In the Eye of the Beholder
Chapter Six - Not to Plan is to Plan to Fail
By Aaran St Vines
and to my beta readers GardenGirl and Sparky40sw.
Okay, Centi punching Dudley was possibly not the best way to start her off with my paranoid-about-magic, hate-my-guts, yet owe-their-income-to-the-magical-world family.
But in my defense, she'd moved in and flattened him before I realized she'd been offended. She told me that he was staring at her bosom after a split second of looking at her face, and he was raising his hands like he wanted to grab her - right where he'd been looking.
Dudley denied it, of course, but the fact that he also denied saying, "Hello, Beautiful," didn't advance his case. Centi heard him; I heard him; and it turns out Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon were right behind him coming from the parlor and they heard him say it as well.
They denied that they had heard Dudley of course, and in moments I had my wand out and pointed at them in order to stop Centi from raising her wand and actually firing off some sort of damaging curse or hex.
"Silence! I don't want any of you to talk now."
Centi obeyed me but I could hear her muttering about the Fat Rendering spell under her breath.
The Dursleys, on the other hand, shut up because I had a wand pointed in Vernon's face, inches from his nose. Aunt Petunia squeaked, and Dudley placed both hands on his bum in his trademark reaction to magic. Vernon moved his focus to my wand tip as he stepped backwards. When he apparently thought he was a safe distance Vernon turned his gaze to me.
"Boy, why I ought...." He deflated right before me as he realized he no longer stared down at me. I was now about an inch or two taller than him.
I'd gone from five foot six to six foot three since he'd seen me a week ago.
It had been the longest week of my life, even longer than the week in which Sirius died. I had fought Death Eaters and Voldemort for less than a half hour that night in the Department of Mysteries, and had only suspected something was wrong with my godfather for several hours before we entered the Ministry.
This last week I'd spent over sixty hours on the run, in constant fear of Death Eaters, and then battling Dumbledore and Snape for control of my life and the preservation and improvement of Centi's.
But back to my physical growth. Pomfrey, Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Snape conferred for most of the night after I'd passed out in pain when I took the Reactivation potion. Behind the impenetrable shield I'd somehow erected to keep them from ending my participation in the Paladin Program, they watched Centi soothe me with what little comfort she could provide. They had nothing to do but speculate as to what had happened to me. They couldn't hear Centi (and me) inside the barrier, but she could hear them. The potions were correct and Centi believed both Snape and Dumbledore when they fearfully confirmed there was nothing wrong with the formulation. They'd both triple checked everything, and had even conferred with Madame Maxime at Beauxbatons on the matter. Her school had three representatives originally participating in the Paladin Program, but when a fourth had asked to sign up six days before Centi did, they had used that exact formulation to engage her in the system.
Snape had suggested that the complications were my fault because of my unusual activities with Spell Mongery. McGonagall and Pomfrey had at first rejected his idea as pure Potter-hating-Snapeness, but Dumbledore speculated that the idea had merit. It was a little known but well documented fact that those in the Ministry's Arithmantic Spell Crafter's Guild were susceptible to all sorts of magical maladies when they were in the final stages of finishing a new spell.
The theory was that the act of bending a new piece of magic into place 'warped' magic around the crafters, and therefore infections and potions reacted out of synchronization with standard practice.
That theory settled the four on the outside, as they prepared to wait out my shield's interference with their plans for me. Centi told me of this the afternoon that I awoke from all of the pain, but I waved it off at that time as well-meaning nonsense.
I don't doubt the Ministry Spell Crafters experienced what they said, but Spell Mongery is fundamentally different. I'd had a few upset stomachs on the rich food of the Paladin Program, but after taking the potions Dobby acquired for me, I'd not had any adverse effects. The Paladin potions themselves were very potent, but I'd Mongered all during the time I'd been on them and nothing ever happened.
I just think it was Potter's Luck. I, Harry Potter, have amazing luck - the worst good luck or the best bad luck. Take your pick.
In twelve hours I had grown nine inches and put on two stone. That's twenty-eight pounds, but it should have been much, much more for that type of height gain, particularly since my frame expanded as well. I had started eating the moment I could sit up there in the Infirmary and I'd hardly stopped. Dobby was in house-elf heaven, fixing me enormous meals and watching me devour them for a few minutes before going back to the kitchens and starting again. I had to remind him that Winky was also my elf now, and he grudgingly let her help him.
Centi ate the normal meals of a Paladin, which were overly filling in their own right, but I went through food like I could Disillusion it. Centi made no comments about her own eating or need to lose weight, while I ate from just after noon when I awoke until dinnertime. I stopped just before that meal and went to the loo, where I passed the smallest and most dense... well, you know. It took time to pass, and it hurt. When it finally fell out, I heard an almost metallic clunk as it hit the bowl. It sounded rather like a marble hitting porcelain.
I told Pomfrey of this while I ordered more food from Dobby. The mediwitch asked Dobby to add fruit and vegetables to my next meals and required me to drink a glass of water every ten minutes while I was attempting to empty the larder of the Hogwarts kitchen.
My next trip to the loo was relatively uneventful and I stopped eating constantly after the next seven hours of virtually nonstop consumption at a record rate of food inhalation.
I wished Ron was there so I could show him what real eating was all about.
I only woke up three times during the night to request a snack, er... full meal - boy, I was sleepy.
The next day I only ate four large breakfasts and six snacks before 10:30, a decrease in caloric intake per hour from the day before. I paused for a full fifteen minutes before insisting on starting in on lunch. I ate one big lunch - from 10:45 until 1:10 - before I felt full, though I took three apples away from the table with me.
My Olympian belch was impolite, but Dobby and even Centi chuckled at me.
In twenty minutes we had gathered everything together and were off to number 4, Privet Drive. That was when all the fireworks went off, and I had an angry uncle to deal with.
"A lot of things happened, Uncle Vernon, none of which you're really interested in, but we're here, you have a new account, and we will not be in your way. You have your new loo in your bedroom, and Centi has her own loo as well. Dudley and I can easily share since it will only be the two of us, instead of the four of us.
"This is Centi, Centi Bulstrode, my friend. You know she will be staying here this summer and we will not pretend you didn't make out like a bandit forcing Dumbledore to give you a new account for life just so she could stay here less then two months."
"Boy, you'll not give me any lip about money. We've feed you, clothed--"
I stuck my wand into his fleshy left cheek to silence him.
"I wonder just how much you've made in commissions and bonuses from the four companies Dumbledore sent to you? I'm glad you've earned your keep Uncle, providing good service to these drills purchasers. How long would Grunnings keep you on if I told the relatives of witches and wizards managing those accounts just how well you've fed and clothed me all of these years? Shall we call them, Uncle? I know Dumbledore could give me their names and addresses, if not phone numbers."
I said nothing. Vernon said nothing. Petunia squeaked again and Dudley complained that he was hungry.
"Vernon," I said. No 'Uncle' this time. "Let's pretend we don't know each other. Should we see each other, let's agree to ignore each other. Nodding in acknowledgement is optional. I don't want to hurt you. You may want to hurt me, but you must choose between your desire to hurt me and your desire to keep your clients. I do not wish you impoverished, even though you've kept me a ragamuffin. But attack one of us and I'll see your four big accounts gone." The only change in Vernon's demeanor was a sudden twitching of his right eye. Had the vein in his forehead turned purple, I'd have backed up and prepared for a fight. The eye twitch was new, so I simply said, "I'm glad we are agreed.
"Come on, Centi."
I looked into her eyes, and though we didn't eye-speak, she nodded. I signaled for her to go ahead, and she made her way quickly and quietly upstairs, while I watched her back. I went by my family tensed to repel any attack, but none came.
And that set the tone for interaction with the Dursleys. It worked. We'd pass in the hallway and occasionally on the stairs, but I don't think we ever really said anything to each other except on a few unique occasions. Dudley would stare at Centi, but he did not speak to her.
No, I never went back to the Dursleys' after that summer, but the reason why... well, we'll see, won't we?
Dobby was delighted with my new appetite. I had to settle a dispute between my two elves that first night.
"Dobby, Winky, I don't have a house, I just have this room. You know, Dobby, you were bored when there was only me. There's only so many times a day you can dust and polish, and now the two of you want to do everything and it can't work that way. I thought you two were friends, perhaps even sweet on each other."
In the next second I observed the disconcerting color green-skinned beings turn when they blush.
Dobby finally said, "Dobby is thinking Winky is the prettiest elf that is."
I turned to Winky. She ran and hid in my trousers legs and pulled the hairs on my leg while trying to escape this scrutiny.
