Hogwarts Express, England, 1992
"Hey, this one's empty," Adrian called, shoving Loki away from his legs playfully as the large dog attempted to knock him over. "Ruddy beast, I should've left you home this year. That'd teach you…"
Loki growled and nipped at him before stalking moodily into the compartment
"Finally," Henry huffed. "We've been looking for ages!"
"It's been three and a half minutes, git," Draco snorted.
"That's too long," Henry said stubbornly.
They all rolled their eyes at him. "Sorry, oh mighty defeater of Voldemort. We didn't mean to offend," Ron drawled.
Henry smacked him upside the head. "That's alright, I'll live."
"Oh, shut up, the lot of you," Daphne groused.
"Yeah, knock it off," Blaise said tiredly. "Just let me in so I can sleep."
"How go the renovations, Blaise?" Draco asked, stepping aside and allowing the taller boy to pass him, followed by the rest of their friends.
"Not well," he sighed tiredly. "We've been staying at the Leaky Cauldron. The house was just…"
"Eviscerated?" Draco asked.
"Destroyed?" Neville supplied.
"Trashed?" Ron suggested.
"Demolished?" Adrian guessed.
"Woof!" Loki… woofed.
"All of the above," he sighed. "The beds at that inn are less than suitable, let me tell you."
"You could've stayed with us, mate," Adrian said. "We have plenty of room at the Manor, you know."
Blaise shrugged. "What's done is done, I guess. Besides, it'll be fixed up by Christmas, and that's when we'll actually need to live in it."
"Lina back in Italy, then?" Neville asked.
"Yeah, until Christmas, at very least. She was lucky to get as much time off as she did," Blaise said.
Draco nodded. "Especially with being scouted by the national team. That's a pretty big deal, even if the rest of Italy's Chasers don't know a broom from a barn."
"It's true. Vercalli ran into the posts trying to fit his feet to the stirrups on his broomstick, mate," Ron pointed out. "And not for the first time, either."
As the boys launched into a heated argument, Daphne rolled her eyes and left the compartment in search of Hermione, who had yet to arrive.
Soon after she departed, Draco glanced around the compartment. The obvious ploy had worked in his favor, and none of his opinionated friends (or his brother) noticed when he looked at the large dog lounging at Adrian's feet and subtly jerked his head in the direction of the corridor outside the compartment. When Loki merely snorted at him, he smirked and whispered lowly, so only the dog could possibly hear him, "Come out, come out, Sirius. Come out, come out and play…"
Loki's large ears shot straight and his widened eyes slowly narrowed. Draco could swear he heard the dog's distinct rumbling growl.
He motioned to the hall again, and this time, the wolf-like creature followed, however grudgingly.
He didn't stop outside the compartment, instead walking toward the restrooms a few compartments down the train. Once he reached them, he walked inside, leaving the door open for the dog to follow him.
Loki padded after the boy cautiously, entering the room only after thoroughly examining it.
"So," Draco drawled, closing the door with his wand. He was perched (rather humorously, in the dog's opinion) on the toilet, acting as though it were a throne befitting a king or an emperor or perhaps even a pureblooded heir. "You can shake off the disguise, Sirius. I know it's you."
Loki growled but acquiesced, transforming before the boy's eyes into his rather more impressive human form. "How long have you known?" Sirius asked roughly, glaring at the blond boy.
"Oh, quite some time. Since last winter, at any rate. Do you remember meeting poor, scared little Vela in the garden?"
Sirius snarled. "I thought her scent was off. I knew better, dammit!"
"Yes, you did, Sirius, but you, as usual, barged into something long- term with half a plan," Draco accused.
"As usual? How would you know what my usual i-" he stopped, thought for a moment, and laughed bitterly. "Your mum."
"And her copy of the self- updating family history," Draco said smugly. "It's fascinating to read about Black family history as it happens…"
"Fantastic," Sirius muttered. "Must be very riveting stuff."
"Some of it is a bit dry, I'll admit," Draco said. "But you've always been interesting, eh Sirius?"
