Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter, but Ardella, the Sterling family, and plot belong to me.

"Ardella, hurry up! We're gonna be late if you don't get moving!"

A large mountain of navy and violet covers shifted in response to the shout and a moment later a head of long ebony hair poked up from the dark confines and sluggishly glanced about the room. Hands pale as snow emerged as well before pushing back the mound of sheets and blankets to reveal a groggy and bemused Ardella. She had slept well that night; completely free of any nightmares or frightening alternate personas. In fact, it had been quite a while since she had last woken in the middle of the night due to a fitful sleep. Hopefully this meant that she was slowly coping with what had happened over a month ago. Hearing another impatient shout from downstairs, Ardella quickly hopped out of bed and prepared for the day.

It had been nearly three weeks since she had received the letter that renewed her hope for a normal existence. She had quickly responded to Dumbledore's letter and today was the day she was to meet him and go over plans for the upcoming school year.

Taking a quick shower, Ardella immediately pulled on the clothes she had set out the previous evening; a simple pair of skinny jeans and t-shirt along with a pair of slip-on shoes. She had opted to dress in muggle fashion today as she found it to be more comfortable than robes. Unlike most pure-blooded, wizarding families, the Sterlings did not look down on muggles or muggle-born witches and wizards. In fact, Ardella had nearly signed up for Muggle Studies but decided not to when she realized it would result in a filled and hectic schedule.

Grabbing a pale, grey cloak from her wardrobe, she quickly fastened the silver clasp at the neck and checked her appearance in the mirror.

"You look lovely, dear," it commented in a motherly fashion.

"Thank you."

Satisfied with her reflection and the mirror's input, she spun on her heel and hurried out the door, dashing down the long, winding staircase. Nearing the bottom, she leaped, soaring over the last seven steps to land in front of Dimitri. She was beginning to find that being a vampire did have its perks.

"About time. Any longer and we'd have missed our appointment," he glanced over her and noticed her still wet hair which was starting to dampen the back of her cloak. He raised his eyebrow at her and it took a moment for her to realize what he was staring at.

"Oh, I figured I wouldn't have time to dry it. Would you mind?" Dimitri grumbled something about ungrateful sisters taking advantage of their older brothers, but pulled out his wand nevertheless and muttered a few quick drying spells to sap the liquid from both her hair and cloak. Once he was finished, her hair fell straight and dry, now resting just past her waist. Dimitri eyed her hair critically before commenting on it.

"You're gonna have to be sure to cut your hair every once in a while. At the rate it's growing it'll be down to your knees in two months time," he tried to act serious, his tone slightly pompous, but the grin slowing stretching across his face gave away his humor.

"Glad you find it funny," she snapped haughtily but, like her brother, was terrible at concealing her amusement.

Grinning at each other, the two headed to the parlor room and each grabbed a handful of Floo powder. Dumbledore had written back telling them to Floo directly to his office that would be, temporarily, lifted of enchantments that normally blocked unwanted visitors. One at a time they threw the sparkling Floo powder into the fireplace, stepping in and shouting, "Headmaster's office, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry" before being whirled away in a flash of emerald flame and soot.

Ardella began to feel queasy as she spun round and round, blurred colors the only thing her eyes could perceive of other fireplaces and the rooms beyond. Just when she thought she might be sick, the spinning stopped and she found herself standing in a large, circular office. Taking a quick glance around, she found Dumbledore was not yet present so took a moment to look around just as Dimitri stumbled out of the fireplace. All around the room were scattered many little tables, each with various silver instruments that made funny noises and emitted small puffs of smoke, and adorning the walls were portraits of all Hogwarts' previous Headmasters and Headmistresses, who glanced down curiously at the newcomers. In the middle of the office was a large, claw foot desk and behind it a large shelf that held books and other items, including the Sorting Hat. However, the room's most interesting object was a golden perch upon which sat a magnificent bird. Its plumage was a mix of scarlet and gold giving it a fiery appearance and easily identifying it as a phoenix.

