Chapter 14: Spirit
Sat, 9 Sep 1995
Harry paused briefly to wipe the sweat from his eyes. The convenience of being able to train in comfortable settings inside the Come and Go Room regardless of the ambient environment was going to spoil him. It would clearly be turning into something of a mini-luxury that he could allow himself to enjoy on weekends, something that he did not often get during his normal training sessions with Master Gata. First of all, Harry's teacher thought the weather was irrelevant and, secondly, claimed that solid techniques were developed regardless of what Mother Nature may be inclined to do at any given moment.
Presently, the room had provided him with his cutting practice materials. A set of stout three-inch thick pieces of bamboo longer than his leg were each tightly wrapped in rice paper until they were roughly the diameter of one of Hagrid's thighs. Had it been a normal Muggle training method, the entire mass would have been soaked in water for hours, but the convenience of the room left him with what he needed in moments as opposed to hours of preparation and subsequent waiting. While not a perfect model of cutting through the human body, each was representative enough of the muscles and bone and worked well for modern students to practice their technique. The olden days of using prisoners to perform real cutting practice on were long gone from the repertoire of samurai /bukiwaza/.
As Harry lined up the segments in the pattern he wanted for the long sequence of cuts, he briefly thought back over the last three days and how odd his life continued to be. In all fairness, Harry had given up any attempt to be normal years ago and now just settled for getting what he wanted done with the minimum amount of hassle. If people wanted a show, he would happily provide one, but more often than not, the recipient of his attention was not thankful for the manner it was delivered in.
Snape, for example, was engaging Harry in a strange game of cat and mouse. The problem was that within the confines of the Potions classroom, Harry was clearly the mouse and Snape the cat. Outside of the classroom and out of Dumbledore or Cyril's line of sight, it was more of a free-for-all. One moment, Harry would be trying to evade the man, and not twenty minutes later, Snape would be evading him. It made little sense to Harry, but he was glad that McGonagall had been unable to revoke his right to travel the corridors by broom. It made evasive action much easier where the banal Potions professor was concerned.
Harry was most puzzled, however, by his behavior around Dumbledore or Cyril. Snape would clearly act as a mouse and intimate that Harry was acting as the predator, even if Harry was merely reading a book or chatting with Neville and Hermione. All in all, the erratic behavior was leading Harry to think that perhaps the man was just plain repugnantly sly. It was further testament to the strange situation that Snape seemed to enjoy rather odd comings and goings, with weird hours kept according to the lights within his tower windows, but nothing concrete yet had materialized to indict Snape for any single act. Dumbledore had stated in their last meeting on Thursday that he had Snape under various levels of surveillance, and while his behavior was certainly unusual, most adult wizards and witches had unusual behavior patterns compared to Muggles.
Harry was willing to tolerate the odd behavior of Snape, along with the occasional grilling from some other professor when Snape made Harry out to be the aggressor in some petty verbal exchange, due to the simple fact that the man had yet to solve the Snape Spectre Spell from earlier in the week. Despite continuously changing his robes, cloak, and shoes, Snape failed to stop the random attacks by his loose clothing or the sudden onset of a puppet show to passers by. The much touted prowess of the Potions professor had been brought to an all-time low as he was observed randomly casting a repeated Finite Incantatem! all over his clothing.
Snape had finally broken down Friday morning and appeared wearing simple pants, a snug long-sleeve shirt, and shoes. No robes, no cloak, absolutely nothing to billow behind him and to intimidate the students, which, of course, had been the entire point since there was no longer an echo of fear following the man everywhere. Harry spent the breakfast hour alternately fascinated by Hermione's eating habits and speculating on how the Snape Spectre Spell would morph now that the clothing was less than pliable. Harry might be required to bring in one of the spell's variants. That would increase the risk of Snape figuring it out or even catching Harry, but he would have to wait and see what happened next to decide how best to proceed in his campaign to destroy the carefully cultivated image of fear the man sought. It disgusted Harry that this was a so-called adult that picked on those who never stood a chance to fight back.
One lesson had been driven home clearly though: Snape no longer scanned or attempted to scan students with appearances of Occlumency shields. Rumour had it that the bookstores and libraries around Europe were puzzled at the sudden onslaught of orders for basic books on Occlumency, but the twins had sold every student willing to sign the oaths a Ring of Alarm. So far, a couple of first year Slytherins had signed the oath and purchased a ring, but otherwise that house was the last bastion of resistance to the idea of being a ring bearer. According to the Twin Troublemakers, by Wednesday night nearly everyone in Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Gryffindor had bought a ring. The few holdouts held a special place in Harry's heart, but only time would tell what the future held in that regard.
While Snape and Harry's intricate dance of hatred and schemes provided much entertainment to many, Professor Dumbledore's chief amusement stemmed from Argus Filch who astoundingly could not stop singing praises of a student - Harry.
Filch had been given free reign by Dumbledore in determining Harry's punishment, as long as it was within reason. The caretaker had gleefully relegated Harry to scrubbing the castle floors in heavy traffic areas during the night. Even magic balked at properly cleaning the stones and mortar, so the only solution was repeated application of brute force and exhausting labour. Harry had done what he considered a reasonable job, but at the end of his two hour detention, a smirking Filch had announced that the job was quite unsatisfactory and, therefore, he could plan on scouring that spot every night until he got it right. A quick stop in a Muggle pool shop the next afternoon had solved Harry's problems entirely, and that was the end of all his manual labor.
