This is the first multi-scene chapter that does not have anything from Harry's perspective. Honestly, though, I like how it turned out.
Disclaimer: Was the Patronus introduced as a spell that only a few adult witches and wizards could cast, yet Harry taught a bunch of students, some barely teenagers, how to do it without a problem? If so, I don't own the Harry Potter franchise; it belongs to J.K. Rowling, Scholastic Press, Warner Bros., and whomever else she sold the rights to.
In Pursuit of Justice
Keep it in. Keep it in… A stream of vapor poured from the tip of her wand, and Astoria lost control of her beaming smile as she watched it coalesce into a blob. The effect of filling herself up with her happiest thoughts, then casting what she was sure was about to become a corporeal Patronus at only fourteen was just too much to hide behind a cold mask. "I think I got it. I think I got it!"
"Hold it together!" Harry called, rushing over from where he had been giving Longbottom – Neville – some guidance. "Almost there. Remember, it's all will and intent at this point. Don't get too excited, or it'll fall apart on you."
She nodded, focusing even harder. This was the second week they had worked on this spell alone, and no one – not Susan, niece of the head of the DMLE; not Ernie, whom she had seen was a powerful wizard; not even Neville, Harry's 'pet project' in the same way she could be said to be Luna's – had yet managed more than a misty shield. She herself had not gotten even that the first day, prompting Harry to pull her to the side for a little one-on-one chat. It had been beyond embarrassing to explain that she could not come up with even a single happy memory, but to her surprise, he had confessed to having the same problem when he had first learned the spell.
'For those of us with shitty pasts, this can be a little difficult', he had said. 'Personally, I don't try to come up with anything good that happened to me so far back; too many bad memories get in the way and make those times lose their luster. Instead I focus on something good I have right now, like my relationship with Luna and Mione, the joy I feel when we're together. It needs to be something big that just picks you up inside.'
It had worked. Rather than sort through her life before now, when her parents and her brother had done their best to turn her into an emotionless golem just like them, she thought of this year. Her parents were too concerned with regaining their fortune to pay attention to her, her friendship with Colin was kind of, maybe looking like it could turn into something more, and for the first time ever, she was surrounded by people who cared about her and kept her from being alone.
Between that joy and her determination to prove to Luna that the blonde's faith in her had not been a mistake, was it any wonder she was about to succeed in this?
The silver vapor stretched and settled onto the ground, forming a vaguely dog- or fox-like shape. Darker grey covered the creature's back, more like smoke than mist, and it bounced around her on stubby legs a few times before settling at her side. "He's beautiful," she muttered, stroking the spirit's ears and barely staving off a giggle when it nuzzled into her palm. "What do you think he is?"
Harry, answering her smile with one of his own, just shook his head. "No clue. Luna!"
"What? Oh, he is gorgeous," the Ravenclaw commented upon catching sight of her Patronus.
"You're the animal expert. Any ideas?"
"A jackal, I think. In folklore, they're said to be extremely cunning and adaptable, much like foxes. Appropriate traits for a Slytherin." The blonde walked closer and muttered so that only Astoria and Harry could hear, "But unlike foxes, they are additionally associated with abandonment and desolation, which, while not as pleasant, also describe you."
The younger girl grimaced at that reminder, but the boy all five 'students' had come to see as a leader and teacher cleared his throat before she could sink too far into her misery. "The meaning behind our Patroni is rarely all good; they're you, both the good and the bad. I showed you mine last week. White stags are signs of nobility, true, but they're also harbingers of destruction for those that violate moral law. Not exactly a nice thing to consider, especially since I'd rather stay out of a… certain conflict, let's say.
"Anyway, since you're the first one to get the spell down, can you give us a hand helping out the others?" She nodded, her face flushed with pride. Even if her animal wasn't exactly what she would have wanted had she been given a choice, she still had one. How many adult witches could conjure a corporeal Patronus? Not many.
After another half hour of practice, Harry clapped his hands together to regain their attention. "All right, everyone, that's it for today. Since next Saturday is a Hogsmeade weekend, we won't be meeting, but we can probably do it the week after that. In the meantime, keep practicing on your own. A Patronus is of no value if it takes you five minutes to cast it."
