In addition to the wonderful help of my usual beta,
Mmmusings, the re-writing of the end of this chapter came as a direct
result from Melindaleo's feedback.
Thanks to both of my friends and fellow writers!
Without you both, this story would never have been written.
Chapter Four: Untrebled, but Not Untroubled
slipped into the Tower and called out a greeting to his Polyjuice
double. The Harry-that-was-Charlie turned around with a relieved
expression and immediately crossed to him. "Harry!" He gave him a quick
once-over and grasped him warmly by the shoulders. "You all right?"
"Yeah. I'm fine."
Charlie broke out in a wide, un-Harry-like grin. "If you ever answer that question any other way, I'll know something's really wrong." He clapped Harry once more on the shoulders and let him go. "So Madame Pomfrey got you all healed up, then?"
"Yeah. I'm fine," Harry answered again, trying harder to sound upbeat. "Really."
"Good." Then Charlie's face lost all traces of a smile. "But what the bloody hell happened? How could he stop you mid-Portkey?"
Harry shook his head. "Dunno. Something to do with the connection, I think. But I broke free. It's fine."
nodded but didn't relax his stance. "Listen, mate," he said, looking
away briefly, "I don't know how to say this, but I don't think you're
in for a very good year."
Harry's stomach tensed as he stood
and waited for the explanation that Charlie obviously didn't want to
give. His look-alike fidgeted, then paced over to the window and stood
staring out at the sky. This may have seemed strange to someone who
didn't know the Weasleys as well as Harry did, but he knew this was
merely evidence of the serious nature of Charlie's thoughts. Ron tended
to deliberate in the same, slow way—if it was something that he was
able to be unemotional about—and it often proved to be a strength.
Harry waited. And as he waited, he had a good view of the Weasley red
that was starting to lighten the dark hair gathered at the nape of
Charlie-as-Harry's neck. Harry stared at it, suddenly remembering the
way Malfoy had looked as him, and remembering that Lucius often wore
his hair pulled back in a ponytail.
"I'm definitely getting my hair cut," Harry mumbled.
"What?" Charlie said, turning round.
Harry said quickly. "It's just . . . the only reason I let my hair grow
out was because I couldn't get out of the house to get it cut. And now
. . . seeing it on everyone else, I just . . . I just want to be me
again." He stared at the floor, feeling foolish.
Charlie brightened. "Oh. Well, that's an easy one to fix. I cut my own hair, you know? I can do yours easy."
Harry looked up. "Really?"
I can even practice on my hair before it goes back. Watch." Charlie
pulled his wand out from the back pocket of his jeans with a wink. "I
make a good Harry Potter, don't you think?"
Harry smiled and half-sighed, "You make a better one than I do."
grinned. "It's a simple spell. All you do is fix the cut you want in
your mind, wave the wand around your head three times, and say Abscissa Coma!"
His mostly jet-black hair suddenly sprung free from its band and
settled back into the familiarly messy, short style that Harry was used
to seeing on himself. "There's all kinds of fancier spells, but no need
for us blokes to use those. What d'you think?"
in amazement as Charlie's hair chose that moment to slowly turn red in
a rippling wave and lay flat again. "You and Tonks would make quite a
Charlie looked startled. "What's that?"
"Your hair's gone red again. Polyjuice Potion must be wearing off." Charlie lifted a hand to scruff through his hair.
"Yeah, Nymphadora is . . . something else," Charlie said in an odd voice. Harry stared at him.
"You'd better not let her hear you calling her that. She's a bit clumsy, but she can still land some pretty strong hexes."
Charlie cleared his throat and straightened up, as if getting on with business. "Want me to fix your hair?"
Harry walked over and stood still as Charlie waved his wand around his head three times, closed his eyes and said "Abscissa Coma!"
was a tug all around his scalp and a lightness that made him want to
run his fingers through his hair. But then an image of his father
scruffing up his own hair on purpose popped into his mind and Harry
stopped himself. He didn't ever want to get vain—not like that.
