In the Eye of the Beholder
Chapter Four - The Things I Do For Science
By Aaran St Vines
In the last Chapter
In the last chapter, Severus Snape left the Infirmary furious at Harry. Once he departed the discussion turned to Millicent's request to join the Paladin Program. The Program had been running several weeks, and the last moment she could take the Paladin Catch-Up potion would be right after she had recovered from her surgery. This would put her out of sync for the necessary Paladin visits.
Harry determined to postpone taking the Reactivation potion so he could coordinate his visits with Centi. This was a dangerous and painful decision. When the extreme levels of discomfort from waiting two days to take that potions were described to him, Harry still refused to reactivate any sooner, but asked if there might be any way to reduce his agony."Harry," Dumbledore began, "You've asked the one man who can answer your questions to go away."
I stared at him for a long moment. "Please invite Professor Snape to join us if you will. I'm sure he will delight in discussing how to lessen my pain a bit, since I'm volunteering for a lot more of it."
Considering how furious he was at me, Snape sat impassively during Dumbledore's explanation of the situation. Finally the potions master spoke, "I will prepare Miss Bulstrode's initial potion for two nights from now. Potter's will take a little more time to research thoroughly, he might be able to take a mild pain reliever just before it starts to lessen his discomfort a bit, but only a bit."
He rose to go and I just knew this went entirely too easily. "Excuse me, Professor Snape, I truly mean no disrespect, but after our recent exchanges, you seem entirely too willing to help me. May I ask why?"
Snape gave his trademark sneer, drew his wand but pointed it only up and over his heart. Then he said, "On my magic, I swear I will do my best to make the potions for Harry Potter as correctly and effectively as I possibly can. So mote it be." A silvery light illuminated him for a moment.
After I picked my jaw up off of the floor, and everyone else in the room did likewise, it was McGonagall who had to asked, "Severus, why did you make such a pledge?"
Grinning wickedly Snape said, "Because, Madam, with the maximum dose of pain relieving potions compatible with the mixture I must brew for his exact situation, Potter will be in excruciating pain for at least twelve hours; and on a happier note, by waiting to take it on Friday night rather than tonight as is proper, he will have a one in nineteen chance of dying." He grinned genuinely at me, and said, "Care to wait until Saturday when the odds are one in ten, or how about Sunday when death will be a one in three chance?"
Then Dumbledore spoke up, and what he said went a long way towards healing our present breach.
"Well then, Severus, since this magical oath insists you do all you can to ensure effectiveness, as the commissioner of the brewing series you committed to produce, I remind you that at the outset you also promised you could make all potions safely for each program participant. That is the definition of effectiveness in accomplishing the desired results of the potion in question.
"Therefore, retaining your magic depends on you being able to resolve the aspects of the potion that would kill Mr. Potter. I suggest you begin your research immediately."
Snape turned green and then white. He wordlessly turned and lurched out of the door.
Dumbledore beamed at us and McGonagall quickly asked him if he was mad.
"Perhaps, Minerva, many have said so over the years. However, I have read the brewing instructions for the various forms of the Paladin potions and all the many supporting concoctions, and having been apprenticed by Nicolas Flamel, I am no mean brewer myself. I know of at least one ingredient that will render the potion non-lethal for Harry."
Dumbledore paused and turned my way as he said, "Harry, Severus is correct in one matter, there will be pain; most probably you will pass out from it, but not before experiencing untold agonies. Won't you consider at least starting the potions tomorrow night? Miss Bulstrode will only be one day behind you and we can find enough volunteers to make sure she has companions for all of her Paladin visits."
I pondered this for only a moment. "No, sir. I'll go through this with Centi. I feel honor bound to be with her. She's taking on a great deal because of my words over the last two days. I'll see this through with her. Although, perhaps you'll consider stunning me or something when if it becomes too much for me."
He looked at me for a moment. "I'll check to see if that will be advisable, Harry. If so, I'll do it or see if another spell or charm will do, if no relieving potion is acceptable."
"Thank you, sir. I've been through a lot of pain, just ask Madam Pomfrey, but that doesn't mean I'm looking for more if I can avoid it."
My generally favorable relations with Dumbledore lasted only until the next morning.
The morning began with my going from a dreamless slumber to an annoyed wakefulness in the course of less than a second; the transition was about as unpleasant as other crashes at high speed.
"Hi ya, Mate. We're glad to see you're safe. Whatcha doing sleeping so close to a Slytherin, and that Slytherin particularly?"
The night before Centi and I eye-spoke for quite a while after all the others left us alone. After an hour Pomfrey insisted we try to sleep. Centi's bed was a space away and across from me, and our mediwitch drew a partition between us when we actually slept, but during waking hours we could easily see each other. I insisted on sitting or standing near her as much as possible. I was her only communications link with anyone, and I could only imagine that if the tables were turned I'd want her close by to talk to as well.
"Harry, please take the Paladin potion tonight," Centi eye-spoke to me, "or at least tomorrow night when it will be much less painful than the night I take it. I can go it alone. Dumbledore promised to find all the guys I need to visit with. You've done so much for me. Do this for me too."
It was hard, even after all our practice eye-speaking not to think about just how pretty Centi's eyes were. I guess the ravages of her face made them stand out even more for their beauty. I'm almost sure she didn't "hear" me thinking that.
"No," I eye-spoke back. "I have a feeling you and I are going to be in this together pretty closely. If Snape felt it appropriate to report back that Voldemort wants you dead, you are in danger."
"But, Harry, Dumbledore said I could stay here. And this is the safest place in Great Britain, isn't it?"
"Oh, yeah, for the most part it's safe. Definitely safe from army-sized Death Eater attacks. But do you know how many times I've almost been killed either here at Hogwarts or because of something going on at Hogwarts?"
She painfully shook her head.
"Well, in first year once in the Forbidden Forest, once on the Quidditch pitch, and once when I fought Voldemort who was riding the back of Quirrell's head. In second year once again in the Forbidden Forest, and then in the Chamber of Secrets. Oh, yes, and Filch wanted to strangle me, and Lockhart tried to wipe my mind clean permanently."
I smiled at her. "Then in third year..." The count eventually came to twenty times that I'd been in grave peril while on the very-safe Hogwarts grounds.
"So, what are you saying, Harry?"
I looked down, and decided not to tell her what I was really thinking. I wasn't sure what I was really thinking. Instead, I eye-said, "Just that I want to better understand just how you'll be safer here at Hogwarts before you commit that this is the place for you. Paladin Program or not, you're a major target for Voldemort, apparently up there with Dumbledore and me now. Besides just staying here at Hogwarts, you need to know what other security measures will be in place for you specifically."
I continued, but not mentioning the best method I knew of to protect her - the ultimate solution - which wasn't really what I wanted to do, but I was willing to do it for her safety.
"There is a place outside of Hogwarts. It's not ideal, but convenience takes a back seat to staying alive in my mind these days. I own a house. It's used as a headquarters by a group that Dumbledore leads. They're fighting the Death Eaters. It's even more secure than Hogwarts, but it's also a dreary place, depressing even. I just mention it because I want you to know we have options, you have options. So don't just accept the first plan they give you."
I had time and blood invested in keeping Centi alive. I didn't want Dumbledore to bungle her life away, assuming she was protected like I'd been, safe all these years here at school, or at the Dursleys'.
"Hi ya, Mate. We're glad to see you're safe. Whatcha doing sleeping so close to a Slytherin, and that Slytherin particularly?"
When you miss sleeping completely for a day or more, Hermione would explain much later, you don't really experience the best sleep the first night you go to it. Something about dream cycles and other psychological mumbo-jumbo. Well, when I woke up that particular morning, it was with a vicious headache. One quick potion and it would be gone, but Madam Pomfrey wasn't there just that moment, and the axe in my forehead had me just a bit on edge - -that is ready to spit dragon fire.
"Ron, I hope you're joking," I said sternly.
My tone of voice would tell perfect strangers to tread wary around me, but my best mate Ron was never one to pick up on people's feelings, even if they were broadcasting those feelings with the accompaniment of a brass band.
"What flew up your kazoo, mate?" Ron asked.
No, Ron didn't catch my warning.
"After all, it's just Fattie Bulstrode. I don't know why you even bothered to save--Oof!"
My brain was pounding like a jackhammer, but I still managed to rise swiftly and stick my wand into Ron's face, hitting his right cheek. Hermione had moved to quiet him as well, but I arrived first.
"You bloody, inconsiderate pig!" I said. "She's right here, and probably awake, thanks to your clomping big feet and your ruddy loud mouth. Do you have to insult her too? She's in a bad way, and that's after Pomfrey healed most of what ails her."
During the time I said this Ron's face went from startled, to perplexed, to angry -- at me.
