Harry woke to the rustling of his dorm mates as they busied themselves with unpacking and getting dressed. Checking the time with his wand, he saw that it was seven thirty, which meant that breakfast had already begun.
They went down as a group, and found Penelope waiting for them at the bottom of the stairs.
"How was your first night?" she asked them. They all shrugged and mumbled under their breaths. She turned to Harry. "You alright?"
"I'm fine, thanks," said Harry, glancing at his toes. He hoped people would forget the previous evening's garlic incident quickly, before it could get any more embarrassing. Penelope seemed to accept his answer, thankfully.
"Let's wait for the girls," she said. The girls, and Robert, apparently, because he was the last to arrive. He slid down the banister and Penelope glared at him.
"What? Everybody does it," he said. "It's not against the..." he trailed off, wisely, and looked away.
The prefects ensured that they found their way to the Great Hall without mishap. This early in the morning, the Ravenclaw table was sparsely occupied, mostly by sixth or seventh years, it seemed. The first years gave them wide berth and sat at the other end. A glance around the hall told Harry that the other tables were even emptier.
Professor Flitwick stood up from the head table, disappearing behind it for a few moments before clearing the end and meeting them. He had a stack of parchments tucked under his arm.
"Timetables," he said, waving his wand. The parchments distributed themselves among the first years, and Harry reached up to grab his as it drifted lazily about his head.
Charms was his first lesson, he was glad to see. There was one place where he definitely wouldn't be behind. Then he had double Defence Against the Dark Arts, and after lunch, Herbology.
A quick comparison told him that all the first year Ravenclaws had the same timetables.
"I can't wait for Defence Against the Dark Arts," said Terry, as he speared a sausage.
Harry, reasonably sure that there was no garlic to be found in most breakfast foods, buttered himself some toast and nibbled at it.
"What do you think we'll learn?" asked Anthony as he finished his eggs. "Jinxes maybe?"
"It's called Defence Against the Dark Arts, not the Dark Arts," said the sallow-faced blond girl who Harry thought was called Mandy. "So it'll be counterjinxes."
"Counterjinxes are jinxes too," Terry said.
"They aren't," said Mandy.
"I think they are," Lisa interjected, but nobody had any proof to back up their claims either way.
"We have Charms first. What do you reckon we'll do there?" asked Anthony.
"Lumos, I expect," said Harry. It was widely regarded as the easiest charm, after all.
"That's the one that lights your wand?" asked Lisa. Harry nodded. He got a second piece of toast and put marmalade on it, indulging himself. And then he might have a muffin, and an egg—the food he had dreamt of for so long was all in reach.
Suddenly, he became cognisant of a whooshing sound, and then a shadow passed over the table. Owls, hundreds of them, streamed into the hall, flowing through the rafters and swooping down here and there to deliver letters. Harry reeled in surprise when an owl dropped a letter into his lap. He was convinced it was a mistake until he picked it up and saw his name written on the back in tight cursive.
He didn't get a chance to read it, however, because the prefects had got to their feet and were beckoning for the first years to gather round. Harry stuffed the letter in his pocket and the rest of his toast into his mouth.
The prefects didn't escort them to their classrooms, but they did give fairly detailed instructions about how to get to each one, which Mandy wrote down and Anthony claimed he would remember. Then it was time to go.
They just followed Professor Flitwick as he left the hall, on the suggestion of Lisa, who said it would be easier than finding it on their own. It had been a good idea, even though it was almost a straight shot to the third floor classroom from the Grand Staircase, anyway.
The result was that the Ravenclaws were almost fifteen minutes early. Professor Flitwick left them to settle down in the classroom and disappeared into his office.
They capitalised on their early arrival to claim the front rows. There was room at each desk for two students, and as students paired up, it became quickly obvious that there was an odd number of first year Ravenclaws. Soon it was just Harry and Oliver standing, and Sue alone at a desk. Oliver hurried to join Sue, and Harry took a seat in the second row, behind Anthony and Terry.
Harry was a little annoyed at being the odd one out—it reminded him a bit of being picked last for any team activity in primary, but he told himself he was being silly. Somebody had to sit alone; it was a fact of numbers.
It was also a fact of numbers that somebody had to be picked last.
Nobody had been picking anything. Harry had just been slow to sit down.
The classroom door opened, and a bushy head of hair peeked through. It was Hermione.
"Is this Charms?" she asked.
"Yes," said Harry, when nobody else answered for a perilously long moment. Hermione pushed her way inside, looking as if she was struggling a bit with the door, and made a beeline for Harry.
"Hello Harry," she said, dropping down into the seat beside him without asking, not that Harry would have said no. Her bookbag struck the floor with a heavy thunk, like it was made of stone.
"Did you bring all your books?" Harry asked a little incredulously. He hadn't brought any of his. In fact, he didn't even have a bookbag, and had just stuffed some folded parchment and a quill into his pockets.
"Just in case," said Hermione.
"I thought you already knew them by heart," said Harry.
"It's just in case," said Hermione again, with emphasis.
"We only have three subjects today," he said, trying to count the spines through Hermione's bag. There were at least five.
"We didn't get timetables until breakfast," said Hermione.
"Right, us too," said Harry, acknowledging her point. He glanced around. "Where are the other Gryffindors?"
