Chapter 15: Further Developments
'What I don't get,' muttered Beth as she struggled to keep a feather levitated in the air, 'is why anyone would want to make my pillow stuffing float around the room.'
'It's all about steps, Beth,' said Harry, who had his feather floating slightly above hers as if to coax it higher. 'With enough practise, you'll be able to move on to bigger, more useful things like heavy kitchen pans and furniture.'
'But wouldn't that put you out of a job?' said Beth teasingly.
Harry grinned. 'Probably, but I'll get over it – Hey!'
Sirius had chosen that moment to send his own feather zooming into Harry's, causing it to flutter dolefully to the ground.
'And Potter is DOWN!' he announced gleefully, as if commentating for a Quidditch match. 'What will this mean for Gryffindor? Do they stand a chance of winning without their scrawny little Seeker?'
Harry threw a half-empty pillow at Sirius. A large clump of feathers exploded out the end. 'Of course they do, they're Gryffindors!' he said. 'They'll pull off a win somehow.'
They were in the hospital wing. Madam Pomfrey had ducked out to Hogsmeade to replenish her supplies so, naturally, Beth was taking the opportunity to sneak in some Charms practice. After the last escapade, Madam Pomfrey had been stricter than ever, going as far as to restrict Beth to bed for a week.
Of course, that hadn't stopped Beth from stretching the rules a bit when the matron wasn't around. Only two days into her confinement and she'd managed to sneak in enough practise to master five different spells. They had just moved on from transfiguring matchsticks to needles. It had taken several attempts for Beth to master this particular spell, and the bedside cupboard was littered with piles of silvery matchsticks and needles in varying stages of transfiguration. Several of Harry's first year books lay scattered across the bed, the opened pages showing squiggles and diagrams.
'Madam Pomfrey isn't going to be impressed when she finds out about this,' Harry said conversationally.
'She'll never know,' Beth answered distractedly, frowning as her feather dropped a few inches, wavering uncertainly.
Sirius glanced around at the feathers that were strewn across Beth's bed. The empty pillowcase lay on the floor where Harry had just tossed it. 'No, she won't,' he agreed, grinning. He gave his wand a lazy flick and about twenty feathers lifted themselves off the floor and rocketed toward Beth's.
'Sirius Black, don't you dare knock my feather down!' Beth said sternly, raising her wand just in time. 'It's all I can do to keep it up there!'
He sent her an easy grin. 'I'm helping you build your concentration. If you can keep it up now, just think how easy it'll be when you don't have feathers dive-bombing you.'
Beth shook her head at him. 'Are you aware how infuriating you can be?' she said.
He cocked his head to one side as he considered the question. 'Oh yes. But as with anything else, it's a matter of practise, and I practise constantly.'
'I'd noticed,' she muttered dryly.
'So what spell d'you want to learn next?' Harry asked, checking against the list of first year spells McGonagall had supplied them with.
'The Bat-Boogey Hex sounds intriguing,' said Beth, looking pointedly at Sirius.
He raised his eyebrows, hands outstretched in a gesture of innocence. 'What did I do?'
Beth ignored him. 'So how about it, Harry?'
'Sorry,' Harry grinned. 'It's not a part of the first year curriculum.'
Beth tugged the list out of his hands, picked up a quill from the bedside cupboard and scribbled something at the bottom. 'It is now.'
'You do realise that the Department of Education in the Ministry needs to be informed of any changes to the curriculum,' said Sirius, amused.
Beth had already gone back to concentrating on her floating feather. 'They'll be receiving my proposal shortly,' she said distractedly. 'First years should be able to protect themselves.'
Footsteps and voices brought the conversation to a screeching halt. Beth slipped her wand into her robes and lay down, giving the covers a deft flick to remove the feathers. Her abandoned feather was quickly lost amongst the thousands of others that billowed out in all directions before fluttering to the ground.
The doors to the hospital wing swung open to admit Madam Pomfrey. There was a moment of silence while she stared around in shock, and then she found her voice.
'Somebody better explain what is going on and they'd better do it quickly,' Madam Pomfrey said in a low, dangerous voice.
'Sirius and Harry were having a pillow fight,' said Beth smoothly. 'It's a shame I'm laid up in bed. I have to lie here and watch them have all the fun.'
But Madam Pomfrey's sharp eyes had noticed the silvery matchsticks still lying on the bedside cupboard.
'I'll be taking your wand off your hands for the time being,' she said, walking forward and holding out her hand.
'But I need it!' protested Beth. 'What if someone attacks me? I won't be able to defend myself!'
'I suppose you think you're harder to get past than the enchantments and defenses around the castle?' Madam Pomfrey retorted stiffly. 'Enough of this nonsense! Your wand please, Miss Richman. Don't think I haven't cottoned on to your mischief. I work with teenagers. I know every trick in the book.'
Beth's shoulders drooped in resignation and she slowly reached into her robes and pulled out the wand. It was promptly snatched away by Madam Pomfrey who slipped it into her apron pocket and stormed off in the direction of her office.
'Well, looks like the lesson's over,' said Harry, moving to put away his books.
