"Wow!" exclaimed Ron. "That puts a new light on things."
"I'll say it does," agreed Hermione. "I've never felt so focused."
"I'm glad to see the spell was useful," said Harry with caution in his voice. "Just remember not to use it without someone you trust watching, or in a very secure place."
"Will you teach us Wallacearia Condensata?" implored Hermione.
"I gave it some consideration while you ordered your thoughts," responded Harry in awe at Hermione's tenacity and memory. "I think the experience of reading under that particular spell should be enjoined only where there are multiple books to be read. I've only one in my backpack, so I think it would be best to wait for the right place."
Hermione gave him the fish-eye, but finally conceded the point.
"What's next?" asked Ron hopefully.
Wordlessly, Harry withdrew the adamant crucible from his backpack and removed it from its form-fitting case. With two hands, and very carefully, he placed it upon the table.
As Harry reached for the lid, Hermione squeaked out a protest. "You're not going to open that are you?"
"I intend to, yes," said Harry. "Don't worry. Although it was quite difficult to get the masking magic inside the crucible, now it seems very reluctant to leave."
Harry removed the crucible's lid and the room was filled with dancing light.
"That's odd,' said Harry. "The magics seem to have blended completely."
"I don't know if that's a good thing or not," said Hermione apprehensively.
"There's nothing in history to measure this against," said Harry. "But I do have an idea of how I want to empty the crucible."
"Well spit it out mate," said Ron. "Don't keep us in suspense."
"Actually, it was your choice of time that started me thinking," said Harry. Dumbledore injured his hand just before the school year started; just before he and I went in search of Slughorn. He told me that the ring containing Riddle's Horcrux had been hidden at the Gaunt's cabin. I believe that's where he was injured. I've been there. It was in a memory only, but I believe I could find the place very easily. What if we went there and removed any protective magic before Dumbledore arrives. If he doesn't injure his hand, he may survive his confrontation with the Death Eaters."
Harry spoke very quickly so as not to allow a moment for interruption. But as soon as he paused, Hermione was on him like a catamount. "No way Harry! You know the rules about tampering with the past. Terrible things can happen." There was no plea in Hermione's voice, only steel.
"Who's to say we haven't done it already?" asked Harry.
Looking perplexed, Ron cut in, "Well, I think I'd know if I had faced that kind of trial. It'd be hard to forget really."
In answer to the arguments, Harry pulled out his pocket watch and handed it over to Ron. Ron took the gold watch, but still looked flummoxed.
Remember when I told you this watch is connected to my Time-Turner? Well take a closer look." Harry pointed to the hands. They indicated several outstanding time versions.
"Yeah, well that could mean anything," said Ron as he handed the timepiece back to Harry. "It could be showing you here right now."
"It can't," said Harry. "It only shows the effects of my Time-Turner, not yours. I checked before we came here. There are two more hands in play now."
"That doesn't prove anything," stated Hermione flatly. "You could be anywhen, on any errand."
"That's true, I could be, but I've considered several cryptic statements from Dumbledore that just don't add up," said Harry.
"Odd statements from Dumbledore? Since when is that new?" asked Ron, arguing the point.
"Look, you talked me out of emptying the crucible's magic here inside the castle," said Harry. "I've come to accept that as wise counsel. To help Professor Lupin, I need an empty crucible. To accomplish that, the magic has to be purged. To purge the magic, it has to have a focus."
Harry let his friends think quietly for several minutes before he began again. "You don't have to come with me. I just wanted you to know what I was planning."
"Like we're going to let you blunder off on your own? Not bloody likely," said Ron.
"We'll go with you," said Hermione, measuring each word. "We'll take a look around the Gaunt cabin and decide from there. Is that a fair compromise?"
"Fair enough," said Harry. "We're rested and fed, and we've got the time."
Ron snorted at the pun. "Well then, let's get to it," he said, suddenly stone-cold serious.
Harry put the crucible back in his backpack, pulled out his Time-Turner, roped them all with the gold chain, checked his settings carefully, and with a flip of his wrist they were gone.
As their time-distorted senses calmed, Harry began to explain their next move. He was interrupted by Hermione becoming violently sick.
"Sorry about that," she said shakily as she cleaned her robes and vanished the puddle of sick. "I told you I don't like this feeling."
Harry produced a banana and gave it over. "Eat this, it will help your stomach."
Hermione took the banana and began to eat it very slowly.
"When you feel able, we've got a bit of a hike through the forest," said Harry as he watched Hermione eat. "We can't apparate easily from within Hogwarts."
