Dumbledore's portrait was, to Harry's surprise, empty. Harry immediately noticed the dark background and recalled DePais' words about painting the dark effects of Dumbledore's decisions into the portrait. Harry broke from his reverie as Dumbledore reappeared in the ornate frame and, beaming, welcomed them.
"My dear friends," said Dumbledore ebulliently. "I am very pleased to see that you could come together to see me."
"Mr. Potter took me on a short tour of the school grounds before we made our way here. The enterprise was most enlightening," said DePais. "I have come at your beck. Equal to that request, I come to discover the extent of our success in your portrait."
"As Harry may have shared with you, he and I have engaged in many conversations, plans, and decisions in the last two days. He may be the better judge of the matter as I seem a bit too close for objective determination." Dumbledore paused and steepled his fingers under his chin.
Seeing the request for his opinion, Harry began, "I can say that I'm pleased to have the continued opportunity to talk to one I had feared was long distanced from me. I've come to recognize some of Albus' capabilities, as well as some of his limitations. The most obvious advantage is having access to a significant extent of Albus' knowledge and talents. A small concern is his lack of information about current happenings. He has already warned me to be cautious in what I accept as fact coming from him, and I've taken him at his word."
DePais appeared to absorb the statement and then began, "A wise precaution on the whole. One can never duplicate anything exactly. Even in coming very close, in art or otherwise, we never attain perfection. Judge carefully what you are told by Albus, because his information is not complete. He judges and decides from; forgive the pun, a singular frame of reference. Mr. Potter, I believe now is as good a time as any to let you know why I was able to duplicate you." DePais turned to the portrait, and with a little bow he added, "With your permission of course, Albus."
Dumbledore turned his piercing blue eyes on Harry. "What we are about to tell you may seem an invasion of your privacy. Please know that everything we did, we did with the best of intentions. Francois, if you would show Harry what we discussed prior to my passing."
Harry watched enthralled as DePais went to a bookcase next to the stair leading to the upper alcove. He used no magic, instead he placed his long fingers against a decorative oak panel and pressed. The panel responded by popping forward and pivoting to the side. DePais withdrew an artist's easel from within the concealed space.
When DePais turned the easel full to the room, Harry stifled a gasp. Although the painting was unfinished, the face only roughly sketched, it was unmistakably a portrait-in-the-making of Harry Potter. "What does this mean?" asked Harry, forgetting his determination to be patient.
"What this means," said Dumbledore, "is that, before my death, I considered approaching you about the possibility of creating a Porcrux for you. I fully intended to explain the process of creating a Porcrux when I asked you to be one of my willy readers. Unfortunately, I misjudged my remaining time and never took you into my confidence regarding the subject. For that, I sincerely apologize."
All was quiet as Harry absorbed the thought. Not knowing if he really wanted the answer, Harry asked, "Why did you feel it was important for me to prepare a Porcrux?"
"I saw increased attempts on my life. I knew if Voldemort (DePais shuddered at the name) succeeded in disposing of me, and you had reached the age of majority, thus rendering the protective familial magic null, Voldemort would waste no time in coming after you. I was lulled by a sense of safety while you were under the school's protection, another mistake on my part. I wanted to offer you a provision to continue your fight against Voldemort should he succeed in killing both you and me."
Harry considered and then asked, "Now that you have achieved a complete Porcrux, have your feelings changed?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes," said Dumbledore. "I now recognize the severe limitations I have placed on myself. Some go deeper than I can fully comprehend. Partially to blame is my choice of what to include in this Porcrux. Beyond that, I am limited in the scope of my influence, my ability to travel and my opportunity to investigate. I must now rely on others for vicarious explanations of events, plans, and progress. If I had not included a considerable amount of patience in this Porcrux, I might well not be able to stand the feeling of frustration."
Harry considered the unruly black hair of the unfinished portrait. He heaved a sigh and said, "I don't think I have the patience yet to separate enough for an unfrustrated Porcrux."
