Prophet: Good morning Mr Potter! I am Rita Skeeter from the Daily Prophet and I am most pleased to be the first person that gets an exclusive interview from you. May I ask where the sudden change of mind comes from?
Potter: Honestly? You're the first to ask for one.
Prophet: Really? That is strange because I know for certain that there were made several attempts including from my own person.
Potter: Well, I never received any invitations. Till my eleventh birthday I didn't even know about the wizarding world, living with my muggle relatives. I think there were mail wards on the house too. Why I didn't receive anything when I started at Hogwarts, I do not know.
Prophet: It seems someone has been hiding you then. But last week at the Quidditch World Cup you decided to step out of the shadows. Tell me what was it like to fight against those Death Eaters? Were you afraid? Did you think you'd have to die?
Potter: I was merely seeing these people letting those muggles hover over their heads and nobody was helping them. I did what I had to do. Afraid? Maybe a little. But I don't really think those were really Death Eaters.
Prophet: Oh? How so?
Potter: Of course I haven't met a lot of Death Eaters. But I get that under their masters regime they were hitting strategically and effectively. These man seemed to be more like some sadists being out for fun. That's probably why they fled from the Dark Mark too. If I compare their behavior with, let's say, Professor Quirrel, they were thoroughly lacking subtlety.
Prophet: Who may this Professor Quirrel be?
Potter: A, I guess he's not a Professor anymore. Nevermind him, that lays in the past.
Prophet: You said those men fled from the Dark Mark. Wouldn't they be happy to see it?
Potter: From what I read in your paper nobody was killed, not even the muggles. So the hooded men weren't out to kill someone. I think that there was a real Death Eater who was angry at the wannabe ones and wanted to ruin their fun. This man is the really dangerous one, the one the aurors should not forget to search for.
Prophet: Right after the Cup one Severus Snape, teacher at Hogwarts, was taken into questioning. It is rumored that it was his wand that was used to put the Dark Mark on the sky. What do you think about that?
Potter: Err, I don't like giving a comment to that. He already hates my guts because of some feud with my dead father, no reason to make it worse.
Prophet: So you think Mr Snape might be a Death Eater?
Potter: If I really thought that, I'd be stupid to tell it the newspaper. I don't think he was the one responsible for the Dark Mark though. He'd have to be there enjoying Quidditch and he's really no fan of the game.
Prophet: Indeed Mr Snape claims that his wand was stolen by none other then Sirius Black. Do you feel scared knowing that he may have been with you at the Cup, likely to kill you?
Potter: Not really. He wouldn't be the first one to try. Since I entered Hogwarts I already faced more life-threatening situations then Black has in his entire life.
Prophet: Would you mind to elaborate?
Potter: I don't want to discredit anyone. If these things happened at any other place then Hogwarts, I wouldn't be here right now. Dumbledore is said to be the only wizard Riddle ever feared, after all.
Prophet: Who's Riddle?
Potter: That's the birth name of *********. Tom Riddle, halfblood I think it was. He went to Hogwarts in 1944 before he started his career as a Dark Lord.
Prophet: An astonishing revelation! All of this sounds very mysterious. Talking to you has brought more questions then has been answered. Would you like to tell our readers one last thing?
Potter: Sure. I'd like to tell people that there's no reason to fear what's left of Riddles forces today. Just like there's no reason not to stand up against him in person.
Prophet: Talking from experience, Mr Harry Potter! Thank your for the interview.
It was September 1th and Harry arrived in London three hours early. That gave him the chance to bid farewell from his godfather. They sat together in a small café in one of the more lonely corners. Harry came in with a big black dog who turned back into a man as soon as they were out of sight. He was wearing a ridiculous large hat and a wide coat like in one of these espionage movies to disguise himself. Plus Harry held his invisibility cloak ready to hide him under.
"This article is really good", Sirius just commented, reading the newspaper Harry brought him. "I don't remember Skeeter being so... docile, though. No mentions of tragical trauma? Not a word about your girlfriend? I mean, this is actually the truth!"
"Daphne's father is an editor at the Prophet, remember?", Harry answered. "I think he cut out a lot of it. The interview itself was almost twice as long and partly really embarrassing."
"Still sounds like you managed really good. This will draw a whole tornado after it."
"I don't like the thing about you. I would have liked to tell everyone that you're innocent!"
"I know, Harry. But it's good that you didn't. No one must know that we're in contact."
"Yes, Daphne said that too", Harry muttered. "That howler of hers only screamed at me for about half an hour too. Apparently she has house arrest because her father was so angry when he found out about the interview."
"And that's a good thing because...?"
"Well, if she thought I had screwed up the interview completely, it would have been at least three hours! Not that it matters, the Dursley still refused to give me any food for the rest of the summer."
