Harry Potter and the Unlocked Knowledge
Chapter 15: Good Things Come To Those Who Wait
The cacophony of a full marching band drumline cadence, together with a spectacular light show, three brown golems serving as targets, and a half-goblin who leaped from the head of one golem to another as he released light blue spells from his wand at a dark haired wizard made for quite a scene in Harry's training room.
The only person present to see it was Hermione, who'd been half-watching Harry all day as she completed an Arithmancy assignment.
Harry handily sidestepped to the left and did a half-turn in time with the steady beat of the snare drums; his arm circled above his head, he silently thought, "Stupefy!" and a crimson bolt shot at his attacker as a pair of cymbals crashed together. Dodging another light blue Stinging Hex, he turned again so that his side was facing his attacker and let loose another bright jet of magic. Harry did a twirling hop over the next spell shot at him and a moment after he landed let loose a third spell, all in time with the drumline's cadence.
Batting the next of Professor Flitwick's spells to the side contemptuously, Harry dodged the second – the Professor's quick wand had released two almost simultaneously – with a spin and fired his own Stunning Spell at the golem the diminutive professor occupied as he finished it.
They continued their game for another few minutes, before Harry's sidestep grew too slow, and Professor Flitwick's Stinging Hex made Harry yelp slightly as it hit his trailing arm.
The drum line abruptly stopped mid-beat, and the drums, cymbols, and sticks dropped to the ground with a great clash. Hermione jumped up at the unexpected noise, then shook her head and resumed her essay.
"Very good Harry!" Professor Flitwick said in an excited squeak. "I think the drum cadence has really helped your timing! Did you notice that you're releasing spells immediately after the dodge now? There's no time to get situated in a real duel, obviously, so you have to get used to aiming as you turn."
Hopping down from his perch on the left golem, Professor Flitwick sheathed his wand into his belt holster after Vanishing the drums and cymbals he'd conjured.
"Thank you, Professor. I'd never considered using music as a timing cue to increase my casting speed and timing with those dodges." Harry said as he thoughtlessly conjured a towel and wiped his forehead of sweat and Vanished it.
"Ah yes, Harry – you'll find music to be remarkably magical in many ways! I got my own start with a bladvak-torek when I was just a child. That's a goblin instrument, of course – sort of like a flute attached to an axe-head. If you paid attention in History of Magic class, I'm sure you've heard of the Goblin Uprising of 1457. The uprising was actually conducted entirely with musical instruments – since then, goblins have made it a point to combine instruments with weaponry, just in case an orchestra takes it upon itself to rebel again, so that they'll be better prepared. Quite a lovely instrument, actually, and the axe heads can double as a chime if struck with a nail." Flitwick finished with a smile, indicating his own claw-like nails. Harry smiled nervously as he agreed with the small professor, mentally reminding himself not to underestimate him.
"Well Harry, as much fun as this has been, I really must grade my seventh years' essays – they get so prickly in their N.E.W.T. year if I don't return them within a few days! It must be the stress from the upcoming exams. I've been considering secretly bludgeoning them all with Cheering Charms for years! Have a good rest of the night." Professor Flitwick said with a smile before leaving Harry and Hermione alone in the room.
"How's the Arithmancy, Hermione?" Harry asked his quiet friend amicably.
"Oh, it's going well enough, I suppose. I've finished the calculations now, I just need to incorporate them into the essay explanation of the assignment. Rather cut and dry, you know." Harry nodded.
"Those were impressive conjurations and charms, to get those drums to play like that, weren't they Harry? I was ever so thrilled to try to charm an instrument, but…well I'm afraid the clarinet did not play nearly as well as Professor Flitwick's drums." She said, hardly looking up from her essay.
"Yeah, even the conjurations are quite tricky. The drumheads have to be exactly right or they sound weird. And charming them to play on the same beat, much less a uniformed cadence…well, it's beyond me. Flitwick's been conducting the Hogwarts' choir for years though, so I guess he's had lots of experience with music. That might help; I never played before Hogwarts, and aside from the occasional tune on that flute Hagrid carved for me in first year, haven't played anything since." Harry admitted.
Harry hadn't practiced the charms much yet, since he had busied himself with other sorts of drills to better his wand skills, but had been quite impressed with how effective the metronomic cadence had been at adjusting his spellwork timing and speed – he would have to work a bit harder on the enchantments.
"You've been spending more time here since the last Quidditch game." Harry commented. Hermione finally looked up, an annoyed look on her face.
"McLaggen." She said simply, as if it explained everything. With Ron in the hospital, Harry had been forced to put in the seventh year as Keeper. After a time-out in which Harry berated him for attempting to play captain and screamed at him to mind his own bloody position, things had taken a turn for the better. Unfortunately, playing well as he had, McLaggen had attracted the attention of another Quidditch talent scout that was in the audience, and would now be attending theQuidditch Junior Leagues. Of course, he thought this made him the most eligible bachelor in all of Gryffindor, as well as Reserve Keeper and Assistant Captain of Gryffindor's Quidditch team, and Ron and Harry's new best friend.
