Night Terrors by Karaley Dargen
Summary: In their seventh year at Hogwarts, every student has only one thing on their mind: NEWTs. And Quidditch. And bickering friends. And people who are mysteriously locked away in the hospital wing... Or maybe Nymphadora Tonks and Charlie Weasley are just having a particularly unusual term.

Anything that you recognise, including names, spells, potions, and Quidditch moves, belongs to either JKR or the copyright holders of various HP games and other media.

A million thanks must be sent to Carole/Equinox Chick, whithout whom I'm not sure I'd have a story. She's a fabulous beta and one of the best people that I have ever known.

Also lots of thanks to Natalie/hestiajones for reading the first chapters and especially for making me see that they needed work!

Aaaand many many thanks and hugs to Hannah/coolh5000 for being a really fantastic friend and always encouraging me.

Categories: Mystery Characters: None
Warnings: Mild Profanity, Pottermore Spoilers, Violence
Series: None
Chapters: 12 Completed: Yes Word count: 33786 Read: 30610 Published: 10/16/12 Updated: 12/19/12

1. Slightly Drowsy by Karaley Dargen

2. So Stressed Out by Karaley Dargen

3. Under Pressure by Karaley Dargen

4. Completely Exhausted by Karaley Dargen

5. Off Your Game by Karaley Dargen

6. A Moment of Calm by Karaley Dargen

7. Give It Your All by Karaley Dargen

8. Sickbeds by Karaley Dargen

9. One Last Drink by Karaley Dargen

10. Sweet Dreams by Karaley Dargen

11. In the Still of the Night by Karaley Dargen

12. Rise and Shine by Karaley Dargen

Slightly Drowsy by Karaley Dargen

Around this time of year, the last rays of glorious golden sunlight always shine through the same windows of the library, and I always end up sitting near one of them. Spring is almost here, and when it’s time, I want to be there to see it. I’m still full from dinner, and as I watch the specks of dust from these ancient books dance in the ray of light, I can feel my eyelids drooping. My stack of Transfiguration books is just tall enough for me to rest my head on it comfortably. Really, it’s too good to be a coincidence. Fate must be telling me to just take this nap. What good would it do for me to work while I’m tired and stuffed? I’d be unable to focus and wouldn’t remember a thing anyway.

Just a short nap, just to enjoy the warmth of this sunlight. I’ll wake up in no time, and then I’ll study through the night. At least until some point late at night -- everybody needs to sleep for a couple of hours. I’ll definitely take some books down to the Den, and then we’ll see.

My thoughts are slowing down, and I can feel myself drifting off as the sun warms my cheek. The library isn’t such a bad place really.

It’s like I’ve only just put my head down on the stack of books when something pointy hits my ear. I shoot up with a yelp, drawing a murderous look from Madam Pince, and knock my inkwell over with my elbow, spilling its contents all over my sparse notes.

–Oh, fantastic,” I mumble as I try to keep the damage in check, but am unable to find my wand.

–Boot, Blue,” a voice behind me says. Charlie Weasley walks around the table and takes a seat opposite me, grinning broadly.

My hands are covered in ink, and everything I have worked on this evening -- little though it was -- is lost. –What?” I know I sound irritated. That’s because I am.

He puts his feet on the table and tilts his chair backwards. If Madam Pince sees him, he’ll be lucky if he can sit again in a week. There’s a rumour she’s started using Stinging Hexes. –Your wand is in your boot,” Charlie replies, still grinning. –And your hair’s blue.”

–Well that’s -- ugh.” I feel down my leg and realise that he’s right. I do my best to siphon only the fresh ink off the parchment, but it’s a sad attempt. When I’m done, only fragments of words remain, and they have no meaning at all. I crumple the paper up and toss it at Charlie before I drop down on my chair again with a sigh.

–I like it better than the green you had this morning,” he says. –It’s not nearly as... seaweedy.”

–Thank you so much!” I try to roll my eyes at him, but I can’t help but smile a little.

–Hey, make it a bit longer,” Charlie says and leans forward.

–I’m not a zoo animal, you know,” I say, and this time I manage the perfect grimace. Instead of making my hair longer, I focus on giving it a honey shade of yellow for Hufflepuff.

At that, Charlie recoils in mock horror. –Is this supposed to be a threat?” Hufflepuff is playing Gryffindor next Saturday. It’s still hard to play against them with Charlie as Seeker, but I like to taunt him about their miserable Chasers anyway. It’s not that they’re bad individually, they just really don’t work as a team. And their Beaters are usually too busy blocking each other to really get to the Bludgers.

–I wouldn’t call it a threat,” I reply, blowing a strand of deep yellow hair from my eyes. –Maybe a warning.”

–So should I watch out for rabid badgers in the shower?” he asks, and I instantly burst out laughing, because there are two fifth year Hufflepuffs who fancy him so much that they would happily hop into his shower any time of day.

Now, Madam Pince is not content with evil looks anymore and instead throws a –Shhh” my way. This is like a red warning light. I clasp my hand to my mouth and stifle the next wave of laughter.

–Anyway,” Charlie goes on in a whisper, –were you sleeping again?”

–How did you know?” I whisper indignantly.

He points at my stack of books. –You drooled.”

I throw him the grumpiest look I have in my reservoir. –It was just a short nap.” I notice now that the sun has almost vanished behind the mountains. –And still, that’s no reason to poke me in the ear, you know.”

–What?” he asks and laughs. –I never poked you in the ear. Who do you think I am, Peeves? And you know it’s my job now to watch that you study your Transfiguration theory, that’s our deal.”

–I did plenty before I spilt that ink,” I grumble and point at the ball of paper that’s still lying on Charlie’s lap. He takes it and throws it back at me, hitting me right on the forehead. I wish I could aim like that. It drops on my leg and then falls to the floor. When I bend down to pick it up -- I don’t want to be hexed for littering -- I see a paper airplane hovering next to one of the table’s legs. When I take it between two fingers, I notice that it’s very rigid, probably some sort of Charm. It comes to a damn sharp point.

–Bastards,” I hiss, and narrowly avoid hitting my head on the table on my way up.

I don’t really have to unfold the paper to know what’s on it. You get hit by a paper plane these days, it’s rarely some fourth year being obnoxious, and more likely ruthless advertising. And, indeed, there it is, black on yellowish white, in neat lettering:

Does every day seem longer than the one before?

Are your nights spent studying?

Are you dreading wrathful Howlers every day?

There’s no need for you to disappoint your parents or miss out on your next Hogsmeade weekend. Get to the top of your year -- in your sleep! Guaranteed success!*

Ask the Dancing Trolls for Andrew.

no refunds.

–Well, that’s a new angle,” I say.

Charlie snatches the paper from me. –What is?”

As he scans it, I throw a glance over my shoulder, but whoever threw the plane at me is long gone. Of course, this kind of thing is highly illegal, but that doesn’t matter. People sell useless stuff to other, more desperate people. It was bad in our fifth year, before OWLs, and it’s worse now. Some Ravenclaws landed in the hospital wing just before OWLs started, because they had taken some solution of decomposed doxy eggs that someone had sold them as a rare Athenian plant juice. They, and a boy from Slytherin completely missed their OWLs and had to resit them during the summer.

As long as I can remember, no one has ever got caught. If you don’t really have any morals, it must be a nice bit of money on the side, which a lot of people in their seventh year can well use.

–Let’s get out of here,” I say and gather up my stack of books. It has grown dark outside, and I won’t be able to focus in the library right now anyway. –Or did you come here to study?”

–Nah,” Charlie says. –I was looking for Alexandra. We’ve moved our Quidditch practice tomorrow ahead an hour, and someone still has to tell her.” Alexandra is one of the Gryffindor Chasers, the only seventh year on the team apart from Charlie. –And she wasn’t at dinner, so I figured she might have come straight here. I’ll just tell one of the girls to keep an eye open for her.”

I sign for the books with Madam Pince, who is so disgusted with my level of noisiness that she doesn’t even look at me.

–Two of these are on the Transfiguration Essentials list,” she says to the calendar on the wall. –You are not to keep them longer than three days.”

Of course I know this, so I spin around and leave hurriedly. I hope that no one but Charlie has heard her. It’s a bit embarrassing really that I have to borrow these -- books on the Essentials lists are usually for OWL students. I just can’t wrap my head around this theoretical stuff.

–So,” I say as soon as the library door closes behind us. –New flyer, huh?”

Charlie gives it another look before shoving it into his pocket. –I haven’t seen it before, though there was one earlier today about how you need two NEWTs to become a dishwasher at the Leaky Cauldron now, and that Cathy’s Clairvoyance Charms can get you those two NEWTs and more.”

–So, what, are you planning on using this?” I ask suspiciously.

Charlie gives me a blank look, then laughs. –No, I’m actually collecting them. You know, in case someone needs any kind of evidence. Why, you think I could use Andrew’s... whatever it is he’s selling?”

–Nah, not if you show up for Potions in time tomorrow. Remember, we’re working in twos.”

–How could I forget,” he replies. –I’m relying on you after all. What about you then? Are you... ‘dreading wrathful Howlers every day’?”

–Of course I am,” I say, and roll my eyes at him as we both skip a trick step. –Especially from my dad. Like he cares how well I do... He actually sent me a letter last week, telling me to not stress out too much, and that all that matters is that I’m well and happy.”

–Maybe he knows about all the stuff they’re selling around this time, and doesn’t want you to buy any,” Charlie suggests.

–Yeah, possibly. It was probably the same when our parents went to Hogwarts,” I reply. –My mum isn’t quite as relaxed -- she wants me to get a proper job and all, and knows I need good marks for that. But it’s nothing out of the ordinary. They wouldn’t throw me out even if I failed completely. Even though now my alternative strategy of washing dishes is somewhat thwarted, if Cathy says you need two NEWTs for that...”

We both burst out laughing, and I almost fall down a flight of stairs as they start moving because I don’t grab the bannister fast enough. Charlie, still laughing, holds me by the neck of my robe and pulls me to my feet.

–Thanks,” I say, –no need to strangle me though.”

–I’m sure if I worded that cleverly on a flyer, we could make lots of money. ‘Keeps all the blood where you need it -- in your head!’ ... Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?” He kneels down to help me gather up my books.

I make my head go very red and my eyes protrude as far as I can. –You could put my picture on there, too,” I say.

–Oh, yes, I’m sure that would really rake in the Galleons,” he says and laughs.

–Hey!” I punch him on the arm. –So anyway, what’s your family like? Is the wrath of Mrs Weasley something you have to dread every day?”

Charlie doesn’t even stop laughing. –You have no idea,” he finally says. –But she’ll be fine with a couple of NEWTs. I’m not going to live up to Bill’s results anyway, so the pressure is off there. And her wrath would be far worse if she found out that I’d been eating Bundimun Ooze or whatever this stuff is actually made of.”

–She can’t be that bad though, right?” I ask.

Charlie looks at me quite seriously suddenly. –No, really,” he says, –you have no idea. If I took something that killed me, she’d invent a resurrection concoction just so that she could kill me again herself.”

–Good thing we don’t need that kind of stuff anyway then, right?” I shift the weight of the books to my other arm.

We’ve reached the point where Charlie needs to head up several flights of stairs, and I’m going down to the Den. –Study well then,” Charlie says.

–Yeah,” I reply, –and you don’t be late for Potions tomorrow. You wouldn’t want to make Professor Snape angry again.” I turn my nose into a giant, hooked monstrosity, and throw him the darkest look I can muster.

–If I’m late, it’s because the nightmares you just gave me kept me up,” he says and prods my nose. –I’ll do my best though.”

–I just hope your best is good enough then, Weasley!” Quickly, I change my nose back again. Professor Snape is not exactly a fan of mine, and I don’t want to imagine his reaction to this impersonation.

–Night, Tonks.” Charlie grins and waves as he disappears behind the tapestry that hides his staircase.

I somehow manage to get all my books down to the Hufflepuff Den without dropping one of them. Various paper planes seem to have made their way down here and are zooming around our common room, nudging people on their heads and arms. Someone seems to have gathered them up throughout the day and given them better flying enchantments. Actually, they look quite nice like this, and I don’t really care what it says inside. For about the millionth time in the past two years, I’m glad that I haven’t been made Prefect.

Some sixth years are sitting on the large sofa and armchairs, entertained by one of the particularly chatty plants that’s hanging from the ceiling. At one of the tables in the corner I spot Martha, one of the girls in my year. She’s got her nose as deep in a book as I should have mine and doesn’t even seem to be noticing the paper plane that keeps prodding her in the back of the head. The entrance to our dormitory is just a few feet to the right from her, so I decide to sit down briefly.

–Hey Martha,” I say carefully. She has dark circles under her eyes, and her lips are dry. –Still studying?”

–Yeah,” she says, and looks up from the page to blink at me tiredly. –Are you joining me then?” She points at my books.

I really, really want to say no, that I’m going to sleep to be awake enough for Potions tomorrow, but looking at her large, tired eyes, the only words I can make my mouth produce are, –Yeah, sure, I’ll stay for a bit.” I’d feel guilty going to bed while Martha is out here studying Charms. She’s actually better at Charms than I am at theoretical Transfiguration, so if she’s studying, surely I should be. Also, this is the only way I can make sure that she goes to bed at some point.

At least I make it through about twenty pages of one of the Essential books before Martha’s head slams down on the desk and I can convince her to go to bed. The earthy smell of the tunnel that leads to our dormitory is warm and welcoming, and the moment I drop down on my bed, I fall asleep.

End Notes:
Reviews are very much appreciated, of course! :)
So Stressed Out by Karaley Dargen

I sit up in my bed with a start the next morning. As usual, I’ve been woken by a squirt of water in my face, courtesy of the plant that grows on my bedside cabinet. Professor Sprout has had one put next to every student’s bed, so that we don’t oversleep. Not many people need them, and a short glance around the dormitory tells me that everyone else is already at breakfast. I, however, have built a somewhat personal relationship with my bedside plant, since it wakes me at least once a week. It needs about three times as much water as the others’ plants.

As much effort as it takes, I have to get up. I get dressed quickly, and take my books for the day with me as I head down for breakfast. There probably won’t be time to get them later; I can’t be late for Potions.

Professor Snape has never really liked me. Of course, I doubt that he really likes anyone, but the way he despises me in particular didn’t really show until after OWLs. That look on his face when he saw me in his NEWT class said more than a hundred of his piercing insults. I don’t know exactly what it is that he has against me. I sometimes knock over phials, or drop pickled newts, but I always produce a good potion by the end of the lesson. Charlie thinks that my succeeding at Potions actually makes it worse. Either way, I hate being picked on in front of everyone, so I can’t give Snape a reason to single me out -- and that means I just can’t be late.

I’m still chewing on my last bit of toast when I skid to a halt in front of Snape’s classroom in the dungeons. To my relief, the door seems to be locked, and a group of students is waiting in front of it. As the only Hufflepuff in NEWT Potions, I have no one from my house to naturally flock to, so it is with great relief that I see Charlie’s red head of hair in the small crowd.

–Glad to see you’ve listened to me and showed up,” I say as I sidle up to him.

–Miss Tonks,” Charlie says with a fake sneer, looking down his nose at me. –How kind of you to join us after all.”

–Oh, ha ha. Watch your back, or he might overhear you,” I retort, and Charlie instantly throws a look over his shoulder at the door, which remains closed.  

–So, did you study all night?” he asks.

I bite my lip before I answer. –I wish... I did work for a bit, but I didn’t want to be too tired during Potions today. You know how I mess up when I get sleepy.”

–You must be sleepy a lot,” Charlie says, and at the sight of my glare quickly adds, –I’m just joking. You know I’d be lost without you around.”

It’s true -- well, it’s not like Charlie has no talent for Potions; he did manage to get an O on his OWL after all. It’s just that Potions is a bit different on NEWT level, and Charlie doesn’t have a lot of patience with it. He wants to do something with animals, probably dragons, so it’s not like he needs Potions for more than a few ointments and simple draughts. But he does need a fourth NEWT subject -- apart from Transfiguration, Care of Magical Creatures, and Herbology -- to have a shot at that all-expenses-covered Beginner’s Romanian summer course he wants to take. We made a deal at some point during last summer that I’d help him through his Potions practical examination and he’d make sure I studied Transfiguration theories.

Suddenly, the door flies open. –Enter,” Snape snarls, and we file in silently.

When we’ve all taken our seats, he taps the blackboard with his wand, and the words Practical Application appear. Beneath them is the chalk outline of an hourglass.

–You will work in pairs,” he says needlessly -- we’ve been working in pairs for the past month. –I will not assign you a potion today. You will choose it yourselves, and I expect you to hand in a twenty inch essay explaining your choice of potion and how you might make use of it in your day-to-day life by Friday. You have ninety minutes.”

As much as I despise Snape as a teacher, I actually appreciate tasks like this one. We’re only a handful of months away from leaving Hogwarts, and learning things I can use in the real world makes a lot of sense. I pull my Potions book, padded with instructions I’ve copied from library books, from my bag and am about to drop it on the table with a flourish when I hear a horrible ripping sound. The spine and front cover have torn right off the heavy book, and the pages are flying everywhere in a two feet circle around our table. Instantly, I lunge after them, scrambling to gather them together before Snape sees me, but I’m not fast enough.

–Well now,” comes his voice from above me, and I freeze for a second. –Miss Tonks seems to think that reorganising her notes is a better use of her time than starting on that potion.”

Someone sniggers -- I’m sure it’s that cow Ida Bulstrode from Ravenclaw. I do my best to ignore them both and continue picking up the pages. Just as I reach for the last one, he actually puts his foot down on it. I’m not looking up. I’m not giving him the satisfaction of grovelling at his feet like that.

–Since you seem to have that much spare time,” he continues, –I’m sure you can finish your potion in seventy minutes.” His voice is so cold that I’m surprised that icicles aren’t raining down on my head.

He turns around and walks away without another word, leaving a shoe print on my instructions for a Calming Draught. I get back up and shove my pages into a pile on the table. I’m too angry to even cast a Reparo -- I’d probably end up setting everything on fire. When I look at Charlie, I can see that he’s gazing at the blackboard. Next to the hourglass, the top half of which has been filled with little chalk dots that are falling down one by one, there now is a second one, equally tall, but considerably emptier. Above it, it says Weasley/Tonks.

–I’m really sorry,” I mumble to Charlie.

–I don’t see how it’s your fault.” He wrenches his eyes away from the blackboard and starts rifling through the stack of papers and parchment instead. –So, what do we do? How about the Calming Draught?” he asks, taking the topmost page in his hands. –You look like you could use some of that.”

–Maybe, but if I have to look at Snape’s footprint for the next hour, you’ll need a Draught of Living Death to keep me from strangling him.”

Charlie puts the instructions aside, and continues going through the pile. –Doxycide... I bet my mum would find that useful. I think the ghoul in the attic keeps some doxies as pets...”

–What?” I ask, giving him a bewildered look.

–Never mind,” he replies. –How about this -- Hiccoughing Solution?”

–What would we use that for?” I take the sheet of parchment from him. –Except maybe if we could use Golpalott’s Law to reverse these... Do you think we could make a Hiccough-Stopping solution?”