"Or if you still can't do it yet," Susan groused, glaring in mild jealousy at the others. The Hufflepuff was the only one of them who had been unable to fully materialize her guardian. That did not mean she was the only one to have trouble; Ernie had only just managed to force his spell into a prancing stallion before Harry called time. To everyone's surprise, it had been Neville's bear that came out second, and ten minutes later Colin had produced an animal that Luna called a mongoose.
How it must burn her that two fourth-years have succeeded where she hasn't, Astoria thought with only a little preening.
"Yes, or if you haven't done it yet, but you have two weeks to work on it now. If you're still having trouble at that point, stick around afterwards and we'll see what we can do." The redhead nodded at Harry's offer, and he turned to them. "Well, what are you waiting for? Scram."
The quintet laughed and headed for the door, Neville opening it for them. He just as quickly slammed it shut, but not fast enough to block the entirety of the scarlet hex that flew at them from down the hall and barely missed hitting Ernie's cheek. Footsteps pounded on the floor as the mystery assailant tried to flee.
Unfortunately for him, they weren't going to let him get away. Their little group was technically against Umbridge's precious Educational Decrees, and they were learning far to much to give it up, not to mention the risk of expulsion.
"Astoria, you're the fastest. Go in front and stall him," Susan ordered, her wandtip already glowing. The Slytherin nodded and sprinted down the corridor after the attacker, her companions – her friends – following but already falling behind by the time she rounded the first corner. In front of her, the corner of a robe taunted her as her quarry went down another hall, and she eked out yet more speed from her legs. Rather than actually enter the next passage, she slid along the floor and spotted not one but three boys, all of whom were very familiar.
Malfoy and his cronies. The former prefect had made no secret of how angry he was at Slughorn for taking away his badge, and while she knew he had mentioned something about getting even, she had payed little attention to him. Was that was this was? Either way, there was no way she could let him escape and tell anyone what they were doing. She could not bear to lose all this now that she had it. "Stupefy."
Her whispered stunner flew true and slammed into Crabbe's back, sending him sprawling onto the floor. Of the blond's bodyguards, her target was the one who had actual talent with magic, not to mention a well known pyromanic streak. Malfoy and Goyle turned to their fallen comrade, giving her a precious second to hide behind the other corner of the intersection.
"Potter!" Malfoy screamed, whirling around to face the hall. "Come out and face me, you coward! So much for— Aaaah!"
His rather high-pitched scream was well deserved; the other four had raced over on silenced feet and had immediately gone on the offensive, two more stunners and a pair of conjured nets soaring through the air. The ropes both hit Goyle's bulk, tripping him and bringing him out of the way of one Stupefy only to bash his face against the stone floor, but Malfoy barely danced out of the way of the other hex. A second barrage, tripping jinxes and body binds, was more successful.
Harry, followed by Luna and Hermione, casually strolled up to them and stared at their downed victims. Giving the group members a quick glance, he remarked, "I guess we aren't needed, after all."
"We're going to be in so much trouble," Colin whimpered. Now that the adrenaline was fading, Astoria could also see how bad this could go for them. Even without Snape pandering to Malfoy's every demand, he could still accuse them of attacking him and running an unapproved club, both of which were true.
"No, we won't be in trouble." They looked at Neville, who stood the slightest bit straighter at the attention. "Ernie and I are both prefects, and we all saw Malfoy throw the first spell. Everything after that was us trying to stop them so they couldn't do it again. It'll be they-said-we-said, and the professors never do anything in those situations without some kind of physical proof. I should know; it happened often enough to me."
Luna cleared her throat lightly. "While that plan's all well and good, there are other options available. Everyone, be on your way and let us have a little private chat with Malfoy. If that doesn't work, Neville, we'll let you and Ernie know so you can inform Sprout and McGonagall."
Her curiosity piqued, Astoria shifted her eyes among the three informal instructors. What could they be planning?
"If you're sure?" At the Ravenclaw's nod, Ernie shrugged his shoulders and turned to go back the way they had come, Susan right behind him. Neville and Colin, on the other hand, continued along the hallway to a different staircase.
