Title: The Proper Care and Handling of Harry

Summary: Everyone knew not to disturb Harry when he was upset. Well, almost everyone.

Author's Notes: Rabid plot bunny out of nowhere that wouldn't shut up until I started writing it. Hope it's at least somewhat enjoyable.


Chapter 1: In Which Someone Dares to Interrupt a Brooding Harry


Nature gives her creations various methods of indicating "Do not touch!". Whether with armor (as she has blessed the armadillo and the turtle), or weapons (blowfish and porcupines come to mind), or flashing warning signs (as the blue-ringed octopus), they are warnings that should be heeded for one's continued good health.

Harry was seated at one end of the sofa, unaware that mother nature had gifted him with the same type of protection. His arms were folded, and tense. He was leaning against the arm of the sofa. Although it wasn't really leaning so much as embracing, or grabbing, or trying-to-meld-with said sofa arm.

Most of the other teen-agers in the room didn't seem to overtly notice. There were no whispered warnings, or obvious glances. There were even a few hardy souls who sat on the same sofa for various spans of minutes. But an abstract observer charting the eddies and swirls of young flesh would have noticed that the meanderings of the crowd very definitely gave a wide margin to Harry's end of the sofa-it was a veritable no-man's-land of carpet.

And if the observer were to time the spans of minutes, and perhaps run a statistical analysis to compare it with the length of time the other sofas, chairs (and the poor credenza) were sat on, it would be even more obvious that Harry was flashing all the warning signs he could. "Danger! Cuidado! Perill! Opasnost! Gefahr!"

Hermione, of course, was observant. She understood Harry very well, had been able to read his body language for a sizable portion of the years of their friendship, and knew that she never normally had anything to fear from her best friend. But even she stayed on the far side of the room, pretending to listen in on Ron's discussion with . . . some guy she hadn't caught the name of, about either the Cannons' chances of ending the season with at least one win, or some chess game played back in Aristotle's days. Fortunately, Ron and . . . the other bloke, whom she mentally referred to as Bad Shirt Boy (honestly, cranberry was just not a great match to that sickly yellow skin tone), seemed to be entirely oblivious to her distraction.

No, Hermione was paying almost 80 percent of her attention to Harry, and that was enough to be alarming. Normally, she only needed 25 percent to keep track of her best friend. The years had given her a rather good working model of Harry's behavior. She could predict, with reasonable certainty, his reactions to given situations, and adjusted her Harry-watching percentage accordingly. When he was leading the DA, it hovered around 63 percent. Quidditch matches were slightly lower as a greater portion was dedicated to watching Ron.

Very rarely did Harry demand more than 75 percent of her attention, and those times stood out in her memory as Red Letter Days, where she had a better-than-average chance of dying. But tonight was different. There were no Dark Lords attacking the school. Snape wasn't around, chivvying Harry to distraction. And, as far as Hermione knew, Harry wasn't experiencing girl troubles-since his thing with Cho Chang he hadn't shown much interest in any girl (or boy, for that matter).

So what had Harry so caught up in himself? She thought back carefully throughout the day, blessing her rather prodigious mental faculties for the ability to catalog and analyze her interactions with Harry, but ending up somewhat disheartened to realize that the whatever-it-was that was bothering the boy had to have happened during their afternoon break. She had taken the opportunity to visit the library-Professor Flitwick had mentioned a class of Charms that were most suitable for organizing and protecting repositories of knowledge, and Hermione had wanted to look them up. She wasn't exactly sure what had happened to Harry, but his demeanor had changed from bad to horrible since that break.

Ron's voice interrupted her thoughts, and she turned to look at the red-head. Apparently his discussion of the abysmal Cannons had ended, and Bad Shirt Boy had left to (hopefully) change his shirt, or go somewhere she didn't have to see it.

"I'm sorry, Ron, what were you saying?" she asked.

"Nothing, Hermione, I was just talking to Daniel-"

Ah, yes, that's his name, she thought.

"-but he had to leave, something about changing his shirt."

Hermione let her face remain composed, but inside was dancing with repressed glee.

"So, do you wanna play chess?" Ron asked, a hopeful expression on his face. Their last game had ended in a stalemate, and he'd been after her for quite some time for a rematch, perhaps to prove that he was better at something than she was. Although he was already better at Quidditch, and broom-flying in general, he seemed to be looking for something else.

Hermione huffed. "No, Ron, I don't want to play chess."

Ron's face fell. "Oh, okay then. I'll just go find someone else. Maybe Harry'll want to play me."

Ron rose to his feet as his last statement percolated down through the non-Harry 20 percent of her awareness. Unfortunately, it arrived too slowly, and her belated "Wait, Ron!" wasn't heard.

"Hey, Harry!" came Ron's voice, across the room, and Hermione bowed her head. She knew that this couldn't end well. Ron's normal disregard for emotions, teamed with Harry's obvious upset, meant that there could be quite an explosion. She just hoped they'd be able to pick up the pieces.

