Prisoner of Azkaban 20 – Out of Place
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Unfortunately, Peter Pettigrew remained frustratingly hidden, and Rhiannon felt itchy with discontent as the March full moon approached. It was strange, knowing that out here now were not one but two wanted men, both presumably dangerous – and one whose very state of life was known only by Remus Lupin and Rhiannon herself.

Once again, Remus stayed shut in his office while Rhiannon, Dudley, Ginny and a different one of Rhiannon’s friends each night roamed the highlands, but Rhiannon was on edge now looking for anything strange around the castle, anything out of place. And for the first few nights there was nothing any stranger than usual in the warded highlands around the largest magical hotspot in the British Isles, but on the last night of the full moon something changed.

The same dog-scent Rhi and Dudley had been finding all year was back again, scattered throughout the highlands in patches along with the remains of kills – that was back but this time, its owner had come with it. A huge, wire-coated black dog with a rangy build – no, not rangy, that was what it would be if it was healthy. This dog was deathly thin, and now that it was closer Rhiannon could smell the rank sickness in its scent – all kinds of awful mixed up together, not unlike Fluffy had smelled in first year.

With a curious tilt of her head towards Dudley, Rhiannon set off at a trot towards the huge dog, her brother a few steps behind. The thick ruff of fur over her hackles prickled and a low growl rose in her throat, startling her as she realised she wasn’t just curious about the dog – she was defensive, protective. It was on her territory and she wanted it gone, she decided, and let another snarl loose from her curling lips as she sprang forward to chase it from her home.

Or at least, she tried to. Before she got ten steps away Hagrid had grabbed her firmly by the scruff and was hauling her backwards, Dudley grasped firmly in his other hand. “Rhi, Dudley, that thing’s as big as you are! Yeh can’t just go up t’ wild animals, you know that perfectly bloody well because I drilled it into yeh head before I ever let ye’s out in the damn forest!” Hagrid growled, as he dragged the two protesting werewolves away from the feral-looking dog. “There’s feral dogs around most spots of civilisation, yeh can’t do anythin’ to help ‘em and there’s no point in chasin’ it, leave it be,”

Rhiannon growled and turned her head to try and snap at Hagrid’s wrist, but the way he held her scruff left her defenseless and her teeth clacked together ineffectively. Hagrid shook her firmly, not hard, just enough to snap her out of her territorial funk. “And yeh know the rules about biting, too. I’ve got a wand now, I can conjure you a muzzle if ye try it again. Clear?” he told her sternly.

Rhiannon and Dudley both whined and drooped, thoroughly chastened, as Hagrid let go of them both when he decided they were far enough away from the dog that had set them off in the first place. “Now, can I trust ye both to stick with me, or are we gonna go back and spend the rest o’ the night shut in me hut?” he asked them. The pair of werewolves shook their heads hurriedly, affecting plaintive expressions and whining, acting for all the world like a pair of scolded puppies.

“Ah, I can never say no to you two, yeh yellow-eyed goons,” Hagrid told them affectionately, and he beckoned for them to follow as he set off, lanterned staff in hand, across the highlands and off in the direction of the forest – far away from the dog and anything else they might feel the need to chase from their territory, as the denizens of the forest knew perfectly well where the borders lay.

After the full moon had subsided, the two werewolves and their friends returned to regular classes with renewed focus. Third year was the final ‘easy’ year, so to speak, next year would be considered a dry run for the O.W.Ls taken in fifth year. Hermione, Emilia, Kellah and the other more studious members of their friend group struggled the most with the added pressure while the others struggled to support them and keep them from burning out as best they could.

Hermione was of most concern, to all of them. The others didn’t know she was travelling back in time to take extra classes but even they could see something was wrong. To Rhiannon, who did know, the signs were even clearer. Hermione was sleepy all the time, confused about where she was and what time she was in, and more often that not Rhiannon had to tuck her in to sleep on a couch in the Gryffindor common room when she fell asleep during their study sessions.

