LAST THINGS LAST
Harry's first thought as he prepared to leave the Head's office was to take Capricio to Hagrid. Selecting one of Dumbledore's brooms from the secret closet, he and the dragon flew from the tower to the edge of the forest. He time-turned to just minutes after he had originally left with the wyvern. Hagrid was still fussing in his vegetable garden.
The huge man looked up as Harry approached. "Back a'ready?" he asked as Harry released Capricio.
"Yes," said Harry with a slight smile. "It didn't take long. Thanks for looking after Capricio"
"M'pleasure," said Hagrid as he looked fondly at the small dragon.
Then as if he had been startled from a nap, he exclaimed, "Blimey 'arry! I fergot. I was goin' ter tell yeh ter be careful in the forest. Summat 'as the spiders riled like I've never seen 'em. Mind you the centaurs 'ave settled considerable. But then...I s'ppose that yeh've learnt ter watch out fer yerself."
"A bit," replied Harry modestly.
"I 'ear rumours of a fight with the Preffessers," prodded Hagrid carefully as he examined the underside of a leaf the size of his hand.
"Not so much a fight," responded Harry. "The staff has agreed to test my battle skills. I hope to be completely prepare for Vol..."
Hagrid held up a warding hand. "Don' say the name."
"All right," capitulated Harry, but as he spoke, a question popped into his mind. "Hagrid?" he began tentatively. "How did the Ministry fight the giants? I saw what happened the night that Umbridge tried to take you into custody. You were amazing. Nothing Umbridge's toadies did seemed to affect you. What would happen with a full-blood giant?"
"The Ministry didn' fight the giants very well," explained Hagrid as he released the leaf and focused on Harry. "It takes a score o' wizards ter fight one giant. The biggest ones may take over fifty wizards. That many wizards in one place cause...complications. They get in each other's way. More of an 'indrance if yeh ask me."
"So what did they do?" asked Harry earnestly.
"Well...it wasn't always necessary ter fight 'em," explained Hagrid. "Sometimes it took so long fer the Ministry wizards ter show up, that the giants 'ad a'ready done their worst. All that was left ter do was modify mem'ries and ter treat survivors. In fact, I think some of the Ministry 'acks preferred it that way...didn' seem keen ter confront giants."
"What about the Aurors?" asked Harry.
"Aye, the Aurors," growled Hagrid. "The Aurors work as a team, summat like your lot. Mos' of the giants killed was done-in by Aurors." Hagrid spat on the ground.
Harry registered the disapproval and asked, "What needs to be done differently if Vol...if the giants, oppose us?"
"Olymp and I did what Dumbledore asked," responded Hagrid thoughtfully. "Some of 'em 'll remember. Don' know 'ow much it'll help. Be lots better ter 'ave 'em on our side ter begin with."
Harry lapsed into quiet thought. Finally he looked up into Hagrid's bearded face and asked, "Hagrid, would you come with the other Professors and teach me what could be thrown at me?"
"Don' know if that's such a good idea," said Hagrid. "I couldn' stand the thought of hurtin' yeh."
"Please Hagrid, consider it. Vol...no one is going to take it easy on me. I'd rather be prepared."
Hagrid didn't answer. Harry finally took silence for the answer. "If you change your mind, I meet with the Professors in the Room of Requirement this afternoon at three o'clock."
Hagrid shrugged and clucked to Capricio who had landed on the sleeve of his moleskin coat.
Harry reached up and scratched the dragon affectionately. "I'll pick Capricio up tomorrow morning before we board the carriages for the trip to Hogsmeade. Keep an eye on him."
"'bout that," started Hagrid awkwardly, "do yeh think it's a good idea ter take 'im off the grounds?"
"I've considered it carefully," said Harry still fiddling with the dragon. "I'll have to be consummately careful not to get crosswise of the Ministry. I'll get Charlie Weasley's advice in a week at Bill and Fleur's wedding. Because of his work with dragons, he may have some ideas for me."
"I'd jest ask yeh ter keep me in mind," said Hagrid, tinging red under his beard.
"I'll do that," said Harry, and he turned from Hagrid and the dragon and back up the lawn toward the castle.
Detouring to where he had hidden Dumbledore's broom, he time-turned and immediately flew back to the tower office. He gathered the potion ingredients from the artist's cupboard and, eschewing the G2's help, headed for the dungeons.
Upon arrival Harry went straight to work. As he set out and ordered the ingredients, he noticed the spilled box of Filch's detention notes had been cleaned up and placed on the desk. He strained to recall the state of the box when he and the G2 defeated Snape's magic.
"That wasn't even on my mind while we were here," he told the room in mild frustration. "It's probably locked in some part of my brain and it's aggravating to be unable to remember."
He considered using the Time-Turner or Gemynd but finally came to the conclusion that the small anomaly was not worth the effort, particularly in light of the immediate need to prepare Lupin's potion.
Taking the seat behind the desk, he carefully considered the containers before him.
"This is no longer academic," he said aloud, allowing his words to spur his thoughts. "If I brew this incorrectly, I could poison Professor Lupin. Poison him! I could kill him with my help!"
As he contemplated the gravity of the task, he noticed that his stomach felt queasy and his hands trembled slightly with the adrenaline seeping through his system.
