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A/N: I think we have one, maybe two more chapters left, now. I will be posting the first chapter of the next year and the last chapter of this one at the same time, so make sure to check my profile to stay caught up! It's been a crazy month. I never thought I'd be so motivated to pump out a 50K+ word story in so short a time. Thank you so much for your kind support and readership!
Thanks for your comments, faves, and follows thus far. I love you all.
Chapter Fourteen: Houses of Wood, Castles of Glass
14 March 2013
Their next jaunt through the trap door coincided with Daphne's birthday. She hadn't told anyone prior to the occasion, so when it came up, Daphne took advantage of her friends' mutual guilt and appointed herself Queen for a Day. She, therefore, accompanied Harry and Neville (who would not let Harry go without him) when they approached Fluffy's door in the very early hours of the morning. Hermione and Draco remained in the corridor to watch the way beneath the invisibility cloak.
Fluffy, thanks again to the music box, fell quickly to sleep, and the Devil's Snare shied away from their lit wands and hastily fled the flames they conjured as soon as they landed. As before, Harry's Nimbus helped them make quick work of the flying key room. Daphne, to Harry's delight, flew extremely well on one of the school brooms to help him corral the correct key into a corner while Neville placed the detection ward below. They moved quickly on to the chessboard.
The children, using the map the Doctor had uploaded to Harry's sonic, first placed half a dozen alarm and identification charms around the chessboard's entrance-facing edge. After the scanner beeped its read on the inconspicuous, adhesive glass discs, Daphne reassumed her command and surveyed the board and her subjects.
"So," she said from the queen's shoulder, facing the white king. "Do we have to do this again, or will you concede defeat?"
The white king obstinately remained where he was, and his queen made a rude gesture.
"I swear, these pieces are as Scottish as McGonagall," Harry complained. "They were stubborn last time, too, even after it was obvious we'd won."
Fifteen minutes later Daphne led the boys on into the troll's chamber, where Bob sat miserably in the corner. The girl, who had not yet seen this particular mountain troll but still held a healthy amount of fear for them as a species, silently crept to the other door to wait while Harry made his greetings.
Bob grunted upon seeing the children and banged his club in a forlorn sort of way.
"Yeah, I know, big guy. Must be dreadfully dull sitting here all day."
The troll lumbered forward and bent so Harry could scratch his head. Neville reeled away, pinching his nose.
"Keep an eye out, okay? And if a guy in a turban comes by, you just stay out of the way. Wouldn't want you getting hurt. Now be good and sit still a while. We've got to do a little work around your room."
Bob grunted again and lay down to stare at the ceiling.
"Poor chap," Harry muttered as they finished placing their alarms. "It's cruel and unusual, locking him up like this."
Daphne shook her head emphatically and closed the door behind them with their exit. They walked a short while down the narrow corridor leading away from the troll's chamber with their lit wands held before them. Again, they passed from stone floors and smooth walls to roughly hewn surfaces both above and below that hollowly echoed their footsteps. Without a warning from the sonic scanner, or even Harry's sensitivity toward ambient magic, they suddenly found their way forward blocked by ominous black flames. Behind them, a wall of violet roared to life and drowned the light of their wands in its intense glow.
Lanterns sprang to life to the left to reveal a long, thin glass surface that hovered at wait-height above the floor. A line of bottles – fat, thin, spiralled, squat, tall, triangular, square, pill-shaped, and twisty – stood in a line upon the glass. A square of stiff parchment sat at the centre of the floating tabletop, like a menu card at a buffet. Daphne picked up the card and frowned.
"That's different," she muttered. "It's a puzzle."
Harry took the card and read the unfamiliar, jagged black script.
Danger lies before you while safety lies behind,
Two of us will help you, which ever you would find.
One among us seven will let you move ahead,
Another will transport the drinker back instead,
Two among our number hold only nettle wine,
Three of us are killers, waiting bidden in line.
Choose, unless you wish to stay here forevermore,
To help you in your choice, we give you these clues four:
First, however slyly the poison tries to hide
You will always find some on nettle wine's left side;
Second, different are those who stand at either end,
But if you would move onward, neither is your friend;
Third, as you see clearly, all are different size,
Neither dwarf nor giant holds death in their insides;
Fourth, the second left and the second on the right
Are twins once you taste them, though different at first sight.
"Well, that's ridiculously easy," Harry sighed. "Dumbledore didn't even try."
"There's poison on that table!" Neville cried.
The darker-haired boy gave his friend a reassuring look.
"Yes, but this clearly says where the poisons are."
Daphne looked at the note another time and frowned at Harry doubtfully.
"Hermione's right," Harry sighed under his breath. "Wizards need more education in the area of logic."
He took the smallest bottle (closer to a phial, really), stuck a pea-sized disc to its bottom, pulled the tiny crystal stopper from its mouth, and swallowed its contents in one gulp. His insides immediately felt doused in ice. He shivered.
"Harry?" Neville squeaked in high-pitched alarm.
"It's just cold."
He passed the phial to the Gryffindor.
"Put it back on the table and drink the little round one on the far right to go back and reset the trap. Come back in and make sure everything's the same before taking the little one. Sonic says there are refilling charms on everything."
With that, Harry stepped through the black flames. It felt pleasantly like a light, cool breeze against his skin.
"Oh, fantastic," he grumbled after emerging on the other side.
"You alright?" Neville shouted through the wall of roaring black.
"Yes! On second thought, just go on back for now. It eats away your clothes!"
