Travel by boat wasn't all that exciting despite everything he had heard about the sea of ghosts.
He had half-expected dragons, pirates, a kraken… Something. But no. Compared to his other time at sea, it wasn't particularly noteworthy. Not even a half-giant with a letter and cake.
Really it was just cold, and windy, and cold, and wet. So really, it was just very cold. The kind of bone-penetrating chill that layers of clothing and warming charms seemed powerless before, as the spray of cold water from the ship breaking waves soaked everything he could put on, and the howling chill wind rendered any charm moot within minutes.
Harry had begun to wonder if they really shouldn't have tried taking the roads to Whiterun instead. Or, at least travel by land to Winterhold. He had been told that it was the neighbouring province to the Pale—where Dawnstar was—and had figured that it meant it couldn't be that far away. Only to realize that what it really meant was, that to get to Winterhold they would have to walk around all of the mountains they could see to the east of Dawnstar. The entire bloody mountain-range that stretched as far and high as the eye could see—from sea to sky, rising from the water all the way up until it was scratching the clouds on high.
Still, even though it had been a miserable pair of days, they had been reassured by the captain that they were making good time with the winds on their backs. And better yet, Luna had seemed to recover from her fatigue, leaving only the strange pattern on her arm for them to worry about.
"Harry!" Luna cried out and he turned around, frowning at her. She was pointing out into the distance and jumping on the deck. "Look!"
He followed the line of her outstretched hand, point upwards, and head along the coast. His brows furrowed further as he saw nothing but icebergs and more icebergs until suddenly there it was. A grey stone keep perched atop a long outcropping of ice, rising up so far above that somehow he felt like the structure was about to collapse into the sea at any moment.
"Is that it…?"
Hogwarts was old, too. But that castle in the distance was simply decrepit.
It didn't look particularly different from the ruins in which Nightcaller temple had been hidden, he thought with a frown. Just then, the captain of the trading ship headed for Windhelm—another, larger city further to the east along the northern coast of Skyrim—barked orders at his men. Slowly the longboat began to inch towards the coast, just beneath the massive glaciers and as the sail was taken down and oars brought forward, Harry had to ask.
"Umm, where are you leaving us, exactly?"
There was no port, no city, no town. Just ice and snow as far as the eye could see, besides the castle now looming high above them on top of a glacier. If he strained his eyes, he could just see something like a bridge hanging in the air, too.
The gruff captain grunted.
"There's a path up to Winterhold right over there. Mind the horkers, they won't bother you unless you bother them. and pray there aren't wolves or saber cats on the way up."
"Oh…" Harry nodded, nervously touching his wand then.
A scant few minutes later the shallow longboat made contact with the beach and Harry and Luna jumped off. There were no long goodbyes or further advice forthcoming from the captain or his crew as they hastened to get the boat back in the water.
For how much they had had to pay for the ride, the service certainly hadn't been up to par.
"See if we ride with you again," Harry grumbled and shook his head.
Then, turning around he spotted Luna ogling at the three-toothed walruses lounging about by the waterfront. They were brown, blubbery, and obviously quite lazy, unwilling to bother the either of them with so much as a look yet while they remained at a distance.
"Those are the horkers then, I suppose."
"Let's go closer, Harry...!" Luna was already on her way and he had to jog up to catch her arm.
"Luna, wait!" Faced with her excited expression, he faltered. "You, uh… You should be careful."
She nodded, her excitement now more controlled by not at all dampened. "Oh, yes. We can't all be Hagrid."
He blinked, reminded of her opinion on his first friend's teaching of the class, earlier this year. Shaking his head he looked up at the castle. He supposed they weren't in any hurry as there was plenty of daylight left. And if worst came to worst then he could apparate them, either back to Dawnstar or then up there.
She was still looking at him intently, so Harry let go of her arm with an embarrassed cough. "Well, just so you know. Do you… want my cloak? I'm sure they wouldn't mind you, then?"
Luna looked surprised, before she laughed and shook her head.
"It would be terribly rude to spy on them like that, Harry."
"Oh, err, I guess?"
Following her at a distance, they set down their packs and spent some half-hour just looking at the horkers. Luna seemed positively giddy about the creatures, making observations and guessing at various minutiae of their diets, preferred habitats, sleeping rhythm and positions, all while Harry sat back, begging of on account of the creatures reminding him all too much of his cousin and uncle.
Eventually, she seemed to have gathered enough and they re-took their packs and started the trek up to Winterhold, snaking their way between massive glaciers, or rather where they had cracked and split to create gorges and canyons of wondrous white snow and pale blue ice.
A deep thrum startled them both out of their quiet ascent.
"What was that?" Harry asked, his wand already out as he looked left and right.
"Could it be a…"
But Luna's words were swallowed by the follow up to the earlier noise, an echoing deep rumble that shook the ground and made powdery snow fall in puffs and piles from above.
"The ice is moving and breaking apart…" Harry realized.
Suddenly the deep, frozen canyon did not seem as miraculous, the thought of the tonnes and tonnes of snow pressing in and collapsing on top of them making him swallow nervously.
"We should go," he said, deciding that discretion was the better part of valour just then.
Luckily they did not run into anything else on the way up, but he could have sworn he had heard howling echoing in the distance at one point.
Arriving at the edge of town, they looked around curiously.
Where Dawnstar had been small and poor, Winterhold was that and less. Half the houses had collapsed and been abandoned, now covered in snow or used as storage or source for firewood by the neighbouring, still-occupied houses. No dock, no smithy, no mines. There was an inn up ahead, but it too looked nothing as inviting as the Windpeak Inn had been.
