A Sensational Story
Author's Notes: Apologies for the delay – real life happened. I hope you enjoy reading this chapter as much as I enjoyed writing it.
As always, massive thanks to White Squirrel for beta-reading this chapter.
Disclaimer: Recognisable portions in this chapter have been taken from the Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling. I neither own nor intend to make any profit from the use of Harry Potter and the associated characters of the series, in my story.
Chapter 5: Flitwick
The Whomping Willow
'Uh oh,' muttered Harry as soon as Professor Flitwick read the chapter name out loud.
'Didn't you hear? It's the Whomping Willow he's going to read about.'
Ron turned a nasty shade of green at those words – he was still queasy over the whole issue.
'He was looking forward to getting back to Hogwarts, but his month at the Burrow had been the happiest of his life.'
'At that time, yeah,' said Harry in agreement. As much as he loved Hogwarts, that month at the Burrow had been the only truly carefree time in his life up to that point.
'It took a long while to get started next morning. They were up at cock-crow, but somehow they still seemed to have a great deal to do.'
'You know, I think I've forgotten this,' said Harry, turning to the Weasleys seated next to him. 'How far is King's Cross from your place?'
'Erm…' said Ron.
'Well…' began Fred.
'Hmm…' continued George.
'Around three hours,' said Ginny.
The three Weasley brothers turned towards their sister with astonished expressions.
'And you know this – how?' queried Fred.
'Because apparently, Ginny is the only one of you who pays attention,' Hermione cut in.
'Well, it was really because…' Ginny said, and to their increasing surprise, she blushed. 'Well, it was because I would keep track of how much time I had left to spend with my brothers before they went off to Hogwarts each year. At least, before I came here myself, of course.'
She said all of this in a rush – and a good thing, too, for the Weasley boys suddenly seemed uncomfortable and embarrassed. For his part, Harry felt relieved that the blush wasn't because she counted down the hours before she could see him.
'Why did you ask, Harry?' asked Parvati.
'Just wondering why we needed to get up so early that year,' he replied. 'Suppose it was good, in a way.'
Harry's apprehension for Mr Weasley's brush with the law only grew as Flitwick continued the narration of the modifications made to the small Ford Anglia. He knew there had been an inquiry, but that was only about the flying part, as far as he knew. Would the Invisibility Booster or the Extension Charms be enough for Madam Bones to take a second look? Even the conversation between Mr and Mrs Weasley regarding flying the car to King's Cross Station, which elicited chuckles and sniggers across the Hall, failed to generate more than a forced grimace from him. He noticed the Auror next to Madam Bones taking notes fervently as Flitwick progressed in his reading. He wondered if Parvati's argument – that the car had not been used by Mr Weasley for nefarious reasons – would still hold good, especially if they were to read the rest of that chapter.
The nearby sound of quill scratching against parchment caused Harry to look around: Hermione was writing something down very fast. He leaned over to read her latest set of notes.
Ginny shrieked that she'd left her diary – was it the same diary? Had she already started writing in it?
Harry looked up to meet Hermione's significant gaze, then glanced at Ginny; the mention of the diary had made her clench her jaw, and her expression harden slightly. He decided not to bring it up just then, but re-focused his attention on Flitwick, who was reading out the entrance of the Weasleys onto platform nine and three-quarters.
'He felt perfectly confident; this wasn't nearly as uncomfortable as using Floo powder.'
'I'm starting to think my thoughts are jinxed,' murmured Harry, but the students around him heard him quite clearly.
'Why's that?' asked Lavender.
'CRASH.' Flitwick had boomed out that word so loud half the students jumped out of their seats, while the others flinched visibly.
'Because of that,' finished Harry with a grimace.
'You couldn't get through the barrier?' asked Natalie incredulously, her eyes wide. 'How is that even possible?'
'Something tells me it was Dobby, wasn't it, Harry?' said Neville.
'Right in one, Nev.'
'Did you ask the Ministry wizards for help, then?' asked Lavender.
'The – wait, what?'
Everyone except Parvati swivelled around to look at Lavender. Even Hermione seemed startled to hear this. 'There are Ministry wizards present at King's Cross?' she asked.
Lavender gaped at her, and everyone else.
'Of course there are, didn't you know? There are usually a number of plain-clothed wizards to alter any Muggle memories, in case they've seen us entering or exiting the platform.'
'But then…' Harry trailed off, even as Hermione began asking more questions about these employees to Lavender and Parvati. If the Ministry employees had been there, why hadn't they helped him and Ron when they couldn't get into the barrier? Or had Dobby taken them out of the picture too?
