I do not own, or receive any benefits, from the Harry Potter properties.

Mosaic: Chapter 4: Badger

By Larry Huss

September 1, 1994

Draco Malfoy, Lord Black, knew he stuck out like a sore thumb among the incoming First Year students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Everyone was looking at him. He wasn't just having the normal jitters a nervous child would have at starting a new school; it was due to him being white-headed, thin, and head-and-shoulders taller than any of the other children waiting to get sorted into their respective Houses, their homes for the next seven years. He wondered if it had been as bad the first time.

He couldn't know, of course. All that had been lost when Voldemort (no Lord going to him) had tried to drain his soul and steal his life. Even the best Healers hadn't proved able to recover for him the years he had lost. The Muggle healers Father had taken him to hadn't been any better, even with their hypnotism and syrups. At least there was general agreement: Don't worry. Everything essential would come back; anything else was expendable anyway.

Now he had returned, to where he had lost the first twelve years of his life. Returned, to take back if not the memories, at least the skills he had been told he had once had. He hoped that he was ready for it… that Father, and Mother, Uncle Sirius, and Professor Snape had prepared him enough that he wouldn't disgrace the names Malfoy and Black. It had been Uncle Sirius and Professor Snape who had worked the hardest with him, Father and Mother always being so busy. His two tutors in all the magic arts.

How strange that the only thing that kept them from each other's throats was a dedication that Draco would not be crippled as a wizard forever.

He'd been persistent enough to find out that the disaster had somehow been his own fault. Yet when they were alone together, sometimes, Father would try to find a way to apologize for something to him, as if he had somehow been involved in the event. Father could never exactly say how, but it gnawed at him, no matter how Draco had tried to find the words to give him absolution.

He would be the best. Only if he was the best could he redeem whatever folly he had done that had caused his mind to wipe itself clean. He would work till he dropped, giving everything, just as Uncle Sirius had always dropped everything to come and help him when he had a problem. Mother and Father had given him as much of their distant affection as they knew how to, and every physical comfort. Professor Snape had produced cunning lessons and had curbed his own fierce temper as best he could to help Draco re-learn the basic lessons of magic and potions. But it had been Uncle Sirius who had seemed to always be there, even when his wife nagged him about neglecting his own children by spending so much time with Draco.

Now that could stop… tonight Draco would finally begin again. He'd discover his House, he'd discover his friends, and he'd discover his life. All the people who mattered to him… Father and Mother and Uncle and Professor Snape, and even Professor Lupin… they'd all said he'd find another family when he was sorted. He'd finally have brothers and sisters, even if their parents were different. Growing up (for the second time, sort of) had been a lonely thing in regard to having friends his own age. Crabbe and Goyle had memories of his first life, and never seemed to be able to understand that that was all gone now. Uncle Sirius's children were infant and toddler, impossible for Draco to really talk to. Now he would finally have the chance. If his Housemates to be didn't think him too old, and big, and too freakish.

The names were being called, and one by one the children went up to put on the Sorting Hat, and then sent on to their destinations. Adling… and Corwin… and Engle and Islinger… and now Malfoy. He felt that everyone in the great hall was looking at him as he went up. Probably because it was true. He lifted the hat up from the stool it sat on, and still standing he set it on his head.

The refreshing feeling of magic settled around him as everything outside his head disappeared. The feeling of another consciousness in there with him was unfamiliar, but somehow comforting.

"What shall we do with you?" said a voice that didn't alarm him.

"Send me to where I should go, send me to where I can make my family proud of me," Draco said into the velvety silence.

"Been here once, but you're not the same boy. Before it was like sliding into a river, now there are bits and pieces floating around, some old… some new. It would be hard for you to get back in the swing of things in your old House, you know."

"I can do it, I don't give up. If I can recover enough in less than two years to be ready to come here again, I can do whatever I must, I'm not scared of the hard things."

"Yes… I can see that. Impressive. Someone like that must be… Hufflepuff!"

As he walked down to the Hufflepuff table he could hear the murmuring, especially from the Slytherin area. Perhaps it was his imagination; he was feeling so self-conscious right then.

