Harry walked into Greenhouse 3 at Draco's side. The blond hadn't spoken since they'd left the classroom. Harry wasn't sure if this was normal or not, but he suspected that Draco was usually more talkative and assertive than he was currently acting. Intrigued, Harry moved with Draco toward a table where strange potted plants were arranged. Before he reached his destination, a hand gently clasped his shoulder, stopping his forward movement. He tensed at the touch.
"Harry! How was your first lesson? I hope it went well?"
Harry turned to the short, cheerful Professor Sprout with a fake smile. "It was interesting just as you said it would be," he answered politely, feeling increasing discomfort from the contact.
Sprout laughed and guided him to a separate table than the one Draco had chosen. "Let me introduce you to a few Ravenclaws. They are known for their good study habits. I'm confident they can assist you if you get lost."
Harry followed her placidly, but he wondered if he was being separated from the Slytherins on purpose. Surely, they would have been able to help him just as readily.
Sprout finally released his shoulder in order to clasp the shoulder of the Ravenclaw girl she wanted Harry to meet. The girl was Chinese, small and petite, her skin very fair and hair a silky black that was parted in the middle and hung down her back in a perfect sheet. Two dark blue barrettes were clasped on either side of her face at about eye level and kept her hair out of her eyes.
The professor smiled down at the girl, introducing her. "Harry, this is Su Li. She is very intuitive and skillful when working with plants. She is not as advanced in her study of Herbology as Neville, but I'm sure she will be a great help to you."
Harry kept his arms at his sides and bowed from the waist, saying, "Ni hao, wo de ming zi shi Potter Harry."
Su Li covered her surprise quickly, otherwise Harry could have considered her very rude. She copied his bow almost exactly, responding, "Ni hao, wo shi Li Su. Ni zenmeyang?"
Straightening, Harry answered with a smile. "Wo henhao, xiexie."
"Well!" Professor Sprout said in surprise. Her hands were clasped to her ample chest, her cheeks red with a blush of excitement. "I didn't know you spoke Chinese, Mr. Potter!"
"I speak a little. My oldest brother is Chinese," Harry told her. "He is also my honored Lao-shi."
"Teacher," Su translated with a smile.
"Well," Professor Sprout said again, her smile practically beaming. "I'm glad you two will be able to get along." Turning to the rest of the class, Sprout began her lesson. "Welcome back to Hogwarts everyone. It's a pleasure to see all of you again. Today we are going to review the safety procedures that must be followed while in the greenhouses…"
Harry listened with half an ear. Mostly he was observing the interactions between the students. The Slytherins were more relaxed than he'd seen them in Potions or even the glimpses he'd seen in the Great Hall. Still, there was an air of isolation around them. There was no conversation crossing that invisible House line. They had interacted more with the Gryffindors than they were doing with the supposedly neutral Ravenclaws. Not even glances were shared between the two groups. Only Harry was looking directly at the Slytherins, and he was being studiously ignored by the whole lot.
The Ravenclaws, on the other hand, gave Harry open smiles and even offered some conversation. Harry remained polite to all of them. He especially felt comfortable with the reserved and proper Su Li. Her cultural background probably matched Wufei's to a certain degree and that familiarity was very comforting. He missed his brothers terribly already, but he did his best not to let it show.
Herbology was interesting, but it made Harry miss Wufei all the more. It had been Wufei who had helped Harry tend their small garden on the Colony, and he had also been the most interested of his brothers in Herbology. He often dropped in on Remus' lessons whenever the werewolf covered the subject back at Sirius' house over the long summer.
Feeling melancholy, Harry was the slowest to pack up when the class came to an end. He was pulled from his thoughts, however, when he heard his name called softly. Harry lifted his head, blanking his face as he did, to see Su Li standing in the doorway waiting for him.
"Would you like to walk with me?" she asked, her eyes downturned politely.
Pulling his "Duo" face back on, Harry quickly smiled and offered her a quick bow. "It would be my pleasure."
Falling into place beside the girl, it took Harry a few seconds to get in synch with her pace. Su took small steps, her toes slightly inward. Her books were held to her chest, and she kept her head angled slightly downward. Together, they walked across the long yard between the greenhouses and the castle. The sky was perfectly blue with a few white clouds. A brisk breeze held the scents of the lake and forest surrounding the school, and it held a faint hint of the autumn chill to come. It was a gorgeous day, and Harry couldn't help but feel a rush of affection for the small, quiet girl.
