I would apologise for cutting in with an intermission rather than following on to see Harry and Rufio meeting, but it would be insincere. I hope you all enjoy this longer, and the intermissions will be quite spread out so don't worry too much. Their meeting will come next! Thank you to the reviewer who pointed out a mistake in chapter 1; much appreciated, and corrected. :D
Disclaimer: I own nothing except my insane imagination and Rufio's secrets.
Intermission 1: Changing
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, December 1996, Sixth Year.
Draco Malfoy was up to something.
Harry thought so, at least. His loyal friends seemed to disagree, but when did that really ever matter to Harry Potter? Usually this was a good thing; Hermione and Ron, his first and best friends, would keep themselves out of any possible danger if they thought he was overreacting and wasting his time.
But the blond had spent the last term sneaking around, and even during the holidays Harry had spotted (read: stalked and saw) him doing potentially illegal things in Knockturn Alley, the shopping street best known for its more shady visitors. Maybe he was being slightly overly paranoid, but being Harry Potter, he figured he had a valid reason to be.
With the knowledge of Draco having a "task" assigned to him, the Boy Who Lived was worrying. He couldn't get the conversation between Malfoy and Snape after the Slug Club party out of his head – his classmate's task was apparently bad enough for his teacher and godfather to worry about and attempt to help him. Furthermore, the fact that there was so obviously definitely a delightful black skull scarred into the bloke's left forearm increased Harry's worry by about three hundred and fifty per cent.
He needed to plan. Harry was good at plans, he had to admit – they were always well thought out with a large range of possibilities considered. In his younger years, the final events usually went in a completely unplanned way anyway, and so he had learnt to make back up plans, and back up back up plans too, for every consequence and unbelievably probable happening.
Since this idea wasn't putting him directly into danger (as in, no, he wasn't running to Voldemort again), Harry was making one big plan with some slight variations for potential slip-ups or accidents. It didn't even have to be too exact, since the point of the whole venture was to investigate what the Slytherin was up to and find out any information via accidently overhearing/eavesdropping.
Part of it was already in motion, in fact. It wasn't started for this purpose entirely when he thought of it, but it was undeniably helpful and he was not complaining about this fortuitous act; during his trip to Diagon Alley before fifth year, he'd stumbled upon a treasure.
"Where did Hermione disappear to?"
"The potions section," Ron replied. "Apparently she wants to do better now that Snape's not going to be teaching it."
Harry peered past a shelf of witch fiction to see the frizzy-haired girl stacking her seventh book on top of the pile floating beside her. "Right."
The ginger gave an almighty sigh. "Since she's going to be here for a while, I'm going to grab some stuff from Quality Quidditch Supplies. You in?"
"Nah, I have the servicing kit you got me for my birthday. Thanks again, mate."
"No problem. I won't be a minute, not that she'll notice."
Ron left quickly, slipping through the crowd of school children and fussing parents and escaping into the street, leaving Harry in Flourish and Blotts. Since he had the time and nothing else to do, he wandered slowly down the aisles, eyes lazily swinging over the displays of books, all sizes and colours, photos moving and enticing customers into picking them up. He didn't see anything of interest until he found the 'obscure magics' section, labelled by the small sign above the shelves.
Immediately, his attention was caught by the cover of a particularly thick book, the background a deep purple with orange sparks whizzing back and forth. In the centre was the white shape of a human, crouching and stretching in the oddest way, his hair growing and back lengthening as he literally changed into a dog.
The dog then jumped and pounced before burrowing into the words it was standing on; Guide to Animagi. From the hole the puppy had dug into the 'u' then climbed a man, and the cycle began once more.
Part 2 of the plan was beginning now, in the Great Hall during lunch.
"I'm staying at Hogwarts for Christmas."
Cue predicted chaos.
"Calm down, no, Ron seriously – I don't – of course I'm not going to eat any gifted chocolate, d'you think I'm nuts? Why would – Hermione what are – I can have presents here – I'm a wizard, I own an owl – Hogwarts is home too, don't want to impose – no, NO! Stop trying to – what would that accomplish – don't be stupid, why would I be planning something dangerous?"
"You told Mum you'd be back for the holidays though, Harry! She's planned it and all, and she'll be making extra food for you," Ron had swallowed his latest mouthful of food to speak, thankfully.
