Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Chapter One- Dementors
"Harry, maybe you should go to the hospital wing."
Harry looked up at Hermione. "Why?"
She pointed her fork at his plate, which was still loaded with the sausages and potatoes that he had put on it nearly twenty minutes ago. "Because I haven't seen you eat anything since term started, and that was nearly a week ago. Also, you look pale."
"And you haven't been sleeping right," Ron added, putting his own fork down for a moment. "You wander down to the common room in the middle of the night."
"I have so eaten," Harry said, trying to remember if this was strictly true. He had been missing quite a few meals since returning to school. He hadn't had much of an appetite, and ended up eating only a few bites when he even bothered to put anything on his plate. Still- he couldn't have missed every meal. That was absurd.
Well, he'd only had a chocolate bar today (he'd picked up a whole box in Diagon Alley while getting school supplies, and had been hiding them from his dorm-mates ever since) but certainly yesterday, he'd- well, no, he'd only had chocolate, then, too. This did not seem like compelling evidence, and if he did share it, Ron would know about the chocolate. He tried to think of the last full meal he'd had, and couldn't.
Hermione watched this mental dilemma with something between amusement and concern.
"Fine," Harry said. "I'll go."
He walked up to the hospital wing, where Madame Pomfrey clucked at him and gave him some pepper-up potion. Harry didn't feel any better for it, but then, he hadn't felt ill in the first place.
"Feel better?" Ron asked when Harry wandered back into the common room a few minutes later.
Harry shrugged. "I guess," he said. He stayed a moment, watching Ron easily beat an unsuspecting fifth-year at chess, and then went up to his dorm. He was feeling a but hungry now, and those chocolate bars were calling his name. He felt a momentary flash of guilt for not sharing, but ignored it. He would share a few bars when there weren't so many left; that way, he wouldn't go through the whole supply in a week.
He'd get back on real food tomorrow. After all- he was obviously getting better if he was hungry at all.
It was only lunch time the next day when Hermione sent him back to the hospital wing, despite his feeble attempts to eat a piece of toast. Well, half a piece of toast. And he hadn't managed even that, really.
Harry couldn't remember ever being really ill before. He'd missed the bouts of flu that the Dursleys and his primary school classmates had suffered, and he'd never had so much as the sniffles as far back as his memory went. Hermione had explained to him, once, that wizarding children tended to have terribly good immune systems. Muggle illnesses rarely were strong enough to make them ill, and even then, they tended to be very mild.
Wizarding illnesses were a lot more serious, as a general rule; they gave you nasty puss-filled sores, or kept you in bed for weeks, or killed you. Harry hoped that he didn't have one of those; there wasn't a single one of them that was easily curable.
Once in the hospital wing, Harry found that he had to wait. Some second-year Hufflepuff had managed a spectacular explosion and splattered what looked like the entire second-year Hufflepuff-Ravenclaw class with unpleasant results. They had all grown extra hands wherever the potion hit them.
"No, you cannot keep it," Madame Pomfrey was telling one chubby Ravenclaw boy.
"But it would be useful! Think of all the times you need to carry something, but your hands are already full, so you try to pick it up and only end up dropping all the things you were holding. With an extra hand, you could-"
But Madame Pomfrey had now managed to grab hold of his arm and vanish the extra hand that had grown from his elbow, and had moved on to the next student, a small girl with blonde hair who appeared to be playing peek-a-boo with herself, since both of her eyebrows had become hands and were covering her eyes.
Harry turned away from this scene to find that Professor Lupin had come in, and was sitting in the next chair over.
"Hello, Professor," Harry said.
"Hello, Harry. I take it you aren't feeling well?"
"Er- just a bit ill. Pepper-up potion doesn't seem to have taken care of it, so…" Harry didn't want to admit that he'd only come up because Hermione had made him, so he changed the subject. "What about you, sir? Are you alright?"
Lupin pulled up the sleeve on his right arm, revealing a tightly wrapped bandage. "I had an encounter with a creature in the forest a few nights ago, and the wound isn't healing as well as I'd hoped."
"Oh. What sort of creature?"
