Interlude – Christmas With The Grangers
"Are you sure it's OK with you're parents, Hermione?" Harry asked for the fifth time since they'd left the castle.
"Of course it is, Harry," she assured him, "Thanks to you lending me Hedwig, I was able to send letters to my parents quite often and ironed out all the details ahead of time. There is nothing to worry about. Trust me!" she laughed and playfully shoved him.
He laughed in return and tried to quell his fears.
It was the first time, ever, that he had ever gone to a friend's house, let alone one that just so happened to be female. Come to think of it, he'd never really had friends before Hogwarts, so not only had he not gone to another's house or met their parents, he'd never done any of the things that Hermione, Ron, and even Neville seemed to take for granted. He was seriously stressing over making a good impression, enough that he started to worry his powers might interfere or start going out of control, the same as the other times he'd been stressed.
"Harry..." Ron mumbled, "Can... can we go over it, just one more time? Please?"
Harry sighed and smiled to himself. At least there were a few things he was confident about, and his control over Ron being just one of them. His plan regarding Dumbledore and the Voldemort-Possessed-Quirrel another. Hermione, on the other hand, still had some reservations.
"There's nothing to go over, Ron. You go home, and you don't talk about what I've told you, or if anyone asks about me, tell them that we play chess and talk about Quidditch all the time. Because guess what?" Harry waved his fingers in front of Ron's face as he brought them together and snapped. Ron jerked back and then shook his head, like he'd just woken up from a nap. "That's all we do," Harry finished his statement.
"Oh yeah, that's right!" Ron grinned and nodded his head. "Have a Happy Christmas, Harry!"
"You too Ron. We've still got the entire train ride," Harry patted his 'friend' on the shoulder.
"I understand why you have to do that Harry, but do you really have to hypnotize Ronald for everything?" Hermione asked him as they stepped onto the waiting train. Their luggage had already been loaded, so it was just a matter of a queue to get on.
"Apparently so," Harry shrugged. "I really wish I didn't have to though. Both for the reasons you're thinking of, but also because it's getting really tiresome to keep having to do it every five minutes."
"Hey Harry," Neville said as they made their way to the rear compartment, the same one they'd all ridden up in on the first train ride to school, "Want to play Exploding Snap once we're under way?"
"Sure!" Harry grinned, happy to be offered, and he felt he was getting better at the intense magic game.
Once everyone was settled in their cabins, they expected to leave soon after, but after more than ten minutes, they were still just sitting there, and the boys were considering just starting there game regardless. Before they could though, the door to their compartment was opened rather suddenly and without warning.
"Professor McGonagall?" Hermione exclaimed.
The Transfiguration teacher acknowledged her student's exclamation with a brief smile, but then her standard stern expression resettled on her face as she turned to Harry. "Mister Potter? If I may ask, what is it exactly that you are doing here?"
Harry frowned. He hadn't considered this. Let's see how far he could take it without resorting to his powers.
"Whatever do you mean, Professor?" he innocently responded. "I am waiting to depart for the holidays, much as I'm sure everyone is waiting to do so."
"And when exactly did I receive your permission slip?" she asked him pointedly.
Harry frowned. He had two options here. He could either keep trying to talk her around and wait for her to lead him into whatever verbal trap she had waiting, or he could do the 'Jedi Mind Trick' thing. His hands were already twitching expectantly. Hermione, however, seemed to know what he was thinking and put her own hand on top of his and squeezed warningly.
OK then, he decided, let's see where this goes.
"I informed you when it was first announced that I was going on the train for the holidays, Professor. At no point did you tell us that you needed any kind of permission slip. Not in the letter we got at the first of the year, not in all our meetings in the Common Room, not in all your classes, not during last night's feast, or this morning when you were helping everyone pack up. None of the older students mentioned it. Ron has several older siblings that went to Hogwarts and he never mentioned anything about a permission slip. Hermione?"
"My parents and I were never informed that there was any sort of permission slip that needed to be filled out prior to my departing, and I have not turned in any permission slip either, Professor McGonagall. Was I supposed to have?" she asked, just as innocent as Harry to the older witch's eyes.
The Deputy Headmistress frowned and would have cursed under her breath if she didn't have most excellent control over herself in most situations. She still couldn't believe Albus was making her do this. And without an explanation either. Still... the Headmaster had been most insistent that Harry was not to leave on this train, and he fully expected the First Year student to be back in the castle for Lunch.
"Be that as it may, Mister Potter, the Headmaster would like to see you. If you'll come with me?" she stated it more than asked.
To her surprise, he turned to Miss Granger with a look that seemed to be asking her permission. She seemed torn and then took her hand away from his and nodded with a heavy sigh. The moment after that, she would not remember, not even under Veritaserum. The next thing she would be aware of and would remember, was walking back into the castle, sans Harry Potter and no good answers for Albus Dumbledore, laying the foundation for later suspicions, which would then eventually lead to mistrust and accusations.
