Lonely streets in gay displays
The stars fade, the night-shade
Falls and makes the world afraid
It waits in silence for the sky to explode
Here I am on man's road
Walking man's road, walking man's road
-Man's Road, Last Unicorn: OST
A shaft of pale-gold sunlight pressed against Harry's closed eyes, awakening him from a dream that, for a change, was really a dream and not a 'visit' with his Aeons. He sat up slowly, yawning and stretching and looking like a sleepy cat (though he did not know it), before kicking the blanket off him and rolling to his feet. He padded into the adjoining bathroom, emerging ten minutes later showered and much more awake. Today was the day the prefects were to meet, so Harry had worn his Hogwarts uniform, noticing as he dressed his lack of any other decent clothes and the way even his uniform was beginning to be too small for him. Shiva was right: he did need a new wardrobe.
He made his way to the Leaky Cauldron's dining room, seating himself in a windowed nook for breakfast. McGonagall's letter had said to be at the Cauldron at ten o' clock and it was just now eight-thirty – enough time for a meal. He propped his hand on his chin and gazed out the window as he waited for his food.
Through it, Harry could see various merchants beginning to open up their stores. The first few shoppers – mainly gray-haired witches of formidable appearance – started to appear in the streets, and Harry smiled more than once as he watched them haggle with hapless-seeming shopkeepers. The black lampposts that provided Diagon Alley with illumination during the night now stood dim and empty, having been charmed to shut off as soon as the sun rose enough to light the street.
Harry remembered watching this scene, or at least many like it, during his stay at the Leaky Cauldron just before his third year. But there were differences now. He could see bars in the windows of the shops, and saw the shopkeepers casting security spells around their shops and goods. The shoppers were fewer, and they walked more briskly, darting quick, wary looks around them. Most glaringly different was the new Auror station shining white and neat down the Alley, only a few buildings away from the Cauldron.
'Damn Voldemort,' Harry thought fiercely to himself, unconsciously fisting his hands. He hated seeing the wizarding world – his refuge from the Dursleys, something that still seemed a little out of a storybook – become grimmer, more suspicious, less kindly. Just to survive Voldemort. 'Damn him!'
*Don't worry, Harry,* Shiva purred inside his mind. *We will.*
The other new prefects began to arrive at around nine, when Harry was almost done with his breakfast. His nook became the unofficial gathering-place for the new prefects, since he'd been the first one there. The first to arrive were the two Hufflepuff prefects, who came together: Ernie Macmillan and Susan Bones. Harry had worried a little about how they would be – he knew Cedric's death was not his fault, but he did not know if others would take the same view. However, Ernie was more perceptive than people thought him; more perceptive, indeed, than he had been when he and Harry had been second-years.
He immediately stuck out his hand to shake, and told a relieved Harry quietly that Hufflepuff House did not hold him responsible in the least. He could have told Harry more: like how Cedric, hearing some of his Housemates complain about Harry's participation in the Triwizard Tournament, spoke up in Harry's defense; and how Cedric had spoken admiringly of Harry's sense of fair play. He could have told Harry how he and his yearmates, who knew Harry from classes and from the events in second year, had a better recognition of Harry's true character than the rest of their House. He could have told Harry that he had seen Harry's face when he came back from that horrible Third Task.
He did not – not this time. But the day would come, when he would – over shared food and drink, in an atmosphere of camaraderie and brotherhood – when they had shared experiences, which binds people together better than anything else can. But that day was not to be for a while yet.
Susan was a shy girl, and Harry could not remember ever exchanging more than a sentence with her. But the smile she gave him was friendly enough, and Harry's answering smile was just as bright. He did not notice, as he turned to speak to Ernie, how Susan's cheeks turned slightly pink when he smiled.
The three of them were happily chatting and having some drinks – only juice, as it was early in the morning - when Padma Patil, of Ravenclaw, appeared. Within short order, she was just as comfortable as the rest of them. Harry was surprised at how easily they were all getting along, in fact.
