Chapter 40 -- Boil Thou First i' the Charmed Pot

It was a fine sunny day for Slytherin vs. Hufflepuff. Spring seemed eager to give way to summer. The lawn fairly glowed in lush greens as they all trouped down to the pitch. Overhead, the banners snapped in a steady wind and they found seats in the second row from the front. The other stands were also crowded; apparently everyone thought it a fine day for Quidditch.

The old leather-covered crate with the balls was carried out and placed on the pitch. Madam Hooch stood beside it, waiting. Ron leaned close. "Still cheering for Slytherin?" he asked Harry.

Harry gave him a smiling glance to which Ron rolled his eyes hopelessly. "Janet doesn't have a chance," Harry asserted quietly. Except it is sunny, he thought and wondered if the Hufflepuff Seeker would realize how sensitive Suze's eyes were to the light.

The teams flew out, looking eager and energized. They hovered impatiently in formation while Madam Hooch gave them the usual warnings about what she was going to be watching for.

For a Hufflepuff match it was a rough game and much closer than expected, until Suze finally caught the snitch. Harry had watched her circling high in order to look down while searching. Even so, she squinted a lot in the bright light. Janet, if she had tried to take advantage, did not do so successfully.

As they left the stands, Ron muttered, "That's a one hundred ten point difference, so that puts Slytherin up by . . . uff, I can't even think it."

"We have another match," Harry pointed out.

"Don't catch the Snitch until we are two hundred points ahead then, okay?" Ron said sarcastically.

When they reached the lawn, Harry said, "It really means that much to you? The cup?" Harry did not want it to mean so much that losing it would ruin the end of their school days.

Ron scuffed his big feet through the grass. "It'd be nice to win it," he insisted glumly.

* * *

Harry looked up from his book in the library as a silver bird shot up through the table. Frina and Penelope looked up sharply as well. Harry gave a tug on the bird's beak and it unfurled into a scrap of silver parchment that he just managed to read before it sparked out of existence.

"I'm late," he realized, glancing at the clock. The message had asked if he was going to make it to advanced D.A.

As he collected his books, Penelope asked, "Can we come?"

Harry looked them over, down the line to Darsha, who blatantly returned to her Potions textbook. "As long as no one says anything," Harry said, feeling that he would like them to come along, especially Penelope.

Frina and Penelope shook their heads and they all turned to Darsha. "She is already an Animagus: A Squirrel," Frina commented. "In her part of India they teach them Animagia as young children."

Harry gestured with his head, "Come on, then--saves me from finding an escort." He glanced back at Darsha who continued to ignore them. He disregarded his concern of what she might say on the basis that she had not reported to the headmistress when all Animagi were called up. Out in the empty corridor, he said, "Strictly speaking, this is still against the rules."

"Why are you still working on it then?" Penelope asked.

"Sinistra is available to help and has to be present when anyone tries to change form, so we aren't breaking as many rules. McGonagall just wants the school at large to think we've been punished and stopped. Mostly we are doing it because some of our friends haven't managed it yet, like Seamus, Luna, and Justin."

"And you," Frina pointed out.

"Yeah," Harry muttered. He did not miss Penelope elbowing her friend on the arm as they turned a corner. "It's all right," he assured her. "Headmistress is helping me with it now," he added.

"You do get special treatment," Frina stated.

As Harry opened his mouth to defensively say, "Not all the time," Penelope rather forcefully said, "He deserves to."

"I don't know about that," Harry insisted, surprised by her level of emotion.

"You do," she repeated, making Harry hesitate in opening the meeting room door where they had stopped. Her fierce assertion made him uneasy as well as touched.

Inside the Room of Requirement, Hermione looked surprised to see the two Durmstrang students. "I needed an escort," Harry explained with an innocent shrug.

Hermione frowned and stepped away from Justin and the other Ravenclaws in the group. "There probably isn't time to get you all the way through it," she stated. Her eyes met Harry's and he could see her give in. "But you can get started, anyway."

* * *

At the end of a particularly long tutoring session, McGonagall said, "Just a moment."

