Chapter 8: Christmas and Cloaks
Over the next month, Harry saw very little of Hermione. Apart from classes, Hermione could be assured to be cooped up in the library, or else sitting up in her room. Ron too had drifted, now that Hermione was too busy to help out with essays. Harry himself managed to muddle through on his own, but it was extremely lonely. As the weather turned slowly from damp and cold to simply cold, Harry found himself wrapped up in his bed earlier and earlier every day. His Occlumency skills had seemingly plateaued to the point that Harry wasn't sure a boy of his age could improve past. From reading ahead he had gleaned that it was incredibly rare for anyone not yet an adult to display any particular skill in the art, though with Occlumency's obscurity it was unlikely eleven year olds had ever attempted it before. So Harry sat in bed night after night running over the same exercises. While he hadn't gained any further control over his emotions, his focus was still slowly getting better, and he couldn't remember his memory ever being this good. It was the morning after an extended practice that Harry stumbled down to the common room rubbing his forehead. Buried under the usual headaches that accompanied Occlumency exercises, a prickling in his scar was bothering him again. The night before he had had a very strange dream about being slowly bound by a long, purple scarf while a black bat tugged at his hair.
He blearily looked around the empty common room. The fire was freshly stoked to ward of the cold that penetrated even into the castle itself. A rustling of parchment caught Harry's attention. An official looking poster hung from the notice board. Harry shuffled over to read it.
Attention Hogwarts Students,
It is once again approaching the end of term. With the beginning of the Winter Holidays fast approaching, it is essential that those students choosing to stay here at Hogwarts to inform their Head of House before next Wednesday, so that an accurate tally may be made before the Hogwarts Express leaves Hogsmeade…
Harry finished staring at the parchment for a few minutes after he finished reading before his brain started working again. The thought of returning to the Dursleys' struck him as a particularly gruesome way to spend his Christmas holidays, not that staying at the castle would present a great time. From what he had heard, most everyone in Gryffindor house was leaving for their homes. At least Harry would have some peace and quiet, along with a deal of privacy to practice some magic. He had found a few spells he wanted to try out, an activity that would run all the more smoothly without Hermione's disapproving looks at his interest in dueling.
"Wicked." Harry spun at the words from behind him. Ron stood in a pair of worn pajamas and a scratty t-shirt. "Classes are over on Wednesday, that's only what, three more days. And we get to miss Potions." Harry shared his enthusiasm for avoiding Snape's class. Harry's hard work in Potions had utterly failed to earn the Potion Master's respect or even mild approval. Harry was starting to doubt whether whoever wrote The List knew Snape at all.
"You looking forward to going home?" Harry asked dozily.
"Nah," Ron answered, "My Mum and Dad are going to visit my brother Charlie in Romania. I'll be staying here with Fred and George and Percy." This last line came out sounding rather glum.
"Oh, what does Charlie do?" Harry asked.
"He's a Dragon Keeper." Ron said simply. "Mum goes spare about him a lot of the time; I think that's why she wants to visit him so bad. Wants to make sure he's looking after himself okay, you know?" Ron chuckled slightly. Harry thought for a second how nice it would be to have someone worrying about how he was being taken care of for a change, but dismissed the thought.
"I guess, yeah." Harry said, miles away.
"So I guess you're staying too?" Ron questioned.
"Oh yeah, the Dursleys'd probably just laugh if I turned up on their doorstep for Christmas."
The two days of classes passed with little to recommend them. Students bustled from class to class with their cloaks drawn tightly about themselves. Harry found himself alone in the library late Tuesday night putting the finishing touches on a History of Magic essay. His mind wasn't really in it; he scribbled the last few lines and rolled up the parchment. 'Good enough,' he thought, 'not like a history lesson is going to help me fight the Dark Lord.' The thought had been hanging like a pall lately. Harry got the feeling his odd dreams, the attempts on his life, and the prickling in his scar were all related to Lord Voldemort in some way. He just wished Hermione would have better luck finding some way to track the person who sent the bludger after him. Harry was no expert in magical detective work, but from what he had heard from muggle crime shows, a trail went cold in days, and the Quidditch game was almost a month ago.
Harry set aside his essay and pulled over the Flourish and Blott's winter catalogue that had been circulated around the Hogwart's common rooms for students wishing to do some shopping before returning home. Harry had briefly paged through it and picked out some tomes that dealt with subtle and low power dueling. He was skimming again through the defense section when his eyes caught a title that stopped his breath. This would be perfect.
"I'll miss you Harry." Hermione gave the boy a short hug and dashed off towards the growing crowd of students readying to board the Hogwarts Express.
"Yeah, you too." Harry said, more to himself than anyone else. Hermione turned back over her shoulder and beamed at him. She motioned to her book bag and mouthed the words 'I'll be reading.' Harry smiled back at her as she left the Great Hall and followed Hagrid down to the waiting carriages. Harry turned and sprinted towards the Owlery. The way to the smelly tower that held the school's owls was clear. Harry saw the line of carriages leave the school from the Owlery's high windows. He coaxed a school owl down from one of the high perches. A small, dark brown owl alighted on his outstretched arm. Harry tied two letters to the owl's leg and deposited a loose copper Knut into a small pouch attached to its other leg. He waved the owl off of his arm and it took flight. Harry watched it head off into the distance with a sense of satisfaction.
