Chapter Thirteen

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter.

That night at dinner, Harry found himself unable to eat. As a growing pre-teen boy, he found this to be quite worrisome. Fortunately, Harry also deduced that this was because of the nauseating celebration that was occurring at the Gryffindor table. Between Hermione's rapid-fire answers to Professor Sprout's Herbology questions and his own punishment for not taking Lockhart's quiz seriously, they had already netted 90 points. Combined with the rest of the House, Gryffindor was up 112 points from that morning. Only Snape looked as sick as Harry felt.

Deciding there was no reason to he had to partake in these festivities, he stormed off to the Ravenclaw table in protest and plopped down in front of a surprised Luna Lovegood.

"Hello, is anything the matter?" she asked curiously.

"It's only the first day of school and Gryffindor already has an eighty point lead in the House Cup and its all my fault," Harry moaned.

"I see. I've always thought that the desire to win that was indicative of the presence of Wrackspurt myself, but no one ever believes me," Luna confided.

"That's because Dumbledore's got them too well indoctrinated," Harry explained. "He's making them think it's about 'House Pride' and proving that your House is better than the others, which is really quite detrimental to the concepts of school unity, if you think about it…"

"Exactly," Luna beamed. "Thus, Wrackspurts. Why are you sitting here?"

"I had to get away from THAT," Harry gestured disgustedly over at the Celebration. Was that butterbeer he saw?

"But why here? I heard last year when the House Cup was awarded to Gryffindor at the last minute, you went over by the Slytherins."

"Well, I'm kind of avoiding Draco," Harry admitted. "Seeing as how he had Defense Against the Dark Arts this morning and no doubt saw that, once again, that rumor about his mother and Snape that I accidentally started just won't die. And besides, why not sit here? I like you."

"We only met yesterday," Luna pointed out.

"Ah, but what a meeting it was. I ordered that subscription of the Quibbler you recommended. I can't wait to hear about the things the Ministry is hiding from us so I can be properly outraged. But let's talk about you: Are the other Ravenclaws treating you okay?"

Luna nodded. "Oh yes. They seem to think that I'm under your protection or something because of last night and I expect that after tonight they'll think that even more. They haven't even laughed at any of my theories once. I'm thinking of coming up with progressively more outlandish ones to see how long before they crack."

"Now that is a noble goal," Harry laughed. "See, I knew there was a reason I liked you: we're both lone warriors in the fight against sheep mentality!"

"I like sheep," Luna told him.

"So do I, but when people like them so much they decide to think like them, they do all sorts of crazy things like declaring I'm the next Dark Lord," Harry countered.

"It must be the Wrackspurts," Luna suggested.

"Ah yes, the Wrackspurts wreaking havoc yet again and trying to blame it on the poor sheep," Harry shook his head sadly.

"And that's going in next week's Quibbler. Thanks, Harry."

"Harry! A word, if I may," Lockhart said, intercepting Harry on his way to breakfast the next morning.

Harry's friends looked concerned, but he just waved them off. He could handle himself. And if worse came to worse, he didn't want his friends to see him do some damage-control. What, with it not being 'ethical' and him being a 'second-year' and all.

"Yes, Professor?" Harry asked politely.

"I wanted to talk to you about your quiz yesterday," Lockhart continued. "It wasn't anything from my books, of course, but still it was all quite amusing. Some of your answers did make me wonder, however. What exactly do you know about-"

"Your habit of tracking down well-meaning but publicity-shy individuals who rid their local populace of whatever form of magical creature ails them and Obliviating them?" Harry finished.

Looking rather gobsmacked, Lockhart just nodded wordlessly.

"Well, it's certainly not very nice. Still, if they had wanted the credit, they would have publicized their exploits better before you had time to hear of it and track them down," Harry replied. "There's nothing I could do to change the fact that you stole those people's memories and their accomplishments and since Professor Dumbledore believes in unlimited second chances, he wouldn't do anything about it even if I told him. So, basically, as long as you don't try to Obliviate me or one of my friends, I don't really plan on doing anything. Oh, and if you try to steal one of my accomplishments, I will beat you to death with a paper napkin."

"CAN you beat someone to death with a paper napkin?" Lockhart asked, intrigued and not at all bothered by Harry's threat.

Harry shrugged. "I'll have fun trying."

"What's that funny clicking noise?" Fred asked in the middle of Quidditch practice that Saturday morning.

"Oh, that's just Colin, my personal photographer," Harry explained.

"Why do you need a personal photographer?" George asked, unsure if Harry was being serious or not.

"Well, I figure that since Colin is clearly going to keep following me around and taking pictures of me and since I'm really not that interesting-"

Fred snorted at that but Harry dutifully ignored him.

