In the Eye of the Beholder
Chapter Five - Plumbing, Pledges, and Potions
My gratitude goes to my writing coaches, Pamela St Vines and Kokopelli,
and to my beta reader, Sparky40sw.
I heard an angry voice shout, "Leave him alone!"
Protective, strong arms grabbed me and I was pushed and pulled into a warm embrace. I found myself held against a soft body. There seemed to be some small comfort in this, but only a little. Another spasm of pain roiled through my body, and my bones, muscles and nerves began to fight each other again.
"Hold his arms, Millicent," I heard Snape say as he approached once again.
I took all of my magic that I could muster and sent it out to shield us from anyone else trying to stop the progress I'd fought so hard for.
Quiet except for my whimpered groans, and occasional screams, whenever my body notched up the torture level once again.
Quiet except for soothing words from Centi's surprisingly gentle voice as she held me firmly against her with one arm, and stroked my hair and forehead with the other.
The pain stepped up another significant level and soon there was blessed nothingness.
It was a contest. Did all of the bright sunshine wake me, or was it the pulsing soreness I could feel in my toenails - as well as everywhere else?
No. It was the argument I heard going on, not far enough away from me.
"Bulstrode, how could you possibly trust Potter? You know he's always been the enemy."
That voice was very familiar. It was the drawl of someone I really despised.
"Malfoy, do you know you're as dense as Ron Weasley? He couldn't understand either. Since Voldemort sent Death Eaters to kill me and all of my family, I'm now on Potter's side."
"You dare say the Dark Lord's name." This voice belonged to Pansy Parkinson.
Centi chuckled. "He's not my lord -- not any more; attempts on my life somewhat strain my allegiance. You two are in this Paladin Program; you had to take the same oath I did, of chivalry and fighting for the Light. Why do you still call him Lord?"
Silence. That's the Centi I've come to appreciate. Ouch! Smiling hurt me all over.
Eventually Malfoy blustered, "Yes, yes; that's what we've done, and because of that it's safe to go home with Pansy. Madam Pomfrey told us you could leave in an hour. We can go into Hogsmeade and then Floo to Pansy's and get you all settled. Tomorrow you'll Floo to Malfoy Manor and take your first regular Acceleration potion. I know your timing's off from us, but you can exercise with us, and I'll 'visit' with you when you need a Paladin visitor. Professor Snape has arranged for Dale Harper, he's a year behind us, to visit with you when I can't."
I didn't like this one bit. I tried to will Centi to reject his offer. I tried to make my mouth open in protest. Nothing worked, and it was bloody painful while not working.
Pansy said arrogantly, "Millicent, you're a Slytherin. No one's going to look out for you but us. You and Potter have had your little adventure, but now his Gryffindor nobility and foolishness is over," she said this with such disdain, "I'm sure he'll revert to hating Slytherins like the rest of them. Even if he's nice to you, do you really think his friends will embrace you with open arms? Come with us. Leave him to sleep."
I poured everything I had into willing Centi to tell them to go away.
Budding Legilimens and Eye-Speaker I may be, but I could not mentally communicate with her.
All I could will myself to do was snap my fingers, once. You can be sure that I paid for that effort.
I couldn't raise my head to look her way. I made the index finger on my right hand do the 'come here' movement. I hope she saw it. After four pulls inward to send that message, I stopped in exhaustion.
I felt someone hovering over me. I cracked my eyes opened.
It was Centi. I heard Malfoy snort over her concern.
"Harry, are you okay? Can I call Madam Pomfrey?"
I managed to shake my head -- one swing.
"It's just after 9:00," she said. "You should sleep seven or eight more hours at least. What can I do for you?"
I cranked open my eyes, screaming at them to stay open. I mustered all of my magical powers and was about to cast my Eye-Speak spell when Centi was pushed out of the way. Malfoy's face loomed over me. Fear dawned as I realized I was completely at his mercy. Just where he's always dreamed I'd be someday.
"Not the tough man now, are you, Potter? Why, I could easily-Oof!"
I heard the punch in his stomach.
"Touch him and you'll answer to me, Malfoy."
My guardian angel, Centi, sounded like the wrath of God at that moment. I relaxed - well, as much as possible under the circumstances.
"Harry, Cast the Eye-Speak spell, if you can."
She stood over me really close; closer than I ever had when talking to her this way. I guess she thought I needed all of the help available. She was right.
I willed the link between us. "There you are," she spoke silently into my mind. "Are we connected? Can you speak this way? How do you feel?"
"Yes, yes, and really, really bad - the pain is something terrible -can't Pomfrey dose me with something?"
"No. Nothing, and that's from Dumbledore, not Snape."
"What are you doing, Bulstrode? You going to kiss him or what?"
She whipped away from me.
"Harry created a spell while we were on the run so we could speak through our eyes. My face and jaw were frozen shut as I told you. Now, either stay over there where I can keep an eye on you both or leave. Otherwise I'll Petrify you right now; both of you."
She returned to my face. "I'll kill him before I let him hurt you, Harry."
"I know," I said. "Thanks. Can I have some water?"
"I can put a few ice chips in your mouth. Here."
She did so.
"You can have all you want, but only a few at a time. Careful not to choke."
"Thanks." I sucked on the chips. "Oh, that's good. Thanks again."
"You're welcome. You called me over, is that it? You're thirsty?"
"No. Don't go with them. You can't trust Malfoy or Parkinson. You'll be handed over to Voldemort in the minute it would take to break Lucius out of Azkaban. "
"They're not that bad, Harry. Snape promised--"
"Snape! The same man who knew about the attack on your family and didn't warn you?"
"Harry, I was going to say that Snape promised to check on me and Dumbledore has his oath that he will check on me everyday."
"Fine. So Snape visits you at Pansy's at breakfast time and then Death Eaters show up for lunch. By dinner they have a story concocted that explains how you insisted on going to Diagon Alley or some such. No one will believe it. No one will be punished for it; you know how Malfoy takes a pass on everything. And you'll still be dead! Think about it. Malfoy plans to take most of your 'visits' even though they won't synch with his. When has he ever volunteered to be helpful to anyone?"
I was breathing heavily and perspiring even more. She stared at me and I could Eye-See a whirl of thoughts and emotions fly through her mind at barely recognizable speed.
"You're right, Harry. That could happen. I'll have Dumbledore make the Parkinsons take an oath--"
"No! You know they'll swear anything and everything and yet still someone will figure a way out of it. It's very Slytherin, isn't it, to make such oaths with wiggle room? I trust you, Centi, I trust your oath, but you're betting your life. Think bad Slytherin, not good Slytherin."
When we sat in the old barn Tuesday afternoon, resting from a sky full of Death Eaters, Centi and I coined the terms 'good Slytherins' and 'bad Slytherins' to express the traits we admired and disliked in her housemates. We had similar distinctions for Gryffindors. Centi said that 'brave Gryffindor'and 'stupid Gryffindor' were the same thing, but more on that later.
"What's he saying, Millicent?" Pansy had moved close to us. Questionable sincerity tinged her voice.
Centi looked away from me. "He says that I can't trust you, and he makes a good case."
"Millicent, why I never..." A Muggleborn first year wouldn't have believed Pansy's show of indignation. She continued, "We've been friends since first year. We've been through so much together. Why, we've... we've..."