"Winky is embarrassed to speak in front of the master until Dobby does proper."
"Dobby," I said, "I don't know what 'does proper' means but maybe you should just go ahead--"
"Before you ask Dobby to go ahead, perhaps you should ask Dobby to explain to you what it means. Ask about house-elf courtship and mating practices."
"Why, do you know something?"
"No, but I'm under the impression from hearing Draco, Vinnie, and Greg joking around about house-elves and their little joeys that you might want to understand this before you give a nod."
"Okay. Good advice, look before you leap." I turned back to Dobby. "Please tell me how house-elves court and marry, or whatever you do."
"Yes sir, Harry Potter sir. Where does Dobby start?" he asked himself.
"Start by explaining what 'doing proper' means," Centi suggested.
Dobby nodded. "Dobby does proper by taking Winky as Dobby's mate and joeys is born three months later. Doing proper is being married as wizards think it, and the first time always means three joeys. There after one joey is usually born, although two is not impossible, but rare."
"Is there a ceremony or ritual, Dobby?" Centi asked.
"Yes, Miss Centi. Harry Potter sir gives Dobby and Winky the Master's Blessing and Dobby and Winky be a matched set of house-elves, what wizards calls married. Then Dobby and Winky goes to the land of the First Master for a whole day. Is great burden on masters to be without house-elves for so long, but to be matched set of house-elves and first mating is required."
Centi was in control of this conversation and I gladly let her continue. "So, Harry would bless you two, you'd be gone for a day, and then three months later Winky would give birth to three new baby house-elves, joeys, correct? How long before they are grown? What do they need to grow up big and strong, to be good house-elves like you two?"
"Oh, Miss Centi asks the question that tells why Dobby hasn't asked Harry Potter sir for permission to do proper. Since Harry Potter sir doesn't have a house with plenty of work, Dobby and Winky's joeys will not grow up as good, hard working house-elves, will be bad elves. If too bad, Dobby will have to kill Dobby and Winky's joeys."
"Is there no other way for your joeys to be raised correctly other than as you've described?"
This question produced in Dobby a look of sadness. "Yes, Miss Centi. Harry Potter Sir could sell Dobby and Winky's joeys within a week of birth to families with other house-elves to train them, and lots of work for them to do. "Tis common practice with first joeys and even after first."
"You're sad, Dobby," I finally asked a question. "Why?"
"Does Harry Potter sir really want to know?"
"Dobby!" Winky shouted. "You is a bad elf to ask."
I held up my hand said to try to calm Winky, "To ask me is not bad if I want to know, is it? Dobby, if the answer to that question breaks some sort of house-elf law, don't do it, but if it is just that most masters don't care about their elves, then you know I care, so please tell me. Why is it bad for joeys to be sold in the first week if it's common?"
"Because, Harry Potter sir, Dobby and Winky will never know the joeys as theirs; joeys will never know Dobby and Winky as parents."
I was stunned and saddened myself about this. It was Centi who asked, "Then why does Winky want Dobby to do proper if she knows Harry doesn't have a house and there isn't enough work for you two, much less your joeys to be raised as good elves?"
"Dobby asked Professor Dumbles permission to romance Winky. Hogwarts has plenty of work for house-elves. Professor Dumbles gave Dobby and Winky permission but Professor Dumbles said Dobby and Winky could not do proper for a number of years."
"Is that why Winky wants you to do proper now?"
"Oh, no, Miss Centi. Dobby and Winky were happy romancing, but..."
"Go on, Dobby," she said, "what's changed?"
"Once Dobby bonded with Harry Potter sir, in the spring, Dobby and Winky were still able to romance. Now that Winky is bonded to Harry Potter sir, Harry Potter sir must decide. Winky is freed from Dumbles' permission to romance, and a house-elf free to want something is unbalanced."
"So, if Harry tells you and Winky you are to go back to romancing until he has a house with work for you two and your first three joeys, then Winky will, er, be balanced again?"
"Yes, Miss Centi."
I took over from here. "Dobby, do I have to do anything special, or just tell you two to go back to romancing?"
"Harry Potter sir must give permission to romance."
"Okay, Dobby, Winky, front and center."
Immediately the two elves were standing side by side in front of me and I knelt to look them in the face. Both of them became wide-eyed when I did so, but I preferred to do it this way.
"Dobby, Winky, you have my permission to romance each other, er, or however you do it. I hope that in the future I will have a house to provide you two with plenty of work and also enough work for you to do proper. Until that day please be satisfied with romancing."
When I finished that pronouncement a look of relief crossed their faces for a moment, and then joy replaced relief and Dobby flung himself on my neck. Winky moved to do so also, but then she hesitated. I reached out with the arm unoccupied by Dobby and pulled her into the hug, much to her surprise and delight.
At that moment my stomach growled. I still needed a good bit of food so proper nourishment would support in my body what magic had created.
Dobby and Winky immediately pulled away from me. Dobby began making a snack for me big enough for any ravenous Quidditch team, while Winky consulted her journal to see what Centi would eat next, and when.
"Well, Harry," Centi said, "that's not the way the Malfoys would have done it, I imagine, but then again, probably it's best to ask, 'what would the Malfoys do,' so you can then do the opposite. Every hour or so I'm finding out new ways that you are not like I thought you were, and I'm glad of it."
I blushed a little at that but said nothing. What could I say?
Throughout Monday afternoon and evening I ate and ate, but I could tell I was slowing down by bedtime.
That first night was awkward at first. Centi had pajamas but no robe. She came in from the loo in a rush and told me she had waited until Dudley went into his room and shut the door before running to our door. The thing is, Centi's pajama top was rather taut, and I had to face away from her. She had the good grace to say nothing except, "Okay, you can turn around," and when I did I saw she had a Hogwarts robe on over her bed apparel. I didn't look into her eyes because I didn't want her to see the blush that would explode if I looked at her directly
None of my clothes I bought at Clark Village seven days before fit me, and even Dudder-wear didn't meet my needs. I was a lot taller than he so I wore his old sweats like calf length pants and three-quarter length sleeves. I found Centi looking at me, and at first I thought she pitied me for my apparel. I looked away in shame, but when I turned around again I saw no pity in her eyes. I was clueless as to the reason she seemed to be examining me so. It was a look that I wouldn't identify until a number of days later. It was a sort of eyes-glazed-over-look, and I shook if off once I realized it wasn't pity.
In the morning we both awoke before 6:00. Centi woke up because Winky had a Paladin potion for her and she needed to exercise for an hour beginning at 6:30. I had needed less sleep as the Acceleration potions worked through me thus far this summer. Now that I was rested up from our ordeal and had finished the Paladin potion series, I apparently needed only four to five hours sleep a night. I felt fully rested and hungry but only slightly more hungry than I normally was under the potions' effect.
Centi and I had a light snack; four hardboiled eggs each, before I started showing her how to use the various pieces of exercise equipment. Most of the fitness machines were of standard Muggle operation, but with magical indicators to tell us when we were performing at acceptable levels and to record our progress. All of the equipment had been duplicated before we discovered I was finished with the program. Now I could exercise when and how I wanted, but I planned to follow Centi's routine for the most part, particularly while she was starting out.
"But, Harry, I can't possibly ride this contraption for twenty minutes," she said after less than thirty seconds on the device. "I've never exercised in my life; this is hard."
"Centi, first of all, I thought I was incapable of most of these exercises when I started, but believe me, you'll find the extra energy once you reach your normal available limit. The potions kick in and give you what you need, pushing your muscle development and stripping fat from your body wherever it is to fuel your efforts."
"Are you calling me fat?"
I winced and then sighed. "No, I am not, Centi. I received a full explanation about how exercising helps us grow strong, lose weight, and put on muscle from Mr. Granger when this equipment arrived, but that was weeks ago. You're having to listen to my incomplete explanation from memory.
"Body fat is stored energy. The way you and I can reduce our body fat to the proper levels is to exercise and maintain a diet that helps our bodies to burn fat wherever it is. The Acceleration potions and our diets help promote that, and those reasons are why I told you to eat what the program tells you to and to exercise when and how it tells you to as a minimum. Now, since we are stuck here without a lot to do, we can exercise more than the minimum required. That will help you increase muscle and reduce body fat faster than strictly sticking to the program minimums alone."
I paused, wondering how I'd ended up channeling Hermione just then, and then said, "I found it pretty boring to exercise until I Mongered a charm to hold a book in front of me and turn the pages when I wanted. You can read, or we can talk, although it will be a huff and puff conversation as we tire."
