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If Spring Ever Comes by sand_dollar
Chapter 8 : Dinner at Green Trees
Rating: 15+Chapter Reviews: 14

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“This vay, please,” Baranov murmurs. He doesn’t give the impression of moving fast, but somehow he’s already several feet ahead of me. I hurry to catch up, following him up another flight of stairs - bloody Harris is in really bad shape; I’m already panting - and then down a corridor I haven’t seen yet.

The sight of the Deathly Hallows symbol brings me to a dead stop. I knew it was here, but somehow I’d forgotten. I run a hand over the carving on the wall.

“Grindelwald did that,” Baranov says from my other side, making me jump a little. “It vas his symbol. Ve haf tried to remove it many times over the years, but most regrettably it appears to be permanent.”

It’s permanent all right. I used the same charm on the wall under the main staircase at Hogwarts. I carved my initials and Hermione’s on there, back when we were repairing the school after the Battle. Hermione was worried at first because I was defacing school property, but then luckily she decided it was romantic. And she was the one who told me how to cast the charm to make it permanent - I’d never have known how. I always thought it’d be fun to tell our kids to look for it when they get to Hogwarts. (When we have kids, obviously. Which I reckon we will, one of these days…)

This isn’t a story I’m planning to share with anyone at Durmstrang, though. “I suppose you could hang a tapestry or something over it,” I say instead.

Baranov shakes his head. “It vill serve as a varning,” he says, a little obscurely.

A warning about what, I wonder? But Baranov’s already started off again, and I have to follow. Bloody hell, more stairs. I’m going to have to start Harris on some exercises or something. I remember the map showing the headmaster’s office as being at the top of one of the towers - that must be where we’re going.

“My office,” Baranov says, opening an ornate wooden door and ushering me into a room that makes mine look like the Shrieking Shack. The walls are hung with silk, and a thick Persian rug carpets the marble floor. A row of gold ornaments set with jewels stretches out across the mantel piece over a huge fireplace.

“Sit,” Baranov invites me, and I sink obediently into a deep leather armchair across from the biggest desk I’ve ever seen. “Something to drink? Some schnapps, perhaps?”

“No, thanks,” I say quickly. Once was bloody enough with that stuff.

Baranov pours himself a glass and sits down at the desk. “You are vondering, perhaps, vhy I haf asked you here?”

This isn’t just a “how was your first day” sort of friendly chat, then. “A bit,” I say guardedly.

“Professor Harris, you are of course a graduate of Hogwarts School, are you not?” Baranov starts.

I nod, waiting.

Baranov sighs. “Their vays are not ours,” he says. “An admirable vizard, Albus Dumbledore, but perhaps he had his blind spots, do you see?”

Not really. I look at him inquiringly.

“You are yourself of pureblood origin,” Baranov says.

I nod. Well, I am, and I guess Harris must be or Durmstrang never would’ve hired him.

“As am I,” Baranov says. “As is my staff - and until recently, all of my students. Most unfortunately, ve find ourselves somevhat lacking in gold these past few years. The students - there are not so many of them as there vunce vere. Vhy, I cannot say. Perhaps they go to other schools - perhaps the parents haf not so many children - it matters not. So vat do ve do, Sergei, I ask myself. Do ve perhaps haf not so many teachers? Do ve not serve so much good food?” He pauses here, as if waiting for me to comment.

“I don’t see how you could cut back on teachers, unless you decided not to teach all of the subjects,” I say, managing not to say that the food couldn’t possibly get any worse than it already is.

“Precisely,” Baranov says. “So I ask myself, and I find there is only vun answer. If ve do not haf enough students, ve must find more from somevhere. And so I make the most difficult decision to accept a few of those who vere vunce deemed unvorthy of attending this so great school.” He holds up his glass, admiring the cut crystal.

“The half-bloods,” I say. What a prat. I don’t suppose it ever occurred to him that he could sell a couple of those gold things on the mantel and make enough to keep the place going for years.

