Note: Thanks are due to my beta-reader, Patrick, for catching various small errors, polishing my writing style, and contributing a number of insights into the character of Cho Chang and her relationships with Harry Potter and Cedric Diggory. If you enjoy this story, I would highly recommend his stories posted at The Astronomy Tower and on this site under the names Monkeymouse and Dungeonwonk. Additional thanks are due to my Brit-picker, LazyNeutrino, for catching a few more errors and for her input on Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and differences between British and American culture.
Chapter 5: Consolation
"Oh, let's wait one more day for the conversation,
One more day to make it right.
Let's get away from the confrontation –
One more day, just buying time…."
--"Buying Time," by Great Big Sea
It wasn't long before he heard the front door open and shut, and Hermione talking with what sounded like several other people down in the common room. As the voices moved closer, his heart leapt: two of them were Ron and Sirius, and the third was the one person he had most hoped they would bring with them: Albus Dumbledore.
Harry jumped up from his chair and hurried to the doorway. He could see Hermione and Ron leading the way up the stairs, while Sirius and Dumbledore followed. The old wizard appeared deep in conversation with Sirius.
"Professor!" Harry called. "I'm glad you're here."
Curiously, Dumbledore did not look at Harry as he answered. Keeping his head turned and his eyes fixed on Sirius, he said, "Good evening, Harry. I am very pleased that you and Miss Chang are both alive, and I have a great deal to tell you, but I must ask that you bear with me for a little while, until after I have spoken with Miss Chang. It is of the utmost importance that you and I avoid eye contact. I will explain why soon, I promise you, but in the mean time I must ask you to trust me."
Harry hesitated. He'd often found it difficult to understand why Dumbledore did some of the things he did, but this was surely the oddest thing the Headmaster had ever asked of him. Still, he had promised an explanation, and Harry did want him to see to Cho as soon as possible. "All right, Professor," Harry said, turning away.
Ron reached the top of the stairs and rushed up to hug Harry, squeezing the wind out of him and thumping him on the back. "Sirius says you're the hero of the hour," he said. "Again. Macnair and six dementors, not to mention that fellow they've got tied up downstairs!"
"I didn't get Macnair," Harry replied bitterly. "He got away. I should have Stunned him right off."
"Why didn't you?" Ron asked, curiously.
Harry glanced over at the other three. "I… I'll tell you later, all right?"
"All right, mate."
"How is she, Harry?" Sirius asked, coming up behind Ron.
"Still unconscious," Harry said. "I'm getting a bit worried."
"I'm sure Professor Dumbledore will know what to do," said Hermione, looking up at the tall headmaster.
"I thank you for your confidence, Miss Granger," Dumbledore said. "I can only hope that it will prove justified." He turned to Sirius. "I think it would be best if you took Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger back downstairs for the moment. Harry, please remain here with me. While I am of course familiar with all my students, I have only once had occasion to speak with Miss Chang personally before. After all she has been through, I think it would be better for her to have someone she knows here when she awakens. Remember, though, what I said about avoiding eye contact."
"Don't worry, Professor," said Harry. "I'll keep both eyes on Cho."
"Very well, then,"
"Just a moment," said Hermione. She held up a rectangular box – the Honeydukes chocolate Ron had given him that afternoon. "Ron and Sirius brought your trunk," she explained. "I thought you might want this, because of the dementors."
"Good thinking," Harry said gratefully, taking the box. "Thanks."
"You're welcome." Hermione turned and headed back down the stairs after Ron and Sirius, while Harry and Dumbledore proceeded into the bedroom.
Dumbledore moved the armchair to the foot of the bed with a casual flick of his wand and sat down in it. "Please be seated, Harry," he said. "And it might be a good idea for you to take Miss Chang's hand; she will most likely be disoriented when she awakens, and I hope that your presence will prove reassuring.
"I hope so, too," said Harry dubiously, pulling the recliner closer to the bed and sitting down. He opened the box of chocolate and set it next to the pitcher. "We don't really know each other that well, you know."
"I know that she is not one of your close friends," Dumbledore agreed. "But you have played Quidditch against each other, and you have spoken before, have you not?"
"Once or twice," Harry admitted. "You know that she was Cedric's girlfriend, right, Professor?"
"Yes, Harry," said Dumbledore heavily. "I was aware of that. That is why I selected her as his hostage in the Second Task."
Harry nodded. He had never considered how the hostages were selected, but of course the obvious answer was that the head of each school had chosen for his or her Champion.