Phineas Nigellus interrupted, "Potter you are trying for too much. Just because Dumbledore felt the need to achieve a complete Porcrux, it doesn't mean you have to strive for the same accomplishment. A little left behind is better than nothing."
Comprehension dawning on Harry, he looked around the room at the portraits of former Headmasters and Headmistresses. He suddenly understood. To one extent or another, the portraits were attempts at Porcruxes. Nigellus, he saw, was limited to a narrow view of the world, had very little flexibility, and was unswaying in his devotion to his lifetime's dogma. Other indications surfaced as Harry considered his interaction with several of the other portraits. His final conclusion was, that limitations included, he was glad for the opportunity to be in such distinguished company.
Harry's consideration of the paintings was not lost on DePais. "I see that you are beginning to discover what a rare thing you have here."
"I had taken this resource for granted. I am humbled by the foresight that is evidenced in these portraits." Bowing to each, Harry said, "I beg your pardon if I have done or said anything that was inappropriate. Please forgive my youthful foolishness."
Several of the portraits inclined their heads in acceptance of the apology. Several curtsied, one bowed full at the waist. Nigellus, however, harrumphed loudly. His attitude was immediately modified by an outburst from many of the other paintings.
Harry ignored Nigellus and turned back to DePais, "I know you wanted to spend some time with Albus. I would like to take some time contemplating the project we discussed earlier."
Without exacting an answer, Harry went to the broom cupboard and turned to Dumbledore's portrait, "With your leave, of course."
"Be my guest," said Dumbledore. "I am looking forward to a discussion with Francois. We shall see you again shortly. And Harry, do be careful."
Harry opened the closet. Without hesitation he chose the Firebolt. He mounted the racing broom and immediately exited the back of the closet. The misty gloom surrounding him like a shroud, he flew directly to Dumbledore's tomb.
As he landed, he was silently thankful for the deepening mist, as it obscured him completely from the castle. He stowed the broom and began the work of deciphering spells put in place to protect Dumbledore's body. The spells were manifold and layered, but Harry found them much easier to decipher than had been the spells in the Chamber of Secrets. Not wanting to remove protection before he had determined DePais' assistance, he did not break a single protective spell, instead he mentally catalogued the spells and how he would approach removing them. He discovered a very specific order of spell removal was needed to prevent an adverse magical backlash.
Confident of the process he would use, he picked up the Firebolt and walked the short distance to the school cemetery. He stowed the broom outside the cemetery gates and made his way to the reflection pool. He spent a few moments in contemplation of his next step and then reverentially he called to Ogram.
Ogram appeared in a blaze of pure white light. This time Harry was prepared for the being's appearance, and as he settled to Orgam's countenance, Harry began, "Thank you for coming. I have had time to consider our last meeting and I am here to venture a request."
"Ask what you will," said Ogram in his steady, calm voice.
"I am concerned for Albus Dumbledore's earthly remains. As he is a Scatterling, I'm afraid that there might be dark wizards who would use that to their dark purposes. You said that if Scatterlings were brought to a dedicated cemetery, they would be protected as if they had been initially interred there. Do I have that right?"
"That is correct," said Ogram.
"Then if I could bring Albus Dumbledore's body here, he would be protected," said Harry, giving voice to his recent considerations. "Is there a place that would be out of the way; a spot where he could be placed?"
"Do not make the mistake of considering Albus Dumbledore's body to be Albus Dumbledore," said Ogram. "Albus Dumbledore has passed beyond the cares or concerns of mortals. It is only his earthly remains we are discussing."
Ogram's words were not delivered with the least bit of harshness, yet Harry felt as if he had been reprimanded.
"I understand the distinction you are pointing out. I will keep it in mind, but it is difficult from my mortal point of view," said Harry.
Ogram nodded and lead the way to a secluded part of the cemetery. The spot was visible neither from Hogwarts grounds nor from the cemetery path. "This would be my choice, were I to have need," said Ogram.
