NOTES: Well, so much for getting the next chapter out in a timely response. I know the length of this chapter doesn't quite make up for it, but I want to thank everyone who're still hanging in there. You're the best! (Also, this chapter does get dark.)

Voldemort wasted no time in running away from his captor. He thought about the parents of the Slytherin children who he witnessed being up to no good. He made mental notes to ensure that follow-up would be made against the Greengrasses and Zabini. He had no fear of sexual curses in retaliation from the families – that part of him hadn't worked for years. Experiments with Darker Powers That Be tends to have that unfortunate little side effect.

But for now, it wasn't his concern. Right now, he had someone to torture for information, and it had been a terribly long time since the last time he had such fun.

He was going to drag this out for all of its bloody worth.


"We're here! Hagrid announced loudly just before he led the Fifth years into a sunny clearing that seemed to be located unusually far in the Forbidden Forest. Harry wasn't sure what he should expect, but a herd of thestrals wasn't it.

"Oh dear," he muttered, annoyed that his headache hadn't gotten better. In fact, the bright sun reflecting off of the snow had seemed to make things worse. Light was uncommon amidst the Forbidden Forest, and for that Harry was grateful, because the light seemed like it was now trying to stab his right eyeball with an invisible icepick.

"What?" asked Ron suspiciously, looking around for anything that remotely had eight legs. "What? I don't see anything."

"Thestrals." Harry raised a hand and pointed as Hagrid presented his haunch of raw meat to the herd. He closed his right eyelid and tried to focus his sight only from his left eye – the one that didn't feel an evil little gremlin lived beyond it. His head didn't hurt as badly as when his scar was reacting to Voldemort, but such was the difference between a firepoker pressing through one's skull and the stabbing icepick through the eyeball.

Draco approached to their sides and gave Harry an offended look. "We followed this great lump through the Forbidden Forest in the blasted cold just to check out something that a Sixth year Slytherin could have volunteered for?"

"Suzette," Theodore's voice was dark as he spoke just behind Draco's shoulder, "is not your own personal school assignment to study and dissect per your personal pleasure or professional interest." Draco stiffly hurried into the forest clearing, moving as though he wanted to put more distance (and people) between him and Theodore. Not that Harry blamed him. Theodore stood with his shoulders hunched forward and his hands jammed into his pockets, his expression dark and menacing. Crabbe and Goyle took wide berths around Theodore to join Draco, both grunting about how much more they preferred to be napping in Binns's lecture. Millicent and Pansy both went pale at what they saw and they retreated to stand behind a large tree where they couldn't see anything. Lavender and Parvati were quick in joining the Slytherin girls.

"Is it just us two and the adults who can see them?" Harry asked Theodore. At that moment, Trelawnie released a tremendous eardrum-shattering scream as she gazed upon the thestrals, and then passed out face-first in the snow.

"I propose we roll a couple of stones on top of her," Theodore said, indicating Trelawnie with a stiff jerk of his head. "And I shall also ignore that a tremendously stupid thing you just said, because if other students could've seen Suzette, I assure you that we wouldn't be the only ones providing assistance."

"Oh, hush," Hermione muttered, her eyes steadily trained on the scene before them. She edged to stand closer to Harry and Theodore, also hunching her shoulders as a nervous expression twisted her face. Harry tried to see it from the disgusted and slightly terrified point of view his classmates seemed to have as the thestrals eagerly accepted the meat from Hagrid. It wasn't like they were completely unfamiliar with thestrals – but maybe they just accepted the idea without any knowledge because Suzette was a thestral, and rather unthreatening at that. After all, Suzette was just another human to them… well, as human as the rest of the cursed students. So what if only a few students were able to see her?

That, and Suzette didn't tear into a haunch of bloody meat with all the eagerness of a pack of starving, wild dogs.

The only thing Hermione saw was a haunch of bloody meat being rent in mid-air and the mouthfuls of strips disappearing quite suddenly. Despite his aching head, Harry could appreciate the horrific imagery presented to the other students. They truly had been expecting something bloodthirsty, and it certainly appeared that they weren't disappointed.

