Harry looked around the group and cleared his throat. "So, um, welcome to the first DA meeting..." He fumbled with the sheets of parchment in his hands, the edges rippled from the sweat on his palms. The awkward silence stretched on. "Er..." he looked at Hermione helplessly.
"How about you guys talk for a moment while we get settled, okay?" Hermione suggested, rescuing Harry. "Make sure you all know each other, this'll work best if we work together."
Chatter broke out as the assembled separated into groups, gravitating towards their friends. Harry shot Hermione a grateful look. "Thanks," he whispered. Then, in a more panicked tone, he added, "I don't think I can do this."
"Of course you can," she hissed. "You'll be fine."
"What's first?" Ron asked.
"Snape gave me a list of the order he recommended we go. Expelliarmus first," Harry said, glancing at the parchment. "It's kinda crazy to think that not everyone knows this already," he commented, thinking of the graveyard the year before.
"If you hadn't taught me, I wouldn't know it. Hermione still would, of course - she knows everything," Ron muttered. Hermione's gaze was distant and she didn't reply.
"How so you think I should go about this?" Harry asked.
Ron shrugged. "I don't think I can help you there, mate. You're on your own."
"Hermione?" Harry asked helpfully.
Hermione was staring at something over Harry's shoulder and didn't reply. Harry glanced back to see Daphne standing alone at the corner of the group, Draco heading her way. He winced. "Hermione!"
"What?" she asked, snapping out of her daze.
"How should I go about this?" Harry asked, searching her eyes, which were suddenly guarded.
"Have them pair up," she suggested. "Then give them an example, show them the wand movement and have them do drills. Just like Defense Against the Dark Arts used to be."
"Okay, will you-"
"You go with Ron, I'll go get Draco," Hermione said, jaw set in a hard line. "We can do a demonstration on one side and you two can do the other, so everyone can see." She marched off before Harry could reply.
Harry shared a slightly intimidated glance with Ron, who looked less than happy at Hermione's demand to be Draco's partner. "Come on," he said, pulling Ron to the front of the group. "Okay guys, listen up!" he called out loudly. They paid no heed. "Hey! Can I have your attention please?"
Slowly, the talking died down and people turned to look over at Harry expectantly. He wand felt slippery from sweat. Taking a deep breath, he said, "We're going to start with a simple disarming spell, so pair off. Ron and I will demonstrate here and Hermione and Draco will demonstrate on the other side of the room." He pointed to where Hermione stood with her arms crossed, shoulder turned coldly towards a baffled Draco. "So, find a partner!"
The twins paired off, and Luna went with Ginny. Cho Chang partnered with Ernie and the rest found partners, leaving Daphne left alone in the end. She didn't seem embarrassed, but simply looked around with an air of superiority, as if she didn't want to be with any of them anyway.
"Um, right," Harry said loudly. "All you have to do is say 'expelliarmus' and imagine the other person's wand flying out of their hands. Like this," he said. "Expelliarmus!" Ron's wand flew from his grasp. "Got it? Okay, go ahead and start."
As spells began to fly, Harry tossed Ron back his wand and said, "I'm going to go work with Daphne." He added in an undertone, "Since no one else will."
Harry walked over to where she stood, perfectly still. Her light brown hair fell halfway down her back in a curtain of waves, but in a seemingly effortless way. Harry had to admit that she was rather pretty, though he wasn't interested, of course. Rhea was prettier.
"Hey, how about you practice on me?" Harry asked as he neared.
Daphne raised a brow casually. She gave a slight smirk and agreed, "Alright."
Harry positioned himself a decent distance away and turned to face Daphne, holding his wand up but not planning a block. It seemed to be taking most of the students three or four tries to get it right, so Harry didn't expect it when Daphne said lazily, "Expelliarmus," and his wand flew from his fingers. Daphne snatched it from the air and grinned at him. "Slytherin," she said by way of explanation.
Harry rubbed his neck, a bit embarrassed. "Should've known you can't survive in that house without knowing more than the basics."
Daphne twirled Harry's wand between her fingers. "Why do you think I didn't mind that no one chose me as a partner?"
Pityingly, he said, "It wasn't that; there are an odd num-"
"Don't lie, Harry. It doesn't suit you."
Harry shut his mouth. Daphne tossed his wand back to him and nodded over her shoulder. "Shouldn't you be helping?"
"...yeah," he replied, wandering away before he really processed what he was doing. Harry shook his head to lear it and proceeded to move about the room, correcting people on their pronunciation and form. Still, Daphne's stare seemed to follow him. Harry could feel it boring into his back as he raised Ginny's arm a fraction of an inch. He turned, meeting her gaze. Daphne smiled.
"Well, guys, thanks for coming!" Harry said to the DA at their last meeting before Christmas break. "Have a great holiday!"
They clapped and a few shouted well wishes back up at Harry. Harry smiled, marveling at how easy leading this group had become. They had only had three meetings, but the group was progressing along nicely. They'd mastered the disarming spell on the first day, and had since moved on to stunning spells. Next was the patronus charm, but not until after Christmas.
As the group began to disperse, Harry moved over by his friends. Ron and Hermione were laughing at some inside joke, and Draco grinned.
