CH6 Free as Air
The sky was overcast, but not too chilly and a perfect temperature as Ron and Harry approached Hagrid's hut. Knocking loudly on the door they heard a loud barking and Hagrid's deep baritone coming from behind the hut. "Who is it? I'm 'round back if yeh need sommat!"
Around the back of the hut Harry came face to face with the largest dog that he'd ever seen. It took all of the boy's considerable courage to remain rooted to the spot and not take off running. Harry was forcefully reminded one of all his close calls with dogs that weren't even close to this size that still thought he looked remarkably appetizing.
"Don' worry 'bout Fang. He's as friendly as anythin'. Afraid of his own shadow he is..." As if to prove his point he gave Harry's hand a giant lick and then leaped on Ron with a friendly bark and accompanying tongue lashings.
The second thing Harry noticed was a bright gold foal and three brilliant white unicorns standing protectively close. Forgetting all about the dog, Harry stood next to Hagrid leaving Ron to his canine companion. "Unicorns they are." Hagrid observed. "Won't let nobody near enough to help 'em though."
"What's wrong with them?" Harry asked nervously.
"Nothin's wrong with the unicorns, but that new foal there won't seem to stand up. Don't look like nothin's wrong with it, but I can't get close enough to check."
"Why not?" Harry was sure he knew, but this was the first time he'd met unicorns. Always good to check.
"Don't like men they don't. The foal mightn't give me too much of a problem, they're a bit more trustin', but the adults won't have nothin' to do with us. Doubly true for the mares."
"If they don't like men, then why can we stand so close?" Ron interjected, as he continued wrestling with Fang.
"Well, they won' leave a foal no they won'. There migh' be plenny of predators round these parts that'd take to munching on a baby unicorn. I know for a fact the Acromantula in the forest find unicorn to be a rare treat. They're mighty cagy unicorns are, but they're not so tricky if they can't move."
Harry could feel the unicorn's distress, and felt a deep sympathy for the animal. Protecting ones young was always more difficult in an exposed area like the pumpkin patch. Harry began slowly walking forward, low and slow, keeping his eyes on the ground. This was the same way he approached Father when he was younger and had done something particularly stupid.
Harry could feel their distress and concentrated all the calm, serenity and peace he could muster and focused them. 'Please Isis let them hear me.' Harry hoped unicorns could sense emotion the same way Kneazles could.
"Harry! What're you doin'! That's the band stallion! You get any closer to his foal and he's liable to attack, peaceful and gentle or no they'll defend their foals!" Hagrid pleaded.
"Hagrid, hush!" Harry commanded. It felt odd to say that to Hagrid, but he needed total focus and calm if he wanted to help. Slowly he crept forward until he was mere centimetres away from the foal. Harry reached up and placed a comforting hand on the stallion's chest willing it to understand he just wanted to help. Then slowly he closed the gap and touched the golden foal.
It squealed at the unwanted contact, but to both Hagrid and Ron's surprise the closest mare nuzzled it in a show of support and then tapped Harry with her nose as if to say 'well, get on with it'. Harry's hands roamed softly over the shiny golden coat until he found the problem. A large thorn had been lodged on the inside of the leg. Apologizing for the hurt he knew he had to cause, Harry delicately removed the thorn and saw a small trickle of bright silvery blood darken the floor of the pumpkin patch. Trying think of a way to staunch the slow flow of blood, licking it not being a viable option in his current form, Harry decided to try something he'd seen Ginny's older brother Charlie do once when Ron fell off his broom.
Harry ripped the seam of his robe and wound it gently around the exposed wound just tightly enough to staunch the flow of blood. Making sure the knot wouldn't come off anytime soon, Harry raised his hands in the air and slowly backed away. He, Hagrid, and Ron watched amazed for several minutes as the foal was coaxed to stand and then led slowly off by both mares. The stallion stayed behind until mother, aunt and baby were safely in the forest. Then with a low bow and a loud whinny, he whirled and sped off after his family.
"Harry, tha' was the most foolish thing I have ever seen anyone do!" Hagrid exclaimed. "What we're ya thinkin'? You coulda been killed there. Even I don' get that close to an injured unicorn foal. Jus' won' do!"
"Hagrid, the foal needed help and Isis help me I was going to give it. They weren't going to hurt me. Certainly not now."
"Well that's true enough I suppose." Hagrid conceded. Then more cheerfully added "Well on th' bright side it ya might've made a friend. Could come in dead useful yer third year."
"What's third year?" Ron asked, finally having gotten over his shock.
"Care o' Magical Creatures. Always liked tha' class." Hagrid said dreamily. "Well anyway, appreciate yer helpin' with that bit o' trouble. Now how 'bout fer some tea?"