"Still at breakfast, I expect," said Hermione, and for some reason, she wrinkled her nose. "Can I see your timetable?"
Harry extracted it from his pocket, a little rumpled, and passed it to her. She put it on the desk next to her own.
"I've got Flying on Thursday, not Wednesday. Oh, and Potions is Friday morning, not afternoon," said Hermione. "Everything else looks the same."
Harry nodded, glancing around the classroom. There were only eleven Ravenclaw first years, and he didn't think there had been a lot more in any other house.
"I reckon all the first years share most lessons," he said.
But it wasn't true. A minute later, the door opened wide and a flood of all Gryffindors entered, filling in the majority of the back seats. Harry tried to find Neville or Ron, but they must have moved behind him before he could spot them.
Professor Flitwick stepped out of his office with a scroll, and opened it up to take the register.
Something very peculiar happened when he got to Harry's name. He squeaked as he said it, looked around vaguely, and when Harry indicated his presence he toppled off the stack of books that he had been standing on in order to see over the podium. Harry hoped that it wasn't a side effect of the fidelius charm that would happen on a daily basis. At least none of the other students would be capable of associating him with the phenomenon.
Professor Flitwick recovered, finished taking the register, and then began to lecture. He wasn't bad, but he didn't say anything that Harry hadn't already known, so he didn't take notes. There was something distinctly different, impersonal, about getting instruction as part of a group. Perhaps Petri's individual attention had spoiled him.
Then again, Harry was pretty sure that Professor Flitwick was not allowed to torture anybody for failing or asking stupid questions, so that was a positive.
They didn't end up doing any spells, not even the wand-lighting charm, but they did get homework. It was just reading, so Harry thought it would be fine not to do it, since he already knew the material.
He looked askance at Hermione's full scroll of notes. Hadn't she already read the entire first year book as well? He compared her efforts to his own bare desk, untouched except by his elbow, for leaning purposes.
"That was fun," said Hermione, as they walked out the door and queued up at the landing to wait for the moving staircase to come their way.
"Hm," said Harry noncommittally.
"Finally," Lisa was saying to Stephen, "I thought we'd never get out of there. And there's still two more periods before lunch."
"But it's Defence Against the Dark Arts," said Stephen. "Aren't you interested?"
"We aren't going to learn any spells," said Lisa.
"I bet we will," said Terry.
As they ascended the staircase and rounded the corner, they were blasted with the pungent odour of garlic. Harry breathed in a lungful, and then let it out carefully, waiting. There was no urge to sneeze. He took another experimental breath and confirmed that he was not about to have an allergic reaction.
The Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom reeked. Harry was surprised he wasn't convulsing on the floor, after what had happened at the feast last night, and the way conjured flowers had sent him into an immediate sneezing fit. Perhaps the smell was fake.
"I bet it's to ward off vampires," said Terry from next to him. They each had a small desk to themselves, and Harry had picked a seat in the midst of his Ravenclaw housemates.
"Don't be silly," said Lisa, before Harry could reply. "Hogwarts has much better protections against vampires."
"Like what?" asked Terry. Lisa didn't answer, obviously unsure.
"I don't think it's real garlic," said Harry. "I'm allergic to garlic, remember?"
"That was because of garlic, last night?" Terry asked. Harry nodded uncomfortably. "That's rough, mate."
"Yeah," Harry agreed.
Then the teacher walked in. It was one with the purple turban, Professor Quirrell, after all.
Harry eyed him nervously, but his scar didn't hurt again.
"H-hello everyone," Professor Quirrell stuttered, glancing here and there sharply. Harry tried not to meet his gaze. He heard somebody snickering in the back of the classroom.
Professor Quirrell began to take the register, stumbling over every other name, and Harry wondered what would happen when he reached his name. Would he physically stumble, like Professor Flitwick had?
"Harry P-p-pot—Potter," said Professor Quirrell.
"Here, sir," said Harry.
Professor Quirrell looked straight at him.
It happened again. Reflexively, Harry looked up to meet his eyes, and there was stabbing pain in his forehead, like something was trying to claw its way out of his head.
He was brought back to reality by a thump and a comparatively mild throbbing in his leg, which had kicked out and struck his desk. He put a hand to his forehead, breathing a little heavily, as Quirrell continued with the register.
He wondered if he should go back to the hospital wing after all, and see the nurse, but almost as soon as he had the thought he discarded it. He didn't want to return there unless it was an emergency, and anyway, he already had an idea of what the nurse would say.
It was a curse scar, incurable, and he'd be better off asking the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor about it.
What a pity that it was the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor himself who seemed directly linked to the pain. Harry didn't think it would be wise to bring it up.
"Oh yes, professor, whenever you look at me, I get an awful headache!" That would go over well.
"Welcome to D-d-defence Against the Dark Arts," said Professor Quirrell, and it became evident that his stutter was going to persist over the entire lesson. "Let-let's st-start with a sh-show of hands. Who here has enc-encountered a dark c-creature before?"
Harry raised his hand high. He'd most certainly seen many. Most of the other first years seemed uncertain, however, and, feeling a little awkward, he lowered his hand somewhat.
"D-don't be sh-shy," said Professor Quirrell, but this stammered exhortation was not exactly inspiring. Harry put his hand down after a few more moments, but apparently not quickly enough.
"Mr P-potter," said Professor Quirrell, "c-could you g-give an example?"
