God, I literally had to beat this one out of my skull. I have multiple concussions to prove it.

Well, not really.

Anyhow, between writing my novel/story, my job, drinking tea, playing World of Warcraft, drawing, plucking away fruitlessly at my new mandolin, copious amounts of real-life romantic turmoil, and the occasional manga, I managed to work a new chapter out. Yes, I have a whole lot of methods of doing pretty much nothing worthwhile (except the writing part; that's worthwhile).

So, to recap Harry and Malfoy were attacked by a troll, and Harry beat it, saving Malfoy's life in the process. In return, all Harry asked for was Draco's friendship. Draco was less than amused. Meanwhile, the Ministry has assigned a task force to find out how a troll got into Hogwarts…again….

Also, there is one scene of girl/girl kissing towards the end, so if any of you have a problem with that, you have time for mental preparation.


Chapter One: What do you get when you cross a troll with a ferret? A troll.

"So…this is the…myrtle chamber?"

"Yeah. Apparently, it's named for the ghost that haunts a girls' lavatory, which is the original entrance before they built the elevator."

"…This place is just plain odd sometimes."

"Can we focus on the task at hand, please?" the team leader, Frank Manning, said, staring at a large figure lying on the floor in front of him. "Miller, what is it?"

"Cairngorman mountain troll, boss," Miller, a tall, lanky young man with far too much gel in his spiky hair, hurried over to his boss's side. "Native to the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland, known for long forearms and massive fists conducive to lifting boulders and…digging…caves…." He faltered as Manning fixed him with a look. "I…did a report in my fifth year…. I'll check for ambient traces of magic," he quickly rushed off to do just that.

"Phelps," Manning said, turning to another team member, who was consulting a PDA, a new equipment issue that Manning had little patience for, despite its usefulness. Phelps was a short, stocky man, but he could wrestle a man twice his size to the ground if need be. He kept his black hair in a short buzz.

"Jacobs and Iggy are checking the area around the original scene for possible entry points for a troll. Helen is interviewing the victims, and…" he looked up at Manning, who was looking expectantly at him, "I'll help Miller process the troll." He rushed off. Manning nodded.

"I'm checking up on Helen," he said, heading back for the exit. "If anything comes up, call me."

"Got it, boss," Phelps said, nudging the troll apprehensively with his toe. He glanced at Miller. "Is this thing…dead?"

"Apparently knocked out," Miller said. "They refresh the stunning spell every hour."

"What time is it?"

Miller checked his watch. "Four forty-eight."

Phelps nodded as though expecting nothing else. "Great."

"And you have no idea how a mountain troll got into the school?"

"No," Malfoy spat, annoyed. "Isn't that your job? To figure it out?"

"Oh, calm down," Harry said, glaring at the blonde. "She's just doing her job." He turned to the officer (Helen, he recalled) and smiled. "Sorry about my friend; he get's bitchy sometimes."

"I'm not bitchy," Malfoy shot at him. "And stop calling me your friend! We're not friends!"

"Indoor voice, Draco," Harry said with a smirk, cocking an eyebrow at Malfoy. He turned to the officer, effectively ignoring any retort from his companion. "No, we don't know how a troll would have gotten into the school. Last time it was a professor, but none of them seem to be untrustworthy at all right now."

"Last time?"

"Yeah, it happened about four years ago," Harry said with a nod. "Professor Quirrel let in a troll, and it attacked my girlfriend. Well, she wasn't at the time, but she was a still a friend. Me and Ron fought it off."

"A professor let in a troll?" Helen asked, and Harry nodded.

"We didn't know it was him at the time, of course, or he probably would've been sacked right away," Harry said.

"How was the DMLE never informed of this?" Helen asked, scribbling at her notepad, and Harry shrugged.

"Well, Dumbledore was the headmaster at the time," he said with a wry grin. "Reckon he didn't really care about anything that didn't fit with his master plan."

"I think the Ministry is beginning to figure that out," Helen muttered, shaking her head slowly. "Diabolical plots aside, did you notice anything odd in the days prior to the attack? Unusual sounds from anywhere, strange smells or anything like that?"

"Besides blondie's perfume?" Harry asked, smirking at Malfoy, who shot him a disparaging look but said nothing for once. "No, not really. Hogwarts is a big place, y'know? Easy to miss things."

"True enough," Helen agreed, jotting down another note. "Well, if you think of anything at all that might help us, just talk to Professor McGonagall. We've installed phone lines in the Ministry and Hogwarts, so we have a direct line of communications. Call if you think of anything or if you need something from us," she said, standing and extending a hand to shake Harry's, which Harry readily accepted. Malfoy was already on his way to the door, and Harry rolled his eyes at the blonde's back.

