Author Notes: Here is the latest chapter for the story. Apologies for the time it has taken to update, but we are going to try and get this story back on track a bit, and update it more often. However, Eris and I do appreciate the many readers that continue to read, follow, and comment on our story. Also a thanks goes to the communities on this site that this story is now apart of. The more eyes to read "Darkness" the better. So hope everyone enjoys the chapter, and as always feel free to leave a comment.

Chapter 38: New Ones Will Bloom

"So, how is Harry's friend?" Ginny asked, looking up from the book she had been reading.

"Strange," Ron replied. "He was on about butterflies and called Harry his love."

Ginny raised an eyebrow, but before she could reply, Hermione interrupted, "That was because of the fever. He'll be alright now."

"Good." Ginny let the book fall to the table. "If I had taken the time to finish Moreaux properly, then Janus-"

"You can't think that way." Hermione shook her head. "Any one of us could have checked to be sure he was dead—you, Ron, me, Narcissa Malfoy."

"Still…" Ginny glanced down at the book for a moment, and her lips narrowed. "Next time I meet Moreaux, I'm not making the same mistake. Maybe we should go back and stay with Janus in case Phillipe comes after him again."

"I don't think anyone can get through the wards on that place," Hermione said. "And besides, Harry's there. He'll send for help if he needs it."

Ginny made a surprised sound. "Harry? I'm surprised you could drag him away from Malfoy after all of their tender embracing and bride-like blushing at the trial."

Hermione exchanged a glance with Ron. "Uh, about that…" Ron began.

"Just don't say anything to Harry about Malfoy next time you see him," Hermione pleaded.

"Oh?" Ginny cocked her head to one side, the corners of her mouth twitching in a way that indicated she was trying not to smile. "Another one of their stupid lovers' quarrels, or…?"

Hermione shrugged, and Ginny's face broke into a grin.

"You don't have to look so smug, Gin," Ron chided. "Harry was really torn up about it."

"No more than he deserves for choosing that filthy git. I don't care that he broke up with me, I don't even care that he's suddenly decided he's gay! But I don't see how he can forget everything Malfoy's done, everything Malfoy is—"

The doorbell rang, and Ginny jumped to her feet, startled.

"Were you expecting someone?" Hermione asked.

Ginny shook her head. Her right hand clutched the butt of her wand.

"Where are Mum and Dad?" Ron asked.

"Out." Ginny strode to the door and flung it open, raising her wand to point at whoever was on the other side. When Hermione saw the witch on the doorstep, she grabbed Ginny's arm and jerked it down.

"I'm sorry, Professor McGonagall. We thought, that is, we weren't expecting—" Hermione stammered.

"Quite alright, quite alright." The professor waved a hand, which was holding three white envelopes. "With recent events, I can hardly blame a student for being a bit… circumspect." She looked over the rims of her glasses at Ginny, who had the good sense to flush and mutter her own apology.

"Mum and Dad are out," Ron explained. "You can wait for them if you want to."

"There will be no need for that." McGonagall handed one envelope to each of them, keeping one in her hand. "Everyone I need to see is present."

Hermione fingered the heavy parchment and read her own name on the envelope flap, written in Professor McGonagall's stately, flowing script. It looked the same, felt the same, and –she raised it discreetly to her face and inhaled—yes, it even smelled the same as that very first letter seven years ago. She had told herself that school no longer mattered, that she could teach herself everything she needed to know. Holding the letter, now, though, brought back a flood of memories, and her eyes stung with the effort of holding back tears. "Is it…?"

"It is your invitation to complete your final year of schooling, Miss Granger." The professor beamed.

"Thank you." Hermione fought the urge to hug Professor McGonagall. Her mind was already racing. She would need to make a trip to Diagon Alley for a new uniform, of course; there would be supplies to buy—and books!

"Yeah, thanks." Ron echoed, holding the corner of his envelope between his thumb and forefinger as if it were a dirty sock.

"Then I can count on you to show a good example to your classmates by agreeing to return to school?" McGonagall asked.

"Of course!" Hermione answered, shooting Ron and Ginny a no-nonsense look. "And Harry, too, I'll make sure he understands."

"Good luck with that," Ron muttered under his breath.

McGonagall pursed her lips. "I will convince Mr. Potter."

Snip. The faded blossom fell and landed on the toe of Narcissa's shoe. Carefully, she pinched the stem of another bloom, raised the shears, and cut. The bush was nearly bare now, and still her hands moved among the greenery, seeking out each flower and lopping it off. A jolt of pain shot through her hand, and she jerked it back to study the bead of blood forming on the pad of her left thumb. Angry scratches marred the back of her hand as well. In frustration, she lashed out with the shears, severing an entire branch.

"I thought the king of flowers was supposed to be handled with care and respect, or some such drivel."

She pivoted and found herself staring into the eyes of a silver serpent. Draco used the head of the cane to point to the rose bush as he kicked at the flowers on the ground.

"Now that the old, withered flowers are gone, new ones will bloom in their places, stronger and bolder," she explained.

"Just so." Draco smiled as he ground one of the fallen blossoms into the cobblestones with the butt of the cane. "I came to tell you I'll be gone a few hours. Business, you understand. Father left loose ends with all of his associates."

"Business," Narcissa repeated, disliking the taste of the word. You used to play while I worked in the garden. You used to run through the raindrops and into my arms. "Lucius has not yet been laid to rest, and already you are settling his affairs."

Draco scowled. "He'll be laid to rest when we find the bastard who killed him and make him tell us where Father's body is."

If you can find him, if he doesn't find us first, if he hasn't ground Lucius' bones to dust and made boots from his skin .Instead of saying any of those things, she said, "We could at least have a ceremony, and a headstone. It would be only fitting."

"It would be a bloody joke! My father deserves better."

