- Ginny Weasley/Harry Potter
- Harry Potter
- The Harry Potter at Hogwarts Years
- Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Published: 04/17/2002Updated: 01/04/2004Words: 584,432Chapters: 31Hits: 808,247
Harry Potter and the Triangle Prophecy
- Story Summary:
- Harry's 7th and final year of school. In a time of uncertainty, the Muggle world has found a source of comfort and stability. Only Harry suspects that it isn't safe. Wizards are more concerned about themselves than Muggles since Voldemort's return, but are only Muggles at risk? Will anyone listen to Harry? He must decide whether to make a sacrifice that will change him--and the wizarding world-- forever.
- Read Story On:
Chapter 15 - Steps
- Chapter Summary:
- Harry's seventh and final year of school. In a time of uncertainty, the Muggle world has found a source of comfort and stability. Only Harry suspects that it isn't safe. Wizards are more concerned about themselves than Muggles since Voldemort's return, but are only Muggles at risk? Will anyone listen to Harry? He must decide whether Draco Malfoy is ultimately friend or foe and discover the identity of the Daughter of War and get her help in defeating Voldemort; and finally, Harry must decide whether to make a sacrifice that will change him--and the wizarding world-- forever. The third part of the
Every tread must be as wide as every other, and every riser must be as tall as every
other one....You start up a stair and after the first step your legs know what the next
rise should be. You can trip on a bump in a flat sidewalk. A quarter-of-an-inch
variation will do it....it is very easy, a common mistake, for a builder of stairs to
forget to add to his calculations the three-quarter-inch thickness of a finish floor
that's not installed yet. Then...he has a staircase with a bottom riser that is
three-quarters of an inch shorter than all the other risers. A stair like that will never
stop tripping people, even ones who know its flaw.
--Tracy Kidder, House [page 267-8]
Harry looked in wonder at Mariah Kirkner's webbed fingers.
"Do ye know where I hail from, Harry?" Mariah asked him, her large dark eyes boring into his. He was only vaguely aware that she had spoken; concentrating now, he realized what she had said, and he nodded.
"I think so. The Orkneys, isn't it?"
She frowned. "Say Orkney. Or the Orkney Islands. Fer sainturies, me family's lived on the Isle of Roussay. Do ye know what Orkney means?" He shook his head. "It's Old Norse fer seal island. Orkney is many islands, o'course, not just one." He swallowed; he'd never known what the name meant. "That's why Gryffindor an' his bride took 'er sister up there. Plainty o'company. Other seals."
"Right," he said, in a daze. He felt so shocked by all of this he wasn't responding very well, he knew. "And you--you're--" He couldn't get out the words You're a selkie. His head was swimming; he was so confused. "But--you don't always wear those gloves...."
She shook her head. "Me mither trimmed the waibbing when I was wee. I still do it, but there's always a time when it grows back and I have ta wait. Then I wear the gloves. If ever'one knew...they'd think I was a freak. So I hide it."
Harry grimaced, thinking of his scar. There was no hiding that, not really. "I understand," he said simply. "And you--you can--can attract men when you want to. Like veelas can."
She nodded. "Me brither can, too. Attract women, that is. Oh, he was an awful playboy at school. It becomes easier fer a sailkie, male or female, after aboot the age o' fifteen or sixteen. It's stronger."
He frowned in thought. "How'd he get the amulet?"
Her eyes widened. "Aye, the amulet. See, after You-Know-Who's power broke--after you defeated'im--there was a gaineral sweep in the wizardin' wairld. Anyone who'd bin in Slytherin in school was suspected o'havin' bin a Daith Eater. Me mum lost'er job, and we faill on hard times. Me dad wasn' makin' vairy much, and we had some daibts to Gringotts...." Harry's mind worked quickly, figuring it out. In my other life, Voldemort never fell, so his mother never lost her job, and Mariah's brother never felt particularly compelled to go into the lake, seeking the amulet, so it was still there when I rescued Ginny from the lake...
She sighed. "The laigend o'the amulet has been handed doon in our family. Mithers 'ave bin taillin' their wee ones the story feraiver, it seems...." Harry could picture them, looking like Mariah with their wild dark hair and large, soulful eyes, whispering the tale to small, pale, upturned faces gathered round the hearth, while the winter winds scoured the exterior of a stone cottage on a bleak and rocky shore.... "After a time, I think parts o' the story were considered maybe t' be invainted by some o' those who told it. Embroiderin' on it, ye see, like all oral traditions. To liven it oop. Each gaineration puttin' their mark on it, like. But Munro believed the pairt aboot the amulet, an' 'e took it into 'is haid to go into the loch to try 'n' gait it, as 'e raickoned it'd be daid valuable--if it were real. He used 'is sailkie charms on the merking's daughter--it don't jest wairk on human women--found out it really existed, an' after 'e told 'er about the story of Slytherin cairsin' our ansaister, she convinced 'er dad to give Munro the stone with the amulet. Munro brought it home and we all opened the stone t'gaither.
"I was only four; Munro's a dozen years older than me. I'll naiver fergait whain me mum opened it--it was like a dream, like actually gaittin' t 'see Cinderailla's glass slipper, or the gold Rumpelstiltskin spun from straw. We all admired it aiver so long; it was beautiful and pairfect, pertaicted fer a thoosand yairs inside the stone. After, me mum put it away in the kist she hid under the hearth, where we kaipt our few traisures, and I thought it was safe and hidden....But a little while later, Munro gave me parents a pile of Galleons and wouldn' say where he'd got it. They were so wairried he'd done somethin' that'd land 'im in prison, but he swore 'e didn'. An' it hailped us go on, t'survive until me mither found wairk again...."
She sighed and looked down at her webbing. "He musta sold it. Maybe me mum 'n' dad even knew 'e did it, and didn' lait on t'me. But he shouldnae done it. I'm the one carryin' the cairse, I'm the one whose bairn'll be like me. I know he's the one wairked out how t'gait it from the loch, but it's my bairthright. And she has it. Ginny, that is. She's no idear what it means t'me...."
He nodded. "Ginny bought it in Knockturn Alley," he said softly
She lifted her face to him, her brow furrowed. "But how did she afford it? The gold Munro got fer it--I'd naiver seen that much in one place b'fore or since--"
He thought about the question of how Ginny had afforded it, and this caused him to think about some of the other things he'd seen in Borgin and Burkes, when he'd accidentally landed there the first time he'd used Floo powder (he suddenly realized that that was not long before Lucius Malfoy gave Tom Riddle's diary to Ginny, in Flourish and Blotts--he must have been carrying it while he was in Borgin and Burkes....). As he eavesdropped from a cupboard in the dusty dark magic shop, he'd been able to find out about some of the objects in the inventory there...the Hand of Glory....a cursed opal necklace...and now he tried to work out what might have happened. "Perhaps someone else bought the amulet before Ginny," he said slowly, still formulating his theory. "A lot of someone elses. Perhaps it caused those people as much trouble as it caused Slytherin, so they returned it, and the shopkeeper had to keep reducing the price...."
She laughed, somewhat bitterly. "Aye, he could prob'ly make a lot more on a cairsed amulet than one that wasn't..." She could see Harry was baffled. "Lait's just say I've heard things about Borgin and Burkes. Ye buy something there and bring it back in--ye don't gait yer money back. Ye gait store craidit fer saiventy-five paircent of what ye paid. Now, Ginny may have bin able to afford it 'cause it was reduced after bein' brought back time an' again, but that don't mean Borgin and Burkes didn't make quite a lot on it...."
There was something still bothering Harry, though. "What I still don't understand how Draco didn't drown when he was in the lake with you. I mean, you can breath underwater, right? And you said your brother struck up a relationship with a mermaid. But why didn't Draco drown?"
"As long as he was touchin'me, he was safe. When yer in the water with a magical water creature, all ye need to do is be touchin'em to be safe." Harry's brain lit up with another revelation from his other life. That's it! he thought. That's why Ginny was still alive when I went into the lake to save her from the creature that was spawned from the basilisk's egg with her hair in it--it was a magical underwater creature, and being touched by it meant that she could breath underwater! Even though it was trying to kill her... He smiled to himself at the irony.
Mariah spread her hands again, staring at them as though this was a luxury, something she did not normally do. Then she looked up at Harry, her gaze very frank. "Did ye naiver--do--something--with one o' yer gairlfrainds underwater? In the prefaicts' bathroom, pairhaps?"
Harry felt himself flush as he remembered being with Hermione there--but they hadn't technically been doing anything while underwater. Slowly, the realization hit him, and he dropped his jaw, his eyes widening. "You were--were sleeping with Draco Malfoy underwater?"
She laughed wickedly, looking very pleased with herself. "No. We wair wide awake," she said, her voice dripping with amusement. Her dark eyes glittered and a mischievous grin still curled around the edges of her mouth.
Harry swallowed, remembering how he'd felt when she was doing her best to attract him, the feeling of losing his mind and being a complete and utter slave to his hormones. He hesitated before asking, but finally said, "Did you use your--your selkie charms to get Draco Malfoy to do that?" He wasn't sure he wanted to hear the answer.
She stopped smiling and looked very serious suddenly. "No," she said, her voice firm. "He coulda gone at any time. I swear it. I didn' want to gait him that way. This--with you--this was the fairst time I aiver--aiver tried that. I--I didn't realize how much it wood affaict ye, Harry. I'm sorry, really. Ye looked like ye were goin' mad. I didn't plan to torture ye nor anythin'..."
He wasn't sure what to believe, and shook his head in bewilderment. "They--then why did you do it to me? You love him, don't you?"
She looked him in the eye. "Aye." He believed her.
"She has the amulet!" Mariah cried suddenly. "It was so she'd see oos togaither!"
Harry was baffled as to why she'd want this. "What?"
Mariah lifted her chin. "I'm not stupid. I know she loves ye, and the only reason she don't leave Draco is 'cause she's afraid he'll hairt ye. I don' know who she thinks she's foolin'." Well, Harry thought, I was certainly fooled for a good long time. "Aye, he loves 'er. More'n he loves me. I know that." Her voice was softer, sadder now. "But I think that cood change. He hates'er, too, fer not feelin' the same as him. He wants'er ta hairt as much as he does. So he goes off with me and tries ta gait caught....and then backs oot of it. The love and hate is wagin' a war in 'im, and he's the one losin'. He really wants her ta show she cares, that she gives a damn what 'e does. But he and I both know she naiver will, because she's in love with you."
Harry swallowed. "Have--have you and Draco talked about this?"
She shook her haid. "He won't. Refuses. So--I thought, maybe if she thought it was you she'd lose if she didn' speak up and taill Draco it's over, she'd finally do somethin'. Finally aind it with him and claim ye, ta keep me away...."
Harry gasped. "You wanted Ginny to see me in the amulet? With you? Naked?" His head spun. Here he thought he and Ron were the only ones trying to break up Draco and Ginny, when Mariah had a plan of her own to accomplish the same end.
She shrugged. "Draco being with me don't make'er jailous. Hacked off, aye, she's hacked off aboot it. Has 'er pride, like anyone. But 'er love fer you's stronger than that, and I kin taill she don't want ye hairt. Her seein' you with me might light a fire under 'er, make 'er take a stand. And give me 'n' Draco a chance t' be happy, too." Harry didn't know what to say. "I was doin' it for the both o'ye. Ye cood show a wee bit o'gratitude."
But Harry wished she'd come to him and explained that she had the same goal, so they could have cooperated on a plan--a different plan. He hated to think how Ginny would react if she'd been holding the amulet when he and Mariah had been all over each other. The glare she received confirmed that no gratitude would be forthcoming. "I just hope to hell that Ginny didn't see that little display, that she wasn't touching her amulet! How stupid! If anything, it would be more likely to make her stay with Draco Malfoy! How could you--you--" He sputtered to a stop, at a loss for words.
Stupid stupid stupid.
Mariah shrugged. "I think I'm right," she said calmly, with a trace of smugness. "We'll see."
And she casually stood and put her robes back on over her dress, walking out of the passage, leaving Harry to grab his robes and follow her, so he wouldn't be lost.
They barely spoke the entire time they continued patrolling. It was disconcerting to continue to be in her presence until two in the morning; despite his best intentions, it was very difficult not to keep picturing her down in the tunnel again, her skin glistening in the torchlight, her warm breath in his mouth, and on top of that, he still had the images from the Omnioculars in his head (although he hadn't looked at it since he'd used them).
