Disclaimer: I do not now, nor have I ever, owned any part of the Harry Potter universe. I make no claim to any of the intellectual property, I only make the characters do things that, while entertaining, make me no money whatsoever.
A/N: No excuses. If you knew my life, you wouldn't blame me. This is a huge chapter, over 9200 words. Lots going on, a tiny bit of fluff, only not with whom you're expecting. Yes, yes… I know, this is supposed to be a H/HR fic, and it will be… eventually… ^_^
And one last thing… I think you can guess that I don't like Ginny…
Chapter 19: A Day in the Sun
From The Life of Harry James Potter Excerpt from Chapter 16: The War of the Sexes
The wizarding world had always been a patriarchal society. That is not to say that there weren't strong-willed witches who made it to the upper tiers of the magical government and commerce, after all, magic in and of itself is a very effective equalizer. Still, while it was common for very talented witches to gain influence and power, it was even more common for decidedly less-than-talented wizards to make it into the upper tiers of society simply because they were male, and it would take a truly extraordinary witch to fill that wizard's shoes when retirement time came around. More often than not, despite the availability of equally talented witches, another wizard would routinely be chosen to take his place.
Upon Voldemort's demise after The Purge, the International Confederation of Wizards discovered that most of the children in Britain were actually the kidnapped offspring of pureblood families from all over the world. Although there were some whose true lineage could not be determined due to the lack of accurate records kept by Malfoy's foundation, most of the children were eventually reunited with their rightful families.
Consequently, this caused a critical shortage of magical children in Britain once again. Wizarding patriarchs found themselves scrambling to produce natural heirs, but after The Purge, the older pureblood families found it difficult enticing witches of childbearing age to enter into marriage contracts. The vaults of those old families, once brimming with ill-gotten gold, were laid bare. The time of snatching children from other nations was gone, so the desperation of the Oldbloods turned to the snatching of domestic witches.
Roving bands of witch hunters patrolled the country, forcibly taking any magical females of childbearing age they came across and stealing them away, either to spend their years under the Imperious Curse, pumping out offspring in Fidelis-concealed baby factories, or imprisoned in Oldblood dungeons, being forced to produce heirs for a string of 'connected' families, being impregnated until a male heir was born, then handed off to the next Oldblood patriarch on 'The List.' It didn't matter if the witches were married already or not, or whether they were of age. All that mattered to the Oldbloods was their fertility.
Some desperate young witches began making unbreakable vows with each other, swearing never to bear a child. These witches would tattoo the vow magic upon their foreheads, proudly displaying their defiance. If these witches were captured and forced to conceive, the vow would kill them instantly, whether they were Imperioused or not. They would rather die than become slaves to the patriarchy. Unfortunately, this technique backfired on them, as the witch hunters would kill any vow-tattooed witches immediately upon capture and would leave their desecrated bodies in very public places as warnings to others.
It didn't take long for the witches to band together themselves, creating coven pacts, blood bonds, and hidden safe houses. It wasn't long before there were no witches at all ever seen in public, except the squads of hit-witches that were scouring the country, seeking to break the baby factories and free the imprisoned heir-slaves. Soon after, the witch squads began killing wizards that were even suspected of harboring witches, even if those witches were their wives or daughters.
Another war had broken out within the shores of Great Britain, and the wizarding world was being driven beyond hysteria by fear and paranoia…
…and in the middle of this paranoia was Draco Malfoy and the newly resurrected Dark Lady Voldemort.
Friday, July 9th, 1989 11:27 AM
Harry cocked his head and wiped off the perspiration from his face onto the upper sleeve of his sweatshirt as he worked. Jaana had said that she'd get around to cleaning all of the slime and mildew from the inside of the empty swimming pool, but Harry insisted on cleaning it himself.
He was alternating between the Tergio, Scourgify, and the Evanesco charm spells, studying the intricacies and effectiveness of each in comparison to each other. He had tried variations of each, and had even experimented with spells like the Defluxus charm, which was normally used to remove inks and stains from clothing and parchment, and the Atteros curse, which quickly melts living tissue away from bones, but was quickly coming to the conclusion that the standard Evanesco did the most efficient job overall. While Tergio was by far easiest to cast, and Scourgify seemed to do a more thorough job of removing the offending substances, he determined that the Evanesco would cover a substantially larger area than the other two, even if he did have to go over an area two or three times to get the really stubborn stains completely out.
"Harry, lunch," he heard Jaana's voice call out from the entrance hall.
"Be right there," answered Harry as he walked across the bottom of the pool towards the ladder at the shallow end. As he walked around the edge, he surveyed how much he had cleaned up to that point and sighed. He had been working on it since breakfast and thought he would have been finished by lunchtime, but it was clear that he barely cleaned a quarter of the massive area.
Harry suddenly stopped in his tracks and his eyebrows knitted together as an idea came to him. He wasn't quite sure if he could do it, and even if he was able to, he wasn't sure it would work the way he thought it might.
'Nothing ventured...' he thought to himself as he raised his wand and pointed it at the pool. His intention was to use a simple transfiguration to shrink the pool to a very small, manageable size, clean the relatively small area, then re-size the pool back to it's original dimensions.
Of course, what he had intended was somewhat removed from what had actually happened. To his credit, he did manage to shrink the area of the pool itself down to the approximate size of a large kitchen sink, but the cacophonous noise of cracking and breaking cement, along with the cloud of dust and the tremendous, bone-jarring vibration that accompanied the noise, immediately told him that he had made some sort of minor miscalculation.
