Albus had tried and failed to return to sleep that night, worry racing frantically around his mind. His little silver instruments looked like general bric-a-brac, but they worked; they worked well. They'd never lied to him, and they'd always been crucial in his rise to prominence. He had machines to monitor objects or people beyond the abilities of all but the greatest of spells. He had machines to alert and warn against programmed events anywhere in the world. He had machines to watch and gather information; he had machines to detect various magical feats and branches. And perhaps most importantly, he had these machines tied into the wards. It was one of the magical detectors that had blared earlier in the night, and a sharp, horrible sound it was. Possession, an art as dangerous as the darkest of magic. Oh, Albus knew all about possession. An alluring art – who, after all, could resist the temptation of total control over the victim? A young Albus' mind had ran freely on the dreams he could produce with possession, but even the most ambitious of wizards stayed well away. Possession was fraught with danger, and highly illegal to boot. Everyone knew that.
Which meant there was only one reason it'd been detected within his school. Lord Voldemort. Somehow, the disembodied spirit had found a mind willing – oh, yes, willing indeed, because the wizened old wizard knew Riddle was too weak to forcibly possess anyone right now.
And it brought a level of fear back that he'd not felt in over a decade.
Harry awoke naturally on the Thursday morning, having no reason to set an alarm, and found Esurio coiled up at the bottom of his bed, awake but resting. Throwing a quick 'reparo' at Draco's bed, he greeted his familiar.
"Morning Esurio, didn't think you'd be around today. Forest ran dry of food?!"
Esurio gave a little, meaningless hiss that Harry had learnt some time back was the equivalent of a snort.
"The critters of the forest are not so safe yet Speaker, but I have news for you. I went deeper into the trees, and I can tell you information I think would be kept secret here. The forest is home to a large spider nest – not just for the number of spiders, no, but for the size of them. The largest was taller than you, Speaker, and almost again in width. They let me be, and I them, a lone spider of that size would fall prey to me, but the whole nest would not. Remember this, it could prove helpful in the future."
'Giant spiders,' Harry thought. Not really a surprise, he'd seen the size of the forest, it was unbelievable. Why else would it be forbidden if it was empty and safe of all dangers bar getting lost?
"There is more, Speaker. The spiders are not alone within the forest. Centaurs have made their home with the darkness, for who knows how long. Centaurs are of sentient intelligence, much more so than humans, and should never be underestimated. I can give you no more than assumptions now, but correct, I think they are. The staff here, or at least some of them, will be aware of the centaurs. They are solitary creatures, sticking to their pack without failure, and when even a hint of danger exists they will move should they not have the strength to combat it. The wizards in this school could drive them out – should they wish to. It's clear from the centaur camp and younglings that this is not the case."
Harry sat, throwing that around his mind a bit. 'So, a group of spiders bigger than normal, and a herd of centaurs. Strange that they exist peacefully, no?'
"Esurio, why do these groups not threaten each other?" he voiced his concerns.
"Evidence, perhaps, that the staff here are aware of the presence of these groups, and tolerates it so long as they leave each other alone. I can't imagine the headmaster allowing warring groups of dangerous animals to exist near the school, no matter how far into the forest they live."
A clear enough theory, Harry mused. Well, not a lot he could do with that information yet. Perhaps it might come in handy at some point, who knows? He had no doubt that he'd be venturing into the forest eventually, nothing that big with that many secrets should be left alone! But that wouldn't be for some time, he knew, when he was much more magically powerful. 'Perhaps by then I could take bounded basilisks with me!' Harry had thought, excitedly.
Of course, remembering that brought back his excitement for the book that was now on the floor. He'd been careless putting it away, knowing that his dorm-mate was gone, but that didn't mean a staff member mightn't have come to wake him for whatever reason, he admonished himself!
Flipping it back to the page he'd left of at, while staying in his warm, comfortable bed, Harry began to read. The binding's section was huge, like he'd seen last night, and while the following pages had some tips for learning binding safely, the rest was well out of his grasp. Binding vorpalas?! Not a lot he could do with that in school, heh! Probably too dangerous for him to try anyway, but nevertheless he looked forward to the day he could do so.
Skipping past bindings he'd come across another section that had his mind raring to go – Parselmagic in duelling. Before reading, an errant thought crossed his mind... How did duelling come under this book? Winning duels to control perhaps?
