The Exchange Student
by Gina

~

Chapter Four: The Attacks

< >Ron and Amy disappeared through the passage more often as the days wore on. When Fred and George asked Ron to tell them what was in the passage, he mumbled something about some old toilets and a medieval sewage system. Fred and George made sure to avoid that particular passage. Harry's patience, however, was wearing thin. Ron's story was slightly suspicious, as he had never shown such interest in toilets before, and Harry seriously doubted that he would return there with Amy day after day if what he said was true.

< >"Where does that passage lead, Ron?," Harry finally asked during Transfiguration. Ron looked down at the floor and muttered something.

< >"Would you like to share that with the class, Mr. Weasley?" Professor McGonagall asked primly.

< >"Er, no, Professor, it's all right."

< >"Then please get back to work."

< >"Yes, Professor."

< >Harry glanced at Ron. "Sorry, Ron."

< >"It's fine." Ron frowned at the kitten on his desk. They were supposed to turn it into a ball of yarn, but the best that Harry and Ron could do was make its whiskers turn into wisps of wool. It looked up at them and mewed. Harry tried to steer back to the question at hand.

< >"So, um, Ron, what do you and Amy do when you go through that passage?"

< >"Nothing, really." Ron was flushing slightly.

< >"Can you tell me at least what's at the end of the passage?"

< >Ron looked absolutely demented. "God, I've been wanting to tell someone ever since we found the place-"

< >Harry waited eagerly.

< >"-but I can't. I'm really sorry, Harry, I truly am."

< >Harry's face fell, and he asked, "Why not? Why can't you tell me?" He added softly, "I'm your best friend."

< >Ron turned anguished eyes towards Harry. "I know! I feel really bad, but..." His voice trailed off. "There's something about that place. It's just so...surreal...so secretive. It's almost as if there's a spell cast on it. And if I said anything about it, the place would just become an ordinary-"

< >"-set of toilets," Harry finished bitterly.

< >Ron pulled at his hair. "I'm SORRY. God, Harry, I really AM. But...geez, I wish I could explain."

< >"It's okay," Harry said brightly. "I understand."

< >"You do?," Ron asked happily.

< >"Yeah. I do." Except, Harry didn't understand. He didn't understand how his best friend could keep someone so wonderful-for by the look on Ron's face, that passage was surely wonderful-to himself. Because of a girl. Harry turned the questions over in his mind, totally ignoring his unicorn in Defense Against the Dark Arts, and seemed totally withdrawn until lunch.

< >As if he sensed Harry's feelings of betrayal, Ron had persuaded Amy to stay at Hogwarts during lunch. She seemed fairly willing to comply, but occasionally her eyes would mist over wistfully. They ate in silence, until Hedwig dropped a note onto Harry's hamburger. Harry grinned as he saw the messy handwriting.

< >"It's from Hagrid," he told Ron.

< >Ron grinned. "Read it, tell me what it says," he replied eagerly.

< >Harry tore the note open. It read:

Dear Harry,
< >I was wondering if you'd like to come to my house down after lunch for a visit. You haven't been around much since school started. Bring Ron and Amy. I met her a couple days ago. She's a nice kid, and her cat is the first one that hasn't made me sneeze.
< >Sincerely, Hagrid

< >Harry looked up from the note at Amy. "You have a cat?"

< >"Yeah. You should meet him sometime, he's a riot."

< >"A cat?"

< >"Well gosh, you sound as if you've never heard of one before."

< >"No, that's not what I meant. How can a cat be a 'riot'?"

< >Amy smiled mysteriously. "You'll see," she said vaguely. "So are we going?"

< >"Sure." Harry hastily scribbled an answer and gave the note to Hedwig, who flew off immediately.

< >"BOMBS AWAY!" Something landed in Ron's pudding with a loud splat.

< >"What the...?" Ron looked around desperately, trying to get a glimpse of who the thrower was. A loud cackle erupted from above them. Ron looked straight up. "Go away, Peeves."