"I apologize again for my friend's behavior," he said to Helen. "He's still a little on edge from the whole ordeal. Bit of a weak constitution, you see. Delicate, and all that."

"I understand completely," Helen said, unsuccessfully fighting off giggles at the enraged look on Malfoy's face.

"Was the whole 'weak constitution' and 'delicate' talk absolutely necessary?" Draco said as the pair made their way to the Great Hall for lunch.

"Completely," Harry said with a grin, laughing as he recalled Malfoy's expression. "Shoulda seen your face, mate."

"Don't…call me that!" Malfoy said, stopping and rounding on Harry. "When will you realize, Potter, that I'm not…I'm not even…." He seemed incapable of completing his sentence, even though his face was reddening with the effort.

"You alright?" Harry asked, and Malfoy shook his head, letting out a breath with huge gasp and sagging against the wall behind him.

"I can't even say it," he said. "I think the thought of being…friends with you repulses me so much that I can't even say it."

"But you just did," Harry said with a smile. "Why don't you like the thought of being friends with me? What about me disgusts you so much?"

"Are you joking?" Malfoy asked. "Maybe that trip to America made you forget, but I've always hated you, Potter."

"I wonder…" Harry thought back, staring contemplatively over Malfoy's shoulder. "Is that because I didn't accept your offer of friendship back in first year?"

"Oh, for the love of Merlin…" Malfoy grumbled, resuming his path to the Great Hall, and Harry followed at a trot, grinning.

"Look, if it's because of that, you were acting a right foul git," Harry said. "You insulted Ron, the first friend my own age I'd ever made. Of course I said no. Now, if you had made the offer to both of us, maybe I would've – "

"Like a Malfoy'd ever be friends with a Weasley," Malfoy scoffed, and Harry shrugged.

"You need to get over this elitist thing, mate," he said. "Yeah, you're rich, but the blood in your veins isn't solid gold, and the name 'Malfoy' isn't some divine gift. Look at me. I'm a half-blood with one of the most common last names you could think of, and which of the two of us is more likely to turn heads down Diagon Alley? Not to sound arrogant, of course.

"But we can be friends now, if you want," Harry went on. "In fact, if I recall, that's what I asked for that day I saved you from the troll."

Malfoy twitched, but gave no other reaction to the word "saved". He merely shook his head. "Why would I be friends with you now? You destroyed the Dark Lord, who my father happened to support wholeheartedly."

"Did you support him?" Harry asked. "It's always 'my father' with you. What about Draco? I'd kind of like to get to know him."

"I supported him because my father supported him," Draco said. "I was a good son."

"Doesn't sound like he was a first class father, though," Harry said, and Draco rounded on him again.

"Don't insult my father, Potter," he said, and Harry shrugged.

"I'm not really insulting him," he said. "I just think he made a few bad calls in his life. He was too full of hate, too full of himself. There's so much more to life when you realize that you don't have to worry about little things like who's got more wizard blood in them or who's richer than who. Look at the Weasleys. They've not got a vault full of gold at Gringotts, and I've never seen a happier family in my life. Look at Hermione. She's mundane-born, and she's got both of us beat at academics."

Draco looked ready to retort, but he couldn't seem to think of anything, so Harry went on.

"It doesn't matter," Harry said. "It doesn't matter where you came from, it matters who you are. Say it with me. 'It doesn't matter where you came from, it matters who you are'."

"Oh, shut it," Draco said as they reached the Great Hall, where dinner was being served. He abruptly stormed off for the Slytherin table, leaving Harry shaking his head in resignation. Making for the Gryffindor table, Harry plopped down next to Hermione, who smiled and wrapped her arms around his right arm.

"How was the interview?" she asked, and Harry shrugged.

"She sounded like she knew what she was doing," he said. "Malfoy's a right basket case, though. He can't let go of his daddy issues, I guess."

"Well, he and his father were really close," Hermione said.

"Close?" Ron asked, swallowing a mouthful of turkey. "I think he's a clone of his father. You know like that sheep?"

"How do you know about cloning?" Hermione asked, and Harry chuckled as Ron grinned.

"Val told me about it in her last letter," he said. "Oh, she's coming to the Burrow for Christmas, too. You two are invited as well."

"Actually, we were planning on checking out one of my houses in France," Harry said sheepishly. "You're welcome to come, if you like."

Ron smirked. "How long d'you think it'll be before you've been to every one of those houses? Ten years?"

