Chapter 15 : Chapter 15: The Witches' Sabbath, Stirring Clockwise
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Chapter 15: The Witches' Sabbath
Part 1: Stirring the Cauldron Clockwise
Harry and Hermione entered the Infirmary behind Healer Pomfrey, he holding both hands to his still bleeding mouth and she looking everywhere around and even under the beds for any hidden danger. The events of the Quidditch match had made it clear that Harry's earlier suspicions were correct, but what could they do against a madwizard and his lackey, two fully grown men disguised as Hogwarts Professors?
Listening to Hermione whisper what she saw and her certainty that Quirrel and Snape had jinxed his broomstick made him forget about the pain on his chest, but he still couldn't speak well because of the damage done by the Snitch, which he'd spit out on the grassy ground, and his gums hurt terribly.
As soon as Harry was put on his back on a bed he tried to tell the adult witch about the attack and what Hermione had seen, but Healer Pomfrey shushed him after he accused the professors, indicating the portraits lining the walls with her eyes before finishing her examination and excusing herself to fetch the necessary healing potions and his missing incisors. It was Hermione who understood first and whispered "the walls have ears" in his own ear.
"Sho wha'? Maybe 'ey'll 'ell Fumblefore!" he hissed back, his speech impaired by the lack of front teeth.
"Headmaster Dumbledore would say he's disappointed at you again for accusing two of his professors of attacking you, Harry. I know your first impulse is to yell your outrage at the world, but please hear me first?"
Watching him nod hesitantly, she looked up at the portrait of Healer William the Warty, an old healer that worked in Hogwarts in the fourteen hundreds according to the bronze plaque underneath his frame. His efforts to rid the school body of warts earned him the name; that, and the fact his technique involved plucking the warts from the patient and pasting them on himself instead of vanishing them.
"I believe our headmaster is very much like my friend Mrs Morewitt, she's trusting in a way that few people are, and she has trouble following simple linear logic, because magic itself isn't logical. Yours and my adjustments to our first year lessons in every subject where wands are used prove that each of us has a unique way of doing magic, and although it does follow general guidelines, it can take different paths to create the same result. Do you understand what I've said so far?"
"I fink sho... Bu' wha'sh--"
"What's that got to do with you running to any adults, you ask?" Hermione asked, correctly interpreting his words. "Witches and wizards are used to dealing with what they see at any given time, knowing that whatever happened before could've been an infinite number of events. Point in fact is what Malfoy and his goons did to you, and Headmaster Dumbledore's disappointment of your fighting without bothering to find out what happened before he arrived in the Concert Room. I'd say all wizards expect honourable behaviour from each other because of all this uncertainty, and when it doesn't happen, they can't really understand it, since they couldn't logically conclude that you were the victim unless they witnessed it themselves."
Hermione paused and bit her lower lip for a few seconds, saying "I also believe that's the reason Voldemort gathered so much power. Magical folk won't believe another has evil intentions until someone of authority labels him or her as a Dark Lord or Lady for using the Dark Arts."
"Bollosh!" he said and hit a side table hard with his closed fist, probably breaking his little finger.
"Harry, c'mon, you're better than this," she growled and took his hand in hers, soothing it and looking around for Madame Pomfrey who had left to find Harry's missing teeth but hadn't come back yet. "We need magically sound proof of your jinxed broom before talking to Professor McGonagall, and only afterwards should you go to the headmaster."
"Sowy... Ouch, it hufts!"
"Of course it hurts, it's a rather solid table you took your frustration on!" she said with a frown. They remained silent until hurried footsteps indicated someone coming in.
"Mr Potter, you have rather fine teeth," Madame Pomfrey said as she entered her realm, the Hogwarts Infirmary. "I'll reattach them after mending your ribs, and what pray tell happened to your right hand? Dear Merlin, this child can't be left alone for a single minute!"
"It was that very bad table's fault, Madame Pomfrey, it must've mocked Harry's toothless smile," explained Hermione with a smirk. She didn't let go or stop caressing his injured hand, though.
The healer paused and looked quizzically at them for a couple of seconds before shaking her head and approached Harry on the same bed he has been laid on since arriving at Hogwarts.
Hermione sat next to him on the bed while Madame Pomfrey reattached Harry's front teeth. The healer was doing a better job than Hermione's parents would have, setting the teeth straight and closing the gap he had between them before.
"Maybe I should have mine removed and reattached," she mused out loud, touching her own large set of incisors with an index finger.
"I am not a Face and Feet Specialist, Ms Granger, but I could refer you to a good friend of mine in Diagon Alley, if you wish?"
Suddenly feeling shy and looking out of the corner of her eyes at her friend, Hermione nodded and smiled. "Why am I feeling so self-conscious all of the sudden?" she wondered. Was it because of the insults Malfoy had thrown at her? Or was it something else, some ridiculously vain womanly desire to look prettier?
Beyond those questions, what do faces and feet have anything to do with each other? "Face and feet healers, Madame Pomfrey?" she just had to ask.
"Quite right, both parts of the body need very special care, wouldn't you agree?"
Reluctantly, Hermione nodded affirmatively and chalked it to yet another oddity of the Magical World. She turned her attention back to Harry, looking pointedly at his forehead. The Siegel rune was clearly etched, bringing him the powers of victory and greatness, as she had discovered in her Ancient Runes textbook and while researching for magical myths in the extensive Hogwarts Library.
"The question is, whose victory does that rune-shaped scar empower? Harry's, or Voldemort's own?" thought Hermione while the healer patched her friend up. Harry's was a magically active scar, certainly much more active than her own scarring from the accident that killed her parents. That thought reminded her that she had still to follow up on item twenty-one, "find out whether there was a wizard/witch in my building or not", a to-do entry she had added the day Madame Pomfrey had told her categorically that her body was marked as the result of magical energy. Hermione was now convinced it had been someone doing magic out of fear, trying to save him or herself, but it still didn't excuse whomever it was from not doing enough to save others.
"Hold still Mr Potter, I'm trying to help you here," admonished Madame Pomfrey, who had a curious look on her face while waving her wand all over him, and her QuickChart Quill kept scribbling furiously on a floating parchment to her right.
"Look, Hermione! I can talk good again!"
Swallowing the need to correct his poor use of the Queen's English, Hermione smiled and he returned a grin of his own. "Oh dear," she thought, "I guess Berny was right, I am going to bring a wizard to her home after all." She wondered if Neville would enjoy spending a week or so in a Muggle environment; she would even invite Ron, though she was sure he wouldn't enjoy himself much since always put her magical versus Muggle comments down, despite his father's work in the Ministry. Lavender on the other hand would most surely love to.
"Harry? I'm inviting some first year Gryffindors to spend a week during Summer holidays at my Uncle Charles' home. Do you believe you could ask those people you live with to drop you in London proper by then?"
The black-haired boy looked like he had just been offered a free cauldronful of Swiss chocolate, an expression of happiness in his face that drew a smile from the stern healer in turn. "I'd love to! But isn't it a bit early though?"
"I like to plan ahead," Hermione said with a casual shrug.
Madame Pomfrey sighed and pocketed her wand, looking at her other patients of the day sleeping on their beds. "Miss Granger, I need you to wait by my office for a minute."
Harry was suddenly suspicious. The healer had only been kind and attentive towards him since the beginning of the year, but so had Mr Harper and he was a lying thief who just wanted to use him to cover up his wrongdoing. "What if Madame Pomfrey is working with Voldemort and Quirrell, and now wants to finish the job and kill me?" he panicked and spoke aloud.
"Don't! I mean... I mean, is it alright if she stays, ma'am?" Harry asked.
"I'm afraid she can't. You may owl your family to let them know I wish to speak with them concerning your health, however. I'm sure they would like to know you're well and would approve of Hermione being privy to healing information if you explain it well?"
Both kids snorted and Madame Pomfrey frowned, expecting an explanation to such behaviour. It was Harry who spoke first, "The people I've lived with until coming to Hogwarts couldn't care less about my health... They'd miss their free gardener, dishwasher, mail sorter, cook and general caretaker if I died, though!"
The healer couldn't believe her ears when young Potter confessed to such disregard from his family so casually, going so far as to laugh about it with the Granger child! Or was he simply exaggerating, like all children are prone to do? "Mister Potter, has your family been mistreating you? Merlin, I forgot about you Ms Granger, please go wait in the corridor."
"I said no!" Harry yelled, switching from a good mood into outright anger. "Hermione means more to me than aunt Dorothea and her fat husband and son. Hermione stays here!"
Seeing that Hermione was sitting back on his right, Harry felt his heart rate slowing down, and took comfort from her hand in his. He looked up at Madame Pomfrey and her face was alternating between curiosity to hurt and then disapproval, all expressions he'd been keen to understand in order to survive primary school and life with his relatives.
"Tut, tut... Very well, this is most unheard of, but I will accommodate your plea, Mr Potter. As you surely remember, I examined you after your mishap in your first Potions lesson. What you don't know is that the results were... Unexpected to say the least." Madame Pomfrey sighed, knowing her patient had the right to know this but Headmaster Dumbledore had insisted in keeping it a secret.