"Remind me not to take my NEWTs in this," Theodore grumbled as he crossed his arms and glared.

"Gather 'round" Hagrid called when he realized that the circle of space between him and the students was quickly widening. He gestured the students to stand closer, but everyone seemed content to listen and watch from a comfortable distance. Hagrid grunted and shrugged. "Or not," he muttered. He waved his arms again. "This," he declared in a booming voice that could no doubt be heard all the way to the castle, "is the only herd of tame thestrals in all of Britain! You can only see them if you've seen death, but they ain't evil omens. In fact, they pull the carriages you ride every break to and from the train station."

Draco looked sullen. "I can see that my trunk and I will now be flying express on my broom," he grumbled.

By now, Trewlanie was beginning to stir. Hermione and Neville had propped her up against a tree trunk, and Trewlanie moaned as her head lolled about.

Hagrid ignored everyone who wasn't a bloodthirsty beast, as he extolled the many virtues and characteristics of the thestrals.

Harry, his head now pounding tremendously, sat on a raised root and clutched his head between his hands. He distantly wondered if his misery would end if he just pressed his hands together with his head in between, and just kept pressing until his head burst like a pumpkin and spilled blood and squishy brain matter all over.

"-arry? Are you all right?" Harry flinched when Hermione's questing fingers roamed across his head. She crouched lower so that he could hear her whispering. "Are you all right?"

Harry wanted to whimper. Curling up in a dark corner and hoping for the world to go away also seemed like a right brilliant idea. They had warned him that he might get headaches as an aftereffect of getting struck in the head with a bludger, and he hadn't had any until now – but he also didn't take his potion since the Slytherins moved in with the Gryffindors. Harry hadn't been so sure if it was because whoever was supplying it – Pomfrey or Snape – was too distracted to remember, and Harry was so grateful that no one noticed he was using the same metal cutlery as the rest of the students at mealtime that he hadn't mentioned anything.

"I'll be okay," he said after a moment, because that was the only thing he could look forward to – that everything would eventually improve.

"I think you look positively horrible. Did you take your morning potion?" Harry mumbled as he clutched his head. Even his scar throbbed with malicious agony. "That tears it. I'm taking you back to Madame Pomfrey. I'll just let Hagrid know that you're not doing well."

Harry snagged the corner of Hermione's cloak as she turned away and tugged on it. "Don't," he told her, trying to look as healthy as possible despite still holding his head with his other hand. "It'll pass. Just let it go."

Hermione's hands went to her hips. "Harry, you look like death warmed over. You never should've come out here. You're going back to the hospital wing, even if I have to carry you myself."

And she would too, Harry considered darkly as he released her cloak.

"Wait – is it your scar, Harry?" Hermione's face and posture changed. She bent over him with more grave concern. "Normally you don't get like this unless it's your scar-"

Draco popped up with a frown scrunching his face. "Your scar is hurting? Does this mean you're going to do that terrible laugh? This place is creepy enough with that slab of raw meat being torn in mid-air without you adding to its lovely ambiance."

"Shut up, Malfoy."

Hermione raised her chin in the air as Ron and Pansy joined them. "I don't think Harry should be here right now."

"If Potter gets to leave early, then so do I."

Pansy sniffed. "This is a fieldtrip, Draco. Not a punishment."

"Are you sure? That duffy old Dumbledore has never liked us – it's the sort of punishment I would think up."

"Forget it, Malfoy," Ron said harshly with a wave of his hand. "Like we'd let you get near Harry alone."

Draco shrugged with a suddenly amused smile. "Well, if you feel that he's too weak to protect himself from my wiles… can't say I'm not flattered, Weasley."

Ron's face turned bright red. "All I'm saying is that you require adult supervision."

The amused smile was gone in a flash. "Look, Weasel, I'm not the one who has gotten into a multitude of trouble every single year since coming to Hogwarts."

Hermione raised a finger. "Actually-"

"Isn't it odd that I should a prefect, and not Perfect Potter?"