One evening after classes had finished, Rhiannon went to retrieve some textbooks from the library for her class work and found Hermione curled up on a couch, so deeply asleep that she was snoring softly. Rhiannon shook her awake as gently as she could, wary of Hermione’s startle response as she did so. “Wha? What’s- wha’s going on?” Hermione mumbled sleepily. She pushed herself upright and blinked around, clearly unable to see much without her glasses. Wordlessly, Rhiannon retrieved them from where they’d fallen on the floor and pressed them into her hands.

“It’s-s-s-sss about f-f-f-f-f-four-thirty, I just came from Herbology.” Rhiannon replied cautiously. “Are you – y’ alright?”

Hermione’s bleary expression cleared, and she shook her head as if to clear it before turning wide, ever-so-slightly cloudy eyes on Rhiannon. “If you had Herbology, then – you have that last on Mondays... no no no, I missed both classes after lunch – that’s Herbology and Charms!” she exclaimed, dismayed. Rhiannon reared back as Hermione shot upright, narrowly missing a collision, and tilted her head in confusion as Hermione began to hurriedly pack books and stationery back into her backpack, which had been lying on the floor in front of the couch.

“What’re you d-d-d-doing?” Rhiannon asked, more than a little concerned. Hermione shook her head, barely looking up as she fastened the bag shut.

“I- I’ve got to go find a, a wardrobe or something, we were supposed to be working on the practical for Cheering Charms and Professor Flitwick’s been hinting for weeks that they’ll be on the exams – I can’t miss it.” Hermione explained desperately. Rhiannon took her hands as she went to stand up, holding her in place with just a touch of the inhuman strength she kept concealed.

“You al-ala-a-already missed it,” Rhiannon replied, a touch of frustration creeping into her voice as her worry grew. “You can’t just, j-j-j-j-j-jump in a cupboard and turn t-t-t-t-t-t-i-i-ime all the way back to catch the class, you’re exhausted – you’ve got t’ sleep, not – not rush off t’ class and just k-k-k-k-k-keep going, you’re g-g-g-oing to burn out – even if for you that doesn’ look like turning into a wolf in class, it’s g-g-g-g-g-got to be making your eyes worse – I can see where they’re t-turning cloudy – Madam Pomfrey said it would be t-t-t-two or thre-e-e years or so b-b-b-b-b-before it got this bad!” she protested.

Hermione shook her head and hauled her backpack up onto her shoulder. “I’m going to go blind, does it matter how fast? We’re two thirds of the way through the term, I can’t quit now just because of that,” she replied sharply. Realising she’d been a little too harsh, she sighed and met Rhiannon’s gaze for a brief moment. “Sorry – I, didn’t mean to snap, I know you’re just worried but... I am going to pass my classes. Maybe – maybe next year I can think about dropping some.”

And that was the end of the matter, really – Rhiannon couldn’t very well tell Hermione to pay more attention to her health with how she’d run herself ragged for the first third of the year, all she could do was stand there and stare at the ground. Hermione stood and pushed past Rhiannon, hurrying out of the library and leaving Rhiannon herself to perch awkwardly on the edge of the couch worrying vainly about how to help. Anyone, sighted or not, could see that Hermione was on the brink of burning out, but what could one teenage werewolf do to help? All she could do was fret, and check on Hermione, and hover about constantly as the month wore on.

On the last Sunday of the month, just before the Easter holidays, Rhiannon and the rest of the Gryffindor team found themselves slated to play against a mixed-house team that Rhiannon had dreaded facing. With the end of the year drawing near, the team rivalries grew fiercer and the usual pranks they played on eachother grew less friendly, more vicious. House points were docked left right and centre for sabotage and prank-induced injuries, and both the Gryffindor team and the mixed-house Runespoors – a wry joke of a name, given that most of its members were formerly of Slytherin house – went into the game on Sunday the 28th with some substitute players in their usual lineup. Rhiannon hovered and swooped above the game on her Firebolt, but even cocooned in her usual comfortable slipstream high in the air, she couldn’t quite ignore the persistent niggling discomfort that came from playing against Draco Malfoy.