Harry looked down at Cho's still, pale face. She looked much as she had during the Second Task, when he had seen her unconscious and bound to the merpeople's statue at the bottom of the Hogwarts lake. "It should have been Cedric here tonight," Harry muttered.
Dumbledore cleared his throat. "Cedric Diggory was a fine flyer, and very skilled at defensive magic," he said. "But he did not have the ability to produce a fully-fledged Patronus. Even if he had survived the Third Task, the dementors you banished so easily tonight would have been his undoing, and hers."
Harry almost looked up at Dumbledore before remembering his warning. Shaking his head, he reached out and took Cho's hand, holding it gently in his own. It felt warm and almost frighteningly small and fragile, reminding him of a fledgling sparrow he had found in the Dursleys' back yard once, years before. He saw movement out of the corner of his eye, and heard Dumbledore say, softly but clearly, "Ennervate."
For a moment, nothing happened. Then Cho stirred and moaned. Her hand closed on Harry's with a surprisingly strong grip, she gasped and her eyes flew open. She looked around wildly for a moment before her gaze steadied on Harry's face. Harry gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile.
"Harry?" she whispered. "Where am I?"
"Safe," he replied. "Professor Dumbledore is here."
She looked down to the foot of the bed. "Oh! Professor, I…."
"Please do not exert yourself, Miss Chang," said Dumbledore kindly. "I know you have had a very bad time. I would like to speak with you about what happened, but there is no rush."
She looked back at Harry. "I feel awful," she said. "Weak and tired and sick…."
"That's partly from the dementors," Harry told her. "Here, this will help." He handed her a piece of chocolate.
She looked at it skeptically for a moment, then bit into it. Her eyes widened and she quickly took another bite, as color returned to her cheeks.
"Thank you, Harry," she said, in a slightly stronger voice. "That did help."
Harry nodded. "I've had a couple of run-ins with dementors before," he said. "Chocolate's the best treatment for what they do to you. Here, have another piece."
"Thanks." She finished the chocolate, then asked, "Could I have a glass of water, please?"
"Of course," said Harry, filling the second glass.
She gulped down about half the glass before speaking again. "You've had a couple of run-ins with dark wizards, too, Harry. I don't suppose you know an easy remedy for what they can do to you?"
"No, I don't," Harry admitted. "But it does get better in time. I know that's not much comfort right now, but I promise you, it will get better."
"I guess you would know." She shut her eyes and pulled herself closer to Harry, turning on her side and curling around their joined hands. "I'm so tired…."
Harry reached out tentatively with his free hand, wanting to comfort her but not sure how. Just then, he heard an odd sound from the foot of the bed, and glanced up at Dumbledore before once again remembering his warning. The old wizard's eyes were closed, and he was whistling: a simple, haunting tune which seemed vaguely familiar, but which Harry couldn't place.
The fire flared up suddenly, bathing the room in golden light, and a brilliant red bird, big as a swan, flew out of the flames. Its scarlet wings and long, golden tail shone like sunset, and it sang a pure, unearthly melody that Harry recognized after a moment as a counterpoint to the tune Dumbledore was whistling. Its music seemed to soak into his skin, warming his heart and lifting his spirit.
The bird circled Dumbledore once, then sailed across the room and landed on Harry's shoulder. Cho opened her eyes and stared.
"Um," said Harry, absorbing this development. "Cho, this is Professor Dumbledore's phoenix, Fawkes. Fawkes, this is my friend Cho Chang."
"He's beautiful…" Cho whispered, gazing at Fawkes. The phoenix ruffled his feathers, hopped from Harry's shoulder down onto the bed, and settled himself on the pillow beside her, all the while continuing his soft crooning.
"I think he likes you," Harry said.
"I like him," she replied. "That song makes me feel… I don't know how to describe it."
"Better than the chocolate?"
"Yes. It's like… I don't know, drinking hot tea after Quidditch practice in a winter rainstorm." Harry smiled at her choice of simile, and she smiled back – a wan, watery smile, but a smile nonetheless.
Dumbledore cleared his throat. "Do you feel up to talking about what happened, Miss Chang?" he asked. "I know you would probably prefer to rest now, but it may be important that your story be told as soon as possible; two of the men who abducted you are still at large, and anything you can remember that might help us find them would be of enormous value."
"I can try," Cho said, looking over at Dumbledore. "I don't know how much good it will do; I never heard any of their names or saw any of their faces, but I'll tell you what I can."
Fawkes fell silent and cocked his head attentively.
"Thank you, Miss Chang. The smallest details often prove most important in matters such as this."