Harry flushed as Daphne dissolved into laughter.
"You mean you're–" Neville stuttered.
"Yes, I'm naked!" Harry snapped. "Daph, can you go call Cuddie for a set of clothes? I don't think she'd hear us down here."
"Why should I?" she giggled. "Following an order like that would go against my queenly prerogative."
The boy groaned and stepped as close as he dared to the fire.
"Because you're my friend, and swear I'll never leave this room if I have to do it in the nude. So, please, Your Majesty, have mercy and get me some bleeding shorts at the very least!"
Neville made a choking sound he thought might have been a laugh, and the Slytherin girl completely lost all sense of composure again to mirth.
Harry heard the faint echo of the door to Bob's room slamming shut, and with nothing better to do and a job still to accomplish, he turned to examine his new surroundings. This new chamber stretched twice as large as that of the flying keys. Narrow moats of oil, alight with flickering orange flames, lit the space and cast strange splashes of colour against the room's only occupant aside from Harry.
"You again," he grumbled as he stepped before the familiar mirror.
Something tickled at the back of Harry's throat. It hinted at a flavour that most definitely had not accompanied the device on their last meeting, but it was too faint to place. He could still sense that hint of menace, but something – a lot of somethings – overlay it. Scowling, he moved to stand properly before the obsidian surface. The mirror showed him a scene of a dark shade's demise, in which Harry, bloodied and filthy (but not naked, thank Rassilon), clutched a blood-red stone.
"Right," the boy grumbled. "I'm guessing since you taste different, Dumbledore's done something to you, and the stone's on your insides somehow. Did he put the prison thing in you, too?"
Harry swore he heard the magic of the mirror humming with barely concealed laughter.
"One of these days, my mum's going to get a proper go at that bearded old meddler."
The children reached their dormitories just after four in the morning, and at breakfast, only Hermione seemed her usual chipper self. She sat between Susan and Hannah to help them with last-minute homework while eating berry-topped porridge. Neville sat with them, nibbling half-heartedly on toast.
Harry, Draco and Daphne did their best to seem unaffected at their own table, but not all were fooled. Adrian Pucey, who had taken more interest in Harry than he would have liked, mulishly refused to let the subject drop despite the looks he received from his housemates for his several breeches in proper decorum.
"I know you're not doing well," he said under his breath as he leaned toward Harry across the table. "You're my teammate, and you're Harry Potter. What do you think people will say if you fall ill under our tender mercies?"
Harry did not dignify that question with an answer, rather choosing to take a third helping of crisp bacon from the salver, and thankfully the warning bells soon saved him from further interrogation by his well-meaning classmate.
Although glad for his escape, Harry's morning potions lesson strenuously tested his self-control. He dearly wanted to rest his head on the bed of Pegasus feathers before him (a vital ingredient in weightlessness potions commonly used to prepare Wizarding products for shipping) as he carefully separated the barbs from their shafts. He carefully shredded each barb with his silver knife and scooped them into the mortar he shared with Neville. The Gryffindor took the bared shafts, cut away the closed off ends, and shaved them into needle-thin, curling strips.
"Are you attempting to sabotage Finnigan, Weasley? Or are you really that stupid?"
The boys looked up, partly for any distraction to keep them awake, as the potions master swept to tower over the table closet to the front. The subject of his criticism, Ronald Weasley, quickly turned red and glared defiantly back at his instructor. The professor was in fine form today. Harry wondered how long Weasley would go before he opened his mouth and stuck his foot in it.
"You've failed to separate the barbs properly. If you added them to your potion, now, it would be Christmas again before it reached the proper consistency. Unless you were trying to make a useless syrup?"
Snape sneered and waved his wand over the boy's mortar. The badly shredded bits of feather disappeared.
Ron shot out of his seat before Snape could reach his seat and slammed his fists on the table. All of Seamus Finnigan's lovingly prepared feather shafts launched into the air in a poof before scattering all over the tabletop, floor, and their robes.
"Why are you always picking on me?" Weasley shouted. "People say you're brilliant, even though you're a git, but you know what? I think you're just a jumped up thug! The only reason you got your mastery is because you've never had anything better to do! How could you when you go out of your way to make sure every person you've ever met hates you?"
The room fell silent aside from the quiet burbling of twenty cauldrons and the ringing grind of magically animated pestles working feathers into fine, white dust. No one dared even to breathe as the potions master slowly turned to stare coldly at the beet-red boy.
"Fifty points from Gryffindor and detention, Mr Weasley. Report to Mr Filch by nine tonight or it shall be a month's worth."
No one talked after that. For the remainder of the lesson, the generally taciturn man hovered over them like a spectre waiting to strike at the smallest sign of weakness. Harry thought Neville might mangle his own potion, given how much he shook, but somehow, his hands remained steady enough to produce a perfectly acceptable weightlessness draught.
When the class ended, everyone felt relieved to clean his or her station and file toward the door. Harry, especially, wanted to find a warm, sunny alcove somewhere in the castle and take a long nap. He was ahead in his other lessons, anyway, and his professors knew it. He could definitely afford the absence.
Neville and Daphne threw him sympathetic looks as they left. Draco followed after them with a shrug and a smirk, as if to say 'Oh, well.'
Harry turned. Snape examined him with an inscrutable expression. The door shut quietly, and the hairs on the back of Harry's neck stood on end as layers of magic leapt to cover the exit with protections he couldn't identify.
"Your extra lesson is cancelled for today. Given last night's activities, I'm sure you need the rest."
