Chapter 18 : Inflection Points, Part 2
Madam Pomfrey gaped at Fudge for a moment before snapping her mouth shut. An open expression of disdain on her face, she looked like she was barely resisting the urge to throw the man bodily from the room. "Mister Fudge, this is a medical facility. Professor Dumbledore is in treatment and unavailable at this time."
Harry could have sworn that the brusque yet kind mediwitch was actually snarling at the short, fat and pompous windbag standing in front of her with a lime green bowler hat perched jauntily over his ear. Floppy, laying on the stand beside his bed, twittered once softly. Harry was sure that he heard a faint murmur of 'lovely colour' from the hat that was determined to annoy him wherever he went.
Fudge, however, turned a deep purple that was vaguely reminiscent to Harry of another blustering man in an almost forgotten place. "Do you know who I am?!"
Madam Pomfrey merely raised one eyebrow, and with marvelous indifference she completely ignored the implicit threat. "I know who you are not, and that is someone in need of my attention. As I have patients here needing my care, I request that you leave."
Fudge spluttered as Snape quickly stepped forward. "Poppy," he offered in a silky voice, "surely you can ask the Headmaster to join us so that we may ... discuss things."
Before Harry could open his mouth and complicate matters, Cyril's firm hand slid onto Harry's wrist, both a caution and a physical restraint. Madam Pomfrey, if anything, appeared even more hostile. "At this time, I will not ask the Headmaster to do anything. He needs his rest, and he will get his rest if I have anything to say about it!"
Dolores chimed in, her voice setting Harry's teeth on edge with its usual ease. "This is the Minister of Magic! Since Hogwarts is a Ministry funded institution, you must do as you are told!"
The mediwitch looked contemptuously at the somewhat bloated woman. "Doctor and patient confidentiality as well as my Healer's Oath preclude any such rubbish. In fact, by the Hippocratic Protection Decree of 1430 after the Great Dueling Tournament, I am quite within my rights to have you arrested if you continue to press the matter!"
A flicker of motion out of the corner of his eye drew Harry's gaze to the painting on the wall behind the Aurors. An aged gentleman in rather medieval Healer attire was sauntering back into his frame, holding a kerchief rather pointedly over his nose as he glared at the Minister and his associates.
"Now see here, woman!" Fudge roared at Madam Pomfrey. "I've not got any time for this nonsense! I need to talk to Dumbledore now, so go get him and stop this stuff and nonsense!" Snape, however, had smoothly stepped back several paces to the rear of the party while Fudge was speaking. Dolores was looking at the matron with what almost appeared to be anticipatory glee.
"Auror Shacklebolt?" Madam Pomfrey called. "I would like to press charges against Mister Fudge and his accomplices! They are attempting to bypass medical restrictions and violate my patients' rights!"
Fudge became such an exquisite shade of purple that Harry wondered how the man was still alive. "What?! Aurors, arrest this woman for interfering with a Ministry investigation!" Fudge was actually spitting.
Before anyone else could act, a perfectly chiseled voice cut through the room, causing everyone standing by the doors to visibly flinch. "And what, precisely, is the reason that you all feel the need to disturb the rest of the sick and injured?" Cyril's hand left Harry's wrist at the sound of the Deputy Headmistress' voice. As she swept through the room, her stern gaze caused most people to move backward.
Gliding to a stop in front of the Minister for Magic and Dolores Umbridge, she regarded both as if they were some unpleasant base life form. "Do you need something, Mister Fudge, or are you just trying to create a scene?"
Fudge apparently recovered his momentum quickly. "I need Dumbledore, McGonagall, not his toady!"
The crystalline silence was profound enough to make Harry wince internally in anticipation of the consequences of the Minister's imprudent choice of words. Harry thought that the expression on McGonagall's face begged to be made into a picture at his first convenience and distributed around the school to quell potential student malefactors.
"I'm glad to see that you are still as eloquent and charming as you were when you were a student here, Cornelius." Given that her lips were so tightly compressed, Harry was surprised that the Deputy Headmistress could still enunciate each word perfectly. "I do hope you have finally learned how to Vanish a serpent. It would be ever so useful in your career, but then, if memory serves me right, you did fail to pass your OWL in Transfiguration, not to mention several other subjects."
Harry frantically began running the powers of seven through his head to avoid laughing outright at the various expressions on everyone in the room. The Aurors were all manfully struggling to maintain straight faces, while Fudge and Umbridge's flustered outrage was beyond price. Snape appeared somewhat ill at the revelation and, deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, quietly stepped back through the doors and out of the room.
"Now that we know where we stand, Cornelius, I believe that Poppy has told you Professor Dumbledore is unavailable for medical reasons. If you need to speak to the person in charge of the school, then you should speak to me. If you need the head of the Wizengamot, then you should be speaking to the Pro Tem head when Professor Dumbledore is otherwise occupied or unavailable. Last I knew, that was Master Tiberius Ogden." Glancing coolly at the Aurors one more time, she waited for Fudge to decide what to do.
Growling impotently, Fudge turned and stalked off. As Dolores turned to follow, she hissed quite audibly at the Deputy Headmistress. "This isn't over! You cannot treat the Minister of Magic with such disrespect!"