He decided to review the thirty-odd seconds that he had seen inside Fenrir Greyback's mind on the landing outside Dumbledore's office. He sealed the room, settled into the chair and entertained the Gemynd spell. Focusing his entire attention on Greyback's memory, he played the scene over and over in his mind. He let the memory superimpose on the containers in front of him on the desk. Other than a difference in shape, size, or colour of the bottles, the ingredient and those in Greyback's memory appeared identical. Suddenly, he noticed a discrepancy...at the periphery of Greyback's attention was another bottle and a tattered book. He tried to convince himself that the bottle was merely holding the book open and wasn't a constituent of the potion, but the thought worried him deeply. He tried to decipher the label, but it was indistinct in Greyback's memory and appeared to be in an unfamiliar language. Harry exited Gemynd agitated.
"I need some help," he concluded to the dank room. He considered going to McGonagall, or Madam Pomfrey, Horace Slughorn, or Professor Sprout, but dismissed each idea. Ginny and Hermione were still recuperating and Ron was exhausted. He finally settled on Neville Longbottom. "Neville has lived and breathed herbology ever since he arrived here at Hogwarts," he reasoned aloud. "This potion is composed entirely of plants and their extracts. If anyone can help, it'll be Neville."
As if waiting for a counterpoint, Harry listened momentarily to the still air in the dungeon office before he searched the Marauder's Map and headed off to gather Neville.
As the map had shown, Neville was in the library. His nose was buried in a book entitled Plant Shape Corralaries in Potent Potions. He seemed so engrossed in the book that he didn't notice Harry until he slid into the seat opposite.
"Hi Neville," greeted Harry.
"Hello Harry," said Neville brightly as he closed the huge book. Then he knitted his brows and asked suspiciously, "Were are Ron and Hermione?"
"Hermione is in hospital. I left Ron off at his last class," answered Harry. "They're both exhausted from the pace of the last few days, but Madam Pomfrey will have Hermione up and about before we leave tomorrow. Ron should be fine."
"Don't take this wrong Harry, but have you noticed you've been pushing everyone's limits," said Neville very quickly.
"Right," said Harry in understanding. "In that vein," and he leaned close to Neville, "I need your help."
"You need my help?" asked Neville doubtfully. "I'm honored, but since when does Harry Potter need help?"
"I need your herbology expertise," explained Harry. "You saved me with your explanation about herb's prime weights. Now I need your advice about some ingredients in a tricky potion."
Neville pinked around his ears. "I'll help if you want me," he committed.
"Good!" said Harry. "Can you come with me now?"
"Actually, your timing is a good," said Neville. "I'm on a free period, and you seem to have gotten around the requirement for a teacher escort. Where are we going?"
When Harry responded, "The dungeons," it looked as if Neville was having second thoughts about helping.
"Don't worry, no one's there," added Harry quickly as he saw the look on Neville's face. "We'll be alone."
Neville didn't seem reassured by the thought of being alone in the dungeons, but he put his book back on the library trolley and followed quietly.
When they came to Snape's door, Neville quailed. "I didn't know you wanted to use Snape's office," said Neville with a slight tremor in his voice.
"Snape's gone for good. He wouldn't dare show his face inside the castle walls," said Harry roughly.
"I don't know about that," said Neville. "Snape seemed to do whatever he wanted."
Harry checked the seal he had placed on the office door. "I just came from this office and I can assure you that Snape isn't here," he said more forcefully than he had intended.
"All right," said Neville in a small voice. "Lead on."
Harry opened the dungeon office door and found all as he had left it. "Here Neville," he offered in way of apology, "Take the seat behind the desk."
Neville sat down cautiously and immediately began to eye the contents of the bottles in front of him. "Blimey Harry!" he said in astonishment. "What are you up to? Some of these ingredients are very dangerous to work with."
"Exactly why I need you here," said Harry. "I can reference many books on the subject of potion making, but I need your critical evaluation of the process. Books don't give me your insight."
Neville smiled a small smile and turned his attention back to the bottles. After ten minutes, he turned to Harry. "It's some type of human or animal transformation potion."
"How can you tell?" asked Harry in admiration of Neville's knowledge.
"The ingredients are all used to regulate or alter animal physiology," explained Neville. "I can see that some would slow down certain physical aspects, while others would enhance mental processes. I can't tell what the intended outcome would be unless I knew the brewing order and quantities of each ingredient. Even then, I could only give a rough approximation of the end effect."
"I'll level with you," said Harry. "This is a potion to alter werewolf transformation. It forces the change and allows retention of human reasoning."
"You're having me on," said Neville, as a weak smile crossed his face.
"Absolutely serious," responded Harry. "In fact I intend to give the finished potion to Professor Lupin. Tonight's a full moon."
All the colour drained from Neville's face. "This is serious stuff Harry. The Ministry regulates any new potion to be used on humans. We could get in real trouble."
Harry warmed inwardly at the "we" Neville had used, seeing that he had bought in to the challenge. "I've seen the effects of this potion. I need your expertise to avoid mistakes, as I've never made it myself, I've only seen it brewed." Harry waited.
Neville considered a long time before he went back to the ingredient containers. He kept a whispered dialog with himself as he considered each ingredient again. "Root and stem of Hand of Man, transformant...very powerful; Chinese renshen, long life in her right hand...sharpens thought; comus sanguinea, would calm shape shifting; elaeagnus commutata, connects man to wolf id...temporary effects; mandragora, allows restoration after effects wear off; aconite...deadly, must use extreme caution; salix gracilistylus, holds the identity..."
Neville's words trailed off into quiet thought. At length he turned to Harry. "You can't mix these ingredients together. No cauldron would hold them!"
Harry took out the crucible. "How about adamant?" he asked.
Neville whistled appreciatively and lapsed back into thought. "Didn't you say you were going to give the completed potion to Professor Lupin?"
"That's right," responded Harry.
"Can't be right," said Neville. "This potion would be for female transformation."