"A vampire," said Harry, and to his surprise, he heard some giggles from behind him. What was funny about vampires?
Professor Quirrell blanched, even as he nodded, and Harry noticed a dull, but growing pain building in his head again. "Oh, y-yes, v-v-vampires are m-most certain—certainly dark c-creatures. Nasty business. The thing to kn-know about vampires is that they're ah-always after your blood. If you s-see one, the best thing to do is just, just run. I m-met some v-vampires while I was in Tra-Transylvania. It was in Brașov, toward the, the, the early evening. Yes, they, they come out even when the s-sun hasn't fully s-set..."
Harry frowned as his headache continued to worsen, and Professor Quirrell continued to tell, very laboriously and tonelessly, about his encounter with the vampires. At first, he listened closely, wondering if the professor was going to impart some useful lesson on warding them off, but the anecdote soon migrated from vampires in the public library to a marvellous chase through back alleys that ended somewhere in the forest, where Professor Quirrell, unable to run further, had heroically prepared to stand his ground against his pursuers but found them mysteriously vanished.
Professor Quirrell provided no explanation for this turn of events, not even speculation as to what had occurred. In fact, he stopped speaking entirely for almost a minute, and stared ahead blankly, as if very suddenly lost in thought.
Harry stifled a sigh of relief as his headache eased momentarily. Unfortunately, it came back in full force when Professor Quirrell began to lecture about the difference between jinxes and hexes with no context, and between the pain and the unpredictable stuttering Harry found the remainder of the lesson incomprehensible.
Luckily, as it was the first day, Professor Quirrell declared the double period to be over a quarter of the way into the second hour.
"That was a bit odd," said Anthony as soon as they were out of earshot of the classroom. They were near the front of the pack, as Harry had been eager to get as far away from Professor Quirrell as possible. His headache had almost disappeared, which was even more evidence for the proposition that the stuttering Defence professor had somehow been causing it.
"It was odd, wasn't it?" said Anthony again, glancing around. He slowed and then stopped entirely, and Harry stopped as well, finally noticing that a gap had opened up between them and the other Ravenclaws.
"The lesson?" Harry asked. "I suppose it was."
"No homework," said Terry in a satisfied way as he caught up to them. Then Harry and Anthony were swept up by the pack of housemates.
"No homework, no learning," said Stephen, but he did not exactly look displeased. "I did have some trouble following the lesson, though."
"His stutter is awful," said Lisa, far less charitably, "and he's not organised at all. Useless."
Everybody, even Terry, looked a little stunned by her total dismissal of the professor, but nobody spoke up to contradict her.
"Where are we going?" asked Anthony, even though he was right in front with Terry.
"No idea, mate," said Terry. "Common room?"
"Common room's that way," Lisa said, jerking her head toward the staircase they had just missed. The landing opened up to thin air, its connecting stair clear on the other side of the principal heptagon.
"Never mind that, then," said Terry, even as all the girls, following Lisa's example, had already turned to stand beside the landing to wait for the next stair.
"I'm headed to the library to meet my sister," said Stephen. Harry was interested in the library as well, but he thought it would be awkward to follow Stephen now, as nobody else had moved to join him down the corridor.
"I've got a letter to send," said Michael. "Does anybody know where the owlry is?"
Nobody knew, but everybody had the same unhelpful advice to go higher in the castle, or to find a prefect or teacher.
Talk of letters reminded Harry of the unopened letter in his robe pocket. Suddenly seized by curiosity but aware that everybody else would try to read it too if he took it out now, he brushed his thumb over the stiff outline of the envelope against his robes and resisted the urge. Instead, he stepped back casually to join the group waiting for the staircase toward the common room.
It was closer than he remembered from the previous night, perhaps because it was the second time making the trip. The eagle knocker said: "Can a copy always be told from the original?"
"A copy of what?" somebody complained, but the knocker was not forthcoming with details.
"No way," said Sue. "There's mass production where you can make hundreds of copies of the same thing and you can't tell them apart."
"But then which one's the copy?" Mandy protested. "I mean, aren't they all really originals? None of them is copying another."
"But they're all copies," Sue insisted.
"I think it means if you try to make a fake, like fake art," said Lisa.
"That's not what it said," said Sue. "That would be a loaded question anyway. If there's such a thing as fake and real then that means there has to be a way to tell."
Meanwhile, the door had swung open, apparently satisfied with the debate it had incited, and the other girls had gone inside. Harry stepped around the distracted trio and into the common room himself.
Unlike the previous evening and that morning, the room was well-populated—nearly every chair and cushion was occupied by older students with their noses buried in books or else quills and parchment in hand. Harry made his way up the spiral staircase in search of some privacy, breaking away from the girls, who had ventured deeper into the room in search of seats.
The nook that led into the first year tower was empty, so Harry paused at the end of the bookshelf, where the light from generous common room windows still reached adequately, and pulled out the slightly rumpled letter from his pocket.
He had expected it to be from Petri, but he did not recognise the cramped handwriting on the back, which read simply, "Harry." There was no surname or any other identifying information, but somehow it had been delivered anyway. Harry briefly entertained the notion that it had reached him mistakenly, but was quickly disabused of it when he actually unstuck the flap and viewed the contents.