Now Harry would put on quite the show, pretending to industriously scrub away at the floor to remove centuries of dirt and grime as Filch stood over him for a moment or two. As soon as Filch walked off to patrol the corridors, however, Harry threw down his brush. After some careful perimeter charms and an application of weak muriatic acid in several spots on the stone floor, he was comfortably settled in a conjured easy chair with the book on Wards in hand. A Bubblehead Charm for safety completed his pleasant reading environment. The acid completely etched the stone and mortar down and made everything bright and sparkling clean. As the time would progress, he would rinse off one region and apply the acid to another area. The book on Wards was more than adequate reading material, and Harry found himself reading and re-reading several parts to understand how Wards really worked. Although the book was short on theory, Harry found that by reading between the lines, he was starting to figure out how the buffers and protective keys fit together.
Whenever his discreet proximity charm was triggered , Harry would cancel all the charms, Evanesco the acid away, and return to his show of hard manual labour, splashing some water from his wand about his person to make it look like he was beating himself silly to meet Filch's high standards. After being rendered speechless by the impossibly pristine castle floors, Filch had taken a real shine to Harry and had begun singing his praises to everyone. Filch rewarded Harry with the ultimate compliment - he now entrusted Harry to work without supervision on the floor in some other part of the castle, and would leave him alone for the two hours of /hard labour/.
Personally, Harry thought that he was suffering. Understanding Wards was hard enough by itself, and attempting to do so with the lack of a proper drink was downright torture.
The Headmaster's madly twinkling eyes never left Harry's as Filch spent the entire breakfast hour on Friday waxing eloquent on Harry's superior cleaning prowess. Harry acknowledged Dumbledore with a satisfied smirk. Snape spent the same period of time alternately glaring at Harry and Filch, clearly frustrated that he had no idea how Harry had won over the man that the twins claimed could not be swayed.
The twins were another story entirely. Harry had gained a certain bit of awe on their part by winning Filch over, but it was balanced with their disgust in not knowing how he accomplished it. They continued to stake their claim as Harry's loyal followers and shadowed his every move, dubbing themselves the Potter Eaters. They also bragged quite loudly of their pranking accomplishments and intimated that Harry was going to be begging them for mercy very soon. Harry had subtly grilled Neville and Hermione about the truth behind the twins' claims and had come to realise that despite their abysmal class marks, they were quite accomplished at practical magic. In fact, he suspected they might be quite a bit better at Potions work than even Snape was. Certainly they were far more imaginative. Every prank that had been described to him involved Potions work at some level, and most pranking potions took some time to brew correctly. Harry was content to wait for the self-titled pranking kings while they boasted their skills and secretly brewed their concoctions. If he failed to avoid any potions based prank before it took effect, Remus and Sirius would never let him live it down.
While the twins were not cowed in the least by the cavalier dismissal Harry had made of their pranking threats, they were completely intimidated by the ease with which Harry dealt with their mother. By this time, Harry had a fine appreciation for where the twins - and presumably any Weasley with a sense of mischief - got their innate mindset from. Wednesday had been another study in how to contain a Howler, as Harry had received three - one with each meal. Each Howler had been delivered with a different owl, and so far Harry had never again seen the decrepit Errol.
Harry had taken perverse pleasure in nullifying each Howler in a different way. He had again used dual Bubblehead Charms to contain and ignore the first one. He simply transfigured the second Howler into a glass of water and enjoyed the bubbling cacophony of sound. When the water began boiling, however, he quickly placed a freezing charm on it and left the block of ice on the table to disappear with the remains of lunch. Harry had dealt with the third Howler by working a very complex bit of magic to redirect the delivery owl back to one Molly Weasley, Ottery St. Catchpole, while confunding the Howler itself into thinking it was intended for that same Molly Weasley. Harry estimated that she should have received her own Howler back shortly after midnight: a bit of a lullaby for her troubled conscience.
As the re-targeted Howler stilled from shaking bomb status, the final incoming owl fluttered briefly before taking off again. When Harry composedly answered the twin's inquiries regarding what he had done to the last owl, George shrieked like a little girl and bolted from the room. Fred simply stared at Harry as though Fred had the active brainpower of a comatose patient. Hermione and Neville looked on in undisguised horror, while Ginny cried herself hoarse from laughing so hard. Ron was still sitting in the middle of the other Gryffindors and had spent some time staring down at them trying to determine the source of the commotion. To Harry's knowledge, no one ever enlightened him.
Molly Weasley had perceived the return of her third Howler as an open declaration of war. By the next day, Harry had no reason to think that the Weasley matriarch was ever a slouch at devious and underhanded tactics. Harry received no less than fifteen Howlers throughout the day - some came with owls, some came delivered by elves, and three had come disguised as regular mail, appearing during meals or during classes at random. If Harry ever received "regular" mail, he might have fallen for one of the latter, but as it was, the disguised Howlers were so laced with magic that he had no need to even touch the envelope before collecting it. By the end of Thursday, after destroyed the first few to show up, Harry had started collecting them. When the day was done, he held ten bundled Howlers, each contained with a powerful confundus charm to believe they were still in transit. Every Weasley in the castle was pestering him to know his intentions, and even Ron was curious although he asked his siblings rather than Harry.
Instead of reading during his evening detention, he had carefully deconstructed the message contained in each Howler and made a 10 part serenade by breaking Elton John's song "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" across each one. Harry then charmed them to trigger in sequence and placed a volume amplifying spell on each envelope. Deciding that his mission was accomplished, Harry had watched a freshly-laden school owl fly off into the night.
The complete lack of a Howler during the morning rush of owls had left everyone, even the staff, puzzled. When Ginny finally broke down before the twins could, asking him what he did with all the Howlers, Harry told her that he thought her mum needed a little more love and a little less frustration, and hummed a few bars of the song involved. After much additional prodding and demanding, Harry finally relented and told his little group exactly what he did. Ginny wound up on the floor from laughing so hard, while Fred and George were just struggling to come to terms with this new facet to both their mother and Harry. Friday had been a constant stream of attention from every entity with a brain in the castle. Even the portraits hounded him about what he had done to avoid the Howlers that day.
