Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Friendship’s Price :: 03 :: Too Many Books

03 • Too Many Books

Harry was feeling a little put out when his friends arrived; he hadn’t had much in the way of letters from either of them over the summer thus far. Granted, his own letters to them hadn’t been scintillating, but he very much doubted that either of them would have expected a sparkling account of his time at the Dursleys. It reminded him far too much of the previous summer’s lack of information and heavy overtones of secrecy.

Pushing down his irritation with them he gave them as normal a greeting as he could manage, then allowed himself to be enveloped in a hug by Mrs Weasley. The moment she bustled off, the trio fled upstairs. Hermione joined the boys after dropping her things off in the bedroom she’d shared with Ginny the year before.

Harry thought it odd that both Ron and Hermione seemed perfectly at ease. Evidently, not having written most of the summer didn’t appear to be a reason to be nervous for them. He shrugged it off, and was consequently glad when it became late enough for Hermione to leave, and for him and Ron to go to sleep.

Before dropping off, Harry practiced his meditation again in conjunction with Occlumency.

The next morning, Harry awoke to a room empty of Ron, which was surprising. On a brighter note, his sleep had not been disturbed by either nightmares or visions, or at least not that he could remember. He rolled out of bed and stretched, then got ready for the day.

When he arrived at the kitchen he was surprised a second time. Present were Remus and Tonks, Molly, Ron and Ginny, and Hermione, all standing around the table, on which sat a birthday cake and a stack of presents.

After staring in shock for a few moments, Harry was pulled into a hug by Molly.

“Happy birthday, Harry,” she said quietly in his ear. “I didn’t think you’d want a huge fuss, so I hope this is all right.”

As he looked over her shoulder he could see that everyone was smiling. He was touched that Molly seemed to realize certain things. He whispered back, “Yes, this is fine. Thank you.” What he refrained from saying was words to express his disappointment and hurt on the day of his actual birthday, when for the first time since his first year at Hogwarts he had received nothing from his friends.

He gave the barest of sighs and moved out of Mrs Weasley’s embrace, giving her a small smile before stepping up to the table. Looking at the cake made him feel unsettled, but he picked up the knife next to it and began to cut. Once he had a slice for himself, he sat at the end of the table and let Molly take over.

It was an odd breakfast, all things considered.

Harry was part way through his piece when the others had divided up the remaining cake. The prickling sensation of being watched made him raise his head to see everyone staring at him expectantly.

“What?”

“Aren’t you going to open your presents?” asked Ron.

Harry blinked. “Might I finish this first?”

“Well, yeah. I just thought you’d be more excited,” Ron said.

Harry stifled a sigh and placed his fork gently on his plate. “I am. This was quite nice of everyone to arrange.” He knew he was being irrational and moody, perhaps, but he couldn’t quite seem to help himself. He reached out for the nearest present and glanced at the tag, then looked up to smile briefly at Hermione.

After carefully removing the wrappings and setting those to the side neatly, Harry opened the box. Inside was a book titled, “Wizarding Traditions Through the Ages.” He placed the empty box on the floor by his feet, wondering as he did so why she’d bothered with a box in the first place.

He skimmed the table of contents then set the book at the corner of the table. “It’s lovely, Hermione. I know it will help me with a number of things. Thank you.”

She looked quite pleased with herself and nodded, so Harry reached for the next present. When he reached Ginny’s he was a little surprised, and how she’d afforded it was beyond him. The leather-bound book had what was presumably the Potter crest embossed on the front; at least Harry assumed that’s what it was, not that he had any idea what it actually looked like, never mind knowing that the Potter family had one to begin with.

When he opened it he realized the crest was not simply for looks, nor was it intended as a simple journal. It was more along the lines of an estate book. Harry was at a bit of loss, but smiled at Ginny nevertheless and thanked her nicely, just as he’d done for the other gifts.

Free of the obligation to be overtly polite, Harry turned back to his abandoned cake and let the others talk around and over him. As soon as he thought he could get away with it, he stood quietly and gathered his gifts. Mumbling something about wanting to put them away, he slipped off upstairs.

*

He was eventually found in his bedroom, not by Ron or Hermione, or even Remus or Tonks, but by Ginny. She sidled into the room and perched on Ron’s bed, giving him a quick smile. In his opinion, everyone was much too happy.

After an uncomfortable pause Ginny spoke. “Did you really like it? I wasn’t sure. . . .”

Harry cocked his head to the side and said, “I do, but to be honest I’m not sure what I’ll do with it. I mean, as far as I know, all I have is that vault.”

Ginny looked shocked. “You think the cottage at Godric’s Hollow was your father’s only property?”

“That’s just the point. I don’t know. I don’t have any idea.”

Ginny frowned for a moment, then brightened. “That’s all right though, isn’t it? Even if it was, it isn’t as though you’re limited to that. You don’t really think I’ll live the rest of my life at the Burrow do you?” She flashed him a quick smile.

“No, I suppose not.” He paused then said, “In any case, it was a very thoughtful gift, though I suspect Hermione’s book will be needed as well. I think everyone knows more about the wizarding world than I do.”

