Chapter Six – Learning
When the train finally trundled into the station at Hogsmeade, Harry was aroused from his contemplation by the movement of the others in the compartment. For most of the journey he had been mulling over the possibility of him actually being able to cast magic of some form. He knew the purple light had come from him, as the others had all been rather surprised by its appearance. Hermione said it was soul magic, which would fit with his current situation well. After all, he didn't have a body, or a wand, so any magic he did would come straight from his soul. The idea was complicated, and he was sure that if he had still been alive, just thinking about it would have given him a headache. As it was, he had decided to disregard the 'what' and go straight on to the 'how'. The only thing he knew that was concrete was that Malfoy and his cronies had been insulting his friends. The next thing he knew, they were flying through the air.
" But what came before that?" he muttered to himself, a slight frown marring his forehead. Eventually, as the train was nearing its destination, he had finally realised what he had been missing.
" I was angry!" he exclaimed, still a little disconcerted when the others in the compartment didn't react to his outburst, " I was mad at Malfoy, and then the magic came. Emotion, that has to be the key…"
By the time the train had arrived and the others were getting ready to leave, Harry had begun forming a plan of action. The first thing he would do when he got up to the school would be to speak to one of the ghosts. He was sure that, in his current state, they should be able to see him. After that, he would work on his magic, and learning as much as he could about defeating Voldemort. He would never be able to rest in peace with his parents and Sirius as long as his friends in the realm of the living were still in danger. It just wasn't an option. They had been his family for so long, he owed it to them for all the times they had risked their lives to help him.
The trip up to the castle was much as it was the year before. Harry dropped behind his friends as Ron, Ginny, Hermione and Luna piled into one of the thestral drawn carriages. Before following them, the young ghost made his way over to one of the magnificent creatures. Reaching a hand out, not expecting anything to happen, he was rather alarmed when the beast reared up, and let out an almightily scream. Stepping back quickly, Harry watched in amazement as the thestral stomped around frantically, its eyes wild. Before long, Hagrid came running over and grabbed the reins, whispering comforting words to the distressed animal and trying to calm it down. After a while it relaxed enough to be left alone, although it was still shifting uneasily on the spot. Harry, stunned, moved over to the door of the carriage and joined his friends, who had been hanging out of the windows watching the show. Unlike the year before, they had been able to see what was going on. Since Harry's death, they had been able to see the creatures themselves. As he took a seat, Harry tuned into their conversation.
" I wonder what spooked the thestral," Hermione was saying, " I've never seen one acting so erratically before."
" I've never seen one before, period," Ron grumbled.
" Ron…" his sister cautioned, reminding him not to bring up such a sensitive topic. An uncomfortable silence settled in the carriage, and Harry began to feel awkward, even though he knew they couldn't see him.
The Great Hall was just as hectic as it was every year, with excited students meeting up with friends and housemates, swapping stories and catching up on a summer's worth of gossip. The atmosphere was slightly different this year, though. Through the air of excitement a tinge of sadness coloured the students' moods. Normally, the Hall would be abuzz with the happiness of its inhabitants, but the events of the day before had seeped into the minds of everyone. For most, they had only found out that morning what had happened to their Saviour. The absence of the Boy-Who-Lived was like a gaping hole, and while people tried to make the best of it, covering their grief with false joy, they were failing. Harry looked at the students from his seat at the end of the Gryffindor table and was shocked at the response of the school. Even the Slytherins seemed to have been affected by his passing. Sure, they were still arrogant and stuck up, but the table as a whole still seemed a little off. Harry couldn't quite put his finger on it, but something wasn't right. Malfoy, though, as expected, was in full gloating mode. After listening to him brag about how his acquaintances had contributed to the downfall of the Boy-Who-Lived for a few minutes, Harry tuned him out and turned to the rest of the students. It was amazing how fickle people could be, he thought, taking the general mood. In his second year he had been effectively declared public enemy number one when his ability to speak parseltongue had come to light. Much the same could be said for his fourth year, when his name had been drawn from the Goblet of Fire. Yet, here they were, mourning his death. Rather than being flattered, Harry felt a twinge of irritation with these people. These weren't the ones he was here to save. That right was reserved for his true friends, the one who stuck by him through thick and thin.
