Author's Notes: New material and fresh ideas can be blamed for delaying this chapter. I had one thing set in my mind, and by the end of it, something completely different went into affect. Hope you enjoy the fruit of my labor anyway. :grins:

In my honest opinion, this chapter is a bit like a filler. I'm setting up things to be put into motion -the Hall of Hufflepuff should be coming up in the next two or three (... or four, maybe five...) chapters, as well as the culmination of certain things that I've left pretty much hanging since the prequel. Unpredictable outside influences are being introduced, Duo's mother is getting a little attention, and Voldemort finally makes a move. Oh, and something happens to one of the Gundam pilots, but I'm not inclined to share anything further. :smiles angelically:

I put a lot of effort into all 32 pages of this chapter, though, so I hope it's not a big disappointment.

Sincere gratitude to everyone who has taken the time to review, and for the non-reviewers, a small cup of "thank you" for just taking the time to read. Either I have a lot of those, or many of you are coming back for seconds. Either way, thanks a lot.

Also, I had to go back and change the day in the last chapter. I wanted to get some things out of the way before sending them off to Hogsmeade, which kind of involved actually going to classes. And if anybody is sharp enough to keep up with class schedules and noticed some kind of inconsistency, I'd like to point out that JKR rarely clarified Harry's class schedule, so I don't see why I should try to keep it straight, too. :grins:

(I really did write it down somewhere. It was all pretty and clean, carefully thought out according to each individual character... In fact, I wrote it in a notebook that is currently lost in a large pile of notebooks. :blank expression: I have not had the time to look through them. It may take me a while to find it.)

Much praise to Zanne, for proofreading this chapter thoroughly while dealing with settling back into her dorm and recovering from her cold. Poor luv has to deal with my poor timing and shoddy deadlines... And Yahoo!'s conspiracy with the internet gnomes to make outgoing and incoming emails disappear. (Long, looong story...)


Harry Potter and the Forgotten Heirs Part 19

Duo felt as if he were an animal with his leg caught in a trap. And, like any trapped animal, he was fully prepared to gnaw his own leg off to make a swift (if painful) retreat.

"I can explain everything," he swore, his face heating up under the scrutiny. Hermione and Ron exchanged wary expressions, and Harry tilted his head to the side. If Duo had been paying much attention to the black-haired boy, he would have noticed that Harry was visibly bewildered.

"Harry already explained what happened," Hermione said slowly, frowning.

"Yeah, but you need to know that it's all Draco's fault," Duo insisted adamantly. "Well, I mean, most of it was Draco's fault. The fact of the matter is, Draco is an evil fiend." This last statement being said as completely factual, as if no man living could honestly prove differently and any attempt to do so would be ruthlessly mocked. Likely by the blond himself.

"Well, yeah, that's a given," acknowledged Ron with a magnanimous nod of his head.

"But how is it Draco's fault?" Hermione asked, still not seeing the connection.

Harry's face brightened in realization before his eyes widened behind his glasses. He tried to motion for Duo to stop talking, but the American was already trying to reassign the blame.

"Because he stacked the cards in our bet and Heero didn't tell me," Duo explained petulantly. "So, see, he made me visit Harry on his birthday in that stupid dress and those stupid heels wearing that stupid makeup -which I burned the first chance I got, by the way, because I'm not a crossdresser and Pigboy obviously has a poor taste in women!" He ended his rant in a raised voice, crossing his arms indignantly over his chest and giving them all a mulish glare. "I do not look like a girl!"

Ron and Hermione gaped. Harry hid his face in his hands with a small groan.

"What the hell are you talking about?" Ron blurted, wide-eyed.

"Uh..." Duo was flummoxed. "... What the hell are you thinking about?"

"You," Hermione said steadily, a small grin hiding behind her stern stare, "shooting Vernon Dursley."

"Well, now we're not," Ron muttered, still staring at Duo -this time, in morbid fascination.

Still oblivious, Duo only blinked in response. Harry lifted his face from his hands and said in a small, gentle voice, "Duo... I didn't tell them that part."

"O-oh," Duo mumbled, knocked off-balance. Realizing what he had just done, he dropped his chin to his chest so that he was facing the floor in utter humiliation. Eyes sliding closed in defeat, he said the first thing that came to mind. "Oh, God fuck it."(1)

The amused grin flirting with Hermione's lips finally broke into a full-blown smile, and she allowed a chuckle to slip by. She decided she wouldn't reprimand Duo for his foul language this time, seeing as how he had adequately punished himself prior to the curse.

Her voluntary slip broke what precious little control Ron had over his own amusement. He howled with laughter, doubled over with his arms wrapped around his stomach. Harry snorted, hiding his quiet chuckles behind the palm of his hand though his quaking shoulders was enough of a damning testimony.

Duo managed to weather the abuse to his ego for all of half a minute. By the end of his patience, Hermione had fallen quiet, though she still sneaked cattily amused glances in his direction. Ron was breathless from laughter; combined with an unfortunate case of hiccups, it was no wonder that the redhead's face flushed red. Harry had the decency to look somewhat sympathetic, but the wizard hero was devoid of guilt.

Not that Harry didn't have a right to feel guilt-free, seeing as Duo revealed his dark secret all on his own. Mumbling an oath against his incorrect assumptions under his breath, Duo combed his fingers through his bangs and said, loudly and forlornly, "If anyone needs me, I'll be in the dorm room, hiding from my shame underneath my blankets."

"Wait, Duo," Harry called after him with a hopeful note in his tone, "do you want to do your homework with us?" Upon noting the skeptical expression on the American's face, Harry amended, "I promise no one will bring up that thing that happened that first time. One time!" He backtracked hastily, very aware of the incredulous grief that bled over Duo's face as Ron and Hermione exchanged glances. "That thing that happened that one time."

"Harry!" Duo wailed piteously. "You blew it!"

"I'm sorry!" Harry cried repentantly.

"I've been outed as a semi-frequent drag queen," Duo bemoaned. "Granted, the first great reveal was my fault, but c'mon! Whose dog did I kill in a former life to rack up the bad mojo?"

Harry's mind utterly blanked out when he realized the reason Duo stopped talking and stared at him imploringly was because the braided boy honestly expected some sort of answer. Harry's mouth worked silently for a second before he said unthinkingly, "At least you found Heero's kinky side."

Duo blinked, turning the response around in his head. While it didn't have anything to do with his current dilemma, kinky-Heero was an absolute treasure. Kinky-Heero led to really great sex. That it required Duo to wear a dress was embarrassing, but the end more than justified the means.

When he turned away from his thoughts, he noticed that Harry had covered his mouth with his hand, eyes wide with horror. Confused, Duo switched the direction of his gaze to Hermione and Ron, both of whom were silently staring back at him in stone-faced disbelief.

He shrugged. "He had a Slytherin cheerleader uniform made in my size and announced it for the world to hear. You already knew my boyfriend was a pervert."

"I thought he was just pulling your chain," Ron said hesitantly.

"He gave off that impression," Duo said dryly. "Harry, you're forgiven only because a) I can see you are truly remorseful, and b) Heero's deviant side pleases me, even if it leads to me wearing women's clothes. Thanks for bringing it up."

"You're welcome?" Harry responded uncertainly, baffled by the sudden shift in the conversation.

Duo pointed up the stairs, still looking at Harry. "I have to get my kit, but I'll be down in a bit."

"All right," Harry murmured absently. He watched the American take the stairs at a jog and looked at his friends when he was certain Duo was out of earshot. Deadpan, he muttered, "Bipolar is a good adjective for him."

"Was Duet a good name for her?" Ron asked eagerly.

"Ron, don't tease him! Especially if he isn't even here," Hermione chided, though she was fighting back a grin.

"I won't get to badger him when he comes back, thanks to Harry," Ron argued defensively. "C'mon, mate, you could at least tell me if he was convincing or not."

