The title says it all...
SPECIAL DISCLAIMER: The U-No-Poo poster is not mine, and comes from Book 6. I just decided to put it in this chapter instead of the previous one.
CHAPTER 8: ALLIES AND ENEMIES
Harry was stunned... not just because Cho was right there without him realizing it at first, but because she actually sought him out and wanted to talk to him.
He opened his mouth to try and say something, but no sound came out. There were a few different things on his mind which he wanted to say to Cho, but now of all times, he seemed to be unable to say any of them.
"Uh... sure," Harry said, hoping he sounded encouraging but coming out awkward. He was also fairly sure he could feel his cheeks heating up from embarrassment.
"Are you feeling alright, Harry?" Lupin asked, walking up to him. Then he noticed Cho standing there. "Hello, Miss Chang."
"Mr. Lupin," Cho said respectfully. "It's nice to see you again."
"Likewise, Miss Chang," Lupin responded. Turning back to Harry, the werewolf asked, "So, Harry, what's going on?"
"Oh, um, Cho just wanted to talk to me about something," Harry said, trying to sound calm and composed but failing.
A small ghost of a grin appeared on Lupin's face. "I see." (Harry supposed that Lupin found it amusing that he was having girl trouble like adolescent boys often do.)
"Hey Harry," George said as he and Fred walked up to them.
"Need a place to talk?" Fred asked, clearly noting the situation which Harry was currently in.
"I guess that would be nice," Harry said in a quiet tone.
"Then just follow us," Fred told him and Cho as he and George led the way.
A moment later, they were in what appeared to be the twins' office. There were two desks with a chair each, and various knickknacks scattered all over their surfaces, as well as on the shelves. Leaning against one wall was a gigantic poster, which was purple like those of the Ministry, but emblazoned with flashing yellow letters:
WHY ARE YOU WORRYING ABOUT YOU-KNOW-WHO?
YOU SHOULD BE WORRYING ABOUT U-NO-POO -
THE CONSTIPATION SENSATION
THAT'S GRIPPING THE NATION!
Harry let out a bark of surprised laughter before quickly stifling himself. Turning back to the twins, he said, "That actually is rather funny."
"Yeah, we know," George said. "We wanted to put it in the store window, but Mum kept going on about us being murdered in our beds, and so we didn't display it, both for our own safety and for her peace of mind."
"Maybe, one day after the war ends, we'll show it off," Fred said with a shrug. "After all, it's safer to mock someone after they're dead."
"Anyway, we'll just leave you two to it," George said with a wink. And with that, they shut the door behind them on their way out, wearing grins on their faces.
After Harry took a moment to try and figure out just what they were implying, he decided to focus instead on the matter at hand. Looking around, he decided that the U-No-Poo poster might be too distracting, and so he picked it up and turned it around to face the wall.
"Right, so..." Harry began, but then trailed off, unable to think of anything else to say.
Cho figured that maybe she should go first. Besides, she had more-or-less rehearsed what she had wanted to say.
"There was more which I wanted to say in my response to you, Harry," she said, "but I was concerned about my message being intercepted or something. Anyway..."
She took a deep breath to steady herself, and said what was on her mind. "I'm sorry I purposely brought up the issue of Cedric or just acted too weepy whenever we were together. I wanted to know about what happened to him so I could get some sense of closure, but I picked the wrong places and the wrong times to bring up the subject. I should have known better than that, and I'm sorry about how I made things difficult for you. I don't know what will happen in the future, to either of us, but I just wanted to let you know that I am sorry about what happened."
Harry saw the sincerity in her eyes and understood. "I understand," he said with some sympathy without sounding pitying.
Cho sighed, partially in relief. "For what it's worth," she told him, "I do think that you're a wonderful person. Very brave, very noble... it's probably the best reason why I like you."
For a moment, Harry felt flattered by her compliment. But then, in the next moment, he suddenly felt a wave of shame. Cho had good reasons for liking him and wanting to go out with him... but reasons did Harry have? Apart from how he thought she was beautiful... what other reasons did he have for wanting to be with her?