"I'm glad to see that you finally accept that," said Hermione smiling weakly.
"Why walk?" asked Ron. "Can't we use these?" he asked pointing to a supply of brooms in the corner of the room.
"I love this room," muttered Harry; then more loudly, "I really need to dissect the founder's magic and determine how they imbued this room with such anticipatory precognition."
Hermione glanced at Ron. "I know," he said in a resigned voice. "Harry wants to know how the room is able to give us what we need before we know we need it."
Harry ignored the smile that passed between Ron and Hermione.
"Do you feel up to handling a broom?" he asked Hermione as she finished the banana.
"I feel a bit more steady, but I think I'd rather ride behind Ronald," she answered quickly, stuffing the slick banana peel in her robe pocket.
Ron, blushing slightly, strode over to the pile of brooms and picked out a likely candidate. He extended the seat-cushioning charm, forming an invisible pillion, as Hermione joined him.
"I think we should disillusion ourselves and the brooms," said Harry as he picked out a broom. "Then with the invisibility cloaks, we stand almost no chance of being seen. Just one piece of advice...get hold of the handle of the broom before you disillusion it. It's right nasty trying to find it afterward."
Harry handed around the cloaks and they all disillusioned themselves.
"Where did you go?" asked Ron's voice from nowhere. Hermione giggled.
"Here this might help," said Harry as he produced a bright green maple leaf. "I'll tether this to my broom. Once outside, as I fly, the leaf will flutter behind me. If anyone should chance to see it, they will assume it's just blowing in the breeze."
"We're ready," said Hermione's disembodied voice. "Lead on."
Harry led them from the Room of Requirement, through the hallways, and down to Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. If either Ron or Hermione thought the destination odd, they nonetheless held their peace.
Once in the bathroom, Harry opened the passage to the Chamber of Secrets and led them to the huge junction below. As the pipe closed above their heads, Hermione finally voiced her concern.
"Harry what are we doing here?" she asked tentatively as they removed the disillusionment charm.
"We need a way out of the castle," he explained. "The castle doors stay locked unless students are escorted by a teacher. We could apparate through the front doors by elf spectra, but you already feel ill. Elf magic makes anyone feel terrible, and it's difficult magic at best, so I don't suggest it. We could use floo powder but we don't have a destination fireplace. The castle windows are locked magically. We can't use too much force or the staff will be alerted. I thought that we could use this drain pipe to the lake."
"Blimey Harry, you'd better have a whole pocketful of gillyweed or we'll all drown before we can get to the surface," said Ron.
"No gillyweed, besides it would take an hour before we could breathe air again. We don't want to be under water that long. Let me show you what I have discovered." Harry then showed them how to conjure and extend the Bubble-Head-Charm. Soon they all looked like they were wrapped in giant flexible bubbles.
"This is amazing Harry," said Hermione in awe.
"I don't know about amazing," said Harry. "But I've tinkered this magic extensively and I know it works. I've used it several times to access the castle."
"Go on!" said Ron. "You swam the whole lake?"
"No I use a broom. I found an old school broom abandoned in the forest. I still have it stored at the edge of the forest for an emergency." Then Harry added quickly, "But the brooms you provided are much better."
The grin on Ron's face was the last thing Harry saw before they disillusioned themselves and headed down the drainpipe. Harry led them though the lake and forest, finally stopping at the outskirts of the ancient trees.
When disillusionment charms were removed, Hermione turned to Harry, "I've been thinking as we traveled... how do you plan on getting to the Gaunt cabin without magic, and even if we get there undetected, how do you plan on using the magic stored in the crucible without alerting the Ministry? They can detect underage magic. All of us are technically underage, as we have gone back before Ron and I got our birthdays."
"I think I have half of our problem sorted," said Harry. He focused and produced a huge chunk of raw meat. "Thestrals," he said simply. "I think they will make our trip undetectable to the Ministry. As to performing magic at the Gaunt cabin...I thought you just wanted to look around," chided Harry.
Hermione went a bit pink. "I did and I still do. I was merely pointing out a possible problem."
"I know," said Harry mischievously. "I couldn't resist the twist. I've had a bit of practice getting around underage magic restrictions."
True to Harry's intent it was only a matter of minutes before several thestrals were ravaging the meat.
Harry noticed the revulsion on both Ron and Hermione's faces and he realized with a jolt to his stomach that they could see the animals. "Dumbledore," he thought initially; then with another shot to his guts, he realized that, in this time, Dumbledore was still alive. "It had to be..."
"Sirius," he said aloud.
