Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Friendship’s Price :: 11 :: Changes

11 • Changes

Harry woke up slowly, but was not so out of it that he didn’t hear the low conversation of several people nearby. When he did open his eyes and reach for his glasses, he was able to see four people clustered on Ron’s bed. His movement had alerted them, so each had their head turned in his direction.

“All right, Harry?” asked Ron as he stood up.

“Yeah.” Harry sat up and brushed his hair back from his eyes. “I feel a lot better than I did yesterday—not so sleepy, anyway.” He hastily braced himself as Ginny landed by his side with a thump and gave him a quick hug. Hermione and Neville had also got to their feet and drawn closer.

“It’s a bit late for breakfast, Harry, but I suppose we could go down to the kitchens.” She was trying to be nice, but Harry could see she hadn’t quite managed to erase the distaste for the idea from her face.

“You haven’t already eaten?”

“Of course we have,” said Ron, “but it’s going on ten, so I could certainly use a snack.” He smiled widely in anticipation. “Come on, mate!”

“Right, fine, I need to get dressed then.” Ginny immediately bounced off his bed and grabbed Hermione, dragging her out. “I’ll be back in a couple of minutes,” Harry said as he left the bed, then padded out to the showers. He returned dressed only in his glasses and a towel and set to finding something to wear for the day. He was in the process of pulling out yet another oversized outfit when it struck him.

“Harry?” came Neville’s voice. “Is something wrong?”

“I don’t have to wear these anymore,” Harry said absently, shaking the clothes he was holding. “It’s all gone.”

“Harry?” asked Ron. “What are you on about?”

“This!” He shook the bundle again and tossed it on his bed. “I don’t have to be this person anymore.” Ron and Neville exchanged a puzzled look as Harry whipped off his towel and started pulling on his clothes. Ron continued to present him with a confused expression while Neville gazed out the nearest window. “Never mind,” he said when he was done. “Let’s go get something to eat.”

They collected the girls from the common room and trooped down to the ground floor, then down the steps leading to the kitchens, passing a number of Hufflepuff students along the way. The house-elves were inordinately pleased to see them and trot out a selection of foods to snack on, plus a hearty breakfast for Harry. But his pleasure in the meal and the company was dimmed slightly by knowing that he’d need to go see Dumbledore.

And that is exactly what he did, his escort trailing along behind him until he got to the gargoyle, whispered the password, and disappeared up the stair. The minute he was alone Harry heaved a sigh. While the tender care was very sweet and he loved that his friends cared enough to take things so seriously, he was beginning to feel a bit suffocated. Outside Dumbledore’s office he nervously ruffled his hair, then knocked firmly.

“Come in.” The voice was muffled but loud enough to carry. Harry opened the door and stepped in, closed it and took a seat at the headmaster’s gesture of invitation. “To set your mind at ease, Harry, do not worry that I expected you up here the moment you were released from the infirmary.” Harry nodded and gave him a faint smile. “Now that you are here, however, there are several things we need to discuss.”

“Yes, sir,” said Harry dispiritedly.

“I know this isn’t easy for you. Nor is it easy for me.”

Harry looked up and said, “Pardon my asking, sir, but why?”

“I told you last year that I’d made a mistake. In trying to balance the needs of the wizarding world with your own, I made the mistake of caring a great deal more about the individuals—and especially you—than perhaps I should have. In consequence, I made certain decisions. Despite my efforts—or perhaps because of them—you’ve managed to overcome what turned out to be bad circumstances with a fairly well-adjusted outlook, and grown up into a kind, intelligent, and loyal young man.”

Dumbledore adjusted his spectacles before steepling his fingers and giving him a frank look. “But to answer your question more clearly, it is that I know the mistakes of the past cannot simply be forgotten. You have every right to be angry with me, even now. And, since I think of you a bit differently than any other student here, it pains me when you are.”

“Think of me how,” said Harry shortly, making it not quite a question. He wasn’t so much tired as wary. Something about the headmaster’s manner was worrying.

“You might think it has everything to do your status, Harry. And while I am not immune to that unavoidable aspect of your life, it is not what I’m referring to. One doesn’t expect to become fond of, or even love, the very thing one is charged to use in the long run. That is the crux of the issue. You are an individual, Harry. A gifted, feeling, growing individual, and I would be a fool if I could not see that, and heartless if I could not come to care about your very individual needs and desires. Take away all the trappings of this war, and you would still be a person worthy of respect and caring.”

