- Character Bashing
- Discussion-Child Abuse
- Canon Divergent
Harry had not forgotten about the Tournament – how could he, when it shaped every interaction with the student body – but in the excitement of finding out about Neville, he had pushed it rather to the back of his mind.
Monday morning brought the Tournament back to the fore with emphasis: Rita Skeeter had published her article about the four Champions.
Or rather, the Fourth Champion, because she had dedicated almost the entire article to talking about Harry. She spent pages talking about Harry’s tragic past, chances in the Tournament, and his “blossoming romance” with Hermione. The other champions didn’t appear until the last paragraph; Fleur’s name was misspelled and Cedric wasn’t mentioned at all.
It was a nightmare.
Harry laid his head on the table and groaned. His face was on fire; he could already hear the ambient noise rising, hilarity and outrage intermingled. He looked at the article again. His “quote” about crying about his parents taunted him from the page. Skeeter had simply made up long, rambling quotes from him, things he would never have said to anyone, let alone her.
Shame and horror curdled together in his stomach. He thought he might be sick.
“Come on, Harry,” Hermione said urgently. “We need to get out of the Great Hall.” When Harry looked up, he could see her nervous expression.
And with good reason. People were finishing the article, pointing it out to their friends… and faces were turning towards where Harry and Hermione sat with Neville at the Gryffindor table.
“I’ve got toast and bacon,” Neville said, standing. He had a bundled napkin in one hand and his school bag in the other. “Let’s get out of here.”
Harry climbed to his feet and grabbed his bag, but getting out of the Hall felt like running the gauntlet. The door of the Hall seemed impossibly far away. Harry felt like there was a spotlight beating down on his head, or maybe a giant target painted on his back. Neville and Hermione kept him moving in the face of a sea of hostile and curious faces.
When they finally made it out of the Hall, it was a relief. Hermione led them straight out the front doors. The crisp air outside was a cool wash of relief. Neville shared out the food. Harry just stared at his; he thought if he ate it would probably just come back up.
“You need to eat something, Harry,” Hermione said.
Harry shook his head. “I’m not sure I can. This is a complete nightmare, Hermione. She couldn’t have written something more designed to piss people off if she planned it! And all that bollocks about my parents! I never said a word of that to her!” Harry was nearly shouting.
“I won’t tell you to calm down,” Hermione said. She took the napkin from Neville and cast a keep-fresh charm on it. She held out her hand to Harry and it took him a moment to realize that she wanted the food. She wrapped it in the napkin and handed it back. “You’ll want something to eat later.”
Hermione’s deliberate calm did a lot to help Harry regain his composure. “Thanks, Hermione,” he said. His brain started to come back online. “This is going to be awful,” he said seriously. “Worse than before. I think you guys should spend a few days staying away from-“
“No, and I’m going to pretend you didn’t even say that. We’ll endure, Harry.” Neville stepped close and laid his hand on Harry’s shoulder. “It will be difficult, but it will blow over eventually, and we’re stronger together than we are apart.”
Neville’s voice was steady and his eyes were calm. Harry tried to summon a smile. “Okay. Okay, Nev. Thank you.”
He turned towards Hermione. She was watching them with a thoughtful expression. “You’re daft if you think I’m going to leave you to your own devices, Harry Potter. Besides, we have revision tomorrow afternoon, and you aren’t getting out of it that easily.”
Harry surprised himself by laughing. As they headed down to Herbology together, he felt just a bit better.
There was a storm coming, but at least he didn’t have to weather it alone.
“A storm” turned out to be a tremendous understatement, rather like calling the Whomping Willow “a tad enthusiastic.” For days after Skeeter’s article, Harry dealt with jeers and cutting remarks. Hufflepuff House collectively froz him out. Even the Hufflepuffs he was usually at least friendly with ignored him unless absolutely necessary. The only exceptions were the Hufflepuffs who broke ranks to remind him that he was a liar and a cheat. Nearly all of them wore Malfoy’s Support Cedric Diggory badges.
The Slytherins especially took great pleasure in quoting the article at him, asking if he needed a hanky for his nightly cry about his dead parents. The first and only time someone asked that in front of McGonagall, she took twenty points, but few of the other teachers seemed to care.
