The usual excuses. The usual complaints.
The semester is over now (at least for me), so I am now just waiting for the final fallout from it all. I like to think that it being done will give me more time for writing ... I ought to know better than to promise that'll be the case by now, though.
Nice long chapter; hopefully ff . net will cooperate formatting-wise ... and now I will quit talking and allow you to get on with what you came here for.
As for a disclaimer ... I hope you know by now who belongs to J. K. Rowling and who belongs to me. That which belongs to Rowling ... well, I hope it's obvious that it doesn't belong to me.
"Wow! It's been, like, forever since I've seen you, 'Vati!" Lavender – she whose hair, due to an accident in Transfiguration and a whim, was currently her namesake color – nearly squealed as she bounced from her bed to Parvati's. "It seems like these days you only come back to do homework occasionally, but most of the time you do that elsewhere, too. Of course, that's only to be expected, you having your own room now and all." There was less jealousy to that observation than you'd suspect; Lav' was just enough of a social animal that she was, Parvati felt, just as happy to continue living in the dorm – not that there was much company, since she had her prefect's room, Harry had disappeared, and Hermione, at times, seemed to simply live in the library.
The earlier years, she and Lavender were practically joined at the hip. But somehow, when they came back from summer break, it was ... different. In part because they weren't sleeping in the same room anymore, but also ... well, somehow, they just weren't as close anymore. And Parvati's fixation on Harry (the female one. Anyone mentioning the male one, especially in conjunction with a certain Yule celebration, was liable to find him or herself in a decidedly uncomfortable position), and then her growing friendship with Cho and – of all unlikely relationships – Pansy had served only to widened the gap.
"You're having a torrid affair, aren't you?" Lavender demanded. "Spill! You know I won't tell a soul!"
"Lavender!" Parvati found herself caught between offense and helpless laughter – primarily the latter.
"It's sooo obvious. You disappear all the time, sometimes you stare off into space looking all moony ..."
"I do not!"
"Yes you do." Imperturbable, the Gryffindor continued blithely on her search for the truth. Or an interesting lie. Whichever was juicier. "Oh god ... it's Parkinson, isn't it!"
Parvati froze. "What on earth gave you that idea?" She countered weakly.
A dismissive flip of the hand. "Totally obvious. You're a bad actor, you know? Parkinson, well, she has the advantage of being a Slytherin, so she's a bit better, but even she's stilted when forced into interacting with you. And you hardly ever insult each other anymore. And every time you enter the Great Hall, you kinda glance sidelong at the Slytherin table like you're checking to see if she's there, and whenever she is you kind of smile a little – and she does the same thing. Though, you know, on her horrible pug face it's rather hard to tell."
"Hey!" Parvati protested.
"And, not counting the fact that your denial just now was faked even worse than your acting, you just defended Parkinson's looks."
"I'm not carrying on a torrid affair with Pan – with Parkinson." Parvati asserted firmly. Not that it did much good.
"First Hermione, now you ... ohmigod, do you think I'm going to turn lesbian next?!" Lavender seemed unduly horrified by the idea. "Is it something about this room? Neither of you was like this last year! Well, not that you live in here anymore, but maybe it's some sort of delayed-reaction curse." Hysterical almost. "I don't want to stop liking guys!"
"Lavender. I'm not carrying on a secret affair with Pansy and I am not a lesbian. There's nothing in the air. You're not going to stop liking guys if you don't want to." As she tried to comfort her roommate – typical Lavender, really, blowing everything out of proportion – Parvati took her rather muddled feelings about the absent Harry (female – we've been over this before), shoved them all into a box marked 'Not going to think about it right now', and hid them in depths of her mind.
"There is something going on between you and Parkinson, though. You just called her by her first name – and don't think I didn't notice your slip-up before." And just like that, the flighty Gryffindor had returned to her usual state of sanity (or lack thereof).
"You ought to be more careful, Lav'." Parvati capitulated with something of a smile. "People might start thinking you were intelligent or something."
"God forbid." Lavender replied – just about anyone who didn't know her as well as Parvati would have sworn she was being serious. "You're avoiding the subject."
"Yes, there is something going on. We're ... friends."
Lavender just shook her head. "Somehow ... it would almost be less disturbing if you two were engaged in a torrid affair ..."
By all accounts, it was a beautiful day outside. And, contrary to popular belief, Slytherins – and one Pansy Parkinson in particular – were not necessarily always immune to such things. In fact, on this particular day, she found herself oddly restless – a condition she blamed on there being no Parvati around to make herself an easy target to practice her sarcasm on – and had, in an effort to tone down said restlessness, decided to take a nice, leisurely walk down to the lake. Provoke the giant squid a bit, perhaps.
So it happened that she was strolling past the Great Hall. And when she thought she heard voices ... well, it would be hardly Slytherin of her to not stick her nose in and investigate the situation further.
Of course, all intentions of simply taking a quick glance and then continuing on her way were thrown out the nearest window (or perhaps up to the ceiling, to stick like insubstantial spitwads) when she caught sight of a very familiar face.
"You!" She marched into the Great Hall, furious steps ringing even as her shout faded away, grabbed the scarf of the perpetrator (thrown off balance enough that she entirely failed to notice that said scarf was not red and gold, or even green and silver, but an incongruous yellow and black), and yanked him down to her level. "Do you know how worried we've all been? Draco especially! God! That was so inconsiderate of you, to leave just like that! And chasing after that silly Gryffindor –"
Again, her focus could be blamed for the fact that she didn't quite catch the affronted "Hey!", and was still quite ignoring anyone else recognizable in the small crowd. Just as she ignored the voice attached to the scarf that began hesitantly, "Um ... I don't think you have –"
"– Oh yes, Draco told me all about it ... and then he had to go pull a disappearing act himself, after driving the Headmaster around the bend, I swear, that man's crazy now – and now the only time we see Severus is during class times, because he's afraid Dumbledore will catch him and force him to fess up to where he's hiding Draco ..."