Harry loved the rustic feel of Hagrid's wooden hut with its animal skins and oversized blanket. It reminded him comfortably of a human version of the corn crib. Despite Harry's seeming way with unicorns, most of the conversation revolved around Ron's family. Harry dazed in and out of conversation, knowing almost all of what they were saying. Ginny had always talked about her older brothers, especially Charlie and Bill.
A recent copy of the Daily Prophet was on the edge of Hagrid's bed and without thinking about it Harry began reading the front page article. "Hagrid, why is it such a big deal that someone broke into Gringotts? People go in and out all the time." Harry thought of mice. They were impossible to keep out and even humans were smarter than that.
"Well, it's supposed to be one o' the most protected places in all England. 'Cept Hogwarts of course."
"Wait, if someone broke into Gringotts, that'd have to be some really dark magic." Harry looked at Ron inquisitively. "Dad told me about it." Ron finished succinctly, and Harry didn't argue. One thing that he'd learned during his tenure with Ginny was that the Weasley patriarch was almost never wrong.
"Why'd someone want to break in anyway? It says the vault was empty," Ron pondered, reading over Harry's shoulder.
"Now don't you lot worry 'bout that. Dumbledore's got it all under control." Hagrid reassured them.
"Wait, Dumbledore? Is this something at Hogwarts?"
Hagrid's eyes went wide for a moment and then started muttering "Shouldn't ha' said tha'... Now looks like the sun's about to set. Better head back up to yer dormitories. Don' want yeh ta be gettin' detention. Maybe see yeh back here in a week or two. That's if ye want to. Jus' let me know afore hand so I can get the place straightened up."
With that both Ron and Harry were ushered out into the cooling air thinking heavily about what might have been moved from the mystery vault and doubting very much that Hagrid every really straightened up.
That night Harry was too excited to sleep. The weekend was upon him and after being that close to the forest for the first time since being here Harry had to go exploring. He could feel the wind on his face and soil beneath his paws and he hadn't left his bed yet. Harry slid noiselessly out of his bed but cringed at the racket his clothes made as he walked. Stripping quickly out of them Harry put on a breech cloth that Arabella had made him in a bid to get him to wear something this summer.
Harry slid down the stairs as silent as a ghost, provided that ghost wasn't Peeves. Slid open the portrait door and clambered out walking only a few feet away to avoid attracting the Fat Lady's attention. Harry concentrated on the feeling of the change. He still didn't know how he did it, only that it worked and thus far he hadn't been stuck as a human yet. After thirty minutes Harry could feel the electricity running down his spine that signalled the change and a few seconds later he had paws and fur again.
His senses were sharper, movement on four legs came more easily and he finally had his tail back! No more missed jumps for this Kneazle, Harry proudly thought. Within minutes a lone four legged figure could be spotted by the keenest of eyes streaking out the front doors of Hogwarts and towards the Forbidden Forest.
The thrill of the unknown drew him forward, that and an empty stomach. It had been a good few hours since dinner and he hungered for some home cooking. Rabbit would be nice. He'd take vole even old mole back, just please anything that wasn't cooked! Eating animals that were already dead just took all the fun out of mealtime.
As he passed the tree line the black Kneazle was very thankful to have his sight back. The thick branches overhead obscured the thin moonlight shining overhead and a new combination of sounds and odors put him on high alert. For the first time since arriving at Hogwarts Harry felt alive. This was his home; here was where he knew he was safe. The undergrowth and branches concealed his form and Father's training would protect him better than any spell. Creeping deeper into the forest Harry's mouth turned up in a toothliscious grin. Tonight would be good.
The forest was HUGE! Harry had never gone this long before in total cover without crossing a road or retracing some of his steps. Harry had feasted on a large rat a few minutes prior and was feeling suitably sated for the evening when he heard a rustle in the forest behind him. Spinning sharply Harry's natural night sight was instantly ruined by the glowing form of two unicorns steadily approaching.
'Be still little one' Harry heard the first one say.
'Ferd, don't scare him. We won't hurt you Harry.' The second one chimed in.
At this point Harry was growing concerned. Why couldn't he hear them before, and how did they know him now? He knew for a fact his scent was suitably different as a human, and why were they trying to find him anyway?
'We came here to thank you. You saved one of our foals, not something to be taken lightly. We owe you a boon, and we always repay our debts. We know many things about you Harry Potter. The unicorn hair in your wand is a sign. Let the light guide you in your darkest hour.'
Harry's hackles were up, while at the same time feeling a total inner peace. His two sides were warring and leaving him only to stare dumbly at the magnificent creatures. He really didn't think that helping to save the unicorn kitten was something to be rewarded, but who was he to refuse their offer. He would have to keep an eye on this herd in the future. It would help distract him from the separation of his family to have something to protect again.