Frowning, Harry turned to look at the stone archway leading towards the castle they had seen before they had made landfall. As he had thought, it really did stand on its own on a pillar of ice, connected only by a stone bridgeway to the town. That had to be the College, then. Unless Erandur had meant for them to study in one of the worn and snow-covered cabins.
"S'not much compared to Hogwarts and Hogsmeade, huh…?" This was closer to what Harry had imagined Durmstrang to be, instead. "Well, let's go…"
At the stone arch leading to the castle, there stood a tall woman in robes. They weren't the baggy or billowy sort that he was used to seeing, rather it looked like a long tunic. As they made their way closer, Harry could see that it wasn't a human but in fact another elf, one with golden-yellow skin. Nervously swallowing his unease he led them to a halt before her.
"Umm… Hello, is this the College of Winterhold?"
A pale brow arched and he couldn't quite tell if she was amused or judging him as she stared down at them. Like Erandur, she had angled eyes that made her distinctly inhuman and very high cheekbones with almost hollow cheeks. But the lack of burning red eyes, replaced by deep-set and dark mien, made her quite distinctive regardless.
Finally, she spoke.
"Indeed. Welcome to the College. Do you wish to join or do you have some other business here?"
"Yes," Luna answered promptly, drawing the tall elf's gaze and the two blondes stared at each other.
Clearing his throat, Harry explained: "We heard that there was famous healer, Colette Marence, here?."
There was also the matter of finding a way back home, but that would be quite a bit more difficult to explain, and perhaps the easiest way about figuring that out would be to join the College as Luna was suggesting.
The elf sighed.
"I'm afraid that Colette is… not very keen on accepting visitors or patients."
"But, she does make time for members of the College on occasion, especially during lectures for demonstration purposes. Would that suit your needs, if I have understood correctly?"
Harry nodded, relieved. "Yes, we would like to join."
"Of course. There is still the matter of the entrance exam, as not everyone is allowed to enter."
"Okay," he replied, glancing at Luna. He had managed his O.W.L.s, but she hadn't yet, and he had no idea what kind of exam they needed to pass here. Most of what he had learned in Hogwarts over the half-decade that he had been attending would be useless here, after all.
"A simple demonstration of the ability to cast spells will suffice. Any of the five schools will do, as we perform research and teach for all of them."
Nodding, Harry drew his wand and then after a moment of indecision incanted: "Lumos."
The tip of the wand lit up with a bright light.
Beside him Luna imitated him, her wand lighting up just the same.
Perhaps because of how simple a spell they had chosen, the elf frowned and looked between the two wands with furrowed brows. Hesitating for a spell, she frowned.
"I'm afraid that we do not accept students if they are reliant on enchanted items or scrolls." She crossed her arms, now looking at them down over the length of her nose. "If there are no other spells that you can cast, then I'm afraid there is no further need for you to linger by the gates."
Harry blinked, not quite understanding what was happening. Still, her dismissal and looking down on him was fueling some sense of pride within himself, especially given how oft Erandur had praised his abilities.
"Well, if it's just another spell, that's no issue," he said crossly and conjured a gout of flame with a whispered Incendio, following the display with a bird-conjuring charm and then finishing off with a silent Stupefy that managed to hit four birds at once.
The elf's expression had gone blank as a canvas.
Luna imitated his spells once more, though she had to incant Incendio and Stupefy quite a bit more loudly than he had, finishing her dancing wand motions by placing it behind her left ear.
The tall woman blinked and then ruefully chuckled.
"I cannot say that I had expected such a display from one so young, but it changes little; the College of Winterhold would be most proud to welcome two mages so accomplished." Having said that, she actually performed a little bow. "But, if I may be so bold, may I pose a question? What is it that you hope to find within the College?"
Harry hesitated, glancing at Luna. Taking this as a cue to go ahead first, his companion answered.
"Do you have any books on horkers?"
He chortled at the elf's expression, looking away.
"Ah, well… Perhaps Urag gro-Shub may help you there—he is the caretaker of the Arcaneum, and knows many things. Knowledge is always a worthwhile pursuit." The elf nodded and then turned to Harry. "And you?"
"Ah, uh… Well…"
Luna had convinced him to come here, but it would be wrong to say that he hadn't thought about this place at all himself. But he wasn't exactly sure how to say what was on his mind.
"I… want to know more about… fighting with magic."
He winced. That came out wrong, as if he wanted to learn the dark arts or something.
But for whatever reason, this answer seemed to please the tall elf as she nodded.
"Many come seeking mastery over the elements—frost, fire, and shock—and the powers they bring to bear. This, too, the College can help you with; I warmly welcome any new students who would walk this path with me. Ah, but… I have yet to introduce myself. I am Faralda, the College's expert on destruction magic."
"Oh—I'm Harry… Harry Potter," he hastened to reply. "And this is…"
"A pleasure to make your acquaintances." Faralda nodded, pleased as she motioned for them to follow. "Now, let us find the Master Wizard. Come."
They followed the tall elf through the gatehouse and up to the stone bridge they had seen before. Up close it was much more obvious how worn and old it was, as pieces from the side had eroded and fallen off, making it quite obvious how high up they were as they walked towards the castle-on-a-glacier-spire. The howling wind, bringing up puffs of powdery snow, helped none. Along the way they passed several strange stone circles—almost like low and wide stone wells, but not quite—but Faralda moved past them without comment.
At the ended of the high-strung bridge lay another gatehouse, this one leading into a courtyard.
