Chapter 15 : The Sect of the Serpent
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Harry stormed back up to Gryffindor tower, his rage all consuming, overwhelming his senses. Oblivious to the sights and sounds around him, all he could see was the sneering countenance of his weedy Potions Master, laughing as he made Harry relive all of his worst memories.
Harry shouted the password at the Fat Lady, who was so shocked by the look on his face that her pithy rejoinder died on her lips. Someone called out to him in the common room, but Harry could not have cared less. He raced up the stairs to the dormitory and threw open the door, slamming it loudly against the wall and even more loudly shut behind him. Luckily, the room was empty; the windows had been thrown open to encourage warm autumn breezes, and the hangings around the five matching beds swayed and fluttered gently in the wind.
Harry forced himself to take a deep breath as he flopped down, face first, onto his bed. He opened his fist to reveal Professor Lindell's Centre. It had left deep red impressions in his palm from where he'd been clenching it so tightly, and the smoke within looked like the aerial photographs he'd seen of a hurricane. He knew he should concentrate on trying to clear his mind, but the bitter vitriol coursing through him was so intense that he could think of nothing more than what he would like to say and do to Severus Snape.
After several minutes of attempting to meditate and making absolutely no headway, Harry gave up in frustration, and chucked the Centre across the room. It clattered and rolled noisily under Neville's bed. Harry threw himself back against the pillows and stared up at the ceiling, thinking back to his Occlumency lessons the previous year. He remembered the look of pure hatred Snape had worn when he'd discovered that Harry had been looking in the Pensive. How dare he? Harry silently demanded. How dare he look so hateful when he'd been having a jolly old time watching my worst memories all year! He gritted his teeth as he stared.
A large black spider scuttled across the folds of the canopy of Harry's bed. He frowned at it and a strange, high, screeching voice popped unbidden into his head. "You have to mean it..."
Harry grasped his wand from his back pocket and pointed it at the spider. He narrowed his eyes and tried to picture Snape's face on the black body of the insect. His body tensed as he thought the incantation...
"Harry Potter," called a muffled voice into the room.
Harry stopped in mid breath and dropped his wand arm, suddenly ashamed of what he'd been about to do. His head was throbbing in time with the beating of his heart, each pulse sending a stabbing pain through his scar. He hadn't really noticed it until now.... Sitting up suddenly and looking around, he tried to place the voice he'd just heard calling his name.
"Harry? Hullo? Harry, are you there?" Staring around the room wildly, Harry realized whose voice he was hearing.
"Remus?" he called uncertainly. He jumped off the end of his bed and stared around the empty dormitory.
"Harry! In the mirror!"
The mirror! Harry rushed over to his bed side table where he'd stowed the mirror earlier in the week and subsequently forgotten about it. Grabbing the little square of glass in his palm, he sank onto the bed and was slightly disconcerted to find, not his own reflection, but the tired, worn face of Remus Lupin filling the little wooden frame.
"There you are!" Remus said with a chuckle. "I was beginning to wonder whether or not the owl ever made it to Hogwarts." Remus' smile quickly faded. "What's wrong, Harry?"
"That effing bastard Snape!" Harry growled. If Remus was shocked by Harry’s language, he did not let on. Harry launched into the diatribe that had been building since the revelation in Lindell's office, telling Remus everything.
"And he had the nerve -- the nerve -- to get mad at me for looking at his memories, when he'd been mucking about with mine all term!" Harry realized he was shouting, but he didn't care. "He made me relive it all on purpose! Everything! The Dementors, Dudley beating me up as a kid, Cedric, the graveyard, my Mum screaming..." A muscle twitched in Remus' jaw, but Harry continued unabated.
"And all those bloody nightmares. He was laughing at me the whole time, Remus. I know he was," Harry finished, his anger finally having spent itself into a dull roar. He had been pacing back and forth across the empty dormitory and now, feeling drained, he sunk down onto the end of the bed.
Looking up through tired eyes, Harry saw Ron for the first time, sitting on the end of his own bed, staring silently at him, eyes wide with rage and disbelief. Harry hadn't even heard him come in.