"– That's all very interesting, really, but –"
"Ooh, I'm so mad I could scream at you, Harry James Potter! If you ever do anything like this again, I swear I will kill you myself." Letting up on his scarf happened a bit more forcefully than necessary as well; the taller boy went reeling backwards and only barely avoided landing on his ass.
"Draco?" The boy asked.
"Malfoy's son, presumably." An older man said shortly. Older and terribly scarred, Pansy knew she had never seen him before, yet could not shake the feeling that she knew him from somewhere.
"Why would I want to associate with that?"
Pansy's anger flared again. "You –!" Then spluttered and died of astonishment as she finally took note of the coloration of the scarf. "Oh, for ... Since when are you a Hufflepuff, Harry?"
Brushing at invisible lint, the boy drawled. "As I recall, for near-on four and a half years now. I seem to recall something about the Sorting Hat saying as much when I put it on my head ... isn't that the way these things usually go?"
"Don't be ridiculous. You were sorted into Gryffindor, I heard the hat myself."
"I believe she thinks you are the native Harry to this land." Lucia stepped up – except it couldn't be Lucia, not with a braid (terribly messy one at that, but the length of hair was more to the point in this case), and glasses that she was currently somewhat self-consciously adjusting.
Harry threw her a slightly irritated look. "I had rather come to that conclusion myself." Then turned his attention back to Pansy. "Hi. Laurence Potter."
"And I'm Harriet." The girl-who-was-not-quite-Lucia added. "We both prefer Harry ... but that could become somewhat confusing. So Harriet will do for now." She turned around. "And there's Henrietta Malfoy – another one of us, you understand –"
Pansy blinked. "I thought her last name was Evans."
"Ever heard of a cover story?" The real Lucia asked scathingly.
Pansy's eyes narrowed. "I've got almost as much to say to you as I do to Harry. That was a damnfool thing you did, risking both of your lives like that – and I'm sure it's through no real aid of your own that you both made it out in one piece –"
Lucia's eyes narrowed in response, but she had as yet made no verbal response when Pansy abruptly broke off. "You did make it back in one piece, right? I swear, if you let Harry die on you ..."
"Of course we did." The Gryffindor finally snapped. "Are you blind or something? He's right here ..." She gestured at the small crowd of people, then stopped. "Wait a moment ... where did he go?"
"He was here just a minute ago." The Harry-who-was-Laurence concurred, also looking around, his brow slightly furrowed.
"Well he's certainly not here now!" Pansy threw up her hands. "You know what, whatever. I'm not the one Draco's going to be rending limb from limb when he finds out you lost Harry." I'll just be gleefully spectating.
"Who is this Draco person anyway?" Laurence asked as an aside to Harriet. "Is he that other Harry's lover or something?"
Pansy, unable to help herself, snorted. "Draco's about as straight as it is possibly for a guy who spends that much time and effort on his appearance to be." She almost snorted again, at the image of the two of them in a romantic relationship. They'd probably drive each other batty within a week. Plus, I think Chang might have a thing or two to say about that ...
Amused thoughts of Cho's apparent infatuation with her blond (and, if she was reading the signs correctly, almost equally infatuated) friend were enough to restore her original humor somewhat – though it would have helped if she had heard from either of them recently. At any rate, it calmed her enough to where she could suppress the urge to drag Lucia up to Gryffindor Tower, gift-wrap her somehow, and leave her for Parvati to find (although she definitely stored that idea away as a possibility for later), or further berate that annoying Hufflepuff, and take a look at the other members of this oddly large party.
So ... three Harrys – minus, unfortunately, the only one she really cared about. That scarred and strangely familiar looking older man. A woman, redheaded, who seemed to be holding some sort of dark bundle in her arms; worth a second look once she managed to sneak herself closer, and ...
The strawberry-blond smirked – and it was heartbreakingly familiar, just exactly the same as she remembered. "Pansy?!" He mimicked.
"You're dead!" So sue her. Even Slytherins ought to be allowed to have the occasional bout of openmouthed shock – and she didn't feel that stating the obvious was that great a crime, when the obvious consisted of one of her friends evidently coming back to life right in front of her eyes.
Her fellow Slytherin gave himself a quick once-over. "Hmm ..." He turned. "Hey, Harry, am I dead?"
"Of course you are." Harriet replied. "I can smell you rotting from here."
"No, I think that's the fact that you forgot to put on deodorant when you got up this morning."
"I got up this morning approximately seventeen hours ago. I would be in bed right now if a certain someone hadn't gotten mixed up in a situation that made a certain someone-else-who-must-not-be-named pissed off enough that a third someone – that would be me – felt it and woke up."
"Hey, the pissing off was soo not my fault! That was all Harry!" A quick backtrack. "The other one!"
"So you've seen him? Harry?"
The redhead blinked. "Well, yeah. He saved my life. People tend to remember that sort of thing. And the banter. Not every day you see someone totally and completely infuriate the Dark Lord with just a few well-placed words like that."
Pansy thought she heard Lucia mutter, "It's not quite as unusual an occurrence as you'd think ... not with Jamie around ..."
"So he's all right?"
"Well, he was the last time I saw him – which was right before we appeared here, so I'm betting he's all right still. A bit nutters, I think – when we first met, he was laughing his fool ass off and saying something about having been the cause of his life was crap or something like that – has he always been like that?" Without pause for breath, much less an answer, Blaise continued, "And then he did the whole 'Blaise, you're dead!' routine, too ... I think I'm getting a bit tired of that, you know?" A deep breath and a sigh. "And I'm babbling. Excuse me for that, but I'm running on seventeen hours awake and counting, myself."