“Yes,” Baranov says heavily. “The half-bloods. It vas a decision I reached vith the greatest regret, and I haf taken much criticism for it. But I tell you - as I haf told my detractors - I vill never stoop to accepting the Muggle-borns. The half-bloods - vell, it is the fault of their parents that they exist at all, and ve must not blame the innocent children for that.”

“Very progressive of you,” I say dryly.

Baranov nods eagerly, missing the sarcasm. “Yes, I thought you vould understand,” he says. “However, Professor, just because ve haf most reluctantly agreed to teach these children the little they are capable of learning, it does not mean that they should be treated as ve vould treat those who are of pure blood. They must be kept in their place, do you see? Allowing them to think they are equals of the rest of us is only an unkindness vhich vill prove to be a handicap to them in later life.”

I stare at him, not sure what to say. I’ve come across plenty of prejudiced wizards, of course, but I’ve never met one before who assumed I agreed with him.

Baranov gives me a pleased nod, evidently misinterpreting my silence. “I understand that you gave your first-year students an unusual lesson today,” he says, abruptly changing the subject.

“I hope that isn’t a problem,” I say guardedly.

“Not at all,” Baranov says smoothly. “It vas most original… although perhaps not vise, do you think, to haf singled out a half-blood student in a so obvious vay.”

Now I get it. “Anya Petrov,” I say, and Baranov nods again.

“Just so,” he says. “Of course, you vere not then avare of her… status, so the mistake, it is completely understandable. I am sure it vill not again occur.” He smiles at me, but the smile doesn’t quite make it to his eyes.

“I understand,” I say, not committing myself one way or the other. I’d like to defend Anya and the others but it would only make Baranov suspicious - and it might make things worse for the kids.

“Excellent,” Baranov says. “Vell, Professor Harris, no doubt you haf lessons to prepare.”

I guess I’m being dismissed. I get to my feet. I look uncertainly at Baranov, but he’s already pouring himself another drink. “I vill see you at dinner, no doubt,” he says over his shoulder.

Yeah, dinner. Let me guess - we’re having borscht. “Yes,” I say, and leave.


“I still think we ought to do something,” Ginny says mutinously. “One of us ought to go to South America and talk some sense into my thick-headed brother.”

“We can’t interfere in someone else’s marriage,” I say weakly. “Give them a chance to work it out on their own. You know how Ron and Hermione are - they argue all the time. This’ll probably blow over.”

“You sound like Bill,” Ginny says crossly. “And Dad. Mum agrees with me.”

Somehow that doesn’t surprise me. “What does George think?” I ask, just to buy myself some time.

Ginny frowns. “I don’t know. He didn’t really say anything much.” Her face brightens. “What about Perdita? She’s Ron’s partner - she ought to be able to do something.”

“Perdita’s got some other things on her mind right now,” I say. I hesitate, but there’s no reason not to tell Ginny the story - and it ought to serve as a distraction. I take a deep breath and then launch into it.

Ginny listens intently. “He’s after something,” she says when I’ve finished.

I glance at the wall behind her at the portrait of my parents and their two best friends. Mum and Dad and Remus are all asleep, but Sirius is listening intently. Perdita’s story must hit pretty close to home for him.

“We think so, too,” I say. “We’re keeping a pretty close eye on him - and Gawain’s being very careful of Perdita.”

“Good,” Ginny says. “Now, about Ron - "

“I’ve got to go,” I interrupt. “The Malfoys are invited to dinner with the Greengrass family, and Gawain thought I might tag along.”

“Good thing you’ve already eaten,” Ginny says, grinning at me. “I don’t suppose they’ve bothered to set a place for you.”

I lean over her chair and kiss her. “I might be late,” I say. “Ginny, whatever you’re thinking about Ron and Hermione, just - don’t, okay? I really think they’d prefer to work it out without any interference.”

Ginny looks put out, but she promises. “Only I do feel badly for Hermione, having to deal with all these rumors,” she says. “I don’t think there’d be any harm in just owling her and seeing if she needs anything. That’s not interfering - it’s just being a good friend.”