And then there was Ron, who seemed to take Skeeter’s article as vindication, proof that Harry really enjoyed his fame. If Harry had harbored any small hope that Ron would use their shared detention – the one they got together for shouting at Snape over his insults to Hermione – to apologize for being a complete prat, two hours of icy silence completely dashed it.
Unfortunately, Hermione had not been deterred. She thought the two of them needed to get over themselves and apologize, and kept trying to force them to talk to each other. Harry had refused point-blank to have anything to do with Ron until he apologized for calling Harry a liar and his awful behavior since, but she hadn’t been there to see most of Ron’s uglier behaviors, and nothing Harry said seemed to faze her.
“But he didn’t *mean* any of it, Harry!”
“It sure sounded like he did,” Harry retorted.
“That’s just how he is, you know that! His anger gets away with him in the heat of the moment and then everything blows over.”
“So, what, Hermione? He gets a pass on being a jerk because he’s a hothead?”
She threw her arms up. “You know that’s not what I mean, Harry! I just think, if you went to him, gave him a chance-“
“I am not going to run around after him trying to make him grow up,” Harry said hotly. “At some point, Hermione, his actions have to start mattering more than his feelings and intentions. And his actions since Halloween have been pretty lousy!”
“He misses you, Harry,” Hermione said. “And I can tell you miss him, too!”
“Miss him?” Harry said incredulously. “I don’t miss him, Hermione! How could I, with him in my face all the time?”
Hermione was both right and wrong. Because Harry did miss Ron. Or rather, he missed the funny, loyal and kind best friend that he had thought Ron was. Harry doubted more and more each day that Ron Weasley was actually that boy. Hermione kept telling him “that’s just how Ron is.” Neville admitted that Ron had a mean streak. Had Harry just wanted a best friend so badly that he seen qualities in Ron that Ron didn’t have? Had he overlooked Ron’s less-than-stellar attributes because they didn’t affect Harry personally?
Harry felt almost like he was grieving. He felt kind of stupid for it, but he missed the Ron who stood next to him in the Shrieking Shack and told Sirius he would have to kill Ron first, the one who flew a car to Hogwarts with him and taught him to play Wizard’s chess. Only time would tell if he and Ron could be friends again, but that Ron – the Ron who had never called him a freak – was gone forever.
It hurt like a stab wound, but Harry didn’t think he could explain that to Hermione. Instead he said, “I’ll give him a chance if he apologizes, Hermione,” Harry sighed. “To me *and* to Neville. But until then, I’m done talking about this, and I would appreciate it if you stopped pushing me about it.”
“But you should-“
“Hermione.” He looked at her steadily.
“Fine,” she huffed.
Harry turned back to what he was doing, but Hermione cleared her throat. “Speaking of Neville…” she said leadingly.
“Yes?” Harry looked up and met Hermione’s perceptive gaze.
“You and he seem to have gotten much closer in the last few days.”
“And,” she drew the word out, “I’d really like to know what changed. Are you and Neville friends now?”
“Yes,” Harry said immediately. He paused. Part of him wanted to keep Neville to himself, to protect their fledgling relationship from the prying questions and unkind assumptions of their classmates, but that wouldn’t be fair to Neville. The other boy had promised to stand with him. Hiding their connection smacked of dirty little secrets, and Harry refused to imply to anyone that he was ashamed of Neville.
“It will become common knowledge eventually, but I’d prefer if you kept this to yourself for now, Hermione.” Harry waited until she nodded. “Neville is my godbrother. He’s family.” Harry could feel the smile creeping across his face. Saying it out loud for the first time felt amazing.
“Oh.” Hermione looked briefly taken aback, then her whole face softened. “Oh, Harry, that’s wonderful. I’m so pleased for you.” Moisture gleamed at the corners of her eyes.
“Thanks, Hermione,” he said softly. “It’s very new, but I wouldn’t give it up for anything.”
She cocked her head suddenly. “Why are you only finding out now, though?”
Harry mentally shook his head. Of course Hermione would jump right to the implications. “Neville told me about a week ago. He’s known since he was fairly young.” Harry picked his way through an explanation of his and Neville’s shared circumstances, trying to avoid Neville’s private information.