Hermione raised one eyebrow and stared at her. "You waiting for something?"
"What are you really going to do to him?" Astoria asked bluntly. "I'm not even in your year, but I know how much Malfoy hates you. You're not going to convince him not to turn you in, and I'm pretty sure you know that already."
The trio shared a glance. Smiling tightly, Harry began walking towards the petrified boy and waved for her to follow. "How many ways can you think of to get someone to spill secrets they would rather keep quiet about?"
She blinked in surprise. That was not a question she would ever have expected to be asked. "Er… Veritaserum, bribery, blackmail, coercion…" Gulping, she hesitantly offered, "Torture and the Imperius Curse?"
"Yes, all of those would work, but there's another, gentler way," the young man explained. He leveled a pale wand at Malfoy and intoned, "Compulso. Finite petrificus capitis. Tell me what you were doing here and why you attacked us."
The older Slytherin's head had started thrashing around the instant Harry's compulsion charm hit him, as if he meant to fight off the spell. When he opened his mouth, however, he burst out, "I was getting you back! For everything! You murdered Uncle Severus, forced Slughorn to take away my badge! It's all your fault!"
"Silencio. You think I'm the one who killed Snape? Seriously?" Harry shook his head, and the little bit of tightness that had built up in Astoria's chest at that accusation relaxed. She did not even know why she had panicked at all; it was not as if the Boy Who Lived would ever murder anybody. "And why would you ever think I could tell Slughorn what to do? Finite silencio, answer the question."
"Because you're his favorite! That's why he's giving you good scores, because he'll do anything to keep your favor!"
"Stupefy." Harry lowered his wand and scrubbed his face. "Idiot. And I earned those marks, thank you very much."
Astoria crept closer and nudged Malfoy with her foot. "What are you going to do about them now?"
"That is an excellent question." He levitated Crabbe and Goyle's unconscious bodies, gesturing for her to do the same with Malfoy. "Time for extra lesson number two. Show me where they were hiding."
She took the lead and set her burden down at the approximate spot. "Here, I think."
"Good." He arranged the other two boys at Malfoy's sides and swept his wand over them. "The best way to keep them from telling anyone what we were doing is to make sure they can't. Now, I know Susan and Ernie told you about the contract we 'tricked' you into signing at our first meeting, so that's one thing we could do, but that required consent on your part. Malfoy would never go for it. So, we use our next option." He waved his wand over the trio. "Obliviate."
"Wait. Isn't that—"
"The standard memory charm? Yes." He shrugged. "They can't talk about anything if they don't remember it. Funny thing about this spell: it leaves the 'edges' of the memory you cut out a little fuzzy, for lack of a better word. Which means…" Tapping himself on his head with his wand, he faded out of sight, the other fifth-years doing the same beside him. The air where he had stood shifted slightly, and she felt him putting her under the same spell. "…I can do this. Finite incantatem. Enervate."
The three boys groaned as they roused from their stupor. "Whu? What happened?" Malfoy gasped as he looked around. "Damn it, I told you two to stay awake and watch out for Potter! He got away!"
Astoria had to clap her hand over her mouth to muffle her giggles. An invisible hand grabbed her elbow, and she allowed Harry to guide her in the opposite direction from her retreating classmates. He whispered, "And thus ends today's class."
"You know what I love most about Time Turners?"
Luna turned to her girlfriend. "Having more time to read?"
"Sleeping in?" the lone boy in the relationship suggested.
"Taking a long shag break?"
Harry paused and then nodded rapidly. "I'd like to change my vote to that, please."
"See, this is why McGonagall trusted me with a Time-Turner my third year and not either of you," Hermione scoffed. "And no, I was talking about how we could use it to create air-tight alibis."
The other thieves muttered reluctant agreements at that. Right this minute and a few hundred kilometers away, they were starting the day's Patronus lesson with their slimmed-down D.A. An hour and a half of that, followed by another thirty minutes in the Gryffindor common room; two hours total. Probably more than they needed to rob the Carrows, but there was no harm in being careful.
Especially with this latest obstacle.
"She still there?"