"It took me a minute to figure out why the pretty girl with the American accent seemed so familiar," Harry admitted. "If I'd never met Duo before, he probably would have fooled me completely."

"If he was that adverse to his first experience in a dress," Hermione started wonderingly, "why did he try a second time?"

"That's Cissa's fault," Duo announced grandly, startling the three Gryffindors. He paced the distance between the stairs and the fireplace with surefooted grace, setting his satchel on the floor beside the chair he dropped into. "She was teaching me a gypsy dance and told me she couldn't be sure if I was moving right without the skirt on. That's when I learned not to take most of what Narcissa says in earnest very seriously." With only a slight pause, he barreled on, "Actually, I take that back. It was after she told me I couldn't wear my pants under the skirt because it inhibited movement, etcetera. Whole damn family is full of foxy snobs, if you ask me."

"We were trying to warn you," Ron said pointedly. "Then Harry had to go and fall in love with the git, so now we're all stuck with him." The redhead had the grace to keep his eyes on Duo instead of giving Harry a piteous glance.

"That just rounds back to his family being full of foxy snobs," Harry said, matter-of-fact. "Is anyone getting anywhere with their Potions essays?"

"Finished mine," Duo announced cheerfully. He reached into his bag and pulled out a bound, red and black speckled notebook that he immediately handed to Harry, much to Hermione's protest. Harry eagerly took the notebook with a murmured word of gratitude. On the front of the notebook was an oval circle in which were printed the words Name, Subject, and Grade, each followed by colons and straight underlines. In those spaces, Duo had written his name and referred to Subject as 7th Year Potions Homework. Beside Grade, he'd written Gryffindor.

A bit taken aback about how abnormal the familiarity of doing homework the muggle way was, Harry had to tilt his head in contemplation before he let the spine crack open to the last page written, which looked to be the last part of their assignment. Over three-fourths of the book had been filled with tiny, neatly printed words and a number of detailed pictures, most of which were written around as if they were illustrations. There was a small, bubbling cauldron; an accurate drawing comparing shredded shrivelfig to diced shrivelfig while detailing the visible difference... a boxed off bottom left corner of a page, therein was written a poem that began with the line "Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble."

Harry gave Duo an incredulous stare. The American had turned his attention to his Transfiguration assignment, though he had apparently asked Hermione something since the girl was busy explaining the subtleties of animating what was once an inanimate object. Hermione stopped long enough to breath, prompting Harry to blurt, "Snape actually lets you turn in your homework like this?"

Duo cranked his neck around to blink at Harry, confused. Harry lifted the notebook with a raised eyebrow, spurring the American to grin at him.

"Yeah. Amazing, isn't it?" he replied boastfully, preening. "He even sometimes adds comments at the top of the page." Granted, they weren't very pleasant comments and usually included point reduction, but Duo thought some of the red inked comments and post-notes were clever.

"And he's never once complained about how muggle it is?" Hermione asked, noticing what Harry had been absorbed in for the passed few minutes.

"Of course he did," Duo said breezily, waving the Potions Master's disapproval like a fly buzzing around his ear. "I informed him that I intend to keep my homework after school because it could be of some use to me someday, and I wasn't going to transcribe an entire year's worth of homework into a more manageable form again. I have the same arrangement going on with the rest of the teachers. So do the others, for that matter."

"And the illustrations?"

Duo didn't even blink. "There's no such thing as an interesting personal grimoire without doodles. I checked."

Harry shook his head, restraining a smile. "And the poetry?"

"Everyone knows Macbeth," the American replied simply. "That poem happens to be a project I had for English class at St. Christopher's Boys Academy. I went there for a few weeks about two and a half years ago." He stretched his arms over his head and twisted his head, brow puckered in thought. "We had to write our own poem in the gruesome styling of the Three Witches. I thought it was ironic that mine sounds a lot like the Draught of the Living Dead, so I wrote it in my homework."

"You went to a school for only a few weeks?" Ron asked, surprised. "What happened?"

"I blew up a military base that was manufacturing mobile suits and had to transfer," Duo replied frankly, only for his words to be met with dead silence. Growing uncomfortable under the careful examination his fellow Gryffindors were giving him, he said defensively, "What? Harry knew! Hermione, I know you knew. Somebody has to have clued Ron in by now!"

"Just a little while before you walked in, actually," Ron mumbled. "Didn't retain a lot from it, but Mione and Harry seem to agree that whatever you did was justified."

"Not entirely justified," Hermione rebuked, not unkindly, "though certainly understandable, considering everything that was going on in the muggle world at the time.

"I didn't expect you to be so open about it," Hermione continued, looking back toward Duo. "Most people like to keep their secrets buried."

Duo was quiet for only a moment before he said confidently, "Yeah, but we're friends, right?" He grinned teasingly. "And I've been on this kick about shining a bright spotlight on my dark secrets, see? Like the time I admitted to sharing chromosomes with a man named Tom Marvolo Riddle, who just sounds like some kind of batty juggler in a three-ring circus. Or that time I revealed that I've started dressing in drag in my private life."

"I remember that last one like it was only half an hour ago," Ron said, guiltlessly nostalgic.

"Ah, memories," Duo sighed fondly, playing along with Ron's light-hearted ribbing.

Hermione covertly checked the time before swinging a glance around the common room. The room had been unusually deserted when Duo and Heero had left to send Harry back to the Gryffindor Tower, save for a handful of first and second years that had gathered on the other side of the room. When Duo came back, everyone save the trio of seventh years had cleared out.

"Now that we're up to pace," Hermione murmured quietly, "what is to be done about the new Minister of Magic?"

Duo stilled for a moment before he groaned, his shoulders slumping forward. "Man, a guy just can't get a break..."

"It needs to be discussed," Hermione said apologetically, "or all of us are going to bed thinking about it."

"I know," the American sighed, capping his ink pen. "Guess I won't be getting this Transfiguration assignment done tonight." Blithely, he added as an afterthought, "Maybe someone will be nice to me tomorrow and help me word the rest of my essay." That said, he fluttered his eyelashes imploringly at Hermione.

The Head Girl stared back at him, nonplused. "Did you mean help you with your essay or were you hinting that you want me to dictate what the rest of your essay should say?"

Duo grinned impishly. "Which offer is on the table?"

"I'll help you with it tomorrow at breakfast," Hermione offered. "Fair?"

"That'll do, thank you," Duo said with a nod of satisfaction. "So. Scrimgeour. Most of our information about him comes from the Daily Prophet and Blaise Zabini. I'll doubt the Prophet any day, but Blaise traded his information for information about what we're doing in Zechs' suite all the time. At least, that's what Draco assumed. Heero is despondent, of course. He can't figure out how Blaise knew where we were going in our spare time since we've been using the map. Trowa reacted with typical stoicism. Quatre and Wufei don't even know yet, and I'm not very excited about going back over this with them as soon our schedules permit."

Hermione coughed delicately in her fist when she realized Duo had veered off the subject. There was only a slight hitch, a quick inscrutable glance at Hermione, then eyes were back forward and the American quickly switched back to the topic at hand.

"One thing we do know is that there is a strong possibility that Scrimgeour wants to meet with Harry, likely in private. Dumbledore denied him the opportunity while Harry is at Hogwarts, and the Minister swore he'd find a way." Duo paused.

"There is also a slimmer possibility that he might target all of us to get to Harry. I legally changed my name to Duo Maxwell on the first day of last summer, but there might be some kind of documentation somewhere with the other name on it. Quatre's a very public figure in the muggle world, and I think we all know that I'm quite photogenic when I'm beaten and in shackles." The American shook his head. "Even Wufei has a picture on his record -hell, Trowa has a record of service in OZ Special Forces, though I think Khushrenada's camp pretty much kept those two to themselves. Heero, on the other hand, could probably come away from this clean if he weren't suspect to guilt by association."

