Disclaimer: I do not own either Harry Potter (rightfully owned by J.K Rowling) or Naruto (rightfully owned by Masashi Kishimoto) nor do I make any money out of this fiction.
A/N: I really tried to get this up quicker than the last one but... well... you know... kinda makes me wish this was a better fic than it is; make it a bit more of an auspicious occasion when I do get around to updating.
If anyone didn't see the last update, I explain where the fic cover came from in the author's note in the last chapter. The incredible and generous Darkling221 drew it.
This, the coming last week of what had been a remarkably peaceful month of October, in which he'd transformed into a tanuki-human hybrid, befriended a giant three-headed dog, taken up magic lessons with a man calling him 'Lily' and wronged his friend and was now awaiting what was sure to be a terrible retribution, was sure to cause him all sorts of trouble, even by his warped standards. He just knew it. And then there was the waxing of the moon that was leading to his next transformation in about a week's time. Even the pessimist in Gaara couldn't envision the full moon's effects getting any worse.
But still, what did he ever do to deserve... oh, right, the indiscriminate murders...
A sense of looming dread hung over Gaara all that Friday morning, since the sun had presumably risen behind the thick cloud layer. He was sat eating his breakfast sedately, watching disinterestedly as the inhabitants of Hogwarts who actually slept at night roused and stumbled into the Great Hall, for almost two hours before he was actually acknowledged and approached. Thankfully, this time it wasn't a first-year on a dare to walk up to him; a game that had become increasingly popular over the last few days, and a game which he couldn't decide whether he should ignore or discourage, seeing as it probably wouldn't do any harm to let some of the residents of the castle see that he didn't actually eat 'firsties' for breakfast.
No, the man who approached Gaara was certainly older than, and definitely not as spry as, a first-year. Lupin wasn't an early bird, despite his studious nature, which was probably one of the reasons he was able to bond so well with the otherwise drastically different and less academically enthused Sirius and James; but nonetheless he had gotten up earlier than he usually would have liked in order to catch Gaara at breakfast, as the red-headed insomniac was always the first person there in the mornings.
"Good morning... Gaara," By this point, Gaara was already suspicious. The prideful Jinchūriki had been prepared to launch a jet of sand at the sickly professor the moment he was called by that dreadful, humiliating name again, so when he was actually called by his real name, he tried to work out if he could escape through the Great Hall's see-through roof. He stood, wanting to try it, to escape whatever the man had planned for him. He may have been taking lessons off of Lupin, and shared several (though, by no means all) highly incriminating secrets with the man, considered him to be somewhere between a respected teacher and a friend, but when Remus Lupin called him 'Gaara' right off the bat without any glaring dissuasion, he knew the adult wanted something. However, before the red-head could leap away, Lupin's hand gripped Gaara's shoulder in what should have been a warm gesture, and would have appeared to have been just that from afar, but was in fact a precaution by the experienced man to stop Gaara from dashing, teleporting or floating away.
"How are you this morning? Did you... sleep... at all? If you have trouble falling asleep, Madame Pomfrey would only be too glad to help..." Gaara, like many other Slytherins, hated inane small talk, however Gaara lacked the requisite tact and patience to conceal it as well as seasoned veterans of mindless chattering like Draco, who one could talk to for an hour without realising he was completely disengaged. Due to the scornful looks and frown, Lupin decided to cut to the chase.
"The Headmaster knows about our extra-curricular lessons and he's asked me to spend the day with you, revising all of the material we've covered so far in the tutorials; the theory, anyway. We'll be moving around the castle a little bit as I'm having to work without a classroom for the day. I also have to drop in on a few of the other professors, as well, so it's the perfect opportunity to get some fresh air in our lungs. Try to think of it as a unique chance to really get to grips with some of this magical theory you've had to catch up on, with your very own devoted, one-on-one tutor."
Remus didn't expect Gaara to believe that spiel, which was fortunate as Gaara's curiously-invisible eyebrow was already inching upwards in question. This was the story concocted by Dumbledore that was to be their cover and alibi. He was declaring it here, in front of all of the psychopathic transfer student's (unnecessarily far away) Slytherin peers, so that they could then pass on the word that Gaara had been spirited away by the DADA teacher for extra tuition.
Already whispers were beginning to spread as he gently guided the obstinate Gaara away from his cold, played-with breakfast and towards the exit. Remus had no intention of telling Gaara what was really happening that day until it was all over and maybe, if he could help it, not even then. The mysterious mute boy, who had fallen out of the sky only a few months ago, may have appeared and tried to act like an adult, and in many respects he probably was beyond his years, but Lupin couldn't bring himself to add to his young friend's already heavy burdens with these new problems. Worrying about the future was the adults' responsibility; children should only worry about the present, especially when they've already suffered through such obviously difficult times.
Gaara seemed to have taken his near-death experience in the summer in his stride, but the state Sirius had apparently found him in, and the scars that still remained, still left Remus with more than one sleepless night in recent memory and he knew Sirius had been the same.
"We're going to be stopping off at Professor Hagrid's home first, for a cup of tea and to pick up a letter he said he needed delivering to Professor Flitwick. I'm sure Hagrid will have some freshly baked cakes he'd be willing to share as well." Trying to instil enthusiasm about Hagrid's infamous cakes to the already unimpressed and sour teenager next to him was difficult, but he tried with renewed vigour as he began to quiz Gaara on Redcaps and the spells to vanquish them.
It was testament to Gaara's diligence that, despite his lack in casting ability (or restraint), his test scores and theoretical proficiency was almost at the average level, which, considering he'd never even heard of wizardry as Lupin's culture knew it until August, was prodigious. Remus, McGonagall and Flitwick estimated that Gaara could well be near the intellectual level of Hermione Granger and the Ravenclaws, he just didn't have the experience or the two previous years of knowledge to work from.
Gaara just enjoyed reading, a sad rarity outside of Ravenclaw, it seemed.
Gaara had his sand form the answers to the easy questions absentmindedly as he walked out into the cold winter wind (he didn't believe that England had such a thing as summer or fall). He trusted Lupin enormously, even if he did want to escape any troublesome tasks or conversations that might be required by their interactions. He trusted the man enough to follow him around for the rest of the day when he wasn't even being told the real reason beyond the cover story that had been announced to the listeners around him in the Great Hall. It was a smart move and Lupin would have made a good shinobi. Kami knew they'd made sicklier men into warriors in his world, even if his own sensei had killed the best example of such men that came to mind, in Konoha.
Gaara had never been to Hagrid's 'house' before, he'd never had any reason to, and now he was there he had to question their use of the word 'house.' He looked at the shed at the bottom of the hill with the big, old black dog laid out, chained by the door to the hut, looking to the world no different than a dead hound Hagrid had collected to feed to one of his more intimidating pets.
The oversized boarhound's head shot up, the flappy skin following swiftly after, as Lupin and Gaara came within smelling distance. Immediately, it barked loudly and achingly rose to its feet before falling back down into sitting position, watching as the two visitors came within petting distance. Remus, of course, heartily ruffled the dog's head and had his hand covered in saliva for his troubles. When Gaara was to pass by to get to the big wooden door, he saw the dog move its head towards his hand. He really didn't want to touch the smelly dog, not least because he'd been covered in more than a lifetime's worth of dog saliva only a few weeks before. His sand armour just wasn't thick enough to suffer that disgusting feeling again. The dog's head-butting became more insistent but before he was forced to play with another annoying dog, the door to the hut slammed open and the entire archway was filled side-to-side with Rubeus Hagrid's smiling form as he beckoned both teacher and pupil inside, out of the cold.
"Morning! It's nice to be seeing you again, Gaara, and you too Remus. Don't mind old Fang there, he's as harmless as they come. Right old bag of mush, he is. Not like my Fluffy. He makes Fang look like a puppy, though poor-old Fluffy really is only a puppy."
"I didn't know you had another dog," Lupin asked, intrigued, as he sat down at the table next to Gaara who seemed to be trying his hardest to touch as little of the 'natural' smelling abode as he could.
"Yeah, I got Fluffy a couple of years ago off a nice Greek bloke at the pub." He reminisced happily, putting a pot over the fire to boil, "Professor Dumbledore had him working up in the castle couple of years ago, he did. Perfect little guard dog, Fluffy was. But then they didn't need him no more so they sent him outside again. He's such a cute puppy, domesticated and as harmless as Fang if he knows you, and loves his music." Gaara was trying to remember where he had heard the name Fluffy before. It wasn't exactly a regular name, but then none of the names in this world seemed to be normal to him and since he'd lost the ability and requirement to say names at all, he'd become a little relaxed with remembering people's appellations. Still, he could have sworn he'd seen the name somewhere, and he didn't exactly hang around a lot of animals, just Hagrid's menagerie and... the gigantic three-headed hellhound that wagged its tail as soon as it smelled him coming from a mile. He'd seen Fluffy's name on its food bowl.
"Of course, I understand it would have been a bit difficult to keep him in the castle, with him being as big as he is, but he really wasn't as bad as all that. I told him to keep everyone away from the hatch in his room and he did, just like he was told, like a good boy, you know, until Quirrel and Harry and his friends snuck past. He wouldn't hurt no one, normally. I get so worried with him out there, all on his own. I visit him as often as I can, bring him his dinner and everything, but recently he's not been listening to me and he's not been eating his supper." Ah, so Gaara had been retraining and spoiling the meals of the groundskeeper's beloved three-headed dog. Somehow the beast's ownership didn't make it seem any more surreal to him than it already was.
"Well, I'm sure... Fluffy is enjoying the freedom. He's not had any trouble from that nest of acromantulas, has he?" Lupin asked, sipping on his tea, well used to discussing Hagrid's unique brand of animal-care.
"No, I tell Aragog to keep his kids away from Fluffy and any of my animals. He knows better than to cause trouble. Besides, with Fluffy being that big, even Aragog or Mosag would probably have trouble taking him down."
"Oh, yeah, that's Aragog's wife. Lovely spider, she is. Even-tempered. Never once tried to eat me." Gaara supposed that was one of the highest compliments that Hagrid could bestow upon any of his animals.
"I heard about the original acromantula male in the Dark Forest, before I came here, one of the biggest in the world according to the Monster Book of Monsters. But I didn't know about the female. Where did she come from?"
Hagrid began to look distinctly nervous, suspiciously so, "Well, Aragog was beginning to get real restless and lonely out there on his own, going through his teenage years, I suppose, so I, well, I did something I'm not strictly supposed to. Don't go telling Professor Dumbledore. I don't reckon he'd be too pleased, but I had her sent over from Argentina, just to keep Aragog company, but then came the kids. They're not badly behaved, ask anyone, except Ron Weasley and Harry, but they do get up to a little mischief every now and then."
"Your secret's safe with me."
Albus Dumbledore, aged somewhere in the triple digits, had seen all sorts of people over the years and had become a particularly good judge of character, after a fair few mistakes in his earlier life; but never before had he seen a man that could be summed up with a single characteristic in all of his life: gaunt.
Henrick Morbidus was an unforgiving individual, taller than Albus by a head, if not more, and was as insubstantial as a broom. His thin glasses sat on his bony nose as he looked directly down it at one of the greatest wizards of the century. Albus couldn't remember ever having met Mr. Morbidus before, certainly not from Morbidus' school days, presumably having been schooled sometime during Albus' first years as Headmaster, when he was still trying to work through the paperwork Headmaster Dippet had left him. But Dumbeldore, as he looked up at the impeccably dressed government official, had known as soon as the Inspector had flooed into his office just how little the wan bureaucrat thought of 'civilians.'
"Good morning, Mister Morbidus. Please have a seat. You're a little earlier than expected, I'm afraid I haven't made any tea yet." Of course, Albus had known the man would come earlier than scheduled, he'd been sat in his office since five that morning, waiting. It was the oldest trick in the politicians handbook.
"Not to worry, headmaster, this shan't be a social visit. I'm only here to look around and see if things are running smoothly." The tension in the man's low, gravelly voice made the measured pace in his well-mannered speech sound so calculating that it left Albus a little envious. "You needn't worry about my presence here today, I simply need to ascertain that the welfare of the students hasn't been adversely affected by the dementors stationed at Hogwarts and that everything elsewhere is operating as it should, under the circumstances."
"I'm always glad to hear that our Ministry has the children's best interests at heart." Dumbldore's smile was his shield against the obvious yet still veiled reference to Gaara. So, they didn't want to admit to their veritable witch-hunt just yet. Two could play at this game, and he had the greatest school of wizardry in the world on his side. "I'm afraid, with my day-to-day duties in running the school, I won't have time to show you around." He knew he was being quite rude in dismissing the powerful Henrick Morbidus, but he really did have a lot of work to do and he knew that any direct involvement he had in that day's plan would lead the increasingly paranoid Minister for Magic to suspect some sort of Hogwarts-based conspiracy or plot.
"That's quite alright, Headmaster, I still remember my way around from my school days, I should be able to escort myself where I need to go." It was painfully obvious to Albus that this was a trap, and that if he gave Henrick free reign then not only would the existing plan regarding Gaara fail but so would any chance of keeping the Ministry out of Hogwarts. A lot more went on in this school than the Ministry of Magic needed to know; mysterious transfers, possessed teachers, werewolves and Hagrid's pets, to name but a few.
"Worry not, I've asked our deputy headmistress to show you around. Professor McGonagall knows perhaps as much about this castle's running as I do, she should be able to answer all of your questions. Hmm, she should be here any minute; we weren't expecting you until later so she'll just be finishing her breakfast." In fact, Minerva had been stood at the bottom of the spiral staircase, waiting for his signal, for the last half hour. Upon the signal, the staircase ascending up to the headmaster's office, Minerva walked up the stairs and wished she had had a chance to actually get some breakfast, if only to settle her stomach, but she couldn't be seen in the same room as Gaara at all today, and Albus' thrice-damned theatrics might suffer if she hadn't been waiting for the inspector's arrival to make her own timely and dramatic entrance.
"Ah, here she is now."
"This really isn't necessary, headmaster. I would hate to trouble such a key member of your staff." The cadaverous official was watching the door, listening to the grinding of the staircase that he remembered from when he was a boy, while peering out of the side of his glasses at the suspicious old man the Minister no longer trusted.
"That's quite alright. As you said, it's not a social visit so we will do whatever we can to accommodate the Ministry's requests. Besides, Minerva is perfectly capable of managing all of her duties, isn't that right, Professor McGonagall?"
"Quite, Albus. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Morbidus." She lightly shook the man's bony hand as his dark eyes gazed directly at her. "Now, as you are a somewhat early, we'll make a start with the inspection. I imagine you'll be wanting to inspect the grounds around the outside of the castle, as well?"
"Among other areas. The Minister for Magic wanted a very thorough inspection due to the serious matters surrounding the school as of late."
"I hope you'll give Cornelius my best wishes upon your return, and I ask only that you not disrupt the students' learning during the course of your inspection." Blue eyes over half-moon spectacles perched on the end of a crooked nose stared directly into the dark, fastidious holes scrutinising everyone around them.
"But of course, headmaster. After you, Professor McGonagall." The owner of those dark eyes swiftly turned to the door and waved the unnerved Transfiguration Mistress through first.
Albus was having serious doubts, now that he'd met the inspector. The resemblance to Morbidus' cousin, Pius Thicknesse, was uncanny and unsettling. What was worse was that the Headmaster knew that Morbidus was aware that they were scheming and would do everything within his considerable capabilities to uncover it. But Albus' role in this game was finished for the moment; he had to leave it up to Minerva and Remus now.
If someone had mentioned, twenty years ago, that he would be entrusting such an important task to one of James Potter's insidious Marauders, he would have laughed, and believed it wholeheartedly. His faith in the insurmountable Gryffindor spirit aside, Remus had always been such a reliable boy, twenty nine days out of the month.
Meanwhile, Gaara and Remus had just delivered the letter - which Gaara suspected to be empty - to Professor Flitwick, who had taken the opportunity to praise the irked demon-host on his success lately, again. Once more, the wandering teacher and pupil had been invited in for refreshments and conversation by their appointment. The shinobi was further put-out when he was handed a fresh glass of milk while Lupin was given tea. It seemed that precious few in this world understood that a younger person was capable of maturity. Gaara wasn't exactly consoled that the miniature Charms professor had also opted to partake of cold milk. Gaara wasn't even that short! Still, outrage aside, he didn't turn the drink down. Cold milk on a hot day was a delicacy in Sunagakure, and even if it was freezing cold outside, he didn't want to be rude.
After finishing their conversation, Flitwick taking one last chance to praise Gaara's hard work and improvement, Lupin and the completely un-bashful transfer student left. As the pair were walking, seemingly aimlessly, through the school, every once in a while Lupin would look at his strange new silver watch and then take them off in another direction, more often than not back the way they had just come. All the while, the devoted teacher continued to talk about material old and new, including some minor wizarding cultural trivia. None of which particularly interested Gaara, but he tried to remember the useless knowledge, sure in the belief that if he failed to learn it, he would eventually be asked about it all.
Truth be told, Gaara had never been to a school of any kind before Hogwarts, his monstrousness, attemped assassinations and Suna's hands-on approach to training meant that he'd never been inside of a classroom. Tests had been given by Yashamaru, but were usually to do with how he'd liked a book or how he felt. Baki had once tried a test, more physical than mental, when they'd first been put onto his team. It hadn't ended well. Now that his life, or at least a large part of it for the time being, was devoted to academia, he became aware of just how hard the civilian students had it, learning so much nonsense.
Several students stopped to stare as Gaara walked by, the 'transfer student's' legend having spread before most even saw him and his strangeness. So, now, when he walked the halls being tutored by the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher and wandlessly controlling sand to form answers he couldn't speak, he gained attention.
At that point, Gaara thought that he'd more-or-less figured out what this secret plan was. Well, he knew that he had been taken out of his regular classes, and then spirited around the school in the full gaze of the student body and teachers, and was being kept in the dark. It was most likely that someone was looking for him, someone that meant to do him harm and not anyone else, and that they had to pretend to be doing nothing out of the ordinary whilst hiding. Even his father could have come up with a better, or at least more secretive, plan than this one. Though that plan most likely would have led to another war, but, then, Gaara was a war machine. These wizards and their underestimating him tested his patience more than people in spandex using their holiday time to run to his village and challenge him to fights.
After a fake prophecy that assured him that everything would definitely be 'fine' for the foreseeable future from the ill-reputed Divinations Professor, Sybill Trelawney, Morbidus was about ready to give up on his mission to locate and investigate the mystery that had been admitted to the greatest wizarding school in Europe. He was a professional, but the frustration of dealing with children who all pointed him in different directions when directly asked about this Gaara child, and the teachers who outright lied to him when he asked if anything strange had happened or appeared in the school recently, was trying his patience. The students would tell fanciful tales of a red-headed boy who could make objects move with his mind and killed first years at night. The only 'facts,' or definitive consensus, that he could discern were that the boy was mute, had a distinctive physical appearance, carried a large bag of some kind on his back, and had 'scary eyes.' It was a start but it wasn't the most promising one. Apparently the boy had become a pariah since arriving in the school so most of the tales he heard he chalked up to being nothing more than hearsay.
"Excuse me," the imposing man cornered a short blond-haired boy who had been leaving his class with a group of friends before McGonagall could stop him. "Would you happen to know the third-year Slytherin Gaara, by any chance?" The boy's strong resemblance to Lucius Malfoy was a dead-giveaway, so Morbidus believed himself to have gotten lucky when he saw the young Malfoy heir that would be the same age and House as his target. Surely this would lead to some promising information.
"Yes, he's my roommate. My name is Draco Malfoy, and who might you be?" Proper decorum and hostility befitting a Malfoy; the man could see the boy one day becoming a formidable political figure like his father, and that could only aid him here and now, seeing as the boy had such unrestricted access to his target and was at least loyal to his father, who was playing the part of allegiance to the Ministry, at the moment.
"Good morning, my name is Henrick Morbidus, Head of the Ministry of Magic's Department of Administrative Inspectors. Would you mind terribly if I asked you a few questions about your current schooling experience during these... troubled times, and about your roommate, as we don't seem to have his records and such a gap in the Ministry's files is a troubling lapse, I'm sure you agree." While he knew it was rude to play games with Lucius Malfoy's son, he couldn't afford to be as open as he'd like in front of Dumbledore's right-hand witch.
Draco looked up at the man his father had once complained about as being 'a man with more dirty secrets than the Dark Lord' and felt a cold quiver drip down his spine. This man worked alongside his father, a temporary loyalty he had understood for a couple of years now, and he knew he was expected to be up front about all of the peculiarities surrounding Gaara, as if his father himself had asked.
Instead, Draco answered: "I'm afraid there isn't much I can tell you, he's very closed-off and, you understand, he can't speak at all. Though, he doesn't sleep much, sir." He hoped this would appear to be just ignorant and not quite as treasonous as it felt. From the look in the inspector's eyes and tight jaw, apparently his ruse hadn't gone unnoticed.
Actually, it had. The head of the Ministry's secret little division was angry because of the combined ignorance of all of these school children, even the son of such a well-bred wizarding family, and the conspiring teachers. Despite the probability that the mystery was just that, a mystery to everyone including the students, even the one he was rooming with, he couldn't risk leaving a well of information untapped so he tried to increase the pressure. After all, throughout this conversation, unlike before, McGonagall hadn't busily asked him to leave the student alone but had instead stood back, tense and wary. "It pains me to hear that a promising new student hasn't opened up to anyone here. As his roommate I would have expected someone with such an astute father as your own to have at least made a measure of someone so close to them." Attack his pride and mention his father in the same sentence, cruel but if the file on the Malfoy family was as accurate as it should be, the son should be afraid of his father and very proud.
"As I'm sure you're learning, Mr. Morbidus, sir, Gaara is a bit of an enigma, but you probably haven't been looking very deeply into something like a new student, after all. A man of your position wouldn't have trouble finding information like that, now, would he?" Draco could have kicked himself for falling for the jibe and succumbing to his pride again. He'd just pissed off a man his father was wary of. There was a reason he wasn't in Ravenclaw, and several for why he wasn't in Hufflepuff, but it was times like these that he wondered why the Sorting Hat hadn't at least paused to consider putting him in with the easily-roused Gryffindors.
"Merely running through the appropriate investigative channels. Proper conduct needs to be followed. Now, run along." The cold, quiet, shivering rage in the gaunt man's voice told Draco not to hang around to celebrate his small victory on the terrible man. He quickly scarpered, catching the mix of pride and worry he thought he'd never catch on McGonagall's face pointed in his direction.
"I think it's about time for the students to go to lunch, we should make our way to the Great Hall, perhaps Gaara will already be there and you can finish your clarification there." He doubted it, but he followed his guide nonetheless, on the off chance that they were as foolishly confident as the Malfoy child and had decided to parade this 'Gaara' in front of him.
This was turning out to be a laborious assignment and he wanted something concrete to take back to the Minister, along with his report on the dementors. He still had to follow that up, and would do so soon. He needed to check in the Dark Forest and that forest had been infamously dangerous when he was a child, but now with the dementors it would be perilous even to an adult wizard of his calibre.