Hermione released her grip on Ron's arm and surprised Harry by embracing him. She looked at him with tears in her eyes and nodded. "Are you all right Harry?" she asked with edge to her voice.
"Fine," Harry lied. The instant reminder of his godfather's death had unfocused him.
Hermione released him and walked over to the nearest thestral. The meat was gone and the animal nosed her in anticipation. Hesitantly she reached out and touched its skeletal form. "I still don't like flying, but it has to be better this time... I mean in the daylight and being able to see my mount."
"I don't care what Hagrid says about them," said Ron. "They're still creepy to me. But if it's to be thestral, then let's go."
"Ronald, if you don't mind; I'd prefer riding behind you," said Hermione timidly.
"Fine by me," said Ron pinking again.
Hermione's willingness to touch the thestral settled Harry's angst. He and Ron each picked mounts. Ron bellied over and when he was seated, pulled Hermione up behind him as if she weighed nothing. She disillusioned them both. Harry mounted his thestral, disillusioned, and said, "The Gaunt cabin, about one mile from Little Hangleton. The thestrals shot into the air and Harry once again marveled at their speed and stamina. It seemed he had just become accustomed to the rocking motion of flight when they started to descend. Harry caught a glimpse of Little Hangleton, the Riddle manor, and the church cemetery just before they landed on a steep hill covered in rough scrub trees.
When they dismounted and removed the disillusionment, Hermione ran immediately to the tangled hedgerow beside the lane and retched. She came back starkly white and shaky.
"That flight did my constitution no good whatsoever. And for the record, your banana was better going down than coming up," she said tremulously, wiping her mouth on her robe sleeve.
"Would you like to sit here and wait?" asked Harry. "The Gaunt cabin is just down this path. You could follow when you feel able."
"Harry!" shouted Ron indignantly. "What have you taught us about being on our own? We're here to watch each other's backs. I'll not leave Hermione here, nor will I let you go on alone. We'll wait 'til she feels better or we'll go back to the castle. Take your pick."
Suddenly Harry was impressed by just how much taller and broader Ron had grown. "We'll wait," he responded quickly.
In a matter of minutes, Hermione indicated she was up to going on. As Harry started down the path to leading toward the Gaunt's cabin, he found that in the intervening years it had become overgrown and nearly impassable from disuse. As he elbowed his way past briers and spiny thorns, his breath caught in his throat. There, impaled on a bramble, was a scrap of purple brocade.
"Hurry," he said to Ron and Hermione. "I think Dumbledore may already be here. Disillusion yourselves and put on the invisibility cloaks."
Invisible, they stumbled down the vegetation-choked path as fast as Hermione's flagged strength would allow. When they finally came in to view of the tangled trees overarching the decrepit cabin, Harry's worst fears were realized. He didn't need to tune his glasses for magic emanations. Dumbledore was standing a glowing frieze against the ruin's dreary background.
Dumbledore was at an impossible angle, leaning backward far beyond his balance point. His right arm, extended in front of him, was being pulled forward toward a translucent fiery serpent. A howling wind whipped at his robe and long white beard.
Harry was horribly reminded of Fenrir Greyback's descent into the mirr panel.
"Albus!" yelled Harry in near panic. "What do you need!"
Dumbledore did not open his eyes nor acknowledge Harry's words or presence. Harry quickly surmised that either Dumbledore could not hear him, or the old wizard's attention was so all-encompassing that he couldn't risk diverting it from the struggle.
Ron and Hermione rushed to Harry's side. "What is this magic?" implored Hermione. "What do we do?" The howling wind tore her words into scraps and strips.
"I'm not sure," said Harry loudly as he wished inwardly that he had thought to bring Capricio. "But at the rate Dumbledore is being pulled forward, we have to act in a matter of minutes, if not seconds."
He went into action, quickly examining everything around Dumbledore with all the frequency and spectrum devices he had available. The only thing he could discern was an unknown, velvety-brown something, wrapped like a rope around Dumbledore's right hand, pulling him toward the fiery serpent's fanged mouth.
"In for a penny...," said Harry as he issued a string of commands to Ron and Hermione. While they attempted to arrest Dumbledore's forward motion, Harry frantically altered a lump of gold into a shining disc.
"How much do you trust your unicorn jumper?" Harry yelled at Ron.
"Enough!" replied Ron. "What's your plan?"
"I'm going to try to sever the force dragging Dumbledore forward. Can you redirect it toward the trees?" shouted Harry.
Ron, seeing the golden disc but not Harry, released Dumbledore's robes. "Do it now! Don't wait!" Ron yelled over the maelstrom's fury.