October 30, 1994

It was a bit cold, waiting out with the other Hufflepuff representatives to greet the visitors from the other schools, but the Prefects had made sure everyone had a good Warming Charm working on them so it wasn't bad. Looking around he saw Longbottom, and smiled. When he'd first started (his second time) he'd been warned that during his initial attendance he'd had some… difficulties with Longbottom, and as a hot-headed Gryff… retributions would surely be forthcoming.

Instead, one day when a bunch of Third Year Gryffs had been egging each other on to be the first to "show the ickle Firsties their place" it had been Longbottom and Weasley (well, Longbottom, mostly) who had sent them off with a flea in their ear. Actually a carpet of hungry fleas all over themselves that he'd promised wouldn't be Transfigured away until they learned how to be decent. Just that; decent. Two facing off a good half dozen, it was… very Longbottom from what Draco had heard about him.

The itching and scratching students, covered by a moving carpet of pests, backed down as much from their awe as the sheer discomfort, and as soon as Weasley and Longbottom had cured them of their plague the Thirds had fled. In the end it had added to the stories that went on about… Neville (he had said that he was just Neville). He'd even explained how he'd done it all so fast: "Basic Transfiguration; wool robe equals fleece goes to Fleas. Nothing complicated, Ron and me, and his brothers have been working on thinking like that, helps speed and all. So… get the basics down well, and it all comes easy.

"In you need help about anything, Draco, let me know. I've been on the bottom, too."

And then he'd walked off, with Weasley. No old grudges paid off, no family feud with the Weasley's coming up. Draco knew he'd seen the real Lions, the ones that counted.

It was only the Slytherins (not the Professor, of course) who seemed to want to give him a hard time for becoming a Badger. Crabbe and Goyle at least ignored him; they'd seen him during his difficult rebuilding at home, and left him alone. There were others: Parkinson, and Greengrass, and Nott in particular were nasty. It was if they felt he had betrayed them, somehow. Some old problems, no doubt, that he could no longer remember. He had no idea how to resolve it with them.

November 12, 1994

She was looking at him, as he sat in his usual seat in the Library. One of those Beauxbatons girls; all the 'Puff girls were gushing over how chic and sophisticated they were. This one… was looking at him with a fearful intensity. He tried to search his memory for what he had done… blank. There were a fair number of Hogwarts boys that had, frankly, made fools of themselves with the French girls… especially Miss Delacour… but Draco knew he hadn't been one of them, at least publically. What happens in your dreams was private business.

The brown-haired girl gave her head a decisive nod, and stood up and walked up to Draco with the stride of someone about to issue a challenge. He gulped, but a Malfoy had manners; he stood and gave a polite little nodding bow as she stopped in front of him.

"Draco Malfoy, Miss."

"I know you, Malfoy. You should know I don't forget."

Her voice implied that whatever she wasn't forgetting wasn't likely to be something pleasant. He felt pitiful having to fall back on his standard defense. On the other hand trying to fake his way through the coming conversation was likely to be somewhere between awkward and ludicrous. Or maybe dangerous from the look on her face; she looked… angry.

He stopped himself from drawling out his answer; imitating Father was unlikely to be something he could back up. "I'm sorry Miss, I really don't know you. I have to complement you on your English; I could swear you were born here."

"Don't give me that, Malfoy. And what are you doing with a Hufflepuff badge, anyway? Don't tell me the Snakes kicked you out. The way you talked you made it sound that your father owned the damned House."

'Merlin and Morganna,' he thought. 'She must be someone I ticked off in my last incarnation here. Did I drive her out of the country? Must say something.'

"I am a Hufflepuff, Miss. Sorted in this year when I came up as a First Year. I'd been here… before, but I've been very… sick. I don't remember much about things from before about two years ago. Who are you, Miss?"

"'Sick,' Malfoy? The story that got back to France didn't mention anyone getting brain fever. Just Longbottom wrestling a snake, and you being somehow involved." She plopped into an empty chair, with the oddest, funniest, look on her face; and seeing Draco still standing awkwardly gave an imperious gesture for him to resume his seat.

"Don't remember… anything from '91, '92?" she asked in a far more hesitant voice.

