Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Biology :: 02 :: Slight of Hand

02 • Slight of Hand

“I wonder men dare trust themselves with men.” — William Shakespeare.

It was two weeks into the term and Harry was having breakfast with his friends on a fine Saturday morning. He noted in passing that Malfoy had an insufferably smug look on his face, even more so than usual, but it was nothing compared to the selection of food waiting to be eaten. Ron had noticed as well and made a low remark, voice laced with venom, wondering who Malfoy had gotten one up on to look like that.

Twenty minutes later Harry was almost finished eating when a sharp pain in his scar caught him off guard. His hand automatically went up and his two friends looked over immediately, concern etched on their faces.

“All right, Harry?” asked Ron quietly.

Harry just nodded, grabbing his glass to finish off the last of his pumpkin juice. “Look, could one of you tell Dumbledore that it twinged? I think I need to go have a lie down.”

Seeing Hermione’s face he hastily added, “No, I didn’t see anything and I’m not sick. I just feel a little unwell. If it gets worse I promise you can haul me off to the infirmary, all right?”

She didn’t look happy, but nodded anyway. Harry quickly left the table and headed for his room, missing the exchange of glances between his friends and the head table.

Later that afternoon he felt a bit on edge but rationalized that away. He hadn’t seen or heard anything, and while he expected not to due to the more or less permanent mental shield, he wished he had some idea what had prompted it.

Harry continued to go to his classes, do his homework and train the Gryffindor quidditch team, but he couldn’t quite shake his uneasiness. By the time his scar lanced him again with stabbing pains two weeks later he was very much on edge.

This time he spoke with Dumbledore personally to report it, though as before he could not tell him any more than it had hurt. He had already resigned himself to getting nothing in return, so it came as no surprise when Dumbledore essentially petted him on the head for coming to see him, offered him a sherbet lemon, then shooed him on his way.

A visit to Madam Pomfrey revealed nothing out of order. She prescribed some pain potion, gave him some chocolate and a bottle of calming draught he could sip when he got to feeling too anxious, though only enough for a week. He’d used it, but when it didn’t seem to have more than a cursory effect, he didn’t bother to ask for more.

Ron and Hermione (not to mention much of Gryffindor tower) had taken to giving him odd looks when they thought he wasn’t paying attention. He couldn’t explain his jumpiness to them any better than he had to the headmaster, and found himself having to reign in his temper at the subtle insinuations that he wasn’t being completely honest with them.

Two weeks later he felt it again. He was starting to think Voldemort was having a once-a-fortnight morning get together where they had tea and crumpets with a side of muggle torture. The chuckling in the back of his head let him know the voice was still finding him amusing.

Despite, or perhaps because of, his growing edginess, he began to notice that one or both of his friends always seemed to be somewhere in the vicinity.

“Or it could be that you find it a little odd that Ron always seems to need to use the loo when you do?” commented the voice sarcastically.

Harry snorted and went back to his work, trying to block out the behavior of the people in the tower. He’d been doing better than ever in dueling practicals in Defense class, the hyper awareness he felt making it near impossible for anyone to hit him with a spell.

All in all, he was feeling a bit like he was back in second year when everyone was whispering about him and as skittish of him as deer with a lion.

The next time it happened, on a sunny Saturday morning, the pain was bad enough to send him to his knees had he been standing. As it was, he didn’t quite know what happened, for the next moment the doors to the hall banged open and he gasped to see a contingent of Death Eaters striding in as though it were a perfectly natural action.

He was on his feet in a heartbeat, wand out and shooting curses and hexes at them. Anyone who got in his line of fire was shouted at or hexed into silence, and the rough hands trying to pull him back were shaken off. Harry was so engrossed in what he was doing he didn’t notice an arrowhead of staff heading his way, wands at the ready.

*

He stretched and cautiously opened his eyes. The light was subdued but not dim so he fumbled to the side in search of his glasses. Finding and putting them on allowed him to see the headmaster sitting patiently on a nearby chair.

“What happened?” Harry asked quietly.

The headmaster gave him a curious look and countered with a question of his own. “What do you remember, Harry?”

Harry furrowed his brow and thought back to breakfast. “My scar went off. Starting to think of it like a muggle car alarm, actually, except those don’t make you want to keel over in pain.” He managed a brief, humorless smile.

“Anyway, it started hurting so bad it was all I could do to stay sitting on the bench. Then the doors opened and I saw a group of Death Eaters waltz in. I attacked. I didn’t think, I admit. I saw them and reacted on reflex.”