“Then why was I stuck with the Dursleys?”

“You might be interested to know that Professor McGonagall shared your opinion when I placed you with them. But I had my reasons, make no mistake. I wanted you to grow up normally, without the pressure of your fame. I wanted you to grow up without the wizarding world constantly on your back, and turning you into a shallow facade of a person. Again, part of that was looking ahead. You would be of precious little use in your prophesied role if you were more interested in gathering up a coterie of admirers to preen for. But also, you would have had little in the way of honest life experience. Your friends would have been as shallow as the person you’d become and probably as untrustworthy.”

“All right,” said Harry evenly. “But instead I grew up as a whipping boy. You seem to know everything, somehow, so why didn’t you know what they were doing, how they felt?”

“As I said—I do not expect forgiveness for my mistakes, Harry. The important thing in the end is that you’re here. You’re healthy and have a group of intensely loyal, intelligent and trustworthy friends. But, that brings us to the first of the topics we must discuss. With the death of the Dursleys you are homeless. That is easily remedied—your new residence will be headquarters. Though the protection is not the same, it is the next best thing available.”

As that didn’t surprise Harry in the least, he simply nodded at the pronouncement. “Does that mean the Minister can’t interfere?”

“Absolutely not, Harry. You do have a guardian—your parents were quite thorough in their planning, I must say—so you need not worry that the Minister could step in to cause problems or complications. Oh, that’s not to say he might not try, but he will get nowhere. I see that you understand, so I will be quite plain—it falls to me, as it has all these years, to maintain my role as your guardian.”

“Then I have several issues of my own to discuss, sir, when it’s convenient.”

“Of course, Harry. First, I may as well get the worst of it out of the way.” The headmaster lifted a paper from his desk and passed it over. Harry took it and began to read.

Dark Forces Rampage Unchecked

Six towns were struck last evening, the attacks lasting well into the night. More than twenty dwellings were targeted, resulting in the deaths of over thirty people and thousands of galleons worth of damage.

Foremost among those was the Dursley home, the muggle family of our very own Harry Potter. With the loss of his remaining blood kin, The Boy Who Lived has been set adrift. . . .

Harry skimmed the rest of the article, which disgustingly enough centered mostly around him, though with a number of digs at the Ministry’s Magical Law Enforcement department. He looked up with a grimace and said, “Don’t they have anything better to do than turn a tragedy for so many into another excuse to prattle on about me?”

Dumbledore gave him an understanding smile and a slight shrug of his shoulders. “It is the nature of the media to be somewhat exploitative. As you can see though, there was good reason for your experiences of that night. Miss Granger has already turned over a copy of her notes and I found them most illuminating. You may remember that she took the trouble to note down the times, what you were sensing, and how long it took you to recover from each episode. It is a clear indicator of your mental strength and endurance.”

Harry closed his eyes and sighed. A moment later he said, “I’m not sure I see the point in regular meetings about that, sir. The only way I can improve is to suffer more of Voldemort’s actions, not that I particularly want to. I understand the value of testing against head-on attacks, but. . . .”

“I’m inclined to agree, Harry. I think an occasional check would serve admirably as it is extremely doubtful that any of us could begin to duplicate the kind of link you have with him. Trying would probably cause more problems than answers or solutions. But, enough of that—you had issues of your own you wished to raise?”

“Yes, sir. They seem a little petty”—Harry tapped the paper—“but I’d still like to talk about them. If headquarters is to be my home, I’d really like to have my own room then. And it seems a bit awkward to live there when there’ll be meetings going on and such.” He paused for a moment, then said, “And I realized earlier that I don’t have to look like this any longer.”

Harry plucked at his oversized hand-me-downs. “They’re functional. But for once I’d like to own something new, something that fits.” He felt like he was whining, and straightened up self-consciously. “I just don’t know what stuff like that would cost or if I have enough money to do that and still be all right for next year.”

“I don’t see anything to be concerned about,” said Dumbledore. “Headquarters was taken as-is, without a great deal of thought as to it being used as the home that it is. That can easily be changed without a huge amount of effort or expense. Over the Christmas holiday we can get into the details, all right? As for your other problem, that is also not something to worry yourself over. We can bring someone in for that.”

But who’s going to pay for it, sir?” Harry wanted to know. “Who’s going to take care of it?”

“Money was set aside for the Order a long time ago, Harry. As for your personal needs, the contents of your vault can cover the cost without you needing to worry about next year.”