"Nothing before the end of nineteen-ninety-two. Well… language and walking and such. People have commented that I'm… different… from what I was like before. But I really can't remember anything." Then he took a little gulp of air, and performed the necessary social action. "Please accept-"

At that point she made a wide, sweeping gesture with her hand, stopping him in mid-grovel.

"If you don't remember it, it wasn't you and bygones are gone-by. It's just a shame; I've been saving up a good rant to throw in your face for years now. Polishing it up, working on the exact phrasing and rhythm. And here you go become all innocent on me. It's not fair Malfoy; not fair at all!"

Her face broke out in a sudden smile, that was too contagious for him to resist, and he laughed before he twisted his head around to see if Madame Pince had hear any of this and would be hustling over to thrust them into the outer darkness (the corridor outside needing some recharging of its illumination spells). No, she was evidently somewhere deep in the stacks of magic books, where rumors were that she met strange and mysterious entities who were also in the Magical Library business. Probably a joke… probably.

"Granger," she said, "Hermione Granger, Fourth Year equivalent at Beauxbatons. I'd originally-"

It was at that point that Draco couldn't resist breaking into someone's statement: "Granger! The Troll and the Girl! It's true then! You… you fought a Troll!"

"Not very well, or long."

"Maybe not, but people are still talking about it. They say that you had to be carried out in a bucket because every bone in your body was broken up! And-"At that point he noticed the slightly pained look on her face. Hearing about how a Troll had broken every bone in your body probably didn't bring back that many good memories.

Seeing from his face how his spirits had fallen she reached out and gently squeezed his arm.

"Not so bad, but I didn't walk for months, not without pain for a year. All my teeth are new grown, and… not a bucket, but certainly a stretcher and a wheelchair and crutches for a while. Not as bad, maybe, as you losing yourself… but the nightmares still come, sometimes."

Nightmares; Draco could sympathize with that, well enough:

"Mine are… I'm a sort of ghost that not even the ghosts sense. Floating… empty… all grey in the all-grey world. And cold, very cold. After one of them, when I wake up, I want to punch something just so that I can be sure that I can feel something again."

The girl's hand squeezed him again, just a little bit. Whatever grudge she had held about Draco Malfoy-Slytherin was settled now, and she felt only companionship for Draco Malfoy-Hufflepuff. Draco wondered if the old him would have rejected that; from everything he'd been able to piece together since he'd come back, he rather imagined that Old Draco was something of a snobbish git.

November 24, 1994

Draco had just finished applying a Warming Charm to one of his Housemates when the first Contestant walked out onto the floor of the arena that had been specially prepared for the Tournament. He'd spent a lot of time and effort in learning that relatively advanced charm, but that night when the visitors had arrived had convinced him that Hogwarts in winter was well worth the effort. The respect the effort had garnered him had confirmed his judgment, not to mention the lack of freezing toes after sitting at the workbenches for a full double-session of Potions down in the dungeons.

Some of his neighbors had begun to complain that the girl down below was being boring in her slow and cautious approach, but to Draco it was more like the first steps of a graceful dance, just no one but her could hear the music. When she began to gently stroke the Dragon's chin he actually giggled, it was so right!

And then the attack. That horrid and evil attack. When the beast suddenly grabbed the girl Draco had flinched, until he saw where she had been deposited, unharmed. That was right, that was how things should be! The Dragon knew the Dance, how could anyone dare disrupt it?

December 27, 1994

The Family was all together for the day. Mother and Father and Uncle Sirius and Aunt Brigid and the Tonks, and… just everybody. Counting the children (but not the House-elves, of course) there were eleven, maybe add a half also… Aunt Brigid was expecting again.

This year he had eaten at the main table; as a Hogwarts student he was expected to be able to handle adult manners and adult conversation. Not that anyone asked his opinion about much, but it was a big change from the previous years when he was seated separately with Deidre (little Lizzie still being in the bottle and nap stage) and was expected to make conversation with a three year old.