"I swear, he's now obsessed with me! And I can't figure out why - I'm the only girl in Gryffindor who isn't throwing herself at him. I know for a fact Lavender didn't come to bed last Saturday night, and sure enough the two of them were cosy that night and the next morning. Honestly, it's horrible, the way he leers." She said with a roll of her eyes.
"And he's even taken to following me to the library now!" She continued ranting. "'How's the studying, Hermione?' 'Maybe you can show me some of your Charms.' 'My broom could use a bit of polishing, Hermione - you fancy helping me out or you just want to watch?' What kind of bloody awful pickup line is that anyway?" Harry laughed aloud at that as he took out his own Transfiguration essay to polish off.
"Come on, Hermione, you've heard worse - that last one wasn't even so bad. When you tack on the bit about watching at the end, he sort of leaves you with a choice between two really awful options." She scowled at him, but Harry kept laughing.
"Well, I notice you're spending an awful lot of time here as well. And that Katie isn't spending much time here at all." She said, eyeing Harry closely as he finally stopped smirking.
He still hadn't patched things over with Katie, and was worried that any move might be too overt; the truth was that he missed her something terribly. "She hasn't spoken much to me. I think she may have said 'Hi' once, when I called out to her in the hall. Not even during the Quidditch game or practice, or after the game at the party. She came up to Ron and said hello and hoped he was feeling better - I was standing right there and she wouldn't acknowledge me!" Harry said angrily. "I guess she isn't who I thought she was, if she's behaving so childishly."
"Well, you really can't blame her entirely, Harry." Hermione said, finally giving the conversation her whole attention as she put away her essay. "After all, you did sort of ignore her for awhile there. And maybe she isn't talking to you because she'll just get upset if she does? It's easier not to talk to a person you care so much about, if you think they don't return the feelings." Harry knew she was speaking from experience on that.
"First, Ron does return your feelings toward him; you two just need to sit down and actually formalize the fact that you're a couple. Second of all, of course I care about her - we've been dating more or less for almost six months! Just because I'm too busy training to fight the most powerful dark wizard in history and don't always have the time I'd like to spend with her, doesn't mean I don't bloody care about her!" Harry exclaimed vehemently. Hermione raised her eyebrows as he raised his voice.
"Sounds like you should be telling her that, Harry." She finally recommended with a smile. Harry let out a breath he didn't know he was holding in a defeated sigh and sort of deflated.
"You're probably right. Thanks, Hermione." She smiled back, and nodded his thanks off.
"So, can you tell me your secret yet, Harry?"
"Legilimens." He said dully, immediately assaulting her mind. He dove haphazardly through her thoughts and memories - though they were definitely slipperier, harder to grasp and hold onto than before. Finally settling on her memory of their first becoming friends by fighting the troll together, he got up to the point where his eleven year old self jumped on the back of a mountain troll before she pushed him out of her mind.
"Not bad progress." He said, ignoring the slight pulsing headache the legilimency attack caused. "But no, not yet."
She nodded, accepting his decision as he packed his things. "Good luck on your Apparition test tomorrow, Hermione."
"Harry!" A deep voice, deeper than most of his friends possessed, called out as soon as he stepped out of the room. His wand was up in an instant, but he lowered it almost immediately.
"Hey Harry!" Cormac McLaggen said boisterously as he swaggered down the hall and slapped Harry on the back in greeting. Inside his head, Harry was seething - how had McLaggen, of all people, managed to find the room he'd cast nearly every reasonable protective and avoidance ward on?
"Cormac, how did you find me here?" He finally asked wearily.
"Just followed my nose, man - you stink! You been hitting the weights for Quidditch? Not a bad idea, I reckon - should probably do some of that myself! Still, you don't have to throw a Quaffle or anything...you just doing cardio to stay in shape, give you some staying power on the pitch? And off the pitch, of course!" Cormac said, winking slyly and nudging Harry with his elbow. Harry knew what the older boy meant, but tried not to think much on it, for fear of projectile vomiting. Tom had no such compunctions, however, and was counting the number of witches possibly willing to sleep with Cormac - and how many of those had made eyes at Harry, as well. Twelve was the number he came up with.
"Follow his nose, is he an effing bloodhound?" Harry muttered grumpily under his breath. "No, Cormac, just practicing a few spells. You know, classwork and all that." Cormac looked turned off by this.
"Classwork? Harry, I know you're only a sixth year, so you might not have done research about careers and whatnot." Cormac said, wrapping a large arm around Harry as though he were a mentor imparting sage advice. "But Quidditch players don't need N.E.W.T.s - not even one. So if I were you, I'd get my priorities straight and concentrate on the pitch. After all, we could be teammates together in the pros! I mean, that'd be great right? Playing for the Falcons, maybe - they're the ones who're sponsoring me in the Juniors, you know." Harry did know. All Cormac wore these days were Falcons jerseys. Apparently his father bought something like twenty for him, when he got the sponsorship; it was Quality Quidditch's entire stock.
