Chapter Two: Lakeside Lamenting
"What do you think she meant?" Harry asked Ron and Hermione as they sat down for dinner in the Great Hall that evening. People were streaming in, some laden with bags from their trip to Hogsmeade, others still wearing their cloaks and scarves. A few people, some that Harry recognised from the Hog's Head shot him nervous smiles. For the first time that term, he was starting to feel wanted at Hogwarts again. But whatever excitement he felt that people had finally listened to him, finally wanted to hear what he had to say, was dammed up inside him by the of uncertainty of what Greengrass had said.
Oh, and Potter, you can do better than Chang.
"Wha' d'you 'ean?" asked Ron through a mouth full of Shepherd's pie he hadn't even finished loading onto his plate.
"Do you have to do that?" Hermione asked, disgusted. A piece of mashed potato, which had been clinging onto his lower lip for dear life, dropped onto his plate. "And I think it's obvious what he meant, Ron. Cho."
She said Cho's name in a whisper before turning to Harry, who was staring not at Ron's habitually grotesque eating habits, but at the Slytherin table. There were the usual suspects, all gafforing at some story Malfoy was telling at the centre of the table. Pansy Parkinson, Crabbe, Goyle and some other Slytherins whose names he did not know were hanging on his every word. Further down Greengrass sat by herself, a book open in front of her. She had pulled her long blonde hair behind her ears, so as to prevent it from blocking her vision, and her face was pinched in intense concentration. Icy blue eyes tore through the book as she absentmindedly stabbed a sausage with her fork.
The arrival of the Slytherin girl at the Hog's Head had been a surprise to all of them, most of all Harry. He had never in his wildest dreams imagined that any Slytherin would want to talk to him, let alone be taught to defend themselves against dark wizards. He was ashamed to admit it, but what Daphne had said was right. He had always tarred them all with the same brush he so readily applied to Malfoy and his cronies. It reminded him all too well of being the freak that Dudley bullied at school, nobody wanting to go near because they thought they knew what he was or they feared his cousin's retribution.
How could he, of all people, let himself so readily do the same? Yes, the majority of Slytherins hated him on sight, but that was no reason to assume they all did.
"What do you think, Harry?" asked Hermione, delicately. Harry couldn't blame, he had been in such a foul mood lately that he had flown off the handle at almost any provocation, and Cho was always a touchy subject.
"I think she's right," interrupted Ron before Harry could speak.
"You just don't like her because she's a Tornado's fan," shot back Hermione angrily.
"No, no I don't." Ron protested with injured innocence. "Even if most of their fans only started supporting them last season." Hermione glared at him. "It's just, isn't it a bit weird? I mean, five minutes ago she was dating Diggory and now suddenly she's all about getting with Harry. It's a bit creepy, mate."
"Never thought I'd see you side with a Slytherin," Harry smiled darkly, in an attempt to hide the overwhelming ball of dread that had plummeted in his stomach. He had expected Hermione to come out with something like that, not Ron.
"I think it's a bit more complicated than that," said Hermione tactfully. "Cho clearly likes you Harry, I really think she does. But she's probably confused what that means, because of everything that happened with Cedric, and whether or not she should feel guilty for the way she's feeling about you. Then there's what people might say. It's all, well, it's not exactly simple is what I'm trying to get at, Harry."
"Do you think Greengrass is right?"
There was an awkwardly long silence, punctured only by the sounds of the Great Hall and Ron eating eagerly beside Hermione.
"Well, I don't really know Cho," Hermione began, using the same voice she had been using whenever she mentioned the defence club to Harry over the past few weeks. Harry's heart sank. He knew exactly what that meant. It was Hermione's way of trying to say yes without hurting his feelings. Angrily he stabbed a sausage from the platter Ron, who had finished his first meal, was reaching for. Ron wisely didn't carry on trying to lift it towards himself.
"But it's not up to me, Harry. You both like each other, and it's clear she likes you."
"Might not after today," Harry bit back bitterly. "Can't imagine that Marietta is going to want Cho hanging round with us, is she?"
"And if Cho listens to her then that just shows you it's not worth getting your hopes up. If she really liked you, Harry, she's going to have to get used to more than just that."
Harry didn't need to ask what she meant. Voldemort. He hadn't thought about that, but he supposed that any girl wanting to try anything resembling a relationship with him would be a target. His mood, if possible, plummeted even further. Just another Voldemort was taking away from him, another facet of his life that he couldn't control. The sausage on the end of his fork no longer looked appetising. He dropped it with a sigh. Hermione was watching him with a mixture of concern and guilt.
