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The Crucible by jardyn39
Chapter 1: The Auror Tentís Last Stand
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Part Two of "The Apprentice Piece"
This is the second of five self-contained but linked stories set during Harry’s Sixth Year. References are made to new characters and events that have appeared in previous stories. Few, if any, recaps are included but a summary of the previous part is given in the Prologue.
The five consecutive parts of “The Apprentice Piece” are entitled: The Apprentice Piece, The Crucible, The Dragon, The Sword of Light and The Accord.
Part One: The Apprentice Piece
** SPOILER WARNING **
In the holidays before his Sixth year, Harry made a wand which he calls his Apprentice Piece. Mystery surrounds the wand and where the wood for it came from.
Harry is asked to set up Quidditch practice for non-team players. He readily agrees and the Rebels are formed with non-house teams. Ron does not approve. Harry is made captain of the Quidditch team, much to Ron’s obvious disappointment. Harry appoints Ginny their new play maker. Ron plays terribly until their first game, which they win convincingly.
The new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher and ex-Auror, Harbinger, has been giving Harry additional tuition in an old Auror Training Tent. Harbinger is in possession of letters from Harry’s mother and has promised them to Harry, believing they contain hidden messages for Harry. Harbinger’s tragic past is revealed.
In the few short weeks since the start of term, Ron has lost his Prefect badge and been thrown off the Quidditch team. To the surprise of many, Harry has forgiven Ron and expects him to work to regain his prefect badge.
Harry was introduced to an Unspeakable named Fides who, known only to her mother and father, helped Harry save Hermione’s life. Fides allowed Harry to face a challenge to obtain an elixir to cure Hermione. Only Fides, Dumbledore and Hermione’s parents know of Harry’s involvement. Fides later admits to a deception but Harry has seen and used part of his potential as well as a much darker side of himself.
Harry learned that Dumbledore argued with the Unspeakables when he was an infant but that someone else won the day allowing him to grow up at all.
Hermione is asked to improve the tent’s simulated attacks. She does this with extraordinary effectiveness. Harry is livid. Unknowingly, Hermione broke Moody’s rules concerning the tent which caused him to believe it was real. Hermione believed Harry had feelings for Ginny and placed an image of her in the simulation. The tent needed to be repaired after Harry had finished.
The Regiment has set up a refugee camp within the Hogwarts grounds. Dumbledore insists that the traditional challenge between the Regiment and Hogwarts must proceed and will be lead by Peeves. The night of the challenge, which is a glorified food fight, is Halloween. The same evening a dance is arranged for the senior years. Hermione finally tells Harry that Halloween is not a traditional wizarding celebration.
Harry manages to dance with Hermione and later admits that he wanted to take her to the dance all along.
This story, originally posted on Portkey in February 2005, begins just after Halloween during Harry’s Sixth Year.
The Auror Tent’s Last Stand
Harry Potter was unaccountably nervous standing outside the Headmaster’s office. He had been summoned out of one of Snape’s Potions classes, loosing Gryffindor twenty points for “disrupting the lesson.”
He had lost quite a few points this week. Harry just couldn’t concentrate at all. His mind kept wandering back to the evening of the Halloween dance and Hermione, which had left him in somewhat of a quandary.
He was happier than he’d been for ages. His problem was knowing what was now acceptable behaviour. Thankfully, Hermione was more or less laying down the rules as required. Handholding in public was out as were any overt displays of affection. Harry was sure there were fixed guidelines, but he hadn’t quite worked them out yet. He’d been pleased to receive a quick peck on the cheek as they’d parted one morning, but when he’d tried to do the same that afternoon, Hermione wasn’t at all receptive. He was rather glad she was being tolerant of him, for now at least.
Harry knocked and the door swung open. The Headmaster was sitting at his desk writing.
“Come in, Harry,” said Dumbledore, not looking up.
“You wanted to see me, Sir?”
“Indeed. Harry, what are your plans for the Christmas holidays?” asked the Headmaster smiling. He looked up when he had finished the line of text he was writing.
“I don’t have any plans,” admitted Harry, recovering quickly. “I assumed it would be best if I stayed here at school.” He hadn’t expected Dumbledore to ask him that. Harry knew both Hermione and Ron were spending Christmas with their families, as were most students this year. He’d tried not to dwell on his expectation to be alone for the holidays.
“I have received a request from Mr and Mrs Granger that you be allowed to visit them for Christmas.”
Harry’s heart leaped for a moment before he thought what implications that might hold.
“I don’t want to put them in any danger, nor whoever you plan to escort me.”
Dumbledore smiled and nodded.
“It’s true, there would be a risk.” he said and sighed. “Unfortunately it was more of a demand than an invitation. I’m not sure I dare refuse.”
“How about if the Grangers come somewhere safe instead?” Harry asked.
“I was hoping you’d consider Grimmauld Place, Harry. How do you feel about returning there for Christmas?”
“The Order’s still using it?”
“Yes, the new owner hasn’t thrown us out yet.”
“Well, I’d very much like to spend Christmas there then.”
“Good, that’s settled. I’ll send an invitation to the Grangers, but it might be better if you didn’t discuss the matter with your friends. I would rather they assumed you were spending your holidays here as planned. Now, Professor Harbinger tells me you have reached the penultimate level in the Auror training tent.”
“Er, I suppose so. Actually, thanks to Hermione’s improvements I barely managed to get out in one piece last time. I rather assumed you wouldn’t let me attempt the last level.”
“Unfortunately the refugee camp will start to become operational from Sunday and the tent is far too dangerous to leave up. In fact, I’d be far happier if it were destroyed,” said Dumbledore. “Hagrid is very concerned about the number of students trying to get closer to it.”
Harry nodded and said, “It’s a shame, really. I wouldn’t have become anywhere near as good at duelling without it. It’s also the only place I can really let rip without fear of hurting anyone.”
“You may practice for the remainder of the week but you are not to attempt the final level before Saturday. On Saturday you will walk into the tent and challenge it properly with no restrictions. Alastor will be here then. The Tent will be destroyed afterwards. Well, that’s all Harry.”
“Yes, Sir,” Harry said and turned to leave.
“Oh, and Harry?” asked Dumbledore, “I may have inadvertently implied to Miss Granger that I would not allow you to attempt the final level. The tent is free to use the Unforgivable Curses and a number of other rather nasty tactics that I didn’t want her to amend. It would be best if she didn’t know our intentions for the present, but you can tell her the tent will be destroyed on Saturday.”
On Saturday morning Harry crossed the wet grass and hurried to catch up with Professor Harbinger. He’d shivered with cold as he walked confidently out of the warm castle into the bright, cold air outside. Harry was surprised he wasn’t more nervous, but he’d resolved to do this.
Of course, Harry was nervous. He was nervous about Hermione’s reaction when she found out what he was about to do, far more than anything he might encounter in the tent.
"Morning, Sir," Harry said brightly.
"Morning, Harry," Harbinger said seriously, staring at the tent ahead of them. "Let’s just burn this damn thing now, shall we?"
"I have to learn how to fight dark magic," Harry said quietly, seeing Hermione approach them from the steps.
"Professor Moody is inside now," she said tentatively, "he wanted to have a last go."
"Good idea," said Harbinger smiling, "I’ll join him. Hermione, take Harry up to the viewing platform, will you?"
Hermione nodded and they parted.
"Dumbledore is upstairs," Hermione whispered to Harry, "He and Moody have been acting weird all morning. It’s like they are nervous of something, like the tent might do something bad."
Harry didn’t answer and hesitated before climbing up the stairs to the control room and viewing platform.
When they got to the top Hermione led Harry through an opening where McGonagall, Flitwick, Snape and the Headmaster were talking quietly. Seeing Harry they parted slightly and Harry saw Remus Lupin looking out from what looked like a balcony.
Harry walked over to beside Lupin, suddenly feeling rather nervous. Harry looked down to see Moody limp towards the lobby presumably having just finished his final practice.
"Alright, Harry?" asked Lupin with a smile.
Harry smiled nervously and nodded.
"Miss Granger," piped Professor Flitwick, "Professor Harbinger wanted to attempt your highest modified level. Would you show us how you set up the control room?"
"Er, of course Professor," Hermione said hesitantly, "this way."
Harry heard them leave the viewing area but became aware that Professor Dumbledore had stood beside him. He looked down and Harbinger entered the arena.
Hermione’s amplified voice echoed around the arena, "We’re ready here, Professor. Please indicate you are ready to start by standing on the red square next to the entrance lobby."
Harbinger turned and walked back to the square. As soon as both of his feet were on the square the light in the arena dropped and a loud roar followed by a louder scream could be heard. Suddenly the arena was lit up with flashes from stunning spells coming from all directions.
Harry ducked as a deflected stunner headed straight for him, but vanished before it reached the balcony.
After a while Harry began to make out what was happening. Harbinger was incredibly fast, dispatching cloaked figures as quickly as they appeared.
After about ten minutes, the noise stopped and the lights came back up. Harbinger was kneeling in the middle of the arena. His leg was bleeding from a wound and he was holding his left arm painfully. In front of him lay the practice wand, which he’d dropped to end the simulation. He stood with difficulty and started for the exit.
"Harry, go down and help Professor Harbinger will you," said Dumbledore, giving him a meaningful look. Harry drew out his wand and handed it to the Headmaster. He would be using the Apprentice Piece today.
At that moment Hermione ran up to the balcony edge looking fraught.
"Is he okay?"
Harry heard Lupin start to reassure her as he left, saying, "Hermione, he’ll be fine. That was some challenge you created."
Harry stepped into the lobby just as Harbinger, leaning heavily on Moody, was preparing to leave.
"You know, I actually rather enjoyed that," Harbinger said and the two ex-Aurors exchanged a grin. "I can’t believe both of you completed that level without getting a scratch!"
"Potter," Moody growled, "I need a minute or two to get this lump upstairs before you start. You also need to compose yourself. Remember, the tent will want to kill you in the most painful and humiliating way it can."
Harry nodded and watched the two of them hobble over to the steps. He turned and faced the entrance to the arena, his wand in hand.
"Okay, Potter, we’ve made it," said Moody’s voice from nowhere. "You can start whenever you’re ready. No hurry."
Just before Moody’s voice was cut off, Harry could hear Hermione’s voice in the background saying, "What did that mean? Harry completed my last level-"
Harry breathed deeply, putting Hermione as far out of his mind as he could. He needed aggression now, not compassion.
He walked into the tent. It was dark and unnaturally cold. Out of the gloom, Harry could just make out a solitary figure standing in the middle of the arena.
As Harry approached, the cloaked figure turned to face him. Piercing red eyes looked straight at him.
"Welcome, boy," said the figure, "I’ve been watching your progress. I’m surprised they allowed you to face me."
"Don’t you mean us?"
The figure bowed slightly and said, "Yes, you are facing us. You should be more afraid, you know. Only the darkest wizards known were worthy of us."
"I can’t feel afraid of something without a name."
"Are they are going to try and destroy us?"
"But we haven’t even killed anyone this time."
"Well," said Harry smiling, "better make the most of your last chance then."
"AVADA KEDAVERA!" shouted the figure and Harry dived out of the way of the green flash just in time.
Harry jumped up. The figure was gone but three more indistinct shapes were stalking him out of the gloom. Harry quickly despatched them with stunning spells before looking up in time to stun an acromantula dropping from high above.
More attacks followed until the entire arena was lit by an array of stunning and reductor curses from all around him. Harry span, firing spell after spell. Eventually, they each fell and disappeared.
Suddenly the original figure appeared and shouted "CRUCIO!" from behind him. Harry collapsed in agony but held onto his wand. Through the pain he turned and shouted, "Protego!"
The crucio curse was lifted momentarily before Harry was hit with a reductor curse. Feeling his left arm and chest burn, Harry got quickly to his feet and turned to face the chuckling figure.
The figures’ red eyes grew wide when he saw Harry’s expression. He stopping laughing immediately.
"What, tired of playing already?" the figure taunted but vanished before Harry’s reductor spell hit him. Instead the curse blasted the tent wall and a gaping hole burned clean through the side. Light flooded into the arena, but the darkness seemed to push it back.
The figure reappeared behind Harry who turned in time to see a black serpent emerge from the figure’s wand and fly towards him. At the same time he shouted "AVADA KEDAVERA!" once again.
Harry dived, dodged the green flash and blasted the snake away just in time. He made a slashing movement with his wand and a thin red flame erupted from the wand tip and flew towards the figure who vanished just in time. The flame proceeded at a pace to the tent sides and opened a wide gash that also caught fire.
"NO!" screamed the figure as more light flooded in.
Harry held his wand up, wanting to finish this. He had learned what he needed to know.
The figure appeared close to Harry and yelled “Crucio!” Harry barely felt anything this time. The tent was too weak to resist any further. It was over.
Harry ignited the entire arena in a golden flame. Everything, including the figure, burned. The entire tent was filled with a hundred screams of agony before finally going silent.
As Harry exited out of the lobby, the entire tent collapsed in flames.
Tea with Hagrid
Harry walked towards the small group standing in front on the burning tent. McGonagall and Flitwick looked relieved he was alright and were comforting Hermione who was facing away from him, clearly upset. Snape had gone. Harbinger looked annoyed but Moody looked absolutely livid with him. Lupin was walking back towards the Headmaster.
Harry looked at the Headmaster as Moody said, “Potter, you destroyed the tent before using the killing curse or any of the unforgivable curses.”
“I went in there to face the unforgivable curses, not use them,” said Harry, and Dumbledore smiled at him.
“But Potter-” began Moody, sounding exasperated.
“I’ll never be able to use a killing curse with this wand,” Harry interrupted, “besides, I’m not sure that resorting to a killing curse won’t prevent me from achieving something more.”
“What will that matter if you’re dead?” retorted Moody, almost shouting. “That wand could decimate an attacker in the right hands. What’s the point of having it if you won’t kill with it?”
“Alastor,” Dumbledore said warningly, “the wand will choose wizard. Harry, please take Hermione back up to the castle. All this talk of killing is just upsetting her even more. We will discuss this later.”
Harry hurried over to Hermione. As he approached Professor McGonagall whispered a final word of encouragement and then she and Flitwick left and went back to the others.