McGonagall's glacial features remained unchanged as she considered the ugly woman. Lacking any tangible reaction, Dolores turned and followed Fudge out, the Aurors sweeping after the pair. Shacklebolt was the last to leave, looking back over his shoulder and winking outrageously at the Deputy Headmistress as he closed the doors.
As the doors swung shut behind the remainder of Fudge's party, McGonagall turned to survey the others. Cyril stood up and bowed slightly to the tall Professor. "Well played, Minerva."
McGonagall's lips twitched slightly as she watched Cyril return to his seat. "I cannot say that I did not enjoy that at some level. But as we discussed last night, we both know this tactic will not work."
Cyril inclined his head briefly, while Madam Pomfrey hovered a bit in the background. "Minerva, what do I do when they come back?"
"Summon me, and I shall remind them once again that there is nothing they may do." Pausing to reflect on the matter, McGonagall flashed one of her rare genuine smiles. "If they push too hard, ask Cyril to arrest them for violation of the ICW decree of 1430." Madam Pomfrey looked dubious but went back to her office muttering about irritating and interfering men with their testosterone-induced egos.
Without a further word, Professor McGonagall strode toward the Infirmary doors. Before she could exit, however, Snape appeared on the threshold and surveyed all of them, his eyes flashing. "And where is the Headmaster?" he asked quietly of the Deputy Headmistress. "I must talk to him."
McGonagall barred any further entry by the dour Potions professor. "You may either discuss the matter with me, Severus, or return to your quarters. I believe I shall order you to not seek out Albus again until he has sought you out first. Consider yourself so ordered."
Snape's eyes glittered as he debated the merits of the situation. "While I must say I enjoy all the rhetoric and ... observations that have been displayed, if Albus remains unavailable for much longer, there will be nothing here to ... observe." Looking directly at Harry, the man sneered. "Isn't that right, Potter?"
Harry waved cheerily at Snape and tried for an expression of adoration. "I've so missed you, sir. Where do you keep yourself these days? I'd love to drop by for a spot of tea and biccies sometime."
Snape's expression became even more acid, as if that was possible, before he responded with true venom. "Whatever you do, Potter, I can undo." Harry was pleased to observe that Snape was still refusing to wear loose clothing as the man stormed out of the Infirmary. Harry felt that Snape was truly a man of his word, undoing the prank spell with quite a bit of flair -- flair for failure, at any rate.
Harry smirked until he saw Cyril's face. "I've warned you, Harry, that you are responsible for that man's actions to some extent. I know you are pushing your personal agenda regarding Professor Snape, and, ultimately, any decisions he makes are his own, but what choices are you leaving him?"
Harry frowned at his Mentor. "What choice was he making when he had more options open to him? If he's only going to choose incorrectly, I fail to see the point of keeping him around where he can continue to cause harm."
"Harm is relative," Cyril replied with more calm than Harry could imagine. "Yes, he was causing problems, but it would have been possible to contain him yet still leave him with choices. Your actions are designed to eliminate all courses of alternative action."
Harry could feel his anger flare at the insinuations. "You would rather permit that man to continue to influence and encourage malign tendencies? As soon as the any containment might be relaxed, he would undoubtedly revert to form!"
Cyril regarded Harry coolly for a moment. "I believe we should stop here to eat our breakfast, as you are once again not thinking clearly." Harry continued frowning as Cyril walked calmly back to his bed and picked up his tray of food. The Hogwarts house elves had left one by each occupied bed, in all probability filled with whatever Madam Pomfrey thought they needed. Cyril paused to regard both Remus and Harry before he moved to the back of the Infirmary and sat down at the large table across from Pomfrey's office.
Remus shrugged at Harry before picking up his own tray and following Cyril. Slowly blowing out his breath, Harry grabbed the tray just as Floppy quietly spoke up. "Not without me, this time, Mr. Potter." Giving up on the idea of winning anything at the moment, Harry just wrapped the hat around his shoulders like a scarf and joined his two mentors, reviewing and practicing a few deep breathing routines that Master Gata had taught him years ago to find his internal point of mental balance.
As Harry moved to sit down beside Remus, he reflexively cast a proximity charm on the table. Glancing around, he drew the set of curtains between the table and the nearest bed to screen them from casual view. Harry knew the proximity charm would alert them before anyone reached the threshold of hearing, and curtains acting as a visual block would keep any actions they engaged in safe from prying eyes. It was almost a forgone conclusion that Cyril and Remus would yet again discuss and review the sensory monitor replay.
Relaxing down onto the bench, Harry gave himself over to eating his breakfast. Remus and Cyril carried on a quiet conversation speculating on Fudge's motives or purpose, yet Harry chose to focus on his inner meditation and strive for the calm required to handle conflict. Years of the exercises had drilled in the reality that not only would he respond faster and more fluidly to any danger, but also that he received an unexpected benefit in the relaxed state. Harry had discovered that the lack of external distractions made it easier to contemplate things he would otherwise naturally avoid.
The voice that suddenly invaded his head was not entirely unexpected, however the mechanism of communication was. Mentor Feiner has a point, Mr. Potter.
Narrowing his eyes, Harry considered the implications of wearing the hat for the past week. Focusing his thoughts toward the vicinity of the hat, he concentrated his Legilimency skills. And when did you figure this trick out, Floppy?