'Parselmagic can be used to great offensive effect within formal duelling, as well as war and skirmishes. The pure state of parselmagic – due to having no interfering outsiders – means the spells are much stronger than regulated magical abilities, giving the parselcaster a huge advantage against those who do not speak the language of snakes. However, the variation within parselmagic is somewhat restricted. Defensive techniques are lacking, and offensive choice leaves much to be desired. The effective parselcaster will often simply seek to overwhelm his opponent with the blind, raw power offered by parselmagic. Parselmagic also caters to intent-based magic heavily, doing away with incantations of either Latin or spoken parseltongue and relying on the innate magical strength of the caster. Many parselmages also find regular Latin incantations to be much stronger and far more effective when spoken in parseltongue. The body effectively casts the spell you incant using parselmagic instead of your normal, healthy magical core. The simplest example of this is a simple, offensive magical curse – reducto. Cast reducto in Latin, then in parseltongue and observe the differences.'
'Well,' Harry thought, no way he was ignoring that instruction.
"Reducto!" he shouted, aiming at Draco's bed. Sure enough, the frame buckled under the force of the spell, split in two and dropped to the floor, creating a weak 'v' shape.
'Now for the fun...'
"Reducto!" he'd spoken, with emphasis on the first syllable. He'd aimed at the front of the bed, the remaining frame and the headboard. And the spell ripped through it all, devastating all in it's path along the way. Harry had totally forgotten about his ability to mark the castle walls due to his bloodline, but he was forcibly reminded as the spell left a round hole six inches in diameter and two inches deep in the stone of the dungeon. The bed was no longer a bed, just a collection of wood at one end and some scraps and dust at the other.
'I definitely need to master the repairing spell' Harry thought, amused. 'Cast in parseltongue, surely it can repair almost anything?!' Still, Draco wasn't to return for some time yet, no rush to repair the bed again, he'd realised.
'Many Latin spells can be cast with parselmagic with similar results. It's interesting to note that eye-witness accounts of ancient spells suggest that the parsel versions are very similar to the first forms of common spells. Reducto is a classic example of this; the spell used in my time is much weaker than the original spell, which has been around long before ministries formed and regulated all the common spells. Along with spells going out of favour, the magical knowledge of today's wizarding population is woefully lacking – a flaw not present in parselmagic.
Intent-based magic has all but been forgotten now, due to the power requirements necessary to use it. Magic as we know it is but a shadow of what it can be. A wizard with the required core can simply wield his raw magical strength as an extension of his will, although extensive use of this skill is considered extremely difficult. Parselcasters are often taught a very short use of this ability early on within their education – that of creating a snake of the caster's will to bind, due to the ease of binding your own creations. Note that the act of binding itself is in fact intent-based magic. Starting young – ideally immediately after short, simple bindings are achieved – has shown to produce adult parselcasters with fantastic capabilities in intent-based magic.
Working with the elements is a good starting point. Set a candle upon a hold, and seat within touching distance. The objective is to light the candle. Say nothing, and do not spend an excessive amount of time on concentration. Grasp your innate parselmagic, and will it to do your bidding. It is imperative you do not cast wandlessly, nor attempt any magical feats. Simply will the flame into existence. Success at this basic task should come quickly – none of our lineage that have shown achievements in binding have struggled with this task, and yet it is monumental in grasping how parselmagic can be intended for other tasks, unrelated to snakes.'
Well, thought Harry, lengthy but well written. 'I wonder what time period this was written in...The author makes a few references to his time, and it sounds like ours with weaker, ministry-regulated spells...'
Fortunately, Harry knew how to transfigure a candle, because he'd not been taught conjuration yet! Turning a useless, old book of Draco's into a plain wax candle, he set it on the bedside desk, before sitting up cross-legged and looking at his creation. The book specifically said not to sit and stare concentrating, so he felt for the familiar strains of parselmagic within him, closed his eyes and imagined the feeling of binding combined with the dream of absolute control over himself and others.
The candle lit with ease, a strong, bright flame.
'What was different now,' he asked himself, inwardly, 'why did I struggle with pushing parselmagic out but succeed here? Is it the binding feeling? Why is that important?'
At Harry's age, and with no real instructor – his snake had no knowledge of the more advanced casting – it was no surprise he'd had trouble with the more difficult concepts of parselmagic. At that age, and with such little experience with magic in general, relatively speaking of course, since Harry was very advanced for his age, it was not a surprise that Harry didn't realise. He didn't realise that intent and will were so very important, and so very powerful. Wishing for something wasn't enough to push parselmagic out to do ones bidding. One had to desire it fully, to want nothing more than that outcome. Recall that parselmagic was astoundingly offensive – a strong offensive required a strong, assertive mind.
'Enough of that for now, I'll read ahead later on, have to get up and do something productive really...' Harry thought, while sliding his legs over the side of the bed. Reluctance dogged his every move, it was the holidays and it was warm in bed! But he'd been a busy youngster, and voluntary or not, he was loathe to change that.