“But, if he’s known that long, why didn’t he tell you?” Ire started to build in her eyes. “It was so unfair to keep it a secret, all you’ve ever wanted is a family!”
“It’s all right, Hermione,” Harry soothed. “I don’t blame him. As he pointed out to me, it’s a terribly awkward thing to bring up to a stranger, especially one who’s already invested in a best friend. I think he worried that there was no space for him and didn’t want to take the chance of being proved right.”
“I- yes, I can see that.” Hermione deflated, righteous anger draining away. “That would be frightening.”
“I know now, that’s the important thing.”
“Speaking of that,” she said quietly, “Is there a reason you didn’t tell me?”
Harry stilled. There was no good answer to that question. “No,” he admitted. “At least not a good one. I guess I just… wanted to keep it to myself for a while.” He looked away from the hurt on her face. “There’s so little privacy for me in the Wizarding World. Everyone feels entitled to their opinion about my life, and this stupid Tournament has just made it worse. I feel… protective of Neville. It kind of catches me off guard how much.” Harry drew in a deep, bracing breath and met her eyes. “But that is no reason to keep it from you. I didn’t mean to shut you out, Hermione, and I’m sorry for doing it.”
“You’re forgiven, Harry,” she said. Her easy acceptance made him feel like a heel. “You told me when I asked. And it really would have been an awkward thing to drop into conversation.”
They laughed, the tension between them dissipating.
“I could tell something had changed for you, something more than the Tournament,” she said thoughtfully. “I just couldn’t figure out what.”
That was surprising and oddly gratifying. “You could really tell?”
Hermione nodded. “You’ve changed a lot in just the last week. It’s like you have a little more confidence. You’re certainly taking your schoolwork more seriously. I never thought you would agree to revision this year, let alone suggest it. Just last month you and Ron were laughing about my plans to take the OWL practice tests.”
Harry groaned. He and Ron *had* done that. They’d had quite a laugh over Hermione’s tendency to obsess and overdo. Harry could feel his cheeks burning. Knowing what he knew now about the OWLs, their teasing seemed beyond the pale. “Oh, Merlin, I am so sorry, Hermione.”
She chuckled. “Relax, Harry. I know that I’m more intense about my academics than most. It wasn’t the first time I’ve been teased about it and it won’t be the last. Besides, at least I know the two of you meant it in good humor. I’ve had a long time to grow a thick skin about it.”
“I still feel bad about it,” Harry said stubbornly. “You should be able to share your passions with your friends without expecting jokes and- and mockery.”
“It was hardly mockery, Harry. Believe me, I know the difference.”
“Still. I can’t promise to be perfect, Hermione, but I need to be better. A better person and a better friend. Neville deserves that from me, and honestly, so do you.” Harry rubbed the back of his neck and cleared his throat, trying to dislodge the lump trying to grow there.
He met Hermione’s eyes, warm and compassionate and shining with tears. “I just want to be the best brother to him that I can. I don’t ever want him to have regrets.”
After his emotional conversation with Hermione, it was actually a relief to focus on First Year charms for an hour. Each of them had brought a notebook specifically for revision, as Hermione recommended. (Or rather, Hermione and Neville had notebooks and Harry had a sheaf of parchment he had stuck together along one side with a charm. He was immediately jealous of Neville’s soft-cover notebook with its lined parchment. When Neville mentioned that they were available at Scrivener’s in Hogsmeade, Harry vowed to buy at least three.)
They listed the charms they had learned and then added several that they hadn’t focused on in class and some from Hermione’s extra credit work. She had saved copies of every assignment, because of course she had. The volume of work in her carefully organized binders was honestly intimidating.
Neville seemed to share his thought. “We did all of that in First Year?”
“It’s not as bad as it looks,” Hermione assured them. “This is our work from the entire year for both Charms and Defense.” Then she ruined it by saying, “You should see my Third Year binders.”
The wicked glint in her eye made Harry laugh.
