See first chapter for disclaimers/warnings/summaries.
RECAP:Harry readjusts to student life and finds himself fascinated with Daphne Greengrass, only to learn from Megan that the Slytherin girl is a dragel Beta. There are even other dragels at Hogwarts and perhaps other creatures as well. Harry joins Megan on a special picnic sponsored by Professor Sprout as a reward for her students' hard work. Here, Harry meets a few of Megan's friends and some fellow 'Puffs.
Harry had never quite understood that point behind that, but in the same vein, he'd never quite learned to cry with noise—not the way normal people did. No, he was only used to biting his lips and sucking in awful, hitching breaths as icy tears streaked rivulets down his face and made him hurt in his very soul. He'd learned so long ago that crying brought him nothing but pain.
Green eyes winked shut and Harry willed himself not to cry.
Of all the times and places!
Megan would surely be embarrassed, but then again, she was a girl and didn't most girls cry at the drop of a hat and oh—oh, that was soft and warm and it smelled like lavender and Harry found himself crying into Megan's chest, her arms wrapped securely around them, her shoulder-length hair forming a curtain of sorts, allowing the slightest bit of privacy for just the two of them.
He felt a tingle of magic leap from her and he didn't bother to puzzle through whatever it was. A privacy spell, maybe? He hoped so, but it didn't matter as much as he thought it would. He was more focused on her warmth and the strength of such slender arms wrapped so tightly around him. It had been so long since he'd really let the tears come—not to collect and catalogue his hurts, but to purge them from his tortured mind. He was vaguely aware of Megan's soft voice whispering in his ear, words in a delicate language he couldn't quite process, but still soothing and comforting on an instinctive level that simply made the tears come harder.
By the time he'd subsided, she was rubbing his back and his arms, his face tucked in the crook of her neck and her cheek resting atop his head. "Harry, Harry, Harry," she chanted softly. "It's alright, love. It's alright." She didn't question or push him to speak about what had triggered the emotional outpouring, she simply accepted it—and him—without question.
Sniffling, he tried to pull away, feeling as if he'd just cried a river and all his energy had gone with it. He didn't think he could explain this, at least not in their current company, without embarrassing himself to death. His limbs felt heavy and his head felt light, but the ache in his chest had eased just the faintest of a hint. He swallowed great big gulps of air and licked his lips, tasting the salt of his tears on them.
A soft kerchief was pressed into his hand and said hand was guided to his nose. "Blow." Megan said, firmly. "And then some water, alright?" She folded the kerchief over and let him tend to his own nose, as she patted his back and allowed him to sit up. When he was more recovered, she coaxed him to drink a few sips of water from a mug. He tried to move away, feeling his face flaming as he recognized he'd just had a mini-breakdown of sorts, but Megan refused to let him move away from her, keeping him by her side, a protective arm draped around him.
When he did chance to look at her, feeling quite miserable for ruining what was supposed to be an enjoyable picnic, the understanding in her soft grey eyes nearly undid him all over again. He felt his breath catch in his throat. There was no judgment in her gaze, only warmth, care and something that had to be love. She kissed his forehead, smoothing his wayward hair back. "We all have our days," she said, softly. "And you don't have to tell me about it, if you don't want to."
Hearing those words soothed the rawness inside of him and Harry was grateful. He didn't really want to, especially since he didn't really know what had prompted that outburst in the first place. But in a few more minutes, he was back to himself—or at least fairly close to it—and he didn't mind when Megan waved Amelia and Leonard back over to join them. He hadn't even noticed when the siblings had left, but he couldn't meet their eyes just yet.
Neither Hufflepuff drew any attention to him though and instead, they simply started up a conversation about another greenhouse project and this time, Harry perked up. He'd heard a lot of the 'Puff's talking about it and now that he was listening, it sounded like a rather fun project. "How come Professor Sprout never did that for us?" He asked, shrinking back into Megan's arm when twin stares of surprise fixed on him. He found himself wondering if it had been a trick of the light that made the twins' dark brown eyes suddenly seem a bit more burgundy than brown. "I mean, I didn't—it sounds like fun." He finished, awkwardly.
Amelia gave a slow smile that blossomed into a full grin. "It is fun!" She exclaimed and gave her brother a hearty shove with one elbow. "See Leonard, I told you so." She turned back to Harry. "It's an extra credit project, really and it's usually reserved for students who are interested in being Potion Makers, Healers or Herbologists. We spend more time with the plants and get to understand them on a more natural level. You have to have at least a consistent E in herbology or at least three O's." She shrugged. "It means the plants like you enough that the project won't stress you out."
"And then you pick a plant?" Harry guessed.
"Not quite," Leonard picked up where his sister had left off. "The plants pick you."
Harry blinked, sure the confusion he was feeling was more than visible on his face. "They—pick me?" He repeated.
Megan chuckled. "Plants have feelings too, Harry." She said, a teasing lilt to her voice. "What we actually have to do, is take good care of the plant we're assigned—sorry, the one that chose us—until we graduate from Hogwarts."
"That's a long time, isn't it?" Harry frowned. "What happens then?"
"Then, we keep it." Amelia affected a shrug. "You have to start your garden collection somewhere and having a plant that adores you and you understand, well, it's very helpful. You can start your own greenhouse with all the right energies."
"It also means you're more attuned to what's necessary to keep them happy and healthy, so by default, you're better all-around for it." Leonard explained. "As a Potions Master, you're likely to have to know when and how to harvest your own ingredients, even if you can just purchase the stock off of Borgin and Burkes, it's better if you know how to manage some of it on your own. It can affect some of the potions in effectiveness and stability when brewing." He helped himself to a sandwich and began to munch contemplatively.
