Chapter 19 – Fear

Harry kicked out, no longer caring that this was Ron before him. His foot hit something and Ron cried out. Harry tried to lunge towards his wand, but Ron was already on him, his hands wrapping around Harry's neck and squeezing.

"Sorry, sorry," Ron was muttering. "I'm so sorry, Harry." He began shaking Harry harshly, as if that would help kill him faster. With each shake Harry's head bounced against the floor.

Harry grasped Ron's wrists in an effort to remove them from his throat, squeezing and digging his short nails in as harshly as possible. He bucked his legs, hoping to dislodge Ron in order to take a much needed breath. His lungs, still not recovered from almost being smothered, felt like they were on fire and he was wheezing again, the black spots dancing in front of his eyes.

"Stupefy!" a voice cried out. There was a flash of red light and Ron's grip immediately loosened as he slumped forward, his weight pinning Harry in place where he was half propped up against his bed. He began coughing roughly in between taking large gulping breaths.

The weight shifted and fell to one side and Harry could see Neville peering down at him. "You alright, Harry?"

Still coughing Harry nodded and held out a hand to be helped up.

"Sorry it took so long for me to stun him," Neville said, biting his lips as he gently pulled Harry up and guided him to sit on the bed. "I couldn't find my wand."

"S'okay," Harry choked. Looking down he could see Ron sprawled on the floor, looking like he'd merely fallen asleep down there. He looked more peaceful than Harry had seen him since Christmas.

"What's going on?" Dean muttered from his own bed.

Harry waved for Neville to explain and laid back. He was feeling dizzy and his head was pounding from lack of oxygen. His mind felt fuzzy and the voices seemed far away despite the adrenaline still pumping through his system. Absently he reached a hand up to the back of his head where the pain seemed to be centred. It came away sticky and when he peered at it, with great difficulty even though he was wearing his glasses, he thought he could see a smear of blood on it.

"Harry," a voice was calling through the fog. "Harry, Dean's gone to get Madame Pomfrey. Can you hear me?"

Harry nodded weakly. "Get Dumbledore."

There was some whispering and then two Nevilles were leaning over him again. "Seamus is going to watch Ron while I go, okay Harry?"

"Mmm," Harry hummed. "Password's... Croaking Crunches." The pain in his throat made it hard to talk and it was getting difficult to remember what he wanted to say anyway. He let his eyes flutter closed.

Harry awoke, really wishing he hadn't. His head was pounding and his throat felt tight, and when he opened his eyes the whiteness of the Hospital Wing assaulted his senses and made him groan. He could still see Ron crouching over him, and he suppressed a shudder. Ron, his best friend for the last five and a half years had tried to kill him. Was he a Death Eater now? Or had he ever really been Harry's friend at all?

"Lay still," Madam Pomfrey said gently. "You've got a concussion from hitting your head so hard. I can give you a potion to alleviate most of the symptoms, but I'm still going to want to keep you here until tomorrow. Can't have you fainting and falling down the stairs now can we?"

Harry blinked at her fuzzily, accepting the potion she held to his lips. With a grimace he realised it hurt him to swallow, but he forced himself to speak anyway. "Ron!" he croaked when she moved it away. He had to make sure they knew what had happened.

Pomfrey clucked disapprovingly as she gently placed his glasses atop his nose. Strangely enough it did nothing for his blurred vision. "Don't try to talk if you can help it. Mr. Weasley damaged your larynx when he tried to choke you. I've already healed the bruising as much as I can, the rest should fade away before you leave."

"As for Mr. Weasley, I believe I can answer any questions you may have."

Harry squinted over Pomfrey's shoulder. He could just make out something big and white atop a sky blue blur and guessed it was Professor Dumbledore. He wondered how he was supposed to ask questions if he wasn't allowed to talk.

Pomfrey argued for a moment that Harry should be left to rest, but Dumbledore quickly persuaded her to let them talk with the promise that it would be a short conversation. Eventually she left with a huff and Dumbledore settled himself into the chair by Harry's bed.

"Well, Harry, it seems trouble finds you even when you sleep," Dumbledore began. "I must apologise for not seeing myself that there was a problem with young Mr. Weasley. I confess I merely thought that he was suffering under normal adolescent difficulties or at the very worst that he was experiencing a quite understandable reaction to the problems of the wizarding world. His family is, after all, heavily involved in the war. Anxiety and mood swings are to be expected. In fact I am rather surprised we aren't seeing more of it."

Harry could only stare at him, but if it took Dumbledore much longer to get to the point he would ignore Pomfrey's instructions not to speak and demand to know what had happened.

