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House of Stone by SilverMoonFairy

Format: Novel
Chapters: 13
Word Count: 39,751
Status: WIP

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Contains profanity, Mild violence, Scenes of a mild sexual nature, Sensitive topic/issue/theme, Spoilers

Genres: Mystery, Romance, AU
Characters: Ron, Luna, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: Ron/OC, Ron/Lavender, Harry/Luna, OC/OC

First Published: 08/30/2015
Last Chapter: 08/30/2017
Last Updated: 08/30/2017

Summary:


Banner by me. Beta'd by Dreamgazer220.

Life on Privet Drive is about as boring as life can get. Especially for a teenage witch. But when the lights go out one night, a panicked run for help turns my life upside-down. From family secrets to complicated love, I can't keep my head above water. One wrong move can mean loneliness. It can also mean death.


Chapter 1: Prologue
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A tall dark figure dressed in black robes paced slowly in front of a roaring fire in a dark room. The contemplative look on his smooth face, the tilt of his hairless head, and the casual way he twirled his wand in his long fingers belied the anger roiling beneath the surface. The Dark Lord was never one to openly lose his cool. His displeasure could simply be felt rolling off of him in waves.

He did not like it when his Death Eaters failed him. He liked it even less when they failed so terribly that they had to be retrieved from a heavily guarded prison. What was more was his immense dislike of discovering years later that certain missions had not been carried out as ordered. The Malfoy's, with all their better-than-you pretenses, were barely worth their salt as Purebloods. How had he ever thought Lucius worthy of his inner circle?

He stopped on the left side of the fireplace and turned to look at them, the flames casting his features in shadow. Father and son knelt before him while the mother stood back next to her sister, one of his most loyal followers. They still didn't know why he wanted the boy before him as well. Voldemort relished in the anticipation of their reactions when he revealed the answer.

His wand flicked into a ready position.

"Crucio," he whispered. It was with mild interest that he watch Lucius crumple into a writhing mass on the floor. To his credit, he did not scream, though he grunted and hissed his discomfort. Draco and Narcissa looked equally uncomfortable at the sight, but let no other emotion through.

Good, Voldemort thought to himself. He lifted his wand and Lucius took long, panting breaths into his constricted lungs. Within moments, he was back to his kneeling position. His usually perfect white blond hair was now dishevelled and sweat beaded on his flush face.

Voldemort smiled just slightly. "Welcome back, Lucius," he said pleasantly.

"Thank you, my lord," he replied, his voice strained. Carefully, he wiped dampened strands of hair from his face. He took extra care not to meet the Dark Lord's gaze, choosing instead to watch the dancing flames beside him.

He began pacing again, much more animated now. "It has come to my attention, dear Lucius, that you keep failing me over and over again and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight!" He paused once more to wait for a response.

Lucius' mouth worked itself over until he finally persuaded his lips to open. "My lord, what happened at the ministry-"

"The ministry?" Voldemort interrupted. "This is only the latest of your failings. But you seem to forget that you have been failing for much longer than the last year since I have returned. Wilkes saw him, Lucius. While he and the Carrow siblings took down the Brockdale Bridge, they saw him!" He raised his wand, pleased to see the flinch on his pale face. "How many times have you defied me, Lucius?"

Like a Remembrall turning red, recognition flickered across Lucius' ever paling face. "My lord, I... I had a moment of weakness..."

The admission alone was humiliating. His son cast a disbelieving glance at his father before remembering his place. Voldemort swept across the floor to crouch behind Draco, hands on either of his shoulders.

"No, boy. Look. Look at the pitiful excuse of a Pureblood your father has become. He doesn't know what loyalty is, Draco. Do you?" A smile pulled at his lipless mouth. Fear was evident on Lucius' face and he waited a moment to see what the fool would do.

Nothing, of course.

In the shadows behind the men, one sister looked on with fear and concern while the other leered, eyes full of blood lust.

"Tell me, Draco... What do you know of loyalty?" Voldemort asked softly.

Lucius trained his face to be impassive as he stared into the flames.

"I would never... Intentionally fail you, my lord," the young Malfoy said, choosing his words carefully. They both protected him from accidental failure while telling his father how disappointed he was by this revelation that he could have defied the Dark Lord.

"Well... What a good answer!" He straightened himself and moved to stand before the boy. "I have a special assignment for you, but it can only be for the most willing- the most loyal. Why... I would only trust one of my inner circle with this task..." He turned slightly away, the fire lighting his featureless face. "I suppose you're too young... I've made that mistake before, haven't I, Lucius?"

"No!" Draco cried, jumping to his feet. Lucius grabbed at his arm, hissing at him to get back down, but his son shook off his hand and took a step away. "I'm old enough to do this! I... I'm loyal! And willing! I won't fail!"

Voldemort allowed a glimmer of admiration at the boy's determination. It hid his fear well. Whether to show his father up or to protect his family name, he didn't care. What he had in store for this young man would be more than enough punishment for the whole family.

"Excellent!" he exclaimed softly. "Now, to prove yourself... Present your left forearm. Come now, boy, this isn't the time to be shy!"

Apparently Draco hadn't expected him to actually brand him, to make him part of the coveted inner circle of Death Eaters. He looked frightened now, hesitating before finally taking a step forward, rolling up the sleeve of his robe. His arm shook slightly. Voldemort smiled.

He wasted no time taking hold of Draco's arm and placing the tip of his wand to the delicate pale skin. As the black ink began to spread, Draco began to twitch and grunt from the burning sensation now coursing through his arm. Finally, to Voldemort's great satisfaction, he gave a short cry of pain as the signature skull and snake finished forming itself.

The Dark Lord took a step back as Draco stared at his tender arm, branded forever a Death Eater.

"You know, Draco, if more Purebloods your age had your courage, well... This war would be quickly finished." He needed to make him feel as important and accepted as possible for him to perform his task as well as could be expected. Of course, he would end up dead in the end. "We will talk more of your orders tomorrow. Rest tonight. You will need your strength."

Draco nodded and took a step back, cradling his arm. He did not kneel again, but he did reclaim his position next to his father.

"As for you, Lucius," Voldemort began, looking at the man. He had his undivided attention from the fire now. "I hope you know your orders. Clean up your mess or I will not be lenient a second time!"

Lucius actually jumped at the snap in Voldemort's voice and could barely manage an audible, "Yes, my lord."

Voldemort dismissed the lot of them with a wave of his arm. He placed one hand on the mantle and Nagini, who had been resting there, began to move toward it. She slid across his fingers and arm almost like a caress. He gave her a sinister look. "With any luck, my dear, the Malfoy family will be gone by this time next year."

Chapter 2: Number 3
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Author's Note: Thank you for reading! This is a rewrite of my very first fanfic from about ten years ago. I've morphed it with my Harry Potter knowledge to create a complete alternate universe inside which all of my stories will take place. Please enjoy and know that I really own nothing except the Original Characters. All hail the JK Rowling, mother of the Harry Potter universe!
***


THUNK!

I jumped and my quill ripped the parchment, smearing ink over what would have been my last essay of the summer. Just finished.

Otus gave a low hoot from his perch atop his cage. He sounded as concerned as my stomach felt, having dropped from it's normal resting place. I abandoned the homework and grabbed my wand off the desk. Creeping up the stairs, I tried to remember every spell I'd learned in Dumbledore's Army last year.

Wand at the ready, I eased open the door at the top which led directly into the spotless kitchen filled with the smell of Mum's baking. She was out getting the last few ingredients. I really wished she were here. The warmth of the kitchen was a stark contrast to the thick fog that pressed against the windows outside. Just the sight was enough to push my unease up a notch.

THUNK!

My heart fluttered like bird wings and I am not too proud to say the sound made me jump. I spun toward the kitchen door and crept forward, grunts and scraping sounds filtering through from the hallway on the other side. With a sudden burst of courage, I barreled through.

"Freeze!" I cried. The door crashed open as I jumped into the hall, wand brandished in front of me with what I hoped was a menacing scowl on my face. The invader and I stared at each other in a moment of silence. "What are you doing?"

My brother Jacob stood in the hallway looking a little sweaty and dressed for far warmer weather than we were likely to get this summer. There was a large, heavy looking trunk at his feet and a dark, angry looking scowl on his face. He was certainly our father's son with his curly black hair, square jaw, and grey-blue eyes.

"What's it look like?" he said, irritated and eyeing my wand. Jake was a Squib. There had been a rift between us ever since my sister and I got our Hogwarts letters four years ago. Any reminder of the fact was another reason for him to be moody.

"I, um... Heard a noise," I said uncertainly. I tightened my grip on my wand. "What is your favorite math equation?"

"Not this again," he grumbled, reaching down for the trunk.

"Freeze!" I said again. "Answer the question! How do I know you're not a Death Eater pretending to be my brother? You could have stuffed his body in that trunk and used Polyjuice Potion! That happened to a professor of mine once! So answer or I will incapacitate you!"

Of course my brother knew I wasn't allowed to use magic outside of school. A Death Eater would know, too. Though, if it was my only chance of defense, I think the Ministry would be lenient. I hoped. My only true interaction with a Ministry Official was Dolores Umbridge- not exactly a poster child for understanding.

He growled at first and then answered, "X equals negative B plus or minus the square root of B squared minus four AC divided by two A. Otherwise known as the Quadratic Equation. Happy?"

I was quiet for a long moment, trying to reach back for long lost information that would make that sentence make sense. It was not forthcoming.

"For the moment. I suppose no self-respecting Death Eater has any right to understand what you just said." I lowered my wand and waited. He proceeded to move the trunk. "Well?"

"Well... What...!" he grunted. It was obviously heavy, yet I knew he was not about to ask for my help.

"Aren't you going to ask me my question?" I demanded. Every member of our family had a security question. Just in case. It was a recommended precaution from the Ministry. "I could have been impersonated, too, you know! Could be dead in the basement for all you know!" Or cared, though I kept that quip to myself.

"Will you leave me alone if I play along? Because I'm pretty sure if you were a Death Eater, I'd be dead by now." I refused to reply, though he was correct. He rolled his eyes. "Why the hell did you join your bloody sports team?" He never stopped with his task, which was, I could now see, to put the big, heavy trunk into the hall closet.

The "sports team" in question was my house Quidditch team. I was a beater for Ravenclaw.

"To overcome my fear of heights," I replied. Silly, I know. I'm still not sure how I was able to get on the team. My entire first year with them, I couldn't even stand to be on my broom without ductape affixing me to it. But, as Roger Davies had told me when he picked me, I had "great aim and one hell of a swing." High praise from someone so full of himself.

"Brilliant. Are we done?" Jake left no room for answer. He stuffed the bulky trunk into the closet and, with a disdainful look at my shock-white hair, trotted back up the stairs.

The back door in the kitchen swung open and I spun around, wand up without thinking. Samantha Stone walked in, arms laden with bags that she dumped onto the table. Only thirty-four years old, Mum looked like she could be my older sister with her bright blue eyes, dark brown hair and youthful complexion. She looked every bit a mother, though, when she glanced up and her eyes zeroed in on the wand in my hand.

"Piper Amelia Stone! You know better than to have that out outside of school! I've a mind to write Professor Flitwick! Honestly!" She pursed her lips and began unloading the contents of the grocery sacks. "And put your hair back to rights- you never know who might see you!"

Both Mum and Dad were Muggleborns, having finished school at the end of the First Wizarding War. Apparently the war had affected them deeply because they had very nearly turned their backs on the Wizarding World after school, got married, and almost immediately had my brother. (Mum won't ever admit it, but I've done the math. She was pregnant with Jake before she graduated.) Neither had pursued any sort of magical career. We lived in the most ordinary Muggle town in all of England -Little Whinging. They even kept their wands out of sight, almost never using magic. I'm sure that we would have never known they were magical until acceptance letters arrived if I hadn't started growing bright purple hair. Having a Metamorphmagus for a daughter sort of pushed up their "big reveal" plans.

Though Jake would disagree, I was always certain that he was the favorite because he wasn't a wizard. Morgan and I were more of a burden, I think.

For all intents and purposes, though, they were Muggles. So it was always a little unnerving when Mum threatened to write to the school, knowing the Headmaster and teachers by name. It was even stranger when she threatened to hex us as a punishment. To date, she's never gone through with it, but the fact that she can is absolutely terrifying.

The hallway door swung shut behind me as I came back to the kitchen, my hair quickly darkening to it's natural brown. Sometimes being a Metamorphmagus sucked. I wore my emotions... everywhere. My hair, my eyes, and at times, or so I've been told, my face takes on a "demonic" look.

I stuffed the nine and a half inch willow into my pocket and tried to offer a sheepish smile. "Sorry, Mum. I heard a noise and... Well, with the way things have been lately, I got a little jumpy."

I was reasonably sure she couldn't help but forgive me. What, with the Brockdale Bridge snapped in half, the murders, the disappearances, the Dementors causing all the gloomy fog, and the reports on the tube about the freak hurricane in the West Country (Dad frequently muttered about giants whenever the news had updates on the story), I think being prepared even when underage was a completely forgivable offense.

Mum opened her mouth to reply, but was silenced by the timer on the stove. I took this moment to change the subject, just in case she wasn't in a lenient mood today.

"Are you sure we should be having this party anyway?" I asked. I moved to our little kitchen table and finished laying out the rest of the items she needed to finish off the cake, stuffing the empty sacks into a drawer. "I mean, with all the obvious... Death Eater activity lately."

As if to punctuate my point, an owl appeared at the window clutching a Daily Prophet in it's talons. It tapped on the glass impatiently until I opened it, repaying the service with a Knut and some bird seed we kept on the counter. Glancing at the front page, it was another article about safety, Harry Potter being 'The Chosen One,' and the new Minister, Rufus Scrimgeour. Luna Lovegood had sent me a copy of an unpublished Quibbler article on him. He was a vampire. The Ministry wouldn't let Xenophilius print the story. If that's not a cover up, I don't know what is.

Mum sighed. "Your father and I think it's a good idea to keep up appearances. To everyone else, we are a nice, normal Muggle family and we throw you and Morgan a birthday party every year for all your old primary school friends."

I made a face. I didn't have any primary school friends.

"Now, go get ready," she said. "The sun obviously isn't coming out today, so we're having the party at that little pizza place a few blocks up the road instead of the park."

I glanced down at my white peasant blouse and blue leggings. Shoes were next to the door, so worn from being slipped on and off that there was no reason to retie them. My present for Morgan had been hidden in the car for weeks. "How much more ready do you want me to get?"

She gave me a look of borderline disapproval, but ended with a shrug. "At least go brush your hair. Looks like you just rolled out of bed."

Rolling my eyes, I went to the living room at the front of the house where I knew I would find my brush. I may not always put my things where they belonged, but I knew where I left them.

Setting the brush back down, something caught my eye out the window. It was a tall teenage boy with unruly black hair. I grinned.

"Mum, I'm going to take off and walk to the pizza place!" I called down the hall to the kitchen. I bent back to my brush to pull a hair tie off the handle and pulled my hair up into a messy poof atop my head. It looked so good, it seemed intentional.

Suddenly Mum appeared out of thin air as if she had Apparated from the kitchen to the living room. "Oh no you don't, little girl. You just got done talking about your concerns with all these attacks and dangers and you think I'm going to let you walk around outside by yourself? You can sit right here and wait for me to finish the cake!"

"Mum!" I protested. "I won't be alone, Harry's outside waiting for me." I pointed out the window and her gaze followed the direction, spotting the boy who lived across the street.

Her lips pursed. "I'll bet Terry doesn't appreciate you spending so much time with another boy," she remarked.

I sighed. Harry was a friend. We were Quidditch rivals who respected and didn't hate one another. And Terry was my very understanding best friend-turned-boyfriend. And he had only been that since the end of last term which was barely a month and a half ago! And he knew well enough not to get jealous of Harry Potter of all people.

"Well... I suppose I can trust the life of my little girl to him for a few blocks. He is The Boy Who Lived, after all," she muttered. "Alright, but straight there! No detours or short cuts or anything funny! And you might want to hurry- looks like his cousin is zeroing in."

I looked out the window again and indeed, Harry was being approached by a baby blonde elephant and a tiny black haired rat. I moved to exit the house. "Okay, Mum. I'll see you soon-!"

She stopped me with The Look. Twisted lips and one eyebrow disappearing into her hair line. "Ahem?" she said, holding out her hand.

Oh. Right. Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out that thing I wasn't supposed to use outside of school and handed it to her. Her expression softened and she kissed my cheek.

"Be safe!" she called as I slipped into my trainers and took off through the door.

Dudley Dursley had been ridiculously tame towards his cousin since last summer. Whether it was from fear of what had happened or gratuity that Harry had saved him, I didn't know. What I did know was that he obviously hadn't told his top croonie, Piers Polkiss, who was egging the enormous boy on, trying to get him to torture poor Harry. Well, I wasn't going to let that happen.

"Afternoon, boys!" I called, drawing the attention of all three of them. I crossed the street, smiling. The Dursley's had no idea that Morgan and I were witches, which made this easier since Dudley -like every other warm blooded teenager- had a serious crush on my lovely twin. We were mostly identical, she was just a bit more... Curvy. "Harry, waiting for me?"

Dudley's beady eyes narrowed, obviously realizing what that implied. "Why would he be waiting for you?" he demanded.

I blinked innocently. "To go to my birthday party, silly. Harry and I have been friends since primary. Isn't that right?" No, that was a lie. But I had heard the stories of the boy who would somehow end up on top of the school building. Of course, back then I had no idea he was Harry Potter. Or who Harry Potter was for that matter.

Harry nodded a bit unconvincingly, but it would do.

"Are you coming, Dudley? I'm sure Morgan would like to see you. Most of our old primary mates are going to be there." I smiled pleasantly. I was going to get in trouble with Morgan later, but for the moment it was worth it.

Dudley nodded dumbly, Morgan's name like a strong love potion to him. Without another word, he grabbed Piers and disappeared into Number Four, muttering about going to town. I turned and beamed at Harry who grinned back. That having been enough of a greeting, we started off down the sidewalk, navigating the gloom spreading before us.

"How did you get here so fast?" he asked.

"Honestly, Harry, I live right across the street at Number Three. I always have."

"What are you-?" He turned to look at my house and stopped. His mouth formed into a little 'o' of realization. You'd have thought the building had appeared out of thin air. "I see. You should be careful about that."

"Careful... About what?" I knew Harry could be strange, but this was borderline Luna.

"Telling people where you live. The Fidelius Charm isn't something to take lightly, you know." He gave me a look of knowing like it was a Charm he had a lot of experience with.

After a long moment I clucked my tongue at him. "Good one. You almost had me going there. Come on, we're going to be late." I started off again. I don't know if his joining me was accepting defeat or not.

"So..." he began, glancing at me through his round glasses. "I forgot about your birthday party..."

I nodded solemnly. "I will find a way for our friendship to survive," I vowed, a hand over my heart. We chuckled and continued in silence for a bit.

I kept glancing at him, wanting to ask the question on the tip of my tongue but not wanting to offend him or something. I mean, you couldn't just be friends with someone as famous as Harry Potter and not be even a little curious about the rumors that went around about him. Well, you could if you were Hermione Granger or Ron Weasley, always attached at the hip, but I wasn't even in the same house, let alone that close of a friend.

"You can ask," Harry said after the silence stretched beyond the comfort zone. "I promise, it's fine."

I laughed nervously. "It's just that it's such a big deal, I can't help but want to know," I babbled. "I mean, it's all the Prophet can talk about, you know?"

"Piper." He fixed me with a look. "Just ask."

One day I was going to chew straight through my lower lip. It could happen. I knew someone who did it once. She put in a little earring like she'd meant it.

"Well... I mean... Are you? The Chosen One and all that?" Even though I had been given permission, I still wouldn't blame him for giving me a proper dressing down for prying.

He looked forward, resting his hands behind his head. I looked ahead, too, if only not to trip.

"I haven't talked to Dumbledore about it yet," he said. "I can say that I'm not what the Ministry is expecting."

I nodded, though I didn't quite understand. Not wanting to trespass the subject any longer, I tried to change it.

"Er... How's... Your hand?"

I will not tell lies shone stark white against his flesh. He flexed his hand. I had been lucky to fly under the Umbridge Radar for most of the year until she and her Squad broke into D.A.

"It's healed. But I'll always have it."

After another moment of silence I started the conversation again, veering toward school, classes, O.W.L.s, and especially Quidditch. I told him that for my birthday my parents were getting me all new gear, broom and all, when we went to Diagon Alley for school shopping. He seemed interested in what broom I would get, to which I laughed.

"I'm only a beater," I told him. "Not everyone needs a Firebolt."

The pizza place came into view, colorful balloons alerting passersby to special events going on inside. They were our colors, Morgan's and mine. Blue and bronze for my house, green and silver for hers. I'm not sure how she ended up there. I'm not saying she doesn't absolutely belong there (save for pureblood supremacy and all that), I'm just saying two Muggleborns don't exactly make Slytherin material.

"So," I said, knowing there wouldn't be much time for talking inside, "think we'll have time for our park excursions this summer?" That was how we had originally met and become friends was in the park my first summer home from school. We didn't get much time before some driving force whisked him away every year and there had been little time this last month to speak, especially with Muggles and Wizards alike on edge. Not to mention the breeding dementors sucking the life and fun out of everything.

"Oh, er, sorry," he replied. "I can't. I'm supposed to be leaving in a few days."

Well. Damn.

"Supposed to be?" I asked, trying not to sound too hopeful.

"Well, I'm not sure. But hopefully."

"Oh, all right, Potter," I groaned, feigning annoyance. I knew how miserable he was with the Dursley's. Everyone did. So I couldn't get actually annoyed. It's not like I didn't have anything else to do for the rest of the summer. I mean, I had a boyfriend now, so... There was that.

"Go! Go and be free for the summer remainder! But know this!" I turned to him, eyes narrowed and one finger raised. He had the good graces to look amused. "At least I got you to one of my birthday parties for once!"

He nodded, grinning. "That's your greatest achievement for the summer, is it?"

"Yes!" I cried, fist in the air. "And now... Get ready for the horde." I turned from him to the front door of the shop, already filled with bodies. I squared my shoulders and took a deep breath, one hand on the handle. "Three... Two... One..."

Chapter 3: Kiss, Kiss
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Author's Note: Please enjoy and know that I really own nothing except the Original Characters. All hail the JK Rowling, mother of the Harry Potter universe!
***


I didn't know a single person crammed into that tiny little pizzeria.

It took great will power on my part not to cling to Harry. Instead, I stood a little straighter and reminded myself that I was fifteen years old as of 12:02 this morning. That meant that I was a young adult witch. I could cast powerful spells, brew strong potions, and turn anyone of these people into a toad if I tried hard enough.