The boy blinked and tried a feeble grin. His dad had told him Snape was one of the professors involved with the enchantments past the trap door, but they had so far believed the ghosting tabs kept them hidden from the detections placed throughout the corridor.
"You have thirty seconds to explain why you chose to purposefully endanger yourself and your friends thusly before I assign you a month's detentions for our ignoble stupidity."
The grin faded. Harry sat down heavily in the nearest chair facing Snape's desk.
"My mum and dad worked it out," he explained tiredly. "We know Voldemort-"
"Do not say that name!"
Harry paused and sighed.
"Sorry, 'You-Know-Who' is after the stone, and we know Dumbledore's lured him here. We know the dark tosser's got Quirrell's trying to steal it, too, but we can't rely on the headmaster to trap him or his boss. If he could have, I think he would have during the first war, so we've put our own detections down there to send us an alert when it's breached for real so we can call D-M-L-E."
The potions master's mask of cool indifference disappeared as if someone had drawn the shades away from his waxy cheeks and a hooked nose.
"I see you're cleverer than the headmaster gives you credit for. Indeed, cleverer than even I imagined."
"I can't take all the credit," Harry demurred. "My parents and friends helped a lot."
"I think I should meet your mother and father," the professor hummed wryly.
"Dumbledore did a few weeks back. They'll be teaching here next year, so I'm sure you'll get the opportunity over the summer hols."
The professor slid a small black case across his desk.
"Pepper-up potions," he said at his student's raised brow. "To help with your stamina should you find yourself tired after another late-night excursion. Be wary. His agent will move again soon."
"Thank you, but we should be done with our part, now. Dad said the readings are looking good, and he and Mum'll be the ones alerting Madam Bones," he frowned. "I was wondering, though. How did you know…?"
"There are similar alarm wards set into the dormitories to alert me when there are students out of bed," Snape grunted. "I followed you."
Harry frowned and thought a moment on the Professor's contribution to the conversation.
"Professor," he said slowly. "Do you think they know? Dumbledore and them, I mean."
The surly man exhaled explosively and leaned forward across his desk. A curtain of dark, oily hair swung to frame his harsh face as he pushed forward the box in offering again. Harry resisted the urge to lean away at the intimidating glare that bloomed across the man's face.
"If your question refers to the ward net layered over the area, then no, neither Dumbledore nor the Dark Lord have been alerted to your presence inside the corridor," the professor whispered urgently. "Still, there is more to this than you think: more than I am able to tell you. However-"
The man's voice dropped another octave, and Harry bent closer to catch it.
"The headmaster's trap was not meant for the purpose you assume. It will not contain He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."
The boy pondered his words, and the professor let him. The quiet pause stretched into four minutes while Harry stared blankly into space. Slowly, agonizingly, the colour drained from the child's face and the tired confidence slid from his vibrant eyes. Harry bowed his head and clenched his hands into fists.
"Dumbledore's been leaving me clues and stuff," he reasoned slowly. "He lied to the world about how I grew up and let them print that trash about me. He sent me to live with people he knew would hate me before my godparents even knew to take me."
Severus Snape's dark stare pinned the child to his seat. The words felt both true and hollow as they left Harry's mouth.
"Voldemort would have known the next place an artefact like that might be hidden, so there wasn't any reason to advertise. He built the storybook mystery to lure me. He wants me to confront Voldemort. But why?"
Snape looked away from the emerald stare that pinned him: Lily's eyes, copied into the face of a man he hated.
"Potter," he spat.
Harry slumped in his seat with disappointment clear on his young face.
"Harry," the professor began again, more gently but no less strained. "You must not ask me this. I am sure with your appetite for books you know what bonds a wizard may undergo to cement his allegiance. I cannot tell you why the Dark Lord targets you or why Dumbledore wishes you to face him"
"I understand," Harry murmured. "I just thought…"
"If I understand you," Snape nearly smirked at the irony in seeking to understand a Potter at all. "I imagine your greatest fear is for your family. They, too, must be aware of it if they persist in their efforts to gain power here."
The boy nodded.
"I cannot promise an outcome, and I cannot vouch for the headmaster's intentions. I only partly know them, myself. I can confirm the Dark Lord has not left the world as everyone so willingly believes; however, I find myself compelled to say hope, however fleeing, still exists. Your mother and your parents made very sure of that."
"Could you tell me about her?" Harry asked quietly. "We haven't got around to it, much."
Snape swallowed back a decade of bitterness and grimaced across the table at his young charge.
"She was the kindest, most intelligent, most compassionate person I ever had the pleasure of knowing," he murmured. "It is my greatest regret I did not prove so good a friend to her when she lived. Or else, perhaps, you would never have been called 'Potter,' and no one would believe the insanity the world seems to expect of you."
"I'm sorry I never got to know her," Harry softly answered. "But you know, my dad says the people we care about are never really lost to us. Time, as we perceive it, is just an illusion. We all exist infinitely, all at once and forever. Somewhere in the Vortex, you and she are still friends, she's happy, and she'll never die."
27 March 2013
For Easter holidays, the Doctor and Rose agreed Harry should remain at the castle to continue his intensive defence training with Snape, especially after the professor's horrifying insinuations. Between these exercises in pain tolerance and failure, Harry took the time to enjoy teas with Professor Flitwick (who Harry liked very much) and Hagrid (who he admired less but still enjoyed quite a lot). Although Draco and Daphne went home, Hermione and Neville both elected to remain in the castle, too. Hogwarts had a different feel to it without a full thousand students wandering its halls, but with the Weasleys, the Quidditch teams of the other three houses (who needed the extra practice in light of the impending semi-finals), several Ravenclaws (who took the opportunity to work ahead), and nearly all of fifth and seventh years (who were preparing to take either their Ordinary Wizarding Levels or Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests) remaining over the holiday, it could not feel empty by any means.
