Categories > Books > Harry Potter > I, Alone
Chapter 20 - Hide-N-Seek
. . .
A stray sunbeam slowly made its way along the curves and contours of the old and wrinkled landscape till at last it brushed across the closed veined eyelids of the man's face. Even still it was some time before the aged wizard stirred and opened his ice-blue eyes to peer out through his half-moon spectacles. "I've seemed to have done it yet again," Albus mumbled to himself as he sat up, groaning as his stiff muscles made their protests known. The venerable wizard, leader of the Light, Order of Merlin First Class recipient had once again fallen asleep at his desk. I'll be stiff and sore all day, he grumbled silently to himself.
Albus stood, allowing himself a small stretch, before walking around his desk and over to a door off to one side which led to his private quarters. Once through the door he took care of his morning ritual. There, near the door, hung a large picture frame with a blank canvas secured within it. The frame itself was exquisitely carved with flowers and vines' running about it in such a fashion that it was difficult to tell where one started and the next ended. The floral display was carved so well it almost appear life like in nature.
The canvas was black, but of late an image had slowly started to appear at its center. The aged wizard regarded it and once again thought it might be a chair of some sort. He hoped it would at least be comfortable as he didn't look forward to sitting on something for all eternity that would leave his rump numb. Quickly doing the math for the date in his head he selected the correct flower on the frame and placed his fingertip on it. The flower shuddered slightly before its petals reached out to encase the tip of the appendage. There was a small stab of pain as the finger was pricked and a drop of blood was extracted to be absorbed into the frame.
Most people believed that the moving portraits and those in them were painted, such was not the case. The initial frame and canvas treatments were done by wizards specially trained to bespell them with the correct enchantments; however they themselves did not paint the images. Instead the frames and canvas were a receptacle which the witch or wizard filled up over time with drops of their own blood. Contained within the precious fluid were the thoughts and memories of the donator themselves. The frame preparation was very costly so usually only those with money or in important positions could afford to make them.
For the most part the canvas remained blank till enough blood had been placed into it at which point an image would appear. Where the image came from was up for a matter of debate. Some, like Albus, believed it was the subconscious of the person that projected where they would like to be. Others maintaining that the image was a byproduct of the enchantments used to create the picture frame and canvas. He himself was hoping for a comfortable chair beside a table with a tea service and a good book. "A nice dish of lemon drops would be nice as well," he mumbled as he turned away from what would be his final gift to the Wizarding world. Can't let them be without my guidance after all, he mused.
The Headmaster of Hogwarts went through his other morning ritual of bathing and dressing, selecting a light blue robe with moving clouds upon its surface. He always thought that the robe made him feel a bit lighter himself, as though he were floating like one of the many clouds. The robes were enchanted so that the sun which appeared on it would mirror the real sun's position as it traveled across the heavens. Albus knew it was a bit vain of him but he rather enjoyed the strange looks his robes always garnished from others.
Returning to his desk he ate the meager breakfast that awaited him, brought by his personal house elf, Middy. "Thank you, Middy," Albus said aloud, knowing the small elf would hear him. While he ate his morning porridge and fruit he looked over some paperwork from the ICW that he had allowed to pile up. Truthfully he had been rather distracted by cleaning up after the events that had transpired with Harry, Voldemort and the Stone.
Albus popped a slice of a succulent red strawberry into his mouth and sat back to enjoy its sweet taste. Whatever am I to do? he pondered. I have little doubt this was but the first attempt of Tom to return. Though he hated to admit it, Albus was just as often in the dark as to Voldemort's plans as everyone else. It was only due to decades of experience and a better than average understanding of the Dark Lord that allowed him to make fairly accurate speculations. After all no one knew Tom Riddle better than he did.
"Very timely that letter requesting my presence at the Ministry," Albus said aloud as he thought about what had happened to remove him from the school that day. Upon returning to Hogwarts he had discovered that someone had broken through all the carefully laid traps that he and the other professors had arranged to safeguard the stone. Safeguard is perhaps the wrong term, he realized as the tasks had been more designed to slow the individual rather than stop them. Slow them for just long enough to allow him and the other professors to arrive and apprehend the intruder. It would have work had I not been called away, of that he was certain.
I must figure out who at the Ministry can be trusted and who is working for Voldemort, he told himself. "If only Alastor hadn't retired last year, it would be a great deal easier to call upon him," the Headmaster mused, absently running his fingers through his long white beard as he thought the matter over. "Bones might be a good one to recruit, though she is one for going by the books." Following the rules was fine, when it suited his needs. The Chief Warlock had been known to bend them a time or two, when it suited his purpose.
"Arthur Weasley will no doubt help, but I shall need to recruit a few more," he realized. He did not have the numbers he once did, several being lost or, like the Longbottoms, incapacitated in the previous war.Perhaps Kingsley Shacklebolt as he will give me an ear and eyes within the Aurors Department once again.He would need to speak with Alastor to see if the retired man could suggest any others who might be sympathetic to their cause.
While he did not as yet wish to reform the Order he had little doubt that there would come such a time and that it was not too far off. It never pleased him to have to send others out on missions that very well might get them killed. If there were indeed dark times ahead, and he believed that there was, then he knew he would have to once again send friends into harm's way. Even though he hated it Albus knew that for the good of the many he would do it. "We're not ready for your return, Tom," Albus intoned with aweary sigh as he set his empty dishes aside. Fate seldom waits for when we are, he added silently.
The charm on his stairs notified him of a visitor; hence he was not surprised when a knock came from his door. "Please come in Severus," the Headmaster beckoned his Potions Master.
Severus Snape entered the office, immediately spotting the remains of the Headmaster's breakfast. "Good morning, Headmaster. I hope I am not disturbing your morning meal?" the man asked as he crossed the room till he was standing before the rather large desk behind which sat his benefactor of these many years.
Albus gave the man before him a warm and welcoming smile. "I had just finished actually. Would you care to join me in a cup of tea?" Even as he made the offer a tea service appeared, set for two. Seeing Severus give a short nod the Headmaster poured him a cup and passed it across to the man before pouring his own. "Please have a seat, Severus," Albus offered, a chair appear at his gesture. "What can I do for you today?"
The potions professor seated himself, holding the saucer with its cup of tea in the palm of one hand. "I would like to discuss one of my students, Headmaster," Severus told him.