Hermione tried again. "That is-"

"It's not odd, really, because I haven't gotten involved with illegally-obtained dragons, smashed an illegally-modified wizard car into the Whomping Willow, have a convict of a godfather-"

"You mean like your father should be?" Ron demanded in a near-shout. Conversation around them ceased into a hush. Even the tearing of raw meat went silent.

Draco's face had gone as white as the snow around him. Hermione sighed and covered her face with one hand. Harry wondered if anyone would notice if he crawled away now and curled up in a dark hole somewhere.

After a long moment, Draco's reply came back in a strangled hiss. "My father is currently in China risking life and limb looking for a Jusenkyo cure for everyone – including you. My mother is running everything in his name, including the Board of Governors at Hogwarts. What has your father done, besides stay at home with his fat wife and attempt to make more mewling brats?"

Ron punched Draco. Pansy shrieked and tackled Ron. Hermione gave a gurgled groan as she reached down and attempted to separate Pansy and Ron. Draco hit her from behind. Neville threw his arms around Draco to pull him off Hermione and was pounced by Vincent and Greg. The sounds of fighting startled the thestrals, who tramped Hagrid in their escape. Trelawnie screamed and fainted away again.

From there, Harry could see everyone else joining in on the brawl. It seemed like a good idea to crawl away, although he didn't get very far before Millicent accidentally kicked him in the ribs as she tussled with Parvati.


Harry and the other students from Hagrid's Care of Magical creatures class were unceremoniously ushered (or shoved, in the case of the Gryffindors) by Snape to Dumbledore's office. Everyone sported some levels of bruising or bloodstains, and multiple bandages, splints, and braces that Madame Pomfrey had supplied in a slap-dash manner. This hadn't exactly pleased Madame Pomfrey, and everyone was to report back to her after their dressing down.

Fred and George (and then another Fred and another George) Weasley turned around and stared from where they were seated together on a bench in front of Dumbledore.

Dumbledore dismissed the Weasley twins. "Think long and hard, gentleman, on the errors of mixing house elf urine with flobberworm pus and Berty Bots' Every-Flavor beans. That's a trademark infringement." The twins gave the younger students curious looks as McGonagall held the door open and waited for them to pass before shutting it with enough force that Harry's poor head echoed.

Dumbledore moved to create more benches. "With all due respect," Snape said, "the students do not deserve seating."

"I cannot very well have them all standing, Professor," Dumbledore said as he Transfigured several more benches.

"Stringing them all up by their heels is an acceptable compromise," Snape replied.

"It will impede their listening skills," McGonagall said with a voice as dark as Snape's expression.

"What listening skills?"

The students gingerly seated themselves in front of Dumbledore. Harry was very conscious of how exposed his back felt with Snape pacing the floor behind him. His head was feeling a little better after Madam Pomfrey gave him his potion – which Snape initially refused to allow, but McGonagall overrode. However, the potion didn't do anything for his ribs, which he felt protesting with every breath. Dumbledore rose from his squishy chair and surveyed the students with a gut-wrenching disappointment.

"So," Dumbledore began as he folded his arms behind himself, "perhaps someone reliable could explain why this entire class appears to have been mugged by a herd of hyppogriffs?" No one said anything or raised a hand. Dumbledore sighed. "There appears to be four prefects in this group – I'm sure there's at least one who can provide an accurate summary of the recent events."

Ron sunk deeper in his seat beside Harry, tucking his feet beneath him. Hermione's hand shot into the air as Pansy and Draco gave each other knowing looks.

"See, Professor," Pansy began, "it went like this." Hermione's hand continued to hover in the air. "We were quietly and obediently following Hag - er, Professor Hagrid on the fieldtrip to the Forbidden Forest, where he was going to teach us all about thestrals."

Funny, Harry didn't remember anything about people being quiet. Hermione shifted in her seat beside him, hand still in the air.

"If we wish to hear your nattering," Snape said, "then we'd call upon you, Miss Granger."

Hermione's hand dropped like a rock.

