Written by March Madness, Beta-read by Maria Rosenfire
For a brief instant he considered resistance, and then one of the men raised up a pistol of his owned and trained it on Damien's face. Point blank. He stared down the cool steel barrel in utter despair, icy water swirling about his ankles as the other man yanked his sword from his hand, his knife from his belt, anything and everything that might be used aggressively from his person. If he had been stripped of his clothes in front of all these men, he could not possibly have felt more naked.
When True Night Falls, C. S. Friedman
Harry walked down the hall, pausing every so often to note some significant difference since the last time he'd been there. He seriously doubted that Sirius would appreciate the irony of the situation: in preparing a "special" room for the visiting Leonard Potter, the headmistress had placed the whole visiting company in the same apartments that had been used by the visiting school governors weeks before. Sirius would be very displeased to learn that he was, in all likelihood, sleeping in the same bed used by Lucius Malfoy.
'Very appropriate, nonetheless,' Harry noted with a slow satisfaction, as if he'd arranged it all himself. He, if no one else, appreciated the irony.
It was early morning, the peculiar time of day in which it was both too early and too late to get anything done. Still, Harry found himself sneaking back down the hall as he had just thirty minutes before, creeping like a thief to stand next to Leo's door and hear the soft, deep breathing of his younger brother.
He sighed and leaned weakly against the door, resisting the temptation to look inside to make sure that Leo was safe. It seemed unreal to have his brother so close after the months of separation. Those months had been the only time Leo had ever been more than a few rooms away in the boys' entire lives together. Having Leo back again made Harry realize just how desperately he had missed his younger brother.
'He had better be safe at home,' thought Harry darkly, letting his hands close into helpless fists at the remembrance that he'd never know for sure. 'They better watch him, make sure he doesn't do anything stupid--make sure no one gets close enough to do anything stupid.'
His watch lasted a few more minutes and then he crept away, walking back to his own room with a sort of aimless gait. He couldn't sleep--not with Leo so close after so long and without having talked with the boy yet--but he couldn't do anything, either, until Leo woke up. Which would still be hours from now.
Sighing again, Harry entered his own room--the same room Lucius Malfoy had invited him to stay in those first few nights on the French campus--and curled up on his bed, wrapping his arms around his chest and staring into the blackness with a haunted expression. He swallowed, worried by nameless thoughts and fears. Irrationally, he wondered if he'd have to make the antidote again, if the Ministers might try to poison Leo, simply to prove that the Boy Who Lived could survive the situation most of the champions were complaining about. He wondered if Leo's visit was worth it, if it wasn't a better idea for his brother to simply stay out of harm's way instead of inviting danger, which was precisely what the visit seemed to be doing.
Within a few minutes, his feet were whispering back down the hall again, moved by nervous fear for his brother.
By the time the sun came out and the time was more suitable for rising, Harry was red-eyed and weary, standing just outside his door to make it look as though he'd just awakened.
The night before, the party had lasted until midnight. Aurors had hushed Leo up to the apartments, lazily remembering the two guardians and brother that were supposed to go with him and commanding the three into separate rooms. On one hand, being unable to talk with Leo had been a good thing: the way that he'd been rushed to his room, Harry had only caught a glimpse of his godfather before closing the door behind him. The Auror had seemed distant, closed-off, but Harry was sure that, had time permitted, Sirius would have tried to have another talk, one that inevitably would have summoned the Aurors when it became too heated.
Standing outside his door, Harry thought hard about his godfather, unknowingly letting his chin fall sleepily to his chest. He was lightly snoozing when the footsteps shook him awake and thought for a moment that his godfather was walking toward him. Jerking upright, realizing too late that he'd been dreaming about Sirius's angry face and not really seeing it, Harry blinked away the crustiness sticking to his eyelashes in time to see Remus looking at him oddly.
That was a face he didn't mind seeing. Smiling faintly, Harry said, "Good morning, Remus. I'm sorry I didn't have a chance to say hello last night." Hesitantly, he added, "I've missed you."
The werewolf smiled back brightly and let out a disbelieving sound from the back of his throat. "Missed me?" repeated Remus playfully. "Is that even possible? You looked ready to leave and never come back when I left you at the train station. And it sounds like you've had enough to keep you busy."
Harry smiled deeper, feeling a surge of affection to the man before him. Remus had been the one who'd been there since childhood; he seemed more like a godfather than Sirius ever had. When Remus nodded towards the building's exit, Harry happily matched Remus' step and walked outside. There weren't many others out and about, despite Harry having been awake for hours. It was still early morning, barely late enough to serve breakfast.
"There have been a few things going on," Harry admitted as they walked. Dew, having settled heavy overnight, soaked into his shoes and made his socks squish uncomfortably until Remus banished the water away. He grimaced. "I should have thought of that before we left."
Remus's feet were, unsurprisingly, still dry, and when he saw Harry giving them a look, he smiled lightly. "Experience taught me to be prepared. Wet feet in the morning are an experience I don't like repeating."
When Harry's parents had been out, leaving Remus in charge, the werewolf usually tried to teach him something, tried to get him to learn a piece of valuable information. At first, it had been small, practical things: never leave the house without knowing of a nearby shelter, in case of weather or attack; always keep your wand with you; pay attention to your surroundings. No one could have guessed that the Death Eaters were saying the same things. But as Harry grew older and the war worsened, Remus had contributed to Lily and James's magical teachings by adding his own lessons, making sure Harry was firm on the spells that mattered most. The summoning charm. The shield spell. Anything that would make a difference.
Sometimes, it seemed like the wizard fell back on his old habits.
Carefully, Remus explained a spell that was specifically for protecting against the water and added that it would do well on eyeglasses in the rain. Harry recognized it immediately and showed his proficiency, to Remus's delight, and they walked on.
Harry looked at him from the corner of his eyes, making it appear as if he wasn't doing so. 'The Ministry thinks werewolves are animals,' he remembered reluctantly. 'It's why Remus really isn't my godfather.' He bit the inside of his lip, looking away. 'They're wrong, just like they always are. Didn't one of the Death Eaters once say something about werewolves? I wonder if Remus knows how the Death Eaters treated werewolves…'
"Well?" interrupted Remus. Harry looked up guiltily, wondering if the wizard had any idea of what he'd been thinking about. After a moment, Remus slowly added, "If you don't want to talk about the tournament, you don't have to-"
"Oh!" Harry blinked. "The tournament? What about it?"
Remus gave him a measured look and easily replied, "Anything. We're here to visit you, after all, and anything you want to say will be interesting." He let his hands slip into his pockets, giving Harry a look. "The Ministry has been keeping a tight lid on the press, for once. They only announce things after the fact, with all the details sketchy at best. It's likely that everything you tell me will be news."
'Some things might be more surprising than others,' Harry mentally warned, unable to say the words aloud. But verbally, he disagreed. "You still have connections with the Ministry. You probably know more about what happened, exactly, than even I do. Everyone assumes I know what's going on, but it's all a blur to me--everything went by so fast, I didn't have any time to think." He frowned a little. "The Aurors haven't told us anything. The only news we have comes from the Prophet."
Remus laughed at the sour expression on his face, softening the sound by saying, "Then you're in the same situation as the rest of the world, Harry. Don't be so snide about it." He smiled again, the conversation having propelled them to the door of the dining hall and to breakfast. "Maybe we'll both get lucky and there'll be a press leak in today's issue."
As they ate, though, Harry's thoughts unwillingly returned to his brother, making him uncomfortable. It was irrational. There were at least a dozen Aurors placed around the area. Nothing could hurt him here.