"All right. Where should I start?"
"Let us start from the beginning; when and where were you abducted?"
"Last night, at my family's shop in Limehouse. My parents are in Hong Kong on business, and my sister Liu and I run the shop when they're away. We had just closed up for the evening, and Liu had gone to Diagon Alley to put the week's earnings in our vault. I was in the back room, straightening things up. I was planning to floo over to my friend Marietta's; she'd invited me to stay the night and go to the Kenmare-Caerphilly match this afternoon, and I wanted to leave the shop tidy for Liu, since she'd have to run it by herself for the day.
"I was just about finished when I heard the front door open, so I stepped out into the front of the shop to tell whoever it was that we were closed. When I saw him, he was just putting on a white skull mask, and he had his wand out and pointed at me. He hit me with a Stunning Spell before I could say a word." She paused, shivering slightly.
"Please continue, Miss Chang," said Dumbledore gently.
"The next thing I remember is waking up in that cottage, tied to a chair." She paused and swallowed; when she spoke again, it sounded as though she was just barely holding back a sob. "They… one of them took my picture while the leader cast the Cruciatus Curse." Tears started in her eyes at the memory. Harry gave her hand a reassuringly squeeze, and she gripped his like a lifeline. "It hurt so much, I wanted to pass out, even die, anything to make it stop. I don't know how long it lasted – it felt like hours, but it might have been only a minute or two.
"Once they had their picture, they moved me over to the cot. In a way, that was almost as bad…" she shuddered. "Being… handled like a sack of rice. I'll never forget how that felt…."
After a moment, she continued, "I tried to get them to talk to me, but they just ignored me; eventually one of them stuck a rag in my mouth and tied it in place so I couldn't talk any more. They had a bit of an argument then. Two of the younger-sounding ones wanted to, to r—" She swallowed again. "They wanted to rape me, but the one with the Scottish accent seemed to be in charge, and he told them to wait until after they had Harry – 'business before pleasure,' he said. He said that once… once they had captured Harry, or he had failed to show up, they could do whatever they wanted with me." She turned her teary eyes to Harry. "He said if you did come, they would make you watch them hurt me until I begged to die, and, and… and then he would give you a knife and make you k-kill me." Her voice had dropped to a barely-audible whisper. Harry gripped her hand, as much for his own comfort as hers; he felt sick with horror at what the Death Eaters had planned for them.
"During the night, they had the dementors come up from the cellar to stand guard while they slept. It was horrible; I couldn't sleep, but I had nightmares anyway. I kept seeing the end of the Tournament, hearing everyone shouting that Cedric was d-dead…."
She abruptly relinquished her white-knuckled grip on Harry's hand and turned over, sobbing into her pillow. After a moment Harry reached out and rested his hand on her shoulder, as Sirius had done with him under the beech tree that afternoon. She slid her own hand up to cover his, their fingers interlacing.
Fawkes raised his head and studied her for a moment, then began singing again, very softly. Cho gradually calmed down. Finally, she looked up at Harry, then over at Dumbledore. "I'm sorry, Professor," she said.
"It's all right, Miss Chang," Dumbledore said. "Tears are the proof of our compassion. After all you have suffered, I would be far more worried for you if you did not weep."
"I've been crying so much over the last month, you'd think I would have run out of tears by now," she said bitterly. "Cedric and I had so many plans, so many things we wanted to do over the summer…." She stopped, composing herself with a visible effort.
Harry felt his stomach clench at the mention of Cedric's name, but he ignored it. Cho needed him now, and he was damned if he would let jealousy get in the way.
"Could you help me sit up, Harry?" Cho asked.
"Of course." Harry extended his hand, and she took it and levered herself up to a sitting position. After a moment, she continued her tale. "In the morning, the dementors went back down to the cellar. I stopped having the visions, but… I could still feel them, if you know what I mean. That awful, hopeless feeling…."
"As though you'll never feel happy again – you can't even remember what happiness is…." Harry murmured, shivering at the recollection of his own experiences with dementors.
"Yes. I felt it when they searched the train the year before last, but then it was just one of them, and only for a moment. This was much worse. It wasn't just the dementors – it was that I was sure I was going to die that night, and never see my family again. I didn't just feel as though I would never be happy again, I knew it." She looked up at Harry. "Do you know what that's like?"
"I do," said Harry, "and I'm… sorrier than I can say that you ever had to find out."
She nodded, "Thank you. I thought you would know, after facing… him."