Harry allowed Cormac to steer him towards the Common Room as he mindlessly discussed Quidditch with McLaggen. No, there didn't appear to be any adverse effects from the poison on Ron. Yes, Harry was quite sure Ron would be able to play in the last game of the year. No, Harry didn't foresee any team injuries despite the amateur Beaters on the team. No, Harry hadn't known that Cormac also played Beater quite well, but yes, he was quite satisfied with the existing Beaters, but would keep Cormac in mind if they were injured.
"Awesome, Harry." Cormac said as they got to the portrait of the Fat Lady. "Alright, I'm gonna hit the kitchens - trying to bulk up for summer, you understand - I'll talk to you later, man!"
His headache in full force and his eye twitching slightly as he rubbed his temple, he didn't even look as he plunged through the portrait hole.
And ran right into Katie Bell.
"Er, sorry about that, Katie." He said, backing through the hole allowing her to leave. Their eyes met for a moment, but Harry looked away before his passive legilimency read her thoughts. A part of him wanted desperately to read the girl's thoughts, but Harry liked to think that was mostly Tom - I resent that, Harry...it is at most partially my fault - and ignored the urge.
"How've you been? I...haven't seen you in about forever." He said lamely.
"Yeah." She agreed softly.
"Look," he began as she moved to turn away. "I know things were...well, it was my fault, I admit that. But I'd like to talk to you some time - are you free now?"
"I'm really busy today, Harry, I have an essay in -"
"Okay, sure. Look, I know you're busy and N.E.W.T. year is crazy and everything - but how about tomorrow, right after classes? Just a few minutes to talk, Katie, that's all I'm asking for." Katie seemed to stare at him a moment, weighing the decision.
"Fine, Harry. My last class ends around three o'clock, tomorrow." Harry grinned at her, despite her obvious reticence. She gave him a slight smile before turning to continue on her way.
You really do know how to tear a girl's heart apart, Harry. It's almost a skill. You know, Dumbledore's idea that love is the power Voldemort knows not may have some merit - get him to fall for you and then drive him away through neglect and he may just off himself. Tom said jovially. Harry mentally scowled but attempted to keep it from showing on his face as he entered the Common Room.
The following day was going well for Harry - he was looking forward to attempting to patch things up with Katie, and was enjoying Potions class with Professor Slughorn.
With most of his year taking their Apparition test, only Harry, Malfoy, and Ernie Macmillan were left in the class. Slughorn told them to 'do something fun!' since there were so few of them. Harry, however, thought that he could simply finish his Skele-grow potion.
The class was in the midst of doing individual projects now, picked from a lengthy list, and Harry had decided upon Skele-grow; the useful potion would be a good addition to Madam Pomfrey's stores. Particularly since he himself had used some of it before; it would also be useful to know how to brew, should he ever break a bone so much that a simple Episkey didn't work to fix it.
"Harry my boy, how's it coming? Tricky potion, that Skele-grow! Invented by a former student, of course - actually derived from Blood Replenishing Potions, which he studied in his N.E.W.T. year with me. Apparently blood is stored or created inside of bones, and so growing blood and growing bones is related! I didn't really read the fine print, but it was fine potions work, I'll tell you that much!" Professor Slughorn said amiably.
"Of course, sir. Skele-grow is complex, but I believe ten of the ingredients are also in the Blood Replenishing Potion. And of course, Skele-grow is quite a bit more potent. I wonder if your student was attempting to make some sort of emergency, fast-acting Blood Replenisher when he noted the previously undocumented effect on bone growth?" Harry said as he carefully added a few ground up leaves to the potion at the proper time.
Slughorn gave a cursory examination of his cauldron and the manner in which he was preparing ingredients, nodding a few times.
"Quite possibly, Harry, quite possibly. Good mind for experimentation you've got! I daresay you might make the next great innovation in Potions - if you do, I know a chap at The Practical Potioneer, I'm sure you'll get a good spot in the journal. Best professional potions journal out there, you know!" Slughorn said jovially before moving on to look unimpressed with Draco's attempt at a Hiccoughing Solution.
When Harry finished his potion and turned in the cauldron of it for the Professor to pass on to Madam Pomfrey, he hadn't even left the room when a winded third year Gryffindor girl whose name Harry didn't know handed him a note of parchment.
"Harry Potter? From Hagrid." She said simply before turning around and leaving.
A glimpse over the tear-sodded note - as tear-sodded as the note Hagrid had once written concerning the fate of Buckbeak - and Harry sighed audibly.
"I hate Acromantulas - why should I care if he's dead, Hagrid?" Harry said to no one in particular as he grabbed his things and made to leave the Potions classroom.
"Acromantulas, did you say, Harry? Fine creatures, fine - their venom is an incredibly valuable potion ingredient, you know. Terribly difficult to harvest, as well - well-harvested venom fetches a price of hundreds of galleons for just a small vial!" Professor Slughorn interjected.