< >Peeves whooped with laughter and snickered, "Are you wondering what's that in your pudding, Ronniekins?"

< >"What are you talking about?"

< >"'Cause I wouldn't want a fat old Filibuster Firework in my puddin', nope I wouldn't." Harry and Amy ducked under the table. Ron was looking stunned.

< >"PEEVES, YOU LITTLE-"

< >Bang!

< >Pudding flew everywhere, splattering nearly everything withing ten feet of Ron. Harry and Amy emerged, unharmed and clean, to see if Ron was all right.

< >Unfortunately, they were barely able to recognize him as his entire head was covered with pudding.

< >Amy was torn between laughing and looking sincerely concerned. "Oh Ron-oh my gosh-Ron, ha ha, no, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to laugh. Ron, go clean up. I'll save your seat."

< >Ron nodded mutely, and hurried off to the bathroom amid the gales of laughter from the Slytherin table and the sympathetic glances from everyone else. Harry and Amy did their best to wipe off Ron's seat with some napkins that had appeared on their plates.

< >As they scrubbed at the bench, Amy asked softly, "Are you mad at me Harry?"

< >Harry stared hard at the bench. "No. Er well, er, I don't know," he said awkwardly.

< >Amy looked at him thoughtfully. "You remind me of someone I used to know."

< >Harry was intrigued, despite himself. "Who?"

< >Amy avoided Harry's eyes. "My brother."

< >"What? You mean Peter?"

< >Amy laughed. "No, no, not anything like Peter. I used to have a real brother," she added quietly. "My parents never told me about it. My aunt brought it up, during an arguement. He was seven years older than me." She sighed, then looked Harry in the eyes. She looks so sad, he thought. She acts so happy, but her eyes just give it away, all that sorrow...

< >"He was killed a year before my parents died," Amy continued. "I found an article in an old Muggle newspaper at the public library while I was doing a project for school. He had the same sort of frame as you, except he was taller. And his eyes were like mine. When I saw that picture, I felt like he was talking to me. Through his eyes. I never went to that library again." Amy jaw was set tightly, her hands gripping the edge of the bench as if it was her only hold on reality.

< >Harry had no idea what to do. Any trace of jealousy or hatred had vaporized in a moment. "I'm sorry," he whispered.

< >Amy smiled wryly. "Don't apologize. You didn't kill him." She took a shuddering breath. "I did."

< >Harry's head shot up. "What!"

< >"No, not like that, I didn't stab him or anything. But I was partially responsible."

< >"How?"

< >"Because he was looking for me when it happened. He-he had taken me to the park, and..." Her voice trailed off.

< >Harry began gently "You don't have to tell me-"

< >"No. I need to," Amy blurted out. She looked shocked, then smiled again. "I need to," she repeated. "I had wandered off...I don't know what I was doing, but then I heard him calling my name. And I couldn't move. I just stood there. And he thought maybe I had wandered off into the road..." Amy's eye's clouded over. "The driver didn't even stop. He didn't even stop to see what was wrong." Her hands looked as if they would snap the bench in half. Then she cleared her throat as Ron came back. "Ready to go to Hagrid's Ron?," her voice cheerful once more, if a bit shaky.

< >"Yeah. Are you feeling okay?"

< >Amy looked startled. "Of course I'm feeling okay," she said, shooting a quick glance at Harry.

< >"You just looked rather off-color."

< >"No, I'm fine. Let's go, already, I'm getting impatient." She grinned at Ron and they left hand in hand, Harry walking thoughtfully beside them. He was beginning to understand Amy a little better, and it made him more tolerant of her and Ron's relationship.

< >As they reached Hagrid's hut, booming barks greeted their arrival.

< >"Fang!" Amy cried delightedly as the door opened a crack. Fang whimpered eagerly.

< >The door creaked open and Hagrid's shaggy head beamed at them. "C'mon in, it's pretty chilly outside." They did so quickly, and soon their coats and scarves were hanging on the rickety handmmade coat rack. Hagrid handed them mugs of cloyingly sweet hot chocolate, which they sipped at to avoid burning their tongues.