Harry didn’t have Hermione’s thorough understanding of the theory, but his grasp on the practical spellwork was rock solid and he seemed to have a knack for explaining how to make them work. Neville shared what he learned from his summer tutors. (“Of course I have tutoring in the summers,” Neville said. “How else do you think I’m keeping up in Potions? It’s not like I learn much from Professor Snape.”) Between the three of them, they worked through the first half-year of Charms, noting incantations, wand movements and helpful hints. Harry was stunned to realize that an hour and a half had flown past.
“Where did the time go?” Harry leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms, feeling the pull all the way down his back. Neville grimaced at him when his spine popped. His godbrother closed his revision notebook, patting it with a quietly pleased expression.
“We were on a roll.” Hermione made a final note and then charmed her ink dry. “We still have some time before dinner. Want to get some homework done?”
Harry raised a brow at Neville and, seeing his agreement, nodded. “Sounds like a good idea, Hermione.”
“If you have time, Hermione, I was wondering if you would please proof my Transfiguration essay?” Neville asked.
“I’d be happy to, Neville! I can look yours over, too, Harry, if you’ve got it started,” she said.
Harry took a certain amount of pleasure in her shocked look when he whipped out his nearly-complete essay. “I,” he said loftily, “have been *using my time efficiently.*” He tried to arrange his face in a serene, noble expression, but he completely lost the battle with his smile when Neville snorted.
“If you get your nose any higher,” he chuckled, “you’ll be inhaling clouds.”
Hermione giggled at them and accepted their essays.
After dinner, Harry found himself in the unusual position of having almost no homework to do. His Charms work was done and he’d finished the reading for that and for Transfiguration. Moody never seemed to set them much in the way of extra work; he favored practical classes and pop quizzes. He spent a while making a clean copy of his Transfiguration essay, incorporation Hermione’s surprisingly few notes. Usually Harry was rushing to finish his essays the night before they were due; he almost never had time to make a good copy of his work. He had to admit, it looked a lot better without all the crossed out words and extra bits squished into the margins.
He was just finishing up his Potions homework when Neville climbed in the portrait hole.
Neville was still wearing what he called told Harry was a work robe, a heavy, dun-colored short robe with much closer-fit sleeves than the school uniform. His dragon hide gloves peeked out of a pocket. Neville scanned the Common Room and Harry waved him over from his study table in the corner.
“Hey, Nev,” Harry said as the other boy sat across from him. “Rough night in the greenhouses?” Now that Neville was closer, Harry could see a long grass stain streaked up the arm of his robe.
“Ran into some Slytherins on the path coming back.”
Harry sat bolt upright. “What? Are you hurt? What happened?”
“Whoa, whoa, calm down, Harry, nothing happened. One of them shoulder checked me and I lost my balance, that’s all.”
“Are you sure you don’t need to see Madam Pomfrey?” Harry fretted.
“I’m *sure*, Harry.” Neville said. “I’m an old hand at falls, remember? The skin isn’t even broken.” his voice softened. “Don’t fret, Harry, I’m okay.”
Harry sighed and tried to let it go. He changed the subject. “I just finished the Potions homework. How many adverse reactions did you find?”
“Um, fourteen, I think,” Neville said.
Harry’s mouth fell open. “Fourteen?! I only found nine. Crap, what did I miss,” Harry muttered to himself, reaching for his bag. He was going to have to add to his paper. Snape had specified “at least seven adverse reactions,” but for Gryffindors that meant “if you only have seven you will get a failing grade.” More was better where the dungeon bat was concerned.
“If you got all four temperature changes,” Harry had not, “then you probably missed the vetiver reactions.”
Harry raised his head. “Vetiver? I thought the vetiver root was stable in this potion.”
Neville shook his head. “Vetiver is related to lemongrass. Unless it’s stabilized, it will react to all the same animal products as lemongrass except, um. Except one. Hold on, I’ll think of it.”
“Vetiver.” Harry shook his head. “I would never have thought of it. Good thing you know plants so well. Thanks, Nev, you’re a lifesaver.”
“You’re welcome,” Neville said, smiling faintly. “My cauldron-melting experience finally comes in handy.” He looked a bit distracted. “Can I look at your book quick? I can’t think of the exception.”
Harry pushed his book over, already scribbling notes on a bit of scrap parchment.
Neville flipped the pages for a bit. “Ah-ha! Bicorn horn, that’s the exception.”
