Chapter 71 : Needing A Friend
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“They’re outside by the clothesline, dear,” Mum answered absently, loading another set of steaming mince pies onto Ron’s plate.
“One was, but the other’s not.”
“By the chickens?”
“I already looked there,” Ginny said, folding her arms.
“Well I haven’t seen them, then,” Mum said. Ginny continued to glower at her and opened her mouth – probably to tell Mum to Summon it or something – but Mum passed Ron his plate and picked up another one, without even looking at her daughter. “Now, sit down and have some lunch before you go charging off, and then I’ll help you find them.” Mum passed Ginny a plate, and Ginny, seeing she had no real choice in the matter, flopped into the closest seat, looking sulky. Ron wolfed down his lunch, while Ginny only picked at hers. “Stop fussing,” Mum told her.
Ginny glowered at her and shoved a whole pie into her mouth, and then made a show of chewing with her mouth open.
“Ginny!” Mum snapped. Ron sniggered, and then Mum shot him and angry, be-quiet-now-or-else sort of look, and he averted his eyes. Ginny swallowed and folded her arms again. “I didn’t raise you to eat like-”
“Ron?” Ginny suggested. Mum glanced at Ron – who’d unfortunately picked that moment to try to fit two pies in his mouth – and then threw her hands up in the air.
“Oh, Ron, really, you’re nearly eleven!” Mum said exasperatedly.
“Fanks a ‘ot,” Ron managed to mutter to Ginny, who grimaced, as Mum’s attention transferred to him.
“You really should know better. Just what people think if they saw you eating like-”
“’s ‘o one el’ here,” Ron argued.
“That’s not the point!” Mum snapped. She scratched at the back of her neck absently, and then looked frustrated. “And don’t talk back to me, and certainly not with your mouth full.” She tucked her tea towel into her apron and sent the tray of pies floating back to the kitchen. “Two pies... I don’t know what you were thinking!” Ron looked at Ginny in askance, and only got a shrug in return.
Ron swallowed his mouthful – and thought that maybe he had bitten off more than he could chew - and snagged the last pie off his plate, before hopping off his chair and heading for the stairs. Ginny made to follow, but Mum spotted her and started yelling about Ginny not finishing her lunch. Ron didn’t stick around to see the outcome.
When Mum really started up – and it sounded like that’s what was happening - it was best to either run, or just endure it and try to gently get her to see reason; Charlie’d once told Ron that Mum usually overreacted, but that she never started up without cause. Ron didn’t quite believe that, but Charlie was better at him with that sort of thing, so Ron had taken his word as law. Ginny had been told something similar from Bill, Ron knew, but she seemed to have decided that arguing back was the best course of action, and had been employing that technique with Mum with varying degrees of success for almost a year.
The first time she’d yelled back, Mum had been so startled that she’d stopped yelling. Ron had thought it was terrifying, and maybe the coolest thing he’d ever seen, because Mum was scary sometimes. The second time, Mum had been surprised, and not at all impressed (admittedly, Ginny had sneaked out at night to do Merlin-knew-what and not been in her bed the next morning; she’d broken her leg somehow, and Ron and Dad had found her by the orchard, early the next morning) and had been so angry and so worried that Ron had genuinely feared that she might explode. And, every time after that, both had generally been too stubborn and too fired up to back down, resulting in a scene that Ron – and Dad, when he was home – both thought it was bet to avoid.
Ron paused once on the stairs to itch. He didn’t know where he was itchy, just that he felt something uncomfortable. After a few seconds of his hands hovering over his sides and shoulders, but not finding the part responsible for his discomfort, Ron reluctantly lowered his hand and continued the trek up to his room.
Weird, he thought, shaking his head; he didn’t actually feel better, just couldn’t find the source. He rolled his shoulders and rubbed his feet on the patchy carpet outside Fred and George’s room, but that didn’t help either. Disconcerted, Ron decided to try to forget about it; it would have to go away eventually.
Ginny caught up with him on the stairs, obviously wanting company, and Ron was happy for the distraction.
“Who won?” Ron asked, pushing open his bedroom door.
“Mum,” Ginny said crossly, scratching at her ribs. “You haven't seen my gumboot, have you?”
