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stolen kisses, secret admirers, and striking dark lords down

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It starts with a dance. Pansy is the only one of Rigel’s friends who will let her lead as Harry, and Harry’s better at leading than she is at following, so it only makes sense to seek her out again.

The fact that Pansy is the only one of Rigel’s friends who will consistently look at her like she’s a person worthy of consideration has nothing to do with it, of course.

Then there’s the conversation, mostly a light discussion of school, dancing around thorny topics as easily as they dance around the room.  And then the dance ends, and they wander out onto a balcony, and Pansy asks her an unintentionally tricky question.

“What do you plan to do after you finish school, Miss Potter?”  Pansy leans idly on the railing, not looking at her.

“I’ll be going to St. Mungo’s, I expect,” says Harry carefully; she cannot say too little.  She cannot say too much.  “Or maybe the Potions Guild.  I haven’t really decided.”  That last is a straight-up lie, of course; she made up her mind a long time ago.

“You won’t be getting married straight out of school, then?”

Harry shrugs.  “Who’s to say?  A lot can change in two and a half years.”

“So it can,” Pansy muses softly.  “So it can.”  She pauses.  “Do you want to get married straight out of school?  To Rigel?”

Harry goes still.  “You’re asking me a dangerous question, Miss Parkinson,” she says slowly.  “People might think my hand was available, if I said no to a question like that.”  She hesitates, but—well—Pansy brought the topic up.  Reversing the question is hardly going to blindside her.  “And what about you?  Do you want to marry Draco—Malfoy—right out of school?”  That was too close for her tastes; she was too familiar about Draco, but.  Well.  She can’t turn back time.  Not even time-turners change things like this.

Pansy shrugs delicately, her silver-blue robes rustling faintly in the magically-warmed night.  “He’s a good match for me,” she says.  “He’s my friend.”  She does not say she wants to marry him.

Harry raises an eyebrow.  “That’s not really what I asked.”  Maybe there’s some spell laid out here, to make them both so bold.  Maybe it’s that they’re both girls; Harry doesn’t think Pansy would dream of this conversation with Rigel.  Maybe it’s that she’s the halfblood heiress to a Light family, and Pansy thinks she won’t be judged or have her confidence betrayed on account of that.

“There isn’t much point in pondering my wants,” Pansy says eventually.  “All the paperwork’s been done.  The decision is settled.  But you don’t have to marry Rigel, and he doesn’t have to marry you, even if it has a contract and all that.”

And Harry has to laugh, because she’s right, but—“You know as well as I that if we break that engagement, someone’ll snap me up the moment I turn seventeen,” she says bitterly.  She was slow, too slow—or maybe it’s Riddle who was too fast—but his damned law made it through before she won the blasted Tournament.  A weakened form—contracts trump all else, even his precious Algorithm—but still.

“It might be nice,” Pansy says, so softly that Harry can hardly hear her, “to try falling in love with someone, just the once.”

And Harry is feeling stupid, or reckless, or something, because she turns to Pansy, gives her a measuring look, and says, “Well, falling in love doesn’t tend to happen all in one night, or so I hear.  But we can try kissing, if you want to.”

Pansy startles, then turns to stare at her, meeting her eyes for the first time since they came out here.  Very blue eyes, Harry thinks, her mouth suddenly going dry.  Pansy hesitates a moment longer, then nods.

“All right, then,” she says.  “Let’s try.”

So the first time Harry initiates a kiss, it’s with Pansy, of all people.  And it’s nothing at all like her kiss with Draco was; this is quiet, calm, so tame that Harry’s certain it isn’t what people so often mean when they talk about kissing.  Pansy’s lips are soft against hers, and she isn’t pushing her to go farther than this.  Harry doesn’t want to pull away.

But she does pull away, because none of this is fair.  Not to Pansy at least, who deserves better than stolen kisses with a girl she’s met all of three times, hidden on a balcony outside the annual SOW Party Gala.  Pansy knows Rigel Black, of course—but she doesn’t know Harriett Potter, and she cannot possibly know what this single kiss could drag her into.

“I’m sorry,” she says in a rush, and then she turns to go before Pansy can respond.  She doesn’t run away, not quite, but it’s a near thing.

Because she never looks back, she also doesn’t see Pansy pressing her hand to her lips, gazing after her with something like hope in her eyes.

A week after they go back to school, Archie calls her on the mirror.  She’s brewing in her lab, but nothing particularly delicate; she puts her cauldron on stasis to talk to him.

“Harry,” he says slowly, “is there any particular reason that I’ve gotten a borderline love letter from Pansy Parkinson?”

“You—what?”  Harry blinks.  She knows all the words he just used, of course she does, but they don’t make any sense in that order.  “What do you mean?”

“I mean that I’ve gotten a borderline love letter from Pansy Parkinson,” he says again.  “Addressed to Harriett Potter.”

“Of course it’s addressed to me,” Harry mumbles.  “It wouldn’t have gotten to you otherwise.”  So maybe Pansy isn’t as offended as she thought the other girl might be.  Maybe she’s intrigued, or something.

“Look, I’m not going to interfere in your love life,” says Archie.  “I didn’t read past the first few lines, once I realized it was a private letter for you.  But I did catch a glimpse of the postscript when I was trying to figure out who it was from—is there a reason that she felt the need to assure you that her engagement with Draco Malfoy doesn’t have an exclusivity clause before the actual marriage happens?”

Harry doesn’t blush easily, but she can feel her cheeks heating up; she only hopes Archie can’t see it through the mirror.  “I may have kissed her at the Gala,” she says, half-hoping her words are too quiet to be heard.

He blinks.  “All right, then,” he says.  “I’ll forward you the letter.  Just be careful, all right?  You’re playing a riskier game than usual here.”

“I know what I’m doing,” says Harry, though she really, really doesn’t, and cuts the connection.

A letter from Pansy, assuring her that her own contract wasn’t interfered with by their kiss, wouldn’t be interfered with by a future courtship.  Inviting more contact between the two of them, it seems.  Of all the possible outcomes of that night… well.  She certainly hadn’t seen this coming.

Pansy’s letter is just like she would expect, coming from her friend to a potential (and necessarily secret) suitor—delicate, oblique, and curious, with a complicated blood-bound ward over it which is subtle enough to miss on a first pass but completely transforms the text when broken.  Archie calls her again after he’s sent it off to let her know about the added ward; Harry’s grumbled enough about there being a High Inquisitor at Hogwarts for him to not realize the risks of such a letter.

There is an amphibian here who likes to catch owls instead of flies, Pansy has written at the end, just before her signature.  I’ve signed as myself so you’ll know who I am, and I’ve sent this letter outside the amphibian’s domain.  However, I will soon be returning there; I recommend we not use real names, should you wish to continue this correspondence with me.

I’ll call myself Swallow.  I leave you to pick your own name.

Harry spends the weekend trying to figure out how to respond—not just that, but the whole thing.  What does one write to a girl, in your first attempt at a courtship, when both of you are engaged to other people and she doesn’t know that you already know her well?

In the end, she decides to write about AIM, and the life Archie has there.  It’s the easiest thing, at least, and not at all suspicious.

She spends Monday morning trying to figure out the least suspicious name to call herself, and eventually settles on Lioness.  Pansy won’t quite appreciate all the layers of that joke, but then again, she doesn’t have to in order to accept it.