Naturally he was happiest to see Hermione arrive (he'd had little doubt she was the other Gryffindor prefect, of course), but he was having a good time with the others as well. They were all, in fact, behaving as if they'd been friendlier and more accustomed to each other than they really were. Harry was glad of it.
Terry Boot arrived soon after Hermione did, and then the full complement of fifth-year prefects from Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Gryffindor sat and talked. Padma and Hermione discussed something rather dry and obscure that brought animated lights into their eyes, while the others had an equally intense discussion on Quidditch.
The Cauldron's fireplace flared with green light.
The table of Hogwarts students fell silent, as if by mutual consent. Harry, Hermione and Padma were on the side of the table facing the fireplace, and so they saw the Floo arrivals before the others. Terry, Susan and Ernie twisted in their seats when they saw their schoolmates' faces change; when they saw who stood in the fireplace their faces changed to the same look of wary watchfulness.
The Slytherin prefects had arrived.
Draco Malfoy was there, of course, brushing ash off his gray-cloaked shoulder and managing to look very elegant as he did so. Harry scowled at the sight of him, though he wasn't surprised; Draco was the absolute head of his year in Slytherin, and anyway who else was there - Crabbe? Goyle?
What did surprise him was that the female Slytherin prefect was Blaise Zabini. He would have guessed that Pansy Parkinson, the most outgoing (that is to say, bossy and demanding) of the female Slytherins, would be the other prefect.
Instead, they got Blaise. Harry wasn't sure how he felt about that.
The slender, dark-haired girl was one of the more secretive of the Slytherins – which, considering that the House was prone to secrecy anyway, meant that Harry knew next to nothing about her. She had little to do with the warfare constantly raging between Slytherin and Gryffindor; in fact, she seemed to have little to do with anything at all. Harry had seen her, sometimes, watching as he and Draco faced off with absolutely no expression in her pale blue eyes. No excitement, no rooting for her fellow Slytherin or desire to see Harry humiliated and brought low, not even interest. He hadn't seen her, for that matter, wearing a 'Potter Stinks!' pin last year, at a time when the thing had been as ubiquitous on Slytherins as their green-and-silver House crest.
So far, all these things seemed to suggest that he regard her favorably. She was, without a doubt, the Slytherin who had been nicest to him, even if that was more a matter of omission than of commission. Still, Harry couldn't find it in himself to be happy. In fact, he was actually a little more nervous about her status as fellow prefect than he was about Malfoy, for some reason he couldn't put his finger on.
If Harry had been alone, and without distraction, he could have heard the Aeons talking to each other. He was getting very good in sending, and in any case, the barrier between their thoughts – if such a word could be applied – and his was thin. However, since he was focused on the new arrivals, Shiva and Quetzalcoatl talked without his knowing what they said. This was a bit of a pity, because it turned out to be a thorough analysis of his thinking processes.
*The kid has good instincts,* Shiva said approvingly. *Even if he doesn't trust them enough yet.*
*What?* Quetzalcoatl had been thinking about something else, and the 'distracted means you don't get to hear everything' axiom applied both ways.
*Harry doesn't trust this Zabini girl. Though she hasn't been actively cruel to him, like that Malfoy kid, and in fact fairly decent by the standards of what he's had to go through, he doesn't trust her because he doesn't know her.*
Quetzalcoatl sent, *Good boy, then, knows the value of accurate intelligence and all that. Though really, shouldn't it have been expected? He's a Summoner born, and they usually have very good battle instincts.*
*If he would only learn to listen to them. He keeps passing it off as luck or things not worthy to be Gryffindor. Perhaps it would have been better if he'd gone into Slytherin like that Hat said.*
*Gryffindor's taught him some good things too,* Quetzalcoatl pointed out. *And I have doubts as to how well he would have turned out in that den of serpents.*
*Quetzy, you're acting on Harry's bias.*
*And, from what I've seen, with good reason.*
*Well, I wish he'd learn to be a little more sneaky and suspicious and serpent-like in any case. It would keep him alive longer.*
*He's going to learn all that soon enough anyway.*
They watched as the Slytherin prefects began to walk towards them. As they neared, Harry's frown deepened into an angry glare. They were very close now, and the other prefects tensed. Harry bent his knees, ready to spring to his feet, and noticed that Ernie and Terry were doing the same.