Draco didn’t taunt her, barely even sneered, but he flew with such a driven fury that he radiated anger, so hot and fierce it seemed to sizzle in the drizzly spring air. Rhiannon could do little but avoid him, instinctively certain that if they clashed, he would lose his temper. So close to the end of the year, there was a lot riding on every single match and Rhiannon knew that Draco would be desperate not to lose face. She’d overheard him and his father over a year ago in that Dark magic shop she’d accidentally Floo’d into, she’d known since then and guessed since even before that things were more complicated for the apparently arrogant blond than they appeared – but that didn’t make him any more safe or comfortable for her to be around.

As he swooped by once again, Rhiannon noticed that Draco was drifting off to the side, edging towards something just out of her view like he didn’t want to draw her attention. Rhiannon squinted over at him, trying to find what she suspected was his target – the Snitch - but with just a week left to the full moon her colour vision was limited and she couldn’t quite pick out the grey-yellow shape of the Snitch against the grey-green sky, certainly not through the hazy spring drizzle that had harried them throughout the game. He could be feinting, trying to draw her attention – but that was something she’d expect Faye or Chavi to pull, Draco had never been much for deceptive plays. No, it was very likely Draco had in fact seen the Snitch, and if he caught it now he could cut his losses and scrape a win for the Runespoors before Gryffindor got any more of a lead.

Rhiannon shook her head and nudged the Firebolt into a steep climb, accelerating until she drew level with Draco. Seeing her, he abandoned his pretense of stealth and hunched forward on his broom, urging it faster toward where Rhiannon could now just see the Snitch, fluttering just beside one of the flags atop the towers of the stands.

“Get lost, Potter, I saw it first!” Draco snapped, pushing his Nimbus to its limits as he tried vainly to push ahead of Rhiannon. The Nimbus was the nearest match to the Firebolt she’d ever played against, but still she stayed firmly shoulder to shoulder with him and gradually drew ahead.

“Seeing it is-s-is—s-si-isn’t catching it!” Rhiannon spat back irritably and she kicked her broom, urging it to go faster – but she couldn’t get any extra speed out of it in a straight climb like this, she had no additional momentum. Well... the broom didn’t, Rhiannon realised with a wicked grin, and she reached under herself to unclip the cable that attached her safety harness to the broom in preparation. There was one more way she could get the momentum she needed to catch the Snitch, short of getting into an all-out scuffle for it with Draco.

Rhiannon hopped up onto her broom, bracing herself with her hands as she got into position. With a mischievous grin directed at Draco, she sprang off her broom and leapt out ahead of both brooms, swiping the Snitch from the air before tumbling into freefall as Draco howled furiously down at her. She’d prepared for the fall, though, and with her free hand she blew a short two-fingered whistle that called the Firebolt back to her side. She snatched the broom in her hand, and it was intelligent enough to continue its descent at a slowly decelerating pace so her shoulder wasn’t pulled from its socket. Once it had drawn to a halt a good two hundred feet above the ground, Rhiannon shifted the Snitch from her left hand to her teeth, ignoring the unpleasant sensation of wings against her lips and cheeks, and hauled herself up onto her broom. Then, comfortably astride the broom once more, she retrieved the Snitch and held it aloft triumphantly, bearing a wide grin as she looked around the cheering stadium.

“And Potter catches the Snitch, pulling off what is becoming her signature move – a stunning unsupported leap to outstrip her opponent! That brings us to an end with Gryffindor the victors, 230 to 140!” the commentator, a loc-haired friend of Fred and George’s, announced delightedly. Rhiannon sank slowly to the ground, still grinning as she returned the Snitch to Madam Hooch so that it could be disenchanted and reused, and joined the cheering throng of her teammates.

Eventually, Rhiannon managed to slink away back into the team rooms to change out of her Quidditch robes, still flushed with pride at the victory. As she was settling her cloak back around her shoulders and preparing to leave, one of her other teammates entered the changing room and Rhiannon shrunk in on herself immediately. None of the girls on the team had ever made a fuss about her using the changing rooms with them, but that didn’t stop her from expecting it as with her werewolf hearing she caught every whispered jibe from the students that passed her in the school corridors.

