Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Friendship’s Price :: 10 :: Orange & Black

10 • Orange & Black

Lunch in the middle of the Great Hall was no place to have a private discussion, no matter the degree of facial contortions being accomplished by Ron and Hermione. Harry was quite sure they would drag him off somewhere quiet the moment that Charms was over and interrogate him. And, so long as he avoided any lies, and resorted only to stretching the truth a little, Harry reckoned things would go fine.

And so it was. He was whipped off down the hall and barricaded in an empty classroom almost before he could pack up his things.

“Finally,” said Hermione. “What happened?

Harry shrugged his shoulders. “It wasn’t that different from other times, I suppose, except that I was awake when it happened. Before, I think, I only felt the pain, or had some sense of what he was feeling at the time. It was when I was asleep that I’d get drawn in.”

“Yes, so?”

“Yeah. I didn’t see much. Voldemort killed one of his followers for failing to finalize some plans. The only thing that made any sense was him saying they had three days left before they moved, and I don’t think he was speaking of their household.”

“Harry,” she said a bit sternly, “I thought you’d been practicing every night.”

“I have,” he said indignantly. “Dumbledore even tested my defenses and was pleased.”

“When?” she demanded.

“The night I wanted to talk to him.”

“And you didn’t tell us until now?”

“I didn’t think to. I was more concerned about Christmas at the time.”

“How on Earth—”

“Look,” he interrupted. “I don’t particularly feel like arguing. He asked to do a test, I said yes, he did and was happy. But considering that I’ve experienced another vision, I think it’s a little more important to worry about that. I admit that I was totally taken off guard at the intensity of the attack, but I almost fought it off, and Dumbledore was pleased to hear that. He was also pleased to hear that I was able to pull myself out, though it ended up exhausting me.”

Harry let his eyes wander over toward Ron while she digested that and formed a response. Ron seemed interested without being accusative. Of course, Harry had already told him about his defenses being tested.

“You pulled yourself out?” she finally asked.

“Yeah. At least I assume that’s what did it. I did the same thing I do when I practice each night. I cleared my mind, and ended up back to normal. I’m not sure how long it took though. There was . . . no sense of time.”

“Do you think you could do it again?”

“Hermione, what?” objected Ron. “You make it sound as though you hope it happens again.”

“I simply want to know if he can do it if it happens again. It would be much better if Harry didn’t have visions anymore. But if he does, we need to know if he can extricate himself safely.”

Ron settled back, satisfied for the moment.

“The other matter, of course, is what’s to happen, presumably on Halloween. I just hope it doesn’t involve the school.”

“Then I assume,” Harry said slowly, “that you agree I’ve done what I should, and that’s that for the moment.”

“Of course, Harry. This is no time for us to run off in some hare-brained scheme based on horribly vague information. If we had more, maybe, but even then I doubt it. That’s what the Order is for, right?”

“Good. Then I suggest we be extra vigilant over the next few days, and especially on Halloween.”

“Agreed,” said Ron immediately.

Harry was just happy that he seemed to have diverted her from shrieking at him over his omission. Frankly, he wasn’t feeling any too inclined to share the whole truth with her about a number of things, but it was true her intelligence was not generally to be ignored or discounted.

Hermione smiled brightly and said, “Well. We should head upstairs and get started on that assignment.”

*

When dinner was almost over, Professor McGonagall left the head table and stopped by Harry. She nodded a greeting to everyone and handed Harry a small note, then continued toward the double doors. Harry was not surprised when it was an invitation for him to meet with Dumbledore after the meal along with the password.

Ron was unabashedly scanning the note next to him, and Hermione was trying to divine the contents from across the table if her intense stare was anything to judge by.

“Do you think we can come too?” asked Ron softly.

“I don’t know. I expect it’s about what happened. Probably to set up some times to work on this. I doubt he’s going to tell me anything about what I saw.”

“Maybe he’s worried that you might get caught up in things when Voldemort moves,” whispered Ron, so as not to alarm anyone around them by speaking that name.