"I hope this letter finds you well. The last time we met, I was not entirely myself—figuratively speaking—and I wish to apologise for my abrupt treatment of you."
At this point, Harry glanced down to the bottom of the note in search of the sender and saw that the letter was signed, "Nic." So this letter was from the man whose vault he had got himself stuck inside. It had been months since that incident already. Why write now, with an apology, no less? Harry was thankful enough that Nic had let him go home without asking too many questions, but from that had expected never to see or hear from him again. How had the letter even found him? Frowning, he scanned the remainder of the letter:
"I thought that you might enjoy the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the similarities and differences between sympathetic and willed magic. Please accept my gift, inscribed here. I hope it will aid you in the future."
Beneath this was several lines worth of complete gibberish. Upon closer inspection, the glyphs in which it was written turned out not to even be Latin characters, but an eclectic mix of swirls, zigzags, and what looked like doodles of tiny birds. Harry frowned and turned the parchment over, but the other side was blank. He checked the envelope as well, though surely enough, it was empty. Perhaps the owl had failed to deliver the "gift."
That did not seem right, however. Was the "inscription" itself the gift? Frowning, Harry touched the unknown symbols and drawings, wondering what they meant. Perhaps there was some magic to them. Were they something like enchanter's shorthand? He drew his wand and tapped them, feeling foolish when nothing happened.
If only Petri were here, and he could just ask!
Of course he could send a letter, he remembered, but then thought of something even better—the teachers. He was at Hogwarts, a premier institution for learning magic. Surely, one of the professors would know.
Harry turned out of the alcove and hurried down the stairs, making for the large bulletin board hanging beside the common room door. Next to a glossy placard with the title, "Be Courteous to Your Peers," was a bit of parchment that listed Professor Flitwick's office hours, which were twice a week, but not at the same time each week.
Monday at 11 was right now. "What time is it?" Harry muttered to his wand, and he revised "right now" to "practically over," as it was quarter until noon.
Stuffing the letter into his pocket with a sigh, Harry decided that he might as well get to lunch. The prospect of real food cheered him up, and he retraced that morning's steps, finding the Great Hall with little trouble, despite the staircases and their poorly-timed rotations.
Most of the other first-year Ravenclaws were already seated at the end of the table, and Harry moved to join them, inserting himself in the wide gap between Terry and Oliver.
It did not escape him that some of the dishes edged away from him as he sat down. He made an experimental swipe at them, and they danced out of his reach.
"Those are garlic potatoes, mate," said Terry, leaving Harry to wonder furiously about how such an enchantment would work. How could they identify him, in order to avoid him but not others? Could it somehow be used to get around the fidelius charm? Was it like that for everybody who had allergies?
"Oi," said Terry, "anybody home?" and Harry realised that he was sitting in front of an empty plate, gazing into the distance, and had not said anything since sitting down.
"Oh," he said, abashed, "I was wondering how the garlic dishes knew it was me."
"How the dishes knew?" Anthony demanded from across the table. "They're not sentient, are they?"
"Of course not; you can't make things sentient," said Lisa, apparently never one to let imprecise semantics go uncorrected.
"I meant it figuratively," Harry muttered, but it was too late, because Lisa and Anthony had already got embroiled in a debate about the finer points of animation. It quickly became evident that neither of them knew what they were talking about.
Harry prodded some chicken legs and, satisfied that they had no intention of escaping him, forked one onto his plate and dug in.
"Where did you go off to earlier?" Terry asked.
"Common room," said Harry. "What about you?"
"Me and Anthony went out by the lake. It's huge! I mean even bigger than I thought. I can't believe we went across it in those tiny boats. There's supposed to be a giant squid in there, but we didn't see anything," said Terry.
"A giant squid?" Harry repeated sceptically, though he was not overly interested. What good did a giant squid do anybody? Fortunately, Terry seemed more than capable of carrying the conversation all on his own, requiring only the bare minimum of input from Harry every minute or so. Harry focused his attention on lunch.
He relished in the texture of the savoury poultry between his teeth, how it began smooth and tender, and let itself be worked to a mush. Next, he tried the tomato soup. Consistent liquid as it was, it still infinitely eclipsed the nutritive potion in quality of experience. Couldn't they just add salt and herbs to the potion?
Of course they couldn't, said Petri's long-suffering, everybody-knows-that voice in Harry's head, because potions were incredibly responsive to contaminants until the moment they made contact with the drinker and came into effect. That was why they had to be stored in sealed, specially fashioned crystal or glass phials, and why adding sugar or salt before drinking was likely to turn them into something unpleasant. The real question, Harry reckoned, was what prevented Petri from adding a galleon or two to the food budget.
By the time Harry's spoon had scraped the bottom of his plate, Terry had already abandoned him as a lacklustre conversation partner and moved on to join Anthony in his ever-broadening debate with Lisa. She was still winning, judging by the smug grin firmly stretched across her face.
Harry checked the time and decided that it wasn't too early to start heading to Herbology, which, according to the notes on his timetable, would be outside the castle, in Greenhouse One. He stood up, and no one followed him for a long moment. Just as he was wondering whether it would be appropriate to sit down again, Oliver put down his fork and stood as well. They left the bickering trio behind after a series of unheeded backwards glances.
"What exactly is a magical plant?" Oliver asked. "Do they move or something?"