As Harry stopped next to Hermione and looked at her he suddenly felt anguished. Tears were freely falling down her red cheeks.
"Let’s go back to the castle," Harry said gently. She shook her head violently. "Around the lake then?" he asked. After a moment, she nodded and they walked away, not looking back.
When they got to the furthest point on the far side of the lake, Hermione found her voice again.
"That has to be one of the stupidest things you’ve ever done," she said, angrily wiping away the last of her tears.
"I’m sorry, Hermione."
"You could have been killed or seriously injured."
"Dumbledore assured me that the final level didn’t need to be modified. He implied that it would not be used."
"Professor Dumbledore didn’t make me go in there, Hermione."
"He didn’t stop you either, did he?"
"Please don’t blame him for my decision."
"I blame both of you."
"I have to face these things. I have to learn."
"What did you learn today?" she spat angrily.
"Something rather interesting. It’s why Moody was so angry."
"What do you mean?" Hermione asked a little gentler.
"Just before I walked into the arena, I heard you speaking when Moody told me I was clear to go in. I tried putting you out of my thoughts as I walked inside. I knew I’d be using the unforgivable curses inside and I was determined to be as ruthless and unfeeling as possible. It didn’t work, of course," he said smiling at her.
Hermione frowned a little and Harry continued, "Every time I considered using one of the unforgivable curses your voice would always persuade me not to. My conscience always speaks to be in your voice, you know. Somehow I knew, for the first time, that if I resort to dark magic then some avenues will be lost to me forever. It might even lead to a decent into something worse."
"And you really had to be facing a killing curse to realise that?"
"Yes. Before today I just wanted to be able to retaliate. If that meant using the Unforgivable Curses then so be it. That changed today."
"Surely using them against Voldemort and the Death Eaters would be justified?"
"Before today, I’d have agreed completely."
"I can sort of understand fearing that you’d be seduced by using dark magic. That’s well documented," Hermione said, "but what will be lost forever? What are these avenues?"
"When I was at the Ministry during the summer, the lift took me on a slight detour. I ended up in one of the lower levels of the Department of Mysteries. We didn’t see any of those levels when we went last year. I was brought there by an Unspeakable named Fides. He kind of introduced me to some possibilities," Harry finished, hoping that Hermione wouldn’t quiz him too much on the details.
"What kind of possibilities?"
"Well, he showed me some of my potential if I didn’t have a link with Voldemort."
"What kind of potential?"
"Actually, I’m trying hard not to tell you about the details. Fides said I shouldn’t say."
Hermione’s eyes narrowed.
"Hermione, please don’t push me on this," Harry pleaded. "The truth is Fides allowed me to use some of that potential and I’m afraid if I tell anyone it’ll come undone. I’ve already said far more than I should."
Harry prayed this would satisfy her. Fides had insisted that she should never know of his involvement in Hermione’s recovery.
Hermione considered him carefully for a moment before finally nodding. She turned and looked back at the castle and suddenly shivered.
"Here," Harry said quickly taking off his cloak and draping it around her, "let’s visit Hagrid’s unless you’re ready to go back to the castle."
"Thanks," she whispered and they walked slowly towards Hagrid’s house.
Harry rapped on the door to Hagrid’s house and they immediately heard barking from inside.
Hagrid opened the door and greeted them.
“Hermione, you look frozen. Come in and warm up,” Hagrid said before proceeding to pour them all large cups of steaming tea. They politely refused his offer of rock cakes.
When they were all comfortably seated, Hagrid told them what he had been doing earlier that day.
"Just finished clearing away the las’ of tha’ dam tent. Good thing too, if you ask me," he said seriously. "Me and Fang spent the whole time chasing students away from the ‘orrible thing ever since it were put up. It were evil. Kept whispering at me as we walked past it."
"How is the refugee camp coming along, Hagrid?" asked Harry, sensing Hermione tensing at mention of the Auror Tent.
"All finished. The first families are due to arrive tomorrow. The Regiment did most of the work and they’ve even adapted the spare field hospital to provide school facilities."
"Can we go and see?" asked Hermione.
Hagrid shot a look at Harry and muttered, "Well, Dumbledore, said no. It’s not secure, Harry. We know that You-Know-Who will be sending spies and possibly worse."
Harry shrugged and nodded.
"So, ‘Arry," said Hagrid changing the subject, "can I ‘ave a look at tha’ wand?"
"My Apprentice Piece? Sure, Hagrid, here," said Harry, taking it from his pocket and handing him the wand.
Hagrid’s eyes lit up as he held it. It looked tiny in his massive hands.
"I was outside when you were making it, y’know," he said handing it to Hermione who examined it closely.
"I keep wondering about the Holly tree it came from," said Harry, thinking aloud. "What was so special about that tree, and what wands came from it, apart from the one Dumbledore made."
"Dumbledore’s wand?" asked Hermione.
"No, but he made a wand when he was young and it was destroyed years later. He said he was tricked into making it, but he cut the wood from a specific tree."
"Still," Hagrid said a little loudly, and Harry and Hermione could tell he was becoming uncomfortable with Harry’s train of thought, "it’s not the wand that’s important."
"That’s right!" said Harry, "Dumbledore said something like that. What was it? He said the Order wanted to be present for the creation of something special and when I asked if it was really that important he just reminded me what George Hellar said about the piece not being important."
“Who is George Hellar?” asked Hermione, as Harry observed Hagrid’s fidgeting that told him he was afraid of revealing something he shouldn’t. Harry decided he would leave Hermione to get the information.
"He is the carpenter I helped in the summer. He got me to make this as an apprentice piece. He said I wasn’t to let anyone else help me. At the time I didn’t know he knew Dumbledore and I was convinced he wanted me to have something to remind me what I could do."
At that moment a knocking on the door interrupted their conversation. Hagrid scrambled to the door and opened it.
"Headmaster! Come in, come in," Hagrid said sounding relieved.
Harry looked at Hermione and knew she too was wondering why Hagrid was so uncomfortable talking about the wand whilst also being very interested in it.
Dumbledore came in and sat down at the table directly opposite Hermione as Hagrid hurried to make some fresh teas.
"Hermione, I owe you an apology. I allowed you to believe that Harry would not be allowed to attempt the final level in the tent. I thought about sending you on an errand after Alastor and Professor Harbinger had finished, but I felt that would make things worse."
Hermione nodded and looked down.
"May I ask you something, Professor?" she asked, still looking down.
"Harry told me he realised he couldn’t risk attempting to perform an unforgivable curse using that wand."
"I guessed that was the case."
"Actually, Hermione," said Harry, "I don’t think I’ll be performing any unforgivable curses with my proper wand either. My conscience would have something to say about it."
They shared a brief half smile as Hermione understood what he meant.
“What I wanted to know,” continued Hermione seriously, “is what the potential is that Harry won’t tell me about.”
Dumbledore smiled and said, "I didn’t actually witness anything personally, but it certainly sounded impressive from what I have been told. Memories were modified afterwards, of course."
Hermione gave Dumbledore a searching look. "Did you modify any memories because of this?"
"No," replied Dumbledore, "nor did I forbid Harry to tell you what happened."
Hermione shot Harry a look and he immediately answered, "But someone else did, though."
“The Unspeakable, I suppose,” Hermione muttered as Hagrid handed out the fresh teas.
"Just so we are clear," began Hermione.
"Hermione," warned Harry gently but stopped when Dumbledore help up his hand.
Hermione looked directly at Dumbledore and continued, "I still think that allowing Harry to do something so dangerous was irresponsible. However, Harry has asked me to blame him for actually going into that tent, and I do."
Dumbledore smiled sadly and said, "You’re right, of course. The worst of it is that I will undoubtedly place Harry in danger again. Speaking of which, Harry, we are due to receive a visit from Ministry officials who will be inspecting the refugee camp next week. Unfortunately I will be obliged to attend.
"On Monday we are also expecting another visitor. I was hoping you and Hermione would agree to show her around the castle and grounds while I am detained."
"Of course," Harry and Hermione said together. Harry was surprised since usually such duties would be performed by the Head Boy and Girl.
"Thank you. She is due at nine o’clock but is always late. She may appear to elderly and frail but she likes to deceive. She also loves to be difficult and argumentative. She will undoubtedly take it upon herself to test you both to make sure to are up to the high standards she expects."
"She sounds like Aunt Marge," Harry joked, "Is there anywhere she shouldn’t go?" He assumed she would be from the Ministry.
"No," said Dumbledore causally, "take her anywhere she wishes. Answer any of her questions as you think appropriate."
"What’s her name, Professor?" Hermione asked, "Is she a School Governor or from the Ministry?"
"She is neither a School Governor nor from the Ministry. Her name, although she often uses an alias, is Perenelle."
"Oh, Gawd," Hagrid said rubbing his fingers through his hair.
Dumbledore smiled at him and continued, "I also received a reply to the communication I told you about, Harry."
Harry frowned for a moment and then suddenly remembered.
"It will be as we discussed. With a reduced staff and potential enemies within the refugee camp we can’t take any chances."
"I understand," said Harry.
Dumbledore looked directly at Hermione and said smiling, "To return to the subject of your original enquiry, Hermione. I personally think it’s rather encouraging that Harry is beginning to think of possibilities of life after Voldemort. It really isn’t important what the possibilities are for the future, just so long as there are some."
“The last time I saw you, you were just a baby.”
Harry and Hermione show an elderly visitor around the school. Perenelle, who was angry at Dumbledore for leaving Harry with the Dursleys, accuses him and her husband Flamel of placing a charm on Harry as a baby.
Chapter 2: The Visitor
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Professor McGonagall shut the door to her office and invited Harry to sit down. As usual, Harry wondered what he could have done wrong. She walked behind her desk and opened a drawer.
Taking out a Gryffindor Prefect badge, she said, "Potter, I’d like to make you a Prefect."
She handed out the badge but Harry sat staring at the badge in her palm. It was Ron’s badge, not his.
"No," he said, "I mean, no thank you, Professor."
She frowned at him and Harry felt compelled to explain.
"Ron is going to earn his badge back. He’s only lost it temporarily."
"I think you’ll find that won’t be up to you, Potter."
"He was a good prefect, though, wasn’t he? He’s even still doing prefect duties so Hermione doesn’t have to cope on her own."
"Whose idea was that?"
"Well, mine, actually. It started because I said Hermione shouldn’t be on her own doing patrols and Ron filled in when I couldn’t make it. Now Ron insists."
"How does he deduct points?"
"Er, Ron doesn’t generally take points from anybody," said Harry. "I’m not sure he knows that he could."
Harry sighed deeply and continued, "Look, if I take that badge Ron will think he’ll never get the chance to become a prefect again. I think he deserves a second chance."
McGonagall considered him carefully and then said, "I’d like you to take this badge on a temporary basis, then. You will return it when or if I find someone better."
Harry smiled and said, "Alright, but I won’t wear it."
"Potter you can’t take points or give detentions unless you are wearing the badge."
Harry found Ron waiting outside the Charms classroom waiting for their next lesson to begin. Fortunately he was alone.
"Ron, can I have a word?"
"Sure," Ron said putting away the parchment he was reading. "What is it?"
"This," said Harry and he quickly showed Ron the badge before returning it to his pocket. He didn’t want anyone else to know he had the badge.
"McGonagall said she wanted me to have this on a temporary basis until you get it back."
Ron raised his eyebrows.
"Well, alright she didn’t actually say you but she did say someone better, so she obviously did mean you."
Ron snorted and said, "Just wear the badge, Harry."
On Monday morning, Harry and Hermione waited in the entrance hall for Dumbledore's visitor to arrive.
While they were waiting, a second year hurried out of the Great Hall and tripped. The contents of her bag sprawled over the floor. Harry helped to gather her things and as they just finished retrieving everything, he became aware that Hermione was busy greeting someone who had just entered through the main entrance doors.
She was a diminutive and very elderly looking lady, smiling and nodding to Hermione. Saying goodbye to the girl who was still flustered and in a hurry to get to lessons, Harry got up and walked over to them.
“May I introduce Harry Potter,” said Hermione smiling, “he’s also in Sixth Year.”
The elderly witch just stared at Harry, apparently in shock. Tears formed in her eyes.
“Are you alright?” Harry asked in concern.
“The last time I saw you, you were just a baby,” she said holding out her hand and gently stroking his cheek.
That was not what Harry had expected her to say.
“He was screaming his head off,” she said smiling at Hermione, “and little wonder. Those animals had you on a cold table in an echoing room discussing how best to dispose of you.”
“You’re talking about the Unspeakables, aren’t you?” said Harry quietly. “Professor Dumbledore said someone argued for me, but he wouldn’t give me your name when I asked.”
A coldness came across her face at the mention of Dumbledore’s name.
“Is it true that you haven’t spoken to him since you found out he placed me with my Aunt and Uncle?” asked Harry.
“Yes,” she replied looking angry.
“I wish you’d come sooner,” said Harry with a small smile, “because then I could have told you that he was right to do what he did. I have hated every moment of the time I’ve lived with the Dursleys but I have accepted that he was still right. He kept me alive.”
Hermione was looking nervously between the two of them. The old woman was considering Harry carefully while he was wondering why, having refused to even speak to the Headmaster for years, she had decided to visit the school now.
“W-Why don’t we make a start,” Hermione said hesitantly. “We were hoping to show you around the school.”
“That would be nice,” the visitor said now smiling warmly at Hermione. “Please, call me Perenelle. May I see the Great Hall?”
They spent the morning showing Perenelle around the castle and the grounds and were quizzed on almost every subject by her and made to perform several charms. Fortunately Hermione knew everything they were asked and Harry even managed to contribute some answers. Harry wondered when she would get around to Defence Against the Dark Arts.
“Tell me Hermione, how proficient are you at magical defence? Would you mind showing me a couple of defensive spells?”
Harry realised that Perenelle was taking up a duelling stance and quickly withdrew his wand.
“Er, I’m not sure we are allowed to duel with visitors to the school,” Hermione said nervously but Perenelle raised her wand and Hermione quickly held up her wand.
The exchange that followed occurred in an instant. Perenelle produced three types of stunning spell followed by a disarming hex. Hermione produced a shield to defend herself but made no attempt to disarm Perenelle and did not retaliate.