Harry saw that Ogram's choice met his requirements perfectly. "Thank you for your help. I will be taking initiative to move Albus Dumbledore's body into your protective charge. I will show absolute respect to the limitations you have explained about magic. I expect to return within a few hours. If my plans change, I will come inform you."
Ogram nodded and disappeared into the light.
Harry rested, recovering his strength after his interlude with Ogram. When he felt fully recovered, he retrieved the Firebolt and flew back to the seventh floor tower.
When he entered the Headmaster's office he was astonished to see DePais engrossed in a game of chess with Dumbledore's Porcrux.
When DePais noticed Harry the look on his face registered shock. "Back so soon Mr. Potter?" queried the artist.
"I've been gone over three hours," said Harry, a bit amused at DePais' distracted look.
DePais glanced at the grandfather clock and composed himself.
"So you have. So you have. I have to admit that I lost more than just track of the time. I had completely forgotten I was conversing with a work of art. I was convinced that I was in the presence of the real Albus Dumbledore. What he has accomplished here is astounding!"
Harry was a bit disconcerted at the artist talking about Dumbledore as if he were not privy to the conversation, but the Porcrux seemed to take no offence. Rather, Dumbledore was smiling broadly. "I can think of no higher praise than those words coming from the great Francois DePais," said Dumbledore.
"Mr. Potter, have some orange juice and cakes," offered DePais, gesturing to a silver platter laden with food and drink.
"Have the two of you had a chance to consider the plan I suggested?" asked Harry taking a goblet of juice and several iced cakes without argument.
"Indeed!" said DePais. "That was one of the first things we discussed. You see, it was a supreme test of what had been included in Albus' willy orb. It provided an unanticipated request, which needed to be addressed rationally. Albus responded admirably. I feel he has indeed achieved a complete Porcrux."
DePais pushed his chair from the unfinished chess game and turned his gaze on Harry. "Albus has agreed with your plan, but I draw altogether too much authority. Albus can speak for himself."
Dumbledore looked down at Harry, "I understand your motivation given the memories of our conversations of what happened in the Little Hangleton graveyard. I concur with the conclusion that Lord Voldemort would take great amusement at having my body as an Inferius. He would delight in making my body carry out his instructions, and given the fact that he has already enabled one of his followers to penetrate Hogwarts grounds; I believe it is a matter of when, not if, he attempts to remove my body from its protective tomb."
"Then let's get started," said Harry turning toward the hidden broom cupboard. He was halted in mid-turn by the thought of a man the size of DePais attempting to fly a broom.
"Maybe we should take the stairs," said Harry a bit self-consciously.
"The stairs will do, but I do wish flying carpets had not been outlawed. A good Axminster was always my favorite method of transportation." DePais sighed and turned toward the office door. "I shall return as quickly as possible to conclude our remaining business," said DePais bowing to the Porcrux as they left the office.
Harry led DePais through the castle, using several hidden passageways and a secret staircase, and soon they were once again standing before Dumbledore's white marble tomb.
DePais walked slowly around the tomb studying every detail. At length he addressed Harry, "I can duplicate this marble structure. Indeed it will be a fitting cenotaph. A place we can comfortably come to pay respects to a great man. But before I begin my part of the task, you appear to have some difficult work to do."
Harry nodded and set to work. At least a dozen types of magic protected the tomb and he took great care in memorizing each as it was removed. His concentration never wavered and he took no note of the time that had passed as he removed the final spell.
"That should have done it," said Harry standing off from his completed task. The white marble tomb looked no different after Harry removed the protective magic than it did before, none-the-less Harry smiled. As he turned to DePais, he saw that the artist had assembled a variety of supplies, including several slabs of fine white marble.
"I assume you will move the monument yourself?" queried DePais.
"Yes," responded Harry, "I'll leave you to assemble a replacement while I visit the cemetery. That is, unless you need assistance?"
"No. No, I should be just fine," said DePais as he stepped around the slabs of marble.