If young Potter hadn't come into the Infirmary with broken hands right before his Quidditch match, she wouldn't have kept a watchful eye on him at all. She had been one of the first people to see him fighting against what she believed to have been a malfunctioning broomstick, but her expert healer's eye for hexes, jinxes and curses had allowed her to recognize the faint echo of a real jinx.
Realizing they had told the truth and the child's life was endangered in Hogwarts had thrown her mind off the comfortable pink nimbus it had been living in, and if they were right about the jinxing, could young Potter be right on his accusation as well? "Impossible," she thought, "I don't know Quirinus very well, but Severus can be many things unpleasant, yet never a murderer. Not after... After his rumoured bad experience at the hands of Death Eaters."
In any event, she was going to help him and be honest with him, even if she had no idea how to convince Albus that someone had tried to kill a student, of all things! Helping would start by performing her duty as a healer, properly informing the child as she should have done in the first place.
"There's a concentrated aura of somewhat unsettling magic on your forehead, almost sentient in nature but very, very weak. The problem is that it has increased in power since then," she told her small patient.
"Really? Well, that explains it," Hermione stated, looking sideways at her friend.
"Sentient means something alive, doesn't it?" asked Harry, at which his friend nodded in confirmation. "Huh, now it makes sense. Thank you ma'am!"
Whatever Poppy Pomfrey had anticipated as the children's reaction, it wasn't this. Screams and fear, yes, but smiles and relaxed faces as if they had just solved life's greatest puzzle were as unexpected as the diagnostic of Potter's cursed scar. All she could reply was a feeble "I'm sorry?"
"Ma'am, I don't care if you don't believe me... Us, I mean, but Dum-- Headmaster Dumbledore though I was possessed by Voldemort before his phoenix kidnapped me, and tried to split me from my friends as well as testing me to see if I was evil or not."
Madame Pomfrey flinched at You-Know-Who's hated name, and then looked back and forth between these first years' faces. They looked young enough, but had a presence of mind she had only seen in children who were forced to grow up before their time, those faced with harsh experienced earlier in life.
"And just today, our headmaster said he was disappointed at Harry for fighting against three bullies! The truth of the matter was that my friend had been the victim, and yet we had no proof and the professors arrived in the middle of a scuffle," Hermione commented. "Which is reason enough to suspect he's still fixated on the idea of possession, or perhaps some damage from Voldemort's curse."
Flinching again, the healer had to praise their courage at speaking You-Know-Who's name, unable to put herself in their perspective as Muggle-raised people, who still ignored the true power of words. She jumped a few inches on air when an elderly voice greeted her formally.
"Chief Healer Pomfrey, how fares our Gryffindor Seeker?" asked Headmaster Dumbledore as he strolled into the Infirmary. "Young as you are, Harry, pulling such acrobatic broomstick moves is quite dangerous."
Harry looked at Hermione, "should I tell him?" clearly expressed on his face. She replied with an "it's up to you" face of her own, followed by a nose-wrinkle, which he interpreted as a "maybe not, after all" and he couldn't agree more. She had chewed his head off after meeting Fluffy about always searching help from a professor, but the fact she was wary of an adult who happened to be the highest authority in the castle was an indication of how suspicious the headmaster was to her.
"I understand, sir."
"Glad to hear you say it, my boy. Poppy, why did you worry young Harry with such devastating news of his... His condition? I believe we had an agreement that the boy should be spared of the worry?" the older wizard asked, his voice only partially gentle.
"Why shouldn't I be told? I understand it's a leftover from Voldemort trying to kill me," Harry said, too distressed to be polite. "Besides, I believe in honesty 'cause I've been made a fool all my life and lied to one too many times; I'd like to believe I've got enough courage to do what's right, but I can't do that if people hide stuff from me. They made me hate my mum and dad, did you know that Mr Dumbledore? They lied to me and... And made me hate them-- And then this teacher, he... He used me for money..."
Harry went silent and sagged a little, but then turned to Hermione and squeezed her hand in his. "Another thing is that I've experienced what a true friend is, and I'd like to believe Madame Pomfrey can be more than a doctor-- I mean healer to me, a friend that can trust me to understand if she's got bad news, and then tell me what to do about it!"
His little speech seemed to shake the white-bearded wizard, whose eyes successively widened in surprise, crinkled in a wince and then hardened as if outraged as it went on. Headmaster Dumbledore then looked at him from behind half-moon spectacles and a twinkle in his eyes, while Hermione was amazed that her friend had been able to pull all that out of his chest without yelling and hitting the walls, and not a little proud as well, though her first instinct was to tell him off for speaking back to the headmaster so disrespectfully.
As Harry looked up at the old wizard, he began to feel an uncomfortable pressure and averted his eyes with a gasp. He had already felt that before, at the time Snape had been looking down at him. "Wicked! I'd like to learn how to do that, sir!"
"Do what, my boy?"
"Pull other people's thoughts, of course. Professor Snape does the same thing," said Harry casually.
"Albus! Are you attempting Legillimency on young Mr Potter?" quipped Madame Pomfrey, who took a step forward.
With a sigh, Dumbledore conjured a flashy chair upholstered to match his quadracoloured red, green, yellow and blue striped robes and golden pointy hat, sitting on it. "Yes I am, Poppy. It is a Headmaster's prerogative to use the passive aspects of the Art in order to aid in conflict resolution or in the course of a school-related investigation. My boy, I must apologize on behalf of Hogwarts, I saw the memory of your battle against a faulty..."
"Jinxed," Harry interrupted but the headmaster simply continued talking.
"...broomstick. However, and it pains me to disclose this, the Board of Governors is quite stubborn when it comes to upgrading our leisure equipment, which is at the moment almost a century old."
"Well that's just rich," thought Hermione. "The headmaster can see inside our minds and he still believed Harry was somehow evil!" She decided to voice a question then, "Why didn't you apply the same technique earlier today, sir?" Hermione asked.
Headmaster Dumbledore sagged a little on the chair next to Harry's bed. "Alas, I did. You are a very observant girl, Ms Granger, and capable of discussing matters in a way a child your age wouldn't easily accomplish, I must say. Peter, your Ancient Runes professor, said so as well, highly amused at your verbal sparring after class."
Hermione shrugged and looked down at her lap embarrassed for a second, before insisting on a reply from the old wizard who had cleverly avoided answering. "Headmaster, then you must've seen the memory of those boys hurting Harry!"
"Mr Potter's mind was, to put it simply, drowning in anger at the time. The Mind Arts are as wonderful as they are dangerous, and passive Legillimency cannot break through such clouding emotions," he explained.
"Why didn't you try it on me then, sir?"
"Because, my dear girl, all I saw was a group of young boys. And one girl," he added after the look in Hermione's face, "resorting to violence to settle their differences instead of being civil. There was no need to see anything further, for you were all at fault. Levelling a wand at a fellow student is considered a serious offence with serious punishment under Magical Law at large, well beyond the point deduction and detention Professor Snape has seen fit to punish you with in accordance to school regulations."
Harry frowned at the veiled threat from the headmaster. If there was a subject he was well versed in, it was threats. Uncle Vernon was a master in the use of direct and subtle threats as a motivation for him to do his chores or simply to become invisible inside his house, the opposite of Hermione who would use explanations and reasons to ask him to do things, and even then only if he wanted to.
He smiled a bit at recalling her way of handling him. Snape had accused his friend of being a Potterette on their first day of school, but he actually found it warming to be able to call Hermione his Potterette, despite the way the Potions Professor made it seem like a bad thing. She would help him find proof and show Headmaster Dumbledore that Voldemort was back, and trying to kill him inside the school.
Anyway, Harry had more urgent questions, "But you singled me out, sir. Why?"
"Alas, perhaps it was wrong of me to feel the need to be... Well, to care about your conduct too deeply, to put it simply. Your parents were well-loved students in this school, and yes, perhaps I've overstepped the boundaries between headmaster and pupil," the aged wizard said with growing worry.
Scratching the back of his neck with his free hand, Harry blurted "You saw that I was angry, but what about the Lords of the Playground and Malfoy?"
"As I told your dear friend, there was no need to spend time sifting through their surface memories and emotions as the situation was bad enough. The Mind Arts do require much concentration, which perhaps precludes many from learning them properly, if at all," the headmaster told them in a discouraging tone of voice, before pausing and making his beard twitch from the smile underneath. "Lords of the Playground, Mr Potter?"
Harry took on a faraway expression for a moment before turning to the adult he didn't trust. "It's a personal story, Headmaster Dumbledore."
"I see... Well, time wastes away and you should go celebrate today's victory after Poppy releases you in good health," the headmaster said and stood up, the gaily coloured chair disappearing without a sound. He looked down at the two friends sitting side by side on the infirmary bed and sighed when they avoided his eyes. "As is my duty to inform you my boy, you have the right to lodge a complaint in writing to the Board of Directors of Hogwarts regarding the faulty..."
"Jinxed!" Harry insisted again.
