Chapter Two, In Which I am Mademoiselle Delacour's Project
Never mind the fact that the First Task is on Tuesday, that I've been having detention every night for almost a month for, reportedly, propositioning Professor Snape in Potions class, and I'm the unwilling and unwanted fourth champion in the Triwizard Tournament, I found myself being dragged Saturday morning to Hogsmeade by a quartet of girls from Beauxbatons – Simone, Sophie, Sylvie, and their champion, Fleur – babbling in a polyglot of French and English.
"Fleur, why are we doing this again?" I asked, perhaps for the fifth time since our unlikely friendship had begun a week previous. I had sat next to her at the weighing of wands and, somehow, in those twenty silent minutes and the half-hour of photo taking later, she decided I reminded her of her eight year old sister.
The article in the Daily Prophet the next day only seemed to solidify matters for her. Rita Skeeter, seeming to take words we exchanged as I was forced, quite against my will, to be photographed, as an entire interview. From this, I gathered, I was a beautiful, intelligent girl who had a real superiority issue when it came to my chances in the tournament and ran through boyfriends like the common cold. It was kind of weird to see words that I had never even thought, let alone said, in paper. Nevertheless, after the article was published, Fleur seemed to have an inexplicable need to make me that beautiful girl, the kind that would run through boyfriends faster than you could say tapioca.
"Because, Alexandrie-Margaux," she said in the tone of the long suffering, "no one should 'ave to be fourteen alone."
I wanted to point out to her that I wasn't alone, that I'd Hermione, who was fifteen, and Ginny, who was thirteen, to help me. In fact, I could've pointed out that I was in a large school with numerous teachers, students, and guests, a fact that almost assured I never could be alone in the castle. If I wanted to be really annoying, I could even have pointed out that I had my godfather, who was a convicted, if innocent, criminal, and another of my father's best friends, who just so happened to turn into a werewolf, and, while I didn't exactly know where either of them was, they were around. So what if my aunt and uncle were the human version of Dementors, so what if Ron wasn't talking to me and most of the school hated me for seemingly entering myself in the stupid Triwizard Tournament, and I was serving detention every night? It was my life; I was happy with it.
But, to be truthful, I wasn't happy with it. I'd always felt like there was something fundamental missing, be it a parent, or faith, or love, or something else. I mean, I love Hermione, but she has her books, which is all she really wants, and Ginny's great, but we're not exactly on the same level, interest wise. Me, I've always kind of been a solitary figure, reading maybe a little too much and studying not quite enough, but I've been, mostly, happy with it. It was just, at times like this, I really wished for a parent I could write to without feeling embarrassed about needing bigger robes, one who could storm into the castle and tell Dumbledore on no certain terms was I to compete in this bloody tournament, and who I could expect to come cheer me on when I was forced to compete anyway. I doubt Hermione would even go to the task was on Tuesday if it wasn't for the fact I was competing in it. I mean, she had a time turner last year so that she could fit in more classes, for Merlin's sake; that sort of dedication to school work means things like tasks fall by the wayside.
I want to know really badly how Fleur seemed to know I wasn't exactly the happiest of people at the moment, but maybe she was right. Maybe fourteen was a time when girls needed their mothers, or, at least, a mother-figure. Maybe she just wanted the privilege of saying she'd dressed The Girl-Who-Lived. Who knows. I can't stand worrying about Sirius any more, or the task, or Ron, or if I've dish-pan hands from cleaning so many cauldrons, which is why, I tell myself, I go along with her.
Still, it's nice to be in Hogsmeade not under an invisibility cloak, even if its in the midst of some French girls I hardly know, being taken to get my hair and nails "done" (and informed that, yes, I do have dish-pan hands, oh thank you Snape) and dragged to pick up some better fitting uniforms and some other clothes I might just end up wearing because they're better fitting than anything else I own, even if Sophie or Sylvie or Simone or whoever she was pronounced me sexe within them. I'm not entirely sure I want to evoke any more attention from the Hogwarts population than I already do, but it seemed like a good idea at the time I was shelling out the galleons.
