This isn't late at all...
A Cornish Adventure - The Battle at Zennor
Several short days later, and Harry was finally used to actually living at Hogwarts, and he couldn't be happier. The slightly eerie and unsettling silence that seemed to hang over a school without it's students had evaporated in favor of distinct sense of tranquility and peace of mind that Harry had never felt in his life. With the Dursleys, his guard always had to be up, and with the students around, Harry couldn't bring himself to bring it down, knowing full well how terrible other children could be.
At the moment, he didn't have to worry about his awful relatives, or the whispers and rumours of a school full of students - he didn't have to worry about being the Boy-Who-Lived. It was unbelievably freeing, like an enormous weight had been lifted from his shoulders without which he was suddenly able to think clearly about himself, about his goals, and how he might go about achieving them, as well as a myriad of other things.
Dumbledore believed it was showing in his magic, too. Harry agreed vehemently; as he cast a noticeably more powerful than usual Stupefy at the wall of the empty classroom Dumbledore had been allowing him to practice his spell work in. His magic was that much sharper, that much more responsive, that much more potent, the more at peace he felt. The subsequent discussion, Harry was aware, was on something still hotly debated amongst magical scholars - the connection between one's magic, spirit, and soul. Dumbledore believed that the at peace one was with oneself, the more true to themselves they were, the more powerful and focused their magic was capable of becoming.
This was the explanation that rang truest with Harry. He of course, being as young as he was, had no idea what sort of person he truly was. He did however believe very firmly that several things were true. Firstly, he cared very much about his friends; the Weasleys, Hermione, even Dumbledore to an extent, had all stood by his side since he had become a wizard in a way that no one had ever done before in his life and he would do anything to protect and repay them.
He had said this to Dumbledore, admittedly with much enthusiasm, and all the embarrassment of a young adolescent trying to talk earnestly about his feelings of all things.
Dumbledore had merely smiled, and stated that he had noticed in their meetings that Harry had never seemed all that concerned about the threat one Sirius Black posed to himself, but rather, the threat that he posed to those that would be around him. He had suggested that he try and consider the things that made him truly happy in his life, as well as the things and values he believed were important above all others, and try and feel how his emotions and mind responded.
For example, if he were to focus on his feelings for his friends and perhaps imagined a threat to them; the feelings of protectiveness that would respond to those thoughts would be the feelings to focus on when say, practicing defensive magic. He should try tapping into that feeling when he casts his shield spells, focus on them, and observe the results.
His feelings for his friends, that fierce protectiveness that did come over him when he imagined the haggard and insane Sirius Black that Harry had seen in his wanted posters since he had arrived at Hogwarts standing over his friends about to do lord know what - Harry believed that those feelings were part of who he truly was as a person, and would always remain so. As such, when Harry tried casting defensive magic while focusing on those feelings; in theory, because his emotions, his will and intent during his casting were in tune with who he truly was as a person, his spell would all the more powerful due to the connection between magic and the soul.
The theory worked. Once Harry began to relax, it was not hard for him to isolate and draw upon his feelings of protectiveness. After all, the events of last year had been burned into his brain and he could vividly recall his burning desire to keep the youngest Weasley alive, to protect her. He may not have known her particularly well, but she was important to Ron, and was one of the family that had taken him in when no one else had wanted to, that had done so much for him.
No, it was not hard for him to conjure the kind of emotion for his purposes at all.
What was hard however, was simultaneously focusing on that emotion, feeling it artificially, and then utilising it at the same time as spell casting. It was a stretch of his ability to focus, but one that Dumbledore assured him he'd be able to make in time, even going as far as to suggest that it was possible once accomplished at the skill, to use multiple emotions in the process, strengthening his magic further.
Oddly, Dumbledore had used Voldemort as an example of this. Voldemort used primarily his hatred to power his magic, hatred that made up a large part of who he was as a person. But there were plenty of other things that made up who Tom Riddle was, that could be used to strengthen the connection between his soul and his magic. His need to dominate others, to rule. The pleasure and feelings of empowerment he gained from the fear of him, and what he could do. His overwhelming desire be the first person to defeat death itself.
His ability to draw upon all of these things effortlessly as he cast was one of the reasons that Voldemort had been as formidable, as unstoppable as he had been.
The Headmaster had also admitted that this technique was not one taught at Hogwarts, nor widely practiced; because despite it's advantages it was incredibly difficult to master. Harry was doing as well with it as he was now because for the first time, he felt unburdened, and at peace. However, as Harry well knew, as he grew it was an inevitable fact of life that new burdens would come along, some more unwelcome than others.
The trick was, to be able to move those burdens to one side as part of your spell casting - to clear your mind, so to speak. Dumbledore was adamant though, that however difficult, Harry would be able to master the technique and that he would learn other things that would aid him in this goal.
Before, Harry might have been intimidated by such lofty expectations from the venerated wizard, or at least the magnitude of the challenge Dumbledore had effectively presented to him by introducing to this technique; but at least for now, he was excited by it. It was something that he knew would be invaluable, both in keeping his friends safe, but also in achieving his goals.
Harry paused after firing of one final Stunning Spell, his slight clockwise twist as he cast making the red ball of magical energy spiral in the air as it moved towards it's target. Harry smiled faintly as it fizzled out against the spell-proof stone walls of the castle. It had been perfectly executed, the spiral making it particularly difficult to shield against in a duel, when there would be many other spells being fired. More pleasing to him than that however, is that he had come up with the modification himself, and it had behaved exactly as he had wanted it to, with no cost to the power.
He couldn't help but feeling just a little bit smug about it, even as he stowed his wands in the pocket of his too large and grubby jeans and wiped the sweat from his face after several hours of trying to get the bastard spell to actually work. Harry idly flicked out his wand and uttered the word Tempus, resulting in the time being displayed in from in him in a shining gold cursive; and smiled slightly when he realised he had time to shower and change before the next event of the day after what had become a regular morning practice.
