Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Masks :: 01 :: Alpha

01 • Alpha

Harry arrived early and stood waiting out of the way, shielded from sight by his invisibility cloak. Watching the people thronging Diagon Alley he jittered with impatience as he waited for Draco to arrive. Spotting him finally, he exhaled in relief as Draco sauntered over to the agreed upon location, pausing along the way to glance into shop windows and scowl for no apparent reason other than that he was a Malfoy and that was something Malfoys did.

As he reached the spot where he expected Harry to be Draco turned and faced the street, fussing at the nonexistent dust on his cloak. Harry leaned in and whispered softly, “Draco, meet me in room one-oh-six at the Leaky Cauldron in ten minutes. I’ll be waiting for you, mon amour.” He carefully crept away, glancing back only long enough to see Draco slap at his cloak a few times before heading on to further shop windows, scaring a number of people out of his way with a malicious smirk.

In his temporary sanctuary he waited again, still hidden beneath his cloak until a sound at the door made him stiffen. He held his breath as Draco slipped in and locked the door behind him, then shrugged off the cloak to move swiftly into the arms of his beloved.

After several minutes of holding and being held, the trembling in his body ceased and he asked the question he must ask. “Draco, do you trust me? Do you trust me with your life and mine?”

His answer was the feeling of his beloved’s lips on his neck, working their way up to his jaw and to his mouth, whereupon the word whispered into his parted lips was, “Yes.”

*

Draco wondered just what he’d been doing and why he was standing there in a shady spot of Diagon Alley like a prat, staring at the sky for no particular reason. He shook himself to clear his head and remembered there were a few things he needed to pick up before heading back to the Malfoy estate and the oh-so-loving embrace of his family. He snorted and began to walk toward the shops, intent on traumatizing a few clerks so long as he had to be there anyway.

Not far away a silent figure watched sadly as his beloved sauntered off, then he, too, walked away into the shadows of the deepening night, and back to one of the two banes of his existence, the Dursleys.

*

Harry woke with a start and slipped from his bed, making sure for the tenth time that everything he owned was packed and ready to go, that Hedwig was safely in her cage, and that there was nothing left in his desk, under the bed, or under the loose floor boards he had been using as a hiding place for years.

He paced quietly back and forth in his room, ears alert for any alarming sounds from the Dursleys, until he was ready to scream and holler and stamp his feet like a silly child. By the time Tonks appeared outside his window, he’d bitten every fingernail down to the quick. In a soundless display of exasperation he flung his arms up in the air and hastened to the window, unlatching and opening it to let her in.

For once, Tonks was silence itself, which relieved Harry to no end, and he flashed her a grin in the dim light. As Harry watched Tonks shrunk his trunk down to a miniature, which he picked up and placed in his pocket for safekeeping. She mounted her broom again and hovered outside the window as Harry passed her Hedwig’s cage, then fastened it to her broom as Harry mounted his own and joined her outside.

With one last look at the place he had hated for his entire life, Harry took off. Tonks zoomed up beside him, made a quick gesture, and both flew away into the night. After what felt like hours of flying Tonks made another gesture and they leaned into a dive, both coming to rest at a clearing in the middle of a forest. Harry gazed around but could see nothing particularly interesting, snapping his attention back to Tonks as she shoved a piece of parchment into his hand.

After she grabbed her wand and cast Lumos he quickly scanned the familiar handwriting to read, “Your temporary home is located in the clearing you currently stand in, just next to the tree stump.” He looked back up to see a neat little cottage shimmer into existence in the previously empty space, and both hastened to it and inside.

The second the door was closed Harry let out a piercing scream, shocking Tonks into dropping her broom, though she managed to keep hold of Hedwig’s cage.

“Wotcher, Harry! What the bloody hell was that for?” she shrieked as she crossed the room, setting the cage down on the table and opening its door. Hedwig hooted and flew out while Tonks turned around and crossed her arms in an attempt to look forbidding.