"Lead the way."
"Hey, have you seen him yet?" Draco asked, looking around to double-check Gaara hadn't slipped into the hall while his back was turned, again.
"No, everyone's been looking but no one knows where he is. Everyone we ask says he's somewhere else." Roy looked worn out, having spent every moment between classes on this favour for Draco. Finding Gaara had been impossible even after he'd enlisted all of his and Draco's shared friends. Even the teachers hadn't offered to help their quest to recover the lost student. "Don't worry, we'll give Gaara the message eventually."
Draco suspected that Gaara's disappearance and the performance that morning at breakfast were probably to do with the same creepy inspector also looking for Gaara, and that Gaara's much needed private magical tutor, Professor Lupin, was probably moving him around. Still, he had set everything up perfectly for that day and for the target to, coincidentally, go into hiding just wasn't fair.
As he made another sweep of the hall, including the ceiling, because with Gaara that was perfectly feasible, he caught sight of Mr. Morbidus and Professor McGonagall entering the Great Hall. The platinum blond quickly slipped into a seat and tried not to draw attention to himself. He'd already earned the scary man's ire and he didn't need to catch his eye. He was perfectly used to dealing with scary people, his father, Gaara and his head of house to name but three, but Morbidus was different in one key way, unlike the other three, Morbidus clearly would have very few compunctions with having him tortured or killed if he crossed his path in any meaningful way.
In retrospect, Draco hoped that the investigation into Gaara wasn't all that important, otherwise he would certainly be contacting his father soon to beg for protection.
And then he looked directly up to the head table and into the watchful eyes of the inspector, without flinching or balking. He should have been cowering, writing letters to his father begging for protection and reassurance, but with that sort of behaviour he wouldn't have been able to face Gaara. Gaara would glare the terrifying Ministry worker into submission or use his sand to... attack in whatever way Gaara's sand actually attacked wizards. He wasn't aiming to be a lion, standing tall and running into all sorts of danger, he'd leave the stupid heroics to the Gryffindors, but he was tired of being nothing more than a snake hiding in the grass. The Dark Lord, a man whose ideals he'd come to doubt but whose abilities and charisma were still admirable in his eyes, would not have shied away from conflicts like a weakling. And while Draco wasn't about to kill or torture the Ministry lackey, he still wasn't about to hide in the grass and wait to get stepped on.
At the teacher's table on the other end of the Great Hall, Morbidus had been seated in between McGonagall and Dumbledore, a move he suspected was to separate him from the other staff members who might fare less hardily than the two veterans of political warfare he was stationed between. He didn't force himself to make small talk and instead spent the mealtime idly sipping the, admittedly sumptuous, soup that had been prepared for him whilst his eyes would dart up and about every few moments to scan the dining hall for anything out of the ordinary. It was over half an hour later that as Morbidus watched and waited for Gaara, a red-headed small boy that would be on his own, he thought he'd gotten lucky, raising an eyebrow in excitement, when he spotted a relatively small ginger boy enter, but was brought down when he recognised Harry Potter at his side and remembered that one of the Weasley boys was a known associate of the Boy Who Lived.
'Time to call it quits on the first line of enquiry.' Leaning over to McGonagall, Morbidus said, "Would you please escort me to the Dark Forest when you are done here. I have been tasked with investigating a particular matter in regards to the dementors and I require access to them directly. I am fully proficient with the Patronus Charm so there shouldn't be any issues with the close contact."
McGonagall wasn't sure which made her more wary, going into the Forbidden Forest filled with dementors among many other nightmarish creatures, of leading the similarly ghoulish entity to investigate the dementors. Quandary though it was, she knew she was more than capable of handling anything in those woods, including the inspector should the need arise. She dabbed her napkin at the corners of her wrinkled mouth and motioned for him to lead the way. She'd lost her appetite anyway.
The walk was quiet and the weather was somewhat fair, considering the autumnal turn it had taken lately. When they approached the edge of the forest, Minerva caught sight of Hagrid carrying something assuredly pungent over his shoulders, and being followed by a Hippogriff of all things. She stood still and held out her arm for Morbidus to do the same and stop. By this time, Hagrid and his companion had also stopped, and the groundskeeper watched carefully as the beast he'd been escorting back to its pen spied the others. Minerva bowed slowly and shakily, her old back not giving as easily as a teenagers might, before a silent, straight and composed bow was performed by the visitor. The Hippogriff regarded them, spending more time eyeing Morbidus, before it too lowered its head acquiescing to their approach.
"Afternoon, Professor McGonagall. Is this the Inspector we were told about?"
"Yes. Mr. Morbidus here has asked that he be escorted into the forest to perform a few tests. Would you be so kind as to lead us in?"
"Why, of course. No problem. I've got a class arriving in a little while, though..."
"I'm sure they'll be fine on their own for a few minutes."
Hagrid cheerfully tried to greet the inspector, going so far as to shake his hand, a gesture which was returned immediately if only to humour the oafish man, but none of Hagrid's eternal cheer had any visible effect on Morbidus other than for his head to quickly turn to their destination and for him to briskly suggest that they begin if they had other duties to attend to.
As they reached the outermost edge of the blanketing line of trees, Hagrid lead his Hippogriff charge off into its corale with the others of its kind and the party continued onwards into the darkness. After only a few minutes of travelling Morbidus reached into his smart suit-robes and brought forth a golden disk that fit comfortably in his long hand, on which a small black smudge stained its surface. As he turned, the smudge seemed to correspond, as it were true north on a compass. They set off with the smudge as their bearing, Morbidus proffering minimal explanation in the way of his reasons for investigating, which were that a few dementors has gone missing since their posting at Hogwarts and he needed to discover whether they had fled or whether they had come to harm, which was a considerable concern as it would mean that someone, possibly their target, had a way of defending himself from the guards.
The device lead the trio to a number of dementors over the course of their walk, where McGonagall and Morbidus used the partonus charm to ward them off. Hagrid noted, as he stood behind Minerva trying to find that rogue bar of chocolate he could have sworn he left in his coat last Thursday, that Morbidus' patronus was underdeveloped considering the man's supposed ability and influence. It wasn't even corporeal. But then, Hagrid supposed a man as grim as the inspector might struggle to summon enough happiness to fully manifest one, or maybe the pale man, only a foot shorter than the half-giant, just didn't see the need to summon a full patronus in the company of only one dementor with another competent witch casting nearby. In any case, Hagrid didn't speak aloud any of these thoughts, as he sincerely didn't want to gain any more notice from the inspector than he already had. The Ministry had already taken a lot from him, and last year had shown they wouldn't hesitate in taking more.
After a few more encounters with the dementors still flying around, Morbidus led them to an empty clearing that made the man's tight lips creak upwards on one side in a queer smirk. Once the grin had subsided, he turned to Professor McGonagall and asked her politely to keep watch whilst he performed his examination, to which the confused witch nodded.
Morbidus walked over to the centre of the clearing and stooped low, shifting to one knee, and waved his Ministry gadget over the patch of earth. It beeped and he used the fancy pen he pulled from his pocket to nudge some of the dirt into a small bag before smoothly tucking them both back into his robes and rising.
"Thank you for your indulgence. I believe I now have what I came for." His appreciation was said with a small nod before he turned to Hagrid expectantly.
"Hold a minute, Rubeus. Mr. Morbidus, what, may I ask, is it that you came out here for?"
"I suppose something in the way of an explanation is in order. Our reports indicate that a relatively small number of dementors posted here at Hogwarts have gone missing and I have just ascertained that at least one, possibly more, of the missing dementors were killed."
"Killed? A dementor?" Minerva was shocked, "That's not an easy task for any witch or wizard, you don't mean to say that Sirius Black had acquired a wand, do you?"
"I don't mean to imply anything, professor, I am simply here to gather information so that my office, in conjunction with the Ministry, will be able determine after due investigation and consideration the cause behind these disappearances. Before I submit my findings, do you have anything to add, Mr. Hagrid? You are the groundskeeper here at Hogwarts, are you not?"
"Well, yes, I mean no. I run the grounds and keep the keys, but I ain't seen nothing that would've attack a dementor."
"Are you saying nothing in this forest could kill a dozen dementors over a few weeks?" Henrick was more curious on this point than fulfilling his duty, since all of the known creatures in the Dark Forest surrounding Hogwarts were recorded and well-documented and they would all be researched in the course of the investigation.
"I'm sure a lot of things could, but most of the animals is dead afraid of them, so they keep clear."
"So you do not have anything to add to my investigation at all, Mr. Hagrid? Something in these woods that you patrol is killing the Ministry's dementors and you don't know a single thing. There hasn't been anything strange or out of the ordinary? Tell me, is there anything?" The man's voice had gotten a little more agitated as he spoke, well below the level one would associate with anger or frustration, but from the even-speaking Morbidus, it was alarming.
"I'm sure Hagrid would have told you if he had seen anything," McGonagall said with finality.
"Yes, I imagine you are right, but I have to be thorough." He swivelled on his heel again, and said to Hagrid, "Now, if you wouldn't mind, Mr. Hagrid. I would like to speak the headmaster again before I depart. I think I have what I need."
As they trudged back to the castle, Hagrid wondered if he should have mentioned that strange little biped he'd seen a few weeks before. Surely it was too small to even reach a dementor, never mind killing one. Maybe it had a parent that was bigger, but then that parent wouldn't have let it run around on its own when it was so small and defenceless. Though, of course, he couldn't say for sure without knowing what the thing was. Still, he decided not to mention it in any case because he didn't want the Ministry sending fifty hunters to smoke it out, along with all of the other things he technically wasn't supposed to harbour out in the forest.
When they exited the canopy of the Dark Forest, Morbidus stopped dead in his tracks without a word and crouched down again. Minerva looked back, worried, before she heard him talking to Hagrid, "Is this a patch of strawberries, by any chance?"
"Why, yes. You have a good eye for produce." Hagrid, for the first time since he'd come into contact with the Ministry official, looked like he had some life in him. Even Morbidus was smiling his grim little smile as he surveyed the vast fields of fruits and vegetables. "I grow most of the fruit and veg for the castle."
"That must be quite the challenge, I don't suppose those over there- Excuse me, I quite forgot myself. Professor McGonagall, would you mind fetching the headmaster. I'll say my goodbyes out here. I've seen quite enough of Hogwarts for one day. Now, Professor Hagrid, do you happen to grow brussel sprouts, by any chance?"
Minerva left quickly, if only to smoulder on her own as she made the long unnecessary trek up to and through the castle so that she could 'fetch' the headmaster. She wasn't a young woman, would it kill people to treat her with a more little respect? She would most definitely be taking a day to herself in the near future. She'd have Severus take over for her. Lupin and her had been spending the entire day playing Albus' absurd games, and he'd been able to continue as normal. It wouldn't surprise her any if Remus didn't get a day or two of his classes covered in the near future as well, which would surely go a long way considering the state he was often left in after a full moon.
By the time she was stood in his office, Minerva practically begged Albus to go on without her as she could hardly stand anymore. With a soft smile, Dumbledore thanked her and set off himself, knowing that he owed his old friend a debt of gratitude a simple 'thank you' wouldn't be able to pay.
Once the headmaster was gone, Minerva shot Fawkes a dirty look just for being an eternally youthful animal. The thing was preening and pretended not to notice the jealous teacher staring at him.
Maybe he'd have to tell her some of the secret passages he used to get about the castle in his frail old age, Dumbledore mused as he walked. He'd wanted to keep those to himself until he retired. They helped maintain the illusion that he was everywhere as well as all knowing. Plus he was able to surprise any slacking students in the corridor. Maybe he should write a few of them down, so that his successor could do the same thing? Hogwarts' headmasters and headmistresses should always be able to pull one over on the inhabitants of the school.
As McGonagall had unwittingly stridden into the castle alone, Lupin, having diligently watched his little silver compass, led Gaara back out into the ground surrounding the behemoth of a building. The raggedy professor thought it would be nice to join Hagrid again for a light lunch, under the 'guise' of delivering yet another message to the half-giant. Lupin hoped that Gaara was so uninitiated into wizarding culture that he wouldn't know that there were many simpler ways to pass messages between professors.
However, when the pair arrived at the hut for the second time that day, passing the lonely boarhound with the same levels of enthusiasm as before, it was apparent that Hagrid wasn't home. Remus tried looking through one of the hut's windows but with them being so clouded and cracked, he couldn't see any dark looming shapes in the cottage to indicate that Hagrid might be in.
More curious still, in the distance, near the edge of the Forbidden Forest, stood (as luck would have it) a third year class of Care of Magical Creatures students, unattended. Apparently their professor hadn't shown up, if their blatant slacking was any indication. Upon approach, it became abundantly clear that the mixed class of Gryffindors and Slytherins hadn't seen hide nor hair of their professor since they arrived after lunch. With no other suitable choice, other than leaving a group of fourteen year-olds to their own devices, Lupin decided to take over the class for the time being, until either Hagrid returned or McGonagall and the inspector left the castle again.
Whilst Lupin wrangled the surprised class and tried to draw upon the limited knowledge he held regarding magical creatures that weren't him, Gaara moved over to stand at the back of the class, knowing full well he didn't need to be taking notes from the overwhelmed Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher.
Besides, he'd heard more than enough from the man that day and having had to listen to demonic voices in his head rambling on about murder and carnage for a decade had taught him a few things, including that he had little patience for rambling.
That, and he'd learned he wasn't a cannibal, which had been a great relief to Suna's citizens and a great disappointment to the monster in his head.
"Ah, Headmaster. Your Mr. Hagrid here was just telling me all about the what's been happening lately on the school grounds. It's been fascinating."
"So you've seen the nettles over behind the wall? I have to admit, I've taken a severe liking to the tea since our Professor Trelawney turned me onto it." Dumbledore was almost insulted at a ploy as simple as that. He trusted Hagrid as much as he did Severus, maybe even more.
"Oh, well, I think I'll have to see them during my next inspection, whenever that may come. Time is pressing."
"You're not leaving are you?"
"Well, it's unfortunate but I have other duties to attend to today. Before I go, I feel I should ask, seeing as how I've had no luck in the matter, whether you could tell me where that transfer student is. What was his name?"
"Yes. I had only wanted to check in with the boy, make certain he is settling in alright, but he doesn't seem to be anywhere, or rather he seems to have been everywhere. Is there something I should know, if only to put on record?"
"Your dedication to a bright young student is a breath of fresh air, Mr. Morbidus. As you can imagine, any student starting late in Hogwarts is bound to struggle to catch up to his peers on his own-" Albus began but was interrupted quite rudely.
"Which is precisely why myself and the Minister for Magic himself have taken a personal interest in this unusuall matter." Morbidus looked like he wanted to continue, but he too was interrupted.
"Which is why it was decided he would be given a little extra help now and then to meet the excellent standards we wish all of our students to achieve. He's been with Professor Remus Lupin today, as you've no doubt heard. He has been able to help the boy enormously so far, as I'm sure you and the Minister will be glad to hear."
"Quite, but it would be a terrible remiss on my part if I didn't ask for proof regarding this, to settle Minister Fudge's mind."
"Well, there isn't any problem there. We would be happy to show you proof." Albus was a master at games, but that didn't mean he didn't have fun with them still. Dangling things for people like the inspector to snap at was an irresistible pleasure. "I will personally owl you his grade reports so that you can see where we have assessed him to be. You would be amazed at what we can do in such a short time."
"I'm sure I would." Morbidus looked like he was growing colder by the second, his eyes darkening to the depths of a Snape. "But would it not be more efficient if I were to personally meet the boy, seeing as I've come all this way already?"
"I wouldn't dream of keeping you, my boy. You're an important man at the Ministry and I couldn't deprive them of your services for a mere triviality. I won't hear of it." Dumbledore had had his fun so he sent the intruder on his way. Albus would deal with Gaara himself, in a way he saw fit. He'd not had a full sense of respect for the government for a long time and the last Wizarding War had proven he was a better judge of character than a collective of politicians.
"Yes, yes, you win. I'm sure you're right, so I will defer to you and eagerly await those results. If they do not continue their current outstanding improvements, I'm sure the Ministry will be able to take some measures in order to alleviate the burden on your staff. On a more sombre note, I'm afraid the dementors will have to remain indefinitely on the grounds of the school and they may have to alter their patrol patterns in the coming weeks to heighten the security. You will, of course, be notified in due time."
"Now, I think I had better be on my way. It's been a pleasure, Headmaster Dumbledore."
"Please do visit again, Henrick."
The inspector's steps faltered just a mite when he heard the taunting old man disrespectfully use his first name. He would most certainly not be returning to the school if he could help it. Far too much hassle when he could have sent any number of his workers to investigate the dementors and the invisible boy.
As his spider-like legs climbed up the steep hill that led to the castle, towards the front gate out of which he planned to exit much like he had arrived, Morbidus mulled over how he would report his findings to the Minister. That Black, or some other entity, had been killing the dementors posted was troubling, but at least he could tell Cornelius that this 'Gaara' child, whilst suspicious in a number of ways, was not an immediate threat and so was unimportant enough to shelve until a later time when they could safely make contact to enter him properly into the bureaucracy. A task he would most certainly not need to perform himself. He could probably even get that insufferable Umbridge to do it. Anything to stop her going on about tagging werewolves and taking away merepeoples jobs or whatever she kept trying to pass in the Wizengamot.
Now that he was stood higher up on the hill, looking down on one side at Albus Dumbledore probably congratulating his oafish assistant-in-distraction, Rubeus Hagrid, and on the other side of the hill, right at the bottom where the grassy fields met the Dark Forest, he saw a class of young teenagers all huddling together unattended as two of them seemed to be having a rather violent argument. Looking closer, peering over his glasses and narrowing his eyes, he spied that one of the quarrelling children was a black haired child that bore a striking resemblance to the pictures of Harry Potter he'd seen on file. And the other was quite removed from the fairly typical looking students that were circling the heated discussion. The shorter of the two had blazing scarlet hair, was carrying a bag of some description on his back that was almost as big as him, and was completely silent.
All of a sudden, the Potter boy had apparently worked himself into a frenzy and pulled his wand before casting a spell at the red-head. Morbidus had little doubt that somehow the boy that he had been searching for all day had ended up right before his eyes, about to get cursed into next week by the boy-who-lived. The poor transfer, probably a muggle-born judging by his not drawing a wand immediately in defence, didn't even try to dodge the incoming curse.
Morbidus had been watching the exchange with a smirk up until the casting, as it appeared the child was indeed just an inexperienced new student that just wasn't on anyone's record, probably because of an abusive household that resulted in the muting injury. Dumbledore's obvious scheming could be chalked up to being paranoid. Nothing whatsoever to be concerned with in these dark times.
After the casting of the low-level curse from Harry Potter's wand, his impressions and priorities radically shifted, as before his eyes, the boy who hadn't drawn his wand or so much as raised a finger, somehow commanded what appeared to be muddy water or sand to stream out of the bottle on his back and form a thick, unyielding shield to protect him entirely.
The fight soon escalated to Potter firing many spells uselessly against the shield that would block them from any and all angles before moving aside so that the child he believed to be Gaara could fire one or two significantly large and more menacing ones back. This cycle repeated for a while, and the strange part about the boy who controlled the sand with such ease and dexterity, other than that he controlled the sand, was that he seemed to have so little skill in his duelling abilities. His spells were unrefined, his wand work and casting were all sloppy and his form and stance were just wrong. But still, the boy looked almost bored, as the sand blocked every attack, even one that the defeater of the Dark Lord sent to fly around to hit him on the back of the head.
Henrick Morbidus gazed on in growing alarm and fascination, all without Dumbledore any the wiser.
Sometime before the disagreement had broken out, Lupin had been stood at the front of the crowd of students engaged in an entry-level discussion of what a few of the more diligent students had been learning so far that year whilst dodging questions about why he'd been touring the school with Gaara or who the tall scary man had been. Arguably the most diligent learner outside of Ravenclaw, Hermione Granger wasn't at the front of the class talking to Professor Lupin like she might have enjoyed, instead she was taking a much needed rest alongside Harry and Ron at the back. Well, she deserved the rest, she wasn't so sure about Harry and Ron who should have been the first to try and engage a teacher willing to review some of the basic material they'd most certainly not listened to. It was a wonder that her ginger friend expected to pass with his lack of note taking or listening. It really was.
Hermione had been a little worried when Hagrid, who had been so concerned all term with appearing and being professional so that he would be respected as a teacher, was running so late to their class. She was beginning to wonder whether she should go and ask a teacher what was happening, even if she would almost definitely be hated by the rest of the slacking class of Gryffindors and Slytherins for throwing away their free period, when Professor Lupin of all people showed up, followed by Gaara. Lupin, after determining the situation had offered to take the class for a little while until Professor Hagrid returned, as he had no other burning commitments, which was odd as he kept glancing at a silver watch every few minutes as he talked.
Hermione couldn't help but feel sorry for the prematurely aged professor as it soon became clear that he couldn't hope to hold an engaging lesson so far out of his field of expertise, so instead he had drawn together some of the more interested students and was talking to them whilst everyone else hung around and held their own conversations. Hermione wasn't interested in Ron and Harry's discussion of the upcoming Quidditch season and the World Cup which would take place in the summer, so instead she surveyed the various clusters dotted around. Most of the Slytherins were huddled like penguins, only occasionally throwing out glares to everyone else. There were also a couple of other Slytherins in their own bubble, which she knew from experience were the 'nicer' Slytherins, the ones who didn't curse as harmfully when they cheated and might not have held the same blood purist views. As far as she knew, there were even a few half bloods and muggle-borns in Slytherin, which meant they were under constant threat.
As she turned onto a few Gryffindors who had sat down and pulled out a deck of cards, holding themselves tightly against the cold encroaching on them from the ground, her head did a double take that hurt her neck as he thought she saw something ludicrous in that last cluster. But lo and behold, the absurd and bizarre even in a wizard's world did happen, as she saw Draco Malfoy standing amongst the nicer Slytherins. The foul boy who had previously been the leader in his own little clique of blood purists, even having goons follow him around, was now with the outcasts. Sure, she and everyone else had noticed that Malfoy had been spotted less and less with his usual friends, and Crabbe and Goyle had stopped hanging out with him ages ago, but the disparity had never seemed so clear when one of the malicious glares from the main Slytherin body was sent directly at Malfoy.
Hermione looked around for Gaara, who had approached with Lupin but had stopped short at the back with that same placid-borderline-angry expression on his pale face. She spotted him a little ways off, staring at the woods without blinking for longer than she could herself stare to watch, and she decided to try again to engage him. She had felt, ever since her, Ron and Harry's ill-advised attempt to interrogate Gaara that night in the hospital wing, he had held a certain amount of enmity towards the three of them. It was difficult to be sure when the red-head treated almost everyone with that foreign sense of emotional detachment.
Even with this bad blood between them, Hermione still wanted to try and help Gaara integrate a little more fully into the school. She remembered her first few weeks at Hogwarts, when she'd been an outcast and a 'know-it-all', and she wanted to spare Gaara that. Even Draco seemed to have abandoned him, as their previous separation had entailed, and with this physical and metaphorical distance between them even now in this lesson, she saw that the time was right to move in.
