Sense of Belonging

Chapter 24

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter (that magic belongs to J.K. Rowling).

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Her mind still occupied by her father's Christmas letter to Draco, Izzy followed the three boys to supper. She quickly forgot its words, however, as soon as she stepped inside. It all looked spectacular – she had never seen the Great Hall so beautifully decorated. There were another dozen frost-covered trees added around the walls in front of the windows and large strings of holly across the enchanted ceiling. Snow appeared to be falling but instead of being cold and wet, it was warm and soft and dry. The four long tables had disappeared and were replaced by four round ones, each decked with deep red and green cloths, pine cones, and candles.

The three Hufflepuffs and two Ravenclaws who had chosen (or had no choice but) to stay were already seated together at one of the tables. The next table was full of professors, including a sparkly-clothed Professor Lockhart and Headmaster Dumbledore. And so, Isabelle chose the third and empty table, knowing that some of the Gryffindors would also have to sit with them.

The troupe of remaining students came in only a short while later. Sarah, the sixth-year Slytherin, had chosen to take the last seat with the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws. As the Weasleys shuffled in, most went to the fourth and last open table, including one of the Ravenclaw girls who moved to sit with them. Their table was quickly filled, as the twins, Percy, Harry and Hermione took the last seats. Ginny had moved to sit with the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws while Jett, not wanting to be in the scramble for seats, opted to sit next to Izzy. The last remaining seat was with Jett and the Slytherins, leaving Ronald to decide what to do. After a couple moments of hesitation, one of the twins conjured a chair and squeezed him into their table rather than condemn him to their rival House.

The feast went on with a joyful air. The Headmaster led carols, stopping after only a few songs (probably due to the groundskeepers drunken off-tune singing). The Gryffindors were laughing loud and often at their table and Jett kept trying to see what was going on. The mixed-House table on the other side of the room seemed to be enjoying themselves, even Ginny had a small smile on her face. And Draco was, per usual, leading the conversation with the second-year Slytherins, now commenting loudly on Potter's ugly sweater.

"I mean, maybe he just doesn't have anything else nice to wear." Draco made a snide remark, with Crabbe and Goyle laughing.

"At least someone cares enough about Harry to make him a sweater," Jett retorted with a glare, now regretting choosing to sit with them.

"And what about you, Moreau? Where's your loving family?" Draco shot back.

"That's enough, Draco. Go back to talking about Quidditch or something, it's Christmas," Izzy finally chimed in, having sat uncomfortably between the two as the situation had escalated. She gave her brother a serious look as he attempted to respond and he turned back to his two friends.

"Your brother's always a real charmer," Jett grumbled as the food appeared. She glanced once again at the Gryffindors, who were just beginning to dig in to the feast.

"Yes, well, he's encouraged by our father." That was the only excuse Iz could think of to explain Draco's behavior but knew it did not count for much.

They fell into silence as everyone enjoyed their food. The younger Malfoy sibling was successful in sparking a small conversation about Christmas presents before moving on to what she really wanted to ask.

"How is the potion going? Are you close to being done?" Izzy watched her friend's reaction closely, waiting to see.

"Uh, yeah, I think so? Hermione is kind of in charge of it and, you know me, potions are not my forte." Jett shrugged before stuffing her mouth full of Christmas pudding, as if to avoid talking.

"Well, it's just Hermione said it would take about a month to brew. And it has been a month. But most of the students aren't here, unless you were going to use it on Sarah?" Iz leaned closer, giving her friend a curious look.

"Who? Oh, no, I don't think so. I'm not sure."

"…What aren't you telling me, Jett? You and Hermione."

"Nothing! Honest, I stopped paying attention to the plan weeks ago. I'm just waiting for Mione's say-so." The Gryffindor answered as honestly as she could, motioning to the other table. At the same time, Jett gave the bushy-haired Gryffindor a certain look.

"Maybe I should go and ask Hermione then?" Iz stood, turning towards the other tables.

"Ask me what, Izzy?" The dark-haired Gryffindor had now appeared, smiling.

"About the potion you've been brewing. It's been a month, I know you said that's how long it would take. So who are you planning to use it on?"

"We can't tell you, Izzy. What if you accidentally tell them?" Hermione replied, crossing her arms.

