Sorry about the large gap in updates… but here is a nice long chapter for all of you who are still reading this. ;)
Disclaimer: This fanfic may cause dizziness.
A young American boy in black robes was standing on the grounds of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, holding a broomstick very tightly.
The image of the apprehensive-looking boy was reflected in a piece of green glass.
The glass was being watched by the red eyes of Lord Voldemort.
Altogether, the green and red effect was almost Christmas-y.
"You are quite positive?" The Dark Lord said with a voice that was nothing short of oily.
"Quite sure, my lord," a quivering Wormtail said from where he was kneeling subserviently on the floor.
"Quite sure?" Voldemort repeated, giving his servant a disdainful glance.
"P-positive, my lord," Wormtail elaborated. "He's d-definitely the new protagonist."
"Stop stuttering; you sound like a right Rain Man." Voldemort sat back in his outrageously large armchair. It was made of obsidian, human bones, and a little bit of lace. He liked it. "So, the Boy Who Lived is no longer the main character…" the Dark Lord mused to himself, stroking his chin with a long, pale finger.
"Not only that," Wormtail stumbled along nervously, "b-but the main character doesn't even like Harry much."
Voldemort's eyes lit up. "Is that so?" Before he could continue, someone cleared their throat purposefully.
Voldemort's grin of delight collapsed into an expression of mild to moderate annoyance. He glanced upward with a sneer. "What!" he snapped belligerently.
You know very well "what."
Wormtail cringed and bent closer to the ground. Voldemort looked disgruntled.
"No, I don't know. Why don't you enlighten me," he looked upwards expectantly.
The voice sighed. You're hogging the narrative.
"I am not!"
You are so.
"I am Lord Voldemort! I strike such terror into the hearts of wizards that they fear to speak my name! If I want a bit of the narrative, I'll bloody well take it!"
You won't take anything, Voldy, but what I give you. You know the laws as well as I do; don't try my patience.
Voldemort sat up straight, looking outraged. "Don't call me Voldy!"
Don't give me occasion to call you Voldy,the voice countered smugly. We're going to switch back to the protagonist shortly. And I don't want to hear any more bellyaching.
Before Voldemort could protest, Ethan was standing on the groomed Hogwarts lawn, his whomping broomstick clamped firmly to his side. And if the Dark Lord howled a frustrated expletive at having the narrative snatched away, no one knew.
Ethan had been at Hogwarts for a week and a half. His classes had continued in the same fashion as they had begun. History of Magic was both a bore and a joke, Charms went well, and Defense Against the Dark Arts was just strange. It was frustrating to spend class periods doing what amounted to meditation; and although Firenze assured them that they were making progress, Ethan didn't feel like much was happening. Heck, Edward had unashamedly dozed off earlier that day in the middle of an "intuitive exercise." Not exactly conducive to fighting off the Dark Arts, as Nicholas was quick to point out.
Ethan's other classes had continued in the same vein. Herbology was still spent doing menial tasks; the most recent (and unpleasant) involved gathering fertilizer from Hagrid's Hippogriff pen. Ethan wouldn't have enjoyed being a pooper-scooper under the best of circumstances, but the fact that he had to bow to the pen's occupants before being allowed to take their waste away was just a bit too humiliating. It didn't help to have Fawkes perched in a tree nearby, laughing his head off.
Transfiguration would have been fun if McGonagall hadn't been so vindictive; she seemed hell-bent on making the new crop of Gryffindors pay for the books in wasted effort. They were only just getting into Unit One: The Vast Wealth of Information the Harry Potter Books Haven't Taught You. Class periods were spent failing to do ridiculously complicated spells while McGonagall looked on with a smirk. Occasionally she would pepper the lesson with sarcastic remarks: "You could try holding your wand correctly, though in your case, I doubt it would help;" "Oh dear, did Rowling not go into enough detail when describing this spell? What? She didn't describe this spell at all? How unfortunate!" and so on.
Potions was, quite surprisingly, going well. Or as well as it could go, considering the fact that the Ministry list of acceptable potions had yet to come through, resulting in the students being forbidden to so much as think about touching a cauldron. The students weren't allowed to make vegetable soup, let alone a Ditching Draught (they would have tested it, according to Snape, by giving it to students and seeing if they tried to surreptitiously leave the classroom… and they would have negated the potion with a simple dose of an Ethics Elixir). Being bogged down in theory as they were, they couldn't do much more than read and write essays on how various potions would be brewed theoretically. But Ethan hadn't been singled out for torment the way he'd expected. Snape didn't treat him any more (or less) cruelly than he treated everyone. It was nice to blend in.