When she’s finally managed to cobble together a response to the letter, she wraps herself in her invisibility cloak, casts several glamours over herself to make her an unrecognizable and unremarkable young woman, and slips down a secret passage into Hogsmeade.  If she and Pansy are going to do this—and it seems that they are—they can’t be sending the same messages in and out of Hogwarts.  Sooner or later, someone’ll catch on, and wouldn’t that be an embarrassing way for the ruse to blow up on her?

So she sends the letter from the owl post office, and reserves a PO box, which should be easy enough to check; Archie can tell her when he’s gotten a letter, and she can go down to check when it’s time for it to arrive.

Of course it doesn’t take long for Draco to catch on that there’s something funny going on.  The first proper hint he gets is in February, Harry thinks; on Valentine’s day a rather windswept owl shows up to drop a letter and a small box in front of Pansy.  She lights up when she sees them; Rigel tries not to bask in it.  Rigel, after all, didn’t get Archie to send her a present through the mail.  Rigel doesn’t know anything about this little courtship.

“Who’s that from?” Draco asks, more curious than suspicious.  “You’ve been getting letters all term, and I must say you’ve had some very strange… reactions.”

“A friend,” says Pansy, a light pink blush dusting her cheeks.

Draco raises an eyebrow.  “All right, then,” he says.  “What’d your friend send you?”

“Chocolate,” says Pansy, smiling as she opens the box.  “Foreign chocolate, all sorts you can’t get here.”

Draco suddenly looks much more interested, and lets his line of questioning drop in lieu of asking if he can try some of them too.  Rigel doesn’t bother with hiding her smile.

In April, Pansy finally asks her a question that Harry can’t dance around or lie about like she can with most things.

I must say, Pansy writes, I did not expect our conversations to take on this tone.  I had thought you in love with another.  The words are vague, as they must be to avoid identifying who Lioness is to anyone who knows anything about the context of last year, but Harry still has to ponder a proper response to this for a while nonetheless.

Eventually she settles on this: Affections can shift, sometimes, and we are yet young.  Besides, the other of whom you spoke does not necessarily feel as I did.  It’s vague, but hopefully it will be enough to reassure Pansy of her attentions and affections without messing up Archie’s ability to follow his crush wherever it may lead.


And then in early June, when the school year looks like it’s about to end so quietly—for once in her life—she walks into the fifth year Slytherin boys’ dorm and finds Pansy and Draco in the midst of a quiet but intense argument.

They see her, of course, and she can’t just back out of the room and pretend her two best friends aren’t fighting here after that happens, but she doesn’t know if she wants to get involved either.

“What’s wrong?” she asks eventually, after the silence has grown uncomfortably long.

Draco sighs and runs a hand through his hair.  “Nothing, really,” he says.  “I shouldn’t be—never mind.  I shouldn’t say.”

“You can tell him,” says Pansy quietly.  Her eyes are a little red.  “I don’t want this to be a secret between us.”

Draco sighs again.  “Pansy has a secret admirer,” he says.  “Secret to me, at least.  That’s who she’s been writing to all term.  I… did not react as I should have, when I found out.”  He shakes his head, even as the realization of what this secret that Pansy doesn’t want to come between them is hits Rigel; it takes all her skill in Occlumency to keep her emotions in check and not visibly react right then and there.  “Pansy, I’m sorry,” he says, and Rigel doesn’t have to be an empath to know he really is.

“I know,” says Pansy.  “And I’m sorry too.  I should’ve told you sooner, I just… didn’t know what to say.  I didn’t know what it even was, so how was I supposed to explain it?”

“It’s all right,” says Draco, now seeming more drained than anything else.  “I’m not—angry, I know we weren’t—but.  I should maybe step out for a moment.”  He hesitates, then nods at both of them and turns to leave the room.  Pansy sinks down onto Rigel’s bed, letting her shoulders slump a little and patting the bed beside her.

“You can sit if you want,” she says.  “It’s your bed, after all.”

Rigel hesitates before joining her, sitting a couple feet away.  “Are you all right?”

Pansy laughs a little, and it’s small but seems real enough.  “Yeah,” she says, sliding a little closer to Rigel to lean against her shoulder; Rigel keeps herself from stiffening through another act of sheer will.  “Yeah, I’m all right.  This is just a mess is all, and it’s my fault at that.  I really should’ve said something about it sooner, to Draco if no one else.”

“I’m sorry,” says Rigel in a rush, though she can’t explain to Pansy what she’s sorry for, and Pansy straightens up sharply before sighing a little.

“It’s all right,” she says.  “It’ll work out.  And it’s not your fault anyway.”

Rigel cannot even begin to explain to her all the ways in which she’s wrong.

When the summer finally rolls around, Harry is thankful to get home in a way she usually isn’t; but now that she’s home she can send Pansy letters from her own house, without worrying about Umbridge’s interference (not that that’ll be a concern next year either, and isn’t that a relief) or anyone noticing that all the letters are bouncing between America and Britain twice as much as they should be.

She and Pansy agree that they should meet up, though, and they set Diagon Alley as the place; a nice neutral location where it would be unremarkable for them to coincidentally run into each other.  It’s a meeting around lunchtime, and Harry promises that she knows a good place to go.  Which she does; she knows several, in fact.

They meet outside of Flourish and Blott’s, and even though it’s only been a couple weeks since she last saw Pansy, it feels almost as if their last in-person interaction really had been the Gala.

“Miss Potter,” says Pansy, and Harry raises her eyebrows.

“Please call me Harry,” she says.  “I thought we were past Miss Whoever by now, surely?”

“Well, we weren’t the last time we spoke,” says Pansy, “and it’s always better to not be too presumptuous with this sort of thing, you know.  You said you knew a good place for lunch?”

“Yeah.”  Harry nods.  “It’s just this way.”

She leads Pansy into the organized chaos that makes up Aroma Alley; no one they know is likely to spot them here.  Then she leads the other girl into the same Chinese restaurant she once brought Caelum to, three summers ago.  It feels like it’s been longer than that, though she supposes she did fold in an extra year there—she’s of age now, in lived time at least.  The realization was a little startling, when she came to it at the end of the school year.

“I never knew there were so many restaurants off Diagon,” says Pansy as they go down the stairs, wide-eyed at it all.

“If it makes you feel better, they aren’t anywhere near this concentrated anywhere else.”

“So,” Pansy says, once they’ve found themselves a table, “Lioness?”

Harry shrugs.  “If I’d gone to Hogwarts, my dad would’ve been terribly disappointed to have me be anything else.  It only seemed fitting, since all my letters were going to Hogwarts.”

“Fair enough.”  Pansy is smiling at her, an easier smile than Harry usually sees her wear at school.

They both order swordfish, and Harry learns that they really do make good fish here.  They don’t talk too much as they eat, but it’s a comfortable silence; when they finish and leave the restaurant, Harry realizes that she doesn’t want to give this day up just yet.

“Do you need to be anywhere today?” she asks.

“Not really,” says Pansy, “though if I’m out too late I’m sure my parents will worry.”

Harry smiles ruefully.  “That makes two of us, then,” she says.  “What would you say about going for ice cream, then?”

“I’d like that.”  Pansy smiles at her, in a way she’s certainly never smiled at Rigel before, and Harry can’t help but return the look, even as her stomach turns over a little.

