Hello, ladies and gentle-readers. Sorry this took so long (and sorry for the perpetual apology refrain, I'm sure it's getting very boring). My muse has not been cooperating very much over this last month and a half, but she finally reappeared over the last few days, and I got most of the chapter out. Plus, I now have a Christmas job, at Fortnum & Mason in London, which means that while my time going forward will be rather constrained, I know what's what, if you follow me – less uncertainty. At least for the time being.
Anyhow, this chapter is, for the first time in a very long time, focused almost entirely on Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and, apparently, filler. Of course, nothing's ever quite that simple with me. Also, save for the last scene, they spend almost all their time apart. What possible symbolism could there be in that? Or the chapter title? I couldn't possibly imagine…
Other than that, this chapter, the Harry sections especially, is a bit more philosophical, and intentionally so. Harry's sections draw a bit from the Advaita Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy, which a friend of mine on here by the name of Shushanepa (long term and long-suffering ex-beta, frequent debating partner and good friend). No. Why? Because that's the school Gorakhnath follows, and he's the teacher here.
This does NOT mean that everything he says should be taken as strict gospel In Universe. This is his interpretation of the universe. Nor, for that matter, is it my personal belief, or one you should necessarily share (unless you already do, or wish to, obviously).
It's also fairly basic. This is partly because he has to simplify stuff for Harry. As he will note, what he is teaching Harry is something that usually takes many, many years to really fully convey and understand, and while Harry is very clever, and occasionally a bit brilliant, he's still 14. He's young, he lacks philosophical scholarly training and, by instinct, he's very practically minded. 'How' is more important to him than 'why', for the most part, unless you're talking motives. And even then, that's secondary.
However, it is also partly because it's simply a different perspective. A perspective provided by someone with a very intimate understanding of the underpinnings of the universe, at least as compared to Harry, but a perspective – there are plenty of others. And that's the important part. As Gorakhnath himself noted to Strange, while he knows more about this stuff than Strange does, the difference in knowledge is small enough to be meaningless – neither of them could teach Harry all they know about the Phoenix and/or psychic abilities.
No, what's important is the perspective. And that's what Gorakhnath provides: a different perspective, a different way of looking at the universe, and a different way of thinking. And if Harry learns even some of that, it can help him master the Phoenix within him (not just restraining himself from using it, but actually managing it, and using it), and hopefully apply a different mindset to his powers, his problems, and the universe at large, opening it up like a flower. It'll give him a different way of looking at things, an extra tool for his mental Swiss Army Knife, one he could probably do with.
To sum it up: for Harry, this is like a episode of Avatar: the Last Airbender. Not the one with the Yogi and the Chakras – though a similar conversation comes up, and goes better, partly thanks to Harry being less impulsive than Aang. Rather, like the one where Aang and Zuko go looking for the origins of firebending, what with how Zuko no longer has the rage he used to power his firebending with.
While they learn a new form, 'the Dancing Dragon', the form itself is unimportant – what is important is the new perspective they get when they meet the original firebending masters (I won't spoil, but let's face it, the form's name kind of gives it away), learn how it originally worked (short answer: fire is life), and how to power firebending without rage.
They're given a fundamental philosophical insight, and it opens the world up to them in a whole new way, doing more than a thousand forms and techniques. The same, if you swap 'forms' for 'spells/branches of magic/psychic abilities', applies here.
Now, long word vomit over. Please, read on.
Gorakhnath's prediction of when Harry would arrive was, as it happened, correct to the very second. Since Harry's other teacher was Doctor Strange, this was not surprising. It was a bit surprising to Harry, however, who found himself falling through a hole in reality ringed in orange sparks that manifested in the back and seat of his chair.
Once, this would have made him land with a thump and a stream of swear-words, followed by wariness. Now, he instinctively dropped, tucked, and rolled backwards, springing to his feet from the sun-warmed stone paving like a rubber ball, settling instantaneously into a defensive posture, with defences both magical and psychic ready to go at the slightest hint of trouble, trouble that every one of his senses strained to perceive.
After a few long moments, he began to relax, straightening out of his stance into a still wary standing position. As he did, he took a deep breath and looked around properly for the first time, not just scanning for threats and cataloguing his surroundings by tactical utility, but actually taking in the view. He was in a deep valley, surrounded by snowy peaked mountains, and going by the air he'd just breathed in – cold, clear, scented by pine sap, and a little thinner than he was used to – even the lower parts of the valley were quite high above sea level.
It was beautiful, well-forested in places, and cultivated in others – though being winter, the fields currently lay empty. For his part, he was currently standing in the courtyard of a small sanctuary, down a set of stairs from what looked like a mixture of simple shrine and small dwelling made of wood. The latter, in a strange way, rather reminded Harry of Hagrid's hut – different though it was, there was something cosily familiar about it.
Oh, and in the shrine, at the top of the stairs, sat an old man with tea-coloured skin that contrasted with his white hair and short white beard, wearing old, but well-kept orange robes. Or at least, that was Harry's first impression, one revised a mere instant later. First of all, despite the whiteness of his hair, his skin was unlined enough that Harry estimated he could be anything from a weathered forty-something, to a youthful seventy. Second of all, despite appearances, the being in front of him was most certainly not just a man, and watched him with more than just gleaming dark eyes. And finally, Harry had seen him before.
"Gorakhnath," he said quietly.
"Harry Thorson," the other man replied. "The time of our lesson has finally arrived."
"I'm not early, then?" Harry asked, eyebrow raised.
"No. You are, as it happens, precisely on time," Gorakhnath said, and stood, before beckoning. "Come. You have much to learn."
Harry followed, intrigued and a little bit excited, wondering what, exactly, that would be.
As it turned out, 'that' would primarily be theory.
"You have learned much of the practicalities of your powers," Gorakhnath said, before adding bluntly, "But in the theory behind them, you are woefully ignorant."
Harry's eyes narrowed. "I've had quite a few lessons with Magneto that say otherwise," he said.
"You misunderstand my meaning," Gorakhnath said calmly. "You have learned something of the theories behind how your powers can be applied, and something of their nature thereby. This is good. Such lessons help to broaden your mind. Those lessons, however, are in the service of practicalities: how to better use your powers. My teachings will be different. That being said, they will cover certain uses of your powers – astral projection, for instance, which you have used before."
"Twice," Harry confirmed. "Last Halloween, across the Atlantic, and last Easter, during the Battle of the M4."
"One little more than an image speaking a warning, while the other was a fully manifested astral body, projected across the Atlantic Ocean, in your sleep," Gorakhnath said. "Even considering that you were using a pre-existing psychic conduit, it was impressive."
Harry brightened, a smile beginning to spread across his face.
"It was also like watching a child juggle hand grenades. Live hand grenades."
The smile stopped, then crawled back from whence it came like a sleepy commuter who's belatedly realised that they're heading for the wrong platform, and, acutely embarrassed, is now struggling back against the tide.
"You undoubtedly have power," Gorakhnath continued, regarding Harry. "And talent. But neither is of any value without the ability, or the willingness, to learn."
Harry's eyes narrowed again. "I'm here, aren't I?" he countered. As he spoke, out of the corner of his eye he noticed an acolyte (or rather, someone who might well have been an acolyte, but moved like a trained special operative who was trying a little too hard to look harmlessly inconspicuous and was most probably a superhuman of some kind), who was dusting the shrine, stop and shoot him a distinctly unfriendly look.