"Yes, I'd heard the venom was valuable, Professor. Too bad this one's dead, because Aragog was enormous." Harry said nonchalantly.
"Dead, you say? The venom is always harvested from recently deceased specimens, Harry. That's why the beasts are so rare in certain areas these days - hunted down for their venom. Mostly used on goblin-wrought swords to make them poisonous during their rebellions; the goblins were notorious for it up until about three hundred years ago when they finally hunted the last major colony in Germany's Black Forest to extinction." Professor Slughorn lectured excitedly. He was also eyeing the note in Harry's hand.
"Professor," Harry began, seeing Slughorn's eye. "You know, I'm sure Hagrid would welcome anyone who wanted to come to Aragog's funeral tonight. We're to meet at his hut around six o'clock tonight, and hike up to his brother Grawp's cave, where he brought Aragog's corpse. I'm sure such a...distinguished guest would lend quite a bit to the funeral - Hagrid would love it. And after all, Aragog wouldn't be using his venom any more, so I'm sure he wouldn't mind if you harvested it."
"Yes...yes, of course, Harry. Proper thing to do, attend the funeral - Hagrid's a good friend, obviously. And this...Aragog...he was a sizable beast, you say?" Slughorn said, surreptitiously taking out his pocket watch to check the time.
"Biggest one I've ever heard of, Professor. You know it's rare for Acromantulas to die of old age." Harry said coyly.
"Old age...good heavens!" Slughorn said excitedly before starting to mutter to himself. "Yes, yes...I'll need a standard collection kit - large needles, no telling how deep the sacs are. And syringes - the biggest I've got, I'd wager..." He seemed to remember Harry's presence, then.
"Ah, Harry, best head off now. And since you can't be going on the grounds without an escort after dark," he said with a wink and a smirk at Harry. "I'll obviously be escorting you to Hagrid's tonight. For your own safety, you know."
"Of course, Professor, thank you for your time. I do appreciate you letting me help out a friend like that." Harry said, grinning back at Professor Slughorn, who smiled jovially.
He didn't notice Draco Malfoy, who had also stayed in the room after class ended and overheard their entire conversation, narrow his eyes and give Harry a dark look before hurrying off behind him.
Harry was back in the Common Room when he ran into an excited gaggle of sixth year Gryffindors.
"Harry! Bloody great advice, mate - saved my arse on that Apparition test! Next Hogsmeade visit, I owe you a butterbeer, yeah?" Seamus said with a slap on Harry's back.
"Yeah, good on you, Harry. With that 'Three D' nonsense I'd never have made it!" Dean agreed jovially.
Accepting their thanks with only mild confusion, Harry sought out Ron and Hermione.
"What exactly is all this about?" He said, motioning towards the celebratory sixth years.
"Heh - every single Gryffindor passed their Apparition test on the first go, Harry. And most of them say that advice you gave a while back about focusing on where you want to go and kind of forcing yourself there? Everyone agrees it's loads better than the Ministry nonsense. I know it all made a lot more sense to me!" Ron said happily as he pulled out the framed piece of paper declaring him legally able to Apparate.
"As I told you, Ron, Harry just rephrased what Mr. Twycross was telling us. I'm not saying he didn't do it very well." She amended. "But really, he said the same thing!"
"Well of course you did it perfectly the first time, Hermione. And the Ministry method might make sense if you're some kind of genius. But for everyone else, what Harry said makes more sense. And I didn't splinch my ear off, so you'll excuse me if I prefer Harry's way of doing it." Ron said with a wink at Harry. Hermione merely rolled her eyes in mock exasperation.
"Oh, I wanted to talk to the two of you. Take a look at this." He said, handing over the message from Hagrid.
"Blimey, Aragog's dead? Good riddance, I guess." Ron said flippantly. Harry expected Hermione to object, but to his surprise she merely nodded in agreement.
"I must say I agree, Harry. Aragog sounded like he was a monster, from what little you and Ron have mentioned. And you can't be thinking of going." She said skeptically.
"Well yeah, of course I was thinking of going. I certainly didn't like Aragog, but Hagrid did. He was Hagrid's first friend, just like Hagrid was mine; so yeah, I'm going tonight." Harry said in a tone that brokered no argument. Hermione heard the finality in his voice, and tried a new objection.
"Hagrid wants to meet at dusk, Harry. And take you off school grounds. To some place in the mountains where he's hiding Grawp? And if I remember correctly, Grawp was recently attacked by wild mountain trolls at his cave!" Hermione exclaimed, remembering their visit while Ron was in the Hospital Wing from his poisoning.
"Well first of all Professor Slughorn has agreed to escort me. And second of all, I'm sure Grawp will be perfectly capable of handling a few trolls - again - if they decide to interrupt the ceremony. Besides, I have been known to be somewhat capable with a wand, from time to time." Harry finished dryly. Ron snorted, while Hermione looked mildly appeased.
