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Basilisk Eyes

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As Harry thrust the sword into the roof of the serpent's mouth, blood spurted from the wound, drenching him, and he felt a searing pain just above his elbow. One long, poisonous fang sank deep into his arm. It splintered as the basilisk keeled over sideways and fell, twitching, to the floor.

Trying to blink the stinging basilisk’s blood from his eyes, Harry slid down the wall to the floor. He grasped the fang and wrenched it from his arm, screaming as a white-hot pain tore through his body. Dropping the fang, he tried to clear the blood from his eyes with his good hand so that he could see the wound, but it didn’t help. My eyes! Tears poured down his face, making tracks in the serpent blood that was smeared across his face. He heard a soft clatter of claws on the stone beneath him.

“Fawkes,” said Harry thickly, his tongue heavy in his mouth. “You were fantastic.”

He felt the bird lay its beautiful head on the hole in his arm where the fang had pierced him.

Echoing footsteps approached him and a dark shadow moved in front of him. Harry blinked, trying to clear his eyes so he could see Tom, but he just remained a dark shadow towering over him.

“You’re dead, Harry Potter,” Tom taunted. “Even Dumbledore’s bird knows it! He’s crying.”

Harry tried to look, but Fawkes was just a pinkish blur.

“I’m just going to sit here and watch you die, Potter! Take your time. I’m in no hurry!” The dark form sank to the floor in front of him.

“So ends the famous Harry Potter!” Riddle crowed, and Harry found it hard to focus on the words as Tom blithely described Harry’s predicament, dying alongside Ginny in the bowels of the school on the cold, wet floor of the Chamber. Harry’s thoughts raced to Ron trapped in a pile of rocks and Hermione petrified in the hospital wing and then to the warm fire in the Weasley’s kitchen. He sank into the feeling of what it would be like to be embraced again by Mrs. Weasley. But then the cold of the Chamber started seeping back, and he felt as if he were waking up. Tom’s voice came back into focus. He was talking about Harry’s mother, calling her a mudblood. The vile word shook him and he opened his eyes, blinking, trying to bring the world back into focus and to take the stinging away, but everything was still shadowy.

If this is dying , Harry thought, it’s not so bad . The pain was receding from his arm and he felt stronger. He straightened his back and wriggled the fingers in his injured arm. It didn’t hurt anymore. He ran his fingers over the spot where the fang had gorged him, but his skin felt smooth and whole. There was no wound.

“Get away, bird!” Riddle shouted. Harry felt the air shifting and heard Tom scrambling to stand up as he lunged for the phoenix. Harry flinched against the wall as he heard the wings flapping and an explosive bang. “Phoenix tears!” Tom shouted in exasperation. “Fucking healing properties.” Tom’s shadowy figure loomed over Harry again.

“But it makes no difference,” his voice controlled again. “In fact, I prefer it this way. Just you and me, Harry Potter. You… and… me…”

Harry heard Fawkes overhead again and felt something land on his lap. He grabbed it. The diary! Leaning forward, Harry felt the fang roll under his knee. He seized it and, kneeling, plunged the fang into the diary over and over again. Sticky liquid poured out of it as he turned it over to plunge the fang into it from the other side. Tom let out a piercing wail, as if he was the one being stabbed, not the book. And then, suddenly, his shadowy form melted away and he was gone. Only the echo of his scream remained, reverberating off the walls of the Chamber, until it, too, evaporated.

Harry dropped the oozing book and started crawling forward on his hands and knees, feeling the ground in front of him for Ginny, blinking hard, trying to see through the tears that kept filling his eyes. God, how they sting, he thought. His hands found the cold body of the serpent instead. It rose like a wall next to him and he pulled himself up, running his hands over the scaly skin. He heard Ginny gasp for air as if she had just surfaced from underwater and started hurrying toward the sound along the basilisk's body. Her moan drew him closer and he dropped to the floor again as he moved away from the serpent, reaching out with his hands until he felt her robes.

“Ginny, Ginny! Are you okay?” His fingers brushed over her face and hair until he found her shoulders, and grasped them.

“Harry! What happened? Are you hurt? You’re covered with blood!”

“I’m okay, Ginny. It’s the basilisk's blood. I’m okay. Are you okay?”

“I’m so sorry, Harry. It was me. I tried to tell you. I swear I didn’t mean to do it. Riddle made me do it. The last thing I remember is him coming out of the diary,” she sobbed.

“He’s gone, Ginny. You’re okay now.”

“Harry, how did you do it? How’d you get rid of him and… kill the snake?” She had twisted toward him and then shuddered, presumably when she saw the serpent’s body.

“I had help. Fawkes brought me the Sorting Hat and the Sorting Hat gave me a sword. And I stabbed the diary with the Basilisk fang. That made Volde- I mean, Riddle vanish.”

He sat up and pulled her off the floor, hugging her to him, feeling her warmth against his chest and her hair tickling his face. He trembled as he held her body against his, relief flooding his senses. Ginny’s okay! She held onto him, shuddering with sobs until she was done, her breath more even as she pulled away to wipe her face. Harry wiped at his eyes, too. They still burned.

“What’s wrong with your eyes, Harry?” Ginny asked.

“I got something in them. Basilisk blood, maybe venom. Can you help me wash it out? Is the pool close by?”

Ginny stood up and pulled Harry up, too. “Come on. It’s over here.”

She pulled him a few steps over to the pool and knelt down by it. He dropped next to her and reached for the dank water, splashing it up onto his face. He realized that his glasses were missing. He hadn’t even noticed when he lost them. Not that they’d help now, his vision was worse than when he first woke in the morning, before he put them on. In fact, it was worse than when he first got the blood in his eyes. Blinking through the steady stream of tears, he could really only make out vague shadows, light and dark, but it was hard to keep his eyes open to see even that.

Phoenix tears! Harry thought suddenly. “Fawkes, can your tears help my eyes?” he asked the bird who had hopped over next to him by the pool of water.

He lay down on the cold, wet floor again and turned his head toward the bird. Fawkes laid his feathery head on Harry’s face and he felt the tears sliding into his left eye, then turned his head so that they’d slide into his right eye. He blinked to spread the tears and felt immediate relief. The stinging stopped.

“Thank you, Fawkes. You’re amazing.” Harry sat up and looked around. He could open his eyes now, but the Chamber was still shrouded in dark shadows, with only flickering blurs of light. He rubbed at his eyes again and looked again, but it was the same.

“Is it any better, Harry?” Ginny asked softly.

“It stopped stinging, but I still can’t see anything really - just shadows,” Harry said gravely. He shook himself and tried to focus.

“Ginny, do you see my wand anywhere? Riddle took it. Maybe he dropped it when he vanished?”

“I’ll look for it.” He heard her jump up, and her steps clattered away from him, echoing off the walls. He heard the distinctive sound of the hardwood of a wand on stone and knew she’d found it. Harry sighed with relief. Her footsteps started coming back to him, then stopped.

“What is it?”

“The diary. Let’s take it back.” She sounded sad, and a bit fierce.

“Careful of the venom, Ginny!” Harry called to her.

“Oh, right,” she said. “I’ll wrap it in my cloak.” He could hear the rustling of her cloak and her footsteps coming closer, then there was a pregnant pause.

“Um, here’s your wand, Harry.” He realized she must have been holding it out to him, expecting him to see it and take it. He stood up slowly, reaching forward, and felt her place it across his palm. He tucked the wand in his cloak pocket.

“How are we going to get out of here?” Harry wondered, squinting as he tried to see through the shadows and orient himself. Could he even find the tunnel he’d followed here? And then there was the caved-in portion of the tunnel. He heard Fawkes’ claws scrape on the stone and his wings flapping as he launched into the air.

“Fawkes is flying that way, let’s follow him.” Ginny grabbed his arm and pulled him with her. He stumbled alongside her, then pulled up short. “Wait, what about the sword and the Sorting Hat? Where are they?”

Harry felt Ginny turn as she looked around the room, tugging his hand with her as she moved.

“I see the Sorting Hat. Wait here, I’ll go get it.” She ran across the Chamber. Harry moved toward the wall of the Basilisk's body and started following it toward the head, keeping his hand on the cold, scaly body.

He tripped and stumbled over stones that had been knocked loose in the struggle with the serpent, but managed to stay upright. The serpent's body got wider as he reached the head, and he heard Ginny join him.

“Oh!” she gasped.

“What is it?”

“The sword is stuck up really far in the roof of the mouth. Here, let me get it.” She started to  move past him as she spoke.

“Careful of the fangs! The venom!” Harry called out as he listened to the sickening sound of the sword sliding out of the flesh of the Basilisk’s mouth. Metal clattered to the ground.

“I’m okay,” Ginny reassured Harry as he found her back and gripped her shoulder. She bent down and heaved at the sword.

“Let me get it,” Harry said.

He reached around her, following her arm to her hand, then took the sword from her. It was heavier than he remembered during the struggle with the great snake. He fumbled with the edge of his robes and then wiped the blade against them, cleaning it off, and stuck it under his belt so that it hung by his side. He tightened his belt so that the sword wouldn’t pull his trousers down.

Fawkes had settled on the serpent’s body as they sorted out the sword - he could hear his little chirps. He took off again, leading them to the tunnel.

“Here, let me hold onto your shoulder,” Harry told Ginny as she grabbed onto his arm again to lead him. “That’ll be easier.” She was about a head shorter than him. He didn’t like being pulled along. “Any chance you see my glasses around here?”

“No,” Ginny said, then he heard her reaching into her robes. “ Accio glasses!” she called and Harry heard a whooshing noise.

“Here they are, Harry, but they are all busted.”

She pressed them into his hand and he felt their contorted form and cracked glass.

“Crap,” Harry sighed. He tried to open them up to place over his eyes, but one of the earpieces broke off. Holding them up to his eyes, they didn’t make a difference. Nothing.

He shoved the broken glasses in his pocket and grasped Ginny’s shoulder.

“Let’s get back to Ron,” he said.

“Ron’s here?!” Ginny exclaimed. “Why wasn’t he here with you?”

“Lockhart tried to blast us with a spell and made a part of the tunnel cave in. Ron’s okay, just trapped behind the rubble. Let’s try to find him. He was trying to move the rocks so that we’d be able to get back through once I found you.”

“Lumos,” Ginny said and her wand lit up as the shadows of the tunnel swallowed them up. He shut his eyes against the harsh, blinding light.

"Oh, ow," he muttered.

"You can see that?" Ginny asked.

"Yeah, it's just so bright." The light from her spell was all Harry could see - he had to keep his eyes closed against it and just follow her blindly through the tunnel. After a bit, they could hear the sound of rocks being moved and picked up their speed. The sword slapped against Harry’s hip as he moved.

“Ron! Ron!” Harry shouted, “Ginny’s alright!” They could hear Ron’s muffled cheer. Ginny stopped close to the wall of rock and Harry slipped and slid over the loose bits of rubble strewn over the floor.

“You did it, Harry! You saved Ginny!” Ron’s gave a strangled cry mingling both jubilation and relief. His voice sounded like it was coming through a pipe.

“Come through the tunnel. Here, Ginny, you first.” Harry felt Ginny being pulled forward and heard her scrabbling through the rocky tunnel that Ron had made. He heard Ron helping Ginny through.

"Why are you wearing the Sorting Hat, Ginny?" Ron asked in awe.

Harry felt around the rock pile until he found the entrance and then started climbing through after her. He had to climb back out and take the sword out of his belt because he couldn't climb through the tunnel with it on. He tried again, holding the sword in one hand in front of him. It was tricky crawling through the hole with it. Cool air blew across his face as he emerged from the small tunnel feeling his way forward.

“Can someone take the sword?” he called out, afraid that he’d accidentally poke someone with it.

“Whoa! Where’d you get this? It’s so cool!” Ron exclaimed as he took it from Harry.

“The Sorting Hat gave it to me,” Harry explained, but he was distracted. He could hear Ginny sniffling. He pulled himself through the hole, stumbling as he tried to find his footing on the rocky ground.

“You okay, Harry?” Ron asked, perplexed, grabbing him by the arm to steady him.

“Not really. I can’t see. I got venom in my eyes. I can’t see anything - just shadows and light.” His voice cracked. “I bet Madam Pomfrey can sort it out."

“Venom from the basilisk? Whoa!” Ron exclaimed. “What happened? How did you escape?”

“Harry killed it with a sword! And he got rid of Riddle, too!” Ginny burst out, grabbing Harry by the other arm and helping him navigate through the rubble. He noticed that her voice was full of tears and that she was trembling.

“Riddle? How was he down here?” Ron questioned.

Ginny gasped out a sob in response, and before Harry could answer, he heard Fawkes’s claws scrabbling through Ron’s tunnel and then his wings flap as he rose into the air.

“Whoa! Where did that bird come from?” Ron cried in surprise.

“Fawkes helped us. He’s Dumbledore’s phoenix. We wouldn’t have made it without him.” Ginny started crying more audibly and Harry slipped an arm around her, trying to comfort her. “Ron, I’ll tell you everything later. Let’s get out of here. Where’s Lockhart?”

“That old git,” Ron muttered. “He’s over there.”

Harry guessed that Ron was pointing. He squinted, but couldn’t distinguish any human-like shapes in the shadows in the tunnel.

“No, this way. Man, you really can’t see, can you?” Ron uttered, horrified.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine. I mean, we’ve got magic, right?” Harry tried to reassure Ron. Ginny cried harder.

“Ginny, what’s wrong? Why are you crying? ” Ron turned toward his sister.

“It’s all m- all my fault! I did it! I’m going to be ex- ex- ex pelled ! Mm- Mum and Dad are gonna hate me! And- and now Harry’s blind because of me!” Ginny wailed.

“What do you mean, ‘you did it’?” Ron questioned.

Harry spoke over Ron. “Ginny, it’s not your fault. And I’m going to be fine! I’m not blind, I just can’t see right now.” He pulled her close and smoothed her hair back from her face, which was wet. From the Chamber or from her tears, he wasn’t sure which.

“Okay, let’s get Lockhart and get out of here,” Harry tried to sound more confident than he felt.

“Right, he’s over here. He’s in a bad way. Come and see… uh. Well, you know what I mean.”

“Funny, Ron.” Harry jostled his arm as held onto Ron, moving across the rock-strewn floor. He could hear Fawkes’s song leading them through the tunnel. He closed his eyes again because Ginny’s lumos was too bright. He was so tired… and hungry… and thirsty.

Harry could feel the cool air blowing through the tunnel - they must have reached the pipe that they traveled down from the girl’s bathroom. They stopped, and Harry heard Lockhart humming to himself.

“His memory’s gone,” said Ron. “The Memory Charm backfired., hit him instead of us. He hasn’t got a clue who he is, or where he is, or who we are.”

“Hello,” Lockhart’s voice seemed cheerful. “Odd sort of place, this, isn’t it? Do you live here?”

“No,” Ron said and Harry snorted as he imagined the face Ron was pulling.

Harry pulled out his wand and charmed a stream of water to come out of it and aimed for his mouth. He missed at first and shot water up his nose, leaving him sputtering. Finally, he got it in his mouth. At last satisfied, he tucked his wand away, wiped his face, and crouched down, holding his hands out in front of him. He could feel the breeze from the pipe stronger now and leaned forward until he found the exit hole they had fallen through.

“Ron, have you thought about how we’re going to get back up the pipe? I think it’s too slippery to climb,” he said as he felt the surface, his voice amplified as it moved up the pipe. He could hear Fawkes hovering near and feel the wind his wings made. “What is Fawkes doing?” Harry asked.

“It looks like he wants you to grab a hold of his tail feathers…” Ron said, sounding perplexed. “But you’re much too heavy for a bird to pull up there…”

“Fawkes isn’t an ordinary bird.”  Harry reached back trying to find Ginny until her small hand grasped his.  “We’ve got to hold on to each other. Someone hold Lockhart’s hand.”

“Who’s Lockhart?” Lockhart said.

“He means you!” Ron said with exasperation.

“Is everyone holding on? Ron, you still have the sword?” Harry asked, not bothering to turn around to look. Ron confirmed that they were all linked and that he had the sword. Harry moved his hand through the air in front of him until he found Fawkes’s feathers. They were strangely hot, and an extraordinary lightness spread through his whole body as he grasped them. Without warning, they were floating up the pipe.

Lockhart’s voice came up from below as he shouted, “Amazing, amazing! This is just like magic!”

Suddenly, Harry felt the wet floor beneath his feet as Fawkes lowered them and heard the sink behind him sliding back into place. Moaning Myrtle gurgled somewhere in the air above him.

“You’re alive,” she said blankly to Harry.

“There’s no need to sound so disappointed,” he grouched, squeezing Ginny’s hand. She sniffed in response.

“You would have been welcome to share my toilet.” Myrtle giggled as the group left the bathroom. Harry put his hand on Ginny’s shoulder again.

“Where now?” Ron asked. “Oh, Fawkes is leading the way. Let’s go.” They followed Fawkes through the deserted corridors and then stopped.

“Where are we?” asked Harry, confused.

“We’re outside Professor McGonagall’s office,” Ron said as he rapped on the door, and then pushed it open.

Chapter Text

They stood silently in the doorway for a moment, then Harry jumped as he heard a loud scream and squeezed Ginny’s shoulder in alarm.

“Ginny!” someone shouted and pulled Ginny away from him.

He stumbled forward, knocking into Ron and Ginny and he didn’t know who else. He was suddenly being pressed in on all sides by bodies. He realized that it must be Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, but with all the voices and arms and legs, it seemed like more. He was pulled into a tight embrace with… Ron and Ginny and Mrs. Weasley, he guessed. He wasn’t sure.

“You saved her! How did you do it?” Mrs. Weasley all but shrieked in his ear. It wasn’t quite the warm, comfortable hug he imagined as he was slipping toward death in the chamber below, but it was still good.

“I think we’d all like to know, Mr. Potter,” Harry heard Professor McGonagall’s voice from across the room.

Mrs. Weasley let go of Harry, and he stood still for a moment trying to gather his thoughts. He reached out, trying to find Ginny and Ron. They grabbed his hands.

“Harry? Are you okay?” Mrs. Weasley asked tentatively.

“It’s nothing. I’ll be okay,” Harry said, flapping his hand as if to wave her question away. “Ron, you still have the sword? Ginny, the diary, and the Sorting Hat?” He waited, and then realized they must’ve nodded.

“Um, oh, yes, Harry. We have them.”

He felt Ginny tugging at her robes to extract the diary. Ron and Ginny moved away from Harry and he heard the sword clunk against wood, guessing that they were setting the items down on a table. They returned to Harry and Ginny slipped her hand in his again and squeezed. He stared down at the floor and started telling them everything in an even voice. He could feel the tension in the air as his story unfolded. He told them about the voices in the pipes, how Hermione figured out that he was hearing a basilisk, the spiders in the forest (he felt Ron shudder next to him) and learning about the victim in the bathroom and figuring out that it was Moaning Myrtle, and then finding the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets…

“Very well,” Professor McGonagall interjected when he paused, “so you found out where the entrance was - breaking a hundred school rules in the process, mind you - but how on earth did you all get out of there alive?”

So Harry, despite his voice growing hoarse from so much talking, told them about Fawkes swooping in with the Sorting Hat and how it dropped the sword on his head.

He rubbed his head, remembering the blow and faltered here. He could feel Ginny’s shuddering breaths and hear her gentle sniffles. How can I talk about Riddle’s diary without getting Ginny expelled?

Dumbledore’s voice broke the silence, and Harry started. He hadn’t known Dumbledore was here, too. Who else was in the room? “What interests me most,” the man said, “is how Lord Voldemort managed to enchant Miss Weasley, when all my sources tell me he’s currently hiding in the forests of Albania.”

Harry felt his knees weaken as relief washed over him. Ginny’s hand in his felt more steady, less tremulous. She won’t be blamed. Dumbledore knows, Harry thought.

The room erupted in voices again, all talking over each other.

“What? You-Know-Who possessed Ginny?” Mr. Weasley’s voice stood out among the others.

“It was the diary,” Harry stated. He heard the swish of robes and footsteps going toward the table Ron and Ginny had laid the items out on. “Riddle wrote in the diary when he was sixteen.”

The room was quiet. Harry wondered what was happening and cocked his head to the side as he listened for clues.

“Brilliant,” Dumbledore said softly. “Of course, he was probably the most brilliant student Hogwarts has ever seen.” There were mutters of disbelief. Dumbledore continued, “Very few people know that Lord Voldemort was once a boy called Tom Riddle, a student at this very school. I taught him myself about fifty years ago. He disappeared after graduating… traveled far and wide, and utterly transformed himself with his meddling in the Dark Arts, so that no one recognized him as the Head Boy he once was.”

“But what does this have to do with Ginny?” Mrs. Weasley demanded, stepping over to Ginny and pulling her away from Harry. Harry let go of her hand.

Ginny’s voice sounded muffled as she sobbed, “His diary! I’ve been writing in his diary… and- and he’s been writing back all year!”

“Ginny!” Mr. Weasley shouted. “What have I always told you? Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain! The diary was clearly full of Dark Magic. Why didn’t you show it to me?”

“I’m so sorry, Daddy!” she wailed.

“Miss Weasley should go to the hospital wing now. This has been very hard on her,” Dumbledore insisted. His voice grew more gentle as he said, “Ginny, I assure you that you will not be punished. Older and wiser wizards than you have been hoodwinked by Lord Voldemort.” Harry listened as Dumbledore strode over to the door, saying, “Madam Pomfrey is still awake - she’s just finished administering the Mandrake juice… ”

“So Hermione’s going to be okay?” Ron asked brightly.

“But, Harry… ” Ginny protested. “Harry needs to go, too. He’s hurt.”

“Yes, I’ll send Mr. Potter up shortly, but I need to talk to him and your brother a little longer,” Dumbledore consoled.

Harry felt Ron brush up against him again and surmised that he was feeling as nervous about an extended interview as Harry was. He listened to Mrs. Weasley fuss over Ginny as they left the room, Mr. Weasley’s footsteps following after them. Harry was so tired that he was starting to sway on his feet. He was finding it was rather challenging to have this intense of a discussion with so many people when he couldn’t read anyone’s body language or see their emotions in their faces. He wished he knew the charm for conjuring a chair… and maybe some sandwiches.

“You know, I think this merits a good feast! Professor McGonagall, would you be so kind as to pop down to the kitchens to make the arrangements?” Dumbledore asked, making Harry worry that he had spoken his wishes aloud.

“Of course. I’ll leave you to deal with Potter and Weasley, then?” He heard her walk to the door.

“Certainly,” said Professor Dumbledore amiably.

Suddenly, Harry wondered if he should have been more worried about his own future at Hogwarts. He heard Ron shifting nervously next to him and knew he was having the same thoughts. Dumbledore had said they’d be expelled if they broke any more school rules after the Whomping Willow incident - how many had they broken in their quest to save Ginny? He really wished he could look into Dumbledore’s face and read his expression, or at least see if his eyes were twinkling as they often did when he was amused. All he could do was wait for Dumbledore to address them.

“I seem to remember telling you both that I would have to expel you should you break any more school rules,” said Dumbledore. Ron made an odd gasping noise that reminded Harry of a fish out of water. “Which just goes to show that even the best of us must sometimes eat our words,” Dumbledore went on. “You will both receive Special Awards for Services to the School and - let me see - yes, I think two hundred points apiece for Gryffindor.”

Harry heard Ron’s mouth snap shut. He was relieved, but also a bit bothered by the fact that now he had another thing to add to the list of similarities with Tom Riddle… Special Award for Services to the School…

While Harry had been thinking, Dumbledore had turned his attention to Professor Lockhart (who didn’t even remember that he was a professor!). “Why so modest, Gilderoy?” Harry had honestly forgotten that Professor Lockhart was even in the room, he was so uncharacteristically quiet.

“Professor Dumbledore,” Ron said quickly, “there was an accident down in the Chamber. Professor Lockhart tried to do a Memory Charm on us, but the wand backfired.”

“Dear me,” said Dumbledore, “Impaled on your own sword, Gilderoy!”

“I haven’t got a sword,” quipped Professor Lockhart, “but that boy does.” Harry imagined the man was pointing at him.

“Mr. Weasley, would you mind taking Professor Lockhart up to the infirmary? I’d like a few words with Mr. Potter…” Dumbledore said.

“But, sir, Harry’s got to go to the infirmary, too,” Ron insisted.

“Yes, it’ll just be a moment. I’ll send him along soon.”

Harry rocked back on his heels; he was definitely having a hard time standing.

Ron leaned near him and said quietly, “Okay, see you in a bit, mate.”

“Yeah,” Harry sighed and listened as Ron and Lockhart closed the door behind them.

He heard Dumbledore’s robes swish as he walked toward the crackling fire. “Have a seat, Harry.” He was fiddling with something. Something small and metallic, by the sound of it.

“Sir, I’m really dirty. I don’t think I should be sitting on Professor McGonagall’s furniture,” Harry protested. Besides, how am I supposed to find the chair?

“Oh, it’s nothing that a quick ‘ Scourgify’ won’t fix, I’m sure.”

Too tired to argue more, Harry took some tentative steps in the same direction, trying to remember the layout of McGonagall’s office from when he, Hermione, and Neville were caught out of bed in their first year. He wondered if she had redecorated since then. Apparently not, as his outstretched hands found the back of an armchair, and he gratefully - if a bit clumsily - sank down onto it while Dumbledore continued to talk. “First of all, I would like to thank you. You must have shown me real loyalty down in the Chamber, Harry. Nothing but that could have called Fawkes to you.”

At his name, Fawkes gave a soft squawk and Harry heard Dumbledore sit down in the chair across from him and the bird hop down onto his lap, feathers rustling and claws scratching on fabric.

“And so you met Tom Riddle,” said Dumbledore thoughtfully. “I imagine he was most interested in you… ”

Harry’s thoughts about what Tom had said about them having strange likenesses burst out of him in a torrent of emotion and confusion. He wasn’t like Tom, was he? The whole Parseltongue thing really worried him.

“Harry, you can speak Parseltongue because Lord Voldemort can. He passed his gift to you the night he tried to kill you, though I’m sure he didn’t intend to.”

Harry put his head in his hands and leaned into his knees. “So I should be in Slytherin?” he moaned.

“The Sorting Hat put you in Gryffindor, Harry.”

“That’s only because I asked not to be put in Slytherin.”

“Exactly. If you want proof, Harry, take a look at this.” Harry heard the sound of a sword being dragged off the table and felt the weight of it being placed in his hands as he sat up.

“I can’t exactly… see anything right now, Professor.”

“How do you mean?”

“I got some venom in my eyes. Fawkes helped me with his tears and it stopped the burning, but I still can’t see.”

“Oh, dear,” Dumbledore muttered, in a voice that seemed more shaken by this than by any of the rest of the night’s events.

“I’m sure Madam Pomfrey will be able to fix it, right? I mean, she can regrow bones!” Harry laughed weakly. “Could we go see her now, sir?”

Dumbledore took the sword back from Harry, and he heard it being placed on the table again. Then Dumbledore’s cool hand was pushing his head back as he cast, “ Lumos ,” causing Harry to close his eyes and grimace in pain from the blinding white light in his face.

“You can see that light?” Dumbledore asked hopefully.

“Yes, but it overpowers everything else.”

Dumbledore stood back, turning off the light with a soft “ Nox ”, and released Harry’s head just as the door burst open violently.

“Good evening, Lucius,” Dumbledore said pleasantly.

Harry heard other soft footsteps advancing with Mr. Malfoy’s and a squeaking noise that put him in mind of Dobby. Was Dobby here, too? Why was he with Mr. Malfoy?

“I see you’ve come back to Hogwarts,” Lucius said, voice icy.

Harry was trying to figure out what Dobby was doing. As Dumbledore placidly explained that the other school governors had insisted that Dumbledore return upon hearing that Arthur Weasley’s daughter had been killed, Harry could hear the little elf making weird noises and moving around on the floor near Lucius’s feet.

“So, have you stopped the attacks?” Lucius sneered, “Have you caught the culprit?”

“We have,” Dumbledore said calmly, “It was the same person as last time, but this time Lord Voldemort was acting through someone else, by means of this diary.”

The noises by Mr. Malfoy’s feet were getting stranger… as if Dobby was slapping himself in the head. Why would he be hurting himself?

“A clever plan,” continued Dumbledore, “because if Harry and Ron hadn’t discovered this book, Ginny Weasley may have taken all the blame… ”

The noises continued and seemed to be getting more furious as Dumbledore explained the possible repercussions if Ginny was mistaken as the Heir of Slytherin. Comprehension dawned on Harry. Dobby serves the Malfoys.

Harry stood up and faced Mr. Malfoy, his anger at what Mr. Malfoy had tried to do to the Weasleys giving him courage.

“Don’t you want to know how Ginny got that diary, Mr. Malfoy?” Harry said forcefully, not waiting for Mr. Malfoy’s response, “You did it at Flourish and Blotts! You picked up her Transfiguration book and slipped it inside, didn’t you?!”

Mr. Malfoy hissed, “Prove it, boy!”

“Oh, I don’t think that anyone will be able to do that, now that Tom Riddle has been forced out of the book.” While Dumbledore went on to muse about what Arthur Weasley might do if more of Voldemort’s old school things were found, Harry was wracking his brain for a way to save Dobby. As Mr. Malfoy kicked the elf through the door, he knew what he had to do.

“Professor, may I give that diary back to Mr. Malfoy, please?”

“Certainly,” he said as he passed it into Harry’s hands. Harry kicked off his shoe and pulled off his filthy, blood-soaked sock and stuffed it into the diary. He pulled his shoe back on and Dumbledore led him to the door.

“Mr. Malfoy!” Harry yelled. He could hear their progress down the corridor. Trailing his hand on the corridor wall, he walked as confidently as he could manage toward the sounds of the whimpering house elf, thankful that Dumbledore had the good sense to let him do this on his own.

“Mr. Malfoy, I have something for you,” Harry said as evenly as he could.

“What is it?” His voice was closer than Harry thought it would be, and Harry turned to face him, holding it out.

Mr. Malfoy snatched it from his hand and then cried out, “What the-?” Harry heard the sound of the sock being ripped out of the book and hoped hard that Dobby had caught it.

“What is the meaning of this?” Lucius said furiously. “Come, Dobby!”

Dobby didn’t make a sound. Harry cocked his head, listening hopefully.

“Master has given Dobby a sock,” said the squeaky voice of the elf. “Dobby is free!”

There was a scuffling sound, then a loud bang and a thud. Harry felt Dobby’s small body press against his legs.

“You shall not harm Harry Potter!” Dobby’s voice seemed much larger than anything his body could possibly produce. Harry heard Lucius groaning from the floor a ways down the corridor and realized that the elf must have cast a spell to protect him.

“Go now! You shall go now!” Dobby ordered fiercely, and Harry listened to Mr. Malfoy’s footsteps as they retreated down the corridor, then down the stairs, and faded into the sounds of the castle.

“Dobby is free!” Dobby exclaimed as he hugged Harry’s knees nearly toppling him. “You have freed me, Harry Potter!”

“It’s the least I could do, Dobby! Just promise never to try to save my life again.”

The little elf laughed. “Dobby promises, sir! Is there anything Dobby can do for Harry Potter before he goes, sir?” Dobby asked.

“Could you lead me to the hospital wing, Dobby? I need to get my eyes sorted out.”

“Right away, sir!” he answered delightedly as he grasped Harry’s hand and apparated them to the hospital wing. Harry swayed, disoriented, but smelled the antiseptic potions of the hospital wing and knew they were, indeed, there.

“Goodbye, Harry Potter. You are even greater than Dobby ever imagined.”

With a loud crack, Dobby was gone.

Chapter Text

Harry stood still for a moment, not really sure where he was in the room. He felt a bit nauseous from the unexpected jump through space, from the corridor outside Professor McGonagall’s office to the hospital wing. He let the familiar smells of the hospital wing wash over him (Madam Pomfrey must have given Ginny a Pepper-Up Potion - the smell permeated) and listened. He could hear people talking quietly at the end of the wing, near Madam Pomfrey’s office. The familiar ache of not having parents of his own to comfort him enveloped him, and he felt his throat tighten. He shook his head to get rid of the self pity.

That doesn’t help, Harry told himself firmly.  

He squinted, trying to make out the shadows, but couldn't see anything except a low, hazy light that must be the fireplace - he could smell it, too, and hear it pop occasionally. He thought about how the wing was laid out with rows of beds and a long corridor down the center and reached out trying to find the nearest bed. His hand passed through empty air, so he took a few steps. His foot without the sock felt funny - his trainers were slippery with who knows what… mucky snake pond water, Basilisk blood, his own sweat.

Harry took another pass with his hand and softly hit a metal bar with his fingers. He grasped it. It was the cool metal tube that made the foot of a bed. He ran his hand over it, feeling the hooks where a chart would hang if someone were in the bed being treated.

His stomach gurgled as he walked in the open space between the beds; he was feeling a little lightheaded, he was so hungry. He reached, guessing where the next bed would be and found it. How many hospital beds does this school need? It put him in mind of photos of infirmaries during the war. Seriously, what are they expecting?! Are there more monsters loitering in the dungeons?

At the next bed, his foot collided with the metal foot of the bed and made a ringing sound. The murmured conversations at the end of the wing stopped suddenly. Harry imagined people looking at him and flushed.

“Harry!” Ron’s voice rang out. Harry listened to Ron’s feet slap on the stone floor as he grew nearer. “Hermione’s about to get the potion!” Ron exclaimed, grabbing him by the arm and pulling him away from the row of beds that he was making his way along. Harry stumbled after Ron, trying to get his footing.

“Wait a sec, Ron,” Harry said impatiently. “Let me hold onto you. I don’t like being pulled.” He put his hand on Ron’s shoulder as he had with Ginny earlier, and walked a little behind Ron. Ron seemed to tense and his gait was unnatural, as if he wasn’t sure what to do. Harry blushed, imagining how silly they must look walking down the corridor like this. Everyone was still pretty hushed, and he felt like all eyes were on him.

Swishing skirts or robes (Harry wasn’t sure which) and footsteps approached along with a familiar scent that put Harry in mind of a warm and bustling kitchen.

Mrs. Weasley started wailing as she pulled Harry into another fierce embrace, “Oh, Harry! Ginny told me that something happened to your eyes down in the Chamber!” Her voice was thick with tears. Over her shoulder, Harry could see the smoggy light of the fire was closer and he could feel its warmth. “Let’s get you to Madam Pomfrey. I don’t know why Professor Dumbledore kept you so long. And why are you here on your own? Surely he didn’t leave you to find your way here by yourself, not able to see… and who knows what wandering the corridors at this time of night!”

“It’s okay, Mrs. Weasley. Dobby brought me up here,” he reassured. As much as he wondered the same thing about Professor Dumbledore, he hated anyone doubting his intentions.

Harry could hear someone moving around clinking glass jars and imagined that Madam Pomfrey was mixing potions at her potions station nearby. He wondered why he couldn’t see people’s distinct shapes anymore, like the dark shadowy form of Riddle that he had seen in the dungeons. He wondered if his vision was getting worse. Why did I wait so long to come up here?

“Poppy!” Mrs. Weasley called.

The clinking of glass bottles stopped, and Madam Pomfrey’s clipped footsteps approached. “Can you take a look at Harry’s eyes? Ginny said that he got venom in them.”

“Oh, yes!” Poppy exclaimed. She gently guided Harry to a nearby bed and asked him to lay down. “ Lumos ,” she said as a bright light exploded into the space in front of Harry’s face. He shut his eyes tightly against the blinding light and let out a shriek in surprise and pain. Why do people keep doing that to me? His head throbbed.

“Hmmm,” Madam Pomfrey murmured, and a soft “ Nox ” eclipsed the light that shined through his closed eyelids.

“What?” Harry asked, daring to open his eyes again.

“Nothing, dear,” she hushed. “I’m just going to run some diagnostics.” He felt the air moving around his head.

After a moment of this, punctuated by grim mutterings from Madam Pomfrey that made Harry’s stomach clench in dread, she queried, “Ginny said that Fawkes used his tears on you. Did he cry in your eyes, too?”

“Yes, Madam Pomfrey, down in the Chamber. Dumbledore said they had healing properties, and Fawkes had cried on the wound I got from the Basilisk fang in my arm and it went away completely. See?” He lifted up his arm, pulling back his robes to show her where the wound had been. He ran his fingers over his forearm, not able to discern any difference in the skin. “But it was later. I didn’t think of it right away… about using the tears on my eyes, that is.”

“Ah, well,” murmured Madam Pomfrey, absentmindedly. “You were lucky to have Fawkes nearby. It doesn’t take long to die from Basilisk venom. I can’t believe that a monstrosity like that has been lurking in the dungeons of this castle for so long.” The disgust in her voice made Harry want to shrink away from her.

“Alright, I’m going to get you cleaned up,” Madam Pomfrey stated calmly, as if she hadn’t just been speaking in murderous tones.

Suddenly, things began to move around Harry, and he hoped that one of the sounds he heard was of curtains being placed around his bed because his clothes had been whisked off ( Despello Vestimentum ), his body scrubbed ( Corpus Purgadum ), and he was suddenly dressed in a clean hospital gown ( Vestimentum Hospitum Togae ). He heard his wand and broken glasses clatter on the top of the small table by his bed ( Carpit Inanis ). It wasn’t as restorative as taking a hot bath, but it did feel good to be in clean clothes. He wiggled his toes and relaxed into the bed, his limbs so weighty that they seemed submerged in the soft mattress. His eyelids were heavy, and he fought against the sleep that was overpowering him.

“Is Ginny okay?” he asked Madam Pomfrey, who was still close by - he could hear the scratching of her quill on parchment near the foot of his bed.

“Yes, dear. She’s fine. Just resting now after her Pepper-Up potion.”

“And Hermione? Is she okay?”

“Oh, yes. I was just about to give Hermione the Restorative Draught when you showed up. The others are also doing well.”

“So… ” Harry asked tentatively, he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear the answer. “What about my eyes?”

“Oh, well. I’m… I’m still looking into it,” Madam Pomfrey stalled. “You rest while I consult with the healers at St. Mungo’s. We might need to send you there.”

“Oh,” said Harry, his apprehension mounting. He had been so confident that Madam Pomfrey would restore his eyesight with a flick of her wand. He didn’t feel hungry anymore. In fact, he felt like he might be sick. He moved to his side and felt around the sides of the beds to see if there was a basin that he could use, just in case. He found one sitting on the table by the bed and felt reassured, laying back on the pillow as he tried to calm his stomach.

He could hear the others talking in low voices nearby. Madam Pomfrey had walked away from his bed and he heard the glass vials being moved around again. Footsteps approached his bed, Ron’s heavy, slapping feet. Harry felt a smile play at his lips as he heard Ron fumbling with curtains and was relieved to learn that he hadn’t been exposed to everyone in the room when Madam Pomfrey cleaned him up.

“How are you, mate?”

“I’m fine.”

“Right,” was Ron’s sardonic response.

“Well, I’m alive and I’m not petrified, so that’s a good thing,” Harry replied, equally sardonic. “I know who I am. I wasn’t eaten by a monstrous snake or killed by Riddle.”

“Okay, but why didn’t Madam Pomfrey fix your eyes?”

“What - you can tell?” asked Harry, surprised.

“Yeah. Your eyes don’t look right. They’re bloodshot and puffy and kind of darting around, not fixing on anything.”

“Oh.”

“Hold on, I think she’s going to wake up Hermione now. I’ll be right back.”

“Okay, I’m not going anywhere,” Harry sighed and laid back down, staring at the ceiling - except he couldn’t even see that .

It sounded like the folks in the room had gathered around another bed, a few beds down from his on the other side of the corridor. He was trying to figure out who was in the Hospital Wing. He knew that Ginny was in a bed just two or three down from him, and he could hear Mr. Weasley speaking softly to her. He wondered if other people were here to see the other victims of the Basilisk… Colin, Justin, Penelope, and Nearly Headless Nick. Was it just Hermione left? Had the others gone?

He wondered if anyone had summoned Hermione’s parents. Did they even know she had been petrified? He wished he had asked Ron to stay with him and describe what was going on. As much as he wanted to just go to sleep, Harry was also desperate to know that Hermione was going to be okay. He got out of bed, grimacing when his feet came in contact with the cold, stone floor and felt around on the table by his bed until he located his wand that had rolled next to the basin. He wished he knew a spell that would help guide him through the obstacles in the room without stubbing his toes.

Posuit soccis,” he muttered pointing his wand at his feet and was relieved when his slippers magically encased them. He smiled gratefully for that one, remembering when Neville had taught it to him first year. Castle floors were too cold to manage without slippers. He moved to the end of the bed, fussed with the curtains until he found the opening, and then moved down the aisle from bed to bed toward the voices.

“Is Hermione waking up?” he asked, hoping that Ron would hear him.

“She’s just starting to depetrify,” said a girl’s voice that he didn’t recognize.

“Oh,” said Harry, wanting to move in closer, but not really sure where closer was. He could feel and hear people jostling around, but he imagined that they were all looking at Hermione and didn’t see him. He stood awkwardly outside the group trying to glean what was going on by the conversation. “Is Ron nearby?” Harry asked the girl. He waited, but she didn’t answer so he figured she hadn’t heard him. He asked again, a little louder.

“He’s right in front of you,” she said, her voice laced with irritation and incredulity.

“Oh, thanks.” Harry blushed, realizing that she must have gestured before.  

“Hey, Ron?” Harry reached forward, his hand coming into contact with someone’s back. He hoped it was Ron.  

“Hey, Harry! What are you doing out of bed?” Ron asked, grabbing Harry and pulling him forward. Harry stumbled and caught himself on the bed that everyone was clustered around.

“I wanted to see Hermione. Is she okay?” he asked.

“She’s just starting to come back,” Ron’s voice was thick with emotion and his hand squeezed Harry’s upper arm. Harry felt around gingerly on the bed in front of him, trying to figure out where he was. He found Hermione’s hand, still cold and hard and where it had lain before with the page about the Basilisk scrunched in her fist. He held onto her hand and marveled as it gradually warmed beneath his.

“Hermione?” he asked, wondering if she could hear him. Her hand twitched almost imperceptibly.

“Harry? Ron?” Her voice was weak.

“We’re here, Hermione!” they said in near unison, trying to crowd closer to her bed.

“Did you find the Chamber of Secrets?”

“Yes, Ginny’s okay.”

“What?”

“The Basilisk is dead.”

“Oh, thank goodness… Are you okay?” Hermione shifted in her bed. “Harry, what’s wrong with your eyes?” Hermione’s worry made her voice squeak.

“Oh, I got some venom in them. Madam Pomfrey’s working on it. I’ll be okay,” he tried to reassure her, squeezing her hand which had returned to normal while he was holding it.

“How are you going to study for your exams if you can’t see, Harry?!” Hermione exclaimed horrified.

“No idea,” he said smiling a bit at her response. He was more worried about other things… like fending off an evil git who kept popping up in the most unlikely of places, scaring the crap out of him. But for now, he was really relieved that Hermione was okay.

“Hey, Ron. Can you take me over to see Ginny?” Harry said as he found Ron’s arm and laid his hand on his shoulder.

“Sure.”

They moved through the crowd of people who were filling Hermione in on all the events that had taken place while she was petrified.

“Hi, Harry,” Ginny said, her voice floating softly up from the bed where she was reclining.

“Hi, Ginny,” Harry said gently as he found the edge of the bed and sat next to her. “You doing okay?”

“Yeah,” she hiccuped. He was afraid that he’d set her off again. He felt around for her hand and found it, squeezing it gently.

“Hey, we’re going to be okay, you know?”

“Yeah,” she sighed. “What did Madam Pomfrey say about your eyes? Why hasn’t she fixed them yet?”

“She’s got to talk to healers at St. Mungo’s,” he said matter of factly, trying to put a brave face on.

“Oh. Okay.”

“Ginny, you know this isn’t your fault, right?” Harry pushed the question out, hoping it was gentle enough.

“Yeah. Dad’s been talking to me. He was so mad at first, but he’s just sad now. And he’s been telling me about all the people who You-Know-Who possessed and made do things that they didn’t want to do, and… I guess I’m just one of those people now.”

“Okay. I just wanted to make sure you were okay,” Harry said, sighing.

Turning to Ron who was fidgeting by the bed, he said, “Ron, do you mind leading me to my bed? I’m so tired.”

“Your hospital bed or your bed in Gryffindor tower?”

“Good question. I think Madam Pomfrey wants me to stay here tonight. Keep an eye on me and everything. Maybe she’ll put a ‘ Silentium ’ charm over my bed so I can sleep.”

Harry and Ron walked over to his bed and Harry climbed in.

He decided to try out the charm - he had heard her cast it enough, “ Silentium.

All the bustling sounds of everyone in the room were suddenly cut off and Harry realized that it was too much for him to handle. He didn’t like not being able to hear or see anyone and quickly he muttered, “ Finite. ” The sounds flooded back, much to his relief. He realized that he was tired enough to fall asleep despite all the noise and conversations.

Maybe they’d all head to the feast soon, anyway , he thought as he nestled into the soft pillows and let sleep take him.

Chapter Text

Harry woke with a start and opened his eyes, blinking against a bright light. He closed them quickly again. It was too bright.

Something had woken him up, he realized - a loud noise. Then he heard, at the end of the wing, Hagrid’s booming voice, except he was clearly trying to whisper.

“How’s Harry doin’?”

“He’s sleeping .” Madam Pomfrey responded with emphasis on “sleeping.”

Harry grimaced. Not anymore, he thought.

“Hiya, Hagrid,” Harry sat up and groggily called out to his big friend. Then he tried to look around the room to see if he was waking anyone up, but he could barely open his eyes against the bright light. And he remembered. He hadn’t seen anything since his encounter with the Basilisk, well, not much anyway. Just bright lights and shadows. Today. Today we’ll get it sorted out. Madam Pomfrey will talk to the healers at St. Mungos, and find someone who knows what to do, he reassured himself.

He swung his legs out of bed and felt around with his feet for his slippers. Not finding them, he located his wand and muttered the slipper spell.

He tried to open his eyes again and decided just to keep them closed.

Hagrid’s steps shook the floor as he approached Harry, Harry heard him settle into the bed next to his.

“How you doin’, Harry?” Hagrid asked. “Why you got yer eyes closed?”

“It’s too bright in here to open them.” Harry stated, turning toward Hagrid. It occurred to him that he must be “looking” right at Hagrid’s belly, so he angled his head up a bit to line up with Hagrid’s face.

“Oh, yeah. I heard you got venom in yer eyes,” Hagrid said sadly, “but wait, does this mean you can see again? You can see the sunlight comin’ through the windows?” He got excited as he spoke and seemed to rise up off the bed.

“Naw,” Harry made a calming motion with his hands, “it was like this yesterday, too. I can see some lights and really bright lights hurt, but I can’t see anything except the light. People kept lumosing their wands in my face yesterday. . .” Talking about his lack of vision made his stomach seize up, so he cast around for another subject, “so, you were released!”

“Yeah,” Hagrid sounded defeated. “I bloody hate that place,” he said with a quiet vehemence.

“Wizard prison?” Harry asked.

“Yeah. Sucks the life right out of you. . . .” Harry could hear Hagrid rubbing his big hands together as he said this as if to warm them.

"So, why'd yer kill the Basilisk fer? Couldn't you have spared his life? Harry?" Hagrid's voice was thick, "the poor creature," he bemoaned. 

"Hagrid, the monster was trying to eat me!" Harry nearly shouted, indignant. 

"Well, yes," he acknowledged reluctantly. Harry was certain that Hagrid was entertaining fantasies about frolicking with the huge serpent in the dank tunnels beneath the castle. 

“So, you goin’ down to breakfast?” Hagrid seemed like he wanted to change the subject. 

Harry’s stomach rumbled in response. He had heard Madam Pomfrey swishing around in her robes and guessed that she was close by.

“Madam Pomfrey, may I go down to breakfast?” he asked politely.

Her clipped footsteps approached him and he turned to face her expectantly but kept his eyes closed.

“Yes, Harry. We’ll be going to St. Mungos at 7:50 am. I set up an appointment. Hagrid can take down to the great hall for breakfast, then you need to be back here so that we can floo from the fireplace at 7:45 am.”

“What time is it now?”

“It’s 6:25 am on Monday, you slept through Sunday,” she said brusquely, “and your clothes are cleaned and folded at the end of your bed. You were missing a sock, so I duplicated the one you had. I’ll put up the curtain again,” she paused murmuring "sagum in loco" and Harry tried opening his eyes to see if the curtain helped.

“Does the curtain help with the bright light, then?”

“Yes. That’s better.” Harry sighed. For whatever reason, he felt more comfortable with his eyes open, even though they didn’t give him much more information than when they were closed. He could feel the air better with his eyes open, he realized. He could feel the gentle currents of air as people moved their hands and wands in his vicinity.