"What do you mean?" asked Harry in confusion.
"The salix gracilistylus, it's a female manifestation. The plant is dioecious. It has both a male and female version."
Neville got up from the desk and opened Snape's potion cupboard. He ran his finger through the air along the row, finally stopping at the blank spot where Hermione had procured the offending bottle. Neville selected the bottle to the right of the empty space, as well as an additional dark brown bottle, and hurried back to his chair.
"Salix discolor," he said showing Harry the first bottle. "The plant's male manifestation."
"Oh," said Harry in shock as he realized that he had been very tired when he had given over the list of ingredients to Hermione. In a moment of inattention he had only given her the first word of the ingredient. She had stopped one bottle too soon.
"You just saved me from a terrible error. That's why I need you here. Who knows what would have happened to poor Professor Lupin." Harry shuddered.
"It wouldn't have gotten to Professor Lupin," said Neville quietly.
"Why not?" inquired Harry.
"Because you would have been dead before you had the potion finished," said Neville as he pointed to the bottle of aconite.
"We've used aconite in potions," said Harry a bit hurt.
"Yes, but where are your dragon hide gloves?" asked Neville. "Aconite isn't even collected without dragon hide gloves, or this..." He held up the second bottle of his choosing.
"Senna Siamea?" questioned Harry, and even as he did, his mind flew to the bottle holding open the book in Greybacks' memory. "I couldn't read it," he said softly. "I thought it was in another language. I was looking through the back of the inverted label...SENNV SIVWEV."
"Exactly," said Neville, not quite following Harry's thread. "A potioneer takes a dose of sienna s. before picking, processing, or using aconite without dragon hide gloves. Some take it anyway as a precaution. You can absorb enough aconite through the skin to be fatal just by touching the raw plant. The processed stuff is doubly more dangerous."
Harry swayed where he stood. "You saved my life!" he said in shock. "I'm thankful, and very lucky, that Dumbledore kept you alive that night."
"What?" asked Neville in confusion.
"Nothing," said Harry quickly. "I'm just extremely glad you are here. Is there anything else you noticed?"
"One thing, and it's not a small matter either," said Neville. "The Chinese panax...it must be stirred with the right hand, and in the correct direction, to achieve the desired results. You probably remember that from the Rede but I thought I'd mention it."
Harry thought to Greback's memory. He could see the ingredients being added, but when Voldemort picked up the adamant crucible, his stirring motion was obscured. Harry put his face in his hands. He mentally pulled the Rede from his mind's library. With a gasp of understanding, he saw that the book on the edge of Greyback's memory was the Rede. He could make out just one word on the page under the bottle of senna... Widdershins. He flipped the pages of his memorized book and found it at last...
Widdershins go when the moon doth wane,
An' the werewolf howls by the dread Wolfsbane.
"I think I've got it!" said Harry excitedly. "Widdershins, uh...counterclockwise as the moon wanes, clockwise as it waxes!"
"Are you sure Harry?" asked Neville.
"Absolutely sure," said Harry. "And I'm sure of something else too, the maker of these potion didn't share the things you have shared. He intended Greyback to die the first time he attempted to duplicate the potion!"
"Greyback?" questioned Neville in confusion. "The same Greyback who just escaped Azkaban prison?"
"The very same," said Harry without further explanation. "Will you help me make this potion?"
"I don't know Harry. I don't know if I can handle the pressure," said Neville.
"You handled the pressure of controlling the entire D.A., you can do this!" encouraged Harry.
"I'll help where I can," said Neville as he took the stopper from the bottle of senna s., took a dose, and resignedly handed the bottle over to Harry.
The brewing of the potion went off without a hitch. Harry directed Neville in the exact order and measure of ingredients, and Neville carefully complied. In the end, they produced a concoction of exactly the same copper-marbled appearance as Voldemort's potion.
As he looked over the notes he had taken, Neville smiled. "You know Harry, I might have been better at potions if you had been the teacher. I never felt anything but fear in Snape's classes. I never could concentrate. He expected me to do poorly. I believed his appraisal of me and I never disappointed him."
"Stop using the word never," said Harry. "In my book you'll always be great!"
Neville straightened and squared his shoulders. "Should we take this to Professor Lupin?" he asked. "I'd like to see him before we leave tomorrow."
Harry was pleased at Neville's willingness to see the project to the end. "Let's take it to him now. The day is disappearing fast."
Neville nodded and they left the dungeon together.
They hurried through the castle and finally came to Lupin's door. Nymphadora Tonks answered Harry's knock.
"I'm sorry boys," she said barring their entrance. "Remus has begun the downward spiral into the change."
"That's why we're here," injected Neville. "This potion will help him cope with the ordeal."
"Are you sure it's safe?" she asked protectively, still blocking the door.
"Yes!" said Neville, with much more confidence than Harry felt.
"Have him drink it now, while he still reasons," said Harry as he offered the crucible to Tonks. "He will undergo the change immediately, but he will be able to control himself."
"Come in," she said and reluctantly stepped out of the way.
Harry was amazed at the remodeling that had taken place in the room. A thick stone wall now divided the room in half. Two-inch squares at intervals allowed a glimpse into the sectioned-off chamber. Lupin sat in a corner, head down, breathing rapidly.
"Remus?" called Tonks tentatively. "Harry and Neville are here to see you."
Lupin looked up. He seemed unable to focus through bloodshot eyes. When he finally saw Harry through one of the small openings, he forced a smile. "You said you would come," he gasped.
"Professor, we have the potion ready, but you have to drink it before you change. You have to drink it while you're still in human form," explained Harry.
