Author's Note: Yeah, yeah. I know you're tired of hearing it, but work is to blame. :grins sheepishly: Double shifts, training newbies... and we're STILL woefully understaffed. :le sigh: And to be perfectly honest, most of this was finished ages ago. I just haven't found the time to transfer the words from paper until now. (Read: I haven't had a good day off in three weeks. Overtime sucks.)
Thank you all very much for reviewing, and happy reading to you!
Harry Potter and the Forgotten Heirs Part 15
The Gryffindor celebration was in full swing, and had been the moment Harry Potter's fingers wrapped around the ever elusive golden snitch. So enthusiastic were they that it had been arranged for their dinner to be served in their common room. Though one of Hogwarts four houses claimed good riddance of the entire lot, some more surly of said house were obviously miffed at their house team's loss being unconsciously rubbed into their collective faces.
At least, that was what Duo had jokingly surmised after Heero and Trowa boldly crashed the Gryffindor victory party. There presence had been questioned suspiciously by a number of visiting Gryffindor alumni, such as Oliver Wood, Lee Jordan, Alicia Spinnet, along with a handful of older faces. It was Fred and George Weasleys' casual acceptance of the two Slytherins rather than Duo's stubborn defense of them that defused the possibility of some rather hot tempers flaring.
The lingering tension remaining after the Weasley Endorsement (TM) was completely alleviated when Heero made it obvious that he came baring peace offerings to the two current Gryffindor Beaters; the gifts were topical healing potions for Jimmy and Ritchie's strained shoulders and upper and middle backs, areas of which they had been complaining were bothering them immensely.
The two Beaters, reasonably wary of the offer, hesitated for a moment before Ritchie accepted the simple peace offering.
"It's nice and all, thanks," Jimmy volunteered awkwardly, staring that the stoic Slytherin with wide eyes, "but couldn't you have not hit the bludgers as hard as you could?"
The Japanese boy stared at them blankly, causing them to shift uncomfortably in place. Trowa, taking pity on them, evenly said, "He did."
"That was taking it easy?" Ritchie blurted, staring at Heero as if he'd just announced kinship to giants.
"Yes," Trowa replied bluntly. "Draco asked him to tone it down after he broke Nott's arm during tryouts."
The admission left both Beaters stunned into silence that visibly led to unmatched envy. "I want to do that," Jimmy murmured sadly, only capable of dreaming of a time he could incur such a severe injury just by swinging his bat at a bludger.
"You guys still rock," Duo said cheerfully, throwing his arm over Heero's shoulders and leaning against the other for support. In his other hand was only one of many bottles of butterbeer the Weasley twins had been thoughtful enough to smuggle in for the party. "You both managed to keep any target of Hee-chan's from getting hit, no matter to how much effort he was putting into it. Not only do you deserve kudos for talent, you both get brownie points for sheer tenacity. My man's no softy when it comes to physical strength."
"You're being too kind," Ritchie muttered dryly, though obviously pleased with the praise.
"They're never going to call me Bone Crusher Peakes, that's for bloody sure," Jimmy added, slightly bitter.
"Bone Crusher Yuy," George mused, having caught on to the conversation in passing. As one, the Weasley twins hesitated in cutting a swath of chaos across the room, both exchanging wordless (and perhaps keenly telepathic) glances.
Not a word was spoken between them until Fred nodded his head sagely, eyes twinkling as he confirmed, "Bone Crusher Yuy it is."
"Don't forget to mention that I patented it!" Jimmy called to their backs as they continued their single-minded purpose that lead them to a few choice victims.
"They're not really going to call me that, are they?" Heero muttered flatly, eyes trailing after the twin redheaded menaces.
Duo smiled, patting his lover's shoulder comfortingly before removing all doubt by saying, "It's pretty much a copyrighted guarantee at this point."
"Hn," Heero grunted somewhat rebelliously, as if to say that it was a nickname he would eventually squash.
"Relax, Hee-chan," Duo whispered good-naturedly. "Nicknames are fun. Make us human. Have a butterbeer." Upon Heero's stern, sharp glance at the offer, the American rolled his eyes in exasperation. "One butterbeer isn't going to slow your reflexes, Hee-chan. I promise."
Nonetheless, the Japanese Slytherin declined the offer.
"You're dating what?" someone exploded incredulously, more out of reflex surprise than any actual ire, if Duo read the tone correctly. Almost the entire room feel silent, eyes turning to an older, handsome man staring at Harry Potter with a dumbfounded expression on his face. Out of habit, Duo searched for a name to go with the face and did not come away from his memory wanting -Oliver Wood, former Gryffindor Quidditch Captain, Keeper, and Hogwarts Heartthrob six years running. He was gaping aty Harry as if his former teammate had casually announced that he was having Satan's love child.
Harry was visibly mortified under the scrutiny of not only Oliver, but everyone in the Gryffindor common room.
"Who, Oliver," Harry corrected, resigned. "His name is Draco."
Still flummoxed, Oliver murmured absently, "I think I had it right the first time..." Then, rather skeptically, he asked, "Well, I mean... Are you sure you're dating him?"
Harry stared at Oliver blankly. "Pretty sure, Oliver. It's the only way I can reasonably explain the snogging." Ron, face sour, quietly gagged behind the neck of his bottled butterbeer. Hermione, having returned to the common room only an hour ago, merely appeared vaguely exasperated as she nursed her iced pumpkin juice.
"How in the world did you two refrain from killing each other long enough to consider dating?" Lee Jordan asked, still mind-boggled over Harry's announcement.
"That's simple," Hermione said calmly, sipping at her pumpkin juice before motioning the glass in Duo's general direction. "We blame him."
Duo grinned, puffing his chest out proudly as he glided across the short distance between him and them, effortlessly bringing Heero, still held captive in his boyfriend's one-armed embrace, along with him. At this point, most of everyone else began the party again.
"Blame is such a strong word, Mione," he said innocently, eyes dancing teasingly. "Accurate, though, I'll give you that." Then, preening smugly, he said, "You're welcome."
"Duo invited his friends to stay in Gryffindor Tower last Christmas," Harry explained, grinning at the American's posturing. "The list included Draco, so I bit my tongue and endured it."
"Don't let him fool you," Duo said, winking at Wood and Jordan conspiratorially. "We had a great Christmas. And the big thing you gotta remember about dragon boy is that his bark is much worse than his bite." Snickering, he added impishly, "After prolonged exposure to his bark, it begins to sound an awful lot like high-pitched, nettled yipping."
"Yipping?" Oliver repeated blankly.
With a whimsical chuckle, Duo said helpfully, "When he starts going off on one of his snooty little tirades, just picture a Maltese hopping about your ankles in a state of agitation. After an image like that burning into your brain, it doesn't seem to matter if he's insulting your mother."
Ron burst into loud guffaws, shoulders trembling in his amusement as he nearly lost his grip on his butterbeer. Even Hermione and Harry shared amused grins while Jordan and Wood beamed in approval.
"And Draco wonders why you always laugh at him," Heero commented evenly.
"Draco as a Maltese, Hee-chan," Duo replied insistently. "What isn't funny about that?"
"And yet, still more appealing than a hamster that pines for his wheel, hamster boy," came an overly smug rejoinder from behind. As one, Duo and Heero parted and turned, sighting Trowa in the company of the devil himself. Despite the fact that the Slytherin Prince had just caught them in the act of poking fun at him -again -Draco Black appeared curiously pleased with himself.
Trowa, rather belatedly, announced, "Draco decided to drop by."