Harry paused, then crossed out the note he’d just made.
While Harry finished redoing his Potions homework, Neville vanished up to their dorm to change. By the time he came back, Harry had finished adding two paragraphs about vetiver and the last temperature change. Neville sat back down, now wearing one of the simple open-front robes he favored as leisure wear.
Harry charmed his ink dry and then gave Neville his full attention, realizing that his godbrother looked anxious. “What is it, Neville?”
Neville twisted his hands together, then seemed to realize he was doing it. He tucked them under the table. “I thought maybe that you, um. That is, I was wondering if you might want to go down to the greenhouses with me sometime?” Neville rushed out the last bit so fast Harry barely caught it.
“Go down to the greenhouses with you?”
“Only if you want to!” Neville hurried to say. “You’re not bad at Herbology, you know, and there are several different projects going on. Some of them are even extra credit! I thought maybe you might, uh, enjoy it?” The look of cautious hope on his face was almost painful to look at.
“I do okay when I have instructions, but I don’t have anything like your green thumb, Nev,” Harry warned. Most of his ability with plants was a byproduct of taking care of his Aunt’s flowers. Those memories didn’t exactly engender warm feelings about gardening. Plus, he was pretty unpopular at the moment. “Are you sure I would be welcome?” He asked seriously. “Professor Sprout seems pretty unhappy with me lately. I wouldn’t want you to get in trouble.”
In fact, Professor Sprout had been quite brusque with him during their last class. Considering her normally friendly demeanor, she had been practically arctic.
“The gardens are open to everyone, I’m sure it’ll be fine.” Neville didn’t sound all that sure, but Harry wasn’t going to point that out. This was something Neville clearly enjoyed; the least Harry could do was go and check it out.
“If you’re sure it’s okay, then I’d be happy to come down for a while.”
“That’s great!” Neville looked so pleased. Harry instantly decided that even if he was bored out of his mind, he would never say a word about it. “We could go down after breakfast on Saturday?”
Harry smiled back. “Sounds good, Nev.”
It was good that Harry had something to look forward to; Fridays were fast becoming nearly intolerable. Between Binns first thing in the morning and an entire afternoon of Snape, Harry was going to lose his mind.
As always, Binns did his best impression of an auditory sleeping charm. Only Hermione still reliably took notes, and even her eyes looked droopy by the time class ended. Neville didn’t stand a chance; he simply laid his head down on his book and went to sleep.
From experience, Harry knew that if he went back to sleep he would be groggy and irritable at least until lunch and possibly into the afternoon. To combat the soporific pull of Binns’ voice, Harry opened up one of the History texts Neville had recommended. Ever since Neville had opened his eyes to how much interesting history existed in the Wizarding World, Harry had hated Binns’ class even more. The ghost taught only the bare minimum of human history, instead focusing almost entirely on wixen wars with goblins and other non-human races. It was maddening.
Potions had become a perfect nightmare. Three hours of trying to concentrate on a delicate and explosion-prone brew while the Slytherins quoted Rita Skeeter at him and jeered at him. The faint twitch of Snape’s mouth every time one of the little gits made a particularly pointed remark made Harry long to punch him right in his overly large nose.
Neville, as usual, was a nervous wreck for the entirety of class. He had to deal with all the same hazards Harry did, with the added handicap of his terrible fear of Snape. Now that Harry was paying attention, he was aware of the way Snape lingered near the Gryffindors during some of the difficult phases of the brewing, hovering silently a hair too close and making scathing comments just as Neville was trying to count his stirs. It was sabotage, plain and simple, and Harry wondered how he had never seen it before.
Hermione handled things more gracefully than either of them. She managed to tune out Pansy Parkinson’s spiteful gibes, answer Snape’s pointed questions and turn out a near perfect potion while still keeping an eye on Harry’s temper and Neville’s cauldron. She kicked his ankle anytime he started to lose his temper and kept up a steady stream of “ignore it, just ignore it,” under her breath.
She only had to correct Harry’s potion once, though – his extra study bearing fruit – and between the two of them they kept Neville from ruining his potion. The end result was considerably more teal and runny than it ought to have been, but all things considered, it was a success.