(A/N: I disclaim two lines near the end of the chapter. One is paraphrased from C.S. Lewis, and the other from L. Frank Baum or whoever adapted his story for the screen.)
Chapter 6: Seeking and Hiding
A small bell rang over the door as Danger stepped inside the Pepper Pot. In keeping with the name, the walls had been painted a deep shade of gray, but pretty landscape paintings mounted here and there on the walls and a comfortable level of light kept the small restaurant from feeling dark or claustrophobic. She could hear voices in the back, and even as she located the double door which surely led to the kitchens, its left half swung wide open and Lee Jordan came hurrying towards her.
"Bonjour, madame!" he proclaimed in an outrageous French accent, making her grin. "Bienvenue, welcome, welcome to ze Pepp-air Pot! Do you 'ave a reserva-shawn?"
"I would pay money to see you welcome actual guests like that." Danger chuckled, looking around. "You've really done wonders with this place, all of you. How are things going?"
"Not too bad," said Lee, dropping the mannerisms. "We've had to modify the kitchen a good bit, the last people in here must've had house-elves doing all their cooking, but I think we've finally found everything that's likely to—"
A muffled boom from the kitchen cut off his words. "On second thoughts, never mind."
"All right in there?" Danger called, hurrying towards the swinging doors. "Anyone hurt?"
"Not really," said one of the Weasley twins—Fred, Danger identified as she pushed the door open, as George seemed likely to be the one enduring a virulent scolding at the hands of Crystal Huley. All of them were liberally festooned with chunks of vegetable, bits of beef, and drips of brown gravy, as was the kitchen.
"—and that," Crystal wound up, "is why you never put any kind of water, conjured or not, on a grease fire—oh, thank God." This was spoken in heartfelt tones as she looked over George's shoulder and spotted Danger. "Someone who knows what she's doing. Please tell me you've come to help in the kitchen, these three are only good for blowing things to pieces…"
"Go mind your shop, boys." Danger made a shooing motion towards the door. "We'll handle things here."
Both twins saluted, Fred with his left hand and George with his right. Lee, in the doorway, clicked his heels together and bowed across his arm. Then, in perfect unison, they turned in place and Disapparated.
"Men," said Crystal under her breath. "Not even having magic changes them."
"Would you really want it to?" Danger shook her head in amusement. "I'll get this cleaned up if you want to get out the fixings for another pot of stew, since I assume that's what you were trying to make. Yes?"
"French pot roast, actually, but that's much the same thing." Crystal opened the refrigerator and began to pull out a bag of carrots, a head of celery, half an onion, and a small paper sack which proved to contain mushrooms. "At least one of them had the good sense to cast a Chilling Charm on it as it blew, or else you'd be in here doing first aid for burns, not just cleaning. Would you mind?"
Danger obligingly swished her wand's tip across the cutting board Crystal was indicating with her chin, clearing it of food chunks and gravy stains, then returned to her search pattern through the room, seeking out and removing the rest of the mess. "You might be able to get a house-elf to help out around here, at least part-time," she commented. "They can go through a sink full of dishes like you wouldn't believe, which leaves you free to mind the cooking."
"That's not a bad idea. I'll ask the boys about it later, after they get done sulking because I scolded them for being idiots." Crystal grinned briefly. "It'll give them a way to feel like they're being useful again."
"So what else are you planning to have on the menu?" Danger unstuck the last bit of potato from the ceiling, flicked it into the bin, and went to wash her hands before joining Crystal at the cutting board. "Will it change every night, or will some dishes always be available?"
"We're thinking somewhere between the two. Have a few simple things which are always available, but change the details as things come in and out of season, and then a specialty menu which changes completely from week to week, using what's available, what's fresh. We don't want to be competing with the Leaky Cauldron, exactly—they were here first, and it's never wise to antagonize the route by which all your customers come—so we're trying for something a little fancier, the sort of place you go for a romantic night out, say."
"That makes a lot of sense. And there isn't any place like that on Diagon Alley at the moment, so you're filling a niche." Danger smiled. "Even if it is mostly just a front for the rest of what your merry band is up to."