Dumbledore had been true to his word, and gotten in touch with a Potions professor for Harry and set up a meeting. Horace Slughorn, he had been warned, was something of a collector. Not of objects, or of knowledge, but of connections. In short, in his time as the Hogwarts Potions master, he had made it his priority to cultivate at least an acquaintance of any student he felt valuable. Whether that meant a persons family prestige, or a persons magical ability or talent; Slughorn would identify those he felt would rise to at least a vague prominence, and instill himself as an ally or friend amongst the teachers, by doing favors or showing favoritism.
Dumbledore had been keen to impress upon Harry that Slughorn's efforts had been mostly innocent. The connections he cultivated amongst the student population meant he had an extensive network of relatively friendly contacts that meant he could find and do things he wanted and needed, and in return, he would do similar for them, through the connections he had cultivated.
Perhaps spotting Harry's unease with his description of the man, Dumbledore mentioned that Lily Potter had been one of Slughorn's most prominent, and indeed favorite, students. During the war, Lily had used her rather impressive talents in Charms and Warding to protect Slughorn's home from increasingly violent Death Eater attempts to recruit him - and had at one point, stepped in personally to protect him from attack.
According to the Headmaster, Slughorn's response had been impressive indeed. The man had brewed like a madman for those who fought against Voldemort - albeit anonymously, preferring to publicly remain neutral, and therefore safe - medicinal potions, magical strengthening, polyjuice potion and any other possible concoction that would be of any use, Slughorn personally provided. He had also helped Lily directly. She had been studying for a Charms Mastery to allow her to become a Professor at Hogwarts; and Slughorn had used his extensive network to acquire as many rare and obscure magical texts for Lily as possible, including several incredibly rare family volumes that hadn't been in public hands in a great many years.
In short, Slughorn could acquire almost anything should he have a reason to, and for Harry, he was far too much of a valuable resource to pass up simply because the man's casual distinctions of who was 'valuable' and who wasn't; or even because the man's ethics sounded to Harry distinctly, for want of a better word, slimy.
Harry needed him. As the last surviving member of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Potter, trying to restore his family; as the Founders' Apprentice, who would likely need to travel the world in search of the knowledge left behind; and as a person whose life seemed be a series of unbelievable and often dangerous events, who wanted nothing more than to ensure that the people that were drawn into the events with him came out at the other side alive and unharmed.
And thanks to some of his recent readings on Wizarding law, he had found an incredibly good reason for Slughorn to provide at least some of the help he would need.
"Yes, your mother really was one of the most remarkable people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting, and an absolute whiz in the potions lab, I might add." Slughorn exclaimed excitedly, a soft smile on his face. The two of them had been introduced and exchanged pleasantries and small talk under the watchful eye of Dumbledore; and Slughorn had been the very picture of somebody delighted to meet Harry Potter - but Harry had gotten the distinct feeling of it being a forced, and practiced routine, rather than genuine Slughorn.
But conversation had found it's way towards Harry's parents, as it had tended to do around people who had known them; and for the first time since they had sat down to talk in Dumbledore's office, Slughorn's demeanor became recognisably less forced, the emotions being shown his own. That, Harry found, was a particularly comforting thought. Slughorn seemed to hold genuine affection for his mother, and the idea of hearing more about her from somebody who knew her other than Dumbledore or Hagrid, was wonderful to him.
"My mother was good at potions?" Harry queried, wondering at the idea of his mother being so talented at a subject that he held particular dislike for.
"Oh yes my boy," Slughorn began, his smile growing ever wider as he remembered Harry's mother. "Both your parents were good in the lab. James you see, had been tutored from a young age, being a pureblood as he was; but Lily? Lily took to potions as a fish took to water - and I made sure to tell her so. She was a wonderful student, talented in every area of magic. But she stood out in Potions, she had a flair for it. I do so wish that she had attempted a mastery in Potions rather than Charms; but, I daresay if she was more talented at anything than she was at brewing, it was Charms. That girl could accomplish just about anything with a wand, in my humble opinion..."
Slughorn broke off, bringing a hand to his rather walrus-like moustache, stroking it in thought. "In fact," He started, throwing a glance towards Dumbledore out of the corner of his eye, before fixing Harry with the strangest, most penetrating stare. "In fact, given the books I managed to procure for her research shortly before she passed; it is her sheer talent for Charms that kept you alive."
An uneasy silence broke out following the portly man's words, and he appeared to distract himself by taking a cloth and beginning to clean the lenses of his glasses.
"But anyway, as wonderful it has been to meet with you Harry, I daresay you have summoned me for a reason Dumbledore." Slughorn started, in a short, clipped tone. "And I do not appreciate you bringing Lily's son here as a way to try and persuade me to get what you want."
Harry was confused, and thought that perhaps caution would be the best option, but an encouraging glance from the Headmaster changed his mind.
"Actually, Mr. Slughorn, it was me that wanted to meet with you. You see, I wanted to know if it were at all possible for you to help me out somewhat."
That got Slughorn's attention, and though Harry was curious as to whatever it was Dumbledore had wanted from Slughorn, he wasn't about to press the issue while it put at risk his own motivations; and judging by the disturbingly easy way Slughorn slipped into his falsely cheery persona, Slughorn was at the very least still open to an arrangement with Harry.
"You see Mr Slughorn, I find myself in need of a Potions Master, both in order to brew potions that would be beyond my capabilities, and also to act as a tutor for me and a select group of friends during my time at Hogwarts. I'd very much like to be as proficient in Potions as I possibly can, and I think you could help me achieve that, given your reputation as one of the best Potions Masters in the world."
The flattery was perhaps a bit obvious, and probably unnecessary by the gleam of curiosity present in Slughorn's eyes at Harry's strange request.
"Potions that would be beyond your capabilities, Mr. Potter? I wonder what a third year student could possibly be up to - with he Headmaster's approval no less - that would require someone to brew potions that were beyond your capabilities. And given your mother's talents in the art, and the expertise I know Professor Snape has, I find it hard to believe that you require a tutor to pass your OWLS and NEWTS, my boy."
Harry caught an almost imperceptible widening of Dumbledore's benign smile at Slughorn's interest - they had discussed beforehand that the best way to gain the man's co-operation would be to first spark his curiosity enough to convince him answers were worth a taking a magical oath to remain silent on the subject of Harry's status, and then simply being honest.
