A lot of a particular scene in this chapter was inspired by t.A.T.u's Cosmos (Outer Space). In honor of that, I've actually used the song as a sort of background track. Hope you don't mind.
Harry Potter and the Secret Link Part 19
Despite what many believed, Duo wasn't too fond of surprises. He liked them in moderation during the most appropriate times -Christmas, anniversaries, celebrations, and birthdays were the perfect time to spring surprises, when they were at least somewhat expected. Otherwise, he didn't really deal with surprises very well.
As the group of officials before him were just as surprised as he was, he wouldn't hold it against them, though. That was just bad manners. Instead, he took a moment to recover from this slight cardiac arrest and pasted a happy-go-lucky smile back where it belonged.
Dumbledore, in all his eccentric glory, cheerfully said, "Oh, you've met?"
"Yeah. Talk about coincidences, huh?" Duo said, trying to make light of the situation. While he outwardly projected a pleasant, teasing demeanor, internally, he was planning the quickest escape routes and how congenial Lady Une and Zechs were appearing today. (Relena wasn't really a worry; she was all for the Gundam pilots' further freedom.) Judging by their expressions, chances of getting away were in his favor.
"I've been so worried!" Relena said with a sniff, reluctantly pulling away. "You disappeared so suddenly, and the others were so worried about you that they even asked for my help in locating you. And then... well, with the political situation and everything... the others just vanished as well. I didn't know what to think."
Political situation. Right. Duo could always look to Relena to mince words. It was appreciated at this juncture -it wouldn't do to have him outed as a wanted man with so many witnesses. "Well, you know -secret wizarding society. Which, apparently, isn't so secret. Unless the three of you have mysteriously become magicalas well; in that case, fate played a really mean prank on us all." Then again, Duo wouldn't really put it passed the great cosmic being that controlled fate to pull something like this.
"Of course not, Duo," Une said with a strangely conspiring gleam in her eye. "This is simply a diplomatic mission between a select few delegates from the Earth Sphere Alliance and a society that lays outside of the boundaries of our law."
Outside the boundaries...
If Duo weren't in a happy relationship, he would probably kiss Une. Being that the wizarding world didn't exactly adhere to the laws of the United Nations because they, simply put, had no representation within the Alliance itself, therefore, existed outside of the UN as a whole, Une and Zechs had no jurisdiction over a wizard or witch. And Duo was a wizard.
As long as Duo adhered to his citizenship in the wizarding world, Une and Zechs really couldn't touch him. Ace!
That didn't mean he immediately disregarded the escape plans, however.
"Diplomatic mission, huh? That's cool," Duo said, beaming. He turned to his slightly befuddled Gryffindor companions. "Hey, you guys go ahead without me. I'll be there in a minute. Harry, Hermione, Ron, you three stick around. I want you to meet some old friends of mine."
"Such a delight to see old friends, isn't it?" Dumbledore said boisterously as the others trickled into the Great Hall, leaving behind the four Gryffindor students. "Well, I do believe we shall leave our guests in your very capable hands, Mr. Maxwell. Please try not to keep them long; I'm sure they are very famished, and they would enjoy the very scrumptious meal our school has to offer."
"Of course, AB," Duo said, giving the old man a thumbs up. McGonagall looked properly scandalized by the Gryffindor's apparent lack of respect, but Dumbledore merely chuckled and led her into the Great Hall, trailed by the other professors.
This, of course, left Duo with introducing the old friends to the new friends. And no one could ever accuse Duo of ever doing anything the proper way.
"Relena, Lady Une, Zechs, this is Harry. He eats babies," Duo said, rather matter-of-factly. Oh, how he wished he could see the expression on Harry's face at that announcement, especially after seeing the sheer malicious glee on ol' Snape's face when the American noticed the Potions Master had raised his eyebrow at Harry's general direction upon Duo's words just before the man disappeared behind the extravagant doors of the Great Hall.
Relena, however, had an excellent view of Harry's expression; a very descriptive term to distinguish such a look would be 'gobsmacked'. The poor boy couldn't have looked more shocked if he was suddenly slapped in the face with a dead tuna. Then again, Relena thought with a fond smile, Duo had that affect on people.