–Uhm...,” Charlie supplies helpfully.

I throw the page on the other two that we’ve discarded. –There’s no way we can do anything with Golpalott’s Law in seventy minutes.”

–More like sixty-five minutes,” Charlie says with a nod at the blackboard.

–Merlin’s pants,” I groan. –All right, I think we should go for something that has to do with our future jobs... you want to work with dragons, I want to be an Auror. So what do these have in common...”

–Pain!” Charlie exclaims happily. –We’ll both get hurt a lot and probably lose a limb or an eye or something.”

–Excellent,” I say, and start leafing through the pages. –Murtlap Essence is too basic, we wouldn’t get any points for that... What about some sort of Fire Protection Potion?”

We both dig around in the pile of paper for a suitable potion.

–Hey,” Charlie suddenly says, –a Wit-Sharpening Potion! I can make that!”

–That’s because it’s a fourth year potion,” I say, pulling the page from his hands. –Sorry to disappoint you.”

My eyes fall on a page titled Laxative Potion, and I’m just thinking about how many good, practical uses, all of them involving Snape, I could put that to when Charlie finds something we can actually use. It’s a paste that heals heavy burns -- from dragon fire as well as from hexes, so it’s something that we’d both be able to use in our chosen professions.

It’s not exactly easy to make within this limited time frame, since it needs to stew for forty minutes before we can up the heat and stir it into the paste it’s supposed to be. I almost forget the Dittany, arguably the most essential ingredient, but with three minutes to spare, our mixture has reached the perfect texture and just the right shade of orange. I scoop it into a jar and hurry to Snape’s desk to hand it in before he can come to us and make a scene again.

When I set it down on his desk, Snape wrinkles his enormous nose. –Not very inventive,” he drawls after an agonisingly long pause, loud enough for everyone to hear. –As I expected.” He attaches a label with our names to the jar, and I hurry back to our table, quite frankly grateful that nothing worse has happened.

With twenty minutes of nothing to do, Charlie and I watch the others finish their potions. I have no idea what Ida Bulstrode is brewing with her Slytherin pet, but that look of smug contentment on her face as bright purple vapours rise from their cauldron makes me want to punch something.

Two boys from Slytherin are struggling a fair amount more. Judging by the number of different ingredients on their table, which can barely hold them all, they picked something far too complicated. Potions under Snape is definitely not the right place to take risks. When Snape calls for everyone’s samples, they spoon a gooey, mud-coloured mass into a phial. It looks almost as miserable as they do. The final pair, two Ravenclaws who aren’t quite as infuriating as Bulstrode, hand in a milky substance, and then at last we’re all free to clean up and go.

–We should have made that Wit-Sharpening thing,” Charlie says once we’re heading up the stairs out of the cold, damp dungeon.

–What for?” I ask, stuffing my loose collection of Potions pages back into my bag. I’ll fix the book later.

–Bet we could make some money with that right now,” he says and grins at me.

–Yeah, if we could have smuggled it out of there. I doubt any student has ever left that room with a potion.”

Charlie stares at me with round eyes. –Do you really believe that? You’re such a Hufflepuff sometimes, Tonks.” At that, he pulls a jar the same size as the one I just handed in from the pocket of his robes, and it’s filled with that same bright orange paste.

–What are you even going to do with that?” I ask, completely baffled. I never noticed Charlie swiping that, and Snape can’t have seen it either. He’s very protective about his Potions ingredients and there are actually very strict regulations about brewing potions at Hogwarts. We’ve handled Veritaserum before, which is always monitored by the Ministry, and of course something like a Wit-Sharpening Potion or Brain Elixir would be forbidden at Hogwarts outside the Potions classroom.

–Kettleburn wants me to help him handle the Ashwinder eggs he’s showing some fourth years,” Charlie says. –So it’s perfect timing, really.”

–Have you taken potions before?” I ask, still not quite believing that he managed to pull this off.

–Sure,” he replies, –but only when I knew that they’d work. It would be a bit stupid if I poisoned myself with my own potions. Lots of people nick samples -- the stuff we make can be really useful. And it’s our own work anyway, most of it done with ingredients we bought ourselves. So the potion is basically ours to take, too.”

I’m not entirely sure yet how I feel about this yet, but at first glance it sounds like a reasonable logic. And now that I come to think of it, those Calming Draughts and Sleeping Potions that some students have been taking behind Madam Pomfrey’s back have to be coming from somewhere. A lot of the stuff that gets sold between students during these exams is potions or based on potions, and they have to be brewed somewhere. So unless someone is setting up a private laboratory in their shower, they need ingredients from Potions classes.

Charlie heads outside to Professor Kettleburn’s creature enclosures way behind the greenhouses, while I return to the Hufflepuff Den for my free period. After fetching my books, which a house-elf has gathered from around my bed and put into a neat stack, I sit down in the common room with my quill and parchment. My current approach to memorising this stuff is to write my own summaries and then study those -- I have high hopes that my own words will be easier to remember than the waffle in these books. Sadly, this means I have to gain a basic understanding of what the books are trying to tell me first, and that’s really the worst part.

It doesn’t help that there’s a ton of other things I should be doing as well. Like that essay for Snape, which he wants the day after tomorrow. The git -- he could easily given us until the next Potions lesson on Monday. I also have to finish an essay on Dementors for Defence, which is due on Friday, too. And then there’s the long Quidditch practise tomorrow afternoon, which means that I won’t get anything done before dinner.

With a groan, I slam my forehead down on the book in front of me. It’s no use -- I’m just not going to make it. When I look up again, I see a piece of parchment sticking out between the book's pages. Even as I pull it out, I know what the writing on it is going to be.

Couldn't you just pull out your hair over these exams?

Isn't it sometimes just so hard to take a deep breath?

When's the last night you've really slept?

Why is it so easy for your classmates, while you struggle?

Things don't have to be this hard. Rise to the top of your year in your sleep.
Just ask the dancing trolls for Andrew.

That guy again. He does get points for persistence, I suppose.  And right at this moment, if I'm honest, I understand the temptation. Just take a nap, not worry, and have everything fall into place...

Under Pressure by Karaley Dargen

If I could just learn everything in my sleep, imagine what I could do with the rest of my time. This is my last year at Hogwarts, and I'm sure I don't know half the secret passages and rooms yet. Or I could just snatch some food from the kitchens and have a chat with a portrait or a ghost. And when it gets a bit warmer outside, I could spend all my time flying around, and not worry about a thing.

The dancing trolls, Andrew, and his miracle magic. If only it could all be true.

I'm torn right out of my daydreams of effortless success when I hear footsteps behind me.

–Come on, Tonks,” someone says. I quickly crumple up the leaflet and look up to see that two other students from my year, Martha and Edmund, have entered. –Never despair,” Ed says and sits down next to me. Martha takes a seat on the other side of the small table and sets her bag down.

–I tell you,” she starts, –Astronomy is mad.”

–Actually, I think it’s just Professor Sinistra that is,” Ed replies.

–Why, what do you have to do?” They have Astronomy twice a week at night, and usually have a short theoretical lesson at some point during the day before that.

Martha slams a heavy book from her bag on the table. –She wants us to plot an observation study by tonight,” she says. –And we still have Herbology later.”

–Can you skip?” I ask. –I know I’m tempted...”

For a moment, Martha frowns at the table. –I can’t,” she finally mumbles. It’s like I can see the priorities fighting behind her forehead.

–I’m going if you’re going,” Ed says, tilting his chair backwards. –I wouldn’t fret too much about the study outline either. It’s more about what we make out of it tonight.”

–Easy for you to say,” Martha retorts, and I’m slightly taken aback by the edge in her tone. –You’re only taking three NEWTs, and it’s not like they matter anyway.”

–Wow Martha, thanks a lot,” Ed says, slamming the four legs of his chair back down on the ground.

I think I can see tears welling up in Martha’s eyes, but it’s hard to say, since she’s staring at the book in front of her again. –I’m sure she didn’t mean it like that,” I say, but Ed has already opened a book and started leafing through it. He doesn’t spare Martha another glance.

We sit in silence for a while, and it’s becoming really uncomfortable. I try to focus on my Transfiguration books, but the tension between the other two makes it impossible to concentrate. Ed comes from a wealthy family, and his father is fairly high up in the Ministry. He passed his OWLs with flying colours, and was offered a job by his father’s department -- Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures -- right away, the only prerequisite being that he pass his Care of Magical Creatures NEWT. Though he was studious before, he reverted to a more casual attitude last year. He only takes Astronomy because it interests him, and he’s always had a knack for that, and Herbology because it’s part of our Hufflepuff honour to do that. Martha’s right in that his NEWTs won’t matter for his job, but there was no need to throw it at him like that.

I look up and almost decide to say something, but I see Martha looking at the pages of her Astronomy book with her lips pressed together, and Ed frowning as he fixates the same spot on the page as he has five minutes ago, and quickly change my mind. Instead, I pull out a new page of parchment and resolve to start on my Potions essay. At least, this one shouldn’t be all that hard -- it’s about the practical application of our Burn Healing paste, so I just have to write a bit about how Aurors get hit by stinging hexes a lot, or something.

I’m about eight inches into the required twenty when Martha closes her book and gets up.

–I’m going to head to the library for another book,” she says when she catches my eye. Then she gathers up her things and heads out without a word to Ed.

When she’s gone, Ed puts his book down on the table and sighs.

–She’s just been really stressed lately,” I try to explain. –It’s not easy for her.”

–I know,” Ed says, –but it’s hard to keep calm all the time. She was fine all day, and then she just suddenly snaps like that -- I know she’s got it tough, but she can’t expect us to put up with her mood swings permanently.”

There’s silence between us for a moment. Neither of us can really relate to Martha’s situation. I take five NEWTs as well, but my parents are not breathing down my neck like hers are.

–It’s not like my NEWTs don’t matter at all, you know.” Ed shuts his book and looks at me. –I do have to pass Care of Magical Creatures, and it’s actually not that easy at NEWT level.”

I’ve heard this before from Charlie. A lot of people take Care of Magical Creatures because they think it’ll be an easy NEWT, and then have to drop it because the subject gets far more complicated -- not to mention dangerous -- at that stage.

–And just-- the thing is, it matters to me,” he finally bursts out. –Yeah, I’m only taking three NEWTs, but I want to do well in them. It’s not my fault that a large part of all three is practical, and I don’t have to sit in the library and lug books around every waking hour. But that doesn’t change that they’re difficult, and that I have to work to get good results.”

–I know,” I say, and feel lame because it’s the only thing I can think of. But it’s the truth. –Like I said, I’m sure she doesn’t mean it -- honestly.”

Ed shrugs, and he looks just miserable. Neither of us really has anything more to say though, so we both return to our respective coursework, occasionally exchanging curses about our professors -- me more so than Ed. After a while, we decide to go upstairs for lunch. As we pack up our things, I notice that the crumpled up leaflet has disappeared. It's definitely not on the table anymore, and I can't see it on the floor either.

"Did you lose something?" Ed asks when I emerge from under a chair.

"Nah," I say, hoping that I don't look guilty. "I just wanted to make sure I wasn't forgetting anything."

When Ed turns to leave, I scan the room again. Nothing. Maybe one of the house-elves took it without me noticing - though they don't usually work during the day - or the plants made a joke of tossing it into the fire. They sometimes do that with stray pieces of parchment. Either way, it's gone, and that's for the best. It's not like I was going to make use of it anyway. I'm not that dumb or desperate.

By the time we're walking up the stairs, the leaflet is pushed out of my mind as we’re verbally abusing Snape wildly, and reminiscing about all the terrible things he’s done to his students over the years. Ed dropped the class after he got his OWL, but he still has more than his fair share of dreadful memories.

I’ve almost forgotten about Martha’s outburst when we enter the Great Hall, and only remember it because she’s not there. I wonder whether she’s already had lunch or whether she’s not having any at all. Just to be on the safe side, I wrap a baked potato in a napkin and take it with me when we head down to Herbology.

It’s a beautiful day outside, and my first thought is that I hope it holds for our Quidditch practice the next day. It’s not hot, but comfortably warm for early March, and there’s a perfect light breeze that carries the scents of the grass and the flowers and the trees. I look over at Ed, and I see that he’s smiling.

–Can’t wait for tomorrow,” he says. Ed’s one of our Chasers, and he’s become bloody brilliant in the past year. Sure, he has more time to practise than most of us others do, but it's not just that. He's got real talent. –Too bad that the Gryffindors get this weather today, though.” We both laugh. There’s no real enmity between the Hufflepuff and Gryffindor teams, though I feel like the Gryffindor captain sees everyone as his enemy. Of course, everyone wants to win, and we are rivals, but both teams have made an early peace with the fact that the cup will be decided between Ravenclaw and Slytherin this year.

We’re among the first to arrive at the greenhouse, but Professor Sprout is already there and lets us in. While I’m the only Hufflepuff in Potions, there are enough of us in Herbology to form two groups. Ed and I go to our usual table - Martha isn’t there yet, which is quite unlike her - and start setting up. A few tables ahead, I spot Charlie among the small group of Gryffindors. He smiles and waves at me, and I can see the bright orange shining under a thick bandage on his left arm.

I mouth, –What have you done?” at him, and he mimes something that I can’t understand at all, but looks absolutely hilarious. Possibly he means that he fell over with his hands full of Ashwinder eggs, but it’s really hard to tell. I’m glad now that he took the paste, anyway.

There’s a steady stream of students trickling in, and shortly before the lesson starts, Martha appears too. She stands in the doorway for a moment, glancing over at us uncertainly, and I can feel Ed stiffening beside me as he spots her. I wave her over -- there’s no reason for anyone to hold a grudge, and if they both have to be uncomfortable for two hours to reconcile, then that’s what’s going to happen. Martha bobs to and fro for another bit, but finally decides to join us.

When she reaches her spot at our table, I busy myself with filling a larger set of pots with loose soil and pretend to not hear them.

–I’m sorry,” Martha mumbles.

Ed makes an indistinguishable sound, then, after a pause, says, –As long as you don’t keep doing it...”

It’s not the perfect resolution, but it’s going to do. We work more or less in silence on our plants, except for the occasional polite –can you pass this” or –are you done with that” or –watch out for the Venomous Tentacula”.

Everyone is working on a personal project. For our seventh year, each of us has their own small patch in greenhouse eight, and we’re supposed to cultivate it. At the start of the year, we picked a variety of plants from a NEWT standard list, and started growing them. The first plants have already been transferred from their pots to the ground. Ed has grown his own variety of an impressive slug-repelling salad, which, as Professor Sprout has informed him, Hagrid has been eyeing with some interest. We’re both currently working on separating some Valerians while Martha has her hands full with some Wriggling Wisteria. Once I’m done putting the Valerians in their individual pots, I want to set up the stalks for my Sopophorous Beans. Half of our practical NEWT will be based on a presentation and inspection of our individual patches, so everyone has an incentive to be focussed. Rumours spread by older students in the past years about destroyed patches have also lead to the last ten minutes of each lesson being dedicated to everyone casting their own protection charms around their plants -- even if Professor Sprout assures us that no one can enter Greenhouse Eight without her expressed permission.

Repotting the Valerians ends up taking me all of the lesson, because there’s a mischievous Brazilian Maracuja growing behind me, which keeps stealing my pots and gloves and shovel. We have a voluntary extra lesson each Friday afternoon though, and that will be soon enough for the beanstalks.

When we’ve washed our tools and hands, I catch Charlie, and we arrange to meet up after dinner so that we can write our Potions essays together. I'm sure he’ll nag me about Transfiguration, which is a good thing, since Professor McGonagall is probably going to stick us with an essay for the weekend and I don’t want to run into that completely unprepared.

I do manage to work a bit in the library, but in the end, I can’t bear to look at the shelves around me anymore and take flight to the Great Hall for an early dinner. None of the Hufflepuffs from my year are there yet, so I don’t hang around, but move to the Entrance Hall to wait for Charlie. There’s a stream of students trickling into the Great Hall, so I get out of the way and sit on the base of the statue of some troll.

When Charlie does arrive, I almost don’t notice him at first, because there’s no joke or quip about me sitting there and pretending to study.

–Oi,” I say when I look up. –You all right?”

–Mh? Oh, yeah,” he replies. He has his hands in the pockets of his robes, and the frown seems to be permanently etched into his forehead. –It’s just that we had training earlier, and Alexandra didn’t show up. Turns out no one’s really seen her since Monday.”

–Are you rescheduling the match then?” The moment the question is out of my mouth, I want to slap myself. Alexandra is in Charlie’s year; they might well be friendly. We don't actually talk about the people in our houses that much. –Sorry,” I add quickly. –Any idea where she might be?”

He shrugs. –Oliver thinks we should ask McGonagall. But I’m not sure -- what if she’s gone for, you know, personal reasons? I don’t want to be the one sending the watchdogs after her.”

I remember vaguely that Alexandra used to have a boyfriend who passed his NEWTs two or three years ago. –You mean she’s run off or something?”

–Maybe she just needed a break,” Charlie says.

–Thing is though,” I say, and stop myself from biting my lip, –if she’s really gone, they’re going to know tomorrow. And if you want to reschedule...”

–We do have reserve Chasers,” Charlie argues. –So we wouldn’t reschedule anyway. But you’re probably right, McGonagall wouldn’t just let this go if we told her Alexandra had an upset stomach or something. She knows how much Alex wants to win.” He sighs and cracks his neck. –I’d better head to McGonagall’s office then. Wood said I should do it, being the senior player and all. Frankly, I think he’s still a bit scared of her.”

I pick up my stack of books and ask, –Do you want me to wait?”

–I’d hate to make you,” he says, and I realise that he looks quite miserable. –I have no idea how long I’ll be.”

–Right,” I reply quickly, –I should probably head to bed soon anyway. We have our big final Quidditch practise tomorrow, and then there’s Transfiguration..”

We say good night, and as soon as I’ve set foot on the steps down to our den, I’m having trouble not slapping myself. Head to bed soon? It’s barely eight! What am I, five years old? Seeing Charlie uncertain like that just completely threw me off track, and apparently made me lose half my brain. Part of the reason why we’re so close is that he’s usually reasonable and chipper, and never wallows. I haven’t seen him genuinely worried in a while, and I’m not sure I really know how to handle it. Or maybe it's not knowing why exactly he is worried like that that bothers me.

I sit on my own in the common room for a while; Martha and Ed are probably already at their Astronomy practical lesson, and I’m a bit glad they’re not around. I don’t think I could stand their arguing, or even a tense silence. And by the time I head to bed, I feel like I’m as prepared for the next day’s Transfiguration lesson as I’m ever going to be. I’m also really annoyed with myself for some reason. Maybe it's because I didn't have the right words for Charlie when he needed a friend. I was just surprised by him and Alex being close, that's all. It does make sense, of course, seeing how they are in the same year and play Quidditch together. I just never gave it much thought.

As I'm drifting off to sleep, I'm trying desperately to remember Alexandra's boyfriend, and when I last heard that they were still together.

End Notes:
Apologies to anyone who clicked on this before. The archives for some reason swallowed this chapter about an hour after I'd posted it.