This was probably a response to the perceived disrespect, but Harry felt like he was being tested. Well, if that was the way it was going to go, then so be it – he was going to do some testing of his own.
"You are," Gorakhnath said, looking and sounding entirely unfazed. "But as you know from your experiences of astral projection, the body and the mind can be in entirely different places. Your body is here, but is your mind? Are you able, and willing, to learn?"
"Doctor Strange thought I could," Harry observed, eyes gleaming at a counterpoint to his outwardly casual tone. "And you think enough of his opinion to at least give me a chance."
"Strange rarely chooses students of his own," Gorakhnath replied, that same gleam in his eye. "You are one of few, very few, and he maintains very exacting standards. While they are standards that only he truly knows, it is certain that he has never been one to suffer fools. You, I think, are no fool. You have sometimes behaved foolishly, it is true, but you are not truly a fool." He sat back. "But despite the impression he encourages, Strange is not infallible. You know this better than most."
Harry inclined his head.
"And in any case, Strange's lessons also tend to focus on practicalities," Gorakhnath continued. "His focus is on what he wants and on how he will get it. This directness is what has made him so effective in his chosen role. And for all of his apparent meanderings, his intricate plans and manipulations, directness is exactly what it is – he has a goal, and everything he does is in service to achieving it. Indeed, directness is perhaps his most defining trait." His gaze sharpened, boring into Harry. "A trait that, in some measure, you have adopted."
"Except that I try to have an actual life outside of the endless war against evil," Harry said dryly. "I don't always succeed, but I do try."
Gorakhnath smiled faintly. "I did say 'some measure', did I not?" he replied.
"You did," Harry conceded, before sitting back, thinking. "So, what you're going to teach me will cover certain uses of my powers, right?"
"That is so."
"But the way you said it, what you said about theory, says that that isn't all, or even most, of what you want to teach me," Harry continued. "You also seem pretty well informed about what I've been learning so far. And Strange picked you out because …" He trailed off and sighed. "I'm an idiot."
Gorakhnath's faint smile widened.
"This is about the theory behind my Phoenix fragment," Harry said. "I did so much holiday reading about your background, your knowledge of the Phoenix, and it took me this long to put it together." He sighed again, pinching his brow. "Which means that your question is if I'm willing to learn about it, because you think I won't want to touch it at all."
"Not entirely. Though I did expect you to realise a little sooner."
Harry shrugged. "I'm used to dealing with Doctor Strange," he said. "Long term directness or not, that means thinking in corkscrews and trying to look at what's not obvious." He grimaced. "But yeah, I should have realised sooner." He cocked an eyebrow. "What do you mean by not entirely?"
Gorakhnath was silent for a moment, gathering his thoughts – which, for a being such as him, meant gathering his very essence. "You have learned certain philosophies," he said. "From Strange, and from others. They are reflected in your understanding of the universe. I intend to offer an alternative."
Harry swallowed his immediate responses – mostly on the theme of 'and what would the point of that be?' and 'does it come with some useful technique attached?' – and instead arched an eyebrow.
Gorakhnath saw the eyebrow, and recognising Harry's immediate impulses – and his restraint of them – raised one of his own. "Strange feels that while you are an adept warrior, your understanding of more esoteric matters is lacking," he said. "And seeing you now, I think he is right."
"How do you mean?" Harry asked, now curious.
"A road that is well-trodden might be easy to walk, but it will only pass through so much, and only ever lead to one destination," he said. "You have begun to explore other applications of your powers, to find other roads, roads that lead to other destinations. This is good. But as there is more than one way of using your powers, there is more than one way of seeing them. If you are to succeed, to do more than just survive, than you must not merely know what you can do, or how you can do it. You must also know why."
"Why what? Why I can do it?" Harry asked.
"In part," Gorakhnath said. "But it is a more general 'why', the why of the universe itself. With knowledge of that, you may attain an insight into the universe, a new perspective and, perhaps, understanding." Reading Harry's expression, he added, "Many of these teachings are ones that take decades, centuries, and in some cases, even millennia, to truly unfold in one's mind. They are not simple techniques to repeat until they are instinct, or spells to memorise. As diligent, intelligent, and intuitive as I am told you are, their full understanding takes time that we do not have. Nevertheless, we shall do with our time what we can."
Meanwhile, Harry was not the only one being taught some rather strange things. His lesson, however, did not contain quite the same subtext as this one. For in this case, the participants were a mother who was full of regrets and conflicted feelings, and a daughter who was blissfully ignorant of the truth.
Nonetheless, it was arguably a more conventional lesson, and not the first lesson of its kind. Where the initial lessons had been based around practicalities and basic control
"Chaos magic is… complicated," Wanda said. "The nature of it, that is. What it can do, as you have begun to discover, is quite simple: disrupt and destroy almost any construct, tangible or intangible, ever to exist, bend the known laws of physics to breaking point, and make reality your plaything. The extent of this varies, based on three factors: a practitioner's grasp of their powers, the amount of power they have to begin with, and their willingness to risk the consequences. These consequences also vary; for instance, while you can transmute lead into gold with far more ease than you could with alchemy, it would release dangerous radiation, something that the alchemical process prevents. Most importantly, though, is that in excess it damages the fabric of reality."
"Doesn't chaos magic do that anyway, Ms Maximoff?" Hermione asked. "Damage reality, I mean." It was a serious question, and part of why she'd been very reluctant, up to now, to learn more than the very basics of control.
"Not necessarily," Wanda said. "You see, chaos magic is much more common than the vast majority of magical practitioners realise." Her expression turned grim. "And, for that matter, than most of those who do know are willing to admit." She saw Hermione's questioning look. "The ghosts of old disputes with the White Council," she said. "Probably best not brought up. Now, where was I? Ah. Yes. Truth be told, chaos is a part of magic on a very fundamental level."
"Is that why magic-saturated areas, and the presence of wandless wizards, disrupts electrical machinery?" Hermione asked suddenly, before blushing at having interrupted. "Sorry, Ms Maximoff. I didn't mean –"
"On the contrary, Miss Granger," Wanda said. A smile, genuine and warm and full of pride, but tinged with sadness, had spread across her face. "I am actually genuinely impressed. Feel free to ask questions at any point." Her eyes twinkled a little. "I certainly did."
Hermione's blush deepened.
"In any case, you are exactly right when you guessed that magic disrupts electrical machinery," Wanda said. "Historically, it has had other effects, some rather less pleasant – one of the milder ones was a random tendency for milk to go sour in a wandless practitioner's presence." She shrugged. "It changes every few centuries." She sat back. "Now, not many practitioners consciously use it very often, and even fewer know what they're using. Most commonly, it's a hex, in the sense of hexing a machine to break it by increasing the chances that something will go wrong with it. The same thing applies to many jinxes in wanded magic, such as a simple trip jinx. Even some potions, like Felix Felicis, use it. That potion has the effect of…"
"It gives the drinker good luck for a certain period of time, depending on the amount the drinker has," Hermione said excitedly. "As a result, it is often called 'liquid luck'."