After the Sorting, Harry's thoughts were dragged from their contemplation of the students by Dumbledore, who had stood up and was calling for silence. Since Harry had seen him the day before, the elderly wizard seemed to have aged several decades. For the first time, the ghostly boy could see him as the frail old man he was, rather than the confident and imposing figure that was Albus Dumbledore. The day before, he had looked shocked, saddened, and angry, but never this defeated. As the headmaster cleared his throat, Harry briefly wondered what had happened to his corpse.
" Welcome, everyone, to a new year at Hogwarts. As most, if not all of you may know, in a Death Eater attack yesterday, Harry Potter was killed. In light of the events of yesterday, classes shall be cancelled for the rest of the week."
Scattered cheering broke out across the Slytherin table, but they were soon silenced by an intense glare from the headmaster.
" As I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted," he said, sending another glare at the Slytherins, " Classes will be cancelled until the end of the week, at which time a memorial service will take place here in the Great Hall. You are all welcome to attend, but it is not compulsory. All of you, except the first years, knew Harry to some extent, and I hope you will all make the effort to join me here in saying goodbye to a truly remarkable boy."
At that, Dumbledore sat down again without any of his usual quirky phrases or notices. Harry could see that the man was taking his death hard. Professor McGonagall, seeing that her superior wasn't intending to say anything else, stood up herself and gave the start of term notices, and conducted the students in singing the school song. When they were finished, the food appeared on the tables and everyone began to sample the feast. Harry looked at the delicious food wistfully, wishing he could try even just a small part of it. These thoughts brought to mind Nearly Headless Nick's death day party in his second year. A bitter smile graced his features as he recalled the ghosts floating through the plates of rancid food in a vain effort at tasting again. With a start, he suddenly realised the direction his thoughts had taken him. Nearly Headless Nick. Looking around the Hall, Harry got his eye on the Hogwarts ghosts, who were just emerging from the walls and scaring the first years. Scanning the swarm of transparent bodies, he identified the form of the Gryffindor ghost and monitored his progress as he made his way towards his house table. As the partially decapitated ghost passed near to where Harry was sitting, he suddenly stopped in mid air and turned disbelieving eyes towards the young spirit boy.
" Harry Potter?" he mouthed incredulously. Harry grinned back at him, glad that at least Nick could see him, and nodded. The older ghost sent him a distinct 'we'll talk later' look, and headed off to talk to the first years. Harry sat back comfortably in his seat and listened to the conversations around him, relieved that at least he wasn't completely alone anymore.
" What on earth are you doing here, young Potter?" Nick asked as the pair floated out of the Hall together after the feast.
" It's a bit of a funny story, actually, Nick," he said, sheepishly.
" I always liked a good laugh," the elder spirit remarked as they reached the Room of Requirement. Harry had suggested they come here, as he did not want to deal with Nick being caught talking to himself in a hallway.
" It's rather long as well…"
" I have time."
Harry didn't know where to start, so he decided the beginning was as good a place as any. He explained about going to stay with Hermione, the trip to Diagon Alley, and his meeting with his parents and Sirius. Nick remained silent throughout the explanation, right up until the point where Harry explained about the choice.
" That's impossible!" the knight exclaimed, " There is no coming back from the place beyond, nor is there any passing from this world into that once the choice is made. This is unheard of…"
" Not unheard of," Harry said patiently, " Just uncommon."
" Well, if this is so, then you have a lot of work ahead of you, Harry," Nick said distractedly, still mulling over the new information he had been given. In all of his centuries of haunting Hogwarts, he had never seen or heard of anything like this before.
" I know, Nick, and I was hoping you could help me with that."
" I don't know how I can," he replied, " If what you tell me is true, then you have the ability to do magic. No ghost that I know of can do that, so the question, to my knowledge, is unprecedented. I can't help you there."