"Why should I care, Harry, and why do you? You remember what she did on the Inquisitorial Squad, don't you? She is fat, isn't she?"
"Yeah," I interrupted. "And you're a carrot top and poor as a church mouse. Do you like it when Malfoy rubs your nose in it?"
He didn't like this, and raised his fists.
"Ron, I have more reason to dislike Millicent than you do, but still, you shouldn't say such things, and you know it. It's only worse with her laying there."
"I come all this way to see him," he said to Hermione, pointing towards me, "and he jumps down my throat."
"Did you came all this way," I retorted, "to insult Millicent, mate?"
"No," Ron replied, straightening his non-existent lapels on his shirt, "that was just a bonus. Dumbledore sent us to see how you're doing and to try to figure out what's up with you and Bulstrode."
"Ron," Hermione tried to intervene. Ginny hadn't said a thing in this unreal start of a hospital visit. Whatever she was thinking, she sure looked uncomfortable.
Ron threw off Hermione's warning hand, which I've heard is not a good thing for a boyfriend to do. He said, "Blimey, mate, why are you all so fired up over Bulstrode? I understand it's your 'saving-people-thing' to charge in and fight those Death Eaters, but couldn't you leave her there for the Aurors? Even Dumbledore doesn't understand. That's why he sent us."
"Ron!" Hermione tried harder to interrupt his tirade. It might have gone better if she'd had a mallet - but then again, this was classic Ron, so maybe not.
"He sent for us," Ron charged ahead, "and asked us to talk sense into you. He said you're going to spend good Galleons, putting her face back together, maybe even trying to make her prettier."
"And you're thinking maybe I should use the money to buy you a new broom instead, huh Ron?"
Ron's face gave away his desire, but before he could say anything...
"Silencio!" Hermione shut him up, and none too soon. Ginny pulled Ron back and away from the two of us. Ginny always was good for direct action.
Hermione stepped between Ron and me, and then turned to face me. "Harry, please ignore my prat of a boyfriend. He and I will have a long chat about manners and priorities, I promise."
She took a deep breath and turned her withering gaze on Ron, who duly shrunk before her stare.
She turned back to me and continued, "We're here to see about you, and Millicent. You two have been through a lot together. I understand your ties, having been in more than one fight by your side. Our fights didn't last as long, we weren't hurt as badly as either of you were, and we didn't have to kill anyone, but still, I think I understand how you feel."
She paused and took a breath, looking at Ron who now had the good sense to look down in embarrassment. "We're just concerned about you, both you and her, but since you're our friend we are understandably more concerned about you."
I looked into her eyes for several silent moments. I turned and looked at Ginny, who was staring at Centi at that second. Then I looked at Ron. He looked at me with an unfathomable gaze, one telling me he didn't understand me at all, or so I guessed.
"Ron, you're my best mate." I looked over to Ginny. "And Ginny, you stood by me in the Department of Mysteries, for which I'm eternally grateful." I turned and faced Hermione. "You know you're my best friend, don't you, Hermione?"
She nodded and I stated, "I believe you when you say you're concerned about me, but Ron let the kneazle out of the bag. Dumbledore sent you, and none of you denied it just now. None of you understand why I'm concerned about Centi, and for that I'm a little ashamed of you, all of you."
I knew saying 'Centi' caught their attention, so I gave a quick explanation of why I'd adopted her childhood nickname.
I paused for a deep breath. Hermione tried to speak but I cut her off. "There are a lot of reasons why I'm mad at Dumbledore right now, but I'm not going to go into them this moment. If you ask him and he tells you, and you're not mad at him after he explains, then he didn't tell you everything. Some of it, a lot of it, is secret to the war effort, so let's leave it for now.
"But specifically at the moment I'm mad at him because he refused to help Centi until I forced him to. Look at her." She was awake and gazing at me with her broken, frozen face. I gave her a look, and she nodded her head. "She'll be the first to admit she never was much to look at but her face is a wreck now. Her tongue was nearly chopped off and if a specialist doesn't work on her, she'll never be able to talk clearly and she'll look pretty much like she looks now, only without the bruising."
I took a deep breath, and no one tried to say anything.
"She and I fought together. They killed all of her family right before her eyes. I saw most of them die." This wasn't going to work. They'd all fought by my side and thought they understood. "It's not like when we fought together."
When I said "not like when we fought together" I circled my finger to include the other Gryffindors in the hospital room. They all gave me a resentful look, expressing that they thought they were my better battle companions. I had to make it more personal, more real to them what Centi and I had been through.
"Ron," I said grasping at an idea. "You and your family have been longtime fighters for the Light, followers of Dumbledore, and my friend. You've treated me like I was a one of you, a black-haired Weasley, and I'm ever so grateful."
He nodded, and so did Ginny.
"Now imagine, one day Dumbledore, the Order, and I showed up at the Burrow and killed everyone. You were the lone survivor and the only one to help you was Draco Malfoy."
Ron's face showed that I'd just sprained his imagination. "That would never happen!"
"Of course it wouldn't," I stated. "That's why I said 'imagine' it happening.
"All your family is dead, the Burrow is badly damaged, and everybody you used to think was on your side wants to kill you." I paused here and he seemed to be thinking about it. At least he didn't say anything and a quick glance at Ginny and Hermione's faces showed me they started to see where I was going.
"Now, imagine, Ron, that Draco, as preposterous as it sounds, stood by you through several terrible days, helping you and saving your life when you couldn't hardly help yourself."
Still no response from Ron when I paused a second time.
I plunged ahead. "Now here's where my example breaks down. Draco isn't like me. We all know I have this 'saving-people-thing' that Hermione so clearly pointed out, and I can't let Centi down. Draco would sell out his friends just for practice.
"I'm not like that, but Centi has been living in the scenario I just described for you. Voldemort sent her brother, to kill his own family, only he didn't know that. When he arrived and realized the targets were his own family, he turned on the other Death Eaters, and was the first to die. Centi's Muggle grandmother was the next to die."
All three looked up jolted by that revelation.
"Yes, her grandmother is the reason they were attacked. Voldemort learned that the Bulstrodes had a living Muggle in the family and decided to purge that stain. Death Eaters killed her brother, then her grandmother. I showed up right after that. I saw the Dark Mark hovering over their house from the road, and did the 'typical Harry' and charged in to the rescue, and you know what? I don't regret it for a second. I saw her mother take a Killing Curse right in front of Centi. I started attacking. Centi, her Dad, and I got several, but then he was killed.
"By the time we stopped the rest of the Death Eaters, Centi was hurt fairly badly. I helped her and more Death Eaters came. We fought them and she was hurt again, and so was I. We fought our way out of there but a Death Eater escaped to tell the others I was with her and we were flying together on my broom."
I took a deep breath and continued a little less frantically. "I felt like the Death Eaters would be waiting for us between her farm and Little Whinging. I couldn't think of anywhere else to go but Hogwarts. I don't really know where in England the Burrow is, and the same with headquarters in London. You remember the Department of Mysteries. You don't think clearly. The magic detectors were down in the area of her farm, so the Aurors wouldn't come for the Dark Mark. Therefore I just headed north."
"Why didn't you call the Knight Bus, Harry?" Hermione asked.
"Maybe for the same reason we didn't call it before we went to the Department of Mysteries; we didn't think of it. It would have been faster and less dangerous than the Thestrals - assuming that the Death Eaters hadn't compromised it, which is an interesting question." I turned this back on Hermione. She immediately realized her own personal experience of not thinking clearly under the pressures of an emergency.
I gave the bare highlights of the story after that point - tastefully bypassing my introduction into the world of feminine hygiene products
"I flew through the night with Centi strapped to a board and hanging under my Firebolt. You can imagine, Ron, my broom didn't like that, so we went very slowly. I guess about fifteen to twenty-five miles per hour, and we were low to the ground sneaking around Muggle towns and going through forests whenever possible, to avoid being seen by Death Eaters.
I told them about Dawlish attacking us. I told about the Death Eaters throughout the day and hiding in the barn. I told them about flying through the night in the storm. I told them about falling asleep under the stone ledge, not too far from Hogwarts. I finally and briefly told of how badly we were hurt, how Centi was dying, after we were discovered and attacked by the large group of Death Eaters the morning before. I finished the tale by telling about making a Portkey and arriving here just in time for Madam Pomfrey to save Centi's life.
I'd thought of going into all that occurred with Snape, McGonagall, and Dumbledore after we'd arrived here, but first I wanted to see if they understood. I knew by the look on her face that Hermione wanted to ask how I made a Portkey, so I addressed Ron.
"Can you see, Ron? Can you see why I'm so concerned about her?"
There were so many emotions on his face I couldn't begin to read him, and I can usually read Ron better than most, other than Hermione, his girlfriend, and maybe Ginny.