The place they go to is called Cloudtop Ice Cream, and it’s at the top of a dubious-looking stack of restaurants, under a transparent dome.  Many of the ice creams have unusual names, too, from Cloudburst (their signature flavor) to Rainbow to Bluesky.

Harry ends up ordering Cloudburst and strawberry; Pansy decides to mix Bluesky and Rainbow.  They sit together at a small table near the edge of the dome, eating their ice cream.  There’s no rush, either—it’s enchanted to never melt unless it’s being eaten.

Cloudburst turns out to be light and sweet and airy; the much-more-ordinary strawberry is a good juxtaposition for it.

“Do you like it, here?” Harry finally asks.  Pansy tilts her head, pausing in her ice cream eating.

“Here as in the ice cream place, or here as in Aroma Alley?”

“More—the Alleys overall, I suppose,” she says.

“Hmm.”  Pansy turns to look out over the Alleys, expression thoughtful.  “I don’t think I can say yet, if you mean the whole place.  Aroma Alley’s certainly been nice so far, though.”

“I suppose I’ll just have to show you around more, then, if I want a real answer,” Harry says.

“I suppose you will.”  Pansy’s grin tells her that this won’t be an arduous prospect for the other girl.

They spend most of the afternoon wandering through Craftsman Alley, window shopping and sometimes wandering into the more-interesting stores.  Neither one of them buys anything, but that doesn’t stop Harry from mentally bookmarking a few of the more interesting stores to return to later.

When it’s gotten late enough that even the long summer day is fading into twilight, Pansy sighs.

“I should be heading home,” she says.  “But this was… this was nice.  This was really nice.”

“Yeah,” says Harry, then hesitates.  “Before we go home,” she says, “can we talk?”

“Of course,” says Pansy, and they step into the semi-shadows near a shop that’s about to close.  “What about?”

Harry sighs.  “I don’t quite know how to ask this right,” she admits.  “But I have to ask—where are we going with… all this?  You’re engaged.  I’m engaged.  I don’t want to—I don’t know how this can turn out well for us, I suppose.”

Pansy is quiet for a long moment.  “I don’t know either,” she says.  “I mean—I like you, Harry.  I think I like you a lot.  I don’t know where it can really go, either—but I’m willing to keep trying, if you are.”

“Yeah,” Harry says, suddenly hoarse.  “Yeah, we can keep trying this.”

The next silence is so long that Harry almost thinks they’ve both run out of words before Pansy breaks it.  “Can I kiss you?” she says.

Harry nods, and then Pansy puts her arms around her shoulders and brings their lips together; Harry doesn’t flinch away from the close contact.  Harriett Potter has nothing to fear from other people noticing the shape of her body, after all.

This kiss is deeper than the last one they shared, and less nerve-wracking too; they still don’t get to the point Harry’s seen other couples reach, where they’d be practically eating each others’ faces, but that doesn’t look particularly pleasant anyway.  Theirs is still soft and a little hesitant, and Harry finds herself smiling uncontrollably.

That breaks the kiss, but as Pansy pulls away she’s laughing lightly, so Harry doesn’t think that was necessarily the wrong thing to do.

“I’m not sorry, by the way,” says Pansy.  “And you shouldn’t be either, for last time.”

“I wasn’t really.”  Harry leans on Pansy’s shoulder, and wraps her arm around her waist.  “I was just… scared, I guess.  I didn’t know how you felt about it.”

“Well, now you do.”  Pansy pats her shoulder lightly.  “So next time, you shouldn’t be sorry.”

“All right,” Harry says.  “I won’t be.”

At first their sixth year looks like it’ll be shaping up to resemble last year, minus one infuriating amphibian and plus one more-stable relationship, with one less part of a secret for Rigel to keep; Draco knows about Pansy and Harry (though she isn’t sure if he knows who exactly Pansy’s “admirer” is), so she can let up on at least a little bit of her guilt over keeping so many secrets from her friends.

Unfortunately, she’s Rigel Black, notorious trouble magnet, and she can’t go past Halloween this year without having some sort of trouble.  At least this time it isn’t anything remotely resembling her fault.

She wakes in the night, sometime before midnight, to find the dorm room seeming to shake and warp around her.

“Lumos,” Draco says beside her, and his wand lights; by that much light she can’t tell how much the shaking is just her perception and how much is the room actually moving.  She turns to meet his eyes, though, and even if he’s not quite feeling what she is he certainly seems to be feeling something.

“What’s going on?” he asks, and Rigel shakes her head.

“I don’t know,” she says.  “But there’s something—going on—out there, and it’s… it’s wrong.  I don’t know how else to put it.”  Her magic is writhing in her, a sensation far too close to resonance for her comfort.

Around them the other boys are waking, too, all seeming to have been some degree of affected by whatever it is that’s twisting her magic into knots.  Together they stumble to the common room, only to find that they’re far from the only ones affected; half the House seems to be there already, in various states of nightclothes.

“Go get Professor Snape,” says Draco quietly.  “I’ll keep it together here.”

Rigel nods, and slips away. When she gets to Snape's quarters, he’s awake too, a billowing black dressing gown pulled over his nightclothes.

“Half the House was in the common room when I left,” Rigel says quickly.  “Draco’s keeping them as calm as he can.  Do you know what’s happening?”

“No.”  Snape's response is short; he’s as worried by this as she is.  Maybe more so.  “Go back to the common room, Rigel.  Tell the prefects I will be there as soon as I am able, and to not allow anyone to leave.”

Rigel nods, and goes, doing her best to ignore her swirling perceptions.  Paying them mind won’t help her here.

It takes three days for them to learn what caused the upset over Halloween; as it turns out, it wasn’t just Hogwarts that was affected, but the whole of Britain, and the idea of magic powerful enough to do that sends chills down Rigel's spine.  She doesn’t have too much time to wonder, though, for on the fourth of November they get their answer.

A CHALLENGER FOR RIDDLE? is plastered on the front page of the Daily Prophet, above an enormous full-body picture of a young, dark-haired man.  He’s the spitting image of a teenage Tom Riddle, with a face Rigel last saw four years ago; her food turns to ash in her mouth.

There is no longer any doubt in her mind what the disturbance that night was about.

“Have you heard anything about this Voldemort before?” Draco asks, aiming the question at her and Pansy both.  Pansy shakes her head.

Rigel says, “He’s trouble.  I don’t know if I can say much more than that, but he's not here to play nice with all the other politicians.”

Draco frowns down at the paper, and says, “More trouble.  Lovely.”

“Maybe we won’t get dragged into it,” Rigel mutters under her breath.  Pansy hears her, and shakes her head.

“We might well not be, but you do have the worst luck, Rye.”

Rigel doesn’t reply; she knows better than to think she’ll manage to stay out of it this year, with a corporeal impression of a teenage Tom Riddle with a grudge against her running around and her correspondence with Pansy continuing.

On Christmas Eve day, Harry makes her way to the Dancing Phoenix.  The place is fairly busy, but Leo spots her as soon as she enters and waves her over.

“Lass!” he calls.

“Hey, Leo,” she says, sliding into the chair across the table from him.  “Fancy seeing you here.”

He grins at her.  “You’re a more surprising sight by far.”

No matter how surprising it is or isn’t that she’s here, Solom is still over in a moment, presenting her with a glass of milk before retreating.

“I brought you a Christmas present,” she says once he’s left, reaching into her pocket to pull out a smallish box, which she sets on the table.  “Go on, open it.”  Normally she doesn’t like seeing people open her gifts, but for this one she really does need to be around to explain it.