Pansy surprised everyone – not to mention herself – with a misty, nostalgic, and wholly unSlytherin smile. "No, it's okay ... our Blaise ... he used to babble, too ..." She shook herself. "Right ... you probably want sleep now a lot more than you want to hear me talk. Um ... you can probably sleep in Blaise's old bed. I don't think the castle's gotten rid of it yet." She turned to the rest of the group. "Hm ... you, the Ravenclaw, you can probably bed down in Cho's room, at least until she gets back."
"What about me?" the Hufflepuff asked.
"You look enough like Harry. Hide the scarf and you can crash in his bed until he gets back."
"Shouldn't we be going to Headmaster Dumbledore to make more permanent arrangements?" One of the adults, the man, spoke up for the first time.
Pansy snorted. "You go if you want to. Me, I'm staying as far away from the coot as possible these days. He's lost what few marbles he had to begin with, I swear, ever since Draco did ... whatever it was that he did that caused him to need to disappear for a while." She paused. "And you are?"
He stared for a moment, nonplussed – not surprising, since her babble abilities were about as good as Blaise's when she really got going – before offering a grin that would have been dashing in a way-too-older-man-for-me sort of way if it hadn't pulled rather nastily at several of the scars littering his face. "How remiss of me. James Potter, nice to meet you."
I did not hear that.
Being a Slytherin, with the accompanying dignity to uphold (a fact she had had to remind herself of rather troublingly more than usual in the course of this conversation), she did not faint – although she did note that it would have made a rather effective exit. Instead, she summarized her feelings with an exceedingly heartfelt
Cho cast a sidelong glance at her Potions professor. "Are they doing what I think they're doing?"
He quirked an eyebrow back. Now here was a scenario she'd never expected ... the Great Bat of Hogwarts actually acting human in ... well, semipublic. Around her, which counted as public enough. "Indeed."
"So they're really arguing about who was engaging in the most and greatest acts of rampant stupidity while they were separated?"
"It appears so."
"Huh." She strode forward. "Guys, I've got a new idea." Both turned towards her, inquisitive looks on their faces. "How about we all agree that you two have the combined brainpower of Crabbe and move on to possibly solving some of the problems the two of you have been so obliging as to create?"
Draco snorted. "And how can I do that, stuck here in – where are we again? – well, the middle of bloody nowhere, I can tell you that much."
"Vermont." Snape supplied the answer, along with a slightly absentminded glare at the slur on what was actually one of his favorite hiding spots.
"At least I'm not persona non grata back at Hogwarts." Jamie said helpfully.
"Oh hell no. I am not letting you out of my sight." Draco interrupted. "If you think for a moment that I'm going to let you go back to Hogwarts, of all places, without me to keep you out of trouble –" Cho and Severus seemed seized with identical coughing fits "– or at least guard your back while you're in said trouble, you have soo got another think coming."
Jamie waved his hands in what was supposed to be a placating gesture. "I wasn't considering going off and leaving you again, of course not! We'll just have to make sure you're ... disguised."
"So shall I be a transfer student from Beauxbatons?" Draco asked, sarcasm dripping from his words. "Come on, Harry, you know there aren't ever any real exchange students. They're all figments of Dumbledore's imagination, created because it suits him to keep the displaced students in question under his direct observation." Like the other Harry. Was left unspoken.
Jamie rolled his eyes slightly. "Please, credit me with some creativity. No, I just thought that one of us could come home with a new pet." He grinned in such a way that it struck foreboding into Draco's heart. "Probably Severus, since I doubt you want to be stuck in the middle of Gryffindor territory."
The man in question eyed his son with a bit of his own foreboding. "And just what sort of ... pet ... is it that I have so suddenly required."
"The cutest little white fox you've ever seen." Jamie replied, rolling right over Draco's "Hello? The victim hasn't agreed yet, in case you didn't notice ..." – although the blond did look slightly mollified at his bonded's description of his animagus form as 'cute'. (Not that he was very sure that it was appropriate for a Slytherin to be cute, but it was rather hard to be anything but, in a form such as that. And at least his dragon form was properly menacing. Well, he thought. It wasn't like anyone other than Jamie had seen it.)
"White's just not ... me." Severus did his best to look mildly offended. "But if you insist on ruining my reputation ..."
"He could stay with me, instead." Cho piped up. The other three looked at her in surprise – she got the feeling they had forgotten she was also in the room. "I could claim I found him while I was gone."
From the glazed look in Draco's eyes, it was obvious the fox in question had no problem with that idea. Father and son shared a look and nearly identical roll of the eyes before Severus capitulated. "Fine, he can stay with me." He brushed invisible lint off his shoulders. "Now that we've gotten that all figured out ... shall we go? Miss Chang, I would implore you to please find another roost this time."
The 'little bird' in question flushed slightly, but seemed to regain her composure fairly quickly as, with a mischievous grin, she transformed and landed on Jamie's head. Draco chortled incoherently – something about 'like father, like son' and possibly having to do with birds' nests – before transforming himself.
Jamie eyed the pale creature in front of him, looking up with wide adoring eyes, and snorted. "And I suppose you want me to carry you, too?" His snort was less disbelief and more barely hidden laughter as Draco-the-fox managed a very credible rendition of a vigorous nod. Rolling his eyes again, the Gryffindor-turned-Slytherin picked up the fox, all right – and placed him directly into his father's arms. "He's your problem now." Jamie grinned.
A single eyebrow raised. "I sense many detentions in your future, young man."
"Yes, and we all know your opinions on the accuracy of Divination." Said 'young man' laughed, feeling an odd – almost comfortable – warm feeling as Severus wrapped on arm firmly around his waist (Draco, not to be one-upped, had pounced to a "better" perch on Jamie's shoulders as soon as his bonded had come within range) and tapped the face of his watch firmly.