“No,” Ron said, kicking a dirty tshirt out of the way so he could make it to his bed. He flopped down, having decided to lie down and let his lunch settle before doing anything else. Ginny followed him in, apparently under the impression that her plight entitled her to come in.
“What?” she asked, the colour rising in her cheeks. Ron knew that she knew what he was talking about, though. “You're allowed in my room! It's fair that I should be allowed to-”
“Out!” Ron told her, pointing to the door.
“Ginny, out!” he said firmly. “You know the rules.”
“It's a stupid rule,” Ginny snapped, but she stomped over to the door, stepped through it and sat out on the landing. Ron grinned and she huffed and crossed her arms.
“So why are you looking for your gumboots anyway?”
“I'm supposed to be going to Luna's,” Ginny sighed.
Ron snorted. He'd, thankfully, never had anything much to do with Luna Lovegood; Mum and Mrs Lovegood had been putting Ginny and Luna together since they were little, but Ron had somehow managed never to be included and he had no intention of starting that now. Luna was - according to everyone, ever - very strange.
“Oh, don't!” Ginny said. She crawled into his room - Ron started to tell her off about it - and picked up a loose trainer, threw it at him, and then crawled out again. It hit his shoulder, and Ron knew he was lucky it hadn't hit him in the face; Ginny had the best arm of all of them. “Luna's not that bad.”
“She's loony,” Ron said.
“You've hardly talked to her,” Ginny protested.
“Yeah, but when I did, she told me my head was filled with Wrack-somethings, and when we went there on New Years, her Dad served that horrible, crunchy-" Ron's nose wrinkled with remembered dislike.
“Oh, the scarab salad,” Ginny said, looking ill.
“Don't say the name!” Ron said, cringing. “Urgh, I can taste it!” He got up, grabbed a chocolate frog off his desk, broke it in half and threw a piece at Ginny, who stuffed it into her mouth at once, despite her earlier reluctance to eat lunch.
“That was pretty horrible,” Ginny admitted, shuddering. “But it doesn't mean Luna's-”
“She has weird food and she talks about things I don't understand,” Ron said. He knew he was the stupid Weasley - Bill and Percy were brilliant and so were the twins, but in a different way, and Ginny was a sort of merge of their older brothers' academic and experimental talents, but not as clever, while Charlie was the active Weasley, but even he'd been good at his chosen subjects – but that didn’t mean that Ron liked being reminded of it, and Luna always managed to do just that; she had a habit of saying something confusing and then not offering an explanation.
“Poor you,” Ginny said scathingly, rubbing her shoulder against the doorframe. Ron suddenly became aware of his own hand, scratching vigorously at his knee, but not generating any relief. “I think Luna’s fantastic, and-”
“Are you itchy?” Ron asked. Ginny stopped what she was doing and cocked her head at him.
“Er, yes, but-”
There was a strange noise from downstairs and Ron was on his feet before he realised it, and clambering over a puzzled Ginny to get to the landing.
“Mum?” he called, sticking his head over the rail. “Mum!”
“Ginny!” Mum called back, her voice sounding off. Ron was affronted for a moment, before he realised that Mum hadn’t actually mistaken their voices; she was genuinely calling Ginny. “Luna’s arrived, dear.”
“I thought you were going there?” Ron said, turning to his sister.
“I am,” Ginny said, getting to her feet, with a nervous look toward the railing. Mum’s muffled voice was drifting upstairs, but Ron couldn’t make out words. The two of them shared a look, and then Ginny started heading downstairs, and Ron, aware that something had happened, itched absently at his elbow and followed. “Hi, Luna,” Ginny called, when they reached the kitchen. Mum and Luna were sitting on the couch, with their backs to them, but Mum turned as soon as Ginny spoke. Ron’s sense of unease heightened when he saw the tears on Mum’s face.
Luna was slower to turn, but when she did, she was paler than usual and very teary – which was a weird thing to see on Luna, who was usually so airy and detached. She had a long set of scratches on the side of her neck; those, Ron noticed, were tinged with the blue of Mum’s favourite healing potion.
“Hello, Ginny,” she said in a flat voice. “It’s a good thing you were running late.”
Ginny looked at Ron, who wasn’t sure why she’d looked at him and not Mum; he wasn’t sure what was happening, or what he should say (if he should say anything at all), so he wasn’t going to be very helpful. He shrugged at her.