"One I sincerely hope you never run into," Lupin said, neatly avoiding the subject. "That forest is a dangerous place."
"I know," Harry said, thinking of the times he had nearly been killed there. Voldemort in first year, and acrumantulas in second… "It wasn't an acrumantula, was it?" he asked without thinking.
Lupin gave him a strange look. "Whatever gave you that idea?"
"Er- well, I've heard rumors that there's a group in there…" Harry put on his most innocent face.
"Mmm-hmm," Lupin said, apparently not convinced. "You do know how dangerous acrumantulas are?"
"Oh, yes," Harry said blandly.
"Then you know that, had I encountered a nest of them, I likely wouldn't be sitting here today."
"Oh," said Harry, feeling a bit stupid. After all, if it had been acrumantulas, Lupin wouldn't have bothered trying to hide it. It was no secret that all sorts of dangerous creatures lived in the forest. It would have to be something really strange, or something that ought not to be there at all.
Madame Pomfrey finished with the last of the second-years then, and beckoned Harry over.
"Yeah- I'm not really feeling any better."
She made him list his symptoms, and Harry was highly aware of Professor Lupin's presence the whole time. The last thing Harry wanted to do was look even stupider in front of a teacher that might be worth something.
Madame Pomfrey stared at her cupboard of potions for a while, as though it might tell her what was wrong with him. Finally, she asked, "Is there anything you have managed to eat?
"Well- I've had a fair number of chocolate bars…"
Her head shot up at that. "Really? Tell me, how have your dreams been?"
How that question related to her last one, Harry didn't know, but he answered it. "Er- strange. Not bad, exactly, but weird."
She nodded briskly, as though this was what she had expected. "Dementors," she said. "If I told them once, I told them a thousand times- having those things so close to the school isn't good for the more sensitive students."
Harry wanted to protest at this point, but she was already in full mother-hen mode.
"I'll be calling on the Board of Governors again. Maybe now they'll listen to sense…"
Harry groaned a little. Lucius Malfoy was on the Board of Governors, and he was certain to tell his son all about this. Harry was never going to see the end of the Harry-fainting-and-nearly-being-eaten-by-dementors impressions if this got out.
"Really," he said. "I'm not that ill. I feel much better, actually. I might- I'll just go now. You don't need to trouble yourself-"
"Nonsense," she said. "I can get a potion ready for you by dinner time, but I will keep working on the governors- even if the other students aren't feeling the effects as strongly as you are, it isn't healthy to have those nasty things so close by. It's illegal to have them so close to where people live, under normal circumstances…"
Harry left the room, grateful to get away from her. He paused just outside the door, however, when he heard her say to Lupin: "I really do hope it was worth it, risking your life in that forest yet again."
"We have to find out why they're massing. No one else is as protected as I-" Lupin gave a hiss of pain. "Is this strictly necessary? I can't possibly be infected."
Madame Pomfrey gave a little laugh. Harry, in the hallway, was thinking furiously. Who was massing in the forest? Dementors?
"Well- what did you find out?"
"They have a new leader. Someone more aggressive than the previous one. I don't know with any certainty who, though I have my suspicions."
Well, that ruled out dementors. Somehow Harry didn't think they would follow any sort of leader.
"Not-" Pomfrey gasped a little.
"That's what I fear."
"Well- if it is him, then you should be doubly careful. He's betrayed friends before, as you well know. He wouldn't hesitate a moment before he turned on you."
"I know," Lupin said, with a bit of a hitch in his voice. "I'll be careful."
"There," she said. "All wrapped up. Come back in a few days so I can take another look at it."
"Thank you," Lupin said. "I'll do that."
Harry made a hasty dash around a corner before Lupin could see that he'd been eavesdropping. Then he remembered he was late for charms, and went down the stairs. At least he had a valid excuse...
As he had promised, Harry went to see Madame Pomfrey after dinner. This time, there were no others around.
"Here," she said, pouring him a glass of what looked like hot chocolate. "This is a potion to protect your mind from outside influences, mixed with a basic nutritive potion. You ought to thank Professor Snape for that, next time you see him. It isn't something every wizard could make."