At length, they went back to the entrance hall and met the patrollers for the third shift. From what he could tell, no one suspected what he and Mariah had been up to in the tunnels. No wonder she and Draco Malfoy get away with this all the time, he thought.
Filch and Flitwick were the staff patrollers for the third shift; Filch eyed Harry suspiciously (he'd reacted this way to Harry since his first year, and particularly his second, when he was convinced that Harry had petrified his cat), but Flitwick gave Harry his usual bubbly greeting, sounding just a little more tired than he usually did in class. Hermione was on this shift; she descended the broad steps with Karl Fauth, one of the new fifth-year Gryffindor prefects, who was yawning alertly, following her steps and treading on the hem of her robes more than once, making her scowl tiredly. A couple of Ravenclaws who had walked down with Flitwick rounded out the new group, and Harry nodded at Hermione as he trudged up the steps to Gryffindor Tower; then he turned back to look at her. She was scowling at him instead of Fauth now, and he longed to go back to ask her why, but she and the others were moving off to begin their patrolling. He couldn't remember when Hermione had looked less happy with him. If he didn't know better, he would think he was about to be on the receiving end of a very nasty Head Girl hex.
He entered the common room wearily, looking forward to getting some rest before the match the following day, hoping he wouldn't see Mariah when he closed his eyes.... The match wasn't until the afternoon, so he could sleep late. In fact, he reckoned it would be better for him to play only an hour or two after rising rather than get up early and spend the morning doing things before playing; he wouldn't have as much time to tire himself out before the game.
But the sight that met his eyes in the common room made him stop in his tracks, frozen just inside the portrait hole. Ron was standing near the windows with his sister in his arms; she was clasping him about his waist and had her face buried on his chest; she was sobbing her heart out, and Harry swallowed, feeling his own heart break. She had seen. She had touched the amulet at precisely the wrong time, and she had seen.... Hermione knew, too, he realized. She must have found out before she left the common room to go patrolling. That was why she'd been looking at him that way....
His heart constricted within him, and he wanted to go to her, make it all right, but she was clinging desperately to Ron and his feet seemed to be rooted to the spot where he stood. Ron looked up and saw him; thankfully, he did not scowl and frown at Harry, but looked merely baffled. Over Ginny's head, his best friend and brother of the girl he loved mouthed the words, What happened?
Ginny hadn't told him then; perhaps she'd told Hermione, sobbed on her, then Hermione went to get Ron to take over when Hermione had to leave. Harry hit himself on his head; he wished he could do it harder. It didn't hurt enough. He mouthed the words I'm stupid, to Ron.
Ron exaggerated the movements of his mouth, silently responding, I know. But what happened?
Harry resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at him. Harry looked at Ginny, weeping as though it were the end of the world, and couldn't help the tears that started escaping his own eyes, running freely down his face. Ron noticed. As he patted his sister's back and rocked her back and forth, he again moved his mouth exaggeratedly, his silent question becoming, Harry, what the hell happened?
Harry wiped his eyes under his glasses, but his own tears wouldn't stop. Oh, god. He'd hurt her incredibly. This was the hurt he'd been trying to spare her when he didn't tell her about Malfoy and Felice, since he'd thought she was still in love with Draco Malfoy at the time. And now he'd hurt her anyway. He couldn't stop himself from sniffling, and then, completely against his will, a sob escaped him and she whirled around.
Oh, Ginny's eyes when she was wild with grief and wanting to die...He had never wanted to make her look that way, never imagined he could. That's not true, he reminded himself. She was also miserable when she realized that she might have gone to the Yule Ball with me, if she hadn't already accepted Neville's invitation. But he had been too self-centered and depressed about Cho Chang at the time to pay much attention to her anguish, and although she had been upset then, running from the room in distress, this was a different degree of misery entirely....
He had no words, standing there facing her, tears streaming down both of their faces. He thought she would curse him, or swear at him, or fly at him and beat him with her fists, as she had at Ascog Castle. But instead, she took a few steps forward and ripped the amulet from her neck, breaking the chain, and flung it onto the floor before her face collapsed again and she fled up the steps to the girls' dorms.
When her footsteps had receded, Harry looked up at Ron, seeing that he'd been crying in sympathy with his sister, not even knowing the cause of her distress. He wiped his face impatiently and finally spoke aloud.
"Damn, Harry. Would you like to explain what that was all about?"
Harry swallowed, his face still wet, everything around him slightly out of focus, even with his glasses on. "Not especially," he croaked, although he wondered momentarily whether he could convince Ron to kill him, put him out of his misery....He looked at the amulet lying on the floor of the common room, and after what felt like an eternity, he finally stooped to pick it up. Holding it in his palm and then closing his hand around it for a few seconds, he received an immediate flash of Ginny, lying in her bed fully clothed, too grief-stricken to bother changing, hugging a pillow to her midsection and continuing to cry....
Putting the amulet in his pocket, he turned to climb the stairs to the dorm, not looking back. He remembered how Hermione had reacted to him and wondered whether he was going to lose his two best friends as well as Ginny; it was pretty clear that once Ron knew the full story, they would both take her side. As they should, he thought, condemning himself. The last time he'd felt so dreadful was when he'd found out in his other life that Jamie had died, and Ginny too. He felt like he was reliving getting that awful news. Ginny will never have anything to do with me ever again. She might as well have been dead, as far as he was concerned. Except that this time--
He was her murderer.
"Harry! What are you doing? Get up!"
"The match!" Sirius shouted in his ear. "Why didn't anyone else around here wake you?"
"Why?" Harry said groggily, rubbing his eyes. "What time is it?" He looked toward the window; the sun was struggling to penetrate a thick, typically Scottish autumnal cloud cover.
"Twelve-thirty. The match is in half an hour."
Harry felt wide awake now. "What? Shit, I'm sorry Sirius. I don't know why they didn't wake me..."
But he did. They'd probably all heard about him in the tunnels with Mariah. And everyone probably hated his guts now. First he'd made himself a laughingstock with the snake-into-girl spell, and now this. Just about everyone in Gryffindor who was going to the game was probably already planning to be cheering for England, for Ron, and now it was likely that even his stalwart die-hard supporters, like the Creevey brothers, would be cheering for England as well. (Although, to be fair, they were English.) Harry looked sheepishly at his godfather, who was randomly throwing clothes out of Harry's wardrobe, trying to find his Quidditch gear. Maybe if I don't tell Sirius about last night until after the match, he'll at least be cheering me on.
Sirius' search was finally successful, and he starting hurling Harry's Welsh uniform at him carelessly, not noticing where he was throwing things, so that Harry had to duck to avoid the rather hard and heavy shin-guards bashing him in the head.
"Sirius! Watch it! I know you used to be a Beater, but I'd rather wait until the match to start dodging Bludgers, if it's all the same to you."
Sirius laughed then and went to the door. "Get dressed like lightning, Harry. I had McGonagall get you a different Portkey on short notice, as the other one expired an hour ago. Most of the students who received permission to go have even left already. The last dozen were supposed to depart from the entrance hall with Professor McGonagall fifteen minutes ago. You and I are the last ones left in the castle who are going to be at the match today. Assuming you haven't changed your mind."
Harry was struggling into his jumper and buttoning his trousers at the same time, and his glasses went flying because of this. He sighed, exasperated, abruptly doing a summoning charm to get them back, as they had skidded under Ron's bed. Sirius raised his eyebrows and then nodded as Harry replaced them on his face.
"Yeah, well it's one of my specialities. Remember the first task of the Tournament? Anyway, it would be a lot more useful if I could dress by doing a summoning charm."
Sirius shook his head, looking like he was trying not to laugh. "Don't try it. Your dad was good with summoning charms too, and tried that on his wedding day, because he was running ridiculously behind schedule. He wound up with that belt thing--what do you call it--"
Harry frowned. "Um--you mean the cumberbund?"
"That's it! He wound up with it wrapped around his head like a turban. I told him he looked dashing that way, and ought to go through the ceremony wearing it on his head, but he threatened to demote me to mere groomsman and make Remus the best man if I came up with any more 'suggestions' like that...."
Harry guffawed as he tied his shoes, grateful to Sirius for making him laugh, for relaxing him, just as he had probably relaxed his jittery father on his wedding day (threats to be demoted notwithstanding). Just think about the match. Just think about the match, he told himself sternly. My bloody private life will have to be sorted out later. Right now--I've got a job.
Harry was ready with ten minutes to spare. He and Sirius went down to the common room and then out of the portrait hole to the corridor. Sirius already had his broom for him, and when the Portkey took effect five minutes later, Harry felt like he was being whacked on the head with the handle as they hurtled through space, the hook behind his navel pulling him toward a castle in Wales, toward his first professional Quidditch match.
They landed in the Welsh changing rooms, which were deserted except for Owen, who looked wide-eyed and frantic at seeing Harry.
"Harry! There the hell you are. Erica is all set to play, in case you didn't show! What were you thinking?"
Harry sheepishly ran his hand through his hair. "Overslept," he said feebly. Owen looked at Sirius in disbelief.
"Overslept?" he said his voice squeaking at the end. Harry grimaced.
"Sorry. Sirius got me here in time, though, right?" he said hopefully. To his relief, Owen nodded at him.
"Only just," he said grumpily. But he didn't have time to ream out Harry for tardiness. He immediately became all-business. "So Harry--how's your broom? Did you clean it yesterday? Trim the twigs?"
Harry hadn't, he confessed, but after giving it a cursory examination, Owen declared, "It'll do," in a slightly dejected voice, and then the three of them walked down the corridor leading to the grassy pitch. When he reached the arched stone doorway, he was completely unprepared for the sounds and sights which met him. Inside the changing rooms, the thick stone walls very effectively shut out the world. Now his ears were assaulted by the dull roar of a crowd that had to be fifty-thousand strong. Above this he heard a voice reading adverts for various wizarding products in a dull monotone, filling in the time before the match. All of the openings in the walls below the parapets had had their protective canvas coverings raised, like window shades, and he could see row upon row of spectators there ready to watch England play Wales, white banners with red crosses on one side, white and green banners with red dragons on the other. There were also people sitting in the stands that had been erected behind the parapets, high up on the castle walls themselves, where Harry thought the best views were, even though those seats weren't sheltered from bad weather (should there be any). As he expected, there were numerous Aurors positioned amongst the spectators, as there had been at the game Harry had attended during the summer. They looked grim and business-like, and Harry tried not to think about the reason for their presence.
He looked at the other Welsh players, waiting on the painfully-green pitch, wearing the same red jumper and trousers as him, the same half-white and half-green robes with the red dragon seeming to climb up the back. Then he glanced across the pitch at the English players, each one wearing a steel-grey jumper and trousers, topped by blindingly bright white robes with the red cross of St. George on the back, as though they were all wearing armor and metal mail under voluminous capes, preparing to go off on one of the Crusades, or to fight at Agincourt. But for their weapons, they bore not longbows or heavy broadswords, but new state-of-the-art Jupiter 5000 brooms, all of them identically perfect down to the last straw, each gleaming like beacons in the grey autumn afternoon. Ron had told him about the new brooms--Ron could keep his, too, so he'd have a beautiful new broom for playing on the house team, as well--but this was the first time Harry had seen them. He tried not to feel a pang of envy for those beautiful new brooms.
Ron was the tallest one on the team, and Harry couldn't help notice that he looked more like a knight preparing himself for battle than any of the other English players. He'd trimmed his red beard quite closely, although Harry knew it would probably grow noticeably during the match (it was only two days before the full moon) and somehow, this only added to the illusion that he was a knight from a bygone era about to go into battle, or the joust of his life, perhaps.
Harry had never before gone into a Quidditch match feeling certain that he would lose, but he did so now. He felt utterly outclassed and intimidated by the English team, with their gleaming new brooms, and it was almost his undoing completely when he saw Remus Lupin slap Ron on the back and grin at him before stepping to the sidelines. Harry ached; Sirius was truly the only one on his side. Harry felt a pat on his shoulder and looked up to find his godfather grinning at him.
"Don't you worry, Harry," he said. He could have been reading Harry's mind. Or maybe just picking up on some of his insecurities. "Just do what you do best to the best of your ability; no one can ask more of you."