"The best way to run a bluff is to really do what it looks like you're doing," Crystal returned. "And we really are trying to make a go of this place." She pretended to wipe her forehead. "Though it may run us into the ground eventually. Restaurant work is hard enough to keep up with, let alone everything else."
"Which is why you've got me on board now." Danger pushed her pile of chopped carrots to one side and started breaking ribs off the head of celery. "Assuming you want me."
"Are you kidding? Someone I don't have to watch every second to be sure he won't think it's funny to start charming ferrets into my flour container?" Crystal held out her hand. "Percy gets final say, of course, but for all of me, you're hired."
"Thank you." Danger shook the proffered hand. "Ferrets in the flour, you say? Now, with me, it was an exploding blender, though of course, Harry had given them the notion by relabeling the buttons…"
Harry would have welcomed an exploding blender at that precise moment, or anything else which might have delayed his reluctant journey into the depths of the castle.
If I were going to Quidditch practice, now, Peeves would be in my way the entire time, every shortcut would turn into a longcut, and I'd probably end up stumbling across a leftover Portkey from Flitwick's seventh year Charms class and getting dragged off to Zimbabwe. But no, I'm on my way to Saturday afternoon Occlumency lessons with Snape—Professor Snape—which means everything's conspiring to get me there ahead of time…
He supposed he should be grateful for that, as Snape was quite capable of deciding any lateness had been purposeful and taking action ranging from points off Gryffindor to detentions to refusing to teach Harry the skills of the mental arts at all.
And I do need to learn this. One of the places I used to be able to go to keep my mind safe from Voldemort, I can't anymore, and if I use the other one too much, he might find a way around the shields. I have to be able to defend against him, me, myself, or I can't know the things I'll need to know to win the war.
Trying to ignore the faint voice in the back of his head which wondered if he really wanted to know those things, Harry knocked on the door Snape's directions had indicated.
"Come," his professor's deep voice said curtly from within. Harry turned the knob, pushed open the door, and entered.
The walls of this room were alternately lined with shelves holding potion samples, potion ingredients, or pickled specimens of creatures both magical and Muggle, and with pictures such as Snape had hung on the walls in the Defense classroom, illustrating people being attacked by various forms of Dark magic. Snape himself was bent over a shallow stone basin set on a table on the other side of the room, his wand at his temple. As Harry watched, fine strands of silver, like glowing cobweb, followed the tip of Snape's wand as he drew it away from his skin. With a flick of his wrist, he deposited them in the basin, then straightened and turned to face Harry.
"Well, Potter," he said, curling his lip. "A day long postponed, though hardly one awaited with eagerness."
I'd rather be somewhere else too, sir, but you'll give me detention if I say that. Harry shut the door behind himself without comment, using the moment he faced away from Snape to vent a few of his feelings by baring his teeth as Wolf might have done, then turning back with his expression neutral once more. Steady on, Harry, you don't have to like it, you just have to do it…
"Occlumency, as no doubt your so-clever Pack-sister has told you, is the defending of one's mind against outside invasion by magical means." Snape had his eyes fixed firmly on Harry, as though they were boring through Harry's skull at this very moment. "Do you know what that invasion is called, and how it is most commonly accomplished?"
Harry took a slow breath through his nose, both to calm himself and to see what he could pick up about Snape's frame of mind. Distaste and disgust he was prepared for, weary acceptance as well, but not the undernote of… is that guilt? But why would he…
"I believe that would be Legilimency, Professor," he said, pulling himself back to the moment and Snape's question, filing the thought for later. "And it's most often done through… eye contact?"
"Eye contact?" Snape mocked Harry's querying tone. "Are you asking me, Potter, or am I asking you? I had expected some rudimentary level of knowledge from you, some semblance of effort towards learning about this topic, as it may someday be all which stands between your beloved Pack and a singularly unpleasant fate. But I suppose that was too much to hope for. Work does seem somehow alien to your nature."
"I beg your pardon, Professor," Harry said contritely. It wasn't easy. He was sure Snape would mistake the tightness in his voice for suppressed anger, but it was, in fact, suppressed laughter.
