Following the events in Half-Blood Prince, Harry is enjoined to begin a journey that will take him deep into the Forbidden Forest and beyond.
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Worn rubber treads, faded-black canvas, and gray cotton laces that were barely holding the dull metal eyelets together; Harry felt just like his old tennis shoes. Sitting in the sun-drenched grass, with what seemed like the world on his shoulders, Harry picked at a tear in the rubber on the side of his left shoe. Tearing a piece off, he flicked it a few inches to watch it land amid a patch of green clover. A honeybee was pollinating one of several small flowers in the center of the patch. As Harry looked further, he could see dozens of them, all minding their own business and going about their daily routine. Just like the Muggles of Privet Drive.
Looking up, shading his eyes with his right hand, he watched as the few remaining students, some with relatives hovering nearby and assorted staff members stood waiting in small groups for their luggage to be loaded onto the Hogwarts carriages. Black funereal veils covered the Hogwarts Crest on each of the doors. Harry noticed that the Thestrals, the ghostly, magical animals that drew the carriages, were more subdued than usual.
A shadow interrupted Harry's silent vigil. Ron Weasley walked up and sat down next to Harry.
“Chocolate frog, Harry?” he asked quietly.
“Thanks, Ron.” Harry unwrapped the candy and slipped the head of the frog into his mouth. He bit down hard, hearing and feeling the snap of the chocolate. As he chomped on the chunk of candy, he glanced at the Wizard collectible card from the package. He paused, surprised. He slowly looked at Ron, and handed the card to him.
Ron took it, and read aloud, “Minerva McGonagall, Headmistress, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.”
“Guess the Board of Governors've decided, then,” mumbled Harry, as he resumed eating the wad of chocolate in his mouth. Hearing footsteps, he turned to watch as both Hermione Granger and Ginny Weasley approached.
Sitting down in the grass, tucking their legs up beneath themselves, Hermione and Ginny looked apprehensive. Harry broke the remaining chocolate in half and gave one piece to each of the girls.
“Almost everyone can see the Thestrals now, Harry,” Ginny said solemnly, before she put the small portion of candy into her mouth.
“Even my parents. It has my mother quite alarmed, unfortunately,” whispered Hermione, as she nipped a corner off of her chunk of frog. All four turned to look unobtrusively towards the Grangers, who were standing together, talking to the remaining members of the Weasley family entourage.
They sat together in silence for several more minutes, each finishing their candy, thinking private thoughts about the unknown future ahead of them.
Harry looked around; noticing the piles of luggage diminishing as the handlers did their job. Off in the distance, down at the Hogsmeade station, the Hogwarts Express announced its readiness with a long blast of its steam whistle.
Hermione pointed and spoke up suddenly; “Here comes Hagrid.”
“Yeah, and he looks like there's something wrong!” replied Ron, as he turned to where Hermione was pointing. Hagrid was walking with larger than usual strides towards their group on the lawn.
All four began to get up from the grass, sensing that something, indeed, was up.
As he neared, Harry called out, “Is there anything wrong, Hagrid?”
“Glad to 'ave caught ya, Harry!” He paused to catch his breath, and quickly acknowledged Ron and the girls, greeting each by name.
“What's the matter?” Harry asked.
“Harry, you 'ave a special visitor waiting for ya, over at my cabin. 'E bears an important message.”
Hermione looked suspicious, as Harry asked, “Who's the message from?”
Hagrid looked hesitant, then reached deep into one of his pockets, and withdrew a small scrap of parchment. He handed it to Harry, who read it silently to himself.
Harry glanced up to study Hagrid's face. Pausing a moment, he said, “Okay, let's go.”
Seeing the other three begin to follow, Hagrid put his big arm out warningly. He stopped, reached into his other pocket and withdrew a folded parchment, sealed with a blob of beeswax; his large thumb print embedded into it.
“Hermione, if Harry doesn't make it back in time, open this on the train.” Hagrid handed her the sealed note.
“Whaddya mean, 'if Harry doesn't make it back in time', Hagrid?” Ron spoke up, worry and curiosity in his voice. All three looked suddenly apprehensive.
“Ron, Hermione,” and with a softer inflection, “Ginny, everything will be fine,” said Harry.
The three looked at him, all feeling the same thing; Harry Potter was going off alone, to do... something... dangerous.
Still silently upset from Harry's renouncement of their relationship, a tear began to well up in Ginny's left eye. “Please don't go, Harry,” she thought to herself. “Please don't leave me.”
Harry looked at Ron and Hermione in turn, holding their attention for a brief moment, letting them know everything would be fine. Turning to Ginny, he reached out to her hand and held it softly, before giving it a gentle squeeze. Letting it go, he then turned, and, with Hagrid's hand on his back and his wand in his pocket, Harry walked away.