Harry nodded nervously, his stomach flopping about disconcertingly. Sirius left him and the sound of the crowd swelled as they collectively perceived that the game was going to start. Then the world was a blur as he flew through the air with his teammates, demonstrating their flying skills, moving in formation along one side of the pitch while the English team flew on the other. A familiar voice read out the names of the English team as the fourteen fliers whooshed through the chilly air, ending with, "...aaaaaand Weasley!" The English team banked and turned, showing off even more, to the very loud approval of the crowd. The announcement of the Welsh players followed, and Harry seemed to have gone temporarily deaf until he heard his own name in the lineup--"Potter!" --followed by another roar of approval going up from the Welsh side when the list was done. That roar was something, it was comforting, but as far as he knew there was no one on the Welsh side that gave two figs about him apart from Sirius, who was in the top box on that side, grinning and clapping continuously. As he flew, Harry glanced quickly down at the English side; Ron had gotten tickets in the top box there for Hermione and Ginny, and his older brothers were there too, along with his parents. Harry ached inside, thinking of Ginny crying on Ron last night....Don't think of Ginny, he told himself sternly. Even Maggie was there, although Harry didn't see Snape. The entire Weasley family had turned out for Ron, beaming with pride, and Harry ached again, ached that they weren't cheering for him.
Enough, he told himself, irritated that he was envying Ron his family yet again. I thought I'd gotten over that. He tried to focus on the game, on the business at hand, and joined the other players around the center of the field, where the Quaffle was going to be released, beginning the action. He glanced up at the Weasleys once, furtively, then forced his eyes away again.
Don't think of Ginny.
Before Harry knew what was happening, one of the English Chasers had the Quaffle and was already racing down the field toward the Welsh goals. The air was thick with players on their brooms in hot pursuit, while the Beaters were already hitting the Bludgers back and forth across the field with ear-piercing pings! when the metal bands on the bats met the heavy iron balls. Harry shadowed his team's own Chasers, ducking and dodging Bludgers on the way, but to his disappointment, the Quaffle flew into one of the hoops as though magnetically drawn to something on the other side, and the familiar voice he'd noticed earlier cried out, "Montague scores! TEN TO NOTHING, ENGLAND!"
Harry glanced up briefly, finally realizing that it was Ludo Bagman's voice, just like at the Quidditch World Cup. He tore his eyes away just in time to see a Bludger bearing down on him, and he ducked. He swooped down near the ground, a mere six feet up, feeling a breeze as the players overhead moved back and forth. He wasn't watching the first time Ron scored; he was racing toward the English goal posts, thinking he would steer his broom up once he was there and fly above the action to look for the Snitch. He was caught by surprise, in mid-dive, and it was a miracle he didn't crash, when he heard Bagman's magically amplified voice cry, "Weasley scores! TWENTY TO NOTHING, ENGLAND!"
He jerked his broom up and swished past the English Keeper, a formidable-looking witch who could have been Crabbe or Goyle's older sister, with her dark hair pulled back into a severe bun and a scowl on her corpulent face. Harry glanced around when he was a good ten feet above her, looking for that glint of gold, the other players a blur of movement at the other end of the pitch. Then he was distracted as the roar of the crowd swelled yet again and, starting to sound like he was stuck in a rut, Bagman shouted once more, "Weasley scores!"
Harry felt like he was struggling to breathe; his lungs felt tight for no reason other than he was scared. He was scared that he was going to lose in front of all of these people. And his best friend would be largely responsible. Perhaps it was because he was hovering near the English Keeper--that might be what did it, what made him think of it....In his mind, he suddenly found himself thrown back to his other life, when he was the Slytherin Keeper and his nemesis was Ron, captain and star of the Gryffindor team. Well, he reckoned, the lion was a symbol of England, and a dragon was near enough to a snake, the symbol of Slytherin....
The game was played almost wholly at the Welsh end, goal after goal being racked up by England. Harry wasn't certain that he'd been keeping an accurate count, but he thought that Ron was responsible for about half of the English points.
He circled the air above the English Keeper, hoping and praying that the Welsh Chasers would manage to get to this end of the pitch soon. He remembered a game from his fifth year when he'd beaten Ron in his other life; during that game he'd gotten so tired of Ron continually snagging the Quaffle that he didn't throw it to a Slytherin Chaser after intercepting an attempted Gryffindor goal, but impatiently flew the length of the pitch himself, Slytherin Keeper scoring on the Gryffindor Keeper, before zipping back to his post. The other Keeper had been so shocked he'd let the Quaffle fly past him without moving at all. Luckily, there was absolutely nothing in the rules against a player who wasn't a Chaser doing this.
Harry smiled now, knowing what he would do. Well, to get this job I took up a Beater's bat; perhaps to win the game--especially against Ron--I need to give my team yet another Chaser. At least, until I spot the Snitch....
Harry plunged forward, toward the mass of players at the other end of the pitch. England had just scored again--a player other than Ron this time--and the score was one-hundred to nothing. This couldn't go on much longer if they were to have any chance at all. Once England had five more Quaffles through the hoops there'd be almost no chance of beating them. Even if he caught the Snitch at that point, it would be a tie.
The Welsh Keeper had blocked another attempted goal and nervously looked for a Welsh Chaser to throw it to, but the English Chasers and Beaters were blocking them, while the English Seeker, a small wiry man who seemed to be in his mid-twenties, circled above the fray near the English Keeper, an amused smirk on his face.
Harry dived at the Beater who was blocking one of his Chasers; he was the only man on this bloke, whereas there were two English players blocking each of the other Chasers. Harry had a hard time remembering this Chaser's name at first, and then he remembered that it was a combination of his mother's name and the name of Roger Davies' late brother: Evan Evans.
The Beater saw Harry coming, recklessly aiming right for him, and a panic shone in his eyes for a half-minute before he ducked out of the way, avoiding a collision. Harry hadn't really had any intention of colliding with him, knowing that he could swerve at the last minute, but he'd frightened the English Beater sufficiently so that he moved first. Luckily, Harry didn't have a Blatching foul called on him for flying with the intent to collide. (He would have a hard time making anyone think that he just wanted the other player to think he was going to hit him.) The referee was busy elsewhere and didn't see what he'd done.
"Thanks, Harry!" Evans shouted to him, and when their Keeper saw that Evans was open, he aimed the Quaffle in his direction. Unfortunately, Ron broke away from the other Welsh Chaser he'd been helping block and intercepted the ball, then moved forward, poised to score again. Harry frowned; Evans was supposed to get the Quaffle, not Ron, but Ron's reflexes were just far and away faster than anyone else's on the field. Harry motioned to the Chaser and he followed Harry into the scoring area, where as many Welsh players as wanted could go, but only one English player, or risk a foul being called for Stooging. With three Welsh players thus effectively defending three hoops, Ron didn't manage to score. In fact, Harry saw him look right at him before aiming the ball directly at the hoop closest to his best friend. Eyes narrowed, Harry caught the Quaffle and then immediately dove below the crowd of players, streaking toward the English goal and the Goyle-and-Crabbish witch waiting there. Evans and one of the other Chasers followed him swiftly, and, not trusting to his ability to actually put the thing through a hoop, as he'd never really practiced this (he'd been very lucky to score, in his other life), he threw it to Evans when they were close enough, making sure he stayed out of the scoring area. Evans feinted to the left and then scored through the center hoop, sending the Welsh side of the castle-stadium into hysterics. "ONE HUNDRED TO TEN!" Bagman cried above the roar of the crowd. Harry was glad he hadn't tried to score; catching things he could do, and throwing the Quaffle a good distance after stopping it from going into a hoop, but throwing with accuracy at a goal that was being protected was another story altogether. He knew his limitations.
The problem with the Chasers on his team, he realized, was that they had not been adequately prepared for playing against Ron Weasley by scrimmaging with the Harpies. The Harpies were good--the best in the League--but compared to the sort of players to which they were accustomed, Ron was another story entirely. Of all the players on the Welsh team, only Harry knew what Ron was thinking, what he was likely to do next, what he was capable of.
This first success seemed to galvanize the Welsh Chasers, and after the English Keeper attempted to hurl the Quaffle to one of her Chasers, one of the Welsh Chasers, Wescoat, intercepted it, and she immediately scored for Wales again.
"ONE-HUNDRED TO TWENTY!"
Now there was some back and forth between the two ends of the field; Harry thought his teammates might have started getting dejected about the lopsided score. They seemed to have woken up now, and as his team scored their fourth goal, still holding the English team to one-hundred, Harry was somewhat shocked to feel a jolt as a Bludger collided with his broom twigs, making him fly crazily for a moment until he grasped the handle with determination and zoomed straight up, to shake the wobbles out of it.
He looked for the Beater who'd hit it, but oddly, both English Beaters were at the other end of the field, hitting the other Bludger back and forth to each other while attempting to keep possession of it, so that they could try to hit any Chaser who attempted to score on their Keeper again. Then Harry looked up and the same Bludger was heading for him again. He waited until the last minute, then dodged to the side, feeling the thing whistle past his ear, it was uncomfortably close.
He continued to watch the six Chasers and the Quaffle with one eye, and the Bludger with the other. He called to his Beaters, "Can you do something about this thing? It seems to be following me."
They nodded, flying toward it with their bats poised, and Harry saw that Ron had intercepted a pass between Evans and Wescoat again. Harry zoomed toward Ron, and then was flying right by his side as they both bore down on the Welsh goal. Ron turned his head to glance at Harry briefly.
"What the hell do you think you're doing, Harry?"
Harry kept an eye on the Quaffle under Ron's arm. "Last time I checked I was playing Quidditch. It's a game. On broomsticks. See, there are seven people to a team--"
"Bugger off, Harry!" he swore at him, clearly irritated and distracted, which had been Harry's goal.
"You won't get rid of me that easy, Weasley," Harry said, deciding not to be familiar.
"Oh, is that how it is, Potter? Well, take this--" And he elbowed Harry violently in the ribs, making him catch his breath. Harry wondered how much that was for being irritating while he was trying to score, and how much of it was for Ginny crying last night....
Don't think of Ginny, don't think of Ginny....
"AND WEASLEY FOULS POTTER! COBBING!"
Harry grinned at Ron, flying off before Ron took another shot at him with his elbow.
"EVANS WILL TAKE THE FOUL SHOT FOR WALES!" Bagman declared, after seeing the hand signals from the referee. Ron had to give the Quaffle up to Evans. Harry had been trying to set him off, and it had worked. His ribs weren't too happy, but he'd played with worse pain before. He knew Ron well, and Ron had behaved very predictably. Harry knew he wouldn't normally let himself be wound up by something so minor, but Harry also knew Ron's temper was a bit shorter than usual in the days preceding the full moon. It was inside information, but it had worked to his advantage. And then there was Ginny, too...
Don't think of Ginny, don't think of Ginny...
It was a rough game, and soon fouls were being called on both teams. Blagging (seizing the opponent's broomtail), Blatching, an epidemic of Cobbing, (suddenly, elbows were everywhere) and two incidents of Stooging by the English players (once by Ron, who hadn't been able to stop his broom before he'd strayed into the scoring area, where one of his fellow Chasers was trying to score).
The score had reached a phenomenal level, which Harry had never experienced in school play: eight hundred thirty to seven-hundred. The English Seeker was marking Harry, whether he was adding his presence to guarding the Welsh goals or helping pass the Quaffle between the Chasers, to prevent the English Chasers (which was to say Ron) from intercepting it. (Ron seemed to be responsible for most of the interceptions during the game.) Harry was enjoying throwing the Quaffle back and forth so much that he almost didn't notice the glimmer of gold out of the corner of his eye. He pretended at first that he hadn't seen it, and turned his head to find out what the English Seeker was up to. Was he aware that the Snitch had appeared?
But the English Seeker was facing the wrong way, and evidently hadn't seen what Harry had. Now the Snitch was hurtling along in between the two English Beaters, who were also oblivious to this fact, and Harry did a one-eighty, swerving so that he'd be flying between them, growing closer and closer to the Snitch. Suddenly, the same Bludger that had been plaguing him all game came bearing down on him again. He dove, then swerved up again, reaching up to grab the Snitch in his right hand, feeling the strong wings beating against his palm and an exultation ripping through him. He swerved away from the Beaters, one of whom had hit the Bludger toward him before he realized what Harry had done, and, Snitch in hand, Harry ducked the metal sphere once again before hovering near the middle of the field, holding up the Snitch with a triumphant grin. The crowd realized what had happened more quickly than Ludo Bagman, and the roar became positively deafening.
"AND IT'S WALES!" Bagman finally declared, after everyone present already knew. "POTTER HAS THE SNITCH! WALES WILL PLAY FRANCE IN THE QUARTER-FINALS!"
