Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter.
Quick Author's Pre-Note: I'll have more of a note at the end.
Harry and the Mysterious Curse of the Girl-Who-Lived
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: A CONSPIRACY OF ERRORS
Previously: The gang has decided to work on the Mystery of the Chamber and just how Filch was attacked. Seems like it might be important. But they have a lot on their plate, what with Lockhart maybe also up to something and Sirius Black escaping Azkaban. Snape's certainly scared about that one. But there's something more pressing... just what are the Hufflepuffs up to?
"Let's take a walk, maybe near the lake?" Susan asked. "So we can get get away from anyone who might be following us?"
"We could drop by the Quidditch lockers," offered Harry. "Nobody should be there now."
The Hufflepuff nodded and they began to walk out towards the pitch. Although she had a calm expression on her face, Harry noticed that she was fidgeting with with hair in what seemed a nervous manner. So he decided to give her a bit of time, and let her talk first.
After getting about halfway there, Susan sighed and her eyes dropped to the ground. "I'm just so sick of it all," she mumbled. She took one very large breath in and looked up at Harry. "This is getting hard for me to deal with, Harriet. Do you have any idea what's going on, any at all?"
"Not specifically, no," admitted Harry. "I mean, there's you, Hannah, Ernie with some sort of secret with Ron, Neville, Hermione, and Parvati at the least - I don't think Padma or Anthony are in on it. But what the secret is, I don't know."
"You're not making this very easy on me, Harriet," said Susan with a sort of twisted grimace. "I don't really like to make trouble."
Harry frowned and folded his arms as he stopped walking. "Well, too late for that. Just go ahead then and explain yourself."
Susan looked away. "It wasn't my idea at first, you understand," she said, still not meeting Harry's eyes. "Us Hufflepuffs, we stick together and have since first year. I mean, not every single person, of course. We found friends we liked and stayed that way. I've known Hannah and Ernie forever, naturally, even when I was a little girl."
Harry nodded and said, "Right, and Justin is muggleborn, right?"
"Yes, but he got along smashingly with us; he's just a good... I don't know the word, but it's like he fits in, I guess?" Susan shrugged and said, "so we four have seen the bizarre group you have grow and grow each year. Gryffindors aren't really known for things like that. Although it's not something I bet they even know about themselves."
"I never knew that," said Harry. "So you're saying that it was weird when..." Harry took a moment to count in his head. "Five of us... Oh, wait I forgot me, I meant six of us hung out together? And then I guess it was even weirder when Anthony and Padma were suddenly there too?"
Susan laughed, but very softly and kept walking, looking up at the stands. "Yes, although now I realize it's all quite logical. Padma's odd, but she's Parvati's sister and gets along well with your group. It's surprising, because I find her kinda annoying." She looked quickly at Harry and then down at the ground. "I mean, that's just how I feel, I'm not trying to insult her. And Anthony... well, I never really knew him, he's just a quiet, studious kid. But now I see that he's pretty good friends with... well, not all of you, but some of you, anyway."
Harry scratched his head, a bit confused. He grabbed a stray bit of paper off the ground that caught his eye, although once he saw it, it was completely blank. He stuffed it his pocket as he considered what Susan had said. Her little revelations were interesting, but they didn't explain what was going on at all. "But if you thought our group was weird, why did you start hanging out with us? And why just one at a time? And why..." He stopped when Susan held up a hand.
"Yes, yes, I get it, Harriet, it's bizarre when you don't know about it." She gave him a small smile. "It's going to get worse though, if you give me a minute." Susan sighed. "We always had this feeling that you - by which I mean you, Harriet - was doing something bad. Because of You-Know-Who."
"What does...?" Harry almost yelled this, but pulled back at the last moment. "What does that mean?" He asked slightly more calmly. "What, are you saying like I'm something like her?"
Susan winced. "This is the sort of thing I didn't want to talk about. It's so awkward." But when Harry didn't say anything, just waiting, she swallowed audibly. "Right. So yes, we thought there was something bad going on, and then with the attack on Filch, and Sirius Black? Well, by that point we were already doing the plan, but it was just more bad news that made you seem a bit more suspicious."
"What plan?" Harry asked.
Susan didn't say anything for a long minute, just clenching and unclenching her fists while looking in the distance. But just as Harry was about to ask if she was alright, Susan blurted out, "it was the Slytherins, okay?" She looked back at him. "The Slytherins said you were doing something awful and mean and cruel and we needed to figure out what."
Harry made a face. "I don't know what you're talking about. I wasn't doing anything mean or cruel or whatever. Unlike some people I know."
"I realize that now," the Hufflepuff said. "But at the time we were scared enough to listen to them. They knew you didn't like them because of the House rivalry, and because of the Ravenclaws hating you... although that part I still haven't figured out."
Harry rolled his eyes. "I don't know about all of them, but a few were being bullies to Luna."
"Really?" Susan asked in horror. "Oh, I can't get off track before I finish or I never will. So they said that since us Hufflepuffs were sort of neutral so far, we were the perfect way to... I don't remember the word they said, but it means to sneak into and become a part of the group so we could discover your secret plan. Like a Blackrobe or Sneakwitch!"
"Who are these Slytherins?" Harry asked, feeling nervous and a bit scared. He had enough to worry about without a bunch of kids plotting against him. "Malfoy and his idiots?"
Susan laughed. "Please! That posturing fool doesn't know anything!" Then her face fell. "It was some of the girls. Pansy, Tracey, and Daphne."
"I know who they are," said Harry. "I think. Pansy Parkinson, Tracey Davis... and Daphne... Greenbaum?"