"And it functions by bending probabilities around the drinker to ensure the most beneficial – to them – outcome," Wanda said. "A negative counterpart would be an entropy curse; minor ones tend to do little more than make the target prone to being unlucky. Major ones, however, can be lethal, with either pinpoint precision or on a massive scale, and they are among the darkest of magic. Both, incidentally, overlap with my mutant abilities of probability manipulation, which are rather versatile in their own way. There is a difference, however. My X-Gene based probability manipulation powers are circumscribed by the laws of reality. It can bend them, but it cannot break them. Chaos magic plays with probabilities in ways we've already discussed."
Hermione nodded seriously, as she raised a hand. A lot of her homework regarding chaos magic so far, aside from meditation and self-control, had involved a mixture of high-end Arithmancy and Chaos Theory.
"Ms Maximoff," she asked. "Magic's chaotic effects, well, they affect things around them. Like technology, these days. Does it have the same effect on the X-Gene?"
"That's a very good question," Wanda admitted, sitting back and frowning thoughtfully. "To be honest, I'm not sure. Mutants are rare, yes, but magical mutants? Honestly, I've only met two others in my entire life. There are mutants with magical ancestry, of course – the Frosts, who tend to produce psychics of various kinds, have been traced back to a Malfoy squib. By contrast, there are mutants with magical potential: Harry's mother's family manifested psychics, usually of very limited power, about once or twice a century for a millennium or so before Lily was born. Likewise, Ororo Munroe, one of the staff at the Xavier Institute, had at least some magical potential, but it withered through lack of use due to her need to focus on her formidable mutant abilities. Then there are those with possible partly inhuman ancestry, such as the Braddock family."
"I thought that was just a rumour started by Rita Skeeter," Hermione said, not sure which revelation was more startling.
"She didn't start it," Wanda said. "But she did revive it. And unlike most of her rumours, it may well have basis in fact. Whether that ancestry is Sidhe or Avalonian, though, I can't say for sure…" She trailed off speculatively, before shrugging. "But fully fledged magical practitioners who are also mutants? Only two. Harry is one of them, of course. The other is a rather strange, very secretive, and extremely dangerous woman called Illyana Rasputina. Her codename, one used about her rather than one she deigned to take for herself, was Magik, with a k. And frankly, I'm not sure if you could consider her totally human any more: she's lived in Faerie since childhood in the early 1950s, she stopped ageing some decades ago, and aside from occasional visits to her brother, shows little to no interest in the mortal world."
"Harry's a psychic," Hermione said. "And this other woman, she's…"
"A teleporter," Wanda said. "Among other things, I suspect – I've only met her a couple of times, and she wasn't very forthcoming on either occasion. With Harry, I'm not sure yet. There is scope for him to effectively merge both abilities, but I don't think either power directly affects the other. And the mutant gene is famously flexible. While an inclination to certain powers can run in families, it doesn't always. My father manipulates electromagnetism, as does my half-sister, who's about your age. Yet my half-brother, on the other hand, is a speedster, and I manipulate probabilities. That being said, my magical abilities are unusual, being true chaos magic, so it could have an effect ordinary magic would not…" She trailed off and shot Hermione an amused look. "And speaking of probabilities, it is practically certain that we have wandered off topic."
Hermione blushed. "Sorry, Ms Maximoff."
"It's all right," Wanda said. "You just asked the question, I was the one to speculate. And it's an interesting question, one I'll have to look into." She sat forward. "In any case, chaos magic can be used to manipulate probabilities. However, that is just the beginning: while probability manipulation cannot break the rules of reality, chaos magic can and does. That is part of what makes it so difficult to explain and to master."
"Because it has no rules," Hermione said, frowning. "But, I thought that, with Arithmancy…"
"Arithmancy, and other mathematical methods, can predict the ripple effects of chaos magic when it is used to affect probabilities," Wanda said. "For the most part. But when you delve deeper, that is not the case."
Hermione's frown deepened. "So the only rules are those you choose," she said, sounding distinctly unhappy about this.
Wanda caught her expression and grinned.
"Exactly," she said. "The only rules are those you impose – or, technically, are imposed on you by physical and mental restrictions, in control, knowledge, and resilience. But yes. That is where chaos magic differs from other forms of magic. They have rules – sometimes nebulous and ill-defined rules, but rules nevertheless. Rules that I am told you are very good at memorising and mastering, which allow you to quantify and understand conventional magic exceptionally well. Chaos magic, on the other hand, does not really do rules. And, I am afraid, it is not very forgiving to those who try to explore it."
Seeing how downcast Hermione looked, as the weight of her task settled upon her, Wanda's expression turned sympathetic.
"Hermione," she said. "I know what you're thinking, and I know because I've been there before. Of all the unexpected magical, or non-magical, powers that you could have been handed, a gift for chaos magic is probably the worst. Not just in terms of how it may not suit you specifically, but how difficult it can be. And…"
She took a deep breath, and reached forward, taking her unknowing daughter's hand.
"And I won't lie to you, Hermione," she said gently. "While you've already done very well, there is so much more to come. It will be very difficult. I know that from personal experience. Chaos magic is a slippery thing, one that defies definition. It is most definitely not evil, and there are many benevolent uses for it – Felix Felicis is just one of them, and I will teach you as many of them as I know. Harry, my godson, your friend, used chaos magic to repair reality only a few months ago."
There was a long moment of silence, one that was waiting for the other shoe to drop. It did.
"However," Wanda continued, voice carefully steady. "It has a lot of very unpleasant associations for a reason. Red Sky Day was demonstration enough of that. Even when not actively being twisted to dark intent, chaos magic is incredibly dangerous, potentially incredibly hazardous to both body and soul, and not just yours. And even once you have mastered it, as I have absolutely no doubt that you will, I am afraid that your mere possession of it – a gift that you neither wanted nor asked for – will be seen as cause for suspicion and hostility in many corners. It will also attract attention from some very dark, and very dangerous, beings. If I could help you get rid of it, I would, without hesitation. But I am afraid that I can't, and now that it is active, it simply cannot be ignored, because one way or another, it will find its way out again."
There was a long silence. Then, Hermione looked up, chin thrust out defiantly. "You mastered it, Ms Maximoff," she said. "So I will too. Whatever it takes."
Wanda smiled once more, pride, fierce approval, and sadness all warring on her face and in her slightly damp eyes. "Then we had better crack on, hadn't we, Miss Granger?" she said.
"I think we better had."
Harry's lesson, meanwhile, was getting down to its nuts and bolts, even if they were more theory than practise.
"First, there are some things that you must understand," Gorakhnath said. "You are, I believe, familiar with Newton's 3rd Law; the scientific concept of every action having an equal and opposite reaction."
"And I suspect that you have come across the concept of karma?"
Harry nodded, paused, and eyed Gorakhnath. "I have, and I'm guessing that you're about to say whatever I learned about it is wrong," he said shrewdly.
"To put it charitably, I would say that the popular belief is the product of a misunderstanding," Gorakhnath said. "Karma is not a system of reward and punishment. Rather, it is the concept that every action, whether good or bad, has consequences. In this regard, Newton's 3rd Law is a reflection, an echo, of the true nature of the cosmos."
"Like how dark magic corrupts," Harry said thoughtfully. "You twist magic and it twists you right back, until it leaves you unrecognisable."
Gorakhnath nodded, with a slight smile. "Exactly," he said. "This is one of the easier concepts for you to grasp, as your experiences mean that you understand this better than most. The next is perhaps even simpler, and one that I think you will also be familiar with: there will always be someone stronger than you."
Harry arched an eyebrow. "You could say that," he said.