As they walked along the lawn and up the slope of the hill towards his home, Hagrid confided in Harry that the visitor was an old friend, and an ex-student of Hogwarts.
Despite the lingering funk he still felt from yesterday's funeral ceremony for Professor Dumbledore, and despite the fact that most Wizards and Witches in Britain attended Hogwarts at some time in their lives, including Voldemort, Hagrid's tone of voice piqued Harry's interest. Hagrid did not usually sound this serious. Harry kept silent and followed the man whom could have been his favorite uncle, or even an over-grown big brother.
As they crested the hill and began to walk downhill towards Hagrid's wooden cabin, Harry could see the bright orange crop of giant pumpkins that Hagrid was always very proud of.
“Hagrid, I never asked,” Harry paused, looking up towards his face. “Are you staying here at Hogwarts now that Professor Dumbledore is gone?”
“Got no other place t'go, Harry,” he replied matter-of-factly.“Grawpy is jus' settlin' in his place. I figure I'm needed 'ere now, more than ever before. Figure protectin' Hogwarts and the students will be a lifetime job, 'specially now that Dumbledore's gone.”
As they walked down the winding pathway, Hagrid stopped and put his big hand on Harry's shoulder, halting him suddenly.
With careful deliberation, Hagrid slowly said, “Harry, the man you are about to meet is someone you need to listen to closely. He's not your average Wizard.” He paused, then said, “Fact is, I don't think he considers himself a Wizard at'all.”
Hagrid turned and begin to walk again, his hand still on Harry's shoulder. Harry had no choice but to follow.
“You said he was a student here, Hagrid. Is he a Squib?”
“Oh no, not in the slightest, Harry. He's ... different.”
They reached the front doorway, which stood wide-open. Harry began to wonder where Fang was. He noticed Hagrid didn't seem bothered at all.
Harry stepped up and into the cabin. As usual, the clutter of the cabin amazed Harry. Hanging from the rafters, Harry saw the usual assortment of furs and hides in one corner, several sausages and vegetables in another. Some immense winter-weight clothes hung near a rickety looking wardrobe in a third corner. An immense bed was tucked back in a fourth corner. A huge hearth, a large wooden bench, a heavy wooden table covered in assorted clutter, and several over-stuffed chairs, completed the scene.
In one of those big, over-stuffed chairs, a man sat, bent over, as he concentrated on administering a world class tummy rub to Fang, who was sprawled on his back on the moldy looking rug in the middle of the floor. With his mouth open, tongue hanging out the side of his mouth, Fang looked to be in boarhound heaven.
As his Master walked in, floorboards creaking as they usually did, Fang simply rolled over onto his side, looking toward Hagrid. Seeing Harry, too, Fang shuddered as he rolled to get his feet up underneath his body and stand up. He gave a quick shake of his body, with flaps of hanging fur flying about and great gobs of saliva casting about in a wide radius. He ambled over to Harry and tried to put his big paws up on Harry's shoulders.
“Get off Harry, Fang!” Hagrid grabbed hold of his spiked collar and gave a good tug, pulling the boarhound off of his guest.
Harry smiled and stooped down to rub Fang behind his ears, saying, “Good boy, Fang.”
With a loud, throat-clearing, grumble, Hagrid drew Harry's attention back to the man who was now standing up from the chair.
“Harry, I want to introduce ya to a good friend'o mine, Johann Orbaen.” Hagrid then turned to Johann and said, “Johann, this is the young man you have come to see, Harry Potter!”
Johann extended his hand, which Harry accepted readily. “Pleased to meet you, sir,” said Harry, cordially.
“It's a pleasure to finally meet you, too, Harry,” Johann answered.“And please, just call me Johann.”
Dressed in a well-seasoned Buckskin jacket, with thick, olive drab trousers that look like some sort of heavy denim or canvas, Johann stood at about six foot, two inches. Layers of shirts could be seen under his open jacket, and a wide-brimmed hat sat atop a pile composed of what looked to be two backpacks and a good-sized drawstring bag. A tall walking staff stood up against the wall behind the chair.
“Everyone sit down, and I'll pour sum tea,” Hagrid suggested.
As Hagrid turned his back, Johann reached inside his jacket and retrieved a sealed packet of parchment, handing it to Harry. “This is for you, Harry,” he said, before Harry could sit down.
Harry accepted the packet, looking at it closely. One side of the packet was sealed in red wax, with Professor Dumbledore's private Hogwarts stamp-mark embedded into the wax. The other side had Harry's name written clearly in the Professors hand-written script, which Harry was very familiar with. He then moved over to sit in the chair beneath the open window.
