Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Friendship’s Price :: 08 :: People Will Talk

08 • People Will Talk

They wandered down to lunch a bit tired out, but that was understandable considering the workout they’d just put each other through. Harry noted absently that Seamus was still sitting well away and mentally shrugged it off. He was mildly surprised when Ginny claimed one of the spots beside him. Ron was, as usual, on his other side.

He ate his way through a plateful of food while listening to Ron mutter on about homework, making the occasional comment or noncommittal noise to let his friend know he was still listening. Privately he thought Ron should just give it up and buckle down before he lost something important to him.

Ginny kept giving him sidelong glances, but whatever she was thinking about wasn’t something she voiced. Harry assumed it had nothing to do with her previous infatuation with him though. That appeared to have been handled quite nicely already. Of course, she could keep doing that all day long and have no more effect than unsettling him a little. It was up to her to speak her mind.

Hermione sat across the table, absently forking food into her mouth as she poured over a book she held open with the other hand. Considering how large the tome was, Harry had to wonder about the strength of her wrists. He shook off that thought as being a little too close to things he didn’t want to think about in detail.

Neville was sitting a little way up from Hermione, quietly conversing with Dean, who seemed to be quite emphatic about whatever the topic was with his slashing, decisive hand movements, not to mention how he kept endangering Lavender with his fork every time he got a little too expansive.

Further out, Harry noticed that Cho Chang was staring at him every so often from the Ravenclaw table. He wasn’t sure what that was about. And further beyond her, at the Slytherin table, Malfoy would occasionally dart a glance toward his side of the room, though Harry couldn’t tell what he was looking for, or at.

As the meal drew to a close, Ron was still muttering about work and revising, punctuating his feelings on the matter by stabbing viciously at what remained of his food. He stopped abruptly and let his fork clatter to the plate. He turned to Harry and made a face. “Right, I’m off then.” He glanced across the table, then leaned in to whisper, “Before Hermione gets on my case.”

Harry grinned and nodded. “And if you do a good job and finish up early enough, maybe you could trounce me at a game of chess.”

Ron brightened and clapped Harry on the shoulder, then left.

Harry finished a minute later and slipped out, grabbing his bag and wandering through the massive double doors. He didn’t get very far before Ginny appeared at his shoulder with a slight smile, which he returned.

“There’s something I wanted to talk to you about,” she said in a low tone. “Privately.” Harry shot her a questioning glance, and she shook her head. “Privately,” she repeated, raising her brows meaningfully.

“All right,” he replied and veered away from the main staircase and off toward the corridor of classrooms on the ground floor. He ducked into the first empty one, Ginny right behind him, then closed and sealed the door from intrusion. After a good look at her face he took another moment to cast some charms as well.

“So. . . .”

“I’d like you to hear me out on this, all right?” When he nodded, she continued. “You’ve been different this year. I’ve already said that once. You move differently and you’re more poised, more confident. At first I didn’t think much about that aside from the obvious. But when I cornered you that last time, you said some things that struck me as quite odd, though I wasn’t sure why until just recently.”

Harry just sat there on a desk and waited.

“Earlier—I’m sorry, Harry, but I kind of overheard you talking with Ron and Hermione in the library.”

Harry snorted. “Amazing how many people seem to have overheard that,” he muttered.

Ginny grinned. “Anyway, I know it made you angry. I just wasn’t sure why. It got me to thinking. And Harry, if what I suspect is correct, I promise you it doesn’t mean anything to me. You seem to have grown up somehow—I don’t mean that as criticism, by the way. And I only know of one person who could have probably had enough influence on you before we saw you again, and that’s your muggle friend. It’s like . . . you’ve gone through a rite of passage or something.”

She was giving him a frank stare by then. “I suspect that you’re not quite as angry about Hermione interfering as you are angry that she made certain assumptions, and that she seems to be rather adverse to, er, certain things. Assumptions I think were wrong. So, I’ll ask, and know that if you don’t want to answer, then that’s all right, because it’s really none of my business. Harry, are you gay?”

Harry blinked, even though he’d have to be blind not to have seen where she was leading. “What leads you to that conclusion?” he temporized.

“Like I said, you’re different. It’s as though you suddenly found out something about yourself, something important. Something that even if you aren’t willing or ready to admit openly is a part of you that was missing. Personally, I think you got shagged by your friend.”

Harry flushed uncomfortably, though not from embarrassment.

“If you don’t want to say either way, that’s fine, Harry. But I thought maybe you could use a friend you know isn’t going to judge, and who wouldn’t betray your secrets.”