“You’re right,” I say. “I looked for her at the Ministry today, but she wasn’t around. Go ahead and owl her. See if she wants to come to dinner tomorrow.”

“Mum’s already going to ask her to the Burrow,” Ginny admits.

I catch Sirius’s eye and shrug.

Ten minutes later, I’m outside Malfoy Manor. “Sorry I’m late,” I whisper to Jackson, sticking my head out of the Invisibility Cloak so he can see me. “Have they left yet?”

He shakes his head, just as the front door opens. “They’re all yours,” Jackson says in a low voice. “O’Connor’s already in place outside the Greengrass home.”

The Malfoys are starting down the walk. I can hear Narcissa complaining about something. Draco trails his parents, looking uncomfortable.

“Good luck,” Jackson whispers, and Disapparates.

I wait for the three Malfoys to disappear; then turn on the spot and follow them.

The Greengrasses have given their home the rather unoriginal name of Green Trees. In keeping with the name, it’s closely surrounded by not only trees, but also shrubbery that’s been trimmed into fancy shapes. It’s quite large, but nothing on the scale of Malfoy Manor. A branch waves at me as I pass a fir tree near the front steps. O’Connor’s signal. She’ll keep watch outside, while I go in. A house-elf, bowing low, holds the door open as we approach.

“I see they still have their elf,” Narcissa whispers, sounding put out. But her expression changes quickly as Horatio Greengrass and his wife appear in the doorway. “Good evening, Horatio! And what lovely robes, Ardith! So kind of you to invite us to dinner!”

I follow closely on Draco’s heels as the Malfoys are ushered into the house. He half-glances over his shoulder and I fall back a bit. I don’t think he felt me, but I’d better be careful.

“Drinks,” Ardith Greengrass says sharply to the house-elf. She turns to the Malfoys. “Do come and sit down. The girls will be down in just a moment - or Astoria will, at least. I’m afraid Daphne had a previous engagement.”

Draco looks rather pleased to hear this. “I suppose she’s out with her fiancé,” Narcissa purrs. “You must be pleased, Ardith - one of our best families.”

Ardith immediately launches into a long story about the wedding plans. “All I’ve heard for weeks now,” Horatio confides to Lucius in a low voice. “Bloody wedding. You’d think no one had ever gotten married before, the way Daphne carries on.” He glances sideways at his wife. “Care to come into my study for pre-dinner drinks? The girls won’t miss us.”

“Where are you going, Horatio?” Ardith asks shrilly, as the two men start to leave the room. “Dinner’s being served in twenty minutes.”

“Just a bit of business talk,” Horatio says hastily. “Come along, Lucius.”

Draco looks up hopefully, but they haven’t thought to ask him to come along. He slumps down on a sofa and stares glumly at the glass the house-elf’s just presented him with.

I hesitate. Draco Malfoy is supposed to be my quarry, but as far as I can tell he’s not going to do anything but sulk. Lucius and Horatio are going to be far more interesting. Abandoning Draco to his fate, I follow the two men into Horatio’s study.

Lucius closes the door behind him, nearly catching the edge of the Cloak. I sidestep just in time, but his attention’s focused on Greengrass. “I had hoped to have the pleasure of meeting Daphne’s fiancé tonight,” he says.

“Daphne thought they might join us for coffee after dinner,” Horatio says. “Yes, he’s an interesting young man.”

“Interesting - and rather enterprising,” Lucius suggests. “Or so I’ve heard.”

Their eyes meet for a moment. “Oh, I don’t know,” Horatio says uncomfortably.

“My dear Horatio,” Lucius says softly. “I think you know exactly what I mean.”

Horatio looks away. “Now, see here, Lucius,” he says. “You don’t want to go starting all that up again, do you? Things have just settled down - for all of us.”