< >As Hagrid was stoking the fire, he talked over his shoulder to Amy. "I hear they made yeh be in charge o' the Halloween dance."

< >"Dance?," Ron and Harry asked simultaneously. "We've never had a dance before," Ron added.

< >"Well this year you do, thanks to me," Amy said calmly, stirring her hot chocolate with a stick of cinnoman. "A Halloween dance and a Christmas dance."

< >Ron and Harry's faces lit up with joy. "You're joking," Harry exclaimed.

< >Amy shook her head, smiling. "Not at all." She continued, "I told Professor McGonagall that maybe I should organize something that shows the culture of the magic schools in America. Not that the dances do, we're gonna have one day where we have some classes that I take in Catswings...but I convinced her into getting Dumbledore's permission to have some dances this year since they're 'a very pivotal event at Catswings.' She bought the whole thing." Harry and Ron were laughing with excitement, while Hagrid tried to look disapproving as a teacher even though it was obvious he was just as delighted as any of them.

< >"By the way, I think I know what's wrong with Snape." Amy had quickly figured out it was not in Snape's nature to be forgiving, merciful, understanding, or open-minded - and yet Snape had displayed examples of all these traits within the last week. Once, Amy( who Snape hated slmost more than Harry) had burst into class late, because she and Peeves had gotten into a fight in the hall, as her dishevelled robes and a large bruise above her left eye clearly showed. All Snape did was give her a mild warning and show her to her seat. True, he had gotten into yet another arguement with her towards the end of class, but he didn't even attempt to punish her for talking back.

< >Harry leaned forward, and asked "What's wrong with him? Is it serious?"

< >"Permanent?," Ron added hopefully.

< >"I suppose, in a way." Amy took a slow sip of her hot chocolate before continuing. "He's in love."

< >A shocked silence filled the hut.

< >"Oh my God," Ron said, slightly repulsed and baffled by the idea.

< >Another long, tense pause stretched out between them. Amy sipped at her hot chocolate, a satisfied little smile etched on her face. Finally, Hagrid burst into laughter, his booming guffaws echoing throughout the grounds.

< >"What's so funny?," Ron demanded.

< >"Nah, it's jus' that it's ironic, that's all."

< >"What's ironic?"

< >"Who he's in love wit'. Kinda funny, actually."

< >"You knew? You know who?," all three asked, more or less at the same time.

< >"O' course. Things like that aren' easy things ter hide."

< >"Well who is it?," Ron asked impatiently.

< >"Yer never gonna believe this," Hagrid chuckled. "It's the new Defense Agains' the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Finch." The three of them let the irony sink in before bombarding Hagrid with questions.

< >"But...doesn't she hate him?," Ron asked.

< >"At firs' she did, but now...I wouldn' be too sure now."

< >Harry remembered how Finch had complimented Snape on his Polywater Elixir a few days ago, how Snape had blushed furiously. "It's so hard to believe," Harry said.

< >Hagrid laughed uproariously at that, causing Fang to mooch off to the opposite corner of the hearth. "It happens to everyone Harry. It's not something you can help."

< >Ron and Amy looked at each other as Hagrid said this.

< >"So what're yeh going ter do fer the dance, Amy?," Hagrid asked, changing the subject.

< >Overcoming the shock of Hagrid and Amy's news, Harry turned to face the new topic at hand.

< >Amy turned to Ron and Harry, her face suddenly pompously grave. "It seems that Professor McGonagall has entrusted me in selecting a Board of Organization for the dance," she said, her words flowery and rather old-fashioned. "So, after much careful thought and research, I've decided on the following people." She paused importantly, then took a slip of paper out of her pocket. "Ron Weasley, Harry Potter, Professor Rubeus Hagrid, Fred Weasley, George Weasley, Lavender Brown, Alicia Spinnet, and Peter Rosenberg. If anyone has any objections, please raise their hand."