“Very good, dear,” said Perenelle smiling, “but you shouldn’t hold back on my account.”
Perenelle held up her wand again but Harry could see Hermione hesitate again.
Harry shouted, “Expelliarmus!” and Perenelle’s wand flew out of her hand.
“That is enough,” he said seriously.
“Now that’s much better,” Perenelle said laughing and she pointed a bony finger at him. With a small flick Harry found himself picked up and thrown onto his back.
In mid-air, Harry pointed his wand and fired. He heard Hermione scream, “No, Harry!” before he hit the ground.
Realising with growing horror that he’d just hexed a very elderly school visitor and a particular guest of Dumbledore, he scrambled to his feet and rushed over.
They found Perenelle lying flat on her back giggling like a little girl. She held up her arms and they both lifted her up gently from the grass.
“I’m so sorry,” began Harry, as the sound of someone clearing their throat reached their ears.
They turned to see Albus Dumbledore looking at them with raised eyebrows.
“Albus,” Perenelle said a little breathlessly.
“Welcome, Perenelle,” he replied bowing slightly. “I came to invite you to lunch, but if you’d rather I left you to brawl?”
“Lunch would be lovely,” she said laughing, “we can always continue after. Tell me, Albus, why didn’t you instruct your students to attack me properly?”
“I’ll make a note for next time,” he said winking at Hermione and offering Perenelle his arm which she took. “Would you please join us for lunch?” he asked Harry and Hermione and they followed them up to the castle.
Lunch turned out to be a five course meal served in the room off the Great Hall. All the senior staff members were in attendance and Harry and Hermione sat one side of Perenelle with the Headmaster on the other side.
Everyone, with the exception of Snape, appeared to be delighted to have Perenelle visiting the school again after such a long absence.
“How is Nicholas?” asked Professor McGonagall smiling.
“Grumpy but well, thank you,” Perenelle replied. “He can’t stand the cold winter weather,” she said in answer to Harry’s quizzical look.
“Why don’t you take a long holiday somewhere warm?” asked Madam Pomfrey.
“He prefers having lots to complain about,” said Perenelle to polite laughter.
“Have you had time to have a good look around the school?” asked Professor Flitwick, “It’s been ages since you were here.”
“Well,” interrupted Dumbledore, “I got the impression they spent most of the morning duelling with each other.”
Hermione spluttered and went rather red but Harry had seen the smile on Professor McGonagall’s face.
“No, Albus, we didn’t spend all of the morning duelling,” said Perenelle. “Actually, I thought we would do some inspections this afternoon.”
“Oh, we love inspections,” said Professor McGonagall sarcastically.
“You’d be most welcome anytime,” beamed Professor Flitwick.
“Thank you, Filius,” said Perenelle smiling, “but it’s obvious from Harry and Hermione here that Charms is up to scratch at least.”
“I’m going to regret this, I know,” said Dumbledore, “but are there any areas that might need to be inspected, apart from my abysmal efforts, of course?
Perenelle gave Dumbledore a smile and said, “Well, I was disappointed not to see any magical creatures roaming the grounds.”
“Most of them tend to prefer the forest these days, but I can ask Professor Hagrid if he has any interesting creatures available if you like.”
“Hagrid,” Perenelle said to herself, “Rubeus Hagrid?”
“The very same.”
“I remember him. We had a conversation when he had just been taken on.”
“I seem to recall that you were arguing,” Dumbledore reminded her. “Hagrid thought you shouldn’t have chased those creatures out of the forest. He thought you were making them too afraid to go back in case they met you again in there.”
“Well, I trust his selection of creatures to study isn’t restricted to small and cute?”
“Oh, Hagrid has been known to do small and cute,” said Dumbledore.
“But he much prefers creatures that bite,” chipped in Harry.
“-and sting,” offered Hermione.
“-and burn,” added Harry laughing, “but they are always interesting.”
“Then I approve,” laughed Perenelle as the bell indicating the end of the lunch period sounded.
“Oh, dear,” said Dumbledore smiling, “it looks like we won’t find out which classes are going to be inspected this afternoon.”
“No time for inspections, Albus,” Perenelle said smiling, “but I do want to have a good look around Gryffindor tower. I also want to show Harry and Hermione some hidden passages since they’ve been so kind and I’ll also try to provoke them into another duel or two before the afternoon’s done.”
“Well, enjoy yourself,” said Dumbledore, “but you’ll probably find these two know more hidden passages that you do.”
Hermione blushed as Perenelle raised her eyebrows, apparently impressed.
Harry and Hermione waited until Perenelle had bid goodbye to each of the teachers.
Dumbledore was the last to leave and said, “I’ll see you in my office when you’re ready,” before turning and heading off.
Perenelle stood in the middle of the Gryffindor common room with a mesmerised look on her face. From the conversation she’d just had with the Fat Lady, Harry realised it had been many years since she had visited.
“It’s hardly changed at all,” she said dreamily. “I want to see the dormitories!” she exclaimed to Hermione.
“Okay,” Hermione said smiling, “We’ll be back shortly, Harry.”
Harry nodded and sat down to wait as Hermione hurried up the stairs to hold the door open for her.
“There is a way for boys to get up there you know,” said Perenelle mischievously. “All you have to do is-“
“This way, Perenelle,” Hermione said interrupting her with an annoyed look.
Harry laughed as Perenelle shrugged and went up the stairs.
A few minutes later the portrait hole opened. Harry looked up from the discarded newspaper he was reading to see Professor McGonagall climb through.
"Where are they?" she asked.
"Perenelle wanted to see the girl’s dormitories," he replied, "They’ve only been gone a while."
Professor McGonagall frowned slightly and then followed upstairs.
About five minutes later the door leading to the girl’s dormitories opened and Perenelle came through and came back down to the common room.
She smiled at Harry and said, “Would you take me to Albus’ office, Harry? I’ve seen enough for today.”
“Sure,” said Harry getting to his feet. “Where are Hermione and Professor McGonagall?”
“They will be along in a moment.”
Harry was a little concerned but realised that as he couldn’t go upstairs to find them he might as well show Perenelle up to the Headmasters office.
After Harry’s third attempt, he guessed the correct password to the Headmaster’s office and shortly after he knocked on the door leading in.
The door opened on its own and Harry followed Perenelle into the office to find Dumbledore sitting behind his desk with his fingers folded and looking most sternly at her.
"Don’t look at me like that, Albus," she said calmly.
"You have disappointed me, Perenelle," said Dumbledore seriously, "and you have abused the trust I gave you."
Harry looked between them, totally confused.
Perenelle turned and said, "Harry, we are going to have a little chat now. Please take a seat."
Harry just stood there. He wasn’t about to allow himself to be ordered about in the Headmaster’s office.
"Perenelle, enough," said Dumbledore.
Perenelle ignored him and pointed her wand directly at Harry and shouted, “IMPERIO!”
Harry quickly shook off the curse and instead raised his own wand, now fearing what Perenelle might have done. The office door opened.
“Is Hermione alright?” Harry asked not taking his eyes off Perenelle.
“She’s a little upset but she’ll be fine,” said Professor McGonagall as she entered.
Perenelle was staring at Harry, completely ignoring the two Professors.
“I wouldn’t if I was you, Perenelle” said Dumbledore quietly.
“Legilimens!” Perenelle suddenly shouted and in the same moment Harry shouted, “Expelliarmus!”
Perenelle’s want flew out of her hand and Harry he took a step closer.
Through his anger Harry registered Dumbledore say, "That’s enough, Harry."
He stopped his advance.
"There! THERE!" shouted Perenelle pointing at Harry’s midriff. "I couldn’t see it before! You did it, didn’t you? You and that idiot husband of mine!"
Harry and Professor McGonagall looked at each other with totally confused expressions.
"Perenelle, what are you talking about?" she asked, "and why did you interrogate Miss Granger?"
The flames in the fireplace flared up and a deep voice said, "Perenelle? What are you doing there?"
Perenelle spun around and stared at the face in the fireplace. For the first time she looked worried.
The voice became stern and said, "Come home at once, Perenelle."
There was a small pop and the head was gone.
At about three o’clock in the morning, Harry sat uncomfortably next to Hermione’s bed in the Hospital Wing. He held his eyes closed. For hours now he had been trying to make some sense out of what happened earlier.
He hadn’t yet spoken to Hermione as she had been given a sedative before he arrived and had been asleep all evening.
Madam Pomfrey had long since given up telling him to leave.
Harry frowned to himself. Why would Perenelle want to interrogate Hermione and himself? She also, apparently, had no fear of doing so even in front of Dumbledore. What had she seen when she pointed at him? What had Dumbledore and Perenelle’s husband done?
"You look rather uncomfortable," Hermione said suddenly.
Harry opened his eyes at once, unbalanced and had to steady himself so as not to fall off the chair.
"Are you okay?" he asked, breathing hard recovering from the shock.
"I’m fine," she said grimacing a little, "just tired and a bad headache."
"Try to rest. We can talk in the morning," he said gently.
"She’s a Legilimens. She tried to read my mind."
"Me too," Harry whispered. Hermione grabbed his hand and held tight. A little while later he felt her relax and drift off to sleep again, leaving Harry to wonder how he was ever going to get comfortable now he was holding Hermione’s hand too.
Harry woke to find himself propped between the edge of the bed and the chair. He blinked and immediately realised that was the only thing he could do without hurting. Every muscle almost screamed in pain from sleeping so awkwardly.
He only let go of Hermione’s hand when he heard a gentle cough behind him. Harry looked up to see Albus Dumbledore smiling down at them.
"Did she sleep?" he asked quietly.
"Good. I’d like to see both of you in my office before lessons start this morning, but it can wait until Hermione is properly rested."
"I’m fine, Harry, honestly," Hermione said for the third time after she’d caught him looking worried at her again. She was very pale and her hands still shook slightly, and Harry was quite convinced that she could collapse at any time. He wanted to be sure he would catch her in time.
They knocked on the Headmaster’s office door and entered.
Dumbledore stood and asked, "Hermione, are you feeling better? This could have waited."
"I’m fine," she said but Harry thought her smile looked a little forced.
"Please sit down."
Harry waited until Hermione was safely seated before sitting himself.
“First of all,” began Dumbledore, “I’d like to apologise for what happened yesterday. To be honest I didn’t think she could resist testing Harry but what she tried with you, Hermione, is quite unforgivable. I would, however, like to assure you that Perenelle is indeed a friend.”
At that moment the flames in the fireplace roared and out stepped a tall, thin, bald wizard wearing dark green robes. He looked incredibly ancient.
He turned and as soon as he saw Harry and Hermione said, “My Dears!”
Dumbledore stood up again and smiled, “May I introduce Perenelle’s husband and my good friend, Nicholas Flamel. Nicholas, this is Hermione Granger and Harry Potter.”
They each shook hands with the smiling wizard. Harry realised the old man wasn’t quite as frail as he looked at first sight. His handshake was firm and his eyes were bright and alert.
"I am so sorry for what happened. Perenelle can be impulsive at times," he said apologetically.
"Why did she hurt Hermione," Harry demanded.
The old man turned to Hermione and said, "Perenelle has a headache today as well, I’m afraid. Otherwise she would be here to apologise in person. I performed Legilimency on her myself and I have modified her memories. She remembers nothing of what she learned."
He glanced at Harry and then looked back to Hermione. "I think it was obvious what she was looking for, but if you need any further explanation we can talk in private."
"Thank you, but from the things she made me recall, I know what she wanted to know," said Hermione.
"You should feel much better tomorrow. If you are feeling in any way out of sorts please tell Albus and he will summon me."
She nodded and smiled. He turned to Harry and gave him an appraising look.
“I see you’ve grown since the last time I saw you, Harry,” he said smiling. He then threw himself back and Harry suddenly realised the old man was about to fall to the floor. To his relief Flamel landed on a comfortable high backed chair that none of them heard being conjured.
“Are there any other questions you would like to ask?” he said.
“Yes,” said Harry, “When did you last see me?”
“When you were a baby, just after Voldemort attacked you. Hagrid got you out of the house at Godric’s Hollow and brought you to Dumbledore. You were briefly taken by the Unspeakables to London before Perenelle brought you to our home. You were with us for only a few hours, unfortunately. Hagrid’s memory was modified slightly, so he only remembers removing you and taking you to Dumbledore in Surrey.”
"Perenelle pointed at me and said she could see something. What did she mean?" Harry asked.
Flamel glanced casually to Dumbledore who nodded slightly.
"I have told Harry about why I placed him with his Aunt and Uncle, but I didn’t tell him about what I asked you to help me with, Nicholas," said Dumbledore.
Flamel considered this carefully before answering Harry’s question.
"When you arrived, we did the same tests that the Unspeakables did. Like the Unspeakables we found the tests to be inconclusive, but we did theorise what might have happened and what the consequences for your future might be."
"What were your conclusions?" asked Hermione.
"Well, that we were only guessing, to be honest," said Flamel with an apologetic smile. "However, we did decide to do something to try and help Harry in the future."
"Something besides placing me with the Dursley’s?" asked Harry.
Flamel looked at him blankly.
"That’s Harry’s Aunt and Uncle, Nicholas," said Dumbledore.
"Oh, I see," said Flamel, "Well, yes, it was besides that."
Flamel sighed and said, "Perenelle was totally against us doing anything. We had the most terrible row about it. In the end we decided to proceed without telling her."
"Er," said Harry, wanting them to get on with telling him, "so what did you do?"
"We placed a charm on you. It was intended to dull the connection, if it existed, between yourself, Harry, and Voldemort. It was designed to break when you became old enough to defend yourself, but would hide you from him should he come back earlier."
"Is the charm completely broken now?" asked Hermione.
"No, but it should have been largely ineffective for some time now," answered Flamel.
"So what did Perenelle see, then?" Harry asked, feeling a prickly anger grow inside.
"Another charm. Probably the Crucible."
"Crucible?" asked Hermione. "It sounds like you were bottling part of Harry up."
Harry snorted at this notion but realised that Hermione was looking at Flamel very seriously.
"That’s exactly what we intended."
"But he was just a baby," she said, "what could possibly need to be bottled up?"
