

I couldn't help but smile a little at the professor's odd tale.

"I've blamed her ever since for keeping me awake on a night when I should have been lost to the land of dreams," he said.

"So…Professor McGonagall's craving was so strong that even you felt it…" I said. "You think what happened to me was the same sort of thing?"

"Precisely," he said. "It is a rare and wonderful gift to have a bond so strong between two people that you can sense each other's emotions…even rarer when you are able to sense a threat upon a life. I believe your experience on that day was one directly related to the relationship you had formed with Mr. Diggory…and that, Miss Christie, is magic in its own right."

I was silent for a long time, letting Dumbledore's words sink in. I was a bit overwhelmed by what he was telling me, but it seemed logical…or as logical as such an occurrence could ever be. It certainly made more sense than believing I could predict the future, or some such nonsense.

"Is there something else, Miss Christie?"

I cleared my throat, deciding it was best to get all of my concerns out into the open while I had the chance. I was certain Dumbledore would know better than anyone what I should do…he really was the most brilliant person I knew.

"Professor…I'm not sure how to go on from here…after everything that's happened…I can't help but feel…frightened," I said.

I was a bit surprised at myself, despite my newfound confidence. I hadn't been capable of speaking to anyone about how I had been feeling since Cedric's death, and suddenly I was able to pour my emotions out for my headmaster to see? It was a bewildering feeling, but I was somehow certain that my conversation with Dumbledore would be a turning point for me.

Professor Dumbledore studied me for a moment. It was a frightening look he gave me then, as if he could read my thoughts. I felt like he was delving into my brain somehow. It was unnerving, and also astounding.

"When I was a small boy I lived in the tiniest of cottages, tucked away in a space between two great forests," he began again, and I focused all of my attention on what he was saying. If he was going to tell another story, I wanted to be sure to catch every word in case I needed to decipher clues later on.

"I often sat by my window, staring out at the land, fascinated by the great trees and the wilderness surrounding me," he continued. "On one night I saw something strange. A great white beast seemed to glide across the ground beneath my window, and into the forest on the north side of my home…I was amazed and frightened by the beast, but I was a curious boy. I frequently stared out of my window, hoping to catch a glimpse of the mysterious white creature that flitted back and forth across the yard so late at night, but I was always too afraid to go down for a closer look."

Dumbledore paused, looking up at the ceiling as if trying to recall the rest of his memory. I listened intently.

"I remember on one particularly dark night, I decided to get up and investigate," he told me. "I tip-toed out of my room and through my back door until I reached the edge of the forest. I remember lingering there, positively terrified by what I might find…but that didn't stop me. I ran—straight into the darkness—and what I saw there, illuminated by the moon, was a mother unicorn nursing its newborn calf." Dumbledore's eyes twinkled with the memory. "It was the purest and most marvellous display of love I have ever witnessed in all of my days."

He smiled at me, as if he had just bestowed a magical gem of wisdom on me, and I stared back blankly. I tried to show some sign of understanding, but I was confused. I stayed silent for a few moments. I had absolutely no idea what his story had to do with me, and I mulled over it in silence, trying to make some sense of what he told me. I thought about asking him what that was supposed to mean, but I settled on my next concern first.

"Professor…I can't help feeling…feeling like if I had gotten there only moments earlier…that I would have been able to stop this all from happening," I said quietly. "Cedric would still be alive, and Harry would never have reached—"

Dumbledore held up his hand to stop me.

"The world works in peculiar ways, Juliet," he said with that all-too-familiar wise-wizard twinkle in his eye. "Sometimes, despite all of our best intentions…things don't always work out according to plan," he said quietly.

I felt myself leaning in unconsciously to hear him better.

"And it is during times such as those that we must learn to move past our fears. It is during those times that it is in our best interest to run into the darkness head-first," he smiled as he saw my eyes light up in understanding, and continued. "For it is only when we take risks that we can truly experience what life is really about."

I sat across from him for another moment, feeling both awe-struck and slightly flustered. It seemed I had been right to go to him after all. Dumbledore had given me the key to reawakening myself and putting my life back in order.