Lupin got shakily to his feet and crossed to the small opening. Harry conjured a long drinking straw, and after placing it in the crucible, threaded it through the wall. Lupin drank the entire draught obediently.
Harry's first impression was that something had gone terribly wrong. Lupin slumped to the floor and began to spasm and twitch. Then he let out a terrible howl. His limbs twisted, and in each contortion, he became less and less like a man. In two minutes it was over. A huge werewolf filled a goodly portion of the cordoned chamber.
"Professor Lupin?" questioned Harry cautiously.
The werewolf snarled, then a rough, rasping voice filtered through the openings in the wall.
"Nymphadora? Are you there?"
"Oh yes Remus! You know I'll always be here for you," said Tonks, tears streaming down her face.
"Harry? Neville?" questioned the werewolf.
"Here Professor," they said in unison.
"It's not a roll call," gasped the werewolf. Even through the growling voice, the humor could be heard.
"It's amazing!" gruffed the werewolf. "I can think! But my throat doesn't like human voice. It seems ill adapted."
Tonks broke down into uncontrollable sobs.
"Harry, Neville, I can never thank you enough. This will affect me forever. But now I would like to spend some time with Nymphadora. We'll talk at Bill and Fleur's wedding. Class dismissed."
Lupin pushed a portion of a huge paw through an opening. Harry and Neville both touched it lightly. They gathered the empty crucible and left. The last thing they saw was Tonks stroking the werewolf's paw and smiling through her tears.
"It worked!" said Neville in amazement as they hurried back toward the library.
"You sound surprised," said Harry. "I though you were the most convincing, and convinced, voice in that room."
"It's a game I play with myself," said Neville. "I try to believe before I see."
As they walked through empty corridors, Harry silently pondered Neville's statement.
Finally fronting the library doors where they had begin their journey two hours earlier, Harry slapped Neville on the back. "Thanks for the help," he said, "and thanks for the lesson about believing before seeing. I needed that."
Neville blushed at the compliment and left Harry standing in the hall.
Harry watched as Neville crossed the library and selected a seat next to Luna Lovegood. Harry smiled and then looked at his twelve-handed timepiece. "Less than an hour before I meet the professors for training," he said.
"If you intend to be jonny-on-the-spot you'd better get a move on it then," chided a painting of a wizard with his head and hands in stocks.
"Right," said Harry, and he headed for the Room of Requirement.
With the aid of a concealed staircase and a secret passageway through a solid wall, Harry was facing the blank wall on the seventh floor in a scant ten minutes. He contemplated a long time before he drew the room into service.
When he entered he was surprised to see a broad vista. Extending from the doorway was a rocky bench blending into a stretch of desert sand. To his right he could see a forest of evergreen trees. On his left was the foot of a mountain range, and far away, he thought he could see the shoreline of a distant sea.
"What's this about?" he asked the room vaguely. Stepping onto the sand, he found it hot under his feet. A sirocco wind stung his face with tiny grains of sand. Sweat beaded on his forehead. Ignoring how uncomfortably hot he was becoming, he turned back to the entrance door and his heart jumped into his throat. The door was gone. Harry's mouth dropped open in shock.
Harry tuned his glasses and found magic everywhere, stupendous magic. Harry could only attribute the magnitude of the magic to the castle, it seemed to seep from the very air around him. Harry could only surmise that the castle, for reasons of its own, was presenting him with a frontal attack.
He levitated himself to avoid the hot sand, and just as his feet floated free, the sandy surface collapsed into a swirling vortex. Within seconds, a thirty-meter hole had opened. The red glow of melted sand could be seen at the bottom of the whirlpool. Heat waves washed from the hole, and as Harry watched, the sand coalesced into a turbulent mass of molten glass.
"That was too close for comfort!" said Harry aloud as he traveled through the air to the rocks and boulders delineating the overthrust belt of the mountains.
He had just placed his feet on solid rock when an ominous rumbling filled the air. Looking up the mountain slope, he saw a tumbling avalanche of boulders cascading toward him. He attempted to arrest the momentum of the careening rocks, but only succeeded in slightly slowing the cascade. He tried to direct individual rocks, but their random impacts kept throwing them into unexpected tangents. Instantly deciding on a dangerous course, Harry removed the arresting charm and instead accelerated the speed of the rocks. The collisions became more numerous. Each time the huge stones collided, pieces were broken off. Smaller pieces were ground to powder under the weight of larger companions. He accelerated their speed even further. As he had hoped, by the time the grinding mass came close to him, the large rocks had been reduced to a gravel slide. He shifted several large slabs of rock at the mountain's foot and formed a chute aimed at the sandy desert. The energy of the conglomeration caused it to hit the chute and push out onto the sand, where it was swallowed by the gaping maw of quicksand.
Harry had barely breathed a relieved breath when a splintering of trees from the adjacent forest met his ears. "This can't be good!" he said, and true to his fears, the misshapen head of a giant appeared above the shattered pines. Harry counted to three before he felt his heart resume beating.
His first thought was to avoid being seen and he immediately cursed himself for coming into the room without the invisibility cloaks. Before he could disillusion himself, the giant turned huge bloodshot eyes on him and roared.
Knowing he had been discovered, Harry levitated back over the seething desert.
In a single motion, the giant tore a tree from the ground and threw it at Harry.
Harry dodged handily and the tree skidded to a stop amid a plume of sand. Ignoring the miss, Harry kept his attention on the enraged giant.