"Some of them," said Harry, thinking of the gigantic fanged plant that presided over the plot of one of his vampire neighbours. "But I think most of them just have magic properties for potions."
And apparently some of them had no exciting properties at all, like stinging nettles, which were as muggle as plants came and only had effects in potions when combined with other reagents. Professor Sprout guided them through the basics of safety and re-potting technique using this relatively harmless plant, all the while regaling them with tales of plants with snapping teeth, plants that dripped acid that could eat through dragon hide, and even plants that could reach out and strangle you if you didn't pay attention.
Harry decided that he didn't much like Herbology. The rash breaking out on his forearm from an incautious brush with their assignment might have been a contributing factor. Also, he and Oliver had ended up right next to Draco Malfoy's bookends, Crabbe and Goyle, who were decidedly not interested in following the lesson, and whispered inanities to each other incessantly. Harry wondered why they had dropped the silent gargoyle act; the conspicuous lack of Draco himself in the greenhouse altogether probably had something to do with it.
Crabbe turned out to have another name, Vince, which he apparently preferred, but Goyle was just Goyle, thank you very much, and potting plants was servants' work. This remark swiftly cost Slytherin five points.
"Old hag," muttered Vince under his breath, and there went another five points. Oliver paused in his work to roll his eyes.
Halfway through the lesson, an irate Draco Malfoy burst into the greenhouse, claiming to have overslept, even though it was late afternoon. By some miracle, no points or detentions were mentioned, and Professor Sprout simply gestured for him to choose a workstation. Predictably, he wedged himself between Vince and Goyle.
"Why didn't you wake me up?" he hissed to no one in particular.
Harry was a little amazed that Draco's excuse was actually true. Oliver mouthed, "Beauty sleep," to him, and smirked. Hesitantly, Harry smiled back, before turning to pat down the soil in their pot.
Both Vince and Goyle slouched contritely, but said nothing. Apparently, Draco had not expected a response, because he proceeded to sneer at the nettle.
"This is servants' work," he complained, though he had done little more than put on his sleek, heavy-duty gloves and oversee Goyle's messy trowelling. Fortunately for him, Professor Sprout was on the other side of the greenhouse this time. Unfortunately for Harry, Oliver snorted loudly.
"What's so funny?" Draco demanded. "I bet you've got plenty of experience with this, what with your kind grubbing around in the dirt all day. You'll find that real wizards have more class."
Before Oliver could get around to realising that he had been insulted, Professor Sprout came into earshot and distracted Draco with an offer to help him catch up.
"What was that about?" Oliver whispered.
Harry shrugged awkwardly and studiously avoided looking at anybody for the rest of the lesson.
Having been the first in, he and Oliver were the last of the Ravenclaws out of the greenhouse, and everybody had the same idea to shower after an hour elbow-deep in dirt and humidity. Relegated to the end of the queue, Harry decided to make do with a cleaning charm instead.
"Scourgify," he incanted. Itchy soap bubbles exploded over his left hand like a cancerous growth and boiled over onto the ground, where they vanished magically. He shoved his wand into his pocket and stuck his wand arm into the area of the charm. He still couldn't get the spell to clean without producing a ridiculous volume of soap, but it did the job.
Oliver declined similar treatment and opted to wait his turn for the bathroom.
Harry shrugged and sat down on his bed, wondering what to do next. There was still a good two and a half hours until dinner, and he did not have any homework to speak of, besides the Charms reading he had already decided not to do. Then he remembered his other "homework," the exercises which Petri had assigned him.
He retrieved the journal from his trunk and flipped through it. It was filled with even, slender cursive that had obviously been the product of a dicta-quill, and seemed to consist of short theoretical lessons, followed by some research questions and exercises.
The first one was on permanent animation. Harry groaned.
The bathroom door burst open and Anthony and Terry strolled out, embroiled in conversation. Harry snapped the journal shut and decided to relocate to the common room, where there would be better lighting and tables.
The common room was mostly populated by older students, probably sixth or seventh years, and they had taken all the good individual study areas, but Harry managed to find a spot around one of the larger tables, next to the prefect Robert, who was the only person he recognised.
"Alright?" said Robert, and they exchanged curt nods before proceeding to ignore each other.
Harry considered where he might get an apple to practice inspiring it with the animation charm. This exercise was more difficult than inspiring levitation, which he had finally managed with some reliability a few weeks ago, so he expected it would probably take him another few months to succeed at it.
Supposedly, if he could manage this, then it would help him improve at the "other" kind of animation, as well. Interested as he was in progressing beyond spiders, Harry still found the difficulty rather dispiriting.
He reached into his pocket for a quill and his hand brushed against crumpled parchment. The letter! He spread it out on the table and inspected the inscription again, as if hoping it would have made itself intelligible in the meantime, but it was as inert and meaningless as before.
Suddenly struck with an idea, Harry glanced over to Robert. The prefect was reading out of a cloth-bound, green book and making notes on a bit of parchment at the side. Harry waited for his quill to stop.
"Hey, Robert," he said.
"Huh?" said Robert, looking up.
"Could you, er, would you know what this means? Or what this is?" Harry asked, sliding the letter over to the right.
"Oh, those are Egyptian hieroglyphs," said Robert almost instantly.
"What do they mean?" Harry asked, heartened, but Robert shook his head.
