August progresses, and Harry calls the DA back into session.
The Reforming of the Defense Association
It took two more days to contact most of the DA and arrange a meeting. And even at that, of the twenty nine members, they were missing ten. Marietta Edgecombe wasn't invited since she had betrayed them once already. Cho Chang and Michael Corner decided they didn't want anything to do with the DA any more. Seamus Finnigan was out of the country, as was Angelina Johnson. The Creevey brothers, Dean Thomas, and Justin Finch Finch-Fletchley were from muggle families and either couldn't be contacted or travel to the Bones house by floo. And George Weasley lost the coin toss had to watch the store.
Thre remaining nineteen members arrived in the early afternoon, and greeted and talked with friends and acquaintances they hadn't seen in months. Hermione, unlike everyone else, arrived by car. Harry had called her on the phone to invite her. Ron was very glad to see her, and tended to monopolize her. At one thirty, Harry called the meeting to order. They were on the lawn, but Harry had privacy wards around the meeting area, making it easy for anyone inside to hear him, and impossible for anyone outside to hear what was said.
"Thank you for coming. I can't tell you how grateful I am. I hope we can meet often until school starts, and get some practice and training done before then. Also, while there is no magical contract forbidding you from talking, I'm asking you to not talk about what we do here. I trust you, but a group of students practicing to fight against the Dark Lord's minions' is probably too good a target for Voldemort to ignore if he hears of it. I don't know about you, but I'd rather not fight Death Eaters if I don't have to."
"But I thought we were training to fight them?" Zacharias Smith asked.
"We will, but there's a difference between attacking Death Eaters, and having them attack us. Can anyone tell me what that difference is?"
"Sounds like about the same thing," Smith replied.
"Ron? Does your chess expertise tell you the difference?"
Ron had ignored the question, until it was put in a context he understood. "It's the difference between offense and defense. When you are on defense, the other guy's making the calls. You usually can't defend everything, so if he attacks where you are weak, he can defeat you."
"And being on the offense?"
"You get to decide where to attack. You try to attack the enemy's weakest points. He's the one who doesn't know what's happening and has to react as best he can."
Harry nodded. "Everybody got that? Good, then let me tell you about this exercise I learned. . . ."
Harry told them about the exercises he did every day to help build up his magical core. He showed them some of the spell sets he had come up with, and how repeating the spell over and over with a softer and softer voice would get you to a point where you were casting silently, and even without doing the full wand movement. This shocked Hermione, who had heard of silent casting, but had also heard it required intense concentration to get it to work. It also upset her that the books were wrong -- wand movements just weren't as they claimed.
They practiced that afternoon, and Harry told them he would be there every day until school started, except for the next Saturday, when he would go shopping for his Hogwarts supplies. They started reviewing what they had learned last year, and Harry went among them gently correcting, praising, and giving helpful suggestions.
At one point, Padma Patil was working on spell aiming with Neville and noticed Lavender Brown and her sister Parvati getting help from Harry.
"He doesn't know they're after him, does he?" she asked Neville.
"I don't think so. And they're not the only ones." Neville nodded at Susan and Hannah, who were partnered, and Susan was watching Harry with an annoyed expression on her face. Then he pointed out Ginny and Luna. Ginny seemed to be watching Harry more than paying attention to what she was doing.
"Is Harry interested in any of them?" Padma asked while trying to hit the balloon that was dodging her spells.
Neville looked at her, noticing that she wasn't watching Harry, and said, "Not that I've heard. He broke up with Cho last year, or she broke up with him, and he hasn't said anything to me about any girls. Are you interested in him?"
"No. I might have been, in forth year, if he had shown any interest. With the way he and the Weasley boy treated my sister and me, I'm surprised she's still talking to him."
"To be fair, I think he's matured a little since forth year."
"As have you, Neville. Do you have a girlfriend?"
"No. But by law, I have to have a marriage contract by this time next year. My aunt's contacted the Weasleys but they rejected the offer. I have to marry a pure blood."
"My family is pure blooded," she offered simply, her eyes still locked on the balloon and its continued attempts to confound her.