“How long have you been here?” he demanded harshly.
“Long enough,” Ron replied, his voice a bit shaky.
"Who's there, Harry?" Remus asked, looking concerned.
"It's just Ron," Harry said, slightly put out that Ron had overheard as much as he had, without Harry even noticing. Harry held up the mirror so Ron and Remus could see one another. Ron smiled weakly.
"Harry," Remus prodded, unwilling to be distracted, "did you tell anyone what was going on? Ron? Hermione?"
Harry scowled, looking back down at the mirror, and shook his head.
"I... I thought that's just how it was supposed to be. I mean, if Voldemort were trying to break into my brain, I didn't expect it to be pleasant, did I?" Remus was silent, as though considering his next words very carefully.
“Perhaps he believed he was acting in your best interest, Harry.”
Harry stared at him in disbelief. "How could listening to my Mum be murdered over and over again possible have been for my own good?" he demanded. He didn't wait for Remus to answer. "How can you defend him? He's the reason Sirius is dead!"
Remus’ calm demeanor wavered for a moment. "Harry..." he began.
"No!" Harry cut him off. "He is. The dreams were always worse after lessons with him. Making me see all those terrible things again and again only made me weaker, Remus! It's his fault I couldn't block out the nightmares! It was all stupid, bloody, Snape’s fault."
Remus put his hand across the bridge of his nose in a weary gesture. “Professor Snape...”
“Fine. Stupid, bloody, greasy Professor Snape’s fault.”
Across the room, Ron sniggered. Harry ignored him.
"Harry, whatever else he may be, Professor Snape is the reason that you're not dead, or had you forgotten that? He's the one who figured out what had happened and sent the rest of us to help you."
"I wish he hadn't," Harry muttered bitterly.
Remus stared at him. "Don't say that!" he said harshly, in a voice very unlike his own. He banged his fist on the table, and from the resulting crash, Harry guessed he'd sent a load of crockery tap dancing across the room.
"Don't even think that! Harry, you're too important... Sirius knew that and -- believe it or not -- so does Professor Snape."
"I don't want to be important!" Harry shouted back, goaded by Remus' uncharacteristic show of emotion. "I don't want people to die for me or because of me -- and don't say he didn't! I don't want to--" He faltered, glancing at Ron. He had been about to say I don't want to kill... "I don't want any of it!" he finished instead.
Remus took a deep steadying breath. "I know you don't," he said finally, his calm facade back in place, as if his impressive control had never broken. "But you can't live your life in denial. And you can't bring him back by arbitrarily picking someone to blame."
Harry scowled and looked away from Remus' obstinately logical face. He didn't enjoy feeling so transparent in his wrath; he preferred the warm comfort of righteous indignation.
"You can't waste your life on hate, Harry; it's far too precious for that. Take it from someone who knows."
Harry couldn't meet Remus' eyes. He found it hard to believe that the serene man knew how to hate, but as soon as he thought it, a memory surfaced of the cold hard stare he'd seen Remus wear the year they’d first met, whenever anyone mentioned the name Sirius Black...
"Besides," Remus said suddenly, his entire tone changing, "look what it does to a person. You want to end up looking like Professor Snape? Or have grey hair by thirty, like me?" Harry snorted reluctantly, his eyes finally traveling back to meet Remus'.
"I'm sorry," he said finally. He gave another ironic little snort. "I seem to be saying that to you a lot, lately. I swear, I'm not normally this much of a prat."
"Yeah you are," Ron retorted from where he still sat on his own bed. Harry glanced up at him, having completely forgotten he was there.
"Shut up Ron," Harry grinned, and so did Remus.
"This Professor Lindell," Remus continued in a much lighter tone, "she seems to know what she's doing. Do you feel like you're learning anything from her?"
"Yeah," Harry replied, "yeah she's all right. A bit stodgy, but she knows her stuff I reckon. She's a hell of a lot better than Snape at any rate."
"What about you?" Harry asked suddenly. "I mean, you didn’t know about all this when you called. What's going on with you? With the Order?"