"Actually, there was a grainy photograph of him circulating on the news," Hermione interjected hesitantly. "I saw it last Christmas."

"Scratch that last part then," Duo said with a sigh. "And we haven't even gone into speculation about why Scrimgeour wants to see Harry bad enough to challenge Dumbledore over it. This, my friends, is classified as a Code Red Clusterfuck."

"Duo, watch your mouth!" Hermione scolded sternly.

"What?" Duo said defensively. "I call it like I see it. By my crass, colonial American standards, this is almost like a cluster of clusterfucks." Hermione opened her mouth to reply, but the braided boy barreled on, "We don't have enough information, we're cut completely out of the loop, no one even thought to tell us what the Minister was up to or why, and we still have no freaking clue as to what Voldemort is planning right now." He frowned, clearly irritated. "He's been quiet for ages. I'm starting to get kind of twitchy in a vaguely paranoid way." Which might just mean I've been assimilating Heero's antisocial traits -frightening -but somehow, I doubt that's the case.

"So let's find a way to get back in the loop," Ron said brazenly. "That's easy enough. We'll ask Fred and George."

"You don't honestly think those two would risk their positions in the Order to leak information to us, do you?" Hermione said skeptically. "I mean, I know they're tricksters, but..."

"Those two go on and on about how they owe Harry a lot," Ron said, shooting a pointed glance in his friend's direction, "and they still won't tell me why. You always dodge the question, Harry."

Harry sighed. "I gave them my winnings from the Tri-Wizard Tournament to help them get their business started."

"You what?" Ron and Hermione exclaimed with equal amounts of disbelief.

Duo leaned forward in his chair and looked almost excited. "Really?"

"I didn't want the prize money," Harry explained shortly. "The twins had been hounding after Ludo Bagman all year about the bet they had won against him at the Quidditch World Cup. I used the prize money to pay off his debt."(2)

He conveniently left out the part when he made the twins promise to buy their little brother a nice set of dress robes. Ron wouldn't appreciate it if Harry revealed that he'd arranged it that way because the redhead wouldn't accept the gift from him directly out of a misplaced sense of pride.

"So that's where they got the money to market those Skiving Snackboxes in their last year," Hermione murmured.

"Hey, I'm starting to like the idea about grilling the Weasley twins," Duo announced, bringing them back to the subject at hand. "I vote we pester them at Hogsmeade this Saturday. Hopefully, they won't be at their Diagon Alley location."

"The twins make it a point to be at the Hogsmeade store when the students visit the village," Ron assured him confidently.

"Sweet. I love exploring avenues," Duo said, some of his good-humor returning. "Thanks, Ron."

"Er, you're welcome?" Ron replied uncertainly, not expecting to be thanked for throwing out a suggestion. When Harry grinned at him, he couldn't help but to grin in return.

"Now we need some dirt on Minister Scrimgeour," Duo mused. "We could make Blaise swear a Wizard's Oath that he'll never reveal any information about what we've been up to, then bring him into the fold so we can use his connections.

"Draco said the Zabinis are mostly neutral, but lean closer to pureblood loyalty. Blaise has been careful to never declare sides. From what Draco explained, his entire family has never been involved in politics, but they mingle amongst politicians. They don't hate muggles or muggleborns, but the Zabinis chose not to associate with them. They don't intend to help or hinder Voldemort or the Ministry, yet they associate with both camps."

"That's kind of odd, isn't it?" Harry asked, brow furrowed in thought. "Letting a pureblood family with such good standings go about their merry lives isn't the type of thing Voldemort would do. He tried to wipe out entire bloodlines for going against him during his first rise."

"I said the same thing to Draco," Duo said with a shake of his head. "He got a weird look on his face and said that was just the way things were. It was obvious he was keeping something to himself, but I didn't push it."

"There might be truth in the rumors going around about the Zabinis being involved in the Black Arts," Ron said, face paler than usual. "There have been a number of necromancers, incubi, and succubi that crop up in that family." He shuddered queasily. "Dark blood running true."

"You mean succuba or succubuses," Hermione corrected automatically before the impact of Ron's words set in. Her eyes widened, jaw dropping open wordlessly for a moment before, floundering, she said, "I'm sorry, what did you just say?"

"You didn't know?" Ron asked, genuinely surprised.

"I haven't heard anything about it," Harry said, surprised.

"This is the first I've heard of it, too," Duo admitted curiously, inclining his head towards Ron. "Why would anyone want to learn necromancy? And how do you train to be an incubus or a succubus?"

Ron was taken aback by the line of questioning. "You don't learn how to be any of those things. Zabinis are usually born with the ability," he explained, quickly realizing that all three of his fellow Gryffindors had their eyes trained on him. "No one has ever told you about some of the quirks about the oldest pureblood families?"

"It's not in any of the library books," Hermione said, scandalized, "and I know almost all Hogwarts Library by heart!"

"That would be a no," Duo quipped. "Does the Weasley Family have any quirks? Besides being incredibly virile, that is." Then, shit-eating grin plastered on his face, the American simpered at Ron, "Prewitt women must be extremely fertile, which explains the sudden boom in the wizarding population after Molly and Arthur was pronounced husband and wife."

"Oi!" Ron snapped out, trying to hit Duo with his Muggle Defense book and failing. "Weasleys are revolutionists, but Prewitts are daredevils. Both bloodlines are known for having good luck. Mild stuff, compared to what I've heard about the other bloodlines."

"Like what?" Harry asked.

"Well, the Zabini Family is a good example," Ron pointed out. "They have an affinity for the flesh -dead or alive. With the kind of people born into that family every other generation, I'm not surprised everyone leaves them alone." The redhead glanced at Harry quickly for a moment before he added, "I heard that the Malfoy Family are known for spiritual communionists and fortune tellers. My dad thinks that's how the Malfoys earned their money in the beginning."

Harry's first reaction was to brush the idea away as unlikely. Draco didn't even own a deck of Tarot cards and was adamant about being happy if he never had to say one word to the fraud of a Divination professor. Spiritual communionist, though... Harry wasn't quite sure what that phrase meant.

"Spiritual communionist?" Hermione repeated. "Do you mean that Malfoys are known to produce psychic mediums?"

"Draco can talk to the dead?" Duo said, unimpressed. "So can anyone else. There are tons of dead people floating about."

"Okay, first," Ron said loudly, holding up a finger to silence the barrage of questions, a little overwhelmed. "I don't know what you mean by psychic mediums, but there have been reports of wizards and witches with the ability to commune with spirits, sometimes leading to visions from the afterlife. Most cases can be traced directly back to the Malfoys, but they don't confirm the rumor.

"Not ghosts, Duo," Ron informed him. "Spirits that have actually passed on. Why do you think the Malfoy Family shows such reverence to their ancestors? If the rumors are true, I mean," he added hurriedly. "None of this is really official. You won't find it in a book anywhere. Most families are really private about their affinities."

"Affinities," Duo echoed faintly, intrigued. "So, say they made Trelawney the Divinations professor here because the Sight runs in her family..."

"That's exactly the case," Harry said, surprising himself. "Trelawney's ancestor was a Seer. In fact, she's actually made a handful of prophecies, one of which I know came true. The other is currently a work in progress."

Ron and Hermione grew uncomfortable at the reminder that Harry had more than one prophecy hanging over his head. Duo blinked, glancing at the black-haired boy in surprise. "Trelawney is the one responsible for all that mysticism about not living while the other survives?"

Harry shrugged. "She had the vision on the day of her job interview. Dumbledore hired her on the spot."

"That figures," Duo remarked, tone even and lacking bite. No one knew whether the American's ambiguous response was directed at Trelawney, Dumbledore, or both, and he didn't bother to elaborate further.

"I bet Orie's is better," Duo said impulsively, a mischievous smirk on his face.