That didn't stop Hermione from pronouncing me a "traitor to the ideals of feminism" when I returned, looking like I'd not just been struck by lightening for once in my life through the judicious use of a curling iron, fake nails, and make-up, or the boys who were in the common room at the time from whistling before I could shoot death glares at them. I still haven't figured how I betrayed anybody by letting some girls dress me up – it was kind of fun, too; something no one else has ever done for me before. I'm not sure I want it to happen again, but it was still nice to look nice for once, and be looked at for a reason as simple as my looks rather than being crazy, say, or evil, or famous. Ah, the simple pleasures in life.
Still, it was through Ginny that she passed along that Hagrid wanted to meet me before midnight at his hut tonight. It's really great, you know, to have two of your best friends not talking to you while the third asks if she can borrow your new clothes sometime.
It seems like I'm exceedingly popular today. I mean, hanging out with Fleur's clique all morning, then this strange thing with Hagrid tonight, and Sirius, I think I've forgot to mention, wants me to be in front of the fire tonight at one, and I still have detention… Whoever would have thought growing up in Azkaban South would lead one to such a healthy social life?
Who am I kidding? I'll probably just sleep all of tomorrow, if stress from the upcoming task lets me sleep at all.
I sit the hours between my return and my detention in a window seat at the Tower, wondering where my life went wrong. I mean, things were going pretty well until this year. Granted, there was the whole people-want-to-kill-me thing continually going on, and the fact that I didn't have the greatest childhood, if you can call a prison sentence childhood, but it was still fairly decent. I had friends, a pseudo-family, a spot on the Quidditch team, but it seems that this year we're all growing apart, or maybe I've not grown and they have, or vice versa, and relations with the Weasleys strained because of Ron not talking to me, and this bloody tournament taking Quidditch from me too – which is just too much, thank you very much. The only bloody thing consistent in my life at the moment is detention with Snape, so much so that, Merlin forbid, I'm almost tempted to get another month's detention with him just so I have someone who I know where I stand with them.
I go to detention that night too angry to change, so I have the pleasure of seeing Snape's reaction to seeing me in tight jeans and a pink halter, my hair behaving and my fingers feeling a bit heavy from the fake nails. It was quite amusing – almost worth all the bother just to see his reaction – albeit delayed, for I had been scrubbing cauldrons for half an hour before he'd even realized I was there, involved as he was in some Potions text.
I find myself wondering if Snape has anything outside of Potions. I mean, I totally know he was a Death Eater and all of that when my parents were still alive, but he's been working for Dumbledore for my entire life. That has to rub off on somebody. Unlike Flitwick or Vector, it's hard to imagine him as having a life outside of Hogwarts. There are always wild stories about some professor, and, for most of them, we know the names of their spouses, their children, their family problems… You learn a lot by being at a boarding school. And you have to realize, after being here for a certain amount of time, that your professors have published some of the books in the library and that they are at the forefront of their fields.
But Snape… he, like Sirius, oddly enough, seems like his life stalled at twenty-one. Their pasts haunt them. Why else would Snape hate me so much, if not for the memories of my parents being still fresh in his mind? I don't think he's ever had a date, or a woman has ever wanted to date him. Or a man; I don't claim to know his preferences. I don't think he's ever been interested in anything except Potions and DADA. In a way, I can almost see him like Hermione, living in the library, hunched over a book or three, studying this, that and the other out of an alarmingly strong desire to learn for the sake of learning. But, with Snape, it seems that everything went wrong. That he realized he was following someone as evil as the bastard who took my parents from me and he wanted to change. Just nobody's ever given him the chance. Except Dumbledore.
I do the mental math in my head, and figure Snape, like Sirius, like Remus, is thirty-four years old. It's hard to think of any of them as that age. All three are so old from the First War, so haunted by what they've seen, yes, but I don't think any of them have changed since '81, when the war ended, when my parents died. In their own way, I think my 'salvation' of the wizarding world led to them being what they are now. Sirius, half-mad from Azkaban; Remus, left alone for so long because there was no one; and Snape, because he was and will always be stuck on the edge of something that ended and can neither redeem himself or betray the Light until Voldemort, who is not as dead as he seems, is destroyed at last.
These are my thoughts when he interrupts my scrubbing to ask me just what exactly I'm wearing.
