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After my initial shock at finding myself insanely attracted to Fred, the burden of guilt eased up as my emotions settled down. The summer passed by (albeit slowly) and I realized that as much as I loved Fred as a friend, it couldn't be that way. Draco still filled my thoughts. He was a constant presence in my life, even though he wasn't actually there with me. Even the fear and the confusion from that terrible night of Dumbledore's death had faded away to a distant place in my memories.

I barely cared about the truth anymore. I didn't know what had happened, but it didn't matter. I trusted Draco. I loved Draco.

My summer was plagued by my memories of Draco and the longing in my heart, the dire emptiness that only he could fill. However, it was—overall—not too bad. For what it could have been at least. The entire wizarding world seemed to have a dark atmosphere, a nervous undertone, and I was terrified at the idea of what horrible place Draco might be in. But for this climate, I was situated in the best place possible: a haven of light-heartedness and comfort with two of my dearest—and funniest—friends.

Over the months the twins and I shared lots of laughs and created plenty of special memories. There was the time that George carried me around the store on piggy-back to reach goods on high shelves, the time Fred and George ignited fireworks in the shop's closet and I had to reprimand them for almost burning the place down, the time that we blasted music from the radio and danced for hours together. Well, that may have happened more than once.

When the end of July rolled around, the routine finally changed.

"Mia," said George, "As you know, Harry is turning of age on the 31st."

"And once that happens, he'll lose the protection that his mother's charm affords him," continued Fred.

"So the Order plans to move Harry out of his family's home before that happens," George finished. I looked at them expectantly.

"Alright... I assume you two are involved somehow?" George and Fred nodded simultaneously.

"You see, there's a group of us. In order to protect Harry, half of us—including Fred and I—will be taking Polyjuice potion and assuming Harry's form."

"The other half will act as protectors for each 'Harry'. Each pair will fly off to a different location, before all meeting at the Burrow."

"The idea is to successfully transport Harry to the Burrow without You-Know-Who catching wind of our plans."

"I see..." I murmured, mulling this over in my head. Looking up determinedly, I stared at them both intently. "I want to go too."

George and Fred immediately looked at each other. Their expressions were clear enough even without words.

"I want to help," I insisted. The twins turned back to me, George with a gentle expression, Fred with a more firm one.

"You can wait for us at the Burrow," offered George kindly.

"Why can't I join you? I want to protect Harry."

"We already have an even number of people," explained George. "Adding another wouldn't make sense. Don't worry Mia; nothing will happen. You just have to wait patiently for a few hours."

"Well, but even if I just-" I started to protest.

"Harry wouldn't want you there. You would be a distraction to him."

The cold honesty of that statement was like a punch in the gut, and I froze. George smacked his brother.

Harry wouldn't want you there... a distraction...

Fred was right of course.

Harry hates you now, remember? I thought cruelly. One of your closest ex-friends, the hope of the wizarding world, hates you.

With a look of forlorn acceptance, I met Fred's eyes.

"Thanks Fred," I said quietly. I could see the pity in George's face, and I didn't want that. It only made the sick feeling in my stomach worse. I focused instead on Fred's stony expression. "I guess... I'll just wait for you all at the Burrow."

"That's my girl," said Fred softly, pulling me into his chest for a hug.

.~.~.

Mrs. Weasley was a nervous wreck, pacing frantically across the floor. Ginny, though she was standing still, was clearly just as anxious as her mother. To be honest, I was in a bit of a state myself.

Ron and Tonks had missed their portkey, and so had Mr. Weasley and Fred. Not knowing what had happened, we were all panicking. I was seated silently on their couch, completely withdrawn in myself. Ginny stood beside me, occasionally responding to her mother's frantic exclamations in an attempt to be reassuring, and all the time she and I were tightly grasping hands. It was somewhat comforting.

"It's time," announced Mrs. Weasley, wringing her hands, "Harry and Hagrid should be arriving in one more minute."

Without a word, Ginny and I raced over to the door, joining Mrs. Weasley in the lookout. My heart was racing erratically due to the adrenaline. Ginny's grip on my hand became even tighter, and I could see the fear in her eyes, though she was trying to put on a tough face. I cared about Harry and the others greatly, but I supposed that Ginny must have had it even worse, seeing as it was her boyfriend and family at stake. However, my thoughts were interrupted by a sudden sound.

BAM! With a loud thud that sent a shock through my body, two figures appeared out of thin air. Ginny and Mrs. Weasley both screamed and immediately rushed out onto the grass. I too began to rush forward, my heart pounding furiously, but I stopped dead in my tracks.