The coup de grace had been the delivery of a box of biscuits to Fred and George during dinner that evening. The note had explained that for the first time since they started Hogwarts, they had managed to go an entire week without a single complaint about them from any of the staff, so she was rewarding their good behavior. The twins had been horrified to realise they had been spectators to the various goings on all week and resolved quite vocally to make the castle shake with their genius for the rest of the year.
Harry was reaching for one of the last half dozen or so biscuits when his fingertips encountered a magical aura of enormous scale. Before the biscuit could literally explode and transform, Harry levitated it and cast a Bubblehead Charm around it. The flames from the biscuit as it transformed into a Howler scorched the table and made Floppy dive off Harry's head, but since he had just barely cast the charm in time, only a faint buzzing and carbonized parchment remained of the Howler. The ensuing chaos kept everyone laughing for a bit, but the twins once again warned Harry he would be better off just accepting his chastisement before their mum got really worked up. When Harry asked if they had seen her more aggravated than this, all of the people nearby solemnly shook their heads. Ginny, however, simply observed that she was excited to see what would happen next.
Harry realized he was now in a full-out battle for bragging rights against the twins, the matriarch of the Weasley clan, and presumably with Ginny - if she recovered enough to resume their challenge.
Harry could not help but speculate about Ginny Weasley. She was an enigma that refused to resolve itself. During his first days at Hogwarts, his encounters with Ginny had left him with the impression that he would have gotten along rather well with her. He had caught a glimpse of a fiery, aggressive and outspoken personality and was therefore somewhat puzzled as to why her demeanor had remained with a complete turnaround after that now infamous fight outside Dumbledore's office. He understood the initial reaction, but her odd behavior since Tuesday was baffling. He thought that she would have reacted in a different manner. To be fair, she did display a bit of moodiness before the fight, but it never lasted so long.
She still avoided sitting directly next to him, and she still flinched a bit whenever he used his wand in class around her, but his private tutoring classes with her were a bit better now that she was talking to him again. She would chat with Harry about mundane events or about his current battle with her mum or even describe some of the twins' more colorful pranks. Beyond these casual conversations, however, Ginny would go no further. Whatever she had been ready to discuss after the pensieve event on Tuesday was once again firmly locked in her mind and was not likely emerging anytime soon.
Nevertheless, Harry took it as a good sign that she seemed to be relaxing her guard to some degree. She would even joke around once in a while. When he had commented on the tameness of creatures that they were currently handling during her tutoring, she had wryly responded that he would come to look back fondly at his time with such simple things soon enough. Harry wondered if she had dealt with much wilder beings, given the rumour that had briefly circulated indicating she had helped Hagrid manage a pair of Graphorns he was keeping in the crates behind his cabin, but no one was certain what the truth might be.
Ginny had apparently made it quite clear to her brother that she did not need shielding from Harry, so Ron no longer tried to keep Ginny under his protective gaze all the time. He stopped treating Harry like a violent leper and contented himself with simply ignoring Harry, sitting far away during classes or meals. Harry was uncertain what was going on with Ron and was sure that the tall redhead would eventually confront him about his issues. Life would go on until that day, but right now Harry was glad that the gangly fellow who had seemed cheerily casual on the train was no longer overtly hostile.
Umbridge, though, was the antithesis to the idea of life progressing. Whatever planet she had materialized from, she was clearly stuck in a fantasy land leaving Harry convinced she had lacquered her brain decades ago and was incapable of new thought patterns. Sitting through her Defence Against the Dark Arts class had turned into a twisted game of attempting to charm the foul hag. Harry would force his face and voice into the most pleasant of facades while asking the most inane questions about Ministry approved methods and classifications.
Harry had successfully tied up the entire Wednesday class when he asked her to explain the difference between a curse, hex, jinx, and counter-jinx. She was completely unable to properly place even one bit of magic without contradicting some Ministry approved classification. Friday had Harry demanding to know the proper Ministry approved methods to obtain help when confronted with a Dark Creature or - horror of horrors - a Dark Witch or Dark Wizard. After Harry's continued efforts to make her describe proper methods for countless scenarios, she had finally given up and dismissed the class early, much to the delight of everyone involved.
Umbridge exacted her revenge with an additional full month of detention on top of deducting a staggering number of House points despite - or perhaps, because of - Harry's wide-eyed protestations that he had shown nothing but respect whenever he had addressed her in class. He spent a long hour arguing with Floppy that whatever points he won or lost prior to being permanently sorted should transfer with him whenever he was finally sorted. Floppy eventually acceded and went so far as to take Harry's net impact off of the Gryffindor meter in the Great Hall. Harry was happy that his growing deficit would affect no other house, but was even more amused that he now had his own ruby meter in the Great Hall, labeled simply "Potter." Unlike the other Houses, however, Harry's personal meter was more than capable of displaying negative numbers, and was currently pegged at close to -380.
Outside of class, Harry completely ignored Umbridge, and this had the effect of slowly making the woman froth at the mouth, as he refused to acknowledge her presence when she attempted to talk to him. Whenever she became sufficiently insistent, he always hopped on his broom and took off. Harry's casual use of a broom as a means of transportation around the castle was now being emulated by the entire Gryffindor Quidditch team, although Fred and George were taking it to new heights by dive-bombing anyone at any time. When they were in their follow-Harry mode, however, they had rapidly learned that they were no match for some of the dives Harry was able to pull off and restrained themselves to keeping a healthy distance. Various staff members were grumbling about banning brooms from the castle interior entirely, but so far nothing had been done.