The first letter was addressed to Gringotts, asking for a sum of money to be moved from his vault to Flourish and Blott's. Ron had told him that the goblins rarely facilitated such deals, but Harry figured a politely worded letter from the Boy Who Lived would do the trick.
The second letter went to Flourish and Blott's informing them that a sum of money would be coming by goblin, and to send a certain book to the address of one Hermione Granger. Finding the right address had been a harrowing experience, it was much harder than Harry had expected asking the girl where she lived. Harry really hoped the book would get there in time.
Harry's head had barely touched the pillow when all of a sudden he was being shaken awake. Ron stood over him clad in a lumpy jumper of deep maroon.
"Wake up, Harry, it's Christmas!" Ron returned to where he had been opening a small pile of his own presents. Harry put in his glasses after rubbing his eyes. He swung his feet over the edge of the bed and hit his toe on something heavy. He bit back a yell and grabbed at the offending item. Bringing it up to his eyes he saw a thick, rectangular objected wrapped in a crinkly, festive paper. A Christmas present. A present addressed to him, in Hermione's neat handwriting. He looked down at the ground next to his bed. There was a roughly wrapped conical package, and a plain white envelope.
"I was just going to leave you there, but you looked like you were going to sleep the whole of Christmas."
"Huh, oh yeah." Harry looked up from his gifts, "Ron, look I've got presents."
"Yeah, why wouldn't you." Ron said, and then his eyes fell on the gifts at Harry's feet. He looked a little upset about something. Even partially disassembled, Ron's pile dwarfed Harry's by a considerable amount. "You don't, um, have a lot of presents." He stated flatly.
"More than I've had before." Harry said. He slipped a finger under the flap of the envelope and tore it open. Inside was a note from the Dursleys, telling him they would not be sending him anymore presents from now on. The back of the note looked like it had once borne a fifty pence piece. Now it just had twin imprints where tape had been torn off of the card. He cast the note aside. Perhaps threatening the Dursleys with Hagrid had not been a good step in improving their relationship with him. He looked up to find Ron still watching.
"It's just a note from the Dursleys, they won't be sending me any more presents. I'm not really that upset, last year I got a pair of my Uncle's socks." Something very strange flashed across Ron's face.
"I, sorry mate, I didn't know." He seemed lost for words, "here, have these." He shoved an opened box of chocolate frogs into Harry's hands. Half of them were already opened. Harry wasn't quite sure what was happening until he looked back at Ron. The strange look was back. Harry didn't recognize it at first, but then he saw it for what it was, Ron had a look of concern etched into his features.
"Yeah, alright." Harry ripped a frog out of one of the boxes and stuffed it in his mouth, "thanks mate, don't think I've ever gotten chocolate for Christmas before."
Ron nodded curtly. "It's nothing. Hey, you should open that other one." He pointed to Hermione's gift. Harry smiled and tore the neatly wrapped gift open. He chuckled as he read the title of the book inside.
"One Hundred and Fifty Alternatives to Dueling." Harry held the book up for Ron to see.
"Why would someone get you that?"
"It's from Hermione. She got a little cross at me when I hexed Malfoy's broom that first flying lesson."
"Wicked, that was you? I thought Malfoy was just a terrible flyer. All talk, you know?" Ron was now looking at Harry with a look of awe.
"Yeah, I learned about it in a book I got." Harry reached over to his side table and withdrew Dueling for Dummies. "I got it before school."
"Could you? Do you think you could teach me some of that stuff?" Ron looked shyly at his feet.
"I didn't know you were interested in dueling." Harry responded. Someone to practice dueling with was a very attractive idea.
"Well, I'm not generally. It's just, with that ferret Malfoy around, can't hurt to know a few hexes and jinxes." Ron shrugged his shoulders.
"If you want to practice, I'll be happy to help. I've been looking for someone myself. Hermione doesn't approve, of course."
"You're talking like you two are married or something." Ron said. Harry looked at him sharply. "Or like brother and sister." He hastily added.
"Yeah, well, maybe we should go down or something. I'm starving."
"Me too," Ron seemed to forget their conversation, "You get dressed; I'll be down in the common room." He left his gifts unopened and walked out the door. Harry pulled a ratty old sweatshirt out of his trunk and pulled on a pair of jeans over his pajamas. He half wished he could be putting on a Weasley jumper of his own.
"Look who's decided to join us." Fred looked up from where he and George were wrestling a Weasley jumper over Percy's head. The momentary distraction allowed the older Weasley enough space to duck out from under the twins' grasp. He stormed from the common room red faced and seething.
"Come on Perce, is that any way to show your Christmas spirit?" George crowed after him, "you grumpy git," He added as the Fat Lady's picture swung closed with a snap.