"Preferably small newborns," Duo went on bravely, his face the absolute picture of sincerity, "since they are a bit easier to chew, but a toddler will do in a pinch. His friend Ron is an unrepentant puppy killer, and my Slytherin friend Draco... well, we don't talk about his hobbies much, but it involves thumbscrews and a tendency to wear conforming leather. There. I've said enough."
"Puppy killer?" Ron shrieked, agog.
Relena, lips twitching in amusement, attempted to copy Duo's facial expression as she nodded solemnly. "I see. And your female companion?"
"That's Hermione," Duo said, leaning forward and whispering loudly, "She reads too much."
Duo could almost hear the girl roll her eyes in exasperation.
"Guys, this is Relena Dorlian Peacecraft, Lady Une, and... is it still Zechs, or do you go by Milliardo now? No offense, man, but I thought you were kind of dead until now." Duo glanced the blond man over critically. "Looking pretty spry for a corpse."
Heero's former adversary found himself smirking in amusement at Duo's rather extemporary attitude. "Milliardo Peacecraft. Though I don't believe we've ever formally met, Duo Maxwell."
"I know, right? It's a shame," Duo said, preening. "Who could even think they know perfection without being in my marvelous presence? You're forgiven, though."
"You need to stop hanging around Malfoy," Harry said mildly. "You're starting to sound an awful lot like him."
Ron, shivering, replied, "He is, isn't he? I knew Malfoys were contagious. Duo, stop it before your hair turns blond and you start parading around like you own the place."
"Just because I sold your ass to slavery behind your back -but you're not supposed to know that yet, so forget I said anything," Duo said whimsically, hiding a smile when he saw the very apparent amusement in Relena's eyes.
"It's nice to see you're getting along so well with adapting to this fascinating way of life," Relena said softly, waving her hand around the majestic structure that was not only a school to Duo, but somewhat of a home he never really had. "I really was so worried about you, Duo. It's not like you to drop out of sight without so much as a word to your friends. That is... before I lost contact with the others, as well."
Some of the amusement had faded from Relena's cornflower blue eyes, and damn him if Duo didn't like to see any kind of sadness in a girl's eyes. Of course Relena would be worried about the former Gundam pilots, especially with all of the bad press about them lately. Realistically, contacting her in any way, shape, or form could have lead their pursuers to them; but that didn't stop Duo from feeling like a jerk because of it. And since Lady Une and Zechs also seemed to be silently rooting for the Gundam pilots' further freedom, he didn't see any harm in informing the girl that the other four were at Hogwarts, as well.
Too bad Quatre beat him to the punch. The fair Winner heir, arm in arm with his taller, quieter boyfriend, a picnic basket between them (filled with, Duo assumed, all the makings of a romantic luncheon in some isolated glade somewhere off school grounds because that just seemed like such a Trowa thing to decide to treat his boyfriend to) rounded the corner. Both pilots froze in classic deer-caught-in-the-headlights mode, Duo's first instinct was to laugh. His second instinct was to wince because, much like him, they probably assumed that whatever was about to hit the fan would not be evenly distributed.
Duo lifted his hand and waved at them weakly, trying for a casual laugh. "Er, hey, guys. Look who decided to drop in."
Quatre, always one for polite conversation, delicately said, "We can see that quite well on our own, thank you, Duo."
Relena looked positively ecstatic. "Quatre! Trowa? You two are here, as well?"
By the looks of things, Zechs was having the time of his life with this sudden development. "Trowa Barton. I thought I'd be running into you again."
Trowa raised his single visible eyebrow. "Wish I could say the same(1). I thought you were dead, myself."
"I seem to be getting that a lot," Zechs replied casually.
"Hm. Lady Une," Trowa said steadily, meeting the stern woman's eyes. "Always an honor."
Une smiled wryly. "I should hope so, Barton."