“Don’t be silly, Harry. Anyone would be happy to teach you if you’d just ask. I know I would.” She aimed another smile at him and crossed her legs.

Harry started to feel awkward in the face of her suddenly sunny and assured behavior. “So how’s Dean?” he blurted out.

Ginny jerked her head back and blinked. “Fine, I suppose. Why do you ask?”

“I thought you’d know.” Harry shrugged and changed the subject. “It’s really nice.” At her blank look he elaborated. “Being a part of a family. I don’t really count the Dursleys, but it’s as though I’ve got all these brothers and a sister. I’ll never forget the first time I walked into the Burrow. I thought it was the most amazing thing—a real wizarding home—and a wonderful family to go with it. So it’s really nice.”

“Yes,” she said softly. “I expect it would be. I guess I didn’t realize you—”

The door opened fully and Ron came into view. He looked from Harry to Ginny and back, then said, “So there you are. Are you all right, Harry? You look a bit pale.”

Ron looked back at his sister without waiting for an answer and frowned. “Why didn’t you come tell us where he was?”

Ginny stood up abruptly. “I didn’t know you were looking for him,” she said patiently, then crossed the short distance to the door and brushed past him.

Ron twisted around, then turned and fully entered the room, closing the door behind him. “Weird.”

*

He lay there, tired but unable to sleep. The strange conversation with Ginny was foremost in his mind. Had he been reading things wrong, or had she really been making it plain that she was still quite interested in him? The gift she’d given him was rather ambiguous.

On the one hand it could simply be a thoughtful gesture. On the other hand it could be a hint toward ulterior motives. It was not beyond the realm of possibility that it was meant as a gift she saw herself sharing in down the road. Rather like a gift you gave knowing that you’d get to use it yourself.

He thought though, given her reaction to his question about Dean coupled with his mention of feeling as though he had her for a sister, that for once he might have been seeing things clearly. But then, maybe it was just that Dean was a diversion designed to distract Ron, and his mention of family had made her think of his very real situation in that direction for most of his life.

It wasn’t until he decided to just play it off the cuff that he was able to grow drowsy and finally drift off.

*

“So, Harry,” said Hermione at breakfast, “have you read that book yet?”

He raised his brows and halted the progress of his fork to his mouth. “I only just got it.”

“You disappeared yesterday, so I assumed you got started on it right away. It’s really important that you learn these things!” she stressed.

“You make it sound like I’m completely hopeless. I know I don’t know everything about wizarding culture that I should, but it hasn’t exactly been a priority up until now. And unlike you, I don’t speed read, and I certainly could not have read that entire book, nor memorized it overnight.”

Hermione scowled at him and huffed. “But it is important, Harry. You’re a hero, and instances of you embarrassing yourself will become more and more prevalent as time goes on because you have no idea how to properly react.”

“A hero? Have you been reading the same papers I do?” He scoffed. “No matter what, I can’t assimilate written material the way you can, so you can’t expect me to soak it up like a sponge. I need time to read it, and time to make sense of it.”

“Well, fine. You do that then. But don’t make the mistake of thinking it isn’t important. It’ll even help you with Ginny’s gift. You know I’m right,” she shot back.

Harry ignored her and went back to his eggs, which were now cold. He ate them anyway, refusing to waste good food just because it wasn’t perfect. A glance at Ron revealed that he was also annoyed, though Ginny merely sat in silence. Neither of them seemed willing to get involved.

Harry was inclined to mulishly ignore the book, though it would be a childish act. He was becoming a little tired of Hermione always knowing she was right, and assuming he had about as much brains as a turnip. Maybe he wasn’t a bookworm and didn’t have an eidetic memory, but he was far from stupid.

He also knew he worked far better under pressure than she. All the knowledge in the world was useless if it didn’t help when you needed it. And all the knowledge in the world wouldn’t save your life if you were too paralyzed with fear to implement it.

He did begin reading the book later on in the day, but took the time to place a dust cover on it, one that disguised the title. Thus he was able to read, but not alert Hermione to the fact that he was reading her book. Childish, to be sure, but satisfying at the same time.

She gave him disapproving looks for, in her opinion, not being usefully occupied and he blithely ignored them, reading in relative peace. He was, however, interrupted not much later on by Ron wanting a game of chess. As his reading material was fairly dry and difficult to digest, he gladly closed the book, set it aside, and helped Ron set up.

*

The next couple of days went fairly quickly despite the lingering tension, and they soon found themselves being coerced into packing up their things by Mrs Weasley. She bustled about, checking their rooms and trunks, making sure they forgot nothing, and generally making a fuss that annoyed everyone equally. By the time they were done the only things left out were a change of clothing for the next day and sleepwear for that evening.

Harry had been pulled aside several times over that period. Remus gave him a letter that had arrived via the drop off; it was from Martin. Harry slipped off to the room that had housed Buckbeak for privacy in order to read it.