Harry flipped the note closed and tucked it in his robes. “Perhaps. I guess it can’t hurt. If he doesn’t want you there, I’m sure he’ll say so. I don’t think he’ll be angry, anyway.”

Hermione began tapping her fork monotonously on the table while staring at them with narrowed eyes.

Harry repressed a sigh and slid out. Both his friends stood up immediately. Harry looked over at the head table, but Dumbledore was already gone. The trio began the walk to the headmaster’s office. At the gargoyle, Harry whispered the password and watched as it jumped aside, then all three of them mounted the stairway and let themselves be wound upward. At the end of the short hall Harry knocked, and entered at the invitation, his friends following behind him.

“You wanted to see me, professor?” he asked.

After a slight pause, in which Dumbledore gazed at his two friends, he said, “Indeed, Harry. Why don’t you all have a seat.” As though he had planned for trio to arrive instead of just Harry, he went on to say, “I’m quite sure we are all by now familiar with the contents of this latest vision. Therefore, I would ask that when Halloween arrives, you stick closely by Harry’s side in case he experiences another episode.”

Harry saw his friends nod on each side, and accepted the restriction without protest. “I do not,” the headmaster resumed, “know what it means yet, though I very much doubt he plans to advance on the school. The possibility does exist, though, and shall be kept in mind. It is far more likely he is planning some kind of attack. Fortunately or not, you did not see very much, Harry, so we can only speculate this time. As you know, that is not meant as criticism. I am still quite pleased that you felt you were almost able to close your mind completely to him at the beginning.”

Harry straightened and said, “Yes, I was hoping we could discuss further times to test me, sir, if that’s all right.”

“Of course, Harry. We will do so in just a moment. While we cannot simulate the exact same circumstances—nor would we truly wish to—we will see what can be done about strengthening your already formidable defenses.”

He glanced down at his desk for a moment, then back up. “I see that you have free time both on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons, not having any classes scheduled. Would that be suitable, do you think?”

“Yes, sir. That would be fine.”

“Very good. Then you will come to me here after breakfast on Mondays, and after lunch on Fridays.” He paused again, casting glances at Ron and Hermione. “If the two of you would wait outside for a moment? Harry will be along directly.”

His friends nodded and stood up, leaving the room and shutting the door behind them, but not without a backward glance first.

“I will set up a password for you, separate from the usual one, so that I need not constantly send you notes. If for any reason that becomes a problem, I will put things back the way they are presently. Your password will be Guy Fawkes Day. I trust you will not be sharing it with your friends.”

When Harry shook his head, slightly indignant, Dumbledore said, “Now, Harry, we come to the other issue. It may be that Halloween poses a problem for you, which is why I asked your friends to stay close to you. If that is the case, we will not begin this Friday, but instead on the Monday following.”

“All right, sir.”

“Splendid. You may run along now, Harry.”

As he walked toward the door, it struck Harry as odd that none of them had been offered a sweet as was customary. Outside he was latched onto by his friends and hustled off toward their tower silently, then up into the boys’ dorm room. “Why did we have to leave?” asked Hermione with narrowed eyes.

“He wanted to tell me that if something happened on Halloween, we’d start in on Monday, not this Friday,” Harry answered blandly.

“That can’t be all. He’d not have sent us from the room for that,” she shot back suspiciously.

“Has it occurred to you,” said Ron, “that if Dumbledore sent us out, he meant for Harry not to spill everything to us the moment he was out the door?”

“Yes, but—”

“I’m sorry, Hermione. I can’t tell you anything more than that.”

“Harry, this is us we’re talking about,” she said with a fair amount of exasperation.

“You want me to break my word?” he asked, tilting his head to the side.

“Well, no, but—”

“Then let it go,” he said gently. Just then Neville entered the room, stopped dead, and looked around. “Hello, Neville,” Harry said cheerfully.