A headache, the type that never seemed very far away these days, was brewing at the forefront of Harry's temple.
"I'm gonna go back to the Common Room," he muttered dully, pushing himself away from the table. Hermione went to speak but he cut across her quickly. "It's fine, don't worry. I'll be fine. You just enjoy dinner, I'll see you later."
And with that he turned and walked away from them, not slowly down until he was out of the hubbub of the Great Hall. He closed his eyes, trying to relax, but all it did was focus his mind on what Hermione had said. Instead of heading back upstairs, he walked out into the Grounds. Almost instinctively he looked towards Hagrid's Hut, but just like every other night it lay dark and empty. This did little to improve his mood.
Sullenly he began walking towards the lake. There were no students here and the night was cool but quiet. It was like being back at the Dursleys', wandering the streets of Little Whinging with no real direction and the only company the dark thoughts swirling about his head.
There was no shaking how he felt about Cho, the same knot of anxiety curled in his stomach as he thought about her. The way she had called him brave, not hated him for being alive when Cedric was dead. But the more he thought about it, the stranger it felt, like waking up from a dream he had been desperate never to leave only to realise it was just that. A dream.
Surely, she should have hated him. Or at least not liked him. In that way anyway. She had loved Cedric, been torn apart when he died and by the sounds of things still wondered if he, Harry, stacked up to the boy who had died too early. Did he really want that? What was he, just some sort of Cedric replacement? The next best thing, after all if Cedric was still alive she wouldn't have even given him a second thought.
If Cedric was still alive, he would have had a summer free of torment and the Ministry calling him a liar. There would be no dreams of graveyards, or ever present sense of guilt that he should have done something. Anything. Yet here he was, alive and breathing and living the life that ought to have been Cedric's.
He looked out over the lake, the thoughts that he had been ignoring all summer washing over him. They had no idea how it felt, any of them, to be standing there when he easily could be dead with Cedric. A small, guilt stricken part of him, sometimes wished that he was. It would be easier at least. Easier than living with the weight of Cedric's lost life hanging over him. Easier than having to deal with Voldemort. Yet here he was, still fighting, and teaching other people to join him. Even a Slytherin.
A hollow laugh escaped his lips at that thought. If he had told himself Daphne Greengrass would ask to be taught by him, what would he have done? Laughed probably.
"Room for one more?"
Harry whirled round, he had been so wrapped up in his train of thought that he hadn't heard the footsteps behind him.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, warily, eyeing Greengrass with a sense of mistrust he often reserved for Malfoy. She was holding a napkin bulging with food in one hand and her wand in the other, the closer she walked the more Harry could feel the warmth radiating from her. It was only then that he realised just how cold the night had become, but he didn't move. Despite what she had done, he still couldn't shake the sense that she wanted something. Something she wasn't saying, at any rate.
"I saw you storm out, well, maybe not storm. Walk? Stride? Is stride good?" Greengrass asked awkwardly and Harry was reminded of how she had introduced herself at Hog's Head. The calm confidence that had come when standing up to Marietta seemed to dissipate when she was trying to be herself. "Whatever, the point is, you looked a little sad and I thought you might like the company."
"So," said Greengrass after a long, awkward pause pulled out between them. "I'm guessing Chang? Right?" He glared at her. "Yep. Thought so."
It struck him that despite being the cause for his melancholy, Greengrass didn't show a hint of remorse. Know yourself and the world will follow. It was a kind of self-assurance Harry had only seen in Sirius, who despite his many years locked away in Azkaban had clung onto what made him him.
"What did you mean?" asked Harry, who couldn't stop himself from asking despite his deliberately stoney silence.
"I'd have thought it was obvious. You deserve better than second best, Potter. We all do. Sometimes we can't always see it though, and let's face it Granger and Weasley weren't going to say anything."
"What do you —"
"Because they care about you and we try not to upset the people we love, generally. And me, well, like I say. I don't like cowards, Potter. Chang just didn't want to admit to herself what she was doing was..."
"Weird?" Harry prompted sourly, remembering Ron's words at dinner.
"I was going to say sad, but sure," smiled Greengrass. "Whatever you want to call it, I thought I should say something before you actually got yourself hurt. Especially given the amount of time you spend in the Hospital Wing, you need all the help you can get."
