These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to us.

—William Shakespeare, King Lear

Chapter Eight

As winter passed by, Holly was grateful for the Charms club to break up the heavy press of schoolwork. Their classes seemed to get exponentially harder as time passed, and even though the actual magic never gave Holly any trouble and was still ridiculously easy, the theory was less so. There were many nights where she and her friends had to forgo having fun at all, and really spend it studying. As time passed, Parvati seemed to love Charms more and more, while Lavender became very dedicated to Transfiguration, but both girls loved the club.

The first meeting had occurred the day after Holly received the painting from Arcturus Black, something which the whole school seemed to be talking about. Seventh years Holly had never met begged her to see the painting, while even more were discussing, at length, the great romance of Merlin and Morgana, and the subsequent fall of Morgana into darkness. Neville had recited a song about the lovers over lunch, and Hermione Granger had gotten Professor Quirrell to relate to the Defense class the Battle of Shady Glen—the epic last stand of Morgana and her defeat by Merlin.

Unlike in Muggle legend, the origin of Merlin and Morgana was well known in the Wizarding World. Merlin was born of a dark family whose name had been stricken from record. He was sorted Slytherin, but he ended up becoming the greatest wizard of all time. He was an Animagus by the time he was a teen, and his powers only grew from there. Morgana, on the other hand, started out in a normal family, though she was also sorted into Slytherin, and was corrupted slowly by one of her professors at Hogwarts. Morgana's jealously over her half-brother, and descent into the Dark Arts led her one-time champion, Merlin, to become her greatest nemesis.

Holly was rather interested in the whole thing. While people were speaking about her, she didn't mind it so much, and the stories they were relating were much more interesting than anything she had ever learned in the Muggle world. Even Professor Flitwick got in the spirit of things, for the first Charms club meeting that Holly ever attended was one with a special guest speaker.

"All right everyone, settle down," Professor Flitwick squeaked that first meeting from atop the Head Table in the Great Hall.

It was necessary to have a large space, for there were at least twenty students from each House in the club. All of the House tables had been moved to the sides, and the members all sat in rows of chairs that had been placed facing Professor Flitwick.

"Due to the hubbub of the last day," Flitwick continued, "I thought that we might cancel the planned meeting on botany charms, and instead I have asked a guest speaker to be here tonight. Please, everyone, give a nice, warm Hogwarts welcome to Helen Diggory!"

As the students clapped, a pretty grey-haired witch stepped up to the front. She was wearing black and yellow robes, and her hair was cut in a chin-length bob. "Hello, Hogwarts!" Mrs. Diggory said cheerfully. "I'm Cedric's mum," here she waved at a handsome third year boy sitting in the fourth row, whose cheeks turned bright pink, "but I am also an Artist."

A rippled of awe lowered over the crowd, though Holly noticed that some of the Muggle-born students looked as confused as her. "For those who don't know," Helen said, "the charms and the enchantments that allow portraits and paintings to move have to be layered and applied as the Artist goes. They are very difficult and complex, and most Wizards and Witches who have artistic talent can't perform them because they are so difficult."

Holly thought she sounded a bit pompous, but was interested nonetheless. Helen Diggory spoke at length about the charms involved in paintings, and the history behind moving portraits. When the club broke up three hours later, Holly had been obliged to show Mrs. Diggory the painting in her room, though despite that, she and her friends enjoyed the meeting immensely.

This pattern continued on for the next several weeks; there was always something interesting going on in Charms club. The promised botany charms followed, and Lavender was constantly trying to perform them on flowers they kept in their rooms—the result being that they sometimes had lovely blooms and sometimes dead ones. There was also a night on broomstick creation, and another night where Professor Flitwick taught the club a translation charm for when they travelled to foreign countries. Some things, of course, were much too difficult for the first years to even attempt, but Holly was storing up all the things she was learning for when they would be useful. (Hermione, when she had found out the girls were asked to be in the club, was spitting mad and practically growled at them, but Holly didn't let that damper her enthusiasm.)