"Well your second question is fairly easy to answer, for the most part. Professor Snape seems to have an irrational dislike of me - a sentiment Professor Dumbledore believes is true, but will not tell me why - and has made learning the art, beyond a very basic level, incredibly difficult. I believe I could pass the my OWLs and maybe even my NEWTs to an acceptable level, but I don't want to be merely operating at acceptable anymore. Given what I know of my parents, and especially given what you've told me today; I want to be worthy of their sacrifice, I want them to be proud of me. I've been told that they were the kind of loving parents that would be proud of me no matter my grades, but I want to do better for them."
Harry repressed a slight surge of guilt at bringing his parents into this. He hadn't lied of course, making his parents proud was at the very forefront of his motivation for his new attitude towards academia, but it felt incredibly manipulative to bring them into this. With a quick glance at the Sorting Hat, which he could have sworn was smirking, Harry couldn't help but feel it was particularly Slytherin of him.
"Very admirable indeed, Harry, and I daresay it would be a privilege to tutor you. As Dumbledore agrees, I believe we can make an arrangement regarding that later. But first, I would really quite like to hear an answer to the whole of my question."
A quick glance towards the Headmaster precluded Harry's answer.
"Well, the details are supposed to be kept secret for now; and I'd rather keep them that way until we actually have an agreement - but needless to say I have just found myself in a particularly unique situation, where any number of Potions may potentially useful. For example, because of this situation, I have found myself in need of a good quantity of The Draught of Language. Professor Dumbledore has managed to get me some, but it's expensive and difficult to brew, and Professor Snape is entirely unwilling to aid me."
"And you'd be entirely unwilling to tell me why you need these potions before I agree to brewing them for you? That's a remarkable amount of trust you're asking that I show in someone I do not know."
"I understand, sir, but short of an oath guaranteeing silent, the Headmaster and I feel this really needs to be kept a secret."
And they really did, too. The position of being the Founder's Apprentice was well known amongst the old families and the scholarly, and considered legendary in the wizarding world. Dumbledore believed that some of the knowledge locked away by the Founders would be incredibly dangerous and powerful, and that should Harry's position become well known until he was ready magically and politically to fend off 'interested parties' looking to gain power, then not only would Harry be in danger, but there was a good chance that the knowledge would be used for ill, or exploited.
All Harry had to do was imagine somebody of Lucius Malfoy's ilk getting their hands on the kind of magic Harry imagined that the Founders would seal away in some of the later trials, and he was instantly amenable to keeping his position a secret from all but his closest friends.
"An oath, eh? And you believe it's that serious, Dumbledore? That an oath is really necessary?"
"I do, Horace. This particular secret could do a great deal of harm if it gets out - not that I'm implying you are untrustworthy, of course. However, this knowledge getting out before Mr. Potter is ready would put Mr. Potter himself at risk, and that is simply something I will not chance."
It was clear that Slughorn was finding the temptation impossible hard to resist, by the impossibly hungry look his face had taken, and sure enough, the man only needed a few moments of consideration before he took out his wand and gave in.
"I, Horace Slughorn, swear on my magic that I shall not reveal anything regarding Harry Potter or his associates and friends that I learn during this, or any subsequent meeting or gathering, without Harry Potter or Albus Dumbledore's express permission. So mote it be." A flash of white from the man's wand tip signaled the activation of the oath, and Harry found himself stunned about how favorable it was to Harry. It was pretty damn airtight. "Good enough, Albus?" Slughorn asked, somewhat petulantly.
"More than good enough, Horace. I thank you. Harry, you may explain your situation yourself, if you wish."
Harry nodded at that, and Slughorn turned once again to him eagerly.
"My situation, Mr. Slughorn is actually pretty simple, if a little rare." He began slowly, deciding that he would just be rather bluntly honest, and take things from there. "You see, a few days ago Professor Dumbledore had me take a fairly well known, but rarely passed test - the test to become the Founder's Apprentice..." Harry watched as Slughorn sat bolt upright in his chair, and faintly muttered something that distinctly sounded like an 'impossible', but Harry ignored him and pressed on. "...And I was accepted, Mr. Slughorn."
Harry watched as Slughorn's brain worked at what was likely a thousand miles an hour, calculating the advantages of helping Harry, what it would mean when the information became public knowledge, and exactly what Harry was asking of him.
"Yes, yes, yes. I can see why Dumbledore would have recommended me. You do of course need the potions, I have no doubt about that - but that won't be all you need, no, of course not. You'll need to be magically exceptional of course, so you'll need a great many books and sources of information, both mundane and obscure - I can provide those as I did for Lily. You'll need much more though, contacts, equipment, travel arrangements to be made, specialised knowledge. All of these things difficult and often expensive to obtain, but as Dumbledore is well aware, not so much for someone like me."
Slughorn stared penetratingly at Harry, eagerly even. "The only question is, what's in it for me? Obviously the prestige associated with helping somebody in your position, but I'm already well known and respected, so that's pretty useless to me. What do I get out of it?"
Harry had anticipated this question, and it was the only part of the conversation he was unsure about, as he hadn't exactly told Dumbledore what he had planned. Regardless, after what he hoped was an apologetic glance in Dumbledore's direction he began to speak.
"Well, firstly, I can say that you'll be given access to at least a portion of the Potions related knowledge I recover that isn't overtly 'dark' in nature; but I suspect you anticipated you'd be getting at least that, so I'll move on to what I really have to offer you." Harry leant forward conspiratorially before continuing, knowing full well the reaction his next statement was likely to provoke.
"What if I told you, Mr. Slughorn, that under the laws surrounding the slaying of illegal or dangerous magical creatures, that I technically own the corpse of Basilisk that is at least 50-foot in length."
Watching Slughorn go from angrily incredulous and disbelieving, to utterly shell shocked following a confirmation of Harry's words from Dumbledore, was incredibly amusing to Harry, and he was rather pleased he had managed to throw the former Head of Slytherin House this far off his game.