'But it's the Aurors,' he decided after a moment's thought. 'They're the ones making me so uncomfortable.' Just the thought of Leo sleeping, totally vulnerable, with a hundred Aurors all lurking over him, all with sinister expressions on their faces…
"Hey, Harry, aren't those your friends?" asked Remus between bites, pointing back towards the door. Against Harry's usual tradition of sitting as close to the door as possible, Remus had taken them both to a spot in the middle of the room where the best lighting was, and it seemed like his choice had turned out to be strangely fortunate. This way, Harry got to see Hermione and Ginny before they saw him. And he was warned by the look on Draco's face before the Slytherin had been able to sneak up and punch him.
Harry nodded slowly, watching as their eyes slowly recognized him. Ron was the first one to see him. He pointed Harry out for Ginny and Hermione to see, looking very uneasy about the fact that Draco could also benefit.
"I suppose they'd like to sit with us," Remus said brightly, looking around to make sure there were seats for everyone.
"No," Harry hurriedly said, giving the group one last hard look. He shook his head and repeated, "No, they wouldn't. They're going to be upset with me because I didn't say anything before leaving last night." Draco in particular, Harry thought. "I'd better get up and talk with them before anything gets worse."
Something in his expression must have made him out as being reluctant to face his upset friends because Remus gave him a little, encouraging laugh and motioned for him to go on. "The sooner the better," he advised sagely. "When I had fights with my friends, it always seemed like the longer I dragged it on, the more things I had to do to make up for."
Sometimes, Harry decided a little bitterly, Remus shouldn't try to give out so much advice.
He stood up and started for the group, noticing how they all stiffened as he approached and how they all gave him vaguely expectant looks. Even Ron seemed as if he was ready for Harry to throw himself to the floor with some sniveling explanation.
Disgusted, Harry walked up to the group--and walked by.
'I shouldn't have left Remus alone,' he thought as he walked out the doors. 'Aurors aren't kind with werewolves.'
The image of Draco's outraged expression lingered for a moment, satisfying Harry in a dark fashion, but that was soon forced out by Harry's intent to check on his brother. Leo should be awake by now. He should be getting breakfast--there wasn't enough time in the day for Harry to do everything he wanted. He wanted to play Quidditch again, to talk again, and even to fight again so that Leo could stop him with a look.
If Draco or Hermione tried to yell after him as he walked to Leo's apartments, located on the opposite side of the school from where Harry's usual apartments were, he subconsciously tuned them out.
Draco looked up from his book unconcernedly. He was sitting under a large willow tree in the gardens. It was the only section of the place where those blasted statues stayed quiet. Everywhere else, they'd giggle and laugh and tease no matter what you did; here, he only had to give them a dark glare and they froze in fear.
Standing before him was Ginny Weasley.
Draco rolled his eyes and returned to his book, disdainfully replying, "When, Miss Weasley, when are you going to understand that I have no pleasure talking to you?"
The girl, however, didn't seem the slightest bit fazed. "Honestly," she continued in an irritatingly pleading voice, "do you have any idea where he is? I looked… I looked in the apartments that he's staying in." And, when Draco raised his eyes to glare at her, she didn't look like she had fun doing so. The guard there probably gave her a hard time, not that it mattered.
"Good for you," he answered snidely.
"Listen, it's almost lunch but no one's seen him or his brother since breakfast. At least, no one will tell me anything-"
"Weasley, I've been asking myself this question over and over, and I might have already asked you but you act as if I didn't, so I might as well as again: why does it matter to you?" Draco gave her a level glance, making sure that she knew he was only addressing her under the severest of conditions and that he'd much rather go back to his book. "You have been hounding Potter since school started, being as bad or worse than either your brother or Granger. Why are you trying so hard?"
And, horribly, Draco found that he honestly wanted to know, something Weasley could probably hear in his voice.
Weasley gave a little, angry pout, nearly shouting back, "What does it matter? I just wanted to know where he is! Is that so much to ask for?"
Rather than waste his breath answering that, Draco calmly returned to his book. He could feel the glare she was throwing him like the feeling of a small ant crawling on his toe, and easily ignored the sensation. When it seemed like she was set on staying there until she received her answer, Draco finally looked back up, annoyance shining brightly in his eyes.
"Leave, Weasley," he ordered shortly, coming to the end of his temper.
She glared. "No."
Draco half-shrugged and rotated around the base of the tree, moving from the front bench to the back one that faced a small, trickling stream. It was a childish gesture, but that was what the girl had reduced him to. He didn't like it, but he wasn't going to just sit there and endure, after all.
His move, though, had the opposite effect than the one he'd hoped for. Instead of huffing up and stomping away, the girl crashed through the long limbs of the willow tree and stormed around the trunk, coming up to face him again. Draco sighed quietly to himself, reluctantly beginning to believe that her Gryffindor stubbornness was intent on showing itself.
"You don't know when to give up," he commented nastily, not looking up from his book. "Granger would have left by now. Even your brother would have done something other than a staring contest-"
"Like hitting you?"
Draco blinked at that, startled enough to look up. She'd put herself back in front of him, cutting off his view of the stream, and her arms were crossed over her chest. Quick to resettle himself, Draco smirked. "Exactly," he agreed with a congratulatory air, as if she'd finally begun to understand the obvious.
"I'm not my brother," the girl began passionately, but, after the short statement, she let out a deep breath and seemed to crumble upon herself. "That's the real reason I want to help Harry. Because he can't remember that his brother isn't everything."
Draco's smirk widened in a deprecating way. "Ah," he started knowingly, "so we have common enemies?"
Quick as a whip, she shot back, "You're beginning to hate Professor Snape?"
He laughed softly and shook his head. "Hate Snape? Why would I do that?" He smiled like a predator, showing all his teeth. "Why get rid of the one professor who will pass me, no matter how hard I try to fail?" He smiled again and shook his head. "No, I was referring to the little Potter, Leo-"
"Harry says that Leonard only like to be called that by his family-"
"Who's here to stop me?" Draco cut in smoothly. He put the book down, sliding a silk bookmark between the pages but keeping his eyes on the Gryffindor girl in front of him. "You? Does it really matter so much--it's not like the brat's here to shut me up himself. I can call him whatever I want."
She was staring at him like the idea had never occurred to her, and Draco found himself choking back a fit of outrageous laughter. 'If only you could see me now,' he thought wistfully to his Slytherin housemates, knowing exactly how they'd react to his fraternizing with the enemy. A Weasley, no less.
He'd given up his fifth year at Hogwarts to attempt a catching of Potter. He'd given up prefect status, all the sweet points he could have taken away from Gryffindor, sacrificed for a plan to capture a perfect… perfect whatever it was that Potter was. Now, the boy was slipping through his hands and, in replacement, he had a little Gryffindor girl who was too stupid to know she was out of her depth.
"We both want to get rid of Leo, don't we?" he tempted her, inwardly smirking at her mesmerized expression. She'd looked the same before, during his confrontation with Potter the first night the boy had started going astray.
Draco swallowed angrily at that reminder. Things had seemed fine at the dinner, and the champions all leaving to go find out what the task was seemed equally harmless. Then Potter had disappeared without a word--not necessarily a harmful situation until, some time into the night, Draco had felt as if something had been cut out of him and instantly knew that Potter had somehow broken out of their agreement. That was confirmed by his refusal to answer questions when Draco had asked.
Even so, nothing had been seriously in jeopardy until last night, when Potter Junior had shown up. Every since that night, Potter had ignored him, leaving the other Gryffindors slightly bewildered as to the sudden change but nothing more since Potter had been ignoring everyone else as well. Draco was still eating with them, still sitting next to Potter, trying to start up a conversation… As soon as that brat walked into the door, when Draco noticed the glazed look in Potter's eyes and the way the boy seemed to forget about everything… that was when he'd started getting worried.
'Keep his brother away,' his father had cautioned, a thing that at the time seemed unnecessary. How would Leonard Potter get to Beauxbatons? When? And why did it really matter? But Draco had learned the hard way that it did matter. Potter hadn't even really looked at him at breakfast.
The girl nodded eagerly and started off on how unhealthy it was. Draco nodded wisely, pretending that her gibberish meant something to him and that he really cared. When she paused and looked up at him, he bit his cheek in surprise but quickly recovered.