I don't know what emotion it was, but Ron looked at me almost pleading for this to go away.
A single finger snap interrupted our conversation. We all looked over towards Centi, and she beckoned us, or at least me, to her side.
I engaged eye-speak. "What's up, Centi? Are you hurting?"
"Hurting for you. I admit I understand your friends' hesitation about me, but I don't care for their lack of faith in you."
In the midst of all of this, I needed to defend them to a degree, although only a bit. "They've seen me make bad decisions before, but I think this is mostly Dumbledore's work.
"I have an idea. This may not mean as much to Granger being a Muh--sorry, being Muggleborn, but the Weasleys should understand and respect this. Hand me my wand."
I did so; glad I had thought to gather it before I made my Portkey yesterday. She took it in her working hand and 'said' to me, "Repeat out loud the words I'm going to say."
She eye-spoke and I repeated out loud, "Harry Potter, I, Millicent Jeanne Bulstrode do make a Witch's Pledge to you this day. I pledge to serve you in this crusade against the Dark Lord and against all of his minions. No boon that is mine to grant will I withhold from you. I further pledge to train my best to be prepared, to help you, however you ask, and to follow you into the gates of Hell, if need be, to destroy that evil git and his followers. This pledge lasts until such time that you may release me, but not until the jumped up half-blood named Tom Riddle is dead. Upon my life, upon my honor and that of the family Bulstrode and most importantly, upon my magic, do I so pledge."
A soft white glow surrounded her for a moment. Ron and Ginny gasped when the glow appeared. Hermione seemed startled by these events. I didn't really understand anything about a Witch's Pledge, but I recognized a Magical Binding when I saw it, even though I didn't know what it was called.
I looked at Ron to see his reaction to this. He was obviously confused, but he finally shook his head once and blurted out, "But Dumbledore said it not right and she's still a Slytherin--"
I was more than ready to go ballistic.
"Out of here, all of you. Madam Pomfrey!" I shouted for the mediwitch.
"All three of you leave."
They all started to protest, and even dense-as-a-door Ron finally realized he'd said the wrong thing. I didn't address a word they said, but when Poppy arrived seconds later, looking upset at the noisy disorder in her Infirmary, I used her to have my way.
"Madam Pomfrey. These visitors are upsetting your patients. They've been very rude to Miss Bulstrode, and I feel I'm losing ground because of them."
"All right you lot," she said. "Out with you, I might let you back in after you learn to behave, but only after Miss Bulstrode's surgery and they've both taken their potions to rejoin the Paladin Program. Out. Out! Now!"
I backed up immediately as Pomfrey spoke, and watched my friends leave.
Yeah, they were my friends - without a clue-- but they were still my friends.
Friends that I was enraging and cold-shouldering for the sake of a person who would have been number four or five on my enemy list, just seventy-two hours ago.
Well, I didn't think their cluelessness was irreversible. Of course, looking at Ginny and Hermione, those two seemed to understand, for the most part. Ron was the problem, and since Hermione was his girlfriend and Ginny his sister, they were tasked with setting him straight. I'd rather face detention with Snape for a week.
Breakfast was delivered by house-elves shortly after those three left. I had a typical Hogwarts meal of potatoes, eggs, rashers of bacon, and pumpkin juice with toast and my preferred coffee. Half way into gulping it down just a little less crudely than Ron, I realized Pomfrey was feeding Centi a concoction through a straw.
I dropped my fork and went to my comrade in arms, re-engaged my Eye-Speak spell and asked her how her meal was. I tried to tell her the food wasn't that particularly good this morning, but she wasn't buying it.
I hovered nearby on the right side of her bed. She held the beaker with a Nutrient potion in her one good hand. Pomfrey sat on the left side watching her.
"Ask her, Mr. Potter, if she can drink this down easily. I thinned it a bit, with water, but she really can't consume too much at this point with surgery coming soon, so I know she's hungry."
I looked into her eyes. "Please tell her, Harry, that if I go slowly, I can take it past my tongue without difficulty. I'm hurting some, and... I'm worried, Harry, so I've lost most of my appetite." She then smiled with her eyes tiredly, and eye-spoke, "Who knew that I'd start a really effective diet this summer?" It was a weak attempt at humor, but I chuckled nonetheless.
I relayed her words to Poppy, and then the matron shooed me back to my food before it went cold. Reluctantly I went, and I only wanted to eat just a little while Centi watched me, but I lost that effort. I was so hungry from our days of forced fasting and near-constant adrenalin pumping rush. Even though I was off of the Acceleration potions at the moment, I had the cumulative effects in my body also driving my hunger. I wolfed the large meal down, and our mutual healing angel insisted Centi and I take a nap before Binderly arrived.
Looking back, I think she drugged our food.
My forced nap lasted a good long time. Binderly showed up later than I'd hoped. A quick consult with Pomfrey and we collectively decided to leave Centi asleep - she'd be really hurting by now, and the healers didn't want to give her a generic pain reliever when surgery was imminent given the fact that she'd need a different potion to keep her knocked out.
That didn't encourage me not to worry.
Binderly was one of the few people I've ever met who never looked at my scar. Oh, it's not like he ignores me; he stated that he was glad to meet me, as he'd heard my name before, but it wasn't a fan talking, just someone who recognized that I had somehow done something to become famous.
"Mr. Potter," Binderly addressed me. He'd called me Harry at my request during our introduction, but now we were on a more formal footing, as he was playing the part of consulting physician. "I understand from the Headmaster that you are the interested party who called for me. I understand that Miss Bulstrode has consented to this operation, and you are acting in her stead."
I hadn't realized just how formal such a declaration sounded, but I didn't hesitate to nod in agreement.
"The basic medical contract I have with St. Mungo's, and by extension, Hogwarts, will cover reattaching her tongue and fixing what's broken. That will take little time and can be done by nearly any competent magical surgeon. She'd look a wreck though. To reconstruct her face, since I am not in a teaching environment, will require additional charges. I assume you have a picture of her as she was, for basic reconstruction?"
I nodded my head. We had Centi's family album on the table.
"That cost will be roughly 200 Galleons, barring complications, as a favor to Poppy here, who I regard highly. Now, to improve on the original face, the charges and time needed go up. Does she want me to use my own judgment? Has she picked a famous face to emulate? That decision is always sticky unless the face picked shares similar structure. Or do you have some other face to work towards?"
The last time we'd spoken Centi had insisted I only ask for her to be put back the way she had been, even just near to that to save the Galleons. Her pain had been increasing at that moment, and I didn't argue with her much; I'd assumed this would be an easy decision when it arrived.
Some times I can be so shortsighted.
Part of me assumed that someone else would make these decisions, but no one else was stepping forward, which I finally realized. I stepped over and picked up the family album.
"This is a picture of Centi taken at Christmas of this year," I said. "It moves to give you a good shot of her face from left, right, and center." I took the album back after a few seconds and a single nod from him. I then flipped towards the front. "This is a picture of her at about three years old. 'Similar facial structures' is the term I believe you used, since it is her face, but this was a very cute little round-faced girl." I hesitated before my next statement. "She once said that her grown up face 'went wrong.' Can you take your artistic talents and make her look like a grown up version of this cute little girl?"
He took the album from me and flipped back and forth, several times. "She's left this in your hands, Mr. Potter?"
I hated that he was making me face the responsibility so starkly, but this is an adult-level decision to make; one a parent or spouse would make, not some teenaged kid. Yet, who else did Centi have? I'd rather give the decision duty to Filch than Snape, and it seemed pretty obvious Dumbledore and Pomfrey were abdicating to me.
Then I remembered the last thing she said early this morning before she asked for a stronger Pain potion. "Harry, just tell him to put me back together as I was, or just as best he can to save money. I'll trust you with anything that comes up while I'm under."
That was it. I'd already decided to reject completely the idea of going the low cost route just to save money. Her pain-racked and timid question about making her look prettier, which she rejected moments later - that was the cry of her heart. To make her look like someone else would open her up to ridicule and scorn. In the little time I'd really known her, I couldn't imagine she'd welcome that scrutiny. And just saying to Binderly 'do what you think best to make her more attractive' would be placing too much trust in the hands of a man admittedly an expert, but still an unknown quantity.
Well, Potter, I thought, you chastised Snape and Dumbledore for not doing right by Centi. Time to act on her interests as best you can.
"Yes, Mr. Binderly, She's left this in my hands."
Pomfrey said, "Mr. Potter, in America surgeons are addressed as "Doctor.'"
"That doesn't matter, Poppy," Binderly stated matter-of-factly. "Mr. Potter, if Miss Bulstrode gave you authority it's proper for you to decide, doubly so since you're paying me." With this he cut his eyes to the Headmaster momentarily. Dumbledore had the good grace to look away.