"Go on, guys. I'll catch up," Draco said, hanging back as the others headed for the door.
Hermione glanced back at Daphne and her face darkened. "Come on, guys. We don't need to see this."
Draco frowned, but didn't protest. In the hallway, Harry jogged to catch up with Hermione who had marched forward with speed.
"You okay?" he asked.
"Fine," she replied. "Draco can be friends with anyone he wants, even if it's a manipulative Slytherin with a superiority complex."
"Yeah, just fine," Harry breathed. He turned, glancing back at Ron who trailed just a little bit behind. Just as Harry swiveled his head back around, something caught his eye. A dark shape lurked in the shadows by one of the pillars. As Harry watched, it shifted, and two bright eyes came into view.
"You guys go on," Harry said. "I'll be along," he muttered.
Hermione rolled her eyes, "Oh, not you too."
Harry ignored her. As soon as his friends disappeared around the corner, Harry stalked up to the figure in the shadows. "You can come out."
Out from behind the pillar stepped Blaise Zabini. Harry's eyes narrowed. "What are you doing here? Watching us, huh? Going to report us to Umbridge?" he snapped.
"No!" Blaise said hurriedly. "No. I mean, not unless you force me to."
Harry scowled. "What do you mean?"
Blaise looked nervous. He let out a sigh and said, "I want to join the DA."
Harry laughed. "Don't be absurd. You tried to kill us last year; you'd sell us out in a second."
Blaise was slowly regaining his SLytherin confidence - his Slytherin anger. "I would not. Besides, I could go to Umbridge right now and tell her where you're practicing."
Harry studied Blaise's face for a moment. His lip twitched into a smile. "You won't," Harry said confidently.
"I won't?" Blaise echoed.
Harry shook his head. "You're too scared."
"Of what?" he scoffed.
Out of nowhere, words sprung to Harry's lips. "Of me," he blurted.
It was Blaise's turn to laugh. "That's ridiculous."
"Oh?" Harry asked. "Why don't we duel for it, then? I win, you leave us alone and don't tell Umbridge. You win, you can join."
Harry grinned. "Shall we?" he asked, gesturing towards the Room of Requirement. Blaise gave a stiff nod and followed him. The door appeared for Harry and he walked through without a thought. Luckily, Draco and Daphne were already gone. The room had transformed itself into a dueling stage, as Harry had intended. He took his position.
They counted down, turned and then fired spells simultaneously. Harry's jinx flew harmlessly over Blaise's head, and he was forced to dodge a stinging hex, just barely missing it.
"Meshiato!" Harry shouted, a net of energy sparkling as it flew towards Blaise. He me it mid air with a blasting curse, but it absorbed the magic. At the bast second, Blaise dove to the side and the net fell behind him. They battled back and forth for several rounds, neither managing a definite hit on the other. Slowly, Blaise began to look tired. His spells were lacking in energy, and slower in coming. Harry grinned. One more good spell should finish him off.
As Harry blocked another hex and readied a retaliatory spell, a sudden pain shot through his scar. He faltered, lowering his wand as a blasting curse hit him in the chest, knocking him backwards with some force.
"Ha!" Blaise shouted. "I win!"
Harry didn't get up, but simply clutched his scar and hissed.
"Harry?" came the question from across the room.
Shaking off the pain, Harry got to his feet. "I'm fine. You win. You can join, whatever. I...I have to go see someone."
Leaving Blaise looking mildly stunned, Harry bolted for the door, racing down the stairs three at a time, heading for the dungeons. Severus. Harry's scar burned fresh. It hadn't hurt this bad in a long time; he shuddered to think how his guardian was doing. When at last Harry reached Professor Snape's office, he burst in, not bothering to knock.
"Severus, are yo-"
Out of breath, Harry panted, managing to register that Severus seemed surprised, but not in pain. "You...your mark? It isn't burning?"
"No; Harry, are you alright?" Severus asked, moving around his desk. He placed a hand on Harry's back and led him to the guest chair. "It's your scar? I have some cream-"
Harry's vision was blurring. "This...it's different." He winced. "It's-" Harry looked up at Severus and a white hot spike of anger shot through him. Anger and hatred bubbled up from places that Harry had never before known and a hissing, buzzing sound filled his ears. All he wanted to do in that moment was get revenge on Severus for betraying him-
Wait. Some rational part of his mind told him to wait. Severus hadn't betrayed Harry, had he? He hadn't betrayed Harry, but this wasn't Harry thinkin-
"Harry?" Severus asked in concern. Apparently he had been repeating Harry's name, shaking him gently but the shoulder. "Harry, say something."
Harry blinked rapidly. "S-sorry."
"Are you alright? What happened?" Severus asked urgently.
Harry shook his head. "I don't know. I'm alright now. I'm alright," he repeated, almost in a daze. He looked at Severus and was reminded of that terrible feeling of all-consuming hatred of a moment ago. A pit of dread formed in Harry's stomach as he began to consider what - or who - might have caused those feelings. Dismissing the thoughts, Harry refused to acknowledge them. Even so, he didn't think he could be with his guardian at the moment. "I should go before Umbridge catches us," he said, standing and moving quickly to the door. "Goodnight."
But Harry was already out the door.