Harry hadn't really heard Ron. All his attention was focused on not letting his magic loose. He could remember times like this, when his magic was thrumming right below his skin, when just the slightest nudge could push him into a towering rage. His punishments at the Dursleys had always been the most severe when he let out the magic, although at the time he didn't know what that feelings was, nor what caused all the glass in the kitchen to break, or the cutlery to rise up and dance in the air. Thankfully, though, at Hogwarts he'd been able to funnel his magic into other pursuits, although he had learned that even that had to be strictly monitored. They never had been able to figure out how his quill had pierced the ceiling that far.

Ron stood, staring at his best friend, waiting for a response. It didn't come. He tried again. "Hey, Harry! Want to play some chess?"

Harry looked up at Ron, then, and Ron just about wilted. How could he have missed the warning signs? Grinning manically, Ron started backing away. "Sorry, Harry. I'll just leave you to sit for a bit, okay?" Ron wouldn't have called it a mad dash up the stairs, but Seamus' bad luck in getting in Ron's way argued otherwise.

Harry absently noted Ron's departure, but it still didn't pierce the invisible cocoon of "Don't Touch!" that separated him from the rest of the students.

Hermione sat, indecisive. Without knowing what had happened, she wasn't sure of how to fix it. The rest of the students started throwing glances her way. They had finally started to overtly react to Harry's preoccupation, and the normal Brownian motion of the room became more of a rout, as the students found other, more distant, places to be. It usually fell on Hermione's shoulders to calm Harry down at these times. But, for once, she didn't know how to proceed.

Her stewing was interrupted, however, by the portrait hole opening, letting in a chattering group of students. Hermione sent a grimace their way-didn't they know that Harry was on the verge of erupting? She felt guilty about her thought-of course they didn't know-but she couldn't help it. Ginny, at least, should have been able to pick up on the mood of the room more quickly. But to Hermione's disbelief, the petite red-head continued gabbing away as if nothing were wrong.

As Hermione stared in unbelief, Ginny casually made her way over to Harry's fortress of solitude on the sofa. Surely she wasn't going to do anything to him, right? But as Hermione watched, heart in her throat, the red-headed girl sat down right next to Harry-almost on top of him, really.

Harry jumped. He truly had been so wrapped up in his internal conflict that he'd only barely recognized that there were other students in the room. And then to have one of them plop so carelessly next to him, brushing up against him! He turned, ready to unleash his anger on whichever poor soul had decided to endanger his own life. But the sight of all that bright red hair completely disrupted his thought processes.

Ginny, seemingly unaware of her actions, leaned up against Harry and sighed softly.

The other students with whom she had been conversing scattered to their various rooms, tables, chairs and conversational groupings, the majority of which afforded them a decent view of what they were sure was going to be a highly interesting fight.

Harry looked as if he had woken up one morning to find his room painted fluorescent pink. Hermione would have laughed, if she hadn't been so worried about Ginny's health. But then Hermione took another look at Ginny. The younger girl's lips were slightly turned up at the corners, but her eyes-her eyes were the giveaway. Hermione didn't see any hesitation or doubt in them. Rather they seemed as hard as diamonds, their sparkles betraying a boundless determination. Hermione shifted in her seat, sure that she should start casting shields around the pair, because that was the only way she figured she'd be able to help.

But Ginny noticed Hermione's movement. Her eyes pinned the older girl to her seat, and Hermione sat back, cowed into inaction. Hermione breathed out quietly, hoping that when it was all over there would still be some furniture left, and that there wouldn't be too many injuries.

Harry's eyes narrowed. How dare Ginny come in and lean up against him as if there were nothing wrong! Didn't she know anything? He took a deep breath, feeling his anger and frustration boil up. He opened his mouth for the initial onslaught-

"Harry, would you please put your arm around me?" Ginny's voice was quiet, slightly more than a whisper, but it dumped a whole ocean on Harry's anger.

"What?" he asked, and it wasn't an incredulous shout, but a confused, soft query.

"Harry, I asked if you would put your arm around me. You do know what that means, right? I mean, you have seen some of the older couples walking around together, haven't you? It's something that boyfriends do with their girlfriends."

Harry's face betrayed his complete astonishment with the request. "But. . . but. . . "

"What part didn't you understand?" Ginny demanded, finally turning to look at Harry. "This-" and she picked up his arm and shook it in front of him, "-is your arm." She set the arm down, and stood up in front of him. "And this," she said, using both arms to draw Harry's attention to her head, then indicating all the rest of her, "is my body." Harry's eyes had gotten stuck, briefly, when she raised her arms, but he found other things to notice as she turned around, demonstrating that yes, indeed, there was a back side to her.

"Now," she continued, in a tone that indicated he had better pay attention. "I'm going to sit down next to you. . ." She did so. "And you are going to put your arm around me."

He didn't.

Ginny glared at him. "Fine, I can see I'm going to have to do this all myself." She took his arm, none too gently, lifted it over her head, scooted closer, and pulled his hand down around her back. "Was that too hard?" she sweetly asked.

17 jaws dropping open at the same time make an indescribable sound. Hermione, who would probably have been the best person to describe it, couldn't. Even years later. The closest she ever got was "snuckslurp", which sounded so ridiculous that she couldn't even find it in herself to castigate Ron for bursting into hysterical laughter the first (and last) time she ever told him.

