Chapter Twenty-Two: Books and Brooms
"You are stretching yourself too thin. Pull back. Concentrate," Dumbledore's voice was a gentle reminder as Harry's brow furrowed, focusing on the magic at his fingertips.
He relaxed the tight grip on his wand and breathed deep. The surface of the Black Lake slowly ceased its frothing; the result of him trying to manipulate too much at once. He'd done that several times today alone.
They were working on his control at the moment. Classes were over for the day and Dumbledore had taken him out to the lake for more of their private lessons. Naturally, an illusion was placed over the area they worked at.
The Headmaster wanted him to get a grasp for exactly how much power Harry could wield at any one time, but it was a struggle to measure what was actually within his capabilities. True, Harry's capacity was immense, but what he could truly control didn't yet measure up.
If he tried to grasp the area around him with all his magic at once, his grip slipped. The water would fall out of his grasp, no matter how much he tried to keep hold. It was as though he were trying to lift something too large and unwieldy on his own.
Dumbledore had told him that was normal. Control of magic took time and practice to fully establish. It was a common problem for witches and wizards Harry's age, but naturally the scale was much larger than the average.
Harry closed his eyes and focused on a smaller surface area, lifting the water into a smoother, tighter sphere with a murmur. Even then, the finesse wasn't even close to Dumbledore's mastery of magic. That sort of unfathomable skill would take him decades to reach.
He didn't mind.
Slowly, he drew more water up from the lake to join the sphere. It expanded, twice the original size in mere seconds—
Harry's brow furrowed deeper. It was difficult, getting that kind of fine control. It was the opposite problem of when he tried to manipulate too much at once. Using only a little magic at a time felt clumsy, like picking up tiny pebbles with too-large fingers.
But he tried to do as Dumbledore asked, nearly trembling with the effort of careful restraint. The sphere grew slowly, slowly…
"Well done. Rest."
Harry let out a long breath and the sphere returned to the lake with a loud splash. A flick of Dumbledore's hand kept the water from soaking them.
"You are improving," the Headmaster praised.
"It's hard," Harry wiped droplets of sweat from his forehead. Despite the cool, November breeze, he felt hot like he'd been exerting himself for hours.
"You will get there. You are a diligent student and a hard worker. Success will be yours in time."
Selena and Aurelion were in Harry's suitcase back in the dorm—neither of them had desired to be out in the cold. A front had come through in recent days, heralding whispers that Winter was just around the corner. The reptiles were not fond of the temperature shift.
It was strange to think more than a month had passed since Salazar's Basilisk had been slain. The beast had been destroyed in early October, and now Harry was studying for exams before Christmas came around.
They'd heard nothing from Slytherin's Heir since the death of the Basilisk. It was like a sword hanging over the neck of the school, though only the teachers, Harry, and a few others were truly aware of it.
But attempts to locate the Heir had been fruitless. Whoever it was, they'd retreated or hidden themselves away. The fact irked him, but there was nothing for it.
"Goodness, is that the time?" Dumbledore suddenly exclaimed. "Best we get you back to Gryffindor Tower, Mr. Potter. I believe you still have some studying to do before supper."
Harry nodded and took the Headmaster's offered hand. In an instant, they were Apparating from the Black Lake and into the castle proper. He said his goodbyes to Dumbledore and hurried off to the tower, deciding he needed a shower first and foremost.
An hour later and he was sitting at a table in the Gryffindor Common Room, doing Potions homework with Hermione, Dean, and Neville. Aurelion swept through the air in the room; a common sight to the other students nowadays. Even those who didn't particularly like snakes had figured out that he wouldn't bother them.
He just liked flying.
Selena was curled up at Harry's feet, wrapped almost in a knot around the legs of his chair for her size. She dozed lazily in the warm room, belly full as usual from her frequent meals.
"Two drops of Lethe River water, two Valerian sprigs, four…" Neville faltered, struggled, and gave up. "Hey, what's the last—"
"—Four mistletoe berries," Harry and Hermione said in nearly perfect sync.