"Immensely helpful, though the last half is more like a cleverly arranged scavenger hunt," Hermione said dryly. "The first part, however, is genuine prophecy."

"Being a Seer," Duo said, changing the subject abruptly, "she comes from a family with an affinity, right?"

"Yeah," Ron said slowly, wondering where the odd line of questioning was leading.

"Is it possible that my dementor killing thing is an affinity?" Duo asked. "Not from the male half of the equation, obviously. Pops looked like he was going to burst an artery when it happened."

"I've never heard about anything like it before," Ron said. "What was your mum's maiden name?"

"Proud," Duo said. "Angelica Proud."

Ron mulled over the name quietly for a moment before he shrugged apologetically. "Sorry, mate. I don't recognize the name."

"I wasn't really expecting a miracle," Duo said, laughing it off. "My mom was an American transfer student. She was Sorted into Slytherin, attended two years at Hogwarts to finish her degree, and was, quoting Dumbledore, 'charming.'" Duo paused, frowning. "She rubbed elbows with Lucius Malfoy and did scandalous things with Tomboy. Oh, and I look a lot like her according to Lucy. The Headmaster said I have her eyes. That's all I really know about her."

"Whoa," Ron said sympathetically, "sorry about that, mate."

Duo shrugged, apathetic. "I don't really think about it much."

"But she was your mother," Harry murmured quietly.

"People who have a childhood like mine," Duo replied, just as quietly, "fought every day to survive. Fantasies about true families coming along to save you from life in hell are stomped down very early on."

He quieted for a moment, staring at the fireplace with a far off expression on his fact. Ron's jaw had dropped open in shock when Duo briefly described his childhood, and Hermione's hand flew over her mouth in mild horror. Harry imploringly motioned for them to save their questions, trying to promise that he would explain later with his eyes. After drudging up so much of his past, Harry suspected Duo wouldn't want to answer any questions about his childhood.

"Kids who remembered their parents had it worse off. They had something to cling to," Duo said distantly, lost in a memory. "I was considered lucky because I didn't know where I came from."

"What year did your mother attend Hogwarts?" Hermione asked abruptly, startling Duo from his pensive mood.

"AC 177-179," he rallied off immediately, recalling that Dumbledore had told him that she started in AC 177 and finished her education. He turned back to Hermione. "Why do you want to know?"

"It sounds to me like your only hope for answers is to track down who your mother's friends were in school," Hermione said promptly. "Right now, she's your only lead behind the truth of what you can do. There is always a chance Angelica Proud told one of her friends something vital about her family bloodline."

For a long moment, Duo could only stare at Hermione with an expression of wonder on his face. Then he laughed and nodded his head knowingly. "See, Mione, that's why they made you Head Girl. You have all the answers."

Hermione's cheeks pinked, but she had to duck her head to hide her smile.

The four Gryffindors spoke for almost an hour longer before the irresistible pull of warm sheets, soft beds, and even softer pillows led them away from the fireplace.


When Duo awoke the next morning, he was in a decidedly good mood. He didn't even mind that the view outside the seventh year boys' dorm was bleakly overcast, the distant already dark with the threat of a major storm. Despite the ominous forecast, Duo gracefully leaped out of bed and didn't stop moving until he was freshly showered, teeth brushed and mouth washed, deodorized, and dressed for the day.

By the time the American returned to their dorm room to put away his toiletries, Ron was awkwardly leaning halfway out of bed, legs still entangled in his bed sheets as he rummaged through his bedside drawer. Neville was already up and gathering his own hygiene kit, leaving the room with a neatly folded towel thrown over one shoulder. Dean and Seamus showed no signs of waking. Harry was already in the process of putting on his school uniform, and soon he was carefully knotting his gold and red tie.

Duo was not as careful; the knot in his tie was sloppy and lopsided, several inches away from even touching the column of his throat. He left the first two buttons of his shirt unfastened, neglected to tuck his shirt into his trousers, and threw a black robe over the disorderly state of his uniform as if to hide it from anyone who might care.

They met Hermione in the common room and hurried straight to the Great Hall from there, all hoping to get an early start on the day. As promised, Hermione helped Duo branch the convoluted Transfiguration theory behind Inanimate to Animate: Soul or No Soul? As soon as Hermione said her piece, the American quickly penned out the end of his assignment before taking so much as one bite of food.

Once he was finished writing, he blindly reached out with his left hand and grabbed a blueberry muffin off the table. Pen still in his right hand, he absently began sketching an intricate transmutation circle he had seen on an anime once. He ate his warm muffin as he doodled and only looked up when he heard the morning post arrive. He promptly put his homework away and attended to the envelopes that had fallen in a stack on his unused plate.

One was a tersely coded message from Wufei that implied they needed to regroup soon; no doubt the Ravenclaw had heard the news. Another was a slightly longer coded message from Quatre that suggested they meet and discuss their options.

He was finally going to be able to sit down with all of his comrades; if anything, that was one good thing that came from the disaster surrounding the new player on the political front. Since finding Ravenclaw's Library and unveiling his heritage, Duo had been spending almost all of his quality time with Lady Ravenclaw and his fellow Gryffindors. Heero made the effort to visit or steal a moment of Duo's personal time, which the American fully appreciated in an indecently physical manner. The rest of his comrades focused on their separate tasks and cultivated ties to the wizarding world. They were unfortunately very familiar with separation for the sake of the mission goal, though Duo truly longed for the time they were free to gather without rousing suspicion. Thankfully, they had many of their classes together, so they weren't completely cut off from each other.

He slipped the two letters into the front pocket of his satchel, covertly and quietly casting a spell to erase the ink on the parchment.

It was the last two letters that came to him as a surprise. One was a missive from Sirius, simply requesting that Duo meet him in the DADA classroom after his last class for the day to discuss an extra-curricular assignment. The other was from Trelawney, of all people, asking him to meet her in the Divination Tower during his free period.

"What the hell!" Duo cried incredulously, parchment folding under his tightened grip. "I don't even take Divinations!"

"Eh?" Ron said around a mouthful of sausage, giving the American a puzzled look.

"Trelawney wants me to see her during my free period," Duo bemoaned sadly. "I haven't seen Bottle Bottoms since the end of my summer at Hogwarts, and that was because I declined to continue Divinations lessons." The braided boy shook his head with a wry snort. "'Lawney is nuttier than a fruitcake."

"Figured that out, did you?" Hermione murmured coolly, her eyes drilling into the side of Ron's head.

"My schedule," Ron said unaffectedly. "I can do what I want with it." Then he stuffed the last half of his sausage link in his mouth and chewed enthusiastically.

"You're not going, are you?" Harry asked, giving the letter a wary look.

Duo shrugged, haphazardly folding the sheet of parchment into a square before he stuffed it in the inner pocket of his robes. "I guess I'll humor her. She didn't write why she wanted to see me, either, and I've always been too curious for my own good. Ooh, pass me some of those yummy sugary pastries."

Hermione tsked, but refrained from commenting about what the sugar would do to his teeth as Harry casually levitated a pastry onto Duo's plate. After a heartfelt word of gratitude, the American neatly devoured the pastry, occasionally partaking his coffee in timed intervals.

Directly after breakfast was Defense Against the Dark Arts with Professor Sirius Call-Me-Sir-Black-or-Sirius-Depending-On-How-Much-I-Like-You, which was quickly becoming both the most liked and the most hated class at Hogwarts. DADA with Sirius was intriguing, informative, and relied heavily on demonstration. There were a number of occasions that Sirius merely had them duel while periodically rotating partners, which lasted nearly the entire class. Fortunately for them, Zechs would hold a lecture and have his assistant demonstrate something potentially dangerous instead of having them exercise.

Sirius also had the tendency to frequently prank his students while barking out "CONSTANT VIGILANCE!" in a gruff, menacing tone, though his eyes betrayed his merry amusement. Students learned to check their desks before sitting down, watch Sirius closely as he moved about the classroom, and investigate their property and their persons before leaving the classroom.