"I see," Albus replied with a twinkle in his eyes,"so this is to be about Harry Potter then." Seeing the slightly shocked expression on Severus' face he chuckled softly. "As Harry is the only member of your House in residence currently and he has been in the hospital wing for a week it wasn't hard to determine whom you would wish to discuss."
Severus took a sip of his tea, using it to cover as much of his uncharacteristic display of surprise as he could. "Yes, well, I am his Head of House so it is only natural that I would be concerned for his wellbeing."
"Quite right. This is exactly why you are Slytherin's Head of House. Despite the fact that most of them will disagree, and as hard as you try to hide it, you do care about the students placed in your care," Albus told him.
Severus resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Why must he always feel the need to try and paint others in the best light, he wondered not for the first time. The Potions Master wasn't about to admit that he cared for the little brats that went to school at Hogwarts. "How is the boy? I was informed that he has awakened finally?" he asked instead to direct the conversation to the matter he had come for.
Albus gave a small smile, mostly hidden by his full beard, upon hearing the note of concern in the man's voice. "He has," Albus confirmed with a slight tilting of his head. "If would appear that Mr. Potter has been through a rather harsh ordeal, Severus. One no mere eleven year old should ever have to face."
"Then the rumors are true?" Severus asked, slumping down into his seat in disbelief. They had both feared that the Dark Lord was not dead, knowing that if that were so he would make a play to return to the living. He, much like the Headmaster, had hoped it would not be so soon. Sometime after my death would have been preferable, Severus thought silently.
"What rumors?" the Headmaster enquired, his interest piqued. "Who started them?"
"I'm not certain, Sir," Severus answered truthfully."However I have suspicions that it was the Weasley brats, George and Fred. Someone noticed that Quirrell was no longer at the school and that Potter's presence was missing from the meals. I guess it was a bit much to have him not seen for a week and not have anyone notice."
The Headmaster pondered this news for a few moments as they each sipped their tea lost in their own thoughts. "If all they have are assumptions then I think we shall be fine," he finally said. "I'll have Filius let slip that our young Mr. Potter had an accident, perhaps he slipped and fell on the ice causing him an injury. As he is only a first year as well as the sole Slytherin member in the castle, you felt it would be in his best interest to remain in the hospital wing where Madam Pomfrey could watch over him."
"Must have been one hell of a fall," Severus scoffed under his breath as he took another sip of the excellent tea. The Potions Master knew that Albus would spin it however the man wished, regardless of his own thoughts on the matter. There are times when he forgets that not all students are so easily hoodwinked, Severus speculated as he thought of Harry three closest friends. He had little doubt that any of the witches would believe the story. "So then it is true?" the professor asked instead in order to change the subject as he considered the previous one completed.
"I'm afraid so, my friend. Both the good…and the bad," Albus replied thoughtfully.
"And you're certain it was the Dark Lord?" Snape pressed, leaning forward in his seat, tea all but forgotten for the moment. There was a phantom pain within the dark mark on his left arm. A reminder of what it had been like during the war then years ago. Snape wanted to avoid going through that ever again if he could.
Once again Albus gave a nod. "From what I gathered from Harry, Voldemort's shade had possessed Professor Quirrell and waited for just the right time to try and take the stone. If it hadn't been for Harry I am certain Voldemort would have been able to obtain it and possibly return again. If that were to happen there would be very dark times ahead of us, Ifear."
"If he were to return, the first thing he would do is call for me as well as the others," Snape offered, knowing that he would have little choice but to answer the call when it came. "He would want his inner circle there so that we could see that he cheated Death. What's the point in doing so if you can boast about it to others after all."
"If the call comes, which I fear it shall far sooner than we wish for it to, you must answer it without reservation, Severus," Albus told Severus earnestly. "I needn't tell you that you're the only one that can determine his plans and relay that information to the Order so that we can act accordingly."
"You know as well as I do the vows I am under, Headmaster," Severus snapped. The man's anger was not really directed at the aged wizard seated across the desk from him, but rather at himself. I have none to blame but myself. This is the bed I made and the time will come when I must surely lie upon it."As well as the reason for what I do for the Order."
Albus sighed sadly for his friend. It had been a decade since the death of Lily and James Potter and still it hurt. Albus couldn't help but think, I failed them. "Even after all this time, Severus?" Albus asked gently, knowing the subject to cause the former Death Eater, who had loved the very woman betrayed, far more pain than it caused himself.
"Always!" Snape assured the Headmaster.
"I do not call upon your services lightly, my friend," Albus continued with. "If the time comes though I shall once more be counting on you, as shall we all."
Snape nodded once curtly, accepting his lot in life as the Headmaster's spy in the Dark Lord's camp. He had little doubt what his fate would be were he ever to be discovered. Death would be a blessing by the time the Dark Lord was finished with him. "Just be sure to do your part and keep her boy safe," Snape reminded the elder wizard who gave a nod of agreement. The two sat in silence for a moment sipping their now cold tea, lost in thoughts of another time…another war and the regrets they both held for past actions. "What happened to the stone?" Severus asked, breaking the silence.
Albus frowned sadly at the question. "Harry's magic completely destroyed the Mirror of Erised and the stone along with it as it was trapped inside," he answered.
"What are you going to do about Harry?" Severus asked softly, not certain he really wanted to know. Seeing the questioning look upon the Headmaster's face he continued. "This is the third time his magic has slipped the boy's control, each with disastrous effects. It is only through sheer dumb luck that no student other than the boy himself has been injured. Now he has killed a professor. If the parents of the other students hear tell of this, he will be seen as a danger to the entire school."
"Which is why we must see that doesn't happen, Severus," Albus declared evenly. "I will speak to Cornelius and have the Ministry exert their influence on the Daily Prophet and the Wizard Wireless Network to prevent any news of what has happened here from being leaked out. Minister Fudge is very concerned about his public opinion and a death within the very walls of Britain's premiere school would not sit well with the masses. At least that is how I will spin it to him," the wizard added with a small chuckle, knowing exactly how to handle the politician.
"What of the boy himself?" Severus pressed, concerned for the students in the school as well as for Harry himself. "Till he can control his magic, rather than it controlling him, he is a menace to everyone around him. Surely there must be something that can be done to either minimize his magic or assist him with controlling these outbursts of accidental magic."