"Not much," Lupin said almost bitterly. He shook his head slowly and gave a hollow little laugh. "I'm beginning to have a lot more sympathy for the tantrums Sirius was forever throwing. Being alone in this house is..." He paused and regarded Harry with tired blue eyes. "I'm sure you felt it. He's here. Pieces of his life are everywhere, everywhere I look, you know?"
Harry nodded. He did know. He'd spent the entire summer thinking he'd caught a glimpse of his godfather disappearing around a corner just in front of him, or hearing his laugh in a crowded room, or waking in the morning with the momentary expectation of seeing Sirius standing over him. His mind wandered back to the moments he'd shared with Remus in Buckbeak's room at the top of the house at Grimmauld Place, and he couldn't imagine what it would be like to have to be there all alone.
"In the interests of keeping my sanity intact, I've volunteered to go undercover for the Order," Remus continued. He smiled conspiratorially. "It'll be like old times; see if I've still got the right stuff. But I wanted you to know, before I left."
Harry frowned slightly. "What do you mean undercover? When? Where?"
"If I told you that, Harry," Remus replied. "I might have to kill you.”
Harry rolled his eyes.
“Dumbledore's orders," Remus said with a shrug. "He and I are the only ones who know where I’ll be, and he wants to keep it that way..." He trailed off at the look of disgust on Harry's face and sighed. "It’s only the two of you in the room?”
“All right, but don't let on that you know. I am going to attempt to infiltrate the Sect of the Serpent."
Harry frowned, trying to remember where he'd heard the name before. "That's the group Dumbledore was afraid was going to join up with Voldemort, isn't it?"
"But who are they? What are they?" Harry pressed. "No one ever explained..."
"Snakes are used in many dark rituals, and parts of snakes -- their skin, their venom -- are used in many different kinds of dark potions," Remus began. Harry smiled a little to himself, hearing Remus slipping into his Professor Lupin voice. "Live snakes, and their skins in particular, are components of Youth potions, and believed to be the key component of the ever-elusive Eternal Youth Spell. That's what Dumbledore believes the Sect of the Serpent is after."
Harry snorted. "Doesn't sound all that evil to me," he said.
"Just a bunch of old fogies trying to stay young," Ron piped up.
"It may not sound that bad," Remus replied with a wry smile, "but Youth spells are notorious for their complicated and rather ghastly side effects. Age is the accumulation of events on our bodies, and that accumulation has to go somewhere if a spell is to give you true youth, not just the illusion of it. That's where the dark magic comes in, ridding the soul of the impurities and vices that lead to age."
Harry shook his head, trying not to picture what the impurities and vices of accumulated age would look like once removed. "What does any of that have to do with Voldemort?" he asked.
Ron spoke up again, clearly trying to impress his former professor. "Well, he'd fit right in with a group like that, wouldn't he? He's always been obsessed with immortality, right? And eternal youth seems like a pretty good step in the right direction.”
“Exactly,” Remus agreed. “The group is comprised of powerful wizards whose dubious morals would appeal to Voldemort, but we don't really know what their relationship is, or if they've made any kind of alliance. That is why I'm going to try to join them.
"If all goes to plan I should be in and out in a few weeks, months at the most. But that's why I wanted to get this mirror to you now. I want you to be able to contact me if you need anything."
"I'll be traveling under a false surname, but I'll keep Remus, so just call my first name to activate the mirrors. And Harry..." His face became suddenly grave again. "I don't want you getting some stupid notion of not calling me. If anyone is harassing you, or you have any more dreams, if your scar hurts, or anything at all really, I want you to know you can tell me, alright?" Harry realized that Remus knew him far too well. He smiled slightly.
"I can call you for good stuff too, right? Like when we murder Slytherin at Quidditch?" Remus smiled broadly.
"You'd better," he said warmly. "And Ron, keep him out of trouble, will you?" Ron grinned at Harry from across the room, but then Remus laughed. "Wait a minute... Strike that. I've met your brothers!" Ron scowled good-naturedly.