“You swear—” he said fiercely, half rising from the desk he sat on.

“Harry, honestly. If I thought you could poke around in my head, I’d let you. I mean it. We’re family, aren’t we?”

He subsided and stared at his hands for a minute. While he didn’t necessarily consider Ginny a gossip, perhaps it would be better to be honest, rather than worry that she’d speculate with someone else at his refusal to answer. “All right. I would like someone I could talk to, because I am.” He raised his eyes to meet hers, and saw only friendly regard in them. “You’re right, though. I get the feeling that Hermione is disturbed by even the suspicion.”

Ginny shrugged. “I guess that remains to be seen. Though, I wonder if it’s because she’s muggle-born. They seem to have widely varying views on the subject from what I’ve heard, even to the point of violence. But if she’s a true friend, she’ll get over it.”

“Well, don’t say anything to anyone,” he cautioned.

“I won’t,” she replied firmly. “Not unless you asked, anyway. I expect you’d prefer to deal with this on your own terms. I know I would.”

Harry gave her a thoughtful look, then asked archly, “So how is Dean?”

Ginny slid off her seat and walked over to cuff him on the shoulder playfully. “Honestly. I only said that to get Ron going. And anyway, maybe I should see who likes me before I consider dating anyone else.”

“I have every faith you’ll find someone you’re happy with, and who’s happy with you.”

“See,” she said, pointing a finger at him and grinning, “there’s that phrasing again that got me thinking. No genders involved.”

Harry smiled and spread his hands. “I suppose we should get going. I want to go over the essay I wrote earlier to make sure how I was feeling didn’t affect it much.”

“All right,” she said agreeably.

Harry removed the charms and unsealed the door, then opened it. Offering his arm to her, they walked out and down the corridor toward the main staircase, talking as they went, and stepping automatically around the few people who were present.

Later that evening Harry and Ron played several games of chess. Although Harry was slowly getting better at the game, it was a foregone conclusion that Ron would win. Harry always felt a little sorry for the pawns, not that he’d ever admit it, and disliked seeing them swept off the board. He sort of accepted the fact that he’d never be very good at the game, but as it made Ron happy, he was willing to subject himself to repeatedly losing.

While they played, something nagged at the back of Harry’s mind. Something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Someone had said something earlier in the day that caused his subconscious to try and get him to pay attention. Perhaps if it had spoken more clearly, Harry would have got the message instead of feeling frustrated.

*

Breakfast brought about a happy occurrence as far as Harry was concerned. Two owls passed overhead, dropping letters down to land on his plate, which he rescued before they could get too intimate with his meal. After checking to see who they were from, he tucked them inside his robes and kept eating. With no classes until the afternoon, he planned on using the secret room to read and reply.

When Ron announced that he was just dying for a game of Exploding Snap, having already completed all his assignments, Harry reluctantly scrapped his plans. The letters would have to wait. After Ron shoveled in the last forkful of eggs and had sat back to pat his stomach, Harry got ready to head back up to the common room.

It took several games to satisfy Ron, and that lasted all morning. Harry really didn’t begrudge his friend these games together; he just wanted to read his mail. He wouldn’t have a chance now until after Charms at the earliest. Perhaps he could get Ginny to divert Ron with quidditch talk so he could get away.

They went down to lunch, Harry making sure Ginny ended up sitting next to him, and gave her a tiny wink. A few minutes later, when he was to all appearances deep in discussion with Ron about the latest brooms on the market, he slipped a note to Ginny under the table.

He was on his second helping when he felt a light tap on his thigh. Glancing down at his plate he saw the note being twitched over his leg. He put down his utensils and rested his hands in his lap, heaving a sigh as he took the note back and concealed it against his palm.

“What’s wrong?” asked Ron.

“I’m not sure I’ll be able to eat it all,” Harry said wistfully, still gazing at his plate. “But I’ll try,” he added bravely, looking up to see the slightly horrified expression on Ron’s face, who quickly turned back to his own plate.

Harry looked down again and flipped his hand over to see that Ginny had written, I can do it. The note went up his sleeve, and Harry went back to eating, and then on to class feeling much more cheerful.

Professor Flitwick had a little surprise for them. A cage was resting on the surface in front of each seat, a small animal inside.

“Today, class, we will be practicing healing charms on these wounded animals. While they are not quite the same as doing so on your fellows, these are quite good for a start.”

An abrupt movement had Harry looking over to see a look of shock on Hermione’s face. Her hand went up like a shot, waving slightly to get the professor’s attention.