Leo raises his eyebrows, but takes the box and unwraps it, then opens it up.  His eyebrows lift when he sees what’s inside.  “What’s this, then?”

“It’s a prototype,” Harry says.  “For my medical kit.  Don’t worry, it’s been tested, it’s not dangerous—but that’s a needle and syringe of blood replenisher.  So if you’re ever in need of getting your own or someone else’s blood replenished quickly, without obviously taking a blood replenisher potion by mouth, just stab yourself in the stomach with the needle and press the top—the magic will do the rest.  Don’t worry about being too accurate, if you’re even in remotely the right vicinity it’ll work.”

“Thank you, Harry,” Leo says, looking rather touched.  “Hopefully I won’t need it, but I probably will someday.  Can this be refilled or is it one use only?”

“For you it’s one use,” says Harry.  “Once you use it, get it to me; I can refill it, but it’s a rather finicky process at the moment.”

“Fair enough.”  Leo nods.  “I have a present for you, too,” he adds.  “Given everything that’s going on in Britain now… well, you should have this, I think.”

His present isn’t in a box, but it’s wrapped all the same; Harry takes the paper off to find a long, beautifully crafted dagger in an equally beautiful sheath.  Drawing it out, she finds that it’s the brightest silver she’s seen in a weapon, and she gives Leo a quizzical look.

“Goblin steel,” he says.  “That knife’ll survive just about anything you can throw at it, short of dragonfire.  Maybe.  Even then it might make it out.  Be careful with passing it down to anyone—goblins don’t much like that, if you don’t give them some sort of payment at the same time.  But it’s yours for life, at least.”

“Thank you,” says Harry, feeling rather overwhelmed.  “This is… I’ll use it well.  I promise.”

“I know you will,” he says with a grin.  “I wouldn’t give a knife like that to just anyone, you know.”

They stay there for a while, conversing, until finally it’s time for Harry to go back to her family, and their Christmas celebrations, a new goblin steel dagger hung on her belt.

This year’s Gala is less… everything… than last year’s was; there’s a tension in the air that wasn’t present then.  The self-proclaimed Lord Voldemort hasn’t done anything openly violent yet; Harry’s pretty sure that some strange and unfortunate occurrences are actually his fault, but it’s not like she has anything like evidence to back that feeling up.

Harry goes as herself for the third time.  She doesn’t necessarily want to much; her friends still don’t know how to treat her when she’s herself, and she never likes that.

But Pansy is here.  Even that alone is enough to make her like being here; while Harry isn’t too busy over the break, Pansy’s been far too occupied to slip away for a day like they used to in the summer.

“Hello, Harry,” says Pansy when Archie leads her over to the group of Rigel’s (hers, but they cannot know) friends.

“Hello, Pansy,” she replies, giving the whole group a little curtsy.  “Mr. Malfoy, Mr. Nott, Mr. Zabini, Miss Bulstrode.”  If she has any luck at all, none of them will notice any difference between her address of Pansy and the rest, beyond the obvious.

Draco raises an eyebrow.  “Only one first name, Miss Potter?”

Harry shrugs.  “She asked me to use it, last year.  Who am I to refuse?”

He nods, seemingly satisfied with that answer, and Harry lets herself fade into the background as the conversation goes on.  They aren’t as stiff around her as they were in third year, at least, and they aren’t discussing anything to do with America, so there’s nowhere for their prejudices to suddenly rear up.

Soon enough, though, the first dance begins; this is an important dance for anyone who’s betrothed, to cement that they do mean to go through with this, that they’re willing to make this public declaration.  It should not come as a surprise when Draco turns to Pansy, asks her to dance, and Pansy accepts without even a glance Harry’s way.  It isn’t a surprise, per se, but she still can’t fully restrain the hot flash of jealously that rises in her at the sight.

Draco turns sharply to her, looking startled, and she forcibly reins herself back in.  It isn’t Pansy’s fault.  It isn’t Draco’s fault either, and she knows them both; she knows they aren’t in love with each other.  There’s absolutely no call for her to be jealous.

“Harry,” says Archie next to her, sounding unusually serious; she turns to him and sees he does have a small smile.  He’s holding out a hand to her.  “Shall we open the dance?”

That request is surprising enough that Harry forgets to be jealous.  They haven’t danced the opening at the Gala before.

“All right,” she says, and lets Archie swing her out onto the dance floor.  She’s learned how to follow by now; they don’t stumble into each other as they did at the Yule Ball.

She and Pansy do dance together, an hour later or so.  Harry leads, like usual; she could follow now, but they have a pattern by now and she doesn’t want to give it up.

“How’s your year going?” asks Pansy.

“Well enough,” says Harry.  “A good deal less exciting than yours, it seems.”

Pansy shakes her head.  “Sometimes I think you’re lucky to be at AIM,” she murmurs.  Harry manages not to stumble, but it’s a near thing.  “You don’t have to put up with death-defying deeds and friends who always seem to find themselves in the middle of things every year, after all.”

Harry lifts an eyebrow.  “I thought last year went reasonably well?”

“I expect it would be a disaster by your standards,” Pansy says, “but you’re right; at least no one nearly died last year.”

“Where would you have gone?” Harry asks.  “If you couldn’t go to Hogwarts, I mean.”  There has to be something in the air at these Galas, she’d swear; she keeps stumbling into dangerous discussions here, with much less than her usual level of caution.

“I don’t know,” says Pansy.  “I never looked that far into other schools, I must admit.”

“I suppose you wouldn’t have to, really.”  Nor did Harry, for that matter; maybe, if she had, she would have found somewhere with a robust potions program that wasn’t Hogwarts—but what’s done is done.  She cannot change it now.

They leave the dance floor when the song ends, and wander through the ballroom, talking about a hundred little inconsequential things.  All of Pansy’s family is doing well, it turns out; so too is Harry’s, for that matter.

“It’s getting a bit warm in here, don’t you think?” Pansy says after a while.

“Maybe we could step out onto the terrace.”  Harry grins at her.  “I believe you’ve been here more than I, so do lead the way, Miss Parkinson.”  She sketches a little bow, letting her etiquette lapse in a way she never can as Rigel.

Pansy laughs.  “The doors are this way.”

They make their way over to the doors leading outside—as far as Harry can tell, no one’s particularly marking their progress.

The terrace actually has several doors that go out to it; the one Pansy leads them to is a little out of the way, tucked into a corner of the room, and blocked by a screen and several potted plants from the majority of the space.  They step out of the heat of the ballroom together, and are about to wander down the terrace, when Harry hears voices, speaking quietly to each other.  She grabs Pansy’s arm, and gives a minute shake of her head when the other girl turns to look at her.

Together they creep closer to the screen, Harry listening as hard as she can to try to pick out the words of the conversation.

She doesn’t quite manage that, but she at least identifies the voices—Lucius Malfoy sounds more than a little concerned, and Lord Riddle sounds annoyed more than anything.  It isn’t more than a few minutes before Lord Malfoy leaves, his voice and footsteps fading away; Harry chances a look through the mesh of the screen, poking her head out from behind the large fragrant plant she and Pansy have been using as cover, and uses her glasses to zoom in on Riddle.

He’s sitting on a bench, facing the gardens, his face is half-illuminated by light from inside.  When she gets a good look, though, Harry almost gives an audible reaction.  He looks—well, frankly, he looks awful, worn and tired and drained and about five years older than the last time she saw him.