It hadn't been apparent from afar, but the College appeared to be one structure. A single, circular keep with an empty centre—the large courtyard, with another of those not-quite-wells and a large statue in the middle. Ahead on the other side of the statue, he spotted a large wooden door and as they approached the statue, he spotted another two smaller doors on the left and right sides.
Faralda came to a halt and then nodded them on ahead, motioning at a short-haired woman up ahead.
"That is Mirabelle Ervine, the Master Wizard of the College." There was something in the elf's tone of voice that Harry couldn't quite place, but as she continued he ignored it. "Speak to her, I must return to the gate."
With that, she left them.
Sharing a look, Harry and Luna shrugged before heading towards the woman.
It seemed as if there had been some argument as yet another tall elf—one wearing a more ornate black and gold robe with a hood—strode away with the air of proud indignation, instantly reminding Harry of Lucius Malfoy. There was a certain air about him.
"Hmm? Oh, more students? I'm surprised how many of you there are lately."
Harry nodded. "Are you the Master Wizard?" he asked, quite puzzled over her apparent gender. "Faralda instructed us to speak with you."
"Indeed. Welcome to the College of Winterhold; I am Mirabelle Ervine and I serve as the Master Wizard."
He and Luna nodded.
"Good. Will the both of you be staying at the College, then?"
"Umm, I guess?" Harry replied.
"Wonderful. Please follow me, and don't wander off," Mirabelle said and then turned around. "The College of Winterhold has been a fixture in Skyrim for thousands of years. The prominent feature here is the Hall of the Elements." She gestured at the large door that Harry had spotted earlier. "It's our primary location for lectures, practice sessions, and general meetings. The Arcanaeum is located above the hall, and the Arch-Mage's quarters above that."
"The Arch-Mage?" Luna asked, curious.
She smiled slightly, almost abashed.
"Indeed. While technically in charge of the College, the Arch-Mage's responsibilities often keep him occupied. Thus, my duties include handling the day-to-day operations of the College and you may speak with me if you have any questions of such a nature. Now, if you'll please follow me, I'll show you the living quarters."
They crossed the courtyard and entered through one of the smaller doors.
Inside, speaking much more quietly than before, partly due to the lack of howling wind, she continued.
"Unfortunately, we've had to implement more stringent entry procedures, due to some problems with the local Nords. We don't anticipate any real violence, but it never hurts to be prepared." Walking deeper inside, Harry noted that it was very dark, with the only source of light being another of those not-quite-wells again. Coming to a stop, the Master Wizard gestured to the various doors. "Our newest members are housed here in the Hall of Attainment. I'll ask that you please keep your voice down while inside, as others may be working on research or... delicate experiments."
"Now, will you two be sharing accommodations, or…?" Mirabelle trailed off with an expectant look.
Licking his lips, Harry glanced at Luna. Could they afford two rooms?
"Umm, how much are the rooms? And what about tuition fees?" he asked tentatively.
Mirabelle nodded, smiling slightly.
"The rooms—and robes I shall shortly present you with—are free, as are the food and other services we provide. We do not expect any tuition, nor are there any expectations of you." As Harry blinked, confused, she gestured to the walls around them proudly. "This College is a place to study and practice magic freely. Hopefully, any discoveries made in your pursuits will be shared with the members of the College first." She smiled. "That way we all benefit."
"Oh… That's…" Better than he could have hoped for.
If they had landed near Winterhold right away he wouldn't have needed to sell Luna's dress in the first place. But things hadn't been so simple; it had taken considerable money to get here in the first place. Money, money, money. Everything was about money, Harry had slowly realized during his stay in Dawnstar. So how did they keep everything running here?
He asked as much.
Mirabelle nodded and for a moment he almost expected for her to grant him house points.
"The facilities and lectures are provided for free in most cases, but should you wish to learn new spells from the College, you will most likely have to purchase the spell tomes. Sometimes the professors may agree to an exchange of favors, but for most spells, you will find yourself in need of gold," she explained.
That seemed reasonable enough, he supposed.
"Additionally, our services are often called upon in Skyrim. Should you wish to assist in these matters, you will be rewarded a portion of the customer's fee. This way you may practice your skills, acquire resources to continue your studies, and help the College."
Harry nodded, considering the novel approach. Hadn't Hagrid said that should the muggles be made aware of magic, they would flood witches and wizards with all manner of problems? But it did make some sense; even an ickle firstie from Hogwarts could easily perform magic that would be invaluable to a muggle.
So in Skyrim, without the International Statute of Secrecy, he supposed it was a legitimate way of remaining solvent.
"Okay, makes sense. I guess."
"What kind of magic do you study?" Luna asked.
Mirabelle nodded at the question.
"You will meet them all sooner or later, but there is no harm in telling now either; besides myself and the Arch-Wizard, the College's staff also includes the various professors and the keeper of the Arcaneum. Faralda, our resident expert on Destruction magic, you have already met on your way in. She may have a sharp tongue but her skills and knowledge with the elements are unmatched at the College."
The elf had mentioned as much before, Harry remembered.
No wonder she had approved of his interest in fighting, he supposed. Still, the name 'destruction' did not leave much to the imagination. He preferred Defence Against the Dark Arts, but he would wait and see what the lessons themselves entailed before passing further judgment.
"For Restoration magic, we have Colette Marence. She may have certain…" Mirabelle grimaced, searching for the words. "...insecurities, regarding Restoration magic, but aside from that, she is quite reliable. On the opposite side, in many ways, we have Drevis Neloren teaching Illusion magic." She smiled now, perhaps remembering some amusing anecdote, but said nothing more on the subject. "For Conjuration, our most recent addition to the staff, is Phinis Gestor."