As they reached the Great Hall, Su spoke before they parted. "If you are interested in practicing your Chinese, I meet with an older student of my House a couple times a week to converse in our native tongue."
Harry smiled. "I'd like that very much."
Su gave a small bow and moved away from Harry toward her table. Most everyone was already seated. Harry reasoned that those coming from the greenhouses would arrive last, as they had further to travel. Plus, he and Su had not walked quickly. At the Hufflepuff table, Ernie and Hannah were waving him over, but Harry remembered his promise to eat with Draco. He shook his head at the energetic pair and waved them off before turning toward the table under the green and silver banner.
The Slytherins and Ravenclaws were the more reserved tables in the Great Hall. Harry was kind of glad he'd be eating there. He had a feeling the Slytherins weren't the type to randomly touch or grab onto him. They seemed to really appreciate personal space. However, his renewed good mood faltered as he crossed the room. Conversations stopped dead as he passed. From the corner of his eye, he could see eyes widen and mouths fall open. Harry's heart rate kicked up and he felt his body tense.
Seriously, what's the big deal? he wondered.
He wasn't dumb. A lot of the kids in Slytherin had ties to the Death Eaters, but that wasn't the same as being a Death Eater themselves. And Harry couldn't imagine that Death Eater parents would win any awards for kindness and loving demeanors. If anything, the school should reach out to these kids. They needed it more than any other House. Ostracizing, bullying, and openly hating these kids would only push them into a corner with nowhere else to go but the Dark. In a way, the other Houses were creating their own monsters.
Duo's words rang in his head from memory, his usually loud and playful voice derisive and cold. When people create a monster, they don't get to be upset when it smashes a few buildings.
Harry knew how people saw his family. The Gundam pilots were feared; they were seen as monsters. Harry fully agreed with Duo on that score. The people had no right to fear what they had demanded exist in the first place. He knew Duo would not be amused with the situation in the school. Duo was incredibly protective of children, due to his own childhood and his secret work with Quatre. (Not that Harry was supposed to know anything about that.) And Duo wouldn't be the only one unimpressed. Wufei had raised Harry to stand up for Justice. This, the way the Slytherins were treated, it was extremely Unjust.
So forcing his smile even wider, Harry continued forward. Even knowing it was the right thing, it was hard to do. Hundreds of kids were staring at him. Their eyes seemed to have a physical weight. Harry's palms grew damp, his heart beat faster. It was extremely nerve wracking. Even the adults were frowning in disapproval from the Head Table. So it was a lot harder than Harry had expected to not flinch or drop his smile. After what seemed an eternity, he finally, finally, reached the Slytherin table and came to a stop at Draco's shoulder.
"Have a seat, Potter."
Draco spoke at a normal volume, but it sounded loud in the now quiet Hall. Harry almost flinched. "Thanks," he answered. Lifting his leg, he settled on the bench next to the platinum blond. Taking a deep breath, Harry switched the gears in his head. He filled his mind with everything Duo Maxwell, and when he let his breath back out, his grin was even wider than before. "So what's with them?" he asked cockily, thumb jabbing over his shoulder at the rest of the Hall.
The Fourth-year Slytherins didn't even look around, but the girl across from Draco gave Harry a cool, polite smile. "Don't mind them, Potter. How are you enjoying Hogwarts?"
"It's great so far," Harry answered, a wide grin still in place. "I mean, don't get me wrong. The Colonies will always be home, but I really like it here." Bringing a hand up, he rubbed the back of his head, making his long braid jiggle. "What can I say? Hogwarts is magical!" He expected laughs at his lame joke, but the Slytherins only gave him tight smiles, as if they were humoring him. Harry dropped his arm and the grin to lean into Draco's space. He caught the blond's grey eyes and tilted his head toward the others. "Not the funny type, huh?"
Draco gave him a smirk. "Let's just say we Slytherins have our own brand of humor?"
"Yeah?" Harry asked curiously, sitting up straight once more.
"Let me introduce you," Draco offered. "Across from you are Pansy Parkinson and Daphne Greengrass. Next to Daphne is Blaise Zabini. On your other side are Theodore Nott and Millicent Bulstrode, and last are Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle. There is one other in our year, Tracey Davis, but it is hard to get her out of the library."
"Nice to meet you," Harry said with a welcoming smile.
"What's it like in the Heavens, Potter?" Blaise asked.