Harry had about four hours of assignments yet to complete that night, but he put his bookbag back down and retook his seat. She had her hands clasped before her on the desk. "Have you spoken to Hagrid?" When Harry shook his head she stood up and took down her cloak from the hat rack in the corner. "Come then," she said brightly.

"We're going right now?" Harry asked in surprise.

"You are running out of time, my boy. Come along."

The grounds were dark from a new moon. The torches beside the door cast misleading light over the steps as they exited.

At Hagrid's cabin, the headmistress knocked loudly. Hagrid opened the door and greeted them with surprise. "Come in. Come in," he invited genially, reminding Harry with a twinge that he had not visited in a while. "Tea?" he asked, holding up his big bucket.

"Yes, thank you," McGonagall replied politely.

Hagrid went out back and returned presently. He poured water from the bucket into a cauldron which he swung over the fire. Harry sat on a footstool near the grate, enjoying the heat from the flames. Fawkes was enjoying the fire as well, sleeping with his head under one wing.

"Ta what do I owe this visit?" Hagrid asked, as he lowered his great frame into his regular chair.

"Harry needs some assistance from you, but has been too shy to request it," McGonagall supplied.

"'Arry!" Hagrid chastised him. "You ken come ta' me anytime. Ya know thot."

"It's complicated," Harry insisted, wishing he were elsewhere even though he liked seeing Hagrid.

Hagrid poured hot water from the cauldron into his massive unglazed teapot and set it on the hearthstone to steep. "Well, wha' can I do fer you, Harry?" he asked.

Reluctantly, Harry explained, "I've been working on becoming an Animagus, but I don't know what animal I'm supposed to become. I can make a foot of it, but it's something really odd." He looked over at McGonagall; she was studying her clasped hands rather intently.

Hagrid sat straight. "Hm. Well, le's have a look, then."

Harry, concentrating on the thirty bonus points, pulled off his shoe and sock. He did the spell and stared at the strange paw. Even after this much repetition, he still was not comfortable with the looks of it.

"Hmmmm," Hagrid murmured. Harry again was forced to withstand having his claws pushed out, one by one. It didn't hurt, but it made him very uneasy and possessive of his foot.

"Can' do anything quite average, eh, Harry?" Hagrid teased.

Harry searched for a retort, surprised to find he did not just wish that he were a stag, even though that would have made things much simpler. "Guess not," he muttered. What did he want to be? he wondered and started to feel curious for the first time about what this thing was.

Hagrid hefted himself to his feet and went over to a low, rough bookshelf. He murmured aloud as he flipped through one book before selecting another. "Retractable, non-retic'lated, ash grey pads . . ." Harry squinted at the book title in the firelight, Exotic Creatures of the Urals and Surrounds, Care & Feeding. Uneasiness flowed all the way into Harry's fingertips it so filled him.

"Please don't find it in there," Harry whispered when the wait stretched too long. He was starting to wish Snape were here, he was so anxious.

"Huh?" Hagrid said, distracted from the book. He returned to it with a disapproving glance at Harry. Presently, he said, "I think this is it." He whistled in an impressed way as he brought the book over. "I'd love ta' see one," he said reverently, which made Harry's insides flip.

With weak hands, Harry accepted the heavy book presented to him. McGonagall came over and read over his shoulder. Harry blinked at the hand-painted woodcut, grateful for the stabilizing feel of McGonagall's hand on his shoulder.

"Scarlet Mountain Gryffylis," McGonagall read aloud. "Scarlet is certainly accurate."

Harry looked at the image: it was of a winged creature that looked vaguely like a Hippogriff except thin and wirey. Parts of the drawing were vague, like the transition from feather to fur, which the artist was apparently unclear on. He hoped the artist had been unclear on the disproportionately long rear legs. They almost looked like a stag's. It did not have a bird tail, but a lion one it looked like, so he suspected it did not fly well. The head was catlike with a longish snout and long canine teeth. Long feathers stood out behind its ears in a haphazard fashion, sort of like a peacock's might, giving it a foppish look.

Harry swallowed hard. He felt numb as he handed the book back.