The cloud of cement dust obscured most of his vision, but he could still make out the jagged edge of a gaping hole at his feet. He vainly tried to wave away the dust that was floating around him when a swirling breeze suddenly appeared and instantly cleared the air. Harry blinked the dust out of his eyes and saw the entirety of his error. Sitting in the center of a giant pool-sized hole in the floor was the pool itself, neatly shrunk to a few square feet of sink-shaped porcelain tile. He blinked a few more times before he noticed Jaana leaning against the archway entrance, slowly tapping the tip of her wand against her other palm with a serene kind of calmness that terrified him to his core.
"I didn't... I mean, I didn't mean to... I..." stammered Harry as he watched Jaana nudge off from the archway and begin walking slowly towards him.
"I'll fix it! I... I think I can fix it!" pleaded Harry as Jaana raised her wand and pointed it in his direction.
"Nooo!" cried Harry in despair as he turned and sprinted off towards the far end of the hole in the floor. Harry only made it a few steps before he felt a sharp sting on his behind.
"I'll teach you..." cackled Jaana in her best 'wicked witch' voice as she sent another mild jinx at his bottom. She then sent a tickling hex that hit Harry squarely in his back, causing him to immediately fall towards the floor in a fit of laughter. Thankfully, Jaana was quick enough to conjure a large pile of pillows for him to land on. A few moments later, he felt the hex that was tickling his sides lift, but the sensation was quickly replaced by Jaana's own squirming fingers.
Harry was having a rather difficult time breathing through his laughter as he heard Jaana ask, "Okay, do you know what you did wrong?"
"I... I didn't account... for the material... around the pool," said Harry between gasps.
"So what should you have done to get the desired effect?" asked Jaana as she picked herself up from on top of Harry, giving him a momentary reprieve form her tickling.
"Expanding the material of the pool's lining to constrict the empty space inside," answered Harry as he drew in great gasps of air.
"And that wouldn't have worked because...?" inquired Jaana with a shake of her head and a knowing look.
Surprised at the unexpected negative response and her subsequent question, Harry closed his eyes and thought, "Because..."
"Come on, Harry..." encouraged Jaana, "that's only second year theory."
It took a minute before Harry hit his palm to his forehead, saying, "The result would exceed Conroy's weight-to-area ratio."
"Good," beamed Jaana as she helped Harry up from the pile of cushions, "So I'll ask again, what should you have done to get the pool to shrink properly?"
"A compound spell," answered Harry in an unsure tone, "Dual transfiguration of the tiled surface and the surrounding cement support."
"Yes," smiled Jaana, "And how do we fix... this? She motioned to the tiny sink lying at the bottom of the gaping hole in the floor.
"I don't suppose Engorgio would work, huh?"
Jaana just smiled and lazily pointed her wand at the pool, "Finite... Reparo."
Harry watched as the pool snapped back to its normal size and the broken area around the pool neatly sealed itself up, leaving the cement surface in pristine condition. "Sometimes, the simplest solution is the best." As a final touch, Jaana flourished her wand and intoned, "Ren," which instantly rendered the entire tiled interior of the pool sparkling clean.
"Ren?" asked Harry as he tried to mimic the wand movement, "I've never heard of that one... it's not in the household charms book I read."
"It's not a common spell," Jaana commented and then asked, "and the best advantage of that spell?"
"Only one syllable," answered Harry with a smile as they walked to the archway, "Fast and efficient... what year is that one?"
Harry saw Jaana's countenance falter for only an instant as she answered, "Well, they don't teach that one at Hogwarts, my, uh... my gram taught it to me... when I was little. It's sort of a cultural spell."
Harry nodded absently as he again attempted the spell's wand movement.
"Hey," said Jaana, getting Harry's attention, "Like this... tip down, or towards what you want cleaned, rectangular clockwise swipe with a finishing right-to-left flourish." She slowly demonstrated the correct wand motion as Harry followed along.
"Close," smiled Jaana as she demonstrated the spell again, this time at Harry's green-stained clothes. She then led Harry out of the pool area, through the entrance hall, and towards the breakfast nook off from the small family kitchen, "we can practice more after lunch."
Harry hadn't realized how much of an appetite he had worked up, seeing how fast he was making his way through the meal that Jaana had prepared. He was just sopping up the last of the gravy from his beef pie when a thought occurred to him.
"You said that you learned that spell when you were little..." asked Harry with a thoughtful expression, "How were you learning magic so young? Did you have a wand of your own then?"
Jaana slowly put her fork down and sighed. It was apparent that she was somewhat uncomfortable with the subject as she answered, "I'd come here each summer for a few weeks out of the year. In that time, my gram would secretly teach me a few spells... just a few basic spells that were particular to our Dutch roots. Most were spells that they don't teach at Hogwarts, but she'd also throw in some of the standard spells sometimes."