Remus' face settled back into a slightly pensive expression. "You will stay in touch, won't you Harry?" he asked, and Harry was struck by how timid he almost sounded. He gave a little laugh to cover his surprise.
"Course I will," he said warmly.
"Good," Remus said firmly. He smiled. "See you 'round, Harry."
"See yer, Remus," Harry responded. The image in the mirror began to waver, and then Harry found himself staring at his own reflection. He was a little surprised to see that his eyes were rimmed red and looked as though he hadn't slept in a week.
He glanced over at Ron who was still sitting there, staring at him. "So," he said, a statement more than a question. “You heard everything.”
"Most of it, yeah," Ron replied. "I came up to see what the bloody hell you were shouting at yourself for." He gestured over to the mirror in Harry's hands. "Useful little toy you've got there," he added. Then suddenly he pounded his fist into the bed. "I don't understand what Snape's got against you!" he said.
Harry sighed. "Apparently, he and my dad pretty much just wanted to hex each other off the planet when they were at school, but then Dad died, and all Snape had left to use for a punching bag was me."
Ron snorted. "Well, that's Snape for you: doesn't even have the brains to come up with an original reason for hating someone."
Harry shrugged. He felt exhausted, and he didn't really want to talk about it any more. That was becoming a habit with him -- not telling his friends how he was really feeling -- but he could hardly feel remorseful about it. He simply didn't have the energy.
"Gar!" Ron yelled suddenly, leaping up from the bed and staring at the floor. "Spider!"
Harry saw the large black spider momentarily before it disappeared under Ron's shoe with a sickening crunch.
"Take that, you nasty bugger!" Ron shouted passionately, grinding his toe into the floor.
Harry found he felt rather ill.
Despite his best efforts, Ron was unable to convince Harry to go down for lunch or even to leave the dormitory. When hunger finally overcame Ron's maternal instincts, Harry found himself gratefully alone, drew the hangings around his bed, and lay back in the cool dark cave of his bed, the exhaustion of the week and of railing uselessly at his betrayal having caught up with him.
He closed his eyes for a moment, and found himself with Gwyn in the play park on Magnolia Crescent. They were sitting in the grass under the shade tree, and Gwyn was going to teach him how to play her violin. He was holding the instrument and running his fingers over the curves of it, enjoying himself completely.
Abruptly, however, Gwyn took back the violin and stood, telling Harry that only normal people could play it. She snatched up the bow and began to walk away. Harry called after her, asking what he had to do to be normal, and she told him to throw away his wand. Obediently, Harry removed his wand from his back pocket and tossed it into a nearby waste bin. He thought Gwyn would give him back the violin after that, but instead, she only handed him the bow.
Suddenly, Gwyn was gone, and Harry was standing in the alley between Magnolia Crescent and Privet Drive. It had grown very dark and very cold, and Harry knew that the Dementors were coming after him again. He reached for his wand, but all he had was the violin bow. Desperately, he pointed the bow at the darkness, but nothing happened.
Fear overtook him, and Harry began backing into a corner. He watched the darkness warily for the Dementors he knew were there but couldn't see. Suddenly he felt a hand on his shoulder.
Harry grabbed the hand and snapped his eyes open with a start. Hermione was standing over him, looking concerned.
Hermione stood back as Harry released her wrist and sat up. He was in his own bed in the dormitories, and Hermione and Ron were looking down at him anxiously.
"All right there, Harry?" Ron asked cautiously.
Harry blinked several times, trying to clear his head of the strange dream. "Yeah," he replied groggily. "I was having a weird dream... How long have I been asleep?"
"You missed dinner," Hermione said. "But Ron and I saved you some." She smiled and pointed to a plate on his bedside table covered with a napkin, and Harry realized that he was ravenous.
"Thanks," he said heartily, reaching for the plate. Hermione perched gingerly on the end of Harry's bed, and Ron sat down heavily on his own opposite them.
"What were you dreaming about?" Hermione asked carefully as Harry shoved half a roll into his mouth.