Today's lecture started off as review for the midterm exams scheduled for Monday. Once he was satisfied with their grasp of the material, he immediately launched into an introduction course to what they would be going over as soon as they returned from winter break.

"Silent spell casting," Sirius announced grandly to the seventh years. "Sixth year material, unfortunately, but it'll catch you up for your NEWTs. Unlike wandless or accidental magic, which is usually chaotic and rare after puberty hits, silently casting spells is completely feasible, depending on the circumstances. You are either A) talented, B) good with certain categories of spells, or C) incapable as far as silent spell casting goes."

Duo's hand shot up, derailing Sirius' lecture. "Let's say you're still displaying bouts of accidental magic well after puberty. What kind of implications would that have?"

"That question is probably better suited for Professor Flitwick," Sirius replied slowly. "Or even Madame Pomfrey, for that matter. By my reckoning, displays of accidental magic after puberty is exceedingly rare and are likely triggered by an emotional overload. At your age, it could possibly be attributed to a strong magical core, lack of control, childhood climate and upbringing, or a combination thereof."

Once Duo leaned back in his seat with a contemplative look on his face, Sirius turned back to his lecture. "Silent spell casting is easy enough in theory, but it is the practical part that's the trick. The ability is also extremely advantageous in a duel. Observe."

In the blink of an eye, Sirius had turned on his heels, wand up and pointed at Wufei. There was little time to register the movement Sirius executed neatly with his wand, no sound passing his lips as a red spell exploded out of the end of his wand.

Wufei reflexively leaped to his feet in a defensive crouch, wand out and voice bellowing, "Protego!"

Sirius easily sidestepped the rebounded spell, beaming at the irritated Asian boy before he announced, "Fantastic reflexes, Chang Wufei, well done! Ten points to Ravenclaw," he rewarded promptly, favoring Wufei with a conspicuous wink, "though I would have been even more impressed if you had managed to shield silently. That is, after all, the lesson objective.

Did anybody place what spell I attempted to cast at Wufei?" the man asked the rest of the class.

"It was Stupefy," Duo piped, having memorized and practiced the wand movements for the more useful spells religiously.

"Yes, thank you, five points to Gryffindor," Sirius rolled off. "I want all of you -you, too, Duo Maxwell, you can't avoid the dueling practices forever -to pair up and try to silently cast spells at one another." Before the students could pull away from the desks and move onto the matt, Sirius Black gave them all a spine-chilling grin.

"I know how tempting falling back on verbal spell casting is," he announced, tone almost soothing compared with the very real wicked glee that shined in his dark eyes. "Therefore, I have taken the liberty of casting a silencing spell on all of you. I suggest you try to cast the counter spell on each other, or the professor for your next class will have to do it for you."

Despite the dead silence, Harry could almost hear many of his classmates groan despondently and try to protest Sirius' decision. The DADA professor stared resolutely at them before he extended his index finger towards the matt.

"You know very well that I can do no such thing," Zechs said stoutly from his seated position at the very back of the room, previously silent and observing.

Sirius smile was completely transparent. "At least they'll be quiet during Muggle Defense."

While the seventh years set to work attempting to cancel out the silencing spells cast over them, Sirius zigzagged his way between the pairs, offering helpful suggestions and goofy words of encouragement. Harry managed to counter the spell on his fourth attempt, followed closely by Draco and Wufei, much to their surprise. Wufei and Draco looked pleased with themselves for their accomplishments while Harry tried to pretend he hadn't done anything noteworthy, and Sirius awarded the three of them twenty points each.

Duo was quick to grasp the concept, only his successful effort was managed when he threw a silent hex at Draco, who began laughing uncontrollably on his way back to his seat. Surprised, Duo just as easily Finite'd the silencing spell on himself with no ill aftereffects.

The American didn't rely on magic as heavily as most wizards because his spells had a propensity of blowing up in his face. If he had actually thought trying to cast a spell on Draco was going to work, he would have instantly reconsidered his actions. However, he actually found it much easier to use magic without speaking, and the results of his spell casting were far more favorable than usual.

"Sweet!" Duo proclaimed loudly, grinning from ear to ear. Sirius cranked his head the second he heard Duo speak over Draco's inexplicable fit of laughter, only to see the American beam back at him triumphantly.

Duo announced proudly, "And I didn't even accidentally kill anyone!" Sirius was taken aback by the unexpected declaration, speechless and blinking at the boy in befuddlement. Surely Duo's control wasn't that bad...

Draco, doing his best to resist laughing (and failing spectacularly), gasped out between laughter, "Cancel the spell, you prat!" The blond was barely coherent as he tried to get the words out, so obviously he couldn't cast Finite on himself without risking a magical backfire. The American cast the dispelling charm silently, prompting the blond's laughter to peter off into hiccups. Upon seeing his success, the Gryffindor threw his head back and laughed triumphantly while the Slytherin glared balefully at him.

"Duo," Quatre chided unexpectedly. Apparently he had overcome his handicap with just as much ease as his friends. "You haven't had any fluxes in your magic for some time. Is it so hard to believe you would eventually improve?"

"Enough of that," Draco snapped grumpily, crossing his arms and glaring at the American. "The tawdry deviant could have shattered my skeletal structure with that stunt!"

"Like what happened to the squirrel," Wufei added gravely.

"He didn't," Trowa pointed out evenly.

"Hn," Heero grunted, standing behind his excited boyfriend.

Sirius was flabbergasted. Though silent spell casting was considered a pinnacle of magical control, few were able to accomplish it. The head of the Black Family honestly had not expected more than a handful to succeed. "Did all of you manage to silently cast magic?"

"It really wasn't that hard," Duo said cheerfully. "Actually, it's a lot easier than verbal spell casting."

"Um..." came a timid reply, all eyes turning to the source of the noise. Susan Bones normally animate face was slack, skin ashen as she stared back at the men lackadaisically. "I feel dizzy..."

Sirius went to her side to encourage her to sit on the floor; more and more students were beginning to speak up until almost half of the seventh year Defense Against the Dark Arts class regained the ability to speak. Some of them, like Bones, were left feeling unwell -they complained of headaches, nausea, and dizziness, all symptoms of which passed by the end of DADA, along with over three-fourths of the seventh years.

Sirius watched the students expressionlessly as they shuffled about the room, visiting with each other in their spare time before Muggle Defense. The prefects were kind enough to come to the aid of those who had not accomplished the task.

Remus had informed him that the chances of the seventh years proving sufficient in silent spell casting was slim, given two or three special cases. The subject was sixth year material, but their former Defense teacher had been annoyingly incompetent. Sirius could almost rationalize the statistical impossibility by thinking that the seventh years' magical prowess had matured well enough for the lesson to come easily to them... but somehow, Sirius didn't think that was the case.

Zechs Marquise left his perch in the back to approach Heero, Quatre, Wufei, and Trowa as they were leaving the classroom. Duo lingered near the front of the classroom, already bored and looking as if he would rather be anywhere else.

"I need one of you to stay," Zechs informed them in a low murmur. "Preferably Yuy."

Heero glanced around Zechs, catching Duo's eyes with his. The American's head was tilted at an angle, a gleam of curiosity in his violet-hued eyes. He didn't look at Zechs when he nodded in agreement, though he did acknowledge his friends when they bid him goodbye.

The beaming smile on Duo's face when he realized Heero would be staying was apparently contagious, as the Japanese youth could not help but to return it with a small, reserved version of a smile.

"Stay here," Zechs said shortly, motioning for Duo to join Heero before he left them standing in the doorway to talk to Sirius for a moment. The wizard was startled out of his pondering, but once the platinum-haired muggle said his piece, the black-haired man nodded in agreement.

"What do you think that's all about?" Duo murmured when he joined Heero at the door, head craned in the two teachers' direction.