Harry moved instantly, spurred by the urgency in Ron's voice. Grabbing the gold disc by its sharply tapered edged, like a fanged Frisbee in a distance competition; he thew it with all his might. At the instant the disc passed in front of Dumbledore's hand it exploded into a thousand melted drops. Ron immediately stepped into the fuzzy brown stream, redirecting it at the nearby copse of trees. The result was tremendous. Gnarled oak, scrub elm, and ancient stooping willows were ripped from the ground and sucked into the vortex, along with a good bit of the Gaunt's cabin. Splintered wood rained down in torrents, driven by the fierce wind. And then, as if shut off by a switch, all was quiet. Dumbledore staggered backward, landing atop an invisible but startled Hermione.
"The ring! The ring is the gateway!" moaned Dumbledore. "Must remove the ring! Use nothing magical! Do not... touch... the ring!" Each statement through gritted teeth seemed to cost Dumbledore dearly.
"Move! Quickly!" demanded Hermione's voice as she extracted herself from beneath Dumbledore. Unseen to her companions, she thrust her hand beneath her robes and withdrew the spotted banana peel. She wrapped it, closed end out, around Dumbledore's ring finger. Then she grasped the outer peel and milked it against Dumbledore's finger, forcing the slick lining of the peel between Dumbledore's finger and the ring. In moments, the ring dropped to the ground and sizzled a hole in the scattered leaves.
Harry didn't hesitate. Upon seeing the ring drop to the ground, he opened his backpack and found a single unicorn hair. He looped it through the still smoking ring and knotted it off. Then he scooped the adamant crucible from the backpack and freed it from its container. He thrust the free end of the unicorn hair into the roiling magic contained in the crucible.
The tempest returned, whipping the remaining trees about. The leaves and debris around the ring turned immediately to ash. The soil glowed with intense light and then melted into something akin to lava. A yowling that set teeth on edge and hair on end, filled the air.
In a moment that seemed to last a lifetime, it was over. Something blindingly white traveled from the ring, up the unicorn hair, bounced off the adamant crucible and escaped into the heavens. The dust settled. The wind died off. The wail of everything magic ceased. The only sound was the cracking of the molten earth as it cooled and solidified.
Harry picked up the ring by the attached unicorn hair, formed a bit of the splattered gold into a box, and encased the Peverell ring. He sprinted to Dumbledore and slipped the box into the old wizard's pocket.
"The Ministry most likely detected that, don't you think?" asked Ron from the area of the vitrified soil.
"Probably," responded Harry. "Let's see to Albus."
Dumbledore had risen to his feet. "Curse!" he gasped out. "Must get to Severus. Time... is short!"
"What about the Ministry detecting our magic?" moaned Hermione. "We'll end up in Azkaban for this! We've tampered with the past!"
"Who cares about that now!" yelled Harry. "We have to get Albus back to Hogwarts, and as much as I truly hate to admit it, Snape may be the only solution."
Harry looked up and was relieved to see the pair of thestrals come into sight.
"I'll ride one with Dumbledore in front of me," said Ron's voice, and Harry realized that Ron had gone after the thestrals of his own volition. "You two take the other."
Without waiting for permission or argument, one of the thestrals moved alongside Dumbledore. Something invisible hoisted the injured wizard and the thestral was off.
Harry looked in awe at the quickly receding thestral carrying his unseen friend and his greatest teacher.
"Hermione, can you ride alone?" asked Harry.
"I could, but I don't fancy it, why?" she asked, a note of fear stabbing her words.
"You go on ahead," said Harry quickly. "Catch Ron up. When you arrive at Hogwarts, land directly under the winged boar on the right side of the entrance gate. Send the thestrals back to the forest. This is important... don't be seen. Stand Dumbledore in front of the gates. I'll spend a few minutes here, clean up a bit. Maybe I can make it hard for the Ministry to determine what happened. I'll see to it that Snape comes to the gate. Look for my leaf. Now go, or Ron won't know how to proceed!"
Hermione considered arguing, but capitulated. "All right," she said weakly.
Harry groped about, and finally finding Hermione, helped her mount her thestral. It took to the air immediately and sped after Ron. "Now my work begins," he said to the mangled clearing.
He frenetically hunted down every trace of magic, obliterating the signatures and scattering the sources. His final action was to conjure a huge chunk of iron and rock. He melted the forward edge and smashed it into the crater left by Riddle's magic. He had just cleared the site when he heard the first crack of someone apparating. Silent and invisible, Harry crept to within five feet of the Auror and waited. The instant he heard the next crack of apparition, he spun and superimposed his departure on the second Auror's arrival. The two cracks sounded an echo and went unnoticed by the pair now examining the "meteorite."