Harry tapped his bottom lip, looking upward as if in deep thought. "Well… It's smaller, more organized. On the planet, there are all these random patterns that are actually pretty confusing at first."
"Like what?" Greg asked, leaning far forward to see Harry.
Harry gave a shrug. "Like weather and wind and light patterns. I mean, we have a stable light source and no wind really. It's like being inside even when you're outside."
"That sounds hideous," Daphne said with a look of disgust.
Harry shrugged again and began to eat. "It's definitely different from here."
"I heard there are no wizards there," Pansy stated. "Is it true those in the Heavens have no magic at all?"
"I wouldn't say that," Harry denied. "In fact, I would argue that magic is more pervasive, just expressed differently."
"Like how?" This was asked by Draco, the blond looked honestly curious.
"Well, it isn't as obvious for sure," Harry told him. "But there are some people that live on the Colonies that are born with something extra. Extra strength or speed or intelligence that is beyond average humans. Some people never get sick or they have strange abilities, like being able to find lost things. Stuff like that."
"Sounds like a country of Squibs," Theo said coldly.
"What's wrong with Squibs?" Harry asked.
"They are born to Magic, but something is broken in them, and they are forever denied their heritage. It's sad," Daphne said softly. "To feel and see magic, to be born to a magical family, but to never harness that power for yourself…"
Harry looked around at the expressions of sadness and horror on their faces. "I guess I can get that. Especially since you were raised to practically worship magic, right?" He shrugged, wondering how much he was going to shock them with his next statement. "But, in my opinion, there are more important things than having magic."
Pansy's mouth gaped open, Vince dropped his fork which spilled food on his lap, and Blaise choked on his drink. The others, including Draco, sat frozen with surprise.
"Seriously," Harry insisted, looking at them all in turn the way Quatre had taught him. "Magic's awesome, and I really love being able to do cool stuff with it, but there are some things more important. And Squibs can still experience and have those more important things, like family and love and intelligence and ability. So, maybe it's not so sad, you know?"
The Slytherins stared at him as if he were an alien come down from outer space…. Which, from their point of view, he kind of was. Laughter shading his voice, he turned to Draco. "So why'd you want me to eat with you? Just to startle the masses?"
Draco flicked his hand dismissively and brought a spoon of soup to his lips before answering. "Shocking the ignorant isn't hard to do. No. I just wanted to give you the opportunity to see our House before your head was filled with too much nonsense."
"I see." Harry watched how the Slytherins began to talk quietly to each other, suddenly uninterested in him. He turned back to Draco and cocked his eyebrow. "Not much to see, really."
Draco held his eyes, a challenge sparkling in the silver depths. "Give us time."
Harry laughed. "All right. I will."
The rest of lunch passed peacefully enough. Eventually the other Houses and the teachers went back to their meals, only occasionally glancing over at Harry among the Slytherins. All except the Gryffindors. They just wouldn't give it up. They continued to stare with hot, hostile glares, hardly even eating, and Harry began to fear he was going to have a problem.
"Looks like I have Transfiguration next," Harry announced as people began to get up.
"Would you like me to guide you?" Draco offered, although Harry could tell he wasn't very enthusiastic. As Harry had Transfiguration with the Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs, he could understand that.
"Nah!" Harry hefted his bag "Ernie and Hannah are waiting for me."
With a final grin and wave, Harry turned and jogged across the Hall to the doors. Sure enough the two Hufflepuffs were waiting for him. Harry decided he would let them make the first move and pretended he didn't see their looks of concern. Keeping a clueless smile pasted on his face, he slowed, saying, "Thanks for waiting, guys!"
"No problem, Harry," Ernie offered softly, turning and leading the way toward class. "I'm just glad to see you're all right."
"Why wouldn't I be?" Harry asked, making his eyes behind his thin, silver frames wide and innocent.
Hannah shared a significant glance with her best friend before turning to Harry. "I don't know if anyone's told you, but…" Her voice sank into a whisper, her eyes afraid. "The Slytherins are dangerous, Harry. They support You-Know-Who."
"Especially for you; Boy-Who-Lived and all that," Ernie agreed, voice and expression solemn. "With that demand this summer… making you come here in exchange for Hogwarts' safety… It seems like they might be real interested in having you within reach. You should be more careful."