Draco stopped a little distance away from the table. His gray eyes locked with Harry's, and he opened his mouth as if to say something.
Harry half-rose, taut with anticipation. They had not parted on the best of terms at the beginning of summer. Whatever Draco was planning, Harry would be on his feet to meet it.
Draco closed his mouth again, without saying anything. He shook his head once, and then turned away, joining Blaise at the table she had wordlessly sat down at, which was a fair space from the other prefects.
Ramrod-straight postures relaxed, as the tension left the table. Harry sank back into his chair, forcing his eyes away from the two Slytherins. Conversation resumed, though with lowered voices this time. This time, the topic was not books or lore or Quidditch. Studiously ignoring the Slytherins, they talked of serious matters – of parents' reaction to Dumbledore's announcement at the end-of-term feast last year, and changes in their behavior; of discrepancies noted in the Daily Prophet; of stories from the First War.
This was the first time Harry had ever sat down and really discussed the first rising of Voldemort; usually, people refused to discuss it around him, because of how his parents died. But he was glad to hear about it. He remembered, suddenly, the first time he had heard the story of how his parents had really died. Hagrid had mentioned other families who'd been murdered by Voldemort. 'The Prewetts, the Blakes…the Bones…'
He glanced abruptly at Susan. She wasn't looking at him; she was saying something in a low, intense voice to her fellow Hufflepuff. Harry watched her for a bemused moment, wondering if Susan had lost her family like he had.
But he was jerked out of his reverie when Terry, in a tentative voice, asked: "Harry…what happened that night?" No explanation of the question was needed; Terry could only mean one thing. Harry jumped a little, swiveling his head to stare wordlessly at the Ravenclaw boy. Terry visibly took a deep breath, but did not look away.
At the edges of his vision, Harry could see the others focusing totally on the two of them; obviously just as interested – no, the word was too weak – riveted on his answer. Hermione shifted beside him, and Harry could tell she was fighting the urge to tell the others off for asking the question with the need to hear the answer herself.
The normal sounds of the other Cauldron customers around them were like a wall of noise enfolding their zone of quivering, expectant silence. Harry opened his mouth with no idea of what he was going to say, but before he could begin to stammer, they heard a voice ringing out over the Cauldron's normal noise: "Hogwarts prefects, are you all here?"
They rose to their feet, walking over to where the Head Boy and Girl waited to Portkey them to Hogsmeade.
December 28, 2003
I write this from a hotel-room in Baguio City, with no Internet access but lots of nice cold air (rare in the Philippines) and scenery to crank the old writing juices. Merry Christmas belated and Happy New Year early! :D
A lot of characters are introduced into the story's roster in this chapter. Hermione, Draco and Blaise finally enter! I hope my choice and portrayal of the prefects, who haven't been much characterized in the books, do not annoy people. BTW, Hagrid really does say that about the Bones in 'Philosopher's Stone/Sorcerer's Stone', and there are a lot of allusions to future plot-points in that book (Sirius Black, secret of Harry's survival, etc.) so I'm wondering if Susan Bones will feature more prominently in later books.
Random note: today is a bit weird, in that wolves and war seem to keep popping up in it. So far, two showings of LOTR: Fellowship of the Ring on HBO, LOTR: Two Towers on the Hallmark Channel, a National Geographic special on the LOTR books, a NatGeo special about Pearl Harbor, a movie about wolves, a NatGeo special about wolves, two episodes of Gundam Wing, and this morning I decided to start reading LOTR after finishing a book about Belisarius, the Byzantine general. It just seems like a lot of coincidences.
Riiiiight. Um, does anyone reading this play Ragnarok Online? Just asking. Hehehe. ^_^ (Mag-tank!)
Oh, one last thing: Return of the King truly, truly KICKS THE BUTT OF EVERY OTHER MOVIE EVER MADE. This admitted by a Star Wars fanatic who's been fighting a rearguard action against claims that LOTR is a better movie trilogy than Star Wars. Don't think it hasn't torn me to make that admission. (sobs)