And here he goes again. Does he really believe that about me, even when he knows about Sanctuary, about the year, about the extra work I'm going to be putting in on top of all my new classes and Quidditch, and still running the DA? Or does he make himself believe it, because then it's easier for him to hate me?
"Is that what you plan to do, Potter, when you face the Dark Lord next? Beg his pardon? Ask for his mercy?" Snape looked down his nose at Harry, something he was, by nature, well-equipped to do. "I would recommend against it, for the very simple reason that he has none. Though if you fail to put in the required amount of practice on this skill I will be attempting to teach you over the next few weeks and months, that will indeed be your only recourse. Is that understood?"
"Yes, sir." Harry snapped his wrist, bringing his wand into his hand, and lifted it in a modified dueler's salute. It went against the grain with him to salute Snape for any reason, but it seemed to fit the moment, as well as preparing him for whatever was about to happen.
It would be just like him to hit me out of nowhere and claim he's trying to toughen me up, get me ready for what I might face… and the worst part is, he'd be right.
"Let us begin, then." Snape brought his own wand up to the ready. "You may fight back by whatever means seem best to you, though I warn you that as we progress, I will be dissuading you from using your wand or disrupting my Legilimency in any other physical way. You must, if you are ever to be a truly successful Occlumens, be able to repel an attack with nothing but the power of your mind."
Harry simply nodded, readying the image he'd discussed with the Pride. A maze, a maze like the one at the Triwizard, only made of glass, like Neenie's dream…
Hermione had let him use her pendants to go inside a fragment of that particular nightmare, so that it would be a real memory of his as well, not something he was trying to imagine. It had been more frightening than he had expected from her quick description, and he wondered idly what had happened within the dream to keep her from waking up shaken and terrified.
Probably she sculpted it into something she liked better—she can do that, as long as she knows it's a dream…
"Legilimens!" hissed Snape, and Harry felt a force like a battering ram strike into his mind, aimed at his memories. He thrust the memory of the glass maze into its way, widening and deepening it as he went, then imagined himself, the shimmering silver self he saw when he went walking, pulling back, rising above the invader, looking down on him, trapped in the shining tunnels below—
With a shattering crash, Snape broke free of the maze, but Harry was already pulling himself back into his body, raising his wand, forcing his lips to move—a memory tried to rise up and envelop him, a closed door and a shouting voice and helpless terror, but that was just a piece of a den-night story, it couldn't hurt him now—
Snape staggered back two paces, his wand torn from his hand. Harry snagged it on its way past, waited until his professor recovered his balance, and extended it to him, grip first.
"Not bad," said Snape, reclaiming his wand, a grudging note of approval in his voice. "A clever tactic, to use one of your own memories against me. But the Dark Lord is clever as well, and he will use your memories and their associations against you, finding your weaknesses and playing on them. You would do better to clear your mind and set aside your emotions, which will deny him entrance to your thoughts completely. Now, again." He raised his wand. "Legilimens!"
They battled back and forth for the remainder of the hour, surprisingly (to Harry's mind) evenly matched. He could usually manage to throw Snape out of his mind within a few moments of entry, though this grew harder as the hour went on and he began to get tired, but his score at keeping Snape out completely was considerably less than half the attempts.
Which means he now knows a few things about me I didn't want him to. It's mostly baby stuff, though. I think I blocked him out of anything really important…like me and Ginny…
He suppressed another snicker. Though that might get him hauling his greasy tail out of my head pretty damn fast!
"For a rank beginner, you acquitted yourself creditably today, Potter," said Snape, sitting down behind his desk. "Do not, however, believe that this removes the necessity for you to practice. Every night, before you go to sleep, focus on clearing your mind. Set aside all emotions, all worries, everything that troubles or disturbs you, for those are pathways into your innermost thoughts which can and will be exploited by the Dark Lord."
"I'm afraid I don't quite understand that, sir." Harry injected a tiny amount of Hermione's eagerness to learn into his tone. "Isn't it like that old story where you can have all the gold you want if you can just keep from thinking of a red erumpent for one minute? As soon as you try not to think of it, you're thinking of it anyway."