But the protagonist feared that he wouldn't be able to blend in very well at all in this class. It was their first flying lesson. The class had been canceled the Wednesday before due to inclement weather; someone had started it literally raining cats and dogs as a prank, and it took Hagrid and the house elves all afternoon to clean up the mess. The entire school had been lectured by Dumbledore on animal cruelty before dinner, the headmaster adding that they "all ought to be grateful the muggles blamed PETA for the emptying of that laboratory."
On this Wednesday, the sun was shining and birds were singing. Ethan was terrified. While the brooms of the rest of the class were lying on the ground in a docile fashion, his was quivering with excitement. He had a feeling that if he let it go, there would be a massacre.
"Ethan? You all right?" Nicholas looked at Ethan quizzically.
"My broom's a bit… well…" Ethan loosened his hold on the broom slightly, and it immediately swished violently towards Ethan's right, sweeping Edward's feet out from under him and landing him flat on his back.
"Wicked!" Nicholas said with a grin.
"Exactly," Ethan replied, a glum expression on his face.
"What was that for?" Edward asked mildly from the ground, making no effort to stand back up.
"It wasn't on purpose," Ethan said apologetically, clamping his broomstick to his side once more. "My broom's a maniac, that's all."
"Hmm," Edward said, turning his head to look over at his broom. "Mine is pretty quiet. Want to trade?"
"Desperately. But I doubt mine would let us."
Before more could be said, Madame Hooch appeared. Her yellow, hawk-like eyes surveyed the nervous first years. "Good afternoon," she said, "and welcome to your first flying lesson!" Her eyes landed on Ethan, then on his broom, which he was clutching with all the desperation of a drowning person clinging to a bit of driftwood. "Put your broom down, boy," she ordered. Ethan would have thanked her for the lack of special treatment if he hadn't found her request such a bad idea.
"I don't think that would be a good idea," Ethan said frankly.
Madame Hooch frowned. "I didn't ask what you thought of the idea, I told you to put the broom down."
"This isn't a normal broom," Ethan argued, feeling a cold swell of desperation rising in his chest.
"He's right," Edward chimed in helpfully from his spot on the ground.
Madame Hooch sighed, looking annoyed. "When I give an order," she said with forced patience, "I expect it to be followed. I am going to tell you for the second and final time to put down your broom."
Ethan looked at his broom. It was quivering in his hands. Well, he had warned her, hadn't he? Ethan closed his eyes and, with a resigned little sigh, let go of his broom.
For a moment, nothing happened. The broom hovered in midair exactly where Ethan had been holding it. Then it seemed to realize that it had been released; a thrill of freedom rustled its whip-like bristles, and a moment later it was off like a shot. First years dove for cover as the broomstick zoomed over their heads with the intention (as far as Ethan could tell) of whomping all of the other broomsticks into submission. For their part, the other broomsticks did their best to roll feebly out of the whomping broomstick's way, but their power of movement was severely limited without a witch or wizard on top of them. Madame Hooch stood absolutely still, her mouth a perfect little o. Then she whipped out her wand and threw several incantations at Ethan's broomstick, none of which had any effect. A gaggle of terrified Hufflepuff students buried their heads under their arms as the whomping broomstick swished over them gleefully. A moment later, there was a loud SNAP as one of the more brittle school brooms succumbed to a particularly violent whomp.
Ethan had been watching with bleak resignation, but the two twitching halves of the school broom stirred him to action. He pulled his own wand out of his back pocket, pointed it at his broomstick, and shouted, "Accio!"
It actually worked. The broomstick stopped in mid-whomp as if it had been frozen solid, then whooshed neatly into Ethan's hand. The boy stuffed his wand away and went back to holding his broom in two hands. He looked at Madame Hooch and managed a half-shrug. "I told you."
"That was awesome," Edward said from his spot on the ground. He had not moved once inch since Ethan's broom had knocked him down before class began.
"Are you insane?" A Slytherin girl raised her head, then held up her hand, which had three red lines on it. "Look what that menace did to me!"
That prompted a small flood of injury reports. Many students had painful red lines on their hands or arms, and one unfortunate Ravenclaw boy had a small tuft of his hair lashed off. He was fingering the tiny bald spot and on the edge of tears.