"Greengrass," corrected Susan, fiddling with her long, red plait of hair. "Purebloods, all of them. Maybe Davis is a bit mixed. They think you hate them."
"I don't even know them," insisted Harry. "Although Pansy was a real pain in Potions one time not that long ago. I don't believe I've ever spoken a word to them, now that I think on it."
Susan smirked slightly. "That was your mistake, Harriet. They think you hate them, so they hate you."
Harry threw up his hands, utterly annoyed. "Can't I just talk to them and... I dunno, explain this mess?"
"No!" Susan leaped her feet. "You can't say anything! You can't let them know I've told you anything!" She licked her lips nervously. "We can just... Oh, I know. I'll just tell them you didn't like us barging in and it'll be over."
"You can't say that, won't that make it worse?" Harry asked.
Susan frowned. "Well... hmm, you may be right. But still, if you went to them, they'd just pretend to forgive you, and then they'd think you were lying and do something even worse."
"I don't understand girls," Harry muttered and Susan giggled.
"You are quite the tomboy, aren't you Harriet?" Susan said with a smile. "Sometimes you really do act just like a boy."
Susan laughed louder. "Really, Harriet, now you're just winding me up."
Harry grinned at this to act as though he agreed, although he had actually been quite sincere. "So that explains part of it," Harry said. "I guess then... oh wait..." His mind raced as he thought about it. "So you told the others... well, actually I'm not sure."
"Well," Susan started to say.
"Oh, hold on!" Harry interrupted. "Tell me if I'm right. You wanted to sneak into the group, but you needed to make it happen in a way that I wouldn't know about it, but you also wanted to actually mess around with us. So you told my friends that you knew there was only room for one of you, and made sure each person only championed just one Hufflepuff. And you told them to keep it a secret from me so I wouldn't affect it being all natural."
Susan's mouth was open wide and her eyes were wide. "That's... that's exactly right, Harriet, but we weren't trying to mess with you." She frowned. "Wait... were we?"
"Did the Slytherin girls come up with the entire idea?" Harry asked. "Maybe they didn't tell you their whole plan. Sneaky, but it fits with the House, right?"
The redhead scowled. "Oh... oh, blast, Harriet! I think you're spot on! They used us! Tricked us because they knew we were afraid of you." She looked at Harry and had a fierce look in her eyes. "Well, now I'm furious at them! I don't know what I want to do, but it's gotta be something." Susan sighed. "All this is very complicated... I'm no Ravenclaw or Slytherin, I don't know what to do."
She looked back at Harry, who was shocked to see tears starting to form in her eyes. At first, he was at a total loss of how to react. But then he had an idea. Harry moved over next to Susan and put his arm around her. Right away, Susan grabbed him in a fierce hug and started to cry.
"I'm so sorry," she sobbed. "I know you're not evil, I know!"
Harry patted her softly on the back. "It's okay, Susan. I'm just glad you're being honest with me."
Susan pulled back and wiped her eyes on her robes. "Thank you for understanding, Harriet. But I still don't know what we should do!"
"Well," Harry tapped his chin, thinking it over. "Susan, what do you think about keeping this little thing going a bit longer?"
Susan raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"
"I mean you pretend nothing's gone wrong. You tell the other Hufflepuffs and the Slytherin girls that I was angry about something, but you convinced me nothing was wrong."
"Wow!" Susan smiled. "And then what?"
"We act like it's all the same as before. You keep this up, but instead of them using you, we use them to figure out what they're really up to? And maybe we turn it back against them."
Susan clapped and jumped up and down. "Ooh, that's brilliant, Harriet. You're practically a Slytherin yourself with that sort of trick." She winked. "No offense meant, of course."
Harry chuckled. "Naturally."
"But I don't know," she said, biting her lower lip. "I'm not sure I can be that good at pretending."
"You can," Harry said, grabbing her hand in a move he hoped was expected and correct. Susan smiled instantly. "You've kept so calm this whole time. I know you can do it, Susan. I trust you."
Susan's eyes widened and she nodded. "You can count on me, Harriet. I promise you."
Harry smiled. "Good."
The way Harry had acted had been easily explained to the rest of the group; he merely said he thought they were trying to find out their secrets, but it was obvious just them wanting to be friends. It was actually mildly unsettling how quickly the Gryffindors agreed, although Neville said nothing at all. Harry wondered if Neville was feeling guilty about it or was just as confused about the whole business. The only thing Harry realized for sure was that he wished there was someone he could confide in. Luna, as nice as she was, was still a year younger and probably even worse when dealing with other girls. Dumbledore of course wasn't an option, even if he had the time for such a trivial matter.
And although Harry wanted to talk to his friends in Gryffindor about it, it'd sort of defeat the purpose of the plan of deception if he brought up his feelings. Not that he couldn't trust them, but they had been hiding their own little secret from him after all. Turnabout, fair play, etc. So Harry was stuck hiding yet another mystery inside his head for the next few days. But an opportunity soon presented itself at the next Quidditch practice.
By this point, Harry had utilized a similar method of changing and washing separately from the girls, claiming (not entirely inaccurately) that he was too shy and uncomfortable. He often arrived earlier than necessary to get ready just in case. Harry sat outside just the locker rooms, already dressed, waiting for the other girls to finish. He could hear Alicia and Angelina chattering away like usual, wondering if either of them would be interested in helping him with his Slytherin problem. Probably, if he could muster the courage to bring it up with them.
"You look pretty intense, Harriet," said Katie Bell, coming out and sitting next to her, also dressed. "It's just practice, you realize." She laughed and pulled her already short hair into a very tight ponytail. "Not that Oliver can tell the difference, eh?"