"Well, good then that I taught you how to pick a lock, hm?" Sirius smirked at him. "You're thinking a lot about what this Daphne would say, aren't you?"
"What's that supposed to mean?", Harry asked alarmed.
"Oh, nothing... It's just that your parents were used to fighting a lot when they were at your age."
Sirius laughed at him and pocketed the paper. "Let's see how things go from here. Your first official statement will be a success. Letting the people know about everything you did... About Voldemort's, or Riddles origin, all of that behind the back of Dumbledore and the ministry... It has a political touch but it's without a doubt the best prank I've ever seen. And that's not just because you're pulling it on the whole world. I'm proud of you, Prongslet."
"Thanks", Harry said with a warm feeling. "I-I'm doing this for you too, you know."
"Me?", Sirius asked surprised.
"Well, if I'm a public person and everyone listens to me... Then maybe they'll listen to me too when I'm telling them about your innocence."
For a second the light in Sirius eyes dimmed somewhat. "It's okay, Harry. I don't want you to aim your entire life just to get me free. I'll find Peter, you can count on that. Let me handle my own problems."
Slowly Harry nodded. He wouldn't give up on his idea, though. Daphne had already promised to help him getting a lawyer. He was still angry at her for lying about the ritual, but she was right: She was irreplaceable now. He needed her for the potion for Salihas eyes, he needed her to get a lawyer and above all he needed her to be his manager so he wouldn't have to return for another year to the Dursleys – but so he could live with Sirius. His friends were great at keeping him happy. But for the actual things he wanted to archive in this world, they couldn't help him much.
It was time to head for the train so Sirius changed back into a dog. Together they went to the station were his godfather got up on two legs, laying two paws on his shoulders and giving him a friendly lick on the cheek. Harry laughed at him and patted his head. Sirius wouldn't come to the platform because there were so many wizards.
Harry was actually twenty minutes early when he dragged his trunk through the magical barrier and finally, finally! saw the Hogwarts-Express again. He couldn't see any of his friends, although more people then normally seemed to turn in his direction and started whispering. It wasn't however the mistrusting talking-behind-your-back kind of whispering he got in his second year. Harry needed some minutes to realize that, but the people were actually giving him impressed looks, some even smiling and waving at him although he'd never ever spoken to them.
Harry found an empty compartment in the middle of the train and settled down to wait for his friends to arrive. Hedwig was sleeping peacefully in her cage but Saliha was sound awake. She actually bugged him until he led her out of her basket. The basilisk slithered onto his lap were the sunlight from the window could reach her.
"Massster, sscratch my head!", she demanded impatiently when he looked at her a little dumbfounded. What should he tell people when someone entered and saw her? He supposed he couldn't hide her forever. According to Daphne he could pretend her to be a harmless Broghammerus reticulatus. Although snakes weren't specifically mentioned in the list of pets that could be brought to Hogwarts, Sirius had told him that other small animals were okay too, as long as they were harmless. Apparently his little brother Regulus had owned a bat at school. Besides, nobody had ever complained about Scabbers either. Although they probably should have, with him being an animagus just waiting to kill Harry in his sleep and all that...
Right at that moment the door opened. It was Neville who shyly looked around the compartment. He flinched noticeably when he saw Saliha but still entered.
"Err, hi Harry", he greeted him, still standing in the frame.
"Hi Neville. Please, do come in."
Neville hesitated some more seconds before dragging his trunk in and sitting opposite of him.
There was an awkward silence only disturbed from Salihas relaxed hissing.
"Uh", Neville finally said. "do you know there's a giant snake on your lap, Harry?"
Wow. That's what Daphne had to feel like when they met for the first few times and Harry asked all kind of stupid questions. Of course he still asked stupid questions (according to her reactions at least) but with her teaching him regularly about wizarding culture, mannerism and having a conversation without knowing what the other was even talking about but pretending otherwise, they had become far less frequent.
"Yes, I do know that", he said just a little bit sarcastic.
Harry sighed. "My uncle brought it for my pig of a cousin half a year ago. Apparently he thought it was cool, having a reptile as a pet. Until he discovered that Saliha liked laying in the sun and being overall quite lazy. She was almost starved when they bumped her terrarium in my room so that Dudley would have more space for more expensive toys in his. She kind of begged me to rescue her, so here we are."
"Oh", Neville said. "I-I forgot that you could... well. "
"That I could speak to snakes?" One lesson Daphne had hammered in his head was to never show it when he was insecure. It kind of helped that he was speaking with Neville of all people, who was the most insecure person he knew.
"Yeah, it's kind of a bother. But I have to admit it is cool to have a speaking pet, even if it's just a slimy snake."
"Hey! Take that back!", Saliha hissed angrily.
"I'm sorry, dear", he reassured her. "But I have to keep up appearances, right? You know I don't mean it."