"Thanks, Charlie. Now what were you going to say earlier, something
about this year not being a good one for me?"
set in a grim line and he shook his head. "I know it's always been a
bit rough here for you, what with all the extra pressure and attention
and all." He looked off at the window again. "But I don't think this
kind attention is normal." He turned a greenish gaze to Harry that was
meandering its way back to brown, suddenly reminding Harry of Ginny.
"Maybe I just didn't know you were getting so many threats before. Were
Harry stared at him blankly. "Threats?" He searched his
memory. "No. I mean, not beyond the Dursleys or Malfoy or his dad or .
. . well, Tom, of course. But after that, it's just the occasional
Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher going mad on me. Most people just
stare or try to conceal things or occasionally accuse me of being
Slytherin's Heir. Who threatened you?"
Charlie shook his head
and freckles broke on his widening nose. He scratched at them absently.
"Who didn't? Bloody hell, Harry. Seems like everyone was either trying
to get my autograph, or tell me how Voldemort was going to do me in and
how they were going to help him, or trying to get into my pants."
Harry blinked. "Who was trying into your pants?"
Charlie grinned. "Your
pants, mate. Not mine. And I'm not answering that question, as I'd have
to incriminate several young witches who should have bloody well known
better. Hopefully, I got my message across."
Harry blinked again, not sure if he was exactly relieved to hear that Charlie had attempted to head off some admirers. Probably
he should feel relieved. Yes, except for the kissing thing. Would it be
possible to kiss a girl like that, someone who just knew his name and
wanted to kiss him because he was famous? Possible, yeah, but maybe not
so very nice. But at least he might get to kiss a girl that way. He was going to have to give this some thought.
can see where your mind is stuck, Harry, and not that I blame you,"
Charlie said, slapping Harry on the shoulder, "but you should really be
thinking more along the lines of who's threatening your life. I'm
pretty sure it was all just intimidation tactics, probably typical
stuff for Death Eaters-in-training, but I don't know. I'm going to talk
to Dumbledore about it before I leave, give him all the names. Well, I
mean, if I leave."
something's making me want to hang around. I know the Order wanted me
to work at some other stuff right now, but I dunno. Seems like I might
be needed here."
Harry's first impulse came and went. He knew
better than to say he didn't need help. If it hadn't been for the
Weasleys, he'd never have survived the summer. And Malfoy had already
warned him of something about the Slytherins similar to what Charlie
said. It couldn't hurt to have more eyes watching them. "It would be
nice to have you around, Charlie."
Charlie, whose bland Muggle
sweatshirt was now stretching tight across his widening chest, looked
surprised. "Guess we finally got through to you, eh? What with you
being an honorary Weasley and all that. Good. I'll let you know what
"Thanks, Charlie, for everything," Harry gave him a nod before turning toward the door. "I'd better get downstairs."
"Yeah, mate, that feast smells fabulous! I think I'll have to work my way down to the kitchens and nick a few things."
"Just tell Dobby that I sent you and he'll do you right."
it. Thanks, mate." Harry turned and ran a hand through his hair,
feeling its strange-but-familiar messiness. "Oy!" Harry dropped his
hand self-consciously and turned. "You got your universal poison
antidote with you, right?"
Harry felt the bicep of his left
arm where a thin leather band fit snugly. On the inside of his arm he
found nestled the small vial given to him by Snape to counteract poison
in any food he was served. "Yeah, it's there."
mine, too!" Charlie tapped on his chest to indicate the vial concealed
down underneath his sweatshirt, given to him as it was to all the
widely known members of the Order of the Phoenix. With the rise of
Voldemort's Death Eaters, they were now all in danger. "Happy eating!"
Charlie called after him.
