Harry walked to the door and opened it. Dobby stood waiting with a tray of prepared food, his large eyes fixed expectantly on Harry. "Thank you Dobby, please come in," Harry said.

Dobby bowed his head and said humbly, "Harry Potter is too kind. Dobby is just doing as Headmaster Dumbledore has asked. Dobby would do anything for Harry Potter and Headmaster Dumbledore." Dobby finished with a low bow, his large ears almost flapping the floor.

Harry was amazed at the balance the house elf demonstrated. Even with his head bowed nearly to the floor, Dobby kept the serving tray absolutely level. "Another talent honed by years of forced servitude," thought Harry.

Dumbledore spoke up, "Yes, thank you Dobby." Harry thought that Dumbledore's words seemed slightly slurred, but Dumbledore continued doggedly on, "You are precisely on time. I trust that you encountered no problems in securing the food without questions being asked."

Dobby appeared to bow even lower as he spoke to the stone floor of the Headmaster's office, "Dobby had no troubles, sir. Students and staff is always asking for extra snacks and food. House elves is happy to fill those requests. No house elf would ever stop another elf in his duty. We don't ask where food is going, we trusts our fellow elves." Dobby set the tray of food on the side table and looked to Dumbledore's portrait.

Dumbledore's rather lopsided smile seemed to cause Dobby intense embarrassment. "Thank you Dobby. You have done exactly as I asked. I have one further request. Please do not mention to anyone that you have spoken to either me or to Harry."

"As the Headmaster wishes," squeaked Dobby.

"Thank you. We will see you again in two hours," Dumbledore said in a slow drawl as he continued smiling oddly at Dobby.

Dobby bowed once again. Harry thanked him as he led him out the door. After Dobby left the room Harry closed the door. His concern turned to Dumbledore's portrait but the first thing that came out of his mouth was, "Who are the meals for?" The words were barely expressed when he realized that he had assumed that a Porcrux didn't need sustenance. "But why three meals?" thought Harry. Suddenly pieces fit together and an idea blazed in Harry's mind, "Nigellus is a Porcrux too!" "How thick was I to miss that! Maybe they both need to eat."

"Why Harry, the meals are for all of you," said Dumbledore in an amused tone of voice; his face and smile once again firm.

"All" asked Harry, taken by surprise.

"Yes," replied Dumbledore, "actually for a moment, there were four of you here at the same time. That conversation can wait. Right now it appears that you have formulated a plan with Headmaster Black and you will need your strength to carry it out. Please place one meal on my desk and a second on the upper alcove landing. You will need to eat the third meal, it is going to be a rather long day."

Harry separated the meals and placed them as he had been instructed. He then sat down cross-legged on the floor in front of the Headmaster portrait wall and began to eat his meal. Even though he had eaten the sandwich that Dobby had provided less than an hour before, he found that he felt famished. The simple meal of cold Cornish hen, rolls, relish and tomato juice tasted like one of the school's full-spread feasts to Harry. The whole meal took less than five minutes to finish. When he was done, Harry glanced around the room and his curiosity was roused about the remaining meals.

"Headmaster, about the meals..." Harry began but was cut off in mid-sentence.

"Harry we will have ample time to discuss that question later. Right now, you seem to need transport to the forest. If you will go to that bookcase and find the volume entitled A Comparative Study of Broomstick Design Through the Ages," said Dumbledore, motioning toward a specific bookcase among the many in the office.

Harry went to the bookcase that Dumbledore had indicated and quickly found the ancient green-leather covered book with silver lettering. As he tried to remove the book, he found it stuck fast to its spot on the shelf. Harry tried several times to remove the tome before it dawned on him that this was another test. He examined the book and shelf and found nothing out of the ordinary. He took Dumbledore's glasses from his pocket and exchanged them for his own glasses and then re-examined the shelf and book carefully. Harry found a small glowing point on the shelf just to the right of the book. He now recognized the glow as a trace of magic. He looked again at the book. It was taller than its companion volumes. There were several faint silvery lines on the cover of the book, one on the front cover, three on the back cover, and one on the spine near the title. Harry thought for a moment, examined his own hand, and then grasped the book, his thumb on the front cover over the faint silver line, three fingers covering the lines on the back cover, and the top of his small finger resting over the line on the spine of the book. He then took out his wand with his right hand and placed its tip against the glowing spot on the shelf. Harry was gratified as he felt the book relax its grip on the shelf and slide forward. As the book moved, the entire bookcase began to move to the side revealing a broom cupboard full of remarkable brooms. There were brooms representative of all the ages, from the earliest primitive models to a shining new Firebolt. Harry could tell from the polished handles of all the brooms and trimmed twigs of the racing brooms that this was not just a collection; it was a labor of love. Harry turned to Dumbledore's portrait with a questioning look on his face.