“Let me fix up your glasses, then. I can make the lenses opaque.” She bustled by him and he heard her tapping his glasses with her wand. She was quiet for a moment, and there was a pregnant pause. He looked up at her questioningly, wondering what she was doing.

“Oh, right. Here you are, Harry.” She seemed a bit embarrassed. He realized she must have been holding them out to him. He grasped them and put them on.

He was glad to have his glasses back on as he always felt a bit naked without them. He rose and went to the end of his bed, felt around for the curtain opening, and stepped into the corridor to see if the opaque lenses helped with the intense sunlight. He was relieved that they did. “That’s great. Thanks, Madam Pomfrey!”

Hagrid touched him on the shoulder as he passed Harry and Madam Pomfrey also left the curtain enclosure, “Okay, good. I’ll see you at 7:45, then” she said as she walked away.

“I’ll just wait out here while you get dressed, Harry.” Hagrid seemed a bit teary.

“Hey, Hagrid, is anyone else still here in the infirmary?” Harry was curious.

“Naw, just you. I’ll be betting that everyone’s still sleepin’. The feast yesterday went on for a while. Lots ter celebrate.” Hagrid said solemnly.

Harry went back through the curtain to his bed and found his clothes. It took him a bit longer than normal to put them on, but once he stopped thinking too hard about it, it was easier. He realized he just needed to pretend that he was getting dressed in the dark to sneak around the castle in his invisibility cloak. That brought a smile to his lips.

“Okay, I’m ready, but can you take me to the loo?”

“Sure, Harry. It’s right over here.” Hagrid turned Harry by his shoulders and shoved him forward. Harry stumbled and then found his footing and started walking forward until his outstretched hands found the door. He was glad it was a small bathroom and he was able to find his way around it pretty easily. Harry got a little unnerved, though, when he wondered if Moaning Myrtle was watching him from the U-bend. He didn’t like the idea that people could watch him and he wouldn’t know it. He resisted the urge to speak parseltongue to the plumbing as he washed his hands, in case there was another entrance to the Chamber of Secrets. He didn’t want to fall into some pipe and disappear forever, his skeleton decaying alongside the Basilisk’s.

He emerged from the bathroom and asked Hagrid if he was ready to go down to breakfast. Harry was dreading it a bit, but maybe there wouldn’t be many people down yet.

“Yep, let’s go,” and Hagrid started walking down the corridor. Harry started following behind, walking from bed to bed as he had last night. He heard Hagrid stop.

“Here, let me help you, Harry,” Hagrid said as his big hand clasped Harry’s shoulder making him lurch forward.

“Let me hold onto you, Hagrid,” Harry said as he reached for Hagrid’s shoulder, then gave up and settled for his forearm. He ended up just holding onto the fabric of Hagrid’s shirt, his forearm too broad for Harry to get a hold.

Harry breathed a sigh of relief when he remembered that the hospital wing was on the first floor and that he didn’t have to navigate the moving staircases or the trick stairs just yet.

Harry held his breath as Hagrid opened the doors to the Great Hall and waited to hear if anyone noticed them coming in, but it seemed pretty quiet. He could tell there were at least a few people in the room from the sound of silverware and quiet conversations, but no one seemed to stop when they came in.

Hagrid led Harry over to the Gryffindor House table and his usual spot.

“Thanks, Hagrid,” said Harry as he found the table with his hand and lowered himself down onto the bench, swinging his legs over.

“You alright here, Harry?” Hagrid asked, “I’ll be headin’ up to the High Table.”

“Yeah. Is anyone else at the Gryffindor table?” Harry asked quietly.

“No, just you. Though Percy’s sitting at the Ravenclaw table with that Prefect who was petrified. Not many other folks down here. Like I said, they’ll be lyin’ in today. Okay, I’ll be leavin’ you now.” Harry nodded and listened as Hagrid clumped toward the High Table.  

Harry waited for a second and listened for the pop of breakfast magically appearing on the table before him. He felt around for his plate and silverware, then carefully slid his hands forward on the table to locate the dishes. He could smell bacon and kippers and tried to discern other foods by their odors, but the kippers were drowning out all the other aromas. His fingers collided with his goblet and he grabbed it quickly before it toppled, though it splashed a bit of pumpkin juice on the table. He found his napkin and tried to mop it up as best he could and get the stickiness off his fingers. He sipped his pumpkin juice and put it down carefully to the side so that he could try finding the other food again without knocking it over.

He found a dish and pulled it close to his plate and felt around the rim until he found the serving spoon. He poked around the dish with the serving spoon and leaned close to sniff to see if he could figure out what it was. It smelled like fried tomatoes. He tried to spoon one onto his plate, but it kept slipping off the spoon. He finally gave up and shoved it back, casting around for another dish. He found the bacon and gave up trying to use the tongs to get a couple pieces and just fished them out with his fingers, hoping no one was looking. Next, he found toast. He wasn’t willing to try getting the fried tomatoes again and settled on plain toast. At least with toast and bacon, he reasoned, he was less likely to end up wearing his food.

Nibbling on bacon and toast, he listened as footsteps echoed through the hall nearing him. He felt the bench rock as someone sat down near him.

“Hello?” Harry asked, curious about who had joined him.

“Good morning, Harry,” said Percy in his usual formal manner. “How are you doing this morning?”

“I’m doing okay. How about you?” Harry asked politely. He wasn’t used to Percy talking to him.

“I wanted to thank you for what you did for Ginny.” Percy’s voice was grave.

Harry shrugged and made a half-hearted attempt at a smile. He wasn’t sure what kind of response he should give. He was saved from having to come up with words by thundering footsteps.

“Blimey, Harry, you missed a crazy feast yesterday!” Seamus’ voice exploded into the scene, as he rocked the table sitting down.

“Say, why are you wearing sunglasses?” Seamus blurted out, his mouth already full of food. It sounded like he was dragging half the platters toward himself and piling all sorts of food on his plate. Harry had eaten across from Seamus enough to know what was going on.

“I got some venom in my eyes last night, and it made my eyes really sensitive to bright light . . .” Harry explained.

“Wicked!” Seamus exclaimed through a mouthful. “I heard you killed a Basilisk! With a sword!”

“Yep . . . Say, Percy are you going back to Gryffindor tower,” Harry turned toward Percy.

“Um. Percy’s gone, Harry.” Seamus said soberly.

“Oh, right,” said Harry, embarrassed.

“So, what? You’re blind? I thought you said the light hurts your eyes.” Seamus asked skeptically.

“I’m not blind,” Harry was indignant, “I just can’t see right now, okay?” He huffed.

“Sorry, mate. I didn’t . . .” Seamus’ response was eclipsed by a high pitched squeal.

“Hair----rrry!” Harry was relieved to hear Hermione’s voice as she came running toward him, her hair swishing into his face as she embraced him clumsily from the back and settled onto the bench next to him, knocking him sideways in her hurry. She clung to him.

“Did Madam Pomfrey fix your eyes, then?” She asked in a rush.

“No, we’re going to St. Mungos this morning.” Harry replied heavily, “Say, what time is it?”

“Just a little after 7,” replied Hermione. He could hear her dishing food on to her plate.

“Hey, Hermione. Can you put a scoop of fried tomatoes on my toast? I couldn’t manage it earlier,” he asked quietly.

“Sure, here you go,” she said. “Do you want me to cut it up, too?”

“Nah, I think I can handle it,” he said poking around his plate with his fork and knife, locating the slippery tomatoes on top his toast and cutting through them to stab them. He managed alright, though a few bites fell off his fork, he leaned forward hoping they fell onto his plate and not in his lap.

Seamus and Dean (who had joined them at the table) were bombarding Harry and Hermione with questions about what had happened in the Chamber of Secrets. He could hear other students coming into the Great Hall, too. Harry did his best to recount the events, but it was hard to do and eat at the same time. He resorted to nibbling on bacon and sipping pumpkin juice. He was distracted, though, thinking about the trip to St. Mungos. As the Great Hall filled up with students, it was harder and harder to hear the students around him or follow the conversation.

Ron finally joined them, sitting on his other side and was really enjoying talking about what happened in the Chamber, even the parts that he didn’t witness.

Everyone was super excited that final exams had been canceled (well, except for Hermione) and that Professor Lockhart had left to try to restore his memories. Gryffindors were even more elated because they had been awarded the house cup with the addition of the 400 points earned by Ron and Harry.

Ginny, sitting next to Hermione, was pretty quiet, though, and Harry was worried that she was still blaming herself for what happened. Especially as Ron’s descriptions got more and more dramatic.

Harry leaned forward, hoping to catch Ginny’s attention and said, “Hey, Ginny. Could you take me back to the Hospital Wing? I need to go to my appointment at St. Mungos.” Harry wasn’t sure Ginny had heard him and he was about to ask Hermione to get Ginny’s attention for him, when she answered in a small voice, “Sure, Harry.” He heard her sliding off the bench and felt her small hand on his shoulder.

“Your sunglasses look nice, Harry,” she said with a sniff.

Harry hoped she wasn’t going to start crying again.

“Thanks. Madam Pomfrey changed them so that the sun doesn’t hurt my eyes so much.” He stood up and she guided his hand to her shoulder.

Out in the corridor, Ginny turned her head toward him and muttered, “Harry, I’m really sorry about your eyes.”

Harry squeezed her shoulder gently. “Ginny, please stop blaming yourself for this. I’m going to be okay . . . they’ll be able to sort it out at St. Mungos, okay? And even if they can’t,” he faltered here at the thought . . . and for Ginny’s sake, went on, “it isn’t your fault. You didn’t ask to be possessed by Voldemort or taken captive in the Chamber of Secrets. You have to forgive yourself, okay? I think we’re all just lucky to be alive right now, you know? It could have been much worse. Will you promise me you’ll stop blaming yourself. Please?” he pleaded.

“Okay, Harry, I’ll try. But if they can’t fix your eyes, it’s going to be really hard,” she said honestly.

They had stopped and Harry guessed it was because they were outside the door to the Hospital Wing. He pulled Ginny into a clumsy hug, “I was scared we’d lost you, Ginny. I’m glad you’re okay.”

“Thanks, Harry,” she said uncomfortably and pulled open the door.

Chapter Text

Madam Pomfrey seemed nervous as she gathered her medi-bag, Harry’s chart, and prepared for their departure to St. Mungos. A student had just come in needing attention after a disastrous (it sounded like it at any rate) attempt to jinx a cold away and the interruption seemed to unsettle Madam Pomfrey. Which struck Harry as odd, since she never seemed flustered on the other occasions when he (or Hermione or Ron) had shown up unexpectedly in the Hospital Wing for their various mishaps (missing bones, puking slugs, or partial cat transfiguration).

Her nervousness made Harry anxious and he rolled the hem of the sleeve of his robes between his fingers as he waited. He didn’t like not being able to see what was going on around him. It was unnerving. Now he was starting to worry that it wasn’t the delay to their departure that was making Madam Pomfrey apprehensive - that it had something to do with the appointment at St. Mungos and his damaged vision.

Not being able to see was not good, especially for someone who seemed to attract evil monsters. He wanted to be able to see whatever was coming at him. Seriously! Hadn’t the universe thrown enough at him already? Orphaned at 15 months, sent to live with the Dursleys of all people, targeted since his infancy by some crazy, death-defying evil genius who kept showing up in all the strangest places (a teacher’s turban and a discarded diary) to try to finish the job. Didn’t he have enough to be going on with as it was?

Harry shifted from foot to foot as he waited.

“Oh, you should take off your glasses, Harry. Don’t want to lose them in the floo network,” Madam Pomfrey seemed to have her items sorted out.

“Right. I really don’t like traveling by floo network,” Harry said nervously as he tucked his glasses into an inside pocket.

“Have you traveled by floo powder before, dear?” Madam Pomfrey asked absently as she nudged Harry closer to the fireplace.

“Yes, just twice with the Weasleys this summer.” He smiled weakly.

“Oh, well. It’s just one way to travel since we can’t apparate from within the school grounds. You remember how to do it, right? We just throw this powder in the fireplace like this . . .” Harry jumped as a loud bang erupted from the fireplace in front of him; it was hard to hear Madam Pomfrey over the hissing the fireplace was making. “And state clearly where you want to go - St. Mungos!” she shouted in a firm voice, “then step in like  . . .” The hissing noise had stopped abruptly.

Harry stood there, head cocked to one side. He could hear the ticking of a nearby clock, the rustling of sheets no doubt made by the student recovering from the misused charm in the bed nearby (regrowing a nose, by the sound of it) . . . and nothing of Madam Pomfrey.

He wondered if she expected him to follow her into the fire. He stepped back from it. He really didn’t want to do this again. His first experience traveling by floo powder had gone really wrong. Besides, he had no idea where the floo powder was. Even if he did find a container of powder, he wouldn’t be able to tell if it was the right powder. He could be tossing baby powder into a fire and then catching his trainers on fire. He wasn’t that stupid.

So he waited.

Finally, the fireplace hissed again and Madam Pomfrey stepped forward, exclaiming, “Oh, dear Harry. I thought you’d follow me. But how could you? Silly of me. I’m so sorry. Let’s try that again, shall we? This time you go first.”

“But, but . . .” Harry sputtered as she pulled him near the fireplace, a cloud of dust tickling his nose making him sneeze, as Madam Pomfrey announced the destination and shoved him into the fireplace.

He felt like he had been tossed in a washing machine, tumbled around, his elbows and knees and back and head knocking into bricks and stones until he figured out how to hold himself still in the eye of the tornado. He’d shut his eyes against the bright lights that flashed before his eyes and closed his mouth to avoid inhaling soot, swallowing his screams instead.  He was completely disoriented, banged up, and not knowing if he was up or down or sideways. The sensation was worse than the first time he’d traveled by floo powder, worse than the tilt n’ hurl at the local fairgrounds, worse than falling off his broom stick. It kept going and going and he wondered if he was stuck in floo hell for eternity. Finally a hand grabbed his wrist and pulled him forward onto a stone floor. He vomited violently again and again, still not sure which way was up or down, but thankful to be on solid, still ground.

Chapter Text

Slowly, Harry pushed himself to sitting as the sick around him was being spelled away by a very distraught Madam Pomfrey. Her charm infused the area with a peppermint aroma that was gradually overtaking the vomit stench. For a fleeting moment as he thought about what he’d eaten that morning, he was glad he couldn’t see. His head was still spinning as acid burned his throat. He kept his hands splayed on the floor in an effort to settle the rotating room.

Gradually he became aware that he was in a hub of activity - people were rushing around him, some almost tripping over him.

A white-hot fury built in his stomach. “Why did you just push me in there? How can I know when it is time to exit the bloody fireplace if I CAN’T SEE!” His fear and embarrassment had boiled up into a molten rage that erupted nearly as fiercely as his spew. And then he cringed as if he were bracing for blows. He had lost control and he was going to pay for it. He tensed, his breath coming in short gasps.

Madam Pomfrey sputtered and then Harry was horrified to hear that she had burst into tears, “I’m so sorry, Harry,” she sobbed. “You are absolutely right. I don’t know what I was thinking sending a blind child through the floo on his own. . .”

“I am not blind,” Harry seethed, but his rage had cooled. He had never known her to be so discomposed.

“Here, let’s get you out of the corridor, you’re in the way here, right in front of the floo exit,” she said sniffling as she put a hand on his arm and attempted to lift him up. He stood unsteadily. He was still really dizzy and was having a hard time standing up completely; he kept listing to one side and then the other. The corridor was lit differently than Hogwarts and there didn’t seem to be the expanse of windows that made the Hospital Wing so impossibly bright. Harry felt around in his robes to find his glasses and put them on just in case they were headed some place brighter.

As he was still so out of balance, Madam Pomfrey ended up guiding him down the corridor with an arm around his shoulders and her other hand holding his awkwardly, her medibag thumping against his back with every step. They entered a room that sounded large and crowded filled with sobs, quiet sniffles, some cries of children and infants, and barks, and then other noises that he couldn’t quite identify. Some people were talking in hushed tones to others who were asking quiet questions as if they were conducting interviews.

“Here’s a chair. Sit here a moment,” Madam Pomfrey backed him up to a chair and he slumped in relief into the chair when his knees hit it.

“Here’s a draught of ginger tonic to settle your tummy and cleanse your mouth,” she tapped the back of his hand with a goblet that she must have conjured since he didn’t hear her open her medibag. He wrapped his hands around it. “Drink it while I go check you in,” she said and he sipped it while listening to her receding steps. The ginger tonic was spicy and bubbly, a sister to ginger ale, but more effervescent.

Harry listened to the people around him. Someone close by smelled pretty ripe. And there was a man and a woman trying to soothe a hiccuping baby who’d break out into full-on wails, then be bounced back to fussiness. They had another kid with them who was running between the chairs making car noises with her mouth (he guessed she was a girl). Her thudding steps came closer then retreated near Harry until she was at the seat next to him, pushing her toy over the surface of the seat. She stopped, and was quiet.

“Hello,” Harry said tolerantly, turning his head in her direction.  

“My car flies,” she informed him.

“Oh! Well, watch out for whomping willows, then. They are bad for flying cars,” Harry said bemused.

She made a quizzical sound and zoomed away, back to the safety of her parents from what Harry could tell.

The ripe-smelling person near Harry belched loudly and Harry turned his face away in an attempt to find fresh air, hoping he wouldn’t start throwing up again. He took another gulp of the ginger tonic.

Harry recognized Madam Pomfrey’s steps as she bustled toward him a few minutes later.

“Okay, we’re to go directly to Creature-Induced Injuries on the first floor,” she said a little breathily while vanishing the empty goblet from his hand with a little pop. “They are waiting for us,” she said as she grasped his hand, pulling him forward from his chair. He felt more steady this time and held onto her upper arm as they walked toward the corridor.

“Healer Andy is going to see you. Specializes in venoms and poisonous bites. Very respected healer.”

Their footsteps echoed down the corridor which wasn’t as busy as the main part of the hospital and Madam Pomfrey slowed and then opened a door and ushered Harry through. Right away, they were greeted by a woman with a harsh efficiency that was punctuated by her scratching quill. She asked them to follow her to another room, where Harry found a perch on an exam table while Madam Pomfrey sat on a much shorter seat close by. The room was cold and smelled vaguely of the hospital wing with the scent of some of the same antiseptic potions wafting through. Harry wondered briefly about what Ron and Hermione were doing just then . . . wishing he could be with them . . . even if Hermione was bemoaning the fact that exams had been canceled.

The paper on the exam table rustled as he shifted, listening to the sounds of people moving through the corridors outside the room.

Footsteps came down the hall, papers rustled outside, and then there was a gentle knock. “Harry Potter?” said a soft, warm female voice approaching him. “I’m Healer Andy Tonks. I’m going to take a look at your eyes. I see from your chart that you’ve been in contact with Basilisk venom. Very rare, very rare.” Harry was surprised that Healer Andy was a witch. He had been expecting a wizard.

“I’m going to touch your head and look into your eyes with a bright light,” she warned as she muttered “lumos.” Even though he was braced for it, the light was too bright and he reflexively shut his eyes against it. Tears squeezed out of the corners of his eyes. She adjusted the brightness, "minus lumine” and he was able to open his eyes a bit.

“Hmmm,” she murmured, her breath grazing his face as she peered (he assumed) into his eyes.

“I’m going to run some diagnostics now. Just lie down and relax.” She muttered “nox” and the light went out and the room was reduced to the more comfortable haze cast by the strange cluster of lights at the ceiling. Harry laid down on the exam table while Healer Andy scanned him with her wand - the sleeve of her robes occasionally brushing up against him.

“Can you tell me about the encounter with the Basilisk? How big was it? I understand it was very old, possibly one thousand years old?”

“It was enormous, big enough to fill the corridor at Hogwarts and nearly as long as the Great Hall.”

“And you were pierced by a fang as well? Can you show me where?” Healer Andy asked.

Harry pulled back the sleeve of his right arm and ran his fingers over the spot, trying to discern where it had been. “It was here,” he indicated.

Healer Andy’s cold fingers traced over his arm.

“And a Phoenix was there and provided tears? Is that right?” She asked.

“Yes. But I didn’t think about asking the Phoenix for help with my eyes until later,” Harry said softly.

“How much later?”

“I don’t really know . . . ten or twenty minutes. Volde- Er, You-Know-Who” Harry adjusted at the sharp intake of breath from Healer Andy, “was sucking the life out of Ginny and wanted to duel with me. I just didn’t think about it right away.”

“How did you get the venom in your eyes?” Healer Andy asked gently.

“I had pulled the fang out of my arm . . . and then I wiped my eyes with that hand to get the Basilisk blood out of my eyes because it stung so badly. But it could have been when I stabbed the Basilisk in the mouth with the sword - there could have been venom in the blood that came from the roof of its mouth. I don’t really know.” Harry blinked tears away as he relived the scene in the Chamber.

“So . . . you fought off the Dark Lord when you couldn’t see? And revived Ginny Weasley and got her out of the Chamber?” Healer Andy’s wonderment made Harry squirm.

The papers on a chart shifted, “and you’re twelve?”

“Yeah. Well, I was just trying to . . . not die . . .” Harry said softly.

“Yes. . . Ah, well,” she seemed to remember why they were there, “I need to consult with another Healer. I’ll be back in a moment.” The door closed behind her and then opened again when Healer Andy asked Madam Pomfrey to join her in the hall.

Though their voices were low, Harry could hear the conversation through the door.

“I’m afraid there is nothing we can do to restore his vision, as you probably already know. Phoenix tears administered at once are the only possible antivenom, but as Basilisks are dark, dangerous creatures and this one was so ancient, the venom is that much more potent. . . He’s really lucky to be alive and to have the small amount of residual vision that he has . . . Do you want me to deliver the news or do you want to do it?” Healer Andy asked.

“I will tell him,” Madam Pomfrey said resolutely. “Thank you. It should come from someone he knows, I suppose. I was hoping . . . but it was a foolish hope . . . he’s just a child and he has just suffered so much. I can’t believe he has to deal with being blind, too, on top of it all. Poor lad.” Madam Pomfrey blew her nose loudly. She didn’t come in right away. For several minutes, Harry lay on the exam table staring at the weird fuzzy lights floating above him that apparently were all that he would ever see again and felt as if the world were closing in on him.

He didn’t hear her come in or hear her gently say his name. Her hand pressing on his shoulder finally brought him back.

“I heard,” he said numbly.

“Oh,” Madam Pomfrey said in a small voice.

“Healer Andy is gathering some literature about adaptive charms and tools for blind wizards. The term’s almost over and you’ll be able to use the summer to adjust. . .”

At this Harry went rigid . . . the summer he had already been dreading just got abysmally worse. He curled into a tight ball and grabbed fistfuls of his hair. He wanted to pull off his skin.  . . . and he definitely didn’t want to be Harry anymore.

Chapter Text

Harry was having a really hard time focusing on what Healer Smethwyck was telling him about the wooden guide staff he was being given, and the resources he could access at St. Mungos to help “ease his transition” as he put it, into this new “challenge” that he was facing. Healer Andy had introduced the senior Healer reverentially and had left to attend to other patients. Harry fiddled with the stack of leaflets that had been shoved in his hand, resisting the urge to toss them aside, worthless as they were to him. Something in the back of his mind (it sounded like Hermione) was telling him that he should really try to pay attention, that he might need to know this stuff. But he felt as if he were listening to everything through a long tunnel - that someone at the end of it was yelling instructions to him that were important, but that he couldn’t quite comprehend them.

In the fog of his despair, Healer Smethwyck’s voice seemed to drone on endlessly . . . “This staff is charmed to help you navigate independently . . . can warn you of danger in your path . . . the ministry that the restriction of underage magic should be modified . . .  the spell "      " can be used . . . some others that you’ll receive . . . after some adjustment courses . . . when you’re out and about among muggles . . . you live with muggles, right? . . . to use their tools for the visually impaired.” . . .

At some point, Madam Pomfrey had reentered the exam room. She had excused herself for a bit to visit a fireplace for a conversation via floo with the Head Master. Harry heard Madam Pomfrey responding politely to the Healer and it seemed as though the interview was being wrapped up. Harry felt as though he were listening to all this through layers and layers of cotton balls - it was all muffled and distant. He was catching bits and pieces and guessed that they were talking about the upcoming dates of his adjustment courses and where they were located (some place in London that Harry didn’t recognize) and the name of shops that carried accessibility tools, such as quick quotes quills and book readers. Harry heard the scratching of a quill and the passing of paper and the sound of Madam Pomfrey stuffing the paper in her medibag. “Here, Madam Pomfrey,” he said in a detached voice, moving the leaflets toward the sound of her bag, “could you put these in there, too? I’ll have to read them later,” he added with a tinge of sarcasm that she didn’t seem to catch.

Listlessly, he hung onto Madam Pomfrey’s arm, holding his new staff in the other hand, as they made their way down the echoing corridor. He felt lightheaded and slightly nauseous. He was self-conscious holding the stick with his opaque glasses (were they black?) shielding his eyes and clinging to Madam Pomfrey, imagining how he must look to those they were passing in the corridor. With a start, he wondered if they were heading back to the floo fireplace.

“We’re not going to floo again, are we?” he asked apprehensively.

“Oh, no, dear. That was disastrous,” she said, and he could feel the slight jerking of her body as she shook her head. “No, we’ll take the Knight Bus to your Aunt’s house.”

“What? Can’t I go back to school?” Harry blurted out in disbelief stopping suddenly in the corridor. Could this day get any worse?

“No, dear, there’s only a week of school left and with the exams canceled there’s not much point in you going back. The school needs some time to figure out how to accommodate your needs and you need some time at home to rest and learn how to get along. Best if you do that at home. Professor Dumbledore and I discussed it while you were meeting with Healer Smethwyck. He’s sending an owl to your Aunt and Uncle telling them everything they need to know. Your school things will be packed up and sent home to you, so you need not worry about that,” she hurried on pulling him along. “I need to be getting back to the school (who knows what mischief has gone on in my absence!) and you really need to rest. You’ll have time this summer to learn how to get around and you’ll need to learn how to read and write in braille, I suppose. Braille is a muggle form of writing with raised dots that you read with your fingers. Blind witches and wizards find it useful, too. The courses that you’re signed up for will be a big help.” Harry heard a finality in her tone and found that he didn’t have the energy to protest. His voice whithered and died. He felt like a dried husk.

They had exited the building, Harry closed his eyes against the painful burst of light, and at the curb, Madam Pomfrey had stuck out her arm and somehow conjured a bus. It popped into the space in front of them with a squeal that set Harry’s teeth on edge. They had been greeted, “Welcome to the Knight Bus!” by an individual with the worst halitosis Harry had ever experienced and climbed awkwardly onboard. Madam Pomfrey paid the fare, Harry told them the destination address at Madam Pomfrey's prompting (he was so tempted to say "The Burrow,") and Madam Pomfrey helped Harry settle into a seat. Glumly, he leaned against his staff, barely able to keep his head up until the bus lurched into motion and then he spent rest of the trip trying not to tumble out of his seat. The trip was over pretty quickly and though Harry harbored a lot of dread about showing up at Privet Drive a week before the end of term, he was relieved to be released from the insufferably jerky and bumpy ride. He wasn’t sure which was worse, transportation by floo powder or by Knight bus. Had he been in a less despondent state of mind, he might have marveled at how incompetent the Wizarding community seemed to be when it came to creating comfortable transportation.

And then they were standing on the front stoop of number 4 Privet Drive, listening to the chimes of the doorbell echo through the house. Harry had had to feel around for the bell because Madam Pomfrey had no idea what he was talking about when he tried to explain the concept of a doorbell to her.

“What are you doing here?” was the greeting Harry received from his Aunt, the familiar odor of Number 4 Privet Drive engulfed him. He felt as though he were drowning.

Startled no doubt by the abruptness, Madam Pomfrey introduced herself, “Hello, Mrs. Dursley. I’m Madam Pomfrey, Matron of Hogwarts. Did you get the owl from Professor Dumbledore about Harry’s, um, condition?”

“No . . um,” Harry’s Aunt Petunia tried to deny, but then sharply reversed, “yes. I did.”

“Might we come in? I can share some information with you about how to help Harry . . .” Petunia spoke over Madam Pomfrey, “I suppose you better come in.” Harry felt his Aunt’s bony fingers close around his wrist as she pulled him inside; he tripped over the threshold but managed to just keep from falling. He was sure her impatience had everything to do with getting them out of sight of the neighbors and nothing to do with welcoming him home.

The conversation with Madam Pomfrey was conducted in the hallway and was very brief. Madam Pomfrey handed over the leaflets and parchment from the hospital and explained quickly about Harry’s lack of vision while Aunt Petunia responded with impatient grunts and sharp monosyllabic answers.

Harry couldn't believe that Madam Pomfrey was going to leave him here. Can't she see how much I'm not wanted here? Doesn't she understand what she was condemning me to? He felt like he had been mistaken about her character - the trip through the floo network was the first indication . . . no wait, that she couldn't cure my eyes - that she didn't even try that hard - she'd given up on me before she even tried. 

Madam Pomfrey gave Harry a quick hug, reminded him of the upcoming courses, and left him.

His Aunt left him without a word in the hallway, storming back to the kitchen. He heard the garbage can lid clang and he imagined she had just tossed all the literature he had received in the bin. He shrugged to himself; even if he snuck back into the kitchen in the dead of the night to retrieve the leaflets, he had no way to read them. They might as well be tossed. He also acknowledged to himself that there was no way the Dursleys were going to help him attend the adaptation courses. Resignedly, he used his staff to find the base of the stairs (he hadn’t actually figured out how to use the magical features on it yet, and just resorted to poking around with it until he found the bottom step) and made his way up to his room. He closed the door behind him, located his bed, set the staff to the side, and laid down upon it fully clothed. After a long while of just lying miserably on the bed, he fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Harry awoke with a start to the sound of a scratching noise on his bedroom window. He opened his eyes to nothingness and noticed that his glasses were pressed uncomfortably across his forehead. He pulled them off, checking to see if they were broken, and then felt around for the bedside table for a place to put them. The scratching noise came again and he remembered why he woke. He climbed out of bed, his hands following the edge of the table to the window frame, where he found the latch, undid it, and pulled up the window to let Hedwig inside. She hooted impatiently on the sill until he got it up high enough. Once she hopped inside, he felt around the outside of the window, confirming that the Dursleys had not replaced the bars on the window that had been yanked out by Fred, George, and Ron as they rescued Harry from his prison of a room in their father’s Turquoise flying Ford Anglia the summer before.

“Hiya, Hedwig,” Harry smoothed her soft feathers as she perched on the table by his bed. His throat tightened, thankful for a companion. She thrust her head into his hand, begging for more caresses which he was happy to bestow. After a bit she started hopping around oddly. “What are you doing, Hedwig?” Harry inquired. He felt down her body and found that she was sticking out her leg. He must have received a letter. He sighed heavily and untied the rolled scroll from her leg. He unrolled it and ran his fingers over the small bit of parchment. He could feel the swell where ink had absorbed into the paper and knew that someone had written him a note, but he couldn’t decipher it.  

“Do you know what it says, Hedwig?” he asked hopefully as he laid it down on the table next to his glasses. She gave a gentle hoot, her claws scratching on the table. She seemed to be rooting around again.

“Are you looking for food, Hedwig?” She bobbed in response. “Sorry, girl. I don’t have anything. You’ll have to hunt.” She hopped to the sill and, in a burst of flapping wings and claws scratching sill, was gone. His stomach rumbled in response.

He was going to have to sneak down to the kitchen to hunt for food himself. How many times had he done this in his childhood? It dawned on him that he that could easily navigate this house in the dark. The thought made a small flame of hopefulness light in his core.  He knew it was night because the house was quiet (except for Vernon's snores) and he couldn’t see any lights at all, but he had no idea what time of night it was. He remembered something the Healer had said about his staff, and walked confidently over to where he’d left it by the door. His foot struck something metal that clanged loudly and he stumbled against the door, banging into it. He froze as he listened, his heart beating wildly. Vernon was sure to wake up and come storming into the room. He heard the snoring stop and held his breath, waiting for the explosion. But then the snoring started up again, uneven at first, then more rhythmic. As he slid down the door, his hand found the cat flap that had been fitted on the door last summer. He reached out to find whatever it was he had crashed into. Hedwig’s cage. His things must have arrived while he was sleeping. He imagined that his trunk was locked in the cupboard under the stairs.

He sat for a while with his back against the door, making sure that Vernon was snoring regularly again, relieved that he didn’t have to face them just yet. He enjoyed the cool night air that was wafting in from his open window. He hoped Hedwig was finding a good meal (and that she’d eat it far away).

His stomach gurgled again and he rose carefully. He placed Hedwig’s cage in its normal spot on his dresser, patting around to make sure that there was nothing on top already. Then he walked more cautiously to the door again, hoping that nothing else had been thrust unceremoniously into his room while he slept. He found the staff without making a racket this time and ran his hands over the carved surface. It was smooth and sturdy. Though he was inclined to despise it, he actually liked the feel of it - just the right height and weight and when he held it, it gave him the same spark of connection that he felt with his wand. Maybe it was like a wand? He wished he had been more awake when Healer Smethwyck had been explaining how to use it.

He tried to recall what the Healer had mentioned off hand about the staff telling him the time. He tried just asking it, “Staff, what time is it?” Nothing. Then he remembered Percy using his wand to find out the time and tried, “ Tempus .” A clear female voice sang out in lilting tones, “It is 1:52 am.” The snoring stopped for a moment, then resumed. He was tempted to try other spells, but decided to wait until he knew he wouldn’t be overheard by the Dursleys or risk waking them up with the noise.

With staff in hand, he eased open his door and tilted his head out the door, listening for any disturbance in the snores. He took a few tentative steps toward the bathroom, holding the staff in front of him and gently swinging it from side to side in an arc in front of his body. The staff tapped lightly against the hall wall and he made his way quietly to the bathroom. He quietly washed his hands and listened at the door before making his way down the hallway to the stairs. His muscle memory kicked in and he avoided the squeaky floor boards without even thinking about it. Down the stairs, he used his staff to navigate the hallway toward the kitchen. He paused before the door and peered into the darkness, listening hard, hopeful that this wasn’t a night when Aunt Petunia was sitting up nursing a cup of tea in the middle of the night. On those occasions in the past, he’d see the sliver of light under the kitchen door and know that he needed to retreat. He blinked hard assuring himself that he couldn’t see any light and then gently pushed the door open.

He leaned the staff against the wall next to the door and made his way to the kitchen counter, for once in his life thankful for a spotless, clutter-free kitchen with everything in its place. He knew what kind of food he had to take . . . food that would not be missed . . . a slice of bread with a smear of jam, a slice of cheese, a couple biscuits. He devoured them while hovering in the kitchen. He tucked a small apple in his pocket for later. He had done this in the dark before and was quite adept at it. He drank milk directly from the bottle to avoid having to wash a mug, and relished the thought that it would drive Aunt Petunia mad if she knew. He ran his hands over the counter in search of stray crumbs that would give him away, capturing them in his palm, and went to the bin to throw them away. He paused, thoughtful of how it was prone to clang when opened and then remembering the tossed leaflets. Hermione’s voice was there in his head again, urging him to find those leaflets and squirrel them to his room to save when he could find someone he could trust to read them to him. He cringed at the thought, both of having to ask someone for help and imagining what might be in the bin and smeared all over the literature.

Hermione’s voice won out and he carefully lifted the lid and held it so that it wouldn’t ring out. Awkwardly brushing off the crumbs, he reached in heedful of what he might find and was relieved that there wasn’t much in the bin and what was there wasn’t wet or goey. He found the leaflets (three as he remembered) and the bit of parchment with the notes about his courses still tucked together. He also found another large piece of parchment that he imagined was the letter from Dumbledore. Wizard paper was so different from muggle paper. He tucked them all into the waistband of his jeans and found the staff again and went back upstairs stealthily. Once he was back in his room with his door shut, he relaxed and pulled out the leaflets to hide them under the loose floorboard beneath his bed. He added the scroll that Hedwig had delivered to the papers and then leaned out the window to breath in the cool night air, listening for his owl and enjoying the vision of the moon that must have moved out from behind clouds - indistinct though it was - against the expanse of the starless (to Harry at any rate) sky.

Chapter Text

Bright light pushed against Harry’s eyelids and warmed his face, though the breeze from the window was still early-morning cool and damp. He rolled to his side hoping to escape the blaze of sunshine, and rummaged around for his glasses on the table by his bed. He could hear Hedwig on her perch atop his dresser - her small noises pecking away at the mass of the dread that had settled around him when he learned he was returning to Privet Drive early. Hedwig seemed chipper; he guessed she had found a good meal.

He reached inside her cage and stroked her downy head. He was wondering how long he could avoid the Dursleys. He didn’t have to wonder too long . . . Petunia’s sharp steps (he’d been able to recognize all of the Dursleys by their footsteps for a long time, even as Dudley’s grew similar in heft to Vernon’s - his survival depended on it) ascended the staircase. She rapped forceably on his door making Hedwig squawk in alarm, and shouted, “You’d better come down and make yourself useful in the kitchen if you expect to eat!”

“I’m coming,” he replied resignedly. Harry wondered if the neighbors could hear her through his open window as her steps descended down the steps again.

He thought about changing (he was still in the clothes he’d worn to St. Mungos the day before), but couldn’t muster the energy, though he did take off his school robes because he knew that wearing them down to breakfast would earn him a boxed ear at the very least. He’d become very good at dodging blows, but now what? And the thought made him sink a bit deeper into his muck of despair.

He left his staff in his room as he made his way downstairs to the kitchen, but not before checking the time. “It is 6:45 am,” the melodic voice rang out. He wondered if there was a volume knob on the staff.

His usual job at breakfast was managing the stove - eggs, bacon, tomatoes, sausages, mushrooms - whatever else was on the grill. He could smell the skillet heating up, but didn’t think anything was on it yet. He froze at the door remembering all the burns he got as he learned how to cook under Petunia’s callous instruction. His breath quickened. He’d rather face the Basilisk again. He imagined Aunt Petunia facing the serpent and with a slight smile tugging at the corner of his lips, was able to cross the threshold into the kitchen. He could orient himself in the room by the sunlight coming in the windows and was glad of his glasses that made the light bearable.

A few steps into the kitchen, Harry stopped to listen, trying to figure out where Aunt Petunia was. She must have stopped doing what she was doing to look at him because after a moment, the water at the sink came on accompanied by the clinking of dishes.

Her usual mode was to point with whatever utensil she had in her hand and gesticulate harshly - her disgust with him etched on her face. Well, that’s not going to work anymore, Harry thought. His Aunt was going to get very fussed, very quickly.

Maybe she’d already done that when I came in the room, it dawned on him.

“Uh, Aunt Petunia,” he asked tentatively, “what do you want me to do?”

“Humrumpf!,” she protested, “I already told you , put the sausage on.”

He knew better than to respond and bit back the sharp retort, What part of blind don’t you get? He moved carefully toward the stove, listening to the hissing of the gas stove, his hands held out in front of him. He felt the heat of the flame before he found the stove and edged toward the counter next to the stove. He guessed that she’d placed the food next to the stove, and groped gingerly along the surface of the counter until he located the package of sausage, tightly wrapped in plastic. Hmmm. I’m going to need to get the tongs and scissors to cut open the package, he calculated, visualizing the kitchen.

In the meantime the pan was starting to smoke. I need to put on the fan and turn down the heat! he thought, starting to panic. His hands ghosting along the exhaust hood, found the switch for the fan and turned it on. She’ll hit me with that hot pan if I burn the sausages. He was breathing in sharp gasps, and took in a deep shuddering breath to try to calm himself. The stove is a Basilisk. I have to slay it, he goaded himself on. Without further dama. . . he cut off the thought. That doesn’t help.

He found the knob for the burner and turned down the flame. Shoot. I turned it off. Maybe that’s better. I can gather the tongs and scissors and open the package and then heat up the skillet again. She’s going to slap me if I’m too slow, he thought - his heart still hammering.

He listened to her at the sink. He thought she was wiping down the counter; he didn’t have much time to find the tongs and scissors and get around Petunia. As he started moving in the direction of the drawer, the back of his hand trailing along the edge of the counter, he heard her throw down the wet rag with disgust.

She yanked open a draw, rooted around in it, and then her sharp heeled shoes tramped toward him and he heard her slam something metal on the countertop. Nervously, he searched for it - it was the tongs and scissors! He was in shock. He couldn’t ever remember his Aunt helping him. He tensed waiting for a blow, and was not disappointed. He was cuffed on the back of the head, “Well, what are you waiting for? Get to it!” she huffed and moved away, opening cupboards and taking out plates.  

He found the knob and after a few tries, got the burner to light again, and did his best to set the flame by relying on memory. He noticed that the flame was not bright enough for him to see it and wondered if he’d be able to see it in a dark room.

The shrink-wrapped sausages were really hard to get out of the package and the pan was starting to smoke again, and when he put them on the skillet (using the tongs to feel around for the edges of the pan after his first attempt left a stinging burn on the side of his hand), they hissed and spit pricks of grease at his face. He turned them and turned them, listening and smelling to try to figure out if they were done. When Aunt Petunia gave him a plate to put them on, he guessed that they were done and took them out. He had to set the plate on the counter and transfer them inefficiently one by one because they were in danger of rolling off the plate when he held it over the pan. He was exhausted - the mental effort required to do this simple task was daunting. He hoped that was all that he was expected to do today, but then his aunt shoved a carton of eggs, a whisk, and a bowl at him.  

He did his best to crack the eggs smoothly, wondering how he’d tell if there were shells in them. Uncle Vernon will let me know, no doubt.

Cooking the scrambled eggs was a bit easier than the sausages, especially because he decided to keep the temperature low so that the grease in the pan wouldn’t splatter so much when he added the scrambled eggs. He found the salt and pepper shakers in their usual spot without much fumbling and hoped that a couple shakes of each were enough. He was surprised again when Aunt Petunia slammed the spatula down on the counter. Why is she being so helpful? he wondered.

Scooping the eggs out onto a platter was so much harder than actually cooking them. He could tell by their texture when they were done.

Next up were tomatoes and they were just as slippery to fry up as they’d been to spoon out of the bowl in the Great Hall. Aunt Petunia took them over and thrusting him out of the way with her bony hip. After he regained his balance, he was relieved.

Uncle Vernon thudded into the kitchen for breakfast - Dudley was still at school - and was reading his paper and slurping his tea. Harry hovered by the counter, not wanting to draw attention to himself, but he knew he’d have to sit down at the table soon.

He didn’t fancy stumbling around trying to find his chair under Uncle Vernon’s scrutiny. When it sounded like he was engrossed in a story, Harry made his way toward the table using the sounds of the rustling newspaper to guide him. But he misjudged the distance and slammed into a chair, hitting his knee painfully with a bang. He crouched next to the table cradling it as Uncle Vernon exploded in fury, “Watch where you’re going, you clutz! I can’t believe we have to put up with this! First you’re dumped on our doorstep and we have to feed, shelter, and clothe you for eleven bloody years and now you’ve gone and blinded yourself! Insufferable!”

“Hush, Vernon,” Petunia said in a steely voice, and Harry nearly fell to the floor in shock. He bent his head to look at her, then remembered, Right. Can’t see. He desperately wanted to know what was going on. He’d never heard her defend him, ever. Maybe this wasn’t Aunt Petunia at all! Polyjuice potion, maybe? Is there a witch or wizard in there?

Chapter Text

Aunt Petunia left Harry to wash up the dishes on his own while she sent off Uncle Vernon to work. He was glad of the silence and took a moment to run cool water over the burn on the side of his hand before sinking his hands into the hot, soapy water and starting on the glasses. She’d cleared the table muttering about how he was sure to break the dishes stumbling around the kitchen when he got up to gather them after picking at his food. He didn’t have much of an appetite, which was a shame, really, since Dudley wasn’t here to snatch food off his plate. He had slipped some bits of sausages into his pocket for Hedwig after the Dursleys left the room.  

Washing the dishes was something he found he could do easily by touch. He was surprised that Aunt Petunia let him near her dishes. He’d kind of assumed that she’d think him a bull in a china shop and would have banned him. Not that he would have been sorry to lose his job as short order chef and dishwasher. And sweeping , he reminded himself. That is going to be harder to do without getting wacked about the head for missing things, he brooded.

He thought about the Weasley’s kitchen and how everything magically cleaned itself like something out of Fantasia.

The restriction of underage magic has been adjusted for me, he mused, toying with the idea of setting up the dishes to wash themselves. Aunt Petunia would poop her pants if she walked into the kitchen and that was happening . . . he smiled to himself and then dropped it at the thought: and I’d be tossed in the cupboard again and left to rot. He entertained the thought of donning the invisibility cloak to joke her, but then quickly dismissed it imagining what Vernon would do with his cloak if he got his hands on it. He ached to get into the cupboard under the stairs and go through his trunk. Maybe Ron helped pack it up and left me a message . . . Not that I can read it. Damn.

He finished up the dishes, dried them, and put them back in the cupboards with only a couple mishaps (some silverware dropping on the floor and having to grope around on the floor to retrieve it - his listened for his Aunt, determined she wasn’t nearby, wiped off the utensils with the dish towel, and put them in the drawer knowing that she’d pop a gasket if she knew).

He plodded to the broom closet, dreading the sweeping, but knowing it would be worse if he tried to skip it. It took forever. He started in the corner near the closet and worked methodically around the whole kitchen with small even strokes. He bent down occasionally to feel the growing pile of crumbs, just reassuring himself that what he was doing was actually working.

Sweat was dripping in his eyes by the time he was ready to sweep up the little pile. One advantage was that he was able to use the broom like his staff to navigate around the furniture in the room and didn’t bang his knees again.

He did run into the broom closet door when he went back to get the dustpan, though. He’d forgotten he’d left it open, and the broom swung into the closet, while his face collided with the door, smashing his glasses into his eye socket. Bloody hell! He held onto his face for a little bit until the stars ( great, I can see stars when I’m hit in the face) stopped flashing behind his eyelids. He felt his glasses to see if they were broken. The glass seemed like it might be cracked, but they didn’t fall apart, so he put them back on.

His head throbbing, he got the dustpan, this time closing the door deliberately, and tried to remember where he’d left the pile. He ended up having to search for it on his hands and knees until he located it, swept it up, and carefully carried it to the bin. The lid banged open, making his head pound more.

Aunt Petunia hadn’t returned to the kitchen yet. Maybe a dragon had scooped her out of the driveway?, he thought hopefully. Harry went back to his room and gave Hedwig the bits of sausages he’d saved for her. He was so tired. This time, though, he stripped down to his boxers, put his dirty clothes in his hamper, and climbed into bed, placing his glasses on the table, and draped an arm over his eyes to cut out the sunlight. He didn’t care that it was 9:46 am. Maybe Aunt Petunia would leave him alone for a while if he was quiet.

He woke up a bit later, the sun wasn’t on his face anymore. Hedwig was making her little sleeping noises. He found some clothes in his wardrobe and put them on, feeling for tags to make sure they weren’t inside out. “ Tempus,” touching the staff in the corner, “It is 1:17 pm,” the lyrical voice rang out.

He held the staff, running his fingers up and down the length and wondering how he was going to figure out how to use all its magical properties. He really needed to be able to read the leaflets. He yearned for Hermione. Maybe he could call her? Maybe she knew if there was a spell that could be cast over text to read it aloud? That seemed like a handy feature for a staff for blind wizards.

Blind wizards, he morosely contemplated. This isn’t me! he protested and dropped the staff, curling up on the floor by his bed. I didn’t ask for any of this. The burn on his hand smarted, the door-shaped bruise on his face pulsed. A mass of pain clogged his throat, pushed all the air out of his lungs, as his cheek pressed into the wood planks of his bedroom floor. He drew ragged breaths. There was nothing he could do. If he escaped from Privet Drive (he imagined himself stumbling along the pavement with his staff, his trunk levitating behind him) and managed to make it back to Hogwarts, it was pretty likely that Dumbledore would just send him back. A bitter thought descended on him: I'm just as worthless now to the wizarding world as I am to the muggle world. Another little, but strong voice in his head protested, I can still do stuff. I’m not worthless.

I need to talk to Hermione - she’ll know what to do, Harry thought. She’s still at school. I could send her a message with Hedwig. Images of parchment and quills rose in his memory. He didn’t have any in his room, even if he did, how can he write without being able to see. I just have to try, he told himself firmly as he uncurled himself and sat with his back against his bed.

He came up with a plan to sneak down to the kitchen, by the phone - The phone! Yeah, but who would I call? And swipe a pen and a piece of paper, maybe a whole pad of paper if he could find one that wouldn’t be noticed.