As she took her first step, she heard a scream and a yell from the front of the class followed swiftly by the form of Professor Lupin holding Neville Longbottom and shouting to the rest of the class that he'd take Neville up to the infirmary and that everyone else was to stay exactly where they were until he came back. Hermione watched Lupin struggle to run with the considerable weight of a husky fourteen year-old in his arms up the hill, and she decided not to question what had happened to her housemate, so often did injury find Neville that doing so consistently was beyond anyone. Still, it couldn't be a good sign that Lupin was taking the most direct and most difficult route to the infirmary.
It didn't escape the brunette that when he was rushing away, Lupin had seemed to stress that everyone should stay there. He'd probably meant Gaara, who'd been taken on a wandering lesson all day. Enough of Hermione was free of envy to question whether it had something to do with the inspector who had been making inquiries about the school and the new transfer student. Maybe the last two years of her eventful education was making her paranoid.
Interuption over, and everyone going back to their conversation as Harry and Ron made the effort to go to the front of the class to find out what had happened to Neville, Hermione continued towards Gaara who had taken a book out of somewhere and was reading it... quietly. Seeing him with books so often had, in some ways, convinced the fellow reader that Gaara might actually be a nice person, ignoring their first real encounter in the medical wing; and that all he needed was a chance to get away from all of those Slytherin bigots.
Despite her noble intentions and insistence as well as her attempts at breaching an agreeable topic, Gaara totally ignored her and her efforts. She only realised she was speaking to herself after five minutes when Gaara, who had been reading all this time, marked his place at the beginning of a new chapter and moved the book behind his back, under his gourd where he apparently kept a bag, and continued ignoring her by staring into space in front of him.
Any normal person might have taken this disinterest in conversing as a sign to give up, but being the hard-working Gryffindor that she was, Hermione drew upon the handful of sign language words she knew from when she was younger and had found an interesting book about it. Her conclusion was that the mute Gaara must have been offended all of this time that no one had tried to communicate with him through the proper language and had instead relied on his abilities with the sand, which must surely be tiring for him considering the weight of the sand and complexities of wandlessly and wordlessly controlling it to such a fine degree. If he was responsive, which in her mind was almost certain considering her flawless logic, she would get to studying so that maybe he could open up to her.
She walked up in front of him and apologised for being so insensitive, but he didn't give any sign he'd heard, his eyes hadn't even registered she was there. When she brought her hand up in front of her chest and made the sign for hello and sorry, Gaara's eyes finally reacted by following her hands carefully and his eyebrow rising. She smiled brightly, believing she'd finally cracked him, but after a few moments when nothing more happened on either side, his eyes went back to their fixed stare at the horizon and she was almost out of ideas. There was only one thing left to do: get creative. After all, maybe all the lonely and vulnerable Gaara needed, seeing as he looked a little younger than he was said to be, was a hug...
Walking closer to Gaara, she circled him a little, looking for the best way to initiate the unsolicited and surely unexpected physical contact, and she decided just small hug from the side wouldn't be too intimidating for Gaara. The mute Slytherin didn't seem like he had received too many hugs before and she didn't want to scare him off. He didn't move a muscle as she came closer, and also didn't move when her arms moved out in front and behind him. He didn't even move a muscle when, as she tried to bring him into an embrace, she was met violently by a wall of sand that seemed to spring out of nowhere and push her back at least six feet and onto her back.
All the while, Gaara really hadn't noticed any of it. He'd been in his head, trying to work out whether he'd remembered to sort the laundry he'd left in his and Draco's room. He didn't trust the House Elves to do it for him as they didn't seem very bright and he didn't want his shirt to get dyed accidentally. He was only brought out of his ponderings when he heard a loud shouting. The Jinchūriki was peeved to be distracted, as he'd already been bothered by that Gryffindor girl who walked out in front of him and tried to copy one of his hand signs, as far as he could tell.
"Hey, you jerk! Say sorry, right now!" Harry was fuming as he marched closer to Gaara who was still ignoring him and everyone else in the class who'd turned to stare at the boy when they'd heard and seen the wall of sand knock Hermione away from him. Ron was helping Hermione back to her feet, which were still fairly shaky after the unexpected aggression from Gaara's side. She tried to explain that it was all really her fault and that she'd been too forward and had startled Gaara, but she was ignored yet again. "Apologise to Hermione, right now!" Harry screamed at Gaara, who'd finally turned to take notice of what was happening. The only reply he got was a non-verbal tilt of the head, signalling that Gaara apparently didn't understand what he'd done wrong.
Harry became more fired up than he'd been in a long while at Gaara's disregard of his friend's safety and pulled out his wand. "You think you can do whatever you want because Professor Lupin has been giving you special treatment and extra help, but you don't deserve any of it. God, you're such an ass even your own House of snakes can't stand to be around you! You had one friend here and somehow even Malfoy, of all people, found you to be too repulsive to stand being around. And now you think it's okay to just knock around my friend when she was trying to be nice to you?"
Though Gaara had turned to him, he didn't take any more notice of what Harry was saying, instead he was wondering why he had sand out. Maybe Shukaku had repelled something and Potter had taken offence for some reason. That could be it. Still, when someone threatened him, with wand or kunai, Gaara didn't take it lightly. Especially since this was the perfect sort of situation that Shukaku would like to utilise to take control if he wasn't on guard. The shinobi didn't trust whatever had happened to the seal to keep Shukaku at bay so he kept his guard up and took a hold of the sand outside and inside the container with his chakra.
At seeing no reaction still, Harry screamed and launched his opening attack at Gaara, following up and pair of smaller stunners to either side of the shorter opponent, sure in the knowledge that when Gaara tried to dodge his first attack, he'd be caught by one of the others. But then the sand sprung up almost too fast for his eyes to follow and blocked the centre spell. Harry brought his wand up again, but had to jump quickly to avoid whatever overcharged spell Gaara had seen fit to retaliate with. Fortunately whatever it was didn't hit any students behind him. Gaara was a menace when attempting to do anything normal with magic, which just meant it was all the more perilous duelling against him.
Harry kept firing spells as fast as he could whilst running all around, even behind Gaara, looking for a weak spot in his impenetrable defence. Only one of Harry's spells made it through the sand wall, having snuck past before the block had been completed, but Gaara had been able to deflect the tickling hex with his own wand before countering swiftly.
The duel was fairly short lived as Harry made the erroneous decision to move closer in order to heighten his chances to firing a spell through the sand defence that seemed to react even when Gaara was unaware. But when he was close enough, Gaara's free hand shot out and made a fist, sending out a blast of sand thick enough to send Harry over onto his back before his wand was wrenched from his hand by the sand and dropped into Gaara's own.
With Gaara's wand pointed at the downed and unarmed Harry, everyone present held their breaths and waited. The winner slowly stepped towards the loser, his sand still coiling protectively around him as Gaara's hand stretched out again, his eyes fixed on Harry's spectacled ones. The sand creeped along the ground and then went up, covering the Boy-Who-Lived's legs. Harry clawed furiously as the sand continued to climb, tightly binding him. As the sand cocoon reached his chest, making it harder and harder for Harry to breathe, he felt so afraid watching Gaara's eyes widen and stretch, looking so angry at him.
Only when the sand reached Harry's neck, did Draco shout, "Gaara, stop!"
The red-haired ninja seemed to snap out of his trance, his eyes lowering their intensity to their usual levels and his hands reached up to his head, clutching at his temples. Whilst he looked to be experiencing the mother of all headaches, the sand encapsulating Harry lost its cohesion and he was able to wriggle free and crawl away to where his friends helped him up.
Soon, Gaara's grimace and clenched teeth disappeared and his hands dropped to his sides, where one made a small motion for the sand to return onto his back. He dropped Harry's stolen wand and walked away in a daze. Gaara didn't want to kill anymore children. It was common knowledge that shinobi killed from time to time for money, but he'd killed for fun, Shukaku's fun, and he was a monster.
As Gaara wandered away, lost in the past, Ron and Hermione helped up their friend, but no one present knew what a miracle it had been that all Harry had received were a few cuts and scrapes. Hermione was apologising profusely for what she'd done, though she wasn't too clear on exactly what it was, as she checked Harry over for any more serious injuries. Ron, on the other hand, was as furious as Harry had been, swearing he'd get that monster for what he'd done to both of his friends. All three of the trio were greatly disheartened at what had just transpired, as it went to prove that despite the recent lapse in Slytherin attacks against them from Malfoy that had lead them to hope that maybe things would change for the better, but now they knew that Slytherins really were all rotten. Even Hermione was struggling to see how Gaara could have meant anything other than to hurt her and Harry.
Draco, who was now stood away from the moderates, was also a little upset at events. Partly, the antagonist in him still wanted to see Potter in more serious pain, but the other part, the pacifist, was concerned about his normally placid roommate. He wanted to storm over to Potter and his mud-bl. . . his friend and demand answers for what just happened to set Gaara off, but it was clear that the entire Gryffindor half of their class would swiftly attack given the slightest Slytherin provocation at this point, and it was unlikely that his old friends among the snakes would be forthcoming with their help in a fight.
It was more likely that the Slytherin side of the class would egg the Gryffindors on when it came to Draco these days. He was the second most hated Slytherin, after the obvious first. Fortunately he still hadn't been openly called a blood-traitor, as word of such an insult would inevitably reach his father's ears and then any howlers he received from his parents would seem like praise compared to the hell that would rain down upon him.
With nothing left to do and not being on the right terms to go after Gaara to help him, Draco walked back to his new friends who were markedly quieter around him now. It was becoming a belief around the castle, surrounding Gaara's ongoing legend, that the only one that could control the savage demon was the one that had made a contract with it. People were saying that Draco had summoned Gaara in order to become the next Dark Lord. Draco actually laughed when he first heard about that, as he had briefly considered that application of his friendship with Gaara but had had to dismiss it completely since Gaara listened to very little of what he said. Nevertheless, this latest incident only further alienated Gaara and subsequently Draco from the other students.
Just as Gaara stalked away from the class he'd just terrorised, the device that tracked the remains of the dementors followed his movement and registered the small traces of the dementor dust inside the child's gourd. Morbidus turned as he heard approaching footsteps coming down the hill, and saw a teacher he'd not yet seen in the castle, meaning he was presumably the Professor Lupin who had been aiding in hiding this strange creature all day long.
Lupin choked back a gasp as he returned outside to see the tall, straight-backed form of the inspector gazing intently at the retreating shape of Gaara down by the class he'd left only twenty minutes before. His steps slowed and his blood ran cold when the inspector turned to him and flashed a small smug smile and a curt nod in his direction. All of Lupin's work to keep Gaara hidden and safe had been for nothing now.
Lupin stood before his adversary and couldn't keep from sweating as he had no idea of what to do next. He couldn't fight his way out of this, he couldn't bribe or trick or persuade the inspector. He saw, from behind Morbidus, that Dumbledore was slowly making his way back up the hill towards the castle, and they shared the same distressed look to see Morbidus was still there, still displaying that triumphant smile.
When Albus arrived he wanted to ask what Morbidus had seen so that he could work out a strategy of denial or maybe even to pre-empt the report to Fudge by flooing him immediately to disclose some information, all he'd need to do was delay the inspector half an hour. But Morbidus stopped him short by saying, "Thank you very much for accommodating this most... interesting inspection, Headmaster. I'll be on my way now." He didn't turn to look back nor did he slow his pace. It was as if he was trying to stop from skipping along with his giant legs, he was so exalted with his discovery.
He strode through the school with purpose, the small children having to rush to get out of his way, and as soon as he'd passed over the bridge and was outside of the wards of the castle, Morbidus apparated straight to the entrance of the Ministry, where he barged past the lines of employees trying to get into the building, scaring many of them with his mere presence.
The foreboding man strode straight into Cornelius Fudge's office, ignoring the Minister's secretary's feeble protests, and demanded an immediate debriefing despite Lucius Malfoy sitting across from the Minister currently having a meeting. Insincerely, Morbidus apologised as Lucius was ushered out of the office. Once the door was locked and the standard privacy spells had been cast, the Head of the Minister's Administrative Inspectors gave the report on his findings. He told of how the dementors were being killed and that Black was not the culprit, how this 'Gaara' had probably been responsible, that he probably wasn't entirely human, and that this Gaara was definitely something to be concerned about.
Morbidus left Fudge's office with the Minister himself holding his fat head in his red hands, and the beanpole of an official offhandedly remarked to Lucius that he should be more careful of who his son allies himself with in future if he was to remain in the Ministry's good favour.
Fudge realised that his problems had now tripled thanks to this report. Not only was the mass murderer and Death Eater, Sirius Black on the loose after having slipped past the dementors in Azkaban, but now he had be concerned with this strange Gaara that had been allowed in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Gaara was an enigma that the Ministry couldn't allow. They had no records of him, they didn't even have a surname to go on, just rumours of something along the lines 'Sabakuno', but that hadn't turned up anything either. And most troubling of all with Gaara, his wand didn't have the trace on it, as had been mandatory for all wands made for over four hundred years. Morbidus had been diligent to trace all of Gaara's movements outside of Hogwarts, even to Olivander's, before looking for the boy himself.
But even Gaara seemed unimportant in light of the biggest problem he now faced; Fudge could no longer trust his long time ally and confident Albus Dumbledore. If Dumbledore, the most powerful wizard still alive, was using the greatest magical school in the world to keep secrets from him at a time like this, then he was going to have one hell of a fight on his hands in the future. The Minister for Magic needed to take action, but even the inept politician that he was recognised that he couldn't recklessly charge into this matter. He'd need to be extra careful on this.
He invited Lucius back in, but kept what he'd just been told to himself.
Things were certainly dire.
By the following morning in the castle things were back to normal, for the students, at least. Gaara was suffering the dreadful nausea he had come to associate very closely with attending Divinations; however, the short bijū container had recently come to the wonderful solution that allowed him to nullify the worst of the tower's aroma therapy stench by burying his nose in a cup of tea for the hour-long lesson. His plan, whilst a little distracting from whatever it was that he was supposed to be learning, did also have the added benefit of making him look like he was working hard to 'gaze into the future' with his 'mind's eye' as he intently studied the bottom of his tea cup. Anything to distract Trelawney from giving him another worrying prophecy was a plentiful bonus.
On the other hand, after a few weeks, it occurred to the professor and the class that they hadn't studied tea leaves since the first week and no one present knew where Gaara had gotten his cups of tea from. It was dismissed, though, as of all of the strange things Gaara had done, summoning a cup of tea from out of nowhere was really rather inconsequential.
During this lesson, they were supposed to be using Tarot Cards with the people they were sitting across from to predict their fates. As fate would have it, Gaara had been placed next to Ronald Weasley since Trelawney wanted to test Ron's inner eye on someone other than the perpetually doomed Harry and the doubter Hermione. In the end, it seemed that Gaara had the same luck as Harry, as Ron kept telling him over and over that he was dead or going to die, usually with a menacing snarl or glare. It really didn't make for good tea-time conversation.
After his tea and the lesson had ended, Gaara was walking down away from the Tower of Bad Smells, when he spotted Draco breaking away from the flowing mob moving towards the Great Hall. Gaara was grateful that he'd be able to sit down for peaceful meal without the looming sense of dread that emanated from the evil aura Draco had been cultivating the past few weeks. Little did he know, Draco had decided today was the day for his plan to finally be enacted.
In the Great Hall, Gaara was practically in heaven as he ate the gizzard dish he'd finally gotten around to requesting the night before. To tell the truth, Gaara was little surprised that the House Elves in the kitchens had actually received the note he'd left with his dirty dishes, but even more surprising was that they were able to read. He had wanted to go down to the kitchen to request some more home-like dishes, but every time he had gone down there for something to give to Fluffy, he had found none of the elves were willing to get close enough to him for a chat. Fortunately, the elves apparently still liked him enough to cook him his special dish... or they were really afraid of him. Either way, it was nice to have a taste of home again.
As he snacked down on yet more of the chewy treat, an eclectic delicacy where he came from, one of Draco's new friends began to zigzag towards him, looking about as afraid as he'd seen someone act around him in months. Apparently this boy, something Norbel if he remembered correctly, had been one of the more acutely affected witnesses to his sparring match with Potter the day before. Gaara had decided to call it a sparring match as he didn't want to admit how close he'd been to killing the nuisance. Still, Gaara chomped down on his gizzard-on-toast slowly as he watched Norbel approaching slowly, as slowly as if he were approaching a wild lion. Gaara was half surprised the moderate hadn't brought a first-year as a human sacrifice in case the red-head had been less than amicable.
Really, people were acting like he had actually off'ed the Boy-Who-Lived. He might as well have, with people acting the way they were, but it was probably a bit too late now to find Harry, kill him and claim he was just finishing off their fight. Still...
"Um, Gaara?" Gaara stopped looking around the hall for the Potter boy and his two friends and turned back to Roy who'd finally plucked up the nerve to come within biting distance, figuratively speaking. Gaara watched blankly for a few seconds and wondered if he was supposed to confirm that he was in fact the "Gaara" Roy had been looking for. Seeing as Roy hadn't moved a muscle since his mouth closed, close to bolting, Gaara guessed, he nodded carefully.
At Gaara's acceptance, Roy breathed out a little, trying to calm himself down.
Maybe Gaara was acquiring the reputation of being a budding Dark Lord, and that was how Volde-whatsit had treated his underlings, by killing them when they spoke out of turn? It just went to show how peaceful this world had been for the past decade, when Gaara hadn't even killed anyone and he was still being treated like a mass-murderer. If only they knew the truth.
Gaara had to stop the smallest curvature of a smile from pulling at his lips at the thought of the pandemonium the truth would unleash, when Norbel moved onto why he had actually approached Gaara, which was probably quite important seeing how scared everyone was of him at the moment. "D-D-Dumbledore wants to see you. M-m-" If the addressee didn't know any better, he might have thought Roy had been about to call him 'Mister Gaara.' "He said to meet him by the big tapestry on the Fourth Floor. D-do you know where that is?"
The big, scary sadistic part of the shinobi considered 'saying' no, just to force the Slytherin boy to accompany him. Poor Roy probably wouldn't have made it to the third floor before he wet his pants. But instead Gaara took pity on Draco's friend and nodded and watched him back away slowly, never turning his back. It was only as he watched the retreat that Gaara saw that many people around him had seen the exchange and looked even more scared than before. Next thing he knew, Gaara was probably going to be called Dark Lord Sandimort. That was the last thing he needed, another ridiculous name.
As he made his way upstairs, giving up on the rest of his lunch after he'd finished his special requests, he wondered exactly what the headmaster wanted to say to him. It was obviously going to be in regards to the fight yesterday, but Gaara couldn't fathom what the educator would want to say about the friendly little duel, seeing as no one was killed or permanently maimed.
As far as Gaara knew, which was admittedly as limited as the amount of people willing to tell him things, Harry and Hermione hadn't had any injuries worth talking about after the events yesterday. Maybe Dumbledore had to give him a slap on the wrist, seeing as fighting wasn't encouraged in civilian schools. But then, why hadn't Harry been called up instead, seeing as he'd started it.
Gaara found the big tapestry quickly enough, which was to be expected with just how big the thing was. It spanned the entire length of the corridor, running parallel to the windows, all except one of which were closed. The Jinchūriki wondered where Dumbledore was. It was terribly rude to invite someone to talk and then not show up in a timely manner. How was he supposed to learn a lesson about respecting the rules when the headmaster didn't even follow basic etiquette?
Gaara stood by the open window, grimacing at the cold now chilling him to the bone but admiring spectacular view of the lake and valley. Even on a grey day like this one, Gaara thought Scotland was a beautiful place.
But then Scotland moved a couple of feet downwards and Gaara took a moment to reflect on why that was. Looking down, Gaara saw that the carpet he was stood on was now hovering steadily in the air, and suddenly his magical-aviaphobia flared into life and the well-honed reflexes and enormous power at Gaara's disposal abandoned him.
Gaara felt paralysed as the jinxed flying-carpet flew up and out of the open window and through the clear air. Some kind of sticking charm stopped him from sliding off but that was little consolation as Gaara's mind was filled with unprecedented panic. Gaara hadn't been hurt a lot of times in his life, and even fewer times were those injuries anything serious. So his fear of flying magically was quite profound, as was his fear of lightning and lightning-cutters. If Gaara ever met a thousand chirping birds, he would probably have a strong aversion to them as well.
The enchanted carpet soared high in the air, swooping and diving. It completely escaped his notice at the time, but Gaara later heard that a sizable number of students had witnessed what was going on from the ground.
The flight lasted, thankfully, only a few short minutes, but to Gaara it could have lasted all day for how it had felt to him. By the time the carpet began to make its final descent, Gaara was close falling back into sitting, but his legs held out long enough for the carpet to dive towards the ground only pulling up in time to run parallel to it. Gaara was just about ready to summon the strength to jump off onto the ground, when he saw his carpet-ride was now above the glassy surface of the Black Lake.
The carpet stalled for one terrible moment, in which Gaara looked up and saw Draco sitting on the shore of the lake with that ridiculous, great big smile he'd seen on only one other blond in his life. Gaara called his sand out as quickly as he could, knowing for sure what was to happen next, but before he could make a stable platform, Draco's wand, now in his hand, pointed downwards in a most sadistic motion. The carpet seemed to go slack under Gaara's feet and then he was falling again, all of ten feet into the piercingly cold water.
The one solace, that he later recognised, was that his sand was spared as it was still floating attentively (mockingly) above the surface alongside the carpet that was dangling like the strings on one end had been cut.
Gaara burst through the top of the water, taking in a big breath and gasping in a silent scream at how cold the water was. He actually saw ice forming at the edge of the lake. The biting cold was only confounded when Gaara heard and saw the absolutely raucous laughter coming from his spectating roommate. The howling laughter only ceased once Gaara managed to pull himself on top of the water's surface and began to walk along it like the scariest little messiah Draco had ever seen. Even the 'miracle' in front of him didn't stop Draco from smiling like he hadn't smiled in weeks.
Gaara walked atop the water, avoiding the icy lake and the admittance that he wasn't a particularly strong swimmer, while his sand reformed his gourd and reattached itself to his back all without him making any gesture, so intent was he that he wanted to reach dry, stable earth again. Gaara continued walking, right up to Draco, until they were close enough for the blond to see Gaara's miniscule shivers. The drenched part-time tanuki stood there for a little while; a lengthy pause to deliberate his response.
Sand flew out of Gaara's gourd and Draco couldn't stop himself from flinching until he saw that they were spelling out a message instead forming sharp tendrils to kill him, which he'd always assumed was a possibility.
The message read: 'We are even now.' With Gaara under it trying his hardest to suppress his shivering enough to raise his eyebrow and look as stoic as usual.
Draco slumped his shoulders, sighed in relief and confirmed that they were definitely even now and that he was glad it was over with. The dry Slytherin was readying to offer Gaara a little assistance up to the castle to get changed into dry clothes but before anything more could be passed between them, Gaara nodded at Draco in some unknowable benevolent gesture, and then shunshined back into the castle and to their room. It would be so much easier getting changed now that Gaara didn't have to dodge Draco to get back into their room.