"Mistletoe berries. How do I keep forgetting that?"
"It's a Forgetfulness Potion, mate. That's the point," Dean reminded him.
"We learned about it last year and I still can't quite get it," Neville sighed. "I don't know how I'll pass my exams this year."
"You'll get it," Hermione encouraged. "You passed last year, didn't you?"
"But you passed! You'll be alright, Neville. You're always studying with us. More than I can say for Ron," she grumbled.
"He's in Quidditch mode," Harry reminded her.
"What sort of excuse is that? Honestly, I don't understand what all the fuss is about. Some of the rules are fine, but the whole concept of the Snitch makes the game ridiculous!"
Dean raised an eyebrow. "But it's the Snitch!"
"Right," Hermione looked up at him with a frown. "Imagine your team going through months of practice for a Quidditch game. You get into your first match and make goal after goal until you are a hundred and forty points ahead of the other team. Then some lucky fool catches the Snitch and you instantly lose. What sort of nonsense is that?"
"…Okay, I'll give you that. But it's exciting."
"For some people, I suppose," she focused back on her homework.
"What do you reckon, Harry?" Neville asked.
He shrugged a little uncomfortably. "I…like flying, but I don't think the sport is for me. I'm in the Dueling Club, anyway."
"Fair enough. Lockhart still coming at you?"
That elicited a groan from Harry. "I don't know why he keeps trying to duel me every session."
"I mean, you've given him a concussion twice," Dean sniggered. "Maybe he keeps forgetting how badly you beat him. Hermione, salamander blood for the second step of the Fire Protection Potion, right? Stir counter-clockwise until it turns green?"
Dean nodded to himself before he spoke again. "Maybe Lockheart thinks that by dueling you all the time, it'll give him some sort of a reputation. Like, 'I survived a hundred duels with Harry Potter' or something."
"I don't care what he says as long as he stops bothering me," Harry grumbled. "At this rate, I'm going to kill him on accident."
"I'm just saying! If I have to hear about how he fought off a swarm of Cornish pixies in the classroom again while I was dangling from the dragon skeleton—"
"Didn't Aurelion eat like, six of them?"
"They were delicious," the Horned Serpent flew over their table with a cheerful hiss. Harry snorted. Aurelion had erupted from the suitcase during the chaos of that particular incident, chasing the pixies through the air and gobbling them down one by one. By the end, the pixies were even more traumatized than the students.
Neville sighed. "I can't wait for him to leave."
"We all feel the same way," Hermione said sympathetically.
They all looked towards the entrance to the boys' dorms to see Ron coming down with a huge Gryffindor banner spread out between his hands. He grinned at them. "What do you think?"
"It looks great," Harry offered.
"Quidditch?" Hermione prompted.
"Quidditch," Ron confirmed happily.
She rolled her eyes and returned to her homework. Dean and Neville started talking to Ron about it while Harry focused on his own studies. Aurelion swooped down again, hovering close to his master, and the boy lifted a hand absently to stroke the deep black scales.
The serpent quietly hissed and Harry looked up to see Ginny Weasley slipping out of the girls' dorms and striding towards the door, clutching something tightly to her chest. A book?
She'd been…out of sorts since coming to Hogwarts. Harry didn't know her well, but even Ron had said his sister wasn't acting like herself. She'd been irritable and emotional, or so he'd told them.
Aurelion watched her go, tongue flicking. "She is still unhappy."
"I'm not really sure what to do," Harry shrugged helplessly. "I asked, but she said she didn't want to talk about it."
"Should we follow her?"
"She's probably just going to dinner. In fact, we should be going soon, too."
The Horned Serpent didn't seem so sure, but he accepted the decision after a few moments. Harry noted that his eyes didn't leave the Fat Lady's portrait door after the girl left. Maybe he'd ask again, just to be sure she was doing ok…
Ginny did show up to dinner, in fact, looking…not happier exactly, but lighter? Harry allowed Aurelion to fly over to her and she even managed a small smile as the Horned Serpent brushed against her hand.