"Sorry, no idea. They're mentioned in Runes, but we never actually learned any. Maybe you could ask Professor Babbling. What are you doing with hieroglyphs, anyway?"
"Oh, er, a friend sent this. I'm not sure why," said Harry, stumbling over his words as he tried simultaneously to prepare a story that didn't seem ridiculous. Robert seemed uninterested in further details, however.
"Right," he said vaguely.
Harry was about to ask where Professor Babbling's office might be, and whether she held office hours like the House Heads, but then remembered that he could probably accost her in the Great Hall after dinner.
Except Professor Babbling did not appear at dinner. In fact, only about half the high table was occupied. Harry supposed that professor attendance must not be mandatory for ordinary meals.
"Excuse me," he asked Penelope, feeling somewhat reluctant to bother Robert a second time, "do you know where Professor Babbling's office is?"
"Third floor, past the Charms corridor, near this cluster of paintings full of fish," she told him.
Harry finished his food and hurried off, eschewing dessert again. He hoped she was still there. Where did professors go when they got off work? Did they live in the castle, or did they floo in every day?
He retraced the steps they had taken that morning to get to Charms, and strode down the curved corridor, past the classroom. There was a heavy door at the end, and Harry pushed at it, to no avail. It occurred to him that it might be locked, and he was considering whether to try a charm, when someone shouted, "You there!"
Harry whirled around in time to see Professor Quirrell's pale, serious face drawn into a cross scowl. "What are you d-doing?" he demanded, giving Harry the impression that he might be in trouble, though for what, he had no idea.
"Looking for Professor Babbling, sir," Harry said honestly. "Penelope, er, the prefect, told me her office is here."
This, apparently, was far enough from what Professor Quirrell had been expecting that he paused in consternation.
"The next cor-corridor is off limits," he finally said, which was news to Harry. There was no sign posted or anything. "P-P-Professor Babbling's office is that, that way," Professor Quirrell told him, pointing back down the Charms corridor and waving his hand, indicating an inward turn, "b-but I expect she's gone, gone home by now. What did you need her for? P-perhaps I can help."
If Professor Quirrell was hoping to have caught Harry in a lie, he was to be disappointed, because Harry was glad to accept whatever help was forthcoming. He withdrew the letter from his pocket, taking a moment to casually fold over the part with the message and leave only the hieroglyphs in view.
"This, sir" he said, holding it out. "They're hieroglyphs, and I want to know what they mean."
Professor Quirrell leaned over to take a look. Something in his gaze sharpened, and when he glanced at Harry, there was a stab of pain in his forehead that reminded him that the man's presence had not given him a headache, up until that moment.
"This is an inscription," said Professor Quirrell. "Have you activated it?"
"Activated?" Harry repeated. So there was some magic to it after all. "How?"
"Trace it with a quill. Anything," said Professor Quirrell. And Harry wished that it had occurred to him to try something like that. "You needn't know what it means to activate it. I suppose one ought to be cautious, but it appears it is only spelled to summon a book."
"Oh," said Harry, "Er, thank you sir."
He was somewhat eager now to get out of Professor Quirrell's painful presence, and to get whatever book Nic had sent him, now that he knew how, but Professor Quirrell appeared to have other ideas.
"Why don't you come along to my office? I can show you the process," he said, and Harry couldn't figure out how to refuse gracefully.
Fortunately, when Professor Quirrell began to walk, whatever was inducing Harry's headache disappeared as quickly as it had come.
Professor Quirrell's office was apparently right next to Professor Babbling's, which explained why he had been in the area. The walls were covered with newspaper clippings featuring prominent photographs of aeroplanes. They were all conspicuously still.
"I use to t-teach Muggle Studies," Professor Quirrell said when he noticed Harry eyeing the décor. "Those are aeroplanes. They're big flying c-contraptions made of metal."
Harry was going to say that of course he knew what aeroplanes were—even Petri knew what aeroplanes were—but then decided that Professor Quirrell hadn't had any reason to assume that.
Professor Quirrell gestured for Harry to produce the letter again, and he took a quill from his desk and traced, without any ink, over the symbols. As soon as he finished, there was a sucking sound, and then a fluttering of sheets as the letter appeared to unfold, and unfold again, impossibly, until it had filled out into a leather-bound book.
The cover had the title stamped in gold leaf: Secrets of the Hieroglyphical Figures. There was no author.
"Ah, this book," said Professor Quirrell with clear recognition.
"What is it about?" Harry asked. The title alluded to hieroglyphs, as did the form of delivery, but Harry distinctly recalled that the letter had mentioned sympathetic magic, so it was hardly likely to be a language book.
"It's an alchemy reference," said Professor Quirrell. "Much of it draws from the work of Abramelin, an Egyptian wizard, on immortality. Dark magic. May I ask who sent you this book, Mr Potter?"
Worry hit Harry like a tonne of bricks. "Dark magic" and "Mr Potter" jockeyed for first position in the race to burst his heart. Of course he shouldn't have just trusted a strange man, especially not one who had asked very few questions after discovering a fake goblin in his Gringotts vault. He'd had no choice at the time, but this letter, he should have consigned to the fireplace, or at least handled with care and discretion. "I don't know who sent it," sounded moronic even in his head. On the other hand, did Professor Quirrell properly recognise him? No, he assured himself. That was impossible. Potter was just his surname, and surely it was a normal for a teacher to know him by surname rather than given name, even outside of a class context. But being around so many people who ought to know him must be stretching the fidelius. Could it have stretched too thin?