"Great, I'll get going then," said Harry as he used a levitation charm on the tomb. The charm enveloped the tomb, but as the marble lifted from the ground a huge concussive wave broke Harry's magic and blasted him twenty feet. He groaned loudly as he landed hard in the rough grass edging the grounds.
DePais hurried to his side. "My boy, are you all right?"
"All right? I'm glad to be alive!" said Harry rolling to his side and attempting to stand.
"We need to get you to a healer immediately," said DePais an increasing note of panic in his voice. "That was a terrible blow."
"I've had worse," said Harry, getting shakily to his feet.
DePais threw an arm around Harry. As the strength in Harry's legs flagged, he sank to the ground.
"Maybe I'll stay here a minute before I proceed," said Harry.
"You can't possibly be contemplating completing this plan in your state. Allow me to get some help. I can conjure a stretcher and float you back up to the castle, or I could bring help down here to you." DePais looked imploringly at Harry who had gotten to his hands and knees and was taking long deep breaths.
"I'll be fine," said Harry, but his weak protestation was cut short by Capricio's harried return. The dragon dropped from the sky and interposed itself between Harry and DePais. Harry immediately saw what the dragon was about to do. "Stop Capricio! He didn't do this to me! He's a friend!"
Capricio shunted his burst of flame to the side at the last instant and blackened a patch of lawn some five feet away from where DePais stood. Still keeping a wary eye on DePais, Capricio backed toward Harry until he was standing between Harry's hands. The dragon looked up at Harry as if to say "I can't leave you for a minute can I?"
Harry looked down at the dragon and saw it sniffing pointedly at his damaged hands. He could see that the magic backlash had burned his fingertips and blackened his fingernails; the hair was burned from the back of his hands and scorch marks trailed their way up his robe sleeves nearly to his shoulders. Only belatedly did Harry realize that he had been removing the magic surrounding Dumbledore's tomb without a wand.
"Give me a mo' and I'll be right again," said Harry. He silently conjured dressings for his hands. The wrappings made him look quite the mummy. He struggled from all-fours to a wobbly standing position. DePais had made to help him stand, but apparently thought better of the action with the small dragon still between them. Harry made his way to the two chairs still standing a short way from the tomb. He collapsed heavily in the nearest as Capricio landed in his lap.
DePais sat warily in the chair adjacent to Harry. After a few moments of observation, he asked, "What just happened?"
"I'm not positive, but I do have an idea," said Harry. "I believe that a bit of masking magic has been placed under the tomb itself. When I attempted to levitate the tomb, my spell wrapped under the marble and touched the masking magic. If I'm right, I'm very fortunate the magic is only two days old. Otherwise it could have been fatal."
Harry had already begun to consider his options when DePais interrupted his thoughts, "Perhaps we should make our way back to the castle and finish this project another time?"
"No," said Harry a bit more forcefully than he had intended. "I'm going to be fine. If you are ready, I just need a few minutes to gather my thoughts and I'll finish up my part."
DePais shrugged, moved away, and reluctantly resumed his work on the duplicate tomb. Harry reviewed his mind's-eye library and his experiences in the Chamber of Secrets. When he finished he had formulated a plan. He extracted the gold lining he had made to disguise Capricio and his wands. Working quickly, he formed it into a sheet wider and longer than the marble tomb. Believing he knew what he was up against, he determined an exact balance point on the top of the marble edifice and attached a single strong strand of levitating magic. Making doubly sure that the magic did not seep around the sides of the marble, Harry raised the tomb once more. As soon as he could see the marble parting from the ground, he changed his perspective. Dropping to his belly, he peered under the tomb. As he expected, he could see a patch of magic under the tomb. Carefully, by hand, he slid the thin gold sheet under the tomb and covered the magic. He was pleased to see the magic completely walled away from the bottom of the tomb. He carefully set the marble edifice a safe distance away from its original location.
"Remarquable!" exclaimed DePais. Harry looked up surprised. So focused on the care he was taking with the magic, he had completely forgotten DePais was there.