I've been working on it since you shared your mind with me, Mr. Potter. Harry was almost certain the hat had a smug tone to it. Just because it's not visible does not mean it's not there.
Harry spent a solid thirty seconds thinking of every vile thing he would like to do to the hat but garnered no reaction at all. So you can talk to me, but you can't read my mind?
Correct. It's quite hard to just talk, Mr. Potter. I would hate to try and do more at this point.
Harry let out a sigh, earning him a glance from Cyril and Remus, but they continued their conversation as Harry pushed the food around on his plate. He hated eggs without something to mask the flavour -- salsa, HP sauce, syrup, hot sauce, something. The scone, bangers and fruit would be quite nice, but the eggs mocked him. Given the all-or-nothing behaviour of the mediwitch, Harry knew if he chose to not eat them, they would probably show up in his breakfast tray every day until he did.
Resigned to get it over with as quickly as possible, Harry decided to just eat the eggs first and then savour something else to rid his mouth of the horrid taste. So which point was that, Floppy?
Love, Mr. Potter, is quite the force to be reckoned with.
Harry wanted to groan that Floppy was once again on his case about something Harry had absolutely no desire to discuss. The warming charms may have technically kept his breakfast warm, but they had the side effect of drying everything out, especially the eggs. He was certain this conversation would soon be as distasteful as the eggs.
Do you organise these things with Cyril and Dumbledore to annoy me? Harry knew the answer would be negative, but sometimes it felt like he was the focus of numerous subtle conspiracies. Sirius would be proud, Harry realised, since he was truly becoming quite paranoid.
Really, now, Mr. Potter, the hat responded. Is your ego such that you believe we all stay up late working out how to keep your mind occupied?
Thanks, Floppy. I'm really touched. The quiet snort of derision caused Cyril and Remus to pause once more and look carefully at Harry, but he was too busy ignoring them and trying to eat the eggs without tasting them. So you're a fan of the love-Voldemort-to-death camp, are you?
Must you wallow in absurdity, Mr. Potter?
Harry paused to finish off the last of the blasted eggs. You saw my life, Floppy. Tell me exactly what hasn't been absurd so far.
The hat went completely silent, which gave Harry the opportunity to enjoy a soft and chewy banger. I'll concede that point, Mr. Potter. However, you know that your Mentor was not discussing loving Voldemort.
Right, Harry said without heat. I'll just love myself and be like that narcissist Lockhart.
Mr. Potter, do you enjoy your life?
Harry shrugged without realising it. He caught Remus and Cyril staring at him and stared back. "What?"
"Talking to yourself, Harry?" Remus asked with a smirk. "First sign of dementia, you know."
Harry glared back. "Right. Since I have more voices in my head than fingers, where does that leave me? Oh, that's right. Loving Voldemort to death. Only a complete lunatic would do that, so I'm all set, right?"
Remus just rolled his eyes and went back to his conversation with Cyril. See, Floppy, I enjoy life. I enjoy tormenting Remus and Sirius and Hermione and... well, whomsoever I can.
You aren't that naive, Mr. Potter. Happiness is not a state of intermittent sarcastic pleasure amongst a general dearth of positive emotions.
Pausing to reflect on the exact message Floppy was driving at, Harry had a vision of two girls giggling at him at the welcoming feast. So I'm a mildly depressed cold hearted bastard. I don't see that changing anytime soon. If anger clouds my mind so easily, then happiness or bubbliness or love or whatever must cause just as thorough an occlusion.
Harry was certain that the hat found a way to sigh silently. Think on it, Mr. Potter. Love is not restricted to some preconceived notion, form, or nature. While love does in fact occlude, what it occludes is far more interesting.
Ha! You gave me a straight answer that time!
Did I, Mr. Potter?
Harry was left to stew in his own mind as he finished the breakfast the house elves had brought for him. Since he was talking mentally with Floppy, whereas Remus and Cyril were speaking verbally to each other, Harry was done with his breakfast before his mentors and sat waiting for them to finish. It was evident from Cyril's earlier comments that more discussion would be forthcoming, although it was probably not going to be an enjoyable exchange of ideas. The last thing Harry wanted to do was engage in a speculation session on what a moron like Fudge might really be up to, since the fool only ever thought what he was paid to think.
When Madam Pomfrey stuck her head out of her office, she took one glance at the three of them before glaring at Cyril briefly. "All of it, Cyril, or you'll not have my permission to roam about." She watched patiently until the man picked up the first prune and started eating it. Nodding in satisfaction, she disappeared back into her office, closing the door.
Cyril frowned for a moment. "Why didn't your proximity charm go off, Harry?"
Harry shrugged. "She's already in the hearing range of the focal point. It only goes off when something sentient crosses in or out of the threshold." Without really considering the matter further, Harry flicked his wand to put an Imperturbable charm over the office door. "Now she won't hear anything short of an explosion."
As Cyril and Remus began wrapping up their conversation, Harry dumped the sensory monitor back onto the table in front of Remus. As expected, without any prompting whatsoever, Remus re-ran the entire battle, starting from when Dumbledore first put the ring on and ending when the fight was over and Harry was lashing everyone together.
Cyril watched it closely twice more before he sat back and regarded Remus and Harry, his eyes hard. "You have previously seen the Mark of Cain curse that was placed upon Albus? You have seen others under the influence of it?"
