Chapter Four – The Devil in Play

Please Note

Please note that this is chapter four of the alternate version of Red Ribbon Redux. Chapters 1, 2, 3 are the same as in the main version.

The last week of school before Christmas break seemed to move by slowly for Harry.  He found his eyes constantly drifting toward the windows, looking for some hint of the magnificent owl and some sort of reply from Krum.  Instead, all he saw was snow and he would return to taking notes or dutifully eating his meals.  He knew he would never hear the end of it from Winky if he didn’t eat properly.  She was quite determined that every growing boy should eat enough.

“What did you write back?” Kevin asked him quietly on Tuesday afternoon after Harry had wandered back into the Ravenclaw common room.

“I—“ he said, his throat constricted.  He looked away, unable to completely answer.

Kevin nodded.  “I think it’s time for some stalking,” he announced.

Harry looked at him askance.

“Wait right here.”  Kevin jumped from his seat and rushed up to the dormitories, leaving Harry confusedly looking after him.

“Hey, Harry,” a soft voice greeted and Harry saw the Ravenclaw Seeker, Cho Chang, smiling sweetly at him.

“Er, hi, Chang,” he replied.

Her smile dimmed a little.  “Are you looking forward to Christmas?”

“Yes,” he responded truthfully.  “My cousin wrote that he’d start teaching me the basics of boxing.”

Wrinkles marred her forehead.  “Boxing?”

“A Muggle sport,” Harry replied, leaning forward slightly.  “You put two blokes in a confined area and you have to hit each other until the loser is on the floor for ten seconds.”

She looked at him startled.  “How barbaric.”

Harry shrugged.  “No worse than Quidditch and Bludgers.  Boxing has rules, of course, and you’re properly padded.”

She shook her head, her long black hair swishing around her shoulders.  “I think it’s Muggles,” she responded honestly.  “Wizard sports have finesse.”  Her tone was matter-of-fact and brooked no argument.

“Boxing has finesse, and it’s less likely you’ll get hurt.  You could take a Bludger to the head and fall three hundred feet in Quidditch.  We don’t even wear helmets.”

Cho sat down in Kevin’s abandoned chair and straightened her sweater.  As it was after dinner, people were dressed down.  Harry was even wearing his Smeltings jersey over a long sleeve shirt.  “Yes, but we have magic.”

“Magic can’t cure everything,” Harry refuted.  “People still die.”

She shrugged elegantly and looked about briefly before training her eyes back on Harry.  They were bright and yet blacker than sin.  He reached back in his memory and tried to remember what color eyes Krum had, but he found that he hadn’t been close enough except for the dark night of the Quidditch World Cup.

“Well, you’re not a Muggle,” she finally said, not looking at him.

He opened his mouth to respond, but she cut him off.

“Look, Harry, I’m sorry I couldn’t go to the Yule Ball with you last year.”

Harry stared at her for several long moments, wondering why she was bringing this up a year after the fact.  “You went with Diggory,” he finally answered.  “It’s fine.”

She nodded.  “I was wondering for a while if you were dating Patil, was it?”

“Parvati,” he responded.  “Her twin’s a year below you in Ravenclaw.”

Chang nodded in recognition.  She looked at him expectantly.

“Oh!” he said, recalling the initial question.  “Er-no.  We were friends; we went to have fun together.  I think she met a Beauxbatons boy she’s still dating.” 

She gave him a bright smile and then leaned forward, placing her hand over his.  “Good, because I fancy you, Harry Potter.”

Harry stilled, but Chang didn’t really notice.

“I was thinking that perhaps we could go on the next Hogsmeade weekend?  Make this official?”  She looked at him hopefully.

Gently, Harry pulled his hand away from her.  “Harry Evans,” he corrected and then looked away from her, seeing that Kevin was a few feet away, his eyes wide and glancing between them.

“Pardon?” Chang asked, drawing Harry’s attention back to her.

“Harry Evans.  It’s my name.”

“Oh.”  She flicked her hair back.  “If you say so.”

“Right.”  He paused, stuffing his hands in his pocket.  He felt the edge of his translation that he had found himself carrying and taking out at moments to reread.  My ardor although previously unspoken has proven the test of time.  Hereweald Potterius Evanus.  “I’m taken,” Harry finally said, his voice firm.  “Probably permanently.”

Chang looked taken aback and slowly sat back.  “Who?” she asked confused.  “I hadn’t heard anything.”