"...broomstick and your accident on the pitch. If you wish, your Head of House shall help you address it properly," Dumbledore added, hoping to steer the oddly rebellious Harry towards trusting someone he trusted himself. And why was the boy insisting on calling the broom jinxed? It was clearly a problem with the charms wearing off, as was wont to happen in equipment that is almost a hundred years old. A first year student would never be able to tell the difference, even if one was to consider the possibility.
"Headmaster Dumbledore?" asked Hermione, who was wearing an expression Harry had already discovered was always on her face when she had a solution to a problem in class. "You said the Board is always tight on the budget for sports implements?"
"Tight on the budget, young girl? I'm afraid your words confuse me," the headmaster said.
"Oh... What I mean to ask is whether they release few funds for Quidditch equipment because the Board favours other areas of learning in Hogwarts?" Hermione asked, phrasing her question differently.
"Just how old is this child?" Dumbledore wondered inside his mind, worried that even now she was avoiding his gaze, as was Harry. Aloud, he nodded and said "You are correct, Ms Granger."
"I might have a solution then."
Harry perked up at that and looked at his friend, silently asking her what she was talking about. But then he remembered who she was in the Muggle world, put two and two together, and his eyebrows rose up. "You're gonna ask the Foundation to help?"
Shaking her head up and down, Hermione smiled and left it at that, failing to notice the intrigued look in their headmaster's face, which turned into amusement as she looked for a small notebook and a quill from inside her silk pouch, as well as a book on Quidditch and a perused broomstick catalogue from last year, pulling more unexpected items out of the way like a capped jar of wet water beetles she must have collected from the lake, and strangely enough, a very rare Egyptian Astronomical Obelisk that looked to be in pristine condition.
"A girl chosen by the Raven and a boy who looks attuned to Magicks of Old. We shall live in interesting times indeed," mused the old headmaster. But why was Harry so distrustful? Fawkes had taken a risk and proven young Harry was in complete control of himself, with a pure soul untainted by evil. But from the clearly horrible household Dumbledore had condemned the child to live in as the lesser of two evils, he should have been a grateful, humble child who would embrace any small act of kindness spared to him and accept any hardships thrown in his path; someone in awe of the Magical World, who could be easily led by the hand to fulfil his sorrowful fate.
Instead, Headmaster Dumbledore was faced with a true Potter Evans child, an apparently smart boy yet too easily angered for his own good, but also valiant and observant, friend to his friends and quick to act against perceived wrongs. He was quite a little mischievous too, as was evidenced by his missadventures so far. "And we're still at the beginning of term!" thought Dumbledore with a real smile, eagerly looking forward to the next years of Harry Potter's life, however short it may be.
Headmaster Dumbledore was also aware of Harry and Hermione's daily rendezvous on top of the Gryffindor Tower, ever since a bronze gargoyle from the eastern walls had gossiped about it to the stone dragon that lined the rooftop of the Great Hall, who in turn told the statues flanking the Headmaster's Office windows about "a couple of ickle firsties worshipping the morning sun together". It was heart-warming to see their friendship blossom, if only Harry was a regular pupil in the Hogwarts student body. But he wasn't a normal child, he was a boy marked by Darkness and the only means to put an end to the embodiment of Evil that is Lord Voldemort.
He wished he could find a solution, distil the ultimate magic and free the boy from his task, for it had brought nothing but pain and suffering to him. "Alas, his path is set and once Evil returns, Harry will face it and, properly guided, defeat it once and for all."
The centenarian wizard turned to Madame Pomfrey. "Poppy, have you perchance brought the Snitch your patient caught so spectacularly up here with him?"
"No Albus, it must have been left on the pitch. Perhaps Rolanda has it?"
"Perhaps she does," Dumbledore replied and noticed he had Harry's attention on him while his friend scratched away on parchment. "Alas, I failed to see it on the pitch and called it with the Accio charm, a useful spell Professor Flitwick shall teach you in a few years," he said looking at young Potter, "but it also failed. So, I considered summoning it to me. Unfortunately, not knowing where it is exactly, I would have summoned every single Snitch in Britain," the old wizard said with a chuckle.
The image of the Headmaster of Hogwarts dodging thousands of summoned Snitches made Harry laugh and Hermione snort. She reddened at her lack of respect and apologized to their headmaster, who waved it off with a laissez faire attitude and amused, twinkling blue eyes.
Lost in thought, Dumbledore finally said goodbye and strolled out of the Hogwarts Infirmary reassessing his view on Harry Potter once again, barely acknowledging the pair of young Gryffindor girls walking towards the double doors he had just exited.
Inside the large room Healer Pomfrey continued to evade Harry's questioning eyes, busying herself with her shelves loaded with potions and salves, undoing and redoing a few beds twice with her wand, or simply fussing over the only other two patients, who were actually fast asleep and in no need of assistance. Hermione was also busy writing what looked like a six-feet essay on the virtues of Quidditch broomsticks, and he actually felt sorry for whoever was going to read her detailed request for a donation.
He had been left steaming about Headmaster Dumbledore's refusal to believe the broom was jinxed and the fact Madame Pomfrey probably knew the broom had been jinxed but wouldn't speak about it in front of the stupid living portraits, nor say a word to the headmaster either.
Humming softly to himself, he tried to remember everything he felt when the flying broom began to act weird, trying to find out how it felt in order to keep an eye out for jinxes and hexes, just like he and Hermione had started doing with their wand magic. His friend would use some fancy words like ex-oh-corporal-something-or-other, but to him it was just "feeling" the magic coming out of his wand.
"Huh, I wonder if I could just ask Quirrell about curses and stuff in class," he thought, imagining the bumbling professor sweating and stuttering even more when he raised his hand and asked how to counter a jinxed broom next D.A.D.A. class. Suddenly Harry a memory of a scared-looking professor being hissed at by Snape came to his mind; Snape seemed to have been injured and had actually told Quirrell to shut up because he named the spell they had used! "They've been together in this since the beginning of the year! That's how Snape got hurt," he concluded out loud.
"But did Professor Snape harm himself trying to hurt you?" Hermione asked in a whisper, once more following his train of thought. "You saw the entry that describes Fiendfyre as an all-burning fire, nigh impossible to control. I'd say such horrible fire would've been quite noticeable anywhere near you or I," she added, reasoning with him.
"Yeah, that's true... Oh, what if they were setting up a trap or something?"
"Possible, but not likely. There are hundreds of kids running up and down the halls all day long, how could they target you specifically?"
"I dunno... Hermione, what if they met Fluffy by chance, then, just like us, and that's why they used that fire-thing and it got out of hand? I mean, if it wasn't to get to me, it sure as hell was to get to whatever Fluffy has been guarding!"
Hermione gasped and clutched a hand to her chest. "You don't think Fluffy's been hurt, do you Harry? Oh, no, maybe he's been-- I-I just can't say it... We must visit with Hagrid today and find out!"
Silently nodding, Harry finally discovered what it was that had been bothering him for the past fifteen minutes. His teeth were all in the wrong positions, or rather they were now corrected, but felt "weird and out of place" as he termed it. A cough brought him out of reacquainting himself with his teeth and he saw Parvati Patil and Lavender Brown standing just a few feet from him.
"Harry?" Lavender called, "I, er... I was climbing down the stands and this... This Snitch was on the ground? I think someone was charming it a while back but I had it in my hands, and... Well, it's got your blood on it. Even I'm aware that you can't be too careful about one's blood."
Hermione and Harry tilted their heads comically together to the left, but Lavender resisted the urge to laugh and tried to explain, extending her hand and presenting the Quidditch Snitch. "Like my mother says, our magical prowess demands respect. In other words, magic can bite you back in the arse!"
"Lavender! How crude," Hermione complained half-heartedly because she was beginning to grow tired of complaining. Truth was, she never knew people cursed so much without meaning an insult in everyday conversation, never being too close to kids her own age except perhaps Bernadette, her cousin, who didn't curse but did call her nasty names at times.
"All right, thanks. But what can you do with someone's blood?" Harry asked, silently giving a nod to let Hermione know it was alright for her to pick the Snitch from Lavender's hand.
"If you aren't into the whole Dark Magic thing, tracking spells and personalized enchantments like what my mum did with me when I was a baby; so I wouldn't wander too far away, you see. And then there's the beautiful charmed necklace that daddy gave me when I was five, it's got all these Ever-Sparkling charms on the rubies, it's so beautiful! And if I ever lost it, all I do is snap my fingers and it comes back as if it were summoned," Lavender said and continued without so much as taking a breath.
"Oooh, and then there's the entire range of Sensing-Your-Senses kind of enchantments, kind of similar and likely like the Situation Clocks? Well, never you mind," she said at the blank look in Hermione and Harry's faces, "the idea is that you get to know what the person you're tracking is feeling at that moment... Yay! You could also add a blood-based charm to your familiar! I so want a pink bunny, you see? Anyhow, this little charm would make it so that my cutest pink bunny of them all wouldn't bite me or run away..."