Aside from wanting to help Harry in his research and training, however, Hermione and Neville remained for a far more important task: ensuring Harry got to have some actual fun before the end of term. As often as they could, Hermione and Neville forced Harry to join them on walks across the grounds, further exploration of the castle itself, and joint expeditions to Hagrid's hut, where, if they were lucky, they sometimes had the opportunity to see him caring for one of the many animal denizens of the Hogwarts grounds.
Neville unfolded the most recent note they received from their large friend.
"Hagrid says he's found an orphaned unicorn foal. He's invited us down to see it and he asks if we can bring Professor Lumsden."
"Who's Professor Lumsden?" Hermione asked, turning to look at the head table.
Susan Bones, who had remained behind because her aunt had not been able to take time off for the holidays, fed Hedwig a few strips of bacon and nodded to a young professor with neatly combed hair and wild sideburns growing from hairline to jaw.
"Cináed Lumsden teaches muggle studies," Susan offered. "My auntie isn't very fond of him. He replaced Professor Quirrell when he changed to defence."
"Why doesn't your aunt like him?" Harry wondered.
Aside from his unruly muttonchops, the man's appearance featured a predominantly red and blue kilt and tartan, which he combined with dark blue robes and a black waistcoat. He chatted amiably to Professor Kettleburn, one of the few teachers aside from the heads of house to remain through the holiday. He looked perfectly amicable.
Susan cracked the shell of her soft-boiled egg a little violently.
"He's been known to say unkind things about the Wizless and First-Gens. How can someone like that accurately teach a subject about their culture?"
Harry grinned a little. His respect for Susan and Madam Bones jumped just a bit higher.
"Well, I have it on good authority he's not going to be staying in that capacity next year," he intimated. "So if he really is that bad, he can't do very much damage."
Neville passed Hermione the note.
"Do you want to go or not? It says to come down sometime before lunch. We could go after we finish breakfast."
"Sure," Harry agreed. "My sister will want a photo, anyway. She's gone a bit mad about magical creatures."
The kids (without the professor, who sent his apologies and news of another engagement) left the entrance hall just after the ten o'clock bells tolled across the grounds. The weather had improved over the last month from unbearably cold to almost comfortably brisk. Sunshine swept bright across the lawns and urged thousands of wildflowers to blossom beneath a clear blue sky. Fang, the groundskeeper's enormous boarhound, lay on the grass in a ray of warmth just beyond Hagrid's front step where he barked and wagged his tail upon spotting their approach.
"Hi, Fang," Neville said, scratching the slobbering animal behind its ear. "How's your dad?"
"Hagrid," Hermione called as she rapped on the door. "Hagrid, we're here!"
She knocked a little harder.
The door swung open, and a wilder-than-usual-looking man poked his head out through the narrow gap.
"Yes? Yes, what is it? I'm a bi' busy today." Hagrid's eyes finally cast downward. "Oh. It's you lot."
"Who else were you expecting?" Hermione laughed. "You sent Neville a note about the unicorn just last night."
The man glanced around at them all distractedly.
"Sorry. Must'a forgot to send the other 'un."
Harry frowned. Hagrid peered about twitchily and wiped an enormous fist over his sweating brow. Despite the much warmer weather, he wore a heavy leather smock and thick dragonhide gloves compared to the kids' light jumpers and robes.
"Hagrid, are you up to anything you shouldn't be?" Harry asked casually before he could close his door. "We could help, you know. Besides, secrets are no fun unless you've got someone to share them with."
The man's beetle-black eyes crinkled with his relieved smile.
"Oh, go on, then," he mumbled. "In you get."
The children filed through the narrow opening in the door and took their usual seats around Hagrid's scrubbed wooden table. The room felt unreasonably hot, and Harry immediately shed his outer robe and rolled up the sleeves of his jumper.
"What's going on?" Neville asked once Hagrid shut and bolted the door.
"I know yer lot can keep a secret, so…"
The man crouched before the hearth and gestured to the large, coal-black egg nestled in the roaring flames.
"Hagrid, is that-?" Hermione whispered.
"Where in the name of all that's holy did you get that?" Harry complained. "Surely you can't buy one just anywhere. My dad'd have one, otherwise. Or Torchwood. Or UNIT, Rassilon help us all."
The others looked at Harry strangely. Hagrid shuffled nervously as he stoked the flames higher with shifty glances at his guests.
"It is odd, don't you think?" Neville tried more gently. "Not that we're not happy for you. You did say you've always wanted to raise a dragon. It's just weird that you'd get a dragon that way. They're the most regulated animals in the world."
The big man waved off their concerns with a grin and started to busy himself with making tea.
"Not ter worry. I got Fluffy inna game o' cards from a Greek chappie years ago an' no trouble came ou' of it."
"You won a Cerberus and a dragon egg playing poker?" Harry asked incredulously.
He sorely wanted to bang his head against the table.
"Black Jack, iffin you mus' know. An' why not?" the big man grumbled defensively. "It was all fair 'n trick ter any crea'ure is knowin' what calms 'im down. Jus' as I tol' tha' bloke in the pub. Take Fluffy fer example-"
A strange rattling, tapping sound came from the fire. Neville and Hermione exchanged nervous looks. Harry twisted in his oversized chair to let his head dangle over one arm and his feet over the other.