Harry had no intention of thanking Snape for anything.
"What's a nutritive potion?"
"One to slow your metabolism and give you additional calories. It's mostly sugar, honestly. You said you hadn't been eating right, and you're too thin as it is. When was your last full meal?"
Harry shrugged. "Dunno," he lied. If he hadn't eaten since the beginning of the school year- and Hermione, at least, seemed certain he hadn't- then it had been a long time ago indeed. He'd been at the Dursleys all summer, and the amount that they fed him couldn't reasonably be called a snack, let alone a meal. At least they hadn't locked him up, this summer. So- the last good meal he'd had was at the Leaving Feast. He'd stuffed himself full then, but it didn't make up for the three months since.
"I'm not a big eater, normally," Harry added when it was clear that Madame Pomfrey wanted more information. Because I don't have food, normally.
He took a sip from the cup, and nearly gagged. He liked sweets as much as the next thirteen-year-old, but Pomfrey hadn't been joking when she said the potion was mostly sugar; it tasted sweeter than any candy Harry had ever had, sickly sweet, cloying.
"How much do you weigh?" she asked abruptly, eyes scanning his skinny frame as if she were trying to gauge the information.
Harry shrugged again. He didn't really know.
She summoned a scale from the other side of the room. "Step up," she said. Harry did so, knowing before he did so that whatever his weight was, she'd find a flaw with it.
He looked down for a moment, and then frowned. "That can't be right," he said. "I can't weigh that little."
She smiled grimly. "And yet the scale says that you do. I think we need to work on your eating habits, Mr. Potter. Continue drinking your potion while I talk, please."
Harry went back to the chair he'd been sitting in, and took another sip of the nasty stuff. Why couldn't any potions ever taste pleasant?
"I'm sure you're aware that a boy your age and height ought to weigh significantly more than you currently do. Now, I understand that you've been ill lately, and that accounts for a bit of the problem. However, I don't think you lost over two stone in the last week."
Harry shook his head.
"Now, I want you to tell me what a normal meal consists of, for you."
"At home, or at school?"
She gave him a strange look. He seemed to be getting a lot of those, lately.
"At school, first," she said.
Harry went about describing his meals to her, and she looked fairly pleased. "That sounds about right," she said, "Though you need to eat extra, to gain some weight. Now- what do you eat at home?"
"A cup of broth, or a piece of bread. If I've finished all my chores, that is. If not, I don't get any food. Plus what I can sneak, and whatever my friends send for my birthday."
Appalled was too mild a word to describe the healer's expression, which was gratifying to Harry. He'd told teachers in primary school, and they'd all refused to listen, or forgotten as soon as he left the room. "Well," she said. "You do realize that if you're making some sort of joke…"
"Why would I do that?" Harry asked.
"To get even with them, if you were mad. I've seen it done before."
"Well, I'm not. Mad at them, that is. Not more than usual. They were almost decent, this last summer."
She looked a bit ill. "Really?"
"What do they normally do?"
Harry ended up staying far longer than he had anticipated, telling her about summer before second year, when he'd been locked up in his room and rescued by Ron and the twins, and the time before school started, when he'd finally been given his own room instead of the cupboard under the stairs.
"Have you told anyone else about this?"
"Not in so many words. Not since I was in primary school."
"Now- this is very important- you do realize that this constitutes, at the very least, criminal negligence, and most likely abuse?"
Harry stared at her. "What?"
"If what you're saying is true, it should be fairly easy to get you away from them."
Harry had dreamed since he was small about someone comint to take him away from the Dursleys. But years had gone by without anything of the sort happening, and he hadn't made any efforts to escape them in years.
"I wouldn't want to go to an orphanage," he said, in a voice that was smaller than he intended it to be.
She gave him a fond look, which he had never seen her do before. "Mr. Potter- if it came to that, I would adopt you myself."
She glanced at the clock. "Oh, dear. It's getting late. You'd better get off to bed. I'm going to do some research, and get some forms to fill out. Come back before breakfast- you'll need some more potion then, and before every other meal for the foreseeable future. We need to fatten you up. If you don't get up to an average weight by the end of the year, there will be consequences. Sleep well!"