Having never seen one in person before, Ardella tentatively stepped towards the bird and reached out a hand, waiting a moment to see if the bird would protest but it only tilted its head to observe her. Taking this to mean it wouldn't mistake her hand for a snack, she softly stroked the soft, crimson feathers on its head. A shiver passed down its back as it gently ruffled it wings and leaned closer to her hand, apparently enjoying the attention. So absorbed by the graceful creature in front of her, Ardella's sensitive ears failed to pick up on the nearing footsteps nearly causing her to scream when a voice spoke behind her.

"I see you've met Fawkes," Ardella spun around to see Dumbledore standing there, dressed in navy blue robes with stars that sparkled when he moved. She expected him to be slightly upset that she had taken the liberty to pet his bird without asking permission, but he only smiled at her over his half-moon spectacles and walked over to sit in the tall, winged chair situated behind his desk.

"Please, both of you have a seat," There had been only one chair in front of his desk, but as he spoke he waved a hand, conjuring another chair to sit besides the first.

"Would either of you like any tea?" Both Ardella and Dimitri politely declined as they lowered themselves into the chairs and waited for Dumbledore to continue. "Right well let's get down to business then. We're here to discuss how you will cope with your vampirism while at school," he addressed Ardella, his voice holding no hint of malice or disgust at her condition.

Despite the letters she had received, clearly stating that she was expected to return in the fall, and this meeting to work around her issues, Ardella couldn't help but voice her concerns.

"Excuse me, Professor, but why are you not expelling me? I mean, I'm a vampire. By allowing me to return to Hogwarts, aren't you putting the other students in danger?" She didn't know how she expected the Headmaster to respond to such a comment. Maybe he'll come to his senses and demand that I leave the school grounds immediately and never come back. What she didn't anticipate was the kind smile that adorned his face, his blue eyes twinkling with barely concealed amusement as though he could hear her thoughts.

"Miss Sterling, do you believe yourself to be a danger to the other students?"

His simple question threw her off guard. Currently, she received a blood donation from St. Mungo's every two weeks and so far she hadn't felt the urge to attack her brother or one of the house-elves for a little snack. In fact, besides the changes in her appearance and senses and a preference to have her steaks rare, she felt almost like nothing was different.

"Well no-,"

"So then what reason would I have to expel you?"

"But, I'm a vampire. Surely no one wants to risk having a blood-thirsty beast in their school that might murder a fellow student."

"Miss Sterling, I find myself a bit confused. Do you no longer wish to attend Hogwarts?"

"Of course I do! I love it here and would do anything to stay here."

"Then why, pray tell, are you trying so hard to persuade me to not allow you admittance?"

Once again his blunt question left her speechless. Clearly Dumbledore was willing to give her a chance to prove that she wasn't a complete monster just yet, and here she was trying to convince him to kick her out. Some Ravenclaw you are.

"I, I don't know, sir," Ardella finally voiced. "I suppose I just expected you to view me as a half-breed that was too dangerous to keep around," Dumbledore seemed slightly disappointed at her admittance and Dimitri, who until now had remained silent, immediately spoke up.

"How many times do Damien and I have to tell you Ardella? No matter how you look or how your diet changes, you're still you," He reached over to grasp her hand in his own and she offered an apologetic smile. Dumbledore cleared his throat and the two turned their attentions back to the Professor.

"Ardella," she started slightly; professors rarely referred to students by their first names, "something happened to you which you could not prevent, and it would be wrong of me to punish you for something you had no say in. While I understand why you might come to the conclusion that most people would react that way, I have never been one to judge a person's character based on who or what they are. As long as you believe you are in control, you have my complete faith in you."

His words caused Ardella's eyes to become misty with unshed tears of gratitude, and she could only manage a shaky, "Thank you, sir," as she tried to blink away the unwanted tears. Managing to reign her emotions under control she turned back to the Headmaster, grateful to him for his deep kindness.

"In fact, Miss Sterling, you might find my appointment for the Defense Against the Dark Arts post to be a rather intriguing fellow."