"And do you know how it was learned by whoever cast it?"
This time Remus shook his head.
Cyril deflated. "I wish I could track that down. We thought we had suppressed it when we ejected Pavlov and Obliviated his memory of rediscovering it. Either he shared it with someone and forgot about it, or else there's still some book out there with the original version from four thousand years ago."
"Or," Harry pointed out carefully, "someone managed to get Pavlov to reveal it to them and then Obliviated his knowledge of them learning it. I believe that it was seen during the war with Grindelwald."
Cyril absently combed through his beard with one hand. "It was. That is also possible, and more likely, although equally useless." Shaking his head slightly as though to clear cobwebs, Cyril regarded Harry for a moment. "I know that Remus and Sirius will be discussing the actual battle with you. I've no interest in doing that. I want to discuss the Horcrux in the ring, the loss of Dumbledore's power, and whatever else seemed odd to you, Harry."
Harry exchanged a look of surprise with Remus before he settled down in his seat. "All right. I thought the whole place was odd."
Cyril smiled faintly. "Harry, you can see and react to magic in ways that we cannot. If an event or object seems odd to you, it's quite likely that there's something meaningful behind it. Would you be more specific?"
Scratching his head, Harry stared off into the corner of the room for a moment. "Well, there was all that magic that was just pooled on the floor. I think I mentioned it before the whole place went up. That really shouldn't have been there. And then with the nested Wards, there were so many controls for such a small location . . . it was overkill."
Remus nodded his head quickly. "Those Wards were unusual. If you had tried to bring them down the normal way, it would have taken a team of curse breakers at least a solid week to determine how to get through them, let alone break them apart. I saw a weakness and exploited it because Harry told us of the Flux line."
"Yes, your theory of how magic works. You believe that whoever put those Wards there was unaware of the Flux line?" Cyril sounded highly doubtful.
"No," Harry replied instantly. "Voldemort knew it was there when he put the Wards in place. He had to have known that. It would be the only explanation for why the Slytherin line was living so close to the Muggles they all loathed."
"Perhaps," Cyril conceded. "Do you think it odd that a weakness was there in the first place?"
Harry had no idea on even how to begin answering the question, so he turned to Remus for insight. The werewolf, however, was slowly shaking his head. "There's no way for us to know. It's possible it was entirely a trap. It's equally possible he was just arrogant. Tom Riddle is exceptionally good at setting traps and being arrogant."
"Hmmm," Cyril said noncommittally. Reaching out, he manipulated the playback to continuously loop the short sequence at the end where Dumbledore Apparated in front of Harry and Harry subsequently shortened the Headmaster's arm. "Why did you think to cut off Albus' hand, Harry?"
Harry watched the scene play out in the monitor and in his head, over and over again. "I think it wasn't entirely a conscious decision on my part. I knew I had to get the ring away from him, and I was getting very close to draining my core. Instant Apparition is ... very exhausting. I could see the aura from the ring creeping up his arm, so I just went for it."
Harry tuned out his mentors as they engaged in a drawn out discussion of other options Harry could have pursued in dealing with the Headmaster. The entire scene where Harry used his katana to separate the ring directly from Dumbledore was disturbing for some reason unrelated to the violence itself. It kept flashing, the sword bright and shiny, the hand pale with loose skin on it. Visions of hands and blood from all the fights he had witnessed or participated in flashed through his head.
Harry finally looked back at his mentors and interrupted their conversation. "Why would it be the left hand, which wasn't Dumbledore's wand hand?"
Remus hunched forward, apparently ignoring the display in front of his face that was the looping replay. "What do you mean, Harry?"
"It was the same hand," Harry offered slowly. "Why would the Horcrux seek the left hand? Peter Pettigrew cut off his own left hand for Voldemort's resurrection, as I did to Dumbledore yesterday. I'm not sure why that image is sticking so much in my head. Why does the left hand matter in either case? The right hand for both of them is more magically powerful."
"I am at a disadvantage in these matters, Harry," Cyril stated simply. "I have not seen this place of the resurrection first-hand, nor have I seen the memories you possess of Voldemort's return. I think it's time to fix that."
"Ever since the night Nicholas Flamel died," Remus offered with a sympathetic glance toward Harry, "Harry hasn't been terribly tolerant of suggestions to go back there."
Cyril sighed for a moment. "We will have to return to Little Hangleton this week to see what we can find. These two events -- the rebirth of Voldemort and the Gaunt House Horcrux -- coinciding at that village suggests that far more is there waiting to be discovered."
Harry could feel the blood drain from his face. "That place we went to... that was... Little Hangleton?" Harry was beginning to remember a haunting feeling from broken dreams during the medicated sleep last night, and the dots were connecting far too quickly. "The manor house on the other side of the valley?"
Remus was looking cautiously at Harry. "You didn't know that was Little Hangleton? I recognised it from the battle there this past summer."
"I suspect," Cyril stated quietly, "Albus didn't wish to cause you undue stress. He knew of the events from the summer that transpired there, Harry, and how close your relationship with Nicholas was. For that reason alone, he would not have mentioned it to Remus either once you brought him."