Harry looked her over carefully. Katie was an interesting girl once you actually thought about it, especially compared to the others. Although Harry thought of her as "one of those Chaser girls", really she wasn't that similar to Alicia or Angelina. When those two went on and on with their girlish gibberish, Katie seemed like she was never much into it, which struck Harry as exceptionally reasonable and not at all unfamiliar. She was younger than the other Chasers, but that was a positive; the two older girls seemed unimaginably mysterious and confusing. Katie was like a compromise girl.
"It's complicated, Katie," said Harry with a small smile. "Dealing with girl troubles, if you know what I mean."
Katie made a face. "I don't know what you mean, actually. Are you saying you're in love with a girl? Bit young for that, aren't you?"
A rush of warmth flooded Harry's face and he couldn't say anything for a moment, so taken aback. But then he cleared his throat and shook his head. "No, no, no," he answered. "Not that. I am too young, certainly. No, I'm just having problems with some Slytherin girls trying to cause trouble."
"Slytherin bints!" Katie scowled. "They are the cruelest sort, that's for sure. They've said some awful things behind my back and even to my face." She tapped her chin. "Although it's probably just the girls in my year. I don't think I've heard them say much about you other than what any Slytherin says."
"What do they say?" Harry asked. "Nothing good, I expect."
Katie laughed. "Nah, 'course not. Just typical sh... typical stupidity. Like that 'oh, she's not that pretty' or 'she's not that good at Quidditch'." She grinned. "Expect that they're all blind, eh?"
"I wish it was that simple," grumbled Harry. "I don't much care about 'prettiness'," he managed to say this without spitting the word. "Or much of the other foolish girly things." He then looked up at Katie and realized he may have insulted her. "Um, no offense, of course. I didn't think you liked them either."
"You're spot on, Harriet," Katie said with a nod. "And I know that you probably won't like hearing this, but the effortless way you present yourself, like you don't care at all and don't need to make an effort, makes people both like you and hate you even more. You can argue as much as you want about not caring about being pretty, but you don't look like you don't care."
Harry grimaced. Katie was entirely correct; he did not like hearing that at all.
"Most girls think you really do care, but that doesn't matter, because either you effortlessly hide it, or just really don't care and have some absurd physical gifts." She shrugged. "That sort of confidence makes people uncomfortable because they can't help but get drawn in. And for the ones all ready to hate you, like our Slytherin idiot friends, that mixes up in their heads and the frustration comes out as mean and empty words."
"Wow." Harry couldn't think of anything else to say. He'd never actually thought about all that.
"I know that sounds unimaginably smart," said Katie, wiggling her eyebrows. "But it's because I have a bit of experience with this sort of thing. Not the same level as you, obvious, but still. I've never cared about the girly sorts of things, although even I don't have the same amount of..." She paused and bit her lip in thought. "I do like to get dressed up sometimes, look nice, act like a girl. But I just don't care on a normal day, it's a special occasion thing. I think you're the sort who never cares, am I right?" she finished.
"Whatever," said Harry. "I'm not about to change, that's for sure."
Katie gave her a warm look. "That's the right attitude, Harriet."
"So what do you think I should do about the Slytherins in my year?" Harry asked. "I mean, it's like they're all mental or something."
"I don't know," the older girl admitted. "I guess I don't have enough information."
Harry looked Katie in the eyes. "Well, I suppose I can trust you, can't I? You won't tell anybody else, right?"
Katie met her gaze and nodded. "Hell, Harriet, if you can't trust your teammates, who can you trust?"
It seemed reasonable, and it wasn't like Katie was going to go tell the Slytherins everything. So Harry quickly filled the Chaser in on everything that he had found out from Susan Bones.
"Well, that's insane," said Katie after Harry had finished. "That sort of double or triple crossing is past anything I ever did. I think you're already much better at this sort of thing than me." She gave him a sort of sad smile. "You're better with other people, that's for sure. I have only one real friend, and it only started because she's a Quidditch fanatic."
"Do I know her?" Harry asked, trying to remember seeing Katie with anyone else.
"Hard to say." Katie shrugged and tugged a bit on her uniform. "Her name's Leanne and she's my age. You probably don't know much about the older years. That's normal for Muggle-borns, and you were raised by Muggles, right?"
Harry nodded. Apparently it was public knowledge, and he wasn't entirely sure what to think about it.
Katie seemed to realize Harry wasn't happy about this revelation. "It's obvious once you've been around you long enough," she said, almost stumbling over her words in her haste to spit them out. "I don't think most of the school has any clue, if that's what you're worried about."
Harry breathed out softly, not realizing until that moment that it had been a worry at all.
"But anyway, the point stands," Katie continued. "I don't bloody know anything about how to deal with people outside of Quidditch. I dunno what'll happen once boys start noticing me, if that even happens. I mean, it hasn't happened yet." She sighed. "But I shouldn't be bothering you with that nonsense, I know it's not something you want to hear about."
"Thanks," said Harry in relief. "So you really don't know what to do?"
Katie considered this for a minute. "I have to say, it seems like you're doing things right so far. If I had any advice, I'd say to not keep it a secret from your closest friends, whichever ones they are. I know you have a million friends, but surely there are some that you really trust, right?"
Harry nodded slowly. "That's not a bad point." He grinned. "Thanks, Katie."
She smiled back. "Yeah, well, it's a first for me, giving advice on this sort of thing. I would've expected you to talk to Angie or Allie about it."
"Angie or Allie?" Harry laughed. "I don't think I've ever called them that."
