Many thanks to everyone that has submitted a review! I love hearing from you guys!

I hope this chapter reads okay, I added in a few scenes after the initial writing and I tried my best to integrate them as seamlessly as possible...but I miss things...

Chapter Eighteen: Signed in Blood

"I see it now," Ron breathed out airily and he leaned close to the candle burning on their table to inhale the scent of it, and Harry was laughing uncontrollably behind his hand, "yes, it's clear to me now, that all these strange dreams you've been having are the true cause of you falling out bed last night."

"The only solution," Seamus joined in from in front of them, "is obviously to put rails on the side of Harry's bed."

"Boys! What exactly have the leaves been telling you to put you in such good spirits?" Trelawney demanded outraged that the leaves would joke around with Harry, Ron and Seamus and leave her out.

"I'm not sure, Professor," Ron replied and his ears turned a bit pink as he held out his cup. If he turned much redder then he would compromise the plan, Harry stared at Ron trying to will the flush out of the other boy's face.

Professor Trelawney choked and stared down at the leaves in Ron's cup and then compared them to the leaves in Harry's. Harry felt more suffocated than he normally did in this class, and worried that they'd finally be found out—he couldn't help but wonder what detention with Trelawney would be like, and then decided that he'd be better off jumping from the astronomy tower than finding out the true answer.

"There always strange twists to the fates that are difficult to interpret," Trelawney said slowly, and it was clear that her brain was working double-time to try and figure out what all this could possibly mean.

Harry could only regret that the herbs she'd been inhaling hadn't done more to hinder her thought-process…

Because, well...Professor Trelawney was now convinced that Harry and Ron were carrying on a secret affair behind Hermione's back…of course, they were all ridiculously happy in spite of Harry's treachery.

This certainly made class a lot more interesting, and also had the benefit of getting Draco Malfoy to stop teasing Harry about passing out during the game…because he now had more interesting things to make fun of.

"I suppose I should have seen this coming," Hermione said in annoyance, her feet dragging and alternatively stomping as they made their way down to transfigurations, "but really, who could ever suspect that the love of their life would cheat on them?"

Ron snickered wildly and tripped over his own feet into a nearby suit of armor which caught him and carefully placed him back on his feet. Ron patted the armor's arm in thanks.

Hermione paid Ron no attention and she rolled her eyes and waved an arm around angrily, "I mean honestly! She's such a fraud I can't even think from how crazy all of this is!"

"Well, on the plus side," Harry commented, "at least no one will think it's actually true—they'll just act like it is because it's funnier that way…I mean," Harry pointed over to where Ron was shaking with laughter, "even Ron thinks it's funny!"

And even though Ron wouldn't notice, Hermione still glared at him just to keep her stance on the issue firm.

"Well," she huffed, "it's not! Our plan wasn't supposed to backfire on us!"

Harry shrugged, "Well, it's only November, we still have time to think up a new plan that will really show Trelawney that all her incense is melting her brain."

"Yeah," Hermione said, frowning, "I'll just have to head back to the library to look for new ideas after classes."

"That's the spirit Hermione," Harry said with a smile.

"Or maybe," Ron interjected with a sly grin that was more familiar coming from his twin brothers' faces, "Remember how Neville was saying he wanted to use the spell too?"

Hermione's head tilted in thought, and her eyes sparked a bit.

Harry was beginning to wonder if they should continue to encourage Hermione's mischievous side, she was way too good at making trouble. Course it'd be strange if she wasn't good at it.

Hermione was good at everything.

They were the first to arrive in Transfigurations and McGonagall looked up from her desk to greet them with a stern nod and the slightest hint of a smile.

Hermione pulled Harry over to a desk near the front, but by the window. A compromise if Harry had ever seen one, he thought with a smile. Ron plopped down in the chair closest to the window and his shoulders began shaking with laughter as he thought about what happened in Divinations. Hermione shook her head in amusement and pulled out her book and notes, Harry sat down next to Ron and crossed his arms to wait for the rest of the class to arrive.

The rest of the Gryffindors trailed in all at once, all laughing and joking and when they saw that Harry and Ron were sitting next to each other they became even louder.

"What's all this?" McGonagall demanded in surprise, "What on earth happened this time?"

Everyone began laughing harder, and Ron dropped his head to the desk because he wasn't able to support his head anymore.

McGonagall pinched the bridge of her nose and then looked between Harry and Hermione, as they were the only two who apparently weren't affected by the hysterical laughing curse that afflicted all of the third year Gryffindors.

Harry shrugged and Hermione leaned over to smack Ron so that he would stop laughing, she then looked back to McGonagall to see if her actions had somehow helped.

It took a long time and some very stern words from McGonagall before the rest of the class quieted down.