Binderly continued, "Wanting to go with a grown version of Miss Bulstrode as a child is for the most part a wise decision. People who want to look like someone else never find the satisfaction they think they'll achieve. Most ask for a nip here and a tuck there, which are the easiest changes to adjust to.'
'With major reconstructive surgery like this, improvements are usually significant. To improve on a younger version of the same person stands the best chance for satisfaction with the changes. However, the complication for going with a grown up version of her as a child is that it takes longer to accomplish. Subtleties require more time and effort than massive changes.
"There's no danger in it taking too much time. I've performed operations two and three times longer than this. Miss Bulstrode will suffer in no way. The issue now is cost. I told you 200 Galleons to put her back together as she was, and seeing her face in the pictures I'll stick by that amount. If you were to tell me to do what I think to make her a bit prettier, that would be 500 Galleons.
"To give her someone else's face would cost between 700 and 1000 Galleons, if possible at all. Her face is basically round with a large chin. I can't put a long thin face on her - the bone's just don't support that.
"Updating her childhood face on her existing facial structure will require much more time and artistry as I said. Her jaw has grown beyond all proportion with her face at her younger age. When I'm done, she'll still be big jawed, but a number of beautiful women have large jaws.
"Do you know the American actresses, Sigourney Weaver or Melanie Griffith?"
I shook my head, no.
"Well, it doesn't matter. American magicals watch movies much more than you do here in England. But suffice it to say both women are considered very attractive and both have large jaws.
"In addition to her jaw, I'll have to shave her cheek bones down and do a little restructuring of her nose. She told you that her face 'went wrong.' I'd never use such a phrase professionally, but to make it 'go right' requires a lot of time under the knife. Just one example more: her eyes need to be placed just a little further apart. It would hardly be noticed on many people, but on her it will make her smile much less a sneer. I'll move her brow lines accordingly and that will add to the improved effect."
He stopped here and looked directly at me. He'd been glancing to Pomfrey and Dumbledore all along but now he held my gaze only. "I see her sneering and sometimes scowling in a number of her more current school pictures. She never did in her pictures before Hogwarts. That's a choice, not an expression. If she still only scowls and sneers, surgery will not make her a more pleasant person."
"Did Professor Dumbledore tell you how she came to be here?" He nodded and I continued, "Her family's gone, and her house mates are a rather snide, sarcastic, sneering, and scowling bunch--"
"Now, Harry--" Dumbledore tried to interrupt.
I ignored the Headmaster and didn't even look his way. Pomfrey called his name with a reprimanding tone, and he said no more.
"She's now my friend and has reason to distance herself from them to a degree," I stated firmly. Binderly's raise eyebrows gave me the impression he knew I wasn't really speaking to him. "As for sarcasm, I'm beginning to see its value in certain conversations, so we'll leave that for later. Please continue, Doctor."
"Well, Harry, all of this time and expertise doesn't come cheap. I'll give you the discount for my services I'd give Poppy, but the equipment and my technician and assistant, well, I can't short-change them. The cost to do what you want for your friend will be 1500 Galleons."
Without hesitation I turned to Dumbledore and asked, "Did you call Dobby when I was found?"
"Yes, Harry," he responded, "But we must discuss this. It's not proper for a young man to spend so much money on a young lady to whom he's not related, or betrothed."
"Headmaster," I let the anger rise in my voice. "When you want to discuss propriety, we'll discuss why I went to the Dursleys as a baby, and how you could have left me there with no one checking on how badly I was being treated for years. We'll also discuss why my friends attacked me about Millicent this morning."
I turned from him, ignored Binderly and Pomfrey staring at me wide-eyed, and called for my house-elf.
Dobby popped in and attached himself to my leg, all in one motion. "Dobby is too pleased to see the great Harry Potter is well. Dobby has been preparing Harry Potter's food and will be do so for Harry Potter's Centi, but Professor Dumbles has not allowed Dobby to visit Harry Potter--"
I interrupted Dobby saying, "Unless Madam Pomfrey disallows it, as this is her infirmary, you can visit me as you wish, if you remain calm and out of her way or the doctor's way. You know when to make yourself scarce. You're mine now, and I'm yours, we're friends, remember?"
Dobby almost exploded after hearing what I'd just said. I knew if he started his usual gushing it would take too long to stop. "I have an assignment for you, Dobby."
He stood up straight. "Yes sir, Harry Potter SIR."
"Go to Gringotts and ask for a bank draft for 1500 Galleons, made out to Doctor Timothy Binderly."
Dobby snapped his fingers and a small clipboard appeared with a Gringotts limited power of attorney on it.
Binderly interrupted, "Harry, this isn't necessary, I trust you're good for it--"
"No, Doctor, I want this settled right now, not just for your sake."
"Well, then, if you insist, Harry. Dobby, please have the draft made out to Binderly Surgical Associates, LLP. "
Dobby snapped his fingers again and then handed me the clipboard and a quill. I signed and he was gone instantly.
Binderly said, "I'm going to take these two pictures out - actually, several more also. All right?"
"Let's get started. Poppy, may I use this Floo?"
The doctor called St.Mungo's and was connected to his two staff members. He asked that they Portkey in with the equipment needed. Dumbledore told him the Hogwarts wards would not allow normal Portkeys, and offered to go to the hospital and make special Portkeys with authorized clearances.
I thought he just wanted to avoid talking to me.
In minutes Dobby was back with the draft and then left again to fix lunch for all of us. I asked Binderly what he wanted to eat after telling Dobby my choices, and he and Poppy asked for the same. I thought Madam Pomfrey was a bit surprised I included her in my meal plans, and I made one of many mental notes this day to include her in more of such niceties in the future.
In no time a major portion of the infirmary was cordoned off and converted into a surgical theatre. Binderly told me that it would be evening before he finished, and Poppy offered to stay nearby just in case.
I refused to leave. I wanted to know what was going on. Even though the cordoned off area was sound-proof and opaque, I wanted to be near. I stated that I didn't want anything to interfere, which was left hanging as no one inquired about what I meant. I would not put it past Snape to come in and interrupt everything, but refused to say so because I thought if I did, then Dumbledore would surely insist I leave, as if my leaving would improve the greasy git's reliability.
My foresight would prove me prescient, though not for anything having to do with Snape.
Pomfrey told me I was released from her care until the next evening when I would take the Reactivation potion to rejoin the Paladin Program. After the Doctor began, I took a shower and put on the newly purchased clothes Dobby retrieved from Privet Drive.
As the surgery started, Dobby told me that he'd been frantic for my safety while I was gone. A house-elf cannot find his master if they are not in the same building or on the same property. That's why Dobby had been traveling with Lucius Malfoy the day I freed him.
When Petunia explained to Bill Weasley about my gallivanting off across country talking of Death Eater attacks, Dobby had popped to every location he could imagine where I might be. He followed the line of thinking the Order of the Phoenix took; that I'd be heading towards Surrey. By the time he'd identified the Bulstrode farm from house-elves who took shelter in the Ministry of Magic, I'd been too long gone for his magic to reach out to me.
"Harry Potter SIR must Monger a spell to allow Harry Potter SIR to call Dobby from any location. Dobby will assist Harry Potter SIR in using the Monger's Spell Scrutinizer on the bond between us to create this magic. Many good house-elves would work extra jobs to pay Harry Potter SIR for the spell for their masters and mistresses."
"I'll find a way to charge the owners, Dobby, they'll be the ones to benefit." "Oh, no, Harry Potter SIR, house-elves would benefit more in being more available to serve."
I wasn't going to argue with Dobby, but I'd figure a way to make it not cost the elves if it came to that.
As much as Dobby liked to be with me and I liked to have him around, particularly when I was living at Privet Drive, he felt the need to make himself scarce in the infirmary. Dumbledore left me when I pulled out one of the many books Dobby brought to occupy me during the long wait. The Headmaster came back in a couple of hours to check in, and pulled out a scroll and conjured a plush purple chair to sit in.
Maybe he wanted to read the scroll, or maybe he wanted to wait with me but not have the conversation I'd alluded to earlier. Who knew? I figured Minerva McGonagall probably knew him better than anyone else I'd ever heard of, and I've seen her flummoxed by him on a number of occasions over the years, and she's as poker-faced as anyone I've met.
"Professor," I asked, "Where is Remus Lupin?" Remus and I had grown fairly close since the reading of Sirius' will. We both think of him as my guardian now, though we see each other only sporadically.
"I sent him on a mission to the werewolves of Ireland. He is supposed to be back by the middle of next week. As I understand it, you two weren't going to see each other until then, so he asked me to tell only if you inquired before his return. I have no way to contact him."
I shook my head and returned to my book. Remus told me he would go to Ireland soon for that purpose, and said not to worry if he did. He'd have Dumbledore or another member of the Order tell me if he couldn't and wouldn't be back whenever we were to meet.