“We don’t broadcast it.  Privacy and all that.  It’s bad enough that girls giggle and follow me around at times,” he admitted.  He turned back toward Kevin.  “Why are you holding a bunch of newspapers?”

“Stalking material,” he responded evenly, coming up and then hovering beside Chang.  She fortunately understood the hint and stood up, allowing him to sit.  “Nothing like following Quidditch to take your mind off things.”

He held up the Sports section of the Daily Prophet from a year back, showing Krum catching the Golden Snitch at the World Cup.

Harry reluctantly took the paper and stared at Krum’s face, the strong, curved nose, the sharp profile, dark eyes and bushy eyebrows.  He squinted and turned to Chang holding out the paper.  “Do you think he’s handsome?”

Kevin tried to stifle a laugh.

Chang’s eyes widened but she didn’t immediately answer.

“Patil!” Harry called out to Parvati’s twin.  “Do you think Viktor Krum is handsome?”

He turned back to the image and wished it were in full color.  He still couldn’t tell the color of Krum’s eyes.

He felt someone come up behind him and look over his shoulder.

“Well,” Patil answered.  “I’ve always thought he was a bit mysterious.”

Harry looked to Kevin in question. 

“I think that’s a ‘yes,’” he answered uncertainly.  He shoved another paper at Harry, this one from just a few months before. 

A large picture of Krum showed him sitting regally in an armchair, his eyes brooding from the page.  He’d begun to grow a goatee.  Harry thought it made his face more charming in a strong, Slavic way.

He scanned the article.  “He came first in almost every subject at Durmstrang,” he said quietly.

Padma Patil was still leaning over him, reading over his shoulder.  “That’s strange,” she murmured and Harry looked at her in question.  She glanced at him and tucked her long hair behind her ear.  “It says here that he and Granger were never in a prolonged relationship and that it had lasted only for the night of the Yule Ball, and that Granger knew they were attending as friends.”

Chang was looking curiously at Harry and began to inch forward, as if she couldn’t help it.

“I gathered that from something she said last weekend,” Harry told Padma and Kevin.  “Before that, though, she made it sound like they were still a couple.”

“She was trying to make you jealous,” Kevin reminded him.  “So is Weasley if she’s really snogging Corner.”

“Ginny can snog whoever she likes.”  He turned back to the article.  His eyebrows shot up.  “Krum said that he hasn’t considered himself single since the World Cup.”

Kevin’s blue eyes widened and he leaned out of his chair, straining his neck to read at an odd angle.  “Well, that answers that question.”

Harry’s eyes narrowed.  “No, it doesn’t.  It doesn’t make sense.”

“Well, we all thought you were single,” Chang finally said, glancing at the large black-and-white photograph of Krum, “and you said you weren’t.”

“Leave it, Cho,” Kevin warned her as he shuffled another paper at Harry.  It was the photograph taken of the four champions about a year before.  He pushed it back again.

“I don’t want to look at that,” he said.  “She called me a ‘Muggle sympathizer’ as if it were a bad thing, and a ‘believer of Muggle bedtime stories.’”

“Right, sorry,” Kevin apologized, grimacing.  “Decent picture, though.”

“He’s frowning,” Harry quipped.

“Krum always frowns.”

There was no refuting that claim.  The closest Harry had ever seen to a smile was a rather surly neutral expression.  “Maybe he smiles when cameras aren’t around?” he asked hopefully.

Harry somehow doubted it. 

The next day at lunch, Harry found himself glancing over his Herbology notes.  He’d never really fancied the subject and found Neville’s Mimbulus mimbletonia mildly frightening.  He much preferred studying from a book than dealing with magical pus and screaming plants.

The flap of wings, which usually was only heard at breakfast or the owlery, gained his attention and he looked up to see the magnificent owl once again.

Harry stared at it for a moment before lifting his arm for the owl to land on.

Stunned silence settled around the Gryffindor table and a flash of red caught Harry’s eye.  The letter was once again tied with a crimson ribbon.

“Hello, beautiful,” Harry cooed, trying to ignore the heavy stares that were now coming from the adjoining Hufflepuff table.  He knew it was only a matter of about a minute before the Head Table looked over and then the Ravenclaw table.

The great bird flapped his wings regally, bringing a half-smile to Harry’s lips. 

“All right,” he agreed, untying the letter with shaking fingers.  He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself as an eerie silence fell across the Great Hall as a whole, punctuated only by silverware that was being dropped to plates and the rustle of robes.  This was almost worse than when his name came out of the Goblet of Fire.

The missive felt heavy and rough in his hand, the silk of the ribbon barely brushing the tips of his fingers.