"I had an assignation run late," I tell him, paying him little mind as my thoughts run wild. It is truly hard for me not to torment myself with thoughts of what I've caused others – I blame my wardens at Azkaban South for that – and my mind quickly tabulates all the pain and suffering I've caused. For a fleeting moment, I even feel sorry for my aunt, who was given no choice but to care for me after the sister she so obviously hated died, but quickly push that away. Any pity I might have had for her is quickly destroyed by the memory of a certain cupboard…
"Really, Miss Potter?"
I can't imagine why he's interested.
"It's after school hours and there's no rule anywhere that says students have to wear uniforms to detention." Believe me, I would know if there was, I've had enough of them. Not as many as The Twins, but we all can't aspire to that level of greatness.
"Yes, yes, Éléonore," he says, surprising me with the use of my name, at least the one most people call me when they don't call me Harry. It's the name on the registry of the school, and when I was sorted it was, "Potter, Éléonore," they called, not, "Potter, Alexandrie-Margaux." I've gathered, from Remus and Sirius, that it was Éléonore that my parents intended to use as my every day name, this not being France and hyphenated names not being all that common, "but why are you dressed this way?"
I'm tempted to tell him that it's not to seduce him, if that's what he's thinking, but think better of it. I'm really not that desperate for detentions, even if it's something to do other then worry about the tasks and the fact that my two closest friends are being idiots. "Fleur has turned me into her project," I confide for no good reason in him. I'm sure it'll come back to haunt me one day soon, "and I forgot to change."
Patiently (and, mind you, this is from a man I've never heard patient in my life, let alone to me), "And why has Miss Delacour made you her 'project'?" he asks.
"Well, she claims it's because I remind her of her eight-year-old sister, but I think she secretly has a brother or cousin she's trying to set me up with, just so she can say she's related to the Girl-Who-Lived." I continue scrubbing.
And I could have sworn I heard a slight laugh, but, when I turn, there's no one around but Snape, and he certainly doesn't laugh, let alone at things I might say. I'm going crazy, that's the only answer, unless there are snakes in the walls and they can laugh, but considering I don't think there's a word for "laugh" in Parseltongue, let alone the sound for such, I doubt this very much.
I really don't know what's coming over me. I swear, usually I get detentions with professors for better reason than propositioning them, even unintentionally. Things like Norbert and trading insults with Malfoy. Usually I can keep my sardonic comments to myself. I blame it on a mixture of anxiety and sleep-deprivation; that's the only thing for it.
And all this use of my actual names, it's going to my head, I swear. Someone called out, "Harry," behind me the other day, 'cause I dropped a quill, and I didn't even realize they were talking to me. It's totally ridiculous. I mean, what girl in her right mind would want to go by a boy's name her entire life? Well, maybe if it were my actual name it wouldn't be so bad, but it's not. I have plenty of names to choose from, thank you very much, and none of them are boys'. Granted, they're French, but still. I think Dad's family must have been French or something. Certainly not the Evans – my horse-mouthed aunt is as Home County as they come. Or maybe they were just serious Francophiles. I don't know, 'cause no ones ever bothered to tell me anything about my parents, except that they died for me and I happen to look a lot like them both.
Speaking of (thinking of?) the French, I've decided that Fleur really isn't that bad. She's just somewhat lonely. If I had to be surrounded by girls like… well, whatever their names are, all the time, I think I might go a little bit mad and draft friends from elsewhere. I mean, whatever else, I am a champion, so I can't be a complete dunderhead, like her friends are. Even if I'm fourteen. And I honestly don't think she has a brother or cousin somewhere, she's just being nice to me in the only way she knows how.
The problem is I really don't know how to be nice back. I mean, with Ron chess and Quidditch usually covered us, and for Hermione all you ever have to do is show some interest in books and homework and you're good in her… book. But look where we are now.
Maybe I could make friendship bracelets with "champion" written on them?
Stupid thoughts like these occupy my last hour of ruining my manicure before slipping out to Hagrid's, detention the perfect excuse for why I'm out late, though I'm under my cloak all the same.
Sometimes I wonder if I could just turn invisible at will, if it's even possible. I feel invisible at times, even with every eye on me. You think if I just went Dark like everyone thinks I will, people will just leave me be?