All of that was for later, however, for the moment, Harry focused his power and held up his hand, a green spiral shooting out of it to entrance Professor McGonagall.
"Why are you so insistent that Harry not come with me for holiday, Professor McGonagall?" Hermione asked before Harry could even think of a question.
"Albus insisted that Mister Potter not leave on this train and that he was to remain at the castle for the holiday," she answered with no hesitation or her usual sternness.
Frowning, Harry and Hermione exchanged a look. She hesitated and seemed to hem and haw over the decision for several long moments before nodding her permission to him. He nodded grimly back to her, knowing how difficult it was for her to basically give him the freedom to brainwash their teacher. Well, not Brainwash brainwash, but... well, whatever.
Putting up both hands this time, Harry unleashed his power on the Transfiguration Professor's mind and after the green spirals had faded away, she merely blinked once, turned on her heels and walked away. Minutes later, the train was underway. Once they were in the open countryside, Harry let out a sigh of relief as he released all the tension that had been building in his body since they had let Professor McGonagall go.
"What did you have her do?" Hermione asked, once she saw he was no longer tense.
Looking to his friend, Harry shrugged and replied, "Do? Nothing. I basically combined my H. Illusion with H. Trance and through the use of both made her believe that I had agreed and was leaving the train with her and that if anybody asks, I was in the castle somewhere, but she didn't know where."
"H. Trance?" Hermione repeated. "I remember what you've told us about your Illusion technique, but this is the first I've heard you mention anything about an H. Trance technique."
"Sorry. It's basically a mid-range of my Trance Touch and Trance Ripple. All it really does is enhance a hypnotic trance, without walking the person through the relaxation exercises. My H. Illusion, on the other hand, is more like a transmitted post-hypnotic suggestion. By using both at the same time, I increase the power of the illusion and make it nearly unquestionable in the person's mind."
"Don't ever do that again!" Hermione snapped at him, startling him.
"Wait, what?" Harry was confused. "Hermione, she wasn't going to let us go unless she thought I was with her! You could see that, plain as I could! There's nothing harmful about it, and I did put in a time limit, next time she goes to sleep, the illusion wears off completely! So, what's the problem?"
"The problem?!" she screeched.
Getting in his face, finger pointed right between his eyes, she yelled, "The problem, Harry Potter, is that you basically just admitted that you have a way of making your Suggestions completely unnoticeable!"
Harry sighed and rolled his eyes. "Hermione," he said calmly, "I've put you in deep trances more than once now. And you've admitted, and I have tested you each and every time, that you recall everything that you experienced while in the deep trance. That's all I did, and that is all that my H. Trance does. It puts someone into a deep trance. Nothing more. I swear."
"Do not use your Deep Trance Techniques on me or anyone ever again! Do you understand me?" she screamed, still in his face.
"Why?" he frowned and crossed his arms, staring her in the eyes.
She quickly averted hers, pushing him back. "I've read the same books you have Harry. I know what a person can be made to do, to believe when they're in a deep trance. Even the doctors who applaud the benefit of hypnosis acknowledge that deep trances can be dangerous if not handled by a trained professional! Your work with Neville and Ron aside, you are still very much an amateur Harry and you have not been trained by anyone! What if you hadn't put in a limit with the deep trance illusion you placed Professor McGonagall in?"
"What do you mean?" he asked, arms still crossed.
"What if she always believed from now on that you were in the castle, but never knew exactly where? What if she didn't know where you were, even while you were in her very classroom?" she argued.
Harry frowned, acknowledging her point, but he still had to make his. "I understand your fears, Hermione. I really do. But the reason I put in a time limit like I did is for the exact opposite reason that you're arguing about."
Hermione scoffed at him, refusing to believe his excuses.
"If you'll recall, I've tried to put the same Suggestions that you're worried about into Professor Snape's mind. And, again if you will recall, he keeps breaking them down so I have to keep reapplying them, or applying different measures to get him to leave me alone. I also put in permanent PHS triggers into all of our teachers. Professor McGonagall is the one that I've noticed tends to stop responding to those triggers the first out of all the Professors. At first I thought it was the same thing with Snape, but no. She's now 'aware' that I did anything at all, not like he is after every time he confronts me the way that he does. It's just like the Suggestions I put into her mind were wiped clean and never put there in the first place."
"How do you mean?" she now paid attention, curious.
"It took me a while, but after our fourth or fifth class with her, I figured it out," he shrugged. "Remember our first day of Transfiguration? Professor McGonagall was sitting there on her desk... as a cat."