Dumbledore was smiling; he had been anticipating Harry's reaction. He began, "I have, from time to time, been in need of immediate transportation. Through the years, I have gained an appreciation for a good broom. This appreciation grew into a desire to collect examples from the ages. You see before you, the results of many year's searching. They will be yours upon your seventeenth birthday. Right now however, if you would please choose one, you need to make a quick trip to the forbidden forest."

Harry was jolted back to the task at hand. His choice was easy. Today it would be the Firebolt. There would be time later to try out the other brooms. As Harry examined the broom, he noticed a doorway at the back of the hidden closet. Mentally orienting himself to where he was in the castle, Harry surmised that this door opened out of the back of the castle tower that made up the Headmaster's office. Harry turned back to the office and went to the door. As he and Nigellus had discussed, he used Greyback's wand to "vacuum" up its owner's blood from the outside of the door and landing and then he quickly gathered up the leather haversack. Harry emptied out the invisibility cloaks, the crucible and the remaining orbs. He levitated the four red orbs and the stone crucible to Dumbledore's desk and then threw two of the cloaks over them. They immediately vanished from sight. Harry then replaced the empty orb and Greyback's wand in the bag.

Harry was preparing to leave when Nigellus interrupted him from behind, "Potter, I was just thinking, the remains of your breakfast might provide an additional element of attraction for your family of acromantulas if it is handled correctly."

Harry thought for a moment, and saw how the plan could be improved. He took the plate with the remaining bits of his meal and dumped the Cornish hen pieces unceremoniously into the bag. With the remaining strap, Harry hoisted Fenrir's bag over his shoulder and swirled his invisibility cloak around himself and the Firebolt. As Harry kicked off lightly and hovered several feet off the floor, the door at the back of the cupboard opened of its own accord. "Handy," Harry thought, "It must be connected to the brooms by an automatic cupboard door opening spell. That'll make it a lot easier to get back in when I return." Harry flew toward the open door and the bright sunlight on the other side. He didn't hesitate and he didn't look back, he had a job to do and he intended to do it well.

Harry flew out the open broom cupboard wall. He circled the tower that housed the Headmaster's office to get his bearings and to make sure that the invisibility cloak remained securely in place. Harry noticed that even though the door had sealed seamlessly into the tower wall, he could still see the outline of the magic that made the door work. Harry realized that he still wore Dumbledore's glasses. He quickly surveyed the castle and grounds and saw magic traces in many places. He mentally noted the brightest sources for later investigation and then turned the Firebolt toward the forest. The sensation of freedom and speed were invigorating to Harry's mind and body. The rush of early morning air felt refreshing against his face. If it hadn't been for the weight of the bag and its reminder of the impending task, Harry would have enjoyed the experience completely. He readjusted his thoughts and focused on the task before him. As he streaked across the grounds, he saw his fellow Gryffindors performing inspections of the castle perimeter protective spells. He could see a boy in Gryffindor colours running toward Hagrid's hut. Harry could see Ron, Hermione, and Ginny working under Moody's direction to seal a small gap in the curtain of magic that Harry could now see protecting the grounds. With a start, Harry realized the gap was in the exact location that he and Dumbledore had entered the grounds that fateful night less than a week ago. Harry recalled Dumbledore's muttered incantation and then turbulence as they passed the spot on their brooms. "Had Dumbledore opened the gap and neglected to close it? Had Dumbledore been distracted by pain, or possibly, by the urgency of the moment?" Harry quickly put these thoughts to the back of his mind. He would have time to consider them later.

Harry skirted the curtain of magic and headed toward the forest. His first order of business was to locate where Greyback had entered the grounds. It took nearly fifteen minutes of scouring the forest edge but Harry finally located the werewolf's footprints. Harry landed the Firebolt next to the depressions in the soft earth. He could see that the werewolf had been in a hurry. The footprints were distinct with the toes dug in deeper than the heels. Greyback had been running. Harry took out his wand and, following the instructions given to him by Nigellus, performed a charm that overlaid the footprints with a bright red ribbon that was then drawn back into his wand. Harry remounted the Firebolt and took to the air once more. He surveyed the castle and grounds. He calculated the shortest path from the castle's front entrance to the cover provided by the forest. Harry then flew to the spot at the edge of the forest he had just chosen. He knew that he was a considerable way from Aragog's old lair. He had to make a trail that was visible but not overtly obvious. Harry moved slowly, hovering a scant few feet above the forest floor, he performed the next portion of the spell that Nigellus had taught him. A diffuse red mist formed a glowing stripe on the ground where Harry aimed his wand. As he slowly made his way through the trees and plants, the glow followed him leaving an eerie red trail behind.