Harry grinned, seeing even the Hogwarts students who'd been sitting on the English side erupt in cheers and applause, jumping to their feet, which was probably confounding the other spectators sitting around them. He waved to the Creevey brothers, yelling themselves hoarse, leaning precariously over the stone barrier at the front of the "window" in the stone wall from where they'd been viewing the match. Harry could see Dean and Seamus behind the smaller boys, hopping up and down and waving to Harry as he flew his victory lap with the Snitch over his head.
But this was cut short as the problematic Bludger came round again and hit his broom twigs. He lost his grip on the handle and fell forward, striking his chin painfully on the wood and biting his lip so that it bled. He had his arms wrapped around his broom awkwardly, the Snitch still in his right hand, when it came back at him again. He tried to duck, and instead rolled right off his broom, hanging by his left hand while he continued to grasp the Snitch in his right. He heard the crowd gasp and he looked down, thinking grimly that soon they'd have something to really gasp about. He was up above the parapets, high enough that he could do far worse damage to himself than breaking his legs should he fall. Well, he thought, if I have to I'll transform in midair and fly; better that people find out I'm an Animagus than die to keep it a secret...
Even as he felt his sweaty fingers slipping from the wood, he also felt a swishing in the air around him, and the next thing he knew, he was falling--only to be stopped short by a large strong arm being wrapped around his chest, making it hard for him to breathe.
It was Ron. He steered his broom up and over the parapets, landing on the Welsh side, depositing Harry on the deck next to the top box before landing and dismounting from his broom. Harry's breathing was labored, and the roar of the crowd was deafening.
"AND CHASER WEASLEY PREVENTS POTTER FROM TAKING A BAD FALL!" Bagman bellowed hoarsely.
Harry looked up at Ron and nodded. After he'd gotten his breath back, he managed to choke out, "Thanks, mate."
Ron nodded back at him. "Well, just because we lost doesn't mean I want my best friend spattered all over the pitch, now does it?" And then he broke into a very typical Ron grin and thrust his hand at Harry. Harry grasped it, pulling himself up, and once he was on his feet he hugged Ron roughly, thumping him soundly on the back before releasing him.
"You great prat," he said affectionately. Ron shrugged.
"One of us had to be on the losing team." Harry saw past the casual dismissal of the loss, saw the disappointment in his eyes, and wished that there had been some way for them both to win. Stupid, really, but he still wished it. He turned when he heard footsteps; Sirius was hurrying down from the top box to see him, grinning broadly the entire time. But suddenly, with a crash! the Bludger that had hit Harry's broom collided with one of the parapets near where he and Ron were standing, taking off a piece of stone roughly the size of Harry's head. He and Sirius and Ron shielded their faces from the flying fragments as the sphere arched up into the air again. That could have been my skull, Harry thought, swallowing.
This wasn't funny or merely inconvenient anymore.
Then another familiar black-haired figure was standing near him, saying with a calm gravity, "Let it aim for you again, Harry, and then duck as fast as you can."
To his surprise, it was Snape, who, it appeared, had also been sitting on the Welsh side.
"You might need help," Sirius said to him, even though he wasn't looking at Snape; like Severus Snape, he was watching the Bludger come round for another attempt at decapitating Harry. Snape nodded at him.
"Together on three. One, two--THREE!"
The two of them pointed their wands at the approaching cannon-ball like projectile, and it slowed to a stop, hovering in the air two feet in front of Harry, who hadn't bothered to duck. He felt like he was holding his breath. And then suddenly, the wind was knocked out of him as a small body flung itself against his midsection.
"Harry Potter! Harry Potter! You is all right!"
"D--Dobby?" Harry sputtered. More and more people were gathering in the spot where he and Ron had landed. He looked up in shock to see Aberforth Dumbledore grinning at him, looking odd to Harry in old grey wizarding robes that he'd thrown over his Muggle clothes rather hurriedly, it seemed. Harry remembered that he'd usually looked rather smart when he was teaching Charms in fifth year, while Flitwick was in the hospital wing. Perhaps he'd been borrowing robes from his brother. (Professor Dumbledore had some rather impressive ensembles, usually with matching hats.) And with him was Sam Bell, which really bowled Harry over, as Sam couldn't do much magic anymore, and the break-up with Katie hadn't exactly gone well. But that didn't seem to matter now. Sam and Aberforth came forward and shook his hand, patting him on the back, and Harry's heart felt very full. Now he also noticed Hagrid and Mad-Eye Moody and his sister (whom Harry still had to remember to call Professor Figg). Evidently, Sirius hadn't been the only supporter he'd had on the Welsh side. He even thought he saw large brown eyes and pointy ears peeking out nervously around the edge of Aberforth's robes.
"Winky?" he whispered, incredulous. She crept out, her large eyes shining. She wore what appeared to be a little girl's set of robes, and in stark contrast to when she'd been at Hogwarts, in spite of the fact that she was technically wearing clothes, and not a tea-towel or old pillowcase, the robes looked immaculately clean and she seemed to be relatively healthy and whole.
"Hello, Harry," she squeaked. "Master was wanting me to come with him because he thought I would enjoy it." Master? And then Harry remembered that Winky had gone to work for "the headmaster's brother." Somehow, he'd managed to forget that this was the same as Aberforth, whom Harry had learnt to call Dick Abernathy in the Muggle world. Harry almost laughed at the thought; somehow, he hadn't pictured "Dick" going home to a hot meal and a flat cleaned by a house elf, but that was evidently the way he lived now. It was even possible that she was accepting some small payment, since she was wearing clothes. One thing did puzzle him, though.
"I thought you were afraid of heights, Winky," he said to her.
"Oh, I am," she confirmed, her voice going up still higher. "Until--until we came up the stairs, we was in the lowest seats...." She clung to Aberforth again, the fabric of his robes clutched frantically in her bony fingers. Aberforth patted her head fondly.
"There, there, Winky. I'd never let any harm come to you, you know that..." Harry's throat was tight; his voice was so like Dumbledore's. And yet--
"Where's Professor Dumbledore?" Harry asked, looking around. He noticed that Aberforth looked somewhat uncomfortable. So did Sirius and Snape, who glanced at each other furtively, he saw.
"He would have liked to come, Harry," Aberforth told him. "But--it wasn't possible. He does hope you and Ron will forgive him." His look seemed to say, Do not ask any more questions right now.
Harry nodded. "Of course, of course. Just wondering."
Now their number included Owen Aberystwyth, Monty Mathers and Ludo Bagman; Remus Lupin and Ron's parents and older brothers had come over from the English side, as well. (Harry saw that Hermione, Ginny and Maggie were still on the other side of the pitch.) They were all gawping at the floating Bludger.
"What the hell's going on?" Owen demanded, pointing with his thumb at the Bludger, still hovering in mid-air. Snape looked at him disdainfully.
"It would seem that this Bludger was tampered with. It was pursuing Harry rather single-mindedly, even after the match, when it should have returned to the ground. If Mr. Weasley had not caught him, you would have been missing your starting Seeker in the match against France."
Mathers stepped up to Snape, looking truculent. "What are you implying? That we cheated?"
Snape's expression did not change. "Hardly. It is not necessary for the Bludger-tampering to have anything to do with the game. Someone might have been trying to hurt Harry for reasons quite apart from altering the outcome of a Quidditch match," he said, his opinion of Mathers quite clear from his tone. It was also clear what he meant by someone; everyone knew the someone who'd had it in for Harry since he was a one-year-old.
Bagman had de-amplified his voice and stepped forward now, a mock-jovial expression on his face. "Now, now, we don't want to worry any of our--friends," he said, motioning with his head at an Auror standing about twenty feet away. "Next thing you know, the Ministry will think we can't hold the European Cup here...."
"Is that all you're worried about?" Ron yelled at him, surprising Harry. If anyone thought Quidditch was one of the most important things in the world, it was Ron. "If I hadn't caught him, Harry would be a puddle on the ground!"
Harry choked for a second. "Erm, thanks Ron. A bit vivid, but thanks." Ron grimaced.
"Sorry, Harry. You know, for the first time, I'm glad I have werewolf reflexes and instincts for a reason other than playing Quidditch. Even before you started to fall, I had this nagging feeling that I should turn to look in your direction, and--"
"What?" Owen Aberystwyth roared now, interrupting Ron. Harry saw a swish of a robe out of the corner of his eye--he thought someone had ducked behind Aberforth, but he wasn't sure. Winky was still pressed to his side, but she was no longer looking afraid due to the height of the castle walls; her round eyes looked toward where Owen, Mathers and Bagman were standing. Bagman was frowning deeply.
"Oh dear, oh dear," he kept repeating, looking sadly at Ron and shaking his head.
Ron frowned back at him. "Oh dear what?"
"You're a werewolf?" Mathers said, looking very pale.
Ron shrugged. "Yeah. Are you saying you didn't know? I thought you got my medical records from Madam Pomfrey. You did read them, didn't you?"
Mathers looked flabbergasted. "I--it's just--usually a formality. I filed them away. I did ask her whether you were in good health, if there was anything we needed to be concerned about. She said you were as healthy as a horse."
Owen broke in, looking as though he didn't believe for a minute that Mathers was just finding out about Ron's lycanthropy. "What you should have asked her was whether he has any medical conditions which would prevent him from playing professional Quidditch!"
Ron's jaw dropped. "Prevent me--"
Bagman was tsking with his tongue against his teeth. "Ah, yes. I'm afraid that there is a rule that was instituted years ago, mostly because of wizard vampires wanting to play. The rule prevents wizard part-humans from participating in the league. A werewolf is also a part-human. I'm sorry to say that you're off the team, Weasley," Bagman said. Harry looked at Bagman with narrowed eyes. He didn't sound very sorry.
"W--well th--then," Mathers sputtered, "we should play the game over, with one of our reserves...."
"What's the point?" Bagman said hurriedly. Too hurriedly, Harry thought. "Wales will play France. England didn't win. If England had won--yes, the match would have to be done over. But it's rather moot, since you lost, don't you think?" Mathers was glaring at Bagman; Harry thought Bagman had been rather tactless about the since you lost part.
Ron looked around at them all, speechless. "I--I just thought everybody knew. I thought it was in the papers when there was the news about Sirius being cleared and Pettigrew framing him--all that. You know--what happened in the forest last term."
Harry furrowed his brow, thinking. "Actually, Ron, now that I think about it--I don't recall seeing anything in any of the Prophet stories about you being bitten. After all, you never brought charges against Remus. If you had, there might have been some coverage, but since you didn't--"
Ron shrugged. "It wasn't his fault his hiding place was set on fire." He shook his head. "What a way for this to come out..." He sounded utterly dejected. Bagman was eyeing Mathers suspiciously.
"Are you saying that you didn't know Weasley was a werewolf, and you had nothing to do with this Bludger?"
Mathers put his face in Bagman's now. "Oh, so now you are accusing me of cheating? Is that it? Is it?"
Harry stepped in between them. "The game's over. Let it drop," he said to both of them. Bagman gave Harry a penetrating look for a moment, and Harry wondered about something he remembered from his fourth year....Harry looked at Winky now, still clinging to Aberforth Dumbledore and looking at Ludo Bagman with wide, frightened eyes....
"And what about the house team?" Ron was saying now, evidently not having noticed what Harry had seen. "Does that mean I can't be Quidditch captain any more?" He looked even more distressed about this than not being on the English team any more.
Snape came to the rescue again. "I believe," their Potions Master said now, "that there is no rule against part-humans participating in the Inter-House Quidditch Cup. You should have no problems continuing to lead your house team," he said dryly, as though he wished this weren't the case (Slytherin wouldn't stand a chance against Ron, he probably knew). Harry could see that the full impact of the ruling against Ron was hitting home. He can't become a professional player after he finishes school. He can't Apparate, either, which will affect his other job possibilities as well. Harry swallowed, watching Remus Lupin's face, as he put his hand on Ron's shoulder; Ron looked down at him in fear, as though seeing his future and being repulsed by it. Remus let his hand drop and backed away. He seemed to be feeling a fresh wave of guilt for altering the course of Ron's life in such an irrevocable way.
The crowd on the parapets was remarkably quiet and subdued now. Suddenly, evidently not being able to take it any more, Charlie Weasley strode up to his brother and threw his arm around his shoulder. "S'all right, Ron, yeah? I have a surprise for you. You said that broom's yours, right?" he said, nodding at Ron's beautiful Jupiter. Ron clutched it tightly, looking at Monty Mathers uncertainly.
"Well, I thought it was..."