The giant looked about and grabbed a pine tree in each hand. Sighting on Harry, the giant hurled the trees like many-spiked javelins. The giant's aim was true but Harry's magic was quicker. The trees were shunted aside and landed harmlessly amid storms of sand.
Harry was contemplating his next move when he found he was becoming increasingly hotter. He looked below to the desert floor in time to see the trees crumble to ash amid new swirling pools of molten sand. He determined that touching the sand caused the vitreous reaction. The giant, glancing back-and-forth between Harry and the molten pools, seemed to reach the same conclusion. Harry moved away from the waves of heat emanating from the churning desert, stopping just short of the giant on the rocks.
It appeared they had reached an impasse. The giant couldn't come after him over the temperamental sand, and he couldn't get past the giant to the hidden exit door.
Keeping his eyes on Harry, the giant started to back away from the edge of the desert.
Harry was encouraged by the giant's retreat until the sound of wind filled his ears. He hazarded a glance over his shoulder and saw a wall of funnel-shaped clouds advancing quickly.
"Just great!" he said sarcastically as he saw he was caught between the advancing hurricanes and the giant who was still waiting for him to come close enough to swat.
Even though the storm was still long distant, Harry's robes were being whipped about by the first winds. As he prepared to create funnels rotating in the opposite direction from the approaching storm, something like a white-hot whip wrapped around his ankle and started to drag him down toward the sea of molten glass. He identified and broke the magic, but the burning pain in his ankle and foot spoke to his injury.
Putting the pain aside, he concentrated on the counter-storm and brought his clouds clashing together with the castle-produced storm. The obliteration was cataclysmic, knocking Harry from his balanced position, back toward the waiting giant.
The giant took a swipe at Harry, missing only by inches. Then, remarkably, the giant turned and pelted up the mountain. Harry was about to congratulate himself, when he heard the roar of approaching water.
He turned his attention back to the far horizon. Where the storm clouds had been moments before, the crest of an enormous tidal wave filled his entire view. Harry froze in cataleptic awe. As the water hit the sand, it turned immediately to steam, pushing scalding fury ahead of the gigantic waves. In the scant seconds before the boiling front hit, Harry conjured a protective globe. The wave front thrashed him about on the inside of the sphere and it was only moments before he realized he was about to be boiled like a lobster in a pot.
Thinking quickly, he performed a series of magic spells. The orb absorbed each spell as he knew it would. The inside of the sphere cooled marginally. As he was tumbled about, Harry gauged his spells to keep the interior of the sphere cooled as the deluge slowed. His first hope was, that as the waves stopped, he would pop to the surface where he would end the protective spell. That was not to be, regardless of how he turned and gyrated from inside the sphere, he could neither make it rise, nor travel in any beneficial direction.
Finally reaching equilibrium, Harry could see he was dozens of meters beneath the heated sea. "It appears that I'll have to swim for it," he said as if to reinforce his decision. "It will get dicey as I form the Body-Bubble charm. I only get one breath as I dissolve the orb. Better do it right the first time."
Harry took a huge breath and dissolved the protective orb. The temperature of the water shocked him. It was much hotter than any bath he had ever drawn. His burned foot and ankle screamed in protest. He quickly and silently formed the Body-Bubble. He was gratified to find that the bubble gave him moderate protection from the heated water. To his chagrin however, he found he could not move the bubble any more readily than he had been able to manipulate the orb. It was as if he was tethered to a stationary position in the hot sea.
The air inside of the bubble was quickly growing hot and stale. He harked back to his muggle primary schooling on the constituents of water. Pulling his wand for the first time since he had entered the Room of Requirement, he broke apart the water molecules. He shunted the oxygen inside his bubble, while forcing the hydrogen beneath. The result was immediate and two-fold, his breathing eased, and the bubble started to rise from the deep.
When he broke the surface of the water, a distorted crackling sound filtered through the bubble. "What now?" he wondered aloud.
As he reoriented himself to what was now a shoreline, he was astounded to see what appeared to be the majority of the castle's teaching staff facing him.
He saw that the crackling sound was the teachers' applause. He severed the top of the bubble charm while retaining the bottom, making it appear he was sitting in a void in the water. He took a page from Hagrid's book and used magic to propel his bizarre boat to the rocky shore.
As he beached the bubble, Minerva McGonagall stepped forward. "Potter! I am impressed!" she said in a shaky voice.
Harry sighed at the appearance of the teachers. He knew he had accepted the offer to let them challenge his abilities, but after the test the castle had just given him, he felt worn out.
"Give me just a minute," he said to McGonagall as he crunched ashore. "I'll be ready for our drill when I catch my breath."
The applause died out, replaced by looks of incredulity.
"My dear boy," said McGonagall. "We've just tested you. Didn't you realize it was the staff orchestrating this little fiasco?"
Comprehension dawned on Harry, then a relief so complete, he thought he might collapse. "You did this?" he asked gesturing to the scene of carnage around him.
"Yes Potter. We did this," said McGonagall. "We felt, that is some of us felt, that an expected test is not a valid test. We left off our classes early and came here to prepare for you ahead of time. I dare say some of us got a mite carried away with the exercise.
Several professors shifted uneasily where they stood.
"I have to say I've never seen the like. You withstood and out-thought all our snares. My heart is still going like that. I canna' believe what you did!"
A grudging murmur filtered from among the teachers. "We combined in groups to accomplish the magic manifest here..."
McGonagall didn't finish. Harry thrust her roughly aside and yelled, "Look out!" he pulled his wand and aimed it at the giant who had suddenly reappeared above the broken tree tops.
"Relax Potter," said McGonagall when she saw the object of Harry's concern. She waved her wand and the giant shrunk to the size of an impossibly large man.