"But, how?!" The man spluttered, slumped back in his comfortable chair in Dumbledore's office. "Do you have any idea how much such a thing would be worth? How rare it is? I don't believe there has been fresh Basilisk parts on any market, legal or otherwise, for at least 40 years. Let alone from a fully grown animal! Am I correct in assuming you are offering me the chance to work on it? To harvest it? Such a thing is a privilege in itself!"
Harry smiled amiably. The man's enthusiasm, and love for his profession was obviously genuine, and served to endear him to Harry far more than anything else during his conversation.
"That is exactly what I'm offering. I have a rough idea of what the thing's worth after a bit of research, so here's my idea: In exchange for you teach myself and my friends, as well as your help in brewing and acquiring the things that I need as the Founder's Apprentice, as well as your services in harvesting, rendering, and selling the Basilisk and it's parts; I am willing to offer you a 10% cut of the profits, as well as what I judge as a small and reasonable proportion of the Basilisk parts for your own personal inventory."
Slughorn's ability to haggle as per his nature as a Slytherin, regardless of the sheer amount of gold he was about to come into was severely hampered by the gleeful, almost euphoric expression he wore at the opportunity to get close with such an large and rare source of ingredients, but he gave it a shot regardless.
"20%, as well as the items for my inventory."
Harry couldn't help but grin at Slughorn's obvious, and almost comical greed. "20% is too much, sir. I'd go for 15%, but only if you also agreed that as long as I'm not asking you for something that would be astronomically costly to attain; that the things you attain for me come at your expense, as well as you purchasing the ingredients needed for the potions I may need."
"That's a steep price for an extra 5%."
"Not for Basilisk parts it's not." Harry retorted quickly, knowing full well that Slughorn's response had been simply to test if he was willing to negotiate further. "In fact, I'd say it's pretty generous, if the prices I have are anything to go by."
"To be honest, Mr. Potter, I'd have to agree with you. I think you and I have a deal."
Harry grinned. At his age, it was incredibly difficult for him to comprehend the sheer amount of money that he had just come into, but even he knew that it would be the foundations of any attempt to build up his family name again, not to mention vital in his ventures as the Founder's Apprentice.
Harry Potter was her best friend, and though Hermione knew Harry could never acknowledge it in front of his first most trusted male friend without risking offending him, she was certain that Harry felt the same way about her. That she was equally important to him as Ron was.
That was why, as she sat with her two first and only friends and despite the apparently looming threat of a deranged psychopath bent on killing Harry, she couldn't help but be happy at his new situation.
Oh, of course she was worried, and had it been anyone else that she cared about she would be going out of her mind with worry. But with Harry it was different. When Harry spoke of Sirius Black, just as when Harry had told them of his intention to go after the Stone in their first year; his posture straightened, he spoke with a presence that Hermione had never seen in anyone before, and suddenly Harry had this aura about him that encouraged others to follow. That promised success.
So, when Harry told them of the threat of Sirius Black, Voldemort's old right hand man - the only person ever to escape from the impenetrable Azkaban - Hermione didn't fret. She took one look at Harry, one look into his eyes, and saw that same fire she had seen before he had gone to face Quirrel, the same fire she just knew would have been there as he faced the Basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets. And so instead of worry, Hermione's mind leapt straight into her repertoire of spells - what would be useful, what offensive and defensive charms to use, the possibility of using wards (she was after all taking Ancient Runes) for protection, possible practice regimes so that the three of them could become as proficient as possible as fast as possible. A thousand different thoughts all lightning fast, one after the other; so much so that she noticed Ron and Harry's amused smiles as they watched her think far too late to cover up her lapse.
They knew her too well, damn them.
"Hermione, relax. We can plan later for sure. But for now, I've got other things I really need to tell you, and I think I'm probably going to need your help for them, okay? Besides, Black probably won't even try anything until the Summer's over, as he wouldn't know I'm not with my relatives, and even then it's going to take him some time to get past Dumbledore and the protections on the school. I think we have time."
Hermione just smiled apologetically and gestured for him to continue. But in her mind, she wondered at the transformation in her friend after just a few weeks. Harry was different, and that brought her back to her very first thought. The fact that he was here in the summer, and that the castle had provided such extensive quarters for him could only meant that he was now living here. And that meant, to Hermione's considerable joy, that he was away from his utterly foul Aunt and Uncle.
Of course Hermione being Hermione, she knew the signs of somebody being in an abusive house, and the way Harry came back after his first year, defeated, quiet, nervous; stood out like nothing else next to the Harry he had been at the end of his first year, happy, and relatively carefree. Of course, his tension on the train back to King's Cross hadn't gone unnoticed either, and her attempts - which in hindsight were perhaps a little bit heavy handed and obvious, with her only being twelve - to get him to open up were thoroughly ineffective.
And so she had gone to Professor McGonagall, and Professor Dumbledore, who had essentially told her the same thing, that nothing was wrong - though the transfiguration Professor's obvious distaste for the situation made it clear that she was well aware that the opposite may be true, but was unable to actually do anything about it. The brunette had been shaken, if she was honest. Especially by Professor Dumbledore's insistence that Harry was well looked after, especially considering the Weasley's tales of barred windows and locked doors, and Harry's blatant physical malnourishment.
Her faith in authority and her unshakable faith that she was right and that her friend needed help warred internally, until she realised that still nothing was being done, so instead she resolved simply to be there for Harry until such a time as she could do something to get him away from his relatives.
Sitting with herself and Ron in his new living quarters though, Harry finally appeared to be somewhat at ease, possibly for the first time in their friendship she had seen him looking so comfortable both with himself and his surroundings. If what she suspected regarding his home life was true, she suspected that this was the first time in his life he'd ever been able to let his guard down, and relax.
He looked happy, content, and seeing it had Hermione feeling over the moon; and if the few glances she and Ron had shared told her anything, it was that Ron had seen it too and was just as happy for his friend. But more than that, Harry seemed to have found a purpose, something to strive for. The confidence and determination that seemed to shine through whenever something serious had happened to them at Hogwarts, was now visible to those who knew him almost constantly. Not only that, but it was in her nature for her to have noticed the rather large amount of reading and note making that had been occurring in Harry's study, and even on his bed, if the slightly disorganised mess in both areas was any indication.