Hermione continually huffed when they would fly to and fro about the table in the Great Hall. Harry was growing used to the bookish girl's sense of propriety and general streak toward conformity, but he still could not handle her incessant need to barrage him with questions. He had taken to avoiding her as he was unable to get anything done due to her relentless inquisition. She was still focused on his hints about magical theory. Harry suspected she already knew the next leap of logic to make but she was apparently determined to eliminate any counter explanations by pumping Harry for all the negative knowledge he possessed. Her efforts to mine the knowledge of what would not work that Harry kept in his head was driving him barmy. Harry had begun doing his homework during class to pass the time when he found that this one act alone seemed to stop her from grilling him like a charred steak.
Neville had become the anti-Hermione in Harry's mind. While Neville was clearly intelligent and had his own gifts in life, he never pushed for details that Harry chose not to volunteer. Neville seldom asked a direct question outside of what they were working on but always showed a compassionate nature that seemed to surround the core of the boy's essence. Harry knew there was courage worthy of consideration in there as well, but it was so deeply hidden that most casual observations would never indicate that Neville was worth his weight in gold.
Neville continued to quietly stand by Harry's side and was working hard to help teach him the finer aspects of cultivating magical plants, rather than just harvesting them. In turn, Harry shared some of his advanced knowledge in the alchemical properties that some of the plants they worked on were prized for. Unfortunately, he found that many of the plants they were working with, although quite commonplace, were completely useless for Alchemy or Potions.
Neville was striving to get Harry to recognize the subtle signs of good and bad within the life cycle, as well as dangerous or safe indicators, and so forth. Harry was slightly fascinated by the nutrient cycling, and Neville's both intuitive and deep knowledge of what it takes for something to grow properly - straight and strong as opposed to bent and twisted. The demands for proper light, gentle care, and a minimum level of constant attention was a theme throughout their discussions.
While Neville was giving Harry hope that there were people out there Harry would eventually find and value, most of the other students still seemed to be cattle just waiting for a trigger to stampede. There were few making efforts to reach beyond his mild anathema status. The Slytherins had en masse gone very quiet since the appointment of their new Head of House, and Trelawney had become a bit odder - if such a thing were possible. Hermione had nothing kind to say about the strange woman, so Harry felt that such an evaluation told him everything he needed to know about her threat level.
The Hufflepuffs were still avoiding Harry and anyone who associated with him, with the only exception thus far being their reluctant acceptance of the Occlumency shielding rings. The Ravenclaws kept one wary eye on him but otherwise settled into a pattern of collectively treating him as an object for indirect study. His own temporary house in Gryffindor was oscillating between distance and a bemused wary friendliness, with the Weasleys and their friends being the sole exceptions. When he had his own point tallies removed from the House status in the Great Hall, he had enjoyed a momentary renaissance of good cheer that evaporated almost immediately when the twins took to following him around the common room in their Potter Eater garb. Harry was still trying to spend a little time in the common room, but not much was attainable given his various commitments to Dumbledore, detention, and Cyril.
Cyril was a bit of a question mark as far as Harry was concerned. While he had met Cyril more than a few times under Nicholas' care, and even studied with the man for an afternoon a few times, the nature of their relationship was something Harry found himself unable to characterize. Cyril was definitely a mentor, but Harry was unsure whether he was also a friend or if being a mentor by nature precluded friendship. Either way, Cyril seemed content for the past few days to merely hand Harry a collection of books on various spiritual topics with vague instructions to find enlightenment quickly. The Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind primer left Harry more irritated than calm, and The Tibetan Book of the Dead was dreadfully slow reading. Harry's favorite so far was the /Tao of Pooh/.
Harry found that his reflections on life with Cyril were only slightly frustrating when compared to the task that his mentor had set him. Studying his reflection was similar in many ways to harvesting rocks, Harry thought dryly. Spending time every evening trying to understand what his life had been about and why, Harry was left feeling that in the short six years or so he had been truly "cognizant" of life, he had done and experienced so much more than most people. Whether this was good or bad was still something he was unable to determine, but he was certain of only one thing - his life was definitely not normal.
Harry stopped his introspection when he realized that he was the only thing left standing in the room. The various rice paper enshrouded bamboo targets had been cut into perfect pieces and littered the floor. Slowly cleaning his katana by repeatedly drawing a cloth from the tsuba to the /kissaki/, Harry worked off all the marks left behind on the blade.
After cleaning up his training area, Harry's stomach growled. Realizing he had insufficient time to take a shower and get lunch before Edgar was due to arrive, Harry opted to just head straight to the Great Hall and grab a bite to eat.
As Harry dropped into a seat across from the twins and beside Neville, he realized most people were keeping one eye on him and one eye on the large entry points for owls near the ceiling. "Did I miss something?" he asked casually while grabbing a bit of mutton and some salad.
Neville smiled absently. "Everyone is waiting to see what today's Howler Express will be."
Harry nodded sagely before returning to attention to his meal. He glanced up as Ginny sat across from Neville and caught sight of two owls streaking into the Great Hall as though the bats of hell were after them. Before he could fully process what was going on, the owls were slowly disintegrating into a stream of confetti as they flew in a decaying arc about the Great Hall.
He curiously squinted at the owls before suddenly realizing that each piece of confetti was glowing brightly with the very recognizable signature of a Howler. With a surprised oath, Harry jumped up, flicked a wand into each hand, and rapidly constructed a sizzling net of power around him, using a level of speed he had never bothered to publicly reveal. Flicking his wand one last time, he sat down with sweat beading his brow and closely watched as the net took off like a rocket to collect the slowly falling, now smoldering confetti. Just as the net was harvesting the last few pieces of confetti, they all exploded as one and a terribly magnified voice cried out "HARRY POTTER, YOU HAVE-" before his old standby of the paired Bubblehead Charms engulfed the entire mess.
Harry put his head in his hands, breathing heavily. The faint buzzing finally settled into a mosquito-like whine. He paused to savour the cold juice in front of him before looking up at the widely grinning faces of the three Weasleys sitting around him.