"Reckon we can do it in eight if we plan it right," Harry said with mock assuredness, and Ron rolled his eyes as Hermione giggled, kissing him on the cheek.

"So, does this make you my sugar-daddy?" she whispered in his ear, and Harry snorted, bursting into laughter as Hermione collapsed into giggles next to him. Ron merely shook his head, having not heard Hermione's comment, and speared a steak on his fork.

"Mental, the both of you," he muttered, reaching for some sauce.

"It doesn't matter where you came from; it matters who you are."

Stupid Potter and his stupid omniscience. When did he suddenly become so wise and…content? He had a sort of calm about him that reminded Draco of Dumbledore, irritatingly enough. And what he'd said…as much as he hated to admit it, Potter had a point; Draco couldn't think of any life decision he'd made that didn't have some correlation with his father. And was that any way for Draco Malfoy to behave? So hung up on his father that he didn't have an original thought in the world? No. Draco Malfoy was no copy, no cheap knockoff of his father. Draco Malfoy was his own man, no one else but himself.

But the more he thought about it, the more Draco realized that he didn't even know who "Draco Malfoy" was. Who was he? What did he want? These questions should be easy, but for the life of him, he couldn't think of an answer. He was Draco Malfoy, heir to the Malfoy fortune, but what did that mean?

"Damn you, Harry," he muttered, rolling over onto his side and punching his pillow into a more comfortable shape. Sighing, he stared at the green hangings, which had been spelled to block the insufferable cacophony of Crabbe and Goyle's snores since first year. He tried to think back to his first year; who had he been then, and what had he wanted? He distinctly remembered the moment that Harry had said no to him way back then, declined his offer of friendship in favor of the Weasley boy. He remembered waiting for his response, the thoughts of joining up with Harry Potter, whom he'd admittedly acknowledged as an equal way back then, and taking Hogwarts by storm. The Malfoy-Potter alliance should have been legend.

But why couldn't it still be? Draco found himself thinking. He still had a chance, so why couldn't he take Harry up on his offer and…do what? He'd never really planned anything after legendary status. Caught up in his imaginings, he'd just dreamt of being famous, not what he do once he was.

I would've written Father, he realized. Of course; once he had Potter under his thumb, he would've gone straight to Daddy, begged for a direction, proudly announced his conquest and then listened to his father live vicariously through him. This was unacceptable; Draco Malfoy was no puppet, not even for his father! Especially not for his father! No, he'd do whatever he damn well pleased! And right now, that was join up with Harry Potter (as completely, maddeningly insane as it was) and take Hogwarts by storm! His way!

"Gail, what do you have for me on that troll?" Manning asked, striding into the lab, where Gail was staring at a magical display of what looked to him like nothing more than a complex series of helixes and swirling figures. "What is that?"

"Well, I took a cross-section of all trace magic collected from the troll and isolated all foreign spell signatures," she gestured at the screen. "What I found seems to be a very complex series of charms, hexes, and curses designed to placate and control the troll, judging from the nature of the magic, but the magic is different. More powerful, but less streamlined."

"So, what do I tell Bones?"

"Something was trying to control this thing," Gail said. "But it definitely isn't human. Human magic conducted through wands is more precise. This looks more like wandless magic, but the signatures don't match any human-designed spells in our index." She turned to Manning. "If I had to guess, I'd say a creature with near-human intelligence, but the magic signatures are too powerful."

Manning only stared back, and Gail turned back to the monitor. "I'll just compare the spell patterns to the Ministry list of magic-using creatures to look for any similarities."

With a nod, Manning strode from the office. "Keep me posted," were his parting words. Gail rolled her eyes, tapping a few keys on the keyboard and telling the computer to cross-reference the magic with every known semi-intelligent magical creature. With the most recently updated list numbering in the several hundreds, she knew it would be quite a wait.

In the meantime, Manning surely wouldn't mind her listening to some Bob Dylan to pass the time….

Harry wasn't fool enough to think that he'd seen all the world (magical or otherwise) had to offer; indeed, he imagined quite the opposite, that he'd just scratched the surface, that the weird things he'd seen were just the tip of a truly monumental iceberg.

However, no amount of pragmatism could prepare him for the utter shock waiting for him in the entrance hall the day after his confrontation with Draco.

"Harry," a voice said, a voice that Harry had never imagined would actually form his first name, at least without his surname added with no small amount of contempt. "Wait up."

Harry stopped dead as Draco Malfoy hurried toward him with an uncharacteristically calm expression, no trace or ghost of his normal sneers or mocking grins. He looked to his right to find Hermione staring at the blonde with blatant shock; so he wasn't imagining things, or he and Hermione were sharing the same very realistic hallucination.