Reviews just absolutely make my day :)
Completely Exhausted by Karaley Dargen

–And remember,” Professor Flitwick informs us for about the tenth time, –it’s two taps to the left, and one to the right.” He demonstrates the wand movement very slowly for all of us to see.

Something terrible must have happened with this Full Body Shield Charm in one of his classes, or he wouldn’t bother explaining it in all this detail. It doesn’t look that difficult really. It’s just a swirly thing in the air, and then you tap your wand twice on your left side and once on your right. Half an hour and a half-chocked Slytherin, two cracked Hufflepuff ribs, and a leg-locked Gryffindor later, I realise that I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’m lucky that I don’t even get the shield working at all -- at least mine isn’t squeezing me to death. It turns out that it’s really hard to get the size of it right, and unfortunately, most people that manage to produce a shield seem to be making it too small. Next to me, Martha has managed a sort of flickering cone around herself. I’m not sure it would really deflect anything, and it’s not exactly adapted to her body shape, but it’s a lot more than I have to show.

The only ones that really seem to have worked things out are, as Flitwick points out between sending two students to the hospital wing, the three Ravenclaw students in the class. I’m just glad Ida Bulstrode doesn’t take Charms -- I doubt I could stand the smug look on her face two days in a row. The Ravenclaw who seems to be doing best, Morgan, I don’t actually mind. He has a shimmering blue shield all around his body, just a couple of inches away from his skin, and I can see some of the remaining students throwing him unhappy looks.

Flitwick dismisses the rest of us who aren’t Ravenclaws or in the hospital wing, with instructions to practise on oranges and raw eggs over the weekend. That sounds like a bit of a waste of a good breakfast, but definitely safer than crushing ourselves.

–Fancy a trip to the kitchens tomorrow?” I ask Martha as we make our way to lunch.

–For the eggs?” She pulls her bag higher up on her shoulder.

–Yeah,” I say, shuffling through some people going the wrong way on the stairs. –And maybe some eclairs, y’know.”

–Sure,” Martha replies. –Are you doing voluntary Herbology tomorrow?”

I nod. –I still have to set up the poles for my Sopophorous Beans. But I’m free after.”

None of the teams really believe in last minute practise anymore -- except maybe for Wood, the new Gryffindor captain. Our instructions will be the same as usual: have a calm day, healthy dinner, go to bed early. No big breakfast, but don’t skip either.

Considering that we haven’t won the Quidditch Cup in forever though, it might not really be the best advice after all.

After lunch, we have Transfiguration. I’m relieved to find that it’s a practical lesson, but that doesn’t turn out to be such a blessing in the end. We’re supposed to turn our tables into pigs and back again. The first step is fairly easy -- I manage soon enough, anyway. The room is soon filled with squealing tables and pigs on peg legs, and even the occasional pig with just a hint of wooden colouring left. Keeping them in one place long enough to turn them back again is sort of the actual problem. Pigs are some of the hardest animals to practise Transfiguration on. I don’t know if it’s because of their thick skin or because they’re fairly clever, or maybe they’re just really stubborn -- even if they used to be tables in the first place.

I’m half hanging on to my pig as it drags me through the room. I must look really stupid, but it’s not like anyone has enough time to notice. At least all this wrestling with pigs and throwing spells around gives me a chance to get close enough to Charlie for a quick chat. I don’t usually do that in Transfiguration, but McGonagall is too far away to notice right now, and I am really curious.

–Any news about Alex?” I ask as I throw an arm around my pig’s chest. It’s one of the more pig-like ones by the way.

Charlie’s pig is just sitting there, enjoying his calloused hand stroking over its neck. –Yeah.” For a moment, he just stares at his pig’s snout as he continues his rhythmic strokes. –She’s in the hospital wing,” he finally says, and there’s definitely some bitterness.

–Why?” I try to hold on to the middle of my pig with my leg and fall over. –What happened?”

–Dunno,” he says. –Here, let me.” I don’t even know how he does it, but a moment later, my pig is sitting on the floor, sniffing at a chair and grunting happily. –They’re not letting anyone see her,” Charlie says as he returns to his own animal.

I frown. –That’s... weird. Do you know how long she’s been in there?”

–Tuesday, maybe?”

It really is weird. I can’t really think of a lot that would keep a person in the hospital wing for several days without them being transferred to St Mungo’s, and why wouldn’t they let anyone in to see her?

–Have you talked to McGonagall?” I ask.

–Mmmhm. She was the one who told me where Alex is,” Charlie says. –She was really brief about it though and made it clear that I wasn’t supposed to know any details.”

Behind Charlie, there is a loud noise as a table squeals and then collapses on the floor, poorly supported by its short, stumpy pig legs.

–You could just try getting in anyway,” I suggest. –Madam Pomfrey might let you in with a sad enough story. Tell her she’s your girlfriend or something.”

Charlie scowls at his pig some more.

–Oops -- she isn’t, is she?” I quickly add.

–Nah,” Charlie mumbles. –But I did try getting in to see her, and Pomfrey basically told me that I shouldn’t be back unless I had a set of broken bones to cure.”

–Or else she’d give you some.” I stick out my tongue. –Bummer. But you’re not postponing?”

–Don’t think so. Wood doesn’t seem to want to, anyway, and it’ll be good to give our alternates a chance to fly.”

–Right, it’s not like this match matters much anyway,” I say. The Cup isn’t going to be either Gryffindor’s or Hufflepuff’s. We’re really just playing to have a good time. Were this a match against one of the other houses, the Gryffindor captain might have been more keen on playing with the core team.

–Don’t let McGonagall hear that,” Charlie whispers as the teacher walks dangerously close by.

–Weasley, Tonks,” she says when she sees us, –as much as I’m sure Professor Kettleburn appreciates your handling of these pigs, your task is to return them to their natural form.” She points towards the front of the room, where her desk-turned-pig-turned-desk stands as oaken and solid as ever.

Between us, we manage to turn one pig back into a slightly hairy desk with a curly tail by the end of the lesson. Next week, McGonagall informs, we’re going to start with conjuring spells. I’m half making plans for a mysterious illness, to be honest. Conjuring spells have the most complicated theory, because you’re forcing tiny bits that apparently float through the air to cling together and make a new thing. I can’t wrap my head around it at all. While everyone else is packing up, McGonagall relieves the rest of the supposed desks of their sudden animate forms, and returns the tables to their places. I wonder sometimes if she’s disappointed by our level of progress.

I only have one free period before our Quidditch practice, so I dump my stuff in our dormitory and head straight back down to the pitch. I don’t want to be late again -- our captain, Anthony Rickett, gets so nervous before matches anyway. He’s a beater, like me, though he has much stronger arms than I do. My strength lies more in quick flying, and I’m really good at hitting Bludgers. Ed says it’s because I always get into accidents -- he thinks that Bludgers can sense that and that’s why they all fly towards me.

–All right then,” Anthony says when we all have assembled and changed. –I just heard that Gryffindor is a Chaser short, which means they have to bring in a reserve.”

–Who, Alicia Spinnet?” Tamsin, one of our own Chasers, sits up on the bench. –But she’s only in second year.”

For a fraction of a second, a smile flashes over Anthony’s lips. –That’s right. This means that two of the Gryffindor’s Chasers as well as their Beaters are second years. We already know that they are all strong flyers, no matter their experience. But this does give us a very clear advantage. We’ve been playing together for over a year, some of us for longer. They won’t have the same team dynamic.”

–Shouldn’t we postpone the match?” Sola, our Seeker, asks. –It does seem a bit unfair, if they’re playing with more than half a team of second years.”

–It’s their decision,” I say. –If they wanted to postpone, they could have done it. They know we wouldn’t have objected.”

There’s some murmuring, but we seem to agree in general. Postponing the match isn’t our decision, and we’re still going to play fair.

–I see no reason why we shouldn’t make the best of an advantage if it’s handed to us like that,” Anthony says. –Does anyone oppose?” When no one disagrees with him, he goes on, –I know that we haven’t been playing for the cup. But even if we might not end up winning in the long run, it doesn’t mean that we can’t win one match. Personally, I think I’d like being a winner, even for just one day.”

–Hear, hear!” I call, and the others join in clapping.

The great thing about this little speech is that during practice, everyone flies with a completely different sort of energy. Our Chasers in particular, Ed, Tamsin, and Malcolm, pull off some incredible moves, and they all seem to know what the others are planning to do before it happens. Though Herbert Fleet, our Keeper, is doing excellent work, even he can't catch all the Quaffles. Anthony and I hit every ball that the others throw our way, and Sola catches ten golf balls in one spectacular dive.

The really bad thing about this is that it is bloody exhausting. By the time we have showered and returned to the Den, all I can do is fall down on my bed and close my eyes. As I dig my fingers into my patchwork quilt, I can't help but smile. Yes, every bone in my body hurts and I can't move a muscle right now. But I also know that for the first time in a while, we have a real shot at winning a match. We could be heroes in Hufflepuff for a day.

Someone must have come in after me, because when I am jolted awake by my leg jerking, I’m tucked in under my blanket, and the curtains around my bed are pulled. I quickly throw the blanket off and sit up. My face is moist with sweat, and my pulse is racing. Images from the weird dream I just had keep flashing across my eyes; a withering tree, a tall man in ragged looking clothes, a dark lake... But I can't really remember anything, and the harder I try to make sense of it, the faster it slips away. I'm not actually sure that it was a nightmare - it was just really confusing. Pulling my curtains aside, I get up from my bed. The other girls, Jenna, Martha, and Helen, are all still in deep sleep, judging by the sounds of their breathing. I walk over to the small table by the wall and pour myself a glass of water. The earthy smell of the room and the soft gleam of the copper lamp by the door are as warming and relaxing as ever, and I find myself calming down easily. I look up out of the round window. It's half covered by grass and flower roots, but the bit of the sky I can see above the ground is slowly brightening. I stay for a bit as I drink my water, watching as a couple of flowers right in front of our window open up their petals. After a while, when the first birds start singing, I feel drowsy enough again to go back to sleep for another hour or two.

If I dream of gaunt figures or old trees again, I don't remember it in the morning.

End Notes:
Everybody loves reviews! Me especially.
Off Your Game by Karaley Dargen

–You have no idea,” I say between two bites of egg on toast, –how glad I am that we have a double free period first thing on Fridays.”

–Do you plan on having breakfast for the next hour then?” Martha asks after she finishes her tomato.

I shrug. –Dunno. Might. I never made it back down to dinner last night. Pass the sausages?”

–I would have woken you, but you seemed pretty far out of it when I got back to the dormitory,” Jenna says, and hands me the dish. –Was practice any good?”

–Mhm. Rickett seems to think we’ve got a real chance of winning this time.” Slowly, I can feel my stomach filling up again.

–Good luck, anyway,” Martha says with a smile. –I can’t wait for the match.”

I know that’s a bit of a lie, but I appreciate it. Martha isn’t really into Quidditch, and I get it -- she just really doesn’t have the time to keep track of points and players. But she’ll come and watch and cheer us on, and that really is what matters when we’re out on the field.

–Anyway, I have to get going. I want to read through an essay on Old English Druids before Runes. Are you coming with, Jenna?” Martha gulps down the rest of her tea and gets up. –When do you want to meet for the Charms thing?”

–Uhm... Are you doing Voluntary Herbology today?”

–Probably not,” she says. –I don’t think there’s much I could do, and I’d rather use the time for other stuff. Maybe you could check my Mandrake seedlings if you’re going.”

‘Will do. See you after then?” I ask.

–Yeah, let’s just meet in the Den, then we can head to the kitchens together.”

I leave the Great Hall just a couple of minutes after Martha and Jenna, feeling slightly queasy from all the food. There’s still plenty of time before I have to go to my Defence class, but Martha’s eagerness has reminded me that I should give my Dementor essay another look. This year’s professor, an older witch called Doyle, isn’t exactly strict, but I’d hate to disappoint her. She’s one of those people that you just can’t bear to let down.

We’re a fairly small group for NEWT Defence. Most people don’t really see the point. Unless you want to go into Law Enforcement, or work with artefacts, it’s not a requirement for any job. And it’s not like you’re going to be jumped by a dark wizard in the streets on any given day. There’s a girl from Ravenclaw who wants to be a Curse Breaker, two Gryffindors who I think just take the class for the sake of it, and a Slytherin who wants to work with artefacts in the Magical Law Enforcement Department. I want to be an Auror, of course. I actually really like it with just the five of us, especially as we all get along.

–Essays on my desk, please,” Professor Doyle says as we enter the classroom. –Right, now that we’ve got that out of the way... What do you want to do today?” She smiles at us expectantly.

–Could we actually practise the Patronus Charm?” one of the Gryffs asks.

–Not before I’ve read your essays,” she says, and pats the small stack. –Don’t worry, you will get to give it a try later in the year.”

–How about tracing dark magic?” the Ravenclaw suggests. –It is part of the NEWT requirements.”

–That’d be cool,” says the Slytherin boy. –We could use that for our job applications as well.”

Professor Doyle waves her wand, and her quill scribbles something on a piece of parchment. –I’ll talk it through with the headmaster,” she says. –We might need someone from the Ministry to clear this for us.”

–How about counter-curses?” I ask. –That’s always good practice.”

There’s a general murmur of agreement, and we divide into pairs. Since we’re five, Joshua, the boy from Slytherin, ends up opposite Professor Doyle. The two Gryffindors team up, as do I and Laura, the Ravenclaw.

–All right, you know what to do,” Professor Doyle says. –Just keep going until I tell you to stop, and then we can have a discussion.”

We’ve done this often enough not to need any detailed instructions. We just take turns throwing hexes and curses at each other, while the other person tries to either block or counter them. Ideally, we’re supposed to find the right counter-curse before the curse hits us, but for our safety, we’re also allowed to use Shield Charms rather than have to go to the hospital wing.

Joshua has easily the best reflexes in our class. He’s the Slytherin Seeker, and he hasn’t missed a Snitch in over a year. When he’s up against Professor Doyle, he needs those reflexes, too. She looks like such a nice old lady, but when she starts duelling, she’s unstoppable, and that’s when we all remember why she’s such a great teacher. In a way, she reminds me a lot of my grandma on my dad’s side. Except my grandma is a Muggle, of course.

I have to stay focussed as well though. Laura is fierce with hexes. She’s particularly good at feigning one curse and then at the last second going with a completely different one, so I never know what I’m up against until it’s almost too late. Also, she knows some spells that I’ve never even heard of before she explains them to me.

–Ready?” I ask as the two Gryffindors behind us start hurling hexes at each other.

–All right,” she replies. –Three... two... one...”

My eyes dart between her face and her wand. I think I know what she’s doing, but we do all our spells non-verbally now, so I have no way of knowing for sure. I take half a breath and try to sense the energy that is building up. When the spell comes flying my way, I cast the counter-curse instinctively. I couldn’t have done it knowingly, as the hex took me completely by surprise.

A Jellyleg Jinx? That’s not Laura’s style at all.

–Sorry,” she calls, –I completely blanked. You go!”

I’ve wanted to try a modified Knee-Reversal Hex for a while, which includes the elbows as well. I conjure the structure of the spell in my mind, then channel it through my wand and throw it Laura’s way. She manages to bring up a shield only just in time.

–Are you all right?” I ask her.

–Yeah, I’m fine,” she replies. –Was that a Knee-Reversal Hex? Try again, okay? I want to get this right.”

It takes five more rounds before Laura manages to zap the hex away before it reaches her.

–Are you sure you don’t want a break?” I ask when she gets back into position. –You seem a bit off your game.”

–I told you, I’m fine,” she says, and there’s a definite edge to her voice now. –It was a new kind of hex, that’s all. Just... let’s keep going.”  

It’s probably a good idea not to tell her that it was a new hex for me as well.

We keep going for a while, but I dial it down a bit and don’t use any outlandish spells. I’m not sure if she notices. Either way, she seems to be getting more and more irritated. At some point, Professor Doyle must have noticed as well, because when Laura chooses the completely wrong counter-curse and lands on the floor with a nasty burn on her cheek, Doyle comes over and offers her a hand.

–Tonks, you go and team up with Byrd for the remaining time,” she says, and gestures to Joshua. –Why don’t you sit out for a couple of minutes, Finch? We can work out a Cooling Spell for that cheek of yours.” She tries to direct Laura to one of the chairs that have been pushed to the walls, but Laura wrenches free from her hand.

–I’m fine!” she yells, and storms out of the classroom.

There’s complete silence after the door falls shut behind Laura.

–Go on, then,” Professor Doyle finally says. –I can’t see any spells flying around.”

–Shouldn’t someone go after her?” I ask.

–Miss Finch is of age. I’m sure she’s able to take care of herself.” I can tell that Professor Doyle isn’t entirely convinced of this herself, but she’s right. Laura probably just needs some time to cool off.

Duelling Joshua takes my mind right off Laura, because it requires my full attention. His spells aren’t incredibly inventive, and he draws from a limited pool of counter-curses, but Merlin, he’s quick. By the time Professor Doyle claps her hands and tells us to each grab a chair, I’m nearly as exhausted as I was after Quidditch practice.

We have about ten minutes left to ask questions about spells that people used, and how we can efficiently block them, and what we thought our difficulties were this time. I manage to scribble down some notes on simplified versions of complicated counter-curses, and a book that Professor Doyle recommended on the subject, just in case I don’t have enough reading to do over the weekend anyway.

–All right then, great work everyone,” Professor Doyle says with a wide smile as the bell rings. –I promise I’ll try to work something out for a lesson or two on tracing dark magic.”

I only have a very light lunch, as I’m still pretty full from breakfast. There’s no trace of Laura in the Great Hall, and I wonder if I should be worried. We’re not really friends or anything, but we’ve been getting along well during Defence, and not knowing what’s going on at all does make me slightly uneasy. Since I have no way of finding her right now, though, I decide to head down to the greenhouses. I can still talk to some of her friends if she’s not turned up by dinnertime.

Armed with my gloves, a trowel, and some bean poles from the supplies shed, I start my work. During the voluntary lessons, Professor Sprout usually prepares some plants for the younger students, so she is around if we need her, but she’s not really supervising us. Martha was right; there isn’t a lot to do. As the soil is self-watering, and we can’t use fertilizer on plants this small yet, it’s all about repotting and pruning at the moment. I tie my polestogether in threes, so that they form pyramids, as we’ve learnt last year. Then I put them in the ground where my beans grow - and it’s high time I did, too, since the plants are nearing eight inches in height and some are already drooping dangerously. There’s no one in the greenhouses apart from me, and I never hear anyone enter, but just as I’m digging the holes for my last poles, someone taps me on the shoulder. I almost jump through the roof.

–Nymphadora?” Laura asks.

–Merlin, you startled me!” I exclaim. –I thought you were the Venomous Tentacula!”

–Sorry,” she says, biting her lip. –Your housemates told me you might be here. Look, I’m really sorry about earlier.”

Now that I look at her, I notice that she’s got some gauze taped to her cheek. –Oh, I- I’m sorry about that. Does it still hurt?”