"Oh, yes. Our family has been magical for longer than Hogwarts has been around. And it has been many generations since we have married outside the magical caste."
"In India there used to be enshrined in law many castes, and those in one caste could not mingle with others. Even after the laws were changed when India threw off British rule, the magical caste has not mixed with others. India is such a large country that we have not had the same problems with inbreeding as the wizards of this small island."
Neville wasn't sure what to say about that. He concentrated and struck his balloon with the color change spell that they were using for targeting training.
"Very good. But I apologize if you took offense at my words. I did not mean any disrespect. I was stating the fact that in Britain the number of wizarding families is small and many are very intermarried, correct? I meant no insult to you. One cannot help where one is born. Did you wish your suit to succeed with Ginny?"
"Honestly, I don't know. She's nice and all, but has a wicked temper, and she's fixated on Harry. I guess that's the part that bothers me the most."
"So even if you marry her, she will always be wishing for someone else?"
"Exactly. Do you have a boyfriend?"
"No. I was interested in Terry," she nodded at Terry Boot, who was practicing with Anthony Goldstein, " but he is interested in Lisa Turpin. The only other acceptable Ravenclaw in our year is Tony Goldstein, and his parents want him to marry a nice Jewish girl. As Tony hasn't shown himself able to stand up to his parents, I think he is out of the market for a few years, as there are no nice Jewish girls above third year. Of course the one I'm thinking of will be fourth year this year, and maybe Tony won't think two years is too big a gap. In ten or fifteen years, it certainly won't be. But he's not one of the noble families, so he is not subject to the same laws we are."
"You're a noble family?"
"The 1894 Magical India law made the Rajah families equivalent in many ways with noble families. We have recently learned that we are subject to the marriage laws if we reside in Britain."
Harry, who had escaped from Lavender and Parvati, made his way to Padma and Neville. Neville once again hit the rapidly dodging balloon.
"Good job, Neville. Did you want to move on to something else? Shielding? I have some different shields to show you."
"I would like to practice aiming a little more, Harry," Padma said. "Why don't you make another round and then we'll change."
"Fine. See if you can give Padma some pointers, there, Neville. I think your accuracy is excellent."
"Thanks, Harry. And thanks for inviting us."
"Can you stay a little late, Neville? I have something I want to discuss with you."
"You know that the law says you must marry?"
"Yes, I've heard."
"Good. Because Parvati said that you are often unaware of Wizarding customs and rules. I wanted to make sure you knew."
"Thanks, Padma. Yes, I've heard. But thanks for asking. I've been burned too many times when people think I should know something, and I don't."
"You're welcome, Harry. And thank you for your time. How did you get Professor Firenze to supervise us?"
"Long story, I'll tell it another day." He moved off.
"If he knows that he needs to marry, then I wonder if he's negotiating with someone," Neville said.
"True. He might be negotiating with the Weasleys. He has been close to Ron since first year."
Neville looked thoughtful. "I don't know. Considering the way he treats all the people he teaches? It would be impossible to tell. He's patient and nice with everyone."
Padma nodded. "And yet, we are at the Bones estate."
Neville glanced over at Susan, and nodded.
Neville was not the only one who noticed Lavender's and Parvati's attention on Harry. Terry Boot and Tony Goldstein looked at the way the girls were acting and grumbled.
A shadow fell over them. They looked up and saw the Divination instructor towering over them, his almost two and a half meters dwarfing them.
"Are you angry with them? Or envious of him?" Firenze asked.
The boys were embarrassed at being caught like that.
"A bit of both," Tony answered after a moment's hesitation.
"Do you think he desires that sort of attention? Does he invite it?"
"No," Tony answered again. "If anything I think he'd rather not have it."
"Then perhaps envy isn't the right emotion to have."
"What about his skill?" Terry asked. "He's very good, and I think I envy that."
"It is a fact that certain skills are valued more than others. Yet we are all skilled in different ways, Terrence Boot. It may seem unfair, but it is the way of the world. Is it unfair that the hawk is better at hunting than the mouse is at hiding? We admire the hawk's hunting skill. Yet the mouse is better at breeding, and while we may not even notice that, the mouse race survives because of it. Let your envy go. When you are angry with someone, you make them part of your life. If you want Harry Potter as part of your life, he would rather it be as friends, and I think you would too.