Surely I could move among them for an afternoon. Of course, no one here was from Hogwarts. If any of my sister's Slytherin friends could see this now, they would surely petition her immediate dismissal from their house.

Speaking of, Morgan Alison Stone was not even a little bit hard to spot in the thick press of teenagers. In true Momo fashion, she was dressed in the hottest shade of green she could find. I was certain that pubs across London were bidding on that dress to use in place of their neon signs.

She honed in on me like a guided missile and squeezed her way between two conversing boys she could have easily walked around to reach me. They took notice and stopped speaking to watch her.

"Piper!" she squealed. She threw her arms around me dramatically as if she hadn't seen me in ten years rather than just this morning at breakfast. "Happy birthday little sister! I was wondering where you were!"

Let me just say that she is only older than me by four minutes. Technically, her birthday was 11:58 last night. I've always heard that the oldest is supposed to be more mature, but that wasn't the case for Momo. Well, not mentally anyway, I thought as I eyed her full bust and swaying hips with a little envy. Just a little. It's not like I couldn't just make mine bigger if I wanted. I was happy with what I had.

At present, I returned her hug. "Happy birthday, Momo," I replied. I pulled back and checked my watch. "I can't be late. Mum isn't even here yet." With a shake of my head, I turned to the party at hand. "So! Who the hell are all these people?"

She wrapped an arm around my shoulders and began steering me through the bodies. I latched onto Harry before the sea could cut us off and dragged him with me.

"Language," Momo hissed with a smile. She looked like a Barbie doll, the way her face seemed to be stuck like that. "These are all our friends!"

"The only person I know is the one I dragged here kicking and screaming," I replied through an identical smile. Momo glanced at Harry as a greeting, but otherwise ignored him. House rivalry and all.

"We went to school with every single person here," she informed me. The smile never wavered as she spoke. I had always thought she was actually a gifted ventriloquist in this way.

"That doesn't mean I know any of them. Is Mrs. Benton here?" Mrs. Benton was a librarian I befriended while we were in school. Though I can't prove it because I can't talk to her about it, I always suspected that she was a Witch, or at the very least, a Squib. She always seemed a bit magical.

"No, I did not invite that crusty old hag!" she cried. "Why couldn't you be a normal kid who made friends her own age?"

I quirked an eyebrow at her and then made it turn rainbow and back. "A normal kid?"

The smile vanished. Momo sighed and rolled her eyes. "Alright, point taken. But... Try to mingle a bit. I'll be right back." And with a swish of long, dark hair, she disappeared into the jungle.

"Yay, birthday party, so much fun..."

Harry managed a chuckled and for that I felt better. "I'm suddenly just a little bit grateful the Dursley's ignore my birthday."

"Ouch. Wow. Way to bring a girl down, Potter," I mocked. "Do you know any of these people?"

He shook his head. "Not a clue. I barely have any contact with any Muggles whatsoever and I think today I am content with that."

"Oh, shove off. Let's go get some pizza."

We squeezed our way in and out, getting both food and drink and quickly seizing two recently vacated stools the moment they became available. Harry and I managed to sit quite content to mingle with each other and our pizza, falling back into our conversation before we arrived whilst tip toeing around the subject of 'The Chosen One' and the 'Department of Mysteries' incident.

The most interesting thing to happen was the arrival of Dudley and Piers. I still don't know how Harry's enormous cousin managed to find enough room in the over crowded pizza shop to even begin to be able to walk through the door. I suspected an Enlarging Charm, but Mum and Dad didn't use magic and the remaining magicals present weren't allowed. Not to mention that I think the Ministry would have a fit using it on a Muggle establishment, but I digress.

So, a baby elephant and a rat walk into a birthday party and the birthday girl turns an unpleasant shade of red, clashing with her neon like a cheesy Christmas tree. I think the joke is the punchline.

Of course, Morgan is too much the hostess to tell them to leave without cause and they had brought her presents. I watched Dudley stutter and fumble as he spoke, presenting the shopping bag -no time to wrap last minute- to my darling sister. I sat back, feeling an odd mixture of pity and glee as she accepted them as graciously as she could manage, exchanged brief pleasantries, and ducked away. Before I knew it, she appeared at my side with a none-too-pleasant look on her face.

"Explain," she said venomously from behind the Barbie smile. I opened my mouth, but she held up a hand. I didn't have an answer anyway. "Nevermind. I don't want to know. But just you know that if I have to spend any amount of time with him this summer because of this, you will regret it."

And then she vanished. I exchanged a look with Harry and then proceeded to keep an eye on Dudley's movements. Good thing he was easier to spot than Momo.

Periodically, I caught sight of my father, running this way and that trying to help the staff. He looked so out of place amongst the sea of denim and hoodie clad teenagers. It wasn't that he was an adult. It was that no matter where he went, he looked like the stuffy lawyer that he was. Even at his daughters' birthday party he couldn't bring himself to dress casually. I caught Harry staring at him in a moment of silence and I nudged him with my elbow.

"Got a crush, there, Potter?" I teased. Lots of Momo's girlfriends thought Dad was 'hot for an old guy.' Why not boys, too?

"What?" Harry looked at me, puzzled. "Oh, no, it's just, I feel like I've seen you dad before..."

"For the last time, Harry. We live. On the same street," I deadpanned.

He cast me an annoyed look. "I mean somewhere else, Stone. He sort of looks like someone I know. Or... Someone I knew, rather."

Further discussion was halted as the room suddenly burst into applause. Dozens of bodies found themselves places to sit. Mum and Jake appeared from the swinging door leading to the kitchen, each carrying one side of a sheet cake.

It was glorious.

Yellow cake baked to perfection, punctured with holes right out of the oven so that warm caramel and fudge could be drizzled into it's very pores. Then it was covered end to end with whipped topping and finally topped with a random candy bar, broken into pieces. This year Mum seemed to have gone a slightly different route and covered it with mini peanut butter cups.

I sometimes thought the cake was a bigger attraction for the party goers than Momo was. It was certainly the only reason I showed up.

Jake made to move away and Mum caught his arm, giving him a stern look and whispering something to him. He gave her a look before dropping into a chair, scowling. I realized with a stab of guilt that she was forcing him to stay.

Mum put on a smile, clapped her hands together, and turned to the crowded room. "Good afternoon, half the population of Little Whinging!" The kids laughed. She was always a great hostess. "Could you please help me locate my beautiful daughters so that they can find their way up here?"

A group of boys were suddenly fumbling all over themselves to escort Momo to the cake and Dudley was beating them all out with sheer mass. Dad, my normal usher, appeared at my elbow. He was a handsome man, except that his nose was crooked at the very end. He had been rather sulky all summer. You would have thought his best friend died, the way he acted; and he worked more than ever now. Mum must have strong armed him into being here today, where he had still found himself work to do.

Presently, he offered me his arm with only the shadow of a smile on his face. "It's your birthday," he remarked as I stood and accepted it. "You're supposed to be happy."

"Breeding dementors tend to have the opposite effect," I quipped as we made our way between tables and chairs. He tensed and gave my arm a warning squeeze. "I'd be happier if you'd stop for a bit and enjoy yourself. Would it make you smile if I told you I think Potter likes you?"

He looked at me with the strangest smile of amusement, but that was the last of it as we reached Mum. Momo was pulling up the rear with Dudley, but when they reached the empty expanse of floor between the crowd and the rest of the family, she politely removed her arm from his and told him stiffly, "I can go alone from here, thank you."

"Alright!" Mum said, starting a short applause as we both stood before Morgan's Masses. "Thank you all for coming today and celebrating Morgan and Piper's fifteenth birthday with us! If you've come to parties in the past, you know that we usually save present opening for afterwards since so many of you come, but before we cut the cake, the girls share their gifts with each other!"

Momo, already recovered from her Dursley ordeal, trotted over to the one table dedicated to suffer the weight of all of her gifts and plucked a shiny bronze bag from it's midst. Mum pulled my carefully wrapped gift from her purse and handed it to me. Momo came back and we hugged.

"This is to help you narrow down your options," I murmured in her ear before we parted and I handed her the little box.

She set the bag down and ripped open the paper. I had put it in a plain brown box. Although the item looked Muggle enough, the original box would have blatantly advertised that it was from the Wizarding World. I included a note for Momo in with the gift to explain. It was a magical locket that was supposed to make a picture of your true love inside, so long as you were wearing it when you met them.

She scanned the note briefly, stuffed it back in and withdrew the silver heart shaped locket. "Oh, it's wonderful!" She showcased it to the room like she was a model on a game show. "Help me put it on!"

Handing it to me, she turned around and swept her hair up so that I could clasp it around her neck. She turned back and beamed.

"I love it! Now here!" She stooped and picked up the little bronze bag and shoved it at me with her normal flourish. "This is part one! It should help you expand your options," she added in an undertone.

I laughed and shook my head at her, digging around in the bag. I felt some sort of material and pulled it out. It was a miracle of great will that my hair did not turn as red as my face. I can't believe she would do this to me, the sister who literally wore her colorful emotions everywhere. Keep... Calm...

I held a bright blue and white lace bra out for Harry, my family, and almost every adolescent in town to behold.

"It's got extra padding! You know, for lift!" she said excitedly.

Coming to my senses, I stuffed the... Unmentionable back into it's shiny bag and tried to ignore the chuckles, whistles, and cat calls now filling the room.

"How... Thoughtful," I said carefully. "Thanks, sis." A little warning would have been nice.

"Wait!" she cried, taking a step closer. "There's a part two!"

"What's that, a matching thong?" I tried to mutter the sarcastic remark quietly to only her, but cheers of approval swept the room anyway.

Momo looked reproachful. "Piper! No! That's still in the bag."

Oh, God, I was never attending my birthday ever again. July ninth just does not exist on my calendar anymore. Suddenly I was just as much an object for ogling as Momo was. I never knew how much I appreciated my level of invisibility in normal society until this moment.

"Momo..." I said cautiously.

"Close your eyes..." And just in case I refused to do it on my own, she slipped behind me and covered them for me. "Everyone be quiet!" she commanded. Instant silence.

She steered me awkwardly around, keeping her hands over my face. "Are your eyes closed?"

"Yes," I replied. Just a few more minutes and then people could have cake and forget this ever happened.

"Good." We stopped moving and she dropped her hands. "Guess who!"

"How does that-?"

I was cut off as new hands found my face, one circling around the nape of my neck and the other at the small of my back. Before I could do or say anything, lips were atop mine, gentle but firm.

I froze.

The person moved back and I opened my eyes to see the grinning face of my still very new boyfriend, Terry Boot.

"Happy Birthday," he said.

That had been my first kiss.

I don't really know how to describe what I was feeling at that moment. I'd read dozens and dozens of books about what I should have been feeling, but I don't think they got it right. Maybe my embarrassment had spoiled it for me, or simply just the shock of it all. I may have been a little numb. I'm really not quite sure.

I know what you're thinking. They're dating and they haven't kissed before? Well, let me completely stop the story to explain.

After Harry's excursions at the Ministry of Magic and the Minister finally admitting that Voldemort had returned, people were really scared. On the last day of school, Terry told me that life was too short not to say what we want to say and then continued by saying that he liked me as more than a friend and would I ever consider being his girlfriend. I was shocked and flattered and, well, I'd only ever had a crush on one other boy and I did like Terry so I said yes. We spent the train ride home holding hands and we hugged goodbye.

Hugs and hand holding and this is the second time I've seen him in the six weeks since the term ended. All we did the first time was go out to dinner with my family.

This is my first relationship. I don't know how they work. I thought kissing was something you worked up to while spending time together.

The next thing I knew, Terry was snapping his fingers at me. "Earth to Stone. I know my lips aren't that magical."

"Terry," I managed finally. Life had resumed around me as a line of kids stood waiting for cake. "I just... You weren't supposed to be here and I just... I mean..." This wasn't exactly how I had thought something like this would go.

Harry appeared next to us with plates of cake and I was grateful to have something to do with my hands and for some sort of change in subject.

"Potter," Terry said with a nod. "I see you weren't too busy being Chosen to come."

I frowned at his tone.

"I wouldn't have missed it for the world," Harry replied smoothly. "Funny, I don't think I've ever seen you come to Piper's birthday before." Funny, Harry had never been to one either.

"Oh, well, family stuff gets in the way sometimes, but as Piper is my girlfriend, Dad had to work it into his summer plans," Terry replied. He turned so that he was next to me, slipping an arm over my shoulders.

Harry nodded. "Oh, it's good that you can pencil her in if need be." He ate a bite of cake calmly as it he hadn't a care in the world.

I looked from one boy to the other. I had almost forgotten there was a bit of... Dislike between the two. Terry had blatantly refused to support Harry or the DA last year, not believing his claims. He had also fiercely defended Marietta Edgecomb when she has ratted us out to Umbridge. I think Terry might have felt a bit betrayed when Luna and I sided with The Boy Who Lived. I suddenly wondered if that had anything to do with his sudden carpe diem attitude about me.

"Speaking of penciling in," Terry said gruffly, "I have one of your birthday presents for you. I couldn't bring the others given the company."

"I thought you were my present?" I said dumbly.

Terry grinned. "You're adorable."

He kissed me again, just a quick peck this time (and I still wasn't sure of how to react or feel), and went to retrieve a package from near the door where he had a packed bag sitting. He came back and handed it to me, taking my plate of untouched cake so that I could open it.

I smiled at him before focusing on the present. I could already tell from the size and shape that it was a picture frame. I wondered if Terry realized that moving pictures also couldn't be shown in front of 'the given company.' Carefully, I peeled back the paper and was relieved to see non-moving pencil work inside the frame. Opening it fully, my face broke into a huge grin.

"I remember this," I said softly.

Back in First Year, Luna and I were all each other had after we were sorted. It wasn't that I couldn't make other friends, it was that I liked Luna and her dad's magazine and I wouldn't let anyone say anything bad about her. She gave me and Momo a seat on the train when every where else had been full or older students didn't want an 'ickle firstie' sitting with them. Terry didn't start hanging out with us until later in the year, but he had ended up sitting in our cabin that first year. There was another First Year running around with a camera, asking to take pictures of people. He stopped by our cabin and took one. He gave us a copy. Eventually.

The picture in the frame was a hand drawn version of that first picture of us.

"Oh, Harry, look how tiny we were!" I said, turning the drawing about to show him. "I still had braces!"

Harry squinted. "Why is your hair as light as Luna's?" he asked.

"Oh, I liked the way it looked, so I made it that way," I told him, having forgotten about that entirely. "Oh, this is the best! Thank you!" I threw my arms around Terry's neck, not feeling weird at all anymore. Couples kissed. And boyfriends gave amazing presents.

"Well, I have another present. And I have Luna's for you. She couldn't come, already off with her Dad looking for creatures. I'll give them to you at the hotel." He leaned down for another kiss and I was okay with it. Mostly.

"You have to stay in a hotel?" Harry asked. His presence annoyed Terry, I could tell.

I let go of him and nodded. "Dad has a pretty strict No-Visitors policy. In primaries, we had to always go to a friend's house rather than have them over. As for out of town boyfriends, Dad gets them a hotel room and we can only meet in public places. I don't know what exactly he is afraid of that we can't have guests, but... You can't really over rule your parents."

Harry raised his eyebrows at me and I remembered his earlier comment about Fidelius Charms. I suppose that would... No. I shot him a look back and gave a slight shake of my head. I wasn't falling for it simply because my dad was a bit of a nutter.

I glanced back at Terry. "How did you set this up anyway?"

"Morgan helped. I owled her that I wanted to surprise you and she fixed things with your dad to make it work."

Suddenly my conversation with Mum about my clothes made more sense. "Well, I'm glad."

"Me, too." He kissed the side of my head. Then his arm dropped and squeezed my rear. Eyes wide, I was back to feeling a little weird again.

I laughed nervously and reached for his hand, putting it firmly at my waist. Harry raised his eyebrows even more and I just laughed again. "Happy..."

Chapter 4: Privet Drive Lights
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Author's Note: Please enjoy and know that I really own nothing except the Original Characters. All hail the JK Rowling, mother of the Harry Potter universe!
***


Terry stayed for two days. We went to a film with the parents the first night and dancing the next. The other presents he had spoken of has been an autographed Chuddley Cannons poster (my favorite) and a lumpy sack of chocolate frogs and cauldron cakes from Luna. Included were a card and a pair of something she called spectrespecs. The card didn't offer much information, just an apology for being too busy to come. I wore the strange glasses all over the house.

I never did address the touching and kissing before Terry left and he did not cease to do these things.

Friday, I found myself alone in the house for the night. Jake was at work, Morgan staying at a friend's, and my parents were out celebrating their anniversary (upon mine and Momo's insistence that they enjoy themselves in a social environment without their children).

I was very bored in an empty house. There was nothing to watch on the television. I had cleaned my room, reorganized the closet and trunk, and gone over my homework. Twice. The kitchen was spotless. I wasn't hungry.

Finally in the late afternoon, after a nap, I decided to read. I still had several books unread on my shelf and though I loved to read, summers were normally too busy to bother with them. That's what school was for.

Sitting on the living room sofa, I was so absorbed in the book that I hadn't realized it getting dark out. My heart pounded. The hero and heroine crept closer to the secret of the trail of bodies and the mystery of the haunted house they investigated. When the street light went dark outside the window, I yelped and fell off my seat.

I hissed at the sting of landing on my rear so hard, especially since it was numb from sitting so long. Casting an annoyed glance out the front window, I put a marker in the book and went out to investigate. The lights in the house were still on, so it wasn't a power outage. The other street lights were still on.

Except for the one in front of the house directly across the street.

I was sure it was on earlier. It seemed normal enough that a light would go out, but two? And only two? What's more, the house across the street was where Harry lived. I knew he hadn't left for the summer yet because the Dursley's still walked around the neighborhood with pinched, sour looks on their faces.

My heart sped up when a loud crack sounded in the distance. Across the street, I saw a flurry of movement in Harry's room. A figure in billowing robes drew my attention not far off. Panicking, I dashed across the street to the Dursley's front door and began knocking and ringing the door bell. The figure seemed in no particular rush and that worried me even more.

"WHO IN THE BLOODY BLAZES IS HERE THIS LATE?!" thundered the voice of Vernon Dursley. I hadn't thought about the possibility that he would be the one answering the door.

When it swung open, angry beady little eyes glared down at me from a reddening face, closing in on a purplish color. The man's bushy moustache hid most of his mouth and his dressing gown was a horrid puce color. But that wasn't important. Any other night, I would be down right terrified to have to confront Mr. Dursley like this, but at the moment something else scared me even more.

"I need to see Harry!" I told him flatly. The Dursley's most likely did not know that two witches and their magical parents lived in their neighborhood nor would they think it normal that a normal looking girl would come to their door looking for their outcast nephew.

Several things happened at the same time and among them there were Mr. Dursley's gaze switching to a point above my head, Harry appearing on the steps behind Mr. Dursley, and myself feeling an odd mixture of relief and fear upon seeing Harry and sensing the presence behind me. Mr. Dursley's eyes flickered to me and widened with shock and dislike, letting me know that my hair was a stark white to match the uneasiness that filled me with the burning urge to run.

There was a moment of silence before a soft voice behind me said, "I apologize, Harry. I didn't realize you would have company tonight. It does make this rather more interesting, though."

I whipped around to find myself face-to-beard with the Hogwarts Headmaster, Professor Dumbledore. "P-professor," I stuttered, feeling rather foolish now at having been afraid. I felt my face getting red. "I- I didn't know it was you- I th-thought-"

"Ah," he said knowingly, blue eyes twinkling even in the dark. "I understand. You were running for help. Good for you- but we must be going inside. It does not do well to linger over doorways in these uncertain times. I'm sure Harry has told Mr. Dursley to expect us." He glanced up at the dumbfounded look on Vernon's face. "Perhaps not." Regardless, the silver haired man ushered me in ahead of him and closed the door sharply behind him.

I wasn't sure what to do, but I let myself be urged inside and then stood off to the side to watch what was going on. Harry still stood on the steps (strangely holding a telescope and a pair of trainers in each hand), also watching and looking a little guilty, I thought. For not warning his uncle?

"Your agapanthus are looking wonderful since my last visit," Dumbledore said in a very conversational tone. Mr. Dursely said nothing, his narrowed eyes directly centered on the man before him. "Harry, my boy. Come, come."

Harry stayed on the safety of the stairs, glancing warily at his uncle.

"Not to be rude," Vernon started, but Dumbledore shook his head, silencing him.

"Best to not speak then, I suppose," he said. "And this is Petunia, I presume? Of course we've had written correspondence." There was another silence and I was sure that this was the most bizarre interaction I had ever bore witness to when I glanced to see Mrs. Dursley in the open kitchen doorway wearing rubber gloves of all things. Apparently having expected some sort of introductions from Mr. Dursley -and receiving none- he said, "Albus Dumbledore. A pleasure to meet you."

What I found shocking was that he really did seem to be pleased to meet them. In tone, anyway, but then Professor Dumbledore always was unrealistically pleasant. Unless he was angry. He turned to look at me then, which jarred me immensely. It made me realize that this was real.

"Do not be rude, Miss Stone. Introduce yourself." It was more of a firm command than anything else, just short of being an order.

I swallowed hard and I knew my hair must be changing all sorts of colors to announce my nervousness. "Piper Stone," I mumbled.

Dumbledore smiled and turned away again. "And this must be your son!" I noticed Dudley then, peering around a corner looking quite frightened. "Now that we are all introduced, let us assume to be invited to your sitting room?"

Without awaiting reply, Dumbledore swept towards Dudley (who scrambled to move out of the way) and into the next room. Harry jumped the last few stairs and followed. Still not knowing what to do, I followed suit. Dumbledore had settled into a chair by a lit fire place, looking around the dim room as though he found it fascinating. With his robes flowing gracefully to the floor and his beard resting on his knees, I decided he looked like a strange random object carelessly tossed onto a shelf of a carefully placed collection of mundane things.

Harry shifted uneasily, shoving the trainers underneath his arm as he approached Dumbledore. "Sir... Shouldn't we be... leaving?" He seemed anxious. I didn't blame him. I wanted to go home and hide in my room until school started.

"Indeed we should, Harry, but there are matters to be discussed before we leave and I would prefer to do so in a safe place. We shall stay only a little longer." It was all very logical to him- arrive in the midst of night and stick around, unwanted, to discuss things.

"Will you now?" Vernon demanded, standing just inside the room with his wife and son hiding behind him.

"I will," he answered simply. He was completely at ease under the large man's obvious dislike of him.

I didn't need to be here. I had nothing to do with this. "I should be going home now- I panicked. I'm sorry. It was a-"

"You will stay, Miss Stone," Dumbledore said, an edge in his soft voice that made me pause in my inching for the door. I wasn't so stupid as to ignore the Headmaster so I stayed where I stood. That's when his wand appeared from seemingly nowhere. With a flick, the Dursleys were falling onto the sofa that moved in behind them and then back to where it had come from.