As Harry flew deeper into the forest, the sun played hide-and-seek games with the shadows, at times winning by brightly illuminating the odd patch of forest floor. But as the trees thickened, the sun began to lose to the overarching trees, only achieving an occasional ray's penetration to the forest floor. Finally the trees gained victory and blocked out all efforts by the sun to warm and illuminate. The trees seemed to press in; the air became dank in the deepening gloom. The trees had become huge, their massive trunks and leaves blocking the sunlight high above. Nothing grew here on the forest floor; the giant trees had sucked the life-giving light from the air high above, leaving below gnarled tree roots, perpetual gloom, and a foreboding feeling of despair.

Harry had concentrated so intently on keeping the mist on the ground that he didn't notice the trees begin to thicken until they had blocked out the morning sun. The forest floor was left in an unearthly darkness. Harry had traveled for nearly fifteen minutes when he saw the first signs of spider webs. At first the webs were no larger than those encountered on a walk through a garden, but they quickly grew more numerous and then increasingly larger. His forward progress was finally stopped by a ground-web with strands as thick as bell pulls extending from huge tree to huge tree.

"Time to set the trap," thought Harry. Not wanting any of his footprints to alert wary searchers, he didn't land the broom; instead he determined to do his job while hovering above the ground. Pointing his wand at the red mist marking a path back to the forest edge, with a sharp flick of his wrist, almost like snapping a whip, he finished Nigellus' incantation. The mist seemed to settle into the ground and Harry watched, a bit amazed, as werewolf footprints appeared in the barren soil of the forest floor backward toward the forest edge. The spacing and depth of the tracks gave the impression of a werewolf covering a lot of ground quickly, with little regard to hiding his trail from pursuers. Harry took off the haversack and set it across his legs like a table. He took out the remainder of the Cornish hen and examined what he had to work with. He had achieved adequate transfigurations in McGonagall's classes but this was a monumental test of his abilities. As he contemplated the transfiguration, Harry could suddenly "see" and "feel" the necessary incantation. He realized with a start that he was "seeing" through McGonagall's point of view. Harry suddenly knew he could accomplish this, he felt as if he had already done the magic. This would be easy. He silently levitated the chicken bones and flesh to just above the forest floor. He then used an engorgement charm, enlarging them until they were roughly the same size as a fully-grown werewolf. Harry concentrated on what he knew about Greyback's structure; skin, hair, joints, teeth, claws, colouration, anything that would lend a distinct image to the transformation. Harry then concentrated on the transfiguration incantation he could "see/feel" in his McGonagall connected memory. The wand movement was intricate, but Harry felt he had performed it flawlessly. His concentration was rewarded by an immediate change in the appearance of the leftover hen. The flesh closed into pale, bristled skin reminiscent of a werewolf. Limbs appeared at the odd, werewolf angles, as did a head sporting a long snout filled with wicked looking fangs. The result bore more than a passing resemblance to Fenrir Greyback. It was as if the magic had read his memory of Greyback and superimposed itself on the transfiguration. He was pleasantly surprised at the result.

Things were going better than he had anticipated. Harry then took Greyback's wand and the empty orb out of the bag and used "Sectumsempra" to slice off the remaining strap and shred the remainder of the haversack. He then carefully lowered the shredded bag to the side of the huge web and let it settle gently among the offal of the giant spider's previous meals. Harry knew the next step was fraught with danger. Up to now, everything had been done in profound silence and without touching the ground or any of the strands of the numerous webs. The next step had to be performed quickly and could be fatal if there were any large acromantulas in the area. Harry carefully levitated the faux Greyback toward the web in front of him. He carefully gauged where the werewolf would have struck the web had it been running through the forest on the path he had laid down. With a quick flick of his wrist, Harry threw the "werewolf" into the web.

The result was immediate. A spider the size of a hippo scuttled from a dark corner to the location where the "werewolf" was stuck vibrating in the funnel-like web. Harry had expected a spider to come when the web was touched but he had not anticipated the speed and agility of the huge spider. The spider immediately sunk its huge fangs into the "werewolf." Harry was ready, he had Greyback's wand pointed at the awful scene before him, the tip barely protruding from beneath his invisibility cloak. As the spider's fangs struck, Harry reversed the spell he had used when he had cleaned up the blood on the landing outside Dumbledore's office. Blood sprayed from the tip of the wand across the "werewolf", the spider, the web, and nearby trees. The spider's reaction to the blood was immediate; it extruded a strand of silk as large in diameter as Harry's wand and twirled the "werewolf" in a practiced rhythm between its spindly legs. Within seconds, the "werewolf" was encased in a shroud of silk. Harry noticed that the wrappings were so tight that the blood was seeping between the strands and dripping to the forest floor. When the package was tightly wrapped, the spider sank its glistening fangs into its victim, once, twice, three times. Harry winced with each of the spider's strikes.