"And if you like the fillies, do something about it. Harry Potter will not, for he is not interested in those two, and they may like the attention that someone who is interested may give them."
The boys looked at each other. Terry smiled at Tony, who smiled back.
"Thanks, Professor!" Terry said. To his fellow Ravenclaw he said, loudly, "Then let's see how you do with a different partner!" and headed over to the trio of Lavender, Parvati, and Harry.
"Lavender? Would you mind switching partners? Someone thinks he's been carrying me, while I've been doing all the work around here."
"HA!" Tony answered. "Parvati? Would you mind?"
Lavender and Parvati looked at each other and shrugged. The new groups got to work and to talking.
Harry stepped over to Firenze and asked, "What was that all about?"
"Human mating rituals," the Centaur answered. "Fascinating."
"Oh. Kay," Harry answered slowly, and went to check on another group.
Hermione, Neville, Susan, and Luna stayed behind and went into the dining room. Firenze and Laurel joined them. Laurel's state of undress made Neville's eyes widen and Hermione look cross.
"Neville, snap out of it," Harry said, "This is Laurel, and you know Firenze. Laurel, these are my friends, I think you know everyone but Neville and Hermione."
"Hello," she said simply. She looked around, and left the room. Harry was about to go after her, when Firenze stopped him.
"She is not used to meeting strangers. Let her be."
"Have you made an alliance with the Centaurs, Harry?" Hermione asked.
"We are in Harry Potter's herd," Firenze said before Harry could answer.
"I'll tell you some other time," Harry said.
Hermione seemed to accept that, perhaps thinking that he didn't want to tell everyone in the room. "Then can you tell me why Ron isn't here?"
"Ron isn't here because he couldn't stay without his sister, and she isn't here because it's not fair to her."
This puzzled her. "Why wouldn't it be fair to Ginny?"
"Because Dumbledore was negotiating a marriage contract with her parents for her and me, without bothering to tell me. I think she would have jumped at the chance, but I will marry who I want."
"You?" Neville asked. "Then that's why they rejected Gran's proposal so quickly."
Hermione looked like she was about to explode. "You were also negotiating a marriage contract with Ginny?"
Neville nodded, "My grandmother, really. We did go to the Yule Ball and she had a good time with me, I think."
"And that's the basis of a marriage?"
"Hermione," Luna said dreamily, "calm down. None of them want to get married. But it's the law." Harry had noticed Luna's distraction increasing through out the day. He wondered about that. He knew it was the people, but wasn't sure what to do about it, or even if he could do anything about it.
Susan spoke up before Hermione could respond. "The law says that scions or heads of noble families have to have a marriage contract with a pure blood or other noble by the time they are seventeen, or the Wizengamot can arrange the marriage. Too many light families were killed off in the last war; if the Wizengamot has its way Harry might end up married to Pansy Parkinson, or some one not even from Hogwarts, but almost certainly a Death Eater."
Harry nodded, "I don't know what Dumbledore was planning, but he certainly didn't include me in those plans, and I've grown a bit too tired of almost dying because he isn't telling me things."
Luna looked at him, "So, the plot to have you marry Ginny was another attempt on your life?" That caused Susan, and then Neville to laugh. Harry, after a moment realizing she wasn't serious, laughed, too.
Hermione didn't laugh, though. "Look, this isn't a laughing matter. Dumbledore is messing with Harry and Ginny's lives. . . ."
"He's made quite a habit of messing with our happiness. I heard from Ron that Ginny spent over a day crying. He hurt her, and he had no right. I will not hurt her more, so Ron isn't with us at the moment. Can we move on?"
"Yes, but this isn't over, Harry Potter."
"No, it's not over. It's just beginning. And now it's time to learn our part in the first big battle of the war."
That got their attention, except for Luna. Harry wondered if it was her affliction or because she heard some of this before that made her seem uninterested.