Parkinson was making my case for me. Centi had told me how she'd been treated in her house and dorm room. She was furniture to them, not a friend.
Centi's face was still positioned so I could see her. She frowned more and more as Pansy spoke.
Finally Malfoy said, "What's Potter ever done for you, other than save your life?"
Centi smiled. "I'm not sure how to tell you about that, Draco, but I do believe that question is really the stupidest thing I've ever heard in my entire life, topping anything from Greg and Vinnie."
I stirred, trying to raise my hand to her shoulder. I didn't make it, but she looked down because of my movement.
"Find my wand and put it in my hand, please." I requested.
"They won't attack you; I won't let them."
"I know. Please do it."
She retrieved my wand and placed it in my right hand. "You can't even raise that hand, Harry."
"Place it over my heart, Centi and repeat after me so they can both hear."
Those beautiful eyes I've admired for - has it only been less than a week? Anyway, those beautiful eyes went wide and then she stared at me a little harshly. "Okay, Potter, no need to go all Gryffindor on me here. You don't have to take an oath, like the foolish Gryff you are most of the time."
I tried to smile with my eyes like she had when she was in Stasis. "Actually, it's my inner Hufflepuff coming out. You showed your loyalty to me in front of my friends while they insulted you. I must return the favor. "
"Come on, Centi, let me do this. Think of how much it will really brass off Malfoy. You wouldn't deny me that pleasure, would you?"
She huffed, but smiled a truly striking smile with her new face. The redness was down, though she was still pinker that she should be, her eyes were still slightly 'oriental' as Doctor Binderly had expressed it, but she was pretty, if not beautiful. She had two dimples, one in each cheek, and a part of me, the delirious-with-pain part of me, wanted to stick my finger in one of them.
"All right, you two," Millicent said. "You say you're my friends. Potter here wants you to hear something. I'm going to tell you what he's saying, because he can't speak out loud at the moment."
She spoke with little hesitation and less stops than when I had expressed her pledge to me to my friends.
"I, Harry James Potter, do so swear to protect my friend, Millicent Jeanne Bulstrode from all harm that I can possibly prevent. I extend to her the friendship and protection of the Historic, Ancient, and Noble House of Potter." She gasped at this, and so did the other two. She continued saying for me, "I make this pledge upon my life, upon my honor and upon my magic, so do I pledge."
When Centi made her pledge to me the day before, at the end a small golden glow emanated from her in a brief flash. At the end of my pledge a blinding light filled the room. Snape, Dumbledore, and Pomfrey came rushing in. Apparently they had been in Poppy's office, giving the three housemates time to chat.
"What was that?" Snape demanded.
I could only see Centi's face. She was no longer hovering over me so we could eye-speak, but it took only a little bit of painful movement on my part to see her face.
Almost in a daze, she said, "Harry doesn't want me to go with them. He says I won't be safe, and I agree." She sounded slightly stunned.
Snape snorted but Dumbledore asked, "And that light?"
"Harry pledged to me the friendship and protection of the Historic, Ancient, and Noble House of Potter."
Snape snorted even louder, as if to make sure I could hear. "No one could produce that bright a pledge aura. He must be faking. Leave it to a Potter to rig up a bogus pledge light to impress people. Why I'm amazed his father never--"
As I fell asleep from the magical exhaustion of the pledge magic, the last thing I heard was Centi screaming a rather unladylike diatribe at her head of house. Part of me wanted to stand up and applaud, but I couldn't lift a finger. I knew she'd take care of it.
That conflagration, er, conversation took place about 9:00 in the morning. By 5:00 I was awake and ready to be moving about. My glasses were right where Madam Pomfrey always placed them, and I scooped them up and placed them on my face before opening my eyes.
My body... "itched" to be moving it seemed. No one was there, I almost panicked that Centi might have gone with Draco and Pansy, but when I looked to her bed, her photo album was still there.
That made me unaccountably happy.
I swung my legs off of the bed, and let the dizziness pass. I stepped off of the bed and stood, and then immediately fell over, crashing into a table and losing my glasses.
The funny thing is I could still see without them. Strange. I held out my hand for them and they popped into my grasp as if I'd Summoned them. I'd experienced a little wandless and wordless magic this summer since starting the Acceleration potions, and this was like it, but not quite. Intent was one of the main factors that drove Spell Mongery and intent drove wandless and wordless casting. I guess I'd been practicing.
I looked at my glasses. They seemed to be clear glass. I could see well enough without them.
Centi and Madam Pomfrey rushed in and helped me up. Centi let go and exclaimed, "Potter!"
Centi is a hair below six feet tall. I turned to her and realized that instead of looking up the usual five inches or so to her, she was a few inches shorter than me.
Poppy realized this and let go of me as well. I crashed to the ground once again. The mediwitch drew her wand and speedily levitated me back onto the bed.
"Stay right there, Mr. Potter. I knew you grew, but looking at you on the bed I hadn't realized just how much. I have an Equilibrium potion for you. Be right back."
I tried to sit up on the bed and became dizzy again. Centi placed her hand on my shoulder and forced me back down. I didn't need much coaxing.
"Well, Harry," she was grinning like a kneazle in the cream. "Looks like you're not a little runt any more. You're at least six feet two, maybe more."
"Here, Mr. Potter, drink this down." Poppy had run back to my bedside.
I did, and it tasted sort of like maple syrup, though thin, like water. The mediwitch ran her wand over me, from head to toe and back again, several times.
I found myself standing behind myself. Okay, that doesn't make sense. What I mean is I felt like I was looking out of my eyes from far away. Nope, that doesn't float either.
Slowly, somehow, I found myself seeming to float back into my head. In about a minute I could see straight, and I felt like my balance had returned. The potion worked.
I tried to sit up and accomplished it. Poppy and Centi helped me, but their aid wasn't needed.
"You experienced a loss of balance because you're so much taller than you were. The Equilibrium potion restores balance for twenty-four hours. You need to walk around a lot, sit and stand, bend over and move side-to-side. This helps you gain the balance you would have if you'd grown to this height naturally, or even over the two months of the Paladin Program."
"About that," I started.
"I'm sorry, Harry." Dumbledore spoke from behind me. "We had no way to know that would happen. Severus is not to blame. I approved everything. This was just unforeseen."
"Well," I said, "I now know what hurts more than Voldemort's Cruciatus. You don't know why it happened, do you know what happened?"
"Somehow," Dumbledore stated, "You experienced all of the growth you should have had if you'd grown up with a normal diet, and did it all in one day, er, in twelve hours rather. We don't know if you will grow even more or not, but we doubt it. You will probably expand your muscle bulk when you exercise, like any fully grown person would, but we think you'll stay at six feet two inches - your present height."
I flexed my arms and legs. I was wiry muscular - no fat at all on my frame. I stood. I looked Dumbledore straight in the eyes, or nearly so. He might be an inch taller, but I wasn't standing perfectly straight either.
"Try magic, Harry," Centi suggested. She seemed to be excited about something.
"All right, hand me my wand please."
She smiled. "No, Summon it yourself."
I stood about five feet from it.
I raised my hand and before I could say, Accio, it flew into my hand.
So did the flowers and the vase on the table with my wand, the pitcher of water and goblet on that table, and then the table itself.