Harry perked at that.
They had been set to learn conjuration in post-O.W.L.s classes in Transfiguration back in Hogwarts. Of course, it was likely that it would be a different branch of magic altogether, but he made a note to check it out nonetheless.
"And finally, our most talented member of staff; Tolfdir, teaching Alteration magic. We do not expect our students to follow any specific curriculum, but usually, all attend Tolfdir's lessons, for a multitude of reasons. Besides them, we also have Sergius Turrianus who teaches Enchanting—our perhaps most profitable branch in Skyrim," she said with an amused expression, which Harry didn't quite understand. "And Urag Gro-shub as keeper of the Arcaneum. Should you wish to consult the College's collection of books I suggest you remain on good terms with the old orc."
He blinked—finally realizing that the library, which had now been mentioned several times, was called the Arcaneum—and also having a difficult time connecting the image of an orc with the duties of a librarian. The Master Wizard, aware of Harry's reaction, only smiled knowingly.
"I should like to meet him very soon," Luna opined, apparently just as curious as he was.
"Of course," Mirabelle answered. "Now, before I forget…" She walked over to a large, dark cabinet and opened it, pulling forth a set of deep blue robes similar to the ones she and Faralda wore. Handing them over, she said: "Here you go. You may prefer these to your current clothing, though the College does not necessarily enforce a dress code. They are enchanted and should help you get situated."
Harry nodded, accepting his robes and deciding that he might as well put them on, noticing that Luna seemed to share his curiosity. They came with a pair of soft leather shoes and long linen wraps, which was just as well. They had had to re-transfigure their boots once during the boat journey already, so getting some real shoes had been on his mind since leaving Dawnstar.
"With that settled and everything explained, shall I assume that wish separate quarters?" Seeing his nod, the Master Wizard motioned at two doors right next to each other. "Very well. These are your rooms."
They looked inside, noting how spartan it was. There was a bed, a table and a chair, dressers and cupboards, leaving the small-ish room feeling quite stuffed. Regardless, they were still private rooms; a luxury after years of shared dorms in Hogwarts.
"Thank you," Harry said, feeling a little overwhelmed again.
"Now, finally, there is the matter of rules." Mirabelle became serious once she had handed both sets of robes to them. "You may not steal, attack, or otherwise harm other members of the College. While in public, remember that you are representatives and behave as such; while we do not strictly speaking condemn necromancy—" Harry's eyes widened. "—we are aware of the general population's views on the matter. So bear that in mind, should you wish to experiment. Aside from that, you may do as you wish."
"O-okay." Harry gulped.
He hadn't quite realized the implications of how a more liberal view on practising magic might affect a school, but hearing about necromancy came as something of a shock. Then again if they taught something called 'destruction magic', perhaps he shouldn't be so shocked?
"Now, if you'll excuse me, I must be leaving. Feel free to look around and introduce yourself to everyone… Welcome to the College and have a good day."
With that, the short-haired woman left, exiting the Hall of Attainment the way she had come.
Glancing at Luna and hefting his pack, he nodded at the open doors to their rooms. "Which one do you want?"
She raised a finger to her mouth, tilting her head for a moment before closing her eyes and spinning around with her hand extended. One, two, three full rotations she went, only stopping as she began to lose her balance. Extending a finger and opening her eyes, she blinked as she swayed.
Picking the room closest to her finger, she happily skipped within.
"Guess that works." Harry shrugged, more amused than anything else as he chose the other one. "Are you going to change?"
Hearing a noise—something between a hum and a chirp—he figured she did.
So he decided to change into the robes as well. Cut rather short and reminiscent of those ancient Roman robes he had seen long ago in muggle school, reaching only around the knees with a pair of short trousers to cover the legs and bandages for the shins and feet, it was very different from anything else he had worn before. Closer to muggle clothing than his Hogwarts robes, really—it didn't even have pockets, but rather there was a pouch to go with the belt around his waist, which would take some getting used to.
"This will take some getting used to…"
Without pockets, he had no idea where to stick his wand. The sleeves weren't long enough for that, either, ending just below the elbow. Maybe he should wrap the bandages around his forearms as well, the way he had seen Faralda and Mirabelle do it? Well, for now, I can put it in my waist pouch... Even so, it was pretty comfortable compared to the thick furs and mantles he started since Dawnstar. Just so long as he didn't spend too much time outside, he suspected.
At least the shoes—thick leather slippers, really—were comfortable. Though he would still prefer a pair of transfigured boots if they had to wade through the snow again.
While he was deep in thought, Luna skipped into his room and twirled in front of him.
"Huh?" He queried intelligently.
He blinked rather foolishly, before looking at the robe. It was blue and kind of brownish—not quite bronze, but close enough, he supposed.
Shaking his head, amused at the comment, he wondered what to do next. Look around for Colette Marence?
"Well, well, well… Well well well… So many new faces, so many new hopefuls. The College hasn't felt this packed in years."
Harry blinked as someone seemed to appear from shadows. It was another elf, though he possessed neither burning eyes nor golden skin, and he seemed much shorter than Harry had come to expect of elves. On top of that he had a mohawk, which combined with his general behaviour screamed 'petty criminal'. Just the kind of person the Dursleys had for years told everyone Harry was.