He had been studying. A lot, if she was any kind of expert (and she was), and brewing. It was a remarkable change from the boy he had been but a few months previously, someone who whilst not unintelligent, had been more content to simply enjoy the experience and wonder of Hogwarts with his friends, than really commit himself to academia. Once again, given what she knew, she couldn't find it in herself to blame him. That said, the change was, in her opinion, thoroughly welcome.
Harry certainly had not been kidding, though, when he said that he had more to talk about; and Harry's two friends spent the next hour or so bouncing from surprised to astonished as Harry took them through the events of his summer so far, including his new role as the Founder's Apprentice, Slughorn's agreement to tutor them if they wished to drop out of Snape's potions class, and Harry's invitation to join him on his first task as the Apprentice in Cornwall.
"Quiet summer then, mate?" Ron's smile was almost as half hearted as the quip itself, but it still brought on a smile from Harry himself.
"Oh yeah," Harry retorted, his smile growing at the banter. "About as relaxing as the Chamber of Secrets."
This was not strictly true, Harry reflected. He did in fact feel more relaxed than he ever had, despite everything that was going on.
"So Dumbledore's said we should all go with you to Cornwall? To help?" Ron asked, knowing full well that it was in Harry's nature to try and do anything remotely dangerous by himself.
"Yeah, he's been as accommodating as I think he can be, since he also happens to be the Headmaster. He's obtained permission from both your parents for you to stay here for a week with me since I just moved in; and he said to me, and I quote: 'Though, if yourself, Mr. Weasley, and Ms. Granger happen to decide to sneak away from the grounds; I daresay I will be much too preoccupied with preparing for the coming year to be watching the three of you all the time and well, students will be students.'' Ron flashed him a grin at his rather exceptional Dumbledore impression (as far as a young boy could impersonate an elderly wizard), while Hermione did a credible job of hiding her own amusement.
"He did give conditions for you guys helping me though. Firstly, there are going to be tasks that I'll have to do alone, so if I say I'm going to do one myself, you'll need to trust me." Harry waited for the reluctant agreement of his friends before continuing. "Secondly, some of the things we pull will be incredibly dark or dangerous. Since I've been approved, Dumbledore is willing to let me keep everything I pick up to myself; however, that only applies to me. He's asked that I read through everything before I share it with anyone and only share knowledge that's at least mostly safe."
Hermione looked as though she wanted to protest at that, and Harry could sympathise with her somewhat, as she was most definitely the best suited to going through the knowledge they collected with a fine tooth comb and finding what would be useful to them or in general and finding the best way to utilise it. Unfortunately, this was Harry's responsibility first and foremost, and she must have understood that, for she didn't complain about the condition.
"And finally, this is all supposed to be a secret. Slughorn knows, but he's taken an oath promising to keep it a secret. Obviously, I trust both of you absolutely, but I just wanted it to be clear."
Harry surveyed his friends, and to his relief they did not seem particularly perturbed by what he was asking of them, and indeed looked eager to help, and Hermione looked especially eager at the idea that she might be allowed to read books that nobody but Harry had read for hundreds of years.
"Right then, who fancies planning a trip to Cornwall?"
Planning a trip to Cornwall was far easier than Harry had actually anticipated it being. Dumbledore had let him know of a fairly quiet wizarding pub well inside the County that had a fireplace that he could floo to with Ron and Hermione, and from there, it was just a matter of taking the Muggle bus in the day, or the Knight Bus in the night.
As for where to begin the investigation itself, it had of course been Hermione that had been the first to decipher what the clue meant by the 'Quoits of Kernow'. With the help of the potion Dumbledore had provided, Harry had already become relatively comfortable in Cornish, and of course was well aware that Kernow was in fact, Cornwall. However, the word Quoit was apparently taken from another language, and the Draught of Language did not allow him to translate single words. The potion needed the user to have phrases and sentences, or a multitude of different words to begin to allow Harry's brain to process the language, let alone learn it.
Harry could for example, read a book in German with the Draught, and by the end, have a fair grasp of the language - but he could not translate an individual words straight away. Without knowing the original language, and without having material in that language for him to study, Harry was stuck as far as translations went.
Hermione, on the other hand, had somehow immediately recognised the language as French, and almost immediately after that came to the conclusion that it was, more specifically, Old French - a language that spawned the modern French language, among others. Several library hours later, Hermione had managed to derive the meaning of the word - the cap stone that sits on top of ancient stone burial chambers.
Apparently, it had once been practice to bury the dead, and construct a chamber over the site, made from giant stone blocks - which muggle archaeologists had named chamber tombs, or dolmens. Cornwall, for such a sparsely populated area at least, had an unusually high concentration of these monuments, most of which were in various states in disrepair.
It would seem, that the 'keys' Harry would need to find, were hidden amongst these sites.
The only real problem, besides finding the keys and puzzling out how to go about finding where the actual trial was, would be the fact that Ron and Hermione were underage, and not otherwise emancipated as Harry was. They were safe to cast at Hogwarts because the magic of the castle interfered with the Trace - the charm that detects magic used in the presence of under-age wizard, and Dumbledore believed that it would be the same once they had made it within the area of the trial itself.
However, any magic outside close to Ron and Hermione would likely be recognised as under-age magic on one or both of their parts. Of course, Harry was emancipated - bu those records were rarely, if ever, checked without reason; so his emancipation and the reason for it was still a secret from all but those he'd told. He could of course claim responsibility for all the magic performed on their trip, but if he did that, then he'd have to make his status as the Founder's Apprentice public.
Unless things became desperate, they wouldn't be able to use magic to help them outside of the confines of the trial.
And Harry was pretty certain that the slightly damp chill that had crept underneath his coat, and penetrated straight through to his very bones, did not count as desperate.