"Not so remarkable," said Harry. "It would have been, IF I had caught the magic's presence in the first place. As it is, I am merely reacting instead of acting."
"Your reaction has been model Mr. Potter," said DePais putting away his wand. "You have great focus and attention to detail. You have the makings of a great artist."
"I don't know about an artist, but I have begun to learn about paying attention to details," said Harry. "Some of the lessons have been very harsh schoolmasters," he added, flexing his bandaged fingers.
"Life's hardest learned lessons are the longest remembered," said DePais. "Easy times are easily forgotten. Much of art, and life, is created and cherished because of the forge from which it has been drawn."
"I understand," said Harry. "I think I am ready to finish this. I should only be a few minutes interring Albus in the school cemetery. I know you don't want to meet Ogram, so if you would finish here and wait for me; together we will place your cenotaph in the same location I removed Albus' tomb."
DePais nodded and watched momentarily as Harry levitated the monument and floated it toward the cemetery.
Harry made short work of the placement of the tomb in the remote location suggested by Ogram. It seemed almost contrary to what Harry knew to leave the body of his greatest friend seemingly unprotected. Then Harry recalled the feeling of power emanating from Ogram as he knelt reverently beside Dumbledore's tomb. Peace flooded his mind. He arose, turned confidently from the secluded path, and headed back toward the grounds.
When he arrived beside DePais, Harry was mightily impressed. The duplicate tomb looked exactly like the one he had just left in the school cemetery. "Congratulations," said Harry. "I don't believe anyone could tell that a replacement has been made."
"Thank you," said DePais. "But to complete the ruse we have a bit more work to do."
"Indeed we do," said Harry. He silently hoisted the simulacrum and moved it to the exact location of the original. Aligning it with the marks left in the ground, Harry lowered it until it was a scant few inches above the ground. "Would you please, very carefully, and by hand, pull the gold sheet from below the tomb?"
DePais did as he was asked and Harry cautiously lowered the marble until it rested heavily in the print of the original. Harry then proceeded to replace each protective magic he had so assiduously removed.
As Harry and DePais returned to the nearby chairs, Capricio once again landed between them. "He is really quite protective of you," said DePais.
Harry could tell that the artist had shifted his focus entirely from the completed project to a close study of the dragon. "Cap," said Harry to the dragon, "I'd like to introduce you to a new friend. Capricio this is Francois DePais; Francois this is Capricio."
The wizard and the dragon eyed each other and then Capricio did something that startled Harry. The dragon took to wing, circled once and dropped into the artist's lap.
DePais, apparently encouraged by Capricio's act of acceptance, reached out very cautiously and touched the dragon. Capricio didn't close his eyes as he did when Harry stroked him, but neither did he attempt to remove the wizard's fingers.
"Well, that's progress," said Harry. "Capricio, Francois would like to spend some time studying you to better understand how to depict dragons. Would you allow that?"
The dragon turned as Harry spoke to him and the moment their eyes locked, Harry saw that the dragon had no such intention until Harry had attended to his hands.
Getting the mental point, Harry addressed DePais, "I should have Madam Pomfrey look at my injury. After that Capricio seems inclined to allow you to sketch him."
"Very good," said DePais in a genially anticipatory voice. "Let's, by all means, get you back to the castle then shall we?"
Harry stood, refashioned the gold sheet into a pocket lining, vanished the chairs, and headed with DePais back to the castle, Capricio flying protectively above them.
At the castle doors, Capricio reinstalled himself inside Harry's robe pocket. Harry summoned Dobby who listened to the dilemma, and then disapparated through the castle doors and opened them from inside. Once inside the castle, Harry thanked Dobby who promptly disappeared. Harry quickly led the way to the very familiar hospital wing. As the pair neared the infirmary doors, they were surprised to see them open seemingly of their own accord.
"It appears the hospital was expecting you," began DePais with a trace of humor in his voice.
His words were cut short by a very pretty brown-eyed girl with flaming red hair, rushing through the open doors and locking Harry in an embrace.
