Chapter 16.

Luna read through the Town Talk with a smile on her face. "Blaise?" she called. It was a moment before he appeared, ink smudged on one cheek.

"Yeah?"

"Hmm?" she looked up from the paper, vague expression firmly in place.

"You called," Blaise said patiently. He was getting better at keeping calm when Luna spaced out. She'd never let him know, but it slightly irritated her.

"Oh. Yes. Have a look at this. I think you might like it," Luna said, handing him the paper, which she'd opened to the second page.

Blaise picked up the paper, and began to read.

"Mummy?" Jenny asked a few minutes later. "Why is Daddy crying?"

To the Editor,

I'd just like to address the Elephant in the Room. Tracey Bloody Davis. She has been whinging on and on all week about her overdue pregnancy, and with all due respect, I'd like to tell her to zip it.

She's hardly the first woman in the village to run over on her pregnancy. She's not even the first to give birth.

I was due in the second week of this project. Everyone else was getting used to living together in a strange house, and working through school at the same time. I was pregnant, and due to give birth.

But the Fates, or rather, Professor McGonagall, were not kind to me. She decided that it would be 'unfair' to me to give me a child, a newborn at that, to look after before we began childcare lessons, and before everyone else got theirs.

I was two weeks overdue.

Two weeks.

Do you know how much a child grows in two weeks? It grows a lot. And when that child is still attached to you…

Tracey Davis is overdue by a mere three days. I completely understand why she wants to get rid of the planet that's orbiting her stomach, but trading it for a screaming pooping vomiting child is not the way she wants to go.

Trust me, Sweetie: Enjoy it while it lasts.

Oh, and she's complaining about raising this child on her own? She has friends! Mrs Weasley is happy to be called on at any hour of the day! And I'd just like to bring to light the situation of one Robert Hilliard, who is at this very moment, dealing with THREE toddlers in the midst of the Terrible Twos. On his own.

Thank Merlin for Susan Bones, the unsung hero of this tale, because if it wasn't for her, I'm sure the boy would have dropped dead of an aneurysm by now.

So I know we're all caught up in our lives and children, but take a moment to look at your neighbour, because there's always someone worse off than you.

And to the mysterious someone who dropped off a casserole Monday night, thank you so much, you're a lifesaver!

Sincerely,

One Stressed-Out Mum.

Sherwood Place

Draco nearly spilled his tea over the paper. Hannah, drawn by the rare sound of his laughter, entered the room to find him slumped over the table, gasping for breath while still laughing as hard as he could. It was amusing. He was making a kind of high-pitched squeaking noise, followed by gasps for air.

"What is going on here?" were the first words out of her mouth.

In answer, he just thrust the paper at her. Soon, she'd joined him in near asphyxiation

—Real Life Sucks—

By the time the end of the first week of their assignment had rolled around, Dean had started thinking that Clara wasn't quite as vapid and naive as she had seemed. By the end of the second week, he was sure of it.

Now though… Now he was pretty sure she'd been taking the piss the whole time. 'But he's Irish!'

Yeah bloody right. More like 'I'd like to see you explain this one away.' And Seamus had fallen for the entire thing.

She couldn't possibly be as daft as she'd seemed in the first week. If she was, Seamus would be dead by now.

"Sister-in-law!"

Dean took a deep breath and tried to concentrate on his homework. It was the third time Seamus had called Clara, in exactly that manner, in the last five minutes. The first time she'd called back and asked what he wanted, the second she'd yelled that he'd have to come looking for her if he wanted to talk to her.

"Sister-in-law! I need you!"

"Then come here," Clara snapped back from the kitchen.

"Sister-in-law! Sister-in-law!"

"I'm busy!"

"Sister-in-law! It's urgent!"

There came something that sounded suspiciously like a growl from the kitchen, and Dean turned to see Clara storming towards Seamus's room.

"Sister-in-law!"

"What do you need, Seamus?"