Pulling at the flap, the wax refused to break. Harry picked at it for a few moments, then realized it was charmed. He removed his wand and tapped the tip against the wax. The seal broke apart with a clean snap and a few sparkles.
Hagrid, apprehensively watching Harry break the seal out of the corner of his eye, turned back to attend to the teapot and three large, mismatched, ceramic cups.
As Johann watched the seal break successfully, he smiled and sat down. Suddenly, his eyes bulged out, as Fang jumped up onto his lap and plopped down, his head hanging over the edge of the armrest. Johann had to reach down beneath the boarhound to remove one of his paws from a very delicate place.
“Fang, ol' buddy, you're not a puppy anymore,” he tells the big, furred, four-legged lump. Fang huffed and closed his heavily lidded eyes.
Hagrid turned to see what was going on, and apologetically asked Johann,“You want me to drag'im off 'ya, Johnny?”
Harry looked up to see what Fang was doing.
Johann replied in a stifled falsetto, “No, I'm okay, Hagrid.”
Harry chuckled and leaned back into the chair. As he began to examine the message, he didn't even notice that Hagrid had placed one of the cups of tea on the small table next to his chair. He silently began to read the message:
Harry, if you are reading this, then I have passed on, and been buried. I don't know why, or even when. I realize that there is a good chance that it wasn't because of my age. It does not matter at the moment, how I died.
Harry, I wrote this message to ask you to partake a special journey with the man who delivered it. I want you to retrieve something very special. You will learn, when it is appropriate, what that special item is. Harry, you are the only human to whom I choose to entrust this item to. It is for you and no one else.
Harry paused and reached over to take a sip of hot tea from the ceramic cup. He looked out the window, squinted at the brightness outside, and thought back to all of his private conversations with Prof. Dumbledore. He remembered all of the secrets they had shared during the relatively brief time they had known each other. He wondered why he was the “only human” to whom the Professor would entrust this mysterious item.
Harry took another sip of tea and turned back to the rest of the message:
The messenger I have entrusted to deliver this note to you is named Johann Orbaen. During what you would call his sixth year, Johann came to Hogwarts for advanced studies. Besides being a good friend to Hagrid (they are of the same age), Johann has gained my trust over and over throughout the years since he left school. The existence of this message, Harry, was a secret kept by Johann for many years. The fact that you are reading it means that he has kept the secret intact. Otherwise, if this were not the case, the charms placed upon this message would have rendered it unreadable.
Please go with Johann on this journey, Harry. There is much he can teach you. I would consider your participation a very personal favor.
-Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore
Post Script: Dress Warm!
Harry reread the note, looking for some reference to Voldemort or to the Horcruxes. Nothing, no mention at all. No references to dark marks, Dark lords, snakes, or death eaters. Just an allusion to his death not being of natural causes.
He turned and gazed out the window once more. He knew “whom” he was going with; he knew the “why”, to some degree. As to the “when”, he imagined it would be right away. He thought of the message Hagrid passed to Hermione, who would undoubtedly tell Ron, and maybe Ginny, of its content.
“Where” was he going, though? “What” was this special item that Prof. Dumbledore mentioned?
Uncertainty began to cloud Harry's thoughts. There was no one to whom he could turn to now. Mr. And Mrs. Weasley were the closest thing to parents to him, since Sirius and Prof. Dumbledore had died. Remus, Kingsley, and Prof. McGonagall were the other “authority” figures in his life (he still wasn't sure about Mad-Eye). Then there was Hagrid, and Tonks, Bill and Charlie, Fred and George, all of whom he thought of as big brothers or sister. Then Harry thought of Ginny. He thought of his sunshine...
None of them were here to advise him, though. Except Hagrid, but either he wasn't supposed to know about this or he already had an idea, and would not say so.
One thing in the message that was very clear to Harry; Prof. Dumbledore trusted Johann implicitly. Hagrid had known him for years and liked him very much. And Fang... he apparently adored him. Harry looked away from the window, to see Fang sound asleep and drooling as usual. Looking upwards, he saw Johann watching him closely.
Harry stood up and said aloud, “I'll go.” He began to hand the message back to Johann, who stopped him with a gesture of his hand.
“Please, Harry, just toss it in the fire,” he said quietly. “I already know the details I need to know.”
Harry turned, stepped over to the hearth and chucked the packet into the fire. It flashed in a bright orange and silver burst of sparks. Harry watched as the message was completely consumed, with no ash left over in the coals.