"Yeah, only someone who was too daft to actually read your medical records would probably be perfectly happy to give it to you as a parting gift, don't you think?" Charlie said with an edge to his voice; he was ostensibly speaking to Ron, but glaring at Mathers the whole time. Harry remembered how Mathers had longed to have Charlie on his team when he'd finished school, before the lure of dragons had drawn Charlie off to Romania.
"Yeah," Mathers said dejectedly. "Keep the ruddy broom."
"Perfect!" Charlie crowed, tightening his hold around Ron's shoulders. "Just the thing to ride in the annual broom race from Kopparberg to Arjeplog, right along with me! Didn't I tell you I was going to be in the race this year? Some mates of mine from the reservation in Romania have been going up to Sweden to fly in the race every year, and they've been pestering me forever to join in. We can give them two Weasleys for the price of one! Say you'll do it, yeah?"
Ron looked down at Charlie, half a head shorter than him, his round tanned face grinning broadly. Ron gave in and a slow smile crept across his face. "Yeah, I'll do it. Only--are part-humans allowed?" He glanced at Bagman, the smile evaporating.
Ludo Bagman looked at the Weasleys around him with a clear distaste. In addition to Charlie, who was still by Ron's side, the twins were glaring at Bagman with their arms crossed on their chests and Bill was also giving him a gimlet eye. Harry noticed for the first time that Percy was absent.
He shrugged and said in a rather high-pitched voice, "Fine. I can say, as the person who takes registration from British participants in the race, that there are no rules against part-humans."
Sirius stepped forward and put his hand on Harry's shoulder now. "And Harry will probably have his Apparition test by then, so he can come and watch you both. Hermione too."
Harry hadn't thought about this. He grinned up at Ron. "That'll be brilliant! I can see my best friend win the annual broom race!"
Ron was grinning again, looking like he couldn't possibly find any reason to be angry with Harry now. "Right after I get to see you win the European Cup, you mean?"
They both laughed; Harry was glad that they'd managed to smooth over the awkwardness of Ron not being allowed to play professional Quidditch any more--for the moment. There was still a slight shadow behind Ron's eyes, despite his putting a good face on things, thanks to Charlie. Ron couldn't exactly make a living, when he was out of school, from flying in an annual broom race, but it was at least something he was uniquely suited for. He was probably better suited than any of the other racers, in fact, who could be in very grave danger from some of the dragons on the reservation through which the race course ran. Ron could withstand a lot more in terms of physical rigor and burns, plus his reflexes would put him in a good position to avoid most of the injuries he would probably otherwise receive.
But as the crowd dispersed and Harry prepared to return to Hogwarts with Sirius, he couldn't help notice that Winky continued to peer around Aberforth's legs at Bagman, watching him very, very fearfully, and trembling the whole time.
There was an insanely gleeful party in the Gryffindor common room when Harry returned; it was as if everyone there had been on the Welsh side during the match, instead of most of them being on the English side. Harry decided that he didn't mind. As time went on, though, and Harry noticed Ron becoming more and more withdrawn, he wished the Creeveys and Seamus and Dean would stop describing every play of the game to the younger students and just go to bed, even though it was barely seven o'clock in the evening. (Orion Pierson kept begging to hear more, shooting Harry grins every so often and sometimes mentioning that he and Harry both lived in Ascog Castle. Students below third year hadn't been given the opportunity to ask their parents and guardians permission to go to the match.)
Someone was playing a Wizarding Wireless and couples were dancing lazily to a slow song, but when Hermione tried to coax Ron into a dance, he pulled away from her brusquely and went up the stairs to the boys' dorms, leaving Hermione looking rather forlorn, staring after him. Harry started to approach her, but she suddenly glared at him and walked over to Neville, pulling him to his feet and leading him to the clutch of other dancing couples rather forcefully, leaning her head on Neville's chest as he led her around the middle of the floor with the other dancers. It seemed that she was very pointedly not looking at Harry.
He grimaced and turned away from them, only to see a school owl pounding itself silly on one of the windows. He opened it and the owl promptly entered and dropped a piece of parchment in Harry's hands before leaving again. Harry closed the window and unrolled the parchment; it was very brief:
He swallowed. Don't think of Ginny, don't think of Ginny, had been his mantra throughout the game. Now he needed to think of Ginny, think of the way she'd been sobbing on Ron last night. Ron must still not know what had happened, or else he'd be as cold toward me as Hermione is, he thought, looking up at her with Neville again. (Neville, he thought, looked far too happy for his own good.)
Harry checked his watch; he had plenty of time to walk to the Trophy Room slowly if he left now. He made his way toward the portrait hole, no one noticing his exodus, and was soon walking through the cold corridors of the castle, his heart pounding quickly as he tried to figure out what he was going to say, how he was going to explain to her about Mariah. In his pocket he still carried the amulet she'd abandoned, resisting the temptation to reach in and hold it, to determine what she was doing right now. It will be all right, it will be all right, he told himself over and over. But he didn't believe it.
He reached the Trophy room ten minutes early, and found that someone else was already there: Mariah Kirkner and Draco Malfoy. To his relief, they weren't touching, just standing, leaning against one of the trophy cases, talking quietly. Harry glared at them both when he entered.
"Clear off. I need to speak to someone here, and you're the last two people in the world I want around for this...."
Mariah frowned. "Clear off? But it's Ginny, isn't it? She asked us to be here too. Hair note jest said, 'We need ta talk.'"
Harry licked his lips and swallowed, not liking this. "She asked all three of us here? To talk?"
"Yes." Ginny's voice was icy as she entered the room, looking both regal and fragile. Harry could see the purple shadows under her eyes, from crying the night before. It had been impossible to see her face clearly when she was sitting in the stands at the game and he was flying overhead. The three of them stood rather awkwardly while she stopped about six feet from them and put her hands on her hips. She glared at the three of them, and Harry could practically feel the air in the room crackling from her anger. "First, congratulations on winning today, Harry. Perhaps you'll start getting letters from female fans who want to date you, so you won't have to change your snake into a girl any more." Draco Malfoy guffawed, holding his stomach. Harry winced at the tone in her voice, and even Mariah looked alarmed at the way she was addressing him. Ginny surveyed all three of them now. "So," she said at last, "Now that that's out of the way--it's probably about time we all talked, don't you think?" She was doing her best to be imperious, to be in charge, but Harry saw her chin give a small wobble, her lip shake momentarily, before she clenched her jaw muscles with fury and continued.
"Let's start with you, Mariah. Could you--oh, I'm not sure just how to put it--possibly be more of a tart?" Ginny's eyes glittered with malice, and Harry hoped her wand wasn't very handy.
Mariah was the calmest one in the room, for reasons Harry couldn't fathom. "Why do ye say that, Ginny? Because I was there for Draco when you got 'im all wairked up in the greenhooses and then ran off?"
Ginny sputtered. "Ran off? Sprout caught us together! I've never been more embarrassed in my life! I was in just my bra and knickers; but please excuse me for feeling embarrassed by that. You obviously wouldn't understand..." Harry knew then that she was referring to what she'd seen when she'd held the amulet Saturday night; she sounded very acerbic, but he looked at her carefully again and saw that chin wobble, and knew that she had to be as hard as ice so that she wouldn't break down as she had in the common room the previous evening. It was her only defense.
Ginny looked around at the three of them. "Why do I get the impression that all of us here know why I was staying with Draco and that I shouldn't go on pretending any more?"
Draco Malfoy grimaced. "Well, personally, I was pretending publicly that it was my devastating charm, wit and good looks, but I'm getting a very bad feeling that you might be about to say something else."
Ginny sneered at him now. "Oh, well spotted, Draco. You finally figured it out. It only took--what? A year? You're very quick, you are. I can see why you're top in your year. Oh, wait--that's not you. That's Hermione. Muggle-born Hermione," she added, glaring at him. Draco Malfoy, however, wasn't feeling inclined to let the abuse continue.
"I'll have you know it did not take me the better part of a year to figure it out. In my defense, I can say that I was in a little thing called denial." He was practically shouting in her face, then abruptly, he grew very quiet. "I knew, all right. I just--didn't want to believe it." His emotions seemed to be all over the place; he became truculent again. "You know, if you'd fallen out of love with me, you might have just said so and ended it," he whinged. "Instead, you kept giving me hope, when you never bloody intended to follow through at all because you were still panting after Potter!"
Ginny looked back at him, very level, not denying it. "Yes," she said finally. "I--I still had feelings for Harry. And for a while I had feelings for you too, and I was confused. But the more you pressed me, the less I felt for you....until I knew that I wasn't in love with you at all, and that I'd made a dreadful mistake. Unfortunately, by then, it was too late."
Malfoy frowned. "Too late? Too bloody late for what?"
She shrugged. "Too late for a lot of things. I thought it was too late for Harry to be interested in me, as he was with Hermione; too late for me to say, 'Oh, sorry I made you think I was interested in you, which was one of the reasons why you helped put your dad in prison....'" She halted, reddening. "I mean--you did do a good thing. And I felt like--like it would be throwing it in your face to leave you. I felt--trapped."
Draco Malfoy grimaced. "That's what a bloke wants to hear--that his girlfriend has felt 'trapped' for a year. Bloody marvelous."
Ginny did in fact look very contrite. "I'm--I'm sorry. I did once have feelings for you, but--"
He put his hand up. "I know, I know. Listen, my ego doesn't need to hear every blow-by-blow moment of how you fell out of love with me. I rather got the impression that you decided Potter here was supposed to deflower you, not me, and no one else would do."
Ginny glanced at Harry furtively and turned bright red. "As you can probably guess, even when I had feelings for you, your tact isn't something I found to be your most attractive feature," she said to Draco acidly.
Malfoy smirked now and posed against the glass trophy case. "Oh? And what did you consider to be my most attractive feature? You did almost sleep with me."
Ginny rolled her eyes. "Well, it wasn't your capacity for humility, I'll tell you that. This isn't all about sex, you know. I was frankly getting quite tired of everything coming down to that; if I cared about you, I'd do it. Do you want to know something? Do you?" She came very close to him, her mouth a mere inch away from his, her chest pressed against his. Harry could see that Malfoy's breathing had sped up. "I wanted you so badly sometimes it hurt. But I wasn't in love with you and didn't want to sleep with you just because it would be a physical release, and because I had cause to believe I'd enjoy it a great deal. That wasn't the issue for me. I was afraid that if I gave in--not to you, but to myself--it would be tantamount to saying that I was still in love with you. And yes, I know I'd said the words. And when I did say it, I really did mean it. But if we--well, I thought you'd take that to mean--" She reddened and stepped away from him. "Believe me, I was trying to avoid leading you on as much as possible. That's why I didn't sleep with you. But it was getting harder and harder...Finally, just before we had to all go into the forest to rescue you and Professor Snape, I was considering just ending it with you and starting my life fresh--"
Malfoy didn't change his pose. "--which was after Potter broke up with Granger, if I recall correctly--"
"--but then I found out--something--which made me think that might not be the best idea in the world..."
Malfoy frowned at first, then widened his eyes. Harry wasn't sure what Ginny meant, but then, just before Malfoy opened his mouth to speak he realized what she meant, and the thought formed in his mind as Draco Malfoy said the words:
"The Obedience Charm."
Ginny nodded. "Right."
Malfoy ran his fingers through his fine, pale hair, pacing back and forth on the cold, hard stone floor. "Bloody hell. You thought that if you left me for Potter, I'd just go off and become You-Know-Who's right hand man and do whatever he wanted me to--like kill your precious Harry. Isn't that right?"
Ginny gave a small shrug. "Among other things. I'd be lying if I denied that the thought crossed my mind. Although, to be fair, I was glad that you didn't become a meal for a giant spider. So--well, you see the position I was in. You had the charm on you, you already hated Harry...It really didn't take much imagination to think of what you might do if I left you for him."
Malfoy crossed his arms and glared at the two of them. "So the two of you cooked up this plan to keep me frustrated as hell? Is that it?"
Harry threw up his hands. "I didn't know anything about this yet."
"Yet," Malfoy repeated, looking at Harry with narrowed eyes.
"As far as I knew, she was still in love with you," Harry said, looking sideways at Ginny. "I had no reason to believe otherwise."
Malfoy looked at Ginny again. "So this was all your idea, then? To be a complete tease?"
Ginny looked at him with her arms crossed on her chest, then moved her gaze to Mariah. "Oh, yes, I had a great deal of fun teasing myself, letting you kiss me and--and touch me, so that Harry might remain safe, while not giving myself permission to just--just give in--" Harry felt his stomach clench as he saw how her breath caught, remembering. "But I had a feeling that you wouldn't be frustrated for long, that there was someone at hand perfectly willing to help you with your little 'problem.'"