Maybe she was figuring things out. He relaxed somewhat.
Snapping fingers drew his attention away from the girl. Nym's eyes gleamed, amused. "What's got your head in the clouds, Harry?"
"Nothing," he replied. "Well, not nothing, but I think it's fine now."
"Ginny? The twins said she's still been out of it," Nym hummed and glanced at the red-headed girl. "Seems like maybe she's doing better now."
"Aurelion was worried about her. I think he misses flying with her at the Burrow."
"Gotcha. Well, here's hoping she's come around at last. Say, are you going to the game tomorrow? Hufflepuff vs Gryffindor! You'll have to cheer for me, you know!"
"Hm. I'm not sure. I think Ron'll strangle me if I cheer for another House."
"I'll smash him with a bludger if he tries," she grinned. "Here, I'll make you a deal."
Harry raised an eyebrow, fork halfway to his mouth with a piece of pumpkin pie suspended upon it. "Oh?"
"Cheer for me during the game and I'll cheer for you during your Dueling Club meet," she offered. "Even if you wind up knocking out a 'Puff or two."
A smile curled the corners of his lips. "Alright. You've got yourself a deal."
"Great! I've already got a fan," she winked at him playfully and Harry's cheeks reddened, but he couldn't stop smiling.
"Are you nervous?"
"Who, me? Psh, of course not! I'm going to smash the Gryffindor Keeper with the meanest bludger the world's ever seen!"
"Your hair is red," he pointed out.
"It is not!"
"It's not pink."
Nym frowned, concentrating, and slowly her hair shifted from red to her usual lighter shade. Even then, Harry saw a few darker strands exposing her anxiety.
"You'll do great. I'll cheer for you, promise."
She still looked unsure, clearly displeased that her emotions and been so easily exposed. He muttered under his breath and held out a plate of beignets that appeared with his request. She blinked at the treats, coated liberally with powdered sugar.
"Come on, eat. You'll need it for tomorrow."
Nym grinned and her hair turned fully pink as she eagerly accepted the dessert. Harry smiled back fondly.
They chatted for a bit, catching up on little details they'd missed due to living in separate houses. Harry was eager for Winter Break to come around. Not just because he'd be going with Newt to Uganda, of course, but because he'd have a chance to spend more time with Nym.
Maybe he'd bring her back a souvenir from Africa? She'd probably like that.
Aurelion eventually floated back to them and Harry blinked as the Horned Serpent wound around Nym's shoulders, hissing as she laughed and stroked his scales. The snake flew over to Harry and wrapped himself around the boy's torso like a reptilian toga. His head nestled on Harry's shoulder, tongue flickering all the while.
He lifted a hand to scratch the underside of Aurelion's chin. "How's Ginny?"
"Better. Lighter," Aurelion hissed. His slitted eye shifted to meet Harry's. "Unusually so."
"It's unusual that she's happy?"
"Something isn't right," the serpent insisted. "She isn't just happier, she's…different. I cannot explain it, but I can smell traces of something foul on her."
That got a frown from Harry. "Like what?"
"I do not know. She did not tell me."
"You want to investigate."
Harry pondered the idea. It wasn't like there was much risk to the suggestion, and with Salazar's Basilisk dead…
Well, he'd learned not to discount the concerns of his serpents a long time ago.
"Alright. After dinner," he promised.
Aurelion hissed and Harry looked back to Nym, who was watching him suspiciously. He prepared to explain—
"Don't tell me. You're going to do something reckless."
"I am not," he protested.
"You just had one of those 'intense secret Parseltongue conversations' with Aurelion," she said flatly. "What is it this time?"
"Okay, I'll give you that, but really it's not reckless," he insisted. "Aurelion just wants to check up on something about Ginny."
"Great. I'm going with you."
He opened his mouth and she lifted a challenging eyebrow, her hair turned black, and her features set in a way he'd privately assigned as her no-nonsense face. Harry immediately knew he wasn't going to dissuade her. "You're going with me."