Heero didn't reply as Zechs cut his way across the classroom, sparing the two Gundam pilots peculiar glances before he left through the doorway. Exchanging silent glances, Duo and Heero followed right after him. He didn't take them far, stopping at a wooden door five rooms away and around the corner from the Defense classroom. He unlocked the door with an old key pulled from his pocket, and the interior of the room lit up the moment he opened the door.

Along the far end of the wall were unusually large trunks, all of which were lined up neatly and out of the way. Three of the trunks were pure ebony with green trimming. The fourth, positioned at the very end of the line, was a warm golden amber with red trimming.

"I need help moving these outside," Zechs announced, already moving over to pick up one of the trunks himself. "Leave the fourth trunk. That's for next semester."

"Just let us do it," Duo said, raising his wand and casting a charm on two of the trunks, both of which obediently lifted off of the ground and floated closer to him. Heero charmed the last trunk and stared at Zechs blankly.

"Lazy wizards," Zechs said to himself, purposefully ignoring the malefic twin looks of indignity on the two boys' faces. He swept out of the room without looking at the Gundam pilots, forcing Heero and Duo to follow.

"What's all this about, anyway?" Duo asked sullenly. "Not that I mind getting to work with Hee-chan today, but you didn't mention anything about this when I asked about today's lesson."

"These came in earlier than expected," Zechs replied without turning around. "I expected Lady Une to have trouble getting permission to transport this much munitions, but it seems I was mistaken. I'm wondering now if I could have risked not ordering the ammunition in bulk."

That offhand comment threw Duo off balance for a moment before he managed to right himself again, blurting excitedly, "Dude, you got us candy?"

Zechs frowned, looking questioningly at the American jogging to match his long stride, trunks obediently following three feet behind. Then the man turned his eyes to Heero, on the other side of him. The Japanese youth looked eerily pleased with the development, enough so that Zechs asked flatly, "Candy?"

"Duo's code for weaponry," Heero replied monotonously, eyes still facing forward. "What kind of artillery and how much ammo did you get?"

Zechs told him. Heero couldn't help but to look impressed.

"Three AK-47s?" Duo repeated with enthusiasm that sent lancing lines of uncertainty down his spine. "Two Uzis? And grenades! You brought me grenades!" Now the boy was bouncing in his step. Maybe he should have saved the practical demonstration of muggle firearms for another day...


He had searched everywhere for Quatre.

He looked in the library first. No Quatre, but he did find Wufei and his friend, Mandy Brocklehurst. Absently, he thought that for someone who was vehemently against women joining him in battle, Wufei was amazingly quick to befriend the fairer sex when it involved the non-combatant areas in his life.

Both heads came up when he approached their table. While Brocklehurst looked faintly curious by the quiet Slytherin's approach, Wufei maintained an unaffected veneer.

Trowa gave both of them a quiet nod of greeting before he asked, "Have either of you seen Quatre?"

"Not since Transfiguration," Wufei replied. "Why?" His eyes spoke volumes for how vague his question had been. With Mandy next to him, he couldn't very well ask if Trowa suspected something foul was afoot.

"Care of Magical Creatures was canceled," Trowa said, particularly unaffected when Hagrid announced -in a fretting, tearful voice -that the venomous doxies he was to be introducing to the class were experiencing a minor flu epidemic. He canceled class because he had to take care of the sick doxies, and Trowa wasn't against letting the half-giant carry on with his self-appointed task as long as Trowa wasn't asked to help.

Fortunately, Hagrid had informed him that Quatre had already been by and was aware of the news, all the while dabbing at the corners of his squinty black eyes with a dirty, oversized hanky. Quatre stayed only long enough to express his concern over the sick doxies, as well as Hagrid, who wasn't taking it very well. The Gamekeeper assured Quatre he was going to do his best to nurse the little guys back to health, and the blond left with a smile after that.

Unfortunately, the kindhearted blond wandered off without telling Hagrid what he was intending to do with his spare time. Trowa had to wonder if that had been on purpose, somehow.

"Hn," Wufei grunted, expression thoughtfully pensive. "I think he mentioned something about spending time with Maxwell when he got the chance." The Hufflepuff likely wished to see how Duo was holding up under the political microscope before coaxing out of him a time and date for a meeting.

Given a new lead to follow, Trowa nodded again and quietly murmured a word of gratitude before he turned on his heels and made a beeline for the exit, though not before he heard Mandy say casually, "That Barton's a man a few words, eh?"

"What little he says is more than sufficient," said Wufei succinctly. "Quality over quantity, Brocklehurst." An admission like that from Wufei was tantamount to the Chang stamp of approval, of which Trowa felt both honored and humbled that his friend thought so highly of him. Then again, there had never been much doubt about Wufei's loyalties, even if he refused to address his companions by their given names.

If there was anymore said about him after that, Trowa didn't hear it as he departed from the library. It didn't take him very long to find Duo; more appropriately, Duo found him just as the American came barreling down the winding steps that led up to the Divination Tower, fighting with a crystal orb that he was attempting to wrestle into his satchel.

"Whoa!" Duo exclaimed, stepping aside just in time to miss walking straight into Trowa. He recovered quickly and grinned at the tall brunet just as he finished buckling the flap on his satchel. "Hey, Tro, what's happenin'?"

Trowa's eyes were irresistibly drawn to Duo's bag. "Duo," he murmured, "did you just stuff a crystal ball in your satchel?"

"Um," the American started, "maybe?" Going by the fact the answer sounded suspiciously like a question, Trowa surmised that Duo was trying -and failing -to be evasive. "Hey, aren't you supposed to be in CoMC?"

"Class was cancelled," he explained, generously allowing Duo to change the subject. "Have you seen Quatre?"

"Nope. Oh, wait," Duo backpedaled quickly, looking up in thought. "I saw him heading off toward the greenhouses with a couple of his Hufflepuff friends about fifteen minutes ago. I thought about following him, but seeing as the greenhouses were his destination, I decided against it. Sprout starts spazzing when I'm around her precious greenhouses."

Trowa nodded, pleased. At least he had visual confirmation regarding Quatre's whereabouts this time. "Thanks."

"No prob," Duo volleyed offhandedly, adjusting the strap of his satchel on his shoulder. "Hey, I have a meeting with Sirius in a few minutes, but if you find Quatre, ask him if he feels like hanging out before dinner, around 1615 maybe? We haven't had a powwow in ages. I'll even sniff out Hee-chan and Wuffers and drag them along, too."

"Sure," Trowa agreed. "Wufei's in the school library, by the way."

"Of course he is," Duo said dryly. "Because Wuwu has an incurable book fetish. Meet you at the usual?"

"We'll be there," Trowa promised, turning to leave. He didn't make it three steps before a thought struck him by surprise. "Duo?"

The American, having turned to head toward the opposite direction, stopped in his tracks and glanced back at the taller boy questioningly. "Yeah?"

"Did you steal Trelawney's crystal ball?"

"Liberated," Duo corrected him staunchly. "I liberated Trelawney's crystal ball. I replaced it with one of her spares -she'll never notice."

"Then why bother?" the Slytherin asked.

"I thought I saw something," Duo admitted. "I just want to make sure my mind isn't playing tricks on me. I'll put it back when I'm satisfied."

"And if Trelawney does notice that her crystal ball has been switched with a substitute?" Trowa asked.

Duo's mouth ticked into an amused smirk. "That meltdown might be fun to watch."

Trowa was still chuckling to himself when he walked out of the school. He wrapped his green and silver striped scarf tightly around his neck to fight away the evening chill, his pace never halting as he took the stairs. He was barely halfway down the stone steps when he was fortunate enough to come across a group of seventh year Hufflepuffs heading in the direction from which he just came. They were talking excitedly, too absorbed in the topic to notice Trowa had stopped to wait for them.

Unfortunately, Quatre was not among them.