So much for a nice visit with a baby unicorn, he thought wearily.
"It's not hatching, is it?" Hermione hissed.
Hagrid dropped his kettle with a hollow clang! and rushed to scoop the stone-black egg out of the flames. His dragonhide gloves hissed and smoked at the contact as he carried it to the centre of the table, where the wickerwork basket of fruit found itself ousted in favour of a lumpy, coiled knitted scarf. The gamekeeper gently set the egg in the woolly nest, where it rocked and shivered with growing intensity until, with a resounding crack! a bit of the shell flew from the whole to crash into Hagrid's glasses on the shelf behind them. Their shattering cascade masked the noise of the rest of the eggshell falling away. Something dark coloured and leathery flopped out of the basket to lie, shivering, on the tabletop. Its wings unfurled, and the little creature stretched out its head to blink its double lids at them all.
"Ain' 'e beau'iful," Hagrid cooed. "'Ello Norbert."
The tears shimmering in the groundskeeper's eyes got lost in the bramble of his beard as they spilled over.
"Norbert?" Hermione gasped in obvious exasperation. "Hagrid, you can't keep it! It's going to grow twelve times its size in under two months."
"Norbert's no' an 'it,' 'Ermione," the man frowned. "Apologise to 'im!"
Harry groaned again, and the little dragon coughed out a small burst of flame that barely missed setting the scarf on fire. Neville scooted back into his seat to avoid possible singeing. Hermione and Hagrid quickly descended into a pointless argument (in which she sounded like a parent at her wit's end) over the logic in keeping a dragon in a wooden house. When Harry opened his eyes again, it was to the feeling of the very hot, scaly little reptile crawling directly up his arm. It blinked at him out of its tiny face with its bulging orange eyes and very deliberately rubbed its knobbly head against Harry's hand.
"Oh, are you trying to be cute?" the boy muttered. "You're going to get my friend into a lot of trouble, you know."
The dragon made a pitifully small sound of protest and did its level best to climb up Harry's sleeve. It wobbled and slid, its slim talons scratching the boy's forearm harmlessly, until Harry finally scooped the dragon up to curl sleepily against his chest with its little head nuzzled under his chin.
Conversation had died out during his short interlude with the reptile.
Everyone stared at him. Even Hagrid appeared disturbed.
"What?" he demanded again. "I may not approve, but I can hardly dislike it. It is a baby, after all."
"What?" Hermione gasped. "No- Harry, you're a Parseltongue!"
Harry blinked and shrugged.
"Oh. I didn't know that talent applied to dragons, too."
"Oh, glad you know, then," Neville squeaked in a strained, high-pitched way. "Good. Just warn a bloke, next time. Also, you shouldn't show that around. Most people fear it."
"Oh, to be able to communicate with 'im," Hagrid said wistfully. "It's a shame mos' people associate tha' with You-Know-Who."
Understandably, the rest of the Easter holiday became an extended attempt to convince Hagrid keeping a dragon was an exceptionally bad idea, a pastime punctuated by Harry's impromptu training sessions as the creature grew to three times its size by the end of the week. They all considered it an important effort, to be sure, since Hagrid's house was extremely flammable, and the man himself had not yet been persuaded to reason.
"No, that's rude," Harry reminded Norbert. "You can't just blow fire at things because it's fun."
"Why not? I can't stop the Breath. It keeps me warm."
"Fair point. What if I set up a nice little fire pit for you, and I'll try to find you somewhere more dragon-friendly to live. At least try not to singe everyone's robes and hair, okay? We're not fireproof like you are."
The dragon nodded. Harry set to work stoking Hagrid's fire, scooped a couple of embers and unlit coals into the cauldron hanging over it, and lay the little dragon inside.
8 April 2013
As classes started up again, Harry, Neville, Hermione, and Draco and Daphne (once informed), all felt their chances of convincing the groundskeeper to give up the quickly growing reptile extremely unlikely. They also agreed something had to be done before the man found himself out of a house and a job, or worse, arrested on charges for participating in illegal animal trading and child endangerment, considering he kept said very dangerous animal on school grounds. While Harry and his friends enjoyed the Hagrid's personality, they all agreed his common sense was about as warped as Dumbledore's when it came to any creature classed triple 'X' or higher.
Thankfully, with the alert wards in place and Harry's extracurricular studies progressing beautifully, the children found much more time available to consult with the Doctor and Rose over this new and unexpected problem. On Monday afternoon, the three Slytherins and their Gryffindor and Hufflepuff counterparts climbed the grand staircase after dinner to retreat to their secret tree house.
Unlike in prior meetings however, the screen came to life to frame a little girl with shiny red curls and a multitude of freckles.
"Jenny!" Harry gaped.
"Harry!" she squealed back. "Look-"
She pointed imperiously to the rear of the Sutton-bound tree house's wall, where a ridiculously expensive looking, pink crystal toilet seat hung in a gilded frame.
"Dad put it up here last night. Why didn't you tell me you've been vid-chatting all this time?"
Jenny put her little fists on her hips and glared at him.
"You had better send me some chocolate to apologise, or I'm going to put a frog in your bed."
Neville choked back a laugh, and Harry realized with a flush that his friends had crowded around him in varying states of amusement at his embarrassment and confusion.
"Oi, Jen-!" he complained.
"Hi Jenny Renette," Neville waved. "Have you and Dippy had a play date, yet?"