"Granted," Pansy continued, as if there hadn't been any interruptions, "Professor Trelawnie wasn't very assistive, and spent more time trying to intimidate and scare us with her predictions of doom and gloom – not, if I may say so, the most helpful advice one can receive when entering the Forbidden Forest." Everyone nodded their heads in agreement, Slytherin and Gryffindor alike. "This put all of us on edge as I'm sure you can quite imagine, especially with Professor Hagrid also carrying a rather large slab of raw meat. None of us could see the thestrals when Hagrid introduced us, but we could see the meat being… consumed." Pansy paused a moment to shudder theatrically. "At this point, poor Potter's head began to hurt – he really did look deathly ill, sir. I've never seen anyone turn whiter than snow. And his scar was really bright red on his forehead."

Huh. No wonder Hermione looked concerned. Harry wondered if his scar was still red.

"Naturally, Hermione was very concerned for her friend, and wanted to take him back to the castle to be seen by Madame Pomfrey. I'm afraid that's when everything went downhill from there." Pansy paused dramatically – and then hurried on with her story when Snape growled impatiently behind her. "See, Draco offered to help as well, since we didn't want the class to be interrupted and certainly didn't want two young students wandering through the Forbidden Forest alone. After all, I'm not sure that the horrendous creatures in the Forest really could defend themselves against a warrior goddess." Pansy grinned and flexed her elbows outward as if shrugging – and conveniently elbowed Draco hard in the side. Snape moved forward to stand beside Dumbledore. His dark eyes scanned everyone's faces intently.

"Unfortunately, my sarcasm was lost. Understandable really, given how tense everyone had become after a forty minute trek through the Forbidden Forest with Professor Trelawnie describing the many ways we'd all be mutilated by the other forest dwellers, only to see the slab of meat that Professor Hagrid had brought being… well, mutilated in mid-air. Weasley was gentleman enough to defend Hermione's honor, and Draco attempted to calm down the situation, but then Harry started laughing this really creepy laugh-" she ignored the sounds of protests that came from the Gryffindors, "-made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, it did! I think he was delirious from pain and panic. The laughter was so creepy that it startled the herd of thestrals, and I suppose they didn't see us students as much of an obstacle in their escape. That's how we came to be so injured."

Theodore snorted as he leaned forward to look around Draco at Pansy. "Only one pack of tame thestrals in all of Europe, and we just happen to have the worst luck to be trampled by them." And then he added, with a voice that said You, me, dark corner when you least expect it, "Is it possible that I can be exempted from any more forthcoming fieldtrips, professors? I'm not sure I or my fellow students would survive a third." Harry had a sneaking suspicion that it was Theodore, if brought along on a third fieldtrip, that the rest of the students wouldn't be able to survive.

Dumbledore petted his beard as he studied Pansy. Then he poured himself a cup of hot tea. "It does appear that fieldtrips do not seem to be anyone's forte this Year." Before Dumbledore could say anything, the door to his office burst open and Flitwick rushed in, his face bright red and his hands tightly gripping the arms of Daphne and Blaise. "I imagine this must be important to be interrupting my current meeting," Dumbledore said as he pushed the hot of cup tea away from the edge of the desk and stood.

Flitwick's answer was so high-pitched in its squeaking that it was barely discernible by human hearing.

"Sir," Blaise said really quickly upon spotting Snape, "I'd just like the record to indicate that I played no part in this, but was merely a bystander."

Daphne twisted in Flitwick's grip and glared daggers at Blaise. "If you wanna call being my lousy lookout a mere bystander!"

Flitwick released their arms and continued squeaking as he jumped up and down in outrage, flailing his fists.

"Calm yourself, my friend," Dumbledore told him. "Deep breath in, and hold it."

Flitwick stilled and held his breath until his reddened face turned purple. Then he released it. "Do you have any idea what these two hooligans have done?" Flitwick snarled as he pointed accusing fingers at Daphne and Blaise.

"Do tell," Snape whispered darkly, looming over the other seated students as he faced Daphne and Blaise.

"They sabotaged the Ravenclaw Tower's guardian! A priceless artifact from the days of Rowena Ravenclaw herself, and they sabotaged it!"