"Well," Dumbledore said, clapping his hands together, "I do believe that was considerably longer than the promised two minutes of my time," he said with a smile. "If there are no more questions—?"

I shook my head. "No, that's all," I said, rising from my seat. "Thank you, Professor."

"Not at all, Miss Christie," he said kindly, getting up from his own seat.

Dumbledore showed me back out of his office, giving me a curt nod as I left. I returned it, feeling the first genuine smile I'd experienced in days creep onto my face.

-------

I wasn't sure what part of Dumbledore's conversation had finally managed to stir from my inner depression and make me face reality, but I left his office knowing that crying over Cedric's death wasn't going to do me—or anyone else—any good. I had taken my time…allowed myself to feel the grief of losing a person who had grown so close to me over the months I spent getting to know him, and it was time then to move on from it. I was strong enough to know that I could.

I made my way back to the common room, suddenly seeing very clearly that attention was fully on me as I passed students in the hall. I had buried myself so far in my hurt that I hadn't much noticed how people seemed to pay attention to my every move. It was startling, to say the least, but I ignored it. There was no sense in dwelling on the past. I knew there were far more important things I needed to focus my attention on.

Fred and George were waiting for me when I climbed through the portrait hole door, and I didn't miss the looks of confusion and bewilderment when they turned to look at me. They could tell right away that something had changed. I didn't intend to go into the details with them, but I did want them to know I was going to be alright.

"Juliet!" Fred said, his voice dripping relief. "Class ended ages ago."

"Where have you been?" George questioned anxiously.

"Do you two have a minute?" I asked, ignoring their concern. I didn't intend to tell them that I had been with the headmaster.

George's eyes widened so much I thought they were going to pop out of his head. I hadn't spoken to either of the twins in days. They had probably forgotten what my voice sounded like. From the looks of it, neither of them had expected me to respond to their comments, either.

They both stared at me as I lay my hands to rest on the back of the squashy armchair that George was seated in. He was craning his neck to look up at me, and Fred was staring from his spot opposite his brother.

"I'll take that as a yes," I said, clearing my throat. I didn't look at either of them as I spoke, but instead stared into the fire. "I just wanted to say…thank you—both of you—for all that you've done for me lately," I said calmly. "It means a lot, and I just want you to know that I'm…I'm going to be okay."

Neither of them seemed to know at all what they were supposed to say…frankly, my speech was an impromptu thing. I hadn't really intended to come bursting back into the common room to formally thank them for their contribution to keeping me sane. It had just sort of happened.

"I know that the two of you have had a hard time seeing me like I was, and I'm sorry that you had to—"

"Juliet…what are you doing?" George asked suddenly, his face full of confusion.

I looked up at the ceiling.

"I just wanted to apologize for what I put you through—"

"Julie, you don't have to explain to us," Fred spoke up, eyeing me with the same concern and confusion as his brother. "There's no need—"

"Yes there is a need, Fred," I interrupted, staring at him pointedly. He closed his mouth shut firmly, allowing me to continue on. "There is." I repeated. I cleared my throat again, needing to continue. "I want you both to know how much you mean to me. With Cedric gone…and You-Know-Who back…it's taught me something," I said. "I know now that there are people in my life I can't afford to lose… and I'm done wallowing in my own guilt about Cedric, because I don't want to waste away my time being sad over something I couldn't control."

I paused to look at them both and was surprised to see George smirking.

"Are you done pussyfooting around now, Jules?" he asked.

I sent him a questioning look. "What?"

"We get it," he said, looking at Fred and then back at me.

"We know," Fred agreed.

"And we love you too," George said.

I let out a small laugh and felt my insides warm a little at his words. Fred nodded in agreement with his brother, and both of them stared up at me with serious looks on their faces. It was a little fascinating to see, even under such circumstances. Hardly ever did I have an encounter with the Weasley twins while they were both sombre.

I nodded my head, happy that he had stopped my rant, as I seemed incapable of forming the proper words to say.

"Okay," I said, sighing and straightening myself back up. "Good. That's all I wanted to say."

They both stared at me expectantly. They looked uncertain what to expect…as though they thought perhaps I'd turn back into depressed Juliet now that my monologue was wrapped-up.