Albus made a placating gesture towards his Potions Master."I'm certain young Harry will learn his control in due time. That is what Hogwarts is here for after all, to teach young witches and wizards how to use and control their magical ability. Some just take a bit longer than others to learn," the Headmaster assured Severus.
"Until such time do we just hope that he doesn't injure anyone other than himself?" Snape asked with a slight sneer only to receive a nod of acknowledgement. It had always amazed Severus just how cavalier the man who was the reputed Leader of the Light could be when it came to his plans and what Albus saw as The Greater Good. "Then you won't mind if I were to speak with the Potter boy as his Head of house?" Severus requested. It can't hurt to at least try and help Harry. Snape knew he owed that and much more to the boy's mother.
"If you think it will help," Albus replied, giving him permission to do so. Truthfully the Headmaster was beginning to wonder if Harry's outbursts were really accidental magic. It wasn't just the fact that the boy was well past the age when such occurrences were believed by many to cease, no there was also that other reason he was worried. He will have power the Dark Lord knows not. "Perhaps if you can determine what causes the outburst to occur?"
Further musings were interrupted by the soft pop of the arrival of a school elf. "Headmaster," the small creature said with a respectful bowing of his head, "Madam Pomfrey has asked for your presence, Sir. She said to inform you it was a matter of some urgency concerning Harry Potter."
"Thank you. Please tell the good lady that I shall be there momentarily," Albus replied only to see the elf disappear. "Come Severus, let us not keep the good lady waiting," Albus said, inviting Harry's Head of House to come with him. Climbing to his feet the aged wizard left his office, potions Master in tow, and headed towards the hospital wing of the school wondering what had happened to the poor boy now.
Hermione Granger stood leaning against the wall, her trunk upon the ground near her booted feet, and eyed the portal that let out onto platform 9 ¾'s. The young girl's eyes were red and puffy as it had been a rather emotional goodbye with her parents before she had stepped through the portal from the non-magical side. Hermione hadn't realized just how much she had missed her mum and dad till she had seen them at King's Cross station waiting for her. She had cried then as well as had her mother, Emma. Leaving them once again had proven more difficult than she had imagined it would be.
The holidays had been wonderful as her parents had heaped untold amounts of attention onto their only child. The Grangers had even closed their practice down for the duration of Hermione's stay. For her part, Hermione had told them all about Hogwarts and the magical things she was learning there. Both parents quickly realized that along with their daughter's other friends acertain dark-haired wizard with the most amazing green eyes, per Hermione, figured prominently in all their daughter's stories. While Niles was of the mind that his little girl shouldn't be within a hundred feet of any boy, Emma found it all rather sweet. Both parents were happy though that Hermione had finally managed to make some friends.
On Boxing Day, the Grangers had met with the Greengrass' as Hermione had promised. Tracey and Daphne were taken for a drive so they could see for themselves what it was like to ride in an automobile. Hermione was abit amused at her friend's expense as the witches played with the power windows and seemed to take more than a passing interest in the radio and the various types of music it could play at the touch of a button.
All in all it was a great holiday break, she mused silently to herself. I wish Harry could have been here as well. The witch had thought to write her best friend but when she had tried to she found she didn't know what to say. If I had told him about all the fun things I did or about when Daphne and Tracey were with me it would just make him feel bad for having missed out. Hermione, in the end, didn't want to hurt her friend's feelings and hadn't written anything at all.
The loud commotion at the portal drew her attention from her thoughts of Harry. Seamus Finnigan and Dean Thomas had stepped through the opening laughing and talking rather loudly about what they had done for their holidays. Neither boy so much as acknowledged her presence, though they both clearly saw her standing there. It saddened her to have someone hate her to the point that they ignored her completely. While things had gotten better for her in her own house there were those, mostly from her own year, that still treated her as an outcast.
"Pay them no mind, Hermione," Tracey's voice told her from beside her. The auburn-haired witch, upon stepping through the portal, had seen where her friend was looking as well as the sad dejected look that was upon Hermione's face. "They aren't worth your time or concern."
"I know," Hermione answered as she turned to regard her friends, a smile blossoming on her face upon seeing them. "I just wish…," the young girl's words trailed off as she wasn't certain just what exactly she wish, only that things were not as they currently were. I wish having the friends I have didn't mean that the rest of my house wanted nothing to do with me.
"You've got us after all," Daphne spoke as she hugged the Gryffindor witch before stepping back so that Tracey could do the same. Though it had barely been more than a week since they had last seen each other they both had missed their friend. The Greengrass`, living in a magical household, didn't possess a telephone so they hadn't even been able to give Hermione a ring over the last week.
"And Harry," Tracey said as she stepped back to stand beside Daphne. "Best not forget him either," she added with a cheeky grin.
"As if any of you could forget, Harry," Abigail Greengrass scoffed teasingly, making her presence known and causing all three young witches to blush. Daphne's mother had spent the majority of the holidays hearing 'Harry this' and 'Harry that' from both her daughters. Abigail thought of Tracey as her own daughter as much as she did Daphne or Astoria. She loved all three of her girls dearly. When they had visited with the Grangers and Hermione had started in on her own Harry centric stories all the older witch could do was chuckle. I hope I wasn't like that when I was their age, she had thought at the time.
"Mum!" loudly whined a slightly younger version of Daphne. "Don't talk about my Harry that way," the young girl warned.
"Oh this must be your younger sister?" Hermione exclaimed looking toward Daphne for confirmation and receiving it. "Hello, I'm Hermione Granger," she said, extending her hand towards the youngest Greengrass daughter who had not been able to join them on Boxing Day. "It is very nice to finally meet you."
Astoria, with a slight nudge from her mum, stepped forward and took the older girl's hand in hers before giving it a shake. "A pleasure," the petite blonde girl replied. "I'm Astoria Greengrass. You're friends with Harry Potter?"
"Yes. Yes I am, Astoria," Hermione answered with afriendly smile. The small girl before her had the same hair as her mother and matching blue eyes with her older sister, Daphne. She will no doubt be just as pretty when she is older, Hermione thought a little jealously. Some girls have all the luck!