And if that doesn't speak volumes about history, Duo thought, wondering how weird it would be to come face to face with a very convincing prized pupil that eventually turned out to be an infiltrated Gundam pilot. Then he realized it was those same convincing infiltration tactics that lead to the destruction of his beloved Deathscythe, and a grudging Duo was nobody's friend. Of course, in trying to take his mind off the fact that it was Trowa who destroyed his buddy in the first place, he recalled it was Une who was eager to sign and initial the documents that ordered Duo's execution.
Why did he think it was safe to be around these people again? Masochism. Had to be. It was the only logical explanation besides suicidal tendencies.
"Um, surprise?" Duo said with a grin. He sent Quatre and Trowa a calming glance before continuing, "Wufei and Heero are around here somewhere, too. Wufei's probably hiding from all the ladies wanting to date him, and Heero's probably getting the crap annoyed out of him by Draco, who has become amazingly resilient to the Death Glares." The slight reminder that his secret protegé had progressed so far in taking his boyfriend's stoic and sometimes hostile attitude with a grain of salt cheered Duo up a lot.
That cheer immediately fled in the face of realization when Duo saw the hopeful look in Relena's eyes at the mention of Heero.
He'd completely forgotten that Relena had a longstanding crush on Heero. And Relena wouldn't exactly know about Duo and Heero's relationship.
Damn it. He hated seeing girls sad. He absolutely abhorred having girls being sad because of something he'd done, unwittingly or not.
Meanwhile, Draco was annoying the crap out of one Heero Yuy, resolutely ignoring the heavy glare that was boring into skull like a red hot fireplace poker. While he did have to admit that he'd gotten very good at crawling under Heero's skin (to the ever-present amazement of his fellow Slytherins), he couldn't exactly look Heero in the eyes for very long before his own eyes began to water at the very intensity of Heero's glare.
Draco liked getting under people's skin. That didn't make him suicidal.
"I hear the Shrieking Shack is a popular hotspot for an intense snogging session," Draco drawled in mock earnestness, his eyes gleaming as he steadily not-focused on Heero's face. "Though I can't imagine the appeal of snogging in front of that eyesore; the sheer distraction of the monstrosity would completely overshadow any hormonal impulses I would be feeling. Oh, but I've heard Rosemerta looks away when teenaged couples want to dine alone in one of her private dining rooms, but despite the popularity of that option, I don't think much dining actually gets done back there because I rarely ever see her venture away from the main pub. Of course, if you're feeling brave and like a little danger spiced with your snogging sessions, you can venture off the path leading back to Hogwarts and find a comfortable spot in the Forbidden Forest to do it, but I wouldn't recommend that after the sun sets."
"Of course, Heero." Draco smiled winningly, fluttering his eyelashes as he steepled his fingers and looked toward the irritated Japanese Slytherin slyly. "I could talk about lubricant, instead."
Blaise choked on his pumpkin juice. Even Vince and Greg seemed to want to flee at the very sight of Heero's irate expression, but their loyalty to Draco prevented them from doing so.
If Heero made any reply, be it verbal or nonverbal, Draco didn't notice it. He was a little distracted by the procession of a mixture of old and new faces that entered the Great Hall over Heero's shoulder. Seeing Duo enter with Harry, Granger, and the Weasel wasn't what interested Draco as much as the appearance of the three oddly dressed individuals that followed them. Duo seemed to be chatting quietly with a rather pretty girl, sometimes waving his hands emphatically as he looked to the older and equally stunning man and woman with her. All three of the newcomers seemed especially impressed with the Great Hall's renowned ceiling, something even Draco admired from time to time.
Pansy gasped audibly from the other side of Vince, her eyes focused mainly on the rather tall, handsome blond man with the steely blue eyes. "Oh, merciful spirits..."
Even Millicent was fanning herself at the sight of the man. Millicent just didn't do things like that! In fact, popular consensus dictated that Millicent was a lesbian, explaining the fact she never seemed to blink at male beauty.
Heero was quick to note the constant conversation of other students fading into silence, quickly turning in his seat to survey the cause of it. "Relena..."
Heero... Shocked? And ice skaters were flocking to hell.
Movement from the staff table brought Draco's attention to Dumbledore, who looked about as happy as that half-giant oaf with a new 'harmless' pet.