–No, I put something on it. I don’t even notice it now.” She fidgets with her sleeves for a moment. –And anyway, it wasn’t really your fault. You were right, I was completely off my game. So, yeah, sorry.”

There’s a short awkward pause as I stand there clutching my trowel and my bean poles, and she looks around the room with the patch on her cheek. Apparently, apologies are the only conversation we can come up with.

–Do you need a hand with that?” she finally asks, and I gratefully accept. Not because I need the help, but because it breaks the silence.

–Those are some impressive plants,” she says when we’re done. –I never really had a green thumb. Do you need any more help?”

I’m getting the feeling that she really wants to do something, so I show her how to carefully tie the vines to the poles. She does a good job, actually, and it seems to calm her down a bit.

–So, what was up earlier?” I ask while we’re both busy with the plants. Laura seems to contemplate an answer, but then bites her lip and busies herself with a knot. –There’s clearly something going on,” I say, refusing to let it go.

–It’s Morgan,” she says, and when I look up, I can see that she has turned her head away. –He’s my- my boyfriend.” Her cheeks flush. –And they’re still not letting me into the hospital wing to see him.”

–What’s he in the hospital wing for?” I tie a knot around my last bean plant.

–No one knows,” Laura replies. A small sob escapes her lips. –And Madam Pomfrey won’t tell me anything.”

Something inside me stirs. –Hang on, when was he taken to the hospital wing?”

Laura gives a jerk and wipes her eyes. –All I know is that he didn’t show up for breakfast this morning, and when I went looking for him in the break, his friends told me that he was taken to the hospital wing.” Her voice has reached a dangerously high point, and her lower lip is trembling when she finishes speaking.

–So they know what happened to him?” I ask cautiously.

–Not really.” Laura finishes with her side of the beans as well and gets back up from the ground. Her hands and knees are covered in dirt, and her face is blotchy. –All they could tell me was that they couldn't wake him up this morning.”

A Moment of Calm by Karaley Dargen

I don’t have much time to think about the new developments once I get back to the castle. Martha is waiting for me to practice Charms, and then I have to get started on my other homework, since there’s no telling how long the match tomorrow is going to last.

All my plans are put to a halt though when I get to the common room. It takes me a minute to spot Martha behind her pile of books, and when I do, I wish I hadn’t. Her eyes are red, her face is blotchy, and the smile she gives me is weak. Why is everyone around me upset today?

–Hey Martha.” I sit down next to her. –What’s going on?”

–It’s nothing. It’s just...” She presses her hands on her forehead. –It’s a lot of work, that’s all.”

–But you’re going to manage, right?” I say. –You’ve always managed when the rest of us were flailing around.”

–I’m not so sure.” She sighs. –I just wish I could do it like... like Ed, you know. Just pick a couple of fun subjects and lie in the sun the rest of the day. That would be nice.” She turns a couple of pages in her book.

–Come on now, Martha, that’s not fair,” I try to argue. –You know that Ed works hard, and the practical classes aren’t exactly easy.”

–Yeah,” Martha mutters, and pulls another book from her stack. –It’d just be comforting if my dad could guarantee me a job straight out of Hogwarts. It would take some of the pressure off, and then maybe I could take a day off once in a while as well. Not have to work so hard...”

–Seriously, I don’t think-” I begin.

–Don’t bother, Tonks,” says a voice behind us. By the time we turn around, we can just see Ed exiting the Den through the fake barrel.

–Great,” Martha says, and tears well up in her eyes. –Just... great.”

–Why do you keep saying these things if you don’t really mean them?” I ask.

–It’s just- it upsets me, okay?” Martha bursts out. –We used to have so much time together, the three of us, and now...” The tears are flowing freely down her face. –I don’t have time for anything anymore. This is our last year, and I might not see him again at all, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

I pull her into a hug as she starts sobbing. –I just wish I had more time,” she says, shaking. –And then I see him, and nothing seems to have changed for him, and just...”

She breaks off and turns back to the table, rearranging her books.

–Things have changed for him as well, Martha,” I say truthfully. –He’s more serious about school now. About a lotof things, actually. I’m sure that if you talked to him, he’d understand.”

–How can I talk to him?” she asks. –All we do is fight. I doubt he even still wants to be friends with me.”

–You know that’s not true. Of course he doesn’t want to be snapped at, but other than-”

–See?” Martha spins around, and her cheeks are red again. –That’s all I seem to be able to do anymore. Snap at him.”

Before I can reply, she has gathered her things and left towards the dormitories. I briefly consider going after her, but she doesn’t seem to want any company. If she’s not back out by dinner, I’ll check for her. This seems to be my solution for everyone’s problems today. Just wait for dinner.

–What’s with her?” asks a plant that’s hanging from the ceiling nearby.

–Shut up,” I grumble, and walk to the exit.

I really don’t know what I should do next. I could try going after Ed, which would probably upset Martha if she found out. Anyway, I have no idea where he might have gone. Or I could do the Charms thing on my own, which might upset Martha too.

Deciding that I can’t just dance around her possibly finding out, I resolve to go to the kitchens. I might not end up getting any eggs or oranges for Charms practice, but right now, I really just want a sandwich and some dessert.

The kitchen is quite close to the Den, so at some point practically every Hufflepuff students finds out how to get in. It took me until late in my second year, and a particularly desperate nightly hunger pang. Martha told me later that she had known since right from the start, when she was homesick and one of the house-elves took her for comfort food.

When I tickle the pear, the entrance opens, and I can see a whole group of house-elves already bustling around a table.

–Charlie!” I exclaim. –What are you doing here?”

–Dessert,” he mumbles between bites, and shows me the assortment of small cakes that the elves have prepared.

Before I can even ask for one, a chair is brought to me and set down opposite Charlie at the table. –Thanks,” I say, then turn back to Charlie. –I didn’t know you knew how to get in here!”

–I have two very resourceful brothers,” he says with a wink. –Shame they didn’t get to Hogwarts sooner. Anyway, you’d think you would have told me about this!”

–It’s a closely guarded house secret.” I pull one of the plates toward me. –What are we having then?”

–Strawberry cream roll,” Charlie says and points it out to me. –You have to try it.”

–Any news about Alexandra?” I ask when we’ve both had our plates filled.

Charlie shakes his head. –She’s definitely not playing. We don’t even know if she’s still at Hogwarts.”

–She might still be in the hospital wing.” I ponder for a moment. –Morgan Wagtail is.”


–That bloke from Ravenclaw. Apparently, he didn’t wake up this morning, and now he’s in the hospital wing and no one’s allowed in to see him.” I take a mouthful of cake. Charlie was right -- it’s heavenly.

–So you think it’s the same thing?” Charlie asks, frowning.

I shrug. –Might be. Do you remember anyone ever being in the hospital wing with no visitors allowed at all?”

–I’m sure it’s happened before. I mean, it must have. If someone needs special rest, or maybe they’re infectious...”

–So you think it could be like an epidemic?” I ask and squint at the food around us that is being prepared for dinner.

–Well, I-” He sighs. –I don’t know. It doesn’t make sense. If it really were infectious, they’d probably be checking their classmates as well, or at least the people they share a dormitory with, and then we’d have heard about it.”

–Unless it’s all being hushed up,” I suggest.

–I think Dumbledore cares too much about our safety to hush something like that up,” Charlie says. –And anyway... an infection that hits two people from two different houses... Doesn’t make much sense, unless they’re seeing each other or something.”

–Morgan’s got a girlfriend in Ravenclaw,” I explain. –She was the one who told me about him being in the hospital wing. And she seemed fine earlier.”

We sit in silence for a while, nibbling at some biscuits as we’ve finished the cake. The house-elves have brought a pot of tea and cucumber sandwiches as well, and none of them seem to mind our lingering. A whole number of thoughts are whirring around my head, one of them being that Charlie brought up the possibility that Alexandra and Morgan might be seeing each other. But before I can give that any sort of coherent meaning, Charlie sets down his cup rather noisily, and I can see that he’s got that frowny look on his face.

–What are you thinking?” I ask, because he’s never going to just spill it.

–It’s just... an idea.” He crumbles a biscuit on his spoon and stares at it for a moment.

–Spit it out already,” I urge.

–Do you think it could have anything to do with those things that are being sold? That they’ve taken something that backfired completely?” The looks he gives me is almost pleading.

I ponder this for a moment. –I don’t know Morgan Wagtail at all. Would Alexandra be the type for this?”

–That’s where my theory falls apart,” Charlie says. –Alex has always been good at the subject she cares about, and yeah, she studies, but she’s never struggled or obsessed, not even during OWLs.”

–You never know what the pressure might do to people. Maybe she’s got more on her plate than she’s letting on,” I suggest. –Jenna Twycross was treated for Doxy egg poisoning last month because she took something. She was so embarrassed about it afterwards, but she couldn’t keep it from Martha and me, seeing how we were there when she-” I break off. –Sorry. We’re still eating... Anyway, Jenna’s the last person I thought would break over the exams, but clearly she did. People change in these situations.”

–Hmm.” Charlie dips his spoon into his cup and watches the biscuit crumbs soak up the tea. –I could ask around a bit,” he says when he looks up. –Talk to the girls in our year. Maybe she mentioned something to one of them.”

–Yeah, and I could try and talk to Laura again, see if she knows if Morgan gets a lot of pressure from home,” I say, and pick up a sandwich. –If I get a chance - it’s not exactly like we’re friends.”

–It would really help if we knew for sure that they’ve got the same thing. I just wish there was a way for us to see them in the hospital wing,” Charlie grumbles.

–If you’re not careful tomorrow, I might give you a reason for a trip,” I say, waving a cucumber slice at him.

He needs a moment to pick up the joke, but then he bursts out laughing. –I think I’ll pass,” he finally says. –Would be good if we could sneak in though.”

–We could ask one of these guys here to have a look around for us... The sheets in the hospital wing need changing too, right?”

A house-elf carrying a bowl of soup past us hears this, gives a yelp, and scurries off.

–Oi!” Charlie exclaims. –You’re scaring off the food!”

We spend the next half hour or so hatching plans on how to get into the hospital wing, but short of a serious illness or injury, we come up with nothing. And since neither of us feels like eating Doxy eggs or droppings or whatever is in the newest brain buffing concoction on the market, we have to discard that idea as well.

With about two hours left before dinner, Charlie remembers that he has to be at the pitch for a short last minute practice, and bolts out the door. I’m beginning to think that Wood might be much scarier than he seems at first glance. It’s for the best that Charlie has to leave, too, because I really have to get started on my schoolwork. I fancy neither the Den nor the library much right now, so I find an empty classroom to work in. When it’s time to go to the Great Hall, I’m in a much better mood. I’ve made good progress on my essays and reading, Martha seems to have cheered up a bit, and Ed, even though he’s sitting a few seats away, is in animated conversation with half our Quidditch team.

My spirits are so high, actually, that Ida Bulstrode infuriates me only slightly when she yells across three tables, –Hey, Tonks! Come here, we’ll show you an extra cushioning spell in case you fall off your broom again!”


My eyes fly open early on Saturday morning, and for the first time in a while, I’m not the last one to leave the dormitory; Helen is still brushing her long hair back into a ponytail when I lace up my boots.

–See you in the stadium,” she says when I’m ready to go. –I’ll be the one with the loudest cheers. Good luck!”

As I rush through the tunnel into the common room, I can feel excitement surging through me. This is the match that we can win. In a couple of hours, the Den might be stuffed with food from the kitchens and roaring with our celebrations. The common room is empty, with people no doubt taking an early breakfast so that they can secure good seats in the stands. Hufflepuffs always support their team spectacularly at Quidditch matches, no matter whether we lose every single one.

The grin on my face freezes suddenly when I see Jenna. She’s as pale as the Grey Lady, and her eyes go round when she sees me.

–Hey, Jenna,” I say and quickly walk up to her. –What’s the matter?” I put a hand on her arm, worried that she might collapse. I just hope she hasn’t taken those Doxy pills again.

–You haven’t heard yet,” she breathes. I can see now that her eyes are edged with tears.

–Haven’t heard what?” Panic suddenly starts gripping me. –What’s going on?”

She almost chokes on the words when she speaks, and all I can understand is ‘hospital wing’.

–Jenna, calm down,” I urge, having trouble breathing calmly myself. –Who’s in the hospital wing? Someone from Hufflepuff?”

Starting to sob in earnest now, Jenna nods and buries her face in her palms.

–This morning?” I think of people not waking up, people taking illegal potions, people being quarantined - or protected - in the hospital wing. –Jenna, who is it?”

My mind races to remember if Martha was in the dormitory when I woke up. Could she have been removed with neither Helen nor me noticing?

–It’s Ed,” Jenna sobs, jerking me right out of my wild thoughts. –I saw them levitating him out.”

Give It Your All by Karaley Dargen

I barely even feel my feet pounding on the stone floor as I run through the castle. People call after me as I pass them, but whether what they’re calling are good luck wishes, insults against Hufflepuff, or indignation at my running into others at every turn, I neither hear nor care.

Ed is in the hospital wing.

Up another staircase.

They levitated him there this  morning.

Step behind the tapestry and up the hidden corridor.

Ed didn’t wake up.

Dodge the first years.

They won’t let me see him.

Mind that trick step.

I have to see him. Have to.

As I skid to a halt, I don’t feel the breath piercing my lungs. I feel that I’m choking up, that my thoughts are jumbled, that I don’t know what to do.

Go and see Ed. Make sure he’s going to be all right.

I run full force at the doors that lead to the hospital wing. It’s not until I reach them that I realise that they’re magically locked. In complete frustration, I throw myself against them several times, until I hear the steps of heeled shoes on the other side.

–What are you doing, Miss Tonks?” asks Madam Pomfrey, opening one of the doors just wide enough to look through. –I’ll have you know that you’re creating rather a ruckus! I have patients in here that are not to be disturbed.”

–Madam Pomfrey,” I plead, –you’ve got my friend in there, Edmund O’Flaherty. He was brought in just an hour or so ago. Please, I have to see him.”

–That won’t be possible.” I’m not sure if I detect a glimmer of sympathy on her face. –Mr O’Flaherty will not receive any visitors until I say so.”

–No, you don’t understand! I’m his friend, I have to-”

–I’m sure that your friendship is very special,” the matron says sternly, –but it does not change my principles of patient care. And now I have to attend to those patients, so I suggest you take your breakfast.”  

–Hang on, Poppy,” says another, kinder voice behind the doors. –I’ll take care of her.”

Madam Pomfrey gives me another look, then steps aside, and Professor Sprout appears.

–Hello, Nymphadora. Why don’t we sit down for a moment?” She leads me a little way down the corridor, away from the hospital wing, and I let her. When we arrive at an empty classroom, she quickly conjures two squashy chairs, and gently pushes me into one of them. It’s incredibly comfortable, and the minute I sit down and look at her kind, concerned face, all the fight and fury in me is gone, and leaves behind only worry and sadness and confusion.

–This must be very hard for you to accept,” she says. –I understand you’ve been friends for a long time.”

I nod. –Since first year, really.”

–And this is a particularly bad time for him to fall ill as well, of course,” Professor Sprout states.

It’s only then that it strikes me. Ed is not going to play in the match today. We’ve lost our strongest Chaser.

–That’s not what’s important,” I say, and it’s the truth. –I just want to know that he’s going to be all right. I have to know what’s wrong with him.”

–You know that Madam Pomfrey will take excellent care of him, and if it’s something we cannot treat here at Hogwarts, he will be transferred to St Mungo’s immediately. I’ll let you know if that happens, of course. But we can’t tell you what’s wrong with him, and we can’t let anyone in to see him. It’s for his best, and I’m sure you understand that it’s important, even if you don’t understand why it has to be this way.”

–No, I know that Madam Pomfrey wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t necessary,” I admit. I’ve been in the hospital wing often enough myself to know that even if she’s sometimes too strict or too brisk, Madam Pomfrey is an excellent Healer. –It would just really help me if I knew why he’s even in there!” And then, before I can stop myself, it bursts out of me. –Is it the same thing that the other two have? Alexandra and Morgan?”

For the fraction of a second, Professor Sprout just stares at me speechlessly, but she’s back on track almost instantly.

–I’m glad you understand that this is necessary,” she says. –You’ll also understand that I’m only here about Edmund, and can’t tell you anything about other students in the hospital wing. It wouldn’t be up to me to give you that information, even if I had it.

–Now, Nymphadora, you’ve got the match ahead. Will you be able to play?”

I swallow hard, then nod. Of course I’ll play.

–Then you should get some breakfast into you before it’s too late. You’ll need your strength.” She pats me on the arm and gives me a sad smile. –The moment there is anything for me to tell, I will come and find you,” she promises, and I genuinely believe her. I just don’t think that moment will come soon enough.

On my way down to the Great Hall, I have two thoughts in my mind. One, we’ll be playing with a completely inexperienced and practically untrained second year Chaser. Two, I’ll have to get into the hospital wing one way or another.


A gloomy silence hangs in the air as we sit on the changing room benches. We’ve all changed into our Quidditch robes, including Cedric Diggory, the reserve Chaser, who looks like he’s going to puke any moment now.

–Okay, people,” Anthony finally says and gets up. –I know this has sets us back, not just because we’ve lost a great Chaser but also because one of our oldest team mates is in the hospital wing and we’re all worried sick. But that is exactly why we’re going to go out there now, and we’re going to win this match. And then, when Ed gets out of the hospital wing, we’ll be able to tell him that we won this for him, and we’re damn well going to have a great big party.

–Ed wouldn’t want any of you to play badly because of him. I know we can’t just forget about him, but let’s focus on the game for now. It’s the best thing we can do for him. Cedric, Malcolm, Tamsin, I’d like just a quick word on Chaser tactics.”

The rest of us relax a bit on the benches, and start getting ready for the match, checking our brooms and equipment.

–Cedric, you’ll understand that we don’t expect you to be a full part of the Chaser trio at this point,” Anthony explains. –We didn’t foresee this, obviously, and you haven’t had time to practise as a team yet. So you’d best hang back a bit and let Malcolm and Tamsin do the bulk of the work. It’s not that we don’t trust you,” he adds reassuringly. –Just that you haven’t had the team practice.”

Cedric just nods, his lips clenched shut, and I don’t think he’d want to argue even if he could.

As the other two Chasers quickly go through the moves they can pull off between just the two of them, and how they could modify some others, Cedric looks so lost, I can’t help but walk over to him and put a hand on his shoulder.

–You’ll be all right,” I tell him. –Half of us were worse off than you before our first match. Just wait till you’re in the air and see the yellow and black and hear the cheers. You’ll forget everything else but flying.”

I’m not sure if it helps him, but I do manage to calm myself down a bit.

–Actually, Cedric,” Tamsin says, turning to him, –if you feel like flying ahead with us, you could always try flying a bit lower. It’s not terribly exciting or challenging, but it could allow for Malcolm or me to drop the Quaffle down to you if things get tricky. We might be able to outfly the Gryffindor Chasers without losing possession.”

Before there’s any chance for Cedric to get even more nervous in light of his new task, Anthony claps his hands loudly, signalling for us to gather back around.