Then they were each given a small, silver jewelry box and instructed to make a Christmas wreath to help decorate the castle. It was a more complex assignment than they were normally given, and probably a bit of an end of term test.

Bored, Harry began poking his jewelry box to try and coax it into the proper shape and color. It was difficult to come up with a design for a wreath though, and Harry wasn't really too excited for his classwork to be put on display in the castle.

His jewelry box turned into a weird, sickly-green donut thing after a bit of prodding and Harry looked over to Hermione. She was working on each little pine needle so that each tiny detail was just right.

Harry didn't have time that.

And apparently neither did anyone else:

"I should have guessed from your behavior walking in that you would all be completely useless today," McGonagall griped as she supervised everyone's work, "but I never would have figured that you couldn't even concentrate on Christmas."

Ron swished his wand and a sprig of holly appeared in his hair and Harry snorted, waving his own wand to turn it back into hair. Ron's hand immediately jerked up to his head…figured that he couldn't feel his own magic backfiring on him, but he could feel Harry setting it straight again.

"Mr. Potter, that is the saddest wreath I've ever laid eyes on," McGonagall sighed forlornly. "What could possibly have wreaked your concentration so much?"

No one in class offered explanation, but Ron and several others did begin snickering uncontrollably much to McGonagall's chagrin…when she appeared fully distracted, Harry swirled his wand quickly and transfigured part of Ron's hair into a holly crown. Ron's eyes went wide at the touch of Harry's magic and his hands flew up to see what had happened to his hair. He yowled in pain as the holly pricked him and everyone in the class began laughing.

"Who did that?" McGonagall demanded…but she and Hermione had a lot in common, for example: she had a difficult time hiding her amusement.

"It won't come off!" Ron exclaimed in shock and he pulled roughly at his transfigured hair before complaining that it hurt.

"Of course it hurts, Mr. Weasley—it's your hair!"

Harry transfigured a little bow onto his droopy wreath, and prodded it with his wand for a few seconds to see if he could wake it up a little bit. Harry tilted his head and studied it for a few moments…eh…it might look a bit perkier now...but the difference was negligible.

Good enough, Harry decided with a shrug, and pushed the wreath away from him.

"But how do I turn it back?" Ron whined, and McGonagall looked like she was about to blow a gasket.

"Have you not paid any attention whatsoever—"

"Argh! It's stabbing me!" Ron cried and he pulled at his normal hair in pain and frustration. "Change it back!"

Hermione groaned and chided him, "Honestly, Ron, undoing transfigurations is—"

"Something you've ended up in the hospital wing over, because you couldn't do it yourself!" Ron retorted, "You can tell me what to do when you've had your hair attack you!"

Hermione's mouth tilted thoughtfully and she studied a lock of her large, uncontrollable hair…her expression made Harry wonder if she was familiar with the feeling.

"Enough! Thirty points from Gryffindor for harmfully transfiguring classmates, arguing, lack of basic transfiguration skills, and," McGonagall exclaimed and that put an end to all the noise in the classroom, "because the perpetrator of this prank refuses to take responsibility for their actions."

That was less than ten points taken for each transgression, a new record low.

Harry ducked his head to hide his grin and found himself staring at his terribly droopy wreath just in time to watch a few pine needles fall off onto his desk. Harry whipped his wand to reattach them to his wreath, and poked it once more to perk it up again.

"Mr. Potter, surely you can do better," McGonagall sighed as she walked behind him, and Harry poked his wreath once more and it turned a brighter shade of green. That didn't seem to be much of an improvement from the second sad sigh it garnered from McGonagall.

She continued her round around the classroom, and Harry merely attempted to look busy as he watched Ron struggle to round out his silver wreath which was currently a square bit of silvery pine needles. Before Ron could make any more progress, though, the chimes sounded and Harry quickly jumped to his feet and rushed toward the door—but he wasn't fast enough:

"Mr. Potter, remain after class."

Harry froze at the door, blocking everyone else's way out, and with a sigh Harry squared his shoulders and turned around. He stood at the blackboard and watched his classmates hurry out, as he attempted to control his composure and figure out what he would say…the room emptied before he managed to figure all that out.

"Yes, Professor McGonagall?" Harry asked softly before turning to look at her. He couldn't be sure what she was going to say, she was a difficult one to figure out: simultaneously too stern and too tolerant.

You never knew which McGonagall you were going to get.

"Wand, if you please," she replied, holding out her hand and Harry knew he'd been caught. It was likely she'd seen him perform the spell out of the corner of her eye and had been hoping that he'd fess up just because she'd asked.

Well, Harry hadn't and he still didn't plan to.

She was going to have to pry it from his wand, like she'd already decided to do. Frowning, but feeling overly stubborn, Harry reached into his robes and produced his wand. Then he strode forward, and dropped his wand into her open palm.