Harry gave her a sheepish smile saying, “I just needed to scream, you know? I’ve been a nervous wreck ever since Professor Dumbledore came up with this plan and the waiting has me shattered. I’m sorry that I startled you, but I do feel a bit better now. Though, it’s not likely I’ll ever feel quite right until all of this is over and done with, one way or the other.”

Her expression softened and she moved forward to catch him in a hug, dropping a quick kiss on his forehead before stepping back. “Look, why don’t you bring out your trunk so I can unshrink it and we’ll both get some sleep before we start in on everything we have to do. To be honest, you look like hell.”

Harry placed his trunk on the floor and watched as Tonks waved her wand at it, then dragged it over to the room she pointed out and shoved it into place at the foot of the bed. Taking her advice to heart he shucked off his clothing quickly and tossed it in a heap for the nonce. Deciding that was good enough to be getting on with, he burned the parchment he had been given to ashes, blew out the bedside candle, and threw himself onto the bed. Drawing the covers around himself, he rolled over and fell back into his interrupted sleep.

*

The next morning he came out to see a cheerful Tonks finishing up her breakfast and gratefully slipped into a seat at the table, pulling food toward him like a starving man. Tonks merely chuckled and began going over a few things as he ate.

“Harry, you already have occlumency down cold so that’s nothing we need worry about, and a vault has already been set up for your new identity so we don’t have to worry about that, either. Also, all your credentials are just about ready, waiting only until we’ve got down exactly what you’re going to look like when we’re done here.”

Harry continued to eat, listening to her words as he filled the aching void in his stomach. To let her know he was in fact paying attention he kept looking up and nodding at her between bites, flashing her the odd smile from time to time.

“Also, it just so happens that I’m on holiday from the Ministry for the next few weeks, which is an extremely convenient coincidence if I do say so myself, so we don’t have to worry about interruptions. Well, unless Albus decides to come visit, which I’m sure he will at some point.”

Harry merely grinned and pushed himself back with a replete groan, having a full stomach for the first time in weeks. “So, how do we start?”

Tonks considered for a moment and glanced back up at him. “Well, let’s talk about what you want to look like, shall we? Obviously the scar has to go, and I think it would be better if we fixed your eyesight and their colour as well—that particular shade of green is pretty rare, not to mention unnerving to the faint of heart.” She snorted and rolled her eyes, fanning herself like a lovesick twit. “Aside from that, I think pretty much anything goes. What do you think?”

It was Harry’s turn to consider, thinking back to the last conversation he’d had with Draco. Tapping his fingers on the surface of the table he said, “Longer hair, black, maybe down a little past my shoulders. I think you’re right about the eyes, and all I can think is that deep blue might work, if only in memory of the sky the last time I saw Draco. Sappy, I know.” Here he flashed her another sheepish smile and ducked his head a little.

“All right. How about the rest of you?” She tilted her head to one side, sweeping her gaze over him in a somewhat clinical manner.

“We talked about that, actually. Before he. . . . Well, we agreed that I may as well look rather a bit like him. Around the same height, build . . . you know.” He rolled his eyes at the way he sounded, but he couldn’t help it. He still couldn’t shake the shivers that persisted deep inside at this whole undertaking. “Nothing horribly obvious, like a carbon copy in dark, but . . . similar.” He shrugged, not sure he was articulating things very well.

Tonks nodded and stood up, clearing away the remainder of the meal. When she was done she returned and sat back down, beginning the first of many intense sessions designed to train him in how to handle the abilities of a metamorphmagus, which was one of the keystones to the entire plan, along with how to apparate without splinching himself (as he had only ever done it before as a child, and then under extreme duress) and several other nardly things not worth mentioning.

*

They were sitting in front of the fire one evening simply talking and enjoying each other’s company when the door opened, causing both of them to swivel their heads around in time to see Dumbledore enter the cottage. Both leapt to their feet and hastened over to greet him.