"So, he heard from Collin Flaherty, then?"
Dumbledore nodded. Flaherty was an old friend of my guardian's, and a werewolf who informally ran a peaceful wolf pack near County Cork. Remus told me the two of them planned to work on some of the less peaceful groups in that country.
The Headmaster and I read in silence for nearly half an hour.
This far north there is hardly ever a problem with insects. Today the windows near the surgery area were closed, but at the opposite end of the infirmary a number of windows were open, and a small breeze made its way through the room.
In the spring and early autumn, we've occasionally had a few birds fly into Hogwarts, mostly sparrows and the like. It usually takes a professor or even a seventh-year a moment to cast a gentle Repelling charm to send it on its way. A general charm to repel birds would make it difficult, if not impossible, for owls to deliver their posts.
The operation was into its fourth hour, and the sun was about half way through its slow descent into the west. I looked up to see a robin and a small hawk fly in the window together - which struck me as odd. The hawk had some sort of rodent in its talons, though not a rat. The hawk quickly morphed into a Death Eater and transfigured the other two back to humans. I was leaning back on what had been my hospital bed and it took me the time they transformed to stand and draw my wand, all the time shouting for Professor Dumbledore's attention. One attacker shouted Ramah! and then turned and pointed his wand at the surgery area. The other two aimed at us.
Poppy Pomfrey walked from behind the partition at that moment, and had her wand drawn, levitating a tray of soiled instruments. Dumbledore and I were on our feet but she saved the day, at her own expense. She dropped the tray and put up a weak Shield spell to stop whatever magic the third Death Eater cast towards her. She probably knew her limitations as to its power and angled it noticeably. The three assailants were shouting incantations in a language I didn't recognize, but their spell work was effective.
It was some sort of Blasting curse that hit Pomfrey's Shield, deflecting off to her right. She, however, took much of the force from the Blaster and flew back into a cabinet, crumpling to the floor.
Dumbledore was closest to the two attacking us, and he stepped in front of me, which was valiant and all that, but it cut off my line of fire. That proved fortuitous because when I stepped around him, I was at the perfect angle to hit the third Death Eater. I wasn't using half measures, so I hit him with as strong a Reductor as I could produce, stopping the second spell he was trying to shoot at the downed Pomfrey. My Reductor appeared to fold him in half backwards and sent him into a heap not far from our mediwitch.
Dumbledore spent entirely too much time with fancy Transfigurations and one of the attackers turned from him and pointed his wand at the cordoned off surgical space. My Cutting curse relieved him of his wand arm - lucky for me, because I'd aimed at his body. He grabbed at his stump and screamed, and my next Reducto hit him in the head, which disappeared in a spray of gore. The rest of him crumpled like a dropped robe.
I turned to the final Death Eater just as Dumbledore captured him with a Body-Bind curse.
"Harry, did you have to kill those two?"
"If I'd spent my time swapping spells with the first one the second one would have killed someone behind the partition. That was the Killing Curse he was casting at the end, the only words they spoke that I understand."
"I've heard a number of Slavic languages in my days," said the Headmaster. "That first word was 'Raham,' I believe, which means attack in Hungarian if I'm not mistaken."
We had time to discuss this because Binderly had walked out of the surgery and was tending to Pomfrey.
"I'll help her, Doctor," Dumbledore said, "You return to your work."
He didn't stop, but said, "No, I was just stopping to take a short break. Our soundproofing kept us from hearing the excitement out here. It was a good time for this if it had to occur. She'll be fine. Nothing's broken. "Ennervate!"
Pomfrey awoke, and Dumbledore levitated her to a bed. "You take your break, Doctor," the Headmaster said, "What can we do for her?"
He said, "A Headache potion will probably suffice, but please watch her. If she goes forgetful or loopy on you for the next hour or so call St. Mungo's for another mediwitch. That would mean a concussion."
I had Dobby bring Binderly and his assistants' refreshments. One technician stayed with Centi and would trade off with the other after half of the break. The Headmaster had to order Madam Pomfrey to stay in bed for the allotted hour. I chided her about being a bad patient, but her withering stare convinced me she wasn't in the mood, and I needed to be somewhere else in the room.
Only after all of this did we turn to the prisoner. Dumbledore insisted we call the Aurors, which was proper. I wanted to call Tonks or Shacklebolt, but the Headmaster went through channels and called the Ministry. In half an hour or so two Aurors Dumbledore barely remembered from their years at Hogwarts came and took the prisoner. Dumbledore told them about the Hungarian, but they seemed unimpressed.
What really caught their attention when Dumbledore let slip that I was the one who killed the other two.
"All right. Potter, we're taking you in for their deaths. You can't just go around killing people," said the one called Barksdale.
I gave the Headmaster a look that would have clotted cream, and he rose to my defense.
"Gentlemen, I give you my word Mr. Potter acted only in self-defense, and in the defense of the innocent. His actions, more than mine, saved lives. I was too occupied in capturing this one, and either of the other two would have killed had it not been for Harry's actions."
"That's all and well and good--"
"Mr. Barksdale," Dumbledore interrupted him. "Do you really want me to come with you to Auror Headquarters to discuss with Madam Bones and perhaps even the Wizengamot why you're treating the Boy-Who-Lived in this manner?"
Barksdale started to insist, "Our orders from the Minister--"
The other Auror, one Archie Jakes, grabbed his shoulder and spun Barksdale into conference before that last sentence was completed.
We both watched the two Aurors, glancing at each other only once, both of us curious.
Jakes said eventually, "You'll come in Professor and give a full report, and memories for our records?"
"Of course, gentlemen; I'll be there tomorrow morning by 10:00 at the latest.
They left with the prisoner after Transfiguring the two bodies into wooden planks, shrinking them, and placing them in a satchel.
During all of this, Centi's operation continued. Neither of the Aurors asked about the cordoned off section in the back of the infirmary. But both looked that way often.
Moments after the door closed, I said, "I don't trust them; something's not right. They were more interested in taking me in than the prisoner. I know Fudge hates me, well, he hates the both of us for that matter, but these two seem suspicious beyond being Fudge lackeys."
"Now, Harry," Dumbledore began. "I'm sure they only seek to do their duty."
"Always giving people the benefit of the doubt," I sneered.
"Like I did you, Harry, in your second year when you'd discovered you could hear voices in the wall, and refused to tell me?"
This set me off, and rightly so. "You see no difference? No difference between a second-year keeping a personal secret and two fully grown Aurors, people who said they were acting on the orders of Cornelius Fudge, the man who tried to ruin both of us last year and succeeded in driving you out of your office? There's no difference in your mind between childhood evasions of a boy under major pressure from an entire school that thinks he's a monster and two Aurors who want to take me in more than the Death Eater who invaded your school, and attacked people under your protection?"
Once again the Headmaster had the good grace to look down. I seemed to be on a one-man mission in the last day to drive the wool stuffing out from between his ears. I decided I'd give him one more push and give us both a reason to drop the subject.
I smiled to lighten the mood. "I'll wager with you, Professor, a Galleon, that their Death Eater will never make it to Azkaban. As a matter of fact, I'll wager the same Galleon he won't even be in Ministry custody in three days."
Dumbledore smiled back. "The academic handbook says that I'm not allowed to wager with students, but let's just say we'll wait and see if you're right."
Poppy interrupted us. She kicked her feet around and off of the bed. "Well, this has been educational, gentlemen, but my hour of resting is up and I feel fine. No dizziness, which is a lesser but still important sign compared to being incoherent. So, I'm back to work.
"Mr. Potter, thank you for stopping my attacker. I no more recognized the incantation he was about to cast than either of you, but I doubt it would have been beneficial to my health."
She looked at us with a professional eye. "Were either of you two hit by any curse or hex? Particularly you, Mr. Potter, you usually suffer some damage."
"You're right, Madam, but this must be a special day. I just went through a fight and wasn't hurt at all. Dobby."
"You called Harry Potter SIR?" the elf asked batting his eyes, as he was so glad I'd called.
"Yes, Dobby. We'd like a little celebration for surviving another attack. Madam Pomfrey wasn't hurt too badly, and I survived without a scratch."
"Dobby is mostest pleaseded that Harry Potter SIR is unharmed. "Tis a miracle. What would Harry Potter SIR like?"
I looked at Dumbledore, turned back to Dobby, and smiled. "Can you prepare lemon-flavored biscuits, Dobby?"
I woke up Friday morning realizing I was in the Infirmary, but forgetting for a moment what day it was. The doctor would remove Centi's bandages at three this afternoon, but she would be waking up before then and could speak. Her tongue was fixed, and her mouth was held in a slightly open position. Her speech would be a bit slurred, but she'd be understandable. No more Eye-Speak needed.