Gorakhnath looked amused. "I could indeed," he said. "However, I mean more than just the obvious: when I say that there will always be someone stronger than you, I do not simply mean you. I mean anyone. No matter what artefacts of power you collect, what bargains you make, what rituals perform, or what knowledge you gain, even if you amass all the power in the universe and progress into the multiverse beyond… even then, you will pale before a greater cosmic hierarchy. Few in the universe are in a position to truly understand this, and even fewer are willing to accept it."
Harry eyed him shrewdly. "Like Chthon?" he guessed.
"He is one such being," Gorakhnath agreed. "As are many of the Outside. And there are others, on the… Inside, you might say. Others whose names you already know."
Harry frowned, before nodding. "Surtur," he said.
Gorakhnath nodded. "He is another," he said.
Harry, not missing the implication, frowned again, before sighing. "Thanos," he said quietly.
"The Mad Titan," Gorakhnath said softly. "And the universe's greatest fool. Brilliant, ruthless, and a strategist of great skill and cunning, with few equals. Perhaps only one."
Gorakhnath nodded again. "Strange," he said. "Yet as remarkable as my old student has become, with all the insights and powers he has been granted by Time itself, it has still taken him many hundreds of thousands of years of effort to tip the scales in life's favour."
His gaze settled on Harry, who smiled sourly. "No pressure," he said.
Gorakhnath shrugged. "It will either be enough, or it will not," he said. "The Infinity War is coming, one way or another, and we shall see how Strange's plans hold up. Though it should be said that he is not the only one who has been preparing for that day. I am one. Your grandparents are two more."
Harry arched a sardonic eyebrow. "So, you're not gambling everything on me?" he said dryly. "I'm not sure whether to be relieved or insulted."
"Feel free to be both," Gorakhnath said, with another shrug. "It will not change matters. Strange knows. While he is basing his plans upon you – and, I think, with good reason – he builds redundancies into every single one of his plans. This one is no exception. I believe that he considers our plans to be further redundancies for those redundancies."
"Impossibly high stakes and incredibly complex planning," Harry muttered. "Yep, sounds familiar."
Gorakhnath smiled faintly. "It does, doesn't it?" he agreed. "He has always had an inclination towards complexity. While he never had the same raw power or pure instinct that Merlin did, or indeed that you do, he has always had a certain deftness about him, a knack for weaving complicated spells. And, naturally, even more complicated plans." He regarded Harry. "Part of the reason for his success, however, is an understanding of his limits. A degree of humility, buried deep beneath the oceans of arrogance, and an important one. I perceive that you have it, too." His smile turned knowing. "Despite occasionally claiming otherwise, for effect."
Harry's eyes widened. "How did you… Strange told you, didn't he?"
"He did," Gorakhnath confirmed. "A teacher must know his student, and we do not have the time to develop the long acquaintance I might like. As it was, I had already learned much about you by myself, but Strange knew far more, and informed me."
Harry frowned. "I see," he said.
Gorakhnath noticed. "Fear not," he said. "While what he told me was personal to you, he carefully elide that which is private. For instance, while it is useful to me to know who you happen to be in love with, it is not necessary for me to know any of the details."
Harry's frown remained, but nodded, willing to let it pass as he had other intrusions into his private life. If nothing else, this would at least save time. Or so he hoped, anyway.
"I never wanted power," he said quietly. "I never wanted to be a god. And I definitely didn't want to be God with a capital g. What I've got is, frankly, more than I would like, because in my experience, power tends to cause more problems than it solves. The only reason I've ever wanted more is because I thought that I might need it, for someone else's sake."
Gorakhnath inclined his head in acknowledgement. "A degree of humility," he repeated. "And an unusual degree of perspective." He nodded. "You understand this part enough, I think, for now. We shall discuss it in more detail later, but there are other, less evident, matters for you to understand."
And so Harry listened, occasionally intervening with questions. Some concepts came to him more easily than others: for instance, the ideas that nothing is permanent, and that Death is the ultimate reality, were quite readily accepted.
"One day, even the Phoenix will cease," Gorakhnath explained. "The universe itself will come to an end, perhaps to be born anew. But even if it is, what is born will be something new. Nothing is permanent. Nothing is eternal. It may seem as if it is, but it is not. This universe is a living thing. And like all living things, as it had a beginning, it will have an end."
"But it will have a new beginning," Harry said quietly.
Gorakhnath considered this, then nodded. "It will."
Harry nodded again, apparently keeping any further thoughts to himself. Gorakhnath, after a moment of waiting to see if Harry would reply, carried on.
The edited highlights of what followed included concepts such as the cosmos being 'headless'. That was to say, it was created, but not controlled, by Brahman. Harry had arched a sceptical eyebrow at this, and after clarifying that Brahman (the creator) and Brahma (part of the Trimurti, and a distant cousin of his, one of many) were two very different beings who happened to have very similar names, had brought up Eternity.
"I saw him. And by saw, I mean, Saw, with my Sight, when I was travelling through the Bifrost."
"I am sure you did," Gorakhnath said calmly. "And I have no doubt that it was an impactful experience."
"It was," Harry said quietly. The Sight itself had been extraordinary, but with all he'd experienced since, what he'd seen, what he'd done – such as stitching the universe, stitching Eternity himself, back together – it carried even more resonance.
"Then you should understand that Eternity embodies the universe. He did not create it, nor does he control it," Gorakhnath said. "Your mother, for instance, is Shakti, who you know as the Phoenix, and Destruction. A whisper of Her presence is in every act of destruction, just as it is present in every act of creation. Where there are flames, you will find the Phoenix. But this does not mean that She controls every fire, or wills every single such act. Embodiment and control – they are far from the same thing."
"A little like my own Phoenix fragment," Harry said thoughtfully. "I… it's part of me. But I haven't always been able to control it. Sometimes, it's acted on its own. Like when I died, and it brought me back."
Gorakhnath considered this. "Yes," he said. "And then again, no." At Harry's questioning look, he elaborated. "To my understanding, your fragment indeed resurrected you, and has acted to defend you on other occasions. But on all but one of those occasions, the evidence would suggest that it was primarily your mother's means of acting through you. It was still under control, even if that control was not yours."
"All but one?" Harry asked, eyebrow raised.
"The second time you first faced the creature Voldemort," Gorakhnath said, a certain distaste in his tone. "The first you truly remember, when he possessed another. Strange told me the details, details he learned from Albus."
"You know Professor Dumbledore?" Harry asked, intrigued.
"In passing," Gorakhnath confirmed. "We have some mutual friends, and some mutual interests, which we have corresponded about." He shook his head. "In any case, I sensed the flicker of Shakti's power, the Phoenix, when the protection within you acted, burning Voldemort's host to death." His expression softened a little as Harry looked troubled. "He would not have been likely to survive the encounter, in any case – if your protection had not destroyed him, then it is likely that his master would, devouring his strength to flee. However, the question remains: did your mother act through your protection, or did it react by itself?" He considered this, then shrugged. "I do not know. Arguments could be made either way, and could not be confirmed without asking your mother – something that is impossible at this time. But the essence is that your comparison is both partially correct, yet also partially incorrect."
Harry frowned, but nodded. "So, in your view, the universe was created, but not controlled," he said. "It essentially does its own thing."
"Essentially," Gorakhnath said dryly. "Yes."