After dinner, as Draco might have expected, the subject of Sortings came up. He knew that Mother and Father had been disappointed at where he had ended up (after his first start had begun so promisingly in Slytherin); even Uncle Sirius had evidently had abandoned any hopes that he'd managed to make a Malfoy a Gryffindor (fat chance of that!). Eventually the subject of the Sorting Hat came up, and how it was the oldest of the still functioning talking artifacts of Wizarding (or Muggle) Britain. Even the Stone of Scone no longer voiced its opinion of the bum that sat above it, and for the Lia Fa'il… well, the less said the better, the way that poor thing had been abused.

From there the conversation had, naturally enough, gone to what the Hat had told each of the others about which House they would be going to, except Aunt Brigid who had been at Beauxbatons.

Uncle Ted (Ravenclaw) remembered with perfect clarity that he'd bombarded the Hat with questions when he tried it on, and it had sent him to the Eagles just to finish the interview and get some peace and quiet.

Father said that as soon as the Hat was on his head it just muttered "Typical Malfoy…Slytherin you go boy!" And the tone hadn't been all that enthusiastic, either.

Mother and Aunt Andromeda (Slytherins) both mentioned long arguments, but not what they had been about.

Uncle Sirius said he had still been just entering his angsty rebel phase then, and becoming a Gryffindor was practically obligatory.

Professor Snape had to be cajoled by the whole bunch to finally admit that while he'd been under the hat he'd tried to argue it into sending him to the House his best friend had gone to. Finally all his arguments had convinced it that at the very least he wasn't a Ravenclaw after all, and it said anyone who could twist logic and reason like that had a mind as convoluted as a Slytherin. Draco got the feeling, though, that the Professor hadn't been arguing to go into the House of the Snake, just that the Hat had decided to end the conversation by fiat.

Professor Lupin said the Hat found him boring (Professor Snape had snorted at that), and sent him to Gryffindor because aside from Uncle Sirius no one else had been assigned there yet that year.

Dora Tonks (everyone was so proud of Cousin Dora; she'd just made Auror earlier that year), had been a Puff, because the Hat had said that as a Metamorphmagus she was never going to fit into the narrow specializations of the other Houses. Draco had thought that was interesting. The Hat thought the other Houses were limited in their range.

Finally it was Draco's turn (he wondered if they'd had Dora go just in front of him so he wouldn't be embarrassed not being from one of the more spectacular Houses).

"It was just meandering along, saying I wasn't like I'd been the first time, when it was easy. I finally told it I wasn't afraid of hard work, it said that that much determination was impressive, so it sent me to Hufflepuff. Of course I meant that I could handle the work of becoming a Slytherin again, but… you know… it is the Hat!"

The story went over very well, even with Mother and Father. By the time the Yule Dinner broke up for the night Draco was just the slightest bit drunk (Uncle Sirius had been slipping him real wine, whenever Mother or Aunt Brigid weren't looking) and very happy. No little dustups between Snape and Uncle Sirius, not a sneer in the whole evening between the Pure-Bloods and the Muggleborn or Half-Bloods. Aunt Brigid had announced that the next one had been tested, and Uncle Sirius would be having a boy to spoil this time around. A fine evening; perhaps even a best evening. It almost deserved a star.

When he was up in his room, even before he changed for the night, Draco called up the Calendar. It occupied an entire wall of the room when it was expanded, all the furniture and other things just shrunken and stored away until the Calendar was made into a little postcard-sized thing again. It was the story of Draco's life, in dates and little notes… and a few stars.

There, at the beginning, June 5, 1980 was the first notation, and star 'Draco born'. There, on March 17th, 1982 was the note 'Draco's first Accidental Magic'. His first step was only worth a note, but his first first Accidental Magic was properly recorded. The next star (but hardly note) Mother had put on the Calendar had been his Hogwarts letter.

There, on December 3, 1992, was the note of his death: 'Draco hurt, wits scattered'. The scores of brief notes about visiting Healers and Doctors followed. All just a long record of pain and frustration; until another date with a star.

'July 31, 1993, Draco's first Accidental Magic'. It was the day he had finally became fully alive again.