One day, in early February, Holly was sitting in the common room, playing chess with Ron Weasley, when his twin brothers came running in, collapsing dramatically on the couch.

"What's wrong with you two?" Holly asked, frowning down at the board. Ever since Ron had seen her with a chess set the day Arcturus Black left Hogwarts, he had been bugging her to play him. Holly had agreed, and now she was regretting it, as she thought it was rather annoying to lose to a lazy twelve year old who chewed with his mouth open. She was still playing by post with Mr. Black, but Holly liked the visceral bloodiness of playing live as well.

"Snape's decided to referee the next Gryffindor Quidditch match," Fred told her, the mud on his uniform seeping into the fabric of the sofa. "It's not enough that we lost so dramatically to Slytherin last time—"

"And almost killed the Girl Who Lived in the process," George chimed in.

"—but now, that greasy git wants to make our humiliation complete."

"Language!" Hermione snapped from her place in a winged-back chair by the fire. She was reviewing her Defense notes on how to treat a werewolf bite.

Moving her rook forward, Holly pulverized one of Ron's knights. In truth, she hadn't thought much about Quidditch since her trip to the hospital wing. "Sorry," she told them. "That's rotten luck."

The portrait hole opened then, and Neville fell through it. How he had done even that much was a complete mystery, as his legs were stuck together with the Leg-Locker Curse. Lots of laughing was heard, but Ron jumped up to help his friend, and Holly quickly did the counter-curse for him. Hermione looked put out, as if she had been the one who wanted to do it.

"What happened?" Hermione asked, giving him her chair.

Neville sat, and said, "Malfoy. He caught me outside the library. Lousy git said he was looking for someone to practice on."

"Go to Professor McGonagall!" Hermione urged him. "Report him!"

Shaking his head, Neville said, "She'd tell my father."

"Someone needs to get him back," Ron said, spitting furiously. "That ponce is used to walking all over people."

Holly agreed. "You're worth twelve of Malfoy," Holly told Neville. "You're a Gryffindor! And what is he? Just a slimy Slytherin. He'll get his."

"Well," Neville said, seeming cheerful all of the sudden, "I did hear someone call out 'Fall Boy' as I was hopping away, and when I turned around Malfoy was lying in a heap. It certainly made me feel better."

The portrait hole opened again to reveal Parvati and Lavender. The blonde gave Holly a big wink, making the redhead grin back.

The Gryffindor match came and passed, and other than Draco Malfoy ending up with a chipped tooth courtesy of Neville and Ron, the only news was that the Lions had suffered a crushing defeat. Or so Holly heard. She didn't attend the game at all, preferring to spend the morning lounging in her bed. Casually, she had made a ball of string float across the room while Artemis chased it. When Lavender and Parvati had returned in rather depressed spirits, Holly knew she had made the right choice.

As the days of February passed into March and then April, Holly noticed that she seemed to see Professor Snape everywhere. He was in the corridors when she was walking to class, watching her in the Great Hall—she even saw him in the back of the room during Charms club! Holly didn't know what to make of it, but Lavender was starting to come around to Hermione's way of thinking.

"Why else would he always be hanging around?" Lavender asked Holly one day while they were sitting by the Black Lake, enjoying a rare day of sunshine. It was still cool, but it was such a relief from the biting wind, that the majority of the students were somewhere on the grounds.

Holly tilted her face up to the sun, smiling at the feel of the heat on her face. "Then why didn't he try to kill me during the match when I was all alone in my room? Or since then?"

"He was refereeing, remember?" Parvati reminded her, looking up from her spot under the tree where she was working on a cross stitch. It was supposed to be a picture of a tiger in a field, but it only looked like a green blob so far. When Holly had commented this, Parvati had snippily told her it was supposed to be grass. "He couldn't have gone up to the dorms without causing a great fuss, attracting a lot of notice."

"Well, I seem to still be alive, so I'll take my chances," Holly said casually. It wasn't that she didn't believe her friends' fears, though she didn't, but she just didn't get the feeling that Snape wanted her dead. The way he looked at her sometimes—Holly shivered. There was not hate in that gaze, though it made her uncomfortable all the same.