"We see that, Tro, thanks," Duo said, not unkindly. He tilted his head curiously at his friend, noting that whatever lingering irritation the blond may have had over Duo's successful interference during the Quidditch game had either faded or had been overshadowed by something more important. Duo was betting on the latter -Draco's grudges were notorious and ridiculously long-standing.
"What's up, Draco? By the smugness you're radiating, I'd say the canary was doomed from the start," Duo noted, lifting his eyebrow inquiringly. That was exactly what Draco resembled -a cat that had devised a method to get to the canary and was already working his way to the bowl of cream while he was at it.
The blond glanced at Duo in dismissal before moving to Harry's side, smirking triumphantly as he lifted a single finger. Duo, intrigued, surmised that in this particular case, Harry might have been the metaphorical canary. "First base, Harry."
For a moment, the green-eyed boy seemed just as befuddled by the blond's cryptic statement as everyone else. Then realization dawned and his eyes widened. Voice low and tone hopeful, he said breathlessly, "You mean...?"
"One down, three to go," Draco confirmed with a victorious smirk. "I own first base, Potter."
Duo glanced quickly at Hermione and Ron. The redhead was frowning, visibly upset that he was confused about what was being implied. Hermione's eyes were bright with possible ideas, her posture screaming that she was bursting with questions. Jordan and Wood were just as clueless as Ron while Heero's face was carefully blank of any emotion. Trowa didn't really make a show of looking too interested in the events unfolding before him.
Duo had some idea was to what was being implied, but he didn't know as much as he would have liked. Draco had mentioned over a month ago that Harry had asked a favor of him, and that the favor involved the Oracle's prophecy. He'd yet to find the time to pull Draco aside to discuss the issue in detail; a lingering fear that the Slytherin's appointed task involved the Four Heirs of Hogwarts still haunted the American, though Draco had not said anything that imply his task had anything to do with that. Duo wasn't eager to breach the topic until he had his personal feelings about admitting to all and sundry his Heir status settled. Still, he knew in his gut that Draco would not betray his trust until Duo was well and ready to do so himself.
Feigning ignorance, he felt the corners of his mouth tilt upward in mirth when the familiarity of Draco's odd terminology registered. "I'm not going to ask what this is all about, but... Harry," he addressed his friend sweetly, "how, exactly, did you convince dragon boy to help you?"
Draco, seemingly realizing his faux pas belatedly, blushed uncomfortable and shifted his weight from one foot to the other in subdued agitation. Harry, mortified for the second time within the hour, avoided eye contact as he pointedly remained silent.
In Duo's book, that was as good as a written confession. With a sly, impish chuckle, he said playfully, "I'm so telling Cissa about this. Somehow I think she'll love you even more when she hears you used the promise of naughty touches to get her son to bend to your will."
"What?" Ron, Wood, and Jordan cried, symphonious and in varying degrees of disbelief and (in Ron's case) abject horror. Hermione, apparently having reached the same conclusion herself, pinched the bridge of her nose in exasperation as she mutter something that may or may have not been about Duo's big mouth. Heero snorted, merely shaking his head at his boyfriend's obvious teasing.
Trowa, thoughtfully amused, said simply, "So that's what I nearly walked in on."
"Trowa!" Harry wailed, aghast. "For God's sake, Draco, why did you mention bases?"
Draco crossed his arms defensively across his chest, still embarrassed and a touch defensive. He retorted stubbornly, "Why didn't you tell me that sodding baseball analogy was easily recognizable for the purpose you used it for?" Draco, it appeared, was taking the 'you can't blame me for the little slip because I am a hardcore pureblood and am above stupid muggle things like this' approach. "It's a ridiculous sport anyway -who encourages players to advance to the next base with sexual favors, anyway? Nutters!"
Duo almost died laughing.
"This you always laughing at me thing is starting to become rather tiresome, hamster boy," Draco snapped peevishly, glaring at the howling American. In an effort to stay on his feet, Duo had leaned heavily against his smirking lover, who was deriving as much reserved enjoyment from the conversation as Duo was. Even Trowa was laughing quietly in response to Draco's misunderstanding about the great sport of baseball.
The blond snarled quietly under his breath when the American's mirth showed no sign of fading. Deciding he didn't need or desire to be openly mocked in front of witnesses, Draco gently but firmly wrapped his fingers around Harry's wrist and pulled him toward the stairwell leading up to the boys' dorm. Harry, just as eager to escape, followed gladly as he emphatically motioned for Hermione and Ron to come along.
"What, is it a private party?" Duo cried dramatically, staying in place as he watched the four of them escape. "Guys! You know it isn't a real bash without me!"
"That's because the treats you bring have a nasty tendency to explode," Draco shot back sneeringly over his shoulder. The quick, sharp nod of acknowledgment was the cue Duo had been looking for; he played with the end of his braid to convey that Draco's message had been received seconds before the blond added half-scornfully, half-mockingly, "So sit back and let the adults have their talk, Duo."
Duo grinned wickedly, quipping with the very aura of innocence, "The big kids have better games, anyway." With a wave of his hand, he said in dismissal, "Go have your boring adult talk."
"Don't forget to give Duo his bottle before nappy time, Heero," Draco addressed the Japanese boy primly before, with a smug glance at Duo, he shot up the stairs after the three Gryffindors, who had left long after Draco had chosen to linger in order to exchange precious insults and retorts with Duo.
When Draco had gone, Duo whirled on his heels and slung his arms low around Heero's waist. Bodies pressed intimately together, he purred throatily, "And while the 'rents are away, the children will play."
Heero smirked. "I know where Draco keeps his favorite toys."
Duo fluttered his eyelashes coyly, his amethyst eyes dancing merrily. "Oh, Hee-chan, you know all the right things to say to me." He moved his arms up, threading his fingers together behind Heero's neck. He fell limply to the side, forcing the Slytherin to steady his boyfriend. With almost as little movement as possible, Heero swept Duo's feet from the ground, arm hooked under the American's knees as his other arm supported the boy's back.
"You're just so studly," Duo said airily, beaming up at his boyfriend. "Carry me over the threshold?"
"Lazy," Heero chided without any bite to his tone. Nevertheless, he effortlessly turned and made a beeline for the portrait hole, Duo settled comfortably in his strong arms.
"Lee," Oliver, forgotten and bereft, looked to his companion imploringly, "when did life at Hogwarts become so abnormal?"
The handsome black man ruffled his dreadlocks wearily, appearing confused and sincere when he parried, "Were things ever normal here, Oliver? Truly?"
"Once," Oliver assured him vaguely, "a time ago. It seems like a faded dream now..."
Trowa smiled sympathetically before bowing his head at the two men respectfully. "If you'll excuse me, I must make sure the kids don't get carried away. I doubt the current Head Boy and Girl would appreciate further sleep deprivation because Duo was this hyper."
He left the same way his friends had before him; he wasn't surprised to find the two of them waiting for him in the fairly deserted corridor outside the Gryffindor Tower. Heero had put Duo back on his feet, and both were huddled near the wall expectantly.
"I'll go tell the others," Trowa murmured quietly.
"We'll lurk about a bit longer," Duo volunteered, oddly reserved. "Draco said that he found one and had three more to go. I think he might have landed the task I'm most interested in."
Trowa didn't have to ask which one that would be -the Heirs of Hogwarts, of which Duo was one. "How much do you think he would willingly tell you?"
"Only whatever involves me," Duo said seriously. "Just that much would satisfy me, I think. And I did promise that anything pertaining to me was all that I wanted to know."
"I see," Trowa said, nodding in understanding before he left them near the entrance to Gryffindor Tower.