Harry stared at his fellow Gryffindor with a mixture of awe and annoyance as she continued to babble on and on about blood enchantments and occasionally talking about the things she has or wants to have. It was so similar to the way Dudley would ramble on about the latest toys and things he wanted, that Harry felt like shutting her up with a shout, but at the same it was amazing that she had actually come to the Infirmary to help him, and that she really seemed to want to talk to him.
"Why did Harry's simple question get her so wound up?" Hermione whispered to Parvati.
The Asian girl smirked and replied slowly, as if talking to a little child. "Because he's Harry Potter, silly. Who wouldn't sell a finger to the nearest hag just to have him speak with you?" she added rhetorically. "Ah, but what am I saying, you managed to meet him on board the Express and anger him five minutes later, then befriend The-Boy-Who-Lived only to anger him again, and then be the one to join him in who knows what sort of adventures night after night! And your fingers are all intact, for Shiva's mercy!"
Hermione looked towards her dearest, and perhaps only male friend and spoke softly, yet loud enough for her words to reach Parvati's ears, "I don't care for Harry The-Boy-Who-Lived Potter; I care for the boy behind the glass, the pale and thin boy who shared something so personal to him with me, who looked at me and said I'm just like you without moving his lips."
With a sigh, Hermione turned back to the Patil twin. "You know, Lavender is about the get herself hexed if she doesn't shut up about her charmed tea set and how cute her animated dolls can be."
"Laaavie! Mum is here!" bellowed Parvati with a high-pitched voice, making Lavender yelp and jump a foot on the air while looking around the infirmary like a frightened puppy.
"Merlin's moth-eaten robes, Parv! I've told you never to imitate my mum like that!" she said with a hand over her heart. "She's bad enough as it is, thank you very much. Coming to school was a real relief, you see, mums can be so annoying!"
"Well, I wouldn't know, would I?" Hermione replied scathingly. "Nor would Harry for that matter... You'll see why at my uncle's home; I mean if you are there... I mean to say, I've invited you of course, with me, us, I mean. Blast it all! I'm terrible at this..."
Lavender, Parvati and even Harry kept looking at her, trying to understand what she had tried to say as she spun her arms around, one hand splayed open and the other holding a bloodied Snitch. "You've probably already noticed I'm somewhat ineffective when it comes to socializing," she paused for the expected snorts and taunts, yet they never came from either of the first-year girls. "Anyway, given your liking for all things Muggle as well as your friendship to Parvati, I would like to invite you two to my family's home sometime during the Summer Holidays."
"Certainly! I'd love to, and I hope Parvati's parents agree to drive us there. They have the right to use a car, you see?" Lavender whispered the last part with something akin to lust in her eyes. "A moving Muggle chariot! Only high-ranking Ministry personnel have access to those!"
Harry and Hermione looked at each other and tried to hold their snickers at Lavender's obvious joy just from thinking about riding on a motorcar, something that was so mundane for them both. Although Harry wasn't always thrilled to ride in uncle's vehicle because, well, his uncle is usually there squashing the driver's seat and complaining about foreign cars and their bad engineering because he doesn't fit properly inside.
"Hermione, isn't it somewhat early in the year to be inviting for next Greeshma-- Hmmm, Summer that is, of all seasons?" asked Parvati.
"Well, I-- Don't you dare laugh, Harry!" Hermione said and crossed her arms over her chest with a huff before adding a lame "I merely like to plan ahead..."
Harry still laughed at the upset look on her face, knowing she wouldn't hold it against him, and then told the girls he had said the same thing earlier. Both Parvati and Lavender seemed to preen at his freely given attention, and then began to whisper and giggle to each other, making him very uncomfortable and not knowing what to do next. Harry decided to search for Madame Pomfrey instead and hopped off the bed, leaving the impossible-to-understand pair of giggling girls to themselves.
Thinking that "to do what's right" also applied to his own troubles, Harry walked into the Chief Healer's open door and took in the brightly lit office. A simple wooden workbench served as both desk and preparation table, while the entire opposite wall was covered in bookshelves filled with books and loose scrolls of parchment of all sizes and colours. Next to the door he had just crossed, a series of cabinets held phials and jars with the aid of freezing charms, judging by the icicles inside, and Madame Pomfrey busied herself by crouching down and trying to reach for something deep into the lowest shelf.
"Do you need some help, ma'am?"
"Ahhh! Mr Potter, you truly shouldn't startle older witches like that!" she said after knocking a few flasks and something that tried to hop away on its own to the ground.
"Sorry," he said, really embarrassed for making her break the potions or whatever those were. Then his eyes narrowed and he kept looking at the only framed picture of the room. "Your portrait is empty right now. Why didn't you tell Headmaster Dumbledore what happened if you believed me?"
The older witch seemed to be lost for a second, as if struggling to understand what he was talking about, and Harry realized she wasn't faking it as she had been pretending to be busy a few minutes earlier. Why was she having trouble remembering he told her two professors had tried to kill him?
"I'm sorry, Mr Potter. It was as if... Oh dear!" the healer exclaimed and darted towards her workbench to pick a quill and scribble a series of words in some language Harry didn't know. "What do you remember, child? Tell me now!"
Doing as she asked, he recounted his last minutes of Quidditch playing, from the moment his broomstick began to shudder and buckle to Hermione's whispered words on the pitch stating he wasn't safe in the school. Madame Pomfrey kept nodding and glancing at the still empty frame on the wall, occasionally tutting and writing more than what he had told her; at least that was what it looked like.
"What's going on, Madame Pomfrey? Are you feeling alright?"
"I will be now... Whatever caused the clouding of my memory must have affected an entire wing of the castle, and only a powerful witch or wizard could do so. Or a group of people involved in a ritual, but that would be too noticeable. How is it you remember it still, Harry?"
"Er... Don't really know, ma'am. I guess being thrown out of my broom from a hundred feet high isn't something I'll ever forget," he replied with a shrug.
The healer looked down at him with calculating eyes for a moment, and then made a decision. "Harry, could I trouble you for a willingly given cut of your flesh?"
"Excuse me?!" Harry had just received an interesting lecture on blood-magic, if annoyingly laced with lots of inane commentaries, but interesting anyway, and now the Hogwarts Chief Healer wanted a whole piece of him?
"Mr Potter-- Harry, were you sincere about what you told Albus, that it would please you to be... To forge a friendship beyond this mutual professional relationship of ours?"
"Yeeeah... Why d'you ask?" he drawled suspiciously, before adding a quick "ma'am" at the end, trying to be polite.
* * * * * * *
Outside the office, a couple of minutes before Harry waited for an answer from the older witch with a raised eyebrow, a brown-haired young witch had been using the tip of her tongue to moisten her lips while eyeing the winged golden ball on her hands, with deep concentration and not a little curiosity. Truth was, she was actually curious about the red liquid covering the Snitch instead of the sporting item itself.
Hermione had developed a sudden urge to taste the still fresh coat of blood from it, probably kept that way as an unexpected result from the ever-clean charms on it. Whatever the case, she knew she was quirky about her food, and about the organization of her bathroom kit, and about a hundred little things normal people wouldn't pay attention to, so perhaps tasting her most significant friend's haemoglobin would simply fall into that big box of quirks she carried around.
Her natural curiosity had been aroused anyway, and Hermione hoped Harry wouldn't mind. She looked up to the healer's office when a loud sound of broken glass came from inside, wondered what had Harry done this time, but quickly returned to the blood at hand. Shrugging, she opened her mouth wide and slowly licked the Snitch.
"Hermione, that's truly disgusting!" Parvati commented, breaking her whispered gossip session and scrunching her face as Lavender said "Eeeew!" and pretended to gag.
She had already ran her tongue over the bloodied Snitch and shivered while her eyes glazed over for a moment. "That was... That was quite disappointing, actually," she thought to herself, smacking her lips to focus on the metallic taste. Taste was all there was to it; no magical burst, no sudden intimate knowledge of Harry's mind, nothing but the odd, scintillating lights on the edge of her vision. "Well, that certainly is something," she mumbled and then the lights began to swirl around her faster and faster, making her sway on her feet.
"P-Parvati? I may have done something really foolish..." she managed to croak out before falling on her back on top of the bed, unconscious.
* * * * * * *
Back inside Madame Pomfrey's office, Harry snapped his head back as he heard someone yelling for help. He rushed outside to find his friend passed out on a bed, her things all over the floor, Lavender standing on top of a stool because Blacksnout had been slithering into the infirmary, while Parvati tried some spell on Hermione.
"Stop!" he yelled and flung a couple of flasks from the nearest table at the Indian girl, without ever touching them, before reaching for his friend and pushing the bed she lay on away, with enough force to move an entire row of them against the farthest wall. Luckily the other patients had been placed on the wall farthest from the windows.
Awed by the display of accidental magic that left half a dozen bed frames completely destroyed and anther half dozen piled up against the wall, Madame Pomfrey turned her attention to Parvati. The Gryffindor was crouched on the floor looking between the shattered glass behind her and Harry Potter's angry face staring at her from the other side of the room, saying she was only trying to Ennervate his friend.