Mariah glared back at her. "Why coodn't ye have jest lait 'im go? I'd have made 'im see there was nothing to be gained by his goin' after Harry...."
Ginny rolled her eyes. "Oh, yes, right. If You-Know-Who had come after Draco and told him to kill Harry, you really would have told him to disobey the order and die. I'm so sure. What do you take me for? All right, you're not like some of the other Slytherins, but I don't think for a minute that you would let Draco do something that would be guaranteed to end with his death. You'd advise him obey any order You-Know-Who gave him if it meant he would still be safe afterward. At least I had some hope of influencing Draco to do the right thing if You-Know-Who ever tried to use the Obedience Charm to manipulate him." She looked at Draco levelly now. "No, I'm not saying I want you to die. But I don't want a lot of things to happen that have...."
The chin wobble was back, and Harry wondered what she was thinking. Draco Malfoy was looking at her desperately; he seemed to believe her now about being as frustrated as him. It seemed to be some small consolation to him that she wasn't completely immune to his attempts at seduction, while this same knowledge was making Harry feel as though he might go insane. He remembered her writhing in his arms, behind Hagrid's hut on her fifteenth birthday... It also became clear that, no matter how upset he was with her, Draco Malfoy didn't want to lose her, either. "Ginny, please forgive me. I--I didn't know what was going on in your head."
She crossed her arms and looked dispassionately at him. "So that's why you shagged that Muggle girl in the hedge maze this summer?"
His jaw dropped. "But--but I thought you believed that letter I wrote--"
She laughed loudly. "What kind of ninny do you think I am? All right, let me tell you what you did--you felt tempted to sleep with her and did, then realized that Harry or Katie or both of them would tell me about it--"
He was looking at her with his fists clenched by his sides. "No! I mean, yeah--I felt tempted. But when I did it--it was in a damn public space. And that was on purpose. Because I wanted Potter and Bell to tell you. To hurt you. To see if you had any feelings left to hurt. That was my original intention, anyway...." He stopped, swallowing. "But then," he went on more quietly, "I had second thoughts. About you being hurt. And about you leaving me. I love you, Ginny..." he trailed off softly, and despite the infidelity, Harry believed him.
Ginny looked at him shrewdly. "And what about the times last year when you were sneaking around with Mariah in the middle of the night?"
Malfoy looked nervously at Mariah now. "Well--I was feeling rather frustrated then...." He reddened. "And Mariah said--well, no strings attached--"
Harry glanced at her; she'd been lying. She very much wanted there to be strings attached. Ginny could see this too. She sighed. "Poor little tart. Fell for the biggest rogue at the school, and thought he'd get down on bended knee and propose if you accommodated him, eh?" Ginny's voice had a nasty edge to it. Mariah bristled.
"I thought that after a time he might come to his sainses and see what was right in front o' him instead o' hankerin' after what he couldn' have," she told Ginny with her chin in the air. Ginny's glare was utter hatred.
"Is that why you seduced Harry, too?"
Draco Malfoy's jaw dropped. "What the hell--?"
Ginny laughed. "Oh, you didn't know your little mistress was cheating on you? Last night, they were down in the tunnels going at it. Rutting like animals--"
"We stopped!" Harry said quickly. "Erm, what I mean is--" He felt himself reddening. Draco Malfoy was looking rather upset.
"What the hell happened?" he said to Harry and Mariah, red-faced now from fury, not embarrassment.
Harry swallowed and pointed. "I have a perfectly good excuse. She's a selkie!" he said, pointing an accusatory finger at Mariah.
For the first time, Ginny looked shocked. "A what?"
Mariah nodded. "Aye," she said briefly, before removing her fingerless gloves and spreading her fingers, so Ginny could see the webbing there. Harry could see that Ginny didn't know what to do now.
"But," he said quickly; "Mariah said she never used her selkie wiles to get Malfoy to sleep with her. She'd never used them at all until last night--"
"No!" Draco Malfoy said quickly. "No, it's a lie! She used her selkie charms on me! That's why we--did stuff--"
Ginny looked back and forth between the three of them. "Oh, I just do not believe this is happening..."
Mariah looked very determined. "Waill, believe it. You saw us whain you touched the amulet, didn't ye?" Ginny looked even more shocked, and nodded dumbly. "You love him," she said pointing at Harry. "That's why you can see him when you touch it. I wanted ye to see the pair of us, to think that if ye didn't leave Draco once 'n' fer all ye might lose Harry..."
Ginny gasped. "You what?"
Malfoy looked outraged. "Yeah! You what?"
Mariah looked smugly satisfied. "Well, here we all are, talkin' openly about all this, finally. It wairked. And now that you've seen me an' Harry in the amulet, I'd appreciate it if you'd hand it over--" She walked toward Ginny and put her hand on her neck, looking for the silver chain. Ginny backed away from her, holding her throat with her hand.
"I--I don't have it any more--"
Mariah looked very suspicious. "Oh, really? Then where the haill is it?"
Harry had a sudden inspiration. "Why don't you ask Draco?" he said, nodding at him. Mariah looked at him with narrowed eyes, seeing for the first time the silver chain on the back of Draco Malfoy's neck. She strode to him and swiftly pulled the amulet out of his shirt collar, gasping.
"What the haill? Why didn't ye taill me ye had this?"
"Erm," Malfoy said, taking the chain off over his head. "It was--it was meant to be a surprise."
He held it out to her, looking like it was the last thing he wanted to do. Mariah took it in her hand, holding it tightly, then closing her eyes for a few moments. When she opened them, she was smiling.
"It wairks," she said dreamily, looking at Draco with shining eyes. For his part, Draco Malfoy was glaring at Harry and Ginny.
"Well, I suppose you two are just off to happy-ever-after-land now..." he sneered. Harry swallowed. All of his protests to the contrary, he certainly sounded like it would take very little for him to decide to hurt Harry right now. Even if that involved being sucked back into the Death Eaters and putting his Dark Mark to some use.
Ginny turned her glare on Harry. "Don't be so sure. What I saw last night, when I held the amulet...." Her chin was shaking again. "I don't see how I could possibly forget that. You were all over her!" she said to Harry now, unshed tears hovering in her eyes. "Why should I believe that it was only because of her selkie wiles? She didn't use them on Draco. Why should I believe that you stopped?"
"Er, didn't you keep, er, watching?"
She looked appalled. "No! Of course not! What do you take me for?" Harry thought of the Omnioculars, and was very glad that he hadn't shown her the images of Mariah and Draco together. "After just a few moments--I'd seen quite enough!"
"But you have to believe me!" he said breathlessly. "I--I realized that the way I felt--it was similar to when the veelas came out on the field at the World Cup, and when I was under Imperius during my fourth year, when I was learning to beat it...."
Ginny looked at him with narrowed eyes, tapping her foot. "Right. You can beat Imperius. And yet--there you were. You're as bad as Draco! First you're in bed with Katie after dating her less than a month, then you're changing Sandy into a girl. I would say 'What's next?' but I know--it's screwing Mariah, and claiming that she made you do it. Oh, yes, when I saw the pair of you, she was really twisting your arm."
Harry's jaw was open, moving soundlessly. Draco Malfoy looked like Christmas had come early.
"No, really, Ginny. It wasn't like that--"
Ginny rolled her eyes. "You know, I haven't the slightest idea why I was ever afraid of anything happening to you should I break up with Draco. I only know one thing now," she said, her voice tight with rage. "I just have one thing to say to the three of you. You can all go to hell."
She glared at each of them in turn briefly before turning on her heel and striding from the room. They looked at each other uncertainly. Harry stared after her, his heart feeling very strange and slow, as though it were only beating once a minute.
Draco Malfoy wasn't going to let all of this go without comment, however.
"So," he drawled, smirking at Harry. "You've been told to go to hell, too, Potter. Ha! I can't say I'm too happy about finding out about you and Mariah this way--" he said, an edge to his voice now; "--but at least you're not going to be with Ginny, either."
Harry felt an incredible urge to completely forgo magic and just punch Draco Malfoy very hard, as Ron had done on his sixteenth birthday. Harry turned and glared at them both, then moved swiftly out of the room before he lost control and did something to earn yet another detention.
The next morning, gathering to go running was a rather tense affair. Ginny wouldn't look at Harry, Mariah or Draco. Harry wanted nothing to do with the two Slytherins, while silently imploring Ginny to look at him. Hermione wouldn't look at Harry or the Slytherins, either, and Ron was morose. Tony and Ruth gamely tried to engage some of them in conversation, to no avail. It was a mess.
At breakfast, Hermione still wasn't speaking to Harry; she was sitting on one side of Ron and Harry on the other when Harry heard her gasp at the front page of The Daily Prophet. Ron ignored her, staring gloomily into his porridge, but she gently tapped his arm and said, "Ron--you might want to see this."
As she handed the paper to Ron, Harry could see that the lead story had Daisy Furuncle's byline on it. I very much doubt Ron would want to see anything by her, Harry thought irritably. He was, however, able to read over Ron's arm, and his eyes widened as he saw what was printed there....
Harry Potter's Best Friend is Werewolf;
Monty Mathers' Job on the Line
Shockwaves are being felt throughout the wizarding world this morning as the news spreads that Montgomery Mathers' newest find, Chaser and Gryffindor Quidditch captain, Ronald Weasley, is in fact a werewolf. Weasley's appointment to the English team is in direct violation of the Restriction on Part-Human Quidditch Players instituted in 1928, originally intended to prevent the Ballycastle Bats from recruiting an all-vampire team.
Mathers insists that he was completely in the dark about Weasley's lycanthropy, and an investigation is underway to determine whether Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore and the school matron, Poppy Pomphrey, attempted to conceal this information from Mathers. Neither Pomphrey nor Dumbledore were available yesterday for comment; Minerva McGonagall, Hogwarts deputy headmistress and coincidentally Weasley's head-of-house, claimed that the headmaster was "under the weather" and in the care of the matron, so neither could comment as to the veracity of Mathers' assertion.
If the records show that Mathers was in fact informed of Weasley's condition, an inquiry will take place under the auspices of the World Quidditch Federation to determine whether Mathers will still lead the English team in future European Cup and World Cup play, as well as to determine whether he will retain his position with the Caerphilly Catapults.
If England had won yesterday's match against Wales, the results would have been null and void, requiring the match to be played over without Weasley. Ironically, it was Weasley's best friend, Gryffindor Seeker and Hogwarts Head Boy, Harry Potter, who won the match for Wales.
Soon after Potter caught the Snitch, he slipped from his broom and would surely have fallen to his death had not his friend caught him and carried him to safety. However, during the match itself, it is a wonder that someone else was not gravely injured due to Weasley's inordinate strength, which arguably gave England an unfair advantage. It is a wonder that England did not, in fact, win, and it gives one pause when one considers whether it is a coincidence that Weasley's best friend caught the Snitch. Weasley certainly did not seem to bear his friend any ill-will after his side's loss, and as noted before, even saved him from a certain death.
Delving into Ministry records, this reporter was able to learn that Ronald Weasley was bitten by Remus Lupin last spring, during the infamous rescue of Severus Snape and Draco Malfoy from the Forbidden Forest on the Hogwarts grounds. During this incident, Ravenclaw prefect Evan Davies was killed, as well as former Bulgarian Seeker Viktor Krum. Azkaban inmate Peter Pettigrew was also apprehended, which in turn led to the exoneration of Sirius Black, now teaching Apparition at Hogwarts. At the time that he bit Weasley, Lupin was the Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor at the school. He has since been very wisely replaced by Arabella Figg, although Dumbledore's appointment of Black (a friend of Lupin's) as a teacher shows that he still does not care about outside opinion of his teaching appointments.
Unfortunately, it seems that anyone with knowledge of Weasley's condition was unlikely to know about the nearly-seventy-year-old rule against part-human players, and anyone who knew of the rule was unlikely to know of Weasley being bitten by Lupin. Other magical games and sports have not bothered to ban part-humans from play, and as a result, Weasley plans to participate in the annual broom race from Kopparberg to Arjeplog, Sweden, to take place on New Year's Eve, as always. Normally, when the spectators Apparate to Arjeplog to congratulate the survivors, there are numerous wounded players to tend to. This year, one may properly be afraid for the dragons instead, with a werewolf soon to be flying through their midst. The odds are expected to be very short on Weasley and reports are already coming in that other racers are viewing his participation as patently unfair. This reporter has already learned that most wizarding bookmakers are not taking any bets on Weasley, and some are despairing of getting any business at all related to the race, thanks to his participation. An emergency meeting of the Brotherhood of the Book is being called for next week to discuss whether to petition the Swedish Department of Magical Games and Sports to forbid Weasley's participation.