"Is it what Fides showed me?" asked Harry seriously.
"It seems likely," said Dumbledore, "although that’s not what we set out to do. All we wanted was to suppress the darker side of your nature, the part that Voldemort affected, until you were old enough to control yourself."
"Actually," said Harry, now looking at Hermione, "I was thinking about the other things Fides showed me."
"Oh," said Flamel.
"Well, that was more of a fortunate accident," said Dumbledore.
Hermione placed a hand on Harry’s forearm, clearly expecting him to react angrily to this statement.
"A fortunate accident?" Harry managed to say, "Don’t you think I might have had an easier time defending myself if I was able to do those things?"
"You would have been dead long ago if that were true," said Flamel casually.
"Harry, Voldemort has wanted you alive. If you were that dangerous, he would have had you killed. Of course, his priorities may have changed now," said Dumbledore.
"I do wish I knew what you three were really talking about," said Hermione with a sigh.
Harry smiled at her.
"You know that Harry was affected when Voldemort attacked him. Apart from the link between them, Harry can speak Parseltongue, for instance," explained Flamel. "This indicates that some of Voldemort’s influence escaped our Crucible. In addition, we managed to trap some of Harry’s natural abilities in the same Crucible."
"Without the influence of the Crucible, Hermione," said Dumbledore, "I’m quite convinced Harry would have simply replaced Voldemort as one of the most feared Dark Wizard for generations."
"That’s ridiculous," said Hermione, looking at Harry and expecting him to have the same reaction.
Harry looked back at Hermione as he vividly recalled his experiences with Fides when he was introduced to the darker side of himself. After a long moment Harry said sadly, "I’m not so sure it is ridiculous, Hermione."
They sat in silence for a moment before Harry asked, "So when will the Crucible charm break?"
“That is up to you,” said Flamel smiling. “We couldn’t agree on an appropriate age so instead it is triggered by a series of minor events.” Harry felt he was stopping himself explaining more fully.
“Unfortunately,” said Dumbledore a little hesitantly, “there are a couple of problems.”
“Naturally,” said Harry dryly.
“Firstly, we can’t tell you what the trigger is,” said Flamel, “because if you knew you’d only try to force it rather than letting time and nature take its course.”
“And secondly,” continued Dumbledore, “the Crucible charm might itself be affecting the trigger.”
“What is the nature of the trigger?” asked Hermione. “Could you tell me privately what it is?”
Flamel looked at her, clearly impressed.
“If we were to tell you,” said Dumbledore, “you would have to swear not to reveal it to anyone.”
Flamel frowned a little and warned, “The information might not be your interests, either.”
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"Well, suppose Harry had to see you humiliated in some way," said Dumbledore, "or hurt."
"Then I’ll never break the Crucible then," said Harry angrily, "because there’s no way that’s going to happen."
"I think that was just an example, Harry," said Hermione smiling at him.
"Actually," said Flamel, "it was a rather good example, though. Could you really act so selflessly?"
"Harry, I think Nicolas and Hermione may need to talk some things through before we decide whether or not to bring her into our confidence," Dumbledore said smiling. "Why don’t you and I take a stroll?"
Harry looked at Hermione who looked lost in thought for a moment. Then she nodded slowly and Harry reluctantly stood to leave.
As the stone gargoyle closed behind them, Harry looked at the Headmaster and asked, "Does Flamel think the memories Perenelle tried to get from Hermione have anything to do with this?"
"I did not ask Nicholas what the memories were, as I knew he would never reveal them to anyone," said Dumbledore, "but it is possible. Perenelle is very clever. I suspect at the very least Nicholas needs to be sure that Hermione is sure about the responsibility of having such knowledge."
They walked down to the main entrance and out into the bright November sunshine.
"I haven’t really got to see Hermione getting hurt, have I?" said Harry.
"We had no idea you would even meet Hermione when we charmed you, Harry," said Dumbledore smiling.
"A simple no would be more comforting, you know?" said Harry.
They stood quietly for a moment before Dumbledore said, "I’m sorry for not telling you all this before, Harry. I really didn’t think you could cope with this as well as losing Sirius."
"I’m too worried about Hermione to be mad at you now," Harry said flatly.
At that moment Flamel emerged from the castle alone and approached them standing on the steps.
"I have told Hermione everything, Albus," he said with a small smile.
"How did she react?" asked Dumbledore.
"She said we were totally irresponsible, that we should have thought longer and harder before deciding, that she is almost certain that the Crucible charm has indeed affected the trigger and we might actually need Perenelle to help sort things out, but only as a last resort."
Dumbledore raised his eyebrows and nodded. "Where is Hermione now? I feel I too should share her admonishment."
“She’s gone to seek Professor McGonagall’s council in the first instance,” Flamel said smiling, “I suspect she has a plan already.” His face then grew concerned and he asked, “Albus, how did she know? I didn’t tell her anything about Perenelle.”
“Er,” interrupted Harry, “are you both sure that once the Crucible charm isn’t broken I won’t turn into some dark wizard? What Fides showed me of myself wasn’t pleasant at all, you know?”
“When the Crucible is completely gone, you will be ready, Harry,” said Dumbledore. “As for turning into a Dark wizard, you are always free to make your own choices, good or bad.”
Harry didn’t see Hermione for the rest of the day, much to his annoyance. He sat in the common room waiting to go down to dinner, although he really wasn’t hungry after the enormous lunch they had enjoyed.
The portrait hole opened and Ginny climbed in. She scanned the room and made for him as soon as she saw him.
"Harry," she whispered urgently, "what’s going on? There are loads of stories going around about you. Where’s Hermione?"
Harry didn’t get a chance to respond. Ron, who had come in soon after Ginny, came straight over and took her arm to get her attention.
Ron whispered something to her and Ginny immediately moved for the exit.
"Sorry, Harry! Got to go," she said leaving in a hurry. "Oh, yes. Snape said you have another detention for missing his class today!"
As soon as she had gone, Harry turned to Ron and asked, "Where’s she going in such a hurry?"
Ron just shrugged and said, "Message from Hermione. Coming down to dinner?"
For the next few days, Harry noticed a definite change in attitude towards him as he walked through the corridors. Small groups of female students he didn’t know would stare and whisper.
Things were changing in classes too. Everyone was being quite friendly but Harry noticed that there was definitely something amiss. He was sure it had something to do with Hermione and the meetings she was conducting.
Hermione had refused to tell Harry anything about it. She had also clearly refused to tell anyone she suspected might relent and tell Harry anything.
On a couple of occasions Harry had managed to almost speak to Ginny and Luna alone. However, before he could ask anything they would be joined by another co-conspirator who would whisk them away.
Hermione herself had apologised in advance for anything she might do, not do, say or not say. When Harry had responded by saying that her apology wasn’t much comfort she had just smiled at him mischievously.
Harry asked if she had told Dumbledore off yet but she just said, “Well I was going to, but he’d just got me out of Snape’s detention so I didn’t like to.”
“That was nice of him,” said Harry indignantly. He had wondered how she got out of that detention.
“Listen, Hermione,” he said earnestly, “this isn’t going to help defeat Voldemort. I can’t use a gift like this for dark purposes or I’d lose them or worse be driven to become a dark wizard. There’s no hurry.”
“I’m not in a hurry,” she replied smiling.
“Oh,” he said dejectedly, “you’re going to prolong the whispering and staring campaign then?”
“You should be used to the staring by now,” she said dismissively, “and the whispering is only because hardly anyone knows anything and only I know everything.”
“What are you telling them and why?”
“Well, we’re building up a psychological profile for you. Everyone that knows you is contributing. I’m hoping we’ll be finished before Christmas ready to start the next phase.”
End of Term
"Is that some sort of wizarding custom?"
On Christmas Day, Harry and Lupin play host to the Grangers at Grimmauld Place and are joined by Dobby and Winky.
Chapter 3: End of Term
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End of Term
It was the first day of the Christmas holidays and everyone was busy shivering and wishing each other a happy holiday while waiting for the carriages outside the castle.
Harry would be travelling separately and Ron and Hermione still didn’t know he wouldn’t be spending his holiday at Hogwarts.
Hermione clutched a large box to herself that Harry was sure contained his psychological profile, or whatever she and the others had really been working on.
Seeing him looking at it, Hermione said happily, "Professor Dumbledore charmed it so it would open and seal itself without my actually needing to do magic."
Harry nodded and smiled, "I hope you have time to do your homework as well, Hermione."
"Oh, this is just so I can get an expert opinion!" she replied.
"Who is the expert?" asked Ron.
"My Mum, of course!"
Eventually Harry waved them off as the carriages departed. As they passed out of view he turned to find Professor Harbinger standing next to him.
"I’m sorry, Professor," he said a little startled, "I didn’t see you there."
Harbinger smiled and said, "I’ve left your mother’s letters with the Headmaster. He and Professor Flitwick have arranged for the letters to be sealed. The seal will break at a predetermined time. All you have to do is touch the seal on the box."
"Thank you, Professor," Harry said.
"Well, I’m supposed to be meeting Alastor and Filius in the village for an end of term drink so I’d better go and get ready," he said rubbing his hands. "Have a good break, Harry."
They shook hands and Harbinger departed back into the castle.
Harry knocked on the Headmaster’s office door and it opened at once. He entered the room and was greeted by Remus Lupin who had been speaking to Dumbledore.
“Harry, you will Portkey from here directly to Grimmauld Place,” said the Headmaster. “You will be joined on Christmas morning by the Grangers who have agreed to stay over. The Weasleys will join you on Boxing Day.”
“That’s great,” said Harry smiling.
Dumbledore handed Harry a small timber chest about the size of a shoebox. It had polished timber sides with polished metal corners and straps. At the front was a polished metal seal bearing the Gryffindor crest.
"Professor Harbinger said it would be best if you didn’t read the letters until after the Christmas festivities. He included additional copies of his letters as well so you can still read them should the original writing change."
Harry was rather disappointed not to be able to read the letters immediately.
This must have been reflected in his face because Lupin said, "It wouldn’t really be fair to your guests if you spent the whole time reading, Harry. Besides, some of those letters are bound to leave you a little emotional."
Harry nodded. It was true. Everyone was going to a lot of trouble so he could have company for Christmas.
"Oh, and Harry," said Dumbledore as he handed him a battered kettle, "l think you’ll find that letters telling you off for performing underage magic won’t reach you at Grimmauld Place. The Ministry will know magic has been performed but it won’t know for sure where or by whom it was performed. Please don’t tell the others, though. Have a good holiday."
Harry grinned back at him and said, "You too!"
Harry and Lupin spent the rest of that day cleaning Grimmauld Place from top to bottom. It was much quicker and easier with magic. Harry had tentatively started using a couple of minor cleaning charms but later in the day, after no Ministry letters arrived, he was becoming much bolder.
Harry had just finished transfiguring the moth eaten drawing room curtains into brand new curtains using his apprentice piece wand when he became aware that Lupin was standing in the doorway watching him.
Harry smiled seeing him and Lupin said, “How about some dinner?”
“That’d be good,” said Harry.
Lupin walked over to the new curtains and examined them closely. He drew out his wand and muttered something before pocketing his wand again. Harry wondered what he was doing, but didn’t like to ask.
“How permanent are these transfigurations?” Lupin asked still holding the curtains.
“I don’t know, really,” Harry replied. “I know if I use my normal wand they would revert back after time. This wand feels different though.”
“I’d say these are permanent, Harry,” Lupin said quietly.
Harry raised his eyebrows in surprise. He knew truly permanent transfigurations were very difficult and were only generally performed successfully after years of experience.
As they walked down to the kitchens to cook themselves a meal they passed the wall that once held the portrait of Sirius’ mother. It had been removed before he arrived, together with a good part of the brickwork behind it. Kreacher was long gone too.
Lupin had wanted to take down the tapestry showing the Black family tree but Harry had said he thought it should remain for a while. He had tried to restore Sirius on it earlier, but it hadn’t worked. He planned on having a more determined effort that evening.
“There’s a book upstairs that has some charms for building and the like. If you could manage to permanently rebuild the brickwork behind that portrait it would save a lot of trouble not to mention expense,” said Lupin. “I don’t think I could do anything permanent enough.”
“Sure, I’ll have a go,” said Harry as he placed a hot plate in front of Lupin. He soon joined Lupin at the table and they served themselves from the casserole dish in the middle of the table.
They ate in silence until Harry, having finished his meal said, "I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about coming back here."
Lupin nodded in understanding and gave a small smile.
"Who owns this place now?" asked Harry.
"Well, that’s undecided at the moment."
Harry frowned and Lupin continued, "Sirius left a Will but as he was on the run from Azkaban when he made it, it hasn’t been recognised. As a result Sirius’ estate is the subject of the Wizengamot Probate Court. Fudge wants the cash, of course."
"Won’t that be a problem for the Order?"
"Not really. For some reason the Court can’t find this place."
They both laughed and Lupin continued, "Sirius intended for me to get this property and a small sum to help maintain it. The bulk of his vault was split between Tonks and yourself as soon as you came of age. He also wanted you to have a few things, mostly books and some papers. Fortunately, we managed to move most of his books and papers to here before he died. He intended you to have them for your studies."
Harry looked down, still very uncomfortable whenever Sirius’ death was mentioned.
"Did Sirius know there might be a problem?" asked Harry.
"I suspect he knew there might be problems," Lupin said with a small smile. "His vault was found to be almost empty when they eventually got in. The Gringotts goblins wouldn’t say when it was emptied, either."
Harry blanched. "My Firebolt must have cost a fortune though. He might’ve spent it all-"
Lupin laughed and said, "No Harry, I promise you. The Black family was very rich. That’s why the Ministry was so annoyed not to get their hands on the cash. Sirius’ money will end up where and when he intended, I’m sure. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to legally transfer ownership of this property, that’s all."
Harry considered this for a long moment before asking, "Why does Fudge want the money? Is it something personal against Sirius?"
Lupin shrugged and said, "I thought it might be but it appears he has done the same thing to get his hands on other estates. No-one is sure what happens to the money when it liquidated and transferred to the Ministry."
Harry was rather shocked to hear this.
"What about all the money Lucius Malfoy bribed him with? Did it ever reach the good causes?"