"She almost got you that time, old bean!" Fred crowed with delight.
"That's our mum!" George added, nodding happily.
Ginny had a look of glee as she watched Harry. "And how are you going to get back at her now, Harry? All those baby Howlers, lost to your nefarious plans." She was definitely pushing the boundary of good cheer.
Harry slowly shook his head. "Oh, I'll think of something. Have no fear on that score." Most of the students in the hall seemed to have realised that the show was now over - Harry banished the confetti captured in the Harvest Net and Bubblehead Charms into the grey and moody sky outside.
Chuckling happily, Fred reached into his rucksack and pulled out a small bag of apples. Grabbing his plate, Fred dumped the apples onto it and took one at random. After taking a big bite of his apple, he passed the plate to George with a nod toward the others sitting around them.
George also casually grabbed an apple, bit into it, then offered the plate to Harry.
Harry glanced quickly at the fruit and noted that every single piece - other than the two that the twins had picked off - was giving off a faint glow of sparks and magical energy. Realizing that the twins had completed whatever concoctions they had been working on for the past few days, Harry was very curious as to their finished product. Carelessly picking an apple at random, he then made a show of courteously presenting the plate to Hermione and Neville.
Hermione peered suspiciously at him and then at the twins, but Harry just smiled innocently whilst he polished the apple against his sleeve, covertly transfiguring it into a rock which he put in his pocket. He then conjured up another bright and shiny apple - it would not sustain him as a food source if he ate it, but it would baffle the twins so it was worth a little indigestion later.
With Fred and George watching him carefully, Harry took a big bite out of his conjured apple and pretended to savour it. "Wow, Fred," he exclaimed, making appreciative smacking sounds and looking at them expectantly. "These are really good. Did your mum grow them?"
"Err," George temporized, "yeah, she gave us a bag before we came to school." He trailed off uncertainly.
Seeing that Harry seemed to be suffering no ill effects from his snack, Hermione apparently decided to shrug off her reservations and opted to take one. With one last glance at Harry who was still calmly eating his apple, Hermione took a dainty bite of hers.
With a loud /bang!/, Hermione sat frozen in her seat, her hair a bright and flamboyant red, permed into a style that would make any clown proud. Her skin was pasty white and covered thickly in freckles. Her clothing had turned a mix of bright orange and gold with pink lace edge ruffles, three colors that looked hideous with red hair and pale skin.
Fred started laughing, while George's face lit up with a huge smile. "Wicked Weasley Winesaps!" he said proudly, even as Neville scowled at him. Harry just shook his head slowly before starting to laugh along with the twins. Ginny's eyes sparkled as she absently toyed with the frilly pink lace at the hem of Hermione's shirt.
Hermione glared at Fred and George and pulled out her wand. She began a series of counterspells in an effort to undo the prank, even as the twins assured her that the effects would wear off in a few moments. As Harry continued to laugh at Hermione's bizarre appearance, a black ball of fur and leathery wings shot into the Great Hall and landed on his shoulder.
Harry abruptly stopped laughing. "Time's up, gents. It's all business now." With the twins curiously looking on, the little bat popped off his shoulder and transformed into the tall, thin, and handsome Edgar.
Neville looked taken aback when Harry showed no reaction to the sudden appearance of Edgar. "Err, Harry, is it true that vampires are all bat Animagi?"
Harry's response was interrupted by a little puff of smoke that soon cleared to reveal a normal-looking Hermione, staring with open fascination at Edgar.
Harry laughed quietly. "No, Neville, not by any means. Vampires all have their own unique Animagus forms. If I understand correctly, they undergo certain rituals before actually becoming vampires and this is when they gain the inherent knowledge as to what form they have." Pausing dramatically, Harry eyed the small group sitting around him. "As far as I know, Edgar here is the only vampire with a bat form, a Greater Noctule I think."
George reached out and clapped Harry smartly on the shoulder. "Right, Harry, I'm sure Edgar's a vampire. Good try, though." Fred and George collectively turned back to their lunch with mild looks of disgust on their faces, as though they could not imagine that Harry would try so simple of a joke on them.
Harry smiled blandly back at the others. "No, really, Edgar's a vampire. Has been for, what, six or seven millennia now, right Edgar?" Harry wanted to laugh at the irritated face that Edgar made at the mention of his age.
"Centuries," Edgar tersely corrected. "It's centuries, Harry. Do I look like I'm a day over 671?" Edgar glanced at him sharply and bared his fangs with a sibilant hiss of warning before Harry could say anything in return. Harry just chuckled and looked back at the twins who were now staring with morbid interest at Edgar.
"Blimey!" Fred breathed. "How'd you get a vampire past the wards, Harry?"
Harry smacked Fred on the shoulder. "Right, Fred, I'm sure Edgar's a vampire. Good try, though." Rolling his eyes, he looked at Hermione. "Care to educate the ignorant, Hermione?"
At the mention of her name, Hermione blinked and seemed to partially wake up from a trance. "Err, sorry, what was that Harry?" she said, flushing slightly.
Harry sighed. The one drawback to the Vampiric Enthrallment was that it generally only worked on the opposite sex, which had been the cause of more than one bar fight over the centuries as girlfriends and wives abandoned their partners for the tall, dark, and typically handsome vampires roaming around in the night. Nudging Edgar with his foot, Harry quietly told him to drop the enthralling magic or else Dumbledore really would kick him out for seducing the opposite sex.
Edgar refused to acknowledge Harry's comments, but the glassy look finally left Hermione's eyes. Curiously glancing about, Harry was surprised to see that despite the sudden appearance of a man standing by Harry's table, few people were paying attention to them. It was almost as if the general populace in Hogwarts was gradually being accustomed to the regular oddness that seemed to pop up wherever Harry was. Harry took this as a positive sign - they may not be comfortable with him or his life, but at least they were starting to accept it.