When Trowa was gone, Heero decided to point out something that Duo had initially overlooked when he'd been planning for the future. "We've placed Draco in a very delicate position where there's only a thin line to tread. While I still believe it is an appropriate means to an end... what if the forced silence on our part backfires and Draco takes the brunt of it, Duo?"
Duo didn't answer. In truth, he didn't have one. That simple concept unsettled him more than anything else life could throw at him. He could only hope that the situation would never call for it.
God, don't let me ruin everything.
If he played his cards right, Draco thought he was going to walk away from this revelation satisfied in more ways than one. Not only was he flying high from personal satisfaction over successfully discovering the existence of Godric Gryffindor's direct bloodline, but he was just one step closer - or, in this case, one base closer -to what Harry had carefully phrased as a home run. There was also the malicious vindication he was about to enact for the sake of his infamous rancorous attitude. And it couldn't have happened to a better target, in his honest opinion.
As soon as the door was secured behind him -including both the lock and a quick silencing charm -Granger came at him with the question they all wanted answered. "What did you find out?"
Draco, radiating triumph, glided toward the bed Harry was sitting on and welcomed himself to the seat next to him. "The last documented Heir of Gryffindor died in a freak splinching accident. It was at his bachelor party that he became heavily inebriated before attempting to Apparate home. He botch it in the worst possible way -his body made it home, but his head didn't."
Harry cringed sympathetically, his face ashen. He liked Apparating least of them all, since he was completely graceless in all but flying. The Floo enforced his clumsiness and left him filthy with ash in the end; Portkeys were regarded suspiciously and nervously, to the point he felt ill when the prospect of using one came about. (This one, of course, was not accredited to the physical discomfort when using one, but to the effect that said mode of transportation was the most undependable and led him to almost imminent death more often than not.) Then again, he hadn't much luck with flying cars, trains, and not-so-horseless carriages, either. The thought of what horrible thing could happen to him should he take up Apparating absolutely terrified him.
Draco had surmised this for himself, and murmured half-nonchalantly, half-matter-of-factly, "Oh, that reminds me. Harry, you haven't gotten around to signing up for the classes that start after Yule. Don't be late about it, or you'll have to pay a fee."
"Thanks for reminding me," Harry muttered without ire.
"Poor sod," Weasley said sincerely, completely oblivious to the quick exchange between the his best friend and that git he was dating.
Granger, however, took a more logical approach, which was actually Draco's private thought on the matter... not that he was going to admit it, since that would involve actively agreeing with her. "That's what happens when you attempt such a delicate spell while intoxicated," she said smartly, frowning at Draco in dissatisfaction. "How is a dead end going to help us?"
"That's cold, Mione," Weasley mumbled.
Granger rolled her eyes in exasperation. "For pity's sake, Ron, I didn't say he deserved it. Stupid actions have unfortunate consequences."
"Guys," Harry interjected, staving what almost became yet another tedious argument care of Granger and the Weasel. "Spats about a dead guy aside, I'm certain Draco wouldn't preen this much over a dead end." He glanced questioningly at the blond Slytherin. "You did find a legitimate heir, right?"
Draco snorted ironically. Interesting choice of words... "Strictly speaking. Note that I bothered to mention why Tryndell was getting snockered." He cut a sly glance toward Granger. "Remind us, Granger -just why would a man be throwing a bachelor party?"
"He was getting married," she answered on reflex. She caught on to what Draco was implying rather quickly. "You mean...?"
"That Tryndell tried the milk before buying the cow?" Draco finished with a flash of pearly white teeth. "No shame in it, of course -he was three weeks away from the altar, after all. His grieving fiancee didn't grieve for long before she sank her hooks into another man one whole month later. Seven months after that, she gave birth to a daughter. Eight pounds, seven ounces -a healthy, fully matured infant." He pushed a stray lock of silvery blond hair from his face with a cool smile on his lips. "Tryndell was the father. I'd stake my inheritance on it."
"So who was she?" Harry asked. "The baby?"
Draco turned his eyes to Weasley then, not wanting to miss a single detail when he dropped the bomb. "Molly Prewitt. Forty-six years of age, born on March 25, has more children than she knows what to do with. Married a Weasley -ringing any bells?"
Just as Draco thought, the gobsmacked expression on the Weasel's face was absolutely priceless. At first, upon hearing his mother's maiden name, the redheaded oaf didn't seem to know what to do with himself. The more Draco revealed -the more that added up -the better the chances that he would actually see Weasley faint from sensory overload. It wasn't everyday that Draco got away with implying that the Weasel's mother was almost, but not quite, an illegitimate bastard.
"So," Granger said breathlessly, breaking the sudden silence that seemed to linger stubbornly after Draco's flooring revelation, "Ron is..."
"A descendant of Gryffindor," Draco reminded her primly. "Bill Weasley would be the true heir, but I believe the Weasel's blood would do in a pinch. After all, this is a blood ritual we're talking about here. As long as the specific conditions are met, it shouldn't really matter which Weasley does the blood-letting." Still, Draco would need to discuss the particulars of the matter with the Oracle first (something he was reluctant to do), but he was positive he was right. The library at Malfoy Manor had several old tomes about blood rituals, so Draco knew a little more about the basics than any modern-day teenager had the right to know.
Granger was only disgruntled by the subtle reminder that Draco was better acquainted with the subject of her self-appointed task through his family ties; though Draco personally thought that his knowledge on the matter of blood rituals didn't amount to as much as he would have liked. Rituals in general were an arcane form of magic and caused more trouble if executed improperly. Ten to one against that events could take a turn for the worse if the slightest mistake was made -the tiniest detail missed. And it was almost guaranteed to failure if they didn't approach the ritual with as much caution as humanly possible, as blood rituals were hair-raisingly complicated. Enough so that Lucius had sealed the few detailed tomes the Malfoy Library possessed in a vault where even Draco was prohibited, leaving the few left for the Malfoy heir to study.
"I can't believe this," Weasley said hoarsely, completely out of his element. Draco knew exactly why the redhead was so unsettled; the youngest Weasley son had no claim to fame other than being Harry Potter's best friend. He had titles of his own to hold -prefect, Gryffindor Captain and Keeper; but those were all things his siblings had accomplished in previous years. Even Fred and George Weasley had found a way to stand out all on their own, just by actively seeking to be the anti-Weasley. (Poor grades, mischief making, never making Captain status or prefect -underachievers, but adored-slash-loathed all the same.) "This is so surreal..."
Of course, seeing as his entire family were descendants of one of the greatest wizards Great Britain had ever known, this still didn't make him stand out anymore in his family. Yet, just to be able to say, "I'm Ron Weasley -Gryffindor's blood descendant" probably pleased the redhead.
Drat. He was taking it way better than Draco had expected. Time for plan B.
The blond leaned closer to Harry and murmured saucily, "Do you think it's ironic that it's because of Weasley that I finally earned a snog?" Harry choked on his laughter, green eyes dancing with inner mirth.
"I heard that!" Weasley snapped, blanching. Apparently, he wasn't so gone in his brain-numbed state that he was completely oblivious to what was going on around him. Then again, 'brain-numb' seem to a familiar state for the idiot.
Smirking, Draco leaned back languidly, planting his hand on the bedding behind him to support his weight as he used the other to, once again, flick a few strands of hair from his eyes. "Consider it a win for everyone involved, Weasley. T-three more Heirs, and we're set." He sincerely hoped no one had caught on to his near-admission; for a moment, he almost didn't catch himself before he just as well admitted that the true estimate was two, not three. "Granted, of course, that Granger finds the ritual we need to seal the deal anytime this century."