“Euch, Rhi, I don’t know what you put on your hair but it does not smell good in the rain!” Bliss protested, setting her bag down on one of the benches and shaking out her own crimson-tipped wavy hair.

Rhiannon blinked, utterly bewildered – she’d half-expected a comment about her not supposed to be in there, not that Bliss had ever been anything but supportive but – her hair? She didn’t put anything in it. Was she supposed to? Was that something girls normally did? She had no idea. Cautiously she patted at her hair, grimacing as she found it a frizzy mess of flyaways, and sniffed her hands. Then she struggled to restrain a giggle as she realised what the smell was. Wet dog.

“Oh, uh – probably a P-p-p-p-potions accident or something, s-sorry,” Rhiannon lied with an awkward shrug. She immediately resolved to ask Lavender about spells to keep rain off her hair, the Potions accident line wouldn’t work that many times given that she was actually good at the subject. “I’ll – I’ll g-g-g-go fix that. Uh, good game,” she added, and hurried off out the door with her broom in hand and gear bag swung over her shoulder.

Some of Rhiannon’s friends were waiting for her just outside of the stands, and Ron wrinkled their nose as she approached. “Rhi, you smell like wet dog,” they grumbled, with a glance around to make sure everyone there knew about her lycanthropy – they did, not that it would have helped much after the fact. Rhiannon pulled up the hood of her cloak, shrinking into it, while her friends giggled.

“No, don’t put your hood up, your hair will be that shape all day and the hood will smell like wet dog too,” Parvati scolded, removing the hood with a flick of her wrist so that Rhiannon’s untidy curls bounced free. “Lav, what’s that spell you use on your hair? I can never remember it.”

Capillaesidium,” Lavender supplied cheerfully. “Here, Rhi, where’s that little spellbook your foster-dad wrote you? I can note it down in there if you like.” she offered.

Rhiannon shook her head and shifted the bag on her shoulder, indicating it wasn’t her usual backpack and thus the spellbook wasn’t in it. “Think ‘s in the common room,” she replied with a shrug.

“Ah, no worries, I’ll do it when we get back. But before that – let’s get your hair sorted so you don’t bring the wet dog smell back with you, I really should’ve made the connection before now. Operiare,” Lavender responded, conjuring a gleaming umbrella of silver-violet light that extended from the tip of her wand to cover their little group. “Parvati, my wand’s busy, can you fix her hair?”

Parvati grinned and pushed her sleeves back. “That I can. Uh, what’s the one for drying... Exprimendum, that’s right,” she muttered, then repeated the incantation as she touched her wand to Rhiannon’s frizzy hair. Immediately, Rhiannon’s scalp prickled with the oddest sensation, as if each individual curl group was being twisted and squeezed to wring out the water. Reviewing the incantation Parvati had used in her head, Rhiannon realised that was exactly what was happening. Once the sensation calmed, Parvati then repeated the incantation Lavender had suggested, apparently to protect Rhi’s hair from the water.

Rhiannon patted it and recoiled, feeling the strangest gel-like bubble sensation blanketing her hair. Lavender snorted, while Rhiannon rubbed her palms on her jersey. “It’s a protective spell – that means protection from your hands too,” she explained with a giggle. Rhiannon grumbled and stuffed her hands in her pockets with a scowl, while Hermione pulled her into a sideways hug to try and alleviate her bad temper.

“If we’ve solved the wet dog problem, maybe we could head over and see Hagrid?” Ron suggested with a wry grin. “Remember in Creatures, he said he had a couple new unicorns and a mare close to foal they rescued? We could go, I dunno, help or something. I like the unicorns.”

Rhiannon grinned, privately quite sure she knew why Ron liked unicorns, given the popular – albeit untrue – legend about who they’d accept in their space. “S-sounds good,” she agreed shortly.