Astoria's answering smile seemed to light up the young girl's face. "We should be friends too then so that when Harry and I are married we'll all be friends together," she told Hermione. "I think it is important that I get along with my husband's friends after all," she added, still shaking Hermione's hand enthusiastically.
Daphne stepped up behind her sister and wrapped her arms around the smaller girl's shoulders. "My Sweet, I think you can let go of her hand now," she told Astoria with a small smile, coming to her stunned friend's rescue. Hermione was left rather speechless, no sure what to make of the young girl's proclamation that she was going to marry Harry.
"Sorry," Astoria squeaked out, hastily releasing Hermione's hand and blushing in embarrassment at the same time. The younger sister leaned back into the older girl's embrace both in an effort to hide herself as well as to enjoy Daphne's attention which she never seemed to get enough of, at least in her opinion.
"You haven't married him yet, half-pint," Tracey was quick to point out with a teasing grin. 'Half-pint' being the name she had given the younger Greengrass daughter many years back."Maybe he'll prefer someone his own height," she snickered, ribbing Astoria who was rather petite and hence short for her age.
Hermione could tell from the amusing tone in Tracey's voice that this was a long running point of contention between the two girls. It's like they really are siblings, she suddenly realized. There was a small twinge of longing for the siblings she would never have, but it quickly passed. I guess that makes sense what with Tracey staying with Daphne most of the time. Hermione hoped that maybe one day Tracey and Daphne would come to think of her as another sister.
Turning on Tracey, Astoria shot the older witch a dark glare."Why would he want someone like you? You can't even fix your hair properly and you dress strangely! I'm clearly the better choice!" the fired up girl told Tracey. "I'm certain Harry will want nothing further to do with you once he has seen me!"
Tracey snorted in amusement. "I didn't say me. Maybe he would like Daphne better. As for Harry, you haven't even met him yet, Tori." If there was one thing she loved it was messing with the youngest Greengrass girl. Tracey loved Astoria dearly but it was just too much fun to pass up and she knew all the right buttons to push. "Besides, Harry may like me, he has already hugged me after all," she stated flauntingly.
Astoria's face turned red with anger upon hearing this news. Daphne had been very careful not to mention that Harry routinely hugged all three of them, a fact she knew her sister would be jealous of should she find out. Heaven forbid that Astoria learned that Harry had kissed her on the cheek!"How dare you hug my Harry!" Astoria fumed, partially struggling against Daphne's grasp in an attempt to get at the older girl. "Sissy said she will introduce me to H…Harry," Astoria stammered, too upset to speak clearly. "Just you wait! Harry will hug me too!" she declared heatedly.
"And so I shall," Daphne quickly cut in before the argument could escalate further. "Just as soon as I can, my Sweet," she assured her sister with a hug, shooting Tracey a warning look only to receive a small chuckle as her best friend decided to let the matter drop."I'm sure Harry will be ever so pleased to meet you too."
Astoria spun about in her sister's arms, her large blue eyes looking up at Daphne hopefully. "Do you really think so?" she asked excitedly, her argument with Tracey completely forgotten due to the prospect of actually meeting the wizard of her young dreams. "I so hope he likes me," Astoria added, her brow creasing in worry. "What if he thinks I'm not pretty enough or to…short?" she asked the latter in little over awhisper. "Maybe he won't like me!"
"How can he not?" Daphne stated with a warm loving smile as she gazed down at the younger girl. "You're my sweet little sister and are completely adorable!" Astoria's cheeks blushed at the praise of the person she cared for most in the world. "I'm certain he will come to love you just as I do," Daphne told her before leaning down and kissing the smaller girl on her forehead.
"But I don't want him to love me as a brother," Astoria replied, cheeks tinged pink from her sisters affections. That was the last thing she wanted as brothers and sisters didn't get married. Even she knew that! "He has to love me as his wife," she told Daphne. "I mean we're to be family once we're married, but not that kind of family," the younger girl rambled.
"Yes, well we'll just have to see what we can do about that," Daphne replied, a hopeful smile once again appearing on the smaller girl's face. Hermione and Tracey had to work hard to hold back their giggles at the smaller girl's actions. They both couldn't wait to see how Harry would deal with the smaller girl and her affections. It was Harry after all, so they were certain he would be gentle, but both knew it would be rather entertaining to watch none the less.
"Not for many years yet though," Abigail interjected into the conversation quickly. "Not unless you want to give your father aheart attack that is," she added with a small smile to stop her youngest from protesting. "If you three do not hurry you may very well miss the train," she told the returning students only to hear the whistle blow signaling the imminent departure of the Hogwarts Express.
The Greengrass Matriarch gave all three girls, including asurprised Hermione, hugs goodbye. "Do behave," she instructed them as she held onto Astoria, who once again wanted to go with Daphne. "Don't forget to write. That means you as well Tracey," Abigail scolded only to grow a bit teary eyed at the witch's response.
"Yes, mum!" Tracey called over her shoulder as the three departing witches moved across the platform and boarded the train.
As not all the students had left school for the holidays the train was not nearly as full as it had been at the start of term. The three friends found an empty compartment and stored their trunks on the overhead racks. Tracey and Daphne sat on one side with Hermione on the other. The train had just started to move when the cabin door opened and Blaise Zabini stuck his head in. "Mind if I join you?" Upon receiving permission he stored his trunk and took the open seat next to Hermione. "So, good holidays?"
"Very good," Hermione answered first. "Gran's was the usual 'only just contained chaos'," she offered with a tender smile at the thought of the day. Being an only child as well as a bit of an introvert, she did not handle the madhouse nearly as well as others might. There was something to be said for the quiet comfort of her books or the warmth of just a few dear friends. Still, she loved her family dearly, even if they were a bit on the loud and energetic side at times.
"Pretty much the same as last year," Daphne spoke up, answering for both Tracey and her. "Boxing Day we spent with Hermione and her parents. Father's New Year's party was a resounding success as it always is, mostly thanks to mum of course."
"Oh that reminds me, what happened to you on Boxing Day?" Tracey asked the dark boy. "We all got to go for a ride in the Granger's automobile."
"Really?" Blaise exclaimed, the disappointment evident in his tone. "Mum had me busy all day helping to clean up after the party," he explained. In truth he had spent the day nursing his hung-over mum back to a resemblance of health while the house elves did the cleaning. The young boy was too embarrassed to tell his friend that though. "I can't believe I missed that," he whined sorrowfully.