“Mum?” Ginny said, uncertain.
“Mrs Lovegood’s had an accident, dear,” Mum said, looking teary again all of a sudden. Ron’s stomach sank, because anything that made Mum look that way couldn’t be good.
“She’s dead,” Luna said, in a voice that was almost conversational. There was a horrified pause, where Ginny took half a step closer to Ron, and Ron tried to wrap his head around the fact that someone he knew had died, and Mum’s hand hovered over Luna’s shaking shoulder – Mum obviously wasn’t sure whether it was okay to pat it – and Luna watched them all with her large eyes.
Then Luna burst into tears, and Mum looked aghast and lifted another hand – obviously she wanted to hug her – but Ginny beat her there; she walked quickly but steadily, climbed over the couch – and Mum didn’t even tell her off for it – and wrapped Luna in a hug.
“Mr Lovegood’s with the Aurors,” Mum told Ron, in a thick voice. “And they’ll come to speak to Luna, once they’re finished at the house.” Mum sniffed, and looked at the clock – all of the hands except hers, Ron’s and Ginny’s rested on work or school – and then back at Ron, with a torn sort of expression. It took Ron a moment to work out what she wanted; Dad wasn’t here, and neither were Bill or Charlie, who were much better at handling these things than Ron was.
I suppose I’ll have to do, Ron thought, and hugged Mum. She let out a sob and clutched him closer. Ron itched his cheek – the last of the itching was fading, thankfully - and let her hug him.
* * *
Sirius had given Hagrid several days notice that he and Harry would be dropping by, and Hagrid was notoriously bad at keeping things private, so Sirius wasn’t really surprised that, when Hagrid opened the door to greet them, he could see Dumbledore sitting at the kitchen table, nursing a bucket sized mug of tea.
Sirius hesitated, not sure how to react to that – should he be friendly, or cold, or polite, or should he make a scene? – but before he could react to that, he – and a startled Harry – had been swept up into a bone crushing hug.
“How’ve yeh bin?” Hagrid asked, beaming as he set them down. Harry looked rather rumpled, had to straighten his glasses, but he smiled back shyly; he’d only met Hagrid once, at the trial.
“Good,” Sirius said, feeling an answering smile spread over his face. “Keeping busy – I’m over at the D.M.L.E. again, doing odd jobs-” He watched Dumbledore’s face, which didn’t change at all, and Sirius surmised that he’d probably heard about it from Amelia or Mad-Eye. “-and otherwise, I’m home with this one.” Hagrid’s black eyes crinkled at the corners as he regarded Harry, who shifted, apparently a bit unsure what to make of the scrutiny.
“I’ll bet that keeps yeh busy,” Hagrid said, chuckling. “Best witch an’ wizard I ever knew, your mum an’ dad, but your dad was a handful at times.” That drew a funny smile out of Harry, who was looking at Hagrid’s enormous hand, and Sirius would have bet anything that he was wondering if Hagrid meant a literal handful.
“He’s better behaved,” Sirius said. Harry grinned at him, and Sirius was abruptly reminded that two days ago, Harry and Remus had enlisted Kreacher to help them slip a skin-changing potion into Sirius’ morning cup of tea; he had to give them credit for it too; the effects had been subtle, and he’d only turned a very faint orange, instead of neon, and everyone at work had given him odd looks because of it. Even now, Sirius looked a bit like he was sporting a bad tan. “Despite Remus’ best efforts... terrible influence, that one.” He shook his head. Hagrid boomed a laugh at that, and behind him, Dumbledore took a sip of tea to hide his smile.
“Where is Remus?” Hagrid asked. “I’d have thought he’d be with yeh?”
“He’s having lunch with a friend,” Sirius said. “He says hi though, and said he’ll stop by soon.”
Hagrid beamed at them both again, and then stepped aside to let them into his hut. Sirius went first, and Harry followed without hesitation. It hadn’t changed much in the years since Sirius had last been there. Everything looked a little older, and the floor was more worn, but the mugs were new, and the window seemed to have been replaced recently. Hunter, Hagrid’s old dog was gone, replaced by a rather menacing looking boarhound – and, knowing Hagrid’s dogs, the new one was probably had all the menace of a Puffskein – and a rather strange looking creature – a bit like a frog, crossed with a butterfly – was fanning its wings in a cage in the sun on the windowsill, watching the snowflakes swirl idly outside.