Parvati wrinkled her nose. “Creatures is more Padma’s thing, but – tell Hagrid I said hi,” she replied cheerfully, and most of Rhiannon’s other friends drifted off along with her until it was just Rhiannon, Ron, Hermione, Luna, Lavender and Neville together in a little group, wandering across the fields at a lazy pace towards the edge of the Forbidden Forest.

Something out of place caught Rhiannon’s attention, grating on her nerves amongst the quiet business of the drizzly, overcast spring afternoon with its sounds of small mammals, insects and quiet human chatter, the mixed smells of cut grass and people. It was familiar, she’d already come across it sometime earlier that day, but she couldn’t quite place it without a visual marker and halted, tilting her head back and forth as she tried to identify the mixture of sound and smell that was the out-of-place presence.

All at once, it revealed itself, as Draco Malfoy stormed up to their group from behind, moving at a brisk, furious pace – no wonder she’d heard him before she saw him. “Potter! You cheat! I want a damn word!” he bellowed, as Rhiannon whirled to face him and her friends fanned out behind her as a solid line of protection. But she didn’t need them, not against a teenage boy she’d long ago stopped fearing.

“I d-d-d-d-d-don’t cheat,” Rhiannon retorted irritably. “I- I needed to get ahead of you, I did so. Get over it.”

“That’s not the spirit of the game and you damn well know it,” Draco spat. “You’re what, thirteen, basically bones? You shouldn’t have the strength to pull off something like that. You’re hiding something. Are you taking something? Go on, you must be, give it here,” he added, and stepped towards her, reaching out for her bag as he did so.

But instead of the scrawny weakness he had expected, Rhiannon was as solid as as a tree, keeping her bag to herself. Snape she feared. Snape was two feet taller than her and had the power of his position behind him, she’d give him her bag without a fight though it cost her pride to do so. But Malfoy? Not a chance.

“No, I’m not.” Rhiannon replied flatly. “Well, unless-s-s-s-ssss you count a testos-t-t-t-t-t-terone inhibitor, which is, sort of the opposite of p-p-p-p-p-performance-enhancing come to think of it. Now let go of my bloody bag.” she added, a hint of a growl creeping into her voice as Draco strained her patience. And with that she shook her bag, just once or twice, but firmly – not unlike the way a terrier would shake a rabbit.

Draco was jostled loose and he stumbled backwards, staring at Rhiannon in shock. Then his shock curdled into an expression of disgust and he curled his lip as he straightened up and neatened his cloak. “You’re just as much a freak as you were in first year, Potter,” he hissed. “More, even. Went and got a furry little upgrade? Was it a bite? A scratch? Ooh, and that lard-ass Squib you dragged in, he’s one too isn’t he? Only reason they’d let a Squib in – at least before this place went completely to the dogs. Must have been hard, trying to find a foster-family for a couple of mutts. Was it? Were you in the hospital, all by yourself, with nobody who cared about you?” he jeered. Rhiannon staggered back, her teeth bared as she growled at him, torn between the urge to shove him away and the more rational part of her brain that reminded her, putting someone in the Hospital Wing wouldn’t be a good way for the school to find out.

She was saved from her decision by Hermione, who lunged forward and struck Draco straight across the face. To call it a slap wouldn’t have quite been accurate – it had the full force of Hermione’s shoulder and body weight behind the open-palmed strike, so much that Draco’s skin split under the impact along the ridge of his cheekbone just below his eye. Rhiannon winced in involuntary sympathy – that was going to bruise. But Hermione wasn’t done, and Rhiannon hastily leapt forward to haul her friend backwards, aided by Luna and Ron.

“Bloody hell, ‘mione,” Ron breathed, sounding as if they couldn’t decide whether to be impressed or horrified. “Where’d you learn to hit like that?”

“When girls get picked on at school, they send us to self defence,” Hermione replied breathlessly. “I’m fat, I'm Black and I like science more than sports, so I’ve been going since I was six.”