"On September first, Bellatrix Lestrange and someone else will each bring a group of death eaters to platform Nine and Three Quarters to kill any adults they can target. It's to be a hit and run terror strike. I'd like to come up with a plan to try and keep the death toll to a minimum."
"Why don't we just tell the aurors, or the Order?" Hermione said.
"Because they'll be needed someplace else. The same time that the train is being hit there will be other groups attacking Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. I intend to tell Scrimgeour and Dumbledore the day before. Maybe we can really hurt Voldemort's organization."
They got some parchment and drew a diagram of the platform and started discussing what they could do.
After Hermione and Neville left, Susan turned on Harry.
"Harry Potter! Don't think I don't know what you are planning on doing. I will not be part of the group that is on the train. I will be part of your group, and I will be watching your back."
"Face it, Harry," Luna added, "You're stuck with us."
"But I want you to be safe."
"We will be. We'll have the best Defense instructor the school's seen in years at our back."
"I give up."
Susan smiled and gave him a hug. "Good boy, Harry. The quicker you learn not to argue, the better we'll get along."
"Just remember, there are an awful lot of escape clauses in that contract we signed," Harry threatened.
"Yes, and we'll work on making sure you're around to use them," Susan said, and kissed him.
Luna was right beside him, and once he was out of Susan's arms, she too kissed him. Susan's smile faded a bit.
"All right, we need to settle Firenze and Laurel and get a night's rest. I'll see you both tomorrow."
Harry helped Firenze and Laurel settle in the sitting room, conjuring some more furry rocks for them to lean against. With more confidence in their relationship, the Centaurs told Harry how exactly they wanted the rock shaped. Harry was happy to oblige, and the two mythological people settled in for the night. Harry went to the guest room, where he had moved his stuff earlier in the day, cleared his mind, and checked his connection with Voldemort. He couldn't get past the feeling that the corridor was dimming every day. He gently looked around Voldemort's memories, careful not to touch anything and give himself away -- if his defense was a battleship, what would Voldemort's be? He would find out if Voldemort realized he was here.
In Voldemort's symbolism, his memories were buried under the swamp, avoiding the light of day. But things he was pondering -- things he was actively thinking about -- they were above the ooze, and open for scrutiny. That was how Harry found out so much about the attacks. Voldemort seemed obsessed with making sure he didn't overlook anything. He was expecting one of the attacks to partially fail, as the traitor let the information slip. That was why he had two groups who didn't know about each other going to each location, too. Whoever found out would have incomplete information. Harry felt his legs and feet start to tingle. He was knee deep in the mud. He moved slightly back towards the corridor. He wasn't enjoying the feeling.
Voldemort's spies hadn't heard anything yet. In the Order was Snape. And Mundingus Fletcher? Harry had to control himself. He couldn't have an emotional reaction here.
At the Ministry there were numerous spies. Edgecombe and the now incarcerated Walden Macnair were two names Harry recognized. Another was Percy. He wasn't marked but he sympathized with the pure blood agenda. They didn't want to use him too much in case they drove him back to his blood traitor family. And they knew where Penelope Clearwater, his girlfriend lived, if they ever needed information that he was hesitant to supply. He was being held in reserve for a strike against his family, though.
Harry learned other things, too. As Voldemort was so sure there was a spy in his organization, he subjected everyone who came into his presence to Legilimency. Harry saw not only the wand movement, but learned the theory and variations to the skill as they flashed across Voldemort's conscience while he performed the spell. Harry didn't try the spell on his friends yet. He was wondering how to broach the subject.
Harry also saw Crabbe on Voldemort's mind. He was going to be marked that night. Harry slipped out of Voldemort's head, with his legs and feet stinging, and returned to himself. He practiced his occlumency meditation some, and went to bed. Once he was out of Voldemort, he recovered quickly.
Dumbledore looked at the letter and cursed. On the outside it said, "Hostile Magic, rejected." Wherever Firenze was, he had goblin wards around. He'd have to send a letter that didn't have a tracking spell on it. He cursed again and glared at the phoenix. If only it had the owl's ability to find anybody they wanted.
He started drafting a note to his Divination professor. With luck, the Centaur would just tell him where Potter was.