"Does he?" She flexed her arm, remembering what it had felt like to have it broken and untreated. For a heartbeat, she was back in the dark cell, her hands bound and her voice sore from screaming.

"Mother…" Draco sighed, took her left hand in his, and squeezed. Blood trickled from the puncture on her thumb and onto his pale skin. "He can't hurt you now. He's not even a ghost."

"I know." She put the shears in the pocket of her gardening apron and laid her right hand over Draco's. "If he were a ghost, I wouldn't think—I wouldn't wonder…"

Draco snorted and pulled his hand back, shaking his head. "Wonder what? If he's still alive somewhere? He isn't. I saw him die. I looked into his eyes, and I watched as the green light hit him. I watched him hit the floor and lie there with his mouth open and his eyes empty. I know what a bloody corpse looks like. I've seen enough of them."

"Then perhaps we could bury something of his…" She glanced down at the silver cane.

Draco pulled a watch from his pocket, glared at it, and shoved it back. "I don't have time for this. I-"

The air made a distinctive popping sound, and both Draco and Narcissa turned to see who had apparated. The witch had a crisp pointed hat and freshly ironed black robes. Narcissa looked down at herself, summoned her wand, and muttered, "Tergeo," hoping Minerva hadn't noticed the soil on her apron.

"Mrs. Malfoy, Draco." Minerva nodded to each of them. "I am so sorry for your loss."

Narcissa murmured, "thank you" at the same time Draco said, "I doubt that."

Minerva's mouth tightened and her eyes narrowed for a moment before she waved a hand as if flicking away an insect. "I'm afraid I am here on official business. This is for you, Draco."

She handed him a white envelope, which he immediately opened. He scanned the letter inside before crumpling it into a ball and tossing it to the ground.

"Draco, what did the letter say?" Narcissa asked.

"Nothing of importance," Draco snapped.

"Merely Draco's formal invitation to return to Hogwarts," Minerva said dryly.

Narcissa looked from the crumpled letter to her son. "Draco, you must at least consider-"

"I 'must' nothing! Those miserable Weasley twins didn't finish school; why should I have to? With Father's legacy, I am already one of the most powerful men in the wizarding world."

"Your father commanded respect because he understood the obligations of his station," Narcissa said. "We are not Weasleys!"

"Most certainly not," Minerva agreed. "Ronald and Ginevra Weasley have agreed to complete their schooling."

"Two more reasons to stay away." Draco snorted and used the butt of the cane to knock the crumpled letter into the bushes.

"My son and I will speak about this at length," Narcissa promised, wishing Minerva would leave.

"What you and your son speak of is none of my concern, nor is Draco Malfoy's status as a student, frankly. As a former prefect, I felt he was owed the courtesy of a personal invitation. Whether he accepts, it is up to him."

"Thank you—" Narcissa began.

Minerva cleared her throat loudly. "However," she continued. "Before making a decision, Mr. Malfoy, you may wish to consider this. Harry Potter has decided he will not be returning to Hogwarts."

"Why? Did Granger threaten to stop doing his school work for him?" Draco asked.

"His reasons are none of your concern," Minerva said tartly. "What may concern you, however, is the talk that might spread if the both of you were to be missing from school together—"

"We're not together!" Draco struck the ground with the cane.

Minerva shrugged. "A certain journalist speculates otherwise. Were both of you to be absent, the coincidence might be… remarked upon."

Draco muttered a curse under his breath.

"That will be enough, Minerva." Narcissa's cheeks burned, and her hands clenched. The very mention of Harry set off a cascade of awful images in her mind. You were the one who wrote to me, the one who showed up at my doorstep, the one who pushed me down and fucked me in a pile of broken glass.

"Then I will leave you to your conversation." Minerva raised her wand and vanished.

"Stop looking at me that way, Mother!" Draco growled.

"I don't know what you mean," she lied, forcing herself to look him in the eyes. She hadn't been able to do that since this morning, not without wanting to run to the bath and scrub herself clean.

"You'll get your way! I'll go back to that mudblood-infested cesspit and waste another year of my bloody life."

She sighed with relief and took her gardening shears from her pocket. "That will make me proud."

With an angry flick of his wand, Draco apparated, leaving her alone with the horrible things swirling in her head. She grabbed another branch, hardly noticing when a thorn bit into her fingers, and lobbed off a lush red blossom. Snip.

Harry watched as Ramses flew from the bedroom window, soaring into the late summer sky. "It's the least that I can do, Janus. You'll be better off with Hermione taking care of you," he said to himself as the owl flew out of sight. Harry turned from the bedroom window, looking at the facedown book on his bed. "She can help take better care of you, and probably understand you better than I can."

His thoughts fluttered to the image of Janus naked save for a thin white towel, arms stretched over his head as he held onto the shower rod. Harry's mind toyed with the memory, changing it into what could have been. He could almost smell the soap and steam, could almost feel Janus' fingers tangling in his hair. Excitement returned to Harry as he relived the last few moments of their sexual tension inside the cramped bathroom. Harry groaned, sat down on the edge of the bed and massaged his temples with the palms of his hands. "Stop thinking about it, Harry!" He swung his feet up and laid back on the bed and covered his head with a pillow. "You know where it would lead and how it would end! It's the same as with Draco, nothing but trouble."

The thought of Draco sent his mind racing to the front stoop of Malfoy Manor. He brought a finger to his own lips, remembering the feel of Draco's demanding mouth.

What would it have been like kissing Janus?

He wondered, even as his memories returned to Draco. His hand ached with the need to feel Draco's skin again. Then he felt the bitter words from Draco as their argument replayed in his thoughts.

I'm a grown man making a hard decision. Harry, I can't do this.

"No, no, no!" Harry shouted, squeezing the pillow and pressing on his skull. "Enough! I've had enough of this torture!"