Luna raised the omnioculars and peered into the manor's windows. "Yep. Have I mentioned how much I hate it when the Death Eaters get a clue?"
"Third time in as many minutes," Harry grunted, casting a finishing charm on the ward. Normally disrupting even a drained ward was more than that simple spell could handle, but it could be done if they used their wardtap to reduce the defense to nearly nothing. It was just easier and less time-consuming to drain it sufficiently that a blasting curse would shatter it.
The way they were working this time did have an advantage, however. With a finishing charm, there was no flash of light to warn Alecto that they were there.
Normally, they would have waited until both siblings were out of the house to make their move, but apparently someone had realized that they attacked when the manors were vacant or the inhabitants were asleep, MacNair being the lone exception. Winky reported two days previously that the Carrows had taken steps to prevent themselves from becoming victims, including sleeping in shifts and only having one person leave the house at a time.
Much as she detested them, Luna had to give credit where credit was due. It was a decent idea.
"At least they're being overconfident, too," Hermione remarked as she used a pick to nullify the last layer, a second anti-Apparation ward. "Only five wards up? They're taunting us. You'd think that if they figured out that we were waiting for everyone to leave that they would also know we can see her sticking around."
"Thank goodness for small favors." Laying a disillusionment charm on all of them, Harry grabbed their hands and tugged them in the direction of the front door. "You have the stone, Blue?"
She squeezed his hand in reply. Apparating around the entrance hall had been a fantastic strategy against MacNair, but they would much rather not have that turned around on them, especially not when Amycus could arrive at any time and back his sister up. To prevent that from happening, they had created a small wardstone of their own. All it held was an unkeyed anti-Apparation ward and a charging cluster, but that minimalist approach left it small enough to fit in a pocket and would allow it to go unnoticed should a fight spill out to the ground floor.
A quick tug against Harry's pull caused him to stop once they were inside, and she fished the stone out of its pouch. Activating it, she rolled it along the floor into a corner. Separated from her, the disillusionment charm on the stone itself faded. "Do we stay invisible and risk hitting each other, or let her see us?"
"Close quarters like this? The risk of collateral damage is too high if she holds up against our first strike." They dispelled their charms and crept on silenced feet up the stairs to the dining room where she had spotted their target. Much to their displeasure, she was not seated with her back to the door, but was instead eating at the other end of the table.
At least she still doesn't know we're here, she noted to herself. That would make things even more difficult.
After checking the scene, Harry pulled back slightly and whispered, "I guess we'll have to be messy. Blasting curses, just blow up everything inside. Confringo."
Luna doubted Alecto heard Harry's quiet incantation, but she certainly noticed the bright yellow spell streaking through the air towards her. That gave her just enough time to throw herself out of her chair, the explosive spell hitting her left shoulder rather than her head, and a retaliatory scream of "Avada Kedavra" forced them to duck back behind the wall. Hermione dropped to the floor and hurled a second blasting curse low, connecting with the Death Eater's knee as she tried to scramble to her feet again. Slowed down by the pain and loss of limbs, she was unable to avoid Luna's coup de grâce.
"That takes care of that," the brunette commented. The trio entered the room, wands lowered but still out. Killing the sister did not mean the brother would not ambush them. Hermione nudged the clenched fist still attached to what was left of Alecto's body with her boot and inhaled sharply when bits of dried clay slipped out. "She had something in her hand. Blue, any ideas what?"
"From just these pieces, there's no way to—" Three sharp cracks rang from outside, and the thieves peered downstairs to see an equal number of Death Eaters rushing into the house. "I'm going to guess that it was a signal."
One of the Death Eaters lifted his head and spotted them. "There they are! Get them!"
Not even sharing a glance, the trio split, Harry and Hermione going one way while she ran in the other. There were three ways this could play out. First, the madmen could attack her together to bring her down quickly, leaving themselves open for her lovers' counter. Second, they could present a united front against the others, which meant she could take them out from behind.
One of the Death Eaters wheeled around and flung a jet of green light at her while his buddies did the same with her companions.
Third, they take us on one-on-one, she groused, diving out of the way of the Killing Curse and retaliating with the flat grey of a bone-shattering curse. Her opponent jumped to one side and shielded himself from her followup Reducto.