He opened his door to listen. It sounded like Aunt Petunia was on the phone . . . bugger. He waited for a while, listening. He heard the call come to an end and Aunt Petunia’s footsteps as she marched out into the hallway and toward the steps. Harry closed his door as softly as he could manage while she came up the stairs. She was slower than usual. He leaned against the wall by the door and held his breath. She went by his door, phew, and into her room - something thudded on the floor. Laundry! She’ll be busy for a while!

He slipped out of his room in stocking feet, hoping to be quiet. Down the stairs, to the kitchen. He could hear the floorboards creaking and knew she was still upstairs. He found the table by the phone and opened up the draw, rummaging around quietly until he found a small pad of paper and a short pencil with a sharpened end. Again, he had a small moment of thankfulness for Aunt Petunia’s rigid adherence to cleanliness and order. He tucked them in his pocket and went out into the hallway again. He could still hear her muffled movements upstairs. He slipped up the stairs, hand lightly touching the railing, and on the landing, holding his breath, knuckles trailing on the wall, moved toward his room.

“What are you doing sneaking about?” Petunia’s voice came leering out from her room and he jumped. “Just trying to find the loo,” Harry lied, though now that he thought about it, the need was real.

“It’s the other way,” she barked, and grabbed his arm and pulled him to the washroom door, where he knocked into the door jamb with his forehead. He rubbed his head while muttering, “Thanks,” and let out his breath once the door was closed behind him.

Chapter Text

Harry sat awkwardly at the table by his bed with the pencil in his hand and the pad in front of him, trying to write a note to Hermione (and Ron - he had to include him, too). I have to get this right. He felt for the top of the paper and wondered if there was a logo on it. He tore off a piece and turned it over. The back will be blank. He pressed the pencil to the top of the page and wrote slowly, concentrating on making his letters as neatly as he could.

“Hermione and Ron, I am stuck at the Durs . . .”

The pencil slipped off the pad, and he checked the tip to make sure it hadn’t broken. He’d need to find a pencil sharpner at some point if he was going to continue writing notes. He adjusted how he held the pad by placing his index finger on one side and thumb of his left hand spanning the width, and wrote in the space between them.

“. . .ley’s” This he wrote up the side along the edge, hoping that it was decipherable.

“I have some stuff I need to read, but I can’t.”

He paused here, feeling a chest-clenching ache - not wanting to have to state why he couldn’t read it. They know, right? I don’t have to say it.

He moved down the pad by a finger’s width.

“Do you know a spell or something? Thanks, Harry.”

He thought about explaining how they’d have to communicate in a way that he could get it, but it made him so tired, the thought of explaining it all, and especially that his Aunt and Uncle weren’t going to read messages to him; in fact, they’d likely set them on fire, or at the very least chuck them in the bin again. There wasn’t room on this little scrap of paper to go into detail and he wasn’t even sure if the little bit he’d written was legible.

Maybe if Ron and Hermione couldn’t figure it out and sent him a written message that he couldn’t read, he could sneak out and take it to the library. The thought of the five street trip to the library made him break out in a cold sweat. Maybe he’d survive it (couldn’t be much worse than a nest of car-sized spiders, but he’d barely survived that); he thought about the overgrown hedgerows that made the footpaths narrow in places, pushing pedestrians near traffic. And then there was how a librarian was going to react to reading a message containing instructions for casting a magical spell . . . ministry letters would probably start popping up everywhere declaring that he’d violated the some code of secrecy or other such rubbish.

He rolled up the message and tied it with the bit of leather used to secure it to Hedwig’s leg. He wanted to send it right away, but Hedwig was still sleeping and he decided it was better to wait until night anyway. The Dursleys really didn't like Hedwig flying in and out. An owl during the day would be more noticeable. He put the note and the pad of paper under the floorboard with the other papers.

He'd just settled the board into place when Aunt Petunia came clicking down the hall and pounded on his door. He quickly sat on the bed and tried to pull a blank face, hoping that he didn’t look like he was up to something before she thrust the door open to demand, “Stop laying about and go hoover the living room.”

Hedwig made a disgruntled growl.

“That ruddy bird!” she ejaculated as she slammed the door and stomped down the stairs. Harry was thankful that she didn’t put it in mind to lock up Hedwig. That would be just my luck.

He followed her, silently padding down the stairs in stocking feet. He had a little thrill. The vac was inside the cupboard under the stairs with his trunk! Maybe he’d have a chance to go through it. But Aunt Petunia must have had that thought, too, because she was unlocking the cupboard door when he came down the stairs. He heard the wheels of the vac dragging across the hardwood floor and the sound stirred memories that fluttered against him. How many bruises had he nursed as he tried to figure out what he’d done wrong?

Aunt Petunia’s face, screwed up with contempt, floated up and banged against his memory, too, and then burst when she shoved the vac against his toes to get his attention. He tried not to show how much it hurt.

He reached for it, waving his hand back and forth in the air a bit before his fingers contacted the handle. He felt exposed under her huffing gaze and as quickly as he could, turned it around to push toward the living room, resignation coupled with humiliation pressing down on his shoulders.

He was startled when the vac jammed against the door jamb of the living room, thrusting the handle into his chest, knocking the wind out of him briefly. Aunt Petunia had shrieked, “Watch where you’re going!” right before impact, but not soon enough. He’d been confused by the light - he must have mistaken the light from the window in the front door for the living room. The light he could see no longer had sharp, defined lines - it kind of blended together into a colorless haze.

Recovering and wanting to escape her scrutiny, he turned the vac so he was pulling it and felt around for the door jamb. Aunt Petunia was watching him, he could feel it and it made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He flushed as he groped through the doorway into the sitting room. This is hard enough without an audience. His knuckles dragged across the door and he set the vac down to unwind the cord a bit to plug it in.

He felt along the wall until he found the outlet, fumbling around as he tried to align the plug prongs with the socket, his frustration mounting until it slid in with a satisfying plunge.

He followed the cord back to the vac, stood for a moment by it as he visualized the room and tried to remember all the possible hazards. This room was full of traps. Delicate figurines, voluptuous vases, family heirlooms, lace doilies that could be hoovered up if one wasn’t paying close attention. He had learned each lesson painfully, he didn’t want to have to learn them again. He remembered one spectacular dive that had saved a spun-glass bird that had teetered off a table when he had been hoovering absentmindedly . . . seeker training, he had later identified it. Seeker, I’m no longer a Seeker.

He turned on the vac to drown out the torment of that terrible insight.

Chapter Text

Harry was getting nervous, anticipating the arrival of Uncle Vernon from work. His first hour or so after work was always Uncle Vernon’s worst. Harry found himself trying to escape the worry by fantasizing about what he'd be doing at that moment if he hadn't blinded himself with Basilisk venom - which was a bit of torture in and of itself.

A week of school with no exams and the end of term only days away seemed like a paradise compared to what Harry was enduring. Everyone would be in high spirits and he could imagine the intense chess games, late night kitchen raids, and all the pick-up quidditch games he'd be playing. Playing these scenes in his head was like poking a stick in an open wound.

Dwelling on what was fair or not fair was not an activity Harry indulged often, mostly because he learned early on that it never swung the balance in his favor. He forgot that momentarily as he thought about all his classmates enjoying the respite from exams and the beautiful weather (even Draco and the Slytherins!) while he was stuck inside cutting onions and trying not to slice his fingers. He was the reason they had a break. He slew the Basilisk, but his reward was eternal darkness . . . well, except it’s not dark. It is light and dark, but mostly just nothing. Eternal nothingness and a ball of frustration that he just couldn’t do things as easily as he had done them before.

I didn’t know what I had until it was gone.

He wanted to pound and rage and throw things, but he couldn’t because if he did, he’d bring the wrath of Vernon down on his head, shoulders, and back. He closed his eyes against the onion fumes, but not soon enough and tears squeezed underneath his eyelids. The knife slipped on the slick onion skin landing perilously close to his fingers. He took in a deep breath and cast around for something else to think about. He’d end up losing fingers, too, if he kept up the brooding.

Aunt Petunia was also working on dinner in the kitchen, bustling around in her efficient manner. She was humming a little melody that sounded familiar to Harry, but he couldn’t place it. She had lined up the vegetables and utensils needed to process them on the counter for him, which in the context of his history with her, was an unanticipated act of kindness and generosity. It unnerved him. It outright scared him. More than Aragog . It was terrifying because it was so unknown. He didn’t know how to respond to this new Petunia.

All he could do was keep an ear out for clues while he worked his way through the vegetables. The humming was definitely a clue if he could only figure out the melody.

His thoughts drifted to a recurrent narrative in his life: getting away from Privet Drive. How many times had he schemed and planned to run away to have his plans thwarted and his dreams dashed . . . that was until a hairy kind giant showed up and told him he was a wizard.

Where’s Hagrid now? Harry wondered doefully.

He couldn’t just wait around to be rescued. He needed to do something and in order to do something, he needed to be able walk away from Privet Drive . . . what about fly away? His heart constricted painfully as he remembered the feeling of soaring through the air on his broom - the air whipping through his hair, the swoops and dips and spinning around. It was a freedom he’d never felt before. Maybe there is a spell that would help him avoid obstacles in the air just as he imagined there was one that would help him avoid them on earth. There are fewer things to run into in the air. This thought kept him from sinking into a pit of despair.

His staff was supposedly set up to help him navigate and do other things - maybe he could fly on it, too. He wished he’d been able to focus when he’d been at St. Mungos - he was sure that Healer Smethwyck had told him exactly what spells he needed to use to make the staff a useful tool, but he couldn’t remember any of it.

Harry started cataloging spells that might work on his staff just as Tempus had worked. Of all the charms he’d learned in Professor Flitwick’s class the only one that was coming to mind right now was Wingardium Leviosa, which could be useful if he needed to carry something heavy, but it could also be disastrous for him if something floated away from him and he had no idea which way it went.

It was bloody brilliant the way Ron had used the spell to stop the troll from killing Hermione in their first year - it made him smile to remember how Ron had stood in shock, incredulous that the spell had actually worked.

He remembered Ginny used a spell in the Chamber of Secrets that brought his glasses whooshing to her hand . . . Axxo or something like that. That one could be handy, he thought, recalling how he had spent precious minutes that afternoon trying to find his trainers in his bedroom while Aunt Petunia shrieked about needing to get the rubbish to the curb before the garbage collection arrived. He was glad he found them else he would have had a wet sock in addition to cuffed ears. He dragged the rubbish out to the curb in a drunken, circuitous path until he found the edge with the grass and then kept one foot on the soaking lawn and the other on the driveway. All the while Aunt Petunia was berating him from the porch. What does she do while I’m at Hogwarts? He shook the thought from his head, he really didn’t want to know.

He wondered if Alohomora would work with his staff . . . maybe he could use it to get into the cupboard under the stairs and get some things from his trunk. I better wait until the letter is sent, though. Can’t risk messing that up.  

He remembered Hermione fixing his glasses with Oculus Reparo and wondered if he’d be able to cast a spell to fix something he couldn’t see. He could feel that his glasses were cracked, maybe that was enough? How much of spell casting is visual? Will Hogwarts let me come back in the fall? What if they can’t figure out how to teach me or just don’t want to go to the trouble? He had to reel in his thoughts. I’ll figure it out, he told himself firmly, I can’t stay with the Dursleys . . .

He was certain that Hermione knew loads of spells that could help him get around more easily. He couldn’t wait until it was safe to send the letter later that night. He just had to make it through the evening without pissing off his Aunt and Uncle . . . which was a pretty tall order as usually it was just his existence that made them mad.

Harry managed to make it through dinner without doing much to set off his Uncle. He did knock over a glass of water accidentally when Uncle Vernon had moved it and didn’t think to tell him. Miraculously, Aunt Petunia had stepped in before Uncle Vernon got violent and Harry didn’t get whacked around or sent to his room without dinner. Twice now she’d stepped in on his behalf. Uncle Vernon seemed as stunned as he was.

Harry picked at his food in the ensuing silence, sodden as it was and with water dripping in his lap. I should really eat something, he told himself in a tone that reminded him very much of Ron’s Mom. He chased a few bites of chicken around his plate with his fork trying to stab them, finally cornering them with his knife, while Aunt Petunia broke the eerie quiet with discussions of when Dudley was coming home from Smeltings.

Harry was feeling deflated until he heard, “Remember, Vernon, we’re driving out to Smeltings on Friday afternoon to pick him up. You got approval to leave work early, right?” He sucked in his breath and tried to calm his breathing. They’d never take Harry with them. He’d be left alone in the house. He’d be able to do things . . . call Hermione? Not yet, she’ll still be at Hogwarts. Get into his trunk. Summon a wizard or witch to help him? How do I summon someone? Maybe by then, I’ll have an answer from Ron and Hermione. Wisps of hope wound around his heart. He worked on making a mask of his face, on not letting his elation show. He thought about Dudder’s stinking socks in the laundry to achieve the expression he needed.

Later that night, after the dishes were washed and dried and put back in the cabinets, the kitchen wiped down and swept, Harry wearily climbed the stairs to bed. While Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia were watching the evening news and then their favorite shows, Harry retrieved the note from underneath the floorboard and secured it to Hedwig’s leg. Giving her some scraps of chicken from dinner that he’d squirreled away in his pocket, he stroked her feathers, trying to commit her form to his memory, and sent her to Hogwarts with the message to Hermione and Ron. A good deal of his hope flew out the window with her and the room felt bare and forlorn without her little noises.

Chapter Text

On Wednesday morning, Harry woke up early - shivering in the early morning chill that filled the small space of his room; he had left the window open all night long hoping that Hedwig would come back right away. He could smell the rain in the air. “It’s 5:43 am” sang the lyrical voice from his staff. He was glad to be up early before the sun made his room blindingly bright. He knew he couldn’t expect a response yet. Owls usually delivered their messages in the morning during breakfast, even if they had arrived the night before.

He wondered when Hermione would be going down to breakfast . . . how she was handling the end of term with no exams and the weeks of study that she missed while petrified? Knowing her, she was probably frantically interviewing the professors trying to catch up on everything she missed. He could imagine Ron rolling his eyes in exasperation.

He wished he had written more in his message. He had so much more he wanted to say to both Ron and Hermione.   

To distract himself from the yearning and the waiting, he worked on trying to make his staff work (it had to be more than a talking clock).

When he held it, it gave him the same sort of magical charge that his wand gave off. It wasn’t like electricity, which was more of a surface sensation of static, this was something that seemed to connect to his very core. His broom felt this way, too, but more subtly.

He held it and tried “ Wingardium Leviosa ,” but couldn’t detect anything flying around the room. He locked his wardrobe and tried “ Alohomora ” and nothing happened. He tried it on Hedwig’s cage and nothing happened. He tried it on his bedroom door, but this time the staff was touching the base of the door when he muttered the spell and he heard the lock pop open. It had to be in contact with the object! He tried the wardrobe and Hedwig’s cage again, but touching the staff to the doors this time and they sprang open! A small thrill raced through him.

He also realized that he was no longer groping around his room for his furniture as he moved through the space, but rather reaching out confidently and finding it where he expected it to be.  

He decided to try Wingardium Leviosa again while holding onto the table by his bed and nothing happened, but when he said it while holding on with one hand and touching it with the staff in the other hand, it floated up a couple inches off the floor and he was able to move it around the room easily. When he let go of it, it settled onto the floor with a low thud. He Wingadium Leviosa’d it back to its normal spot.

What would happen if I touched the staff to something I want to read? He wondered.   He pulled out one of the leaflets from under his bed and tried it. Nothing. He thought about it really hard and felt the paper flutter under his grasp as if a breeze had caught it, but still nothing was revealed. He suddenly felt sapped. There must be a spell. I hope Hermione goes straight to the library when she gets my note!

All the while he was trying these spells, there was a niggling feeling in the back of his brain. He half expected Ministry owls to come swooping in as they had last year when Dobby bombed the kitchen with Aunt Petunia’s masterpiece pudding.

He hoped that what the Healer had said about the restriction of underage magic being adjusted for him was really true, but when had any government, magical or otherwise taken care of things efficiently. He decided to stop. If the Dursleys got a message from the Ministry of Magic, they’d surely lock him in his room with no wands or staffs or Hedwig and he’d be stuck there for the rest of the summer with absolutely nothing to do. Not even read. The thought made his heart constrict.

oO0OooO0OooO0OooO0Oo

The day passed very much like the day before. Harry did manage to take a shower and though Vernon pounded on the door, shouting at him to stop wasting water when he’d barely begun, it was still refreshing.

Harry figured out how to cook breakfast and not get burned (he used an oven mitt) while doing his best not to attract the ire of Uncle Vernon. Once Uncle Vernon was off to work, Aunt Petunia lined up jobs for Harry to do. In between, Harry took naps. He was still so tired. He noticed that he had to fasten his belt a notch tighter to keep his trousers up. He just didn’t have much of an appetite.

He spent a good portion of the morning cleaning out the fridge after he misjudged where the shelf was as he was putting away the orange juice container and the sticky substance splashed all over the shelves. After his initial dismay, he decided to approach it as a puzzle and tried to figure out what things were by touch and smell. He had to be careful to put things back in the right spot . . . no longer just to satisfy Petunia’s sense of order, but now because he needed to know that he was grabbing the jam and not the salsa.

Some jobs were easier to do than others. He was banned from loading the wash after (according to Aunt Petunia) the disastrous effect of including a red T-shirt in a load of whites. How was I supposed to know? Folding was fine, but sorting laundry was a lot tougher. Some of it he could figure out by touch - Aunt Petunia’s clothes were easy to tell apart from Uncle Vernon’s, but some items were totally perplexing. It took a lot longer as he had to figure out through touch if a shirt was inside out or not. Aunt Petunia was so rigid about how items were folded to fit into drawers.

Ironing was okay, just tedious and sometimes painful if he drifted into a daydream and touched the hot iron. He had a burn on the pad of his index finger that was especially annoying now that he was completely dependent on his sense of touch.

If Aunt Petunia wasn’t close by, he could listen to a radio station that he actually liked, as long as he didn't stay too close to the radio because it would lose the signal and just emit static when he was next to it which made tuning challenging. At first, he’d tune it to music radio stations, but it didn’t take long before he was captivated by the BBC news stories. Petunia bustled in and snapped the radio back to her favorite station that took popular songs and made them perversely instrumental. Harry gagged at the tunes.

He thought about Madam Pomfrey wanting him to spend the week at home so he could rest. He bet he would have gotten more rest if he had stayed at school than he was ever going to get at the Dursleys. He was surprised his Aunt wasn’t more happy to see him given that he lightened her chore load considerably. But when did anything she did ever make sense?

He made it through the day and then the evening with the Dursleys, and finally was able to escape to his room. At the threshold, he listened to see if Hedwig had arrived while he was doing the dinner dishes. He was disappointed to be greeted by silence and found it hard to fall asleep - every night time sound made him still with anticipation, willing Hedwig to alight on his windowsill with a rustling message tied to her leg.

Chapter Text

Harry awoke the next morning to a warmer morning; the birds were lively as if anticipating a beautiful day, filling him with hope that today he’d be released or at least have a reprieve from the monotony.

He lay in bed listening to the early morning sounds in Privet Drive, his ears straining to hear signs of Hedwig’s return. Surely, I’ll get a message today, Harry reassured himself.

It felt like an eternity since he’d been with his friends. How easily he’d left them that morning, thinking that he was headed to St. Mungos to have his eyesight restored, and taking it for granted that he’d be back again at Hogwarts to savor the time with Ron and Hermione before he had to return to Privet Drive. Why am I so stupid? he wondered.

After Uncle Vernon was on his way and breakfast was cleaned up, Harry was out in the garden potting petunias for Aunt Petunia, who liked to place her namesake in neat rows throughout the garden. He was really glad to be outside, even though he had to keep his eyes closed against the bright sun, even through his opaque glasses. He loved the dirt in his hands, the warmth of the sun, and the trilling of the birds that darted from tree to tree, bush to bush. He hadn’t ventured too far out beyond the potting table. He had to concentrate to remember the sequence of colors, Petunia’s description and orders had been short and brief. Who knows what kind of price I’ll have to pay if I put the purple petunias in with the red! He shuddered at the thought.

As he was sweeping the table off with a small hand broom, he heard a rustling in the grass, and then a little voice, Yes, a nice juicy grasshopper is just what I was hoping for . . . Harry crouched down by the grass and cocked his head.

“Hello, little guy,” he said in Parseltongue. He held his hand out, not really sure what he was expecting. He felt a little tongue whisp against his outstretched fingers and smiled, it tickled.

“Hello, big guy,” said the garden snake.

“How are things out here?” Harry asked, not really sure what one talks about with a snake.

Lovely since the Owl flew away,” replied the snake.

“Oh, does she bother you?” Harry asked, surprised.

“She eats us,” was the snake’s casual reply.

“I’ll tell her not to, then,” replied Harry.

“That would be lovely. Thank you,” was the snake’s polite response.

“Here comes that horrid big one. I’ll be going,” and the snake slipped away. Harry stood back slowly and worked on lining up the pots of flowers as Aunt Petunia came near. He was glad for the warning. She was always in a mood when it was a day to work in the garden. She didn’t like how unruly nature was, even her clipped, weeded, and carefully managed corner of it.

Harry supposed that’s why he liked it so much, even Aunt Petunia couldn’t make it bend to her will and sense of order completely.

He wondered how he was going to manage weeding this summer. Get to know all the weeds by what they feel like? That sounds like fun. . .

“Bring the pots to the front porch, boy!” Aunt Petunia shouted.

Ugh, thought Harry, this isn’t going to be easy. He picked up one pot that was loaded with petunias and started walking to the back door.

“Not through the house, you moron!” she exclaimed, and the back door slammed as she went back inside.

Harry paused. He had to really think about this. How was he going to navigate through the backyard to the front yard while carrying a heavy pot of flowers and not trip. Just the thought of it made him feel defeated. There was no way he could do this without dropping a pot of flowers. Even if he had his staff to check for obstacles in his path, he’d have a hard time carrying the pot and poking around with the staff.

He took in a deep breath, turned and started walking toward the edge of the patio, letting his arm skim against the potting table as a guide. He thought he must be close to the edge, and slid his foot forward to find the drop-off.

“Your eyes don’t see, big one,” his snake friend said quietly, not far from his exploring foot.

“No, I had a run in with a Basilisk,” Harry explained.

“Oh, a most ancient serpent. You are lucky to still be living,” replied the little snake reverentially. “Step this way, I will guide you,” Harry heard the snake moving quietly through the grass and followed the sound and the hissed directions. The first trip was a little harrowing as the little snake whispered through the grass and told Harry to move toward the house or toward the fence, at first tentatively guiding Harry around stones, flower beds, and ornamental garden orbs. He gained more confidence as he worked, but didn’t notice the tree branches. Harry found one with his forehead and miraculously managed not to drop the flower pot despite the shock. The little snake had kept going, Harry could hear his directions moving on ahead of him. “Hold on, little friend!” And the rustling of the grass told Harry that he had whipped right around and came back. Now Harry was afraid of stepping on him. “Can you also warn me when there are things around my face? I just got whacked in the forehead with a tree branch.” “Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t think to look that high up. Yes, I will do a better job. You are bleeding, Big Friend.”

“Great, now I’ll have two scars on my forehead. Just what I need.”

One by one, Harry with the help of his little guide, moved the pots from the potting table to the front porch. Exhausted and a little triumphant, Harry laid down in the grass when he was done and the little snake moved over his outstretched hands.

“Thank you, little friend,” Harry said wearily. “What do I call you?”

“You can call me Little Friend,” and Harry detected a smile in his hissing noises. “Oh, here comes the Owl!” Little Friend slid under Harry’s belly, making him squirm.

“Hedwig!” Harry called with both joy and reprimand in his voice; he couldn’t believe that she was back already and her arrival in broad daylight to the front porch was the nearly the worst possible thing. It would have been worse if Uncle Vernon had been standing in the driveway.

Harry stood up carefully, not wanting to scare Little Friend.

“Hedwig, go up to my window. I’ll meet you up there. . . . And don’t eat any snakes, please. I’ve made a friend.”

“Little Friend, I’ll talk to you later. Thank you for your help today. I will make sure Hedwig - the owl - doesn’t harm you”

“Yes, Big Friend. Thank you for your help with Owl.”

Harry started edging toward the front porch, then remembered that he was probably dirty and that Aunt Petunia would whack him with a wooden spoon if he tracked dirt through the front of the house.

Little friend was there to guide him back to the back patio where he could knock the dirt off his trainers before going inside.

He was giddy with anticipation. He hoped that Hermione had some good spells for him to use.

Chapter Text

Harry paused with his trainers in his hand at the back door to the kitchen after he’d brushed himself off as much as possible. He was tempted to race upstairs (as fast as he could go at this point as he still had to think carefully as he moved through the house outside of his room), but he knew that to give into that temptation would to alert Aunt Petunia to the fact that something was up. And something was up! Hedwig had returned and he hoped she’d returned with a note tied to her leg. I should have asked Nio hus cherio kisa, Harry thought, saying Little Friend’s name in Parseltongue. The suspense was killing him!

He drew in a deep breath and tried to compose his face into what it would be normally - some mixture of discomfort, desire to not be noticed, and ignorance. Looking at all happy or content was sure to draw attention and ire. All he had to do to achieve the expression was to think about the task ahead of him - Aunt Petunia told him that after potting the petunias she wanted him to do a thorough dusting of Dudley’s room in anticipation of his arrival on Friday. He had been emotionally scarred the last time when he uncovered a pair of Dudley’s shorts, unceremoniously stuffed behind a short row of books (decorative, no doubt). They were encrusted and stiff and ugh . . . the thought that he’d had put his hand on them was enough to make him retch a little. He’d put them in the bin because no doubt if anyone else found them, some how Harry would be blamed.

Slowly, Harry opened the door and walked through the kitchen, finding landmarks with his outstretched hands. I’m going to have to figure out a way to move around the house so that I don’t look so blind. Dudley’s going to terrorize me. I guess I have two days to learn the layout . . . As he moved through the hallway, he thought about sealing his room so Aunt Petunia couldn’t hear the message from Hermione. He wished he knew a spell. There has to be a spell. I should have paid closer attention in Charms. I hope Hermione’s figured out how to send an audio message that isn’t as loud as a howler! I should have taken the message off of Hedwig in the garden! Why didn’t I just do it there? He knew why, though. Nothing - nothing - was worse in the eyes of the Dursleys than the possibility of the neighbors finding out what a freak Harry was.

He made his way up the stairs, then across hall to his room, where he closed his door, but didn’t lock it. The sound of the lock would definitely bring Aunt Petunia snooping even though she was on the front porch arranging the petunias. Maybe she’d do that for a while.

Hedwig was in her cage - he could hear her nibbling on the scraps he’d saved for her from breakfast. He went to the window and closed it, then went back to her cage to accept her nuzzles into his hand and stroke her.

“Thank you, Hedwig. Sorry I had to send you up here. Thank you for understanding,” here she nipped at his fingers. “I know, I know,” he consoled indulgently. His hands made their way down her sleek body to her legs and he unfastened the bit of leather strap that held the small scroll to her leg. The scroll was heavier than he expected.

“Thank you for bringing this to me so quickly,” Harry said hurriedly to her as he sat down on the bed, holding the small scroll solemnly. His fingers traced the shape of it and he discovered that the ends had been carefully folded as if to prevent something from falling out.  

Listening for any sign that Aunt Petunia had come inside, Harry decided that it was safe. He unfurled the scroll slowly and something small and heavy as if it were made of metal fell into his lap. He picked it up and felt along its length. It was roughly the size and shape of a fountain pen. If it wasn’t so heavy, he would have thought it was a fountain pen, but there was no lid to remove, though one end was tapered to a point, but it was more blunt than a pen. He held it to his ear, expecting it to make a noise, but he couldn’t detect any sound. He did feel a bit of a magic pulse going through it. He was still holding the paper it had been wrapped up in and he tried holding the point to the paper, and that’s when Hermione’s voice erupted into the room, “ . . . hope you’re . .” as if she was sitting next to him. He jerked the pen away from the paper and her voice stopped.

He moved to the table by his bed and smoothed the small parchment out on the wood surface, flattening down the edges that had been folded in and held it open with his left hand. With his right hand, he lowered the pen to the paper near the top left-hand corner and dragged it across to the right-hand corner. Hermione spoke to him again and his heart filled his chest. Hearing her voice was a balm and he let her words wash over him. This was way better than a howler.

“Dear Harry,

I hope you’re okay. I was so glad to get your note as I’ve been,” here the pen ran off the side of the page and it took Harry a second to find the line again. He kept his left index finger on the edge of the paper at that line and then was able to scan the next lines more fluidly.

. . . “so worried about you. Madam Pomfrey wouldn’t tell me anything except that you’d gone home to the Dursleys to rest. She said that she couldn’t tell us what the Healers at St. Mungos said or did because that was private. She did look very sad, though, and it makes me fearful that they weren’t able to heal your eyes. Your note pretty much confirmed it, that, and the fact that Dumbledore gave me this anagnóstis to send to you. He said that it is fashioned after the one Homer used. He says that it will help you read any text and so, should help you with the stuff you need to read,” here it sounded like she was a bit exasperated, he guessed with his short note and cryptic message.

“Please write me and let me know that you’re okay and that the Dursleys aren’t being horrid. I’m sending this off now so that you can get it as soon as possible. After I send it, I’m heading to the library to do as much research as I can before I have to go to Herbology. I’ll write again soon with your list of homework for the summer holidays. Ron says, ‘hi.’ Hugs, Hermione.”

Harry let out his breath, which he realized he had been holding while he listened to Hermione’s note. He felt like he could have floated to the ceiling, so filled with elation he was. That evaporated quickly when Aunt Petunia slammed through the front door. Before she had made it up the stairs, Harry had stashed the anagnóstis and the letter under the floorboard. He was opening up his window again when she pounded on his door, demanding that he start working on Dudley’s room. He had to work on not sounding too cheerful when he responded.

Chapter Text

Aunt Petunia had left the dusting rag, furniture polish, broom, and dustpan in front of Harry’s door. He found this out after he sat up, held onto his bruised knees, rubbed his wrist for a moment until the pain was more manageable and felt around, located, and identified the items he’d tripped over. What is going on here? Why is she being so nice to me? It was really starting to freak him out.

After his heart had settled down, he gathered up the dusting materials and awkwardly shuffled them over to Dudley’s room. He carefully lined up the tools along the wall inside the door by size and started to work. He found that dusting was a much slower job without sight. He had to work methodically and think carefully as he approached each surface, find the objects, dust them, then return them to the same spot. Before, he was able to just hone in on the actual dusty surfaces and skip anything that looked clean.

As he worked, he relived the letter from Hermione. Just hearing her voice made him feel closer to Hogwarts than he’d felt in several days. He thought about the literature from the hospital, the notes Healer Smethwyck had written, the note he’d received the night he’d arrived and the letter from Dumbledore that Aunt Petunia had tossed in the bin. I’m going to be able to read them! He was itching to go to his room to read them that instant, but he could hear Aunt Petunia moving around in her room and couldn’t risk that she’d overhear the anagnóstis.

He’d have tomorrow in the house alone for a while to read, and he hoped, to learn how to use his staff, work on memorizing the layout of the house so that he could move around it more easily without having to grope everywhere. Dudley’s going to beat the crap out of me, Harry thought dismally. I’m not going to see it coming. He’s going to think he’s died and gone to heaven.

I’ve really got to run away if I’m going to survive the summer. Maybe once school is out, I can go live with the Weasleys or with the Grangers until the fall. . . . if they let me return to Hogwarts. This recurring fear that Hogwarts would not accept him back kept plaguing him. The anagnóstis means I can read my school work, at least. I wonder if there is a way to make headphones for it? He had an image of himself in the library trying to listen to his books and Madam Pince shushing him.

Harry had just finished dusting Dudley’s computer which had a set of fancy speakers and headphones attached with tangled cords. He hated dusting it, it always shocked him, even when it was off. He wished he could plug the headphones into his anagnóstis so that he didn’t have to worry about the Dursleys overhearing his notes being read aloud to him.

Harry’s fingers felt grimy and his nose tickled with the disturbed dust by the time he was done. However, there was an upside to it all. He’d found a small pouch of school supplies pushed to the farthest recesses underneath Dudder’s bed that contained pencils, eraser, handheld sharpener, compass, protractor, and straightedge. He’d had to brave an unknown number of dust bunnies and crusted, balled up socks to find it, but it was worth it. There’s no way that Dudley would miss this . . . that is, except if he saw me with it. He tucked it in his waistband, thankful for his oversized T-shirt for once. He’d have to be careful to keep it hidden.

How much stuff can I store under the floorboards . . .

At the doorway, Harry listened to see if he could tell where Aunt Petunia was. He was getting pretty hungry and wondered if he’d be able to sneak some lunch. Aunt Petunia usually snacked throughout the morning when Dudley and Vernon were gone but didn’t let Harry make himself lunch. He had learned at an early age to sneak food into his pockets whenever he had a chance and the baggy hand-me-downs from Dudley helped him in those schemes. Now he couldn’t check to see if anyone was looking and so had a much smaller stash of emergency food to share with Hedwig.

Harry remembered with an involuntary cringe the first time Ron noticed the pile of hoarded food in his trunk and teased him tirelessly about it, jumping around like a squirrel, until he saw Hermione’s shocked face and shut up.

What he would give for a table that magically produced mountains of delicious, hot food in a single pop. And pumpkin juice.

He couldn’t tell where Aunt Petunia was and that always made his skin crawl. He gathered up the cleaning supplies and started carefully down the stairs. Maybe I should have made two trips instead of trying to carry this all at once . . . he thought as the broom slid down and caught on the stair. As he tried to catch it, he slipped off the stair and landed on his butt, sliding down a few stairs and dropping everything else as his hands went out in an attempt to grab onto something. It made a tremendous racket joined by Aunt Petunia’s shrieking string of curses at him for being so stupidly clumsy. He sat for a second, the wind knocked out of him and tried to assess if he’d broken anything. Not this time. His tailbone was sore but not much more sore than the bruises he still was nursing from his encounter with the Basilisk and the inside of the fireplace. His knees hurt, but that was from his first spill over the cleaning supplies.

Aunt Petunia hadn’t let up her shrieking, but she was picking up the cleaning supplies he’d dropped . Harry froze when he realized it. Is she going to hit me with the broom? He flinched anticipating a blow, but instead, she put everything back in the broom closet and then pulled Harry up by his elbow. He nearly fell down the rest of the stairs in shock.

Her bony fingers dug into his arm right on an already tender bruise as she pulled him into the kitchen and then thrust him into his seat at the kitchen table. Harry managed to pull up on the concealed pouch of school supplies that was threatening to fall down his pant leg and secure it again under his waistband. He didn’t think she noticed because was rattling a glass jar with a knife at the kitchen counter. She thrust a plate in front of him (he knew from the resounding clatter). He tentatively felt around the plate and discovered a sticky sandwich. Marmalade! He thought as he licked the stickiness from his fingers. He paused wondering if she was trying to poison him. Maybe she thought she’d finish the job the Basilisk started. Then he inhaled it before she changed her mind and washed it down with a couple gulps of milk, hiccuping in his haste.

He didn’t know what to do. He worked up the nerve and offered a soft, “thanks” to her bustling noises in the kitchen and thought that she paused for a moment and hurumpfed, but it was barely detectable.

“What do you want me to do next, Aunt Petunia?” Harry asked cautiously.

“I need you to go to the market, but I guess that’s impossible. So, I’m going,” she said clearly inconvenienced. I could probably do it if you let me use my staff and my anagnóstis . . . wait, what? You’re going to leave me alone?

“You will polish the silver while I’m gone,” she said firmly.

He slumped. How he hated polishing silver. When he had sight, she was never satisfied with his work, now he would polish ad nauseum and never know if it was gleaming to her specifications, and his only way of investigating was through touch which would leave fingerprints. But there was no way he was going to do anything to anger this new, almost nice Aunt Petunia. She was scarier than any other version of his aunt he’d ever encountered before.

Chapter Text

Harry’s ears were still ringing from the shrill abuse of Aunt Petunia’s shouts when she’d returned from the market to find that the polished silver was not perfectly shiny and blemish-free. She was also horrified that he’d barely made a dent in the pile. Harry really had tried his best and worked slowly and carefully. He knew what would come crashing down on his head ( the frying pan ) if he did a shoddy job.

She’d finally sent him up to his room in disgust. He was thankful for a little peace and quiet and a chance to stash the school supplies under the floorboard. He’d write to Hermione after he took a nap.

He felt as though he'd barely closed his eyes when Aunt Petunia was rapping on his door. Apparently recovered from her vexation at the job he’d done with the silver, she had demanded that he weed around the Albus Agapanthus in the front yard. He started at the name Albus, then remembered that it was the name of the tall stalky flowers with round white heads. How funny that Aunt Petunia has a lily named Albus in her yard. He stifled a groan and rolled out of bed, feeling around for his trainers. It’d be nice to be outside again. Maybe Nio hus cherio kisa would be out there.

How on earth am I going to weed? He wondered.

He paused at the front door, remembering the layout of the garden. The Agapanthus lined the walkway up to the house. They were dense, any weeds would be hidden under layers upon layers of their grass-like leaves.

He stepped onto the porch, remembering arriving here with Madam Pomfrey just three days before, and it seemed like an eternity. He slid his foot forward to locate the front steps, there was nothing to hold onto, no wall or banister and for a moment he felt like he was venturing out into nothingness. He shook his head and reminded himself that he’d just been placing the pots of petunias on this porch. Of course, that was with the guidance of Nio hus cherio kisa .

Maybe his little friend was near. He called out in parseltongue softly and waited. He heard a rustling nearby and sat down on the step.

“Is that you, Little Friend?” he asked.

“Yes, Big Friend. It is I,” was the little snake’s response.

Harry felt a warmth swell in his chest.

“My Aunt wants me to weed around the Agapanthus, could you help me?”

“What is weed?” asked the snake. This made Harry chuckle. What would a snake know of weeding? He explained and the snake was eager to help because he quickly realized that Harry would be unearthing insects in the process. Harry felt the round head of the Agapanthus, fingering the delicate, tiny white lilies - My mom’s name, Lily. He bent to sniff the flower, but was disappointed that he had no fragrance.

Once Nio hus cherio kisa could identify the weeds (which was pretty straightforward in this part of the garden as a weed was anything that wasn’t an Agapanthus), he’d help guide Harry’s hands to them and Harry would pluck them out, then Nio hus cherio kisa would gobble up the earthworms and beetles and other insects exposed by the upturned earth.  

Harry and Nio hus cherio kisa worked their way companionably down the path toward the pavement and the street as the sounds of the neighborhood buzzed around them . . . the occasional passing car, chirping birds (Harry hadn’t really noticed before how many different sounds they made), and the chattering of squirrels. At one point a flock of geese flew directly overhead. Harry really liked listening to their honking as it approached and then flew over and diminished in the distance. It sounded like a huge flock.

Harry sat up and dusted off his hands when he heard someone coming up the pavement. Since most schools weren’t out for the holidays yet and many of the people worked during the day, it was usually pretty quiet on Privet Drive around this time of day. He wondered who it could be. He gently hissed at Nio hus cherio kisa to stay hidden in the Agapanthus. The engorged little serpent was more than happy to rest.

The steps grew closer and then stopped.

“Hello?” Harry turned his face toward the steps and let the question linger in his voice. He was pretty certain that the Dursleys hadn’t told any of their neighbors that Harry had returned from school early and blind. He had closed his eyes as soon as he had stepped outside against the bright sunlight, but now he was tempted to open them. It was strange to talk to someone with his eyes closed, but as soon as he opened them, he closed them again. The sun was too bright.

“Hello, Harry,” said someone . . . it was a familiar voice, he could almost place it - an older woman. “You’re home early from school.”

“Um, yeah,” Harry agreed, angling his head toward the voice. He really didn’t want to explain to some random person why he was home early.

“Is everything okay?” The voice was soft and concerned and reminded him of cats.

“Sure, Mrs. Figg,” finally placing her voice, “How are your cats?” At this Harry heard the grass rustling, Nio hus cherio kisa was retreating further into the Agapanthus.  

“Oh, they are fine. Thank you, sweetie, for asking,” she purred. “But you’re looking pretty banged up and you’re so thin,” she clucked.

“Oh, well. I’ve been sick, but I’m getting better,” Harry smiled hoping to reassure her.

“Is that why you’re home from Ho . . . um, school, early? But then why are you doing yard work? Shouldn’t you be resting? And you’ve got a bruise all down one side of your face,” she said stepping closer and not sounding convinced.

Harry gulped. The Dursleys would go ballistic if someone started nosing around and questioning Harry’s well-being.

“Oh, well, I ran into a door,” he said truthfully. That bruise seemed so long ago that he hardly remembered it. “Didn’t see where I was going.”

“Oh, Hello, Mrs. Figg!” Petunia called from the front door as she hustled toward them. “I’ve been meaning to call you,” she sounded a little breathy as she neared.

“I was wondering if I could ask you to watch Harry tomorrow while Vernon and I go up to Smeltings to pick up Dudley,” she said smugly.

Harry groaned. Just what he needed, to be stuck in a cat-infested house that he didn’t know well enough to get around and lose his time to read his leaflets and letters. He stood up.

“Aunt Petunia,” he said turning toward her, “I’m fine on my own, really. I’m nearly 13. Mrs. Figg probably has better things to do than . . .”

“Oh, it’ll be fine, Harry,” assured Mrs. Figg, her hand touching him on his shoulder, surprising him. “I can show you my newest album of cat photos!” She declared proudly.

“Oh, but Mrs. Figg . . .” Harry started to explain, but Aunt Petunia cut him off sharply,

“Oh, that’s right, Harry. I forgot. You can’t go over to Mrs. Figg’s, I need you to . . . iron the napkins,” Petunia sounded flustered as she pulled on Harry’s arm, dragging him back toward the house, he stumbled over the pile of weeds he’d gathered. “Thanks anyway, Mrs. Figg,” Petunia called over her shoulder as she shoved him through the front door.

“Why’d you do that?” Righting himself, Harry asked, unable to hide his aggravation. He really hated being pulled around.

“Do what?” Aunt Petunia sounded like she was distracted, no doubt she was peering out the curtains by the front door to see if Mrs. Figg was moving along.

“Ask her to watch me and then change your mind?”

“She was looking at the bruise on your face strangely,” Aunt Petunia confessed in a rare moment of honesty.

“I had already told her I ran into a door,” Harry said matter of factly.

“Why’d you do that?” Aunt Petunia demanded.

“She asked,” Harry said flatly.

“Nosy old bag!” Petunia’s voice rose.

Like you’re one to talk, Harry thought to himself. But he was feeling relieved that it was looking more and more like he’d be able to stay at home alone tomorrow afternoon after all.

“Did you finish weeding the Agapanthus?”

“Nearly, I think,” Harry started to move toward the door. He wanted to go back out and talk to Nio hus cherio kisa a bit more.

“Well, what are you waiting for? Go finish it,” She huffed.

As he went back outside, Harry felt really confused. Aunt Petunia was acting so strangely.

He stepped off the front porch calling softly to Nio hus cherio kisa and was greeted by the little snake who was closer than he thought he’d be.

“I’m really confused, Little Friend,” Harry confided. “My Aunt is acting really strangely,” he sighed. Harry followed the directions from the snake to the spot where they had been weeding.

Between directions to step around the pile of weeds, Nio hus cherio kisa said, “Your Aunt seemed scared.”

“Why would she be scared?” Harry mulled as he tugged a weed out of the wet earth.

Nio hus cherio kisa didn’t answer, he was gulping down a fat earthworm.

Harry decided to tentatively chalk it up to Aunt Petunia deep seeded attentiveness to what her neighbors thought, but it didn’t seem quite right. There was something more.

Harry gathered up the weeds and Nio hus cherio kisa slipped up his hand, curling around his wrist so that he could guide Harry to the bin to throw out the weeds. His cool body felt silky and comfortable on Harry’s wrist and he was sad to return him to the grass when they were all done.

He was saying goodbye a bit forlornly when Uncle Vernon’s car pulled into the driveway with a sickening squeal.

He stood up quickly, trying to get the dirt off his hands and jeans quickly. He really wanted to get inside and to his room, but he wasn’t quick enough.

“What in the world are you doing, boy?” Uncle Vernon erupted. It sounded to Harry as if Uncle Vernon was wedged behind the wheel of a car and struggling to extract himself. He turned his face away hoping to hide his amusement and replied, “Nothing,” in the flattest voice he could muster.

“Why are you hanging out here like the deadbeat you are?” He demanded as he stomped up the front walk.

“I was just finishing up the weeding, Uncle Vernon,” Harry responded as respectfully as he could manage.

“Hurumph. Likely story!” Uncle Vernon pushed past Harry, knocking him in the back of the knee with his briefcase.

Harry managed not to be toppled, but just barely.

He tried to hang back and let Uncle Vernon go inside without him, but his Uncle came back and grabbed his arm painfully and for a second time he was dragged, tripping into the house. He was pretty sure he was going to have layers of bruises on his arms if he didn’t already.

And things were just going to get worse once Dudley was home.

Chapter Text

Harry sat at the table by his bed. Distantly he could hear the T.V. blaring in the living room. He was really tempted to get the anagnóstis out and listen to Hermione’s letter again and read the other letters and leaflets. The Dursleys are engrossed in the T.V.; they aren’t going to hear me. Still he hesitated. He was risking losing his one chance to read the letters . . . or anything for that matter.

His heart pounding, he went to the door and locked it and placed his pillow across the bottom of the door hoping that it would muffle any sounds that might filter through the cat door and the space at the bottom of the door. He closed the window. Hedwig was out hunting (with strict orders to stay away from snakes). He had cleaned out her water and changed the paper in her cage once she flew outside with the setting sun.

Harry took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, glad for the break from the bright light. It was kind of nice just to sit in the dark.

Listening carefully, he decided that he should be able to read at least one thing. He decided to save the leaflets for tomorrow when he’d have some freedom to tryout things with the staff.

I hope that the leaflets have spells for using the staff . . . I hope that I can get out of here soon!

He closed his eyes with these wishes, holding his breath as he made them.

Harry knelt down and retrieved the anagnóstis and the letter Hedwig had brought him when she first arrived at the Dursleys from under the floorboards.

He unrolled the scroll and flattened it out. He paused again before setting the anagnóstis against the upper left hand corner.

“Erod elb mud subla ross ef orp yler ecnis.” Harry took the anagnóstis off the page, completely perplexed. He tried it again. “Erod elb mud subla ross ef orp yler ecnis.”

Who’d be writing me in another language? Is this from the goblins at Gringotts? Harry wondered.

Oh, wait. I’m an idiot! He turned it around and tried again. The voice that spoke this time was clearly Dumbledore’s gentle and aged tenor.

“Dear Harry, I’m just spoken with Madam Pomfrey and she has shared with me the sad news of the permanent loss of your vision. I am more sorry than I can express. She and I feel that it is in your best interest for you to spend this week resting at home. I’ve sent a letter to your Aunt and Uncle to alert them of your arrival and I hope that they are doing all within their power to make you comfortable and give you the space you need to heal and adjust.” Harry lifted the anagnóstis from the parchment here. He ached. Something wanted to burst out from him; he wasn’t sure if it was harsh laughter or quiet sobbing. The strangled sound that leaked out was a little of both.

He calmed his breath and then continued to read the letter.

“The classes that you’re enrolled in over the summer will help you adapt to your blindness. I know that you’ll face this new challenge with all the bravery and determination that befits a Gryffindor.

Sincerely, Professor Albus Dumbledore”

There was something about this letter that made Harry really, really worried. It was missing something. He stood up and started pacing. His heart was racing.

Why did he feel suddenly adrift?

Gryffindor? Gryffindor? Harry walked back and forth as the name rang in his ears.

It troubled him. Despite Dumbledore’s assurances, he still wondered if he was truly a Gryffindor. The mention in the letter of his Gryffindor traits felt like a dig. Harry realized that he loved speaking to Nio hus cherio kisa even when he felt a little twinge of shame. Shame for what? For using this gift from Salazar Slytherin that Voldemort had accidentally passed on to me when Voldemort tried to kill me ?

“You have every right to use that gift, Harry!” he told himself firmly, sounding a bit like Ron in his bluster. “It doesn’t make you a Slytherin.” He stopped pacing and sat down with the letter and read it again.

It wasn’t the Gryffindor part that made him feel so alone. It was something else.

He realized that it was what was not in the letter. Missing was assurance that there would be a place for him at Hogwarts at the end of the summer.

His heart plunged into his stomach. His chest tightened. The thought of not returning to Hogwarts was more frightening than facing Tom Riddle’s murderous intent.

He read the letter for a third time while drawing in shaky breaths letting Dumbledore’s gentle voice wash over him.