Harry nodded back, and the moment stretched as they gazed into each other's eyes. Harry felt something pass between them, drawing them closer together, forming a bond of silent, mutual sympathy and understanding.
At length Cho looked down, breaking the eye contact. Harry realized he had been holding his breath, and he was pretty sure that she had been doing the same.
Cho turned her attention back to Dumbledore. "Toward the end of the day, the leader – what did you call him, Harry? MacNeil?"
"Macnair," said Harry grimly. "Walden Macnair. He works for the Ministry, on the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures – he's their executioner. I met him, briefly, when he came to Hogwarts to kill Buckbeak."
"Are you certain of this, Harry?" asked Dumbledore.
"I didn't see his face, but I'd know that voice anywhere," Harry replied. "He was with the other Death Eaters in the graveyard. Voldemort called him by name, told him he'd provide better victims than the animals he was killing for the Ministry, and Macnair thanked him."
"Very well. Please continue, Miss Chang."
"All right," said Cho. "That… Macnair came and sat down in the chair right next to me. He had his big axe, and he kept fidgeting with it – testing the edge with his finger, turning it in his hands, holding it across his lap and stroking it like a cat. He told me that my invitation from Marietta was fake – they'd sent it to keep anyone from missing me immediately. He told me I'd be dead before my family even realized I was gone. Then he leaned over and brushed my hair off my neck so he could see it better. He said—" she swallowed hard, shivering. "He said I had a very pretty head, and he was going to enjoy cutting it off. He said I was going to make a lovely addition to his trophy room. I… I think I went a bit hysterical then; I was crying really hard and trying to scream through the gag, and he just sat there and laughed at me."
Her voice choked up again, and her eyes were bright with tears. "After a while, I was too exhausted to cry anymore. I just lay there, waiting for something to happen – and then the door of the cottage blew up." She looked at Harry. "Everything happened so fast after that… you and that other wizard dueling with Macnair, the dementors, that Death Eater in the doorway trying to curse you and the hippogriff knocking him down… and then it was over, and you were holding me and telling me it was going to be all right. I think… I think I must have been just barely clinging to consciousness. I was terrified that if I fainted I would never wake up. Once you were there, I knew I didn't have to hold on any more. The next thing I remember is waking up here."
"I see," said Dumbledore gravely. "Thank you, Miss Chang. I know this has been a terrible ordeal for you, and I cannot emphasize enough how courageous you are in telling us your story now, while the pain of it is still so fresh in your memory."
"Thank you, Professor," she said softly. "I hope it helps."
"I believe that it will, Miss Chang. I intend to do everything in my power to see that the men who hurt you are brought to justice. My word on it."
She nodded. "Thank you."
"Now, I have brought a potion with me which will allow you a night's rest free of dreams, and you may have it in just a little while, but first I regret that there is one more thing I must ask of you. I am very sorry to do this, but it is necessary: I must make absolutely certain that you have not been placed under the Imperius Curse."
She stared at him in shock. "The Imperius Curse? But I haven't… oh!"
"You see the problem? That is precisely what you would say if you had. Staying here, you are bound to see and hear things which we are attempting to keep secret from Lord Voldemort."
Cho flinched at the sound of the dreaded name, but quickly recovered. "I understand, Professor. What do you have to do?"
"There is a branch of magic known as Legilimency," Dumbledore replied. "It enables one wizard to see the thoughts and memories of another. While it is not precisely a Dark Art, its use is carefully regulated, and it is not taught to wizards below the age of majority. It is a standard part of Auror training, however, and it is also studied by those Healers who specialize in the ailments of the mind."
"And you can use it to find out whether I'm under the Imperius Curse?" Cho asked.
"Precisely, dear girl. Now, Legilimency can be unpleasant for both parties involved, but it cannot do you any real harm. It will be much easier, however, if you do not try to resist."
"How would I resist?" she asked.
"By emptying your mind, or concentrating on something other than what the Legilimens wishes to know."
"All right. How do I make it easier?"
"Simply cast your mind back over the last twenty-four hours, to the moment before you were abducted. I know these memories are unpleasant, but I must ask you to be brave just a little longer."
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "All right. Is there anything else?"
"The spell usually requires eye contact. If you would please look into my eyes, we can begin."
Cho nodded, fixing her gaze on Dumbledore's light blue eyes. Harry wondered fleetingly whether this had anything to do with Dumbledore's warning against meeting his eye; he couldn't think what the connection would be, though.
Dumbledore raised his wand, pointing it at Cho, and said, softly but clearly, "Legilimens."