Esurio had stayed still and quiet while his master had practised, and had seen his success. Esurio could swear he could also feel his master's successes. After all, the bond caused the snake to become stronger and grow larger as his master grew magically and matured. Perhaps it was the abundance of food at Hogwarts, but there was no denying that Harry had made leaps and bounds since arriving here, the snake thought. He'd also considered that the castle was helping Harry somehow – leaking magic to it's descendant in some way. If Esurio had to guess, the snake would have no doubt the founders had set up something like that. Snakes looked after their young, boosted them to give the best start in life possible. It wasn't so far-fetched that wizards would do the same, especially the strongest wizards; strength bred publicity, publicity bred envy and envy bred hatred.
The castle was huge, Harry knew, and yet the areas used for teaching and every day life were only a small section. Hogwarts: A History had said that in centuries past Hogwarts had held many times more students than it currently did, but offered no reasons for declining populations of wizards – something Harry knew he'd want to look into. It was clear that the both the common rooms and dormitories magically adjusted their size based on each year's student intake. There was exactly the right number of two-bed rooms for all seven years, despite each year having varying number of students. The rest of the castle, however, didn't have this provision, and so large areas were simply left unused. It was these areas that Harry wanted to scout out; chances are he'd find nothing but dust, but knowing was better than not knowing – he'd learnt that at a young age when knowing where to hide from Dudley had saved him from trouble.
'Esurio, I'm going to have a look around the castle before lunch, you've not left yet so I'm guessing you're not hungry, want to come with me?' he asked, as he dressed.
The snake answered swiftly, 'Perhaps I shall, I've seen much of the castle already, I'll be useful to you in your search. Might I suggest looking for somewhere quiet and confidential, somewhere you can practice magic in seclusion?'
Of course, Harry had already thought of that. Draco was amenable to him practising in their room of an evening, but he'd only seen some basic parselmagic. Harry had no intention of sharing everything, after all!
Fortunately, the dungeons were ideally placed to head towards the back of the castle. The stairwell that came up into the entrance hall was surrounded by passages that led elsewhere, half of them unused. Staying on the ground floor, he took a passage suggested by Esurio that apparently led to a group of large, amphitheatre-type rooms, with layered, raised seating in a circular fashion. He'd never seen them before, but with class sizes as they were now he could understand why, there was no need.
Fleetingly, a vision of the future passed through his mind.
'Students and teachers alike sitting around him, as he, older, the heir of Slytherin standing alone in the center having bested a challenger to his authority, admiration evident on the faces of the spectators, and loyalty to the last remaining heir to the founders of this magnificent fortress. The duel had been swift and brutal. His opponent, lying still, unmoving at the other side of the circle. A pretender to the claim of Slytherin, slaughtered by the real power of the line of Salazar – parselmagic.'
Smiling to himself, the memory swimming away as the daydreams of a young aspirant, he reached the rooms. Esurio hadn't exaggerated – they were huge. In that sense, they certainly suited his needs, but the rooms were astoundingly public. Anyone could wander down here at will, and though he doubted many people did after seeing their empty state, it was still a risk. No, he thought, he needed a private room of this size. There had to be some, this castle wasn't just a school – not at all.Still, it was the holidays, and most of the school was empty. No harm in practising down here in those circumstances.
The lack of faculty members and students staying over Christmas had led to the headmaster doing away with the house tables, and in their place sat a grand, circular table, laden with decorations and empty, silver platters. Since the holidays had started, Harry had made an effort to attend both lunch and dinner in the hall, because the conversations between staff were incredibly interesting. Not only that, but the staff present – Dumbledore, McGonagall and Flitwick, with Sprout occasionally – were finding the time to speak with the remaining students too, which was a rarity during term-time.
Turning to Harry, interrupting his musings, McGonagall spoke.
"And you Harry, how are you finding the holidays? Davey Purnish here and his friends have been out on the quidditch pitch every day, haven't you considered joining them?!"
"I have professor, but I've been losing track of time wandering around this fantastic castle! It was clear to me in the first few weeks that a large part of the castle isn't used, and I found myself curious... It just seemed like the ideal time to go exploring professor, when I have no timetable to stick to!" Harry said, appearing like any child of that age, wishing to explore all the corners of the house.
"How do you think your schoolwork has been going, Mr. Potter?" asked Flitwick, who'd taken an interest in their conversation. "Your marks are nothing short of perfect, and you show a great understanding of all the basic magical topics, regardless of subject!"