"Are you all right?" Professor Quirrell asked, and Harry became aware that he had gone silent for an inordinate amount of time, and that his hand had moved on its own to clutch at his forehead, where the killing curse scar throbbed feverishly.
"I don't feel too well," Harry said honestly, though he knew it sounded as if he were trying to get out of answering Professor Quirrell's other questions.
"What is it?" the professor asked, apparently believing him.
"Headache," said Harry.
"Shall I walk you to the hospital wing?"
"No!" Harry blurted out, unable to stop himself, though it made it seem more like he was faking. "No, sir, I, er, I just need to go, er, lie down."
"Today, during my lesson, you also did not seem to be feeling well," said Professor Quirrell. Harry nodded, shocked that the man had noticed something like that while remaining oblivious to how boring and confusing his own lecture had been. "Is it the garlic? Madam Pomfrey mentioned that you survived a vampire attack."
"Er, right," said Harry, though he thought "survived" made it sound much worse than it actually had been. "I don't think that's it, though. It's not real garlic, is it?"
"It's a property of my turban, I'm afraid. A spell, for repelling the undead."
"Oh," Harry murmured. That made sense, or at least, explained why his headaches only happened in proximity to Professor Quirrell, and apparently only to him. But he'd previously reacted to garlic by sneezing or asphyxiating—was this a new symptom?
He had a Defence Against the Dark Arts professor right in front of him, he reminded himself, and hadn't the nurse said herself that he would be the best one to consult on the matter?
"Garlic's never given me headaches before," he said. "Do you know if it's changing or, er, progressing? Can the curse do that?"
"Progress? Yes it can, if exposed to the right sort of magic," said Professor Quirrell, which was not at all reassuring.
"Is there a way to see if, er..."
"Yes. I can take a look, if you don't mind showing me the scar," Professor Quirrell said.
For a confused moment, Harry thought he was talking about the scar on his forehead, the one which hurt and which nobody should be able to properly notice—it didn't help that Professor Quirrell seemed to be looking right at it—but of course the professor meant the bite scar, and he was just making eye contact, like a normal person.
Harry nodded, undoing the first two buttons on his shirt and tugging his collar to the side. As Silviu had suggested was normal, the bite mark had healed almost entirely, but the pinprick scars were still visible to anybody who was looking for them. The professor raised his wand and sketched repeated figure eights in the air, in the vicinity of Harry's nose, muttering something unintelligible under his breath repeatedly. Harry felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up, and a shiver overcame him.
Then Professor Quirrell's eyes narrowed, and Harry was hit with an almost blinding stab of pain in his forehead. He reached up to slap his scar, almost knocking his glasses askew, before coming to his senses and removing his hand quickly, hoping he had not interrupted the spellwork. But Professor Quirrell's wand was still, and he seemed to be lost in thought.
"P-P-Potter," he said suddenly, and then his expression went slack, and his eyes developed the glazed confusion that was more familiar to Harry when it came to the matter of his name.
Then Professor Quirrell's gaze refocused and he brought up his wand hand again, slightly jittery, and continued the same wand motion and muttering as before. The eerie, cold sensation returned.
Harry looked up at him expectantly when he finally stopped. "Sir?"
"The results are c-complex," said Professor Quirrell. "I, I need some time. See me after, ah, the lesson tomorrow."
"What spell was that, sir?" Harry asked. "A mantra?"
"That's right," said Professor Quirrell, surprised. "It's called the Evil Eye. Ah, a bit of a misleading name. No, no evil involved." He chuckled, a little self-deprecatingly. "D-don't forget. Tomorrow, after the lesson."
Harry nodded, pleased he'd guessed correctly, and turned to leave. Countless attempts to read Waffling's Chant and Cadence had to have been good for something, and anyway, the spell had reminded him of the mantra Petri used to summon spirits. Professor Quirrell did not seem inclined to elaborate more, so Harry resolved to look it up himself. There was a library, wasn't there?
"W-wait," said Professor Quirrell, and to Harry's surprise, he turned to his desk, picked up the book Nic had sent, and held it out. "Your book."
"Er, but," Harry began, but then thought better of it. "Er, thank you sir."
He supposed it must be all right, then, dark magic or not. Nonetheless, he was careful to turn the spine down and press the title to his chest, and it was with some furtiveness that he made his way up to Ravenclaw Tower.
A couple of unfamiliar girls, perhaps second or third years, were standing outside, scowling. They perked up when they heard him approaching, and stared at him expectantly. Harry paused, not eager to insert himself between them, but one of them finally gestured impatiently.
"Try the knocker," she said. "We got it wrong, and it won't let us in or even talk to us anymore."
With some trepidation, he stepped up, and the bronze eagle asked, "Where do monsters live?"
Harry blinked, and the girl on the left nodded in commiseration.
"Yeah. And the answer isn't 'in the Forbidden Forest,'" she advised.
"It's not 'in nightmares' or 'under the bed,' either," said the other girl.
Harry frowned. What exactly did it mean by "monster," anyway? Earlier, the eagle knocker had opened up the door after enough people had answered in contradicting ways to start a discussion. Perhaps the trick to opening it while alone was not to answer too confidently, but consider multiple perspectives.