"Who knows?" said Lupin getting up. "I’ll do the washing up since you cooked, then I’ll start putting up some decorations."
"OK, thanks," said Harry absently. "I’ll start on that wall in a bit. There’s something I just need to do first."
Harry entered the bedroom and went straight over to the empty portrait of Sirius’ great-great-grandfather.
"Hello?" Harry shouted loudly at the painting.
After a while Phineas Nigellus ambled into the frame and looked at him disdainfully.
"Harry Potter," he said dryly, "What do you want?"
"A favour, actually," Harry said. "Is Dilys Derwent in her portrait in Professor Dumbledore’s office? If she is could you please give her my compliments and ask her if she wouldn’t mind coming over here so I can have a word."
Phineas Nigellus looked at Harry, clearly calculating how annoyed he could make Harry.
"And what, may I ask, do wish to ask her?"
Harry just drew out his wand and said calmly, "You do remember I can do magic here now, don’t you?"
Almost immediately Harry found himself looking at the smiling face of Dilys Derwent. Phineas Nigellus had not yet returned.
"Hello, dear," she said kindly. "Phineas said you wanted a word. He was most insistent that I come quickly."
They both laughed and Harry asked, "Do you know how much St. Mungo’s actually receives in charitable donations?"
“I don’t have any figures but I can find out if you wish. I know some of the administrators have complained that the donations have been dropping just recently. It’s unusual because several well funded trusts support the hospital and it’s customary for folk to will small donations.”
"That’d be great. Maybe the figures could be sent to Hogwarts? Would it sound plausible if we said it was for some sort of statistical analysis project."
"I’ll make something up."
"Do all the donations come through the Ministry?"
"Traditionally, yes. That’s because most of the expenditure of the Hospital is managed by the Ministry and also some donations may be property or valuables instead of money."
Harry nodded and said, "Thanks. If we can prove that some of the donations are being diverted it would make Fudge very uncomfortable."
"And maybe Tonks and Lupin might get what Sirius wanted," she said knowingly.
Harry and Lupin finished the last of the Christmas decorations just after midnight. They might have been able to finish sooner except Harry kept disappearing downstairs to check his rebuilding of the wall behind Mrs Black’s portrait. Harry was sure it would collapse or vanish any moment, despite Lupin’s assurances that it was as permanent as real brickwork.
Harry vanished the last of the stray tinsel that had fallen to the floor and turned as Lupin handed him a small glass.
"Merry Christmas, Harry," he said chinking glasses. "This should help you sleep."
Harry drank cautiously and felt his mouth and throat burn slightly with the strong alcohol. Harry felt his eyes begin to water slightly and struggled not to cough. He assumed from the colour of the drink that this was firewhiskey. His second and subsequent sips went down much easier.
On Christmas morning, Harry woke slowly and rather later than he intended to. His waking thoughts went back to Christmas a year ago when Sirius was with them.
Almost at once he chided himself. He would not allow himself to be morose today. He had been looking forward to this day for weeks.
Eventually he roused himself to get up and dress, hurrying when he realised that Hermione and her parents were due within an hour.
He followed the delicious small of cooking down into the basement kitchen where he found Lupin sitting in the kitchen with two unexpected guests.
"Dobby! Winky!" Harry almost shouted.
After they had greeted him and, after much argument, Harry served them all fresh teas. They all sat.
"I’m sorry I slept in," said Harry apologetically to Lupin. "I intended to get up and help you out with all the food and everything."
"Well," said Lupin smiling, "I’m afraid by the time I got up most of it was already done."
"You really shouldn’t have, you know," Harry said to the house elves, "but thank you. You are going to stay, aren’t you?"
"We would like to, Harry Potter," said Dobby rather sheepishly.
"I’d really love you both to stay," said Harry. "Come on. You are the first to arrive so you’ll have first pick of the guest bedrooms."
"Bedrooms?" said Dobby and Winky at the same time, both with horrified expressions.
"Of course you must have bedrooms!" said Harry. "Look it’d really be doing me a favour. If Hermione found out I allowed our guests not to have bedrooms she’d never stop nagging me."
It took Harry quite some time before they found a room that was small and plain enough to satisfy Dobby and Winky.
Harry absolutely refused to allow them to use the broom cupboard but they eventually compromised with a small box-room upstairs. Harry transfigured two small beds and some matching furniture. He knew they were more than capable of doing these things for themselves but Harry enjoyed doing it and that way he would be sure that they would be comfortable.
Just as they were finished, Harry heard voices from downstairs. Harry turned and made for the door. Before he got there though, there was a loud pop from outside the door followed by a thump.
Harry opened the door to see Mrs Granger sprawled on the landing floor with a several large bags still clutched in both hands.
"Welcome to Grimmauld Place," Harry said laughing and offering her his hand to pull her feet. "Are you okay?"
Once upright again she quickly came to her senses and fixed Harry with a stare. She suddenly dropped both bags and threw both arms around him.
"Oh, Harry," she sniffed.
Eventually she pulled away, dabbing away her tears.
"May we take your bags?" asked Dobby and Mrs Granger looked down at him.
"Mrs Granger, may I present two friends who are also staying for Christmas. This is Dobby and Winky. Dobby and Winky, this is Mrs Granger, Hermione’s mother."
"Please call me Jane," said Mrs Granger at once, smiling and bending down to shake both their tiny hands. "It’s wonderful to finally meet you. Hermione has spoken of you often."
Meanwhile, Harry gathered up the bags.
"Why didn’t you arrive with the others?" asked Harry proceeding to the top of the stairs.
"Well, I asked Professor Dumbledore for a favour," she said. "I wanted to thank you properly for what you did for Hermione. I kind of messed that up, sorry."
Harry smiled and said, "I’m just glad we were able to help."
"I’d like to ask you about what happened, if you don’t mind?"
"I’ll tell you what I can," said Harry quietly, "but Hermione mustn’t know anything. Fides was most insistent on that."
They got as far as the first floor landing when Harry was greeted with a bone-crushing hug from Hermione. She had been able to take a run at him too and Harry struggled to remain upright.
Laughing, Harry swung both bags around her in a futile attempt to return her hug.
"Happy Christmas, Hermione," he managed to say.
He heard a muffled, "Merry Christmas, Harry," in return.
"Merry Christmas, Miss," said a small voice from behind them and Hermione shot up.
"Winky? Dobby!" she cried, "How wonderful! Merry Christmas!"
"Winky has been choosing colours for her bedroom, Miss."
"Bedroom? Oh, I must see," exclaimed Hermione, "Will you show me?"
Harry dumped Mrs Granger’s bags in the drawing room and ventured down into the kitchen from where he could here laughing.
Mr Granger was showing off his Christmas cardigan, a garment that would be certain of being regarded as simply dreadful in any company.
"Harry!" he said at once and went over to shake hands. "Happy Christmas! I trust you’ve survived from Jane’s telling off."
"He hasn’t had it yet," came a dry voice from behind Harry. He turned to see Mrs Granger smiling as she came through the kitchen door and proceeded directly to greet Lupin.
"Do you like my cardigan?" asked Mr Granger grinning. "If I make enough of a fuss, they usually let me open one present early!"
Harry nodded smiling, and prayed that his cardigan wouldn’t have quite the same number of reindeer with stupid expressions.
Harry thoroughly enjoyed Christmas lunch. Quite apart from the food, this was the first magical Christmas that Hermione’s parents had experienced.
The looks of wonder that followed once they had recovered from the mini explosions as the crackers were pulled made everything much more special. Harry wasn’t sure, but the bangs from the crackers seemed louder than usual. Indeed, once or twice he became concerned about the stability of his new brickwork upstairs.
They eventually managed to retire upstairs to the easy chairs of the drawing room for coffee. They chatted happily for a while but most dozed off after a while.
All except Mrs Granger that is. She was keen to pester Harry with questions and he manfully struggled to stay awake to provide answers.
Hermione, who had shown distinct signs of irritation at her mother for dominating Harry during lunch, finally fell asleep in the comfortable armchair she was in.
Mrs Granger, seeing that she, Harry and Dobby were the only ones still awake whispered, "Harry, how about showing me the rest of the house?"
Harry nodded and struggled to his feet.
At the same time Dobby quietly got up and said, "Winky should go to bed, Harry Potter. She won’t want any more to eat today."
“Would it be okay if I carried her up?” asked Harry. Dobby nodded and he gently gathered the sleeping house elf into his arms and they all proceeded upstairs.
Dobby gently tucked Winky into bed and Harry whispered, “Winky seems much better, doesn’t she Dobby?”
"Yes, Harry Potter," he replied smiling. "I will stay with her for a while."
"Maybe see you later," Harry said as he and Mrs Granger left.
They went downstairs but didn’t speak in case Winky was disturbed. As they passed the new brickwork in the entrance Harry patted it again. Mrs Granger looked at him curiously.
"Is that some sort of wizarding custom?" she asked.
Harry laughed and said, "No. I did this with magic yesterday. Most magic isn’t very permanent and I keep worrying it will vanish."
"I wish I could see magic actually being done," she said wistfully.
Harry looked around to see the coast was clear and whispered, "Well since you’re already keeping one secret from Hermione, I don’t suppose another would be too much of a burden?"
"Not at all," she smiled back.
Harry closed the door to the kitchen behind them and surveyed all the dirty dishes.
"Professor Dumbledore told me something before I left," Harry said drawing out his wand, "but he said not to tell the others."
Mrs Granger nodded expectantly.
"Colloportus," Harry whispered and they heard the door squelch. "He told me I could do magic here and not get caught by the Ministry of Magic."
Harry pointed his wand at the table and thought. At once the dishes jumped up and leaped into the sink. Soon the washing up was well under way and the table cleared.
For some reason, wordless incantations were becoming easier when he used his Apprentice Piece wand.
Mrs Granger watched in fascination.
Harry picked up a discarded butter beer bottle and placed it on the table. When Mrs Granger had turned her attention back to him, Harry transfigured the bottle into a fine cut glass vase. She gasped.
Harry smiled and said, "I’ve been trying, but I’ve got a bit of a block for the next bit. You see it usually takes Hermione to drum the finer points home."
Mrs Granger smiled enquiringly.
"You see, I intended to ask you what your favourite cut flower was. There’s no point in asking you that yet since I can only do one sort."
He took a raw green runner bean from the pantry and dropped it into the vase. Harry then waved his wand over the vase and transfigured the bean into a single wilted flower and a few yellowing leaves.
"Well that’s still pretty impressive," said Mrs Granger, not wishing to dwell on the bedraggled flower.
"You have to finish it," said Harry. "Just move close and say the name of someone you love. Say it so the flower catches your breath and keep them in your mind as you say it."
She looked at him puzzled but did as he said.
"Hermione," she breathed over the flower but leaped back as soon as the flower began to glow. Small sparks shot upwards for a moment before a single beautiful fresh flower stood in the vase.
"It will last as long as a real flower and you can rejuvenate it as long as it doesn’t die completely and it isn’t damaged or cut at all."
Mrs Granger leant in to smell the fragrance of the flower. Harry was a little taken aback when he saw tears flowing freely down her face as she turned back to him.
After a while she composed herself and they sat down. When the washing up was finished and the dishes all stacked away, Harry suggested they remove the lock on the door.
"Hermione said you were a great wizard, Harry."
"I’m only good at most stuff after she shows me how to do it properly or makes me study for it," he replied smiling. "You know, it is a nice change to do stuff like this. Most of this year I’ve been learning how to duel properly."
"Hermione said she’d really upset you," Mrs Granger said, "Something about a tent?"
Harry nodded, "It was called an Auror Training tent. Hermione sort of reprogrammed it to give me more of a challenge. It was what she made me face that upset me, not Hermione. I still managed to take it out on her again, though."
He paused before continuing.
"I felt terrible after the tent was destroyed. I keep wondering if Hermione will ever truly forgive me."
"The tent had different skill levels but the highest level has no restrictions and no safety features. I went in intending to face and use the killing curses."
"She was just afraid of what might have happened," she said gently. "She may have also been reminded about what may happen in the future. Personally, I can’t help but feeling optimistic myself."
She smiled warmly at him but something inside him troubled Harry.
"What is it, Harry?"
"Has Hermione told you how dangerous it is to be my friend?"
"No, not directly. I surmised that much some time ago, though."
They sat in silence for a short while. Harry was unsure what and indeed if, he wanted to tell Mrs Granger any more.
"Hermione and I have been talking about you, of course. She wanted my opinion on a number of matters."
Harry smiled and said, "My psychological profile, you mean?"
"Indeed. It was most interesting, actually. Well, interesting in what it didn’t say about you."
Harry frowned slightly.
"For instance, Hermione said that your friend Neville knew what your greatest fear was, but had refused point blank to share it."
Harry leaned a little closer and hesitated before speaking.
"I can manage another confidence," she said smiling.
"It happened last year at the Department of Mysteries. Neville was with us when it happened. Hermione was attacked and fell unconscious. I … I just went to pieces. I just pleaded for her to be okay. It was only after Neville assured me that he could feel a pulse that I came to my senses enough to worry about betting us all out of there. My greatest fear is losing Hermione," he finished almost in a whisper.
Mrs Granger nodded thoughtfully.
"At the hospital, I could see something other than the state you were in," said Mrs Granger and Harry fought to give her his full attention. "I could see that you weren’t the same as you are now, for instance."
Harry nodded, "Was it that obvious?"
"Yes. Even before you did the bed moving trick."
"Well, the part of me that can do those tricks is locked up inside the Crucible charm, together with the darker side of my personality."
"Are you worried about what will happen when the crucible is finally broken?"
"Yes, a bit. Well, more than just a bit. I actually met the creature I left in the Department of Mysteries. I’m not that pleasant, I can tell you. I’m seriously afraid of turning into a dark wizard."
"That will never happen," she said emphatically. "Um, I have one other question, but I’ll ask it later. Instead I’ll tell you something Hermione told me."
Harry looked up, "You can ask me anything you want."
"I already know the answer," she said smiling in a way that was uncannily like her daughter, "It’s you that doesn’t know it yet."
"Er," said Harry, "okay. What did Hermione say then?"
Just at that moment the kitchen door burst open and a flustered looking Hermione dashed in.