He met Ron's eyes, and he knew they were both thinking of the same thing.
'Surely not…' said Ron uncertainly. 'Dobby wouldn't do that, would he?'
'Well, there was the Bludger that almost killed me,' began Harry.
'Yeah, but…' Ron did not continue, but looked a little uncomfortable.
'"Harry!" said Ron, his eyes gleaming. "The car!"'
'Oh dear,' said Hermione, shaking her sadly.
'"We can fly the car to Hogwarts!"'
'And that was where things started to go downhill,' Ron pointed out.
'At least now we know that it was your idea in the first place,' said Harry, but he was grinning.
Fred and George were beaming at Ron.
'Our ickle Ronniekins,' said Fred, placing his hand on his heart in an exaggerated manner.
'Deciding to fly the car to Hogwarts,' said George, wiping his eyes dramatically.
'Seems like we've been a good influence after all, Gred.'
'It's been worth our efforts, Forge.'
'We're so proud!' they chorused.
The rest of them giggled and sniggered, but Hermione shot them a chiding look – which, of course, they paid no heed to.
'…but for all he could see, he had become a pair of eyeballs, floating a few feet above the ground in a dingy street full of parked cars.'
'That is a creepy image,' said Colin Creevey, and there was nods and murmurs of agreement.
'Then there was a popping noise and the car, Harry, and Ron reappeared.'
'So that's why they were seen,' said Terry Boot. 'I remember reading the Daily Prophet the next morning – it had something about a flying car being spotted by Muggles, which didn't make sense if they had the Invisibility Booster, but now that we know it's faulty –'
'Do us a favour, Terry,' said Anthony Goldstein, 'and shut it.'
The description of their journey was, as it had been put quite cleverly, 'quite uneventful'. It took all of five minutes to finish, but after a day's continuous reading of chapters, the occupants of the Great Hall – Ministry employees included – were starting to feel the strain. Indeed, not much attention was paid to Flitwick's narration of their final approach towards Hogwarts Castle.
The listeners perked up, finally, at Flitwick's next lines.
'There was a loud clunk, a splutter, and the engine died completely.'
'Oh, crap,' said Colin, to the astonishment of those around him.
Flitwick was an excellent narrator, mused Harry; he paused in all the right places, and gave the most appropriate dramatic effects for the car's near misses with the castle. The listeners gasped appropriately too, and broke out into laughter at Ron's attempts to stop the car with his wand.
'"MIND THAT TREE!"'
Several people shrieked when Flitwick read out the 'CRUNCH', widened their eyes at the state of Ron's broken wand, and jumped as the narration continued with a description of the tree – which everyone now realised was the Whomping Willow – attacking the car with everything it had. Most of the Slytherins, however, were guffawing with laughter.
'Slimy gits,' muttered Ron darkly, glaring at Montague and Belby, who were clutching their sides.
'Harry, you didn't say you could do wandless magic,' whispered Hermione.
'You made the car reverse without using your wand,' she said. 'How did you do that?'
Harry stared at her. 'I don't think I did. I just told it to reverse, and it did on its own. The thing had a mind of its own – I mean, it threw us out, didn't it?' He felt a little disconcerted under her intent gaze. 'C'mon Hermione, it isn't a big deal.'
'But it is, Harry,' she said urgently. 'It takes a lot of concentration and skill to achieve wandless magic – only the most powerful wizards and witches can do it.'
Harry gaped at her; he was sure his mouth had fallen open in astonishment. Only the most powerful can do wandless magic – was that true? But then, all those times…
He turned to Ron, but his red-headed best friend was focusing on the story, where Flitwick had just started with a description of the Great Hall on their first day back that year. Harry tuned him out, instead focusing on what Hermione had said…
Was he capable of doing wandless magic? If he was, he should have repeated the feat in later years, right? There had to have been some incidents where he would have used wandless magic – there was no way he had consciously done this before. He racked his brains, trying to remember…
And then, it came to him…the summer before his third year, when he ran away from Privet Drive – he'd made the cupboard under the stairs burst open on its own as he reached it – he hadn't used his wand for that, had he? In fact, forget his wand not being with him, he hadn't even uttered the Unlocking Charm that time.
Wandless, and non-verbal…?
And then, another memory rose in his mind – from the previous summer, a time when he'd lost his wand, in the darkness of an alley in Little Whinging; he'd shouted 'Lumos!' without thinking, and his wand tip had lit, inches from his hand…
He looked around at Hermione once more; she was staring back at him as though she knew what he had been thinking about. Her eyes, however, betrayed her excitement over the matter.
