I got to sit alone for five minutes the at lunch the next day without either of my "new best friends," since I had no elective that particular morning. In that time I slowly picked at my food (my lack of appetite after the excitement the last few days not surprising) and I observed the Great Hall. It was emptier than usual on a Wednesday morning and I didn't appear to be the only one to have taken notice of this fact. A few seats down two young girls talked. One was a third year I recognized with dark brown hair and owlish eyes. The other girl had curly blonde hair that was about the same age.
"Where are the Ravenclaws?" the brunette said. "I can't find Mary anywhere."
"Ravenclaws? Look at the Hufflpeuff table. There's less than what, two dozen?" their friend replied. "Is there an illness going about?"
"An illness Pomfrey can't heal? Does that exist? And no, I already checked the hospital wing. There was no one there except Pomfrey and she was acting...strange."
"Yeah, some of the professors seemed odd too. Vera said she saw Umbridge singing this morning. Asked her to call her momma."
"What, why? And what was she singing about?"
"I don't know, something about us all being like her daughters. And Dumbledore, she was singing about Dumbledore like she was in love or something."
"But she hates Dumbledore."
"I know! And get this, apparently she has this deep manly voice when she sings!"
"Maybe it's some sort of magical disease making everyone act this way."
"I'm glad it's not affecting us."
"Look, it's Ebony!"
Raven resisted the urge to follow their gaze, continuing to take in the room as the two girls rushed up to the pale girl.
"What's it like to be so awesome?" the blonde gushed.
"Awesome," Tara replied.
"Awesome!" the girls gushed together before running off, leaving their half-eaten plates.
Tara sat down across from me, the Slytherin emblem already sewn onto her clothes.
"Where were you this morning? I didn't see you or Draco in Divinations class," Tara said, pouting.
"Neither of us take that elective," I informed her.
She gasped, raising her pale slender fingers to her mouth. I noted her nails were painted black and had specks of bright red mixed in that almost seemed reflective, perhaps glitter of some sort that matched the ribbon tied in her dark hair. Her almost translucent blue eyes were open wide which made her appear cartoonish in her shock.
"Why not? It's like the most awesome!" Tara exclaimed. "I learn so much and it's my best class."
Figures, I thought. The art of divination in most it's forms did not appeal to me, accurate or not. Knowing the future rarely (if ever) seemed to prevent true predictions from coming true and the rest was nonsensical grasping at what is perhaps best left undisturbed. For that reason I had taken Care for the Magical creatures. Given our professors' (and especially Headmaster's) tendency to bring or attract dangerous magical beings, it seemed a simple matter of safety to learn something about them. Ancient Runes had shown promising advances in recent years so I had also taken that. Knowing my parents expected a full course work, I had also taken arithmancy, a portion of which was related to divination but the rules of which were not dependent on some half-mad incense-obsessed female raving about death and "inner eyes."
I had considered taking Muggle Studies instead as the study seemed prudent to the modern wizard, but the thought of my father's reaction should he discover my coursework (and the blackmail my house would have against me to avoid such a fate) had made the option impossible. Despite this, I was aware of how fast the muggle world was advancing with their technology and how having a basic understanding was becoming not only helpful but vital to the modern witch.
"It was at the same time as Slytherin Ancient Runes and Arithmancy at the time," I said.
"Ew those classes? They're more boring than History of Magic."
"History of Magic isn't boring, it's the professor that makes the class tedious and uninformative," I said.
I thought of the study group I had begun second year that had dissolved sometime during the end of fourth so that we could learn History of Magic that didn't revolve around Goblin Wars especially given the O.W.L.s would certainly include less obscure questions on the overall history of magic. I had considered beginning it again this year but after all the incidents I had given up on the notion. Tara gave me a confused look before her eyes darted to the entrance. I didn't have to turn to know it was Draco.
"Draco!" Ebony – no Tara! - shouted.
Every head turned to look at her and him. Quickly he strode into the room and roughly grabbed my shoulder.
"We have to go," he said. Looking at Tara, "Prefect business."
Tara again pouted as I gathered my bag and followed Draco from the room. He led me out of Hogwarts, down the trail that led toward the Quidditch pitch. When we got there he opened up a door and we were ushered inside what I assumed to be the Slytherin locker room.
"What is it you needed to see me about?"
"Nothing, I just thought we could have a Tara-free lunch," he said, waving his arm at a nearby bench which had a picnic basket.