"I'm sorry, Harry, that I snapped at you. You've not mentioned my weight at all, at least not since we've become friends. I'm the one who brings it up. I just... it's so..."
"I think I can understand."
"Yeah, right, perhaps you've been kidded about being thin, but that's nothing compared to being call Fatty Bulstrode all of your life."
I winced because I had called her that on occasion before a week ago.
"And I've apologized for calling you that, Centi. No, I've not experienced that, but I can identify because my relatives have called me a worthless freak all of my life. You can't hear that all for years and years without it hurting you. Name calling is name calling."
"Oh, Harry," she puffed as we rode on our stationary bicycles. "You told me about that, but it hits home just how bad it was now that I've met Giraffe and Elephant One and Two ."
She sneered, and I started laughing. We cycled on in silence for several more minutes.
She puffed, "I see what you mean now. I felt like I was going to pass out a minute ago, but I just felt a surge of energy."
I cycled on, not really winded. I was keeping up with Centi's pace, and just a little faster to challenge her slightly. "I know that feeling. You've probably heard about catching your second wind. It happens in physical exertions naturally, but you can really feel it on these potions."
She smirked. "I've obviously heard the saying, but I haven't done much physical activity to know the feeling first hand, at least not since I was a little girl running around the farm." She paused and her expression grew sad. "The farm..."
We rode on silently until the cycle time was over. It was a more subdued conversation that occurred through the rest of the exercise period.
I only needed to work on my Potions this summer to qualify for the Auror curriculum for the coming school year. Centi needed help in Defense and Charms, so we traded off helping each other. That's how the morning went, along with Centi's required breakfast and snack at 10:30, and my double breakfast and four major snacks before lunch.
Okay, so I was no longer a full time hyper-Ron but I was still eating a lot. I'd gone past the frantic craving for food while my body was catching up with what magic created in it physically, but now I was eating to fill myself out to a more natural shape. I was tall with wiry, stringy muscles--the only thing keeping me from looking malnourished at my new height. From eating almost non-stop with rare breaks, I was now eating often and exercising to place the calories and everything else on my body where it should be for someone six foot three inches with well filled out musculature.
I hoped my conspicuous consumption helped Centi subconsciously feel like she wasn't eating that much, as she partook of the large Paladin meals and snacks.
We were both relaxing, reading after lunch when Winky interrupted us. "Miss Centi's visit is set for 1:30 today." She read from her Paladin Journal similar to the one Dobby had kept for me. We both looked at the clock and noticed we had nearly twenty minutes before that time.
"How do we do this, Harry?"
"I hadn't thought about it. Er," I was stumped. Would Centi be like I was at my first visit with the opposite sex in the Paladin program, lunging at me with all her strength, or would it be different at this later entry point in the program?
At that moment we heard a crack behind us as we were both sitting at our desks facing a window. A little over two-thirds the room's size was behind us, and so was the only open space.
I purposely fell out of my chair and rolled across the floor drawing my wand and the spare one and pointing them at the noise. Centi stood and faced the sound with her wand drawn as well.
It was Professor McGonagall.
"Well," she said with pursed lips and a thin smile, "I've had warmer receptions, but I'd wager you were not expecting me."
"No, I expect I should have assumed someone would be here to chaperone this first visit at least, but shouldn't Dumbledore have informed us somehow?"
McGonagall looked like she didn't know how to answer at first. "Indeed. Well, I've heard about this room, but please show me how it works so I can decide how to proceed."
Down to business in fifteen seconds flat - ruthless efficiency, thy name is McGonagall. I explained the Kitchen/Library/Study room configuration that we were in now, as well as the room rigged for a Potions laboratory and the training dojo, as I called it.
"I see." McGonagall drew her wand and caused the bookshelves to grow legs and pace forward about six feet. She walked to the space behind the shelves and conjured a stuffed chair in tartan colors. Then she waved her wand and created some sort of translucent barrier.
"I'll stay with you for the first five to ten minutes, until Miss Bulstrode is under control. Then I'll sit here for the rest of the hour, and check in from time to time. The barrier is marginally sound proof up to a certain noise level. I will be able to hear shouts. "Would you like tea, Professor?" I wasn't sure what Dobby could cobble up, but I'd see.
She had a sour look on her face for a moment, but nodded and thanked me for my offer.
"Dobby," I called.
Dobby popped in with a tray and full service. I saw a tea label beside the pot.
McGonagall's eyes went wide. "My favorite, James Aimer blend. How did you know, Potter?"
I hadn't a clue, but wouldn't give her the satisfaction of another pursing of her lips.
"My staff," I waved and bowed to Dobby, "knows I like to make my guests as comfortable as possible."
She blinked twice, and then said, "Thank you, Dobby, please place it by my chair and put a Warming charm on it if you will."
"Dobby will do as Professor Gonagly asks."
Dobby went behind the shelves and McGonagall said, "Please tell me what you've heard about these visits, Miss Bulstrode."
"I know they are to help with my emotional growth. The idea is that I feel a surge of desire to kiss Harry, but by resisting the urge and making myself behave, I will mature in that way.
"I believe I'm supposed to step away in a few minutes and then rejoin Harry at precisely 1:30. When the visit is over I step away again, or he does, and then a few minutes after that the effects should be over and we can continue with our studying.
"Harry and I were both wondering if I will feel the urge like he did in his first visits, or if I will feel less drawn to him. Or, I just realized that since I'm catching up, it's possible I will feel a stronger urge than the rest of the Paladins at the start."
"Essentially correct as to the function of the program," the professor said. "A week ago we would have thought that we could predict precisely how you would react, Miss Bulstrode, but because of recent events, exactly what will happen remains a curiosity. We speculate you will feel a tug similar to, or just a little less than, someone first taking the potion. I will admit Madam Pomfrey and Professor Dumbledore eagerly await my report."
"What about Professor Snape?" I asked. I had decided I'd save McGonagall the need to correct me for leaving off his title.
"Professor Snape seems uninterested, but I will be sure to report today's event within his hearing to prevent his curiosity from straining itself."
She looked at her pocket watch. "Please proceed to your room, Miss Bulstrode. I'll call you directly."
Centi did as requested and McGonagall turned to me once the door was closed.
"Harry, are you sure having her here is wise? Are you two amiable?"
Here my head of house was, again calling me 'Harry,' something she rarely does. It only occurs when she is very concerned. Using my given name when I was in great pain or when she felt she had failed me made sense after the fact. Now... I wondered what had her worried?
"We have settled in nicely, Professor, and we're getting along with no problems. We had the inevitable conflict with my family, but that has been settled. Er, Professor, you seem worried; please tell me what's on your mind."
She looked at her watch and said to herself as much as to me, "Three minutes."
She looked me in the eyes and made her decision. "Headmaster Dumbledore is certain this is a terrible idea. He sees this... well, I cannot determine what he envisions happening, but he borders on distraught one minute and marginally accepting the next." She paused again as if deciding what else to tell me. "I've heard him muttering to himself, and the only word I understood was your name."
She paused, sighed, looked at her watch again, and then said, "I've considered the matter, and the only thing I can see coming out of this is that you will understand our world better, Miss Bulstrode will become a better student of Defense, and you will have companionship for the summer, something you have lacked in your life thus far."
She offered an enigmatic smile. "Perhaps Albus fears you and Miss Bulstrode will end up boyfriend-girlfriend before the summer is over."
I smiled too, but I felt I knew the Headmaster's concern. "Perhaps." I shook my head for a moment. Why did I say 'perhaps' instead of denying the idea of that type of relationship between Centi and me?
I shook my head again and said, "Perhaps, but you and I both know he fears I will go Dark under her influence. Do you fear that as well, Professor?"
She seemed to pause longer than necessary and even then didn't answer. She looked at her pocket watch again and said, "Thirty seconds." She stepped to the door to Centi's small bedroom.
"You stay there. I'll knock, and step to midway between you and to the side.
"And, no, Potter, I do not fear her turning you Dark. You've had a tremendous impact for the Light on her in the last week. If anything, you could stand for a dose of careful cunning."
And that ended our discussion, because Centi opened the door.
Though I was now two stone heavier and quite a bit taller, Centi was still a big girl. If she charged at me, she could knock me over. I realized placing myself with my back to the table where we eat our meals was poor planning on my part. But I found out it didn't matter.
She opened the door and her eyes flashed at seeing me, and her nostrils flared. It looked for a split second like she would run towards me, but then she closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and reopened them with a much calmer look on her face.
"That's a jolt," she said. She took another deep breath without closing her eyes, and said, "I think I can make my way to the edge of the small sofa. Assuming I make it, please sit on that chair. Then we can talk."