"Oh, they hate it," assured Katie. "We all give each other names we don't care for."
"Really? So is Katie the wrong name?" Harry was obviously more than a little sensitive on the subject of names one didn't like to be called.
"Hardly. They call me Kathryn," she answered, rolling her eyes. "Obviously it annoys me."
"Hey there!" It was Angelina, dressed as well, standing next to Alicia. "If you two young ladies are finished your teatime, Wood wants to see us!"
Harry nearly scowled, before he caught himself and gave the older girls a sly look. "Oh, thanks ever so much, Angie dear. Teatime just isn't the same without you anyway."
Katie didn't bother to hide her laughing and punched Harry lightly in the shoulder.
"Nice," said Angelina, rolling her eyes and they walked over to meet Wood and the Weasley twins by the pitch.
"Alright, team!" Oliver Wood said, giving them one of his classic, manic grins. "We've won one year, thanks to a brilliant team and some decent coaching. But we can't let that stand. Not just one year, no sir! No standing on our laurels for us! No, the Gryffindors will not just let the sleeping dragon lie, no question about it!"
Fred snickered. "I think you don't have that quite right, oh great one."
"Well perhaps you can't handle a dragon," said George in a faux pompous style. "But goodsirs and goodmadams, I can take it on if need be."
"With no assistance 'tall?" Fred gasped dramatically. "Heavens, but you might be devoured or burnt alive!"
George clenched a fist. "No, fair maiden Winifred, none shall defeat Sir George as he faces his dragon!"
Angelina and Alicia began to applaud.
"Oh, well done," Angelina said. "Should've seen where that was going ages ago."
"Yes, you should've," Fred replied with a saucy grin.
Wood scowled. "I don't get it. And I don't care to!"
"Obviously," mumbled George.
"The point is," Wood said scathingly. "Is that the Slytherin are still a talented bunch, despite being a bunch of talentless tossers."
"Yeah, curse those talented talentless tossers!" Fred shouted.
"Totally!" George added.
Wood nodded. "Thanks. So let's work hard and finish practice with the seething capability to show Slytherin exactly where they stand!"
It sounded about right.
The day of the Quidditch match against Slytherin seemed to match the mood of the school, muggy and dark, with the barest hints of light. Although there had been no further attacks since the one against Filch, it was still entirely unknown who attacked the caretaker, still comatose and petrified.
But despite all this muddled mess of emotions, Harry exuded extreme, if surprising, confidence about the upcoming game. This seemed to have an effect on his cadre of friends, all of whom insisted on accompanying him out to the lockers as he left early from lunch. Naturally, this led to the entire Gryffindor table following behind, and then the Slytherins matched with their own team leaving for support. The rush between Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw to be first to the pitch went almost unnoticed due to the glares and spite that hovered between the two competing teams.
The crowd squeezed out of the doors with near relief as they all streamed outside. Harry spotted a few Slytherins in his year near him, and he gave them his best guileless smile.
Draco Malfoy, holding his broom tightly, almost reared back in surprise, before Pansy Parkinson put a steadying hand on his shoulder. She smiled back at Harry in a way that seemed suspiciously sincere.
"Good luck out there Potter," she said, just loud to be heard over the clamors and jostling. "You'll need it."
Harry was certain there were more sniping insults than the obvious to decipher, but he didn't really have the time to figure it out.
Ron laughed a bit too loudly and obviously. "So says the team that already lost to us."
"Shut your traitorous mouth, Weasley!" Malfoy spat. "You and your precious little girl Seeker just got lucky last year."
"You really should address your concerns to me," Harry told him. "I am right here, after all."
Malfoy scowled. "Everybody knows you're nothing but an empty-headed tart, Potter! You're more likely to crash into the grass than spot the Snitch. I don't know why you aren't already crying in fear."
"Shut up, Malfoy!" Parvati yelled at him from behind several other students.
"Brilliantly put," said Pansy. "Obvious why you aren't the brains of the bunch."
Harry rolled his eyes at the overly dramatic pontification. "The only thing we have to worry about are your brand new brooms, but that's balanced against how awful you are. So it's about even, if I had to guess."
At this, Malfoy nearly moved towards them, but then Neville came out of from behind the other Gryffindors and made a sort of fake lunge. It was enough though, as Draco started back, falling onto the ground, before a few random Slytherins quickly picked him back up.
"You'll pay for that, Longbottom," he snarled. "Watch yourself." But despite these fierce words, there was a quiver on Malfoy's face and he seemed a bit paler than usual. Well, so much the better, he was more likely to fly poorly in such a rattled state.
This prediction proved entirely founded, as Harry ran circles around Malfoy, who despite having a faster broom, seemed to have difficulty keeping it under control. Unfortunately, the other Slytherins didn't quite suffer the same nervousness, and utilized their faster brooms and penchant for cheating to great effect, keeping the game's score quite close. But it wasn't long at all before Harry spotted the Snitch and ended the game definitively in the Gryffindor's favour. Malfoy stormed off the field, muttering about cheating and other incoherent lies, but by then nobody was paying much attention.
When Harry left the locker room later, he spotted an older girl and boy waiting for him. He didn't recognize them at first, but after a moment he remembered them as the captains of the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw teams respectively. Not that he could recall their names.
"Good work up there Potter," said the girl. "But don't think that means you'll have such an easy time with either of us."
"Oh is that right?" Harry asked. "Think your teams are any better this year?"
"You never know," said the Ravenclaw captain. "I have a feeling your streak can't last forever."
Harry smiled, still a bit unsure of the intentions of the two captains. "Can I ask you then something?"