Harry waved and walked to the stairs
with his mind now set on unpleasant things. Here at Hogwarts, he wasn't
planning on needing to use the antidote at every meal, but if something
seemed amiss, or if he suddenly felt wrong after a meal, he was under
strict orders to let a pellet of the crystallized potion melt on his
tongue. Harry sighed. He'd worn the antidote band long enough that he'd
forgotten about it until Charlie reminded him. Now he could feel it
rubbing with every swing of his arm, reminding him of the agony he'd
endured after eating that poisoned chocolate cake at the Dursleys and
reminding him of the fact that he really, really didn't want to go through that again.
took the stairs as quickly as he could, fixing his mind on the familiar
sights and sounds of the dark castle around him and letting his
memories recede. After a few minutes, the tenderness of the bruises
around his abdomen had trebled. He decided that he'd better get back to
the infirmary later for that other healing potion he'd skipped out on.
Better that than having to answer all the questions his roommates would
have regarding his purpled torso. They were going to have enough
questions about the antidote band and the wand holder strapped to his
right forearm, as well as any rumors about his summer they'd heard.
Harry reached the last landing, a gentle roar of voices greeted him
from the Great Hall. And for just a moment, the blossoming warmth of
familiarity overtook him, and he felt like he was home. Giddiness
filled him, an aura of excitement left over from his first year here
and the new feelings of being cared for and liked. No matter what else
happened, he would never forget the way this strange, magical place had
welcomed him and given him sanctuary from such a miserable existence.
But, he reminded himself with a slowly sobering face, things are changing, have already changed too much from that first year.
stopped at the foot of the stairs, needing to catch his breath, for he
wasn't in optimum shape after his nearly deadly summer. He took the
time to remember Charlie's words and Malfoy's warning. Hogwarts' castle
wasn't really "home" and the other students weren't just neutral
background noise. Each of them would have to choose a side in this war,
if they hadn't already, and suffer the consequences of their choice.
From what Charlie said, it sounded as if many of them already
had—against the Boy-Who-Lived. But Harry knew that despite that, he
wouldn't be alone in the fight against Tom. At least the D.A. might
stand with him, and most of his own house. There was a core group among
them that he could trust. But beyond that, until he knew for certain
where someone stood, he would have to treat all the students with
suspicion. This was a war, a war Tom had started, and Harry couldn't
afford any more mistakes. With a resigned sigh, he picked up Moody's
overused, but wise mantra: Constant Vigilance!
entered through the tall, oaken doors with a determined stride, taking
in the bright lights, the babble of voices and the aroma of the coming
feast as he made his way to the Gryffindor table. A vacant place had
been left between Ron and Hermione, and he slid into his seat there,
returning the bright smiles of those nearest him—all the brighter
because they knew now it was really him. He saw relief in
Ron's, Neville's and Hermione's eyes and mischief in Ginny's. He
suddenly wondered what the small redhead been doing to poor
"Sorry about your summer, Harry," Neville said in a low voice. "And sorry I didn't make it to your birthday party."
was thrown for a moment, but then realized that most of the summer's
happenings were not going to be kept secret since both sides knew of
them. "Well, seeing as how we didn't really have a party, that's fine,"
Harry smiled easily. "There were a few too many extra guests around at
"Yeah," Neville said in an even lower voice, "Dementors. Sorry I wasn't there, Harry."
gave Neville a smile, feeling intuitively that here was someone he
could trust with no qualms. Neville had stood by his side at the
Department of Mysteries, braving even the Cruciatus curse to try to
help him. But still, Harry shook his head. "I'm glad you weren't there,
Neville. It was touch and go."
"What's that, Harry?" Seamus
was looking over at them from where he sat by Neville. "Somethin' about
Dementors?" Seamus hadn't changed much over the summer, judging by the
lively interest in his eyes, but his face had thickened and his jaw
seemed heavier than before.