I snatched the wand out of the air and swirled it towards the rest of the items heading towards me. They all fell, but I had to jump out of the way of the vase, which seemed to be trying to cut off my toes.
This upset my balance and I'd have crashed to the floor again, had not Centi moved like lightning to catch me.
"Easy there, mister. This isn't a dance hall." Centi smiled at me, beamed at me actually.
"What?" I asked. This was confusing.
"Harry," Dumbledore said. "I think it is safe to say that just like your height was restored to what you would have attained before your malnutrition, your magic is now where it would have been if Voldemort hadn't been pressing down on you through your curse scar all of these years. And yet, there is more. You added what you would have had naturally to what you developed extraordinarily because you 'exercised your magic' so to speak, fighting Voldemort all that time."
"Hold it," I said. "I'm confused. Say that last part again slowly."
"All right, but let me explain something about the first part before the last part." Dumbledore cleared his throat and went on. "You, for some reason we don't even know how to contemplate, have fully grown physically in twelve hours, not only what you would have in the remaining months of the Paladin Program, but you have redeemed what should have been yours before your unfortunate upbringing."
I let him continue without reminding him that he, and his miserable decisions were why I had experienced that unfortunate upbringing.
"So, Harry, this was an act of restoration of what would have been. That is your physical growth, but now regarding your magical maturation.
"Because of your curse scar, you've had Voldemort draining some of your magic away all of this time. He used your magic to live all of those years in his half-life status. Normally, you would have used the magic he drained off to help with your typical magical development. Until today you've not had the power you should have."
I lowered my head. I'd always felt I could do better, and now I knew I'd kept that bastard (in all senses of the word) alive at my own expense.
Pomfrey cleared her voice. "Mr. Potter. I test every student's magical development each year. I've never had to send for you to test because you've always showed up with a Quidditch injury or something else before it was your turn.
"I've been matron here since 1963. I've never tested anyone more powerful than you, even with this drain. And now...."
"Yes," Dumbledore continued. "It appears, Harry, that you've had all of that restored to you in the last day. And yet, there is more.
"There is a positive to having your curse scar all of these years. Part of the reason that Madam Pomfrey has recorded such high power levels in you, is that your magic has fought against Voldemort for all of these years. Your magic has fought him off trying to restrict his access. While all other magical children your age have mostly used their magic to nurture their further magical development, you've used yours to fight evil. It's made the magic you've kept much stronger."
"And now," I asked, "This somehow combines or works together... I don't understand."
"Your father and mother were both very powerful magically. But because your mother was Muggleborn, she introduced very beneficial fresh elements into your bloodline. You were fated to be powerful indeed."
Centi interrupted, "But, Professor, the Pureblood doctrine states that Mudblo-- sorry, Muggleborns introduce bad blood into magical family lines."
"Yes, Miss Bulstrode," Pomfrey answered. "But we in the medical professions have known for many score years that the old family lines need to be infused with fresh blood before inbreeding occurs. The Weasleys are an old family, and have married no Muggles or Muggleborns in many generations. They are perhaps the purest in the school now. But they have married across many social barriers and from diverse parts of Great Britain, and even the continent. A Weasley even married an American witch in the early part of this century. That introduced fresh blood as well.
"However, few Pure-bloods marry outside of their social circles, or at least few admit to doing so."
But..." Centi was confused. I didn't really understand either, but her family had lived this Pure-blood doctrine for generations.
"Miss Bulstrode," said Dumbledore. "By marrying a Muggle your maternal grandfather did a very good thing for your family. You are much more powerful than you would have been otherwise."
Centi stared away thoughtfully. Finally she said, "You know, my mother was always much more powerful than my father. She took great pains to not display it in front of him, and he never said anything cross to her about it, but he knew as well. We all did."
Dumbledore said, "It is something for you to ponder, Miss Bulstrode, but back to Harry here. He was scheduled, so to speak, to be a very strong wizard because his parents were both powerful and because his mother introduced fresh magical elements into his bloodline. Much of that powerful magic was sapped from him. However, of the magic that remained, it became very powerful in its own right because of the constant exercise in struggling against Voldemort."
"And so," I said, "I get all of my magic back that Voldemort drained away, and I add to it the strength I gained fighting to keep Voldemort from taking more from me. Is that what you're saying?"
"No, Harry. Well yes, but really not that exactly." Dumbledore's eyes twinkled on overload. "That would be addition - combining the two power factors. From all of our tests while you were sleeping, you seem to have multiplied your magic. It's as if all of your originally intended magic also went through the exercising and grew from the struggle also. We estimate you are three and a half to four times more powerful than you would have been."
"And" Poppy added, "you still can grow magically like you would during the last two years of your time here at Hogwarts. In your case, as a Paladin you will also benefit from the Acceleration potions you'll be taking along with Miss Bulstrode. Stay with the series and you should see even more magical growth. We can't imagine how much stronger you'll become. Twenty percent more? Fifty percent? We just don't know."
You could have knocked me over with a unicorn hair.
I heard Centi whisper, "You're going to kill him, Harry."
"What's that Miss Bulstrode?"
"I said that he's going to kill Voldemort. Harry has survived fighting him what, four or five times so far? Now Harry's so much stronger and getting more so. He just needs more training and practice fighting with others, dirty fighting like my brother told me the Death Eaters do, none of this polite dueling by rules and regulations.
"And I want to help, Harry," she said turning to me. "I want to help you and I want to learn right along side you. I've pledged my loyalty to you until the end. You've extended your protection and friendship. I claim my vassal rights to train in service to the Historic, Ancient, and Noble House of Potter."
Before this sunk in, actually before I even understood what it meant, Dumbledore demanded, "What have you two pledged to each other?"
I looked over at him. He did not have a pleasant look on his face.
Centi did most of the explaining to him. His face went from surprised, to shocked, to dismayed with many stops in between. At the end the Headmaster seemed barely able to conceal his anger over the content of the pledges Centi and I had made to each other.
It was very Slytherin of her to make her pledge sound like an effort to join the ranks of the valiant Gryffindors and Paladins Dumbledore had unofficially begun gathering around me to fight Lord Voldemort. She never once used the title most of Voldie's followers used: 'Dark Lord.'
Then she told of my pledge, using Malfoy and Parkinson as the bad guys, something I told her Dumbledore wouldn't want to believe, since the two had somehow joined the Paladin Program. By telling him how those two acted so badly she explained why I felt that I had to make my pledge overwhelming, and she validated my promise of support like I never could have. She also cast doubt on Draco and Pansy's sincerity, something I had no problems believing.
I like having a Slytherin on my team. All that cunning and understanding how to manipulate people really comes in handy.
"You should have heard them, Professor," Centi told Dumbledore. "Malfoy couldn't say enough bad things about Harry. Draco and Pansy both made it clear they looked forward to the day Voldemort kills Harry. And they were insulting to my family. It was as if they didn't feel their deaths were important.
"And Harry, laying there immobile, struggled to defend me and himself, when he shouldn't have even been awake - he knew they couldn't be trusted. Harry made me see that they could promise to keep me safe and then just look the other way when I was taken by Death Eaters. They've lied to you and the other professors many times; what's one more lie when Voldemort has already made it clear he will send Death Eaters on one-way missions to kill me.