“There were no Death Eaters, Harry.” He held up a hand at Harry’s expression of disbelief. “I assure you. I’m not sure how you saw what you saw, but you took down a group of students coming into breakfast yesterday morning. I would like to think that someone played an elaborate prank on you, but I do not see how that is possible.”

At that Harry became thoughtful.

“It is more likely that Voldemort found a way to push past your barriers and induce a waking vision given the amount of pain you were in.” Dumbledore adjusted his glasses and peered at Harry. “Now, as it is, Madam Pomfrey has given you a thorough round of tests and can find nothing amiss, but I am sure she plans to keep you here for the remainder of the day to make sure there are no further ill effects from whatever caused this to happen.”

Dumbledore stood and bestowed a kindly smile on Harry. “I’ll just be going then, but I will leave you with a piece of advice. If this happens again, try to curb your reflexes long enough to see how those around you are reacting before you jump into the fray.”

With that, he drifted out of the ward.

Harry was left torn between wanting to smack the smile off the old man’s face and wondering just how much of a fool he’d made of himself.

“You put on quite a show. I dare say between your defense class and that display, quite a few people will be wary of your skill.”

“That’s comforting,” he mumbled, afraid that Madam Pomfrey would wander in at any second and hear him talking to himself.

“I didn’t mean it to be. I must be losing my touch.”

The staccato click of heels warned him of the Pomfrey’s approach. A moment later she sailed around the curtain edge and descended on him with several potions for him to choke down.

“Now there, it’s just going on the noon meal so I’m sure your friends will be along directly. If you need anything, let me know.”

She bustled out again, the very picture of importance.

He hadn’t long to wait; Ron and Hermione arrived and pulled up chairs just as three trays of food appeared.

Harry gave them a long look. “This has got to be the first time I’m in here when I didn’t actually hurt myself. People must think I’ve gone off my rocker.” He glanced at his tray and breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t broth or gruel.

“Well, I daresay people are wondering, yes,” said Hermione. “On the other hand, I know how hard you’ve been studying this year and I wondered if it would have an effect.”

Ron was too busy eating to comment, though Harry was quite sure his eyes rolled.

“I have, but . . . I just feel so useless. I tried telling Dumbledore that, but he didn’t think it was important. Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m trying so hard to keep everything I can control under control for once that I’m getting edgy and nervy all the time.”

He ran a hand through his untidy hair and sighed. “The headmaster says he doesn’t see how it could have been someone pranking me. Pomfrey says she can’t find anything wrong either. The only theory is that Voldemort found a way to get past my defenses. A waking vision he called it.”

“You looked like you were about to pass out from the pain, but then you jumped up and. . . .” She trailed off and picked up her glass to drink, then set about daintily eating a few bites.

“When’s she letting you go?” asked Ron as he pushed his empty tray away.

“Tonight, I’m told. I don’t suppose you brought anything I can read while I wait?” He glanced at Hermione.

“Not really. I can fetch something if you like,” she offered.

“You would? I’ve got some muggle novels in my trunk, but only if you really don’t mind. One’s got a bookmark in it. I’ll be bored to tears otherwise.”

“It’s not a problem,” she assured him with a smile. “And since Ron still has assignments to finish, I’m sure I can convince him to do those while we wait since he can’t have you to play chess with.”

The heartfelt groan from Ron was only to be expected.

The next morning was grey and gloomy, a match for Harry’s mood once he realized his fellow students were even more wary of him now. He resolved to just ignore it all, even going so far as to walk away when a chance encounter with Malfoy on the way to breakfast had him clenching his fists in anger.

He’d managed a few pieces of toast when the mail was delivered. After a brief glance at the headline of The Daily Prophet—Boy-Who-Lived Attacks Fellow Students, by Rita Skeeter—he got calmly to his feet, grabbed another slice of buttered toast, and left the hall to sit in the Charms classroom to wait for class to begin.

*

Saturday they went to Hogsmeade and rummaged around the shops for ideas and accessories. Halloween was almost on them and the headmaster had decreed that there would be a costume party in addition to the usual feast.

Ron’s costume had proven simple; he was going as a member of the Chudley Cannons. Hermione was more difficult, but was soon set to rights when she happened upon a filmy, floaty dress that would do well for her Shakespearean inclinations.

Harry had absolutely no idea what to wear and was becoming resigned to the idea of simply wearing his dress robes. Hermione suggested he go as something completely unlike himself, prompting Harry’s somewhat acid comment, “What, wrap a turban around my head and go as Quirrell the sniveling coward?”

He was quite sure the smack upside the head he got from her was deserved.