"The only planning is conjuring an extra bed in your room, Ron, and she always makes loads of food. You'll eat my portion anyway."
"True," he conceded.
"Ronald! No, Harry, you can't stay at Hogwarts for Christmas. We'll all be back home and you'll be alone here, and after everything that's happened lately what with the poisoned mead and that bludger that smashed your skull –"
"You're overreacting, Hermione. And anyway, I'm perfectly healed from that, and Madam Pomfrey has even let me go to practise again."
"True," Ron repeated. Loyal friend.
"If you're doing this as some stupid attempt to follow Malfoy around, Harry, I will –"
Harry sighed, dropping his fork. It was unlikely he'd get another bite in between the arguments anyway. "I'm not following Malfoy. And my attempts are not stupid! I've planned this one."
Damnit, he hadn't meant to say that.
True to form, the brightest witch of her age picked up his slip. "Harry James Potter, don't you lie to me! Your plans always fail –"
"No they don't," he groused, unheard.
"– and there is no reason to stalk him because he is – not – a – Death Eater!"
The last words would have been yelled in frustration, Harry expected, had she not hushed to a furious whisper instead to dissuade the staring. He rolled his green eyes.
"If I decide to spy on Malfoy a little bit due to coincidentally being in a position to do so, I will not get caught. I promise, swear on my life." (He figured his life was pretty much in danger constantly anyway, and a little bet won't change much.)
Harry was sent a glare that promised continued dispute and possible torture in the near future, and that the topic was not closed and she did not believe him. For now, though, he had some peace.
Within the hour, his name was scrawled messily on the sign-up sheet in the Gryffindor common room, and Hermione was giving him dirty looks.
Much to his chagrin, the horrific Occlumency lessons that Snape had forced Harry into the year previous were actually quite helpful. The first and longest step in becoming an animagus was meditation in order to calm yourself enough to work out how to change your body.
It made sense, he granted, since he doubted it was easy to encourage the initially painful shift in your bone shape and length, your organs and skin to change and sprout feathers or hair, and especially your skull to reshape around your brain. He hoped he wasn't a bird, honestly; as great as flying without a broomstick would no doubt be, he didn't feel like growing a beak ever.
If he was able to calm himself enough to allow the transformation to happen at all, then he could begin on the other stages which included finding his form, potions, and the final transformation. If he was unable to do so, then he had no chance of succeeding – and he really wanted to succeed.
Sirius was, of course, the first thing that he thought of when he saw the book; to follow in his father and godfather's footsteps, to become a true son of a Marauder who deserved that title, worthy of his parents' pride. He could imagine the look on Sirius' face when he showed him...
And so he spent an hour every night laying or sitting in his bed, eyes closed, breathing slow, fading into relaxation without falling asleep. It was harder than it sounded, and multiple times he had woken up in the morning with the book open on his lap or with his neck bent uncomfortably where he'd fell against the headboard.
He had the hang of it by the next October, during his sixth year; the aim was to relax your mind, not to empty it (which was still impossible), and he could almost feel the part of his mind which would trigger the transformation. Sirius wouldn't be there to see it completed – a thought that often flitted through his mind – but that made him all the more determined.
Via Owl Order, a useful order and postage process upheld by many Diagon Alley stores which had saved many a student from detentions in various classes, Harry bought the ingredients required for the first potion mentioned in the book. He requested triple the amount, just in case of disaster, and set up his spare cauldron – his first year one with the dent in the side – in the corner of the 6th year boys' dorm bathroom. The official excuse was "a potion to help with Occlumency", which was sort of true, and although Harry felt odd keeping his best friends in the dark about his newest venture, he also felt reluctant to confide in them – he liked having it as his own little secret, and to see if he could do something this big (and sort of impressive) without the constant guidance of the Muggleborn or moral support of the Pureblood.
And so the potion cycled through red, orange, yellow, green – and then fizzed up and exploded, leaving acidic foam burning holes through various spots on the bathroom ceiling and walls, and scoring a path from the upturned cauldron to the plug in the nearest shower.
Attempt number two only got to red before he missed a stage due to unavoidable detention that lasted an hour longer than expected (he swore part way through (loudly)), and which darkened to what appeared to be a blood-like substance until he tried to tip it down the drain only to find that it was almost solidified gloop.