"In that state Harry summoned up enough magic to make a pledge, you saw the brightness of the pledge emanation he produced. It was worthy of the head of a great house - not surprising since we know Harry is destined to lead House Potter."
She looked my way and noticed my confused look. "Harry, have you not been educated in the rights, responsibilities, and traditions of the Three-Thirty-Three Families? You should already be attending the two major social events of the year and observing the occasional Wizengamot assembly. House Potter isn't only Ancient and Noble, but Historic."
I shook my head. This headache was going to be migraine-quality I could tell. "I don't really know what any of that means, Centi. Sirius just laughed when he called his family the Ancient and Noble House of Black. I thought it was some pureblood bigotry and dismissed it. I only found out House Potter was described as Historic as well Ancient and Noble when Sirius' will called it that."
Centi turned with a frown on her face towards the Headmaster. I saw his look indicating he wanted to escape scrutiny. He'd had to use that expression a good bit in the last few days.
"Chief Warlock, as the last Bulstrode, and soon to be heir to the title, if not the Family vote, I wish to know of the regere fides of the House Potter. Mister Potter, do I have your permission to ask these questions on your behalf? I'm asking about those responsible for House Potter's Rights to Rule, and why you've been left so ignorant of these important matters."
Dumbledore turned to me shaking his head.
This angered me. Before he could say anything I said, "Of course, Miss Bulstrode."
She turned back to Dumbledore. She asked, "Sirius Black was Harry's godfather, and therefore his magical guardian. Did he hold regency powers for House Potter as well, on Harry's behalf?"
Dumbledore merely shook his head and turned to me once more. I stared at Millicent when he did so, causing him to look back at her.
"Who then?" She asked.
The silence confirmed it. This was going to be migraine-quality even though Poppy once told me witches and wizards don't get migraines like Muggles do. Muggleborns don't even get them. Of course, I have this curse scar that gives me headaches like no one else enjoys.
"I do, Miss Bulstrode," the Headmaster stated. "How do you know about all of this? You were the third child, I believe."
"When my oldest brother, Milton, the one I never met, joined the Death Eaters the first go around, my parents had Mylon. When Milton died at the hands of an Auror late 1978, they decided to have me. The old adage, 'Heir and a spare' was the idea I believe. They'd have had another when I proved to be a girl, but complications during the pregnancy rendered my mother incapable of doing so. As the spare, I've been trained in everything a family head should know - everything Harry should know by now.
"Don't try to change the subject again," she added. "Why didn't you educate and inform Harry about being a Three-Thirty-Three Family Head? I was trained even though it's only my heir who will hold the Wizengamot place. Harry heads an active branch with many votes, as well as the Black Family Right to Rule. Surely Sirius insisted that you train Harry."
"I've wanted Harry to concentrate on his magic. He has a vital roll in the fight coming--"
I exploded. "That's it! You've done bloody well nothing to train me to fight Voldemort, saying you wanted me to have a regular childhood. Now you say you haven't trained me for my role as head of House Potter because I'm training to fight.
"Even this summer, all of this Paladin stuff is supposed to train me, but no one has even attempted to teach me a single spell. In five years, of all your Defense professors, only Remus wasn't rubbish at teaching Defense. Barty Crouch, Jr. had moments of lucidity, but he didn't really want us to learn much in the end."
All of a sudden, I decided I wanted to rub the Headmaster's nose in this hippogriff dung.
"Centi, what did you score on your Defense O.W.L.?"
"Acceptable, Harry, like the rest of us fifth year Slyths. We only did that good because Tracey Davis thought to ask some of the sixth years for a bit of help. Ministry approved materials, my big backside, most of the explanations in Umbridge's course book would have been wrong on the O.W.L.s if we'd used them."
I nodded and looked back to Dumbledore. "I bet there were seventeen Outstanding O.W.L.s this year, weren't there, Professor? Eighteen if Seamus made it."
"Seventeen, Harry." Dumbledore admitted.
"How did you know, Harry?"
I looked at Centi. "Because, I trained seventeen fifth years last year in Dumbledore's Army, which I plan to rename the Defense Association this year."
Dumbledore winced at this, and then said, "I've no intention to deny that you are an excellent instructor on Defense, Harry. That's why I asked you to design a curriculum to train everyone in Practical Defense. That's what I've decided to call whatever I do with what you give me."
"Fine," I said. I wanted to go back to what Centi started. "So, I've been given to abusive people who treated me like the Malfoys treated Dobby because you wanted me to have a normal life away from the fame of being the Boy-Who-Lived. You've given me little training even though I have a very important fight ahead of me.
"Now you say I'm too busy training to fight Voldemort for you to have educated me about, or even told me I'm the head of House Potter. I don't know about you, but this sounds really stuffed to me, Professor."
I stopped talking and looked at him. He looked to Centi, who I saw had a very angry look on her face as well, much harsher, I thought, than my stare.
He turned back to me and said, "I don't know what to say, Harry."
"You seem to suffer from that a lot, recently, Professor," I responded. "So stand there and ponder that while I decide what I want to do."
I turned and call for Dobby.
"How may Dobby serve Harry Potter SIR?"
"Hello, Dobby, thanks for coming so promptly." The elf beamed at me, and I continued before he could say the usual. "You know how my room is arranged after Professor Dumbledore expanded it, and you're the magic behind its daily transformations, right?"
"Yes, Harry Potter SIR."
Well, I need to know if you can handle my next request or if we need the professor's help. I want to roughly double the size of that room. I need you to give my bedroom area a door with a lock, and create an identical lockable bedroom beside it. I need twice the space for the training room and a copy of every piece of exercise equipment. The library is fine, but I need to double the Potions area with a second complete worktable and everything needed for two brewers. Oh, and do whatever you must to be able to cook for another Paladin there.
"Can you do that or do you need Professor Dumbledore's help? Oh, and we'll need a bed, dresser, nightstand and lamp, desk, chair and a bookshelf in the second bedroom. You can buy that with access to my vault funds can't you?"
"Harry, I can't allow--"
I rudely held up my hand to Dumbledore and he stopped speaking for the moment.
"Harry Potter SIR, Dobby can make all of the adjustments SIR requests and can also furnish the room as Harry Potter SIR mentioned..." He tugged on his ears, indicating he couldn't do everything he felt needed to be done.
"Stop with the ears, Dobby," I said, "Just tell me what's bothering you. I know you'll do all you can for me. Tell me."
"It's just that... Harry Potter SIR and Harry Potter SIR's relatives all have a hard time using the one loo upstairs. Another half loo at least is needed, more would be best, considering Harry Potter SIR's relatives."
Then he rushed to say, near tears, "Dobby cannot create plumbing; plumbing takes a witch or wizard of Harry Potter SIR's power but also special experience to do as Harry Potter SIR wishes. Dobby suggests a loo for Harry Potter SIR's aunt and uncle and another loo in the hallway for Miss Centi."
Dobby was a smart house-elf. He picked up right away what was on my mind. Dumbledore, the great manipulator had as well, but Centi hadn't, not considering it possible that I would think of it.
Both Centi and Dumbledore said, "But, Harry..." in unison.
