Sense of Belonging

Chapter 18

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

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Isabelle woke to bright sunshine the next morning. She had surprisingly been able to fall asleep after hearing Snape accuse her best friend of letting her own father – whom she had never met – into Hogwarts. Realizing how ridiculous it sounded when putting all the facts together, Izzy could not believe that she had even considered the idea that Jett would do such a thing.

Going to sit up, the Slytherin was confused by the pressure she found on her chest. Blinking a couple of times and moving her hand to figure out what it was, it all finally came into focus – Iz's sleeping bag was surrounded by small packages of presents, the heaviest, it seemed, laid directly on top of her. She smirked at her brother's awful handwriting and shook her head, happy with the surprise.

"Good morning! Happy Birthday!" Jett and Hermione said in chorus, already awake and sitting on Jett's sleeping bag, both with cups of steaming pumpkin juice in their hands.

"Good morning. Where did these all come from?" Izzy asked, accepting a cup of pumpkin juice as she sat up, setting Draco's present aside with the others.

"Well, your brother brought that one over a few minutes ago, and I had Moony grab ours from the Gryffindor Common Room." Jett explained with a shrug.

"Go on, open them!" Hermione encouraged, waiting excitedly. Smiling wide, Isabelle gladly began ripping open the wrapped presents…

A pair of jeans from Jett, as promised in the summer. (Iz shook her head at her friend, knowing she would have to hide them or be seriously in trouble at home.)

A new journal, decorated with purple flowers on the cover, from Ginny.

A magical timer of sorts from Hermione, which looked like a set of potions vials filled with colorful, moving matter. After explaining that the matter would "gently" explode whenever charmed to, the Gryffindor added, "It reminds me of a lava lamp my parents had, I hope you like it!"

A list of recommended reading from Professor Lupin, with a few starred for supplements to the upcoming chapters in their DADA class.

Finally picking up Draco's heavy present and assuming that it must be from him and their parents (as it was the last one), Izzy glanced over to where the Slytherins were sitting and chatting. Waving slightly as her brother looked over, she smiled and carefully unwrapped the box-shaped present. Confused at first with the simple wood carvings, Iz recognized it as a sort of ornate jewelry box with protective runes on top. Opening it to see if there were any necklaces or rings inside, she nearly dropped it as a soft, melodic song began to play. Recognizing the tune, Iz smiled wider and closed the lid, making a mental note to be sure to thank Draco specially for later.

"Thank you so much! These presents were perfect – yes, even yours, Jett. I was thinking we might go and play a round of –" Isabelle began to explain her idea for how to spend her birthday when the announcement came for everyone to clean up their sleeping bags so they could begin serving breakfast. Promising to catch up with Hermione and Jett afterwards and thanking Ginny for her gift on the way, the younger Malfoy sibling returned to where the Slytherins had spent the night.

" – was the worst night of sleep I think I have ever had in my life. I was ready to kill Nott, the big oaf was snoring so loud –!" Pansy was complaining to Draco, obviously in a foul mood. Upon seeing his sister approaching, the blonde-haired boy turned with a huge smile on his face.

"Happy Birthday, Izzy! Did you get my present? Did you open it?" Draco walked away from his spiky-haired classmate to greet Iz.

"I did, I love it! Did you ask for the song specifically?" Isabelle asked quietly, that having been the best part. It had been a tune that Narcissa would hum – never sing, but hum – to them both when they were younger, reminding her of being family.

"Yes. And I thought it might be nicer than the game I was going to get you – maybe that'll be for Christmas." Draco shrugged but accepted his sister's hug of appreciation.

"I'll have to send mother a thank you card as well, I assume this was from them too?" Izzy commented as she finished packing away her gifts in the bag she had conjured. They moved against the wall as the Headmaster made the four long House tables reappear for the morning meal.

"What? No, that's just from me. Mother helped, of course, I had no idea what the song was called or whatever, but she got you something else. I told you it would be special, didn't I?" Draco smirked mysteriously before taking a seat as the food appeared before them.

"Right, but I thought – "

"Happy Birthday, Izzy!" Tracey, Millicent, and Daphne greeted their suitemate, sitting down next to her at the Slytherin table. They presented her with a card from the three of them, including a gift card-of-sorts to the newest bookstore that opened in Diagon Alley just before school had started.