"That's not enough! Take it back now, in human-language!", she demanded stubbornly.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Fine, you aren't slimy. Your skin is perfectly dry. You're such a beautiful creature and your eyes shine like little diamonds."
Saliha nodded her head contently. "Remember that one!"
Neville looked at them very strangely, but Harry just shrugged and whispered: "Girls!"
There was the tiniest smile as Neville watched the snake, that was by now roughly as long as Harrys arm.
"You're right, though", he mused. "Her eyes do shine."
Not wanting Neville to stare to much into Salihas eyes (the headache they created got stronger with each passing day) Harry quickly changed the subject.
"Do you want to pet her?"
Neville looked at him shocked.
"It's okay. Saliha isn't poisonous, let alone big enough to do you any harm. Plus it's time for her usual nap, she's absolutely harmless."
Still looking a little scared Neville nodded hesitantly. Wow. Harry got better at lying. He felt kind of bad about it but as he watched the shy boy carefully pet Saliha, being positively surprised that her skin was indeed dry and not slimy, he still thought it was worth it. Together with Hermione there were now two Gryffindors who accepted his new pet. 68 more to go. Sigh.
Speaking of the devil, Hermione stuck her head into the compartment. Her face lit up as she saw Harry and she took her place beside him.
"Harry, it's good to see you again – hi Neville! How was your summer?"
"Uh, fine", Neville said.
"Mine was good", Harry answered. "I just told Neville how my cousin almost starved his newest pet to death before dumping her on me." He gave her a meaningful look and pointed towards Saliha, who had just decided that Harrys lap was great for a short nap.
"Oh...! I mean, that's, err, nice of you, to take care of her. What's her name?"
"Saliha. Dudley wanted to call her Dschingis Khan. Of course she detested the name. He didn't even bother to ask the shopkeeper after her gender..." According to the Slytherin, a lie was better the more unimportant details it contained.
Hermione chuckled at that and made a show out of greeting Saliha as if she had never met her. The serpent ignored her.
Slowly the time went by. A couple of students passed by looking for an empty compartment. Of course it came as it had to come – one of the little groups out for empty seats consisted of Daphne, along with Tracey and Millicent from Slytherin and a Ravenclaw girl Harry didn't recognize.
"Uh, the stinky Gryffindorks", Tracey called and made a face.
"Let's find another place", Millicent grumbled, already turning around.
There was an awkward silence when Daphne stood in the doorway, looking from her friends to Harry and back again.
Harrys mind started thinking fast. What did her hesitation mean? Was she waiting for him to invite her in? Or did she think that he expected her to greet him in a friendly manner but couldn't during to her friends' presence while not wanting to be impolite to him either?
The situation got even more awkward when the Ravenclaw turned to Daphne.
"What are you waiting for?"
Daphne just opened her mouth when Harry interrupted her:
"Yes, what are you waiting for? I promised Ron to save him a seat, so we're full here. I'm sure down the train you'll find an empty compartment, though."
It was perfect. His answer could be interpreted two ways - a sarcastic remark towards Slytherins who should get the hell away from him, or a more or less polite advise among friendly acquaintances. It left a lot of leeway for them, which was important. Yes, sooner or later they would have to make their relationship official, be it friendly or romantic, but both of them wanted to delay that as far as possible.
The smile Daphne gave him was actually genuine as she made an indifferent "hn" and left together with her friends.
"I never noticed that there are so many people passing by in the train", he murmured, when two minutes later the Weasley twins came to greet them. (They left them some candy too, but Harry made sure to grab them before Neville could make a move. It was never a good idea to eat something that came from one of these two.)
"Well, that's probably because you're usually one of the last ones to catch the train", Hermione said. "But so is Ron. He should be here shortl-"
Speaking of the devil again (Harry asked himself what he had done wrong to end in hell) there was the one friend coming Harry dreaded meeting the most. His last letter hadn't sounded as if he had forgiven Harry for not bringing him to the Cup and the interview was more likely to have made it worse. So when Ron was standing in the door, glaring at him, Harry prepared himself for a very embarrassing scene. Instead Ron chose to ignore him, addressing Hermione instead:
"Hey, Hermione. Fred and George promised to demonstrate some of their new fake wands. Do you want to come look at them?"
"Uh..." Hermione looked from Harry to Ron and back again. "Maybe... Maybe later?", she said hesitantly. "Why don't you sit with us for now?"
"Yeah Ron", Harry nodded. "You always sit with us."
"No", he answered coldly. "I don't sit with snakes. - You can come over anytime you want, Hermione, Neville."
And with that he was gone.
"Uh", Neville broke the silence that threatened to overcome them, "did something happen between you guys?"
"Don't know what you're talking about", Harry said between gritted teeth.
Harry was actually surprised that nothing extraordinary happened on his drive to Hogwarts like it did last year. And the year before. The school year seemed to start normally for once. That was until he sat with Hermione at the feast and Dumbledore announced that their school would host a deadly tournament.