As Harry and Hermione were both being tutored, this left Ron Weasley, the last member of their traditional trio, all by himself. As he somewhat sourly reflected, this had been an increasingly common state of affairs over the last few months. Harry had returned after Easter with some new and very strange powers that he'd spent a lot of time being trained in. Then, HYDRA had attacked, and Harry had left school early, albeit for understandable reasons. After that, he hadn't seen either Harry or Hermione over the summer (though he had to admit that that was at least partly because his mother had been determined to not let him, or any of her children, out of her sight if at all possible), and Harry had then taken most of a month to come back.
When he had come back, he hadn't exactly been the best of company, being distant at the best of times, downright frightening at the worst, and unwilling to talk more than briefly to anyone. Again, there were very understandable reasons for this, and Ron sincerely hoped that he never went through anything like what Harry had.
Yet even after Harry had mellowed out somewhat, and opened up a little, it just wasn't the same. Harry had freely admitted this, and noted that Ron had changed as well – a point that Ron had to concede. He had also admitted that not only could he not tell Ron everything, but that he was a truly excellent liar. This claim was one that Ron would once have scoffed at. Now, though, he believed it.
This rankled a little, more so because there was one person that Ron very strongly suspected that Harry didn't keep a single secret from, or lie to: his girlfriend, Carol Danvers. Perhaps that was because he couldn't (Ron wasn't entirely sure about the exact mechanics of their connection), but once… once, Ron was the one that Harry had trusted, confided in, and told everything, even more than Hermione.
Speaking of Hermione, while there were all the new lessons Harry was having, with Doctor Strange, Lady Braddock, Magneto, and currently, some Indian bloke who was so old he'd taught Strange himself, Hermione was having lessons to. First, they'd been with Loki, now they were Wanda Maximoff, the Sorceress Supreme herself. Now, again, Ron would grudgingly concede that there was reason for this: he'd seen Hermione's chaos magic flare out of control, and the expression on Ms Maximoff's face when it had. Plus, he'd heard Ms Maximoff's story, almost everyone had. So, she probably needed those lessons at least.
But not being picked out rankled a little too; after all, Loki hadn't picked Hermione out because she needed training in chaos magic, because she hadn't had it then, and that certainly wasn't why he'd picked out the twins. That bothered Ron a bit too, even with Thor commenting that Ron was more like him, and commendations of his talents as a strategist.
Sure, he was getting training from Professor Cassidy, but that was just in muggle fighting. Granted, it was useful, and potentially very effective, as Sergeant Barnes – now Harry's ever-present shadow – had demonstrated, and it also gave him something to do while Harry and Hermione weren't around. This was something he was both glad of, and resentful of.
On the one hand, he didn't want to have to sit around thinking about them not being around. On the other, he missed them all just being mates, like they'd used to be. And when he got down to it, muggle-fighting wasn't really special. Unusual, certainly, especially where wizards were concerned. But the fact was that anyone could learn it – and to add insult to injury, Harry already had, apparently effortlessly, showing little to no sign of the aches and pains that he, Ron, had to deal with.
Right now, Ron thought as he brooded over a butterbeer, the only real advantage he had over Harry and Hermione was that apparently, Wisdom, his second in command, and Lady Braddock were all needed elsewhere most of the time. This mean that Cassidy was now effectively in charge of MI13's business in Hogsmeade and around Hogwarts on a day to day basis, and while he could squeeze in an hour of teaching of an evening every few days, he usually needed to be in Hogsmeade itself.
That Ron had to come to him, meaning extra Hogsmeade visits – and, on a surprising suggestion from the Twins, a steady income buying things for other students while he was there. In any case, since Hagrid was both Gamekeeper and often a patron of the Three Broomsticks and the Hog's Head, he was the logical choice to escort Ron back and forth, meaning that Ron sometimes got to visit at least one of the two pubs.
Now, he was in the Three Broomsticks, which was full to bursting with people and creatures drawn by the literal mountain of Vibranium and mithril, from which protruded a silver-white spire, a university in the making. There were witches and wizards from all around the world, bothwanded and wandless, the latter in increasing numbers following the end of their war with the Red Court of Vampires, all of whom had supposedly been wiped out in one night.There were also loads of muggles, distinguishable by dress sense, use of technology, and by how even the most serious and hard-bitten looking of them kept shooting looks of poorly disguised awe and astonishment at their surroundings.
Most of them, Ron guessed, were working for MI13 and SHIELD, but not all – there were a number from what Ron suspected were other parts of the Muggle government, some who he later realised had to be Wakandan, and a mixture of other accents, only a few of which Ron recognised.It didn't take a genius to spot the frictions, either, with a number of individuals on both sides being somewhat uncomfortable by this new arrangement.
Separate to either, there were rowdy dwarves, suspicious goblins, inhumanly beautiful men and women who Ron had first assumed were Veela – or at least part Veela – until Hagrid had explained that they were Sidhe ("An' bloody dangerous they are too. Keep 'em where you can see 'em, don' trust a word they say, an' don' insult 'em if yer want to live."), and one or two who might just have been Asgardians. Whatever the case, the world – perhaps even several worlds – seemed to have come to the newly reconstructed Hogsmeade.
Once, Ron would have been interested, swapping explanations with Harry and Hermione about who (or perhaps more pertinently, what) they were looking at. Right now, though, he wasn't, instead staring somewhat sourly at his drink. Accordingly, he barely noticed the young wizard who sat down opposite him, only briefly glancing up.
"You mind if I sit here?" the wizard asked, before smiling wryly. "It's not like there's much room to spare, so…"
Ron shrugged. "Go ahead, mate," he said.
The wizard nodded his thanks and sat down with a sigh of significant relief. "Long day," he explained. "Fascinating, but long. Everyone wants a look at that new mountain, and at what's left of the dragon that made it, but MI13 aren't exactly letting just anyone see either. And half the world's come to have a look, of course, so they're swamped."
Ron made a non-commital noise.
"I have to admit, though," the wizard said. "I didn't expect to see a student down here. You'd be one of the Weasleys, I'm guessing?"
Ron looked up sharply. "How do you know?" he asked, eyes narrowed.
The wizard grinned. "You're a Hogwarts student, a Gryffindor, with bright red hair," he said. "It wasn't that hard to guess." Then, he shrugged. "And I met your parents in passing, years ago. I can see them in you."
Ron's eyes remained suspiciously narrow, unsure of what to make of this stranger. "Who are you, then?" he asked.
"Adam Black," the stranger replied.
"Like Sirius Black?" Ron asked, eyebrow raised.
Black's lips quirked into a smile, as if amused by a joke that only he knew. "Probably only very distantly," he said. "If that." He cocked his head and regarded Ron thoughtfully. "You know, you're the only Hogwarts student I've seen down here, and I think it's a bit early in the term to be a Hogsmeade weekend. What are you doing down here?"
"None of your business," Ron snapped.
"Then you won't mind if I go and ask that Hagrid fellow, or Madam Rosmerta," Black said, sounding mildly amused and not at all offended by Ron's bluntness. "They'll probably want to know the same thing."
Ron glared at his increasingly unwanted companion. "They already know," he said eventually. "I'm learning from Professor Cassidy. He's based in Hogsmeade, and…"
"Hagrid – the gamekeeper, isn't he? – takes you back and forth," Black said, nodding his understanding, before regarding Ron with renewed interest. "You're being trained by Sean Cassidy himself, are you? You must be something special if that's the case."