“Yes, Miss Granger?”

“What if something goes wrong, professor? These animals might be hurt further,” she protested.

“Do not concern yourself, Miss Granger. I am quite confident that all of you will do admirably. You would not be in this class otherwise. It might help if you look upon this as an opportunity to assist these poor creatures who might otherwise die of their injuries.” The professor had the air of a man who had heard this protest too many times to count, and could probably recite the variations in his sleep.

Hermione did not look to be reassured, her lips compressing into a thin line.

“Now, just as we worked on it last week, class. Off you go then.”

Having taken the time to go over these spells with Neville just the day before, even though they weren’t defense related, Harry felt pretty confident. So did Neville, if his face was anything to go by. Harry looked over his poor creature, a rabbit, and determined what needed to be done, then began casting a series of spells.

When he was done—the rabbit certainly looked a lot more perky—he raised his hand to catch the professor’s attention.

“Well done, Mr Potter,” said Flitwick. “Five points to Gryffindor. If you would like to continue, you may exchange that one for one from behind my desk.” As soon as he scuttled off, Harry eased up to get another animal to practice on.

*

He and Ron walked out of class—Hermione had stayed behind to speak with Flitwick—and started toward their tower. Ginny appeared when they reached the second floor and immediately struck up a conversation with Ron about the team, practically pulling him away from Harry and speaking very quickly.

Harry took his chance and ducked off the other way, making for the library. When the door slid closed behind him at the secret room, he heaved a relieved sigh and flung himself into a chair. And that door was a real problem in his opinion. Without the map he had no way of knowing who might be walking by, which meant for Neville to use the room, he had to be with Harry. Harry didn’t think that was very fair, but he had no clue how to make a second map.

He reached into his robes and pulled out his mail, beginning with the one from Martin.

Dear Harry,

Lovely to hear from you again. Yes, things are going quite well around here. I still haven’t found quite the right title for you, but never fear, I shall.

Halloween is coming up—does that school of yours do a party for that? I’ve been trying to imagine a good costume for you as a way of passing idle time at the shop, but I think it’s a bit disconcerting for some of my customers when I start laughing for no apparent reason. I suppose it doesn’t matter, since I never seem to imagine you in anything particular.

That sounded like an innuendo, didn’t it.

I suppose I should go back to reading behind the counter like I used to before I lose money by scaring them all off. Have you heard anything more from that lovely-sounding older man you told me about? Yes, yes, I know. He’s a family friend and all. You can’t blame a guy for wondering.

Seriously though, nothing much interesting has happened. It’s all been rather boring of late, but don’t do something silly like feel sorry for me. I never was much for getting out and about. I was invited to a get-together by some old school friends though, so I may go.

It’s just coming up on closing time, so I’ll finish up.

Martin

Harry smiled and set the letter aside, then opened the one from Remus.

Dear Harry,

I’m sorry it’s taken so long to write back. I’ve been out of the country. I’m very pleased to know that you’re able to keep in touch with your friend, and that I was able to help.

I think it was quite sporting of you to make sure Ron got the Captain’s spot rather than take it by default. You’re wise enough to know when not to take on another responsibility when you don’t need to, or you think you aren’t right for it. Either way, I’m proud of you.

As for Malfoy, well . . . I suppose I couldn’t say. Maybe recent events have him a bit worried, you know? I would just keep an eye on him and see what happens, but don’t go out of your way. Just don’t let yourself be lulled into a false sense of security. Suspicion isn’t always a bad thing, if kept in check.

Are things all right with everyone else? Hopefully I’ll be able to see you at Christmas. I know things haven’t always been right between us, but I hope things continue to look up, and I’m very glad you’ve written to me.

Let me close off by saying that if there’s anything you need, just ask. As long as I’m somewhere nearby I’ll do all that I can.

Moony

Harry stared at the letter thoughtfully, wondering if he could trust Moony enough to ask about ways to conceal that door. Christmas might be a good time, for either a specific spell, or books on advanced charms or enchantments he could try.

After a moment he got out his supplies and began composing letters back to them.

When he finally did get up to the common room it was almost time for dinner. Ginny was still talking to Ron, who looked as though he hadn’t even noticed Harry had disappeared. He caught Ginny’s eye briefly, gave her a grateful smile, and dashed upstairs to drop off his things.

At dinner he realized that Dumbledore hadn’t said one word to him the entire time they’d been back. Not even at Grimmauld Place. Was it because the headmaster was giving Harry space? Maybe it was more of the same as the previous year. He was starting to formulate a few questions for him, though, so when dinner was just about over, he made his way over to the head table and stopped in front of where the headmaster was seated.