“Sirius,” Dumbledore said courteously. The smile he gave Sirius was uncertain, and Sirius was oddly comforted by the fact that Dumbledore wasn’t quite sure where they stood with each other either.
“Sir. How are you?”
“Good, thank you. And, Harry,” Dumbledore said, smiling much more genuinely. An answering smile appeared almost instantly on Harry’s face.
“Hi, sir,” he said. Hagrid’s dog chose that moment to come over and introduce itself; Harry, not seeming the least bit concerned, held out a hand for him to sniff, and then stepped forward to pet him. The dog’s tail started to wag lazily, and Dumbledore glanced between Harry, the dog and Sirius in a bemused sort of way.
“That’s Fang,” Hagrid said. “Watch your robes – he dribbles an’ he sheds-”
“So does Padfoot,” Harry said, grinning. Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled like mad, and Hagrid looked confused for a moment, before he started to chuckle again.
They settled at the table – Harry, placed himself between Dumbledore and Sirius, and Sirius wasn’t sure whether he’d sensed the tension and done it on purpose, or whether it was by chance – and Hagrid brought them tea and stoat sandwiches and fudge before sitting down himself. Fang had moved from Harry to Sirius and was leaning on him instead of standing.
Lazy mutt, Sirius thought, amused, as he scratched Fang behind the ears and was rewarded with a doggy sigh.
“Thank you, Hagrid,” Dumbledore said, holding up a hand as Hagrid made to pour him another cup of tea, “but I should be on my way.”
“Oh,” Hagrid said, looking a bit put out. “Well, thanks for coming by. Let me get the door for yeh-”
“I can show myself out,” Dumbledore said kindly. “You have guests to entertain.” He smiled at both of them again, and this time, Sirius’ return smile wasn’t as forced.
He said his goodbyes and left, and Hagrid and Sirius talked, while Harry listened and stared at the thing on the windowsill, before the conversation got to what Sirius had come for in the first place.
“I actually wanted to ask you about my old bike,” Sirius said, taking a sip of tea. “I never got it back after Halloween, obviously-” Both of the adults glanced briefly at Harry, who missed it because his attention was elsewhere. “-and then with being arrested, and Azkaban, and everything, I was sort of wondering what happened to it.”
“Well, I tried to find yeh, o’ course,” Hagrid said, “but then yeh got taken away, an’ so I brought it back here. Didn’t know what ter do with it, but Dumbledore – great man, Dumbledore-” he added, and Sirius smiled, amused, “-knew. He took it up ter the castle an’ put it somewhere safe.”
“Do you know where?” Sirius asked. Hagrid shook his great head.
“Best ter ask him, I’d say,” Hagrid said.
“Right,” Sirius said, “tha- kiddo, don’t touch that, we don’t know what it is.” While Hagrid’s dogs were usually friendly and gentle, Sirius was yet to meet any of his other pets that could be classed as such; generally, they were all poisonous or violent. Harry, who’d made his way over to the frog-butterfly on the windowsill, jumped and looked around guiltily.
“I wouldn’t have touched it,” he said. The thing twitched and Harry yelped and then looked embarrassed. “What is it?” he asked Hagrid, who beamed.
“Part flitterby, part grindylow,” he said proudly.
“Where’d you get it?” Sirius asked, frowning. Hagrid looked evasive, and Sirius suspected whatever answer he was going to get was not going to be an entirely truthful one.
There was a knock on the door, and Hagrid, looking relieved, but confused, heaved himself to his feet and went to open it.
“Good afternoon, Hagrid,” an all too familiar voice drawled. Sirius frowned and glanced at the door, but couldn’t see past Hagrid’s bulk. “Say hello, Draco.”
“Hello, Hagrid,” Draco said pleasantly. Sirius’ eyebrows rose; Lucius’ disdain for Hagrid was not a well-kept secret, and Sirius was pleasantly surprised that it hadn’t been passed onto his son.
“Professor Snape,” Hagrid said. “An’- was it Draco?”