Jaana's unfocused eyes drifted across the room as she continued, "I'd use gram's wand while she was showing me how to do the spells. I think she did it because we had so many squib relatives... like she was just proud that I had any magical ability at all… like she had to somehow prove that fact to herself each time I'd visit," she gave a short laugh and said, "She never knew... or maybe she did and didn't care... but I'd sometimes hide in the library and use one of the old wands there to practice the spells, and had even taught myself some new spells from the books in there. One time I tried coloring my fingernails, but accidentally managed to turn my whole left arm a bright green. I had to wear long sleeves and gloves to hide it from her until it wore off. I thought I was so clever, but looking back now, I'm sure she knew exactly what I had done, but saved me the embarrassment of catching me doing magic without her supervising."
Harry hoped he wasn't being rude by asking, but his curiosity got the better of him, "You mentioned before that there's a lot of squibs in your family. Is that normal for magical families? Is it on your mum's or dad's side?"
Jaana smiled and said, "Well, almost every pureblood family has one or two somewhere down the line, but it seems there are a few families out there that seem to end up with more than their fair share. Given the stigma associated with having squibs in the family, it's rather difficult to find a marriage partner in an older pureblood family if you're associated with a family that has more than a few squibs."
Harry frowned in confusion as he asked, "So, if you're friends with someone in a pureblood family while growing up, they'll stop you from getting married if you eventually fall in love with them?"
"Friends?" laughed Jaana, "you could never be friends with a child from another old family."
Seeing his confusion, Jaana sighed and gave Harry an apologetic look, "I keep forgetting that you weren't raised in a magical family. The truth is, it's more common than not that old pureblood families hide their children away from the world until they show some accidental magic. If a child nears school age without any apparent ability, they're usually slipped off to live in secrecy with grandparents while they're set up in a muggle school. In some extremely uptight pureblood families those kids are sometimes even obliviated and sent off to a muggle orphanage. To them, anything is better than having it known that they produced a squib."
Harry's face remained stonily calm, but the brief flash of outrage in his eyes betrayed his inner thoughts. In a barely controlled voice, he asked, "Magical families actually throw away their own children just because…"
"I said 'some' of the 'older' pureblood families did… or do… yes, I suppose," interrupted Jaana, frustration edging into her voice, "but it's very uncommon for those families to produce squibs… at least it used to be almost unheard of. Anyway, most magical families just educate them as best they can until they're old enough to survive in the muggle world."
Harry's voice held a barely perceptible edge as he said, "but if they're hidden away, there's really no way of knowing exactly how often it happens. Isn't that right?"
Jaana's eyes hardened slightly, "Don't get mad at me, Harry… that's just the way things are. It's something we simply have to live with. In my family alone, there are dozens of squibs! What would you have us do with them? They can't function in the magical world… they're treated little better than muggles, even by the most forward-thinking magicals, sometimes by their own families! Many are even treated like they're diseased… like lepers!"
Harry sighed and nodded, "I understand, but it's just the idea of erasing someone's life, then tossing them away like rubbish…"
"Harry, the vast majority of families aren't like that. You know about my mother. She makes a good living as a nurse in the school you used to go to. She sometimes sneaks in potions she buys in Knockturn Alley to help some of the poorer kids there who can't afford some needed muggle treatments. There's my father's sister, Aunt Arabella… she sells knitted crafts to muggle specialty stores. She's not rich, but does okay. My granduncle on my mother's side, Uncle Argus, works as a custodian and is paid rather well. Those people, and quite a few others in my family, are squibs, and they all know of the magical world. Just because they were raised in an environment that they, through no fault of their own, were unable to continue contributing to, doesn't make them any less my relatives, and I love them all."
Harry must have been wearing a very crestfallen look because after a quick glance at his face, Jaana's voice softened as she continued, "You must understand that there are families out there who hold blood purity to unrealistically high standards, and will do practically anything to portray their own family as nothing less than elite. I know that's wrong, and you know that's wrong… but there's very little that anyone can do about it."
Jaana was rubbing her temples as she said to him, "Maybe your future self was right in trying to send that damned book to you when you were older. Maybe what the magical world needs is a good civil war to wake up the pureblood supremacists… I don't know. What's done is done and what is, is, and all we can do right now is prepare you as best we can for whatever comes our way."
Harry shrugged and nodded as he rose from the table and carried his dinnerware into the kitchen. He heard Jaana cleaning up her own plates behind him as she said, "I'm going to be in the library for a few hours. Try not to wreck the house while I'm in there, will you?"
"I'll be going down to the water for a while," answered Harry, making a pointed effort not to look in her direction, "I need some swimming practice."
"Okay, but be careful," warned Jaana, "stay in the shallows within the pylons… and use sunscreen, the skin on your face hasn't finished healing from the burns… and bring a cloak, because the ocean breeze can get rather chilly… and…"
"Okay!" said Harry in an irritated huff, although he was wearing a smile at the same time, "I'll be careful."
Harry ran up to his room and grabbed a large carrier from atop the trunk at the foot of his bed. He had packed the bag with a towel, some clothing, and a few select items earlier that morning. He rushed back out of the room and down the stairs, noting that the old grandfather clock in the entrance hall read half-past noon. He made his way through the grand ballroom and out through the French double doors that led to the patio, gardens, and the beach beyond.
Once at the shoreline, he began pulling items out of his bag. He quickly rigged a makeshift dummy and placed it on a lounge chair facing towards the water and away from the house. He laid the folded towel next to the lounge and placed a few lotion bottles in the sand beside the towel. He smiled and nodded at his handiwork, and silently prayed that it would remain unnoticed until he returned. With one last look at the house in the distance, he closed his eyes and silently faded from view, reappearing a moment later in a copse of trees at the base of a tall, wooded hill.
