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As breakfast ended, Cherub encouraged Harry and Draco to follow him out of the dining room.
"I forgot to ask last night, what was your idea about how to help Ron?" Cherub asked carefully.
Harry looked at Cherub and Draco with interest.
"Oh, that." Draco said with a considering look.
At Cherub and Harry's impatient expressions he hesitantly continued, "I just thought that Ron might benefit from spending some time in the company of muggles."
"Why?" Cherub asked with surprise and confusion.
"Well, from everything I've heard, muggles are boring and really irritating. Maybe if he spent some time around some of them he might see his own worth. Rather than seeing himself as a member of a minor wizarding family, he'll see that he really is fortunate just because he's a wizard." Draco said in thought.
Harry considered the statement as Cherub asked, "What did Headmaster Dumbledore say when you asked him about it?"
Draco smiled and said, "He didn't really give me an answer, he just kind of nodded and said, 'Well done Mr. Malfoy'."
Harry and Cherub giggled as they easily envisioned Headmaster Dumbledore's expression as he said that.
* * * * *
"I'm done!" Chuffery said with a voice filled with accomplishment.
James looked at Chuffery with a loving smile, then looked over the letters Chuffery had written to Cherub and his friends.
As he read, he began to chuckle at some of the illustrations that Chuffery had drawn in each letter to try and explain how to tie his shoes.
"Is it okay?" Chuffery asked with apprehension.
James looked at Chuffery's concerned expression and forced himself to become more serious as he said, "The letters are very good and I'm sure everyone will love them."
Chuffery beamed at the praise and began to bounce with enthusiasm.
"I think we should go owl these letters right now so your brother and his friends will get them at lunch." James said as he stood.
Chuffery gathered up the letters and hurried to James' side.
* * * * *
"Did you pay attention to what I did when I sent the messages yesterday?" James asked casually as they walked down the hallway.
"Uh huh." Chuffery said with enthusiasm.
"Then I think that you can owl the letters all by yourself today. I'll just stand aside in case you have any questions." James said with a smile of anticipation at Chuffery's probable response.
"REALLY? I can do it all by myself?" Chuffery asked in wonder.
"Yes, all by yourself. I'll be right here if you need me." James said with a warm smile as he stopped just inside the doorway of the owlery.
* * * * *
"Mr. Potter, a word with you?" Professor Snape said as the other students were taking their seats.
Harry walked to Professor Snape's desk and waited with an expectant expression.
"I just wanted to be sure that there were no ill effects left over from last night's incident." Professor Snape said seriously.
Harry considered the question for a moment, then gave a peaceful smile as he said, "I'm going to be fine. We've figured out what caused the incident and are taking steps to see that it doesn't happen again. Thank you for your help."
"Your assurance that the situation is in the process of being resolved is all the thanks I require. Please take your seat so we may begin."
Harry nodded and almost missed the wisp of a tender smile cross Professor Snape's face for an instant.
* * * * *
"I thought we could go for a walk outside this morning. Do you think that is something you might enjoy Master Chuffery?" James asked gently.
"Yeah! Can we go for a walk in the woods?" Chuffery asked hopefully.
"Yes. I suppose we could do that." James said in a considering voice.
Chuffery bounced with happiness and started toward the door.
"You'll need to change into some long pants before we go. We wouldn't want your legs to get scratched or anything." James said in a gentle and caring voice.
"Okay." Chuffery said happily, then a considering look came over his face.
"Is there a problem?" James asked with concern.
"I don't think I remember how to tie my shoes." Chuffery said in a small, disappointed voice that sounded to be on the verge of tears.
James smiled as he said, "I don't expect you to learn everything the first time I show you. Come on upstairs and you can show me how much you remember, then I'll help you with the rest."
Chuffery's smile returned and he happily ran to James' side to go up and change.
* * * * *
"You've done it now Nightshade." Draco said with his 'Malfoy' grin firmly in place.
"What's that?" Cherub asked as he carefully wrote the label for his potion.
"I think you've just made everyone else in the class hate you by blowing the grading curve." Draco said with delight.
Cherub looked around the room at the students all working on their potions and noticed several disgusted stares aimed in his direction.
"Most fourth year students couldn't make a 'Dream Keeper' potion if you walked them through it step-by-step and gave them a week to do it. You just cooked one up in a one hour class." Draco said with a mischievous grin.