"Don't push me, boy. You may be my cousin's son, but if you breathe a word of this to-"
"And why would I do that, exactly?" Draco asked sardonically. "You're providing exactly what my father asked for; protection for his children. He's been trying to contact you for several weeks, you know. It was rude of you to ignore him."
"That overblown, pompous arsehole doesn't-"
"Yes, yes, you hate each other. I know, now do shut up so I can explain.
"In the past year or so that we've known you, you have done nothing untoward. You have saved my brother's life, and Marvela's, and even mine. But the real question is why?
"You're none too fond of any of us, including my mother, who I'm told was close to you when you were younger, and you hate my father outright. You don't seem to like me all that much, but you have a soft spot for my sister, and you sought my brother out to protect or follow or Merlin only knows what. Why? You'd never met him before, and yet, you cared very deeply for him from the get- go.
Now Sirius had a problem. Adrian was bold and clever and sly and funny, and undeniably intelligent. He'd known that Draco was smart as well, but he hadn't realized that the boy was onto his game, nor that he had been for damn near a year, and he had no idea how to answer him. Secretly, he berated himself for believing that Draco would've been the ignoramus of the two boys. He'd been at the top in their year, after all. Deciding that the best defense was to be offensive, he stood over the boy, using every inch of his tall, bulky frame to his advantage as he menacingly snarled, "I suppose you actually expect me to answer you, you inbred, weasel- faced albino?"
"Why yes I do, you slobbering, mangy- arsed giant," the boy replied after only a slight pause. "And who're you calling inbred, son of Walburga Black- Black?"
"Fine. The real reason I'm following your brother around is because he carries the best dog treats. Top shelf biscuits, those are."
Draco didn't even respond, merely quirked an eyebrow.
"Because I want to find out where all you Malfoy's get your pretty blond hair done."
"Because the dog bed is bigger than my last flat."
"Because I had to go incognito for a while and wanted to avoid Muggle leash laws."
"Because your family's villas are all near nude beaches."
"Enough!" Draco snapped. "Tell me the real reason, or I'll tell everyone who and what you really are, Sirius."
"I- I can't tell you. It isn't my place," he said at last.
"Make it your place, then, because I want to know, and I want to know now," Draco growled.
Sirius sighed and ran a hand though his hair in frustration. "Fine, I'll tell you, you badgering little blond prick."
Draco looked immensely proud of himself.
"The real reason I found your brother is-"
"Damn it all, Hermione, where did you get off to?" Daphne murmured as she absently shoved her way through a group of dopey- looking 7th years.
Still muttering muted curses, she slammed compartment doors open, often scaring the life out of whoever was inside before moving on to the next one.
"Bollocks," she cursed, getting to the front of the train and catching Perry Weasley (or whatever the Gryffindor sod's name was) snogging his girlfriend (who was the very pretty and very eligible Penelope Clearwater) senseless in the prefect's compartment. Not an image she needed, but certainly one she'd be sharing with Ron in great, gruesome detail later that day.
She hoped he turned purple.
The petite girl shrieked and jumped while attempting to turn toward the voice, resulting in her falling hard on her bum. "Ow."
She heard a yelp and a thud and saw large grey eyes blinking owlishly only centimeters from her face. "Is this a new sort of greeting? I'm afraid my father didn't teach me this one. It seems a bit strange, really."
"Hello, Luna," Daphne chuckled, a bit short of breath after having the daylights scared out of her. "No, it's not a new greeting. You startled me and I fell, that's all." She got to her feet and brushed herself off before pulling the tiny blond upright. "Did you fall on purpose, Luna?"
"Well, yes. I thought it was some sort of strange greeting that I wasn't familiar with. I didn't want to be rude, you see," the little girl explained.
Daphne sighed, exasperated. The girl in front of her was clearly unfamiliar with being around people. "Luna, would you care to sit with my friends and I, once I find Hermione?"
"I think that would be for the best."
That stumped the older girl. "Why is that, exactly?"
"Because of the wrackspurts, of course."