Harry walked back to his common room, feeling a bit stunned. That had been unexpected. He tried to imagine what it would be like to have Madame Pomfrey as a mum, and couldn't. Besides, it would never come to that; the Weasleys would take him in if he needed them to, probably.
"How did it go?" Ron asked. He was bent over an essay, which he would have to redo since it had chocolate stains all over it.
"Fine," Harry said. There were other people around, and he didn't want to talk about it in front of them. This was personal. "Do you want to go up to the dorm, and work on homework there?"
"There aren't any proper desks there," Ron complained.
"I need to talk," Harry said.
"Oh. Well- lets go, then. Should I get Hermione?"
"Where is she?"
"She's talking to McGonagall about her schedule. Personally, I think she's mental. Did you see her schedule? Half of her classes are at the same time as one another. She'd have to be in two places at once, or three maybe."
"Well- I'll tell her later, then."
But he was spared telling the whole thing twice, because at that moment, Hermione came back into the common room.
"Come on," Harry said. "We're going up to talk."
She gave him a sharp glance, but followed.
He told them everything about his two visits to the hospital wing, including what he'd overheard Lupin saying. It was only after all the other information was revealed that he began to tell them about the adoption offer.
"Well, she reckons she can get me away from the Dursleys-"
"How?" Hermione asked.
"Er- well, some of the stuff they've done isn't exactly legal."
Hermione looked a bit shocked, but not as much as might have been expected. Ron's jaw set in a sort of grim determination. "Yeah," he said. "I tried to tell dad loads of times, but he just wouldn't listen. Thought I was exaggerating."
Harry shrugged. "Anyway, she's stuffing me full of potions, and trying to make me gain two stone by the end of the year."
"Did she actually figure out what's wrong with you, though?"
"Oh- yeah. Stupid dementors again. Apparently they're affecting me even at this distance, though not so badly. I have potions to take for that, too."
Hermione nodded, satisfied.
"See?" she said. "Aren't you glad you went to the hospital wing, now?"
"But what did Lupin mean about something gathering?" Ron asked. "Like… dementors, or something? Because I can't see anything else getting near, with them around."
"Dementors wouldn't follow a leader, I reckon," Harry said. "So it can't be them. But that's a good point; it would have to be something that isn't afraid of them."
"I'll look it up," Hermione said. "I'm sure I can find something out in the library."
That said, they went back to homework. Harry hadn't really made a start on any of it, and he ended up falling asleep on a transfiguration essay and prodded awake by Hermione, so that his face was smeared with ink for the rest of the evening.
It was once he went to bed that the real problems started, unfortunately.
He woke to find that it was late at night, but he wasn't at all tired. He swung his legs out of the bed, and was surprised to find that there was sand on the floor. That was odd. It was too dark to see why it was there, so he walked towards the door. He opened it, and was even more surprised that he didn't see the staircase down to the common room; instead, there was a large room with a huge blazing fireplace. No- "room" was too kind a word. This was a cave, carved into stone but never fully finished. There was sand all over the floor, and the walls were rough.
Next to the fire were three red arm chairs, oddly out of place here, facing away from Harry. There were men sitting in two of the chairs, but the third was empty. He took half a step forward, only to find a hand grasping his shoulder to stop him.
"You don't want to go in there. Galba isn't happy today. You'd best go back to sleep."
Harry turned to find himself facing a boy identical to himself. He felt his jaw drop, but the other boy seemed unfazed. "Go," he said. "Bed." He gave Harry a shove back towards the bedroom, which ended up knocking Harry to the ground. The shock of it woke Harry for real, and he found himself only inches from the stairway. If he'd taken even half a step more-
Well, suddenly Harry's strange dreams didn't seem so innocent anymore.
Some of you may have noticed that I said Harry spent the whole summer at the Dursleys, when he spent the last three weeks at the Leaky Cauldron in canon. Don't worry; this is intentional. This story deviates from canon earlier than it might seem just yet, but everything will make sense later.
Edit 10-13-08: Slight Brit-picking. Will probably come back and fix it up some more if and when I get a proper Brit-picking beta.