Ron shook his head. "I'm not special," he said. "My friends are special, but I'm not."
Black raised a sceptical eyebrow. "You are being trained by one of the powerful men in a very powerful organisation, Mr Weasley," he said. "One chosen to command possibly the single most valuable magical resource on the planet, and liaise with Dumbledore himself."
As he spoke, Ron noted the strange emphasis on Dumbledore's name, almost a hiss. Awe, maybe? Most people were like that with Dumbledore – hell, even Harry sometimes got like that with Dumbledore.
"And yet he takes time out of his very busy schedule to train you," Black continued. "If you don't believe that you are special, I don't think you realise what you have."
Ron frowned, but not out of irritation this time. "What do you mean?" he asked carefully.
"I think you know," Black said shrewdly. "You've caught the eye of Sean Cassidy, and I doubt his superiors have missed that. You're well set to succeed at MI13, if you want to. A lot of wizards don't think much of it, not matter how scared they are of Wisdom."
Once again, Ron noticed a strange emphasis on a name, though this time it was more of a sneer.
"You've met him before?" he asked suddenly. "Wisdom, I mean."
"Oh, years ago," Black said vaguely. "I must say, I never thought that he would amount to much. He was passionate, and driven to the point of obsession, but ultimately… I felt that he was weak." He frowned slightly, the first sign he'd shown of irritation. "It would seem that I underestimated him."
His gaze slid back to Ron, and his dark eyes gleamed with interest.
"You have that same drive," he said. "I know why. You also have that same power, hidden, overlooked by everyone, including yourself, power that you have only touched the surface of."
"Look, whatever you think I am, mate, I don't care," Ron said, standing up and turning to go. "I'm not interested."
"Not even if it might lead you to the Winter Soldier?"
Ron froze. "He's dead," he said, without looking around.
"Is he?" Black asked, eyebrow raised.
"The Avengers killed him," Ron said numbly, half-turning, face pale as bone and freckles standing out like soil on snow. "There was a body and everything."
"The Winter Soldier spent seventy years surviving every weapon and warrior the magical and muggle worlds could bring to bear," Black said. "He was a master of deception, a teacher of the Black Widow herself. HYDRA, meanwhile, managed to hide even from the eyes of Asgard itself. Some of their leaders, Lucius Malfoy among them, escaped London and have yet to be found. There was a body, but creating a decoy would be easy – find a corpse approximately the right size, use a little transfiguration, destroy any inconvenient identifying features like, oh, the wrong face… and on a battlefield like that, there would be no shortage, many already mangled."
Ron's face creased with doubt as Black's intense stare pinned him in place.
"With all that in mind," the older man said. "Is it so unbelievable that the Winter Soldier escaped? Even if it wasn't HYDRA, his older masters appeared soon after, powerful enough to do all sorts of impossible things… perhaps they took the opportunity."
"SHIELD, and the Avengers, they found them," Ron said unsteadily. "Both of them; HYDRA, and those Russian bastards, the Red Room."
"Not all of them," Black countered. "The Avengers are remarkable, yes, but they are only a few, and they do not have time to dedicate to searching exclusively for HYDRA. SHIELD, meanwhile, were crippled by HYDRA, and still rebuilding. MI13 are also rebuilding, though more quickly than SHIELD. Both SHIELD and MI13 would no doubt welcome you with open arms, and you might think that they would be the best places to hunt for HYDRA, or even the Winter Soldier, if he still lives. But they would consider you too young, for many years to come. MI13 seek to control Magical Britain, and they will spend decades doing that – you would never be allowed to even begin your search. SHIELD, meanwhile, have enemies everywhere, and problems aplenty. Unless HYDRA re-emerged the way they did last year, they would be unlikely to devote much time or energy to searching for them."
"They'll be back, though," Ron said, folding his arms. "They said Voldemort wouldn't be, but he is now, isn't he?"
Black smiled. "He is," he said. "Despite what many want to think. But even then, he was gone for over a decade. The Winter Soldier vanished for decades at a time. And as for HYDRA, after their last great rise to power and last great defeat, they spent over sixty years skulking in the shadows. How long are you prepared to wait?"
As Ron mulled this over in silence, Black carried on, voice smooth as honey and unrelenting as a tidal wave.
"And even if the Winter Soldier did die," he said. "Death is a mutable state. Your friend Harry is proof enough of that. So is his father."
"But Harry's…" Ron began, before trailing off, not quite sure how to explain Harry's unique circumstances.
"Special?" Black suggested, then smiled ironically. "So I've heard. And his father is a god, after all. But they're not the only ones. Lord Voldemort is supposed to be dead, nothing but a spirit, but you know better – he has returned, greater and more terrible than ever before. MI13 have an assassin on their payroll, one who was killed by the Winter Soldier and resurrected by muggle technology and complex magic. And Harry Dresden, Warden of the White Council, Apprentice to the Sorceress Supreme, was resurrected by Doctor Strange himself."
"How do you know all that?" Ron asked, half astonished, half suspicious.
"Well, Voldemort's state, if you assume he survived to begin with, was no great secret," Black said. "As for Dresden, that was a matter of deduction. I had heard stories about how he fought the necromancer Gravemoss under Paris, and saw pictures of the blast he unleashed. A few calculations about the power requirements led me to the conclusion that, even as powerful as he is, Dresden had to use his Death Curse. As for who brought him back, well, considering that he was chosen to be Wanda Maximoff's apprentice and, ah… partner, shortly after, I'd say it was obvious. Strange thought he was important, unlike many other victims of that particular war." He met Ron's gaze. "Including your father."
Ron tried to ignore the stab of pain, swallowing. "And the MI13 bloke?" he managed.
Black smiled. "That is another matter," he said. "Those are just some of the most prominent examples. Wandless necromancers have used powerful magic to return from the dead; in the case of Heinrich Kemmler, repeatedly. All that is required is power, knowledge, and patience." He leaned forward. "And with those, Mr Weasley… even death can be defeated."
Ron found that he was now sitting back down again, though he had no memory of consciously deciding to do so. "What are you getting at?" he asked cautiously. "And why are you telling me all this, in public? I'd imagine it's pretty secret."
Black's nostrils flared a little, something largely concealed by the wide smile that sliced its way across his face. "First of all, I ensured that we wouldn't be heard before this conversation began," he said. "Secondly, what I'm getting at is that those you think are dead… may not be. Those who should be dead… aren't. Those who are dead… don't have to stay that way. Together, Mr Weasley, we can rectify those things. We can make them right."
Ron swallowed, his hands locking onto the table just to keep himself upright, a million thoughts pouring through his mind all at once. Unaware, tears began to roll down his pale cheeks.
"You really think so?" he croaked.
"I do not think, Mr Weasley. I know," Black said, before standing up. "You are not the only one to have suffered at the hands of the Winter Soldier and his allies. I am not alone in my cause, and you don't have to be either," he said. "With us, you would not be constrained by the goals and plots of the likes of Wisdom and Fury."
He handed Ron a folded slip of paper, which nicked Ron's finger as he took it. Swearing under his breath, he opened it to see a symbol, like a figure of eight laid on its side.
"How to contact me," Black explained. "It will stay on your person, so you won't lose it, nor will it be damaged by water or fire. If you have questions, press thumb of your wand hand against the symbol. It will contact me." He reached into a pocket and pulled out a white card with the same image. "And I will answer."