Cho's grip on Harry's hand tightened until it hurt; he could see that she was clenching her jaw just as hard, and that indeed her entire body had gone rigid. Her dark eyes remained locked with Dumbledore's.
The connection lasted a minute or so, then Dumbledore lowered his wand and looked down, breaking it off. Cho relaxed abruptly, slumping forward and breathing hard.
"Thank you for your cooperation, Miss Chang," Dumbledore said, and Harry thought he detected an unwonted note of strain in the old wizard's voice. "I am sorry that I had to put you through that, but it was necessary to be absolutely certain."
"And are you?" said Harry, with an edge to his voice.
"Oh yes," the old wizard replied. "Miss Chang's mind is her own; the Death Eaters made no attempt to control or tamper with her thoughts."
"Good," Harry said. "So you'll let her rest now?"
"Is that what you want, Miss Chang?"
Cho looked up. "I think I would like something to eat, first," she said. "The Death Eaters didn't give me anything but water, and not very much of that."
"Very well," said Dumbledore. Then he raised his voice and called, "Dobby?"
There was a loud crack! like a bullwhip, and a curious creature appeared out of thin air beside Dumbledore. It was about three feet tall, with bat-like ears, a long, thin pencil of a nose, enormous, protuberant green eyes, and an assortment of brightly colored and spectacularly mismatched clothes. Harry, who had been expecting this, simply smiled, but Cho flinched in surprise, then stared at the creature in open fascination. "That's a house-elf," she said. "Is he one of the Hogwarts elves?"
"In a manner of speaking," said Dumbledore. "Dobby is a free elf; I hired him after he was released from the service of his former master. Dobby, this is Miss Cho Chang, of Ravenclaw House. Harry Potter, of course, you know."
"Dobby is very pleased to meet you, Miss Chang," said the elf, in a high-pitched, squeaky voice. "And most pleased to see Harry Potter again. Dobby has come to wish Harry Potter a happy birthday, sir, and to offer his services for as long as Harry Potter and his friends remain here, sir."
"Thank you, Dobby," said Harry. "I'm sure we can use the help."
"You are most welcome, sir." Dobby replied. "What can Dobby get for Harry Potter?"
"Nothing for me, thanks, Dobby," Harry told him. "But… what would you like, Cho?"
"Just a bowl of broth and some bread, I think," Cho replied. "And maybe a cup of tea."
"Dobby will be right back, miss!" The house-elf snapped his fingers and vanished with another "crack!"
Dumbledore rose from his chair. "Here is your potion, Miss Chang," he said. Reaching into a pocket of his robe, he brought out a little round flask, filled with a clear, dark blue liquid, and set it on the nightstand. "It is quite potent. A teaspoonful added to a glass of water is sufficient to ensure a full night's rest."
"Thank you, professor," said Cho.
"You are welcome. Now, Harry, you may keep Miss Chang company until she is asleep, and then I would like to hear your version of today's events. I will wait for you downstairs."
"All right, sir," said Harry.
"Good night, professor," Cho added.
"Good night, Miss Chang. Come, Fawkes."
The phoenix, which had been sitting quietly on the pillow beside Cho, spread his wings and flew up to Dumbledore's shoulder, and the old wizard turned to go. As he left the room, there was another explosive "crack!" and Dobby reappeared, holding a large platter. On it was a steaming bowl of what Harry's nose told him was beef broth, two buttered rolls, a small bone china teapot with two cups, and appropriate silverware. Dobby let go of the platter, and instead of crashing to the floor it floated up, across the bed, and hovered in front of Cho. "Here you are, miss," the house-elf squeaked.
"Thank you, Dobby," said Cho, filling one of the teacups. She looked mildly surprised at the tea's color. After letting it cool a moment, she lifted the cup and took a cautious sip. Her eyes widened. "Tian Shan green," she breathed. "How did you know?"
"Begging your pardon, miss, a good house-elf always knows what his wizards like. When Professor Dumbledore is asking Dobby to come help Harry Potter and Miss Chang, Dobby talks to the other elves, miss. Anthy always cleans Ravenclaw house, and she is telling Dobby that Miss Chang drinks Tian Shan green tea, so Dobby brings some with him from Hogwarts."
"I see. That was really thoughtful of you, Dobby. Thank you."
"No need to thank Dobby, miss," said Dobby earnestly. "Any friend of Harry Potter is a friend of Dobby, miss, and Dobby always does his best for his friends."
"In that case, Dobby, I'm glad to be your friend."