"Sir, your hand-" Harry said, drawing my attention to the blackened flesh on the Headmaster's bony hand.

"It will wait, Harry. Both of you, please sit down," he said calmly.

Harry looked at me and offered the remaining arm chair in the room. I sat on the edge of the cushion, hands fidgeting in my lap. Harry sat on the arm next to me and we gave Dumbledore our undivided attention.

After remarking about foolish optimism towards the Durselys, he conjured an old, dusty bottle and six glasses which hovered in mid air and poured themselves before also serving themselves. Harry and I caught the glasses as they came towards us. The other three glasses nudged against the Dursley's heads as they tried hard to ignore them. This was actually really amusing, but not enough to calm me down.

"Drink, Miss Stone," Dumbledore said then. "Like chocolate following a dementor, Madam Rosmerta's mead soothes the nerves." Nodding, I obligingly took a huge gulp. It was delightfully strange. "Sip it, hmm?" Blushing, I nodded again. "To business then."

He spoke about Sirius Black -I remembered him from The Quibbler. He was a singer.- and his death and his will. It was something about a house and headquarters and the like and Harry jumped to his feet at the mention of one Lestrange woman. From Luna, I knew that it was the woman who had killed Sirius and that he had been very important to Harry, though I avoided asking about it the other day.

Somewhere in the middle of these proceedings, Vernon Dursley demanded the cups -now bouncing and spilling everywhere- be removed. Dumbledore obliged with a remark about proper manners. After a few minutes, I had quite forgotten my nervousness and was watching the people around me like it was a television show, sipping the mead all the while. I still had no idea why I had to stay, but my body was getting warm and fuzzy.

I have never seen a House Elf outside of the school kitchen, so when one appeared in a perfectly Muggle living room -a test, apparently- I was a little shocked. The poor thing seemed more out of place than Dumbledore in that room and no one seemed very pleased to see him. He even had a cruel name- Kreacher. As if he were nothing more than a disposable creature. Harry ordered him to Hogwarts and despite Kreacher's reluctance -to put it lightly- he disappeared with a crack.

The conversation shifted again to Harry's coming of age and what that meant for certain protective enchantments on the house and the Dursley's safety. Dumbledore didn't seem in the least concerned with it as he gave them quite the verbal dressing down for the poor way they treated their nephew. Out of fear -and I would like to think shame as well- they shrank further and further into the sofa with each word.

Serves them right, I thought angrily, soon fighting a bout of giggles when the Headmaster referred to the "appalling damage inflicted" on Dudley.

There didn't seem to be much else to discuss after that and I had quite forgotten that Dumbledore had insisted on my staying for these proceedings. Then Dumbledore turned to me. This was still startling- I had all but melted into the background of this scene and now felt rudely jerked into the story.

"Now Miss Stone, there are things for us to discuss as well. I would not divulge any of this if you had not been out of your house on this night, but I feel it will help you understand what I have to do. In time..." He shifted in the chair, looking all the more comfortable now as he gazed at me, smiling under his bushy beard. "I see you've calmed down. Good. I'm sure Harry at least wondered how you could have gotten to his front door so quickly after I arrived on the street." Harry almost smirked and gave a small shake of his head. Dumbledore raised an eyebrow, looking amused, but continued. "This is because the Stone house is hidden. I know where it is, but I am not it's original Keeper."

Hidden. Keeper. The Fidelius Charm. I had read all about it for an extra credit essay I'd written for Professor Flitwick. Only the Secret Keeper could reveal it's location. Even if you were told where it was, you couldn't tell anyone else even under the influence of Veritaserum. When the primary Secret Keeper dies, the secondary Keepers (anyone the secret has been divulged to) all become the primary.

I had told Harry where I lived and he had looked like he had never seen my house before... The Fidelius Charm isn't something to take lightly, you know.

"Told you," Harry muttered under his breath.

"But..." I found that my mouth was unwilling to cooperate with my brain for a few moments. I cleared my throat. "Why- why- why would my house need such protection? My parents... Are Muggleborn and... They don't even use magic anymore!" I cried, my voice rising.

Dumbledore shook his head and took a sip of his mead. "Your parents, in fact, are very much like Harry's. Your mother is Halfblood and your father is Pureblood," he added. Then his voice turned grave. "Much like the Potter's, it was to hide them from Voldemort, also."

This information only made me feel guilty. Obviously the Fidelius Charm and my parent's Secret Keeper had worked a lot better for them than it had the Potter's. My arms sank between my knees, the glass cupped in my laced fingers. The stem just brushed the carpet. What could my parents possibly have to do with Voldemort to the point of needing protection from him?

I let my hair cover my face from view, not sure what I was supposed to do with this information nor why I was being told. "Why would they keep the truth from us?" I finally asked quietly. I didn't look up. I stared into the bottom of the glass as if it were a pensive of memories, waiting to unravel the truth.

"I cannot reveal their personal reasons, but I do know they wished to cut the Wizarding World from their lives as much as was possible," Dumbledore said softly. "I would prefer not to speculate. I do believe it is time to leave. We have discussed all that was needed."

I looked up, not ready yet. "But-! I told Harry yesterday and he saw!" Dumbledore's eyebrows lifted. "What happened to our Secret Keeper? Who was it?"

The old headmaster folded his long, thin fingers and regarded me for a moment. "The man who was your Keeper recently passed away, I'm afraid," he told me. "However, it is not my place to tell you who he was. The gravity of your being out of the house on this night of all nights, though... You have no idea how much you look like your mother. We must keep you safe." He was silent a moment. I wasn't sure what he was supposed to mean by that. "It is time to go now."

I still had questions, I just couldn't make my mouth work. It was clear by the look in the Headmaster's eyes, though, that he was not about to answer them. With a wave of his wand, the three remaining glasses disappeared. Harry nodded and ran up the stairs. The Dursleys remained pressed firmly into the back of the sofa as if expecting to be swallowed into a safe and magic-free world. A few moments later, Harry came back with a clunking sound behind him- his trunk in one hand and his owl in the other.

"Smashing!" Dumbledore said brightly, motioning for the door. "It has been a pleasure." With a graceful bow, he ushered us out the door and into the night. Another wave of his wand and Harry's things disappeared. "We have one quick stop and then Harry, I do need your help with a small matter."

"Of course, sir," he replied.

I was just about to muster a goodbye when Dumbledore placed his good hand on my shoulder and his burned one on Harry's. Without warning, Privet Drive disappeared and I was being dragged through a suffocating tube. Just when I thought my lungs might burst or my body tear apart, I could suddenly breathe again. Taking deep breaths, I looked around to find myself standing in an empty field. There was a popping noise and I turned to look at what it was, but nothing was there. No one was there. I was alone.

Chapter 5: Midnight Inquisition
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Author's Note: Please enjoy and know that I really own nothing except the Original Characters. All hail the JK Rowling, mother of the Harry Potter universe!



I was surrounded by grass so tall it nearly reached my elbows. There was no sign of Harry or Professor Dumbledore and there was certainly no resemblance of Privet Drive in any direction. I was alone in the dark with no wand at my disposal. If I had thought I was scared an hour ago when the street lamps went out, it was nothing compared to the fear that held me now.

Why would the Headmaster leave me in the middle of an empty field? I asked myself. Clearly, I couldn't be in as much danger as I thought if he had saw fit to drop me here, I reasoned. There must be something or someone nearby that I was supposed to find.

Unless telling me what he had was some sort of security breech? What if he left me out here to fend for myself and possibly get caught by Death Eaters or eaten by werewolves or kissed by dementors or-?!

No. No, stop, I told myself firmly. This is Dumbledore we're talking about. If the things I heard tonight were dangerous for me to know in any way, he would never have told me. He would not put one of his own students in jeopardy like that. While that didn't stop my heart from hammering, it did clear my head enough to really take in my surroundings.

There was darkness going on forever in almost every direction until I finally saw the glimmer of lights to my right. I had to start somewhere and standing here alone without a wand was almost like asking for something to come and kill me. With a deep breath, I started in the direction of the lights.

After a few yards, the tall grass gave way to a large clearing which I soon recognized as a garden in someone's yard. The lights ahead were suddenly coming through windows of the lowest level of a strangely misshappen house silhouetted against the darkness. The contradictory feeling of apprehension filled relief swept over me. I did not know who was in that house, but I had to believe that Dumbledore had meant for me to go there.

Before I could take another step, an angry woman appeared before me. Her pale heart shaped face framed a scowl and dark, narrowed eyes. A wand pressed against the underside of my chin.

"Who are you?" she demanded. Startled, instinct said to back away, but her hand shot out to sieze my shoulder. "Answer the question!"

"Oh my God, please don't kill me!" I squeaked, tears already forming in my eyes. "I-I don't know what's going on..."

Her eyes flickered to my hair then back to my face, somehow looking extremely angry without her heart really being in it. "Come with me," she snarled. Still gripping my shoulder, she swung me around to be in front of her and steered me towards the house I had been heading for.

This was it. This was the end. Dumbledore had accidentally left me in the wrong place or maybe I chose the wrong direction or- I don't even know. But this was how my life would end. I tried to steel myself and dry my eyes. I would not be killed pleading for my life.

At the door of the house, she made me reach out and open it. Then, for the second time that night, I was propelled into a strange house. A nice, inviting looking kitchen was the last thing I expected to greet me on the other side. There was a long wooden table with more than a half dozen chairs pressed in around it. They were empty except for one. A plump, red-haired woman in a green house coat sat at the table, wringing her hands until she saw us in the doorway.

I recognized her from Platform 9 3/4. I didn't know her personally, but I knew who she was. My shoulders sagged with relief. "You're not Death Eaters," I breathed aloud and I almost started crying again.

The angry woman behind me did not drop her guard. "Turn out your pockets," she ordered, wand pressing into my back.

I didn't even try to protest. I flipped out every single lint filled pocket my jeans had. Seemingly satisfied, I was instructed to sit down and I did. The woman took a seat across the table from me next to the wary looking red-haired woman I now remembered was Mrs. Weasley.

In the light, the woman who brought me in didn't look so well, though no matter the state of her health, she didn't give an inch. Wand still pointed at me, she asked again, "Who are you?"

No longer scared as I knew where I must be now, I answered unhindered by panic. "Piper Stone. I'm a Hogwarts student."

"Your hair was changing when I found you. That's a sign of Polyjuice Potion," she said accusingly.

I quickly shook my head and changed my hair to a bright blue to help explain my next statement. "No, no, no! I'm a Metamorphmagus!" I changed my eye color as well and reshaped my nose into a pig snout before going back to normal. The woman almost looked hurt like my ability upset her. She didn't lose her authority, though.

"Who sent you here and why?" she demanded.

The following came out very quickly and I don't quite know that it was at all comprehensible to my audience:

"I... I really have no idea the why. I saw the light go outside of my house and someone Apparated onto my street and I panicked and I ran to Harry's house and banged on the door, but the person was just Dumbledore come to get him and I tried to go home and the Professor said to stay and then he told me things about my family that I didn't know and then he said he needed Harry to help him do something and Harry said 'of course, sir' and I was about to say goodnight and go home and hide under my bed until September first when Dumbledore puts his hand on my shoulder and his other on Harry's and the next thing I knew, I was out in the field and they were gone and I saw the lights and started over here and then you found me and now I think I'm as confused as ever and I'm just so glad you're not Death Eaters!"

Two pairs of eyes blinked at me for several moments. Finally Mrs. Weasley, being the first she'd spoken since I walked in, asked me darkly, "How do you know we aren't Death Eaters?"

This was my turn to blink. "You're Molly Weasley. Fred, George, Ron, and Ginny's mum. I play Quidditch for Ravenclaw, a beater, and that's how I know the twins. And I've known Ginny since I started because we're in the same year. I've never actually met you, but I see you every year on the Platform. If you're Death Eaters, then I'm a bloody werewolf."

Again, this made the other woman look hurt and angry. It seemed like I was pressing all of her buttons tonight and I didn't even mean to. I didn't even know her name! My shoulders slumped in defeat. If I said the wrong thing one more time, I feared she wouldn't believe me.

Mrs. Weasley, however, sat back and seemingly relaxed. "Well, I'm content with that for the moment. Dumbledore said he would be going to get Harry tonight, though he said he most likely wasn't going to be back until the morning. We shall see how that pans out. You're under probation until the Headmaster can get back and verify your story." She gave me a warm smile. "Who are your parents, dear? Did they go to Hogwarts?"

"'Course. You really think Muggles produced a Metamorphmagus?" the other woman muttered

I looked uncertainly between the two women. "Darren and Samantha Stone," I told her. It was fine, I told myself. As soon as Harry returned, this matter could be settled and hopefully I could go home! I could wake up in my bed and just pretend this had all been a dream.

She frowned. "Doesn't ring a bell. What year did they graduate?"

"1978 or '79. Hang on... Yes, '79. Mum was pregnant when she graduated because my brother was born October 30th of that year..."

"Oh, that's my birthday!" Mrs. Weasley said, her face lighting up and for an instant she looked much younger, more like the Weasley Matriarch I remembered from the train window. "'79 was after my time. Before Tonks'. And I don't think I've ever heard of a pregnant student at Hogwarts!" She looked scandalized.

"Who?" I asked, confused.

"Tonks," the other woman said gruffly. "It's my name."

What an odd name. "Pleased to meet you," I said quietly.

"Tonks, dear, you can't blame this poor child for a few ill spoken words. She doesn't know anything about you." The older woman reached out to pat Tonks' hand. She looked back at me then. "You'll have to forgive her. Tonks is a Metamorphmagus, too, but lately she hasn't been able to change anything. She's been going through a lot and it's put a strain on her ability."

"Molly!" Tonks cried.

"What?" I cried, suddenly feeling as if cold water had just been thrown in my face. "It... It's possible to... To lose the ability to change? I- I can't even imagine! I'm so sorry!"

Tonks scowled and sank further into her chair. "Well, you don't lose it," she said reluctantly. "I just can't- Because he won't-" Tears suddenly filled the angry woman's eyes and her face became soft and drawn. "And now he's gone- Oh, Molly, what am I going to do without him? He doesn't think- He doesn't understand!" Mrs. Weasley drew Tonks into her arms. "It hurts so much!"

I understood then. She was depressed and that's what was wrong with her morphing ability. What's more was that it wasn't something she could fix on her own- someone made her feel this way and that someone was going to have to fix it. I couldn't imagine being so distraught as to not be able to change.

"Come now, dear. I know it hurts. Someday... Someday, it will be better, I promise." She sighed and cradled the younger woman for a long moment as if she were one of her own children. When Tonks straightened in her chair and wiped her eyes, Mrs. Weasley stood. "I think tea is in order."

She set about the kitchen, making tea the Muggle way. Perhaps it was soothing. I sat in complete discomfort of what I had just witnessed. It was so personal, so emotional. Yet at the same time, I felt a kindredness with this woman, this other Metamorphmagus. She had shared this with me whether or not she had meant to and I would keep her secret.

We sat in silence while Mrs. Weasley bustled about until finally tea was done. She set the pot on the table with sugar, cream, and three mismatched cups. Filling each one, she said, "Now, then. Tuck in."

Tonks and I murmured a thanks, reaching for our cups at the same time. I measured out one teaspoon of sugar and added a splash of cream. The tea warmed me to my toes and it was only at that moment that I realized how cold I was. Tonks stared into her cup as if trying to read the tea leaves while they floated about. Mrs. Weasley kept glancing at a clock sitting atop a pile of laundry. I followed her gaze. It was a very strange clock as it didn't tell time. There were nine hands and they all pointed toward 'Mortal Peril.'

I don't know how long I sat examining the clock from my vantage point. Mrs. Weasley and Tonks had started up a conversation again. A knock at the door startled all of us- I very nearly spilled my tea.

Molly swept up from her chair and to the door so fast it looked like one movement.

"Who is it?" she demanded. "Who's there?"

"It is Dumbledore with a tired Mr. Potter!" came the familiar voice.

She opened the door to reveal an amused Headmaster looking over his half moon spectacles and donning spiderwebs on his hat. Harry stood in front of him.

"Oh, Harry, come in! Come in!" the little red-haired woman ushered Harry and Dumbledore through the door.

"Oh, hey Tonks," Harry said when he noticed her. "I almost didn't recognize you."

"Wotcher, Harry," Tonks replied wearily. "Dumbledore, can you explain this?" She pointed at me, not nearly as intimidating as when I had met her an hour or so earlier.

"She didn't explain herself?" he asked, bushy eyebrows raised. "I do not trust that I was not followed to Mr. Potter's house. Like a good Witch, Miss Stone ran for help when she thought there was danger. She bears such a striking resemblance to her mother and her house is under protective enchantments. I brought her here for her and her family's protection. I didn't want anyone who may have tracked me and seen her to poke around waiting for the rest of her family. I apologize, Molly, but she will be here for a spell until I believe it is safe for her to go home."

What information was I given to be able to explain that? Ravenclaws are smart, not psychic!

"I think it will be alright, Albus," Mrs. Weasley replied, waving him off.

"A... A spell? How long a spell?" I asked nervously. Did he really think I could be in that much danger?

"Spells sometimes take a rather long time, Miss Stone. I assure you, though, I think you will be home before the summer is over." He gave me one of those twinkling eyed looks. I just stared, my mouth hanging open and fighting the urge to scoff in disbelief. "I shall owl your parents in the morning."

"Well, then. If everything is straightened out... Molly, I should be leaving." Tonks stood from the table, her tea more or less untouched.

"Oh, Tonks, come over for dinner next week," Mrs. Weasley pleaded. "Remus will be here and-"

"I don't think I can," she replied shortly. "Thank you for the tea." She stalked passed Harry and Dumbledore. When she was a few feet away from the door, she turned on the spot and vanished with a crack.

"I should be leaving myself, Molly. I apologize for the late hour," Dumbledore said. Mrs. Weasley waved him off again. She was so nice and amiable. The Headmaster nodded toward me, gave a knowing look toward Harry and bowed to Mrs. Weasley before following Tonks' path out the door and disappearing in the same spot.

She closed the door before taking Harry by the shoulders and settling him next to me at the table. "Oh, you and Ron! Sprouting worse than weeds! He's already grown out of his robes. Are you hungry, dear?"

"Oh, yeah, thanks," he said as she began bustling about the kitchen again.

She paused only a moment to rest a hand on my shoulder. "I'm so sorry, dear, I didn't even think to ask you earlier." She resumed her trek. "Would you like something?"

"Uh... No thanks... I'm actually a bit nauseas..." My stomach just wouldn't stop squirming. Stuck in the Weasley house for an undefined amount of time? Was I even allowed to owl my parents? What about Terry?

"Oh, here, have a bit of bread. It'll settle your stomach," Mrs. Weasley said. She tapped a pot with her wand. It soared to the stove and began boiling. Another wave sent a knife across the room to slice a loaf of home made bread. A piece landed carefully in front of me and I could do little more than stare at the crumbs that scattered around it. I mumbled a thank you and fell silent.

A loud purring started up from Harry. I didn't know he purred.

"Oh, Hermione's here?" he asked. I glanced over. A large orange tuft of fur was curled up contently in his lap.

"Oh, yes. Two days now. They've all gone to bed, of course. You weren't supposed to be here so many hours before daybreak. Here we are." She tapped the pot again. The next thing I knew, she had appeared on the other side of Harry placing a bowl before him just in time to catch the hot stream of soup, the pot now hovering above the table. With another wave, the pot returned and a fresh slice of bread sat itself next to the dish.

"So, you got Slughorn to take the job?"

I tuned them out then. I couldn't pretend to be interested anymore. There was too much too fast and I felt like there wasn't enough time to process it all. Some Ravenclaw I am to not even be able to figure out that my family had more than just magic for a secret. Why did Dad lie? For what possible reason could Voldemort have to be after my family? I could only hope that there wasn't some prophecy about me hiding around out there. But what did all this mean? I was never really sure if I believed in God or not -Wizards don't exactly have their own religion- but I found myself praying right then. I prayed that my family was safe. I prayed that I would be home with them soon. I prayed that Dumbledore was mistaken. I could almost hear them calling my name, wondering where I was, searching the house.

"Piper!"

I jerked back into the Weasley house. I tried to look at Harry and Mrs. Weasley, but all I could see were blurry shapes and colors. I blinked; the two figures came into focus, but my face was now warm and wet. Sniffing, I turned away and wiped the sleeve of my shirt over my face.

"I'm sorry," I said in as steady a voice as I could manage. "I wasn't, um, listening. What did you say?" I looked back. Harry seemed at a loss. Mrs. Weasley looked sympathetic. I shuddered, trying not to crack.

Sweeping around Harry, she settled both hands on my shoulders and gave a comforting squeeze like it was a special hug for strangers who broke down in her kitchen. It was odd because I didn't know her, but I appreciated it. She must be a good Mum.

"This must be a lot for you, dear," she said soothingly. "Would you like to go lay down?"

I nodded, not trusting my voice.

"I don't want to wake the girls. You don't mind sleeping in the same room as Harry, do you? There are two beds."

I shook my head, wiping my eyes again. They just wouldn't stop watering.

"Harry- show her to Fred and George's room, would you? I've got it made up for you since they stay in the flat above their shop."

She let go of me then so I could stand. Harry nodded and got to his feet and put a hand on my back, guiding me through the house and to the stairs. I can't say I remember much about what I passed by. Mostly I remember crawling into the bed furthest from the door and, after pulling something hard out from the pillow case, crying myself into a fitful sleep.

Chapter 6: Not The 'Cute' One
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Author's Note: Please enjoy and know that I really own nothing except the Original Characters. All hail the JK Rowling, mother of the Harry Potter universe!



BANG!

My eyes flew open and I reached for my wand. The lack thereof and my strange surroundings almost had me in a panic until I remembered the events of the previous night. But then what was that sound? Were Death Eaters attacking the Weasley house? Ouch! With sunlight? Someone had thrown open the curtains.

I rolled over just enough to see the door, which had been thrown wide open. Harry was upright in his bed with two people apparently tending to him. As there was no apparent danger, I fell back onto my pillow unnoticed and tried to forget where I was once again. It wasn't as simple as all that now that I was awake and there were loud voices in the next bed.

"Guys, hush. There are other people sleeping in here," Harry groaned sounding sleepy himself.

"Mrs. Weasley mentioned Piper Stone was here." That would be Hermione Granger's voice.

"Which Stone is she?" Ron Weasley's voice. "Is she the cute one?"

I blinked under my blanket, now wide awake. The cute one? Well, obviously he meant Morgan; they always did. Despite that knowledge, a bit of a blush crept over my face.