She did as she said, and I followed her instructions as well.
"Excellent, Miss Bulstrode, fine self-control. I suggest you ask her the first question, Harry, and see if she calms more."
"Centi, tell me about growing up in your family. Were they magical and if... so..." I should have read these questions ahead of time. "'Tell me about why you like your house' won't do either..." I was muttering to myself loud enough for both to hear.
"Oh, here's one. What do you plan to do once you leave Hogwarts?"
Centi looked at me for a long moment. "Follow you into battle against your enemies - my enemies, my liege."
"But after that, Centi?"
"I don't think I'll live through that, Harry, so I have no plans other than to train for battle and fight."
Her cold, stark admission caused me to shudder involuntarily.
"Professor, please leave us now," I said to McGonagall. "Centi is fine. If I need you I'll call."
She nodded, turned and walked to the shelf where she would disappear from sight and not be able to hear. She paused and looked my way. I nodded to try to reassure her. She went behind the barrier reluctantly.
Now what do I say? I'm the one with a Dark Lord chasing me personally calling for my death, and sending Death Eaters after me--
Oh my, now I realize that I am not the only one who can say that. What do I say to her? Do I joke about it and accuse her of sounding all Gryffindor-ish? Do I ask her if that was the comment of a true Slytherin? Do I try to help her develop a plan to survive in this world?
Then I remembered one thing Hermione said once that made no sense to me at that time. She'd said it wistfully, but then she'd laughed it off when I asked her to explain.
I am a guy and a teenager; it's not in my nature to be sensitive. I cannot imagine this will work, and it might set her off trying to snog me.
Anything to remove the hollow, hopelessness haunting in her eyes.
I slipped off of the chair and moved the few feet to sit beside her on the small sofa. I said, "I'm so sorry, Centi." Then I raised my arms and hugged her.
Hermione had said that sometime girls just need a good cry and a hug. I'm a guy, as I said, and I have this saving-people-thing as she said. I always want to fix things, and that one evening Hermione probably just wanted to cry.
Blimey, It seemed to work.
Centi didn't try to kiss me. She didn't push me away and treat me like I was daft to try to hug her - that's what Millicent Bulstrode would have done to any guy at Hogwarts, laughing at them as she hexed them every which way but loose.
Centi eeped -- a sound that can hardly be produced on purpose, and has no real definition in the dictionary. It was quickly followed by a sob and then another, longer sob ending in a sniff, that led right into a small cry of despair, quickly followed by a tried and true, good old fashioned crying jag.
Soon I felt the moisture seep through the enlarged sweatshirt I wore. Before long I was pretty sure I'd want to change the sweatshirt as soon as possible.
But for right now I let Centi cry. Interspersed in her sobbing were vague snippets of such words as 'Mum', 'family', and 'alone'.
She finally pulled away and half turned from me. I kept my right hand on her shoulder.
Silently, and I didn't know house-elves could pop in and out making no noise, Winky appeared at my side with a handkerchief. I nodded my thanks and handed it to Centi.
I almost said something, but restrained my guy-ness for a few moments more.
"I guess no one would believe you if you told them I've been crying like this, Harry. I'm not girly enough, they'd say."
Still I restrained from speaking, though it took a lot of effort.
She continued, "No one would expect Bull Dyke Bulstrode to have a feminine bone in her body, much less that I'd become such a Chang about anything."
She sniffed. I waited. She raised her red-rimmed eyes and gave me a sideways glance. I had no idea what look was on my face, but if it reflected my feelings, my face at least showed concern.
"What?" she said, and looked away. "Why isn't McGonagall out here with me screeching?"
"No idea," I said. "Centi. First off, anyone who just lost her family needs to grieve. Not doing so would be unhealthy. Second, Hermione would understand your crying, believe me. And Ginny probably would, if she thought about it. I'm a guy and dense as a Hogwarts door, but I understand at least in part.
"Now, as to the feminine part, I've always known you were a girl, from the first day. You used to wear your hair long, and there were other things. Even I knew." I blushed again.
"And as to bull dyke, I cannot believe that of the woman I kissed a couple of days ago. I don't think you like girls. They're too silly. You don't care for flightiness, but that doesn't make you unfeminine. You just don't suffer fools well.
"Once you get to know mature people, I think you'll make good friends. I never had friends before Hogwarts because no one would brave Dudley. You have no friends because, well, most people prejudged you. They thought you not worth the effort because you were unattractive or because you weren't wealthy. Didn't you tell me all the girls in your dorm room are very well off, and even the sixth years in the other rooms are in much better shape financially?"
"Well, forgive me for saying this. My friends have all proved themselves right thick about you recently, but yours are all snobs. They show too much cunning and ambition just like Gryffindors have too much foolish bravery and prejudice about other houses. Of course Slytherins are prejudiced too. Both houses could use a strong dollop of Hufflepuff loyalty and friendship to smooth out our rough edges towards each other."
Centi had stopped crying and was listening intently, if her face was any indicator. I shut up and let her think about it, mostly because I'd run out of things to say. After a minute or so, Centi used the handkerchief to wipe her eyes and nose once more, and pulled herself together.
"You're right, Harry. I've been silly, and I'm just not the silly type - that's why I did it so poorly."
I did not know where it would go from there, but thankfully I thought of something else that needed addressing. "Centi, up until a few weeks ago, I never thought I would survive this fight with Voldemort. For some reason, I now find myself hopeful of defeating him.
"The thing is, if I do, I have no idea what I want to do after leaving Hogwarts. Now I might still die, and so might you, but since we're together this summer, let's train together to make sure we're as prepared as possible to survive. And since we plan to survive, we need to figure out what we want in life. Now's not the time, we have McGonagall to send off, but let's discuss what we might be when, as opposed to if, we grow up and leave school."
"All right, Harry. You can be the Herbology professor at Hogwarts and I can teach Muggle Studies."
I smiled. I like a good portion of Slytherin snarkiness inserted into the conversation from time to time.
"No, Centi. I'll be the star Seeker for the Chudley Cannons, and you can be the president of my fan club."
She shoved me in the shoulder hard enough to have pushed me off of the small sofa a few weeks ago, but not now.
We talked a bit about our childhood dreams of what we would grow up to be. When she was six and just starting the Little Witches Day School, Centi had wanted to raise flowers along with the herbs and cattle her father had grown. Long before she'd started Hogwarts, Centi had given up on a farming life, but she still loved flowers, and wanted to grow them for the fun and beauty of it.
"What about you, Harry?"
I sighed. "I grew up being constantly told that I would be a wastrel and a drunk like my father, so I never really thought much about it. I thought being a teacher might be nice when I started school at six and Mrs. Dunstile took an interest in my well being, but then Uncle Vernon protested to the principal that she was interfering, so I was moved to Mr. Clarkson's class. He believed my uncle when he said that I was no good. That ended my desire to teach."
"Harry," Centi said, "You know I'm going to hurt your relatives very badly when it's time for us to leave, don't you? Maybe even kill them, now that I think about it."
"No, I don't want them dead. They won't suffer long enough if they die. I don't want them even hurt. The fear of me or one of my friends hurting them will do. I want them to spend a long time regretting what they've done. I want them embarrassed and humiliated, and unable to leave the humiliation behind. I don't know how I'll accomplish it. I've only just recently thought I might live to see it, but that's what I want for them."
"All right, very Slytherin of you, Harry. I like it immensely."
"Mr. Potter, Miss Bulstrode," McGonagall interrupted as if out of nowhere. "I see you've done well together alone. The hour is over. You need to go to your room for a few minutes," she said, looking at Centi.
Centi did, and my head of house turned to me. "You handled that with great feeling and dignity for both yourself and for her, Harry. I listened to the first few minutes just in case you needed my help, and I came to listen for a few moments a couple of times during the hour.
She ended my embarrassment from her compliment by asking, "Why do you remain in these off sized rags, the both of you? Now that you have a house-elf, you can set up your accounts--, oh, you probably don't know about that." Once again she looked ashamed that I knew so little of how matters worked in the magical world.
"Once you reach your majority, or in your case, once you have passed your O.W.L.s and are the head of your household, you can have Gringotts set up accounts for your house-elf to access and transact business for you. All of the Wizarding shops and businesses work with such accounts, and Gringotts has a number of Muggle establishments where you can use their catalogs to order items as well. Gringotts uses Squibs to act as buying agents, and there is a surcharge as you might think, but they are reasonable, I've always felt.