"You've no doubt noticed that Hogwarts is playing host to our esteemed guests this very day," the Headmaster announced cheerfully. "I'm happy to inform you all that for the first time since the founding of Hogwarts, we've had some very prominent figures from the muggle world wanting to visit our school."
Where were the disfiguring warts? The overhanging brows? The rather vacant and empty-headed dispositions? The cattle-like quality that all purebloods were lead to believe muggles had? Muggles weren't supposed to be well-dressed and well-groomed and... and they certainly weren't supposed to look normal. Not like just another witch or wizard!
Not for the first time, Draco Malfoy (and a fair few other purebloods) were severely disillusioned about what they knew of the world and how it worked.
"They can't be muggles," Pansy whispered frantically. "Mother said muggles have ears like house-elves!"
"My dad said muggles have beady little eyes that are set really far apart, like a boar," Pritchard hissed to Baddock.
"My mum said they have hairy hands and feet, so thick they might as well be dogs," Baddock whispered back.
Dumbledore cleared his throat, silencing all whispered discussions once more. "May I present Ms. Relena Dorlian, muggle Vice-Foreign Minister, along with her associates Lady Une, head of the Preventer Organization -which, I'm lead to believe is much like our Aurors- and Preventer Milliardo Peacecraft. I would hope you all treat our guests with the respect their positions entail, as they are very taken with our wizarding customs and laws and would appreciate speaking with some of you in only the most courteous of manners."
The pretty girl smiled and bowed to Dumbledore. "You honor us with your generosity, Albus."
Muggles were not supposed to be so formal; in fact, muggles weren't supposed to speak in full sentences, either. Didn't these people know they were breaking the rules?(2)
"Not as much as you honor us with your presence, my dear," Dumbledore said cheerfully. "Now, let us continue this delicious feast!"
And, like that, everyone went back to their meals; however, no one's eyes strayed from the curious newcomers for longer, judging by the frequent glances toward the entryway of the Great Hall.
Heero scowled at his fellow housemates scathingly. "You people are seriously stunted."
"On behalf of my people: Hey," Draco said in protest, still trying to determine just how these muggles could look so bloody normal. He tensed when he realized that Duo was leading that same pretty girl directly... toward... Slytherin.
Oh, that's just begging for bloodshed. Duo knew better, damn it.
"This," Duo said in a grandiose manner, "is the notorious Slytherin House, home of the sly, the ambitious, and the smarmy comeback. Fair warning: most of them bite. Hey, Draco." Those two words, for all the friendliness they held, seemed to be laced with the threat of something painful if Draco didn't place nice.
Ugh. Draco screwed up all of the courtesy his mother drilled into him since birth and smiled in polite disinterest. "Duo. I see you've picked up a new... friend."
"This is Relena, an old friend of ours," Duo said cheerfully. "Relena, this is my friend Draco Malfoy. He doesn't play well with others."
Damn right he didn't.
The girl smiled. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Malfoy. Duo mentioned you briefly earlier; something about copious amounts of leather and thumbscrews," she added, smiling at Duo in amusement.
"Duo," Draco said, smile frozen on his face, "what lies have you been spreading about me?"
"Relax, Dragon Boy," Duo said with a grin. "I also told her Ron was a puppy killer and Harry eats babies."
Relena's smile softened slightly as she looked to Heero, who silently stood from his seated position. There was definitely... something... between them, causing Draco to furrow his brows curiously. Heero's omnipresent scowl was gone, replaced by something that was slightly respectful, and the girl's eyes shown with admiration and a certain amount of... love? Was that a blush staining her cheeks? And Duo... Duo's happy-go-lucky expression was notably fixed into place, as if anyone could just come by and easily tear that mask away.
"Heero..." Relena said softly, smiling fondly. "It's... so good to see you again."
"Relena," Heero said quietly, nodding his head in greeting.
"When Duo told us the rest of you were here, I was so happy to hear that you were safe," the girl went on. "It hasn't quite been the same without you five... I was very worried about you, especially, but I've always known you can take care of yourself. All of you can."
"Always," Duo said cheerfully. "You, of all people, know that well enough."