Before she can ponder this more, there are footsteps behind her, and she turns to see Draco approaching them, eyebrows raised.  He opens his mouth, but before he can say anything Pansy presses a finger to her lips and he nods, frowning.

Harry turns back to looking at Riddle, just in time to see him flick his fingers sharply and bring a minor glamour over himself.  He looks like himself again, though as he gets to his feet she does see his hand trembling, ever so slightly.  She’d never have noticed had she not been looking for that kind of sign.

Then Riddle leaves the terrace; Harry waits for the door to close behind him before turning back to her two companions.

“Well?” Draco demands, his arms crossed.  “What was that all about?”

“Lord Riddle was out here,” she says, “with someone else at first—a man, but I’m not sure who.  Not someone I regularly interact with, at least.”  She did recognize the other voice, of course, but Harriett Potter hasn’t had nearly enough interaction with Lucius Malfoy to know him from sound alone.  “I didn’t look until he was gone.  But Riddle looks… I don’t know.  It looks like he’s aged about five years since the last Gala and he looks… thin, somehow, but not in body.  He’s wearing some sort of glamour; he put it back on before going in.”

“Interesting,” Pansy murmurs, while Draco frowns.

“Thin, you say?”

“Maybe stretched would be a better word, I’m not really sure.  I’ve never seen the like.”

Draco drums his fingers on his arm for a little while; Pansy is quiet, apparently deep in thought.

“You need to tell Rigel about this,” Draco says finally.  “Whatever it is you aren’t telling us, whatever details—Merlin knows Riddle’s interested enough in him, he ought to know.  And tell him I’ll be running down a few leads in the Malfoy library before we have to go back to school.”

“I’ll make sure he knows,” says Harry.  It won’t be hard, of course; she isn’t sure how much she should tell Archie, though.  A decision for later.

Draco nods sharply, looks at Pansy like he’s going to say something for a moment, then turns and leaves without a word.

“Well,” Pansy says once he’s left, “I can’t say I was expecting that outcome when I suggested we step outside.”

Harry can’t help laughing.  “I’d think not,” she says.  “Do you want to wander down the terrace properly, then?”

“Lead the way, Miss Potter,” says Pansy, sketching a curtsy not far different from Harry’s earlier bow.

Harry laughs, and offers Pansy her arm.

“Your cousin caught you up, yes?” Draco says the moment the door to the Room of Requirement closes behind the three of them.

“Yes,” says Rigel.  “Did you ever figure out who the other person was?”

“No.”  Pansy shrugs.  “It’s probably less important than Lord Riddle’s state, though.”

“Did you find anything in the Malfoy library?” Rigel asks.

“Not… directly, no,” Draco admits.  “I found something else I think might be useful—I hope it won’t be necessary, but with your luck, we need all the help we can get.”

“I did find something in the Black library,” Rigel says.

“Oh?” Pansy asks.  “I checked our library, but no luck—though I’ll admit I didn’t think I’d find much there.”

Rigel nods.  That’s not particularly unexpected; the Parkinsons don’t have a long history with the Dark Arts proper.

“Anyway,” she says, “I found a book of rituals—nasty ones, all to do with soul magic.  It said there that if you managed to partially sever a soul, and trap that almost-severed part, you could manipulate the soul.  Find out all sorts of things about a wizard, mess with his mind, or even drain his magic away.”

Pansy and Draco both shudder at that last thing; Rigel doesn’t blame them.  She shuddered herself when she read that.

Partially sever a soul?” Draco asks, frowning.  “How does that work?”

She shrugs.  “The book didn’t say, it told me to go to another book to find out.  Though given the way in which it mentioned it I’d guess it involves blood magic and murder—it did recommend this ritual be used on an unwilling person, since apparently that strengthens it, and it’s nasty enough without any real benefit to not be something you’d want to use on your friends.”

“That doesn’t seem quite right,” Pansy says thoughtfully.  “Are you thinking this has happened to Riddle?”

“Maybe, maybe not.”  Rigel sighs and runs a hand through her hair.  “Probably not exactly, but it’s a possibility.  And I… I can’t say more than that, though I do have some suspicions.”

“Can’t or won’t?” Draco asks.


“It has to do with Riddle, then,” Pansy surmises.  “And maybe Voldemort as well, given how similar they look.”

Rigel doesn’t confirm the guess, but she also doesn’t deny it.  Nothing in her oath demands she deny such vague speculations.

After they’ve been silent for a long moment, Draco clears his throat a little.  “I did find a very interesting ritual in the Malfoy library,” he says.  “It’s a bit extreme, but I was thinking about how all of Britain seemed to shake on Halloween, and if anything could be done to stop it if that happened to the land instead of magical perceptions.

“It’s a three-person ritual; it requires a complicated runic setup and then you have to pool your magic together, with some sort of focus to hold it all together.  The book was a little unclear on that point, but apparently it would be enough to hold a large island like this one together for quite a while.  Several hours, at least.”

“Interesting,” Rigel murmurs.

“King’s Gambit, most likely,” Dom supplies her.  “Not very popular, even before I got entombed, but extremely powerful.”

“I hope it never comes to that,” Pansy says.

Draco laughs shortly.  “Me too.”

In February, Voldemort gives up his façade of being anything other than a wannabe Dark Lord and launches an attack on the Ministry of Magic.  It doesn’t quite succeed, but it does a tremendous amount of damage and leaves many people injured or dead; if not for the letter from Sirius that very night, letting her know that her dad is all right—he was hurt, but is expected to make a full and swift recovery—she’d be worried to the point of distraction.  As it is, she’s just ordinary-worried.

Pansy sends a letter to Harry with an unusually fast owl, letting her know that she’s all right, she was at Hogwarts and nothing’s happened at Hogwarts, no need to worry about her.

Harry snorts a little on receiving that letter; Hogwarts is many things, but it isn’t that safe.  The past five years have shown that well enough.  Still, she doesn’t call Pansy on it in her reply.  There isn’t much point; Harriett Potter, as far as anyone knows, is at school across the ocean, so there’s nothing she can do anyway other than ask Pansy to keep herself safe.

The letters keep coming, a steady string of them she wishes would come faster, wishes she didn’t have to have sent back and forth to read and reply to them.  Somehow, even though she sees Pansy every day, this is different; it’s nice, to know that there’s someone who likes her correspondence enough to keep coming back for more of it.

Unfortunately, the attacks keep coming too.  Most of them are small—she hears from Sirius that both Potter Place and Grimmauld Place have had their wards prodded, and she hears from Leo that darker elements are being drawn out in the Alleys; Diagon is halfway closed down at this point, apparently, after too many shopkeepers have been faced with harassment from the so-called “Death Eaters.”

Through it all, Harry is stuck at school, stuck in a place where she can’t do anything to keep her friends or family safe, reviewing things she had to learn back in second year in order to do Flint’s homework for him.  It does strike her as a bit ironic, when she thinks about it; in years past she wanted nothing more to be at Hogwarts, but trouble kept finding her here.  This year, she’s at Hogwarts, and she’s itching to go to where the trouble is.

She never does leave, though; there’s a niggling thought in the back of her mind that if she does it’s certain to be just before something spectacular comes to Hogwarts and she won’t be able to help.