The fact that he came up empty for answers to that question made him feel any worse.
"You don't have to answer this question if you don't want to, Harry," Cho said carefully, "as I've annoyed you with it enough, but... did Cedric mention anything about me at all?"
"No, I'm sorry, but he didn't," Harry told her with complete honesty.
Cho exhaled slowly. "Thank you for telling me. And in a way, I'm kind of relieved."
Harry did a double take. "What do you mean?"
"Cedric and I weren't actually boyfriend and girlfriend," Cho explained. "Yes, we went to the Yule Ball together, but that was it. I didn't know what he felt for me, and it nagged at me, not knowing what he was thinking in that regard. Again, I'm sorry for having the bad taste to bring that up when we were together..."
"How ironic," Harry muttered under his breath. As Cho looked at him suspiciously, he explained, "Sorry, what I meant was... I thought he was your boyfriend."
Cho blinked. "Oh."
There was an awkward moment where Harry looked down at the ground while Cho looked around as she tried to figure out what to say next.
"The point I'm trying to make..." Cho continued, but then paused for a moment. "What I was originally trying to say... is that I don't know if you want to want to try again with dating..."
"No," Harry quickly blurted out before he realized what he was saying. Cho looked surprised, but Harry quickly moved to recover. "I mean... I'm not saying that I don't ever want to see you again, but I'm not so keen on dating again as soon as possible either, if that makes any sense."
Cho relaxed. "Don't worry, I see what you're saying, Harry." She then smiled just a little. "Actually, that's sort of the beauty of it... I'm not so keen on dating again so soon either. So, this actually works out well for the both of us."
Harry nodded in acknowledgment.
"Anyway... I was hoping we could at least find a way to work together this year, given what's going on. Chances are we're going to be running into each other a lot more, and I don't just mean at Hogwarts. I plan to work as an Unspeakable at the Ministry, and I've heard how you're planning on becoming an Auror..."
"Wait a minute," said Harry. "How would you know about that?" Although deep down, Harry was already suspecting that Umbridge might have ranged about Harry's plans to become an Auror to someone, which then circulated through other people...
"The Hogwarts ghosts, actually," Cho clarified. "They're actually very reliable. Actually, I got the news from the Gray Lady. That in itself is rare, as she hardly speaks to anyone at all.
"So," Cho said, resuming the previous topic, "I was wondering if we could still work together in this situation."
Harry didn't even need a moment to think, or to recall Dumbledore's words about unity and working together. "Absolutely."
Cho's face lit up with a smile, one which seemed to reflect the happiness she felt that something was going right in her life. "Great. I really appreciate this, Harry."
"Actually, there is one other thing," Cho said quietly, starting to blush a little.
"Yeah?" Harry asked nervously, thinking that whenever a girl blushed around him, it couldn't be good.
Cho was silent for a moment, and then she suddenly came closer to him.
The next thing Harry knew, she was kissing him on the lips.
He was surprised that she would do that. He did not feel revulsion from her kiss, but nor did he feel the sort of spark which his emotions once gave him in the past where Cho was concerned.
As Cho withdrew, she blushed a little more and backed up. "Anyway, it was good to see you again, Harry, thanks again."
And with that, she walked out at a brisk pace, without actually running out.
Harry just stood there for a moment or so, trying to figure out what just happened.
After running his hands over his lips to make sure that he wasn't wearing lipstick or anything from that kiss, he just muttered, "Girls."
He made towards the door to leave, but he was only a few feet away when it suddenly opened to reveal two more people coming in: Neville and Luna.
"Hi again, Harry," Neville greeted him.
"Fred and George told us you were in here," Luna said serenely.
"It's good to see both of you again," said Harry. Then he remembered something. "I thought you went to Sweden," he told Luna.
"I came back for the day," Luna told him. "We were summoned by the Ministry to explain about what happened a month ago in the Department of Mysteries."