"Famous Harry Potter, lying in his bed, going absolutely crazy because of the demons of his past," the familiar, snide voice came from the room. Harry opened his eyes as the voice continued. "A tragic case, really. Poetic that everything you touch ends up in ruins."

Harry threw the pillow to the floor, leapt from the bed to his feet as anger and happiness mixed in him at the sound of Draco's voice. "Draco!" He stopped abruptly, expecting to see the blue-eyed Slytherin leaning on the silver cane in his bedroom doorway.

"Draco?" Harry called to the empty room. In his mind, Draco Malfoy stood in his bedroom doorway, smirking at him with those thin, beautiful lips. "You're right, Draco. You're safer without me in your life."

He returned to the bed, falling lifelessly onto it and stared at the ceiling of the room. Tears began to stream down his cheek as memories of his short time with Draco passed through his thoughts, until sleep overtook him. This time there were no voices within the darkness as Harry slept.

A grating sound pierced the sweet darkness that enveloped Harry. The noise came in even intervals and reminded him of a Muggle alarm clock that would not stop alarming. Aggravation set in, and Harry stirred from the depths of the darkness to come back to the world of man.

Opening his eyes, Harry stared at the blank ceiling above, while his ears strained to hear the sound that had interrupted his rest. "It's gone," Harry muttered to himself as he lay in the bed. He concentrated on remaining still, as if any movement would somehow trigger the noise to commence once more. He continued to listen for the sound. "Bloody hell," he groaned and stretched. "It's all in my mind. Maybe I do belong in St. Mungo's with Lockhart." Harry snorted and laughed. "At least he would be better company, and entertainment."

The sound came again, causing Harry to sit upright in bed. "That's not in my head, it's outside." Harry got up from the bed, and scanned the room, looking for Ramses. Sighing with disgust, he walked to the open window as the piercing meow of a cat came from the street below. "Oi!" Harry shouted from his window. "Shut it, you stupid, bloody cat! Some people are actually trying to sleep up here!"

The cat sat on the doormat at the front door to #12 Grimmauld Place. The tabby feline looked up at Harry for a moment, before meowing once more. "Shut up!" Harry shouted. He quickly scanned the room for something to throw at the cat. Grabbing an empty quill bottle, he hurled it down toward the sidewalk, missing the cat by inches. The cat looked up at Harry and hissed, its back arching, and its fur standing on end. "Go on, shoo! Scat!" Harry shouted, flailing his hands and slapping them together. The cat growled and sauntered away from the door and out of Harry's sight.

"Now I know why Ron hates those beasts!" Harry muttered, slamming the bedroom window shut. "Something always has to interrupt me!" He stood in the middle of the bedroom, his hands clenched at his side, and a dull, throbbing headache pounding in his skull. Having given up on sleep, Harry made his way to the kitchen and fumbled in the cupboards until he found the makings of a sandwich.

After getting his food, Harry opened the door to the library and sat down at the table. Another memory stormed his mind as he recalled opening the door and finding Lucius Malfoy sitting in this very chair. "No, don't start this again," Harry growled. He reached for the nearest book on the table, opened it, and lazily flipped through the pages. Certain words and phrases caught his attention as he gazed down at the print.

"Hmm…hate potion," Harry mumbled, taking a bite of his sandwich. "Definitely something that Draco doesn't need." He continued to glance through the book, turning page after page. He stopped as another phrase caught his attention. "Malevolent mixture?" Harry asked, putting aside the sandwich. "The malevolent mixture, given its name, acts as a poison and causes morbid and foul effects." Harry said, as he continued to read the instructions on how to create the potion.

"Wow!" Harry exclaimed, leaning back into the chair after finishing his read. "That is just about as bad as a Killing Curse. It'd be perfect for Moreaux, if you'd get him to drink the potion somehow." Harry visualized the thought, before another picture came to his mind. "Hmm…what if I could get Draco and Janus to take a sip of this? Not enough to kill them, but enough to make them suffer a while."

Harry folded the page, closed the book, and set it on the edge of the desk. He leaned back in the chair, placed his feet onto the top of the desk and steepled his fingers while his mind envisioned Draco and Janus' suffering. His eyelids began to feel heavy, and his chin begin to droop.

Loud, green flames roared to life from the old fireplace, shattering Harry's vindictive fantasy. Instincts took over as Harry reached for the first thing that his hands could find. He threw the book toward the green flames, and watched as a bright red beam shot through the flames and ash, destroying the book in mid-air.

Harry shouted as he grabbed his wand from the desk and sent multiple stunning spells into the smoky haze. The red beams from his wand rebounded from the target, striking books on the shelves and sending up flurries of burned parchment scraps.

Through the clouds of ash and debris, Harry saw the silhouette of a person. "Moreaux!" Harry shouted, leaping over the desk and aiming his wand at the figure. "Avada-''

"That is enough, Mr. Potter!" Minerva McGonagall's voice cut through the haze. "What in the name of Merlin are you trying to do? Have you lost your wits?"

Harry closed his mouth, but he still held his wand as McGonagall walked through the settling dust with her own wand pointed at Harry. A small, dry chuckle escaped Harry. "As a matter of fact, I have. How do I know that you are who you seem to be?"

"Well, so much for Gryffindor qualities," she said, quickly flicking her wrist before Harry could act.

Harry's world began to spin, and his body felt as if it were being squeezed downward and inward. The spinning finally ceased, allowing Harry to feel himself on the floor, the hardwood cool and slick against his bare hands and feet. Something about the floor looked odd. The grain of the wood was wrong somehow, the bands of color wider than they should be. In fact, the whole library seemed hundreds of times larger than it normally did. Suddenly, he felt a sharp pain that began somewhere past his tailbone and shot through his entire spine, eliciting a high-pitched shriek. He twisted and turned in mid-air to see two gargantuan, wizened fingers holding a scaly pink tail between them. As he squirmed, the fingers lost their grip and the tail slipped down before being pinched again, sending another wave of pain through his body.