In related news, one bookmaker reportedly took a large number of bets on England from Hogwarts students who no doubt expected Weasley's side to win, due to his lycanthropy, and only the defeat of England is preventing an investigation into those bets. A separate investigation of that bookmaker is underway because it seems he took most of the bets from underage Hogwarts students.
Ron stared at the paper for a moment before looking up at Harry. "Did you see this, Harry?" Harry nodded, swallowing. Ron stared down at it again, his eyes wide. "Are they saying that--that I threw the game? That you shouldn't have won? Bloody hell, I'm damned if I do and I'm damned if I don't. If we'd won, it would have been a do-over because I'm a werewolf. Because we lost, I must have thrown it."
Harry grimaced. "Doesn't make me sound very good, either. As though I couldn't win without help from you."
Ron nodded. "Right. She's calling you incompetant and me a cheater and a turncoat. That cow... And talking about me injuring people! It says nothing about the fact that there was a Bludger targetting you..."
Harry looked down the page, seeing something else. "Hang on, Ron. I think--damn! It gets even worse...."
At the bottom of the front page was a story that also had Daisy Furuncle's name on it, in a black box that included a picture of Harry, Ron and Hermione together, smiling cheerfully for the camera, their Hogwarts robes fluttering in the breeze. Hermione looked back and forth between Ron and Harry. Harry recognized it as the photo Colin had taken that he and Ron had given Hermione for her birthday in fifth year. How did that get in the paper? But the real attention getter was the accompanying article...
A Werewolf at Hogwarts:
Mere Folly or a Genuine Danger to Other Students?
Once again, Albus Dumbledore has a werewolf for a student at Hogwarts. The first time (as far as anyone knows, at any rate) it was Remus Lupin, who attended the school from 1971 to 1978 and was a good friend of Harry Potter's parents, James Potter and Lily Potter (nee Evans), as well as Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew. Lupin's werewolf status was kept hushed up by Dumbledore, despite his almost killing a student early in his seventh year, according to old rumors. Lupin's werewolf status did not become common knowledge until June 1994, when Hogwarts Potions Master Severus Snape revealed to his students in Slytherin House that Professor Lupin (who was teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts that year) was in fact a werewolf. Lupin resigned his post soon after, under pressure from a large number of parents who petitioned the Board of Governors. It is still unclear why Lupin was reinstated during the previous academic year. (In recent years Dumbledore has had a remarkably difficult time retaining professors for this particular class.) Some whispers that have met this reporter's ears say that Snape was also the student Lupin nearly killed while in school, which certainly squares with his telling his students of the danger represented by their werewolf professor.
According to reliable sources, Lupin was already a werewolf when he began attending the school, while Weasley was not bitten until the end of his sixth year. It would probably be far too much to expect of Dumbledore that he expel the Quidditch captain for his former house, Gryffindor, which is also the house headed up by his deputy, Minerva McGonagall, especially as a lycanthrope would be virtually impossible to beat in a match and school rules do not preclude participation by part-humans. However, this reporter has heard of some dangers that accompany living in close proximity with a werewolf that do not usually get much press, dangers that have traditionally been brushed under the carpet.
While Hogwarts' Snape is an accomplished brewer of Wolfsbane Potion, which allows a werewolf to transform but keep his human mind and thus be similar to a tame wolf during the three-night transformation, it does require the subject to cooperate in taking the potion every day for a week preceding the full moon. Teenage boys are not traditionally known for their adherence to routines such as this; one hopes that Dumbledore is making certain that Weasley is taking his potion at the proper time.
The danger that is of greatest concern to this reporter, however, concerns a condition that afflicts werewolves just prior to the full moon and is not ameliorated by Wolfsbane Potion. During the twenty-four hours before the full moon rises, a werewolf feels an almost uncontrollable mania to engage in sexual activity with anyone--regardless of gender--who comes within close proximity. (Some reports say the proximity does not need to be very close at all.) Ministry records confirm that there are numerous werewolves who have been convicted of aggravated assault and rape on dates that coincide with the eve of the full moon. A werewolf living in a boarding school would seem to be a very bad idea considering this danger to his fellow students.
No information has been forthcoming from Albus Dumbledore about steps that have been taken to isolate Ronald Weasley from other students at this dangerous time. However, given that a student was nearly killed by Remus Lupin when he was in school, and he was still not expelled, it is possible that even a student being violently assaulted by Weasley will not be seen as cause for his expulsion by Dumbledore, although even he will not be able to prevent the law from taking action against Weasley if--or when--this seemingly-inevitable event occurs.
Harry saw now that the caption below the photograph said, Ronald Weasley with his best friend, Harry Potter, and girlfriend, Hogwarts' Head Girl, Hermione Granger, in happier times. Could they be his first victims?
Ron was shaking with rage. He balled up the paper and threw it in the large fireplace on the other side of the Gryffindor table, where it immediately flared up; he stormed out of the Great Hall before it was burnt away completely. Harry couldn't help notice that other students who had Prophet subscriptions were looking at Ron's exodus with barely-disguised laughter, or, in the case of some Slytherins, open laughter. Harry looked helplessly at Hermione, who was staring after Ron with a stricken look on her face.
"I suppose you saw the article at the bottom of the page..." Harry began. Hermione nodded, watching Ron's retreating back.
"I--I had no idea. That doesn't make it into the books on lycanthropy...."
Harry looked at her grimly. "It's the dirty little secret of being a werewolf. Except that, thanks to Daisy Furuncle, it's no secret any more." Then he looked at the other Gryffindor students, some of whom were passing other copies of the paper back and forth, their jaws dropping. "Come on," he said to her quietly. "This clearly isn't the place to discuss it." She nodded and followed him into the entrance hall, evidently having forgotten her anger with him over what he'd "done" to Ginny.
"Let's go up to class early," he suggested; they had Transfiguration first thing, and the other students wouldn't be along for a good twenty minutes. When they reached the room, Hermione turned to face Harry, looking rather haunted. She didn't take long to go into ranting mode.
"I wish he'd just told me about this! Is that why he looks so dreadful before the full moon? I thought it was just his body getting ready for the change in a general sort of way--"
Harry shook his head. "No. Lupin talked to him about it, after the first night Ron transformed. He said when he was young, he just felt sort of extra hungry right before. When he reached adolescence, it became a--how did he say it?--a carnal urge of a different sort...."
Hermione swallowed. "Oh," was all she said, in a very small voice. She walked slowly to the window and Harry joined her. Suddenly, they saw Ron running across the grounds, heading for the Whomping Willow. He broke a branch off a tree growing about twenty feet away from it and used this to hit the knot on the tree roots that would freeze the branches. They watched him disappear into the tunnel and the willow begin to wave its appendages again.
"I don't think we'll be seeing much of him today," Harry said, putting his hand on her arm protectively. "This is terribly embarrassing for him. He obviously needs time alone. We can make his excuses to the teachers. Probably no one will blame him who's seen that article..."
"But--but perhaps you can talk to him--" she said hopefully.
Harry shook his head. "He feels like--like jumping on anyone nearby, Hermione, male or female. Lupin said--said a lot of things, actually, which I probably shouldn't tell you. They're private. But--now this part of Ron's life isn't private any more. It's been plastered all over the paper, for the entire world to see. Oh, god--his mum will see it," he breathed softly. He hated to think what Molly Weasley would make of her youngest son's dilemma. "Bloody mess...."
Suddenly Hermione pulled back from him, bristling. "And you! What's your excuse? You're not a werewolf! Why couldn't you keep your hands off Mariah Kirkner, when you claim to love Ginny? Do you know what a state she was in Saturday night? What a state she's still in? You saw her this morning!"
Harry looked very levelly at her. "Mariah is a selkie, Hermione."
She stopped and opened her mouth, then closed it again. "She's a--oh. I--I didn't know...." Then she frowned. "Why didn't you tell Ginny that?"
He sighed. "I did. She told me to go to hell anyway. And Mariah. And Draco Malfoy."
She snorted. "Well, it's not before time for that. But wait--is that why he was with Mariah? Because she's a selkie?" Hermione seemed to be as reluctant as him to provide Draco Malfoy with a way to explain away his behavior.
Harry shrugged. "Who knows, really? Mariah claims she didn't use her selkie wiles on him. I don't know what to think now. All I know is that I pulled back from Mariah when I realized my head felt funny, like when the veelas appeared at the World Cup, and I'm still punished, and even one of my best friends is treating me like a piece of filth." He looked meaningfully at her with his eyebrows raised. Hermione grimaced and relented.
"I'm sorry, Harry. I didn't know. She was very upset. Crying on me, ranting about you....Do you want me to talk to her?" she said quietly, trying to be helpful.
He shook his head. "What good would it do? She knows. She knows everything, and she still doesn't want anything to do with me."
They looked helplessly at each other. Harry couldn't believe what a mess their private lives had become since he'd broken up with her. Or rather, since he'd first made a move to kiss her in the garden on Privet Drive, when she'd still been under the influence of the Imperius Potion. He still wished he'd known all along that it was a potion affecting her behavior that year...
That made him remember the part of the article that mentioned that Dumbledore was "under the weather." And then he remembered Aberforth saying the same thing, when Harry had asked him why his brother wasn't at the match. It didn't seem right for Dumbledore to be ill for an extended period of time. Harry couldn't remember it happening in this previous six years at school. Which meant he either was being affected by a potion or being attacked by someone in some other way, or--he wasn't really sick. He looked at Hermione earnestly.
"I have to go." His last word was nearly drowned out by the shrill bell marking the end of breakfast, giving the students five minutes to reach their morning classes. Hermione looked at her watch and frowned.
"But class is starting soon," she said, sounding very much like the Head Girl again.
"I know. Tell McGonagall that I--I had to go see Dumbledore. It's true."
"To find out why he wasn't at the match yesterday."
Hermione sighed and threw up her hands. "Don't you think he has better things to do than watch a Quidditch match? I mean--yes, I was there. But you and Ron were both playing...."
"That's it exactly, Hermione. I do fully expect him to have better things to do than watch a Quidditch match. That's exactly why I'm going to see him--I want to find out what those things are."
Hermione's eyes lit up as she realized his meaning. He turned to go, but a moment later, she was striding along beside him. He stopped and gawped at her. She didn't stop, so he started moving again, having to actually strain a little to keep up with her.
"Hermione--what the hell?"
She didn't look at him but continued to face straight ahead, moving purposefully. "Do you think you're the only one who wants to find out why Dumbledore wasn't at the match?" she asked him as she picked up speed. Harry smiled and sped up himself, shaking his head, and they reached the gargoyle guarding the entrance to Dumbledore's office just as the bell rang marking the beginning of the first class of the day. Clearly, Hermione had no compunctions about using her Head Girl status to avoid being punished for tardiness. Besides, it wasn't as though either of them were doing poorly in Transfiguration--they had both mastered the Animagus Transfiguration already.
Harry gave the password to the gargoyle, and it moved out of the way, allowing them to enter and move up to Dumbledore's office on the moving spiral stairs. When they reached the door, it was slightly ajar, and they pushed it open uncertainly. The headmaster was not in his office, but they heard his voice coming from behind another partially-open door on the other side of the room. Feeling rather conspicuous, and trying not to be bothered by some of the portraits of former headmasters and headmistresses, who had awoken and were frowning deeply at him, he moved cautiously toward the other door, Hermione right behind him.
"--wish you would stop this!" they heard Professor McGonagall. They looked at each other, eyebrows raised. McGonagall would be late to class at this rate, which was unheard-of for her.
"Minerva," came a weak-sounding, raspy version of Dumbledore's voice, "you're the one who's been telling me for years about the things I haven't been willing to do. I'm willing now, and yet you tell me to stop. You knew that this would have a price, as I did also. If I stop, it will all have been for nought. Hasn't it been quiet lately? Hasn't it been nice? Do you want Harry's scar to start hurting him again?"
They heard McGonagall make a huffing noise. "In spite of that, someone was trying to hurt Harry yesterday. Someone charmed a Bludger to go after him..."
Dumbledore sighed, producing an eerie sound that rattled through his chest. "He had people looking out for him there. The operatives, Aurors...I trusted that they would protect him from any dangers. And he's fine, isn't he?"