Blushing slightly, in the persona of the child he'd been acting, he replied his thanks. "I think I have a slight advantage sir. While the assigned textbooks are quite good at their intent – introducing first years into each magical subject – there is other books that deal with the subjects in much more depth... I've been reading those professor."
This was a plan of Esurio's. There was no way he was going to hide his skill in magic entirely. Any student could get some extra books and practise more than necessary and find themselves in a top 10 spot in each year, so there was certainly no way the staff could interpret his skills and reach any conclusion he didn't want them to. Furthermore, thinking back to something Esurio had said in the summers before Hogwarts, some of the Slytherin line had been incredibly public figures for various reasons, some of them academic prowess. Attributing his abilities to a studious nature was a perfect cover, made only slightly weaker by the fact Harry wasn't a Ravenclaw, but it really wasn't that unusual for some Slytherins to excel. Ambition and cunning required brains after all!
"And you understand them well, do you my boy?" The headmaster asked, eyes twinkling as usual.
"Well, sir, I have quite a selection of books and I've been owl-ordering any that catch my eye while I'm here at Hogwarts, but they mostly cover topics at my level, and a little above. I did try some fifth year topics in charms – I'm good at that – but they were difficult..." he trailed off. This was so easy, he laughed in his mind, any student who did show that extra bit of motivation was usually a teacher's favourite, and they all loved seeing a child excel. Dumbledore's eyes were twinkling like the sun at Harry's answer, which in a Slytherin way he took to mean he'd answered as the old man wanted.
"Excellent, my boy, excellent. We're all busy during term times, but don't hesitate to come to any of us if you wish to ask questions! Now... While we wait for our wonderful elves to prepare deserts... I wonder if you could show us how far you've progressed?" Albus asked, looking over the top of his glasses speculatively.
"Oh Albus," interjected McGonagall, "now is surely not the time?!"
"Forgive an old mind, Minerva, but Harry's progress has caught my curiosity, a dangerous eye to catch!" he chuckled.
"I don't mind, Professor, I've practised some spells a lot, I can show you" Harry concluded. And with that, he stood and looked at the headmaster expectantly. Albus clearly caught on, and summoned a very muggle-looking target board that wouldn't look out of place at an archery competition. This one had a meter at the side, currently empty, that Harry suspected measured magical power. That raised a problem.
He could ignore it, and cast less powerfully than normal, in a bid to hide everything bar his abilities – that supposedly came from reading ahead – or he could cast normally and give the staff something to really consider. Would it be so bad for them to know he was not only more advanced than the rest of the first years, but much stronger too? It'd certainly keep him on their minds, and perhaps that was ideal? Harry could imagine them talking in the future, something like 'Yes, don't you remember christmas lunch of his first year? He was powerful even then!'... And to a young boy like Harry, who'd wanted nothing more than recognition for most of his life, that was the swaying point.
Casting at full power, with a third year spell, Lacero, the cutting curse.
Turning to face the target, and with a small hesitation to focus his mind on his normal magical core, leaving out all his parselmagic, he slashed his wand at the target and spoke in a clear, precise voice - "Lacero!". He'd hit the target dead on, with a degree of control that impressed all present.
The students looked at Harry differently... They all knew they couldn't do what he just did, and some where even asking themselves why they couldn't. If he could, surely they could?!
The staff all had different looks on their faces. Dumbledore was pensive, but smiling. McGonagall actually looked proud, and Flitwick had a mild, impressed look.
"Well, my boy, we didn't expect that," the headmaster said, "a third year curse...Indeed. I didn't tell you earlier Harry, for fear of putting you off, but that meter measures power... Each of the marks along the side shows where one would expect a slightly above-average student of the end of each year group to be, first through to seventh. You'll see these targets starting next year. But, as you've clearly noticed, you've managed something most remarkable... The fifth mark as a first year."
Indeed, Harry had noticed. He'd just passed the fifth mark on the target meter, which suggested his power level was slightly higher than a student who'd just finished their O.W.L.S. Now that target board was handy... He wanted one! What Harry really wanted to do was cast reducto in parseltongue, and see what happened to the meter then, but in present company that was clearly impossible. And there was no way he was waiting until second year for another shot at that board either. As soon as he returned to his dormitory he had every intention of creating and binding some small snakes, and setting them off on a task to find where the target boards were kept! The old man had summoned it, and he'd seen it come from the right of the doors leading into the hall. That was enough to go on, the snakes would find it easily.