In a moment, maybe less, the small cottage in Vermont was left empty once more.
He tumbled out the mirror in a considerably less graceful manner than he had gone in, taking what was supposed to have been a controlled fall but really just ended up spreading him even farther across the bathroom floor. "Ow. Tile hurts."
"And here I thought you liked it, given how enthusiastically you were planting your face in it." Came a slightly sardonic, but mostly amused, and rather unwelcome voice.
With hands on the verge of shaking with their haste, he tore off the robe and shoved it into her hands. "I am not substituting for you in that place again. Ever."
"What, you mean something interesting happened? Well, fancy that ..."
"Fancy that, you say?" The now-revealed young man spluttered. "Fancy that?! You set it all up ahead of time. 'It might cause an irreparable paradox if I were to meet my past self and say the wrong thing', I clearly remember you saying."
"Well, I didn't know it was going to be today. Just ... you know, sometime soon."
He held up a finger. "I'm not finished. Not only did you saddle me with dealing with that ... that group of utter ..." His usual eloquence (and, all appearances to the contrary, he actually usually was at least a moderately gifted wordsmith) seemed to have entirely disappeared. "And you."
"Moi?" Green eyes showed calculated (and somewhat overblown) innocence, as if she couldn't possibly fathom what she had to do with her brother's current state.
"You." He snarled back. "I swear, it's like getting transported from where you were standing to some mysterious grey foggy place was something that happened every day. You all were like that, but you ... and then you spot him and suddenly you're tearing into each other like rabid wolves." He ran a hand through short hair that was alternately pale blond and black in seemingly random clumps, before abruptly grabbing some and tugging at it. "Grey hairs! All because of you!"
"That seems a bit harsh." She said, amusement once again threatening to overturn her projected innocence. "And if more of your hair is returning to blond, blame the faulty hair dye, not me."
He grumbled at the reminder that his hair – naturally mottled for a few weeks when he was sixteen or so – retained that appearance purely through the intervention of dye and/or coloration spells. No matter what his sister thought (and she'd certainly made her opinions of his "silly vanity" known more than once), he thought his multicolored hair was cool. Besides, since when were big sisters ever right, anyway?
Especially big sisters whose younger selves had been giving him a huge headache for the past hour or so because they couldn't keep their mouths shut. He pushed past said headache, heading out into the corridor and hopefully in the direction of somewhat saner company. "I'm going to go get some headache potion now."
And he was definitely going to ignore the way that comment caused his sister to burst out in delighted laughter.
It took a couple of minutes for Pansy to regain fully her lost equilibrium – most decidedly not aided by Blaise's laughter at her "absolutely gobsmacked" face upon hearing just who the scarred man was. Well, so she had looked surprised. Who wouldn't? And although she hadn't fainted, preservation of dignity worked only so far before failing her.
A Blaise that was, she noted a bit irritably, still chortling. Meanwhile, it had occurred to her that there was one member of this odd group of people she had not yet accounted for. Then again – it only took one look. Red-haired woman, about the same age as Mr. Potter ... who else could it possibly be? "Lily Potter, I presume?" She wandered over to the woman and asked; unable to keep the question from coming out in any tone but dry.
"No." She replied, almost snappishly short, noticeably preoccupied by the bundle, whatever it was ...
"I believe she prefers to go by Lily Snape, these days." Mr. Potter said helpfully. "Though she might answer to Evans if you asked really nicely."
It was a body.
And not just any body, Pansy realized, through a haze of dawning comprehension and violent denial. A familiar body. A body that had acted as something of a surrogate father to both her and all the rest of his Slytherins for the past four and a half years.
A body that wasn't breathing.
Screw dignity. And these people could just fend for themselves for all that she cared at this moment.
Pansy Parkinson turned and ran from the Great Hall, as fast as her feet would carry her.
Draco found being a fox, as always, a somewhat odd adjustment. It took a bit of getting used to – the far sharper senses, not to mention the fact that he was furry, four-legged, had a large fluffy tail (and he had found, to his chagrin, that it was indeed a great deal of fun to chase it. Only when safely very far away from anyone who might be tempted to use that knowledge for blackmail material, of course), and short.
(Any nasty cracks about his height even as a human – or lack thereof – at the moment would bring down great hurt upon the person so unwise as to open their mouth. So it was a good thing he was only thinking these rambling thoughts – Draco's mind as a whole was generally not quite that suicidal.)
Still, when not distracted by his tail, or other mischief (as if he didn't get into enough as a human ...), Draco was generally capable of paying some sort of attention to the human goings-on. And it was with a complex mix of amusement, pride, and no little amount of jealousy that he observed the way, even after they had safely arrived in one of the side halls near the entrance to the Slytherin commons (having lived more than four years in the dungeons, he had gotten tolerably good at determining just where within that area he was), that father and son continued to hold their position for a long moment.
He thought it was cute, frankly – though you'd never catch him admitting it. And cuter still, the way they reluctantly drew away and there was this very awkward, tentative moment. Draco almost shook his head, before remembering that it wasn't a terribly fox-like thing to do. Still, that same sort of feeling colored his thoughts. They really don't know how to go about this whole father/son thing, do they? Neither of them.
Not that he and his father had necessarily had the most typical of relationships either. Lucius Malfoy, whatever one may (and usually did) say of his other loyalties, had earned his high position in the Ministry, through hard work, determination, patience, and not so much underhanded dealing as the rest of the world tended to expect.
But all of that focus on the job had left first his wife, and then his son too, relegated far too often to the sidelines. Draco couldn't count the number of times – when he was young, and even more recently when he returned home over breaks and such – when his father would come home from a day at work only to sequester himself in the study; endlessly going over the various things that had become his responsibility.