"Um…good morning, Draco," Harry said, and Malfoy nodded curtly, halting in front of him. "You need something?"

"I've thought about what you said yesterday," he said, and Harry was mildly surprised at that; Draco had actually listened to his advice. "I realized some hard truths, and I came to a decision. You said that you wanted to be f-friends," he stumbled over the word but pressed on, "and I agree. So…" he finished lamely, and Harry and Hermione stared.

"Good God, Harry, what did you do to him?" Hermione whispered, though Draco heard perfectly and rolled his eyes.

"So?" he repeated, and Harry realized he was expecting something.

"Um, yeah," Harry said, nodding. "Sure, let's be friends. Did you…maybe want to eat breakfast with us, or…?"

"I've actually got to talk to Crabbe and Goyle," Draco said, "let them know about my decision. Lunch, though, I'll be free. I'll come to the Gryffindor table."

"Okay," Harry said, having difficulty absorbing all of this. "See you then."

"See you," Draco said, turning and making his way to the Slytherin table. Harry, though, couldn't shake the nagging curiosity eating at his mind; what on earth had caused his arch-nemesis, Draco Malfoy, number one hater of Harry Potter, to pull a total one-eighty and suddenly agree to be his friend, an idea Harry had had on a whim and pitched as a joke?

"Hermione, what did I do to him?" he asked, and Hermione gave a disbelieving laugh as the pair watched Draco sit next to his boulder-sized companions and talk with them in a low voice.

"Well, maybe it's best we don't question it," Hermione said. "If he is turning over a new leaf, good for him. If not, and he's plotting something, we'll make him regret ever learning our names."

Harry chuckled, taking her hand. "I'm lucky to have such a caring and dangerous girlfriend."

"You'd better believe it," Hermione said, bumping him with her shoulder, and the pair made their way to the Gryffindor table.

"Wh…hold on," Ron said, shaking his head later that day as the trio sat down for lunch. "Must not've heard you right. It sounded for a moment like you were saying Draco Malfoy's going to be sitting with us."

"Funny enough, that is what I said," Harry replied, and Ron turned to him with a carefully stoic expression clearly staring Harry down as though waiting for a crack in his façade. When none came, he looked disbelievingly at Hermione and then back to Harry.

"You…you're actually serious," he said. "Harry, this…this is Draco Malfoy. He's hated your guts as long as you've known each other. He's tried to get us expelled who knows how many times. He almost got Hagrid fired two years ago! Now suddenly you're being all chummy with him?"

"Well it sounds bad when you put it like that," a new voice said, and Ron rounded to see Draco himself staring at him with an eyebrow quirked. "Hello, Weas—Ron. How are you today?"

"What's your game, Malfoy?" Ron replied, forgoing pleasantries. He stood to stare Draco in the eyes. "What are you up to this time? You after his money? Read that article in Ingots and want a slice of the Potter fortune? Or are you just pissed that he finally beat Riddle?"

"Don't tell me you're jealous," Draco said, his characteristic smirk sliding back into place. "I've always thought you had a thing for Harry – "

Ron's wand was in hand in seconds. "You should stop talking now," he growled, and Harry stood to step between them.

"Calm down, you two," he said firmly. "Draco, stop antagonizing Ron. Ron, don't condemn Draco just because he was an ass before."

"Hey," Draco said defensively, but Harry ignored him.

"Give him a chance, okay, Ron?" Harry asked, looking at his best mate. "Maybe he wasn't so pleasant before, but he's trying to change, and we should respect that."

Ron looked at Draco, distrust written all over his face. "Fine," he said. "But if you mess up even once, I'll show you a few tricks I learned 'cross the pond."

"I'm shaking in my shoes," Draco said, sitting opposite Ron, on Harry's other side. "By the way, Crabbe and Goyle want to join us. They promise to behave."

"Alright," Harry said with a nod, and Draco nodded at the Slytherin table. As one, the two unmistakable forms of Draco's minions rose and made their way over to the group. They sat opposite Draco, next to Ron, who edged away from the pair slightly.

"I should've known it was too much to ask for a normal year for once," he muttered, digging into his yams.

"It's almost curfew," Luna observed, sounding completely unconcerned about the fact as she stared dreamily up at the sky. Ginny shrugged, resting her chin on her knees as her gaze fell to the Forbidden Forest below.

"Hermione's on patrol tonight," Luna added. "She doesn't like it when she finds you out past curfew. She's worried about you."