"Hagrid!" exclaimed Harry. "You decided to help!"
"Don' know what yer on about," sad Hagrid flushing. "I just got the chance ter see what a proper-size giant feels like." He smiled at Harry and swatted him on the back, driving him to his knees.
One-by-one the professors shook Harry's hand and congratulated him on his abilities; some asking for an opportunity to learn how he had accomplished some of his feats.
When all had had the chance to talk to Harry, McGonagall addressed him, once again businesslike, "Your classmates are preparing for the leaving feast. Madam Pomfrey is waiting in hospital. We didn't know who we would be sending her. Have your foot attended to, get cleaned up, and join us in the Great Hall. We have end-of-year business to complete."
Not waiting for response, the teachers shuffled out of the Room of Requirement murmuring quietly to each other.
Harry headed to see Madam Pomfrey, and as his adrenaline subsided, the pain in his foot produced a distinct limp. Madam Pomfrey was waiting for him with the hospital doors wide open.
"Well Potter," she began shakily. "I see no life-threatening injuries. I wasn't sure what to expect after witnessing some of your D.A. jaunts. I assume no teachers were harmed?"
"They didn't give me a chance to harm them," said Harry as he cautiously took off his shoe. "I didn't even know it was the professors orchestrating the test until it was over."
"I think that was a wise decision on the staff's part, " replied Madam Pomfrey as she covered the winding burn with orange paste. "If there are no direct targets, there are usually no direct casualties. I didn't know if I'd have a ward full of adults, or one very badly injured teenager. This," she said gesturing to the burn on Harry's foot and ankle, "is better than I had hoped for."
Harry's eyes searched the ward as the matron dressed and bandaged his wound. Neither Ginny nor Hermione were anywhere to be seen, but to Harry's shock, Ron was sleeping in a bed halfway down the ward.
Noting Harry's glance and presaging his question, Madam Pomfrey answered automatically, "Miss Granger and Miss Weasley persuded me that they were well enough to go prepare for the leaving feast. Although the feast is likely to be a dismal affair. Mr. Weasley, on the other hand, was delivered to my care in a more advanced state of complete exhaustion. He will not be leaving until morning. I will have him up and running before the carriages leave for Hogsmeade. Now...off with you."
Can I say hello to Ron before I leave?" asked Harry quickly, lest Madam Pomfrey shoe him to the hallway.
"It'll be no use," she responded. "The sleep potion I administered was extremely potent. He won't even know you're here." She saw Harry's crestfallen look and modified her attitude. "Very well, you may visit momentarily." She turned to replace the unused paste to the potions cupboard.
Harry crossed to Ron's bedside. Ron didn't stir at Harry's arrival, he just continued to snore softly.
Harry looked at Ron and considered what he had put his friends through and momentarily allowed remorse to fill his mind. "None of that," he commanded himself. "If Capricio was here, that kind of thinking could result in a sound thrashing."
Madam Pomfrey intercepted him as he turned to exit. "Potter," she injected. "I suggest you and your friends use the holiday to rest. Consider that my professional opinion." She put her hand on Harry's shoulder momentarily and, with a sniff, sent him out the door.
Harry went straight to the Gryffindor common room, stopping only moments to converse with Sacha Rose. She accepted his password and swung forward to allow him entry.
The common room was empty, and as he couldn't go to the girls' dormitories, he made his way to his room. Neville, Dean, and Seamus were there, preparing themselves for the leaving feast.
"All right Harry?" asked Neville as he looked up from polishing his black pointed shoes.
"Well enough, and although Ginny and Hermione are free of Madam Pomfrey, now Ron will be staying in hospital overnight from overexertion," responded Harry. Then, noticing the effort Neville was expending in his shoe polishing, he asked, "It is just the leaving feast...right?"
Neville pinked around his ears. "Right, Harry," he said a bit shiftily. "It's just that we're giving a special tribute to Dumbledore tonight."
Harry considered the emotional state of those who were feeling the keen loss of Dumbledore; those who hadn't been able to talk with the Porcrux..."Talk!" Harry reminded himself, "Argue with, test, learn from, match wits with...blimey, to me it's been like he's not really gone. The others haven't had that luxury. To them the loss is irreversible."
Harry was forced from his evaluation by a loud snort from Seamus. "Aye, and it's only Dumbledore yer thinkin' of..."
Neville grew even pinker and shifted on his stocking feet.
"What are you on about?" asked Harry in confusion.
Dean joined Seamus in hearty laughter. "Let's just say," quipped Dean, "That Neville may not be sitting at the Gryffindor table tonight."
Harry looked from Dean to Neville to Seamus. "What are you talking about?" asked Harry nettled.
"All I'll say is it a love-ly night for a moon in Latin," finished Dean. He slapped Seamus on the back and the two left the room chortling.
Harry looked to Neville who was suddenly engrossed in a stubborn dirt spot on his shoe. Finally connecting the dots, Harry addressed Neville, "Ignore them. They have no idea what you've been through. You deserve a bit of happiness."
Neville gave up the pretense of his shoe and sat on his four-poster. "I don't know Harry," he said. "I'm worried about so many things."
"Go on," encouraged Harry. "We've got time, and after saving my neck, the least I can do is listen."
"Well I don't know how to say what I feel," began Neville. "Gram never raised me to talk things out much, and you've seen my parents, I feel better when I talk to them, but our conversations are all one-sided."
Harry fought the discomfort of his knowledge of Neville's parent's isolation in St.Mungo's Hospital. "You do talk to them though, don't you?"
