Harry flew low and fast. The feeling of freedom once again filled his senses. He was so engrossed in the high-speed obstacle course that he nearly fell from the broom when he skewed around a tree and was illuminated in the glare of two bright lights. Recovering from his initial shock, he rounded on the scene below and almost laughed. Hidden on the forest floor, covered in a camouflage of dirt, vines and leaves, was Mr. Weasley's flying Ford Anglia. It definitely looked dodgy. The right-hand door was smashed, pinning the steering wheel in a perpetual right hand turn. The bonnet was crushed down almost to the top of the motor. The boot was squashed (thanks to the Whomping Willow) almost to the rear bumper. There were small odd holes irregularly distributed in the sheet metal. There was even an arrow skewered in the upholstery. The window glass that remained was cracked and filthy. The turquoise paint was so dirty that that colour was barely discernible. Apparently the little Anglia had been through a lot.
Harry felt an affinity for the little car. It had saved his life at least twice and he felt he owed it a quick squizz. He landed and walked carefully around the car. After assessing the damage, he took out his wand, and starting with the driver's door, Harry focused his mind and thought "Reparo." The dents, scrapes and bangs popped out, holes filled in; leaving a smooth, albeit dirty, metal body; window glass pieced back together and cracks mended. When the car was "un"dented (Harry could think of no other term), Harry focused his mind, "Scourgify" he thought. Dirt, leaves and debris fell away from the car, leaving it shining in the gloom of the forest. Harry aimed his wand at the fuel tank and used an incantation he had used to refill goblets at meal times. He hoped that he was filling the tank with petrol and not pumpkin juice.
The little car reacted quickly. The motor started with a pop and cloud of smoke. Then the engine settled down to tick over. The front wheels turned right and left to their stops as if testing their newly regained mobility. The horn sounded a quick two note thanks, the transmission ground into gear and the car motored off, back into the depths of the dappled gloom.
As Harry watched the car disappear into the forest, he looked at his watch, 8:46. Dumbledore had told him to be back to the office by 9:00. He was fairly close to the forest edge; he had plenty of time. Harry had just turned to remount his broom when a sudden rustling of leaves and moan of pain reached his ears. The rustling had come from off to his right but Harry could not detect any breeze. He quickly mounted the broom and flew over a mound of tree roots that created a natural embankment. What Harry saw as he cleared the top of the bank nearly made him retch. There, in a natural dish made by the huge boles of the surrounding trees, was a badly injured centaur. It had been slashed across its face and down its torso; its sides and belly were similarly slashed and drenched in time-blackened blood. Even through the horrific wounds, Harry recognized this centaur. It was the black-bearded Bane. The centaur didn't move, but moans of pain carried through the forest from the nearly still form. With each moan, blood bubbled from Bane's mouth and nose. Harry landed noiselessly a few feet from the centaur. As he stooped to assess the extent of the injuries, two things happened in quick succession; his invisibility cloak, loosed from the high-speed trip through the forest, slipped down around his shoulders revealing his head just as Bane's eye flickered open, his gaze landing fully on Harry. Harry quickly pushed the cloak back up over his head, rendering him once more totally invisible. Harry thought quickly. He didn't have the skill to help in this matter. These wounds were werewolf inflicted as Bill Weasley's had been. He needed Hagrid or Professor Grubbly-Plank, or Madam Pomfrey, maybe all three. Harry knew he shouldn't go directly to Moody on the castle grounds, that would endanger the plan he had just put into motion, but he knew that if it was a choice between the plan and this centaur's life, the plan came in a distant second. He had just made the decision to raise the alarm to Moody, when out of the gloom two bright lights came pelting toward him. The Ford Anglia came to a screeching halt on the forest floor next to him. Here was his answer! Harry quickly explained to the car (he felt barking for talking to a car) that he needed Moody contacted on Hogwarts grounds and brought here to help the injured centaur. The little car didn't hesitate; it backed out and took to the air, flying away from Harry and directly toward Hogwarts. Harry was oddly reminded of an old American television program about a dog that could communicate with people, "What's that? Timmy fell down the well!" Harry put the inane thought behind him and flew after the departing car.