"Oh? Why is that, sir?"

"That isn't my place to tell you, but I'm sure you'll soon discover it. Between you and Miss Granger I daresay we have some of the most intelligent students in Europe."

"Thank you again, Professor," she grinned at the praise. "I suppose we should start discussing possible arrangements concerning my special eating habits now?"

"Yes, yes of course. Now how often do you require blood and where do you receive it from?"

Ardella quickly explained the current deal she had with St. Mungo's and Dumbledore looked at her thoughtfully for a moment before replying.

"You said soon you would only require a supply once a month?"

"That's correct, sir. The Healer at St. Mungo's said that with the progress I've made I'd probably only need one packet a month by the end of August," the Headmaster seemed elated by this news.

"Well, that works out just fine. We can have your shipments sent to the school as soon as the new term starts. To avoid looking suspicious, I'll arrange for the packets to be delivered to Professor Snape. As he teaches Potions, he often orders all manner of strange ingredients. Once it's been delivered, Professor Snape will inform you so you can retrieve it from his office after your classes."

Ardella thought a moment, looking at the plan from every angle to insure there was no risk of others finding out her secret. After some careful thinking she determined the only one who would discover the truth would be Professor Snape.

"Sir, would Professor Snape know of my condition then?" She wasn't sure she liked the idea of a professor knowing, least of all the potions master. While Professor Snape really only tormented the Gryffindors, in particular Harry Potter, she didn't need a reason for him to start indiscriminately taking away points from Ravenclaw as well. Which was likely to happen as Ardella didn't see the brooding professor as being a particularly accepting individual.

"Yes, I would need to inform Professor Snape on the matter," she tried to hide her apprehension, but Dumbledore saw through it and continued. "Don't worry Miss Sterling. I have the upmost faith in Professor Snape and I assure you that he will not treat you with any more disdain than he gives all his students." Ardella had to chuckle at that; it was nice to know that she attended a school with a Headmaster who acknowledged the issues in the school, rather than play ignorant.

"Alright, now on to the last manner of business," the Headmaster continued and pulled a scroll of parchment from his desk to set it before Ardella. "While I do have absolute faith in you and your self control, I still must be cautious."

Both Ardella and Dimitri furrowed their brows at this, not knowing where the Headmaster was headed with this conversation. Tentatively reaching out, Ardella unrolled the parchment and began to scan its contents. After a moment of scrutiny she was surprised to discover that it was a contract of sorts. She shot a quizzical look at the Headmaster who gave a small smile in response.

"While I am completely sympathetic to your unique situation, I'm afraid I still have to be official about it. This is a short contract I drew that requires your consent in order to continue your studies here."

"Of course." Ardella quickly scanned through the document one more time before signing her name at the bottom. Dimitri, as her guardian, also signed the contract before giving it back to the Professor. Rather than take the parchment, Dumbledore gave a quick wave of his wand, and the scroll disappeared with a small pop!

"Well, now that we have all that out of the way, everything is set for your third year," Ardella smiled at Dumbledore, trying desperately to convey how grateful she was for the opportunity he was giving her. He gave her a kind grin in response before speaking once more. "Now, as the new term starts in two weeks, I have many things to prepare. I hope you'll forgive me for having to rush you out."

"Of course, sir. We completely understand," Dimitri spoke as rose from his chair, pulling Ardella up as well.

"Goodbye Fawkes," Ardella turned to address the phoenix, quickly stroking the soft feathers along his head and neck before hurrying over to the fireplace where her brother and Dumbledore stood waiting. Dimitri went first, stepping into the grate and shouting "Sterling Manor" before disappearing in emerald flame. Ardella stepped forward to do the same, but turned to the Headmaster and once more to thank him profusely for allowing her to continue her schooling.

"Miss Sterling, remember what I said. The nature of your condition is in no way your fault and therefore you have nothing to thank me for." His voice was still kind, but had a sternness that clearly revealed his dislike for her self-loathing. Giving a nod of understanding, Ardella grabbed a pinch of Floo powder before stepping into the fireplace, watching Dumbledore and his office melt away in a swirl colors as she was consumed by the flames.