As Harry leaned back to consider the point, he could feel the tension that had built up in his neck and shoulders. Reaching back to absently rub his neck, Harry started when the proximity alarm on the table starting mewling piteously at them. As Remus collapsed the display from the sensory monitor and Harry cancelled the proximity charm, Cyril stood and pulled the curtains back.
Ginny Weasley was slowly walking down the aisle toward the back of the Infirmary, clearly headed for where they were all sitting. Having just passed the second bed, she was apparently startled by the abrupt motion around their table and halted, looking somewhat nervously from one person to another.
"Yes?" Cyril asked pleasantly. "Do you need to see Madam Pomfrey?"
"Er, no," Ginny said quickly. "I was . . . well, hoping to talk with Harry for a bit."
Cyril turned to regard Harry with one raised eyebrow. Harry shrugged absently to tell his Mentor he had no idea what she wanted. When Cyril kept frowning, Harry sighed and looked back at Ginny. "All right, Ginny. Take a seat, and I'll be over there in a moment."
When Cyril sat back down, Harry leaned over and glanced at both of his mentors in turn. "Do you want me to get rid of her, or do I have time to actually talk to her?"
"I would suggest you at least find out what she wants, Harry," Cyril offered. "If it's not pressing, politely excuse yourself. If it is of import, take your time. Remus and I have other things to discuss than just what happened yesterday."
Remus nodded his concession with Cyril's suggestion.
"Right," said Harry. "Try not to plot more mayhem for my life. I know it's a tall order, but a boring week or two would be pretty nice." Smirking slightly, Harry went over and joined Ginny. The conspirator to the twins had seated herself at the head of a bed, so Harry dragged a chair over. Without even really thinking about it, Harry cast a few proximity charms around them and the doors to the Infirmary, as well as an Imperturbable on the nearby windows. After a moment's further consideration, Harry laid down a couple of spells to muffle the sounds they would make and induce a faint distortion to make it hard to hear actual words spoken or see anything clearly inside the bubble around them.
After the charms were in place, Harry took a moment to study the redheaded girl in front of him. It was apparent that she was extremely nervous and uncertain, her gaze averted from Harry while she rubbed her arms. Harry sighed and ran one hand through his hair, contemplating the situation. "What did you want to talk to me about?" he asked finally.
Absently pulling her hair free from the elastic holding it back, Ginny put her head down and let her hair cascade around her raised knees, hiding her face. "I wanted to ask about... about the training. You said it was Muggle style fighting." When Harry said nothing, Ginny continued into the silence with a strained voice. "I wanted to ask you to help me with magic, too. You're clearly more advanced than even some of the staff. You know how to use it to fight, not just do spell work or conjure something. I want to learn how to fight in every way that you know, not just the Muggle style."
Harry was quite surprised by the request and knew his face showed it. "But, when I'm using magic it looks like you're scared of me. You always flinch from me when I'm doing anything with magic. In class, outside of it, wherever."
Ginny looked out at Harry through her curtain of red hair. "I am," she whispered. "You using magic usually scares me unless I'm already mad or angry or something."
Harry just stared at her. "Why?" he finally asked.
"I don't know," Ginny replied, lowering her head once more. "Some people just make me react like that. I don't know why."
"You're scared of me, yet you want me to train you?" Harry knew his voice was laced with incredulity, but the duality was hard to accept.
Ginny remained silent, though Harry could hear her breathing quite loudly.
"Do you think I'm going to hurt you or something?"
Ginny finally looked up at him. "No. I'm pretty sure you wouldn't hurt anyone unless you had to or didn't know what was really happening." Exhaling slowly, Ginny crossed her legs and straightened up. She pulled the pillow into her lap, fidgeting with the sham over it. "Harry, you've already proven that you won't mollycoddle me. I need to learn how to fight physically and magically. And while I may be afraid, I must do it anyway. It's confusing to you, I'm sure, but ... it's just as confusing to me. I don't understand why I react this way around you or those others, but I need to do this. I have no one left to ask, since none of the Professors will help me with this."
Harry leaned forward and scrubbed at his face. "And despite your fear, and what you've seen me do, you want me to do this? You trust me to do this?"
Ginny nodded slowly, her eyes never leaving his face.
"Are you going to tell me the real reason why you want this so much?"
His question hung between them for a long time before Ginny finally shook her head, all the while staring him in the eyes. "Your fight isn't the only fight there is, Harry." The sadness in her eyes was quite clear.
Sighing, Harry sat back and stared at the ceiling for a while. "Is there anything else you want to talk to me about?"
There was a brief silence. "Not right now," whispered Ginny.
Standing up, Harry nodded once and then released all the spell work he did to isolate the area for conversation. Remus and Cyril were still discussing things, so Harry sat back down and watched Ginny for a minute.
"If I do continue to train you, are you willing to swear an oath of allegiance to me?" When her eyes opened wide, Harry quickly held up one hand. "I'm not a tyrant, Ginny, but I do want faithful and trustworthy people to help me. It's not a sovereign fealty where there is no free will, but that of allegiance and duty as a knight to a knight commander."
Ginny wrestled with the pillow in her lap without looking at Harry. "What kind of oath?"
"To do as I ask when fighting, to use your skills as I tell you that you may, to keep the secrets you may discover, and to put your training on the line with me if the need arises. In return I would offer to train you as much as you like, within certain limits."