It was just a week before that Harry found himself heading up this same hill, in just the opposite direction that he had originally intended to go. He supposed that saving a life on that day was much more important than ending one. At the time, he had it in his head that he would simply capture the hated rodent-man and turn him in, but since then he knew that he probably would have wrung the rat's neck as soon as he had his hands on it.
As he reached the crest of the tall hill and saw the odd looking tower that he had visited the week before, Harry suddenly felt an odd nervousness creep into his stomach. He saw that the wooden portion of the structure that had been engulfed in flames was now gone, leaving just the black stone of the tower rising out of the hill. As he neared, he saw that all of the debris from the wooden portion was also gone… no charred wood or scorched earth… as if that portion of the building had never existed.
As he opened the short, picket gate, he absently wondered if the girl would remember him, then immediately realized what a silly thought it was… of course she'd remember… but would she want to see him? Would she really want to be his friend? Would he mess up like he did the last time he tried to make a friend?
Harry stopped walking just short of the door as he remembered the conversation he had with Jaana just a little while before. He wasn't quite sure if this Luna girl was a pureblood or not. If she were, then maybe her parents wouldn't want him to be friends with her. A war of fear and doubt raged in his head before he closed his eyes, let out a forceful breath, and stepped purposefully towards the front door.
Harry hesitated for only a moment before he rapped on the large, oak door before him. Suddenly, a quite irrational urge to flee struck him, but before he could move, the door creaked open, revealing a thin, young girl with a soft, round face and a pair of silvery gray eyes that seemed to gaze at him with a strange kind of innocent wonder. Her very long, dark blonde hair was tucked behind her ears,
It took a moment before Harry realized that this was the very same girl he had rescued the week before, only without the layer of ash and soot that had hid most of her features at the time. His eyes traveled downward where he saw that she was wearing a bright orange button-down blouse that had very puffy, latticed sleeves that barely reached down to her elbows, a rather short, pale-pink princess skirt that was so sheer and fine it could have been made from loosely woven spider's silk, and what appeared to be a pair of skin tight spandex slacks with wide, horizontal stripes that alternated between an electric blue and a vivid yellow. Harry did his best to ignore the girl's peculiar outfit as he looked up, smiled, and was about to greet the girl, but before he could open his mouth, she spoke to him first.
"No… no, this won't do at all," said the girl in a calm, almost bored tone before she folded her arms and commanded, "Be a girl."
Harry stared at the girl with his mouth hanging open. He then blinked a few times, and asked in surprise, "Pardon?"
"Daddy would never let a boy visit…" stated Luna in a calm, matter-of-fact manner, "so be a girl. You are a Mandrogan Chameleon, aren't you? You can be anything you like, so you can be a girl."
"No, I'm not a Mandoogie Cam-whatever… I really am just a boy… I'm… I'm just…"
Harry sighed internally. He knew that she had seen him change from a girl to a boy and from young to old. He couldn't very well tell her he couldn't change, and if that was the only way he could be friends with her, well then, it was worth it.
Remembering Jaana's lessons about Apparating within other people's property, he asked Luna, "Alright, but you still have to keep it a secret. Now, I need to go home for a moment… can I come back right here? The climb up the hill is kinda tiring…"
Luna simply nodded. Harry missed the look of utter shock on Luna's face when he faded from view, but if truth be told, that look of 'utter shock' on her face was only a mildly surprised blink.
Harry appeared in the center of his room, quickly opened his trunk and rooted around inside for a few seconds before pulling out the brown paper bag that held the pouches of transforming goo. He opened the bag and looked inside, counting the remaining pieces of each formula.
He pulled out the one piece that would turn him female. He reached in another pouch and retrieved the final piece of the goo that would dispel the effect. He would have to start working on another batch as soon as he was able.
Harry opened the door and looked up and down the hallway before stepping out and entering the bedroom next to his. He had stocked the cupboard in this other room with various sets of clothing, some male, some female, and all of varying sizes to accommodate any possible need that might arise. After he picked out a suitable outfit that he hoped looked girly enough, he popped the first piece of goo into his mouth and started undressing.
Normally, the transformation itself wasn't extremely painful. His scalp stung as the hair quickly grew and thickened, there was a slight cramping sensation throughout his body as his frame became smaller, there was an uncomfortable clicking in his upper chest and shoulder blades as his shoulders thinned, and an odd sort of pressure in his lower abdomen as his hips widened and his boy-bits retracted into his body to become girl-bits. What hurt him with this particular transformation was the recently healed skin on his face and hands. The slight skin tightness turned into a feeling that his flesh was about to rip open. Thankfully, that sensation only lasted as long as the transformation itself.
As he dressed, he briefly looked into the mirror and noticed that there was very little change to his face. His hair was the biggest, most obvious change, but there were only slight differences in his appearance that would be hard to spot if you weren't familiar with it to begin with, like the marginally higher cheekbones and the slightly puffier lips. The book had stated that the changes in adults were much more dramatic than with pre-pubescent forms.
As a final touch, he took off his regular round glasses and put on a different pair that he had discovered amongst a pile of spares in the storage room beside the conservatory. This pair was rectangular and gold wire-rimmed, and very much out of style as muggle fashion goes, but he felt they would fit right in for a girl in the wizarding culture. As far as functionality went, they weren't a perfect match for his eyes, but they were a slightly better match than the round pair he was used to wearing.
