Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Friendship’s Price :: 12 :: Gearing Up

12 • Gearing Up

Harry was glad to escape breakfast without being stopped and headed straight for the secret room, relieved beyond words when he managed to get there and in without problems. Neville appeared a short time later, startling Harry from his concentration on his essay.

“Sorry, Harry.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he replied. “There’s plenty of time to work on it. I just figured I would get some time in while I was waiting since I managed to slip off without being followed.”

Harry set down his quill and pinned his friend with a thoughtful look. “Neville, how much do you know about estate books?”

If Neville was surprised by the question he didn’t show it. He sat down in his usual chair, dropping his bag by his feet, then said, “Enough, I suppose. I don’t have one, but I’ve seen the one my Gran uses because my parents are. . . .” He rubbed his forehead and shook his head slightly. “Gran uses it to keep track of the family holdings—real estate and finances, basically. Though, there’s a section in it that’s used for keeping track of basic family information. Why?”

“Ginny bought me one for my birthday, see, and I have no idea what to do with it. And then, yesterday, I overheard some people talking about me. One of them seemed to think I was quite well off, but that’s the first I’ve heard of it. Professor Dumbledore’s never said anything about . . . anything like that.”

“He wouldn’t.” At Harry’s look of surprise, Neville said, “Well, he wouldn’t. You aren’t of age yet. Even I don’t have any idea what my family is worth, Harry. Tradition says that until you’re of age, you have no business knowing. And if you end up being a wastrel, then it’s just as well you don’t.”

“So you’re telling me that Dumbledore is in charge of my . . . whatever?” Harry threw a hand up.

“If he’s your guardian, yes.”

“Then I suppose that explains why he thought my request for a new wardrobe wouldn’t be an issue. He’ll be using my money to pay for it. He did say the Order has its own funds though, but he didn’t quite specify if it would those used for a renovation of headquarters.”

Neville cocked his head to the side curiously. “Well, that’s only fair, isn’t it? They’d be your clothes. But what do you mean about headquarters? What did he say to you?” Then he ducked his head momentarily and said, “If you want to tell me, that is.”

“I don’t mind, Neville. He confirmed that he’s been my guardian all along, for one thing. I was a bit confused about that because I ended up living with the Dursleys, but he is, so the Minister shouldn’t be able to cause problems.”

“But why? Why them? I expect anyone would have been happy to take you in.”

“That’s just it, or so he says. He wanted me to grow up normally, even though it didn’t exactly work out that way. And even though I’m still angry about it, I suppose he was right in a way. I might have been an entirely different person otherwise and we wouldn’t be talking right now.”

“Perhaps, and you might have grown up to be like V-Voldemort,” Neville countered, drawing a comparison.

“I know. But I didn’t. Maybe it’s because of what I had waiting for me, that he didn’t.” Harry shrugged.

“What, an awed public that’s just as likely to think you’re mad as sane?” asked Neville with uncharacteristic cynicism.

Harry grinned broadly. “No, honest people, some of them connected to the Order, who were willing to try and treat me like a normal person. Like you.”

Neville snorted. “I didn’t know what to think of you at first, Harry. I certainly didn’t ever think we’d become friends.”

“But that’s all right, Neville.” Harry reached out to place his hand over Neville’s for a moment. “Even if you were judging me then, you didn’t talk about it or make trouble for me. You took the time to come to your own conclusions, and I really appreciate that. It makes me think you see who I am, not who people think I am.”

Neville flushed, and Harry felt a twinge of something that wasn’t quite embarrassment. “I’ve never been useful to anyone before, at any rate,” said Neville with a hint of bitterness.

“But you are,” Harry insisted. “That’s as much my fault as anyone else’s that no one has taken the time to realize it. And I don’t mean because you’ve been helping me with this tradition stuff or Herbology. Merlin, if we’d been closer back in fourth year, you could have told me how to handle the second task! You don’t judge me, or nag me, or talk about the things I say behind my back. And you listen! You know so much, if only someone would have the sense to ask you. You’re intelligent, and—”

Harry broke off as Neville’s flush deepened to an alarming scarlet. Taking a breath, he resumed an earlier subject. “So, anyway, Dumbledore says that I still have a home, albeit a new one—headquarters.”

“The Order?” Neville’s voice was a bit stiff.

“Yeah. I stayed there over the summer after I had that vision and sent a letter to Dumbledore. Well, and the year before, too. I asked him if I could have my own room now, though. It’s not that I hate sharing, but it would be nice to have one to myself during the hols. I guess it makes sense—it belonged to my godfather. I’m sure he would have wanted that. He was so happy when we were there over Christmas.” Harry was rambling now, and he knew it, but with every word the colour of Neville’s face was fading more toward normal.

“I wonder if the headmaster would let you come this year. Well, assuming your Gran wouldn’t mind.”