He said it rather cattily, but he knew it was next to impossible for Granger to succeed unless Duo and the others found Ravenclaw's Library. Granger was truly faultless for her fruitless searching; Hogwarts Library just didn't have the material she sorely needed.
Still, he was sodding happy to rub it in her face. Too bad his haughty prodding put such a weary frown on Harry's face. "She's trying, Draco. We all are. It's just not as easy as you make it sound."
"Actually," Granger said lightly, "I've decided to take a break for the next weekend."
Weasley and Harry stared incredulously at the Head Girl, as if she'd just announced that she was secretly pining unrequitedly over Severus Snape. With a slight, satisfied smile, she added innocently, "After all, it was your mysterious friend that suggested it, Black."
"He's not my friend," Draco bit out sharply before he could contain himself. The Oracle wasn't his friend; he wasn't even sure the man was trustworthy. There was something about the ruby-haired man that made Draco ill at ease, something about the way the Oracle carefully chose his words. Sly. Calculating. Manipulative. Mysterious.
Draco didn't like him in the least.
Granger beamed triumphantly. Draco, belatedly realizing her little trap too late, glared coldly at the nosy bint. "That's funny, seeing as you vouched for him earlier."
"I said his suggestion was worth merit," Draco said lowly, angry. "That man isn't to be trusted, and it would be foolish of you to approach him on any matter blindly."
Harry, baffled and slightly upset by his friend and boyfriend's obvious dispute, glanced between them helplessly. "Who are you two talking about?"
"No one," Draco insisted the same moment Granger replied primly, "Draco's friend."
"He's not my friend, Granger, so bloody well lay off," the Slytherin grounded out with acid dripping from his voice. He thought he was showing remarkable restraint, considering he wanted to jump to his feet and shout, "Mudblood, mudblood, filthy little mudblood!" in her face. Not that it matter to Draco that she was a stupid mudblood; people like Heero and Trowa showed him that blood truly didn't matter when it came to competence. He just said it because it hurt her feelings. Petty -but bloody satisfying, nonetheless.
Instead of going off on a spiel, he demanded, "What do you want me to say, Granger? Do you want me to tell you all about him?"
"I want to know who he is," Granger replied stubbornly. "I also want to know how he knew what I was looking for in the library. I want to know to whom you've been telling our business!"
So that was what this inquisition was all about. After the mysterious meeting with someone Draco had clearly implied he knew at least in passing, Granger assumed that her reservations about Draco were completely justified. Sneering, Draco replied flatly, "One, I don't know who he is, just that the name he gave you isn't his real one. Two, I don't know exactly how he knew you would be the one researching blood rituals and bloody stupid Oracles," he said the last word with a venomous snarl, knowing somehow that being exactly that was how the ruby-haired man knew things he had know business knowing, "and three, I haven't told him a damn thing. For your information, he knew long before I even met him."
He came to his feet gracefully, his hands clenched into fists at his side as he visibly bristled at the harpy's gall. "I could care less about what you think of me, and that goes double for the Weasel; but that you would go as far as to accuse me of betraying Harry like that, and to someone I don't even like..." He shook his head bitterly. "That's low, even for you, Granger."
Granger was not cowed by Draco cool rebuttal; in fact, she remained stubbornly shameless, going as far as lifting her chin defiantly at him. "I still think you know more than you're admitting, Black, and I intend to find out what's going on."
Draco scoffed derisively, inwardly seething. She was absolutely right, of course. He knew a great deal more than he was telling. A small part of him even acknowledged that Granger's concern was justifiable, if only because she was worried for her friends' safety. He would have most likely reacted similarly if the table had been turned. What made the situation even more unbearable was that he would gladly admit everything without question if not for one major detail.
Duo would never forgive him.
"I have better things to do than to continue some baseless argument with a paranoid harpy," Draco said snidely, moving to leave the room far behind him. He'd nearly pulled the door open with such a force that the momentum threatened to jerk the doorknob from his grip and slam into the wall, but he kept his grasp.
"Draco!" Harry called out, half questioningly. Draco hesitated in the doorway, turning to look passed Granger at his boyfriend. The Gryffindor was on his feet now, looking at the blond wonderingly.
Draco forced a smile, saying, "Rain check, Harry. It's almost curfew, and I have patrol." Then, sincerely teasing, he added, "Don't think I won't collect my dues. I worked long and hard for my prize."
He didn't linger long enough for Harry to formulate a response. He jogged down the stairs and out cut through the wave of Gryffindors, hardly noticing when the Weasley twins called out to him jeeringly. The corridor outside of the portrait hole was completely deserted, save for two familiar faces lurking nearby -Duo and Heero, easily conversing in their privacy. The two turned to him immediately, Duo beaming brightly as he opened his mouth to speak. The dark expression on the blond's face made the wisecrack Duo was most certainly about to deliver die before it could be voiced, and the smile wilted slightly.
Before Duo could ask what was wrong, Draco quietly announced, voice carefully empty of emotion, "I found the Gryffindor."
Duo looked at him for a long moment before he nodded, seemingly satisfied with knowing just that. "Only two left."
"Three," Draco corrected quietly. "The less you remind me otherwise, the less likely that I'll make the mistake of letting them know the true estimate."
Duo nodded in understanding, eyes still silently posing questions Draco wasn't up to answering. Instead, he murmured some vague excuse about patrolling the halls for strays and left them to their business.
He didn't get far before he heard muffled footsteps behind him; a quickly glance confirmed that Heero had decided to join Draco for his jaunt around school, which was fine with him. Heero wasn't nearly as invasive as Duo, though the Japanese Slytherin was just as skilled when it came to extracting information. Where Duo would constantly badger a man with question after question, each more pointedly worded to the extent that it was difficult avoiding the issue altogether, Heero was patient.
Heero didn't speak to the blond for over an hour into their walkthrough of the school, which allowed Draco to stew over his own thoughts and feelings to the point that he was bursting at the seams with personal indignation. Once the dam broke, the Slytherin Prince was like a fount of willing given information.
"It's that bloody Oracle's fault," Draco exploded suddenly, rather cross. The blond hardly noticed Heero's satisfied nod before he continued acrimoniously, "Who does he think he is, approaching that mouthy beaver like that? Even more, offering advice on something he had no business admitting any knowledge to in the first place! Now Granger knows I've been holding back on Harry. That stupid git has ruined everything!"
For a moment, Heero said nothing. A quick glance at the quiet Japanese boy's face made Draco feel wholly justified in his complaint. His companion appeared disgruntled that there was a hitch in the mission, and judging by his lack of ire towards Draco, he also understood that a majority of the blame lay in the Oracle.
It was that minor percentage of leftover blame that bothered Draco, and Heero seemed to pick up on it rather quickly. "How does she know you have anything to do with Orie?" Heero asked evenly. Draco flinched, wincing at the question. In a matter-of-fact tone, Heero answered his own question. "You approached him in front of her." Yuy's Seventh Golden Rule: Never claim knowledge of the supposedly unknown variant, if only for the sake of reasonable doubt. Heero had spent nearly the entire summer trying to drill aforementioned rules to live by into Draco's head, but to be fair, Duo and Wufei had been on similar missions regarding other aspects of life during the summer, so the former Malfoy heir had a lot on his plate at the time.
"I don't trust him," Draco said vehemently, glaring at the floor. They were alone in the Astronomy Tower, progress halted by their conversation. "Isn't that reason enough?"