"Have a good vision of it in your mind?" McGonagall asked helpfully.

Harry nodded emphatically. He would not be forgetting that image.

"Some o' the details on these ol' woodcuts can be wrong," Hagrid pointed out. "Not all are from, uh, firs' hand observation," he added, then cleared his throat and put the book away. Harry imagined gibbering mountain dwellers trying to explain what had killed all the sheep. He felt vaguely unwell.

McGonagall poured some tea into a large ceramic mug and pressed it into his hands. She patted his shoulder. "It doesn't change who you are, Harry," she said gently. "And you are finding out that the danger of learning Animagia isn't all physical. Were any of your friends distressed by what they became?"

Harry shook his head, then said, "Neville always seemed embarrassed, but I think he was really pleased, inside." He swallowed and wondered why he did not feel the same. "Why can't I just be something normal?" he griped.

"Aye," Hagrid said as he refilled his own tankard with tea. "Tha's a beautiful an rare creature the Scarlet is. Don' be bad mouthin' it now. Unlike other Griffin species, the males sometimes have wings."

"What do you mean?" Harry asked.

"Only female Griffins ha' wings, normally," Hagrid said as he tossed another massive log on the fire and sat back. "N.E.W.T question, 'Arry," he added chastisingly. "O.W.L. for that matter," he added in a mutter.

Hagrid and the headmistress made small talk for a while while Harry stared into the flames. His unfinished assignments loomed ahead of him and he was grateful for the mundanity of that notion.

At the base of the front steps, McGonagall slowed and tugged Harry to a stop by his shoulder. Her eyes held more concern than he was used to as she said, "You have the potential for great power, Harry, and by choosing to be an Auror, you are virtually guaranteeing that you will realize that power." She squeezed his shoulder harder. "If you are truly uncomfortable with that, then maybe you should rethink your plans."

Harry frowned as he stared out at the blackness of the lake in the distance. "You think that's what's bothering me?"

She grinned. "If your Animagus form were a rabbit, what would you be thinking right now?"

Harry could not hold in his dismayed reaction to that thought. "I'd wonder what was wrong with me, I guess," he replied with a laugh in his voice.

"You've never been like everyone else, Harry. Nor can I imagine why you would wish to be," she added, her thoughts sounding distant.

The castle door opened and a figure stepped halfway out of it. In the tricky light, Harry had to fall back on recognizing Snape's distinctive profile. Harry forced his mind to settle and walked that way.

"Everything all right?" Snape asked.

"Everything is just fine, Severus. We were visiting with Hagrid," McGonagall said in her usual matter-of-fact tone.

Harry managed a small smile for his guardian. He wanted to talk to him, but he wanted time to sort things out himself a bit first.

Harry was up very late finishing his assignments. Hermione and Penelope had tried to stay up with him but they eventually had to give up. Tomorrow was going to be a pepper-up day, Harry considered with a frown. He stood to toss another log on the fire and a blast of heat came out as the coals were disturbed. The room didn't need the warmth--he just needed the company. He sat back on the couch and reviewed last week's History notes for anything else he should add to his essay about Wizard criminal law in the seventeenth century. Relaxed, he leaned his head back as he scanned his own handwriting. The tower felt very safe since the respelling. Harry was rarely bothered by odd notions, even late at night and alone as he was.

Finally, at three in the morning, after wrestling his wandering thoughts from a certain female student, Harry wrote out the last line of the essay. He packed everything up and crept up to his dormitory room as quietly as possible.

* * *

The very next day, as Transfiguration was ending, McGonagall strode over as they packed up their books. "A word, if you have a moment, Mr. Potter," she said.

Harry wondered what she had to say already after last night. He had managed to hold his yawning to a minimum during class, he had thought, so hopefully it wasn't that. As the classroom door closed, his friends gestured that they would be waiting in the corridor.

"I meant to discuss this last night, but it did not come up," McGonagall said. "The week after next is the anniversary of your destroying Voldemort. In case you had not remembered," she added in her most professorish tone.

"I couldn't exactly forget, ma'am."