Harry suddenly realized that while Hermione was recovering from Edgar's accidental enthrallment, Ginny was just watching Harry with a speculative look on her face. When he raised one eyebrow in silent enquiry, she simply smirked and went back to her lunch.
Harry shrugged his shoulders in resignation. Females were generally hard to understand in the first place, but it seemed that Weasley females were in a league of their own.
"All right there, Hermione?" he asked the brown-haired girl.
Her face was still a little red, but Hermione stared determinedly at Edgar. "What kind of bat was that?"
Edgar buffed his nails nonchalantly. "Greater Noctule. A predator of living creatures, of course."
Hermione narrowed her eyes. "You were black furred."
Edgar nodded slowly, looking puzzled at the statement.
Hermione suddenly shook her finger at him. "That family has light brown fur!"
Harry watched as Edgar's eyes widened in surprise before the vampire assumed a somewhat lofty expression and ignored the comment. Making a mental note to look into that minor fact later, Harry opted for the expedient path of heading off any confrontation by appealing to Hermione's inherent desire to teach. "Err, right, Hermione the twins were curious how a vampire got past the Wards around the castle."
All thoughts of bats apparently vanished as Hermione lit up with joy at the chance to explain something that Harry might not know. "Either the Headmaster invited him, or he broke the Wards the Headmaster put up last year - which is rather unlikely - to stop Dark Creatures, or else he's not a full vampire."
Harry smiled at the bright witch. "Well, close, but no cigar, Hermione. There's a fourth option, but I'll let you figure that out later." The expression on Hermione's face rapidly cycled through irritation, frustration, and then determination. Harry mentally berated himself for twisting her tail yet again, as he was certain this only added another scroll of questions to her interrogation pool.
Before Hermione could go on the offensive, however, Snape slunk into the Great Hall, his once intimidating demeanor reduced to simply a gaunt and broken nosed man who needed to wash his hair and perhaps find a more fashionable colour other than varying shades of black to wear. As Snape passed their table, he sneered down at the twins before looking at Harry and abruptly stopped in his tracks when he recognized the man standing next to Harry. "You!" he hissed, his face paling to a close approximation of Peeves.
"Ah, young Severus," Edgar turned to greet the Potions professor with widespread arms. He drew the motionless Potions master into a tight hug. Keeping his hands on the other man's shoulders, Edgar took a step back, a malicious half-smile on his face as he contemplated Snape's appearance. "Still having problems with the hair, then?" he inquired solicitously, his quiet voice carrying clearly throughout the hall.
"Vampires are not allowed in the castle!" Snape nearly yelled in response. Whereas the sudden arrival of Edgar had garnered little reaction, Snape's words caused most heads to turn and survey the latest drama by the Gryffindor Table.
Edgar shook his head in mock sorrow. "Really, now, my child, surely you would be more gentle with someone who saved you from that particular incident with the doppelganger in Warsaw, now, wouldn't you? Although I have to admit, I think your doppelganger had that hair under control."
Snape's glaring contest with an impervious Edgar was brought to a halt when none other than Dolores Umbridge strolled into the Great Hall. As she came abreast of them, she glanced inquiringly at the stranger. Harry could not resist.
"Oh, Madame Dark Arts Defender," Harry called in a sing-song voice. "May I respectfully ask what I was supposed to do - in a Ministry approved way, of course - if I ever encountered a Dark Creature?"
Umbridge paused in her journey toward the staff table and stared at Harry intently. Apparently realizing that there was no way to admonish him for asking such a simple question, she ground her teeth together audibly. "Notify the nearest Ministry employee or Auror, Mr. Potter," she answered in a frigid tone.
Harry smiled broadly, keeping his voice light and cheery. "And you are still a Ministry employee, being that message-taking, drink-fetching, memo-writing secretary type to our beloved Minister, isn't that right?"
Edgar twitched slightly at Harry's choice of words. Umbridge seemed to be stuck between the desire to kill Harry on the spot and the desperate need to avoid walking into what was clearly a trap of some kind. Refusing to answer directly, she merely nodded her head.
"Brilliant!" Harry said with great enthusiasm. "I feel compelled to tell you that I've found a vampire here in Hogwarts!" The few students who had not heard Snape's outburst were now riveted on the newsflash.
Umbridge gave a short bark of laughter that sounded like a squirrel being flayed alive. "Really, Mr. Potter, do your stories know no limits? Dark Lords, Dark Creatures, evil wizards and witches running around everywhere! It's all a bit much." The contempt in her voice left Harry chuckling warmly to himself.
"Honest, Fudge Secretary Umbridge Under Dolores!" he protested, his tone of voice belying his mild expression. Jerking a thumb at Edgar, Harry kept one eye on how she reacted to his next statement. "He doesn't even like garlic!" Taking that as his cue, Edgar swept forward regally and bowed to the toady woman, who was now alternately glaring at Harry and Edgar.
"Why, Madam Umbridge," Edgar's smooth, polished voice would have made the Queen's own furniture feel rough and pedestrian. "I'm so happy to finally meet you. I've heard so many enchanting stories, you see, that I have just been beside myself with anticipation." Edgar beamed at her, the carefully controlled smile revealing the faintest flash of white upon the vampire's bottom lip. "Aren't you pleased to make my acquaintance?" he asked with just a hint of plaintiveness, arms wide open in a gesture of great personal welcome.
Umbridge gave a low shriek, whipped her wand out and quickly glanced at the staff table. Somehow she failed to notice the nearly universal smirks watching her in return. "Headmaster!" she called. "Severus! We must work together to banish this foul creature!"