< >Harry and Ron whooped and cheered, elated with the prospect of planning Hogwart's first dance. Ron hugged her, making her blush prettily and smile, overjoyed. Hagrid was grinning from ear to ear, pleased that Amy had chosen him.

< >As soon as Ron let go of her, Amy cleared her throat. "So, I was thinking, maybe Alicia could get Dean to paint a mural for us, and Hagrid, I was wondering if maybe we could make a scavenger hunt through the Forbidden Forest."

< >Harry and Ron looked at Hagrid eagerly.

< >Hagrid roared, "NO! ABSOLUTELY NOT!"

< >Everyone was taken aback. "But, Hagrid, I'm sure there are places in the Forest that are safe..." Ron began.

< >Hagrid apologized for his shouting, then muttered, "I'm not suppose' to tell yeh this, but I can' see the harm in it." He took a deep breath. "There've been some attacks in the Forest. A couple o' centaurs were found yesterday, an' one of 'em..." Hagrid voice choked off, then he finished softly, "Dead."

< >They stared.

< >"That's not all, though. Fang found a family o' unicorns in a clearing. There was even a baby, but they were all dead. An' then there was one unicorn I found that weren't dead yet, but he was hurt real bad. He ran off when I came near. There was a nest o' phoenix, too, that was smashed on the ground. The mum's throat was cut. All sorts o' thing like that poppin' up everwhere. There hasn't bin an attack for a while now, but yeh can't be too sure..." Hagrid's voice trailed off. He looked near to tears. Finally, he burst out sobbing, giant tears rolling down his cheeks.

< >Amy did something completely unexpected right then. She got up and passed a hand through Hagrid's hair. He stopped crying almost immediately with what looked almost like a wince. Ron stared, mouthing What was that for?

< >"It's worked before," Amy sighed, in answer to Ron's unasked question. "My cousin was crying because her favorite doll broke. I didn't like her all that much, so I tried to pull her hair to make her shut up. But I couldn't quite grab it, so my hand just passed through it. Then she stopped, and yelled, 'It hurts!' and stopped crying." Amy shrugged. "I just thought it might work. Don't get jealous, Ron," she added mischievously as Ron stared at her, openmouthed.

< >Ron flushed and protested. Amy laughed, and was soon joined by Harry, and eventually, Hagrid. But it left Harry with an uneasy feeling in the pit of his chest. He could see that Ron was a bit troubled as well. They left for their next class with Hagrid, since thei had Care of Magical Creatures. Hagrid's classes had improved greatly ever since Buckbeak had escaped. Much to Malfoy's disappointment, it might be added. Hagrid ushered them to their seats, and cleared his throat. "Fairies," he said, "are one of the strangest thing in the Forest." He walked over to a cage that had been covered with a light cloth. "I've get two diff'rent kinds o' fairies here, Cornish Pixies, an' English Blueveins. So, anyway, here they are." With that, he pulled off the cover.

< >Five fairies lay heaped at the center of the cage, their tiny bodies lifeless and their inner light extinguished. The remaining three cowered in a corner, weeping and holding onto each other sorrowfully. The class stared, horrified. Hagrid's great face grew pale, then flushed deep red. "WHO DID THIS?," he bellowed. No one answered, although Malfoy managed a small smirk. "Another attack!," he roared, then his face puckered and he ran from the room to inform Dumbledore. His sobs could be heard for a few moments, but the gradually faded away.

< >Pandemonium broke loose. Half the class rushed up to the cage to see what had happened while the other half sat motionless, shocked.Amy pushed her way to the front of the crowd at the cage. "Move over," she snapped and pushed a short Hufflepuff boy out of the way. She glanced into the cage, absorbing the sight of the terrified fairies and the ones at the center of the cage. Then she suddenly shouted, "SHUT UP, YOU'RE DEAFENING THEM!"

< >Everyone grew silent. Amy leaned forward and whispered, "Who did this?"

< >One of the fairies wept an inaudible reply. Amy wrinkled her brow in confusion, then turned to the class and asked loudly, "Does anyone know who Voldemort is?"


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