"Oh I do when I get the chance," explained Neville. "Gram has others to visit at St.Mungo's from time-to-time. When she leaves me alone with mum and dad, it's easier to talk to them. With her standing over my shoulder...not so much. I get the impression that Gram never approved of dad's choice in mum. I think she feels he could have done better." He lapsed into silence.
"I know that feeling," said Harry. "My muggle relatives hold both my mom and dad in very low regard...never a good word for their memories."
"I'm sorry Harry," said Neville as he snapped out of his malaise. "It's selfish of me to bemoan my parents when your parents paid for what they believed with their lives."
"No need to be sorry," said Harry. "I've come to understand my parent's motivation to fight Voldemort. I honor their sacrifice. I can do no less."
It was quiet for a long time before Neville spoke again. "I've found that Luna listens," he ventured. "I can talk to her and she doesn't judge. I know she can have some rather unique opinions, but that was the way she was raised. It seems to me that it's hard to get very far from the way we're brought up. Look at Draco Malfoy, would either you or I be different if we had been raised by his parents? Tough go, that."
Harry remembered Draco lowering his wand in the last moment before Dumbledore was confronted by the Death Eaters.
"As much as I hate to admit it, especially after the enmity we've experienced, there may be more to Draco Malfoy than he ever showed to us. Mind you, he's still a git, but maybe a git with reason." Harry thought for a moment. "Forget Malfoy, forget Dean and Seamus. If you feel comfortable with Luna, what are you worried about?"
"I'm worried about Gram's reaction to Luna," said Neville quickly. "She's so stiff and proper, I'm not sure she'll take to Luna."
Harry saw Neville's point. In his few interactions with the elderly Mrs. Longbottom, she hadn't come across as the type to put up with Luna's whimsies.
"Doesn't matter," said Harry finally. "In less than two months you'll be of age and you can do anything you want. You won't have to ask for your grandmother's permission, or anyone's approval for your decisions."
"That's another thing I worry about," said Neville quietly. "What do we do when we leave school? What's out there for us. How do we succeed? It's all so vague."
"Play to your strengths," said Harry forcefully. "You're tops in Herbology. Do what you enjoy and no one can question your success. If you enjoy what you're doing, you'll find a way to make a galleon from it. Believe before you see...remember!"
Neville straightened, dropped his pretended polishing, put on his shoes, smiled at Harry, and turned to leave the room. "Thanks Harry. I'll see you at the feast."
Left alone in the room, Harry suddenly realized just how tired and hungry he felt. "How long has it been since I last ate and rested?" he asked the empty room.
He had just settled on the edge of his bed with a sigh when Hermione burst into the room.
"Neville said you were here alone. Get your clothes!" she said bossily. "You need a bath. I recognize that look. You need to get cleaned up, get fed, and get some rest as much as Ginny and I did. As much as Ron does," she added in a small voice.
The gaze she turned on Harry was so hard that he had no choice but compliance. He gathered clothes and a toothbrush and allowed Hermione to march him to the prefect's bathroom. She stood guard outside until he emerged, tousled, but clean.
"Now you look presentable," said Hermione as she appraised the effects of the hot bath. "It's almost time for the leaving feast and Ginny made me promise to bring you personally to the Great Hall. You've skipped out too many times, and she wants to be with you as much as possible between now and tomorrow when we get back to London."
"I admit to you that I'm looking forward to seeing Ginny," said Harry sheepishly.
"Well I'm glad to hear you finally admit that," she said with a faint smile.
"How was your rest?" asked Harry, hoping to divert the conversation.
Hermione would have none of it. "Come on, let's get going. Ginny's waiting and I don't want to run afoul of her magic. She's become very powerful. I haven't been able to duplicate the orb that both of you have mastered. You must teach me while we're still here at Hogwarts and allowed to do magic."
Harry smiled and rubbed a fine gold chain between his thumb and pointer finger.
"Oh no you don't!" she said vehemently. "There will be a bit of time in the morning before we're packed off to the carriages."
"We'll see," answered Harry as they fronted the Great Hall doors.
Harry could see many students sitting at the house tables, but he couldn't have told it from the sound level. The little conversation occurring was in subdued whispers. As they entered, he saw the walls had been draped in black crepe. The magical ceiling was jet, as if covered by the deepest black velvet. All conversation died off at their entrance.
"What's this about?" asked Harry from the side of his mouth.
"The leaving feast is in memory of Dumbledore," explained Hermione anxiously. "It was posted on the common room bulletin board."
"Must have missed it," said Harry as he spotted Ginny's vivid red hair among the black robes and pointed hats.
Due to the number of students who had been pulled from Hogwarts early, the house tables were not crowded, and Harry and Hermione easily found places on either side of Ginny. Harry noticed that there were only two students at the Slytherin table. He had just started contemplating how difficult that would be when McGonagall rose from her seat to speak.
"Welcome to the leaving feast," said McGonagall. Her voice sounded tight and constricted. "As you know, we are met tonight to honor the greatest headmaster Hogwarts has ever had...Albus Dumbledore. The tragedy..."
She trailed off, and it was several minutes before she regained her composure; by which time, many students had broken into tears.
"I am sorry," said McGonagall as she dabbed at her eyes. "I know the past week has been a trial for us all. Each of us must find our own way to cope with what has happened. Our hearts are full of memories of Albus Dumbledore. Having known him for longer than most, I think I know the few words he would have wanted said..." She paused momentarily, then cleared her throat lightly and continued, "Nitwit, Blubber, Oddment, Tweak." She sat down with a strained look on her face.
Harry looked about the room. Most of the older students had knowing smiles, while younger students sat with their mouths open wide in shock.