"Of course you're right," he told her in a soft, slightly amazed tone. "I'm surprised no one noticed it earlier."
"What do you mean?" she demanded suspiciously.
Draco shrugged expansively. "I mean… Well, Potter seemed… Potter seemed obsessed about his brother from the start of the year," he improvised quickly. "I--I even heard about it in Slytherin. If it's as bad as you say, it's a wonder a professor didn't realize."
She sighed long-sufferingly. "It's because his brother is Leonard," she began, starting up her rant again. "No one wants to think bad about him because of what he's done."
"But that's precisely why we have to be careful," Draco insisted. "He's used to the fame and everyone's used to him having it. I'm beginning to think that the professors would only have realized something was wrong if… if Harry had acted any other way." He smiled sweetly at her.
"He can't be happy this way," she insisted as well, more to herself than anyone, and Draco quickly assured her that she was right. A plan was already forming in his head: separate Potter from his brother and let the girl take the fall if anything went wrong. She seemed determined enough to make a fool of herself. All that energy might as well be put to good use.
"Shall we go, then?" he asked, standing up and slipping his book into a pocket.
She looked startled by the offering. "Go? Where?"
"To find Po--Harry, of course," Draco answered smoothly. She stood up slowly, looking around. "I think that it might be faster to just ask if anyone's seen Leo. He's the one they'll all be looking at, and I doubt Harry's gone far."
She nodded slowly, following as he started to lead her away from the gardens. The statues cowered slightly. "That makes sense," she admitted.
"Of course it does," he couldn't help pointing out.
A short ways away, just out of seeing distance, Hermione watched the two leave the gardens. She jabbed Ron under his arm sharply. "They're leaving," she informed him, eyes not leaving the pair for an instant.
Ron blinked up at her, trying his best to pretend like he'd not been sleeping. "Oh, right." He covered a yawn and added, "Learn anything?"
"Ginny's reasons, I think," replied Hermione tensely, "and to be suspicious of Malfoy, not that it's new. But whenever he calls Harry by his first name, it's a sign that Malfoy's up to something." She stood up and stretched. Crouching behind a bush, she had discovered, was not comfortable at all. Ron, despite being much longer than she was, didn't seem to be having the same problem at all, a fact that made her glare at him enviously. "How can you just squish up like that?"
He shrugged, yawning again. "When you're determined, you can do pretty much anything."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Right. That made a lot of sense." He grinned at her wildly and she couldn't stop from smiling back. "Anyway, they're going to try and find Harry-"
"You already know where he is, don't you?" accused Ron playfully, clued in by the smug expression on her face.
The witch tossed her hair. "Of course I do. He's out by the Quidditch pitch--it'll take them at least an hour to find that out, considering how secretive those Aurors are--so we have plenty of time."
Ron slowly stood up as well, making a show of cracking his spine and straightening his long legs, then gave her a look. "Time?" he repeated. "Time for what? I thought you said you just wanted to spy on Malfoy?"
"But we can do so much more than that, Ron."
She'd started out of the gardens and Ron took a moment to catch up even with his longer legs. "All right," he started slowly, "we have at least an hour by your reckoning. What things are we going to do?"
"First off, I think we should talk with Harry's other guardian, Remus Lupin." She let out a heavy breath of air. "Did you see how friendly Harry was with him?"
Ron paused, grabbing her arm to make her stop, too. "Lupin's a werewolf, Hermione," he informed her gravely. "He does work for the Ministry, locating and moving other dark creatures."
"Maybe he's bitten Harry and that's the reason he's been avoiding us," she replied spitefully, moving on despite his hand on her arm. He took a step with her and gave her a look, at which she sighed and stopped again. "Listen, I'm just… I'm just surprised that Harry's being nice to anyone from the start. When has he ever opened up? It means something-"
"I forgot to add," Ron cut in, "that Lupin was also one of the Potters' friends to the end, that he used to go and visit them even when they were in hiding. He's probably known Harry since Harry was a kid." Shrugging, he added, "Just something to think about."
"Because if he's known Harry since Harry was a kid, then Lupin might not be too happy giving out family secrets."
"Ron, we're not asking for secrets," Hermione pointed out. "We're not even sure what we want to know. We're just trying to see if Lupin has any ideas on how we can help Harry… how we can be better friends." They'd walked out of the gardens and were headed towards the visitors' apartments with some speed. Distractedly, Hermione continued, "We can explain the whole situation. If he's known Harry for so long--unless you think he doesn't know-"
"I don't think he knows," Ron confirmed firmly. "I don't think anyone else knows about Harry and his childhood 'friends.'"
She paused, biting her lip. "What if we do tell him about the Malfoys?" she wondered nervously. "He's close to Harry. He'll know what to do."
"What if he goes straight to the Aurors? We all get busted. The Malfoys and us, for leaving school property on our own free will."
"Then we just talk about what Malfoy's done to Harry. Tell them that Malfoy's completely brainwashed Harry." She thought that over and suddenly smiled. "Not too far from the truth, is it?"
Ron smiled back at her. "A good lie never is."
"A good lie?"
He shrugged carelessly. "Something I overheard from the Slytherins."
Remus walked carefully around the room, raising his eyebrows at how different it could be from the rest of the area. This room had nothing like the delicate French beauty prominent in Remus's own room. Everything looked like it had suffered too many blasting charms; clothing was thrown everywhere, blankets tangled up with them, and the odd decoration joined the mess on the floor. The house elves would have a fit.
In the middle of it all was a bed, his destination, and cautiously he walked forward--waded, more like--through the piles of clothes and scatters of trash. The room was absolutely gruesome; the reason behind its current state was rather obvious.
"I told you this would happen," he called out dryly to the lump on the bed, kicking a basket out of his way. "You should have listened to me."
The lump shifted a little under the tons of blankets, a low moan being emitted from the pillows.
Remus rolled his eyes, feeling not one shred of pity, and he took another step forward, landing him at the foot of the bed. He rattled its frame heavily, gaining another moan from the lump. "You should have at least tried to talk to him, you know. He's only getting angrier by the second, and if he saw you in here moping, nothing would ever fix it."
He got no response and, sighing, Remus sat down on the foot of the bed. "It always happens like this," he muttered loudly enough to be heard, "and every time, you only make things worse. For goodness sake, Sirius, you should have learned five years ago what Harry was like."
"Leave me alone." At least the words were definite; the body was still nothing more than an unsightly hump.
He wasn't entirely unsympathetic to his best friend's dilemma. It would have been impossible to ignore how cold Harry had been the night before, avoiding both his guardians to trail after his brother. Sirius had expected all wrongs to have been forgotten in the short time since his fight with the boy--Sirius, after all, rarely held his own grudges for longer than a day. After that, the Auror lived as though all wrongs were forgiven. Harry, obviously, had a different idea and kept his grudges close to heart.
But from the friendly morning he'd shared with the teenager, Remus was beginning to believe that Harry hadn't meant to come off as cold, only that he was too absorbed in his brother's company to notice anyone else. If that were true, then Sirius had no real reason to mope around.
Remus shuffled uneasily on the bed, letting his hands rest in his lap as he gave his best friend a sorry shake of his head. "I can't do that. You couldn't get along in the world without someone to watch out for you. I mean, I've been gone only a morning and look what's happened to you. Look what's happened to your room!" His nose wrinkled. "You haven't even bathed, have you?"
This earned a violent kick for his efforts, greatly hampered by the blankets that covered Sirius's legs. His friend burrowed a moment, allowing his head to emerge with its tousled hair all over his face. "For your information," Sirius growled darkly, "I have bathed."
Remus gestured helplessly around the room. "Then it must be all the dirty clothing in here."
Sirius glared at him, sneering with his lips pulled up to show his canines. "Those clothes are all clean, Lupin."
"How did they all end up on the floor, then?"