“Hello, Harry. What can I do for you?” Dumbledore seemed to be his usual self, and was even looking Harry in the eye, which felt distinctly odd after a year of being avoided, despite that scene in his office.

“I was hoping I could talk to you, sir,” he said, clasping his hands behind his back.

“Of course, Harry. Why don’t you wait for me outside my office. I won’t be a minute.”

Harry nodded and turned, walking back down the length of the room. As he passed by, Hermione stopped him and said in a low, urgent tone, “What is it? Have you had a vision?”

Harry shook his head. “Nothing like that. I just have a few questions is all. Nothing important.” He gave her a meaningful look. “Just tell the others I’ll be up shortly.”

She searched his face, then nodded. “All right. See you later then, Harry.”

Harry arrived at the gargoyle moments before the headmaster did, once again making him wonder how the old man got around so quickly. Together they ascended to his office and made themselves comfortable, Harry taking the offered sweet even though he didn’t really care for them.

“What is on your mind, Harry?” asked Dumbledore.

“Several things, sir, actually. I was wondering if I’d be able to spend Christmas at headquarters for one thing. I was hoping to see Remus.”

“I don’t see why that should be a problem, Harry. I can also make sure Remus will not have to be elsewhere during that time.”

Harry smiled, then said, “I was also wondering, er . . . well, I was thinking about presents, you see, and wondering if Remus has a steady supply of Wolfsbane?”

The headmaster nodded. “I have made sure of it, Harry. But that would have been a thoughtful gift.”

“Oh,” said Harry, mildly disappointed. Then he shook himself mentally for feeling like that. What right had he to feel let down because his friend was being cared for properly? “Um, does he normally live in a muggle house or a magical one?”

“That depends, Harry. He does need to travel on occasion, so sometimes he is in one, and sometimes the other.”

Harry furrowed his brow. After a moment of silence he said, “I’ll have to think about that more, I suppose.”

“I can try and make some suggestions if you’d like,” offered Dumbledore.

“No . . . that’s all right. Thank you, though. I can probably get most everything in Hogsmeade. Or owl order. If I get totally stuck, maybe.”

“Have you had any visions lately, Harry?” Now that was not an unexpected question, especially as Hermione had brought it up just minutes earlier.

Harry shook his head. “But then, I’ve been practicing. Remus gave me a book on Occlumency for my birthday and Tonks gave me one on meditation. I’ve had a few odd dreams, but absolutely nothing connected to Voldemort.” Seeing the look on Dumbledore’s face he added, “Really. The dreams are just weird, and it’s only happened a couple of times. Just me in a room, a mirror, and sometimes music. I haven’t got a clue what they mean.”

“Not the Mirror of Erised, I trust.”

“Nuh uh. Just a normal mirror.” Harry shrugged. “I haven’t even felt my scar burn.”

Dumbledore leaned back and steepled his fingers. “As I know there has been some quiet activity, that is interesting. And you’re feeling nothing out of the ordinary when you look at me?”

Harry shook his head again. “Those times it was like being the snake, wanting very badly to hurt you, to bite you.” Harry blinked. “Like it was me, Voldemort and Nagini rolled up into one. I don’t feel anything like that now, and I don’t sense any presence.”

“Would you object to a little test?”

Harry thought about that for a moment. Dumbledore may not have always told him everything, but he had never lied to Harry’s knowledge. If Dumbledore were able to glean from Harry’s mind his little secret, he thought the headmaster would say nothing about it. Besides, who else could he trust to test him? Now that he knew the prophecy, his options were severely limited.

“All right,” he said finally.

Dumbledore apparently understood a little something behind that pause, or maybe he was simply trying to rebuild the relationship between them when he said, “Thank you for trusting me, Harry.”

Dumbledore started gently, after Harry had indicated he was ready, by pushing against the barriers in Harry’s mind. When that failed to gain him entrance he stepped things up and put more force behind his spell. Harry could feel the barriers yielding slightly, but not cracking or breaking. He never once felt the need to use his own wand.

After several more tries of increasing force, Dumbledore tucked his wand away and smiled. “That seems most promising, Harry. Granted, I did not use a full attack, but the strength of that depends greatly on the caster. Most promising indeed. I suggest you continue with whatever methods you have been using. If you wish, later on we can set up some times to test you again.”

Harry felt vastly encouraged and relieved. When questioned upstairs in the common room about his visit with Dumbledore, he only admitted to having asked about Christmas.