"I'm sorry," Ethan said again and again, absolutely horrified. He doubted that his broomstick had hurt the students on purpose; its target had seemed to be the other brooms, which were lying around haphazardly, some of them with splintered sticks, some with brushes bent at angles contradictory to the laws of nature. It had been worse than Ethan had feared. Luckily (or perhaps not so luckily), none of the Gryffindor students had been harmed. They all looked a bit disheveled (well, except for Edward), but none of them were injured. Ethan couldn't decide if this was a good thing or not. On the one hand, his housemates wouldn't hate him as much. On the other, it looked like his broom had been discriminating against non-Gryffindors.
"Well," Madame Hooch said, looking at the wreckage, "it looks as if this lesson is over. Anyone with injuries, follow me to the hospital wing. The rest of you, return to the castle. And Williams," she looked sharply at Ethan, "do something about that broom of yours."
"'Do something about that broom of yours,'" Ethan mimicked bitterly as he sat in the common room that evening. "Like what? It's not like I can reason with it."
"Don't be so hard on yourself," Annabelle said mildly, looking up from her Potions essay on the assorted ways one could theoretically dice a bat. "Like you said, she's the one that told you to put it down."
"It's not your fault your broom went ballistic," Nicholas agreed, flipping through a copy of A Beginner's Guide to Transfiguration that he had borrowed from an older student. He was now trying to turn a matchbox into a matchbox car and not having much success.
"And it was funny," Edward added. He had decided he would get further in Transfiguration by making up his own incantations on a regular basis, so he had somehow procured a turnip and was saying random things to it to see what happened. So far it had turned to glass, rolled over, melted and reformed, and tearfully repented its many sins. Another swish of his wand and muttered nonsense word cause the turnip to break out into show tunes.
"Yesterday I loved yoooouuu as neverrrrr befoooooooore," the turnip crooned as Edward sat back, pleased with himself. "But please, don't think me straaaange, I've undergone a chaaaange…"
"How did you do that?" Nicholas asked, somewhat envious. Edward shrugged.
"And todaaayyy… I love you even moooooooooooore!"
"Awesome," Ethan said with a grin. They all stopped what they had been doing to listen.
"My heart cannot be trusted, I give yooooou fair waaarning. I openly confess… tonight I love you less… than I will toooooooomorrrrrrrooooowwww moooooooorniiiiiiiiiinnnnnggg!" the turnip bellowed.
"Hey." The four children looked up to say none other than Harry Potter standing over their table. Annabelle immediately looked back down at her Potions homework, and Edward clamped his hands around the turnip in a vain attempt to shut it up. A soft, muffled version of the melody still issued forth from between Edward's fingers.
"Um… hi," Ethan said hesitantly. He couldn't imagine what Harry would want with any of them.
"We have to see Dumbledore," Harry said, looking less than thrilled with the idea.
"We as in us?" Ethan asked incredulously, dropping his pencil-quill in surprise. "Why?"
"I don't know," Harry replied shortly. "I just got this from Dobby." He held up a small square of parchment covered in Dumbledore's handwriting; Ethan recognized it form his acceptance letter of sorts. "We're supposed to go to his office now."
Nicholas, Edward, and Annabelle looked nervously at Ethan, who was looking nervously at Harry. "Right. Well, then." He pushed back his chair and stood up, then followed Harry out of the room
After an awkward walk, Ethan and Harry sat in Dumbledore's office, looking at anything but each other. Harry was slouched sideways in his chair, as if trying to lean as far away from the younger boy as possible; Ethan was sitting as straight as he could and looking up at the snoozing portraits of old headmasters. He was so nervous the title didn't even make him snicker like it usually did. Fawkes was on his perch, watching with an uncustomary silence.
Dumbledore was surveying them both over his half-moon glasses, quietly drumming his fingers together. "I suppose you are both wondering why I have brought you here," the old man said, breaking the awkward silence. Ethan nodded, Harry grunted. The wizard turned his sharp gaze to Ethan, who tried not to flinch visibly. "Then I shall be brief. It has come to the Dark Lord's attention that you are the main character, Ethan."
"He must have been the last person to find out," Ethan replied without thinking. Harry rolled his eyes as Fawkes sniggered in approval.
"Quite," Dumbledore said with the ghost of a smile, before turning serious once again. "This puts Harry in an unfortunate position. Since he is not the main character, and furthermore is not one of your good friends, he has become," Dumbledore paused as if searching for the right word, "expendable."