“Draco Malfoy,” Sirius heard Draco say.
“Lucius Malfoy’s son?” Hagrid said, sounding puzzled. His head moved, and Sirius would have bet anything he was looking at Snape.
“One of them, yes. May we come in?” Poor Hagrid was probably so startled and confused that he did as he was asked without questioning it. Snape swept in, dressed in black, as usual, and Draco followed him, looking around curiously, and then grinned and made a beeline for Harry, not seeming at all surprised to find him there.
“This is for you,” Snape said, passing Sirius a familiar notebook, without as much as a greeting.
“Hello to you too,” Sirius said, rolling his eyes, as he accepted his Occlumency notes back. “How did you-”
“Know you were here?” Snape finished for him, taking the seat Dumbledore had occupied earlier. “It is difficult for anything to stay a secret at Hogwarts, as you well know, and is, frankly, impossible, once certain parties are involved...” His dark eyes went to Hagrid at once; poor Hagrid was still standing by the open door, looking utterly bewildered.
“Can I get yeh tea?” he asked weakly.
“No, thank you,” Snape said, with a barely concealed sneer. Hagrid looked lost, so Sirius asked for a refill. Hagrid gave him a grateful look. “There are some interesting points in there,” he added, nodding at the book on the table in front of Sirius. “Poorly expressed, and completely lacking any sort of technical description, but interesting nonetheless.”
“Worth your time?” Sirius asked, smirking. He wanted to ask whether Snape had tried to employ any of the mental Patronus things Sirius had come up with, but knew he’d never get an honest answer.
“Quite,” Snape said, looking as if he’d taken a bite of something sour. “Congratulations, Black; for the first time in thirty years, you’ve managed to accomplish something worthwhile. It seems you have a functioning brain in there after all.”
“Lucky me,” Sirius muttered. He took a sip of tea, and folded his hands, and Hagrid sat down again.
“Draco, I wouldn’t-” Harry said, and Sirius and Snape spun in unison, to see Draco squinting at the flitterby-grindylow.
“Draco,” Snape said, in a warning voice, and Draco jumped back as if burned. “You promised to behave.”
“I’m behaving,” Draco muttered. Snape stared at him, and Draco glowered back – Sirius thought it was rather like the staring contests he and Harry had, but they weren’t trying to communicate; it seemed to be a battle of wills. Both looked away at the same time, and Snape said nothing about Draco misbehaving, and Draco took a step away from the creature. Sirius caught Harry’s eye and shrugged.
* * *
“Well, we should be off,” Padfoot said, about half an hour after Draco and Snape had arrived. Hagrid had been called up to the school to help Professor Diggle with some sort of Defence accident, and so Harry, Padfoot, Draco and Snape had headed outside, to wander the snowy grounds. Beside Harry, Draco looked disappointed. “I’ve got to see Dumbledore quickly, and then we’ll Floo home,” Padfoot said, more to Harry than to Snape and Draco this time.
Harry gave Draco an apologetic look and Draco shrugged, but there was a definite slump to his shoulders that hadn’t been there a moment ago.
“Surely you needn’t drag the boy around everywhere,” Snape sneered, looking at Padfoot.
“I wouldn’t call it dragging,” Padfoot shot back.
“He’s too young and too much like his father to think otherwise,” Snape said. Harry blinked. He wasn’t entirely sure what had happened between Snape and Padfoot, and he wouldn’t call them friendly, but they were certainly civil. And, this was the first time Snape had mentioned James without making it sound like an insult.
“So what, leave him here?” Padfoot asked. “Wander off on my own, and then listen to you harp on about what a rubbish godfather I am, and how irresponsible-”
“I would not-”
“You would. You have,” Padfoot said. “Full moon, remember?” Snape’s sallow face turned a tiny bit pink and then went back to normal so quickly that Harry thought he might have imagined it.
“I would not be opposed to watching him for you,” Snape said. His eyes were fixed on Draco as he spoke, and he sounded rather like he would rather spend time with the thing on Hagrid’s windowsill than Harry, but he’d still said it. Harry and Padfoot gaped at him.
“You?” Padfoot asked.
“I am qualified to watch children, Black,” Snape drawled. “Many of them at once. Two should be simple, even if one of them is the spawn of James Potter and was raised by you and your furry friend.”