"Hi," Hermione said a little too loudly. "I just wondered where you were."
Mrs Granger grinned at Harry and said, "I wonder if anyone is ready for some tea? I’ll go and ask. Hermione, do you like my lily? It’s my new favourite flower."
A sleepy and bleary eyed Harry opened his bedroom door and immediately smelled the breakfast being cooked down in the basement kitchen.
Harry was surprised to find Winky standing in the middle of the lobby looking still sleepy and a little confused.
"Hello, Winky," he said gently. "Have a good night’s sleep?"
"Very good, thank you, Sir," she replied.
"Winky, it’s Christmas and we’re both guests here," he said quietly. "I’d be much happier if you’d call me Harry, not Sir."
Winky looked too tired to argue but was clearly going to have a go anyway when they were both startled by Mrs Granger rushing out of her bedroom looking quite stricken.
"Harry! Winky!" she said, "It’s awful! Come and look!"
Alarmed, Harry and Winky followed her back into the bedroom but Harry was relieved to see that it was nothing serious. On the floor next to the bed was the broken vase and the flower was in pieces.
Harry shut the door and drew out his wand.
"Pardon me, Sir," said Winky. "But you is not supposed to be doing magic in front of Mrs Granger!"
"Well, yes you’re right," Harry said and smiled. "This is a secret between trusted friends, okay?"
Winky smiled sheepishly and nodded.
Harry waved the wand and said "Reparo!" The vase jumped together and back onto the side table. "We’ll need another bean or something to transfigure another flower, I’m afraid."
Mrs Granger clapped her hands together and sighed with relief.
"I won’t put an unbreakable charm on it because it might get mixed up with some non-magical items one day."
The door opened and they were again interrupted by Hermione who saw Harry still holding his wand this time.
"I was just explaining to your Mum about the job Ron’s Dad does, making sure magical items don’t accidentally fall into the hands of non-magical people."
"Sounds fascinating," said Mrs Granger, "Shall we go down to breakfast?"
"Breakfast!" cried Winky rushing out, "Dobby must not be doing everything by himself!"
Harry and Mrs Granger acted like they couldn’t see the suspicious expression on Hermione’s face as they followed Winky downstairs.
The Weasley’s arrived at a little after noon. As soon as the greetings were over, Mr Weasley insisting on exchanging presents. Harry went down to get Dobby and Winky and when everyone was gathered, Hermione and Ginny handed out gifts from under the enormous Christmas tree in the drawing room.
Very soon the entire room was strewn with wrapping paper and echoing with laughter.
At three o’clock they all sat down to dinner, with Dobby managing to wear every one of his presents.
At some point during the meal, Harry found himself looking around the table seeing everybody engaged in conversation or laughing. He felt a sudden and unexpected pang of emotion. Everybody was there for him. Just so he could enjoy Christmas.
He caught Hermione’s eye and he smiled. She smiled back and he blushed, wondering how long she had been watching him.
Much later in the evening, Harry left the noise of the drawing room for a moment’s quiet back down in the kitchen. Fred and George had given Ron a pack of exploding snap cards that were somewhat louder and more dangerous than the regular kind. The three of them and Mr Granger were playing with reckless abandon.
In the corridor, he passed Mr Weasley venturing back into the drawing room.
"Mr Weasley, could I ask you something?"
"Of course, Harry," he replied smiling.
"Is there a record of the donations made to St Mungos?"
Mr Weasley’s smile vanished.
"I don’t have access to most of the records," he said quietly, "Fudge handles the cash donations personally. I’ve been reluctant to make too many enquiries because Fudge fired someone last year when they queried a property donation left in a will."
Harry nodded and asked, "Are there any records at all we could get hold of?"
"Only the money dropped into the fountains," he replied. "The money is collected by a different department and they get a receipt when they pass it on."
Harry raised his eyebrows.
"I’ll get a copy of the records to Dumbledore," said Mr Weasley.
"Don’t take any chances though. Dumbledore would be upset if-"
"Don’t worry, Harry," he interrupted. "Molly would kill me if I lost my job."
Harry walked into the kitchen to find Hermione and her mother deep in conversation. They looked like they were having a private chat so Harry made to leave.
"Don’t go, Harry," said Mrs Granger smiling. "Has my husband still got his eyebrows?"
"Well, one maybe," Harry said laughing but his face fell a little when he remembered what he wanted to ask.
"What is it, Harry?" asked Hermione.
"Well, I wanted to ask you something," he said hesitantly. "Both of you, really."
They both looked at him expectantly.
"I was wondering if you’d be prepared to stay over tomorrow night as well?"
Both their faces lit up and Mrs Granger said, "We’d love to!"
"Er, hang on," said Harry. "Don’t agree so quickly."
"Why ever not?" asked Hermione.
Harry sat down and took a deep breath.
"You know Professor Harbinger?"
"Yes, of course," said Hermione.
"Well, he knew my mother when she was still at Hogwarts. He actually got expelled but my mother wrote to him. She continued to write until she died. I have her letters and also copies.
"The seal that will allow me to read them will break tomorrow. Professor Harbinger thought she was actually writing to me and that more of her messages may be revealed somehow when I read the originals. The thing is, I won’t be very good company and-"
Harry faltered, now staring down at the table.
Mrs Granger got up and hugged him from behind saying in an emotional voice, "It’s settled. We’re staying."
She sniffed a little and let go before leaving the kitchen.
Harry looked up to see Hermione dabbing her eyes.
"Thanks," he said a little hoarsely.
She smiled warmly.
"I suppose," he said and cleared his throat, "you’ve been wondering when I was going to give you your real present?"
"Not at all, Harry," said Hermione as Ron rushed in and dived for the sink. He emerged shortly after, sporting flaming electric blue hair.
"If Fred or George offer you a new kind of drink," he said, "don’t take it unless you want to see the room revolve. What are you laughing at?"
Harry crept downstairs the next morning. It was still very early and he didn’t want to disturb anyone. It had been gone two o’clock in the morning before the Weasleys finally went home, refusing Lupin’s invitation for them to stay the night.
Tired but full of nervous energy, Harry hadn’t been able to sleep at all. He entered the kitchen to find Hermione sat at the table staring at her mug.
"Morning," said Harry with a tired smile.
Hermione looked up blankly, her face and eyes red.
"Hey, are you okay?" he asked with concern, moving towards her.
She moved her head in what could have been either a nod or a shake, and Harry realised she probably wasn’t that okay.
"What can I get you?" Harry started to ask before being enveloped in another hug as soon as he got within range. He gently extricated his arms hand wrapped them around her back as she cried gently into his shoulder.
After a while she lifted up her head.
"Thanks, Harry," she croaked. "Er, you can let go now."
He gave an ironic sigh and said, "What? Ready to discard me just because for some reason I’ve become all wet and soggy again?"
Hermione snorted and averted her face while she struggled to blow her nose with a tissue. She emerged rather redder than before with an expectation that he would be wearing a disgusted look. Harry couldn’t help but grin and hold her tighter.
Hermione’s shoulder’s appeared to relax slightly and she returned her arms to Harry’s back, presumably accepting they would be staying like this a while longer.
"I think you should know," he said gently, "as something of an expert in these matters," and paused when Hermione made an indistinct but definitely derogatory noise, "that despite all the tears and dribbling, I could definitely grow to enjoy early morning hugs."
Hermione said, "There’s a lot worse than tears and dribble down here, Harry."
Harry laughed and felt Hermione’s laughter too. At last she looked up and looked at him.
He really wasn’t ready for such an ambiguous question this early in the morning. He knew he would immediately be in trouble for admitting he had no idea what she was taking about.
"Harry, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, why not just ask?"
"Um, I thought I’d be in even more trouble," he said honestly.
"After the Halloween Ball. Didn’t it mean anything?"
"Oh," said Harry quickly.
She looked up at him.
"After what happened with the Auror tent you seemed so upset," he said. "More than just upset or mad, really. It was like I’d lost your trust and I was scared. I was afraid to loose you so I thought it best to make sure we were still friends above anything else."
After a long moment, Hermione lowered her head again and said, "I will always be your friend, Harry, whatever happens."
"No matter how stupid I behave?"
"And no matter how wet and soggy I become?"
They both laughed again.
"Have you read any of your mother’s letters yet?"
"No," said Harry, "I wanted to ask you if you’d mind being with me when I read them?"
Hermione broke away before Harry could stop her.
"I’d understand if you didn’t want to," Harry said in a hurry.
"Don’t be silly, Harry," she said. "I’m going to get washed and changed. You make tea and I’ll meet you. Er, where do you want to open them?"
"Well," he said, more than a little relieved, "I’ve set up some tea making facilities in my room."
"Great," she said rushing off, "I meet you in twenty minutes. Change into something drier, will you?"
About an hour later, although Hermione insisted she hadn’t taken any longer than she anticipated getting herself ready, they sat on Harry’s bed staring at the small timber chest.
Harry reached out and touched the seal. Immediately the box clicked and the top sprang open.
Inside were several opened envelopes in thick cream coloured paper. Stuffed inside the lid was a scroll with a note at the top from Professor Flitwick explaining that the text of the letters was duplicated on the scroll as Harry may not be able to read the originals.
Harry handed the scroll to Hermione so she could read the note. She gently placed the scroll to one side while Harry picked up the first envelope.
Harbinger had marked each envelope with a date and arranged them in date order. A paperclip on one envelope had a note from Harbinger telling Harry to start with that letter, although it was not the first received.
It was the last one his mother has written.
Hands shaking slightly, Harry opened the envelope and took out the letter which was written on the same heavy cream paper as the envelope. It was a single folded sheet written on both sides in neat small handwriting.
He unfolded the letter, turned it the right way around and began to read.
As soon as Harry had got as far as "My Dear …" when suddenly there was a flash and from underneath the paper there dropped another envelope.
Harry lifted up the paper to look at the envelope that had appeared. On the front, clearly visible was a single word.
It read, "Harry"
Harry just stared at it for a moment before looking up at Hermione. She grinned at him and said, "Go on, open it!"
He picked the envelope up. It was warm. Turning it over he could see an unbroken wax seal. With shaking hands, he opened the envelope and took out the contents. Again, it was a single sheet of paper.
Harry unfolded the paper. It was completely blank though. He turned it over but the other side was still blank.
He turned it back over and looked up in frustration at Hermione who looked like she could hardly contain herself.
"Look, Harry!" she managed to say. She was pointing to the sheet of paper.
Writing was appearing as if it was being written by an invisible hand.
"My Dearest Harry, Please don’t be alarmed by what is happening. Please do not open the next envelope."
There was another flash and yet another envelope appeared. Harry reached for it but it suddenly leaped up out of his reach, escaping even Harry’s quick reflexes.
Hermione made to grab it but the scuttling envelope was too quick. It fell to the floor but appeared to be content to lie on the rug. It too had a wax seal but no name or address on the front.
Harry returned to his letter which had continued to reveal itself.
“I hope you are not alone when you are reading this. Please now promise out loud not to open that envelope but to deliver it unopened to the addressee when they are revealed. I will wait for you to do this.”
Harry looked up frowning. “It says … Er … “
He cleared his throat and said as clearly as he could, “I promise not to open that envelope and I promise to deliver it to the addressee when they are revealed.”
Hermione grinned at him and he shrugged and continued to read. The letter had started again from scratch.
“Thank you. I have entrusted my letters to a valued friend who will deliver them to you when the time is right. I must start by, at last, introducing myself. My name is Lily Potter and I am your mother. As I write this, you are sleeping beside me. When you read this, I will be dead.”
Harry paused and wiped his eyes. Hermione jumped off the bed and immediately jumped back on behind Harry, holding him tightly.
After a while, Harry was ready to continue and whispered, “How about we read this together. Can you see?”
Hermione rested her chin on his shoulder and nodded. She draped one arm across his back and moved her other hand to Harry’s forearm. As she moved her hand brushed the paper.
Neither of them noticed the small flash the blank envelope made, now lying forgotten on the floor.
The messages that came from Lily’s letter didn’t appear to follow any chronological order. It was as if she was writing passages as and when they occurred to her or perhaps when she had the chance to write.
They learned that other letters would reveal themselves out of the letters written to Harbinger. They were arranged by subject so they could expect, say, one to tell Harry something about his family. Others would give practical advice on charms, potions, wards and defence. At least one letter detailed the family finances and another contained a diary written from when Lily first attended Hogwarts.
This letter, though, just gave general advice, encouragement and reflected Lily’s fears and doubts. The writing was very emotional, and almost every other passage poured out Lily’s feelings of love for Harry.
It was late into the evening before they finished the first letter. They had been left alone all day and were now a little hungry, despite Harry’s provisions.
The letter ended with a small instruction how to recall specific entries from each letter again. Hermione was fascinated, both by how such a charm might work but also to get to know a little about such a powerful and loving person.
"I wanted to know, Harry, what you thought the vision meant."
The letter Harry promised to deliver now has the name of the addressee. Harry has a strange dream and wakes to find himself being attacked by Lupin and Mr Granger.
Chapter 4: The Dream
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Harry and Hermione ventured downstairs to find everyone in the kitchen. Harry was rather glad no-one asked them about his mother's letters and instead they enjoyed a light meal.
After coffee, Winky disappeared from the table but re-appeared almost at once beside Hermione.
"What is it Winky?" she asked.
"Pardon me, Miss Hermione," she said, "but I was just tidying Mister Harry’s room up and I found a letter."
"It’s okay, Winky," said Harry, "we left them out. But you shouldn’t have done any tidying for me."
She fixed Harry with a stern look before saying, "Winky is not tidying because she has to, Winky is tidying because she wants to."
Harry decided not to argue and Winky returned her attention to Hermione. She held out her hands and offered an envelope to Hermione.
Harry recognised it at once. It was the only letter remaining that had an unbroken seal, the one that Harry had promised to deliver once he found out who it was for.
Hermione gasped when she looked at the envelope. She looked up at Harry and showed him the envelope.
"Thank you, Winky," said Harry, "I promised to deliver it to the addressee but you’ve done it for me."
Mrs Granger looked over Hermione’s shoulder. Written clearly on the front of the envelope was the name of the addressee. It said "To Miss Hermione Jane Granger" and underneath it now said "Strictly Private and Confidential"
"This letter was written by Harry’s mother," Hermione said in wonder.