–This is it!” he says. –Go out there, and make Ed proud. Make Hufflepuff proud!”

What I said to Cedric wasn’t just a line. It’s a feeling I experience every time I kick off the ground and soar above the packed stadium. The Hufflepuff yellow is almost blinding, even though the sun is hidden behind some clouds, and I can already hear my housemates chanting. Even though I can’t stop thinking about Ed, I feel elated. Anthony is right. Winning is the best thing we can do right now, for Ed and the rest of the Hufflepuffs.

Before I get much time to relish the atmosphere, Anthony zooms past me, Beater’s bat at the ready. –Let’s go,” he shouts. –Straight ahead!”  

Tamsin and Malcolm are flying straight at the Gryffindor Chasers, who are in possession, while Cedric circles beneath them. –Bludgers attacking! Go left!” Anthony calls. The Bludgers are flying at our Chasers from both sides. Anthony and I fly in from below, and arrive just in time to swing our bats with enough power to bring the Bludgers into the Gryffindor’s vicinity. They zip right through their group of Chasers, and though no one gets hit, they are forced to scatter.

–Johnson is going to have to pass soon, or she’ll collide with the Hufflepuff Chasers,” calls Andy Turpin, the commentator.

For a second, I can see the insecurity in Angelina Johnson’s face, then she passes the ball over to her left, where Toby Summers should have been.

–Too bad, Johnson!” comes the commentator’s voice again. –That’s a prime example of what happens when you rely too much on staying in formation. Tamsin Applebee from Hufflepuff is going into a dive, and - yes, she’s caught the Quaffle! Hufflepuff in possession.”

As Tamsin and Malcolm speed above and over the Gryffindor Chasers with the Quaffle, I see the Bludgers making their way back around to the Gryffindor Chasers from behind. I watch the Beaters, Charlie’s twin brothers, closely, trying to make out in which direction they’re going to hit the balls. For their size, they’re bloody strong, or at least very agile. They hit the Bludgers in wildly different directions, leaving us no choice but to fly in a wide half circle each around the group of Chasers to intercept the Bludgers before they can attack our teammates from the flanks. I manage to fly between the Chasers and the Bludgers just before it’s too late, and don’t have enough time to swing my bat properly. The Bludger only flies a few feet before it turns back towards me. All I can attempt in time is a Sloth Grip Roll. When I come back up again, I spin around to see the Bludger that I just dodged hitting one of the pursuing Gryffindor Chasers in the back.

–And Alicia Spinnet is hit by a Bludger,” Andy comments. –She seems to have lost balance - is she going to fall? Ah, she’s back. And there are the Gryffindor Beaters, just a tick too late.” The twins both hit the Bludger at the same time to drive it at our Chasers, who have just come into scoring distance. Before it can hit, however, Anthony appears practically out of nowhere and slams it in the direction of the goal hoops just as Tamsin throws the Quaffle.

–Wood dodges a well timed Bludger, but misses the Quaffle in the process. Ten points to Hufflepuff!”

From my position, I can see Wood punching the air in anger, but I can’t understand what he’s shouting.

–Gryffindor is in possession. They’re flying in a Hawkshead Formation, and Rowena’s rosebushes, they’re fierce. Alicia Spinnet only had two practices to fly with the team, but she’s doing a bloody great job here.”

It’s impossible for me to hit any Bludgers at them. I only get two shots, and both times, the twins are circling their Chasers and use the Bludgers against our own Chasers.

–And they’ve reached scoring range, and Summers takes a shot - but Fleet saves.”

There is a groan from the Gryffindor ranks as the tension deflates.

–Fleet passes to Applebee, who passes to Preece. The Hufflepuffs seem to have decided not to make active use of their third Chaser for this game. Preece and Applebee can’t do a Hawkshead Formation on their own, so they seem to have-- Ouch! That could have ended badly!”

A Bludger has zoomed across the field in seconds, and I only manage to get to it moments before it would have collided with Malcolm’s head. Because I have so quickly, I have no time to take proper aim, which means that the Gryffindor Chasers are flying at us undisturbed. Malcolm and Tamsin are flying in erratic zigzag movements, which seems to confuse the two younger Gryffindor Chasers, but Summers calls an order to them, and they line up on either side of him. Malcolm and Tamsin try to avoid them by splitting up, with Malcolm dropping down and Tamsin rising above the opposing Chasers, but they’re outnumbered, and between them, the Gryffindor Chasers cover them.

–Spinnet is turning out to be a surprisingly fierce flyer,” Turpin says. –They have the Hufflepuffs locked down. Applebee is going to have to make a decision now... And she passes the Quaffle to Preece, but OH! Johnson intercepts the pass! Gryffindor is in possession, and they seem determined now.”

Their team of Chasers is flying incredibly fast, especially considering that they’ve got two younger players in the group. I manage to catch up with them, though, just in time to send a Bludger their way. It would have hit Alicia Spinnet as well, if she hadn’t ducked and sped up.

–Summers passes to Johnson, back to Summers, to Johnson, to Spinnet - the Hufflepuff Chasers don’t know who to focus on. Johnson has the Quaffle, she throws, and SCORES! It’s ten both!”

I turn away from our goal hoops instantly and fly ahead, scanning for Bludgers, as our Chasers take possession.

–Applebee has the Quaffle now. She dodges Johnson - well done - and Spinnet, but- OH! What was that? Applebee seems to have lost her grip on the Quaffle! Summers is in possession, and now he’s in scoring range as well!”

I whirl my broom around just in time to see Summers make the nicest, cleanest goal you could possibly imagine.

–The score is twenty - ten for Gryffindor!” Andy calls.

When he passes me, Anthony signals for me to follow him, and we stay just above our Chasers as they make their way towards the Gryffindor goal. However, before a Bludger comes even close, two of the Gryffindor Chasers fly up on either side of Tamsin, who is holding the Quaffle. They’re still speeding towards the Gryffindor goal, only now Tamsin is trapped, and Summers is flying straight at her.

–Seems like the Gryffindor Chasers have put Applebee in a Parkin’s Pincer there,” comes the commentary. –Excellent teamwork from Gryffindor. Applebee’s only got seconds left now before Summers gets too close...”

My heart is racing. If Tamsin doesn’t pull out right now, they might collide.

–Time to shine!” she suddenly calls, and pulls her broom straight up. All three Gryffindor Chasers instantly follow her upwards, and it’s only when I see the desperate grin on her face that I understand. Luckily, Diggory was quicker on the uptake, so when Tamsin drops the Quaffle, he’s there to catch it.

–Brilliant work from the Hufflepuff Chasers! Diggory, who only joined the active flying team today, helps pull off a flawless Porskoff Ploy, and now he’s got a good head start on the Gryffindor Chasers.”

–Let’s go, Tonks!” Anthony calls to me, and we dive after Cedric before the Gryffindors even fully realise what is going on. The goal hoops are getting closer and closer, but so are the three Chasers behind us. I throw a quick look over my shoulder. We’ve got maybe three seconds left before they get too close.

–Bludger!” I shout when I spot it, and turn around to face the Chasers. Anthony slows down and comes up next to me. The Bludger is coming in from the left, while Johnson, Summers, and Spinnet are still heading right for Cedric, who’s now behind Anthony and me.

–Steady... Three... two... one... NOW!” At Anthony’s command, we both hit the Bludger simultaneously for a Dopplebeater Defense. With the combined force of both our bats, it gains immense speed, and the Gryffindors have no choice but to scatter.

And then there is a noise from the Hufflepuff stands so loud that I almost fall off my broom.

–Diggory passes to Preece, and Preece scores!” Turpin calls over the cheers. –Twenty points on both sides!”

Anthony and I can’t even hear our own voices as we too erupt in cheers. When Cedric joins back up with us, he looks ready to pass out, but there is a wide grin plastered across his face.

–Well done!” I call over to him. –I told you you’d be fine!”

–Gryffindor takes possession, and- hang on! I think Weasley has spotted the Snitch!”

There is a collective intake of breath from the crowd. I scan the pitch, and then I, too, spot it. Charlie is feigning the direction, though, and Sola is still falling for it. It’s a trick only someone who flies like Charlie could pull off. He flies in a different direction until he has to turn, trusting that the other Seeker is going to follow him and then won’t manage to change direction as quickly as him. No Seeker at Hogwarts can turn as quickly as Charlie.

Sola, however, doesn’t need to. She spots the Snitch before it’s too late, and changes her course. They’re both still well away from it when I spot the Bludger heading right for Sola. I grip my broomstick tight, lean forwards, and fly as fast as I can without risking a collision with either of the Seekers. When I reach Sola, the Bludger is right behind both of us, so instinctively, I give my bat a backhanded swing. The moment I hit the Bludger, I know that I didn’t hit it hard enough. It’s flying back up again on Sola’s other side, and now the Snitch is almost in her reach. This is it. In five seconds, we could be a winning team. I can feel the tension in the stadium, the dozens of held breaths. We can win this for Ed, right now. For Ed, who’s locked away in the hospital wing.

And then, in these fractions of a second, it strikes me.

I dive beneath Sola and emerge on her other side, right in front of the Bludger. I take a short breath and blink, and just before the iron Bludger hits my side, I can see Charlie staring at me with wide eyes.

–McMillan has caught the Snitch!” comes the commentary from very far away. –The end result is One hundred and seventy - twenty for Hufflepuff!”

All the air is knocked out of me. My palms grow slippery, and I can’t hold on to my broom handle with my left hand at all. I try to lean forward to support myself with my right arm, but a piercing pain shoots through my left side and across my back. Tears well up in my eyes, and I press them tightly shut. I can’t draw a deep breath. Over a hundred feet in the air, I can’t breathe, see, or hold on to my broom much longer. There is an eruption of cheers and chants from the stands, but rather than elate me, they make me feel dizzy and disoriented. I want to press my hands to my ears, only I can’t move my left hand at all now, and my other hand is the only thing that is keeping me from plummeting to the ground.

–I’m here,” Charlie’s voice suddenly says to my right. –I’ve got you.” He gingerly puts an arm around my waist, and when I know that he’s holding me safely, I let go of my broom with my right hand and put it over his shoulders, wincing as something stabs me in my side.

–Are you completely mental, Tonks?” Charlie whispers. –Why didn’t you use your bat, like all the other Beaters?”

–Didn’t have time,” I groan.

–We both know that’s rubbish,” he says, and I can feel that we’re sinking towards the ground slowly. I’m still keeping my eyes shut. –Keep still,” Charlie orders as I try to adjust on my broom. –You must have cracked some ribs, and broken Merlin knows what else.”

–You think so?” I ask. I can feel the pain turning into sickness. When I open my eyes to see how far off the ground is, the light almost blinds me, and I can feel my forehead going clammy. –You better take me to the hospital wing then,” I say, smiling at him, and quickly close my eyes again.

End Notes:
That was a long one! Hope you liked the Quidditch. I want to thank Jess (ToBeOrNotToBeAGryffindor, who could just have called herself "ImAClaw", but, you know...), because she was an incredibly big help when I was completely blocked Quidditch-wise. The match might not have happened at all without her, so if you like it, go and thank her for getting me to write it!
Sickbeds by Karaley Dargen

I can feel my feet touch the ground, and wince as the pain of standing up shoots through me. My eyes are still closed, but I can hear footsteps approaching quickly.

–Thank you for taking care of her, Weasley.” That sounds like Professor Sprout. –We’ll take her from here.”

I don’t want to let go of Charlie. His wide shoulders and the warmth of his body are comforting, and I just want him to keep holding me, but they pry my arm off his back, and he lets go, and before I can even say a word of protest, they have laid me down on a stretcher.

–I’ll be there, Tonks,” Charlie whispers in my ear just before I’m levitated away. –Don’t worry. I’ll make sure you’re all right.”

When Professor Sprout and I get to the hospital wing, I’m not sure whether I’ve passed out on the way or whether I’m just repressing everything because of the pain. I try to sit up on the stretcher, but Professor Sprout gently eases me back down again.

–Don’t,” she says. –We don’t know which bones are broken, and you don’t want to make things worse.”

At last, Madam Pomfrey opens the door for us. Despite my agony, I can feel myself tensing up as I am being levitated through the double doors. To my great disappointment, though, I’m not taken to one of the regular beds, but rather to Madam Pomfrey’s study, where there is a table, some filing cabinets, a lot of supply closets, and a single hospital bed by the only free wall, on which I am set down. Under different circumstances, I would have relished the opportunity to get a look at Madam Pomfrey’s study. But my entire plan was to see Ed, to find out whether they’ve all got the same symptoms, and I can’t do that if they’re in a different room.

–Take this against the pain,” Madam Pomfrey says as she sets a beaker against my lips. It’s filled with a thick green liquid, and I brace myself against a vile taste. To my surprise, when it touches my mouth, it is pleasantly temperatureless and tastes of woodruff. Propping myself up on my right elbow, I empty the potion, and instantly the stabbing pain down my left side turns into a slightly tingly feeling.

–Don’t move,” Madam Pomfrey warns me as I am about to sit up again. –Just because there is no pain doesn’t mean that you’re not hurt. You’ve probably broken some ribs, and we don’t want them moving around.”

–You’ll be just fine, Nymphadora,” Professor Sprout assures me.

Tracing patterns with her wand, Madam Pomfrey moves up and down my left arm, and then my ribcage down to my hips. –There is some splintering,” she informs us, –but nothing to worry about. I will need you to lie completely still now, Miss Tonks.”

I rest my head on the flat surface of the back, and close my eyes. When Madam Pomfrey starts mending my bones one by one, there is some very unpleasant crunching and cracking as everything slides back into place, and I have to bite my lip hard in order not to squirm and wince.

–There will be bruising for the next days,” the matron says, –but I can give you a salve against that when you leave.” I try to get up, but again, I’m being forced back down. –You need to rest for at least half an hour,” Madam Pomfrey says sternly. –You just had a nasty accident, and had near a dozen bones mended. There is absolutely no call for you to be walking around at this moment.”

Exhaustion overwhelming me, I accept my fate and lie still.

–Thank you, Poppy,” Professor Sprout sighs. –If you don’t need me here now, I’d better tell the rest of her Quidditch team that Nymphadora is all right, before they run in your doors.”

–Oh, please do,” Madam Pomfrey replies.

–Nymphadora, are you all right on your own?” Professor Sprout pats my arm gently.

–I’m in good hands, right?” I say and attempt a smile.

When Professor Sprout has left, Madam Pomfrey busies herself with some forms at her desk, and I close my eyes and try to breathe. I’ve just started to doze off when I’m jerked wide awake by a set of noises from outside.

–What in Merlin’s name is going on?” the matron asks, throwing her quill down on the desk. The noise only gets louder, though, and now there’s a cackle as well. –I don’t believe this!” Madam Pomfrey pushes her chair back and rushes out the door towards the source of the noise.

Sitting up, I see that she’s left the office door slightly ajar. This is the one shot I’m going to have at this. I wait until I hear Madam Pomfrey’s voice outside, then slip off the bed. My legs are a bit wobbly, and my left hand is numb, but I can move fast enough and without pain now. Before I slip out the door, I peek through to make sure that the coast is clear. Both doors to the corridor are closed, and from the sound of it, Madam Pomfrey and whoever created the commotion are a bit farther away.

Almost all the beds are unoccupied, crisp white sheets gleaming in the weak sunlight. It takes me a few seconds to spot the three beds that are set aside, right beneath the windows at the far end of the room, where they catch most of the daylight. Throwing another hurried glance over my shoulder at the door, I rush towards them.

Up to this point, I have assumed that they would look like they’re just sleeping, seeing how the reason why they were brought here is that they didn’t wake up in the morning. They don’t. None of them look peaceful, or relaxed. All three, Morgan, Alexandra, and Ed, lie on their back, eyes shut too tightly, and a deep frown on their faces. There is a pained expression in each of them, and all three have a fistful of bedsheet in both hands, clutching it so tight that their knuckles are white.

They look like they’re trying hard to wake up from a nightmare.

I gingerly reach out a hand towards Ed’s arm, uncertain whether he is going to be warm or cold, but before I can touch his skin, I hear steps in the corridor outside, and hurry back to the office as fast as I can. Just outside the door, I almost slip on my wobbly legs, and I only just make it back inside. I’m hopping onto the bed the second Madam Pomfrey closes the door behind her.

–This is absolutely impossible,” she says, fuming, as she sits back down at her desk and pulls another form out. –Peeves is strictly forbidden from being anywhere near this part of the castle. There used to be wards up, for Merlin’s sake! I will have to speak to the headmaster about this.”

When she looks up, she seems almost surprised to see that I’m still there. –How are you feeling now, Miss Tonks?”

–All right,” I reply. –Definitely better than before.”

She has me move my arm and fingers around, then feels my mended bones. When she is satisfied, she dismisses me with a salve against the bruising and a set of instructions. I don’t have time to take another look at the three patients, as Madam Pomfrey makes it a point to accompany me outside and usher me through the doors personally.

When I step into the corridor, I find that it is deserted, save for a huge pile of metal bedwarmers near one of the windows. I take great care not to trip over one - I don’t want to set off Madam Pomfrey again. The moment I’ve navigated around them and look up again, my heart takes a small leap when I see that just behind the next corner, Charlie is leaning against a wall, waiting for me.

–Hey there,” he says and walks towards me. –How do you feel?”

He offers me his arm for support, but I push it away with a snort. –I can walk, you know. I’m much better now. It doesn’t even hurt anymore.” I turn around and look at the pile of bedwarmers. –Was that you?”

–I wouldn’t say that,” Charlie replies. –I only showed Peeves where they keep these. He really did all of the work.”

–You got Peeves into trouble, Weasley,” I say, and can’t help but laugh.

We start walking away from the scene of the crime, and Charlie grins at me. –I figured you could use a diversion, seeing how you risked your life to get in there in the first place.” He throws me a look, then adds, –You complete nutter.”

–Well, thanks to you, it all worked out perfectly,” I explain. –The noise gave me just enough time to have a quick look at them.”

–And?” Charlie asks, unable to keep the urgency from his voice.

–All three look the same. Like... I don’t know, like they’re trapped in a dream, or something. It’s not really like they’re sleeping, more as if they’re trying really hard to wake up.” I shudder a bit at the memory. –They’ve got them near the windows. Maybe Madam Pomfrey thinks that the light might help them return.”

We walk in silence for a moment before Charlie speaks again. –So, three people from different houses and with different friends are in the hospital wing. The staff clearly don’t know what is up with them, or at least they don’t have a cure. And no one else is allowed near them. Either they’re keeping them away from the rest of us so that we don’t panic, or it’s … to protect them, maybe.”

–They do have one thing in common, though,” I remind him. –They’re all in our year, and all taking their NEWTs in the summer.”

–Yeah... I’m still trying to find out if Alex might have bought something illegal off one of the other students, but I haven’t had time to talk to her friends yet,” Charlie says. –If any of them did take something to help them with the exams, that sort of backfired. It’s not like they can study while they’re asleep in the hospital wing, and if they wake them up before the exams-”

–Study while they’re asleep!” I exclaim, halting in my tracks. –Charlie, that could be it!”

–What are you talking about?” he asks.