Further over was the starred entry for his new Hogwarts letter, notes for his entry and sorting. One for his first detention earlier that year (with a star he had put on himself. Everything about the event, but the actual punishment, had been rewarding). Now, Draco put in a new entry, in the box for December 27, 1994: 'First Adult Full Family Dinner. Everybody wonderful.' Yes, it deserved a star.

February 23, 1995

Picking at a scab neurotically, probing with your tongue where a tooth hadn't been regrown yet; there are some basically irritating things you just can't help doing. For Draco Malfoy it was, lately, visiting the seventh floor of the Castle, heading left from the main staircase, and going past the tapestry of a wizard and Trolls doing ballet. He didn't know why he was called to go up there; it didn't have a window with a good view and the tapestry was mediocre compared to some of the things Draco knew were back at his home. To make some sort of use of the occasional compulsion, he'd taken to going up the staircases at a run, so he could at least say to himself it was good exercise. The location was infrequently enough used that at least no one ever questioned him about what he was doing in such a hurry.

That's why he was surprised at finding someone pacing back and forth at his usual useless spot, and muttering something in an increasingly angry tone. Evidently another aficionado of the dark, obscure, and dull. Or else an aficionado of Troll ballet that was frustrated that there wasn't any scheduling information on the tapestry. But that would have been… hilarious. And Draco never had much in the way of happy thoughts when he came up this way.

The boy sounded funny though, or at least Draco thought so until he got closer and realized the angry words were in French. Luckily, Mother had insisted that her son learn the language of the Malfoys' long-ago homeland, and also the international language of Wizarding diplomacy. Draco was about to use that same language to offer directions to this obviously lost visitor who had come to see the next trial of the Tournament when the Door appeared.

'Door', because "door" would simply did not do to convey the high-arched, double-valved, iron-bound and decorated dark, oaken thing. It creaked open, invitingly, just a little. Friendly-like. Draco took a sensible step backward. The stranger gave a grunt of pleasure and reached forth a hand to open the portal fully.

Slightly forgetting himself (he used English in speaking to the unexpected visitor) Draco called out.

"Wouldn't do that if I were you!"

Uncomfortably quick, the stranger turned, wand out and actually glowing.

"Why not?" he rasped out, also in English.

"It's idiotic to just charge off into a place you've never seen before? That suddenly appears when you don't expect it, and if something happens nobody will ever know to come and collect your bones for decent burial?" Draco asked in his most reasonable tones. It was obvious that someone here had to lower the tension level.

The other laughed. "Yes, therefore I am the luckiest man alive who hasn't taken a potion, for here you are, ready and able to accompany me and provide any needed assistance or serve as a distraction, as the case may be! Me? I am Henri Delacour, a fortunate guest at your wonderful castle, and, as you can tell, a hunter of the hidden and obscure."

"Draco Malfoy here. Safe and sane, voice of common sense and decent caution. And someone who can honestly tell you that it is certainly not safe to just rush into a room in Hogwarts, jump blindly onto a stairwell, or to trust the candies the Weasley twins give out. Especially the last."

"So I have been, warned, before. By someone whom I trust implicitly.

"Mr. Malfoy, I appreciate your concern, your rational apprehension, and your great courtesy. In fact, upon reflection I have come to agree. Perhaps you might do me the further kindness of going and requesting someone from one of the more enterprising Houses of Hogwarts, perhaps Mr. Longbottom, whom I have come to know of as a man of energy and decision, to accompany me? I have no doubts, after seeing the Hufflepuff badge on your robes, that you would perform that mundane task with great relish. I will stay here to make sure the door does not seal and conceal itself again."

His face growing red, and feeling himself get hot, Draco snarled out, "Lead on, you weaseling bastard. And you're not as subtle as you think you are, either."

Delacour merely smiled wider, and opened up the door completely.

It was a cavernous place; dusty, dim lit at the entrance, and dingier as it receded into the distance. Piles of things were stacked up with pathways between them, with a number of significantly larger ones as isolated islands. Mounds of rags, taller than Hagrid. A nested collection of chamber pots, many cracked, but at least the only odor of the place was that of dust and neglect. Draco's usual feeling of depression and apprehension were stronger now than he had ever had in the corridor outside. Lovely.