"The whole point of the class today was about knowing and testing your limits. This was the most complicated potion I had a chance of getting right. My 'Dream Keeper' is no more or less of an accomplishment than Ron's 'Spot Remover' potion." Cherub said seriously, then turned to face Draco fully.
"In fact, I think Ron's potion might be more of an accomplishment because I'm confident in my ability. I get the feeling that Ron has never made a potion completely on his own before. By the way, how did yours turn out?" Cherub finished curiously.
"Mine? Oh, I won't know for a few more minutes. If it becomes transparent, then I've made magical ink that can only be seen by the light of the full moon. If not... then I've just made a bottle of green goop." Draco said as he looked at his opaque green potion.
"I thought you were going to do a 'Reveal' potion." Cherub said absently as he began cleaning up his work area.
"I was until I saw that Granger was doing the same thing. That inspired me to try something more difficult." Draco said with a smile.
"That's very 'Malfoy' of you." Cherub said with a chuckle.
"Thank you." Draco said with a slight bow.
"Look at that." Cherub said as he pointed at Draco's potion bottle changing color.
Draco looked at the bottle and smiled.
"Now they can hate you too."
* * * * *
"What's it like in there?" Chuffery asked with excitement as they approached the wooded area.
"I have no idea. Your brother was always afraid of these woods. Even now he won't go near this part of the property." James said casually.
"Cherub never went here?" Chuffery asked in wonder.
"That's right. So far as I know, no one has been in these woods for many years. We'll be the first to explore it." James said seriously.
"Are you scared?" Chuffery asked as he stopped at the edge of the tree line.
James smiled and said, "No, actually I'm just curious. Do you have your wand?"
"Uh huh." Chuffery said and pulled his wand out to show it.
"So do I. If we encounter anything dangerous, I'm sure we can delay it long enough for us to get away." James said with assurance.
Chuffery reluctantly nodded, then the pair slowly walked into the unknown.
* * * * *
"How are you doing Ron?" Harry asked with concern as they left the potions class.
"Professor Snape says I'll be okay by the end of the day. And he said that my accident proved that my 'Spot Remover' potion worked so I'll get full credit." Ron finished with a big happy smile.
"You look really different without freckles." Cherub said as he glanced at Ron consideringly.
"Yeah. I always thought I'd look better without freckles but..." Ron trailed off.
"The freckles give you character. Without them you look pasty... kind of washed out." Cherub said in thought.
"Yeah. That's it." Ron said seriously.
"I'll catch up to you guys in class. I've got some stuff that I need to take care of right now." Draco said quickly as the group approached the staircases.
"I'll save a seat for you." Cherub said with a smile as he watched Draco walk off in a different direction.
"Would you guys like to have lunch at our table today?" Hermione asked hopefully as she moved to Ron's side.
"I'm sorry Hermione. We can't today." Harry said with regret.
"Big plans?" Hermione asked curiously.
"We'll find out at lunch. Draco is planning something and we don't know what it is." Cherub said casually.
There was a moment of silence before Ron finally said, "With Malfoy planning it, I bet it's going to be something really evil or really romantic."
The group stopped in surprise at Ron's statement.
"And since Hermione and I aren't invited, it's probably romantic." Ron said in thought.
Cherub and Harry both smiled at Ron's conclusion as they continued toward their next class.
* * * * *
"LOOKIT!" Chuffery said as he and James walked into a clearing in the woods.
"Just look Master Chuffery. That's a circle of toadstools. It's considered very bad luck to disturb a place like this." James said seriously.
"Why?" Chuffery asked as he backed away from the toadstools.
"Because toadstool rings are rumored to be the sacred meeting places for the fairy folk." James said as he looked around carefully.
"Are there fairies here?" Chuffery asked with excitement.
"I don't really know. But I think it's best that we leave before we find out." James said and extended his arm to indicate the path they arrived on.
"Why?" Chuffery asked seriously.
"Because this is their place and we weren't invited to be here. Fairies have good reason not to like wizards and we might frighten them." James said in thought as he led the way out of the clearing.
After a long silent moment of waiting for the next 'Why?', James turned to find that Chuffery was nowhere to be seen.
* * * * *
Cheers erupted from the class as Hermione successfully enchanted a wooden ball to bounce on command.
"Beginners luck." Cherub grumbled as he looked at the inert ball sitting on the table before him.