"She shouldn't worry about me," Ginny muttered. "I hate it when she worries about me."

"She's your friend," Luna said airily. "Friends worry about each other. At least, that's what I think. I don't really have friends."

"You're my friend, Luna," Ginny said, looking at Luna in surprise. "I worry about you. Do the other girls still pick on you?"

"Not really anymore," Luna said, smiling serenely. "Curtis Fenwick still can't move the fingers in his left hand, and I think that keeps the others at bay."

Ginny smiled wryly, flexing the fingers in her right hand; she had long since adjusted to the prosthetic arm the hospital in Arizona had given her, discovering in the process that the limb was much more powerful than a standard human arm (powerful enough to fracture a wrist if enough pressure is applied, she'd found out).

"Little bastard had it coming," she said, looking back up at Luna. "If anyone else gives you trouble, you tell me. I'll take care of them for you."

"You're very protective of me," Luna said rather bluntly, still managing to sound a little detached as she did.

"I am," Ginny agreed. "You…I like being with you. I don't have to censor myself or anything with you. I can say and do what I please and not have to worry about you…judging me or going 'What the hell?' when I do something weird. I can really relax around you. I figure keeping the other kids from bullying you is the least I can do."

Luna smiled at Ginny, and Ginny could feel herself reflexively smile back. Her watch beeped, and she sighed, looking down to see that curfew was five minutes off. That gave just them enough time to get back to their common rooms.

"Okay, let's go," Ginny said, standing, and Luna followed suit. As they moved for the door, Ginny took Luna's hand and stopped, pulling the blonde back to her. "Close your eyes," she whispered, leaning in, and Luna obliged, shutting her eyes as Ginny did the same, their lips connecting.

Ginny quickly seized control of the kiss, wrapping her arms around Luna, who did the same, and pulling her as close as possible. She worked Luna's lips apart and tasted the inside of her mouth, tasting an unidentifiable flavor that could only be described as "Luna". Plunging further, she trailed her fingers through Luna's scraggly hair, gliding her fingertips along the other girl's cheek and down her neck, eliciting a giggle in the back of the blonde's throat; she was ticklish, it seemed.

Finally, the pair broke apart for some much-needed air, and Ginny looked shakily up at Luna, who was smiling even more dazedly than usual as she stared over Ginny's shoulder.

"That was nice," she said breathily, and Ginny giggled.

"It was," she agreed. "I think I might want to do that more often."

"Okay," Luna breathed, and Ginny smiled, taking her hand.

"And…I won't like it if you do that with anyone else," she said as they made their way inside.

Luna nodded with a smile.

"Okay."

To:

From:

Subject: Status Report

Contents:

Our inside man tells us the Ministry was snooping around today. That troll really threw a wrench into things. I don't think they'll be able to trace it to us, though. If they do, this may escalate into a full-scale war, but everything's in place in case we have to go to contingency plans. In the meantime, we've stepped up our guard on the remaining trolls to prevent this happening again.

Nothing else of merit to report, though morale is low lately. Everyone enjoyed the last shipment of kegs, and they've been asking when we'll get some more.

H.H.

P.S. I managed to get copies of those schedules you asked for. I attached them as a .pdf. You have Adobe, right?


Werd.

This chapter was in production for several months. Meaning I started it, procrastinated for an inordinate amount of time, and finally got around to finishing it. I have a general idea of where I want the plot to go, but I've never let such trivial things bog me down. Rest assured that it will probably take another few months for me to cram out another chapter, and it may not even be for this story, and by then, the plot may even have changed again. I predict I'll have to retcon something at some point.

Anyway, on to the one point that I'm absolutely sure will draw at least some criticism: Ginny and Luna's little peck on the Astronomy Tower. From my point of view, Ginny's probably a little emotionally exhausted from the events of the previous book. Between the love potion, her fight with her mom, having to watch Hermione and Harry get together, and being attacked by a vampire and losing her arm, she's probably dealing with some tumultuous emotions. Enter Luna, who's just so…carefree that Ginny feels drawn to her in every way. I don't think it's such a stretch that Ginny would rebound to Luna (she is at that age where girls like to "experiment"), and Luna's so mellow that she probably wouldn't mind in the slightest and would probably even like the opportunity to help her first friend. Thus, a rather heated kiss from Ginny.

But I ramble. If you have questions, suggestions, praise, accolades, what have you, feel free to send them in a review. Heck, flames are welcome; they usually give me a chuckle.

Also, I could've posted this a day sooner, but a storm knocked out the internet in my area. Fuckin' weather.