She put a column between herself and the next Unforgivable and checked on her partners. They had made some distance between themselves, each also using the indoor balcony's supports as bulwarks. As she watched, Hermione popped out for just a moment to send a blue spell of some sort at her own enemy and then hid again. The brunette had never been the strongest witch, but her intelligence and endless need for personal perfection meant she had mastered the art of guerrilla warfare, taking potshots at her opponent that almost never missed and could rarely be defended against with a simple Protego.
Harry, on the other hand, was switching from column to column, waving his wand in a ceaseless dance as he launched numerous shafts of color down to the ground floor. With power to burn, he did not have to conserve magic like Hermione did and so could could afford to waste his energy with misses. Boosting their reserves with the ritual they had performed on her birthday just gave him an even greater edge.
The column she was hiding behind splintered, recalling her attention from her lovers to her opponent. Daddy always did say that the best defense was an unstoppable offense, she remembered. Her father's style of dueling was all about point-casting, a seventh-year skill where one worked on casting spells without the corresponding wand motions. By getting rid of those as well as the usual incantations, she could rapidly spurt curse after curse – whatever spell found its way to the forefront of her mind next – making her attacks wholly unpredictable. The Death Eater shielded himself against a barrage of minor jinxes before suffering a bone-breaker to his off-hand and a cutting charm to his leg. At that point, he conjured a brick wall between them in an attempt to regroup with his allies.
"Red, Blue," Hermione's voice rang from her communication mirror earring, "We don't have time to spare. Reinforcements could be Apparating in at any moment."
"I hope you have a plan, then," snapped Harry.
"A chain blasting curse, like the one you used at the Greengrasses'," she suggested. At her lovers' confirmation, she continued, "On three, right in the middle of their group."
"Three. Confringissimo!" A bright yellow spiral leapt from her wand to the ground like a lightning bolt, her cry echoed by the others. The spells hit almost the exact same spot, and a loud string of cracks and screams erupted while a dust cloud billowed up from the area. She retreated behind her column just in case, but after a few seconds of silence Harry conjured a wind to blow the dust away. All three assailants lay unmoving on the ground.
"Yellow, check them out. We'll cover you."
Hermione nodded and made her way to the stairs and down. She spent a moment kneeling beside each one before motioning them to join her. "Two dead, and the one who's still alive needs to get to St. Mungo's if he wants to stay that way."
"You can't treat him?" Luna asked when she and Harry reached the ground floor.
The eldest of the trio shook her head and weaved a spell over the presumably still-living man's bloodied back. "Some stone shards punctured his organs. I stopped the external bleeding, but for the internal damage I'd need potions or time to work on him, neither of which we have. I'm worried enough that a second team is going to appear on top of us as it is."
"Who is it, anyway?" Harry asked, removing the other wizard's mask, then he sighed. "Of course it would be him. Yellow's right; we don't have time to do anything else here. This heist is a bust. Someone grab him and bring him with us."
Luna shot her boyfriend a look while he vanished their wardstone. "'Bring him with us'?"
"Yes. I have questions for him, and there's someone else who will want to talk to him once I'm done."
Tonks sighed and took a seat in her boss's office. "Just finished going through the last of the records you wanted me to look at, Madam Bones."
"Excellent. Any leads?" Shacklebolt asked from the chair beside her.
She shot the other witch a quick glance, which was answered with a nod. Her partner was in the loop. Good. I hated trying to keep all this a secret. "Actually, yes. There were three Muggleborns whose parents died in a Death Eater raid and were subsequently mind-wiped." Taking a sheaf of parchment out of her robe's pocket, she passed him the first file. "First up is Ellen Simmons, Hogwarts alumna of '88. Ravenclaw, exceptional NEWTs in Runes as well as Potions. Moved to France following her graduation for an enchanting apprenticeship, finished two years ago. No records that she's come back to Britain, but she could have used a Muggle method."
"She's a possibility," Madam Bones allowed. "I doubt an enchantress would have the skill or power to pull down wards, but I suppose she could have made something that would do it for her. Have you spoken with her?"
"Sent an owl day before yesterday, no reply yet."