“Harry,” the authoritative voice of Granger sounded, breaking the tense silence.  “That’s a red ribbon proposal.”

“I know,” he responded calmly.  “I can see.”

The owl hopped up his arm and landed on his shoulder, leaving both his hands free to unravel the message.

Neville, who was once again beside him, looked longingly at the letter again, making Harry feel even more uncomfortable.  “Well, Harry.  Are you going to open it?”

“I,” he swallowed nervously and then set the letter in his shirt pocket under his blazer.  No one could get to it there.  “Later.”

He fed the owl on his shoulder a chip and then turned back to his meal, clenching his jaw when the whispers began.  Glancing up at the head table, he saw Umbridge looking at him speculatively while Dumbledore was whispering furiously with McGonagall. 

Harry knew he should have expected it, but he was caught by surprise when a blushing second year came and called him to Professor McGonagall’s office during Care of Magical Creatures.  The entire class watched him speculatively as he gathered up his bag and followed the girl back up toward the castle, refusing to look over his shoulder.

He was startled when he entered McGonagall’s office and saw not only his Head of House but also Professor Flitwick, who was sitting comfortably in an armchair, a cup of steaming tea in his hands.  At least he wouldn’t have to face McGonagall alone, he thought ruefully to himself.

“Take a seat, Mr. Evans,” she said sternly, sitting down herself.  “Tea?”

“Yes,” he replied quickly, almost stumbling over his words.  “Thank you.”  He placed his book bag on the floor and accepted the cup that was offered him.

McGonagall carefully poured herself a cup and then settled into her seat behind her desk.  “Well, Mr. Evans.  The arrival of a red ribbon was surprising to say the least.  My students wouldn’t stop talking about it.”

Harry took a sip of his tea, which was scalding hot.  He carefully set the saucer down a moment later.

“Nor mine,” Flitwick added.  “Third years.  They think everything is romantic at that age.  I actually gave a brief lecture on the topic for the benefit of the few Muggle-borns.”

“Yes,” McGonagall agreed, her lips thinning.  “I expect many professors have to do the same today and tomorrow.  It’s caused quite a sensation.”  She looked at Harry over her moon-rimmed glasses, her gaze mildly accusing.

“I was unaware that the owl would come at lunch,” he finally offered.  After lunch the noble bird had flown off his shoulder toward the castle, probably toward his dormitory or even the owlery for the present.

McGonagall patiently waited for more. 

Harry tested his tea again.  It was still too hot.

“Headmaster Dumbledore has of course taken an interest,” she began again, “as has Professor Umbridge.”

“I expected as much,” he said quietly.

“I realize,” she continued delicately, “that your relationship with Professor Dumbledore has never been ideal, especially of late—“

She paused, waiting for Harry to correct her and then sighed heavily when he did not.

“However, I would hope that if you were in need of guidance, you could feel that you could go to him or come to either of us, Mr. Evans.  This is a situation of great honor and you are one to be admired and envied.”

His head snapped up and his cool stare met hers.

Admiration.  Envy.  Green for jealousy.  The color of Ron’s eyes.

Red, the color of Gryffindor—Red for Krum’s Quidditch uniform—Red.

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.

He remembered singing that with Kevin when they were younger at Christmas during his second year.  They had been laughing over going to the same Scottish boarding school and out singing carols with the rest of the parish children when they had broken out into song.  The words now played again in his mind, taunting him—red the color of a rose—the color of love—the taint of a ribbon in his breast pocket.  He wondered if love was really like a red, red rose—a red ribbon—if he would ever feel the elusive emotion himself, if Krum could feel more than ardor for him.

Flitwick cleared his throat.  “I understand you can tell us little or nothing given the circumstances, but I wanted to offer my particular services.  I’m of goblin descent and somewhat of an outsider to pureblood culture, as you may yourself feel, and therefore could help guide you.  Are you pleased with the identity of your admirer?”

“Surprised,” Harry answered truthfully.  “I was quite startled—still am though I’m getting used to it.”

“I would recommend communication as it might ease the situation given that you had no idea of this person’s affections.  I hope there’s no language barrier?”

“We’re currently writing in Latin,” Harry confessed, settling back into his chair.  “I hope he switched to English in this letter…”

Flitwick hummed in the back of his throat and helped himself to a biscuit that Harry hadn’t noticed before.  “I trust this person is not seeking you because of your perceived fame; I am honor bound to tell you that that would be one of the few grounds for a refusal.”