Dumbledore turned a deeply disappointed expression upon them. "This is truly quite grim. We should continue this in private however, after I've concluded my current meeting."

Flitwick roughly ushered Daphne and Blaise from the office. Daphne's voice could be heard in protest. "A simple, temporary modification is not sabotage!"

After their voices faded, Dumbledore turned back the remaining Slytherins and Gryffindors. "It appears that one needn't be in the Forbidden Forest to get into trouble." He reseated himself. "While the circumstances were understandably not favorable for keeping a cool head, people were nonetheless injured due to panic. Did anyone else hear Mister Potter's unsettling laughter?"

Draco's hand immediately shot into the air. And then, after receiving a pointed glare from Draco, Millicent, Vincent, Gregory, and Tracey also raised their hands. After a brief moment of silence and receiving several dubious glances, Theodore shrugged. "I must've not been standing close enough to hear."

"That's because Harry wasn't laughing!" Ron half-yelled, no longer able to keep silent. "And that's not what happened either! I punched Malfoy after he threatened Harry and insulted my parents, and it turned into a brawl like it always does when you've got a bunch of slimy snakes who-"

"Enough, Mister Weasley. Enough from everyone." Dumbledore looked very tired and old as he slumped slightly forward in his chair. Harry felt like a heel - an abused and rather roughshod heel at that. "First, let it be known that no matter what words are said, we should never react in violence towards the speaker. Hate only begets more hate, and violence is nothing more than a physical act of hate."

"What if it's the Killing Curse?" Ron demanded.

"Words," McGonagall said from the back, "not spells. Two different concepts indeed, Mister Weasley, and a different subject entirely."

Ron jumped to his feet. "Why is it okay to verbally assault people but not physically?"

Snape stepped forward with a flurry of robes. "Sit down," he said harshly, pointed a stained finger at the bench. "Immediately."

Ron glared at Snape for a long moment before reluctantly obeying.

Dumbledore sighed. "Second, I expect better from my prefects. All of them," he added with a pointed look at Pansy. "And here I thought that group therapy was doing so good in repairing InterHouse relationships. Alas. Miss Parkinson, in the future, remember that honesty is the best policy."

A sinister thought wormed its way through Harry's head as he continued to gaze at Dumbledore – a dark thought that felt slimy and invasive. Ah, but insanity is the best defense. Laughter bubbled at Harry's throat – he quickly tried swallowing it down. His head started to pound anew, beating in staccato with his throbbing ribs.

"Third, as this fight ultimately appears to have been a group effort in the end, perhaps it should be a group detention."

Snape leaned forward and whispered in Dumbledore's ear. Harry was close enough to overhear. "Is that a wise choice when groups are what got us into this problem in the first place?"

The sinister amusement within Harry grew, like a bloating dead animal left under a hot summer sun. He tightened his hands into fists and felt his fingernails biting into the palms of his hands as he continued to keep from laughing. The pounding worsened.

Dumbledore waved Snape silent. "This will be a lengthy group detention which, as I'm sure Mister Nott will be pleased to know, is to be held at Hogwarts. However, it will be two groups. Slytherins will serve their detention with Professor McGonagall, however she may choose to design it, and the Gryffindors will serve their detention with Professor Snape, however he may choose to design it. They are, at this time, both coHeads, so it seems only fitting that the other Head should design the details of the detention you all deserve for fighting with your mates."

Someone started laughing to the tune of Harry's pounding head. It really did sound creepy. Hermione grabbed Harry's arm and said something, but he couldn't hear her over the laughter.

There was a flurry of black as Snape swept to Harry's side, and the laughter was muffled as Snape slapped a foul-smelling hand over Harry's mouth. The thought of Snape's hands being contaminated with all sorts of gross potion ingredients only heightened the sadistic amusement in Harry's head. And somewhere inside his brain, Harry screamed as Dumbledore turned wide eyes upon him and met his gaze. Snape grabbed Harry's shoulder with his other hand and lifted Harry upright without uncovering Harry's mouth. Hermione's grip broke after she was half-dragged from the bench. McGonagall held open the office door as Snape rushed Harry from the office and hauled him down the moving staircase.