He gave himself a final look in the mirror before he nodded and faded from the room, appearing a second later in the same spot in front of the large oaken door. Even though he had been gone for more than three minutes, Luna was still standing there, holding the door open and humming some non-descript tune to herself.
"That's much better, but I suppose I can't introduce you as 'Harry' to my father, now can I?" asked Luna as she looked at Harry expectantly.
Harry hadn't thought about that. He hadn't needed a girl's name before, although he probably should have thought one up before that point. He initially thought of 'Harriet,' but something about that variation of his name just sounded too out-of-date… but then again, the whole wizarding world seemed out of date compared to the more familiar muggle world. It was too close to his real name, anyway. He wracked his brain for some sort of suitable name, but he was drawing a complete blank.
Harry was roused from his thoughts when the door suddenly opened wider, and he found himself staring into a pair of ice blue eyes that seemed to be looking in slightly different directions, although one of the eyes did appear to be looking directly through him. The man appeared much older than he would have guessed Luna's father to be, as he sported a balding head surrounded by a long, wild mane of fluffy, snow-white hair that reminded him of cotton candy. He was wearing metallic brown robes that seemed about a foot too short for his height, considering that Harry could clearly see the man's bare feet and ankles below the hemline. Harry found that his attention was divided between the man's rather odd attire and Luna's decidedly strange outfit.
After a few uncomfortable seconds had passed, Luna's serene voice broke the silence, "Daddy, this is Holly. I met her about a week ago in the village and invited her for a visit. I hope you don't mind…"
Harry was shocked at the apparent ease in which Luna skirted the truth, but was also impressed that she could pull out a reasonably fitting name for him on the fly.
Luna's father bowed and held out his hand while saying, "Greetings to you, and welcome, Holly…?"
"Figg, sir," said Harry, blurting out the first surname that came to his mind.
He regretted using that name the moment he saw the instantaneous look of pity that flashed across the older man's face. The man's hand instinctively… nearly imperceptibly… flinched back a bit. Harry might not have perceived it if the earlier conversation with Jaana wasn't so fresh in his mind. The man's action was very short-lived, but it was still noticeable. Harry could almost hear the unasked question in the father's eyes, 'Have you shown any accidental magic yet?'
Choosing to ignore the unintentional slight, Harry held out his hand towards Luna's father and politely said, "A pleasure to meet you, sir."
Harry inwardly cringed. He had forgotten how out of place his voice sounded as a girl, being about an octave higher than his normal voice.
The older man smiled jovially and opened the door wider to allow Harry entrance as he said, "I am Xenophilius, and welcome to Castle Lovegood, such as it is. We had an accident here last week, a bit of a fire, and we haven't really finished fixing the place up."
'Lovegood?' Harry exclaimed to himself, having read about that family in his book. Up to that point, he hadn't made the connection… even though 'Luna' was a very unusual name. He made a mental note to read up on this family later.
As Xenophilius started a short, impromptu tour of the home, Harry noticed that the inside of the tower was much like it was when he was last there, except that there was even more clutter throughout the room, presumably the excess items from the wooden portion of the structure that no longer existed. As he followed along, Harry found his eyes drawn to the set of glass enclosures that held the strange artifacts of bizarre creatures, including the moving photograph of what appeared to be Wynmae in her misty form.
"Ah, I see you're interested in some of the stranger creatures that inhabit our lands," said Xenophilius when he noticed Harry looking towards the glass enclosures, "Those cases hold the bits and fragments of some of the more fantastic creatures we've found… take this first case…"
The man moved from case to case, apparently taking great joy in describing the bits of the supposedly imaginary creatures residing in each, "This paw was sent to the offices about ten years ago, along with a letter stating that it belonged to a Burrowing Wineskipper, but after exhaustive research, it turned out to be from a simple Iberian Niffler… I suppose the person who sent it had never seen a continental Niffler before and confused it with a Wineskipper, which everyone knows are never seen outside of Italy… and this one over here…"
Harry had been graciously feigning interest, nodding and smiling at each display until they made it to the case with the photo of the ghostly beings. He leaned in closer to the case as Xenophilius pointed out the unusually clear picture of a group of misty vapors drifting along a frost covered landscape that appeared to be in the middle of a graveyard.
"This picture was taken in a cemetery in Cornwall," began Xenophilius, "the wizard who took the photo seemed to be under the impression that they were Moor Spectres, but I know what they really are… Ice Imps… really young ones, by the look of them."
"What do they do?" asked Harry, trying to get any information that he didn't already know, "They look harmless."
"Nasty little creatures," answered Xenophilius, "They don't like humans much, or any other creatures for that matter. I'm surprised that he was able to get close enough to take that photo. Skittish little buggers, they are… they don't like direct confrontations, preferring to strike from the cover of a morning fog or in the dark of night. They're only seen in late fall and winter… we haven't been able to figure out what happens to them during the summer. Perhaps they migrate to the north? It's just as well, you wouldn't want to be around one when it's angry or warm."
"So they're evil?" asked Harry, trying to keep the worry out of his voice. He had never witnessed Wynmae being particularly malicious, but she never seemed overly benevolent, either… he always had to ask her to heal him, or to do anything at all, really. Of course, there was the issue with the Longbottoms and Jaana's grandmother, but he wasn't sure if it was Wynmae's force of will driving him, or his will that had influenced her… or maybe it was a karma thing, the good balancing out the bad.