She watched his face, probably hoping that he'd just take credit for his misbehavior and save her the trouble of performing the spell. Harry crossed his arms and leaned against her desk, waiting, hoping he looked settled in and unwilling to move until she cast.

McGonagall sighed and produced her own wand from her sleeve—and really, just how did all the professors manage to do that? Was it a sticking spell? It had to be something! If Harry stuck his wand up his sleeve, it'd end up on the floor! What sorcery was this?

Harry figured that now was not the proper time to ask.

"Prior Incantato," McGonagall cast, her voice firm, and Harry knew then that he was going to be conversing with the too stern McGonagall this time and he was not likely to get away with anything.

From the tip of Harry's wand a miniature version of his wreath popped out, and it was followed by a sad little bow…then a circlet of holly leaves.

Satisfied, McGonagall ended the spell and looked up to Harry who bit his bottom lip and ducked his head.

"What was the problem with your wreath?" McGonagall demanded, though it was clear she meant to ask what was wrong with Harry, why had he purposefully messed up his wreath…

Harry decided to avoid the question and he petulantly replied, "It was wilting."

McGonagall didn't think that was a very good answer and made a soft noise in the back of her throat that Harry narrowly missed, because she stood up and it was almost covered by the noise her chair made while scraping on the stone floor.

"This is third time this month you've done something like this," McGonagall chided him.

"No, I don't think so," Harry countered, knowing the number was probably a lot higher than that. That meant that he could keep playing pranks on his classmates and McGonagall wouldn't be overly likely to catch him in the act.

McGonagall leveled him with a stern gaze, her eyes as intent on Harry as a dog's would be on a steak. Harry couldn't help but feel like he was going to be dinner for McGonagall, if he made one wrong move, "Did you skip the reading again?"

Harry squirmed a bit and wondered how he should answer because wreaths were a surprise lesson, not the planned one, but how was he supposed to know whether or not the reading related…but he'd also done a lot better than most of his classmates at making the wreath, so he could probably get away with saying he had done it and merely messed up.

"I'll take that as a no," McGonagall declared because apparently Harry had taken too long to answer…maybe he should start thinking on his feet more when he got into these situations.

Harry didn't respond, since it had worked so well the last time, and turned to stare out of the window. The sky was a dank grey and it looked like it was likely to start snowing soon enough, probably in the next few days.

"Sit down," McGonagall bade him, and Harry plopped down in the nearest chair. McGonagall retrieved something from her desk and strode up to him, placing a silver jewelry box before him—it looked like the one that she'd given Hermione to work on.

"Make a wreath," she commanded, and she held Harry's wand out to him in a gesture which would be threatening if she hadn't been holding the wand backwards.

Sighing Harry took the wand from her and began constructing a healthier looking wreath. He wanted to keep the foliage silver just to spite his head of house but decided against it, instead he made a near-perfect duplicate of the wreath he'd made in class, but with perkier foliage.

When he'd finished McGonagall looked angrier than she had to begin with and said, "You're forgetting something, Mr. Potter. A bit of holly wouldn't be remiss, I believe."

Harry flicked his wand and the wreath turned into a large wad of holly.

"Can I go now?"

McGonagall, shockingly, was frowning and didn't look very likely to let him go.

"So you didn't do the reading and you come to class perform poorly, hex your best friend, and manage to correct your mistakes within five minutes of class ending?" McGonagall demanded as she paced around Harry, before coming to a stop before him and placing her palms on the desk before him, "Mr. Potter, I will take fifty points and assign detention whenever one of your pranks manages to be of better quality thank your actual assignment. Do you understand? Class is more important, your grades take precedence."

Harry couldn't help but notice that her threat left out a punishment for his "pranks" it seemed she might be willing to turn a blind eye to those so long as his grades were good? No wonder everyone thought she favored Gryffindor.

"Yes, ma'am," Harry mumbled.

"Also, I assign those readings for a reason," McGonagall continued, "remember that part of your grade is determined from written assignments, and I demand quality from those as well."

"Understood," Harry sighed trying to sound as demure as possible, "do I have permission to leave now, Professor?"

"Another twenty points from Gryffindor," McGonagall replied, upping the point count to fifty—probably to show that she was serious, "just so you know my word is good."

Looked like Harry had some reading to do.

"It could happen to anyone," Ron told Harry sympathetically. "It's not you, you know."

"Yeah, I know," Harry replied glumly and he chucked the broom that was probably older than he was back into the school's broom shed.

Even Harry was not good enough at quidditch to make up for a crappy broom.

Harry was only as good as his broom.

"Maybe McGonagall will get you another broom," Ron suggested hopefully, "like she did in first year?"