Harry "rode" the wizard's apparition trail back to the Ministry, appearing in the long polished-wood hall. He took no time to admire the sky blue ceiling or the gilt statues. He simply strode to one of the right hand fireplaces, dropped in a pinch of floo powder, and whispered, "Hogwarts."
As he had hoped, Ministry fireplaces were unrestricted. He watched closely through the spinning travel. When he saw Hogwarts Great Hall come into view, he stepped from the fireplace. Breakfast long past, the hall was completely vacant.
Harry considered his options. He knew he could call Dobby to deliver an urgent message to Snape who, according to the Marauder's Map, was in his dungeon office, but he was unsure how much credence Snape would give to the elf's words. He could use Sir Nicholas, but once again; Harry wondered how much faith Snape would put in the Gryffindor house ghost. He could summon Snape to the front gates using the spell that professors used for communication, but those spells carried a personal verification and he hadn't identified anyone but McGonagall's and Madam Pomfrey's.
As much as he detested the idea, Harry determined he would have to face Snape himself.
He hurried to the dungeons, softening the noise of his footfalls with a sound-deadening spell, and all the while racking his memory for spells to assist in his endeavor.
Snape, as Harry had anticipated and dreaded, was in his office. The door was slightly ajar and Harry slipped in unnoticed. Harry's urge to strike out at the hated man was barely mastered by his hope that Snape could help Dumbledore. As he cautiously removed his wand, his robes rustled slightly.
Snape turned and surveyed the office suspiciously, pointing his wand at thin air. Only then did Harry see what Snape was about. There on his desk, was the Half-Blood Prince's copy of Advanced Potion-Making. For an instant, Harry was at cross-purposes; then he settled his heart rate and aimed his wand at his own throat. He concentrated on the ancient spell "Acridotheres" and spoke words he had heard Dumbledore utter.
The name rolled in the silent dungeon in Dumbledore's pained inflection. Snape's head jerked around looking for the speaker.
Again Snape swept the room with his eyes.
"Severus... must... get... to... gate."
"Who's there?" shouted Snape. "Peeves, is that you?" Snape's tone sounded uncertain.
"Curse. Time... is... short. Severus."
Snape's eyes narrowed. He looked wildly around the room.
"Remember my last... Severus."
The words rolled in Dumbledore's voice. If the situation had not been so dire, Harry would have laughed at Snape's confusion.
Snape waited for several seconds, apparently waiting for more cryptic messages. When none came, he seemed to make up his mind. He hurriedly stuffed everything on his desk into the base of the pillar and sealed it magically. Then he fingered down the row of potions and pickled things.
Harry saw him select a bottle of clear viscous liquid.
Snape pocketed the bottle and hurried from the office.
Harry quickly looked at the shelf label expecting the name of the curative Snape had chosen. The label read "he13 E.S.&P." Harry smiled bitterly and pelted after the hated foe.
Snape had apparently gotten the gist of Harry's message, because he made straight for the front doors and then directly across the lawns to the iron front gate.
Harry was relieved to see Dumbledore standing at the front gate, leaning on the stonework that supported the winged boar on his left. Dumbledore's right hand hung limply at his side and his breathing was erratic.
Snape opened the front gates and before even asking a single question, he dumped the contents of the potion ingredient bottle over Dumbledore's right arm and hand. He then whisked the Headmaster through the gate and hurried toward the castle.
Harry slipped through the gap behind Snape and joined Ron and Hermione outside.
"We could have been on the inside of that gate," groused Ron. "It would have saved time. Hermione's not feeling well."
"I thought about letting you two inside the gate," said Harry in explanation. "But all-in-all it's probably best for us to fly together. We may not have been able to get through the castle's front doors, even after the long slog up the lawns, and then we'd be without brooms if we did have to negotiate the lake."
Ron didn't answer, but Harry could tell by the crushed grass that his friend was already making his way toward where the brooms lay hidden. He hurried to catch him up.
When he arrived at the edge of the trees, Harry could hear rustling in the nearby forest. He had contemplated defense, when the invisible handle of a broom was thrust roughly into his hands. Harry took no offense. He mounted the proffered broom, set his leaf to flutter, and headed back through the forest. No one spoke until they were safely ensconced in Myrtle's bathroom.
Harry removed Hermione's cloak and disillusionment charm to see how she was faring.