"Need? Nothing. I just wanted to say hi."

Oh yes. Seamus would definitely be dead.

—Real Life Sucks—

Harry Potter was running a little behind schedule.

Well, the 'running' part was incredibly accurate. The 'little' part… not so much.

In his defence, it was a family crisis that had him running late. He'd been trying to keep thirteen children under control while Hannah explained to workings of the day care to Padma, who would be taking the morning shift.

Hannah's two-day trial period had ended, and Padma and Isobel had dutifully agreed to take over the day care when Hannah had classes. This morning was one such time.

It had taken longer than anticipated, and while Hannah's classroom was practically around the corner, Harry was having to run up three flights of stairs and across the castle to get to Charms.

David Makehay-Potter was also running a little behind schedule. In his case, it was entirely accidental. He'd been exactly on schedule all morning, right up to leaving the Great Hall.

The staircase that usually took him to the floor his Transfiguration class was on decided to move just as he was about to get off.

He wasn't familiar with the corridor he got off on, but with the knowledge that he had five minutes until his class started and the staircase wasn't likely to move anytime soon he knew he had to try and navigate the castle.

It wasn't as easy as it sounded. Walls looked like doors, or doors opened into classrooms that were entirely empty. He could swear three consecutive doors led into exactly the same room, and then the next four doors all had exactly the same scorch mark in exactly the same place, as if the door was following him.

The portraits were incredibly unhelpful when asked, merely responding that 'things were different in my day!' or telling him to tuck his shirt in.

He was so turned around and confused that when two passing Ravenclaws told him that on Wednesdays in October his class was two floors up and he needed to run straight at the wall opposite the stairs, he didn't even question them. He'd been about to run at the wall when Peeves burst through it and chased him along the corridors, pelting him with bits of chalk.

And he could swear that door was following him.

By the time he'd finally found his way back down two floors to where his classroom usually was, he was fifteen minutes late for class. And although the portraits were the same as they usually were, the door to the classroom had vanished, and by the time he turned around to ask the pictures, the inhabitants had all disappeared.

The only door in sight was the one with the suspicious scorch mark.

He had completely given up on finding his class and was now merely hoping to avoid Peeves when he heard the sound of someone running. He hurried towards the footsteps, hoping it was an older student who could help. He'd just stepped into the corridor when someone ran straight into him. They both fell over.

Harry was so close to his classroom that he could nearly hear Professor Flitwick's voice when someone small stepped out in front of him. He had no chance of stopping.

"Sorry, sorry, 'scuse me-" he muttered, trying to cram all his books back into his bag. He glanced at his victim and his movements slowed. "Oh, hey David. You okay?"

David did not look okay. His bag was spread across the floor, just like Harry's, but his face was set into an expression that Harry remembered all too well.

"D'you… d'you think you could…" David began, trying to get his request out without imposing on the greatest hero the wizarding world had ever seen.

"Have you lost your classroom?" Harry asked sympathetically.

"No, it's usually right there," David said, pointing at a conspicuously bare patch of wall. "But the stairs moved, and then I couldn't find the right corridor, and the girls I asked said it was up two floors and run straight at the wall like with Platform 9 ¾-"

"Run straight at the wall?" Harry asked with a dangerous glint in his eyes.

"Yes, but Peeves attacked me, and I got lost, and now I can't find my class!"

"Ah. Right. Who's your teacher?"

"Professor Weasley."

"Right. You might want to cover your ears."

"Wh-"

"BIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIILLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL! I'VE LOST YOUR CLASSROOM!"

A tapestry was pushed aside, and Bill Weasley's head poked out. "Harry? You're not in my class."

"No, but David is," Harry said with a bright smile, gently pushing David towards his teacher. "Have fun!" David watched as Harry pelted down the corridor, then turned to enter his classroom.

