A/N: I know that this chapter has taken forever, almost literally, and for that I grovel at your feet. All excuses sound lame and unconvincing, especially to me, so I will just say a HUGE sorry to anyone who's been waiting for this update. This chapter is dedicated to popping corn, without whose chapter five review this chapter would have taken even longer, if such things are possible. I hope you like what I've done with it. Cinnamon.
Disclaimer: But naturally I own Harry Potter. However could you doubt it?...You called me a lying what!?
As the year progressed, Ron found that his days were dividing themselves more and more into two categories; days when he understood his year mates and days when he didn't.
On the first kind of day he enjoyed their company immensely, getting great pleasure out of ignoring Hermione, laughing at fart jokes and starting improbable rumours about Professor Sprout's nocturnal activities. On days like this he sometimes found himself wondering how on earth he could already know something, and feeling quite stunned when he remembered.
On the second kind of day their immaturity alienated him, and he felt excluded by the ease with which they could understand each other. Half of what they were saying might as well have been a different language for all the sense that he could make of it. It was days like this when he increasingly found himself seeking out Hermione, or occasionally Padma, when Hermione herself became too wrapped up in events which held little to no interest for him. For some reason that never seemed to happen with Padma; he speculated vaguely that it might have been something to do with being a Ravenclaw.
Hallowe'en was already bidding fair to become the second sort of day.
The day had started out pleasantly enough. Ron awoke to complete silence, the delicious smell of baking pumpkin wafting through the school, and the knowledge that he didn't have to get up for another hour. Turning onto his other side he snuggled down under his covers again, his eyes drifting closed. Life didn't get much better than this.
Twenty minutes later it went downhill dramatically, as he woke up once again, this time to the feeling of something heavy landing on his head, and the yells and grunts of his dorm mates as they battled it out with pillows, bed covers, textbooks and anything else that came to hand.
Seven years earlier, or even five, he would have happily joined in; yesterday he would have joined in, if it came to that. Today, he just wasn't in the mood.
Grabbing a set of clothing he headed for the bathroom, leaving the rest of his belongings to fend for themselves. It was too early in the morning to deal with this.
Forget early, Ron thought with annoyance, ducking as a sausage sailed over him, hitting Terry Boot at the Ravenclaw table behind him in the back of the head. I don't want to deal with this at any time of day.
Ron stood up somewhat cautiously, fully prepared to duck again if the situation required, glancing around for somewhere out of the line of fire to finish his meal. He came to the timely realisation that he had yet to make any progress on one of his resolutions.
Percy glanced up in some surprise as Ron slid into the seat next to him, but apparently decided not to comment on his uncharacteristic escape from the food fight. Of course, it probably wasn't quite as out of character as it would once have been.
"Good morning, Ron."
Ron realised with mild distress that he didn't even know his brother well enough to be able to differentiate between an awkward silence due to not having properly spoken for—well, a while—and it simply being too early in the morning for a conversation. As the silence lengthened he shifted uncomfortably, and decided that it was probably the former.
"So," he said at last, "what subject have you got first?"
The day did not improve as it went on, although Ron did feel that he might have made some progress with Percy.
History of Magic was, if possible, even more boring and painful than usual; Hermione had just re-discovered one of the less orthodox uses of the quill, namely that of jabbing Ron at regular intervals in order to keep him awake and appearing to pay attention.
Charms was full of embarrassing reminders of his past immaturity, as Flitwick attempted to teach them to make feathers fly. Ron spent the lesson painstakingly avoiding saying anything which Hermione could possibly find in any way upsetting. Rescuing her from a mountain troll was one bonding experience that Ron would be more than happy to forego, especially without Harry there to jump on its back and create a distraction—which had been a remarkably stupid and reckless move, even for Harry, now that Ron thought about it.
In front of them, Dean and Seamus had had the amusing idea to tickle the back of Lavender's neck with their feather whenever she wasn't looking, and her shrieks, giggles and accusations were giving Ron a headache. Then too, his efforts at tact had worried Hermione so much that she had enquired after his health no fewer than five times, and offered to accompany him to the hospital wing twice.
On top of everything else, Charms was followed by Transfiguration, in which McGonagall—still convinced that Ron was some kind of child prodigy when it came to Transfiguration—spent a great of time hovering over him and offering advice, most of which he had already heard before. Ron had to be very careful not to say or do anything that she might find suspicious, as he was certain that one mistake would be all it would take for her to discover everything, or—worse still—go to Dumbledore with her suspicions.
On top of all the rest it was a Thursday, the day of their weekly library study group. This was made worse by the presence of both Lavender and Parvati, who giggled incessantly and claimed most of Hermione's attention. Ordinarily Padma would have provided him with someone to talk to, but she had taken the opportunity afforded by Cho's absence to corner Harry.
Ron had never been entirely sure what her fascination with Harry was. He had never noticed them exchanging anything more than polite hellos last time, but now she made excuses to spend time with him, to ask his opinion on things, to lend him books and offer advice...and she was always watching him, as though waiting for him to give some sort of sign. What that sign might be was a mystery to Ron, but whatever it was, it hadn't been given. As time passed, Padma looked increasingly puzzled and frustrated, while Harry usually just looked confused.