Harry blushed.  “Er, no.  I don’t think he much likes fame.”

McGonagall straightened, surprise evident in her sharp eyes.  “Is that so, Mr. Evans?”

“Er, yes.”  He took a biscuit hesitantly, wanting to do something with his hands.  “From what I know, he lives a secluded life away from—everyone.  He doesn’t much care for fans.”  His mind flicked back to fourth year when Krum had avoided his own giggling admirers and had looked down at Ron who had tried to get his autograph with an adoring and lovesick look on his face.

“A blessing,” Flitwick squeaked.  “Well, at least he knows English.  I’m not certain how many elite families are here in Great Britain, then again, no one does.”

Harry took a bite of his cookie, not bothering to correct Flitwick’s assumption.

McGonagall narrowed her astute gaze.

Harry didn’t bother returning to class, but instead slipped off to Ravenclaw Tower and settled in a corner, carefully unraveling Krum’s message, the red ribbon sliding in between his fingers.

The parchment was thick and warm in his fingers and as beautifully penned as the first, gold leaf embellishing the first letters of each of their names.  Hereweald.  Victorinus.  Red accented the vowels and perfect flourishes descended and ascended from the letters.  Harry was almost ashamed that his own offering had been amateur in comparison.  It had been carefully crafted and copied, but the hand of a student and not one of a learned calligrapher, black ink, plain, no embellishments. 

He traced the final name carefully, his eyes flicking across the bold strokes.  Victorinus Krumus.  He wondered if in future he would sign his name on letters as Harry Krum.  He didn’t dislike the thought as much as he thought he should.

His fingers skated upward to the beginning of the letter and paused on the first two words of the first paragraph: My love.  English.

A smile spread across his face at the acknowledgement of his language and of the deeper form of affection that hadn’t been present in the first declaration.

By the time students began to filter in from their final lesson, Harry felt relaxed and the letter was carefully placed back in his pocket, the red ribbon held gently in his left hand.

Harry awoke with a scream on his lips, his fingers tangled in red silk.  Pain shot through his scar and although he knew he was no longer sleeping, he could still feel anger and rage and hatred and venom pouring through his veins, infecting him.  Wide eyes searched the darkness and landed on Ron; his neck arched menacingly, wanting to bite, hatred, hatred, red, rage.  He could feel blood dripping down from the burning heat on his forehead, partially blinding him, and then settled against the pillow, sweating and breathing heavily.

There were too many voices and then light as he was led out of the dorm room.  He knew he had been speaking, shrieking, tears or blood slid down his cheeks, the ribbon still in his fingers, rooting him tenuously to the waking world. 

He was pushed through the halls, blood falling onto his eyelashes, and Harry wondered why no one had bothered to heal him or even given him something to clean his face.  He could see portraits staring out at him from the gloom, and shied away from their painted eyes.

Past the gargoyle, up revolving stone steps, and then he was standing in Dumbledore’s office, and the Headmaster was turned away from him, their eyes never meeting.

“What did you see?” Dumbledore asked calmly, his head tilted enough over his shoulder so that Harry could see his profile.

Anger and hatred roared through him and he wanted to attack, to maim, to hurt, to kill, to poison. 

His fingers clenched, nails digging into his palm and drawing blood, and the red ribbon, damp with perspiration, drawn taught over his knuckles.  Lifting his left hand, his green eyes regarded the thin strip of silk, pulling him back into the present, to the office, Dumbledore and McGonagall both gazing at the red ribbon. 

“Mr. Potter?” Dumbledore prodded, his voice tinged with steel.

“Evans,” Harry corrected tiredly, and he took a seat although it had not been offered to him.  It was sometime in the middle of the night and he was exhausted, and there was still blood lining his face.

“Mr. Evans,” Dumbledore conceded, although his back was still stiff.  “What did you see?”

A long corridor, one he had dreamed of before, black marble, beautiful, slithering, green, black, reflection, biting, hissing, poison, ginger, leaving, gone.

“What makes you think I saw anything, sir?” he asked, trying to keep his voice steady.  “I’ve had a nightmare, sir.”

Professor McGonagall sighed loudly and came directly in front of him.  Harry, though, was still staring intently at the ribbon, watching as light reflected off of it.  “A nightmare that made you scream and wake your entire dormitory?  That caused your scar to blaze?”

He glared at her, affronted at her challenge.  “It was a particularly vivid nightmare.  It’s not the first time my scar has hurt or even bled.”

“And why do you think that is?” Dumbledore whispered quietly, still not looking at him.