—Real Life Sucks—

David emerged from his Transfiguration class (Professor Weasley had been just as sympathetic as Harry) to find the Harry Potter leaning against the wall next to the tapestry. And the Harry Potter had obviously been waiting for him, because as soon as the door closed behind him, Harry was walking away from the wall, tossing an arm around David's shoulder.

"Hello, David!"

David squeaked.

"What's your last class before lunch?"

"Potions?"

"Good. I'm going to find you, then we're going to have a nice chat to those girls you met before class, then you're coming home for lunch. I'm sure our girls would love to see you."

David had watched in stunned silence as the Harry Potter had grinned at him and strolled off to his next lesson.

He wasn't sure what to expect when he walked out of Potions, but the Harry Potter was once again leaning against the wall, grinning at him.

"Harry, m'boy!"

"Hello Professor Slughorn," Harry said politely, shaking the teacher's hand.

"Got that essay done?"

"Nearly polished, sir. I always ask Hermione to give it a look over once I'm done, and I'm just waiting for her final verdict."

"I do hope you're not depending on her too heavily," Professor Slughorn said, waggling a finger at Harry.

"Not at all, sir. It's been mostly punctuation she pulls me up on recently," Harry replied with a grin. "Now, if you'll excuse me sir, I've got to take David for a chat with some people."

"Ah, yes. Good to see you looking after the younger ones," Professor Slughorn beamed. "I'll see you this afternoon."

David remained in slightly stunned silence all the way up to the Great Hall, where Harry bent down slightly and asked him to point out the two girls he'd met on his way to class that morning.

David searched the Ravenclaw table quickly and pointed out the pair; they were animatedly talking to their friends, and were utterly oblivious to the whispers Harry Potter's presence was causing.

"Right," Harry said firmly, placing his hands on David's shoulders and steering him towards the Ravenclaw table, returning Horatio's wave as they went. They stood politely behind the two girls for a moment.

The girls' friends had stared for a moment, then began muttering amongst themselves. The girls themselves had to have been aware of their presence, because their backs had straightened, and it was eminently clear that they were ignoring the two boys.

Eventually, the covert signals of the people sitting across the table from the girls alerted them to the fact that simply ignoring the intruders wasn't going to work, and they would need to send them away themselves.

"Can we help- oh." The taller girl had started out quite rudely, then stopped short when she saw the Harry Potter standing behind her. The other girl turned as well, and her eyes bugged out.

The rest of the hall, who'd been watching in anticipation as Harry waited, abandoned any pretence of subtlety and gave the situation their full attention.

"This is David," Harry began with icy politeness, patting David's shoulders. "David is in Slytherin. David is my friend.

"My very good friend David is a first year. He is the future of the Wizarding World. David might be very important in the future. David might end up as the Minister of Magic. But David might not, because David might miss all his classes because he is a first year student who understandably gets lost in his brand new magical school that changes every five minutes, and when people tell David that his classroom has been moved up two floors because it is a Wednesday in October, my friend David tends to believe them.

"My very good friend David and I can understand when people play a little prank with ickle firsties. But when people tell David that he needs to run headfirst at a solid brick wall to get to his classroom, just like at Kings Cross Station, I tend to get a little upset.

"Because that is preying on an eleven-year-old because he's wearing the wrong colour tie. That is actively trying to hurt someone, and I don't sit very well with that. And if you do it again, to my friend David or to anyone else, I will find you.

"Come on, David, let's go have lunch."

And with that, the Harry Potter took little David Makehay from Slytherin to have lunch with him at home. David was sure he passed that scorched door three times.

Their exit was greeted with complete silence, except for one Ravenclaw girl who leaned across to the two and said, "Idiots. Everyone knows it's the last week in November when everything moves up two floors."

—Real Life Sucks—

Professor McGonagall regarded her class as they entered the classroom. Here they were, halfway through their second week with children. All their pets had arrived, and McGonagall was confident that they were making huge strides towards working any kinks out of their routines.