"Ouch! That hurts!" Harry yelled, but no words came out of his mouth, only another high-pitched shriek. He glanced at his hands, which were pink and tipped with pointed claws. Raising one paw to his face, he felt thick whiskers extending from his soft-furred cheeks.

Bloody hell! She's turned me into a mouse!

"Now, I trust that this answers your question, Mr. Potter!" McGonagall said, lifting him up so that he had a terrifying view of her face. Her mouth was like a cavern, her breath a hot wind when she spoke. "Normally, I would frown upon this kind of discipline, but considering the circumstances, I find it to be very fair. Don't you agree?" He squealed his agreement and nodded his head furiously. "Good. It's fortunate for you that a cat doesn't live here, or else-''

The mouse shrieked in protest. "Well, I believe that is today's lesson." Placing Harry back on the floor, McGonagall flicked her wand, causing him to expand into his natural shape. "Any further questions, Potter?"

"No. No more questions, professor," he answered, staggering to his feet and gripping the edge of the desk.

"Good!" McGonagall said, placing her wand back into the inside of her robe. "I swear, what are today's youth coming to? That's the second time today that I've had a wand pointed in my face, and I don't appreciate it one single bit!" she said, sitting down in the chair.

"I'm sorry, professor. I thought that you were-'' Harry began.

"I heard you!" she snapped. "And, no, I'm not Phillipe Moreaux!"

"Sorry," Harry replied.

"Nor am I some 'stupid, bloody cat'"!

"You mean-'' Harry began, closing his eyes and groaning loudly.

"That's right, Mr. Potter!" McGonagall snapped, her nostrils flaring. "I do not take kindly to people throwing quill bottles at me!"

"I'm sorry, professor. I didn't know it was you."

"In the time that you have lived here, how many cats have come and meowed at your doorstep?"

"None…I suppose."

"There! I rest my case. You should have known who it was at your doorstep. I tried knocking like a civilized person, but you never answered the door. Since you weren't at the Weasleys' home or with Mr. Malfoy, this was one of the few, remaining logical places for you to be."

"Wait, professor!" Harry said. "You've seen Draco? Today?"

McGonagall stared thoughtfully at Harry for a moment before answering. "Indeed, I have."

Harry's bottom lip quivered slightly. "Did…did he say anything about me?"

"No. The topic of our discussion was not you. It was about Mr. Malfoy's future plans. And speaking of plans -''

"Professor, before you say anything else, I'm not going back to Hogwarts."

"Oh?" McGonagall asked, peering at Harry over her glasses. "And you are so certain of that, are you, Mr. Potter?"

"I don't see the point," Harry said bluntly.

He watched as she stared across from desk at him; her head slowly nodding, while her lips pressed into a thin line. "Very well then, it is your decision." McGonagall sighed deeply and pinched the bridge of her nose. "May I trouble you for a cup of tea?" She asked, opening her eyes and politely smiling at Harry. "I've had a long day thus far, and still have a daunting evening ahead of me back at Hogwarts."

Harry nodded, slightly surprised by the woman's request. "Oh, yeah. Sure. Kreach-'' Harry said, before remembering the obvious. "Sorry, professor, I don't have my house elf anymore."

"Why not?" She asked.

Harry's eyes gazed down to the desk, as his mind re-enacted the scene that led to Kreacher's death. "He died saving Draco and me from Lucius Malfoy a few weeks ago, right here in this room."

McGonagall inhaled deeply before she spoke. "I'm very sorry. However, it is a serious breach of defense if Lucius Malfoy was able to be here. The Order went to great lengths to protect this location against any outside presence. Unfortunately, that work is now ineffective if Death Eaters have been here. If I were you, Mr. Potter, I would seriously consider taking up residence elsewhere."

"Why should I?" Harry asked, looking up from the desk. "Every place that I've called home has been attacked. Besides, Voldemort is dead. So is Lucius Malfoy. I'm not afraid, professor."

"And, what about Moreaux?" McGonagall asked. "Just because I've been busy with Hogwarts, doesn't mean that I don't keep up with events. I've heard about what has been happening this summer. If you are to stay here, then you should seriously consider stronger protective wards."

"I will," Harry replied.

"See that you do, Potter," McGonagall replied, pointing a long, bony finger at him. "Now, about that cup of tea, or do I need to leave and go elsewhere for it?"

"No. I have tea downstairs, in the kitchen," Harry answered, standing up from the chair.

"Good. We can finish our conversation there." She stood, and strode toward the door, while Harry followed in her wake.

They walked in silence, passing through the long, dark corridors of #12 Grimmauld Place, and then descended the creaky stairs, until they reached the bottom floor. Walking into the kitchen, Harry extended his hand toward the table. McGonagall withdrew her wand and flicked it twice. Clattering sounds came from the kitchen area as two saucers, teacups, a teapot, and a kettle came floating through the air, and landed on the table in front of them. After a murmur of "aguamenti" and another flourish of McGonagall's wand, the kettle began to shake. Steam erupted from its mouth, accompanied by a shrill, thin whistle. The professor poured the water into the teapot, and moments later they each had a fragrant cup.

"Now that's much better. Talk always proceeds more smoothly over a nice cup of tea," McGonagall said after taking a small sip. "Now, Harry, are you still so certain about not returning to Hogwarts?"

The hot liquid scorched Harry's throat as he swallowed it. He coughed harshly while he tried to answer between gasps. "I…I am, yes."

"What makes you so certain?"

Harry sat the cup down on the table and pushed it away from him. He lowered his head and gazed at the wooden surface. "There are too many memories."

McGonagall tilted her head to one side, her eyes boring into him in a way that reminded Harry of Orion, Draco's eagle. "Memories?"