"Harry!" Fred was already at Harry's side with the jumper. "Be a dear and put this on!"
"It can be 'P' for Potter!" George agreed enthusiastically. "Come on Harry, someone has to wear it. Family tradition you know." Fred nodded sagely, his face held in mock sternness.
"Oh, leave him alone," Ron half yelled. He went quite red as the twins turned on him.
"What's that Ron? You said you want another round with the spiders?" Ron's face went very pale. "Only joking ickle brother, you should learn to relax." Fred slipped an arm around his younger brother's shoulders, while George did the same to Harry. "Come on, we've got to get to the Great Hall before Percy goes and hides with the other Prefects."
The Christmas feast had to be the most incredible display of food Harry had ever seen. The house tables had been replaced by a single long table covered in what seemed like every possible food imaginable. From Harry's spot almost halfway down the table he could reach a platter of sliced turkey, a veritable mountain of vegetables, great boats of rich smelling gravy, and a sculptured mass of mashed potato shaped in the likeness of Hogwarts Castle. He smiled and chatted as the students and teachers around him ate and drank merrily. At the head of the table, Dumbledore regarded the table with a cheery glint in his eye. As the piles of food slowly diminished, succulent desserts began to shimmer into existence. Harry served himself a great big bowl of strawberries buried in whipped cream and sprinkled with sugar. As far as he was concerned, each spoonful was close to Heaven. The only person who did not seem to be enjoying himself was Snape, who sat between Dumbledore and Quirrel with a permanent scowl etched across his brow. He looked across at Harry and a flash seemed to fill his dark eyes. Harry quickly averted his gaze. There was something odd about the Potion Master's stare, something Harry couldn't quite place. A voice at his elbow distracted him from his musings.
"Pull a cracker?" Ron was offering a bright crimson cracker edged in gold. Harry took one end and tugged. There was a bright plume of sparks and a burst of red smoke. A wooly bobble hat fell from the open end of the cracker.
"Alright, that one's yours, pull one of mine." Harry picked an Emerald green cracker up of the table and offered it to Ron. Again there was a burst of sparks and a puff of smoke. A small green bowler hat fell neatly onto the table. Harry popped it onto his head.
"Doesn't quite suit you, mate." Ron said as he tugged the wooly hat over his ears. Harry smiled sleepily. The feast had made him quite sleepy.
The climb to Gryffindor Tower was an arduous journey for Harry and the Weasleys. The portraits along the way seemed to be in varying states of merriment. A few of the frames stood empty, their occupants off partying with other paintings. When the young Gryffindors reached the Fat Lady, she was entertaining another witch.
"Password?" She said. Her voice held the slight lilt of a glass or two of wine. It took a few tries to get the password across before the portrait swung open to allow access. The Gryffindors lounged in front of the fire for a while before the twins bid the room good bye and left to pursue some mischief elsewhere in the castle. Harry lost very badly in a game of wizard's chess to Ron, who turned out to be rather good at it. Harry eventually gave it up as a bad job and waved off an invitation to another game. He dragged himself off for a quick nap up in the dormitory. Outside the window, snow had begun to fall in thick flurries. Harry kicked of his shoes and shrugged out of his robes. His wand fell out of his pocket and down to the floor with a clatter. Harry snatched at it as it rolled under the bed. Harry reached under the bed, looking for the wand, but his fingers brushed thick paper. He snatched at the paper and dragged a simply wrapped package out from under his bed. There was a note attached to the top of the parcel.
Your Father left this in my possession before he died. It is time it was returned to you. Use it Well.
Harry carefully tore open the parcel. A smooth, silvery fabric flowed out of the open parcel like water. Harry held the fabric out in front of him. It shimmered and fluttered like a curtain. It looked like some kind of cloak. Harry stood and threw the cloak over his shoulders, pulling the hood over his head. He stood in the middle of the room admiring the feel of the flowing fabric. The door opened behind him.
"Hey Harry, you won't believe what Fred and George are doing. Harry?" Ron had a confused look on his face.
"Do you like the cloak? It feels kind of weird. I think it's one of my Christmas presents, must have been kicked under the bed." Ron went pale.
"How are you doing that, Harry? It's not funny." Now it was Harry's turn to pale. Couldn't Ron see him? Was the cloak cursed? Had someone sent him a cursed gift? Harry tore the cloak off his shoulders and let it pool on the floor. Ron's jaw dropped.
"You can see me again?" Harry began to feel a sense of relief begin to fill him. Ron nodded. Harry picked the cloak back up.
"No way, an invisibility cloak? Those are supposed to be really rare!" He ran a hand through the silky material. "My Dad had to use one for work once. That one was all worn out though, this one looks brand new."
"The note it came with said it belonged to my Dad." Harry said absent mindedly. He was amusing himself by draping the cloak over one arm and waving it in front his face. It gave him an unnerving feeling.
"Must be a really good one then," Ron mused, "We should test it out." A smile stole onto both of their faces.