"Very well, we'll keep her as an option until we know more. Next?"
"Mark Evans," she read before sliding the relevant records to her boss. "Far as I can tell, no relation to Lily Potter née Evans. Graduated in '90 from the Anthony College of Wizardry in Bristol, did fantastic in Transfiguration and fairly well in Arithmancy. Took custody of his siblings, four of them, and returned to work in the Muggle world as a personal assistant. All five Evanses are magical and attended Anthony, kids four and five are currently enrolled."
Madam Bones's eyebrows rose. "Why include only the eldest Evans and not the next two?"
"He's the only one with the Arithmancy to be our guy. Evans number two was into magical creatures and is a new dragon handler in the Hebrides, and number three dropped out middle of her sixth year and has been in the wind ever since." Tonks scoffed. "I took a look at her school records; she's a powder puff. Passed her OWLs in Astronomy, Divination, and just barely Charms. When she disappeared, she was failing those classes. Unless she was deliberately hiding her skills for more than five years, I think we can safely write her off.
"As for Mark, I sent him a letter asking for a meeting, which he declined. Said 'If the DMLE wants to talk to me, get a warrant'. Normally I'd say that's that, but he was too defensive. He may not be our guy, but he's hiding something."
"You have the reply?" Shacklebolt asked. She handed it over so he could skim through it. "I agree, something's up here. I'll do some more digging, see what I can find. With your permission, Madam Bones?"
"Get on it when we're done here. You have the last one?" the department head asked.
She smiled tightly as she showed them the third file. "Bruce Kivlighan. Chléirigh School of Magic in Cork, class of '89. High NEWTs in Arithmancy, Runes, and Defense Against the Dark Arts. Employed at Gringotts immediately after graduation as a cursebreaker trainee, became a full cursebreaker in late '93. His coworkers described him as driven and bitter, and he supposedly had a huge chip on his shoulder about the Death Eaters."
"Sounds like our guy," Shacklebolt said with relief. "Now we just have to bring him in. Where is he now?"
"Dead." The other two Aurors looked at her. "From what I was told, he was working an Aztec tomb in Mexico when he got caught in a trap. His teammates tried to get him out, but a sliding panel tore off his leg and sealed him inside. They never found his body."
Madam Bones's lips narrowed as she thought. "A lost leg can be replaced, assuming he survived the blood loss and found another way out. When did this event happen?"
"Um… Last May, I think? Yes, May fifteenth," she answered after flipping through her notes again.
"Shortly before Mr. Fox showed up on the scene. His first raids were empty houses; maybe he wasn't figuring out what he was doing but instead was still adjusting to his prosthetic." The head of the DMLE nodded to herself. "Shack, have a face-to-face with Evans, and Tonks, you I want digging up everything you can on Kivlighan. Pay extra attention to his extended family, close friends, old flames, professional associates, anyone who could have helped him when he reentered the country. He's our best suspect…" Madam Bones trailed off as a flashing paper airplane melted through the wood of the door as though it were intangible and landed on her desk. She unfolded the violet memo and paused for a moment after reading it. "Well, that's interesting. Follow me."
The witch lead the Aurors into a lift and down to the Atrium, where a crowd of Ministry workers had already gathered. "DMLE, out of the way!" she yelled, physically pushing some individuals when they did not move fast enough. "Taylor, get these people away from the scene!"
Tonks slipped past a few of the harried MLEP officers and blinked at the sight before her. Slumped on the ground lay an unconscious wizard, Amycus Carrow. What really caught her attention, however, was the silver mask pinned to his black robes and the snake and skull tattoo showing on his left forearm where the sleeve had been cut off. "Three guesses who did this."
"Indeed." Madam Bones shoved a sheet of parchment into her hand.
Since you were so adamant about capturing these animals rather than immediately putting them down, I hereby put this one in your care. He needs medical attention, but you should be able to keep him alive long enough to answer your questions. At his house you will find three corpses, two of his Death Eater buddies in full regalia and the remains of his sister. You might want to bring a mop.
Don't bother using the belongings in his house as bait to catch me. I've already written this job off as a loss.