It seemed his determination was written across his face, for Dumbledore chuckled and patted his shoulder. "I see you are not to be deterred. Very well. Mr. Weasley has been under the influence of a fear spell."

Harry frowned. He'd never heard of a fear spell before but he could guess what it did. Apparently it made someone try to murder their best friend.

"Fear spells are Dark Arts designed to make the victim fixate on one of their fears. The caster can choose the direction the curse takes, but they cannot create the source of it from nothing, somewhere in the victims mind they must already feel an ounce of that fear.

"In Mr. Weasley's case that fear was for you. It is only natural that he would be scared for you, as prominent a figure as you are in this war. The person who cast the spell took that fear and amplified it to the point that he could think of nothing else. He burned to save you from the fate he was sure Voldemort would inflict on you.

"The problem was that there was no way he could protect you besides shadowing you. From what I can discern you have rarely been alone since Christmas, even when you thought you were."

A flash of alarm shot through Harry at that. Had Ron seen him meet Daphne? He wasn't sure how he could have, sine he usually took his invisibility cloak and map with him at those times and he hadn't noticed Ron on the map, but there was still the chance... No matter how much he trusted Ron – or used to at any rate – the thought of him knowing about his meetings with Daphne unsettled him. He wanted her to stay a secret for as long as possible.

Dumbledore was still talking. "Eventually it occurred to him that there was a way to ensure you were never captured by Voldemort; a suggestion that would have been implanted in his head even as the spell was cast. There was a part of him that would have fought against it for as long as he could, but finally he could deny it no longer."

Harry's surprise stopped him from staying silent. "So he was trying to kill me to protect me?" He hated the way his voice croaked and squeaked, but ignored it as well as the pain in favour of getting his answers.

"In a manner of speaking, yes," Dumbledore agreed. "The spell would have presented him with a way to put you forever beyond Voldemort's reach."

Harry didn't know what to think. Part of him was beyond angry that Ron had tried to kill him and wanted to sever their friendship for good, but he'd seen the way Ron had been acting and it did fit with what Dumbledore said.

"When you're well enough you can see him," Dumbledore said reassuringly, as if thinking Harry wanted to see the person who put him in the hospital wing yet. Even knowing about the fear spell wouldn't get him through a meeting like that right now. He didn't care that it was irrational, or that Ron might not really be to blame, he just couldn't.

"Unfortunately we cannot leave you alone with him until he is cured of the fear spell," Dumbledore went on, oblivious to the internal battle going on inside Harry. "And we will need your help for that Harry. Not only because you are the object of Mr. Weasley's fear and must be present to dispel the curse on him, but I think the ritual will calm any concerns you may have over the loyalty of your friend."

Harry merely nodded. He was feeling tired now, and just wanted to sleep and forget this ever happened and when he woke up Ron and Hermione would be sitting at his bedside and teasing him for ending up in the Hospital Wing again.

He was barely aware of Dumbledore patting his shoulder as he left, or Pomfrey bustling around him a few moments later. He swallowed the potions she gave him without a word and lay back on his pillows. Before he knew it he was asleep.

Hermione was sitting in the chair beside his bed when he awoke. She quickly helped him sit up and handed him his glasses. Although his head spun wildly he no longer felt as though his throat was full of sand and glass. His vision was a bit better too.

Hermione's face was pale and tearstained as she gazed at him sadly. "Oh Harry, I can't believe something like this has happened."

Harry shrugged. He wasn't sure if he was allowed to talk yet so he cleared his throat gently. "Did they tell you...?"

"Neville told me Ron attacked you and Dumbledore spoke to me too. He said he needs your help to dissipate the spell."

Harry nodded. "Do they know who cast it?" His voice was still a little scratchy, but at least it didn't hurt to talk.

"No," Hermione said weakly. "But given that his odd behaviour started after our visit to Diagon Alley, they think that's when it happened. It could have been anyone. It's well known that he's your best friend and with that hair he's quite distinctive. We could have passed a Death Eater in disguise on the street and not known it. Dumbledore said..."

Harry waited until it became obvious that she wasn't going to continue. "What did Dumbledore say?"

Hermione sniffled and Harry was half afraid she would burst into tears. "It's only been a month since then, but this spell usually takes much longer to run its course. There's no reason he should have succumbed so quickly, unless..." and she did begin to cry then. "They think the brains that attacked Ron in the Department of Mysteries had more of an effect than they thought it did, that it weakened his mind's resistance to the point that he couldn't fight the fear spell."