'Oh, Harry,' she whispered.
Ron groaned when Flitwick read out their observation that Snape wasn't at the table.
'"Maybe he's ill!" said Ron hopefully.
'"Maybe he's left," said Harry, "because he missed out on the Defence Against the Dark Arts job again!"
'"Or he might have been sacked!" Ron said enthusiastically.'
'He's right behind you, isn't he?' said Neville.
There was an outbreak of general laughter as the narration introduced Snape, in his full vindictive glory, in his rejoinder to Harry and Ron's explanations for his absence from the staff table. Harry only half-heartedly listened to Flitwick as the Charms professor squeaked on about Snape taking them to his dungeon office and berating them for their antics.
Harry ignored them; his mind was a world away, a place where he was contemplating the possibility of actually being able to do wandless magic.
Could I do it?
Apart from Hermione, no one was paying him much attention – everyone in the Hall was focusing on Snape taunting the two boys, and then announcing his decision to 'fetch the people who do have that happy power.' He looked down at the table: a single, blank piece of parchment lay before him – probably a spare from Hermione's stack which she was using for note-taking. His wand was in his bag, where he'd stowed it in the morning before coming to the Great Hall.
He alternated glances between Hermione and the parchment before him, thinking…
No harm in trying.
He gave himself a mental shrug, gazed intently at the parchment, and, very quietly, murmured, 'Wingardium Leviosa.'
The parchment did not move.
The immediate feeling was one of disappointment – he had half-expected it to move. He looked up at Hermione, who shook her head.
Okay, try again.
'"Why didn't you send us a letter by owl? I believe you have an owl?" asked Professor McGonagall. You know, Minerva,' said Flitwick, looking up over the top of the book at the Headmistress, 'even an owl would have taken ages to reach us. I doubt Mr Potter and Mr Weasley would have waited that long.'
'No, they would not have,' agreed McGonagall, 'but it would have given enough time for Arthur and Molly to return to the Muggle world, and help the two students.'
'But if the barrier was blocked…' said Sprout.
'Surely it wouldn't have been sealed off in both directions,' said Vector. She looked at her colleagues. 'Would it?'
'We may never know,' said Dumbledore gently. 'Whoever blocked the barrier would probably have made sure that no one could come back and help Mr Potter and Mr Weasley – at least, that is my presumption.'
'But that would require an immense level of concentration, Albus,' said Babbling. 'Not to mention skill, and power.'
'Indeed,' said Dumbledore. 'However, I am quite sure – and I believe my memory serves me correctly – that it was not a wizard or a witch who blocked the barrier.'
'Then who – oh,' breathed Vector, her eyes wide, but she was the only one who understood. The other teachers were clueless, and neither Vector nor Dumbledore was willing to share; the latter only stating that it would be best to allow the story to proceed in its natural course. After a round of grumbling and glares directed towards the former Headmaster by the teachers, Flitwick continued.
Harry, meanwhile, had had no luck with the wandless Levitation Charm on the piece of parchment in front of him. He wondered if it was because it was a parchment, rather than the almost weightless feather Flitwick had had them first practice the charm upon in their first year; or if it was because he just didn't have the ability to do it.
But I have done it before, he thought to himself, as he stared at the parchment once more, his fists clenched tight under the table. I am perfectly capable of doing it.
'What, Hermione?' he almost snapped at her; she flinched slightly, but did not call him out on it.
'Maybe…maybe you should wave your hand over the parchment,' she suggested tentatively.
Harry regretted his outburst – she was only trying to help. Ignoring the frustration and hopelessness that was building up inside him, he tried to offer her a smile – probably more as a token of apology, and acceptance of her advice. She gave him a weak grin of her own, and he nodded.
Harry unclenched his right fist and brought it up over the parchment, his palm facing downwards. For a moment, he felt a little foolish – what a right sight he must be: as though he was blessing the parchment. He pushed all of those thoughts to the back of his mind, however, and focused.
'Wingardium Leviosa,' he whispered, and twirled his wrist slightly.
And the parchment lifted off the desk, hovering just below his outstretched palm, as though pulled to it by some invisible force, and yet repelled from it by a magnet.
'Oh my…' gasped Hermione, her eyes wide, her hands covering her open mouth. Harry was dimly impressed how she was able to contain her excitement over the entire thing.
'Here, what's Potter doing?'
Draco Malfoy, and several other Slytherins, followed Crabbe's gaze and looked over at the Gryffindor table across the Great Hall – and Draco's mouth fell open. Potter was holding up a piece of parchment with his hand, only that the parchment was floating in mid-air, without any support from below or above.