"What if I decide don't want your help?" Ron asked.
Black smiled. "Then, Mr Weasley, all you have to do is tear it up, and you will never hear from me again. The decision… is yours."
Ron nodded slowly, before looking down at the red-splotched piece of paper. When he looked up again, a few moments later, Black was gone.
The rest was a little more esoteric, and dealt with the concept of transcendence. It was also rather harder for Harry to accept.
The idea of transcending one's physical form was one Harry was familiar with, primarily through his experiments in astral projection – experiments initially driven by instinct, latterly by necessity. This was not to say that he liked it very much.
What he liked even less was the idea of abandoning his body entirely.
Gorakhnath seemed to have been expecting this, as he bore Harry's instinctive revulsion with calm patience.
"Does your body define you?" he asked. "If you lost the streak of white in your hair, the scars on your head and your heart, would that mean you had lost part of who you are? You have lost an arm, an eye, and considerably more, and grown them anew. That did not faze you, yet this does. Why is that?"
Harry eyed him in disbelief. "I'd say it did faze me, all things considered," he said.
"Your rage and your pain was, I believe, mainly caused by what had happened to you," Gorakhnath said, before his voice softened. "And what happened to you was terrible. But has your new arm, your new eye, and your new left side, left you feeling like you are a lesser, or a different, person to the one you were before?" He raised a finger before Harry could reply. "And by different, I mean in terms of your physical body, not in terms of the experiences that resulted in that change, because they most certainly changed you."
Harry opened his mouth, before grudgingly closing it. "No," he said eventually. "But I hadn't really thought about it. And…" He was silent for a long time. "That was part of me. It wasn't all of me. Those scars… they aren't who I am. But they are part of my past."
"Would you lose that past if you lost them?" Gorakhnath asked.
"No," Harry said. "And… yes. They're a reminder. A reminder of what I've been through, what I've survived. And even if, when, I lose everything else, to have something, because it's mine."
"And you feel you need that reminder, that security," Gorakhnath said, and nodded, apparently unperturbed. When Harry looked a little surprised, he shrugged. "I had expected it. Your experiences with astral travel, separating your mind and body, have frequently been either violent or unexpected, and often both. In addition, you have had many close brushes with death, some that were more than mere brushes. I believe that you associate your mind, your soul, being tied to your body with living, and consequently, you associate departing it with death. Like a sailor in storm-tossed seas, you cling to wreckage because you fear that if you do not, you will drown."
"I have a lot to live for," Harry said. "Even if I haven't always thought that way. I'd die, if I thought I had to, if it was to save somebody else."
"But not without cause."
"No. And for the most part, because I'm pretty likely to come back."
Gorakhnath nodded. "This is only to be expected, I suppose," he said. "The instinct is understandable, even logical, because in the vast majority of cases, it is true. Separating body and mind does usually mean death. While you are an exception, your instincts do not know that, and their certainty has been reinforced. As a result of that, and your nature, I also believe that you will instinctively reject my next teaching."
He was not entirely wrong. The next lesson was about emotional detachment. A subject which, needless to say, Harry was not inclined to react well to. So it was perhaps a mark of how far he had come that he listened in silence. Sceptical, suspicious, and displeased silence, but silence all the same.
Yet it was not quite as he had initially feared, much less expected. Gorakhnath's first remark was that sorrow and joy, pain and pleasure… all were matters of perspective. Mostly this just puzzled Harry, who mercifully did not share his immediate thoughts about Dementors, BDSM, and mixing the two. However, once it was explained to him – namely, that they were each and all temporary. 'This too shall pass' was something that the ancient guru apparently took very literally.
"Emotions as you understand them are products of the body," Gorakhnath said. "Many of my students have immediately assumed as you have: that detaching yourself from your body means losing those emotions. No longer feeling, no longer caring… you are young, passionate and compassionate in equal measure, with the fire of your ancestors in your veins, and a remarkable amount of love in your heart. You are clever and cunning, but you trust in your intuition, about people, powers, and plans alike. Naturally, the very idea repulses you."
Harry paused, considered this, then shrugged, conceding the point.
"You should, then, be glad to hear that this is not the case," Gorakhnath continued. "The detachment I speak of means that you are no longer a slave to your emotions. You may consider them objectively. But, and I must make this very clear… they are still there."
Harry frowned, this time it was more thoughtful than before. "So, I'd still care," he said.
"As much as you did before, and more," Gorakhnath confirmed. "You would also, I think, still have favourites." His eyes twinkled as Harry blushed, before he continued. "I, and those like me, believe that someone who has true compassion and empathy does not need rules, commandments, or lessons in morals. According to Strange, you, by contrast, surround yourself with rules when it comes to your psychic abilities, because you fear the consequences if you do not."
"Do you have a problem with that?" Harry asked, more snappishly than he'd intended, as he mulled over an uneasy thought: if truly good men did not need rules, what did it say about him that he needed so many?
Gorakhnath considered this gravely. "No," he said eventually. "I would not say that I do. In fact, I would consider your self-imposed restrictions a mark of your good character, and an important stepping stone. After all, while they are restrictions, they are ones you instinctively knew to choose. This, in turn, reflects the instinctive understanding you have of what is right and what is wrong. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is rather promising… as far as beginnings go."
Harry was rather taken aback by this, but not displeased. "But you – and others like you - don't feel you need rules," he said. "Why not?"
"Because we have a perspective that those bound to the physical plane do not," Gorakhnath said. "Examples can be found in your own life, experiences that you may have heard of, for even those bound to the physical plane can have a taste of it."
He swept a hand in a half-circle, and suddenly, all around them was a canvas of darkness, on which glittered countless millions of stars. And below was something vast, yet minuscule, something mighty, yet also so unbelievably fragile, and above all… achingly beautiful.
The Earth. A blue gem hanging in the void below and before them, utterly spellbinding. It was a sight Harry had seen before. That he noted in passing, meant that this was either a very convincing illusion, or the real thing, in which case Gorakhnath was even more powerful than he'd realised. It was a sight he recognised. But it was not, he realised, one he had really had a chance to enjoy.
"Modern science calls it the Overview Effect," Gorakhnath said softly. "Experienced by space-travellers of all kinds. They travel so far above, and when they look down upon the Earth, they realise just how much of a miracle the world they call home really is, and how meaningless all divisions of humanity – race, gender, religion, politics, even subspecies – truly are. They see the truth, if only a glimpse."
He swept his hand back, and they were back where they had been sitting, as if they had never moved. Perhaps they hadn't, Harry couldn't tell.
"Another example is someone you are rather familiar with," Gorakhnath continued. "A cousin of yours, who died thousands of years ago, and who has recently been a source of counsel to you regarding the matter of the Phoenix."
Harry looked up sharply. "Joshua," he said. "Well. Jesus, I suppose."
Gorakhnath nodded. "He has long since transcended his physical body," he said. "What would you say of him? Does he not feel? Does he not care?"
As he spoke, Harry found memories bursting forth of his first meeting with his cousin, when he had reached out with his psychic senses and felt… love. Such overwhelming, extraordinary, compassionate love.
"Of course he does," Gorakhnath said softly. "As I do, and others like us." His lips quirked into a smile. "Though I must say, he has made it into an art form." The smile faded. "There is another experience I could share with you, that of samadhi, of oneness with the cosmos. But I think that should wait. You have enough to take in already, I think, and there is still more for me to teach you today."