Delacour was slowly twisting his head back and forth, his eyes wide and his wand up to a guard position. Draco took that as a hint that he should take his own advice, and drew his wand. He prepared himself mentally to use one of the more aggressive spells Uncle Sirius had been teaching him over the summer: Depulso, the banishing charm.

The empty tooth-socket feeling, the 'there's something on the tip of my tongue' feeling, became stronger. His gaze was inevitably drawn to a crude statue, with a far from crude piece of jewelry perched on its head. The silver of its webbed structure was tarnished, but the gems set into it, especially the huge sapphire at the center of the two arching wings, were… pulsing with power.

There wasn't any doubt of it. Power was radiating from the tiara. He'd never seen it before, and yet Draco knew everything important about it. Strength, knowledge, betrayal, evil. He had not a bit of doubt, and his mind began to pull up the Sectumsempra cutting curse Professor Snape had shown him. At this range, at something unmoving… he should be able to hit it. Inside of his mind some part of him he didn't really notice was saying "Never again! Never!"

"I do not think there is anyone else here, Mr. Malfoy. You need not growl so threateningly… ah, I see; you also have had some knowledge of His works, I think."

"Huh? Delacour, I don't understand you. I've never seen anything like it before, but that thing is just wrong. We should break it, right now. Whose works? You've seen other things like that?"

"Yes. And as you said, they are all wrong."

Rather than pick the crown up directly, Delacour Transfigured one of the many foxed and dog-eared books piled up in stacks into a nondescript box. As he was doing that, Draco, so as not to let the honour of the school down, gently spelled the artifact through the air and plopped it down into the cardboard container, just as Delacour had finished it decorated to his pleasing.

"I'll escort you to the Headmistress's Office, if you'd like," Draco said.

Delacour replied: "That would be most kind. I prefer not to have this on hand for too long, and this place is something of a rat's maze."

"Well, we have no trouble remembering our way around!"

Delacour began a standard Shrinking Spell onto the box, only to have it ripped apart as the contained object refused to allow itself to be affected.

Draco sniggered, at the French boy's expression. "I expect that wasn't supposed to happen."

"As you said, Mr. Malfoy: it is wrong. I wonder… as we go to Headmistress McGonagall's office, would it be too much for you to fantasize that we are escorting a cursed object to our headquarters to be disposed of, and that to avoid being intercepted and relieved of it you are prepared to act, vigerously."

Draco smiled, chuckled, and replied, "I've always wanted to play that sort of game. Sectumsempra!" And with that he shattered a pile of chipped pottery with a slashing wand-stroke.

"Badgers are tough customers, aren't they, Mr. Malfoy?"

The tiara was suitably packaged (in a non-shrunken box), and they cautiously went downward and into the more populous areas of the castle. Delacour was holding the box under his arm with one hand around his wand, strolling with great nonchalance. Malfoy was next to him, chatting in a slightly daft manner as he couldn't seem to concentrate, what with trying to pierce each shadow they passed with his gaze to see if a menace was concealed. Both were relieved when they reached the Sanctum Sanctorum without incident.

While Delacour argued with increasing frustration (finally losing his English completely) with the gargoyle guarding the Head Mistresses' office (where apparently a pre-event meeting was going on among the Top Brass involved in the Tournament), Draco kept his back to a wall, and scanned up and down the corridor to make sure that their run of good luck wasn't interrupted. After several minutes of futile efforts on Delacour's part, Draco got an inspiration.

"Follow me!" he said, and took off along a well-remembered route downstairs toward the Hufflepuff basement. At the bottom he turned left instead of right, and caressing a portion of a large still-life of a bowl of fruit, led Henri Delacour into the Hogwarts Castle Kitchens.

"This is hardly the time for a snack!" Delacour barked out.

"An army marches on its legs; a late-night meeting advances on its coffee," Draco said.

As Draco waved over and began to talk to one of the House-elves working the smaller night shift, Delacour shook his head. "No, no. It is 'An army marches on its stomach!' That is the phrase!"