"I'm sure I can ask them to do it again over the summer, Blaise," Hermione offered the boy, feeling sorry for him.
"Really?" Blaise asked in a hopeful tone of voice as his head swiveled to regard the witch next to him.
"Count us in too!" Tracey proclaimed for both she and Daphne as neither wanted to be left out.
"I'll write to them and ask," Hermione assured her friends, pleased that such a simple thing could make them happy. Sometimes it still felt a bit unreal to her that she had friends, after going without for so long. With the New Year ahead of her she was determined to keep the friends she had and perhaps make a few more. The young Gryff had little doubt that of all the presents she had received last year, making friends with Harry and the others had been the best. "Speaking of writing, did any of you write to Harry?"
Daphne and Tracey both looked guilty upon hearing Hermione's question. "We thought about it," Daphne started with, "but we didn't know what to write to him," the young girl confessed."You?"
Hermione gave a slight shake of her head. "Same. I didn't want to tell him how much fun I was having when he was at Hogwarts all by himself," she explained.
Tracey and Daphne were quick to nod in agreement. "It just seemed like it would have been cruel," Tracey added, her sad expression matching that of the other two girls.
Blaise just shook his head in disbelief as he watched the three witches. "Blimey, it's only been a couple of weeks," he finally said."I'm sure Harry is fine. He had the entire Slytherin House to himself. How much trouble could he have possibly gotten up to with Professor Snape watching over him, I mean?" The young wizard leaned back into the seat. "Just you wait, I bet he'll be waiting at the doors for us!"
Only he wasn't. Neither did he join them for the returning feast held that evening. The Slytherin members of the Outsiders seated themselves, each with an apprehensive look upon their faces. "Any sign of him?" Daphne pressed Blaise for information concerning their missing friend. The first year had gone to check the boy dormitory for the missing wizard.
"No one has seen him since they've come back," Blaise told her and Tracey with a short shake of his head. "His trunk and things are gone from the boy's first year dormitory as well," he added.
"What could have happened to him?" Daphne fretted aloud only to be consoled by Tracey who was as equally concerned about Harry's apparent disappearance.
"You…you don't think," Blaise stammered hesitantly,"that he could have been expelled?"
"What for?" Tracey snapped, truly frightened by the thought. If that were the case then it would be likely that they would never see Harry again. Expulsion prior to achieving satisfactory OWLs meant that he would have been removed from the Wizarding world completely. "Harry would never have done anything to have caused them to kick him out!"
"I think we're about to find out," Daphne stated after swallowing heavily. The young witch gave a nod towards the doors to the great hall where Hermione had just entered with a strained and worried expression upon her face. The three waited till their friend had seated herself beside Blaise before speaking. "What have you heard?" Daphne was quick to ask, knowing from the Gryff's expression that it wasn't good.
"Harry was involved in some kind of accident or altercation around Christmas Day or the day after," Hermione told the other Outsiders."I overheard the Weasley twins were speaking to their older brother Percy, who is a Gryffindor prefect. I think they were trying to get more information from him after noticing Harry's absence. Their brother was as much in the dark as the rest of us from what I could hear, but he did say that Harry was confined to the Hospital wing and no one had seen him since. Percy didn't seem to know any more about the matter though he did mention in passing that Professor Quirrell has apparently gone missing and didn't return from the break. Percy told the twins that he had heard that Professor Dumbledore would be teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts when classes resume in the morning."
"But Harry's alright?" Tracey asked, knowing it was the one question on all their minds at that moment. The more time that had passed without them locating their friend the greater the feeling of dread that something had happened to him had increased. After learning that Harry's things had been removed from the dormitory, Tracey had feared the worst. The young girl hadn't realized just how much Harry had come to mean to her, a fact that was only now beginning to dawn on her.
Hermione shrugged apologetically, "I don't know. No one has seen him," she reminded her friend. "He must be taking his meals in the hospital wing as the twins said they hadn't seen him in over a week." Hermione had asked the other students who had stayed behind for the holidays but they hadn't been able to tell her anything she didn't already know. Oh Harry, what has happened to you now! she anguished silently.
The four of them looked at each other and then as one stood and hastened from the hall. It wasn't long before they were walking down the hall towards the doors to the hospital where they believed their friend now resided. As they neared the hospital wing doors they opened as if on their own accord and out stepped the Headmaster. "I thought I might find you four here," he told them with a kind grandfatherly smile.
"Headmaster, is Harry alright?" Hermione blurted out before any of the others could ask.
"Calm yourself Ms. Granger," Albus told her, holding up his hands and making a placating motion. "Mr. Potter is well and will be joining classes tomorrow," the Headmaster assured them all.
"What happened, Sir?" asked Blaise.
"Alas, that I cannot tell you, Mr. Zabini," Albus answered only to have to hold up a hand to forestall the outburst from the three witches present. "It is not my story to tell," he quickly explained, "as I was not there. For now it is best if we allow Mr. Potter his rest. Should he deem it appropriate to tell you then he shall do so but in his own time as well as his own manner."
"Can we see him?" Daphne enquired needing to see with her own eyes that Harry was alright. She refused to even entertain the notion that Harry had been expelled or removed from the school in any manner. It would have been just too painful to contemplate such a thing. No, Harry's place is here with me…us…his friends, she had told herself instead over and over again.
"I fear not, Ms. Greengrass. Mr. Potter himself has asked that he not be disturbed," he added over their objections. "Might Isuggest that for now you give him some time and allow him to come to you when he is ready?" Four sets of shoulders sagged dejectedly upon hearing his words. "Come, let us return to the great hall and partake of the excellent fare the elves have prepared for us this evening," Albus told them as he ushered them back the way they had come.
Tracey, Daphne and Hermione were seated in the front row of Professor McGonagall's Transfiguration class. There was an empty seat between Daphne and Hermione that the witches were saving for Harry. The three witches had hurried through their breakfast once they realized that their missing friend wasn't going to join them. It was no surprise then when they were the first to arrive to the classroom that morning, even beating out Professor McGonagall.
They had barely spoken to each other as they sat, each turning to glance towards the door anxiously as the time crawled past. Once the other students from Slytherin and Gryffindor started to trickle in the three friends didn't even try to hide that they were watching the door. They fully expected Harry to walk through it, a bit worse for wear perhaps but with a welcoming smile for them all.