"I can't believe this!", Hermione exclaimed as the hall suddenly awoke in more or less quiet discussions. "The Triwizard Tournament? Are they crazy?"
"Ah yes, that tournament", Harry said scowling, pretending to know what she was talking about.
"It's a really dangerous thing", Hermione explained. "It was forbidden around 100 years ago because so many people died in it."
Harry starred at her. He knew from all the wizarding history research Daphne had made him do to make up for all the lost lessons of Binns, that they were a rather crazy society. It was really not uncommon for people to die in stupid accidents or being eaten by unknown creatures. Around 1900 it was still legal and completely normal for wizards to challenge each other to a life-or-death duel for sometimes really stupid reasons. For such an society a bloodthirsty tournament seemed to be a completely normal way of entertaining. At least that was how things went until the muggles began to develop so fast with their technology. Wizards had to keep up and put some effort into making their lives safer lest they were overrun by the muggles whose numbers shot up like a racket.
To reopen such a tournament now seemed to Harry to be a very twisted way of showing progress. Or rationality, for that matter. Who on his right mind would want to compete in such a tournament just to defend the honor of the school against people he never met and likely would never meet again?
"I know what kind of tournament it is", Harry claimed.
"You do?", Hermione asked, positively surprised.
"Yeah, well... Fudge mentioned it on the cup so I did some research." That was only half a lie. Fudge had left some shady hints about a great international event at Hogwarts. He just hadn't thought of it after the attack and all.
"You mean you met the Minister Fudge at the Quidditch Cup?", Dean asked from two seats ahead.
Harry, who barely knew Dean Thomas besides having lived with him for three years, was a little surprised to be approached by him.
"Yes, I did", he answered. He wanted to explain that it was a coincidence, that they were just sitting in the same box. But then he thought; damn he went through hell with Daphne these weeks with all her teaching and he wanted to try out his lessons. Just to show that he had really mastered it.
"Fudge introduced me to the Bulgarian minister", he said with a little polite smile. "He didn't understand English very well so I was surprised when he still recognized me. I mean, is Riddle really that dangerous for me to be famous for surviving him? He only ever lead a war in England, after all."
"Riddle..." Dean shivered. "I read it in the paper of course, but then it's true? His name is actually Riddle?"
Now Seamus Finnigan was listening as well.
"You-know-who really is that dangerous", he said quietly. "My mother told me about those times. When he vanished his Death Eaters already had a firm grip on the whole of Britain. Mom said they were only a week or so away from taking the ministry and that Ireland would be next within the month. But the fear he invoked was mostly during to the resemblances to Grindelwald with his hatred on muggles."
"Who's Grindelwald?", Dean asked, which Harry was thankful for.
"Grindelwald was the Dark Lord before You-know-who. He was defeated by Dumbledore."
"I read about him", Hermione said eagerly. "He was ruling over three quarters of Europe already when he fell! He was said to be terrible, manipulating the muggles to start their own devastating war and used it as cover to call giants and dragons into battles."
"Whoa, wait up!", Harry said and hold up his hands. "You mean to tell me that this Dark Lord Grindelwald ruled over three quarters of Europe and was indirectly responsible for the deaths of millions of people – but it's Riddles name nobody dares to speak aloud?!"
The Gryffindors looked at each other a little baffled.
"Now that you're mentioning it... that sounds pretty weird."
"Grindelwald was going for outright war", Seamus said. "He didn't wipe out entire families. He didn't kill children and innocent women. Grindelwald was leading some kind of revolution in Europe, but You-know-who was standing in you backyard threatening your loved ones."
"I see", Harry meant. "In that case it still doesn't make any sense for completely foreign wizards to fear his name, however. If we had two Dark Lords just in the last century, surely there were more before. He is just one man in a line of overly confident dark wizards. It's been more then ten years since he vanished. Today there is really no need to fear his name. He's just a riddle form old times. If fear was his strongest weapon, I plan to fight against it by showing that he was human too."
"It would certainly unsettle those who still believe in his ways", Dean said, looking meaningful at the Slytherin table.
"Exactly. Even if the original Death Eaters had to know his true name, the current ones most likely don't, let alone the wannabe ones. If there's a dark Lord every fifty years or so we should better prevent the next one from gaining foot."
"That's not going to be easy", Hermione called. "Not as long as vampires and werewolves and giants have so little rights in wizarding society. They would always stand with any dark Lord. They did so in almost every dark war."
"Of course they did", Seamus sneered. "Because they're dark creatures!"
"Wrong! They're called dark creatures because they fight for their rights. It's not their fault that the human on top is always a crazy mass murderer."
"You can say whatever you want, but a pure mad man wouldn't have managed to get that far, to even make people fear his name."