"Of course, Harriet," said the Hufflepuff captain. "But I think I know what you're going to ask, and the answer is simple. We don't like the Slytherins any more than you do."
"Unless you were wondering something else," the older boy said.
"This is going to sound a bit rude," Harry said slowly. "But let's say I want to ask about kids who are bullying a friend of mine in Ravenclaw, is that something you can help with?"
"Depends," said the Ravenclaw. "Is this friend a boy or girl?" He gave Harry a weak smile. "If it's the trouble you've had with that first year, I can't really help much. I'm a seventh year and really, our House tends to be a bit insular." He gestured at the girl. "Caroline probably could help if it was something on the 'Puff side. They all stick together."
Caroline rolled her eyes. "Typical Ravenclaw. We have cliques, same as you. They just tend to be a bit... larger." She giggled. "But I noticed some of second years hanging around you, Harriet. Are any of them causing trouble?"
That was a far more complicated question than she realized, it seemed, and Harry wasn't about to correct her. "Nah, they're all fine," said Harry. "But listen, um, sir."
"It's Shoma," interjected Caroline. "I know it's hard to remember, since it's such a weird name."
The Ravenclaw captain gave her a mild glare. "My grandfather would say your name is just as weird."
Caroline shrugged. "Well, whatever. We've been keeping you Harriet, there's probably a bit of a party going on, eh?"
"Oh yeah!" Harry said in realization. "I should get over there. Nice talking to you, and listen. Don't feel too bad when you guys lose, it's just how it has to be."
Both captains laughed in reply.
"Nicely put, Harriet," Caroline replied with a snicker. "Enjoy the party."
It was only once Harry was nearly back when he realized he had forgotten to ask Shoma his question, and also what the question was supposed to be. But he figured he'd remember eventually.
There was indeed a decently raucous celebration going on in the Gryffindor Common Room when Harry made it back, to the point where although at first it was nice to be congratulated every forty seconds, soon Harry found himself getting weary at the attention. He thought about finding any of his friends, but they all seemed to be otherwise occupied. Ron and Neville were talking to some first years, while Parvati and Lavender were chattering away at the Chaser girls. Hermione was even speaking animatedly to Oliver Wood about something, and he seemed nearly to be legitimately listening.
But that was alright.
Harry just walked slowly through the crowd, nodding as he went, pretending to drink from his butterbeer to avoid conversation. And then he spotted something moving on the staircase up to the dormitories. Harry finally realized what he was looking at, a small head peeking out and looking around. Dobby! When the house elf realized that Harry spotted him, he made a quick motion with his hand and vanished up the stairs.
An uneasy feeling came over Harry, and he quickly moved through the crowds to follow Dobby. Luckily, no one seemed to notice Harry abandoning the party as it continued to get more and more out of hand.
Dobby was waiting for Harry in his room, wringing his hands together and shaking back and forth.
"Oh, Harriet Potter!" Dobby squeaked when Harry appeared. "You are okay! Something terrible is coming, Dobby can feel it!"
"Wait, is this about Sirius Black or the Heir or... both?" Harry considered the other possibilities. "Do you know if they are connected?"
Dobby shook his head. "Dobby does not know, but he has not heard of this Sirius in many years. No, no! Dobby is here to warn Harriet Potter about the danger he already told her about. Please, Harriet, be careful!"
"And you still can't tell me how exactly I need to be careful?"
Dobby just made a desperate wail and smacked his head against the bedpost. "Dobby wishes he could see Harriet Potter to safety!" he cried.
"Enough," hissed Harry, feeling almost pained himself at the self-flagellation. "I get it. Don't hurt yourself, okay?"
"Oh, but Harriet Potter should not worry about poor Dobby," said the elf, his eyes filling with tears. "She must worry about herself and her friends. Please, stay safe, Harriet Potter!"
"I will, Dobby," Harry promised. "Thanks for the warning. Really, I mean it."
Dobby smiled, but still seemed worried. He nodded once and disappeared.
Harry slept very badly that night.
For the next few days, Harry felt constantly on edge, always wondering when the next attack or drama was coming. He had made an oblique reference to "having bad dreams" but that excuse wouldn't last for long. It was clear that the lack of sleep was beginning to have an effect on him.
One day he arrived at the breakfast table before anyone else, as was starting to become a habit, only to be surprised when Ginny Weasley came and sat down near him. She looked almost as bad as Harry, with excessively pale skin, listless hair, and a glazed, sad look in her eyes. Seeing the younger girl in such a state made Harry feel bad for someone that had been so excited to meet him - even if she was really thinking of him as a "her".
"Ginny," Harry said quietly, to avoid echoing throughout the empty Hall. "'Morning."
Ginny looked up in surprise. She managed a very small smile, wincing slightly. "Yes, morning Harriet. Sorry, just haven't been sleeping well lately. Not sure why."
"Neither have I, if I can be honest with you," Harry told her. "Maybe it's something in the air."
The girl's mouth quirked up and she made a sound like half a giggle. Then she frowned and rubbed her forehead. "Bugger," she muttered. "My bloody head."
"Ah, don't worry about it," said Harry quickly. "Just eat your breakfast and feel better."
Ginny nodded, looking quite relieved, and set to picking at her rapidly cooling food.
Harry ate his own food slowly, feeling glad that at least he still had his appetite. But Ginny's appearance left him worried and concerned; what was wrong with her? Was she sick or hurt? Had someone been cruel to her? Was she worried about something? Of course, she thankfully knew nothing about Dobby's warning, but perhaps she was just worried about the attack on Filch. Actually, that made quite a bit of sense. It was surprising how blasé the students had already been about it.