–The other day in the library, there was that flyer... do you still have it?”

For a moment, he just squints at me as he thinks, then slams his hand flat against his forehead. –Yes! Yes, I do. It’s in my dormitory. Don’t move, I’ll be right back!” he says, and sprints off.

He must have run like hell, because it doesn’t take him longer than ten minutes to return, parchment clutched in his hand.

Does every day seem longer than the one before?

Are your nights spent studying?

Are you dreading wrathful Howlers every day?

There’s no need for you to disappoint your parents or miss out on your next Hogsmeade weekend. Get to the top of your year -- in your sleep! Guaranteed success!*

Ask the Dancing Trolls for Andrew.

*no refunds.

–So you think this could be literal?” he asks. –‘In your sleep’?”

–It’s possible, right?” I take the flyer from him. –The Dancing Trolls... Could that be the tapestry on the seventh floor? You know, they’re all wearing tutus.”

–You mean the one with Barnabas the Barmy?” Charlie thinks this over. –Yeah, could be.”

–Let’s go then!” I start towards the staircase.

–Wait, go where?” Charlie asks as he hurries after me. –You want to track down this Andrew guy? Right now?”

–Why not?” I say as we reach the stairs and head upwards. –Now’s as good a time as any, right? And if this really has something to do with him, and he’s heard about his customers ending up in the hospital wing, we’re less likely to find him the more time passes.”

–But don’t you think we should talk to someone first?” Charlie skips a trick step and pulls me up with him. –A teacher, maybe, or Madam Pomfrey?”

–Nah, we can do that afterwards,” I say. Two floors to go. –He might not have anything to do with it at all, and then wouldn’t we feel foolish.”

–Sure,” Charlie says, and laughs. –I almost believe you. Come on.” He pulls me behind a tapestry. –I know a shortcut.”

Almost directly behind the tapestry is a very narrow spiralling staircase, and as we run up, I notice that the steps beneath us are moving slowly upwards as well. In almost no time at all, we’re on the seventh floor. It's not until we've stopped that I realise how light-headed I'm feeling, and how hard it is to breathe, but I do my best not to let Charlie notice.

–Right, which way is it?” I whisper, even though there seems to be no one around.

Charlie takes my hand and pulls me around the corner to our left. A few steps further, the tapestry comes into view, and still there’s no one else in sight.

Letting go of me, Charlie steps up to the tapestry and examines it. –Well then,” he says. –What are we supposed to do?”

–Ask them for Andrew?” I suggest. –It’s what it says on the flyer.”

–But they don’t look like they’d... hear.”

Charlie is right. The tapestries around the castle are far less active and animate than the portraits are. I’ve never heard one speak at all, which is why I feel incredibly foolish when I clear my throat and address the trolls in tutus. –We’re looking for Andrew,” I say. –Says here you can show us where he is.”

There is no indication that they’ve heard me speak at all; one of the trolls twirls over the fabric, hitting two others over the head with his club in the process. Silence surrounds us as we wait and a mute brawl breaks out on the tapestry.

–I’m sure there are other trolls around the castle,” Charlie says finally, while Barnabas the Barmy is getting the worst of it. –It’s probably a painting we’re looking for.”

–Yeah, I suppose you’re right,” I admit. –Maybe we should talk to someone after all. With all the paintings in this castle, it could take us ages to find the right one.” Taking one last look at the tapestry, I sigh. –I really thought this could be it. Shame.”

I turn to leave, but suddenly, Charlie puts a hand on my shoulder and a finger to his lips. There are steps coming from behind the tapestry. We’re both more tense as before as we listen to the steps approach, and then hear the sound of stone scraping over stone.

When the tapestry swings aside, I almost topple over in surprise.

Standing behind it in a small gap in the wall is sixth year Ravenclaw Andy Turpin.

End Notes:
Sorry for the long wait - I'm back on track now, thanks to my fabulous beta.
One Last Drink by Karaley Dargen

–You’re Andrew?” I ask, holding up the flyer.

–Good to see you’re doing better,” Andy says conversationally. –That was a nasty collision earlier.” I'm still having some trouble believing that Andrew, the person we've been wondering about for days, is Andy, our Quidditch commentator. He throws a quick look up and down the corridor, making sure that we’re not being overheard. –So what can I do for you? I’ve got silver amulets just in from Tibet, or you could try a Thought-Stimulating Salve...”

Pointing at the flyer, Charlie says, –We’re really more interested in this here.”

–Yeah, Andy, what did you do?” I ask.

Andy glances at it, then shakes his head. –I’m not selling that stuff anymore. Didn’t pay off.”

–Oh, so it’s nothing to do with three people landing in the hospital wing?” I cross my arms over my chest.

–Hey, I never sold any of that stuff to anyone who’s in the hospital wing. I only sold it to one person, that’s all.” His face grows red, and I notice that he’s not looking directly at either of us anymore.

–They could have resold to other people,” I theorise. –Who bought it from you?”

–Can’t tell you that,” he says, and takes a step back into his wall. –Sorry, but I do have work ethics. I’m not going to just give up my customers to the first righteous Hufflepuff that starts snooping around.”

–Make you a deal, Andy.” I walk towards him and lean against the wall. –We’re not going to tell any of the teachers or the headmaster about your operation, and in return, you help us out.”

He considers this for a moment, and I can tell that it really annoys him when he replies, –What do you want, then?”

–Well, first of all a sample of the thing you sold, if you’ve got any left.”

–I might,” he says. –I’ll have to check.”

–How do we know you’re not going to make a run for it?” Charlie asks.

–You know who I am now, don’t you,” Andy replies, a pained expression on his face. –Where am I supposed to run to?”

The tapestry swings back into place behind him, and we’re left waiting again. He does take his time fetching the sample. Just as I’m beginning to get suspicious, and also a bit bored, I can hear steps behind the wall again and nudge Charlie.

–There,” Andy says, stepping out from the wall. He holds a single small phial with a dark blue liquid between his fingers, which I snatch from him.

Turning it over in my hands, I ask, –Okay, so what exactly is this?”

"A potion," he replies.

"Oh don't try to be clever, Turpin," I hiss. "We all know you too well for that."

–No need to be such a harpy about it. It's a modified sleep potion.” He shrugs. –Technically, it should give you active dreams. You know, lucid dreaming. Let’s you choose what you want to experience in your sleep, so if that’s your thing, you could use the extra time to study.”

–Does it work?” Charlie asks.

–I didn’t try it myself,” he says incredulously. –D’you think I’m mad? I’m not taking this stuff.”

–But you’re selling it to others,” I say, frowning. "Spare people the talk about your ethics in the future, will you?"

–Well first of all, this didn’t sell well at all, I told you, so I’m not selling it anymore. And I’m not a prefect or anything, it’s not my task to watch out for everyone. If people buy stuff to boost their exam results, they have to know what they’re doing themselves.” He crosses his arms in front of his chest and stares back at us defiantly.

All I can do is roll my eyes. It’ll be useless arguing this point with him. –All right then. How are you supposed to use this?”

–Take it before you go to bed.” There’s a pause while I raise my eyebrows at him. –That’s it, I swear!”

–Okay,” I say, and push off the wall. –If we need anything else, we’ll know where to find you. Let’s go, Charlie.”

Charlie watches Andy warily for a moment, then turns to leave. At that moment, Andy opens his mouth to speak. –Uhm...”

–What is it, Turpin?” I ask.

–It’s actually fifteen Sickles per phial,” he replies, a slight tremble in his voice.

–Are you completely serious?” I put my hands on my hips. –Honestly, Turpin, we could take you right now and drag you to Dumbledore, and then he could find out if this potion is causing the illnesses while you stand there and wet your knickers in fear. Would you prefer that? Because Merlin knows I’d be willing to pay fifteen Sickles for that image.”

Grumbling, he retreats behind the tapestry. We wait until we hear the stones move back into place behind him, then turn towards the big staircase.

–You were asking what my mum’s like the other day,” Charlie says with a grin. –Maybe you wouldn’t be too scared after all.”

–What’s that supposed to--” I break off as we start descending the stairs. The potion Madam Pomfrey gave me must be wearing off, and even though the pain is nowhere near as bad as before, I still feel a small jolt at every step.

–Oh no, you’re not all right, are you,” Charlie says and quickly grabs my elbow.

–It’s just the bruising,” I try to explain. –Madam Pomfrey gave me some salve...”

–You should get back to your dormitory and use it,” Charlie suggests. –And then go to your common room for the massive party they’re doubtless throwing you.”

–Oh right.” I grin. –We beat you.”

–Maybe if I hadn’t been distracted--” Charlie begins with a grin, but then breaks off and helps me hobble down the stairs. –Tonks, promise me you won’t do anything stupid with that potion,” he says finally.

–Why would you think I was going to do anything stupid?” I ask, half joking.

–For one, you’re still holding it,” he says. –And then you did ask for instructions, and I doubt you were doing that for Madam Pomfrey’s benefit.”

–Well, I--” I try to defend myself, but Charlie interrupts me.

–You were just hoping that it might help identify the potion.” He’s picked the words out of my mouth, and I'm fairly sure he knows how honest they were going to be, too. –Right?” he asks, giving my shoulder a playful squeeze. "Let's take it to someone who can identify it tomorrow morning, all right?"

"I'm not going to Snape on a Sunday," I grumble. "I won't have him poke his greasy nose into my one free day."

"We should probably go to someone else first anyway," Charlie says. "It's not like Snape would believe us or be helpful at all if we see him on our own. McGonagall at least takes students seriously if we've got something to say."

I'm still not entirely convinced; I'd much rather find out what is going on by ourselves and then go to the teachers when we've got it all figured out. If we tell them all we know now, we might never find out what happened. "Mmmhm. We did make a deal with Andy, though not to tell on him in return for his help."

"Oh honestly," Charlie says, much more harshly than before, "he's a tosser. You heard him; he sells those things to people with no clue of their effects. He doesn't just take their money, he risks their safety as well. For all we know, he might be directly responsible for everything that's been going on."

"Well, at least he said that he only sold this stuff to one person," I argue.

"If that's even true! Some Ravenclaw he is. You'd think he was in Slytherin, with that-"

"OI!" I interrupt. "Take that back, will you?"

"What?" Charlie stops in his tracks. "What's that about? You're not secretly in Slytherin, are you?"

"No, but that doesn't mean you're not being unfair." I cross my arms over my chest and glare at him. "My mum was in Slytherin, and she'd never stoop so low just for some Galleons. Not all of them are bad, just like all Hufflepuffs aren't dull, and all Gryffindors aren't stupidly reckless."

"Well...," Charlie begins, but I thump him on the arm and he breaks off, laughing.

"You can have dubious morals without being in Slytherin, just as not all the brave people are Gryffindors," I say. "There's nothing about being exclusive in the Sorting Hat's song. Or about any of the house values being good or bad, for that matter." There's a short pause while Charlie rubs his arm, and we continue walking. After giving it some thought, I add, "That doesn't mean that I love the Slytherins. A lot of them are selfish bullies. But a lot of the Ravenclaws are stuck up, and there are some seriously arrogant Gryffindors. Even some Hufflepuffs can be incredibly annoying."

"Tell me about it!" Charlie exclaims and evades my kick. "Glad to see you're feeling better, though."

"It still hurts like Helga's Hornets, but I'm willing to make sacrifices," I say, sticking out my tongue as I hobble on. "Anyway, don't have prejudices like that." I look at him earnestly. "It's not about houses, but whether or not you think someone is a good person."

"All right, all right," Charlie says, raising his hands in defeat. "I take it back. You know I didn't mean it like that, right?"

"Don't say it then, okay?" I'm more than ready to change the subject, so I continue, "What about only one person buying it? Do you really think he might have been lying?"

Charlie shrugs. "No idea. If it's the truth, then that person must have resold it, right? It must be this potion. Other than the people affected, everything seems to fit."

Before I can answer, we’ve reached the stairs that lead down towards the kitchens and the Den.

–Are you all right from here? Only I think I’d better not turn up down there right now,” Charlie says, and it’s only then that I realise we’re both still in our Quidditch robes.

I nod. –Sorry about all the trouble,” I say. –You must be exhausted from the game and all.”

–It’s no problem. Shall we take this potion to the staff room tomorrow, then?” he asks.

–Mhm,” I mumble.

And then Charlie does something that he has never done in all the years I’ve known him. He hugs me goodbye.


I manage to slip past everyone unnoticed, and even though I only caught a fleeting glimpse, my mind is whirring with black and yellow as I make my way through the tunnel to our dormitory as fast as possible. I’m glad that at least our bedroom and bathroom are deserted, because I’m really not feeling up to facing anybody else before I’ve had my shower. Once I’ve closed the door behind me, I peel out of my Quidditch robes, very slowly and gingerly removing the fabric over my ribs. I can’t actually believe that the match was only this morning. The images from the day flash across my eyes quickly as I step into the shower, but I keep coming back to the same three. Morgan, Alexandra, Ed, lying in the hospital wing, terror etched on their faces. It’s not like I’m planning to do anything stupid, but I can’t just leave them lying there like that either.

The steaming hot water helps clear my skin from the layer of sweat and dirt, and also helps me clear my mind of the muddle of racing thoughts. When I step out of the shower, I have to wipe the mirror, which has fogged over, clean with a towel before I can take a look at the bruising. At the first look, I’m shocked. A bright shade of purple is shining out at me from where the Bludger hit me and beyond. The bruise is both larger and darker than I thought it would be. But then I take a step closer, and can’t help but think of the bragging rights this might give me; it really is quite an impressive injury, and once it stops hurting, there’s really nothing else to do with it other than show off. I resist the urge to touch it - I know it would hurt, there’s no need to check. Instead, I get the salve Madam Pomfrey gave me and apply it liberally. The instant I’m done covering my side and arm with it, it is absorbed into my skin, leaving only a thin film behind. To my deep satisfaction, the colour remains unchanged, but only moments later I can feel my breathing going more easily and tentatively flex my arms to find that the pain is almost gone.

I set the pot of salve on a shelf, and quickly put on some fresh clothes, leaving the Quidditch robes for a house-elf to pick up. It’s not until I’m halfway out through the tunnel that I remember the phial in the robe pocket. When I rush back to the bathroom and pull back the sheet covering our laundry basket, it’s with great relief that I find the heap of dirty clothing still lying there. I pocket the potion carefully and set off again. Through the dormitory windows, I can see that it is already turning dark outside, and I’m very grateful that I can lie in tomorrow. I don’t even quite know how I’m going to make it through the party - I’m exhausted.

At least for a moment, however, all the exhaustion and preoccupation is wiped away when I get back to the common room. The impression I got earlier wasn’t wrong - the room is shining in bright yellow on soft black, badgers whichering from banners, and food stacked high on the tables. It seems like every single Hufflepuff at the school is there, the occasional chant breaking through the animated chatter. Then, someone shouts –There she is!” and suddenly I’m surrounded by people offering me cakes and pumpkin juice. It’s not until I see and smell all the food that I realise how starved I am. We had the match today, I got injured, had to go to the hospital wing, and then run all those stairs - and all the while forgot to eat. I accept all the food that is offered to me as gratefully as I accept their congratulations and claps on my back, until my hands are so full I can’t carry anything else, and my stomach is growling a bit too fiercely. Martha is giving me a smile and a wave from one of the tables, so I make my way through the crowd and sit down opposite her.

–How’re you doing?” she asks as I start sorting through the food in front of me. –Jenna and I wanted to go see how you were doing, but they’re not letting anyone into the hospital wing at all.”

–I’m fine really,” I say. –Madam Pomfrey fixed me up quick enough. I’ll need a good night’s sleep, and you should see the bruise -- but I’m fine.”

Martha breaks off a piece of cake and starts nibbling on it. I don’t bother with breaking off and nibbling and just start stuffing my face.

–Did you have to wait around for long then?” Martha asks. –You were gone for ages.”

–Nah, Charlie picked me up,” I reply between bites. –And we chatted a bit about the match and things.” I’m not entirely sure why I’m not telling her the truth. But what we did isn’t exactly in accordance with the school rules, and I don’t really want anything to get out, at least not just yet.

–So did you see Ed?” Martha is trying a bit hard to sound casual as she picks at crumbs on the table and does her best not to look me in the eyes.

Before I can even think about it, I’m shaking my head and saying, –No, Madam Pomfrey had me in a separate room. I tried, but I couldn’t even catch a glimpse.” Maybe I’m not ready to go back over the images again, maybe I feel like I’d be betraying the three people in those beds if I talked about them now, or maybe I just don’t want to worry Martha any more by giving her a detailed description of Ed’s anguish. Either way, the words are out, and Martha nods slowly, biting the inside of her mouth.

–He’ll be fine,” I promise. –We’ll pick him up from the hospital wing together in no time, and then you two can finally make up and be friends again.”

I think I can see tears welling up in her eyes again, so I try to think of a different subject quickly. –So, did you have fun at the match?”

She gives me a weak smile. –It was a bit weird with Ed not being there, especially know,” she says, and I brace myself for another meltdown, but her voice stays steady. –You guys looked great up there though. It was really brave what you did, to keep the Bludger away from Sola.”

–Stupid, more like,” I say, and laugh. –Anyway, I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t known that Madam Pomfrey would be able to fix anything. And everything happened so quickly that I didn’t even really have time to think about it and get scared.”

–Was it weird, flying directly against Charlie like that?” Martha asks, resting her head on her hand.

–Oh well, it’s not like we haven’t done it before. And anyway, Sola was the one flying directly against him. I was just saving our Seeker.” Both Charlie and I have been playing Quidditch on our house teams for ages, so I don’t really give it a lot of thought anymore. It’s actually been more relaxed this year, since Charlie gave up the post of Gryffindor Captain.

–I need a refill,” I say, pointing at my empty plate and goblet. –Do you want anything?”

–Nah, I’m stuffed,” Martha replies. –And I might make it an early night, so that I can get some work done tomorrow.”

Now that I’m paying more attention, I can see that a couple of tables have been pushed together in the centre of the room to hold all the leftovers, snacks, sandwiches and desserts that people have brought in, most from the kitchens, no doubt. When I’ve just started piling nibbly things on my plate when I see Anthony by the armchairs beckoning me over, a wide beam spread over his face. I turn around to see if Martha is coming along, but she’s already gone. She was definitely not joking about making it an early night...

When I reach my team mates, they slap me on the back so hard that I have to ask whether they intend to send me back to the hospital wing straightaway. I love them for it, of course. We keep discussing the match, and particularly what the outcome means for us (that we have a glimmer of a shot at the Cup), until the skies are pitch black and I can barely keep my eyes open anymore. Emptying my goblet for the last time that night, I wish everyone pleasant dreams and head off.

I’m still beaming when I get to our bedroom, almost flying on a cloud of cheer and praise. Obviously, we won the match as a team, and tonight, all seven of us are heroes. But I’m my team mates’ hero. Only Martha is in her bed yet, fast asleep; the other two are likely still at the party. I do my best to make as little noise as possible while I get ready for bed in the dim, warm light of the copper lamps, but it’s not until it hits the ground with a clang that I remember the phial in my pocket. My heart stops for a moment, then I quickly drop down on my knees to look for it. It’s not broken. Maybe the robes cushioned the initial fall, or maybe it’s made of really sturdy glass, or maybe I just got lucky. It doesn’t matter - the glass is intact, and the potion is still there. Throwing a quick glance at Martha’s bed, I can see that she’s still sleeping soundly.