Dear Harry,

I was quite glad to hear from you. You were right—I was worried when you didn’t show up, but I’m happy that you’re all right. Things have been rather boring here without you to talk to in the evenings. I miss our workouts together.

Maybe it’s true that you weren’t or aren’t much of a talker, but you’re an easy person to be around. At least now I know where I can write to you. How are things where you are? Are you even back at school yet? I trust things are well between you and your friends. You said they sometimes don’t know when not to ask. . . .

I hope you keep in contact. Your letter was a bright spot in my day and I’d love to hear from you again.

Martin

Harry smiled, very pleased that Martin was not upset with him over his abrupt departure. He did not, however, think he would be able to maintain privacy long enough to write a decent letter back, and so folded and tucked the letter away in his pocket to answer later.

When he went back downstairs it was Ginny who vied for his attention, catching him at the bottom of the stairs. As it would have been rude to push past her and retreat to his bedroom, Harry waited to see what she wanted.

“Hello, Harry,” she said with a smile. “You know, I’ve been thinking. You look different. Have you been up to something over the holiday?”

“I spent some time with a new friend. He was teaching me self-defense,” he said with casual indifference. “Nothing special, really.”

“Perhaps, but it does show. You move differently now and you seem more confident.” She gave him a long look, letting her eyes roam from foot to head.

Harry shifted uncomfortably and realized she wasn’t giving up so easily. She might have said to Hermione that she’d given up on him, but apparently that was no longer the case.

“Sometimes I think Ron takes you for granted. And your brothers.”

She gave him a startled look.

“I mean it. One of things I’ve always envied about Ron was that he has all of you, and has had all of his life. I was so happy when your mother took me in like an adopted son, even though I’m not used to it. It’s almost suffocating at times being a part of this family. Maybe I’d be the same if I’d grown up with all of you, but I haven’t. I don’t meant to speak ill of Ron, but I think he brushes you off because you’re just his little sister who’s always been there. I hope I don’t or won’t do that. I know I didn’t want you to come to the Ministry that night, but it was because I was worried about your safety. I’ve never had a sister before, you know? I didn’t want you to get hurt.”

“Right, of course,” she said weakly.

“I just wanted you to know I appreciate you for who you are, Ginny.” He gave her what he hoped was a brotherly smile. “I’m kind of tired though, so maybe we can talk more on the train tomorrow?”

“Sure, Harry.” She stepped to the side.

“Brilliant.” Harry made his escape and headed for his bedroom, only to be stopped by Tonks. Heaving a sigh, he then gave her a tight smile. “Hello, Tonks.”

“Harry!” she exclaimed.

“Is something wrong?”

“No, no. I haven’t had a chance to talk to you recently and I wanted to know—is that book of any help?”

“Yes, actually, it is. I’ve been practicing and I think it’s helping with my attempts at Occlumency. I haven’t been having so much trouble sleeping either,” he said with a genuine smile for her.

“That’s lovely then. I was really hoping it would. I’m quite glad now I bought it for you! Listen, I expect you’re off to bed, so I won’t keep you.” She gave him a pat on the shoulder and loped off.

Harry glanced both ways down the hallway and saw no one. Maybe now he could get to his room. Just as he approached the door he was caught by Mrs Weasley. If Harry had been the type, he might have cried in frustration at this point. As it was he produced another smile and nodded his head in greeting.

“Oh dear,” she said. “What are you doing still up? Off you go to bed. Right now.” She opened the door without knocking and gently pushed Harry inside. He blinked as the door shut behind him.

Ron was already fast asleep, mumbling something incoherent. Harry shrugged and got ready for bed. After spending some time clearing his mind with the help of meditation, he drifted off to sleep.

*

The next morning was as hectic as Harry expected it to be with the Weasley family involved. Mrs Weasley was bustling around, seemingly everywhere at once, and chivying people into action. She rushed them through breakfast, rushed them through last minute packing and then rushed them out the front door along with other members of the Order and into waiting cars from the Ministry.

Soon after, they arrived at the station and pushed through to the platform. After a round of goodbyes, Harry and the others boarded the Hogwarts Express and found themselves an empty cabin. For once they were early, or at least early by their usual standards.

Harry, still in a slightly perverse mood, pulled Hermione’s gift out of his trunk (still with its dust cover) and started to read, ignoring the somewhat scathing looks she shot at him periodically through the journey.

Ginny left almost immediately to go sit with her own friends, which caused Ron to sigh with relief and earned him a nasty look from Hermione before she too pulled out a book and began to read. With a lack of anything better to do, Ron alternated between staring at his friends and staring out the window.

All in all, it was a nice, quite ride for some, and rather uncomfortable for others.

Harry was totally disinterested in the sorting ceremony, clapping vaguely whenever someone was chosen for Gryffindor, but otherwise quite indifferent to the whole process. He was thinking more of the letter from Martin and when he’d be able to find time alone to answer it.

So it was with relief that dinner was served, eaten, and everyone was allowed to depart for their dorms. Harry performed his by now normal bedtime ritual, and fell into a deep, restful sleep.