A Most Peculiar Girl
Chapter One: Fourth Year
"You know, Greengrass, other people have... friends."
She arched an eyebrow, curiosity and amusement coloring her otherwise disinterested face. It was that face that had caught his eye. Not the features of it, the foggy colored eyes or its round shape. It wasn't cut of her jaw or the way her blonde hair that framed it. Nor was it the expression of boredom that sat so often upon it. It was the way she wore the expression.
Picking any random Slytherin out of a crowd might meet one with a look of intense disinterest, but Daphne Greengrass was different. Hers was not put upon or forced. It came about naturally, as if the lazy look of apathy was the most comfortable to wear. This was not an insecure teenager attempting to mask their worries and woes behind a mask of faux indifference. This was a girl who truly didn't care.
Evidence of this was the pin standing out sharply against the black of her robes. Sickly green and constantly rotating like an overexcited toilet, it spelled out the words "POTTER STINKS", practically shouting them at him. But the sentiment didn't reach her eyes. It didn't even reach her mouth. She wore the pin because she must, not because she cared about the sentiment behind it. If he asked her, she probably wouldn't even be able to tell him what it said without first referencing it. Harry suspected this girl would share the same look of disinterest if the pin upon her breast said, "I suck Draco Malfoy's cock for fun", and he loved it.
Properly engaged in the conversation now, Daphne shifted her stance, adjusting her books to a more comfortable grip. "Coming from you, Potter? A bit rich these days."
Harry winced despite himself. It was true, he was alone these days. Even now, wandering the halls of the castle in the waning hours of the day, he was more alone than normal. It was Ron's weekend with Hermione. He'd tried to get full custody but his lawyer - Hermione - had said Ron was owed his weekends.
Harry shrugged off her words. "The good ones stuck around," he assured her.
Daphne gave a snort. "The good one," she corrected, blowing a strand of hair out of her face. "Granger does love a lost cause."
Harry smiled at that, perhaps surprising her. If there was a word to describe him, it was a lost cause, and he liked that Hermione stuck to his side despite that. "Well what's your excuse?" he asked her, not aggressively.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Daphne told him.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Oh, come on," he said, and began ticking things off on his fingers as he spoke. "You walk to every single class alone, you never speak to any of your work partners beyond what is absolutely necessary in class and not at all in Charms, you sit with other Slytherins at meals but never speak to them. Do you have any friends, Greengrass?"
"Shall I tell Professor Snape you've been stalking me, Potter?"
Harry laughed. It was a single, hearty laugh - very real and very genuine. "I'm just observant. You didn't answer my question."
"And I'm not inclined to." She was done with this conversation. It had not been nearly as fascinating as she'd thought it might be.
"You don't do you?" he called after her. "You don't have an excuse."
She paused. He had not given chase to her. He had not run her down or stood in her way. Only called out in request, as if he genuinely cared about her answer to the question. She turned back to him. "Friends are a waste of time," she told him.
He blinked, looking rather stupid. "What?" he asked dumbly.
Daphne rolled her eyes. What had he expected? A tragic sob story about some overdramatic betrayal in her early years? She knew she was fourteen, but she wasn't that dramatic. "Friends leave," she explained. "All of them. All the time."
"That's not true," Harry tried to argue.
"How many times did the Weasel tell you he was your 'best mate'?" Daphne put air quotes around the words. "How many times did he promise to stay by your side? To always have your back?"
His face was answer enough for her.
"People make so many promises without a care in the world about if they'll keep them. At the end of the day, the only constant in your life is yourself." She gave a mighty shrug. "So, I stick with myself."
"But that's ridiculous!" Harry cried, surprising her. Had he not been listening? She'd used a very personal example to drive her point home. "You can't go through life without friends! Without family! Without love!"
She stared at him for a long moment, blinking slowly and then shook her head. "Where's it gotten you, Potter?"
He rubbed absently at his arms. "Saved my life a couple times," he muttered. "In more ways than one."
Daphne narrowed her eyes. She hated the over-dramatization of people her age. She shook her head again. "Keep on believing in the power of love all you want, Potter," she told him, turning back around again. "I've more important things to occupy my mind."
This time he did chase her. She heard the thud of his shoes on the cobblestones as he thundered up the hall, coming to a stop in front of her, momentarily stopping her in her tracks. "What could possibly be more important?"
She arched another eyebrow at him. "Grades?" she suggested. "A job? Responsibilities? Eating?"