Eyes twinkling, the stranger performed a theatrical bow. "Welcome to the College… Now, let me give you a bit of advice. You want to work on something that's not officially allowed? Don't tell anyone you're doing it. You need something you're not officially supposed to have, you come see me. You tell anyone that I told you, and I'll fry you from the inside out. Got it? Good."
"Err… Alright?" Harry blinked, already fingering his wand.
Usually at the start of his school-year Malfoy would come and pick a fight, but it was a first to have someone happily threatened him with anything more than a hexing. At the same time, given how this stranger was advertising him and his services, it felt like a mirror of Fred and George's side-business in Hogwarts, before they had left.
Still, there was something the elf had said that caught his interest.
"Fry from the inside out? You know thunder magic, then?"
The elf blinked. This was not what he had expected to be a point of interest, apparently. Shrugging, the elf nodded. "Shock is—shall we say—the thinking mer's choice of spell when it comes to a trouble, no?"
"Err, alright?" Not quite sure what that meant, Harry forged on. "Well, umm, so you're familiar with healing from shock spells? With how they can hurt people?"
"Hmm, more or less…" Perhaps sensing an opportunity, the elf stepped closer as he rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "So you're looking to experiment on live subjects then?"
Harry's eyes widened. "O-oh no, no. That's, that's not what I want at all."
"Hmm…" Sounding disappointed, the elf shrugged. "Then what?"
Glancing at Luna, Harry hesitated. "Well, uh… A few days back…"
He explained how they had fought someone using lightning and finally, Luna showed the marking on her arm.
"Now, that is interesting. You're actually smarter than you look, kid."
Harry frowned, growing slightly annoyed but keeping the sentiment down now that the elf was talking.
"Shock can do a lot of weird things, but if you don't haven't had any big problems yet, I wouldn't worry. But if you're worried, you could talk to Faralda or Colette. They will know more. I can, of course, also provide certain potions and services for pain ailment and wound treatment, should you require such…"
"Oh, uh, no thanks for now. We'll go see Colette, I guess."
The elf shrugged. "Your coin, your choice. Don't be a stranger now…" Then he turned around to leave just as soundlessly as he had shown up, pausing at the doorway only to give them a grin. "Oh, the name is Enthir, by the by. Drop by when you need anything."
And with that, they were left alone again.
Exchanging a look with Luna, he shrugged as she smiled. It was certainly different from Hogwarts.
"Should we go look around?"
"Oh yes, that sounds like fun," she answered, jumping up at the prospect of further exploration.
Grinning, he nodded. "Then, let's..."
Harry halted, noticing he was walking in a different direction than Luna was. They blinked owlishly, before shrugging.
"Meet you at noon?" he asked, pointing at the wall between their room's doors.
She nodded excitedly and dashed away, up a set of spiralling stairs embedded in the far wall. Shrugging again, Harry headed for the door out to the courtyard.
He had a new magical castle to explore.
As it turned out, the College wasn't very magical at all.
Not compared to Hogwarts, anyhow.
No ghosts, no talking paintings, no funny or baffling tapestries, no hidden doors or secret chamber... Not even any abandoned classrooms or four houses. Maybe there was something more to this place, but at first glance, Harry hadn't managed to find any of it. Eventually, his wandering look-see led him back to the great double doors of the Hall of the Elements, where he had been told most of the lectures would take place.
Entering gingerly, he looked around and spotted a tall hooded figure ahead wearing similar robes to himself—the vestments of a College Apprentice.
Reasoning that he could enter freely, he closed the great door behind him.
It made just enough noise for the figure to hear him, they turned around to face each other. And what Harry saw made his eyebrows vanish into his hair; a tall, two-legged cat-man with a rather impressive and dark moustache. Harry blinked mouth hanging open as he wondered. Noticing his astonishment, the cat-man sneered.
"J'zargo sees that the whelp before him has never seen a Khajiit before," he said in a surprisingly rich and dark voice. "But that is only right. The Whelp should rightly fear J'zargo."
Emphasizing his words, the cat-man—J'zargo—took one step forward and bared the sharp claws on his left hand, brandishing the cruel hooks in front of Harry's eyes.
"Ermm... Polyjuice accident?" Harry ventured, hoping to calm the strange cat-man.
J'zargo blinked twice, then, seeing no hint of apprehension or fear, J'zargo frowned and withdrew his claws and hand.
"J'zargo would never be so careless with... pol-e-juice," he denied, suddenly appearing almost flustered but doing his best to appear as if he knew what he was talking about. Then, seeking for a change in subject, he asked: "You are another new student at the College, yes?"
Harry nodded and looked down at their matching robes. "Since just this morning, yes."
The cat-man nodded suspiciously but accepted that.
"Have you learned the Expert-level Destruction spells yet?"
Smirking, J'zargo replied: "Then J'zargo shall be the first to do so."
"Alright?" Harry nodded. "Well, good luck with that, I suppose."
He didn't really see the big idea, but if the car-man had his heart set on it, then he wished the best of luck to him. Figuring that the conversation was at an end, Harry looked past his fellow apprentice into the hall ahead. It was a large circular room, not a square like he had come to expect from Hogwarts, with tall pillars near the wall and large windows that overlooked the sea of ghosts beyond.
It looked as if there was someone inside; an older man seated by the windows as he ate something in silence. But that aside the hall was empty.
"Then you are here for the Restoration lecture, yes?" J'zargo suddenly queried.
"Restoration?" Harry paused, deciding in that instant. "Yes, that's right. I heard that she's one of the best healers in Skyrim."