“But- you- hate-” Padfoot stammered. Snape rolled his eyes.
“Go and see the Headmaster,” he said. “Potter will be here, and unharmed when you return, I assure you.”
“Do you want to stay?” Padfoot asked.
“Oh, so now the boy gets a choice-”
“Shut up, Snivellus-” Again, Harry marvelled at the lack of venom, and the fact that Snape didn’t look overly bothered by that name. “-and let Harry answer.”
“Sure,” Harry said. He wasn’t quite sure what was going on, but he was curious enough to want to stay and find out. Padfoot looked bewildered.
“There,” Snape said. “Now, hurry along, Black, you’re wasting time.” Padfoot glanced around at them, and then caught Harry’s eye and patted his pocket. Harry nodded; he did have his wand. Padfoot nodded in response.
“I’ll be back soon,” he said. The three of them watched him make his way up to the castle and then Draco looked at Snape and mouthed a thank you that Harry wasn’t sure he was meant to see. Snape nodded and waved them away- apparently his idea of supervision was long-distance - but warned them to stay in sight or there’d be dire consequences.
“What was that about?” Harry asked as he and Draco headed toward the lake.
“Nothing,” Draco said.
“I’m not an idiot,” Harry said. Draco gave him a doubtful look, and Harry rolled his eyes. “Snape hates- well, maybe not hates, but he doesn’t like me. He wouldn’t offer to spend more time with me-”
“He sent us away,” Draco said, gesturing back toward the dark figure sitting on a rock. Against the snow, and from a distance, Snape looked uncannily like a Dementor. “That’s hardly quality time.”
“Still,” Harry said. Draco said nothing. Harry gave up hoping for an answer after about a minute, and decided he’d be silent too; if Draco wanted to talk, he could start the next conversation.
And he did, eventually.
“My father thinks I’m crazy,” Draco told him. “Or sick,” he added as an afterthought, kicking a bit of snow.
“He had me tested,” Draco said quietly. He picked a rock by the lake’s frozen shore and sat down, wrapping his grey cloak around him. Harry grabbed a handful of his own cloak, which was a dark red, sat down, and then and tucked it around him to keep out the cold; the air around the lake was cooler.
“I don’t know,” Draco said, and Harry believed him.
“You don’t think it’s anything to do with the muggleborn thing, do you?” Harry asked. Draco shrugged.
“I think it’s silly,” Draco said eventually, in a rather haughty tone. “I mean, if anyone needs to be tested for insanity, Potter, it’d be you.” This comment was followed by a grin, which faded quickly, when Harry flung a chunk of snow at him. Draco spluttered and covered his head with his hands, but Harry didn’t bother with a follow-up attack. “What in Merlin’s name was that for?” Draco demanded, peeking out. “You’re supposed to be nice, Potter.”
Harry wasn’t sure what to say to that. He didn’t consider himself a mean person, so he didn’t disagree with what Draco had said, but he couldn’t think of a way to respond to that without sounding arrogant.
“It’s a good thing,” Draco assured him. And then, before Harry could respond, Draco sighed. “That’s probably why Father had me tested: a Malfoy, friends with a Potter.”
“Friends?” Harry asked, a little surprised. He liked Draco more than he had during his stay at the Manor, but he still had absolutely no idea what to make of him, and was still completely confused by his polar personalities. He’d thought Draco held some sort of friendly tolerance for him, not that Draco actually considered him a friend.
“Yes, Potter, friends,” Draco said.
“I thought you thought I was an idiot,” Harry said, grinning.
“Oh, I do,” Draco said matter of factly. “You’re incredibly frustrating, and I doubt you’ve even looked at that dictionary I bought you-” Harry had, once, but only for about five minutes, so he didn’t bother to correct him. “-but that’s nice. Simplicity.”
“I’m your friend because I’m simple?” Harry asked, wrinkling his nose.
“Exactly, Potter. You’re the least complicated person I’ve ever met, and it’s a nice change.” Harry was reasonably sure that he should feel insulted by that, but was equally sure that Draco meant it as a compliment, so he didn’t know what to say.
“Erm, thanks,” he said, tentatively.
“See,” Draco said. “Simple. Never change, Potter.”
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