As he turned, Johann pushed the huge load of sleeping boarhound off of his lap. Fang awoke and lazily put one leg down, then another, as his carcass was pushed over the edge of the chair. With all four legs on the ground, Fang yawned widely, then stretched out his front paws. He slowly stepped forwards, then moved towards the now-open back door.
“Give me a hand up, please, Harry,” asked Johann. “My legs are asleep, I'm afraid.”
The Hogwarts Express
“C'mon, Ginny, follow us up to the Prefects Car.” Ron called to his sister, as Hermione and the two of them boarded the train. “No one's gonna say anything.”
Still very quiet, Ginny stood in the passage, looking uncharacteristically uncertain. She looked to Hermione.
“It's okay, Ginny. Ron's right, no one's going to mind if you join us in the Prefects compartment.” Hermione reached out towards her. She could tell that Ginny was very upset about Harry.
Ginny followed Hermione and Ron, as they walked towards the forward car.
With a loud swoosh the door between the second and forward car opened. Anthony Goldstein, one of the Ravenclaw Prefects, stepped through.
“Hello Hermione, hi Ron,” he said. “Hi Ginny.” Anthony looked only a little bit surprised.
“Hi Anthony,” answered Hermione. “We're going to be up in the compartment for a bit.”
“I think we're the only three prefects on the train,” Anthony admitted. “But with all of the parents and staff members who are riding it back, I don't think there will be any problems.”
“Where will you be, then?” asked Ron.
“My parents are in the fourth car.”
“Okay, if there's any problem, we'll come looking for you,” said Hermione, as the three of them made their way past Anthony in the narrow passage.
“See you, Anthony,” said Ginny, half-heartedly, as they passed each other.
Anthony smiled back and waved.
Parting the doors between the second and the forward car, the three of them found themselves in a long, wider than usual passage. On the left, a double set of compartment doors stood open. A small plaque upon the bulkhead next to the door read: “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Prefects and Head Students Welcome.”
Stepping inside with Ron and Hermione, Ginny found herself in a very spacious compartment, almost three times the size of the normal student compartment. One end had storage cabinets of various sizes for robes and bookpacks. The side and the other end of the compartment had nicely upholstered bench seats and fold-down tables for writing and reading. Three small sconces on the walls, and a chandelier on the ceiling, provided lighting for the compartment. There was even a small buffet of snacks and drinks available.
“Wow, you prefects have it pretty nice,” Ginny said, breaking out of her melancholia.
With a sudden lurch, and a louder than usual whistle, the train began to move. Their proximity to the engine made every sound a bit louder, and every shudder and bump a bit more exaggerated.
Ron closed the compartment doors and began to stow the few items they had each walked on with, while Hermione set up one of the fold-down tables. She sat on one seat facing the table, and indicated to Ginny to sit also. Ron grabbed three paper cups of pumpkin juice and brought them over. He then sat in the third seat facing the table.
Hermione withdrew the parchment handed to her from Hagrid. She looked at each of the other two, first, then turned back to the packet. She slid her thumb beneath the flap and popped off the blob of beeswax that Hagrid had used to seal it with.
Ginny caught the wax before it could fall off the table, and nervously began to knead it in her fingers.
Hermione opened the flaps of crudely folded parchment and spread it out on the tabletop. The first thing that all three noticed was that there were two different sets of handwriting inside. The first looked a bit rough and sloppy, while the second was neater and crisp. Hermione began to read aloud:
Just wanted you to know that Harry is safe. Nothing to worry about. Nothing at all. Please make sure his stuff gets to the Burrow.
Hermione looked up at the other two, seeing her feelings about the briefness of the message mirrored in their faces. She went on with the reading aloud of the rest of the message:
My name is Johann Orbaen; a former student of Hogwarts, good friend to Hagrid, and a man bearing a message of some considerable importance, for Harry Potter. I may say nothing more about this.
Please know that if Harry is not aboard the train, then he is with me, and will be, for a few short days.
As Hagrid has asked, please ensure Harry's belongings make it safely to Arthur and Molly's, as Harry will return there. Please give my warm regards to Arthur and Molly, and Charlie, too, should he be there.
Hermione sat back as she digested the message.
Ever the practical one, Ginny pulled out her wand and waved it gently over the parchment. As she did, they watched as something began to appear, seemingly, on the backside of the sheet. Ron quickly turned it over, and a large, dark blob began to form. Ginny now worked the tip of her wand out to all four of the corners, and along each edge, of the parchment. The print of a huge paw appeared in dark sienna ink. Ron took hold of the parchment, worry written all over his face, and held the paw print up next to his head. The girls could see that the print was easily larger than Ron's head.
“Oh, my,” was all Hermione could say.