Unlike when Malfoy had made that particular remark, it wasn't said with malice or to get a rise from him. Instead her tone was rather playful, as if she was trying to move past the awkwardly emotional segment of their conversation and onto something a bit more fun. A small grin pulled at the side of Harry's mouth despite himself. It struck him that this, in his fifth year, was the first time he was actually enjoying talking to a Slytherin. It still felt odd to think about.
"Fancy a sandwich?" Greengrass asked, holding out the napkin. "I grabbed a couple on my way out, seeing as Weasley nicked your plate when you left."
Harry grinned and took it. He could always rely on Ron's stomach to be consistent even when his best friend might not be. He could only imagine how much Hermione had chastised him once the food had been scraped onto his plate.
"Cheers," he said gratefully before taking a bite of the sandwich. Hot pork and stuffing and it was still warm. The House Elves never failed to cook the perfect meal.
"Why'd you come today?" Harry asked curiously once he had polished off the sandwich. With his anger subsiding, he suddenly realised how hungry he actually was and finished it rather quickly. "And don't just say it's 'cause you wanted to learn stuff."
"Well, just because you don't like that answer doesn't make it any less true." Greengrass began, somewhat cautiously. Harry had the strong suspicion that she was playing for time while she decided just how much of the truth to tell him.
"Umbridge is an awful teacher and not exactly the most reliable source of information either. As for that stupid Slinkheart book," she let a hollow laugh, "don't get me started. You know, I don't think he's actually ever been jinxed."
"Wouldn't surprise me." From what little Harry had read of the prescribed text for that year it was fairly obvious that Slinkheart detested all curses, hexes and jinxes, even if you were using them to defend yourself. Only someone who had never actually been cursed would think it was a good idea to not fight back.
"Then there's you. I'll be honest, when I found out who they had teaching this club I was a bit surprised. I'd have thought you'd have roped in a seventh year but you, Triwizard champion and Longbottom wasn't lying when he said you slayed a Basilisk, was he?"
Harry nodded, he didn't like talking about all the things he'd done. It felt like he was bragging, and besides, it wasn't as if he'd meant to do any of it. He'd just been in the right place at the right time and been lucky enough not to get killed. Yet, there was no escaping the fact that no-one else their age had seen or done the things he'd done.
"Do you actually like any of the Slytherins?" Harry asked, remembering how far she'd sat away from the others at dinner.
"Some of them, not all, but who gets on with everyone they share a house with?" Harry couldn't argue with that, remembering the foul arguments he kept having with Seamus. "I will admit it would be nice to spend time with people who don't mention their father every five minutes."
"Is he really that annoying?" He didn't need to ask, he could remember from his little trip into the Slytherin Common Room as Goyle. But Harry thought better than revealing he'd been down in there to Greengrass, not yet anyway.
"He calms it down a bit when we're down there," Greengrass shrugged, "but Lucius Malfoy's name carries a lot of weight and people like to stay on Draco's side."
"What do you think? That I'm a spy for Draco and this is all an act to gain your trust until I can stab you in the back?"
"No, I mean, I did think about it." Harry admitted rather sheepishly. But rather than look offended Greengrass nodded contently.
"I'd be worried if you hadn't," Greengrass remarked, "though I must say I don't think everyone will share your open-mindedness."
There was a severe amount of bitterness in her voice and Harry suspected he wasn't the only one that walked the halls of Hogwarts attracting snide comments. The Slytherins had always appeared to him arrogant, selfish, and tightly-knit. Always hanging out with each other, gafforing at him, or threatening him with the Hospital Wing before Quidditch matches. It hadn't occurred to him that, should you not be one of those that revelled in tormenting other students, it could be a lonely place to be.
"Yeah, well, they'll just have to get used to it," said Harry lamely. The trouble was he wasn't entirely sure he trusted Greengrass yet, he didn't know her. Yet here she was, trying to help. He searched aimlessly for conversation topics, something, anything but nothing leapt to his mind. Though, the last time he'd tried that he had talked to Cho about the weather. The memory of Cho made his stomach twist nastily.
"Inspiring," Greengrass smirked. "I can see why they picked you as leader. Speaking of, when you decide what's happening with the, what were you calling it 'Defence Club'?" Harry nodded, realising dully that they probably needed a better name than that. "How exactly do you plan on letting me know? I imagine Draco would have a field day if you came to our table at dinner."
This was a good point and one Harry, who had been too preoccupied thinking about Cho, hadn't really considered. While he was fine with Greengrass joining, it wasn't going to be easy for them to talk without eyebrows being raised and whispers following them round. Come to think of it, they only really shared Potions together and that wasn't the best place to talk given that Malfoy liked to watch his every move and Snape wasn't far behind.