This would probably be a good way to meet the healer, seeing as how he hadn't anything about a medical wing, like back in Hogwarts. It wasn't as if he had a proper plan yet, but no reason to avoid a lecture. Well, not that he had any experience with healing... So it might be as if he was jumping into N.E.W.T. lectures without even having written his O.W.L.s first.
The taller apprentice scoffed but did not disagree as he too turned to enter the Hall of the Elements.
A woman in similar robes to those of Faralda appeared from a side entrance, closing the door leading to a set of stairs up behind her, giving the pair of them a snooty look. Short brown, braided hair framed her suspicious eyes as she peered at them, but she said nothing as she strode past them into the hall.
Harry and J'zargo exchanged looks before shrugging and following the woman.
Inside the man that had been eating by the window seemed to hurriedly pack up his things and leave, having noticed the woman's arrival. The woman had noticed it as well but did his best to appear dignified. Somehow it reminded Harry of his aunt but he did his best to swallow the burgeoning sense of wariness.
With only two listeners, she archly began.
"I would just like to remind everyone, once again, that Restoration is indeed a valid school of magic. It is absolutely worthy of research, despite many of the notes I've had left in my bed. And my desk. And on occasion, my meals."
This wasn't what he had expected. Again, he exchanged glances with J'zargo who appeared just as surprised, in his own veiled way. The cat-man definitely would have been a Slytherin.
Ignoring them, the woman continued in her nasal tone: "Anyone suggesting that Restoration is better left to the priests of the Temples, I think, is forgetting a few things." She paused for emphasis. "Firstly, the ability to repel the undead cannot be ignored. Skyrim is well known to be full of these... Draugr, ancient Nord warriors who cannot find peace."
Harry leaned to the side, whispering quietly.
"What's a Draugr?"
J'zargo gave him a calculating look but pointedly returned his gaze to the lecture.
"I submit that everyone in this College has, at one time or another, relied on one of the Restoration spells that can keep them at bay."
Harry was fairly sure he hadn't, but given the way she spoke of it, he was hesitant to point that out.
"Secondly, how can anyone forget wards?"
"Err, wot?" Harry couldn't help himself, interrupting the woman. She glared at him as he closed his mouth with a click.
Still, he didn't understand what healing had to do with setting up wards.
She continued, perhaps a bit crossly now.
"Wards have become essential to any mage working in dangerous situations. They are counted upon every bit as much as the Candlelight, or Invisibility, spell. But more importantly, wards have saved lives. This is a simple fact. Every mage in this College regularly uses wards for practice, so as to avoid physical harm."
Well, he couldn't argue with that. Wards were definitely useful, but he had never considered how one went about learning how to cast them before. If he didn't have other priorities right now...
"Thirdly—and this is something that everyone has forgotten—attributes." She sniffed disdainfully. "Not only in restoring them should they have been drained, but also fortifying them temporarily. Who has ever wished that they could be just a little bit stronger? A little bit faster? A little bit luckier? With Restoration, you can."
She smiled a self-satisfied smile, for a shuddering moment reminding Harry of Umbridge. Clearing her throat and managing for the moment's similarity to thankfully pass, she continued.
"I truly hope that these points actually sink in and that more care and thought is given to this subject in the future. Thank you."
The lecture concluded, the woman strode out decisively, avoiding any eye-contact.
Hesitating just for a moment and it was already too late; she had vanished the way she had come.
J'zargo too hurried out of the circular hall now that the lecture was over, leaving Harry alone without so much as a goodbye.
Feeling out of place in the hall, he too left quickly. But rather than returning outside through the double doors he had earlier passed through, he turned to the stairs upwards. Up one floor at the end of the stairs, Harry blinked as he saw a large library opening up to his right, fitted into a circular hall just above the Hall of the Elements.
It was by no means to the tens of thousands of books that lined the Hogwarts library, but even so the overflowing number of books—stuffed into shelves and piling up on floors and tables all around the hall—impressed Harry.
Taking tentative steps, he looked around until he spotted someone.
He smiled with recognition.
A familiar blonde was sitting beside a white-haired elf—a dark elf, like Erandur—and talking excitedly about something, not even looking up though she had a clear line of sight to Harry.
"—and they have five legs, they're very hairy, with curling horns like this that are crumpled! They're very hard to find, so daddy and I think that they must have some kind of magic to hide from sight, or that they are very clever besides."
What was she talking about now? Quintapeds? That didn't quite seem like her though, Harry through with amusement, even as the elf between them spoke.
"Fascinating!" and it truly did sound like he thought so. "And where did you say you searched for them, again?"
"Oh, we went to Sweden for a summer using the money we made from Harry's interview—Oh, hello Harry!" Luna brightened up and waved excitably at him and he had to chuckle as he waved back.
"Hullo. Talking about Crumple-Horned Snorkacks?"
She nodded twice as the dark-skinned elf turned around in his seat to look at Harry.
He was wearing very fine robes, yet the cut was different from any of those that he had seen previously, leaving him unable to identify whether or not he was a part of the College staff. His hair stood straight up as if he had taken a shower and gone to bed upside down to let it dry, giving him an air of permanent surprise.
"Hello, sir. I'm Harry, we just arrived today."
"Hello!" He had a pleased expression, his wide-eyes and curious yet also dotty expression somehow very reminiscent of Luna. "Yes, I can see that. I haven't seen you here before! Luna here was helping me realize that I wasn't quite as invisible as I had thought I was; she has been a great help, and a wonderful conversationalist besides."
Like peas in a pod, Harry thought as he nodded.
"Are you studying here at the College as well?"