Harry felt strangely pleased by their concern. He'd never had that outside his family before. "Thanks, guys. Really. I appreciate you looking out for me, especially since you don't know me all that well yet, but…" He laughed and voluntarily slung his arms over their shoulders. He wondered if they had any idea what that meant for him. Probably not. "Listen, their families might be evil. Hell, they may even think they believe in the Dark Lord, but the truth is, they're just kids like us: full of crap and ignorant of reality. I'm betting they'd piss their pants if they came face to face with Evil. I can handle the Slytherins."
"If you're sure…" Hannah said with a weak smile.
"Just be careful," Ernie insisted.
"I will. Now let's hurry or we'll be…." Harry's voice trailed off as they turned the corner and came face-to-face with two Fourth-year Gryffindors.
"Potter…" the redhead growled. He had a dangerous glint in his eye, his expression dark.
"Ron…" Neville said warningly, putting a restraining hand on the taller boy's arm. "We just want to talk to him, right?"
"I am talking to him." Ron yanked away and took a menacing step toward Harry and his friends.
Harry smoothly pulled Ernie and Hannah behind him and took a step forward to meet he redhead halfway. They came to a stop mere inches from each other. Harry had to look up at the taller teen, but that didn't intimidate him any. He was used to that, spending most of his time in the company of adults.
"What's the big idea, Potter?" Ron asked lowly.
"You have a problem?" Harry asked softly, not willing to escalate the fight but not willing to back down either.
"What are you doing eating with those slimy snakes?" Ron snarled, his face going red. His eyes practically burned with hate. "Don't you know they work for You-Know-Who?"
"Look, I'm new here…" Harry began, only to be cut off.
"And I'm warning you. Stay away from the Slytherins," Ron threatened. "They're evil. You hang out with them and you're practically admitting to being evil yourself!"
"Ron!" Neville got between them. He pushed gently on their chests, his face pale and breath coming faster than normal. "Stop it. Harry didn't know, okay. He's the Boy-Who-Lived. Of course he's not evil!"
Harry flashed Neville a disappointed look. He had thought the brunet was more enlightened than that. Neville caught the look and his eyes went wide in surprise, his voice falling silent.
Harry shook his head and looked Ron straight in the eyes. "I don't know why you're so worked up about where I ate lunch, but I am capable of judging the wrong sort of person for myself. That said, I ask that you stay out of my business. Until I see the Slytherins commit evil with my own eyes, and I do mean if they commit the evil themselves and not just their families, then I have the right to treat them just as I would any other person." Harry pushed passed the two gob-smacked Gryffindors. "Come on, Ernie, Hannah. We're late."
Ron's face was now purple with rage. "ONLY EVIL MAKES FRIENDS WITH EVIL! I'LL BE WATCHING, POTTER!" he screamed after them.
"What's his problem?" Harry snarled as he followed Ernie and Hannah, letting them take the lead once more.
"His younger sister, Ginny," Hannah answered softly. Her small pale hands tugged fitfully at the ends of her golden pigtails. "She was murdered a year and a half ago. It was during the fight that Neville got so hurt. He missed last year completely, and you can tell he's still not fully healed. She was only a First-year when it happened."
Ernie took a deep breath and looked over at Harry, his eyes dark and solemn. "It was You-Know-Who. He was after a basilisk that he'd left locked up in the school inside Salazar Slytherin's Chamber of Secrets, and Ginny got mixed up in it somehow. Ron… and the rest of us really... We're pretty sure the Slytherins - Malfoy, especially - were behind it. The Malfoys and the Weasleys have been feuding for decades. That's why Malfoy chose Ginny."
"Ron's not been the same since," Hannah added. "He's been in detention a load of times for attacking the Slytherins and getting into fights."
Harry came to a stop and looked at them seriously. "Does he have proof? Was it investigated?"
Ernie and Hannah shared a glance before Ernie answered, "The Ministry ruled that Ginny brought a cursed book with her to school that somehow opened her up to the Dark's influence. That it controlled her and made her open the Chamber and eventually lured her to her death. Dumbledore and Longbottom said that the basilisk was controlled by You-Know-Who and that He was back. The Minister insisted Longbottom was just traumatized and confused."
Hannah nodded. "The Minister felt it could just as easily have been some minor agent of Darkness, like an old Death Eater acting on their own. And since the cursed book came from outside the school, no Slytherins were investigated. It wasn't until several months later that You-Know-Who made his first appearance with the reunited Death Eaters and attacked Diagon Alley. The Minister had to acknowledge that Dumbledore had been right about the Chamber incident being the catalyst for You-Know-Who's return, but the Minister continued to insist that the guilty party was outside Hogwarts and the case was officially closed."