But even if he didn't have much time to spend with his young son, Lucius still tried to make the best of what they had. There may have been a stream of impersonal tutors to instruct him in the 'proper' arts of an aristocratic pureblood, but his father had never trusted anyone but himself to properly instruct his son in magic. So every few days, there would be hours spent learning magic from a master; hours in which he knew his adored father's attention was solely on him ... unalloyed good memories that, with their estrangement, had become tainted, bittersweet.
Oh, he had idolized his father, there was no doubt about that. He still did, to a certain extent. And it still hurt – how it hurt! – when he stopped and seriously considered the fact that, the next time they saw each other, it would be at wandpoint, with no hope for appeal. And it hurt that he actually hoped that he'd never see his father face-to-face again ... but that he couldn't quite suppress the part of himself that tried to persuade him that it – that one last meeting before one of their deaths – would be worth it.
Jamie's arms tightened around him briefly – a reaction to his sudden bout of depression, no doubt, and one that worked fairly well at soothing him ... reminding him of the reasons behind his decision, reaffirming that decision, made his consideration of the consequences a bit easier to bear.
Then, of course, his silly bondmate had to go and ruin the moment entirely by abruptly releasing all pressure – to be exact, by dropping him.
He landed properly, of course. He might not be a cat, but he was something almost as compelling, as far as ability to adjust to new situations and land on his feet was concerned – he was a Malfoy. Still, it was hardly a polite thing to do.
He was just finished skewering Sal' with his most potent glare (a futile effort from the start ... damn those cute-furry-animal vibes ...) and was about to start trying to get the Snape pair (and by extension, Cho, who was still nestled happily in Harry's hair) moving when, to add insult to injury, he felt a sharp pain in his side, and watched as, out of apparently nowhere, someone came hurtling through the air (courtesy of being tripped by his presence) on a straight trajectory towards the elder Snape.
She might as well throw in the towel and transfer to Hufflepuff, Pansy mused. First that outburst in the Great Hall (okay, those several outbursts), then her distinct lack of anything remotely approaching dignity in her flight from said hall, then her tripping over some small, furry creature that she was sure didn't deserve it, and now falling into her Head of House of all people!
Waitasec. If she could trip into Professor Snape – and it certainly looked like Professor Snape, complete with that slightly bemused cast to his features that, in a lesser man, she would have attributed as a "What are you smoking?!" sort of look – then that meant ...
And add another mark to the 'undignified outbursts' list.
The bemused look intensified. "I do believe I was last time I checked, yes. Although I am sure there are rumors to the contrary."
Pansy could feel the heat in her cheeks; a sure sign that she was blushing. "But – the Great Hall! I saw you. And you were dead. That redhead, Lily Potter, she was holding your corpse like you were her dead lover or something." A beat as she considered that image for the first time. "Which is really kinda morbid, actually."
"Lily Snape, actually. And that's dead husband." Harry absentmindedly corrected.
"Husband?!" At least Pansy could get a bit of comfort in the fact that her House Head's outburst was hardly more dignified than her own. "But ..."
"James and Lily Potter, the perfect couple, childhood sweethearts, yeah, I know." Harry interrupted. "It was all a lie."
"The Great Hall, you said?" Professor Snape asked intensely.
"Um ..." Pansy quailed slightly, being unlucky enough to bear the full force of that intensity. "... yes?" she squeaked.
With a rapid spin and flare of his robes, the Potions Master stalked off in that direction.
Jamie brightened. "Oh, I'd better let Remus and Si-eh, um, Snuffles, that is, know too." He rolled his eyes upward. "Cho, could you go get Parvati? I'm sure she's eager to see Lucia again."
The familiar little brown bird took flight from Harry's hair, prompting a spate of impromptu giggles from Pansy (who, like everyone else, drew the immediate 'bird's nest' connection), transforming in midair into the familiar Asian sixth-year. With a brief nod and smile towards Pansy, she graced Harry with a firmer nod. "Got it."
Pansy, who was beginning to feel a bit left out, quickly added, "I'll come with you." Hang secrecy. She had the feeling that any paltry rumor about her and Parvati would be completely swamped by far more interesting things soon enough.
And Draco, forgotten, whimpered from his place on the floor. I think I broke a rib ...
There were few times Jamie had been quite so strongly reminded that his mild-mannered former DADA professor and unofficial godfather-figure was also a werewolf as now – while he was in the process of being quite literally hugged to death.
His traitorous godfather actually looked amused at the helpless squeaking noises he was making; only stooping to aid his godson around the time Jamie's face began turning a rather unflattering shade of blue. "I think you can stop strangling him now, Rem."
Suddenly reminded of his strength, Remus released him, looking somewhat apologetic – which only gave Sirius his chance in yet another hug, only marginally less tight. "But don't you ever run off and worry us like that again!" He looked around. "What about your döppelganger, where's she gone off to?"
It was interesting that, just because they'd disappeared at the same time, Sirius seemed to have jumped to the conclusion that they'd return together as well, but ... then again, that was the truth, wasn't it? Jamie shrugged. "If my calculations are correct, she should be in the Great Hall right now – I got separated from the rest, so I've only just gotten here, but I've heard that that's where everyone else is."
He gently detached himself from Sirius' grip. "Oh, and there's someone else I think you'd be quite ... interested in meeting."
No matter how hard they tried, neither could convince Harry to say any more on the subject – or on other subjects of similar interest, such as where the hell he'd been – so they had to content themselves with following (Sirius, as always when venturing outside their room, in his dog form) in the hopes of finding out for themselves.