"The whatspurts?" Daphne asked, knowing deep down that she'd regret it.
The tiny blond considered this for a moment before nodding solemnly. "Ah, I see. You must already be afflicted with wrackspurts, whole swarms of them if I'm any judge… I'd recommend a dirigible plumb leaf tea, for you and everyone else. My father makes a rather nice dirigible plumb leaf tea."
"I'll look into that," Daphne replied sagely.
"Good. They help, really. I haven't had a single infestation since 1989," Luna said.
Daphne nodded, willing herself to keep a straight face. "Impressive."
Luna nodded absently. "I suppose. The real secret is to act as though you've no idea what's going on, despite the fact that the wrackspurts are clearly there. Most people are very good at it, I'm finding."
Daphne nodded seriously. "I'll keep that in mind, Luna."
"Good. Did you say you were looking for Hermione?"
"Yes, you remember her. The girl who ran into you that day in Diagon Alley?" Daphne prompted, heading back the way she'd come to check the back half of the train for her friend.
"Yes, the one with the Flugelhorn Curse on her hair? Rather unfortunate, but very irreversible. She'll have lovely hair forever, I'm afraid," Luna said sadly. "It's a pity, really. Sometimes having good hair is a burden."
"Uh, yes," Daphne managed. "I think, anyways…"
"She went to the back of the train when she got aboard," Luna said. "I told her that the rest of you were chasing an animagus named Stubby Boardman, and she went looking for you."
Daphne was quickly learning to avoid asking Luna any questions that could lead to anything even slightly off- topic, so she simply said, "Thanks, Luna."
"You're welcome," Luna chirped. "Are we going to hunt for her? I brought my catching net along, just in case." She pulled a net the was larger than Daphne out of her pocket.
"Your catching net? What else does one do with a net?" Daphne asked.
"Well, I've heard that the racier Muggles wear the ones they use to catch fish," Luna offered. "It's supposed to be fashionable, or so Father tells me." She pulled a much smaller net out of her pocket and pulled it over her head. "They don't seem very practical, though. For example, they make one smell of fish…"
Daphne gaped at the younger girl. "Muggles wear nets? Nets they use to catch fish?"
"Yes. They're rather strange…."
Daphne huffed in agreement. "That they are. Come along, now, and we'll look for Hermione."
Where were they?
That tiny Luna girl had told her some nonsense about her friends chasing animated boards all over the train. Or something like that.
Hermione sighed. She supposed it didn't particularly matter where they were, as she wasn't exactly at her most sociable, and in fact, she'd much rather be alone for a bit.
As fantastic as the Potters had been to Hermione, she hadn't had time to think much.
She mainly thought about the man. The man she was going to find. The one with the dark, dark eyes that lit up and at the same time sucked the sun away.
She set her jaw resolutely. One way or another, that man would die.
She wasn't an idiot; she knew that right now she had no chance in hell against him. But one day, she'd be stronger, and faster, and she wouldn't be afraid to put him down like the animal he was.
She acknowledged that revenge wasn't something the average twelve- year old focused on, but most twelve- year olds hadn't witnessed their parent being casually gutted.
Her eyes narrowed. He would discover, slowly and meticulously, the pain he'd caused her.
She anticipated that day with an enthusiasm that was borderline feral.
She tired of peeking into compartments and resolved to take a seat in the next one, occupants be damned.
She opened the door more forcefully than she'd intended and scared the life out of the boy reading inside.
"Sorry," she murmured. "Do you mind if I join you?"
"Not at all," he said, returning to his book.
She sighed with relief and dropped onto the bench opposite him. "Thanks. I can't find my friends anywhere."
He looked at her over the top of his book, and by the crinkling of his eyes, she thought he might be smiling at you. "It's no trouble."
"What are you reading?" she asked, unable to resist her curiosity.
He looked about cautiously, even poking his head into the aisle way between the bench seats in the compartment to be sure no one was listening. "It's the Chronicles of Narnia," he nearly whispered.
"I love those books!" she said flatly, unable to muster any enthusiasm.