"Bones," Trowa said quietly, startling not only Susan, but Justin and Hannah as well. The girl gave him an odd look that he politely ignored. "Do you know where Quatre is?"

The three Hufflepuffs exchanged glances. "Uh, yeah," Susan said hesitantly, pointing in the distance. "He volunteered to tend to the Whomping Willow for Professor Sprout..."

"Thank you," Trowa murmured, nodding his head once before he continued down the steps, turning towards the distant Willow the moment the earth was under his soles. He was distantly aware of Susan Bones informing her friends that she would see them later in the evening.

"Barton, wait!" she called after him, trainers already tapping down the stairs. Trowa stopped, craning his neck far enough to the left to sufficiently watch the Hufflepuff approach him at a jog, stopping short three feet behind him.

When the girl just stared back at him, Trowa prompted evenly, "Is there something you wanted, Bones?"

The girl had a little trouble maintaining direct eye contact for a moment before she firmed her stance and said politely, "I don't mean to intrude, but do you mind if I go with you to see Quatre?"

Trowa shifted his stance, half turning his body to relieve the strain on his neck. He contemplated over what he knew of Susan Bones, which was information primarily provided by his boyfriend. She was the niece of Madame Amelia Bones, who held a budding interest in Heero and Wufei. Susan was quiet, though she easily befriended people she had a good feeling about. She was prone to curiosity and often chose to act on it. The only time she ever asked Quatre about him was an inquiry into what kind of person Trowa was.

The chances of Susan Bones having a crush on him were not very high. Trowa nodded his acceptance before he happened to spot Heero watching him silently from over the stone railing of the main entrance. "One moment, Bones."

He was aware of the girl's eyes on him as he moved his hands into a series of handsigns, the first being both of his hands together as if to pray; then he held up both fists, flashing one finger, than six, one again, and finally, five. Then he jerked his thumb over his shoulder.

Heero nodded curtly, turning on his heel and going back into the school. Message relayed, Trowa turned back to the staring girl, inclining his head toward their destination. "Shall we?"

Trowa started walking once more, and Susan fell in step beside him the moment he moved to pass her. She didn't walk too close to him, keeping a respectable meter between them. Trowa noticed that she often sneaked glances at him, though she didn't say anything.

"Is there something you wish to ask me?" Trowa asked bluntly. Susan visibly startled, blinking rapidly at Trowa for a moment before she turned her eyes back to where she was walking.

"Just curious," Susan murmured.

"Curious," Trowa echoed. "About what?"

"Well," the girl said slowly, brow furrowed in thought. "You don't really talk much, right? Not to Hufflepuffs, anyway, and usually only when Quatre's around. And you're Slytherin, so you are a bit intimidating by default. But Quatre adores you -talks about you frequently, never says a cross word about you, he just seems content, you know?" She scratched the side of her nose delicately. "Quatre's my friend, so naturally I want to know more about my friend's significant other. I mean, nobody has outright said anything, but everyone is aware that the two of you are an item. You don't exactly go out of your way to keep it secret."

"Ah," Trowa said simply. "What would you like to know?"

"General stuff," Susan said helpfully. "Like, um... Well, how did you and Quatre first meet?"

"Hm." Trowa tilted his head silently; of course, he couldn't tell Susan the whole story, but an heavily edited version might sedate the girl's curiosity. "Quatre was trying to talk a group of heavily armed muggles out of trying to kill him. I stepped in to offer a helping hand."

His answer seemed to surprise the girl. "Really? Because when I look at Quatre, I don't see someone who has been in very many life or death situations."

Amused, Trowa chuckled at Susan's comment.

"What?" the girl asked him, baffled. "What did I say?"

"It's not important," Trowa assured her. The girl stared at him and opened her mouth to persist, but movement out of her peripheral vision stopped her, both verbally and physically. She stared at the distant Whomping Willow with incredibly wide, honey brown eyes.

"It's still moving," she said dazedly, confused as she looked around, vainly peering through the long, drooping branches for a sign of her blond house mate. "I know he has some kind of calming influence on the Willow, but he can't possibly tend to it while it's moving..."

"Why?" Trowa inquired.

"Because the Willow gets agitated when someone tries to maintain the undergrowth," Susan explained. "Professor Sprout rewards us points and extra credit if we help out in the greenhouses and the gardens. The Whomping Willow rarely appears on the list; it's restricted to sixth and seventh years and comes with explicit instructions on how to immobilize the Willow. The task is worth fifty house points and a full test grade."

Trowa stared mutely at her for a moment before he finally spoke. "I've never heard anything about a list."

Susan's shoulders drooped. "Ehm, well..."

"Ah," Trowa said knowingly, slanting the girl a sideways glance. "Admirable."

She blinked, taken aback. "Professor Sprout pins up a to-do list on the house bulletin, goes far enough to offer extra class credit, and neglects to provide the other three houses with a copy of her list. How is that admirable?"

"You help your teacher maintain the gardens and greenhouses and earn points and credit through hard work," Trowa replied stoically. "Diligence and hard work is the Hufflepuff creed, isn't it?"

"Yes, but what-"

"So it is admirable that Professor Sprout teaches her industrious house that hard work reaps great benefits," Trowa concluded seamlessly.

The girl's stared at him for a long time, silent and unmoving. They were still a dozen yards away from the Willow, but Susan Bones was content to scrutinize him, as if she were mentally grading him... though Trowa was at a loss as to why.

"Oh," she said, finally moving forward once more. "Thanks," she added sincerely, beaming at him. Trowa couldn't shake the feeling that he had just been tested, though he suspected that he had supplied a favorable response.


When Duo waltzed up to the open door of the DADA classroom, Sirius was frantically shifting through the neglected scrolls of homework and loose bits of parchment piled on top of his desk. The man either didn't notice some of the scrolls roll off his desk and the parchment fluttering to the stone floor, or he didn't care. Sirius was mumbling so lowly that Duo only caught half of what the man was saying; none of it made very much sense.

"... steal Moony's day planner... anal-retentiveness contagious?..." Pick up a piece of parchment, scanned it briefly, tossed it over his shoulder with a huffy snort, "Damn nattering cows..."

A stack of scrolls was summarily disrupted and the majority tumbled to the floor and rolled in every which way. Sirius made no move to even pretend he'd noticed, much to Duo's personal amusement. Sirius Black's desk: where homework goes to die.

Duo withheld his laughter... barely. "You wanted to see me?" he drawled cheerfully after knocking jauntily on the doorframe to announce his arrival.

Sirius jolted as if he'd been stung, but slumped again when a brief glance confirmed the identity of the intruder. "Oh, good, you're here. Go ahead and shut the door behind you."

"Hey, it's your reputation, man," Duo said with a perverted grin, using his heel to prod the door closed behind him before he jogged the length of the classroom.

Sirius didn't respond; instead, he went right back to rifling through his desk looking for whatever elusive object he needed. He was just moving on to shifting through the drawers in his search when he belatedly murmured, "I'll be with you in a mo'."

"Take your time," Duo mumbled, putting his bag on the chair of a desk a little more forcefully than he had intended. He winced when he heard the crystal ball crack sharply against the wooden seat, and only a thick lining of cloth between the two. He checked to see if Sirius noticed the unusual sound, but the eighth consecutive DADA professor was still absorbed in his search. It didn't sound like the crystal ball broke, but he couldn't guarantee that it was not cracked. Oops.