Harry was waving off her answers before she had finished them. "What's the point of all of that if you don't have anyone to share it with?" he asked her, incredulous. "Daphne, have you never had anyone you called a friend?"
Daphne rolled her eyes at him and shifted her books back to their walking position, resuming her walk. She would admit a slight amusement as he fell into pace beside her, walking backwards without a care in the world as to what he may hit. "I told you, it's a waste of time, Potter. No, I do not and have never had a friend."
He stopped her again, stepping in front of her and extending his hand practically into her stomach. "My name is Harry Potter," he told her as if she was thick. Or insane. "I'm your friend."
She stared hard at the proffered hand, then hard into his eyes before walking briskly around him without another word. Was she imagining it or had she heard him chuckle as she left?
"Weasley came crawling back then?"
Across from her, Harry paused in the middle of dicing his pig's ear. They were in Potions, a late afternoon class with the Gryffindors and Slytherins as was a long-standing tradition. The Potion they were brewing was a complex one, not suited for only one person to work on and so they had been paired up. Snape, however, seemed to have lost his mind as he had determined that the pairs were to be one Gryffindor and one Slytherin. Evidence that the gods truly hated her stood to her immediate right - Harry Potter, who had been assigned as her partner with a vocal apology from her professor.
The work had been slow going. Not for any lack of talent - Harry was, if anything, quite talented when it came to ingredient preparation - but for the simple fact that it was a complex and complicated Potion.
Harry's face broke into a large grin. "You know, this is the first time you've ever spoken to me."
Daphne looked at him as if he was dumb, her face scrunched up incredulously. "No, it isn't, you idiot."
Harry set his knife down, turning to face her more fully. He kept his voice low but talked excitedly. "No, yes, it is," he assured her. "You've responded to me plenty. But you've never initiated."
Daphne paused long enough to realize that he was right. Since their conversation in the hallway about 'friends' a week ago, she had seen Harry twice more in passing, and both times he had started up a conversation with her. Conversations, she recalled, she had been quite eager to leave and which had, had very little participation on her side of things. Inwardly, Daphne blanched a bit. That was a touch rude even by her standards.
Outwardly, she deadpanned, "Hallelujah. Now answer the question."
"Potter!" Snape's voice cracked like a whip across the classroom. "Two points from Gryffindor! Stop distracting Greengrass! Back to work!"
Daphne side-eyed her work partner, waiting for the tensed shoulders or narrowed eye that would indicate he was annoyed at her for not getting punished for what she had caused, but they never came. He picked up his knife with an air of disinterested amusement, as if he didn't care what Snape had to say or think today. The grin on his face had diminished into a small smile, but it was just as genuine.
"Yes, Ron came back," he whispered to her without turning to look at her. Finishing up with the pig's ear, he wiped his blade clean of blood and slid the cutting board over to her for use at the proper time. Almost subconsciously, Daphne arranged pieces of ear into such a way that they would all fall into the potion within a second of each other. Any discrepancies would result in a potion exploding in their face. "Though I think crawled is a bit of a rude way to say it."
Daphne sniffed imperiously. "It seems like a perfectly apt description to me."
Prior to the first Task a few days ago but after she and Harry's first conversation, she had looked more closely into the Golden Trio's situation, more out of boredom than anything else. It wasn't hard to get information - the entire school was talking about Harry Potter right now and his friends by extension - but the truth had been a bit more difficult to come by. She'd had a lot of trouble filtering through all of the made up, teenage drama bullshit.
What she had come to realize from her investigation was that Ronald Weasley was, perhaps, the most close minded individual in Hogwarts.
Beside her, Harry swooned. "Daphne, I didn't know you cared."
Daphne poured the pig's ear into the potion, watching as it turned a bright orange before settling into a sunset pink and took the opportunity to turn a disparaging look onto him. "I don't," she assured him. "I just see it as a good example of why I was right."
"Do tell," he dared to smirk.
"Years of telling you that he was your best friend and that he'd always have your back and all the other tripe I'm sure spilled from his first grade reading level mouth," Daphne mocked as she stirred the potion very slowly, "and he leaves at the first sign of real strife."
Daphne rolled her eyes. "And, that's why I don't have friends, Potter."
"Well, that's a poor excuse," he told her. "What about Hermione?"
Daphne rolled her eyes again, harder this time. "Granger is a saint, and not an indicator of typical behavior. Seriously. Get that girl a fruit basket."