He was considering sending off for more cat whiskers – plucked from pure black kittens younger than a year old – when his third shot succeeded. He saw it go through all colours of the spectrum before settling in a misty, partially transparent liquid that fizzed like cola. He bottled it, preening with smugness, and labelled each vial, setting one on his bedside table.
That night, after gulping the strawberry-grape flavoured elixir, Harry relaxed into meditation and found himself staring eye-to-eye with slit pupils. He reeled back mentally, which was weird since there was no gravity or true movement or – or any substance, really, in his mind. The snake image seemed as if it were drawn on his closed eyelids, and it was all he could focus his mind on as it twisted around and curled its tail into a knotted pile. Harry noted the colouring – black, shiny and dangerous with rich, striking red streaks. The head was triangular with hints of a more orange-pink on the chin, and it was a reasonably small animal compared to the huge, venomous beasts featured regularly on the Discovery Channel (which Petunia was fond of, in between her soaps).
Harry spared a brief moment to close his eyes in relief that he was doing this alone. He could only imagine Ron's reaction to seeing the Boy Who Lived's animal equivalent turning out to be an evil, slimy snake – no better than Voldemort, no doubt. He was slightly hesitant himself, in fact, but the snake was quite beautiful, and he was meant to be a Slytherin in the first place. And was getting an illegal animagus form to spy on a classmate not an extremely Slytherin action..?
Overnight, he came to terms with his new form. (It helped to imagine himself trying to stalk Malfoy as a lion, ducking into doorways to avoid being spotted and leaving streaks of golden mane sticking out into view.)
His trip to the library the next morning, under the guise of checking something for Transfiguration, was quick and efficient. He took a piece of parchment to scribble down any information he found, which was all available in a thick book on snake species. Flicking through the pages the first time had resulted in five flashes of black and red.
Some of the snakes were red/scarlet versions of popular breeds, but there was one which matched his memory almost exactly. The wiggling image had a yellow tint on its face, and the red-pink curls only reached half way up the snake's sides, but the size and details were perfect. The nonvenomous mud snake. He jotted down the descriptions beneath the sketch he'd completed the previous night, and headed back to the common room.
The next – and last – two stages were somewhat mingled together. He had to complete the transformation of forming his body into the shape of the snake, which involved a few transfiguration charms to help him on the way. As soon as he had changed back into his human form after his first time, he needed to drink a series of potions – which he therefore had to make (correctly) before he completed the first change.
The potions weren't to aid his change, but to enable him to survive the change. Animals could contract a much larger range of diseases and infections than humans, especially if they spend time outside; if a human was to get the illnesses that their animal could catch, it could be a fatal risk – a large animal such as a horse, for example, could probably stand a disease for longer than a human. Not to mention the lack of medication for animal-specific ailments consumable by people.
Similarly, there was an entire chapter in Guide to Animagi that had creature-specific potions created for animagus forms, such as a 'flea brew' for dogs and cats which Sirius had apparently not seen.
Another of the potions was to help control his instincts, and to stop them bleeding into his human form too much. If Professor McGonagall casually began to lick her arms during class, after all, there may be some slight worry.
And finally, there was a mixture which sounded absolutely disgusting that helped temper any instincts during the time spent as an animal so that you'd be able to change back at will, even when your animal mind is distracted, and to give you a better control over the shifting.
The previously mentioned conversation happened at this point, and he got the reluctant acceptance from his friends that fine, maybe he could stay for Christmas if he insisted. The train soon came to take the majority of the students home, and Harry began the next parts of the animagus process. He also found out some startling information:
There was another animagus in the school. Or at least, there was a koala that had found himself lost on the wrong continent.
Due to the small size of his animagus form, Harry was still able to practise shifting in his dorm room, behind his closed curtains. It was soft as well, which helped for comfort. However, it got a bit boring over time, and a small amount of claustrophobia had begun to seep into his mind from his childhood years spent in his cupboard.