As he mulled over this insight, his hand loosely held the anagnóstis so that it hovered over the last words in the letter.

“Albus: a boy’s name of Latin origin, meaning ‘white, bright’.” The voice that offered this helpful definition was not Dumbledore’s, but rather the crisp, knowledgeable voice of a young woman. The image of a young professional woman in sharp new robes and smart glasses popped into his head. Harry also remembered the feel of the round heads of the Albus Agapanthus in his hands as he worked in the garden earlier. Somehow the knowledge that Professor Dumbledore’s name was the same bright, white light that was the only thing he could see anymore made him feel comforted and he was able to quell his fears. They are just my fears. There’s nothing here that confirms them.

He took out the ruler, the pad of paper, and the pencil and using the ruler as a guide for writing straight lines, he wrote a longer letter to Hermione and Ron using a couple of pages from the pad of paper. Harry spent the next half hour trying to put into words his worries without being too worrisome, his fears without being too fearful, and his hopes without being overly hopeful. He knew there wasn’t much they could do for him, but it felt good to write to them knowing that they would understand.

He knew they’d be heading home via the Hogwarts express on Saturday - so he wanted to send the letter to them while they could get it together, instead of having to write two letters once they were at their respective homes. He used the anagnóstis to read his letter back to him. It was strange to listen to his own disembodied voice, but he was assured that the letter was legible and he was able to make a few spelling corrections with the eraser.

He decided to not push his luck any further and put everything back under the floorboard. He opened his window and called for Hedwig with a low whistle. She hooted softly in response and soon alighted on the window sill. He fastened the scroll (larger than the first one he sent to Hermione and Ron) with the leather strap and asked her to deliver the letter. He sat at the window for a while after her burst of flapping wings faded into the night. He couldn’t see the moon, it must have been hidden behind clouds. He thought about tomorrow and the chance to learn how to use the staff and maybe gain more independence. It was a bubble of hope that kept him buoyed.

As he drifted asleep, he was able to loosen the grip of his fear of not returning to Hogwarts and let it drift out into the cool night air.

Chapter Text

By mid-day, Harry was really ready for Aunt Petunia to leave. She had asked him to wash the outdoor windows, which was a challenging job with one’s sight intact as it involved hauling ladders, buckets of soapy water, and making sure every window was spotless. Harry point blank refused to do the second story windows, which meant that he had to endure being whacked around the head more times than he cared to count (or maybe the result of being hit in the head so many times meant that he lost count). He figured that if she wanted to kill him, she’d have to get more creative than insisting that he scale a 25-foot ladder with a bucket of soapy water.

Early in the day, he knew that the only way he’d complete the job well enough to live to the Dursley’s departure time of one o’clock was with help from a sighted friend. In the back by the potting bench, Harry overturned some stones to find some tasty insects to tempt Nio hus cherio kisa . He put the worms and beetles in an old margarine tub that had once held seeds hidden in a far corner under the potting bench. He called softly in Parseltongue for his little friend, but though he waited for several minutes, he didn’t hear the familiar rustling.

Maybe he’s in the front.

Harry filled the bucket with water (managing to splash water all over his knees) and added soap, but decided to wait until he had a guide before he hauled it around to the front yard. So he left the bucket by the potting bench and went through the house to the garage to see about getting the ladder out.

At least the car isn’t in the garage, Harry thought as he stood in the echoey space of the garage and tried to remember where the ladder was located.

How am I going to get it down without knocking into things. He remembered all the times he teetered on disaster trying to carry the ladder before. I’m bigger now, stronger. At least I have had a year of eating well under my belt. He tugged at his belt - it was still a bit lose. He’d lost weight this week.

He trailed his hand along the wall, across the guides for the garage door, and then with his foot found the path to the front porch, which he was able to follow by keeping his right foot right the edge of the path and sliding it in front of him a bit to feel his way as he went. He bent down again and whispered in Parseltongue among the Agapanthus, “Little Friend, are you here? I have some treats for you!”

“Oh! What kind of treats?” Little Friend’s voice emerged from the Agapanthus as he neared Harry’s trainer. Harry had emptied the tub of insects into his hand and held it out and Nio hus cherio kisa slithered up on to his fingers to investigate.

“Little Friend, could you guide me today? I’m to wash the windows and make them spotless, which is hard to do when one can’t see.” For some reason, Harry found it was a lot easier to talk to Nio hus cherio kisa about his vision loss than it was to write about it in the letter to Hermione and Ron. Maybe because the snake easily accepted it and didn’t seem phased by it at all. He was a very down to earth snake. He had a feeling that Ron and Hermione wouldn’t be so nonchalant about it all.

“What is wash . . . and what are . . . windows . . . and what is . . . spotless?” Nio hus cherio kisa asked between crunching and gulping down the insects offerings.

Harry explained as best he could motioning to the front of the house.

“Yes, Big Friend, I will help you. I would like to curl around your neck where it is warm and I can see well.”

“Thank you! And yes, that’d be a good spot for you, just keep an eye out for my Aunt because if she sees you . . . well, it won’t be pretty.” Harry tucked his baggy T-shirt into his trousers so that if Nio hus cherio kisa had to make a speedy retreat inside his shirt, he’d not fall all the way to the ground.

“First, can you help me find the ladder?

“Sure, what is a ladder?”

The corners of his lips turned up slightly at Nio hus cherio kisa’s questions, Harry brushed the bits of mud off his hands and offered his arm to Nio hus cherio kisa who climbed up. Harry helped him get settled around his neck and found it was easier to walk back to the garage with Nio hus cherio kisa’s whispered cues. Getting the ladder down off the wall and out of the garage was not so easy, but Nio hus cherio kisa was able to tell him where to go to retrieve the garden rake and shovel that he’d knocked off the wall as he staggered under the unweldy weight of the ladder. Rake and shovel restored, Harry and Nio hus cherio kisa set the ladder next to the front door and then went to the backyard to get the bucket.

With Nio hus cherio kisa’s vantage point up higher than when he was guiding Harry from the grass, he was also able to warn Harry more reliably about branches and other high up obstacles. Harry was also released from the worry of stepping on his little friend.

Walking back with the bucket was slow going, but they managed to do it with most of the water still in the bucket and not on Harry’s legs. I probably couldn’t have managed any better with sight, Harry conceded.

Harry had long ago stopped questioning Aunt Petunia’s need to wash the windows in such a rainy climate. At least now I won’t see them get mucked up immediately after finishing the task.

It wasn’t much consolation.

The first window was easy to reach and didn’t require the ladder. Harry was thankful. He and Nio hus cherio kisa were able to figure out how to communicate about what cleaning a window actually entailed. Harry was tempted to set down Nio hus cherio kisa and ask Aunt Petunia to inspect the window to make sure it was up to her standard, but he dismissed the idea when he considered how grumpy she’d be at being interrupted during her show. He’d just have to hope that the little snake understood the concept of spotless or rather, Aunt Petunia’s concept of spotless.

They moved on to the next window which required a ladder to reach over the bushes. Nio hus cherio kisa understood how important it was to place the ladder carefully in the earth by the bushes, and took a little more explaining for how to place the ladder against the building so that Harry could reach the window, but not break the glass. They figured it out, taking breaks to gather fat worms for Nio hus cherio kisa when he was getting grumpy.

During one of the breaks, Harry asked his little friend something that he’d been wondering, “How did you know that Mrs. Figg was talking about cats yesterday? Do you speak English, too?”

“Oh, no, I don’t speak human speak, but I do recognize some words. My survival depends on it.” Hearing about the world of the garden from the snakes perspective helped Harry understand it differently - it was like a new world had been opened up to him - not unlike the night he learned that there was an underground community of witches and wizards.

Harry felt very exposed and vulnerable standing on the ladder and leaning over to reach the window with only one hand to steady himself even though he knew he wasn’t very high off the ground. He was really glad for Nio hus cherio kisa’s silibant whispers and cool coils around his neck. The little snake didn’t like the heights either but liked the warmth of Harry’s neck and the steady supply of treats.

At last, they finished the ground floor windows. It was nearly one and though Nio hus cherio kisa was stuffed, Harry was starving - enough to consider nibbling on a worm.

He was cleaning up the bucket and rags, his legs trembling from a combination of excursion, fear, and hunger when Aunt Petunia came bursting out of the back door to shout at Harry about putting the ladder away before Uncle Vernon arrived.

Nio hus cherio kisa slipped into Harry’s T-shirt as they planned, squirming a bit against Harry’s belly, tickling him, to hide from Aunt Petunia. Harry crossed his arms in front to hide the slithering snake. He knew she didn’t see Nio hus cherio kisa because she continued in her tirade without pause. After the ladder was put away, he was to clean up and get started ironing the napkins.

Harry listened morosely while trying to keep a neutral expression on his face. He couldn’t wait for the Dursleys to get in the car and go.

Chapter Text

After Harry and Nio hus cherio kisa put away the bucket, rags, and ladder, Harry returned his little friend to the Agapanthus in the front yard and tried to express how thankful he was for his help. Nio hus cherio kisa had saved him from heaps of abuse from his Aunt. He also didn’t feel quite so alone with the snake draped around his neck and while Hedwig also gave him a feeling of companionship and a connection to the magical world, with Nio hus cherio kisa he had someone to talk to. Granted their conversations so far had been focused on the layout of the garden and figuring out what they were talking about. Even with a shared language, there was a lot that didn’t translate between the serpent and human perspectives. Still, the conversations were a relief from the toxic spew or stony silence Harry was subjected to from the Dursleys. A bit forlorn at leaving his friend, and with his legs shaking from hunger and weariness, Harry made his way to the ironing board to start in on the napkins before Vernon got home. It was always better to be employed in some task when his uncle arrived.

He knew that he’d be able to get something to eat once the Dursleys left to fetch Dudley from Smeltings. He assumed that Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon would go out for dinner with Dudley, and so arrive home late.

Maybe I won’t even have to see Dudley until tomorrow. Saturday.

A week ago I was still at Hogwarts, I didn’t know about the Basilisk, Ginny was okay, and I was able to see. A lot can change in a week.

Finally, after enduring a lengthy invective from Uncle Vernon about what he could and couldn’t do while they were gone, Harry could hear the car squealing out of the driveway and he was able to finally breathe easily.

Maybe the directions for the staff will include some household cleaning spells and I’ll be able to speed through the ironing! . . . Man, Ron would take the mickey out of me if he knew I was fantasizing about learning spells for doing chores, he thought laughing at himself and craving time with his friend. For a second, he was in Gryffindor tower, goofing around with Ron, Dean, Seamus, and Neville - pushing and shoving each other, telling bad jokes, and laughing until his sides hurt. He thrust the bruising thought away, the tower seemed so distant, so unattainable. He forced himself to focus on finding something to eat so that he wouldn’t be trembling when he read through the literature from the hospital, eager though he was to get started.

oO0OooO0OooO0OooO0Oo

Up in his room - he still felt safest in his room, even knowing he had the run of the whole house for a couple of hours - Harry pulled the literature and the anagnóstis out from under the floorboards.

He sat down on his bed and spread the leaflets out on the table by his bed. He didn’t know where to start, so ran the anagnóstis over the three pieces of literature to see what they said. He figured out that one of them was upside down, righted it and tried again. A stuffy sounding wizard (not unlike Percy Weasley) said the titles as he slid the anagnóstis over the fronts of the leaflets. They were titled: Getting Around: Using Your Guidance Staff , Why Learn Muggle Braille? For the Low Vision or Vision Impaired Witch or Wizard,  and Adjusting to Your Magical Malady . Harry decided to get started with learning how to use his staff and pushed the other two aside. After determining there was no other useful information on the front page, he opened the leaflet and a voice erupted into his room, much louder than his anagnóstis. “THIS IS A LISTENING LEAFLET FOR THE WITCH OR WIZARD LIVING WITH VISION LOSS. TO ADJUST THE VOLUME, STROKE THE PAGE EITHER UP (LOUDER) OR DOWN (QUIETER) TO ADJUST THE VOLUME. TAP IT TWICE TO TURN THE AUDIO ON OR OFF.”

Harry immediately stroked the page down and was relieved when the volume of the voice was more tolerable. He was also thankful that he never opened the leaflets while the Dursleys were in the house. The leaflet kept going. Harry decided that he preferred the anagnóstis as he could more easily control the pace and tapped the leaflet twice. He wondered if the volume on his anagnóstis could be adjusted in the same way and was pleased to learn that it could, then he walked swiftly to the corner of his room where he kept his staff and tried to adjust the volume on it as well on it. He cast “ Tempus ” and was pleased with the softer  “1:43 pm” response.

Eager to learn more, he returned to the table and the leaflet and continued to read with the anagnóstis.

“Your guidance staff is equipped with the latest in assistive charmwork to allow you to navigate easily around any obstacles in your path. Unlike your wand, the staff needs to be in contact with objects for many spells to work in order to prevent accidental magic.” Harry had already figured this out.

“A newly developed feature that we are excited to introduce with this model is that your staff is equipped with an extendable storage place that makes transporting items easier. Open the storage by pressing your thumb on the triangle formed by three dots, 3 inches down from the top of the staff. To retrieve items you’ve placed in the extendable storage, use the summoning charm, Accio , to summon the item. To close the storage, press your ring finger on the triad dots.

To walk around a room using your staff to guide you, simply grasp it by the handle as you would a wand (think of it as an extension of your pointer finger). If you are outside or in a spacious environment, hold the staff in front of you at about belly-button height and swing it in a gentle arc hovering a little above the floor, and move it a little wider than your shoulders. As you advance your left foot, swing the staff to the right and tap, then swing back to left as your right foot advances and tap. If you are inside or in close quarters, hold the staff more parallel to your body and swing in a smaller arc, advancing the foot opposite to the arc. This motion activates the charms in the staff that will provide information about your surroundings. You can ask it to give you more or less information by tapping the staff twice with two fingers in rapid succession for more information or twice with one finger less information. However, if your staff senses danger, it will alert you immediately.

Your guidance staff is paired with an aftí listening instrument for your ear that you will find in the extendable storage area of your staff so that only you can hear the guiding voice. It is charmed with a cloaking charm, so once it is in place, no one will be able to see it. The aftí is designed to be comfortable, waterproof, and require very little care and maintenance.”

Harry set down the anagnóstis and tried opening the storage area and summoning the out the aftí . It didn’t come out. He went back to leaflet to read the directions again and listen carefully to the pronunciation of the spell and the inflection for the listening instrument aftí and tried again and after several attempts was finally able to extract it.

A very small, metal c-shaped ring winged into his hand. He felt it carefully and found that it was completely smooth with no marks that he could discern. Harry went back to the leaflet to figure out how to wear it and figured out that it should be pinched over the helix of his ear. It took him awhile to figure out what part of his ear that was, but when he got it to fit it he couldn’t tell it was there except when he touched it with his fingers.

He decided to try out the staff with the aftí in place .

First, he tried holding the staff as he held his wand and swinging it in an arc, stepping forward with the opposite foot. The voice from the aftí started describing the furniture in his room and he adjusted the volume to a comfortable level. It was a little weird to have this voice speaking right in his ear, but he could appreciate how useful it could be. He imagined he’d be able to hear it even in a really loud environment and it was nice not to have to worry about the Dursleys hearing it. That wouldn’t work.

Harry listened to the descriptions and started moving around the room, “single bed on your left, wardrobe at 11 o’clock.” Harry stopped, this puzzled him. What does that mean, “at 11 o’clock?” He continued walking and swinging the staff in an arc, the staff lightly striking the furniture legs in his room. He tried increasing and decreasing the amount of information and found that he could set it up so that it just made the staff vibrate a bit in his hand right before he hit something so that he could avoid hitting things before the staff even struck it. He imagined that this would be handy if he was walking around people (again, the Dursleys . . . he could imagine what Uncle Vernon’s response would be if he tapped him with his staff . . .). Even without the voice describing the furniture and the room, the feedback from the staff tapping on the walls and furniture was helpful. With the navigator on, the staff told him where the door was (at 12 o’clock) and how to find the doorknob (at 9 o’clock).

He decided to go back to reading the leaflet hoping to find an explanation for the use of the clock face in the directions. It didn’t take him long to find: “Your staff will tell you how to find items by describing their location using the face of a clock as a frame of reference. You are always standing at 6 o’clock and 12 o’clock is straight in front of you. If something is to your right, it may be described as being at 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock or 4 o’clock so that you can understand the angle. Something to your left will be described as being at 10 o’clock, 9 o’clock, or 8 o’clock and so forth. If you need more information or don’t understand something, simply squeeze the staff twice in rapid succession and your staff will give you more information about what it is touching, or if you hold the staff in the air, it will give you a visual description of the room or space where you standing. Two more rapid squeezes will return it to the previous setting.

To ask your staff to guide you to a location, cast the “ navigant ” spell and state the address or the item you want to walk toward.

When you walk among Muggles, your staff will appear to be a Muggle white cane for the blind.

Your staff can be shrunk to fit easily in a pocket by tapping it three times on the ground while it is held at a perpendicular angle. To restore it to its normal size, shake three times quickly in front of you. To Muggles it will appear as if you’re folding or unfolding a collapsible cane.  If you’d like it to still give you directions while it is shrunk, simply touch it with your thumb and middle finger.

When first adapting to your vision loss, keep in mind that while this staff is designed to give you as much independence as possible, it is not a replacement for sight and you will need to proceed with caution, rely on your remaining senses, and don’t be afraid to ask for assistance when you need it.”

Harry felt a bit deflated upon hearing this last bit as he was starting to imagine all the things he’d be able to do with his staff now that he was learning how to use it. He was even imagining flying on his broom.

He shrugged off the stifling feeling that was threatening to envelop him. He stood up and said, “ navigant cupboard under the stairs,” and waited for the instructions. But it didn’t seem to work. So, he tried again taking care to pronounce “ navigant ” as the leaflet had said it and thought about the cupboard under the stairs. This time, it worked and he followed the staff’s directions out of his room to the stairs. He was so used to finding the top stair with his toes, the railing with his hand, and then counting the stairs down that he didn’t need the staff to tell him that he’d reached the bottom step, but he could understand how it would be helpful if he was in an environment he didn’t know so well. It then directed him to the door of the cupboard under the stairs and told him where to find the keyhole.

He touched the staff to the door and said, “ alohomora ” and he could feel the lock slide open under his hand when the door popped open.

His fingers swiftly found the three triangular spaced dots on the staff. He placed all the items in his trunk inside his staff - he was amazed by how much it could hold and it didn’t get any heavier.

He had a fleeting moment where he wondered if he could go inside the staff, but then worried about how he’d get out, so didn’t try it. Maybe sometime he’d explore that possibility with Ron and Hermione. He closed his trunk and then realized he didn’t know the spell to lock the cupboard again. He was a bit frantic for a little bit until it dawned on him he could summon the key that Aunt Petunia kept hanging on a nail in the broom closet, high up. He tried saying it, “ Accio key to the cupboard under the stairs” and the first few times it didn’t work, but he worked on pronouncing Accio exactly as it was pronounced in the leaflet and finally it came.

He locked the cupboard and it took him awhile to put the key back on the hook (but he was able to wingardium leviosa a chair over to help him reach it). He wondered if there was a counterspell to accio - something to replace things. Maybe now that I have my textbooks and can read them, I’ll be able to find the counterspell.

It was so liberating to be able to use his magic without fear of reprimand, either from the Dursleys or the Ministry of Magic. Harry was torn between finishing reading the leaflets and getting out of the house. He thought of the park and what it would be like to just go play . . . to swing, to see-saw, to climb the jungle gym.

Go to the park, for sure! When am I ever going to get the chance again?  

Chapter Text

Harry hurried up the stairs - he was still getting used to the staff and he had to think carefully as he said the navigant spell so that he pronounced it precisely and thought carefully about where he was going. It definitely made him feel more confident moving around the space outside his room. Before he put everything he’d had stored under the floorboards in his room into the storage compartment of the staff, he tried using the summoning charm to remove some items. What if I can’t get them out? He was still struggling with the Accio charm, but eventually, he was able to summon his charms book, his wand, the invisibility cloak, and his broom. He returned all to the compartment, though he spent a bit of time just feeling his broom as he leaned against his bed. He loved the heft of it, the feel of the grain against his fingertips and longed to try flying, but resisted the urge. Maybe he and Ron could try out flying this summer at the Burrow. Maybe he could escape there for a bit.

Finally, he returned the broom to the compartment and then felt around in the floorboards for the other items he had stored there. He found the bit of parchment that Healer Smethwyck had given to Madam Pomfrey and grabbed the anagnóstis to read it.

“Adaptation Course at 56 Charing Cross Road, London.

Adaptation Residency: 7th of June through 30th of July, 1993.

Registration on the 7th of June at 9 am. Questions, contact Healer Jordan at the Residency by Owl.”

Harry sat back. This meant that he only had to make it through Saturday and Sunday and then he could leave the Dursleys for more than a month! Maybe after the training, he could go to the Burrow instead of returning to Privet Drive (just in time for my birthday!). He held onto the note hardly daring to breathe. It was a ticket out of there! He didn’t care what kind of training it was, it was away from Dudders, Vile Vernon, and endless chores. He felt like he was floating! He listened to the message a few times to commit the address to memory. If he had to walk there on his own, he’d do it.

Next, he listened to Professor Dumbledore’s message to Aunt Petunia - it was very much like the letter Dumbledore had sent to Harry - and a little subdued, he put it and the rest of the items from under his bed in his staff, pushing away his fears that he’d not be allowed back at Hogwarts.

He tried out minimizing the staff and using it in his pocket - it was a nice feature - rather like having Nio hus cherio kisa wrapped around his neck, but not nearly as comforting or companionable. He restored it to its normal size to go to the park because he felt more confident feeling the ground with it. It was only 2:30 pm - surely he had time to get out for a little bit. He could listen to the other leaflets later. Also, he had planned to use the time to learn how to navigate around the house without reaching with his hands, and now he could simply put the staff in his pocket and listen to the directions.

Maybe Dudley won’t notice that I’m blind, Harry hoped wistfully. He is pretty dense.

As he was heading down the stairs, the doorbell rang.

Harry froze on the steps. Who could it be? He was tempted to pretend that he wasn’t home, but it was likely that whoever it was had already seen him descending the stairs through the window by the door. A very clean window!

He walked slowly down the rest of the stairs and opened the door, “Hello?” he asked to the space outside the door. He was still holding his staff and remembered the directions for a description of the space around him. He held it off the floor and squeezed it firmly twice and the voice in his head started describing the doorway and front porch . . . “and a short older woman with wispy gray hair wearing a worn purple housecoat and carrying a grocery bag on her right arm.” He squeezed it again so that the voice was silenced.

“Mrs. Figg?”

“Harry, how are you?” She asked, worry lacing her voice.

“I’m okay, Mrs. Figg. Thank you. My Aunt and Uncle are gone, they’ve gone to get Dudley from Smeltings.”

“I know. That’s why I came over. I wanted to make sure you were okay.”

“The Dursleys said I couldn’t let anyone in the house while I was gone.”

“It’s okay, Harry. I understand. Maybe you can come outside?”

“Sure, I think that would be okay,” said Harry. He started opening the door wider so that he could go out, closing his eyes against the bright sunlight.

“Why do you have a white cane, Harry? And sunglasses?” I guess the Muggle disguise for the staff works, he thought wryly.

“I got some . . . stuff . . . in my eyes at school. I can’t see now,” he explained as he stepped onto the front porch.  

“Oh. Dear. That’s awful. When will it clear up?” Mrs. Figg sounded jittery.

“Um. It’s permanent. No cure.” Harry said shortly.

“What? Oh my. Well . . . is that why you have bruises on your face?”

“Yeah. I’ve been running into things,” he sighed. “But I’m figuring it out and on Monday I’m going to an Adaptation Training to learn how to get around better. It’ll be okay,” he said reassuringly as it sounded like she was dissolving into tears.  Better than digesting in the innards of a Basilisk . . . he thought.

He reached out a hand and found her housecoat sleeve and then placed his hand on her arm to soothe her.

“I was worried that your Uncle  . . . well, when I saw those bruises on your face . . . well. He’s just such a sour mu- man,” She sniffed.

“I’m okay,” Harry said stoutly. “Thank you for checking on me, Mrs. Figg. It is really very nice of you.”

“Well, I better be going. Mr. Tibbs will be expecting his supper.” She shuffled off the porch steps and Harry listened to her steps as she walked away down the path and then out on the street toward her house. He waited there for a while and then squeezed the staff to listen to the surroundings. The staff didn’t mention anyone else on the street.

He wondered if he could get to the park without asking for directions from the staff. He knew the way, of course. He’d gone there on his own as often as he dared in his childhood - it offered a bit of peace from Number 4 Privet Drive. But can I get there without seeing my way? Without seeing the Ash tree on the corner where I turn or the house with the funny lawn ornaments near the entrance to the park? He’d never really paid attention to how many streets he crossed on his way there, he just knew the way.

He used his staff to walk down the walkway, holding it at belly-button level and letting the arc swing out wider than he’d used it in the house. Tap, tap. Left foot, right foot. He reached the end of the walkway and could feel the difference in the paving stones. The staff described the Agapanthus and the curb. He turned left and walked toward the park, keeping to the side of the road. There were square stones along the gardens in the street, and he kept close to them, tapping them reassuringly as he made his way to the park. It seemed a lot farther than he remembered but guessed that was because this was the first time he’d done it with his eyes closed.

After walking for a bit he realized that he wasn’t entirely sure where he was - have I gone past the house with the pink stone birdbath where there was an entrance to the park between houses? He decided to whisper, “Navigant park on Magnolia Road” to his staff and was relieved to listen to the confident voice guide him and especially when he reached a part of the road that had paving stones, uneven though they were. The staff warned him when he needed to step up. He wasn’t as far along as he thought he was.

A little dog surprised him, yapping out of nowhere, but the staff described a fence that kept him from charging, so he kept going.

He passed a hedgerow that smelled strongly of lilacs and gladly breathed in the fragrance, remembering the purple blossoms and knowing he was nearly there. Then he could hear the shrieking chains of the swings and the rhythmic pounding of the see-saw and children squealing in delight as they ran around the play structures.

He’d made it. He felt a sense of accomplishment. And he felt a bit exposed in the park. He hadn’t really thought through the fact that there would be moms and children too young to be at school at the park and that soon primary would be out and more kids would be at the park. He did want to swing and swallowed his apprehension. He wondered if there was a free swing or if they were all occupied. He moved closer to the play structures, his staff’s tapping muffled by the grass. The uneven ground was harder to move across - he had to go more slowly and the staff wasn’t really good at describing the bumpy terrain adequately. He reached the sand that surrounded the play equipment.

He held up the staff and squeezed it and learned that there was a free swing at 2 o’clock, so he walked toward it.

“Duck!” The staff yelled, and he dropped to the sand - the staff flung to the ground, out of reach. He felt something graze over his head - some child in a swing, no doubt - just missing his head by a hair’s breadth.

“Oh my goodness, are you okay? How did you miss getting hit?” A motherly voice asked him, pulling him up by his elbow.

“I dunno.” Harry mumbled. “I just wanted to swing a bit.”

“Oh, are you blind, dear?” She asked as she brushed sand off his jeans.

“Yes,” Harry admitted a bit reluctantly as she pressed his cane into his hand. “Thank you,” he said as an afterthought.

“The swing is over here. Where are your parents? You’re not here alone, are you?”

“They are around,” Harry lied. Too many times he’d been questioned about his alone-status at the park - he knew he had to fib if he was going to be left alone. The Dursleys always took it out on him if someone started poking around too closely in their business.

She had pulled him over to the swings and put the chain in his hand. Harry minimized his cane and put it in his pocket hoping that what the leaflet had said about how it would appear to muggles was true.

He sat on the swing and leaned back, rocking gently back and forth until he was soaring a bit and it seemed like he’d left the earth for a while to roam among the clouds.

Chapter Text

As he moved back and forth, Harry listened to the children who were running around giggling and shrieking in delight. The scent of lilacs drifted by occasionally on the breeze and the warmth of the sun gave him a lazy, contented feeling. He was mindful to swing slowly and stay low to the ground in case a small child walked into his swinging path.

The mom who had helped him was still pushing her child in the swing next to him, speaking in a sing-song voice. The child’s responses were gleeful unintelligible chortles. It made him wonder if he and his mom had ever gone to the park to play.

He had slowed by dragging his feet in the sand, swaying in the swing when a small child had run into his knees, pressing up against him giggling and grabbing his middle in a hug.

“Umph, uh - Hello?” Harry had been holding on loosely to the chains but reached forward to steady himself and drawing the child into an awkward hug as he tried not to fall.

“Play wit’ me!” The child demanded and laughing grabbed Harry’s hand with a sticky, sandy small pudgy hand. He wasn’t sure if it was a girl or a boy.

“Oh, okay,” Harry answered a bit reluctantly as the child pulled him out of the swing and across the sand. Harry pulled out his staff and shook it to restore it to normal size and swung in an arc trying to get a sense of where he was on the playground. The child was pulling him along and talking animatedly about digging in the sand.

“What’s dat?” the child asked. Harry guessed he was pointing at his staff.

“It’s my cane, it helps me find my way,” Harry explained.

“What’s your name?” Harry asked.

“Owiver Fwankwin Evans!” the child stated proudly, stopping and pulling Harry down toward the sand.

“I’m Harry. How old are you, Oliver?” Harry asked as he collapsed his staff and put it in his pocket. Oliver didn’t answer. Harry sank onto the warm sand and waited expectantly, then tried again.

“Oliver, how old are you?” It seemed that Oliver was suddenly bashful after all his bravado hauling Harry over to play with him.

Oliver made a little grunting noise like he was frustrated, and then his hand was pressed against Harry’s cheek, and Harry felt three fingers digging into his face.

“Oh, are you three?” Harry asked, sitting back. “Are you nodding, Oliver?” Harry still didn’t hear anything. “I can’t see you when you nod. Can you tell me with your words?” He tried gently.

“Why you can’t see?” The boy was nearly nose to nose with Harry now - as if he was peering into his face. His breath was a mixture of sweet and sour, like milk. “Take off yous glasses . . . then you see.” His sandy fingers fumbled at Harry’s glasses and pulled them off. Oliver hooted in laughter as Harry pulled the glasses from the little boy’s fingers and put them back on.

“Yous eyes is closed! Dat’s why yous can’t see!”

“The sun is too bright, so I have to close my eyes, but when I open them, all I see is bright light, nothing else. See?” Harry tried to open his eyes to demonstrate but blinked them closed again.

“Huh?” The boy grunted uncomprehendingly.

“Are we going to dig?” Harry felt around the sand in front of him.

“Here,” Oliver pushed something against his hand. Harry ran his fingers over it and discovered a sand-encrusted flimsy plastic shovel. He stuck into the ground and started making a hole. Oliver knelt next to Harry, his warm little body pressed along his side and started moving and digging, too. They scooped out a hole. Every once in a while other kids would come and plop down next to them and join in the digging, then get up and run away to play on the other structures. Harry could hear their voices and footsteps as they climbed the ladder and then came whooshing down the slide nearby. Harry built up a mound next to the hole with the sand from the hole and started to shape it. Oliver would sometimes smash it down and laugh, delighted in the destruction. They shared the shovel and moved as their hole got larger.

A bigger boy came over, Harry guessed by the height and timber of his voice as he talked to Oliver about how it was time to go. “No, Mawk, I don’t wanna go! I’s playing wit’ ‘Arry.”

“Mum said it’s time to go, Ollie.” Mark said impatiently and Harry felt the little guy being lifted up by his older brother.

“Bye, Oliver,” Harry said standing up and knocking the sand off his hands and trousers.

“Come play wit’ me, again, ‘Arry.”

“I’m going to school for a while, but I’ll be back. Maybe I’ll see you then?” Harry said.

“But yous can’t see,” said the little boy, confused.

“Well, yeah, but I’ll play with you again. You just have to tell me its you, okay?”

Mark was impatiently urging his younger brother to come and Harry heard Oliver run back toward him - with just enough warning to brace himself for a fierce hug from Oliver, who just as quickly released him and ran off again. “Mmm‘kay. Bye, ‘arry!” Harry smiled wistfully and brushed off more sand.

Harry decided that he’d better head home, too. He had a bunch of sand in his shoes, but wanted to wait to empty them until he was out of the play area. He pulled out his staff and shook it to restore it to its normal size and started walking toward the sound of the swings. He was glad of the staff which warned him about holes that other kids had dug in the sand and guided him around the play structures. When he felt like he was far away from people who might overhear him, he muttered “navigant bench” and was glad to find that there was one nearby. He realized, though, that there were people sitting on it as he approached. “Here, dear. Do you want to sit down? There’s a spot right here.” Harry heard a woman pat the bench and as he approached she gently grabbed his hand and guided him to the spot.

“Thank you,” Harry said. He emptied his shoes of sand and then got up and started walking away, muttering, “Navigant Number 4 Privet Drive” to his staff.  His arm and wrist were tired from holding the staff and moving it back and forth for so long. I’m going to have to build up my stamina, Harry thought as he passed the lilacs on the way home, if I’m going to make it to 56 Charing Cross Road on Monday!

Chapter Text

As he walked back to Number 4, and in between really concentrating on walking and listening to the directions from his staff, Harry thought about what he’d do when he got there. He could pack up the rest of his things and put them in his staff. I wonder if Hedwig’s cage will fit? His books had fit and they were larger than the staff, so maybe the cage would, too? He wondered if everything was rattling around the staff as he walked. It didn’t feel like things were moving inside of it.

Hedwig! She’s not back yet! Harry stopped in the middle of the walkway. He sucked in a deep breath while reminding himself that it was only Friday, his training didn’t start until Monday morning, and continued his steady tap, tapping way. She’ll be back by then . . . and maybe with a letter from Hermione.

He stopped at an intersection and listened carefully for cars, not hearing any and with the reassurance from his staff that there weren’t any coming, he started across. Once he was safely crossed, he went back to planning. How am I going to get to 56 Charing Cross Road by 9 am on Monday? He thought about sending a letter to Madam Pomfrey asking for suggestions . . . she knew that he had the training. He dreaded the thought of contacting her, though, after the floo fiasco. Also, he didn’t really want to bring it to her attention that he couldn’t expect help from the Dursleys. He was kind of put out with her for not noticing or not caring how horrid Aunt Petunia was to him.

He could take the train and underground to Charing Cross Road if he could convert his galleons into pounds. Where do I find a place to convert coins? The thought made him prickle with sweat. He’d only traveled by the Hogwarts express by himself before and that was when he could see. He really didn’t count the trip he and Ron had made in the Flying Ford Anglia - he had been with Ron after all. He had the staff and was learning how to use it and that made things easier, for sure, but he still couldn’t read signs without using the anagnóstis and that would be a little awkward . . . what if he couldn’t reach them to read them? And it’s not like I can do that around muggles.

Maybe Nio hus cherio kisa would want to go with me! Harry thought with a spark of hope. He can’t read signs, either, he sighed. And how would I care for him in the city? Where would I find soft earth to dig up worms and other bugs? He’s probably never gone beyond the garden wall. He won’t want to travel to London with me, Harry’s hope deflated a bit.

The walkway had disappeared and now he was walking on the side of the road. He heard a car approaching and froze for a second as his staff warned him of the approaching car and the closing distance. He moved over closer to the hedgerow that was encroaching on the street. The branches poked into his back as he held his staff parallel to his body and waited for the car to pass. When his staff started describing the area in detail, he realized that he must have squeezed it twice in rapid succession and he was surprised to hear it read the street sign, “Privet Drive.” My staff will read signs to me!

He drew in a breath that held the scent of both exhaust and leaves and continued toward Number 4. It would be busier on the street soon as people returned from work. The local primary was out and there were more kids playing outside, too. Some of them got quiet as he neared and he thought they had probably stopped to stare at him as he passed. Nice. He wondered if there were kids that he knew from the neighborhood or primary - not that they’d talk to him. Dudley always made sure of that.

Ugh. Dudley’s coming home.

Harry heard a ball bounce near him and stopped when a voice called out, “Oi. Pass it here, would ya?”

Harry used his staff to locate the ball which had stopped by his feet and bent down to pick it up awkwardly with one hand. It was the size of a quaffle but squishy. He turned toward where he’d heard the voice, and said “Here you go,” holding it out.

“Go ahead and toss it,” the voice said, nearing him.  

Harry switched his staff to his left hand, hesitated for a second while he doubted his ability to throw blindly, and then said, softly under his breath, “sod it,” and sent the ball into the air an underhanded arc, hoping the kid hadn’t moved much. He heard feet slapping and then hands on the ball, and a muffled “Thanks!”, so Harry responded with “No problem,” smiled to himself and continued on his way.  He wondered who it was - the voice did seem kind of familiar . . .

Soon, his staff told him to turn right and he was on the path fringed with Agapanthus walking to the door of Number 4. He let himself in, the familiar odors of the house washing over him, and went into the kitchen to fix himself some dinner.

oO0OooO0OooO0OooO0Oo

After he’d cleaned up after himself, hoping that Aunt Petunia wouldn’t be able to tell that he’d even been in the kitchen, let alone made himself a corned beef sandwich, Harry tried navigating around the lower level of the house with the staff in his pocket, the fingertips of his thumb and middle finger lightly resting on it. He practiced getting around without reaching out for tactile cues until he felt pretty confident. Maybe this will save me from getting tripped by Dudley, he thought ruefully.

He heard a squawk and ran up the stairs without thinking about it, surprising himself. Whoa! I can run up the stairs. He almost tripped on the landing at the thought, caught himself and skidded into his room just as he’d done a million times before. It felt good.

“Hedwig!” Harry exclaimed gleefully.

She growled in response and he heard her stretching her wings on the windowsill. He knew it was still daylight by the sunlight that was a little easier to bear inside the house.

He was too glad to see her to reprimand her for coming in during the day. Someone is bound to notice a snowy owl flying in and out of my window, he thought, but right now I don’t care.

He had tucked some scraps from his dinner into his pocket for her and offered them to her bobbing head. He ran his fingers through her soft feathers as she pecked them from his hand.

After she was done, she hopped around and he knew she had a scroll on her leg, which he found and unfastened. She went to her cage to drink water and he listened to the familiar sound as he unrolled the scroll. There were actually two pieces of parchment. He took his staff out of his pocket to retrieve the anagnóstis , pleased that he could open the storage compartment while it was collapsed.

Holding the larger scroll flat, he figured out which end was up and started reading it.

“Dear Harry,

Thanks so much for your long letter with more details about what they said at St. Mungos. That’s the pits and I’m sorry. I won’t say anything else because, well, I know you don’t want me to.

I’ve spent as much time as I can in the library researching spells that could be useful. The best one I’ve found so far is the navigation spell. You think about where you want to go, hold your wand in front of you and say, navigant, and it will tell you how to get where you want to go. However, I don’t think you can use it while you’re around muggles.

There’s a summoning charm that will summon things to you ( accio ) and a charm that will return the accio’d item back to where it came from ( reditus ), but I think we’ll have to practice them because I tried them and it took me a while to get the hang of them, especially the returning spell. You really have to visualize the location exactly to replace items. Those, too, are spells that you can’t do around Muggles, but could be handy once you’re back at school.

I talked to Professor Flitwick to see if he knew any other spells, but he couldn’t think of anything. He said he’d do some research, too, and let me know over the summer.

I’ve included a separate list of your homework for the summer.” Harry groaned when he read this.

“I know you won’t be happy to get it, but maybe it’ll help to have something to do. I hope that with the anagnóstis you’re able to read the list, my letter, and your homework. I thought it was really brilliant of you to use a ruler to write the letter to me. It was a lot easier to read than your first letter.

I’ve also read that some blind wixen (this is a word for both witches or wizards that I learned while researching! I don’t know why more wixen don’t use it, it’s so much easier than saying witches or wizards all the time!) learn braille which is a muggle invention for reading by touch. You’ve probably seen it on the elevator and other public muggle places. I think there are spells for converting text to braille or to speaking books (though, I think your anagnóstis is probably easier to use for that), but I haven’t found them yet. I’ll keep looking.

It sounds like the Dursleys are being horrid and for that, I’m really sorry. I’ll ask my parents about having you come to visit. Ron says that he thinks his parents will also invite you to visit, so maybe between the two of us, you’ll get a break. I’ll give you a call once I’m home. Tomorrow we take the Hogwarts express home. It won’t be the same without you. I miss you. So does Ron and well, loads of other people. Everyone is asking if you’re okay.

Your friend, Hermione.”

Harry was so glad to have the letter from Hermione that he didn’t mind too much that it included the long list of summer homework.

Harry checked the time. It was nearly 5:30 in the evening. He was pretty sure that the Dursleys would be gone for a few more hours at least. I’ve got to call the train station and find out about tickets to London while I can. How much is it going to cost?

He went down to the phone in the kitchen and found the phone book. With the anagnóstis , he was able to find the number for the local train station and called it (though it took him a while to remember the order of the numbers on the phone and he dialed a few wrong numbers).

Trying to sound as adult as he could muster, he learned that the ticket from Little Whinging Station to London would be nearly 25 pounds ( that’s like 5 galleons! ).

With an urgency, he decided to write Hermione back right away and tell her about the staff and the training in London and to see if she could help him convert galleons to pounds. If anyone can do it, Hermione can. Maybe while she’s at King’s Cross Station. Her parents have had to convert pounds to galleons, I bet they can help her.   He summoned the paper, ruler, pencil, eraser and pencil sharpener from his staff and set to work.

It was slow going, but soon he had an adequate letter describing the staff and how he was able to walk to the park with it and that he was heading to London on Monday morning to start training. He asked her not to call him at the Dursleys (he didn’t want anything to get in the way of his escape to London) and told her that he’d figure out a way to talk with her once he was safely at his training residency.

After he summoned his money bag from his staff, he counted out (he was so glad that galleons were so obviously different in shape and size than the other wixen coins) and wrapped 10 galleons up in an old sock (begging her forgiveness) as it was the only thing he could find that he could secure inside the scroll. Maybe she’d be able to get him the pounds by Sunday night. He crossed his fingers and hoped this plan would work.

Hedwig wasn’t so thrilled about being sent out again so soon after arriving, especially weighted down with the bag of galleons. She made a show of dragging her leg noisily so that Harry had to ply her with more scraps from the kitchen. Harry was anxious to send her off before the Dursleys arrived home. She hooted doefully as she flew away and Harry was sad to lose her company so quickly.

It was now after 7 pm and Harry suddenly realized that he hadn’t finished the ironing yet.

Chapter Text

Knowing that he only had to make it through Saturday and Sunday with Dudley made Harry almost giddy, until he remembered that he had to make it through Saturday and Sunday with Dudley. He tuned the radio to the BBC news station and listened to the stories while he worked his way through ironing the stacks of napkins. While he was listening, he felt like he was escaping being Harry for a while and it was nice.

Also, listening to stories about children in Rwanda who were forced to become soldiers and kill people when they were younger than he was kind of helped put everything in perspective. Some of them had lost their legs or arms in the war (and . . . he imagined . . . their eyesight, though the story didn’t say that specifically). It occurred to him that many of them must be orphans like him, too. All because some people thought that they were more human than others . . . it made him think of wixen and their pureblood nonsense. He was lost in thought when a wisp of smoke grazed his nose. He jerked the iron up and felt the napkin that he’d been ironing with his fingertips.

“Ow!” he shouted and stuck his burned fingertips in his mouth. He was pretty sure there were scorch marks and holes in the napkin, but he didn’t want to investigate further.  

“Oh, no!” he started panicking. He was tempted to throw the burnt napkin in the bin, but knew that Aunt Petunia would count the napkins and he’d be hit with whatever was nearest. He turned off the radio because he couldn’t think while they kept talking.

He twirled around for a little bit - dashing from side to side as he tried to figure out what he could do to fix the burnt napkin until he got dizzy and disoriented and almost fell down, then he focused on breathing until he was calm.

“Okay. It’s a burnt napkin, not the end of the world,” he told himself sternly. He really didn’t want to show up at training with more bruises.

He put his hands on his hips as he calmed down and touched his pocket.

My staff!

He took out the collapsed staff and touched it to the napkin and said “ reparo! napkin” hoping that it would work even though he didn’t know the magic word for napkin. He felt it. It was cool again, not burning hot and he couldn’t feel any holes or difference in the cloth from the other napkins. Maybe it worked! He put the napkin in the middle of the stack and kept ironing, but didn’t turn the radio back on, afraid that he’d drift away again.

Finally, at half past 9, he’d put away all the napkins, the ironing board, and iron away and climbed upstairs to his bed. The Dursleys weren’t home yet and he was glad.

He put on his pajamas and climbed into bed, leaving the window open just in case Hedwig came back in the middle of the night. It’s not outside the realm of possibility.

oO0OooO0OooO0OooO0Oo

He knew something was up by the way Aunt Petunia was pounding up the staircase early the next morning. She flung open his bedroom door and stomped over to his bed where she was flapping something in his face and demanding to know, “What is this, boy? Just what do you think this is?”

Harry cowered down into his sheets, trying to get his face out of the range of the cloth that she was slapping him with.

“I don’t know,” Harry ventured, “could you tell me . . . please?”

“Just what do you think you’re up to? You think this is a funny prank? Do you?” She shrieked continuing to flail him with the cloth. “All I want is for everything to be perfect when Dudders comes home from school . . . but you just have to go and ruin everything . . .”

“I’m sorry, Aunt Petunia,” Harry tried, hoping it would appease her.

“Oh, you’re sorry, are you? Well, so am I. I’m sorry we ever agreed to allow you and your strangeness to enter our home. We thought we could stomp it out of you, but no. Even now, damaged as you are, you’re still doing it!”

“What did I do, Aunt Petunia?” Harry asked again.

“My napkin! My beautiful napkin! Yesterday they were all perfect and white and today this one . . .” she seemed at a loss for words. “These were my grandmother’s napkins, pure Irish linen! Now this one . . . looks like clown barf!” Her anger was palpable.

“What?” said Harry disbelieving. When she hit him in the face with the napkin again, he grabbed at it, managing to yank it from his Aunt’s hand and ran his fingers over it from seam to seam. It felt like the ones he ironed last night - nothing different about it.

“I ironed them, Aunt Petunia, just like you said.” Okay, I burned one and tried to fix it. I guess that didn’t work. It’s not burned though, no holes!

“I know you did ma . . . something vile,” she finished, unable to utter the word.

He didn’t deny it and felt heat rising in his neck and cheeks.

She snatched the napkin from his hand and stood very still over his bed. Harry had the sense that she had her hand raised as if to slap him and he cringed, bracing himself for the blow. But she suddenly turned and stormed out of the room, slamming his door as she left.

Harry sat in his bed for a little bit, trying to calm his racing heart. He didn’t know if he should get up and go down right away and get breakfast started or wait a little until she cooled down.

He decided to go somewhere in between right away and in a little bit.

As he nervously pulled on his clothes, feeling the seams to make sure they weren’t inside out and tried to make his hair lie flat, he chanted to himself . . . Saturday, Sunday, Saturday, Sunday, Saturday, Sunday. . .

As he was picking up his glasses to put them on, he traced the cracked lens with his fingertips, I guess it is good I didn’t try to repair this crack.

He put his collapsed staff in his pocket and started out of his room to head to the bathroom, but in the hallway, he heard Dudley emerging from his room and decided to duck back into his room and wait. Last summer he would have made a mad dash to the bathroom to get in first and lock the door before Dudders who couldn’t move nearly as quickly as Harry . . . but then he always had to move quickly when he was exiting, too, to dodge the waiting blows from his cousin and he didn’t want to risk that today.

Once Dudley was safely in the bathroom, Harry went quietly down the stairs and used the bathroom downstairs. Since he had unloaded all his items from his school trunk into staff, he also had his toothbrush and toothpaste. This staff is so handy, especially with the extendable storage charm. Everyone should have one of these. He laughed at himself for sounding like one of the infomercials Aunt Petunia watched.

He walked cautiously to the kitchen, listening for cues that Aunt Petunia had cooled down. It was awfully quiet. That can’t be good. He was tempted to go back upstairs and wait a little longer but then heard Dudley emerging from the bathroom and decided to try his luck in the kitchen. At the door, he held his staff in his pocket with his thumb and middle finger to get a description of the kitchen. He didn’t think his aunt or uncle would very much like the staff’s description of them: “a thin, dour woman at 2 o’clock washing dishes at the sink and a ruddy, obese man at 10 o’clock reading a paper at a table.” He stifled the laugh that threatened to escape his throat.

He went to the stove to start tackling the stack of eggs, sausages, and tomatoes that were undoubtedly on the docket - it would be a full English breakfast for sure with Dudders home from school now. Aunt Petunia had laid everything out as she’d been doing since he’d awoken on Privet Drive on Tuesday. He ran his fingers lightly over the waiting food and utensils, surprised that she’d taken care to do it this morning when she was so angry with him for ruining her napkin. Maybe she did it before she discovered the napkin.