The rest of the holiday passed in similar fashion, Parselmagic in peace in his dormitory, meals with the staff to keep up appearances and demonstrations of magic for the teachers. He'd come to spend an hour or so a day before evening dinner preparing a spell and making sure his casting was nothing short of perfect. Unfortunately, his snakes had yet to find the elusive target board, but he was confident in their eventual success. Each display was always met with increasing enthusiasm from the staff, and Flitwick had taken to suggesting in which direction Harry should progress with his magic, which the boy found incredibly helpful. Flitwick had suggested three books from the library, and much to Dumbledore's consternation, one from the restricted section.
Of course, to a young, curious mind like Harry's the restricted book was top of his reading list.
'Elemental manipulation and generation, a compendium by Caldwell Horvus'.
Flitwick had said that Harry would struggle with the magic within, but the theories should be fun reads. Indeed, Harry's mind had been blown at the contents of the book. The last few pages described creating immense storms to devastate battlefields and lightning bolts that would shred any and all shielding with ease.
'Yeah,' he thought, 'leaving that until I'm a bit older...But I need to find a way to copy this entire book, there's no way I'm letting this knowledge go when they want it back! Draco will know something about copying a book, surely...' Still, Flitwick had been right about the early theories of elemental magic. Furthermore, Harry was confident it wasn't beyond him. Hadn't he just a few weeks prior created a flame with nothing but will?! He opened the book and made a start on the introduction.
'Elemental magic is a very misunderstood talent, which has been the source of many rumours and inaccuracies over the centuries. The ability to cast elemental magic is not genetic, though the reason these rumours were started appear to be.
About one-hundred and fifty years ago, in 1330, the three main houses that did use elemental magic freely had all born heirs within a four-year time period. Off the three heirs, only two could use elemental magic, a most puzzling circumstance which went unsolved at the time, though now we know better.
Each generation that passed encountered only the magic that those prior use, and each generation lost some small parts of knowledge as ministries round the world restricted and tempered the spells they considered dangerous or unfounded. It so happened, that the magical power and ability needed to use elemental magic safely was not found in one of the heirs – the lines were weakening, though no-one knew why. Indeed, determining magical strength is an incredibly difficult endeavour that has yet to be concreted into fact.
Needless to say, the similarities within the three ruling houses meant that within two more generations not one had an heir powerful enough to use elemental magical abilities. Since that generation, sporadic heirs have had the strength necessary to use the elemental abilities within their magic, but outside of those three family lines not a single elemental mage has arisen. From this, and the fact that the other houses of the times had failed to produce elemental mages in centuries, the rumours of genetic elemental magic arose. Let us correct this now – elemental magic is a simple matter of magical strength and ability. Will and intent are central to control of the elements, yes, but there is no substitute for a large, healthy magical core. Theorists, myself included, take this as a damning sign that magic is weakening within our race for no discernible reasons.
I, Caldwell Horvus, am an elemental mage. I am the first of our line to have the strength since my great-great-grandmother, Andivera Horvus, was terminated by the Canton. This is my compendium – use it well.'
'Wow,' Harry thought. 'What a way to introduce his book.' Still, Harry was currently reading too much, and he knew it. TTC for his constant parselmagic practice, which he knew was of utmost importance. Advanced books in each of his subjects to continually impress his teachers and to keep his schoolwork to the highest standard. The normal schoolbooks he always read before each lesson to make sure he knew what each lecture would be about, which he told himself was so he was prepared but deep down he knew it was because he struggled to pay attention to magic he could already do! There was no way he could add another complicated tome of a difficult magical branch just yet. Besides, logically speaking, the control over his intent and will he'd gain through parselmagic would theoretically help with elemental magic, hopefully making his progress there much faster at some point in the future. Either way, he knew he'd spend however long was necessary to master it, there was no doubt in his mind that with his magical cores are they were that he was, or would be, powerful enough.
'Really!' he thought to himself, 'age is such a handicap! All these adult wizards who can learn and master whatever talents they want with their stable magical cores, I have no idea how my ancestors could stand being held back out of necessity!'
The holidays soon ended with the return of all the students. The halls and classrooms were abuzz with holiday talk – who went were, who did what, what he or she saw, and for the upper years, who stayed at who's house! Draco was incredibly curious about how Harry had spent the holidays, no doubt dreaming up whatever he'd be shown next from the elusive branch of Parselmagic. Strangely enough, Draco had not told his parents, or anyone in fact, about Harry's ability. Half of the young boy simply wanted to be the only one who knew, but the other half was waiting for something more substantial before he revealed it – information that was worth something, in true Slytherin fashion.
Still, the night drew in, covering the sun, with the starlight brightly illuminating the crags and creeks of Hogwarts' grounds, and basking the walls of the ancient castle with a faint, luminescent glow.