"So it's someone I talk to? Who is it? Who do you think is the heir?" Isabelle leaned closer, still getting the feeling that both girls were lying to her.

"We don't know! That's what we want to find out. But that's why we need to ask one of the older Slytherins, they might know." Jett stood as well, glancing at Hermione.

"Please, Izzy, just drop it. You can trust us – "

"But what if you accidentally poison someone? Then what happens?" Iz glanced towards the table full of professors, an idea coming to mind.

"I brewed it myself, I don't think it is dangerous. It's just a truth potion, it's harmless!"

"Then why did you need a Dark Magic potions book? Because I asked Professor Snape about Most Potente Potions and he said I should have no interest in such brews." Both Gryffindors glanced at each other, unsure what to say, which confirmed for Iz that what her friends were doing was dangerous. Making an impulsive decision, she pushed past them both and headed straight for the professors' table. The adults stopped their conversation – some retelling of a Christmas gone wrong – and turned to the second-year Slytherin.

"Can we help you with something, Ms. Malfoy?" The Headmaster's eyes met hers, his usual sparkle there with a curious gaze. Izzy took a deep breath, ready to tell on her friends –

"I'm sorry to interrupt your stories, sir. Madam Pince? I was hoping that I could, after tonight's celebration, go to the library to work with a few books for my Charms project?" Isabelle turned to the librarian with a simple smile, clasping her hands behind her back.

"Dear, it's Christmas. I commend your studiousness but I will be meeting with a friend in Hogsmeade after the feast. But the library will be open bright and early tomorrow morning, don't fret."

"Thank you, Madam Pince. See you tomorrow morning – and Merry Christmas." Isabelle nodded before hurrying away, back to the Slytherin table where Hermione and Jett waited for her.

"What did you just do?!" Jett asked in an angry tone, glancing worriedly at the professors as if they would be called over any second.

"I was /going/ to tell them what you were up to, because I think it's dangerous whatever you both are actually planning." Isabelle started with a slight air, but then sighed. "But I didn't, because I trust you. I asked Madam Pince instead about the library tonight. Just…be careful with whatever it is, okay?"

"Don't scare us like that!" The short Gryffindor exclaimed, punching Iz lightly in the arm.

"Thank you, Izzy!" Hermione gave her friend a hug before glancing at Jett.

"I did hear that Madam Pomfrey was running low on those potions you were working on a few weeks ago, Izzy… Were you going to work on that tonight?"

"The potions? I wanted to just go back to the common room and start on your gift, Mione," Iz replied with an easy smile.

"Oh, I'm glad you like it! But I really think you should surprise Madam Pomfrey with some of those potions…" Hermione encouraged, glancing again at Jett with a slight hint of panic.

Izzy gave them both an odd look, unsure why they were pushing so hard for the potions.

"Why can't I simply sit in the common room and read? It's Christmas still. I can work on the potions another day, we have most of the holidays still?"

"The common room? Do you want your brother to catch you?" Hermione suddenly countered, leaning closer to speak in low tones, in case Draco was listening.

"No…"

"You're right, it's Christmas, no need to make the potions. Plus, the novel is /all/ about Christmas. So I think you should read it tonight, Izzy, in your dorm room, but you have to try and read it all in one sitting. That's how Muggles read it every year." Hermione lied, hoping all of the old English words might confuse her friend and cause Iz to remain downstairs rather than in the common room.

"Is that really the tradition? Okay." Iz shrugged, glancing over to Draco.

"I want to hear /all/ about it tomorrow, Izzy! Merry Christmas!" Hermione smirked in success before hurrying away, back to the Gryffindors. Jett took a look at her pudding but followed her bushy-haired friend anyways.

"What did Granger want?" Draco asked, standing next to his sister.

"She wanted to work on the Charms project tomorrow morning – don't you dare tell Father." Isabelle warned, pointing a finger at him.

"Hey, I told you I wouldn't tell. Unless he asks me directly… I won't lie to Father for you." Draco replied, crossing his arms, returning her challenge.

"Fine." Izzy responded, not wanting to start a row in the Great Hall and on Christmas. She had come up with a plan to convince her parents that her "friendship" with Hermione was just for personal gain, not anything to be concerned about. But that was something to figure out after Christmas…

"Are you heading back to the dorms already?" Goyle asked with his mouth full of muffins. He was directing his question at Draco, who was still standing. Iz's brother, on the other hand, was watching Hermione pull Harry and Ronald out of the Great Hall.