"I had wanted to go!" Iz exclaimed, remembering that she had been grounded until school because of her lies about Jett. Unfortunately, she had not been allowed to visit it during their short family trip for school supplies. Hugging them each in turn before eating breakfast, the Third Year Slytherin happily listened to the conversations at the table as they shifted back to the events of the night before. Planning out her day in her head and glancing once more to see her Gryffindor friends, she turned back to whatever Draco had said.

"What?"

"Mail's here." Her brother was unusually happy about this morning tradition and wondered if this is what he had meant by their parents' present. Glancing up to the now-open window where the regular stream of owls was flying in, Izzy searched for a large package of some sort to signify her special gift. At least, that's what she expected based on how Draco was acting.

"I don't see anything – Whoa!" Isabelle had begun to comment when an owl suddenly dove and landed right in the middle of their table. Perfectly trained, the black-feathered bird made a slight noise in the dark-haired girls direction, indicating she should take the rolled-up message from its leg.

"Go on." Draco said, smirking, petting their own owl, Rusty, who had also arrived with a letter in his beak. Unsure what to expect from the message, the now-thirteen-year-old gladly took the envelope and opened it to read Narcissa's handwriting:

"Happy Birthday, Isabelle!

Turning the lucky number thirteen, we thought it best that you finally had your own owl. She comes from the best breeder in London, fully trained, and only awaiting a name.

Hope your day is special, sweetie. Enjoy your new friend!

Mother and Father."

Glancing back up to the owl in front of her, she stared right back into its orange eyes. This was her owl – her own owl! And she was beautiful – a shimmering black with hints of silver throughout, a sharp beak and great, big eyes. Remembering that her mother had said she was fully trained, Isabelle clicked twice at the bird with her tongue and tapped her shoulder, indicating for the owl to hop up. Making a slight noise, the dark beauty hopped once, twice before settling next to her new owner's bushy hair.

"See? I told you you'd be surprised. I'll take care of Rusty, and now you have…whatever you're going to name it." Draco assured his sister.

"The owl's beautiful, Izzy!" Tracey proclaimed, reaching over to stroke the bird's soft feathers.

"She's like a shadow in your hair, she blends right in!"

"Minus the silver, you mean, Daph," Pansy chimed in, obviously trying to hold back her jealousy.

"I like that, though… Shadow. I'll name her Shadow. What do you think?" Isabelle reached up to stroke her owl, asking the bird if she approved of the name knowing that she probably did not understand a word she was saying. Then again, she did not really know how the messenger owls worked. She would have to learn more about them later… The dark-feathered owl affectionately nipped her hand, patiently waiting until she was dismissed. Isabelle offered a small treat from her breakfast as thanks to Shadow, feeling overwhelmingly blessed and optimistic for the day ahead.

~:~

Isabelle's birthday was a great success despite the rough night of sleep. As classes had been cancelled for that Monday, she spent the day playing games with her friends, practicing dueling, attempting to brew a new potion, and sending her first letter home with her new owl – her own owl – Shadow.

The students were not told anything about the incident with Sirius Black on Halloween. In fact, none of the professors would even confirm that it had been the famous mass murderer. All they knew for a fact was that the Gryffindor Tower's guardian, the Fat Lady, had been replaced by an insane, overzealous knight named Sir Cadogan. Many theories had materialized, mostly rumors from the students themselves of how Sirius Black had entered the castle and what, or who, he might be after. During Transfiguration with the Hufflepuffs, one of the Third Years named Hannah Abbott had been excitedly repeating her own theory of how the mass murderer could transform into a convincingly real flowering shrub. /How ridiculous/, Isabelle had thought to herself.

November carried on, as gray and drizzly as the month often tended to be. Most of the other students were excited about the first Quidditch match of the year happening that Saturday, despite the increasingly wet weather. Iz remained focused on her studies, never much caring for the sport though she expected she would have to go to the game to support her House, and her brother. That is, if her brother was actually going to play. Draco continued to wear his sling and loudly complained of how it ached, though most of the professors had found creative ways for the Slytherin to keep up with classwork (to the boy's chagrin).

Now in their afternoon Defense Against the Dark Arts class with the Gryffindors, the Third Years worked diligently on the partner task assigned them by Professor Lupin. Isabelle had chosen to work with Jett, Hermione having appeared out of nowhere after they had picked partners. Glancing back up front where the sandy-haired and tired-looking professor sat grading papers, the Slytherin frowned.