"I never got any such notice," Harry said slowly.
"Well, maybe they couldn't get in contact with you, or they're just too embarrassed to talk to you," Neville suggested.
"I'm more likely to believe the former, although now that you mention it, Neville, it could also be the latter."
"I was also wondering how you were doing," Luna said as calmly as ever, but with a hint of hesitation behind it this time, "especially after what happened to Stubby Boardman."
Harry felt as though a chunk of ice had suddenly fallen into the pit of his stomach. He did not want to talk about this.
"First of all, Luna, what do you keep calling him that? His name -"
"But if you said 'Sirius Black,' you would get a very different reaction out of other people who still think that he's guilty," Luna pointed out.
Harry paused for a moment as he considered the truth behind her words. "You're right. I'm sorry for not figuring that out sooner, Luna."
"It's no problem, Harry," Luna said in that serene tone of hers.
"Anyway, I thought I'd say 'hi,' see how you were doing," Neville said, and here Harry noted how he was shedding some of nervousness and humble character.
Just then, both Mrs. Longbottom and Mr. Lovegood came into the room.
"Neville, we must go now," Mrs. Longbottom said in a strict tone which was similar to Professor McGonagall's, and yet somehow different at the same time.
"Yes, Luna, we must also be going as well," Mr. Lovegood said in an airy voice much like his daughter's. He didn't have her wide blue eyes, but he did have her dirty blonde hair.
"I guess I'll see both of you later, then," Harry said. After they both said good-bye to him, they both left and went their separate ways.
Harry was just about to leave the room yet again when suddenly Ron and Hermione came in.
This is becoming a little ridiculous, Harry thought to himself. Not that he didn't mind seeing his best friends again; it was just how someone kept coming to talk with him, one after another.
"Hey Harry," Ron said with a smile, obviously happy to see his best friend again. "How are you doing?"
"Are you alright?" Hermione asked with that typical sisterly concern of hers.
"Fine, I guess," Harry said with a shrug. "How are both you?" Looking a little worried, he then asked, "You're not still hurt from what happened in the Department of Mysteries, are you?"
Ron shook his head. "Nah. Still got a few faint scars on my arms from those brain things, but otherwise I'm okay."
"I'm still taking medication from Dolohov's curse, but the wounds are almost completely healed," Hermione said optimistically.
Harry felt guilty that they had been injured at all. The past few weeks had given him lots of time to look back on all the different mistakes he made over the years, and how many people had been hurt or even killed because of him.
"I'm glad you're both doing better," he said with forced cheerfulness.
"Harry, what's wrong?" Hermione asked him.
"I'm sorry, it's just..." Harry trailed off as he looked for the right words. "I feel terrible because of how you got into that mess because of me."
Both of them gawked at him.
"Harry... what happened to us really wasn't your fault," Hermione said slowly, still reeling from the surprise that he would say such a thing.
"Yeah, we're the ones who chose to come with you, remember?" Ron reminded his friend. "We knew what we might be getting into."
"And beyond that, there were never any instances when you were responsible for what happened to any of us," Hermione added. "Not with the troll on Halloween, not with the Chamber of Secrets, not with Sirius and Wormtail -" here she paused for a moment, remembering what happened to Harry's godfather and how he must have felt about that "-and not with anything which happened last year."
Harry was silent as he took in their words.
He then turned around and looked away, out a window. "I don't want anything to happen to either of you," he said quietly.
Behind him, unseen, Ron and Hermione glanced at each other, worried.
"During our first year, you told us that we had time to turn back if we wanted to," Hermione said quietly. "We've had plenty of time since then, and we haven't turned back."
"We're with you, no matter what," Ron added.
Turning back around to face them, Harry realized what he was saying or doing wrong. "You're right," he said in a tone which was neither quiet nor loud. "I'm sorry for making that assumption."
"Is there anything else you want to talk about, Harry?" Hermione asked in a concerned voice.
"No," Harry said flatly.
"Not even about... well, you know... Sirius?" Ron asked cautiously.