The bushy-haired witch blinked and slowly started to nod her head. "You can't hypnotize animals. Professor McGonagall is an Animagus. When she transforms, she's essentially an animal, and whatever post-hypnotic suggestions that you placed in her mind lose their grip because her mind is now the mind of an animal."
"Well," he shrugged, "The mind of a human, in an animal's body. I think until I can actually learn how to hypnotize animals, every time an Animagus transforms between human and animal, the animal part wipes away any and all PHS traces. After all, I was just able to give her a very complex PHS just before. The limit I imposed was more along the lines that she wouldn't allow herself to turn into a cat until tonight."
"Why not just make it so she would never transform again?" Hermione argued, playing the Devil's Advocate a bit.
"Would raise suspicions, and I strongly suspect that she could overcome that the same way Snape keeps overriding my PHS to him. Besides, if turning into an animal is intimate enough that hypnotic suggestions get 'forgotten' as easily as it appears to be, then I suspect that there is likewise some... some kind of—of give and take between the two. A, oh what is the word, oh! Right, a symbiosis. An Animagus needs to be their animal side as often as they would need to be their human side."
"That's a rather debatable point of view," said Hermione, finally relaxing her hostility towards him some.
Harry smiled and happily began a rather stimulating argument over Man's "Animal nature" versus his "Spiritual consciousness" in a psychological debate one would normally see on a college campus between post-grads rather than an eleven-year-old and a twelve-year-old on a magic train.
King's Cross Station
When the train finally arrived, the students wasted no time in gathering their belongings and seeking out their respective parents. Harry stuck with Hermione, lugging his trunk alongside him, Hedwig's cage perched precariously on top, until he could find a luggage carrier that is. Unfortunately, they could find none on Platform Nine and Three Quarters, and so after a few minutes looking, the pair bid farewell to their wizard friends, who were still searching the crowds for their own guardians, and then made their way to the portal that would lead them to Platforms Nine and Ten.
Just as they were about to step through, Harry glanced back and noticed a commotion back at the train, but he just shrugged and turned and followed Hermione through the portal. Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on the point of view) Harry completely missed the fact that the 'commotion' was in fact Professors Dumbledore, Snape, and Quirrel Apparating onto the platform and began searching the train for "Potter" alongside several Aurors.
On the other side of the portal, Hermione quickly found her parents and was soon smiling brightly as she ran up to them, leaving Harry to deal with both trunks. Moments later, introductions were made and Harry was rather impressed with Hermione's parents. They were sort of a mix-up between all the 'cool parents' you heard stories about, and what TV and movies showed real parents to be like, IE strict but fair.
They quickly acquired some trolleys for their trunks and then started making their way for the exit. Unfortunately given the fact that the Grangers actually lived outside of London, that meant getting on the Underground connection to one of the parking lots that were quite a ways away. It was the better option than walking four or five miles on the busy streets above.
Interestingly enough, in looking back on it, Harry would decide that the next few series of events were some of the best in his life, if only because of the consequences of them.
"Hey there pretty lady," a Scottish-accented punk suddenly stood in their way. All around them, his 'friends' had surrounded them, maybe half a dozen. "These your kids?" he asked Mrs. Granger.
"What do you want?" she asked nervously, drawing both Harry and Hermione closer to her.
"Well, that is the question, isn't it?" he spoke, emphasizing his Scottish accent with every syllable. "Give us the purse and those two trunks there. For starters."
Harry frowned, reaching for his pocket where he normally kept his wand, only to recall that he'd left his wand in his trunk after departing the train. Hermione had as well. They'd been going into the Muggle World, after all, and there was the Statute of Secrecy and everything. The punk grabbed Mrs. Granger by the back of the neck and pulled her forward, startling a scream out of her.
"Mum!" Hermione cried, tears brimming in her eyes.
The other punks around them all laughed. Harry clenched his fists impotently, feeling truly powerless for the first time in months. He had almost forgotten what it felt like. He would not forgive those that had just reminded him of it's bitter taste. It also reminded him that he should probably check up on the Dursley's while he was back.
"Give us the luggage!" the punk screamed into the woman's face.
"Leave her alone!" Harry cried out, moving to physically separate the two. Only to be pushed to the ground for his efforts. It was like being back in elementary school with Dudley and his friends all over again.
Harry's eyes flashed green, and his clenched fists began to glow. When he spoke again, there was an odd quality to his voice that grabbed everyone's attention and held it.
"I said!, leave her alone! If you want to bully someone, bully me!" he screamed, unaware that he was using his HOMV technique.
The punk released Mrs. Granger and then grinned viciously down at Harry, a grin mirrored by all the others. "As you wish," was all he said before kicking Harry was he was still down on the ground. That was all the others were waiting for and soon Harry was reminded of the other part of elementary school with Dudley and friends.