"I..." Sirius wiggled a moment, expression slightly guilty as he hid it under a pillow, "... I needed to hit something, that's what. And that stupid dresser stubbed my toe." He let out a low sound of angry. "Bloody French furniture."
"Padfoot, as long as you are still yourself, please refrain from showing off your animalistic nature." Remus pulled at the blankets, yanking them down to force Sirius to look at him. "And stop this idiotic moping. You're a grown man, Sirius. Act like it. Throwing tantrums and hiding in your bedroom won't do anything to make it better."
"Easy for you to say. You don't have to deal with him."
Remus rubbed at his neck. "I do, you know. I just deal with him a lot better." He didn't dare add that Harry had been very happy at breakfast--gloating would solve nothing. "And I don't just go around ordering the boy to do whatever I want him to do--unlike someone else in this room. Harry doesn't obey orders and he isn't some simpering lad trying to please you, Padfoot. He isn't your fan; he's your godson. You have to be his godfather."
"That," his friend muttered, "sounds a lot like some inspirational parenting speech."
Remus tossed back his head and laughed lightly. "I might have read some brochures," he admitted cheekily. "But you have to admit that, without James, you're the closest thing to a father that boy has. Either boy has. Speaking of which... where is Leo?"
Sirius groaned, finally getting to move. His shoved the blankets off like a horrendous weight, letting them dump to the floor loudly and combing back his hair once he'd fully emerged. "Dunno. Probably getting up. It's not like we really have anything to do." He looked at Remus carefully. "How long can you stay, Moony? I don't want to be here by myself the whole time."
Remus laughed again, standing up and easily avoiding the puddle of blankets now spreading across the floor. "I'll be here as long as I can," he answered breezily, motioning a hand for Sirius to get a move on. "When Leo's concerned... I don't think that the Ministry will have any dire cases for me during the next week or so. You?"
"As long as Leo wants to stay," replied Sirius with a little shrug. He wore wrinkled robes under all the blankets but, Remus saw, the robes were different from the ones he'd worn the day before. Maybe he hadn't been lying about showering.
"So what exactly were you doing?" Sirius asked as he moved around the room, carelessly kicking his things back against the wall to succeed in making a little pathway where Remus had not. "You must be crazy to be awake this early-"
"I was getting you to talk to Harry," answered Remus firmly. "Neither of you will admit it, but you need each other."
Suddenly, Sirius let out a low laugh. "If that's what you plan to do, maybe you should have left Leo at home."
It was, quite possibly, the first time anyone had ever seen Harry Potter laugh. At least, the first time anyone had ever seen him laugh so much! Draco watched, teeth grinding in anger, and he could practically feel the witch beside him burning up in the same emotion. She, however, only went perfectly still, body paralyzing with passion. She would probably sit the whole day in frozen rage, watching and doing nothing because any act would only be against her nature.
Callously, he stood up and made sure to jostle her, to knock her body out of its paralysis. Wordlessly, she glared up before she silently got up and walked after him. The pitch looked so tiny, only a large bit of green grass, and the figures flying in the air looked even smaller. But small as they were, watching them only increased Draco's temper.
"He's losing on purpose!" hissed the Weasley witch, furious. "I saw him fly at Hogwarts--Harry's much better than that!" Out on the pitch, the larger of the two figures swooped dramatically, leaving the air open for the other to fly past. Weasley sucked in an enraged breath, pausing to stare. "That was fake-"
"Yes, Weasley, Potter's losing because he wants to," Draco drawled irritably. "I don't need a play-by-play." Weasley looked up at him, slightly surprised, and Draco remembered he was supposed to be her ally in this. He put on a slightly apologetic look and obviously glared out towards the pitch. "This only… this only goes to show you!" he began again with an obnoxious tone, making sure she knew where his anger was pointed. "Stupid brat, he won't even allow Harry to play properly."
Satisfied, the witch looked back to the pitch herself, not noticing how Draco's eyes rolled.
"Well, what do we do?" she asked, beginning to get a little nervous as they approached the pitch. Potter and his brother were growing larger, changing from little flies in the distance to life-sized people, and Weasley seemed to be having second thoughts about a forced confrontation.
"Why don't you go talk with Potter?" Draco suggested in an innocent voice, making a point not to look her way when she gave him an incredulous glance. He motioned off to the sides of the pitch where a large group of wizards and witches were gathered, most of them talking excitably amongst themselves as they looked up at the hero of the world. For explanation, he added, "Those are the Auror guards for Leonard. I'll go talk to them, distract them while you talk to Harry."
Weasley eyed the "guards" apprehensively. "What will you say?"
"I'll come up with something," answered Draco, waving his hand dismissively, "buying you enough time to talk with Harry." She still looked uncertain so Draco gave her a cool look. "What?"
"What about… what about Leonard?" She wiped her hands together, glancing up towards the two brothers. "I don't think Harry's just going to leave his brother to talk to me-"
"Am I supposed to come up with everything, Weasley?" Draco asked in a controlled voice, eyes narrowing slightly. Arms crossing over his chest, he glared at her. "Or do you want to switch places? Why don't you go distract the Aurors--the ones who told us, when we were looking for the Potters in the first place, that if we got within breathing distance of the two, they'd hex us?"
The girl paled.
Shrugging, Draco started to turn away, advising over his shoulder, "Just think of an excuse. Tell them the godfather wants him." He paused, turning back to give her one last look. "I'm sure you'll think of something, Weasley."
The girl blushed.
Mentally snorting at her, Draco turned again and started towards the group of wizards again, seeing out of the corner of his eyes how she started with an air of determination towards Potter. He smirked. 'Fool of a Gryffindor,' he thought at her. She thought she was self-sacrificing, making deals with him, the devil of Hogwarts, in order to save Potter's soul. 'Maybe he'll even forgive you once this is all over, if you tell him you were only trying to do him good.'
He reached the group of wizards--a group so obviously not Aurors that Draco was unsure, for a moment, that Weasley would fall for it. They were Ministry officials, which meant that they were doing Ministry business, which could only mean the October task.
'Potter knows what the task is,' Draco knew with a quiet anger. 'I know all the champions were told, and it's something they felt they had to prepare for.' He'd only seen them this morning, small groups of champions wandering around together, training. Potter had been with them yesterday; today, his brother arrived, he was playing Quidditch. And Potter hadn't said a word about what the task was to anyone.
"Can I help you?"
Draco smiled winsomely at the witch, effecting a slightly confused expression. "I was just wondering what was going on here," he replied easily. "You see, my friends and I had scheduled a Quidditch scrimmage match today but now it looks like we won't be able to use to pitch."
"Oh." The witch laughed lightly and looked around. "Go ahead and play--those two are." She motioned to the Potter brothers. "See? No big inconvenience. We're just on this little corner for now."
"I see." Draco paused, letting his face acquire a truly curious look. He frowned a little. "For now? And what exactly are you doing?" He tipped his head to one side, adding politely, "We don't want to bother you if it's something important--it's obvious that the Ministry must be doing something official out here, something that we teens shouldn't botch just because we want to play."
Laughing again, the Ministry witch shook her head. "No, no, you children won't mess anything up. We're only on the ground. Unless you're such terrible Quidditch players," she pointed out with a grin, "that you'll fall to the ground. If that's the case, then you really should just hold off until the end of the month, or else play somewhere else."
Draco's shoulders sagged. "The end of the month?"
"You're afraid that you'll fall?"
"Well, one of my friends is terrible at flying, but we can't play without her. She's such a bookworm, she needs to get out and do something, but she's only agreed to fly if everyone else is."
"Ah," the witch nodded knowingly, "I have a brother like that. Let's see…" She looked around thoughtfully. "If you're afraid that she'll fall--and that really would mess us up--then you can just fly over the field that we're not using. That gives you a few days flying, at least, before you have to stop."
"A few days?" Draco repeated mindlessly. "Today's Friday. Do you mean a week, or only until, say, Tuesday?"