Lucius raises an eyebrow. “Settled down, have they?” he asks. “So you’ve sold out, Horatio. I must confess, I find myself rather disappointed in you. Do you mean to tell me that you’re content with the way things are run nowadays? Mudbloods controlling policy at the Ministry… werewolves treated like respectable citizens… why, at this rate, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them nominate Harry Potter for Minister of Magic.”

I would, I say silently. And I can tell you he definitely wouldn’t be interested in the position.

“Come now,” Horatio mumbles, looking even more uncomfortable. “Things haven’t gotten as bad as all that.”

Thanks a lot, Horatio. I don’t think I’d be any worse at it than Fudge was.

“Haven’t they?” Lucius remarks. “I’m afraid I stayed away for far too long.”

There’s a tap on the door. “Dinner is served, Master!” the house-elf’s voice squeaks.

Horatio looks immeasurably relieved. “Can’t keep the ladies waiting,” he says, almost scurrying to the door in his haste to open it. “Now then, Lucius - after you!”

Horatio talks determinedly to Narcissa throughout dinner, ignoring Lucius’s attempts to catch his eye. Draco - looking considerably more cheerful - is deep in conversation with Astoria. Lucius is left to devote himself to Ardith, which he does with his usual cold charm.

Dinner seems to last for hours. I’m tempted to leave and have a look round the house, but I don’t want to miss Jeremy. He and Daphne finally show up once we’ve adjourned to the drawing room for coffee.

“Oh, not more business,” Ardith complains as the men get up to leave the room. “I thought you’d settled all that before dinner!”

“I’m very interested in Horatio’s collection of rare coins,” Lucius says smoothly. “And I know you lovely ladies must be longing to talk about wedding details.” He bows slightly in Daphne’s direction and she flushes, looking pleased.

Draco whispers something to Astoria and they disappear through the French windows. No one else seems to notice them leaving. I don’t hesitate at all this time. O’Connor’s outside - she can cover them. I’m suddenly discovering that I, too, have developed a sudden interest in Horatio’s coin collection.

“I knew your father at school,” Lucius says to Jeremy, sinking into an armchair. “He was a few years ahead of me, but I believe we shared - er, similar views on a number of subjects.”

“I believe you and I are of the same mind on this one,” Jeremy says, cutting to the chase at once.

Lucius looks briefly startled, but covers neatly. “I was saying to Horatio earlier that I feared I may have stayed away from home for too long,” he remarks. “The situation in England has deteriorated beyond my worst imaginings.”

“Nothing of the sort,” Horatio protests uneasily, but the other two pay him no attention.

“The question, Mr. Malfoy, is whether or not you’re prepared to do something about it,” Jeremy says.

Lucius waits, silent and attentive. “And if I am?” he says at last. His voice is so soft I can barely hear him.

Jeremy smiles - a smile that chills my blood. “There are a number of wizards who feel the same as we do,” he says. “You spoke of staying away from home too long, Mr. Malfoy. On the contrary - we must look to other parts of the world now to aid us in returning to a more desirable form of leadership in this country.”

Malfoy smiles back. “Call me Lucius,” he says.


I set the Daily Prophet aside, annoyed to see that my hands are shaking. I hate Rita Skeeter! I’m half-tempted to call her bluff and report her for being an unregistered Animagus - but she hasn’t written anything that’s not the truth. At least, the truth as the rest of the world sees it.

Crookshanks brushes against my ankles and I scoop him up. “How can I possibly go to work, Crookshanks?” I whisper into his fur. “They’ll all be talking about me.”

Crookshanks purrs reassuringly, but he’s clearly more interested in the milk left in the jug on the table than he is in my problems. I set him down on the floor with a sigh. I can’t just hide out in the flat until Ron comes home - it could be months, for all I know. And the longer I put it off, the worse it’ll be. Best to just get it over with.

Something silver flashes in front of my eyes and I catch my breath. Ron?

It’s not, though. After a moment I recognize the silver hare as Luna’s Patronus. The hare - looking ridiculously like Luna - stares rather vaguely about the flat for a moment before speaking.