I thought not.
I feel completely awkward and not a little invisible as I follow Hagrid and Madame Maxime into the forest, for more reasons then the cloak around me. I'm about to turn around so I'm not late for my last date of the night, in front of the Tower fire to wait for Sirius, when I hear men shouting up ahead, and a roar that could only be from one thing…
My mouth dropped open in a way that would have made Fleur snap, because there were four, fully grown, real-life, I-could-kill-you-if-I-felt-like-it dragons in front of me.
Now, let me get one thing very, very straight: I did, in fact, kill a Basilisk with nothing but a sword, some wit, and a phoenix second year. It was very much a kill-or-be-killed situation. If I didn't kill it, Ginny would've died, and while she can be a bit of an annoyance, I don't exactly harbour murderous feelings for anyone not named Draco or Malfoy.
There is, however, a very big and very important difference between killing something that's trying to kill you, and killing something that's trying to kill you for its entertainment value. If I went along with this, I was bound to die, because I am a fourteen-year-old witch, despite the various monikers to my name. I have no extraordinary powers.
My parents did not die, I am sure, for a dragon to kill me for sport thirteen years later. In fact, I'm very certain on this fact.
The pervading knowledge that I was going to die followed me up the stairs and into the Tower, where I arrived, breathless although I had walked at a snail's pace, in the blissfully deserted common room. Oddly enough, it was not the knowledge that my death was seemingly certain that bothered me, but rather the knowledge that I had not lived. I had never had a boyfriend, let alone been kissed. I'd never done anything because I wanted to do it, only because it was required of me. I had done nothing anyway. I would never get to curse the Dursleys properly for being such bloody awful people…
The fireplace crackled merrily, and, magically, Sirius's head appeared there. As much as it is possible for a head in a fire to look, he looked clean and well-fed and rather not like the escaped convict that was my first memory of him. No, he looked like someone who'd laughed at my parents wedding, who'd played pranks in school, and who'd never, ever, considered that maybe the price of talking to his god-daughter through a fire was something a little too high for him to dare.
For the second time that night, I found myself thinking of that most unlikely trio of men, Snape, Sirius, and Remus, and how unfair life or fate or Merlin had been to them, and it was highlighted for me in the look Sirius gave me so clearly that none of them really had ever moved on from that night thirteen years ago, when I had managed to survive and the ones that had, for good or ill, been such a part of their lives hadn't. Because, at that moment, Sirius was looking at me like he was the one that was fourteen and that I was the adult here, like he was waiting for me to say something about how reckless he'd been so he could give the perfunctory, "Yes, Mum," and we could all get on with our day.
I think it was because of this look, so young from such old eyes, that every block of fear I had melted and flowed away and was replaced by mild anger. It was one thing to die, alone, because there was nothing to be done. It was another thing to give into death when there were people you had to live for, because I suddenly knew then that, if I died, Sirius might well follow me, and from there, who knew?
Plus, I really didn't want to die.
And so I told him everything. I spilled to him how Ron wasn't talking to me because he thought I'd entered myself, when even Snape knew I didn't, and how Hermione was angry at me now, and how I felt bad for being friends with Fleur even if I kind of liked her dolling me up, and how Rita Skeeter had made me out to be something I was not, and how I had detention with Snape every night and so I felt like my homework was a dragon at my back, and how I'd never felt more alone in all my life, and, oh, by the way, he might want to find a black suit to wear by Tuesday because the dragon I had to fight and/or kill for the task might well do me in first.
He listened grimly, nodded at the right times, and then told me not to worry so much about dragons.
Obviously, Azkaban had done funny things to his head, 'cause I could have sworn most people, dragon handlers included, would not have said anything of the sort.
No, he was certain it wasn't the dragon I should worry about killing me, but rather Karakoff, the Headmaster of Durmstrang, because he was a Death Eater and had probably put my name in the Goblet, hoping one of the tasks would off me.
"Yes, yes, yes, but how do we keep the tasks from killing me? 'Cause, realistically, I'm not sure how to not get killed by one, other than running very fast in the opposite direction."