“I can ask her, if you think he’d say yes.”

“I do!” enthused Harry. “But I’ll check, of course. It’s protected, so he’d have to agree, but I don’t see why he’d mind. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ron, Ginny and Hermione were to come as well. Though, last year Hermione was supposed to go skiing with her parents—she changed her mind when Mr Weasley was attacked. And Remus should be there too. Dumbledore said specifically that he’d make sure he could be since I asked about him.”

“Professor Lupin?” Neville asked a little more normally.

Harry was quite certain by now that praising Neville would always make the boy very uncomfortable, so he made a mental note to be a lot more subtle. “Yeah. He was one of my dad’s best friends. He’s the only person left I consider as anything like family.”

“You’re not scared of him?”

Harry blinked. “Why should I be? He’s one of the sweetest, gentlest people alive.”

“I believe you, Harry.” Neville’s sincerity was unmistakable.

“Do you think I should ask Dumbledore about my inheritance?”

Neville shook his head. “It would be crass.”

Harry sighed. “No offense, but that’s a stupid custom. If other people can find out—well, whatever. I guess you’re right. I’ll just wait until I’m seventeen. I’m sure if I did bring it up and Hermione found out, she’d lecture me for not paying attention to tradition. I wish I knew what she thought was so important about that book, but I don’t like to ask. Er. . . .”

“It’s all right, Harry. Even the best of friends find things about each other that they dislike.”

“It’s just—I feel like I’m being so unfair sometimes. The book is one thing, but finding out that she—she would do certain things without telling me—I feel really irritated sometimes. I feel guilty because she is a good friend, and she’s only trying to look out for me.”

“It’s just an opinion, Harry, but no matter how good a friend someone is, that doesn’t give them the right unasked to do things behind your back, especially when they don’t know the whole story.”

“You—” Harry broke off and sighed heavily. “I feel like such a horrible gossip right this moment.”

“She’s still upset, isn’t she—about Seamus.”

Harry buried his face in his hands for a moment, then ran them back through his hair. “Yes, and she won’t let up, not that she ever says a word to me personally. Just keeps shooting those nasty looks at him if he dares walk too close. Merlin forbid he speaks to me. He said he was sorry about last year. He doesn’t want to be so gullible again, he says. I know he’s too scared of her to try anything. And she’s convinced I’m going to announce a relationship with Ginny at any second.”

“But you aren’t.”

“Good God, no. She’s like a sister to me.”

“I’m sure there are plenty of nice girls that would like to spend time with you.”

“There isn’t any girl I had considered dating,” Harry said carefully. “Besides, I might not live through all of this.”

“You might not,” Neville agreed. “But consider this—if you don’t have any relationships, you’ll never know.”

“But is it fair to date any person knowing I might not survive?”

“Is it fair to you to never know, and is it fair to assume that others don’t know the risk and take it seriously?”

“Lavender certainly took my money seriously.”

“Then Lavender is either a gold digger or thinking in normal pure-blood fashion.”

“It doesn’t matter. I’m not interested in any of the girls right now.”

“Who said I was referring to just girls?” When Harry gave him a look comprised of blank shock, Neville said lightly, “I overhear a lot of things, Harry. People simply don’t notice I’m around most of the time. And, as you said, I take the time to draw my own conclusions. What do you say we get started on this week’s practice?”

*

Harry wandered into lunch in a bit of a daze. He had spent the remainder of the morning practicing spells on reflex. Neville hadn’t said another word that wasn’t related to what they were working on, having dropped the matter entirely. In point of fact, he said nothing more on it during the next several weeks. He acted exactly the same around Harry as he had been all year thus far—sometimes he was shy and awkward, and other times he was confident and articulate.

He did, however, let Harry know that he had received a letter from his Gran giving her permission for him to spend the holiday with his friends. Considering he had not yet written to ask her about it, Neville was understandably surprised. They finally worked it out that after Harry had spoken to Dumbledore, the headmaster had probably taken things a logical step further and made the request himself.

It was the first full weekend in December when Harry sat down in the secret room with two new letters that had arrived at breakfast. When Neville arrived he said, “I hope you don’t mind waiting a bit. I’d like to read these and answer them if that’s all right.”

Neville smiled and waved a hand, then sat down and pulled a book from his bag to read, so Harry opened the first envelope.

Dear Harry,

The class is going quite well, actually. I didn’t get many responses, but I have three people I’m teaching now after work. One of them is even a grandmother, can you imagine? They’re just starting, of course, but I think they’ll do just fine, and they seem like awfully nice people. I’ve even been getting out more and have met a rather nice fellow down at the pub. We shall see if that leads anywhere.

I was wondering, though, were you coming back for the holiday? I’d love to see you again and spend some time together. Letters just aren’t the same, you know. It would be great fun to go shopping, or even just sit around and talk. And there’s nothing to say you’d have to stay with your family if they’d allow you to visit with me. Besides, I’d rather like your opinion on that chap I met.