Besides, tonight will be the perfect night to give Grawp the potions you've specially dosed to account for Giant blood. A powerful Strengthening Solution should be an incredible asset to a Giant. Tom reminded Harry of the potions he'd altered and brewed over the past few months. He was fairly confident that the recipes were correct, now. At least they hadn't killed the test subjects this time.
"Well, whatever you'd like to do, Harry. But I certainly won't be going to a funeral for a giant spider." She said with a shudder. "Besides, Ron was going to show me a few of the Animagus meditations tonight in the practice room." Hermione said, her slightly blushing face belying what she really hoped would happen.
"All right," Harry accepted. "I can go by myself, that's fine. Oh bugger, I'm supposed to meet Katie after class..."
"Well you're lucky I was coming to the Common Room anyway, Harry." Katie said as she sidled up to the group.
She looked pretty today - exceptionally pretty, if Harry had to say, as though she'd spent perhaps a bit more time than usual on her appearance that morning. Her dirty blonde hair was worn down, and had a sheen as though she'd brushed it a few hundred times - a charm that Harry knew of because of Parvati and Lavender talking about it in the D.A. the previous year.
Apparently you aren't the only one willing to give your relationship another chance. Tom said smugly.
"Hi Katie. You look great today." Harry greeted honestly. She smiled slightly as Ron and Hermione found more interesting places to be and left the two of them alone.
"So..." He began awkwardly. "Do you mind finding somewhere to talk other than the Common Room? Frankly having everyone overhear anything we might say doesn't really appeal to me."
"Yeah, of course, Harry." Katie agreed, and followed him out the portrait hole. "And...I'm sorry I made a scene in the Common Room when...you know. I could have found a more private place to have that discussion with you. Or yell at you," She amended. "Because I guess there wasn't much of a discussion."
Harry met her embarrassed self-deprecating remark with a short chuckle of agreement. The two walked together until they found a quiet spot in a hallway overlooking one of the larger courtyards.
"So...um, what's that?" Katie began, gesturing to the slip of parchment from Hagrid that Harry had shoved in his pocket.
"Ah, my plans for the night." Harry replied. "Hagrid's pet Acromantula died - he's had it since he was a first year here, it was really special to him. So he's throwing it a funeral, and wanted me to go. I knew Aragog. Well, sort of - actually he attacked me and Ron back in second year, when we were trying to figure out what was petrifying students. But I guess that's mostly as close as Acromantulas get to humans, so I was pretty close to him." Harry recounted with a smile. Katie laughed at his comment.
"That's really sweet, Harry. Was that what you were talking about with Ron and Hermione?" She asked. Though the last month or so she'd been gone, Harry couldn't help but reflect on how much Katie had really become a part of their group this past year - she was rarely with anyone else.
"Yeah, I figure Hagrid would have wanted as many people as possible to come. Even Professor Slughorn wanted to show up, though that was mostly so that he could get fresh Acromantula venom, I think. Neither Ron nor Hermione wanted to come, though. Ron's still upset that it tried to kill him - though, that was years ago, and with me having so many people trying to kill me I guess it doesn't bother me as much." Harry interjected, making Katie laugh - he'd forgotten how pretty her laugh was. "And Hermione doesn't like spiders, apparently. Though that's a new fear, as far as I know. And her and Ron were 'practicing Animagus meditations' tonight, though I'd bet she's finally going to make a move and snog the poor boy."
"Well, it's about time, I suppose." Katie agreed. "Can I come?"
Harry was surprised for a moment. "To a spider's funeral?"
Katie looked sheepish only for a moment before nodding. "Sure. You invited your other friends. I'm not doing anything tonight, so...I'd like to go." Harry graciously didn't point out that just yesterday Katie had told him that she was too busy to talk with him; he also was more than a bit put out at how she just counted herself as a 'friend'. Harry only hoped he'd be able to quickly turn that into something more.
"Sure, that'd be great, Katie. Hagrid wanted us there in a couple of hours, and I know I should change robes, so...want to head back to the Common Room?" Harry asked.
"Sure." With a quirk of her eyebrow, she asked, "Harry? What do you wear to a spider's funeral?"
"Well...I was thinking black..." He said with a shrug.
"Harry my boy! And the lovely Ms. Bell! I suppose I should have expected to see you two together again!" Horace Slughorn said with a wink. He was outfitted in resplendent dark emerald dress robes - not enchanted to sparkle like his more flashy dress robes, these were rather sedate and refined. His robes were well accented by silver trim, of course, and he had a matching pocket watch that completed the ensemble. He completed the look with a comb-over of his remaining grey hair covering his bald pate.
"Well, Harry's not the only one who likes Hagrid, Professor. I'm simply going to pay my respects to his pet." She clarified. At least she didn't immediately object that you aren't together, Tom reminded Harry lamely, trying to quell his growing frustration with no longer being in a relationship with Katie, yet trying to still be friends.