I eyed it suspiciously. For a moment I thought of Draco fixing sandwhiches and cutting the crusts off but picturing him that way was ridiculous. More likely he had demanded food from the kitchen House Elves.
"Don't look so leery. It's annoying," he said.
"I'm sorry I don't meet your approval," I said sarcastically as I sat down on a bench and he opened the basket and handed me a bowl of soup.
"Apology accepted," he said.
"What is this really about Draco?"
"Do you remember Terry Boot?"
"Of course," I replied. Terry was a Ravenclaw whose life purpose seemed to be to answer every question posed by our professors personally.
"Good. Then have you noticed that there were less Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs about today?" he asked.
"What do you mean missing?"
"They are gone. I asked about a friend of mine, or rather an informant of mine. Hufflepuff, keeps his ear to the ground -"
"What are you talking about? You run some sort of spy organization?" I asked, incredulous.
He gave me a long look before replying, "It is good to know things, to make contacts now while we're at school."
"That's..." I wanted to say 'insane' but it made sense.
"Are you done interrupting now?" he asked. I narrowed my eyes at him and he took that as a yes and continued, "I asked about him. No one knew who I was talking about."
"That seems like something for you and a professional at Saint Mungo's to sort out," I said.
Malfoy glared at me. "I am not losing my faculties. He is a real person. I contacted his parents and they indicated that, to their knowledge, he was still at Hogwarts. So I broke into the Restricted Section where they keep a copy of the Hogwarts registry of all current and former students. His name wasn't in there."
"Someone crossed it out?"
"There's no space. Nothing. In our year, there is only one Hufflepuff listed and four Ravenclaws. And no one even remembers the names of the students not listed. I don't know why but you are the only person who I have asked about that Ravenclaw boy who remembers him at all."
I sat the soup down, my appetite gone. "Have you gone to the professors about this?"
"I spoke to Professor Snape," he said. "He noticed that his attendance was off but his notion didn't match his class records. He went to look at the registry himself and confirmed it was suspicious that there are so few listed but he left in a hurry after that to speak with Dumbledore."
"Well that is good at least," I said.
Draco laughed hollowly. "No, it isn't. Severus...Snape is one of the best wizards at Occlumency and knows more about Potions or Dark Arts than any other witch or wizard my parents or I have ever met. If he didn't see through this, if he doesn't know what's going on..."
"Nor did Dumbledore, or McGonagall," I said, realizing the enormity of what was happening.
"Whatever is going on, it is bigger than one simplistic girl getting a new look and a new House. We have to figure out what is happening or it could get worse."
"That sounds very Potter-like of you," I said, unable to keep one corner of my mouth from twisting up.
Draco scoffed. "I don't want to join the Cult of Tara or Ebony as she calls herself now. And if this affects our professors, it makes Hogwarts vulnerable, which makes us vulnerable. It's practical."
"True. But now that Professor Snape is aware of what's happening, perhaps it can be stopped. We may not need to do anything."
"Do you really believe that? Snape is further gone than we are and Dumbledore is worse than that. Even I sometimes I forget what Tara was like before she became this new person. Sometimes I forget that she isn't Ebony. Have you not thought of her like that?"
"No. I did think of her name as Ebony once today for the first time but..." I said. "Very well, it won't hurt to look into this ourselves."
"While we still can," Draco agreed. "Meet me here tonight before our Prefect duties. I suggest we skip class ourselves."
I nodded and stood. I knew exactly where to look first: Sophie.
To my surprise I found Sophie in the library though she was not alone. Beside her stood the Hufflepuff girl, Megan Jones and if what Draco said had been accurate, she was the only one left in her year. The two had been whispering loudly when I cleared my throat and Sophie's eyes darted to mine. Megan jumped before turning around quickly. I focused my attention on her.
"Hello Megan, it is Megan right? It's weird how I can't seem to recall a single other Hufflepuff in our year. Well, must be because we Slytherins are so conniving," I said, looking above Megan's shoulder to catch Sophie's eyes. Then I looked back to the Hufflepuff, "Or maybe Dumbledore just let them all transfer like Tara. Or should I say Ebony. You might want to try that. Must be lonely being the only one in your House."
"Megan, you should go," Sophie said, not looking at her.
A look of relief flooded Jones's face as she turned to Sophie. "Thanks. Just tell me if you hear anything. I don't –"
"Just go," Sophie said, irritated.