"Of course! I've never stopped—there is always something more you can refine in your spells. But I do also teach! Drevis Neloren, Master of Illusion!" he announced cheerfully with growing excitement in a voice that echoed through the library.
At the back of the large room, a large orc gave them a withering glare, but none of them paid it any heed.
"Oh, a pleasure to meet you, sir," Harry smoothly continued, his five-and-a-half years at Hogwarts—if nothing else, at least—having prepared him for odd and colourful characters. Looking at Luna, he asked: "Do you want to learn Illusion spells, Luna?"
She blinked, completely floored by the question. Raising a finger to her mouth, she considered the question with intense concentration, her eyebrows almost touching as she pondered. Harry rolled his eyes with humour, not having expected her to take the question so seriously, so he turned back to look at Drevis.
"What is Illusion magic like, sir?"
"It's the least appreciated of the five schools!" he cheerfully replied, already Harry of the strange lecture on Restoration he had heard earlier. "But in principle, it is very similar to Alteration; both change the world so that physical truths no longer hold. But unlike Alteration, Illusion is not bound by the laws of nature, so you could say that they are without limits!"
"Oh," Harry said, thinking that he hadn't really understood a word.
"Its only weakness, if it could be called such, is that Illusion spells only affect a target or the caster. Ensnaring the minds of others, creating light in the dark, inspiring courage in your fellows and becoming invisible are but few of the things a Master of Illusion can do!"
That... actually cleared it up a little bit.
"So they're spells that have to do with perception?"
Harry nodded, hesitating whether or not he should ask if it also included the mind arts. His previous year's disastrous attempts with Snape still fresh in mind, he decided to forego the question and instead turned to Luna.
"What about you, Luna? Found anything interesting?"
"Oh yes, I was transfigured into a cow and a horse and a dog," she replied casually.
Blinking and thinking back, he prodded: "By the Alteration teacher?"
It was the only subject he could immediately tie transfiguration to, though the connection to Conjuration seemed a possibility as well.
"Oh no," she shook her head. "Brelyna is a new student, just like we are. She also gave me green eyes for a while."
Not sure how to take that, Harry could only nod. "Oh... kay?"
Luna didn't seem hurt or particularly bothered by the experience, so even though human transfiguration was an extremely advanced subject, he supposed it was fine. Though now that he thought back on the subject he was immediately reminded of Moody—or rather, Barty Crouch Jr. In disguise—transfiguring Malfoy into a ferret, and so his mood soured.
The two-fold downer of wondering if Luna was already being bullied here along with the reminder of Malfoy and the urgency of getting back to Hogwarts was obvious, as Luna was now peering up at him curiously.
Shaking his head, he looked to Drevis.
"Ah, sir, would you mind if Luna and I talk a bit, privately?"
The dark elf looked at Harry curiously, taking no offense as he jumped to his feet. "Of course, of course. I should get back to my room—hopefully, that book I turned invisible has finally popped up again!"
And so he left the library without further ado.
Harry, feeling a little awkward and guilty now, ran a hand through his hair and sat down in the now free chair.
"So, found anything?" he asked Luna, before specifying slightly quietly. "About getting back home, or your arm, y'know?"
She nodded, kicking her feet in the chair and swaying back and forth.
"Cpmjuration," she said. "It's very different from Hogwarts."
"Oh? How so?"
Luna hadn't taken part in N.E.W.T. transfiguration yet, but she was a Ravenclaw, so he couldn't put it past her to already be familiar with the subject and figured he could trust her on her word, but he was still curious as to why she thought so. That, and he still didn't quite understand how her head always worked, so it was better to make sure she hadn't understood something in an... alternative way.
Regardless, she leaned closer, as if to share a secret with him. Unable to help himself. Harry too leaned in.
"Professor Gestor—he's the master on Conjuration here, a very busy man, given how little he must sleep—summoned a Heliopath with it, you see. There was nothing, and then, a big ball of purple fire like so!" Her hands shot to the side, as if gesticulating an explosion, complete with an excited bwoosh sound effect. "It looked like a woman on fire! And everyone knows only the English Ministry of Magic has Heliopaths!"
Harry felt his face twitch, but said nothing as he leaned back.
"Are... Are you sure they didn't just control a fire spell?" He didn't want to outright question the veracity of her creatures.
Luna shook her head.
"He said they're summoned from oblivion, that they can't normally live here. I suppose it must be very cold for them..." she mused thoughtfully.
The word had awful connotations; he thought he could vaguely remember some sailors in Dawnstar cursing by the place in the same vein 'hell' might have been sued back in Britain. And hadn't Erandur mentioned it as well, in relation to Vaermina?
Regardless, she nodded and picked up a book that lay on the table between them, handing it to him. "Professor Neloren gave this to me when I asked him about it."
Harry gingerly accepted the book, frowning at the title. On Oblivion.
Cracking open a page, he read:
It is improper, however customary, to refer to the denizens of the dimension of Oblivion as "demons." This practice probably dates to the Alessian Doctrines of the First Era prophet Marukh which, rather amusingly, forbade "trafficke with daimons" and then neglected to explain what daimons were. It is most probable that "daimon" is a misspelling or etymological rendition of "Daedra," the old Elven word for those strange, powerful creatures of uncertain motivation who hail from the dimensions of Oblivion.
Suddenly the comparison to hell felt much too apt for his liking. And as he read on, his stomach only sunk deeper, through the chair and floor it seemed like.