And then in May, just before breakfast one day, the ground ripples under her feet—ripples for real this time—and the front doors bang open to reveal a small group of Aurors and Tom Riddle standing there, all looking like they’ve been in a fight and come out the worse for it.  Riddle’s glamour is gone, and he looks far older now than he did even five months ago.  Old and tired and drained.

Harry hurries forward to help them.  She might not like Riddle much, but they are on the same side in this war, and there’s no reason not to help the aurors.

“What’s wrong?” she asks, peering outside; the ground just beyond the front steps swirls in strange patterns, unlike anything she’s seen before.  Almost like sand, but that’s not quite right either.

“Voldemort’s set up some sort of circle around the castle, and another around the grounds,” one of the aurors—Dawlish, she realizes with a jolt—gasps out.  “It’s a drain of some sort, I think.  No one is coming.”

No one is coming.  The words echo ominously in her head as under her feet, the ground ripples once more.

None of the methods of transport in or out of the castle work.  The Floos are nonfunctional except for castle-internal travel, spells curve down to be absorbed by the strange sandy swirls encircling the whole building whenever anyone tries to send a spell across that line, and everyone who so much as touches the sand—apparently it’s hard as rock, frozen and glittering—reports that it immediately begins to drain their magic away.  Not even the house elves can leave the castle, and they can get just about anywhere.

“Gate of Idramm,” Professor Babbling says grimly when she sees it.  “Nothing magical is crossing that line anytime soon, except the maker and exceptions allowed by them.”  And of course the maker is Voldemort himself, standing on a small patch of unblemished grass at the center of the largest part of the Gate—a circle of swirling not-sand, at least a hundred meters across if Rigel’s any sort of judge of the matter.

After a while, he amplifies his voice, sending it to encompass the whole of the castle.

“Your countrymen have fallen to me,” he says grandly.  “Your leaders are gone.  I have become the great Earthshaker; surrender, or be destroyed.”  To emphasize his point, the ground shakes again, harder than any other previous quake.  Rigel turns to look at Pansy and Draco; both of them meet her eyes, with grim resignation.

“I’ll go talk to Dumbledore,” Rigel says.  “We’ll probably need the Great Hall for this.”

Dumbledore hears her out, his face very grave indeed; when she explains that Draco knows how to set up the King’s Gambit, that they intend to use it, he closes his eyes for a long moment.  When he opens them again all she sees is grim determination to match her own.

“Very well,” he says, then amplifies his own voice to echo across the Great Hall.  “Prefects, lead your Houses out of the Great Hall.  Stay on the ground floor.  There are several indoor courtyards; they should be the safest.”  There’s a hubbub about that, of course, but as the ground shakes again they scramble to obey.

And soon enough the only people remaining in the Great Hall are Rigel, Pansy, Draco, and Dumbledore.

“Must the runes and circles be drawn by hand?” asks Dumbledore.

“What?  Oh, no, I don’t think so,” says Draco.  “The book just said they had to be there, nothing about how they got there.”

“Then if I may…”  Dumbledore gestures them to move back, and they all hastily retreat to the teachers’ dais.  One wave of Dumbledore’s wand shoves the tables to the side.  After a long look at the diagram from the Malfoy library, he waves his wand again, this time in a complicated swirling gesture Rigel’s never seen before, and the circles and runes appear on the floor as if carved there.  They won’t be accidentally scuffing out runes with their feet, at the very least.  “Good luck,” says Dumbledore.

Then he leaves, and the three of them are alone.

Another earthquake sees them stumbling towards the center of the circle; this needs to be gotten under control, and it needs to be gotten under control now.

When they reach the center, though, another problem makes itself known.  They don’t have any kind of focus; they need one in order for the spell to work, but they still don’t know what one would be even.

“I can do it,” says Dom in her head, and Rigel startles a little.

“What do you mean, you can do it?”

“I mean that, if you pull me out of your head, I can be the focus for this spell.  You can take me back afterwards, if you miss my company that much.”

“…how do I get you out, then?  You should probably let Riddle’s magic go, first.”

“Fine,” says Dom.  “Just think about it and pull.  It won’t be too difficult.”

“I can get a focus,” Rigel says aloud, startling both Draco and Pansy.  “Just… please don’t ask me questions.  Not now.  I can try to explain later.”

“All right,” says Pansy.

“Go on, then.”  That’s Draco.

Rigel smiles at them, not even sure how she means it herself, reaches up to her forehead, and pulls.

There’s a strange suctiony feeling on her head, a magical pressure building against her palm, then—a stone drops into her hands.  It doesn’t look like the Dominion Jewel did the last time she saw it, nearly dying in a cave, red and sharp.  This is a flawlessly cut violet gemstone, shimmering in the light, big enough to fill her cupped hands.

Draco and Pansy are staring, at her and the Dominion Jewel both.  Draco is the first to break the silence.

“…what,” he says flatly, and Rigel shakes her head.

“Interrogate me all you want later,” she says.  “And don’t let the aurors get their hands on that afterwards, if you can help it.”  She’s got unfinished business with that stupid rock, if nothing else.

“Right, then,” says Pansy.  “Let’s get to it.  Rigel, the focus?”

Rigel nods and sets the stone down in the very center of the circle, in the spot marked for it.

“I can be the focal caster,” says Draco.  “I memorized the whole spell a while ago, so it’ll be easiest for me to do it.”

They agree to that too, and all take their places.  This is how they pool their magic, it turns out: Draco brings out a gold ritual dagger, and tells them that in order to pool their magic as this ritual calls for they must first mingle their very blood.

Rigel isn’t the biggest fan of that idea—she never is, with blood-based magic—but this is hardly the time for her hang-ups.  She’s almost eighteen years old.  She can handle this.

All of them cut their forearms with the ritual dagger—apparently only gold will do, not goblin steel—and Draco replaces the dagger in his belt before they all grasp forearms, adding sides to their little triangle, pressing wound to wound.

Draco begins the incantation, and almost at once Rigel feels her magic begin to flow away from her.  She nearly clamps down on it, nearly fights the ritual, but she grits her teeth and holds that impulse back.  They need to make this ritual work; otherwise the country might tear itself apart.  With no avenues of retreat for students and staff, Dumbledore isn’t going to just let Voldemort come waltzing on into his school.

The ritual reaches down deep inside her, where she didn’t know it could reach even, and it drains her dry, pulls out every last bit of magic in her; hers, and the bit Riddle left floating around too.  It isn’t like spending all her magic, either; she feels strange and light and a tiny bit dizzy but she’s not ravenous, she’s not about to collapse.

For once, she wishes Dom were back in her head; he seemed to know all about this King’s Gambit ritual, and maybe he could explain why.

As Draco’s incantation continues, the Dominion Jewel rises into the air to hover between the three of them, glowing with a soft purple light from within.  The ground below them ripples again, but Rigel hardly notices.  All three of them seem to be linked with the spell at the moment, in such a way as to make stumbling out of position not much of a concern.

Finally, Draco runs out of words just as Rigel runs out of the last drops of her magic, and he stands there a moment breathing deeply.  Then he lets go of their arms, swallows heavily, and takes the Dominion Jewel in both hands.

At once he lights up—the same purple glow the Jewel was emitting a moment earlier—and goes stiff; for a long moment nothing happens, then he exhales and the floor, too, lights up in a much fainter violet glow.  He opens his eyes and smiles wanly.

“It’s all right,” he says.  “This is—stable, now.  You two can go.  You probably should go actually, I’m not sure how it’ll go when another wave hits.”