She smiled apologetically. "Actually, only until Monday. Sorry, but we need to be finished in time for… ah, well, Ministry business."
"All right then," he started confidently, pretending that her sudden reticence was not a clue, pretending that he didn't catch her sudden flush of embarrassment as she realized how much she'd said. He smiled at her again, letting her relax in relief. "I'll have to come as soon as I can."
Respectfully, he nodded and headed away, thinking furiously. 'Monday,' he repeated triumphantly. 'The task starts Monday, and it's big enough to need the entire Quidditch pitch.'
"What a nice kid," he heard the witch comment to one of her friends.
He couldn't keep from smirking when that friend, incredulous, replied, "Nice? I've never heard someone say that about the Malfoys."
"I was… worried about you," Leo said after a moment, eyes shining up in childish question. He let his legs hang over the broom's thin length, floating like a limp corpse with arms crossed at his forehead to form a fleshy support. The broom made a paper cut across the kid's face, splitting both sides evenly with the eastern sun lighting one half and the western darkness pooling in the curves of the other. "They told me all these things are going on. I didn't know."
Harry stretched out to his back on the ground beneath the floating broom, hands folded beneath his head and elbows splayed haphazardly to either side of his skull. The morning had been bliss--no one bothered them.
He smiled at his little brother, the early sun playing the same shadows on his own face. "You don't need to worry about me. There's nothing dangerous here and even if there were, there are lots of people to look after me here. Beauxbatons is guarded thickly."
The child blinked. "Oh! I thought the Aurors were just with me."
"There's more with you here, but even when you leave they'll be Aurors to make sure nothing happens. So don't waste any time worrying, okay?" On impulse, Harry reached up and ruffled Leo's hair, finishing the disordered look the Quidditch game had started. Leo grinned impishly down on him.
"So you like Aurors now?"
Harry bit the inside of his lip, his face losing its smile, and he finally gave a soft sigh for an answer. "If they keep you safe, then I like them." At the pause, Harry suddenly became most serious. "Meanwhile, I've been worrying about you. I sent you so many owls--why didn't you answer any?"
Leo shrugged a thin shoulder, rolling off the broom to his feet and standing over Harry, one hand on his hip and one hand pulling the broom out of the air. "I didn't get any owls, Harry. When I told Uncle Sirius, he said you were too busy to write. I thought maybe you were mad at me or something-"
"Mad at you? I've never been mad at you!" Harry's forehead wrinkled, a bad drop sending his stomach feeling queasy. "What else did Sirius say?"
The kid shrugged again, face naVvely innocent of any suspicion. "I don't really remember. Maybe he said not to write you. I think he did. Maybe he said…" Leo scratched a spot at his neck, "…not to bother you? That's why I didn't." His eyebrows pinched together at the change in Harry's face. "Something the matter?"
Harry swallowed and forced a smile, standing up. "No, nothing's wrong."
"You're not going to have a fight with Uncle Sirius, are you?"
Snorting, Harry pulled Leo into a side-hug, leaving one elbow crooked around his neck. "What do you think? Why would I fight with Sirius? I haven't seen him in about two weeks--what would we have to fight about?"
Leo threw his hands in the air, an exaggerated gesture probably copied from spending so much time around Sirius. His elbows practically flew above his head. "Who knows," he declared loudly, bopping his head against Harry's hip. "You two are always fighting. Uncle Sirius says you don't even need a reason to anymore."
"How about you stop listening to Sirius so much, eh?" Harry suggested, a wry smile tugging back to his face as he led away from the pitch and back towards the Great Hall. They had been out of sight for a few hours now, and people who didn't care when Harry disappeared would become frantic if Leo didn't show. "Remus has better advice."
"He says I have to stay by you while I'm here to make sure you don't get in a huge fight with Uncle Sirius in front of the whole school."
Harry couldn't help it and burst out laughing. Leo's huge eyes and excited voice painted the picture enough: he fully expected Harry to blow up at the mere sight of the Auror. Still laughing, he gently socked Leo in the jaw. "Did he, now?"
"Yup," the little boy answer enthusiastically, head nodded almost off its neck. "Said he'd take me somewhere if you didn't have a fight the whole time I'm here."
Laughter calming down to a few chuckles, Harry shook his head. "That's a tough challenge. You think he's going to take you somewhere nice? I'll be on my best behavior if you want me to."
Leo rolled his head to stare incredulously at Harry, childish face puckered with some adult expression. "I already know that. But I don't know where he's taking me. Maybe a park! Maybe a trip!" He pointed a serious finger towards Harry. "So don't fight with Uncle Sirius."
"I won't," Harry replied sincerely, amused at his brother's enthusiasm. "…But just to make sure, you should probably stick around me the whole month. Who knows what'll happen if I have to see Sirius by myself!"
"Good morning, Harry."
Harry sighed deeply. She had been watching for some time now, just staying out of reach, just watching long enough for him to begin to hope that she didn't mean to interrupt. It was too much to really hope for.
His brother turned, surprised, and imperiously he pointed his broom handle at her. "Who are you?" asked Leo suspiciously, the broom looking like some elongated wand in his hands.
Ginny had been crouching, sitting on the side of the walkway, and she stood up gracefully, hands brushing off her robes before she looked at Harry again. It was, Harry knew automatically, a stalling technique, Ginny doing whatever she could to gain enough time. 'Probably to order her thoughts,' he thought bitterly, remembering too well the many times she had started on him with a well-prepared speech.
"Leo," Harry introduced politely, unable to prevent a chill from entering his voice, "this is Ginny Weasley. She's one of the Hogwarts students staying with me for the year." He tipped his head slightly towards the girl. "Ginny, my brother Leo."
Leo snorted, amused, and he lowered his broom. "Of course she knows who I am," he grumbled lowly, shooting Harry a little smile. Harry couldn't keep from smiling back, noting as he did so the way Ginny tensed up. His smile broadened.
"Good morning, Ginny," Leo went on cordially, smiling another smile at the witch. But whatever either brother expected, Ginny only stiffened more. Leo's smile faltered.
Harry frowned, turning a hard stare on Ginny. "Maybe she didn't hear you, Leo," he said, addressing his brother even while he continued glaring at her. "She's a little deaf."
"Oh." Leo blinked, eyes widening a bit as he stared at her, probably trying to reason out exactly how deaf Ginny was likely to be.
"Good morning, Leo," Ginny finally replied, taking the hint. She looked away from Harry to give Leo a forced smile. "And I do know who you are. Harry is always talking about you."
Harry touched his brother on the elbow, trying his best to think up some reason for getting his brother to leave. He couldn't say anything to Ginny in front of Leo. Ginny, however, continued saying, "I think your godfather's looking for you, Leo-"
"Leo doesn't have a godfather," Harry interrupted loudly, feeling his temper heating up. Leo gave him a curious look and, swallowing, Harry forced himself to keep calm. He smiled, a fake and forced thing that matched the expression on Ginny's face. "Remus, of course, was the obvious choice, but the Ministry has a thing against werewolves for some reason."
Ginny's face turned just the slightest bit paler, but her voice was steady as ever. "Never mind. But I did see your… your Uncle Sirius walking around the Great Hall not too long ago."
Leo smiled brightly, grabbing hold of one of Harry's hands and swinging it. "Good!" the little boy answered cheerfully, and when Ginny's forehead wrinkled in confusion, he explained, "Me and Harry were just heading that way. We'll find him-"
"Ah…" Ginny brushed some hair back and forced another grin. "Now that I really think about it, I remember that he wasn't by the Great Hall. At least, he isn't now. Someone, er, someone told him that you two were in the gardens…and he's probably there now."
'Low shot,' Harry thought angrily at her. 'Very, very low shot.' Broken statues, screaming as they fell into dust and destroyed plaster… He swallowed, a dizzy spell hitting him in the form of memories of that day.
