Chapter Twenty One

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter.

Note: Wow, the whole chapter turned out to just be one long conversation, didn't it? Oh well, I guess that's what happens when people try to tell a story when Harry is in the room and easily distracted. It might have actually gone quicker had Harry consented to go with them, but it's a little late now. And Harry would totally blow their cover when he couldn't resist being a smartass or mention the scandal he created surrounding Draco's parentage.

Oh, and I'd like to thank everyone that reviewed. Over 1,000 reviews in only twenty chapters…you people are great.

That night Ron and Hermione rushed into the Common Room half an hour after curfew, their eyes sparkling, with Neville trailing behind, looking rather disconcerted.

"So," Harry began, genuinely curious. "How did it go?"

"It went great!" Ron enthused. "Little bugger confessed to everything!"

"I'm still not sure that it was-" Neville began, only to be cut off by Hermione.

"Oh come on Neville; you were there. You heard him. What more proof do you need?" Hermione asked him, exasperated. Clearly this had been an ongoing discussion between them on the way back.

"Oh I don't know…some proof?" Neville suggested sarcastically. "I admit that what we've heard is damning and I wouldn't put it past Malfoy to try something like this but still. He's twelve. And it's not like he's exactly criminal mastermind material, either."

"Maybe you guys should start form the beginning," Harry proposed. "And I can be the fair and unbiased judge."

"Fair and unbiased?" Ron snorted. "You like Malfoy, remember?"

"I like you more," Harry retorted, rolling his eyes. "Although Draco is less prone to jumping to conclusions."

"No one says 'jumping to conclusions' anymore," Parvati said as she walked past them on her way to the Girls' Dormitory.

"Yeah, everyone knows it's 'skydiving,'" Lavender added, hurrying after her friend.

Once they left, Harry and his friends were the only people left in the Common Room and they could begin their tale.

"We got off to kind of a late start because Ron insisted that I use some of Pansy's hair that you apparently just happened to have with you instead of Millicent's, despite the fact that Millicent was staying over break and Pansy wasn't," Hermione began, glaring slightly at Ron for inconveniencing her.

"Hey, don't look at me," Ron said, holding up his hands in a gesture of peace. "It was Harry's idea and if Harry said that the hairs you had belonged to Millicent's cat, then its best not to take chances. Besides, it's not like Malfoy even noticed that you weren't supposed to be there."

"That is true…" Hermione mused. "I don't think he likes her very much."

"And who can blame her?" Ron laughed. "Malfoy's a git."

"Um, she said Draco didn't like Pansy, not vice versa," Harry corrected, somewhat reluctant to break the flow of their narrative lest they get sidetracked and this ended up taking all night.

"Oh. Well he's still a git," Ron said. "He-"

"Regardless of whether or not Hermione needed to use Pansy's hair or what Malfoy and Pansy feel for each other," Neville interjected pointedly. "We soon realized we had no idea where the Slytherin Common Room was."

"Why didn't you just ask me?" Harry asked.

"Why would you know where the Slytherin Common Room is?" Hermione asked.

"Because Draco is a friend of mine?" Harry offered.

"Harry, do you remember that little conversation you had with Malfoy at the end of last year about stalking?" she asked sweetly.

"Nope, not at all," Harry lied. "You were saying, Neville?"

"Right. We hadn't thought to ask you, although I realized that you would probably know because you're obsessive like that, and there really wasn't enough time for us to go back, find you, and then interrogate Malfoy."

"Considering I hadn't moved and you had an entire bloody castle to look through, I'm not so sure about that," Harry disagreed.

"How were we supposed to know you were planning to stay in the Great Hall?" Ron asked rhetorically. "We saw Luna coming up to talk to you and she might very well have convinced you to go visit those invisible zombie horses she keeps going on about."

"They're called 'Thestrals', Ron," Harry said stiffly. "And everyone knows the best time to visit them is at daybreak."

"I've been meaning to ask you about that, actually, mate," Ron continued. "I mean, I know that you both say that you can see them, but neither of you is quite right in the head and as nobody else seems to be able to, how do we know that you're not just seeing things? Or making them up?"