"How did this happen?" McGonagall was concerned to see just how worn out this whole affair had left Albus. As the headmaster had asked this damning question, his head was resting on top of his hands, meaning to look to his most trusted staff members like he was in deep concentration but Minerva knew that really Dumbledore just didn't have the energy to sit up straight right now. Even if McGonagall had been walking up and down stairs all day, Albus had been performing countless spells to manipulate the castle's stair cases and secret passages as only a headmaster could. It was at times like these that Minerva remembered that unlike her, Albus wasn't just getting old, he was already almost twice her age.
"I'm sorry Headmaster. If I hadn't left Gaara on his own, Morbidus wouldn't have seen a thing." Lupin was looking like the runner up in this contest of attrition, appearing to be stressed, probably having not slept the night before. And with the full moon approaching, Remus would be feeling this acute weight tenfold.
"I don't mean to cast blame, I just-"
"Well, I do wish to cast blame. Your failure had left one of my students in the line of fire. Do you think Morbidus will leave it at this? This is only the beginning, and now he's seen Gaara and seen what he can do, the flood if going to be at the castle's walls in a matter of weeks, maybe days! Don't say you're sorry, it doesn't mean a thing when you've already caused this much damage." Severus wasn't pulling his punches this evening, and with how angry he was, no one present felt it was a good idea to mention that Severus detested Gaara and that he had no right to be angry on his behalf.
"Hold on a minute there, Professor Snape," However, despite it not being a good idea, Hagrid wasn't one to drop a moral qualm, "Everyone knows how you feel about Gaara. You don't have the right to be getting angry at Professor Lupin here when he tried his best to help. Where were you when all of this was happening?"
"Enough! Severus, now isn't the time for blame, Albus is right. We need to work out what the next move will be and how best to minimize the damage." Minerva was in no mood to see her old students argue with kind Rubeus in the middle of their meeting.
"Thank you, Minerva. But the Ministry has already made their move. I received an owl from Cornelius this morning, notifying me that Azkaban are going to be assigning more dementors to Hogwarts in the near future, as a precaution against whatever had been attacking them, as well as an added measure against Sirius Black."
"Do we know when these replacement dementors will be arriving?"
"I'm afraid it's not as simple as that, Severus. The Minister feels that in order to ensure the safety of our students, he wants to increase the number of dementors guarding the school. He intends to have three times the current number guarding Hogwarts' borders."
"What?" Minerva looked aghast, "You cannot be serious, Albus. That many dementors here? What about Azkaban itself? Surely they can't be intending to take away that many of its guards, breakouts will become a weekly occurrence."
"I imagine they'll leave a sufficient guard at the prison. The numbers will probably be made up of the other dementor colonies around the world that the British Ministry and the chiefs in Azkaban can control. Gathering that many won't be easy, even for the Minister, but it's probably his way of telling us that he's stepping up the game." Remus didn't enjoy the prospect of that many dementors around, what with Sirius so close by.
"You don't mean to say that Cornelius intends to declare war on Hogwarts, do you?" McGonagall's hand flew to cover her mouth, an uncharacteristic gasp showing everyone just how perilous the situation was. "They wouldn't go so far because of one student, surely."
"Professor Lupin is right," As much as it pained Severus to admit it, "Minister Fudge is making his intentions known. This isn't about one child, even Fudge isn't so simple as to take such a gamble over any one boy, no matter how monstrous or obscure. His isn't declaring war; he's telling us that he knows we can't be trusted, so he's making this into our term-time prison, complete with guards."
"That can't be right. I know the Ministry sometimes makes mistakes, but there's no one in the entire world that cares about the school more than Professor Dumbledore, they know that." Hagrid looked either angry or confused, it was often hard to distinguish the two where the half-giant was concerned.
"Fudge doesn't care, and neither does Morbidus. They now know that Albus and the rest of the school are keeping secrets, and after the last few years at this school, those secrets are clearly not ones to be scoffed at. Morbidus is a veteran, and he sees any kind of mistrust as the enemy. And we all know how paranoid Fudge has been around Dumbledore thanks to those silly rumours about Albus running for Minister of Magic. We are most certainly not at war, but the eyes of the Ministry are now firmly on us." Severus knew enough to be as worried as Minerva and Albus.
"But that's okay, isn't it. It's not like we've got anything to hide, right?" Hagrid was looking around the room, trying to see agreement and not finding it.
"Rubeus, I'm afraid there are a number of secrets, among other things, that Hogwarts holds that should be kept out of the hands of politicians, chiefly the futures of our students. I'm afraid there isn't anything else we can do for the moment other than to teach our classes, run the school and try our best to remain calm. This must, under no circumstances, reach the ears of the other staff members or, even worse, the students. We must show Cornelius that this school's absolute concern is for the students within its walls, nothing more and nothing less."
And suddenly it occurred to Lupin and Snape why Gaara had been admitted to the school. Both of the men had puzzled over this conundrum for the past two months as it just didn't make any sense to them. To admit a strange student into the middle of his education without knowing a thing about him... it was to protect him. Lupin felt a wave of relief wash away some of the doom that had been lingering thanks to this conversation. Severus felt more annoyed than relief, as he still couldn't see the purpose to caring for some disturbing little magical creature (nothing like Gaara could be a full-blooded human).
The two hopelessly trusting men came to the wrong conclusion as Albus moved on to less problematic recent events, namely why he had seen the subject of their latest problems, Gaara, flying out of a fourth floor window on an illegally imported magic carpet.
The staff members briefly discussed the prank but all eyes turned to Snape when Lupin asked whether Gaara had taken any moves towards revenge. They might have to move the student to a new school for his own safety. But Snape said that as far as he knew, things were going smoothly, and Gaara had even moved back into the dorms instead of sleeping rough. Minerva was upset that one of the students had been camping out in the classrooms all this time, but relented when Remus said Gaara's friendship with Draco was probably best left unprobed.
No one mentioned them outright, but all thoughts of the culprits were naturally directed at the Weasley Twins who had been out of control this year. They weren't mentioned out loud because there was no evidence for the accusation whatsoever, and none present could quite figure out how the austere Weasley's had managed to save up enough money to buy a magic carpet on the black market.
Snape later tried to recall where he had heard the black market being mentioned a few weeks ago, but soon dropped the thought as none of his Slytherins would possibly sink so low as to perform practical jokes, and on their own housemate, no less.
The twins for their part had been gobsmacked to see Gaara, the scariest student in Hogwarts, and recent defeater-of-the-defeater-of-You-Know-Who, being flown around on a magic carpet before being dunked in the lake. McGonagall had taken housepoints from them when they'd stood up the middle of her class and began applauding out the window. Minerva, for her part, had to pretend that she hadn't seen a thing in order to bring her class in line. But this whole event had left the twins a little out of sorts, as it was a prank that they just couldn't replicate. Not only were flying carpets incredibly expensive (and they had to prank within their means) but Gaara was a psychopath and they weren't willing to make a target of themselves to upstage the mystery prankster. They'd have to find some other way of retaking their place at the top of the school's most wanted list (pinned to Filch's door despite requests by the staff to stop criminalising students).
At the end of the meeting, Albus held Severus back a few moments to talk with him, "Severus, I wonder if I might make a request of you?"
"What is it, Headmaster?" Severus droned out, never liking this vein of conversation. It never boded well for him when Dumbledore asked him for anything. He had scars that he could attribute to favours he'd given, and god forbid Albus ever repay him for them...
"I want to discuss your readmitting Gaara into your Potions classes." Snape opened his mouth wide, ready to shout his refusal to the heavens but he was stopped when Albus raised his hand to finish what he needed to say. "With Gaara's progress in mind, I believe Potions is the only class that Gaara hasn't had an opportunity to improve in. Surely you can't bar a student from learning when they clearly still have so much to learn and a willingness to do so."
"You don't know the damage that boy has brought about in my classroom since the term began. He's set fire to the stones of Hogwarts, for Merlin's sake! And besides that-"
"I am well aware of your feelings regarding Gaara, but putting personal grudges aside, this is a school, Severus, and like or not, you are a teacher. It is your duty to impart your knowledge onto each and every one of the students that pass through these halls." Albus was getting desperate, resorting to beseeching Severus on behalf of the Slytherin's pride as a teacher.
"Very well. I will let it return to my class on the condition that I be allowed to remove him permanently if he causes any more danger to the others in his class."
"We will discuss it if the occasion arises. Well, I am very glad that you have seen sense, Severus. I'm sure you will soon see why all of the other teachers have begun to sing Gaara's praise lately."
"We'll see." 'You meddling old coot.'
As the war council in the Dumbledore's office was winding down, in the Slytherin dormitories, Draco was catching up on some of his long-neglected correspondence. Gaara was asleep in his bed on the other side of the room and even in his sleep he looked fittingly happy to not be sleeping on his increasingly uncomfortable (improvised) sand bed technique.
Now, Draco knew Gaara didn't necessarily need sleep, so it just went to show how happy the racoon-impersonator was, that Draco had been forgiven so readily.
The real wizard didn't see why his roommate couldn't express his emotions more... easily. He knew excess emotion was suited for the lesser Houses, but Draco couldn't remember the last time he'd seen Gaara smile, and he'd definitely never seen him laugh properly. It was either a chuckle or a series of smirks. Hell, Draco couldn't even imagine his impossibly stoic friend laughing heartily. It was actually quite the scary thought.
And Draco didn't need another reason to be afraid right now, so he stopped trying to picture Gaara exhibiting emotions like a normal person. He'd cast his most powerful silencing spells and wards around the room's writing desk, just so that whatever he'd been ignoring in his post wouldn't wake up his slumbering housemate. He would hate to wake up Gaara, for Gaara to do something impulsive, and ruin their status quo again. And quite apart from that, he didn't need his friend hearing what his irate parents had to say to him. Some things didn't belong in the ears of a teenager's friends, even if Gaara wasn't exactly the type to tease.
Draco picked up the earliest letter he had stacked and slid his silver, Malfoy-family-crested, jewel-embossed letter opener along the seam and pulled the parchment out. Sure enough, the dark green ink was styled in his father's overly elegant script, but at least it was a relatively short communiqué.
Your mother and I have been waiting these past few days for your weekly owl but it seems that you've become so distracted at school that you have forgotten your duties beyond the walls of our house. You had best write as soon as you receive this or there will be dire consequences in line for you.
In your letter, I want you to tell me some more about your new roommate, Gaara. I gather he is something of a mystery but I want you to tell me everything you know. There have been some discrete inquiries floating around as of late and as the father of this Gaara's roommate, I have a right to know about him, not to mention that it is expected that I know. If he is a mudblood or some no name half-blood, worry not; I am on the board of governors and I will have him expelled from Slytherin if need be.
On an assuredly separate matter, I want to know what has happened between you and the Crabbe and Goyle boys. Their parents have been begging my forgiveness for some slight I might take over you falling out with them. Whatever has happened, I trust you will have fixed it by the time I receive your reply. I understand associating with those simpletons is troublesome but as you grow you will understand more just how necessary their protection is.
Begin writing your report immediately.
Yours sincerely, your father,
Lucius Brutus Malfoy,
(Head of the Pure and Powerful House of Malfoy)
P.s. Your mother sends her regards.'
Well, that hadn't been as bad as he'd feared, though Draco wasn't looking forward to openly refusing his father's order to re-befriend Vincent and Gregory. It wasn't as if he hadn't tried early on, at least, but they had seemed terrified of him, or more likely terrified of Gaara. They were unnaturally scared of his roommate before it became cool, so perhaps Lucius would allow him to forgo keeping the Crabbe and Goyle families on side in favour of something else. Maybe he could convince his father that Gaara had taken up the post, as he was pretty sure Gaara was stronger than both the henchmen-to-be put together, and his father would never accept that Draco had an actual 'friend' in the more traditional, Gryffindor sense. Frankly, Draco found it hard to grasp at times.
As much hope as he had been granted by the leniency in that first letter was soon turned to despair and doubled when he saw how many more weeks of letters there were to follow, including a fair few with noticeably more feminine handwriting on the addresses. That meant his mother had also gotten involved.
Of course, Draco had known his mother had sent him letters, probably a few of her own brand of howlers, but in the brief moments of reading his father's business-like letter, he had foolishly allowed himself to forget.
He carefully used his letter opener to crack the wax seal on the back of the envelope this time, not willing to test what happened when you opened a howler the wrong way. Fortunately his mother's first letter was somewhat less furious than he had anticipated. In fact, the entire letter really boiled down to how angry his father was, how she was beginning to worry, and wanting to know how he was doing. Oh, and she was also curious about Gaara. Who wasn't?
The following pile of letters was akin to reading through a timeline of his father's temper, followed soon after by one of his mother's worry turning to indignation and then to anger. Repeatedly they threatened to come visit or even to pull him out of school. His mother mentioned that she might as well have sent him to Durmstrang if he was going to ignore her owls anyway. His father had also apparently been in contact with the other pureblood families attending the school, and had clearly broken the nib of one of his priceless antique quills when he'd stabbed out his letter regarding Draco being accused by the other Slytherins as a blood-traitor and for allying himself with the moderates. If he looked closely, Draco thought he could tell where in the letter his father had stopped writing to abuse the new house elf before continuing. But all the while, despite the occasional furious blot, his penmanship was exemplary. They just didn't teach that at Hogwarts anymore... shame.
At one point, his mother had even said that even though the Dark Lord had never broken into Hogwarts, she might well do it herself if he didn't answer soon.
The last letter was even more troubling as his father and mother had turned to a cold rage in their joint message, as apparently that scary inspector he'd disrespected had told on him to his father. And with the inspection regarding Gaara having been so high-profile and unsuccessful, both now wanted answers regarding his roommate. Draco swore his parents had forgotten there was a mass murderer trying to get into Hogwarts and a flock of Dementors flying around the grounds. That wasn't to say he'd be reminding them, as that would almost certainly lead to his mother making good on her threat to have him transferred to another school.
He'd been reading these upsetting missives for over two hours, not to mention listening to the threatening howlers, and was already awfully tired, but Malfoy knew that he needed to write back soon. Dumbledore had been steadfastly blocking his parents' attempts at visiting Hogwarts for one reason or another, but Draco couldn't rely on his good luck to last for much longer, not when that meddling quack of a headmaster was at the helm. He'd write it now and then send it off first thing the next morning.
'Dearest father and mother,
You have my most sincere and remorseful apologies for my discourteous silence these past weeks. Inexcusable that this lapse in judgement has been, I hope you will find it within yourselves to allow me to explain myself in spite of my trespass.
I will immediately assure you that I am otherwise well and unharmed, barring my distress as having you caused you so much anguish with my thoughtlessness. The reasons for not having replied in a proper and timely manner to your letters, inadequate though they may be, are due to my intense focus on the task I have taken upon myself. After you expressed your concern over my new roommate, I knew that leaving such a gap in our family's knowledge would be even more grievous and so I began to get closer to him and investigate him and his origins.
I have worked for the past month trying to gain his trust and his friendship in order to discern whether he is a fit ally for our noble family, having already established his utility in the form of his clear strength and intellectual prowess.
Of course, I was able to earn his trust swiftly; and I have discovered that Gaara is a refugee from a faraway desert wizarding community, but that he is strictly a pureblood of the greatest degree, according the community's isolationist customs. He moved to Britain following a civil war within his tribe that left him as the sole survivor, albeit with his voice cursed beyond repair. His ways are indeed strange and he is not accustomed to using magic in the proper British manner, though I am glad to inform you he is learning. But, most importantly, he is strong. Just the other day, he was able to best Potter with ease in a duel using only his brute strengths, not needing to plot to ensure his victory.
With these strengths and his estrangement from our society, I have taken it upon myself to teach him the proper wizarding customs to rid him of his silly foreign ones, and in return he will suffice perfectly as a replacement for those cowardly Goyles and Crabbes who broke off our agreement of their own volition (without any input on my part).
On the subject of those ludicrous accusations of blood-treachery, I trust you will see past the envy of those foolish peers of mine towards my claiming Gaara as my ally, manifesting their families' envy for our great legacy that far surpasses any of theirs. My distancing from them is purely for the sake of strengthening my ties elsewhere, sure in the knowledge that they will undoubtedly regain their sense when I see fit to deign their presences around me again. The moderates within the great House of Slytherin and their families are an untapped political well of power that I will be the first to exploit among my year group, as I am sure you understand.
The inspector you mentioned did see fit to approach me during his visit, but I made no untoward move against him or toward the Ministry, as he has obviously implied. I simply re-established our standing ties with the Ministry but denied him any of my findings regarding Gaara, as it was not his place to try and ferret information from me when my first allegiance is to my family. I will leave it to your discretion, father, whether you see fit to share any of this with the Minister or keep it between us in order to maximise Gaara's usefulness to us.
Now that my initial investigation is complete, I will be resuming my proper weekly reports undisturbed. I will leave you with my reiterated apologies.
Draco Abraxas Malfoy
P.s. I trust both you are both doing well in my absence despite my recent wayward behaviour.'
Ninety-nine percent lies, but his parent probably wouldn't find that out for a while, and by then there will hopefully be something more important happening to distract them from killing him. He thought the history he'd invented for Gaara was quite good. He might have to tell Gaara about his tragic past if Draco's parents were ever to meet him. But then, it's not like Gaara would be quick to correct their assumption regarding him, worst came to worst, he'd just bat Gaara's sand out of their air before he accidentally told the truth.
He folded the parchment and cast the wax with his precious customised seal before placing it atop the pile of books he'd be carrying to his lessons the next day. While they weren't much good for conversation, Draco did miss his old henchmen and their reliable offers to carry his books for him. The blond wouldn't dare ask Gaara to do it.
He turned off the light as climbed under the covers, remarking silently to himself that even Gaara's sleep-deepened breathing was totally without sound also. The pale red-head was practically a ghost, though Draco could only wish for the ghosts to be as quiet as his roommate.
Draco talked sedately to Gaara as they got ready for classes that morning, holding his one-sided conversation so fully that he could almost have forgotten that he wasn't getting any replies. The only responses he might get were Gaara occasionally glancing up at him before continuing with his own preparations again. As dense as Draco could be around friends (perhaps narcissistic is closer), even he might have considered whether he was forcing Gaara to listen to his unending talking.
Without any answers or real responses, Gaara might well have been completely ignoring him the whole time, waiting to finish his own preparations before ditching his annoying roommate. Draco's neuroses didn't usually stretch to this kind of depressive rumination, but with Gaara, socialising wasn't a given, especially after nearly a month without any sustained human contact that Draco was aware of. But lo and behold, as Draco was finishing up packing his quill and ink into their case, Gaara stood there and waited for him! Gaara even followed the blond all the way up to the owlery so that the Malfoy could attach his letter to his somewhat neglected eagle-owl.
It was lunchtime that same day that Draco received his reply. The owls were only supposed to come in the mornings and the students could then trek up to the owl tower if they were expecting anything in the evenings, but Draco, being the scion of the most respectable pureblood family in Hogwarts, was exempt from such paltry rules as far as he could see. There was also the fact that both McGonagall and Dumbledore hadn't been in the Great Hall at the time, and Lucius really did believe his letter was of such dire importance that the lesser rules of the great wizarding institution shouldn't hamper him, and so he had told Draco's ill-tempered owl to go straight to Draco and not wait around on its perch all day long.
A few heads turned when the single owl swooped into the hall and dropped the letter into Draco's lap, with expert accuracy, before banking around and flapping back out of the same window, not having landed once. Even Snape gave Draco a withering stare at the blatancy of his flaunting the rules and Draco had the good sense to sweep up his message and exit the Great Hall looking as if he had just received an order from the Minister himself, not from his parents telling him off for not telling them he was okay for a couple of weeks.
Not for the first time, Draco wished he was in Potter's situation, never needing to negotiate these difficult family relationships. Of course, these feelings were strictly fleeting and would never ever be voiced. Plus he had added benefits, like parents and endless monetary resources...
And he didn't have to wear glasses.
As Gaara followed Draco back to their room, apparently having nothing better to do during his lunch break than to spend some 'quality time' with Draco, the taller of the two looked to Gaara and wondered what his father was like.
Draco, along with a few others that witnessed Gaara's encounter with the boggart, gave serious consideration to the woman that Gaara had impaled being his own mother. Of course that raised many more questions, but Draco could swear he'd seen Gaara's face in the woman's. But, seriously worrying mother-son relations aside, it also raised the question of Gaara's dad. What sort of man was he? Was he around when Gaara was growing up?
Gaara was first and foremost a mystery, but the Potter-proclaimed-'ponce' wouldn't be so intrusive as to question Gaara about his family. Not after his roommate, hours after spearing the woman's visage, returned to their room even quieter than the mute boy was given to being and sporting red raw eyes. No one saw Gaara cry that night, but one person had needed to pretend he didn't know that it had happened.
They reached their room with half an hour before their next class began so Gaara moved over to read, standing up. Gaara's ability to stand still for long periods of time was just one more reason why he was a singularly unsettling person. Especially since Draco knew how heavy that 'gourd' was and that Gaara didn't always use his ability to lighten the load.
While Gaara read from one the countless books he had borrowed from the library since arriving, having finished all of the required reading materials that had been purchased for him in Diagon Alley, Draco sat back down at his desk and opened his missive. It was comprised of two separate letters:
I was very reassured to receive your letter this morning, and to that end I will shortly forward it to your father at work so that he may share in my relief. I am pleased that you are thriving, and your friend Gaara sounds lovely. We will have to have him around so that you can introduce him to the family.
I cannot immediately speak for your father, but your slack communication was a thoroughly heartless move and I trust you understand the pains it has put us through. Nonetheless, as you seem to have been anything but idle in that time, I will not pursue any punishment for when you return for the winter holidays, but I cannot say for sure whether or not your father will feel the same way.
You will resume your regular letters from now on, otherwise Albus Dumbledore will not stop me from personally marching into Hogwarts and removing you by force. It is not unprecedented for Malfoys to be homeschooled and I will not have you disappear from your family like my 'notorious' wayward cousin did.
Be cautious of the dementors and I will hear from you again soon.
As your mother has stated, your lack of decorum is reprehensible in and of itself, not to mention the worry it has inflicted on us, but I will allow you to forgo punishment in this matter in reward for your diligence in pursuing our family interests. This Gaara is a promising ally and you acted astutely in reserving your finding for my ears before divulging them to the Ministry.
Your mother has suggested to me that Gaara join us for the winter holidays, provided he doesn't have any other engagements, so that we may take his measure personally and further introduce him into our family's circles. You are to extend our invitation at your earliest convenience and forward his answer quickly. You have found a precious tool in your work, as no other families are working to curry his favour. I was astounded by your progress after hearing from multiple outside sources that he did indeed best the Potter boy in a duel with ease. Such a feat is nothing to be scoffed at.
I will continue to make my own private enquiries regarding what you've told me, so that I may solidify our new ally's place in our society. There are several groups looking into this child's past and not all of them have his best interests at heart as we do.