I have, of course, already admitted to having had a crush on one boy at school prior to beginning a relationship with Terry. Well, that boy happened to be one Ronald Weasley. His bravery, his cleverness, his red hair... I sort of have a thing for gingers. The idea that he might think of me as 'cute' was nothing less than thrilling. But, you know... Not too thrilling. I was spoken for, after all.

"They are identical, Ron. You should know what that word means- you have twin brothers," Hermione growled. I could practically hear her eyes rolling. I wondered when those two were going to finally ask one another out. The entire school was practically on the edge of their seats in anticipation.

"I know what it means!" he said defensively. "I just mean that one is a little more..."

There was only a slight pause before, "Ronald, you're despicable!" followed by a solid THWUMP!

"What?" he laughed.

"You know she's only three feet away, right?" Harry inquired. "Oh, hang on, what time is it? Don't tell me I've missed breakfast!"

"No, Mum's making up a tray for you," Ron assured him.

"What are you-? Leave her alone!" Hermione scolded.

Suddenly the mattress began to bouce and me along with it. There was no peace in this house! And I was stuck here for God knows how long! I tossed the bedclothes from me as violently as I could manage and sat up to face the youngest Weasley son bouncing on my borrowed bed.

"I am awake you ass! And no, I'm not the 'cute' one with the bloody huge boobs, but at least I can make mine bigger if I get bored!"

There were mixed expressions on his face as if he couldn't figure out if he was amused, terrified, or impressed. The mere look infuriated me all the more. I snarled in wordless outrage and tossed my pillow in his face before storming out of the room without so much as a 'how do you do' to the other occupants.

Halfway down the stairs I blew passed Ginny, the youngest Weasley. She grumbled a polite 'hello' which I grudgingly returned, apparently neither of us in very good moods today. Somehow that was all we needed to form a bond slightly stronger than being classmates and mutual friends of Luna. Anger is funny that way.

At the bottom of the stairs, I very nearly collided with an ethereal being who looked strangely familiar. Rather than anger me further, the encounter actually knocked me down a peg. I found myself incredibly embarrassed at having been so self absorbed that I almost ran her over. With a tray of food no less!

"I'm so sorry!" I sputtered, my hands thrown out before me on instinct in case she needed steadying.

The silver haired woman seemed mildly irritated. "Eet is fine," she said stiffly. "If you would please excuse me." She side stepped me with a grace I knew I had seen before and disappeared up the stairs.

"Fleur!" came Mrs. Weasley's voice from around the corner. "You should have waited, I have more food to-!" She gave up when she saw me and motioned for me to follow her. "Oh well. At least you can eat now that you're here. Blasted girl ran away with that tray as soon as I set Harry's food on it, nevermind that there were two hungry, sleepy guests!"

Fleur Delacour! Of course, that's why I recognized her! Why was she here? I followed Mrs. Weasley into the kitchen where she once again sat me down at the rough wooden table and placed a plate heavily laden with food and a fork before me. Without another word -she seemed a bit worked up- she also disappeared around the corner and up the stairs. Having Harry Potter for the summer must have been like some sort of amazing event. I could just imagine them all crowded into that tiny room...

Suddenly the willowy young woman reappeared and began to busy herself about the kitchen. Now, when I say busy herself, I don't mean to say that she was actually doing anything such as cleaning or cooking or anything useful one might do to keep busy in a kitchen. She was more or less flittering from here to there examining this and that with disapproving looks. Now and then, she would pick something up and move it in some way, whether it be straightening it to her liking or putting it some place completely different.

Somehow this brought my frustration back. It wasn't her kitchen! As politely as I could, I cleared my throat. "Good morning," I said briskly. "Sorry about earlier. I'm Piper Stone."

She spared me a glance. "Nice to meet you," she replied. "I am-"

"Fleur Delacour," I finished for her. "One of the Triwizard Champions, I remember."

"Oh! You are a 'Ogwarts student like 'Arry?" she said, sounding a bit more pleasant. She stopped her scrutiny of the Weasley kitchen

I nodded. Of course, what else would I be? "I was a Third Year during the tournament. I thought you were brilliant against your dragon." And that wasn't a lie, thank you very much.

"Oh, you are too kind. Ze First Task, though frightening, seemed ze easiest to me. I was no champion."

Mrs. Weasley appeared again and became actually busy in the kitchen. For whatever reason, her care-worn appearance made me feel rotten for the way I had spoken to Ron, as if my actions may impact the strain she was already under. They probably did- I was an unnecessary burden, after all.

"Mrs. Weasley, I feel I owe your family an apology for my behavior," I said slowly.

She cast me a bewildered look. "Whatever for, dear?"

"I... Am not dealing with this whole situation very well and I don't want you to think I'm spitting at your hospitality or anything because I am very grateful and I know you didn't need this either and with how I was last night and then Dumbledore dumping me on you and then- oh, God-" I buried my face in my hands "I yelled right in Ron's face as soon as I woke up this morning-"

"It's afternoon, dear," she put in.

"-and I don't want to be rotten, I'm so sorry."

She laid a hand on my shoulder and gave it a squeeze. I looked up into her kind face. She smiled. "Dear, do you know how many times a day he says something and Hermione has a row with him? Whatever it was, I'm sure he deserved every word. I love my son, bless him, but don't think I don't understand the fragile state you slept in last night. Or how obtuse Ronald can be. Now eat up, while it's warm."

I looked at my plate and it blurred before my eyes. Mum might say something like that, I think.

Mrs. Weasley returned to what she was doing, but after a few moments of searching, she asked, "Where did those shakers go?"

"I put zem on ze shelf over zere," Fleur said absently. "Your kitchen is so disorganized, I thought you could use a 'elping 'and."

Mrs. Weasley was silent for a long moment. Finally she muttered something that sounded like, "How thoughtful," before disappearing up the stairs again. I stared after her, my red rimmed eyes no longer stinging. She had much more control than I think I would if someone tried to rearrange my kitchen. She returned once more moments later with Ginny in tow.

"Now, go slice up the tomatoes for sandwiches," Mrs. Weasley instructed.

"Mum, you could have done that with-"

"Ginevra!"

Ouch. The full first name. The warning tone.

"Yes, Mum," the youngest Weasley grumbled.

"Molly, I could 'ave easily 'elped you with lunch!" Fleur protested.

"Oh, that's fine, dear. You are a guest! Go keep yourself amused."

And that was apparently the end of that. Ginny settled herself at the table with a small cutting board, a knife, and at least half a dozen tomatoes. Mrs. Weasley was flicking her wand this way and that. Fleur left the room with a haughty flip of her long hair. Suddenly I would give anything for an awkward breakfast with my estranged brother than to be in this house.

"Heard from Luna at all?" Ginny asked conversationally.

I nodded, pushing my food around. "Not directly, but she's been travelling. She sent my birthday presents with Terry. They seem to be having a good summer." Was that only four days ago?

"Terry Boot? I forgot you two were friends with him. He came all the way out for your birthday?"

I got the distinct impression that she was fishing for information. Despite myself, a flush rose to my cheeks. "Yes, he did. A surprise he cooked up with Morgan, apparently."

"A surprise, eh?" she said dismissively. "Sounds fun. Was it a good one?"

"What?" I glanced up, now certain my face was bright red. "Ahem! Was- was- what a good one?"

Her eyes flicked to my face briefly before going back to the knife. "The surprise. Was it a good surprise?"

"Oh, well... Um, yes, I suppose it was." I shifted my gaze back to my food. I was not hungry, I realized, but I shovelled a fork full of scrambled eggs into my mouth anyway. Something to do.

"What was the surprise?" she asked. Her hands continued to carefully slice.

I swallowed hard. "I'm sorry?"

"Should I just automatically repeat every question?"

I shrugged. "I just don't understand what you're asking." My verbal parry was not at it's best today. She glanced at me again and grinned slyly. "You know? How do you know?"

"Because I actually pay attention to the Hogwarts rumor mill and a lot of people saw you two on the last day of term," she said matter-of-factly. Placing the knife on the cutting board, she folded her hands and leaned closer. "So what was the surprise? Him being there couldn't have been the whole thing- that's boring!"

"Well..." Her excitement for details of my love life almost made me giggly and girly. I couldn't help but grin. "Morgan made me close my eyes and he appeared and kissed me. In front of every stupid Muggle in our neighborhood." I laughed at the ridiculousness.

"How romantic!" she crooned, returning to her work after a warning glance from Mrs. Weasley. "I heard he's wanted to ask you out for ages. Personally, I didn't think you'd say yes."

"How'd you hear?" I demanded. "And why not?"

"Michael Corner and I dated last year. He and Terry are friends." She shrugged. "He mentioned it to me. And as for the other part, Luna mentioned once that your eyes get all dreamy and glazed over like you've been infested by a swarm of Wrackspurts whenever a certain brother of mine ever happened to glance your way." She gave me one of those knowing looks when someone only half looks up at you and their eyebrows seem impossibly raised.

I wasn't sure how to respond to any part of that statement. "Well, then I guess it's a good thing Luna sent me a pair of Spectrespecs for my birthday so that I can see the Wrackspurts before they invade. Ron must be a carrier, poor thing." And then I forced another bite of food into my mouth. "This is really good, Mrs. Weasley!"

"You're kind, dear. Eat up, you look too thin!" came the reply.

Good woman, Mrs. Weasley. I appreciated her pretending not to hear a word. Ginny shook her head, trying not to laugh as she said quietly, "I never said it was Ron."

It was at that moment that a thundering noise came from the stairway, cutting off the lack of cover-up stuck in my throat. Hermione came around the corner quite breathless and with a huge black eye, much like someone had simply put black make-up over a good portion of her face.

Mrs. Weasley turned round and started. "Hermione, what hap-?!"

"Have there been any owls?" she asked, distraught. There was a confused silence before she rushed on. "Owls! Have they come yet? The OWLs are coming in today!"

"Dear, there hasn't been any post yet," Mrs. Weasley assured her. "Now come here and sit down, let me take a look at that. What happened to you?"

The poor bushy haired girl sat resignedly in a chair at the table while Mrs. Weasley retrieved a book. "I don't know!" she lamented, wringing her hands. "There was a- And then I squeezed- And there was black- And it punched me!"

Ginny and I exchanged a glance, not used to this semi-speechless Miss Granger who was always so well articulated. Mrs. Weasley finally returned with a copy of The Healer's Helpmate and her wand. Flipping through a few pages, she found what she wanted and began to perform various spells and wand motions over Hermione's face. It didn't seem to help. The perfection that is Fleur floated back into the kitchen then with a tactless, "Oh, my!"

Moments later, Harry and Ron lumbered down with the empty breakfast tray in hand. Ron looked my way and I examined the grain of the wood in the table. I had a very strange mixture of anger toward him and shame at my behavior and I wasn't in the mood to address either.

"Oh, none of this is doing any good. I've never had any trouble with them before." Mrs. Weasley sighed and tried again.

"Of course Fred and George would find that funny," Ginny remarked. She finished the last tomato and stood up with the cutting board and knife. She moved to a dish Mrs. Weasley had set out and pushed the slices onto it. "A bruise that won't come off."

"But it has to!" Hermione exclaimed in a high voice. "It can't stay there forever!"

"We will find an antidote," Mrs. Weasley soothed, closing her book in defeat. "Don't worry."

"Ah, Bill 'as told me 'ow 'unmorous the twins are," Fleur said, smiling. Still no idea why she was here.

Hermione cast her a glare that seemed to go unnoticed by the older girl. She jumped off her stool and began pacing the kitchen, wringing her hands. "Are you quite sure no mail has come yet?"

Ginny took a seat next to me, shaking her head. "Do you think we'll be that anxious next year when we're waiting for our results?" she asked in an undertone.

Ron tried to soothe Hermione's fears. It did nothing but make her more overwrought with worry. I couldn't help but snicker.

"Well, we won't have the foreknowledge of knowing when our results are coming in, I don't think," I replied. "So, no. I think we will be perfectly safe."

Ginny laughed softly. "You know, I really wish I had popcorn or chocolate frogs at moments like this. Too entertaining not to enjoy."

"I'd offer you some, but all of my belongings are at home. Chocolate frogs included." Ginny made a face at the disappointment. I tried to giggle quietly. Hermione's wrath was not something I wanted to incur. "Oh, hang on. I have no idea how long I'm going to be here. I've no clothes, no books, no... Anything."

"Oh, you'll stay well entertained at The Burrow," Ginny assured me. "And you look pretty close to my size- I'm sure I've got some clothes you can wear." She snagged a sausage from my plate.

"How were we not friends before today?" I demanded, taking another bite of eggs. My mood was shifting and with it, my appetite was returning.

"Oh, well, you're a Ravenclaw and I'm a Gryffindor. Despite the bolony the Sorting Hat spews about house unity, it's our sworn duty by Hogwarts law that we not fraternize."

"Oh, I see!" I said with mock enlightenment. "All this time I thought it was us against the Slytherins! And Filch..."

Ginny snorted. "Oh, you have so much to learn! Are you going to eat that?" She pointed at my remaining sausages.

"Help yourself. I'm more of a bacon person."

The last word was drowned out by a high pitched shriek. All eyes were drawn to Hermione who looked rather terrified pointing out the kitchen window. Harry and Ron joined her to peer in the same direction. Hermione seemed to become more hysterical with each passing moment. Mrs. Weasley moved to open the window just in time to let in three tawny owls. They landed in a nice, neat line and present their deliveries in unison.

I felt really awful for Hermione's owl as she shook so much that she took the poor creature with her.

Silence weighed on the room so completely that I barely dared to breathe. This was pretty intense, waiting to see what happened.

Finally they spoke- pretty decent grades for what they knew they would pass. I finally let out a breath when Ron revealed that Hermione had in fact received ten 'O's out of eleven.

Show off, I thought. Gryffindors weren't supposed to be so brilliant. I had often thought in the past that Hermione had been put in the wrong house.

Harry sank down next to me as he reexamined his results. He didn't seem as pleased now as he had been just a moment ago.

"What's wrong?" I asked quietly. Ron was making enough noise about sausage to make it a semi-private conversation.

He glanced at me as if he hadn't realized I was there before looking back down. "Oh, sorry, it's just... I guess I'm not becoming an Auror," he replied.

I frowned. "What? Why?" I snatched the parchment from his hands. "These are perfectly good scores. Why can't you become an Auror?"

He snatched it back and scowled. "Because Snape requires an 'O' and I need Potions as an NEWT class to go on to Auror training." He sighed, staring at the paper. "I suppose I'll have to discuss my options with Professor McGonagall."

"You really think Snape is still going to be Potions Master?" I mused. I had heard Mrs. Weasley mention Slughorn last night, hadn't I? "I figured Slughorn would have it. Mum always said he was great."

"What?" Harry blinked at me. "I thought he'd be the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher."

"Slughorn was the Potions Master and Head of Slytherin before Professor Snape started," I said. "Mum is always comparing Professor Snape to him whenever I tell her about school over the summer."

"Well then... What's Snape going to do?"

"Maybe he got sacked," Ginny said from my right. She was licking her fingers after having polished off the last of my sausage. We stared at her. "What? It could happen..."

Chapter 7: Feathers and Mudpies
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Author's Note: I don't own anything that belongs to JK Rowling, I just own Piper and a good portion of her plot and family.



Forgetting my troubles came easily enough at The Burrow. (I now knew that as the name of this little estate.) The Weasley's were the most inviting people I had ever had the pleasure of being unwillingly stuck in a house with.

Ginny seemed to take great pleasure in playing dress-up with me every morning, combining this with that until she found the style she thought looked the best. She also took it upon herself to use my morphing abilities to her delight, dictating my hair color and length for each outfit, coloring my nails instead of painting them, and even changing my eye color. I felt a bit like a doll. But a sentient one who was just having too much fun to remember she could say no.

She also filled me in on any gossip she managed to hear or be privy to, including the suspicion that Tonks was depressed because Sirius Black was her cousin and died and that Phlegm (her 'pet name' for Fleur) was engaged to her brother, Bill.

One morning while deciding between a pair of black wide leg shorts and a flowing red skirt, she turned to me with a devious smile. "I wonder which one Ron would like," she teased.

I rolled my eyes. "Ginny," I said firmly, "it was a slip of the tongue, an innocent mistake, and I won't remind you again that I am actually seeing someone." I rolled my eyes. "Besides, even if it mattered to me, you know well enough it doesn't to him. He's only got eyes for Hermione..." I frowned. "And apparently Morgan."

I took the items from her and began comparing them in a mirror. They both looked great with the white blouse she had already fitted on me so I could see why she had trouble deciding.

She walked over and took the skirt from me, silently letting me know that she had decided on the shorts after all. "He can't stand Morgan," she said matter-of-factly.

I laughed. "Well, that can't be true. I heard him call her 'the cute one,' first morning here." I pulled on the shorts. They fit so much more comfortably than most of her jeans. A lot of Ginny's clothes were hand-me-downs and some were too big or too small on even her.

"He doesn't like any Slytherin. Not too mention her association with Malfoy." Ginny shrugged. "Did he specifically say that Morgan was cute?"

"Well... I mean... He asked if I was the cute one and said that one was a little more..." I made the universal hand signs for a curvy woman. "That's obviously Morgan. Everyone knows she's more..." Hand signs.

Ginny looked surprised. "He actually did that?"

"I mean... I guess I didn't actually see him do it," I admitted. "I was under a blanket. But Hermione scolded him, so, doesn't it make sense?"

"Oh, goodness, that does make sense," Ginny said with a laugh. "When I got into the room after you stormed out, he had been saying, 'I don't know why she's so upset- I was talking about her.'"

"Oh, he was not!" I said, shaking my head at her. "Now you're just trying to play match maker. Well I've been matched. Play with Ron and Hermione."

Ginny rolled her eyes. "Whatever, Stone," she said, hands up in defeat. "Now, about your hair today..."

And we never spoke of it again- but it stayed in the back of my mind, nagging. I really needed to go home, I kept telling myself. I needed another Terry visit. My heart sank when I remembered that he was supposed to come visit again soon and it didn't look like I was going to be there.

Degnoming took my mind off that. They taught me how to pull the little buggers out of the garden and swing them over the wall. At least I could go home with that story, and the proof from all the bites! If you could describe any activity as both fun and terrible, degnoming was the one.

About a week into my stay, every underage wizard in the house went out to degnome the garden on a particularly muddy day. The rains had come down pretty hard the night before, but the morning had brought rare sunshine to the country side.

Taking the messiness into consideration, Ginny's Human Doll (me) was properly attired in leggings, a cropped flannel shirt, and an old pair of over sized boots I suspected belonged to one of the twins. (The toes had been stuffed with Fainting Fancies.) My hair had been directed to be short with an 'earthy shade of red.' (Do you understand how long it takes to go through shades of red until Ginny Weasley is happy with it?)

The five of us approached the garden looking much like warriors preparing for battle. The key was, however, to wait. You have to wait for the first one to show itself and then capture it. The noises of a gnome being extridited from a garden, rather than warn the other gnomes to stay away, actually piqued their interest to the point of poking their heads up and getting caught themselves.

Ginny darted into the low foliage without warning, ducking down and emerging with her prey. She swung it around and over the wall, it's squealing setting off the hunt.

One by one the ugly little heads began to pop up. There was one right in front of me, just inside the garden's edge. I dove toward it, effectively catching it and sullying myself at the same time. I stood and swung, going for a low underhand toss in the hope of greater distance. Mud stained down my left side.

"Oh!" Ginny cried, putting a hand up to shade her eyes as she watched the gnome fly. "Good forty feet at least! Good arm!"

"But not good balance," Ron snickered.

"Oh, sorry, I thought we were going for a score- who can get the most. And the farthest," I replied. A few steps further and I snatched up another gnome. I tried a lasso swing this time. "Unless you don't think you can keep up." Releasing the poor creature, he sailed through the air with a squeal.

Suddenly gnomes were flying through the air with an urgency and speed probably never before seen in Mrs. Weasley's garden. Within minutes, we were done with our task and the other four reflected my dirtied appearance. The final tallies had Ginny in the lead with twelve gnomes, me with nine, Ron at eight, Harry at six, and Hermione with two. (She hadn't been able to really bring herself to 'hurt' them.) However, Harry had the greatest distance at an estimated fifty-five feet.

Ron grumbled as we cleared the garden's edge and set off across the yard. "I don't really think Gin's first one should count, since it started it all. And Piper's first two shouldn't count, since I didn't know we were competing." He huffed and crossed his arms.

Harry laughed at him. "Ron, with the exception of Hermione, we're all Quidditch players. Everything's a competition." He gave him a slap on the back, but it didn't seem to do much to lighten his friend's mood.

"No, Harry, fair's fair. I'll relinquish two of mine and let Ron have second," I told him, waving the whole thing off.

"What do you mean 'let' me have it?" Ron demanded.

"Oh, Merlin." I sighed. "No pleasing you, then?" He had been an odd mix of cross and amused with me since that first morning. I suppose I wasn't much better.

"I don't need a handicap, Stone."

Suddenly, Ron's face was caked in mud and Ginny was laughing hysterically. We all stopped, staring at her while Ron wiped it off. "If you don't want a handicap, maybe a nice mudpie will soften you up!"

Next thing I knew, Ginny had even more mud splattered over her already dirty clothes. She paused for just a second before laughing again.

There was a silent moment between the remaining four of us, eyeing each other suspiciously. Almost in unison, we dove for the ground. Soon the air was as full of flying mud as it had been of gnomes minutes ago.

I got Hermione in the hair while Harry managed to get some down my shirt. Ginny and Ron seemed very intent on working out their sibling rivalry by firing shot after shot of mud balls at each other.

Somehow I ended up with both Harry and Hermione ganging up on me, making it difficult to grab my own ammunition. Finally managing to do so, I lobbed one at each of them. I hit Hermione in the leg, of all places, and it was enough to make her lose her balance. Harry's went too far to the side and knocked off a gnome trying to climb back over the garden wall. Harry turned his efforts to getting Hermione off the ground.

That was when Ginny abandoned her side war and jumped on his back.

"For the girls!" she cried, one fist in the air.

"What? Since when- are there sides?!" Harry was laughing so hard, he could hardly articulate his bewilderment.

I was laughing so much at the sight of them that when Harry stumbled my way under her weight, I fell over like a feather. Ron was behind me, apparently for a sneak attack, and he went down with me. I couldn't spare the breath to apologize. Ginny finally wore Harry down so much between the burden and his laughing that he sank to his knees in defeat.

Ginny thrust her fists into the air. "Champion of the Garden!"

"Yay!" rang our voices in a chorus before devoloving into giggles and snorts.

I laid back on the lumpy ground, too dirty to care about more mud getting into my hair. The ground shook and I realized my head was on Ron's leg. He trickled muddy water into my hair.

"Am I not dirty enough?" I queried.