Harry groaned. "Great. Only two years in and I'm already being accused of being a lying schizophrenic. It's nice to know some things never change…"

"What?" Hermione asked, looking vaguely disturbed by Harry's implication that he'd been accused of having mental problems before.

"Oh, nothing," Harry said dismissively, deciding against mentioning his psychic scar for once. "And of course Luna and I aren't the only ones who can see Thestrals. I know for sure that Theodore Nott can see them, as well as most of the adults."

"Well, Nott's a Slytherin, ain't he?" Ron shrugged. "None of them are right in the head. And don't you think the adults would have mentioned something if they had invisible zombie horses pulling the carriages?"

"Not to mention why in the world they would have such bad omens working here when they could just enchant the carriages to pull themselves," Hermione added. "Plus it would be cheaper and less maintenance."

"That would be the sensible course of action, wouldn't it?" Harry agreed cheerfully. "Which is why it has never occurred to any of them. Ever."

"Luna and Harry aren't the only ones who can see Thestrals," Neville said quietly.

"You mean you can?" Ron asked, looking concerned. At Neville's reluctant nod, he began pulling him towards the door. "We'd better get you to Madame Pomfrey. I can't believe I didn't notice anything was off with you! You must think I'm the worst friend ever. Oh well, hopefully this is just because of stress-"

"I'm not hallucinating, Ron," Neville told him, sounding faintly amused.

"No, you're just seeing invisible zombie horses," Ron countered.

"You don't believe in Thestrals, Ron? That's funny; I could have sworn I heard Harry say something about them being in the Quibbler," Hermione sniped.

Harry, who had been feeling ignored, opened his mouth to say that he had said no such thing because Thestrals, despite how invisible, zombie-ish, and horse-like they were, just didn't make very interesting news. Particularly as anyone who had made it through O.W.L.s Care of Magical Creatures could tell you that they were real.

Before he could get a word in edgewise, however, Ron continued. "I don't believe everything in the Quibbler, Hermione."

"Could've fooled me. I just don't see how invisible, zombie horses are any harder to believe in than, say, the Rotfang Conspiracy," Hermione shot back.

"I knew it!" Harry burst out. "All this time you've been looking down at us for reading the Quibbler, but you read it too! I have proof!"

Ron, Hermione, and Neville just stared at him.

"Shutting up now."

"Thestrals are real," Neville took advantage of the silence Harry's abrupt outburst had caused. "You can only see them if you've seen death, however, so not many people our age know about them. I'd hazard a guess that most of the staff would be able to see them, especially given the war…"

"How can Harry see them?" Hermione asked. "Surely he would have mentioned it if he'd seen someone die?"

Harry vaguely wondered why it was more surprising that he'd seen death than Neville. All things considering, she should think the opposite. "Uh, Hermione? I DID tell you. Quirrell, remember? Neville and I both saw it. But I could see them before. I saw my parents die."

There was a silence. Then, "When you were one, mate," Ron pointed out, with all the tact of a blind troll.

Harry rolled his eyes. "So? I still saw it."

"But you couldn't possibly have let their deaths and the implications sink in at that age and so there is no way that could have allowed you to see Thestrals," Ron replied.

"I thought you didn't believe in Thestrals," Hermione said, a little smugly.

"I didn't. I grew up in a wizarding home, though, so I've still heard about them. Charlie loves exotic creatures like that," Ron explained.

"If you're brother told you about them, why didn't you believe in them?" Neville wanted to know.

"Because it sounds like something out of those bad Muggle horror movies dad sometimes watches," Ron admitted. "He loves the TB."

"TV, Ron," Harry corrected automatically. Hm, that was interesting. If Ron's father's primary source of Muggle knowledge came from cable, that would explain a lot.