"Mmm? Oh. Nothing really." Harry chewed thoughtfully as he watched Hermione. She was blatantly avoiding his gaze. Then he glanced over at Ron, who quickly looked away, and swallowed hard.
"So I'm guessing Ron told you then?" he asked, only a touch of bitterness creeping into his voice.
"Oh Harry, why didn't you tell someone if it was that awful?" Hermione exclaimed, apparently just waiting for an entrée into the subject. "I'm sure Dumbledore wouldn't have wanted you to suffer and--"
"It doesn't matter," Harry said bluntly. "It's over. It's done, just one more good reason to hate Snape."
Hermione stared at him and shook her head. "Why do you do that, Harry?" she asked quietly.
Harry frowned at her over his mashed potatoes. "Do what?"
"Keep everything inside, bottled up. Why don't you tell us when something is bothering you? Don't you trust us?"
"Of course I trust you!" Harry exclaimed. "I trust you and Ron more than anybody."
"But not enough to tell us what's been bugging you since last term," Ron put in sullenly. Harry stared at him. "And don't tell us it's Sirius," Ron continued, "'cause it's more than that."
Harry huffed. "When did you two start studying Legilimency?" he asked dourly.
"We're your friends, Harry," Hermione said simply. "We hardly need Legilimency to tell when something's bothering you."
Harry frowned down at his half-eaten dinner. A part of him desperately wanted to tell them everything he'd been holding back. He wanted to tell them about Dumbledore and the prophecy, get it off his chest and out in the open. But if he told them, it would be real. Ron's wide-eyed expression of horror would make it real. Hermione's tears would make it real. And once it was real, he couldn't go on pretending that it wasn't.
"I..." he started, but he didn't know quite how to make them understand. "I will tell you," he said finally, "eventually. But not now. I just... I just can't right now."
* * *
"Come on Sloper! You can do better than that! Really give that Bludger what for!"
The week had gone from bad, to worse, to can't-possibly-get-any-worse, to oh-wait-it-just-did. Harry hovered above his team during practice and watched the sun dipping lower and lower over the mountains in the distance, fingers of shadow reaching out eagerly across the landscape, harbingers of the encroaching darkness. Below him, Jack and Andrew were knocking the Bludger back and forth to one another unenthusiastically, while the Chasers ran through their drills.
Suddenly, a glint of gold and a flutter of movement caught Harry's eye. He swerved down a few feet and his hand flashed out reflexively and snatched the Snitch from the air. The little golden ball was cool in his hand from the deepening chill of the evening. He regarded it for a moment as it flapped and struggled in his fingers before releasing it again for the third time that night. Below him, the Chasers were passing the Quaffle back and forth quite well. Harry opened his mouth to tell them so...
"Get a move on, Ginny! The Slytherin Chasers can go faster than that with their feet on the ground!" Ron bellowed at the team from where he was hovering in front of the goal hoops. Harry sighed wearily. He was tired, annoyed, and becoming more and more certain that Ron was trying to take over his job as Quidditch captain. He had convinced Harry to have the team run through a series of drills he had created for their first practice, but the Chasers weren’t playing by his rules.
Things would start out all right, with Katie in possession of the Quaffle. She would pass it to Ginny, who would feign left and pass it right to Will Bundy. Will was then supposed to pass it back to Katie, who would go in for the goal, but instead he kept trying to score for himself.
"No no NO!" Ron bawled as Will did the same thing for the third time in a row. "You're supposed to pass it back to Bell! And Ginny! What was that last pass about? Are you trying to give the Slytherins the Quaffle??"
"There aren't any Slytherins, Ron!" Ginny shouted back. "So lay off!"
Harry scowled. They were making no progress, and their light was fading fast. He wondered if he should call the practice -- if it could be called a practice any more -- off for the night.
"Let's try another!" he decided instead, swooping down between Ron and Ginny who looked about ready to murder one another. "Katie," he said quickly, before Ron could suggest one of his drills, "remember that play where you all swerved to the far left before aiming at the right goal?" Katie nodded wearily. “Show them that one.”