Harry nodded sharply. "Well there you go. Like I told Ron, I'm withholding judgment until there is clear evidence they did something wrong." He flung his arm up to point his thumb at his chest in a sharp gesture. "I'm not going to be the type of person who persecutes people because of rumor when they could be innocent. To me, that's evil. Might as well sign up for the Dark side yourself if you're going to do that!"
Hannah and Ernie stood wide-eyed at this pronouncement.
Harry spun on his heels and flung open the door to the Transfiguration classroom. It took all his strength to blank his face, erasing the annoyed scowl that had creased his features since the encounter.
Professor McGonagall stopped in mid-sentence as the three shuffled in. "Good of you to join us." Her sharp gaze landed on Ernie and Hannah. "I can understand Mr. Potter having difficulty finding my classroom on time, but I am surprised that you two had the same difficulty after three years of attending my class."
"Sorry, Professor," Hannah offered, her face red with embarrassment.
"Don't let it happen again," McGonagall said sternly, looking over the tops of her small, square glasses.
"Yes, ma'am," the three of them chorused.
Harry barely paid attention to her lesson. First, he was still pissed off. Second, he really hated Transfigruation. Last, it was the last class of the day. As soon as they were dismissed, Harry quickly made his way toward the dorms. It wasn't hard to escape. The Hufflepuffs gave him a large circle of space, while they converging on the Hannah and Ernie instead. He suspected the blondes were going to be interrogated, but Harry didn't think they needed saving. They were better equipped to deal with the other Hufflepuffs than Harry was right now.
Finally alone and settled behind his warded bed curtains, Harry pulled his magic mirror from under his pillow and called for Heero. The glass fogged and Harry waited for a long minute before Duo's face came into view. "Harry-chan!" Duo's elfin features were stretched into a wide smile. "How's our littlest brother?"
Harry took a deep breath, gathering his thoughts. The long pause alerted Duo to Harry's tension and his smile disappeared. His violet eyes stared unblinking and alert, waiting as patiently for Harry to speak. "Well first," Harry began. "Something's up with Snape. I was practically invisible to him."
Duo's grin came back, this time with a sinister edge.
Harry frowned. "What'd you do, Duo?"
"Weeeelllll..." Duo drew out. "I may have had a talk with him. Quatre took an emotional profile of him with his empathy and concluded that Snape is a tad obsessive. I just warned him off and shifted his obsession from you to us. You should barely register as long as you keep a low profile around him. Don't worry about it too much."
Harry gave a wry smile, knowing his brother had done more than speak to the vicious man. "Duly noted." He took another deep breath before continuing. "There's this thing with the Slytherins going on here."
He described how the other three Houses seemed to reject or outright bullied the entirety of Slytherin House, even the First and Second Years who were only eleven and twelve years old, and how even the teachers seemed to get in on it. He explained about how he had accepted Draco Malfoy's lunch invitation - adding that Draco was the boy Harry had attacked in his failed escape attempt. Harry concluded with his confrontation with Ron Weasley and Neville Longbottom.
"So I'm not sure what to do here. Acting neutral toward Slytherin House is taken as being pro-Death Eaters somehow by those in the Light extremist group. By continuing with the Slytherins, I could exclude myself from this Light group, even mark myself their enemy."
Duo shrugged. "Sucks, but that's what has to happen. We've got tabs on the Light side through Quatre. Sirius is in with the Death Eaters, but he's not too high up. It's more important for you to be at least marginally accepted by the Dark element than to have an in with the Light." A grin began to bloom once more across the perpetual joker's face. "Besides, Wufei would have a stroke if he heard you were supporting such Injustice, even for an undercover mission."
Harry giggled. "That's true."
Duo winked, grinning full-force. "Then keep doing what you're doing. Now... Tell me again what those snobs looked like when you said being a Squib wasn't so bad!"
Harry grinned and did so. He could always trust Duo to make him feel one hundred percent better after a stressful day. It was totally worth skipping dinner and the stares he was certain he'd receive to talk to his brother. He just hoped his other brothers were okay. It hadn't escaped his notice that Heero hadn't answered the mirror call when he was supposed to be the primary carrier of the magical communication device.
A/N: How do you like Su Li? If you could choose how the interaction with Cho Chang unfolds, what would the scene look like?