"Glad we're on the same page," she said cheerily, hair returning to a bright pink. Harry shook his head in fond exasperation and returned to dinner.
Aurelion's keen sense of smell led them to the girls' lavatory on the second floor, which had a large "out of order" sign plastered on the front.
Nym groaned at the sight of it. Harry frowned. "What's wrong?"
"This is Moaning Myrtle's Bathroom," she muttered.
"Moaning Myrtle? She's a ghost—cries louder than you can believe, upset all the time. Generally insufferable to be around. I've heard she enjoys people being miserable almost as much as Peeves."
"Why would Ginny come here then?" Harry asked. He glanced at Aurelion. "You're sure this is the right place?"
"Her scent is the only one this close to the bathroom," he answered.
"Aurelion says this is it," he shrugged helplessly.
"Fantastic. Well, let's get this over with," Nym grumbled.
They slipped into the bathroom and Harry could tell instantly why no one ever went in. It was the gloomiest, most depressing place he'd ever set foot in. Everything looked to be in some state of disrepair, like the castle itself didn't like this place. Mirrors were cracked and spotted, the sinks were chipped. The floor was damp. A few candles were all that lit the room.
"Charming," Nym said dryly.
He had to agree with her. "Let's make this quick. Aurelion?"
The Horned Serpent floated up, tongue flickering, and flew towards a few of the stalls. They didn't look any better; one of the doors was hanging off its hinges.
Aurelion started to dive towards one of the closed stalls only to recoil as an object was hurled at him. He barely avoided it and a furious scream filled the bathroom that had them flinching.
"IF YOU'RE GOING TO THROW THINGS AT ME, I'M GOING TO THROW THINGS BACK! GET OUT!"
A ghost flew from the stall—a girl with glasses, Harry could see—and kept screaming at them. She suddenly looked at Aurelion, as if registering what she'd first attacked. He had no idea ghosts could go pale.
She somehow screamed even more loudly before flying back to the stall and diving into a toilet. Water exploded from each of the stalls, flooding the bathroom further.
"Well, that's just lovely," Nym scowled. "Let's get out of here, Harry."
He was about to agree when Aurelion lowered himself to the floor—but did not touch it—and stared at the object Myrtle had thrown at him. It was a book, damp and seemingly ruined from all the water soaking into it.
Harry walked over and took out his wand, levitating the book with a murmur. He frowned at the sight of it. The book was old and worn, with a blank cover and no title he could see.
Aurelion's tongue flicked out as they studied it. Harry reached out carefully and touched it, but felt nothing unusual. Slowly, he opened it up and found no sign of anything useful in the yellowed pages.
Aurelion cocked his head. "It smells odd, but I am not sure…"
"What would Ginny be doing with this old thing?" Nym frowned. "There's nothing in it."
"I don't know," Harry flipped through the book with another spell. He was leery about holding it. But after several minutes of searching, they still couldn't find a single unusual thing about the old tome.
"What do we do with it?"
Harry pondered the question before finally shrugging. "Let's just leave it here. It's not like anyone else is going to come to this place. Let's hide it and we can check it out again another time. It's late, and you've got Quidditch tomorrow."
"Fair enough. But where should we hide it?"
Harry kept the book in the air with his wand and levitated it to the top of the column all the sinks were arranged around. He let it drop out of sight. "There."
"How are you planning on getting it back?"
"Aurelion can knock it off. Or I can practice that Summoning Charm I read about. Haven't tried it yet."
Nym seemed satisfied. "Great. Well, at least it can't hex us in our sleep."
"Here's hoping," Harry agreed as they left the bathroom. He glanced back to the sink column, unsure, but was fairly sure it would be fine. Aurelion didn't seem overly bothered with it, though he was a bit hesitant.
Something to think about another time.
Harry hadn't gone to a Quidditch game in his first year. He'd taken one look at all the people packing the stands and turned right around to go back to the castle. Too many people, way too much noise, too crowded and claustrophobic. He still wasn't comfortable, but he thought he could bear it now.