"Anyway, we've somehow gotten horribly off topic so, again, finding the Slytherin Common Rooms," Neville said pointedly. "We ran into this girl and I tried asking where the Slytherin Common Rooms were-"

"But I stopped him," Hermione interrupted. "Because I recognized her as the Ravenclaw Prefect Penelope Clearwater and even though people might believe Crabbe and Goyle were stupid enough to forget where their Common Room was, Penelope wouldn't be able to help."

"You know, you'd think that Prefects would know where the other Common Rooms are in case of emergencies," Harry mused. "Come to think of it, why in the world are the Common Rooms hidden and passwords set up? Unless they feel that Polyjuice Potion or Metamorphaguses are enough of a problem to warrant the extra secrecy, couldn't the portraits just visually ID anyone and maybe putting passwords on the dormitories? And for that matter, how is it fair that just because the Ravenclaws are the most studious, they should have to answer some bizarre and abstract riddle every time they want to leave their Common Room. I mean honestly, one wrong answer and you're stuck outside? It's a wonder anyone wants to be a Ravenclaw at all…"

"Yeah, that's great Harry," Neville told him. "Not sure I want to know where you're getting your information, but try to stay focused."

"Oh, that's rich coming from you; you haven't even gotten to the Slytherin Common Room and we've been talking for over ten minutes," Harry retorted.

"I'm staying on topic just fine," Neville said defensively. "It's Ron and Hermione who won't stop bickering." Casting a quick glance at the twin looks of indignation on the faces' of the pair in question, he quickly pressed forth. "After Penelope left, we ran into Percy and Ron may or may not have started a blood feud between the House of Crabbe and the House of Weasley."

"That is so not my fault!" Ron protested.

Harry shot him a Look. He didn't know what happened but he was fairly sure that whatever Ron had said had been entirely his own fault as that was the way these things tended to work. Also, he was beginning to wish that he had gone with them after all, if for no other reason than so he could already know what happened instead of having this drag on. Almost, but not quite. After all, he and Luna had had fun. Still, this was taking quite a while. Perhaps he should look into getting a Pensieve?

"Okay, it might have been slightly my fault," Ron relented, flushing. "But how was I supposed to know that he'd take such offence to my teasing him about Penelope?"

"Oh I don't know," Hermione said sarcastically. "Because you weren't his brother but some random troll-like second year and weren't sounding like you respected his authority?"

"But I don't-" Ron began.

"And you're his brother, so that's okay," Neville told him. "But coming from Crabbe…You know how seriously Percy takes his Prefect status."

"Yeah, yeah…" Ron grumbled.

"At least you seem to enjoy blood feuds," Harry tried to console him.

Ron looked perplexed.

"Oh come on; I've seen how much you enjoy bantering with Draco. In fact, I think I'll keep a close eye on you two when you start going through puberty, just to make sure all of this isn't just UST."

Hermione, clearly the only one to understand the acronym, giggled. Ron opened his mouth angrily to demand clarification but Neville just shook his head and put a hand over Ron's mouth.

"We're probably better off not knowing," he said seriously.

Ron seemed to agree. "Right after Percy stormed off, Malfoy showed up. He took us down to the Dungeons, which is apparently where the Slytherin Common Room is and I gotta say, sucks to be them, especially this time of year. Malfoy mocked us for forgetting where the Common Room was and then immediately proceeded to not remember the password. Hermione told him what it was and-"

"Wait, wait, wait," Harry interrupted, grinning. "Hermione Granger, Gryffindor Golden Girl, told Draco Malfoy, Slytherin Bad Boy, the password to his Common Room? What were we talking about earlier about stalking?"

"Oh, so NOW you remember that," Hermione rolled her eyes. "Typical. And I just suggested 'Pureblood' because it's Slytherin and it was the first thing that came to mind." She paused. "Well, after 'basilisk' but under the circumstances, I didn't think Professor Dumbledore would let them get away with being so gauche."

"The minute we were in the Common Room, Malfoy – who seems to enjoy his blood feud with the Weasleys nearly as much as Ron does – began to talk about how much a disgrace he thought they were and how Mr. Weasley should go off and become a Muggle. Then he mentioned that the reason he was so upset was that Mr. Weasley had conducted a raid of his house a little while back and even though they hadn't found anything, there were apparently several dark artifacts hidden in the Malfoy's drawing room."