Rigel nods, and so does Pansy, and together they leave Draco to hold the island together.  She does not envy him one bit.

Dumbledore stands in the entrance hall, next to Riddle who’s sitting on a bench.  He looks—bad.  Very bad.  Far worse than he did even two hours earlier when he stumbled in.  As she watches, his eyes slide closed; his chest still rises and falls, but only faintly.  Rigel’s almost tempted to go run a diagnostic before she realizes—she can’t.  She doesn’t have a drop of magic left.

Actually, speaking of diagnostics… she looks down at her arms, and finds them wholly healed, the ritual wounds reduced to thin white scars.  Glancing over to Pansy, she finds the same is true there.

Before she can decide to do anything, though, Voldemort’s voice ripples through the castle again.

“I grow weary of waiting,” he says.  “If you will not surrender to me, then it will be as I said—you shall be destroyed.”

And then the ground begins to tremble.  Not a lot, nothing like the ripples and quakes of earlier, but longer—it doesn’t seem to be planning to let up anytime soon.  Looking down at the floor, Rigel finds it awash in violet light.

“Oh,” she says.  “It’s working, then, at least as much as we expected it to.”

“So, Mr. Black,” says Dumbledore, stepping away from Riddle to approach them.  Some of the aurors are still with them, as are a few of the teachers, but all the students are gone for now.  Yet instead of asking any of the adults around them, Dumbledore is turning to her.  “We seem to be at a stalemate.  What can be done from here, do you think?”

Well.  If Dumbledore is asking for her opinion… “We need to confront him,” she says.  “This can’t hold forever, and I don’t know how much he has in reserve, but I suspect we’ll run out of defenses before he runs out of his offensives—he wouldn’t have come here without plenty of reserves.”

“An interesting point,” Dumbledore says, “but how can we do that?  He’s quite neatly sequestered himself in the middle of that Gate of Idramm, all but immune to magical attacks.”

…immune to magical attacks.  The Gate drains away magic.  But…

“I’ve got a theory about that,” she says, letting a grin spread over her face.  “And I don’t think he’ll see this coming.”

“Well then,” says Dumbledore, “let’s hear this idea, then.”

So she tells him.

It isn’t even noon when Rigel opens the doors of the castle; so much has happened this morning, it feels like it ought to have been a week at least, but it’s hardly been four hours.  The ground is still trembling fairly evenly, and the sun is high overhead.

She’s dressed herself in clothes she shouldn’t even have had at Hogwarts with her, dressed for freedueling rather than anything else, her newest potions boots on her feet.  They’re too new to have gotten any enchantments to change their fit or grip, and she has the feeling that they might not have any enchantments at all when this is over.  Around her neck is the Dark Defense Disk that her mum made her two years ago; it’s saved her life once before, and it may do so again.  In her left hand she has her goblin-steel dagger, longer and broader than most freedueling daggers, wickedly sharp, and polished to a mirror shine.

Pansy has her wand.  Rigel will have no use for it out here, and she doesn’t want to accidentally damage it in this fight.

She steps out onto the front steps, goes down to the edge of the Gate of Idramm.  Voldemort is standing in the middle, dressed in robes that are definitely too nice for a siege, regarding the castle.  He looks like he did in the newspaper, or even better; Rigel’s all but certain she knows what’s going on with him and Riddle now, but that’s not her concern.

On the other side of the Gate, she sees the purple haze continue, stretching across the ground as far as she can see; that’s good, then.  For whatever reason, that spell has managed to make it out unimpeded, and while she doesn’t quite know why she can still be thankful for it.

“Rigel Black,” Voldemort says, drawing her attention back to him.  “How… brave of you, to come here.  Did Dumbledore send you here to die?”

“Dumbledore didn’t send me anywhere,” she says.  “I came out here on my own.”

“To fight me, then, I suppose,” Voldemort says with a sneer.  “Surely you understand by now the futility of that.”

“Of course I know I can’t take you out with spells at the moment,” Rigel says, and she steps onto the Gate of Idramm.

Nothing happens.  It feels like sandstone, and the ripples and swirls are an interesting texture under her feet, but nothing happens.  Voldemort is staring at her.

“Impossible,” he hisses.  “You should be collapsing already.”

“Funny,” Rigel calls back.  “’Should’ and I have never really gotten along, though.  Besides, this cute little Gate thing only works on magic.  Right now I haven’t got any.”

Voldemort’s response to that is to fire a spell at her—she isn’t sure what it is, but she spins easily out of the way.

“You are merely delaying the inevitable,” he tells her.  “You cannot block a single curse.  You cannot stop the ground from tearing itself apart, and the castle with it.”

“I can’t stop that, no.”  Rigel shrugs, beginning to circle around him.  “But I don’t have to, that’s not my job to do.  Or haven’t you been wondering where all your big fancy quakes went?”

This time Voldemort, turning to keep his eyes on her, snarls under his breath before throwing out five spells in quick succession.  Rigel ducks one, leaps over another, and rolls to avoid the third; the fourth and fifth she recognizes, and blocks them with her dagger, letting them bounce off to go elsewhere.  Hopefully they won’t hit anyone else.

He snarls again.  “You may have some ritual to hold control over Hogwarts for a time,” he says, “but you must realize that you cannot control anything beyond this ring.”  For a moment he stops moving and speaking, closes his eyes in concentration; the tremors increase in intensity for a moment before receding back to their former level.

“How’d that work, then?” she asks.

Of course he tries to curse her again, this time with a single nasty cutting spell that she reflects straight back at him.  He ducks out of the way; spells like that are damned difficult to block with a shield alone.

“This is impossible,” he says again.  “Only my magic can cross this boundary!”

Then Rigel laughs, because she suddenly understands, even if Voldemort doesn’t.  “No,” she says.  “Not just your magic.  Riddle’s magic too, I’d expect.  Stop me if I’m wrong—you went and got some fool necromancer to raise you to full life on Halloween.  Then you saw how much magic you had, decided it wasn’t enough, and started siphoning off Riddle—so his magic can cross, too.”  She shouldn’t explain the last part of her understanding to him, just in case it turns out he can do something about it but she’s so very tempted.  Of course their spell can get out.  They have some of Riddle’s magic in it—the bit that Riddle shoved into her all those years ago.  And that, it seems, is enough.

“That doesn’t explain your little trick,” he snaps.  “Riddle can’t be helping you.  He has nothing left, I made sure of it!”

“I’ll explain it if you call off this little siege and turn yourself in,” she offers.  It’s a sincere offer too—she would explain, under those circumstances—but she knows he’ll never take her up on it.

“If you won’t make yourself useful to me, then you can die and stop annoying me!” Voldemort says after a long pause, and then he starts trying to kill her in earnest.

He doesn’t open with Avada Kedavra.  That was the biggest worry they had; but it seems he’s noticed her propensity for dodging, and Avada Kedavra is not a good dueling spell.  It requires focus and intent and she’d dodge it in an instant, if he tried to get her with it.

Their exchange after that point is a silent one.  Rigel keeps moving around the circle, even as she dodges and blocks Voldemort’s spells, keeping his eyes on her the whole time.  He cannot look back at the castle; that could truly ruin their plan.