Perhaps it was because most students really didn't like Filch, with his unpleasant look and demeanor, despite the valuable service he probably did for the school. Or maybe it was how easy it was just not to think about problems or worries, and just keep living life as best you could. Harry wondered if someone could get used to anything unpleasant and odd, just because they had no choice. Of course, thinking about this reminded Harry of his Curse again, which hardly served to improve his mood. Despite having more than a few friends, none really could help with the magical malady that constantly affected him.
Naturally, it wasn't like he had any intention of leaving Hogwarts to live with Muggles, there was a very clear line he wouldn't cross. But Harry had nobody really even to talk to, except for Luna and Professor Dumbledore. The Headmaster was assuredly far too busy to waste time with Harry's personal problems, especially with Sirius Black on the loose and petrifying Filch. Luna, though...
Harry realized with a start that the only real reason he hadn't spoken as often to Luna was because they were in different years and houses. If she had been in Gryffindor, they could sit in the common room or elsewhere in the tower, just talking about whatever. And if they were in the same year, they'd share classes or at least be able to study together. Instead it was the little snippets he managed when nothing else was pressing.
He looked over at the Ravenclaw table, but Luna had yet to make her appearance. So Harry resolved to wait, despite being extremely impatient, until after breakfast to speak to his younger friend. It was practically torture after that, sitting through his Gryffindor classmates jabbering away about this, that, and the other thing, waiting for Luna to finish her food. He was tempted several times to go over before she was done, but he didn't want to get into a fight with the stupid Ravenclaw girls again.
The very instant she wiped her face, Harry leaped up, mumbled a quick "see you later" to his friends and walked close to the Ravenclaw table, catching Luna's eye. She smiled and nodded, clearly getting the message. Harry waited a bit nearby in the hallway for her, tapping the stone wall every few seconds.
Finally Luna showed up and she grinned widely at Harry.
"Hello, Not-Harriet, or Arri." She pronounced this like "ah-ree". "Do you like that? I'm testing another name, Ah-ree." Luna frowned. "No, actually it sounds very stupid. I'll stop trying."
Harry laughed. "No, no," he said. "Actually I just wanted to talk to you. It's been a while, so I feel like we need to catch up. You clearly remember I'm not a girl, so that's a good start."
Luna nodded with a quick bob of her head. "I've been writing a note every morning and evening to remind myself. So far it has been working quite well, Not-Harriet!" She scratched her chin. "I still don't like that name. I'll figure it out someday."
"Actually I wanted to tell you about something," said Harry, and proceeded to summarize his issues with the Hufflepuffs and Slytherins. "It's weird, right?"
"Oh, that's an interesting perspective," said Luna, tilting her head. "I find it confusing because it is confusing, not because they are girls. I know it's odd for you, but in many ways you are much like a normal girl. One way you're different is that you're nice to me, but I think that's only because I can talk about your Curse."
"Luna!" Harry said, feeling terrible and hoping it wasn't true. He couldn't be entirely sure, as Luna was a bit odd, but she was such a pleasant and smart girl. In another world, where Harry was seen correctly as a boy, he hoped that he would also be friends with Luna. But who could say? "Well, I wouldn't expect you to really have great advice about this particular problem. I just wanted to talk about it with someone that can understand."
"Okay," she said with a smile. "I think I understand, at least. Is there something else you wanted to talk about?"
"I don't know," said Harry, thinking about it. "I mean ... there might be one thing. You're friends with Ginny, right?"
Luna shrugged and said, "Friends seems a strong word, but we grew up together. She thinks I'm odd, but I think she's odd too. I guess that makes us a sort of friends. But actually Ginny and I haven't really talked in a while. Weeks, maybe."
"Really?" Harry asked, feeling worried and concerned. "She looks kinda out of it and unhealthy."
"We speak just in class or in a purely perfunctory matter," said Luna to clarify further. "And that much is also basically just in class."
"Uh huh," said Harry, not entirely understanding, but he got the general point. "Well, I guess we should keep an eye on her, eh?"
Luna closed one eye and stuck out her other one even more than usual. "Good idea, Not-at-all-Harriet."
Harry sighed. "Luna, that's just an expression."
"I know," Luna said and then laughed. "I was making a joke!"
"Oh." Harry paused and then began to laugh himself. "Okay, that's not that bad."
Although Harry was more and more nervous, and not a little paranoid, each day, he tried his best to hide it from the others, even focusing his attention on the overabundance of Hufflepuffs. The drama there, which had seemed so irksome and troubling, now was a pleasant respite from the legitimate danger of Black, who might or might not be the Heir of Slytherin, lurking about. But although he was happy to have the Hufflepuffs hang out with his group, it was already getting quite unwieldy. So he casually mentioned something to the girls about the crowded aspect, and they instantly began to think they had come up with the idea to split into smaller groups. Hermione had it first, and disagreed a bit with Parvati on the precise arrangements.
And then Lavender tentatively offered the idea of switching it up every so often. And suddenly the groups were much more tolerable. Usually Neville, Susan, and Parvati sat with Harry; he wanted to keep an eye on Susan, who Harry began to quite like despite himself. He also believed that Neville and Parvati were probably the closest to himself in terms of actual academic ability. For similar reasons, Hermione, Padma, Anthony, and Justin Finch-Fletchley (the Muggleborn and sharpest of the Hufflepuffs) also mostly sat together, although they were often in demand to help with particular homework concerns.
This left the group of Ron, Lavender, Ernie Macmillan and Hannah Abbott, which was also usually the one group Madame Pince told to be quiet or they'd get detention. Odd in some ways, as Hannah was certainly the quietest person normally among all of them. And so it continued for a while, until Harry almost forgot about his troubles entirely.