That heavy and cold feeling returned to Harry's insides. "No," he said a little more forcefully.
Ron looked instantly taken aback. "Mate, I'm sorry if I -"
"No, Ron, it's nothing you did," Harry said. "It's what I did."
"Harry, we just told you that it wasn't your fault," Hermione began, but was then cut off but Harry as he began to sound a little more aggravated.
"I'm talking about Sirius!" he snapped, starting to get even more aggravated.
"You didn't get him killed, Harry," Ron said pointedly. "Bellatrix Lestrange killed him."
"And he wouldn't have been there if I hadn't been there," Harry pointed out. "And I went there because I thought that he was in the trouble and needed rescuing. How's that for irony?"
"Harry," Hermione said slowly, "no offense meant to you or Sirius, but he did go rushing into it when he should have stayed at his house." (Here, she used the words "his house" instead of "Grimmauld Place" for the sake of secrecy with the Order of the Phoenix.)
Harry's initial response was to snap at her too for questioning Sirius' decision to take action, but he wisely held his tongue. She was right on that point, after all.
"I should have used the mirror," he muttered.
"What mirror?" both of his friends asked at the same time.
"Just before we went back to Hogwarts after the Christmas break, he gave me something small and wrapped for me to open at school after I got back. I didn't even open it until the last day before we went home. It was a small mirror which would allow me to talk to Sirius, who had the other mirror. According to the note, he and my father used them in school."
Hermione put a hand to her mouth when she realized how horrible Harry must have felt, to have realized his mistake too late.
"What happened to the mirror?" Ron asked, although he guessed that it couldn't be good, knowing what Harry was like that year. "You didn't break it, did you?"
Harry laughed bitterly. "I guess that means seven years of bad luck for me, doesn't it?" he chuckled, recalling that Muggle superstition.
Ron shook his head, at what Harry did, how he guessed right, and as a negative response to Harry's question all at once. "Nah, not likely." Seeing the confused look on Harry's face, he explained. "Centuries ago, there was this spiteful and vain witch who had this mirror she really liked, and loved to look at herself in it. Someone accidentally broke her mirror one day, so she got angry with that person and got even with a curse for seven years of bad luck. The story spread around, and so Muggles got that superstition into their heads." After a pause, he then wondered out loud, "Now that I think about it, I wonder if she was an ancestor of Gilderoy Lockhart's..."
"Ron!" Hermione scoffed. Getting back to the matter at hand, she told Harry, "Fine, Harry, your decision to go to the Department of Mysteries yourself wasn't the most brilliant decision you've ever made. But you didn't kill Sirius, and I don't know how many other ways we can tell you that."
Harry was about to say something else when Mrs. Weasley then came in. "Harry!" she breathed, seeing him. "I was told you were here! How are you doing? Are you well?"
Harry shrugged, looking down at the ground. "I dunno," he said quietly.
The Weasley matriarch immediately sensed what was wrong and came over to him. "I understand, Harry. I know how much he meant to you."
With that, she pulled him into one of those motherly lugs of hers, like the one Harry got in the hospital wing after the night Voldemort returned. Harry didn't resist, and let her do it.
A moment or so later, Ginny came in. "Professor Dumbledore's here," she announced. "We'll be going to the Ministry in a while."
"We'd better get ready, then," Mrs. Weasley said, immediately moving to prepare everyone so that they looked good and presentable. After using spells on the four teenagers to make them all look more presentable, she herded them out of the room.
"Hi again, Harry," Ginny said to him. "How are you doing?"
"I'm fine..." Harry started to say, but then Mrs. Weasley cut him off and spoke to Ginny.
"Ginny, Harry's going through a lot right now, and I don't think he needs to be bothered at the moment about what happened a month ago."
All four teenagers where stunned by her words, but Ginny in particular looked close to being outraged. She didn't even do anything wrong, and already her mother was telling her off, all because she herself was being protective of Harry.