He was getting better at knowing when the sausages would be done - he couldn’t time them using the clock (he’d never get away with casting the tempus charm in the company of Vernon and Petunia), but he’d sing a song in his head (R.E.M.’s Everybody Hurts mostly) as a way to gauge the time and then poke at them with the tongs and smell them until he was certain they were done. He hadn’t had a negative review yet, which was as much praise as he was ever going to get.

He’d loaded up the plate with sausages and had started with the eggs when Dudley finally made it downstairs. He tried to keep his posture as neutral as possible and didn’t turn when Dudley came into the kitchen. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon fawned over Dudley as Harry expected and Harry managed to escape their notice for a while longer.

Harry was surprised when Dudley turned on a telly in the kitchen. He didn’t know it was there. Must be a welcome-home Dudley present so he can watch his favorite shows while eating. Its sickening noise littered the kitchen.

He’d finished up the scrambled eggs and was starting with the tomatoes and mushrooms when Aunt Petunia came near him to retrieve the eggs and he flinched, expecting her to hit him. She just huffed loudly, obviously annoyed at his presence, but didn’t touch him. Weird.

The baked beans were bubbling softly on the back burner and Harry turned off the heat, then carefully scooped them into the bowl that Aunt Petunia had set by the can for them. He touched the tongs to the frying tomatoes and mushrooms and tried to flip them, but it was really hard to know if he’d done it or just turned them to mush. He’d made some progress with the slippery vegetables during the week, but apparently not enough because Aunt Petunia took over, sending him on his way with a bony thrust of her hip.

He had no choice now, but to sit down at the table and try to eat. He gulped and then slipped his hand in his pocket to touch the staff for more seamless guidance to the table (four steps toward 10 o’clock), his seat (two steps toward nine o’clock), then his hand found the back of the chair and he pulled it out and sat down. He used the staff to get a sense of where the dishes were on the table and only reached for toast, eggs, and sausages as the rest would have required asking Uncle Vernon or Dudley to pass them to him.

“Watch what you’re doing, boy!” Uncle Vernon yelled at him.

Harry started, then recovering quickly, put the serving spoon back in the bowl of eggs and lightly touched the space between the bowl and his plate and discovered that some of the eggs had dropped off the spoon onto the tablecloth. He picked them up carefully and put them on his plate.

“Why’s Harry wearing sunglasses inside?” Dudley asked through a mouth of food.

“Hrumruph,” was all the response Dudley got from his father. Harry was surprised. It was a perfect segue into how Harry was now even more of a burden on the family, one of Uncle Vernon’s favorite topics.

Dudley’s attention was drawn back to his show and Harry, surprised, was able to eat in relative peace.

Chapter Text

After breakfast, Aunt Petunia cleared the dishes while Harry washed them. Uncle Vernon continued to read the paper while Dudley watched obnoxious Saturday morning shows on the telly in the kitchen. He was a little grateful for it, even though he hated the noise because he was pretty sure it was the reason Dudley hadn’t started in on him yet. He was braced for the usual harassments he received from his cousin and more, now that he had a new vulnerability that his cousin was sure to exploit. But Dudley hadn’t seemed to notice yet. Strange.

And Harry was still waiting for the other shoe to drop about the clown-barf napkin. Surely Aunt Petunia hadn’t let it go so easily. He was certain she was thinking of all sorts of jobs for him such as washing all the bins, cleaning the toilets, and clearing out the bathtub drain. Consequently, he wasn’t too shocked when that pretty much summed up the rest of his morning.

Man, I should have been more creative if I was somehow planting the list of work in her head, Harry scolded himself as he carried all the bins from each room out to the backyard to be emptied, hosed out, scrubbed, dried, and replaced. He was able to use the staff (in its collapsed form) to locate the bins and then navigate through the house while carrying them.

Dudley tried to trip Harry as he walked through the kitchen to the back door carrying the largest bin, but Harry heard his chair creak ominously and his staff described the obstacle (in one step large foot at 11 o’clock) in time for Harry to skirt around Dudley’s outstretched foot. That’s more like it!

Harry was tempted to keep some of the soggy remnants of the bin washing to deposit somewhere for Dudley to sit on, but resisted the urge knowing from past experience how badly retaliation could backfire on him (even if he felt completely justified).

Harry’s reverie was interrupted by a lisping little voice near his feet. “Hello, Big Friend!” Harry hadn’t heard him rustling in the grass and guessed it was because it was wet from the hose. A warm feeling spread across his chest as he crouched down to greet Nio hus cherio kisa.

“Little Friend! I’m so glad you found me! I’ve been thinking about you.”

“I’ve been missing you,” Nio hus cherio kisa said with a heaviness in his hisses that Harry hadn’t heard before.

“Would you like to perch on my neck while I work?” Harry offered. He knew he couldn’t spend too much time crouching beside the bins talking to the little snake before Aunt Petunia with her penchant for peering out windows would wonder what he was up to.

Nio hus cherio kisa crawled onto Harry’s offered hand and he gently guided the snake to his neck, loving the feel of his sleek scales against his skin. He tucked in his shirt again as a safety net.

“What are you doing with these big tubs?” Nio hus cherio kisa asked curiously.

“Cleaning them,” Harry explained.

“You have a lot of things to clean,” observed the snake.

Harry grumbled at this, though he actually preferred having something to do and an excuse to go outside that didn’t get him in trouble with the Dursleys. The sun, though it was too bright to tolerate with his eyes open, felt really good on his skin. He liked the breeze whispering through his hair and how it rustled the leaves. Against the backdrop of the hum of Little Whinging’s traffic and the train in the distance, bird songs trilled and squirrels chittered, all punctuated by barking dogs and shouting children. It was as much peace as Harry ever experienced at Number 4 Privet Drive.

Nio hus cherio kisa’s guidance was easier to follow than the staff’s which described everything in the vicinity even if it wasn’t relative to the task at hand. He liked his little snake friend, too, even when he wasn’t particularly interested in helping Harry do his work. Like today, Nio hus cherio kisa really just wanted to hang out on Harry’s neck and nap and that was fine. He didn’t really need the snake to be his eyes for this job, he could just enjoy the softly snoring form draped around his neck. Harry took as long as he possibly could cleaning the bins in the yard until Aunt Petunia yelled at him from the kitchen window to stop lollygagging around and get to work on unclogging the bathtub drain. Nio hus cherio kisa was startled awake by her shouting.

“I have to go inside, Nio hus cherio kisa,” Harry explained regretfully.

“Take me with you?” The little snake asked hopefully.

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea . . . The Dursleys aren’t kind people. If they saw you they might try to hurt you,” Harry’s voice was tinged with fear.

“What are ‘the Dursleys’?” Nio hus cherio kisa asked.

“The other people in the house . . . my aunt, uncle, and cousin,” Harry explained.

“Okay. I’ll stay outside. But you come to visit me again soon, please. I wish you could come to my burrow and meet my family. They are kind and might even welcome a parselmouth like you.”

“I’d like to meet them,” Harry imagined a nest full of snakes all talking at him at once and the thought made him laugh. He was turning the bins upside down to empty out any droplets of water and set them on the back patio to dry in the sun. Nio hus cherio kisa gave suggestions for where to set them when needed.

“Nio hus cherio kisa, I have to tell you that I’m going away the day after tomorrow for nearly two months to go to school,” Harry said gently.

“I thought you said you just returned here from school,” said the little snake confused, “after the Basilisk attacked you.”

“I did. This is another school where I can learn how to get around without sight,” explained Harry.

“You do okay,” Nio hus cherio kisa said matter-of-factly.

“Yeah, especially with your help. Thank you for helping me. I like being with you,” Harry said as he put down Nio hus cherio kisa in the grass by the back patio. “You make being at the Dursleys almost bearable.”

“Thank you for keeping me warm and finding big worms for me,” Nio hus cherio kisa said gratefully.

Harry took off his trainers and padded to the back door. He decided he’d better take off his socks, too, as his feet were soaked and he didn’t want Aunt Petunia to add mopping the kitchen to his list of Saturday chores.

When he went inside he was startled by Aunt Petunia who was standing right in front of him as he passed through the doorway. He stopped just before he ran into her because his staff shouted in his ear, “Stop! Angry woman at noon!”

“What were you doing out there with all that hissing?” Aunt Petunia demanded.

“Um,” was all Harry could come up with on the spot. He didn’t think she’d like the truth: Talking to my snake friend in a rare snake language spoken by the last known heir of Salazar Slytherin, Lord Voldemort, and transferred to me accidentally when he tried to kill me after he murdered your sister and her husband?

“I was singing a song I learned at school,” Harry lied.

“Duck!” screamed his staff, and Harry dropped to the ground in a crouch as he felt something pass through the air over his head. He scrambled on the ground at Aunt Petunia’s feet, feeling in front of him to make his way around her with the hand that wasn’t full of shoes and wet socks. He struggled to his feet and then ran forward, lurched around the kitchen table, knocking into one of the chairs despite the staff yelling more warnings about obstacles in his path, and hopping on one foot when he stubbed his toe. Aunt Petunia was yelling at the top of her lungs, no real words, just frustrated, gurgling noises. He figured he was going too fast for the staff to guide him accurately, but it still helped him mostly make his way through the kitchen, to the hallway, and then up the stairs without getting banged up too badly. He hadn’t been holding it, it was just shouting at him as he hurled toward the obstacles. Panting he went right into the bathroom to start working on the drain. He locked the door behind him, though.

oO0OooO0OooO0OooO0Oo

After finding the bent wire coat hanger that he kept under the bathroom sink for this job, Harry got to work pulling the slimy muck from the bathroom tub and depositing it into an old rag. He gagged at the smell. He’d have to brave Aunt Petunia again as he took it out to the garbage bin in the garage since all the bins were sitting on the back porch drying. He was tempted to save the muck and slip it into one of Aunt Petunia’s slippers. That thought kept him going for a while.

After the drain was done, he worked on scrubbing the toilet. He still had to clean the downstairs bathroom and his stomach was starting to rumble.

He was also keeping one ear out for Hedwig’s return, though it would be disastrous for her to return again in broad daylight with all the Dursleys at home. He knew that there was no way that Hermione would be able to get the galleons converted until she got to London and then she’d have to write a letter and send it to him. He couldn’t reasonably expect anything before night time. And he could see her getting all fussy about him traveling by himself to London, especially now. When I can’t see.

Hermione would be all worried about it. I shouldn't have asked her. I should have sent it to Ron. He wouldn’t question it. He was regretting asking Hermione for help . . . but it’s not like he could take the letter back. It was probably already in her hands. He just had to wait and hope that she’d help him. She knows how much I’ll want to escape Privet Drive, even if it is for some stupid adaptation training. She’ll think that’s good for me, at least!

Harry was wishing he had thought to wash some of his laundry yesterday while the Dursleys were gone as he felt his wet socks that he had hung up to dry while he worked. He wondered if his Aunt Petunia remembered that he had the training on Monday. Should I ask them if they are going to take me to London? He went back and forth about it. She did throw the note in the bin. Though, you’d think she’d be happy to get rid of me for two months out of the summer! Who’d she get to mop the floors? Dudley! Ha! Harry nearly laughed out loud at the thought of Dudders trying to mop the kitchen.

Finished with the toilet, he listened by the bathroom door wondering if anyone was upstairs before he opened it slowly. He had the rag with the drain dregs to take out to the garage in one hand (with his shoes and wet socks) and with the other, he held his staff in his pocket to get a description of the hallway. It seemed clear.

He could hear a cricket match on the telly in the living room - that would be Uncle Vernon. He wondered what Aunt Petunia was doing. And Dudley.

He stepped out of the bathroom in the hallway and heard floorboards creaking at the threshold of Dudley’s room and realized that Dudley must be watching him.

Harry decided to pretend he hadn’t seen Dudley (Well, I haven’t!) and walked by his room to the stairs. It was a little awkward to walk while concealing his staff in his pocket, but holding it so that he could get the description of the area. Again his staff warned him of Dudley’s beefy foot trying to trip him. Harry skirted around it, ducked (he knew Dudley would try to grab him - how many times had his cousin tried this move?) and then made it down the stairs pretty quickly. Dudley came lumbering after him. In the dash down the stairs, Harry pulled the staff out of his pocket so that he could use both hands for balance as he made it down the stairs in his bare feet.

Wow, he sounds a lot bigger than he used to sound. More like Vernon than he did last summer. Slower like Vernon, too, and breathing hard.

Harry ducked into the bathroom on the first floor and locked the door. Dudley pounded in frustration on the thin wood of the door which rattled Harry’s head a bit as he was leaning against it. Resigned to being stuck in the bathroom for a bit, Harry cleaned the toilet and unclogged the drain with the supplies that were kept under the sink.

Then he accio’d the anagnóstis and the letter from Hermione from his staff and settled down to read the list of homework Hermione had sent. He set the volume to a low level so that he wouldn’t be heard outside the bathroom and listened to the first chapter in his required summer reading from Professor Binns. He ate the apple he’d been saving (also accio’d from the staff - not bruised or anything) and checked to see if his shoes and socks were dry yet. Not yet.

He had made it through the morning at least.

Chapter Text

Harry left the first-floor bathroom when he decided that the telly in the kitchen had been on long enough to have sucked in Dudley and before (he hoped) the Dursleys had a need to use the bathroom that he was currently locked in. His shoes and socks were still not dry and he needed to throw away the gunk from the drains in the bin in the garage.

Walking around in bare feet felt good - he liked the feel of the carpet between his toes, the smooth (very clean) wood floors and now the cool concrete of the garage.

He had completed the Saturday chores that his Aunt had ordered him to do, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t come up with more if she saw that he was unoccupied.

He wanted to return to the garden to spend more time with Nio hus cherio kisa before he had to leave.

Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and, well, everyone would be on the Hogwarts Express right now, heading back to London. He could almost hear the train whistle in his head and feel the swaying of the cars as it zipped along the tracks. And the smell of the candy trolly as it made its way along the corridor. The apple he’d eaten in the bathroom seemed like a long time ago. He wished he had more food stockpiled in his staff. Damn! I should have thought of that yesterday! He berated himself as his stomach rumbled in protest.

He used the staff to locate the bin and tossed out the gunk. Though he was tempted, he didn’t restore the staff to its normal size because he didn’t want Dudley to see him using it. Though he’s probably not sticking his head out the curtains like Aunt Petunia. He’s probably still glued to the telly. It would have been a lot easier to use the staff as a cane to find the doorstep where he sat down and put on his damp socks and shoes. His toes squished in his shoes uncomfortably and their damp odor kept wafting up to his nose.

He went out into the garden and tried to come up with some chore that he could do to stay outside . . . something that wouldn’t send Aunt Petunia through the roof. Though that wouldn’t be so bad either . . .

He walked along the fence that was bordered with roses and lavender. He steered clear of the roses, though he liked their scent, he had had too many close encounters with their thorns to want to cozy up to them. He picked a lavender leaf (a tiny one) and crushed it between his fingers to breath in its pungent fragrance. It helped get the lingering wet shoe smell out of his nose.

He kneeled on the earth when he heard a rustling in the grass and walked on his hands and knees for a bit. He found a spot to lay down, nose to nose with Nio hus cherio kisa who was as happy to see him as he was to see the little snake, even though he couldn’t literally see him. As the snake twinned through his fingers and wisped his tongue against Harry’s nose, greeting him amicably, Harry felt as though he were seeing the snake, though with his other senses rather than just strictly his vision. He imagined that he was a greenish-brown color, but it occurred to him he didn’t actually know.

“What color are your scales, Nio hus cherio kisa ?” Harry asked his friend.

“Oh, they are like the leaves when they are growing in the spring, and decaying in the fall so that I can hide among them easily.” Nio hus cherio kisa explained poetically, “they aren’t as brilliant as your eyes, which are like the ash leaves in the middle of summer when the sun shines through them.” The snake had poked his head between Harry’s glasses and his face to look closely at his eyes which tickled and made Harry blink. He had opened them in the shade. He wished he could just stay outside with Nio hus cherio kisa.

oO0OooO0OooO0OooO0Oo

Dudley was so engrossed with his telly and eating mounds of potato chips (the constant crunching that accompanied the jingles from the adverts was wearing on Harry’s nerves as he and Aunt Petunia prepared dinner) that hadn’t seemed to notice that there was something different about Harry. Harry wasn’t about to enlighten his cousin. His staff was brilliant in alerting him to his cousin’s constant attempts to trip him or hit him and as long as he was able to keep his fingers on the staff in his pocket when he was nearing Dudley, he was able to avoid the assaults. It was exhausting and he kept chanting to himself: Saturday-Sunday, Saturday-Sunday. He had put off asking his Aunt about the trip to London until Sunday. No need to send her into spiral of hysteria a day early if it could be avoided. Harry was good at avoiding conflict. Well, as good as someone could be who was constantly being thrown under the train of conflict.

Harry had peeled and boiled potatoes, chopped more onions, and sauteed green beans in butter while Aunt Petunia managed the roast in the oven. He was pretty sure that Uncle Vernon had only left the living room twice to empty his bladder. Aunt Petunia had sent Harry in a few times with fresh pints of lager. Harry had walked very carefully and slowly trying not to spill or attract Uncle Vernon’s attention . . . he was pretty sure his Uncle didn’t even know he was in the room, even though he had grabbed the fresh pints from Harry’s hand. Harry had felt around on the end table by the sofa to find the empty glasses as quietly as he could manage. Each time, Harry started breathing again once he’d left the room.

Harry was so hungry by the time they sat down at the dinner table. Before the Basilisk, he’d been able to nibble on bits and pieces of dinner while he cooked it - a green bean here, a piece of potato there. But he didn’t want to risk it now - his staff didn’t tell him when people were looking at him or not, just where they were in the room.

He was still finding it challenging to scoop food from bowls onto his plate without spilling and only managed meager helpings that he then chased around his plate with his knife and fork.

Dudley asked again about Harry’s sunglasses, but no one answered him. And Harry sure wasn’t going to fill him in if he was too dense to figure it out on his own.

Uncle Vernon spent a good portion of the meal ranting about disabled people taking more than their fair share of the country’s resources while not contributing to society and not having to pay fare for public transportation and getting parking places right up front. Harry thought that was pretty rich coming from a man who had spent the entire day in front of the telly while other people waited on him. The whole tirade seemed directed right at Harry, but still Dudley didn’t catch on. Harry made a mental note to ask at the train station if that was true. Maybe I don’t need to buy a ticket!

Harry was relieved when finally the Dursleys had retired to the living room to watch their Saturday night telly leaving Harry to finish the dishes and sweeping. He was glad for the relative peace and quiet of the kitchen and even more glad when he was able to creep upstairs to his room. He listened at the door, hoping to hear Hedwig, but she hadn’t returned yet.

He was sitting looking out at the light of the moon when Dudley came up the stairs to use the bathroom (it sounded like he had lost a bid to use the downstairs bathroom with his dad).

“Why are you sitting in the dark?” his cousin asked belligerently at the door.

Harry shrugged and his cousin went on to the bathroom. Harry got up and closed his door, then got in his pajamas. He hadn’t thought about turning on lights in rooms for almost a week. It’s been a week since the Chamber of Secrets and Tom Riddle and the Basilisk and Ginny almost dying and my eyes . . . He actually preferred it when the lights were off since his eyes were so sensitive to light.

He drifted off to sleep listening to the crickets and the frogs wondering where Hedwig was and if Nio hus cherio kisa was intertwined with his family in a burrow under the ground.

oO0OooO0OooO0OooO0Oo

Sunday morning dawned and Harry woke with the sun as the light filled his room. He laid in bed listening . . . had Hedwig arrived? He didn’t hear her tattletale scratching or little grunts and growls.

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday! I just need to make it through the day! Tomorrow I can leave! He had some place he could go that was away from the Dursleys. He just had to figure out how to get there. He really, really hoped that Hermione would come through for him. Please, please, please, Hermione. I really need this.

He got up and dressed and put the rest of his belongings (a couple of T-shirts, trousers, socks, and pants) in his staff. In the bathroom, he worked on his hair (hopeless, really) and brushed his teeth. He thought about a shower, but decided he wasn’t that ripe - maybe he’d be able to take one in the evening while the Dursleys were watching telly after dinner.

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday, he chanted in his head.

Breakfast went pretty smoothly, all things considered. He and Aunt Petunia fixed another full English Breakfast for the Dursley boys who didn’t seem to even notice the amount of work entailed in the feast. Harry managed to eat a bit more than he’d been able to before because he made a sandwich with his egg and toast and no one said anything. He tucked a few scraps in his pocket for Hedwig when he was cleaning the plates.

Aunt Petunia had him whacking the area rugs from the kitchen, front door, back door, and bathrooms outside on the clothesline. It was a dusty job, but he liked being able to take his frustration out on the rugs . . . there was something satisfying about just hitting something until his arms ached. Nio hus cherio kisa didn’t like all the dust, so stayed away until Harry was done, but they did get to hang out for a bit until Aunt Petunia noticed that Harry wasn’t working.

Next was mowing the lawn. Harry wasn’t sure how he was going to manage it, but he enlisted Nio hus cherio kisa who not only gave excellent directions for mowing the grass in the neat lines that Aunt Petunia required, but also warned all his snake buddies to clear the area.

Harry was really looking forward to a shower after he hauled all the bags of cut grass to the bin, sweat dripping from his forehead.

Harry and Nio hus cherio kisa sat on the garden wall in the back by the lilies (they hadn’t started blooming yet - but Harry felt the long stems that were forming buds) and enjoyed the humming of the garden.

“Tomorrow I’m leaving, Little Friend. I wish you could go with me, but I don’t know if I could find bugs for you to eat and I think you’d miss this garden.”

“I would miss my family and the garden, Big Friend,” agreed the little snake, “but I’m also going to really miss you.”

“I’ll be back at the end of July,” reassured Harry.

“What’s July?” Asked the snake.

“I’ll be back after the sun rises . . .” Harry paused to count the days, “54 times.”

“That’s many suns,” said the snake sadly.

“Yes,” agreed Harry. He had never before been sad to leave Privet Drive.

Chapter Text

At dinner that night, Harry worked up the nerve to ask Aunt Petunia about how he was going to get to his training the next day. He had tried to ask quietly while it seemed that both Uncle Vernon and Dudley were engrossed in an episode of the East Enders, though he realized as he tried to get her attention, that she was also ensnared.

“Aunt Petunia?” He asked softly, his face turned in her direction, his expression as neutral as he was able to manage.

She didn’t answer, but groaned in response to something happening on the telly.

“Aunt Petunia?” He asked again, reaching out with his hand - wanting to verify she was where he thought she was.

“What?” her tone was suddenly sharp. He had her attention and withdrew his hand quickly.

“Tomorrow my Adaptation course starts in London, registration is at 9 am. It’s at 56 Charing Cross Road. Are you and Uncle Vernon going to take me there?” He said it quickly before he lost the nerve.

“What-? No. Of course not,” She was shocked, then adamant.

“Will you take me to the train station so that I can get there on my own, then?” he asked bravely, though a tremble in his voice revealed his apprehension.

“How are you going to do that? You can’t even see. And we’re not paying for it,” she spat out.

“I’ll manage,” Harry brushed it aside, though a prickly sweat broke out under his arms.  “The course goes until July 30th,” he reminded her.

“What do you mean ‘he can’t see’?” Dudley cut in loudly.

“The useless boy went and got himself blinded at school!” Uncle Vernon interjected.

“What? But how?” Dudley stammered, and Harry felt Dudley leaning toward him and then felt the air moving in front of his face. His cousin was waving his hand in front of his face.

Nice, thought Harry, really nice.

And then Dudley started laughing like it was the funniest thing on earth.

Angry and wanting to flee, Harry got up abruptly, caught his foot on the table leg and stumbled away from the table which made Dudley laugh even harder and he heard Uncle Vernon joining in. He was surprised that Aunt Petunia wasn’t laughing, too, but then again, she wasn’t shushing them either. And she didn’t call him back, insisting that he do the dishes. She let him go.

He went up to his room and closed the door on their guffawing and sat heavily on his bed.

I hope Hedwig comes soon, Harry pleaded with the cool night air that was making his curtains flutter. His eyes pricked with tears. This sucks. I have to get out of here.

He was tempted to just leave. Walk out of Number 4 Privet Drive and just walk to London. He had everything packed in his staff already except for Hedwig’s cage and some food. I really need some food and water to take with me. But a voice in his head (which sounded a lot like Hermione) counseled him to stay until at least early morning . . . to give Hermione a chance to respond. He really needed the muggle money and he had no idea where he could convert the few galleons he had left besides Gringotts and he guessed that they weren’t open now at any rate.

After a bit, Harry heard the telly go on again in the living room and decided that he could probably take a shower without being harassed. He accio’d his pajamas and bag of toiletries from the staff storage compartment once he was in the bathroom and took as long of a shower as he dared.  

Back in his room feeling a little better, Harry pulled his A History of Magic book out of his staff and the anagnóstis and settled down to read more of his summer homework. He figured it was the only way he was going to get his brain to stop running laps around all these obstacles . . . and maybe he’d be able to fall asleep eventually. Every little sound outside made him pause and listen while holding his breath, hopeful for Hedwig.

oO0OooO0OooO0OooO0Oo

Harry woke up to a strange stuttering sound with a crick in his neck and realized that his face was pressed into his A History of Magic book, the anagnóstis still clutched in his hand and pressed against one word which it was repeating in a continuous loop, “goblin, goblin, goblin.”

I guess that explains my dreams, he thought.

He found his staff on the table by his bed and tempus’d it to find out that it was 5:24 am. The sun hadn’t come up yet, it was still dark. He listened, hoping to hear signs of Hedwig, but her cage was still empty. He double-checked by going over to it and reaching his hand inside. It was clean and waiting for her, with fresh water and the food scraps he’d managed to save for her getting stale and hard.

He sat on his bed for a while, trying to decide what to do. After a while, he quietly got dressed. He put his history book in his staff. Next he put in Hedwig’s cage in the staff after he dumped the water out his window. It was a funny feeling to hold the big, metal cage up to the tiny window that opened in the staff and feel it be sucked into the compartment like it was made out of licorice whips. He decided to put his anagnóstis in his pocket in case he needed to read something while he was traveling and accio’d out his money bag to put a couple galleons, sickles and knuts in his pocket for easy access. He returned the rest of his money bag to the staff.

Harry closed his window - he didn’t want Hedwig to think he was there after he left and quietly made his way to his door in his stocking feet, carrying his shoes. He was using his staff at its full capacity, but not letting it tap the floor.

At his door, Harry listened to make sure that the Dursleys were still asleep. He seemed to be in luck and made his way down the stairs careful not to make any noise.

He thought about putting his trunk in his staff, but decided to leave it not wanting to have to mess with getting the key back in the closet.

In the kitchen, he made himself a couple of sandwiches and put a few apples in the staff along with a bottle filled with water. He was tempted to leave a mess, but then remembered he’d probably have to come back at the end of July and cleaned up after himself. No reason to add fuel to the fire.

He left out the back door, figuring the Dursleys would be less likely to hear him leave. In the backyard, he whispered quietly for Nio hus cherio kisa, hopeful, but not expecting the snake to be up before the sun warmed the rocks in the garden. He waited for a bit while he accio’d his hoodie from his staff - he was shivering in the damp early morning air - and put on his trainers. When he didn’t get a response, he cast the navigant spell, asking his staff to guide him to the train station.

In the front, he paused again by the Agapanthus and whispered for Nio hus cherio kisa just in case he had a chance to say one last goodbye to his little friend before setting off on his journey.

Chapter Text

Harry had waited for a bit, crouched down with his face in the Agapanthus, hoping to hear the rustling sounds of Nio hus cherio kisa making his way toward him. With a sigh, he stood up and squared his shoulders.

I can do this, he told himself bracingly. Sure, I don’t have any muggle money and . . . he stopped himself from naming his other fears. I can do this, he repeated firmly.

He started down the path to the street and at the navigant’s direction, turned left to walk in the street (there was no pedestrian walkway), keeping as close to the side of the road as he could by tapping the bordering stones on the curb. His footsteps on the gravel broke the quiet of the neighborhood and he imagined that people were starting to stir in their houses, making morning tea and getting the paper from their stoops. He was glad it was still pretty early and there wouldn’t be many people on the road at this hour. The sun was just starting to get bright and Harry closed his eyes behind his glasses.

Harry listened to the birds filling the morning with their song and wished he heard Hedwig’s low hoots among them.

Hedwig will be able to find me, she always knows where I am. . . I wonder how she does that?

He could hear the traffic on the busier road ahead of him and took in a shaky breath. He knew his staff would help him avoid the cars, but they moved a lot faster than Dudley or Aunt Petunia and he’d have to respond quickly to the warnings. What if I jump in the wrong direction, he cringed at the thought.

The roundabout is coming up, Harry thought as he turned left again, this time onto a walkway. His staff warned him of a low-hanging tree branch and he ducked his head to avoid it. The staff told him to turn right and that he was at a pedestrian crossing. He listened to the traffic in the roundabout trying to figure out if he could cross and heard a car stop near him. His staff told him to cross . . . so he thrust his staff out in front of him, swinging it from side to side and started across. He heard another car approaching on the other side and then stop suddenly. It made his heart race and he felt like he was on display, his face flushing with heat. He drew in a deep breath and kept walking until the staff let him know that there was a curb in front of him. He could feel the different textures of the street and the walkway under his feet and was glad when he was safely on the other side. The cars moved on and he followed the curved pathway that went along the side of the roundabout to another street with a pedestrian crossing. He knew that he’d be walking along one of the busiest streets in Little Whinging soon, and then he’d have to cross it to get to the train station.

The distance to the next intersection was short because of the roundabout, and again Harry listened to hear if the cars had stopped before stepping out. It was nerve-wracking and it reminded him of being trapped by Devil’s Snare in first year and having to trust Hermione that relaxing was the way to get through it. Blind faith. This is what people mean by blind faith. Gah.

He made it around the roundabout to the next pedestrian crossing - this one would take him to the street that led to the train station.

Harry was starting to regret not eating breakfast while he was stealing food in the kitchen - he had been too nervous at the time. I’ll have time to eat one of my sandwiches once I get to the train station.

Another pedestrian joined Harry at this crossing and as Harry was listening to the traffic trying to gauge if it was safe to cross, the person grabbed his arm and started pulling him across the street. “Here, let me help you get across,” said a man’s voice as his fingers dug into his arm, right on one his bruises. The staff told him that the man was reaching for him, but not urgently like it did when the swing was about to his head or Aunt Petunia was about to hit him or Dudley was about to trip him.

“Hey! Ow! Stop! Don’t do that!” Harry yelled and planted his feet so that his torso was twisted and he was pulled forward, staggering to regain his balance.

“Geez! I was just trying to help!” the man grumbled and hurried off as if Harry was the one being rude.

“Next time ask!” Harry yelled after him, feeling righteous in his anger. His heart was hammering. He wasn’t entirely sure where he was now. Was he out in the intersection still? He started swinging his staff from side to side and it helped reorient him - he had been turned so that if he had started walking straight ahead he would have been walking right into the middle of the traffic circle. A car tooted its horn impatiently, startling in its proximity. Great. I’m about to be killed by traffic and you’re worried about being late to work.  . . . It’s probably Uncle Vernon! Who else would honk at a blind kid stranded in the middle of a roundabout?

Gulping in the air and swallowing his fear, he made it to the pedestrian crossing; the cars whizzed by him impatiently.

Reorienting himself, he knew that he had to walk along this busy street for a while. There were more pedestrians headed toward the train station for their morning commute - the staff was feeding him a lot of information and it was hard to filter it all. He realized that he must have accidentally told it to give him more information when the man was trying to haul him across the street, so he tapped it twice with one finger so that he wasn’t overloaded with information.

That’s better, breathing a sigh of relief and continuing on, using the side of the walkway that bordered on a bit of grass as his guide for staying out of the way of the people rushing past him.

His staff clanged into a metal pole and he knew he must be getting close to the train station, remembering a line of thick poles that lined the street at regular intervals. Also, he could hear the trains in the station more clearly- their whistles and the clanging, rattling tracks, the squealing of metal on metal.

His staff told him that the walkway was narrowing and that parked cars were along one side - their bumpers intruding on the walkway. A couple people pushed by him in a hurry as his staff struck a car on one side and an encroaching hedgerow on the other. It told him of low hanging branches, too, and he had to duck to miss them. This isn’t much of a walkway. He heard other pedestrians walking out in the parking lot, but didn’t want to venture out there. He made his way along the narrow pathway a little more slowly and he could hear some impatient people behind him muttering, their footsteps crunching on the gravel. There wasn’t much he could do to hurry up. Finally, he’d made it past the parked cars and his staff told him that he was at another intersection. The people who were stuck behind him hurried past him as he stopped and listened before he crossed. He was getting more nervous as he approached the train station and he tried to calm his nerves.

His staff told him he had arrived at the train station after crossing the street and walking a few paces straight ahead and he stood there for a moment before it dawned on him that he’d need to find the ticket window. He had a vague idea where it was, but the Dursleys didn’t take the train much and definitely didn’t take him with them hardly at all, so he hadn’t been here a lot even though it was pretty close to their house.

It felt like it was getting more and more busy at the train station as he stood there and he had to wait a bit before he felt like he could mutter, “ Navigant ticket window.”

The staff had him turn to his left (2 o’clock) and walk a few paces and he noticed that there seemed to be a line of people by the small noises they were making. The staff was taking him to the front of the line, to the window. He stopped and muttered, “Navigant back of line to the ticket window,” and it had him turn around and guided him to the last person, where he stood hesitantly trying to gauge when the line was moving up without tapping the foot of the person in front of him with his staff (though he did a few times accidentally - muttering “sorry!” each time).  Someone joined the line behind him and Harry soon figured out that they moved closer to him when the line was advancing and, awkward though it was, it did help him keep up with the moving line.

Finally, his cane came in contact with the brick wall of the station, where the ticket window was.

“Next,” said a voice that seemed to be muffled behind a window and directed downward.

Harry moved closer and reached out to find a ledge. He slid his fingers forward until they found the glass, and leaned in. He had been rehearsing in his head what he’d ask at the window.

“Excuse me, what time does the train to the Waterloo station arrive?” Harry asked, his voice cracking a bit, trying to be heard over the noise of the train station.

“The next one is in 7 minutes, they arrive every 13 minutes,” the person behind the glass answered mechanically and it sounded like they hadn’t looked up yet.

“Um, I’ve heard that people with . . . disabilities . . . can travel on the train for free?” His statement turned into a question and he felt his embarrassment rise in his neck.

“No, it’s one third off the fare and you need to show your disabled persons railcard. . .” It sounded like the person had looked up, “Eh - are your parents with you?”

“Oh, um. They are parking the car,” Harry lied, feeling his face get hotter.

“How old are you?”

“Um, I’m twelve. I’ll just wait for them. Thanks.” Harry moved away from the line, tapping along the side of the wall until he felt like he was relatively alone. Crap.

Harry wondered if there was a bench nearby where he could sit and think about what to do. Maybe I should have waited at the house for Hedwig? he asked himself. But he didn’t know if Hermione had sent Hedwig back with his money. Hedwig would have arrived by now.

Navigant bench,” he said quietly to his staff, and then amended, “ Navigant empty seat on bench,” as it started directing him about ten paces to his right.

The staff told him where to reach to find the back of the bench with his hand and he sat down on the end seat. There was someone else sitting on the bench, but farther down - he could feel them rocking the bench with their movement ( maybe they’re listening to a walkman? ).

He heard a train enter the station and the garbled announcement over the loudspeaker. He leaned his staff close to his ear and muttered, “ Tempus ” to find out that it was 6:37 am. He knew it would take about an hour and a half to get to 56 Charing Cross Road from the conversation on the phone on Friday. I have some time to figure this out, but not much.

Chapter Text

As he sat on the bench trying to figure out what to do . . . Wait for Hedwig? Sneak onto the train with my invisibility cloak? Walk 50 kilometers to London? Fly on my broom? Try to find Hermione’s phone number? . . . Harry realized how hungry he was. Shoot! I can’t get things out of my staff out here in public.

He wondered if there was a public restroom at the train station. He stood up and quietly said, “ Navigant men’s toilet” to his staff and it started directing him to one just to the left of the ticket window. He touched the staff to the door and it helped him find the handle and he went inside, muttering “ Navigant empty stall.” A bit nauseated by the smell, he held his staff up and squeezed it twice rapidly for a description of the stall. He didn’t want to step in anything nasty. He learned that there was a hook on the back of the door and accio’d his school book bag out of his staff and hung it on the hook and emptied it into the staff, then accio’d the sandwiches, apples, and water, and his invisibility cloak (as quietly as he could, mindful of the other men using the restroom) and put them in his book bag with his bag of galleons. He transferred his anagnóstis into a pocket in the bag, too, along with the note from Healer Smethwyck.

He used the restroom and washed his hands, then made his way back out to the platform. He couldn’t decide between using his invisibility cloak to sneak on the train or waiting for Hedwig. He ruled out flying on his broom as much as he ached to do it. People would see me. I’d get in big trouble with the ministry, maybe even expelled from Hogwarts.

He didn’t want to stand around in his invisibility cloak on the platform since it would be hard for him to stay out of people’s way and he wondered how he’d avoid getting sat upon if he snuck onto the train and found a place to sit. Also, it would be hard for him to know if he had a toe sticking out from under the cloak and visible to everyone around him. That could cause a scene! 

Sighing, he found an empty spot on the bench again, collapsed his staff, put it in his pocket, and took out a sandwich to eat while he struggled internally with what to do. He was lost in thought when he heard running feet.

“Harry! We found you!”

“Hermione?” Harry started, his sandwich suspended in mid-air before him. “What are you doing here?”

She skidded to a stop in front of him and he braced himself, expecting her to hug him. But she didn’t. She sat down next to him and put her hand tentatively on his arm. It felt warm and comforting. He lowered his sandwich to his lap and turned to face her.

“Harry, my dad and I came to take you to your training. Did Hedwig give you my note? No, she must not of, else you wouldn’t be here.” Hermione ran on, panting and out of breath. Harry heard other footsteps approach them that stopped in front of them and he turned his head toward them, “Your dad?”

“Hi, Harry.” Dr. Granger said in a voice that conveyed concern even in its friendliness.

Harry stood up, stuffing his sandwich back into the plastic bag and his book bag. He stuck out his hand, “Hi, Dr. Granger.” There was a moment when Harry stood there with his hand sticking out, and then Dr. Granger grasped it in a handshake and released it. Harry flushed, overcome with emotion.

Hermione stood up, too, still touching Harry’s arm. She was trembling, he noticed.

“You came to get me? To help me get to London?” He asked incredulously. “How did you find me?”

“Oh, Harry . . . your face is bruised. What happened? Are you okay?” Hermione talked over him.

“I just ran into a door, that’s all,” he said reassuredly, but winced as she squeezed his arm where he had another bruise.

“You look thin, too,” she said quietly.

“It’s been a rough week,” he admitted.

“Harry, where are your Aunt and Uncle?” Dr. Granger asked, “Hermione said that they wouldn’t help you get to London. Is that true?”

“They are at home. And yeah, they said no when I asked them,” Harry mumbled hating to have to tell an adult.

“Hmm. Well, that’s . . .” He seemed to bite off his retort, “Did you already buy a ticket for the train?” asked Dr. Granger, while Hermione told him at the same time, “We just arrived on the train from Heathsgate, we were headed to your house to pick you up.”

“I haven’t bought a ticket yet, I didn’t have any mug - pounds . . .  Dr. Granger, don’t you have to go to work?” Harry asked wonderingly.

“He doesn’t go in until after lunch on Mondays, Harry - so he said he’d come with me this morning,” Hermione explained.

“That’s very kind of you, Dr. Granger. Thank you.” Harry was humbled and embarrassed that Hermione’s father - someone he’d only met once before very briefly - was more concerned about him than his own family. Tears pricked at his eyes, but he blinked them away.

“It’s no problem, Harry. I’m happy to do it. Hermione’s been very worried about you. Hermione, I’ll go get our tickets,” Dr. Granger said.

As he walked away, Harry leaned toward Hermione and asked, “Did you convert my galleons - did you give the pounds to your dad so he could buy the tickets? Isn’t this a lot of money for you to come all the way here to get me and take me to London?”

“Hush, Harry. It’s okay. I’ve got your money here,” she said as she pressed the bills into his hand. Harry tried to push it back into her hand, but she wouldn’t let him. “Dad says he wants to pay for it. Don’t worry, please. It’s really okay.”

“That’s really too much, Hermione.”

“It’s okay, Harry. You don’t have to do everything on your own.” Hermione said, a seriousness in her voice usually reserved for lectures.

“What do you think happened to Hedwig?” Harry asked Hermione, suddenly worried about his owl.

“I don’t know, Harry. It is a long flight to Hogwarts, maybe she’s still making her way back?”

“I guess. Do you think she’ll be able to find me in London?” He was worried. How do you track a lost owl?

“She’s really smart, Harry. I think she’ll be able to find you.”

Hermione pulled on Harry’s arm, guiding him back to the bench to sit down. “Let’s sit down. You look tired, Harry.” Concern laced her voice.

“I’m okay, Hermione,” he said, more confidently than he felt.

“So, how were you going to get to London if you didn’t have money to get a train ticket?” She asked.

“I was trying to figure that out. I just had to get out of the house. I couldn’t stand to be there any longer,” Harry confessed. “I was thinking about walking or trying to sneak on the train with my invisibility cloak. I’m really glad you came, Hermione. Thank you.”

“How did you get here?” Hermione asked.

“Didn’t I tell you about the staff St. Mungos gave me? It’s pretty brilliant,” Harry lit up, taking it out of his pocket to show her, “it has that Navigant spell you wrote to me about and an extendable charm for storage! I guess it looks like a white cane to muggles. When I use it to find my way, it speaks through this little aparatus on my ear” he touched it,  “guiding me around obstacles. It even warns me if someone - er- something is about to hit me.” He corrected quickly.

“And the ministry doesn’t send you letters for using it outside of school?” Hermione asked skeptically.

“No, the healer at St. Mungos said that the ministry’s been alerted to my . . . um . . . need to use it. I think that if I used my wand it would be different, but this has a lot of built-in charms. Like, it just starts telling me what is around me when I’m using it to find my way.”

Dr. Granger came back over, “Here you go, Hermione, Harry.” Harry held out his hand and Dr. Granger placed the ticket in it after a second.

“Thank you, Dr. Granger,” He held out the folded bills that Hermione gave him to Dr. Granger.

“No, Harry. This is my treat. I think you’ll need those pounds while you’re in London this summer.” “Thank you, sir. It really means a lot to me . . . thank you,” His voice caught.

Dr. Granger grasped his shoulder in a comforting way and released him. Harry put the money in his pocket.

“Okay, kids, we better go to the platform, the next train is due soon,” Dr. Granger advised.

Harry felt a wave of relief. He was getting away from the Dursleys and he didn’t have to figure it out all on his own. He squeezed Hermione’s hand as she led him to the platform behind her dad.

Chapter Text

Harry and Hermione stood at the platform waiting for the train to London with Dr. Granger. Harry had shaken out his staff to restore it to its normal size so he could show Hermione how he used it get around.

“That’s really impressive, Harry,” Hermione commented when he walked around a rubbish bin to demonstrate how useful it was.

“Here, you want to try?” he held it out to her.

“Oh, I don’t know, Harry,” she said hesitantly, but she took it from his hand and held still while he put the aftí on her ear and he heard her walking around, tapping the ground. “It’s not saying anything, Harry,” she said.

“Are you swinging it from left to right in an arc in front of your body like I showed you?” he asked, “and stepping with your opposite foot?”

“Oh, okay, now it’s doing it. That’s cool! It only works if my eyes are closed, though.”

“Huh, it works for me when my eyes are open,” Harry said.

“Hmm. Maybe it can sense when the person holding it can see or not?” reasoned Hermione coming up next to Harry and handing it back to him. She touched the back of his hand with it, so that he knew and then grasped his other hand and turned it palm up to place the aftí in it. Harry put it back on his ear.

“You really can’t see the aftí once it is in place, Harry,” Hermione remarked.

“Harry, I’ve been thinking,” said Dr. Granger thoughtfully, “maybe before we catch the train, we should go talk to your Aunt and Uncle.”

“Oh, I don’t think that would be a good idea, Dr. Granger.”

“Why not?” Asked Dr. Granger.

“Well, they are really busy right now. That’s why they couldn’t take me,” Harry lied again. He’d had parents of friends from primary who’d done similar things . . . and it had not gone well for Harry. Never had it improved his lot . . . it had only made things worse.

The train came into the station and Harry could tell that Dr. Granger was torn.

“Really, it’s okay. They want me to be independent,” said Harry, taking the story further.

“I think this is a bit much, sending a newly blinded child on the train to London to find his adaptation training on his own,” Dr. Granger was hedging.

“Well, they know I have this staff,” he held up his staff, “it makes it easier for me, right?” Harry said convincingly.

“Well, okay, but I’m going to give them a call when I get home,” Dr. Granger conceded as they boarded the train. Harry held onto Hermione’s shoulder and held his staff in his left hand, parallel to his body as they went up the stairs into the car.  

Harry was tempted to tell him not to, but decided to let it go. Maybe he’ll forget.

“Harry, don’t you have more luggage?” Dr. Granger inquired when the got on and found their seats, “I understand from Hermione that this course you’re taking will last a couple of months?”

“I’ve got it all with me, Dr. Granger. My staff holds a lot,” he said leaning in close so that he didn’t have to say it too loudly. He collapsed it and put it in his pocket.

“That truly is amazing,” confessed Dr. Granger.

The train started to pull out of the station and Harry sat back in his seat feeling a bit tired and a little content. It felt really good to be sitting next to Hermione and her dad.

He had a niggling worry for Hedwig. I hope she’s okay!

“Harry, how’d you crack your glasses?” Hermione asked.

“When I ran into the door,” Harry said sheepishly.

“Maybe when we’re at the training center, I can fix them for you,” Hermione offered.

“That’d be nice,” said Harry. “I tried to repair a napkin of my Aunt’s that I burned - I guess it was my great-grandmothers - when I was ironing, but she said that it turned all sorts of different colors. It fixed the holes and it felt whole to me. I used the reparo charm with my staff. So I’ve been nervous about trying the charm with other things, like my glasses,” explained Harry.

“That’s weird that it turned it different colors. Why do you think it did that?” Hermione asked.

“Well, I didn’t know the word for napkin, so I just said ‘ reparo napkin,’ I think that’s why it happened,” Harry clarified. “When you fixed my glasses, you said, ‘ occulus reparo ,’ remember?”

“I guess that could be it.” agreed Hermione.

“Harry, Hermione, I’m going to use the facilities, I’ll be back in a little bit.” Dr. Granger said as he got up.

“Harry - you can’t tell my dad about the Basilisk, okay? I didn’t tell him about any of that stuff or even that I was petrified,” Hermione explained in a rush.

“Oh, okay. What did you tell him happened to me, then?” Harry asked.

“Well, I told my parents that you were injured by an exploding cauldron when you were trying to protect Ginny from a bully,” Hermione explained nervously. “I wrote about this in my letter, but I guess you didn’t get it,” she went on.

“Bully is a bit of an understatement,” Harry chuckled, wryly.

“They’ll never let me return to Hogwarts if they knew anything about a centuries-old monster lurking in the bowels of the castle or if they knew how close I got to being killed by it,” Hermione went on.

Harry let out a sigh. With everything that had happened since he had forgotten about that. Hermione was almost killed by the Basilisk, too. He felt a little twinge of guilt for befriending Nio hus cherio kisa, and then he mentally kicked himself. Nio hus cherio kisa is nothing like the Basilisk. And maybe the Basilisk wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t been controlled by Tom Riddle.

Harry was feeling like he was being lulled to sleep by the motion of the train. It was weird to travel on a train and not see the landscape rushing by.

Dr. Granger returned and it sounded like he’d brought a newspaper with him.

Harry asked Hermione about the last week of school that he missed and she started recounting all the lessons that he missed and pretty soon he was having a harder and harder time paying attention. He felt like he was weaving in and out of consciousness until he gave in completely and laid his head on her shoulder.

oO0OooO0OooO0OooO0Oo

“Harry, Harry,” Hermione gently shook his shoulder.

Harry sat up slowly and wiped a string of drool suspended from his lip with the back of his hand.

“Oh, sorry, Hermione. I guess I fell asleep,” he apologized.

“It’s okay, Harry. You looked tired. I bet you needed to sleep,” she was very understanding. He touched her shoulder where his head had been resting, and found a corresponding spot of wetness.