"Please tell him what the spell does, Madame Pomfrey! I haven't harmed Hermione!"
"Mr Potter, she speaks the truth. The Reviving Spell does exactly as it says, it wakes someone from unconsciousness."
"Fine!" Harry yelled back, shaking Hermione with one hand. "But it ain't working!"
Having lost so many house points in the beginning of term had done nothing to decrease Harry's notoriety, and those who thought of him as a spoiled boy used that as an excuse to slight him, at least until the most vocal about it began to notice an increase of the Weasley Twins' pranks on them. On the other hand, because of how famous he is to Magical Britain and perhaps the world at large, the rest of his fellow classmates expected him to be many things Harry firmly believed he wasn't ever going to be.
Powerful enough to defeat the Dark Wizard not even Dumbledore could stop was Harry's primary objection, for he wasn't even sure how that happened, or if that ever really did happen, despite the headmaster's written testimony found on the W.E.A.K. book Hermione had.
Whatever his self-doubt, after a display of magic no eleven-year-old should be capable of, the legend of The-Boy-Who-Lived as told by Lavender Brown, gossip monger and avid cuteness-seeker, would escalate to new heights after today. "Hermione was fine until she licked some of Harry's blood, ma'am. Now could you please get this thing away from me?" she explained and pleaded, pointing at the coiled snake just below the stool she stood on, swinging its head back and forth while hissing.
"The frightened yellow-haired youngling did nothing to my abaeteh, amigo. After missstresss fell asssleep, the dark-haired one waved a branch at her, but didn't touch her."
Harry listened to the boa's description of what happened, not wanting to correct Blacksnout and tell him that one didn't need to actually touch another with a wand in order to harm him or her.
"Did I ever tell you how a big, fat and deliciousssly scared human once came to clean my neighbor's nest? He's an Aussie snake, ill-tempered that one... It wasss just an ordinary day, asss usual I wasss bored out of my mind when all of the sssudden..."
Tuning out the snake's tale, Harry continued to shake his friend awake, to no avail. "Madame Pomfrey? Please help her!"
"Hold your hippogriffs, young man. She is in no apparent danger, her breathing is normal and her skin still has a healthy tone," said the old witch. "Now, go apologize to the two young ladies for blaming and scaring them while I tend to your friend."
A lifetime of training would have made him obey the adult at once, but after learning the hard way that grown-ups shouldn't be trusted, and now beginning to really understand the Dursleys were wrong about one too many things thanks to Hermione and their morning talks, he frowned and stood his ground. "I'm not leaving her side!"
Sighing, Madame Pomfrey paused her examination, looked down at the scrawny boy and rephrased herself. "Please make amends with your housemates, Harry. They weren't at fault, and I see nothing wrong with Ms Granger, except for an unusually deep dreamlike condition."
"Do you wish to have your anger control your life, or handle the right side of the wand instead?" the healer asked pointedly. "Look around you, Mr Potter. This is the result of your misguided chivalry!"
Seeing the scrapheap of mangled beds and the broken glass around Parvati for the first time, Harry felt ashamed of himself because he hadn't even noticed the mess he had caused. Moreover, he could have seriously injured someone.
He then focused on the girls and noticed their star-struck attitude had changed into one of cautiousness and, if he wasn't mistaken, fear of him. "I don't want people to fear me, I'd be just like Dudleykins at school" he mumbled in disgust and scratched the nape of his neck. "I don't wanna hurt innocent people either, Madame Pomfrey. Never like this... Not even for helping someone I like."
That spoken desire was the rune that crafted the enchantment for Poppy Pomfrey, Chief Healer at Hogwarts, solidifying her resolve to protect Harry from those that wish him harm, even if it meant going against Albus' instructions to have minimum contact with the boy. She turned away from the sleeping Hermione to see a very embarrassed black-haired child struggling to find the right words to apologize. He had the girl's roughly five-feet-long snake coiled around his shoulders and looked to be using the reptile as a comforter of some kind.
Harry had tried to find a way to say sorry without looking like a good-for-nothing, worthless freak begging not to be thrown out of the house in front of Parvati and Lavender, but he couldn't find the words to match his feelings. Instead, he settled for plain and simple. "I'm sorry."
"Is that it?" Lavender asked bluntly.
"Lavender! Harry Potter is making an apology. You should be more considerate and let him finish before interrupting," said Parvati with an expectant face.
"Er... That's about it. I'm sorry, you know, for all this," he said, waving his arms around the room.
"Boys!" the two girls chorused after a moment of silence, and then walked away between giggles and whispered words.
Dumbfounded, Harry watched them leave the infirmary and stared at the empty doorway for a moment. He suddenly remembered to close his mouth and hissed "did I sssay sssomething wrong?"
If boas had lips to snort with, Blacksnout would have. "Not very good with wordsss, are you amigo?"
"Sssmart-arssse. Not very good at walking any longer, are you Blacksssnout?"
"But you ssstill have legsss," the boa pointed out, "ssso make them ussseful and get me to my abaeteh. Chop-chop! I want to be there when ssshe awakensss."
Shaking his head, he made his way back to Hermione's bedside and extended his arm for the familiar to climb down. Harry met a disapproving look from Madame Pomfrey but stubbornly refused to stop what he was doing, instead going as far as to open one of the large leaded-glass windows for his friend's winged familiar, before tackling the task of untangling the dozen beds he had damaged.
He grunted, pulled, twisted, huffed and pulled again, using one hand, two hands, a foot and trying to dislodge the iron bars this way and that, only to end up holding a loose brass knob from one of the foot boards, and not achieving much else.
"Why. Won't. These. Things. Move!" he grunted and stepped back panting from the effort, evil-eyeing the scrapheap and kicking it swiftly, causing a resounding clank of metal hitting metal.
"Mr Potter! That will be five points from House Gryffindor!" said madame Pomfrey, who then winked and added "I couldn't very well deduct points earlier, since you used no wand or physical actions to damage Hogwarts property."
Gaping at the healer, Harry started to get angry as he was wont to do when his mood flipped, until he noticed the smirk on her face and suddenly understood what she wanted to say. Rules applied demerits to those using magic in the hallways, but magic with wands! More than that, it seemed witnessed direct action against someone or something was required to grant punishment. "Just like this morning with the Lords of the Playground. And that's how the Weasley Twins had been spending their time pranking Hogwarts at large without getting themselves expelled," he thought.
"I am a Healer, child. A good one, if I may say so, but a healer first and foremost, which is something my... My relationship with Headmaster Dumbledore and his leadership of the Or-- Of tolerant, good people who fought the darkness have obfuscated for too long." She spoke and checked on her other patients, leaving Hermione to sleep under the softest cotton sheets Harry had ever touched, even the ones in his huge Gryffindor bed weren't as comfortable, and that was saying a lot.
"I don't understand, ma'am."
"What don't you understand, Harry? May I call you Harry, by the way?" Poppy Pomfrey asked.
"Yeah, that's all I am, just Harry is fine. I meant your words, like abruscate or something?"
A soft, tired voice interrupted the healer's reply. "Obfuscate. It means to confuse or to make something difficult to understand and sense. Think listening to faraway music when a plane flies overhead, obfuscating it."
"Hermione! You all right? D'you feel any pain?"
Chuckling, Madame Pomfrey stepped forward. "Tut-tut, I believe that is my question to ask, Harry."
She waved his apology with a smile and used her wand to pull Hermione's bed into her office, accidentally conjuring a privacy screen right in front of the painting and waving around for added security.
"Well now, how do you feel, Ms Granger?"
"Like I've just run the London Marathon... Twice!" she said and proved it by trying to raise herself, only to fall back on the bed like a sack of potatoes. "Also, why do I have two memories of the very same event?"
"Uh?" was Harry's articulate question.
"I mean, I have a vague memory of watching those men too focused on you when nobody else was, and then you fighting to stay on the broomstick, but I also have the memory of... Of your point of view!" exclaimed Hermione, looking at her friend with astonishment. "Oh, Harry, you were so scared!"
"Scared?" he asked, "No, no. Nuh-huh, I wasn't scared. Maybe I screamed a little, but I wasn't scared. Nope, not at all."
Narrowing her eyes, Hermione huffed. "Boys and their ridiculous bravado. Fine! You weren't afraid of becoming one with the ground, then."
"You mean to say, Ms Granger, that you're still aware of your friend's plight over the Quidditch pitch?" asked Madame Pomfrey.
"Of course, ma'am. Why wouldn't I be?"
The older witch sighed, "I believe someone has cast a broad Confundus charm, or perhaps a ritual with the same results. Only Harry's insistence warned me of it before completion, and you will find that your fellow team players have most likely already forgotten everything regarding a jinxed flying broom," she said, looking at Harry by the end.
"Voldemort!" snarled Harry, making Madame Pomfrey jump and cringe. "He did this to hide his trail! Now I'm never going to convince Dumbledore."
"Uuurgh... Harry, please stop ranting. The lights came back," moaned Hermione while trying to scratch her eyeballs using her knuckles.