Personally, Ginny knew she could help Harry, if she was just given the chance. After all, she knew from experience about how a person felt after being controlled by Voldemort without even realizing it until after the fact.
"Actually, I still need to get Neville a new wand," Harry said, not just to state the truth, but now also to help rescue Ginny from this awkward moment. Turning to Ginny, he then asked, "How much time do we have until we need to go to the Ministry?"
Ginny checked a nearby clock. "About a dozen minutes or so."
"Perfect," Harry said. "I'm going to go with Neville for a new wand, but I'll come right back."
"Harry," Mrs. Weasley began, but then paused as she tried to find the right words. "Just stay safe."
Harry nodded, bearing it and understanding her anxiety. "Don't worry, Mrs. Weasley, I'll stay safe."
And with that, he departed.
At Malfoy Manor, the current lord of the house was waiting for some guests to arrive.
Blond, pale and hard-faced, fifteen-year-old Draco Malfoy was the current lord of the house, as his father was currently incarcerated in Azkaban. On the one hand, young Draco wished that his father wasn't in Azkaban, but was back home with him and his mother... but on the other hand, being lord of the house, even for an uncertain amount of time, had its perks and advantages.
The Dark Lord was finally coming back to take over, and while the year of ignorance in which Voldemort was allowed to further plan and scheme without interference from the Ministry or any of the other so-called "forces of Light" had been indeed useful, now it was time to show the rest of the Wizarding world (or at least starting with Great Britain) that the Dark Lord could not be denied or defeated.
The Ministry of Magic was old and outdated, just a bunch of bumbling fools trying to play that political game to only earn more power and money for themselves. Their Auror division was also a joke. In fact, it was actually rumored in some circles that the only reason a place as Dark as Knockturn Alley was allowed to exist was because it gave Aurors something to do and to look busy but inspecting it frequently (personally, Draco figured that this couldn't be too far from the truth).
Draco felt wonderful to be part of the select few who made up the worthy pure-blooded race who deserved to rule the Wizarding world. Soon enough, he would make all those fools pay.
But now, at the moment, he was waiting for some of his fellow Slytherins to arrive. Crabbe and Goyle would came, as well as Nott, Parkinson, Bulstrode, and Warrington.
But for now, Draco would simply wait in his magnificent room, enjoying himself. After making sure his mother wasn't around, he pulled out a special crate of butterbeer from under his bed. This was a gift from Umbridge, the night Dumbledore fled and after she made him head of her special Inquisitorial Squad. She said that there was something "special" about the butterbeer, which made it so it was a fitting gift to him for being so loyal to her. (Here, Draco smirked, seeing as he was only "loyal" to that buffoon of a woman because she helped make Potter's life truly miserable and things easier for the Dark Lord.) After tasting some of it the first time, Draco just assumed that there was some sort of alcoholic ingredient which gave it that special kick.
Yes, soon enough, those fools would pay the price for defying the Dark Lord. Dumbledore, Potter, the Weasleys and all of their friends and allies... they would all pay.
(End of Chapter 8.)
A/N: Originally, this was just about trying to fix things between Harry and Cho. But now, as you can see, it's something else, and much more than just that. Personally, I think this chapter was a BIG improvement over previous versions.
Again, I'm not making Cho out to be a one-dimensional weepy girl, but as a normally intelligent person who's trying to learn as she goes along, as well as deal with her own grief.
Also, we don't necessarily know for sure that Cedric and Cho were boyfriend and girlfriend. Besides, when Cedric's "echo" during the Priori Incantatem spoke to Harry, he mentioning bringing his body back to his parents, but mentioned nothing about Cho. If they really were romantically connected, wouldn't he have mentioned her or something?
Regarding my explanation as to why a place as Dark as Knockturn Alley is allowed to exist... I've also heard the theory tossed around somewhere before that Knockturn Alley really isn't some Dark shopping center, but an "industrial district" or something, but personally, I think my explanation might make a little more sense.
Furthermore... exactly why would Umbridge give Draco butterbeer? The answer to that will come in later chapters...