Continue with this work, and do not let your grades slip below those befitting someone of your standing. Also be on the lookout for Sirius Black as no matter what affiliations he may have had, they were beyond top secret to everyone and he is likely to be a dangerous lunatic after being in Azkaban for so long.
Yours sincerely, your father,
Lucius Brutus Malfoy,
(Head of the Pure and Powerful House of Malfoy)'
Draco would have to think on having Gaara stay with his family. It was a daunting prospect for both of the teenagers, especially with how uncooperative Gaara could be when he wanted to. But then, it actually saddened the manipulative teen to think of Gaara spending the Christmas break all alone in the freezing cold castle when most of the Slytherins would be gone... well, the stoic transfer student might actually prefer the peace and quiet, but Draco couldn't possibly imagine that it was healthy for someone like Gaara to go so long so frequently without any social interactions. He'd end up killing someone, surely.
Frankly, that Gaara hadn't killed anyone by now was the really weird part.
He looked at their clock and reviewed his next class' assigned chapter, knowing that the old salt McGonagall wouldn't let him slip by if he hadn't memorised the chapter be the time he went in there. All because he'd transfigured Weasley's chair into a giant, orange coloured, wooden rat.
The next day was a much anticipated lesson for many of the Slytherins and Gryffindors, as never had anyone seen Snape so angry as when he'd announced that Gaara was to be readmitted to his classroom. And then there were the numerous hilarious accidents Gaara had incited, although those were more appreciated by the Gryffindors because of their senses of humour and because they didn't have to sit next to the disaster waiting to happen.
Before Snape had opened his door to allow them entrance, the long line of students conversed quietly about Gaara and his latest escapade into the lake. Ron was the focus of the conversations as he swore that his brothers hadn't had anything to do with it, or so they vehemently had protested. Many pointed fingers at countless potential pranksters, but no one suspected that Draco, talking to one of his moderate-friends, was really the mastermind, except perhaps Severus who knew better than to involve himself in Hogwarts' age-old tradition of pranks. He had scars from previous pranks he'd been involved in, and not all from the Whomping Willow or the Marauders.
One thing that many in the discussions agreed upon was that with no one having been killed or even attacked in retaliation, somehow Gaara had forgiven the perpetrator. Either that or he didn't know who did it, but very few within these conspiracy circles were rational enough to consider that was Gaara human enough not to instinctively know who had wronged him.
As a result of this passivity on the Jinchūriki's part, Gaara-fear was at a low within the school, though that obviously wasn't going to last long.
The door to the Potions room eerily opened on its own, Snape having apparently used his magic to freak out the front of the queue a little before he got his sadistic fix for the day. Everyone filed into the darkened laboratory, with Gaara bringing up the rear, having resigned himself to isolation for the lesson. Not all of Gaara's accidents were malicious attempts at Snape's life (and that was him being modest), so he thought it best not to work too close to his friend and roommate. Instead he sat himself down behind the Golden Trio and the rest of the Gryffindors, not quite appreciating that in this world, beating up a person wasn't forgiven in a couple of days. Gaara wouldn't have believed Draco if he'd told him that such non-existent injuries could be the cause of a longstanding hatred even when the losing party had started the fight.
Harry just seethed at the next desk in front whilst Hermione tried to calm him and Ron down before the two hardheads sprung backwards and tried to double-team Gaara.
In regards to the lesson itself and the work handed out, Gaara did exceptionally well considering his track record. As it turned out, his independent learning despite the lack of practical experience had allowed Gaara to excel in the short time he was away from the Potions classes. He was almost to an acceptable level by most standards, barring his actual potions making skills which were still comparable to Longbottom's, but even that was still a great improvement. The burn-removal potion he was brewing didn't harm anything or anyone and caused almost no damage to the classroom, except a little staining to the stonework under Gaara's desk. It was a personal best for the inept novice magician, even if it wouldn't help anyone with burns and might in fact cause burns when applied topically.
However, in spite of Gaara having almost reached the level of Failing rather than Burgeoning Terrorist, it made no difference in Snape's eyes. Further to that, he saw Gaara's improvement in his absence as a personal insult to his teaching skills, as if he took such pride in teaching Potions. With this in mind, he spent most of the lesson sniping at Gaara and calling him on any error he spotted with his eagle eyes, and some that he didn't spot.
After the potions around the room had been bottled, except the failures from Longbottom, Crabbe & Goyle, and Gaara, as the students were writing up their work, Severus walked around the classroom until he was at the back of the lab, right behind where the most detested red-head in Hogwarts was sat writing. That Gaara didn't tense up or show any visible sign of acknowledging Snape's hate-filled presence behind him fuelled his prejudiced anger and he waited there, looking for any tangible excuse to release what he'd been wanting to say to Gaara since he'd been forced to readmit him to his classroom.
The excuse that was given in the official report sometime later in Albus' office, after the relevant parties had been checked over by Madame Pomfrey was: cheating. Gaara had looked over to the other side of the room, where Draco and the rest of the Slytherins were, and Severus could only come to the conclusion that Gaara was trying to copy what his housemates had written, even if it wasn't a test and his targets were on the other side of the darkened room.
With every bit of acidity he could muster into his tone, Snape spoke evenly, "Is there no level of ineptitude that you are unable to sink into, you miserable excuse for a monster." It was the soft brutality of the words that caused even the spiteful Gryffindors in front of Gaara take pause and subtly turn their ears to the diatribe, except for Ron who was trying to find a clear route to the door from where he was sitting. He had the right idea.
"I do not know what prompted you to join this school, I can't help but blame myself for bringing you to the headmaster when I should have sent you in to the Ministry for them to lock you up. You have no place around these children because I know what you are and so does Professor Dumbledore. We can see it in your eyes, that darkness. Because we've seen it before in the murderers and monsters that we've met and fought, and they pale in comparison. That's how we all know what you are and what you are capable of."
Everyone in the room had given up the thin pretence of subtlety and had turned fully to watch the rampage at the back of the room that was giving any other rant from Snape a good run for its money in terms of sheer spite. Draco, who had never considered getting in the way of one of his Head of House's attacks before, was beginning to as he watched Gaara's eyes widen and his brows crease. Gaara was a strong person, and he didn't seem all that emotional, but his armour had chinks in it and Snape was jabbing his knife in all the right places, if Draco was right.
"Didn't you think it was odd that everyone in this school is afraid of you? Of course not, you knew it would happen because that's where you came from. Some wonder what happened to you before you got here, but I think it's obvious: they were trying to rid the world of an abomination! But they just sent you to us instead."
Through this uncharacteristically brutal verbal attack, from the already acerbic man, Gaara had become perfectly still, holding the same understated look of pain on his face that very few would recognise as he received these words. It was only when Snape had brought up his home that Gaara had finally turned his head to look upon Snape in the corner of his eye.
Almost as if reacting to seeing Gaara's face, the snarl on Snape's own face became feral and his eyes lit up with rage unsuppressed for the first time in years. Nothing would stop Serverus' wrath this time, not one of his preferred students, Draco, jumping up and calling out for him to stop, nor the students standing from their chairs and backing away from the scene he was making. Nothing would stop him from expressing his anger, well... one thing did when he reached the climax of his uncommonly cruel and excessively personal denigration.
"I can't imagine how your family would cope with a cruel imposter of a good human being. They were probably the ones that made you darken my doorstep. Is that why you attacked that Boggart?" Instantly Draco took a step forward and called out again urgently just as the rest of the shocked classroom compelled their professor to cease his vocal breakdown. "You killed it because you knew it would reveal the truth, that you are a monster and an outcast! Who was she, your mot-"
Snape was cut off by an inexplicable sense of dread that shivered down his entire body and sent him into a cold sweat before he could identify where this terror had emanated from. The momentum from shifting so quickly from rage to fear was dizzying, so it took the veteran wizard a few moments of his eyes darting about the room looking for whatever his senses had seen fit to warn him about so strongly before he came back to the red-haired, green-eyed boy he'd just been attacking. Those eyes that blurred when he looked directly at them, those eyes filled with all too familiar hatred rather than the pain they had been displaying guardedly before.
"What are you?" Snape moved back a few paces and snapped out his wand, meanwhile the rest of the class began to feel the same sense of unknown dread wash over them like a heavy tide, the malicious chakra and killing intent being expressed in these inexperienced children simply as a paralysing panic, a strong desire to run and hide but simultaneously an inability to move a muscle. The only exceptions were the only two who had experienced this exact sensation before, and both Crabbe and Goyle fled the room without any by-your-leave, not stopping until they almost bowled over Professor McGonagall. By the time they'd reached the door of the Potions lab, Draco could have sworn he saw tears in more than one eye, but his own eyes soon darted back to the tense standoff where Professor Snape was still pointing his wand at the seated Gaara, who still wasn't fully turned towards the instigator but was glaring back at him with as much loathing as Draco thought any person was capable of possessing.
Snape's mouth opened one more time, gaping rather than to continue his verbal volley, and that was when all hell broke loose, along with a demon, it would seem. Snape had been staring into Gaara's eyes the whole time and in the instant after his mouth dropped open, those hauntingly green eyes flickered into something wrong, something inhuman. And in that very same instant, a wind began to tear around Gaara and Snape fired off a stunner as fast as he could. It was forbidden for him to curse a student, but this wasn't a student, it was plain for anybody to see.
This initial attack prompted the cork of Gaara's gourd to explode and a shield of sand to race out and protect its master, deflecting the spell away harmlessly. Snape moved back even further, putting some distance between him and the 'boy' who, with the decrepit manner and speed of an inferi, had risen from his stool to face the instigator with eyes of a demon in intensity but not form, it would seem. The sand continued to flow until eventually the gourd itself crumbled and joined the rest forming fragments of a shell around Gaara.
"Call back your sand now, Gaara!" Snape was worried, sweat forming on his forehead as he felt just how enclosed his dungeons were, and with all of the children there he was very concerned. He had no idea how Gaara's powers would hold up against his own, but the monstrosity still staring unblinking at him had apparently made short order of Potter the other day and his own spell hadn't made so much as a dent in that defence.
Gaara gave no sign of abiding with his professor's demand so Snape allowed himself the briefest of peeks around at his students, from Draco to Potter and his friends before he called out for everyone to hear: "Run! Get out and don't stop! Class dismissed." It was dramatic, but Gaara wasn't even in whatever passed for a right mind, and Snape had made his severe doubts about Gaara's moral compass known to all so he truly believed the teenagers under his charge were in danger.
The students closest to the door, in the other corner of the laboratory, began to sprint out, fearing either their angry and insane Potions professor or their deranged and erupting peer would give chase.
The tense standoff, with Snape not sparing another glance around the room, between the staring foes went on for centuries as the students manoeuvred around the room to get to the exit without passing too close to either. Not soon enough, the only students left in the class were predictably the Golden Trio and Gaara's own compatriot, all four having decided to meddle in this affair as they were wont to do, only recently in one of their cases.
"What are you waiting for, get out, now!" Snape resharpened his focus and aim on Gaara's torso, readying to fire off a curse at a moment's notice.
"Gaara, what are you doing?! Calm down, it's alright." Draco was a few feet behind Gaara but had dared to come a lot closer than the others who had elected to wait nearer the front of the room as spectators for now.
The sand twitched and Snape sent an exploding curse at Gaara's body and conjured a thin stream of super-heated flames towards his head soon after. The barrier of sand lazily rose to intercept the first attack and was ready to catch the fire, shifting the sand around so that none of it could melt into glass like Snape had planned.
The room wasn't well ventilated so keeping up that fire might have been just as costly to him as to Gaara so he readied another series of exploding curses, but he had to sidestep the sand as it speared where he had just been standing. He severed it and fired off his own attack before ducking clumps of sand that instead impacted hard on the back wall.
"Gaara, stop, please. It's not worth it." Draco hadn't moved a step closer since the battle really began, he looked desperate, but whether that was for Gaara's of Snape's safety no one could be sure.
Snape cast his very own Sectumsempra repeatedly, slashing wildly at Gaara's sand, hoping to cause enough damage to the boy himself so that he'd be incapacitated quickly enough that Snape could counter it and stop it from killing him.
The invisible sword was able to keep Gaara's sand from advancing but he couldn't penetrate the stone barrier that was erected every time he attacked. Shifting his stance he transfigured a nearby desk into a large snake and had it approach Gaara but without even looking, Gaara sent his sand to crush it, not leaving enough of an opening that Severus' inbound stunning spells and crippling curses could pass through.
Ducking under a wide swipe, Snape summoned as much water as he could draw from the nearby taps and sent that as a malleable stream towards Gaara, intending to either surround the boy's head with it until he lost consciousness or else soak this loose sand until he could out manoeuvre it. He couldn't anticipate that Gaara had experience with this trick and had developed a defence against it, so Snape was dumbstruck when the shield that blocked the aquatic tentacle had deflected the water and allowed it slide off its smooth surface before breaking back up into grains of sand. Each time Snape tried to send water to attack Gaara, the shield would compact and harden to the degree that it was no longer porous.
Snape wasn't a young man any more, he had aged prematurely so he wasn't nearly nimble enough to compete with this sand on any kind of physical level, especially since the tiny space he had to work with was littered with debris and desks, and the longer he fought the more the sand circling Gaara spread out to surround him.
The veteran was getting to the point of desperation where he began to consider using his more powerful, darker and more dangerous spells and curses, on a different level than his favoured Sectumsempra. What stopped him, really, was the presence of those incorrigible students stood so close to this escalating battle. If things had continued as they were, Snape would have had to consider using one of the Unforgivables to fight with. They carried immense risks but their power was the reason the Dark Lord had treasured them so.
Things, however, did not continue as they had, as through the door strode Albus Dumbledore with his wand drawn looking to be incredibly angry, compared to his famous granfatherly smile that twinkled around his beloved students. Gaara seemed to register this threat only after Dumbledore had sent off a nameless spell that froze the top layer of the sand shield and dusted Gaara's sand-covered hair in ice.
Even as Professor Dumbledore began to send off spells in rapid succession in tandem with Snape, once Gaara had shifted his stance to face both his opponents, he was still able to fend off all but a few attacks cast at him, and the paltry handful of hexes that made it past the shield only came to impact on Gaara's stony skin as if they too had been blocked.
The three passive spectators at the front of the room, who had never seen either professor duel seriously before, couldn't believe that they were earnest in their attempts to subdue Gaara, and in fact they weren't. As strong as Gaara was, they were each accomplished duelists and had the potential to rise to much greater strengths, but both were aware, on a deeper level, that Gaara was a student and they couldn't think of going all out on someone under their care.
They reached an impasse as the teachers could not force their student into submission without probably seriously harming him and the other students in the small room, and Gaara couldn't defeat his two opponents in his frenzied and wild state of mind, relying largely on instinct. As the battle lulled into a continuous attack and return between sides, Draco could stand still no longer. It was obvious Gaara would be the one to get hurt if things went further, so he slid forwards.
Seeing that Draco was making his move, Albus formed a wall of water to act as a barrier long enough to stop this fight. With the sand struggling to push through the surging shield of water, Albus walked over to Severus in order to calm down the adrenaline fuelled duellist on his side of the conflict whilst Draco took the unenviable task of undoing whatever rage the Potions master had driven the red-head into.
Moving closer to the action was perilous for anyone, but Draco hadn't even drawn his wand, he couldn't ward off Gaara's rebounding attacks after they had impacted on the wall of water and they hurtled towards him. Again and again he was knocked back, to the point where even his enemies behind him called out for him to give in, but he didn't.
For the first time in his life, Draco Malfoy didn't give up when things got too hard, he persevered and pushed on until he reached the edge of Gaara's absolute defence. The floating fragments of the sandy egg shell seemed to hesitate as his pale hand reached out to the paler shoulder of his best friend.
A flinch that could only be felt and not seen passed up to Draco and he squeezed the robed shoulder and said, "Gaara, it's over, calm down."
Gaara barely spared him a glance before sending out a wave of fresh attacks, but as he continued to attack, his assaults on the water shield began to weaken him as minuscule traces of water seeped into the super-condescend sand.
The Jinchūriki's brows were still furrowed in silent pain and (perhaps) unshed tears. The attacks slowed, becoming almost petty and half-hearted from Gaara's now waning anger more than any affect the water was having. Eventually the sand stopped pounding on the so-far impenetrable wall altogether and flopped onto the soaking wet floor, to be followed immediately by the water from Albus' spell, once the wizened, battle-scarred wizard was sure the diminutive demon-host was finished.
Meanwhile, Dumbledore had been able to persuade Snape to lower his wand, and what had previously been a basement brawl between pupil and teachers was now the awkward silence after a temporary truce has been reached.
Now that all was quiet and peaceful, Gaara lazily raised his hand, flat, and called together his soggy sand, as slowly as he could so as to not alert his one-time foes. The sand moved haltingly and struggled to lift into the air, dripping water all the while as it floated together into the shifting approximate form of a sphere and subsequently began to extricate the water it had absorbed. The process was so mesmerising that Draco almost forgot he was still holding onto Gaara's skinny shoulder, and wanted to let go but held on for a little longer. He wasn't one for physical affection, nor was he an affectionate person, and Gaara sure as hell wasn't either, but this contact had gone some way towards bringing his friend back from wherever he had gone in his anger so he would wait a little longer.
Eventually the sand had returned to a useable state and had reattached itself to Gaara's back. Gaara stared at his feet in shame, reflecting on losing control like he had and at striking out at civilians like... like a monster.
Harry, Ron and Hermione hadn't moved more than an inch between them so far, and even after the fighting died down they didn't want to draw attention to themselves. They weren't sure what to be more amazed by: Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape, both reputed duelling masters and respected teachers in their fields, etc., engaging in a fierce battle with their enigmatic transferred peer; or that Draco Malfoy, the most cowardly snake in the entire school, had been the one to face up to the danger and put an end to the fighting by approaching his psychopathic roommate. They weren't just speechless, they were shell-shocked. And they were tired. The stress of the battle and the intangible killing intent that had assaulted all of them before had drained even the casual observers present.
Even after personally witnessing everything that had just happened, the three still couldn't believe that Draco had changed so much so rapidly under the watch of this new influence. It was eerie.
But apart from Draco, Gaara looked more damaged by all of this than anyone would usually have the right to be. It didn't seem to be about what Snape had said to set it all off, either. Gaara was looking ashamed of his actions, which the Trio could understand, but then they had been working under the assumption, at least since Harry's fight with him, that Gaara was some kind of violent crazy person just waiting for an excuse to start something. And with his ties to Slytherin and Malfoy, that had seemed like the most feasible possibility, but now they got a glimpse of something more; evidence that there was more to their odd new peer than fighting and Slytherin... though of course this isn't to say that any of them were any closer to liking him or even any further from disliking him, it was just the seed of a thought.
Primarily, Harry's thoughts were centred not on Gaara's newfound penitence like Hermione's were, but on the potential issues arising from Gaara's amazing strength and apparent lack of control. Sure, even Ron pitied the sad visage that was repentant-Gaara, but Harry had to focus on the danger that this boy posed to his friends and his school in an already dark year.
A part of Harry had honestly believed that with the escape of Sirius Black, his third year at Hogwarts might just be a little dangerous and troubling. Just a single problem for the teenager instead of the usual plethora that he'd come to closely associate with his true home at the school.
Instead he got an escaped mass-murdering convict hell-bent on killing him, dementors with a Boy-Who-Lived fetish, a weird not-prick Malfoy, and the creature formerly known as Gaara.
... He missed the basilisk...
Hermione, Harry and Ron were eased out of their individual trances by Professor Dumbledore who guided them firmly to the door and asked that they go rest for a little while and to please keep what they had just seen to themselves for the time being, even though everyone was sure to know about it by dinner that night anyway.
Once the Golden Trio had been sent to their dorms to tell all their friends about what they had just seen, Albus moved onto the next step of damage control and gave Snape the rest of the day off and sent him too off to his quarters to relax for a while, if Severus was capable of relaxing. He'd have the House Elves clean up the mess in the Potions lab. Asking whoever was sure to be on Snape's detention roster for that evening to clear the battle ground was beyond whatever sadistic bone lay dormant in the kind headmaster's body. He'd also have to have someone round up the straggling students who'd fled the Potions class just now. It wasn't beyond many of the students to use the panic caused to avoid going to their next classes.
"Gaara, I believe we need to have a talk in my office;" Dumbledore's eyes bore down on Gaara's fluffed red-head, taking charge now that the conflict had been resolved, before he turned slowly to look upon Draco who had since taken up position next to Gaara at a respectable distance, "Mr Malfoy, would you please join us, I'd like to hear your input as well." Draco understood that he was to come for emotional and psychological support for Gaara who was still in deep meditative thought, or was still contemplating the state of his shoes. In any case, the platinum-blond agreed it would be best if Gaara had a friend in what was yet to come. It didn't take genius to know that a meeting with the principal, after attacking that principal as well as a Potions teacher and destroying half a laboratory in the battle, would not be a pleasant meeting at all.
Albus left the dungeon first, without looking back for any further acquiescence, and Draco was about to follow when he noticed his friend had stirred from his trance, so he moved a little closer, though refrained from touching his friend again lest Gaara lose whatever tolerance he had for such contact and do something regrettable to the blond, and said the first thing that came to mind, as he had been doing a lot recently: "You aren't a monster, Gaara, and you're not a freak either."
Fortunately that seemed to break whatever spell Gaara had been in as the red-head finally broke eye-contact with his toes and looked up at Draco, watching steadily before nodding forwards, gesturing for Draco to lead on, though Draco liked to think somewhere in that vague gesture had been a recognition of his efforts for Gaara. Who knew with Gaara...?
When the two third-years exited the Potions lab, Dumbledore picked up the pace and began walking in earnest to his office, looking forward to a nice cup of tea when he arrived. It was at times like these, among increasing others, that he was harshly reminded of his age. Even the climb through the castle to his beloved chair was sure to wear him out, but Fawkes would soon stop answering his calls if he tried using him as an in-school apparition tool... again.
On the silent walk, the Headmaster began to consider what he was going to say and, more importantly, what he was going to do. He had been worried, maybe even afraid, of Gaara since he'd laid eyes on him in August, but he truly had not believed that something like today's incident would have occurred, or at least certainly not so soon.
Albus had dealt with more troubled students than... well, than un-troubled ones, sadly; but even his worst failures had never done something like this. Or, rather, none of them had put up such a good fight, and he couldn't fight the feeling that that hadn't been Gaara's full power; he hadn't even been using magic to fight, either.
He had to draw himself out of his head as his thoughts were becoming more and more disturbing, and he had to say the password to open the stairway to his office. Soon the three of them were comfortably sat in his office, all holding their cups of sweetened tea and occasionally taking sips, except for Gaara who was still staring blankly at something or other. Plus Gaara hated such sweet tea.
"Mister Malfoy, would you be so kind as to tell me exactly what happened in there?"
"Well, I don't know, I just didn't want Gaara to get into any more trouble or get hurt so I..." Dumbledore held up his hand with a smile, trying not to distress the witness before he continued.
"Could you tell me what started this all? I need to understand what set off this... outburst."