At 6:00 that evening we'd eat a hearty dinner especially designed to aid the Reactivation potions catch up Centi with those already in the Paladin Program, and to reinstate me in said program.
It was after 7:00 a.m. when I awoke, but she slept on. Pomfrey encouraged me to remain quiet. Centi had no potions in her system but was sleeping because she was still exhausted. Noise could wake her, but more sleep would be better.
I stepped to the far end of the infirmary, and called Dobby for breakfast.
I read through the morning until Centi awoke, some time after 10:00.
"Harry." Her voice was a bit garbled, but she was easily understandable.
I looked up and went to her bedside. "Good morning. How do you feel?" "Odd." After a few long moments she asked, "Am I supposed to have all these bandages on my face?"
I could hear a bit of panic in her voice.
"Yes, nothing to worry about. The doctor said he'd be back about 3:00 to unwrap you. 'Unveil you' I think was how he put it. You'll notice, if you haven't already, that your jaw is still locked in place but open a little. You can speak, but without moving it." I went on to explain her vocal limitations so that wouldn't cause her concern either.
Pomfrey came out and examined her. All was well, and we all sighed in relief.
"So," Centi asked as Pomfrey finished. "Anything exciting happen while I was in surgery?"
"Oh, nothing much. I read. Dumbledore sat with me."
"Mr. Potter, your modesty is inappropriate." I tried to wave her off, but both Centi and Poppy wouldn't stand for it. Soon the mediwitch was regaling Centi with the saga of the 'Battle of the Infirmary' as she called it. I huffed and sighed, and returned to my chair at the foot of Centi's bed. The term battle is used too often for what Mr. Granger calls a simple firefight.
"Thanks, Harry." With the bandages I could see less emotion on Centi's face than when she was in stasis. Her eyes weren't as visible.
"It looks like my new job is killing Death Eaters." I waved off her thanks. "Hey, do you want to know what you're supposed to look like?"
Her head tilted and she said, "You were supposed to just tell the doctor to put me back together as best he could with as little effort as possible." I snorted. "Yeah, like I'd ever let that happen to a friend of mine if I could help it." I walked over to her with her three-year-old picture from the album. I held it out, but not so she could see the image. "I asked him to make you look like this cute little girl, or as best as he could. He said no one can look exactly like someone else, but he could make the best of a particular face applied to the facial structure of an existing person." I turned the picture around. "Since this is you younger, he expects the end result to be pretty close."
She looked at the picture almost as if she didn't recognize who it was. Quietly she stated after almost a minute, "That picture caused my Dad to refer to me as his princess for over a year."
"So I should call you 'Princess Centi'?"
She looked up, her expression still unreadable through the bandages. After a pause, "Do it and die, Potter."
In our relief, Poppy, Centi, and I laughed longer than was warranted by that comment.
Centi couldn't chew with her jaw locked in place, so she had a big breakfast of watered down porridge, and some creamed potatoes. Pomfrey had her swirl each bite around in her mouth before swallowing to mix saliva in with the food and start digestion. Lunch went similarly with a soup made of pureed vegetables and chicken.
Centi's appetite was back and she ate a lot of the mashed mess. I ate heartily too.
Doctor Binderly arrived a little ahead of schedule, and examined her with several different Diagnostic spells.
"Miss Bulstrode, did Mr. Potter tell you of his choices for your reconstruction?"
"Yes, sir. I'd told him just putting me back together would be fine, but Harry has a reputation of being pigheaded and loyal to his friends. I not sure which is stronger in this case, but I'm glad he's the one acting on my behalf."
The surgeon and Madam Pomfrey both displayed looks of relief when she answered agreeably.
"Now," the surgeon continued, "I'll take these wrappings off shortly, but I have to warn you, it will be several days before you look like you will eventually look. Many people are so excited when they're unveiled, and then disappointed. Your face will be a bit puffy and your skin will be reddish. You'll be able to barely see your scars if you look closely. Plus, since I had to restructure certain parts of your face, your overall appearance will seem a bit... 'off' I guess would be the word.
"The redness will be gone by tomorrow afternoon, Sunday at the latest. The puffiness will slowly lessen. Remember, when you were three, you were a round-faced little girl with beautiful big cheeks. You'll still be round-faced, and cute-cheeked. Your jaw will be smaller than it was, but bigger than in this picture of you at three. That I couldn't change too much without making your head look too small for your frame."
He smiled. "I like women with big jaws, my wife's jaw is just a little bit smaller than yours."
Centi tilted her head sideways, just about the only expression she could offer still wrapped up.
"Here's the thing," the doctor said, "And this is true about everyone who undergoes such surgery, so I'm not singling you out. You're going to have to let your face settle until about Monday or Tuesday before you'll see the new you. You may be pleased with your new appearance right off, but many people are let down and some even become depressed.
"Some people don't like themselves, and feel changing their face will improve their personalities. Nothing has changed there obviously, but you'd be surprised how many people hope for such a miracle. If you don't like something about you on the inside, you need to work on it in another way. You have a fine friend here in Mr. Potter. He showed maturity and good judgment in his decisions on your behalf, and genuine concern. If you have similar or even better friends to help you change the you inside, then you are truly blessed."
He paused, looked up at the ceiling, and then said, "Enough on that. I'm a surgeon, not a counselor. Madam, Pomfrey, scalpel, please. Scissors at the ready."
I backed up and turned to leave, but Centi asked that I stay.
It took five minutes to slowly remove everything. The doctor was gentle; stopping several times at what I guessed were major incision points to slowly loosen the sticking wadding with a potion-laden swab. Once he finished, he immediately applied a lotion of some sort, stating it would reduce the stinging she felt and aid in the reduction of redness and swelling.
When he finished, Binderly said, "Oh, yes, you have another common effect of the swelling and the type of work I did around your eyes. You look a little oriental." Then he gave her a hand mirror.
Centi moved her jaw back and forth tentatively, moved her neck around, which hadn't been touched in the operation, and then she winked and blinked several times. I could see her from her side, and she slowly turned towards me. "What do you think, Harry?"
I smiled instantly, but hopefully not in exaggeration. I looked down at the picture of her at three and said, "The doctor's right, you are a little puffy and red, and slightly oriental looking, but I think you'll look a lot like a grown up version of this picture." Then, without thinking like a teenaged guy, but like a good friend, I added, "By Monday or Tuesday, your face should go very well with those beautiful blue eyes."
Have you ever done something that knocked the wind out of your lungs? How about, have you ever opened your mouth and embarrassed yourself completely?
Okay, we've all embarrassed ourselves. Add this moment to my list.
Madam Pomfrey had more experience in such matters I'd guess, or maybe she just wanted to help me out of the spotlight. She said, "Why, my dear, you look lovely even now, and in the good doctor's few days I do believe you will be most pleased.
Binderly thankfully changed the subject. "Now, we have to go over several different facial exercises you need to do to aid in the internal healing of the muscles; then we must talk about potions and lotions."
Pomfrey turned to me as she gently pushed me away and pulled a partition around them. "Mr. Potter, please go inform the Headmaster that Miss Bulstrode is unwrapped and why don't you have your house-elf bring up a snack. Something soft but chewy, but not too much. You both have a large meal you must consume in three hours time."
I knew when I was being shuffled out of a room. So be it.
By the time I was back, Centi was in a school robe, typical apparel for a witch at Hogwarts. Binderly had packed his bag and shook my hands. He wa preparing for Madam Pomfrey to escort him to the front doors.
"There is one last check we must do before I leave," Binderly said, "Harry, there's a very important test I need you to help Centi with. She'll tell you what it is."
I looked at Centi and she was redder than she was when I left her. I gulped and looked back at him then back at her.
Centi said with a mixture of embarrassment and horror, "He says you need to kiss me.""
"Uh, right," I replied, stunned. After no one stated that it was a joke, I gulped and said, "Are we talking about close-mouth kissing or open mouthed?"
Binderly gave an evil smirk. "Both - I need to assess how much feeling and control she has in some of the fine muscles."
Where's a Death Eater fight when you need one? Don't get me wrong, a very odd-feeling part of my mind thought this was a good idea. I'd have to think that through later -- much later.
Another part of me, the part that remembered all of time we'd spent laughing about Bulldog Bulstrode, was appalled at the idea.
It was my shame at that last thought that forced me to agree. I'd do this and a lot more for a friend, wouldn't I? Granted, I'd never do this for Ron - Hermione or Luna would do that for me, I guess - but I'd do this for Hermione or Ginny or Luna, or Susan, heck, almost any of the girls in the DA. We'd laugh and feel awkward, do it in private, and then it would be over.
Okay, I said to myself, Centi is my friend. I've killed to protect her. I can kiss her to make sure her mouth is working properly.