Beth raised a hand, eyes sparkling with merriment. 'Not quite.' She reached into her robes again and pulled out a wand – her wand, Harry realised with a knowing grin.
'How'd you do that?' Sirius asked, impressed.
'Magic,' said Beth, smiling mysteriously.
'No really, how'd you do it?'
'Muggles can do a bit of magic of their own, you know,' said Beth, pleased at his reaction. 'But a good magician never reveals her tricks.'
Harry looked around the room. 'D'you reckon we should clean this up?' he asked.
'Not much point, is there,' said Sirius, grinning. 'I'm sorely tempted to begin that pillow fight that you and I were supposedly having. Wouldn't want Beth to be a liar – Oof!'
The last was drawn out of him as a pillow caught him hard in the middle. Sirius stared between Beth and Harry in surprise, trying to work out who was the culprit. But they in turn were looking at each other in confusion.
'Ah, the benefits of youth,' said Albus Dumbledore, his blue eyes twinkling merrily. He tucked his wand away as he strode toward them. 'I'm afraid it's been many years since I've engaged in a pillow fight. It is, I think, one of the things I miss most from my younger days.'
'Well, you've still got it,' said Sirius, staring at the headmaster in something akin to awe.
Dumbledore chuckled at the mingled disbelief and awe on their faces. 'Yes, I like to surprise people sometimes. But that is not why I came. This is.'
He handed Beth a dull blue book with yellowed, tattered pages. The gold writing that formed the title was so faded that it was barely legible.
'The Insighted: Fact or Fiction?' read Beth with some difficulty. She opened the book carefully and squinted at the old fashioned cursive writing.
'Since the dawn of time, numerous wizards have sought to obtain power over all others. Warlords and sorcerers have risen and fallen, conquered and been defeated to replaced by others more powerful than their predecessor. But there is increasing evidence of a people with power that may be greater than even these. Namely, the ability to look into another's mind and see every memory, every thought and dream, every good or evil deed, and make the victim cower under the shame of them.
'Many scholars have put this down as a branch of Legilimency, (the ability to extract feelings and memories from another person's mind) but this does not explain the feelings of intense remorse that victims have reported feeling. Perhaps even more strangely, others have claimed that rather than feeling ashamed, encounters with these beings have left them feeling contented and even happy. The question remains: are these beings good or evil? This author is inclined to believe that they are neither – if eyewitnesses may be believed, it seems that, just like common witches and wizards, the Insighted may choose how they will use this unique gift.'
'Most of the Insighted or, as they are also known, Endowed Ones, prefer to keep their gift a secret, but some do not even know that this gift is theirs. A fellow colleague in this area, Professor A. J. Dartweller, who has dedicated most of his life to researching this phenomenon, put forward the theory that the gift is hereditary, yet does not appear in the next generation until the former has died…'
Beth looked up at Dumbledore, who was watching her expectantly.
'The day after your arrival, you told us that the gift emerged during your teen years,' he said. 'Would you say this occurred around the time you lost your parents?'
'Yeah… I guess it could have been,' said Beth, thinking back. 'I can't be certain… I don't remember much from then.'
Dumbledore nodded. 'Understandable.'
'Wait a moment… I think… yes, I remember something… The first time I did the insight thing… I – I did it on Dave, after the funeral,' she said softly. Her eyes became stricken. 'Of course! It all adds up,' she said, seemingly to herself. 'That must be why he's tried to avoid me ever since. He's afraid of me…'
Remembering she had an audience, Beth straightened determinedly. 'Is there anything else you'd like to know, sir?'
Dumbledore gave her a searching look before speaking. 'Yes. Do you recall any family members displaying signs of magic? Particularly the women.'
'You think I inherited this gift from my mother?' asked Beth doubtfully.
Dumbledore nodded again. 'It is certainly something to consider. After all, the author of this book and Professor Dartweller share the belief that this gift is passed down through the generations. The idea could have merit.'
'Or they could both be crackpots,' Sirius offered.
'A possibility,' conceded Dumbledore, 'but the information in the first few paragraphs matches with what other scholars have written. I feel certain that these wizards were on the right track, even if they didn't have all the facts.'
'It would certainly be a relief if they were right about the powers being able to be used for good,' said Beth, her voice tight with nervousness.
Dumbledore looked her directly in the eye. 'Miss Richman, I can think of no better person to weld this remarkable gift than you. It is rare indeed for some one to reach out to those whom the world views as outcasts. And you have done this, not once, but three times. An orphan, a convicted mass murderer, a werewolf – befriending these people is a significant thing indeed.'
Beth didn't know quite what to say to this so she said nothing. Sensing her discomfort, Dumbledore changed the subject.
'Returning to our previous topic, I wonder if I might have your permission to look up your family in the Ministry records. It would enable us to determine whether any were magical. I'd just require their names and dates of birth.'
'Yes, of course, go ahead,' said Beth, flicking a stray feather off her blankets and watching it flutter to the floor to rest amidst thousands of its kind.
'In the meantime,' said Dumbledore, his eyes twinkling madly, 'it may be prudent to tidy up all these feathers. I'm afraid Madam Pomfrey is on the verge of demanding a pay rise, and I'd like to avoid that if at all possible.'