“Harry?” Neville asked, drawing his attention away from the letter. “Is something wrong?”

“It’s my friend,” Harry said, making a vague gesture at the paper. “He wants to know if I’m coming home for the holiday. I never told him what happened.”

“A muggle?”

“Yeah. He was teaching me self defense—offered because I looked so depressed and he thought it help would take my mind off what was bothering me.”

“Sounds like a nice person,” commented Neville.

Harry nodded, and when Neville said nothing more, he returned to the letter.

The shop is fine, though I had an absolutely horrid woman in here earlier. She bought up half a shelf of goods though, so I might end up closing early for lack of anything to sell! I’ve been thinking about stocking a selection of teas just as a sideline, and possibly jams. I don’t know, I’ll have to think about it some more. I don’t want things to get too involved around here.

Let me know, all right? I’d love to have you if your family doesn’t mind.

Martin

Harry set the letter aside, wondering how he should phrase his reply. He knew he would have to decline, whether he wanted to or not. Had the Dursleys still been alive, he already knew they would have said no, and Dumbledore would never allow it, besides. Pushing the thoughts firmly away for the moment, he reached for Moony’s letter.

Dear Harry,

Yes, I’ll be there this holiday, so we’ll have plenty of time to talk about whatever is on your mind, and whatever comes up. Albus has already told me that you’d like your own room, so we can do that first thing, though for the first night we might have to go with the usual arrangements. I suppose it depends on what time all of you get here.

Maybe all of us can help out in deciding how to renovate the place. It actually sounds like fun, and certainly better than just making it habitable. I also understand that Neville will be joining us, so that’s good. I did think he was a nice young man.

Mind you get most of your shopping done beforehand, though. I know there’s a Hogsmeade weekend coming up just prior. Just be sure to keep your eyes and ears open for any trouble and don’t wander off alone, not that I really think you would. Can’t blame me for worrying about you, though, even when I know you’re well able to take care of yourself.

If you need anything between now and then, let me know, and I’ll see you soon.

Moony

Harry smiled and looked up, offering the letter to Neville. “Here, have a look if you like.” Neville took it with a curious expression, so Harry got out his writing supplies and a fresh sheet of parchment.

Dear Martin,

I’m not quite sure how to say this, so I just will. The thing is, my family—you might have seen in the local about a family that was killed not too long ago? Halloween, actually. Well, that was them. And this is on top of what was making me so upset when you first met me. I’m sorry I didn’t say anything before now, but I just couldn’t bring myself to talk about it. We never did get on that well—I think you know that from what little I said before, then.

In any case, my current guardian has arranged for me to live elsewhere, understandably. He’s a bit nervy about what happened, so I doubt I’d be allowed to return any time soon. I’m really sorry, because I would have loved to stay with you for the holiday and catch up in person. And I would have liked to have met your new friend and see what he’s like.

You’ll still be able to reach me at the same address, though, even over the holidays. My guardian—he’s a bit peculiar at times, so I can’t give out the actual address. I know it sounds a bit strange, but it’s all right. He’s a good man and I trust him, so don’t worry about me.

Harry

He heaved a sigh and stared at it for a minute, then addressed an envelope and put his stuff away. As he was in the process of folding it, a thought struck him. Turning to Neville, he said, “Do you think . . . you might read this over? Tell me if it sounds all right?”

Neville’s brows rose, but he nodded. They swapped parchments and Harry tucked Moony’s letter away, knowing he would be seeing him soon enough. Neville looked up a minute later with a thoughtful expression. “He doesn’t know anything, does he.”

Harry shook his head.

“I think it’s fine. You aren’t fibbing about anything, just being vague. And since he has no idea about the wizarding world, that’s just as well. I’m not saying he’s not trustworthy, but. . . .” He extended the letter again and Harry took it back.

“I’ll send it then. Thanks.”

“Where is he writing to, anyway?”

“There’s a mail drop in a muggle town not far from Hogsmeade that Moony told me about. I just have to send along a couple of coins to pay for the postage fee and someone from the owl office takes care of dropping things off and picking up whatever arrives, then forwarding it up to the castle.”

“I never knew.” Neville sounded mildly surprised.

Harry shrugged. “Neither did I until I asked. I left the Dursleys pretty abruptly, and didn’t want him to worry about what had happened to me. Obviously, sending Hedwig was out of the question.”

“That’d be a right shock for a muggle I expect,” said Neville, grinning. “Are you going to Hogsmeade that weekend?”

“I should. I haven’t done any shopping yet.”

“Mind if I tag along?”

“Not at all. Maybe you can help me decide what to get for Moony and Martin. Not to mention everyone else.” Harry rolled his eyes briefly and smiled, then said, “Right, then we should get going with practice.”