They spent a little more time discussing various small items, then Harry took his leave to make it down to the Great Hall in time for lunch. With the uncomfortable though necessary conversation with the headmaster over, Harry was feeling much more relaxed, though he regretted that his usual morning with Neville had been sacrificed.

*

The week passed quietly enough; Harry’s encounters with the overly curious tended to be cut short almost as soon as they’d begun, either by him or one of his friends. By the time the weekend was about to start—and Harry had not been attacked from within again—they were willing to step back from their obvious hovering and give him more breathing room.

Unfortunately the attention didn’t completely stop, and Harry was beginning to think that the library was cursed. It seemed like no matter where he went within it, someone invariably turned up to cause him grief. After hearing a completely unexpected voice coming from behind him, he closed his eyes for a moment and rubbed them with thumb and forefinger, then took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

“I wanted to know if you’d like to go to Hogsmeade this weekend with me,” she repeated in a tone both cheerful and hopeful.

“I’m flattered that you’ve asked, but I don’t think it would be a wise idea.”

“Why not, Harry? We could visit the shops, and talk, and maybe have lunch together. Just the two of us.”

He studied the carpet, noticing an abortive moment of her hand out of the corner of his eye. “I think that in this case we should leave well enough alone.”

Harry felt a sharp ache pierce his chest and looked up to see tears forming in her eyes. The ache faded, leaving him feeling depressed and frustrated at the same time.

“I’m sorry, Cho. I just don’t feel that way about you.”

“But, Harry,” she protested. “It was a bad time for all of us. I’m sure if we tried a second time that things would be different. I know you liked me. We could try again fresh.”

Harry shook his head and sighed. He really didn’t want to be having this conversation. It was just as well she’d come upon him in one of the more secluded parts of the library, so no one would witness her display and use it against her later.

“I said I’m sorry, Cho. It won’t work. I couldn’t even mention the names of certain friends before. You’d go all bristly on me. I can’t deal with things like that and I don’t want to.”

“What,” she said, drawing herself up as though offended. “You think I was jealous of Hermione?”

Harry thought it was painfully amusing that she knew exactly what he was referring to. “I don’t know. Were you? What I do know is it made me feel like I’d have to give up one of my best friends to keep you happy and feeling secure. Don’t look so taken aback, Cho. I’m simply being honest with you.”

Cho visibly pulled herself together and rallied back. “I admit I was a bit overwhelmed last year and maybe I wasn’t acting altogether rationally, but I don’t see why that has to affect things now, Harry.”

Harry ran a hand roughly through his hair and debated whether he should be tactful or blunt. When she reached out to touch his arm, he decided abruptly. Stepping back he said, “No. I don’t wish to be unkind, but you’re not making this very easy for me. I said no, and I meant it. So believe me when I tell you I have no intention of trying again, now or later. You’re a very nice girl, and I wish you every happiness, but it won’t be with me.”

He turned away just as tears began to roll down her cheeks, and did not linger, getting out of there as fast as he could without looking foolish. He kept right on going until he was safely in the Gryffindor common room, where he stayed until it was time for lunch. Both afforded him the safety of numbers, which was also the case a little later on during quidditch practice.

By then, having noticed that Cho had been conspicuously absent, he felt comfortable enough to return to the library to track down some books he needed for a longer assignment in Defense. He was deep in the stacks glancing over the titles on the shelves when hearing his name caught his attention. Realizing that he was next to invisible, he moved closer to the voices in order to eavesdrop.

“—but he’s not so bad looking. And besides, who cares? Do you have any idea how much he’s worth? Come on, what more could you ask for? Fame, money. . . .”

Blinking in surprise, Harry moved until he could see who was speaking by peering over the tops of some of the shorter books on the case he was standing beside. His view was limited, but fairly safe from exposure.

“How did you find out his worth anyway?” asked Parvati with a slight frown.

“How do you think? I did some research on the Potters. They’re loaded! And when Harry comes of age, he’ll inherit all of it,” said Lavender smugly.

“If he lives so long,” pointed out Parvati.

“All right, so you have a point there. You never know though. He might say yes if I asked him out.”

Harry started to think that writing a will wouldn’t be a bad idea. After all, he had no desire for his supposed fortune to end up in indeterminate hands. It was definitely a point to raise with Dumbledore at the next opportunity.

“Anything is possible, I guess. What about Cho?” asked Parvati with a tilt of her head.