"I'm sure you'll all be thrilled to hear that the Childcare component of our classes has almost ended," she announced, and watched their faces light up with happiness.

The childcare lessons, after the arrival of Molly Weasley, had covered various topics, anything from feeding newborns and changing nappies, through to teething, discipline, sorting out fights, and chores and pocket money. Lessons had started on inanimate baby dolls, then progressed to animated, and then a few new mothers had volunteered to come show how different it was on a real baby.

Professor McGonagall had merely been supervising during these lessons – she wasn't a mother herself, and where possible she always left teaching to the experts.

"You have the contact details of those visitors who made themselves available for further questioning. We will now be moving on to basic first aid. In the Muggle world, those who work with children need to have some idea of first aid, and it should be no different in the wizarding world. For many jobs in the Muggle world, you will have more success if you obtain a First Aid Certificate. In order to help you along this path, we have asked Healer Critchlow from St Mungo's to attend. She will be handling all lessons in the next week and a half.

"I would take the time to remind you that this basic first aid training does not mean you are competently able to heal all ailments yourself. Severe injuries should always be taken to the Hospital Wing or Hospital, to be dealt with by a trained Healer.

"Also, this week I expect you to take the time to look up the meaning of your street name. Many of the names have been picked to reflect on some aspect of Muggle or Wizarding culture or history. This assignment is not compulsory, but those who complete it will be compensated for their time. It may be beneficial for you or your family.

"Healer Critchlow will now take over this lesson. I expect you to treat her with the same respect you would afford me."

Professor McGonagall stepped back, allowing the Healer to step up the front of the room. "Alright, everyone. I'll be showing a few things you should be able to handle yourselves…"

—Real Life Sucks—

Ron was tremendously glad not to be under his mother's watchful eye during the Life Skills lessons. School was supposed to be a place where you could get away from your parents, not have them follow you and teach you classmates, using extremely embarrassing anecdotes from your own childhood.

The visiting Healer was scary of course, but nowhere near as bad as Molly Weasley. Healer Critchlow didn't know him, for one. There was also a healthy amount of respect for one of the people who had helped defeat Voldemort.

He was still being subjected to visits by that brat Jordan, usually with a laughing Pansy in the background to make sure he didn't do anything untoward to her 'darling angel.' The kid had managed to break something every visit, at least before the snake arrived. Then all his attention was on the reptile.

Ron had ventured once into the study, treading cautiously. At first it had looked like a study Hermione would keep, with books on various topics stacked around overflowing bookshelves.

Near the window, though, he had a small collection of photo frames.

Apparently he'd framed the cover of the first copy of each of his books, and hung it on his wall. They were all there, surrounding a grinning photo of himself.

He wasn't quite sure where McGonagall had gotten it, as he was sure he'd never smiled that smugly in his life, but it was creepy. Then it raised an eyebrow at him, and nodded in a way that reminded him eminently of Gilderoy Lockhart, with his painting of himself painting his own portrait.

That was it. He had bolted for the door.

So that Wednesday afternoon, while everyone else was feeding their children afternoon tea, Roonil Wazlib was sitting quite comfortably in front of his 'telling vision' when the owl arrived. He very nearly refused to let it in.

He scowled at the green envelope. What did green mean again?

yellow parchment for official, staff created messages, blue parchment from other students relating to the assignment, and green for mail from agencies within the assignment…

Who would be sending him a green message? Shrugging, he decided that he might as well open it. He wouldn't be able to watch his telling vision with the green envelope there.

Mr Wazlib,

We at the Hogwarts Publishing Firm have greatly enjoyed our part in your journey as an author. We pride ourselves on our patience and dedication to the production of quality work.

However, upon the release of the last book in your bestselling 'Logan Shaw' series, there was an arrangement made by which the first draft of the next novel was promised to arrive at our offices by no later than September 16th. In deference to your recent struggles with writer's block and the usual high quality of your work, we extended you a fortnight's grace.