"Oh, nothing, really," Ginny
said airily, "Harry just fought off about two hundred Dementors this
summer." Seamus' eyes widened. "They were attacking my house at the
"I didn't fight them alone, Ginny," Harry corrected.
"Your whole family and Hermione were there, too. And Dumbledore as
Ginny shrugged. "I remember fainting. I know I wasn't much help."
hundred?" Seamus asked, looking at Ron, Hermione, Ginny and Harry as if
trying to decide where the joke lay. "Bugger," he said under his
breath. Neville's face was fearful at first, but then resolve settled
there. Harry waited for more questions, but none came. No one seemed to
know what to say about that, but at least Seamus wasn't calling anyone
a liar. That was a definite improvement over last year. Dean turned
around the join the conversation and asked Seamus what was going on.
Harry noticed that Dean seemed to be looking past Seamus on several
occasions, toward Ginny.
Ron took the moment to lean closer to Harry. "Good to see you, mate," Ron ventured. "I mean, really see you."
Harry shook his head; Ron had said that far too loud.
Seamus's sharp eyes were already on them again. "Didn't you see Harry on the train?"
"Oh, Ron is Harry's official bodyguard now," Ginny put in quickly, "so he's always worried whenever he's out of eyesight."
"Official, eh?" Dean spoke up. "What's that supposed to mean?"
and I are going to have the same schedule," Ron said boldly, overdoing
it a bit, "that's what it means. Dumbledore talked to me about it
Harry turned to stare at Ron beside him. "What?"
"Shhh," Hermione whispered, gesturing to Dumbledore standing at the Teacher's Table. "He's getting ready to speak."
Harry said in a low, dangerous tone, "what exactly did Dumbledore say
to you?" But Ron had turned to look at the front, ears flaming red at
the tips. Harry held himself still, trying to breathe quietly. People
were keeping secrets from him again and he didn't like it. If "official" meant that Ron was assigned duty to him, and was to take the fall for Harry if there was ever any danger—no. No way. That was not going to happen.
this was not the time to deal with it. Harry forced himself to take
deep breaths and to restrain from giving Ron a good, hard thump. The
hall around him had grown quiet, ready for the Headmaster to speak.
to Hogwarts for another year," Professor Dumbledore began with a smile.
"It has been a summer full of activities for all of us, some more
beneficial than others," and here he shot a look in Harry's direction.
Harry slowly clenched his left hand into a fist and felt the antidote
band tighten reassuringly against his bicep. "This year, we have a
unique challenge set before us—but hold, what am I going on about? How
the mind addles as the years pass. This is a time for Sorting and not
for talking. Bring in the first years!"
As Dumbledore returned
to his seat, Harry took his first real look at the Teacher's Table and
his gaze zeroed in on the middle-aged witch beside Hagrid. She had a
soft, wrinkled face with a pleasantly lived-in sort of look, like a
favorite sweater whose colors had faded in the wash. It was hard to see
from this distance, but he thought she had pretty blue eyes. That would
be Joanna Haverlime, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher that
Dumbledore had told him about. She wore no hat, only a bright blue
turban that made Harry think of Quirrell. What was she hiding
underneath that turban, he wondered.
Ron leaned back and
shifted his head so that he could speak quietly to Harry, "You don't
think You-Know-Who's gone back to hiding on people's heads, do you?"
Ron's eyes were trained on Haverlime.
"He's too strong for that now. When he comes here next time, he won't be hiding."
time?" Ron turned full around to stare at Harry, his face pale. Harry
knew that look; his friend had it whenever the Prophecy came up. Ron
finally cursed under his breath and turned back around. "Can't he just
leave people alone?"
Then the doors opened slowly and Harry
swung round to see Cho Chang leading in the first years toward the
front where Professor McGonagall stood leaning on her cane. Harry
spared a venomous thought for Dolores Umbridge, the reason McGonagall
needed a cane, as Ginny leaned across the table to him.