Snape somehow managed to slide past the gargoyle at the bottom of the steps even before the staircase stopped moving and Harry found himself pressed against the stone wall outside. The laughter was still ripping its way out of Harry's vocal cords, becoming more high-pitched with every passing second. Harry attempted to stick his own hand against Snape's mouth – to cover those hideous yellow teeth that Snape's silent snarl revealed. Snape jerked Harry backwards and then slammed him hard against the wall. Harry's pounded head exploded into fireworks as it struck the wall, and the laughter stopped as the voice screaming in Harry's head took over and he clawed at Snape's face.

Snape slammed Harry into the wall once more, and that was enough to make everything go black.


Harry's body slid down the wall, the back of his head leaving a bloody smear on the stones. Snape, breathing so hard that he was nearly hyperventilating, took a step back before reached down and grabbing the front of Harry's shirt. He was slinging the limp body over his shoulder just as Dumbledore exited past the moving gargoyle. "What did you do?" he asked, his voice filled with a combination of anger and concern.

"I shut him down," Snape snarled in reply, his face bloody from the deep scratches that Harry had inflicted. "And now I'm dragging his sorry hide to the Hospital Wing." Dumbledore said nothing as he followed after with an expression that brewed thunder.

As soon as their footsteps had diminished into nothing, Daphne turned to Flitwick, who was standing stock-still against the opposite wall that Harry had been repeatedly smashed into. "I don't think a temporary modification that was performed with the best intention in mind for our Hufflepuff friends deserves a detention that would be served with P-Professor Snape." She was unsuccessful in keeping the quiver of fear from her voice.

Blaise, who stood on the other side of Flitwick, slumped down and shielded his head with his arms. "Can I be dismissed the rest of the year and sent home to my mother?"

Flitwick appeared to weigh the consequences of involving Snape or Aurelia Zabini. "A temporary modification?" he asked Daphne softly. "Truly?"

"Cross my heart and hope to die, honest! I would never do anything that would permanently alter the structure of this school, especially something as rare and as priceless as the Ravenclaw door knocker."

Flitwick was silent for a moment, and then tapped Blaise's head. "You're not going into shock, are you?"

Blaise's hands shook. "I've seen him angry like that before, really, but that was…"

"Violent," Daphne whispered, gazing at the bloody smear on the wall opposite from them. "And cruel."

"I'm sure that there's a perfectly good reason for your Head's behavior…" Flitwick rung his hands for a moment. "We'll compromise. You'll serve one detention with Professor Hooch, and absolutely will remove that abominable modification you made at the end of the school year."

Daphne breathed a sigh. "Deal. How about you, Blaise?"

"I'd prefer to go home to Mum. We might not have detention with Snape – but I saw the look Theodore gave me!"


As McGonagall ushered out the subdued students from Dumbledore's office, she failed the heed a pair of beady-looking eyes that watched from the shadows of the fireplace mantle. A moment after the office door clicked shut, a horny toady crawled from the shadows. It looked around for a moment before leaping from the mantle onto the table. It hopped a few more times before landing against the rim of Dumbledore's still-warm cup of tea and tipping its contents on top of itself.

"Gracious heavens!" cried one of the portraits as Umbridge transformed back into herself. She seated herself on the table, nonplused by her current state of nudity. She looked around the office, and decided it would suit her just fine in the future. As she hopped off the table, she caught sight of a disgusted-looking Phineas Nigellus. "Ooooooh, you are a stud!" His expression turned into one of horror as Umbridge put a little extra swaggle in her hips and sauntered to his portrait. "It will be some time before the Headmaster comes – why don't we enjoy ourselves in his absence?"

Everyone retreated from their portraits so fast that a breeze stirred the room. Umbridge threw her head back and laughed.