"Miss Granger has just demonstrated the importance of precise pronunciation..." The professor said, then turned to Cherub and continued, "...and method."
Cherub rolled his eyes, but made no further comment.
"I believe this achievement warrants five points for Gryffindor. The rest of you may use the remainder of the class time to attempt to duplicate Miss Granger's feat." The Professor said with delight.
The muttering of spell casting rose up around the room as Cherub turned to Hermione and reluctantly said, "You really did a good job on that spell Granger. Would you mind helping me with mine?"
Hermione nearly glowed with accomplishment as she said, "Sure Cherub, I'd be glad to help you. Why don't you show me how you're doing it and we'll compare notes?"
Cherub gave her a gentle smile of thanks for not rubbing it in, then began to demonstrate his enchantment spell.
* * * * *
The gap in the trees seemed to vanish as Chuffery approached.
"Hi." a small voice said from behind him.
Chuffery turned and looked around for the source of the voice.
"Down here." The tiny voice said with a giggle.
Chuffery looked down to see a teeny tiny little girl with transparent wings sitting on one of the toadstools.
"Hi." Chuffery said with a smile as he carefully sat down in the grass in front of her.
"My daddy says that big people like you hurt little people like me." The little winged girl said seriously.
Chuffery thought about the statement, then carefully said, "I don't know anything about little people, but there's all kinds of big people. Some are nice like me and my brother and James. And some big people are bad and hurt people and they don't care if they're big or little. And..."
The little winged girl sat silently, waiting for him to finish.
"...I think that some big people aren't really bad, but they hurt people because they just don't know any better. I think maybe my Nana was like that." Chuffery finished in deep thought.
The little girl seemed to come to a decision, then asked, "You wanna see my trick?"
Chuffery nodded with excitement.
The winged girl leapt into the air and whizzed around the clearing a few times leaving trails of multi-colored sparkles cascading in her wake.
Chuffery giggled in delight at the sight of the magical sparkles drifting slowly to earth.
"That was really pretty. Do you wanna see my trick?" Chuffery asked hopefully.
The tiny girl came to rest on her toadstool again and nodded with excitement.
"Denfizia Mariposa!" Chuffery said as he waived his wand toward the surrounding trees.
All manner of butterflies erupted and swirled into the air.
The little girl giggled and clapped with delight at the beautiful sight.
"I'm Larien." The little girl said while keeping her attention on the colorful display.
"I'm Chuffery." He said with a smile at her impressed expression.
Larien giggled at the sound of his name, then suddenly stopped and looked into the trees.
"Larien! There are wizards in the woods. You need to come with..." A voice called, then suddenly stopped.
* * * * *
"Master Chuffery?" James called, then waited to see if he could hear any response.
"Master Chuffery!" James called again, this time a little more loudly.
Panic washed over James as he hurried back down the path to look in the clearing where they had just been.
But as he walked, he realized that the path didn't open into a clearing anymore.
He walked up and down the path, trying to find something, anything that would show him where the clearing had been. But nothing he saw gave him any clues.
* * * * *
A tiny man flew into the clearing and came to rest on the toadstool beside Larien.
"Chuffery, this is my daddy. His name is Lolindir." Larien said shyly.
"Hi." Chuffery said quietly, concerned by the look of worry on the tiny man's face.
"Oh Larien, you don't know what you've done." The tiny man said with pain.
"We didn't do nothing bad. We were just talking." Chuffery tried to explain.
The little man looked at Chuffery consideringly, then said, "Showing herself to a wizard puts all of us in danger."
"I won't hurt you. I promise!" Chuffery said desperately.
After a moment of consideration, Lolindir finally said, "Maybe you won't. But you knowing that we're here is too dangerous to allow."
"Please don't hurt him daddy! He's nice." Larien begged.
Lolindir looked at his daughter and a loving smile came across his face.
Chuffery looked on helplessly, not knowing what he should do.
"I won't hurt your friend. But now that he knows where we live, it's too dangerous for us to stay here." The little man explained.
"Why daddy? Chuffery wouldn't hurt us. I know he wouldn't." Larien said quickly.
"I know baby. But some wizards like Chuffery hunt us down to... use us... in their spells." Lolindir said in a pained voice.
"Chuffery wouldn't ever do that, would you Chuffery? Tell Daddy you wouldn't do that!" Larien begged desperately.