I feel like she would have mentioned it by now," Harry despondently shook his head, "I think I'll have to replace it myself."

Ron swallowed and looked away, and Harry kicked the wall of the broom shed. Good broomsticks were expensive, and though Harry could get one, he didn't think he should—he may not know much about money, but he knew he shouldn't spend twice as much as he did on school supplies in one go.

Harry may have to quit the quidditch team after all; there was no way he could compete using a school broom. Harry groaned and hit his forehead against the wall, shaking his head in misery. Harry had hoped that inviting Ron to watch practice would have helped somehow, but though Ron supported the worst team in all of quidditch history he wasn't going to lie about how terrible Harry was as a seeker now.

"Let's just forget about this and go up to the common room," Ron suggested, "play exploding snap or something—there's still time to figure out what to do. The next game isn't until next year, remember?"

"Yeah," Harry sighed, "something will work out."

They walked the rest of the way back to the common room in silence, and because Harry was so glum he nearly missed it, but even if he missed it right then he would have noticed eventually. It was that time of the year again, the merriest time of all. The sign-up list to remain at Hogwarts for the holiday had been posted. Hogwarts over the holidays, completely devoid of students and full of decorations, was an even more magical place than normal.

And yet…Harry frowned at the parchment and remembered back to the beginning of the semester when he'd hoped he have a family to spend the holidays with for once. Even if staying meant the possibility of spending more time with Snape, Harry would rather take his chances here than with the Dursleys.

Funny how things had a way of working out.

Honestly, Harry would probably be better off without a family at this point. He was sure of it, especially since his choices were between Snape and the Dursleys.

Frowning, Harry patted his pockets, but remembered that he was still in his quidditch uniform and would not have a quill—if he did he would know because it would have stabbed him several times during practice.

"Have a quill on you?" Harry asked Ron who shook his head and shrugged. Then Harry spotted Hermione, curled up on the couch, working on an essay, Harry dashed over to her and snatched Hermione's quill from her hand.

"Hey!" Hermione yelled in outrage, jumping up to her feet, "Bring that back here right now, Harry Potter!"

"In a second," Harry called back, and Harry quickly scribbled his name on the sign-up list. Harry then turned around only to slam into Ron, who shoved him back into the wall and in turn took the quill from Harry. Ron wrote his name under Harry's.

"Oi!" George exclaimed—Harry could tell who it was because they hadn't changed out of their quidditch jerseys, Fred had his recently replaced while George's was still ratty and not-quite-maroon-anymore. "Mum said we all had to go home this year!"

"Too late I already signed up to stay!" Ron yelled back, and threw in a rude gesture to drive the point home.

"S'not like you signed in blood," Fred hollered back, and Ron put his hands on his hips in a manner that was eerily reminiscent of Mrs. Weasley and demanded, "How do you know what I do and don't do?!"

"Oh, the sign-up list is up?" Hermione interjected in surprise. It was impressive that she'd been in the common room the whole time, and hadn't noticed McGonagall come in and post it and announce its presence. Her homework must have been truly riveting to keep her from thinking about Christmas.

Hermione, excitedly, stepped onto and then jumped over the couch to come over and sign up to stay as well. "Mum and dad are going on some tedious trip this year," She informed Harry, with a bit of exasperation that her parents dare travel over the holidays, "won't work out well at all for my homework schedule."

"I know, terribly selfish of them," Harry said, mimicking her tone, "what on earth were they thinking!"

"The nerve of some people," Ron joined in, "why, some of that homework might even have been assigned!"

Harry snorted, spitting a bit, and slammed his hand over his mouth, laughing. Hermione was fighting down a smile, and trying to look as stern as a thirteen year old could manage to be and chided, "You two would understand why I did all the classwork if you actually tried to learn something!"

"I learn plenty," Ron retorted, "I learn stuff all the time, why just this morning I learned that bangers are excellent when paired with jam doughnuts!"

"That's true," Harry injected, "he made me try it—goes quite well."

Ron nodded smugly.

"Which would be fine and dandy if this were a culinary school," Hermione countered, and she tossed her bushy hair over her shoulder and declared haughtily, "Well, fine, I'm not going to help you on our potions assignment since you're both so good at learning."

"Good, I didn't want to do that assignment anyway!" Ron teased as he strode past Hermione and dashed upstairs. Harry couldn't help but be amused that Ron was taking Hermione's lack of help as a pass on homework for potions. He'd probably realize his mistake the night before and stay up till midnight trying to do it himself, and eventually Hermione would take pity on him and let him use her paper for reference.

Right now, though, Hermione was outraged and didn't look like she wanted to help anyone with homework ever again. She huffed, loudly, and crossed her arms, looking unimpressed before turning to Harry who grinned and shrugged before running after Ron.