Instead of seeing Harry, it was Professor McGonagall who entered, closing the door behind her, before walking to the front of the classroom."Your attention please. Today we will be learning the Avifors spell from your Standard Book of Spellsbook. The Avifors spell is a transforming spell that can be used to change an item or items into a bird, a flock of birds or flock of bats if you so wish. It is a simple spell; however, mastering a Transfiguration spell such as Avifors can be both rewarding and useful."
Hermione's hand shot up into the air upon hearing her Head of House's words. Once called upon she asked her question. "Professor, you said that the spell could be useful. Can you explain please?"
"I was getting to that, Ms. Granger," the professor replied, not surprised that the over eager learner had asked the question before she had a chance to explain her words to the class. "Once you have transfigured the item or items into birds or bats they can be controlled. There is also a possibility that they will simply fly away as well," she added upon seeing several hopeful faces among the students.
Tracey's hand shot up into the air and remained there till she was called upon. "Professor, how does this differ from that the Avis spell?"
"An excellent question, Ms. Davis. Five points for Slytherin," the elder witch stated though it seemed as if she rather had to force the words out past her lips. The rivalry between her house and that of Slytherin was well ingrained, even among the professors. "Avifors should not be confused with Avis, a spell to conjure a flock of birds which does not involve any transformation," McGonagall said in a voice loud enough to carry to the back of the classroom. "Can anyone tell me what other difference there is between the two spells?" Seeing the three witches in front all raise their hands she called upon Daphne.
"A conjured item is usually dependent upon the magic given to it by the caster. This means that it has a limited time before it will disappear. An item transfigured on the other hand will remain forever unless transfigured back or into some other item," Daphne answered.
"That is correct, Ms. Greengrass. Five points to Slytherin," McGonagall replied. "Some stronger than average witches and wizard can conjure items that may last for several years. The four Founders were said to have conjured parts of this very school which have endured for over a thousand years so far. If history is to be believed then Merlin was able to conjure items that then became real and would never fade away." The entire class oohed and awed at this news, amazed that such a thing could be done.
"While that may seem impressive, which it is, stop and think for a moment," McGonagall instructed the class once it had settled down abit. "It would take an enormous amount of magical energy to conjure an item and have it remain forever or even a great length of time. Comparably it would require a far less amount of power to transfigure an item into something you need and have it remain that way forever." Seeing a hand raised in the air she called upon the student. "Yes, Ms. Parkinson?"
"If we can just transfigure things to what we need why is there a need to conjure anything at all?" the curious student asked.
"Conjuring items can be rather useful when your need for that item is only temporary. For instance you may need to conjure a ladder to reach something on a high shelf. Not wanting to keep the ladder you would simply dismiss it when you were done. Can anyone give me another reason?" McGonagall asked.
Hermione thought for a long moment before remembering aconversation she had with Harry regarding changing the pins back to books in the library. Hesitantly the young witch raised her hand and was called upon once again by her Head of House.
"Ms. Granger," Professor McGonagall said, a pleased smile on her face that she would at last be able to award her own house with points.
"It might also be more difficult to transfigure an item than conjure it," Hermione stated.
"Can you explain why?" asked the professor.
"Harry once told me that Professor Dumbledore told him that it was harder to untransfigure something that someone else had transfigured and that it required a great deal of magic to do so. Part of the transfiguration process is the caster imprinting their belief that the item is what it is. In Harry's case it was that the book was actually a pin. So if you were to try and transfigure something which had already been transfigured wouldn't that same rule apply?" Hermione asked, finally pausing for a quick breath before continuing. "You would have to overcome the will of the original person who had transfigured the item in question the first time."
"Correct. Five points to Gryffindor," the professor awarded. "As there is no way at first glance to tell if an item has previously been transfigured most witches and wizard prefer to simply conjure what they need as it is quicker and more efficient. Transfiguration is for those who are not hasty or a bit lazy in their craft," she told the class."It is for those who aren't afraid to put in the extra effort and wish to see the fruits of their labor for some time to come." It was apparent to all the students that she was very passionate about her area of expertise and rather looked down on those who relied on simple conjuring to do what they wanted.
"Now you may come to the front of the class and take a block of wood to use for practicing your spell. If you're feeling very sure of yourself you may take more than one," she told them as she gestured to atable to one side that was covered with small blocks of wood for their use. I doubt that any of them will manage more than a single bird or bat, she thought only to glance towards the three witches in the front row. Well, maybe they will.
"Once you have completed the spell you may go," McGonagall informed them once everyone had returned from getting their wood. The Scottish witch resisted the urge to chuckle as she witnessed several students suddenly become eager to complete the assigned task. "I want atwo foot scroll on the comparison between Transfiguration and Conjuring for next class. Be certain to include examples of spells from both branches of magic and how they differ from each other." Her words were met with many suffering groans from the students before her. The aged witch fought the urge once again to chuckle as it wouldn't do her reputation of a stern Deputy Headmistress any good. Students are the same the world over and in every year.
The Transfiguration professor was turning towards her desk when her attention was suddenly drawn to the rear of the room. A bright blue flash of light had drawn the attention of the entire class. As they all watched agroup of six black bats leapt into the air and flew one right behind the other, in a dizzying display of aerial acrobatics. The small colony of night time creatures continued their performance as the class looked on in disbelief.
Professor McGonagall tore her eyes from the mesmerizing patterns of the bats and looked to the back of the room to see who had created them so fast. The witch's eyes grew slightly wider upon see whom it was currently packing his items away. "Ten points to Slytherin. Well done, Mr. Potter." The three witches in the front row spun about just in time to see the back of their friend as he walked out of the classroom, closing the door behind him without so much as a glance in their direction.
That afternoon they did not see Harry in their History of Magic class, just as he hadn't been present for lunch. In Charms class the following day they took the seats closet to the door and waited for their absent friend to arrive. It wasn't until the class was called to order that they saw Harry seated in the chair closest to Professor Flitwick's desk. All three wondered how they had missed him being there the entire time. As soon as class was over Harry had approached the small man and the two had disappeared into the professor's office.