Harry barely contained a full body laugh at that. "I should, shouldn't I?"
"So, Granger the Holy notwithstanding, I am right."
"No, you aren't," he replied with such surety that Daphne almost stopped stirring, "but it's as good a guess as anyone in your position could make."
Harry placed the crisp, green trimmings of the cucumber peels he had just sliced on the table in front of her, looking very gently but very sternly into her eyes. It brought her to pause, staring back at him.
"Ron left," he agreed, "and it hurt. But after everything we've been through and everything I have dragged him into, the fact that he didn't leave earlier amazes me. You think this is real strife?" He scoffed, and it sounded odd coming from his serene face. "You have no idea."
He gestured at the cauldron.
"Keep stirring, it's about to overflow."
Daphne looked suddenly at her potion and cursed under her breath. He was right.
"You don't even know what I'm going to ask."
"Yes, I do."
"Yikes, and here I thought Parvati and Lavender were Trelawney's most treasured psychics."
With great restraint, Daphne closed her book, rebelling against every muscle in her body that was compelling her to slam it shut. The sound would be cathartic, she knew, but only until Madame Pince descended upon her with the fury of a harpy. Daphne didn't know what it was about Harry Potter that so irritated her, but she knew that he did. Worse yet, he knew that he did and seemed to relish the fact.
He always seemed to be there, waiting at her table in the library or sitting outside of her Runes class or disturbing her alone time just before curfew in the Astronomy Tower. Somehow, Harry Potter always seemed to know where she was, and it was starting to get annoying.
Not the least because he always appeared with the same question on his lips.
"Will you go to the Yule Ball with me?"
Daphne looked pointedly into his green eyes as she shoved her book into her bag. "No," she enunciated clearly, closing the bag with force as she stood up.
He'd been after her about this for weeks and seemed incapable of taking no for an answer. At this point, the Ball was only a few weeks away and most of the dates had been taken, save for those poor boys too afraid to nut up and ask someone and those poor girls holding out for that special guy who in this case was usually Harry. Daphne Greengrass had been asked to go to the Yule Ball approximately seventeen times now, and fifteen of those requests had been from Harry Potter. She had said no to all of them. He was going to find himself in a world of trouble soon. The Fabled Fourth Champion of the Triwizard Tournament showing up without a date was sure to have Rita Skeeter drooling at the scandal of it all.
"We'd make a good pair, you know!" he called after her as loudly as he dared. Even Harry Potter was not foolish enough to incur the wrath of the librarian.
"So, you have said, and so I keep denying."
"We would." Daphne almost jumped. He was suddenly right beside her. "You're genetically given good looks can distract from my perfectly bland face. Though I need you to say yes, soon. I need you to teach me how to dance."
"Wow," Daphne gasped with a faux voice of breathy amazement. "A bland face and you can't dance? You're a catch."
Harry was still grinning to himself even as Daphne sidestepped him and began walking towards the door. Caught completely off guard by the sudden vice-like grip on her wrist, Daphne was pulled back and turned around to face him. She regretted that her face displayed her shock, all wide eyes and parted lips. Of all the times Harry Potter had been doggedly following her these past few months, he had never touched her. Something she quite appreciated in hindsight.
"It's one night, Daphne," he said to her, completely lacking his usual impish grin and twinkling eyes. He was talking to her very sincerely now. "One night. Not even as a date. Just as friends."
Daphne leaned in very close, the tip of her nose almost touching his. "We aren't friends," she whispered to him.
She freed her hand from his grasp and slid out of the door.
"It's bad form to offer a drink to a girl who isn't your date, you know," Daphne told him without so much as glancing at the glass of punch he had set beside her. Regardless of anything she had seen the Weasley twins doing to the large bowl of fruity liquid, the drink was just another example of Harry Potter's annoying fascination with her.
"It's a good thing I'm not then," he said, seating himself beside her, as if she had not been sitting very quietly and very peacefully all by herself. "I'm offering it to a friend."
Daphne's eyes rolled at his persistent use of the useless word.
"So, where's your date?" Harry asked, making a great show of looking around. "I didn't see him."
"I don't have one." Perhaps if she kept her responses and tone as short as possible, he would go away.
Harry nodded understandingly. "Going stud," he said knowingly. For the first time, she looked at him with a glare. He raised his hands in surrender, one still gripped to his flute of punch. "I respect it! Ron almost did the same."