"I felt bad that he was wasting so much of his time, so I figured I might as well pay him. Besides, I set up a deal with the Daily Prophet and anytime they do a story featuring me, they'll just contact Colin and he can send them the appropriate photo." As the twins continued to stare at him, he elaborated, "I got the idea from Lockhart. Man's a media genius."

"I suppose he'd almost HAVE to be good at something…" George mused.

"And it's certainly not teaching," Fred contributed.

"What's going on?" Wood frowned as he flew by to see why his Seeker and Beaters had suddenly stopped practicing. "Is that first year spying on us?"

"Oh, no, that's just Harry's photographer," Fred said cheerfully. "So I guess that would probably put him in Gryffindor."

"Besides, the Slytherin team apparently couldn't find anybody to spy as they showed up in person. And full Quidditch gear," George remarked.

"Why in the world are they wearing their Quidditch robes to practice in?" Harry asked, confused. "That has got to be the stupidest thing I've seen all day."

"All day isn't very long, Harry," Fred pointed out as they went down to meet the rival team. "It can't be more than ten and we were listening to Oliver ramble about how he wants us to win the Cup again this year and next year." Seeing Harry tense up, he quickly clarified, "The QUIDDITCH Cup, Harry, the QUIDDITCH Cup. He couldn't care less about the House Cup."

"Oh, that's alright then," Harry said, calming down. "And yesterday afternoon Parvati and Lavender called me in to help them figure out who in our year is most 'skin-tone compatible' with them. I swear, one of these days I'm going to just buy Witch Weekly and force them to stop printing such inane articles that force poor innocent schoolchildren to undergo two hours of that sort of torture."

"You do that, Harry…"

"FLINT!" Wood yelled. "This is OUR practice time! We got up specifically! You can clear off now!"

"Plenty of room for all of us, Wood," Flint said innocently.

"But I booked the pitch!" Wood protested, his face turning a most interesting shade of purple that Harry was quite certain wasn't a good thing. "I booked it!"

"Ah," Flint said brightly. "I see why there might be some confusion then. You booked the pitch and I got a note signed by Professor Snape saying, 'I, Professor S. Snape, give the Slytherin team permission to practice today on the Quidditch pitch, owing to the need to adjust to their new brooms.'"

"Wouldn't it have been easier to just book the pitch like a normal person?" Harry asked reasonably.

Flint flushed. "Well, I would have, except this week has been kind of hectic, with NEWT review and everything and so it just slipped my mind so I asked Professor Snape at the end of Potions yesterday."

"You've got new brooms?" Wood asked, distracted. "What kind?"

"Our Seeker, Draco Malfoy, was concerned that the team wasn't living up to its full potential and so his father bought the team Nimbus 2001s," Flint said proudly.

"Oh, that's good," Harry sighed, relieved.

Everyone looked at him like he was crazy. He didn't care, though, that had been happening quite frequently since he had come back.

"Good? Good? You think it's good that the Slytherin team now possesses seven of the fastest brooms out there?" Wood asked disbelievingly.

"Well, yes," Harry replied. "Otherwise it was going to be really awkward when Professor Dumbledore announced that I had bought the Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff teams seven Nimbus 2001s each."

More staring. Really, he might as well be talking to himself for how much input everyone else was giving him. And now Ron, Hermione, and Neville were coming over to see what the fuss was about. Would they have any more to say than his teammates? Doubtful.

"Why didn't you buy the Slytherin team any brooms?" Draco asked, suddenly offended. "I mean, you had no way of knowing that I was going to do it."

Oh yes he did. And that was why he'd bothered to go even the playing field, because he didn't want to listen to everyone complaining about favoritism when he knew they'd have all bought themselves top-of-the-line brooms if they could afford them.

"Well," Harry said, thinking quickly. "I didn't feel that last year's games against Cedric and Cho were much of a test of my ability because on my broom could outfly their brooms any day of the week. In order to have more of a challenge, I decided to get them faster brooms. Knowing that the rest of their team would give them a hard time about accepting a gift from a rival Seeker and there would be talk of them throwing matches, I bought the rest of them brooms, too. And I couldn't possibly put Gryffindor at such a disadvantage by giving two-thirds of our competition state-of-the-art brooms and not giving ourselves anything, so I had to buy Gryffindor brooms as well. Since you already had a Nimbus 2000 from last year, it didn't even occur to me to get the rest of your team anything and so that was why it was really awkward when I realized sometime last week that my donation would seem like discrimination."

Hm. Not bad for an on-the-spot cover-up.

"But now our advantage is gone," Draco hissed at him.

"Think of it this way: if you hadn't bought the team brooms, you would get flattened in every match," Harry reassured him. "You saved Slytherin from a year of horribly humiliating slaughters."

Draco brightened considerably at this and Harry could only imagine how long he was going to use his newfound 'Savior of Quidditch' status.