She rubbed her scar. "Besides, why would he kill me? It was supposed to be a diversion the first time."

"Isn't it obvious?"

The girls turned to see Hermione Granger standing there, holding books to her chest. That was nothing new, but Holly thought she spotted some strange titles among them: Dragon Species of Great Britain and Ireland; From Egg to Inferno, a Dragon Keeper's Guide.

"Isn't what obvious?" Holly asked.

"Yeah, go on and tell us if you're so clever," Lavender said, blowing at a dandelion and watching the seeds prance away in the wind.

"No one would be paying attention to him if the Girl Who Lived suddenly turned up dead," Hermione told them matter-of-factly. "He is desperate for a diversion so he has his chance."

"Chance for what?" Parvati asked, looking up from her needlework.

"Honestly, didn't any of you figure it out?" Hermione asked with annoyance. "He wants the Philosopher's Stone! That's what Nicolas Flamel created, and what Dumbledore is hiding from him. The Stone will transform any metal into pure gold. It also produces the Elixir of Life, which will make the drinker immortal." She sounded as though she was quoting a textbook. "Snape wants the Stone, but he can't get it until he figures out a way passed Fluffy, and Hagrid hasn't told anyone. All the professors provided a protection to the Stone."

"Hermione," Parvati said, "why are you worrying about this then? If there is a Philosopher's Stone in Hogwarts—which I doubt—and the professors all provided a protection to the Stone, and I am assuming that includes Professor Dumbledore, what business is it of ours? What is the worst that can happen if Snape gets the Stone? He gets enough money and leaves Hogwarts? Good riddance to bad rubbish, I'd say. As long as we protect Holly in the meantime, who cares? Let Snape have the Stone."

"You don't understand!" Hermione stamped a foot on the ground, and stalked away.

Holly sighed.

Despite her protests, Lavender and Parvati refused to let Holly go anywhere alone after that. For the next month, they followed her everywhere and not much really changed, except for the fact that they now wouldn't even let her go to the loo on her own. Holly knew she ought to be annoyed by it, but really, it just left her feeling nice that her friends cared so much.

Holly had started having nightmares, though. She was used to reliving her mother's death over and over again, but there was a new detail. Now, Holly remembered that after her mother had died, Voldemort had laughed. Every night she was waking in a cold sweat, the sound of his high-pitched laughter ringing in her ears.

"It's Hermione's fault," Lavender told her one day while they were re-potting belladonna in Greenhouse One. "She's got you all messed up in your head."

"Oh, and it has nothing to do with you and Parvati being convinced of my imminent demise?" Holly asked acerbically.

"That's just caution," Lavender said, patting down the soil. Now that the weather had turned, her love for Herbology had returned with a vengeance. "Hermione's the one who is all 'The Philosopher's Stone this' and 'The Philosopher's Stone' that."

Parvati carefully collected the leaves from the poisonous plant. "She hasn't been doing that as much lately," the ebony-haired witch commented.

It was true. Exams were five weeks away, and Hermione was fussing about them and spending every spare moment she had in the library. That was when she wasn't studying dragons, though. Holly had even seen her peppering Ron with questions about his older brother Charlie, who worked on a dragon preserve. It was all very odd, but Holly had enough to get on with without adding the peculiarities of Hermione Granger to her plate.

Two weeks later, Holly was heartily sick of studying. The professors had piled so much homework on the students that the Easter Holidays were not nearly as carefree as the Christmas ones. It was nearly impossible to relax these days, and it was only exacerbated by the fact that Holly was living with the embodiment of a walking, talking textbook. Still, the redhead tried to take small breaks when she could, and on that Friday night, she slammed her Astronomy book closed, and decided she was done for the day.

"I cannot study for another minute," Holly told Parvati, who happily joined her in skivving off, as did Lavender. Running up to her room, Holly took the puzzle she had been given by Professor McGonagall for Christmas, and took it downstairs.