Dumbledore calmly put his glass of juice back on the table and looked down his long nose at the woman in front of him. "Really, Dolores, do you think it wise to attack a guest in front of so many impressionable young minds?" The casual tone of dismissal left Umbridge boiling as her face flushed a dark red.
"Now, really, Madam." Edgar looked at her sadly. "Can't we all just get along?"
Umbridge, if anything, became even more furious. "You're a dangerous Dark creature! A menace! A bloodsucker!"
Harry asked Fred in a rather loud stage whisper, "That's how we're supposed to defend against Dark Creatures like vampires? Screech a bit and spit on them? No wonder she won't let us practice magic - she's a squib!"
"My dear Dolores - you don't mind if I call you Dolores, now do you?" Ignoring the incoherent sputtering and the spittle threatening his immaculate attire, Edgar wagged his finger playfully at her. "Really, now, how pedestrian of you to call me a /bloodsucker/. I am a trained lawyer, dear Dolores, and I am here as counsel to Mssrs Fred and George Weasley. Perhaps you haven't seen my card?"
With a tiger's smile, Edgar handed over a magical card. The words Edgar Celer, Magical Counsel were written in elegant crimson script against a white background. Interspersed between the lettering were streaks of dark red ink that seemed to flow in and out of ruby red circles strongly reminiscent of drops of blood. The reverse side had glowing white letters set in the flat black base providing the address of the legal offices in Diagon Alley.
Dolores crushed the card contemptuously; her entire body shaking with rage. Edgar smiled and flagrantly flaunted his fangs. "I am a professional bloodsucker, Madam. " With a flash of a dark smile, Edgar took two steps closer as Umbridge quickly took one step back. Halfway through her second backward step, she paused as a glassy expression settled over her eyes. Edgar's voice took on a surreal quality of power, faintly echoing in timbre. "Really, Dolores, tell me how you feel."
Umbridge's face broke out into an intoxicated leer, her voice cloying and saccharine. "I'm so happy to meet you... so happy..."
Harry watched with amusement as Edgar flicked his eyes to Dumbledore who was slowly rising from the table, the Headmaster's face showing his concern. Clearly, Dumbledore was not about to let this continue. Harry looked around and saw that most of the females in the area were slowly losing control of their jaws as their eyes were equally vacant. Hermione was already out of her seat and seemed ready to climb over the table in order to get closer to Edgar. Only two women seemed to be completely unaffected. One was Professor McGonagall, who was looking contemptuously at a fully Enthralled Professor Trelawney. Ginny Weasley was the second, and she had stuffed her first in her mouth in order to keep from laughing aloud.
"Am I evil, Dolores?" The whisper reverberated as it spread through the hall, almost matching the heartbeat of everyone that heard it.
"Never," she breathed as her face further distorted into an expression of fawning adoration. Unconsciously, she was walking toward Edgar, her head slowly tilting to the side to expose her soft, flabby neck. "You could never be anything evil..."
Abruptly Edgar took one step back, and Umbridge stopped cold. Hermione froze, then blinked in confusion at finding herself with one foot on the table and one foot on the bench seat. Various other girls were half-standing or already headed in Edgar's direction. The greatest impact had been on the girls in closest proximity to Edgar. They appeared to have been fully mesmerized and they still gazed blankly at him for several seconds, even after he had lifted the Enthrallment. Dumbledore was watching them with a cool gaze, his wand out but aimed nowhere in particular.
Edgar casually returned to studying his fingernails and adopted an icy tone. "So I could never be evil, then, Madame?"
Umbridge was looking in horror at Edgar, and then at all the other students who were watching her closely. Before she could fully react, Edgar waved his hand vaguely in a banishing motion. "Now, unless you wish further demonstration of some of my more interesting abilities, I bid a good day to you."
And with that, he unceremoniously dismissed her. Edgar glanced at Harry then placed a hand on each twin's shoulder and alternately pulled and pushed them out of the Great Hall, leaving the non-entity fuming behind them. Most of the students leaned back as Edgar walked past them, as if they expected their bodies to be violated without notice. The girls all looked slightly embarrassed and there were more than a few who were blushing hotly. Harry was amused to note that there were still some girls who stared after Edgar with something like longing in their eyes. After Edgar left, most of the boys were either somewhat puzzled or faintly amused, with a smattering of jealous eyes mixed in.
Harry followed Edgar, contentedly replaying the memory of a thoroughly hacked off Umbridge frightened silly by a pair of fangs. As far as Harry was concerned, this was prime pranking material, and all he needed was a stock of the necessary ingredients.
Psychological warfare was what made pranking so much fun in the long run. While Harry only played the joke or five on friends, enemies were treated to a much different type of prank in order to effect the desired behavior modification. While the outcast wizard Pavlov was a bit over the top with his attempts to prove mental manipulation and conditioning was possible without use of Unforgivable Dark magic, Harry thought that even an old dog like Umbridge could learn new tricks when sufficiently motivated. Lacquered brain and all.
Once they all reached the corridor outside the Great Hall, Harry suggested they move off to the twins' little secret hideout where they could all work out any needed details. Edgar fell in step beside Harry as the twins led the way, only occasionally looking back over their shoulders with a bit of nervousness at the close proximity of a vampire.
"So," Harry offered quietly, "light brown, eh?" Edgar pointedly ignored him. "That wouldn't be very scary. Sounds like some old-fashioned hair dye might fix that right up to me." Edgar gave Harry a frosty glance before walking more quickly to catch up to the twins right as they headed down into their secret lair. Chuckling under his breath, Harry whistled It's a Small World as he closed the portrait behind him and conjured his own recliner. Edgar was still giving Harry an icy front while he regarded the twins who were sitting before him.