She turned her broom and the other chasers followed her. Harry turned to Ron.
"What are you doing?" he demanded.
Ron scowled at him. "What do you mean? I'm coaching the team!"
"Picking on your sister doesn't count as coaching," Harry retorted.
"At least I'm doing something," Ron scoffed.
"What's that meant to mean?"
"Well, you're up there flying around doing Merlin knows what, and you don't say anything! About anything!"
Harry gaped at him. "Because you don't let me get a word in edgewise!" he shouted. "You say everything, whether it needs to be said or not, so why don't you just shut your flipping trap for a minute and concentrate on Keeping, right?" Ron was staring at him, open mouthed. Harry turned his broom quickly and began to speed away. The Chasers looked about ready to run their play.
Harry zoomed up above the level of play and tried to concentrate on watching the Chasers rather than on his frustration with Ron. As the three players started their run, he wondered momentarily where the Beaters had got off too. Too much quiet from them, he was learning, was not a good sign.
Ginny had the Quaffle as she started her approach with the other two Chasers flanking her closely. They swerved dangerously off to the left, practically brushing the stands with their brooms only to shoot right again. Ginny feigned a pass to Will, and he and Katie each broke off, headed for a different goal hoop. Ginny sat up on her broom in preparation to throw the Quaffle. From the corner of his eye, Harry saw something black streaking towards her.
"Ginny!" he yelled, but it was too late. The Bludger caught her full in the stomach and knocked her back off of her broom. The Quaffle flew out of her hands and a terrified Katie screamed something wordless into the wind. Harry plunged into a sickeningly steep dive that made his heart feel as though it were trying to escape through his throat. His Firebolt was fast, but she was too far away. Reaching into his robes, he scrambled for his wand and shouted "Wingardium Leviosa!" into the wind. Ginny's downward progress slowed, and he managed to get one arm around her waist as he pulled out of the dive. Together, they drifted slowly down.
When his feet touched solid earth he dropped his broomstick and used both hands to lower Ginny carefully to the ground. She was coughing and trying to breathe, tears streaming down her face. She moaned and whimpered, mouth opening and closing as she lay on the grass, gasping like a fish caught on the riverbank.
"Don't try to talk," he said to her. Katie and Will came running up behind him. "Get a stretcher!" Harry ordered, and Katie ran off towards the changing rooms.
Ginny squinted up at him through her tears. "Harry," she moaned.
"Shhhhh!" he chided her quietly. "Don't talk, I said. We're going to get you up to hospital right away!" Ginny nodded, still whimpering, and Harry clenched his fists.
It was no good! If he couldn't even lead a simple Quidditch practice without someone getting hurt, he hadn't any right to be leading anything...
Katie ran up to them carrying a bundle of canvas and sticks. She shook it, and it popped out into a full sized stretcher. Harry bent down over Ginny and, with Katie's help, gingerly lifted her while Will pushed the stretcher into place. They lowered her again and she let out a little cry of pain. "Get her to Madam Pomfrey," Harry ordered. Katie took up one end of the stretcher, Will the other, and they hurried off towards the castle.
Harry turned back to look for the Beaters. Near the goal hoops, he could see three figures standing on the ground; one of them was gesticulating wildly while the other two watched. Harry groaned inwardly as he mounted his broom and sped towards them.
Ron was in finest Weasley form. Andrew and Jack were standing there, attempting to argue with him, but Ron was barely letting them utter a syllable before drowning them out with his rampage.
"--could have done someone a serious injury! And it's all your fault! You should have been watching those Bludgers more carefully; that is your job after all, as Beaters..."
"Ron," Harry said, landing next to them. Ron didn't even look round.
"We can't have proper practices with one of our Chasers holed up in hospital, can we? How do you expect us to beat Slytherin if half our players are injured?"
Andrew scowled blackly and opened his mouth to protest. "Ginny is hardly half-"
"If I didn't know any better I'd say the both of you were blind as bats up there! You boys are treading on thin ice..."
"You'll be lucky if we don't chuck you off the team straight away!"