As Draco relayed how Professor Snape had been tormenting Gaara, worse than usual, and that had led to things being said, about which he refused to elaborate, that caused Gaara to get angry. Then the weird fear-wave spell thing and then Snape fired off the first hex and Gaara fought back. Albus had a few reservations believing some of this, and he definitely needed to know which straw it was that broke the camel's back, but he'd seen how outspoken Severus was about Gaara so it was possible that what Draco had said wasn't all too far from the truth. And besides that, Draco had always been a preferred student in Snape's eyes and wasn't likely to make up stories to get the Head of Slytherin in trouble without good reason.
"Do you have anything you'd like to add, Gaara, to what Draco has just said?" Both he and Draco stared at the brooding monsterling only to be disappointed when Gaara didn't look up to meet their gazes and continued to stare at his cooling tea and shook his head gradually, as if he was mulling over the question.
Dumbledore sighed, "Frankly, I am disappointed in you, Gaara. I know it must be somewhat confusing being thrust into a new school, especially one where you continually find yourself singled out because of the differences children often find reason to focus on, and Professor Snape's behaviour has been unprofessional in his dealings with you, but the way you reacted today was wrong. I allowed you into Hogwarts so that you may move on from your past and make a future for yourself, but with your recent fight with Mister Potter and now with Professor Snape, I fear for the safety of the other students if things continue on as they have.
"In light of your conduct, but taking into account the provocations and instigations from others, you'll be serving two weeks of detentions, which will be with Professor Lupin, but more importantly, I have to ask that you no longer carry your sand with you, except for a small amount so that you can communicate as you have been." By now, Draco looked a little shocked by the leniency and Gaara had finally deigned to raise his head to look at his judge.
Dumbledore bore his hardened eyes into Gaara's, needing to gauge the reaction he'd receive. The headmaster had considered something more drastic than confiscation, like a runic sealing to put a stop to Gaara's unusual free manipulation of the sand, but he could never get Gaara to agree to something like that and it just wasn't in Albus to force a student into such a drastic measure, even after all that had happened now and all that had come to pass in his tenure.
The sand rose and spread into the increasingly legible sandwriting, 'I will leave if I am disallowed from carrying sand.'
Draco's face far outdid Dumbledore's, with his shock letting his jaw actually hang and his eyes widen to comical proportions. He'd expected a harsh punishment, and had been relieved that the headmaster had decided to be so uncommonly lenient with Gaara, but now his closest (and first real) friend was threatening to leave the school, an act that Draco had never ever contemplated before. For the first time he wasn't always afraid, and now the one that had helped him reach this state might be forced out into a country that he was totally alone in.
Draco immediately jumped to his feet in defence of his friend's continued education and boarding at the school, "Headmaster, you can't be serious! Gaara protected himself both times, so without his sand he'd have been hurt much worse." Gaara seemed to have reverted to his usual unflappable demeanour as his invisi-brow didn't even twitch towards a rise after yet another emotional outburst from Draco.
Gaara was surprised the blonde's floodgates hadn't opened yet. Who would've thought, under all that pomp, snobbery and bigotry was an emotionally vulnerable boy? Gaara wouldn't be surprised to find his roommate whimpering in the first-floor girls' bathroom one of these days.
"I understand that, Draco, but Gaara's sand is simply too dangerous should he lose control again."
"And you'll let him leave the school with nowhere to go if he won't give it up, sir?" Draco had almost forgot he was openly arguing with the wizard revered as being on par with the Dark Lord, not that that fact tempered his defiance any.
Dumbledore wanted to see some open remorse or some input from Gaara, but he gained no reaction from humouring Draco's desperate protestations. Truly, Albus had hoped that Gaara would show some kind of sign that he was bluffing, that he was afraid to go through with this threat, but Gaara had no such reservations. He was deadly serious about leaving Hogwarts if he was called to give up his personal sand. If anything, leaving might allow him to move around in the Wizarding world more freely so that he could explore some less travelled paths of research to go home. Gaara had no intention of fighting to stay, if his hand was forced, but that didn't mean he was blind to the difficulties that expulsion would surely bring about.
The office had lapsed into an uncomfortable silence, for non-battle-hardened Draco at the very least, and each of the three took turns staring at one another before then switching on to a new target. Eventually, Albus closed his eyes deeply and sat up a little straighter to address both the precocious teenagers. He wasn't quite as imposing in stature or presence as he once was, but Albus was greatly aided by the fact that both Draco and, even more so, Gaara, were exceptionally short for their ages and allowed him to tower over them even at his considerable age.
"Well, I can't very well be seen to expel such a promising young student because of my own inflexibility, so I will allow you to continue carrying your sand for now, Gaara, on the condition that in future you remain calm when someone tries to provoke you. There cannot be a repeat of today's incident."
How pathetic, a child had called his bluff and he had caved. Dumbledore wasn't about to let Gaara run off into the world, it would defeat the entire reason he had invited the boy to attend Hogwarts in the first place. He would have to believe in the Malfoy heir's ability to calm Gaara's calamitous wrath, as well as his own ministrations to keep Gaara away from anything that might cause persistent agitation. No need to stir the hornets' nest again.
Gaara didn't show it, but he was a little relieved. Having to leave would have been troublesome, with finding a place to stay and means to indefinitely sustain himself as well as maintain connection with the wizarding world in order to continue his search. And leaving Draco would... be a shame? Something along those lines. His relief was cut short with a ice-bath of cold sweat when the headmaster added that all of his detentions, which would be with Remus, would be from now on every night except for the night of the thirtieth. Draco didn't see anything wrong with this 'prior engagement,' but Gaara had marked down that date already as the night of the full-moon!
No one should know about his transformation, not even Lupin or Sirius, so why then was he being allowed off for that one night. Looking into the old man's eyes yielded nothing but joviality at giving such a lenient and sparing punishment to Gaara and giving him the night off instead of giving him over to Minerva or one of the other willing senior staff.
"I also want to award twenty points to Slytherin, for your steadfast courage and dedication to your friend, Draco. Hopefully it might go some ways towards counterbalancing what I am sure is a considerable number of house-points that Professor Snape has undoubtedly removed by now." Trust Severus to finally remove points from his own house only when he has an axe to grind with one of the students.
"Thank you, headmaster." Secretly, Draco was more than a little embarrassed at receiving house-points for 'courage' of all things. He wouldn't be able to hold his head up around his peers if this got out. He was already on thin ice in Slytherin. And Potter and his cronies would have a field day if they found it he had one of the infantile Gryffindor characteristics. Thank goodness that the awarding of house-points wasn't publicised at all. He'd just tell everyone that it was for his cunning and ambitious... something or other along those lines, he'd work out the details later on.
"Now that we've dealt with this unpleasantness, I wonder if I might ask you two about something that's been nagging at me the past couple of days. Would either or you be able to tell me what happened two days ago, as I happened to see someone that looked remarkably like Gaara here being flown out to the Black Lake on a magic carpet. I needn't remind either of you that such an enchanted carpet is illegal, but perhaps you could tell me what happened."
Draco looked very unsettled for a few beats whilst he searched Dumbledore's expression for any kind of anger or reproach, but seeing only mirth he swallowed his fear and smiled a little, "Well, sir, it started with a boy, let's call him Kaara for now, accidentally almost killed his roommate, Braco, through sheer thoughtlessness. They didn't speak for a while, but eventually Braco decided that he could even the status quo by evening the score and pranking Kaara. Long story short, an illegally smuggled carpet and an open window along with a well placed sticking charm solved their problem. All has been forgiven and forgotten. I'm afraid, though, sir, that I can't tell you the real names of the two involved."
Despite the laughter that Draco shared with the head teacher over his largely harmless crime, Draco did allow his eye to check whether 'Kaara' had appreciated this retelling as much as the whimsical headmaster. He began to sweat when he didn't see any reaction from his roommate, and he dearly hoped that he hadn't just inadvertently fired off the opening salvo in another conflict.
Even Albus Dumbledore, having lived through many wars, practiced and taught miracle-making for decades and had born witness to countless awe-inspiring sights, was as surprised as the fresh-faced teenager opposite him when Gaara's mouth, that had so long been set in a perfectly straight line, curved upwards slow as can be and then... and then opened and laughed!
And the minute shaking of Gaara's shoulders and his eyes closing in gaiety was a sight to behold, coupled with the quiet, rapid wheezing that might have been raucous laughter but for lack of those pesky vocal chords. Going from homicidally angry to totally shame-faced and now to being giddier than anyone in that world had ever seen Gaara, it was a vision indeed. The red-head only stopped because he noticed that the other two in the office had ceased their talking and were just staring open-mouthed at him. As if they've never seen a serial killer laugh before.
"Well, yes, I'm glad that all of those troubles are over with now. I think, in future, Kaara should bear in mind our school's pertinent motto: 'Draco Domiens Nunquam Titlandus,' you never know what you might awaken." Draco tittered at the Latin joke, but Gaara's otherworldly linguistic luck apparently didn't extend that far or he'd expended all of his laughter for the year. "Now, I think I've held you long enough. I don't want mean to spoil the mood now that it's back to a proper Hogwarts standard, but nor do I want to mislead you as to the seriousness of what has transpired today. This will not happen again; is that clear, Gaara?"
Gaara nodded to that question in an eerily similar fashion as he had to his father's same orders just a few years ago. 'Don't kill the villagers, Gaara.', 'Stop murdering my shinobi, Gaara.', 'Stop dripping blood all over the floor, Gaara.' It was like white noise by now.
"We're sorry for the trouble, headmaster."
"I'm sure Gaara feels the same. Have a nice day, Draco, Lily." Dumbledore's cup of tea paused on its way to his mouth the moment he realised his tongue had slipped unforgivably. He swiftly continued on his sip and tried not at look either of the boys in the eye as they both stopped in their tracks. The glare sent his way from the red-head was pretty justified but he just continued to pretend to be intently fascinated by his work until this threat passed.
Draco looked back at the headmaster he'd just been leaving to his work, wondering whether he had actually just heard the old man call Gaara something along the lines of 'Lily,' but convinced himself he must have been hearing things when his roommate continued onwards at a typically inhuman pace out of the ornate office. Draco spared another look towards the headmaster working hard and a glance at the phoenix he'd heard of, perched and preening itself happily.
Draco chuckled to himself as he descended the perilously steep stone staircase behind Gaara, finding the idea of anyone calling Gaara a girl's name silly. Gaara would be homicidal, for sure. Besides that, what possible reason would there be for it. Maybe one of the loud noises from the assuredly-legendary-by-now battle earlier had damaged his ears. He'd go talk to that incompetent medi-witch tomorrow about whatever had been done to him. If she valued her job, she wouldn't dismiss his injuries again, forcing him to contact his father for outside medical attention.
Potter may have broken his wrist or vanished the bone like an idiot last year, but he'd come off his broom in that match and Pomfrey had had the nerve to tell him was fine after a single diagnostic spell. There wasn't anything really wrong with him beyond a few bruises, but how could she have possibly known that for sure?
A few hours later, after classes had finished for the day and the bravest Slytherins, amounting to three or four, had finished mining their resident Gaara-expert for details on the newest hot topic around the school, Marcus Flint approached the quietly studying pair sat on the sofa with his trademark scowl being marred by the presence of his horribly protruding buck teeth poking out.
Flint, who, in addition to being the Quidditch captain since he joined the House team after a tragic hexing accident with the previous captain, also happened to be Slytherin's current head boy, was often loathe to perform his duties. There was a very minor scandal that arose when Flint was appointed as head boy because it was suspected by some of the other senior staff members that Snape had not taken a lengthy look at his students and chosen the most appropriate, but had in fact instead just picked the only student whose name he'd already memorised from being the Quidditch captain.
"Gaara, you don't go to Potions anymore, and stay at least twenty feet away from Professor Snape at all times, understand?" Gaara nodded and went back to his book, and Flint offered his minimal greetings to Draco as he stalked back to whatever hole he had crawled out of, to finish his own homework.
The next day, Gaara spent the time that was supposed to be allotted to him and his year group for Potions class instead performing some extracurricular, but no less pertinent, research. He'd only gone to a single Potions class in the whole of this month anyway, so the timetable change was more rectified for him than disturbed, but for some reason the regularity with which the young student spent his time in the library during teaching hours didn't deter the resident paper-weight/librarian from questioning him every time he walked in. He'd sneak in, but that sent his mind spiralling down to that one story he'd been told about a certain someone who used to sneak into the library to rearrange the books and make loud noises. Gaara's pride was under constant threat in this world and he wasn't about to forfeit a major part of it by using his training to avoid a snooty librarian.
That being said, he didn't have the same compunctions about darting into the Restricted Section of the library to access the infinitely more advanced and interesting materials that he was bafflingly barred from reading. But he'd never let silly things like rules and laws stop him in his native world and he certainly wasn't about to now.
He spent this particular hour searching for works on the demons of this world and any dark teleportation magics, but once again after the better part of an hour he found almost nothing at all. There were a few dark spells for transportation, but none of them were what he was looking for, unless he wanted sacrifice ten virgins to reduce the disorientation from Apparition (he'd later admit that he had briefly considered tapping into the unused resource of first years to forgo that unpleasant experience again). As for information on demons, that was harder to pin down in such a limited time period as it seemed there was an extraordinary amount of fiction and religious material related to them, but nothing concrete or credible. And those demons were very different from the kind he knew all too well.
Maybe demons, like shinobi, didn't exist in this world.
His frustrated reading only lasted the first of his two free hours before he dumped his books onto the nearest trolley and decided to go and see his surrogate pet out in the forest. Fluffy, of course, was ecstatic to see him and happily let the small red-haired boy sit atop his aptly named fluffy tummy, where Gaara then started on reading an interesting book on abnormal wizarding diseases. Medicine, in any form, wasn't a particular passion of his, but Gaara was interested enough by the peculiarity of these illnesses that he didn't mind. He'd already read all of the materials from the first, second and this year's curriculum so he needed a break from the standard books he had been and would have been assigned if he'd been present.
Gaara figured he'd finish all seven years worth of material by the end of the teaching year. He'd heard it was quite common practice in Ravenclaw to do so by third year and Hermione Granger was also on track to do so. Bookish though he may be called, especially by his layabout roommate, he didn't regret going back and reading over the previous two years that he had missed. It helped enormously with his theory work, but sadly it had little effect on his spell-casting. It seemed that problem was just something he'd have to learn to deal with in time.
His reading was disturbed only when the massive dog rolled over onto his side and sent Gaara at least six feet before a pretty soft landing on his sand. The dog had the cheek to look over at him whilst lying on its shared back, tongue lolling out, and to wag its tail and shake its body as if expecting a belly rub.
It was only because Gaara had been in a good mood the last few days (other than his little tantrum yesterday) that he did give the soft, fluffy stomach a little scratch until he had to return to the castle. Damn beast was incorrigible.
The supplementary lessons that Gaara had been attending had to be cancelled as the administering tutor had another commitment imposed upon him, which was just as well since Gaara's detentions meant that he couldn't attend the tutorials with Lupin anyway, as he had to go to detention with Professor Lupin.
It was held in the same room and it was largely the same atmosphere, as Remus helped him to improve his practical magic and he tried not to blow up furniture or his professor any time he heard that bloody nickname!
While initially admonishing Gaara for his rampage that had lead to their time together being reclassified, he did understand how hard it could be sometimes to abide by people who repeatedly tried one's patience (Sirius came to both of their minds).
Soon Lupin's manner had been swapped for concern over Gaara's wellbeing as he had fought off not one but two infamously strong wizards and no matter how strong a third-year he might be or how easy the two teachers might have been going on the child, it would be highly irregular if Gaara had come out of the fight totally undamaged. But Gaara insisted that a trip to see Madam Pomfrey would be a needless inconvenience and that he was plainly fine to see, which Lupin had to admit seemed to be the case. In fact, Gaara appeared to be in a much better mood than he had been in weeks, which Lupin secretly attributed to boy's recent reconciliation with the Malfoy boy.
Each of their lessons together over the nights that had been mandated as their 'detentions' went as slowly as before, with Gaara making no miraculous leaps forward in his magical abilities.
It was on one of the last nights before the full moon that the two of them got to 'talking' somewhat more frankly than Gaara was oft to do. Lupin had been talking about his past exploits like he liked to do, reliving happier days, when he came to the subject of his childhood experiences away from the Marauders and Hogwarts.
Now, Lupin wasn't going to tell Gaara about his lycanthropy but he believed he could talk around it without giving too much away.
Truly, telling Gaara about the wolf inside scared Lupin more than perhaps was usual for him in revealing the truth to someone, and it wasn't simply because Gaara was a friend. It was because Gaara would almost certainly not react normally. The boy, wherever he had come from, didn't share the same prejudices and understandings of wizarding culture and so he might not fear a werewolf because he had never been taught to. What scared Lupin out of telling his newest friend about the beast was the possibility that Gaara would have a basal fear towards the wolf, that he might hate and flee from Lupin for what he actually was rather than through ignorance. That sort of rejection was so much worse in his mind, to be seen as the monster he sometimes was.
Remus talked about how he had been hurt terribly as a child and how he had not been able to see or talk to anyone his own age, and how he had almost not been allowed to go to school because of certain prejudices and concerns but how Dumbledore had helped him. He tried to focus as much on how he had felt as a child, alone, to avoid the glaring holes in his story that should have comprised the greater chunk in his cathartic tale of woe.
Gaara clearly listened but his stoic face never betrayed a reaction. Typical.
'I was alone as a child as well.' Lupin hadn't seen the sand sift through the air until it solidified into the sentence above Gaara. 'My mother died in childbirth and I was a weapon and a curse to my father, nothing more.' 'Over the course of my life, there have been many attempts on my life, all from the people from my village.' 'I deserved them.' The older man wanted to butt in here and ardently deny that damning self-assertion but the conviction on Gaara's face wasn't the angst ridden damage of low self-esteem but the dark chiselled regrets of a lifetime of mistake engraved onto a person's soul. He'd seen a lot of faces like this but never on a child.
Gaara looked up at Lupin for a long moment, which the man mistakenly believed was an invitation for comfort or a pause in communication so as to not overwhelm himself and come to tears. Gaara was measuring the man before him, considering whether or not he was as trustworthy as Gaara wanted to believe his friends in this world were. They could betray him and cause him so much trouble and damage, but would they? They could profit from that, maybe even get Sirius off the hook by having him 'out' the monster from another world.
'Where I'm from,' Gaara held up one last moment as he intently watched Lupin's face as it peered upwards at the words, and waited to see some sort of anticipation, a look of ambition or relief, but all he got was that confusing patience. '-is another world.' His first ever friend had told him he needed to trust in people to create real bonds. Perhaps he could get some help.
"Wait, what? What do you mean by 'another world,' Gaara?" Lupin had done a double take after seeing those words. Things flashed through the man's head, maybe a different culture far removed from his own, or maybe the muggle world? But he kept coming back to just how strange Gaara was and how Sirius had described his first appearance, as falling from a great height but from no obvious means, covered in the most horrible cuts and slashes and very disorientated.
Gaara went on to tell Lupin just a little about his home world, about Sunagakure, the Five Great Shinobi Nations and the common existence of shinobi and some of their roles. He spared Lupin some of the more exact details and tried to downplay the murdering side of shinobi life a little, but for the most part he painted a pretty vivid picture of life in the Elemental Nations.
It was Gaara's underestimation of the effect that telling his own biographical experience of his home world would have on his friend that led to him tilting his head when Lupin began to tear up, as if Gaara had just told him some tragic story. He'd totally left out the later years of his life including the war-time preparations, his father's death and the demon that resided within him; but then he'd also skipped over his redemption and finding some measure of happiness that had been almost entirely absent from his beginnings.
"All this time, Gaara, I've suspected that you were different, but now it all makes so much sense. You've been stuck here alone all this time with nobody to talk to about it, I'm sorry I didn't see the truth earlier." Lupin put his hand on Gaara's shoulder, further confusing the borderline-sociopath further still, "From now on, I will do anything I can to help you, and I know for certain that Sirius would do the same."
Lupin continued to look the at the off-worlder with a smile, as if Gaara somehow now made total sense to him, and then frowned in consideration. "Gaara, I need to ask this, but do you want to return to where you came from? I would do whatever I could to help you stay here and once Sirius is cleared he would be more than happy to support you." The thought of sending Gaara back to a world where a child could be considered a warrior and that had produced a child, no matter how sweet, as damaged as Gaara, was repugnant to the emotional Marauder. A small part of him really hoped that Gaara would want to stay, in the short time he'd know Gaara it had been like back in his school days again for the first time in over a decade, with Sirius back in his life too and being back in Hogwarts.
'It is my home and I have precious people waiting for me there that I have to protect.' 'I can't let them down. I need to return.'
Lupin tried not to look too disappointed, "Then I will do whatever I can to help you, Lily." ... "Ehehe... And do you want Sirius to know about this or would you rather this stay between us for now?"
Gaara stopped glaring long enough to write out 'Tell him.' The Suna citizen couldn't imagine that Sirius would act any worse than Remus had, especially when considering Sirius' own history of betrayal. It was something of a weight off of his chest now that someone in this world knew that he wasn't a native inhabitant.
Seeing as Gaara had gone quiet again (figuratively speaking) Lupin said "It's going to be alright, Gaara." And he leaned forward and hugged the small thirteen year-old, forgetting he was dealing with Gaara and not any other thirteen year-old that had been put through such trauma. Gaara stayed perfectly still and as stiff as board under the firm and kind hold before Lupin released him with a tearful smile on his face, as if to say 'We've been through a lot together this evening but we'll be okay.'
Gaara's frown said 'Sand auto-defence reactivating in 3...2...'
Later that same night, after Gaara had endured all of the emotional out-pouring he could take, he had left Lupin to do whatever it is that teachers do at night when they're finally up-to-date on all of their work, lesson plans and marking.
This night, Lupin decided that in spite of the worsening lycanthropy pains he needed to speak to Sirius in person, a task that had been made more difficult by the increase in the dementor presence around the castle at night.
This was one of the many reasons that the werewolf was suspicious of just how much Dumbledore was aware of, as the headmaster clearly knew about the hidden passageway under the Whomping Willow and yet he hadn't requested that any dementors be posted outside the entrance to it. It wasn't as if he actually used that passageway during his monthly issues anymore. The Wolfsbane Potion was the best thing to happen to him in his twenties by far. The Forbidden Forrest was a very beautiful place when you were one of the scariest things in there. Though he didn't even want to know what that overwhelmingly doggish scent all of over the place was. It was like a gigantic Padfoot had decided to mark half the trees in the woods.
He found Sirius snoozing away in his dog form at the top of the rickety stairs, but with the seriousness to come, he had to forgo the traditional attempt to prank the sleeping marauder and just walk noisily up the stairs to wake up the shaggy dog. Sirius was startled at the intrusion but settled back down to an excited wagging when he saw who had come to visit. Lupin walked past the excitable dog-man and into the most comfortable remaining bedroom before falling into the softest patch of the weather-worn bed. The full-moon was always worst during the winter months and the build up was no different.