Rhiannon smiled wryly, but her attention was on Draco. Hermione’s strike had sent him staggering backwards, and he was now several metres away in a pile on the grass. Rhiannon slipped away from the circle of her friends and crossed the flattened grass to him, where she knelt and held out a hand. Draco blinked up at her, blood running freely down his cheek, and he looked as if he wanted to scrabble away. She shook her head and sighed, extending her hand more insistently. “Don’t be an idiot, I’ll help you up to the Hospital Wing – your head’s got to be spinning,” she told him firmly.

Draco spat out a mouthful of blood, evidently he’d bitten his cheek. “I don’t need your help,” he growled.

Rhiannon rolled her eyes. “Maybe not. I d-d-d-d-don’t need to help you either. But I know you’re only acting like this ‘cos your dad will give you a hard time f’r losing to a trans girl like that.” she replied shortly. Draco closed his mouth with a pop, blinking and spluttering like a landed fish. “No, you don’t have to say anything, don’t thank me, whatever. But to me, it looks like I h-h-h-had more friends in that hospital than you do right now. And that’s sad. I’m so sick of these confrontations. Dudley used t’ be awful too and now he’s b-b-b-basically my brother, you can sort your shit out too. And if you want to, if you’re sick of traipsing around school all by yourself lashing out at people, well – I c-c-c-an’t say I’d forgive you immediately but, I’d like t’ try. You just have t’ let me. And that starts with not outing me again. Now, take my bloody hand and let’s go see Madam Pomfrey b-b-b-b-efore your shirt gets wrecked.” she told him firmly.

And with that, looking more shocked than when Hermione had hit him, Draco took Rhiannon’s hand and she hauled him to his feet, steadying him with her free hand as he pitched forward a little. “You alright, Rhi?” Ron asked, as Rhiannon turned back to her friends with one of Draco’s arms slung over her shoulders. She shrugged and nodded.

“Yeah. I think maybe ‘mione slapped some ss-s-s-s-ss-sense into him, literally,” Rhiannon replied. At that, she was startled to notice that Draco laughed, or at least started to – this close she could hear it in his chest. “And if he tries anything, I’ll just go d-d-d-drop him in the lake.”

At that, even Neville laughed, and Rhiannon shook her head. “Seriously, it’s fine. Tell Hagrid I’ll be down la-a-a-ater,” she said with a grin, and a wry glance up at Draco. “Look after ‘mione for me, you know she hates getting angry,” she added, happy to notice that Luna already seemed to have that part covered. It was sometimes hard to turn off her protective instincts, she had to remind herself that her friends were competent people not a basket of ducklings she had to watch and help constantly, but it was getting easier. Ron snickered, and Rhiannon caught the sound of scratching as she guessed Neville wrote something along the lines of ‘yes, mother wolf’ – a favourite refrain of his - on his tablet, but she set off up the hill before she could catch exactly what he’d said, smiling to herself.

“I won’t tell,” Draco murmured hoarsely. Rhiannon blinked and shook her head, she hadn’t quite caught that – voices tended to get a bit lost amongst the other sounds of the world. He coughed, and started again. “You’re right, it – it wasn’t really about you, it was... you know. You were in that class. I won’t tell anyone about the whole, werewolf thing. Not my secret to tell, and I’m not a bitter little eleven year-old jealous about you getting on the Quidditch team anymore.” he added, with just a touch of self-deprecation creeping into his dry tone.

Rhiannon smiled, feeling a warm swell of hope rise in her chest at his words. Somehow, she believed him. It was unlikely he’d go to all that effort just to out her anyway, and he felt similar to how Dudley had when she met him again after her first year at Hogwarts. “If-f-f-f-f-f-f’it makes you feel better, my joints are g’nna make me pay for days because I pulled that,” she replied wryly. “’s not exactly superpowers.”

Draco made a face, and Rhiannon cocked her head curiously. He sighed and shook his own head. “Is it bad that does make me feel better?” he asked, sounding defeated.

At that, Rhiannon cackled, genuinely amused. “Maybe a bit. But I get it. It would be pretty unfair if-f-f-f-f there was no tradeoff,” she replied. And with that, they lapsed into a surprisingly companionable quiet as they trekked slowly back up to the castle.