Heero's lips suddenly curled into a very small, amused smirk. "You were concerned for Hermione. Very touching, Draco. Stupid, but touching."
"Shut up," Draco muttered sullenly, grimacing when, once again, Heero took a shot in the dark and still managed to hit the target. The truth was that as soon as he'd spotted the Oracle speaking to Granger, his immediate instinct was to make sure nothing untoward happened to the girl. He still didn't like Granger one iota, but she was useful, a sight better than the Weasel, and... she was Harry's friend. That last reason had been enough to override his initial decision to pretend ignorance before he had moved to drive the man away.
"She would have suspected me anyway," he grumbled peevishly. "She knows Harry and Weasley wouldn't have said anything. I'm Draco Black, Slytherin and most recent addition to the team. She probably even expects that sort of thing from me."
"True," Heero conceded, but only by so much. "Still, it would have helped if you had not said anything."
"Don't rub it in, Heero," Draco said, resigned.
"Everyone makes mistakes, Draco," the Japanese boy pointed out logically. "There's only shame in it if you make the same mistake twice."
"Says the man who never makes mistakes," Draco retorted, looking at Heero pointedly, As soon as the words had left his mouth, a cool, emotionless mask slammed in place over the Japanese boy's face. He wished he could take them back, as for a brief second before Heero shut down, there was a spark of regret that flashed in his Prussian blue eyes.
Heero, tone clipped, said flatly, "I've made my fair share."
Wisely, Draco said nothing in response. He felt as if this specific part of Heero's past was not up for discussion. Still, he couldn't stop wondering exactly what kind of mistake on Heero's part would call for such an extreme, standoffish reaction. Duo, in speaking of Heero's pension for flawless perfection, spent a better part of his time lording the truth behind the meaning of the word in reference to his boyfriend. Now it appeared as if Heero did not share Duo's opinion.
There was a story there, perhaps even more than one. Still, despite their closeness, Draco doubted Heero would indulge his curiosity if he asked. He reluctantly dropped the discussion, neatly filing away the mysterious reaction for a later date to ponder. Instead, he crossed his arms sullenly and turned the conversation back to the source of his discontent.
"Even so, one would think that a man who touts himself as an all knowing Oracle would not make such a foolish mistake. I'm beginning to doubt having the Sight is all it's cracked up to be if the one gifted with it lacks any common sense."
"You can always ask him about it," Heero pointed out.
"And expect a straight answer?" Draco scoffed. "Too easy -and not worth my time getting my hopes up. I imagine he'll have a good answer, all the same." Then, his tone tinged with bitterness, he added darkly, "He always does."
"Would it really hurt to hear his answer?"
Draco made a sour face that heralded an unsatisfactory reaction Heero knew too well. Voice pitched in a half growl of irritation, half-whine of petulance, the blond lamented, "I don't want to talk to him if I don't have to, Heero!"
Heero shook his head as a sign of his exasperation, but he didn't bother wasting his energy trying to convince the stubborn brat to do something he obviously didn't want to do. It would have been much easier for him to question the Oracle himself.
It didn't take a genius to deduct that Duo had boldly walked in on a very private dispute between friends. For once, it wasn't a petty argument between Ron and Hermione, but an intense exchange of words between -surprise, surprise -Hermione and Harry. Ron, on the other hand, seemed perfectly content with letting his girlfriend handle this one, as he appeared a little too occupied with his own thoughts to contribute to the cause.
"Doesn't it bother you that he's-" Hermione was saying imploringly when Duo entered, seemingly unconcerned about the private party he was crashing. Hermione's mouth clamped shut with an audible clack of her teeth, and she glanced at the interloper apprehensively out of the corner of her eye.
Duo raised his eyebrows at them before he went to his wardrobe, unclasping his robes and tossing the heavy material onto the trunk at the foot of his bed. He rummaged through his closet without so much as a word, only coming out again when he had a fresh set of pajamas in the crook of one arm.
Finally, he glanced pointedly at Hermione. "If you wanted to see me in my skivvies, all you had to do is ask, Mione."
Blushing hotly, Hermione turned away in embarrassment, instead glancing back at Harry with a pleading look on her face. "Will you at least think about what I'm saying?"
Harry parried evenly, "Will you grant what I'm saying the same consideration?"
For a moment, it looked as if Hermione was going to argue with him again. Finally, she reluctantly nodded in agreement. "Fine. I will if you will."
"Fine," Harry parroted in a clipped tone.
After a second of hesitation, Duo said meaningfully, "The pants are off in five... four... three..." He waggled his eyebrows impishly at the girl. "Here comes the full Monty."
Hermione, laughing softly, said, "Okay, okay, I'm gone." To Ron, she gently coaxed, "Let's get you a butterbeer, Ron."
The redhead shook himself out of his own musing, murmuring under his breath, "Un-bloody-believable. The world's mad, I say." To Duo's private delight, Ron and Hermione left the room, closing the door behind them.
He really did change into his pajamas before settling in the center of his bed, his legs crossed as he laid his hair brush in his lap. He dutifully set to work unraveling his braid and, when he was finished, he began stroking his thick, wavy chestnut hair with it.
With a weary sigh, Harry flopped onto his bed and stared at the ceiling, lost in his own tremulous thoughts.
"Draco's upset," Duo informed him quietly, thoughtfully searching the green-eyed boy's profile. "It's really difficult to poke fun at him when he's that upset. It's kind of like kicking an old dog for not wanting to play."
Harry snorted at the analogy before covering his face with his hands while making a strangled noise of discontentment. Words muffled, he muttered, "He and Hermione had a fight."
"They do that all of the time," Duo dismissed Harry's explanation offhandedly. "There has to be more to it than that."
"She accused him of hiding things from us," Harry clarified sullenly, dropping his hands limply on the bed beside him. "She also accused him of telling people things he shouldn't be spreading."
"Let me ask you something, Harry," Duo murmured, still pulling his brush through his hair in long, lazy strokes. "Do you honestly think dragon boy would keep secrets from you without a good reason?"
"No," Harry replied honestly, eyes never straying from the ceiling. "But he is. And it better be for a damn good reason."
Damn again. This just might be my fault.
Scratch that. It was most definitely Duo's fault. Draco was keeping his secrets, sitting on what Duo himself knew and was striving to keep within his own circle. In the end, it was because of Duo's own insecurity and his desperate need to never associate himself with Voldemort that Draco was trapped between a wall and a beam cannon.
Duo wasn't stupid. He knew that he would eventually have to reveal his part in the ritual for the greater good of the wizarding world. Draco took an oath that he would never tell a soul about the American's corrupt heritage, and in fulfilling that oath, he was running the risk of alienating Harry. Even so, Draco was doing what he could to keep his word, and Duo had nothing but respect for the blond Slytherin because of it.
Yet... he still wasn't willing to enlighten Harry. He just wasn't prepared to admit something that he couldn't bare to acknowledge to himself, much less other people. When the time came, he was dead certain he wouldn't be ready for it then, either.
"I'm positive his intentions are good," Duo assured Harry, driven by the guilt-ridden need to somehow patch up the gaping hole between Draco and the Gryffindor Trio. He even managed a wry grin as he added ruefully, "I can't honestly say that about a lot of things dragon boy does, but I know for a fact he'd never betray your trust, Harry. The little snot is way too smitten with you."
"I don't doubt that," Harry said, smiling reluctantly. "He wouldn't let me get away with half of what I say or do to him otherwise." Then, thoughtfully, he added, "I do trust him, even though him keeping secrets from me is irritating. It's Hermione that suspects him."