I give a hearty yawn, then crawl into bed myself, still holding the phial tightly.

Then I undo the stopper and take a hearty gulp.

End Notes:
This chapter was giving me a bit of trouble, which is why I was holding off on posting the previous one for so long. A million gazillion thanks to Carole for helping me sort it out. Thank you thank you thank you.
Sweet Dreams by Karaley Dargen

I’m running down the stairs inside the castle. I don’t know where I’m running to or why; I only know I have to run. The stairs are longer than I remember, or maybe I’m in a part of the castle I’m not familiar with. It’s hard to tell when everything keeps moving around. I’m running faster than I thought possible. Portraits are rushing past me on the walls, everything a blur of pink and gold and purple, and yet the stairs won’t end. Desperate to find out where I am, I try to stop, but my feet won’t listen. I stumble and almost fall down this endless flight of stairs, but manage to hold on to the bark of a large, old tree at the last moment.

Steadying myself, I walk on, and soon I’ve broken into a run again, zig-zagging to dodge the trees. The forest is dark and silent. I can’t even hear my own breath, or heartbeat, or the leaves and twigs crunching under my feet. I can feel them though. And I am still breathing. And I’m still running. I wonder if I’m in the Forbidden Forest; it is known for being silent.

Then a scream pierces the air, my ears, the most primal depths within my guts. It sounds like iron nails on a chalkboard, but I know it comes from something far worse. Some creature out for blood.

I’m still running. I don’t even know if I’m running from or towards the creature. The sound was echoing all around me, impossible to locate, and now it’s gone.

Suddenly, a clearing opens up in front of me. With the darkness of the forest gone, things still aren’t dipped in golden sunlight. Everything is muted in greys, mist swirling around my ankles as my running steps fall on the toneless grass and the forest behind me disappears. I throw a quick glance over my shoulder to see where I came from, to remember a way back, but thick fog has risen all around the clearing. When I turn back around, I can see a withering tree, the oldest and largest tree I’ve ever seen, and I’m sure I’ve seen it before.

And then I realise what’s going on. I’m dreaming. The moment that thought crosses my mind, I stop running.

Instantly, I remember where I know the tree from, and now that I’m not awake, I remember it far more clearly. I’ve been in this place before, only I can never quite hold on to the images when I’ve woken up. And then, a feeling like something has gripped my insides and is squeezing tight starts spreading. If that tree is here, that means he is here as well. And of course, as soon as I’ve thought that thought, he appears. He is tall, with torn clothing and dark, matted hair, but I can’t see his face. I can never see his face. If I took just a couple of steps and walked around him, I’d be able to see who he is. Heck, I could even ask him for help. So far I’ve never managed to take a step towards him in my dreams. But didn’t Turpin say that the potion made your dreams lucid - that you could make your own decisions in them? I have stopped running, after all. Focussing as much as I can, I try to lift my foot, and suddenly I can feel something running from the top of my head over my back, and I know I can go anywhere I want. I actually am in control of what I’m doing.

Before I can get too scared about it, I cross the clearing so that I can look at the man. The mist is rising higher and thicker now. I can barely make out the stranger’s face at all. But then he is no stranger, I know that. I’ve seen him in the papers, almost ten years ago, his wand an extension of his limp arm on his right side, as it is now. But his eyes aren’t filled with hopelessness and defeat. There’s something burning in them, something that I didn’t even know I remembered. It takes me back to a memory that has been buried deep, from when I was barely walking, and sometimes in the summer, a cousin of my mother’s came over to babysit. He brought his friends sometimes. I remember laughing.

And then he smiles at me. It’s a crooked smile, not a deeply happy one, not one without pain, but it makes me trust him. Maybe I shouldn’t -- Sirius Black is in Azkaban. But he’s also in my dream.

–I’m looking for my friends,” I say. –Have you seen them?”

He raises his head in my direction and nods. Around us, the fog keeps growing thicker, and I know it won’t be long before it has swallowed everything up.

–Please, I have to know -- are they in this … world?” I urge. –They’re my friends, and I think they’re in danger.”

Suddenly, he looks alert, and starts walking in one direction, motioning me to follow him. I only make it a couple of steps before I hear a voice. I know it is not his - it sounds more distant and alien. –Everything is in this world,” it says. Then the white fog around me is too thick to even see my own hands, and Sirius is gone.

I know I have to make my own way now, so, trying my best to beat the fog away from in front of my face, I walk in what I think was the direction Sirius had pointed out. I have no idea how far I’ve walked, or if I’ve even crossed any distance at all, but gradually, the fog clears away. Now that I can see again, I can see that I am all alone, and that I have no idea which way I’m actually going. There’s no time to be wasted though. I have no idea what’s going on and what might be happening to the people in the hospital wing. I feel like they are here in this world, somehow, but where exactly, or what’s keeping them here, I don’t know. Another thing I don’t know is how this potion works, and how time passes in this dream. What if I wake up before I can find them? Or what if I don’t wake up at all?

Before I can spend any more time on that thought, I force myself to focus on the immediate situation at hand. I haven’t come here to worry; I’ve come to save those three students, or at least find out what’s going on. Taking a look around, I notice that my surroundings haven’t changed much. I’ve crossed the clearing, and the trees on this side of it don’t stand as close together or tower as tall as the ones behind me did. Here, I can smell the wet earth and moss and see the occasional bug crawl over a tree stump. Most importantly, the silence is broken; leaves rustle and somewhere in the distance, I can hear a woodpecker. This is much more like home to me.  

I move on swiftly. Finding a way through the trees and undergrowth is much easier now that sunlight breaks through the branches and gives everything a warm glow. Still, I’ve only found one way -- I have no idea if it’s the right one. For now, though, I don’t dare call out to anyone. The shriek I heard shortly after I arrived here is still echoing in my ears, and I don’t want anything that might live here to find me. Who knows what might be lurking.

The time it takes for me to get to the edge of the forest passes quickly, and I soon find myself crossing over a patch of grass to the reeds growing at the bank of the large lake in front of me. I suppose it is a version of the Black Lake at Hogwarts -- it looks familiar enough, anyway. Actually, now that I’m getting closer and looking properly, I can spot the small cliff where Charlie and I used to pretend to study at the end of last year. He pushed me into the water more than once, but I always got my revenge. A smile creeps on my face, and, my mission momentarily forgotten, I change direction to make my way towards it. It’s only a really small detour after all, and since I don’t know where I’m going anyway, I might as well go this way.

The ground beneath my feet is growing increasingly slippery. I have to hold on to the reeds several times to keep myself from falling on the wet sand, but I can’t move away from the lake either. When I try to walk towards the grass to my left, the water seems to expand, to follow me. I’m getting quite annoyed, as I’m not really making any progress at all, but wasting all my time on trying not to fall flat on my face. A cloud seems to have moved in front of the sun as well. Where everything was dipped in warm light before, my surroundings are now once more slightly less saturated. The lake isn’t blue or green, but a dull colour, and no lights dance on the waves either. The grass is almost as dull, and I can’t even see the sky anymore. Mist is rising from the forest again.

Whatever this means, it can’t be good. Holding on to one handful of reeds after the next, I make my slow way forward. At least I won’t be doing nothing. With each step, my feet sink into the sand a bit further than before, and I keep slipping on wet, washed up algae. It takes me so long that by the time I’ve reached the cliff, I almost can’t believe I’ve actually made it. Before the sand can suck me up entirely, I climb onto the rock, sharp edges cutting my hands and knees as I scramble upwards.

Finally, I can stand on solid ground again. From up here, I have a good view of my surroundings, and I take a moment to get my bearings. The forest is barely visible now behind the fog, which is slowly creeping towards the lake. I know I have to get moving again soon; I don’t want to get swallowed up in it again. The lake seems to stretch on forever, reeds rising like long, thin fingers from the ground, swaying in a breeze that I cannot feel. From within the water, tentacles rise. They are so black that I can barely make out any details, and seem much harsher than the Giant Squid’s at Hogwarts. Even if they are still far away, curling up and stretching out again like something that has only just woken, I take a few steps away from the water and turn around. Behind the cliff I’m standing on lies an unfamiliar path that twists through a rocky landscape, dry grass growing in bundles between the stones. It’s the only way that seems open to me, with the fog drifting in from the forest and the slippery shore behind me, not to mention whatever might be coming for me from within the lake.

I hop onto the path and start following it, but I only make it up to the first bend before I notice a gleam not too far away. It’s closer to the lake than I’d like to be, and off the path, but it looks metallic, and slightly alien to this strange place, and I have nothing else to go on. Stumbling over the large stones, I move towards the light, which seems to be reflected off something.

When the scene comes into view, I don’t believe my eyes. Sitting between two large trees growing from the sea of stones is a row of gleaming metal cages. Through the violet flashes of light that move between the bars of the three occupied ones, I can see Morgan, Alexandra, and Ed. And unlike their bodies in the hospital wing, they are very much alert in here.

I almost twist my ankle running over the rocks. When I skid to a halt in front of them, spraying stones in all directions, Ed’s face lights up. Careful not to touch the bars, I get as close to him as I can while Alexandra next to him scrambles up from the floor of her cage.

–Tonks!” he exclaims, then throws a look at the others. –See, I told you someone would come find us.”

–Just her? What’s she gonna do about it?” Morgan, who has stood up in excitement at my arrival, slumps down on the floor of his cage again.

–You haven’t brought anyone else along, have you?” Ed asks, biting the side of his mouth. –Never mind. We’ll work something out.” He just smiles at me, and I wish so badly I had a plan.

–Yeah, she’s not in one of these cages,” Alexandra says. –So that’s an improvement. Stop sulking, Morgan, and help figure something out!”

–What’s going on here?” I cast a glance around. –How did you end up in there?”

–Well, you’ve guessed what this place is,  right?” Ed asks. –How did you get here?”

–I took a potion.” All three of them stared at me blankly. –Didn’t you?” I ask. In my mind, I’m already running over everything again. Andy’s potions -- clearly they have something to do with this, or else I wouldn’t have found them here. But if none of them are aware of having taken anything, how can it be connected?

–No, we just fell asleep, and each of us thought we were just having a strange dream, but we realised after a while...”

–We’re trapped,” Alexandra interrupts him.

–What keeps you from waking up?”

–Must be a spell on these cages,” Morgan, who is still crouching on the floor, supplies. –If we can’t get out of these, we can’t get back to... I don’t know. The waking world.”

–And we can’t really do anything in here, either,” Alexandra says. –Do you have any idea how frustrating that is? I don’t even know how long I’ve been here for. You know that you’re dreaming, and still can’t move or act as you want, or at least wake up.”

–How are you doing it?” Ed asks, leaning forward. –Walking around, I mean. Finding us. Are you doing it consciously?”

–I … took a potion,” I say again. –But if you didn’t take anything, and you’re not in here voluntarily... what happened?”

–You don’t know? I--” Ed starts, but suddenly he shuts his mouth and takes a step back, his shoulders squared and his jaw set.

–They’re here because I want them to be,” someone says behind me. –Hello, Tonks. I wish I could say it’s nice to see you, but...” Suddenly, there’s a sound like a paper being torn in two, and Martha stands in front of me. –Now that you’re here, I really don’t think I can let you leave.”

–Martha,” I breathe. –What have you done?”

In the Still of the Night by Karaley Dargen

–What have I done? Why is this just about what I’ve done?” she replies, her voice genuinely indignant. –I thought you of all people might be on my side here.”

–On your side?” I ask. –Why are there sides to be on? Why are these people in cages, Martha?”

–Oh, don’t pretend like you don’t know,” she says, her voice much harsher than before. –I know you’ve been snooping around; I just didn’t think you’d make it here.”

I genuinely don’t have a clue what she means, but letting her see just how little I have figured out just doesn’t feel like a very good idea. –But why them?” I ask instead.

–Because they’re the ones holding me back.” She’s almost yelling now, and I can see that her nails are digging deep into the palms of her hands.

–How are they--”

–Charms,” she screams, pointing at Morgan.

–He-- what?” I’m baffled. What is she saying -- Morgan’s charms?

–Oh, like you haven’t noticed.” She turns fully to him, and the visible magic flickering around Morgan’s cage intensifies. –Flitwick just loves him, with his perfect wand movement and intonation,” she hisses.

After a second of extreme confusion, I realise that she’s talking about school.

–And her!” Martha exclaims, spinning around to face Alexandra. –Everybody knows that she’s with someone from the Runes Archive. Of course she can always answer all the questions, and always has an opinion, and of course Professor Babbling just fucking adores her.”

A chill runs over my back, and I feel a very strong urge to look over my shoulder, but I know I can’t take my eyes off Martha.

–And he!” She’s taken two steps back and is pointing at Ed now, who is just standing rigidly in his cage and staring back at her. –He-- he--”

–Martha,” I interrupt. –Is all this about NEWTs?” There’s a pause as she clearly struggles to turn away from Ed and face me. –It’s just school, Martha. There are so many more important things than--”

–It’s not just school!” she says and runs a hand through her hair, leaving it looking quite deranged. –This is what determines our future, don’t you see? You don’t get enough NEWTs, you don’t get the job you want, you don’t meet the right people, your family leaves you, your friends leave you, and then you sit in a miserable place on your own, working a miserable job that just about pays for the miserable food you eat to continue your miserable life!”

I know I can’t argue this away for her, but the unfairness of the situation Martha has created makes it hard for me not to scream at her. –But what do they have to do with it?” I ask, doing my best to keep my voice level. –Their marks don’t have anything to do with yours.”

–Don’t be so naïve, Tonks. The teachers prefer them, so they get better marks, and everyone else drops off in comparison. They get more attention, so they learn better, and it just keeps getting worse for the rest of us. They only do better because of an unfair advantage -- knowing the right people, having a free schedule to study, being in the right House... And then, we can’t help but worry about this, and can’t focus on studying, and the gap keeps growing. In the end the expectations directed at everyone fulfil themselves, and they’ll get great results for their NEWTs, but we won’t, because the professors and examiners expect us to do badly.”

–You’re a Hufflepuff!” I finally burst out. –We're supposed to be just and strive for fairness and not put yourself before others like that!”

–But that’s exactly what I’m doing!” she says, opening her arms. –I’m creating a fairer situation for everyone else in these classes. If three people have to give up some freedoms so that thirty people can achieve what they’re capable of achieving, isn’t that fair?”

–Give up some freedoms? Martha, you’ve locked them up in here. You’ve imprisoned them in a nightmare. You could have talked to the teachers, or Sprout, or even Dumbledore if you felt like the professors were playing favourites and ignoring other students. How can you even think that what you’ve done is fair?” Instinctively, I reach for my wand, preparing for the worst. But for the first time since I’ve come to this place, I realise that I don’t have it with me.

–It’s such a shame,” Martha says. The calmness in her voice is terrifying. She looks so normal, as if we've just had a chat in the common room. –I was really hoping you might understand.”

At last, I give in to the urge and throw a glance over my shoulder. The beast in the lake has reached the bank now and is waiting only a couple of yards behind us. I didn’t realise before just how large it is. The black, writhing tentacles tower high above the trees and stretch across the shore, curling around cliffs and tree trunks easily.

–See, this is why I like it so much here.” Martha raises her chin, and the creature in the lake tenses. –This is my world. I can do anything here.”

–You can do anything in the real world as well,” I say quickly. –You’re clever, and talented, and dedicated, and other people don’t have to--”

Her laugh is cackling and alien. –Open your eyes, Tonks. This world is just as real. Everything that happens here has consequences.”

Before I know what’s happening, the tentacles are crawling across the ground in front of me, stretching for my limbs. I start running again. I don’t want to leave Morgan, Alex, and Ed alone with Martha, but I have to figure out a plan before I can do anything to help them -- and that means I have to get away from here.

I only manage to cross a couple of yards before I see the wooden wall stretching all around us. I wonder if I could levitate over it, or even make it disappear. This is a dream, after all, and Martha must have created it somehow. I have no idea how I’d even go about doing it though, and there’s no denying this one thing -- Martha has far more practise here than I do.

There is an almighty crash as the trees that were in the way of the sweeping tentacles break and tumble down. A thought flashes across my mind. Everything that happens here has consequences. What happens if you die in a dream? Somewhere beyond the wall, I can hear that terrible, inhuman scream again.

I have nowhere to run, and even if I had, Ed and the other two are helpless in their cages. I really can’t leave them there with Martha and that monster. Clenching my fists, I spin around and sprint towards the new clearing.

–Come and get me then,” I shout, leaping over the trunk of a fallen tree. A tentacle comes crashing down at me from above, but I duck and roll under the debris just in time. Above me, the beast is trying to reach through the ridge between two tree trunks to get to me, but it is too big to fit. I am, too, but at that moment I remember something. I may not have my wand, but I have another kind of magic. I'm a Metamorphmagus, and there's no reason why I shouldn't be one in a dream as well. Still crouching down, I make myself as thin as I can, until I just fit between the fallen tree trunks. I run away from the lake and away from the monster, which is thumping on the wood angrily now. Suddenly, I hear Martha yell, –Don’t try to hide, Tonks. It doesn’t work that way!”

In an instant, she has vanished my cover. –Where are you then?” I call back. As I cast a hurried look around, both for Martha and another place to run to, I’m struck by an idea. The cages. But I have paused too long, and before I can take another step, something squeezes around my ankle. I don’t have to look down to see what it is, or to know that any struggle will be futile. I need something more powerful than my physical strength, something... but what? Think, think, think! I’m in a dream world. I’m supposed to be able to do anything here. Martha certainly has a whole set of unexpected powers over her environment.

A second tentacle is wrapping itself around my other leg. I have to act. Something powerful. I channel all the anger, the frustration, and yes, the fear that I feel, not targeting it to a specific action, but channelling it until I can physically feel it burn within me. In the corner of my eye, I can see the tips of my hair growing scarlet. I take a deep breath and unclench my fists, and to my complete surprise, a shiver runs through the creature, and the grip that it had on my limbs slackens. It’s not retreating, but it recoils just long enough for me to push the tentacles away and run.

I know I’ve infuriated the monster in the lake now. I don’t care. Actually, I welcome it.

–You can’t hide behind those cages,” comes Martha’s voice again. –You can’t hide here, at all, Tonks.”

–I wasn’t planning to,” I mutter through my clenched teeth, skidding to a halt just in front of Ed’s cage. A massive tentacle is raised above the few remaining trees, ready to strike. The whole beast seems to be trembling with anger. –Go on then,” I yell, not at Martha, but directly at the mass of tentacles. –Get me!”

–NO!” Martha exclaims, but she’s too late, or not powerful enough. She's breaking.

I only have time to shout –Duck!” and jump aside myself before the thick, black arm smashes through the three cages in one heavy motion. The moment the cages are broken, the light that had been radiating around them disappears.