"I won't teach you what Dark Arts I know. You won't be allowed to pick fights. That type."
Ginny was carefully studying Harry when he heard Remus and Cyril approach and stand behind him.
"Harry," Cyril began, "have you resolved whatever issues Miss Weasley wanted to discuss?"
Harry shrugged absently. "Some of them, at least the ones that could be addressed right now. Ginny's asked me to . . . well, to train her in magic as well as martial arts."
Cyril's hand landed on Harry's shoulder, causing him to twitch slightly. "And do you plan to train Miss Weasley in magic?"
Cyril seemed unhappy with the answer. "You need to choose, lad. Now. This choice cannot be unmade, so be sure of it."
Harry raised one eyebrow at Ginny, inviting her to make her decision in turn. They all waited silently until finally, she nodded her head. Looking back at Cyril, Harry was unable to resist the frown that was stealing across his features. This particular agreement with Ginny was going to require more out of him than he wanted to give. However, there seemed to be no backing out of it now. "It looks like it."
Remus moved the chair over to sit in front of Harry, blocking off his view of Ginny. Remus' voice sounding in his head was fully expected given the deliberate positioning of the chair. You do not want to work with her?
Harry shrugged absently. Want is a luxury in my life, now isn't it? As you well know, my friendship with Ginny is rather strained and awkward at the moment. This will either bridge the gap or else ruin it permanently. How this goes will also affect how I interact with the Weasley twins. I think those two might be very useful if we need them. I dislike the risk of losing not one but three allies, and possibly good friends, in the Weasleys.
Remus frowned in turn to match Harry's own. Losing the Weasleys would also lose Hermione, right?
Harry rolled his eyes in annoyance. Naturally. You and Cyril would still be able to work with her like this morning, but if I become unwanted in their close-knit circle, it's very unlikely I would be able to do the same without causing a lot of damage or friction.
What about Neville?
Harry ran his hand through his hair. I think Neville will be a friend regardless, so long as I don't hurt any of them. If I ever deliberately harmed any of them, it would be dicey. He would understand my actions if he gave me the chance to explain, but his feelings for the others, and Ginny in particular, would be a hard test on his loyalties. Unless my ties to him are much stronger, I don't think he would choose to stand with me.
Remus leaned back and continued to frown. Harry waited him out. He knew that Remus was able to make complicated plans work out for the best much better than he could, and when the werewolf put his mind to it, he could visualize all possible outcomes and their repercussions. Harry excelled at split second decisions and immediate actions, but when he had to make any long-term plans, hard experience dictated that he listen very carefully to Remus' opinions.
Remus sighed slightly. You seemed to be getting along quite well with her before this. Do you think that this is really risking so much? Does she not trust you, or do you not trust her?
Harry grimaced a bit at the depiction but chose not to react with his usual sarcasm. Trust is an unpredictable thing. I've demanded an allegiance oath before I will continue to work with her. While I think we could have been good friends given more time, events caught up with us. It seems that, as usual, I have little choice in these matters. If I reject her request now, it's almost certainly going to further strain our tenuous friendship, despite what she may claim. I honestly don't think our friendship will survive at all if I refuse her outright at this moment. She will not tell me why, but for some reason, it is very hard for her to express the real motives behind her request for me to train her.
Remus leaned back into his chair. She's refusing to explain?
Harry shrugged. More like she's avoiding the issue. I can't say I honestly feel like pressing the matter. You know how I hate it when you and Dad get on my case about something I'm just not ready to discuss.
Nodding in resignation, Remus stood up and walked off with Cyril to work out any issues they had with how Harry's decision would impact the plans already in place. Harry looked at Ginny and saw the mix of fear and curiosity on her face. "Sufficiently skilled people may communicate mind-to-mind. Remus wanted to know my opinion on some potential complications of whatever we plan to do next."
Ginny seemed to accept this explanation. "They're worried about how our working together would affect your life here?" Harry had to wince at how easily she made the connections, even if she lacked the knowledge to understand their import.
Harry smiled slightly. "In a way. In reality, I am here because I need to learn things that only Dumbledore can teach me now. If I could have worked out a way to learn it through other means, I never would have come here willingly."
Harry absently began twirling his wand, unconsciously mimicking Remus' mannerism of weaving a quill through his fingers. "The magical world of humans is incredibly corrupt and apathetic. I've no intention of somehow condoning it with my presence . . . my being here at Hogwarts could be construed as some kind of tacit or implicit approval. If I could see some changes put in place to fix the problems that bother me, well, I'd be more willing to stick around . . . but with the current system? No thanks."
Ginny's eyes narrowed as she frowned at Harry. "We're not all corrupt or primitive, Harry."
Harry regarded her with mild sorrow. "No, you're not all like that, but those that are not do nothing about those that are or to those that they know are. So what does that make you? Implicitly corrupt, tacitly approving, or corrupt by choice?"
Instead of answering the question, Ginny looked askance at him. "So why are you here at all then if you dislike us so?"
Harry just sighed and looked at the sky through the window. "It's not personal, Ginny. You're nice enough when you aren't plotting payback against me, and you can certainly be fun. My dislike is for the culture. As for being here... while there are always choices, Ginny, in the end, sometimes the cost of each choice leaves one with no choice at all."