Harry felt a spasm of horror flush through him. If that was true, and Ron had received some permanent damage that night... It was his fault, he'd led them there. And he was sitting here feeling sorry for himself when it was his own actions that brought him here. He should be doing everything he could to help Ron, not shying away from meeting him, like he was some kind of pariah.

"The only other option is that it was cast before that, maybe in St Mungo's last Christmas when we were visiting Mr. Weasley. But I'm sure we would have noticed something before now."

"And why would they cast something like that on Ron when I was right there? They could have killed me themselves and saved a lot of time," Harry muttered. He laid one hand on Hermione's arm, hoping to still her crying. He didn't really know what to do to comfort her, or any crying girl for that matter, which was why his relationship with Cho ended so disastrously. "There's a third option too," he said absently, hoping that by continuing the conversation he would distract her from her tears. If he had been thinking more clearly he would not have said what he did next. "Maybe he wasn't trying to fight it at all." He almost surprised himself with the words. Had he really been thinking that?

Hermione gasped and shoved away from him, surging to her feet. "Are you suggesting that Ron wanted to hurt you? That he tried to kill you of his own free will? He's your friend Harry, your best friend. How could you accuse him of something like that?"

Harry could only gape at her in dismay. "I-I didn't mean..."

But he had meant it. No matter how much he heard about the spell there was still a large part of him that resented what Ron had done, blamed him, maybe even hated him for it.

Hermione was glaring at him now, her eyes full of anger, with no sign of the tears that had filled them moments before. "I can't believe you. He risked his life for you when he followed you to the Ministry last year. He would never want you dead."

"I know," Harry yelled at her and immediately wished he hadn't as pain spiked in his head and throat. "You didn't see him, Hermione. He tried to kill me and I know all about the fear spell, but you can't just expect me to forget about it." With a small cry he pressed his hand to the side of his head, where the agony seemed centred.

Madam Pomfrey was there, shrugging Hermione aside and holding another potion to his lips. He must have drunk it, as moments later his mind started to clear.

"You need to rest," Pomfrey admonished. "You're still recovering from a concussion. Miss Granger if you want to stay you must promise not to agitate him or I will have to ask you to leave."

"I'm sorry, Madam Pomfrey," Hermione said contritely. "I'll just stay a few more moments."

"Very well," Pomfrey said primly and retreated to her office.

Hermione didn't look at him as she retook her seat. They sat in silence, both refusing eye contact until Harry was sure Pomfrey would be coming back to kick Hermione out.

"I... maybe I over reacted," Hermione said, so quietly he almost didn't catch it. "Of course you would feel that way. It's only natural you would be a bit... nervous of Ron after what happened. I shouldn't have yelled at you."

Harry lifted one shoulder in a half hearted shrug. "Is Ron alright?" He realised it was the first time he'd asked after his friend since the attack.

Hermione sniffled but this time Harry didn't move to comfort her. "They're keeping him asleep until you're well enough to help with the ritual. They think that if he woke up the first thing he would do is try again." She looked up at him finally, tears shining in her eyes and a desolate expression on her face. "What if they can't fix it? What if the two of you can never be in the same room together without him trying to kill you? He wouldn't want to, but what if he couldn't help himself?"

"You'd choose him," Harry said somewhat bitterly. "He is your boyfriend after all. I'm just your friend."

"My best friend," Hermione insisted. "How can you think I'd just push you aside like that?"

"Because you've already done it once," Harry said, trying to keep his voice expressionless. He wouldn't let her know how much it hurt him to think of the three of them going their separate ways permanently.

Hermione hissed in surprise. "I thought you understood that. You said you forgave us."

"Yeah, but that was before Ron attacked me and I realised that if it ever came down to a choice, neither one of you would choose me."

Hermione's mouth dropped open and she reached out a hand to place it on his arm, but he shrugged it off.

"Harry-"

"If you don't mind, Hermione, I'm feeling quite tired after that potion," Harry said stiffly and turned his head abruptly away from her. He was feeling a bit alarmed that he'd been so open with her. She was his best friend, but he was never any good with the emotional stuff. Now, with the idea that she and Ron would resume their behaviour before Christmas, only this time deliberately staying away from him instead of accidentally... He could feel his eyes glaze over and he blinked rapidly to force the moisture away. Crying never did anyone any good, he'd learnt that long ago.

When he looked around again Hermione was gone. He tried to tell himself he was glad. He wouldn't miss her when she abandoned him forever.

It was late and Pomfrey had retired to her office for the evening when she came, gliding along the ward like a pale ghost, the patches of moonlight making her skin glow luminescently.

"Daphne," Harry breathed.

She snorted, breaking the unearthly impression she had given him.