–Are you all right?” I call into the rubble. To my relief, three figures rise. –Go!” I order. –Quickly!”

Morgan disappears first. There’s no fading, no flickering. He’s just gone.

–We can help you,” Alexandra says. –We can’t just go!”

–You can.” I look around for the creature, but I can’t see it anywhere. A massive thing like that isn’t easy to miss. Where has it gone? –You have to go,” I say, turning back to Alexandra. –I’ll be right behind you.”

–No, we’ll--” she begins, but at that moment, her outline becomes sort of fuzzy, and she goes in and out of focus. –No, no, no, no,” she mumbles. –I don't want to wake up. I need to help. I have to he--”

And she’s gone.

–Our bodies want to wake up, Tonks,” Ed says. –We’ve been asleep for too long. I don’t think I have a lot of time left.”

–Go already!” I call, frantically looking for a sign of Martha or her monster.

–No!” comes the furious scream again, and then there’s that ripping sound, and Martha is standing in front of us. –You’ve wrecked it!” She looks downright terrifying. –You’ve broken everything I’ve worked for! Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”

–I’ve saved my friends,” I say, standing firmly and facing her.

–You’ve gone too far,” Martha replies darkly. –I was just going to keep you here, like them, but now I--”

She breaks off suddenly. Her gaze seems fixed on something behind me, and her face is ashen. Against my better instincts, I turn around. At first, I only see a large cloud blowing through the sky at an unnaturally fast pace. But then I hear that terrible scream again.

–You have to wake up, Tonks,” Ed urges. –Let’s get out of here!”

Ash starts raining down from the grey skies as if the world itself was falling apart.

–No,” Martha mutters. –No.” Her voice grows stronger and she steadies herself. –We’re finishing this here and now.” She thrusts out her hands to send a ball of scarlet lightning at me, but it fizzes out before it’s halfway there. Next to me, I can see Ed flickering in and out of this world.

–I don’t have any time left,” he says. –Wake up, Tonks! You have to wake up right now!”

Whatever is in the sky, it is circling above us now. I don’t see it, but I don’t have to. I can sense it, and I’m sure that Martha can as well. The look on her face says enough. The creature in the lake was nothing compared to this; it was likely a figment of Martha’s imagination that she brought to life to fit into this world. That being in the sky is different. It’s... older. It belongs in this world.

–Ed?” I don’t turn to look at him. –I wanted to tell you, just in case I don’t get another chance... we won the match.”

Wake up!

I really should. It’s my only way out of here. The grey specks of ash are still raining down around us, settling on my head and arms and shoulders. And then everything starts swirling around me. For a moment I feel like I’m falling down. I can’t see if Ed is still there, and Martha has disappeared from view again as well.

The whole world is a swirling mass of grey, and the floor has just been yanked from under my feet. I can’t catch a clear thought. Where am I?

Your cousin Sirius is dead. Ed’s gone, long gone. You’re dead. Everything is shattered. Everything is gone. This is all that’s left.


No, that’s not right. I’m not dead. I’m dreaming. I’m in my bed, asleep. I have to wake up. Wake up, wake up, wake up.... You have to wake up, Tonks!

Rise and Shine by Karaley Dargen
Author's Notes:
I just posted two chapters at once, so if this looks confusing to you, you have probably skipped one!

When I come to, there is a pain in my chest like I’ve just run ten miles. I put my hand over my heart, where the cold, piercing burn lingers, and in the moment it takes me to feel my heartbeat, I genuinely fear that it has stopped. But then there it is, weak and hurried, but beating, and I open my eyes.

The first thing I notice is that there is a curtain drawn around the right half of my bed, and I know that I’m in the hospital wing. I want to get up, see if anyone else has woken up, but that damned curtain is blocking the other beds from my view. But then, I notice Charlie sitting on my left side, and for just this moment, I don’t even need to know how the others are.

–Hey,” I mumble.

–Morning, sleepy.” He looks up from the book on his lap, and I can tell that he is trying to pretend like he isn’t too fussed about all this, but his book is upside down and he’s still on the preface.

Before I can reply at all, Madam Pomfrey is bustling around the bed, checking my temperature and almost poking the illuminated tip of her wand in my eyes. In the end, she declares that Charlie can stay for a while, but only if he doesn't ask questions or overexcite me.

–What are you doing here?” I ask, trying to sit up and failing miserably. –No, wait. What am I doing here?”

Charlie gets up and pulls a thick pillow out from under the bed. –I went to McGonagall, who got Sprout to check on you,” he explains as he stuffs the pillow behind my head, propping me up so that we can talk properly. –The moment they saw you, they knew something was wrong. You looked worse than the other three, apparently. And then of course they found Martha...”

–But how did you know?” I ask.

–Seriously, Tonks? You have to ask?” Charlie rolls his eyes at me. –I’ve known you long enough. You had that potion, you had a friend in trouble... And anyway, you didn’t promise.”

–Promise what?”

–That you wouldn’t do anything stupid,” he replies.

I’m torn between wanting to hit and to hug him, and feel too weak to do either. –Thanks,” I mumble finally.

–It’s the least I could do. I just wish I could have come along to make sure that nothing... I mean, that you didn’t...” He busies himself with putting away his book for a moment, and when he comes back up, I’m relieved to see that he’s put on a bright face. I know that there are serious issues that need to be discussed, and that I actually was in danger, but I don’t want to think about that right now. –In exchange for my extreme chivalry,” Charlie begins again, –I demand a full recounting of your adventures.”

–You have yourself a deal,” I say, grinning. –Where is Martha?” I ask after a pause. –Did they bring her here as well?”

Charlie shakes his head. –They’re taking her to St Mungo’s.”

–Why? She isn’t still ... asleep, is she?” Images of that dark cloud in the sky and a world of grey ash flash across my eyes, and I have to close them for a moment, until I can feel Charlie take my hand in his.

–No, she’s in no worse state than you are. Physically, at least. She’s probably going to need some other form of treatment in the long run.”

I nod. The level of anxiety and nerves that Martha has shown isn’t something that can be cured with a Calming Draught. –And they can provide that at St Mungo’s?”

–Dunno.” Charlie shrugs. –For now, I think they didn’t want her to be here, with... well.”

–Her victims,” I finish for him, and feel the weight of the word on my chest. –Yeah, that makes sense, actually. Do you know how... how she did it?”

"I didn't have much of a chance to talk to Alex," Charlie replies. I can't help but notice that he is sitting by my bed and not hers. "But from what she told me... it sounds like Martha kept going back to that... place, and other people kept popping up as well, but they were just dreaming, sort of wandering around, apparently. And when Martha had set her eye on someone, she'd just grab them and put them in some sort of... of cage? I'm not sure if she meant that literally, or..."

"She did," I say. "Wow. So Martha must have been hanging around there for weeks, practising whatever she was doing and picking up people she was annoyed about... That's..."

Silence spreads between us again; there are no words for what has happened.

–Hey, how are you doing?” Charlie says finally.

–I’m okay, I guess,” I reply. –I will be, anyway.”

–Mmhm. Professor Dumbledore wants to see you when you’re feeling up to it.” He squeezes my hand as I close my eyes again and try to swallow the lump in my throat. Of course, he wants to see me. I did everything wrong, as far as school rules are concerned. I bought an illegal potion. I got it knowing it was illegal, and I used it. We should have gone to one of the teachers immediately. I put myself and my fellow students in danger by not calling in someone who could have dealt with the situation properly. Of course, I’m in trouble.

Charlie stays with me while Madam Pomfrey feeds me Strengthening Solution and even some proper breakfast, and we play card games while we wait for it to kick in properly. When I’ve flattened Charlie the third round in a row, I make my decision.

–I think it’s time for me to go,” I say.

–Oh go on, you’re just scared of breaking your streak,” he exclaims. –I just know I’ll get a perfect hand now!”

–Better quit while I’m ahead then, right?” I give him a wink as I get up from the bed. –Think I should change into my robes before I see the headmaster?”

–Nah, I think he’ll appreciate the eccentricity.”

–Might get a bit draughty in the castle if I’m just wearing my pyjamas though,” I muse. –Bugger off then, I have to make a good impression.”

Charlie steps aside and pulls the curtain shut behind him to give me some privacy. My robes are neatly folded in my bedside cabinet. Just before I pull them over my head, my eyes fall on the dark bruise that still covers my ribs. It’s Sunday, around noon now. Were we really playing Quidditch only yesterday?

When I step out from behind the curtain, I can hear Madam Pomfrey muttering something about frail patients and stress, and the absolutely unprofessional opinion of the headmaster concerning these matters. She tries to force another spoon of Strengthening Solution on me, but I assure her that I’ll return to take it later. I manage to dodge her next attack when someone walks up to me from one of the other beds quickly.

–Laura!” I look at her and then at the other beds in the room. Morgan is still sitting there, but I can’t see Ed or Alexandra.

–Thank you,” Laura says, and throws her arms around my neck. –Thank you, Nymphadora.”

–Um... That’s all right,” I reply, patting her on the back. When she lets go of me, her eyes are shining with tears, but a bright smile is plastered all over her face.

–Honestly, if you ever need anything, just tell me. You saved him. You saved all of them.”

–It’s not a big deal,” I say quickly. –Seriously.”

–Yeah, right.” Laura laughs. –We can never thank you enough, Nymphadora.” Laura says, then walks back to her boyfriend.

–Yes, Nymphadora,” Charlie says when we’ve walked through the door and out of earshot. –We can never thank you enough!”

–Shut up.” I hit him on the arm. –Don’t ever call me that.”

–You let Laura Finch call you that.”

–Well, Laura Finch is eternally grateful and will do anything I need!” I reply. –Also, she just started using my first name, and I haven’t really had a chance to tell her... well. Where are the others, anyway? Ed and Alexandra?”

–They were up about half an hour before you came to. Madam Pomfrey tried to keep them in their beds, but frankly, she never stood a chance. I think they were called to talk to McGonagall and Sprout about everything that happened. And Dumbledore probably spoke to them as well.” We’ve come to a halt where a hidden passageway branches off. –Do you want me to come with you?” Charlie asks.

I consider this for a moment. –No, but thanks,” I reply. –I think I’d better do this on my own.”

–All right.” I know that he understands. –Shall we meet up in the kitchens afterwards? It’ll be time for lunch by then.”

–Or tea, depending on how long he wants to scold me for,” I say, pulling a face.

–You don’t know that he’ll do that.”

–Yeah, well...”

–Sure you don’t want me to at least walk you up?” he asks, and puts a hand on my shoulder.

–Go away, will you! I’m a big girl.” I laugh in spite of the dread that I feel. –Get to the kitchens and prepare the house-elves for my arrival. I’m still starving. This dream thing is exhausting.”

–Okay, your choice,” he says, raising his hands. –The password is ‘gingerbread’.”

–It’s March,” I reply.

Charlie shrugs. –It’s Dumbledore.” He turns to leave, but stops again and looks at me. –Good luck. And take Pomfrey’s potion when you’re done!”

–Yes, Mum,” I say, and then Charlie disappears into the hidden passageway and I walk down the corridor to the stairs.

When I’ve reached the gargoyles that guard the entrance to Dumbledore’s study, I straighten my robes and say –Gingerbread.”

–It’s March, you know,” one of them replies as the wall opens up.

–Hardly the season,” the other pitches in.

–Shut up,” I say, and step on the stairs.

I was expecting to have to wait for a while outside the headmaster’s study. Actually, I was counting on it, so that I’d have some time to prepare my defence. Instead, though, the door opens as soon as the revolving staircase has brought me to the top.

–Ah!” Dumbledore greets me. –I trust you are feeling better? Otherwise Madam Pomfrey will have my head for summoning you from your sickbed."

"I'm fine," I reply.

"Do come in then. Take a seat.”

This isn’t the first time that I’ve been in here, but I’m still as impressed as I was in my third year. Maybe even more now, since I know the function of some of the devices that are whirring and ticking in the glass cases. I move to the chair I’ve been offered as quickly as possible. As long as I’m sitting down, I can’t break anything of value.

–Now then,” Dumbledore begins, having sat down at the desk across from me. –I am sure you realise that you are a student at this school, and thus the school rules apply to you. Though undoubtedly helpful to your fellow students, the way in which you conducted your... ah... investigation is not entirely accepted behaviour at Hogwarts.” He opens a desk drawer and pulls out a folded sheet of parchment. –I believe you should have this.”

He hands it to me, and I take it without even looking at it.

–Am I expelled?” I ask before I can stop myself.

Professor Dumbledore chuckles, throwing me completely off. –No, Miss Tonks, you are not expelled. You will find that what you are holding is a copy of the letter I took the liberty of sending to Rufus Scrimgeour, the Head of the Auror Office, expressing my strong recommendation to take you on as a trainee as soon as you have completed your NEWTs.”

–Sir, I don’t understand... I thought I was in trouble.”

He looks at me quite seriously now. –You have just saved three fellow students, possibly four. It certainly would have been more responsible to go to a member of staff for help, but who knows how much time might have been lost that way. You acted on your instincts, and while not everyone might agree that this was the right course of action, the results are non-debatable. And in addition to that,” he continues, –you will sit your NEWT examinations soon. Our time to educate you is up. That will likely be the worry of the Auror Office soon.”

–Worry, sir?” I ask, and instantly regret the cheek, but then I see a smile playing around Dumbledore’s lips. Encouraged by this, I continue speaking. –Sir, there are some things I don’t... I don’t quite understand.”

–As I am sure there are. I will try to answer any questions you have, but even I cannot claim to have extensive knowledge on the world of dreams.”

–Is that what it was then? A dream world?” I ask. –Does everyone go there when they sleep?”

–Yes, and no,” Professor Dumbledore replies. –It is a dream world, but not all dreams take place there. From what your fellow students have told their Heads of House as well as me, this was one particular realm, for lack of a better term. Every dream is motivated by an emotion -- this was where the dreams sparked by sorrow and worry take place, so of course if you were looking for students about to take their NEWT examinations, they would be quite likely to turn up there.”

–Just... just that kind of sorrow?”

–I believe all kinds of sorrow, Miss Tonks. I take it exams are not the only thing Mr O’Flaherty is worried about.”

–Oh, yes -- they’ve been fighting, and he would be...” I trail off. –I saw someone else there, sir.”

Professor Dumbledore puts his fingertips together and peers at me intently. –Someone besides your four fellow students?”

–I-- I’m not sure.” It’s not that the dream is slipping away from me; I don’t think it ever will. It’s more that I’m not sure what exactly to tell Dumbledore. –We’ve discussed Dementors in Defence Against the Dark Arts.”

–I should imagine you have,” the headmaster replies calmly.

–Is the kind of... sorrow that a person would feel around them something that might land you in that world as well?” I ask.

Dumbledore takes a moment to reply, and while he looks at me, I’m sure that he knows exactly what is going through my mind. –I’m afraid,” he finally says, –that my knowledge on the nature of this realm or others does not extend far enough to answer that question exhaustively.”

–I understand,” I say, looking at my hands. –Thank you, sir.”

I guess I’ll never know if what I saw was real or just a figment of my imagination, some sort of memory lost in my subconscious.

–Was there anything else you wanted to ask?”

–Just one more question,” I say, looking up again. –There was … something in that world. I don’t know. Something terrifying.”

Dumbledore nods. –Ah, yes. Witches and wizards more learned and daring in that area than me have written on these things. Something ancient dwells in every world that you enter in your dreams. It feeds off the emotion and might even be what lures you there, if you are, for example, particularly burdened with sorrow. Of course, all this is just very theoretical and no one has yet been able to research the topic in depth. But judging by Mr O’Flaherty’s description, this might have been what you encountered, and you likely made a narrow escape.”

–Is dreaming always dangerous then?” I ask.

–Luckily not,” he replies. –I should have a much harder time to go to sleep otherwise. I believe what put all of you into particular danger in this case is the extended time that was spent there, particularly by the students held captive, as well as the productive magic that was worked.”

–Sir, I know I said I only had one more question, but--”

–I shall grant you another,” Dumbledore says.

–Ed and the others could say what they wanted to, but they couldn’t do the things that Martha did, or even walk around properly. And I feel like... like I could have done anything there, really, if I’d wanted to. But that wasn’t a normal dream they were having anymore either, was it?”

–Lucid dreaming, as they call it, is something anyone can achieve. It requires practice, and hardly makes for relaxing sleep, but it certainly is possible. Your classmates knew they were dreaming, which is the first step to controlling your actions. The potion that you took--” I flinch at this –--enabled you to act more strongly and quickly. Certainly, your classmates would have been able to walk around by then, had they not been artificially restricted. But, as I said, it does require time and practice.”

"Now that I took the potion, does this mean I'll always dream... lucidly?" I ask. The thought worries me slightly.

"Not at all. That potion was not a particularly strong one, and you did only take one dose of it. As I understand from what Professor Snape has told me, it is designed to work only for a short period of time."

"But Martha--"

"Has confessed to brewing her own variety of the concoction to enter that world in a conscious state repeatedly over the past weeks," Dumbledore explains. "Despite not attending Potions on NEWT level, she has turned out to be quite apt at it."

My thoughts wander to the greenhouses. Valerian. Sopophorous Beans. Wriggling Wisteria. All the plants you'd need for any sort of sleep-related potion are there. How easy it must have been for her to pinch some...

I ponder this for a moment. Not everything makes sense to me yet, but the longer I think about it, the weaker my urge to find out more about the particular circumstances.

–Does that answer all your questions?” Dumbledore inquires.

–Not really,” I reply, getting up. –But I do have exams to sit in a couple of months, so I don’t think we’d have the time to cover everything anyway.”

Again, he chuckles. –I wish you much success with your studies, Miss Tonks. The Auror Office, should you choose to join them, will be exceedingly lucky to have you.”

–Thank you, sir.” I clutch the parchment tightly as I walk to the door.

–Miss Tonks,” Dumbledore says from his desk just as I’ve put my hand on the door handle. –Dreams are a fragile and dangerous construct, and it is never advisable to meddle with them. If I can ask one thing of you, please do not attempt to return to that world, no matter what or who you might have seen there. The waking life is many times more colourful than any dream could be.”

–Yes, sir,” I reply. –Goodbye.”

–Goodbye, Miss Tonks,” he says. I’m not sure if there was worry in his voice.

Of course it is tempting to go back, to try this lucid dreaming thing. I know that I’ve been in danger, and I would be careful.

But then again...

I have a letter of recommendation from the headmaster for the only job I’ve ever wanted. Charlie is waiting in the kitchens for me. We just won a Quidditch match.

Ed is never going to reconcile with Martha, but at least they’re both safe now.

I have one hell of a story to tell Charlie, and then we’ll goof around a bit, and he’ll make me study Transfiguration, and I still have some essays to finish for next week, and NEWTs are fast approaching... I have enough to do to keep busy, and then some. And I have my friends. Maybe I lost one today, but I’m pretty sure that I made some new ones as well.

Who needs dreams, anyway, when there's so much living to do?

End Notes:
I cannot thank Carole/Equinox Chick enough for helping me with this story. She's a fantastic friend and a brilliant beta reader and you should all send her flowers and chocolates.
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