Remus' voice interrupted their conversation. "That is one way of putting it, Harry. I like to think that the more educated one is, the greater the number of choices one can see."
Harry smirked faintly in recollection of past discussions. "Right, but at the same time, one also can use that education to see that the total number of viable choices one may have is quite a bit less than if one were blissfully ignorant."
Cyril, to Harry's disappointment, spoke up, effectively ending their argument. "Be that as it may, we must move on. We have other things to do today, and we need to resolve this. This task of training Miss Weasley will be quite taxing, Harry, so if you don't feel up to it, say so now."
Harry shrugged. "I'm fine."
Cyril looked amused as Remus snorted his disbelief. "And that's why you're confined to the Infirmary, Harry. You're just fine."
Harry tried for a wide-eyed expression as he looked at Remus. "It all depends on what you think the boundaries of the Infirmary are. I keep looking for a sign that says 'End of Infirmary', but I haven't found it yet. I even looked down by the lake, so it's not bad as far as confinements go."
"Enough," Cyril stated while waving Remus to pull the other chair over. Cyril cleared his throat before resuming the serious conversation. "You plan on training Miss Weasley in the ways that you and Remus have developed. Many of these techniques remain unknown outside of the two of you and those you have carefully screened. At this point, we cannot allow such things to be learned outside of our control. Therefore, Miss Weasley must learn Occlumency. Remus, are you capable of teaching her? Will you teach her?"
Harry watched Remus flounder momentarily. "Well, er, I could teach her the fundamentals, I suppose. I don't mind doing so . . . it would be good practice for me as well. But I'm not welcome here, so I'm not sure where these lessons would be held. Harry is actually much better at Occlumency and Legilimency than I am, Cyril."
Cyril shook his head slowly. "No, Harry will have other duties. He may supplement her studies in this as time permits and as the need arises, but she needs a tutor we can trust now. Perhaps you and she should discuss this?"
"Errr," Harry interjected. "We need to work out the oath first."
Cyril raised one eyebrow but otherwise remained silent. Harry looked at Ginny briefly before turning to Remus. "Thoughts?"
Absently twirling his wand between his fingers just as Harry had done moments ago, Remus nodded. "You'll need to release her from the oaths she agreed to in signing for the rings. They're too restrictive for her to really train with you. Then we'll put on the new oath. Do you want this one on a signatory basis as well? Another parchment of some type?"
"Probably," Harry sighed. "I may need to do this again with others later. The twins, for example, after our little contest is over."
"Would you prefer another magical oath, or do you need an Unbreakable Vow for this next step?"
"The same oath level but with harsher repercussions, I think," Harry said slowly. "The Vow is immutable, and if we fail to think it out clearly /a priori/, well, Ginny might die from it. I'd rather avoid that if we can."
"Me too," Ginny offered in a startled whisper.
Harry smiled wryly at the redhead. "Imagine the Howlers I'd get then, eh?"
Her smile was weak, but Harry was certain that she had real humour behind it. Remus started laughing slowly. "One of these days, Harry, you're going to run into Molly Weasley. What then?"
Harry smiled widely. "Well, I have this plan, you see . . . She just needs to understand that I'm a misunderstood genius."
Remus snorted at Harry before shooting a sympathetic glance at Ginny, ignoring the smirk Harry was giving him. In a stage whisper, Remus leaned over to the girl. "He's about as misunderstood as a disturbed flobberworm."
Ginny smiled again, albeit faintly, but kept her eyes averted as she fidgeted with the pillow in her lap. "Maybe," was all she offered.
Harry reflexively rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, moving on, /old man/. I'll let you work the oath out, Remus, just get me when you're ready for the signatures so we can bind it correctly."
Suddenly, Ginny's eyes took on a glint he could recall seeing at the opening feast. "Where can I get a set of pyjamas like those, Harry? They look... warm." Harry could tell his mercurial acquaintance was back, although her fiery nature still seemed to be a bit muted.
"Special order," he replied in a lofty voice. "Perhaps I can speak to the manufacturer on your behalf."
Ginny gave him a genuine smile at that. "Think they might be willing to make them in green?"
Harry just waved one hand in a grand gesture. "I'll be sure and ask." Giving Ginny a quick wink, Harry turned and waited for Cyril's nod of acceptance. He then left Remus to talk to Ginny and resolve the oath. Harry began taking off the privacy and proximity charms from all over the Infirmary, recalling at the last moment to remove the Imperturbable on the matron's office door. When he had finished, Cyril was standing a few feet behind him and just watching him calmly.
"I'm sorry, lad," Cyril offered. "We're going to have to go back to Little Hangleton."
Harry nodded once, running several mental exercises to keep all the fleeting thoughts screaming through his skull in check. "When do you think Madam Pomfrey will let us out of here?"
Cyril regarded Harry for another moment before turning slightly. "I was about to ask her that very question right now. Perhaps you should rest for a few minutes, Harry, and put on the show of being a good patient."
Falling into step with Cyril, Harry walked in silence back to his bed. "Cyril, if she'll let you out, can you get my Wards book and notebooks on my desk? And a change of clothes from my wardrobe?"