"Thank you, miss. Can Dobby get anything else for Miss Chang?"
"No, thank you."
"Dobby should go back to the kitchen, then, miss. Dobby has lots of work to do, making dinner for Professor Dumbledore and Harry Potter's other friends."
"Go ahead, Dobby," said Harry. "I'll bring the tray down later."
The elf's huge eyes filled with tears. "Harry Potter is too kind to Dobby!" he wailed. "Ah, sir, no other wizard ever, ever—"
"Please calm down, Dobby, it's nothing, really. No trouble at all."
"Thank you, sir, thank you. Good night, Miss Chang."
"Good night, Dobby," said Cho, and the elf Disapparated again.
"I've never met a free house elf before," Cho commented, between spoonfuls of broth. "He seems awfully keen on you, Harry." She looked up at him questioningly.
"I, er, did him a favor once. But he liked me already; from what he says, house-elves are even more obsessed with the Boy-Who-Lived than wizards." Harry grimaced; his fame had always been more nuisance than asset. "It's silly, you know. Everyone thinks I'm a hero because of something that happened to me when I was a baby. I didn't do anything."
"You did plenty today," said Cho quietly.
"I guess so," said Harry, looking down at his feet. "I keep thinking about how close that last one came… I should have checked that all three of the ones outside were down as soon as Macnair Disapparated. If it hadn't been for Hermione and Buckbeak, he could have killed us both."
"Maybe, but you beat Macnair, and you drove off the dementors… you saved my life, Harry. Thank you."
Harry felt his face flush. The butterflies he usually felt in his stomach whenever he saw Cho had been notably absent so far, but now they returned with reinforcements. "I… that is… you're welcome, Cho."
They lapsed into an awkward silence. Cho concentrated on her food for a few minutes before filling the second teacup and offering it to Harry. "Try this," she said.
Harry accepted it, blew on the surface to cool it, and sipped. It had a milder, more subtle flavor than the black tea he was used to. He took a bigger sip and savored it appreciatively. "This is really good," he said.
She nodded. "My parents sell about a hundred different kinds of tea from all over China – blacks, greens, whites, reds, oolongs, jasmines, you name it – and I think I've tried them all at one time or another. This is my favorite."
"Is that what the shop is, a tea shop?"
"Not just tea, we sell all kinds of Chinese imports. See, my dad's a wizard and my mum is a Muggle. So she runs the main shop where we sell mundane stuff – food, fabric, jewelry, even kung-fu movies. Then there's a special room in the back, behind the stockroom, where my dad sells potion ingredients, amulets, and books on Asian magic to our wizarding customers."
"Sounds like an interesting place to grow up," said Harry.
"Oh, it was," she agreed. "My mum's family owned the shop for four generations, all the way back to when Limehouse was the only Chinese neighborhood in London. Most of the old buildings there were destroyed in the blitz; our shop is the last of the original Chinese businesses."
"Was it protected by magic?"
"No, just luck. Mum's family were all Muggles, didn't know anything about magic, until my Uncle Wei got his Hogwarts letter."
"I see. So, how did your parents meet?" Harry asked. He had always been curious about wizard-Muggle marriages; most of the pure-blood wizards he knew didn't have much contact with the Muggle world, even those, like Ron's father, who actually liked Muggles.
"My dad was at Hogwarts at the same time Uncle Wei was, one year behind him. They were the only Chinese students there at the time, so they got to be friends, even though Dad was in Ravenclaw and Uncle Wei was in Hufflepuff. Dad went to visit Wei's family during the summer holidays, and Wei's little sister – my Mum – fell in love with him. The way they tell it, it took her a while to get him to notice her, but when he finally did he fell head over heels for her, and he's been that way ever since." She smiled fondly.
Harry smiled back at her. "That's sweet," he said. "So, how did their parents take it?"
"Well, Mum's parents were delighted; they loved the idea of having another wizard in the family. Dad's parents were a bit harder to persuade, but they came around in the end. I think, when it got down to it, they preferred to see him marry a Chinese Muggle rather than a British witch."
"Huh," Harry said. "I didn't know there were any wizards who felt that way."
"I think ethnicity matters more to Chinese wizards than European ones. The old families here don't seem to care who their heirs marry, as long as they're pure-bloods."
Harry shook his head. "One kind of prejudice doesn't seem any better than the other," he said.
"Oh, I agree," Cho assured him. "None of it makes sense to me. I think you should marry whoever you truly love, wizard, Muggle, Chinese, English, whatever. That's what my parents did."