In the end he threw his hands up in the air and stole Ron’s idea, declaring he was going dressed as a member of Puddlemere United in honor of Oliver Wood. To that end he purchased a poster of the team so he’d have a picture to work from when transfiguring a set of his robes to match.

He grew increasingly edgy all week and was gratified to note that his friends did as well. None of them cared for Halloween; something always seemed to go wrong. Harry considered backing out of going to the feast, but firmly told himself that one stupid incident and a case of nerves was no reason to hide, never mind that Ron and Hermione would never hear of it.

It did not help in the least that an edition of The Daily Prophet had reported that dementors had appeared at Azkaban.

According to aurors stationed at Azkaban prison, a large contingent of dementors appeared early this morning. They were in no way threatening, as the aurors were not affected by their presence, but it was made quite clear that they were there to take back their position as guards.

When interviewed, Minister Fudge said, “This is a clear sign that You-Know-Who has failed to meet the conditions of whatever deal he made with them and they have come back to their rightful place.”

He went on further to say, “This is wonderful news and I for one will sleep better at night knowing they are willing to once again guard the prison. I see no reason to attempt to turn them away from a job they perform extraordinarily well.”

All aurors have been recalled from Azkaban and are being put back into their original roles within the Ministry.

In consequence, he and Ron spent all Halloween morning playing exploding snap to settle their nerves while Hermione was in class, then finishing up assignments during the afternoon under her watchful eye.

As the time for the feast rolled closer, they broke off to their respective rooms to clean up and get ready, meeting back downstairs a short time later. Hermione had once again used liberal amounts of Sleekeasy’s Hair Potion to tame her bushy hair before styling it elaborately to match her dress.

They, along with a number of other Gryffindors, went down to the Great Hall. Unlike a normal feast, and far more similar to the Yule Ball several years ago, the room was full of smaller tables.

A number of students were already milling around or seated at tables with their chosen companions, though plenty of the tables were still empty. Harry made a beeline for one such table near one of the walls and yanked out a chair, seating himself so that his back was to the wall.

Hermione floated over, a slight frown on her face, and sat to one side.

“You don’t want to, er . . . mingle a bit before dinner?” she asked.

“Not really. I want to make sure I’m at a table I like. I can always mingle, as you put it, after we eat.”

She pursed her lips and nodded, then watched as students continued to enter the great hall and find friends, or choose their own tables to sit at. Ron eventually arrived with Lisa Turpin in tow and they took the two remaining seats at Harry’s table.

Dinner began after the tapping of a fork on glass and a short speech by Dumbledore; people chose from the small cards listing the evening’s menu. Conversation with Lisa present was slightly stilted, but otherwise socially acceptable. Harry just wanted the evening to be over.

It was when the food was magically cleared away and a great many people had started to drift around the room that Harry’s uneasiness reached it peak, punctuated by the crippling pain that spiked through his head. His friends were already too far away to be of immediate help.

He bit his lip and made a survey of the room, seeing that none of the students seemed anxious or fearful in the least. The pain increased, like someone had targeted Crucio at his scar, and Harry began seeing black-robed figures slipping around in the crowd.

He tried to catch Hermione’s attention to have her help him up to the infirmary when he saw one of the black-robed figures sweep up behind her, towering over her slender form. Yet more appeared in the crowd, almost as though some of them had been cloaked in illusion all along, waiting for an unheard (by him) signal; he couldn’t be sure, his sight made hazy by the pain.

Things seemed to explode around him; screams assaulted his ears and something slammed into his side. He spun in place but no one was visible near him. He started toward Hermione when he was hit again and went crashing to his knees.

As soon as he was able he looked up, levering himself off the floor. Hermione’s head whipped around; she looked back over her shoulder, and her eyes widened in surprise as a masked, black-cloaked eater pointed his wand at her chest.

After that, his reaction was a foregone conclusion.

*

Cornelius Fudge stormed up to Hogwarts castle’s front doors in a frenzy of self-righteousness, flanked by a unit of Aurors. One skipped ahead to open the doors to let the others in and caught up after closing them as the group marched up to Dumbledore’s office.

Fudge barely bothered to knock on the office door before barging in and huffing importantly, probably in an attempt to seem important, but more likely to disguise the fact that he was not as fit as he could be for a man his age.

Dumbledore’s response to the intrusion was quite mild. “Tea, Cornelius?” he asked.

Fudge threw himself into a squashy chair and immediately got down to business. “I must insist the boy be removed now. This is the second incident and he put at least twenty students in the infirmary by all accounts, maybe more.”