'What the –'
'Huh?' That was Goyle. Draco ignored him, still trying to process what he was seeing.
'"It will be for Professor McGonagall to decide on these boys' punishments, Severus," said Dumbledore calmly,' Flitwick read out; Draco ignored him too.
Potter was doing wandless magic! He was actually doing wandless magic – right in front of his eyes! But how? How was this even possible? There was no way Potter had so much skill or power…or did he? Draco craned his neck to look either side of Potter, but there didn't seem to be anyone who was pointing a wand at that parchment. A moment later, he realised how utterly ridiculous that would have looked in the first place: it made no sense to show off 'apparent' wandless magic skills in such a situation.
But that meant…
Potter lowered his hand; the parchment followed it, descending slowly until it landed on the table. He looked tired – Draco could see him panting slightly, but he was grinning.
Of course he was, thought Draco bitterly. Just another thing for him to show off and be famous for.
The blonde Slytherin scowled, instead refocusing his attention onto the tiny Charms professor.
'"I will not take any points from Gryffindor."'
'Bah,' grumbled Montague, 'such favouritism towards Potter!' He scowled up at the Headmistress. 'As if she'd do the same for us.'
'To be fair, Potter's argument was sound,' said Bole. 'Not that I'm supporting him, of course!' he added hastily, as Montague glared at him.
The rest of the chapter passed amiably enough, but a little too slow and too much for those in the Hall – indeed, by the time Flitwick reached the part describing Gryffindor House's enthusiastic welcome for Harry and Ron, everyone was eagerly awaiting the end of the chapter. When at last Flitwick read the last words of the chapter ('Harry couldn't help it. He grinned, too.') some of the students broke out into applause. Others laughed at the expression of relief by their peers, but the noise died down as McGonagall got to her feet.
'We have finished reading today's quota of five chapters,' she announced. 'Lunch will be served shortly, after which all students shall proceed to their classes for the afternoon. Schedules will be distributed to each House during lunch.'
The Hall erupted into a babble of talk, discussing what they had heard from the first five chapters of the second book, just as the house-elves sent their lunch up from the kitchens below.
After their lessons had ended for the day, Harry, Ron, and Hermione made their way to McGonagall's office – she was now occupying the office where Dumbledore had been, behind the stone gargoyle on the second floor of the castle. They were joined by Dumbledore, Snape, and Madam Bones.
Once they were inside, and settled in their chairs, Hermione began her speech: how the fourth chapter contained enough evidence to at least get Lucius Malfoy in for questioning, if not arrest him outright. Madam Bones, however, shot it down.
'We have made the same observations, Miss Granger,' she said, and Hermione turned red at the implied praise, 'but we have also concluded that we need more proof. We cannot move against Lucius Malfoy solely on these grounds – indeed, these may not even be valid grounds for questioning. To do so would be a legal nightmare, and a political suicide.'
Hermione's face fell slightly, but she nodded, nevertheless. 'Maybe we could get some more evidence in the next few chapters.'
'We certainly hope so,' said Dumbledore. Behind him, Snape let out a snort of amusement, but everyone ignored him.
'Speaking of evidence…' continued Madam Bones, her sharp gaze now trained upon Harry and Ron, 'you two are quite lucky that the flying car incident didn't make a huge mess at that time.'
Harry and Ron nodded shamefacedly; Harry could feel his cheeks burning in embarrassment.
'I will need to have a word with Arthur Weasley about those laws,' she said to the room at large. 'Some of those loopholes could be exploited quite easily and could result in dangerous situations.'
'You-you won't arrest him, will you?' asked Ron, a little fearfully.
Madam Bones looked at him, her monocle digging into her face as she frowned.
'No, we will not arrest him,' she said, and Harry could feel Ron sagging in relief. 'An inquiry has already been conducted and concluded – I see no reason for any further investigation.'
The office was silent for a few moments. Harry saw the portraits of the former Heads of Hogwarts looking on interestedly. Phineas Nigellus had quite a curious expression on his face.
'Well, if that is all, Miss Granger, you may proceed to the Great Hall for dinner,' said McGonagall. Hermione nodded, but before she could turn around, Harry spoke.
'Actually, Professor, there are a couple of things I wanted to talk about.'
Professor McGonagall threw him an inquisitive look, but said nothing. Harry took this as an indication of assent, and continued.
'I think the Ministry sent those Dementors after me last summer.'
Silence greeted that rather astonishing statement. Madam Bones was frowning at him, but McGonagall looked shocked. Even Dumbledore, calm and collected as he generally was, seemed rather disturbed by this. Harry didn't look round at Ron and Hermione – he knew they were gaping at him.