The girls cleared off a table, and took the puzzle pieces from the bag, dumping them out on the flat surface. Once they had turned all the pieces right side up, they carefully, and slowly, began forming the puzzle together. It was truly odd, and nothing like Holly had done before. Without the picture and colors to guide her, Holly found it very difficult. She was used to creating puzzles by finding little bits of color and seeing where they matched. But, really, she had a hard time seeing the way the puzzle was supposed to come together at all.

Lavender and Parvati were much better at it, of course. They had been playing with wizarding puzzles all their lives, so to them, they knew no other way. At length, the girls formed the border, bit by bit, while Lavender worked on a bit central piece that she had managed to get together. The puzzle only had a hundred pieces, so eventually it was nearly finished, though it took the girls a good three hours to do.

"There," Parvati said, putting in the second to last piece with a flourish. "Now, where is the final bit?"

Looking around, the girls tried to locate the last piece of the puzzle. "Is it lost?" Lavender asked, crawling on her hands and knees under the table with Parvati beside her.

"Maybe the puzzle's defective?" Holly guessed. "Did it come missing a piece?" She too had joined the girls on the ground.

"Here it is," Hermione Granger said from where she was sitting with a book in her lap. She walked two steps, got down on the ground and picked it up. She stepped a few paces over to them, handing it to Holly. "It was on the floor over there."

"Thanks," Holly said, and they all got up. The four girls crowded around the table as Holly fit in the last piece. The moment she did, the puzzle was blank no longer. Colors were now swirling around and zooming across the completed picture. Then the puzzle went white again, and a cursive script appeared across the puzzle: "There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves; it is not my nature." The words flashed for a few moments before dissolving away to be replaced with a picture of four girls on the beach who were wearing bathing suits and had their arms wrapped around each other as they walked. Their backs were to the camera, but it was obvious to Holly who one of them was.

"Mum," she said softly, reaching out and touching the back of the redhead in the puzzle. Lily Potter was in the middle, her hair shoulder length and blowing in the wind. Her arms were around two girls on either side of her, a brunette with wavy hair and a blonde with pin-straight hair. On the other side of the blonde was a girl with short black hair, styled in a pixie cut.

"Look," Lavender said, pointing to the bottom at an inscription. She read aloud, "Dorcas Meadowes,Lily Evans, Marlene McKinnon, and Mary Macdonald—Brighton, June 1975."

The four girls stood around looking at it for a while, eventually packing up the pieces so that Holly could store them in her trunk. She was definitely playing with this puzzle again. Once they were done, the four of them went upstairs to prepare for bed, though Hermione seemed to be dithering about something.

When Holly came out of the bathroom, Hermione called her name. "Can I beg a favor?"

Holly shrugged, walking over to her. "What's going on?"

"May I borrow your invisibility cloak?" Hermione asked in a hurried whisper.

Blanching, Holly looked at her, mouth open. "How do you even know about that?"

"I heard you talking about it with Parvati," Hermione told her. "Please, Holly! It's really important, and I swear I will be careful with it. Neville has agreed to help me and Ron would too if he hadn't—"

Holly sighed. Ron had been taken to the hospital wing with a dog bite earlier in the week. He seemed to have momentarily overcome his annoyance with Hermione, roping Neville into whatever scheme the two of them had concocted. Holly didn't know what the three of them were up to, and she didn't really care, but this was her invisibility cloak. Her dad's invisibility cloak. She didn't truly want to let anyone borrow it, not even Lavender or Parvati, not that they had asked. Still, there is a lingering happiness in her from seeing her mother and her friends, so Holly shot Hermione an annoyed look and walked over to her trunk, pulling the cloak out from within.

"If anything happens to it—" Holly began.

"It won't," Hermione promised. "You won't even know it's gone. Thank you, thank you," she said, taking the cloak and rushing from the room.

Holly rolled her eyes, and got into bed. When she woke the next morning, Gryffindor had lost a hundred points, Hermione and Neville had detention, and Holly's cloak was missing.