The Firebolt was much faster than the car and by the time Harry cleared the forest edge he had caught it up. After the gloom of the forest, the sunlight was dazzling and he temporarily lost sight of the Anglia. As his eyes adjusted to the sunlight, Harry paused and watched as the car flew toward Moody. It was honking its horn and flashing its lights. He thought this was working out well until he saw Moody draw his wand and aim it menacingly at the Ford.
Harry's heart sank; he had forgotten Moody's paranoia about being attacked. Before Moody could blast the car from the sky, Harry leaned forward on the Firebolt and streaked toward the car. He knew that Moody's magic eye could see through the invisibility cloak he was wearing. Harry urged the Firebolt forward as fast as it would go. He flanked the car, placing himself between the car and Moody. Moody did not cast a killing spell. He instead scanned the sky and then dropped his wand to his side. The car landed hard next to Moody and the right hand door immediately flew open. Harry watched in amazement as Moody approached the car and slid behind the wheel. The car spun around, took to the air, and headed toward the forest. Harry could have sworn that Moody gave him a little salute as the car flew past.
Harry looked at his watch again, 8:56! Now he had to hurry! Assured that Moody was well on his way to the centaur's aid in the forest, Harry handled his broom around and made for the tower office. The morning had brightened and warmed. Although he had a broomstick breeze whizzing past him, Harry was becoming uncomfortably warm under the invisibility cloak. Even in the bright morning sunshine, the blue glow around the hidden tower opening was plain through Dumbledore's glasses. As he approached the tower, the hidden door opened and slid sideways, revealing the back of the broom cupboard. Harry entered and landed. The doorway rotated silently, shutting off the bright outside light as it closed. He stowed the Firebolt and removed the invisibility cloak, he noticed that the Nimbus 2000 that he was sure had been next to the Firebolt was curiously absent. Harry exited the broom cupboard as the school clock boomed out the first chime of 9:00.
Harry entered the office just in time to hear a knock at the door. His heart was beating a rapid tattoo inside his chest from excitement and effort.
Harry used his wand to close the bookcase hiding the broom cupboard. He went immediately to the door and upon opening it he found Professor McGonagall. Harry was a bit surprised; McGonagall had the pass settings for the mirr panel and could have easily walked right in. The worried look on McGonagall's face wiped the thought from Harry's mind.
Without preamble, McGonagall approached Dumbledore's portrait and began, "Albus, I'm afraid that I have very grave news. Mr. Potter was right, there have been attacks throughout the wizarding world during the night. It appears that (here she paused as if steeling herself to say the next word) Voldemort freed his followers from Azkaban and sent them immediately on missions of mayhem. Most of the Ministry wizards guarding Azkaban fortress were killed during the breakout and we only have woolly details coming in about some of the attacks that followed." She took time to explain what she had learned and then concluded, "I wish that I could give you better news, or at least more details, but that's the state of things as we know them now."
"Thank you Minerva," began Dumbledore, "I appreciate the information. We have already begun to put plans into motion that may divert some of Voldemort's attention. What I need from you now is a rumor started. It needs to be spread without being overt. I need you to let slip that my Porcrux appears to have been damaged, that the damage may be cumulative and accelerating, and that the culprit may have escaped into the forbidden forest. As the rumor spreads, I need you to put in a good faith effort appearing to stop the rumor. You need to make it seem that you do not want the fact to become common knowledge. Also all house elves, with the exception of Dobby are to be told that this tower is off limits until further notice."
Harry wondered at these instructions in light of the fact that Dumbledore had already spoken to Dobby but he held his opinion and listened patiently.
McGonagall seemed taken aback by the request, especially considering the enormity of the news of attacks around the wizarding world, but she regained her composure quickly and said, "Of course, I'll take care of the rumor and the house elves. Is there anything else you need?"
"Yes, Minerva, there is one other thing you could do," said Dumbledore, "Contact the members of the Order of the Phoenix. I am concerned that Voldemort will target them specifically. See if they are all well and whole, and if they have any further information about the attacks." Dumbledore then outlined specific instructions for individual members of the Order and concluded, "Please get back to me as soon as you can with the information you gather."