"Hm, no I suppose not," she replied amiably. She urged the last few rats into their cages and hovered them to a shelf. Then she considered Harry in silence before saying, "Would you like another party like the last one?"

Harry, taken aback by being handed such decisionmaking, hesitated. He had not really enjoyed the last one, nor remembered it all that clearly, but it sounded like fun now. "Do I have to give a speech?"

She breathed in audibly. "Yes."

"Is there an alternative to a big party?" Harry asked whinging slightly.

McGonagall gave him a light smile. "I have been considering alternatives only because we have not found your attacker. I am thinking that it should be kept small, in any event, just major dignitaries and the students."

"A speech?" Harry confirmed.

"I'll help you write it, if you wish."

"I'll need the help," he admitted, feeling nervous already.

* * *

During Care of Magical Creatures, Harry noticed the toe of Malfoy's boot as he crouched to assemble cages for the Brinkenpops that Hagrid was going to catch that night for the next class session. The pens had to be made of green bamboo woven with strands of wild grape vine. Brinkenpops would easily escape a cage that was not made of living material. The Slytherin was working quietly and diligently on the weaving and tying as though he might be enjoying it. He also appeared to be wearing very nice boots.

Harry stepped around to the blonde boy. "Let me see your boot," he said.

Malfoy gave him such a look of derision that Harry thought he should have picked a different tack. "Shoe shopping, Potter?" Draco asked with full snide.

"In a sense," Harry replied in the hardest tone he could manage.

The other boy rolled his eyes and stuck his foot out while pulling up his robes. They were nice boots, but they had unfamiliar bright silver clasps and lower heels than the ones Harry remembered.

"Thanks," Harry mumbled as he shirked away. He should have just sneaked a look, but he had been too confident to think that deviously.

"Yeah, anytime, Mr. Harry Cobbler," Malfoy sneered.

* * *

Harry sat in Snape's office while he worked on his Potions essay. He found this worked well for getting the best grade, no matter how tough Greer felt like grading him. Since Easter holiday, he had not spent much time here things had been so busy.

He finished rereading the chapter in the assigned text and read over what he had written so far. They were repeating fungus-based potions, which was fine with him, even though Snape intimated that they should be covering other topics before the end of the year. Harry's alternative texts had bookmarks now with sections Snape believed would be covered on the N.E.W.T. Harry had not yet found the time to go over them carefully. The way things were going, he would end up reading them the night before the examination.

With some care Harry wrote out several paragraphs explaining the ingredient conversions possible with different fungi. Since the fungi were not magical, this was a fairly straightforward topic and not difficult. It appealed to his Muggle sense of the world, he decided as he wrote.

Finally, he finished the essay and held it out. "Would you mind?" Harry asked his guardian. Snape looked up from the stack of parchments before him and reached out to take it.

While Snape read, Harry tried not to fidget too much. He let his mind wander to other things, like the fact that he had not yet explained to Snape that he knew what his Animagus form was. The night they had visited Hagrid, McGonagall had left it to him, and he had not let go of that momentum. He was certain that Snape would insist upon working out exactly what was bothering Harry, and he did not feel like doing that. He had not decided yet if McGonagall was right.

"You are missing two uses for lungwort. Other than that it looks fine." He handed the rolled parchment back.

Harry spread it out and opened his class notes to check what he had written. When he found the missing items, he amended his essay and rolled it up with satisfaction.

"Ready for the party on Friday?" Snape asked.

"I'm not too thrilled with the speech I'm supposed to give." It was only Monday and Harry was determined to improve it by the end of the week, at least into something he would not gag at.

Snape fought a twisted grin. "You are giving a prepared speech. How quaint."

"I wasn't given a choice."

"Your influence must be wearing off," Snape commented. "You need another dark wizard to destroy to boost it up again."

"Guess this mystery attacker's reputation isn't high enough."

"I suspect not. But one never knows. It could be Salazar himself, back from the dead."

Harry considered the stack of parchments on Snape's desk. "Are you a little overworked?" Harry asked.

"Perhaps. Why do you ask?"