"Not for long; I sent a letter to Dad," Ron said, sounding extremely pleased with himself.

"So?" Harry asked. "Even if he knows that the Malfoys are hiding something, he can't very well act on it!"

"Why not?" Ron asked. "He can just go back and raid Malfoy Manor again."

"No he can't, Ron," Harry said, shaking his head. "A raid once when other houses were being raided might be okay. To go back, though, you'd need evidence."

"But I do have evidence. I heard-"

"That's all very well and good Ron," Harry said patiently. "Even if you completely ignore the fact that all of this is hearsay, how are you going to explain how you got the information? Are you going to mention that you, Neville, and Hermione drugged two fellow students and impersonated them? Or perhaps you dosed him with Veritaserum? God knows no one would believe that Draco told you willingly nor that he would be so careless as to talk about it outside of the confines of his Common Room. Mr. Malfoy might get a fine, loose a few possessions, but you three could get suspended if not outright expelled."

Ron's face paled. "I-I never thought of that."

Hermione was so enraged by this eventuality that she could do no more than glare daggers at Ron.

"It's highly unlikely Malfoy's father will either," Neville said finally. "I mean, Purebloods like him are more used to bribing their way out of trouble than using the law to their advantage."

"Still," Harry said thoughtfully. "It might be nice to know you're in the right for once. I'll mention it to Draco in the morning."

"But HARRY!" Ron sulked.

"Do the words 'drugged and impersonated' mean nothing to you?" Harry shook his head. "Technically, I suppose I'm an accomplice, but I could just bribe my way out of any trouble."

"You wouldn't," Hermione told him sternly.

"I know," Harry agreed. "But I could."

"That doesn't matter anyway," Neville spoke up. "Because before we left, Draco confessed to being the Heir of Slytherin."

"…But he's not," Harry protested.

Hermione sighed indulgently. "Look Harry, I know he's your friend, but he's also-"

"A cold-blooded little sociopath?" Ron suggested.

"Seriously overcompensating for something?" Neville tried.

"The victim of a severe father complex agitated by the rumors about his parentage that have been circulating for the last year and a half?" Harry offered.

"NO!" Hermione glared. "I was going to say-"

"It doesn't really matter what you were going to say," Harry told her, deciding not to even bother. "We've already had this conversation. Draco's not even a Parselmouth; he can't be Slytherins's heir."

"But he confessed!" Ron whined, looked like someone had told him Christmas was cancelled. And so was breakfast.

"He's also twelve and an idiot, Ron," Harry told him, annoyed.

"Well, can't argue with you there…" Ron mused. "Can the fact that he's an idiot be his motivation for opening the Chamber?"

"No, no it can't. I've already told you that Voldemort's the one who's opening the Chamber and he's using a supposedly dead-"

"And we've had THIS conversation before, too," Hermione cut him off. "No one actually believes that, you know."

"Luna does," Harry said defensively and not a lit irritated at being cut off.

"Well Luna's…" Hermione paused, searching for the right word. "Luna."

"No, really, Hermione?" Harry rolled his eyes. "And there's no point arguing about this. Draco's too much of a child to realize that he shouldn't be going around claiming credit for something like this even if he were responsible, which he's not, by the way. You are too much children to realize what he's doing and why and I can't make you understand that."

Hermione bristled at being called a child and opened her mouth to fire off an angry retort.

Harry didn't let her. "As I mentioned earlier, Draco's confession falls under the category of 'hearsay' and he will most definitely deny it if Dumbledore asks him about it. Basically, all you can do is stalk him until you're satisfied he's innocent. As we've all realized that someone could order an attack in advance, having an alibi means nothing, so you're not going to let up until I catch him."

"Wait…you?" Neville asked.

"Of course," Harry grinned good-naturedly. "I've been told that I have a 'saving people thing.' And Professor Lockhart's assured me that the dramatic killing a Basilisk would be a riveting best-seller."

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