Apparently, Oblivion is a place composed of many lands—thus the many names for which Oblivion is synonymous: Coldharbour, Quagmire, Moonshadow, etc. It may be correctly supposed that each land of Oblivion is ruled over by one prince. The Daedric Princes whose names appear over and over in ancient records (though this is not an infallible test of their authenticity or explicit existence, to be sure) are the aforementioned Sanguine, Boethiah, Molag Bal, and Sheogorath, and in addition, Azura, Mephala, Clavicus Vile, Vaermina, Malacath, Hoermius (or Hermaeus or Hormaius or Herma—there seems to be no one accepted spelling) Mora, Namira, Jyggalag, Nocturnal, Mehrunes Dagon, and Peryite. From my experience, Daedra are a very mixed lot. It is almost impossible to categorize them as a whole except for their immense power and penchant for extremism. Be that as it may, I have here attempted to do so in a few cases, purely for the sake of scholastic expediency. Mehrunes Dagon, Molag Bal, Peryite, Boethiah, and Vaermina are among the most consistently "demonic" of the Daedra, in the sense that their spheres seem to be destructive in nature. The other Daedra can, of course, be equally dangerous, but seldom purely for the sake of destruction as these five can. Nor are these previous five identical in their destructiveness. Mehrunes Dagon seems to prefer natural disasters—earthquakes and volcanoes—for venting his anger. Molag Bal elects the employment of other Daedra, and Boethiah inspires the arms of mortal warriors. Peryite's sphere seems to be pestilence, and Vaermina's torture.
Vaermina—they had already run into her and her cult once before. And apparently there were loads more of its ilk in Oblivion. Loads and loads, all more or less incredibly dangerous.
Closing the book and swallowing the queasy feeling he had developed, he looked at Luna. "This uh, seems pretty dangerous. Summoning demons, or well, daedra, doesn't seem like a very safe thing to do."
"And expensive." Luna nodded sagely.
"Yeah, and—What? Really?"
She nodded again. "We can afford four, maybe five simple spells."
Harry nodded slowly, grimacing. Mirabelle had explained as much to them, hadn't she? Running a hand through his hair, he tried to think about their options. It did seem like they would come to need a lot more gold, just as he had expected they would.
Which meant they couldn't just pick and choose to learn anything that caught their fancy. Or, at least no longer without considering how much it would cost besides the time they were wasting. Hadn't J'zargo mentioned Expert-level spells? Those would probably be even more expensive.
Looking at Luna, he asked: "Do you think Conjuration is our way back home?"
She tilted her head, looking at the corner of the ceiling above for a second.
When she didn't answer for a full minute, he reasoned that she didn't know. Therefore... "Okay, do you want to learn Conjuration?"
To that, she could answer immediately with a "Yes, Harry."
He nodded, crossing his arms and lowering his gaze to the floor. He had already started studying Restoration, so he figured if he wanted to make sure Luna was alright, he should pursue that. For now, at least. It was a short-term and a long-term goal, he supposed, since he doubted there would ever come a time when he wouldn't need some form of healing. Besides, there was no Madam Pomfrey here, so when he inevitably got into a big fight at the end of the year...
Shaking his head at the morbid thought, he reminded himself that he could probably ask Erandur for pointers as well, since the dark elf had seemed very confident in his healing skills.
So if he was stuck with that, it would mean he couldn't research how to get them back. In that sense, entrusting it to Luna—who he knew was probably smarter than he was, being a Ravenclaw and all—seemed like the right decision.
"Okay, here's the plan..." he said finally, looking up at Luna, who had been staring at him for a while now. "You'll look into Conjuration and getting us back home while I try to look into your spell wounds—we'll both buy one or two spells each with the money we have to start with, okay?" When she nodded, he continued. "And then once we're sure you're fine, I'll... get a job. Or I'll try to make money, anyhow. Somehow. Enough that you can buy all the spells and books you'll need."
Luna looked at him with wide eyes and for a second he didn't know what she was thinking. And then she nodded.
"Okay, Harry." He sighed, half in relief and half in resignation. He actually had no idea how to make money reliably, now that he thought about it, something which Luna seemed to pick up on. "Are you going to go hunting for more mudcrabs again?"
"You know, I just might have to," he groused.
"I'm sure Frida will be happy to see us again," Luna said with a smile.
Nodding, Harry felt a little lighter. Even if he had no idea how to make money, he had his wand and his magic. Surely there would be a way from one to the other. Else why had he spent so much time and effort on his O.W.L.s?
Which reminded him...
"Since it's so expensive, it can't be helped... How were your O.W.L. studies going?"
Luna regarded him curiously for a second.
"I may not have gotten the best results last year, but I'm still pretty confident I can teach you a thing or two..." He chuckled ruefully. "How do you feel about re-starting the D.A. meetings again? Well, just with two of us, I suppose."
Her eyes widened with her bright smile as she nodded twice, before freezing. "Oh..."
"Well, I don't have my galleon with me. How will I know when we'll meet?"
Harry blinked before he snorted. "Well, I don't have mine either. I'm sure we'll manage."
That seemed to put her at ease.
"Oh okay, Harry."
He nodded and leaned back in the chair.
It felt good to get some grip on their situation. They were still hopelessly lost, but at least they were doing something now to rectify that. One step at a time and sooner or later they'd get home, he told himself.
Way too many citations from the game in this chapter. Avoided the Tolfdir lecture on purpose, though, since the College questline isn't that interesting.
Also read through the first five chapters and did (quite a bit) of cleaning on the text. I'm a bit dyslexic and this has been a project intended for relaxed writing, so I haven't really put in as much polish as it might have deserved.