"You're being . . . flippant, or something," Harry observed.

Snape bent his head forward to make a note on a sheet before him. "Oh? Have I insulted you?"

"No," Harry reassured him.

"I must be slipping."

"Like that," Harry said with a little force.

Snape studied him through a curtain of hair as he rubbed his forehead. "I will be grateful for this year ending. I will not have the Potions master duties next year; although, presumably, I will still have those of the deputy headmaster." He sighed and said, "Although next year you will not be here."

That was an odd notion, Harry thought. Snape here, himself . . . at home, doing something, hopefully his apprenticeship. "Just a month and a bit left," Harry said thoughtfully.

"Ready for your N.E.W.T.s?"

Harry thought about his Animagus form. "Not quite. But I haven't given up on it.”

Snape spun his chair and pulled two books from the shelf behind him. "There are a few other Defense spells I think you should know, just in case they are included." He flipped the top book open and ran his long finger down the page.

"You aren't going to cover them in class?" Harry asked in confusion.

Without looking up Snape replied, "I am already covering more than any Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor ever has at this institution; I do not have the energy to teach exceptionally complicated, past extra-credit standardized examination spells to that many remedially competent students."

Harry felt he should defend his fellows. "They aren't that bad."

"Still," Snape insisted, now flipping open the second book and marking a page before paging rapidly ahead. "These aren't generally useful spells, just historically on the examination. Teaching them to you is remarkably little effort."

Harry sat back and dropped his shoulders at that unexpected compliment.

"Here we are," Snape said before standing up. "Get out your wand."

Standing slowly as he reached into his pocket, Harry said, "You don't want to move to the classroom?" He had visions of burned books and smashed potion bottles, since that is what surrounded them at the moment.

"A lesson in attenuation as well would not be out-of-line," Snape drolled.

"My attenuation is really good," Harry insisted. "How many students do you want injured during your class?" he asked with a touch of snideness.

Snape gave him a silent doubtful look. "We will go over that after," he finally said. "First the Macedonum." He moved to stand beside the desk and gestured for Harry to push the visitor's seat aside. Harry obeyed, then stood still while the spell was cast in his direction. The stone floor warped beneath his feet and he was forced to put out a hand, oddly now sideways to the floor, to keep from falling over as he sank into a deep dip forming around him. The dip did not hold still; as his chin reached normal floor height, it surged upward into a peak, which rolled him aside. He stopped himself tumbling just before he reached a case of glass bottles full of dark viscous liquids.

Rubbing a bruised spot on his shoulder, Harry stepped back to the center of the now-flat floor, while giving his guardian a challenging look. "That's an interesting one," he commented in a low voice. "Might even work on a cloaked opponent."

"Only if you can put enough power into it." Snape set the visitor's chair into the center of the open office floor before the desk, stepped back, and said, "You try."

"What, I don't get to try it on you?" Harry asked levelly, trying for a disappointed tone. He aimed the wand and said the incantation but the only effect was a faint ripple in the floor like a stone falling into water. He tried it again to the same paltry result. A glance at his guardian revealed Snape standing with his arms crossed looking reserved.

"More power?" Harry asked. When Snape merely raised a brow as though this were a test, Harry incanted it again, shouting this time and pouring a lot into it. The room shivered, stones and all. Snape grabbed his arm, presumably to cut him off.

"This is not an ordinary spell," Snape said, losing his momentarily alarmed expression after a glance around the room. "Power only helps if you are focussing properly. The spell is a wave and more random power is as likely to interfere as to build up." He stood beside Harry. "Watch again." Snape aimed his wand and lifted a small peak in the floor before it reversed to a valley then flattened out.

"How do you get one or the other?" Harry asked.

"Unfortunately, you do not have control over that. But you must have coherent power, that is critical."

Determined, Harry aimed his wand again, turning it slowly in his fingers as he thought about focussing magic. After long seconds he dropped his arm. "How do I do that?"

With a small grin Snape said, "You practice it--it is something you must get a feel for." He repeated the spell, again creating a small peak. "For myself, I imagine I am pushing the spell in my mind through something as small as the wand. But I expect everyone is different." He stepped back again to give Harry a clear space.