“Oh, sorry. I drooled on you,” he was embarrassed.

“Harry, it’s okay,” Hermione insisted, though he imagined that she was a bit grossed out by it. He could only go by her voice.

“We’re getting close to the Waterloo station. I think we get off there and then walk to the Waterloo East station to catch the underground to Charing Cross road,” She explained.

Harry held onto his staff and whispered, “Tempus,” to find out the time. The lyrical voice of the staff said, “8:13 am.”

“Oh, that’s nice, Harry,” said Hermione.

“What are you going to do after you drop me off at the Adaptation training,” Harry asked.

“Dad said he’d take me to the British Museum afterward,” Hermione said excitedly.

“Oh, I bet you’ll love that,” said Harry appreciatively, glad that he didn’t have to go to some boring museum, but knowing it was exactly what Hermione would love.

“Harry, before I forget, I want to give you my phone number. Is there something I can write it on for you, that you could read it with your anagnóstis? ” she asked, sounding like a secretary.

“Oh, I have the note from the doctor you could write it on there,” Harry said, pulling it out of his book bag. “Do you have a pencil or pen?” He asked her.

“Yes,” and she took the parchment from his hand and he could hear her writing on it. She handed it back to him.

“I wrote my number on the back and also Ron’s number,” she explained.

“Thanks. That’s great,” Harry felt better knowing that he could call his friends, given access to a muggle phone. “I don’t know if they will have muggle phones at the training,” admitted Harry, “but I should be able to send letters with Hedwig, too, once she comes back.” He couldn’t hide the worry in his voice.

“She’ll find you, Harry,” Hermione consoled confidently.

“I hope so,” he said wistfully.

“I don’t know what this training will be like, but maybe I can some visit you on the weekend or something,” Harry offered.

“Oh, that would be great, Harry!” Hermione replied enthusiastically.

“Yes, Harry, you’d be welcome any time,” Dr. Granger agreed, “We are going to France for holiday at the end July and into August, though.”

“That sounds like fun! What part of France?” Harry asked.

“Paris. Emma (Hermione’s mother) has planned it all,” Dr. Granger sighed.

“I’ll write you lots, Harry,” Hermione said hurriedly, “ and tell you all about it. They have some really amazing museums and I’m hoping to do some research into some of the magical sites in Paris. I’ve only read about them, it’ll be really interesting to visit them. And of course the food is devine,” she sounded like she was imagining tasting some delicacy.

Harry smiled softly. He was sure his summer wasn’t going to be quite as enthralling as Hermione’s, but he was glad she was looking forward to such good times. And he was really glad to be putting so much distance between himself and Privet Drive.

However, there was something very comforting about Dr. Granger’s presence that made Harry a bit wistful that their journey was coming to an end. He wasn’t sure what it was. They hadn’t really talked much, beyond his desire to look into the Dursley’s neglect. Maybe that was it. Or maybe it was something about the way he sounded and smelled - his voice was comforting and strong and he had a clean, but woody smell about him . . . like a strong tree that you could lean against and feel safe. Harry realized that he’d never felt that way about Uncle Vernon. He had only known fear and revulsion around him. Hermione’s really lucky, he thought.

They were approaching the station (according to the announcements over the train and Hermione who was giving him a blow-by-blow description of pulling into the station). Harry shook out his staff again and took Hermione’s arm after looping his bookbag diagonally across his body.

Chapter Text

Harry was really glad to have Hermione’s arm to hold onto as they made their way through a crush of people exiting the train at Waterloo station. He realized that Hermione must be holding on to her dad, too, by the way she was walking. He held his staff in front of him and followed a step behind Hermione, but still he felt buffeted by the waves of people that were moving by them. I would have been so lost in this sea of people if I had come by myself, he realized as he held on tight to Hermione’s arm, afraid to lose her.

Dr. Granger was telling them which way they were headed, but Harry couldn’t really make sense of it. His staff wasn’t describing the scene, either, and that was okay because it would have been too much. He was feeling like it was too much just listening to it, feeling it, and smelling it. He was amazed at all the aromas and odors that were assaulting his nostrils . . . from sweaty people to perfumes to colongnes to a fragrant pastry to exhaust to sewer to wet dog . . . there was a lot to smell in the underground. There was also haunting music. Someone was playing a violin and it sounded otherworldly echoing through the underground chambers mixed in with all the voices and the mechanical sounds of the trains as their metal wheels grinded against metal rails. It was a lot to take in.

The pastry smell reminded Harry of how hungry and thirsty he was. I should have had some of my water while I was on the train. I’ll have to wait until we’re at 56 Charing Cross Road, though maybe once we’re on the underground I can have some, he consoled himself.

“Harry, we’re about to get on an escalator,” Hermione warned as she stepped up and he felt the ground moving under his feet.

“Thanks, Hermione! You know, you’re pretty good at this . . . ” he said appreciatively as he found his footing on the moving steps. He imagined that Ron would not be nearly as good at warning him. Of course, Ron would never know what to do on an escalator anyway, Harry smiled to himself imagining Ron navigating the tube. Hermione squeezed his hand in response.

She warned him as they neared the top, too, though the way the escalator started to level out was also helpful. He bumped into Hermione stepping off - her momentum stopped while his was still moving forward.

Now they were moving through an echoey space that reminded Harry of a mall. There were other smells and sounds here . . . more food smells . . . breakfast foods and coffee and something spicy like curry. . . and music was issuing from different areas like it was being piped into a bunch of small shops. People were moving differently, too. They were moving against each other more than as a tide in concert with each other. Harry was catching snatches of conversations, too, and picked up on languages other than English being spoken.

Dr. Granger slowed and said something that Harry couldn’t make out and suddenly, they turned sharply and were headed down a corridor, leaving the echoey space behind them.

Hermione warned Harry that they were getting on another escalator, this time down and he stumbled behind her, lurching as the ground moved under his feet again. It was very discombobulating and he was looking forward to returning to the surface of the earth and not having to deal with the press of humanity all around him. Again, he was very thankful that he hadn’t had to try to navigate this on his own. He’d probably still be stuck in the Waterloo station with no clue for how to get out - if I had ever figured out how to get on the train in the first place.

There were even more people waiting for the underground. Harry pressed himself against Hermione. He had never been in a crowd like this before. It’s rush hour on Monday in London, in the heart of London. Breathe. Just breathe.

“It’s okay, Harry. I’ve got you,” Hermione said in his ear. He realized that he was holding her with both hands, his staff pressed against her arm, trapped by his hand.

“Sorry. There’s a lot of people here. It’s hard . . .” he said trying to steady his breath and letting go with one hand.

Dr. Granger had a hold of his shoulder, too, he realized.

“We’ve got you, Harry. Don’t worry,” Dr. Granger reassured him, “Okay - here’s our line. We won’t lose you, Harry. Keep holding on to Hermione. We’ve just got three stops and then we’re there, the Leicester Square Station, okay? It’s packed, so we’ll just stand together.”

“Okay, thank you,” Harry didn’t know when he’d been more thankful.

They shuffled forward with the surging crowd onto the tube. Harry clung to Hermione, who was holding on to her father, who seemed to be holding onto something more stationary. They swayed with the train as it sped through the tunnels and three stops later they were disembarking. Harry felt like he was coming up for air. They moved with the crowd up to the surface of the street and then he felt like he could actually breathe.

Dr. Granger kept walking. He seemed to know where he was going and Harry was happy to just follow. Hermione seemed to feel the same way.

“Okay, I think this is it . . . 56 Charing Cross Road, right Harry?” Dr. Granger asked.

“Yes, that’s right,” agreed Harry.

“Hmm. It looks like a bookstore,” Dr. Granger seemed perplexed.

“I imagine it is like Diagon Alley and St. Mungos, Dr. Granger,” Harry postulated, “it looks like a regular muggle establishment but has a magical entrance. Of course, I have no idea how to find the entrance. I don’t think it is on the paper they gave me and I don’t remember anyone mentioning it. Though . . . I wasn’t really in the best frame of mind when they were giving me this information . . .” he finished darkly.

There was a long silence as the three of them stood in front of the bookstore while passersby walked around them. “Oh! . . .” And for a second Harry thought Hermione was going to run off to the library, but then she said, “Harry, why don’t you try to find the entrance with your staff?”

“Oh, that’s a good idea,” Harry said as he stepped forward and started walking toward the door. His staff was guiding him as it normally did, with descriptions and distances using steps and the face of the clock for angles and then it stopped. Harry stopped, too. “You have reached the entrance of the Perenelle Flamel Adaptation Center, do you wish to enter?”

“I think I found it Hermione, Dr. Granger!” Harry called to them. They stepped up beside him and Hermione put her hand on Harry’s arm. He hoped Dr. Granger was holding onto Hermione. He said, “Yes, we wish to enter,” and stepped forward.

Chapter Text

Harry, Hermione, and Dr. Granger stepped forward and Hermione gasped and Dr. Granger muttered a quiet, “oh.” Harry could tell from the immediate quiet and gentle echoes that they were in a large open space. There was a scent of potions in the air and the temperature was cooler than it had been on the noisy, exhaust-filled street; it was less muggy, too.

Harry turned to Hermione, “What does it look like, Hermione?” he whispered, but his voice seemed to carry in this echoey chamber.

“It’s very beautiful, Harry,” she paused catching her breath, “it is open and filled with a soft light that reminds me of being underwater and looking up at the sun through the water, it is shimmery and green and blue and yellow all at once. It’s really calming.”

“Oh, it feels calming to me, too,” he replied, and some of his trepidation about this training dissipated.

“Where do you think we need to go?” Harry asked, breaking a bit of the spell they seemed to be under.

“Oh, yes. It looks like there is a desk over there and someone is sitting behind it,” Harry felt Hermione’s arm move as if she were pointing. He stepped around her to switch places with her, grasping her arm when she had been holding onto his and moved his staff to his left hand.

“Will you take me there, please?” Harry asked.

“Oh, sorry, Harry. I forgot. I . . .” Hermione seemed flustered.

“It’s okay, ‘Mione,” Harry reassured.

Their footsteps echoed around them as they walked over to the desk; Dr. Granger’s followed a little behind them. Harry was appreciative that Dr. Granger, who had guided them so thoughtfully through the train and underground journey, was now hanging back a bit. He probably feels more comfortable in the muggle world.

When Harry’s staff, which he had been holding a little in front of him as he walked with Hermione, touched the base of the desk, it informed him, “You have reached the reception desk for the Perenelle Flamel Adaptation Center.”

Harry let go of Hermione’s arm and stepped forward to find the ledge of the reception desk with his hand. He was intrigued to find that there was a texture of raised dots on the surface of the desk and momentarily distracted, he ran his fingers over it. Braille. This is braille.

“Welcome to the Perenelle Flamel Adaptation Center. I’m Godric Burbage. How may I help you?” The voice greeting them was low and clear - and sincerely welcoming.

“Hi, I’m Harry Potter. I was told to come here for the Adaptation Training that starts today at 9 am.”

As Harry was speaking, he heard the footsteps of people entering through the same entry point they had just come through - for a brief moment the sounds of Charing Cross Road echoed through the space.

“Oh, yes. We’re expecting you. I will let Healer Jordan know that you’ve arrived. If you could please take a seat - there are benches at your 3 o’clock and seven paces from here. You have companions with you?”

“Um, yes. My friend Hermione Granger and her father, Dr. Granger, helped me get here today.”
“They are welcome to join you on the tour of the center that will start at 9:30 am.”

“Oh!” said both Hermione and her father, sounding surprised.

“Thank you,” said Harry and he turned toward 3 o’clock to find the waiting area.

“Would you like to go on the tour, Hermione and Dr. Granger?” asked Harry as they walked to the benches, “I know you want to get to the British Museum, so no worries if you want to head out. I’ll be fine,” Harry assured them.

“What do you think, Hermione?” Dr. Granger deferred to his daughter as they sat on the benches. Hermione guided Harry to the bench and he tapped his staff on the ground three times to collapse it and put it in his pocket.

“Dad, is it okay if we go on the tour. We can do the Museum on another day, and maybe we could come to visit Harry, too.” Hermione’s voice was directed away from Harry, toward her father. Then she turned to him, “Harry, we can come to visit you and maybe you can come to the museum with us!” She was getting excited.

Harry hated to dampen her enthusiasm, but went ahead and voiced his concerns, “Hermione, I’m really glad you want to go on the tour! And I definitely want to see you this summer, but I don’t know about a museum . . . I think that it might be really dull for me to go to a museum . . .”

“Oh, I hadn’t thought of that, Harry. Yeah, I imagine it would be really visual.” She said a bit ponderously.

“There are tons of things to do in London, right? I’m sure we can think of something,” Harry said hopefully.

“I’ve always wanted to go to the British Library!” Hermione exclaimed.

“I’m surprised you haven’t been already, actually,” Harry replied slyly.

“Me, too,” agreed Dr. Granger, chuckling.

“Well, it’s definitely on my list,” Hermione said smugly.

A door opened not far from them and someone walked toward them with sharp short steps that put Harry in mind of an athlete.

“Harry Potter?” A warm woman’s voice called out gently.

“That’s me,” Harry said standing up and shaking his staff to extend it.

“Hi, I’m Healer Jordan. I’m here to welcome you to the center and get you registered,” as she walked forward, Harry extended his hand and she grasped it, shaking it. It felt small, warm, and strong. I was right, she is an athlete, Harry noted.

“Hi and thank you,” Harry said as he released her hand. He felt Hermione and her father stand up behind him.

“And are you Harry’s uncle, Vernon Dursley?” asked Healer Jordan, her voice directed away from Harry and toward Dr. Granger.

“No, Healer. I’m Dr. Granger, Hermione is my daughter and she is a friend of Harry’s and we brought Harry today as his Aunt and Uncle weren’t able to,” explained Dr. Granger. Harry could hear the consternation in his voice.

“Oh, I see,” said Healer Jordan, “Well, it looks like they did sign the consent forms we sent earlier, so all is in order.” It sounded like she was flipping through pages on a clipboard.

Harry swallowed his surprise. When did they get consent forms and why didn’t they say anything about them? I wonder if they were in the letter from Dumbledore?

“Harry, will you take my arm? I’ll lead you to the registration area,” Healer Jordan said as she came alongside him and touched the back of his right hand with hers. He grasped her upper arm and followed her as she led him away.

“Dr. Granger and Hermione, you can wait here until it is time for the tour,” Healer Jordan said over her shoulder.

“Harry, we’re going through a door and then we’ll turn left to walk down a corridor where we’ll turn left again into the center. This door opens on the left into the reception area,” she explained as she opened the door and Harry put out his left hand and helped keep it open as they passed through.

Harry was curious about the rest of the center. Would it be as welcoming and peaceful as the entrance? What are we going to learn during training?

The aroma of potions was definitely stronger on the other side of the door, Harry noticed. It put him more in mind of the Hospital wing at Hogwarts than of St. Mungos, of which he was glad.

The light in this area was also gentle like the light in the reception area - it didn’t hurt his eyes.  Harry wished he could see the colors that Hermione described . . . they sounded otherworldly. He wondered if that’s what it would look like from beneath the lake at Hogwarts.

From the sound of it, he was pretty sure they were in a corridor, though a large one.

“This space sounds big,” Harry observed.

“It is rather large,” answered Healer Jordan, “we share the space with other organizations with similar missions.” Their footsteps were echoing through the hallway. Harry could hear other people walking farther along the corridor as well.

“Okay, we are going to turn left here and go through a door that opens to the right and into the center, and then we’ll be in our center,” explained Healer Jordan. “I’m going to put you on my right side as we go through this door,” she talked him through the process as she deftly moved him to her right arm to go through the door. Harry switched his staff to his right hand so that he could hold onto her right arm with his left hand. He used his right arm to push the door open as they moved through it.

He remembered how awkward passing through doors had been at St. Mungos with Madam Pomfrey and was glad to be with someone who clearly knew what they were doing.

“Okay, Harry, I’m going to ask you to sit here,” Healer Jordan took Harry’s hand and placed it on the arm of a chair, “while we get you registered.” He collapsed his staff and put it in his pocket before sitting down in the stuffed chair. It was a very soft chair and he leaned forward to avoid being sucked into the cushions. It sounded like Healer Jordan had walked around a desk and settled into a chair facing him. Harry looked up expectantly, not really knowing what to expect.

“Okay, we’re just going to get you checked-in. We have most of the information we need from Madam Pomfrey at Hogwarts and Healer Smethwyck at St. Mungos, but we’re missing some information from your guardians. It’s too bad they weren’t able to make it today, but I’m hoping, um, I think . . .” she paused, rustling through some papers, “that you can provide some of the missing information,” she finished, her voice no longer directed down, but now toward him.

“Sure, if I know it,” agreed Harry uncertainly.

“We need your medical records from your childhood from your muggle doctors and any hospitals you might have visited,” Healer Jordan continued, “just the names are enough and then we can contact them,” Harry imagined a muggle doctor’s office with a bunch of owls perched on desks and parchments scattering the surfaces and smiled.

“Oh, well that’s easy. I’ve never been to a muggle doctor or hospital,” Harry said, “I mean, for me. I’ve been inside the buildings, of course, but that was for when my cousin was sick and I went along. . .” and it dawned on Harry that this was probably odd. Why did the Dursleys never take me to a doctor? Dudley went every year for a checkup just to see if he was growing and everything. At the time, Harry had been glad. Dudley always got shots at those visits and Harry was glad to escape that particular bit of torture.

His shoulders slumped as he let out a breath. He straightened up and tried to say brightly, “But I never had to go, I didn’t get sick much and when I got sick, I always got better a lot faster than Dudley, so that’s probably why they didn’t take me . . . ” His heart was racing. If Dr. Granger and Healer Jordan started pestering the Dursleys about him, he was going to have a very rough time when he went back to them.

“Oh, well, yes, I suppose you’re right, Harry. Thank you, that’s fine,” she said, but from her tone, he didn’t think it was. “So, all that’s left now is for me to tell you what to expect from your training . . . your Aunt and Uncle shared the literature we sent to them with you?”

This last bit caught Harry off guard. “Uh, um. Well, no,” Harry confessed.

“I see,” said Healer Jordan, a quill scratched on parchment.

Harry sat quietly wondering when the Dursleys received the forms and literature from the center and how he’d missed it completely. If it had arrived by owl, there would have been an uproar! Hedwig!

“Say, has my owl arrived here? She’s a big snowy white owl. She should have arrived at my home before I left, but she didn’t. Is she here?” Harry interrupted the quiet with his worry.

“Oh, I don’t know, Harry. We can ask Godric if any new owls have arrived at the owlery when we see him on the tour,” Healer Jordan seemed distracted. “I’ll also see that we get you a copy of the literature about the center and the training. In the meantime, I’ll give you a brief overview,” she went on hurriedly. “The Perenelle Flamel Center is a charitable foundation that was started after the war by those injured in the war to assist gravely injured wixen adapt and learn new skills to help them return to the lives they wanted to lead,” Healer Jordan took a breath.

“We’ve found that the 8-week residency program works really well for those who have recently sustained a life-changing injury such as yours. One of the benefits that people who have gone through the course cite most often is the confidence gained by learning how to live independently at the same time they are bolstered up by a strong community of people who are going through similar challenges,” she drew another deep breath and went on, “I can tell you more about that, but it is nearly time for the tour and I want to tell you a bit about weeks ahead. After the tour, we’ll get you settled in your room and you’ll meet your roommate. We’ll eat lunch in the dining hall, and then in the afternoon, we’ll get to know each other and you’ll meet some of the mentors who will be working with you during training. A typical day will include one-on-one work with mentors to address the specific needs of individuals as well as group lessons that address more general concerns. You’ll spend a good portion of your afternoons learning to read and write in braille.”

With a bit of discomfort, Harry remembered the leaflet about braille that he’d fished out of the bin that he hadn’t read yet.

“Okay, that was pretty brief and I’m sure that you have lots of questions, but we’ve run out of time and we need to return to reception to go on the tour. I think the tour will answer a lot of your questions and there will be time afterward to ask more,” Healer Jordan said this while coming around the desk. Harry stood up and she touched the back of his right hand with her left hand and he followed the curve of her arm up to just above her elbow where he grasped it gently.

He was looking forward to being with Hermione and Dr. Granger again, even if briefly. He was really glad to be away from the Dursleys, but he couldn’t deny that he was nervous about eight weeks with people he didn’t know in an unfamiliar environment. And he wasn’t sure he was up to learning how to read those raised dots in eight weeks. He took a deep breath and walked a step behind Healer Jordan as she led him from the room.

Chapter Text

“Healer Jordan, could you please take me to the reception desk so that I can ask Mr. Burbage about my owl?” Harry asked as they walked back down the corridor.

“Sure, Harry. Okay, we’re turning here and going through the door. It will open on the right this time and into the reception area,” Healer Jordan explained.

“Thank you for telling me about the doors . . . it really makes things a lot easier,” Harry replied.

“That’s part of our work here. There will be a weekend event in a couple of weeks when we invite your families and friends to come and learn how to do all these things including how to be a sighted guide. That information was sent out with the forms.” Healer Jordan explained.

“Oh,” said Harry quietly.

“Here we are at the reception desk,” Healer Jordan announced as she took Harry’s hand from her arm and placed it on the ledge of the desk, “Godric, Harry has a question for you,” she turned to Harry, “Harry, I need to leave you here to go get our tour started. Your friends are coming over,” Healer Jordan explained.

“Thank you,” Harry said quickly and turned to the desk. “Mr. Burbage?” Harry asked the air in front of him, not really sure where Godric was as he hadn’t heard him move since they arrived. “Yes, Harry?” His voice was nearer than Harry was anticipating. He heard Hermione and her father talking quietly not far from him, no doubt waiting for him.

“Oh, well, I was wondering if my owl Hedwig had arrived here? I was expecting her at my house last night, but she didn’t arrive and this morning I had to leave. So I’m hoping that she found me here - do you know?” Harry rushed on.

“Oh, well, we’ll have to check the owlery after the tour. I haven’t heard that new owl arrived, but often there are several who do show up when we start the residency program,” Mr. Burbage explained.

“Okay, thank you,” Harry turned away from the desk, shook out his staff, and walked toward Hermione’s voice.

“Hi, Harry,” Hermione greeted him, “How was the registration?”

“Okay, I guess. They wanted to know stuff about my medical history,” Harry shrugged.

“Oh,” said Hermione.

“Yeah,” said Harry, “Healer Jordan said that there is going to be a weekend when we can invite friends and family to come and learn about how to be a  . . . a sighted guide,” Harry searched for the phrase. “Would you want to come to that?” Harry asked hopefully.

“Oh, yes. I’ll see if I can come. Did they say which weekend?” Hermione asked.

“No, I guess they sent the information to the Dursleys,” Harry grimaced, and then remembered that Hermione’s father was standing right there, “I’m sure we can ask,” he hurried on.

“Did you find out if Hedwig has arrived here,” Hermione asked.

“They don’t know yet, but said we can check the owlery after the tour,” explained Harry, trying to get his anxiety about Hedwig under control.

There was a tinkling sound of a clear, bright bell and the voices in the reception area died down. Harry turned toward the bell and Hermione came and stood by his side.

“If you could all gather around, we are ready to begin our tour of the Perenelle Flamel Adaptation Center,” Healer Jordan’s voice rang through the reception area as if she were speaking in a microphone - though he couldn’t imagine a microphone here. Harry heard the crowd gathering. It was larger than he thought it would be. I don’t know how big I was expecting it to be, he considered, how many newly blinded wizards can there be? He had never noticed any before this happened to him.

Hermione moved closer to Harry and started to take his hand. He squeezed it, then ran his hand up her arm to find the spot just above her elbow, and grasped her arm gently. She moved closer to Healer Jordan’s voice and Harry could feel more people around them, hear their breath (someone’s breath was rather labored) and other sounds that gave him the impression that it was a good-sized group, but not too large. Harry was pretty certain that it was Dr. Granger who stood behind them.

“Welcome to the Perenelle Flamel Adaptation Center and the beginning of our eight-week residency program for those of you adapting to a life-altering event. We are going to lead you on a tour of facilities with your families so that they can experience where you’ll be for the next eight weeks and, we hope, feel comfortable leaving you in our care. Before we start, I would like to remind you to respect each other’s privacy and not discuss the private concerns of individuals with others,” Harry felt heat rising in his neck as it felt as if Healer Jordan’s voice was directed at him. Is she worried that I’m going to talk about other people? I don’t even know who else is here. He wondered and then thought about it some more . . . Or that other people are going to talk about me? This thought made his shoulders sag a bit. Maybe this just what they remind people everytime they start - not to talk about each other - part of their policy. Hermione reached for his hand on her arm with her other hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.

He wished that Hermione could stay with him during the whole 8-week program. He heard someone to their left who sounded like a child and he wondered if there were kids younger than him in the program. Would their parents stay with them?

He couldn’t imagine the Dursleys in this very magical place and that made him glad.

“We’re going to enter the center through the main entrance directly behind me and travel up the corridor to the dining hall. Please follow me.” Healer Jordan turned and started walking toward the door that she and Harry had gone through earlier and the crowd slowly followed after her. Hermione said, “thank you,” to someone as they passed through the door and Harry guessed someone was holding it open for them. At one point his staff, which he was holding a little bit in front of him as an extra buffer in the group, hit something that sounded like metal and Harry guessed that someone in front of him was in a wheelchair. It sounded like people were wearing robes from the amount of swishing fabric and he heard a few staffs like his tapping among the hushed conversations. Some people near Harry and Hermione were commenting on the corridor and how beautiful the lighting was.

“Hermione, is the light in here like the light in the entrance,” he asked, “it seems different to me. I can hardly tell there is light in here.”

“You can tell the difference . . . ?” she asked curiously, and then recovered, “yes, but darker as if you’ve gone deeper in the water and are farther from the light,” she replied thoughtfully. They had traveled passed the door that Harry and Healer Jordan had gone into for his registration, from what Harry could tell judging by distance.  

The group paused and up ahead, Harry could hear a creaking and groaning and realized that heavy doors were being opened - by magic? he wondered. Now the group was going through a doorway that seemed to accommodate a lot of people at once. The space was large and echoey, the light brighter (but it didn’t hurt his eyes) and (Harry thought) larger than the reception area and had a pleasant fragrance - like a garden near a bakery.

“Oh, Harry,” said Hermione in a hushed voice, “I wish you could see this, it is so beautiful!” Harry knew she didn’t mean it, but the comment kind of stung and he sucked in his breath sharply. Hermione realized immediately what she’d said. “Oh, Harry, I’m sorry. That was stupid of me,” sounding remorseful.

“It’s okay, Hermione. I wish I could see it, too.”

“Oh, Harry. It’s just hard to get used to,” she said quietly.

“Believe me, I know,” said Harry taking a deep breath, “Why don’t you describe it to me?”

He could feel her turning to look around as they were walking slowly down the center of the large room, “Well, it is like the Great Hall at Hogwarts in some ways in that it is a large open space, but instead of heavy wood panels and portraits, there are floor to ceiling windows that look out on a peaceful lake fringed with trees - as if we’re in the middle of the country, not in the heart of London. The walls are fluted white marble that arch up near the ceiling like the necks of swans or the ribs of a whale. The light is reflecting off the lake so that there is the same shimmering water feel in here, too, as there was in the reception area. There are about 20 round tables organized on a grid, each with six chairs - with white linens and vases of lilies in the center. There are 10 on either side of this large aisle that we’re walking through. It goes straight through and at the end of the hall is another grand entrance like the one we just passed through. It’s very elegant, open, and peaceful.”

“Thanks, Hermione. It’s almost like I can see it when you describe it like that,” Harry said softly, “I can smell the lilies,” he added.

Healer Jordan had stopped and the group settled around her.

“We’ll take our meals in here - breakfast at 7 am, lunch at noon, and dinner at 6 pm - every day. Our meals are specially prepared to provide a healthy diet and also fixed to accommodate the needs of each individual. If you have any dietary restrictions or special requests our kitchen staff is happy to work with you. Daily menus are posted at the entrance the night before and available in audio and braille upon request. Please follow me as we move through the dining hall and take the rear exit to proceed to our classroom spaces,” Healer Jordan continued.

The group's footsteps echoed through the space along with the pleasant murmurings. It sounded as though many of the families agreed with Hermione, though Harry had picked up on one voice that stood out from the others and did not seem impressed.

Harry was pretty sure it was the person using a wheelchair. They sounded young, though maybe older than Harry. He was pretty sure it was a girl, though her voice was low and a bit gravely. “A healthy diet!” she was exclaiming petulantly, “what does that mean? Carrot sticks and cucumbers? Mum, you can’t leave me here.”

Harry lost track of her as the group moved through the doors at the back of the hall and into a darker space. I imagine all this light is magical - I wonder if it changes throughout the day?

Healer Jordan was leading them through another corridor that she described as the classroom wing. Hermione filled Harry in on some of the details . . . there were doors on either side of the corridor that led to classrooms - a total of four. Healer Jordan led them into the last one on the right and the light in here was so bright that Harry had to close his eyes against it.

“Oh, ow. It’s bright in here,” Harry said to Hermione.

“Harry, it’s like being outside. The room doesn’t seem to have walls. It is like we’re on the edge of the lake and behind us is a grove of aspen trees. I feel like we’ve left England and we’re in the Alps. There are benches here arranged in a circle, rough-hewn out of logs, instead of desks and chairs. I’ve never seen a classroom like this!” Hermione exclaimed and he could hear some envy in her voice.

“It’s cool in here as if there’s a breeze, too,” noticed Harry as he slid his foot forward on the sloping floor, “what is the floor made of? It doesn’t feel even.”

In front of him, the girl he had noticed before was hrumphing, clearly not happy with the classroom space even as others around her were also exclaiming as Hermione was.

“It’s cold in here and I don’t like being outside,” she complained loudly.

“In this classroom,” Healer Jordan was speaking to the whole group in her amplified voice, “we often gather as a community to support our emotional health” (the girl snorted audibly)  “and begin the journey toward holistic healing and adapting,” Healer Jordan continued.

“The rooms can be changed magically to accommodate the needs of the students on any given day,” Healer Jordan explained, “and we’ll give students as much advance notice as possible so that they know what to expect.”

“The people who come to our center are often used being defined by their limitations and told what they cannot do by others who may or may not completely understand the challenges they are facing. At the Perenelle Flamel Adaptation Center, we like to focus on what we can do, and finding ways to get around obstacles that are keeping us from doing what we want to do.” Healer Jordan went on, but at this point, Harry was thinking about flying on his broom and imagining skimming the lake (he could hear the gentle lapping of the waves nearby) with his hand as he zoomed over the surface.

Chapter Text

“Harry?” Hermione asked.

“Yeah?” he answered without really realizing that he was answering, he was still hovering over the lake mirrored by the reflection.

She shook her arm to get his attention and that landed him back in his body.

“Where were you?” she asked teasingly.

“Oh, sorry. I just was thinking about flying on my broom over that lake,” he said wistfully.

“Oh,” and he was surprised by the amount of emotion she packed into that one syllable.

“I’m going to fly on my broom again, you’ll see, Hermione,” he said fiercely. He was surprised at the flash of anger that flared up in him - that her sadness made him feel - and then he felt bad for feeling angry.

“Oh, Harry,” she said and he could hear her tears and he hated that she was crying at the same time that he hated that he’d made her cry. “I - I’m sor- sorry,” she hiccuped, he was still holding on to her arm and she was wiping away her tears. He stood there stupidly for a little bit and then she turned toward him and leaned her head toward his shoulder and he found himself awkwardly patting her shoulder and comforting her, “It’s okay, ‘Mione,” he said, though he didn’t really feel like it was okay. “I’m sorry, Hermione,” he said quietly, “but I am. I am going to fly” he said determinedly. She nodded into his shoulder and sniffed loudly. He felt the wetness of her tears soaking through his hoodie and T-shirt. He felt Dr. Granger’s hand on his other shoulder.

“Are you two okay?” Dr. Granger asked. Hermione lifted her head and Harry felt her nodding.

“Yes, sir,” Harry answered gravely.

Hermione blew her nose and Harry surmised that Dr. Granger had handed her a handkerchief. She pulled away and Harry realized that the group had started moving out of the room. Up ahead he could hear the snorting girl (as he now thought of her) whingeing about having to stay at the center for eight weeks and begging her mom to take her home. Her mom’s responses were weary. It sounded like she was in the corridor.

“Let’s catch up with the group, shall we?” Dr. Granger suggested in a hearty tone - no doubt meant to bolster them up.

“Sure. You ready, Hermione?” Harry asked squeezing her across her shoulders.

“Yeah, sorry, Harry,” she whispered.

“Maybe they have a library here,” he said hoping to distract her and she hiccuped a half-hearted laugh.

He held onto her arm again and she led him out of the room. He wished they could have stayed longer in the room and explored down to the lake’s edge. He wondered if there would be snakes in the grasses.

Someone followed them tapping a cane that sounded very much like his and Harry wondered who it was. He started to turn to Hermione to ask “Who . . . ?” and then remembered Healer Jordan’s request that they not pry into the privacy of the others in the group - though he felt this left him at a disadvantage and maybe others, too, he conceded to himself.

“Who what? Harry?” Hermione asked.

“Never mind,” he said turning back to face the direction they were headed. They had caught up with the group and Harry noticed that Hermione had guided them away from the snorting girl and a little smiled tucked up the corners of his mouth.

Hermione was still occasionally lifting her arm to dab at her eyes and trying to sniff inconspicuously - but he could feel the movement through her body with his hand on her other arm. He tried giving a consoling squeeze of her arm, but that seemed to make it worse, so he stopped and just listened to Healer Jordan.

Now they were near another small group of people - maybe a family - and there seemed to be some little kids who were getting pretty squirrely. He had noticed them before, but now they were whining about being hungry.

Harry’s stomach rumbled loudly and he remembered that all he’d eaten that day was a bite of his sandwich at the station.

Healer Jordan was talking about the schedule and the Healers who would be coming in to give lessons and he felt like he should be paying attention, but he was listening to the family with little kids and thinking about the food and water in his book bag. Finally, he just gave in and let go of Hermione, shifted his staff to his other hand, and pulled his book bag around to his front so that he could open it up and find his water bottle. Rooting around in his bag, his hand plunged into the folds of the invisibility cloak and he realized that it very faintly tingled and made the fine hairs on the back of his hand stand up a bit. He hadn’t noticed that before. He paused. He wanted to take it out and really examine it, this isn’t the place or the time to do that, Harry, so he stuffed it back down and his fingers finally grazed over the water bottle and he pulled it out. He tried to be discreet about opening the bottle, but it popped loudly had we really changed elevation that much on the trains? Or maybe it was caused by moving through muggle and magic environments? Or had we really traveled to the Alps when we went through to that classroom?

He took a couple gulps of water and paused to wipe his mouth with his sleeve and took some more.

“Harry, the group is moving,” Hermione whispered sharply to him.

He put the lid back on and stuffed the water back in his bag and reached out for her arm.

A couple of people near them were talking in whispers that were getting more heated as they spoke, “I know that I’ll miss out on some of the opportunities, but I want to come home at night and on the weekends,” a man (Harry judged by his tenor) was arguing. “Of course, we want you to come home, we want to see you, but all that traveling is risky . . .” another man was responding, worry etched in his deep husky voice that was surprisingly gentle. “I’ll be fine and besides I already told Healer Jordan my decision . . . I don’t want to hash it out here, okay?” There was a tense silence as they moved with the group.

“I want to draw your attention to this map of the center,” Healer Jordan addressed the group, “there is a similar one in the reception area, just right of the reception desk on the wall and four paces from the door.” Harry was perplexed as to why she’d be giving precise directions for a moment, until she continued, “I’m bringing this one to your attention because there is more room around it for us to gather. This texturized map is accessible to our vision-impaired residents. In addition to labels in text and in braille, the audible portion will connect with your aftí as long as you’re touching the map alone and do not have your hand on another charmed guidance tool. Please take a moment to check it out.”

Harry realized that he had assumed that all the residents were there for vision loss reasons like him; it hadn’t occurred to him that there were other magical maladies (as the leaflet called them - the one that he hadn’t read yet) that they might be attending to at the center. He had thought that the snorting girl was also blind, but maybe she wasn’t. He listened carefully as the others moved up to touch the map trying to figure out how many people were also dealing with vision loss and if he could hear her among them. He thought he heard two or three people being addressed by Healer Jordan at the map, including the man who’d been arguing a moment ago and someone from the family with kids, but he couldn’t tell who - just that the kids wanted to try, too.

He could hear snorting girl muttering impatiently under her breath and her mother trying to shush her, clearly embarrassed. He noticed that the person behind them following with the staff wasn’t moving up to the front to touch the map.

Hermione started moving forward with Harry and he planted his feet so that she stopped.

“What’s wrong, Harry?” she asked, surprised.

“I don’t want to look at it with everyone watching me, Hermione,” he leaned close to her ear to whisper and ended up sputtering as he got a mouth full of her hair.

“Oh, it’s okay, Harry, it’s just a small group of people and they aren’t even really paying attention,” she tried to reassure him.

He thought that that couldn’t be true as there was a hushed silence in the group that made him think they were all paying close attention.

Dr. Granger joined in, “It looks like it would be useful, Harry, you should . . . feel it,” Dr. Granger was clearly searching for the right word.

“It’s okay, I’ll just wait,” Harry said.

“Harry, do you want to take a look at the map?” asked Healer Jordan from the front of the group.

Harry flushed. Great. Just great.

“No, thank you, Healer Jordan. I’ll check it out later, thanks,” Harry mumbled stubbornly. He heard someone nearby exclaim, “I told you it was Harry Potter!” And he blushed even harder. Healer Jordan must have heard because she reminded the group again about privacy issues. I’m definitely not going up there now! Harry thought he might melt from embarrassment. In fact, he wouldn’t have minded turning into a puddle at that moment, just so he could avoid the scrutiny he felt he as now under. His hand was itching to grab the invisibility cloak and disappear under it for a while.

Chapter Text

As they walked past the map, Hermione whispered to Harry that it was on the right side of the corridor about five paces from the door of the classroom they had just exited and about two paces from the corner of the corridor where they turned right on their way to the library. Harry wished he could have looked at it on his own without everyone watching him because he was getting a little confused about the layout now that they were heading down another corridor. Harry’s mortification was ebbing as he listened to Hermione chattering on about how excited she was to check out the library. She was rushing a little and guiding him around people to get closer to the library and occasionally rising up on her toes to get a better look. Again, it sounded like big doors were being opened.

“Oh, Harry, it’s an amazing library. So much bigger than Hogwarts!” Her glee was barely contained. He could smell the books - they had a familiar dusty, musty aroma that reminded him of  Hermione - in the best possible way. She was trembling under his hand as they passed through the doors into the room that felt big, but not echoey like the other rooms. The light was bright in here and Harry shut his eyes against it.

Healer Jordan was explaining the history of the library and how it came to be a part of the center. Hermione was twitching now and he knew that she was fighting with her nature to listen attentively to Healer Jordan and her desire to run to the stacks and start reading. He couldn’t pay attention to Healer Jordan with Hermione nearly bouncing next to him.

When Healer Jordan said they could have a few minutes to explore the room, Hermione hastily took Harry’s hand and placed it on her dad’s arm and took off.

“Hi, Dr. Granger,” Harry said awkwardly.

“Is there something you’d like to look at, Harry?”

“I dunno,” Harry mumbled, “is there something interesting nearby?”

“Well, over here there’s a globe of the world and it is pretty large and all the continents are in relief. It might be interesting to you,” Dr. Granger as his torso twisted away from Harry. He started walking toward it and Harry followed. He lifted Harry’s hand off his arm and placed it on the globe. Harry’s staff struck the base of the globe’s stand at the same time and it announced: “The James Holman Globe of the World.” Harry was intrigued by the texture on the sphere and started following the texture with his fingertips. The aftí in Harry’s ear started talking, “Dubai is a city in the United Arab Emirates known for . . .” as he moved his fingers, it continued to give him facts about the cities and countries that he found. “That’s pretty cool,” Harry admitted.

He worked his way through the middle east toward India. He noticed that in addition to the audio provided by his aftí there were also braille notations and the rivers were etched in a different texture than the lines dividing countries. Mountain ranges were easy to discern by their distinctive texture. One of the little kids from the family was also exploring the texture of the globe with a running dialog of what they were finding in a chirpy little voice, “here’s the ocean where the whales sing, and here’s a big mountain where the bears sleep in caves,” Harry was reminded of little Oliver Franklin Evans from the park in Little Whinging. The child wanted to spin the globe and it would lurch, but Harry would steady it with his hands and the child would stop the attempt. Harry wondered if Dr. Granger who was standing quietly next to him was giving quelling looks to the child.  

Harry was in China following the Yangtze River to Wuhan when Hermione joined them again, breathless from her explorations.

Healer Jordan had indicated that they were going to continue the tour and Harry could hear the group moving toward the door.  

“What did you find, Hermione?” Harry asked curiously as he grasped her arm.  

“Oh, well, they have an extensive section in braille and balance of muggle and wixen publications. Do you think they’ll let me come here and study? There is so much I’d like to explore,” she went on.

“It won’t hurt to ask,” Harry encouraged, a warmth spread through his chest at the thought of frequent visits from Hermione, even if it meant many trips to the library. It’ll be way better than Privet Drive on any day.

“Yeah, I’ll ask Healer Jordan before we leave,” Hermione said enthusiastically, squeezing Harry’s arm gently.

“I wonder when we’ll get to the owlery,” Harry wondered.

A voice behind them interjected, “That’ll be at the end of the tour, Mr. Potter,” Harry recognized Godric Burbage’s voice, and he realized that he was also the person who’d been keeping up the rear of the tour and the same person who’d been using the staff to navigate.

“You’re blind, too?” Harry blurted out without thinking, and then added, “Mr. Burbage?”

“Yes,” replied Mr. Burbage chuckling.

“Sorry. I just didn’t know,” he said hoping he didn’t sound rude.

“It’s okay. I’m a graduate of the Center and now I work here,” explained Mr. Burbage. “After we tour the dorms and you meet your roommate, we can go down to the owlery and see if your owl has arrived.”

“Thanks, that would be great,” Harry said with relief.

They followed the group through the library entrance and back into the corridor, where Harry wondered how close they were to the kitchens because the aroma of cooking food seemed to fill the hallway, making him even more hungry.

“Oh, it smells like Shepherd’s pie,” Harry noted, “mmmm.”

“That does smell good,” agreed Hermione.  

“It smells like raw sewage if you ask me,” muttered snorting girl, the wheels of her wheelchair clanged against Harry’s staff as she passed them and he edged closer to Hermione, afraid she was going to run over his toes.

Harry held back a snort of his own and then started to cough. Hermione murmured, “Oh, please,” in a sardonic tone, “nobody asked you.”

“What?” the girl challenged.

“Nothing,” answered Hermione shortly.

“I thought so!” said the girl as she moved on.

The group had stopped again and Healer Jordan was addressing them.

“Before we go to the dormitories, we’re going to stop by the orientation and mobility room, often called O&M,” Healer Jordan was explaining. “Like the classroom spaces, the room can change to accommodate the lessons for the day, so make sure to check the layout of the room that will be posted outside before entering so that you don’t walk into a swimming pool when you’re expecting a running track,” Healer Jordan laughed nervously at this, but Hermione stiffened.

“That doesn’t sound safe,” she said sounding more like Molly Weasley than a twelve-year-old girl.

“When has the wixen world ever been safe,” Harry reasoned.

“Well, I guess that’s true,” Hermione said softly and turned her head. Harry suspected that she was glancing at her dad to see if he had overheard.

“Right now the O&M room is set up for swimming,” Healer Jordan explained and then led the group through the doors.

Even before he entered the room, he could feel the humidity and heat from the room and hear waves breaking on a beach.

“Is it an ocean, Hermione?” he asked intrigued.

“Oh, yes . . . oh wow,” she seemed spellbound.  

As he stepped into the room, he sank into sand and could feel the warmth of the sun on his skin. Overhead, seagulls were calling and he could hear wind rustling through leaves that were high up in the sky.

“Are they palm trees? Are we in the tropics?” Harry asked in wonder. Ahead, he could hear the little kids shouting in glee as they ran toward the waves and their parents calling after them to come back. A flock of birds erupted into flight.

“Well, this is a load of crap!” exclaimed the snorting girl at the entrance to the room.

“Here, Ms. Lee,” said Godric Burbage, “there is a panel to the right of the door, and if you press the button labeled ‘ramp’ it will pull up a walkway for your wheelchair. Just be mindful of the people ahead of you . . .”

Suddenly the sand under Harry’s feet was moving and Hermione fell against him, they both pitched into the sand and prickly grasses. People were yelling, the seagulls were in an uproar and Godric Burbage seemed to have lost his cool and was laying into Ms. Lee who was shouting back at the top of her lungs, “How was I supposed to know it was going to do that? Why didn’t you tell me?”

Harry had a mouth full of sand, he had lost track of his staff (which had shouted a warning, but there wasn’t anything Harry could do except fall) and he was pretty sure he had smashed the sandwiches in his book bag. He sat up. “Hermione, are you okay?” he asked feeling the sand around him, trying to locate her. “I’m right here, Harry,” she reached out and touched him.

“Are you okay, Harry? Hermione?” Dr. Granger was asking from near the doorway. He must have been behind the upending Ms. Lee as they were walking into the room because it took him a moment to reach them.

Someone had grabbed Harry by his armpits and was hauling him up.

“Hey!” Harry exclaimed in surprise.

“Oh, sorry. I thought you needed some help up,” an apologetic voice said near his ear, releasing him.

“I was just surprised,” Harry explained, “a warning that you’re going to touch me is nice, otherwise it is a big surprise to me.”

“Right. Do you need help up?”

“Um, sure. Thanks,” Harry stuck his hand out and the person grabbed it and Harry got to his feet.

Harry heard Hermione standing up, too, and brushing the sand off her clothes.

“I’m Harry by the way,” Harry said introducing himself to the person who’d help him.

“I’m Bing Lee. Mei’s brother. Sorry about that,” he said softly. “She’s having a really hard time.”

“Yeah, it was an accident,” Harry said, turning to Hermione he asked her again, “are you okay, Hermione?”

“Yes, just surprised,” she replied.

Harry felt a hand on his shoulder and smelled Dr. Granger’s familiar scent.

“You kids okay?” he asked.

“Yes, though I dropped my staff,” Harry said. Harry heard someone walking through the sand nearby.

“Here it is,” and Bing pressed it into Harry’s outstretched hand.

“Thanks,” Harry said as he swung it to the side to see what it was that dumped them into the sand. It sounded like a low wooden bridge - a boardwalk, that was now elevated a little over the sand.

The argument between Mr. Burbage and Mei had ended and other people were coming over to see if they were okay.

Healer Jordan seemed to be mediating between Godric and Mei. Mei’s mother seemed to also be joining in. Then Harry heard Mei’s wheelchair as it came down the boardwalk, sand grinding under the tires.

“Sorry,” she said grudgingly as she went by. Her mother clunked along after trying to get her attention. “Mei, Mei!”

Harry shrugged.

“Like I said,” Bing said apologetically over his shoulder as he stepped back onto the boardwalk, “she’s having a hard time.”

As his footsteps retreated, others came nearer.

“I’m so sorry about that, Harry!” Healer Jordan asserted.

“We’re okay,” Harry assured.  

“Well, thank goodness for that. I should have brought up the boardwalk to begin with,” she went on, “do you want to come down by the water?”

“Sure, let’s go. I’ve never been to the beach before,” Harry confided. He didn’t count the trip to the shack at sea when the Dursleys were being pursued by his Hogwarts letters.

Chapter Text

“Hermione, I want to take off my shoes and feel the sand and ocean between my toes,” Harry said as they neared the crashing waves and inhaling a deep breath of the briny sea air. “Do you think we have time?”

“I guess. Other people are doing it, too, and Healer Jordan is talking with Mei now,” Hermione observed.

“I wonder what her deal is,” Harry said under his breath.

“Yeah. She looks really angry,” agreed Hermione, “I almost feel like she did that to us on purpose.”

“Why would she do that?” Harry wondered.

“Who knows,” and Harry felt her shoulders move up in a shrug, “let’s take our shoes off here before we step in the wet sand.” Hermione stopped and Harry used his staff for balance as he stripped off his shoes and socks. He set his book bag on the sand next to them.

The sand was hot, almost too hot and he stepped from foot to foot.

“Oh, wow! That burns!” Harry was surprised.

“Oh, yes, it does. Let’s move this way, it’ll be cooler over here where it is wet,” Hermione tapped the back of his hand and he grasped her arm and they stumbled in the sand until they reached the firmer, wet sand.