"Tsk, tsk, tsk... You children must be the most ailment-prone couple to walk these halls since we last had a pupil in need of special care certain times of the month. No, Ms Granger, not that kind of monthly witchy inconvenience, that's quite easily aided with the right potion and affects us all," the healer said as she looked down on Hermione. On the other hand, Harry couldn't understand what they were talking about and simply shrugged at the adult's initial remark.
"Which is why," she continued, "now that we're out of reach from unwanted ears, painted or otherwise, I must speak to you about the upcoming Samhain," Madame Pomfrey said and adopted a very serious tone of voice.
* * * * * * *
To say that Harry and Hermione were careful of their surroundings would be an understatement. Paranoid and extremely jumpy would better describe them nowadays, little over two weeks after the Quidditch accident that only the two of them and Poppy knew had been anything but an accident after all. They had dreaded their D.A.D.A. and Potions classes, always ready to hit the floor if the professors started throwing killing curses at Harry.
Fortunately, after two lessons of each, Harry was still alive. Sure, Snape had attacked him with glares, sneers and various oh-so-helpful demeaning remarks at his potion making skills and continuous existence, but as it was he hadn't openly tried to kill him in any way.
Hermione had been astonished at first when, after leaving the infirmary and entering Gryffindor Tower, they found themselves in the middle of a full-swing party with fireworks and all. She had then become indignant when the Twins started hinting of a life-debt from Harry, but had turned outright angry when the two identical red-heads, Neville and Ron complained of faulty broomsticks instead of a clear attempted murder, just as Poppy had predicted.
With that first-hand experience of Voldemort's power in mind, both kids had been spending even more time together, in the apparent privacy of the tower roof, as they were today. The winds were strong and several puffy, heavy clouds travelled the skies at a run, chasing each other and occasionally merging together to create a whole new shape, like idle thoughts when given free-reign inside one's mind.
They sat watching the sunrise, huddled together under red and gold comforters, enjoying the chocolate-frogs that Harry had purchased from an older Gryffindor. He had been given a discount for being The-Boy-Who-Lived-To-Win-His-First-Quidditch-Game, which had been a somewhat happy note to a disastrous day.
"So, we now have the legend of the Phoenix Dome, or Domus Aurea that the Romans pillaged from Heliopolis, where it was called the Phoinix Tholos, and is believed to give immortality to any living creature inside," she paused to bite a chocolate leg, "and there's the similar myth of primeval seedlings from many different cultures around the world; the Tree of Life, the Tree of Death that's similar to what Master Liszt's portrait explained, and the Tree of Knowledge. I also found references to magically important horses--"
"Ha!" interrupted Harry before taking another bite of his chocolate.
"Honestly! Hogwarts: A History wasn't wrong, the book just happens to be very limited in regards to magical beasts of significance," said Hermione, but the smile dancing on her lips betrayed her supposedly stern reply.
Harry's smug grin as he said "If you say so" made them laugh for a while, but then his mood flip-flopped again. She was no longer surprised by the sudden changes, coming to expect them although in all honesty she had a hard time dealing with them. Not to mention the odd wisps of light she could still feel dancing inside her eyes and making her dizzy whenever Harry was angry, happy or simply bored to the extreme. They had been fading day by day, and would eventually disappear according to Madame Pomfrey, but it was annoying all the same.
"What's wrong, Harry?"
Looking far away over the Forbidden Forest, he remained silent but ran his left hand softly on the back of his friend's neck, under the mane of brown hair. He enjoyed doing that, it was a thrilling new sensation he had discovered four mornings ago and he hoped she would never tire of him repeating the caress. He'd never touched anyone willingly like this, expressing something in another language that wasn't speech or music, rather that of human touch. Was it wrong of him to want to touch her like this every morning of his life? He really shouldn't have such wishful thoughts, since nothing ever came out of wishing, in his experience.
"Not only that," thought Harry, "but now there's a couple of teachers wanting me dead, one of them is Voldemort of all people!" No, he would enjoy this friendship with Hermione as it is, living the moment and not worrying about a future that he might never have.
"What we need is a way to spy on Snape and Quirrell. Nobody believes a freak, after all..."
Hermione stiffened and grabbed hold of the hand running behind her neck, looking straight at him. "Don't say that! You told me never to call myself a freak, and the same goes for you too!" She paused for a few seconds and remembered something she had found scandalous at the time; a proposition by a certain pair of identical red-heads. "Harry? I think I know how to solve our needs."
"Aren't you going to ask me how?" she asked with a frown.
"Maybe later... Damn it Hermione, I can't let Voldemort kill me, 'cause once he's done it he'll kill everyone else in this bloody school!" he blurted and then pulled his hand from Hermione's grip, using it to tussle his own already messy hair.
"Language, Harry!" she blurted out of reflex, before wincing and sighing. "Sorry... You know how I hate people swearing."
"What if Mrs Pomfrey's ritual stuff fails? What if you fall ill again because of it?" he asked, ignoring her nagging and absently rubbing the spot Madame Pomfrey had used to extract a willingly given scallop of flesh. It had been Hermione's idea to use "the only available fleshy spot he has", as she had so casually said. His left cheek. His lower left cheek, to be precise.
He had been furious because Voldemort was a Hogwarts professor and nobody noticed. He remained furious because all that mattered to everyone was that Gryffindor had won the match, never sparing some real concern or asking how he felt, even if they believed he had fallen because the broomstick charms had broken down. He would still be furious until Voldemort was behind bars or dead for murdering his and so many others' families, and his mood reflected it.
"The Halloween Feast is tomorrow evening, the Great Hall looks beautiful and Hagrid's pumpkins have been a hit. Doesn't it all help to keep your mind away from... Away from the constant anger, fear and worry?"
Shaking his head negatively, Harry spoke softly. "No, you don't understand... I hope you'll never have to understand what it's like to live with fear and hate. It's what I've known for too long, and only my music keeps it away. My music and..."
After a shrug, Harry remained silent but couldn't hide a blush that wasn't caused by the cold wind. He did return his hand to continue caressing Hermione's soft neck, however.
"I've lived in disappointment and longing, Harry. With the pain of knowing my family feared me because of the oddness that happened around myself! It's not the same, I know, and I'll never pity you or compare our lives, but they wouldn't even touch me, and it hurt to feel so... So hideously disgusting." She tilted her head to face him, "So you see, I still feel hideously disgusting, and that fear of constant rejection only goes away when I'm like this, cared for and safe with my friend Harry."
"Would you feel like that about me if your parents were alive? Or if we'd never met each other in London that day?" Harry asked, because he knew that meeting her had led him to finding the magic of music, and he truly had no idea if he would have been the same by the time his Hogwarts Letter came. "Would you still want to be my friend, if things were different?"
"The truth is I don't know, Harry. I would like to believe that yes, I would still be your friend. Closer, more distant? I can't tell, but this is the life we have, and suppositions lead to living in dreams, and while having dreams is a good thing, I would hate to see you wasting yourself with doubts and impossible desires."
Harry laughed, hugged his friend and sat straighter on the shingled roof. "Thank you for being true Hermione. You know, if Headmaster Dumbledore was here, he'd be looking for his twin because that's almost the same thing he told me after He-Who-Has-Fiery-Feathers let me out of the Dome."
"Why do you name Fawkes like that?" she asked after a quick laugh.
Looking around himself, Harry bent sideways and whispered "Because I'm afraid he'll come and knock me out again if I say his name."
"Oh, Harry, that's ridiculous. You're doing the same thing wizards do regarding Voldemort!"
"Care to wager on that?" he said, pointing at their last Chocolate Frog.
"You're on!" she replied with a smile, looking expectantly at her raven-haired friend.
He cleared his throat, and then spoke. "I still don't know why Fawkes kidnapped me."
Faraway trilling and the sounds of the forest swaying under the wind filled the children's ears. They looked up and down, sideways and even over the edge of the roof, but the phoenix was nowhere to be seen. Harry looked disappointed, and after a minute or two conceded defeat. "I guess he'll visit sometime later..."
"How can you be sure Fawkes is male?" she asked after carefully unwrapping her chocolate, folding the greaseproof paper and wiping the included card of crumbs and smudges.
"Dunno... Just a feeling, like when he was so sad about something. Whatever it was, Dumbledore seemed to know a little about it too."
"Headmaster Dumbledore has one in seven chances of popping up in a Chocolate Frog, higher odds than any other wizard," she said absently, looking at the repeated collectable card. Hermione bit another leg and then choked, startling Harry.
He soothed her back and checked she could still breathe, before asking what the matter was.
"Look!" she said, pointing at the card on the comforter. "Read the description!"
"Considered by many the greatest wizard of modern times, so on and so on... Defeated Grindelwald and famous for finding the twelve uses of dragon's blood, and his work on alchemy with his partner, Nicolas Flamel," he read in a monotone. "We already know all that, don't we?"
"Mostly, yes. But read about his work Harry. Alchemy!"
"So? I don't understand..." he said and read the card again, chuckling softly when the photographed Dumbledore bent forward to read his own description as well.
"What's the alchemical textbook we use here at Hogwarts?" she paused and waited for the expected answer.