Harry clenched his teeth, his aching mind casting back to the end of the Triwizard Tournament, to how he took the cup and was transported to the graveyard, stone crosses bearing witness as Voldemort defiled his body and stole his blood before he had returned.  Harry had appeared, suffering from blood loss, to cheers from the crowd and a loud orchestra playing his triumph, and no one would admit that anything was wrong, even when he begged for medical care, ripping the cloth from his arm to show the deep cut that was still bleeding. 

It had been so long before he had been permitted to rest and then Dumbledore had been there.  He had been drugged on potions, confused, and Dumbledore had asked and asked and demanded until final Harry had whispered the truth, only to have it splashed across the Daily Prophet within two days’s time.  How he had despised the Headmaster in that moment.

“Mr. Evans,” Professor McGonagall admonished.  “The Headmaster asked you a question.”

“Might I have a cloth?  I find that I’m suffering from blood loss,” he replied scathingly.  “Madam.”

Dumbledore flicked his wand and a harsh Scourgify swept across Harry’s forehead and eyes, causing tears to swell from the pain and his scar to ache when it had finally begun to be soothed.  “Now, Mr. Evans.  What did you see?”

“The devil at play,” he answered evenly, taking a deep breath.  His eyes stung, the harsh scrubbing making his already blurry vision a sweep of red colors and pain.  He couldn’t see the twinkle of hidden eyes, only shapes, shapes, and more and more pain, almost as if it were physically standing before him.

Red for blood—red for pain—red for passion.

McGonagall’s head snapped up.  “The devil at play?”

“As I said, a rather harsh nightmare,” he gritted out.  He thought nothing had been worse than his scar burning upon his head, red blood dripping in his eyes, but now he could feel them swelling shut, the dim light far too harsh.  This couldn’t be legal, he thought desperately.  It hurt too much. 

A wave of nausea overtook him and he tried to swallow it down, not wanting to be any weaker in this situation.  He wanted to sleep, to dream, to forget. 

The red ribbon dug into his knuckles and when he glanced down, he realized he couldn’t even see it.

“Religious fervor and interpretation aside,” Dumbledore responded.  “What did you see?”

“Why?” Harry answered.  “So you can tell me that I’m delusional?  That God hasn’t whispered in the night?  So that you can inform the Daily Prophet first thing tomorrow?”

“Mr. Evans!” McGonagall admonished.  “That was uncalled for.”

“My aunt will file a complaint with the Board of Governors for this treatment over the holiday,” he said quietly, swallowing back the bile that was rising in his throat, “as well as my fiancé, I’d imagine.”  Fiancé.  The word felt empty, hollow, strange on his tongue, but he continued past his discomfort.  “I had a nightmare and was injured.  I should be in the hospital wing, not interrogated about what my nightmare entailed especially after I already told you—the devil is at play.

Arthur Weasley lying on the floor, bleeding, venom pouring out of his many wounds.  He shut his eyes to black out the image, but it remained scarred on his memory.  It was Harry’s burden to bear, his curse.  No one would understand that these visions were sent to test him.  They would be twisted and misused, a prophet cast off and abused like always.

Still, the warm ribbon was wrapped in his fist, reminding him that comfort may have come, a quiet reward.  He had to believe that was the case, had to hope that there was one to share the burden and remove him from suffering before he was martyred to a cause he did not believe in, for a people who spit on him and hated him for simply thinking that there was a god who might love him for his flaws and accept that he would err.

“To err is human,” he murmured, activity fluttering around him as Dumbledore moved between portraits, giving orders Harry couldn’t understand, “to forgive divine.”

A portrait was now responding, the words echoing and meaningless, and Harry stared at the ribbon, unseeing as the world slowly dimmed, thinking of Krum—Viktor—of the second letter pressed in Ulysses.

A small smile played on his face and all was quiet again.

“Mr. Evans,” Dumbledore addressed him, voice strained.  “Mr. Weasley, you might be happy to learn, has been discovered and transported to St. Mungo’s.”

He glanced up, but saw nothing as another wave of nausea overtook him.  He tried not to double over and wretch, swallowing back harshly.  He felt, somehow, that Dumbledore was once again staring at the ribbon, his gaze perhaps wary and curious. 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he responded deliberately, and returned to his own pensive thoughts when the Weasley children were herded into the office.  A short floo trip later and his head rested on a pillow at Grimmauld Place, giving into the bile that rose in his throat, vomiting all across the floor as the pain overtook him.  He closed his eyes and dreamt, for the first time, of Viktor.

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