"WHAT?" Ron turned to look at Harry at last. He had the Quaffle gripped tightly under one arm. His face was red and sweaty, his eyes blazing with rage and, Harry could see, more than a little fear for his only sister. The Beaters were staring at the pair of them like they'd both gone round the twist.
Harry caught sight of something moving near Ron's head, and in an instant, his hand shot out to catch it. Ron ducked as though he thought Harry was going to hit him. Harry gave him a scathing look as he held up his hand to reveal the Snitch struggling in his fingers.
"Go and get changed, Ron," Harry said firmly. Ron's face flushed even more.
"But Harry, these --"
"Ron!" Harry bellowed. "I said, go and get changed." Ron stared at him, and Harry fancied he could almost feel the heat of his rage.
"Then you can go up and check on Ginny," he added, as an afterthought.
Ron turned abruptly on his heel and stomped off towards the changing rooms. Harry could tell he was going to pay for that later, but he turned away from Ron and back towards the Beaters. Jack was staring at his shoes in a dejected sort of way, and Andrew was looking bitter and defiant.
"What happened?" Harry demanded. They both just looked at him. "I thought I told you to keep the Bludgers away from our Chasers; is that too hard to understand?" Andrew scowled and looked like he wanted to say something, but he held his tongue.
Harry shook his head. He didn't have the energy for this. "Just get out of here," he said, disgustedly. Andrew turned on his heel and stomped across the pitch, giving the changing rooms a wide berth, and heading straight up to the castle. Jack hung back.
"Do you want something?" Harry demanded, staring at the younger boy with barely concealed menace. Jack seemed to steel himself as he nodded.
"It was Ron's fault, Harry," he said softly. That wasn't at all what Harry had been expecting him to say. He frowned, wondering if the boy was trying to shift the blame.
"It was Ron's fault. We were doing fine until he started yelling at us, and then I was too busy listening to him to realize where the Bludger had got to and..." His voice died and he shrugged expressively.
Harry sighed deeply and nodded. "Thanks Jack," he said sullenly. The other boy nodded, obviously relieved that Harry appeared to believe him, and jogged off towards the castle. Still clutching his broom in one hand and the Snitch in the other, Harry turned and marched dejectedly towards the changing rooms.
Inside, Ron was slamming equipment around and stomping like a troll. Harry wished that there was somewhere -- anywhere -- else he needed to be, but went into the room anyway. Ron was busy putting the Quaffle into its trunk and didn't immediately notice when Harry came in. He had already changed into a pair of ripped jeans and an old rugby shirt that was several inches too short in the sleeves. It showed his wrists whenever he raised his arms. He straightened and stiffened when he saw Harry standing in the doorway. They stared at each other silently for a long minute.
"Did you tell them off then?" Ron asked roughly. "I was thinking we could make them do laps or something as punish--"
"It was an accident, Ron," Harry said firmly. "Things happen." Ron's face began to flush angrily.
"It was Ginny, Harry," he retorted fiercely. "I thought you, at least, would understand."
"I understand you feel guilty," Harry replied steadily. He wasn't about to let Ron draw him into another row.
Ron sputtered in disbelief for a moment and shook his head. "Is that what they told you?" he demanded. "That it was my fault? Excuse me, but I'm not the one carrying around the Beaters' bats!"
"Then why are you trying to do the Beaters' jobs?" Harry asked. "Or the Chasers' jobs? Or my job, for that matter?"
Ron's expression was oddly mixed between what Harry guessed was a desire to explode and a realization that Harry might be right. He opened and closed his mouth several times not unlike Ginny had minutes before. Finally he snapped his mouth shut and shook his head in apparent disbelief.
"I'm going to check on Ginny," he said darkly, brushing past Harry without a backwards glance.
Harry sighed. "I'll be along in a minute," he said.
"Don't bother," Ron grumbled as he stalked off into the night.
A/N: Desperate for some feedback here, folks. Are you liking this? Are you hating it? Are you even READING it? Hello? Is anybody out there? Can anybody hear me? Is there anyone at home?
(Ten points to anyone who can name that song.)
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