"As a matter of fact, your food probably comes from such an account - Goldsteins' Fine Foods, I'd imagine. They are acting as the go-between for all of the Muggleborn students in the Paladin program for the unique foodstuffs the Paladins need, such as dragon burgers and steaks.
"I cannot imagine Dobby doesn't know about this, and I'm sure Winky does since she managed accounts for the Crouch family. They are probably waiting for you to ask, assuming you know about this as I did. Miss Bulstrode's family didn't have a house-elf, did they?"
I said that they didn't and thanked her for her suggestions and help. The professor left and I called Centi.
Winky and Dobby popped in with the after visit snack. Centi had a small sandwich and a fruit/protein smoothie. I had both and three dragon burgers with two servings of chips and a pumpkin juice along with an extra smoothie.
I asked Dobby and Winky about household and house-elf accounts. Dobby began pulling his ears and Winky took off as if to ram her head into the wall. I snapped up my wand and wordlessly Accio'd her to me before she connected.
"All right, you two. I've told you no punishing yourself, and no ear pulling either, Dobby. I don't know about such accounts and neither does Centi. You cannot be expected to guess what we know; I only ask in the future that if you think we should be doing something, tell us."
"Winky would never presume to correct her master--"
I held up my hand to stop her whining. "It's your job to help us, right?" They both nodded so fast I thought their huge eyeballs might pop out. "I wouldn't consider it correcting me," I said, but their faces showed they didn't believe me.
How do I explain this? "Well, you've both worked at Hogwarts, and have seen that Muggleborns not know some of the basic things all witches and wizards grow up knowing. I was raised by Muggles, so I'm just like them. Centi was raised in a magical family, but they didn't have house-elves.
"So, since it's your job to help us, one of the ways you can be most helpful right now is to explain household house-elf accounts. I, your master, will not consider it correcting me, but helping me make our lives better. Also, you want us to be happy and to not be embarrassed, right? Well, I want you to inform us about anything you would expect a magical family to do, or have, or experience, if you don't see us doing it. If we know about it and have decided to do something else, well, we're just learning how to live and work together. But you will be doing us a great service if you inform us about something we're unaware of."
I asked them to start by telling us about the food account and what McGonagall had said. Winky volunteered to wash the dishes since Dobby was the number one house-elf and it was his place to manage such accounts.
"Harry Potter's Professor Gonagly is correct, Harry Potter Sir. Goldsteins' Fine Foods gives Dobby and now Winky food for Harry Potter Sir and Miss Centi. Hogwarts guarantees payment if necessary, but Gringotts goblins pays for Harry Potter Sir's food, and Miss Centi's as well." Dobby looked to Winky at this and she nodded in agreement.
"There is being papers," Dobby continued "for Harry Potter Sir to sign for Gringotts to open any and all accounts Harry Potter Sir wants opened. Gringotts has a complete listing of all shops and other businesses in the Wizarding and Muggle worlds for you to buy from. I can be back in a few minutes with the contracts and common catalogs for you, as well as the list of more unusual places you can buy goods and services.
"A house-elf usually manages all of these activities since household accounts are maintained over generations, but setting up new households happen often enough when a child moves away from home but is allowed to take an extra house-elf with him."
"Dobby!" Winky exclaimed after popping back in quietly. "Bad Dobby is not speaking proper!" She leapt at him, clamping her hand over his mouth. For his part, Dobby looked scandalized.
"Dobby! Winky! Front and center!"
In a popping flash they were both standing at attention before me. I sounded angry, and I was, to a degree, but mostly I was confused. I was about to ask what was going on with my angry tone of voice still in place, but I realized both elves were trembling in fear. I calmed down and knelt before them.
Their faces showed some mixture of fear and confusion. I never want anyone to fear me, besides Death Eaters and Voldemort. But these two are so innocent in so many ways.
I smiled at them and said, "I'm not angry at you or upset with you, either of you, but I am a bit confused. For the last few sentences you didn't talk like you normally do, Dobby, do you want to explain it to me?"
"We's not supposed to, Dobby."
"Harry Potter Sir is different, Winky. I've known it since I first heard about what he did as a little baby. Knowing him over these last few years has confirmed it. What he did at your bonding, didn't you feel it, Winky?"
Winky nodded her head in agreement, and bravely fought back tears. "You're right, Dobby, my love, tell him."
Dobby faced me, keeping one arm wrapped about Winky's waist. "House-elves are just like people, Harry. You do still want me to call you Harry, don't you?"
Dobby sighed, smiled sheepishly, and continued, "House-elves and people grow up speaking just the way those around them speak in their households. The Crouch and Malfoy families, for all their faults and failings, and for the Malfoys' evil intent, well, both families speak the Queen's English very well. It's how their children learn to speak correctly, polishing their speech with schooling in their days before Hogwarts.
"House-elves speak like their families, but learn to speak the house-elf slang and patois to fulfill the stereotype expected. It allows masters and mistresses to underestimate us and then we can better serve our families by being ignored for the most part. We can accomplish more that way."
They both seemed depressed to be found out.
I said the only thing to come to my mind. "Well, I'm delighted. I've always felt house-elves were more intelligent than wizards think, and now I know I was right. So, we'll just talk like we all can and should around here. Anything else?"
"No, Harry Potter Sir--"
"Oh, now, I thought we've agreed you'll call me Harry. Now Dobby, go bring back the contracts from Gringotts for all of the accounts you think we might need, as well any information, magical and Muggle on clothing, shoes, et cetera, okay? Anything I haven't thought of to ask you about?"
Dobby looked at Winky hesitantly.
"What is it, Dobby? You know I want to know what you're thinking might help."
"Harry. You'll probably want catalogs from bookshops, both magical and Muggle. Do you want lists from book shops that might be a little Dark?"
Centi said, "They have a lot of information on the magic we'll be facing, if nothing else."
"Good point. Dobby, do you know if a shop is actually breaking the law?"
"I can usually find out from their elves. I cannot tell you the name of the shops if I ask their elves, but I just won't bring the lists or catalogs from such businesses. Will that suit you, Harry?"
"Well enough. Anything else? I tell you what, just bring back anything you think might be of the remotest interest to us. We can always throw it away if we decide we're not interested."
Dobby popped off, and I turned to Winky after looking at the wall clock.
"Winky, it's been almost forty minutes since Centi's last snack. What can I have to eat?"
Winky's eyes lit up, and Centi gave out a groan.
Paging through the clothing catalog made it abundantly clear that we looked pretty shabby.
"Harry, I don't have any money, and I have no idea how my family's vault stands at Gringotts. My tuition for this year has been paid, but I don't know if there are funds available for new books, robes, and so on. I can make do with Dudley's old cast offs here. We're not going anywhere."
"Nonsense, Centi," I said. "I happened to know that my tuition has been paid through finishing Hogwarts, and I have huge stacks of Galleons in my vault. I can afford to outfit you now and for the rest of school."
She shook her head. "You paid for my surgery, and now you... you can't just keep paying for--"
I interrupted. "Centi, did you, or did you not, swear vassal loyalty to me?"
She stuck out her chin, which looked nowhere near as large as it had back at school. "I am your sworn vassal, my liege. Are you going to use that status to buy me new clothes?" "I'm not going to buy you a new wardrobe, if for no other reason than you will substantially change between now and start of school, due to exercise and diet changes. However, I can afford to buy you enough to wear for different occasions this summer, and then we can see from there once we figure out how to go to Gringotts."
"Gultangk, the Gringotts Director that handles the Potter family vaults, asked that I arrange for you to visit with him as soon as possible."
"Vaults? As in plural, more than one vault?"
"Yes, sir," Dobby said. "You have your school vault, and of course your vaults from your Godfather, and then there are several more vaults from the Potter family. They are one of the oldest families in Wizarding Great Britain."
I groaned. "My house-elves know more about my family than I do."
"I'm sorry, Harry."
"It's not your fault, Dobby, but I want all three of you to make suggestions on how to fill the gaps in my knowledge, both family and the Wizarding world in general. You're all charged," I said, looking to Centi and my elves, but grinning, "with reducing my ignorance."
They smiled back to me.
"So, how much do I have, Dobby? Surely I can afford to buy Centi and myself some new clothes. There had to be thirty or forty thousand Galleons there last time I looked."
"Eighteen million, three hundred and fifty-two thousand, nine hundred and two Galleons," Dobby stated matter-of-factly. "There are several barrels of Sickles and Knuts as well. But that doesn't include what will come in on your birthday in a few weeks, when you turn eighteen, Gultangk said. Of course that is only money on hand, and doesn't include investments, properties, heirlooms, and other items of value such the two barrels of precious gems."