I looked up. Pomfrey and Binderly were both smirking, enjoying our discomfort too much. Centi blushed, looking down a little sadly. I put on a half-smiling, resolute face.
"I'm game if you are, Centi. Let's arrange some privacy for us, away from prying eyes."
Centi's relieved smile told me I'd made the right decision, even if this was a prank.
This time I pushed the two medicos out and made a show of pulling the partitions in place. I even pulled out my wand and cast a quick Privacy charm.
"I think this may be a joke, Harry."
"Well, if it is, we need to make them as uncomfortable as they're making us. We'll tell them we take our medical tests very seriously, and use as much objective sounding detail as possible. Sound good?"
She smiled and nodded. Then a question appeared on her face. "Harry, is this going to brass off your girlfriend?"
"The rumors have gone around about how you fancy either Granger or the little Weasley - we were never able to figure out which one was your girlfriend. Skeeter in fourth year and Cho Chang last year made out that you were with Granger, and Weasley has been your fangirl from the start."
I thought about it for a moment. "They're both nice girls, but they both have boyfriends - not me, I might add." I shrugged.
"Okay," she said momentarily. "I wouldn't do this if there was another girl in the wings - even Slytherins have scruples. Okay, well some of us do. But I do like the idea of reporting our findings in great detail to see if we can turn the tables on them."
We sat there awkwardly. Finally, I said, "Right then," and stood.
She stood up and we hesitantly approached each other. We raised our arms and looked for a bit like we were about to wrestle. Finally we locked arms at a distance that had our middles touching just a bit. It was additionally odd since Centi was four inches taller than me.
Next the craning-neck dance occupied us for what seemed like an eternity. Our first bruising lip bump was as awkward as anything; we backed off but didn't break our hold.
"Sorry," we both said in unison.
I turned my head to the right, and she turned her head contrary to mine, and we slowly engaged our lips. This made our previous awkwardness pale in comparison.
Gryffindors forward. I wondered briefly what Slytherins said to encourage themselves for difficult or uneasy tasks. We could mark off the closed mouth kiss as successful, now on to uncharted territory.
We moved into position again, lips parted, eyes closed, arching my feet a bit to eliminate the difference in height. She slouched a bit to meet me.
It was different.
Which is like saying that having your arm de-boned is uncomfortable.
For the first bit we attempted to engage in the types of oral activities Binderly so lurid described. However, instinctively we both began kissing in earnest.
Centi is no shrinking violet - once we forgot the medical exercises, she managed to invade my mouth. It was like she was trying to beat me into submission, but I wasn't about to roll over that easily, so I pushed back.
There was a lot more to this kissing business than I'd first believed.
It was fun. Kissing Cho was confusing, what with the tears and all. I don't know what I was expecting, but I found that I'd pulled quite close to Centi.
The brain does funny things at moments like this - some part of my consciousness was reporting back to me like a play-by-play announcer. Another part of me felt lightheaded for the joy of it all.
I liked kissing.
I liked kissing Centi.
WAIT - I WAS KISSING MILLICENT BULSTRODE!
I pushed back from the kiss gently, and soon we were blushing furiously.
"That went well," I said. "Any pain or difficulty?"
I could feel the heat rising in my face. Centi was much redder than she'd been when the bandages came off - which was saying something.
"I felt no pain at all. I think my tongue is completely healed. My jaw muscles were stretched a bit, and my cheeks felt a slight strain that I wasn't used to, so I have several things to report."
We backed away and she sat on the bed. An eternity passed in the next few seconds and we both calmed from our efforts. Finally I stepped over to the partition, turning back to ask, "You ready to make them squirm?"
She nodded, smiled, and then obviously forced a serious look on her face. We chuckled at that.
I cancelled the Privacy charm and pulled the partition away.
I looked at them with a serious look and said, "Mission accomplished. I believe we have quite a bit of medical data to report. Come in Doctor, Madam."
Centi and I worked as a team and reported every detail we could think of. We didn't mention any of our awkwardness, but each of us tried to make as much as we could about every motion in excruciating detail. In a couple of minutes I could see that these two had indeed meant to prank us. They turned red, embarrassed with how seriously we took this and how excruciatingly specific we were in our report.
I winked at Centi half way through and she smirked at me before launching into what she had felt while trying to suck my tongue down her throat.
"Well, Doctor, I'd suggest giving written instructions if you want to make sure that you test all of the muscle groups. Perhaps you could write a paper on it or something. We'd gladly be involved in any field studies you need to do, or offer our expert testimony when and where needed." I really liked Centi's wicked sense of humor.
"Perhaps," I chimed in, "we could go with you if you deliver this paper before any of the Healer faculties in Great Britain or on the Continent and demonstrate the technique. Or do you think they will be familiar with this protocol?"
By this time Binderly had his head down and was passing Centi in the red face contest. Pomfrey figured us out. She said, "All right, you two. You caught us in our little game, and turned the table on us. I apologize, Miss Bulstrode, Mr. Potter."
Binderly looked up with her words and added, "Yes, my apologies to the both of you. I couldn't resist. Not very professional of me, I suppose."
In near unison Centi and I crossed our arms, scowled and huffed. Then we both started guffawing. Moments later Poppy and Binderly joined us.
Centi and I were scheduled to take the potions to bring us into the Paladin Program at 7:00 in the evening. The doctor left before 4:00 and Pomfrey insisted we take a brief nap. We'd need our rest even though we'd both sleep during at least half of the time we were under the effects of the Reactivation potions.
Pomfrey woke us in time for Dobby to place a huge serving platter, roughly the size of three dinner plates in front of each of us. Both of us made noises about not being able to eat so much, but when we started it only took a little effort to down it all.
As she reached the last few mouthfuls, Centi stopped cold. So much so that I immediately noticed and asked her why.
She sighed. "I'm going to have a prettier face, but I'm still fat, and eating like this isn't going to help; I need to go on a diet."
"Centi," I said, "Finish your food; you'll need it."
She started to protest and I interrupted her.
"A few more bites won't change anything one way or the other. You've not been in this Paladin Program before. Between the potions and the exercise regimen, you'll be fit by the end of the summer." I grinned and said, "Haven't you noticed my physical improvements?"
She smirked. "I don't make it a habit to notice your figure, Harry, but, yes, I've noticed you're not the runt you've always been. I just figured you finally started to grow. About time."
I chuckled and explained, "At the end of the school year I was five feet four inches tall. In the first few weeks on the Paladin potions and exercising, I grew to five feet six inches and put on a good bit of weight, all muscle."
I then told Centi about the projection that I'd be about 5 feet nine inches before the summer was over. I did not tell her that in the pre-Paladin physical Pomfrey had told me I should have reached 6 feet one or two, since both of my parents were tall, but my malnutrition and neglect at the Dursleys' during key points in my early years had prevented this.
"The thing is," I told Centi, "you'll be changing physically. You'll have to do a great deal of exercising, usually several times a day. I don't know if you'll become any taller--"
"I hope not," she said. "I'm already taller than any other girl in the school, and I have been since half way through fourth year."
"If I understand it correctly," I explained, "you won't grow any taller than you would have normally, except in a case like mine, because I was a bit of a malnourished runt. But if you grow an inch more let's say, you would have anyway.
"But that's not the point I want to make. I understand Neville Longbottom has lost loads of weight and is looking right trim, or so Ginny Weasley told me. I don't know if you noticed, but Hermione was not one to exercise, though her dad had her running during the summer hols. Now she's very trim, standing straighter than before, and I never thought she had bad posture. And she's... oh, I wouldn't say muscular, that's not the reason for the exercise, but Hermione's stronger. I guess that is how to put it. If it wasn't for her book bag, she'd have never exercised her arms and she had limited upper body strength."
"Okay, I noticed her, and Weasley."
I smirked at her. "If you and I are going to be friends, you're going to have to start calling them by their first names, because they often travel in a pack and 'Weasley' doesn't tell me which one you mean."
"Oh, it was Ginny I noticed." Her sarcasm, now applied with a friendly tone of voice, was quite clever. "She's the one becoming all buff. Ron Weasley, is he on the potions?"
I laughed. Not only were those in Ginny's year not allowed into the Paladin Program, Ron, who was five feet eleven inches at the end of school, had reached his projected height of six feet three inches already. And he'd added quite a bit of muscle and lost what little fat he'd gained around his middle from his yearly school eating binges.
Centi's comments on her own weight made me think of something that had nagged at the back of my mind a couple of other times when discussing the physical changes she'd go through as a Paladin.
"Centi. At the end of the summer you'll be in better shape than you ever have been or likely would have ever been, considering exercise is not a part of the typical Wizarding lifestyle. That said, you have to realize that you will always be a big-framed woman, just like Hermione will always be fairly slender. I'll always be short and my hair will always be a mess. Oh, and I'll always need glasses unless I buy Muggle contact lenses or have this new surgery they've invented to improve vision."