"Cho is Head Girl this year. Didn't we tell you?"
shook his head, startled, and looked back to the Asian girl. Cho hadn't
even been a prefect the year before, had she? Along with badge on her
chest, there was a new coldness in her face that Harry didn't like the
look of, altering the simple beauty he'd once blushed over. She had
changed. Behind her, the first years were clustered in a long, thin
pack, most of them shivering and looking around apprehensively. Harry's
gaze was drawn to a messy-haired, tow-headed boy near the front whose
robes were too short for his long frame. He was a good deal taller than
his fellow first years but in spite of that, there was a neglected air
about him, and his large, dark eyes looked as if his wildest dreams and
worst nightmares were coming true at the same time.
behind him were walking three short, brown-headed girls so alike that
Harry felt he was seeing the same girl three times over. Ginny murmured
something low under her breath and Harry turned to see her watching the
girls go by with a nasty look on her face. A few more rows of students
went by, of all shapes, sizes, and hair colors, and then the final
student sauntered by—a tall, thin girl with short, spiky hair separated
from the pack. Something about her face and hair reminded him of Madame
"Don't you think she looks a bit like Madame Hooch?" Neville asked in a puzzled tone. There were several murmured agreements.
"Spooky, that is," Ron summed up.
The Sorting Hat was already on its stool and began to sing as soon as the first years were gathered at the front of the room.
"Welcome one and all to Hogwarts,
listen well to all my rhymes.
Though there have been years of import
This one trumps them all with signs.
Not since the founders split asunder
Has this castle known such dread
Not the rumbling of distant thunder
But of drum beats for the dead.
Gryffindor, you have the valor
To prevail and guard the truth.
Though your job is not to conquer
But protect One 'neath your roof.
Ravenclaw, re-think your thinking;
Find a way to do things right.
Knowledge just might be misleading,
All the more, seek keen insight.
Hufflepuff, there's none so loyal,
Though you've lost, been bound by grief
Break your shackles and show your strength
Fight for dearly-held beliefs.
Slytherin, you are divided,
Split by power, fear and greed.
Find your hope and use your cunning,
Go when One who's worthy leads.
Once four houses worked together
I'm living proof; I cannot lie.
Work as one, dear sister, brother.
Unite as one, or you may die.
Harry's mouth had fallen open and he shut it with a gentle snap. That was not
what he'd been expecting. The shock of it made him angry as he
swallowed to moisten his dry mouth. So it was going to be a bad year—so
what? He already knew that three times over. But from the look of the
changed faces around him, he knew that the Hat had made its point. Ron
had his head in his hands.
Ginny looked around. "Well, we'd better start taking up a collection, then," she said brightly.
Harry stared at her, along with quite a few other people. "What for?" Ron finally asked.
"Well, obviously, Dumbledore needs a new hat," she said with a sigh. "That one's gone positively mopey."
was a moment of stunned silence and then laughs broke out over the
table. Harry smiled, watching Ginny grin her slow, mischievous grin,
and suddenly had to stop himself from reaching out to touch her hand
where it lay on the table. Where had that impulse come from?
Hermione leaned against him, laughing a hiccupy laugh. "Oh, Harry, what are we going to do?"
The first thing Harry thought was "we?"
But he didn't have a leg to stand on with that old argument so he kept
quiet. Once again, he had to remind himself that they knew the dangers
of being his friend, of trying to fight Tom and they wanted to stand
with him anyway. So it was Ron who answered her.
"Don't worry, we'll think of something, 'Mione."
glanced over at Ginny and saw that she had been staring at him, a
steely glint in her eyes. There, too, was someone he could trust.
"Tuck her away someplace safe, Potter. She's your greatest liability."
turned away from Ginny, Malfoy's sly voice echoing in his mind. He
could trust her, yes, but he had to watch out for her as well. If
Malfoy was right, she was in grave danger, just because of her
connection to him. Harry kept his gaze averted. The less the other
students saw him looking at her, the better.