"Since the Slytherins really do need to break in their new brooms and our teams' brooms are going to be presented at dinner ronight, I recommend that we just let them have the bloody pitch so I can go back to bed," Harry suggested.

"It's ten o'clock, Harry," Hermione said, raising her eyebrows.

"I know, but I only got two hours of sleep last night."

Now everyone turned to stare at Wood.

"What? I didn't wake them up until five," he defended.

"The twins, Lee, Alicia, Katie, Angelina, and I were having a poker tournament last night that didn't end until three," Harry explained. "In order to build team solidarity, you understand. We would have asked you to join us, Wood, but we expected it to run late and you had announced at dinner that you were going to bed early." He paused. "Probably because you knew that we had a ridiculously early practice this morning and couldn't be bothered to tell us. Anyway, who here thinks going back to bed sounds like a great idea?"

Six hands flew in the air. "I rest my case," Harry told Wood, the only one with his hand still at his side. "Next time we have a practice before nine, please tell us. After all, while you have a point about the weather being unpredictable during games, we WILL actually know what time the game is at least a week in advance so I don't see why you can't just make an announcement the night before."

With that, he turned and started heading back to the castle.

"Hey, mate," Ron called as he, Hermione, and Neville hurried after him.

"Yeah?" Harry asked, not turning around.

"Why are you avoiding my sister?"

Harry froze. "Avoiding…Ginny? I'm not-"

Ron rolled his eyes. "Yes you are. Every time she comes near you, you find some reason to immediately leave. Last week you even went over to sit with the Ravenclaws when she sat down across from you."

"I…" Harry trailed off. He hadn't realized that he'd been avoiding Ginny, but thinking back, he supposed that that was exactly what he was doing. Who could blame him, though? If he hadn't gone back, little James or Lily would be celebrating their first birthday soon. Now they might never exist. On the bright side, since the baby had not actually be born, assuming that he and Ginny got around to having children again, he wouldn't be able to miss their child as a person, just as a what-might-have-been and he wouldn't be subconsciously comparing his old child with his new one and hating himself all the while.

And then there was Ginny herself. She didn't have the diary this time around – thank God for that or he'd have to add that to the list of things he would never forgive himself for, beginning with abandoning Ginny and their unborn child to go through the Veil – so he wasn't sure just how to break her off her hero-worshiping and get her to see him as a normal person. Particularly as he was apparently avoiding her. But it was more than just annoyance (he was dealing with Lockhart, after all, and the man's habit of mentioning how great he was approximately once every other sentence did grate on his nerves), it was…uncertainty. And guilt. He fell in love with the Ginny that had held off full possession by Voldemort's Horcrux for almost a year at the age of eleven, who had, despite their almost complete lack of contact, believed him without question when he insisted Voldemort was back at the age of thirteen, who had gone with him on his suicidal plan to save Sirius when she was fourteen, who had battled full-fledged Death Eaters when they invaded Hogwarts at fifteen, and who had co-led the Hogwarts resistance when it had fallen under Death Eater control and stayed for the Final Battle against all of Riddle's forces when she was sixteen. THAT was the girl he had fallen in love with. And while he would never want her to go through all of that again – he had, in fact, inadvertently already stopped the first – they all played a part in making Ginny who she was when he finally realized that she existed. While she was still the same person, he was worried that he'd end up trying to use this Ginny to replace the other Ginny that he lost and that wasn't fair to either of them.

So maybe he WAS avoiding her. But he had some damn good reasons.

Harry could see that Ron was still waiting for an answer and as he could never even hope to make the twelve-year-old understand, he found himself latching onto one of his reasons for staying away from her last time. Though, to be fair, she was a lot better at controlling her inner fangirl than she had been the first time. "I'm a little uncomfortable that your sister seems to see me as some sort of hero. I'm not, really. I'm just…a guy in some pretty extraordinary circumstances, that's all."

"You don't mind Colin following you around," Neville pointed out. "And he acts far more enthralled with you than Ginny."

"But Colin doesn't have a crush on me," Harry countered, crossing his arms.

"I'm not too sure about that…" Ron muttered.

"Be nice," Hermione admonished, swatting at Ron. "Personally, I think you're being very nice to Colin and I'm proud of you for that. Still, you're going to have to deal with a lot of girls having crushes on you, especially when we get older. Not only are you the Boy-Who-Lived, but you also attract a fair amount of attention through all of your various accomplishments and 'missions.'"

"I know, I know," Harry held up his hands in surrender, too tired to continue the argument. "But I don't have to deal with any of them on a regular basis and since Ginny is Ron's sister, I do have to deal with her. But…" he sighed. "I'll try to stop avoiding Ginny. Happy now?"

Three identical grins assured him that they were.

Review Please!