Not long after returning home, Dimitri asked Ardella if she was ready to pick up her books and other supplies for the new school year.

"I've got to head into work today, but I still have a few hours until my shift starts. Did you want to tag along and get all your school shopping done?"

Nodding her head enthusiastically, Ardella scurried up to her room to grab the list that had been owled to her before hurrying back to the parlor. A few moments and emerald flames later, Dimitri and Ardella stood in the charismatic, bustling square of Diagon Alley. Glancing at the list of required items, Ardella noted that besides books, there wasn't much else to get besides stocking up on potion ingredients and getting some new robes. Deciding to get books last as Dimitri would have to head to Flourish and Blotts for his shift anyways, the siblings headed over to Slug and Jigger's Apothecary.

Upon entering the shop, Ardella immediately wrinkled her nose in distaste; her new-found sense of smell was not doing her any good in this shop. The shelves were lined with thousands upon thousands of interesting looking things, however each was fouler smelling than the last. Quickly gathering up and paying for the ingredients she'd need, Ardella hurried out the door to breathe in some much needed fresh air.

"What's your problem," Dimitri questioned a moment later after he had meandered outside, fixing his sister with a look that clearly asked if she was insane.

"I thought the shop smelled awful before, but now it's just revolting." Letting out a small chuckle, Dimitri shook his head at Ardella's dramatic antics before proceeding to Madame Malkin's robe shop. Either due to her vampirism, or just being a teenager, Ardella had grown a few inches during the summer and soon found that those few inches made a big difference when it came to the length of her skirt. After entering the store, Madame Malkin herself bustled over in her customary maroon robes.

"What can I do for you, dear?"

"I need some new school robes. I seem to have grown a bit over the summer," Ardella replied to the kind witch as Dimitri settled down into one of the many chairs scattered throughout the shop.

"Yes, of course. Right this way dear," the witch replied, ushering Ardella over to a rack filled with skirts, vests, shirts, and cloaks identical to the ones she'd been wearing the past two years. Shoving one of everything into the young girl's arms, Madame Malkin then proceeded to push Ardella into a dressing room, telling her to come out when she was done so the clothes could be properly tailored. Quickly shoving on the outfit, which was loose and baggy on Ardella's slim frame, she stepped out of the dressing room and headed over where the tiny, tailoring witch was standing beside a small pedestal situated in front of a three-paneled mirror. Hopping up on the dais, Ardella watched her reflection in the mirror as Madame Malkin worked her magic, altering the clothes where necessary. As she worked, the squat witched happily chattered away.

"So, another year at Hogwarts. How I do miss those days. Not so much the schoolwork and classes, but the atmosphere. There was always so much to see and do; always something happening. What year are you going to be in, dear?"

"I'll be starting my third year."

"Third year? Of course that means you'll be able to visit Hogsmeade this year; such a quaint little village. Why, I remember one time in my third year," Madame Malkin began to ramble on about some long-passed tale as Ardella tuned her out, not particularly interested in the story. It wasn't until the talking stopped and Madame Malkin was glancing at her curiously, that Ardella realized that the witch must have asked her something.

"I'm sorry, I didn't catch that."

"I asked which house you were in dear. Need to get your colors done," the witch repeated her query with a kind smile.

"Oh, I'm a Ravenclaw."

Hearing this, Madame Malkin gave a small flick of her wand causing the plain black of the tie Ardella wore to fade away until it was striped with navy blue and bronze. A crest also appeared on the chest of both the vest and cloak, displaying a raven with the house name embroidered under it.

"There you are. While you change out of those, I'll prepare you a few more sets."

Scurrying back to the dressing room, Ardella stripped off the uniform before changing back into her clothes. Walking out with the robes slung over her arm, Ardella saw Madame Malkin flick her wand before the uniform zoomed out of her grasp and landed on the checkout corner in a perfectly folded stack beside the rest of her uniforms.