"…He's got balls," she eventually muttered; there were not many wizards who would freely confess to killing three people to the DMLE. And her boss thought she had a shot of luring the guy close enough to recruit him? A tiny shiver raced down her spine. "How did Carrow get here, do you think?"
"The guard said he just appeared out of nowhere. I'm guessing something, probably that note, was spelled to be a portkey," answered Madam Bones. "Another Auror will handle his interrogation; you get to work on the Kivlighan angle. The sooner we know if it's him or not, the more time we have to either find him or continue the search elsewhere."
Other than the Death Eaters interfering with their raid on the Carrows and Susan finally conjuring her sheepdog Patronus, January passed fairly uneventfully. One morning in the middle of February, Hermione blinked her eyes open and looked blearily at the baskets of flowers that had appeared overnight and were now threatening to take over the dorms.
Right, Valentine's Day. How could I forget?
A shower had her feeling human again, and she quickly pulled some robes out of her trunk. The previous day, the trio had discussed having a private breakfast in the kitchens, and she knew Harry had likely already left to pick up Luna from the Ravenclaws' tower. That would also give him some alone time with the blonde, which she did not begrudge. It had been their way on this day for the past several years: the early morning was for him and Luna to spend time together as a couple, the late morning and early afternoon for Luna and her, and the late afternoon was for him and her. Come evening, they would celebrate their relationship as a ménage à trois, and at night…
Well, that needed no explanation.
Something on her nightstand caught her attention then. When did that plate get there?, she wondered, approaching to get a better look at it. On the plate were three pink biscuits shaped like rose heads, and under them lay a note in Harry's messy scrawl. "For the rose of my heart, that our love would ever bloom," she read aloud with a frown.
This was suspicious to say the least. True, Harry normally cooked them something special on Valentine's Day, and it was one of the few days he baked, but he had never included sappy letters before. Was he just trying something new, or was the situation more dubious?
They do look good, though. The biscuits were still warm and soft, and they were covered with shining 'dewdrops' that could only be a sugary glaze. She doubted she would ever have a sweet tooth like Luna's – a benefit of being the daughter of two dentists, she supposed – but she did enjoy an occasional treat. Not to mention, if he did send these to me, I'd hate to tell him that I didn't at least try one.
Turning away from the sweets, she dug through her trunk a second time, this search turning up a small purse charmed to be bigger on the inside than the outside. She summoned a vial from within and swallowed the contents. The neutralizing potions have been getting easier to take lately. That was almost like drinking water, she noted. A moment later, she shrugged and dismissed her concerns. I must just be getting accustomed to them.
Now immune from the effects of any other potions for the rest of the day, she turned back to her surprise and nibbled off a small sample. Warmth suffused her body, and her thoughts immediately turned to her boyfriend. Finishing off the rest of the plate in record time, she positively bounced out of the dorm and down the hall to the common room, empty except for one other person. She beamed as she spotted the love of her life waiting for her. "There you are."
"Yep, right here. Want to get some breakfast?" Ron asked with a wide smile.
If you can't tell, I had some nerdy fun with the first scene. I don't know that Rowling meant to imply the darker meaning of a white hart when she made it Harry's Patronus, but if so, kudos to her.
Why Hermione was acting so out of character at the end will be addressed next chapter. For now, suffice it to say that it is not just author's fiat…
Crossoverpairinglover: To a certain extent, yes, Ron can be written as a redeemable character, but there's a lot in canon that makes him out to be a fairly reprehensible human being, especially for one of the "good guys". To compound the issue on a personal level, I just can't stand stupid characters, and any wizard-raised eleven-year-old who would believe his known prankster brother's claim that a rhyming couplet is a valid incantation shows an inherent lack of brains.
Zaralann: For Ron knowing how to interact with people properly, I'm going to go with no. I think part of the reason he was never shown to have any friends other than Harry and Hermione in canon is that no one else would put up with him (which adds a sense of desperation to him returning to the fold in book 4, doesn't it?). Yes, there's something wrong with Dumbledore, but I don't know if he can't see the individual like you said or if he's just so convinced of his own grandeur that he doesn't stop to really reconsider a failing plan, just how to get it back on track.
Silently Watches out.