Eyes twinkling as usual, Dumbledore took the time to give Harry a once-over, approving heartily of what stood before him. Silky hair swept back from Harry’s forehead and flowed down to the middle of his back, a far cry from the rather short and wildly untamed mess it had insisted upon being by nature. Eyes like flawless sapphires blazed in the setting of a finely boned face with translucent skin like thinnest porcelain. He betrayed just the slightest hint of the ethereal, something that Dumbledore was sure would drive his classmates wild, making him chortle inside just to think about it.

The figure before him stood with confidence, proud of what he’d been able to accomplish, and it was obvious to Dumbledore that Harry’s form was deceptive in nature. Muscled, but not overly so, and wiry enough that he suspected that anyone with a brain and eyes to see with wouldn’t want to get into a physical fight with the young man without at least having second thoughts on the matter.

He nodded and placed his hand on Harry’s shoulder, smiling gently. “I see, Harry, that you have accomplished everything we set out to do thus far with distinction. I trust that the rest of our plan will be so as well. Please know that you have my utmost confidence.”

Harry smiled back and said, “Thank you, sir. You know that I will do my best, not only for myself, but for the world, and if I should fail, it will not be for lack of trying or training.”

Dumbledore was pleased to note that Harry’s voice was deeper than before and tinged with a faint French accent. Amazing what magic could do, really. Nodding again he spoke up, “Well, from this point forward you shall now be known as Alex Ouroboros, a student transferring in from Beauxbatons Academy. As I’m sure Tonks has told you, your account at Gringotts has already been arranged, and I am here to assure you that your identity has been established beyond question.”

Harry and Tonks nodded as Dumbledore continued. “For the short time that it is necessary, Tonks here will pose as your mother, such as when you go to Diagon Alley to purchase anything you need for the school year, and once again to escort you to the train. After that, Tonks will irrevocably forget that any of this happened, as we arranged.”

He paused for a moment, letting his gaze sweep the room. “Ah yes, lest I forget. We will need to do something about your Hedwig.”

Harry—no, Alex—looked a little startled at this, never even having considered his owl. He looked up at Dumbledore nervously and fidgeted a little in his concern.

“Ah, Alex, do not worry. We shall simply change her appearance a little and you may rename her. With a little persuasion, she will accept the change of name, especially with a hint of magic to back it up should it be necessary. She will not otherwise change from the bird you have grown to love.”

Alex immediately relaxed, feeling a little foolish for having worried in the first place. This was Dumbledore talking after all.

“Tonks can handle that part of things. Before I go, here is your letter, and I’ll remind you that you have a week or so left before school starts. Get used to thinking of yourself as Alex Ouroboros, and if you have any problems, ask Tonks here to give you a little magical reinforcement to help you to avoid inadvertent mistakes. Have fun shopping at Diagon Alley and I will see you back at school shortly.”

Dumbledore stayed for just a little while longer, moving on to talk of inconsequential things and then took his leave. Alex wandered over to the fireplace and sat down, feeling both exhilarated and nervous as Tonks eyed Hedwig up and down a few times.

“Any suggestions on colour, Alex?” she asked thoughtfully.

“Er . . . I don’t know. Why don’t you make her sort of greyish with some black edgings and I’ll rename her something simple like . . . Aki?” he replied off the top of his head.

Tonks nodded and got to work. When she was done, Alex spent some time with his owl, letting her know her new name and so forth until she hooted softly and nibbled his fingers affectionately.

*

“All right, Alex. This is the last time you’ll be seeing this place, since we’ll be staying at the Leaky Cauldron overnight. Mind now, you are seventeen in case you’d forgotten, so it’s perfectly all right for you to use magic outside of school if you need to. Got all your things ready?” Alex immediately mourned having had to shrink his Firebolt and pretend it was a working miniature, but shrugged it off.

Alex nodded and they swept through the door of the cottage into a bright, late summer morning, then apparated to the Leaky Cauldron. Tonks, morphed to look like an older, much more feminine version of Alex, collected their keys and they stopped at their rooms long enough to drop things off, leaving behind everything except the list of supplies he needed.