Harry had bought a small Hufflepuff pin from the vendors and half-hid it beneath his cloak as the game began. Ron, Ginny, and an army's worth of Gryffindor students were all cheering around him.
For all that he liked them, he had come to cheer for just one player today. He wouldn't have shown up otherwise.
He saw the 'Puffs sweep around on their brooms and he caught sight of Nym, offering a small wave. She flashed him a grin and brandished her Beater's bat—and almost hit the other 'Puff Beater, who yelped. Harry couldn't help but laugh.
The game started and instantly erupted into pure chaos, as far as he could tell. Ron chattered in his ear, telling him the rules and maneuvers of the players. Harry could barely keep up if he was being honest. He just tried to keep his eyes on Nym as she smashed the bludger away from the 'Puff Seeker.
Lee Jordan was constantly speaking into an incredibly loud magical mic, mostly commenting in a (definitely) biased manner for Gryffindor while McGonnagal scolded him. He brought more energy to the crowd, as if the chaos on the field wasn't enough. Harry thought it was a bit much.
He'd made the right choice in not bringing Selena and Aurelion for this. They'd despise this insanity. There was way too much stimulation.
Harry felt like his ears might explode, but he focused on Nym and that made it easier.
She was a good flier, although sometimes she'd overextend swinging that bat and it seemed like she might tumble off. That made his stomach lurch more than once throughout the game. It was stressful to watch.
But she was grinning and at one point she smashed a bludger into a Quaffle thrown by the Hufflepuff Chaser, inadvertently driving the ball into the goal, and Harry cheered while Ron protested that it shouldn't count.
Gryffindor won the game in the end. A stray bludger had smashed the Hufflepuff Keeper's broom almost in two, and though the Keeper was fine, it had left their goals wide open for Angelina Johnson to score goal after goal with the Quaffle. Even though Hufflepuff's Seeker ended up catching the Golden Snitch, the point difference was still too large.
But nobody seemed overly upset about it, so Harry assumed it was a good game overall. He'd had…fun. It was strange to think of it like that, but he'd genuinely enjoyed himself for a while.
He caught up to Nym as the 'Puffs left their locker room, waving to get her attention. She grinned at the sight of him.
"Like what you saw?" Nym jogged up to him and they turned to walk back tot he castle together. She shook her head ruefully. "Can't believe that bludger took out Cap's broom. I didn't even see it!"
"You were on the other side of the field dealing with the twins," he told her.
"Watching me, were you?"
He shrugged. "You're the one who told me to come cheer you on."
"Thanks for that. It helped a lot," she nudged him with her shoulder in a friendly way. "I mean it."
"Maybe I'll come cheer for you every game."
"Really? So you had fun?"
"It was…different," he admitted. "Not bad, just loud. And a bit crowded."
She laughed. "The crowd did look pretty wild. Hufflepuff and Gryffindor aren't exactly rivals like you guys are with Slytherin, but the gloves come off for Quidditch. Did you see how I smashed that bludger Fred sent at Diggory? I can't believe I got it!"
"I can't believe you knocked the Quaffle in on accident," Harry grinned. "Ron went mental."
"I meant to do that!"
His eyebrows rose and she pursed her lips, fighting a smile. "Sure you did."
"Now you listen here, Harry Potter—"
Harry fought the urge to laugh as she berated him with a teasing gleam in her eyes, but he ultimately failed and joined in her giggles. He felt light. Happy.
It might've been the most fun he'd ever had.
Harry had a Dueling Club meeting a few days later led by Professor Flitwick.
Snape didn't join them quite so much these days, and Lockheart was apparently elsewhere. Maybe he'd finally gotten tired of being beaten?
Harry kept his hopes to a minimum. Lockheart wasn't a fast learner.