" What about touching things?" Harry asked. It was something he had been wondering about since the day before. He was sure that if he could just concentrate enough, he would be able to move things around.
" You'd best ask Peeves about that, I'm afraid," Nick told him, " I myself am not a poltergeist, and couldn't touch anything if I wanted to."
" Peeves?" Harry asked, incredulously, " I can't ask Peeves! He'd never take me seriously!"
" Well, I'm afraid that's a bridge you'll have to cross when you come to it. As for your problem of needing to learn things, I suggest until you figure out how to read books you follow your classmates to your lessons."
" Classes?!" Harry exclaimed, " I can't go to classes! I'll never be able to remember everything! I can't take notes!"
" You won't need to," Nick explained, " Ghosts are cursed with a perfect memory."
" What do you mean?" the Boy-Who-Died asked.
" Exactly what I said. Ghosts, at least normal ghosts, are cursed with a perfect memory."
" How is that possible?"
" We don't have bodies any more. While we are not blessed with the practicality of having a physical form, we are also not constrained by the realm of physical restrictions. We are free from the limitations of the human brain, and therefore can retain any information we absorb. The human brain is a complex organ, but to keep functioning it discards a lot of information. Humans forget things. We have no need to do this, as we have no brains. It is both a blessing and a curse. Do you understand how frustrating it is to be able to remember complex incantations and rituals, only to be unable to perform them?"
" It must be hard," Harry agreed, already formulating a plan, " So, you're telling me that I need to go to classes to learn how to defeat Voldemort?"
" Obviously, you will need to do your own research, but until such time as you can read books, you may as well gain some practical knowledge of the basics, from which to build. I suggest you don't bother with subjects that will be of little help. After all, what use is Divination, Muggle Studies or History of Magic when confronting a Dark Lord?"
Nick had a point. Thinking it through carefully, Harry realised that some of the other subjects could be discarded as well. In the time when his own year was having these classes, he would go to the seventh year classes instead and learn as much as he could. A sudden thought struck him, and he gave the other ghost a contemplative look.
" Nick, you can see and hear me, right?"
" Of course, young Potter," the other man said with a confused look on his face.
" What about the other ghosts? I'm assuming they can see me as well."
" I would expect so," Nick agreed, not seeing where the younger man was going with this.
" Then why can't the living see me? I mean, they can see you and the other ghosts, but why not me?"
Nicholas thought about it for a few minutes before shaking his head, at a loss.
" I have no idea, it may have something to do with the fact that you passed on, and didn't choose to remain here. You are here, in a sense, but not as I am. I stayed in the world of the living by choice. You chose to pass on. You may be here now, but this is not where you belong. They may not be able to see or hear you because the world of the dead and the world of the living do not cross. A part of you is still there, and always will if you ever hope to go back."
Harry nodded at the wiser man's words, taking in what he had said. He wasn't sure he fully understood Nick's logic, but it was apparently the best he was going to get. Taking a deep, yet needless, breath, he asked what he had been meaning to say since he arrived in the Great Hall.
" Nick, will you talk to Dumbledore for me? And my friends? You know, just to let them know I'm here."
" I don't think that would be a good idea, Harry."
" Why not?" he answered, angry, " They're in pain, because of me! Because of my stupidity and my arrogance in believing I was infallible! They deserve to know I'm here, and alright."
" Harry, no," Nick told him in no uncertain terms, " You say your friends are in pain now? Dumbledore included? How do you think they would feel if I was to tell them that the only comfort they can take in the situation, that you are with your parents, is a lie? They will be devastated, and feel guilty that you have been kept away from those you love because of a sense of duty to save them. You may think you are comforting them, but I am telling you it will cause them more pain than comfort. Do you really want that?"
Harry thought about what he had said, and realised that he was right. The only thing keeping his friends together was the thought that he was happy and in a better place, with his parents and Sirius. If they knew he wasn't there with them, because he had come back to save them, they would never forgive themselves. It was for the best. With a sense of disappointment, but also a newfound determination, Harry thanked Nick for his help and headed out of the Room of Requirement. After all, he had a poltergeist to track down.