"Really? I haven't been able to find anyone else who-" he cut off his sentence abruptly and eyed her sharply. "Are you a halfblood?"
She stiffened. She'd seen firsthand how dangerous it was to be muggleborn. "No," she said firmly, "I'm not."
He cocked his head, dark eyes appraising. "No?"
"No," she confirmed.
He nodded in understanding. "I see," he said quietly.
She felt her temper flare. "Would you prefer I leave? I wouldn't want you to soil your reputation, whoever you are."
His eyes sparked with amusement. "I'm Theodore Nott, Granger. And don't worry, you won't soil my reputation. If anything did, it'd be my hidden cache of Muggle novels." He put his finger to his lips, motioning for her to keep his secret a secret.
She recognized the surname as belonging to a very old, very pure magical family, and nodded seriously.
"Would you like a book?" he asked.
She shrugged noncommittally.
"Here," he said, handing her his bookbag, "look through mine. They're all really good, I swear. And if you don't finish one, you can borrow it, so long as I get it back."
She dug around until she felt worn leather and pulled out the book that was bound in it.
"There's no title," she said blankly, turning it over in her hands.
"I know. It's to keep my family from finding out that I read Muggle books," he explained, eyes glued to the page before him.
She looked at the black leather book and shrugged, stuffing it into her own bag for later. "So, Nott, you're in the same dorm as Adrian, Ron, Draco, and Blaise?"
"Yeah, though they aren't in the dungeons much. Probably running around past curfew like a bunch of ghouls," he joked.
"Yeah, right," she said quickly. "But they'd get caught. It's not like they're invisib-" Realizing what she'd been about to say, she clamped her jaw shut.
Nott looked at her curiously. "Invisible? No, I suppose not."
"I- I have to go," she stammered, pulling her bag onto her shoulder. "Thanks for the book."
And with that, she fled the compartment, leaving a very bemused boy behind. "Muggleborns can be very strange," he said to himself before shaking the thought from his head and continuing with his book.
"There you are!" Daphne yelled at Hermione as the girl emerged from a compartment, looking a bit shaken.
Daphne had forgotten how jumpy Hermione was, and the aforementioned witch yelped, jumped, smacked into the door of the compartment she'd just exited, and fell hard on her rear.
"Bollocks," Daphne muttered, starting toward her fallen friend. She heard a startled yell and a similar series of bumps directly behind her and saw Luna sprawled on the floor, looking about serenely. "Luna, did you do that on purpose again?" she asked tiredly.
Luna blinked at her. "Of course. I was saying hello."
"I told you before, falling and being frightened isn't a greeting."
"But everyone is doing it these days," Luna explained slowly.
Daphne closed her eyes, shook her head, and walked over to Hermione, helping the taller girl to her feet. At her friend's questioning look, she quietly begged, "Don't ask, please. When Luna talks, it makes my head ache."
Hermione nodded mutely and replaced her bag on her shoulder, thankfully taking her friend's advice.
Daphne sighed with relief and moved to Luna, who had gotten up on her own. "Are we going to have to greet many more people? I may bruise if we keep up this pace."
Daphne closed her eyes again and counted to ten. "No, just the rest of our friends. That greeting isn't necessary with them, as they're all blokes," she said, pulling an explanation out of thin air. "We only fall when greeting other girls we're acquainted with, you see."
Luna nodded understandingly. "Of course. It makes perfect sense now."
Daphne shook her head again, linked her arm through Hermione's and put her arm around Luna's shoulders, if only to prevent her from "greeting" anyone else. "They're further up the train," she told Hermione.
The girl nodded at her and a muscle in her jaw twitched.
Daphne squeezed her friend's arm, and Hermione squeezed back, the faintest ghost of a smile on her face.
"Don't worry, we all love you," Daphne whispered. "Even that ruddy dog is mad about you."
Hermione blinked hard and nodded.
And with that, all three girls set forth, mostly unaware of the oddities that had transpired that afternoon and completely unaware of the changes they would bring in their wake.
Holy long chapter, Batman!
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