Sirius trotted in with his tongue hanging out, probably expecting something substantial to eat, which Lupin had forgotten to pick up before coming. It wasn't exactly a regular visit here, he needed to talk, not watch Sirius or Padfoot with his face shoved in some food and his ass in the air. Lupin had often wondered how James had managed to keep himself so human when both Sirius and Peter had become so animalistic even after they had transformed back. Probably something to do with the inherent dignity a stag walks around with compared to a mutt and a rat. That or self-control. Sirius had always acted like an animal anyway, once some of that patented Black conditioning had been stripped away.
After an awkward few moments it was clear that the dog would not be getting anything for dinner so he transformed back into his human form and began to shiver until he wrapped himself in one of the ragged blankets from the bed. The air was getting colder and turning into a fur-less human was becoming harder and harder. The cold air was something that Lupin, of all people, could sympathise with, considering all of the mornings he'd woken up in the middle of nowhere on a crisp winter's mornings to then have to search for his clothes. Cold weather was bad, cold weather naked was worse, cold weather naked with the accumulated aches and pains that surrounded the full-moon was an entirely different matter. Luckily he had found a good method of finding his way back to his clothes before the morning broke as, like with most things, the aches and chills apparently got worse with age.
"No food, Moony?" Talk about puppy-dog eyes; Sirius was a puppy that had never grown up.
"I'm sorry but it was already late and I didn't have time to stop by the kitchens on my way here. There's something you need to hear, it's about Gaara." Sirius was pouting, for God's sake! "I'll come back tomorrow with something for you to eat." As Remus said it, he couldn't stop the sigh that escaped with his breath. He hoped that Sirius wouldn't pick up on it. He didn't want Sirius to think that Remus considered his best friend a burden. After abandoning Sirius for over a decade, the least he could do was help him now.
"Oh God, Moony, the full moon, I didn't think. It should be sometime soon, right?"
"It's in a couple of days, but I'll manage. And I didn't come here to discuss my monthly cycle."
"You said it's about Gaara, he's okay, right?" Sirius snapped back to his seldom seen serious side as his normally carefree nature was swept aside by this newest of feelings, adult concern. A child at heart, Sirius wasn't used to having someone younger and more vulnerable (in his eyes) in his life and he hadn't expected to feel it until maybe the day that Harry moved in with him, after he'd adopted him.
"Yes, he's fine, although that depends on who you ask, I suppose." Lupin sighed again, exasperated this time at the level of drama the red-head ran into on a regular basis. From what he'd heard about Harry's previous two years, Gaara might give the Pronglset a run for his money on the peril and excitement score. "I'll start at the beginning. Thanks to that insane Minister for Magic, we were forced to play hosts to the head of his Administrative Inspectors..."
Lupin went on to describe the inspection, Dumbledore's equal insanity with his plan to move Gaara around, and then the fight between Gaara and Harry, which was something of a sore subject for the both of them, conflicts of interest and all. The flying carpet prank, from a Malfoy of all people, and then Gaara's fight with Snape. To say that Sirius was happy to hear that Gaara had not only got into a scrap with the snake-bat but had come out of it mostly unscathed, would be the grossest of understatements. From there he related Gaara's faux-punishment that led to that night's conversation.
The look on Sirius' face, when Remus revealed what Gaara had told him, would have been the ideal defence against any dementor as it was identical to the expression worn by convicts who'd just received the dementor's kiss. That blank soullessness didn't last long enough for a getaway though as immediately Sirius sprang back with a myriad of questions that Remus didn't have any answers to.
It was testament to Sirius' implicit trust in the boy he'd saved that he didn't doubt what he'd been told for a second and was instead more concerned with 1) whether Gaara wanted to go back and 2) how Sirius could help.
Remus had spent a fair amount of time with Gaara over the past few months, but Sirius' bond with the child was something that had been forged out of mutual hardship rather than from time in proximity.
They talked long into the night about Gaara being from another world, his difficult life and his status as a warrior 'shinobi.' Talk eventually moved onto the future, with Sirius' plans to find Pettigrew, to reunite with Harry, and also to help Gaara in any way he could.
Sitting by the window, Sirius looked up to the bright almost full moon and smiled. "You know, Remus, before I saw Gaara falling from the sky, I was sure I knew what I was going to do. I was going to see Harry, and then I was going to rip Peter to shreds, consequences be damned. All those years alone in Azkaban, and then hiding out in squalor, all I could think of was revenge. I hated it. You know what the worst part about it was?"
Remus shook his head.
"How selfish I felt. I was so angry, for what they did to James and Lily, to Harry's future, to everyone else as well, but in Azkaban, I could only think about how much I had suffered because I had lost my friends and my own future. It didn't change after I escaped from there, I just saw that article with that rat in it and I was obsessed with getting here and killing him. I wanted to protect Harry from Peter also, but that wasn't anything more than something to help me sleep at night."
"Sirius, you don't have to-"
"They say that dementors suck out happiness, and have to kiss you to take your soul, but I swear I must have lost something in there, my mind or something else, because I couldn't think straight. It was my fault that James and Lily died, I told them to switch, and then I ignored Harry so that I could satisfy my own anger!"
"You know that wasn't your fault, you smelly idiot! Peter lied to all of us, the traitor could have as easily been me; how could you know? You did what you did, what you could, to protect them." Remus hated it when Sirius got so maudlin; it was so out of character. He could deal with funny Sirius, angry Sirius, pranking Sirius, but not quiet sad Sirius.
"I was doing it all again, Remus, and then Gaara arrived and I had someone to take care of, something to distract me from myself. For the first time in twelve years I had to think about someone else. I owe Gaara so much."
"If you feel that way, maybe next time you can practice duelling with him."
Remus left a lot later than he would have liked, with the sure knowledge that by the next morning he would be willing to take Professor Binns as a substitute teacher for his early classes in order to rest. He was glad, however, that Sirius had been able to get some of this stuff off of his chest before it continued to fester. At least Sirius had stopped talking about storming the castle and dragging Peter out himself. He hoped that meant Padfoot had stopped thinking about it.
Sirius seemed more preoccupied with Gaara's fight with Severus than the fact that he had been transported there from another world. He kept asking for details and wanted to hear that Severus had been badly injured. The escapee had looked a little sullen when Lupin said that their old school punching bag hadn't even walked away with a limp, though with a stoic man like Snape, you never could tell what he was hiding.
The next morning, those in the know wondered whether Lupin was in fact a vampire rather than a werewolf, seeing as he wore sunglasses to breakfast, looked deathly pale and hissed when he inadvertently walked into direct sunlight.
That morning also saw a fresh blanket of snow on the vast Scottish lands around the castle, which caused Draco another drama in the form of an unusually childish and obstinate Gaara, who refused to get out of bed on the grounds that the castle was too cold and not freezing to death was a higher priority than learning.
Any attempt to physically remove the insane (but recovering) teenager from his bed was dangerous and futile, which Draco had figured when he had approached. Even Dumbledore would have been hard pressed to remove the demon-jailer from his warm snugly bed without relying on the Elder Wand that morning.
Draco only got Gaara to leave his bed, that was littered with books that his incredibly useful sand had fetched for him in preparation of a full day inside his fortress of comfort, when Draco warned Gaara that he would liable for a real detention if he didn't turn up to class. He then went on to describe one of his own more harrowing detentions when he and Potter had had to patrol the Dark Forest in his first year at night. That hadn't seemed to affect the regular forest pedestrian, which made sense since Draco couldn't imagine there was anything that much scarier than Gaara in there; well, that is until Draco elaborated that that would entail Gaara having to walk around outside when the air was at its coldest.
Pretty soon Gaara was in the shower and into many layers of school uniform. He kept putting on clothes until he couldn't fit anymore on or ran out. Madame Pomfrey, who was eating her hearty and balanced breakfast in the Great Hall, thought that Gaara looked much more healthy that morning, barring the prominent scowl that looked angry compared to his trademark contempt-filled scowl. It looked as if he wasn't as painfully skinny as he'd always been, but then he was wearing most of the clothes he had in the world.
Gaara was angry because not only had he been dragged out into this world's version of Snow country, but he would later have to go and check on Fluffy out in the woods, seeing as he had somehow taken the beast on as his responsibility. The surest sign of recovery from total psychopathy was empathy towards animals, wasn't it? Shukaku was screaming, like he always was, for him to either leave the animal to die in the cold, whimpering in agony and misery, or to go out and kill the loyal pet and enjoy the look of betrayal on its faces. As a rule, these days Gaara tried to do the opposite of whatever his sand demon told him to, so he cut a compromise of going out there to check if it was alright and not killing it.
Still, no matter the benevolent reasons, Gaara was angry that he was still going to have to trek out into the ice and snow and then endure whatever torturous 'play' Fluffy wished to put him through before he could schlep back to the castle to warm up. If he went all the way out there to find that the dog had died anyway, he would be very upset. Wasting his time and warmth...
As the clothing-cocoon, once known as Sabaku no Gaara, sat eating a warm bowl of full-fat milk porridge, he watched Draco talking animatedly with his other new friends after Gaara had refused any interaction whilst he was still this cold. Desert dwellers had no place living in sub-zero conditions, no matter how much they tried to warm up the castle. Established irritable desert-dwellers in foul moods due to adverse weather conditions were not the greatest conversationalists and the dirty look Gaara shot Draco when he had tried to talk to him earlier had persuaded the blond to leave his roommate alone for the day and continue his bridge building among his fellow bottom-rung peers. Although, the other elites/blood-purists in his year were not entirely opposed to letting him associate with them from time to time, that was only when they weren't too exposed to the other year-groups that might see them with a suspected blood traitor.
Draco, whilst technically now a blood traitor at heart, would have to find some way of discreetly squashing that suspicion. It was insulting to be in the same league as that moron Weasley and the half-blood, blood traitor Potter. At least Gaara was no longer believed to be some sort of plebeian since he had fought both Potter, which earned him points on so many levels, and Snape which was more cool than respectable. Snape was still their Head of House and on Slytherin's side, but Gaara had fought toe to toe with him so the Slytherin loyalists at least respected that he hadn't stood for being insulted.
With his number-one crony in better standing, as long as no one questioned his beliefs on the true station of mud-bloods, Draco was almost one of the guys again, in his old circle, but the tension was still there with the underlying understanding that he didn't believe exclusively in blood purity anymore. It was a simple case of don't ask, don't tell, and everybody's relatively happy.
During the day, the teachers avoided calling on Gaara more than they usually would, which was rare enough with his muteness and acerbic nature. If there had been any doubt that Gaara had started a fight with a teacher before that morning, there certainly wasn't by the time he had made his rounds in the castle for his lessons.
Apparently, or so Draco told his friends the next day, Gaara had decided to take his chances with punishment and had retreated to his bed sometime during his free period when everybody else was suffering in the dungeons doing Potions, after having gone outside for some reason. Professor Snape didn't even seem to notice the terrifying number of sharp icicles above their heads on the ceiling.
The next day, Draco and Lupin were taught a clothes warming charm to bribe Gaara back into regular attendance. Lupin had been concerned when Gaara hadn't shown up to his lesson that evening, but had instead had Draco go in his place with a note apologizing for falling ill suddenly and being unable to attend.
For someone who had never gone to any sort of formal schooling before, and who had solved most of his problems over the years through violence and murder, Gaara had adapted to school remarkably quickly, having just skived off of his first day of school and his first detention.
The note wasn't very convincing and Draco outright told him that Gaara wasn't ill at all and was in fact just sat reading, but it was such normal behaviour that Remus laughed and awarded Draco a few points for doing the good deed. He probably should take some from Gaara, but... well... maybe he would if he remembered to do it in the morning...
The next evening, after the lessons of the day had been braved in spite of the continuing and evidently worsening cold front, Gaara sat next to Draco and listened to him complain about some Quidditch news that he had apparently taken personal offence to.
Gaara had to actively hold back a little smile that was trying to stretch onto his lips when he glanced out of the corner of his eye and noticed that Ron Weasley, Draco's polar opposite (according to Draco), was similarly exasperated as he complained about something very much along the same lines as the Slytherin next to him, at least judging by the identical gestures and hand movements.
Quidditch was the great unifier, it seemed. Not, Gaara was sure, that either of the enthusiasts would admit to such a shared interest. Gaara was certain that, just to spite each other, they would probably swear that they hated their beloved sport.
In the middle of his increasingly energetic rant about a questionable call during a match (Gaara couldn't give more details about his friend's impassioned but ultimately boring speech than that), Draco glanced back over his shoulder to see if he was rudely bothering any of the others around him and while his head was turned he didn't catch the lightning fast action of Gaara pouring a small vial of an unspecified liquid onto his dinner.
Not knowing that a mysterious substance had been poured onto his dinner, Draco didn't think twice about tucking into the meal in between angry complaints to his disinterested friend.
It wasn't much longer until Draco slowed in his speech and switched his grouching to being unusually tired and wanting to go to bed early. Being the considerate roommate that he was, Gaara went with the drowsy blond to the dormitory, mindful of the now setting sun casting an orange glow across the roof of the Great Hall.
By the time they reached the entrance to the Slytherin common room, Draco was nodding off whilst standing, and was slurring his speech. As luck would have it, he collapsed before they entered the boy's dormitory and Gaara had to carry the slightly larger teen to the room, that is until the sun set somewhere above and out of sight. Gaara only knew the sun had set because like a month ago, that same sensation of change began to set about him and he was forced to set Draco back onto the ground and call his sand back into its gourd. The last thing Gaara needed was for the rest of Slytherin to return from dinner to find Draco sleeping, drugged, in a pile of Gaara's sand and him nowhere to be found.
It was strange that now he was transforming awake into the tiny demon-tanuki form, it didn't hurt at all like it had when he had experienced transforming back into a human. He hoped it was just that his body was accustomed to the change; but he expected that it would probably still hurt when he went back to normal.
First he began to shrink, so he stumbled down the hallway and into his room to shift in privacy. Better that Draco and his own gourd be found on the floor of the hallway than him in the middle of transforming. By the time he'd slammed the door shut, he was already half his original size and his ass was beginning to tingle, which he interpreted to mean that he would soon be sporting a long bushy tail from it. Meanwhile, as the tail grew out of his spine, a warmth spread across his skin and his fur sprouted.
As the tail crept out of his spine, Gaara marvelled at the indescribable sensation, and he wondered how another Jinchūriki would handle this part, seeing as the one he knew would have had to endure nine long tails growing from his backside. Then again, knowing that nine-tailed-idiot, he probably would have laughed and celebrated the extra extremities. Gaara would not be celebrating, especially not when his feet began to lengthen in spite of his wishes to the contrary and he began to totter as his least favourite change took place. It was a bit of a tossup, but while he detested his shorter stature, the depths of his hatred for these backwards animal legs was unending.
The entire change, including fur, tail and beastly physique, took only twenty minutes so Gaara promptly shuffled out of his clothes, bundled them up in his arms and dumped them on his bed before creeping back to the door and laying his big sensitive ear on it to hear if anyone had stumbled across Draco yet. Hearing not a peep, only his roommate's soft, uninterrupted breathing, Gaara reached up and tried to turn to the door knob. He growled when the soft paw couldn't get a proper grip on it and he had to reach up with both hand-paws, on the tips of his toes, to grab at the slippery knob.
The amount of effort it took to perform the simplest tasks was infuriating. Usually Gaara's menacing temper was displayed only through his glaring eyes, but in this form it seemed he unconsciously added a soft growl and his top lip drew back a little show off his pointy canines. He suspected his... hackles... he suspected the hair on the back of his neck was also on end, but he didn't have time to check himself in a mirror, dinner in the Great Hall wouldn't last for much longer and he had work to do.
He slipped out of the room and darted his eyes back and forth, imagining himself to be very much inside enemy territory where discovery would equate to a fate worse than death. So, usually, in his missions that meant torture, but his pride was important to him. One of those pesky Slytherin traits that made Gaara ponder whether that poor talking hat at the beginning of term had actually glimpsed inside his cluttered head.
Gaara didn't doubt that Shukaku, and most demons in fact, would be Slytherins, but he himself? He very much doubted the Sorting Hat would be willing to try a second time, not to mention Gaara was about as happy in this house as he was likely to be in any.
That being said, the number of missing students that would have amounted from him being sorted into Gryffindor would have likely given cause for the collected governors to review the age-old system of sorting in Hogwarts. Ravenclaw might have worked...
Gaara stepped up to one of the better reasons he'd rather stay in Slytherin, and marvelled (begrudgingly) how much taller Draco was now, even slumped against the wall. It wasn't fair that everyone was always taller than him. It had always been a miracle that he didn't kill that many children when he was still mad, but now he considered whether he'd spared them simply to remain taller than somebody.
Gaara's mind kept wandering in a similar fashion as he struggled to take a firm hold of Draco so he could drag the blond into the seclusion of their room. 'This job would have been so much easier ten minutes ago.' Gaara kept repeating in his mind.
Eventually he pulled Draco's torso up against his own tiny back and slowly dragged his roommate along. A particularly troublesome part was that he then had to keep pulling the larger boy even after they had reached safety, away from prying eyes, all so that Gaara could dump Draco on his bed.
Gaara was inconsiderate.
Gaara was inconsiderate – but even Draco might have questioned Gaara's willingness to let Draco not only collapse from a suspicious and sudden drowsiness but to then let Draco spend the night on the carpeted floor only feet away from their beds.
From now on, no one could possibly call Gaara selfish, as he lifted Draco's limp body, which weighed probably at least twice his own, over his head and rolled him onto the mattress. Gaara slumped down to sit against Draco's bed, with his giant fluffy tail nestled between his legs like a bean-bag and panted his exertion away. He'd retained thumbs (arguably) and yet he'd not retained his sweat glands. What cruel fate indeed.
Crueller still since he had to then drag his gourd into the room, which was so much heavier! It took him a lot longer to do, but once he worked out that, like most things in this body, it was easier done on all four of his legs, it became possible to accomplish.
He lost his sweat glands, but his teeth were stronger than ever, and had no trouble pulling the sash attached to the considerable weight of tiny ground-up rocks he never had any trouble carrying before. Once the gourd was just inside the door frame, Gaara dropped it and shut the door, only padding over to his bed before collapsing onto it, which was tougher when he had to climb onto the bed using his well-protected tail as a footstool of sorts.
It was a tail of a thousand and one uses, it seemed, as Gaara sat back on his pillows and curled it around him to prop up the now comically-sized spell book he was attempting to read. It wasn't the most exciting thing to do whilst transformed into an entirely different species, but Gaara wasn't much of an adrenaline junkie, not like he used to be when he'd get his fix of adrenaline and other fear-induced hormones right out of his victims' blood. His forehead protector hadn't always been black but some stains just didn't wash out, no matter how hard Temari scrubbed.
Temari didn't clean up after her brothers because she was a girl, it was because Gaara was oblivious in some areas and Kankuro was a slob who pretended to be as unaware as Gaara. If she didn't do it, who would?
But back to Gaara and his current pastime: he was really killing time as the students of Slytherin began to return to the dungeons to continue their nefarious plotting of evil schemes and discussing politics over tea, or at least that was what the other houses seemed to believe. Gaara would have loved to be able to hear an evil scheme; he'd been so disappointed to find that Slytherins, like most Houses, sat around chatting and doing homework most nights. There was the occasional muttering about cursing some sorry student or a parent's evil deeds, but so far nothing worth staying to listen to. It wasn't as if he wanted to take part, he just couldn't understand why the house reputed to be so vile and subversive had to be so passive and quiet.
People passed by the door but not a single one stopped outside his. Most dorms in Hogwarts were host to social gatherings in the rooms of the students, no matter how many students were supposed to be staying in that room, even in Slytherin's exclusive shared rooms. All except Gaara and Draco's, a rooming situation that caused many of Draco's new and old friends to scratch their heads at the feasibility of such an allocation and to politely but firmly refuse offer to join Draco in his room.
Speaking of Draco, who was still sleeping away in the same uncomfortable heap Gaara had left him in on his own bed. Gaara had resorted to drugging Draco because he realised he had to do something to avoid suspicion for never being around during the night of the full moon. So he had come to the obvious conclusion considering his brother's profession, and had snuck in a certain Potions master's private store cupboard and stole a finished brew. It hadn't even crossed the inept potioneer's mind to steal the less traceable ingredients and make it himself. If it had, Draco might never have woken up.
People outside the door settled down to their evening activities and increasingly Gaara's mind wandered to anything but what he was reading. Eventually he closed the big hardback book, which took both hands, and jumped down from his bed.
He walked over to the full-length mirror that Gaara suspected Draco had brought to the room himself but couldn't prove because he hadn't been in any of his school mates' rooms. It came as a crushing relief to see that, as he had suspected and hoped for the past month, nothing was different or worse than it had been. He made the best of a bad situation and looked on the bright side. As long as he still transformed back at the end of the night, he would consider this lunar-cycle transformation nothing more than an embarrassing inconvenience.
It was all the same, the pointed fluffy ears, the long fat fluffy tail, the fluffy digitigrade-jointed legs. Everything fluffy and oh so adorable, as he was sure the female population of Hogwarts would agree, not that they would ever be given the chance.
Gaara was practically pulling out his own fur by the time the slow rhythm of drowsy adolescent footfalls marched outside his door signalling bedtime for all non-insomniacs in Slytherin. Gaara's ears perked up as he waited for the stragglers, having some meaningless conversation, to walk to their own bedrooms. To be safe, Gaara waited a few minutes more, to be sure, but in the end his impatience won out and he carefully opened the door and snuck out with all of the stealth he could muster in this cumbersome form.
It was troubling yet exhilarating to be tiptoeing around in the areas that were normally so busy, when he was so vulnerable to others. The cool night draft that was certainly spelled into the subterranean common room was pleasant, as being cooped up in that stuffy bedroom all evening was almost unbearable.
Gaara, as he began to run around on twice as many limbs as he would have liked, came to the conclusion that this form must have introduced some kind of animalistic mentality into his normally stoic and balanced mind. It wasn't as worrying as it should have been, all things considered, but then that was probably also because it was hard to concern himself over possible influences on his mind when he was just so glad to be out of that room and able to run around.
Maybe this was how some people felt all the time, bursting with energy and inexplicable impulses. If Gaara felt this way as a human, he might find himself in an orange jumpsuit one of these days, drooling over some pink-haired gorilla. Sakura was nice and all, and Gaara had nothing against her, but recently her punches had started to leave dents in his sand shield when he misspoke to her. Like a shorter, more effeminate Temari. Shudders all around.
Gaara didn't wait too long in the common room; just because he was revelling in the wild side of daring-do didn't mean that he wasn't cautious enough to wish to avoid an area so prone to students sneaking around. Often the upper years would sneak out of bed and hold private parties in the common room, safe in the knowledge that the younger years were afraid of them and that Snape wouldn't care nearly enough about his own snakes misbehaving to get out of bed past midnight.
Gaara thanked his lucky stars that unlike the Gryffindor common room that he'd heard about, Slytherin didn't have a living portrait guarding the entrance. No one would be able to report that such a 'strange little creature' had emerged from Slytherin and had returned there before dawn. There also wouldn't be anyone to remedy his leaving the door ajar so that he could return. He couldn't talk as it was, which had made gaining access difficult but not impossible at most times; if he had been locked out in this form, he would have been forced to wait until sunrise, whereupon he would be totally naked, in order for one of his housemates to open up and let him in.