Hermione shifted her weight and said, “We’ll just be going then. Ron, come on, we have work to do,” then pulled him out the door as he cast a helpless look at Harry over his shoulder.

“I’ll be down shortly,” Harry called after them, then sat on his bed and patted the spot next to him. “Talk to me?” he entreated Neville, who hesitated for a second before taking the offered seat. “I’m really glad you were there,” Harry said. “It would have been awful to have been alone when it happened.”

“I was scared, Harry. I didn’t know what to do. You even screamed at one point.”

“You did just fine,” he reassured Neville soothingly. “You stayed with me and didn’t panic, and knew just what to do when I came back to myself. I am sorry I scared you though. I don’t really know what I do when I’m like that. I only see and experience what he does.”

Neville gave him a slightly fearful look, then visibly screwed up his courage. “Will you . . . tell me what you saw?”

Harry considered for a moment and said, “I trust you, so yes, if you really want to know.” Neville gave him a decisive nod, and Harry smiled to see it. Quickly he explained what he’d witnessed through Voldemort’s eyes, watching as Neville’s face took on a puzzled aspect.

“So you think it has something to do with Halloween,” Neville stated.

“Which is probably why Dumbledore asked Ron and Hermione to stick close that day, just in case,” Harry supplied with a sigh. “It’s not that I mind so much.” He swept the room with his gaze before leaning in to whisper in Neville’s ear, “It’s just that I don’t always want to be with them, you know?”

Neville gave him an understanding nod, and a sudden smile. “How about we get started on Charms, then?”

*

Three days later, Harry woke up on Halloween morning. He didn’t really expect anything to happen during the day itself, though evening was another matter. Nevertheless, Hermione took her responsibilities seriously, and he was able to listen—preventing himself from rolling his eyes at dire cost—to her lecturing Ron on how serious things were, and how he was not to let Harry out of his sight that morning while she was in Potions.

When it was finally time for her to leave, she cast another stern look at Ron before hefting her bag and wandering out, at which point Ron did roll his eyes dramatically. Harry simply laughed, ducking the cuff Ron tried to give him. With nothing to do until lunch, they returned upstairs to the common room. Harry was not terribly surprised when Neville sat close by and surreptitiously kept an eye on Harry as well. They were playing Exploding Snap when Hermione arrived and yanked out a chair.

After one look at her disapproving expression, Harry said, “Now, Hermione, be reasonable. We’re current on our work, so there’s no harm in a little fun.”

She huffed. “I’m glad to see you’re taking today so seriously.”

“You’d prefer me to sit here and bite my nails anxiously or tear my hair out?” He held up a hand to forestall her retort. “I prefer to attempt to enjoy myself and not worry about what might happen today. If I wear myself out getting worried, I might be too tired to fight back.”

She gave him a dark look, but subsided and got out her Potions book to review. Harry and Ron continued their game, playing right up until it was time for lunch. Harry was amused and touched to note that Neville sat closer to them at the table, and managed to get into their group during Herbology. They spent the time before dinner doing the short assignment from their last class—a few drawings with all parts labeled—and trooped down to dinner.

The Great Hall was decorated much as it always was for that day. Pumpkins were floating overhead, and the tables groaned with a selection of both normal foods and seasonally-decorated sweets. Despite the knowledge that at any moment he might be groaning in pain, Harry filled his plate to heaping and dug right in with almost as much enthusiasm as Ron.

They were sitting in the boys’ dorm room—Neville was being very quiet behind the curtains of his bed, Harry knew—when the first signs of trouble appeared. A sharp pain lanced through his forehead, and a sense of glee not his own infested him. His barely heard gasp and suddenly pale face alerted his friends to his dilemma.

Through the pain he could dimly hear Hermione encouraging him, saying, “That’s right, Harry, blank your mind. You can do it.” And he tried, attempting to push back the pain and clear himself of any thoughts or feelings. Her constant murmur was not helping. He let himself fall back as he continued to try, so as to have one less thing to concern himself with, and closed his eyes against the greying of his vision. And after a minute, he opened them, breathing heavily, then sat up.