She also spoke with a faint French accent as they stopped at Gringotts to visit his new vault and then started along the alley to begin their shopping, the experience tinged with a hint of sadness because both knew this was probably the last time. Alex had grown to like Tonks a great deal during their weeks in the cottage and had come to feel like a younger brother of sorts or a cousin, a feeling which she shared in. Much as he wanted to get on and do his damndest to fulfill his prophesied destiny, the sacrifices he was being asked to make, and the sacrifices of those around him who weren’t even aware of what they would be forced to suffer through tore at his heart.

He wanted to rail and rant about the unfairness of it all, about being forced into a destiny he had never asked for or wanted, especially when he caught glimpses of Ron and Hermione shopping together that same day. But, he knew they had each other, and would have even if they hadn’t finally broken down and admitted how they felt. He only knew that he would miss them terribly. He smiled though, seeing them lean toward each other as they walked along, holding hands.

Back at the Leaky Cauldron some hours later, he shared dinner with Tonks in companionable silence, then went to bed in his room, staring for a long time at the ceiling before sleep overtook him.

*

The next morning he dressed in new clothing suited to his changed figure and appearance (he had decided blue-green really set off his new looks) and donned some plain robes, much like the set he had bought six years ago at the beginning of his journey. Tonks met him and led him down to breakfast, which was punctuated by desultory conversation, and then they set off for the station and entered the platform, arriving fairly early.

Tonks played the dutiful mother, straightening Alex’s robes and combing his hair back with her fingers, amusement dancing in her eyes at the expression on his face. “Come now, Alex. You should get settled on the train in comfort. Please do not forget to owl me if there’s anything you should need.” She gave him a hug and kissed him warmly on the cheek.

“Yes, mother,” was all he said before turning away to board the train with his belongings. One last glance back at a waving Tonks and he set off to find an empty compartment. Luckily, having arrived as early as they had, he was able to find one immediately and hoisted his trunk onto the rack along with Aki’s cage, then sat down with one of his new school books to pass the time reading.

Inside he kept telling himself to settle down and stop being so nervous, but frankly, his inner voice of reason was fighting a losing battle. His eyes wandered across the same page countless times before he finally gave it up and left the book open on his lap in favor of staring out the window at the platform to gaze at the many students larking and prancing about.

He sighed heavily as he watched Ron and Hermione arrive outside, both glancing around with worried expressions on their faces, losing sight of them only after they’d said their good-byes to their respective parents and boarded the train. Luckily they did not stop at his particular compartment, having only glanced in long enough to see that it was not empty, and so he listened as the sounds of their passage faded. He heaved another sigh, feeling somewhat childishly annoyed with himself, and went back to staring out the window.

More footsteps made their way down the corridor, mixed with laughter and merriment, none of which interested Alex at the moment. He was compelled to turn his head, though, when a very familiar face appeared at the door to his compartment followed almost immediately by the figure of Draco Malfoy. Predictably, the twin bulks of Crabbe and Goyle were not far behind.

Draco glanced over at the stranger, obviously not a first year, and calmly sized him up. Coming to some sort of decision, he sat down across from Alex and stretched out his hand. “I’m Malfoy. Draco Malfoy.”

Alex stretched out his own hand and grasped Draco’s firmly and shook. “Allow me to introduce myself,” he said, “I am called Alex Ouroboros.” There was only a slight sense of being tested during that handshake, and Alex did his best to maintain his composure at being so close to his love again, holding off on the temptation to yank violently enough that Draco ended up in his lap. Draco, of course, hadn’t a clue in the world just who he was speaking to.

Draco allowed himself one of his trademark smirks, though his overall expression was not one of malice. “I detect a certain something in your voice, Alex. You don’t hail from around here.” He didn’t want to scare this one off, not if he had any potential. The accent was very familiar to him.