Once again I ignored the Headmaster and then addressed Centi's concerns. "You asked to be my vassal, right? Well, I don't know what that means in the magical world, but in the Muggle world it means I provide safe haven for you, as well as room and board. I make sure you're properly equipped for battle and add to your training. You, in return will educate me in any matter where I need your expertise, and you will serve House Potter as I see fit, within reason, of course. Correct?"
She nodded her head.
"I've told you about my relatives," I continued. "They can be bribed and threatened into behaving themselves. The Headmaster here will go and gain my uncle's consent and perform whatever tasks concerning plumbing that are needed."
I turned to Dumbledore. "Can you make a permanent loo in my aunt and uncle's bedroom? That will go a long way to making them happy. I guess it will have to be removed if and when they ever sell the house, but they've often complained about how they wish they had one."
"I can do all of that, Harry, but I won't. Miss Bulstrode can't possibly stay with you. The risks to your safety--"
"Risks!" I interrupted. How can there be any risks? Do you think she's faking all of this? That she agreed to watch her family be killed so she could fight her way with me across the length of England and on into Scotland on the off chance I'd worry enough about her safety to invite her to stay with me this summer?
"Or is it that her presence will weaken the blood wards you've placed so much confidence in? If that's the case then they're not much good. Or is it that if she's with me, Voldemort will try to kill me?
"Oops! Too late. He's already decided to kill me. Or is it you think that if we are friends, now Voldemort will want to kill her? Oops again! Too late on that count also.
"This isn't a security issue; so, what is it really, Professor?"
"Well, you would need a proper chaperone," he said almost petulantly. I noticed he avoided answering the real question, but I wasn't finished yet.
I asked, "Can't Dobby be our chaperone?"
"No, a chaperone must be a female."
"Does it have to be a witch? Could a squib do it for example, like Mrs. Figg?"
"It doesn't have to be a witch, but Mrs. Figg is busy."
"Fine. If I hired a personal servant, a female lady-in-waiting, would that assuage your tender sensibilities?"
Dumbledore said, "Even a Muggle female according to the old ways would do, but there's no room for two more people in your home, and we can't make more rooms for Muggles--"
"Winky," I called.
"Harry, I don't think--"
"She is a female," I pointed out. "There seems to be no qualifiers beyond sex."
"House-elves have been used for such purposes before, but--"
"Winky," I called. I heard the distinct sound of a house-elf popping in to the room. I turned away from Dumbledore and looked at the elf before me. She looked even worse than the last time I saw, her, but she wasn't drunk, just worn out and downtrodden.
"Winky, do you know of the rules Dobby lives under as my house-elf? I don't allow him to punish himself and I consider him a friend who works for me, not a slave. Even though I understand the master-elf relationship is a form of enslavement, it's not the way I want my relationship to exist with Dobby. Do you understand this?
"Yes, Harry Potter SIR. Dobby is explaining everything to Winky. 'Tis a shame Dobby can't live as a proper house-elf, but Dobby is bonded, is happier than Winky has ever know Dobby." She hung her head as she said that last bit, probably because she was unbonded and miserable.
"Winky, would you like to be bound to House Potter? You'd have to follow the same rules as Dobby, but I have need of a female house-elf, and..." I decided to try to build some self-esteem her in her. "Well, Winky, you're the finest female house-elf I've ever heard of. I'd love to have you in my service."
Her eyes lit up, but before she said anything I continued, "Oh, and I want you to dress better. I don't have a uniform for you yet, but you and Dobby can make up whatever you want and I'll consider it as the official uniform for House Potter's valued servants. What do you say?"
"Oh, Harry Potter SIR, Dobby is always saying Harry Potter SIR is the bestest and mostest wisest, mostest powerfulest wizard in all of the world. All Dobby is being saying is true!" She lunged at me, hitting my leg just a little lower than Dobby did every time he made a similar attack.
"Winky... Winky, doggonit. See here, Winky, do you need to perform some binding with me to make it official?"
She pulled back. I knelt before her. She gasped in awe. I knew Dobby never ceased to be amazed when I knelt to look him eye-to-eye, and this was a first between me and Winky.
"How do we do this?" I asked.
Winky came forward and took my hand. She placed it on her head.
In a fraction of a second, Dobby popped into the Infirmary, followed by as many other house-elves as could possibly fit on the floor space, on shelf tops, in windowsills, and hanging from the torch holders on the walls.
She chanted tunelessly, "Winky is bonded to House Potter, and the greatest of all wizards in the land, heir of the First Master. Winky pledges to serve without reservation. Winky pledges to keep all of Harry Potter SIR's secrets and protect House Potter and Winky's master with Winky's life. So Winky does pledge."
With that she began lowering her head towards the floor. Before she touched it with her nose, I spoke up, stopping her.
"I, Harry James Potter, do accept Winky the house-elf as my elf and my friend. I pledge to provide for her, protect her, and look to her welfare as best as I can. You, along with Dobby, are part of House Potter. So I do pledge."
The next moment a bright light, swirling with house-elf skin tone green and a pale golden yellow, filled the Infirmary. Its center was where Winky and I knelt with Dobby beside me. The light caused all present to squint and turn away from us. It died down to reveal all of the house-elves kneeling on one knee and bending at their waists.
Slowly they chanted, "So it was with the First Master. So it is with the Heir."
Instantly they stood. They all seemed to have a robustness to them. They smiled, chuckled, half of them danced quick little impromptu jigs. Winky was a changed house-elf, as full of energy and life as any house-elf I've ever seen.
The sea of elves parted and an elderly house-elf stepped forward and bowed. "Harry Potter SIR. This elf is called Dinker, chief house-elf of Hogwarts, eighth cousin once removed to Dobby, yet close enough related to the line of Dobert, the first house-elf, to be named with the letter 'D.' When the day comes for the Magister to arise, he may call on the old oaths. Until that day, Harry Potter SIR may call on any elf to serve."
Okay, like my life needed another notch up on the Wizarding Weird-O-Meter.
"Er, thank you, Dinker. I appreciate your offer and I'm sure Dobby will explain it all to me. Likewise, please let all house-elves know they have a friend in Harry Potter."
Once again all of the elves present slowly chanted, "So it was with the First Master. So it is with the Heir."
It was beyond weird - it was downright unnerving.
The uniform pop was deafening as all the elves, save Winky and Dobby, left at the very same instant.
"Er, yes, well, that was unexpected."
Master of the obvious I was.
"Er, Winky, you will act as female chaperone for Miss Centi here. Dobby will prepare rooms for us at my Aunt and Uncle's house," I paused, "Er, and I guess you should help him. Professor Dumbledore will be there shortly to negotiate with my Uncle about the other changes needed. Oh, hold it a second." I turned to Dumbledore. "Sir, do you know if anyone has gone to Centi's home and gathered up whatever the Death Eaters left usable or repairable?"
"Er." This caught him off guard. He stumbled out, "I've er, not had time to do so."
"Or, shall we say you forgot? No real importance, just the personal effects of the lives of generations." I tried to stare a hole in him for a moment. He did have the good grace to look away. He'd had to do that quite often recently.
"Dobby, Winky, Miss Centi is a sworn vassal of House Potter, find her home, it was attacked by Death Eaters on Monday, and see if there's anything of value to be recovered. Is that possible for you? I don't want to you to risk being hurt in anyway. If Death Eaters show up, leave it. Can you check for traps or such things, or do I need to hire Gringotts curse breakers to see to that?"