He waved one of his hands to stress the significance of his words. “He is a danger to himself and every person in this castle. I tell you, the parents will not stand for this. Neither will the Board of Governors or the Ministry.”

“I see. I assume then that you come about Harry.”

Fudge’s face reddened considerably at Dumbledore’s unflappable demeanor. “The boy is obviously cracking, or has already. We’re being inundated with howlers about him. Everyone will be safer once that boy is in a cell where he can’t do any harm.”

“Cornelius, I ask that you give me a day to investigate and sort things out. If by then nothing can be found, I may have no choice but to accede to your demands.”

“Fine. You have that day. I will back on the fourth,” he snapped. Fudge stood, motioned to his guards and stormed off again in a flurry of motion and sound.

Dumbledore gave him several minutes lead time then left his office for the infirmary. On arrival he took a moment to look in on Harry, who was laying unconscious in one of the curtained-off areas near the back. He shook his head sadly before finding Madam Pomfrey.

“Your assessment?” he asked.

“I hate to say it, but the same as last time. I can find nothing wrong with him. I detect no dark spells, nor any traces of peculiar potions. The only explanations are that his mind is beginning to snap, or this is some doing of You-Know-Who, however that might be possible.”

She wrung her hands together in apparent frustration, giving the headmaster a wide-eyed look of concern.

“Unfortunate, indeed. Had he come to you at any other time with problems?”

“Only the once. For a pain potion because of his head. I also gave him a calming draught for the week, but he never asked for any more of it. Either it had no effect or he was embarrassed to ask for more.”

Dumbledore sighed. “For the time being, keep him sedated. Use nourishment potions if necessary. I will let you know when he can be awakened, Poppy.”

She blinked and said, “Is that wise? You know I can’t do it for long.”

He nodded. “I understand, but for now it will have to be done.” He gave her a pat on the shoulder and left the infirmary quietly.

*

The Order convened and no one was happy about it. The topic was, of course, Harry Potter.

Dumbledore opened the meeting with the worst of it. “Fudge is demanding Harry be placed in Azkaban.”

The uproar was immediate. Snape was smirking in the shadows and Moody looked pensive.

“How can they think of putting a child in Azkaban!” shrieked Molly.

“It is claimed that with two of the incidents, not to mention his overall pattern this year of becoming increasingly edgy, that he is now a danger not only to himself but to the school as a whole. Madam Pomfrey has done extensive tests on Harry, both times, and found nothing wrong whatsoever.”

He raised a hand at the increasing noise level.

“I myself have theorized that perhaps Voldemort has found a way past the protections Harry has wrought for his mind, but I cannot prove it with any certainty. Harry has told me that he saw a group of Death Eaters burst into the great hall during breakfast the first time. He acted on reflex given that stimulus. However, no such event happened, or at least not as he perceived it.”

“Can’t he just be removed from the school for a while?” asked another.

“An idea I had thought of, but to where? If he goes to St. Mungo’s he would need to be under 24-hour guard and probably require aurors to be on hand, assuming the Ministry would be willing. If he goes back to Privet Drive, there would be no one to watch over him if whatever is happening should occur again.”

“Well what about here?”

“How many of you would be willing to live here for the duration? How many of you are willing to take the risk of sheltering an outlaw, as I have no doubt that Fudge is quite serious in his claims.”

“You make it sound like we have no choice in this!”

“I’m not sure we do. I confess I find myself at something of a loss. The Ministry is quite adamant. He is bringing to bear his own power, that of the parents, and the Board of Governors. If we hide Harry, I have no doubt the school will be lost. I ask that you discuss this amongst yourselves for an hour and we will try to come to a decision then.”

He turned and left the room as the noise level once again rose.

*

By the time Fudge stormed back into Hogwarts Harry’s belongings had already been packed into his trunk and stowed in a corner of Dumbledore’s office on the upper level.

“Well?” Fudge demanded.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like a sherbet lemon, Cornelius. I find them quite soothing.”

“You know very well that I am not here to exchange pleasantries,” Fudge said stiffly.

“Are you sure this is the only solution, Cornelius? He is only a boy after all.”

“Yes, I am quite sure. So, apparently, is the majority of the wizarding world. Now where is the boy,” he demanded.

“Be it on your head, Cornelius. He is in the infirmary.”

Fudge gave a sharp nod and turned on his heel, moving swiftly from the room.

Dumbledore thought it odd that Fudge had never bothered to ask about Harry’s wand.

The Daily Prophet the next morning caused such an uproar that Dumbledore was required to use his forceful voice to regain order.