"Will you be needing anything else, dear?" Shaking her head in the negative, Ardella shook Dimitri where he lay dozing off in a nearby chair. After paying for her purchases, the Sterling siblings wandered outside where Ardella abruptly rammed into someone else. Knocked off balance by the sudden shift in her center of gravity, not even her new vampire reflexes could stop Ardella from plummeting to the ground. She squeezed her eyes shut for the impact, however, before she could hit the ground, two hands firmly grasped her wrists and pulled her back up.

"Now, now Ardella, you have to stop being so clumsy," a cheery voice commented from her left.

"Yes, we can't have you running around and knocking into people all the time," a voice, identical to the first, chimed in from her right. Opening her eyes, Ardella glanced up to see two tall, freckled-faced boys with flaming red hair standing before her with playful Cheshire cat smiles. Giving them a grin, Ardella quickly grabbed the boys by their necks to pull them into a hug. Releasing them and taking a step back Ardella couldn't keep the stupid grin off her face.

"Hello, Fred. Hello, George. It's nice to see you, too."

While they were two years older and in a different house, Ardella spoke with the Weasley twins often. The first time they met was in Ardella's first year; the twins were running through an empty corridor, while behind them came the shouts of a clearly outraged Filch. Intent upon escaping the wrath of the grouchy caretaker, the twins weren't watching where they were going and upon sprinting around a corner, slammed into a small, eleven-year-old Ardella walking down the hall with her nose shoved in a book. Having had two thirteen-year-olds smack into her, naturally Ardella fell to the floor along with her bag and all its contents. Though, due to the speed of the collision, the first year wasn't quite sure how she'd gotten there.

"What the-,"

"We're sorry, here you go!" The twins had quickly begun to gather up all the books, parchment, quills, and ink that had managed to scatter themselves across the hall. Despite their rush, it was but a few moments later that a wheezing Filch rounded the corner, pointing a bony finger in the direction of the red-headed twins.

"Now I've got you. I know it was you that set up those dungbombs. You two are in for it now. You'll be in detention for the rest of the year!" Throughout the caretaker's rather crazed ramblings, Ardella had managed to stand back up, slinging her empty bag over her shoulder as the twins still held all of her schoolwork. She took in the disappointed looks on the third year's identical faces before coming to a quick decision.

"Excuse me, Mr. Filch," the caretaker quickly turned his head in her direction, and using the most innocent voice she could muster, continued. "I don't know what you think these boys did, but whatever it was they couldn't have been responsible." The halls three other occupants all looked at her with open-jawed expressions of surprise. Filch was the first to recover.

"Don't you try to cover for them. I know they're the ones that done it. And this time, I've caught them red-handed."

"But, Mr. Filch, the twins have been with me in since after dinner. They've been helping me study in the library for my transfiguration exam. You can even ask Madame Pince; we've been in there all evening."

Filch sputtered at this, but looking at the twins who's arms were still laden with Ardella's books and parchment and having no way to prove that it really was the twins, turned on his heel and left with a frustrated yell. The three students waited a few moments for the caretaker's footsteps to fade away before the twins burst into uncontrollable laughter. Wiping tears from their eyes, they turned to face their savior.

"Well, look at that, Fred; this little first-year just saved us weeks of detention."

"She did indeed, George. And look at that; she's not even in our house."

"So, who are you?" The twins questioned in unison.

"I'm Ardella Sterling," she replied in a quiet voice.

"Well, Ardella," one of the twins, Fred she though, started, "Why in the world did you help us escape from detention."

"Because Filch is a pain. Anyone who makes him upset deserves to be given an award," Ardella spat, her words laced with bitterness. Last week, Filch had screeched at her for stepping on Mrs. Norris' tail and despite her pleas that it was an accident, he claimed she was trying to murder his cat and gave her two nights of detention.

"Well, it looks like you aren't too bad. For a first year at least," the other twin, George, spoke up while handing Ardella back her belongs, Fred doing the same.