Alex shook his head slightly saying, “Ah, no, not exactly. I have been away at school in France for some years. I suppose that certain things taint without one being aware of it.” He flashed a charming smile at Draco and bowed slightly in his seat. He was almost immediately rewarded with a flicker of something in Draco’s eyes, though the corresponding smile never touched more than the corners of the young man’s mouth.

Alex understood this perfectly. Draco wasn’t one to rush into turning on the full charm with a stranger, not after the debacle of their first year. He was undoubtedly reserving judgment on this stranger until he’d been sorted. Alex glanced sidelong at Crabbe and Goyle to see them standing there as they usually did, mouths slightly open like a person with adenoid problems, and with expressions of utter imbecility. Some things never seemed to change, though he knew that their outward appearance, much like his own, was highly deceptive.

*

The interminable journey to Hogwarts was broken up by somewhat wary conversation and verbal fencing, mainly between Alex and Draco, though some of the other Slytherins stopped in from time to time to join in, each scurrying off a short while later when Draco’s expression grew thunderous. Alex could tell he was being carefully felt out and weighed so he made sure to emphasize the parts of his nature which suited Slytherin, without being too bloody obvious about it.

As the train rolled onward, Draco became more and more relaxed in his company, though never quite losing a touch of tension around his eyes. Draco tried not to let his eyes sweep over this fellow too blatantly, but he could not help thinking that he wouldn’t mind having a shot at him personally. He could only hope given the way Alex had been conversing that he’d be sorted into Slytherin as quickly as he himself had been. The French always were a rather sly bunch as countries go. That would make things much, much easier for Draco’s personal designs.

The rich, faintly-accented voice and breathtaking looks of this young man definitely had him at the top of Draco’s list of people to chat up in more detail. Still, until they knew for sure, he and his would be treating him well enough, since he seemed amiable, was easy on the eyes and ears, and quite good company thus far. He never realized, of course, that Alex knew exactly what to say and do to ensure his good will. After all, how could he?

In due time the train rolled into the station and students began to disembark. Draco made it a personal point to escort Alex toward the carriages, stepping back to let him enter first before he, Crabbe, and Goyle followed him inside. Conversation continued to flow up to the castle, and Alex dutifully paused to make appropriate noises about the scenery and the castle up ahead.

On arrival Alex was whisked away and delivered to Dumbledore’s office to be met by the man himself along with the head of each house. Having ‘transferred’ in, he was not to be sorted with the first years. And as expected, the sorting hat duly belted out, “SLYTHERIN!” to the people waiting in a fraction of a heartbeat, and Alex was relieved of the hat (and its acerbic comments into his mind).

Snape, as the head of his new house, led him to the Great Hall and pointed out the table he would be sitting at during meals for the next year. Alex had to keep reminding himself that he wasn’t supposed to have any clue of where anything was or who anyone was (never mind how each house treated the others), so his progress toward the Slytherin table was somewhat restrained, and being the sort of person he was, he never noticed half the student population following his every move, most of them female.

*

Draco had looked up, along with most of the students, when the doors had opened and smirked when Alex appeared flanked by Professor Snape. As Alex made his careful way toward the table Draco raised one hand and motioned when he was sure Alex had noticed him. He nudged the person next to him to budge over and warmed inside when Alex flashed him another one of those charming smiles. Obviously this young man had been brought up by people who still believed in social graces. It never once crossed Draco’s mind to worry about family aside from that.

Draco was feeling mightily pleased (and just a bit shivery inside) as Alex took the spot next to him and immediately set about explaining to him what was about to happen. “Every year before dinner starts the first years are sorted into their houses. Like I expect you just were, except they get to parade in here and be sorted in full view of the student body. And may I say, congratulations and welcome to Slytherin. I’m pleased to see I was right about you being with us.” The smirk was back in full force.