Neither of the twins said anything for a long time, and I didn't really need them to.

I ran my hands idly through George's messy red hair and gave him a one-armed hug over the back of his seat. He smirked, but didn't move. I had a feeling he was afraid to jinx the situation and send me back into the depression I had left only a short half-hour ago.

Fred watched me with curious eyes as I made my way over to him. He was quiet as I sat myself on the chair next to him, although his arm went carefully around my shoulders. He kissed the top of my head and I felt myself smile again, comforted by his warmth, and the knowledge that despite everything…despite all the horrors that had occurred…some things would never change.

"It's nearly supper," George pointed out. I didn't miss the smile he wore on his face as he watched me tuck my head under Fred's chin.

I made a face.

"I don't reckon I need to attend the end of the year feast this time," I said, feeling my heart sink a little. It was our last night in the castle before summer took over, and although I was keen on refocusing my energy and pulling myself out of my hurt, I knew I wasn't ready to face the world. Even Alicia and Katie…I just didn't feel up to conversation. I definitely didn't feel up to facing the questions that would surely follow.

"I'll stay back with you," Fred offered.

George shook his head, putting his hands up in protest.

"No, I've got a better idea," he said.

Fred and I looked at him with questioning eyes.

"You two stay put. I'll be back in a jiff. We'll eat dinner just the three of us," he said.

George was set on the arrangements, and bounded out of the room before either of us could say anything else. I watched him go, letting a small smile play at my lips. I sighed.

"You alright?" Fred asked, smoothing my hair back from my face.

"No," I admitted, snuggling myself into him even further, "but I will be."

"Well…" Fred said, sounding a little awkward, "I'm here if you need me."

I patted my hand on his knee.

"Don't be silly," I said. "I'll always need you, Fred."

"Listen, Julie," Fred said after a moment of tense silence, "I'm really sorry about Cedric…I know how much you cared about him…and I'm sorry I didn't listen to you…that day during the task—"

"Let's not talk about it," I said quickly. Cedric's death was something I knew I was going to have to come to terms with, but I wasn't comfortable talking or thinking about what I had gone through that day. Even after my talk with Dumbledore…the memory of watching him vanish…it was too much.

"I'm just sorry I didn't believe you," he said.

I nodded. "Don't worry about it, Fred," I said, feeling my mood start to darken. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat next to him. "It wasn't your fault."

Fred pulled back from me a little bit, taking my fidgeting as a sign that I needed some space.

"It wasn't your fault either," he said.

I looked up at him, studying the look of worry in his eyes. It made my heart ache to see him so upset over my pain.

I forced a smile.

"I missed you," I said, wanting to brighten the atmosphere in the room. I had spent a week straight being miserable, and I was keen on having at least one good night with the twins to show them everything was going to be alright.

"I missed you too," he said with a small smile. "Just promise me…even though I know there will be times when you need to be sad…just don't…leave like that again."

I smiled genuinely.

"Did Freddy miss talking to me?" I teased, surprising myself at how easily it came to me.

He smirked.

"Maybe a little."

There was a crash from across the room that made me jump, and we both turned to look at the portrait door.

George was back, levitating several tray of food in front of him as he kicked his way through the door and into the common room.

"You have no idea how difficult it was to get by McGonagall with all of this," he said shoving aside one of the chairs with his foot to make room.

I moved off of Fred and pulled three cushions out onto the floor. Fred sat down next to me, and George flopped down on my other side, letting the trays fall down with a small crash. I winced and watched the glasses of pumpkin juice teeter before settling back down.

"You'd think there were eight of us," I commented as George pulled me into a headlock and placed a kiss on the top of my head.

"It's our last day as sixth years," he said with a shrug.

George handed me a glass of pumpkin juice, gripping his own in his hand. He gave Fred a meaningful look.

Fred took the last of the three glasses and lifted it up.

"Toast…to Cedric Diggory," he said simply.

"For his exceptional Quidditch skills," George said, raising his own glass.

"His impeccable good looks," Fred said with a smirk.

"And the kindness he gave to everyone," George continued.