To date, we have received no evidence of your latest novel, even though we were assured at the launch of your latest book that you had a complete plotline. If no further evidence of your efforts reaches us by the end of the month, we will be forced to request the return of the advance we presented you for the writing of this novel.

Yours sincerely,

Irma Pince,

Editor-in-chief,

Hogwarts Publishing.

Ron nearly fell out of his chair. They expected him to write a book?!

—Real Life Sucks—

Hermione was certainly enjoying having a daughter, especially with their new pet. Annie insisted on showing Dragon to everyone she met.

All the 'adults' were almost hysterical with laughter, and Annie could never quite figure out what was so funny.

Annie had changed a little, as the week progressed. Hermione guessed it was the magical component of her daughter, changing so Annie responded to Hermione's motherhood as if she was entirely used to it.

For example, Hermione had only had to ask Annie once to pick her toys up from the floor, and then it was as if she'd been asking Annie for all her short life – automatic, instinctual response.

There had been minor problems, of course. Annie had a disturbing way of referring to her father at inconvenient times, usually when Hermione was half in thought.

That Wednesday night, for example. They were halfway through dinner, and Hermione had just drifted off into thinking about her Transfiguration essay when-

"Mummy?" came the sugar-sweet, incredibly innocent voice of Hermione's daughter.

"Yes, sweetheart?"

"Are we going to see Daddy tonight?"

Hermione stared, mouth hanging open. Finally, she pulled herself together. "No, sweetheart, we are not. We're going to have dessert, then we're going to go to bed. Maybe we can do something special together before bed, okay?"

Annie frowned, apparently thinking this through, before she smiled and turned back to her spaghetti.

Hermione was left to finish her own dinner in slight confusion, baffled as to why any daughter of hers would want to spend time with Draco Malfoy.

—Real Life Sucks—

Parvati Patil was visiting her sister. It was partly because after a war you remembered how dear family was, and partly because Neville had practically begged her for help planning his proposal. After the squealing and laughing was done, Parvati had agreed. The squealing had happened because even if it was fake, a proposal was a proposal, and Padma was her sister.

The laughter had happened because Neville Longbottom, who had defied Death Eaters all last year and killed Voldemort's snake and stood up to the Dark Lord himself, was in such a state about a proposal that wouldn't even matter in five months.

But there she was, being invited to dinner by the sister who had been so different at eleven years old that they'd been placed in different houses.

She was slightly surprised when a rather pregnant Ginny Weasley had sat down to eat dinner with them, but her questioning glance at her sister was simply answered with a roll of Padma's eyes.

Dinner was finished quickly, and Ginny retreated to her room.

"What's up with her?" Parvati asked. Then she grinned slyly. "Did you hear about what happened with her and Harry?"

"No, what?" Neville asked, sounding a little worried.

"She turned up in front of his house, making all kinds of ruckus because Harry was her boyfriend before the project started, but now he's spending all his time with Hannah and the kids."

"Well…" Padma and Neville exchanged glances. "I think the most tactful way to put it would be to say that Ginny is having trouble integrating into the fantasy. Harry isn't, because he's constantly surrounded by reminders of his situation; he lives with Hannah and two kids, and sees the other two every other day. Ginny, on the other hand, is living around people that she's comfortable with from outside this project, and so she sees this as much more like real life than it is.

"Harry, though, has never been particularly close to Hannah Abbott. This means being in close proximity to her reminds him that this isn't real, but it also serves to draw him into the continued pretence," Padma said logically. "Besides, a lot of people are getting really into this. I haven't seen Harry and Draco have an all-out battle yet, and I'm sure that's happened most other years."

Parvati shrugged. "So… how's the baby?"

"Well, I'm sure in a real-life situation, it would feel much differently, because I would be aware of the baby kicking, and so I'd have a more corporeal reason to account for the shifting of my centre of gravity-"

"Padma," Parvati interrupted. "That was a standard filler question, which really meant I didn't know what to talk about. My next standard filler question is going to be: 'are you looking forward to having a kid?' so please don't read too much into that either."