Leo, oblivious, shrugged a shoulder. "Then we'll go there. Thank you for coming to tell us."
"Why don't you go find Sirius yourself?" suggested Harry lightly, turning Leo around to face his little brother. He smiled softly but beneath the smile, his muscles were tensing up. His hands on Leo's shoulders were stiff as nails with the effort of keeping his fingers from curling up into fists while he still held his younger brother. "I think I'm going to stay here and talk with Ginny for just a minute and then I'll catch up with you."
Innocently, Leo smiled back and nodded. "Sure." When he walked off, three shadows that had been standing still as pillars walked with him, his guard providing all the company Leo would need to find Sirius.
Harry watched, jaw tensing up, and when Leo finally disappeared, he turned back to the waiting witch. "He's gone," Harry simply started, glancing once at Ginny before looking away, focusing his eyes on something else and deliberately avoiding her face. "Since you wanted to get rid of him, you can now tell me whatever it is you want-"
"Oh Harry," Ginny breathed, sighing forlornly. She took a tentative step forward and, when Harry took a matching step away, she clasped her hands together, obviously frustrated. "Harry, I just wanted to talk with you-"
"Talk fast," Harry broke in callously, studiously staring at the Quidditch pitch. The group of wizards who had been there since early morning was still working away hard with spelling the area. If he wanted to, he supposed he could find out exactly what spells they were using and why, but all Harry really wanted to do was spend time with his brother.
"Harry!" Ginny snapped. "Grow up, all right? And stop being so rude."
Harry arched an eyebrow, surprised enough to look up at her. She was frowning but in a trembling fashion, looking both angry and timid. It was an intriguing combination. 'But it fits her,' thought Harry, deadly. 'This way, she'll yell at me until I'm ready to fight and then break down into tears. The perfect way to catch me in a trap.'
Sighing, Harry looked away. "Just say whatever you want, Ginny," he said tiredly, rubbing his forehead. It was hard to remember how quickly his mood changed with her appearance. "Really, I can't… I can't handle much more of this."
"More of what?" the witch asked in an aggressive tone. She was glaring, Harry knew, and he guessed she probably had her hands clenched into hard fists; the perfect image of her House.
'Our House,' Harry reminded himself, a touch amused at the necessity of a reminder. 'I'm in Gryffindor, too: House of the brave, the courageous, the impulsive fighters.' He didn't answer her question.
"I just… um, where did you sleep last night?" asked the witch, her aggression suddenly fading into quietness. Harry kept quiet, and she hesitantly added, "We all stayed up late waiting for you to come back--well, I don't know about Malfoy, but I think he did too. And then, at breakfast, we see you leaving…"
"Is that it?" Harry asked, incredulous. He gave her a disbelieving look, eyebrows raised. "You just wanted to know where I was?"
"No!" Ginny blurted out with a touch of exasperation. "That's just the start of it." Taking a deep breath, she continued to say, "I wanted to know what happened last night, why you just left. I want to know why you don't want to talk to anyone at all. Before, you only talked to Malfoy. Then, it seemed like all you did was go to those training sessions--you wouldn't even talk to Hermione, and you two had looked like you were beginning to be friends."
"I am friends with Hermione," Harry answered weakly, then he swallowed, strengthening himself against any weakness. 'You know what she's doing!' he accused himself, then thoughtfully, 'The training sessions…'
For the last two weeks, those training sessions were what he lived for. He had been reviewing all that his parents had taught him, which only brought back memories of those childhood lessons. And for two weeks, he had dreamed nonstop of his parents, of his childhood, and had wondered whether he really should take a step back to mending his relationship with Draco.
'He is, after all, my biggest connection to Lucius,' Harry knew, feeling the old indecision come back over him. As hard as he could, he pushed that feeling away. 'No. Not again. I can't keep pretending with him.'
"You sure act like friends!" Ginny raged, her timidity gone. She frowned and glared. "You haven't said two words-"
"All right, I'll go talk to her. Is that all you want?" Harry raised his eyebrows, sneering, and Ginny sputtered on a word before Harry said, "I thought so. When will you ever be satisfied, Ginny? When I follow you around like a puppy? When I obey only you?"
"That's not what I'm trying to do-"
"Give it a rest, Weasley," a new voice cut in, the drawl familiar enough that Harry didn't even have to turn to see Draco standing behind him. "Potter only has to really think about everything you've said so far to know that, really, you do want him as a servant."
"Malfoy!" Ginny hissed. "You little-"
Draco walked around Harry and turned so that they faced each other. He looked the same as ever, a slightly bored expression on his face, ignoring Ginny as though she didn't even exist. "Potter, you show yourself." The declaration was spoken in a tone of sarcastic surprise.
Harry, wary, nodded once. "I do," he admitted carefully, shooting Ginny a glance. He felt surrounded.
"Good. It seemed for awhile that you were going to abandon the rest of us mere students for your family."
"It was only a night," Harry defended himself, eyes narrowing. He glared from Draco to Ginny. "What is going on?"
"Harry," began Ginny urgently, but Draco smirked confidently.
"I think, Potter," he began, drawling again and throwing an arm over Harry's shoulders, slowly turning him around, "that you and I are going to become friends again."
"Harry," Ginny said again, but Draco glared at her, giving her a shooing motion. "Don't trust-"
"Why is that?" Harry asked suspiciously, shrugging Draco's arm off. He frowned. "Why?"
"Because…" Draco smiled widely, showing off all his teeth, and his news shut Ginny up, "I know when your little task is going to start. And I'll tell you. If you introduce me to your brother."
Jumping back, Sirius bit back a curse as the steaming hot coffee in his mug spilled onto his fingers, instantly scalding the skin. Hissing in pain, Sirius dropped the cup and began frantically waving his burnt fingers in the air. "Next time, Leo, try not to startle me when I'm holding something hot," he muttered darkly, eyes watering as he looked to the small child.
Leo didn't look the least bit sorry for the accident, having an annoyed look on his face. "What is it?" he asked. "What do you want?"
Refusing the give into the urge to stick his burnt fingers into someone else's cold drink, Sirius raised his eyebrows. "Something you want?"
"I want to go back and keep playing Quidditch with Harry," answered Leo with a slight drawl in his voice, "but that Weasley girl said you were looking for me."
Sirius shrugged, turning back to his cup and sending a cooling charm on it. "I wasn't," he replied calmly, grimacing as he tasted his coffee--far too cold now. 'Oh well, no sense in making it boiling hot again.' His fingers throbbed in agreement.
Leo crossed his arms over his chest, muttering to himself, and Sirius chuckled at the sight of his little charge looking so serious. Automatically, Sirius reached down and ruffled Leo's blond hair, chuckling again when the boy positively glared up at him. "What's eating you?" Sirius asked, amused. "You're acting like someone beat you at a game."
"That girl," Leo sputtered out indignantly, frowning as deeply as his childish features would go, "she just sent me away because she wanted to talk with Harry."
"That Weasley girl?" Sirius asked. "Ginny?" Leo nodded, furious, and Sirius bit back a smile. "Well, maybe she had some things she wanted to say without you around-"
"I don't care. I'll just ask Harry what she said--that'll show her."
"Maybe she thought you'd be bored by what they have to talk about," Sirius theorized with a grin. He ruffled Leo's hair again. "You know, boring adult stuff."
Leo bit his lip, glaring at his feet. "I still don't care. She just kicked me out! It's not fair."
Sirius looked up at the sound of footsteps. It was easy to pick out Remus's easy stride and calm presence coming towards them, especially since, being just inside the doors to the apartments, Remus was the only one who'd be walking here.
'Uh oh,' Sirius suddenly remembered with a cold flash of guilt. 'I'm supposed to be looking for Harry.' Moony wouldn't like it if he knew Sirius was really just trying to avoid that meeting altogether, and it looked like Moony was beginning to guess the truth.