Now that he was free to roam the castle, Gaara let the last of his misgivings slip and gave into the enjoyment of running unrestrained through the empty stone corridors of Hogwarts at top speed, not paying attention to any direction, simply moving with the demand 'forward.'
Gaara ascended stairs when he came to them, and ignored the questioning shouts of the portraits he'd woken up and who could only see a peculiarly long blur in the darkness that was moving far too quickly to be Mrs. Norris. Absent minded as fuzzy-Gaara was, he didn't realise he'd run past a person who had been minding their own business in the hallway.
Luna Lovegood, one time acquaintance of Gaara and all-time biggest nut job in Ravenclaw, had been retrieving her 'lost' school things earlier that evening and had come across her favourite ghost in the castle, the Grey Lady, whom she'd talked to for a few hours. And then she'd discovered that a few of the portraits on the sixth floor had been fighting and had taken it upon herself to mediate the dispute and then to move the problem painting to another area of the floor. All in a night's work, and all that.
Luna had been on her way to returning to her tower, not quite sure which direction her home of two years was in, when her stride had been interrupted by a small sand coloured thing that had run past her, through the moonlit hall and out of sight.
"How strange," she muttered softly, gazing after the curiosity for a few moments.
Her interest, inevitable that it was, compelled her to run after it. It wasn't a ghost or a cat, but other than that she couldn't say what it was. It didn't look like any of the other things no one else saw but her, but she couldn't see anything more specific in that one brief glance.
Luna geared up to a sprint as the creature, oblivious of her pursuit, ran much faster than she could, and she struggled to keep it in sight. As she ran, she saw that it had a great big tail, as long as she was tall, and it bobbed about in the wind as it darted about on its spring loaded little legs. It had some black stripes all over its body, or perhaps they were blue. The lighting wasn't good and it seemed intent on running away from her, even if it gave no other outward sign that it was aware of her presence.
Her attempts to follow the fascinating little animal came to a full stop when the staircase it had just fled up changed and any chance of her catching up became nil. It was disappointing, but Luna decided she definitely wanted to discover what it was, so she'd have to drop her other side project of proving that there was an underclass of House Elves within institutions like Hogwarts depending on the droopiness of their ears.
Gaara honestly hadn't been aware of any of this, but had Luna gotten a little closer perhaps his overly sensitized ears might have picked up his pursuer. Nonetheless, Gaara was content to continue to exercise flat out until he couldn't take anymore. He hadn't had a good workout in weeks and tonight that urge seemed paramount, superseded only by Gaara's remaining conscious pride.
During his continued roaming that took him to all corners of the castle, barring the sealed off dorms, Gaara went to every floor of the school and to some areas he hadn't known existed, like the laundry room and the locked door that led to the house elf room. It was a surprisingly ornate door for such humble beings.
On his lightning fast travels, he stopped every now and then to inspect something a little closer from his new perspective, and during one of these breathers he was tackled from the side by an even smaller fluffy lump. Throwing it off, Gaara saw the hissing, spitting form of Filch's cat, Mrs. Norris.
The disagreeable feline had never quite warmed up to him like all the other animals in this world seemed inclined to, but Gaara hadn't expected such a reaction as this. The cat seemed hell-bent on causing him harm, as she stalked around him, trying to get at his back so that she could claw him to death. He was tempted to return the favour, since his claws were longer and even sharper. In the end, the pragmatist and tactician in him struggled to the surface and he allowed Mrs. Norris to circle around to his back, and looked over his shoulder in order to time it perfectly.
She pounced and his tail sailed through the air to club her right in her squashed face. The cat was sent flying into the wall and didn't move more than a twitch after that.
He was twice her size and his tail was a formidable weapon, but nonetheless his ego was stroked just a bit by overcoming a foe in this debilitating form.
She'd wake up in a few hours with a headache and a newfound vendetta against the red-haired student who she was convinced had somehow transformed into this identically smelling but otherwise totally dissimilar being. Filch also earned himself an enemy that night, in the form of Madam Pomfrey, whom he had woken up in a frenzy, screaming about his dying precious Mrs. Norris. "Perfectly fine, just knocked out and I am not a veterinary-witch, Argus!" was the irate diagnosis. The next morning, a rumour circulated that there had been a torrid affair between the two staff members that had ended unfavourably leading to the dirty looks she kept sending him over her breakfast.
Still being very early in the morning, Gaara left the defeated body of Mrs. Norris to continue his run anywhere and everywhere. It was a night of many adventures for Gaara, including coming across Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington somewhere on the top floor of the main school building. The supernatural encounter was short but sweet; Jinchūriki, as a rule don't like ghosts at the best of times, much less when they can be as chatty as Nearly Headless Nick. The genteel spirit seemed as puzzled as everybody else in this world that met him in a form they couldn't identify, but Sir Nicholas seemed to be spurred only into recounting one of his many adventures during which he had discovered a new type of pixie but then lost it and forgot what it looked like.
Bewildered and off put, Gaara walked away from the rambling ghost and sprinted onwards, unheeded. The view out of the windows, the ones that were low enough for Gaara to see out of, was stunning. The night sky seemed surprisingly clear and the moon shine illuminated the entire forbidden forest into shades of black and grey. Gaara would definitely prefer to spend the full moon in the open air next month, instead of darting about, practically jumping off the walls inside and surrounded by disturbances and threats.
As the sand coloured boy-tanuki continued his more subdued walk on the top floor, he passed a door he'd been told about but had never actually seen. If Draco was right, which Gaara calculated to be about an even chance, this was the door to the infamous Abandoned Tower of Hogwarts. So-called for plain reasons, the tower had not been set foot in for almost a century by any witch or wizard.
The story told of a pair of seventh-year students at the end of the nineteenth-century who had been practicing some experimental rune configurations in the tower one night, in an attempt to tap into the magic in the castle. Messing with the magic had caused an instability and the tower had to be condemned since no one at the time had the expertise or power to correct the problem. The students were never publically named, but several theories had surfaced over the years, because of the power and skill that would have been required to mess up so spectacularly.
It was said that after the initial evacuation by the precocious pair of students, any attempts to step into the tower's entranceway caused the stones to rattle and shake. The hazardous area of the children's learning institution would have been taken down decades ago were it not for the gaping hole that would have been left in the side of Hogwarts. Repairs could be made to Hogwarts these days, through the Department of Mysteries, but a mix of budget constraints and forgetting about the unusable tower among other reasons had led to it being left as it was by the school's administration. Headmaster Dumbledore had always seemed oddly evasive about the matter, the few times the governors had broached the subject.
Gaara opened the door, wondering why in the world such a dangerous area of the school wasn't locked and/or sealed with heavy magic wards, and poked his head beyond. The darkened staircase was filthy and looked so far aged compared to the rather pristine looking castle. Still buzzing from his adrenaline rush, Gaara didn't think twice about setting foot inside of the unstable entrance. He figured that humans were too heavy, whereas he was not. Gaara: 1, full-sized people: 0.
Later Gaara, when he was back to skin and properly shaped legs, would begin to worry just how present the animal instinct was in his mind, that he would be so reckless and careless. Next month, he decided, in the morning, he would most certainly go into the Dark Forest, filled with all kinds of deadly and evil monsters, where it was safe for a small defenceless tanuki-thing like him.
Now, however, Gaara wasn't thinking as straight as his mind might have led him to believe, so he didn't see a real problem with passing into the stairway and climbing it slowly and somewhat cautiously. To tanuki-Gaara's credit he didn't disturb any of the stones of the castle, even if he could tell that they only just allowed his weight upon them.
At the top of the stairs was a single chamber, but a surprisingly roomy one, almost the size of the Divinations space. It was sparse and featured a number of what Gaara understood to be antique furniture, in varying states of decay. There was a hole in the roof and a few bats were hanging from the ceiling, looking well fed.
The stone tower was nothing more than a condemned stone wreck that was still standing by the grace of God alone, and as he shuffled around some of the more perilous looking areas of the flooring, Gaara believed the only use for such a tower would be to grind it up as sand for one of his techniques. As slack as the security in Hogwarts seemed most of the time, the sand user couldn't imagine that they wouldn't miss an entire tower disappearing.
Through the hole in the ceiling, Gaara saw the most minor change in the colour of the night sky and turned around to go back to the dorms ready for the dawn reversion. He didn't dilly-dally on the return journey, since dawn in the autumn came so much later and he didn't want the early risers, up before the sun, to see him.
He got back to safety as he heard the students in the other rooms begin to wake, and climbed back into his own bed, after he'd thrown some pyjamas under the sheets. Even underground he could sense the ongoing setting of the moon, so Gaara cocooned himself in his bed sheets and waited, hoping the sleeping potion he had dosed Draco with would hold out a few minutes more. Wrapping himself up served to hide him if Draco did wake up early, and it would also protect the delicate boy from the dastardly cold that was soon to come. Fur kept him warm, skin did not.
If he was to survive the winter in this country, Gaara was going to have to find a way to insulate his sand armour technique, or else make himself a fur coat out of something in the Forbidden Forrest.
It was just as people began to exit their rooms and walk to the Great Hall that Gaara felt the beginnings of the shift, and it was just as painful as the last time he'd changed back. It appeared that morphing into his inconvenient monthly form was painless but turning back to normal was anything but.
Gaara stifled his growls that turned into throaty groans that then became muted. He gripped the sheets around him as the hairs crawled back under his skin and his tail forced its way into his back once more. His legs snapped and stretched and within ten minutes, Gaara was human once more, and he was glad of it, even if he was left shivering from the pain more than the chill that assaulted his senses directly after.
It was as he pulled on his bed clothes that he began to reflect on his flippant decision making the night before and questioned his working logic behind the bizarre flippancy.
By some uncommon stroke of luck, it was soon after this that Draco began to stir, adding his own share of groans to the morning as his neck cricking woke him up with a wince. As drowsy and pained as Draco was, he didn't argue when Gaara told him that he'd looked very tired the night before and had crashed as soon as his head hit the pillow without even changing. Draco didn't argue because he was tired and because he was struggling enough with reading the sand before his eyes, much less finding holes in the blurry story.
Draco did however notice that Gaara coughed more than once and seemed to be holding his throat like it was paining him. Draco asked, "Are you okay Gaara? You aren't sick are you? Because Madam Pomfrey would probably give you something for your throat, if you asked. Or is it your, you know, scar...?"
The reverence or caution with which Draco spoke of Gaara's destroyed voice box and slashed throat would have put many in mind of the manner in which people referred to Harry Potter's famous scar, but since the one who spoke had never given any kind of respect to Potter and his scar and Gaara had not been there to hear the initial interest in the Boy-Who-Lived in the first year, the resemblance was missed entirely.
Gaara did seem to have a frog in his throat, but it wasn't anything worth seeing the overbearing matron about. Her spells couldn't heal him anyway and his throat wasn't that much worse than last month, so he didn't give Draco an answer and simply stepped of the bed and went to change for the day.
When he returned, Draco was still stretching and trying to undo the night's sleeping badly and Gaara felt a little guilty about the whole thing so he tapped Draco on the shoulder before he could go to change as well and pointed at his floating sand.
'You're tired. You can rest this Saturday instead of training.' Instead of feeling relieved, Draco was terrified. He hadn't considered that now that they were friends again he would be expected to join Gaara in exercising outside like a muggle again. He'd hoped that was forgotten, or at least that Gaara would have been put off by the frigid weather at the moment that was only set to worsen in the Scottish highland.
Draco's terror at being forced to exhaust himself for no reason subsided because he remembered it was the first Hogsmeade trip this weekend for his year group and he'd be able to go and treat himself to a nice butterbeer and all kinds of confections.
As Draco chatted (to himself, mostly) about the trip, Gaara didn't get as excited as Draco had anticipated. Gaara never reacted that much anyway, but the Hogsmeade trip was an outing, a special day and yet Gaara simply looked bored as he covertly swept up the few stray strands of fur that had been left last night. Anywhere else such evidence was negligible, but there had been no animals in their room to blame the sand coloured hairs on and could have led to some inconvenient questions.
Over breakfast, they talked quietly, or in Gaara's case his sand writing was brought down so that it was not so visible to others; they each recounted some of what had happened to them when they'd been fighting. They talked of Quidditch practices that had gone awry, of the progress of 'secret' supplementary lessons, and the day the weird guy from the Ministry came looking for Gaara. Draco even mentioned, briefly as he could manage, his correspondence with his parents, leaving out the offer of Christmas at the Malfoy home until another day. In turn, Gaara talked about the 'fight' he'd had with Potter and how it had all been a misunderstanding, which was doubly so for Gaara since he didn't understand how such a whimsical match could be called a fight.
Reformed or not, Draco was a little tickled by the prospect of Harry being beaten up. He'd been there, but reliving it was just so much fun. He might fundamentally agree with Potter and his back-up dancers on a few issues now, and most of his antagonism stemmed from where they used to differ in those areas, but enough had happened between them now that Draco honestly didn't care about the ideals or politics, he just didn't like Harry Potter. In many ways it was actually nicer to hate someone because of petulance and grudges instead of political agendas that were never his to begin with. A nice simple feud.
Draco watched Gaara eat his meagre portion and piped up, "You didn't sleep last night."
A statement, unknowably true; Gaara turned to Draco and waited for him to elaborate. The platinum blond obviously hadn't been awake to see Gaara not sleep, otherwise he certainly wouldn't have begun by mentioning Gaara's casual approach to sleep schedules and instead would definitely have whispered in panicked tones about transformations and the like.
Draco did eventually continue unprompted to explain his insight about the guarded shinobi, "I don't know if anyone's ever told you this before, but when you don't sleep your eyes are really wide all day long."
Indeed, no one had told him that before. Although sleep was a relatively new concept for him, he hadn't ever been in the habit of spending enormous amounts of time preening in front of the mirror, unlike some people he knew (Kankuro didn't like it being advertised that he drew on his makeup fresh every morning), so Gaara had never noticed how his eyes had relaxed ever since his mastery of Shukaku reached safe levels and how they would revert to his 'crazy look' when he reverted to his insomniac ways.
It just went to show that Draco's immaculate visage was the profit of hard work and not as God-given as he might have liked others to believe. Only someone obsessed with image would have noticed such a variation even in someone they lived in such close quarters to.
Gaara just couldn't understand that someone could take such a humanitarian interest in his welfare outside of his own oblivious family. He allowed his eyes to drift up to the staff table, seeking out Lupin but failed to find the sickly man. It was no surprise that Remus, as ill as he had been the past few days, had taken the morning off.
It came time for the third years and above to make their first trip of the year to the nearby village of Hogsmeade and Draco couldn't be more excited. He thought Gaara could be more excited, but he settled on the masked bandit just going. He even charmed Gaara's cloak(s) to stay nice and toasty all day long so that he wouldn't have a good reason to complain. As it happened, Gaara was willing to go anyway, not being concerned about going since he had no money and no need to get anything in Hogsmeade, but since it was too cold to train anywhere or to relax in any way he figured if he kept moving he might stave off frostbite. The heated cloak, God's gift to wizardry, sweetened the deal considerably.
As Draco and Gaara stepped out of the massive back doors into the snow covered courtyard, Gaara thought that it was times like these and only times like these that he wished that he was a Gryffindor. He heard they had a really warm common room. It was inconceivable that there were so many eager lions raring to go hike through the snow to the ice covered village that he'd been found in by Snape a couple of months ago.
Gaara spotted that those closest to the bridge were setting off and began onwards as well, heedless of whatever Gaara was telling him, only for Professor McGonagall to step into his path.
"Mr. Gaara, I'm afraid students aren't allowed to visit Hogsmeade without a signed permission form."
Gaara paused for a moment, wondering what the problem was, and his sand popped out and asked what she was talking about for him.
Minerva wasn't used to questions like this, and was unsure whether Gaara was being rude or whether he had genuinely never encountered a permission slip before, wherever he came from.
"The school needs the signature and thus permission of a responsible adult or guardian before it can release a student on a trip like this. Without a signed form, I'm afraid you'll have to stay behind, Gaara."
Gaara eyes widened and he relaxed as he thought he understood the strange concept. 'If you give me a form, I will sign it now.' He felt pretty satisfied that his assurance had solved whatever problem the teacher had. It was just a liability form like the one he'd signed for the Chunin Exam. Though, remembering back to it, it would probably not be as dangerous as the Chunin Exam was (for other people), but then the last time he'd been in Hogsmeade he'd been surrounded by dozens of dementors, so who knew?
"Mr. Gaara, I don't care for your sense of humour. Now, please step back inside." McGonagall was in no mood for jokes as it seemed desert-dwellers and the elderly had in common a susceptibility to the cold despite any number of warming charms they utilised.
'I don't understand. I am an adult, why can I not sign the form?' Gaara didn't really care about the trip; this, like most of his problems in this age-obsessed world, was about his pride.
"Whilst this is hardly the time or the place to be arguing about the age of maturity, you are only thirteen years old and hardly in a place to take responsibility for your own safety." Minerva slumped down a little, not wanting to patronise the short boy any further but wanting to look him in the eyes, "I am sorry Gaara. I understand that you have a unique family situation and no one is claiming that you are immature, but you are not an adult and cannot be given special treatment. Mr. Potter over there also is unable to attend, you aren't being singled out." She looked around to where she had just seen Harry but he'd long gone off to brood somewhere.
Gaara was still confused, but figured that this was just one of those many many things that he didn't understand about this world's culture. He'd been an adult since he became a shinobi in his world, and he hadn't been a child since he got his tattoo years ago (or when he'd lost his teddy some time after). Nonetheless, it really wasn't the time to be arguing with teachers in such a slow manner as this, not in this weather, so he let the issue go and tried to figure out what to do with his day when all he wanted to do was find a spell that allowed humans to hibernate. Or perhaps find a school that was closer to the equator.
Draco was sad that Gaara had been barred from going on, but he decided to go on without him as going to Hogsmeade for the first time was a rite of passage for Hogwarts students, and he wanted his sweets. He'd make it up to Gaara by buying him plenty of candy as well. That'd cheer him up.
Draco spent the day splitting his time between the moderates, who acted like normal teenagers on a field trip, and the elitist blood purists (his old friends), who were willing to travel with him because of his continuing dubious status and undeniable wealth. His father had been pleased with his actions lately, minus the communications blackout, so his allowance had gotten a healthy bonus as a reward and he thought it was only fair that Gaara share in this windfall. He had planned to take Gaara around the shops to see if he wanted anything, but now he'd just go with something sweet. Who didn't like sweets?
During the day while Harry was seeking out Professor Lupin to find out about his parents who the sickly DADA teacher apparently knew, Gaara found the perfect way to spend his Saturday: he snuck into the Gryffindor common room. He had planned to threaten the portrait of the Fat Lady to let him in when he found the painting ajar and unguarded after Neville had forgotten to close it properly on his way to the library just a few moments before.
Gaara sat himself down in front of the fire, wrapped up fully in a thick red blanket he'd found on the plush arm chair, and started on a new book. The few Gryffindors in the tower that had not gone on the trip, mostly first and second years, saw the blankets and book and assumed he was one of them, trying to stay warm.
During the day, Gaara was feeling very peaceful and cosy and when it quietened down in the dorm, he got up and had a proper look around. If someone found him in there he'd tell them he got lost, and then he'd sit back down and dare them to try and make him leave.
When the stairs refused to let him up, he decided that either the tower itself didn't like him (a distinct possibility) or it was the girls' dormitory he was trying to enter and the Gryffindors were so uncivilised that measures had had to be taken to stop the boys from doing something reprehensible in the night.
Up the other set of stairs, Gaara found the coops that housed so many boys in one room, on bunk beds of all things. Not everyone was as antisocial as his House, or indeed him, but it was still bizarre to think that the House of red and gold had to live in such close quarters. It couldn't be to do with funds so it must have been to do with the ideals of the house. Gaara shuddered to think after the sleeping arrangements of Hufflepuff, the friendship house. He soon saw everything he needed to see to satisfy his curiosity and settled back down in front of the fire.
All in all, it was a nice day for Gaara, if perhaps a trifle boring, but one can't have everything. Reluctantly in the evening he stood again to go to dinner and listen to whatever story Draco wanted to regale him with about the assuredly fascinating trip to the shops. As he neared the entrance of the tower, the red head heard shouting and then a sound like a lullaby to his accustomed ears: a blood curdling scream, which was then followed by some kind of ripping-fabric sound.
Gaara proceeded regardless and opened the portrait in time to see a strangely familiar dog run away down the stairs. At the sound of the portrait opening, above the sounds of shouting and roaring from the countless portraits that coated the stairwell, the dog turned back to look at who had emerged and appeared, if Gaara's judgement of dog emotions was any kind of reliable source, surprised. He'd seen the same look once or twice when he'd used shunshin to go and visit Fluffy.
Gaara wasn't sure what was happening or why a dog wanted to get into Gryffindor (either that or the Fat Lady's singing had done number on the poor creature's ears) but the familiarity of the dog persuaded Gaara to chase after it to see if he could find some answers.
As he ran after it, Gaara considered where he could have seen it before. He'd only spent time with one dog that came to mind, and this one was quite a bit different. This big but nonetheless normal black dog with one head... hadn't he seen a dog before he got to Hogwarts, back in Hogsmeade village? Why was it here now?
He continued to chase after the beast as the students were beginning to converge on the empty portrait of the Fat Lady.
It was going to be another long night, this time not only for insomniacs and part-time wolves.
To be continued...
A/N: Thanks for reading, as always. I think I can safely say that anyone that has read this far (133,000 words in total now) is probably in it for the long haul. I have a dedicated readership. Yay, go me.
I'm afraid I skipped writing an omake this time, but I figure most of you are sick and tired of listening to my (narrative) voice by now. And I'm sure as hell sick of reading my own stuff.
In this chapter, as in prior ones, it may seem like I am Snape-bashing. I usually go to some lengths not to explain my work and not to give away anything about the future but I am aware of the similarities between my portrayal of Snape and of those of bashers and I don't want to repulse those who do not enjoy such one-sided portrayals. I will state here that I like Snape and I am trying to keep him in some semblance of canonical character whilst adding in my divergence: Gaara. So, please, bear with me in that regard.
It was hilarious, when I went to see the final Harry Potter film in 2011, after I had long since written the plan for most of this chapter. I had planned to base my 'Henrick Morbidus' character on the Holby City (a British medical drama) character, Henrik Hanssen who I believe to be one of the greatest characters of any current television show. The funny part is that this character, Morbidus, that I have effectively cast as the actor Guy Henry (who plays Hanssen), also play Pius Thicknesse in the seventh and eighth Harry Potter films. It was just the coincidence of it that had me snickering inexplicably for five minutes in the cinema.
Oh and I plan to write shorter chapters from now on to hopefully increase the likelihood of updating more than once a year. Plus this behemoth of a chapter is more daunting than pleasant I think. I would have cut it up and updated twice in a row, but having completed it all, I couldn't bring myself to cut it down and diminish the gargantuan achievement of finishing a chapter exceeding forty thousand words!