Harry narrowed his eyes, and his thoughts, as he raised his wand again. When he spoke the spell a ripple again formed, though the ripples seemed taller this time. Determined to not get impatient with himself, he repeated it again and again.

"Think about it differently," Snape suggested, almost gently, considering how his normal suggestions sounded.

Harry imagined his magic as a funnel, as a laser, and as a snitch even, because when it darted it looked like a line. Imagining it as the narrow stab of pain from his scar when Voldemort was near worked best, although the resulting peak was not very high and was still surrounded by ripples.

"Must better," Snape said. "How were you focusing?"

"Don't ask," Harry muttered.

Snape looked mystified, but did not ask. "Practice that one. Care to learn another?" his guardian said instead.

Harry glanced at the time. "One more."

* * *

"Will you come up with us to check our wombat?" Hermione asked Harry late the next night as he worked on his Astronomy assignment. Frina and Penelope stood by the portrait hole, waiting. "I'll help you with that," his friend offered to entice him as she pointed at his essay.

Harry grinned. "Sure."

The girls all took out their wands as they walked, which Harry found a little over careful. He left his in his pocket. When they reached the attic, Parkinson was just respelling hers and Malfoy's crate.

"How's your wombat?" Harry asked, wishing they had arrived just a minute earlier.


"Working on it alone now?" Harry asked.

"Draco wasn't very useful anyway," she complained with a very miffed tone. She stepped by them all a little quickly. Harry had not meant to upset her, but apparently he had anyhow. Hermione gave him a wry grin and a shrug.

"A tangle of webs weaved," Frina stated philosophically as she watched Parkinson disappear down the rickety steps.

"Pretty much," Hermione agreed. She unspelled their crate and lifted out the occupant. It was a little bigger and they had eventually gotten it to eat a few blueberries, so it had grown tufts of brighter blue fur on its back. These spots made Hermione's appearance all the stranger as she carried the animal over to the supply table.

Harry followed her over and ran a finger over the top of its small head. "Never got it to change into a bat like yours did," Hermione said.

"Maybe you need to dream about it for that to work," Harry commented idly, thinking back to that night when he had woken in concern for their animal.

Hermione dropped the can of dog milk, splashing the contents across the wood roof beams. The wombat crawled up her arm in a panic. Harry plucked it off and carried it to Frina, who was coming over quickly to help. "What did you say?" Hermione asked in surprise.

"Uh, I think I may have been dreaming about the wombat that night." More defensively, he said, "I don't know. I have so many strange dreams," he shrugged.

Hermione fell into deep thought. "We have tried just about everything," she said smartly. "Wonder how we'd get that to work? Maybe a dream potion. They're easy. Can you get me a few supplies, Harry?"

"Is the potion a forbidden one?" he asked carefully.

"I don't think so," Hermione replied, returning to the here and now.

"It's just that Severus was more than a little upset about the unsupervised Animagi club." Harry really did not want to tempt that again, even for the sake of her assignment. He suggested, "Give me the ingredient list, I'll just ask him for them. That's safest."

Hermione took the parchment scrap Frina offered and wrote out five things. "I have everything else. We'll use the usual brewing location since it takes most of a day," she added with a smile. "Just bring the stuff there."

Harry took the list and tried to read her expression. "I don't mean to sound unhelpful."

"Harry," she said. "It's all right. Believe me; I understand that you don't want to get into trouble. It's a new thing for you," she teased, "but I understand."

On the walk back Penelope stayed beside Harry. "What are your plans after school?" she asked.

"I have my Auror's testing but other than that I'm free."

"Would you like to visit me in Bern?" she asked eagerly.

"I think I'd like that. The testing schedule isn't set, though; I'd have to let you know later."

She smiled broadly despite his uncertain answer. "My parents would be very excited to have you visit. The whole city would."

"Uh," Harry began.

"Or a quiet visit, of course," she amended quickly while grabbing his arm, apparently to reinforce her insistence.

"That might be better," Harry stated.

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