"I should be able to make all the contacts within the next two hours. I'll return with any news as soon as possible," said McGonagall. With an appraising glance at Harry she turned and left the Headmaster's office.
McGonagall had only just left the office when there was a knock on the great oak door.
"Harry, that will be Dobby, please manage the contact with the elf. I will explain after he has left," said Dumbledore.
Harry went to the door and opened it, wand in his hand. He found Dobby waiting patiently outside with three more trays of food. Harry quickly stowed his wand in his robe pocket, an action that did not go unnoticed by the house elf.
"Is everything all right Harry Potter sir?" squeaked the elf. "Headmistress McGonagall seemed in a state."
Harry gestured into the room, "Yes, please come in Dobby."
"Harry Potter is always too kind to Dobby," said the house elf bowing deeply.
"Thank you for your promptness," said Harry, "If you would please set the tray on the desk and clear the previous dishes, it would be greatly appreciated."
"Anything for the great Professor Dumbledore and Harry Potter," squeaked the elf. He quickly placed the tray on the desk and cleared the used dishes. "Is there anything else Dobby can do?" asked the elf, bowing again.
"No thank you Dobby, you've done well once again. Please bring three lunches at 11:30 with the same instructions that you previously discussed with Professor Dumbledore," said Harry.
With that instruction, Dobby looked to the portrait of Albus Dumbledore. Harry's gaze was pulled to the portrait by the elf's intent stare. To Harry's surprise, Dumbledore was not in his picture. Instead there was only a lonely-looking tenebrous background.
Eyes still on the portrait and looking discomfited, Dobby bowed as Harry opened the office door and ushered him from the office.
No sooner was the door closed than Harry turned to the empty portrait and called tentatively, "Professor Dumbledore?"
A smiling Dumbledore returned to the portrait and said, "I thought I told you to call me Albus."
Harry, relieved to see Dumbledore, burst in to a rapid explanation of the events of the last several hours. He had barely begun when Dumbledore silenced him, "Harry there is time enough to explain what has happened. Please distribute the food trays as I previously instructed you. It is important that you keep up your strength."
Harry was nonplussed. There was a centaur in dire need of attention in the forest and Dumbledore was worried about fresh fruit and sweet rolls. He fought the urge to shout the need for immediate action at the portrait of Dumbledore. Doing as he had been told, he quickly distributed the food trays as before and seated himself before the portrait. He started a second time to explain himself to Dumbledore, but Dumbledore stopped him once again. "Eat, Harry, eat," said a smiling Dumbledore, "you will need every bit of your strength the next few days."
"Better to get this over with than spend the same time arguing," thought Harry. He wolfed down the sliced fruit and sweet rolls. They were much more satisfying than he had anticipated. He felt like he hadn't eaten in days instead of just a few hours. The ache in his arm and hand had intensified during his excursion into the forest and he finished his snack with a drink of Madam Pomfrey's muscle potion. It tasted disgusting and made him shudder, but his arm and hand felt better immediately. Harry put aside the now empty tray and turned to Dumbledore's portrait just in time to see Phineas Nigellus leave Dumbledore's frame and resume his seated position in his own frame.
Nigellus rather than Dumbledore spoke first. He spoke in a pinched, nasally, disdainful voice, "Well Potter, did you achieve success or did you fail to accomplish the task as set?" Nigellus then sat back in his leather chair, and in a motion that appeared very Dumbledore-esque; he pyramided his fingers under his chin and waited for Harry's reply.
"No," said Harry almost too quickly. Then inwardly cursing himself for a lack of patience, he started more purposefully, "The task has been performed as we discussed with only two minor changes." Harry then related the events that had transpired in the forest, including his dealings with Asgoth. Harry fully expected Nigellus to interrupt or interject disapproving noises. Nigellus did neither; he sat patiently, listening to Harry's recitation of events.