"Moony looks extra tired today. Do you think the professors have to do extra rounds at night, because of the…thing that happened?" Izzy whispered to her friend as she finished another portion of the simple assignment.

"I don't think he looks that tired." Jett countered, looking up front quickly before shaking her head. "Plus, he won't even talk to me about it at all. I think he doesn't want to slip up and accidentally give me more information."

"We should ask him together. Are we still meeting him tomorrow after class, the usual three o'clock?" Izzy asked, pulling the magical object they were studying towards her for a closer look.

"I thought we cancelled that. I can't go, we have the game on Saturday and we're doing a kind of team-bonding." The Gryffindor quickly lied, wondering if her godfather had simply not realized the date or time of the month. Though she trusted Isabelle even with her biggest secret about her father, she did not need her best friend guessing Moony's own secret. "What did you write for the second-to-last question?" Jett tried to read Iz's handwriting.

"Oh, I didn't know. I'll go check with him, just in case – and do your own work." Izzy stuck her tongue out at the blonde-haired girl before approaching the front of the room.

"Finished already, Isabelle?" Lupin looked up from what he was doing, not necessarily surprised but unsure what else she might work on before the next class.

"Almost, sir. I wanted to ask… Jett said that we had cancelled our usual meeting tomorrow, but I couldn't remember and I just wanted to be sure…" Izzy asked, somewhat hopeful they could still meet even without Jett. Immediately feeling guilty and surprised at her thoughts, she waited for the man's answer.

"I think it may be for the best. We can meet next week Friday then, of course."

"Right." The Slytherin paused, wanting to ask something more but holding back. Honestly, she was really disappointed that they would not be meeting. Those weekly meetings had become part of her regular routine and she had begun to rely on Moony for advice on things even outside of classwork. Instead of voicing that or continuing with her earlier train of thought, Iz added, "Have you and the other professors been doing more night patrols since the, um, incident last weekend?"

"We have increased security, yes, but nothing too overwhelming. The Dementors have been keeping extra watch over the entrances. You shouldn't worry about anything happening again, I would think – " Moony began to say, guessing that Iz's fears stemmed from rumors about Sirius Black or worry about Jett.

"Oh, no, I'm sure we're fairly safe here. Hogwarts has to be one of the safest places at the moment. I only asked because you were looking tired again, like you did a few weeks ago…"

"Ah. No, no, I'm fine, but thank you for your concern. Another cold I would think, I'm not used to being back in school with so many different people, I suppose." Lupin shrugged and lowered his eyes back to the parchment in front of him, hoping to move away from the subject. If the Slytherin caught on to the pattern…

"I can imagine. Well, I hope Professor Snape still had some of that potion left, it seemed to help. What was its name again? Maybe I could help him brew some more." Isabelle suggested, trying to come up with some excuse.

"I do have some, yes, but that is a nice offer. I'll try and find the recipe and let you know." Moony smiled slightly before looking past the Slytherin. "Looks like your partner may still need your help."

"She just wants to copy my answers – I mean, I'll go help her. Thank you, professor," Izzy gave a quick smile before hurrying back to her seat. Admitting to Jett that she may or may not have just told her godfather that the Gryffindor was copying her answers, the two girls got back to work until the class was over.

"Are you joining Mione and me up in the library today? We were going to get a head start on McGonagall's research project." Isabelle invited Jett as they walked out of the DADA classroom and into the corridor.

"As much as that sounds like /loads/ of fun, we have our last official Quidditch practice today and I really can't be late. We've got to beat you Slytherins, you know. Bye!" The short Gryffindor ran off towards the Tower, following Potter and Weasley as they disappeared into the crowd of students.

Turning to find her other Gryffindor friend, Isabelle saw Hermione walking towards her with a guilty look. "Are you bailing on me, too?"

"Sorry, Izzy, but I have a ton of Arithmancy homework that I have to get started on and all of my stuff is up in the Tower. We can get started on the Transfiguration project tomorrow, I promise. See you later!" The bushy-haired Gryffindor similarly dashed away and down the corridor, leaving Iz standing alone.