"Yes, memories. Professor Lupin, Tonks, Professor Snape, even Crabbe and Goyle! And, Professor Dumbledore." The last name hurt the most to say, and he felt an irrational surge of anger at her for dragging it out of him.

"Nonsense!" McGonagall snapped, slapping the table with the palm of her hand and causing Harry to stiffen in his chair. Her nostrils flared, and her eyes bore a hole into Harry's face. "It's because of you, that so many are still alive! It was war, Potter! Innocent people will die in a war, but their deaths will not be in vain. They died, because they believed in you, and in the cause."

McGonagall stood up and walked around the table, placing her hands on her hips as she stood by Harry. "Running away from your fears will never accomplish anything, and it surely isn't worthy of the house of Gryffindor! Each of us has lost friends and loved ones because of this ill-fated war, but what we can do is to honor their memories." She sat down next to Harry, lightly placing her hand on his arm. "I have always thought of Hogwarts as my home, and in a way, my family. I know that all of this has been extremely difficult for everyone. Yet, now there is a small ray of sunlight above us. Voldemort is dead, and life will eventually return to its normal balance. The world has you to thank for that, along with those who sacrificed their lives to allow us to go on with ours."

She reached into her robe pocket and withdrew a slim envelope that had Harry's name written on it in red ink. "This is for you, Mr. Potter. After discussing the matter with the Minister and with all teachers at Hogwarts, we have decided to allow an extra year for those students that would want to come back to Hogwarts and to be taught without Death Eater influences." She slid the note in between Harry's hands, so that he could clearly see his name on the front. "I've already spoken to Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger."

Harry gazed at the neat scrawl of his name on the envelope. A small smirk toyed at the edge of his mouth as he imagined Ron's groaning and Hermione's excited state when McGonagall told them this. "They've agreed to come back, I take it?"

"Yes," McGonagall replied. "I dare say that they would like to see you there with them as well."

"And, Draco?" Harry asked.

McGonagall sighed before she spoke. Her gaze drifted from the letter, then to Harry's face, staring her pupil directly into his eyes. "Like the other students, Mr. Malfoy was given his opportunity to continue his studies at Hogwarts. He was reluctant at first, you might say, but in the end I think he knew what was best for him."

"Draco Malfoy?" Harry made an incredulous sound. "You're telling me he's going back to school?"

McGonagall took another sip of her tea. "You underestimate my powers of persuasion, Mr. Potter. Oh, he was reluctant at first, but with a bit of creativity I managed to convince Mr. Malfoy."

"Please stop calling him that, professor," Harry groaned.

"I beg your pardon?"

"He's not Lucius Malfoy," Harry said as he stood from the table and walked away from the witch.

McGonagall lightly drummed her fingers on that table, as she watched Harry. "It is his proper name, regardless of how you feel about him."

"And what do you mean by that?" Harry asked, whirling on the spot.

"I do read the prophet," she said, studying him with a carefully neutral expression.

"Rita Skeeter is a liar!" Harry spat.

"Yes, but was she lying?" Before Harry could answer, McGonagall waved a hand. "Don't bother answering. I can see for myself. You are a Gryffindor, Harry. You wear your heart on your sleeve. That's nothing to be ashamed of, if only the object of your affections were anyone but Mr. Malfoy."

Harry quickly glanced down at his hands, trying to control his emotions. "Draco will never be like Lucius Malfoy. I know he won't."

"Perhaps," McGonagall answered, finishing off the last of her tea.

"I've seen another side of Draco that he rarely shows to anyone else. There is another part to him, other than the obvious," Harry said as tears began to sting his eyes.

"I am not one to delve into a student's personal life. Yet, if you will, please take a moment to listen to an old woman's advice. Don't let your emotions cloud your judgment. Yes, there is another side to Mr.-to Draco. He may not be his father, but he is the son of Lucius Malfoy. The shadow of the man will always hover over him. He will always have this conflict inside of him to be his own individual, but also to be just like his father."

Harry sat down at the table, rubbing at his fingernails. He slightly scoffed. "You sound like Janus, professor. I had hoped…I mean, I hope you're both wrong."

"Only time will tell." McGonagall tilted her head back, staring at Harry through her spectacles. "I've heard about your time with Janus. Trouble continues to find you, does it not, Mr. Potter?"

"How-'' Harry began.

"There is no need to ask how, Potter. I knew about Mr. Ward many years ago when he attended Hogwarts. Much like yourself, trouble always seemed to have its' own way of coming to him."

"I guess nothing has changed about that," Harry said sarcastically. "At least I'm not the only one."

"Nevertheless, my time is up, and I have other students to see today before returning to Hogwarts," she said rising from the table. She drew an envelope from her pocket and held it in her hand. "It was good to see you again, Potter." Harry stood with her, and stumbled over his goodbyes.

"Do think about everything that I've talked about," she said touching the letter with a long finger. "I think that you would find Hogwarts to be much safer than any other place this year, and that it would do you a lot of good to come back home." She turned and walked toward the door, leaving Harry speechless in his place.

"Professor?" Harry called as her hand was upon the doorknob. She turned, and looked at Harry. "Truthfully, why did you come here?"

"Because I was asked to. It's there in front of you, Potter." She pointed toward the letter. "Just open it, and read." With that, she vanished behind the door, leaving Harry alone with the letter.

"Professor?" Harry called as McGonagall disappeared. He gazed back at the letter, lying on the table. "She's speaking in riddles just like Dumbledore used to." He picked up the envelope and looked at his name. "Well, only one way to find out." Harry turned the envelope over and broke the seal, not bothering to look closely at the design.

The letter leapt from Harry's hands, floated in mid-air above him and then began to twist and flip in the air, refolding itself into a new shape. Finally, a black line in the shape of a mouth appeared on the paper. The mouth let out a long yawn as two blue eyes appeared on the page. Two black half-moons appeared, one around each eye, and a short arc formed between the two half moons, completing the suggestion of a pair of glasses.