"There isn't one, is there? I mean we don't have an Alchemy Class... Do we? Have I been missing classes?!"
"Exactly! And no, Harry, you haven't been missing any classes. It's a lost art, even for magical people... Hold on a second. Flamel, flames... Fire, Fawkes? Phoenix... Fiendfyre!" she spouted, verbalizing random connections from inside her mind. "Harry, let's assume you're right about the professors intent to enter the trapdoor Fluffy is guarding. That being the case, they wanted to do it unnoticed, otherwise they would have just disposed of him, but according to Hagrid he's in good form but then stayed mum about it, meaning his furry three-headed pup is still guarding something that relates to Mr Flamel."
Nodding, Harry waved for her to continue with her thoughts.
"However, Fawkes is a creature of fire himself, couldn't it be that he's another guardian, and that he is the one that actually harmed Voldemort and his accomplice as they were looking for whatever alchemical secret is stored down there, and had to come up with an explanation to their injuries? Furthermore, could Fawkes be asking you to help in some way, by showing you all those places he brought you to?"
"Me? What help could I do, Hermione, I'm just a kid!"
"You could be much help, don't put yourself down. All you need is the will, the desire to be helpful and to--"
Her words were interrupted by an erupting ball of fire above them. The flames materialized into a majestic red bird, that flapped its wings a couple of times before using one to whack Harry on the back the head.
"Ouch! What was that for?" he asked, thankful that he didn't pass out this time. Harry eyed the bird as it landed on the roof shingles and observed Hermione. Fawkes looked unsettled, anxious if he could put it in human terms, and craned his neck to watch them one at a time, back and forth repeatedly.
"Fawkes? Are you... Can I?" asked Hermione, lifting a hand to pet him, but stopping a few inches away.
The phoenix perked up and puffed himself, presenting his chest to be stroked, and she was moving to do so when Kettle dove straight down towards her in a blur of black feathers. His unmistakeable caws sounded challenging, but it was his attitude that confirmed he wasn't about to let Hermione touch the larger bird, as the raven used its shark beak to nip at her hand.
"Kettle, no! No biting!" she told the avian familiar and sucked her bleeding index finger. The large raven flew to her shoulder, cawed again and reached for her wounded hand, this time lightly grabbing hold of it and pulling the finger out of her mouth. Resisting at first but relenting after looking deeply into the bird's coal-black eyes, she let Kettle bite again, drawing more blood droplets, and gasped when he offered her finger to the fiery phoenix.
"What's happening, Harry? This isn't normal bird behaviour," whispered Hermione, awed by the actions of her familiar.
"Magic," was his simple answer, followed with a shrug. "I had to give a scallop of my ass, why wouldn't you give some blood besides that scrape of a tooth for Halloween?"
"Harry! How rude," she said but couldn't stop a laugh from escaping her lungs. "Kettle, are you a true raven or... Or something else altogether?"
The raven cawed and pulled with more strength, leading the unresisting hand towards the phoenix, who seemed to be just as confused as the two human children. The avians looked at each other and screeched, flapping their wings and showing menacing wide-open beaks; a tongue of fire burst from Fawkes' mouth and Kettle had to drop Hermione's finger, flying in a circle to sidestep the golden flames, finally retaliating by picking a loose morsel of broken tile and throwing it back at the larger bird with a swing of his head.
The sharp fragment hit Fawkes squarely in the eye, and he suddenly became as terrifying as he was gorgeous, ruffling fire-coated feathers and sparkling like a dozen suns, seeming to grow in size and presence. Harry and Hermione crawled back from the impending fight but Kettle did a double-loop and bit his companion's finger again in mid-flight, just as another, more powerful tongue of fire was aimed at him.
With no time to react and jump out of the way, the children watched helplessly as the magical fire wrapped itself on Hermione's hand, swirling up to her bleeding index and exploding brightly. They closed their eyes and felt only the sound of a pebble hitting the shingles, rolling down, followed by the rustle of feathers and a repentant trilling.
It was Harry who opened one eyelid first, immediately grabbing his friend's hand to see the damage, only to be shooed away by Fawkes, who leaned his head with the eye Kettle had hit towards her blistered, charred hand.
Two drops of tears later, her hand was healed, looking as if it had never been burnt.
"What the hell were you two thinking!" Harry yelled and waved the birds away. He turned Hermione's fingers upside down and back again, looking for damage.
"It's-- It's all right, Harry, It didn't hurt at all..."
"Are you sure? Shouldn't we go see Pomfrey?"
"Yes... Yes, the pain never came..." she trailed off as Kettle leaned forward and presented her with a bright gemstone that seemed to shine from a fire contained within. Hermione held her palm up and the raven dropped a ruby the size of a walnut, speckled with golden lightning that kept flashing inside. "What? What is this? What are you? What are you doing to us?"
The birds began singing and cawing at the same time, which annoyed them again and restarted their row, but Harry's well placed swats with the rolled-up edge of a comforter put an end to it. "Stop it! You'll only hurt Hermione again!"
"Harry, stop talking to them as if they were people! Those are birds for crying out loud!"
Snorting, he turned to face her. "Yeah, right. Birds that can make a jewel out of your blood, birds that can take me places nobody knows and sing with as much emotion as the greatest masters poured on their music," Harry spoke. "Just a bird that came to you when... When you'd been left f-for dead under the rubble and has been around ever since you can remember. Can't you see the magic that's right in front of you?"
She bit her lower lip and looked down at the gemstone on her hand, then at the pair of magical creatures that were still flapping and screeching softly at each other, bickering like an old married couple, and finally back at Harry. "But there's nothing written about this in the books I've--"
"Oh, for God's sake Hermione! Why must everything about the world be in a book?" he said and placed both hands on her shoulders. "Maybe you just gotta have the courage to believe! To have faith in something that's never been seen, written or thought by anyone, anywhere!"
"I-- I don't... I don't have faith, Harry. I've got reasoning, cause and consequence, the proof of a postulate by logic or contradiction, or empirical evidence and deductive reasoning. I can't have blind faith!"
"Open your hand."
"Open your hand!" said Harry again, forcefully this time.
She did, and stared again at the gemstone. Harry then pushed her fingers closed around it, only to pull them back. He did it again, and again, and a third time until she began to accept that her familiar was more than met the eye, and that the headmaster's phoenix had just been conned into creating something magical out of her blood.
Hermione looked at her green-eyes' resolute face, into his determined and pleading eyes. "I understand, and I accept magic's unpredictability, and that desire, intent and belief are as big a part of casting a spell as waving the wand and saying the words. However, please, please don't ask me to have faith like you do, I lost that ability a long time ago."
Suddenly, Harry understood what she was talking about. "You're my guardian angel, my Potterette, and I know that there's a God 'cause you're real. But I don't care if you believe or don't believe, as long as you're the good and kind person you are."
Tearing, she spoke softly in a broken voice. "Thank you. Thanks for being real too, my green-eyes..."
* * * * * * *
At noon time the children were already enjoying the festive mood of the evening's event, and it held the promise of even greater fun and joy for the evening, although only fourth-years and older had a ball to look forward to as well. Hagrid's pumpkins were everywhere, carved with ghoulish faces, gilded with silver ribbons and floating on clouds of grey smoke up and down the hallways. Bats and black cats added to the decoration, and every student had been delighted to see Mrs Norris being chased by a flock of long-toothed bats, while Mr Filch waved a mop at them, protecting his greatest ally in the quest to end youthful mischief.
Hermione and Harry sat at the Gryffindor table with Ron and Neville attacking the food in front of them, flanked by the ever-giggling duo of Parvati and Lavender, with Seamus and Dean sharing unbelievable stories on the other side. They dodged a swooping pumpkin while Ron made them laugh with his wizarding tales of All Hallows Eve, but it was Neville's horror story of learning to dance with his grandmother and his grandmother's lady-friends that made them hold on to their bellies with laughter.
"And then Mrs Blufbuxom, she's the only living witch from the Maidens of Mercury, she'd pinch my face and call me Jonathan while swinging me around the drawing room, with my face pressed against her chest," he said while making a horrified face.
Neville had been fast becoming more open and self-assured, though no less forgetful and clumsy, not to mention below-average in spell-casting, and it was all because Hermione and Harry always laughed with him instead of at him, and would help the youngest Longbottom using their unusual approach to magic whenever he had difficulty learning something.
When the laughs subsided, Ron shuddered. "Have you ever heard 'bout my Aunt Muriel Prewett?" At the negative head shaking, he took a deep breath, "She's like Snape and Filch mixed into one, with a little of my mum's worse temper added to the cauldron. That's a true Hallows nightmare if you know--"
Ron's staring and unexpected pause made the other three follow his eyes, landing on Hermione's neck. At first she tried to put the collar of her witch robes up to cover her scar, but then Harry pointed at the magical jewel Kettle had tricked Fawkes to create. Harry had had the idea to use one of his goblin weaved ropes made of hag's hair to wrap the organically faceted gem, so that Hermione could wear it like a pendant.