"No, not evil, per se, but not very nice, either… they're Imps, after all. They live for mischief. Most times, you see them just floating alone, minding their own business, but there's been a few reports of them ganging up on unsuspecting folks if they're disturbed, inflicting an unnatural, bitter coldness, or sometimes even freezing them solid if they hang round too long in the beasts territory. Others say that they can possess people, making them do strange things, but that's only when they're young… it's when they mature that you have to be extra careful around them."
"What happens when they mature?" asked Harry, very interested in the answer.
"They're imps," stated Xenophilius, as if that were the most obvious answer he could give. Noticing the puzzled look on Harry's face, he elaborated, "Imps go through a sort of metamorphosis when they mature. The way they transform depends on the type of imp… Wood Imps phase into the trunks of trees to become Dryads, Water Imps make their changes at the bottom of oceans, lakes, or rivers. In oceans, they become Nagas, in lakes they become Kappas, and in rivers they turn into Naiads. The two most dangerous ones are the Fire and Ice imps, with the Fire Imps maturing into Heliopaths, and the Ice Imps turning into Snow Hags."
"Really?" asked Harry, letting a bit of doubt colour his voice, "I've never read about either of those in any of my books. I mean, I know about Dryads and Kappas…"
"Everyone knows that the goblins use Heliopaths in their forges," stated Xenophilius in a confident tone, "It's the only thing that will get their silver hot enough to smith, not to mention that Minister Fudge seems to be gathering quite a few of them… for what reason, I don't know, but we're working to find out."
Xenophilius' expression turned darker as he continued, "The Snow Hags… well, just be glad they don't hang around below the Arctic Circle after they mature. Heliopaths can be controlled to some extent, but the Hags are another story altogether. Wild things, they are. If you get a bunch of them bothered, they could bring a blizzard down on half of England faster than you can blink. If you get just one really angry, they could freeze you solid in an instant and shatter you like a dropped crystal goblet, and from what I've heard, you don't have to try very hard to get one riled."
Xenophilius spent a few more minutes finishing up the tour where he pointed out a hanging pelt that he said was from a Gadding Hoodwolf and a large, curved horn that was mounted on the wall, supposedly from a Crumple-Horned Snorkack.
Harry knew the tour had ended when both Luna and he were ushered out of the door with her father saying, "I don't wish to be rude, but I've got an article to finish, so off you go, don't go beyond the stream, and be back before dinner… oh, will you be staying for dinner, Holly dear?"
"No, sir," answered Harry politely, "I'm expected home for dinner, myself."
"Very well," smiled Xenoplilius as he began to close the door, but opened it again and called out, "Why don't you show Holly the stream pool and catch a few Gulping Plimpies while you're down there… we'll have Plimpie soup along with the roast mutton for dinner."
Harry followed Luna around behind the tower where she grabbed a small metal pail and then started down a path on the far side of the hill. As she led him through the thick woods, she chattered absently, "This area is warded so that no muggles can stumble across it. The stream we're going to isn't a tributary of the Otter River, but comes from a spring in the hills to the north. The water upstream is usually pretty cold, even in the summer, but there's a permanent warming charm that mother put on the pool ages ago, so it should be comfortable enough for us. The Plimpies like the water a little cooler, but they slow down when the water's warm, so they'll be easier to catch."
"How is your mother?" asked Harry. A portion of his reason for visiting was to find out if the woman survived.
"Luna bowed her head slightly, and at the same time flashed him a rare smile as she said, "She was burned pretty badly, and she hasn't woken up yet, but the healers say she'll be fine, in time. They said that if she hadn't been removed from the tower when she was, she would have died."
Luna suddenly stopped and turned around to face him. She then threw her arms around him in a tight hug and said, "I didn't have a chance to thank you properly the last time you were here, so… thank you for saving my mother."
She placed a feather-light kiss on Harry's cheek before releasing him from the vice-like hug. She spun around and continued to saunter down the hill, picking up her prattle where she left off. He absently touched his cheek where she had kissed him, feeling an unfamiliar burn work his way up his neck and over his face. After a moment he smiled shyly, shook his head, and jogged forward to catch up to the odd girl who was still chattering on without him.
When they reached the base of the hill, they came across a small brook meandering along through the trees. Further along the stream, the water cascaded down a steep, rocky slope in a kind of miniature waterfall and ended up in a wide pool in the middle of a pleasant, grassy clearing.
Tall, thick trees surrounded the area, whose high branches stretched out to form a nearly complete canopy over the clearing. A set of white wooden Adirondack-style chairs sat along the pool's edge, along with a red-stained picnic table and a wooden rack that held an assortment of towels and blankets. On the far side of the pool was a circle of rocks around a small fire pit, complete with a wrought iron cooking stand and a set of spits stacked neatly beside it.
Harry walked around the pool inspecting the little oasis in the forest. The water in the pool was so clear, he could see every rock and pebble on the bottom. He noticed a curtained off space between a pair of trees near the waterfall, which he found held a small wooden chair with an opening in the seat and was positioned over a hole dug into the ground in a makeshift toilet, complete with a roll of tissue hanging off a nearby branch.