"Hey Parvati! Your lover's here for you!" Not bothering to move from her position at the portrait, Lavender shouted her news upstairs to where her roommate was, she was sure, still working on ... whatever it was she had been working on for most of the day. Some sort of homework most likely.
On the other side of the portrait, Cho seemed to be deciding between being moderately shocked and highly amused, while Pansy oscillated rapidly between humiliation and murderous rage – she needed only to decide which target to take it out on.
Lavender smiled genially. "You know, you really ought to come visit her up here more often. I know it's the Slytherin way, but all that sneaking around really can't be good for either of your health. And really, people might be shocked at first, but we Gryffindors are a pretty accepting bunch. And we're really not that scary once you get to know us." As a crown to her monologue, Lavender sealed her fate – and Pansy's decision – by engulfing her in a hug.
So it was that, by the time Parvati had gotten herself downstairs (an affair of rather short order, as with a pronouncement like that, she had no doubt that there would be a not insignificant amount of damage control to deal with), she was greeted with the welcome sight of Cho, leaning against the wall and giggling helplessly, while her newest friend seemed to be trying her damnedest to kill her roommate.
Well, perhaps kill was the wrong word, even if it summed up the intensity of feeling rather well. In truth, Pansy seemed to be trying her best to give a new, literal meaning to the metaphorical phrase "glaring daggers". Parvati knew she hesitated in getting between the two out of some irrational fear that doing so would get her stabbed by a multitude of sharp objects. Note to self ... do not get Pansy really mad at me.
And now said incensed Slytherin was stalking towards Lavender. (who showed no signs of being as afraid for her life as any sane person would be ... but then again, this was Lavender. Parvati had been her roommate for the past four-and-a-half years; she knew that the other girl had the tendency to occasionally skirt the edge of the whole sanity issue.)
Grasping the shreds of her Gryffindor courage that had not squeaked and run to find a safer place to hide, Parvati interposed herself between the two. "You wanted me, Parkinson?"
"Oh, Parvati, always." Lavender gushed from behind her – of course, Lav' would be the one to pick up on that particular inadvertent innuendo. The dark-haired Gryffindor closed her eyes, rubbed the bridge of her nose, and sighed.
"If you will kindly refrain from strangling my roommate at the present time," Parvati offered evenly, "I will help you find a place to hide the body later."
This was evidently too much for the overburdened Ravenclaw. Both Parvati and Pansy were distracted by the howls of laughter, not to mention the utterly undignified picture Cho made, rolling around on the floor laughing like a maniac. In one of her more lightning changes of mood, Pansy just rolled her eyes and shook her head, the barest hint of a smile pulling at her lips. "Our friend the hyena aside, the Great Hall has just received some visitors that I feel certain you would be interested in meeting."
Parvati's eyes opened very, very wide. "Harry?" She breathed.
The Slytherin had barely reached the halfway point in her not before she found herself with a momentary armful of Patil and then nothing but a fading afterimage as the other girl lit out of Gryffindor Tower as speeds she found herself having a hard time believing were entirely human.
That girl ... Pansy raised an eyebrow at Cho. "Are you quite done?"
The Oriental girl bounced to her feet, still grinning widely. "Oh, I haven't had that good a laugh in ages."
"Glad someone enjoyed it." She said sourly. "You coming?"
"Of course." Cho said hurriedly, before Lavender could make another off-color joke. Of course, that didn't stop the purple-haired Gryffindor from adding a few editorial comments about a menage a trois ... Cho eyed her. "You better watch it, girl, or I'll help them find a place to hide your body."
Lavender just shook her head. "Denial, total denial, all three of you. It's very sad." And tripped merrily away before anyone could reconsider their decision against doing her violence immediately.
"Smart girl." Cho observed. "I was wondering when she'd see the light."
Pansy snorted. "Forget her. We've got places to go and people to meet."
Off in 'their' corner of the common room, Ron and Hermione exchanged a significant look.
"I'm going to assume that I wasn't hallucinating and that Parkinson did just come into Gryffindor for, evidently, the sole purpose of telling Parvati that someone was waiting in the Great Hall for her." Hermione observed idly. "Now, considering that Lavender was already here and making the usual fool of herself, who else would cause Parvati to get that excited?"
Ron bolted upright. "Harry!" He blurted.
Hermione smiled. "And where there's one, there's bound to be the other." She affirmed. "Who would they get into screaming arguments with otherwise?"
Ron stood and offered his arm to her in a mock-courtly gesture. "What say we crash this party, m'lady?"
Hermione stood as well and, as delicately as the most sheltered of society flowers, threaded her hand through her friend's extended elbow. "Why, I would say that's an absolutely marvelous idea, dahling. Let's."
A few tables over, Seamus and Dean shared a look (and a roll of the eyes) of their own. "And here I thought today was going to be quiet." Dean observed.
Seamus laughed. "You really ought to know better by now."
They then proceeded to return to their Charms assignment. Priorities must be kept straight, after all. And whatever interesting was happening, it was almost assured that it would make its way back to Gryffindor Tower eventually.
Especially if it had anything to do with Harry.
Parvati felt like she was bouncing down the hall, or perhaps even flying. Harry was back! She felt like singing it from the top of the Astronomy Tower. Of course, there would be the obligatory reaming – she wasn't exactly happy at the way Harry had just run off into the night and then disappeared for far too long, after all. She could hardly let her friend get off without at least a little bit of a hard time.
"Parvati!" A call from behind. Brought down a bit closer to earth, she turned.
Cho and Pansy dashed up, Pansy leaning against the wall to catch her breath and even Cho looking a little worn. "Whew." Cho shook her head. "You sure can run fast when you try, can't you?"
"It's all that dog in her." Pansy reached out and ruffled her hair mischievously.
"Searching for bugs in my hair, monkey girl?" Parvati retorted. "So sorry to disappoint you, but I haven't had a case of lice since I was nine."