He'd be damned if he was going to buy an ad in the Quibbler just to find a student.
The next week was fairly routine. Harry stayed at the Bones house and had breakfast ready for Luna and Susan (who brought Hannah half the time) every morning. Afterward, they practiced their core exercises and defense with whoever showed up. Hermione managed to contact Dean Thomas by phone and he came a few times, going to the Leaky Cauldron and floo-ing from there. Harry concentrated on the explosive curse, accuracy, and speed of casting with his people. He hadn't told anyone else, but if it was truly a hit and run operation, the Death Eaters were only going to be at the station for seconds, so the quicker the DA could take them out, the better.
There was one change to the routine. The second day at the Bones house found Harry busy with Mr. Weasley setting up a cottage for Firenze (Laurel was hiding from the crowd). Harry learned some basic home construction and decorating charms. The cottage was larger than what the Centaur's would have built themselves, and it was a little better put together (after Harry redid some of the walls), and had windows rather than skin covered openings in the walls. But Firenze (and Laurel, after everyone left) was happy with it.
After the construction, Mr. Weasley took Harry aside to speak to him.
"Harry, I just want to say that we had no idea that Dumbledore was not acting in good faith."
"I understand, Mr. Weasley, and I'm sorry to have caused Ginny pain."
"That wasn't your doing, so please don't feel guilty about that. But as there is no duplicitous intermediary, I'd like to discuss a marriage contract between our families. . . ."
"Mr. Weasley, I love Ginny as a sister, but that's all. I'm sure I'm going to cause her even more pain, but I'm not interested in marrying her. Please don't think that I have any problem with her or your family, I'm just not interested."
"I can accept that, Harry. And Ginny will have to accept that, too. I want you to know you always have a place at our home."
"Thank you, but I can't accept it this summer. Can you do me favor though?"
"Depends on the favor, Harry."
"Do you ever get a chance to talk to Minister Scrimgeour?"
Dumbledore cursed as he read the letter.
I am indeed planning on returning to Hogwarts to attempt to teach Divination to the children. I had to leave to teach Harry Potter something of Centaur culture. It appears that Harry Potter has married a Centaur, although he is ignorant of his relationship with her. She is a very nice person, but extremely untrained, so I have taken on the task of teaching her how to skin, tan, cook, gather food, and other duties of a female Centaur.
I shall be returning to the school before the twelfth of Virgo. Unless you forbid it, I shall be accompanied by a member of my new herd.
Until the stars shine on our meeting,
Dumbledore put his head in his hands. How did the boy manage to get himself into these kinds of situations? The Wizengamot was going to rake him over the coals!
The Saturday of the shopping trip arrived. With the exception of the Weasleys and Lee Jordan, who would be manning their shop, the entire DA showed up at the Leaky Cauldron at nine. They entered the Alley and got their things. The aurors were out in force, Harry was glad to see, but Diagon Alley was still rather quiet. All the shoppers were looking over their shoulder every few steps. The DA did it too, though. Harry hated the feeling of being exposed to an attack. He again resolved to stop Voldemort as soon as he could.
Which, unfortunately, he couldn't see happening soon. Knowing his source of immortality and doing something about it were two very different things. He seethed inside, while being as social as he could to his friends. He treated the gang to ice cream at Fortescue's, and they said goodbye.
As they were splitting up, Ginny came over to him. Harry braced himself. He noticed Susan, Luna, and Hermione close in, but Ginny didn't seem to notice.
"Harry? When I told you that I was over you, I wasn't lying. I was, perhaps exaggerating a bit. But then when my parents got the letter from Dumbledore, well I thought my knight in shining armor really was coming for me. I realize now that that's not happening, and I hope that we can be friends. I don't want what Dumbledore did to wreck our friendship."
"Thanks, Ginny. I know that what he did ended up hurting you, and I didn't want to add to your pain. Thanks for being mature enough to talk to me."
"You're welcome, Harry." She went off to join Ron and her parents, who Harry had seen following them. He smiled, knowing that they were additional protection for his friends.
"What now, Harry?" Susan asked.