"Don't you share some class with Hermione?"
"Ancient Runes," Greengrass nodded, "and Arithmancy."
"What is Arithmancy?" Harry asked, curiously. He had seen a lot of Hermione's homework over the last couple of years and had never been able to make head nor tail of what looked to him like a bunch of words and numbers strewn across the page haphazardly.
"Some people call it predicting the future with numbers, it's like figuring out what might happen based on numerology." When Harry continued looking at her blankly she sighed, her brow furrowing and her lips pursing. "How do I explain it?"
"Slowly," Harry provided, helpfully.
"There's a Muggle quote Professor Vector made us learn. What is it? It's something like: 'From a drop of water logician can infer the possibility of an Atlanitc or a Niagra without having seen or heard of either one.' Arithmancy is kind of the same thing, taking the available information and using calculations to figure what the most likely outcome might be."
"So it's guesswork?"
"Intelligent guesswork," Greengrass corrected, "but important. Well, important if you want to become a Curse Breaker or an Unspeakable at any rate."
"And that's what you want to do?"
"Maybe, my uncle Gareth's an Unspeakable. It seems pretty interesting from little we manage to get out of him. Figuring out secrets, trying new magics. There's magic out there we don't even know about yet, spells we haven't even thought of. Or find tombs people have never seen before, though apparently it's pretty dangerous. Ancient witches and wizards don't really like having their remains dug up."
She spoke with the kind of excitement that he associated with Hermione talking about homework.
"Ron's brother Bill is a Curse Breaker," Harry told her, "used to do loads of stuff in Egypt. He moved back though this year, works at Gringotts now."
"I'd love to go to Egypt, or Rome, apparently they've got a load of tobs under the Vatican that they're trying to get access to. Apparently a load of Muggles tried getting into one of them in the late 500s. 590 or something? They reckon it caused a plague to spread across the city and Rome. Muggles just thought it was a disease, let's face it when wasn't there plague back then?"
"And you want to go poking round there? And they think I'm a nutter."
"Point taken, Potter. But you've got to admit it would be interesting. I just want to do something useful, important. Mum isn't so keen on the idea."
Greengrass just shrugged, but the way she avoided Harry's eye told him it was definitely more than she was letting on. It was the same look he gave her Hermione whenever she tried pressing him about life at the Dursleys'. "I think you should go for it," said Harry in an attempt to save Greengrass coming with an excuse not to talk about her mother. "I mean why not? Apart from the plague cursing and stuff."
Greengrass let out a small laugh. "Says the boy who went up against a dragon last year."
"At least you can see dragons," Harry pointed out. In fact that Horntail had been so large it was almost the only thing he had been able to see while flying around it on his firebolt.
"Perhaps their only benefit," Greengrass mused. She smiled thinly at Harry before checking her watch. The night had grown dark around them. Thick white clouds were starting to obscure the moon, and the cold breeze that had started as balmy was beginning to bite at Harry's skin even with Greengrass's charm providing some heat.
"I'd better get back," she said, "before people start to wonder where I am. Can't exactly tell them I was off chatting with the Boy Who Lived, can I?"
"Dunno, it'd give them something to talk about."
"Potter, if I wanted to give them something to talk about I'd pass out Pansy's diary. It's probably full simpering, stupid love poems about Draco." A look of abject disgust crossed her face and her lip curled just thinking about Parkinson's love for Malfoy. Not that Harry could blame her, watching in the corridors following him round like a lost puppy was enough.
"Wait a few minutes before heading in, would you? Makes it harder for people to realise we were together."
Harry nodded. Gryffindor's would likely give him a hard enough time for letting her into the Defence Club, but it would be worse for Greengrass. Slytherins weren't known for their kindness, after all. Well, at least not all of them; he mentally corrected. The girl in front of him, for all her talk of ambition had been just that. Kind. There had been no need for her to come out talk to him, no reason. Even if she was just doing it to try and get him onside, her defence of Hermione to Marietta had been enough. Hadn't it?
"I guess I'll see you soon. Get Granger to let me know what you decide."
"Night, Potter." she said before heading up back towards the castle. Harry watched her go, and she didn't look back as the night enveloped her. Whatever her motives were, and if he was entirely honest with himself he still wasn't sure, Greengrass had helped alleviate the anger that had been washing over him as he left the table. And for that he was certainly grateful.