"Yeah, any enemy of Filch is a friend of ours," he agreed as both boys slung an arm around her shoulders. A bit flustered by the behavior of the twins, Ardella gave them a small smile as they led her down the hall and recounted to her their plans to annoy Filch.

Ever since that fateful day, Ardella had always spent some time with the twins, helping them develop some of their pranks. They affectionately referred to her as their own "Little Encyclopedia" as her extensive knowledge on a variety of subjects had aided in the success of numerous pranks.

Fred and George, however, seemed surprised by Ardella's abrupt hug and cheerful greeting, though she really couldn't blame them for being confused. The last time she'd seen them was at her parents' funeral. They had tried to comfort and talk with her, but she only spared them a few words before wandering off to be alone.

"Well, I don't mean to ruin your little reunion," Dimitri spoke up from Ardella's side, "but I really have to be going. My shift starts in just a few minutes. Did you want to hang out with your friends and meet me at the shop later?"

Her brother's tone held a sliver of hope and his eyes pleaded with her to stay with the twins. It wasn't hard for Ardella to realize that Dimitri was glad to see a glimmer of her old, cheerful self and hoped that by spending time with some of her friends, she would recover more quickly. Opening her mouth to agree to his suggestion, she was beat to a response by Fred and George.

"Of course we'll watch after her."

"We know what a handful she can be."

Rolling her eyes at the twin's readiness to make her seem like an irresponsible child that needed looking-after she turned and handed her booklist to Dimitri.

"Yeah, I'll hang out with the twins for a while and then meet you back at Flourish and Blotts. Can you set aside my books for me?" Dimitri nodded and gave his sister a quick hug before bidding the three teens goodbye and being swept away into the busy crowd.

"Look, Fred, now we have our Little Encyclopedia all to ourselves," George stated, slinging an arm over Ardella's shoulder. Upon noticing that he didn't have to lean down as far as usual to complete this action, George took half a step back to take a good look at the girl as his side. "Why, Fred, I do believe our Little Encyclopedia isn't nearly so little anymore."

This remark caused Fred to take a careful scrutiny of Ardella as well before nodding his head in agreement with his brother's statement. "I think you may be right George. She has sprouted up hasn't she?" The twins had always been a bit taller than average and for petite Ardella this meant that her head usually reached just pasted their elbows which, in the past, had fueled endless hours of teasing, much to the delight of the twins. However, while still on the short side, Ardella's recent growth spurt resulted in the top of her head now being almost level with their shoulders. At this newfound revelation, both twins looked on curiously at the dark-haired girl in front of them. After a few moments of fidgeting under their intense gazes, Ardella's broke the silence.

"What?" The statement came out sounding harsher than she expected. After all she wasn't so much annoyed as she was hoping to mask her obvious anxiety that the twins might notice something was off about her. While most people viewed the Weasley twins as nothing more than a bothersome pair of trouble makers (which admittedly was halfway true) Ardella knew that they were actually terribly intelligent and perceptive. In fact, she would have to watch herself carefully around the duo; if they saw anything they thought to be out of the ordinary, it wouldn't take much incentive for them to investigate and possibly discover her secret. And she couldn't bear the thought of the twins' smiling faces turning to loathing and contempt when they looked upon her with the knowledge of what she was.

Shaking herself from her dismal and malicious train of thought, Ardella noticed that the twins seemed to have also broken out of whatever trance that had held their attention for so long. Fred was the first to speak up, his voice unnaturally cautious and devoid of its usual exuberance.

"Ardella, have you been eating alright? You look a bit thin," the red head's brow creased in apparent worry as his brother nodded his head in agreement and added his own two cents.

"Yeah, you look a bit different from the last time we saw you. Are you feeling alright?"

Wondering over the twins' sudden seriousness, Ardella gave them both bemused looks before slowly responding. "What are you two blabbering on about? I'm doing fine. Why?" Neither boy seemed to be in a rush to explain their strange behavior. Chalking it up to the twins being the twins, Ardella shook her head and gave them both a small smile. "So, what shall we do first?"