He soon lost interest in what Sirius was looking for and moved his eyes to the nearest existential point of interest. The bookcase standing just inside the DADA teacher's inner office, for example. A lot of fun to be had there -after all, who could go wrong with titles like 1001 Guidelines for the Aspiring Prankster by Orion White, The Illusionists' Bible by Precilla Prine, and The Call of Nature: Path of the Animagi by Thaddeus Bourgeois.(3)

It was that last one especially that caught his attention. Wufei had inquired about buying a guide to becoming an Animagus, only to become disenchanted with the idea when Mandy explained that any book intent on aiding a wizard or witch in becoming an Animagus would be on the Ministry's restricted list. They would have to buy a permit and sign a contract declaring an intent to register within six months of the first successful transformation. During registration, the Animagus was obligated to transform and allow Ministry employees to document any telling markings or traits. Mandy had heard rumor that they would even create a perfect dental mold of an Animagus whose form happened to be a larger predator.

Sirius, on the other hand, had at one time been an unregistered Animagus. After his ability was revealed at his appeal, he had been found guilty of neglecting to register; it was decided his punishment for his crime had long ago been rendered, so he didn't have to do community service. He did, however, have to eventually register, much to the former convict's great reluctance.

The only way the Ministry could have been ignorant of Sirius Black's Animagus form for over a decade and a half was if one of the Marauders managed to get his hands on the text without going through the traditional channels. The Ministry had also forgotten to inquire too heavily in how Sirius Black had achieved his status as an Animagus under their noses, so of course the man would keep it dwarfed between two thick volumes that encouraged mischief.

To Duo, it was like a large neon sign that was ordering him to stuff the small, worn book down his trousers and pretend he wasn't trying to make off with one of his teacher's books. Still, the American had a healthy respect for the man, so the least he could do was try to make his intentions legit.

"Interesting literary collection, Prof," Duo drawled, standing under the threshold of the office. "I'm kind of jealous right now."

The man paused his hunt long enough to give Duo a solemn look. "And right you should be," Sirius said staunchly. "That's almost a decade's worth of research and material every professional prankster could ever need, from basics for beginners all the way to the really fun stuff."

"Can I borrow the books that lead to the fun stuff?" Duo asked, smilingly in a non-fiendish manner.

Sirius waved the question off and returned to his search. "Have at it. Just remember to bring them back."

Duo dove into the office and grabbed several promising titles, careful to slip the slender Animagus text between the thicker books. He sauntered casually to his satchel and tried to stuff his bounty inside; the crystal ball and a small collection of his school things impeded him, but removing his Potions text fixed the problem.

"Hah," Sirius barked loudly, triumphantly holding a stained, rolled up scroll of parchment in one fist. He immediately unraveled it, scanning over the contents before he muttered, "I knew it. Maybe I should try it with the fifth year Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors after break...?"

"Try what?" Duo piped curiously, instantly reminding the man that he was not the only one present.

"Just a little experiment," Sirius said unassumingly, though mischievous grin settled across his weathered face.

"Uh-huh," Duo said slowly, walking closer to the front of the room. He paused at the edge of the safety mat to insouciantly inspect the rattling trunk that sat in the center. He tilted his head to the side speculatively for a moment before he slanted a suspicious gaze towards Harry's godfather. "God, I hope you weren't taking me seriously when I told you that true friends help you hide the body."

Sirius blinked, taken aback by the unexpected turn in the conversation. He glanced at the boy in bafflement before saying, "What? No. Well, maybe," he amended with a smirk. "But that's not the case here." That said, he kicked the rattling trunk vindictively. "There's a boggart in here."

Duo appeared displeased by Sirius' announcement. Facing a boggart in the presence of another was strictly forbidden, as far as he was concerned. It left too much about his secret fears exposed, and had the potential of being used against him later. "I already know how to repel a boggart." He crossed his arms with a stubborn frown on his face. "Can I go now?"

Belatedly, Sirius realized just how difficult this was turning out for him. "Don't be an idiot; I wouldn't dream of someone like you deliberately revealing your deepest, darkest fear to just anyone." Hell, the American had shown enough reservations about Sirius knowing his most well-protected secret. Asking the boy to reveal his fear would have been pushing it. "I, on the other hand, have no problem revealing mine in private, which is exactly why I want to test this out during Yule break." He paused, frowning slightly. "You are staying for Yule, aren't you?"

"For the most of it," the kid murmured absently, but didn't go into any detail. Duo raised his eyebrows in keen interest, the lingering frost in his demeanor rapidly melting. "Okay. You've officially got my attention. What's up?"

I love fishing, Sirius thought rather smugly. Hook, bait, cast off, and reel him in... it's too easy. "I'm fascinated by that nifty little dementor-killing move of yours," Sirius said aloud, grinning. "I bloody despise dementors. The fact that you can kill them encourages me to like you more than I already do, though I can't fathom how it's possible. I want to see if you can do it again."

And if he could, Duo would be Sirius' new friend for life... second only to Remus, of course.

"Uh-huh," Duo said with a suspicious frown. "Are you even sure it will work on a fake dementor?"

Damn. Sirius winced before grudgingly admitting, "Not really, but it's worth a shot. I mean, in theory, a boggart physically turns into what frightens one the most. A boggart-dementor can still suck out your soul. Still, it might just be different enough to make this all a moot point." With a shrug, he added, "But you can try, right?"

"Hm," Duo mused, a finger tapping his chin lightly. Then, with a slow grin, he held up that finger pointedly. "One condition: you teach me the Patronus Charm."

"That's on the syllabus," Sirius pointed out, giving Duo an odd look. "What's the point of learning something now that you'll learn about in February?" Not to mention that Duo could kill dementors, which defeated the purpose of learning how to repel them.

"I want to learn it now," Duo replied patiently, pulling his shoulders back and giving the ex-con a mulish stare.

The boy obviously wasn't going to back down on this. He was secretly pleased by this bargain; even though he had no intention of forcing the boggart to shift into a shape that would frighten Duo, he was curious to see what shape Duo's magic would chose to guard him from dementors. A wizard's Patronus told just as much about the individual as his fears.

With a shrug, Sirius replied nonchalantly, "Can't argue with that. If you show me you can repeat whatever it is that you did, I'll instruct you on the Patronus Charm. Mind you," he added knowingly, "people rarely catch on to the Patronus Charm the first time around, so it might take a while."

"I'm a quick study," Duo replied confidently. "I'll be conspicuously busy for the first week of winter break, but my schedule is open afterwards. How about we schedule for the day after Christmas?"

"Sounds good to me," Sirius agreed, bemused.

"Cool," Duo said, smiling thankfully. "And it's not really a bad idea, seeing if I can do an encore. I've been trying by myself, but I've had no luck. Thanks for the help."

"You're graciously welcome, brat," Sirius responded, smirking wryly when the boy tossed a wave over his shoulder as he left the room.


(1) One of my new favorite curses. I may have made it up because I've never heard anyone else say it. Yeah, I know -I have a filthy mouth. :can't quite muster the proper amount of shame: One of my older brothers tried to wash it out with soap once, but I ended up biting the bar in half and accidentally swallowed it. Ever think about eating soap before? Don't. You'll puke everywhere, and brothers are evil enough to make you clean it up... no matter how firmly you maintain that you throwing up was all his fault.

(2) Since posting, I've had the sinking suspicion that Harry's already revealed that to Ron within either this story or the prequel. If I did, please point out my stupidity and I'll properly adjust the scene. :sheepish grin: I tried to look for it, but I haven't found it happening yet... maybe it's just because I wrote that ages ago?... :shrugs:

(3) Bourgeois -the spelling is nothing like this name is pronounced. The name Bourgeois is French in origin and is pronounced "Boo-jhwaa." It is a fairly common name in South Louisiana, and I made several attempts to pronounce this name when I first started working. My attempts were laughable, at best. :sheepish grin: I really like the name, though, so that should explain how it worked its way into the story. And Now You Know.

A lot of people voiced a desire to see more of Quatre, Trowa, and Wufei, all of whom I have been neglecting in favor of Duo, sometimes Heero, and the crew of the Hpverse. I completely agree -our boys need some attention. There's going to be a nice juicy bit of them in the next chapter. I hope you will stick around for it. :grins and winks:

Thanks for reading! And please take the time to review.


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