I gulped and was speechless. Centi's eyes went wide, but she recovered quickly. "That makes sense, Harry. The Potters are not just ancient and noble, but a historic family as well. There is no way a historic family wouldn't have amassed quite a fortune, unless they were also stupid about managing it. The Potter family has a reputation of being brilliant in financial matters, so..."
She turned to Dobby. "I assume the goblin's comment... Gultun, did you say?"
"Gultangk, Miss Centi. G-U-L-T-A-N-G-K. He is a Director level goblin and leads a clique. His clique have managed the Potter accounts for centuries, it appears."
"How did he treat you, Dobby?" Centi asked.
"I was accorded the correct respect given the senior house-elf of a family with the status of House Potter. I also believe it was genuine respect, not begrudgingly given."
"Oh, excellent. Gultangk is one of those goblins. We can trust him with anything, most probably."
"Hold on," I said. "Er, what's that all about?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, Harry." Centi said. "One of the things my brother mentioned about Death Eater activities, is that the Dark Lor-" She paused, "Okay, Voldemort was approaching the goblins to try to destabilize the Wizarding economy at first, and then give them their alliance eventually. One of the indicators of a corruptible goblin, the Death Eaters think, is their treatment of senior house-elves. If they are rude to all house-elves, then they are Voldemort's kind of goblin, for lack of a better way to put it. Therefore, a goblin polite or even friendly to a house-elf is suspect to the Death Eaters, and therefore a potential ally for our purposes."
I thought about it for a moment. "Makes sense. Does the Ministry have anyone trying to make nice with the goblins? I've only been to that bank twice, and most wizards and witches didn't seem at ease dealing with them."
"Harry Potter sir," Winky spoke up after a pause.
"Winky, I'd like you to call me Harry like Dobby does."
"I'll try, sir. Mr. Barty Crouch Sr. mentioned once that a Dirk Cresswell had been put in as head of the Goblin Liaison Office. Mr. Cresswell is Muggleborn. He was put there by Minister Fudge, and Mr. Crouch thought it a waste of talent. The last statement my poor dead master said about him was that he had learned Gobbledygook and was making progress in building relationships. That was just over three years ago." "That's excellent information, Winky," I said. "Do you know your way around the Ministry?"
She nodded. "I performed many tasks for my late master in the time between his fall from power due to young Master Barty, and the time Master Bartemius brought young Master Barty home from Azkaban. I don't think house-elf activities at the Ministry would have changed that much since then."
"Is there a way for you to justify going there and finding out what you can about this Dirk Cresswell, and anything else you think we need to know while you're at it?"
She nodded. "As my master, Harry, you can appoint me your elf at the Ministry. All heads of Three-Thirty-Three Families have house-elves assigned to assist them there with information gathering and other matters. Wizengamot membership is not a full time occupation for most. Part of such duties of a Ministry assistant house-elf would be to provide materials and information for the training of a new Family Head before his or her eighteenth birthday."
"That reminds me," I said. "Dobby, you said Gultangk wants to talk to me before my eighteenth birthday in a few weeks. I turn sixteen in a few weeks, not eighteen."
Dobby and Winky looked at each other nervously.
I sighed. "All right, just tell me."
"You will be eighteen, Harry," Dobby said. "House-elves know true age, so they can serve properly. I can only assume goblins know true age as well. You evidently are really eighteen after whatever those potions did to you." He lowered his head and said, "You have lost two years, my master."
I was stunned. Two years is a lot, but I instantly thought of two factors to lessen the impact. First, wizards live a lot longer than Muggles. I'd always thought a long life would be eighty years. Now I know living to over a hundred and fifty is not too uncommon, so I'm still to the good of what I'd expected. The second thought was not nearly as cheery. Voldemort could kill me any time soon, so who cares if I've lost two years; I'm bigger, healthier, and stronger physically and magically. It's worth the two years.
I came out of this thought process and saw all three were concerned for me. "Okay, I'm two years older. How can we benefit from it?"
They all smiled.
Winky said, "That fact will help explain why I need to go all over the Ministry asking for information. I'll only talk to house-elves, and they'll understand without question."
"Good," I said. "Look for whatever you think might be useful. If in doubt, grab it. Any ideas, Centi?"
She made some suggestions and Winky popped off. Dobby fixed us dinner - I was really hungry - and we looked at the catalogs while we ate. After we had picked out several outfits each for working out, hanging out, and robes for going to Gringotts, Dobby left to make our purchases.
Wizards and witches, the Ministry of Magic, and Wizarding shops all keep regular hours. But house-elves do not. I could send Dobby to any business with house-elves at 3:00 in the morning and he could make any purchase I required.
It may be laziness, but Centi and I decided we weren't going to study any on our second full day at Privet Drive. We had new clothes that fit. We were well fed and my appetite was lessening, but I still had a snack about every hour, just not three dragon burgers or the like. We'd also finished our scheduled exercises for the day, and it had gone well. Centi had made it through both sessions without falling over, and I found I could really build a head of steam going at it, and felt great doing so.
It was almost 1:00 in the afternoon, and Centi asked, "So what's the special training plan for you this summer to improve your fighting skills? What does Dumbledore have you doing to defeat Voldemort?"
"Er, nothing," I responded. "I've been reading these Defense books and practicing on my own whatever looks good. I've mostly just used my wand against the Spell Dampening Barrier to build my casting strength, using Reductors and Cutters. I've Mongered very few offensive spells, since Spell Mongery is still rather new to me."
Centi's face clouded over as she exploded. "No training plan! You've had crap for Defense instructors except for third year. You're number one on bloody Voldemort's hit list. And you're the only one able to kill him. Sheesh! I can understand Dumbledore having no real plan for me - I'm nothing special - but... you're important! Not to plan is to plan to fail."
"That last sentence, Centi, is that a famous saying or something? 'Not to plan is to plan to fail.'"
"It's a Slytherin Principle."
"A Slytherin Principle. We're not just a bunch of sadists looking for non-purebloods to torture and kill while kissing the hem of a Dark Lord's robe. We're the house of ambition. Doesn't it make sense that we'd have methods to help train the ambitious to succeed?"
She smirked as she continued, "Don't you Gryffs get formal training in glory seeking and ways to identify suicidal bravery opportunities?"
"Oh yes," I said, letting out my own snarkiness. "I teach dealing with the press and managing fan club enrollment and recruiting to all of the first-years." I'm beginning to really like sarcasm, I thought to myself, now that I have someone to enjoy it with.
She chuckled. "I bet you do, but we really do have Slytherin Principles. The more academic of us are also willing to help others with planning, if you want. We Slytherins only hesitate to ask for help because we don't want to give someone blackmail material.
"Of course, Harry, you don't really spend time with Slytherins outside of classes. The few of us Slyths you do talk to any aren't a representative sample. I've stood nearby when you've talked to Draco and his little group. The sum total of Pansy's plan is to marry Draco. Greg and Vinnie wouldn't know a plan if it walked up and bit one of them on the hand. And Draco's plan is to shout about being a Malfoy until divine right provides him with everything his heart desires. No wonder you're amazed that we have guiding principles and are known for planning.
"The Slytherin Principles are sort of attributed to Salazar Slytherin, but they can't all be, because some of them deal with issues that arose long after he died."
"Such as?" I asked.
"Such as rules for dealing with the Wizengamot. It wasn't formed until 1205, and Hogwarts was founded in the late nine hundreds. Wizards live a long time, but not that long, particularly not back then.
"I can't really tell you all of the Principles, but that one, 'Not to plan is to plan to fail,' is too easy to understand. The important part isn't just that the saying makes sense; we also have a logical outline that you can follow to identify how and what you need to plan for.
"Let me show you. Do you have a wide piece of parchment?" she asked me.
"No, but if we need it I'll have Dobby pop out--"
Pop! Dobby appeared beside me with an oversized roll of parchment.
"Begging your pardon, Harry, but I overheard Miss Centi talking about planning and Slytherin Principles. Master Lucius would often send me out for wide parchment for G.O.S.W.O.T.A.L. planning. So I went to fetch some for you."
"Gos-what?" I asked. "G.O.S.W.O.T.A.L." Centi said. "It's a horrid acronym for an excellent analysis tool to help with planning. Once you've done a G.O.S.W.O.T.A.L. chart, your plan sort of plans itself."
Centi went to our side-by-side desks and peeled off a large piece of parchment from the roll. She quickly smoothed it out so it would lie fairly flat. She drew a line down the middle, and then bisected the two halves with two more vertical lines. In the first vertical rectangle she wrote the two words, 'Goals' and 'Objectives' and then underlined them and drew a dividing line about six inches down between those two words.