"Open it," said Mr Granger.
"Er," began Lupin as Hermione turned over the envelope and was about to open it when she stopped to read some more writing that appeared on the back. "You might want to be alone before reading that, Hermione."
She looked up at Lupin and grinned. "It just told me that!"
Lupin laughed and nodded. Hermione excused herself and went up to her room.
"How did my Mum do that?" Harry asked but was distracted when he noticed that Mrs Granger had what was an unmistakably smug expression.
"Don’t even think about it," sighed Mr Granger and Lupin snorted.
Harry watched this exchange and wondered what the three of them had found to talk about all day. Lupin got up and put the kettle on the stove.
He looked back to Mrs Granger who was now smiling at him.
"Thanks for being here today," he said. "It means a lot to me."
Later that evening Harry found himself wandering aimlessly into the living room. He wanted to continue reading his mother’s letters but, at the same time didn’t want to without Hermione being there.
He went over to the tapestry and found it very difficult to restrain himself from having another go at restoring it. It wouldn’t do being caught performing magic by Hermione, even though he didn’t think she would re-appear that evening.
He felt his scar prickle a little and he rubbed away the pain in annoyance and didn’t think anything of it.
Finally he decided he might as well go to bed.
Harry dreamt he was walking through a mist, neither noticeably cold or wet. Somewhere out ahead of him were the sounds of an argument. He hurried forward until he became vaguely aware of something dark in the distance.
He stopped as soon as he could see it clearly. He was looking at an absurdly large bottle. It was the shape of a butterbeer bottle but was made of entirely clear glass and had an enormous cork stuffed into the top. It had to be over twice his height.
Inside, two figures were struggling. One kept trying to climb up the neck of the bottle, clearly attempting to get to the cork and an exit. The other figure generally crouched down near the bottom of the bottle.
Harry watched for some time. Mostly the climbing figure would slip and fall before trying again. Every now and again, though, he almost made it to the top. That was when the second figure would tentatively rise and grab at the feet of the first figure, making him fall again.
The two figures were either ignoring Harry or couldn’t see him.
Suddenly there was the sound of breaking glass. Harry looked around wildly, but saw nothing but mist. He looked back. The bottle looked intact but the figures inside were now behaving strangely. There were standing still and clutching each other, both with looks of shear terror. They were looking behind him at some point high up.
Harry had the strange sensation that something was approaching from behind, although he heard nothing. He looked as the figures in the bottle crouched down and a large shadow seemed to fall across them all.
Harry turned slowly and began to look up but before he could make out what the giant dark shape might be, the dream dissolved.
"He’s waking," Harry heard an unfamiliar voice whisper. He held his eyes closed for a moment and thought. He should be safe at Grimmauld Place.
Harry opened his eyes and was a little surprised to find himself sitting and looking down at unfamiliar black robes. He looked again and saw bony un-naturally white hands with long thin fingers. Now sure what was happening, he raised his head to see two hooded figures kneeling before him.
To the side an unmoving body lay, legs spayed out with a robe covering their head and arms.
"Do it now!" whispered one figure. The other figure was visibly trembling. The first nudged the other hard and they both rose, not revealing their faces.
Harry watched with fascination as they approached him. With growing shock he realised what they were about to do. One held a cloth sack and the other a short length of rope. Before Harry could react he found the sack had been forced roughly over his head and the rope tied around his neck.
Harry woke with a start, still fighting his two assailants.
Harry woke to find he really was fighting two assailants. He stopped struggling when he realised it was Lupin and Mr Granger who were wrestling with him.
"Hey!" he shouted, "What are you doing?"
Lupin released him at once and said, "It’s okay, we can release him now."
Still panting and red faced, Mr Granger pulled back from him, a look of anger and fear still on his face. Lupin banged with his fist on the door next to Harry and said loudly, "It’s okay now."
Immediately the door swung open and Mrs Granger collapsed next to Harry who was still lying on his back, totally confused as to what was happening.
"Harry," she said crying. "Are you okay?"
Lupin knelt down and helped Harry up. Both of them were shaking.
"What happened?" asked Harry in bewilderment.
Harry sat in the kitchen staring at his mug of now cold coffee listening as the others told Professor Dumbledore what had happened.
Voldemort had managed to possess him and had attempted to kill Hermione, or that’s what they assumed he was trying to do. He had got as far as the passageway outside her room when Winky had challenged him. She was hurt, but not too badly. Dobby had raised the alarm and he, Lupin and Mr Granger had fought him while Mrs Granger tended to Winky.
They had been afraid to use spells against Voldemort in case they had hurt Harry, but he could still feel the effects of the desperate punches landed by Mr Granger.
Hermione had slept through the entire thing. She was still sleeping, apparently.
Although Mrs Granger thought she might have been reading late into the night, they were clearly concerned about her.
When the talking stopped, Harry raised his head and he and Dumbledore looked at each other, each knowing that what had happened that night would have terrible consequences.
Dumbledore returned to the kitchen and smiled at the waiting group.
"Hermione is fine," he reported, "just very tired. Winky has confirmed that she did indeed read late into the night. We should be very thankful that Winky decided to watch over her, though."
Harry sighed with relief.
“She is now sleeping soundly,” Dumbledore continued. “I think it was the letter. It took a lot out of her. It looks very magical, although I can’t read it myself.”
Dumbledore pulled out a chair and sat down next to Harry.
"Harry, I want you to tell me what you dreamt about in as much detail as you can recall."
Dumbledore thought for a long moment after Harry had finished describing his dreams.
"Tell me, Harry," he said gently. "What do you think it means."
"It means I can’t go back to Hogwarts or be trusted to be near anyone again," Harry spat bitterly.
"It is true that we will have to take some additional precautions," Dumbledore said smiling a little, "but you will be going back to school, Harry. Hogwarts is protected by many ancient wards that will make Voldemort’s possession of you there much more of a challenge."
"I’d never forgive myself if anything happened," Harry said sadly.
"I wanted to know, Harry, what you thought the vision meant. Was anything different from the previous times you saw things through Voldemort’s eyes?"
Harry looked up and said, "Er, yes, it was different, Professor. This time I didn’t panic until they actually tried to strangle me."
"Rather strange behaviour, don’t you think?"
"They were terrified. I can only assume they were either trying to dispose of Voldemort while he was weak or distracted, which I doubt, or he told them to do it."
"I agree. It seems likely that Voldemort suspected you could take control of his body as he could yours. Perhaps he left a password that only he would say when he woke."
Harry rubbed is scar as pain burned through it and said, "He’s still angry. He’s punishing them for getting too carried away."
"The main thing is he’s getting worried," said Dumbledore. "Perhaps he thought you might see or do something very damaging. He was taking quite a risk."
"Could he know about the Crucible charm?" asked Harry.
"Yes, he does," said a cold voice, "although he doesn’t know its significance."
Snape stood in the doorway, still wearing his black travelling cloak and staring at Harry with total loathing.
"The Dark Lord has learnt that Potter was charmed as a child in order to suppress some magical ability and he knows that the charm will be lifted sometime soon. He assumes Potter will gain some new magical ability that will be a danger to him or at least will allow him a greater likelihood of surviving a little longer."
Just then Winky appeared next to Harry with a small pop. She looked at Snape with fear before quickly whispering in Harry’s ear.
Harry got up at once and said, "Excuse me for a moment."
Harry knocked gently on the bedroom door and entered. The room was dimly lit and very warm. He walked over to the bed and said, "No, Hermione, lie back and rest."
She stopped struggling to raise herself and relaxed back into her pillow. She looked very weak.
"I’m so sorry, Hermione," he said quietly.
"Don’t be silly," she said at once. "You didn’t do anything."
She smiled warmly at him, normally something that couldn’t help raise his spirits. This time, he just felt tears form in his eyes. He looked down, not wanting her to see.
Hermione grabbed his hand and squeezed tight. Harry fell heavily to his knees and buried his face in the bedsheets close to Hermione, holding onto her hand as if his life depended on it.
"It’s okay," she whispered and Harry just shook his head in response.
He couldn’t speak. He felt a dull pain in his chest grow more and more evident. Pain seared across his scar and he gave a quiet involuntary cry.
Harry looked up suddenly and then staggered to his feet and ran for the door.
"Oh, no! I think he’s trying again!" he shouted, throwing the door open and staggering out onto the landing.
The pain in his chest was subsiding now but his scar burned worse than ever.
Harry fell to his knees further along the passageway. Before him, Dobby was looking stricken.
"Please, Dobby," Harry pleaded. "He can’t be allowed to use me. Please stun me or something!"
Dobby held up a single wavering finger. Harry felt himself collapse in a heap when the spell hit him. He tried to mumble his thanks but darkness took him almost immediately.
Harry woke with a start to find himself in his bed. Hermione closed her book and got up. She came across to his bedside and smiled down at him.
"Did I do anything?" he asked.
"No, Dobby stunned you," she answered.
"Good. I hope he didn’t punish himself or anything?"
"Well, he’s feeling pretty terrible about what he did but he’s been forbidden to punish himself," said Hermione, sitting down on the bed.
"Harry, Professor Dumbledore thinks Voldemort wasn’t trying to possess you to make you do something," she said. "He was just trying to distract you."
"You looked like you were feeling something before your scar hurt."
"Well, yes. I was upset and I felt a pain in my chest," he said. "It hurt much less when I left the room."
"Nothing else he might’ve distracted you from?" asked Lupin.
Harry spun his head around. He hadn’t noticed Lupin sitting in a chair on the other side of his bed.
"Sorry," he said apologetically as Harry breathed deeply, recovering from the shock.
"I’ll bring you up some breakfast," said Hermione getting up and leaving. Harry followed her blurred outline out of the door before reaching for his glasses.
"So," continued Lupin, "what could you have been distracted from? Think back, Harry."
Harry said nothing.
Lupin got up, looking serious. As he got to the door he looked like he was almost about to say something further but instead turned and left, leaving the door open.
He had been distracted from something. What could it be? He wondered about the pain he had felt in his chest. Was it something to do with the Crucible charm? Perhaps it would hurt when the charm finally broke.
Harry sat up as he considered this last notion. Maybe the charm really had been about to break. If that was true, the triggering event must almost have happened. If that was true then the trigger, whatever it was, had something to do with Hermione.
Voldemort tried to get to Hermione. That reinforced the idea that Hermione had a part in the trigger and of course she had received her mother's letter. Did Voldemort know something or had he just guessed. Why Hermione?
He started as he suddenly remembered something. The pain started when Hermione had grabbed his hand and had got worse.
Harry was disturbed from his thoughts by Mrs Granger walking in with a breakfast tray.
She placed the tray over the bed and smiled at him.
"Harry, we’re going shortly," she said gently, stoking his hair. "Professor Dumbledore wants you to spend some time alone so you can think things through."
"But," Harry began to protest before he stopped himself. He couldn’t be selfish.
"Yes, it would be safer, I suppose."
"You’ll see Hermione and the rest of your friends back at school," she said. "Thank you for a wonderful Christmas, Harry."
She bent down and kissed him lightly on his cheek and was gone before he could say anything in response.
The Book Store
Harry left the Headmaster’s office to meet the carriages bringing the students back for the start of the term.
Dumbledore had agreed to Harry’s request that Dobby and Winky be asked to act as Hermione’s bodyguards for as long as necessary. Both of them were to be ordered to attack Harry without warning if they even suspected he might not be quite himself.
Harry had already forbidden either of them from punishing themselves for anything they might have to do.
Harry had spent the New Year with Lupin and Hagrid. They had each been given strict instructions from Dumbledore not to discuss certain things with Harry. This could have been frustrating but once Harry had accepted the situation, be found talking through things with them to be very useful. Harry trusted both of them implicitly. This meant he could confide in them.
Hagrid, it was true, was uncomfortable about not telling Harry everything he knew. Lupin was much more adept at steering the conversations away as necessary.
Hagrid kept asking strange questions that Harry was sure were intended to give him hints or at least get him thinking along certain lines. This was usually accompanied by Lupin giving Hagrid a stern warning look.
In the end, Harry had asked a series of questions directly of Dumbledore. He chose to answer some but not others.
His most useful answer concerned the Apprentice Piece wand. Dumbledore confirmed it had nothing to do with breaking the Crucible. Dumbledore had considered his words very carefully when he answered though, and Harry was sure there was some kind of link, probably to do with after the Crucible is broken.
Harry stood on the entrance steps waiting. Hearing someone approach from behind, he turned to see Harbinger.
"Thank you for the letters," Harry said smiling. "I’ve only had a chance to read the first one so far. You were right, there were letters for me. They popped out when I started to read."
Harbinger smiled and nodded.
"She described you as a valued friend that she thought had the best chance to survive," Harry said.
"Harry, now that we’ve lost the tent, I’d like to suggest we step up your conventional defensive training. If you’re determined not to use the Unforgivable curses you’ll probably want to learn some others."
Harry smiled and nodded, "That might be a good idea. Did Professor Dumbledore tell you what happened?"
"Well, please don’t hesitate to stun me," said Harry. "Don’t take any chances."
Harry turned back to see the carriages approaching.
"Twenty points from Gryffindor, Potter," drawled Snape. "Our class starts in five minutes and if you’re late again it’ll be twenty more."
When Harry opened his eyes Snape had gone. Kneeling next to him on the grass was Hermione.
"Please, Dobby," she pleaded. "Harry will be fine. You did the right thing."
Harry sat up, still a little dazed.
"What happened?" he asked.
"Dobby thought you were acting a bit weird, so he stunned you."
"Thanks, Dobby," he said smiling weakly. "Hey, stop looking so miserable. I asked you to do this, didn’t I?"
The elf nodded sadly and said, "Dobby saw Harry Potter staring at Miss Hermione."
Harry got to his feet and found Ron looking at him.
"Er, Harry?" he said, "If Dobby stuns you every time you have a blank vacant look on your face, this is going to be a tough term for you."
Hermione laughed all the way to potions.
"Excuse me, Madam Pince," Harry said, "Have you seen Hermione? She said she would be here."
"Yes, she’s in the book store. Go through the Restricted Section and take the small door at the end."