When the Hufflepuff had scampered off, I said, "What did you do?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Sophie said, her nose wrinkling up like she was disgusted. I wondered how I was ever able to be friends with her.
"You expect me to believe that Tara's transformation has nothing to do with your scheming?"
"Exactly," she said. "It's not like you can prove otherwise, prefect."
"You realize people are going missing?" I asked.
"That has nothing to do with me."
"Tell me what you were up to that involved Tara," I said.
"Like I said –"
I raised my wand, cursing her silent and causing her to take a breath in but be unable to release it. "You know exactly what I'm talking about and unless you want me to make your life an unlivable hell, you will tell me what you did."
I had no time to be subtle and I was losing my patience. I had every intention on carrying through with my promise if Sophie didn't tell me of her plot, turning her over to the professors if I had to though I knew her well enough to make her confess long before they did. The school was changing, and I had thought of Tara as Ebony that morning.
I released the spell and Sophie took a deep, gasping breath before glaring at me. "What do you want from me Raven?"
"Fine. I gave Tara a few potions to make her more attractive to Draco. That's it. I had nothing to do with this and she stopped coming to me after Halloween," Sophie said.
"Is that all? An attraction potion? And she just happened to resemble me to Draco?"
Sophie grinned but tried to bite it down, sensing I was not amused. "Oh come on," she said finally, grinning. "Don't tell me that wasn't epic."
I stopped myself from telling her that I wasn't amused by anything that had led to Draco Malfoy becoming an irritating presence in my life. He had been the only person whose company I preferred less than Tara's at the beginning of the semester.
"How did she change her appearance?" I asked instead.
"I don't know! A freaking miracle? I just know I had nothing to do with it," Sophie said. "You think I'd want her looking like that? I haven't been able to get Blaise to flirt with me since her little makeover. I thought that was you acting all sorry for her."
I lowered my wand, slowly. While I certain that Tara had not come to her current fortune on her own, I doubted that Sophie had the ability for such a powerful charm either and while many suffered negative consequences of Tara's new fame, everything seemed to be going in favor of the new-Slytherin. I couldn't picture the Slytherin before me ever actually aiming to help Tara out on purpose.
"If I find out you lied, I will report you and not just to Dumbledore," I said.
Sophie glared but took this as her que to leave, brushing past me as she headed out of the library. When I turned around, I found a very large fist suddenly grabbing the front of my robes, as the other yanked my wand from my hand, throwing it. At the same time I was lifted several inches off the ground to be staring into a large and angry face.
"Gregory," I greeted.
"Where's Draco?" Goyle asked, his deep voice surprising me. It had been some time since I heard Malfoy's lackeys speak up so loudly.
"Why would you assume I know?"
"Pansy said you've been giving him trouble," Crabbe said, his soft voice oddly discomforting.
Goyle shoved me against the book shelf, causing a few books to tumbled down upon my head though they seemed to avoid the lackeys.
"Pansy is jealous and vain and should know that I have no hold over him, nor do I desire to," I said.
"Don't talk about her that way," Goyle said, throwing me to the ground.
Before he could attempt to move one of his large feet to cover my chest, thus keeping me pressed to the ground, I rolled away, snatching my wand as I did and rising to my feet. The two looked at it nervously but held their ground.
"We saw him with you," Crabbe said.
"He doesn't like you," Goyle added.
"And here I thought you were his lackeys, not his jealous girlfriends," I said.
"Don't call us –" Crabbe said, beginning to move forward but I shot a spell to hold him in place.
"Ten points from Slytherin," I said. "And I suggest you two go skulk some other place else while looking for your leader. I have work to do that requires literacy and thus require this room. Go."
I released Crabbe from the spell as the two glared at me. Crabbe growled, but turned, grabbing Goyle's sleeve and dragging him out of the library. Quickly I spelled the fallen books into place, casting a small spell to heal the bump on my head. I wasn't particularly adept at healing spells, preferring potions if I had need, but I wasn't sure how long I would have to help figure out the mystery that was "Ebony" before I began to forget she'd ever had another name.
As much as I felt compelled for action, I needed answers first. This meant studying, especially if Malfoy was going to spend his afternoon dealing with his malcontent followers and would thus be of little use. I started without school books, grabbing all copies for every course and year at Hogwarts. It was going to be a long morning.
Author's Note: So, it's been a long time. This story isn't dead, it just went into hibernation. Thanks to everyone who has read and is reading :)