Cho shook her head. "You two are a riot and a half. Now I'm really sorry I missed out for so long ... and here I was half afraid you would murder each other while I was gone."
The two girls eyed each other consideringly. "Well ..." Parvati began.
"... I can't say that the thought didn't occur to me once or twice." Pansy finished without pause.
"Of course, I know exactly why you weren't around to see us develop our comedy act (oh, and Pansy, remind me to get insulted about being called comedic sometime soon) ..." Parvati grinned evilly.
"Because ..." Pansy sing-songed, "Cho o's in lo ove!"
"I am not! You little ...!" The Asian girl spluttered, holding hands to reddened cheeks.
The two looked at each other. "Denial." They prognosed in unison.
"I'm afraid I'd have to agree with Parvati on this one." A new voice concurred.
Eyes suddenly wide, Parvati stiffened and pushed rudely past Cho. "Harry! You're back!" She hit her friend with a flying tackle the likes of which had been known to knock over her older brother more than once. As it was, Harry retained her balance – but only just.
"Yes." She smiled mistily. "It's good to be home."
Parvati's head snapped up. "But ... what about ...?"
A small headshake. "It's a nice place to visit. But it's not home anymore. My heart is here, now."
Prying herself off Harry was one of the hardest things Parvati had ever done. "I know I shouldn't say it ... but I'm glad. I've .... I missed you."
"I've missed you too." Harry softly replied.
What happiness she'd felt in anticipation was now doubled, or perhaps even tripled. Parvati wasn't sure that life could get any more perfect. (Well, there might be ways, but they were locked away in that small box in the back of her mind, so that didn't really count.)
That is, until Harry looked past her. "Hey ... what's Pansy Parkinson doing here?"
Blaise was bored.
It's a situation he had more than a little familiarity with – he was acknowledged to be by far the most excitable of his Slytherin year-group and had more than once had his attention span compared to that of a goldfish.
You'd think that this would be one situation in which he'd find it impossible to get bored ... he was in a whole new world, after all. A world similar, yet potentially utterly different from his own. There ought to be plenty of objects to hold his (admittedly often short-lived) interest.
But it all looked the same. He could not see one thing different about this entire Great Hall than the one in their home dimension. Same tables, same flags on one side of the hall ... same high table, although the arrangement of the chairs looked a bit different -- he thought there was perhaps one less chair. Still not enough to hold his attention.
Bored, bored, bored.
Except when his eyes strayed (as he tried to keep them from doing so as much as possible) towards a certain redhead and her burden. Then he felt a burden of his own; a near-unbearable flare of guilt and grief and loss.
He vastly preferred boredom. Boredom so thick that he couldn't stand still, couldn't pause to think ... because thinking would bring him back to that, and he feared that if he dwelled too long, he might very well drown in that sorrow.
If only ...
There was another dangerous thought.
He just had to keep moving, stay stir crazy, concentrate on how normal and boring this place was. Anything that would keep him from thinking.
Harry – his Harry – was over by her mother, trying to give what comfort she could – much like himself, she was keeping herself busy in order to avoid, for the moment, her own overwhelming grief. Laurence was talking quietly with his father – and how odd was that, to see James Potter alive, if terribly scarred in the process? Lucia, for a while there almost as fidgety as he himself, had eventually gotten up a few minutes previous and left. And there was movement at the door.
Movement that resolved itself into a flaring robe, black as always, whipping around in such a way as to accent the pace the man wearing them walked at. Heartbreakingly familiar. Hope, for a moment, flared unbearably bright, as he looked over towards Lily's arms, almost expecting her burden to have disappeared in the face of this impossibility.
Kicking his brain back into coherency was difficult, and all was for naught when, in the middle of his beeline towards Lily (But of course. His mind whispered. She's probably dead in this world ... this must be almost as shocking for him as it will be for her, as soon as she looks up), he stopped dead at the sight of something.
"... Blaise?" It was a mere whisper of sound; his sallow complexion had grown even more pale. "Is it really ...?"
He forgot that this was a man from a different world, who had known a different Blaise. He forgot everything as he threw himself at the man who had been not just Head of House, but frequently more of a father to him than his own; forgot everything but the fact that this man was alive, when he had so recently been permanently dead and gone. "You're alive ..." he couldn't keep himself from repeating, "alive ... I can't believe it ... I thought I'd never see you again ..." Not noticing that those other arms were equally tight around himself; that that familiar voice was repeating the same things with the same fervency.
He did eventually notice as the voice fell silent, as Severus' body stiffened as he finally got a good look at his original reason for coming. Knowing that he had been essentially forgotten, Blaise stepped away as well, angrily wiping stubborn tears from his eyes. But before he let go entirely, he put one hand on the other's shoulder. "Severus ... I just ... I'm sorry. It was all my fault."
His concentration broken, his head whipped around to pierce the strawberry blond with eagle eyes. "You ..." A sort of wry look entered his eyes. "That's exactly what I would have said soon enough." He barked a short, humorless laugh. "I just hope that my own sacrifice was more worthwhile than yours ended up being."
"Nothing is worth the price, if the price is your life." Blaise replied, actually quivering with the intensity of his words. "And I'm sorry I ever tried to convince myself otherwise."
The other closed his eyes briefly. "I wish ... you are a better man than I could ever be. A better one than I've ever been."
"I doubt that." The sharp reply, softened by a sudden grin. "After all, I learned from the best. Perhaps you know him ... he was the husband of that nice red-haired lady over there." And just like that, Severus' concentration was shot, though it was obvious he was trying to continue to attend to their conversation. "Oh ... just go on over now. I won't hold you any longer."
He grinned again, seeing the gratitude. "We can talk more later. There's time, now." A jerk of the chin. "Now go."