Harry shot the boy a grateful look for covering his momentary discomposure and waved his other friends forward to see his sister. Despite having attended the Longbottom New Year's Ball, Jenny had gone away with Dippy before she could meet Daphne and Hermione, and Draco hadn't been there at all.
"No, not yet," Jenny sighed dramatically. "I've been living at Grandmum's with Tony most of the time, and she gets nervous about magic, even though she's faced down Daleks before."
Hermione shuddered. The Wizard-raised kids looked perplexed.
A round of introductions followed, in which Jenny declared her approval of the girls and distrust toward Draco. When asked why, she responded with 'he looks shifty-ish and grumpy', from which the others derived a hearty round of snickers.
The blonde boy was not amused.
"So, Harry," Rose interjected as she joined Jenny on the screen. "I hear you won your semi-final yesterday."
"He was fantastic as always," Draco grinned. "The Gryffs hardly stood a chance. It's sad, really. Wood's a fair keeper, and the Weasley twins are probably better suited for Slytherin than our own beaters. Without a doubt, their chasers definitely make a better team than ours, too, but their seeker…"
The platinum blonde gave an elegant shrug, and Harry winced. He didn't like to say unkind things about his schoolmates, but Cormack McLaggen was the most obnoxious boy he had ever met. Even Neville, who rarely showed displeasure toward anyone, made a face.
"He tried to tell me how to hold my wand the other day when we were doing some spell practice. He tried to correct Hermione, and when she refused his help he gave us a lecture on how 'Puffs shouldn't be in the tower in the first place.' He thinks he's the best at everything, and he's only a second-year."
"Right," Rose laughed. "I getcha. So he spends most of the game watching other people rather than focusing on his own job?"
"Basically," Harry confirmed. "If it weren't for the twins, it would have been too easy."
"I don't know about those two," Hermione grumbled. "Even on the pitch they don't really go along with Wood's strategy. They just sort of make chaos. They're far too interested in causing trouble for my tastes."
The others stared at her, and when she met their gazes in confusion, they burst into laughter. Rose's smile stretched larger than life on the screen.
"What?" the Hufflepuff frowned. "I mean it."
"We're just surprised is all," Rose gently teased. "I mean, you've probably broken nearly all the school rules just in one year."
"Only about half of them," Hermione sniffed. "I've obeyed all the ones about respecting professors and not cheating and things like that."
"We're planning to get a contracted professor arrested while also assisting in the blackmail of our headmaster," Daphne pointed out. "Not to mention withholding information related to an ongoing investigation from the DMLE."
The bushy-haired girl stuck out her tongue.
"It's to stop You-Know-Who so it doesn't count. Also there are a ton of by-laws that I haven't even thought about violating."
"Never mind all that," Rose interrupted, effectively stopping a fight before one could start. "What are you going to do about Norbert?"
Neville grinned suddenly.
"Poor, freckled, penchant for mischief–" Draco drawled. "What about them?"
Hermione huffed at his choice of descriptors, and he grinned unapologetically back at her.
"Charlie Weasley, the twins' older brother, works on a Dragon reserve!"
"I think we should seek the pranksters out, then," Harry suggested as he checked his watch. "We've got ages till curfew, so no time's better than now."
However, the twins were nowhere to be found. The children searched the entire castle in groups using their communicators and Harry's cloak for the restricted areas, and even combed the grounds. Still, none of their efforts brought them closer to the elusive redheads. They regrouped in the great hall for lunch feeling very disappointed and not a little confused.
"Where else could they be?" Daphne demanded in time to a particularly vicious stab at a strawberry.
She disapproved of physical exercise almost as much as Harry enjoyed it and had voiced, multiple times, her case for discontinuing their manual search.
"Don't know. Hogwarts has too many hidden bits to go checking them all, but I've got a new idea, anyhow. Follow me."
Harry rose with the remainder of his sandwich half-wrapped in a serviette and led the way from the great hall to the reception room adjacent. The door closed, and without further explanation he gave a soft call.
The little elf popped into existence and dropped into a low curtsey.
Draco and Daphne made twin groans of understanding mixed in equal part with self-deprecation.
"Harry Potter calls for Cuddie?" she said in her high-pitched squeak of a voice.
"Yes," Harry grinned. "I was wondering if you could help me find a couple of my friends. We're trying to help Hagrid with a bit of a problem and we need to talk to them. Do you think you could fetch them for me? You've always been so wonderful in the past."
Cuddie beamed and blushed a little.
"So long as your friends are not in a bathroom, Harry Potter, of course Cuddie is happy to help. Who are they?"
"Fred and George Weasley."
A rather wicked grin spread over the elf's face.
"Cuddie would be very glad to help Young Master fetch the naughty Wheezies."
The elf disappeared, and Harry began counting aloud while his friends grinned back at him. This should be entertaining. Only Neville seemed a little hesitant.
"They might try to get you back for interrupting them, you know," he warned.
Harry waved away the concern.
"They're not malicious. Just bored to death. I sympathise completely and welcome the challenge, should it arise."
Another pop! of elven apparition heralded Cuddie's reappearance with Fred and George in hand. She held them by their ears and refused to loose her grip for any sound of protest from either boy.
"Call her off!"
"Thank you very much, Cuddie," Hermione said.
The little elf curtsied again with a mischievous smile and disappeared once more.
"Good afternoon gentlemen," Harry smirked. "Thanks for joining us."
The twins glared down at him as they rubbed their abused auditory protrusions.