“Oh, hello, Hermione,” it says in Luna’s voice. “It’s me, Luna. I’ve got an advance issue of the Quibbler for you. Can you meet me for lunch or drinks or something? I think you’ll be really pleased with Daddy’s article on the Wolfsbane Project.”

I’m not looking to be pleased, exactly - I’ll be content if Xenophilus hasn’t turned the whole project into something completely unrecognizable - but I find myself looking forward to seeing Luna. Even though she’s a bit - well, unusual (“try mental” Ron’s voice says in my head), it’s sometimes rather restful to be around her.

I pull out my wand and send a Patronus back, asking her to come to the flat at noon. I don’t want to go to a restaurant today - I wouldn’t put it past Rita to track me down again - but I can get takeaway from the Ministry Café and bring it back here at lunch time. Ron and I often do that - or we used to.

My eyes fill with tears and I brush them away impatiently. I will not go into the office with red, swollen eyes - not when they’ll all be looking. I fasten a bright, determined smile on my face and smooth my hair back. Time to face the public.


“And then what?” Gawain demands.

“And then Horatio got all flustered and said really, they ought to go back and join the ladies,” I say. “Malfoy and Gamp couldn’t insist without making a scene - but they’ve made plans to meet up tonight. I’ll be there, of course.”

“I believe I’ll join you,” Gawain says unexpectedly. “Your Cloak will cover both of us, won’t it?”

“It’s covered three before now,” I say, exchanging a surprised look with O’Connor. Gawain never goes out on surveillance missions - probably because it’s usually deadly boring.

Gawain turns to O’Connor. “Did you observe anything of interest outside, Dara?” he asks.

“Not unless you care about Astoria Greengrass being totally gone on Draco Malfoy,” O’Connor says with a shrug. “Mind, our boy’s not completely unaffected. He paid her a few rather insipid compliments, and I think he was toying with the idea of asking her out when her mother came to the door and called her in.”

“If he starts dating Astoria, it could lead to him spending more time around Jeremy Gamp,” Gawain says thoughtfully. “That would be rather convenient for us - we could consolidate our resources.”

“Romantic, aren’t you?” I say, exchanging a grin with O’Connor. “I don’t think there’s much point in watching Draco anymore unless he does take up with Jeremy. He’s evidently not in his father’s confidence.”

“Nevertheless, I’d just as soon have you continue the surveillance,” Gawain says. “Dara, I believe you’re watching Narcissa this afternoon, are you not?”

O’Connor gets rather reluctantly to her feet. “We’ve an appointment for a fitting at Gladrags this afternoon,” she says. “Then we’re getting our nails done. She leads a productive life, our Narcissa!” She gives me a wave and leaves.

Gawain waits till he’s sure she’s gone before speaking again. “Seen this morning’s Prophet?” he asks.

“Ginny and I both overslept,” I admit. “I didn’t do more than glance at the front page. Why?”

Gawain hands it to me silently. I spot Rita Skeeter’s byline and groan.

“I think I’d better go and find Hermione,” I say, once I’ve finished the article.

“Yes,” Gawain says. “I think you had.”


There’s a lot of whispering, but no one has the nerve to say anything to my face. I spend the morning determinedly concentrating on research. I’ve rather decided against merpeople as my next project. They may not be exactly treated as equals by wizards, but no one’s actually hurting them, either. Giants, now….

“What are you reading?” Basil’s voice says from behind me. “Oh, that old treaty. Going to take on the giants next, are you?”

“Maybe,” I say, relieved that he doesn’t seem to want to ask about my personal life. “Why not?”

“It won’t be very popular,” Basil warns. “People are afraid of giants - and frankly, they’re not very bright.”

“I don’t care if it’s popular or not,” I say, but Basil sort of has a point. Grawp, for instance…

“You should,” Basil says. “If you want to be in the Wizengamut one day, you’d do well to choose your causes carefully. Once you’ve made it there, you can do as you like.”

“Werewolves weren’t popular,” I argue.