"Very well, Harry," Edgar said glacially, "let's proceed. My services have been retained by Mr. Harry James Potter to work on several projects, and I was recently informed that he would like me to consider taking on a pro bono case for Mr. Frederick Weasley and Mr. George Weasley. That means that my services would be free to you gentlemen." Harry merely smiled, letting Edgar tell the story the way he chose to.
Fred and George were still a bit nervous but seemed rather excited at the prospect of having a lawyer free of charge.
"Harry," George whinged, "is there anything you can't do? Cook? Clean?"
Harry smirked back and put his chair in full recline mode, his hands behind his head.
Edgar snapped his fingers to regain the attention of the twins. "Now then, I understand you wish to bring charges of unfitness for teaching against a professor here. What evidence do you have, and how can you ensure its authenticity?"
Fred excitedly pulled out the sensory monitor Harry had given them the prior week. Harry watched amusedly as Edgar feigned surprise, then proceeded to carefully determine if the monitor had been tampered with. "Very well," he finally announced, "I will need sworn statements from both of you. Let me draw up some paperwork. Mr. Potter, do you wish to be a party to this action?"
Harry shook his head. "No, thanks, I've got more than enough balls in the air as it is."
Edgar nodded. "Very well, then I must ask you to please leave us. I promise not to harm your colleagues, if you have any concerns in that direction." Harry glanced at Fred and George, but they just shrugged. Apparently their faith in their fake Dark Lord was sufficient for them to be going on with.
Harry rose and Vanished his recliner. "Right, later gents!" he called on his way out of the portrait. As Harry proceeded back to the Great Hall, he knew he had a couple of hours before he was supposed to accompany Dumbledore on some investigation into the past life of the man of many Riddles. He decided he was in no mood to sit inside and deal with the whims of others. Glancing out the windows, Harry saw that the brooding grey sky had finally yielded and that rain was now lashing the castle.
Despite the downpour, the great outdoors beckoned to Harry, and he quite enjoyed the feel of the cold wet rain beating on his skin and clothing as he trudged to the path around the lake. Since he was never certain whether or not he would get another chance to experience these sensations, Harry always took whatever opportunity he could get to enjoy things, even the sometimes inclement weather that Mother Nature liked to provide.
He ignored the discomfort of his completely soaked clothes while he completed his walk around the lake. As he neared the entrance to the castle, Harry saw a figure coming out of the doors into the rain, stomping and splashing heedlessly through the mud and muck.
It was either one incredibly irritated person or another person who loved nature in all its forms.
Harry stopped to watch the mysterious figure head directly for him. As the person came nearer, he recognized the vibrant red hair and short but slim stature of Ginny. A bit of parchment was clutched tightly in the hand.
She stomped right up to Harry, and he was slightly taken aback to realize that her hair was so discernable because it was completely disheveled, even sticking out in great clumps in some areas. Harry had never seen her looking so unkempt. He was a bit surprised at himself - he rarely bothered to remember little details of appearances. With Ginny, he knew it was sometimes in a fat plait, sometimes it flowed loose on her shoulders, and sometimes it was tied back in a pony tail, but Harry knew that it was always neatly arrayed. He was also a little shocked to see that Ginny also appeared to have a nice shiner forming under her right eye and that blood was trickling down from the corner of her mouth.
Before he could ask what had happened to her, she was shaking her fist in his face, the parchment held tightly in it. "Teach me!" she commanded Harry.
"What?" Harry's mind was focused entirely on the trail of blood as it slowly wound its way down her chin. There was something horribly fascinating about it.
"Teach me how to fight!" Ginny grabbed Harry's robes with her free hand and clutched them fiercely. "Teach me now!" There was a distinct fire to her gaze and attitude that left Harry wondering just how many different Ginnys were contained in that lithe body of hers.
Reaching out and casually breaking her grip, Harry then pried the parchment out of her fist and glanced at it. A rather surprisingly detailed map of the castle and nearby grounds was on it, with little dots moving around and names on each dot. "So you've got it," he muttered, looking up at her. Ginny was still glaring at him, but now her eyes were no longer hot with ire but appeared wet with frustration.
Harry held up his other hand, palm out. "Tell me why you want me to teach you. You never answered my question from the train ride."
Ginny's voice quavered a little. "What does it matter? Do I ask you why you do what you do?"
Harry raised one eyebrow. "I'm not asking you to teach me how to kill people, which is what you're asking of me. I'm asking you why I should."
Ginny's brown eyes were inscrutable as she stared at him, leaving Harry confused as to whether she was commanding or pleading with him. "I'll talk about it when I'm bloody well ready to, and not before! Will you help me or not?!" she finally snapped.
/Definitely commanding/, Harry decided.
He stared back at her for a long moment, trying to look past the lone tear streaking down her pale face. Although the rain had washed away most of the blood, her bottom lip was now stained a dark red and was beginning to swell. Her hair was plastered against her head, the usually vibrant auburn colour dulled by the rain. Her brown eyes held neither offer nor commands, but something else, something intangible.
Harry glanced down at his watch and realized he had at least another hour before he had to meet Dumbledore and Cyril. He briefly wondered what would happen if he refused to do as she asked. Something told him that this would probably not be a wise decision. Resigning himself to yet another strange situation in his life, Harry shrugged and met her gaze.
"Let's see if you're really willing to learn, and then I'll decide. Ready?"
As always, a big thank you to my genius betas who have valiantly strived to make this story better, despite my crafty attempts to make it incomprehensible. Immeasurable thanks to Chreechree and cwarbeck.
Brit-picker Treecat is on holiday, and will be back soon.
The astute will have noticed that time jumped in this chapter. That's right, the pace is finally starting to pick up. But the word count is still a wee bit high. One out of two is okay, right?
The tsuba is the patterned metal guard by the hilt on the samurai weapons. The kissaki is the sharp and pointy tip.
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