It was supposed to be summer, for heaven's sake - and that season was supposed to apply to Cornwall too, however out of the way it was. The village they had decided to investigate first, was Zennor; pretty much typified a decidedly sleepy rural village in Harry's mind. A few cottages made from grey, uneven stone, with well kept gardens, and thatched roofs, and nothing but miles and miles of green, rolling countryside surrounding them.
At least Harry presumed so, because this early in the morning a thick, fog clung to just about everything that wasn't within a few feet of Harry himself, obscuring anything outside of that range from view.
Hermione assured him that this was natural for the area - Cornwall was well known for it, in fact. However, to Harry, it felt unnatural - unearthly, and foreboding. The village was eerily silent. Most were not yet awake, as Harry had decided they should start early so that they did not attract undue attention to themselves. Dumbledore had warned him that he would be better off with as few people seeing him as possible - word spread faster than most people would possibly dare to imagine, and all it would take would be the wrong person to overhear, and word to get to Sirius Black that Harry was out, unprotected.
Black could apparate - transport himself over great distances in the blink of an eye. He could be here the moment he heard a clue as to their whereabouts.
The unease stayed with him as they moved out of the village towards their first destination, taking up old, bramble infested dirt paths to reach where Sperris Quoit - the start of their investigation. It was one of two Quoits located just outside the village, on opposite sides to each other, and given it's history, it was a logical place for them to start their search.
It was currently a ruin, and was probably in the worst condition of all of the quoits in the county; it had collapsed, and some of the stones were scattered - some had even been used to build the walls that divided up the land in the area. But it was not this that had drawn them to it. Sperris Quoit in Cornish translated roughly to 'sprite', or 'hobgoblin', both muggle words for different species of fairy and pixie - creatures that tend to gather around area with a high concentration of ambient magic - and had a reputation for being haunted, stretching several hundred years back in history.
As Hermione put it, it really was the only place to start their search.
And as soon as the trio entered the area where the ruins of Sperris stood, Harry knew instantly that they had been right - that they were in the right place.
"Can you guys feel that?" He asked in a slightly breathless voice, as he gazed around the scattered grey rocks of the ancient monument.
"Only very slightly - a slight tingle on my skin, just like the first time I stepped inside Hogwarts..." Hermione trailed off as her own eyes raked across the area, no doubt trying to decide how to go about investigating the area.
"You can't feel it anymore then?" Harry asked, interrupting her thoughts. "I can still feel it. I don't know how I know, but it's magic. This place is thick with magic in the air, I can feel it, just like I can at Hogwarts... And now that I think about it, I felt it at Diagon Alley and Ollivanders too - massive amounts of magic in the air."
"Wait-" Hermione started, her intellectual interest obviously piqued, "-you feel the magic of Hogwarts all the time?"
Harry was slightly non-plussed. He had genuinely assumed that everyone could feel what he did in Hogwarts. Ron was looking similarly confused - albeit for different reasons.
"Hold on for a minute - you guys can feel the magic of Hogwarts?"
Hermione raised a quizzical eyebrow at Ron before answering. "Yes, I did. It's not really something I've seen documented much, but from what I've been able to find out from asking people, is that some do feel some of the ambient magic of Hogwarts, and some don't - though I've never heard of someone being able to feel it all the time." She paused in her mini-lecture, a frown of thought upon her face. "I had noticed that it appears to only be those raised in a muggle environment who feel it, and guessed that it was simply the fact that those brought up away from magic getting used to the sheer amount of ambient magic at Hogwarts - your body simply adjusts to the amount of magic in the air, and you no longer even notice it. The reason children raised as magical don't notice it is that their bodies have been exposed to the feel of magic from a young age, and are already used to the feel of it in the air."
"I had assumed that there isn't enough ambient magic at Diagon Alley to get that reaction from most others... The fact that Harry can sense it suggests some kind of natural ability to sense magic, although I haven't read anything to suggest that such a thing exists."
Harry suppressed an expression of distaste at yet another thing that set him apart from everything else. If Hermione was correct (and he would always bet on her in such matters), then it would be a stupendously useful ability, with a good many advantages for him if what he was imagining was correct. It could only be a positive - he wanted to be the best he could be, and this would help him, regardless of how it made him unusual. Normal was for the Dursleys.
"I think that would be something worth investigating back at Hogwarts Hermione, but I think we should focus on one thing at a time. Let's concentrate on what we're here to do, and when we get back, we can look into sensing magic."
Ron nodded in agreement, his own eyes jumpily scanning the surrounding area. Of the three of them, Ron was easily the most alert of the trio next to Harry. His experiences at Hogwarts had been quite a bit more intense than Hermione's - and a little more dangerous too. From facing his worst fears in the form of Aragog and his arachnid family, to his self sacrifice in the giant chess game, and his journey with the treacherous Lockhart into the Chamber in the previous year, Ron was far more experienced than Hermione in this sort of venture, and it showed. He was hyper alert, eyes on the prowl, muscles tight and ready to spring into action - just as Harry himself was. Hermione on the other hand, for all her intelligence, was far more relaxed, and had allowed herself to lower her guard in order to think about Harry's apparent ability.
"Sounds like a good idea Harry - we still don't know what these 'keys' even are, or what we're even looking for here. We should focus on that, and staying safe while we're out in the open like this."
"Well given that this is the first of Harry's trials - and therefore matched to his ability according to the Sorting Hat, I don't think what we're looking for will be particularly esoteric, or difficult to understand. We're probably just looking for several phrases inscribed on the monuments in Cornish or in runes that can be combined into a password and a clue as to the location of the trial." Hermione's suggestion made sense to Harry, but he couldn't help but feel that wouldn't be all there was to it. It couldn't possibly be that easy.
And when Hermione stepped forward from the trio to begin her investigation of the stone, Harry was almost immediately proven right. The ground beneath her lit up, a pattern on the ground that Harry absently noted was a rune that he didn't recognise, and suddenly the magical energy in the area amplified further than Harry had thought was even possible, and began condensing - and before Harry could wonder at how we able to sense such a thing, he realised it was doing so behind them.