'Peace.' Harry replied. 'I want to help.'
'Your help isn't needed little one.' The stallion replied a little more forcefully than necessary.
'It isn't your choice. If you owe me a boon then we are family. I will help. You are under my protection now.' There, that was put just the way Father taught him.
A loud nicker that sounded suspiciously like a laugh came from both mare and stallion. 'Little friend, if that pleases you to think so then let it be. We will watch for you as well. There are much bigger threats than you in this forest.'
'I can handle myself' Harry puffed himself up. He wasn't a kitten anymore.
'We hope so little brother.'
Harry was nervous as he, Ron and the other Gryffindors walked out for their first flying lessons. Harry noticed some people flying on brooms on the other side of the field. When he asked Ron about it all he said was Quidditch practice. Harry listened intently to the lecture Madam Hooch gave and was pleased to note his broom jumped directly up to his hand when called. Looking to his left Harry saw that Neville's merely rolled over. Harry gave him an encouraging smile and a pat on the shoulder and Neville's next attempt was somewhat more successful.
Harry was pleased to note that Neville's pained expression subsided and his death grip on his broom relaxed.
"Mount your brooms!" Madam Hooch commanded.
"Now when I blow the whistle you will rise into the air and make,"
Whatever else they were supposed to do Harry never heard because he saw the most amazing sight of his life. A small golden bird was fluttering thirty meters in the air. He had to get it. Harry kicked off hard and rapidly closed on the beautiful gold bird. Harry could hear shouts from below him, but paid no attention. Flying was bliss, pure bliss. Only a meter away the golden bird (which Harry could now see wasn't a bird but a small gold ball with wings, but was too lost in the hunt to care) took off at a rapid pace zigzagging and diving. Harry kept up. He could feel the adrenaline pumping as he gave chase, climbing and diving with ease, inverting himself so as to never lose eye contact with the prize. Then Harry saw it go into a spectacular freefall and hastened to follow. He completed a full seventy meter dive in a matter of seconds. Harry could see the ground rushing up at him, but the prize would be his. Ten, eight, six, four, a mere two meters from the ground Harry's hand closed around the gold ball. He could feel the wings struggling like a small mouse in his hand and he loved it.
Years of gauging distance though told Harry he couldn't make a soft landing, and rather than going head over bowtruckles he did the only thing any sensible Kneazle would. He jumped. This time the screams were as loud and real as any he'd ever heard. Harry landed headfirst on his hands, tucked, rolled, and bounced handily into a standing position. His heartbeat going as fast as he was flying and the largest grin seen at Hogwarts in a very long time plastered on his face. He felt like he'd just eaten a canary.
For the longest time no one said anything. His fellow Gryffindors stared at him like he was some sort of rock star while the Slytherins merely scowled their most unpleasant scowls. Madam Hooch looked both shocked and amazed when Harry walked up and handed her the Snitch with only a "Thought you might need that." She couldn't figure out if she should try to expel him or call England's national Quidditch team to tell them she found them a new player. She'd receive ten percent as his agent of course, she mused idly.
Luckily all parties involved were saved the dilemma by two things happening. First the Ravenclaw reserve seeker flew over to find a golden snitch that had been going haywire and not staying inside the bounds of the pitch. When he found that Harry had caught it after only maybe two minutes in the air his expression and offer to come play for Ravenclaw was enough to distract Madam Hooch from Harry's immediate expulsion until the next figure arrived.
"Harry Potter!" Professor McGonagall exclaimed. Harry looked over and his smile wavered for the first time since landing. A furious Minerva McGonagall was striding towards him with her impressive five foot six inch frame towering above him.
"Mr. Potter please come with me. If you will excuse us Madam Hooch." Harry didn't miss the shocked look on Ron's face or the smug features adorning Malfoy's. Harry thought if he got expelled the least he could do would be come back and pound the rat into next Tuesday.
Professor McGonagall led Harry swiftly into her office and roughly shut the door. Feeling the full weight of her glare on him Harry felt very suddenly like a misbehaving kitten once again. "Mr. Potter, please sit," she intoned with a finality that couldn't be mistaken as a request. "Now, would you please explain to me why you felt it necessary to perform highly dangerous aerial acrobatics, without any previous flying experience? Was it ego Mr. Potter? Did you feel like you simply had something to prove? I have noticed that you and Mr. Malfoy aren't on the best of terms, was it to show him up? Please do explain why I should not take you down to the headmaster's office this moment and recommend your immediate expulsion?"