As Harry ran out of words with his telling of his arrival back at the tower, Nigellus began, "The exchange with the acromantula is unfortunate. It would have been far better to complete the task unnoticed, but even that turn of event may be tipped to our advantage. Only the future will show if your choice was folly. I personally believe that your decision to converse with, let alone offer a name to the great spider, was an error."
Harry's first inclination was to point out that Nigellus hadn't been there to make the pressing decision, but he bit back the words and seriously considered Nigellus' comment. "Maybe the word game, the anagram, had been a mistake. Then again, unless you knew the correct spelling, the anagram would be hard to decipher," thought Harry. "But," his thought line continued, "Tom Riddle used an anagram of his own name to fashion the name Voldemort. Am I becoming like him? No! I won't let that happen. I won't become like Voldemort!"
Harry's thoughts were interrupted as Nigellus continued, "Sending the car for Moody was quick thinking, but if examined closely, it could cause questions about what motivated the car to seek out Moody. It is well that it happened on Hogwarts grounds. Less questions, more control."
As Nigellus finished his questioning about the details of the excursion into the forest, Dumbledore cleared his throat. Harry's attention was immediately refocused on Dumbledore's portrait. Dumbledore beamed down at Harry, "All-in-all I believe you have done very well. A plan is in motion to occupy a bit of Voldemort's time and attention and Alastor Moody will see to the centaur's needs. I told you earlier that I would explain the reason for you taking care of the contact with Dobby. You see, if we are to promote the idea that my Porcrux has in some way been damaged, we must make it appear that I am no longer capable, that indeed I may not even be present. I set the stage with our earlier contact with Dobby. You will have to handle any further contacts with anyone outside the Order until we end the ruse. Now we need to focus on some educational opportunities. Harry it is time for school."
Harry, who had initially chafed at the suggestion of additional school study, was now excited to see what was going to happen. He wondered if he was about to learn some wonderful new magic, some of the things that had made Dumbledore so powerful and famous. Harry's mind teemed with a multitude of questions in addition to the ones Hermione had given him, but he put them to the back of his mind, waiting patiently for whatever Dumbledore had in store for him.
Dumbledore's beaming smile never faltered as he began, "In your potions class you learned a wit sharpening potion and a memory draught. As you can see, we allow...even encourage students to use magical aids to facilitate their learning. I am willing to teach you several magics that will allow you to learn quickly and to retain what you have learned. This may sound desirable at the off, but I must caution you that a mind can become a crowded place. Also, any time you alter the energy flow of the brain you must be very cautious. The sensations can be addictive, dangerous, or even deadly if handled carelessly."
Harry considered momentarily and then asked, "Can I stop the process once I begin? Will I be able to forget trivial things, or is the effect absolute?"
"I would have been alarmed if you had asked no questions Harry," said Dumbledore, "This magic is similar to the Imperious Curse. You will be using magic to compel yourself to read, to read quickly, and to remember. As I understand it, you have been quite successful in throwing off the effect of the Imperious Curse, so I feel that you will be able to end the effect of this magic by your force of will. As for remembering trivial things, I might ask if any of us know which things we experience are truly trivial? You will be able to store the information in a readily retrievable fashion. If you find something trivial, you can always remove those thoughts and memories as you have seen me do with the Pensieve. With those questions answered, I must ask you now Harry, are you interested in learning this magic?" Dumbledore concluded and waited for Harry's response.
Harry thought back to the Defense Against the Dark Arts classes that the fake Moody had taught, "When Barty Crouch Jr. impersonated Moody, he put me under the Imperious Curse and tried to force me to do odd things. In the process he taught me to throw off the curse completely. Why had he bothered to teach me anything at all? Wouldn't his job of delivering me to Voldemort have been easier if I'd had fewer powers, fewer defenses? Maybe some of the personality of Crouch had come through in his portrayal of Moody. Maybe Crouch really hadn't liked wizards who attacked from behind. Maybe he just wanted to torture me a bit before he handed me over to Voldemort. Maybe Crouch hadn't expected me to have any resistance and my ability is just an unintended consequence of his lessons. I'm just guessing, really, whatever reasons Crouch had were his own and passed with the loss of his soul to the Dementors. In any case, I have the ability to throw off the effects of the Imperious Curse even when it's wielded by Voldemort. Dumbledore thinks I can do this, it looks like this could be a valuable tool in preparing to face Voldemort."