"It depends on what a 'monster' is," he began. "If it's just anything that does awful things, or is scary, well, anything can be scary, so monsters live everywhere, everywhere where anything lives." Harry thought of Silviu, and of Nalrod. "But sometimes, no, most of the time, nobody thinks they themselves are a monster, they just call other people, other creatures, monsters. So monsters don't live anywhere but in peoples' heads."
Harry thought he was really only rambling, but the knocker seemed satisfied and the door clicked and swung open.
"Nice one," said the first girl. "I'm Marietta, by the way. What's your name?"
"I'm Harry," said Harry, and shook Marietta's hand.
"I'm Cho," said the other girl, extending her hand as well. "Thanks for helping. That knocker is so annoying. I thought I figured it out after last year, but I suppose I got rusty over the summer."
"I don't think I've seen you around before," said Marietta. "Are you a first year?"
"Yeah," said Harry. "What year are you?"
"We're second years," said Marietta. "Well, talk to you later. Homework time. It's the first day and McGonagall's already laying it on us." With that, she and Cho went off to claim a study space in the corner.
Harry decided against reading the book where anybody could see it and ascended the stairs to the dormitory. Terry and Anthony were there, playing Wizard's Chess over a repurposed nightstand, and so intently that neither looked up as he entered. Harry sat down on his bed, drew the curtains, and cast lumos. The light was a little too bright at the source but dispersed quickly, and he spent a minute casting and recasting it until it suited his purposes, before leaning his wand awkwardly against his foot so that the quilt did not swallow the light. He wished he had a jar for bluebell flames.
Cracking open the book, he saw that Nic's letter had merged into the flyleaf, inclusive of the inscription. Harry wondered if tracing the inscription again would transform the book back into a piece of parchment, but decided not to try it just now.
There was more at the bottom the letter now, he noticed. Page references. The first one directed him to page one hundred sixty-eight. He followed it.
The chapter heading said, "Green: The Vegetable Soul." Harry blinked down at the strange phrase. He wasn't about to discover that spinach had a soul, was he?
There were notes scrawled in the margin in the same cramped handwriting as in the letter. The first one said: "Crucial step. Most fail here." A squiggly line led to the edge of a paragraph and inserted itself underneath the word, "sympathy."
"Growth can only be achieved with magical sympathy. Once the stone exhibits the colour of a vegetable soul, then it will have the power to multiply like a tree, branching infinitely. Therefore it can reach for infinitely small, infinitely precise places, and know the shape of any object."
These sentences made approximately zero sense to Harry, but fortunately there was another line in the margins that trailed down to the bottom of half of the page and a circled section.
"Sympathetic magic is magic that is done by magic. Just as moving your own body requires no deep understanding of the body, so does moving the properties of existence, that is, moving magic, require no deep understanding for a being of magic. But what of the wielder of magic, who is not himself a part of magic?
"This is the fate of the wizard, who has magic but never is, himself, magic. He must rely instead on his willpower, his ordinary way of understanding the world. His desires and his beliefs come together to shape his will. In order to grasp the will of magic, the wizard must desire nothing but reality, and believe nothing but the truth. But these two things are against his nature. His nature, therefore, is what he must overcome in order to succeed at this task."
Harry frowned. Sympathetic magic, according to this description, made sense, for example, in the context of vampires. If vampirism was a curse, then the way its magic worked was not really subject to the will of the vampire, but simply the operation of the curse. But what about other magical creatures, like goblins or hags? They were born just like humans, not made from magic.
The next page veered away from any further explication of sympathetic magic, and instead had instructions for drinking some potion and achieving the goals of "desiring reality" and "believing truth."
Harry flipped back to the beginning of the book and discovered from the introduction that it contained the instructions for making something called the Philosopher's Stone, which was apparently the pinnacle of alchemical creation, and could make the user live forever. A wizard named Abramelin, whom Professor Quirrell had mentioned, was indeed credited with the origin of this recipe, which the book claimed to be the only true recipe.
At the end of the introduction there were about three pages of warnings about how botching any step of the process, which took six years, if all went well, could result in a gruesome death, and that only an alchemist who had dedicated his life to his work should proceed.
If quality duplication was supposed to be nearly impossible, Harry did not really want to know how much harder attaining eternal life would be.
He remembered, uncomfortably, the matter of the horcrux. But a horcrux didn't make somebody live forever. At best it offered two lifetimes worth of living, barring unforeseen accidents. This Philosopher's Stone was something else.
Nic obviously hadn't sent him the book so that he could try out an absurdly deadly alchemy recipe, anyway. Harry turned back to the flyleaf where the letter had been written, and checked the next page reference. It pointed him to a ten-page section that appeared to explain the sympathetic properties of what looked like every kind of metal, and how one could go about transfiguring them. Unfortunately, Harry didn't know the first thing about transfiguration, and so most of it went right over his head.
He sighed and shut the book, deciding to wait until he'd at least had his first Transfiguration lesson, which would be tomorrow morning. Instead, he wandered over to the other side of the room to watch chessmen bash each other to pieces for the remainder of the evening.
A/N: As usual I take an eternity to update. You may be annoyed to note that I spent some of the time drawing a less cryptic cover art instead of actually writing. Thanks to Botulinum for beta reading this chapter.