Chapter 21:


Swallowing hard, Jessa knocked on Lupin's classroom door. It was to be her first afternoon of extra lessons.

Jessa entered to find Lupin casually leaning against his desk.

"Ah, Miss Potter. Please, come in. We have a lot of work to do and I'm sure you're eager to get started."

She nodded, taking out her wand.

"The first spell I am going to teach you is a basic shield charm. It won't necessarily help you against Dementors, but it is useful to assess your casting strength and will assist you in defending off most charms and hexes. A bit of forewarning – much like the defensive charm needed against Dementors, this, too, is an advanced spell, rarely taught to one so early in their studies. However, given the circumstances, I feel comfortable doing so."

"Yes, Sir. Thank you."

He smiled warmly at her. "Now, repeat after me. Protego."

"There's something you need to hear," Blaise Zabini said without preamble as he took the (for once) empty seat across from his friend.

"Hello to you, too," Draco Malfoy simply said in reply, bookmarking his page.

"It's about Jessa Potter."

That caused him to look up. He wasn't ashamed, per say, that everyone knew they were close, but it certainly wasn't for the best. His father was already less-than-thrilled. Then again, Zabini of all people was at least making the effort with her himself.

"Some idiot told her the only reason any of us…specifically you, would want to be friends with her was due to her surname and pity."

"Do you know who it was?"

"No. But she implied that the person who said it isn't the only one who's taken such a position. Including within Slytherin."

"You mean Pansy."

"Not only, but yes."

"Who else?"

"Don't know. The person who said it isn't in our house, though. Or at least, I don't think they are."

"Was this why I saw you talking to her at Quidditch practice a week ago?"

Blaise nodded, leaning back. "You noticed that?"

"Of course."

Jessa walked up the last staircase before the Charms classroom, when she felt her bag give way, ripping. She groaned, dropping to the floor, waving off Taryn and another classmate who stopped to look back at her as books, quills, parchment, and ink spilled over the floor.

"Go. Don't be late to Charms on my account."

Taryn paused, but at her friend's insistence, went ahead.

She tried to gather up her supplies best she could, considering they were now all on different stairs, and knowing the previous class would be exiting in her direction when four hands joined her. Startled, she looked up into two identical faces.

"Sorry to have your bag rip – "

" – we needed to get you alone."

She looked at the Weasley twins as one of them – Fred – began mending her bag magically.

"How long has Ron been bothering you?"

She sighed, sitting back on her heals. "I get it. It isn't a big deal."

"It is. How long?"

"Most of the time. He doesn't like my house. No one does."

They shared a glance. "Can't say we're thrilled – "

" – but you're also not a normal Slytherin."

"Look, I appreciate the help, but I have class and I'm sure you do, too – "

" – we have a study period right now," interjected Fred.

"And we already spoke to Flitwick. He likes us. Said we wanted to help you."

"He doesn't normally give in like this, but – "

" – we're both excellent at Charms and we said it would only be this once."

Jessa just looked between the two of them, uncharacteristically serious in that moment.

"Look, I appreciate the gesture, but I'm already struggling – "

" – so we'll help you."

"We weren't lying to Flitwick when we said we would."

"He even gave us permission to use the empty room next door for practice."

Finally, she sighed, pushing a lock of stray hair back, and nodded. "I'd like that."

In one fluid motion, George had her materials in her newly mended bag, but instead of handing it back to her, simply slung it over his own shoulder.

She followed them into the empty classroom.

"About Ron – "

" – I'm happy he's protective of Harry. That you all watch out for him. That Harry's found your family," she said, cutting them off.

"He doesn't need to protect Harry from you, though!"

"Some of your friends, maybe…"

" – I know," she said, once more cutting them off. "I know my friends have been awful to your family, that there's history there. History between the houses that I don't know. But I don't have many friends and the ones I do…they started liking me before they knew who I was. They're good to me. Doesn't mean I have to stand by their every decision," Jessa explained, starting to feel like a broken record. But at least she could understand why they were concerned about her placement, if not fully about their interest in her, apart from being Harry's little sister. She knew Harry was all but a Weasley at this point.

"And I do appreciate that you've come to stand by me," she continued. "Please don't mistake that. It's nice. That you're looking out for me. But I'm okay. I'm safe. You don't have to believe me. But I am."

They shared another look with each other before nodding slowly in unison.

"What spells do you need help with?"

"I found out who's been bothering her primarily," Blaise said without preamble that evening.

Draco's head shot up.

"Weasley. The one in our year. His brothers – the twins – were asking her about it. Making sure she was safe, too. I overheard them in the hallway earlier."

Draco didn't respond except to get up and stalk, wand already in hand, towards where the aforementioned was exiting the Great Hall with Potter and Granger.

"Weasley! Does Potter know what you said to his sister?"

"You don't know anything, Malfoy."

"Does he know you only believe her capable of making friends because of her association with him? Out of pity?" Malfoy snarled back, stalking closer to Ron, who was now being closely watched and guarded by his own friends.

"You're awfully defensive about her. I'm sure daddy would love to hear about that."

"Defending a housemate from a Weasley's foul thoughts? He'd be thrilled," Draco replied, only half-bluffing.

"Is there a problem here?"

The five students jumped at hearing their professor's voice, wands hastily stored away.

"No, Sir," Blaise said calmly.

Professor Lupin looked over the group, eyeing them carefully, fully able to see through the lie, but not wanting to contribute to the problem, said, "Right then. Off to your dormitories. You've all got class tomorrow and homework to finish."

They grumbled, but broke apart, not willing to argue against the Professor. As Draco and Blaise headed back to the common room, they heard footsteps behind them. Considering dinner was ending, they thought nothing of it until:

"I heard what you said to Weasley."

They turned to find Adrian Puecy behind them. Stepping to the side to allow classmates to pass, they waited for the older boy to continue.

"I also know he isn't the only one. I want in. Jessa's my little sister's best friend and my teammate. If someone's targeting her, I want in on defending her."

The two third–years exchanged a glance before nodding and Malfoy formally held out his hand, commanding the attention of the small group despite being the youngest.

"Welcome to the team."