He understood a bit better now, why Ginny and Dean no longer talked - the transition from boyfriend to friend was grating on his nerves.
The three of them made their way outside the castle, with Professor Slughorn constantly asking about one thing or another - and both of them were planning on attending his upcoming dinner? Yes, the Quidditch camp did sound lovely, he'd have to make sure to stop in to see some of his favorite students - which was perfectly fine with Harry and Katie, who each caught the other casting furtive glances all along the walk.
Hagrid met them outside his hut. He had chosen to wear the hideous brown suit that Harry vaguely remembered from the Yule Ball and his dance with Madame Maxime, and had even combed his wild mane of hair for the occasion.
"'Arry!" He said gratefully, wrapping the boy in a crushing hug that cracked his back. "Thanks fer comin'. Know it'd mean a lot ter Aragog, 'e talked about yeh a few times. Liked yeh, I think. An' Katie, good ter see yeh!"
"Oh yes, Hagrid." Professor Slughorn butted in, shaking Hagrid's hand with a pained expression on his face. "I came as soon as young Harry told me the news - terrible thing, just terrible. I knew you could use some support in such a trying time. I was only so happy to come, of course!"
Hagrid wrapped the portly professor in a hug then, as well, and delicately blew his nose in his robe as he bent to lay his head on Slughorn's shoulder. "Mighty kind o' yeh, Professor. Always knew yeh was a good man. Dumbledore'd be here, o' course, but 'e's a busy man. Sent his best to meh an' Grawp." Hagrid said, shaking his head. "Grawp's hiked Aragog up near his cave. It's a lovely spot, really, I know Aragog'd love it there. I wanted to bury him in the forest cave, but...his kids never got on well wit' me, funny enough. Threatened to eat their ol' dad if I buried him there, an' me with 'im! Imagine tha'!" Hagrid continued morosely, pulling out a hanky and blowing his nose like a foghorn once again.
"Ready ter head off, then?" Hagrid asked, glancing at Harry and then back to the castle. He was probably hoping for Ron and Hermione to appear.
"Absolutely, Hagrid, lead the way. I hear Grawp's doing quite well - still enjoying that club I gave him for Christmas?" Harry said, starting small talk with Hagrid after giving him a smile and a nod.
The "hike" up to Grawp's cave might have been a brisk hour walk for Hagrid as a half giant, but for the three wizards, even with Harry's clever use of a Featherweight charm to jump over the inconvenient boulders that Hagrid merely climbed over as a nuisance, it took over an hour and a half. Slughorn was red faced and huffing when they finally reached Grawp. Hagrid's brother had lit a fire, since night had fallen, and his cherublike rock of a face broke out into a smile when he saw the visitors.
"Hagrid! I pull spider to cave and light fire. Hi Har-Ree and...you not Herm-Min-Ninny!" To Katie's credit, she only paled slightly when she met Hagrid's brother for the first time.
"Hello." She greeted from a distance. "I'm Katie Bell. It's a pleasure to meet you...Grawp, was it?" Grawp's eyes lit up and he nodded his head vigorously.
"We should get on with the funeral for Aragog, Grawp. Time fer chattin' later." Hagrid said, interrupting. Grawp looked to his brother, and nodded solemnly. Or possibly the nod was confused - solemnity and confusion looked similar on a giant.
The five of them stood in a semicircle around the corpse of Aragog, perhaps ten feet away from Grawp's fire. Silence reigned, until Slughorn suggested he give a eulogy - fitting, since he and Katie were the ones who didn't know him at all. Great tears rolled down Hagrid's face, and Grawp patted his back forcefully in a crude imitation of human comfort.
Slughorn cleared his throat gently, "Farewell, Aragog, king of arachnids, whose long and faithful friendship those who knew you won't forget! Though your body will decay, your spirit lingers on in the quiet, web-spun places of your forest home. May your many-eyed descendants ever flourish and your human friends find solace for the loss they have sustained."
The whole thing was awkward, in the eyes of Harry - a glance at Katie showed that she was oddly uncomfortable as well. Slughorn bent down after his eulogy and surreptitiously stuck a series of needles near Aragog's pincers, and filled the syringes with a yellowish orange liquid that looked to have the consistency of saliva. The Potions Master quickly emptied the syringes into a series of flasks that he subsequently charmed unbreakable, and with a smile headed over to Hagrid to offer a few words of comfort.
With a nod from Hagrid, Grawp lazily pushed the body of Aragog into the hole they'd dug, while Hagrid sniffled.
While the attention of almost everyone was elsewhere, Harry removed a corked cauldron from his cloak's interior pocket - removing the cork before expanding it to its full size of a small swimming pool - and levitated it closer to the entrance of Grawp's cave. It was clearly labelled "For Grawp from Harry". That was surely enough incentive to get him to drink it.
"Harry!" Hagrid called with a slap on his favorite student's back. Harry was nearly bowled over from it. "We're headin' down to me cabin to drink to Aragog's memory. I think it's only right, that. 'E would've wanted a cheerful sendoff, I think."