It had been a few weeks since he'd used the revealing potion and begun the slow process of growing scales, and he was now taking any free time he had to settle in a quiet area and meditate. He favoured an area by the edge of the Black Lake, where a large, non-carnivorous willow tree stood on the cliff-like outcropping that hung low over the water edge. It was toward one side of the lake and almost near the school boundary, so students rarely made the effort to go so far from the castle. It was beautiful during the night; a perfect view of the wide stretch of sky above the lake, and the sun set every evening in the centre of the horizon, decorating the water surface with orange and pink reflections.
He tried to get an hour a day there at least, preferably with some of it just before curfew when he was tired and relaxed enough to focus on his mindscape easily. He also spent any free periods – separate from his friends or with an excuse to be alone – under the shade of the willow. Another benefit of the isolated location was the lack of noise (or snoring, as Ron often does in the dorm); there was only the gentle hum of nature, and the occasional singing of the sirens further out in the water – and the splashing the merrows made as they went about their day.
And it was one evening, when he got to the spot before the sun started sinking, that he sprawled between the large, winding roots of the tree and leant back, his head tilting up with peace to see –
A fluffy, grey koala clinging to a tangle of twigs, hairy ears twitching as it stared down at the Gryffindor with wide, brown eyes.
Koalas were Australian, he was pretty sure. And he could swear it just stuck its tongue out at him…
Harry hadn't seen the animal before, but the snuffling noises it was making were quite noticeable. Suspecting that this was their first encounter on both ends, and that he was either correct in his guess or he'd embarrass himself in front of a wild, possibly escaped koala bear, Harry slid the Guide to Animagi out from his shoulder bag and into view.
Having kept his eyes on the koala's, Harry saw very clearly when the brown eyes widened even further and flickered back to his face. Harry smirked.
"So, you're an animagus?"
The koala shuffled to sit comfortably and stared haughtily down at him. After a second, its head dipped in a nod.
Harry grinned. "I'm almost there, I think. I reckon my potions grade will go up with all this practise. I can't believe my dorm is still standing, honestly. What year are you in?"
More shuffling, but it didn't answer. Harry supposed that wasn't really a question a koala could answer.
"Seventh year? Sixth?" When the nod came for the latter, Harry peered at his new acquaintance in curiosity. If he could figure out who it was, perhaps they'd give him tips? Since the Marauders couldn't, unfortunately.
"Gryffindor?" The absolutely disgusted look on the koala's face was very amusing. "Ah, Slytherin. You're not Malfoy – he'd be a ferret. Zabini would be something posh and prissy. Parkinson is totally a pug even in human form, and Greengrass is almost definitely a swan. I'm not even considering Crabbe and Goyle, nor Bulstrode. Am I right so far?"
A nod. Harry was running out of students. "There's Tracy Davis, and that other girl, the bored-looking one. And… Nott?"
The koala purposefully froze into a statue, careful not to react to any name and reveal itself. Knowing it was definitely a classmate, Harry wasn't about to look at its gender. He sighed.
"Okay then, suit yourself. But I'm going to meditate and whatnot, so if you'll excuse me." And Harry proceeded to do just that.
Christmas came and went in a flurry of decorations and torn wrapping paper.
One particularly warm day (for Scotland during winter, at least), Harry returned to find a thin paperback propped against the roots. He sat down and pulled it toward him, shooting a glance through the leaves to meet the intelligent gaze of the koala.
Tips From an Animagus, was the title, and it was more of a diary than an information manuscript. It detailed the stages that the author had gone through to achieve her cheetah form, which thankfully looked very similar to his own method, and hints that she had figured out along the way to speed up the processes and make certain parts easier. The ongoing commentary was invaluble, and Harry sincerely thanked his newest friend for the assistance.
Within a week, he changed. He had felt it coming 3 days previous and rushed to complete the final potion so he'd be able to shift, sitting with the bubbling concoction for an entire Wednesday and adding the next ingredients as soon as it was possible. As he jogged to the willow that night, a conjured satchel containing a rack of 8 potions slung over his shoulder, Harry knew that this was the moment he had been waiting for.
The first change was painful and awkward, and having no limbs was definitely something he'd have to get used to. He shifted back as soon as he could, sucking the scales back into his skin and extending his arms out in a luxurious stretch. As he downed potion after potion, he sniggered in amusement at the mystery koala's surprised face.
Coincidentally, the same surprised expression was viewable in an eerily similar way on one Theodore Nott the next morning at breakfast.
Success was sweet.