"I'll see what favours she'll deign to grant us, Harry." Harry could hear the wry tone in Cyril's voice as he climbed back under the covers of his bed. The ceiling was completely uninteresting, and the murmur from Remus and Ginny's conversation across the room lacked enough fidelity to be intelligible. Returning to the basic deep breathing exercises of his training, Harry drifted off to sleep with flashes of knives and blood and helping hands in his head.
The next thing he knew, Remus was shaking him softly and telling him to wake up. Trying to sit up was unexpectedly complicated as he was firmly entangled in the blankets, having apparently made an effort to mummify himself in his sleep. Glancing around, he noted Cyril had deposited his notebooks and papers along with a change of clothes on the small bedside table. Ginny was watching him with an expression he was far too tired to try and identify, while Madam Pomfrey was directing a house-elf that was dropping off lunch trays.
"You didn't seem to be sleeping well," Remus offered quietly. "I've seen you do worse, and no, you didn't make any noise. This summer again?"
Harry shrugged absently. "They're just dreams, Remus. The mind is trying to escape for a bit, isn't that what you always told me?"
Harry was amused to see Remus wince slightly. "Well, Cyril wanted me to wake you up. It's almost half-past eleven, and he wants you to eat your lunch and get ready for the ICW meeting. Pomfrey is letting you leave for a few hours, but you have to be back in time for dinner."
Feeling mildly better for the nap, Harry gathered his clothes and headed for the loo. At least he would have the opportunity to read up a bit more about control structures in Wards during lunch. The investigation into any complicated magical construct was always perfect to fully engage the mind.
When Harry got back to his bed, Remus and Ginny were waiting with a long roll of parchment and a relatively short sheet of paper "This one first," Remus said as he handed over the long roll. "You know the incantation and the wand work required."
Harry picked up the quill and looked at the first set of signatures for Ginevra M. Weasley accepting the oaths for the Occlumency Shadow Ring. "Ginevra?" Harry asked with a quirked eyebrow. "Guinevere? A little bit uncommon for an English variant, isn't it?" Ginny narrowed her eyes slightly but refused to comment.
Shrugging at her silence, Harry carefully overwrote his name on top of hers as he chanted out a release phrase to dispel the original oaths. When he was finished, he carefully used his wand to draw his signature a second time, all the marks slowly fading away from the first set of signature lines.
"Right," Remus said with a hint of humour, "this one's different than the last one. You wanted stronger repercussions, so this needs to be bound with a blood oath. You have to bind this one, and then she can sign it and start her lessons with me."
Harry casually pulled a small dagger off his right hip, drew a line across his index finger, and slowly traced the edges of the small parchment with a trail of crimson. As soon as the edging was complete, the parchment flashed white, and the blood vanished.
"Thanks, Harry," Remus said as he guided Ginny away. Harry ignored the curious look she threw over her shoulder as he tapped his thumb briefly with his wand, sealing the minor cut. Scooping up the materials Cyril brought him, Harry took his books, papers and lunch tray to the back of the room to have a working luncheon.
The buffer mechanism is regulated by proximity to sources . . . some advanced wards are capable of storing energy . . . the drain rate is proportionally related to distance, yet reduced by chains . . . attenuation to fluctuation is critical . . . set spells may be cast from a ward if properly constructed . . .
Harry paused in his journal writing as he tried to work out the dichotomy he found himself facing. He had finished the book and understood now the basic theory to most how wards should work. Given his already unorthodox views of magic and energy, Harry knew it would take some time to reconcile the rather inconsistent and primitive view of the book to the reality of the world. The closing chapter, however, was oddly incongruous to the rest of the text.
From the outset, the text emphasized the limited capacities of wards, control structures, and the fragility of their construction and links. They were, in essence, a type of customisable bunker, meant to protect and erupt violently when attacked. The last chapter, however, implied strongly that as long as you were careful and planned for the unforeseen, a ward could be constructed that would release any spell upon the target, not just one of a handful of ritual counter-attacks. While it would take some minor amount of power to act as a trigger impulse to such a ward, the actual power of the spell would not be drawn from the magic wielder that triggered the spell, but instead from the modulated buffer behind the ward. The implications were both staggering and frustrating, as he knew from his earlier experiments that moving wards were too unstable to be viable. Or, at the very least, they were too unstable if constructed in the manner the text dictated.
"It's time, Harry." Cyril's voice was soft, and his Mentor waited patiently for him to reach a stopping point in his thoughts and writing.
Nodding, Harry stood up and pulled the black leather robes over his black clothes and boots. After picking up his books and papers, he dropped the stack on the stand beside Remus' bed before looking back at Remus and Ginny still talking quietly by the front of the Infirmary.
Holding out a small rod, Cyril made sure Harry had a firm grip on it. "Let us go to Geneva, then, Harry."
I know, it's a little on the short side for a chapter. It was quite a bit longer, but there were some scenes which failed muster and had to be excised, and several k were dropped.
For the Canon Police among you, in Book 4, Pettigrew cut off his right hand. I changed it. Feel free to have a conspiracy theory as to why.
Thanks, as always, to my genius betas who have valiantly strived to make this story better, despite my crafty attempts to make it incomprehensible and even my efforts to make the characters unlikable. Immeasurable thanks to Chreechree and cwarbeck. Thanks also to Reg for his Brit-picking, Treecat for slang checking, and Sovran for a pre-publish sanity check.
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