The two scurried over to Centi and stood next to her for several seconds, each placing a hand on her lower leg. He said, "Dobby has been to Miss Centi's before looking for Harry Potter SIR. Now, Dobby and Winky can find Miss Centi's home as part of serving Harry Potter SIR. Miss Centi is part of House Potter and Dobby and Winky can now protect her house, while Dobby or Winky is present, with basic house-elf spells. Would not prevent Death Eater attacks, but would protect long enough for Dobby and Winky to escape with Miss Centi's possessions. Dobby and Winky will be safe, Harry Potter SIR."
I thought about this. "Well, I'll leave this to your judgment about how and when to do all of this. We won't be at Privet Drive until tomorrow some time. Madam Pomfrey won't release us until then. Professor Dumbledore will have everything right with my family this evening as I said."
I couldn't think of anything else. "Anything you two can think of, or need to ask? Centi?"
Shaking heads all around. I sent the elves on their way.
Centi rubbed her hands together and had an oddly happy expression on her face. "I've never had a house-elf to order around, pick up after me, and teach a lesson to when they make mistakes."
That really bothered me, and Dumbledore displayed a look of triumph on his face.
"Centi," I asked, "Do you think I'd let any head of an ancient family order you around at his whim?"
"No, Harry, why do you ask?" Her face lost its smug look and took on one of worry.
"And you're right, Centi. I might put you under orders to another family head, but I wouldn't unless I trusted him not to abuse your service and to have your best interest at heart."
With a look of relief and confusion Centi nodded her head.
"You're not just a vassal to use as I please, we're comrades at arms, we owe each other life debts, and I'd like to think we're friends and will become better friends, regardless of your commitment to service."
She nodded again, smiling, but her face told me she didn't see where I was going with this.
"Dobby and I have fought together also. He and I owe each other life debts, although it's different than our relationship, you and me. But I will not treat them badly and I won't let anyone else do so either. What makes you want to boss them around?"
"Well... er, well we never had house-elves, but my father grew up with one. He'd talk about it. My grandfather was cruel to it and Dad said that was the way of things. Then Parkinson, Nott and Malfoy always laughed at how they'd punish their elves; they said that elves liked it."
I looked her right in the eyes. It seemed like a long time to me that I stared, and it probably seemed longer to her.
She looked down. "That's pretty stupid, isn't it?"
"I wouldn't say stupid," I told her, "But it's not using your brain. No one likes pain and humiliation."
"You, Harry, are truly unique," She said. "They'd laugh at me sometimes when I... well, when I didn't know something the other girls did or the guys and girls would both laugh when I said something showing my poverty. I so tried to emulate them, tried to fit in..."
She straightened. "Mister Potter, I need to become a better person; would you please help me?"
I smiled and nodded. After a few moments reassuring her that I wasn't all that great at being kind to others, but we could learn together, I looked at Dumbledore.
He wasn't pleased Centi and I were getting along so well. This made me angry again.
"Professor, would you please go visit my uncle and ask his permission to house Centi there this summer as well?"
"I still say it's not--"
"Safe?" I interrupted. "It either is or isn't the safest place because of the blood wards. Which is it?"
Dumbledore narrowed his eyes. "I was going to say it isn't wise. Even with a proper chaperone, you shouldn't stay with..." He broke off here.
I'd pushed the old man to the point where he wasn't being his usual polite self. I wondered what it really was that had him against Centi staying with me.
"Please tell me, Professor, what's bothering you?"
He cut his eyes towards McGonagall. She had a look on her face I easily interpreted as clueless as to his reasons, although I can't imagine she liked the idea of Centi staying with me on general principles alone.
Finally, Dumbledore said the wrong thing. "Harry, I just think you should listen to your elders. We know bet--"
Like I said, the wrong thing to say.
"So you say you know better, old man?" I exploded. "That's why the Dursleys treated me like the Malfoys treated Dobby, and still treated me until you bribed my uncle a couple of weeks ago. I grew up in a cupboard with spiders as my only friends because you knew better. Even when I came back here each September starved, you knew better.
"Oh, and you can't say you didn't know I was kept in a cupboard. The first Hogwarts letter I received was addressed to me at, 'Cupboard under the stairs.'
"You even knew best when you had Hagrid bring me to Diagon Alley my first time. I've compared notes with Dean, Hermione, and Justin Finch-Fletchley over the years. All Muggleborns or Muggle raised had three four-hour sessions to introduce them to the Magical world, but I had Hagrid."
"Harry,' McGonagall interrupted, "Hagrid begged us to let him go for you."
"And I appreciate that, Professor, truly I do, but can either of you honestly say you expected Hagrid to tell me everything you told Hermione? Did you train him for it? Did either of you think for a minute he'd do as good a job as the rest of you?"
I didn't want an answer to that question.
"And while we're talking about knowing better, was it better for me to be ostracized in second year for being a Parselmouth? What did you do, Headmaster, to make it easier for me to survive all that ridicule?
"Quirrel, Lockheart and Barty Crouch, Jr. showed you knew better?"
I paused momentarily. I had a dozen other lesser points to raise, but picked only a few from last year.
"And as to last year, how could you send Snape to teach me Occlumency without inspecting his efforts? You know he hates me. And how could you ignore me for a year, without even telling me why? You didn't have to tell me about the prophecy, you could have simply told me Voldemort wanted to trick me to go to the Ministry and that would have been enough.
"But nooooooooo! You knew better and Sirius was killed.
"You told me it was your fault he died because you wanted me to have a childhood. Every Gryffindor in my year could have told you I've never had a childhood, and I never talk about it to them. But you knew better than to ask."
I stopped again. I was panting in my anger and frustration. A couple of hot tears stung my eyes.
Before Dumbledore could say anything I held up my hand and looked to my side to step back a bit. Then I turned around, and all in one motion I drew my wand and shouted, "Accio wands!" This startled them and I had their wands before they could react.
"I held their wands towards Centi without looking her way. She took them and I said, "Draw your wand, Centi, and hold it on them. That's an order." I didn't look to see if she'd complied. I knew she would.
"Professor McGonagall, you've told me you're sorry, and I believe you. But you're here at his side, so I include you in this at the moment. Guilt by association." I didn't wait for a visual nod or any verbal response.
"Headmaster, I hold you at wand point because I can see only two reasons why you've done all of this. First, either you're incompetent and gullible, or you placed me with the Dursleys to break me, make me hopeless and solely dependent on you, so you can rescue me at the end of each summer from them. That way I'll be a pliable dupe you can use as a weapon to defeat Voldemort. Since you haven't trained me to fight, my guess is that you want me to die killing him."
I paused and took two very deep breaths. I trembled with the idea of what I just said.
I calmed and finally said, "I'm hopeful you have another explanation, but I've taken your wands, just in case my second idea is true, because I don't want you to Obliviate Centi or me. Now what are your reasons?"
Time seemed to go both fast and slow. I remembered Uncle Vernon bragging about his selling skills. One thing that he said was important was to ask for the order and then not say anything until the buyer responded. Well, I'd asked for an answer, and I didn't expect to receive one, but I could remain silent as long as he could. Vernon always said that the one who spoke first lost.