"Oh, no, you're disgusting. That was just for starting this mess," he answered.

"Starting it? Ginny threw the first sling of mud!"

"She wouldn't have if you hadn't been trying to give me a handicap."

"Oh!" I tried to get angry, but began laughing again instead. "Oh, just shut up." I could do little more than smile at him.

Reluctantly, he smiled back. "So... Are you done being mad at me? About the other day? I promise, once you get to know me, you'll have so many other things to yell at me about."

I giggled once and then again before shaking my head. "I suppose I can't be mad forever. Merlin knows how long I'll be here. I wanted to apologize, actually. I really shouldn't have screamed at you. I was already upset."

"It's alright," he assured me. "Find a few more reasons to scream and you can join Hermione's 'Ron Makes Me Mad' club. Ginny's already a member." He frowned, concentrating. "And I think Padma Patil."

The five of us sat out there for a while just talking and laughing. It was nice. I didn't spend many summers like this since I really only had Terry and Luna and I never got to see them on holiday. What was more was that I really felt included, not like being dragged along to one of Morgan's hang outs where I desperately wished for a book.

Eventually, the sun went away. The air chilled and the oppressive fog of mating dementors crept back over the horizon. Strangely, though, the gloom couldn't bring me down. I felt like I had access to a never ending supply of chocolate to make me feel better.

We pulled ourselves and each other up (our clothes were pretty heavy with mud and balance was a bit of an issue) and trudged back to the house. Mrs. Weasley was waiting for us at the door with a Scourgify for everyone as we crossed the threshold.

"Blimey, Hermione," Ron said as soon as we were all clean and indoors. "I forgot you looked like a panda under all that mud!"

It was not at all hard to believe that Hermione might actually have a Ron Makes Me Mad Club.

Since we were now on civil terms, whole new avenues for social interaction cropped up at the Burrow. No longer was Ginny my sole source of companionship when Ron and I were both in the same room.

We started playing two-on-two Quidditch with Hermione as an alternate, me and Ginny against Ron and Harry. I wasn't used to not being a beater, but I made it work. Sort of. Ginny picked up a lot of the slack.

At every meal, I watched in awe as Harry ate three plates, bowls, or glasses of anything Mrs. Weasley made. I thought I could eat, but apparently one didn't know what hunger was until one spent any amount of time with the Dursleys. Every night, we all stayed up until the last one dropped just talking and talking. When we finally did retire to bed, Harry and I still slept in Fred and George's room. We didn't mind and it made it easier on Mrs. Weasley to not have to set up beds for us elsewhere.

On one such night (the night before Harry's birthday, actually), Ron and I were the last "men" standing. Harry was snoring softly in his bed, glasses askew because he had crashed mid sentence. Ginny and Hermione had long since left to their own room. The two of us sat in the space between the two beds, leaning against mine.

"That was worth staying up to see." He snickered as his best friend shifted in his sleep, practically sideways on the mattress with an arm hanging off one side and a leg off the other.

"You're supposed to be nice," I whispered. "He's your friend." But it was amusing. Carefully, because I didn't want to wake him, I reached over and gingerly removed Harry's glasses, placing them on the night stand that separated the beds.

"Friends poke fun at one another," he protested. "You've never cracked a joke at Loony's expense?"

I shot him a sharp glance. "I've certainly never called her Loony, if that's what you're asking. I actually like my friends, thank you. Have you ever said 'Potter Stinks' because you found Malfoy's humor amusing as so many others did at the Triwizard Tournament?"

"'Course not," Ron said, a little put off. "Besides, I hate Malfoy. The only funny thing he ever did was become a ferret." He grinned. "And when Hermione hit him."

"Would you still call Luna 'Loony' if Malfoy had come up with the nickname?"

"Well... No. I mean, yes? But, wait-!"

"Ah-ah!" I silenced him with a finger. "It's not mean just because Malfoy comes up with it. It's just plain mean. You know, I may not act like Luna, but I believe every article written in The Quibbler. Her father works hard and puts in a lot of research time before making his publications. And you can't talk too ill about it either since it was through Luna and The Quibbler that Harry's story first saw the light of day while your more, how shall I say, legitimate news source, The Daily Prophet, called Harry a quack! Now, the next words out of your mouth had better be an apology or a promise to apologize to Luna or you can just leave and I'll go to sleep."

Ron seemed stunned and a bit flustered. "Oh, yeah? Well, you know what? I... You... It's-! ..." He stared hard at me and I waited patiently for whatever retort he was working up to. "I..."

"You said that."

"Well, I'm getting there!" he snapped.

"You're stalling."

"I am not! I just can't get my mouth to say the words, but they're on the tip of my tongue."

I put a hand gently on his arm. "Is that because your heart is telling your mouth that your head is wrong?" I asked sincerely. "And that the correct words are 'you're right, Piper?'"

"If I say you're right, can we talk about something else?" he grumbled.

"Only if you mean it."

He heaved the greatest sigh I had ever heard and his eyes turned toward the ceiling. "You are right. I'm sorry. I will apologize to Luna as soon as I see her next."

I contemplated making him look me in the eye and repeat it, but I figured I would just remember and nag him about it at school if I could, since I was sure he was going to forget. "I'll accept that for now. What else did you want to talk about? I think I'm getting my second wind!"

No sooner were the words out of my mouth than a yawn slipped out. I covered my mouth with a hand, eyes wide. Ron snickered at me.

"Looks like I win tonight!" He placed his hands behind his head, looking pretty satisfied with himself.

"Not so fast, Weasley!" I stifled a second yawn. "My head hasn't hit the pillow yet!"

"Well, let me fix that."

The next thing I knew, there was a pillow in my face. I heard Ron snickering next to me. The pillow dropped into my lap and I gave him a sideways glance. "Think you're a regular Fred and George, don't you?"

"Oh, come on, it was-"

I hit him with the pillow, effectively cutting him off. I giggled. "You're right. That is funny."

Ron frowned and proceeded to hit me again. "Hilarious," he remarked.

I narrowed my eyes at him. "Careful, Weasley," I warned. "You don't want to start something you can't finish." I hit him once more. "Now we're even."

It happened in a flurry of movements. I saw him move to hit me again and I pushed myself up, stretching across my mattress for the other pillow. Then it began. I took a blow to the stomach while he took one to his crown. He got to his feet and I took the opprotunity to catch him in the hip. I couldn't get up from the position I had put myself in to get the pillow, which put him in the undeniably favorable position of power over me. Literally.

Our pillows collided. I tried to scoot back, to get a better angle on the situation, but he was bearing down on me, relentless. He planted one knee on the bed and began swinging. It was all I could do to fend him off, my weapon now turned shield. He pulled back for a hard blow and I tried to take the chance to strike back. My swing went a bit too far, though, and I hit the night stand, sending Harry's glasses clattering to the floor.

"Whassat...?"

I froze. Ron also stopped, but lost his balance and caught himself with his hands on the bed. We both stared at Harry.

His eyes half opened and then immediately closed. He rolled over on the bed, righting himself from his original haphazard position. "Ron, get the shessah hasst... 'Mione's in the sneess hasha with Grawp..."

He rolled over once more and was silent.

We both breathed a sigh of relief and laughed quietly. I looked up and realized Ron was right there, looking down at me.

"Harry, er, talks in his sleep." He grinned.

"Apparently. What did he say?"

"Something, something, parseltongue. It was pretty creepy when I first heard it. Laying in the dark and suddenly you hear hissing noises in the next bed?"

"You screamed like a little girl, didn't you?" I teased.

"I did not!" He gave me an indignant look. "I was too scared to scream..."

I giggled. And then yawned. Again.

"I guess I should let you sleep," he said quietly.

"That means you win. I don't know if I'm okay with that," I replied.

"We'll call it a draw," he offered. He stared at me for a long, silent moment, eyes flickering across my face, my mouth.

My heart sped up. I couldn't look away from his oh so blue eyes, his red hair just barely brushing his lashes, the freckles on the bridge of his nose. I used to think about a moment like this all the time. What would it be like to kiss Ronald Weasley? My eyes dropped to his lips, wondering if they were as soft as they looked.

"Piper-"

"Ron-?"

Our eyes locked. Suddenly his lips were moving against mine. His mere touch sent tingles through my body like an explosion. This. This is what the books preached about. This was everything I had ever imagined. Not like Terry.

Terry.

"Terry." We broke apart.

In a flash, we were both on opposite sides of the bed, Ron scratching his head and me with my arms wrapped around myself.

"I should probably-" he began.

"Yeah, I really need to-" I added.

"See you in the morning," we said in unison.

He left quickly, the door closing a little too loudy. Harry stirred in his sleep again and then all was still. I flopped down on the bed and covered my face with my hands. What the bloody hell was that?

Chapter 8: To Market, To Market, and Home Again
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Author's Note: I just wanted to say that there are two references to other stories of mine in this one, one being James Should Be the Main Character of This Story and the other I have not begun to publish yet, but it's coming! So, certain deviations from book canon not directly connected to this story is all because of my ever expanding AU.



I ran into Ron in the hallway shortly after I awoke. We danced back and forth, each trying to get out of the other's way, neither making eye contact. Finally, we simply turned around and went in opposite directions, him down and me up. This was not a good start to the day. Harry's Birthday.

At breakfast, while playing with his eggs. Harry paused to say, "I had the weirdest dream last night..."

Heart racing, I chanced a look at Ron. He did not meet my gaze, but his fork had stilled and his ears were red. There was no way Harry had seen anything, right?

"Some man brought my father and his friends from the past in a blue box. Dad could barely say my name and he and Sirius kept trying to sleep with everyone..." He shook his head as we now all cast wide-eyed glances at him. "And then my kids from the future showed up- it was strange."

I laughed more out of relief than for the dream. "Don't read The Quibbler before you go to bed," I teased. "Mr. Lovegood just did an article on blue boxes last issue." He frowned at me and I grinned back, giving his foot a shove under the table with mine. "Happy birthday, Harry."

It was not as joyful as we had hoped it to be. Mrs. Weasley enlisted Hermione, Ginny, and myself to help make a cake and a nice meal of his favorites. The entire effect was sullied by Remus Lupin, our old teacher. It wasn't so much him- we were all delighted to see him- but rather his news. It was a not-so pleasant distraction from my internal turmoil.

In addition to the flood of deaths and disappearances we had been hearing about from Mr. Weasley, Bill, and The Daily Prophet, Remus brought news of two new dementor attacks and the death of Igor Karkaroff.

"I was surprised that he lasted as long as he did," he admitted. "As I recall, Regulus, Sirius' brother, only lasted a few days when he deserted the Death Eaters."

The old professor's gaze caught mine staring. I felt put on the spot somehow even though he was addressing the room as a whole. He took a bite of cake and the conversation turned to other disappearances; Florean Fortescue and Ollivander. I shuddered to think what had become of Diagon Alley these days.

"So, Miss Stone," Remus said to me in a lull of conversation, "what ever happened to your bright blue hair?" He smiled but it didn't seem to hold any real amusement. His generously grey streaked hair, scars, and ragged clothes were doing much to take away from the usual light-heartedness he tried to keep up when he had taught at Hogwarts.

"Oh, well, you'll have to speak to my hair dresser about that," I told him, giving Ginny a nudge next to me. At school, the blue he spoke of was my preferred choice.

"But the blond goes so much better with the black!" she said. "It gives you a nice classic look like you walked out of Muggle London in the fifties! Or at least that's what Hermione says." Ginny then shoved Hermione next to her.

"I just gave an opinion, I didn't say I was a fashion consultant!" she snapped. The bruise from Fred and George's mysterious punching product was still as dark and big as ever on her face and after three weeks, she was starting to get agitated.

It was an amusing segue that helped try to brighten Harry's day, which we tried to continue. We managed to squeeze in a quick match after cake with the whole house of spectators coming to watch. Ginny conned Bill into playing so that we had an even three-on-three game, boys against girls. The boys won, and to be honest, we sort of let them. It was Harry's birthday, after all.

Later in the evening we handed over hand made gifts. Nothing too fancy since no one had money to order anything, but nice all the same. We fell into our normal ritual of talking late into the night and it was not lost on Ginny at all that Ron was making a point to not start a conversation with me or I with him. When I happened to be brought into one of his conversations, such as for an opinion, he would merely nod or grunt his response. He also went to bed first, which was a phenomenon that had previously never occurred. Ginny looked at me with raised eyebrows and all I could do was shrug. I couldn't bring my self to discuss what had happened and was just as willing to avoid the subject as Ron was.

There was the blessed disctraction of school letters coming in during breakfast the next morning and there were two heavy THUNKS! as the envelopes landed on the table. A mess of hands grabbed for the ones with their names scrawled across them. I was not pleased to discover that mine had been one of the thunks. The other had been Harry's, who had been made Gryffindor Quidditch Captain. As I was sure that my thunk was not a Captain's badge, I opened to discover my Prefect's badge instead.

I groaned. "I guess I shouldn't have been such a model student. I knew I should have hung around Fred and George more! Is it too late to learn their ways of mischief?"

"Now, dear," Mrs. Weasley began, casting an adoring look at the badge in my hand, "being selected as a Prefect is a very exciting thing and a great privilidge! And it speaks volumes about what your head of house and headmaster think of you. You should be proud!"

I had to study for O.W.L.s this year on top of Quidditch and as a Ravenclaw, studying took up a very large chunk of my time. Having to take time to patrol the hallways for rule breakers was not what I wanted to be proud of.

I sighed and let my shoulders drop as I dug out my school list for this year. I found another piece of parchment that was rather out of place. It was sealed all on it's own and when I opened it, the ink inside was black, not emerald.

Miss Stone,

I trust your stay with the Weasley's has not been too arduous for you. After keeping a watchful eye, I feel that you are free to go home for the rest of the summer. I've already owled your parents the news via your sister's school letter and made the necessary arrangements for you to meet with them in Diagon Alley this weekend if that is acceptable to Molly.

Please have her send word back as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely,
Albus Dumbledore

P.S. Congratulations on your Prefect Badge.


I was not pulled from my staring at a letter I hadn't thought would come until Mrs. Weasley's voice rose dangerously high and I realized she was yelling at Ron about something. He grumbled about not being able to make jokes under his breath. I chose not to ask and merely showed the letter to Mrs. Weasley who scanned it quickly.

"Well then, it's decided. I'll tell Arthur we just have to go on Saturday." She didn't say another word, but ran off to fetch a quill and send her reply back with one of the more reliable Hogwarts owls.

Over the next few days, I felt like I should have been packing up my belongings and saying goodbyes, but that was silly. For one, I had no belongings here. For two, we were all going back to school in a few weeks. We'd see each other on the train. It's not like we wouldn't still be friends. I was being ridiculous. The thing was, for as much as I had kept hoping to go home, now I didn't want to leave.

"Guess you'll be able to go see Terry, then," Ron had said when I told the lot of them about the letter.

I offered no reply and Ginny pinned me with yet another questioning look. I didn't reply to that, either. Gin was nice, but I didn't think I should be pouring my heart out to her- not with her being Ron's little sister. Maybe I'd write when I got back- when we weren't all in such close quarters. Still, it didn't sit well with me that he had gotten to take such a shot. Well, maybe we wouldn't still be friends at school.

When Saturday finally arrived, I had somehow gotten myself worked up over other things. I didn't know if I wanted to go home or stay more. Staying meant dealing with Ron and the ever growing tension- it meant avoiding conversation and close contact. Going home meant -and I don't know why I didn't think about this before- dealing with my family and the secrets they had apparently been keeping about their pasts. Actually confronting my parents. I know in the end I didn't have a choice in the matter, but the idea that I did was comforting.

I was so distracted that I completely missed the joke at breakfast that made Harry choke on his cereal. The last joke to be in on in the Weasley house and I missed it.

It was cold and murky today and I was given an old cloak that barely fell to my knees, but at least it was something. Sadly, I was wearing my clothes from the day I had left and they were more suited to warmer weather. Outside waiting for them stood an old-fashioned looking car. The color was green and it matched the velvet suit of the driver. I couldn't help but wrinkle my nose at it. Us five teenagers lumbered into the backseat and I was surprised at how roomy it was. I was also confused as to how I managed to get stuck in the middle, flanked by both Weasleys. I hated the middle.

Ron seemed to either be egging me or ignoring me as he stretched out his long legs to make himself more comfortable. Even with my own legs pressed firmly together, making myself as small as possible, his thigh was still pressed up to mine. I pursed my lips and looked forward. I tried to scoot closer to Ginny, but Ron only seemed to widen himself more.

There was some exchange between him and his parents -they were in the front seat with the driver- but I didn't catch any of it as all I could concentrate on was his leg and all I could do was fill my thoughts with Terry. It was almost out of spite.

As we drove, his leg seemed to press more and more tightly against mine, or maybe the car was getting smaller, or maybe- I don't know, but it was down right irritating! Just as I had finally turned to tell him off, the car had come to a stop in front of the familiar pub that acted as a front to the magical alley behind it. Ron turned to look back at me, arching an eyebrow.

"Will you move already?!" Hermione said hotly from two spaces back. She, more than anyone, had been looking forward to coming to Diagon Alley for almost a month.

Ron cast an annoyed glare toward her before looking back at me. I merely smirked and raised my eyebrows, mouthing the word. 'Move.'

By the time we were all out of the car, Harry was rubbing his probably bruised ribs and talking to Hagrid, the Care of Magical Creatures teacher. I was actually in that class. It was as terrifying as it was fascinating and at least one person left class everyday with some sort of wound. I couldn't wait for the N.E.W.T. level.

The half giant began to usher us all into the Leaky Cauldron which was... Absolutely empty. I couldn't stop my jaw from falling open as the normally bustling pub had only the owner standing behind the counter. His face lifted with hope that was immediately dashed when Hagrid told him we were only passing through and we moved on to the small courtyard. The whole while, I kept Ginny between me and her brother whether she realized that's what I was doing or not.

Hagrid opened the way to Diagon and as we stepped through, it was impossible to ignore what the consequences of war had done to the busy street of shops. Half the street was boarded up, unfamiliar stalls with wild claims about their wares were set up in front of most stores, and everything was covered in Ministry signs and Wanted posters. What was once an other-worldly place now looked no different from any muggle alley in London, save the moving pictures.

One of the amulet vendors tried to sell the Weasley's one for Ginny and we hurried on by, Mrs. Weasley far more distracted by her shopping list than her husband's desire to arrest the man. It was quickly decided that we should split up- I went with Ginny and her parents to buy books while Hagrid took the other three to Madam Malkin's. I must have been a little too relieved to be out of Ron's presence, because the moment he was out of earshot, Ginny pounced.

"What's going on there, then?" she demanded. She cast a frown over her shoulder at her brother's retreating figure and then put it upon me.

"I don't know what you're talking about," I said firmly. We entered the book shop on the heels of Mr. and Mrs. Weasley and the purple propoganda had flooded inside as well. I made a face, but went with Ginny and our list to find the books we needed this year.

"You and Ron have barely even looked at each other in a week!" she hissed as we scanned the shelves. "It's like you've just gotten here all over again. What's happened? I thought you two were progressing quite nicely..."

"Progressing toward what, exactly?" I knew what Ginny thought and she was far too near the head of the nail for comfort.

"Stop beating around the bush!" She looked around to make sure her parents -or any other shoppers- weren't around. "You both obviously like each other! I don't understand why this is going backwards all of a sudden. It's been such a good summer, breeding dementors and family secrets aside."

I turned toward her, pushing a finger in her face. She looked like she might bite it off, so I pulled back slightly. "Ginny, I have told you and told you. I. Am. With. Terry. I like Terry. That's why he is my boyfriend. We've had a good summer and I don't want to end it like this, alright?" The firm line of my mouth wavered. "I don't want to have a fight with my new best friend in a purple covered book shop."

Ginny pouted silently for a moment. "I'm your best friend?" she asked finally.

Rolling my eyes at her, I drew her into a hug. "How could you not be? We've suffered through each other for three weeks under the same roof."

Her slender arms wrapped around me. "I've never had a best friend before."

"How is that possible?" I asked.

"Well... I dunno. I'm always around all the boys and the girls at school don't really like me. Except Luna, but it's not like we hang out a lot..." She shrugged, making her shoulder jolt into my chin. I held back a cry of pain as I bit my tongue. I pulled back, making a face. The hug had been long enough.

"Well, we ca' hang ou' a' schoo'," I promised her. I saw her wince as she realized my calamity. I shrugged it off. "An' Loona an' I are aw'ways togever- bugger, it hurts! Gin, you are one of my best friends now- get used to it! Ow..."

She laughed which made me laugh and we hurried to collect our new books, making it to the register in time before Mrs. Weasley sent out a search party. As I had no money on me and according to Bill, the wait at Gringott's was hours long, Harry was covering my books under the agreement that my parents would reimburse him when we met up (though he had insisted against it. Rich people. Honestly.)

As we headed back out and toward Madam Malkin's, the timing seemed to be perfect as we could see Harry, Ron, and Hermione just exiting the shop, bags in hand. We stopped at the Apothecary where I insisted that Harry should buy potion ingredients anyway. This insistence was for Ron, too, of course. Just indirectly.

"If you're right, I'll use what's in the school cupboards and send out an order. Otherwise, I don't see the point or why Dumbledore would have replaced Snape anyway," he said after my last insistence.

"Could have been sacked!" Ginny put in from the other side of a shelf.

There was one last stop to the Owl Emporium and I declined Harry's offer to buy food for the owl I didn't even have with me. We kept loads of feed at home anyway.

The next stop was Fred and George's shop and I could hardly wait. It was also the expected meeting place of my family and I was a little apprehensive. This is the definition of conflicted. As Mrs. Weasley counted shop numbers, the rest of us were already in awe of the spectacle at the end of the street, as were many of the shoppers passing by who stopped to stare. Ron very well summed it up in one whispered word- "Whoa."

One window had a huge sign, purple as if to mock the Ministry posters all around it. The other had all sorts of things flashing and popping and running amuck. The door was adorned with what looked like a toilet seat. It was engraved with a Hogwarts H and two W's. Ginny giggled.

"That's my toilet seat," she said proudly.

I cast her a sidelong glance. "Are you sure you want to claim it?"

"'Course I do! Ron's first year of school, they promised they'd get me a Hogwarts toilet seat." She grinned. We were all laughing- well, except for Mr. And Mrs. Weasley. Molly in particular looked very much at a loss for a reaction.

Harry and Ron began to lead the way in when a voice called out, "Piper!"

We stopped and turned and I spied my tall, dark and handsome boyfriend standing over with my family (sans Jake). Despite my apprehension over dealing with my new found knowledge, I sagged with relief at the sight of them. I ran over and I did not squeal (but I may have squealed) as I jumped into Terry Boot's waiting arms. I couldn't see if Ginny and Ron were watching, but supposing that they were, to put all doubt to rest, I pressed my lips firmly to Terry's as his arms pulled be closer. It wasn't awkward. It also wasn't fireworks.