"It's also good practice," Amelia said. She took the other half of Leonard's sandwich and for a moment, the twins mirrored each other as they ate. "You're used to caring for someone and your familiar, so it is easier for you to balance responsibilities and such." Her dark eyes narrowed, faintly. "Were you thinking you might try?"
Harry gulped. "Er, perhaps not?"
Now Leonard elbowed his twin. "It's fine if you want to," he said, calmly. "You'd just have to ask Professor Sprout yourself." He winked. "And even if your grades aren't up to snuff, s'long as you're serious about it. She'll consider it. You might have to write a few essays and such in addition to caring for it, but it'll only help your case."
Harry nodded. "What kind of plants to you have?" He looked to all of them.
"Shrivelfig." Megan said, simply. "I found that pruning them was quite relaxing and so when I went to choose, one of them chose me."
Emerald eyes blinked in confusion. "I thought Shrivelfig trees weren't sentient?" He was almost certain of it. He remembered pruning them with the others in second year and he wasn't entirely sure how a plant could choose its caretaker.
"They aren't." Megan offered him a bowl of fruit. "But sometimes when you work with a plant very closely and for a long time, your magic reacts to the magic in the plant. It may not be a naturally sentient plant, but it does not mean that it does not have feelings and such." She offered a smile. "It's a good thing, it means you're connected to it and that makes caring for it that much easier."
"Oh." Harry mused. "That makes sense." He looked at the twins. "What about you?"
The twins began to snicker and nudge each other. Megan rolled her eyes. "Don't pay attention to them," she said, dryly. "It's something of a running joke, the plants that they have."
"And those are…?" Harry waited.
"Leonard has a Venomous Tentacula and Amelia has a Devil's Snare." Megan said, matter-of-factly. "Do not ask me how that happened."
Harry stared. His mouth opened and closed for a moment as he mentally recalled everything he knew about the dangerous plants and juxtaposed it with the information that the ones working with them were Hufflepuffs. "A-are you—they—what?" He squeaked out. He saw plants in the greenhouses every day and knew there were some that were best avoided. He was nowhere near as good with plants as Neville, but he thought he at least knew the basics. He also thought he had known everything about the four houses—well, enough of them, anyway.
Amelia smirked. Leonard wiggled his eyebrows knowingly.
For a moment, they were the perfect picture of mischief and Harry nearly choked on his sandwich. He expected that kind of look from a Slytherin—or the Weasley twins—and most definitely not from a Hufflepuff. As if sensing what he thought, Amelia flipped her long braid of hair over one shoulder and perked a brow.
"Isn't it dangerous?" He had to ask. He could remember his own run-in with Devil's Snare on that first hair-raising year. He'd been lucky to have Hermione there and lucky that he could trust her.
"They don't hurt us." Leonard smoothed a hand through his curly hair. "and if we introduce you, they won't hurt you either—at least, in theory." He frowned. "We haven't really tried to introduce nice people to them."
"You are not introducing Harry to your plants!" Megan protested. Her grip around her Submissive's shoulders tightened fractionally. She was sure that he'd faced worse before—Voldemort when he was a baby and all that, but still! She would not send him waltzing off into danger without having her say. "I've seen the way they react when the-"
"Aww, they're just hungry, Jones." Leonard chuckled. But he was smiling and it was enough to say that he would do as she asked, for the time being. "As long as you feed 'em, they're nice enough." He shared another chuckle with his twin. "What's funny is that they're actually very dangerous plants, as I'm sure you know," he told Harry. "And they're actually very friendly with Amelia and me, so if a professor needs ingredients—you know, like Professor Snape or something, they ask us to collect them."
"Like leaves from his Venomous Tentacula or a sprig of my Devil's Snare." Amelia explained. "Megan, you know we wouldn't let anything happen to him."
The older girl merely scowled.
"She's right. You'd have our heads and then you'd carve our hearts out with a dull knife."
"Why a dull knife?" Harry twisted around, somewhat fascinated to see the scowl on Megan's face. He hadn't known she could make an expression quite like that.
"Because it hurts more." Megan said, matter-of-factly. "You will not take him on your own. I will be there."
"Aww, don't you trust us?"
"On the contrary, it's because I trust you."
Amelia rolled her eyes. "Never mind her, Harry. I swear you are perfectly safe with us. Remember that. Now, would you like to see them? You're more than welcome to join us. We usually look after them in the morning, before breakfast. It's a bit messy on Fridays, because we have to add the dragon dung and such, but every other morning is fine. You should come sometime."
Harry found himself smiling. It did sound like fun with a nice dose of hard work thrown in. He was fairly sure that it would be worth at least one visit and if he could spend the time with or near Megan, then that was alright with him. He looked to her, hoping that whatever she was unhappy about wouldn't be enough to keep her from agreeing. He certainly didn't have to listen to her, but he would if he knew it made her happy. "Could I join you one morning, if that's alright-?" It sounded like a purely Hufflepuff project and while he surely didn't mind inter-house projects and cooperation, he did not want to be in the way of any of them.
"May I." Megan corrected, absently. "I suppose it couldn't hurt. Professor Sprout doesn't mind if we take a few guests along, so as long as you don't excite or upset the plants." Megan sighed. "As long as you do exactly what you're told, you may join us."
A/N: Here we go! This didn't come out as long as I wanted it, so sorry for the short chapter, but I think I'll just have to skip a bit of time here and move things along a bit. No Daphne in this chapter, I couldn't quite work her in. Maybe in the next one? We'll see. I really love writing the Hufflepuff side of things, so I'm really glad everyone is enjoying it. :D Thanks for the lovely reviews! I really do appreciate them. Welcome to the new readers and the lurkers and thanks for reading!