Hermione was scribbling something down in a notebook. When she looked up she said, “Keeping track of the time.”

He nodded and concentrated on calming down, then said, “He was very happy.” She wrote that down too. When nothing more happened for a few minutes, they went back to talking. An hour later it happened again, and Harry immediately fell back and closed his eyes, imagining that the invisible cord between himself and Voldemort did not exist and had no hold on him, even as he strived to think of nothing at the same time.

He felt it had taken longer when he was able to sit up again, which Hermione confirmed when asked. She was very excited that he’d been able to stay with them both times though. Several more times the process was repeated, until his dorm mates began to trudge up the stairs and into the room, ready for bed. The trio slipped downstairs, followed by a silent Neville—Ron and Hermione didn’t even notice him—and settled on a couch by the fireplace.

It was near midnight when the last occurrence happened. And this time, Harry was too tired to properly defend himself. After a brief struggle entirely in his own mind, he succumbed to a vision—one that he would have been much happier not seeing. The last thing he registered before being swept away was Neville joining them, and Hermione’s squeak of surprise.

When he came back to himself a timeless period later, he could hear Professor McGonagall’s voice, but he couldn’t understand what she was saying. The curious lack of sensation beneath him told him he was being levitated. He tried to speak, and couldn’t, so he cleared his throat. He was surprised to realize it felt raw and swollen. They must have heard something for the voices cut off sharply. “Dursleys,” he rasped, and fell silent as a startled gasp rang out. Then he passed out.

When he awoke, he reached automatically for his glasses and slipped them on. Blinking a few times, he then looked around at the familiar surroundings of the infirmary and sighed. He had been staring at the ceiling for some time when Dumbledore appeared and sat down. The headmaster did not immediately speak, but when he did it was with a voice that contained both pride and sorrow.

“I am glad to see you are awake, Harry.” Harry heard him, but wasn’t entirely focused on the man. He had been thinking a great deal about what it meant to him that the Dursleys were dead, murdered. “It seems we have both good news and bad, though the bad far outweighs the good in this case.”

Harry felt a great deal like snorting, but didn’t. “I understand from your friends that you were able to fend off a number of attacks before it became too exhausting for you. I hope you know how proud I am of you.” Harry gave a tiny nod, and shifted his gaze to the headmaster.

“But as you know, the Dursleys are dead, and with them, your blood protection. I must wonder if this was Voldemort’s plan since this summer, or if he had planned to take you then, and this is his response to that failure. What does seem clear is that multiple attacks were staged and carried out so that when they did approach your family, the aurors would already be stretched thin and unable to respond with any speed.”

Harry sighed. Dumbledore looked at him over the rims of his spectacles and said, “I expect that right now you’re feeling confused. You didn’t like the Dursleys, but you didn’t want them dead either. You may even feel a misplaced sense of guilt.” After a delicate pause, he resumed, “In any case, it seems to me that you are quite able to defend yourself, and I’m not sure we need to meet on the matter. Unless, that is, you still wish to. I will let you think on that and decide. When you are up and about, come and see me, all right?”

Harry gave another nod, and Dumbledore stood and wandered away. A short time later Madam Pomfrey sailed into view carrying a tray, which she set on a table. “Up you go then, and I’ll swing this into place,” she said, smiling at him. A moment later she was off again, and Harry was picking at his food. Some time after that, Harry was bored practically to tears. Having given more thought to the Dursleys, and eventually dismissing them as having met a tragic end which was in no way his fault, he started to wonder what that meant in terms of where he’d live between this year and the next.

He was even more an orphan now, with no blood family to speak of. He could not live with the Weasleys; to do so would put them in even more danger. The same was even more true for the Grangers, and he barely even knew Hermione’s parents to begin with. Dumbledore was the closest thing he had to a guardian at this point. And then he worried about what Minister Fudge might do, if he’d have any say in the matter. Perhaps it had been a mistake to remain silent when the headmaster had been there.