The three determined witches arrived at their Herbology class Wednesday morning, set upon corning Harry and learning why he was avoiding them. They had come close to doing so the previous day at the end of the Potions class however Professor Snape had been hovering around their friend. None of them had wanted to approach Harry with the Potions Master standing right there. In the end they had waited outside for the young wizard only to be shooed away by Professor Snape as he left the then apparently empty classroom.
Their best intentions and determination would not be enough as Harry was at none of their classes that day, not even the flying class. That night they approached Professor Sinistra, their Astronomy teacher, once the class had finished. "I thought you might come and find me," the youngest professor at Hogwarts said as the three girls approached her after class.
"We're just worried about Harry," Daphne confessed anxiously.
"We just want to make certain that he is alright," Tracey was quick to add.
Hermione nodded in agreement with her friends. "If we can we'd like to help him as well," said the young Gryffindor witch.
"It is very commendable that you wish to help your friend," Aurora replied to the three of them. "I'm afraid though that this is not something you can help with. If Mr. Potter wished for your assistance then I am certain he would ask for it." Seeing their disheartened expressions Auror went on to tell them, "We were given instruction not to approach Mr. Potter. The Headmaster himself is seeing to the matter apparently. Whatever the issue is, perhaps Mr. Potter doesn't want you involved because it is dangerous. He may be trying to protect you by forcing you away," she suggested to the trio.
"But is he truly alright?" Hermione pressed. The possibility that Harry was in danger, at least in her mind, outweighed the fact that he didn't want their help. Judging by the looks on Tracey and Daphne's faces Hermione knew she wasn't the only one who felt that way.
Aurora looked about the deserted tower top to make certain that they were indeed the only ones remaining. "Mr. Potter and I spoke last night," she conferred to the three first year witches. "Being 'alright' is a bit different than being good. While I will not break his trust by discussing what we actually spoke about, I can tell you that he is as concerned for his friends as they are for him."
"So you think that we should just give Harry time and that he'll come to us when he is ready?" Tracey asked, believing that was what the older witch meant. The young girl didn't like the thought of that, not one bit! Tracey was worried about the boy and missed having him around. She hadn't realized just how much his presence meant to her till she was denied it, a fact she was certain the others were also discovering for themselves.
"I didn't say that," Aurora replied with a small smile."I only know that if I had a friend that was hurting I would do everything in my power to help him and be there for him. Even if he didn't want me to be. Not that I have one…who happens to be a first year, mind you," the Astronomy professor added. "I'm just saying that if I did…well, I would want to help him as well."
"Thank you Professor!" the three witches chorused together before hurrying away.
"Go get him, ladies," Aurora whispered under her breath watching their retreating backs as they disappeared down the stairway. It was true that she and the rest of the staff had been directed to assume a hands-off approach to Harry for the time being. That doesn't mean I can't have someone else help draw the boy out of his self-imposed exile, she mused with a small smile. Or in this case three witches who he won't be able to say no to, unless I miss my guess.
Thursday was a late start day due to their Astronomy class which hadn't ended till three o`clock in the morning. The three witches had met up for brunch in the great hall and to work out their plans for the coming charms class. It was decided that Hermione would sit on the Gryffindor side as usual, in the closest seat to the professor's desk. Daphne and Tracey would sit in their places on the Slytherin side, the seats furthest in.
Professor Flitwick climbed up upon his pile of books and brought the class to order. Hermione, slightly outraged at the treatment of something she held dear, namely books, had asked the professor why he didn't make a stand for himself. The experienced professor had looked at her with the look all adults use when telling a child something that should have been obvious,"Because it is far quicker and easier to conjure them than transfigure something, Ms. Granger." That had been during their second week of school. Since then Hermione did her best to ignore the books being stepped on.
"Alright, let's begin," the man perched atop his conjured books said. "Mr. Potter, as you're the closest would you be so kind as to close the door? Thank you," he said to the boy once his request had been met. "Today we will be learning the Unlocking Charm," he said addressing the entire class. "Now can you tell me what was used prior to the Unlocking charm?" Several hands went up at his question. "Ms. Patil," the professor selected.
Daphne leaned in near Tracey and whispered to her best friend."I didn't even see Harry come in."
"Me either and I was watching the door the entire time," Tracey replied, just as confused as the other witch.
"How does he keep avoiding us," the blonde witch growled under her breath in frustration.
"I don't know but remind me to never play hide-n-seek with him," Tracey quipped back causing her friend to snort in laughter behind ahastily raised hand which covered her mouth.
Parvati Patil smiled a bit nervously before replying. "That would be Portaberto, Professor," the young Gryffindor witch answered with.
"That is correct! Five points for Gryffindor," Professor Flitwick awarded with a smile. It always pleased him to teach bright and eager minds. "Portaberto was designed to splinter the lock from the door, though it had a greater tendency to leave a smoking hole in the lock where the keyhole should be. Still, even Portaberto was a vast improvement over its predecessor, Open Sesame, which pulled the entire door off its hinges and ripped it into firewood. Both of these were much more rudimentary and by far less subtle than the current Unlocking charm. Who can tell us where the charm came from? Ms. Davis?" the professor asked before any hands had gone up.
"Although it is unknown who invented it, the spell was brought to Britain, and hence to the world, in the 17th century from Africa by Eldon Elsrickle. He reportedly used it to terrorize London, stealing from the homes of Muggles and wizards alike, until Blagdon Blay invented the Anti-Alohomora Charm," Tracey answered, surprising Daphne who was unaware that her friend knew the answer.
"Well done, Ms. Davis! Five points for Slytherin!" the diminutive professor exclaimed happily. "That is also why the charm is sometimes known as The Thief's Friend as it allows the person to enter and leave rather discreetly. It also comes in very handy when you've misplaced your house key," Filis added, eliciting a few grins and giggles from the room of first year students.
The Charms Professor launched into a detailed explanation of the Unlocking Charm, Open Sesame and Portaberto spells, offering extra credit for anyone writing an essay on the differences between them and turning it in by their next charms class. Next followed instructions on the proper wand movement and annunciation of the Unlocking charm. It took a few in the class longer than normal to get the proper wand movement correct.
Near the end of the class Hermione caught the professor's attention and whispered something to him. After a quick nod from the man she stood and left the classroom to use the loo. As Hermione passed Harry she saw that he had his face down and wouldn't even look at her. Perhaps more startling though were his hands, for they seemed to be scaled like a snake's skin would be. What happened to him? she wondered as she left the room. Was he hexed in some manner? Hermione pondered as her concern for her friend continued to grow.