Heading up to the library anyways, the younger Malfoy sibling did not feel like starting the new project all on her own. All caught up in homework for that week, Isabelle tried to decide what she wanted to do. She could go back to the Slytherin Common Room and read some more of Shakespeare, or maybe play a few rounds of Wizard's Chess…but that did not feel productive enough. She wanted to know more about Jett's father!

Knowing she would not get the answer to what actually happened on Halloween, Iz had realized there might be information she could find in the library. (However, someone must have thought of this before here – probably the professors – and had removed many of the articles related to Sirius Black and books that mentioned the famed mass murderer.) The most she had found were in the history books on the Great Wizarding War with only a paragraph at best about him, most of which she already knew.

Watching the Head Boy and Head Girl walk out of the library holding hands as she arrived, Iz overheard their conversation.

" – should take an official picture during the Christmas holidays for the yearbook, instead of those awful ones they usually include – " Penelope Clearwater commented, obviously trying to convince the Weasley brother of its significance. The red-haired boy seemed unconvinced – but it had given the Third Year Slytherin an idea.

Dropping her bag at her usual table, she headed off down a familiar row in which she had found a certain French girl her First Year. Searching through the numbers, she finally arrived at 1977-78 (between 1969-70 and 1954-55, because why not). Sitting down as she had found Jett years earlier, Isabelle flipped open the yearbook looking for a certain Gryffindor.

As her blonde-haired friend had commented their first year, her father was not in the collection of pictures and memories much at all. In total, Izzy found the now-Azkaban-escapee only twice: the one she had caught Jett looking at that day and another where he posed at some school function with the Head Boy.

Finding the picture of the four Gryffindor boys hanging out on the Hogwarts grounds, she read the small description on the side. James Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew, Seventh-Year Gryffindors. The first boy looked exactly like his son – the infamous Harry Potter, glasses and all. He was smiling wide, obviously fooling around with the second boy who was half hanging from the tree they were standing by. This had to be Sirius Black. Dark hair, mischievous grin, kicking playfully at Potter. The boy standing awkwardly on the other side of the tree must have been Peter Pettigrew, Iz deduced, leaving the last boy with familiar sandy-colored hair sitting under the tree with a book to be Remus Lupin. He looked so much younger than his current self…

But she was looking for information, clues about Jett's father. Continuing to sift through the yearbook, she finally found the second and only picture. Sirius and James stood together, once again smiling and laughing with each other before side-hugging in a brotherly fashion. The description was once again quite plain, only naming the two students, their House and year, and the fact that James Potter was Head Boy. Though very little to go off of, it did confirm a little bit more information for Isabelle. In the picture, at least, Sirius Black and James Potter were close friends – best of friends, probably. So what Draco had told her near the beginning of term (when he had asked Lucius about the whole thing) was probably true – Sirius Black had betrayed his best friends in service and loyalty to the Dark Lord.

Going back to the picture of the four Gryffindor boys once again, Iz could not help but focus on her current DADA professor's image. She wondered how painful it must have been, to lose all three of his best friends on one night. James Potter, murdered. Peter Pettigrew, murdered. Sirius Black, convicted and sent to Azkaban. How lonely it had to have been…

Jumping at the sound of another student nearby, the Slytherin accidentally dropped the yearbook as she scrambled to get up, realizing how much time had passed by. Picking up the book once again to return it to its proper place, Isabelle stopped once more to stare at the picture it had opened to.

Seven Slytherins dressed in their Quidditch uniform and their Head of House, Professor Horace Slughorn, stood posing without smiles for their yearbook photo. The description told of their Quidditch Cup victory, thanks to their Sixth Year Seeker, Regulus Black.

All of the feelings Izzy had been trying to repress over the last few weeks came flooding back to her: was this her real father? What had really happened to him? Why did he disappear so suddenly? And why did he leave her with his cousin to be cared for instead of someone else?

Interrupted once more by the sound designating supper had begun in the Great Hall, Isabelle reluctantly closed the book and put it back on the shelf. She had only seen the younger Black brother's picture on their Family Tree at the Manor, but Regulus looked a lot more handsome than the drawing. He seemed so serious in the picture, so confident in himself, so proud…

If he were alive, what would he think of her?

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AN: Sorry for the long break, everyone! Life has been busy – but my writing itch has returned, and so has my inspiration for continuing this fic. Enjoy!