"She does it because she loves you, so I wouldn't hold it against her," Duo replied cheerfully. "Let those two settle their issues themselves. Draco will say something out of line, she'll slap him, he'll pout, and she'll feel vindicated. Easy as that."
"I hope you're right," Harry murmured, sounding as if he didn't quite believe that would be the case at all.
"I know I am," Duo boasted confidently, placing his brush on his bedside table before quickly braiding his hair.
Everything will work out, Harry.
If anyone asked for the whereabouts of any specific missing student(s) from any four of the houses on a spectacularly sunny Sunday afternoon, the inquirer would receive mixed answers. As branched out as they were, there were a myriad of locations that the five terrorists could plausibly be; to be exact, any of them could have decided to invade one of the houses' territories for any reason. Sometimes they gathered in the Gryffindor Tower, other times they slummed in the Slytherin dungeons; there had been a handful of occasions they invaded the Ravenclaw sanctuary or besiege the Huffelpuff abode. In any case, thanks to the lack of communication between the houses at any given time, the chances of their absence being noted were slim to none.
The last place anybody would look for them was the Chamber of Secrets. Duo spotted Orie perched on top of the carving of Salazar Slytherin's head forever engraved in stone, as if the ruby-haired man had been waiting for them. For all any of them knew, that was quite possibly the case.
"Hey, Orie," Duo greeted cheerfully, easily scaling the side of the megalith so he could join the Oracle in his roost. Though he was the first to start climbing, Trowa easily reached the top before any of them just in time to give them all a leg up to the apex.
"Draco's so miffed at you right now," Duo said casually, settling in a seat beside the redhead. "And frankly, I don't blame him. Hermione's accusing him of spreading secrets and hiding things because of your stunt."
"For that, I am regretful," Orie said sincerely, bowing his head in acceptance of the Slytherin Prince's ire. "I only wished to spare Ms. Granger from overworking herself before Ravenclaw's Library is found. It is unfair to expect results when none are to be found."
"I wouldn't tell Draco that," Duo said knowingly, feeling that the Oracle's moment of compassion for Hermione would only serve to irritated Draco further. The American was certain that the Slytherin didn't necessarily hate Orie; the Oracle was someone he made the blond feel uneasy, if only because the man obviously knew intimate details of any one of their pasts. Draco's mistrust, by all rights, was even acceptable human behavior considering the circumstances and the personalities involved.
The Oracle, despise his helpfulness, only revealed information he believed was important while keeping all of the intimate details to himself. Draco was naturally repulsed by the concept that someone could know more about himself than he did, and Orie had already proven he knew such things when he dismissed the legitimacy of the blond's disinheritance.
Orie glanced at Duo briefly, smiling slightly. "I shall keep that in mind."
Duo sighed, shrugging before he slumped forward heavily. "As for the library, I'm starting to think we aren't going to find it as soon as I had hoped. Ravenclaw picked a good hiding place."
"We've only managed to dismiss areas of the castle where the library might not be," Wufei added tersely, as dissatisfied with the lack of progress as Duo was downtrodden. "Even then we aren't absolutely certain that we didn't merely overlook it."
"Researching the library has been rather fruitless, as well," Quatre murmured, a bit put out over the lack of progress in regard to the approach the rest of them had taken. "I know you said the Founders were very careful to reveal nothing that could compare to the leak about the Chamber of Secrets, but I expected at least a small footnote in history."
"The closest we could find that could compare was that Ravenclaw was known for inheriting a vast library from her family," Trowa added. "Popular consensus agrees that a majority of her personal books went to Hogwarts Library."
"The ones she had little use for did migrate to Hogwarts Library," Orie corrected knowingly. "Lady Ravenclaw is wise and encourages her students to learn as much as possible. She is also unreasonably selfish and protective when it comes to her books, however, and would never part with that which she treasures above all else."
Duo tilted his head to the side, smiling crookedly as he considered Orie. "Sometimes it completely slips my mind that you are the perfect source for tapping information on the Founders, Orie." Raising his eyebrow slightly, he added drolly, "I suppose if I asked why you don't just divine the whereabouts of the library, you'd meet me with an answer that will make me feel silly for asking."
Orie smiled apologetically. "Given the circumstances, it was agreed that precautions against any sort of tactic on my part to find the Founders' secret rooms be taken. Places such as Ravenclaw's Library are completely blind to the Sight." Solemnly, he added, "Secrecy was important above all else. Allowing me to know the locations of their chambers was too dangerous, especially if the information could have been unwillingly taken from me."
"Yeah, I thought you would say something like that," Duo said heavily, sighing again.
"Is there anything you can tell us about Rowena Ravenclaw that would give us even the slightest inkling of where she would or would not hide her library?" Quatre asked curiously. "I mean, is there any part of the castle that Ravenclaw didn't particularly like?"
"In the castle, no," Orie said evenly. "However, Lady Ravenclaw had a fierce temper when the Quidditch pitch was the topic of discussion. It's inclusion on school grounds was one of many arguments that Lady Hufflepuff won over her."
"That's not the least bit useful, but it sounds like an interesting story," Duo said, grinning imploringly.
Orie smiled politely and indulged the American. "When Lady Hufflepuff demanded that a Quidditch field be constructed on Hogwarts ground, and house teams to be established, Lady Ravenclaw was adamantly against it. Ravenclaw thought such frivolous activities would distract the students from their studies, and Hufflepuff parried by saying such was the point of sports. 'Life,' said Lady Hufflepuff, 'is not entirely dedicated to ink and quill and parchment and books. Society would surely collapse in ruin if all any one person accomplished was learning to recognize the alphabet.'" The Oracle emitted a soft chuckle as he shook his head nostalgically. "The Lady Ravenclaw was vexed for weeks after; and what bodes ill for the Lady Scholar bodes ill for all involved. Not even brave Gryffindor crossed her when she was in such a state."
"Women," Wufei muttered under his breath, as if he expected that would have been the case.
Duo laughed, more out of contemplation than actual humor. "Man, that's kind of surreal. I only ever hear about the fights between Slytherin and Gryffindor. You never hear about any of the other Founders arguing."
The Oracle whipped his head around sharply, his ruby eyes wide in shock and disbelief. Orie was openly dismayed, overwhelmingly upset over what Duo had just said. Smile quickly fading, Duo frowned questioningly at the bereft Oracle. "Did I say something wrong?"
With a passionate jut of his chin, the Oracle said vehemently, "The lords never fought! They were like brothers, in honor if not by blood, else Ric would not have been named Isabella Slytherin's godfather, nor would she have been entrusted in his care when Lord Slytherin left!"
Ric? Not the usual Lord Gryffindor, the less used Gryffindor, nor even the unheard of 'Godric'? The nickname implied more familiarity than the Oracle had intended to convey, judging by how his raw dismay was immediately smothered by an expressionless mask after he realized his mistake. The ruby-haired man looked away, tensely silent as Duo and Heero exchanged quick looks. When Duo looked back to gauge the others, he found Wufei looked particularly interested in the faux pas. Trowa betrayed nothing, his body language just as unassuming as before, while Quatre's eyes focused on the ground; Duo could only assume that Quatre was already devising every possible scenario over the fond nickname in order to find out more about Orie's past.
"I apologize," Orie said, somewhat tersely. "I forget my place. While Lord Gryffindor and Slytherin had their disputes, they considered one another equals in everything. To imply differently is a tragic betrayal of time and history."
"Maybe when this is all over," Quatre suggested kindly, "you can write a biography about the Founders. You are in a position to set the record straight, after all, seeing as you knew all of them personally."