"What?" Harry sat up and looked interested for the first time. "What does that mean?"
"It means that your death, from Ethan's point of view, would be of little consequence," the wizard said delicately. Harry whipped his head around so quickly that his glasses nearly flew off and glared at Ethan.
"What?" The boy asked, shifting defensively. "It's not like you'd be heartbroken if I bit the dust."
"Well, you're not the only person that can kill Voldemort, are you?" Harry shot back.
"Just say the word, kid, and I'll singe him bald," Fawkes said, glaring at the back of Harry's head. "Won't have to worry about flattening hair he hasn't got…"
"Boys," Dumbledore said sharply, holding up his hands. They both turned to look at him, and he continued in a softer but still firm tone. "Fighting will get us nowhere, so I would ask that you both sit quietly until I am finished."
"Fine," Harry said shortly.
"Because you are expendable, Harry, Voldemort will have a much easier time defeating you. You no longer have your main character status to protect you."
"I've bloody fought him before, haven't I?" Harry was gripping the arms of his chair with white knuckles. "I've gotten away from him loads of times!"
"Ah," Dumbledore held up a gnarled finger, "but you were the main character, then. And the main character always triumphs." He glanced briefly at Ethan, who had a niggling suspicion that that last statement wasn't quite true, and then back to Harry. "Unfortunately, you no longer have that privilege. You have been reduced to a bit character, of little importance. This means that, should Voldemort try to kill you, he will most likely make short work of it. I am sorry, but that is simply the way the bird entrails lie. My apologies, Fawkes," the headmaster added before the bird could burn something in protest.
"But… but that's stupid!" Harry cried, looking outraged.
"It may be, but that does not change the fact that it is true, Harry."
"So," Ethan said slowly, "what do you want me to do about it? I can't help the fact that I'm the main character."
"Ah! An excellent question!" Dumbledore beamed at Ethan. "No, you cannot help that. But you may be able to help Harry."
"How?" Harry asked, looking condescendingly down at Ethan. "He's just a little first-year, no more better equipped to fight Voldemort than I am!"
"He is not better-equipped to fight Voldemort," Dumbledore conceded, "but he is infinitely more likely to survive an encounter with him. The Dark Lord would be unable to kill him, and would have no reason to kill him, besides."
"Well, that's all well and good!" Harry snapped. "Too bad Voldemort's trying to kill me, then, isn't it!"
"Calm down, Harry," Dumbledore said soothingly. "Here is what I propose. Voldemort will not be able to get to you if he has to get through Ethan first."
"So what, you want me to be his bodyguard?" Ethan looked incredulously from Dumbledore to Harry and back.
"In a sense, yes," Dumbledore said, looking pleased that he had caught on and either missing or deliberately ignoring the twin looks of horror on both boys' faces. "You shall remain as physically close to Harry as possible; follow him wherever he goes. In fact, it would be best if you preceded him, as you will be handling any object, however familiar or harmless in appearance before he does -"
"What!" Harry sat up straight, glasses slightly askew.
"Well," Dumbledore said in a reasonable tone of voice, "the Dark Lord is cunning, and has many who serve him. If an object in your path has been turned into a portkey by anyone, it is imperative that Ethan touch it before you do."
"You mean, any object?" Ethan said, hardly believing his ears. "Even, like, food?"
Dumbledore nodded. "You will go with Harry to every class, every Quidditch practice, every meal, every trip to the loo…"
"GAH!" Harry objected, seemingly incapable of forming words, so great was his indignation.
"Isn't this taking things, you know, a bit too far?" Ethan asked desperately as Harry slumped in his chair.
"If Harry cannot be the main character," Dumbledore said gravely, "then he must be as close to the main character as he can possibly get. I am afraid that is the only surefire way that he could survive his sixth year. And it is of great importance that he survive."
"What about my classes?"
"I trust that if you pay attention, you'll learn a thing or two in Harry's," Dumbledore said, favoring the boy with a kindly smile that was not returned. Harry slumped in his chair, looking disgusted beyond Ethan's ability to comprehend. Ethan felt a numbing sense of shock creeping though him, freezing all of his senses. He felt like he was just starting to get his life together at Hogwarts… and now, it looked like things were going to just fall apart.
Reviewer responses will resume next chapter. ;) I wanted to just get this one out there. Love you all!