When the shadows began to lengthen, Harry was shaken from his thoughts by the return of Madam Pomfrey armed with another tray. He ate, but the food may as well have been cardboard for all the taste it seemed to have. When she returned he asked, “How long am I in for?”

“The night,” she replied. “Just to be safe.”

As she picked up the tray he asked, “Do you have anything to read?”

She appeared a bit surprised by the question and said, “Not really. There are some basic texts on medimagic, but I don’t know that you’d be interested in them.”

“Could I? I’ve been thinking rather too much. . . .”

“Well, if you’re sure, I’ll go get you one.” Harry nodded fervently, so she shrugged and sailed off with the tray, returning shortly thereafter to deliver the promised book. Harry spent the evening reading about basic medimagic in far more detail than they’d gone into during Charms, and was relieved to realize that it was not at all boring. In fact, it was interesting enough that he was somewhat saddened by the reality that without Potions, it would probably be as impossible of a career choice as Auror was. He fell asleep with the book wide open across his chest.

The next morning, even before breakfast, he was shook awake, and glasses were slipped onto his face before he had his eyes open properly. “Come on, Harry!” cried Ron’s voice.

“Yes, wake up!” said Hermione.

Both were silenced a moment later when Pomfrey arrived to run a few last minute tests. Once she was done and had pronounced him fit, his friends produced his clothes and ushered him off to change. Still blinking a bit and yawning, Harry allowed himself to be led off to the Great Hall, where he was handed onto the bench and promptly flanked by his two best friends. Ginny and Neville grabbed seats directly across from them as soon as they arrived.

He yawned his way through breakfast, refusing to answer any questions, and instead actually tasting his food, though he was warmed inside to see his friends so concerned and solicitous. Directly he had finished the last bite, he was bundled upstairs and pushed onto a couch by the fireplace.

“If you’re really still tired you can go nap upstairs,” declared Ron, “but otherwise you aren’t going to exert yourself. We’ve a game today against Slytherin. If you don’t feel up to it, we’ll use the reserves.”

Harry felt stupid; he’d totally forgotten the game. “Perhaps I’ll just go rest a bit more,” he ventured. “But promise me you’ll wake me for lunch.”

“Of course, mate,” promised Ron, then pulled him to his feet and followed him upstairs. When Harry slipped into bed, Ron sat down on his own and pulled out some books. Harry thought that was going a bit far, but didn’t protest. He easily fell back to sleep.

As it turned out, the game was almost no exertion at all. Harry caught the snitch within minutes and ended the game, much to the disgust of the Slytherin team. Still yawning, Harry allowed himself to be congratulated and slapped on the back, then hauled himself to the castle for a warm shower and another nap. This time it was Neville who pretended not to be obviously watching over him.

Hermione disappeared for a while after dinner, showing up later on in the common room with a slightly smug look on her face. “Now, Harry,” she said, “since you’ve been napping all day, you might have some problems getting to sleep tonight. I’ve got you some sleeping potion just in case from Madam Pomfrey. If you need it, she’s given me one dose.”

Harry took the small vial from her with a smile. “Thanks. I may need it, though I still feel like I’m about to pass out, so I don’t know. I may use it just to make sure I don’t wake up in the middle of the night completely awake.” He tucked it into a pocket and yawned. He wasn’t sure if he should be surprised or not that nobody had asked him again about his last vision. Mentally shrugging, he remembered he needed to go see Dumbledore, and said so.

“Oh, I wouldn’t worry, Harry. You can see him tomorrow first thing after breakfast. I’m sure he understands,” she said, though Harry wasn’t so sure. But then, he was so tired, and he wasn’t quite ready to talk about the things the headmaster was sure to bring up. He sat on the couch for a few hours, just listening to people talk around him, then ghosted up the stairs to the dorm.

After downing the potion and slipping into bed, he saw both Ron and Neville come through the door. Smiling, he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.