"We'd better go before we're missed," Heero said quietly. "It's very likely that Ron is scouring the castle for Quatre in hopes of challenging him to a game of chess."
"Or five," Trowa added, smiling slightly. Nine times out of ten on a Sunday, Ron actively searched for Quatre after exhausting Harry's patience with the strategy game. More times than not, the game would still end in a stalemate, and the times that was not the case were Quatre's handful of victories. Ron had been close to beating the blond several times, and he was determined to win against the Hufflepuff at least once.
"Yeah," Duo said, poised to climb to his feet. He paused, glancing over at Orie thoughtfully. The ruby-haired man was staring out across the cavern, obviously lost in thought. "Catch you later, Orie?"
"Yes," Orie said immediately, turning to smile softly at Duo. "Have a good evening, all of you."
Duo grinned in return, giving the man a thumbs up. "Will do, Orie. Take care, man." He pulled himself to his feet and followed his friends in climbing down the side of Slytherin's bloated head. (Or maybe not so bloated...) He paused at intervals, curiously noting that several chunks of stone appeared to be missing. He placed his hand over one gaping wound in the stone, tracing one finger along what appeared to be long teeth marks. I wonder what was going on when this happened, Duo pondered when he finally reached ground level. He jogged after the others, turning around long enough to wave Orie goodbye.
He heard the man chuckle as he lifted his hand for a return wave, if a little more reserved than Duo's full, exuberant movement of his arm.
"Ric," Quatre hummed thoughtfully once they'd left the main cavern. "That's interesting."
"Yep," Duo said cheerfully, jogging to walk in stride with the blond. "I wonder if Orie was as familiar with the other Founders, or if Gryffindor was just a special case."
"I doubt he was so close to his guardian; at least, he hasn't implied it," Wufei pointed out logically. "In fact, whenever he talks about Slytherin, he doesn't express any familial obligation to him whatsoever."
"Either way, one little nickname isn't enough to tell us much," Trowa surmised thoughtfully. "It does, however, indicate that he was particularly close to Godric Gryffindor."
"I wonder how close," Duo mused. "I mean, the nickname itself is very fond, especially for someone like Orie. It took me a week to convince him that my name isn't Lord Maxwell."
"That's disturbing," Heero said flatly. "Construction of Hogwarts began when the Oracle was eleven. That the Founders had the means to fund it suggests that they were at least seventeen -old enough to have full control over their estates. Gryffindor had to have been at least six to ten years older than him."
Duo winked playfully at Heero. "Yeah, but Orie's old enough now. The relationship could have been a new thing."
"Will you stop trying to turn everyone's life into a sordid affair?" Wufei said sharply, giving Duo a stern glare. "There isn't any proof they were lovers. Close friends is a strong possibility, but I doubt it actually goes beyond that."
"You're probably right," Duo said with a rueful grin. They'd made it to the main entrance, where they had left their brooms for an easier time out. The first time they ventured into the chamber, it had taken them a while to decide just how to leave the way they came. Heero was convinced there was an easier way to get back to the surface, but until they figured it out, they always brought the brooms along for aid. "But it's kind of fun assuming otherwise, isn't it?"
Wufei didn't bother replying, instead straddling his broom and kicking off, his destination nearly straight up the tunnel. In no time, all five of them were back in the girls bathroom, and Duo turned to order the entrance to close behind him.
"How'd it go, Myrtle?" he asked cheerfully, looking around for the ghost girl as soon as the entrance slid into place. The weepy ghost eagerly ventured out of her cubicle and glided to Duo's side.
"Well enough," Myrtle said, almost smug. "A couple of girls tried to come in, but I showed them what's what."
"Way to go, Myrtle," Duo cheered, grinning at the ghost and holding his hand up. "Come on, slap me a ghost five." She happily took the invitation, but instead of the reassuring slap of skin on skin, Myrtle's hand went straight through Duo's. The American paid it no mind, hardly losing his friendly disposition. "Thanks a ton, Myrtle -this means a lot to us."
Myrtle giggled simperingly, causing Wufei to cringe behind the ghost's back. Duo, however, could see Wufei's expression through the spirit entirely, and found it difficult to suppress his laughter. Oh, Wufei was finding Myrtle absolutely unbearable. Then again, Wufei usually found nice girls that did Duo favors generally fell into the "annoying woman" category.
"I hate to cut and run, but I have a lot of things to do today, and so little time left before curfew," Duo said sincerely. "I promise to come by for a visit first thing tomorrow morning, though. Is that okay with you?"
Myrtle appeared slightly downtrodden that Duo wasn't going to take the time to chat with her, as he'd done ever since he had enlisted her help. However, she brightened when Duo promised to come by the next morning, so she was reasonably satisfied when she said, "Well, if you must. But I better see you tomorrow, Duo Maxwell, or I'm going to be very cross with you!"
"Hey, I promised, didn't I?" Duo said defensively, grinning at her. "When Duo Maxwell makes a promise, he does his best to honor it."
"I'll keep that in mind," Myrtle simpered. If a ghost could blush, that probably would have been the case. "See you tomorrow?"
Duo winked knowingly. "It's a date. Have a good night, Myrtle."
After having the ghost subtly check the corridor for any strays, they left the bathroom and made a beeline for the nearest staircase. "I'm going to be doing a little walkthrough of the fourth floor north wing. If anybody asks," he added, smiling slightly, "tell them I'm testing the limits of curfew."
"You do realize the fourth floor north wing is where most of the professors reside, right?" Trowa pointed out, raising his visible eyebrow at Duo inquiringly.
"Yeah, which is why it's best for you guys if I'm the one to brave that territory," Duo replied casually. "They kind of expect that sort of behavior out of me now. Any teacher that could come across me lurking about probably wouldn't think twice about me being up to mischief. The same can't be said for any of you."
After making promises to be back before curfew, they parted ways from Duo. True to his word, Duo went straight for the fourth floor north wing, though he wasn't as diligently searching for Ravenclaw's Library as he had originally implied. In fact, he sincerely doubted he would have more luck here than he did the first three floors. He only volunteered to cover this particular area so he would have an excuse to be alone as he sorted his thoughts.
Things weren't coming along as quickly as he'd hoped, and the lack of progress was starting to get to him. He didn't begrudge Draco his own success, but he'd hoped to have the library found by now. Realistically, he realized he'd only been searching for a month, and Hogwarts was an expensive castle with a lot of curious nooks and crannies.
He didn't even want to think about what was going on between Hermione and Draco, but he knew in the end that it was just as much his problem as it was the Slytherin Prince's. Duo was of the opinion that Draco had earned a good groveling on the American's part, but he didn't know how to apologize without bungling it up. He certainly hadn't found a solution to help soothe Hermione's stubborn interest in the matter.
Feeling hopeless and more than a little upset by how things were progressing, Duo wandered the corridors in hopes of clearing his head. Despite his sour mood, he was always fascinated by the interactive paintings of the wizarding world; the American occasionally took the time to stop and chat with the more interesting occupants of the portraits, if only because they often had very entertaining stories to tell, whether about their lives until the point the painting was created or tales of students and faculty that had lived ages ago. Several portraits had much to say; others did not. In any case, they were all woefully neglected by most as a great firsthand source of history.
Sadly, Duo couldn't muster the energy for much casual conversation. Some of the portraits he passed greeted him by his first name, and while he managed polite smiles, cheerful greetings in return, and jaunty waves, he didn't stop long enough to chat. He just wasn't in the mood. Even though he didn't wish to dwell on matters of importance any longer, he couldn't help but be plagued with unanswered questions.