"Oh Harry I've been so worried," said Ginny wiping a tear from her cheek. "When Ron got up you were gone. We thought the worst. We had checked most of the castle when I realized that when you go missing, quite often you turn up in the hospital wing, and here you are." Eying his bandaged hands and turning a most Mrs. Weasleyish look on Harry she asked, "What have you been doing?"
"A little of this and a little of that," said Harry as he silently gave the D.A. sign.
Without a skip, Ginny returned the sign and almost pushed Harry into the ward. Madam Pomfrey was busy with a small boy who was also wrapped in bandages when she saw Harry. She rushed down the aisle made by the facing beds, and in an exasperated tone, she said, "What now Potter?"
Harry sheepishly raised his bandaged hands. Madam Pomfrey sat him on a bed and removed the bandages. His hands looked even more blackened than when first bandaged, and Harry had an awful vision of Dumbledore's blackened, dead-looking, right hand. "Magic backlash from masking magic," said Harry a bit sheepishly.
"Two in one morning! Mercy, what's next?" asked Madam Pomfrey a strained note in her voice.
"What do you mean two?" asked Harry.
"I have Dennis Creevey at the other end of the ward," said Madam Pomfrey. "His case is more serious that yours, Mr. Potter. He is burned over most of his body and is semi-conscious. He's not making any sense yet. It will require several days here before he is fully mended. You should be fine with a simple treatment. Please remove your robe and roll up your sleeves."
As Madam Pomfrey went toward her potions cabinet, Harry made a snap decision. Speaking quietly to Capricio he said, "Cap I need you to go with Francois. He will take you to Dumbledore's office. He needs to complete some business with Dumbledore's Porcrux. If you would allow it, he has some supplies with which to sketch you. We will come to the office as quickly as we can and retrieve you."
Capricio seemed put upon, but he complied. Harry quickly removed the gold lining, transferring it to DePais. Capricio reluctantly disappeared inside the pocket just as the hospital matron returned. DePais made the appropriate motions of excuse and left the hospital to find McGonagall and access to her office.
As soon as DePais was gone, Madam Pomfrey turned her full attention to Harry's hands. "Well Mr. Potter, you never cease to amaze me. I find it hard to believe that two students just accidentally come into contact with resolved masking magic inside Hogwarts grounds, and on the same morning no less. Were the two of you involved in the same clandestine operation?" She fixed Harry with a penetrating gaze.
"No," replied Harry. "I didn't know about Dennis until just now. My injury . . . well it was stupid really, I was showing Francois DePais the grounds and I wasn't paying careful enough attention. My fault, not his, but I appreciate your help."
Madam Pomfrey was so focused on Harry's hands that she didn't seem to be paying the least bit of attention to his feeble explanation. She coated his hands in a viscous orange paste that brought immediate relief from the pain of the burns. She rewrapped his hands in clean bandages. "Come back this evening and I'll remove the bandages," she said in dismissal.
Harry thanked her and left the hospital with Ginny. His first thought was to take her by the hand, excited at the prospect of being alone with her after such a long absence. The moment he grasped her hand, pain, so severe that Harry thought he might be able to see it through the bandages, shot through his hands.
Ginny dropped his hand like it had scalded her. "Harry, are you all right?" she asked, concern raw in her voice.
"There is something just not on about these burns," he answered holding his hand up in front of his eyes. "If you have a few minutes, let's go see Moody. He may have an idea about what's happening."
Relieved that she hadn't had to force Harry to the decision, Ginny responded, "That's a good idea. I know where Moody is staying. I found him this morning while I was looking for you. I think most of the other teachers would have sent me back to Gryffindor tower. He growled at me, but in the end he told me to be careful and that he would keep his eye out for you too."
"Blimey, I hadn't even considered that you were out without a teacher!" said Harry in shock. "What were you thinking?"