"You're not," she said, speaking more softly; she seemed both to be chiding him and sympathizing.
That painful rattle again. "I will be, Minerva. It's more of a strain than I expected, but it does seem that it has proven somewhat effective..."
"And how much longer can you go on like this? What if he manages to overcome you? Or worse..."
There was a long pause. "Then we will be no worse off than we were before, and perhaps better, as we will know for certain that a particular avenue is no longer open to us. This is not without its risks, Minerva; why do you think I hesitated to take this step the first time he was in power? Don't worry about me. Poppy will be by presently with my potion, and I will feel a little better. You should go teach....the students are unattended...."
"No, they'll be fine. Harry and Hermione are in my first class. I daresay the Head Boy and Head Girl, not to mention two Animagi, can find ways to keep the class occupied until I get there."
They looked at each other in alarm and did their best to quietly slip out of the room again, then went as quickly as they could down the spiral stairs and ran with their hearts in their throats back to the Transfiguration classroom. When they arrived, they encountered more than a little pandemonium, but soon, with help from the other prefects (Malfoy was oddly helpful, throwing Harry sly looks out of the corner of his eye that Harry didn't like) the class settled down, and they were in small groups, transfiguring their desk chairs, when McGonagall arrived. She nodded with approval at Harry and Hermione, and, as far as Harry knew, no one ever told her that the Head Girl and Boy hadn't been present when the bell had rung for the start of class.
At lunchtime, Harry and Hermione didn't eat in the Great Hall, but went down to the kitchens to fetch some food to take to Ron. They didn't discuss what they'd heard in the headmaster's office that morning.
When they were near--but not too near-- the Whomping Willow, Hermione did a banishing charm on a small stone that landed with pinpoint precision on the knot that would freeze the tree's branches. Harry shook his head, smiling. "Well, I can summon things. I suppose your specialty is banishing..."
But this didn't seem to make her very happy. "Yes," she said miserably. "I seem to be very good at banishing boyfriends..."
He grimaced; she didn't usually wallow in self-pity. Well, not much, anyway. "Hermione," he said, chiding her gently.
She didn't respond but went ahead of him into the tunnel leading them to the reconstructed Shrieking Shack. As they drew nearer, they heard some very loud bangs and grunts, as though someone was hurling a large dresser about inside the house, and when they reached the interior, which still smelled of new-sawn wood, Ron wasn't in the first room they came to, and the banging noises were considerably louder.
Hermione looked like she wanted to hold her ears, but as she was holding a large pitcher of pumpkin juice with both hands, she could not, and merely winced at every impact. He was manually carrying a rather heavy picnic hamper, wishing he'd thought to levitate it. The noise would make it impossible to concentrate enough now to perform just about any spell. Harry already felt a headache coming on from the racket.
They followed the banging noises up the stairs, staying near the wall and away from the rickety banister, which appeared to have been attacked. Some of the balusters looked like they'd been yanked out of the stair treads and used to beat the rest of the railing into submission; there were a number of smashed balusters, sharp splintery bits sticking out at odd angles, the fresh smell of the broken wood starting to make Harry's nose tickle.
They found him in a room at the end of the upstairs corridor; after the fire, the house had been rebuilt, but not refurnished, and they discovered that, with the lack of furniture to attack, Ron had resorted to dissecting the house itself. He was hurling himself at what had been a six-paneled door, kicking it into smithereens, then putting his fist through another door on the opposite side of the room, with moves Harry had only ever seen in martial arts films on television late at night (and probably enhanced by special effects technology). Ron didn't need "special effects." The house would be dismantled by morning at this rate.
"Ron!" Harry bellowed, trying to interrupt the Shrieking Shack's destruction.
Ron stopped, poised to leap again. He turned, but looked unsurprised at seeing them. "Smelled you coming," he said, panting, sweat dripping off his bare chest. He was wearing only his trousers; his other clothes and his robes were in a pile in the corner. Curling red covered his torso, and the hair on his arms was thicker than usual as well, as it was only about thirty hours before the full moon. Harry knew it would grow thicker still as the hours passed. Ron pushed his sweaty hair off his forehead with the back of his hand and sniffed the air. "Chicken? Didn't they have any ham? For some reason I feel like ham today. Or rabbit. That would have been good, too. Something gamy."
He seemed determined not to discuss the Daisy Furuncle articles and Harry glanced at Hermione to see what she was going to do.
She set the pitcher down on the floor and sat, saying to him, "Come have some lunch, Ron. We brought what we could. The elves were busy getting lunch ready for the rest of the school. We'll stay and eat with you, keep you company." Her voice was shaking a little, and Harry saw her eyes furtively going toward the splintered doors.
Harry set down the hamper and started taking plates out of it for the food. "Yeah. Come on. Can't destroy an entire house on an empty stomach," he tried to joke. No one laughed.
It was an awkward lunch and Harry and Hermione packed up again as quickly as possible. "I'll leave the hamper here, Ron. There's some food in it you can have for dinner. I suppose by then--" He swallowed. Ron nodded.
"By then I won't be fit for human company. Somehow--somehow knowing that everyone knows is just making me feel worse. It's making me feel like--like--" He swallowed, a fine sheen of sweat on his upper lip and his brow as he gazed at Hermione, his chest heaving. She looked somewhat startled, but did not back away or flee; she continued to gaze back at him. Harry could see a red light in Ron's eyes, and wondered whether, if he lunged for Hermione, he should let him or tear her away from him. And then Ron turned and looked at Harry, not saying anything, and Harry was startled to see lust in the gaze directed at him as well. This he had not been expecting.
Ron shuddered, then sat down abruptly in a lotus position; he closed his eyes and put his hands palm-up on his knees, emitting a low humming noise, as though he was desperate to do something that would not make him feel like he wanted to attack both of them. He still looked as though his breathing was far too fast, and Harry could see a vein pulsing quickly in his temple, his nostrils flaring as he continued to breathe in Harry and Hermione's scents.
Harry stood and took Hermione's hand, starting to back away; Ron seemed to be attempting to control himself using something Remus Lupin had taught him. Hopefully it would work...
"We should go," Harry croaked out; his throat didn't seem to be working quite right. Without opening his eyes to look at them, Ron nodded vigorously, still humming and meditating, but still looking like he might jump them at any second. As they left, Harry saw how he was shivering, how much of an effort it was for him not to come after them. It'll only get worse, Harry knew.
They pattered quickly down the steps; Harry felt like his own heartbeat was abnormally fast, and he could see that Hermione was looking flushed and panicky as well. When he reached the bottom, Harry yelled up the stairs, "We'll come in the morning with some breakfast for you! And Snape will bring your Wolfsbane Potion!"
"Don't come without him!" Ron cried. "It's not a good idea!" Harry thought about this; how had the Potions Master been coping with giving Ron his potion just before the full moon? But then again--Snape was an adult wizard, who probably would have no trouble hexing Ron if he tried to pull anything funny. Ron attacking Snape. Now there was a weird thought...
"All right! See you then!"
"Right! Now sod off!" The humming resumed, louder.
"We're going!" Harry called, urging Hermione toward the tunnel. She didn't need prodding though, and was down under the ground again and running through the passage a good twenty feet ahead of Harry. When they'd stopped the branches again and emerged from the tunnel, they both collapsed on the ground just beyond the reach of the willow. Hermione's face was pale and drawn and she looked up at Harry forlornly.
"He looked very bad," she said simply. He nodded.
"I helped him stay away from others at this time last month, but it's not easy, when you can't say what the problem is..."
She looked at him, her eyes narrowed. "So--he'd even--even do it with you if you were--"
Harry nodded grimly. "Yeah. But he doesn't want to do that, obviously. We don't have that sort of friendship."
"But--but maybe I could--"
"Hermione--you saw what he was doing to the Shrieking Shack. Would you rather that was you? Ron loves you. He doesn't want you hurt."
She swallowed. "I see what you mean," she said softly. She looked back sadly at the tree, the branches waving wildly against the sky.
They needed to go back to the castle, to meet Sirius and the other seventh-year Gryffindors and Slytherins to go into the village for their Apparition lesson, which was something Ron could never do. She got to her feet; Harry wrapped an arm around her shoulder protectively, and she sighed and leaned her head on him as they walked back to the castle.
At least Hermione's speaking to me again, Harry thought as they sat together at a table near the windows in the common room, writing essays about some of the more spectacular splinching incidents of the early twentieth century. Sirius had started letting some of them carefully Apparate a short distances--just a yard or two, although soon they would try from one side of the village hall to the other. They all had to make certain that there was no furniture around them, in case they splinched a chair into their bodies. Some of the Slytherins had laughed about this precaution, so Sirius had testily assigned a three-foot long splinching essay to the entire class, so they would know that it was no laughing matter.
Harry looked up at where Ginny sat near the fire with Ruth Pelta, Zoey Russell and Annika Olafsdottir. They were doing homework for Sprout, also writing essays, and Ginny looked very serious. She raised her eyes to his at one point, no longer looking angry with him but just very, very sad.
"Oh, bother!" Ruth said, throwing down her quill. "I'll never get this right--Tony!" she called to her boyfriend across the room, where he was playing cards with his dormmate, Colin Creevey. "Are you done your homework for Sprout?"
"Well, kind of," Tony said sheepishly. "I just wrote some things off the top of my head. I'll probably get the lowest mark in the class. Just wanted to get it over with...." Ruth rolled her eyes at him. Harry tried not to smile; Tony and Ruth were suddenly reminding him of Ron and Hermione (in happier times). "Ask Neville for help," Tony said, nodding at where Neville was cleaning Trevor's terrarium. "He's Mr. Herbology."
Neville raised his head at the mention of his name. "Huh?" he said, holding a box of Mrs. Scower's magical cleansing powder in one hand and a cleaning flannel in the other.
Ginny smiled warmly at him. "You're the resident expert in Herbology, Neville. Care to help us sixth-year girls with some essays for Sprout?" Harry saw Neville's jaw drop, and then he swallowed. He practically threw down the things in his hands and ran across the room to the girls; Ginny slid down onto the floor in front of her chair and patted the rug next to her. "Sit here, Neville. Tell me, is this the proper name of the genus of the Flowering Worrywort, or is this--?" she said, pointing to her parchment with a long quill.
Harry saw that their heads were very close together, their voices getting lower. He swallowed, then looked down, trying not to jump across the room and throttle Neville. He felt a hand on his then, and looked up, saw Hermione gazing at him sympathetically. He nodded at her. She didn't remove her hand and he turned his over, clasping hers tightly; she was all he had to hold onto right now, and he was all she had.
After dinner, she kissed him goodnight on the cheek and whispered in his ear, "She might come round, you know." She glanced at Ginny, who was sitting with Neville and laughing at something he'd said; Neville, for his part, looked rather shocked, and then pleased that he'd amused her. Harry leaned down and kissed her on the cheek.
"So will Ron. You'll see." She nodded, but didn't look convinced, and followed Parvati and Lavender up the stairs.
When he arrived downstairs in the common room, Hermione, Ruth and Tony were ready for running, but Ruth said Ginny wasn't coming. Then, when they arrived in the entrance hall, they didn't find Draco Malfoy and Mariah Kirkner there, so after they prepared themselves for running, they left, just the four of them. Harry felt it was far pleasanter than the day before; the four of them chatted amiably and helped each other stretch before and after and do sit-ups, and it was remarkable how much better Harry felt after a morning run that was devoid of the kind of tension he'd experienced the day before. He and Hermione went down to the kitchens afterward and acquired some breakfast and lunch for Ron--as much meat as possible, plus eggs for even more protein. Then they went to the Potions dungeon and found Snape preparing to leave, carrying a stoppered vial half-full of potion that was sending smoke into the empty half, filling the void. He nodded at them and they all left the castle for the Whomping Willow. As Harry stilled the branches with the same tree branch Ron had used the day before, Sandy hissed at him, and he froze for a moment. Oh, no, he thought. Please don't mean what I think you mean....
They proceeded through the tunnel silently. Harry's heartbeat seemed to be so loud (to him) he was surprised Snape and Hermione didn't comment on it. When they reached the Shrieking Shack, it was deathly quiet, and Harry felt somehow that this wasn't a good thing. They walked cautiously up the steps. Harry suddenly wished there were a lot more of them, so it would take that much longer to reach Ron...They went down the upstairs corridor, finally coming to the room where they'd eaten lunch the day before. Harry hesitated before opening the door, and the moment he did, he saw immediately that his worst fears about what Sandy had said were confirmed.
Ron wasn't alone.
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