The eyes blinked several times in Harry's direction as if awakening from a long rest. The mouth curved upward into a smile as the eyes adjusted and found Harry.

"It's been a long time, Harry." Dumbledore's voice spoke from the paper, filling the room. "Please, don't be alarmed."

"I'm not alarmed, professor, just more astonished than anything else," Harry said, sitting back down at the table as the Dumbledore letter floated down in front of him.

"Now before you begin to ask many questions, Harry, you must know that I only have a limited amount of time to be here. Unfortunately, magic cannot conquer the realm of death. Therefore, I constructed this letter prior to my death during your sixth year at Hogwarts with specific instructions to be given to you, after your defeat of Voldemort. Alas, if all has gone well, then I am asleep in my comfortable chair within the portrait that hangs in the headmaster's office at Hogwarts.

"The purpose of this letter is simple, Harry. I wanted to thank you and your friends for believing in me. You trusted me, and you fully believed in an old man when others would have assumed that I was bound to find my way to St. Mungo's. Thank you, my boy, for the greatest honor that you could bestow onto an old man's heart and soul. Secondly, I want to congratulate you on the defeat of Tom Riddle. I know that the victory comes with a very high and bitter cost. Alas, that is life, Harry. Nothing is given, and the only certainty is death. But, in between the beginning and the end is what matters.

"Minerva had specific instructions if everything went to plan, on the exact day and circumstances in which to deliver this letter to you. Hogwarts, Harry will forever hold a special place within your heart, as it does for me, and as it has done for so many others who have passed through those majestic doors. I anticipated the struggle you would have if you were able to defeat Voldemort. Thus, that is why I am here today, albeit in a limited capacity."

"But it can never be the same, not after everything and everyone I've lost. I can't just go back to turning rats into teacups and listening to Hermione prattle on about artihmancy! It will all be hollow and empty, and every day, I'll wonder - is this all? Is this what Remus and Tonks and Sirius died for?"

The blue eyes sagged a bit, before the letter slowly nodded.

"Unfortunately, Harry there is no magical cure for that. We must each mourn and honor those that have fallen in our own way. But, if Lupin, Sirius, and your mother and father were here to speak to you now, what do you think they would say to you, Harry?"

"Before Voldemort killed me, I remember they spoke to me. I mean they were there with me and I wasn't afraid to die anymore, because they were there."

"They will always be with you, Harry."

A small smile spread upon Harry's face as he remembered speaking to his family and friends. "Well, Mum and Dad would want me to go back to Hogwarts, as well as Lupin. Sirius might want me to stay here, but in his heart I think he would want me to return."

The Dumbledore letter nodded in agreement. "And I want you to return, and make something very special of yourself. Because you were always very special, Harry. More so than simply because of a scar on your forehead. Your home and your future are at Hogwarts."

"Are they?" Harry asked, thinking of Draco.

"There is one last item that I have to speak to you on. Before my death, Madame Trelawney informed me that she had foreseen a raging storm that would be calmed by a soothing wind."

"That sounds like something the useless old bat would say," Harry muttered angrily. "I tried with Draco, but he's more than a storm, he's a bloody dragon!"

"Remember, the road to truths has many turns, Harry. Always follow what your heart tells you."

Harry looked at the bright, blue eyes as the paper began to dissolve in mid-air until it turned into a fine, silver mist, and disappeared.

"The road to truths," Harry said to himself. "And I know exactly where that begins."

The sunlight sparkled as the snitch flew through the air, evading capture. The golden-winged-orb spiraled up and down, crossing over its' own path, doing everything possible to avoid the fingers that clutched at its wings. A long arm, in a bright orange sleeve stretched for the speedy ball, two fingers barely brushing the smooth, surface.

As if sensing its imminent capture the snitch darted left, but a large hand clamped over it. The wings twitched one final time, like the limbs of a creature in its death throes, and then they retracted into the body of the snitch. The seeker held his arm aloft in victory as teammates surrounded the player. Their robes moved in the breeze like a rippling orange ocean while spectacular fireworks exploded from the sky.

Ron Weasley stepped back, admiring the Chudley Cannons poster that he had just charmed to provide the image. "Well, if the Cannons can't win while I am at their match, then I can at least enjoy this," he said as he swept his hand through his hair, smiling at his work.

The sound of creaking hinges broke his reverie, and he turned to see Hermione hurry into the room, clutching a letter in her right hand. "Good, I want you to see this," Ron proudly said, extending his hand toward the poster.

"It's very nice, Ron, but you have to read-'' Hermione began.

"Very nice?" Ron felt a flush of irritation creep into his cheeks. "I spent all bloody morning on that!"

"I'm sure you did, but this letter …"

Ron put a finger over her lips. "I'll read it in a second." Reaching into his pocket, Ron extracted the deluminator, and held it up for Hermione to see. "Now watch this." He flipped the top of the deluminator, causing all of the light in the room to vanish into the small container, leaving the two in total darkness. Ron reached for Hermione's hand, and held it. "Look at the poster, 'Mione."

The Chudley Cannons poster glowed in a silvery-orange light as the seeker flew through the air, chasing after the golden snitch. A small gasp escaped Hermione as she leaned her head against Ron's arm and snuggled closely while watching the seeker capture the snitch and celebrate with the team.

"It's beautiful, Ron," Hermione admitted, as the lights came back on in the room.

"Thanks," Ron muttered. His face was burning now. Impressing Hermione meant more to him than he would admit, even to himself.

"This just came from Harry," Hermione said, glancing down at the letter.

"What? It's not bad news about Janus, is it?"

She shook her head. "Not exactly. Harry isn't at Janus' house anymore. He's back at Grimmauld Place."