Harry grinned and returned the slap on the back, turning it into something of a manly hug before he and Katie joined their Professors for a round of drinking.
Professor Slughorn had brought bottles of wine - Hagrid's mug was so large that it wasn't even filled by an entire bottle, which he immediately began drinking greedily. Harry took the liberty of silently Scourgifying three of Hagrid's best mugs before Professor Slughorn split another bottle of wine for the three of them.
An hour of many-times-over refilled wine bottles later had Katie's head on Harry's shoulder as she grinned pleasantly at nothing. Professor Slughorn and Hagrid had just finished their last song together before Hagrid passed out against the wall.
Sighing, Professor Slughorn looked at Harry. "I know why you're here, you know. Chatting me up and all that." He looked back down into his cup.
"Because of the memory Professor Dumbledore wants?" Harry asked, it having mostly slipped his mind - he and Tom had known what Slughorn had told Tom about horcruxes months ago.
Professor Slughorn looked up sharply at his suspicions being confirmed, while Harry just took another sip of wine casually, careful not to disturb Katie's head on his opposite shoulder. "That's why Professor Dumbledore brought you to Hogwarts, certainly. He's concerned that Voldemort -" Harry ignored the flinch from Slughorn and continued, "might have made more than one horcrux."
Slughorn, as the topic of horcruxes was brought up, got wide-eyed a bit, but didn't shy away. He'd gotten to know Harry well, as Harry had come to him asking for stories of his mother. He didn't quite have the relationship Tom Riddle had had, but being who he was, he didn't need it.
"Of course, I destroyed one when I was twelve and fought a basilisk - I'm sure you know basilisk venom is one of the few things that can, incidentally, destroy a horcrux. And Professor Dumbledore destroyed another earlier this summer. So we know for a fact that he made more than one - and with Voldemort being the student of Arithmancy that he is, he really only would have settled on a magically powerful number." Harry finished.
"Seven." Professor Slughorn whispered. "That was his question - if seven would be a more powerful protection from death than just having one horcrux. I told him it was a ghastly question, to murder seven innocents in cold blood. I tried to warn him off, truly I did! But I suppose even then...perhaps I guessed at what he was truly asking, what he was truly capable of. But Tom Riddle was pushing the boundaries of magic - of what we thought possible from a student - by the time he was a third year. Nonverbal casting, human transfiguration, complex animation. He could have taken his N.E.W.T.s the day he took his O.W.L.s and gotten O's across the board, I'd wager! And I was so damn proud to have gotten my hooks into him before the rest of the staff." Slughorn admitted shamefully. "He was to be Minister for Magic within a few years - I'd have wagered he'd have Albus' role as Chief Warlock and Supreme Mugwump, too, by now."
"I know, Professor. But thank you for telling me." Harry said with a nod of acceptance toward his Professor, knowing how hard admitting his shameful deed must have been. "It's true, you know, all the stories they tell about me. The Chosen One. It's funny, Voldemort spent the entire year last year trying to get the prophecy, and the Daily Prophet guesses it in one go, the day after it's destroyed. And they never get anything right!" Harry grinned easily, and Slughorn chuckled appreciatively, accepting the change in topic.
"So, I guess it makes my job easier, being that I know I have to destroy the horcruxes first before Voldemort and I have our final fight. So thank you, Professor Slughorn." Harry said, helping to put Slughorn's mind at ease. Judging by the dampness around his eyes, he was succeeding admirably.
"And now, I think it's time we returned to the castle. If you wouldn't mind escorting Katie and me? I'd hate to get a detention for being out after curfew." Harry said with a grin. Slughorn agreed and Harry began mostly carrying Katie through the castle; she hadn't paced herself well with the wine.
They said their farewells at the Fat Lady's portrait and Harry and Katie went on to the Common Room when Harry said goodnight to her at the stairwell leading up to the girls' dormitory.
"I think this means we're alright again, Harry." Katie said, still wearing the smile she had all night. She rubbed her hand appreciatively up and down his chest in a way that certainly made him want things to be alright between them. She blurted, "I don't even know why things ever weren't - it was stupid, getting upset at you for being busy."
"I shouldn't have ignored you the way I did either, Katie. I would very much like it if we were 'alright' again. And for us to be a couple again." Harry said, intentionally wording it in the least childish way he could think of. He somewhat hesitantly put his arm around her, running it up her back in a similarly sensual way as she was still doing to his chest.
She put her hands up to cup his chin and started kissing him - long, needy kisses that showed just how much they'd missed each other. He wrapped his arms behind her and pulled her tight, pressing every curve of her into him and then running his hand up her back into the base of her neck as they finished a long series of kisses.
The common room was mostly empty this late, of course, but the three students who were still lounging around this late were sure to spread rumors; they were all still staring at one of Gryffindor's most popular couples embrace, despite Harry's glance at them.