“That’s much better,” Harry sighed as the water-cooled sand soothed his feet. He could hear the children shrieking with delight. It sounded like they were chasing the waves and the seagulls in turns.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if Hogwarts had a room like this that opened up to the ocean?” Harry speculated, “do you think we’re traveling to the actual ocean or we’re in a room that simulates the ocean?”

“I don’t know. It looks real,” Hermione offered.

“Either way, it is really incredible,” Dr. Granger volunteered behind them, “this is an amazing world you get to experience.”

“I want to put my feet in the ocean,” Harry stated as he bent down and rolled up his jeans.

“I bet it is cold,” Hermione said as she led him toward the water. Harry stepped on something sharp and winced.

“Oh, sorry, I didn’t see that shell, Harry. Did it cut you?”

Harry felt the bottom of his foot. “I don’t think so.”

A wave washed over his feet and it felt frothy and warm.

“It’s warm, Hermione,” Harry said laughing.

He wanted to run into the water just like the little kids were doing and he pulled on Hermione’s arm.

“Wait, Harry!” she laughed, “we’ll get wet!” Another wave broke over their feet and dowsed their trouser legs and Harry shouted in surprise and delight.

One of the kids ran close by them, sand flicking up from their feet as they passed and splattering their legs.

Harry pulled on Hermione’s arm, wanting to go deeper into the water. He didn’t care that his trousers were getting soaked.

Another wave came and splashed up into their faces and they retreated a bit, sputtering at the water, laughing gleefully.

Further down the beach, Harry heard Healer Jordan trying to get their attention.

“I guess we have to head out. I hope we can come back here. This is amazing,” Harry declared happily.

“Yeah, it is amazing,” Hermione agreed, squeezing his arm and hugging him unexpectedly, her hair blowing across his face.

They made their way back to their shoes and tried to brush off as much sand as they could before sticking their feet back into their socks and shoes. The salt water on Harry’s legs felt like it was tightening on his skin as it dried, but he didn’t care. Those few moments in the ocean seemed to peel back some of the layers of misery that he’d experienced in the last week.

He picked up his book bag and they staggered back up to the boardwalk, stepping up after some people had passed them. It seemed like the visit at the beach had done most of them a world of good as well.

Harry wondered if Mei Lee also got to enjoy the beach, but from the way she was complaining loudly, it didn’t sound like it. Now he could pick out her brother’s voice, too. He sounded patient, but tired as he tried to cajole her into a happier mood.

The threshold was apparently charmed with a spell that seemed to remove the sand from their clothing and shoes as they walked through as well as dried their clothes. Harry was amazed that it also removed the sand that was stuck to his feet inside his socks.

It was strange to be back in the hallway with the aroma of Shepherd’s pie enveloping them again and to leave behind the hot sun and humidity of the O&M room. He wondered what the swimming lessons would be like in there.

“We’re going to head to the dormitories now. A number of you are starting your residency program today, others will be joining us during the day. Our day students are welcome to tour the dorms or continue exploring the classrooms. I’ll be giving our residents their room assignments and then we’ll meet in the dining hall at 11:00 for questions. I understand some family members need to leave, so I’ll give you a few minutes before we head to the dorm to say your goodbyes. We’ll meet here by the door to the dormitories in five minutes.” Healer Jordan announced.

Harry heard Dr. Granger murmuring to Hermione on her other side. “Harry,” Hermione whispered, “Dad and I need to head out so that he can get back to work.”

Harry felt like he sank a few inches into sand. He had momentarily forgotten that they were leaving. He was going to have to follow the tour group on his own, meet his roommate, and get the layout of a new living environment by himself.

“Oh, yeah, right,” he said trying to put on a brave face, fairly certain that he’d failed.

“Oh, Harry!” Hermione lamented, “I hate having to go. I want to stay.”

“Yeah, I know,” he said flatly. He took in a deep breath. “Hermione. It was the best thing in the world when I heard your voice at the train station. I’d never had made it here if you and your dad hadn’t come when you did,” he said as he felt a tightness lace up his chest.

He turned to where he thought Dr. Granger was standing.

“Dr. Granger?” he asked.

“Yes, Harry?” Dr. Granger responded.

Harry adjusted his stance so he was facing him more directly.

“Sir, I really don’t know how to thank you for what you did for me to today. Thank you so much for bringing me here, for the train and underground tickets, for being here, for bringing Hermione . . .” Harry wanted to say more; he was amazed that managed to choke out what he did, but his voice felt thin.

“Harry . . .” Dr. Granger seemed to be at a loss for what to say. “Harry,” he tried again, putting a hand on Harry’s shoulder, “I’m very glad we were able to come today. I’m just sorry that . . . that you were facing this alone. If you ever need anything, please don’t hesitate to call or . . . send an owl.”

“Thank you, sir,” Harry said warmly.

Hermione pulled Harry into a tight hug. He wasn’t too surprised by it. Her cheek was wet against his and he felt tears pricking in his eyes. He blinked them back, afraid he wouldn’t be able to stop if he started crying. He really didn’t want to cry in front of all these people he didn’t know.

“Bye, Harry. I’ll write you lots - either by muggle mail or owl. Let me know when Hedwig makes it back, okay?”

“Okay, I will. Thanks again, Hermione,” Harry squeezed her and let her go.

“Bye, Harry,” Dr. Granger said and their steps retreated down the corridor. Harry could hear other families around him having similar conversations. He stood for a moment listening to get his bearings. He knew he wasn’t too far from where Healer Jordan had asked them to gather for the tour to the dormitories. He could hear Mei Lee whining to her family; he didn’t want to get too close to them.

He swung his staff in front of him and started walking toward the sounds of the small group. His staff hit something soft. Someone’s foot, Harry thought.

“Sorry about that!” Harry said, stepping to the side.

“No worries,” was the response.

Hey, why isn’t my staff saying anything? Harry realized that it hadn’t been giving him information since they left the beach. He tapped it twice with two fingers and moved it over the area in front of him, and was relieved to hear the familiar voice describing the area. It must have turned off when I dropped it.

The staff told him when he’d reached the edge of the small group of people standing by the door to the dormitories and he stood slightly apart from them, waiting. He felt as if he had just crawled out of a warm nest covers and now was shivering in a cold room - so alone did he feel.

But not as alone as I feel at the Dursleys, he reminded himself and that helped lift his spirits.

“Hi,” someone said nearby and Harry looked up, wondering if they were talking to him.

“Hi, I’m Tony. Tony Montague. I’ve seen you at Hogwarts. You’re a Gryffindor, right?” Tony tried again.

“Hi, Tony,” Harry replied, feeling at a loss. He didn’t remember anyone named Tony. He sounded older, “I’m Harry Potter,” he stuck out his hand for a handshake and continued, “and yes, I’m in Gryffindor.” But Tony never grabbed his hand to shake it, so Harry finally put it down feeling heat creeping up his neck.

“I heard you got hurt in the Chamber of Secrets by some monster . . . that’s wicked, man,” Tony sounded a little excited and Harry found that off-putting. He was still trying to place him.

“Yeah, well,” Harry said shrugging, not really wanting to get into it. “What house are you in?”

“I’m a seventh-year Slytherin. Well, I’ll be in seventh year when terms starts again.” Tony answered, “So what happened down there? Are you really blind?”

“Um, yes,” answered Harry shortly.

“Was it really a 50-foot-long serpent?”

“Um, I really don’t want to talk about it,” Harry said firmly.

“Oh. Well, geez, man. I guess the ‘Heir of Slytherin’ is too high and mighty to condescend to tell us about what really happened. Or maybe you just were too stupid to not look directly into the sun,” Tony laughed harshly, another voice joined in the laughter. Still laughing, they stomped off.

Harry clenched his jaw and managed to restrain the retort riding on his tongue.

Great. With my luck, he’ll be my roommate, Harry gloomily reflected.

Harry heard Healer Jordan’s quick footsteps approaching the group and was glad to move on. The Shepherd’s pie aroma was almost torture now, he was so hungry.

Healer Jordan asked the group to follow her through the large doors into the dormitory area. The group had stopped and Harry shifted from foot impatiently while she explained that even though it was a small center that served no more than twenty people at a time, they believed that having roommates helped students feel more included and less isolated. They had sixteen residents at the time that would be grouped by age. She reminded the group to respect each other’s privacy. Harry sighed heavily. There were individual changing rooms/showers/toilets that were adapted to the needs of the residents, so even though residents were sharing a living space they’d each enjoy privacy when they needed it.

Harry wondered how many people he’d be sharing a room with - did this mean that Mei would be a roommate? What about Tony? Was he a resident or a family member of someone who was residing here. He wished Hermione was still there so he could ask her.

“I’m going to read the list of residents for each room as we move through the dormitories. When you hear your name, you can enter the room, meet your roommates, choose your area (each area has a bed, wardrobe, and desk), and get settled. Remember that we’re meeting the dining hall at 11 am,” Healer Jordan explained.

The first room was for the youngest residents, Healer Jordan explained and Harry heard his name along with Gemma Boot, Aminah Khan, Mei Lee, and Tony Montague being called.

Harry heard Mei Lee kvetching loudly to her mom about having to share a room with boys as she passed through the doorway. He decided to hang back a moment. Healer Jordan moved on with the rest of the group. Harry started to move toward the door when he felt a gentle hand pressing on his arm.

“Yes?” Harry asked, wondering what they wanted. They didn’t answer.

“Do you need something?” Harry wondered. The person seemed to be shorter than him and small. He wondered if it was one of the kids from the family of kids that had been squealing on the beach. He waited again, his head cocked to the side trying to hear any clues they might offer. All he could hear was gentle breathing.

They tugged on his arm, urging him forward.

“Do you want to go into the room?” Harry asked, in a voice he usually saved for small children.

The hand on his arm tapped it and pulled again. Harry started stepping forward.

“Oh, Gemma, there you are. What are you doing out here? I thought you’d want to choose your bed right away, you know, get a good spot. Oh, well, are you helping this bli- boy?” A motherly sounding woman had approached them. With her was a sound of fluttering paper as if she were flipping through a book.

“Hi, dear,” she said and Harry figured she was addressing him.

“Hi,” he answered.

“Gemma is . . . well, she can’t hear or speak. A terrible bout of spattergroit this spring - incurable,” she explained in a low voice. “Are you coming into the room to chose your area? Better come on in before you have no choice. I’m Mrs. Boot, by the way, Gemma’s mother,” She pressed her hand to his back and pushed him toward the door.

Gemma was still holding on to Harry, guiding him gently toward the door.

“Thank you,” Harry said, though feeling as though he could have managed this better on his own.

In the room, Mei was continuing her tirade of complaints. If she’s trying to convince her family to take her home, she’s going about it completely wrong. Who’d want to put up with that! Harry thought, pressing his lips into a thin line.

Mrs. Boot hurried Gemma off to another part of the room and Harry stood in the entrance, unsure as to how to proceed. At last, it occurred to him to ask his staff to take him to the unclaimed bed and it did.

It was right next to Mei Lee’s area, of course.

Chapter Text

For a second, Harry was missing his little room at Privet Drive and the moments of being completely alone there - then he shook his head. That’s ridiculous! he laughed at himself.

I just feel weird here because everyone can see me and I can’t see them. Well, actually, I don’t know if everyone can see me. Just assume that they are not staring at you, Harry, he told himself sternly, affecting a Hermione tone in his head. They are busy getting settled. They don’t care about you.

He used his staff to map out his area, figuring out the distances between his bed, wardrobe, and desk - touching each surface to gain an understanding of them. They were all wood - carved, not particle board like a lot of the flimsy furniture the Dursleys put in his room. The linens on the bed reminded him of the linens at Hogwarts - clean and stiff. He thought about unpacking his staff, but decided to do that later. He did unpack his book bag and put everything into his staff. Now that he was in a magical environment, he didn’t need to worry about using it in front of muggles.

He knew he was supposed to be getting to know his roommates, but he really wanted to get to the owlery. Besides, I already have met most of them. Just one . . . what was her name? It started with an ‘A’,” he tried to talk himself out of his guilt, I’m going to have plenty of time to get to know them later.

He sat on his bed for a moment as he debated about whether or not to head to the owlery. As he struggled internally, he listened to his roommates, trying to figure out who was where and what they were doing. He was listening to the girl on the other side of the room whose name he couldn’t remember, talking to someone in a low voice.

“Why are you staring at me?” Mei asked petulantly.

“What?” Harry was astounded.

“Quit staring at me,” she insisted.

“I’m not staring. I can’t see. I’m not looking at anything,” Harry felt heat rising in his neck.

“Right. Likely story,” Mei said disbelieving.

“Mei,” her mother pleaded, “hush. Leave him alone. He really is blind. Remember, Tony was telling you.”

“Yeah, Tony also said that he’s ‘The Boy Who Lived,’ and you know that’s a lie.”

Harry stood up and said, “ Navigant owlery.” He walked swiftly to the door and out into the corridor. He had a feeling he’d be spending very little time in his room during the next eight weeks.

oO0OooO0OooO0OooO0Oo

As Harry made his way back down the corridors that they had traveled through on the tour toward the owlery, he wondered if he should try to find Mr. Burbage first or just go to the owlery on his own. He finally decided to try to find Mr. Burbage in the reception area and told his staff as much.

His staff took him directly to the reception desk. There was a steady clacking noise that put Harry in mind of an old fashioned typewriter, but not quite. “Mr. Burbage?” Harry asked and the noise stopped.

“Yes?” Mr. Burbage responded.

“It’s Harry. I was wondering if we could go visit the owlery now?”

“Oh, sure. Let me just tell Healer Jordan where I’ll be,” Godric got up and Harry heard the tapping of his staff and then a door open and close. Harry’s mind was on Hedwig and a litany rang through his head, Let her be okay, please be here, let her be okay . . .

Mr. Burbage came back through the door.

“Harry?” he asked.

“Yes, I’m over here,” Harry responded.

“We can head over to the owlery now,” Godric stated as he walked back to the reception desk.

“Um, should I just follow you or should I cast the navigant spell to the owlery?” Harry wondered.

“That’s a good question, Harry. You know the adage ‘the blind leading the blind?,’ right? We get to do a bit of that today. We’ll use the sighted guide technique that I think Healer Jordan taught you, except for the sighted part,” and he chuckled at his little joke as he came around the desk to stand next to Harry. Harry groaned begrudgingly, giving into the bad humor. He switched his staff in his left hand and found Godric’s arm with his right. Wow, he’s tall. Why didn’t I notice how tall he was earlier?

Harry wondered why this felt more awkward with Godric than it did with Healer Jordan or Hermione. Was it because Godric was blind? Or because he was male? Or maybe it was because he was taller than Harry by a considerable amount? He’s definitely taller than Dr. Granger. Maybe it is all of it together making awkwardness? He puzzled over it. He was touching more people in the last week than he had all last year. It was kind of weird to be so intimate with people he didn’t really know . . . and with some people it was more uncomfortable than with others. Like, I didn’t feel uncomfortable Healer Jordan - she seemed really professional, as if she knew what she was doing. Confident, comfortable. Hermione is a friend and how many times did we walk around the castle under the invisibility cloak? It did feel a little strange with her dad, but that’s just because I don’t know him as well. Madam Pomfrey was a mess, so that was awkward.

Harry stumbled and realized that he needed to pay closer attention to what he was doing.

“Are you alright there, Mr. Potter?” Mr. Burbage asked.

“Yep, just need to pay attention to my feet, that’s all,” Harry chided himself.

They passed into the corridor and went right across the hallway. When Godric opened the door, Harry was overwhelmed by the owlery odor and for a moment thought he was at the owlery in Hogwarts. It’s so odd that the owlery is located across the hall from the reception area, though I imagine that’s convenient for the office staff. He had thought for sure that it would be on top of a tower. He realized that he had created a mental image of it in a tower similar to Great Ben and overlooking the Thames, with owls flying in and out and perched on a jungle-gym of rafters that went up high into the roof.

As they stepped into the room, Harry realized that there was a breeze moving through the room as if it had windows open all around. From the windows he could hear the sounds of London, but from far below and it felt as if the building itself were swaying ever so slightly. Maybe it is at the top of a tower, just like I imagined.

“Whoa! Are we high up in a tower?” Harry asked as he slipped on some owl droppings under his feet and caught himself by pulling heavily on Godric’s arm. “Poop! Sorry about that!”

“Yes, I guess the view is spectacular - a panoramic view of London. At night, it sparkles with all the lights,” Godric explained.

Then there was a cooing hoot, explosive flapping and Harry felt feathers and wings dashing against his face and side of his head as a weight landed heavily on his shoulder, piercing claws digging painfully into his skin. Tears sprang to his eyes - the result of both joy and pain.

“Hedwig!” he shouted. He reached up to feel her familiar form with his right hand, while bracing his left shoulder by gripping his staff.

She launched off his shoulder and landed nearby. Harry followed, using his staff to locate the base of the perch she was on.

“Watch out, there are droppings everywhere,” Godric cautioned as something brittle crunched under his feet (a tiny rodent skeleton?).

“Oh, Hedwig, I’m so glad you’re here!” Harry was euphoric.

“Harry, I’ll return to the desk now that you’ve located your owl, alright?” Mr. Burbage asked.

“Yes, thank you so much for your help!” Harry said as he stroked Hedwig’s wing and accepted her nips on his fingers.

“There’s a mat outside the door that you can wipe your feet on when you leave so that you don’t track anything in the hallway,” Godric advised as he exited the owlery - it sounded as though he were taking advantage of the mat.

“Okay, thanks!” Harry turned back to Hedwig after the door closed.

“Oh, Hedwig, I wish you could tell me where you’ve been!”

As if responding, she hopped on one foot and stuck the other one out to Harry. He followed the contours of her body down to the foot and found a couple bundles of scrolls.

“Who else was sending letters, Hedwig?” he was curious, and untied them, but just stuck them into his pocket to read later. He didn’t want to sit down in here. In fact, he was getting worried that he was going to get pooped on from all the owls up above.

He did accio one of his sandwiches from his staff and tore off pieces to share with Hedwig who greedily gulped them down. She nuzzled into his cheek, too. He didn’t remember her ever being so affectionate before.

“It seemed like a long time, girl, didn’t it,” he smoothed her head. “It was four days. That’s a lot.” He had felt her entire body and was relieved to find no sign of injury. He had been worried that she had been hurt.

He didn’t want to go, but he checked the time and it was nearly eleven. He hated the thought of walking into the dining hall late.

“Hedwig, I’ll be back soon. Okay?” She hooted dolefully in reply and he felt terrible leaving her.

He left a big chunk of sandwich with her and said, “ Navigant dining hall,” pausing only to scrape the owl droppings from his feet.

Chapter Text

As Harry neared the dining hall, he wondered if the big doors would be open or closed. It had seemed like Healer Jordan had used magic to open them earlier, but he hadn’t heard her say a spell. Was there a panel like in the O&M room that was charmed to open and close the doors - kind of like a muggle elevator?

He imagined he could ask his staff to locate things like that if he knew what to ask it. Maybe that will be part of the training.

He reached the doors and his staff informed him that he’d reached his destination. He felt the area with his staff and discovered that the doors were open. That’s a relief. I’ll have to ask Healer Jordan about them later. It gave him an idea: “Navigant Healer Jordan,” Harry tried, but his staff responded, “Location unknown.”

“Navigant group of people,” worked though, and  soon he was at the edge of the group of family and residents waiting for Healer Jordan. He was glad he had a chance to nibble on a sandwich with Hedwig because the food aromas in the dining hall were making him salivate.

He heard someone approaching him and again felt a small hand on his arm. He turned his face toward them, “Hi, Gemma,” he said deliberately.

She lifted up his arm, and gently coaxed him to turn it palm up, then her finger was tracing something on his palm. He furrowed his brow in concentration, trying to figure out what she was doing. Then it hit him, she’s spelling . “ Hi ,” Gemma had spelled H - I into his palm.

He smiled and she squeezed his hand warmly. Then his smile faltered. Could she understand him when he spoke? He cast around for something to ask her. Well, he had a million things he wanted to ask, but they were too complicated, he needed something simple.

She was spelling into his hand again and he had to focus to understand what she was writing.

W-H-A-T, ” she waited a few seconds, then wrote, “ I-S, ” waited again, then, “ I-T? ” It took him a bit to get the last one, the question mark. He mouthed each letter as she wrote it and a gentle squeeze from her left hand supporting his let him know that she understood when he got the letter.

So he tried just telling her, “I don’t know if you can understand me when I speak,” he confessed. He could hear the people around him getting quiet and wondered how much of an audience they had. He felt his ears getting hot. He was tempted to drop it and walk away, but didn’t want to hurt her feelings. She was being really brave approaching him when she didn’t know if she’d be able to communicate with him.

She didn’t squeeze his hand, so he guessed she didn’t understand. He wondered if he should take her hand and try spelling into it, but then she was writing on his again.

She wrote one word: “ S-L-O-W-E-R.

So he tried again, he figured he didn’t really need to voice what he was saying as long as his lips were making the motions, so he tried slower, but barely breathing the words so they were very quiet. This time he phrased it as a shorter question, “Can you understand me?”

She squeezed his hand. He breathed and the corners of his lips lifted in a small smile. That’s a relief. She wrote two dots and a curved line that for a second he didn’t get, and then he smiled in response. A smiley face.

More people were gathering around them. And then Gemma’s mom was there and with her the flapping paper noise again. He puzzled at that. Why did it always sound like she was waving a piece of paper around?

“Gemma, dear. There you are. Always running off. Oh, trying to talk with . . . what’s your name, dear?” Harry realized that she had directed the last question to him.

“Harry, Harry Potter, Ma’am,” he replied politely.

“Oh, Is that right? Well, they said you were here. Hmmm,” She was quiet and Harry had the distinct impression she was staring at him. He resisted the temptation to flatten his bangs over his scar.

“Gemma, Healer Jordan’s here and you can ask her your questions now. Come on, let’s get closer, okay?” Mrs. Boot had turned her attention back to her daughter and Harry felt Gemma’s hand being pulled away from his. But then she pulled on his hand as if wanting him to follow. He pulled his hand out of hers, then traced it lightly to above her elbow and waited for her to go. She held still for a second, then started following her mother’s footsteps. Harry held his staff in his left hand out a little, not sure if Gemma would understand how to guide him around obstacles. At first, his staff ran into some things (people’s shoes, he figured by the sounds of surprise as he passed), but then she adjusted to allow more room for him.

Harry figured that they were closer to the doors leading to the classroom spaces now. Gemma stopped and grasped his hand and started pulling down on his arm. He resisted, not knowing that’s what she was doing. “What?” he asked, angling his face with the hope that his lips were visible to her. She stopped pulling and turned his palm face up again and wrote, “ C-H-A-I-R. Oh! Harry reached out and found the back of the chair directly in front of him, and sat down it while Gemma settled into the one next to his. She took his hand palm up again on her knee and wrote, “ W-H-E-R-E ,” space, “ S-I-S-T-E-R ,” space, “ D-A-D? ” He was confused. How was he supposed to know where her sister and dad were? He shrugged his shoulders. She wrote, “ Y-O-U-R ,” space, “ S-I-S-T-E-R ,” space, “ D-A-D ” and then she tapped a finger on his chest for emphasis.

Oh! She means Hermione and Dr. Granger. He started to explain, “They aren’t my . . .” but then Healer Jordan started addressing the group in her amplified voice, asking if there were questions and Harry stopped.

Gemma shook his hand slightly, a bit impatiently so Harry pointed in the direction of Healer Jordan’s voice, while on the other side of her Mrs. Boot said, “hush dear, Healer Jordan’s speaking,” and the paper sound fluttered around her again.

Harry wasn’t sure if it was directed at him or Gemma, though it struck him as odd that she’d hush Gemma, who hadn’t uttered a sound as far as he could tell.

He wondered how Gemma was understanding what Healer Jordan was saying.

A lot of the questions were about things that Healer Jordan had already addressed on the tour, but she patiently explained them again. One of the parents (Harry assumed from the question) why they had male and female residents sharing rooms, and Healer Jordan explained the importance of community and also went over the guidelines again about proper conduct and the center’s expectations for how residents would behave and respect each other. She also hinted that there would be consequences if the guidelines were not followed.

Harry could hear a quill scratching on paper on Gemma’s other side and thought that Mrs. Boot must be taking notes, but then he realized that she was writing messages to Gemma. Was she translating for her? He decided it was too sporadic for that.

Harry hoped that someone would ask how to open the big doors to the dining hall. He also wanted to ask about a muggle phone, but thought he’d better ask that one in private. Finally he raised his hand. “Yes, Harry?” Healer Jordan addressed him. He was glad she used his name, as he had heard her responding to other people without their names, and wondered how he’d know she was calling on him.

“I was wondering how do you open the doors to the dining hall and the library?” As he said it, he realized it sounded silly. Someone a few seats behind him snorted loudly, confirming his fears.

Healer Jordan answered thoughtfully, though, with no judgement in her voice, “Great question, Harry. The dining hall doors will be open at meal times and if you need to enter the space outside of that time, there is a panel located either side of the door, at the right as you’re facing the door, with braille markers indicating what the buttons do. I’m happy to show you when we’re done here,” she explained.

There were a few more questions. Harry wondered if Gemma was going to ask hers, but if she had, he couldn’t tell.

Healer Jordan invited them to enjoy the lunch and told them that they would have free time until one o’clock to rest and get settled and say goodbye to their families, and then the residents would meet their instructors in the first classroom, called ‘Mont Blanc,’ that they had visited.

Healer Jordan came over to Harry after she was done, “Hi Harry, it’s Healer Jordan,” she politely told him, “Is this a good time to check out the panels for opening the doors to the dining room?”

“Oh, yes, thank you,” Harry responded as he stood up. Gemma must have asked Healer Jordan something because then she addressed her, “Yes, Gemma, I’ll bring him back here. We’ll just be a moment,” she said. He could hear some paper fluttering near Healer Jordan now. He was beginning to wonder if it had something to do with communicating with Gemma. Healer Jordan had tapped the back of his hand with hers, and he grasped her arm above the elbow and noticed that she seemed to be making movements with her hands - sign language!

“I noticed that you and Gemma have figured out a way to overcome your language barriers to converse,” Healer Jordan observed, her voice conveying pleasure and curiosity.

“Er, yes,” Harry agreed, though he felt as though their attempts were pretty cumbersome and awkward.

“Um, what is that paper noise that I heard when you and her mom were talking to her?” Harry asked as they walked through the dining hall, toward the entrance.

“Oh, that’s a handy little charm that writes out what you’re saying on a slip of paper. Gemma’s using it now because she’s still learning BSL,” Healer Jordan explained.

“What’s BSL?” Harry asked.

“Oh, right, British Sign Language,” Healer Jordan explained, then continued, “Okay, we’re here in the entrance. I’m going to take us so that we’re approaching the door as you would if you were coming from the reception area, okay?”

Harry nodded.

“So, if you’re using your staff to help you find your way, you can ask it to ‘ Navigant door panel.’ And that should work on any entrance that has a magical panel for controlling the door. This one is set in the alcove of the entrance on the right-hand side, about three feet from the ground and three paces from the door,”

“Oh, why is it so low?” Harry wondered, imagining little children wreaking havoc with it.

“So anyone can reach it, even if they are using a wheelchair,” Healer Jordan explained patiently.

“Oh, right,” said Harry.

Healer Jordan took Harry’s hand off her arm and guided toward the panel. “Here is the panel, and here is the open button, there are two arrows embossed on the surface that are pointing away from each other, can you feel that?” she said as she moved his fingertips over the surface of the button.

“Oh, yes,” he moved his hand over the button, and then found another button that had the two arrows facing each other. “And this one is the close button?” He asked.

“Yes, that’s right,” she confirmed.

He could feel smaller bumps under the symbols, but they were indistinguishable to him.

“Similar panels are on all the entrances with heavy doors throughout the center,” Healer Jordan explained.

She had tapped his hand to indicate that she was ready to guide him back into the dining hall.

“Could you tell me the charm for writing my words so that I can speak to Gemma more easily?” Harry asked.

“Oh, yes - that charm should be embedded in your staff. It is ‘ scribunt loqui ’. Why don’t you try it?” she said, guiding Harry to the side of the walkway through the dining hall.

He held his staff and said the words, but muddled them the first few times. Healer Jordan helped him get the pronunciation and finally, he heard a little piece of paper fluttering near his lips. He reached for it, and felt it for a second before it disappeared.

“Where did it go?” he asked, surprised. Then he heard it again, and this time it lingered longer before it vanished.

“It doesn’t stay long,” Healer Jordan explained, “so you need to know that the person you’re talking to has seen it, which will be a bit of a challenge for you.”

“When you’re done, you say ‘finite scribunt loqui’,” she continued, “There are other methods for communicating between people who are deaf and blind and you’ll be learning about them in the coming weeks. I’m sure you and Gemma will find a system that works well for you. There is a braille version of the charm, so once you learn braille, Gemma can have her signs translated into braille for you,” Healer Jordan started guiding them back to the table.

Harry felt like it would be a long time before he could read braille, but didn’t voice his worries.

“Okay, here’s your chair, Harry,” Healer Jordan placed his hand on the back of his chair.

“Enjoy your lunch,” she said as she walked away, already being addressed by someone else who had approached her with a question.

“Thank you,” Harry said as she left and heard the paper fluttering by him. He sat down in the chair once he figured out that it was now facing the table.

He felt Gemma’s small hand on his arm again.

“Hi, Gemma,” he said and she squeezed his arm when the paper fluttered by his lips.

Chapter Text

“Gemma, Healer Jordan taught me the scribunt loqui spell!” Harry was eager to tell her, and then kicked himself, obviously, you dork, she can see it as the paper fluttered by him.

“I wanted to answer your question from before,” he said and she squeezed his arm.

“You asked about my sister and dad earlier?” he asked, “They are friends, not my family. My friend Hermione and her dad, Dr. Granger. Dr. Granger is a dentist and he had to go to work, so they weren’t able to stay.”

Gemma took his hand and spelled, “ D-A-D?” space “ M-U-G-G-L-E? ”.

Harry was a bit taken back by this and it must have shown on his face. She hastily wrote, “M-I-N-E” space “T-O-O.

“Oh, yes. Hermione is muggle-born, too.” Harry was relieved.

As Gemma was explaining “M-U-M” space “W-I-T- . . . ,” on his palm, someone across the table snorted. Harry reflexively looked toward the noise. He felt Gemma pause as she was writing and then finish with “C-H.” He decided to ignore the snort.

“Oh, I was raised by Muggles, but my parents were wixen,” Harry explained.

W-I-X-E-N? ” Gemma asked.

“It means Witch or Wizard or both,” Harry answered.

Gemma squeezed his arm in an affirmative way. “W-H-Y” space “Y-O-U-R” space “F-A-M-I-L-Y” space “N-O-T” space “C-O-M-E?” Gemma probed.

Harry deflated a bit and Gemma squeezed his arm. Someone across the table was muttering something that Harry was trying hard to ignore. He wished he knew who was sitting across from them and also wished that they weren’t listening in on their conversation.

He sighed, “My Aunt, Uncle, and Cousin weren’t able to come,” he said heavily, not really wanting to get into it with strangers eavesdropping.

Apparently, Mrs. Boot was also actively following the conversation, because she leaned over Gemma and patted his knee (knocking Gemma against him in the process - he realized that Gemma was even more petite than he had originally guessed) and said, “Well, dear, that’s too bad. It’s good that Gemma took you under her wing. She’s always collecting waifs.” Harry heard Gemma blow out an exasperated breath. “Oh, don’t look at me like that, Gemmie - you are,” Mrs. Boot shushed her daughter, “You have a heart of gold.” Mrs. Boot’s voice sounded a bit weepy and Gemma leaned away from Harry. He thought she might be hugging her mom.

Harry took issue with being described as a waif. Though, now that he thought about it, he probably was looking pretty waifish - in Dudley’s baggy hand-me-downs, bruises on his face, who knows what his hair looked like (he resisted the urge to try to flatten it), and then there was the weight he lost during the week with the Dursleys. I sure wish lunch would be served. I’m starving. He actually felt a little lightheaded. It’s good I nibbled on that sandwich with Hedwig.

“I wonder when lunch will be served,” Harry said to Gemma. He kept feeling the table to see if platters of food had magically appeared as they did at Hogwarts, even though he knew he’d smell it and hear it first.

She tapped his arm with her fingers.

“What is it?” Harry asked softly.

F-O-O-D” space “H-E-R-E,” she spelled into his palm.

“Where is it?” He felt the table with his free hand, reaching out farther to see if he had missed anything and felt the vase that Hermione had described in the center of the table, but no silverware or platters.

B-U-F-F-E-T ” she explained.

Oh, well that sounds like a train-wreck waiting to happen.

“Where is it? I can’t hear it or smell it.” The food aromas were the same as when they entered the dining hall. He started sniffing the air around him and then stopped abruptly as the person across the table from him broke out into peals of laughter. Glad I can provide some entertainment, Harry thought wryly.

F-L-O-A-T-I-N-G” space “T-R-A-Y-S” space “C-O-M-E” space “O-N,” she pulled at his arm, urging him to stand up.

Harry grimaced. Floating trays sounded like a disaster. Would his staff warn him in time before he ran into someone’s floating tray?

Mrs. Boot, who had been thankfully engaged in a conversation with someone on her other side, now seemed to notice that Gemma and Harry were getting up.

“Oh, is it our turn to get our food?” She asked and Harry heard the familiar flitting of paper as she spoke. “It smells divine!”

Harry took Gemma’s left arm with his right, which took a little bit of rearranging, since he had been sitting on her right. He heard as her mother had gone on ahead of them. Gemma seemed to have learned a lot in the short amount of time that she’d guided him before and he felt more comfortable, even though she was so much shorter than he was and his hand was nearly up to her armpit. He realized that she was about the size of Ginny, maybe a little smaller and wondered if she was also a first year. He saved that question for later, though, she wouldn’t be able to answer while they were walking. He wasn’t even certain she’d see the slip of paper since he was a step behind her.

There was a moment where she pulled him quickly to her side, shoring up the distance between them and he felt something graze by his forehead at the same time that his staff warned him of the danger. A floating tray. Only wixen would think of such a thing. What’s wrong with having food magically appear on the table? That seemed like a reasonable use of magic.

“Thank you, Gemma!” Harry said, hoping she saw the slip of paper hovering by his mouth. He was tempted to grab it and hand it to her to be sure.

She laid her other hand on his, letting him know that she’d seen it.

Her mother was talking to them from a distance. As they approached, Harry could make out some of what she was saying, but other people were talking, too, so it was hard for him to hear. It sounded like she was reading food labels from the buffet to them. I’m impressed that Gemma knew how to spell buffet. I don’t know if I would.

Harry didn’t care what the food was - he just wanted something to eat.

“Here you go, dear,” Mrs. Boot pushed something thin and hard across his chest and he let go of Gemma’s arm to figure out what it was, his other hand was holding his staff. Oh! The tray.

“Thanks,” he managed. “No problem, dear,” Mrs. Boot went on blithely. He held onto the tray, and tapped his staff three times on the floor to collapse it and put it in his pocket. Gemma didn’t leave his side and he was glad. And then he realized they were standing in a line. He could hear people ahead of them handling china and the clang of metal against metal. The aroma of food was almost more than he could take. He found himself drumming on the tray with his fingers trying to distract himself. The tray was kind of floating at chest level though he was holding onto it. He switched hands so that he could hold onto Gemma’s arm again. He didn’t want to let the tray go - where would it end up? I’ll never eat.

Behind him, he could hear Mei approaching with her mother. Great. Just what we need.

Ahead of him, Harry could also hear Tony arguing with a parent (Harry assumed). Harry caught a bit of what Tony was saying in a low hiss that was still audible, “. . . don’t want to eat out here where everyone can see me . . .” and he felt a slight pang of empathy, which he quickly dismissed. Stinking Slytherin. He wondered if it had been Tony who’d been snorting at their conversation about muggles. Ridiculous blood status crap.

Gemma moved forward and Harry followed.

Mei was a couple people behind them in the line. She was continuing to complain about the food. Harry tried to block her out. It must be nice to be able to turn up your nose at free food. As they got closer to the food (Harry could tell by the sounds and smells), he began to wonder how he was going to determine what was available. He could ask Gemma, but they’d stall the line with that process. He could imagine having to listen to Mei behind them complaining loudly about how long they were taking. He could ask Mrs. Boot for help, but cringed at the thought. She seemed a bit oblivious anyway.

It sounded like the family with children was getting their food now. He listened carefully to a mother who was patiently trying to coax a small child to take a spoonful of peas on their plate. Mmm. I love peas. Dang! How am going to eat peas? The rhyme “I eat my peas with honey, I’ve done it all my life. They do taste kind of funny, but it keeps them on my knife,” ran through his head. He chuckled to himself as he thought about actually employing that method. Gemma touched the back of his hand on her arm and drew a question mark.

“I was just thinking about how I’m going to eat peas,” he explained as the charmed paper flapped by his mouth. She drew another question mark on the back of his hand.

“It’s just really hard to get small things that roll to your mouth when you can’t see them. I’m just learning. I’m sure I’ll get better at it,” he reassured himself as much as Gemma.

“Can you see what the food is?” Harry decided to ask.

He felt Gemma straining to see around people, leaning one way, then another, and then getting up on her tiptoes. She took his hand and turned it face up, then started tracing letters in his palm, “S-H-E-P-H-E-R-D--P-I-E” space “P-E-A-S” space “C-A-R-R-O-T-S” space “S-A-L-A-D” space “F-R-U-I-T--S-A-L-A-D” space “R-O-L-L-S” space “S-O-U-P.” Harry said the name of each word as he understood it, so that Gemma could read the scribunt loqui charmed papers and know that he got it.

“Thank you! Can you see what kind of soup?” Harry asked. She was up on her tiptoes again and then she dropped his hand and seemed to be getting the attention of her mother.

“What’s that, Gemmie? Oh, the name of the soup? Lemme see, oh, yes, it’s Minestrone,” Mrs. Boot answered. Harry wondered how Gemma was communicating with her mom. It seemed faster than how she and Harry were talking. Maybe with sign language? Harry remembered a couple students at his primary school using signs - they also had hearing aids. He wondered if the wixen community had anything similar.  

They were finally nearing the food. Harry heard Mrs. Boot put her tray on something metal (the sideboards?) and start sliding it. She was giving a running commentary about the food - so Harry was feeling more comfortable about what he was about to encounter.

Gemma moved forward and Harry heard her put her tray on the metal sideboard. He dropped her arm and moved to her other side. She reached across him and he heard a plate land on her tray - a bit loudly and he winced. She put her hand on his left arm and helped him find the sideboard. The floating tray seemed to stick to the sideboard - that was handy. Gemma took his hand and guided it toward the plates. He placed one on his tray. She took his hand and wrote: “ S-O-U-P ?” He shook his head. Soup seems like it would be a mess and take forever to eat. I’ll wait.

She guided his hand to something and his aftí spoke in his ear, surprising him, “Forks,” it said.  He pulled out one and put it on his tray.

“Gemma, my aftí is speaking to me.” He touched his ear where the aftí was attached to his ear helix. “This must be a charmed buffet. It’s telling me where things are.” She tapped his arm twice to let him know that she understood and let him find the rest of the silverware on his own.

She moved down the buffet, he followed by keeping his shoulder close to hers. He could feel her reaching and then hear her placing food on her plate.

He was so hungry, but he knew from previous experience that overeating would make him sick. He had to pace himself. He could put some rolls in his pockets and save them for later, maybe go share them with Hedwig in the owlery when he had a chance.

He tentatively stuck his hand forward and his aftí said, “Shepherd’s pie, serving spoon at 3 o’clock.” He found it without sticking his fingers in the Shepherd’s pie, which he considered a victory and put a small scoop on his plate.

Harry proceeded down the buffet and even felt brave enough to try a small scoop of peas. He had to remember where he’d placed things on his plate and felt as though he’d done a pretty good job. He resisted the urge to start nibbling on the food while he was in the line. His legs felt a little shaky as they reached the end of the line. Gemma guided his hand to her arm and handed him his floating tray to hold lightly as they made their way back to their table. Her mother was deep in conversation with the person in front of her. They were talking about the best place to buy robes for school and seemed oblivious to anything around them and in fact, stayed a few feet away from the buffet debating whether Madam Malkins was better than Twilfitt and Tattings.

Gemma deftly guided Harry and his floating tray (and he imagined her own), around the debating duo and back to their table. There they unloaded their trays at their place settings and the trays floated away. Harry hoped that he didn’t need to do anything except let it go, because that’s what he did with Gemma’s nonverbal urging.

He had been careful to set down his plate so that he knew what was where. He was really hoping he wouldn’t make a mess of his first meal in front of Gemma. He realized that he had managed to block Mei’s complaints successfully during the whole process. He wondered if he actually had, or if she had finally stopped moaning.

That would be nice, he thought as he dug into the Shepherd’s pie.

Chapter Text

Harry was pretty sure it was the best Shepherd’s pie he had ever tasted. The mincemeat and mash had more flavoring than Aunt Petunia used in her recipe and they had included generous helpings of small cooked vegetables that were firm, not soggy. It was both comforting and surprisingly flavorful. Though he was in the habit of woofing down his food as soon as he could, he tried to go slowly and savor it. He was glad he took a small scoop because it didn’t take long to feel full. He used his knife to help corner his peas and get them on his spoon and worked on keeping the spoon level as he moved it to his mouth. Most of the time, there were peas on the spoon - if only a few. A couple times he was surprised to put his mouth around an empty spoon and hoped that no one had noticed. Everyone at the table seemed to be focused on eating.

He was pretty sure it was Tony across the table from them. He was quiet though, giving short, almost angry responses to the man sitting next to Harry who was asking him about his food.

Then he hissed angrily, “Dad! It’s dripping down my chin. Wipe my chin off, would you? Hurry up!” and Harry was certain that it was Tony. With a jolt, it occurred to Harry that Tony’s dad must be feeding him. No wonder he didn’t want to eat in front of everyone. He wondered why his dad would be feeding him. When Harry had spoken to Tony earlier, it sounded like Tony was getting around just fine on his two feet, no sounds of crutches and he was standing, not sitting in a wheelchair like Mei.

It dawned on him that he had paused mid-bite and that if Tony was watching him, he’d know that Harry had been listening, so he quickly took the bite and continued eating. His challenges suddenly didn’t seem so hard. If Tony needed help eating, then he probably needed help doing other more private things and the thought of relying on other people for those things was mortifying. Not that that gives him an excuse for being a blood-status snot, though, Harry grumbled internally.

Harry noticed that Gemma had stopped making noises next to him - her fork was no longer scraping against the plate. He put down his knife and fork and wiped his mouth on his napkin. He was thirsty but hadn’t noticed any beverages when they went through the buffet line and hadn’t thought to ask.

“Gemma?” he asked, uncertain if she would see the paper slip.

She tapped his hand twice that he had laid on the table between them.

“Is there water or something to drink on the table?”

She tapped his hand twice again and then was reaching across him, but then took his palm and wrote into his hand, “C-A-N-’T” space “R-E-A-C-H” space “Y-O-U” space “A-S-K”.

Harry listened for a moment to see if this was a good time to interrupt Tony and his dad. When would be a good time? It seemed as though they might be done eating, too. So Harry turned toward Mr. Montague and cleared his throat.

“Excuse me, Mr. Montague?” he tried politely.

“Yes?” was his impatient reply.

“Could you please pass me the water?” Harry asked.

“Sure,” he said.

Harry waited patiently.

Then Tony interjected, “Dad, he’s blind. You have to tell him that you’re holding it in front of him.”

Harry felt his face grow hot and reached forward tentatively as Mr. Montague mumbled, “Oh, sorry. It’s here, in front of you.”

Harry’s hands found a pitcher of water and he put his hands around it, but it was slippery with condensated water and it dropped suddenly in his hands as Mr. Montague let go before Harry had a hold of it. Cold water splashed all over his front and lap and the pitcher bounced to the floor as Harry scooted his chair back quickly and yelped.

“Oh, sorry, son, I thought you had it,” Mr. Montague seemed genuinely apologetic, which caught Harry off guard. He’d been expecting something of a Lucius Malfoy.

Mrs. Boot and Mrs. Montague (Harry pieced together that Mrs. Boot had been deep in conversation with Mrs. Montague during the whole meal) came rushing over by the sound of it. Several people were pressing napkins onto Harry’s lap, which he found rather alarming, and he shouted in desperation, “Stop! Can’t someone perform a drying charm?” Mrs. Boot stopped and exclaimed, “Oh, how rude! I was just trying to help,” to which Harry responded with an exasperated, “Sorry, it was just rather, well . . . uncomfortable . . .” he didn’t know what else to say.

Mr. Montague said, “ Calidum siccum ” and Harry felt instant relief and warmth. He realized that Gemma’s hand was on his shoulder - she released it and he was pretty certain that she sat down next to him.

“Thank you, Mr. Montague,” Harry said, relieved. He heard someone pick up the dropped pitcher and place it back on the table.

“I’m so sorry about that . . .” Mr. Montague began, but then paused awkwardly and Harry realized that Mr. Montague didn’t know his name.

“I’m Harry Potter,” and he stuck out his hand, which Mr. Montague took after a moment and shook heartily. He was a bigger man than he was expecting from his gentle voice. He heard Mrs. Boot and Mrs. Montague return to their conversation and sit back down in their seats.

“You mean . . . the Harry Potter?” he asked in awe, and Harry heard Tony behind him groaning.

Harry blushed again, “Er. I guess so,” he said reluctantly. He was surprised that someone with a Slytherin son would ask with so much awe in his voice and he felt uncomfortable.

He cast around for another topic, “Water,” he said firmly. “Is there any more water? I am awfully thirsty,” he admitted.

“Sure, let’s get you some, but this time let’s not dump it in your lap.” Mr. Montague said with a joking laugh in his voice. “Can I ask you why there’s a slip of paper that writes out your words by your mouth as you speak?”

Harry heard a glass of water being filled and then, “Here you go,” Mr. Montague said. “You’ve got it?” he said before he released it. “Yes, thank you,” and no one was doused this time as a glass of water was pressed into Harry’s hand.

“Sure, that’s so Gemma can understand what I’m saying,” Harry said and he took a sip of water and set it down carefully by his plate. He reached for Gemma and found her hand. He turned to her and said, “Gemma, this is Mr. Montague, Tony’s dad. Do you know Tony?” he asked her. She tapped twice on his arm. “Mr. Montague, this is Gemma Boot,” he said turning to Mr. Montague. He could feel Mr. Montague reaching across him, close and Gemma reaching to shake his hand.

He felt very adult making these introductions. He thought, Aunt Petunia would be proud, for a split second before that thought left him crestfallen - she’s never proud of me, and he shrugged it off.

There was an uncomfortable silence, then Mr. Montague asked, “What’s the spell you use to make your words show up while you speak?”

“Oh, it’s ‘ scribunt loqui,’” Harry explained and Mr. Montague cast it. Harry guessed he was successful right off that bat because he could hear the paper fluttering.

“Tony, do you want to try it?” Mr. Montague asked eagerly.

“Dad, you know I can’t!” Tony said petulantly.

“Oh, well, that’s right, but that’s why you’re here, right? So that you can learn how to cast spells again.”

Tony’s chair screeched and then clattered loudly on the floor as he stormed off.

“Sorry about that,” Mr. Montague said hurriedly, and then Harry gathered that he had also left the table, most likely running after Tony. Mrs. Montague stopped talking with Mrs. Boot to ask,
“What’s going on?”

Harry figured he was the only one who could answer, so he attempted, “I guess Tony was upset and he left and Mr. Montague went after him?” He felt like it was a poor explanation, but he heard her get up, too, explaining to Mrs. Boot that she’d better go and see if there was anything she could do.

Harry sipped some more water. Gemma took his hand and wrote, “W-A-N-T” space “B-I-S-C-U-I-T-S?

Harry perked up, “Yes!” he said enthusiastically and his enthusiasm must have made the paper flutter more because he felt it flap against his lips and he laughed.

She tugged at his hand and he stood up, shaking out his staff and finding her arm. He could feel her moving her arms and guessed that she was telling her mom what they were doing in sign language because her mom responded, “Okay, dear. Bring me back a couple short breads, would you?”

Gemma led Harry in the direction where the buffet table was located, but Harry couldn’t smell the food anymore, so he suspected that it had been cleared while they ate.

He could hear Mei’s voice as they approached the area, decrying the lack of custard creams from the selection.

He sighed and hung back a little. Gemma urged him on.

She reached for something and then pressed a plate into his hand, which he dutifully held, collapsing his staff first and tucking it in his pocket. He could feel her placing some biscuits on it and he tried to hold it steady, knowing from experience that they could slide off a plate very easily. He wondered what kind she was picking out and was tempted to feel them, but thought that might gross out Gemma so he waited patiently.