Dean scowled. "I always found it a little bit ridiculous how nobody wanted to say his name, to tell the truth. Okay, maybe I never heard much about him since I'm muggleborn, but to me it just seems kind of stupid. Harry is right, thinking about him that way you realize he's just another human."
"I don't know..." Seamus said. "I still don't feel comfortable with that subject. Even if logic tells you otherwise, to speak his name aloud..."
"What's wrong with his name?", Harry asked. "What's wrong with Riddle?"
"No, I mean-" Seamus stopped himself. "Ah, right, his true name isn't V...V... You know-who, his true name is Riddle."
"And that's what I'll be calling him from now on", Harry exclaimed. "He won't ever get anything else from me – nothing more, nothing less. Just his name."
Unbeknownst from them their conversation had been overheard by quite a few people. Pupils from third and fifth year started to think about their words.
Meanwhile Dumbledore told them about the 1000 Galleones and the everlasting fame that came with winning the tournament. Harry listened closely. He was sick of being famous for something he could barely remember. The thought of people cheering for him because he actually did something right was very appealing. It was the main reason why he played Quidditch after all. Sure, he liked flying, but he wouldn't have to be in the team for that, spending all his free evenings on training when he really needed to do his homework. Maybe this tournament wasn't such a bad idea after all.
Still he had had enough of danger for two lifes and when it was announced that there would be an age restriction for all minors he did not belong to the various teens complaining loudly. (He noticed that Ron did, though.)
But somehow the whispers about Harrys interview and his opinion on Voldemort continued to be spread. At the next morning when McGonagall gave them their schedules she was more then surprised about the scraps of conversation she picked up. Her Gryffindors, the house she had though would be the most exited about the tournament, was barely talking about it at all. When they did they mostly asked themselves for the reason such a dangerous tournament was held after 100 years of break.
And Minerva pondered about the question who had been able to make her stubborn, keen little lions that were always in the mood to throw a party actually thinking about something serious. She'd like to give him or her fifty house points and an exception from homework for a whole month.
One week passed without further incidents. Ron continued to avoid Harry. He tried to talk to him but he blocked all attempts. Hermione too was angry; at Ron for being so stubborn and at Harry for bringing a deadly snake to Hogwarts.
"I get it that you don't want anything to happen to her", she used to say. "But I'm sure you could find some experts that could take care of her. Why don't you talk with Ron? His brother Charlie works with dragons, doesn't he, he helped us with Norbert and I'm sure he could find a nice place for Saliha too."
But Harry didn't want to leave Saliha. He had owl ordered a terrarium for her that was kept next to his bed. Most of the time she hid there but after two weeks of school he finally received message from Daphne.
Her letter came with the usual morning post. Since the press hadn't mentioned her name yet it had not been necessary to think about a cover story for their friendship (which Harry was eternally grateful for). After dinner he followed the directions of her message until he came to an unused classroom in the dungeons. Inside Daphne had assembled a huge iron cauldron and a smaller one at its side. Harry greeted Daphne, who was already busy cutting some ingredients at a bank.
"Is this the potion that will cover Salihas gaze?", he asked.
Daphne rolled her eyes. "What did I tell you about stating the obvious?", she snapped.
"Eh, not to do it?"
"Is that a question?" She shook her head."The potions is in the big cauldron. It's not even that difficult. Some girls in the higher years use it. Aside from making the pupils larger it also casts a weak glamor that's supposed to make the girl more attractive. Nobody will ever guess what we'll really use it for... That's why it was comparatively easy to get the permission of Professor Snape to use this classroom."
"Permission of Snape... easy!?"
"I am a Slytherin, in case you forgot."
"Oh, yeah. For a moment I might have."
She glared at him. "I take that as an insult. Now, as I said the potion isn't really difficult. The problem is the Stasis Potion." She pointed at the smaller cauldron that was emitting a silver fume. "During our lessons stasis charms are enough to keep the potion from developing too early. But the Belladonna Potion has to be fresh. We don't have the means to brew it once a week so we have to add Stasis Potion to make it more durable. That's an advanced potion, we have to be very careful with it. That's why I called you here, I need an assistant."
"Alright. What should I do?"
"You can cut the Valerian roots for the Stasis Potion while I prepare its basis."
"Alright." Harry went to the cupboard that contained various potion ingredients, asking himself what the hell Valerian roots were. There was a whole drawer with different kinds of roots. They were all stuffed into little compartments but careless students sometimes mixed some of them so the inscriptions were deceiving. Finally he found the right ones and began to cut them.
"With a silver knife", Daphne said rolling her eyes, just as Harry was about to begin. "Better get used to cutting roots with a silver knife only. They are already fairly dry, how else do you want to get the liquid out of it?"
Harry didn't understand the least what the knife material had to do with the amount of liquid you got out of the roots. But he wasn't a potions genius either so he complied, hoping Daphne wasn't just fooling him.