“Oh, but they are!” Basil says. “At least, they are now. It was clever of you, getting Andromeda Tonks to back you like that. Quite a sad story there - the press was all over it.”

I can’t help feeling a bit annoyed. I didn’t ask Andromeda to help with the project with any idea of creating media interest. I just thought she’d like to do something in Remus’s memory for Teddy’s sake. “What do you want, anyway?” I ask.

“I want to talk to you about something,” Basil says. He looks over at Mafalda, busily pretending she’s dropped an earring on the floor near us, and lowers his voice. “Have lunch with me.”

“I can’t,” I say, glad of the excuse. “I’m meeting a friend. I ought to be leaving now, actually.”

“When you get back, then,” Basil says, unruffled. “I’ll be waiting.”

I nearly run into Harry on my rush to leave the Ministry. “I was just coming to look for you,” he says, grabbing my arm.

I can’t talk about it - even to Harry. “I’ve got to go,” I answer, heading determinedly for the Cafe. “I’m having Luna over to lunch and I need to pick up something for us to eat.”

“I’ll just walk along with you, then,” Harry says stubbornly. I see him move his wand in a silent Muffliato Charm.

“If it’s about that article in the Prophet,” I start.

“I just want to make sure you’re okay,” Harry interrupts.

“I knew it was coming,” I said. “I’ll be all right, Harry. It’s just a bit rough, that’s all.”

“Why don’t you come and stay with me and Ginny?” Harry asks, but I shake my head.

“I’m better off on my own,” I answer. “Thanks, though.” I force myself to smile at him. “Did you read it? It was pretty bad, wasn’t it?”

“’I just can’t bear to talk about it, Rita, even to a really close friend like you,’ Hermione Weasley said when I asked her about the rumors,’” Harry quotes, rolling his eyes. He grins at me. “Just what did you say to her, anyway?”

“Nothing they could have printed,” I say grimly and he laughs.

“She’s gotten me a few times with that Quick Quotes Quill,” he reminds me. “It’ll blow over, Hermione - it always does.”

“It’ll blow over as soon as Ron comes home,” I say, and he pats my arm.

“You just keep thinking that,” he says, sounding relieved. “Look, Hermione, I’m afraid Molly and Ginny have put their heads together on this one and they’re determined to get you two back together. I thought I’d better warn you.”

I stop with my hand on the door to the Café and give him a horrified look. “Now what am I supposed to do?” I demand.

“I dunno,” Harry says blankly. “Maybe you ought to go visit your parents for the weekend or something.”

Like that’s going to help. Honestly. “I’ll have to tell both of them - kindly but firmly - to stay out of it,” I say reluctantly. I glare at Harry. “None of you are making this any easier on me,” I tell him.

“Sorry,” Harry says. “I’ve already told Ginny we ought to let the two of you work it out on your own, but you know as well as I do that Molly’s not going to listen to me.”

“Well, think of something to distract her,” I say desperately. “Can’t you convince Percy to move his wedding date up or something? Or maybe you and Ginny could have a baby.”

“You sound like Kreacher,” Harry says, grinning at me. “I’ll see if I can come up with something to head her off. In the meantime, have you seen Perdita at all?”

“Oh dear,” I say guiltily. “I know I promised Marvin I’d talk to her, but with all this going on…”

“I meant to talk to her myself, but she wasn’t exactly friendly the last time I stopped by her desk,” Harry admits. “I thought if maybe someone outside the Aurors tried - "

“I will,” I say. “I promise.” I glance down at my watch. “I’ve really got to go, Harry - Luna’s expecting me.”

Harry nods and starts off in the opposite direction. “Tell Luna I said hello,” he calls over his shoulder.

I can’t help wondering if Luna’s heard anything about my supposed separation from Ron, but if she has, she doesn’t mention it. “I hope you checked these for curses,” she says, lifting the top slice of bread off her sandwich and peering at it suspiciously. “Everyone knows the Ministry Café workers put Transfiguration spells on random food items every morning. There’s no telling what we might turn into if we aren’t careful!”