Without a pause Ginny kissed him. "I was thinking I never got much time with you last night. When Ron said you had gone missing this morning, I imagined the worst. Both Ron and Hermione are still looking for you. We should make our visit with Moody as short as possible and find them. They could be in danger too. I don't feel as comfortable as I once did here at Hogwarts."
"I have an idea," said Harry attempting to put his bandaged hand into his robe pocket. With some difficulty, he withdrew a gold galleon. "This is the master galleon for the D.A. I'll set a meeting with just the two of them for a half hour from now in the library. Ron and Hermione will see the change and know it had to be me that initiated the meeting. They'll meet us there."
"I'll buy that. But make it the common room. That way they'll know it can't be a trap," said Ginny quickly leading Harry through the castle to Moody's room.
"Good point, that," said Harry as he made the necessary adjustments to the coin.
When they arrived, Ginny hesitated outside Moody's door. "He's not one to burst in upon unannounced. I don't want him to kill you before he has a chance to help you."
Ginny smiled and Harry felt warmed from inside. "Right you are!" he said. "Stand beyond the side of the door and I'll do the same when I knock. Here goes nothing."
Harry rapped on the heavy wooden door and then jumped away, his hand aching. Moody did not respond. Harry knocked again. He was rewarded by silence.
Harry was becoming concerned when a growl sounded in his ear. "Potter!"
Spinning reflexively toward the voice, Harry could see the muted outline of someone disillusioned standing next to him. "Professor Moody, you are exactly who we were looking for."
"You can see me?" gruffed Moody in shock.
"Yes, I took your magical eye as an example and improved the extent of my glasses' ability. I can see most types of magic. Well..." said Harry holding up his bandaged hands, "...I can if I pay attention."
"Let's get out of this hallway and into a more secured setting," said Moody as he quickly unlocked his door with a complicated set of spells. Once inside the room, he removed his disillusionment charm and sat heavily in a high-backed wooden chair. "Well, I was looking for you, and it appears that you have been looking for me. Now that we have found each other, what's to be helped?"
In explanation Harry once again held up his bandaged hands. "Madam Pomfrey treated the burns, but the pain seems beyond the norm. I have, in the past, encountered masking magic. This seems different."
Moody took Harry by the wrists and turned his hands under his magical eye. "I suppose you have done this already, eh Potter?"
"Yes Professor," said Harry. "I couldn't see any magic beyond the burns."
Harry was about to lower his hands to his sides when Moody drew them to what was left of his nose and sniffed. Harry was forcefully reminded of Capricio sniffing for magic traces.
"I'm sorry to tell you Potter, but you've run afoul of a fairly potent curse." Moody looked inquiringly at Harry.
Harry had the good grace to look at the floor. "I didn't think it was a curse Professor. I thought it was just a protective spell."
"You learn quite quickly that one wizard's protective spell is another wizard's curse." Moody's real eye searched Harry. "You wouldn't have sustained this injury out on the grounds would you?"
"Yes," said Harry not wanting to go further.
"You wouldn't have happened to have been down by the lake, would you?" Moody's question was too close to the mark for denial.
"Yes," said Harry a second time.
"Without being too obvious, it is apparent to me that we need to visit Professor Slughorn immediately," said Moody. "No time to waste."
Neither Harry nor Ginny argued as Moody led them from the office and through the castle to Slughorn's room. When they arrived, Moody rapped sharply on the heavy door.
The door opened a bit, and a bleary eye appeared at the crack. "Alastor, I don't usually entertain of a Sunday." Slughorn did not open the door wider nor did he invite Moody inside.
"It's not for me, the visit," growled Moody. "I've got Potter here and he needs your expertise." Moody moved to the side so Slughorn could see Harry and Ginny through the crack.
"Merlin's beard! What's happened now Harry?" asked Slughorn as he opened the door to receive the trio. "You can't have recovered from your last injury yet."
Without preliminaries, Harry held up his hands. "We initially thought it was just backlash from masking magic, but it appears to be more than that. Can you help?"
"Take a whiff Horace," growled Moody. "It reeks of curse."