Five minutes later he was finished and gave the roots into the cauldron. Daphne meanwhile was concentrating hard while reading in a book and at the same time adding other ingredients, stirring the potion sometimes clockwise, sometimes counter clockwise.
Suddenly the potion turned from watery blue into bright red and the liquid started boiling like mad. Daphne shrieked and Harry threw himself on the ground just as the cauldron exploded, sputtering its potion everywhere.
Daphne luckily was fast enough to duck and so none of them got in contact with the potion.
"Potter, what the hell?!", the Slytherin shrieked. "Did you just add hellborne roots to the potion? Who do you want to poison, huh?"
"They were in the drawer for the Valerian roots", he defended himself.
"Professor Sprout showed us these roots just last year, why didn't you recognize them!?" Angrily Daphne began to clean up the room.
"Wonderful. Now we have to start over again!"
Harry stood up and helped her. "Look, maybe I'm not the best for the job..."
"Oh, you noticed?", she asked piercingly.
"Yes I did! Now listen to me, would you?", he meant irritated. "One of my friends – Hermione – she's really good at potions. A Stasis Potion would be childs play for her. I could ask her if she would help you with it."
"You mean the mudblood?", Daphne sneered.
"Don't call her that! Hermione is the best student of our year and you know it!"
"Fine, the muggleborn it is, then." She watched angrily how her Belladonna Potion turned orange during to some of the mucked up Stasis Potion getting into it. It was ruined now too.
"Alright", she signed eventually. "I guess if I want to complete this before her eyes start to knock people unconscious, I have no other choice. Tell her to come here tomorrow at the same time."
"You won't regret it", Harry said smiling.
"Too late. Now get the hell out of here. You've already done enough harm."
When Harry entered the common room again Hermione sat alone in a corner, working on her homework. There were only a couple of other students present, some playing chess or Exploding Snap.
"Hey Hermione, could I have a word with you?"
"Sure", she said a little surprised at his serious note.
"Err, alone if it's possible", he meant, looking at some second years girls chatting at the table next to them.
"Really, it's past curfew and you can't really come up to my dorms, can you? Just cast some privacy wards if it's that important."
"Privacy wards?", he repeated somewhat dully.
"Yes, privacy wards. So that no one can overhear us. Don't tell me you don't know how to do that?"
"Well, I'm sure you do, so..."
Hermione scowled. "Really, with all your... secrets, it's better if you know it yourself. It's not that difficult anyway, just a mix of notice-me-not and silencing spells." She told him the incantation and the wand movement.
Harry was a little irritated with her but eventually after his third try he got it right. All the sound around them muffled down somewhat and the vision got fuzzy. It was as if he had created his own little word where only Hermione and himself really mattered. He had seen Daphne and even Sirius cast that spell but with them it never had such a visible effect.
"Is that normal?", he asked nervously.
"No... You just need some practice until you won't be able to tell the difference", Hermione explained. "It's okay for now, though, nobody will notice something. I guess this is about Saliha then?"
"Yes", he admitted, "the thing is that her eyes are starting to take effect. It's only causing headaches and the like but soon people will fall unconscious from it. Daphne found a solution for it, though, the Belladonna Potion."
"Belladonna?", Hermione repeated surprised. "Now, I would've never thought about that... It's a cosmetic potion after all that..."
What followed was a lengthy explanation. Most of it Harry already knew. But Hermione liked hearing her own voice, liked showing off her knowledge and so he let her talk. While doing that his thoughts wandered again and involuntarily he thought about how to make her stop her rant without insulting her. Subtly that is, like he had learned to do. He didn't come up with a solution but with a way to answer to it so he wouldn't look stupid but also wouldn't offend Hermione who lived in the belief that she always knew everything better (which for the most part was true).
"...and that's why theoretically that could even work out even though it has never been tested", Hermione ended her rant.
"Very good", Harry praised, "I see you already know about the subject. As expected from the smartest witch of the year..."
Hermione puffed up her chest in pride like she always did when she got praised by a teacher. It seemed she didn't even realize right away that Harry wasn't a professor, that he was the supposed student she told a lecture to, not the other way around. Subconsciously that praise made her crave for more as she got so little acknowledgment in Gryffindor house for her superior knowledge. She had always been overseen as the know-it-all, receiving a roll of eyes even from her best friends when she started ranting. That was, when they were not eager to copy her homework. To be actually praised for it from someone who knew what she was talking about was a nice change and it made her eager to please her friend more so. It was exactly what Harry wanted.
"The potion is supposed to be quite simple", he continued smiling. "But to use it on a regular basis we need a Stasis Potion too and that one is more complex."
"Oh, not at all", Hermione said happily. "One just has to follow the constructions closely. The Stasis Potion has less leeway then most we know, that's why it is usually made by sixth years and above but as long as you concentrate on your work it's easy!"