"If I could get everyone's attention, please!" Flitwick announced from the top of the dueling platform. Everyone quieted immediately. "As you all know, official team tryouts are going to take place on the twenty-second of January after Christmas Break. If you wish to try out, please sign your name on this document at the end of class."
He held the paper up as high as he could for them to see. "If you choose to participate in official tournaments, there are several things you must be aware of! First and foremost, you will have to display your ability to perform Expelliarmus and Protego. If you wish to add other spells to your arsenal, you must first display them to me for my approval.
"Secondly, signing up for the official team does not guarantee a spot. There will only be one slot available per House, per school year. Meaning there will only be one Ravenclaw Third Year, one Ravenclaw Fourth Year, and so on. The same goes for the other Houses, naturally. If more than one student per House, per year meet the required standards, you will engage in a tournament of sorts to determine who gets the official spot. No First Years are allowed on the official team—school rules.
"If you do win a spot on the team, you can be challenged by eligible members of the unofficial Dueling Club—that is, those who wish to take your place. Official placement matches must be supervised by me during Club Hours. Do not engage in duels outside of our official hours. Failure to comply will result in expulsion from the team, if not the school depending on the severity of the situation. Am I understood?"
"Yes sir," Harry and the other students chorused. It sounded like a lot, but the rules and requirements were fairly simple; master the necessary spells, earn your spot on the team, and don't do anything stupid.
Perfectly sensible as far as he was concerned.
"As this is the first time in many years Hogwarts has had an official Dueling Team, I think it best if we dedicate this pioneering year to improving ourselves," Flitwick declared. "Depending on how well our students perform this year, we might go abroad for official Dueling Tournaments with other schools. Whether we compete outside of Hogwarts or not depends on you!"
That would be interesting, Harry had to admit. Meeting students from other magic schools around the world? There were many he'd heard of and would like to see. The idea was exciting.
He had already decided to try out for the official team. His friends all thought he could do it and Harry liked practicing magic like this. Ron could have Quidditch. This was much more his speed.
"If you have any questions, you may of course ask me," Flitwick continued. "But for now, let us split into our usual groups, shall we? First Years, with me for wand motion practice, Second Years have the Dueling Stand first today…"
Harry waited for him to finish his announcements before he made his way to the line of Gryffindor Second Years waiting for their turn to duel. There weren't as many as when the year started, (Lockhart had driven a few away with his nonsense and others—like Hermione—decided it simply wasn't for them) but he still knew a few of them. Seamus was present with Dean, and Parvati as well.
They were matched up against a group of Slytherin Second Years. Draco had become the Slytherin Seeker and left he club behind. Crabbe and Goyle had also left—which Harry was glad for—and he wound up facing Millicent Bulstrode.
Harry held his wand at the ready as one of the Seventh Years tasked with supervising the duel by Flitwick looked back and forth between them. "One…two…th—"
"Densaugeo!" Millicent fired her spell before he finished, resulting in a sharp rebuke from the student, but Harry threw up a Protection Charm before it reached him.
It might've been a requirement for the Dueling Club, but Protego was generally taught late in a student's time at Hogwarts. Harry had resolved to learn it early, seeing as he had a few enemies out and about in the world. He'd been working on Protego for months now, though it was still incomplete. His shields could absorb unfriendly magic, but he couldn't reflect them back.
He'd figure it out with practice. Not that it mattered right now—he didn't know what sort of spell Millicent had shot at him, but it was meaningless once it washed off of his charm.
"Expelliarmus!" Harry snapped, shooting back his own volley and striking her in the arm. She was hurled into the air, though Flitwick caught her with a casual wave of his wand. The diminutive Professor was always ready if someone was sent flying.
"Potter takes this round," the Seventh Year declared as their teacher lowered the Slytherin girl safely to the floor. She looked a little green.
At least he hadn't given her a concussion. Harry returned his wand to his cloak as he stepped down from the platform, giving the next student their chance.
A/N: Trying to get all my stories moving in a consistent schedule. Serpentine is no different. The discord server is still open for anyone who wants to join.
As ever, please review and thanks for reading!