Then, when she’s almost in the position she’s been aiming for this whole time, something goes wrong.  Voldemort speeds up his spellcasting, forcing her to dodge and parry more, setting her into the sort of patterns she doesn’t like to allow herself because they make her predictable; not all of these are lethal spells, even, but they’re all nasty ones and she won’t be able to cancel them if they set in.

She realizes a few moments into the barrage that Voldemort’s trying to maneuver her into something.  What that something is, she does not know.  In any case the spells are coming too thick and fast for her to shift what she’s doing at all; she has to keep avoiding them however she can.

Then she’s turning away from another spell, stumbling just a little over the rippling uneven surface of the Gate, and Voldemort sees his chance and takes it.

“Avada Kedavra!” he cries, and Rigel sees death coming for her in a flash of green light; she cannot dodge away in time.  On some fool instinct she lifts her dagger to block the spell.

Pain explodes over the left half of her face and chest, and her vision goes grey.  The ground stops shaking.  Rigel sways in place, mind reeling, unable to parse anything going on around her.  Her ears are ringing loudly; from what she does not know.

As it quietens, and her vision slowly returns, she sees that Voldemort has crumpled to the ground in the middle of his little circle.  She looks down a little, head pounding, half her face still on fire, and sees the jagged remnants of her unbreakable goblin steel dagger sticking out of the hilt she still holds in her hand.

“Sorry, Leo,” she mumbles aloud.

Then the second major thing goes wrong.  All at once she feels her body begin to shift and change; almost like the Polyjuice was wearing off, but that shouldn’t happen until July at the earliest—why would—oh.  She’s such a fool.  The Gate of Idramm drains magic; what did she think was going to happen when she stepped onto it with a magically-fueled disguise?

At least her boots still fit her.  That’s something, at least.

Logically speaking, she should turn and run away.  But she’s there, out in the middle of the Gate of Idramm, a girl who could only be Harriett Potter, in full view of so many people—

It’s done.  It’s all done.  The ruse, this stupid conflict—it’s over.  And she’s so very, very tired.

Harry turns, and slowly makes her way back to the edge of the Gate; that’s harder than it should be, but even with her vision back to “normal” it’s still far blurrier than she’s used to.

She so needs her glasses back.

When she reaches the edge of the gate, she stumbles and falls; but someone catches her in their arms.

“I’ve got you,” says Pansy.  “Don’t worry.  I’ve got you.”

If she were any less tired, Harry’s brain-to-mouth filter would kick in and stop her from speaking.  Instead of that happening, though, she says, “Hey, Pansy?”


“I think I’ve fallen in love with you.”

And then, of course, she passes out.

“All those preparations,” Pansy says mournfully, “and we didn’t even get to fire the trebuchet once.”

“Well, next time, I’ll make sure to tell the Dark Lord trying to kill me to wait long enough to give you your chance,” Harry says dryly.  They’re in the Hospital Wing, Harry in the typical pajamas for once in her life—no point in refusing scans and clothes now that her secret is out.  Riddle, Pansy told her in a hushed voice, is here too, in a bed at the other end of the ward behind a screen.  Three days have passed since the battle, or so she’s heard.  She slept through all of them, only waking up this morning to find Pansy sitting in a chair next to her bed, staring at a book.

Apparently, saving the world from a megalomaniac and then falling into a coma is enough to get you at least a brief stay of arrest.

They haven’t actually addressed the elephant in the room, though—all that Pansy has said since she woke up has been as if… well, as if nothing of great importance happened.  As if she hasn’t been lying about her identity for the past six years.  As if she hasn’t simultaneously been one of Pansy’s best friends and her pen pal/girlfriend-maybe.

After the silence has gone on for a while, Harry sighs and says, “Not that I’m complaining, but… aren’t you upset with me?”

To her surprise, Pansy laughs.  “Harry,” she says, “I’ve… well, I didn’t know for sure.  Not until the battle.  But I’ve suspected for about a year now.”

Harry stares at her.  “What gave me away?” she finally asks.  “And why didn’t you ever say anything?  Have I been bouncing our letters back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean for nothing?”

“It was… well, honestly, it was the way you said sorry to me, at the Gala and then again after Draco found out.  You and Rigel were always so similar, it just started… falling into place.  And you clearly didn’t want me to know about the crime you were constantly committing; what kind of a friend would I be, to force you into that confession before you were ready?”

“…the way I apologized gave me away,” Harry says flatly.  Of all the stupid things—


And then Harry bursts out laughing, because it is funny.  She spent so long worrying about everything, so long trying to make everything perfect and flawless, and… well.  Such a small thing.

“I don’t think they’ve decided what to do with you,” Pansy goes on.  “You’re a hero, after all, even if you’re also an anomaly and a criminal.  And the Gate is still being dismantled, so they don’t have to decide yet.”

“Well,” says Harry, “that’s… better than I expected, to be honest, so I don’t suppose I can really complain.”  She hesitates before her next question, but she has to know—“What did Draco say?”

“You should ask him yourself,” Pansy says, turning to the door just before it opens to reveal Draco on the other side.

“Pansy, I asked and—Rigel!  You’re awake!” Draco says.  He certainly sounds like he’s pleased to see her.  “Ah, wait, uh…”

“Call me Harry,” says Harry, grinning in relief.  So he might be angry, but at least he’s still happy to see her.  “We’ve been friends for six years—surely you don’t mean to fall back into formality after all that?”

“Uh, no,” Draco says, coming over to sit on the bed next to hers.  “I just wasn’t—I didn’t want to—you know what I mean.  But I have to ask—why do it, anyway?”

“I was ten years old and wanted nothing more than to study under Severus Snape.  Archie wanted nothing more than to go to a school with a proper Healing program.  Sirius didn’t want Archie to go anywhere but Hogwarts, so there was a place here—so we switched.”  She shrugs.  “In my defense, I hadn’t even turned eleven when I proposed it.”

Then Harry feels something not quite her own—a swell of Pansy’s fond amusement, she thinks, and a complicated flurry of emotions that settle on resigned amusement from Draco.  She blinks, but before she can say anything, Pansy starts talking.

“You should know,” she says, “that the thing you said to me right before passing out—I think I may have, as well.  Fallen in love with you, that is.”

Draco gives a startled laugh.  “You haven’t any intention of going through with our marriage, have you,” he says.

“Well, I mean… I wouldn’t want to offend your family,” says Pansy carefully, “but… I’d rather not, if it’s all the same to you, though we should maybe keep the contract for a while until we know how the laws will come down.”

“Fine by me,” says Draco, shaking his head.  “Without the law… I wouldn’t have minded, you know.  But I’m not in love with you.”

“Good,” says Pansy, “then you won’t mind this much.”  She turns to Harry.  “Can I kiss you?” she asks.

“Yes,” says Harry; and so they do.  Draco sighs and looks away, but she can tell he isn’t upset with them.

In the days that come, they’ll have to settle what’s to be done with her, and she won’t be surprised if Draco gets more upset once he’s left off being relieved that she’s not dead.  In the days that come they can look into this strange bond the three of them seem to have now, sharing shadows of their emotions, and Harry will have to explain what the Dominion Jewel was doing in her head.  In the days that come, she will learn that the shards of her knife and the Dark Defense Disk have left her with a spiderweb of jagged curse-scars over the left side of her face and down onto her chest; it looks a little bit like a long splintering lightning bolt.

But for now, she’s kissing the girl she’s in love with, her other best friend sitting one bed over, and Voldemort has been defeated; for now, this is enough.