"No. I wouldn't ever. I promise." Chuffery said quietly, knowing that it had already been decided.
"It doesn't matter. We can't take the chance of even one wizard knowing where we live." Lolindir said with a sad look at his daughter.
"I'm sorry." Chuffery said to Larien in a whisper.
"You didn't do anything wrong." Larien said sadly.
"Say goodbye to your friend Larien. We need to gather our things and be well away from here before nightfall." Lolindir said seriously.
"I just have to get Dee Dah, then I'll be ready." Larien said as she looked at her father.
"I'm sorry baby, but Dee Dah belongs here in these woods. We can't take her with us." Lolindir said with regret.
"Oh daddy! I can't leave Dee Dah. She needs me!" Larien said and began to cry.
Lolindir's heart broke at the sight of his daughter's anguish, then he got an idea.
"Maybe your friend Chuffery could take care of Dee Dah for you?" Lolindir said seriously.
"Would you Chuffery? She's really nice like you are. I know you'll like her!" Larien said hopefully.
"Yes. I'll take care of her. Just tell me what I have to do." Chuffery said immediately.
"I'll show you in a minute. I'm not sure how she survived until my daughter came along, but Dee Dah really does need someone to take care of her." Lolindir said seriously.
"I promise that I'll take the best care of her that I can." Chuffery said as a vow.
"I'll go get her!" Larien said quickly and flew away.
"I'm really sorry." Chuffery said again, not knowing what else to say.
Lolindir looked up at the regret in Chuffery's eyes and said, "I know. This isn't your fault and it isn't Larien's. In a perfect world, wizards and faeries could be neighbors in harmony. But the world isn't perfect... I love my family and would do anything to protect them. It's just too big a risk to take with their lives. Someday I hope you'll understand."
Chuffery thought about the words, then whispered, "I think I understand it now. Since my mommy ran away and my daddy sold me and my grandfather died, my brother is my only family. I think maybe losing some people you love makes you want to protect the others even more. I'd do anything to keep my brother safe."
"I'm glad Dee Dah is going to have a good person like you to take care of her. That way I'll be able to tell my Larien that her best friend is safe and well cared for." Lolindir said distantly.
"Come on Dee Dah. Chuffery is waiting." Larien said in an urging tone.
"Please hold still for a few seconds Chuffery. I'm going to show you how to take care of Dee Dah." Lolindir said as he fluttered into the air.
Chuffery held still as the fairy circled and dived over his head.
"That should do it." Lolindir said as he came to rest on the toadstool again.
"What did you do to me?" Chuffery asked as he felt a magical sensation wash over him.
"It's fairy magic. I just gave you the 'Wood Lore'. Now you'll know how to feed and care for Dee Dah... and any other woodland creature you might encounter." Lolindir said with a smile.
Chuffery looked around and suddenly everything seemed familiar. Every tree, every plant, and every insect were known to him.
"Chuffery, this is Dee Dah!" Larien said proudly as she rode into the clearing on the back of a giant slug.
"Hi." Chuffery said as he looked at the slimy creature carefully.
"She's scared of you." Larien said in a mock whisper.
"Don't worry Dee Dah, I'm nice. I promise." Chuffery said with assurance as he put his hands down where she could inspect them.
After a moment of grazing around the edges of Chuffery's hands, she kind of oozed up into his palms.
"She's still not sure. But she's going to try to like you." Larien said with a giggle.
"We have to be going Larien. There is another wizard searching the woods for Chuffery." Lolindir said as he lifted into the air.
"Goodbye Chuffery. I'm glad I got to meet you." Larien said shyly.
"I'm glad too. And don't worry about Dee Dah, I promise that I'll take really good care of her." Chuffery said with a sad smile.
"Chuffery, would you please not tell the big wizard that you've seen us? Just tell him that you found Dee Dah, then got lost for a few minutes." Lolindir said seriously.
"I won't ever tell anyone about you... Ever. I swear." Chuffery said as tears filled his eyes.
"Thank you Chuffery. If Larien were destined to meet a wizard, I'm glad that it turned out to be you. I'm going to release the spell on this clearing now so the big wizard can find you. Have a long and happy life." Lolindir said, then made one quick circle of the clearing before darting into the trees and disappearing.
* * * * *
"Chuffery!" James called out in a panicked scream.
"James?" Chuffery said as he stepped out of the clearing.