"As with nonverbal spells, Potter, the answer lies in self-control." Snape used his wand to scoop up the silver contents of the stone basin, which Harry could now see was either Dumbledore's Pensieve or one exactly like it, and swirled them three times in the air, making them vanish. "When you are in sufficient control of your thought processes to cast a spell without speaking the incantation aloud, you will also find yourself more able to think, at need, of nothing at all."
Which doesn't help me now, but clearly he thinks that ought to be enough for me, and arguing isn't going to change his mind. "Yes, Professor." Harry returned his wand to its arm holster. "Wednesday evening for the next session, I think you said, sir?"
"I did." Snape flipped his hand at the door. "You may go."
Harry went, but paused in the doorway to look back. Snape was leaning back in his chair, eyes closed, an expression of weariness on his face. Automatically, Harry sniffed, and took a quick step out into the hall so as not to cough aloud in surprise.
He's angry. Angry and sad and guilty again, all at the same time. And not at me, either—at himself.
What's in those memories he was putting in the Pensieve, the memories he doesn't want me to see?
Harry had many opportunities to ponder that question over the next few weeks, but though he continued to improve his Occlumency by painful bits and snatches, even once catching Snape at a vulnerable moment and getting a tantalizing peek at a fragmentary memory which seemed to involve Dumbledore and a stormy night, it was clear that Snape had requested the use of the Pensieve for precisely this reason. If the memories were not in his head (or rather, were there only as the knowledge that they had happened, rather like Harry's own memories of his parents' visit with him the summer before or Padfoot's good memories while he'd been in Azkaban), Harry couldn't see them, no matter how lucky he got.
"Which is all it's been, really," he told the Pride some weeks later as a storm lashed the windows of Gryffindor Tower. "Luck, and a little bit of skill. Rather like—"
"Snap," Draco said, slapping down his hand and dodging the resultant explosion with the ease of long practice. "You were saying, Harry?"
"I think you finished his sentence for him," said Luna, blowing on the ashes of the cards to start the reassembly spell. "But it will get to be more skill and less luck as you keep working on it, Harry. That's how these things are."
"I'm still never going to be really good at it." Harry punched the back of his chair moodily. "How can you think of nothing? It doesn't make sense."
"Oh, I don't know," said Ginny, pretending to yawn and using her covering hand to block the fact that she was pointing at Ron. "We might have an expert on thinking of nothing somewhere around here."
Ron tapped Hermione on the shoulder. "Lean forward?" he requested. She did so, and he removed the cushion from behind her back, thwapped Ginny soundly upside the head with it, and returned it to its former place. "Thanks."
"It makes sense if you come at it sideways." Neville spoke absently as he sketched a diagram of a Venomous Tentacula seedling, labeling each part as he drew it. "Your memories are like a map of your mind. Voldemort could use any one of them to get to others, and eventually into the ones that are most important to you, the ones that can hurt you or help him. But if you never let him onto the map at all, if you keep him on its border, outside of everything…"
"Let him see, but never let him touch," Meghan added. "Shut him out with things he can't use. Like your fire, Harry. Isn't that what Moony was having you do?"
"Yeah, he was. Thanks, Pearl, I did forget about that." Harry blew into the cupped palms of his hands, summoning a globe of flame, which he swirled three times around a finger and regarded complacently. "I'm used to doing this by now. It doesn't bother me anymore. But someone who doesn't have my power, who's used to thinking of fire as dangerous, he'd jump back, he'd shy away, and there's my chance to slam the doors shut and hold him off."
"Ice might be better." Draco scooped up the reconstituted Exploding Snap cards and began to shuffle them. "A wall of ice, like a glacier. It's thick and strong and impenetrable, and even if you can see through it a little, everything's impossibly distorted. He might be able to tell you're in there, but he couldn't see anything clearly enough to use it. With a firewall, he might be able to move some of it aside or blow it out long enough to get a good look at something, and then you're back where you started."
Harry frowned. "I don't know. Having a wall of ice around my mind just feels too… cold, I guess. I'd never feel comfortable in my own head. I like fire, and I think it likes me back." He scraped the flames off his finger and molded them into a tiny phoenix shape, which flew across the table and around Luna's head once before dissipating. "But if ice works for you, Fox, go for it. Anybody else?"