The thoughts had tumbled through Harry's mind like boulders in a landslide, banging against each other, creating new thoughts and new questions. The whole process had taken only a few seconds. Harry gathered himself up at the bottom of the thought avalanche, made a decision and looked back up to Dumbledore's portrait. "Yes," said Harry with certainty in his mind and assurance in his voice, "where do we begin?"
"Very well, very well indeed," said the beaming Dumbledore. "First, I would like to ask you to take a moment to examine the arrangement of the books here in the office. Each year's books are on single shelves to your right. First year is on the bottommost shelf and proceeding upwards one school year at a time to the topmost shelf, which houses seventh year texts. Above you and along the entire upper alcove are more ancient tomes, anthologies of spells, histories, a few genealogies, and books written by former Hogwarts Headmasters and Headmistresses. Some of these volumes are in different languages, a challenge that has already begun to be addressed and which will be completed at length. Harry, if you will, please go to the bottom shelf on your right and retrieve The Standard Book of Spells-Year One and bring it back to the study desk in front of the bookcase."
Harry found the book immediately. It looked exactly like the one he had used during his first year at Hogwarts. Harry knew that his copy, unopened since end of year exams of his first Hogwarts' year, was stored in a box under the stairs at the Dursley's house at Number 4 Privet Drive. Harry summoned the book to his hand, walked back to the study desk, and placed the book on the highly polished desktop.
"Now Harry," Dumbledore began, his voice suddenly serious, "you must remember the cautions I gave you about tweaking about with your brain. If you search your memory, you may well find that you recognize a bit of this magic as we begin."
Harry didn't think so, but he had been surprised enough times by Dumbledore to temper his patience and see what developed. Harry simply nodded his assent.
"Please open the text," said Dumbledore. "Now carefully place the tip of your wand on the bridge of your nose directly between your eyes."
Harry obeyed but more slowly. It was a bit unnerving to place the tip of a wand between his own eyes, as he had come to consider a wand a very powerful tool, a weapon even. As the wand tip came to rest between his eyes an involuntary shiver ran up the back of his neck making the fine hairs prickle against his collar.
"You may be able to use the incantation nonverbally as you become more adept at this process, but for now, I would prefer you use the verbal expression of the spell to avoid any, shall we say...setbacks," said Dumbledore.
Harry found himself in total agreement with this admonition. He was feeling a bit queasy about the prospect of messing about with his brain and making a mistake. Harry steeled himself for what was coming.
"Now," said Dumbledore, "the incantation is "Wallacearia Condensata" but before you try it, I would like you to picture in your mind an empty bookcase. As you read books while using this magic, you will need a place to store them. Simply read the book and then put in on the shelf in your mind's-eye library. You will then have it for perusal at your convenience."
Harry did as he was told. He pictured a plain, empty bookcase.
"Now, if you are ready..." said Dumbledore.
Harry still felt rather anxious about the wand tip pointed between his eyes, but he nodded a tentative yes.
"Very well, "Wallacearia Condensata," concentrate on the incantation, then on each page in the book. Read at whatever speed seems comfortable to you. You will be able to overcome the effects of the spell by force of will and by either thinking or saying 'Finite,'" Dumbledore finished with a comforting smile.