"I should've known you'd say that", Harry answered still smiling. "Daphne still has problems with it. She certainly can't do it alone and is in need of an assistant..."
"I never did a Stasis Potion before... It could be a challenge but I'd be happy to help you out with i-"
Suddenly she stopped herself, scowling.
Harry raised a brow. "What's wrong, 'Mione?"
Her scowl got worse. "Harry... Did you just try to manipulate me?"
"What are you talking about? All I did was to ask nicely-"
"You did! I can't believe it, Harry!"
"Fact is you suck in potion so that girl threw you out her lab, isn't it? Yet you make it sound as if you're just too busy to be bothered by it, assuming I'd jump at the opportunity. Oh, the nerve of you!"
Harry swallowed hard. Was he really that easy to read?
Instead of reacting insulted though, Hermione began to laugh when she saw his guilty face.
"Now don't look like that! I'm just saying that you could've told me right away. You don't have to go all Slytherin on me, I'm your friend after all."
"What the – I'm not going Slytherin!", Harry protested.
"Yes you do", she said softly. "And before you object, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Since the beginning of the year you have been more polite, more considerate and more confident. It might have been a mask, it might have been fake but your company has been more pleasant to people who aren't your friends."
"So you're telling me I've manipulated and lied to my classmates?", Harry asked, no sure why he was so angry. Maybe because he realized it was true?
"That's not what I said. I mean that you're making an effort to draw people to you. That's a good thing because being who you are you will need them. There is nothing wrong with being polite and to fake a smile or two. Once people get to know you they'll see beyond that and become true friends. As long as you let them."
"I – I will", he said in a strange way moved by her words. "You know I... You're right I did it on purpose because... Well, if I'm the celebrity everyone sees in me then I'd have more influence. Someday even politically. And with that people would listen to me and wouldn't keep secrets from me... In first year they didn't listen when I told them about the thief, in second they didn't listen when I swore I wasn't the heir, in third they kept the truth about my parents death from me and I knew no one would listen about Sirius' innocence. I want to change that. I want them to listen to me, to take me seriously. I want to be able to warn them as much as I want to know all those things they're saying I'm to young to know... And if I have to use Slytherin methods for that, I mean, it's not like I'm going dark or something, but if it's just to make people like me and confine in me, then maybe... Maybe it's okay?"
Hermione gave him a warm smile and that more then anything else took a heavy weight from him, a weight he hadn't even known was there until now.
"It is okay", she said. "You know, in my first year I attempted to make friends in Ravenclaw before... well, you know. They didn't want me around, looking down on me... It hurt a lot and after I became friends with you I never tried again but maybe I should have. The teachers always say that they support interhouse friendships and there is nothing wrong with using methods of other houses. If Slytherin were entirely bad that house wouldn't exist anymore, right?"
"Right", he answered, smiling in return. "I just wish people like Ron would see it that way too."
"Oh, good that you're mentioning it." Suddenly her smile grew threatening. "If you want me to help Daphne with that potion then I have a condition. You have to get along with Ron again."
"I mean it's really getting ridiculous, you two were friends since the beginning of Hogwarts and-"
"I said okay."
"- he is kind of right, you shouldn't have lied to him – what did you say?"
"It's okay, Hermione. I wanted to talk to him anyway. He needed his time to cool down, I didn't want to make a scene. But you're right, it's time that I apologize. Daphne wants to keep me away from him but I won't let her."
"Now that's the Harry I know. Do you want me to go to her right away?"
"Well, it's past curfew..."
"I'm sure she is still at work and I will be damned if a Slytherin calls me a coward. If you give me the invisibility cloak it should be alright. Besides, that way you have time to talk to Ron alone."
As Harry went to get the cloak for her he wondered if maybe his manipulation still worked, even if he was found out. For Hemrione do deliberately break the school rules he must have made quite the impression.
Ron hadn't been in the common room nor in his bed so Harry had to ask a few people to find him. As it turned out he seemed to have followed his brothers Fred and George up to their dorm. That was where Harry was heading now. Upon opening the dorm he found the twins eagerly demonstrating some fake wands from Zonkos that they had charmed to not only turn into random objects but also emitting a strange pink smoke that made Ron turn all red and coughing.
"Hi guys", he greeted hesitantly. "Ah, sorry to interrupt... I wanted to have a word with Ron."
"Yeah? What if I don't want to have a word with you?", the ginger answered angry.
"Aw, does the Golden Trio have a fight?", Fred (or was it George?) teased them.
"We had", Harry admitted openly, "and it was my fault. I was an idiot and a jerk and I want to apologize."
Now Ron hesitated a moment before turning to Harry.
"Alright. Whatever you have to say, you can say it in front of them too!"
Harry signed. He couldn't say what he wanted to in front of the twins but he had expected something like that.