"Rosebushes," Meghan said promptly, pointing at Neville. "Like Captain said downstairs, on our first night back. Briar roses, a great tall hedge of them, to guard the princess." She batted her eyelashes. "Me."
"I'll take her arms if you'll get her legs, Draco," said Hermione without looking up from her book. "Harry can do the tickling."
Meghan gasped theatrically and clung to Neville's arm. "Save me!"
"Nobody tickles my princess," Neville declared. Then his face turned wicked. "Except me."
The resulting shriek had everyone in the common room turning to look.
"I'd probably use clay," said Ginny when order had been restored and the original subject had been brought back up. "While it's still wet, before it's been fired, because then it absorbs anything that's thrown at it." She closed her hands around each other and made a sucking noise. "Pulls it in, and uses it to get stronger."
"Dreams," said Luna, just as Hermione said, "Words." They paused and looked at each other, starting to smile.
"Because they can be anything," Hermione began.
"Anything at all." Luna beamed.
"And any path that someone tries to take…"
"Can become a completely different one…"
"Just because we say so!" they finished together.
Ron and Draco exchanged identical baffled looks and shrugs.
"You're up, Redwing," Harry said, rolling another sphere of fire across the backs of his fingers. "What would you use?"
"All right, this is going to sound odd, but just hear me out." Ron waved his hands in a wide circle. "I'd use air. But not just regular old air—moving air. Wind. It all looks the same from down here on the ground, but think about being up on a broom during a storm like this one." He pointed to the window, where rain lashed against the glass. "Now take away the broom. Imagine you can fly on your own."
"Because you can." Hermione bumped her shoulder against his. "But you have to use all your senses to do it, and all your concentration and thought. Anyone who tried to do it without your experience and your know-how would just be blown away, tossed around by the winds, and dumped on the ground again. And that's if they were lucky."
"The only problem is, if someone was a good flyer with a broom, they might still have a chance." Harry wove his hand up and down in the air, mimicking his twists and turns during a typical Quidditch match. "But then, all ours have some weakness. That's just the way of things. And speaking of flying…"
"How did I know," said Hermione with a weary sigh. "I'll be here when you're finished." Picking up her book again, she applied herself to it.
Ginny sniffed. "Some people can't appreciate the finer things in life. Slytherin for the first match again, right, Draco?"
"Right." Draco reached into his bag and pulled out a scroll, which he unrolled to reveal a careful scale drawing of the Quidditch pitch. A quick tap of his wand warmed the lines so Ron could see them, and four heads, two red, one black, one white-blond, bent over the plan.
Gryffindor Quidditch tryouts had left Harry blessing the forethought of Professor McGonagall in naming Draco, rather than himself, as team captain. Apparently the simple fact of his showing up was enough to attract a highly mixed crowd, including a batch of second years who could barely fly, a small group which had come without broomsticks, and a gaggle of exceptionally giggly Hufflepuffs. It would, he was sure, have been far worse had he been captain and therefore in charge of decisions.
Draco had disposed of things briskly, and they now had a new pair of Beaters to replace Fred and George—Ritchie Coote, whose weedy appearance would likely fool opposing teams into discounting him only to discover he aimed like a pro, and Jimmy Peakes, who might be just a third year but had nearly knocked Harry off his broom with a strongly-hit Bludger to the shoulder. Draco himself, Ginny, and Katie Bell would be the first-string Chasers, with Demelza Robbins, a particularly deft flyer from the year below Ginny's, as their first reserve, and much to Harry's surprise, Meghan's friend Natalie Macdonald as their second.
She may not look like much, but she's little and she's quick and she sticks on her broom like somebody glued her there. She might even be able to come in as Seeker if I get knocked out and Fox decides they can't spare Ginny from Chasing…
Ron was also back as Keeper, for which Harry gave devout thanks to whichever of the Founders had been watching over that particular set of trials. He strongly suspected Paul, as the Keeper who had gone before Ron, one Cormac McLaggen, had been a target worthy of the pranking talents of Gryffindor's only son.