She looked at me for a while, looked out of the window, and then turned to me with a brave smile. Then she said, "Well, thanks to you, I'll have a much prettier face. And if what you say is true I'll be able to thank the Paladin Program at the end of summer since I won't have hardly any fat on my body, except for my bust and bum. I'll be a whole lot better off than I would have been, and I hear that some guys like big women. If that's true, then I'm coming out ahead."
Her smile told me she didn't really believe that, but her words were true. In five days she'd lost her family, had her beliefs turned upside down, been near death, undergone major reconstructive surgery, and magically pledged her life to fighting at my side for the foreseeable future. Now she was going to go through a potions series she didn't understand, and starting on a rigorous daily routine that was unlike anything she'd ever imagined.
All things considered, I figured she was quite the trooper.
Dobby had just cleared the dinner debris when Dumbledore and Snape entered the Infirmary. Poppy joined their formation as if expecting them, which we were.
The Potions Master ignored me and addressed Centi. "Miss Bulstrode. You are the one on a critical timetable. Potter here can start a little after you. His timing doesn't require your precision. You'll start and we'll monitor you through the first half hour or so. You'll hurt. You'll hurt all over; about like the muscle pain of Wizard's Flu, which Madam Pomfrey informed me you had at the age of nine. Do you remember the aches I'm describing?"
"Yes, sir. It hurt, but the whole sickness is what made it bad. The body aches wouldn't be that hard to take by themselves, if that's all. You say it's only for a half hour?"
"Almost precisely. Then you'll merely feel sore for the next few hours. About three hours in, you'll experience any actual physical growth that will occur. There may be little if any, since I believe you've reached most the physical growth you are going to receive. Roughly fifteen to twenty percent of all females have reached their physical growth target by your age. From the end of this physical development cycle, changes in your body occur in smaller measures over a longer time period.
"The magical growth you'll experience this evening probably won't make itself known. That is, I'm projecting only a ten percent chance that you'll see manifestations of your magical growth, somewhat similar to accidental magic. That might occur, but if it does, it will begin in your third hour and may happen on occasions until seven in the morning. This is a twelve-hour potion. All residuals will be expelled into your lower intestines by that time, where they will be neutralized by the acids found there. Shortly after that you'll find yourself in imminent need to visit the loo.
"Do you have any questions?"
She pondered this for a moment, and shook her head. "No, Professor."
Snape turned my way. "Mr. Potter." Snape was being very formal, even in his vocal inflections. I wondered just how hard Dumbledore had pressured him to behave.
"You, sir, are going to hurt -- a LOT -- and for several hours probably. If you remember the pain of Skele-Gro in your second year, just imagine your whole body feeling that way." He smiled for the first time. "Only more so!" His delight at my situation was almost breathable.
"Severus." The master pulled on his dog's leash.
The calm Potions Master of a few seconds before returned. "The Headmaster and I have fully researched this and there is no fear of permanent damage to you, physically or magically. You will grow up to an inch perhaps, since you have three inches left in your projected growth pattern. You will most likely give off bursts of accidental magic. Do try to control yourself, Potter. We don't want to--"
"That's enough, Severus. Harry, Professor Snape, Madam Pomfrey, and I will be here for you throughout the time you experience this. We project you will go twelve hours as well, but perhaps a bit longer. You'll be exhausted and may slept three to ten hours after the potion leaves your system. You'll be tired when you awake tomorrow afternoon, and want to go back to sleep tomorrow evening very early. You will, however, awake the next day in fine condition ready to take the next Acceleration potion early Monday morning.
"Professor Snape did not exaggerate the pain, but I tried to ensure that you understood the consequences before you prolonged your re-entry to the program. Do you still intend to proceed?"
I looked at Snape and asked, "Have you ever taken Skele-Gro, Professor?"
He was caught off guard by this, but answered that he had.
"Well," I said, staring into his eyes. "I've had that and I've had Voldemort hold me under his Cruciatus Curse for over two minutes. I'd say several hours of all-over Skele-Gro can't really compare, can it Professor?"
Our eyes locked. Neither of us blinked. Finally he said, "I see your point, Potter. You are correct, there is little comparison."
He walked to Centi's bedside and proceeded to remove three phials from a wooden box.
"Drink this," he said, and Centi did without question. "It will clear your digestive system of any harmful unprocessed food. I suggest you go to loo now," he turned to me and gave me an identical vial. "Both of you."
It was almost exactly 7:00 when we two were back in place. Centi sat on her hospital bed as instructed with several pillows under her back.
Snape held up two phials. "This one activates your magical growth, and this one, your physical. They are time released and will activate each other one to two minutes after you have downed them."
Centi took them and leaned back. She looked nervous, and rightly so. I walked up to her and patted her shoulder.
"I remember being nervous too. The first time I almost got up when nothing happened at first, and then in a few more minutes I was bouncing around my bed. This is different I'm sure, but whatever occurs it happens once, and then you only need to look forward to what all the rest of us go through five or six times a week. No big concern."
I could almost hear Snape sneering at me, but Centi sincerely thanked me. About a minute later she froze as the first pains hit her. The next wave caused her to grab my hand. If she was going to be stronger, I made myself a note to never enter in a contest of strength while shaking her hand. Her grip was vise-like.
"Talk to me," she gasped. After her first burst of pain, she'd calmed down, and I could see she had managed to come to grips with it. I'd gladly distract her. "Tell me again about your expanded room at your relatives' house."
I did, in great detail after the first few sentences seemed to draw her attention. I could tell when the half hour was up because she relaxed with a deep breath at the precise moment.
She smiled at me and said, "I like your digs, Harry. Sounds cozy. I'll probably rattle around this old castle just like during the school year."
"Potter." Snape interrupted and I knew it was my time to pay the piper.
I went straight to my hospital bed and assumed a similar position to Centi's.
Snape held out one large phial. "This is also time activated and will engage in two minutes after consumption. Still time to back out, Potter. I don't envy you the next half day or so."
I snatched the potion from his hand. I knew Snape meant to ensure I'd go through this so I'd experience all of this pain. He didn't know me at all. I'd never renege on my commitment. I took a deep breath and started gulping as fast as possible. Unlike all other Paladin Program potions, which were rather tasty, this was like drinking sewage. I gasped from lack of breathing after the last swallow. Surprisingly I experienced no gag reflex.
I leaned back. Time sort of stood still. I practiced some of the meditation exercises I'd read in my Occlumency book. It hit me that I'd not done so since early Monday morning.
At the exact moment that thought crossed my mind, I stiffened and screamed louder than I'd ever done in my life. The next scream proved that I'd thrown out my voice with the first one.
I was on fire - all over my body.
Nails were being driven into every square inch of my body.
My hair hurt.
My blood boiled.
I'd stopped trying to scream shortly after realizing my voice was gone.
Moments, minutes, hours later, I didn't know, I began to scream again futilely. It felt like my bones were trying to explode through my skin. Said skin tried to fight my skeletal actions. My muscles all went into spasms one way and another. My nerve endings decided to yell at everything.
The Cruciatus Curse was an infected hangnail compared to this.
During all of my writhing I heard voices that I pretty much could identify, shouting different things I didn't want to hear.
"I don't understand. This isn't supposed to be happening."
That was Snape.
"You swore on your magic, Severus."
"I did nothing, Albus."
This was Snape, and a very sincere, confused Snape. This didn't sound very good.
"We checked everything; you were there."
Pain drowned out their words for a while.
My bones, skin, muscles, and nerves had started a little war. Then I heard Poppy.
"Headmaster! His limbs. Look!"
I heard Centi shout, "Can't you give him anything?"
Apparently the answer was 'no,' because I received no pain relief.
Some little time later I screamed again and felt magic pour out of my body. I heard the crash of hospital furniture and equipment all around me.
Then I heard Snape's words, "He needs the Ending potion. This will kill him."
I groaned out "NO!" At least I hoped they heard me.
I convulsed with more muscular and skeletal spasms. I could feel magic throbbing off of me. I squeaked opened my eyes when a pulsing light hit them. Alternating white, red, and yellow light emitted from my body it appeared.
It was raining and hailing inside of the Infirmary - and then trainers began to fall from the ceiling.
I heard Pomfrey call the Headmaster's name, confusion and worry laced her voice.
"I believe we must end this, Severus." Dumbledore shouted.
"NO!" I croaked as loudly as my tortured voice could produce.
I began to thrash about trying to think of some spell to keep them away from me.
I opened my eyes barely just in time to knock a potion out of Snape's hand and blast him away from me with raw magic.
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 thus far.
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.