"I've always been kind of a secretive person. Everyone sees my as mysterious but what they don't know is that I'm just as clueless about most of the secrets around me as they are. Until I turned eleven I didn't even know that I was a wizard let alone how my parents died. I want to know why they were really murdered, I want to know how I survived and why I have to live with the muggles. I want to know why Riddle wants to kill me, I want to know as much as possible about him to be able to defeat him. I want to know why I even have to, why it's expected of me and why I still don't get any training or sorts to prepare me. Gaining such knowledge... It's what Slytherins are best in. That's why I decided to continue associating with, well, you know, and why I'm trying out their methods. The problem is that my associate wants to use me for his own sake. It's a Slytherin thing but in order to get what I want I have to wander on that slim path between using and being used. I realized that too late which lead to me offending you... I honestly thought I wouldn't be able to get to the Quidditch game. When there was a chance I couldn't go with you. Again it's a thing I can't talk about now, let's just say I was blackmailed. Not telling you was a mistake though and about that I'm sorry. So... yeah, that's about it."
Ron gaped at him. "I... why the hell do you have to talk in bloody riddles?"
Harry gave a meaningful glance at the twins. "Because you're so stubborn? I said I'm sorry, okay? It won't happen again."
"But you won't stop seeing-"
"Yeah, and, and you won't get rid of that ugly snake of yours!"
"You know very well that I'm the only one who can safely look after her", he said between gritted teeth.
Fred and George were watching their argument highly interested now, following their comments like in a game of ping pong.
"You should have just – you know! Like you did with the other."
"Oh yeah, I'll go to Big D and ask him: 'Hello Sir, could I lend that old hat of yours for a moment? No, I'm sorry, I can't tell you what it's for...' So very subtle. Not suspicious at all. I know that you're angry at me but do you really want me to be thrown from school?"
"O-Of course not, but-"
"Or maybe I should just leave her and hand her over to the other side?"
Ron turned ashen.
"You see my dilemma here? It's not just that she belongs to me now – there is no other way to go about it. You're still my best friend, Ron. I still want to sneak out of Hogwarts to Hogsmeade, I still want to lose to you in chess and Exploding Snap and I still want to talk to you about Quidditch. Why does that have to be that damn complicated?"
Ron had turned an ugly shade of red. "Can you... Can you leave us for a second?", he asked his brothers.
"Hey, this is our dorm, Ronnikins", George said. "But you're invited as long as you want to. We even have some snacks left – Fred, could you pass the Canary Cream?"
"Out?", Harry asked Ron, raising an eyebrow.
"Out", he answered and they both darted to the door before the twins could feed them with some of their pranking candy.
"So", Ron began once they arrived in their own dorm, which thankfully was empty, "what did I miss?"
Harry explained patiently about Salihas eyes, the potion they needed and Hermione having agreed to help with it. He also told him about the interview and how Daphne had promised to get him a lawyer so hopefully his arrangement with the Dursleys could be changed.
Although he didn't admit it Ron seemed to understand that he was dependent on Daphne. He was still a little grumpy that Harry hadn't told him about the Cup but after Harry promised to arrange a three on three game of Quidditch with the twins, Katie and Angelina and let him fly his Firebolt on it he seemed to forgive him easily enough.
"So you're getting ready to be a real celebrity now, are you?", Ron meant after he had told him about his summer. "Why don't you take part in the tournament for it? That would be a great chance, wouldn't it?"
"Yes, if it weren't for the age restriction", he answered. "Besides, that thing is deadly and I'd rather like to avoid getting killed. I mean, have you noticed that in the whole three years we have been here we've learned next to nothing about defense? I noticed that when facing the Death Eaters. I probably wouldn't last a second in that tournament."
"But you defeated a Basilisk! A horde of dementors!"
"Yeah, well, but that's not what this is about, is it?"
"I heard the champions had to capture a Basilisk in that tournament once."
"Hell, I have problems capturing Saliha when she leaves her terrarium hunting for mice... And she calls me master!"
Ron snickered at that. "Well then, is there anything else I can help you with?"
"Well, Saliha will shed her skin soon... Then she'll get around one meter in length and while growing will be especially hungry. It would be helpful if we knew where the kitchens are to get her more food. I'm sure Fred and George know, if you can make them talk."
Ron grimaced a little but Harry could see that he was glad he could be of use.
"I'll try my best, mate. If worst comes to happen I could still follow them at Friday. I'm sure they will go down there to get snacks for the usual after party."
Oh, crap. Next week it was Halloween.
Something bad always happened on Halloween.
I found this story during the late spring-cleaning... and I thought it was a shame I didn't continue. I don't have a beta for it anymore and next to 'As good as Death' it takes second priority but it would be sad to abandon it completely. So yeah... I hope you enjoyed this chapter.