Minutes later, the police had been summoned and every last one of them arrested. Mrs. Granger and Hermione had run and gotten help, though afterward, Hermione wished she had instead gone for her wand in her trunk, rather than leave Harry alone as they called for the police. Once they had pulled the last of the punks off of Harry, they immediately rushed him to the hospital, seeing him as a bruised and bleeding lump of flesh.
Rather than with the Grangers in their guest room, Harry spent his first week of the Christmas holiday in Charing Cross Hospital. While there, he picked the brains of every adult doctor, psychologist and psychiatrist that the hospital had on staff. Among other tidbits of information here and there, he also got their respective opinions on the concept of hypnotism. Almost all of them agreed, it was just a way of relaxing the mind and getting the subconscious to 'play tricks' on the conscious waking mind. Only two out of more than twenty on staff even realized they were under hypnosis while he was questioning them.
After he was fully healed and released into the care of the Grangers for the remainder of his vacation, Harry sat down with Hermione to discuss his new outlook on life, post attack and post hospital stay.
"Oh Harry," Hermione busied herself with fluffing pillows and putting them all around his chair where he sat, "I'm so very sorry that..."
"That what?" he interrupted her, taking her by the wrist and applying a brief pulse of his Trance Touch, just enough to calm her down. "That I got hurt? That I used my powers incorrectly and wound up paying the price for it? Acting before thinking, right. Or that you asked me not to use my powers and that was possibly the reason that I got hurt?"
She blushed and ducked her head, telling him more than enough. He smiled and let go of her hand.
"Hermione?" he said to her mane of hair. "Hermione? Please look at me. It's not your fault. Truly, it's not. If anyone, it is my fault. Like I said, I used my powers improperly. I could have had them dancing in their underwear and giving us all their worldly possessions, but instead I was impulsive and wasn't paying attention to my words. If nothing else, this experience has taught me that words are important. And they can hurt."
"Oh Harry!" she burst into tears and launched herself at him, hugging him tight.
Harry held her and let her cry herself out, not even trying to use his powers or do anything to 'suggest' the pain go away any sooner than it naturally should. He just held her like a friend was supposed to and let her get it all out. He took the opportunity to start thinking, or rather rethinking his decision from before they'd left on Christmas vacation.
Take over the world? Seriously? He asked himself. He'd let the power go to his head and other than a couple incidents here and there, he hadn't met any real opposition to the use of his hypnotic powers. Now he finally had and it opened his eyes.
There was no feasible way for him to unite all the people in the world under one banner. Even if he could hypnotize the whole planet, and he knew for a fact that he could not do that at all, he would have to basically keep every single person in the world under a hypnotic state permanently for it to work. That was not happening. All arguments about free will versus imposed will aside, he was not going to be the one to do it. Period.
Therefore, Harry re-purposed his plans for the future, even as he sat there holding Hermione in his arms. Dumbledore and Voldemort both had plans regarding him. Dumbledore wanted to control him, Voldemort wanted to kill him. Not immediately, but in stages. Both employed the magical skill they called Occlumency, which did absolutely nothing to hinder his Devil Fruit powers whatsoever, but they didn't know that.
Voldemort's plans primarily involved getting his body back, followed by his power, his followers, and only after he had all that did he plan on killing Harry "as an example" in front of those it would make the greatest impact on. Dumbledore knew Voldemort wanted the Stone in the school, knew that he was killing unicorns to survive, and suspected Professor Quirrell of aiding Voldemort in someway. He did not in fact know that Voldemort had possessed the Defense Teacher's body. Not the way that Harry did anyway.
Long term plans, Harry could not pry from Dumbledore's steely grip on his secrets. The man loved secrets and controlling everyone around him. Odd that he was most attracted to the people he never had any hope of controlling. Short term, he wanted to 'test' Harry and gauge just how malleable he was and in what ways, having planned ahead of time a number of challenges for him and his 'friends' to overcome throughout the year. Those friends were to include Ron Weasley, and whoever else that could also be manipulated and controlled. From what he'd managed to get from the Headmaster, Harry knew Hermione fell perfectly into the open slot. By the same token, there were certain others that did not.
Harry decided that his first order of business was to make alliances, if not true friendships, with those that did not fit in with the Headmaster's plans for him. Second order of business, stop Voldemort from getting his body back and cut off whatever 'life support' he has that's keeping him going. That latter part was more long term than the former. Third, find someway to toughen himself up, because wanting to take over the world or not, Harry had enemies and the way he was right now, there was no way he could defend himself let alone begin to defeat any one of them! Finally, he had to get protection, serious protection. And not just magical or physical either.
Hermione had stopped crying. He pulled back and looked her in the eye. Then he asked her a very important question, one he had no clue as to the answer for.
"Hermione, do you know where I might get some self-defense training?"