He span entirely on instinct, his wand already in his hand, and cast the strongest Protego he could manage without any preparation and dived to the side; and was instantly grateful for the fact that Dumbledore had insisted that he learn the charm to a reasonable degree before he left to do any trial, as he felt what felt to him like a car crashed into the hazy blue shield he had conjured in front of the three of them, and shattered the shield like glass, the dissipation of the magic revealing very clearly what the area had summoned, and Harry almost instinctively gulped.
It was a some kind of magical wild boar - as big as a fully grown adult human, with vibrant, porcupine-like purple spines running all the way down it's back, and impossibly to ignore ivory tusks aimed threateningly at him, easily long enough to skewer him completely. It's earthy brown coat did nothing to obscure the fact that the beast was pure muscle, and as the creature lowered it's head and began scraping it's foot threateningly on the ground, Harry realised that his companions hadn't reacted, shocked as they were.
"It's going to charge at us... Scatter!"
Remaining as such a tightly packed group and as such, an easy target, was clearly not an option; and his shouted words shook Ron and Hermione out of their amazed stupor, and they sprung into action, dashing sideways out of the attack path of the giant boar. The creature hadn't move however, and it's gleaming black eyes never left the scarred Gryffindor that stood, half crouched, in front of it.
"You," it began, it's voice raspy, with an almost gurgling quality to it, as if it's throat was thick with slime. "You have the stink of Gryffindor on you." It practically snarled the word Gryffindor, as though simply making the sound could rip the legendary wizard to shreds. "A wizard is finally chosen to face me, and it is the heir of the very man who imprisoned me here to do his work. The magic here works to prevent me from killing the Apprentice and his companions, but I vow on my name as Bennwig, son of Twrch Trwyth, that I will find a way to kill you here and now, Gryffindor-child."
Harry hadn't moved, knowing that the boar wouldn't charge at a moving target while he was stood still in front of it, giving Ron and Hermione time to get into positions at the side and behind the boar. He hadn't however, taken into account the sheer speed at which the boar could accelerate and charge, and it was pure intuition that prevented this trial being ended there and then, as he leapt to the side, narrowly avoiding getting impaled upon Bennwig's left tusk - instead only sustaining a lengthy albeit minor gash on his right thigh, the tusk easily tearing through flesh and denim jean alike.
The last remaining Potter had however been considering how to combat the beast, and he had come to the conclusion that it would be the most vulnerable after a charge, with it's back turned - and despite how quickly everything had happened, and despite the fierce stinging of his thigh, Harry span once again and with several cries of 'Diffindo' launched several cutting curses at the boar's hind legs, hoping to restrict it's ability to move. The beast was already turning, and the cutting curses all hit the beast on the side of it's right thigh, tearing at it's flesh, causing blood to rather visibly leak from the wounds, but hadn't hit an area that would cause any real damage to the enormous creature.
"Hermione, Ron, aim for the legs! I think the magic in the area is enough to disguise you guys using it!"
Hermione's perfectly executed Diffindo hit the opposite thigh to Harry's, yet again missing the tendons of the boar, but Ron's own curse was utterly ineffective, and Harry almost had to bite back a frustrated shout. It splashed harmlessly against the beast's legs, and the boar gave no indication that it had even felt the blow. The problem was immediately obvious to Harry, having been partnered with Ron throughout their Charms classes. Ron had never exactly mastered the severing charm, only really scraping through the Charms exams. He had simply never deigned to practice outside of classes - something that almost everyone did - and had therefore never managed to learn it properly.
And so instead, he'd used something he was comfortable using. Flipendo. It just wasn't a spell powerful enough to affect the boar.
"Ron, you have to try and use the cutting curse! It's the only thing we know that'll really cause any actual damage to it!"
Ron tried the curse to his credit, but it simply crashed harmlessly against the boar's hide, not cast well enough to do any damage, and within moments, it was charging at Harry again, forcing him to once again dive out of it's path - but not before taking a second wound to his leg, crisscrossing over the wound that was already there.
The second wound however, was considerably deeper, and Harry realised as he pulled himself to his feet that the pain of the wounds was making putting any weight on that leg nearly impossible. The thought that the boar may have been smart enough to aim for the same place twice in a row was equally disconcerting.
Ron had ineffectually battered the boar with a series of jinxes and curses he did know (one had to have a healthy repertoire of minor jinxes to repel people like Malfoy after all) to try and impede the charge of the beast, and Hermione herself had managed to considerably damage Bennwig with a series of cutting curses aimed at the spot Harry had aimed at, but it was to no avail. The injury this time prevented Harry from casting due to the time it took him to gain his footing again, and the boar had already turned to face Harry once more, fully prepared to charge.
The youngest Weasley boy knew instinctively that Harry would not be able to dodge the boar again. Everything about the way he was holding himself was wrong, and even Ron from where he was could see that his leg was bleeding fairly heavily. He cursed his inability to cast the cutting curse in his brain - it was so stupid, he couldn't cast a basic, essential spell properly, simply because he hadn't wanted to practice. He didn't know whether a third person casting the spell at Bennwig's legs would have brought the beast down by now, but it couldn't have hurt. It seemed that the beast was in some pain, and it's hind legs were bleeding profusely - maybe another person casting would have been enough to bring it down.
But just as the boar started to charge, inspiration struck, and Ron realised he might just be of use yet. Time seemed to slow down as he took aim at the creature thunderously charging towards his friend through the ruins of Sperris Quoit, and fired off the strongest Flipendo he could manage.
Harry had already in his short life faced death several times, and once it again it seemed that he was facing it, this time in the form of the charging magical boar. Of course Dumbledore had told him the magic here was supposed to protect the Apprentices from death, but the magic had been put in place so long ago, there was no longer any guarantee that the protections would hold up. Which also meant that if he died, the protections wouldn't work for Ron and Hermione either, leaving them alone to face the wrathful Bennwig.
His grip on his wand tightened instinctively at the thought. They were capable, and Harry didn't truly think they'd be unable to escape without him there, but it was simply a risk he wasn't prepared to take. If he was going to die here, then he would make sure that Bennwig wasn't able to hurt his friends after the fact.