"The whole school is buzzing, wondering what's wrong with you and Weasley," she said, standing at the edge of his bed. "I just had to come down here and see for myself."

"Thanks for your concern," Harry said dryly.

"I apologise, your Highness," Daphne said, dropping into a graceful curtsey. "I don't know what overcame me. I was, of course, completely torn up with worry for you and did not hesitate to come and see for myself that you were alright."

Harry opened his mouth to tell her not to call him that when he saw the almost mischievous look in her eyes. He was so surprised to see so much emotion from her that the words were lost in his throat. "I... er... I could do without the sarcasm thanks."

"Yes, my prince."

That time Harry thought he even detected amusement in her tone. "Oi."

With a tinkling laugh that made Harry's breath catch, Daphne sat on the edge of his bed. He held still as her eyes took in the bruises around his neck. "So what did happen?"

Harry sighed and told her about the attack. She listened attentively as he explained the fear spell and the possibility that the brains in the Department of Mysteries had permanently damaged Ron. He didn't want to admit to her how much the idea scared him, how much the idea of Ron scared him right now. Even when he and Ron had fallen out in the past Harry had never been afraid that Ron would attack him and though he knew that what had happened the night before was the result of a spell he couldn't shake off this... wariness he felt at the thought of confronting Ron.

Daphne waited until he had finished, her eyes never leaving his, before she began to speak, gently, almost soothingly and Harry wondered if she had somehow sensed what he had been reluctant to say. "In the elven realm there is a creature – we call them the gorga – and they have a similar effect on an elf as this spell seems to have had on Weasley. When I was young, before I knew I could do human magic, my father led a squadron of warriors to drive a nest of gorga from the outskirts of our city. He returned with half as many men as he left with, all of them half mad with fright. I didn't really understand it at the time, but when I was older father explained what happened." She stared past him for a long moment, her eyes far away. "The gorga sensed them coming and attacked first. They don't attack with teeth or claws, but with fear. Some of the warriors died in those first moments, their hearts gave out, but others turned on their comrades, terrified out of their minds that they would be stabbed in the back by their friends. Few were strong enough to withstand that many gorga, but they managed to use magic to drive them off and to reawaken those of the party that had fallen prey to the gorga's power. Even those that survived... It took my father a long time to recover fully. We almost had to leave him behind when we moved to the human realm."

Harry patted her hand as a gesture of comfort. She glanced up at him, her eyes conveying a level of warmth he wouldn't have thought her capable of.

"My point is that fear can make a person – human or elf – do irrational things, things they would never even contemplate under normal circumstances. Many of those warriors died by the hand of their fellows, by those unable to conquer their fear."

Harry nodded. "So you're saying I shouldn't blame Ron for what he did, because he couldn't help it and he wasn't really in control. I've been hearing that all day." He abruptly turned his face away.

"That's an important point to remember," Daphne agreed. "But I am more concerned with your fear."

Harry snorted. "I'm not afraid."

"Oh, so you don't want to be left alone with Weasley for some other reason?" Daphne said lightly.

"What?" Harry spluttered. "I never... I didn't say that."

"But you did," Daphne disagreed. "Maybe not in words, but I can see it in your face. You're concerned... not about your own life, you've never been particularly worried about that, I don't think, but you are worried that this attack says something about your friendship with Weasley, that if he could attack you like that then he can't have cared for you as much as you thought he did."

"I- I know he didn't want to do it," Harry said. "Voldemort even called him his 'unwilling servant,' it's just... if Voldemort can get him to try and kill me what else can he make Ron do? Can I trust him anymore?"

"When did You-Know-Who say that?" Daphne demanded. Harry was surprised for some reason that she didn't use the name, even though he knew he shouldn't be. She had spent the last five and a half years trying not to stand out in any way and saying 'Voldemort' would go against that even if she gave no visible sign of being afraid to hear the name.

"It was a dream," Harry said, the details only just coming back to him even as he was saying it, along with the thought that he hadn't yet told Dumbledore about it. "A vision. This connection I have with Voldemort lets me see things through his eyes sometimes, or like last night when I..." he screwed up his face as he tried to remember what Dmbledore had called it. "I project my astral self to where he is. It's like I'm in the same room with him, only no one can see me or hear me, but he can sense my presence." A thought struck him. "I was feeling really excited all day yesterday. I thought it was just because of the snow, but it was probably his emotions bleeding through. Why didn't I realise?"

Daphne stared at him in consternation. "This is very serious. What else did he say?"