"So what's your primary goal, Harry?"
"To defeat Voldemort," I said instantly.
"That can be considered a worthy goal, but I want you to view these two words, goals and objectives, very specifically," she said.
"You defeated Voldemort as a baby. Only a few of his fanatics thought he would rise again; most Death Eaters thought he was gone, so they bought their way out of prison, and went back to their secretive ways, waiting for the next Dark Lord. Defeating Voldemort for good is essential, but unless something more important and far reaching occurs, we'll be fighting another Dark lord in twenty or thirty years like those who fought Grindelwald had to fight again when Voldemort rose to power in the seventies.
"So the overall goal is to change Wizarding society to prevent extreme pureblood prejudice. Even that needs to be better stated, but it's a start."
"That leaves a lot unexplained and, well..." I said.
"You're right, Harry. Let me use that idea to make a point. Parchment is cheap, especially for you. We can write a bunch of things down and then throw it all away. The planning is important, and once we have a plan the parchment it's written on is invaluable, but scratching around is cheap and easy to do.
"So, to give you an over view of the G.O.S.W.O.T.A.L. process, I'm going to fly through this and make a few notations in each column to show you where we're going, then we can throw this one away and you can do one for real, since that will be your plan, and I'll help you only if you need it. Here, watch."
She wrote 'Fix Wizarding Society' for the goal. Then she said, "We'll actually make a separate list of what that will look like after diagramming out this chart, and of course the planning process is ongoing. We always refine, correct, redirect, add to, and eliminate parts of our plan as we go along. Changing the plan only means we're getting closer to our real goals.
"So, our goal is to fix Wizarding society. A few of our objectives are:
- Defeat Voldemort permanently
- Kill or permanently imprison the Death Eaters
- Neutralize pureblood bigotry in the Ministry and Wizengamot
- See Fudge out of office
"And my favorite, for your own good..." She wrote:
- Limit Dumbledore in Harry's life.
She said, "I know you may not like that one--"
"I have no real problem with limiting him in one sense," I interrupted her. "He has to get out of my life in a number of places. Setting my friends against you and me being friends was way over the line. That part definitely needs to be neutralized. It's like the pureblood bigots in the Ministry and Wizengamot. You're not saying we eliminate them; we just make sure that any prejudice they maintain after we're done will have no effect. If they sit at their desks and only do their jobs, then fine. If they need to be fired, that's neutralization also.
"Dumbledore is the same in a sense. He'll always be the headmaster and a great wizard for the Light, but he's fed me crumbs over the years. Like this idea of a plan that you've raised, why hasn't he told me what his plan for me to me, or at least started training me for my fight with Voldemort long before now, long before the Paladin Program? I need a more level relationship with him, a partnership perhaps. He can be the senior partner, but I need to be fully informed about everything having to do with me. If he has a plan now, it's just been a plan to manipulate me to some end, not to help me become the wizard I need to be and want to be in the future."
I paused for a moment and Centi gave me my time of contemplation. I needed Dumbledore's help; there's too much raw knowledge and history locked up in his head to not to ask for help. He needs me to fight Voldemort, but how does he want this to end? Not training me - does that mean he may not want me to survive?
I decided I couldn't think that way. I had to hold onto my hope and trust in the Headmaster.
But I'd also be a lot more wary.
"Centi, I definitely need to limit Dumbledore in my life as he is now, but I need to make him an important part of my life as well, just different. Is there a place on this sheet to put Dumbledore down for the good he can do us?"
"Of course, Harry. He is after all, the defeater of Grindelwald. Surely there is a lot he can teach us. I'm just furious that he didn't plan something like this out with you several years ago. He didn't even need to show you the plan, just set it in motion and already have you in whatever programs he'd arranged. G.O.S.W.O.T.A.L. is a Slytherin idea, but it's not the only way to plan. Surely in all of his years he's developed some such skills or techniques, and he should have used them regarding you before now."
She moved back to the parchment and I suddenly felt more hopeful.
"Now, Harry, that's your goal, although you can have more goals of course. And this is just a quick example of every aspect of G.O.S.W.O.T.A.L. These are a few objectives to start with. They're like little goals, or you can think of them as milestones on the path to succeeding.
"The 'S' and the 'W' stand for Strengths and Weaknesses. Strengths can be different things." Then she wrote:
- Great reflexes
- Moral character
- Strong body
- Spell Mongering
- Dobby, Winky and Centi
On the Weaknesses side she wrote:
- Your brooding
- Your temper
- Your friends
"Hey, now," I said, "My friends can also be strengths." I had to admit they were a potential weakness. "Oh, they are a very positive force in your life, and a strength for sure, but let me, for demonstration purposes place them in another positive column a little later and just put them in the Weaknesses column for now. The way they were acting while we were at Hogwarts, they are a weakness in that they drag you down, depress you, and help you very little. Remember this is just an example chart for now."
I nodded hesitantly.
She said, "Next we have Opportunities and Threats. The Paladin Program was an opportunity, and still would be if you hadn't finished it. Another opportunity is your meeting soon with Gultangk, to make some sort of alliance with the goblins.
"Now Voldemort and the Death Eaters are threats, but so are:"
- Your relatives
- All of my former friends
She took a minute and wrote all of these things down. "Threats can be much more subtle, and someone can be an opportunity and a threat. If we didn't have such good information on Gultangk - the fact that he is a director and your money keeps him in check - then the goblins could be both an opportunity and a threat.
"The final letters stand for Assets and Liabilities." She wrote in the Asset column:
- Your friends
- Your power levels
- Your money
- Already mongered spells
- This library
"See, Harry, I've put your friends back in as an Asset, and I include Dobby, Winky, and myself in that list. I've also placed Dumbledore in this column as well, where he should be, for all the good reasons you mentioned earlier. If the last week hadn't occurred, Ron and Hermione would have never been in the Weaknesses column, and we would never be considering limiting Dumbledore."
"No," I corrected her. "Limiting Dumbledore in my life would have been on the list without recent events with you. He's essential to my success, but like I said, he's entirely too involved in other areas where he's not needed or wanted. I've been his puppet. He has good intentions, and I do need him, but I need about half of what I have of him."
With that, Centi and I both paused reflectively for a long moment. Without a word she took up the quill and wrote in the Liabilities column:
- Your housing situation (outside this room)
- Your ignorance of Wizarding society
- No plan or special training so far
- No politically connected allies that you know of
She looked at me and said, "Now I know a number of these things can go in different columns, and in your real G.O.S.W.O.T.A.L. chart they would be in more than one, but this is just a quick training exercise in planning. Also, I am a liability to you in that I have caused Dumbledore to be angry at you--"
"If it wasn't you, Centi," I said, "it would just be something else. He and I have argued a good bit this summer while trying to work together. You've just given the Headmaster and me a new focus lately."
At that moment, speak of the devil, Dumbledore Apparated into the room unannounced.
I panicked momentarily because of what we'd written on the chart that would look negative to him - because it was negative about him. I tried to snatch up the parchment and hide it, but my actions were childishly obvious.
Dumbledore smirked a non-Snapeish smirk and said, "Should I turn around while you hide something, Harry? You're being as subtle as a first-year. "
He seemed in a jovial mood.
Centi answered him. "I was teaching Harry about the Slytherin Principles and G.O.S.W.O.T.A.L. planning. You know of it, don't you, Professor?"
"Yes, Miss Bulstrode. I've even used it on occasions in the past, but I've adapted a simpler Muggle planning acronym for use now."
Ignoring Dumbledore's one-upmanship, Centi said, "Well, as I was explaining to Harry what types of entries go into the different categories--"
I interrupted her. In those few seconds between the time I panicked and Centi started to cover for me, I realized it was time to let the Headmaster know exactly how I felt about him at the moment. Therefore, the interruption of Centi to takeover the conversation I should have been having with Dumbledore all along.
"Centi has been showing me how to use that method to draft a plan, Professor,"
"Who?" Dumbledore looked startled at the nickname, and I told him about it, although I thought I'd told him at Hogwarts.
"Anyway," I continued, "Centi has been showing me how to fill out a G.O.S.W.O.T.A.L. plan, writing it up as we go along, but it's my plan."
"My, that sounds a bit ominous," Dumbledore said with a forced chuckle. "May I?" He reached for the chart.
Dumbledore looked at it and frowned, as you'd expect.