He continued with, “I expect you’ll be wanting to know the names of the professors—” when he was cut off by the arrival of McGonagall and a line of youngsters, some of which were trembling while others looked around with wide-eyed excitement at the hall or up toward the ceiling. After several of the first years had been sorted Draco went back to his commentary, pointing out the adults at the head table and giving Alex a run down on what class they each taught and what type of teacher they were.

During dinner he nattered on (in an oh-so-sophisticated way) about various aspects of the school, breaking off his current topic long enough to point out several of the castle ghosts before returning back to what he’d been explaining before. Draco noticed, though, that Alex was getting more than a few soulful stares from various students and they were arrowing over from more than just his fellow Slytherins.

He felt a bit put out at the knowledge, but resolved to not let it upset him. He was a Malfoy, and Malfoys always got what they wanted. Nobody was going to touch Alex if he had anything to say about it, and that was that. He never even felt the smirk that twisted his lips as he leaned in toward Alex again, or saw the several people who blanched and found other places to rest their eyes.

Sometime around dessert a certain issue blossomed into full flower inside Draco’s head as the conversation around them finally sunk in, so he lifted himself slightly and stared at the Gryffindors, reflexively adjusting his expression to one of cold disdain. He scanned the entire table quickly, pausing for a moment when his eyes alighted on Weasley and Granger, then sat back down with a narky little sneer plastered on his face. Leaning toward Alex he said in a low voice, “There’s something not right. Saint Potter isn’t here.”

But before he could elaborate dinner ended and everyone stood up to leave, trundling toward the exit like a herd of giggly sheep. Draco tugged at Alex’s sleeve and motioned him to follow, so they strode off toward the dungeons, and Alex’s second ever real view of them. A bare stretch of wall greeted them with silence, sliding open when Draco spoke the password. Draco strode in, Alex right behind him, and both collapsed into squashy armchairs near the fire and looked at each other.

“Apparently we have to wait for Severus before we know where we’ll be sleeping as seventh years,” remarked Draco, giving Alex a speculative gaze. Alex merely nodded and murmured something noncommittal, already knowing he would be paired up with Draco. Both watched wearily as the fifth year prefects waltzed in leading a small group of first years and explained about the sleeping arrangements for each gender, then wasted no time informing the youngsters that they would be required to be present for a short meeting the next morning at ten.

Within minutes the common room was empty of everyone but seventh years and there was a great deal more yawning than talking going on. Draco rested his head against the back of his chair, continuing to watch Alex in a sidelong glance until Professor Snape stalked in like an avenging angel on a bad hair day, his cloak billowing out behind him like a living thing.

And then, he broke into a genuine smile and immediately got down to business. Alex, for his part, clutched at his chest surreptitiously thinking he was having a heart attack, never having seen Snape drop his smarmy little sneer and smile like a actual person. Realizing what he was doing he lowered his hand into his lap and forced himself to pay attention.

“It’s good to see you all back, and I’d like to welcome a new seventh year into our midst. For anyone who has not already met him, please make Alex feel at home here with us when you have the chance,” Snape said as he gestured toward Alex’s chair. Since most of them had already dropped in to see who Draco had been chatting up on the train, the others simply waved sleepily and flashed friendly smiles in his direction before hurriedly turning back to their head of house when Draco started scowling.

Well, this was certainly a shock to Alex. He’d listened to Draco try to tell him what it was really like in Slytherin, but actually being there was a far more concrete experience. Merlin’s beard—these people were all bloody well wearing masks outside the confines of their house. In fact, he would not have been surprised if there was a special class taught within the Slytherin dungeons on how to achieve things precisely like that. But since Snape was speaking again he mentally shook himself awake and turned toward him courteously.

“As you are no doubt aware, seventh years are paired up instead of sharing one large room, so let me get those assignments out of the way so you can all get some rest after your journey.” Alex knew that these assignments were complete tripe considering that people their age were likely to hop beds as often as the sun rose. He strained his power of attention long enough to hear his own name along with Draco’s, based on the idea that the new guy would most benefit from being paired up with the Head Boy, before desperately trying to stifle a yawn.