The lightning inside never stopped flashing, and while it gave a mesmerizing golden glow to the ruby-red gem, it also made concealing it that much more difficult. As exemplified by Ron's actions.
"Is that some useless Muggle trinket?" he asked, pointing at Hermione.
"Er... No Ron, it isn't. And Muggle items aren't useless if you actually know what to use them for!"
"All right, whatever," he said after gulping some pumpkin juice. "Sorry I asked."
His easy dismissal was both annoying and relieving. Annoying because, once again, Hermione couldn't understand his behaviour and his beliefs, and her skin itched for closure in each and every argument in which Ron Weasley had simply dismissed or changed the subject, never allowing her to fully settle the discussion. As for Harry, he was happy whenever conflict could be avoided, and happier still to see that their friend wouldn't ask them to explain where the gemstone came from. "I wonder if Headmaster Dumbledore saw it," he thought inside his head, looking at the Staff Table and immediately regretting it.
"Look at him, Voldemort sitting there like a normal teacher. And nobody suspects a thing!"
Hermione elbowed him to stop the upcoming rant. "It's like I suspected, magicals expect honourable conduct from their peers precisely because of how powerful it can be. He performed a single act of magic and, poof! No one's the wiser about the attempt on your life!"
"Yeah, even Cedric forgot about it," he waved at the mentioned older boy as he looked from the Hufflepuff table. "He did promise to talk to his dad about renewing the faulty broomsticks, though."
"Well, I intend to change them all, not just the oldest ones, and add a few more physical sports. And more electives! I must say Hogwarts is seriously in need of more active clubs beyond Gobstones, the Choir and now your Musical Arts. It might sound like nepotism to benefit my own school, but it's not like there are other magic schools in the country..." she trailed off with an inquisitive look on her face. "Ron? What do people who can't afford to come to Hogwarts do?"
"I don't understand what you're asking. If you get an Invitation Letter, then you're coming to Hogwarts, it's a simple as that."
"But what if I couldn't pay the tuition?"
"Then you wouldn't have received the letter at all," Neville answered this time, starting to realize where she was getting at. "And it can be because, like me, your magic is too weak--"
"But Neville, I told before--"
"Look, Harry, I'm happy that you talk to me and make me feel better and all, but I know what I am... As I was saying, if you're a Squib, or your magic is simply too weak, then Hogwarts will not write to you. And if you don't have the gold to pay for it, it won't either."
Talking slowly, Hermione turned to face the pudgy boy. "Hogwarts. Hogwarts, the castle, writes the letter?"
"Of course not," Parvati said, entering the conversation while nodding and talking back to Lavender. How she could keep an ear on many conversations at once was a mystery to Harry. "He speaks of Hogwarts metaphorically, it's actually The Quill that writes the letters."
"No, no, The Quill," Neville said, making a grand gesture with his hands.
"What are you talking about?" asked Ron, who apparently had never heard of this The Quill.
"My great-uncle spoke of these items once. The Book, The Hat and The Quill. I didn't know The Hat was the thing that sorted us into different Houses."
"Why isn't any of that in Hogwarts: A History?!" Hermione complained after blinking several times in silence, crossing her arms over her chest. "This is just like Schroedinger's Cat, only worse because every time you look at it, it's a whole different breed of living-dead cat!"
Apparently speaking of the living-dead on Halloween was a very wrong thing to say, as the Gryffindor table went silent for a few of seconds, before excited whisperings and finger-pointing replaced the festive air that had been there just seconds ago. Hermione shrank into her place while hastily building a line of defence made of goblets, a pitcher of juice and a pair of salad bowls.
"Hermione, please stop hiding behind the food," said Harry, moving some plates away. He had to physically wrench one of the salad bowls from her hands, which unsurprisingly took a lot of effort from him. His friend had built a strong body after so many years of roof-roaming and climbing.
"Would you listen to them? They all think I'm some kind of dark-magic practitioner or something just as loathsome!"
"Having a black raven and that slimy snake as familiars won't help your reputation much either," Lavender whispered, as if sharing the world's greatest secret and nodding emphatically.
"How can you say--"
"Oookay, Lavender, thanks for the hint," interrupted Harry, hoping to distract Hermione before she chewed the blonde's head out. "Now I think we'd better... Er... Take a walk around the lake?"
She turned to face him with a frown but he whispered "remember, we can't eat anything 'til the whole show-bat ritual is done" in her ear.
"I do remember, Harry. And it's a Sabbath gathering, not show-bat!" she mumbled back while looking longingly at the perfect chicken wing peeking from under a couple of drumsticks, settling for savouring the aroma with a deep sniff as consolation.
Shrugging, he pulled her by the hand and waved at Neville and Ron, who immediately began whispering together before being assaulted with questions by Hermione and Harry's room-mates and not a few older Gryffindors.
As they walked down the marble steps of the main doors, the black-haired boy looked curiously at his brown-eyed friend. She smiled and spoke before he could utter a single word. "Imagine a kneazle, locked in a chest, where there's a runic stone and a lethal potion inside. The potion flask is charmed to break if the runestone creates warmth, but because of the way it's carved and magicked, it can also give cold."
She watched his eyes move up and to the right, and then he nodded for her to go on. "So you can never really know whether the kneazle is alive, or dead, because you can't know if the runestone created cold or warmth until you open the chest and verify it yourself. Before that direct observation, the kneazle is believed to be both in a state of life and death at the same time."
"Huh... You mean the kneazle is a zombie, then? I don't get it. And my head hurts," Harry said, massaging his temples.
"No, what this tries to explain is why certain runic configurations can give different results when they're exactly the same. It's also known as the Principle of Uncertainty in Muggle sciences dealing with quantum mechanics. The math is beyond me at this point, but the ideas are quite straightforward," she said and bounced a little on her feet.
Without really noticing, the couple veered towards the Owlery using the scenic path, harder to climb but one that provided a beautiful view of the Forbidden Forest. They shared a laugh when a gust of wind blew Hermione's hat out of her head and downhill, and Harry being a gentleman had tried to run after it, only to slip on a wet patch of grass and land on top of the hat, squashing the black pointed accessory with his body.
Red-faced, he apologized profusely and quickly cast a quick Reparo charm on the hat, before placing it back on Hermione. She thanked him with a quick kiss to the cheek and walked ahead, leaving Harry to deal with his feelings, some unknown but all of them made him feel good inside.
Entering the Owlery, Hermione paused. "I was under the impression that our headmaster had hidden the Dome?"
"Yes, he did. Why?"
"Because it's right there in plain sight, Harry," she answered a bit miffed at his lack of observation skills. It was a very big wooden cage, clearly impossible to miss.
"No it isn't," he said, looking around the owl habitat. "Truth is I can feel it in a way, but I can't really see it."
Distressed, Hermione grabbed Harry's arm, wondering why she could see the wonderfully carved and adorned phoenix habitat but her friend couldn't.
"Wow!" he exclaimed and pulled his arm away. "Do it again, take my hand this time."
Raising an eyebrow, she agreed and took his hand in hers, making him smile. "You can see it now?"
"Yeah! But why..."
"The stone!" they said together, and she promptly pulled the fiery gem from her neck, laying it gently on the ground. As soon as she let go of it, the Dome vanished for her, but Harry could still feel its presence somehow.
"All right, I guess your raven really did trick Fawkes into giving you something wonderful," he said softly, looking at the doorway.
Snorting, Hermione bent over to pick the jewel and placed it back on herself. "I wouldn't call Kettle my raven. In fact, if he's so intelligent as you believe him and Fawkes to be, he probably has a name of his own! Not to mention the freedom to be an equal to us, as all sentient beings are."
"You still don't believe it?"
"Yes, Harry. I believe you were... You are right about them." She sighed and sat on an old wooden chair, leaving just enough room for Harry to sit as well. "It takes a lot of effort from me to admit to someone being right. No, not because I'm stubborn," she added at his look. "It's because it means that I have misunderstood something, or that I simply don't know enough about a subject where I've been proven wrong."
"I don't mind not knowing stuff. It's embarrassing, sure, but it don't upset me."
She sighed and leaned her head against his. "I know, and that's one more thing I like about you. Though I really feel my skin itch when you speak so badly. The correct form is it doesn't."
Chuckling, Harry said thanks and looked up for his snowy-owl Hedwig. He found her atop a beam, one eye open above a curled wing, half asleep. A smile tugged his mouth and the owl sprung up, gliding softly to land on his knee, hooting and barking in greeting.
"Oh, honestly! You're turning into Dr Dolittle!" She had to regain her breath after laughing, "And-- And someday you can open the Potter Magical Clinic for Fantastic Beasts and Familiars!"
Not knowing who this Doctor Dolittle was, but enjoying his friend's happiness, he actually agreed with her and told her he would seriously consider that idea, making her laugh again. The mood was broken, however, as a drawling voice alerted them of another person inside the owlery.
"Such undignified, yet oddly fitting behaviour for a simpleton Muggle-born and her arrogant, troublesome leader."
The children jumped and raised wands as one, only to have them pulled out of their hands with the flick of Professor Snape's own wand.
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