"Oh," Padma said, blinking. "Well, I'm really looking forward to having a kid. I'm not so sure about having a newborn, but a kid would be nice. You're really lucky to have two."

"Yeah, and I don't even have to look after them on my own. But you know, if you wanted an older kid you could always talk to Professor McGonagall. I heard she had a bunch more kids volunteering than she thought she'd get. She even asked me if I wanted a school-aged kid."

"Really? What did you say?"

"I said sure," Parvati shrugged. "I don't really have to do anything with them, and I get a bonus from Child Services for having an extra kid. When Mum sends us a care package, I just send on some of it. Simple."

"So if I asked McGonagall, I could adopt a kid?" Padma asked, eyes widening.

"I guess so. I'd ask Professor McGonagall."

"I'm going to go make an appointment!" Padma exclaimed, rushing to grab her scarf. She paused, then turned back to Neville. "You wouldn't mind having a younger student around, would you?"

Neville shrugged. "Not really. I don't mind younger kids, as long as they stay out of my vegie patch."

"Perfect!" Padma exclaimed. "I'll be back soon!"

Parvati waited until her sister was gone, then turned to Neville. "Alright, Neville. I've never been particularly close to Padma, apart from living with her, so I'm not exactly the best person to talk to, but I can give you some pointers.

"Number One: Don't go for flashy rings. I know it's not real, but we've always been polar opposites when it comes to jewellery. If you get her a ring with a giant stone, she'll never wear it. Go for something… simple and elegant," Parvati said, looking pained.

"Number Two: Purple is her favourite colour, so I'd suggest something that colour.

"Number Three: Don't go for something sappy when you propose. That'll be awkward in the future when this project ends. Make her laugh, or whatever." Parvati sat back with a sigh. "I would suggest talking to Isobel MacDougal. She's been Padma's bestie since first year, so she'll know better than me. But remember – this is only valid for like, the next five months. Don't even worry about it."

Neville nodded, relieved. This was probably the most useful thing he'd heard in a while.

—Real Life Sucks—

Professor McGonagall paced her office later that night. The various visits by students had been dealt with – it would be interesting to see how Miss Patil and Mr Longbottom would handle an eleven-year-old – and now she had a more pressing matter confronting her.

She'd always known that people would find out about her newest class, but she imagined it would be a little different. Now she had a reporter sniffing around the siblings of students, hoping to portray it in the worst possible light. Well, she would just have to nip that in the bud.

She strode decisively to the door of her office and opened it. "Fleur?"

"Yes, 'Eadmistress?" Fleur asked, looking up from her final tidying of paperwork.

"I know you're almost done, but would you make a note to remind that reporter- what was his name again?"

"Eldain Deist, 'eadmistress."

"Yes, please remind Mr Deist of his appointment on Friday morning."

Fleur's forehead crinkled in confusion. "Zere are no appointments scheduled, 'eadmistress."

"Oh, I know. Mr Deist doesn't know about his appointment yet. But please remind him anyway."

Fleur grinned. "With pleasure, 'eadmistress."

—Real Life Sucks—

Ta-da! It only took me less than a month! Sorry…

But anyway, I'm really not dealing with trauma left behind by the war. If you like that stuff, or are looking for a really good read, go check out A Road Less Travelled by Danicakate. I'm helping with that, so it's just as funny as this one at times, but it's more focussed on that.

Also, in the next few chapters is when I'm going to be answering all the questions you've given me – for example, 'why is McGonagall being so mean?' 'This would never happen in real life!' or 'Chapter Three was the worst thing I've ever read, I'm totally giving up on this story!' (which is basically a review I got). So I'm looking forward to it!

See you all next time! And remember, A Road Less Travelled!

Cheezels