A Different River - Chapter two

"When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you."

- African proverb

"We're having classes with Ginny's year," Hermione said, peering over her timetable. "Well, that makes sense, since there's so few of us left."

"Yeah, I guess," Ron said, helping himself to sausage. At Hermione's incredulous stare he added defensively: "What? I'm hungry!"

"But that's your fifth sausage in less than ten minutes! It shouldn't be possible for one person to eat so much, you ought to explode!"

"Well, just because you have a stomach the size of a really tiny teacup that doesn't mean that we all do."

Hermione blinked, then snorted. "Honestly, Ron, was that best you could think of? Sometimes I really don't understand why I…"

"Why you love me?"

For a moment, Hermione seemed to struggle with herself, but then she returned Ron's smile. "Well, yes." And she bent down to place a somewhat nervous kiss on Ron's cheek. Then, blushing, she turned on her heel and hurried away, her stuffed schoolbag bouncing against her back.

"So, you're really together now? About time." Dean smirked and gave Ron a thumbs-up.

Ron tried to look modest but failed spectacularly. "I guess we are. I mean, we haven't really talked about it, she was in France the whole summer, but… " His voice trailed off, and he looked uncertainly at Harry. "You don't think she's, er, changed her mind, do you?"

Harry shook his head, grinning. "Nah. Only if you don't stop eating so much she might… " Seeing Ron glancing suspiciously at his fork, he quickly added. "I wasn't serious."

"No…" Nevertheless Ron pushed away his half-finished plate and stood up. "Better hurry anyway, class starts in about fifteen minutes. We've got Defense against the 

Dark Arts," he added for the benefit of Seamus, Dean, and Parvati.

"Wish I'd taken that," Seamus muttered.

"Yeah," Dean agreed. "After last year it would have been a piece of cake passing it with flying colors. Bet it's more fun than Arithmancy, half the time I have no idea what Vector – " He abruptly stopped, seemingly realizing that he would not have to worry about not understanding Professor Vector anymore. "He was a good teacher, really."

"See you later, then," Harry said hastily. "C'mon, Ron…"

They arrived to the classroom more than five minutes early, and were soon joined in the corridor outside it by Ernie Macmillan and Hermione who came down the stairs chatting easily with each other.

"Harry, Ron," Ernie said solemnly, shaking both their hands. "So good to see you again. Have a good summer?"

"Yeah, it was a blast. I particularly enjoyed all the funerals," Ron said, eyeing the other with suspicion. "I really like what you've done with your hair today, Hermione."

Hermione raised an eyebrow. "You really like that I've done absolutely nothing with it just as always?"

"Er…" Ron gave Harry a pleading look, but Harry carefully avoided meeting his eyes. "Yeah. Yeah, it looks great."

"Professor McGonagall has filled us in on our new duties as Head Boy and Girl," Hermione said pointedly. "We just came from her office."

"Right." And Ron offered Ernie, who had followed the exchange with obvious confusion, an embarrassed smile. "So, was your summer okay, then?"

Ernie, still bemused, nodded a little uncertainly. "Yes, it was quite - I mean, as you say, the funerals, it has been a true ordeal, hasn't it? Terrible."

Before he had time to further elaborate on the horrors of the holidays, Ginny and two Gryffindor boys joined them, soon followed by three Slytherins Harry had never seen before and a group of Ravenclaws consisting of two girls he recognized from his sixth year and Neville's version of Dumbledore's army, two unknown boys from 

Ginny's year, and Luna, who smiled happily as she spotted them.

Before they had time to talk to her, the door to the classroom opened to reveal the young witch with brown hair whom Harry had seen in Snape's seat last night and whom McGonagall had introduced as Professor Amalthea Capella. Furtively eyeing her, they filed inside and found themselves places as she closed the door. The Slytherins took a table, Ernie joined Harry, Ron and Hermione, while Luna sat down with Ginny and the two Gryffindor boys and the four remaining Ravenclaws seated themselves around the table closest to the teacher's desk, which Professor Capella was now leaning against.

She smiled at them, displaying a row of even, brilliantly white teeth. "As you can see this class is slightly bigger than it would normally be, but I'm sure we'll all manage splendidly anyway. Now, those of you who are doing their seventh year for the first time have had a… rather interesting introduction to your N.E.W.T. class last year, but we'll try to make up for what time you might have lost. Today – " She fell silent as the door opened again and Draco Malfoy stepped inside.

He did not look at any of the other students as he stepped into the room and seated himself at an empty table. "Sorry I'm late, Professor," he said quietly.

"And we're sorry you're here at all, Malfoy," Harry heard one of Ginny's two friends mutter, not bothering to keep his voice down.

Professor Capella gave him a disapproving look, then turned back to Draco. "Just see to that it doesn't happen again, Mr. - ?"

"Draco Malfoy, Professor."

"Very well, Mr. Malfoy, I was just about to explain today's lesson. I would like to begin by testing your general knowledge and skills, just to get a sense of how far you have progressed in your training. We'll start off with a little quiz and then continue with some non-verbal spell-casting. Any questions on that?"