Ron frowned. "Well, I'm sure he had a good reason-'' he began.

"Ron!" Hermione interrupted. "How could Harry do this? He knows what kind of condition Janus is in! The man almost died. It's irresponsible to leave him on his own. I don't know what's gotten into Harry lately."

"Other than Draco Malfoy," Ron muttered under his breath and received a slap across his chest in response. "Oww!" Ron shouted. "That's getting old, Hermione!" Ron pressed his lips together, while his hand rubbed the place where he had been hit. "Don't…" he started, but a look from Hermione caused him to change his words. "Don't you think you may be over-reacting, just a bit?" He raised his hand with his thumb and forefinger close together.

"How can you say that?" Hermione asked, folding her arms.

"Just a thought. Did he say why he left?" Ron asked, reaching for the letter and scanning it.

"No, he didn't," Hermione answered, before Ron could finish reading. "Which is why I think something's wrong. You'd better go to Harry and find out what happened, and I'll go see about Janus."

Ron dropped the letter. "No, Hermione."

"No?" She raised an eyebrow and tilted her head.

"No. If Harry didn't say why he left in this letter, then it's not our business to go and pry it out of him. He'll tell us, if and when he wants to."

"But Ron, what is Harry's-''

"He's fine," Ron whispered, stepping closer and cupping Hermione's face in his hands. "I know my best mate. Let him be."

Her brown eyes met Ron's, and her face relaxed. She raised her left hand and put it over his right. "Alright, you win. I won't make you go and check on Harry, but I still want to go see Janus."

"Thank you," Ron answered, releasing his gentle touch. "But, you're not going alone. Just in case Janus starts to act all dodgy, I'm going to be there with you."

Hermione beamed. "Aww, Ron, that's very noble, and sweet."

Ron shrugged, and smiled back. "You're my Hermione, and I won't let anything happen to you."

"Alright already! I hear you! Just give me a minute to get to the door!" A single thud was followed by heavy footsteps as the locks jiggled loose, allowing the door to swing open. Janus appeared before Ron and Hermione, leaning on the cane with one hand and holding the door with the other. He wore a puffy bathrobe with faded blue and black stripes. "Well, well this is a most unexpected visit. Come in if you want." He gestured toward the sitting room.

"That's alright—'' Ron started to say, but Hermione cut him off by thanking Janus and leading Ron across the threshold by the hand. She could hear Janus shambling along behind her, his cane thudding on the hardwood with each step. When they reached the sitting room, she perched on the edge of the leather sofa and Ron sat down beside her. Janus lowered himself into an upholstered chair, wincing as he bent his injured limb. A large Siamese cat appeared from under the chair and vaulted onto Janus' lap, making the man's face contort in pain until he scooted the animal onto his good leg.

"And what brings you to my door today?" Janus asked, smiling in a way that didn't touch his eyes.

"Harry asked me to look after you," Hermione said.

"Did he, now?" Janus shook his head slightly. "I'm touched."

"He didn't say why he couldn't take care of you himself." Hermione crossed her arms and waited for an explanation, but Janus only stared at her with that enigmatic smile. She wondered if he wanted her to ask a proper question, and perversely, she stayed silent.

"Janus?" It was Ron who broke the silence.

Both Janus and Hermione turned to look at him. "What?" they asked in unison.

"I was just wondering if you had anything to eat, that's all." Ron gestured toward the kitchen. "Apparition always makes me hungry, and if it's going to be a while…"

"Honestly, Ron?" Hermione snapped. "That's all you can think about- food?" She slapped his arm several times for emphasis.

"It's true!" Ron shrugged, looking from Hermione to Janus.

Janus laughed, and the sudden, abrasive sound caused Socrates to jump down from the man's lap. "Yeah, Ron, there's food in the kitchen. Find whatever you like in the fridge."

"Thanks!" Ron stood up from the couch and hurried down the hallway while Hermione rolled her eyes at his back.

Once Ron was out of sight, Hermione rose from her chair and crossed the room so that she stood over Janus. She didn't like the thought of bending over him, but kneeling would worse, so she decided to sit on the arm of the chair. Somehow that was even more awkward than standing. She reached for the lapel of Janus' robe to pull it open, then retracted her hand, too embarrassed to go through with it.

With a smug little smirk on his face, Janus pulled the front of his robe open, exposing what looked like a week-old wound. The swelling had almost gone, and the flesh was already beginning to knit together. "Is this what you wanted to see?" he asked.

She nodded and reached out to probe the newly healed skin with her fingers.

"Need to see any more?" he asked.

She shook her head, stood up, and returned to the couch. "How?" she asked simply.

"You mean how could a backwoods hick like me know more about healing than the famous Hermione Granger?" He touched the skin over his heart before closing his robe again.

"That's not what I meant!" she protested. "It's just…Madame Pomfrey said you were near death, and now…"

"Would you believe it's a miracle?" Janus flashed a grin that she supposed was supposed to be charming. On another man, it might have been, but something about Janus' sharp, foxy face ruined the effect.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw Ron return to the sitting room, carrying a blue bowl with what looked like meatballs in it. He sat down next to her on the couch, and she wrinkled her nose at the rich, oily smell of the food. To Janus, she said, "No."

Janus spread his hands. "What can I say? I'm caught. Might as well admit it—I met a demon at the crossroads, and I sold my soul. I get a few superpowers, and all I have to do in return is to spend a couple nights a month doing the devil's work."

Hermione glanced at Ron and saw that his eyes had widened and he had stopped chewing his food. His cheek's bulged like a chipmunk's. She elbowed him and gave Janus a dirty look. "He's joking, Ron."

"Oh." Ron muttered around his mouthful of food. "Well, that's alright then." He shrugged and picked up another one of the meaty gobbets. "Exactly, what is this, Janus? It's tasty!" He popped the meatball into his mouth and began chewing.