Slughorn went to his potions case and returned with a silver funnel. The funnel had a leather strap that Slughorn used to fasten it, small end first, to his nose. Then looking rather bizarre, he sniffed about Harry. After several minutes, Slughorn removed the funnel and went straight to his potions kit. "Good thing you came to me immediately. The action smells newly minted. These things can progress to the point of incurability if left too long."
All the time he was talking, Slughorn was hurriedly mixing powders and liquids from small bottles. When he turned to face Harry he had a small glass cup filled with what appeared to be solid ice.
"Drink this my boy," he said. "You won't enjoy it, but pardon the melodramatic, it will save your life."
Taking Slughorn at his word, Harry downed the potion in one.
Ginny screamed. Harry frosted over, went stiff as a board and toppled over.
Slughorn had been expecting this reaction as he had his wand at the ready, catching Harry the instant before he would have crashed into the floor. He wafted his icy charge to the fireplace and conjured a blazing fire. In a matter of minutes the ice was melting and Harry began flexing frozen joints and limbs.
"As I said, not a pleasant experience. But effective nonetheless." Slughorn glanced at Moody. "That had the hallmark of some of your special magic Alastor."
The words hung in the air; almost as icy as the potion he had just created.
"Aye, that it did," growled Moody unapologetically. "The places I use such spells should be safe from the likes of Potter."
"I may have been in places most students would usually avoid," said Harry stiffly.
Ginny regained her composure and turned from Harry with worry etched on her brow. "Professor Slughorn, what was that magic; and how did you defeat it?"
"I dare say that is something you would have to take up with Alastor. The magic is a staple of the Auror's toolbox. The antidote is tricky. You have to have access to the molar of a bipolar bear. As luck would have it I happened to have one in my potions kit. Harry is fortunate indeed. That particular magic progresses quite rapidly without treatment. Often it goes unrecognized by the victim until it is altogether too late." Slughorn smacked his lips and turned to restore his potions kit to order.
"Horace is correct," said Moody. "I learned the curse, protective spell to have it your own way, during my years as an Auror. I learned to disguise the effects by combining it with any spell that would cause burns. The burns usually covered the curse until it is too late for the unfortunate victim."
Harry's face must have shown his skepticism because Moody continued, "Yes Potter, I did say unfortunate. I feel sorry for the witch or wizard who runs afoul of my magic. I only use it where it has the likelihood of guilty victims. Similar to putting a rat trap behind a cupboard, only rats go there."
Harry nodded understanding. "I was in a place that only "rats" would go, but I had my reasons. Protecting Albus' body was foremost among them."
It was Moody's turn to nod. "Aye, if you have added to the protection, thank you. I am sorry about your hands. You were fortunate to have Horace here. I couldn't have undone my own magic once it wormed into your system. Slow it down...possibly; but stop it...no."
Harry turned to Horace Slughorn, and with profound sincerity, he said, "Thanks."
"Oh, no need for that," said Slughorn. "I would be happy to teach you the potioneering necessary. We have several lessons this week I believe."
A sudden thought struck Harry. He swept Moody and Slughorn into his gaze. "Could I talk the two of you into spending some time with the D.A.? We would benefit greatly from your experience and knowledge. We meet this afternoon at five o'clock."
"The D.A. must be the group Minerva mentioned last night as we finished our patrol of the castle," said Moody. "She said she was impressed by what she saw you teach."
"Rightly so," chimed in Slughorn. "I also had a chance to observe what you were teaching. Harry you have a talent. I actually learned a bit from the few short minutes I was there. I can't speak for Alastor but you can count me in on anything I can do to assist."
"I won't say I'm not intrigued," growled Moody. "I'm just reluctant to teach kids some of the things that only Aurors should know. I will come and watch and make my decision after observation."
"That's all we could ask," said Harry. "Ginny and I have an errand to run to the Headmistress's office. We will see you this afternoon in the seventh floor corridor across from the painting of Barnabas the Barmy teaching trolls ballet. And thanks again Professors. I owe my life to you."