Daphne sniffed at the Weasel's name, her eyes involuntarily finding him - not on the dance floor but slumped moodily on one of the benches on the other side of the room. He was staring with smoldering hatred at Viktor Krum as the Bulgarian twirled Granger in his arms. A snort almost escaped her. If that was Weasley's idea of flirting, he had a long way to go. Especially considering the attractive Indian girl sitting beside him, looking positively miserable.
Daphne tore her eyes away from the depressing scene and grabbed hold of the skinny flute of punch. "Yes, I'd heard you'd scrounged him up a date," she said, taking a long sip. She looked at him disparagingly over the glass. "Patil? Really?"
Harry grinned widely. "Is that judgment I hear in your voice, Daphne?"
Daphne rolled her eyes, ignoring his insinuations. "You could do better."
Harry's grin only widened as he leaned in and whispered, "I tried," into her ear. Then he stood, downing the rest of his drink, and winked at her. "Enjoy the punch, Daphne."
Daphne's brow furrowed. Seemingly, she had only just realizing what she was doing with the drink he had brought her. She set it down, hard enough that she was surprised it hadn't shattered and fled from the ballroom as fast as she could.
She was sick of all the noise.
Daphne stared at the document laid out on the Headmaster's oversized desk in front of her. It was simple looking thing for the monumental meaning it held. It was just a simple thing, written out in the tidy script of some underpaid Ministry worker and signed at the bottom with the scratchy signature of Barty Crouch. There was a blank space just above his name, reserved for her far more elegant signature. The quill laid quite innocently beside the document, and Daphne's hand sat stubbornly at her side.
"Is this a joke?" she asked.
The Headmaster sat back deeply in his chair and folded his hands. "I assure you it is not, Miss Greengrass."
Daphne looked up disbelievingly into the Headmaster's twinkling eyes, her gaze passing quickly over to the Deputy Headmistress' face which seemed to mirror Daphne's own disbelief.
"I am not the thing Harry Potter would miss most," she assured them. She had read through the document only once, but she suspected that phrase and the implications behind it would stay with her to the grave. "Don't be ridiculous!"
"Miss Greengrass!" McGonagall snapped. "You will show the Headmaster respect!"
Daphne bowed her head, suitably cowed. Shocked though she was, she would do better to not forget her manners. "I apologize."
The Headmaster seemed content to continue as if nothing had happened. "When we combined interviews with those closest to Harry with our personal observations, your name did not appear once on the list of Harry Potter's candidates." A small smile played at the corner of the Headmaster's mouth as he leaned forward to look her more closely in the eye. "Imagine our surprise then, when we interviewed the Hogwarts House Elves and they reported that almost every second of Harry Potter's free time was spent with you."
Daphne blanched, unable to keep the expression from polluting her face. That couldn't be right. Harry spent a great deal of time with her, of course - she couldn't seem to shake the boy off no how matter how disinterested or annoyed she came off as - but it couldn't possibly be that much. Could it? Still, when Daphne stopped to consider just how much of her time was spent with the Boy-Who-Lived, she began to realize that the Headmaster was correct.
To Daphne's recollection, there was not a single day in the last two weeks that she had not spent at least two hours with Harry Potter. Be it quiet, study time in the library or chatty, annoying walks down the halls or listening to his endless musings about what the clue in his egg really meant in some unused classroom, Harry Potter had somehow become a constant in her life. With some amount of horror, Daphne realized that she could not remember the last time she had even protested his presence.
When had that happened?
Was Harry Potter her…. friend?
Resisting the urge to scream in dramatic horror, Daphne took a very calming breath, wiping away all shock and irritation from her face before promptly losing complete control again and cursing, "Stupid, bloody bat-eared pests!"
"Miss Greengrass!" McGonagall snapped, horrified at her language.
"Really, Miss Greengrass," the Headmaster admonished her with no real judgement in his voice, "you should not be so rude to the House Elves. They're quite kind creatures."
Daphne bowed her head again. "My apologies, Headmaster."
The Headmaster bowed his head deeply in reply. "You are, of course, forgiven. Now, Miss Greengrass, I admit I do not know why the revelation of your friendship with Mr. Potter bothers you so much. It certainly does not break any school rules."
The Headmaster gave a hearty chuckle at his own joke that Daphne found she did not have the stomach to mirror.
"Unless, of course," the Headmaster peered down at her over his half-moon spectacles, "that there is some other facet of your relationship you would prefer did not get out?"