"Huh? No, not yet, we've still got Christmas tea." The blonde Malfoy sat back down, taking one of the muffins as well.

"You know, I think I'm going to head back. I'll take the tea with me." Izzy said quietly, picking up the mug that had appeared at her seat. "Merry Christmas." As she left, she found Potter and Weasley lurking in the entrance but walked right past them to head towards the dungeons.

She almost stayed in the common room, sure that the others would not return for another half hour at least. Instead, remembering the Gryffindor's warning, Isabelle changed into more comfortable robes, climbed into bed, and started to read Hermione's Christmas gift.

~:~

Nearly two hours later, Iz had finished A Christmas Carol and had eaten nearly half of her German chocolate. Hermione had been correct, she had enjoyed the novel and was glad she had read it all in one sitting (despite being confused by many of the words and abundant descriptions). Stretching, Izzy decided that she would head upstairs to see if she could find Draco. She felt a little guilty about accusing him earlier and wanted to make it up by playing their traditional round of Wizard's Chess. It was almost ten o'clock and she would be going to bed soon enough.

Making her way up the stairs, she stopped just around the corner. Who was her brother talking to? There sounded like a few people – not just Crabbe or Goyle. Realizing that she was already in her pajamas, Iz headed back down to her room to put a pair of her robes back on.

Cautiously returning to the common room, Isabelle came around the corner expecting to find more than just her brother sitting near the fire. Draco glanced up at her with a look of confusion, glancing towards the entrance to the common room and back.

"Where did you come from?"

"My room?"

"How did you change so quickly?"

"You didn't think I was going to come out here in my pajamas, did you?"

"What?"

"Who were you talking to anyways?"

"Crabbe and Goyle? And you?"

"But it sounded like…" Iz shrugged, now as befuddled as Draco looked. "Anyways, I was hoping you might like to continue our Christmas tradition?" Her brother now looked even more confused. "A game of Wizard's Chess?"

"Sure." They both moved over to the table in the corner where one of the fifth year's had left their ornate set. (Isabelle had only beat the fifth year once, but had learned a few new tricks.)

"Where are Crabbe and Goyle?" Izzy asked after a few minutes of silent concentration.

"They left to get some medicine for Goyle's stomachache, I think. But both of them were acting very strangely. You too." Draco met his sister's eyes, trying to read her expression. "Look, if it was what I said earlier…"

"No, it's okay. I wouldn't want you to lie to Father for me. Check." Iz glanced back up with a small smile.

"Not yet, Izzy." Draco said in response to his sister's attempt to trap the king. He then sat back, folding his arms again. "…I would lie to him if I thought you were right. But the more you hang out with Granger and Moreau…" He didn't finish, pretending to think about his next move.

"What?"

"…you're beginning to sound like the Weasleys. Like Muggles mean something. And your whole insistence about saying Muggleborns instead of Mudbloods – !"

"Because that's not the right thing to say! It's a mean title, unfair, and an ugly word to describe people!"

"It's what they're called because they have bad blood, their blood is /dirty/ because they aren't even real witches or wizards. It only makes sense that they shouldn't be allowed at Hogwarts, muddying our classes. I told you earlier, I agree with Father."

"How can you say that? Hermione is the best of our class and she has no wizarding blood!"

"I've told you, she cheats. Plus, you just said it – they don't have wizarding blood. Meaning they shouldn't be at a wizarding school for magic! They might not be anyways, if the Chamber monster kills one of them next."

"So you're /hoping/ one of your classmates will die? That's awful, Draco. And checkmate." Isabelle stood, wishing she had not started the conversation.

"I'm just telling you the truth, Izzy. I believe our parents. And I don't want the Mudbloods here, they don't deserve to be."

"Well, I don't agree with you or our parents – I think there might be a different truth. Merry Christmas, Draco. Good night." Without glancing at him again, feeling wholly disgusted and ashamed of her brother and uncomfortable with having those feelings for a close family member, Iz walked back to her dormitory to go to bed.

She had a bad feeling, like something awful had happened, but could not place what or where. She would figure it out tomorrow…

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AN: Sorry for the delay in updates. The holidays caught up to me. Hope you are enjoying the fic!