"Where have you been Master Chuffery?" James asked, shaking with adrenaline.
"Right there." Chuffery said as he pointed.
James looked into the clearing that hadn't been there a moment before, then noticed something out of the corner of his eye.
"Master Chuffery. Please hold very still, there's something on you." James said seriously as he drew back to swat the huge, slimy slug off Chuffery's shoulder.
"No. That's my friend. Her name is Dee Dah." Chuffery said as he turned away and shielded Dee Dah with his body so James wouldn't hurt her.
"Dee Dah?" James asked as he slowly lowered his hand.
"Yes. And she's my friend. She's going to live with us and I'm going to take care of her." Chuffery said forcefully, then whispered to Dee Dah, "Don't worry. James is really nice. He just doesn't know you yet."
James looked at the huge slimy thing on Chuffery's shoulder, then gave an involuntary shiver of revulsion at the sight.
"Master Chuffery, you need to understand that Dee Dah is a wild animal... insect... well, something, and it shouldn't live in the house. If you take it away from it's home in the woods, it will probably get sick." James tried to explain.
"No she won't. She'll just tell me what she needs and I'll get it for her." Chuffery said seriously.
"You can understand it?" James asked reluctantly.
"Uh huh. Can we pick up some leaves for her to eat on the way back home? That way she can have lunch at the same time we do." Chuffery asked hopefully.
"You're the young master of the house." James said with another shiver of revulsion, then continued, "But you'll have to explain this to your brother."
"Okay! Come on James. Both of us are getting hungry. Let's go!" Chuffery said happily.
James followed quietly as Chuffery happily led the way up the path, stopping occasionally to pick leaves for his new friend.
* * * * *
"I think my headaches are getting worse." Harry said as he held his hand firmly over his scar.
"Maybe you should talk to Madame Pomfrey about it. She might be able to give you something that will help." Cherub said with concern as the trio walked out of the Defense Against the Dark Arts class.
"Will you two meet me by the South door? I've got to go get something." Draco said quickly.
Cherub smiled and said, "We'll go anywhere you want if it means we get to spend some time with you."
"Good. Hold that thought and meet me at the South door. I'll be right there." Draco said in a rush.
"What do you say Harry? Can we do that?" Cherub asked playfully.
"Yeah. I think we can." Harry said with a gentle smile.
Draco broke into a brief but full smile for an instant, then started running away.
"I really do love him." Cherub said as he watched Draco go.
"I love you both." Harry said seriously as he turned to look at Cherub.
Cherub saw a glimmer of something in Harry's eyes just as Harry quickly turned away and started walking for the South door.
"Potter, wait." Cherub said quickly.
Harry turned to look at Cherub with a little hesitation in his expression.
"Harry, I love you too. I guess I don't say it to you as much as I say it to Draco... I just kind of figured that you knew." Cherub said shyly.
"It's okay Cherub. I know you love Draco first, I'm okay with that. Really." Harry said quietly.
Cherub thought about the words for a moment, then finally responded, "I love Draco differently than I love you. I can't really compare the way I love you to the way I love Draco. I just have the feeling that Draco needs to hear it more than you do. I don't know if that makes sense."
Harry smiled and said, "It makes perfect sense. And I agree with you, I think Draco does need to hear it more often than I do... But I still like to hear it sometimes."
"I love you Harry." Cherub said quietly.
"I love you too Cherub." Harry responded in the same tone.
"Now let's go see what Draco came up with." Cherub said with a gentle smile.
"Yeah. I bet it's going to be something over the top." Harry said with a chuckle.
"Would a Malfoy do anything less?" Cherub asked with a smirk.
Harry chuckled and nodded his agreement.
Cherub and Harry started walking down the hall again, each wondering what Draco was up to.
After a moment of walking in silence, Cherub said, "Harry?"
"Do you know what?" Cherub asked with an impish grin.
"What?" Harry asked hesitantly.
"I love you." Cherub said with a full glorious smile.
Harry chuckled and said, "I love you too, but I've heard it enough for today. You can tell me again tomorrow."
"No way. I love you and I'm going to keep on telling you until you believe it." Cherub said firmly.
"I believe it!" Harry said defensively.
There was a long moment of silence as the pair walked down the hallway until it was broken by Cherub whispering, "I love you."
Harry smiled and whispered, "I love you too."