Finally, Dumbledore said, "There are plenty of decisions I've made, Harry, that I regret. How would you like me to help you?"
I smirked at him. He didn't answer my question really. I knew it, and he knew I knew it. But this would suffice for now.
"First, sir, I need you to go to the Dursleys' and convince my uncle to accept Centi's presence. Have them all agree to leave her alone and not ask questions. Offer the new loo for my aunt and uncle's bedroom, and double the loos in the hall upstairs, making sure Dudley knows one is for Centi alone.
"Second, we'll need whatever wards adjusted for Centi to be there, and to be able to walk safely from number four, Privet Drive to Mrs. Figg's. Everything else about wards and protections in the area needs to be adjusted or we need to know about our restrictions.
"Third, are there some sort of Owl-post ordering catalogues for Wizarding clothing? Centi needs need robes and whatever, and I could use some as well. We can't go to Diagon Alley, so Owl-post and house-elf are the only methods I know of to make our purchases.
"Can you think of anything else, Centi?"
"I'll need all of my toiletries and such," she said.
"If you'll permit me, Miss Bulstrode, I'll acquire the basics and make sure you have them by the time you are at the Dursleys' home," McGonagall said. "Anything else I don't find you can send Winky for, after Mr. Potter sets up accounts."
I didn't know what "sets up accounts" was all about, but I figured Centi knew and would explain it to me, since she nodded knowingly.
No one said anything. Finally Dumbledore said, "Well, if that is all, Harry, if we may have our wands, we will be about our appointed tasks."
I grinned and did as he asked. With no other words, everyone left the room except for the two patients.
After the doors closed, Centi asked, "Do you really trust them, Harry? It scared me to no end when you accused Dumbledore of possibly Obliviating us. How do you know he still won't?"
"Centi, have you ever seen Dumbledore use wandless magic?"
"Well, I have. If he'd have wanted his wand back, you wouldn't have been able to hold it. I'm sure he has a plan to bring me back into check, but I don't think, and I've never thought that he has evil intentions towards me. He has done so much good. I just wanted him to face the fact that he's done very poorly by me, so we'll have some freedom with our safety, even though we'll be mostly stuck in that room for the summer.
"I'll apologize when he comes back, if he's done what I've asked. I need him, and he needs me. We both know that, but he needs to know that I'm a partner in this fight, at least a junior partner, not a first-year drooling over meeting the Great Albus Dumbledore."
"Harry, that's so very Slytherin of you. I'm impressed."
I looked away. Inside I seethed and cried. Why did Dumbledore have to make my life so blasted hard for me? He could have insisted Sirius have a trial under Veritaserum and then I could have grown up living with someone who loved me.
I've thought a lot this summer about what could have been. Now I have three people, er, beings directly dependent on me, Centi, Dobby, and Winky. And if you count that I'm the only one who can kill Voldemort, I guess everyone else is dependent on me too.
No pressure, Potter. Take your time. Dumbledore doesn't seem to think there's any rush to train me to fight Tom, so why should you worry?
"Because I'm better than him."
"Better than who, Harry?"
I didn't realize I'd said that out loud. I spun towards Centi.
"Centi, do you think I'm crazy?"
"Oh no, Harry, you're not crazy. You've just stayed awake for two days, fighting your way across the length of England protecting one of your biggest enemies who had fallen on hard times. You've killed Death Eaters left and right, Mongered a spell to talk to those who can't, and learned to cast with two wands on the fly. You invented a brand new Portkey Spell from what I can tell, saved my life several dozen times, stared down your head of house more than once, disarmed the greatest living wizard since Merlin - twice - once, even, when half your ribs were broken. Oh, and you've cajoled said greatest wizard since Merlin into doing the right thing four or five times in a forty-eight hour period.
"No, you're not crazy. You're Absolutely-St.Mungo-Certifiably insane and brilliant. But then, I pledged to follow you on your crusade against Voldemort, so who's crazier, me or you?"
Not since Hermione told me I was a great wizard when I went on alone to protect the Sorcerer's Stone in first year, had anyone given me such a vote of confidence.
My world was upside down and pear shaped - as I'd realized more than once since last Monday.
"Why do you ask if I think you're mad, Harry?"
I shook my head as if clearing cobwebs. "I just realized that Dumbledore has failed. He's known all this time about my situation and me and left me there with the Dursleys hoping for the best. He's done nothing to prepare me, hoping I'd have a childhood he'd received evidence wasn't occurring. He's let me go through each school year, watching things unravel and hoped for the best.
"Well, you need hope, but hope doesn't accomplish anything unless you also have to have a plan and execute it properly.
"Therefore, I said that I'm better than him. I'm going to train myself, and train you. Then I'm going to train all of the Paladins. Dumbledore is supposed to be bringing in these great teachers, well, we'll see, but I'm not counting on anything. I'll be prepared to make it all work, in spite of Dumbledore.
"And since Draco seems to think he's one of us, I'll give him a chance, but when he proves he's not with us, I'll kick him out of the program one way or another. Dumbledore and Snape can rot in Perdition for all I care.
"I'm going to Monger the new spells we'll need to fight, and sell them for a pittance to those I know are on our side. And now that you're here, Centi, I'm going to learn all I can about the Ministry of Magic and the Wizengamot. Will you help me, please?"
She smiled, and then laughed out loud. "Oh good, a revolution; Slytherins love a good revolution. There are so many ways to profit, and so many unique opportunities to use our native cunning. For my first act as a Slytherin vassal to a Gryffindor, shall I be un-Slytherin and openly declare myself a rebel with you?"
She paused here. Neither of us knew what to say next. Finally she stated, "Oh, and Harry, I've never thought much of Dumbledore. He's too good to be real, considering all that he's accomplished behind the scenes. Don't misunderstand me; I'm convinced he's for the Light, but he's not the saint most think he is. Manipulating peoples and governments in the background is never a clean job."
"You're not perfect, Harry," she ended, "But you're genuine, and I don't feel like a pawn in your hands."
It would have been great if the professors had come back with everything arranged and Centi and I had made it to the Dursleys' without any more problems.
Nice dream, but it wouldn't have been my life if it went that easily.
Shortly after Dumbledore and McGonagall left on their 'assignments,' I realized I was famished - starving - ravenous for food - lots of it. I called Pomfrey and she told me she'd been expecting that.
Evidently, though there were no precedents for what I'd experienced, Dumbledore, Snape, and she had predicted I'd spend a great deal of time eating, in addition to the regular Paladin prescribed meals. My body had grown and put on a good deal of wiry muscle in a matter hours, something that would have normally taken place over many months, meaning hundreds and hundreds of meals. Now my system craved the actual nourishment to support the growth that magic had produced in me.
Pomfrey called a house-elf and gave her instructions about the types of foods I needed. "Beji, Mr. Potter will be very hungry, very hungry. Start with what ever the meal was for Paladins yesterday at dinner time, and bring him that. Then bring lunch, dinner, lunch dinner going back until he says to stop."
Beji turned towards me and bowed low, "Anything for the Heir of the First Master." Then she popped away.
"Mr. Potter," Pomfrey said, "do you want to explain that First Master and Heir business to me? Do I even want to know?"