I pulled back, grinning. "I missed you so-"

"-ove you," he was saying.

I half frowned, confused. "I missed you," I said again and again, he spoke at the same time. Did he say I love you? We stared curiously at one another for a moment as if we were speaking different languages. That was when I noticed the face hover closely over Terry's shoulder. It was my own face, but that didn't make it any less startling. I jumped a bit and hissed my displeasure. "Momo!"

"What?" she pouted. "I missed you, too!" Awkwardly, she put her arms around both Terry and myself. I let it go on for a moment before I wiggled free of the both of them.

"We can hug more later." I glanced over at my parents.

Mum was smiling and dad looked tense. He glanced over at the Weasley's and Harry and then called out, "Arthur!" before striding toward the Weasley Patriarch.

What? I looked back at my mother, but she remained impassive. On impulse, I put my arms around Terry's neck again and pulled myself to his ear. "I live at Number 3 Privet Drive and you are not staying in a hotel tonight," I whispered.

Morgan's face appeared next to mine again, wide eyed as she hissed, "What are you doing?"

I ignored her and kissed Terry's cheek. "We were just about to check out Fred and George's shop! Come in!"

We turned about and Terry slung an arm over my shoulder as he walked me back to my original group, Morgan and Mum in tow. Mr. Weasley stood with my father off to the side, speaking in low tones I couldn't begin to try to overhear. Ron was glowering at me. Harry was glowering at Terry. Ginny looked like she was enjoying the show. Mrs. Weasley couldn't stop staring at the 'U-No-Poo' sign.

"Potter!" Terry said as we stopped. "I might have known it was you. Would you mind going at least one year without getting my girlfriend wrapped up in your adventures?"

Harry's eyebrows shot up and he frowned. "You've only just started dating her this year," he replied. "I didn't know there were rules. Send me a memo next time. Besides, I expect she was just bored of the summer she was already having."

Ginny snickered and I flushed, trying to think of how to put this fire out now. "I thought there were Death Eaters- I ran to Harry's house. If there were Death Eaters, they would have been after him anyway- I had to warn him."

"What if they had been after you?" he crooned, nuzzling my hair. I wanted to retort that they had no reason to be after me, but I eyed my father finishing his mysterious conversation with Mr. Weasley and I couldn't bring myself to lie. What if they had been after me?

"Well, it wasn't Death Eaters. I got myself into a jam. It wasn't Harry's fault. Besides, I have a new best friend." I grinned at Ginny. "Slytherin sister, Gryffindor best friend- I'm one step closer to house unity! I think the sorting hat would be proud." I looked up at Terry with a smile. He grinned and kissed my head. I thought I heard a gagging noise, but I ignored that as well.

"Are you more Weasleys?" asked a decidedly Scottish voice. We turned to see a smiling young woman sticking her head out of the shop door, hair as red as any Weasley, dressed in magenta robes. "Come in! They're waiting for you! I promise, it's not a toilet shop!" Giggling, she opened the door wide to let the eleven of us in. Hagrid wisely stayed outside to stand guard.

It wasn't easy. The place was packed! Terry had to remove his arm from my shoulder just to get in. I couldn't get near any of the displays, but they looked wonderful. Someone grabbed my arm and hoisted it into the air. "Oi, Fred! How much can we get for selling a Metamorphmagus? That's a pretty good magic trick!"

I wrenched my arm from George's grasp and smacked him. "That's not very nice! What am I, a piece of meat?"

"No, but I bet you'd bring in a ton of gold. Do you want a job?" he asked, grinning.

"I'm still in school," I replied. "And I plan on finishing, so no trying to convince me to drop out." I used to run into Fred and George all the time in the beginning. Being beater's themselves, they had taken a bit of an interest in me and my condition as both a twin and a Metamorphmagus. They had also always been trying to get me to try their latest inventions. I did not like being a guinea pig. "Besides, it doesn't look like you need help bringing in gold."

People of all ages had crammed in here and there seemed to be something for everyone- there was even an entirely pink section for girls. Toward the back, the red haired girl who ushered us in was near a muggle magic-trick novelty rack looking every bit a magician as she performed the tricks for onlookers. Mr. Weasley was entranced.

"Is that Emily, then?" I asked, nodding to the girl. Ginny had read me a letter from George that he had sent much earlier in the summer, talking about the shop and their first employee, Emily.

"Yeah... That's Emily," George replied. I watched as Fred stopped to kiss her on the cheek as he was leading various members of our party about the store.

"And she doesn't know that you...?" I turned to give him an apologetic smile. "Ginny and I got pretty close the last few weeks."

He smiled back and shook his head. "I'll get over it. I always do." He glanced about. "You'll have to excuse me. Fred's about to show Harry the back and I want to see the look on his face."

"Go on, then," I said. I was going to miss those two this year. Actually, no. I wouldn't. Quidditch would be easier without them.

Morgan appeared and dragged me to one end of the shop. Moments later, Terry grabbed me to take me to the other end. Ginny then arrived to take me upstairs. I ended up with half a dozen things in my arms and I wasn't sure what they all were, but I knew I needed them. I was off with Morgan again when I heard a clatter- I turned to see Ron making a rude gesture at his brother, boxes at his feet and his mum scolding him. Ginny turned around to say something and then spotted me, waving my sister and I over.

It was hard getting through, but we made it and bent over the cage of little puff balls with her and Mrs. Weasley.

"They're so cute," Morgan purred. "Do they come in green?"

"I'm sure you could use a color changing enchantment," Ginny replied. "Mum, can I please have one?"

Mrs. Weasley sighed heavily. "Ginny, I-"

"We'll take three," I said suddenly. I glanced over at Ginny. "I need to get you a birthday present anyway." I grinned.

We managed to get one of the twins' attention to get us three Pygmi Puffs with cages and food. I went to my mother for the money, not knowing where my father was and not wanting to talk to him yet anyway. I know they were both equally guilty of lying, but in my head, Mum was less guilty. After we had our bags, I told her that Harry had bought my books and she gave me the money to replace what he spent.

But I couldn't find him. Or Ron or Hermione, for that matter. I asked Ginny and she shrugged. "Maybe they're in the back with one of the twins," she suggested.

I entrusted her with the money and said my goodbyes to the members I could find as Mum ushered us out the door. Hagrid bellowed a goodbye. Terry came to my side, taking all my bags in one hand with his own and taking my hand with his free one. I rolled my eyes, but we went on our way all the same. I kept my new pet in my other hand, trying to decide on a name and hoping that Otus didn't eat it.

One other strange thing happened as we were leaving- a woman, tall and slender with blonde hair, stopped to ask if we had seen her son. She was about to give us his name and what he looked like, but then she took one look at my father. He stiffened, she went stone faced. Without another word, she walked past, continuing her search.

Chapter 9: Love and Lies
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Author's Note: Below are references to The Wizard of Oz movie, based on the book by L. Frank Baum and I do not own it any more than I own Harry Potter. (Which is not at all.)


There was a Ministry car waiting to take us home. I wondered who had managed to swing that as neither of my parents worked for the Ministry, let alone inside the Wizarding World as a whole. Terry sat between Morgan and I, holding my hand, fingers laced together. When Dad told the driver about which hotel to drop Terry off at, I politely -if not a little stubbornly- told him that Terry was coming home with us. Dad stared with hard, disapproving eyes and I held his gaze. Inside, my stomach was in knots. I've never defied my father before.

Terry was none the wiser, thankfully, but from Morgan's wide-eyed looks, I could tell that there had been one or two informative family meetings in my absence.

Dad's tolerance for my behavior only lasted up to the threshold of our front door. With arms filled with bags and packages, he promptly told me to leave them on the floor and follow him to his office. My insides felt like they were melting and mixing together as I complied. I can't remember ever being afraid of my father before, but in that moment, I was terrified.

He closed the door with a sharp click that made me jump. I stood with hands clasped behind my back, eyes trained on the dark red grain of the wood on his desk. I heard him walk around me, around his desk, heard the chair creak as he pulled it out and sat down. Always the stuffy lawyer.

"Sit down."

It didn't sound like a suggestion, but I really couldn't bring myself to move. One step and I was sure my knees would buckle. Suddenly, the chair came up from behind me, knocking me into it. I stared at my father, wand in his hand. I've never seen him with it before, never seen him perform magic before. My heart hammered. Magic could do a lot worse than ground you.

"Do you understand the gravity of this situation?" he asked, his voice calm though his body was rigid.

"Well," I said, clearing my throat, "when one of the most powerful wizards of all time throws names like 'Voldemort' around-"

"Don't say his name!" he snapped.

I stared. My sister and I had grown up on the fringes of magical society and were not raised with the same fear of the dark wizard's name as other children our age. "Voldemort!" I cried and he flinched. "It's a name, Dad. Just a name! Like Samantha, Darren, Jacob, Morgan- just names! His is just a little more French, but it's still just a name!"

"Names have power," Dad said darkly. He finally set his wand down, neatly and deliberately in line with the pens on his desk. "You don't understand. You will not say it again!"

"He's not going to materialize in our house, he doesn't know where we live," I argued.

"Not yet, but if you keep abusing the fact that you are now able to tell people- You can't just go tell your friends where you live because you're upset. You're putting the whole family at risk!" And now for the heart of the problem.

"How is keeping the truth from your family not putting your family at risk!" I cried. "Maybe if I had known, I wouldn't have been running across the street that night! I would know that we're in bloody hiding and need to be careful- hell, I probably wouldn't leave my damn room!"

"Watch your language, young lady," he snapped.

This was infuriating. I couldn't even be scared of him anymore, I was too angry. I leaned toward him, the chair creaking under my shifting weight. With the bookshelves behind him and his calm composure, he looked like a portrait hanging on the walls at school.

"Even if you thought it was okay not to tell us growing up, don't you think the moment our Secret Keeper was dumb enough to get killed, it was time for a family meeting?" I had lowered my voice, trying to keep calm. I doubted anyone outside this room could hear our shouting, but I didn't want to take any more chances.

The reaction from Dad was immediate. His face paled, visibly fell from it's stern, angry hold into a look of desolation. Defeat. He almost looked like he could cry. It was the same look I'd so often seen him wear in the weeks before I left. Like his best friend had died. I swallowed hard and sat back in my chair, uncomfortable. I didn't want to see my dad look like that. It broke my heart.

"I think we can agree that we all could have handled things differently," he said gruffly, avoiding my gaze.

"Who was it?" I asked quietly.

He tapped his index finger on his desk like it was a nervous habit. I've never known Dad to have nervous habits. His face twitched like Jake's did when he was fighting tears.

"I'm sorry, you don't have to-"

"He was my brother," he said finally. My eyes went wide. His hand curled into a fist and he finally turned his blue eyes to mine with a weak smile. "My brother."

I scrambled out of the chair to get to the other side of his desk, hugging him tightly. When was the last time I hugged my father? "Dad, I'm sorry," I whispered. My behavior had been beastly today and admitting it now didn't make it better. I'd known he was going through something awful, but how could I have known it was this? I didn't even know he had a brother.

He hugged me back and then pat me on the shoulder to let me know that my daughterly duty was done, but I didn't move.

"You can't just keep stuff like this from us," I told him. "We're a family. Who can you trust if not your family?"

He laughed. Actually laughed. Now I did pull away, staring at him. The smile seemed strange on his face. "Darling, if you only knew my family..."

"I don't care what family raised you, I care about the family you raised." I gave him a pointed look. "We are the Stones and we are stronger together." I offered a small smile. "I'm sorry about Terry... I won't tell anyone else, I promise. Except... Um, I accidentally told Harry, but I didn't mean to!" I added quickly. "I didn't know then, but I don't think it will be a problem, I mean... He's only the biggest... Wizard celebrity... Of our time... I'm losing this argument, aren't I?"

He laughed again, the corners of his eyes crinkling. "I think I can trust the boy who lived," he replied. "If Dumbledore trusts him and you trust him and..." He trailed off, his smile wavering slightly. "Let's just say that he has a great many wizards and witches behind him that I respect. Terry, however..."

"He's harmless, I swear!" I said quickly. "He doesn't even know- I just told him he was coming here tonight, that's all, and told him the address. He won't figure it out!"

He arched an eyebrow at me and stood, forcing me to take a couple steps back. "That's not the part I'm worried about," he said. "It's the fact that he is a young man in a relationship with my daughter- I remember being sixteen. That's when I started dating your mother. No teenage boy is 'harmless.' And since when do you like kissing all of a sudden? At your birthday, you looked like you were tasting a lemon!"

I flushed deeply at the comparison, not wanting to admit that part of the reason for my little PDA had been for the benefit of my companions rather than for myself.

He eyed me closely. "Does Harry like you?" he asked suddenly. "Are you trying to make him jealous with this Terry fellow? Because that's a rather Morgan thing to do-"

"DAD!"

"What? I know how you two are! And can I just say, I would approve more of Harry Potter than this Terry Boot."

I stuttered for a moment, staring wide-eyed. I had never heard my father speak so candidly about boys or my sister and definitely not my love life. Not that I had much of one before recently.

"Terry is one of my best friends!" I finally spit out. It was hard to be angry when all I wanted to do was laugh in his face. "Harry is nice, yes, but he and Terry's differences go back much farther than me, and I most certainly am not trying to make him jealous! I don't even like Harry like that!"

"Well then, who was that display for?" he asked, hands on his hips.

I don't know if my face can naturally go any redder without my abilities, but I could feel it burning under his gaze. I tried not to think about Ron or Ginny, almost afraid that he could read my mind.

"Was it because of me?"

"No!" Not entirely. More like just a fraction of the reason, really. If anything at all. "It was... For me," I decided. "I agreed to be part of this... Relationship and while I was gone, I realized that I wasn't. And that's not fair to Terry and it's not fair to us. So I made the decision to put myself out there more. I like him, I just... I'm not sure how this is supposed to work." I tried not to dwell on the sinking feeling that Terry had already invested way more of himself in this than I had. He hadn't actually said 'I love you,' had he?

Dad put a hand on my shoulder, bringing my eyes to his. "Don't do anything you're not ready for. Go as slow as you need to. And if he doesn't like it, go back to being friends. And if he doesn't want that, then you don't need him. Okay?"

I smiled, relaxing finally. "Okay." I hugged him again, my head barely reaching his shoulder. "I love you, Daddy."

"I love you, too," he said. He kissed the top of my head. "Did you at least have fun while you were gone? The Weasley's have children your age, don't they?"

I nodded. "Their daughter and I are best friends now. And I might be mortal enemies with their son- I'm a little fuzzy on that..."

"Good girl." He patted my head. "Alright... Let's go entertain our... guest..."

"Dad, I swear, he's a really nice guy. I've known him for years!"

"Well, I've only known him for a handful of days, so..." He cleared his throat, placed a firm hand on my shoulder and put on his best Dad Voice. "Let me be the judge of that."

By the time we left the office, Mum was serving lunch. There was an assortment of fresh vegetables and deli sandwiches on the table in the kitchen where Terry and Morgan were talking animatedly. My sister had our new pets set up in their cages on the edge of the counter. She smiled at me as I entered.

"I've named mine Dreamer and yours is Fairy," she said as I sat down next to Terry.

I laughed. "Oh, no. That is not going to be a thing. He's a boy, for crying out loud!"

"So?" she clucked, casting me a hurt look. "Maybe he's a gay Pygmi Puff! Don't you judge him!"

"His name is Ephialtes- I had it all picked out when I decided to get him!" I cried.

Behind me, my father kissed Mum's cheek and whispered, "I don't think I missed this part."

Morgan wrinkled her nose. "That's a stupid name! And a mouthful." She crossed her arms just under her bust, unnecessarily pushing up her ample chest as she pouted. I made a face.

"It's not stupid when my owl's name is Otus- it's called Greek mythology! Look it up!" I hissed with a wave of dismissal. She continued to pout. Ugh, I did not want to deal with this my first day back. "I'll call him Ephi for short or... Something equally ridiculous..."

She brightened in an instant. "That's so cute!" she gushed, rushing over to coo over my poor Puff's cage. "Ephi! Adorable, just like you!"

I rolled my eyes. "How old are you?"

She stuck her tongue out in response. Beside me, Terry was laughing, a baby carrot cracking loudly as he bit into it. I stuck my tongue out at him and he leaned over to kiss my cheek.

"You two are cute. I didn't realize you got along so well. You hardly ever seem to be together at school," he said.

"If this is what you call getting along, it's a good thing you're an only child," I said sympathetically, patting him on the shoulder. He simply laughed again and shook his head at me.

I looked back at my sister. "Momo, where's your locket?"

Her face reddened slightly and she laughed. "You know, I was getting a rash from the chain? But I got something for it while we were at the apothecary. I'll put it on later."

I shrugged. "Sorry about that. Did anyone's face show up yet? It's supposed to be guarenteed."

"Nope," she said quickly. "Nothing. Maybe my true love is at school." She shrugged and smiled as if apologizing for not having found Mr. Right.

The door from the hallway swung open then and Jacob walked in. The whole room seemed to go quiet, but that wasn't unusual. Jake had a way of jacking up the tension with his mere presence.

"You're home," he stated.

I nodded. "Just got back."

He seemed to hesitate for a moment, staring at me. "Why did you join the quidditch team?" he demanded.

"Jake, that's unnecessary," Mum chided, but he continued to stare at me. He had never used the real name before.

"To get over my fear of heights," I answered quietly.

Suddenly we were hugging and I wanted to cry. I couldn't remember the last time I had hugged my big brother anymore than I could remember the last time I hugged Dad. His arms tightened around me, his mouth next to my ear.

"Don't you ever be so stupid again!" he choked. "Just because you're identical doesn't mean you're replaceable, do you understand me?"

"Jake..." I didn't know what to say. Honestly, I hadn't thought about Jake throughout this whole ordeal. I genuinely didn't think he cared. I hugged him tighter.

"You keep saying Ravenclaws are smart! Promise me you'll use that brain of yours next time!"

"I promise!"

My own voice choked. Was this really my brother? Should I ask his security question? I think I was just happy he acknowledged my existence... And ashamed that I had made him so worried. I looked to the side, seeing Terry and the rest of my family. The looks on their faces. I had made them all so worried.

"I'm sorry..." It wasn't just for Jake. It was for all of them. My eyes stung. "I'm so sorry."

~*~


Jake was officially introduced to Terry and if we hadn't just had such an emotional moment, it would have been rather comical. Jake offered his hand pleasantly enough to my boyfriend, but the firm shake lasted way too long and I caught Terry massaging his fingers after as if Jake had hurt him.

Not having to stay in a hotel, Terry stayed for the whole week. I gave him the tour of the house (though I was not allowed to show him my basement bedroom) and the tour of the neighborhood, making sure to point out Harry's awful relatives across the street. Unbeknownst to any of us children, as we had never entertained guests before, the sofa in the living room was actually a pull-out bed which meant Terry didn't have to shove his lanky form into the confines of arm rests.

Everywhere we went, Morgan came with us like an awkward third wheel. Well, she wasn't really awkward- it was nice to hang out with her and her presence kept us from being, well, alone. Not that I mind being alone with my boyfriend! It's the boyfriend's wandering hands that I mind. It's not a bad thing, but the first time he grabbed my bum like he had at the party, I yelped and jumped a foot in the air. He thought it was cute. I thought it was an invasion.

The only true interruption to his stay were my chores. They were heaped upon me as punishment for my behavior in Diagon Alley (and for telling Terry where we lived, but that part went unspoken). I was called at the most inopprotune moments to do the dishes, take out the trash, vacuum the living room. If it weren't for Morgan, my poor boyfriend would have been alone most of his visit. Or worse, at the mercy of the Men of the House.

On the last night of his stay, we were left blissfully alone, cuddling on his bed in the living room, watching an old film. The Wizard of Oz was one of my favorites and Terry's family didn't watch TV. In fact, most wizarding families didn't, but I suppose the house of Stone wasn't like most wizarding families.

Terry's arm rested comfortably around my waist and at some point before Dorothy landed in Oz, he had abandoned the pretense of watching the tube for kissing my lips. There were tingles now, a sort of anticipation that flowed through me at his touch which was a nice change to the tension and apprehension I used to have. I snuggled closer to him, one hand on his shoulder and one buried in his short brown hair. His arm pulled tighter around my waist, cinching me up higher on his torso, his shirt sliding up with the friction.

I broke the kiss first, laughing slightly, giddy with desire but alert of my surroundings. Any moment a family member could walk in and if this kissing went much farther, I might welcome it. I didn't want to back-pedal, but I wasn't racing for the finish line either. Dorothy was oiling up the Tin Man.

Terry pushed hair from my face and smiled at me, catching his breath. "I love you."

There was no pretending I didn't hear it this time. There was no uncertainty at whether or not he had said it. And most importantly, there was no response from me except a panicked, wide-eyed stare.

I used to think that saying you loved someone wasn't a big deal. I loved my family. I had told both Luna and Terry before that I loved them. But this was different and I my skin was warm and prickly with fear.

I had to force my mouth to open. "Terry... I-"

"You don't have to say it," he said with a nervous laugh. "I... Piper, I know this is still new. I know it probably seems like I'm moving a bit fast, but the key to a good relationship is communication and not keeping secrets, right?"

A large stone of guilt settled into my stomach as the memory of Ron's lips pressed to mine flashed through my head. I bit my lip and nodded.

"Well... I love you," he said again. "You don't have to love me right now- it doesn't come at the same time for everyone, I don't think. I know you love me in one way at least. The other way just has to grow. I'm just there first. Does that make it awkward?"

Yes. A million times yes!

"No," I replied softly. Mouth! Why do you betray me? "I'm just... Sorry I can't say it back."

His lips pulled up into a smile. "You will eventually," he assured me. Then he leaned down to kiss me as Dorothy and her friends worried about lions and tigers and bears.

Kisses and love and lies, oh my...

Chapter 10: The End of Summer (and Secrets)
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"Mum, how do you know when you're in love?"

I tried to make the question sound casual as I slowly stirred the chocolate chip cookie dough. There was only a week left of August, which meant school was almost here and I still had unanswered quesitons burning on my lips. Some of them only a mother could answer.

She cast me a knowing smile as she prepped for oatmeal raisin cookies. "Think you might be in love with your young man?" she asked in return.

"I... I don't know what I feel," I confessed. "I like him well enough, but I don't know if it's love. I don't know what this kind of love feels like. I love him as my best friend, but that's not the same. I'm asking so that when it happens, I can recognize it." I wanted to tell her about Ron, but enough people knew already. I'd finally decided to write to Ginny about it after a letter from her inquiring (and by that I mean demanding) after an answer. I told her not to tell anyone else- especially Ron. Her response had been typical-

Oh, I knew it! I knew something like that had happened! When are you breaking up with The Boot?