He snapped back into focus, however, when people started to rise and realized that Snape was standing before Draco and himself. So he flashed his charming smile again and listened attentively as Snape asked Draco to make sure that Alex understood the facts of life for someone living in Slytherin House. Alex then realized he might have to be a little more careful with that smile when he noticed Snape’s eyes widen a little in response and fidget ever so slightly. Apparently this disguise of his had a little more oomph to it than he’d realized.

As Snape started to back up in preparation of leaving, Alex rose and bowed slightly and murmured, “Thank you, Professor,” before turning to wait for Draco’s lead. He was a little startled when he heard the professor reply, “Please do call me Severus. All Slytherins do when we’re in our own space. Outside these walls is a different matter.” And with that, he stalked off again, robes flapping behind him.

Alex was impressed—obviously there were some things Draco simply had not been prepared to mention, or felt he couldn’t, in the interests of house rivalry. Draco quirked the corner of his mouth in a half smile, inwardly skipping at the room assignment (not that he would ever, ever admit such a thing to anyone still breathing), and motioned for Alex to follow him. In this instance, since Alex had never seen more than the common room itself, that was just as well, as he hadn’t got a clue where they were supposed to go.

*

Once inside their shared room, Alex was grateful that his belongings were already in place and that all he needed to do was brush his teeth and change before throwing himself desperately at his bed. After he’d rummaged in his trunk for things to arrange in the bathroom that each suite contained (and quite the luxury indeed) he cocked an eyebrow at Draco questioningly and received a nod in response, so he busied himself with nighttime things for a few minutes and then reappeared in their room.

Knowing that the French were hardly the type to be body shy (and not minding anyway since this was his beloved even if Draco didn’t and couldn’t remember that), he stripped down to his boxers without a second thought. Turning around he allowed himself a full body stretch then sat on the bed, sneaking a look Draco through half-lidded eyes, then slipped under the covers. He rested on his side with his head propped on one hand and watched as Draco entered the bathroom.

Draco arrived in front of the mirror to see a slightly shell-shocked look on his face, which in his experience was decidedly uncommon. In fact, he wasn’t sure it had ever happened before. He shook his head, trying to get the image out of his mind of a slim but sculptured Alex stretching like some pampered house cat, but closing his eyes to do so was a very bad idea. He sleepwalked his way though his bedtime routine and returned to his own bed on auto-pilot.

His eyes were closed as he waited, and when Draco returned he opened them to ask, “Did you want to explain what Severus meant now or would you prefer to wait until morning?” all while running his free hand through his hair as he watched the young man strip down even as he had.

Draco narrowed his eyes and considered as he slipped beneath the sheets on his bed. “In the morning, if that’s all right. I’m pretty well fagged at this point and I expect you are, too. Good night, Alex.” He heard a mumbled, “Night, Draco,” as the lights went out and they both got comfortable for the night, not that their respective thoughts allowed either of them any sleep for a considerable amount of time.

*

In the Gryffindor common room a perplexed Ron watched as his girlfriend Hermione stalked around in circles pulling at her hair in frustration. “Where is he, Ron? Where did Harry go, why isn’t he here?” Around and around she went shrieking things like, “He hasn’t written in over four weeks!” and “What in blazes is going on!?” Naturally, being as confused and ignorant as she was on this issue, Ron wisely decided to keep his mouth shut. Truth be told, Ron couldn’t help but be reminded of an angry Crookshanks after Wormtail not so long ago, though he didn’t think Hermione would find that comparison flattering in the least.

Hermione came to a sudden stop and glared at Ron, who cringed away from her and considered getting behind one of the chairs. “We are going to see Dumbledore about this right after breakfast, okay!?” And Ron, being an unusually perceptive fellow that evening, nodded his head vigorously and started edging away toward the boy’s staircase. As soon as her back was turned he fled without a backward glance to the room he was sharing with Neville.