Draco looked up from a note he was scribbling, and protested: "How can anyone march on their own stomach. And if someone else does, that's pretty weird. It must be 'Marches on its legs…' only thing that makes sense. You go to Beauxbatons?" At Delacour's nod, Draco walked over to a silver serving tray loaded with the paraphernalia needed to accommodate a bit of a late night snack and a cup of Kona blend, if one were a nine foot plus tall lady, and slipped the note next to an oversized mug shaped like a porcelain demitasse cup.

"I've overheard Father say that McGonagall prefers to use her own stash of Ogden's for after dinner meetings; complains that coffee keeps her awake. So to get a message in, we have to go through someone who'll use the Kitchen's enchanted coffee pots. From the size of the cup, I expect it's for your Headmistress?"

Delacour nodded.

"Good," Draco said. "That Karkaroff fellow… something's off about him.

"Elf, please deliver this fresh pot to the meeting in the Headmistress's Office. Make sure Madame…"

"Maxime."

"Maxime gets the note, and no one else. Thank you; that will be all."

Only very slightly sooner said than done.

"Mother always says, it never hurts to be polite." A thoughtful look passed over Draco's face.

"And the Miss Delacour who is competing tomorrow…?"

"Is my dear, older sister, Fleur.

"You have displayed considerable finesse, Mr. Malfoy. My congratulations. I had become completely caught up in the moment, and lost sight of my objectives. A great flaw of mine, and I fear far from the only one."

Though they talked for over a half-hour after the House-elf returned with assurances that the errand had been completed, only one thing from that period really struck a note with Draco. After he asked, hesitantly, exactly what they really had in the box, Delacour cocked his head a bit, was silent for a second, and then smiled as he remembered the exact right thing to say.

"Mr. Malfoy, what we have brought with us is called 'Evil In A Can'."

The few House-elves on duty, with their usual preternaturally sharp hearing, kept as great a distance as they could from the two boys and their package after that, until the two Headmistresses, sans Karkaroff, appeared in the Kitchen Floo fireplace and escorted their students to McGonagall's office.

February 24, 1995

The few who were keeping track during that hectic day noticed bemusedly that Hufflepuff had somehow accumulated a hundred and fifty points the evening before. There was no explanation for it at breakfast; just that the total was there, and not even Professor Snape protested the great leap forward for the 'Puff total that left his Snakes in second place in the standings.

Draco was in the Great Hall, with the rest of the students, watching the Underwater Rescue Contest on the series of large mirrors that had been set up. Each was mated with one that was either affixed to a contestant, overseeing the whole Black Lake the contest was being held in, or keeping an eye on where the Treasures (a different one for each school) was being guarded by merfolk. What one saw, the other showed.

Draco had heard a rumor that someone in the Ministry had wanted to take a hostage from each of the Champions and put them down there to be rescued. Honestly, not even the Ministry would be that stupid.

Due to the first Contest, Miss Delacour was first in the water, using a Bubblehead Charm. Instead of the minimalist suit that so many had wanted to see her wear, she was covered in some sort of completely covering black thing. It was skin-tight, though. Those who wanted eye-candy had to be content with watching Cedric Diggory (a 'Puff!) in something called a 'Speedo' his father had got for him from some secret source (Bubblehead Charm also), and Krum, who basically wore an elastic band to keep his wand in place. And damn near nothing else. The reaction from the drooling girls when he Transfigured half his body into that of a shark was priceless!

Despite Delacour's head-start, it was Krum who took home the honours this time. Still, the way things were being handicapped, for the last Contest there wouldn't be very much of any advantage for anyone.

That evening, as Draco sat in an overstuffed chair reading and preparing for another of Professor Smith's quizzes, he overheard a few comments:

"Do you think it's about his family, the way the Frenchies came over to talk to Malfoy after the Contest?"

"Nah, Longbottom was with them; those two don't stand on their titles with anybody. Draco's all right, just a regular fella, like Neville is."

"If they keep the Triwizard up, who do you think will be going for us in the next one?"

And the conversation drifted off in other directions. But Draco couldn't help but feel a little smug. He was a regular fella, like Neville. He had got along with the Delacours, all of them, even the little girl. He felt at home, here in the Hufflepuff Commons. He decided; he liked being Draco Malfoy.