There were none, so she flicked her wand once and a pile of parchments started handing themselves out to the students. Harry looked down at his question sheet as it dropped on the table before him: 1. Describe: a) the appearance and behavior of Dementors, and b) the appropriate defense spell used against them.

Well, it could have been worse, Harry thought optimistically and reached for his quill. Next to him Hermione was already scribbling furiously. On the other side of the table, Ernie looked up and winked at Harry. "Easy, thanks to you," he mouthed, 

tapping his parchment.

For a few minutes nothing could be heard, except for the rasp of quills against parchment. Capella had sat down at her desk and was reading a leather-bound book, thick enough to last even Hermione a few days. Harry had reached the third question – What is the difference between a jinx and a curse? – when the silence was interrupted by a hesitant knock on the door.

"Come in," called Capella and in slunk a tiny Hufflepuff girl with blonde pig-tails.

"The Headmistress says that to ask you if you could please come up to the Ravenclaw common room, Professor," squeaked the girl.

Capella stood up, frowning. "Right now? Is there a problem?"

"I don't know, Professor. Professor McGonagall just said to get you, Professor."

"I see." She surveyed the class. "Well, you just carry on without me. I trust the Head Boy and Girl to ensure that there is no cheating."

"Certainly, Professor," Ernie said, and Hermione nodded, giving Harry and Ron a stern glance, which Harry thought was rather unfair.

"Good." And she was gone.

Slowly the writing resumed, and for another five minutes nothing happened, except for Ron trying to convince Hermione to let him have a look at her fifth answer, a request she refused with a furious, whispered snarl.

"Hey, Malfoy," a voice suddenly called. "Think you could help me with question eight? Seeing as you are an expert on the subject."

Harry looked up and saw that one of the Ravenclaw girls he knew, Vera Douglas, was staring at Draco with a cold smile. Next to her, the other three Ravenclaws were smirking as well. Harry looked down at his own question sheet and found question eight: Describe the three Unforgivable Curses and how, if at all, they can be deflected.

He glanced at Draco, who had not looked up, but was still filling out his answers as if he had not heard the question.

"Didn't you hear her, Malfoy?" That was Ginny's friend again. "See, we all had a bit 

of experience with those curses last year, but none of us have, well, you know, actually used them. Tell me, did any of the people you tortured manage to, what does it say, deflect the Cruciatus?"

Harry was careful not to look at Luna – she was the only one who knew that Harry himself had once used that particular curse.

Draco was still writing, but the hand not holding the quill was clenched to a tight fist, and Harry thought he could see the pale face grow even whiter. He did not know what to feel – there was a part of him, a small, wild part more animal than human that enjoyed seeing Draco forced to endure what Harry had had to go through on countless occasions, more often than not because of Draco himself.

"Who taught you how to use them, anyway? Was it You-Know-Who himself, or your filthy, pureblood-loving father?"

Now Draco lifted his head, and the gray eyes blazed. "Keep your fat mouth shut about my father."

"What are you going to do, run to your Death Eater buddies for help? Oh, I forgot – they're all locked up, aren't they? How come you haven't joined them, Malfoy? Came crawling back, begging for mercy, that's what I hear. Was your father really crying at the hearing? Disgusting cowards, the lot of you."

The room had fallen deadly silent as the Gryffindor boy spoke. Harry glanced at Ginny: she was not laughing, but did not seem particularly interested in stopping the boy from continuing either. Hermione looked unhappy, but both Ernie and Ron appeared to be grimly satisfied.

"Cat got your tongue, Malfoy? Guess you're not so tough now that you haven't all those thugs backing you up." The Gryffindor was grinning broadly now, encouraged by the silent approval offered by the on-lookers.

"Whereas you're really tough now that you've got nothing to fear," Draco snarled. "Didn't really see much of you in the last battle. Tell me, how many first-years did you knock down trying to get out of the castle first of all?"

"You - !" The boy got to his feet, groping for his wand.

Before he had time to really think it through, Harry leapt off the bench and placed himself in the middle of the room, between Draco and the other boy, wand in hand. "All right, that's enough."

The Gryffindor – and everyone else in the room – stared at Harry with various shades of disbelief. But then the boy grinned. "Oh, c'mon, Potter. We won't get in trouble, no one will ever know."

"Just put your wand away. And give it a rest, okay?"

"What?" Now the boy looked positively baffled. "Give it a rest?"

"Yeah. Lay off him. Let him be."

"But... C'mon, Potter, it's Malfoy; he's a bloody Death Eater. I mean, the things he's done..."

Draco's face, contorted by fear and despair. A cold, far too familiar voice hissing: "Do it, Draco, or you will take his place."

Harry clenched his teeth. "You have no idea what you're talking about," he said curtly, returning to his seat. "Just leave him alone."

Still seething, the boy sat down, muttering darkly to his friend. Ginny still seemed unconcerned, but Luna gave Harry a small nod from over their table. He forced a small smile, and picked up his quill.