Janus stared at the bowl for a second, before a smiling broadly. "You, Mr. Ronald Weasley, have just had your first taste of Southern delicacy. That is chicken gizzards covered with peanut butter."

Ron's eyes bulged from his head as the words clicked in his brain. He slowly spat the chewed up pieces back into the bowl. "Chicken what?"

"Gizzards!" Janus finished, as he began to shake from laughter. "In parts of the South, people cook chicken gizzards, which are part of the digestive system of the bird."

"You mean I'm eating a bloody chicken's stomach?" Ron asked, his hands trembling as they struggled to hold the blue bowl.

"Yep. But, look on the bright side; it can't be any worse than haggis, right?"

"Worse!" Ron shouted. He closed his mouth, and put a hand on his stomach.

"I made that batch there for my fishing trips," Janus continued, oblivious to the retching sounds coming from Ron. "Put a little bit of peanut butter over the gizzard and it makes excellent fishing bait."

"I'm eating fish bait?" Ron asked, his hand now firmly covering his mouth.

"Afraid so. It stays fresh if you keep it cool. I forgot that I had it in the fridge. Don't worry; I can always make more."

Ron threw the bowl down, sprinted down the hallway, and crashed into the bathroom. "I suppose Southern cooking just doesn't agree with his stomach," Janus quipped, as sounds of Ron vomiting came from the bathroom.

"Ron, just take your time and get it all out," Hermione called. She turned back to face Janus. "I still want to know how you healed so quickly."

Before Janus could answer, the toilet flushing followed by the running water from the tap interrupted them. A few moments later, Ron came out of the bathroom, looking paler than usual. "Bloody hell, Hermione. He tried to poison me." Hermione tried to smile at Ron, but instead only shook her head and pulled him down beside her on the sofa. "Just lay your head back, Ron and relax."

"Alright, 'Mione," Ron nodded and laid back on the sofa, covering his face with his long arms.

"You were about to say, Janus."

"Remus was an excellent teacher, and he taught me so much about herbs and potions. It's why this house was built here. The forest that surrounds this home has everything in it that one would need to survive. There's food, water, herbal medicine, and protection. Plus my training and experience with the WTF allows me even more access to books, and other studies that teach a person how to heal faster from injuries."

"I'd like to see those books," she said.

"Sorry. Classified."

"Convenient." Hermione snorted. "Another thing I'd like to know-what happened between you and Harry?"

Janus put his hands on his knees and leaned forward, frowning. "And just what do you mean by that?"

"It's not like him to leave a friend who needs him, not unless he had something more important to do, or if you… I don't know… if you sent him somewhere?"

Janus sat back in the chair. "I'm back on my feet now. I don't need Harry to fetch and tote for me. I sent him home, that's all."

"But that doesn't make sense. If you don't need anyone taking care of you, why did Harry send me?" Hermione asked.

"Maybe he thought I'd be more likely to let you boss me around, tell me to go back to bed, drink some broth, no heavy lifting, that sort of thing."

"I don't think anyone could order you around," Hermione said.

Janus smiled at Ron. "She gets it! Look, about the fish bait—''

Ron slapped his hands in front of his mouth and bent forward as if his stomach had suddenly contracted. "Oh, Merlin! Don't call it that."

"Right. Anyway, sorry it didn't agree with you." Janus didn't look sorry at all when he said that.

Hermione patted Ron's arm as she helped him to stand up from the sofa. "That's alright. He shouldn't eat so much, anyway."

"He's a growing young man," Janus said as he showed them to the door. As Hermione reached for the doorknob, Janus caught her arm. "If you see Harry, tell him…" Janus paused, frowning.

"Yes?" she prompted.

"Tell him if he changes his mind about needing my help, I'm here."

Hermione opened the door and led Ron out into the sunlight. "I will, Janus. Goodbye."

The door closed behind them as they walked toward the edge of the yard. "He's hiding something," Hermione said, as Ron stood wearily beside her.

"Something worse than fish bait covered in peanut butter?" He burped and covered his mouth, grimacing.

Hermione frowned. "Maybe."

"Well, I told ya he was dodgy," Ron replied, and burped again.

"Harry probably did the best thing in getting away from him. Well, come on, let's get you home and see what your mum can do for you."

A knock came from the door. Janus sighed, tossed the Daily Prophet away, and reached for his cane, anticipating the now-familiar blast of pain that would come when he stood. "What?" he shouted at the door.

Once more the steady knock came from the other side. "Look, I don't need this," Janus grumbled getting up from the chair and limping toward the door. Irrationally, he hoped to see Harry on the other side, even with everything that had happened between them.

The knocking persisted.

"What? Just a damned minute! Give a guy time to answer his door before you go beating it down!" Janus shouted as he unlocked the door.

When he saw the person on the other side, he tensed his face to keep his jaw from dropping. "It's been a good long while now. What brings you to my doorstep today?"

"I have a job for you to do, Mr. Ward?" the woman said.

"I don't use that name anymore."

The woman flicked a hand impatiently. "Yes, yes. Janus, then. Are your service available?"

"In a few days I will be. Right now I'm still on the injured reserve list," Janus chuckled, pointing down at his cane. He scratched at his chin, pondering the offer. He could guess what she wanted. "What's the payment?"

"Anything, that you like."

He scratched the stubble on his face, thinking about his reply. "Good, then I accept."

The woman handed him a rolled piece of parchment. "Your instructions are there. Contact me before you begin, and everything will be arranged." The woman apparated out of sight, as Janus closed the door and then looked at the parchment.

He opened it, read the instructions, and then crumpled the parchment into a ball, which he tossed into the air. With a flick of his wand, the ball burst into flame, incinerating so completely that no ashes marred the floor. A slow smile spread over his face. "Luck is when opportunity knocks, and you answer."