Harry frowned in thought. The details were a little garbled, probably because of the concussion that was still giving him a minor headache. "He was taunting me, because he knew what was happening. He was going to keep me there while Ron smothered me with his pillow. How could he have known it would happen last night?" Hermione had said the fear spell took months to build up to the point where the victim acted on their fear and that it shouldn't have happened this quickly, but Voldemort had known exactly when it would happen. How was that possible?

"You said you woke up and Weasley was trying to suffocate you, but if You-Know-Who was keeping you there how did you manage to wake yourself?" Daphne asked in confusion.

"I..." Harry stared at her, appalled. "I don't think I did. I was trying to wake up, but nothing was happening. I've never managed to wake myself up during a vision before, I have to wait until they're finished." He tried to recall exactly what was going on in that dark room before he had awoken in the dorm room. "Voldemort was really angry about something. A messenger came in and told him something. He started yelling and I woke up. Maybe he got so angry he forgot to keep doing whatever it was that was stopping me from leaving."

Daphne was staring at him in consternation. "What could have made him so angry?"

"I dunno, I didn't hear what the messenger said," Harry said fretfully. He gasped. "But he did say that it was from the translator. Something about a fountain..."

"A fountain?" Daphne said disbelievingly. "That sounds like the sort of thing that would upset Narcissa Malfoy just before a big party, not a Dark Lord."

"It's got to be something out of the book," Harry muttered.

"What book?" Daphne demanded.

Harry glanced up at her, suddenly realising that he'd almost spilled one of the most important secrets he knew. "I'll have to tell Dumbledore tomorrow. He'll figure it out."

Daphne nodded. "Alright. Is there anything I should tell my father? If our people are going to help then they'll need certain information."

"Yeah, but I don't see how any of this will help them," Harry said reasonably.

"The King and Queen will want to know about your visions," Daphne pointed out. "There are certain techniques you can use to protect yourself from them."

"I'm already learning Occlumency," Harry shrugged. "Not that I'm any good at it."

"I've heard of that," Daphne nodded. "Maybe an elven method will be more effective. Especially now. I'll ask my father."

"Why especially now?"

Daphne smiled her mysterious smile. "Because your elf side will start waking up any day now," she said. "Your birthday is less than six months away after all."

He had forgotten about that. Maybe he'd finally get the proof he wanted to lose those last niggling little doubts that stopped him from giving her his complete trust. "And yours is in less than a month."

She shivered, but Harry knew she couldn't be cold. "I've been meaning to talk to you about that."

"Oh?"

"My birthday falls on a Wednesday," Daphne began. "The precise time of my birth in human terms was eleven fifty-nine in the morning."

"I see," Harry said, letting his tone convey that he really didn't.

"The change takes place at the exact moment that we turn seventeen," Daphne explained.

"Right," he said, thinking. "Wait, that means you'll change during Potions? How will we hide that? Everyone will see and the whole secret will be out. Unless you skip class, but then there'll be all sorts of questions."

"Well, I have an idea," Daphne said, watching him carefully. "It's a bit risky though. And I'll need your help."

"Anything," Harry promised impulsively.

She smiled and warmth spread across Harry's neck in response. "I hoped you would say that. I'm also hoping that you'll agree to sit with me during the change."

Harry blinked. "Of course, but wouldn't you prefer to be with your father in the cave?"

"Neither one of us can cross the ward line unless we want to bring the teachers running," Daphne pointed out. "That would be even worse than us both skipping the same class. There won't be time anyway, even if everything goes as planned. I was thinking instead of going to the study room. The library's not all that far from the dungeons and from there it's a quick trip to the Hospital Wing."

"The Hospital Wing!" Harry exclaimed. "It's not going to be that bad is it?"

"No," she said reassuringly. "But it will be necessary. Let me explain..."

Later, when Harry was alone again, he lay back and thought about what he had just agreed to. Not only was it risky, but the timing would be crucial. If they were even a little bit late getting out of class they risked Daphne going through her change in the middle of a corridor and knowing Snape there'd be all sorts of complications. Still he couldn't think of anything better. He wondered how other elves handled this situation. He somehow doubted that they would have had friends to help them skip class. How had his mother managed it? He didn't even know what day her birthday had been, for all he knew she had a summer birthday like him, or had been born in the evening. Had she had anyone with her during the change? Her family would have been in another realm, unable to be with her. Had she gone through it alone?

Well Daphne at least wouldn't be alone. And when July came he could only hope he wouldn't be either.

A/N: Oops! That took a lot longer than I hoped, but at least I got it up for Christmas.

As always thank you for the reviews. I really enjoy reading them and sometimes they give me helpful ideas.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and a happy New Year!

Nat.