The lack of answers was really starting to make him cranky.
My knowledge reflects between war and peace. "The hint is Enoch," Duo mused aloud, grateful to be alone. "Not the man, but his story..." A story about the birth of wizards and giants, righteous angels and the condemned. While it was something he could almost relate to -especially the 'condemned' part -it still meant nothing to him.
"Damn it," Duo mumbled sullenly, pausing in the middle of an empty corridor. He vaguely recognized the hallway as the one Zechs' suite was in; Duo wouldn't have been surprised if several other members of the staff could be found living along the same corridor, though he rarely saw any other members of the faculty lingering in or around the area. In any case, it could explain why students were reluctant to venture far into that particular section of the castle.
A quiet, merry voice rang out, asking serenely, "Are you troubled, son of the earth?"
Duo, recognizing the particular form of address, snapped his gaze to the source of the voice. It was a peaceful portrait painted with cheery, soothingly warm colors. Numerous angels (Celestials, he corrected himself absently) were frolicking in the background, playing a lighthearted game of tag in the sky. One of the Celestials had pulled away from the others, settling on a rock formation in an almost casual sprawl. It was this curly-haired blond angel that was looking at Duo with some amount of keen interest.
Duo mustered a rueful grin as he replied, "Nah. Just realizing that I'm really not good with vague riddles."
"Ah, but the plight of Man and Celestial alike," the angel said knowingly. "Persistence, son of the earth. With a pure heart and a clear mind, all things are possible."
"Which probably explains everything," Duo quipped, offering a self-depreciating smile in return. "My mind was born in the gutter. Prolonged exposure tends to leave some grime you can never scrub away, you know?"
The Celestial smiled, showing his perfect row of white teeth. "I believe you do not give yourself enough credit, son of the earth."
"My second flaw," Duo agreed with a chuckle before moving away with a casual wave. "Thanks for the pep talk."
"It was no trouble to me," the angel replied peacefully before turning to watch his playful companions. Even though the conversation was only a short one, Duo did feel a little more calmed by the confident assurance of a being more commonly associated to the God Father Maxwell and Sister Helen were so devout to, despite his own misgivings about said Creator.
When his gaze absently strayed over the scenery of the next painting, his casual pace screeched to a halt, his eyes widening as the scene registered to his brain. Men armed with spears were scrambling to overcome a rampaging giant, who threw his large head back and bellowed his rage to the blood-colored sky, the land barren of life. Giants...
In between the peaceful frolicking of unworried angels and the fierce battle of man and giant was a blank wall. A blank wall that Duo know for a fact was the entrance to Zechs Marquise's suite.
"My knowledge reflects between war and peace," Duo whispered breathlessly. Celestials, men (children of the earth), and giants...
The American flew to the wall, both fists pounding into the brickwork as he desperately called for Zechs to allow him entrance, praying to any deity he could think of that he didn't have to actively look for the former White Fang leader.
Duo was in luck. Zechs, however, considered himself quite the opposite.
"Birdman!" he heard the American shout about the den of his pounding fists. "Birdman! Let me in, let me in, let me in, let me-"
Okay, that was too annoying to ignore.
The moment the wall folded to form a doorway, Zechs had to leap out of the way as the lithe American flew into the suite, darting passed the antique love seat and through the first door on the left. Stunned, the man stood motionless near the open entrance, dazedly wondering just why the hell Duo Maxwell was loudly ruffling through his bedroom at one hour before curfew. He had a strange feeling he shouldn't ever mention it to Yuy, though he suspected he would end up having to explain the event to the stoic Japanese pilot one way or another.
He'd just regained his bearings, automatically prompting the wall to close just as Maxwell shot out of his bedroom and disappeared into Zechs' personal office. "Maxwell, you can't go in-"
"Help me look for it!" the Deathscythe pilot ordered. Through the open doorway, Zechs could see the American erratically shifting all of the books on the shelves before yanking on the three silver candelabrum sealed firmly to the walls.
"Look for what?" Zechs asked, already moving to search the bathroom. He didn't know what was going on, but whatever it was that had Maxwell worked into such a frenzied state must have been important.
"A secret entrance," Maxwell replied, already moving back into the den, prodding at solid walls and checking behind tapestries. When he was unsuccessful, he quickly scanned the room before casting his eyes to the floor; specifically, the large, beautifully woven rug that blanketed the smooth stone. "Help me move the furniture."
Zechs had intended to say no, desiring a full explanation of what Maxwell was up to before he agreed to do anything further. However, the American Gryffindor had taken the initiative, already pulling the chair away from the ornate rug before moving to the couch. At that point, Zechs gave up on any hope for a vague idea of what he was looking for and helped Duo slide the sofa off of the rug. Next came the coffee table, followed by the two side tables that supported an oil lantern each. After that task was completed, he and Duo went to the rug's edge and began rolling it away, revealing the smooth, seamless floor underneath.
Just to be sure, the American felt along the floor for a terse, silent moment, only to come up with nothing substantial. Maxwell fell back on his hunches, weary frustration made noticeable by the unusually somber frown on the American's disturbingly downtrodden face. "What am I missing?" Maxwell murmured quietly. "Clear head, Duo, snap to... My knowledge reflects between war and peace..." Eyes narrowing intently, he repeated absently, "Reflects... Mirrors?"
The Deathscythe pilot's amethyst eyes scanned the den for mirrors before they stopped on the portrait about the fireplace mantle.
Zechs followed the younger pilot's suspicious gaze, noticing in relief that the annoyingly condescending lady in the portrait had disappeared; probably off finding another book to read, as she didn't seem to have much of a social life involving anything that couldn't be read.
"Could it be...?" Maxwell mused breathlessly, gracefully bounding to his feet. He pulled a chair in front of the hearth, climbing first into the seat before using the back of the chair to propel himself onto the mantle, utilizing the chair as a makeshift ladder. The large portrait towered over him as he planted his hands on each side of the frame for balance.
"What are you doing?" Zechs finally asked, unable to hold the question in for any longer.
"Taking a leap of faith," Maxwell murmured. He lifted his right hand from the frame and spread his fingers just as he placed his hand on top of the painted surface. Zechs was a little startled when, instead of subjecting to the laws of physics, Duo's hand sunk into the portrait; his painted fingers wiggled experimentally as the Deathscythe pilot's eyes lit with manic triumph.
Still, his voice the pitch of calm, he murmured, "Okay. This is officially the freakiest hiding place ever." Then, with a deep, steadying breath, he slowly stepped over the golden frame. Once fully inside, Maxwell turned and stared at Zechs in such a way that clearly implied that the American couldn't quite believe he was inside of a portrait, either.
After regaining the ability to speak, Zechs gravely announced, "I give up. I'm never going to understand the wizarding world."
"If it makes you feel any better," Maxwell responded helpfully, "I don't think a lot of wizards could even hope to accomplish this much."
"You'll be correct in that assumption," a husky, aristocratic woman's voice drawled proudly. Maxwell glanced sharply to his left; there, in flesh and bone (or, perhaps the most appropriate terminology would be "paint and color"), was the lady who occupied the portrait.
"I did, after all," the woman added smugly, "develop this ingenious little reality."
Beautiful, proud, conceited. It could only be... "Lady Rowena Ravenclaw."
"Well, an impression of the original, in any case." She smiled with all of her pearly teeth, sweeping her hands to indicate the giant library that towered over them. "Welcome to Ravenclaw's Library."
Yay! Duo found the library! Executing the Dance of Joy... now. :does the Dance of Joy:
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