Though come to think, it's probably Paul's doing we haven't run into him sooner. Even a Gryffindor of the "brute force" type isn't usually stupid enough to accept a bet that includes eating a pound of doxy eggs.
Whoever had been responsible, McLaggen had saved four of his five goals, then apparently lost all sense of direction and shot straight up in the air as Natalie approached the goal hoops, allowing her to fly directly to the center hoop, balance the Quaffle inside it, and then tap it delicately with one finger, toppling it through. The stands, now filled with students who had finished their Sunday breakfast, had roared with laughter, and McLaggen had grounded his broom looking ready to wring Natalie's neck, until Graham and Maya Pritchard, Selena Moon, Dean Thomas, and Lindsey Jordan had rushed the pitch to surround her, cheering, as she landed with the Quaffle under one arm.
Pride together, Pride forever. Harry grinned to himself. Even when the Pride isn't ours.
Ron had been laughing so hard he had trouble taking off on his Cleansweep Eleven, but that had apparently worked in his favor. Once he did get into the air, no trace of his usual pre-game nerves had remained, and he'd saved his five shots, one from each Chaser, cleanly, making Draco's decision an easy one.
I worried a bit about open trials, but with everyone being there and watching how we did, there'll be no way for accusations of nepotism, or Pride-ism, to come creeping up afterwards. We won our slots fairly. Harry watched his own sketched figure fly a loop around the Gryffindor goal hoops and dive to follow up what could have been a sighting of the Snitch. Sorry, Seeker wanna-bes, but I'm still the best…
"…and then we'll release the flying monkeys, which will make the Quaffle hard to hold onto because of all the poo, so be sure to use extra chalk beforehand," Draco finished. "Any questions?"
Harry blinked. "What?"
"Ah, he's finally back!" Draco gave Harry his most open, cheerful, and disarming smile. "Have a nice trip inside your head, brother of mine? Awful lot of empty space in there… hope you didn't get lost…"
"Very funny. How long were you talking nonsense?"
Draco pointed at Ron and Ginny. The former was holding a pillow over his mouth and had turned approximately the same color as his hair, while the latter had her face buried in the couch cushions and was drumming her feet helplessly against the arm. "Long enough for them to get like that."
Fuming, Harry turned to glare at Neville, Meghan, and Luna. Luna met his eyes with her usual smile of sweet unconcern. "Did you need something, Harry?" she inquired.
"Do you have anything I can use to make my brother grow up?"
"Some things, even magic can't do," Neville murmured, dipping his quill again.
A muffled, gleeful squeal erupted from the small, blanket-covered lump lying in the approximate location where Harry had last seen Meghan.
I love my Pack, Harry reminded himself firmly. I love my Pride. I do not want to kill them or even hurt them. Badly.
But I can't say I'd mind it if a certain few of them suffered a minor mischief one of these days…
Draco jogged down the first floor corridor, one hand on his bag to keep it from bouncing. He'd stayed after Ancient Runes to check on something with Professor Bab—because honestly, who's going to want to be called by their whole name when it's something as silly as that?—and in consequence was running late for dinner.
And I may not be able to put it away like Ron can, but I still get a bit peckish at this hour of the day, eh what?
Chuckling at his own posh mental accent, he rounded a corner and collided painfully with a suit of armor he was positive hadn't been there yesterday. The armor collapsed with a crash and a groan, and Peeves exploded from within it, knocking Draco backwards onto his rump. "Ah-ha!" the poltergeist bellowed. "The miniature Malfoy! Come to pester old Peevesie, have you?"
"Didn't even know you were there," said Draco wearily, getting up. "Honestly, didn't care. Would you mind—" He dodged as a vambrace clattered against the wall beside him. "Hey, stop that!"
"Shan't." Peeves stuck out his tongue, and a greave rose from the pile of armor to shoot towards Draco's chest. He dodged again, but it caught him on the arm, making him hiss in pain. "Mini-Malfoy must learn better manners than not to care about his precious Peeves, he must!"