"She looks dreadful," said a sly voice that caused Harry to jump.
"Hello Myrtle. How are you." asked Ron perfunctorily as he removed his cloak and disillusionment charm.
"Better than her," giggled Myrtle maliciously.
Ron spun around just in time to see Hermione slump to the floor.
"She barely held on," said Ron. "On the way out she almost squeezed me to death. Coming back..."
"I see," said Harry from beneath his invisibility cloaks. "Sorry Myrtle, we have to go!"
Harry encircled them with his Time-Turner chain and brought them to the "right" time. Then he and Ron whisked Hermione to Madam Pomfrey, as Harry removed his own cloak and charm.
Upon seeing Ron and Harry, the matron began to explain that Ginny was not ready to leave the hospital; then she saw Hermione. "Bring her over here! Quickly!"
Within minutes, Hermione was sound asleep in the bed next to Ginny.
Once assured of her patient's care, Madam Pomfrey turned on Harry and Ron. "I recall telling you to keep Miss Granger safely out of my ward. What are you doing that is causing such exhaustion?" Then she held up her hand. "On second thought, I don't want to know. With only a day of term left.... Yes, it's better that I don't know. But my considered advice is to stop doing whatever it is."
Not even allowing them to say goodbye to the girls, she steered them from the ward and into the corridor. "Straight to your classes," she said curtly as she closed the hospital doors with a snap.
Ron looked at Harry. "Blimey mate, I don't mean to be a crepe hanger but maybe she's right. How much more can we pack into our final day?"
Harry nodded in acknowledgment, "You have a fair point. I'm not going to ask any more of you, or Ginny, or Hermione. I've got magic training with Dobby, a special meeting with the teachers, a potion to concoct for Lupin, packing for the trip back to London... that's enough to be getting on with, don't you think?"
"What about the clash with Dobby?" asked Ron. "I thought you wanted me there."
"I do," responded Harry. "But I think I might be asking too much."
"Bonkers mate," said Ron. "Count me in!"
Harry put his hand on Ron's shoulder. "Thanks. I hated to ask, but I will feel safer if you are there."
"What are we waiting for?" asked Ron. "Gryffindors are supposed to be intrepid."
Understanding each other fully, the pair hurried to the seventh floor. They slowed as they reached the man-sized vase in the hallway. The door to the Room of Requirement was already in place.
"Could someone else be using the room?" queried Ron.
"Possibly,' whispered Harry. "Or Dobby may have come a bit early. Look sharp."
They cautiously entered the Room of Requirement. Harry relaxed a bit when he saw that Dobby had indeed arrived early, but what gave Harry more comfort was the absence of the cabinets of curatives the room had provided for his go with Winky.
"Harry Potter, sir!" exclaimed the elf upon seeing Harry and Ron enter the room. "And Master Wheezy too!" he said in delight. "Dobby has been thinking and thinking, Harry Potter. Dobby was worried about a fight with Harry Potter, and then Dobby says to himself... not a fight, no... Dobby will be a teacher. After all, Dobby is at a school, why not be a teacher?"
"Well done Dobby, " said Harry. "To be perfectly honest, I was worried too. I've seen your brand of magic in use and it's very potent. I would much rather be your student than your victim."
"The great Harry Potter is too kind," gushed the elf twisting his ears. "Harry Potter has fought He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Harry Potter is a great wizard."
"Thanks Dobby, but I really am here as your student. Ron is here to make sure that I don't get walloped too badly, only go easy until I get the feel for your magic."
Dobby released his ears and shrugged an apologetic shrug. "Some preparations has already been made," he said motioning to several pedestals around the room.
Harry could see items scattered about that had undoubtedly come from the various parts of the school, but most notably from the kitchens. Pumpkins, watermelons, pineapples, several suits of both clad and chain mail armor, doors propped in partial walls, unlit chandeliers, even several paintings littered the room.
"Looks like you've been busy," noted Ron.
"Not so, Master Wheezy," responded Dobby. "The Come and Go Room made these decisions of its own. But Dobby can see how to use these things. First Harry Potter will watch, then we will practice, then Dobby will teach Harry Potter how to..." Dobby gulped, "... fight."
"Could I see a sample of house elf magic?" asked Harry as he fiddled with his glasses.
"That is a good place to start, Harry Potter." Dobby summoned magic that swept dust and dirt into a pile in the centre of the room. With a snap of his fingers, Dobby vanished the pile.
"I didn't hear anything. Did you Harry?" asked Ron with great concern.
"No I didn't," said Harry. "So much for the pitch of elf magic."