"Wow, this place is fantastic!" exclaimed Harry as he turned back around to see Luna sitting on one of the chairs. She had just kicked off her shoes and pulled off her oddly coloured stockings, folding them carefully and stacking them neatly on the rest of her clothing that was sitting on the chair beside her.
Harry stared blankly at the very naked young girl who was walking towards the water with the metal pail in her hand. He blinked away his surprise and asked, "Why are you naked?"
Luna looked even more surprised than usual as she set the pail by the edge and stepped into the water. She answered him in a serious tone, "You can't catch Plimpies with your clothes on, silly… besides, they'll get wet."
Harry averted his eyes and nodded absently as he began removing his own clothes. He didn't know why, but he was feeling slightly embarrassed about being naked in front of this strange girl. He had been naked in front of Jaana and Wynmae a few times and thought nothing of it. He had even accidentally caught Jaana getting out of the shower at the Gables once, not to mention how Wynmae was naked every time she took a solid form, and he had never felt any embarrassment at all around them. Maybe it was the fact that he was now in a girl's body and was unfamiliar with the way it was.
Harry still felt the blush warming and colouring his skin, even after getting into the water. He began to relax after a few minutes of watching Luna randomly diving her hands into the water, apparently trying to catch something beneath the surface. Harry began looking around himself in the clear water, but could see nothing swimming below the surface.
"What do they look like?" asked Harry as he vainly scanned the water around him.
Luna looked up from what she was doing and answered in a most serious tone, "You can't see them. You have to wait until one brushes up against you, then grab where you feel it."
"Which is why you have to be naked?" asked Harry as he tried to stand very still.
"Of course," replied Luna, who was once again staring intently into the water, "and you have to really concentrate, because their touch is really light, almost like water flowing across your skin."
"So how do you tell the difference between the Plimpie and the water?"
"I just said, you have to con…" Luna interrupted herself by plunging both of her hands into the water beside her right leg. She let out a squeal as she lifted her clasped hands above her head where they began thrashing around, but it looked to him like there was nothing clasped in them at all. He was beginning to think she was having him on when she began walking towards the bucket beside the pool while struggling animatedly with what appeared to be nothing at all. It was when she let out a surprised squeak and pulled down her hands to her chest that he saw a distinct splash in the water just in front of her.
"What happened?" asked Harry as he waded up to her in the chest-deep water.
When Luna held up her hands, he saw that two of her fingers were bleeding rather badly. He helped her from the pool and wrapped her hand in one of the nearby towels.
"Just my luck," complained Luna with a sigh as she sat on one of the chairs, "I had to catch a male Plimpie. They're really rare, and the only ones that bite."
"I suppose that's it for the Plimpie hunt, huh?" said Harry as he looked longingly back at the water.
Luna didn't answer him immediately, she just shook her head and began humming a random tune. About a minute passed and Harry was getting more than a bit anxious. He was about to insist that she go back to the tower so her father could look at her wounded hand when she suddenly stopped humming and began unwrapping the bloody towel from around her hand. He watched in amazement as she flexed her fingers a few times. They were stained with blood, and he could see the set of red welts along her fingers, but she was no longer bleeding at all.
"Plimpie bites don't last very long," explained Luna as she bent down and rinsed the bloody towel out in the water, "They live in more than one dimension, so their teeth aren't really solid, but your body thinks they are so it bleeds until it figures out that it's not really hurt… they're more of a nuisance than anything."
Harry wasn't really sure if he believed that explanation or not.
The pair spent another hour hunting Plimpies, splashing each other, and generally having fun. Try as he might, Harry didn't catch any, but Luna managed to capture three, which were apparently enough to make a soup, or so she said. Even though he could see the rippling of the water in the pail, he couldn't see anything but the water itself, and seeing what had happened to Luna's hand, he wasn't about to stick his in to see what one felt like, or if he could actually feel one at all.
After a while, Harry found himself lying on a blanket in a patch of warm sunlight that was filtering down through the canopy of leaves. The branches seemed to move, automatically adjusting the opening to account for the movement of the sun, ensuring a constant patch of sunlight on his particular spot of earth. He rolled over onto his back and absently wondered what that interesting bit of charmwork entailed, but he was so relaxed that he didn't spend much time pondering it.
He was just entering that drifting frame of mind between wakefulness and sleep when he heard a distinct rustling of leaves and light footsteps coming from the direction of the path. He turned his head and cracked an eye open. He saw Luna sitting on the edge of the grass with her legs lazily kicking, making expanding waves in the water. He looked beyond her and saw what looked like a short, very skinny girl with bouncy, rust-red hair push her way through the foliage that surrounded the clearing. He couldn't see very well, as he didn't have his glasses on.
"Luna, are you down here?" the girl called out as she stepped from the path and out onto the grass, "Your dad said… oh…" She apparently noticed the stranger lying in the clearing.
"Hello, Ginerva," Luna airily greeted the new girl without looking up from the water. She waved her hand in Harry's general direction and said, "This is a friend of mine, Holly Figg… Holly, this is Ginerva Weasley. Come get comfortable, the water's at the perfect temperature for Plimpie hunting… even though we've caught enough for dinner, a few more wouldn't hurt."
Harry had already closed his eye and straightened his head when he heard Luna mention that name. He remembered that name, not only from his book, but also from the birthday, Christmas, Saint Valentine's Day, Saint Patrick's Day, Easter, Saint George's Day, May Day, Saint Swithern's Day, and Halloween cards he's been receiving every holiday since he started getting his owl post regularly. He tried not to let any emotion show on his face, but he couldn't stop the slight frown from tugging at the corners of his mouth.