After a moment's hesitation and more worried glances the twins allowed their features to melt back into their usual jovial expressions. However, Ardella noticed that both still seemed to be a bit on edge. Deciding to ignore it for the time being, she repeated her last inquiry.

"Well, since we haven't seen you for the majority of the summer, we have some major catching up to do," George commented as he once again threw a lazy arm across Ardella's shoulders. Fred mirrored the act and together the three of them headed into the hustle and bustle of the crowded street.

They chattered on about random nonsense, the twins filling her in on the new pranks they had planned for the school year. Their conversation stayed light and cheerful, carefully avoiding talk of Ardella's summer. It wasn't until they had passed by a wanted poster for Sirius Black that the conversation sobered up.

"They still haven't caught him then," Ardella questioned, nodding her head in the direction of the poster. The twins shook their heads and a silence once again settled over the trio. After a moment, Ardella let out a dejected sigh. "Looks like this year just keeps getting worse and worse."

The twins shared a look over the top of Ardella's head before Fred cleared his throat, an uncomfortable look on his face as he once again attempted to ask about Ardella's well-being.

"Uh, how're you holding up? Are you doing okay, with the deat- um, with everything that's happened?" Both twins winced at Fred's rather tactless approach to the subject, but Ardella just released another sigh.

"I'm, okay," she finally admitted. "By no means am I over what happened, but I'm learning to deal with it. Some days I feel like I'm doing okay, but then I'll see or do something that makes me think of them and it hits me again. They're really gone." Fred gave her shoulder a soft squeeze and George pulled her a little closer, each attempting to console her.

"Is that the reason for your, uh, change in appearance," George questioned slowly, unsure if he should continue treading on such a dangerous topic. Both he and Fred were once again staring intently at her with the same serious expressions they had worn not long before. Wondering at the boys' strange behavior, it was a moment before Ardella understood.

Yes, the twins had noticed her recently changed features. Yet, rather than come to the conclusion of her being a raging, blood-sucking vampire, they'd come to a different conclusion. The twins believed that she was depressed.

Just barely managing to reign in her sigh of relief, Ardella gave a small smile. She could see how they managed to come to this conclusion; a thin, bony frame due to malnutrition and a lucid pallor as a result of being locked away inside weren't unheard of when it came to depression. And while she'd somewhat come to terms with her parents death and was beginning to cope with their absence, the twins' mistake could work in her favor.

After all, no one would be surprised if, after losing both of her parents in such a catastrophic accident, she had developed some level of depression. It was the perfect guise to keep people from prodding around and discovering the truth behind her altered appearance. Just as long as no one paid too much attention to her newly changed violet irises, Ardella just might be able to make it though the rest of her schooling without suspicious glances and accusations being thrown her way. Relieved that the twins had, unknowingly, given her a reasonable alibi she quickly engulfed them in another hug, accidently smacking their heads together with her excessive force.

Apparently misinterpreting her sudden bout of joy as a need for comfort, both boys fiercely hugged her back, doing the only thing they could think of in order to help alleviate her pain. After a moment Ardella released Fred and George from her tight embrace and gave them a small, though genuine, grin. A rather awkward silence hung over the trio as they stood there before Fred suddenly grinned and pulled them towards a nearby shop. Glancing up at the sign, a confused expression settled on Ardella's features.

"The Magical Menagerie? Why are we going in there?"

"Because looking at cute, fluffy animals is exactly what you need to cheer up," Fred responded in a tone that made it seem as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. Laughing at his simple-minded answer, Ardella allowed herself to be dragged into the animal shop. After bursting through the door, the three of them were surprised when their gazes were met with the sight of snarling mass of ginger fur attacking an equally ginger-haired Ronald Weasley.

Yes, it's been quite a while since my last update. I've actually had this chapter finished for a while now but hadn't had time to do the final review until now. Hopefully I'll be able to start updating more often, but as things currently stand it might still be a while until my next update. Thanks you all of you who have stayed with my story. I really, truly appreciate your support and eagerly welcome any constructive criticism or comments you may have.

- CadenceofSilence