"Ollivander's, and then something fun. Want to go to the pictures?"
"Harry and I had a good time when we went," Luna offered.
"You went with Luna?" Hermione and Susan wanted to know.
Luna answered, as she led them to the wand wright's shop. "Yes. It was a very exciting story."
"Yes, it was. You," he indicated Hermione, "have to accept that Luna is my friend, and we will do things together. You," he indicated Susan, "have to accept that I've been with Luna almost the whole summer, and we've done things together when you weren't around."
"Wait a minute," Hermione said, as the door closed behind them. "Why should Susan have to accept that?" She didn't wait for an answer but kept talking to herself. "The Prophet said you were the last surviving member of the Bones family. And Harry's the last member of the Potters. You. . . ." She might have said more, but Harry had put his hand over her mouth.
"Thank you Hermione for another demonstration that you're the smartest witch of this generation. But you have to learn to keep your mouth shut. Hello Mr. Ollivander."
"Hello, Mr. Potter. I have your wand. You chose a difficult core, and the holly would not accept the basilisk as a binding agent, so I switched to oak. It was a difficult combination. But once I had all the parts worked out and how to combine them, I present you with this creation. Eleven inches, oak, mystery hair core."
Harry reached out and felt the wand respond to him. He nodded. "This feels . . . right."
"Very good, Mr. Potter. Often a custom built wand where the customer just orders the parts doesn't work. But add the wizard's involvement in harvesting the magic, as well as the blood donation, and the chances of a match go up the more he's involved."
"May I try, Harry? I was there when you collected the hair."
He handed Luna the wand, and she was able to generate an arch of sparks. But more than that, he saw on her face that the wand was compatible.
"Very strange. A wand shouldn't select two people to be with. I have never heard of this."
"My turn!" Susan said, almost snatching the wand out of Luna's hand. She generated a rainbow when she waved the wand, but Harry didn't see the same thing in her face that he saw when Luna held it.
Ollivander nodded. "The wand does not choose you, but you could still use it."
"May I try, Harry?"
Harry shrugged, and Hermione tried to take the wand from Susan.
"Ow! It's hot." she exclaimed.
"I was afraid of that," Ollivander said.
"Afraid of what, Uncle Ollie?" Luna asked him.
"The basilisk poison has made the wand dangerous for some people to touch. I would assume most people. Should they actually try to cast a spell with it, they would very likely be poisoned."
"But not us?" Susan asked.
"No, Miss Bones. For some reason, you and my niece are allowed by the wand to use it. That will be twenty-one galleons, Mr. Potter."
"I'd also like some wand holsters."
"I will get you two."
"No, I want two, and I want to get enough for the entire DA group. How many is that?" he asked Hermione. She gave him the number, and he added three, two for the Creevey brothers, and one for Justin Finch-Fletchley, as she had left them out since they hadn't been practicing that summer. He gave the three girls their holders right there, as well as taking his two. Susan and Luna insisted that they put his holders on. He didn't understand why, but Hermione had another of her thoughtful looks on her face.
Hermione drove them to a picture show.
"Why would they make a picture about a dragon's heart?" Luna asked, pointing at the poster.
"It's a muggle fantasy," Hermione chipped in. They decided to see it.
Afterwards, they left laughing.
"Dragons talking?" Susan asked. "But such a voice!"
"It would be very sad if all the dragons died," Luna added. "And detrimental to the wand making industry, too."
At least they weren't frightened by the show like last time, Harry thought. However, it had been fun when Luna was clinging to him tightly. . . .
Harry bought them all fish and chips for dinner. Hermione left after that, giving Harry a glare that he couldn't understand. He hadn't done anything wrong, had he?
As Hermione got ready for bed that night, she thought back over the day. That wand -- what was its core? The Centaurs -- Harry still hadn't explained that. Susan and Luna -- what is up with that?
Susan had confronted her at the theater while Harry and Luna were off to their respective loos. Her face reddened as she thought about that, too.
"Excuse me, ladies," Harry had said as they re-entered the lobby, "I have to use the loo."
"I'll join you," Luna said.
"You can't join him, he's heading for the "Gentleman's" and you can't go there."