The remaining quarter hour of the class was spent practicing the required wand movement of the spell, resulting in several locked drawers in the class room suddenly opening on their own, much to the delight of the class and chagrin of the professor. "That will do for today class," Professor Flitwick finally said. "For Tuesday's class I would like all of you to submit a two foot scroll on the Locking charm as well as the Anti-Alohomora charm by Blagdon Blay that Ms. Davis was kind enough to inform us of. I am of course available if anyone has any questions."
"Professor?" Daphne was quick to call out, drawing professor Flitwick over to her. That should keep Harry from using the professor as a reason to remain behind, she thought. This was all a part of the plan the three of them had cooked up that morning to ensnare their friend. They needed him to leave the classroom as quickly as possible in order for their plan to work.
Even as the words were leaving Daphne's lips Tracey stood and slung her book bag over her shoulder and hastened around the desks, heading for the door. Ahead of her she could just see Harry as he left the classroom. The young girl hurried, pushing past her fellow House mates and the others. Breaking free of the masses she could see the young wizard ahead of her pulling something from his bag. "Harry! Wait up!" Tracey called in a vain attempt to get his attention and force him to either talk to her or flee.
The young wizard quickened his pace upon hearing his name called so close behind him. Nearly sprinting down the corridor he yanked his cloak from his bag just as he turned the corner…and froze. There, half-way down the hallway, waiting for him was Hermione. The young brunette witch was staring directly at him. It was awell thought out plan, he silently admitted as he realized the reason for Hermione leaving the class earlier. It might have worked too, the apparently trapped wizard thought just before he tossed the invisibility cloak about himself and vanished.
"Harry!" Hermione yelled upon seeing the boy disappear right before her eyes, but not before she had seen the completely devastated look upon his face. "Don't shut us out," she pleaded as her eyes filled with tears. It hurt to be rejected when all she wanted to do was help her friend. "Please just talk to us! Tell us what's wrong! Let us help you!"
Harry had been Hermione's first true friend. He had stayed with her when she felt she didn't deserve it. Her friend had even acted as if the bullying happening to her was happening to him when they had gone and spoken to Professor Sinistra. Then there had been the incident with the troll and how she had been so certain she had lost him. She'd never felt so scared before in her life. The image in the mirror had shown her that she might be developing feelings for the young boy which was why the past few days had been horrible as she felt she was losing her best friend. "Please Harry, don't leave us," she stammered, tears running down her cheeks. "Don't leave me," she added with a tearful sob, "I don't want to be without my best friend."
Tracey rounded the corner only to see a crying Hermione and no one else. "Where did he going?" she asked but the other girl was far too upset to answer. The young Slytherin witch pulled Hermione to the side of the corridor so that they weren't blocking the way for the other students who stared as they passed, wondering what had happened. Tracey glared at the overly curious one till they turned away, wishing to spare the crying witch as much embarrassment as possible.
It wasn't long before Daphne arrive carrying her book bag as well as Hermione's. "What happened?" she asked upon seeing Hermione crying into Tracey's shoulder.
"I…I don't know," Hermione stammered as she worked to regain control of herself. "He just vanished, right before my eyes," she explained. "I begged him to talk to us...to not shut us out," she told them, getting worked up once again in spite of herself. "I just miss him so much," Hermione admitted with a shuddering sob.
"We all do," Tracey offered, trying to console the distraught witch leaning on her.
"You all need to stay away from me," a very strained disembodied voice said from near at hand.
"Harry!" all three witches exclaimed, turning and looking hopefully about at the now empty corridor. The other students had already left, heading to their next classes. Where ever he was they apparently couldn't see him.
"Harry, why are you doing this?" Hermione asked in atearful voice, hastily wiping at her eyes. The young girl didn't want Harry to see her like this, crying and all puffy eyed, but she wanted…no, needed answers from him. He must think I'm a blubbering baby, she berated herself while awaiting Harry's response.
"I…I have to," the strained voice of their friend replied from somewhere off to their left. "I…I could kill one of you and Iwould never be able to forgive myself for that. You have to understand Hermione, all of you do, that this is for your own good. It's just how it has to be."
"We don't understand, Harry," said Daphne as her chest felt heavy with sorrow at his words. She, like the others, could clearly hear how painful this was for Harry. The young wizard's voice was thick with sadness as well as other emotions that they could not identify. It made no sense to her young mind why he would do this to them when it was so apparent that he didn't like it any more than they did. "Please, can you explain it to us?"
There were several long moments of silence which stretched on till they feared the boy had left without answering them or giving then any form of explanation. "Please, Harry," Tracey begged almost desperately."You're our friend and nothing will ever change that," she assured him. "Don't just leave us like this."
"I…I can't explain it, not really," Harry's voice finally answered them from further down the corridor. "Even the Headmaster and Madam Pomfrey do not understand it. I can show you though, but you have to stay there." All three witches nodded that they would only to see adisembodied hand appear in the air. As they watched in puzzlement the hand touched the castle wall. As soon as the boy's hand rested against the stone the hard surface began to darken till it turned completely black at which point is dissolved into a powder or ash and silently fell to the floor.
The three witches gasped in horror as their friends touch disintegrated the surface of the stone before their very eyes. After a few more moments the hand vanished as quickly as it had appeared. The damaged block slowly began to repair itself. "If I were to accidently touch any of you Iwould kill you just…just as…," the boy paused, unable to continue for along moment. "While the castle can apparently repair itself, you cannot. Iwon't risk any of you. You mean too much to me," his receding voice told them. "Just forget about me. You're safer that way."
"Wait, don't leave, Harry!" Daphne called, believing that was exactly what her friend was doing. Her call echoed down the corridor, unanswered like so many of the questions in her head and heart.
"Bloody hell!" Tracey exclaimed blowing out a lung full of air in frustration even as she rubbed Hermione's back in a comforting manner as the bushy-haired witch was once again crying uncontrollable due to being apparently abandoned by her first friend. "What do we do now?"
"I don't know," Daphne answered sadly as she stared down the vacant hallway suddenly feeling more than a bit lost and set adrift.
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