While the other wizard was still a bit away, Sirius bent down to Leo's level and said, "You know what, I think you're right. She shouldn't have just kicked you out like that--the least she could have done was to ask you to leave."
The young Potter nodded vindictively.
"I have an idea: why don't you tell me where Harry is, and since Ginny's probably with him I'll go have a talk with her. How's that sound?"
"It wasn't that she just kicked me out," Leo hurried to add. "She made me think you were in the forest. I would have spent a long time wandering around if someone hadn't said you were here."
"The forest?" Sirius leaned back a little, startled. "She was going to send you into the forest?"
Leo nodded again with the same energy. "Yes. But then I remembered that we're not supposed to go in there, and how much trouble Harry got for going in there, and so I thought I should ask someone before leaving to find you."
"But she said the forest, right? Not--not the gardens or anywhere else?"
This time Leo rolled his eyes and nodded.
"Hmm." Sirius's eyes narrowed a little as he looked up, watching Remus walk the last few steps to them. "I'll have a long talk with her, don't worry."
"Did you find him?" asked Remus, smiling down at Leo but directing the question to Sirius.
Sirius smiled stiffly, straightening up and putting a heavy hand on Leo's shoulder. "I just found Leo playing Quidditch with Harry. The older brother of his is…"
"At the Quidditch field," Leo cut in cheerfully, all his moodiness dissipated.
Sirius bit the inside of his cheek hard when Remus gave him a suspicious look. The werewolf rolled his eyes. "Squeezing it out of little kids is cheating, Padfoot."
Leo smiled up at Remus. "Good morning."
"It's getting a little late to say good morning. In fact, it's right about noon."
Leo shrugged, unconcerned. "It was a good morning for me. I had a lot of fun with Harry before that Weasley girl kicked me out." He no longer looked upset about that, just a little sad. "I hope we can play again later."
"Well." Remus hesitated, glancing up at Sirius. "Leo, I thought that since we were going to be here for such a long time, I might as well find out about what Harry usually does. And I was just talking to another student who tells me that all the champions spend their afternoons getting ready for the task."
"So? That only means that no one else will bother us when we go play-"
"Leo," Remus interrupted seriously, "Harry is one of those champions. He'll need to go to practice."
Leo gave him a look that all but said, 'Says who?' and while it was funny to watch his best friend try to get the point across to Leo, Sirius was distracted by the two teenagers who had opened the door, who had stopped, who had begun to stare… and who looked uncomfortably familiar.
'Ron Weasley,' he identified blandly, wishing he hadn't noticed them, 'and Hermione Granger. Harry's friends.' The same ones who'd been there the first time Harry had exploded, the second time Harry had exploded, and who had disappeared when Harry had been kidnaped. 'Great,' he thought dryly as the two slowly began walking again, 'I don't even need a hint to know what they're going to want to talk about.'
He bit back a sigh and turned to face them, preparing himself for what he'd have to say. 'No, Harry isn't here. No, I don't know where he is. And no, I haven't fought with him, today at least-'
"Er, Mister Lupin," the girl began first, sounding very unsure of herself.
Remus looked up in surprise, cut off mid-explanation to the insistent Leo. Sirius also tipped his head, curious, all his words for the two erasing from his mind. "Em, yes?" Remus replied, glancing at Sirius. Sirius shrugged. Remus looked back at the two. "Me?"
The Weasley boy nodded enthusiastically. "Yes. We wanted to talk to you about-"
"We wanted to know if you had a spare moment to talk with us about our friend," the witch interrupted, sending the boy a quick look. Weasley shut his mouth, barely wiping off a smirk when she looked again. Granger smiled tentatively at Remus. "You know him-- Harry, I mean. We just, we had a fight and since you seemed like such good friends at breakfast we thought you'd be able to help us-"
"Wait a minute," Sirius cut in, forehead wrinkling. He gave Remus a hard look. "At breakfast, is it?"
Remus smiled cheekily, if a bit guiltily. "Well, about that, Sirius. I was going to tell you-"
"What exactly happened at breakfast, this breakfast where you seem to have been getting along so well with my godson?" Sirius put on a betrayed expression. "Moony! You let me believe that you hadn't seen Harry at all this morning!"
Still grinning, the werewolf shrugged. "I never said I hadn't. Besides, we're getting off subject." He looked at the teens. "I did notice the group of you being a little standoffish, and Harry mentioned something about you being angry. Why don't you just let things go?" At their blank looks, he added somewhat suspiciously, "You are fighting about Harry leaving early last night, aren't you?"
"Why would they fight about that?" Sirius asked, perplexed. "Harry was just going with his brother. No big deal." He smiled wryly, looking over to Leo. "You do know who Harry's brother is, don't you?"
"Of course they do," Leo answered for them, sounding a little sulky. He had his arms crossed over his chest again, glaring at the floor again. Sirius gave him a concerned look.
"Well, it's a bloody good thing Harry told us instead of marching off without a word," the Weasley boy huffed.
His friend turned quickly and muttered, "Ron, hush!"
"But it's not about that at all," Weasley continued brassily. "We came to talk to you about-"
"About how-" the little witch vainly tried to take control of the situation, but Weasley just talked on over her.
"About how Malfoy's doing his best to control him."
Granger rubbed her forehead tiredly. "Great, Ron. Just great."
Sirius froze and he could see out of the corner of his eyes Remus tensing up as well. Leo was still sulking, but Sirius slowly turned his neck to stare at the two teenagers, ignoring Leo's attitude altogether. "What did you say? Malfoy?"
"Which Malfoy?" Remus asked cautiously.
"Both," Weasley snorted, but Granger quickly added, "Draco Malfoy, we mean. You know, the one here at school." She gave the other teen a sharp look that he ignored.
"It's gotten better in the last week or so--meaning, Harry pretty much ignores Malfoy now--but who knows how long it'll be until Harry goes back to acting like some servant." Weasley sighed, throwing one hand up in the air. "It's useless, really. Ever since we started school here, Harry does whatever Malfoy wants."
"Ron wasn't supposed to just blurt everything out," Granger explained quickly, "but, really, Malfoy's the reason we need help. See, Harry doesn't like talking to us-"
"Malfoy probably told him not to-"
"-and we're running out of ways to convince Harry that Malfoy's, well, not a good person." She winced a little. "I mean, I suppose he's good in his own way, but…"
"He's a little snot," Weasley nearly snarled, "and not good in any way at all, Hermione!" She looked a little reluctant to argue the point. "So, do you think you can help us?" the teenager appealed to Remus pleadingly. "We've run out of ideas! First we tried to talk to him. Then we did whatever we could to gain his trust--and trust me, it should have been enough. We went back to talking, and now he's gone to ignoring us. Last night wasn't the worst of it at all, but it was the last straw."
Remus, to say the least, looked absolutely stunned and Sirius knew he must have the same expression on his face. Swallowing, the Auror opened his mouth to try and respond, but all he could do was stare, incredulous.
"What you're saying," Remus finally said, "is that Draco Malfoy is controlling Harry?" At their nods, Remus frowned. "I don't believe it."
"It is Draco Malfoy," Sirius pointed out softly, "Lucius Malfoy's son. And I bet the Malfoys would do anything they can to get a hold of Leo. We should have thought of this!"
"But this is Harry we're talking about," Remus pointed out dryly, giving Sirius a hard stare. "Do you think Harry would, well, become a 'servant' to anyone?" His eyes quickly skipped over to Leo, but returned to Sirius's face, proving his point. "I was talking to Harry this morning. He acted the same way he always did--and I would think that he had to have changed if all that is true."
"They're Death Eaters, Moony," Sirius replied harshly. "Remember the reports years ago, how they followed Lily and James? I bet they've been planning on something like this, waiting for Harry to get out of his protections… I never should have told him to go to Hogwarts!"