"Blimey, Harry," Ron whispered next to him. "I mean, he's right, it's only Malfoy. He's done loads of worse things to you. Saving his life doesn't mean you have to walk around protecting him from everything, especially not stuff he deserves."

"Oh, be quiet, Ron," Hermione said. "It was good, really," she added in Harry's direction. "That was really out of order, but I just didn't know what to do."

"Right." Harry could feel their eyes on him – could feel a pair of pale, gray eyes trying to burn a hole in his neck – but he kept his head down, determinately staring at the questions before him. When Professor Capella returned two minutes later everything was quiet again.

The Prefects' bathroom was empty, just as Draco had hoped. Why in Merlin's name they had allowed him to remain a prefect was quite beyond him – as was the fact that they had let him return to Hogwarts at all – but he was not about to complain if 

that gave him opportunity to use the luxurious swimming pool – and to get away from everyone else. Dropping his clothes to one side, he sank down in the lavender scented foam, sighing as the warm water enveloped his body.

It was late, past ten already, and he should probably be in bed, but the mere thought left a sour taste of bile in his mouth.

Draco had come to dread sleep in the last few months. He was glad that he had been assigned to a small single bedroom - though since when Hogwarts had single bedrooms he could not say – rather than forced to share a dormitory with the new seventh year Slytherins. At least now no one could hear him scream when Nagini advanced, when Rowles writhed under the Cruciatus curse, when the Dark Lord slowly turned and faced him, his eyes red like newly spilt blood…

"Ooooh, I hoped you would come back!"

His eyes flew open and he looked wildly around him, startled by the sudden words. He relaxed when he spotted Moaning Myrtle's half-transparent form floating in the air a few feet away.

"It's you," he said, unable to hide the relief in his voice.

She giggled. "Of course it's me. Who else would it be?" Her eyes grew wide. "Were you expecting someone? A girl?"

Yes, of course, girls were lining up to take a bath with Draco Malfoy, failed servant of the dead and detested Dark Lord...

"No," he said. "I just... " I'm just a little jumpy since half the school wants to hex the living daylight out of me. And the other half would like to watch. "I didn't expect to see you here."

Moaning Myrtle made a sad little noise. "I've been coming here ever so often, hoping to see you. You've been away." She swooped down lower, hovering just inches above the surface. "Where did you go?"

"Home. I didn't come to school after the Easter holidays last semester."

"Oh." Showing what for Myrtle must be considerable tact, she did not press the issue. "But you're staying the whole year this time, aren't you?"

"Yes." His mother had insisted on him going back to school. Even when it was clear 

that neither Draco nor his parents would be sent to Azkaban had he believed that he would be invited back to Hogwarts, but the letter arrived with the booklist in July just as usual. Draco, having no trouble whatsoever foreseeing what kind of reception he could expect, had not been keen on going, but, as Narcissa pointed out: he had nothing else to do. Now that a career working for the Dark Lord was out of the picture, he needed his N.E.W.T.s if he ever hoped to get a job.

Of course, considering the vast wealth his family commanded, he would probably never need a job – and considering his family's reputation he would probably never find an employer anyway - but the idea of being unable to apply for one should the fancy strike him was intolerable.

Besides, Malfoys simply did not hide.

Myrtle giggled. "You're not like Harry Potter at all."

Draco blinked. Of all the extremely obvious statements to make... "What makes you say that?"

"Well, he was really shy when I saw him in the bath once. He almost drowned himself in foam to stop me from getting the tiniest little glimpse of skin. But you're not shy at all." She batted her eyes at him.

Harry Potter, blushingly trying to hide from a ghost? The thought was delicious, and Draco smirked. Of course Saint Potter would never want to find himself the goal for a dead girl's lust. That poor Weasley girl, she had probably never gotten to see any action at all...

Potter... What the hell was he up to anyway, standing up for Draco in class? Were his hero instincts now so honed that he just couldn't help himself from doing good? As if Draco needed his, or anyone else's, help. Yes, he was friendless and lonely, but that sure as hell did not mean that he needed the Chosen One to fend for him.

Back in the classroom he had felt... normal again, for the first time in over a year The setting was familiar, and the role was one he knew inside and out. This was something he knew he could deal with, and the insults were easily spilling over his lips. And then Harry Bloody Potter had suddenly jumped up and started shouting and everything that had seemed so familiar had turned strange and foreign again.

"You are very quiet tonight." Myrtle sounded petulant.

"Sorry. I'm just really tired." And as he spoke the words he realized that they were 

true. Sighing, he resigned to the fact that he would have to go to sleep this night too.

Myrtle politely turned her back towards him as he climbed out of the pool. When he was dressed and on his way through the door, she called to him: "Will you come and see me again?"

He turned to look at her. Behind the round glasses her eyes seemed abnormally large, and he had no trouble deciphering the hopeful expression on her face. "Yeah," he said. "I'll come and see you again."

Ten minutes later he pulled up the covers and rolled over on one side, reluctantly closing his eyes. But the visions he was expecting did not come. Instead, to his sleepy surprise, one new image kept returning, as if etched to his brain: Harry Potter, blushing in the bath.