I lifted my own glass, and the twins looked to me expectantly. I stared at the table in front of me, wondering what on earth I could say to do Cedric Diggory justice. I shook my head. Fred and George had it covered. Cedric Diggory was just that…he was Cedric Diggory. There wasn't anything I could say that could describe him any better than that.

"May we never forget him," I said.

Fred and George smiled at me, and we all drank.

Drank to honour, purity, goodness, and heroism.

We drank to Cedric Diggory.

-------

The hours slipped away as the three of us stayed in the corner of the common room. People came in from the feast, giving us curious looks, but no one lingered long. They were off to bed in order to rise early for the train ride home.

Katie and Lee came back together, and the two of them stopped in their tracks at the sight of us.

I locked eyes with Katie and she gave me a small smile. Lee grinned broadly at me.

I gave them a nod, allowing my own smile to brighten my features.

That only made them grin even wider as they each headed up to their prospective dormitories.

George stretched next to me, letting out a great yawn.

"I reckon it's time for bed," he said, leaning over to ruffle my hair affectionately before standing up. "You two coming?"

"Oh," I said suddenly, stopping him as he turned toward the stairs, "I think I'll be sleeping in my own bed tonight," I said. George opened his mouth to say something cheeky, so I interrupted him. "Yours smells funny."

He rolled his eyes at me.

"Alright then," he said. "Catch you in the morning, love."

"G'night, George."

I listened as George took the stairs two at a time, and laughed when I heard him crash into Lee, who had apparently been standing at the top of the stairs to eavesdrop on us. Fred rolled his eyes, but couldn't contain his laughter either.

It wasn't until we heard the distinctive click of the dormitory door snapping shut that Fred spoke again.

"So," he said, leaning back on his hands as he spoke, "what brought on your change of heart?"

I ran a hand through my hair thoughtfully. I should have known he'd want to pick my brain. A Weasley twin is never satisfied. They always need to know more.

"What do you mean?" I asked, resting my chin on my hand as I sat cross-legged across from him.

"Tonight," he said. "The apologies…the…well, you know…this," he said.

I smirked.

"You mean, why have I suddenly decided not to be miserable for the rest of my life?" I asked.

Fred made a face.

"If you want to put it that way."

I shook my head in amusement, and looked up at the ceiling thoughtfully.

"Someone…helped me realize that…despite our best intentions, things don't always go the way we hope," I said, "and we never know how much time we're going to get." I shrugged. "I decided life's too short to dwell on the past…and sometimes, even though it's scary, you've just got to…to run into the darkness head-first."

I smiled to myself, completely unaware of the entirely confused look Fred was shooting me.

"What is that supposed to mean?" he asked, sounding utterly bewildered.

I shook my head, the smile still firmly in place as I rose from my seat to head up to my dormitory.

"I think I am ready for bed. Goodnight, Fred," I said, stopping momentarily to place a kiss on his cheek before continuing on my way. "I'll see you in the morning."

"Seriously, Juliet, what on earth were you talking about?" he asked. I didn't bother answering. I kind of liked the idea of keeping my conversation with Dumbledore a secret. It had felt like a very private affair.

I climbed up the stairs and was halfway up when I heard him call up to me again.

"You know, no one likes it when you're being cryptic!"

I smiled to myself, holding back a laugh.

I wasn't sure how on earth I was going to be able to push past the horrors of my sixth year at Hogwarts, and it was impossible to know what kind of terrifying things were waiting in the shadows for the rapidly approaching summer…

But one thing was certain. Through all of the pain and suffering, including the sudden loss of Cedric, and the return of the dreaded You-Know-Who, one thing had become perfectly clear:

Something huge was on the brink of arrival, and none of us would be able to turn back once it began.

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A/N: I hope you all enjoyed this story! I think the wise words of Dumbledore were a good way to end this portion of the story, as he hints at many adventures yet to come. I hope you all take his advice, and aren't afraid to run-head first into the darkness in your lives. Thank you all for all of the support you gave me. Please leave a review and help me end And the Plot Thickens on a positive note!

I ask that you please, please leave me a review and help bring this story to a proper close.

And then, AFTER you've finished leaving me your kind words, head on over to my profile and click on Part III (Reckless Abandon) where you'll be able to read the prologue to the next part of this story.