"I believe the "Lady's'" room is right beside the "Gentleman's"," she replied, pointing to the two doors.
Hermione's face turned red as she muttered, "Sorry."
As soon as the two were out of earshot, Susan turned on her.
"Are you trying to become the future Mrs. Harry Potter?" she asked, somewhat angrily.
"What? Why would I. . . ?"
"I don't know," she said sarcastically. "He's only rich, kind, famous, one of your few friends. That's not much reason, is it?"
"I'm not trying. . . ."
Susan again interrupted him. "Then why are you acting like a jealous girlfriend? I don't think Harry sees it yet, but he will eventually. He's thick, but not stupid. Eventually even things he doesn't want to be true do get through his awareness."
"But I'm not. . . ."
"Actually, you are. You're like him, in a lot of ways. Neither of you know your own emotions. But think of this -- if he was willing to avoid Ginny because he thought it hurt her knowing she wouldn't be his wife, do you think he'd do any less if he thought you wanted to marry him and he wasn't reciprocating? Do you want him to distance himself?"
"No." That was the last thing she wanted. Yes, with the DA her circle of acquaintances had increased, but she didn't consider many of them friends.
"Then get over your jealousy. Harry has to work out his own feelings about me and Luna, and no amount of analysis on your part, or jealousy, will help. If I don't see a change, I'll personally ask him to stay away from you."
"And you think he'll listen to you? We've been friends since first year."
"If I present my argument to him like I did with you, yes, I think he'd listen to me."
"Why weren't you there when he needed you all throughout his earlier years?"
"Harry wasn't interested in expanding his circle of friends. We have some ideas about that."
"Hi, gals. What's up?"
"I was just about to give Hermione part of our "Harry Isolation" theory."
Harry looked pained.
"It's not important."
"It is. Take second year, when Harry was accused of being the Heir of Slytherin and an evil wizard. Did he get any sort of support from the teaching staff? Any at all?"
Hermione had to shake her head.
"And during the Triwizard, did Dumbledore ever tell the school, either before or after, anything about Harry's forced inclusion? Did any teacher object to the "Potter stinks" buttons?"
Hermione replied to the rhetorical question, "Yes, McGonagall wouldn't let them in her classroom."
"But did she object to them in the school? No. And did having a wanted criminal after him make Harry popular in third year?"
"I hadn't thought about it. We were too worried about him getting attacked by Sirius. . . ."
"Harry has been isolated partially by his inherent anti-social tendencies. . ."
"Hey!" Harry started to object, only to be quieted by Luna.
". . . and partially by the collusion of the teaching staff at Hogwarts. A bit of help from them would have gone a long way to alleviate the problems," Susan finished.
"There was nothing first year. . . ." Hermione began.
"Actually, there was," Harry said, remembering the isolation. "After we each lost fifty points we were ostracized by the rest of Gryffindor, despite the fact that I was winning the Quidditch games."
"And this Isolation Theory," Hermione asked, "does it say anything more than Harry's had a lot of bad luck and no support?"
"Yes," Luna said, dreamily, taking one of Harry's arms without looking at him or Hermione. "We think the Headmaster was behind it."
Susan shook her head. "We don't know why."
As Hermione waited for sleep, she pondered why.
Harry was having trouble breaching Voldemort's mind. The swamp was extending more and more into the corridor between them. His feet were between tingling and in pain by the time he reached the door to Voldemort's brain. He didn't get much new information, but the Dark Lord was excited that all his spies reported no activity in the ministry or the order to counter his attack. He realized it could just be the leadership was keeping the information secret until the last minute, but he was pleased anyway.
The other piece of information he picked up was that Voldemort was happy that he was getting closer to Harry's mind. It appears that the clean, white corridor was too painful for the Dark Lord to come through. But now the defenses were deteriorating, and soon, he hoped, he would start his attacks against Harry's sanity.
Harry's virtual body in the corridor tried various things to clean away the spots and mud, but it was no good -- he didn't have whatever esoteric ability such an activity required.
But he knew Voldemort was getting closer to his mind, and all he could do was wait.