Letters of Nerima 4.0

Akane only had a little bit of homework to complete for that day, which she did so after washing and hanging a week's worth of laundry outside in the bright sunlight. As she sat at her desk, Akane contemplated her reply to Ron. She tapped her pen against her lips in thought as the sounds of wreckage filled the air outside of her open bedroom window. Pidwigeon perched on Akane's window sill and seemed to watch the spectacle of Ranma versus Standard Villain of the Day. "This is normal," Akane told Pidwigeon.

Pigwigeon gave Akane a rather skeptical look. She shrugged, not feeling that it was worth defending how normal it was to live a bizarre life to an owl that flew halfway across the world to deliver letters from a boarding school wizard.

Somehow, it didn't really bug her that Ron was asking about the Jusenkyo Springs. She suspected that if she were cursed to be someone else (no matter how much she thought that being herself wasn't a curse), she'd also want a cure. But Ron didn't reach out to her because he thought she knew anything about Jusenkyo – Ron wanted to know about Akane.

Sadly, not many people really wanted to know about Akane. (A lot of people thought they knew a lot about Akane, but they were all dead wrong!) And there was something dreadfully familiar about Ron. Almost… almost as if she was looking at herself. Not as herself, but at someone who knew the sorts of simple, day-to-day struggles that Akane dealt with – someone who knew what it was like being shuffled off to the sideline for any sort of well-meaning reasons or lousy excuses.

Akane listened the usual sound of Ranma triumphing from atop of his high horse, with enough ego around him to cushion any possible fall. It also sounded like her freshly-washed laundry was quickly becoming an unfortunate casualty in this battle. After a moment of thought, Akane put pen to paper, and shared a glimpse of her heart.

Dear Ron:

Understand that it is still difficult to reveal myself to just anyone, but I feel that you just aren't anyone. You sound like someone who is often left in the shadow of another person – whether that was the intention or not of the other person. The second-youngest of so many children, seemingly overshadowed by those around you.

See, I have this fiancé. I know it sounds bizarre that I'm not even considered a legal adult and I already have a fiancé, but our parents engaged us when we had no choice in the matter. My fiancé causes trouble wherever he goes. I often found myself dragged into this trouble against my better judgment because I want to help him and am blindsided by the severity of the trouble.

Do you get the feeling that we're not appreciated? We're not really prepared for the trouble we get caught in, and the people we're trying to help don't understand what a struggle it is to keep up like we do? And then they wonder why we fall behind! It's like we're tools they use to obtain the height of their own glory, and then we get tossed aside when we need sharpening, maintenance, upkeep. And who can blame them when we're tossed away for better, sharper, stronger weapons?

Have you ever imagined how much greater we would be if we had the same opportunities and the same support?

Akane stopped and reread her letter. There was too much heart there for a singular stranger half-way across the world. With careful, deliberate movements, she scrunched the paper up in a ball and tossed it to the garbage pail. It bounced off the rim and rolled to a stop beside the foot of her desk. "I'll get to it later," she told Pidwigeon, who hooted curiously at her.

After a moment of consideration, Akane found one of her sturdier shoes. She walked over to her open window and leaned outside. Pidwigeon flitted out of the way to rest upon the back of her chair. Yup – there lay her recently washed laundry that she had oh-so-proudly hung in the sunlight less than an hour before. The string of it lay in churned mud as Ranma, making faces and laughing, danced around his latest opponent.

Akane hurled the shoe with such force that its blow propelled Ranma across the lawn into the koi pond with a gigantic splash. Ranma-chan popped out of the water, looking slightly uncertain and mostly upset.

"What was that for?" Ranma-chan demanded with a shake of her fist. The latest Villain of the Day stood frozen in his spot, jaw dropped in surprise.

"For the moment, you jerk!" Akane yelled back. Then she stomped off, grumbling under her breath, at having to pick up the laundry out of the mud and wash it all over again.


Pigwigeon was a simple bird whose brain was filled with fluff, but he knew that he had the Noble Purpose of Delivering Letters. Letters, he also knew, came in All Shapes and Sizes. So he waited until Akane was out of sight before he carefully snatched up the crumpled letter in his claws and took flight. After all, this was a Letter, and all Letters Have A Home.