"I told you about Spell Mongery. My long ago ancestor, Telemachus Grind, was the last Spell Monger. His journal is rather hit or miss about explanations, but evidently he also rescued what became the house-elves from some sort of bad fate. Though house-elves exist in a version of enslavement, they revere him for saving them, from what I don't know.
"Grind had no children, but his mother was a Potter. Therefore, I am his heir, though I don't know why no Potter since Grind and before me was considered his heir. Beyond that limited explanation I'm clueless."
That night I ate - and ate and ate and ate. I'd have made three Ron Weasleys at his hungriest, look finicky. Before an hour had passed Centi and Pomfrey were laughing openly at my consumption. I laughed too--between bites.
The next morning Centi and I finished the prescribed huge breakfast by 7:00. She complained about being over weight and not needing so much food, but I held her off and suggested she just follow the plan for a few days and see how her appetite changed with the rigorous exercise regimen designed for us.
I had awakened during the night twice, consuming huge meals each time, and had already eaten three breakfasts before the specified Paladin breakfast that she ate with me. Pomfrey assured me my appetite would lessen soon, and all would be back to normal.
My life normal - what an alien concept.
At that moment Snape swept in, cape billowing behind him, carrying the normal potions for sixth-years in the Paladin Program. He sneered at me and then smiled oddly at Centi. She did not see that as reassuring. When he saw her look my way, his expression grew stormy, and we knew that this truly was our Professor Snape.
"Miss Bulstrode, Potter, these are your next potions. Since you two are no longer synchronized with the others, you are now on a cycle of taking most of your potions at this hour. One day in four you'll take one at 7:00 in the evening instead. Your Paladin 'visits' will vary throughout the day, but since you will be taking most of them together, at least until your safety outside of Potter's house is ascertained, timing with other participants is irrelevant.
"Your house-elves, Potter, charter member of SPEW that you are, have your timetables in the journals they keep for you, since you, Potter, can't be bothered to take responsibility for--"
"That's enough, Severus," Dumbledore interrupted him. "I've asked you not to antagonize any of the students. What did I say that made you think Mr. Potter was excluded from that request?"
A snidget feather could have knocked us all over. Dumbledore had walked in behind Snape and none of us had noticed him. For the hundredth time I wondered how he did that.
"Er, yes, Headmaster," was all Snape managed to say at the moment.
Dumbledore had acted strangely last night after visiting my "family." Uncle Vernon had driven a hard bargain. The Headmaster had to not only provide a large loo for the master bedroom, but Vernon had also held out for another new business account for Grunnings. It was much smaller than the four large accounts Dumbledore had secured for him over the past twenty years, but Vernon was satisfied to have "landed" another new account - Shingleton Kitchenwares, Ltd.
Gaspard Shingleton invented the Self-Stirring Cauldron in 1983. To produce them in quantity required an investment in machinery too large to be supported by the Magical community alone, so Gaspard founded a company shortly after his invention to make kitchenwares of all types. Many upscale Muggle homeowners prized Shingleton pots and pans. The factory needed drills and taps to bore the handle attachment holes in their products.
Aunt Petunia was particularly upset to learn that the kitchenware she aspired to own one day was made by "freaks," but Uncle Vernon couldn't care less, as long as they paid for their purchases in normal script. He did insist that none of their cookware would ever be used in their home.
Dumbledore thought this was a particularly funny tale as he told it, but I wasn't amused. That was soooo like the Dursleys.
So here the Headmaster was, calling down Snape for his snarkiness and ready to watch us take our first Acceleration potions after our entry, my re-entry, into the program at this late date.
I should have known he'd be here for this non-event only if there was the potential for problems.
What was it I said about, 'welcome to my life?'
We both took the phials and looked up to the clock above the fireplace. As the minute hand clicked straight up, we downed the concoctions. There really wasn't much to it as far a flavor goes. It tasted a little like some sort of vegetable.
"ARRGH!" I fell to the floor gasping for breath as I held my gut as tightly as possible. I half-screamed, half groaned again before someone made it over to me. It was Millicent. She should have been preparing for her shakes that would happen a few minutes afterward taking her potion, but she held me much like she had throughout the night I'd endured the Re-Instatement potion.
"Headmaster," Snape called, "I have the Cancellation potions right here--"
"No!" growled Dumbledore. "He's been poisoned, I believe. Let me..."
"But, sir," Snape called, " I brewed this myself. I've sworn to make the potions to the best of my abilities."
"It's not your fault," said Dumbledore.
I barely wondered through my pain 'whose fault was it?' And was that why the old guy was here? He'd suspected something, and didn't forewarn me.
With that thought I passed out. At least I was already in the infirmary this time.
When I came to, I had a very bitter taste in my mouth - like vomit. That was because I had vomited. Dumbledore had hit me with a Regurgitation charm, and I'd tossed up most of the potion and almost all of my last two huge breakfasts.
I was not hungry at the moment.
Dumbledore noticed I was awake and said, "I'm sorry, Harry. There was only a four percent chance that this would happen to you. I didn't think about this until just before it was time for your potions. I thought, 'How could it happen with those odds?' I seem to have forgotten your tendency to defy the odds."
I always try to ignore the fact that compared to my life, that wizard named Murphy - the one who came up with the probability model about things going wrong that was so famous even Muggles throughout the world could quote it from memory--was an optimist.
So, I wheezed out, "What is it this time?"
"You're done with the Paladin potions, Harry."
He was standing near me, almost hovering. When he said this I winced, depressed at failing to be able to go ahead and be a Paladin. Millicent shoved him gently out of the way and leaned over me. I was too dizzy to raise my head for fear it would fall off.
"Harry," she said, "he means you're finished with them. Completed the course. You've made it to the point physically and magically where the rest of us will be on August 21st.
"You have your full physical growth and the magical expansion you would have normally had by your eighteenth birthday. And as you know, the best part is that you've received all the physical growth you'd have had if the Dursleys had fed you properly, and because of your having to resist Voldemort's drain on your magic, you have well over twice the magical power you would have had normally."
She smiled down at me and stated, "So, no more potions for you. You're the first Paladin to complete the summer course and all you have to do is keep up your exercises, study, and eat as you will. Oh, and keep me company as I go through all of this."
The throbbing in my head began to lessen, and I cast a weak smile her way. "Gladly."
So, here it is, Monday about half one in the afternoon. Centi and I landed by Portkey, Dumbledore's Portkey this time, in the back garden of number four, Privet Drive. There was a permanent and very powerful Notice-Me-Not charm on the back garden this summer, so no worries about arriving here in this manner. I'd use it in my own designs soon enough.
Who would have ever thought I'd be glad to be back here?
Back to normality. Yeah, sure. Normality in my life - which means bizarre in the extreme.
We opened the backdoor and I called out. No one answered, and I dared to hope they were gone. I could use several days of never seeing my relatives.
Heck, I could use a lifetime of never seeing my relatives.
Of course I'm not that lucky.
Just as we made it from the kitchen into the corridor leading to the stairs, Dudley walked out of the lounge. The tellie was on. I should have known.
Before I could introduce Centi to Dudley, my world went pear-shaped once again.
My cousin looked at Millicent with obvious lust in his eyes and said, "Helloooo, Beautiful!"
That was unexpected.
Centi stepped forward and rendered him unconscious in one punch.
That wasn't at all unexpected.
Back to normality, Harry Potter style.
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