Harry settled himself at the desk, considered his empty bookcase, focused on the incantation, said "Wallacearia Condensata" and settled himself to read. A marvelous calm filled his mind, his focus was all about the printed page before him. The printed words were like a cooling cloth on sunburned eyes. Harry could feel the world around him fade and disappear as he concentrated on the first page. Immediately Harry noticed that reading individual words was unnecessary. It was as if he were looking at a picture of Hogwarts castle. He didn't need to examine the picture stone by stone, there it was, a complete picture that conveyed everything that was Hogwarts. Harry blinked and realized that he had read the first page. It was like meeting an old friend; enjoyable and comfortable. Harry's gaze slipped to the opposite page, and before he realized it, he had read the entire page. Harry turned the page. Ideas, words, understanding slipped quickly into his mind. Harry remembered the words from his first reading of this book years ago but now they seemed to burn into his mind with new importance. Harry turned the page, and the next, and the next. The time spent turning the pages seemed to annoy Harry at a very deep level. "Why must it take so long to turn a page, to get to the next bunch of soothing words?" questioned Harry. On he went, turning pages, absorbing ideas, remembering lessons on each concept. Soon, much sooner than he would have expected, indeed sooner than he would have liked, he turned the last page of the book. He was astounded to discover that he had read the entire book. Recalling Dumbledore's words from somewhere deep in his mind, he concentrated on his mind's-eye bookcase and placed the volume on the shelf. It looked lonely sitting by itself in the bookcase. Harry wanted another book, he needed another book, but then a voice inside his head framed calming reason, "No, I don't have to, I can if I want, but it's my choice." "Finite!" As Harry pronounced the incantation ending the spell, the room around him came back to his senses. He could see the sunlight streaming through the high windows, he could see tiny dust motes floating lazily in the light beams, he could smell the aroma of the old book, the scent of the leather cover, the smell of the ink, and the glue that had been used to tip in the many pictures and diagrams, he could feel the rough paper and the smooth polished desktop beneath his hands. Harry was struck by the sudden overwhelming joy of just being alive. "Wow!" he said as he turned his face toward Dumbledore's portrait, "that was amazing!"
"Excellent Harry, well done!" said Dumbledore in a congratulatory tone. "By my observation it took you four minutes to read that book. Do you remember it? For example, what was on page one hundred seventy three?" asked Dumbledore.
The book on the desk before Harry was now closed, but he could see the page in his mind's eye as clearly as if he had the book open in front of him. "Yes, I can see that page. It's a diagram of the wand movement for the incantation "Wingardium Leviosa," Harry said, "and I've just realized the reason I had so much trouble mastering it in the first place. I always ended with my wand pointing down and there is a short up-arch at the end of the swish and flick." Harry took out his wand, focused his mind on the incantation, performed the swish, flick, and up-arch, and caused the heavy study desk to hover effortlessly inches off the oak planked floor. Satisfied with himself Harry gently lowered the desk back to its original position.
"Can I read more?" Harry asked expectantly, momentarily afraid that Dumbledore would refuse his request, pointing to other tasks in need of attention. A sudden thought flashed through Harry's brain, "Is this what Hermione feels like when she reads? I'll have to ask her later."
"Yes Harry, you may read more," said Dumbledore, "You have a little less than two hours before lunch. You may want to remove the books one shelf at a time starting on the bottom shelf to save time moving them back and forth. As you become more proficient with this magic you will be able to go through material you have previously read much more quickly. New material, however, will take a bit longer to absorb; sometimes requiring two or three readings to master. Be warned, even though the best secrets are kept in books, book learning is dry-want without practical application and practice. You will have occasion for both a bit later today."
Harry didn't have to be told twice. The excursion into reading had been delicious to him. He summoned the bottom shelf books neatly to the desk and arranged them so he could go comfortably from one to the next. When all was prepared, he pointed his wand between his eyes (a little less apprehensively this time), intoned the incantation, felt the peaceful focus descend on him and began to read. When Harry came to a text for a class he hadn't taken; Basic Runes for the Initiate, for example, he slowed down a bit and read the book three times. Harry stopped reading only when he ran out of books on the desk. He would then end the magic, return the books he had read to their shelf, and levitate the next batch to the desk. After four shelves had been retrieved and read, Harry realized that the bookcase he had envisioned in his mind was woefully small. He expanded the scope of his mental bookcase. It became a huge floor-to-ceiling library complete with rolling ladders.
Harry had just finished reading a collection of books, and was in the process of replacing them on the sixth shelf, when Dumbledore broke the silence of the room, "I am afraid," he began, "that your reading time is up for the present. Your lunches have arrived."
Harry was struck with the realization that the meals had been delivered and distributed while he had been reading and he had not been aware of anyone in the room. "A definite cause for concern," thought Harry.