Daphne's eyes widened at the implication and she stood from her chair, retreating from the Headmaster's desk a number of steps. "No!" she all but shouted at the older man. "No! No, there is most certainly…No!"
"Miss Greengrass, I understand the divide between your two houses can be quite vitriolic," the Headmaster said understandingly without actually understanding anything. "If you wish to keep your relationship secret then we can find another candidate…"
"There's no relationship!" This time she did shout at him, catching the both of her Professors quite off guard. McGonagall looked ready to snap again, so Daphne plowed ahead. "Weasley! Use Weasley! Potter fawns over him! It's much more likely that they're…much more than if he and I…but I really wouldn't know because Harry and I are most certainly not…"
Daphne, seemingly incapable of saying the offensive word, stood at the edge of the Headmaster's office choking on her own tongue until she finally let forth a short scream and fled through the Headmaster's large door, slamming it behind her.
Dumbledore and McGonagall blinked at each other. "I'm confused," the Deputy Headmistress admitted. "Are they dating?"
Dumbledore reached across his desk and slid the document over to him, a small smile playing on his lips. "I believe we should have a conversation with Mr. Weasley," he replied. "Though it is sure to be much less entertaining."
Daphne Greengrass loved Hogsmeade weekends. In the entirety of her time at Hogwarts, they remained the one instance of her school days where she allowed herself the complete and utter freedom to enjoy her days without any worry of who may be watching. If she happened to be wearing a smile on her face - a genuine, not at all fake or forced smile like the kind she gave Pansy - so long as she was in that quaint little village, it didn't bother her.
Today was Sunday, and unfortunately it was the only day she'd managed to make it down to the village. Final exams were approaching, and she was no Triwizard Champion so she'd have to sit for them, and they seemed to be particularly grueling this year. Snape, of course, was asking for quite a lot, as was McGonagall, but there were even surprises like Professor Flitwick and Sprout. Older housemates had told her that fourth year exams were always troublesome. Preparation for the O.W.L.s apparently.
Daphne shook herself. She would not think of such things here, underneath the warm sun and basking in the feeling of the chilled winds. Today was a good day, and final exams had no place in the thoughts of someone on a good day. Save perhaps Granger, who likely thought of final exam day the same way others thought of Christmas.
Daphne paused. That was a very familiar voice, though not one she had heard recently. Daphne turned the corner, peering over at the familiar form of Harry Potter, sat outside the Three Broomsticks with a piping hot dish of nothing but chicken legs in front of him. Rosmerta only had one table for outdoor use - and it was so very rarely used - and Harry had appropriated it for his own uses. His legs were propped up on the table and a particularly large chicken leg was held limply in her hands.
There was also a ridiculously enormous dog sat at his feet, but Daphne found she didn't really think that very interesting. Her eyes remained fixed on Harry. It had been almost two weeks since the Second Task, and it had likewise been almost two weeks since she had seen the annoying Gryffindor. From one day to the next, he had seemingly vanished from her life without so much as a trace that he had been there in the first place. She saw him arriving to class, during class and leaving class, and that was it. He had even disappeared from the hallways. No more did he appear randomly appear beside her at unwanted times. He wasn't waiting for her in the library or outside of class. He wasn't inviting her outside into the frigid weather to sit with him by the lake. He was simply gone.
Daphne had realized very quickly and with great irritation that she missed the bastard.
It had taken only the barest effort to draw a conclusion as to why the Boy-Who-Lived had become a pseudo-hermit, though the conclusion she had drawn was no less confusing than his disappearance itself. Asking around her immediate vicinity had yielded answers to the effect that Harry was holding week long celebration orgies in the Gryffindor Common Room in celebration of his placement in the Tournament. The Ravenclaws suggested that the Champions had been informed what was coming in the next tasks and he was taking all the time possible to prepare. The Hufflepuffs, barring Diggory, were largely indifferent and had little to say on the subject besides the fact that the Boy-Who-Lived was not eager to leave his Common Room without just cause. The rumors varied widely, but, as always, carried a nugget of truth at their center. For whatever reason, Harry was staying shut up in the Gryffindor Common Room and it was the Gryffindors own rumor mill that reported the most interesting information. According to the lions, their star student had become quite withdrawn and, dare they say, fearful.