"Now Harry Potter, watch carefully." The house elf extended his bony hand, palm forward, and motioned to the pedestals. The watermelon and pumpkin exploded spectacularly, the same magic sparkled out of a painting and under a make-shift door, the clad armor collapsed as if pummeled by an invisible sledge hammer, the chain mail armor wadded into a ball of tangled wire.
Ron whistled a slow appreciative whistle.
Harry felt the blood drain from his face. His hands began to tingle. "That was impressive Dobby," he said a bit shakily.
"Does Harry Potter wish to end the lesson?" asked Dobby hopefully.
"No!" said Harry quickly. "Let's start a bit carefully at first," he said as he recalled the suffocating pain of Winky's magical onslaught. "Please start by cleaning my robes."
Dobby's face split in a toothy smile. "We house elves specialize in domestic magic."
Harry watched as the sparkling magic searched his robes for the smallest particles of dirt. His mind wandered a bit as he saw the amount of dirt the magic was able to extract. He was shocked back to reality by the revelation that if not for the magic behind his glasses, he would not be aware of the elf magic saturating his robes. As the cleaning continued, Harry took a page from Capricio's book and sniffed. A sensation tickled his brain. He was forcefully reminded of Aunt Petunia's fresh wash. The smell was identical.
"Try a different bit of magic," encouraged Harry.
Dobby complied and the folds of Harry's robes sharpened into precise points. Harry thought he smelled freshly ironed cloth. The floor beneath his feet began to shine so brilliantly that he could see his reflection. Immediately, he could smell a faint citrus aroma. Subtly overlaid on the citrus smell was the smell of apple.
Harry was so intent on identifying the scents that a loud crunching behind startled him. He whirled toward the sound.
"Sorry..." said Ron as he sheepishly showed Harry the apple he had just bitten, "... peckish."
Harry smiled and returned his attention to Dobby. "Can you smell your magic?" he asked.
"Oh yes Harry Potter," said Dobby. "Not only our own magic, but the magic of other house elves as well. That is one of the ways we can tell if there is other elves about."
Harry thought back to an incident at Privet Drive. He had come back from a disastrous day at school, and as soon as he entered the house, he knew Aunt Marge was lurking nearby. Her cloying perfume, and the smell of her bulldog, Ripper, permeated the air.
"I think I've got a handle on your magic," said Harry. "Dobby, start out small. Ron, keep a sharp eye."
Dobby began with magic he had already showed Harry. Robes tried to cover Harry's head, the floor under his feet became slippery, dust and dirt swirled in clouds around his head, magic streamed from a picture and attempted to knock him over. Harry identified, caught, and negated each magic.
At the end of the first test Dobby clapped his bony hands and waggled his bat-like ears. "Harry Potter is doing well. Should Dobby continue?" asked the elf.
"Oh yes," responded Harry as he checked to see where Ron was standing.
Dobby proceeded with single focus magic. With each success, Harry became more confident. Dobby, reading Harry's posture of assurance, began to use more potent magic. Finally, Harry had to use the unicorn hair reinforced jumper to handle the pressure put upon him. The room warmed with the dissipated magic.
"A bit more!" challenged Harry.
Dobby nodded resignedly. He pulled up a spell designed to lift heavy furniture to allow cleaning underneath and knocked Harry from his feet. Harry countered by levitating himself further and parrying Dobby's magic from above. He was about to congratulate himself for his ingenuity, when a huge crystal chandelier knocked him aside the head. He fell from the air and landed hard on the floor. Dobby made motion to stop, but Harry shunted the falling chandelier harmlessly to the side and motioned Dobby to continue.
Dobby did not attack, instead he looked at his huge feet and started pulling his ears.
"What's wrong Dobby?" asked Harry in concern.
"Harry Potter has done well," said Dobby as Harry restrained his ear-pulling. "Dobby is wondering if Harry Potter is ready to fight now?"
Harry was nonplussed. "I thought we have been fighting," he said a bit nervously.
"Oh no Harry Potter, we have been practicing. Fighting is what Dobby is afraid of. When we house elves fight, we can lose ourselves in the magic. It is a most distressing feeling."
Harry cringed to think that the magic Dobby had used was "just practice." He looked at Ron who's shrug said plainly, "It's up to you."
Harry nodded a gallows-go, which Ron returned.
"I'm ready," said Harry as he waved Ron to one side.
A grim look clouded Dobby's face, removing all vestiges of friendliness or warmth.