A sharp feeling of dread, the same one that had started clogging up his brain when he first heard about Harry getting admitted to this tournament, began choking him. Going to Hogwarts had seemed like such a good idea at the beginning--the only good way to go. Then everything went wrong, and now Death Eaters were manipulating his godson, reaping vengeance for all his past mistakes.
He could practically see them: black cloaks and frighteningly white masks, stalking through the streets late at night as they looked for someone new to kill. He was there, waiting for the trap to be sprung, hoping that nothing went wrong and that no spies had caught wind of this raid, wincing at the first screams and forcing himself to stay still because moving too soon would spoil everything. The duels came next, causing more and more screams while adding bright flashes of lights and loud explosions as spells and hexes flew everywhere… Picking up the dead bodies afterwards, refraining from adding the captured Death Eaters to the piles of carcasses…
And now he could see them, smirking beneath their white masks, taunting him about losing yet another person dear to him because of his own incompetence.
"Ah, Death Eaters," repeated Remus lowly, his eyes suddenly widening. He swallowed once, glanced at the teenagers, and then tried his best to school his expression. "You know, I just remembered something… it might be true…"
Sirius blinked his eyes and forced his memories back to the pits of his mind, away from the surface. Who needed to remember wartime? Who wanted to? He shook his head.
"We need help to keep Malfoy from getting any more influence over Harry-" Granger began urgently.
Leo, however, darkly said, "Just leave him alone. I'll tell him not to and no one will have to worry about it anymore."
The child scowled at the group in general, such a dark look that Sirius knew they'd done something to upset the boy. He thought hard, but couldn't remember anything in particular. Leo frowned, pouting more like, and glared at the floor but underneath it all, Sirius could tell that he was absolutely miserable for some reason.
For a good reason, Sirius realized suddenly. Leo had been talking with Remus, but when the two teenagers appeared he was forgotten and kicked out of the conversation--for the second time today, after what the Weasley girl did.
"I'm going to find Harry," Leo declared in the quiet that had settled in after his bold statement. He started off but paused after going a few steps, glancing back with an almost hopeful expression on his face. Whatever he saw, though, only wiped that expression off, and he continued walking down the hall, leaving the older wizards and witch to feel somewhat guilty.
"Em, what did he mean?" Granger asked after a moment went by. She looked like she knew what Leo mean, only that she needed to hear it from someone else to really believe. "When he said that he was just going to tell Harry…"
Sirius forced a smile and shrugged. "How about you tell us more of what's been going on here?" Changing the conversation instead of feeling so hypocritical: talking about keeping Harry from being used by Malfoy, while watching Leo go off to do the same thing. "Exactly what kinds of things did Malfoy do? And how did Harry get involved with the brat to begin with?"
Outside, minutes later, Leo slowly approached his brother with critical eyes, watching to see exactly how this "Malfoy brat" was "controlling" Harry, but it didn't look like there was much to watch. Malfoy was walking behind Harry, talking too quietly to be overheard, and Harry could have been sleeping for all his reaction to the other boy's words.
Malfoy noticed Leo before Harry did, and Leo almost grinned as Malfoy made sure Harry wasn't in a position to notice anything. He maneuvered Harry around so that the two brothers couldn't see eye-to-eye. Maybe there was something more to this--Malfoys being Malfoys, after all.
"Do you want to talk to your brother?" a voice asked from behind him.
Leo shook his head. "I do, but I can wait."
"That is Draco Malfoy up there."
"I know," he answered with an imperceptible smile. He glanced up at the Auror, a tall wizard all decked in white. "Are you getting ready to protect me from him?" The Auror didn't reply, didn't even looked down; all he did was stare forward, almost glaring at Malfoy.
"I don't need protecting," Leo felt necessary to remind them. "I could take care of Malfoy without any help from anyone. Everyone knows. So why worry?"
"It may not be prudent… to push yourself before you're ready," the Auror replied softly. He wasn't hesitant or respectful, he was only thoughtful as he said the words. "After last time-"
"Last time was different," interrupted Leo with a flush of irritation. He pushed the hair back from his forehead, feeling an odd twinge there as he did so. It was always the same, whenever he was annoyed or mad, ready to wreck some magic… "Last time, I was just surprised."
"Even so," the Auror intoned seriously, effectively ending the conversation.
Leo sighed to himself, looking back to where his brother was standing. Some of his guards were just too much; others he missed even if he wasn't supposed to.
So he focused on the manipulation of Harry Potter being unfolded in front of him. It was easy enough to see, impressive enough to watch. Leo knew his brother's every expression, knew when Harry felt pushed too far (his face would go spectacularly blank, his fists would clench once and then relax) or when he felt caught (his eyes would be a little wider than normal, darting around uncertainly). Leo could tell when Sirius was going to get it (Harry's voice would be deceptively calm, one eyebrow arched) or when Remus scored a point (Harry would flush and cross his arms, jaw tight).
And he could tell when Harry was wavering, when Harry would let Leo do something they weren't supposed to do: unlocking the shed to get out brooms even when Leo was grounded, sneaking Leo out into the woods those few times they'd gone out together, showing Leo another bit of magic before bedtime. He could tell because Harry would swallow hard, would try to look away and his eyes would betray him by looking back. Harry would verbally try to change the conversation, and you could see in his eyes the argument playing out behind the green. Leo could tell he was going to win because Harry's voice would drop down low, weakly throwing out the last few objections before giving in altogether.
Leo knew, but it was something else to see such things played out by someone else.
Harry's voice was low, but Malfoy had still manipulated his brother into practically walking backwards, slowly coming closer and closer to Leo. When Harry looked down at the ground and slowly gave way to the Slytherin's quick pushes back, Malfoy would glance up and give Leo an inscrutable look. Harry swallowed, voice sounding adamant enough, but to Leo's ear, there were shivers of uncertainty. Leo suspected, from the speculating look on Malfoy's face, that the other teen picked up the sound as well.
"No," Harry said darkly, strongly, looking up to glare at Malfoy after some new, unheard suggestion. "Absolutely not."
"Why not?" the Malfoy teen nearly purred. "Scared that I'll do something to wreck everything?"
Harry's eyes narrowed. "I don't care what you know." His head dipped down and Malfoy glanced again at Leo, arching an eyebrow. Leo rolled his eyes and the Auror behind him tensed.
"This tournament is all about advantages, Potter."
"I'm not so poor in advantages that I'll sell out my brother to you."
Malfoy's eyes focused on Leo in a way that made Leo feel trapped. "Why don't you ask him first?" he suggested quietly, eyes not moving but question clearly directed at Harry. "We Malfoys have a reputation after all. Perhaps he'd agree to meeting me."
Leo's guard put a hand on his shoulder and, looking up, Leo blinked at seeing the wizard's face so very dark with anger and hate. But Harry seemed to say the words the Auror wanted to say. "I'd like to see you get close enough to Leo to introduce yourself. Can you do it? Can you get by all his guards, all the Aurors who hate the Malfoys and their money? They wouldn't let you a step in Leo's direction--I wouldn't be surprised to be told that they're following you in particular, making sure nothing like that even happens."
"We'll have to see about that," Malfoy answered airily, breaking eye contact to smirk at Harry. "After all, they are your brother's Aurors and if your brother wants to meet me, they can hardly do a thing about it."
Harry scoffed and started to turn around. When Malfoy's hand darted up, grabbing hold of Harry's shoulder to prevent that from happening, Leo almost winced. 'Bad move,' he thought to the Slytherin, biting his lip to keep from grinning. 'You've kept him from turning before, but not so obviously. He knows, now.'
Harry jerked away, taking a few wary steps back from the Slytherin, all tense all over. Malfoy looked instantly rueful about touching Harry, especially when Harry turned quickly and froze at seeing Leo there. But, just as Harry froze, Leo saw the flash of self-congratulations in the Slytherin's eyes on having made Harry turn just at this moment, on having planned everything for this revelation.
"Hello, Harry," Leo greeted cheerfully. "It turns out that Uncle Sirius didn't need me at all."