"Good for them," Harry said. "So… how did they end up running your grandparents' shop? Isn't it usually the oldest son who inherits the family business?"
"Yes, Uncle Wei was supposed to inherit the shop, but he decided he didn't want it. He got a job with the Department of International Magical Cooperation instead, and my parents went to work in the shop. Dad started up the magical side of the business, and it's done really well; he gets things in from China that you can't get anywhere else in Britain, and wizards from all over the country come to buy them."
"What kinds of things?"
"Oh, powdered Re'em blood for strength potions, Demiguise hair, scales and eggshells from Chinese Fireballs… Professor Sprout comes in three or four times a year to buy seeds for some of her plants, and I've seen Professor Snape in the shop a few times, too." She made a face. "I always find I have an errand to run somewhere else when he shows up."
Harry grinned. "I know what you mean. Does he give you a hard time in class, too?"
"Well, he's unpleasant to be around, but I guess I don't have too many problems with him. I'm pretty good at Potions, and anyway we aren't in his class with the Slytherins, so he doesn't play favorites so much. If he picks on anyone in our lessons, it's usually the Hufflepuffs. I gather he's much rougher on Gryffindor, though, and perfectly beastly to you in particular."
Harry's smile turned wry. "Word gets around, eh?"
"Well, there is an open gossip channel between the Gryffindor and Ravenclaw common rooms, you know."
"Let me guess… the Patil twins?"
"Right in one. Say, didn't you and your friend with the red hair take the two of them to the Yule Ball?"
"Yeah," said Harry. "I asked Parvati after…" he stopped, not wanting to say it.
"After I turned you down," Cho finished, very quietly. "I really am sorry about that, Harry – more now than ever."
"S'all right," Harry muttered. "I should have asked you sooner."
"I would have gone with you," she agreed, even more quietly. "I mean, I don't regret… I wouldn't... um. Maybe we should talk about this another time?" She sounded strained, as though she might break down again at any moment.
"Of course, Cho," Harry said, relieved himself at the excuse to change a subject that could quickly become painful for them both. "Um. Why don't you tell me more about your family?"
"Sure. Let's see… My mum's parents retired from running the shop around the time I started at Hogwarts; they bought a little seaside cottage near Lyme Regis. Dad's parents went back to China before I was born – around the time You-Know-Who started killing pure-bloods who disagreed with him. My sister went to stay with them, and eventually my parents did, too – right after they found out they were going to have me. I was born in Hong-Kong, and we only came back to England after You-Know-Who fell."
"I see," said Harry. That was another topic he wasn't eager to talk about – he wanted Cho to like him for who he was now, not to think of him as the Boy-Who-Lived. "So, what's your sister like?" he asked.
"Liu? She's great. She's about eight years older than I am, so we were never at Hogwarts together, but we're really close all the same – she always has time for me when Mum and Dad are busy. She's studying to be a Healer; says she got interested in that because she's had so much experience patching me up when I was first learning to fly."
Harry gave a snort of laughter. "I guess that would be good practice," he said. "At least if she wants to specialize in Quidditch injuries."
"She is thinking about that, actually." Cho paused. "You know, speaking of Liu, she's probably getting worried about me – I was supposed to come home from Marietta's after dinner this evening. Are there any owls here, so I can send her a message to let her know I'm all right?"
"Mmm," said Harry. "My owl is here, but I'll have to ask Professor Dumbledore if it's all right. The thing is, this place is supposed to be secret, from the Ministry as well as the Death Eaters, so I don't know if sending messages is safe."
"But… how long will I have to stay here? If Liu doesn't hear from me tonight, she'll get in touch with Marietta's parents and find out that I was never there, and next thing you know she'll have the Department of Magical Law Enforcement out looking for me."
"Oh, I'm sure Dumbledore will want to let your sister know what happened and that you're all right, but he'll probably want to send someone from the Order to tell her in person."
Harry mentally kicked himself. "I don't suppose you could forget I mentioned that?"
"I don't suppose I could. Harry, what's the Order?"
Harry hesitated, wondering how to recover his slip of the tongue without spoiling his growing rapport with Cho. Finally, he said, "Look, I don't know how much I'm allowed to tell you about what's been going on since the end of last term. I don't know very much of it myself, but I'm going to try to find out more from Dumbledore tonight, and tomorrow I'll tell you whatever I can, all right?"
"All right," she said, reluctantly.
"I'm really sorry I can't tell you more right now," he said. "But if I tell you anything Dumbledore really doesn't want you to know, he'll probably use a Memory Charm to make you forget it. I don't think you need anyone messing with your mind any more than necessary."