Only Snape wasn't affected by Harry's announcement; he let out a snort, and said, 'Potter, don't make up such nonsense –'
'It isn't nonsense, Professor,' said Harry, cutting across the Deputy Headmaster and silencing him. Snape glared at him, but Harry didn't bat an eyelid. His gaze moved over to Madam Bones, whose forehead was still creased.
'What makes you say so, Mr Potter?' she asked.
'The Ministry's attitude, actually,' said Harry rather unapologetically, even if he was speaking to the Director of the DMLE. 'Fudge and Umbridge have been trying to discredit me ever since Voldemort's return. What better way to do it than to make sure I had to cast magic in a Muggle neighbourhood?'
Madam Bones' visage turned thoughtful; beside Harry, Hermione let out a soft 'Oh!' Ron, however, looked confused.
'And,' continued Harry, 'During my trial, Umbridge was the one who suggested that we were insinuating a Ministry-ordered attack on me. I don't think anyone refuted that claim.'
Dumbledore was nodding along in affirmation of these words. He, too, remembered Dolores Umbridge voicing that allegation, but it was never pursued. He had instead thought of trying to convince Cornelius that Voldemort had indeed returned, using the Dementor attack as proof that someone else was probably leading them.
'It certainly seems plausible, Mr Potter,' said Madam Bones at last. 'I would have to do more investigations, though. I will get started on this today, once I return to the Ministry.'
Harry nodded, feeling that that was as good as anything. It was now his word against the Ministry; as much clout and public opinion he held by being the 'Boy-Who-Lived', he still had to get some solid evidence of Umbridge's wrong-doing.
'Also…' said Harry, once more, 'well, you just heard that Ron and I couldn't get onto the platform that year.' At Madam Bones' nod, he said, 'well, why didn't the Ministry wizards come forward to help us? Surely they would have seen us causing that racket outside the barrier.'
All eyes turned to Madam Bones at this question – it certainly was a good one, no doubt.
'And since they didn't,' spoke up Ron, 'what happened to them?'
Madam Bones shrugged. 'It's a good question, Mr Potter. I will need to check this as well – I will need to see who was in charge that day and get some answers. If you would give me until we finish the current book, I can make some enquiries and find out.'
'Alright,' said Harry.
'Is there anything else you three wish to add?' asked McGonagall; when they said no, she shooed them out of the office.
'What now?' asked Ron as they traipsed through the silent corridors.
'Nothing else for it, I suppose,' said Harry with a shrug. Truthfully, he hadn't expected Madam Bones to acquiesce to their request to initiate investigations against Lucius Malfoy; the evidence just wasn't enough. He did feel happy, however, at Madam Bones' promise to investigate the Dementor attack and the absence of the Ministry wizards at King's Cross that day. Hopefully she would find something.
'Let's hope we get something substantial on him in the next few chapters,' said Hermione. 'Meanwhile…' she turned to Harry. 'Maybe you should start practising, Harry.'
'What – oh,' said Harry, as he realised what she was talking about.
Ron, however, looked nonplussed. 'What are you talking about?'
'Harry can do wandless magic,' said Hermione.
Ron stopped walking and gaped at Harry. His mouth had, quite literally, fallen open.
'No way,' he breathed at last. 'You're kidding.'
Harry shook his head. 'I can, but I've only been able to levitate something till now. You know, consciously. I want to see if I can do anything else.'
Ron was still staring at him wide-eyed; Hermione had to drag him forcibly along with them in the direction of the Great Hall.
'It's just…it just feels surreal, you know,' said Harry at last, as they reached the top of the marble staircase. 'I mean…'
'Yeah,' said Ron, who seemed to have finally found his voice. 'But – bloody hell, wandless magic! You kept that quiet!'
'Shh!' hissed Harry. 'I don't want anyone else to know – I haven't even fully grasped it yet.' They began descending the stairs.
But what he'd said was true – it was a very surreal feeling, having a potentially useful and possibly dangerous skill. There were too many implications for this – what would the school do if they came to know of this? What about Voldemort? Could he, Harry, possibly use this in a duel against the Dark wizard? Would he able to focus then?
Harry gave himself a mental shake of the head: he was getting ahead of himself, thinking about Voldemort and duels. He had to practice this first – had to see how much of wandless magic he could actually do. If it was only basic spells and charms…well, those wouldn't be of much use, would they?
Scratch that, he thought as he entered the Great Hall. He had to do one other thing first, before his practice.
He had to speak to Sirius.
To be continued…