He was just about to tell me how to save my skin when a noise came from the stairwell, and I had to force him to go, because I didn't want him to get caught, even though my heart was in my throat and the relief that had begun to sooth my overwrought nerves quickly retreated, knowing it was a lost cause.
It was Ron.
I tried to be polite. But no, that was too much for me. I knew it was wrong, that he'd honestly had no idea what kind of day I'd had, but I couldn't stop myself. "Just thought you'd come nosing around, did you?"
"I should have realized you'd be practising your next interview and'd want some peace."
"Give it a rest, Ron!" I screamed at him, my hands grabbing the nearest thing at hand and starting to fling them in his direction. Buttons, books, and inkwells went flying at him, not all of them thrown. "I'm sick and tired of it. I would give anything – anything – to have half of what you have. I'm tired of listening to you gripe when you don't know how lucky you are to have a family who loves you. You want the attention? You can have it. I don't want it!"
I think I started to yell less attractive things then, but I don't remember what. I just kept yelling and screaming at him until I sank to my knees in the common room, which looked like a tornado had made its way through it, and was shaking from the exertion of it all. Though I do think I said, towards the end of it all, "And my name is not Harry," though I don't think I cleared up for him what I might wish to be called instead. Hyphens and accents do not the easiest names make.
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Sunday morning found me in the library, asleep under my cloak in the restricted section. I'd snuck in there after my row with Ron, hoping to find something on duelling dragons that could help me not die. I was very keen on that, not dying.
I was just so tired after fighting with him, and that feeling of aloneness that Fleur had unkindly stirred was creeping back in on me as I searched the titles, looking for something – anything – that could help me. But I just kept on thinking about stupid things, like how Hermione shouldn't be mad that I did something with other girls, and how I kind of liked the fact my hair wasn't sticking up at every angle any more, and how I really hated being called Harry, and curses to me for ever telling anybody that's what they called me in grammar school.
Add that to the pile of worry that I had for Sirius, who was really quite stupid for being back in the country over a silly thing like me, and for Remus, who'd I'd not heard from since last term and was beginning to worry about, and for Snape of all people, who seemed out of sorts by my thanking him the other night and had since taken only half the usual points from me in class, though that still left me well above the average.
I managed to catch a late breakfast, missing Fleur and her gang entirely, which disappointed me a little, I'm sad to admit. Hermione wasn't talking to me still, nor was half the school, and I'd no idea how to fight a dragon.
I'd no better idea when I went to detention that night, or the next day, when Hermione finally forgave me for – and I quote – "Giving in to pressure to conform to societal norms by sacrificing personal identity to the corporate giant." I thought about pointing out to her that nothing in Hogsmeade exactly qualified as a corporate anything, but didn't feel like another fight with one of the only people talking to me at the moment, even if a large part of our time together was spent sitting in the library.
I did tell Diggory about the dragons though, which kind of made me feel better. And he appreciated the makeover Fleur had given me, which made me feel, I'm sad to say, even better. But Monday night, when I reported to detention, I had no better idea what I could do then I had upon seeing them.
I was scrubbing away when Snape came into the classroom. He seemed surprised to see me there.
"I still have five more detentions to go," I inform him, and go back to scrubbing at the mess someone, probably Neville, had made of a perfectly good cauldron.
"I assumed with the task tomorrow you'd not show."
I looked at him like he'd two heads and one of them was blue. Skipping out on a detention was something so stupid even I'd not done it before.
Oddly enough, he continues to talk to me. I think he might have spent too much time around noxious potions. After all I'm someone named Potter. He doesn't like me. He doesn't like Potters in general. Maybe he's trying to bait me into getting more detentions, because he'd rather not clean cauldrons himself. Yes, that sounds like him, even though I'm sure there's a spell out there that could do the cleaning for him.
"Miss Potter, do you have an idea how to handle the task tomorrow?"
I shrug. "Try not to get too maimed." I wish I'd a better plan than that, but all I'm really good at is Quidditch and getting detentions, and I doubt even he'd give me a detention for when I'm supposed to be getting killed tomorrow.
I briefly consider taking a beater's bat to the dragon, but toss that aside out of hand.
And then I get an idea.
A really evil, totally awesome idea.
I give Snape a wicked smile, and try to figure out how to make it work.