Harry hates you, I remembered. Tears came to my eyes, but I clenched my jaw and brushed them away. Despite the immense relief I felt at seeing Harry and Hagrid both in one piece, I had no right to rush up to them, welcome them, embrace them. And that's just the way it was.

I hung back at the steps, watching the scene unfold as Mrs. Weasley questioned Harry briefly before sweeping him into her arms. When she rushed inside to get brandy for Hagrid, Harry turned his attentions to Ginny, who began to explain the situation.

Feeling like an absolute outsider, I remained immobile, unwilling to move lest Harry should notice me. I loathed the nervous knots in my stomach and fervently wished that I didn't feel so shy around Harry nowadays, so out of place. Why shouldn't I have the right to express my relief that he had returned? And yet I couldn't bring myself to do it. My insides felt sick at the very thought of talking to him. I couldn't bring myself to face the look of anger and disgust that would undoubtedly greet me.

Mrs. Weasley returned with the brandy, and my eyes followed her and then made their way to Hagrid. Hagrid looked up and his eyes locked with mine. He smiled tiredly at me, and I returned the gesture with a shaky smile of my own. I was about to go over and talk to him when Ginny cried out, "Mum!"

We all whirled around to see a growing blue light across the lawn. After a second, a huge commotion erupted. Lupin and George had appeared. But... what was...

"Oh my god," I breathed quietly.

Harry rushed forward and grabbed George's legs, helping Lupin to transport the unconscious and bloody young man into the house. The rest of us followed close behind. Tears were flowing freely from my eyes as I collapsed on my knees next to the couch where George had been placed. In the new lantern light, we could all see the cause of the blood.

Where George's ear had once been was now a bloody, gaping hole. I trembled as the tears continued to flow down my cheeks.

"Wha-" Harry cried out as he caught sight of me there. I didn't even bother to turn and face him. If he didn't want me there, tough. He'd have to deal.

At least you haven't been injured, I thought bitterly, yelling at Harry in my head. It's all your goddamn fault! George lost a fucking ear protecting you, and who knows what's happened to the others! So you can just suck it up!

Before Harry could protest about my presence, Lupin grabbed him roughly, dragging him into the kitchen.

"What creature sat in the corner the first time that Harry Potter visited my office at Hogwarts?" he demanded, shaking Harry. "Answer me!"

"A- a grindylow in a tank, wasn't it?" stuttered Harry anxiously. Lupin let go of Harry and stumbled backwards.

Tearing my eyes away from that mess of drama, I focused on George, ignoring the rest of the conversation. George's face was so pale, so sickly. The blood marks dripping down onto his neck and cheek looked like trails of red tears streaming from his no longer existent ear.

Gently I ran my hand over George's orange flop of hair, my hand shaking.

"You'll be alright George," I whispered. "You'll be just fine."

Mrs. Weasley bent over her son, working on stopping the bleeding. Ginny was making trips back and forth to the kitchen, grabbing ointments and towels and disposing of the used ones. I felt vaguely as if I should be helping the effort, but I didn't know what I could do, so I just stayed where I was and held George's hand, even though he wasn't awake yet.

In the back of my realm of awareness, I heard some sort of commotion. I wondered absentmindedly if someone else had returned. Perhaps I should have been more eager to know, more anxious, but George's loss had made me numb. All my outer senses seemed to have been dulled, but as if to compensate, I could feel everything inside myself tenfold. The thumping of my heart sounded like drums, the throbbing in my head like hammers, and my horribly depressed state made me feel as though my heart was crumbling away into ash. The tear stains on my cheeks didn't show a smidgen of what I felt. Everything had been so difficult, so emotional, so painful for so long... I just couldn't take any more of it.

My parents... Draco... Dumbledore... and now one of my best friends was brutally injured and I had no way of knowing what had happened to the rest of my friends.

A part of me just gave up, allowing my emotions to dry up and wither away, and from this part of me stemmed my numbness. In contrast, another part of me... snapped, making my nerves vibrate with a strange intensity.

How is it possible to be so empty yet so high-strung and ready to do anything? I wondered with a bit of a maniacal, hazy interest. And I wasn't just ready to do anything... I needed to do something. I was filled with a reckless longing for trouble, for action, one like I'd never experienced before.

For the time being I stifled those feelings, knowing that now was not the time or place. I was needed where I was. George needed me. So would Fred, if he returned. Which he would.

But I could feel the tension building up inside of me, and I knew that someday soon, I would snap all the way, and heaven knows what would happen when I did.

Somehow... I didn't have the will to care. In fact, a disturbed smile came to my face at the mere thought.

But now wasn't the time for any of that. So I shoved it away, focusing my attention once again on the man lying on the couch in front of me. That's where I needed to be for now.