"Why?" Draco retorted, turning so that Peeves was presented with his left shoulder and couldn't see him snapping his right wrist to bring his wand into his hand. Something in the back of his mind was trying to tell him that baiting Peeves wasn't a good idea, but the poltergeist's repeated use of his birth name was drowning it out. "You don't care about us except to harass us, why should we care about—" A pauldron came rocketing at him. He deflected it across the corridor with a quick Stunner. "—about you?"
"Well now!" Peeves leapt into the air, cackling. "Bitty Black has some spunk in him! And some sneakiness, too, to get his wand into his hand without my spotting him! Well done, Black boy, well done indeed!"
"Learned my proper name, have you?" Draco relaxed his grip on his wand slightly, but kept it in ready position. Peeves was known for pretending to break off his attacks to get students to lower their guard. "Why don't you just move along and we'll both pretend this never happened?"
"But bitty boy Black must listen first. Peeves has a song for him." Peeves rotated in the air, humming to himself until he found the pitch he wanted. "Ooooooh," he sang horribly off his own key.
Draco considered grabbing his bag and ducking back around the corner, but the first line of Peeves's song got his full attention.
"What is the moon's secret, the sweet little moon?
"Why didn't she love you in May or in June?
"What is she afraid of? What fills her with fear?
"Go ask her! Just ask her! She's close by, she's here!"
On the last two words, Peeves gestured to a nearby classroom door. It slammed open, and a tiny sniffling sob told Draco it was occupied.
No prizes for guessing who, either. A wave of cold anger rose over him, and he snapped his wand up to point directly at Peeves.
"Ictumusque," he said clearly and distinctly.
Peeves yelped and flinched as though he'd been struck. Then he yelped again, flinching in a different direction this time. And again… and again… and again…
Ha. Draco lowered his wand, feeling a rush of satisfaction. It works.
"Get lost," he said, pointing down the passage. "And from now on, leave my girl alone."
"Ooooh, you'll be sorry for this one, micro-Malfoy!" Peeves shouted, clutching his behind as he bounced away. "You just wait and see… you'll be sorryyyy…"
"Sorry I didn't do that before, maybe." Grinning, Draco put his wand away and turned to face the classroom. Luna stood in the doorway, blotting her face on her sleeve.
"Don't," he said, catching her hand in mid-motion. "The robes are too rough, you'll hurt your skin—here, use this." With his other hand, he fumbled in his pocket until he found a tissue. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Luna said in a small voice, accepting the tissue. "Nothing important, I mean."
"If it's making you cry, it's important to me." Draco made as if to release her hand, but Luna tightened her grip. "What is it?"
"Just—I was thinking about Mrs. Danger's letter, the one you showed us, the one with the story in it." Luna swallowed. "I heard a story once that I think is about some of the people in the one Mr. Padfoot wrote down, later on in their lives. The little girl with red hair and her father, and the boy she met in the forest."
"We think her father's Alex," Draco reminded her. "All the more so because of that ginger lady I've seen in his portrait down in the Den a couple times. She could be the girl's mother—" He stopped as Luna made a soft sound. "What is it?"
"She is," Luna said under her breath. "She is, and someone else's as well. And that someone else is what ruined everything."
"How do you mean?" Draco frowned. "She and Alex had another kid, and that somehow wrecked their lives?"
"It wasn't their fault, though." Luna stepped closer to him, looking up at him earnestly. "You have to remember that, Draco. None of what happened was their fault. It was Salazar Slytherin, with all his hatred and his anger at his son, for betraying everything he stood for, siding with 'the freaks' against his own family." The quotes could not have been clearer had she added them with her wand. "I don't know that it was him, not for certain, I haven't Seen it, but it sounds like him. A horrible sort of tit for tat, a way for him to make sure that Alex would know the same pain that Alex had caused him."
"What are you saying?" Draco bent to scoop up his bag, never letting his eyes leave Luna's face. "Slytherin did something to Alex, a punishment for marrying the wrong girl? You're right, it does fit what we know about him, but what is it you think he did?"
Luna drew a deep breath. "I think—" she began.
"Around here they are, Mr. Filch, sir!" Peeves's screeching voice broke in. "Just around this corner, canoodling in the classrooms!"