Relena turned that smile at Duo, saying, "Of course, Duo; I would never doubt that for a moment." Her smile faded slightly, and she looked back to Heero in a rather hopeful manner. "I was hoping, after lunch, you and I could talk privately? It would... mean a lot to me."
Draco hoped Heero would refuse; he did have a date with his bloody boyfriend. The same boyfriend the stupid girl didn't seem to realize was standing right beside her. In fact, it looked to be the case when Heero looked at Duo and said, "Actually, we-"
And then Duo did something incredibly stupid. "Of course he will, Relena. You and Heero have a lot to catch up on, after all."
Heero blinked. "Duo-" But the American Gryffindor was waving his boyfriend off, smiling disarmingly in an almost casually dismissive manner.
"Maa, Hee-chan, I'll meet you in Hogsmeade later, okay? You and Relena should have a private chat, you know?" And Duo's eyes seemed to be radiating understanding, of all things, which was just weird. "Update each other on what's been going on. Really. I'll probably be at the Three Broomsticks when you decide to come to Hogsmeade."
Heero studied his boyfriend's earnest disposition and his wide, sincere amethyst eyes for all of several long, silent seconds before, finally, his head dipped down in a single nod of affirmation. "Aa."
Duo smiled again before patting the muggle's hand comfortingly. "Go eat, Miss Relena. Can't have you feeling faint on your very first visit to Hogwarts, can we?"
And why not? Draco honestly wanted to know.
"Only if you promise me you and the others will visit with me later, Duo," Relena said insistently. "There's so much things we all need to catch up on, and... as much as it pains me, there are things of a more serious nature that we need to discuss."
"Of course," Duo said simply, grinning playfully. "You're staying most of the evening, right? We'll meet with you after dinner tonight. I'm not sure poor Trowa and Quatre would want their little picnic disturbed so early."
Relena smiled fondly. "Somehow I always knew those two had feelings for one another. It's very sweet."
Duo flickered a glance at Heero. "Yeah... I'm glad it worked out. See you later, Relena. Hee-chan." He patted the girl's hand once again before, finally, turning away and leaving the Hall altogether, much to Draco's ire.
He withstood the urge to follow as soon as the girl left with some quiet words to Heero that Draco couldn't be bothered to be interested in. Well, at least for five minutes before, with a cursory glance at Heero, he stood and left the Hall just as quickly, intent on finding one Duo Maxwell and demanding as to just what the hell that had been all about.
Duo wasn't hard to find, in fact; Draco had only to look for the braided boy in the Gryffindor dorm. More specifically, in the sixth years boy dormitory, where that strange contraption that Duo called a stereo was softly churning out the beginning chords of a song that sounded both sad and strangely haunting. It wasn't anything like what Draco had heard before, so he could only assume it was something completely muggle... which, damn it all, Draco found himself not minding at all, what with all the nifty so-called muggle gadgets Duo and the others had been slowly introducing to him.
Duo stood silently in front of the open window, the cold winter air cutting into the warmth of the room. The American Gryffindor seemed strangely... contemplative. Draco couldn't rightly say he'd seen Duo like this many times before, as it was only very rarely the boy ever shut up and fell into this kind of mood.
It was oddly discomforting.
"Games we don't want to play.
Same winner everyday.
Kill for the second best.
Feel no more, feel no less.
We have our minutes cut.
We lose our feelings but,
That's what the movies show.
This is where stories go.
Stars we don't want to reach.
Scars we don't want to stitch.
Go where we haven't been.
Fly away, time machine.
Clouds, we will chase them out.
Crowds, we will face them down.
This is our secret place.
Outer space, outer space."
"Well?" Draco said haughtily, crossing his arms and leaning against the frame of the doorway, not quite willing to step within Duo's space. "That girl obviously has the hots for your boyfriend. Why the hell did you suddenly decide they needed to spend a private moment together?"
Duo glanced over his shoulder, smiling slightly. "It's a bit more complicated than a simple crush, Draco. Heero and Relena have some... history. I think it's important for Heero to hash things out with Relena before anything between Heero and I goes on further. He's never given her the indication that anything romantic could happen between them, but... He's always respected her ideals."