Daphne had paid attention to that rumor, latching onto it for some reason she couldn't identify. Something Harry had said once tickled the back of her head. "You think this is real strife? You have no idea." Daphne had kept a close eye on the Golden Trio, and she had noticed what others had not. The three of them were sharing looks - weighted looks that spoke of an understanding between the three of them that no one was privy to. But more than that, Weasley and Granger were sharing looks with each other about Harry. They trailed behind him with worry and nervousness in their eyes, as if his reported change of mood was worrying them.
More than once, Daphne had considered attempting to ask Granger for details, but knew there was no way to do so without revealing her and Harry's friendship. She knew that neither of his best friends knew about it, or she would have been cornered and interrogated long ago. For whatever reason, Harry wanted to keep Daphne to himself, for whatever reason, she was content to let him.
So, there he was, Daphne Greengrass' one and only friend, sitting in the middle of Hogsmeade without a care in the world as if he hadn't up and abandoned her two weeks ago without so much as a 'how do you do'. Ignoring the part of herself that was quite annoyed with her for caring so much, Daphne sat herself across from him with all the noise she could muster, her face covered with a glare. "Where have you been?"
Audaciously, Harry only barely glanced at her, smiling briefly. "Hello, Daphne. Oi!" he snapped at the dog, pulling the chicken leg out of its reach. "I said down. Sit. Roll over."
The dog raised its haunches and growled deep in its throat at him.
Harry rolled his eyes, unperturbed by the massive dog's anger even as Daphne eyed it warily. "What good are you?" he asked rhetorically before tossing the leg at him. The massive dog held it tight with both paws and began to gnaw viciously at the meat.
Harry looked back up at Daphne, paying her much more attention this time. "Where was I?" he asked, sounding like he really had forgotten. Then he grinned widely. "Oh, yes. Hello, Daphne."
"Hi," she deadpanned. "Where have you been?"
Harry sat back in his chair, a look of perfect innocence on his face. "Whatever do you mean?"
"You vanished!" she snapped at him. "Into thin air, practically. The last time I spoke to you was after the Second Task."
"You still owe me a congratulations, by the way," he said, lazily tossing the giant dog another chicken leg.
Daphne rolled her eyes. "I don't give congratulations to people who finish last, dimwit."
"I didn't finish last according to the points."
"You should have grabbed your hostage and left," she chided him. "You could have finished first and gotten more points."
Harry rolled his eyes good-naturedly. "It's not about getting points."
"It's a competition," she said as if he was dumb. "Of course, it is."
Harry opened his mouth to respond but seemed to decide not to. Instead, he grinned. "I've missed these conversations of ours."
"So have I," she told him sincerely. "So where have you been?"
Harry looked across at her, his green eyes piercing her in a way she both liked and disliked. He had never looked at her with that kind of intensity before. "Careful, Daphne," he said as if he was genuinely warning. "Someone might think you care."
"I do care."
"Are you feeling alright?"
"Harry," she implored. There was no harshness in her voice this time. It was all sincerity and meaning and emotion and part of her hated it, but most of her didn't. "What happened? Where have you been?"
Harry shrugged non committedly, tossing his dog another leg. "I just figured you needed a break," he told her. "I know how...heavy I can be."
"What the fuck does that mean?" Daphne asked, somewhere between anger and confusion.
"I'm sorry, Daphne," he told her. "I'm sorry I pushed myself onto you. You made it very clear you didn't want anything to do with me, and I should have respected that."
"Harry," she tried.
"We'll talk soon," he promised her. "But for now, I need some space, alright?"
Daphne blinked, genuinely shocked. Was he...what was this? She wanted to ask him. She wanted to demand from him. She wanted to scream and shout at him. But he had spoken with such a tone of finality, that Daphne found herself standing up and leaving him at that table with his chicken legs and his oversized dog.
Daphne blinked. The crowd at the edge of the maze was enormous, raucous and deplorably loud. But she had heard her name, shouted clearly enough to catch her attention.
"Daphne!" someone called again.
Daphne whirled around, trying to find the source, but she could barely identify anyone in the claustrophobic crowd around her. A vice like grip latched onto her arm and she spun, coming face to face with Hermione Granger.
"Granger!" she cried, shocked, freeing herself from the girl's grasp. Absently, she rubbed at the spot of her arm that she had been holding to. Were the girl's hands made of iron? She was sure to have a bruise. "What are you doing?"
Daphne could not remember ever speaking a word to bushy-haired bookworm before now, but Hermione seemed unperturbed by this fact as she plowed ahead with a large smile on her face.