It was irritating that so many people disliked Terry. And what say did they think they had in my love life?

Mum sighed, bringing my thoughts back to the kitchen. I washed my hands and began rolling the dough into balls.

"Love comes differently for everyone," she said slowly. "It feels differently for everyone. I can't tell you exactly how your father makes me feel except to say that I love him. It's something you have to figure out as you go."

"Oh," I said quietly. That wasn't helpful.

When I glanced up, Mum was lolling her head from side to side as if contemplating telling me something revealing. Finally, she put her half mixed ingredients aside and folded her hands on the table top. I raised my eyebrows and put down my latest dough ball, wiping my hands on a towel.

Story time.

"When I was your age, I was a lot like Morgan. I gave my heart away freely before I started dating your father and I'd already had several boyfriends by now. And I loved every single one of them."

I blinked at her. What?

"Or so I thought," she continued with a wave of her hands. "Oh, I thought it was love! I was a teenager! I thought everything was love. I cried over them or was angry at them... Sometimes both. I thought I knew what heartbreak was..." A wistful smile pulled across her face and she looked so young for a moment, thinking back on those days. "Your father and I went through a lot in the beginning. Way more than I think either of us had bargained for.

"The summer we were married, I almost lost him. In a very... Permanent way." She paused then, fixing me with a mournful stare, the youth suddenly drained from her features. Suddenly she seemed much older than I'd ever seen her before. "I was pregnant with Jacob. I was scared. I was doubting everything I had agreed to. Doubting my choices, my marriage... Your father went on a mission of sorts..." Mum bit her lip, her face frowning. She was wondering how much to tell me, the gears in her head rearranging words to hide details from me. Her eyes began to glisten with a sheen of tears, but she smiled. "They tried to tell me he was dead. I refused to believe it, of course, but in that moment... That was when I truly knew what heartbreak really was. In that moment, I died, too."

She sniffed and wiped her eyes, laughing as she did so. The almost joyous sound amidst the heart wrenching look on her face seemed other worldly as I hung onto her words. "I can't even think about it without getting upset," she said. "But I knew without a doubt that I had never really loved any of those boys. Not like I love your father. There is a kind of love you can freely give to anyone- a kinship, really. And then there's love. When he goes, my heart goes with him. It's a hard road to find real love, darling, but if it doesn't break you when it's gone..." She shook her head. "Then it isn't real."

With a little sigh, she straightened and went back to prepping the oatmeal cookies while I returned to rolling dough balls. I hadn't given much thought to the events that led my family into hiding and I realized that it was pretty selfish of me. I couldn't help but still feel that keeping their secrets from us was pretty selfish of them, though. Still... It seemed unreal to me that Dad's life had ever been in danger.

We worked in silence for a few minutes, but... I still had questions. And maybe more questions would keep Mum from dwelling on such an awful memory. "So... What is the most important part of a relationship?"

She shrugged and replied, "You are."

"But... But I thought-"

She waved off my protest. "Oh, yes, honesty, communication- that's all well and good, but those things come naturally in a good and healthy relationship," she said. "The most important part of a relationship is you, the other party, and your decisions."

"I don't... Understand."

Her mouth twisted to the side as she thought up another anecdote to help her explain her cryptic answer. "I had a boyfriend at your age that I thought I was happy with. He came up to me one day- told me that life was short and the war was getting closer. He couldn't go one more day without telling me that he was in love with me and would I please go out with him." She wrinkled her nose. "It lasted two weeks."

"W- what?" I sputtered. "But that sounds so sweet and romantic!"

"Oh, it was," she agreed, nodding as she began her own dough balls. "He completely swept me off my feet with whispers of romance and his dreams to fight the dark wizards. We were inseparable for those two weeks."

"Well, then what happened?" I pressed. This conversation was becoming more interesting by the second. I had never heard many stories from my parents' youth before and I was utterly fascinated. The oven sounded and I put in the first pan of cookies, set the timer, and began a new batch. "Well...?"

Mum rolled her eyes at me. "I didn't like him!" She shrugged.

I stared in disbelief. "But-!"

"Oh, don't get me wrong- he was handsome and sweet and the whole thing took me completely off guard. I was swept away before I could even remember agreeing to his proposal... But..." Her mouth twisted again. "He chose me and I never chose him." She noted my questioning look before I could form the words. "When you start a new relationship, it should be with two people who want to be together. You have to choose each other. At the end of the day, I didn't really want to be with Barney Shunpike-"

"Who-?"

"-he just wanted to be with me and I agreed without thinking. It's really the most important thing in a relationship. Don't just be chosen. You have to make the choice to choose, too. I didn't. I let myself get swept up in someone else's idea. Is any of this making sense? Sinking in?"

It was. Sort of. More than I wanted to admit. If she said 'swept' one more time, though, the image of some boy kidnapping her on his broom was going to be burned into my mind. "I guess I'll figure it out like you did," I said carefully. And then I laughed. "And without dating someone named Barney."

Mum rolled her eyes again. "He was very handsome!" she argued.

We giggled, but in my head all I could think about was how familiar that story sounded. It left me wondering...

Did I choose?

~*~


August thirty-first. Ten PM. I was staring into the darkness above my bed, wide awake. Not only had my conversation with Mum kept me up every night this week pondering my new relationship with Terry -could it still be called new after three months?- but her story about Dad kept reminding me that there were still questions I wanted answered and I was almost literally out of time. After the fall out with Dad when I got back a month ago, though, I was nervous to ask him anything despite the following reconcilliation.

I turned restlessly. Otus gave a low hoot and the sound made Ephi stir in his cage next to my bed. The two got along strangely well, though I was not about to let them out of their cages at the same time. I sighed and turned the other way, punching my pillow a few times. If I could just get comfortable...

Of course, I could also try to go find the answers I wanted. The thought made me sit up in bed, glancing around as if someone might be in my room ready to stop me. Of course there was no one but Otus and Ephi and if an owl and a Pygmi Puff could keep me from climbing the stairs to the kitchen, what sort of witch was I? The underage kind that can't use magic outside of school. Details.

Quietly, I slipped out of bed and up the stairs, into the empty kitchen. The door to the hallway creaked uncharacteristically as I opened it and I was ever so grateful for the carpet under my feet. In the living room further on, I could hear the television, but I didn't know who was still awake, watching it. I slipped into the first door on the left- Dad's office. It was a place normally only Dad was and it seemed a logical place to start looking. There weren't exactly a lot of out-of-bounds areas of the house and I didn't think I would find anything in Jake's room.

I switched on the light, blinking against the brightness. The room was quiet and empty and I'm not sure why I expected anything else. I went around the desk, sitting in the chair. The leather creaked under my weight. Suddenly, I felt like I was five again, sneaking into Daddy's office to play, Daddy coming in to laugh and shoo me away. I glanced at the closed door anxiously as if that were about to happen. Satisfied that it wasn't, I started the search.

I opened every drawer he had- paper, files, stationary, mail... The thin roll-out drawer right above the leg space was filled with more fountain pens than I had ever seen. What I didn't find was anything at all that would magically grant me the answers I wanted. Why had I thought this would be a fruitful idea?

With a sigh, I sifted through the neat stacks of papers on his desk. Case notes, incoming mail, out going subpoenas... I straightened a stack and went to put it back into place when I noticed an off-colored paper sticking out from beneath a legal pad. The moment I touched it, I noted the familiar feel of parchment. My pulse quickened as I unfolded it. Despite the size of the paper, the message was short. It was dated for April.

R,

Don't worry if you don't hear from me for a while. There's a lot happening. I can't explain here. I can't visit, either. Make sure you check on your girls. The things we've been hearing from the school... Did you know Dumbledore was forced out a few weeks ago?

I will try to visit in the summer time.

Padfoot


Who was P-

The sound of the door clicking shut snapped my attention up. Dad stood there, looking down his nose at me. I shoved the letter under the desk as if he hadn't already seen me reading it.

"Shouldn't you be in bed?" he asked. His tone was soft, his face filled with amusement. It reinforced the feeling of being an innocent child from ten years ago. "School starts tomorrow. It's late."

"Couldn't sleep," I answered honestly.

"And you thought reading boring lawyer stuff would help you drift off?" he asked. With hands in his pockets, he walked toward the desk, coming around to stand before me. "May I please have that letter? It is very important to me."

I chewed on my lip before handing it over. "Who is Padfoot?"

"My brother," he replied, his fingers almost caressing the parchment.

"But that's not a name," I quipped before I could stop my mouth.

Dad smiled. "It was the name he chose." He sat on the edge of the desk, folding the letter up. "What are you doing in here, Piper?"

I shifted nervously under his gaze. "Just looking," I mumbled. He pinned me with the Dad Stare that invoked almost instant, guilty, spill-all confessions. "I was looking for you. For something that would tell me who you are."

Rather than scold me, he laughed. "You won't find any of that in here," he promised. I slumped in the chair, defeated. "All that stuff is in the attic."

"W- we don't have- We have an attic?" I sputtered. "Where?"

"Please don't forget that you and Morgan are not the only witches in the family," he replied. He opened a drawer, the one with the stationary inside, and drew his wand from behind the stack of carefully letter-headed paper. Then he walked to the bookshelf. I swivelled the chair to follow his movements. He removed a thick volume from his collection and used his wand to tap the empty space it left behind. A small section of the shelf swung forward to reveal a staircase. "Undetectable Extension Charm. Your mother is very clever."

For a moment, I thought I was speechless, but then my mouth began moving and I said, "What the hell? Does the staircase move as well? Secret passageways between the bedrooms and the kitchens? Tunnels to the neighbor's house?"

"Piper, don't be ridiculous," he replied. Me? Ridiculous? Who exactly was it that just revealed a secret stairway to the secret attic behind the office bookshelf? He gestured for me to follow him up. "Well, come on."

"What? Really?"

"Unless you'd rather not-?"

I jumped out of the chair so fast, I left it spinning. "No! No, I just thought you were going to make me argue with you first."

He chuckled as he led the way up to the top of two hidden flights of stairs. "I've been thinking about it since you came back," he confessed. "Maybe keeping secrets has been a little more... Detrimental than I thought... Finding you in the office with that letter seemed as good a sign as any."

"Cutting it a little close," I muttered. He paused to cast me a look of doubt. "Not that I'm not grateful!"

At the top of the stairs was a door. Dad produced a key from a small cubby shelf. My heart beat almost suffocatingly in my throat. Suddenly I would rather go back downstairs and be told rather than shown.

The door opened to a room that seemed impossible to be inside our normal looking house, charm or not. It took up the area I had assumed to be a crawl space under the roof. Dad turned on a light. It was littered with dusty trunks and boxes, a few covered mannequins with robes hanging off the frames, and what appeared to be some sort of tapestry on the back wall.

"This is all that is left of mine and your mother's attachments to the Wizarding World," he said. I watched him as his gaze fell upon the things in the room with a fondness. A sadness. I felt like I was intruding. "Ask me anything."

I fidgetted. "Have we ever met Padfoot?" That seemed as good a place to start as any.

"Oh, yes, thought I doubt you would recognize him. He was a bit of a dog at the time." Dad laughed as if he had said something clever.

"Was he that man who was hitting on Mum at our thirteenth birthday party?" I thought back to the chubby, balding man who had relentlessly hounded my mother despite her polite refusals and reminders of her wedding ring. I wrinkled my nose at the idea. Bad guess.

"No, that was Mr. Lorde from my office," he replied, annoyed. "Do you remember Mr. Snuffles?"

"Snuffles? Our summer time stray?" Mr. Snuffles was the name Momo and I (mostly Momo) had given to a large black mutt who wandered into our yard three summers ago. He came back every summer and we played with him and fed him, but Dad insisted we couldn't keep him. "Did he come back at all while I was gone?"

"Mr. Snuffles was an animagus..."

"Dad..."

A silence stretched between us and my heart ached for him. He offered me a smile.

"No one lives forever, darling. You should remember that." He went toward the back of the room and I followed him. What I thought was a tapestry was a large sheet covered in names, some with pictures. "It's not like the one Mother has, but it's the best I could do on memory. This is... Our family tree."

I looked from him to the sheet. The photographs moved inside jagged, cut edges above names that seemed vaguely familiar. "Black. As in... Black?" I glanced back at him and he nodded. I took a deep breath. "So... So... Which Black are you?"

He pointed near the bottom of the sheet.

Sirius Black ---------- Regulus Black

"As I recall, Regulus, Sirius' brother, only lasted a few days when he deserted the Death Eaters." Remus Lupin's voice played in my head like a broken record, followed only by my mother's. "I almost lost him in a very permanent way."

So many little clues seemed to add up in my head that led to this natural conclusion, but I hadn't been able to put the pieces together. Why would I?

"I heard you got to meet my cousin, Nymphadora, at the Burrow," Dad said conversationally. "We're related to the Weasley's as well."

"Oh, no..." I made a face of disgust.

"What?"

"I, er..." I chewed on my lip. "I just... I used to have a crush on... One of the Weasley's..."

Dad laughed and shrugged. "I wouldn't worry about it. There are few pureblood families in England that aren't related to the Blacks in some way, shape, or form. It's common practice for inter-breeding to keep the bloodlines pure. Not to mention, being considered blood traitors for generations, the Weasley's are more than distant enough for you to not even be concerned. Just stay clear of the Malfoy boy. His mother is my first cousin."

This directed my gaze to Draco's name. He had no picture, but the woman's name above his did. Narcissa Malfoy (Black). I squinted at the picture. The woman was very beautiful and seemed familiar.

"Isn't that... Isn't she the woman from Diagon Alley?" I asked.

He nodded. "That's Nissa," he confirmed.

I shook my head, mind racing. "Dad... I'm happy you're telling me all this, but... I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do with this information."

He unbuttoned the cuff of his left shirt sleeve and pulled the fabric back, revealing a black tattoo. A snake and a skull. I shivered and looked back at him.

"I'm hoping you begin to understand why we're in hiding and why I need you to be careful of who you trust."


Author's Note: I just want to say, sorry for the rushed feel of the last couple of chapters! Trying to put in A LOT of info. I hope the story is still coming across okay! Thanks for reading!

Chapter 11: Late Night Scribbles
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From the personal notes of Piper Stone...

I... Am very tired... And I have a lot of ground to cover, so screw story mode. This is summary mode. There is a lot to tell and they don't serve coffee at dinner.

I didn't go to bed until six in the morning on Septeber First. We get up at eight for breakfast and final packing checks before leaving for King's Cross. Despite hoarding almost an entire pot of coffee to myself, I was still dragging ass at the platform. Information buzzed inside my head. Is still buzzing. I could hardly concentrate on the train. Dad gave me what must have been close to the complete history of his family.

Distantly related to the Weasleys (I really can't stress the word distantly enough) and the Potters. Cousins with the Malfoys and Lestranges and the Metamorphmagus named Tonks. I'm still reeling from the fact that Sirius Black is not a singer. I think I need to talk to Mr. Lovegood about fact checking... I know I should know better, being friends with Harry, but I trusted The Quibbler.

Mum and Dad changed their names and went into hiding; originally, they were Regulus Black and Christina Holloway. My own name is not even my own.

"Family traditions die hard," Dad had said. My 'secret' birth certificate names me Carina Amelia Black. Nice to meet you.

Morgan's "real" name is Cassiopeia. Jake's is Orion. It's silly.

The words smear on the parchment and splatters of ink liter the page.

Sorry, sorry... I started giggling... I think I've hit slap-happy.

There was a space under Sirius Black's name on his family tree. He said it was a rumor that his brother had fathered a child, but it was unconfirmed. He said Sirius didn't know anything about it and that he hadn't been able to track down the witch who made the claim. It was harder to do these things when you were detached from the Wizarding World. There was also a space next to Draco on the tree with the name 'Mira' in place of a picture and a question mark. He said the Malfoys had a daughter. I've never heard of her, but he said it was rumor that she died or disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Dad says he thinks she was a squib and if they did when he thinks they did, he intended to make sure someone answered for it.

I didn't ask what he thought they did. My imagination is enough to keep me from asking.

I berated my father with questions. He picked and chose the ones he would answer. He would not tell me what he was doing that almost got him killed, but he did tell me that Mum was marked for death- part of the reason they went into hiding. He said he thought he could change the world, being a Death Eater. Said he never thought they would do anything to Mum because she was half-blood. Asked someone for help (he wouldn't say who) and they sent him to Professor Dumbledore. Professor told him about the Potters and suggested doing the same. Sirius was the Secret Keeper.

I feel the strange urge to call him Uncle but having never done so makes it sound stranger. I've never had an uncle. But I always had one. I can't... My head hurts...

It turns out Dad already had this meeting with Jake and Morgan, so why it took him so long to tell me, I don't understand. Something about me being friends with Harry, being to close to it all...

The train... I hardly remember the Prefect's meeting, but I know that Ron went out of his way to make it as entirely uncomfortable as he could manage. Good thing I was too tired to care. (Can I stress again how very distantly we are related?) Before I could make it back to the comfort of my compartment with Terry (Luna was sitting with Harry, sadly) I got snagged up by a walrus. Ginny cast a Bat-Bogey Hex on someone and got whisked away by him first and before I could escape, she spouted off some nonsense about how I was good at spells, too. The man took one look at me and said I reminded him of someone (that makes a lot more sense, now, I suppose) and invited me along. Ginny looked in straights and I was too beleagured to protest. So, somehow, I ended up in the strangest lunch where this walrus-man (I now know he's our new teacher) kept talking about people's relatives and how he knew them and how successful and blah, blah, blah...

I would have finally gotten some sleep then, but Ginny kept pinching me every time I dozed. Little bint.

When I finally got back to my compartment, Terry wouldn't let me sleep, either. He kept talking and talking and... Ugh.

My candle is getting low. It's harder to see and that makes me all the more sleepy. What I wouldn't give for a Pepper-Up Potion. Bollocks, it must be two in the morning...

Harry wasn't at the feast at first. He finally came in with Professor Snape (promoted to Defense Against The Dark Arts, by the by) with blood on his shirt. I didn't get a chance to ask why.

I think... That's everything. Everything I can remember. I had to get it all down before I forgot. Even if no one ever reads this. Even if I'm the only one who knows. I need to have this. To remember. I'm so tired...



I blew out the candle and wobbled my way up the stairs to my dorm. Everyone was quiet and asleep. Luna was still wearing her spectrespecs, the latest issue of The Quibbler on her night stand. I shook my head and drew her hangings closed. I couldn't wait to talk to her in the morning, but what could I really tell her? The words 'be careful of who you trust' rang in my head. But who could I trust if not my best friend? Plus, she was friends with Harry, too.

With a sigh, I knelt down next to my trunk and dug to the bottom to hide my notes on the events of the last twenty-four-ish hours. Finally, at long last, I climbed into bed. I don't even remember my head hitting the pillow.

Chapter 12: Tryouts on Saturday!
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A large, black, scruffy dog came lumbering through the bushes in the back yard, panting and almost looking like he was smiling.

"Mr. Snuffles!" I cried in an almost baby-like voice. The mutt bounded over, toppling me over like a child and licking my face while I giggled and half-heartedly tried to push him off. I smiled up into pretty blue eyes, never realizing how much they looked like Dad's or my own. "Why didn't you tell me you were an animagus?"

The dog turned his furry head to the side and whined a bit. "Piper, wake up."

I frowned. I didn't know animagi could talk in their animal forms. Why wasn't McGonagall a cat all the time?

"Earth... To... STONE!"

I jerked awake right as my head was slipping from my hand, almost landing in my cold oatmeal. An arm wrapped around my shoulders and squeezed, the arm's owner pressing a kiss to my temple.

"You are adorable," Terry said before letting go and focusing on his plate of eggs. "You act like you didn't get any sleep."

I rubbed my eyes and stifled a yawn. "I'm trying to catch up on the night before. And I didn't get to bed until late last night. I've had like six hours of sleep in the last two days." I pinched the bridge of my nose, willing away the start of a fatigue headache. All I wanted was to discover that I had a free period first thing this morning. Just the thought had my eyes drifting shut again.

Terry poked me in the ribs and I turned to scowl at him. He gave me only a slightly apologetic look. "Flit's about to come down with schedules."

He was nervous. With the change in teacher arrangments, he was no longer sure about training to be a curse breaker. He needed Defense Against the Dark Arts, but he and Professor Snape didn't get on very well. Professor Snape and anyone didn't get on very well.

"It's only two more years," I said sympathetically.

"Oh, sure, you say that now as an ickle Fifth Year, barely gearing up for her O.W.L.s, innocent to the ways and rigors of the N.E.W.T.s, but I remember my cousin in her Sixth and Seventh Years," he lamented. "She was practically demonized by the amount of homework and stress. Part of the reason I liked the idea of being a Curse Breaker was because I didn't have to pursue Potions." He looked at me with big puppy eyes, wanting more sympathy. I stared back.

"Call me 'ickle' one more time," I said finally. "I dare you."

Rather than be afraid, his face split into a grin and he pulled me close again. I made a face of fatigue and frustration, but put up with it because I'm pretty sure that's what good girlfriends do. Finally, I gave in and relaxed against him. You know, he was rather comfortable. My eyes began to close once more...

"Hey, where's your schedule?!"

My eyes shot open to find bright brown eyes staring at me from across the table. The eyes moved from me to Terry and back with flashing annoyance.

"I- uh- It- Ginny, this is the Ravenclaw table," I finally managed.

She snorted. "Yeah, because I didn't practically live here last year." She leaned forward, red hair spilling over her shoulders as she inspected the area in front of me, nose wrinkling at my untouched oatmeal.

"They're coming now, calm down, Ginny," Terry assured her. She cast him another annoying glance.

A piece of parchment floated down with about a hundred others across the table. I reached for it lamely, but it was Ginny who snatched it out of the air before it landed in my breakfast goop. She sat back down as I frowned at her and she put my parchment next to hers.

"We've got four classes together!" she said excitedly. "Starting with Charms!"

I laughed at her enthusiasm. "Does this mean we're going to show off our- our-" I yawned. "-Ah! Our house unity?"

"You're damn right we are," she replied with a smirk.

The tiny professor of Charms and head of Ravenclaw house was making his way down to the lingering Sixth Years at the table, going over their O.W.L. scores versus the classes they applied to continue taking this year. It didn't really matter that Snape was the new professor for Defense Against the Dark Arts- Terry had gotten an O, though how he managed with no DA and no proper teacher last year, I wasn't sure. As he reached my boyfriend, I tuned out the hall, pushing eating implements away from me and folding my arms on the table, putting my head down. Just a few minutes...

Something was poking my head.

"Knock it off!" Ginny hissed.

"She'll be late for class if I don't," said a different voice.