By the time study group was over Ron wanted nothing more than to return to his dormitory and sleep, but Hermione would have none of it. Unbothered by Ron's insensitive comments, she had apparently decided that witnessing Hallowe'en from a wizarding perspective rather than a muggle one would be a fascinating learning experience, and that it was necessary to have Ron beside her to explain any little detail that she might not fully understand. He tried pointing out that given the amount of research she had done she probably knew more about most wizarding traditions than he did, but she was adamant, and he was still hindered by his determination not to upset her in any way.
The Hallowe'en Feast went much as the rest of the day had. By the time that Quirrell dashed into the Great Hall to "warn" Dumbledore about the troll, Ron was desperate enough to welcome even that diversion.
"Troll—in the dungeons—thought you ought to know."
Ron, watching critically, thought that the fainting was a slightly melodramatic touch, but like last time it all served its purpose. The Great Hall dissolved into total chaos. Dumbledore's spectacular golden firecrackers (Wait a minute. Shouldn't they have been purple? Ron wondered.) shocked everyone into temporary silence.
"Prefects, lead your Houses back to the dormitories immediately!"
Last time, Ron had been slightly disgusted by Percy's immediate assumption of control, but this time he recognised it for the sensible and responsible reaction that it was.
"Follow me! Stick together, first years! No need to fear the troll if you follow my orders!"—Okay, so that had been taking it a little too far, but he meant well—"Stay close behind me, now. Make way, first years coming through! Excuse me, I'm a prefect!"
Ron glanced around automatically, checking on Harry and Hermione as he always had in situations like these. To Ron's immense relief, Hermione stood right beside him, but he felt an instant of panic when he was unable to locate Harry. Then he remembered the year's changes, and he searched for him across the Hall. The Slytherin table was in even worse chaos than the others were, and they had made no move to leave the Great Hall. Ron felt his face forming a sneer of disdain for their cowardice before he recalled that the Slytherin common room was located in the dungeons, the same place that Quirrell had reported the troll to be.
Looking more closely, he saw that what he had taken as a disorganised rabble was actually a large protective circle formed by all of Slytherin House except the prefects, who appeared to be trying to pin down a teacher for alternative directions. The older students, mostly sixth and seventh years, and a few fifth, formed the outer layer of the "circle", while the first years were at the centre, followed by the second years.
Once again Ron realised just how badly he had misjudged Slytherin House as a whole; they might behave horribly to the rest of the school, but it appeared that they looked after their own. Ron felt both amusement and gratitude when he realised that Harry, looking both intensely curious and quite annoyed, had been herded to the centre of the circle, along with a terrified-looking Draco Malfoy.
After that night in Godric's Hollow, when Harry had lost his parents, there had been an amazing range of contradictory rumours and theories floating about. Ron hadn't been much older than Harry at the time, so he didn't remember them all, if he had even heard them all. The only ones he remembered were the ones that persisted. These fell into three main categories.
The first was the rumour that Harry was some kind of saviour, born to rid the wizarding world of teh scourge that was the Dark Lord Voldemort. This was the theory that was most widely accepted and which grew in popularity after Harry arrived at Hogwarts, and defied Voldemort again and again and again.
The second theory was the one that Harry had always seemed to subscribe to, that he had simply been incredibly lucky—or unlucky, as the case might be. This theory stated that harry's survival was a fluke, and that his continued survival was also a fluke. Voldemort had tried very hard to peddle this version of events to his Death Eaters, with mixed results.
The third theory, though...Some said that it took incredible power, and dark power at that. Harry hadn't been much more than one year old the night he defeated Voldemort for the first time. This power was surely the reason that Voldemort had tried to kill the defenceless child in the first place. If his power was so immensely huge at the age of fifteen months, what feats could he achieve once his magic was fully trained and developed? What horrors might he wreak upon the world if he sought out power and followers? The wizarding world shuddered, and turned with relief to the first theory.
There were some, though, who would have welcomed such a possibility. Many Death Eaters felt that Harry Potter might be a new leader, a new figurehead for destruction. The Dark Lord's inner circle in particular had seen such a young and, presumably, malleable child as a great improvement over Lord Voldemort with his insanity, his erratic and violent temper, and his apparent conviction that regular torture was the only way to keep his followers loyal.
These hopes must have faded with Harry's Sorting into Gryffindor, and subsequent second defeat of Voldemort at the end of second year, along with his obvious distaste for all things Slytherin. Lucius Malfoy, rumoured to be one of those most in favour of the rise of the Dark Lord Potter—with himself as his most trusted and rewarded servant, naturally—must have been extremely disappointed with whatever disgusted reports of Harry's attitude were passed on to him by his son Draco.
Now, though, Harry was a Slytherin, and it seemed that Draco Malfoy was not the only Slytherin whose parents had given him orders to befriend Harry—and, apparently, protect him at all costs.
This was a good thing, Ron tried to convince himself. It meant that Harry would have less difficulty swaying Slytherins to the light side when Voldemort returned. The Harry that Ron had known would never allow himself to be swayed by the lure of power. There was no reason to think that this new version of Harry would either.
Shaking off a feeling of trepidation, Ron turned away from the Slytherins to catch up to the rest of the Gryffindor first years. For the moment, Harry seemed to be in safe hands, even if they were not the protectors that he would have chosen for his friend. For now, that would have to be enough.
A/N: I know I don't deserve reviews after such a long wait, but please? I am just recovering from writer's block, and I need all the encouragement I can get. *looks hopeful* Again, I am beyond sorry for how long this chapter took. Cinnamon.