Until, of course, the next attack happened.
It had happened on a typical Sunday, with the massive group sitting interspersed throughout the Library. Harry was procrastinating on his History homework, which was one of the subjects he felt little motivation to try in, unlike Defense (which he quite enjoyed), or Charms and Transfiguration (in which he often struggled, but wanted to live up to the memory of his parents' success in those classes). Potions was a mixed bag, as Snape was excellent at expressing subtle disappointment about minor errors, but Harry had found the class increasingly intuitive as the months passed.
Parvati and Susan were only too happy to ignore the History work and gossip about random things, while Harry tried to listen to the other groups without it looking like he was listening. Neville was over with the "smart" group to get some help with a few questions, but he clearly gotten delayed due to yet another argument. They were arguing about something quietly but vehemently, but it was probably about coursework (Harry guessed this by the way Hermione kept pointing to her Charms textbook). He caught the all too familiar sound of Ron and Lavender laughing far too loudly, probably at one of Ernie's caustic jokes – he was good at it, and Ron loved them all. Lavender would always protest how "awful" Ernie was being, but she would laugh just the same. It was easy to see on Ernie's face how proud he was at making them laugh, although Harry often found the jokes a bit too mean when he was the audience.
"I don't think she had any idea that he was cheating on her," said Susan with an affected tone of scandal. "Can you imagine? The star of the Quidditch team!"
"Wait, who was this?" Harry interjected, hearing something he might actually care about.
Parvati raised an eyebrow. "Let me guess, Harriet," she said. "You haven't been paying attention until you heard the word 'Quidditch'?"
"Um," said Harry slowly.
Susan giggled. "Oh, really, Harriet. It's nothing to worry about; we know you don't care much about this sort of thing. But this story is pretty interesting. See, the captain of the Ravenclaw team, this interesting looking boy. . . "
"Shoma?" Harry interrupted. "What did he do?"
"Oh, do you know him?" Parvati asked. "Is this a Quidditch thing, knowing the captain?"
Harry nodded and said, "yeah, basically. I had a brief conversation with him and Caroline, the Hufflepuff captain, after the last game."
"Really," said Susan with great interest. "Did it seem like they were in love?"
This was the wrong question to ask Harry, who probably wouldn't have noticed unless they explicitly had said something about it, but he proceeded anyway. "I don't think so, but I don't know. They certainly seemed to like each other at least as friends."
"Well," said Susan and leaned forward. "So I heard from a fourth year that's second cousins with a Hufflepuff who's the neighbor of the captain of the team."
"Uh huh," said Harry slowly. "Okay."
"Right, and so apparently she's been dating this guy in her House, not that unusual, of course," said Parvati.
Harry nodded. "Right," he said, although he was already a bit lost. The lack of names wasn't helping, although Harry wasn't sure if that would have even helped.
"Anyway, so guess who she got caught with in the Tower?" Susan asked with a glint in her eyes.
"Who?" Harry asked with significantly less energy, beginning to withdraw from the conversation.
But before Susan could answer, there was some sort of commotion in the Library, and then Ron ran over to them, Ernie coming right behind him.
"Guys, did you hear?" Ron asked, his face ashen and worried.
"I'd imagine they didn't," Ernie interjected quickly and puffed up his chest a bit. "The girls were already over here."
Ron's face began to sour, and Harry could see he was about to say something insulting, so he got up quickly.
"What is it?" Harry asked, immediately getting a terrible, cold feeling in his stomach.
"Someone else was attacked," said Ron, and then Parvati and Lavender gasped.
Neville came over quickly then, and said, "Guys, did you hear? Colin was attacked?"
"The tiny first year?" asked Lavender. "Oh no, that's horrible. Is he… I mean…"
"We don't know anything at the moment," said Ernie. "But it seems that he was petrified in the same way as Filch."
Harry sat down, feeling awful – was this the attack Dobby had warned about? It had to be, but was there anything Harry could've done? Dobby hadn't mentioned a target, but perhaps it was just random. Or perhaps it was intentional.
"Why would Colin be attacked?" He asked softly.
"If it is the Heir of Slytherin," said Parvati. "Then probably it's because he's a Muggle-born. I mean I don't actually know what Filch is, I've never seen him use magic, but perhaps he's also one? Or maybe Colin was just convenient for Sirius Black, unprotected and alone somewhere?"
"Bugger," Ron cursed. "That's bloody awful."
"It simply has to be a student," said Ernie. "Working with Black on this dastardly deed. Probably a Ravenclaw or Slytherin, of course."
"It might be You-Know-Who," said Neville. "Anthony and Hermione were arguing about it, but they think she might be behind it somehow. They couldn't agree on how though."
"Oh, is that what they were arguing about?" Harry considered this and the conversation he had had earlier with Professor Snape. "I wonder if her and Sirius Black are working together. That's a pretty terrible team."
Susan began crying and she hugged herself. "What are we supposed to do?" She looked up at Harry. "Harriet, what are we going to do?"
"I don't know," said Harry. "But we'll figure it out. Somehow."
The mandate soon came down from the professors: stay in groups at all times. It wasn't clear if that was actually doing anything other than making students feel better, but so far there had been no further attacks. But there was still a tension in the air, almost palpable, and although the older students and professors never spoke about it, it was something that the younger ones picked up on. Even the first years realized how serious this all was, yet there was still this feeling of hope and pride in the school. The older students would say that they'd figure it out, and that it they had the greatest Wizarding minds in the world. They even usually sounded sincere when they said it.