Harry sat there, looking as though he'd watched Nearly Headless Nick play Quidditch for England. Ginny wiggled back and forth, trying to make herself more comfortable. She finally used a knuckle to prod Harry into a more comfortable configuration, then sighed with relief as she relaxed back into him and closed her eyes.

Hermione was tempted to giggle when she caught sight of Harry's face, but the oppressive silence in the room deterred her. Some of the younger years, though, irreverent as always, started whispering at the scene. And, when nothing else happened, they turned back to their gobstones, their Exploding Snap cards, and, in one corner, their Every-Flavor Beans Roulette.

The Portrait Hole opened then, admitting Lavender and Parvati. The two late-comers made it halfway across the room before they saw the couple on the couch. The resultant squealing would have just about straightened Hermione's hair, but it didn't last long enough, as Ginny had pulled her wand and cast Silencio on them before they could get out anything more than "Sque-".

Lavender opened her mouth to, presumably, try to yell at Ginny, but the look in the red-head's eyes made Parvati grab Lavender's arm and drag her off up the stairs to their dorm.

Ginny relaxed again against Harry, and closed her eyes. She hoped that Harry wasn't able to feel how quickly her heart was beating. It had been a calculated risk-Harry was rather volatile at times, and though she knew he would never hurt her purposefully, she also knew that he was currently wound so tightly he might not be able to stop himself. She had been watching Harry over the past few days-well, she always watched Harry, but she had noticed something a couple of days ago that seemed to start him into a slide of depression and anger. His mood had gotten progressively blacker, and then today, right after lunch, something had happened to drastically accelerate the process, and she was worried.

It might have helped if she'd been able to find out what exactly had happened, but none of her sources could tell her. The most information she'd discovered came from one of her Hufflepuff girls, who had seen Harry leaving the Headmaster's Office in what was almost a run. She hadn't gotten a good look at his face, but reported that he had been cursing like a Hippogriff wrangler.

But her ploy seemed to be working. She'd been sitting with him for more than a couple of minutes now, and nothing had broken, nothing had flown around the room (except one particularly vicious Exploding Snap card), and Harry hadn't yelled.

Ginny couldn't quite see Harry's face from her position, and that was usually a sad thing, as Harry's face was one of her favorite sights. But she found herself rather thankful right now. She didn't really want to see how upset he was.

But as she sat there, trying to slow her heart, and praying to all the past Sorcerors whose names she knew, and inventing a few more, she noticed something.

To understand, one must realize that Ginny could catalogue all the times she and Harry had touched. She kept a mental tally of those times, and they were ranked in a rough order. Pats on the arm, touches on the shoulder, even helping her adjust her grip on her wand for the DA were all there. But at the top, the very pinnacle of touch, was when she had awoken in Harry's arms in the Chamber of Secrets. It had been the worst day of her life, and she had spent quite a while considering the paradox of such a wonderful Harry-Touch coming at such a horrible time.

But now, there was something she had never felt before. Where his arm touched her back and where her head was resting on his shoulder she could feel a kind of a thrumming sensation. She couldn't describe it very well even to herself. Later on, when she tried to tell her mother, she would liken it to if a water balloon were filled to just below the point of bursting-it was a feeling of too much . . . too much something being held back by the merest of margins. And Ginny was very relieved that the something was continuing to be restrained. It scared her a bit, that fullness thrumming at Harry's skin, but it also caused some rather intense reactions in her body that she didn't think she wanted to analyze right then.

Ginny found her eyes drifting shut. She really was very comfortable, inside Harry's arm, feeling the warmth of his body. But it didn't seem very appropriate for her to fall asleep on him, so she shook herself and sat up.

"Thank you, Harry," she said as she stood up. She had to work at keeping a straight face-he looked as gobsmacked as she had ever seen him. Seeing that he wasn't going to be doing any talking, or, she guessed, moving in the near future, she leaned down and kissed him, very gently, on the lips. "Have a good sleep, okay?"

Not waiting for an answer, she turned and headed off to her dormitory, dreading the conversation Hermione was sure to inflict upon her.

Slowly the room emptied, dribbles and drabbles of students drifting off to bed, cautiously skirting the end of the couch where Harry was still sitting. Hermione was among the last to go up, and she was daring enough to pat Harry on the shoulder and wish him a quiet "Good night", although she was pretty sure he never even noticed.

The house elves slipped in quietly, cleaning as quickly and efficiently as always, and taking great pains to not disturb the young man on the sofa.

The lights dimmed by themselves, candles winking out, fire dimming to a soft glow, and finally the common room was dark, quiet, and empty-well, almost empty. The shadowed shape of a teen-age boy, with messy black hair, unattractive spectacles, and a thoroughly flummoxed expression on his face, was the only (assumedly) animate form. When the grandfather clock in the corner chimed its soft two o'clock bells, the figure started, then stood up, and climbed the stairs to his own dorm, there to have wonderfully vivid and extremely confusing dreams.