"Er, thanks," said Harry, although he had no recollection of ever seeing a door there.
Harry walked through the restricted section to the very end of the shelves. Right in the corner was a narrow door. He turned the door handle and opened the door.
He found himself in a darkened room surrounded by bookshelves reaching high up to the ceiling. The ceiling had to be at least twice as high as the library he’d just come from.
He was about to shout but decided to close the door first for fear of upsetting Madam Pince.
"Hermione? Are you in here?" he shouted.
"Back here, Harry," she replied from somewhere.
As Harry’s eyes became accustomed to the dark, he could see the shelves stretch far into the distance. Ahead he saw a light move. It was Hermione holding up a lantern. He hurried towards her.
"I didn’t even know there was a book store," he said smiling when he eventually reached her.
"Neither did I!"
"Good job too," said Harry, "or we’d never get you out of here!"
She swatted his arm and walked back to the table she was working from.
"Where are Dobby and Winky?" he asked looking around.
"Dobby is working in the kitchens and Winky has gone to find me some more parchment."
"Hermione!" said Harry in an exasperated tone. "I’d better go then."
"Don’t be daft, Harry. Dobby might have stunned you a few times but nothing has actually happened yet, has it?"
Harry was torn between admitting that Dobby had actually stunned him several more times than Hermione had been aware of and actually agreeing with her.
He compromised by saying, "Yet."
"What?" asked Hermione, who was by then climbing an ancient looking ladder to get to some books on a very high shelf.
"Hermione, please be careful. I could have got those for you."
"I’m fine," she said just as the ladder gave a menacing creak. "Whoops."
The ladder came crashing down, breaking into several pieces.
"Er, Harry," he heard from high above. "A little help?"
Hermione appeared to be hanging on to the highest shelf.
Harry drew out his wand and said, "Wingardium Leviosa!"
Hermione floated gently down towards safety when they heard an unwelcome interruption.
"Oh dear, Potty, you’re out of bounds."
Harry ignored Malfoy and concentrated on getting Hermione safely down. She was still dangerously high up.
"I understand that the house elves have started a tradition of stunning you on sight, Potty," Malfoy drawled. "Well, I’m all for new traditions like that."
Just in time, Hermione reached the ground.
Harry turned to face Malfoy and immediately advanced on him. Even through the darkness Harry could see with some satisfaction the panic spread across Malfoy’s face.
Malfoy’s first stunner was easily blocked by Harry. He followed this by a poorly aimed reductor curse that flew over Harry’s head.
Harry turned at once to see the curse blast the shelves next to Hermione and then ricochet upwards hitting more shelves.
"No!" he shouted and ran back towards her as heavy shelving and books rained down on her. Harry dived into the falling debris and tried to shield her as much as possible. He dropped his wand in all the commotion.
Ignoring the searing pain in his chest and the heavy blows to his back and legs he yelled, "Hermione! Are you okay?"
She did not reply.
Harry desperately reached down through the splintered wood until he felt something. He grasped her hand. She was still warm. He desperately felt for a pulse.
He scrambled up, pushing the debris from his back and called for Malfoy to help. He was now nowhere to be seen.
Harry pulled away the broken bits of shelving until he uncovered Hermione. She was covered with dust and dirt but otherwise didn’t look hurt. It looked like a large self had jammed above her head protecting her from the worst of the debris. He gingerly shifted it out of the way.
She still hadn’t moved. Harry, as gently as possible, reached for her neck and tried again to feel for her pulse. His hands were shaking and he was badly cut.
She stirred at almost the same time as he actually felt a pulse. At that moment for the second time in as many weeks Harry felt himself collapse next to her. The pain in his chest reached a new peak.
"Harry?" she said weakly. "Why are you crying?"
"Me? I’m not crying," he said wiping away tears with the back of his hand. "Oh, maybe I was then. I just thought I’d lost you again for a moment. I’m just relived I’ve not lost you."
The sound of some more debris falling came from above and Harry lent in to shield her.
"Um, it’s just a suggestion, Harry," whispered Hermione, now very close, "but I’m kind of pinned in here and-"
"Oh, sorry," he started, "I’ll try and get you out."
"Harry, shut up and listen will you?" she said sounding rather annoyed. "Where have you gone?"
"I’m right here."
"You’re not where you were when I started to speak, are you?"
"This better?" he asked. Hermione hadn’t opened her eyes yet due to the amount of dust and dirt still falling.
"Yes," she whispered, "Now, I was about to say that I’m not about to run off anywhere."
"Is there something wrong with you legs?"
"No, Harry, I’m fine apart from all the stupid interruptions."
"Sorry, Hermione," he said lightly brushing dust from her face.
"Now then. I’d like you to tell me the truth."
"My Mum was right all along, you know? I kept saying you couldn’t be that thick, but she knew."
Harry couldn’t see clearly in the dark but he knew she was grinning.
"What was it she said about me?" he asked.
"No, Harry, you don’t get to ask that. Not until you’ve told me the truth."
"A hint would be helpful," he said.
Hermione sighed again.
"We should have done this a long time ago," she said. "I can usually tell what state your emotions are in just by looking at you. I may not know why you’re feeling a particular way, but I usually know what it is.
"Right now, I’ve got my eyes closed, so I can’t see your face. I can hear something in your voice, but you’re going to have to talk to me if I’m to know what you’re feeling."
Harry was close enough to feel the warmth from Hermione's face on his lips.
"I’m not that good at describing how I feel sometimes," he said at last.
"The most difficult thing for anyone to describe is what they are feeling," she said gently. "Of course you set new standards for bottling things up inside."
"Well, I do have a nice crucible to bottle things up in, you know?" he joked.
"Stop trying to change the subject," she said with half a laugh. "I’m still waiting."
"Can I at least try and clear come of this rubble?" he asked.
"Nope," she said, "I’m quite comfortable, thank you."
They were quiet for a long moment, Harry choosing his next words carefully.
"Well," he began. "First of all, Hermione, my thoughts and feelings have been rather confused lately. What I’m trying to say is I’ll try to tell you the truth but you’ll have to forgive me if I seem to wander off a bit."
"Okay, I’ll try not to interrupt."
"Thanks. When I looked around and saw what Malfoy’s spell had done, it started again except this time my scar hasn’t hurt at all. The pain in my chest was the worst it’s ever been when I was trying to find your pulse."
"The pain’s not the problem, Harry. Just try to ignore it for now. Tell me about how you feel."
"That’s an interruption, Hermione."
"Last year, when we went to the Department of Mysteries, my worst fear happened in front of my eyes. When it happened I just went to pieces for a while. It was Neville that kept his head and brought me back. I never faced up to what could have happened and it still scares me to think of it."
Harry paused for a moment.
"When," he said and blinked back tears. "When Voldemort almost got to you, it was almost the same thing. I just sat there as the others told me what happened with these terrible images running through my mind."
"And just now," he said, his voice breaking, "I was terrified I’d lost you again."
He lowered his head and their foreheads gently touched.
"Hermione, Professor Dumbledore told me last year that Voldemort couldn’t keep possessing me when he tried to goad him into killing me because of a power I possessed.
"He was talking about love. For most of my life that I can remember, I have never been loved nor have I loved anyone. I can’t honestly say that I even know what love is, let alone describe the feeling.
"But what I can say is, what I feel for you and my fear of losing you is like nothing I’ve ever felt before. Dumbledore said it was at the same time more terrible and more wonderful than anything."
He lifted his head slightly and whispered, "Hermione, I love you."
"Oh, Harry," she whispered and raised her head to kiss him.
Harry just about heard Hermione say, "Urgh, Harry, too much dust," when the spasm of pain caught him.
He clenched his sides and grimaced. He couldn’t breath.
Hermione, realising Harry was in trouble, released herself and jumped up. Harry had rolled backwards but was staggering on his feet. She pushed him backwards against the broken bookshelves.
"Harry, don’t fight it," she said, hurling her arms around his neck. Instinctively he grabbed her and held tight as if his life depended on it.
Suddenly he heard a loud crack and the pain was gone but he could see speckles of light in his eyes. They stood panting and holding on to each other.
"Did you hear a cracking noise, or did I imagine that?" he asked.
"I heard something too," she said.
"Excuse me, Miss Hermione," said a high pitched voice making Harry jump. "Professor Dumbledore asks if you would bring Harry Potter to his office at your earliest convenience."
"Thanks, Winky," Hermione said without stirring.
"Winky," asked Harry, "were you here the whole time?"
A somewhat dirt covered Harry and Hermione entered the Headmaster’s office, leaving a trail of dust that led all the way back to the library via Myrtle’s bathroom.
Myrtle had laughed herself silly at the state of them when they entered but Hermione insisted they clean themselves up a little at least. They only got as far as washing each other’s faces before Hermione felt they had delayed going to see the Headmaster for long enough. Harry would have been happier staying in the bathroom with Hermione, even if Myrtle was there cooing at them.
They were greeted by Dumbledore who chuckled at the state of them. He immediately took a pinch of Floo powder and soon they were joined by Nicholas Flamel.
After examining Harry closely, he declared the Crucible to be finally broken with no ill effects.
"But I don’t feel any different," Harry said. "I was afraid I’d just turn evil or something. Mind you, I do keep thinking of all the things I’d like to do to Malfoy."
"Harry, you thought those things before as well!" said Hermione laughing.
"It may take many years for the full effects to come to light," said Dumbledore kindly. "It was all in the dream, Harry. The figures in the bottle crouched together in fear of being released. The bottled elements will just be integrated into you. You will always dominate them."
"I suggest, Harry, you go along so Madam Pomfrey can check you over," said the Headmaster. "Hermione, did you find the book you wanted?"
"No, Professor," she answered, a little despondently.
"Well, perhaps Nicholas could help," he said smiling. "He is something of an expert on that particular area."
Harry trudged miserably to the Hospital Wing. Hermione had insisted that he go ahead while she quizzed Nicholas Flamel on whatever it was she wanted to look up.
As he turned a corner he was surprised to come face to face with Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle.
Malfoy’s smirk vanished as Harry raised his wand.
"Potter, what are you doing?" came a sharp voice from behind him.
Malfoy’s smirk immediately re-appeared.
"Professor, Potter was out of bounds in the library book store earlier, as you can see from the state of him. You have to be a Prefect to be allowed in there, Potter. He was also clearly about to attack us, Professor."
"Potter, I-" began Snape, but stopped as Harry reached into a pocket and took out a badge. He pinned it on his chest and turned to Snape.
Snape stared at him with his usual contempt but said nothing.
"Malfoy," said Harry in his best drawling imitation of Snape. "I was not out of bounds. You, however used a stunning spell and a reductor curse in the book store.
"Thanks to your lamentable aim you caused damage to several shelves and books. You almost caused serious injury to someone and worse you ran off instead of staying to render assistance.
"I think we’ll make that three detentions and you’ll help clean up the damage in the book store. Anything to add, Professor?"
Snape grimaced and Malfoy had a look of fury on his face.
Professor McGonagall stepped next to Snape and waited for his comment.
"Move along," he said between clenched teeth.
Dumbledore smiled seeing Hermione blush at Flamel’s question.
“Well,” she said, “It’s probably true that Harry doesn’t fully understand what happened yet. I know he worked out that the Crucible could have broken at Christmas. He doesn’t know that it was probably his mother’s messages that made the difference.
"I’ll tell him when he asks, but you’d better hope he never asks what your intended final trigger was supposed to be.”
“Will you ever tell him what was in Lily’s letter to you?” asked Flamel smiling.
“No, and I’m not telling you either,” and she smiled seeing both Flamel and Dumbledore chuckling at her.
“It was clever though,” she continued. “I wish she’d revealed how she did it, but she anticipated you might do something like the Crucible charm. The strange thing is, she could have no way of knowing about Voldemort's failed curse. She was thinking of something else entirely, although she wasn't very specific.
"It was her trigger that finally broke the charm, not yours.”
“Really?” asked Flamel sounding surprised. “But what about what happened in the library?”
“I told you before that you had been irresponsible. Luckily, Lily had a far more sensible approach. It seems she thought her son would grow up like his father, in emotional terms, at least.”
“When did you realise ours wouldn’t work?”
“I didn’t. My Mum did though, almost as soon as she read Harry’s profile,” said Hermione. “Waste of time that was,” she added scornfully.
They waited for her to explain further, but she didn’t.
“You both owe Perenelle an apology. Not for her recent actions, but for not listening to her originally. I’m also quite convinced she could have broken the charm by brute force. Although Harry would have quite a bit more to contend with, Voldemort wouldn't have needed to try and possess him again.”
“Yes, Hermione,” admitted Dumbledore sadly.
They were quiet for a few moments before Flamel asked, “So what did you want to know about the wand Harry made?”
END OF PART TWO
The remaining parts of the Apprentice Piece series:-
Summary of Part Three: The Dragon
Just after Christmas during his Sixth Year, Hermione sets about researching the origins of Harry’s Apprentice Piece. A Death Eater attack interrupts her telling of the story, but Harry intervenes and Ron gets a chance to earn his Prefect Badge back. Later, Voldemort attacks again during a Quidditch match. Although prepared for a Death Eater attack, the DA is helpless against Voldemort’s new pet. Harry knows this is a trap but rushes to the aid of Dumbledore, standing alone in the middle of the Quidditch pitch facing The Dragon.
Summary of Part Four: The Sword of Light
After the battle, the dragon named Kales returns to Harry and introduces him to a new way of travelling undetected. This leads to a shocking discovery that not even the attentions of First Aid Club members and Snape can distract him from. Battling his own conscience, Harry needs a weapon to fight Voldemort’s unseen agents from the shadows. After Harry is stabbed and poisoned, the DA battles to protect Dumbledore and Hermione. At the same time in another world Harry stands alone, fighting the creatures coming out of the darkness to attack his friends as they fight and fall.
Summary of Part Five: The Accord
Two unwelcome visitors arrive at the school and announce that a wizard will arrive shortly to challenge Flamel, the unwell and eldest member of a group of sorcerers that guard Hogwarts’ greatest secret. Can Hermione cope with any more House disunity, Crookshanks’ new look and Harry’s determination to fight the charismatic challenger himself?