"I hate you all," I moaned. I looked up to see Dean Thomas grinning at me from next to Ginny. No one had any sympathy for the sleepy girl. Might as well give up until History of Magic class. "Do we even have History of Magic today?" I wondred allowed.

"Tomorrow," Ginny replied.

When they say life is not fair, this is what they meant. I pushed myself, resolving to stay awake. "Hey, Dean. What are you going to be when you grow up?"

"I'm going into art," he said proudly, his chest puffing up a bit. I forgot that both he and Terry were artists. He made a lot of the Gryffindor Quidditch banners from scratch. "I'd like to be one of the people that draws the moving portraits."

"What classes do you have to take to do that?" I asked.

"Charms, Transfiguration." He shrugged. "And I'm taking Defense Against the Dark Arts simply because I got the score to go on."

"You're taking Snape's class willingly?" I asked.

He shrugged. "Better to be prepared, right?" The question had an ominous feel to it that made me shudder. Funny how a shudder can wake you up better than coffee.

"Anyway, I should get going." Dean stood up holding Ginny's hand, helping her off the bench. "Your Charms class starts soon. Don't fall asleep." He kissed Ginny's cheek before disappearing into the thick of the mass exodus leaving the Great Hall.

"I should get going, too," Terry said, looking down at his new schedule. "I went ahead and took potions. I got the grade for it. Maybe it will come in handy when Snape finally forces me to quit Defense Against the Dark Arts in an insane and ranting manner." He leaned over and kissed my cheek. "We'll compare schedules later when Ginny isn't holding yours hostage."

I rolled my eyes, but turned to return his kiss, smiling as he left the table. A shiver ran down my spine and I looked around, suddenly feeling like I was being watched. Not just watched, but hated. It was enough to make anyone wide awake and aware. I glanced around wildly, searching. I found Ron glaring in what looked like my direction. When I caught his gaze, he turned away, saying something to Harry before they left the Hall.

"Why are you still with him after the Ron thing?"

I almost didn't register the question as I looked back and forth from one Weasley to the other.

"I- it-" I took a deep breath and stood up from the table. "I am going to class." I leaned over to snatch my schedule from her and look at it. When she had said 'starting with Charms' she meant that literally. First class of the day. I looked up at the smug look on her freckled face. "I'm making Luna sit between us."

"Because that's going to stop me."

... Damn.

"Just... Just shut up," I grumbled, getting to my feet.

Luna was waiting expectantly at the end of the table like she was trying to keep her distance. She smiled when she saw me approaching, glancing toward Ginny on the other side of the table keeping pace with me. I was suddenly stopped dead by an angry looking Cho Chang.

"Tryouts. This Saturday. I've already booked the pitch," she declared, a hard edge in her normally soft voice. "Congratulations on Prefect."

"Th- thanks?" I replied, uncertain. "Congratulations on captain. But, Cho, I wasn't going to try out this y-"

"Excuse me?" Her eyes narrowed. Who was this Cho Chang? She wasn't the same girl from last year. I took a small step back and cleared my throat.

"Look, I've got patrolling duties and it's O.W.L. year, plus I have Terry," I began nervously. "I can't juggle practice with all of that-"

"Do you think you're the first quidditch player to make Prefect and have to juggle school and duty and practice and a personal life?" she demanded, taking a step forward and forcing me one step back.

"N- no, I-"

"I need that arm of yours," Cho pressed, bearing down on me. I took another step back, holding said arm protectively with my left as if she might try and take it.

"Hey!" Ginny cried from across the table making both the captain and me look over. "She said no, now back off!"

"Of course you don't want her out there!" Cho shot back, glaring. It was rather uncharacteristic of her and I wondered what had gotten into her. "You're a Gryffindor and with Piper as Beater, we have a strong edge!"

Ginny rolled her eyes. "So strong, Gryffindor has held the House Cup for the last five years?" she retorted. She glanced up the table and made a little motion with her head. The next thing I knew, Luna was tugging on my arm while Cho was still distracted by Ginny. "Not to mention the Quidditch Cup during the years we actually had quidditch."

"Gross favoritism!" Cho shot back. She went to look at the empty place in front of her and whirled around just as Luna and I cleared the end of the table. "Saturday, Stone! Be on the pitch!"

Ginny smirked at her before practically skipping away toward Luna and I and we finally left the Great Hall.

"Good Merlin, I hate that girl," Ginny said as we walked. She sounded smug, proud of herself rather than angry.

"I wonder what's gotten into her," I said, glancing back to see Cho accosting other Ravenclaws, including last year's chasers Kael Chambers and Willa Bradley, about the news of tryouts.

The other team members had graduated last year with the exception of Duncan Inglebee whose parents pulled him from Hogwarts after they were told of the terrors Dolores Umbridge had imposed on the student body. Because the secret chamber with the killer snake, the homicidal prisoner being hunted by dementors, and the archaic tournament that put participants (and sometimes the spectators) in mortal danger just hadn't been reason enough to do it sooner.

Still, Cho Chang was normally a soft spoken, mild mannered girl. I was actually surprised that she was picked for captain considering. Perhaps she was trying to be the captain she thought Roger wanted her to be, but even he had never been so demanding.

I spent the rest of the day- nay, the rest of the week -dodging Ginny's questions and Cho's harrassment. Homework seemed to be piled on from all sides and Snape was particularly unforgiving in Defense Against the Dark Arts, stating the we had lacked proper training from the off and needed to catch up. With the exception of Professor Lupin in Second Year and Harry last year, I couldn't really argue with him. Still, the load seemed staggering compared to previous years. I really wanted to find time to talk to Harry about all this Black family business, but it seemed that he was busier than I was. Not to mention Ron was always there...

When Saturday came around, Luna, Terry, Ginny, and Momo (strangely) came to watch tryouts. Ginny insisted that I didn't have to go, but I felt I owed it to the team to at least show up. Cho seemed pretty proud of herself when I arrived, dragging my old Comet behind me. That trip for a new broom and gear I'd mentioned to Harry? Yeah, that hadn't happened...

The guilt weighed on my conscience, but I did my best to give the worst try-out of my life. Almost every swing missed and the ones that hit were weak and flimsy, barely sending the enchanted bludgers farther than just out of my reach. Several times, I went into an unintended barrel roll. It's a good thing I'm not afraid of heights anymore...

Cho glared at me from where she sat, hovering on her broom and watching my performance. I was so relieved when tryouts were over. She announced that the team would be posted by Monday in the common room before dismissing us and my cheerleaders showed up to hustle me away before she could corner me.

"Gryffindor tryouts are next Saturday," Ginny said as we headed inside. "You should come. Ron's trying out for Keeper again."

"Trying to keep his title of 'Weasley is Our King?'" I replied, trying to remain neutral on the subject of Ron and his trying out for the Gryffindor team. I was keenly aware of my boyfriend's hand in mine. "Sounds fun. I might come watch, if only to see the competition I don't have to face this year."

"You never know," Luna said airily. "She might put you on the team out of spite."

Chapter 13: You, Keeper. Me, Beater.
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Ginny appeared out of nowhere as Terry and I reached the bottom step of the stairway that led to the bronze eagle door knocker that guarded the Ravenclaw common room. Her arrival was so sudden, I found myself looking in all directions for where she had come from, including the stair behind us, but all I saw was Luna bringing up the rear.

"Are you stalking me?" I asked, a little apprehensive.

"You know I can't answer that. It would take away all the mystery our friendship has to offer," she replied with her signature smirk. "I just wanted to make sure you were coming to watch the Gryffindor tryouts after breakfast, Miss Back-Up Beater."

I grimaced. Despite my horrendous performance last Saturday, I still made the ruddy team. Cho couldn't put me in a starter position because of my display, but she had made me an alternate which was actually worse than not getting a position at all. It said, 'you're not quite good enough, but here, you can warm the bench' while everyone else cheered in the crowds... And I was still required to attend all games and practices.

Sadly, with her new personality, I really wouldn't put it past Cho to break the arm of one of the new Beaters just to make me play...

"You know... We eat in the same Great Hall that you eat in. Aside from the Hufflepuff table, there's really nothing coming between us-"

"Oh, shut it," Ginny snapped, casting me a soft glare. I snickered and we turned down the hall.

"I do recall promising some scruffy looking Gryffindor I'd come, though it's not really how I'd prefer to spend my Saturday," I said finally. I glanced to Terry and then Luna, who had moved to his other side. "What about you lot? Coming with?"

Terry hissed. "I actually... Am booked today."

I frowned. "We've been here for two weeks. What could possibly have booked you?"

"I sort of let Morgan talk me into tutoring a Fifth Year Slytherin study group to prep for the O.W.L.s," he replied, his face scrunching like he smelled something sour.

I didn't know what to be more shocked by- that Slytherins actually studied or that my own sister was spearheading the group that did so. I shook my head to rid myself of the shock of disbelief. "Well, that's... Noble. I guess I'm glad you get along with some members of my family..."

"Some?" he echoed.

I pretended not to hear. "Luna? You in?"

"Sadly, no," she replied, gazing down the hallway. "Neville promised to show me and Hannah Abbott a project he's working on in the greenhouses. It's something we're going to work on together for extra credit. Oh, and I promised to show them the pictures Dad and I found of the amphisbaena burrow we found over summer."

"I thought you went to Sweden to look for the Crumple-Horned Snorkack?"

She nodded. "Half the summer we look for the Snorkack. The other half, we choose something else to look for. I wanted to go to Australia to look for a bunyip, but Dad said they like the taste of women and children and he doesn't want me going on that trip. So we went to the small desert on the island of Lemnos in Greece to look for amphisbaena. There will be an article in the next Quibbler. We only found it's habitat. We're going back next year to find the creature."

I stared in amazement, excited to read the next issue already. Amphisbaena were supposed to be Greek legend. I wondered what it would take to talk my parents into letting me vacation with Luna and her father next summer.

It was then that I realized I needed to talk to Luna. As I turned to face forward on the walk down stairs, I recalled thinking that the night we got back to school, but the first couple of weeks had been so busy that I had forgotten. I need to talk to someone was what boiled down to. I was starting to fall behind on my school work because the secrets in my head demanded more attention. And I thought school would be more distracting.

"That's really exciting," I said aloud. "I guess it's just me, then."

"It's okay," Ginny said, patting me on the shoulder. "You can keep Hermione company."

"And I'll tell her all about the amphisbaena!" I replied with a grin. Hermione was decidedly not a Quibbler fan. "Hey, Lu, do you have some time tonight? I need to talk to you about something."

She didn't answer at first and I almost thought she didn't hear me, gazing upwards toward the ceiling like she was examining the stone. "I think I'm fairly free after dinner," she said finally.

I breathed in relief, leaning closer to Terry. I sort of wanted to tell him, too, but he had been so adamant about the DA last year and I'm sure he still believes the Sirius Black was a murderer. I wasn't sure I was ready to tackle that particular issue now that we were dating. A part of my mind reminded me that we were still best friends and that it shouldn't matter.

Somehow, though, it really did.

***


After breakfast, Hermione and I situated ourselves in the mostly empty stands away from anyone else who had come to watch. It seemed like most of Gryffindor had shown up for the tryouts and most of them looked, well... Awfully inexperienced.

"Harry's got his hands full," I remarked, stuffing my hands into the pockets of my cloak. The warm days did not last long in Scotland after school started. They would get a few more randomly nice days through September before they abruptly stopped a week into October. Today wasn't one of the nicer days.

"He can handle it," Hermione replied, observing the field. "McGonagall wouldn't have made him captain if he couldn't."

"Weird that he made captain over Bell, though. Isn't it usually a seniority thing?"

"Usually," she agreed. "But it's also a leadership thing. Obvious she thought Harry was more of a leader than Katie."

I nodded, turning back to the field. Ron had himself a bit of a strut to his walk and he kept looking up into the stands. I glanced across and could barely make out a blonde and a brunette in Gryffindor robes across the way.

"I guess after last year, I don't blame her. Not that I really know Bell all that well..."

I realized that Hermione and I didn't really have all that much to talk about. Though we spent months training in the DA last year and the better part of a summer month hanging around each other, I couldn't say that we had had many conversations or even really become friends at all.

Harry ordered the students to divide up into groups and the tryouts began. I winced as a First Year crashed into a goal post.

"Don't let Arithmancy overwhelm you too much," Hermione said suddenly. I looked away from the poor eleven year old to the Sixth Year next to me. "Vector assigns a lot of homework in the first couple months, but there's a method to the madness. She's pushing all the real work out first so that you can spend most of the year studying for the OWLs." She glanced at me and offered a hesitant smile. "Ginny was ranting about your 'poor choice in extra curriculars.'"

I snorted and shook my head. "She thinks everything I take is boring except for Care of Magical Creatures. I really like Arithmancy, though. And Ancient Runes. Professor Babbling is an entertaining teacher."

Hermione's smile stretched into a broad grin. "Has she done the Rune Song for you yet?" she asked.

"Yes!" I said excitedly. "Sometimes someone will start to hum it and we'll all start singing it and she'll dance around the classroom!" I searched for the tune in my head.

"Fehu, uraz, don't forget thurisaz, ansuz, raidho, gebo and hagalaz!" I sang, waving my arms over my head like Babbling did.

We burst into laughter so loud, we drew attention from the field. I tried to control myself, muting myself to stifled giggles that didn't carry too far. Poor Harry seemed at his wit's end with the try outs. Suddenly, he bellowed about anyone who wasn't a Gryffindor leaving the pitch. At first, I thought he meant in the stands until I spotted kids from my own house sprinting from the field.

I stood up, a little annoyed myself. "OI!"

They paused to look up at me. I pulled my badge from my chest and waved it above my head. "Five points from each of you and if you try something like this again, it's detention!"

The smiles quickly fell from their faces before they disappeared from the pitch. I sat down with a huff, folding my arms over my chest. Hermione looked at me with raised eyebrows.

"Impressive," she said. "I wasn't actually sure you were going to be able to hack it as a Prefect. A lot of the ones in my year do everything to avoid taking points since they can only take from their own houses."

"Yeah, well..." I honestly didn't think I had it in me, either. Guess situations go to prove you wrong. "Sometimes, you just have to deal with what you've got. Whether you wanted it or not."

She nodded, not knowing how many levels those words actually worked on.

The next two hours passed rather excitingly with lots of shouting and some impressive displays by those trying out. Hermione and I both cheered when it was apparent that Ginny was making the team, along with Katie Bell and a girl I wasn't familiar with. Being a Beater, however, I wasn't all too impressed with the applicants, but Harry had to work with who he had. As the rejected students left the field, they all entered the stands to watch, thankfully none coming to sit near Hermione and I.

The Keepers were last and I found myself actually anxious to watch. The first five were nothing to write home about and were quickly dismissed.

Ron seemed to be far less confident now with so many spectators in the stands and the other one -I think he had been in Slughorn's compartment?- looked far too full of himself for my liking.

He rose into the air, leaving Ron for last. As the first penalty flew at him, he caught it with the utmost of ease. Something akin to fear twisted my stomach.

"Hermione..."

"I see it," she replied, sounding just as anxious as I felt.

Two. Two saves.

"Hermione..."

"I see it!" she repeated.

"What do we do?!"

Three.

"How should I know?" she demanded.

"Because you're Hermione!" I argued.

"What would you suggest? A bludger?"

"I don't know!" I whined. "Hermione!"

Four.

My heart was hammering so hard, I could hardly breathe. Ginny was gearing up for the final throw. Before I could really think it through, my wand was in my hand, though keeping it low and out of view of the other spectators. Hermione eyed it.

"What are you doing?" she hissed.

Ginny raced down the field.

"I don't know," I confessed. I pointed toward the hoops, thinking fast. Some spells were too obvious, sending out streaks of color and sparks. What could I use?

"Confundus!" Hermione whispered hurriedly.

"Brilliant!"

I repeated the spell as quietly as I could. Right before Ginny threw, the boy took off toward the other end of the goals like he expected her to feint a move on him. I nearly jumped from my seat to cheer as the crowd laughed and booed. Hermione grabbed my arm with a warning look and I quickly stowed my wand.

We grinned at each other. "You'd make a great Ravenclaw," I told her.

"Probably," she agreed, "but then I wouldn't have the two best blokes in the world for friends, so..."

"I understand that argument."

We turned our attention back for the final Keeper tryout. Despite recent tensions with Ron, I still cheered as loud as I could with Hermione to be heard over the jeering crowd filling the stands as he rose into the air and glided over to the hoops. He turned our way, his face decidedly green, before turning toward the field and the newly elected Chasers about to come at him with quaffles.

I was hardly aware that I was hardly breathing and I reached over and squeezed Hermione's hand. Perhaps we wouldn't be the best of friends, but I was glad someone was sitting next to me. Why was I even so nervous? This wasn't even my team.

One.

I let out a small breath as if a great hurdle had been passed.

Two.

Three! FOUR!

The new girl's penalty almost seemed unfair- her throw nearly spun out of his grasp.

Katie was winding up to score, a well seasoned player to be reckoned with, but this time, Ron didn't so much as flinch. With four saves under his belt, he didn't seem as nervous and he caught the fifth with almost a bit of flair.

After a quick cheer, Hermione and I hurried to get out of the stands and onto the green field below. We ran into a couple of Gryffindor Sixth Years at the main entrance, coming from the other side of the stands. They both seemed to be sneering at Hermione and I, but I didn't pay attention. We ran across the grass to the newly formed team as the Confunded Keeper turned and stormed away from Harry.

He turned to address his team as we skidded to a halt. I nearly ran right into Ginny standing next to her brother.

"That was amazing!" I gushed. Ron turned to beam at me, his chest almost puffing out proudly as I grinned back. I faltered a little bit, remembering that we weren't really on talking terms anymore. I averted my gaze to Ginny. "You did... Really well. Gin. Ron. Both of you... Harry, you're a great captain!"

"... Thanks?"

Harry gave her a bemused smile and exchanged a look with Hermione before he launched into discussing their first practice. After the day was established, he dismissed the team. Ginny jerked her head at me, a silent 'you coming?' I gave a small shake of my head to which she replied with a smirk. I stuck out my tongue.

"Did you see that fourth penalty?" Ron began excitedly when it was just Harry, Hermione and me. "And McLaggen, with all his swagger. Flying in the wrong direction. No sense of intuition. Almost looked like he'd been Confunded..."

This time, I was the one exchanging a look with Hermione as our faces flushed. Harry, never one to miss out on a reason to raise his eyebrows, did so just then.

"You were wonderful," I agreed, dismissing any further comment about Mc... Whatever his name was. "I think you're even better than the Keeper Cho picked for this year."

If I thought the smile on Ron's face couldn't get any wider, he went on to prove me wrong.

"Ron, can you gloat while we walk to Hagrid's?" Harry asked. He and Hermione had already walked several feet ahead.

"I'm sorry!" I cried. "I should go anyway."

Ron frowned. "I'll catch up!" he told them. The two shrugged and continued for the exit. Ron turned toward me with pursed lips. "Does this mean we're not fighting anymore?"

"That was a fight?"

"Generally speaking, yeah."

"I thought that was you being a weirdo prat and just being an all around prick toward me. Like it was all my fault or something." I crossed my arms over my chest.

"Well, it sort of was," he countered, starting to get irritable.

I gave a stuttering laugh of disbelief. "Are you kidding me? You were literally above me! I didn't come up, you came down!"

"You started the pillow fight!"

"No, that was you!"

"No, that was a joke!"

I let out a growl of frustration and almost stomped my foot. "That's the last time I let Ginny talk me into doing anything that has anything to do with you! Urgh, I thought we were friends!"

I turned and began to dramatically storm away from him. No more awkward car rides or weird glares from across the room. I wanted to make sure Ronald Weasley knew I was done with him.

"I... Wait- Piper!"

He jogged to get in my way, his long legs overtaking me easily. Cheater.

"Out of the way, Weasley. I'm making an exit," I growled, side stepping him. He mimicked me. I went the other way, and he blocked me there, too. "What are you doing?"

"Keeping. You're the Chaser. I'm not letting you to the goals."

My eye twitched. "Did you forget that I'm actually the Beater?"

His brow furrowed and he took a measured step back- just out of reach. I fought a smirk.

Then he sighed. "Look, I'm actually trying to not be an arse here-"

"You should work on that. I could probably find you some self-help books," I cut in.

"If I'm trying to be nice, the least you could do is cut the sharp-tongue act," he snapped.

"I-" I began angrily, but I paused. I suppose that wouldn't help much. My shoulders slumped in defeat, but I wasn't happy about it. "I'm sorry."

"Thanks."

We glowered at each other for a moment before he went to speak again. Too late, though.

"Piper!"

We turned to look toward the entrance. A figure in the form of Terry Boot was jogging across the pitch. When he reached where we stood, he went to talk, but was out of breath. He put up a finger to indicate that he would be a moment as he doubled over, hands on his knees. Terry wasn't the athletic type.

Finally, he straightened. "Here you are! I've been looking for you! I didn't know tryouts would take this long."

I smiled. "Half of Gryffindor showed up to train with The Chosen One," I explained. "So did several members of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw."

"That... Seems unwarranted," he remarked.

"Indeed," I agreed.

"I should be going," Ron said. "Harry will wonder what's happened." He made to leave and then hesitated, glancing from me to Terry and back as if trying to decide what to do. Finally he asked, "Are we okay?"

I drew a breath and made sure to look plenty annoyed. "In the loosest possible definition, yes." Then I offered a grin.

"Brilliant." He turned and started jogging away toward the exit.

I shook my head and leaned into the arm Terry wrapped around my shoulders.

"What was that all about?" he asked.

"Oh, he was trying to talk me out of joining this silly club," I said, grinning at the inside joke that only I was in on. "It got a bit heated. How was tutoring?"

"Oddly satisfying. If Snape screws me out of Curse Breaking, maybe I'll be a teacher." He gave my shoulders a squeeze. "It's almost lunch. C'mon, I'll buy you a plate."

"Aren't you a big spender," I teased.

"Just wait until the first Hogsmeade weekend," he promised.

I laughed and we headed back to the castle. I wasn't sure what Ron and I were exactly, but maybe we could get back to being friends. Maybe I'd eventually be able to tell him we were related.

Distantly.

Very distantly.



Author's Note
Scenes rewritten from Chapter 11 of Half Blood Prince from Piper's POV.

The "inside joke" was reference to the 'Ron Makes Me Mad' club mentioned in chapter 7. (Not a real club, just a silly joke.)

I'm sorry it took so long to update! The first time I wrote this story, I had the whole thing done inside a year and I've already gone over a year and I don't think I'm quite halfway! I hope you're enjoying it, though, and bearing with my long lapses in posting. XD What do you think so far? I have a lot planned for the AU in general, so I hope you are enjoying.

http://www.harrypotterfanfiction.com