"You're with us!" Hermione shouted at her over the noise of the crowd.
"What?" Daphne asked dumbly. "I am?"
"She is?" Ron asked just as dumbly.
Hermione nodded wildly, sending her hair everywhere. "Harry saved you a seat with us!"
"He did?" Daphne asked dumbly.
"He did?" Ron asked just as dumbly.
Hermione nodded again, looped her arm through Daphne's with the iron grip of a werewolf and began to forcibly lead her towards the reserved stands. With seemingly little choice in the matter, Daphne allowed the muggleborn girl to lead her. All the while, she wondered, just what was Harry playing at?
Daphne paused in her reading, something deep within her brain short-circuiting as she attempted to rationalize the voice she was hearing with the location she was hearing it in. Daphne twisted on the spot, turning on the couch to look at the imposing woman who stood before her. Her ears had not lied. There was Professor McGonagall, looking remarkably at home in the Slytherin Common Room with her emerald green robes.
"Professor McGonagall?" she asked, as if she doubted her eyes' testimony. She didn't even know that other Heads of House could enter other Common Rooms. Though, now that she thought on it, it was very obvious that they could
For her part, McGonagall did not give her shock the dignity of a response, plowing ahead with the message she had seemingly been charged with delivering. "He's requested to see you."
Daphne paused, unsure of what to think. She knew well who McGonagall was talking about, and so did everyone else. There wasn't a student in Hogwarts who didn't know where Harry Potter was right now. With a start, Daphne realized that after several long months, the privacy she and Harry's friendship - if it could still be called that after their last interaction - had been afforded was gone. The entirety of her Common Room now knew that Harry Potter had personally requested her presence, and, within minutes, they would begin to draw some very wild conclusions.
Partly to escape the oncoming tidal wave of questions and suspicions and partly because she was, herself, very worried, Daphne fell wordlessly into step behind the Deputy Headmistress. Daphne had been there in the stands, sitting beside Harry's best friends in the world and trying to pretend that she and any business being there. She had been there when Harry has reappeared. She had cheered with the best of them when she'd seen the Triwizard Cup held triumphantly in his hand, and the cheer had likewise died in her throat when she'd recognized the pale corpse the Boy-Who-Lived was crouched over. Daphne had watched Harry he led away by Professor Moody and some ten minutes later, Daphne had been forgotten when half the staff and Harry's friends had vanished. She had wandered back to her Common Room in a daze, and some time later rumors had reached the Slytherins that Moody was dead, and Harry was in the Hospital Wing. Unsure of her place in the proceedings, Daphne had stayed put, trying and failing to read until McGonagall had shown up with news that Daphne was equally ecstatic and equally dreading to hear.
The Deputy Headmistress cleared her throat, and Daphne was drawn from her thoughts. She shook herself, recognizing the large double doors of the Hospital Wing.
"Is there anyone else…" she trailed off. Daphne could not remember ever being so unsure. She truly had no idea what waited for her beyond these doors.
McGonagall got her meaning and told her, "Madame Pomfrey is in her office where she will remain for the duration of the night, and Professor Dumbledore will be checking in on him periodically. The others have been sent back to their dorms." Something in McGonagall's eyes hesitated, but the older woman seemed to cast aside the nervousness, and she said, "He did not request you until they were gone."
Daphne smiled lightly. Harry still knew how she liked to do things.
"You should know, Miss Greengrass," McGonagall said very seriously, "that Harry does not trust easily."
Daphne recalled her last meeting with Harry Potter, and could not restrain her derisive snort. "Harry doesn't trust me with much."
McGonagall shrugged. "I will not pretend to know what he has and has not told you about himself. But know this: anyone he asks to see in this condition is someone he trusts. Implicitly." McGonagall sighed deeply. "Please, Miss Greengrass, do not abuse that trust."
Daphne looked up into the eyes of her Professor and found only genuineness. This was not a Professor ordering one of her students to behave and be nice. This was a woman genuinely asking her to honor her request. Daphne pondered on this, on Harry's relationship with this woman and the Deputy Headmistress' use of Harry's first name, and she considered giving her some assurance.
Instead, she turned her eyes back to the door and sighed. "Can I go in, Professor?"
McGonagall, seemingly unperturbed by Daphne's dismissal, nodded. "But quietly. He needs his rest."