"I think we'd better say goodnight, Katie." Harry said, keeping his face close to hers as he stared into her eyes.
"I kinda want you to tuck me in." She said playfully. He kissed her again after shaking his head.
"With the charms on that staircase, I really don't think that's a great idea, unfortunately. Although I'm sure I'd love to find out what kind of 'tucking you in' we can do that would relate to making up..." He teased back.
"Ugh, damn charms. Foiled by Dumbledore I guess." She said with a final kiss. "Goodnight, Harry."
"Night." He said, before turning up to his own bed.
Morning seemed to come absurdly early the next day, and with it the telltale signs of a hangover.
"Wine hangovers are the worst." Harry said with a groan to no one in particular. Fumbling for his glasses, he found them at the same time that his fingers grabbed a note of parchment, written in Dumbledore's notable loopy handwriting.
Please join me in my office at your earliest convenience. The gargoyle knows to let you in.
That is unusual, Harry, Tom said warily. Harry agreed. I know, Tom - he always gives me a password. Maybe he tried out some new enchantment on the gargoyle but...with magic escalating the curse as we suspect, I doubt that.
Harry dressed quickly; between his and Tom's suspicions, he ended up putting on the heavily enchanted robe he'd made early in the summer - the twin to Voldemort's during his early battles that kept him safe despite his foes' prowess. The cloak that had first given him the reputation of invulnerability, of being more than just a wizard.
In the stately blue-black robes, Harry quickly left for Dumbledore's office. He and Tom shot back and forth possibilities - the likeliest was that Dumbledore had found a horcrux, and was taking Harry with him to destroy it. Such news would perhaps explain the change in protocol for the gargoyle - Dumbledore might not want to be disturbed by anyone but Harry.
Finally, Harry came upon the winged gargoyle that guarded the staircase entrance to Dumbledore's office.
"Hello." He greeted the stone statue, which looked as inanimate as it always did. "It's Harry Potter, I was told you were supposed to let me in."
The rubies that were its eyes flashed so quickly that Harry almost thought he imagined it. Usually the stone guardian slowly rotated to reveal the staircase, but not this time. This time gryphon wings encircled a shocked Harry, who didn't even have his wand out.
At the same second he was being crushed against the stone gargoyle by its powerful wings, the claws were forcing his hands across his chest - for the briefest instant he had entertained a thought of trying a wandless summoning charm, but now the angle was entirely wrong and he couldn't move his wand at all from the firm grasp of the stone guardian. The wings finished wrapping around him, gripping him as tightly as any Incarcerous Charm, and the gargoyle shot upwards like a rocket, forgoing the stairwell entirely.
The gargoyle shot sideways as Harry continued his rather fruitless struggle, and erupted through the doors of Professor Dumbledore's office with a bang!
The Professor was calmly eating kippers behind his desk when Harry burst in, falling over with the gargoyle on top of him, facing the Professor.
Harry, Tom said in a calm voice that belied the situation they found themselves in. Not to alarm you, but Dumbledore seems to have you trapped.
Oh, thank you for that insight, Tom. Harry mentally replied, also attempting to remain calm despite his very thorough incarceration. I daresay he may be displeased with us for something.
Mhmm, Tom agreed. Perhaps even so much as upset. Harry fought back a grin that would have been entirely inappropriate.
"Ah, good morning." Professor Dumbledore said, dabbing at his mouth with a napkin.
"I've been expecting you, but I wasn't sure exactly when you might show up so I decided to have a spot of breakfast. I hope you don't mind." Dumbledore smiled wanly at Harry.
"I think," Harry said, carefully choosing his words. "That you eating breakfast is the part about this situation that I'm the most okay with, actually." Dumbledore smiled at the response.
"You know, I had an interesting chat with Horace last night. Which was, of course, related to your interesting chat with him. I was able to convince him to part with his memory of the night's events, along with a few others, so that I was able to view them in my Pensieve. Do you know what conclusion I was finally able to draw?" Professor Dumbledore said conversationally. Harry had a good idea what conclusion he had drawn, but was not about to voice it. Dumbledore ignored his silence and continued.
"You see, you convinced Horace so easily to give up the information that it was quite astonishing. The manner in which you did it...well, it was so eerily familiar to me. And it explains so many other odd little quirks from this past year. Tom." His eyes flashed furiously as he said the last, damning word - more true than he knew - and he drew his wand like a whip, brandishing it at Harry.
Harry was pulled up, seemingly by a grip on his neck, and the heavy stone gargoyle attached to him was also set upright. Then Harry was turned around in its tightening clutches to face Dumbledore once more.
"Alright Professor," Harry said before gulping at the sheer power behind Dumbledore's eyes. "Let me explain before you make what must be either a prophetic guess or an entirely inaccurate but logically sound assumption. Which may lead to you thinking I have horcrux of Voldemort controlling me."
A/N: Hope you enjoyed my return to the world of writing - maybe it won't be five years before my next update. I appreciate your reviews :)