Realization dawned on Harry that he couldn't have done this to the real Fenrir Greyback; he didn't think he had the constitution for this kind of work. Harry watched silently as the spider repaired the damaged portion of its web, hoisted its package and retreated to a dark corner for a quiet meal. The entire spectacle had taken less than three minutes. As the spider retreated, Harry dropped the orb to the forest floor next to the haversack. To his horror the orb landed on a stone and broke with a loud crash.

The spider's reaction was incredibly quick; it pushed its meal securely into the web and scuttled out of its silken den. It paused at the broken glass as if considering something. Then it spoke, its voice a deep rumbling bass between the clicks of its huge sharp pincers, "You are not visible to my eyes but I can hear you and I can smell you on the forest air. If you are here to attempt to take my meal from me, I welcome the combat. I am Asgoth, son of Aragog. My father had many children; we battled for food and position since we were small. I am no stranger to fighting for my meals, and so far, when I have been challenged for my food, I have ended up with two meals instead of just one. So, prepare to fight me, or, if you value your life, run away."

Harry looked quietly into the eight glistening eyes of the huge spider. He could see fear of the unknown in the spider's mind. Harry realized that, once again, he was seeing the thoughts of another. Regardless of whether this spider was truly afraid or not, Harry absolutely did not want to fight this monster. He hadn't even wanted the spider to know he was there. Harry thought quickly. He raised his voice to a high quavering pitch and spoke, "Asgoth, son of Aragog, I chased this werewolf from the forest edge, he ran as a frightened rabbit. He was to be my meal but I see you are a formidable opponent. I watched as you subdued this lowly werewolf and even if I defeated you, your venom makes him unsuitable to my palate. Even were I to prevail against you in battle I could eat neither him nor you. I bow to your supremacy and wish you a pleasant meal." Harry remained silent and unmoving, waiting for the spider's reaction.

Asgoth hesitated, considering the words, then he began, "You have chosen a wise path. I thank you for bringing this treat to my web. I never underestimate an opponent. This is how I have lived and prospered. I recognize your wisdom and will repay the debt you have put me in this day. Name your name that I may know to whom I owe debt."

Harry knew that using own name would jeopardize his underlying plan. He recalled a word game Hermione had forced him to play in an attempt to sharpen his reasoning skill. Without a pause he said, "I am known as Fiend of Grirhad."

"Few have come to my lair with the confidence and self-assurance you express," said Asgoth. He then continued, "It is a rare thing for me to have a conversation with another. Most flee from before me or avoid me entirely. In my experience, self-assurance speaks of a feeling of equality. As I cannot see you, you may have been able to strike me before I could have reacted or retaliated. If that is so, I owe you my life as well as my meal."

Harry, looking into the spider's eyes, knew that he could take the spider at his word. Recognizing that Asgoth's word was as good as his father Aragog's pledge, Harry began, "I did not come here to give battle to anyone as formidable as you. The foolish werewolf ran across my path as if he were fleeing for his life. I never encountered that from which he was fleeing, I merely followed, waiting for him to tire. As for being your equal, a wise friend once told me that being invisible made one careless. I try to be careful. I suggest a truce between you and I, a pact as it were; if not as equals, then as friends."

The great spider paused. Harry could "see" him considering an idea that had never occurred to him. "Friends?" he said, "you know not what you ask. At my father's death I became the leader of my clan. My word is bond to all my kin. And yet, I believe that you may be as formidable as you appraise me to be. A pact it is! Sealed by this meal offering. I will spread the word among my clan; Fiend of Grirhad is allowed free passage at my accord. You will be safe as long as I rule. Come to visit me, come to talk, I welcome you back."

Harry was astounded by the great spider's words. A friendship with Asgoth could secure a portion of the forest from his enemies if this were handled properly. Harry started his reply, "Asgoth, son of Aragog," and then with more assurance than he actually felt, "friend, I will visit you again."

"Done and done," rumbled Asgoth. "I look forward to talking with you again." With that, the huge spider retreated into his gigantic web to his waiting meal.

Harry noticed that the spider's venom was already at work on the "werewolf." It had started to turn jelly-like, with liquids seeping copiously between the silken wrappings. Friend or not, Harry didn't want to stay and watch the spectacle. He rose silently on the broom and turned back toward the castle.

« Chapter 13 - Friends, Fixes, and Feints   Chapter 15 - Friends Unseen »


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