Harry knew at once he was in trouble. The blossoming wave of the elf's magic inundated his mind with pain. He could think of nothing else. His entire existence was torture. Then it snapped off as with a switch. Ron had stepped into the flow of magic and redirected it. Harry was completely unaware of his surroundings for several minutes. He finally realized that Ron was slapping him about the face to bring him around.
"Tough go, that!" said Ron as he helped Harry to his feet.
"What was that?" asked Harry thickly as he tried to locate Dobby in the room. He found the elf kicking his bony feet against the wall in apparent self-punishment. The only mitigation was the numerous socks the elf wore cushioning each kick.
Harry walked shakily to Dobby and arrested the wall-kicking. When Dobby looked at Harry, his great green eyes filled with tears. "Dobby is ashamed Harry Potter. Dobby let the magic run away with him even after Dobby promised restraint."
"Don't fret Dobby," said Harry smiling weakly. "I've had worse, and I need to know what to expect. Your magic is the most potent I've had occasion to test myself against. You really are doing me a favor, just give me a moment to talk to Ron and we'll try again."
"As Harry Potter wishes," muttered the elf.
Harry turned his attention back to Ron. "Thanks mate, but how did you do that?"
"Dunno," responded Ron. He puzzled for a moment and then brightened. "Maybe I've had a bit more practice. Maybe the unicorn hair works better the more it's used. Maybe I'm lucky. Maybe it's just easier from my side."
Harry massaged aching muscles as he considered Ron's reasoning. "Easier from my side," mused Harry quietly. "How about easier from the side?" A sudden memory elbowed into his thoughts. One of his primary school teachers had asked each member of the class to choose a pencil from a cup. After each had made their selection, they were instructed to break the pencil. To a person, they snapped the pencils in two pieces sideways. The teacher then took the two largest class members and gave them a new pencil with instructions to pull on opposite ends of the pencil in an attempt to pull it apart. Try as they might, they could not pull the pencil in two. Harry wondered.
"Dobby, might we try an experiment?" asked Harry of the dejected elf.
"Dobby has said he would help," responded the elf unenthusiastically.
"Can you piece together what is left of the chandelier?" asked Harry.
"Dobby is not adept at repairing broken things," lamented Dobby. "But if Harry Potter wants Dobby to try; Dobby will try."
Dobby turned to the shattered light. Harry could see the sparkling elf magic through his tuned glasses. True to Dobby's prediction, small intact crystal pieces reattached themselves to the fixture; however broken pieces refused to mend under the elf's magic.
Without warning, Harry thrust his left arm into the magic stream. The magic shattered and Harry shunted it through his jumper and into the granite floor.
Both Ron and Dobby looked surprised.
"I think I have it!" exclaimed Harry excitedly to Ron. "Although...in case I'm wrong... I'd like you at the ready to rescue me."
The corner of Ron's mouth twitched and he nodded acceptance.
"Blast me again," said Harry as he set his stance.
Dobby looked frightened but he did as he was told. The magic sparkled toward Harry, but instead of taking it headlong, he sidestepped. He let the crest pass and then intersected it from the side. The redirected magic made the receiving stone glow pink.
Dobby clapped his hands. Ron seemed quietly impressed.
After a dozen more attempts with identical results, Harry had the process sorted. As he explained his discovery, Ron's look darkened.
"You mean to say that I've just been lucky? It was only about where I was standing, not about what I knew?" asked Ron crestfallen.
"Not at all," responded Harry. "You still had to have the pluck to thrust yourself into the magic. That took a lot of nerve mate! Thanks!"
Ron looked marginally mollified at Harry's praise and joined in the practice. Quickly, both Ron and Harry could intersect and redirect Dobby's brand of magic.
Dobby became more-and-more animated with each successful encounter with his magic; finally overcome, the elf clicked his heels in the air. "Oh, Harry Potter and Master Wheezey has done it! You can avoid elf magic, and Dobby has controlled hisself."
"Thanks Dobby," said Harry sincerely. "Without your help we couldn't have done it."
The elf ran at Harry, at the last moment wrapping his bony arms around Harry's knees in an elf-height hug. Then practically howling in tears, Dobby fled from the room.
"Barking," said Ron in appraisal at the elf's departure.
"Barking or not," responded Harry, "he just did us a great service."
The silence spanned for several seconds, finally Harry intervened, "We need to get you to your next class and I have an appointment with Colin Creevey. Shall we go?"
Ron shrugged and followed Harry from the room. He paused in the corridor and watched as the door melted back into stone. "Well that ended better than it started," he said stoically. Yawning widely, he followed Harry to his class.