"No. That Legilimency thing was more than enough." She shivered, looking down at her tray. The bowl was empty, only about a third of one roll remained, and what little tea was left in the pot was quickly going cold. "Well," she said, returning her attention to Harry, "I'm finished, and Dumbledore is waiting for you, so I guess I'll take that potion now."
"All right." Harry refilled her tumbler with water, then pulled the stopper from the flask of sleeping potion and used one of the teaspoons from the platter to measure out one dose. He stirred it into the water until the blue tint vanished, then handed her the glass.
She paused before drinking it. "Thanks for staying with me, Harry," she said. "Talking with you like this, I could almost forget that the last twenty-four hours ever happened."
"I'm glad I could help," Harry replied. "Is there anything else I can do?"
She hesitated before answering. "I think… would you hold my hand again, until I fall asleep?"
"Of course." Cho held out her hand, and Harry clasped it gently. She raised the glass to her lips, but then hesitated again. "Can you… be here when I wake up, Harry? Would that be all right? I… I don't want to be alone."
"If it's not all right, I'll make it all right," Harry said with conviction. "I won't leave you alone, Cho; I promise."
She nodded gratefully and drained the glass. Without letting go of his hand, she set the glass back on the night table and lay back on her pillow. She smiled up at Harry as he tucked the covers up to her chin.
He could see the potion taking effect; her eyelids drooped, and she yawned. "Thanks again, Harry," she murmured. "For everything."
"You're welcome, Cho," he said. "Sleep well."
"G'night." She rolled onto her side, and her breathing slowed and deepened as she drifted off to sleep.
Harry carefully released her hand, but didn't get up immediately. Instead, he sat and watched her sleep, thinking back over everything they'd said. What struck him most about their conversation, though, was what she had left unsaid: she hadn't asked the questions he'd been dreading, about the Third Task and Cedric's murder. Why? he wondered. She couldn't possibly have gotten over Cedric so soon. Harry had spent six agonizing months watching them: dancing at the Yule Ball, holding hands in the corridors, smiling over some shared in-joke… they were the perfect couple, the couple he'd always imagined his parents were when they met at Hogwarts… the kind of couple he wanted to be with Cho – until she looked at Cedric. No, there was no way she could be over his death. She'd wept too bitterly at the memory of it – the only thing in her entire recitation of horrors that had broken her self-control.
So why didn't she ask? She wasn't too tired – for all she'd been awake a day and half, for all she'd endured, she'd been alert, animated, more articulate than Harry thought he could possibly have been after a comparable ordeal. It had taken Dumbledore's potion to get her to sleep. It must have been Fawkes, Harry thought, remembering how the phoenix's song had banished, at least temporarily, his own exhaustion of body and spirit in the Chamber of Secrets, and again in Dumbledore's office after the Third Task. Fawkes and that wonderful tea….
She wanted to ask, Harry was sure of that, so why didn't she? One possibility crossed his mind: Could it be she felt sorry for me? Could it be she realized I wasn't ready to talk about it? The butterflies in his stomach seemed to transfigure themselves into Kneazles and dance a jig.
But maybe it was simpler than that. Maybe she wasn't ready. Harry recalled how he'd sealed his own pain behind a semblance of normalcy, those first few days after the Tournament – making small talk with Ron and Hermione, watching their chess games, playing Exploding Snap with the twins on the train ride back to London…. Perhaps, by chatting with him about her family, Cho had been doing the same thing. After all, she had changed the subject when it came close to touching on her relationship with Cedric….
Harry stood up and stretched, relieving the kinks in his back from sitting still so long. He took a last long look at the sleeping girl. In repose, her delicate features looked younger – like the face of a little girl, not that of a young woman a year Harry's senior. On impulse, he leaned over and, very gently, kissed her on the cheek. "Hermione's right," he murmured. "You deserve to know the truth. And when you're ready to hear it, I promise I'll be ready to tell you."
All right, he thought as he doused the bedside lamp. Let's see what Dumbledore has to say.
Note: Thank you very much for reading. If you have something to say about this story, please review. All praise, analysis, speculation, and constructive criticism are welcome and will receive prompt and civil replies on the review thread. Suggestions and demands for changes in the storyline will receive a respectful hearing, but will probably not be implemented, as this story is already written in its entirety, and I feel no desire to rewrite it at this time. Any flames will be deleted; moderation hath its privileges. I look forward to hearing from you all.