"We are both serious about seeing Fudge out of office, Professor," Centi said. "He's been a menace to everything you and Harry have tried to do since Diggory died."
Centi was nervous. I placed my hand on her arm, and she stopped talking. She'd never spent any time with the headmaster, and he made her uncomfortable. I often forget most students go through seven years at Hogwarts and never speak to the man.
Dumbledore frowned for most of the time, but then he looked up with a neutral look on his face and said, "I understand why you say that about our Minister. I have a problem with removing him right at this moment because I cannot ensure that he will not be replaced by someone worse - that is, someone more capable but not on the side of the Light. Once I can be sure that happens then I will start the process to see Cornelius removed myself."
Centi nodded in agreement, calming down, and even joking a bit. "Well, we weren't going to ask that he go away tomorrow."
"Let's talk about the obvious," I said, "You're on the list twice, and once isn't a positive category."
Dumbledore had returned to the chart, but with my words he slowly looked up at me over his reading glasses. "I'll admit that I was hurt at first, but then I saw that I was in your Asset list as well. Upon further reflection, it is clear that you only want to limit me in your life, not eliminate me from it. You've told me in the past weeks of your tragic home life here, and yet I told you that you'd have to come back next summer as well. There are several other such demands that I've made of you, and perhaps I've no right to make a few of them. Boundaries are always negotiable - something most of us don't learn until late in life, if at all."
I was a little taken aback by his admission, but he isn't my enemy, just my keeper, unfortunately.
"There is a very good chance, Harry, that because of your extraordinary growth and maturation, that you probably won't have to come back here next summer. We'll know by the end of the year, but at most it will be only for a few days.
I was stunned by his statements and ready to be all friendly with Dumbledore, but Centi emerged from her awe of the man and came to my rescue.
"Professor, I suggested creating a G.O.S.W.O.T.A.L. chart because I couldn't believe you didn't have a training plan for Harry this summer, or for the past few years, come to think about it. We basically plan to go through his book here and find good defensive and offensive spells and learn them. Can you suggest something better?"
Dumbledore avoided the issue of not having planned for my training. Instead he told of the different professors coming to act as guest lecturers on Defense from around the world. Then he told us the name of three books in the small library he'd provided that would prove to be the best sources for our spell research.
We were all becoming more comfortable after the tension of minutes before. As the conversation came to a close, Centi asked, "Perhaps you can help us, Professor. Where should the Weasley twins go on this chart?"
Dumbledore laughed heartily at the question. "Several very positive and a few quite negative places, I am sure." He handed the chart back to Centi and she crumpled it up and tossed at the rubbish bin.
"Now that Harry understands the process, I intended to toss that one and start a new G.O.S.W.O.T.A.L. chart and let him fill it out. It's his plan, after all."
Dumbledore looked at her directly and then looked away quickly. I had the fleeting impression that he'd tried Occlumency on her, but she said nothing, neither did her face reveal an attempt.
Rather than be mad at him for something he might or might not have done, I asked, "What brings you here on this fine afternoon, Headmaster? I still have seven more days until I promised to give you my proposed plans for an enlarged DA for the whole school."
"That's not why I came, but do you need a few more days because of this past week?"
"No, Professor, I'd have had my proposal to you early if all this hadn't occurred."
At that point my stomach growled. I blushed, and said to cover it, "Where are my manners. Tea or a snack, Professor, Centi? Dobby!"
Crack! "Yes, Harry?"
"Tea and biscuits for all, lemon biscuits if you have them, and, er, something a little more substantial for me, if you have it."
"Now, Harry," Dumbledore began, "I can't stay--"
Crack! Winky appeared with a huge tray levitating beside her. Dobby said, "Harry, we figured you'd want tea and had this in preparation. You called just before I could come and announce, 'Tea'."
Dobby turned to the Headmaster. "They are your favorite lemon biscuits, sir."
The Headmaster's eyes widened. "Well, I do have a minute or two."
The Headmaster finished his tea in less than ten minutes. During that time he told us that Professor McGonagall had given him a good report about our situation and Centi's first 'visit.' He only wanted to pop in and see that we were comfortable and if we'd found suitable clothing sources. Several lemon biscuits later, he was gone.
I called for my house-elves. "Okay, you three, opinions on what the Headmaster was up to?"
Centi said, "I'm going to take his word for it, Harry. He could have reacted much more angrily about the G.O.S.W.O.T.A.L. chart, but he didn't. Had he been looking for something to use to try to remove me, that would have done it."
"Dobby?" I asked. He hesitated. "I really want your true opinion on the Headmaster," I said. "House-elves see and hear things."
He hesitated, took a deep breath, and then said, "Because I was shunned on occasions by the other elves at Hogwarts, the Headmaster used to ask for my assistance quite often. He requested that I listen in on any conversations where my knowledge of Death Eaters from my time with the Malfoys might give him insight. I've seen him act that way with close friends, other teachers, students, and probable enemies, or at least competitors.
"The look on his face now that he is no longer with you is what will tell you how he feels. I can't deduce anything from his meeting, since it was basically cordial."
"Then I remembered. "Did he use Legilimency on you, Centi?"
"A little, but I brushed it off. He and I have never talked before this week, but Snape tries to use it on all the students in our house regularly. It's no big deal."
"It is a big deal. He swore to me that he never uses it on students unless he thinks it's a dire emergency. He swore he never used it on me even in bad times. Now, either that was a lie, or he considers you a dire emergency, or threat, rather. Either makes me uncomfortable."
Then I remembered the project I had planned to do the day after I went shopping with my aunt. I waked over to a bookshelf.
"I ordered a book from Flourish and Blotts about warding homes and the like. I was surprised Dumbledore hadn't included any such information in this library. I had planned on using my Spell Monger's Spell Scrutinizer on the wards around this house to try and see how I'm protected. Maybe we need to find out how the Headmaster and Professor McGonagall Apparate into this room. If they can, I wonder who else can do it?"
"We'll look at that soon, Harry. The wards have to be fairly safe or Voldemort would have attacked you here long before now. Let's create your G.O.S.W.O.T.A.L. chart and develop a list of Things To Do."
Centi was right of course, as she would prove to be quite often throughout the summer there on Privet Drive.
In the end these were some of the elements of my first G.O.S.W.O.T.A.L. chart:
- Fix Wizarding Society
- Find a Satisfying Career
- Loving Family Life
- Defeat Voldemort For Good
- Permanently stop the Death Eaters - Imprisonment or Worse
- See Fudge Out of Office
- Neutralize Pureblood Prejudice in the Ministry and the Wizengamot
- Limit Dumbledore in My Life
- Dobby and Winky
- My Friends
- Moral Character
- Magically Powerful
- Great Reflexes
- Strong Body
- Spell Mongering
- Paladin Program Benefits
- Training the DA
- My Brooding
- My Temper
- My Friends (Hopefully Temporary)
- Centi's Friends
- Pre-Auror Paladin Training at Hogwarts
- Meeting with Gultangk
- The Potter Family Place in the Wizarding World
- The Death Eaters
- Pureblood bigotry in the Ministry
- My relatives
- All of Centi's former friends
- Wards Around 4 Privet Drive (?)
- Dobby and Winky
- My friends
- My power levels
- My money
- Already Mongered Spells
- Spell Mongering
- This library
- My housing situation (outside this room)
- My ignorance of Wizarding society
- No plan or special training so far
- No politically connected allies that I know of
That afternoon we outlined a fairly simple plan for the rest of the summer only. We decided to start a long-term plan for the rest of my life later in the summer, and we would go through a G.O.S.W.O.T.A.L. process and start a long-term plan for Centi in a few days.
The summer plan was my own for the most part, but it was Centi's also, since she was my sworn vassal in the fight ahead. She knew for the roughly two months to come she would work with me and do everything I did that made sense for her also.
These were my Things To Do for the summer:
1) Study -- (Harry - Potions) (Centi - Study Charms and Defense)
2) Exercise at least 50% more than required of the Paladins
3) Exercise my magical core to build power and endurance
4) Finish my ideas for Dumbledore on an open DA for the whole school
5) Develop a list of Offensive Spells to learn soon
6) Develop a list of Defensive Spells to learn soon
7) Develop a long-term list of Offensive and Defensive Spells to round out the two lists above
8) Spend three hours a day learning new spells
9) Spend 1-2 hours a day Mongering
10) Learn about Warding
11) Examine the wards at Privet Drive
12) With Dobby's assistance find my financial place in the Wizarding world
13) With Winky's assistance find my governmental place in the Wizarding world
14) With Centi's assistance find my place in Wizarding society
Well, everyone needs a hobby.