Harry thought about it for a moment, and decided that this professor of all the people he had met here had the best chance of understanding. He just had to ask one thing. "Professor what is ego?" Harry really wanted to know. Was it an egg dish? Possibly a spell or potion he hadn't heard about. Hmm... that bore some thinking.
"Mr. Potter, I am going to assume for the moment that you are entirely serious. Ego is your sense of self-importance. I am ashamed to say, Mr. Potter that in this regard you do have a tendency to follow in your father's footsteps. I had hoped that some of your mother might be displayed more prominently than just in your eyes."
Harry's temper flared for a moment before he realized she must be talking about his human parents. He really wished people could understand his real family, and not simply lump him with his two legged origins. He needed to explain himself quickly or he'd have no chance of being here to protect Ginny when she arrived.
"They're dead professor. I didn't receive anything much from them apart from a room full of shiny baubles, a nifty scar, and the total assumption that I am somehow destined to be like them despite my lack of knowledge as to their existence prior to a few months ago. No, the reason I chased after the..." Harry faltered for the right word.
"Yes, Snitch. The reason I chased the Snitch was as much instinct as it was blatant curiosity. I was ready to pounce and when I saw it I couldn't help myself. Professor, you can understand that can't you? We're both tied to two different worlds. I didn't realize I was really flying until I'd nearly caught it. It was the thrill of the hunt."
"Mr. Potter, that is without a doubt the laziest excuse I have ever heard here in my time. You really expect me to believe that you simply couldn't control yourself around something shiny and moving? How are we to allow you to continue here then, when your reckless disregard for safety could put so many others at risk?"
"Excuse me?" McGonagall looked shocked at the randomness of the statement.
"I also have a hard time around yarn balls I discovered just before I came here. Please Professor, you can't tell me you've never felt the thrill of the hunt? It's in your blood I've seen it!"
"Mr. Potter I assure you that I have no idea what you are talking about," McGonagall replied a little too quickly. "However, since neither you nor any of your year mates were hurt I suppose expulsion isn't mandatory. After all it isn't like you're the first to be a little over excited on a broom. Thirty points from Gryffindor and a week of detention. You'll be informed when."
Harry stood to leave at the obvious tone of dismissal. "And Mr. Potter," Harry looked back from the door. "Qudditch tryouts are this Sunday. It'd be a shame for you not to compete. I believe they were looking for a good seeker." With the final note, Harry nodded and headed back to the common room.
"Harry mate! That flying was bloody brilliant! Why didn't you tell me you could fly like that?" Ron was so excited he was having a tough time concentrating on dinner.
"Didn't know. Never been on a broom before," Harry said around a mouth full of pudding. Being here for dinner was making him decidedly uncomfortable with all the angry looks he kept getting from some of the other years. Apparently word of his flying escapades had gotten around and made many of the other Gryffindors rather cross with him. The second and third years didn't seem so badly off. Maybe the points dictated mating privileges and the teachers were preventing upper years from sex? That's something he hadn't thought to ask. He would have to next time he saw Professor McGonagall. Harry still couldn't decipher what house points did.
"Jus' glad it wasn't me. You know?" Neville said in a sad tone. "Brooms and I don't generally get on too well." Neville's relief at not having a flying mishap was evident, but it did nothing to dim Ron's enthusiasm.
"How can you not have been on a broom before? That flying was bloody brilliant! Are you going to try out for the Qudditch team? I mean it's not like first years ever get on, but maybe next year and then we can win the cup..." Ron's giddy anticipation was evident.
"It was hardly brilliant Ronald! Showing off on a broom isn't something to go around bragging about, and loosing thirty points as well! What were you thinking?" Harry could sense the building argument between the bushy-haired Hermione and Ron.
"Saw a bird, had to catch it I suppose. Thrill of the hunt and all that." With that Harry stood abruptly and walked out of the Great Hall to the nearest window on the second story, the now raging argument between Ron and Hermione still pounding in his ears. Harry leaped out and gracefully landing on all fours sat until the electric tingle ran down his spine and Harry sauntered off once again into the solace of the Forbidden Forest.
AN: Thanks again for all who reviewed! This story seems to be picking up in popularity. I'm glad everyone seems to enjoy it! Ten points to whomever can guess the children's book 'big birds with teeth' in the last chapter came from. On side note I'm still looking for a good beta. Also, I know some of you who read this are british, if you see me torturing Briticisms please let me know! I'm not and I don't understand all the slang homedog. (little joke for all of you out there in reader land.) Anyway, do your part and click that big review button and let me know what you think! I'm hoping to keep this train a rolling! Tschus- Manatoc Fox
PS: If this pops up as a 'new' chapter, I have finally received enough complaints about early grammatical mistakes that I will be uploading the corrected versions. Sorry it has taken this long, but I've been lazy.