“Oh her. She had her chance and blew it. Maybe if she hadn’t walked around like broken waterworks all last year. . . .” Lavender shrugged and flipped her hand. “I know it sounds mercenary, but let’s face it—pure-blood families arrange marriages to gain power and wealth all the time. Why shouldn’t I take a shot?”

“They know exactly what’s going on though, Lav. Well, whatever. I don’t think Harry’s as oblivious anymore as people think he is. I need to get started on that paper.”

Harry frowned as they walked right past him, never knowing they’d been overheard. He’d known for a long time that many people only liked him for his fame—when it wasn’t convenient to assume he was seriously unbalanced—but this was a step further. Why no one had ever told him he was potentially a very rich man was yet another mystery. Either way, it was obvious he’d probably want to be especially wary of the lovely Lavender.

A short time later he had a stack of books piled up on a table in a fairly quiet corner, hoping that there would be no more surprises in what had already been, in his opinion, a very long day. After sliding gratefully into a seat he rested for a minute, just sitting there staring at nothing in particular before getting the supplies he needed from his bag.

He had just finished roughing out an outline for his paper and was about to start on the introduction when footsteps made him look up. For a split second he fervently wished he knew how to turn himself invisible, then seriously considered begging Moony for the secret of the map so he could spend all of his work time hiding in the room he and Neville used. Hermione rounded one of the bookshelves and drew near, pulling out a chair to sit in before looking at him.

“I noticed you talking with Cho earlier. Is everything all right?” she asked casually.

“Yeah. I was surprised actually, that she wanted to. It was nothing too important though, just talk.” He shrugged.

“Well, I admit you have me curious now,” said Hermione lightly.

Harry shrugged again. “The highlight would be where she asked if I wanted to try again. I told her no. She wasn’t too happy about it, but that can’t be helped.”

“You turned her down?”

Harry noticed that she had a faint look of self-satisfaction about her, and wondered if it had anything to do with her erroneous conclusions regarding him and Ginny. “Of course I did. One, she won’t be here next year. Two, everything was always entangled with Cedric. Three, she was the jealous type.”

“What’s jealousy got to do with anything?” she asked, perplexed.

He gave her a surprised look before responding. “It has plenty to do with it.”

“Some people would find it flattering, Harry.”

“Some people would. I happen to think jealousy is about control and insecurity. If I were dating someone, I’d like to know they trusted me, and didn’t shoot daggers at me every time I talked to another person like I was going to cheat at the first opportunity. If they don’t believe I’m honorable, I don’t want any part of it. For that matter,” he went on, “she was happier defending Marietta than admitting the girl had betrayed the DA, so whatever she thought she felt for me couldn’t have been all that much. Her friendship was more important than the truth. I for one am glad I got over my little crush on her.”

“People make mistakes, Harry.”

“Yes, they do. That doesn’t mean I have to feel obliged to date someone because they did, or in spite of it.”

“Well, you weren’t very sensitive to her in the first place, Harry. You usually aren’t when it comes to girls,” she pointed out, changing tactics.

“Then I guess it’s just as well that I hadn’t planned on being with anyone until Voldemort is dead, isn’t it,” he said matter-of-factly.

“So you’re just going to ignore the girls who do like you?” Her expression changed to one of annoyance. “They don’t matter? Don’t you think that’s a little cruel?”

“I don’t see how. Cruel would be someone coming to me and telling me how they feel or asking me out, and me laughing at them. Cruel is not me never even noticing in the first place and them not having the courage to approach me.” He gave her a slightly exasperated look. “After all, it’s been pointed out to me a number of times that I’m oblivious. It should hardly come as a shock to anyone that I don’t notice these things. Anyway, just because someone likes me doesn’t mean I’ll automatically feel the same way.”

She narrowed her eyes at him, but he forestalled her. “Would you like me to make an announcement at dinner to let everyone know I have no interest in dating, so could all interested parties give it up and look elsewhere?”

“Well, no. . . .” she mumbled, gnawing at her lower lip.

“I’m tired, and I really want to get a good head start on this homework. Is that all right?” he asked, one hand hovering over his book. “You’re welcome to join me—I’ve got plenty of research material here.”

But instead of staying she stood hastily, muttered a quick good-bye, and ducked around a bookshelf. Harry stared for a moment at the spot where she’d disappeared, then turned back to his homework, completely mystified by her behavior. By the time he packed up and dropped his things off in his room before dinner, he’d got well into the assignment and was feeling quite pleased with himself.