Harry had attempted to broach the subject of the Heir with McGonagall and Flitwick, but both had told him it wasn't a concern for the students to worry about. But there was one professor that had a different reaction.
Snape was probably more worried than any other teacher, and this bled into his teaching, taking off even more points than usual. Normally Harry would've come early to ask him about it, but due to the group restriction, he had not yet been able to try. Finally during one Potions class, Harry wrote a note that said "May we speak about Black, sir?" and left if folded on Snape's desk as he walked in. Nothing happened that session, but the next class, Snape had clearly read it.
"Potter, stay with me for a minute after class," he said. "Those of you planning to accompany her will wait outside until we are finished. Understood?" He glared at Parvati, who was sitting next to Harry, and visibly trying not to glare back.
Instead she just nodded.
But Harry knew they wouldn't mind waiting a few minutes, especially if he got a few answers out of it.
When all of the students had left the room, and Neville, Dean, and Parvati waited for him outside, Snape sighed and waved his wand. "Have a seat, Miss Potter." When Harry had done so, Snape rubbed his forehead and said, "so what is it you wish to know?"
"Did Black attack Colin Creevey?" Harry asked. "Is this being in groups thing helping?"
"Honestly, Miss Potter," said the Professor. "It is hard to say. This sort of Dark curse is beyond anything any of us have seen, and between us all, that is indeed an oddity. The Headmaster, of course, is one of the most knowledgeable wizards in two hundred years, and I myself have a significant knowledge of many unsavoury spells."
Harry frowned and said, "But is he less likely to attack groups?"
Snape said, "Probably. But a group of first years… well, even a group of older students will not be significant to one of Black's low cunning and magical capability. I admit that sometimes I worry about the students, but you must not let sort of thing spread around!" He leaned forward as he said this, tension clear in shoulders.
"I know that, sir," said Harry. "It'd just make people panic, and that'd be no help to anyone."
The Professor relaxed and sat back. "Well said, Miss Potter. You are certainly becoming a wise young woman." His lip curled. "If only the other students had such foresight."
"I've had a harder life than most," said Harry, getting a feeling Snape would understand.
Snape nodded. "That is true," he said and then the man had a thoughtful look on his face. "Perhaps there is something we can do to help against Black."
"What is it?" Harry asked, trying to suppress his excitement.
"This is something you must tell no one, of course," said the Professor sharply.
Harry barely managed not to roll his eyes. "Sir, come on. You know me better than that."
Snape smirked slightly. "Well, I had to say it, Miss Potter. But my idea is quite simple. Although doing battle with Black is not something any second year should ever attempt, there may be an alternative. Instead, I can show you a few advanced protective spells. That is, if you think you can handle it." He gave Harry a wary look.
"Certainly, sir!" Harry said quickly. "Defense has always been my best class, to be honest."
The Professor smirked slightly. "I know the feeling. And yet you're saddled with such incompetence." He shook his head. "Quirrell last year and Lockhart this one. If there were any actually qualified instructors available, I might have had words with the Headmaster on it."
Harry grimaced and said, "Quirrell was possessed by You-Know-You and even before I knew that, he was terrible. But Lockhart's not so bad. A bit annoying, I guess, but the classes are okay once you realize his books are all fiction."
Snape raised an eyebrow. "Is that so? Well, no time for that now, you have to get to lunch, as your little friends are assuredly waiting outside for you. We will discuss the particulars of this . . extra-curricular work later, Miss Potter."
"Thank you, sir," said Harry, feeling better than he had in days. If anyone knew how to defend against Black, it'd be the Potions Professor. He nodded his head in thanks and walked out to see Parvati and Dean waiting for him.
"Where's Neville?" Harry asked, not seeing the other Gryffindor boy anywhere. "Did he leave with another group?"
"Yeah," said Dean. "He followed Ron and Seamus. Needed to use the bathroom, he said."
"Dean!" Harry said in near a shout, startling the boy. "Did that group think to wait for him there? Do we even know?"
"Oh no!" Parvati said in a near shriek. "We didn't think of that! We have to go check on him!"
As they raced towards the nearest bathroom, Dean said softly, "Sorry, Harriet, didn't think of it. He went after Seamus and Ron and Hermione and Lavender and I guess I didn't . . . I didn't. . ."
"Hold off on apologies until we know more, okay?" said Harry with gritted teeth, trying not to show how worried he was or how furious he was that nobody had considered the obvious flaw in their logic.
But when they came to the lavatory, Dean checked and found nobody there.
"Let's check with the others," Harry suggested. "It's lunchtime anyhow."
But Neville was nowhere to be found in the Hall either, and the other Gryffindors were clearly worried and guilt-ridden that they hadn't thought of waiting for Neville.
Then Percy Weasley arrived and took Ron aside for a minute. Whatever the Prefect had to say, it wasn't good, and Harry feared the worst.
"Let me tell them," said Ron as he walked back, Percy looking with a concerned expression on his face.
Ron walked slowly over to them from his brother, quivering and shaking.
"What is it?" Hermione asked in concern. "What happened?"
Ron looked stricken and horribly pale. "It's Neville. He's in the Hospital Wing."
Next time, things get a bit worse.
As Parvati stood up to face Susan, the look on the Gryffindor girl's face made Harry feel a bit uncomfortable.
"Good luck the both of you!" He shouted instead of trying to puzzle it out.
Author's Note: Thank you everyone that's still keeping up with this story. As you may imagine, it's been rough for me lately, but I've been steadily writing a little each week. Thanks again and address any questions to me here or on my tumblr at lordjeram dot tumblr dot com.