Draco swore. "Run," he said shortly, suiting the action to the word and dragging Luna after him. "We have to hide, if Filch catches us we'll be in detention for a week, never mind that we were just talking, and technically it's not wrong for students to be in classrooms even when they're not in class—ah-ha!" He pulled up short as they rounded another corner. "This looks promising!"
"I don't know." Luna eyed the tall cabinet, with its elaborate decorations in black and gold paint, doubtfully. "There's a lot of magic around it."
"Luna, this is Hogwarts. There's a lot of magic around everything." Draco tried not to roll his eyes, but some of the temptation must have escaped into his voice, because Luna started and looked at him reproachfully. "Now, do you want that week's worth of detentions for nothing worse than talking, or are we going to hide?"
"Well." Luna hurried past him and opened the cabinet's doors. "When you put it that way."
Draco waited for her to step up into the cabinet's interior, then followed her in, pressing himself against the opposite wall and pulling the doors most of the way closed but holding them there instead of latching them.
Because I know that it is very foolish to shut oneself into any wardrobe. He grinned in the darkness. Or anything that looks like one, either.
"Well, Peeves?" Filch's raspy voice demanded from a few feet away. "Where are they?"
"They were just here, Mr. Filch, sir." Peeves's tones practically dripped respect. "They must've run away when they heard us coming, Mr. Filch, sir. Poor Mr. Filch, sir, cheated of his rightful prey…"
"Hmph," Filch snorted. "See if I ever listen to you again."
"But what about this?" Peeves asked, and Draco felt their hiding place shake back and forth. "They couldn't be a-hiding in here, could they, Mr. Filch, sir?"
"What, in a Vanishing Cabinet?" Filch laughed wheezily. "Even students wouldn't be that stupid!"
Vanishing Cabinet? Draco looked down at himself, then across at Luna, flattened against the other wall. Both of them were still entirely visible. How does it—
"Of course not, Mr. Filch, sir." Peeves rattled the cabinet again. "Not when everybody knows, when you put things into a Vanishing Cabinet and then you close the doors—like so—"
Draco had just time to yank his hands back and snatch Luna into an embrace before Peeves threw his whole weight against the doors.
There was a brief instant in which the world turned inside out, upside down, and spun three ways at once. Then he stood once more in the dim light afforded by a cabinet door which hung a slit ajar, still clutching Luna against himself like his only hope of sanity.
Which doesn't speak well for my chances overall.
"All right?" he whispered into her ear.
"Mm-hmm," she answered into his chest. Her eyes, wide and interested as ever, tracked around the interior of the cabinet as he eased her back against his arms. "That wasn't very pleasant. Do you suppose that's what it's like for things we Vanish too?"
"I hope not." Draco sniffed cautiously at the air coming into their small space. Dust, gold, more dust, potion residue, still more dust. No chalk, no cat fur, and definitely no food. "But there's one thing I'm pretty sure about."
Danger would smack me for this, but then again, Danger's not here. More's the pity.
"Luna…" Draco pointed a thumb at the sliver of light. "I have a feeling we're not at Hogwarts anymore."
(A/N: I was going to have Ron and Hermione doing this, but it was pointed out to me that it would be funnier, in comparison with canon, to have it be Draco and Luna. So, here they are!
A Widow in Waiting update: I have heard from the lawyers. They want to have a "brief discussion" sometime next week. Brief could mean good news or it could mean bad news, so everybody please send prayers and hopeful thoughts my way?
Don't forget to keep up with the Facebook page, facebook (dot) com (slash) annebwalsh (dot) page, and you might want to go there directly—Facebook has switched over to a new method for deciding which posts get priority on people's news feeds. Guess which ones get the highest priority? If you said "the ones whose posters have paid Facebook the most money", you would be correct! So, since I am an impoverished author and do not have the money to make sure my posts get into everyone's news feeds, please have a look directly at my page every so often. I try to post a status every morning, but on update days there are a few more.
Further chapters in the continuing saga of the Dangerverse coming soon. Canon scholars should know where Draco and Luna are, but only I know what will happen to them next… encourage me to tell you soon by reading, enjoying, and reviewing!)