"What, and suddenly your happiness doesn't matter?" Draco said scornfully. "I take back all the tolerable things I've said about you -you deserve to be in Gryffindor, you self-sacrificing twit."
"Ground we don't want to feel.
Found what they didn't steal.
Time, we were really lost.
Bridges burned, fingers crossed.
We, shall we ever be,
Free with no guarantee.
Life on another plane.
Same before, same again.
Go where you want to go,
So no one ever knows,
Only what we decide.
Is it gone? Has it died?
Dry every tear in my,
Eye, you can tell me why
This is our secret place.
Outer space, outer space."
"There's just a lot of history," Duo said distantly after a moment of pause, his eyes turning to the no-doubt fascinating scene out of the dormitory window. "I'm not worried about anything that could happen between Relena and Heero. Heero just doesn't see her that way, despite Relena wishing differently. And... she was one of the people that helped Heero see that a life for him during peacetime is possible. He respects Relena in ways that I can't even fathom, and she admires him for a lot of the same reasons I do.
"But now it's time for Heero to tell her that, while he's fond of her, she's nothing more than a sister to him," Duo went on simply, finally turning to look at Draco again. "He'll probably never get the opportunity to do so again, since we're currently persona non grata in the muggle world right now. I don't think any of us plan to go back any time soon, and this could be one of the last moments those two have with each other. Relena's very important in the muggle world, Draco, and she can't have her reputation ruined if someone found out she was still in contact with Heero. Or any of us, for that matter. I say let them savor it; air out some old issues, reveal new ones, and... move on."
"Outer space is where we get together,
In this place we're meant to be.
Stars are dancing and the time is fading.
Die forever you and me, you and me.
Passing stars and counting moons of planets.
In the cosmos we are free.
There's no atmosphere and no obsessions.
It'll always be, it'll always be."
"You're an idiot." Draco said finally, shaking his head. "Completely without sense."
Duo laughed. "You still love me, though. You love me enough to keep me company in Hogsmeade."
Draco had the right mind to refuse. He really did. However, he didn't have plans for Hogsmeade, and no one could claim that Duo was boring. "Twist my arm, why don't you? Slag!"
"Brat," Duo countered all in good humor. Draco moved back to allow Duo to move passed him and down the steps with the Malfoy heir trailing right behind him, the haunting melody of Duo's music box following them downstairs until the music became faint and the words faded into inaudible murmuring.
"Our home forever is outer space.
Black stars and endless seas; outer space.
New hope, new destinies; outer space.
Forever we'll be in outer space, outer space."
(1) From what I can recall (and trust me, it's been AGES), Trowa and Heero are the only Gundam pilots Zechs Marquise formally met face to face. I'm almost sure he also met Wufei, but that may be Wufei's obsession with Treize and Treize's association with Zechs interfering with my better memory, so I'm going to pretend Zechs and Wufei never really met in the same respect Heero and Trowa have. I know for a fact Zechs and Duo haven't met, and I'm almost as certain about Zechs and Quatre, as well.
(2) Okay, this is how I figure it. See, purebloods feel so much superior to muggles and those descended from muggles because muggles themselves are made out to be different from them. Dirty. Stupid. Inferior. And since most stupid stuck-up people who have this mentality certainly hate diversity (and like feeling as if they are le crème de la crème), they would certainly find reasons to liken others as nothing more than common animals. Or worse. So, even though a pureblood child has probably never seen a muggle in his or her life, that same pureblood child would associate muggles with animalistic qualities, marking a muggle as easy to spot. The fact that Relena, Une, and Zechs look like any ordinary witch or wizard would, well, they're a little knocked off-kilter because of it. Meanwhile, the same pureblood child wouldn't understand why muggles like the Dursleys regard witches and wizards in much of the same manner. The whole superiority thing is probably my only beef with Slytherin House as a whole; otherwise, I'm typically Slytherin to the bone when it comes to slyness and ambition. (Remember: Slytherin is the house where one will find "your true friends", if the Sorting Hat is to be believed. So many people seem to overlook that.)
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