Harry remained seated for several seconds, then as if propelled by a spring, he shot to his feet. As the only one standing, he was a good two feet conspicuous. Without thinking, without planning, he began to clap. One by one, students and teachers stood and joined him. Even though the hall was only about half full, the noise was deafening. The applause rang out for five minutes.
Finally, McGonagall raised her hand for silence. "Your outpouring of love is well noted. The friendship evident in your applause is salve on a fresh wound. Without friendship, we stand no chance against the rising storm. I've seen more inter-house friendships form in the last two weeks than I've seen in all my two-score years here. That attitude of friendship will be what saves us. Together we can accomplish great things." McGonagall dried her eyes with a lace handkerchief and sat down.
Harry looked more appraisingly at the Great Hall. McGonagall had been right in her assessment of friendships. Neville, sitting with Luna Lovegood at the Ravenclaw table, wasn't the only person to have crossed house lines for the feast. Harry noticed Ginny looking around, and assumed she was coming to the same conclusion. Suddenly Ginny jumped to her feet, and without a single word of explanation, walked over to the two Slytherin students and engaged them in a quiet conversation. There was much anxious back-and-forth glancing from the Slytherin students to other tables. Finally it seemed Ginny had won her point. The three got up from the Slytherin table, and led by Ginny, came to seat with the Gryffindors. A single hard glance from Ginny was enough to quell any objection that may have been forming at the Gryffindor table.
Harry warmed inwardly at Ginny's bravery. He reached around Ginny and shook each of the Slytherins' hand as Ginny introduced them around.
The two had just settled nervously onto the long oak bench when food appeared, loading the tables to capacity. Quietly at first, and then more animatedly, the students engaged in eating and talking. Harry was astonished at just how hungry he was. He ate with abandon. When puddings appeared, a pair of Hufflepuff girls came to the Gryffindor table and whisked away the Slytherin girl. In moments, a third year Ravenclaw boy did the same to the Slytherin boy.
Ginny smiled at Harry. "Can you imagine what it would be like to be alone in their dormitory rooms?"
"Yes. I had actually considered how hard that would be," said Harry as he clasped Ginny's hand in his. "Thanks for taking the initiative."
"I've never been one who waited well," she smile and squeezed his hand. "I want to say sorry for the stunt I pulled with the orb."
"What stunt?" asked Harry absently.
She looked sideways at Harry and then touched her fingers to the faint bruise still marking her forehead. "I had seen how effectively you used the magic, and like I said, I'm not one to wait. I pushed the envelope and got myself whacked."
"All's well that ends well," quipped Harry.
Ginny groaned and leaned around Harry to address Hermione. "How's Ron doing?"
"He was exhausted," she said glaring at Harry. "I'd better not find out he's been forced to do anything dangerous."
"Everything I do is dangerous," said Harry mirthlessly. "Everyone around me is in constant danger."
"Let's go visit him before we go to the common room," suggested Hermione, suddenly placatory.
"He's conked out on a sleeping potion. He won't even know we're there," explained Harry.
"You've been to see him?" asked Hermione quickly.
"Yes. I had a little trip to Madam Pomfrey after my training with the staff." Harry sheepishly lifted his cuff and showed the bandages extending into his shoe.
"You've already had a go with the professors?" asked Ginny in amazement. "What happened?"
"They taught me about fighting a hidden opponent," said Harry, dropping the cuff back around his shoe.
"Did anyone get hurt?" asked Hermione. "Anyone other than you, I mean."
"No, the staff is fully intact," replied Harry. "Let's go see about Ron."
Allowing the closing of the subject, the girls joined Harry and left the Great Hall. Harry mixed up a secret passage with a wall just pretending and Ginny sorted him out. With her in the lead, they arrived in minutes. True to Harry's prognostication, Ron did not respond to their presence. Madam Pomfrey put up with them for several minutes and then shuffled them from the room.
"Let's go to the common room where we can talk," suggested Ginny. She led the way back through an assortment of passageways and shortcuts, Harry at her side, Hermione content to follow.
Safe inside Gryffindor common room, Ginny sat Harry in front of the softly burning fire and then seated herself very close to him. Hermione summoned a wing chair.
"Tell us what you've been about," tested Ginny.
Seeing no way around the subject, Harry launched into the shortest possible retelling of his trips and travels. When he got to the Gaunt cabin, he turned the narrative over to Hermione. He found her descriptions accurate, but had a hard time keeping his mind on what she was saying.
"...and we let Snape take Dumbledore."
Harry started awake. Both Ginny and Hermione looked at him with deep concern. Ginny's decision was quickest. "You need sleep!" She snapped her fingers in front of his nose. "You've been through too much for one day. You've bathed and been fed up. We'll see you to your bed and make sure you actually stay there."
Hermione didn't argue the point, and she helped Ginny get Harry to his feet and up the stairs to his dormitory room.
Ginny sat Harry on the edge of his bed and removed his shoes, taking extra care about his wounds. Then, without so much as loosening his tie, tipped him into bed and covered him with blankets.
"You get some sleep!" she commanded forcefully. "Tomorrow we'll have a bit of time before breakfast, and then some time on the train to talk about unfinished business."
"What unfinished business?" asked Harry as the urge to sleep dampened his senses.
"My point exactly," said Ginny. "And just to be sure, I'll give this back to you tomorrow." She held up the Time-Turner which she had deftly removed from Harry's neck while preparing him for bed.
Harry started to protest, but found himself unable to contend with both Ginny and sleep. He gave up and settled in bed. In moments he was soundly asleep.