"Hi," said the new girl with a sudden hint of discomfiture in her voice, "Call me Ginny." She must have noticed his frown.
"Hello," Harry replied, surprising himself at how icy his voice sounded.
He sat up and shook out his long hair, having been dried and puffed up by the sun and the warm breeze that always seemed to flow through the clearing. Thankfully, his hair had puffed up enough so that the scar on his forehead was completely obscured. He certainly didn't need his biggest fangirl noticing that particular, unique feature on him.
Curiosity got the best of him. He had to see what this Potter-crazy young witch really looked like. He picked up his glasses from the blanket beside him, slipped them onto his face, and glanced back over towards the redhead in time to, unfortunately, catch Ginny slipping out of the last of her clothes. He tried, but he couldn't tear his eyes away from the girl's scrawny, stringy body. Her skin was pale… a ghostly kind of sallow white that made each and every one of the plethora of spots and freckles stand out, as if thousands of blackberry-engorged hummingbirds relieved themselves all over the poor girl's shoulders and face.
He was finally able to turn away as the now naked girl dipped her sticklike legs into the water. He knew that he, himself, had a thin, boyish body while in his female form, and even noticed that Luna, while nicely tanned - presumably from spending much of her summer in this marvelous, sunny sanctuary – also sported a mostly featureless body, but Ginny appeared to take that 'awkward phase' to it's natural limit.
Harry was feeling more than a little uncomfortable as he stood up from his blanket and walked towards his own clothing that was hung up on the towel rack. He had already decided to leave when he glanced at his watch and saw the time. He let out a strangled 'eep' and began to hurriedly pull on his clothes as he said to Luna, "I didn't realize how late it was! I've got to go!"
Harry had just pulled his shirt over his head and was wedging his feet into his shoes when Luna walked up to him. She waited patiently for him to finish before pulling him into another tight hug.
"Thank you for coming, Harry," she whispered into his ear, "and thank you again for saving my mother. I'll never forget it."
"You're welcome," he whispered back to her, "but I really have to go."
He pulled away from her and began jogging towards the path. He smiled and called back, "Bye, Luna, I'll see you again," and just before he disappeared up the path, he paused and looked at the gangly redhead bobbing in the water, "Bye, Ginerva, it was, umm… nice… meeting you… yeah."
He barely caught the wave of her bony-white arm before he turned and disappeared from their view. He dug the last piece of dispelling goo from his pocket, tore open the leaf wrapper, and stuffed it into his mouth. Once he felt the effects starting to change his body, he looked around one last time to ensure nobody was there to see him and closed his eyes. An instant later, he had silently faded from view, reappearing back on the Isle of Wight next to the beach house in one of the outdoor shower stalls.
Harry could still feel his hair retracting into his head and hear the odd clicks and pops his body was making as it resized itself. Once the change was complete, he removed the girly yellow shirt he was wearing and folded it into a towel that was hanging nearby. He then let a short spray of water from the shower hit his hair to dampen it and rubbed the excess water onto his chest and arms to make it look like he had just taken a rinse. He tucked the folded towel under his arm and, as confidently as he could, walked out of the showers and onto the beach.
He tentatively looked around and let out a relieved breath. He was alone on the beach. He casually strode over to the rigged lounge chair and gathered up all the things he placed there earlier and stuffed them in the carrier bag before he hefted it onto his shoulder and carried it back to the house.
Harry had just made it to the top of the stairs when he heard Jaana's shrill, angry voice coming from the end of the east wing hallway, "Harry! What did I tell you?"
Harry turned his head and saw Jaana racing down the hall towards him with a look on her face that suggested to him that she was less than pleased.
"I… I…" stammered Harry as he watched the fuming witch advancing on him. She just about reached him when he flinched and held up his arms protectively, which seemed to stop Jaana in her tracks.
"What's the matter?" asked Jaana worriedly when she saw him suddenly cower.
Harry wasn't sure what to say or do. She went from looking livid to looking worried in an instant. Did she know he had left the property? What was it that made her so angry? He made sure to avoid looking at her eyes and asked in a timid voice, "What did I do?"
"Well, look at you!" she said in a somewhat calmer voice, "You're red as a lobster! I told you to use sunblock! Now I have to reapply all of those healing charms so your face and hands don't scar up… Honestly, Harry, what were you thinking?"
Harry looked at his arms. Now that he was out of the direct sunlight, he saw that he was, indeed, very red. Now that he was thinking about it, he felt the clothes he was wearing, which now consisted of only his pants that were a tad too small for him, rubbing irritatingly on areas that should have been covered while he was in the sun. He suddenly looked very embarrassed.
Harry thought about answering… making some excuse… but he still had that problem of not being able to effectively lie to Jaana. Instead, he just sighed and said, "Sorry… If you get me the burn potion, I'll put it on myself and go right to bed… I'm kinda tired."
"To your room," commanded Jaana with a thrust of her finger towards his door, "I'll get it and do your back… you can do the rest yourself."
Harry nodded and turned towards his room. He hoped that Jaana wouldn't press the issue and try to apply the potion below his waistband… he wouldn't want to have to explain how he got sunburned everywhere…