"Look who it is, George."
"Ickle firstie Harrikins–"
"Must have got conked on the head yesterday–"
"Or else he hasn't paid attention to our reputation–"
"Because why else would he kidnap us in the middle of very important undertakings?" they finished together.
"Yes, you're very impressive," Daphne dismissed with a bored gesture. "But we need you for something actually worthwhile."
"It's dangerous," Neville quickly offered. "And illegal."
"Don't forget 'possibly life-threatening,'" Draco added nonchalantly. "Depending on how big it gets by the time we get around to moving it."
The twins stood straight, shared a conversation of eyebrow wiggles and nose twitches, and finally sat upon one of the nearby wooden benches where they crossed their legs in tandem.
"Sounds interesting," said Fred.
"Count us in," agreed George.
A floo call to Charlie Weasley, a very candid talk with Hagrid wherein Harry translated Norbert's needs to the tearful groundskeeper, an extremely large distraction involving nearly all the puddings at that night's supper, and several hours later, Norbert the baby Norwegian Ridgeback climbed clumsily into the fireplace of the Honeydukes cellar to join its kin in the Hebrides.
"Why are our lives so bloody ridiculous?" Draco griped as he and his fellow Slytherins snuck back into the dungeons beneath the invisibility cloak.
"The Fates like laughing at us," Daphne snarked back. "Obviously."
With Harry leading the way, they found the common room quickly and tumbled into the plush embrace of the nearly abandoned furniture within. Shafts of light already pierced the gloom of the Black Lake outside the windows and drenched the room with pale green sparkles.
"It's only Tuesday, isn't it?" Daphne groaned as she curled into her chair.
"Yes," Harry said, as if the word were a lament.
"Let's skive off everything after Potions, agreed?"
Both Daphne and Harry nodded to Draco's suggestion.
22 May 2013
Congratulations on winning the Quidditch cup! I remember that silvery-haired boy Draco saying your competition wasn't very good, though. I miss playing footie with you. Your teammates from your club miss you, too. They came around straight after the league announced registration for next season to ask if you're still in love with your fancy boarding school. Mum told them you that you did and that you're playing for your school's team. She also told them you might join the summer practice league though, so they were only a little putout when they left. Also, Daddy made them malted milkshakes and gave them biscuits.
I have some wonderful news! Mum and Dad have me back home with them because we need to pack to move in July! I'm going to live in the castle with you! Mummy says I have my own tower that's bigger on the inside, and I'm going to make everyone use a password to come in.
I still have to go to school at Seaton House, though. I wish I could go to a magical primary school, because I hate keeping so many secrets from my friends sine none of them are magical at all. It's not fair. I don't think they would like me any less.
Also, you could teach me things if I went to a magical primary school. Mum and Dad say they're going to be teaching lessons at Hogwarts since we'll be living there, but they said I'm too little to go to classes with them. I told them that didn't make any sense since lots of boys your age are a lot stupider than girls my age, so I'd be smarter than at least half their classes.
Dad said not to forget that.
I also told him that I wasn't counting you or Neville with most boys, since Gran says you're both oddly well-behaved.
Please send me more photos of Hagrid's animals. Does he teach any classes? I think I'd like to take them when it's my turn to be a witch. I think you'll be a seventh year by then, but I think it'll still be fun because we can go on adventures. We wouldn't even get in trouble if you become a prefect. I'm sure you will, because you're almost as brilliant as me.
I can't wait for you to come home. Mummy says your finals are going to start soon. Good luck! I know you'll do great.
Send me chocolate! I liked the Ice Mice you brought home at Christmas.
Harry folded the letter and tucked it back into his rapidly thinning diary. Fewer than twenty pages remained inside the black binding to denote the rest of term and the beginning of summer holiday. A stack of books stood by his left elbow, along with a colour-coded revising schedule courtesy Hermione. His notes, carefully organized for subject, term, and topic, lay wrinkled and dog-eared from his several study sessions. He felt antsy. Exams were fast approaching, and Quirrell still hadn't made a go at the trap door, according to the Doctor's sticker-based security system that Harry's sonic scanner and his parents' computers constantly monitored.
Neville and Draco sat across from him, benefitting mightily from his fastidious study habits, but something had to change, soon, or he felt fairly certain he'd start throwing spells around just to break the tedium. It was a pointless exercise, really, after an entire term of memorising not only his first-year material, but also drilling a virtual library-full of defensive and practical magic. His friends, having assisted him in his efforts, knew all they should, too, by now.
"That's it," he muttered mutinously, throwing down his pen. "I'm finished. Who wants to join me for a flight around the grounds?"
"I'll give flying a miss," Neville smiled. "But I do think I'll finish this last bit for Transfiguration outside. I've read the same passage four times, now, so a change in scenery definitely couldn't hurt."
"I'll come," Daphne called down the table. "I'm going mad."
"And that's my cue to give up for the day," Draco agreed. "Let's go. Zabini, Davis? You game?"
Word spread across the great hall, and soon, nearly all the tables stood abandoned as most of the first through fourth year fled the stuffy hall for the inviting warmth of the grounds.
Hannah, Susan and a Daphne began a merry race around the castle's towers against Blaise, Harry and Draco to see which team could relay a ball of bluebell flames fastest from the bell tower to the Astronomy spire. Hermione, Tracey and Neville picked a shady spot by the lake to picnic and read while their friends zoomed overhead.