Honestly. I suppose it’s nice to see that Luna hasn’t changed any. “Why would the Café workers do that?” I ask, managing not to roll my eyes.

“They’re in league with the pixies,” Luna explains. “You know that their head cashier is half Cornish pixie, don’t you?”

The head cashier is at least six inches taller than I am and outweighs me by a good fifty pounds. If she’s got any pixie blood, she’s hiding it very well. But I’ve known Luna for too long to bother arguing. “Specialus revelio,” I say, because I’ve only got an hour for lunch. “There, see? They’re fine.”

“We were lucky,” Luna says, finally biting into her sandwich. “I wonder who ended up getting jinxed today!”

“Did you bring the article?” I ask, firmly changing the subject.

Luna reaches into her pocket and pulls out a rolled-up magazine. “Daddy gave you the front cover,” she says happily.

He certainly did. A ferocious-looking werewolf glares back at me when I unroll the magazine. “Vicious and uncontrolled - OR IS HE?” the headline asks. “See page twelve.”

I accordingly turn to page twelve, not without some trepidation. But the article - although dramatic - is factual, and Xenophilus ends by urging all werewolves to get treated.

“This is really good,” I say, hoping I don’t sound as surprised as I feel. “Thanks for bringing it, Luna.”

“I knew you’d be pleased,” Luna says, beaming at me. “Did you happen to notice the article that follows it?”

I turn the page. “'Famous naturalist to lead expedition to Tibet?’” I ask, looking up at her inquiringly.

“I’m going with him,” Luna says. “We’re going to hunt down a Crumple-Horned Snorkack - they’ve been spotted in the Tibetan mountains, you know. Rolf - he’s the one leading the expedition - thinks we might even be able to tame one.”

I wish Ron were here for this. Or maybe I don’t, because I’d never be able to keep a straight face. I look hurriedly down at the page again. “He’s quite young,” I say, looking at the picture captioned “Famous Naturalist Rolf Scamander”.

“He’s only five years older than I am,” Luna says. “But he’s been to all sorts of places.” She gazes dreamily off into the distance. “He said I was the only girl he’d ever met that wasn’t bored to death by his stories, but I can’t believe that’s true,” she confides. “He’s really fascinating to talk to.”

“Sounds as though he likes talking to you, too,” I say, smiling at her. My mother-in-law always says there’s a lid for every cauldron, and I suppose this proves her point.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Luna says, waving her hand vaguely. “But the expedition’s going to be fun. We’re leaving in a week.”

“That soon?” I say, startled. “Be careful, Luna. The Tibetan mountains can be awfully treacherous.”

“We’re not Muggles, Hermione,” Luna says, amused. “We’ll be fine.” She gets up to leave. “I suppose I’d better go - I need to do a bit of shopping for the expedition.”

“Thanks for the magazine,” I say, hugging her. “And thank your father for me - or maybe I ought to write him a note.”

“He’d like that,” Luna says. “Well, goodbye, Hermione! Don’t let Rita Skeeter get to you!”

“So you’ve heard,” I say.

“Well, I knew it was complete nonsense,” Luna assures me. “As though Ron would ever leave you! Only I haven’t said anything, since it’s so obviously a ploy to cover up what he’s really doing.”

“What he’s really doing?” I echo, wondering what she’ll come out with. She probably thinks he’s investigating the Rotfang Conspiracy or something.

“Daddy and I thought it might have something to do with the Durmstrang kids who are being indoctrinated into the Brotherhood of Blood,” Luna says matter-of-factly. “We aren’t quite sure what the Brotherhood is, exactly - only Daddy thinks it might be vampires on account of the name. I expect he’s right. But you needn’t worry - neither of us will ever say a word to anyone!” She gives me a cheerful wave and departs before I can recover enough to think of an answer.

I drop heavily back into my chair once she’s gone. Honestly - vampires of all things. Still, though - Xeno Lovegood’s fiction often has a basis in fact. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there was an association called the Brotherhood of Blood. I wonder what it could be?

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