He felt a cold determination grip him, the familiar sensation that he would succeed no matter what - not because he was anything special, not because he had any kind of talent, but simply because he had no other choice. In the Chamber, it was kill the Basilisk, or Ginny Weasley would die, and he just wouldn't allow that. In his first year, it was stop Quirell or Voldemort returns, and he just wouldn't allow that.
Now, he had to stop Bennwig no matter what, or Ron and Hermione would be at risk of dying, and he just wouldn't allow that.
Time slowed as he watched Bennwig charged, and Harry's eyes narrowed fiercely as he stared down the charging animal. The cold determination never left him, but for the first time, he focused on those feelings of protectiveness, of love for his friends, and reached into his own magic - feeling for the first time what felt like an ocean of magical energy within him. Greater than Hogwarts, greater than here, greater than Harry was even remotely capable of comprehending as he was.
The temptation was to lose himself in the sheer, indomitable power. Immerse himself in it, revel in it, go mad in the sheer magnificence of it; but instinctively Harry knew that this would kill him, or at the very least, drive him mad. He focused in on Ron and Hermione again, and took only a small amount of the well available to him, and forced himself away, back to the reality of Bennwig, and Cornwall, and Ron, and Hermione.
However, even the small amount he had taken was more magic than he had ever channeled before - power coursed through his veins, and surged through his body like lightning, itching at the ends of his fingertips, begging to be used.
Harry however, resisted. He already knew the spell he would use. He had learned it from a book, and was one of the few brand new spells he had learned this summer. It was technically a Fifth Year spell, and one that had taken him several hours of practice to get right even once - but get it right he had. He was still inconsistent, but the Gryffindor's decision had already been made. The words were already on the tip of his tongue, his wrist taught ready to perform the wand movement - he just needed the right target, the right moment.
And that was when Ron came through for him, and showed precisely why Harry trusted him to watch his back. His was a bit flakey, and perhaps not the most motivated, or intelligent. But like the giant chess game in their first year, when it mattered - when it really counted - Ron came out with ideas and actions of sheer brilliance.
Ron did not tend to practice, but he was naturally a fairly powerful wizard, and he tended to be among the best int heir year at the spells he did master, much to Hermione's consternation ('Honestly, how is it even possible to make a tickling charm last for several hours, and then not even be able to cast a full body bind Ron?!'). And Ron had put every ounce of power he had into the Flipendo he had aimed with pinpoint accuracy at Bennwig's eye, and an almost entirely harmless curse became simply terrifying as it made contact with the beast's beady black left eye, forcing it back into the skull until it met resistance, and then popped like a particularly ugly boil, spraying blood and eye fluid out from the wound.
The pain caused Bennwig to stumble and then rear in fury at the superficial wound, but that motion gave Harry his opportunity - the soft, exposed underbelly of the boar was a target too important for Harry to pass on, and he finally let loose his gathered magic with a roar of "Reducto!"
It careened out from his wand in an almost blinding flash of blue light, impacting Bennwig in the right hand side of his exposed ribcage, and reduced more than half of his torso to a fine red mist, killing him instantly, his body flopping to the floor with an ugly smack of flesh impacting the ground, what was left of his entrails spilling out onto the ground.
However, before the trio could even begin to take in the horror of the scene, the corpse of Bennwig burst into golden flakes of magical energy, and scattered to the winds like gold dust.
Harry sunk to his knees, the cost to his body of what he had just done only now becoming apparent. Every muscle ached, straining to contain his own magic, and he shook as though he had been badly electrocuted. He was however, not given a chance to think about this too hard, as he was instantly distracted by a booming Welsh voice issuing from the edge of the clearing they had battled Bennwig.
"Such a shame when a magnificent being like Bennwig must pass on... Still, we are very glad you are not hurt Harry Potter. The other Founders and I never anticipated when we set up this position that someone worthy to be an Apprentice would be tested and accepted so young." The man frowned, and stroked his long, deep red beard that matched his veritable mane of hair in thought. "You really have much to learn before you will be ready for other trials... I can't even say for sure, I am only able to appear here because I am the one that sealed Bennwig away here, and left an imprint of myself in order to pass on the words Bennwig was to impart upon his defeat should he be killed."
Harry, bleary eyed and exhausted, tried to focus in on the man. He stood at the edge of the area in which the monument was located, emanating an aura of calm power - much as Dumbledore did when practicing magic, and his right hand was resting gently on the jewel encrusted hilt of a sword sheathed at his side. The Potter didn't notice his light, Medieval armour, nor the family crest on it that was startlingly familiar to his own; all his eyes could focus on was the sword the man carried. It was intimately familiar to Harry, and he would have recognised it anywhere. The Sword of Gryffindor.
Hermione, too had reached the same conclusion as Harry, and spoke her next words in an awed whisper, her hands visibly shaking at her sides.
"You're... You're Godric Gryffindor..."
Before anything else, I have two things to make clear.
1) This is not about to turn into blatant Founder cheese. He's not about to bestow upon Harry great power or enormous vaults of Gryffindor gold. He's going to explain about Bennwig and Twrch Twryth - real characters in Arthurian legend, manipulated for this story slightly, and that'll be about it. This just isn't that kind of story, folks.
2) What Harry did with his magic will be properly explained later within the story, but I wanted to be certain you all know that this isn't a random massive power up. What he did is probably most alike how in dangerous situations, people are capable of doing extraordinary things after the brain removes the limiters on muscle usage. So similar to how normal people can lift cars to free a trapped relative when truly desperate, Harry's body let loose it's restraints on his magic and allowed him to tap into it. I'd liken it to the end of third year, when Harry casts a patronus ppowerful enough to drive away one hundred dementors. The difference here is that Harry is much more aware of the nature and feel of magic, and his own magic thanks to Dumbledore's lessons, and has also been working on the connection between his magic and his nature and emotions; and therefore, thanks to a combination of those and other things, manages to catch a glimpse in his own mind, of all of the magic that will one day be available to him - a glance at how powerful he could be after years of hard work and study.
ANYWAY: I hope you all enjoyed! With any luck, my next chapter will be a touch more timely than this one!