Harry did indeed have a lot to consider, and mulled over this carefully.
"I see your point," he said eventually. "But…"
Gorakhnath smiled faintly. "Ah. And now we come to the 'but'," he said. "Do not fear. These things take time. Truly grasping such concepts is the work of years, if not decades. And that is only the beginning of the path. It is not merely some technique you can replicate, but something that you must comprehend, that every part of you must truly accept. For now, I am more than satisfied with your progress, as far as intellectual understanding goes…" He regarded Harry, and nodded thoughtfully. "And on other levels, too."
Harry nodded. "Thank you," he said quietly, before frowning. "But –"
Gorakhnath's expression quirked in amusement. "Another one?"
"Another one," Harry echoed dryly. "But if being detached from your body means being detached from your emotions, why do you have creatures like the Shadow King, a spirit-monster, or, well, Surtur? They aren't physical, after all."
"It is a fair question," Gorakhnath admitted. "Though you speak of two different creatures. The Shadow King is a parasite, one that was never mortal, one which feeds off human vice and cruelty, indulging itself in the physical and non-physical worlds at the expense of others. Surtur, by contrast, was once mortal. I do not claim great insight of him, his experiences, or the nature of his transformation. While I know much of the Phoenix, he is a subject she has never wished to discuss."
"I can understand that," Harry muttered.
"However, I believe the answer is simple enough," Gorakhnath continued. "Though there are two options. The first is that detachment from physical form does not necessarily mean achieving enlightenment. Ghosts are a primary example of this, and it is quite possible that Surtur is one such being, driven by the same compulsions that drove him in life. Or, as I have said, detachment from emotions does not mean total separation from them. They are still there. So even if he had achieved a kind of enlightenment, as you would still care, as Joshua does, and indeed as I do…"
"Surtur could still hate," Harry said softly. "He could still think he's right."
"In simplest terms? Yes."
Harry nodded slowly. He had a lot to think about.
That evening, the three friends were sat in the Gryffindor Common Room. While they were all in their usual chairs, they seemed to have exchanged their usual poses.
Ron stared into the fire with a brooding expression, apparently ignoring the outside world, something that had increasingly been a habit of Harry's.
Harry, by contrast, was examining his notes and a couple of reference books, occasionally adding a few words here and there while muttering under his breath, and sometimes replying distractedly to any comments made – behaviour more usually associated with Hermione.
And Hermione herself was without book or notes anywhere near her, and like Ron normally did, doing most of the talking. That being said, the subject (a lesson) was well in her usual territory.
"… and Ms Maximoff said that while probability manipulation, magical or otherwise, had rules and limits, chaos magic doesn't, except for how much you can manage and the rules that you put on it," she said.
Harry looked up, frowning thoughtfully. "That sounds a little like something Gorakhnath said," he remarked. "He… well, a few weeks ago, I decided that there wasn't any justice, or anything like that in the universe, not when you get right down to it." He smiled wryly. "So I told dad that I was going to try and make some. Anyway, that came up, and he agreed. According to him, the universe is in a constant state of, well, Chaos. There's no constant, perpetual order or balance, because things are always changing. As a result, there's no universal sense of justice, because that kind of justice implies Order."
"Really?" Hermione asked, sounding intrigued.
"Yep. The cosmos is chaos," Harry said. "It was an interesting lesson. Definitely not what I expected. I didn't agree with all the philosophy, and he made it pretty clear that he didn't expect me to. Apparently a lot of these 'cosmic truths' take decades to understand."
"Not all of us have decades," Hermione said dryly.
Harry raised an eyebrow. "You do," he said. "Wanded witches and wizards routinely live up to two hundred. Wandless practitioners, which you technically are, live up to four hundred or more."
"True," Hermione admitted. "But understanding chaos magic – without quite literally going insane in the process and wreaking untold havoc – sometimes seems like it'll take most of them."
Harry made a face. "Believe me, I am very familiar with that feeling," he said dryly.
Hermione smiled wryly in acknowledgement, then sighed. "I just wish there were rules to it," she lamented. "Theory I could learn, that sort of thing, something more concrete."
"I'll swap you," Harry said.
"I thought that Phoenix was…"
"'Don't think, feel'?"
"Yes. Also, was that a Star Wars quote?"
"Carol is a bad influence."
"Ah," Hermione said, a little amused. "But there are rules?"
"To go with the philosophy, yes," Harry said. "Well. Concepts, really. They're not exactly rules, but they're close enough. Gorakhnath has plenty of key concepts for me to learn, to get to grips with the whole Phoenix thing – and psychic powers more generally. The entire lesson was about theory, really. Less 'how', more 'why'."
Hermione sighed. "I wish I'd had that opportunity," she said. "Hogwarts' curriculum is very good, but other than Defence Against the Dark Arts these days, it doesn't really delve into the theory of magic – or anything from outside of Europe at all, come to that. What I've read of some of the Yogic teachings is fascinating; filtering out the mistakes and misinterpretations, even what little I could find offered an extraordinarily different perspective on magic. Psychic powers too, or so I'd assume – there was a lot more emphasis on the mental arts. To learn from an expert, someone who taught Doctor Strange himself…"
"That was my experience, more or less," Harry said. "You can borrow my notes later." He eyed her. "Was yours all practical?"
"Not entirely," Hermione said. "Ms Maximoff had a lot to explain first, but after, yes."
Harry took in her determined scowl, and raised an eyebrow. "Somehow, I find myself pitying the chaos magic," he said, then smirked. "So, no more unexpected whales?"
"Orca whales are a type of dolphin," Hermione sniffed. "And no."
"I'm almost disappointed," Harry murmured, getting two rolled eyes for his trouble. "How was your day, Ron?"
"Hmm?" Ron mumbled, without looking up.
"Your day. How was it?" Harry repeated.
Ron shrugged. "Not bad," he said. "Not particularly interesting. Trained with Professor Cassidy, had a butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks and…" He trailed off, before shrugging again. "That was it, really." He looked up at Harry. "Want to play chess?"
"Sure," Harry said, handing Hermione his notes, which she pounced on like Crookshanks on an illegal animagus.
"Promise not to read my mind?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "Of course I won't," he said, summoning the chess set. "Besides, you'd probably beat me anyway."
Ron grinned. "Yeah, but it would give you a chance."
Harry rolled his eyes again. "Let's just get on with my inevitable defeat, okay?"
With that, everything was back to normal, or so it seemed. But what seems is so often merely an illusion.
And the world is not always kind to illusions.
And that, my friends, is where this particular instalment ends. I honestly have no idea when the next one will be, but I hope it is quicker than this one was. I'm still sorting out my composition of the next few chapters, including the Clark arc, but that will be coming either soon, or very, very soon.
Oh, and if the identity of 'Adam Black' is blatantly obvious, it's because it's meant to be… to you, the reader. It's a kind of Dramatic Irony, because Ron, naturally, has no idea, for a number of reasons which have nothing to do with intelligence or lack of it (to head off the inevitable questions). The most prominent reason is that he lacks our perspective, along with others beyond his control. Others still include his being proud, stubborn, and on certain matters, prone to tunnel vision. More to the point, he hasn't learned that the light at the end is quite often an oncoming train…