"Thank you. For everything." And just like that, he was gone.
Alone again, Blaise shook his head, the hint of a smile still hovering on his lips as he watched the reunion. For now, it was a reunion of undiluted joy, unmarred by any of the complications that would most likely come along later. He was sure there would be complications. There always were.
So he leaned back against the table he was sitting at and smiled up at the beautiful image of the afternoon sky. There would be complications, yes, but he felt certain that whatever came, they would meet and successfully overcome.
He leaned back and decided that perhaps – just perhaps – he wasn't bored anymore after all.
"Sirius, is that you?"
"Of course! Have you seen any other Grims lately?"
"Mr. Moony would like to observe that he certainly looks like he got into a fight with one."
"So, I take it you liked the surprise?"
As one, the three adults turned to glare at Jamie. He just grinned merrily and tripped off to see how everyone else was doing. As if that had been a cue, all their playfulness fell away and, for a long moment, they just stared.
"You ..." James' voice broke. "I can't believe it. I see you right in front of me, but I just can't ... you're alive. It's been so long, and now you're here again ..."
"We thought we'd lost you forever." Remus' voice was hardly steady either. "You were dead, and now you're alive, and ... just look at you!"
James shifted uncomfortably. "I know I'm not much to look at ..."
Sirius poked him. "You still look a damn sight better than a worm-eaten corpse. Besides, they're kinda cute." He tweaked one of the larger ones on James' cheek. "Make you look distinguished." A shrug. "And between Rem here going prematurely gray and my own ... er, somewhat less than sightly appearance ... it's not like we're exactly prizes either."
"What was it you just said? It's a damn sight better than trying to date a couple of worm-eaten corpses." Abrupt hesitation. "That is ... if you'll still ... I mean, I'd understand if ... especially since I may have to leave someday ..."
"Mr. Moony would like to observe that Mr. Prongs has grown incomprehensible in his old age, so it is a very good thing that Mr. Moony and Mr. Padfoot are well acquainted with the way his mind works."
"And Mr. Padfoot would like to note that Mr. Moony has only grown more long-winded in his old age, and to offer a translation to what Mr. Moony was attempting to say." A brief pause. "Of course we'll have, you, you royal idiot! And don't you ever dare think otherwise!"
Sirius slung his arm around James. "You know ... now that you're all distinguished-looking ... don't you think you should be the man of the relationship? Pay for everything?"
"What?!" James pretended offense – well, he really didn't want to be the one paying; you wouldn't know it to look at them, but both Sirius and Remus tended to eat like pigs. "I say Remus should take it. He's the one with grey hair."
"Are you discriminating against people with grey hair?!"
"Of course!" James and Sirius chimed in unison.
"Mr. Prongs solemnly swears that he plans never to become a grey-haired old fogey like Mr. Moony."
"Mr. Padfoot concurs."
Remus grinned a grin containing entirely too many teeth. "Mr. Moony notes that Mr. Padfoot and Mr. Prongs will have no trouble keeping that vow, as they will not live long enough to enjoy grey hairs if they don't start running soon."
Sirius scratched his head. "You know, that sounded strangely like a threat."
James made a considering face. "Actually, it sounded to me a great deal more like our cue." And, grabbing Sirius' hand, he started to run. Laughing as joyously as the two people he was chasing, Remus dashed off in hot pursuit.
Perhaps none of them were as young as they had once been, or as handsome. All three had endured their own trials and tragedies; they had all grown up in the meantime, since last they saw each other. But there was still that core to each, and though scarred in places, those cores remained strong. In many ways, they no longer knew each other.
But that was a worry for tomorrow. For today, all that mattered was that they were whole. And, after so long, they had come together once more.
The first thing they noticed when they entered the great hall was Professor Lupin and Snuffles dashing past, followed by a scarred older man who managed to look rather a lot like Harry used to in spite of the scars, in hot pursuit.
Ron looked at Hermione. "Was that just James Potter I saw?"
She just shook her head in wonder.
Next on the list was a vaguely familiar kid leaning against one of the tables with his head turned towards the sky.
Hermione squinted. "Hey ... isn't that Blaise Zabini?"
"But I thought he was dead."
A boy who looked nearly identical to Harry – his hair, they thought, looked a bit shorter, and he himself seemed a bit more solidly built – wearing what was undeniably a Hufflepuff black and yellow scarf.
"I don't seem to recall reading anything about re-Sortings in Hogwarts, A History."
"Let's not even ask."
And the final, crowning scene ...
Someone who was almost certainly Professor Snape desperately embracing a red-haired woman, while someone who they were pretty sure, this time, was their Harry and a girl that might have looked like the female Harry if she wore her hair long and in a messy braid, watched on.
"At least they're not kissing."
"Might I be the first to say ... Ew, Ron!"
"Bets that the redhead is Lily Potter?"
Ron looked at Hermione.
Hermione looked at Ron.
"... Do you ever get the feeling that you've missed something important?"
19 December 2004
theM, I Am The Bunny Slayer, Saerry Snape, Artemisu, – Ugh. Thank you again for clueing me in to the problems with the formatting in the previous chapter; hopefully this chapter won't experience nearly the same level of problems. crosses fingers
eriee, LuciShadow, semirhage, Cor-chan, Dreamfall, retired navy brat, ShadeAngel, JadedAngel8, C. Night, nonierose, selua, Arizosa, ennui deMorte, Ookla The Mok, aljake, hito, Unseen Watcher, Sanjuno Shori, Ellen is my middle name, dragona 2007, ShadowedHand, pheonixelemental, Sierra-Falls, Fiery Pheonix, Bobboky, zafaran, hush the silent, Hyperbole, Zaptor, japanese-jew– Thank you all!