Harry's departure from the ground and surrender to stunts of aerodynamic agility instantly freed him from the restlessness that had gripped him in the great hall. It cleared his mind of his anxiety concerning Quirrell's hesitance and made space for him to think, while his reflexes and instinct took over the act of flying. Questions pinged across the forefront of his consciousness, and random facts and ideas echoed back. He reviewed the terrifying first Quidditch match, the trips through the trap door, and his green-ridden nightmares. He recalled snatches of conversation with Professor Snape, his parents, and his friends. Slowly, he sorted the important information from the rest.
Snape specifically said Voldemort wanted him, just like the stories indicated.
Why would a military and political leader take time off his rebellion to hunt a baby?
Why did Dumbledore apparently want an eleven-year-old to be a hero?
How could anyone expect a not-yet-teenager to confront a certified Defence Against the Dark Arts instructor apparently skilled and discrete enough to warrant a dark lord's attention?
On top of everything else, he worried for his family. It was one thing to know his mum and dad participated in sometimes life-threatening activities for the protection of Earth and for the betterment of Human-Alien relations. It was entirely another thing to be the root cause of a threat against them. He could not help thinking his mother, father and sister would have been spared a lot of stress and danger had Rose and the Doctor not found him. Or, better yet, if Voldemort hadn't killed his birth parents.
Why couldn't things as wonderful as unicorns and magic come without the balancing necessity of evil wizard terrorists?
Harry pulled to a stop, and five swerving bodies raced past as his friends spun to avoid him. His broom hovered in midair as understanding and horror pierced through the mess of his thoughts to pin him in place.
"Oh, I'm so thick!" he groaned.
He leaned backward, pressed the balls of his feet hard against their metal rests, and the boy and broom flipped backward to rocket toward the ground. He heard someone scream through the rush of air in his ears. The howl left his head ringing as his descent slowed just enough for to hop off without breaking something. The boy landed in a crouch before Neville, Hermione and Tracy, and he straightened to stand at the edge of their picnic blanket. Its occupants stared at him in alarm.
"I just had a horrible thought," Harry rattled. "What if they think what they do because someone told them to? What if-"
Harry glanced around and sent Tracy a pleading look. The brunette expelled a put-upon sigh but drew herself to her feet without a fuss, taking the half-drunk, sweating pitcher of pumpkin juice with her.
"I was about to go replenish our beverages, anyway."
"Thank you, Davis," Hermione said softly.
"Not at all," the Slytherin shrugged with a wry smile. "I can tell when a private conversation's brewing, and I know you lot well enough to trust it's not about me, so go on. I'll take my time."
Harry took their brief exchange as an opportunity to catch his breath until Tracy had wandered out of earshot. He then flopped gratefully onto the blanket to press the heels of his hands into his eyes. Spots of red and white coloured his vision centres, and the boy used them to distil his thoughts from the creeping, panicked suspicion coiling in his gut. He felt a firm, slightly pudgy hand grasp his shoulder and never felt more grateful for the sometimes-shy Gryffindor's unwavering support.
"What is it, Harry?" Hermione urged.
"Are seers real?"
The Gryffindor boy blinked at the non sequitur, and his Hufflepuff counterpart's eyebrows drew together in confusion.
"What?" he asked blankly.
"Seers," Harry hissed. "Prophecy-makers. Are they real?"
"Oh," Neville frowned and released his grip as Harry sat up. "Yeah. They are. There's a whole department in the Ministry that handles stuff like that. Real Prophesies are stored there so their subjects can listen to them."
"Oh!" Hermione gasped, quickly catching up.
Her mood shifted quickly from delighted understanding to dawning dread, and her usually rich caramel face turned ashen olive.
"Oh no," she whispered. "No, that's just not fair!"
Harry closed his eyes again. She agreed. He exhaled, and felt the painful wash of realisation bleach the far reaches of his mind as he let go of the doubts and hopes he had held onto. It scoured away the fog of confusion and the stress of the unknown, but left raw, painful truth in its wake. Without his own subconscious protecting him, the threads of his mind reconnected and everything began to make a sick sort of sense.
"It's like a cheap paperback novel," Harry managed.
His voice sounded as brittle as his brain felt.
"Dad says the universe just has an odd way of operating like that. It's not necessarily sentient, but it has a sort of collective sense for what it's doing. The Vortex weaves patterns, grows life, and breaks it all at once."
Neither of his friends answered his bitter mutter, but two sets of trembling arms wrapped around his shoulders and middle. He leaned bonelessly into their hold to breathe in the smells of springtime, parchment, ink, soil, and freshly sprouted grass and to get a grip on his turbulent emotions. The air tasted of ozone, and he knew the others felt his unease, too.
"We need to call the Doctor," Hermione gently urged after he calmed.
"Agreed," Harry murmured tiredly.
In retrospect, he thought his parents must have already reasoned out this bit, too. They'd been working for the Ministry and immersing themselves in Wizarding culture and history since August. As with his epiphany regarding the true thief's identity, he imagined they wanted him to make his own decision without their bias affecting him, and they had already resolved to back his choice regardless.
He very much wanted to go home.
He wanted even more to ensure no harm came to his family when he finally did. The possibility of a true prophecy significantly dampened his inclination to run. Running, given the extreme lengths the headmaster had gone through to ensure a confrontation, very much felt like the wrong choice to make, no matter its appeal.
"I'll have Gran ask Great Uncle Algie what it takes to get into the Department of Mysteries," Neville offered. "No matter what happens, you need to know for sure."
"Seconded," the Hufflepuff and Harry whispered together.