The room was dark - darker than she could ever remember the Hospital Wing being - and it took her eyes a moment to adjust to the dim lighting. There was no moon in the sky, and the light that pervaded the room was the remnants of dull starlight. When her eyes had acclimated enough for her to see, they found Harry's vague impression in the darkness. He was an uneven lump, disturbing the plateau of crisp hospital beds.
Daphne's eyes next found a chair, rudimentary and uncomfortable, placed against the far wall of the room. She moved like a mouse, picking it up and setting it down with the concentrated effort of a man stepping through a minefield. When she had very carefully made no noise whatsoever, she sat herself beside Harry's bed.
"It's good to see you," he told her, his voice hoarse and low. In the darkness, she saw him turn his head towards her.
Daphne almost cursed. She had not expected him to speak so suddenly. "I thought you were asleep," she all but snapped, regretting her tone instantly.
Harry shook his head very slowly. "Don't think I'll be doing much of that tonight."
Daphne winced. His voice sounded like it had been shredded. He was all croaks and groans and gasping breaths.
"Harry," she said piteously, running her eyes over his shadowed form as if she'd be able to discern any telling details from it. "What-?"
"Not tonight," he cut her off, sounding stronger than he had so far.
Daphne, despite herself, huffed. Weeks since they had last spoken, and here he was today still not giving her the full story. "Harry," she tried again only to once more be cut off.
"Later," he promised her, his voice weak and subdued once more. "Later, I promise. I'll tell you everything. But not tonight. I...can't."
Normally, Daphne would not have accepted that. She would have pushed and demanded, but there was something in the Boy-Who-Lived's voice that gave her pause. As she had so often noticed in her time with him, Harry Potter could speak with such genuineness that it always shocked her and she always listened. Today, he was genuinely telling her that he could not speak of what had happened, and she believed him.
She crossed her arms and huffed again. "Fine."
"I've missed you." Something in his time suggested a deep amusement with her. He probably would have laughed, but it probably would have hurt to do so.
Daphne rolled her eyes, not that he could see. "Yeah, well you're the one that disappeared, lover boy."
This time Harry did laugh and groaned at the effort of it. "Lover boy," he echoed, still chuckling. "Think of that yourself?"
Daphne blushed. "Shut up," she snapped. Quickly, she tried to change the subject. "Why am I here?"
Harry's head turned in what was probably befuddlement. "I told you, I missed you."
"Yeah," she drew the word out, "but I could have been here the same time as everyone else. Why am I here now?"
Harry featured to his shadowed form, pointing at things she couldn't see. "I'm not exactly in the state of mind to listen to Ron's whinging right now."
"Is anyone ever in the mood to listen to Weasley's whinging?"
"Hermione seems immune to it," Harry said musingly. Then he grinned with his voice and said, "But then, she is a saint."
"Awe," Daphne said with faux sincerity. "You do listen."
"Of course, of course," he assured her, laughing lightly.
Harry lapsed into a long period of silence that Daphne was content to sit in with him. The only sound was that of Harry's breathing which ebbed and flowed between easy and labored. Finally, after what must have been half an hour of silence, Daphne stood.
"I'll leave you to rest."
Daphne didn't think Harry had ever moved so fast. His hand gripped tight enough around her wrist to bruise, holding her in place with desperation like she had never seen.
"Harry?" she asked, alarmed. He had never acted like this to her.
"Don't go." His voice was barely above a whisper. "I can't...I can't be alone tonight."
"Harry, I…" Daphne trailed off. "I don't think…"
"Madame Pomfrey wouldn't-"
Daphne sighed, reaching down to free her wrist from his grasp. "Harry, I…" She stopped short. There was something on his arm...something she couldn't see but that she was certain had not been there before. Her fingers traced the outline of it, the unnatural stiffness of his skin feeling foreign to her touch. It was warm, hot to the touch as if infected.
Daphne looked into Harry's featureless, shadowed face, knowing in her heart that she had unintentionally found his eyes. What had happened tonight?
"Okay, Harry," she said slowly. "I'll stay."
Like she had cast a spell, Harry released her, his hand falling back to his side. He breathed easier, and Daphne felt as if the tension of the room had suddenly lessened.
Daphne sat beside him in silence once more, occasionally answering what few questions he had, well aware that tonight was not the night for her own inquiries. And, despite what he had said, Harry fell asleep some couple hours later.
So Daphne Greengrass sat vigil on the only friend she had ever had, and her presence kept at bay all of the nightmares that might come to plague him.