“Bing, get that Florentine, for me, I can’t reach it,” Mei said imperiously.  

“Oh, hi, Harry. It’s me, Bing,” Bing said cheerfully.

“Hi Bing. This is my friend, Gemma Boot,” Harry said, introducing Bing to Gemma. He could feel Gemma reaching to shake Bing’s hand.

“Bing!” Mei said impatiently.

“Mei, have you met Harry Potter and Gemma Boot?” Bing asked, as if he hadn’t heard his sister’s demands. Harry felt as though he were in a film featuring a dull dinner party and fully expected Bing to blow a mouthful of smoke at him. It was weird to be so formal.

“Well, we’re roommates aren’t we?” she demanded.

“Yeah, I suppose,” Bing conceded.

“Gemma, is there tea, too?” Harry asked. He felt as though he had caught a whiff of it as they crossed the room. She tapped twice on his arm in response, but maybe Bing didn’t catch that, because he answered, “Yes, there’s tea at the tables.”

“Okay, thanks,” answered Harry.

“What’s that paper that’s appearing by your mouth as you speak?” Bing asked.

“That’s the scribunt loqui charm so that Gemma can understand what I’m saying,” Harry explained.

“Why . . .?” Bing started to ask and then stopped himself.

“She’s deaf, you dofus,” Mei interjected, “Obviously she had spattergroit. Look at her face. She’s not still contagious, is she?”

Harry stepped forward trying to shield Gemma from Mei’s words. “Why are you so mean?” he blurted out and then was shocked when Mei burst into tears.

Oh great.

Chapter Text

Gemma had left his side and he guessed she was hugging Mei from the muffled sound of Mei’s sobs. He stood there holding the plate of biscuits and feeling like a jackass.

“Sorry,” he muttered to Bing.

“No worries, man,” Bing replied sympathetically. “It’s messed up. It’s all messed up,” Bing muttered to himself.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Harry shrugged.

There was a plinking sound like someone had dropped some beads and a whiff of fish. Maybe we’re having fish for dinner.

“Did someone break a necklace,” Harry asked confused.

“Oh no, I’ll get those,” said Bing. And it sounded like Bing had gotten down on the floor and was picking up the beads - he could hear them rolling around and the sound of Bing grunting as he bent over.

Harry, feeling a bit useless, fished a biscuit off the plate and ate it. Mmm. A chocolate bourbon.

Soon, Mei’s sobs quieted to hiccups. Harry got his staff out his pocket and accio’d a clean handkerchief from it without managing to spill the biscuits (he was feeling pretty skilled about that) and offered it to Mei, taking a step toward her wet sounds.

Something rolled under his foot and he almost fell, but Bing caught his elbow.

“Oops, missed one,” Bing said as Harry murmured, “Whoa,” and then, “Thanks, man.”

Harry tried again to hand the handkerchief to Mei.

“Thanks,” she replied, sniffling while taking it from him.  

“Want to have some tea with us at our table?” Harry invited, unsure what to do.

“Sure, I guess,” said Mei grudgingly.

“The charm is scribunt loqui if you’d like Gemma to be able to understand what you’re saying,” Harry offered. Mei tried, but didn’t get the pronunciation just right at first. Harry repeated it, and he heard Bing trying it, too. After many attempts, Harry heard the tattletale crinkling of paper.  

Gemma had come back over to him as they worked on the charm, her hand on his arm.

Mei hesitantly greeted Gemma and Harry could sense her hands moving in a signed response. He also heard a little bit of paper flapping by Gemma which he hadn’t noticed before.

Curious, he asked her, “Gemma, do you have a charmed bit of paper, too, for your signs?” She tapped his arm twice, affirming.

“Oh, that’s cool,” though he felt a little sad, a little left out and then he shook his head to get rid of the feeling.

She tapped his hand and he took her arm and they led the way to their table. When they reached the table, she guided Harry’s hand to the table top so that he could place the plate on it. Harry felt for his lunch plate, worried that he’d put the biscuits on top of them accidentally, but couldn’t find them. “Did someone clear our plates?” Harry wondered out loud. Gemma tapped twice on his arm. Bing was moving a chair away so that Mei had a place at the table next to Gemma, and Harry sat on her other side, and Bing next to him.

Harry had a moment of thankfulness that the spilled pitcher earlier had not been hot tea when he took a sip of the tea that Bing had poured out for him.

He became aware that Mei and Gemma were in an intense conversation. He gleaned this from Mei’s responses, but Harry was having a hard time following it because he was only hearing half of the conversation. It sounded like Gemma was really saying a lot more than he’d ever known her to say. Well, probably because our communication is limited to writing in the palm of my hand. It’s hard to get into depth when it is so slow.

“Bing, Can you tell me what Gemma’s saying?” Harry leaned over and asked.

“Sure. She was signing a bit, but I think she’s just learning how to sign, because now she’s actually just writing on a notepad to Mei. That must be faster,” Bing said. Harry could tell that he was leaning around Harry, maybe trying to see what Gemma was writing.

“Hey, Mei, Gemma!” Bing interrupted, “Can you sit so that I can see what you’re writing? I can read it to Harry,” he turned to Harry. “Let’s trade seats, then I can see what Gemma’s writing and read it to you,” he continued.

“Geez, Bing. Why do you have to make everything so complicated,” Mei complained.

“Come on, Mei. Don’t be so difficult,” Bing cajoled, “Let’s include Harry, too. You know you hate to be left out,” he admonished and she responded with a hrumphing sigh.

Harry was ready to let it go, but he heard Bing stand up, so he pushed back his chair and followed the edge of the table to find Bing’s seat as Bing walked behind him and took his seat. Bing helped sort out their tea and plates. Harry moved his fingertips forward on the tablecloth until he located the saucer of his tea cup, then took a sip and waited. He wondered where Mrs. Boot was.

“Bing, is Mrs. Boot at the table,” Harry asked quietly.

“No, why?” Bing responded.

“Oh, she just wanted some shortbread. Could you put some on a plate for her?” Harry requested.

“Oh, I think Gemma already did that. There is a plate where she was sitting with the biscuits on it,” Bing replied.

“Oh, okay. That’s good,” Harry sighed.

“Okay, Gemma’s pointing to spot on the page that she wants me to share with you, Harry.” Bing said, his voice directed away from Harry, but loud enough for Harry to hear even over the din of the dining room.

“She was telling Mei about how she was really, really sick with spattergoit last year and they thought she was going to die, but she pulled through. She missed her first year at Hogwarts because of it. She said at first when she started recovering, she was so sick, she didn’t realize that she couldn’t hear anymore or speak . . . all she did was sleep and she barely ate or drank. I guess she lost a lot of weight,” Bing sounded somber.

“She wrote that when she did finally feel well enough to notice that she couldn’t hear anything at first she was really scared and she tried to hide it from her family. I guess she was afraid that they wouldn’t want her anymore if they knew that she couldn’t hear or talk on top of being disfigured,” Bing said grimly.

Mei seemed to be comforting Gemma now. Harry wondered if Gemma knew what Mei had said earlier about her face . . . if she had read Mei’s lips. He wondered at Gemma’s capacity for forgiveness . . . what would cross her line?

Bing continued, “but her family figured it out and, of course, they weren’t going to kick her out. She and her family have been learning sign language at home with a private tutor, but she was finally well enough to come to the center for more diverse training - not just sign language, but also to learn other things such as nonverbal spell casting so that she can go to Hogwarts in September.”

Harry leaned forward, hoping that Gemma could see that he wanted to speak to her and said, “I’m glad you’re here now and that you’ll be at Hogwarts in the fall,” smiling encouragingly at her. He was glad to hear more of her story and was curious about Mei’s, but knew how it felt to have people constantly wanting you to recount a very difficult experience. He wondered if this was the time to tell Gemma and Mei about what happened to him. It might make Gemma not want to go to Hogwarts! A giant serpent roaming the corridors turning students to stone and a mind-controlling diary that almost stole a first-year’s soul. He thought about Hermione - of all people - lying to her parents about what happened because she was afraid they wouldn’t let her return. He wondered what she told them about what happened their first year with Professor Quirrell teaching the whole year with Voldemort living in the back of his head.

He decided to wait.

Harry nibbled on another biscuit, a shortbread. He slipped one in his pocket for later, for Hedwig. He had put a piece of roll in there, too, earlier.

“Looks like you’ve got quite the stash of food in your pocket, Potter,” Bing teased.

“Oh, um,” Harry felt his face grow hot, “it’s for my owl, Hedwig,” he confessed.

“Yeah, right,” Bing laughed.

“Do you go to Hogwarts, Bing?” Harry asked.

“Yeah, I’ll be a sixth year,” Bing said, “I’m in Hufflepuff,” he offered.

“Do you play Quidditch?”

“Yeah, but I’m not on the team,” Bing admitted, “But I saw you play. You’re really good,” Bing said enthusiastically, but then uttered a heavy, “Oh,” and got quiet.

“Yeah,” Harry said, addressing the unsaid thing, “it sucks,” was all he was able to add, kicking himself for bringing up Quidditch at all.

Harry realized that Mei and Gemma were quiet, too.

“Mei, too,” Bing said heavily, “She was really good at Quidditch before . . .”

“I turned into a fish . . .” Mei angrily interjected.

That surprised Harry. “Wait - What?” he was really confused.

“Oh, come on! No one told you?” Mei hissed venomously, “That prissy, frizzy-haired know-it-all didn’t tell you that I have a fishtail? I can’t believe that after the looks she gave me when I accidentally dumped you in the sand. I didn’t know that would happen. No one told me!” She was shouting now.

Harry noticed that the rest of the dining hall seemed to be quiet as if everyone was listening to Mei ranting.

“No, no one told me,” Harry said, quietly.

Chapter Text

Harry paused for a moment. He had a million questions he wanted to ask Mei, such as: How did you turn into a fish (or a part fish)? Does that make you a mermaid? How are you out of water? Don’t mermaids tails transform into legs when they are on land? But then he remembered what it was like to have Tony and other people hounding him with questions about what happened to him and how exhausting it was to be an oddity. And really lonely. He took in a deep breath.

“So you were really good at Quidditch? What position did you play? Were you on a house team?” he asked.

Mei let out a big breath as well, as if she’d been bracing for the onslaught of questions. It must be so much worse for her, Harry thought, No wonder she’s such a crab.

He was really glad he didn’t say that out loud.

It sounded like the dining hall had gone back to normal conversation. Harry was glad they were no longer the center of attention (as far as he could tell).

Mei answered in a voice that he almost didn’t recognize . . . he was so used to her angry pitch. “I was okay,” she started slowly, “I played keeper a lot for Bing and his friends growing up, but I really like being a chaser and seeker isn’t so bad.” Harry’s throat was closing. This was a hard conversation.

“You were more than okay, Mei,” her brother continued, “you would have been chosen for the team this year had you been able to try out . . .”

“Why didn’t you try out?” Harry asked without thinking, “can’t you still sit on a broom?”

“Ha! See, I told you, Mei!” Bing said triumphantly.

Harry was confused again.

“Yes, I can sit on a broom still, especially if I’m allowed to have a seat added to my broom,” Mei’s voice was defiant now. “Hogwarts thought it would give me an unfair advantage over the other players . . .” she finished quietly.

“What? That’s ridiculous. It would just give you the same advantage the other players have,” Harry was up in arms now. “Did you protest?”

“No, I was also not wanting to draw attention to myself. I was getting too much as it was,” Mei continued. “Also, I need to have breaks to rehydrate. I can’t last a whole Quidditch game without hydrating. If they weren’t willing to allow a seat, then there’s no way they’d allow 20-minute breaks to allow me to rehydrate. It was too much to ask.”

“It’s not fair,” Bing said, then explained, “that was Gemma. She agrees that it is not fair.”

“Thanks, Bing.” Harry knew that Bing did that for his benefit. “So you were at Hogwarts last year? How did I miss seeing you?” Harry asked, then berated himself. How could he get through this conversation without falling all over his own words?

“Well, I was there for the first couple of months, then this happened . . .” Harry guessed she was motioning to her fish tail. “And I was out for a bit, then I tried to go back after the holidays, but I wasn’t in a good place . . .” She got quiet.

“What happened?” Harry asked somberly.

“Mei, she was . . .” Bing wasn’t able to continue.

“I was hurting myself,” she stated bluntly.

“Oh,” Harry didn’t know what else to say.

“Yeah, well. I’m done with that. So you really didn’t hear about me?” Mei asked, her tone changing dramatically.

“Yeah, well, no. Sorry,” Harry confessed. How could I miss that a student had come back to school after the holidays with a tail? Hermione had to know. “What house are you in?” he asked.

“I’m in Ravenclaw, I’ll be a fourth year in the fall.” Mei said, “My mom helped me keep up with the coursework, and so did Tony. He came home every weekend to help me with my work,” Harry could hear the affection in her voice. It must be nice to have a sibling you like - who looks out for you.

“Gemma, will you start as a second year next year?” Harry asked.

“She says ‘yes’ as long as she passes the exams for first years over the summer. That’s part of her training here - to prepare for the exams,” Bing related Gemma’s notes to Harry.

“Did you have to take the third year exams at the end of term, Mei?” Harry asked.

“Yes, but they were easy,” she said, like a true Ravenclaw.

“Oh, I’m starting to dry out. I have to go hydrate,” Mei said, distracted. He could hear her running her hands over something - he realized it must be her fishtail.

“How close it is to 1 o’clock?” Mei asked.

Harry put his hand in his pocket and said, “Tempus. ” He relayed the time to Mei, “Its 12:29 pm.” 

Bing got up and turned to Harry, “I’m leaving after we go back to the dormitories and Mei starts hydrating. So, I’ll see you and Gemma later, maybe on the weekend? And definitely on the visiting weekends. It was really nice to meet you both. I’m really glad that Mei has you as roommates.”

Bing was responding to Gemma, “You, too, Gemma. Take care. Thank you for everything.”

Bing clapped Harry on the shoulder as he was leaving the table, which surprised Harry just because it came from nowhere, then he and Mei left to go back to the dormitories.

Gemma came over to Harry and laid her hand on his arm.

“What do you want to do now, Gemma?” Harry asked.

She lifted his hand and wrote, “M-Y” space “M-U-M-?” into his palm.

Harry listened carefully, he couldn’t hear her mom anywhere, so he shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t hear her. You can’t see her anywhere?”

She tapped once which he understood as “no.”

“We could look for her,” Harry suggested.

He could feel Gemma making a sign and he caught her hands lightly in his to try to make out what it was she was doing. She repeated the sign as he held onto each of her hands. She was holding her fingers cupped toward her and crossing her hands in front of her mouth.

“What does that mean?” he asked intrigued.

V-E-R-Y” space “F-U-N-N-Y” she spelled into his hand.

“Oh, Ha Ha. I get it,” he said smiling, “Where should we start?” he said turning back to the table to find the plate with the biscuits and tucking the remaining biscuits into his trouser pocket.

She grabbed his hand, still crumbly with biscuits and wrote “W-H-A-T” space “D-O-I-N-G?

He felt his face flush, “Getting some snacks for Hedwig . . . . Oh, did you want some?” he asked as an afterthought, chagrined.

She spelled out “W-H-O” space “H-E-D-W-I-G-?” in his hand.

“Oh, she’s my snowy white owl,” Harry said buoyantly, “Do you want to meet her? She’s in the owlery,” he continued.

She tapped his hand twice, “Yes.” Then she let his hand go and when it was hanging by his side, tapped the back of his hand so that he knew that she was ready for sighted guide and he took her arm.

“Maybe that’s where your mom is,” he said chuckling and he felt her also laughing silently next to him.

Chapter Text

As Harry and Gemma were walking through the dining hall and then down the corridor toward the owlery, Harry was thinking about how dramatically things had changed for him in a week. He could have never anticipated being where he was at that moment two weeks ago. Never. He was thinking about Mei, her anger and how she had been hurting herself. He understood it in a way he would have never understood before.

They were at the door of the owlery - the odor bowled him over as they pushed open the door and crossed the threshold. Gemma stood still for a moment when they first walked in and he heard her take a sharp intake of breath.

“What is it?” he asked.

She took his hand and wrote on his palm, “V-I-E-W” space “B-R-E-A-T-H-T-A-K-I-N-G-!

She walked over to a window. He followed her arm down to the windowsill she was leaning against, feeling the peeling paint under his fingertips. The warm summer air blowing in through the window lifted London’s unique aroma up - a mixture of petrol, bakeries, rubbish, and curry. Down below, horns honked, trains rattled, voices rose and fell. The afternoon sun felt good on his face and he took in deep breaths and let some of the tension release from his shoulders.

“Yeah, it is pretty spectacular, isn’t it,” He agreed.

She took up his palm and wrote, “S-U-N” space “G-L-I-M-M-E-R-S” space “O-F-F” space “B-U-I-L-D-I-N-G-S” space “D-A-Z-Z-L-I-N-G”.

“I can hear the cars honking their horns, the rattling of the train as it moves on the tracks, people’s voices, and some buskers’ songs along with the owls hooting and grumbling behind us,” he told her, the paper rattling next to his lips as he spoke. He heard her grabbing the paper and then stuff it into her pocket.

“Doesn’t the paper disappear?” He asked.

C-A-T-C-H” space “I-T” “S-T-A-Y” she explained.

“Nice.”

She went on to write, “I” space“F-E-E-L” space “P-U-L-S-I-N-G” space “C-I-T-Y” space “T-H-R-O-U-G-H” space “S-I-L-L.”

“I can feel it, too,” Harry confided.

W-H-Y” space “Y-O-U” space “C-L-O-S-E” space “E-Y-E-S?

“The sun is too bright. It hurts my eyes.”

She shook his hand gently, as if she were excited, “Y-O-U” space “S-E-E?

“Just bright light, nothing else.”

Her hand stroked the back of his as if she were petting a cat, soothingly.

He shrugged. He realized he was getting used to not seeing.

“Can you hear anything?” he felt it was fair to ask.

She tapped his palm once, “No.”

Harry heard the flutter of wings behind him and claws scratching on a wood post and Hedwig’s cooing call behind him.  He was amazed that he could pick out her voice from all the other owls. He turned, wanting to walk over to her, but not sure what was between them in the room. They had walked straight to the window from the doorway without going around anything, but Hedwig was in an area of the room he hadn’t been in before. “Hedwig’s here,” he said to Gemma. She tapped the back of his hand and they walked over to Hedwig. Harry reached out his hand to find her downy warmth and smiled, wanting to bury his face in her feathers. Gemma hung back a little.

“It’s okay, Gemma. She’s gentle,” Harry said suspecting that she was nervous because of Hedwig’s size. He reached for Gemma’s hand and she met his and he guided her hand to Hedwig’s wing.

“Hedwig, this is Gemma. Gemma, this is Hedwig,” he smiled at them both. He remembered the bit of roll and biscuits in his pocket and fished them out to break into small bits for Hedwig. She pecked at his hand, picking them up with her beak. He should have saved some of the mincemeat for her, but that would have made a mess in his pocket. After a bit, Hedwig hooted and opened her wings wide. Harry and Gemma stepped back and she flew back to her perch.

“She must want to sleep,” Harry laughed. “We’ve been dismissed.”

Gemma led Harry to the window again and they stood side by side feeling the pulsing city through the reverberations of the window ledge. Harry heard a bell tolling and realized that it must be Big Ben sounding the quarter hour. We should head back.

“Can you see Big Ben?” he asked Gemma, wondering what direction they were facing.

She tapped twice on his hand.

“It is tolling now - the quarter hour. We should head back,” he said. She tapped, “yes,” on his hand and he took her arm.

“Bye, Hedwig,” Harry called up to her and heard her growling coo in response. They wiped their feet at the door. The door closed behind them, shutting off the sounds of London and the owls along with the pungent odor of the owlery and they were back in the center with its fragrance of potions. He smelled the pepper up potion and wondered why it was needed.

“I wonder where your mom is,” Harry asked Gemma, he caught the paper and handed it to her, certain she hadn’t seen it. He felt her shrug in response.

Then he heard Mrs. Boot’s voice coming from behind them, “Gemma! There you are!”

Harry squeezed Gemma’s arm and stopped and said, “Your mom’s behind us.”

“Where have you been, dear? I’ve been looking for you!” Mrs. Boot closed the gap between them. Harry dropped Gemma’s arm so that she could sign more freely with her mom.

“Hi, Harry! So you took Gemma to visit your owl, Hedwig?” Mrs. Boot addressed him.

“Yes, Mrs. Boot,” Harry answered, “We were also looking for you,” Harry explained.

“Yes, well, Gemma said that. I just went to the ladies’ room. I guess I missed you. And now it is time for me to leave,” Mrs. Boot sounded forlorn.

“Gemma, I’ll let you say goodbye to your mum, and I’ll meet you back in the dining hall, okay?” Harry said as he reached in his pocket for his staff and shook it out.

“Thank you, dear, that’s very kind,” Mrs. Boot answered, then paused,  Oh, wait a sec. Gemma wonders why you want to meet in the dining hall, don’t you need to go back to that classroom? What was it called Gemma?” There was a pause while Gemma signed to her mom,  “Oh, yes. Mont Blanc.”

“Oh, that’s right! Thanks, Gemma!” Harry was glad she remembered.

“You’re sure you can make your way back alright?” Mrs. Boot asked skeptically.

“Yes, it’s not a problem Mrs. Boot,” Harry tried not to sound irritated.

Gemma made a swishing movement across the back of his hand, which he took for a wave.

“See you soon, Gemma and it was nice to meet you, Mrs. Boot,” Harry said as he started walking away.

“Yes, nice to meet you, too!” she responded inattentively.

Harry muttered, “ Navigant Mont Blanc classroom,” and made his way down the corridor toward the now stale smell of lunch that hung on the air.

I really need to use the loo, Harry thought. He stopped and said “Navigant toilet,” and was relieved that it was close by and on his way to the classroom. It was actually a bit of a dream of a loo - just like the buffet, it was charmed to let him know what things were as his hand hovered near them. Also, as someone who had spent a lot of his youth cleaning bathrooms, it smelled really clean in a wixen way which was much more pleasant than Aunt Petunia’s toxic chemicals.

His staff was taking him through the dining hall to get to the classroom, was also the only way he knew for how to get there. He wondered if there was another corridor that went around the dining hall.

When he reached the dining, he discovered that the doors were closed and his staff let him know that someone else was in the entrance.

“Hello?” he asked rather vaguely.

“Oh, hi,” said a tremulous female voice.

“Are you okay?” Harry asked, there was something that sounded kind of fragile about her voice.

“Oh, sure,” she hiccuped. “I just can’t figure out how to open these doors,” and her words seeped with frustration. “They are super heavy and I think there must be a way to open them with magic, but I can’t figure it out,” she said in exasperation.

“Oh, yes, there’s a panel by the door on the right. Healer Jordan showed me how to use it” Harry offered.

“Oh, thank goodness. I pounded on the door earlier and no one seemed to hear me, I’m glad you came along.”

“See, here’s the panel,” Harry offered, he had just located it with his hand and was running his fingers over the raised symbols for opening the doors.

“Are you standing away from the door? It will open toward us, I think,” Harry asked before pressing the open symbol.

“Oh, yes, I’ll get out of the way,” she said and that’s when he heard her using a staff and realized that she must also be blind.

“Here, if you come over here. I can show you the panel. He was tapping his staff on the ground so that she could hear his location, and accidentally collapsed it. “Oops,” he laughed at himself.

“What?” she asked curiously.

“Oh, I just accidentally collapsed my staff - I was tapping it so you could find me,” he explained as he shook it out again.

“Oh, I did that the other day!” she said, her voice filling with mirth, “except I was just nervously tapping it.”

She was near him now and he could hear her hand on the wall by the panel.

“I’m still not finding it,” she said.

“Try a little lower. It is at a height so that people who are sitting down can reach it,” he explained.

“Found it. Thanks!” She seemed relieved.

“Why don’t you do the honors?” Harry offered.

“I’m not sure which buttons open it, do you know? I don’t read braille yet,” she asked.

“Healer Jordan just explained it to me before lunch, but yeah, I don’t read braille yet either. I guess we’re going to learn here. I’m Harry Potter by the way,” he thought he’d better introduce himself.

“Oh, everyone’s been talk . . .” she left off mid-sentence awkwardly, “um, I guess I shouldn’t tell you that. Privacy and everything,” she mumbled, clearly embarrassed. “I’m Aminah Khan,” she offered, recovering.

“So, Aminah, the button that opens the doors has two triangles pointing away from each other, their flat sides in the middle, to close the doors, press the button that has the triangle points pointing toward each other in the center.” Harry felt like Healer Jordan had explained it more clearly.

“That makes sense. Okay, I’m opening them,” Aminah said and they listened to the doors opening. Harry heard Aminah walking through and followed a little behind her as she navigated through the dining hall to the doors that led classroom on the other side. Harry heard running footsteps behind him and wondered if the little kids were still here from the tour, then as a little hand rested on his arm, recognized Gemma by her scent . . . something faintly cinnamony.

“Hi Gemma! That didn’t take long,” Harry greeted. He called ahead to Aminah who had slowed down when Gemma was running toward them, “Aminah, have met Gemma Boot? She’s in our room, too,” Harry explained.

“Hi Gemma,” Aminah greeted.

“Um, Gemma can’t hear or speak, so I’m using a scribunt loqui charm that writes out what I’m saying so she can read it - it writes it on slips of paper that flutter by your mouth and then disappear, unless you grab them - then you can keep them.”

“I was wondering what that paper sound was - I kept hearing it today,” Aminah said.

“How does Gemma communicate with you, then?” Aminah asked.

“She spells words on my palm and if you speak slowly she can read your lips, but I guess that’s pretty hard to do,” Harry explained as Gemma took his hand and started to write, “T-E-A-C-H” space “C-H-A-R-M.

“Gemma wants me to teach you the charm,” Harry translated.

“Do we have time? Isn’t it close to the time we’re supposed to be at Mont Blanc? Aminah asked.

“Oh right. Gemma, I’ll teach her when we get to the classroom, okay? So we’re not late,” he explained. Gemma tapped twice on his palm, then guided his hand to her elbow so she could guide him. Harry collapsed his staff.

The classroom wasn’t too far beyond the dining hall. Gemma pressed the button that opened the dining hall doors to the corridor.

Harry was feeling a bit nervous as they approached the classroom. He was wondering what their instructors would be like . . . would they be severe and exacting like Professor McGonagall? Deadly boring like Binns? Earthy and congenial like Professor Sprouts? Ditzy and self-absorbed like Professor Lockhart? Demanding and brooding like Professor Snape?

As they got closer to the classroom, Harry could hear people saying their goodbyes with their families in the corridor.

Gemma stopped and grabbed Harry’s hand and started quickly writing, “A-S-K” space “A-M-I-N-A-H” . . . There was an urgency in the way that she was spelling into his hand that he didn’t get until he realized that Aminah was getting confused ahead of them with all the people to navigate around. He called out to her, “Aminah, Gemma wants me to ask you if you’d like her to guide you into the classroom since there are a lot of people out here,” and he turned his face to Gemma, “Is that what you wanted?” She tapped his hand twice.

Aminah sounded relieved when she answered, “Yes, that would be great. Thank you.”

“Gemma, she said yes, please,” Harry said to Gemma, and she let go of his hand and went to Aminah.

Harry took his staff out of his pocket and shook it out and tried to follow them, but there were too many people talking loudly in the corridor for him to be able to track them. The little kids were running around, giggling gleefully and more than once ran into his staff (to which his staff exclaimed loudly, but it didn’t really help him avoid the collision because it happened too quickly). He muttered, “Navigant Mont Blanc classroom,” to his staff and found the door eventually.

“Hi Harry,” a voice greeted him from a seated level, Mei at the entrance.

“Hi, Mei. Are you ready for this?” Harry asked.

“As ready as I’ll ever be, I imagine,” she said grudgingly.

“What’s the room set-up? Can you describe it to me?” Harry requested.

“It’s like it was before - outside in the mountains with a rocky terrain and benches set in a theater seating facing a lake.” Harry was pretty impressed with Mei’s description - succinct and efficient.

“Thanks! Are you going to pull up the ramp?” he asked, semi-serious in his tone.

“Fortunately, it’s already in place. You’re safe,” she teased back, “Here comes your girlfriend.”

Harry felt his face heat up, but he was glad Gemma was back. She tapped his hand and he found her elbow.

“Do you want to sit with us, Mei?” Harry asked.

“Sure, I’ll follow you,” Mei seemed pleased at the invitation.

Gemma led Harry down the ramp and then their feet were crunching over a sandy landscape that also had little tufts of grass and random rocks that Harry kept slipping on. Not the easiest ground to navigate. He could hear Mei struggling behind them.

Gemma had grasped both his elbows and was gently pushing him backward. He was confused until the bench hit the backs of his knees, and he sat down.

“Harry?” Aminah asked from the bench next to him.

“Yes, it’s me,” Harry responded. Gemma sat next to him and he could hear Mei putting the brakes on her wheelchair on the other side of Gemma. He wondered if Tony was nearby. He didn’t want to say it out loud or have it written by his lips, so he took Gemma’s hand and wrote

T-O-N-Y?” into her hand. She tapped once, “No.”

“Harry, will you teach me that charm now? It would be really handy to be able to speak with Gemma,” Aminah asked.

“Sure,” Harry responded and they spent the next few minutes working on it while they waited for the next session to begin.

Chapter Text

Harry was tapping his foot nervously waiting for the introduction of the instructors. Mei had transferred from her wheelchair and was sitting on the bench next to Gemma. “Knock off the nervous twitching, Harry! You’re going to bounce me right off this bench,” she hissed.

“Oh, sorry!” Harry hadn’t even noticed he was doing it.

Harry could hear the man who had been arguing earlier about going home each night chatting with someone in the row behind him. He thought maybe it was the mom from the family with children. From her nervous comments, he gathered that the father had taken the children home, but he wasn’t sure if she was glad her children were gone or if she was missing them - maybe both, Harry thought. Then the mother whispered to the man that there was a girl with the most beautiful iridescent fish tail sitting in the row in front of them that made Harry very worried that Mei would hear her. He didn’t think that would go over well. The man seemed surprised, “What? She has a fish tail? How is that even possible?!”

Harry turned his head and tried to give them a quelling look. He was surprised when it had the effect he wanted, but then he realized that something must have been happening . . . maybe the instructors were coming in the room? But then a noise emerged as if from a great distance that was like a fog horn, deep and resonate. Harry tapped Gemma’s hand and whispered, “Do you see anything?” knowing that the paper would write out the message, “I hear a horn,” he explained.

She wrote, “O-L-D space “S-H-I-P” on his palm - but the way her hand was jittering he could tell that it was more than an old ship. She was just as enthralled with what she was seeing as she had been when they were up in the owlery tower.

Aminah leaned over to Harry and whispered, “What did Gemma say?”

“She said ‘old ship,’” Harry shrugged as he told Aminah, “but she seems really excited like it is so much more than that.” Gemma squeezed his hand, which made him think she’d seen what he was saying to Aminah.

Aminah questioned, “old ship like a Viking Vessel or a Spanish Galleon?”

Gemma wrote into Harry’s hand, “ G-A-L-L-E-O-N ,” and Harry whispered it to Aminah.

They sat in eager anticipation as it approached, now Harry could hear bells clanging as well. This seemed like a rather grand entrance and he wondered what it could mean for their instruction. It seemed like the wind was picking up - the whispering of the aspen leaves that Hermione had described had become more frantic. Harry shivered. He hadn’t dressed for stormy mountain weather. He thought about his hoodie that he had stuffed back into his staff during the train ride with Hermione and Dr. Granger that morning and wondered if he should get it out again.

After a bit, when the wind didn’t relent, but seemed to be bringing in an even colder air, Harry noticed that Gemma was shivering, too, and so was Aminah and he could hear Mei was cursing the cold wind under her breath.

Harry took his staff out of his pocket and accio’d his hoodie, his winter coat, and two of his school robes from the staff. He passed them out to his friends who were mostly grateful for them (ignored Mei’s grumbling about the sorry state of his winter coat and didn’t he have a blanket in there, too?) and put on his hoodie.

Gemma seemed to be getting more excited as the wind picked up and Harry was eager to know what was going on.

Harry heard someone’s footsteps crunching toward the center of the amphitheater, then Healer Jordan addressed them with her amplified voice. “Thank you all for gathering this afternoon to meet our instructors for our training course. We’re eagerly awaiting the arrival of our guest instructors who have traveled here from great distances.”

Mei was muttering, “Why all this fanfare? Is this the circus or something?” and Harry had to admit, it seemed a bit over-the-top.

“While many of your hours each day will be spent learning how to adapt to the changes that have recently occurred in your lives, and this work can often be tedious and at times frustrating, you will have moments of profound insight as well as small personal triumphs.

At the center, we have an unofficial motto taken from the words of Mother Teresa who said, ‘Do your best and trust that others are doing their best. And be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.’”

Here Mei made a snide comment about strength lying and while he could see the humor, he was feeling buoyed up by Healer Jordan’s words, which really weren’t all that lofty or out of reach. He wasn’t sure why Mei felt like she had to cut down every good feeling, every encouragement and then the message of the words that Healer Jordan had just quoted hit him, “Trust that others are doing their best.” He remembered where Mei had been a few months ago - she’s doing her best. Maybe unleashing her sarcasm was way better than letting it gnaw away at her inside.

Harry shifted on the hard bench and took a breath of the fresh mountain air. It was still a bit chilly, especially when compared to the hot London air that he had just been inhaling at the top of the owlery tower with Gemma. He wondered if they were really in the Alps at this moment.

He heard someone approaching from the ramp they had all entered the classroom (if it could be called a classroom), their footsteps changing as they transitions from the planks of the ramp to the sandy terrain of the mountain top they were perched on. Harry heard Tony ask Mei to budge up so that he could sit next to her and he felt the ripple effect as Gemma scooted closer to him. He moved closer to Aminah who moved down a bit. Mei, of course, could not let it go and had to comment on Tony’s lateness and imposition.

“What are you doing coming in so late?” Mei lashed out, “And sit on the other side of me. I need to sit on the end.” There was a hint of desperation in her tone, and Harry wondered why.

Healer Jordan had continued as if there hadn’t been an interruption, but Harry could hear the people behind them making noises of impatience as Mei and Tony continued to needle each other.

“None of your business,” Tony retorted and Harry felt the bench rock as he sat down on the other side of Gemma.

He realized that Healer Jordan was talking about one of the instructors and he had missed the first part and was just now catching on that she was talking about someone who was a great world traveler.

“ . . . traversed the globe, fought the slave trade in Africa, survived captivity in Siberia, and helped chart the Australian outback . . .”

Harry felt Gemma press into him again, and realized that she needed more room. The bench seemed to be rocking more as Tony and Mei were pushing against each other.

He apologized to Aminah as he slid closer to her. She whispered back, “I’m right on the edge. I can’t move over anymore without falling off.”

Harry whispered to Gemma that Aminah was on the edge, in case she hadn’t seen Aminah’s fluttering note. She tapped the back of his hand with a “yes” as the bench continued to rock. He wondered if he mouthed the words if the note would appear or if he needed to utter them aloud for the spell to work. This is not the time to test that theory, he admonished himself, realizing that he had missed even more of the introduction of the new instructor who was also a Lieutenant of the British Royal Navy.

As the rocking got more vigorous and Mei and Tony’s hissing and whispered insults louder, Harry began to wonder how strong the bench was and if it could withstand the onslaught of the two. There was a loud noise, like an explosion. Gemma grasped his hand and suddenly Harry felt himself being launched backwards as the bench toppled beneath them. He heard people screaming in surprise and, he realized, pain. His back collided with the ground and against something hard and sharp as well as something soft and pliable, someone fell against his torso and legs.

Voices were crying out in alarm. People nearby were asking him if he was okay and grabbing him, trying to pull him up, and then letting go when they realized that he was pinned down. Someone’s hand groped his face, fingers pushing into his mouth uncomfortably. He turned his head away, sputtering in disgust. Someone said, “sorry, mate.”

“It’s okay,” he said in reply.

He tried to sit up, but someone was sprawled across his legs and he realized that he must be pinning down Aminah as she was groaning underneath him and trying to extract her arm and shoulder.

“Sorry, Aminah. Someone is on top of me,” he explained breathlessly, still struggling to get up and release her from under him. Gemma was also struggling to sit up. He realized that it was Gemma across his legs.

“Get off me, you armless wanker!” Mei’s screech cut through the chaos and a hush fell around them. Harry heard a flopping noise that put him in mind of a very large fish and he realized that it must be Mei’s tail.

Tony’s guttural response was so raw that it cut into Harry’s innards and what was at first a hush, was now utter silence that erupted into alarmed calls to help out and the sound of people running. A singed smell hung in the air that had an ominous fish odor clinging to it.  

Beneath him, Aminah was still. Only Gemma continued to struggle and was finally able to get to her feet. She tugged at Harry’s hands and he sat up and then tried to help up Aminah. Tony’s cry had dissolved into heaving sobs that were muffled as if he he’d been pulled into an embrace. He couldn’t hear Mei anymore. Everyone was still so quiet. Harry pulled his legs off the toppled bench and kneeling, felt for Aminah who still seemed to be lying down. She was crying quietly and when his hand found her arm she yelped in pain and Harry recoiled. Gemma was standing next to Harry now, her hand squeezed on his shoulder.

“Aminah, are you okay?” Harry probed.

“My arm’s hurt,” her voice was laced with pain.

“Just stay still Aminah, don’t try to get up.” Healer Jordan had knelt next to her on her other side.

Tony’s sobs had quieted to hiccups. It sounded like he was still on the ground. Harry thought that he heard Mei was crying, too, and it sounded like another necklace had broken. Someone exclaimed, “Pearls!”

Man, we’re a mess, Harry thought. His back felt bruised.

“Aminah, stay still. Your shoulder is dislocated, I’m going to put it back in place,” Healer Jordan assured her with a gentle voice. There was a magical pop and Aminah cried out in pain.

Healer Jordan explained to her, “I’m going to ice your shoulder with a spell to help with the healing.”

Godric Burbage was speaking to Mei and another voice that Harry didn’t recognize had addressed Gemma briefly - her hand left his shoulder and she seemed to turn away from him - and then he gathered that they were speaking in sign, because he couldn’t hear anything, except for the sound of hands meeting occasionally.  

“Harry, how about you? Are you hurt?” Healer Jordan asked.

“I’m okay,” Harry replied, though his back hurt where he had landed on the rock. He didn’t think it was the kind of injury that would merit looking after.  

People in the room seemed to be talking amongst themselves now. The bench was still lying on the ground, presumably because Aminah was still resting.

Harry turned to Gemma, reached out and found her back. He could tell she was still talking in sign by the way she was moving. She stopped and laid her hand on his arm. He could hear the person she had been talking to move away from them.

“Are you okay,” he asked her. She tapped his arm twice, “yes,” and took his palm to write, “Y-O-U space “O-K?” He nodded.

Healer Jordan made her way past Harry, checking in with the people who had been sitting behind the overturned row and then he could hear her talking to Mr. Burbage. It sounded like Mei had been helped back into her wheelchair and that Healer Jordan and Mr. Burbage were attending to her injuries. Harry wondered how badly she was burned, he tapped Gemma’s arm to get her attention.

“Is Mei hurt?”

“Yes,” she tapped on his arm.

“How badly?”

She wrote a question mark in his hand which he took to mean that she didn’t know. He wasn’t sure where Tony was. “Is Tony okay?” he asked. She drew another question mark on his hand.  

Harry slowly lowered himself to the ground again to check in with Aminah who was still lying down. “How’s your arm feeling now?” he asked her.

“It’s better,” she said.

“I’m really sorry about landing on it,” Harry apologized.

“Like you could help it!” she protested.

Healer Jordan  addressed the room with her amplified voice, “Folks, I’m sorry to say that we’re going to have to reschedule today’s events as we need to attend to the injured. I’ll let you know at in a couple of hours at tea time in the dining hall when we will reconvene. You may retire to your rooms or explore the center, but please don’t leave the center until we’ve had a chance to talk about our safety procedures and how we at the center adhere to the Muggle Secrecy Act. Anyone who was injured should stay here until we’ve had a chance to assess the injury.”

Harry was surprised that there wasn’t a collective groan, then remembered that most of the people here were adults.

Chapter Text

The bench had been righted and Aminah was helped to a seated position. Healer Jordan had summoned glasses of water for everyone who stayed behind.

Gemma told him that Mei’s burn had been healed and Tony’s burns and cuts mended, but she didn’t know exactly how they had been burned or cut or how the bench had been knocked over. Aminah seemed to be recovering - she was talking with Gemma - allowing Gemma to write into her hand on her uninjured arm. Harry imagined that she was sharing the same information with Aminah that she had shared with Harry.

Harry was grateful that it no longer smelled nauseatingly like burnt fish in the room.

Healer Jordan had summoned a tent that was equipped with healing supplies, a camp bed, and a curtain so everyone was able to get out of the wind. Harry wondered why they didn’t all just travel to the healing offices in the center, but didn’t voice his concerns. Healer Jordan performed diagnostics on everyone and healed the bruises sustained by the fall. She spent a little more time with Harry than he expected and had to ask Gemma to give him some privacy. She had caught a glimpse of his back apparently and was very concerned and Healer Jordan had to be quite firm with her.

She had healed his other bruises in addition to the new ones, which made him wonder why no one at St. Mungos nor Madam Pomfrey had offered him that option. He gingerly pressed his fingers to his face where he had run into the door and it was no longer tender. He felt better than he’d felt in over a week which made him feel a little giddy. He hadn’t really noticed how achy he was until the pain was gone. She had made small noises when she was working with him that made him think that she wasn’t done with him. And that made him nervous.

Finally, the tent had been sent away and the five roommates remained with Healer Jordan. She invited them to come sit on tree stumps in a close circle in the center of the amphitheater. This time they were not all squinched onto one bench. Gemma guided Harry to one, and he heard Healer Jordan helping Aminah find another. Gemma sat next to Harry on his left side, she was close enough that she could lean close and touch his arm. Tony sat on the tree stump next to him.

There was a heavy silence and it finally dawned on Harry that a conversation was brewing. He felt dense. Healer Jordan was going to talk to them about what had happened and why. His stomach contracted and he had a sudden desire to flee the room. He didn’t see any good coming out of talking about what had happened. He pressed down on his leg which seemed to be hopping around as if it were filled with Mexican jumping beans. He was surprised that Mei didn’t jump all over him for it. He noticed how quiet Mei was - she was too quiet and that in itself was unnerving.

He heard her wheelchair moving over the sandy, uneven mountain earth and get stuck on something. Mei growled in frustration and Tony barked, “Why on earth are you using a stupid muggle contraption when you could have something magical that actually works?”

Harry had been wondering the same thing, but had been too afraid to ask. He froze - expecting another explosion to send him hurling backward again. These two are combustible. He felt Aminah also brace herself. Gemma, of course, didn’t know what Tony had said since he didn’t have the scribunt loqui charm spelling out his words.

“You can’t put two and two together, can you?” Mei retorted scathingly.  

Tony was sputtering when Healer Jordan interjected from the other side of Tony, “I hear a lot of anger and frustration from both of you. All of you have recently experienced severe trauma that has unalterably changed your lives. It is perfectly normal to experience a wide range of emotions as a result, including anger and frustration. You might even feel as if the emotions have control over you rather than you having control of these emotions. And that’s why we’re here, and this is as good a time as any to start dealing with some of these emotions. Over the next eight weeks, you will be working on healing both in your mind and your body and you will learn how to ride the wave of the emotion rather than being pulled out to sea by the undercurrent or dashed onto the beach,”

Mei’s characteristic snort interrupted directly across the circle from Harry, “Next you’ll be telling us to form pearls from the sand in our wounds.”

Healer Jordan was silent for a moment, then she quietly responded, “That’s fair, Mei. I should have drawn my metaphors from something that was not quite so painfully close to home for you. I am sorry. I apologize.”

Harry was shocked. He hadn’t heard an adult admit to making mistakes, especially to such a caustic teen as Mei. It seemed to also take the wind out of Mei’s sails and he heard her let out a breathy sigh.

“Before we continue with our conversation,” Healer Jordan continued, “we need to make sure we can all understand each other. Tony, I’m going to help you cast the scribunt loqui spell so that Gemma can see what you’re saying. Harry and Aminah, I’m going to cast a spell that allows you to hear what Gemma is saying. It will still write out your words, Gemma, so that you can see them, too.”

Healer Jordan first worked with Tony. Harry could feel her robes brushing against him as she helped Tony hold his wand against the stump of his wand arm and coached him to focus his magical energy through what remained of his appendage so that he could cast the spell. It took him quite a bit longer to cast the spell, but when he was finally successful, it felt like a huge achievement.

“Nice going, Tony!” Harry leaned over to acknowledge his success on along with the others. Gemma clapped enthusiastically when his words fluttered on the parchment, “Did that work, Gemma?”

What was truly amazing, though, was to hear Gemma’s voice. It was not the voice Harry imagined she’d have (the magical voice sounded older and deeper than what he’d expected) but to be able to hear the stream of her thoughts rather than the truncated versions he’d been getting was like being caught in a downpour after a drought. She dove right in, “Oh, Harry, I’m so glad that we can finally talk easily! I have so much to tell you!”

Harry laughed, “Great! I suppose we won’t get any sleep tonight!”

“Not a chance!” she rejoined. Mei groaned in response, but without her usual bile.

Healer Jordan brought them back to the topic at hand, “Okay, we need to talk about the events of today to try to heal through processing what happened and why,” she encouraged. “Typically we would build our community norms as a group, but right now I’m going to introduce some of the tools we use in council when we are sharing difficult thoughts and feelings. First, what happens in council stays in council - if someone shares something that you want to process outside of the group, then you need to ask permission from them to discuss it. I’ll also ask you to speak from your heart and listen from your heart as well. Do your best and know that others are also doing their best. We’ll pass a talking stick and only the person who is holding it can speak - when it is passed, say so aloud and state the name of the person you’re passing it to,” Here there was a light jingling of bells and Harry thought that the stick must be decorated with the tiniest of bells.  

Healer Jordan continued, “If you’d like the talking stick, indicate so in a respectful and unobtrusive way - raise your hand, snap your fingers, tap your foot. Speak from your own experiences and use I statements. Be mindful of your contributions to the discussion - if you’ve been contributing a lot, maybe it is time to sit back and listen, if you’ve been listening, maybe it is time for you to lean into the discussion and share your thoughts. Make sure to respectively question things that you don’t agree with, though don’t attack others for their beliefs.” She took a breath and paused. Harry thought she was done, but she went on, “Council conversations are often uncomfortable because we’re digging into areas that maybe are easier to leave buried, but by uncovering them we are able to release toxins that are hurting us and others and then start healing in earnest. I know that this is not the way the wixen community typically addresses challenges and that it will feel very foreign to many of you. Trust that here at the center, we’ve been practicing and refining these methods for generations and most of our graduates have found them to be very effective.”

“I’ll get us started by passing the talking stick around,” the bells tinkled again as if she were shaking it in the air, “and I’ll ask you each to say your name and share something about yourself that you’d like everyone to know. I’m going to ask that we observe a minute of silence first to help ground us in this work,” and she was silent and the bells were silenced, though Harry could hear her steady breaths from where she sat on the other side of Tony.

Harry listened as the others shifted on their wooden tree stumps . . . the sounds that Tony was making - his labored breathing, the sharp movements of his feet made Harry think that he was very uncomfortable with this impending discussion. Mei was rocking the wheels of her chair back and forth slightly and the sand made a loud crunching noise under the wheels - louder now that everyone was so quiet. Aminah who must have been sitting between Mei and Gemma was virtually undetectable by Harry. He really couldn’t tell if she was there or not. Gemma couldn’t tell that her feet shuffling back and forth on the rocky ground was noisy, but Harry found it reassuring. The minute stretched on much longer than a minute, Harry was pretty certain. He found himself listening to the chattering of the birds in the aspen groves and the way the wind made the aspen leaves shiver and shake. He could feel the sun emerging from behind a cloud and warming his face.

When a gentle bell broke the silence with its clear high pitch, Harry was jarred back to the present. He had drifted off somewhere peaceful for a moment. Healer Jordan let its quiet resonance fade and then shook the bells on the talking stick and spoke, “Okay, I’ll start now. I’m Archimedea Jordan and I’d like to share with you that my impetus for working at the center is connected to my desire to prevent others from feeling the isolation and estrangement that my brother felt after he was disfigured during the first Wizarding War,” her voice had a thick quality to it that made Harry feel as though there was a lot more to the story. “I’m going to pass the stick to Tony and place it so that he can hold it with his knees.” Harry knew that she was explaining this for his benefit. He was going to have to find the stick when it was his turn. He felt heat rising in his neck.

Harry held his breath, waiting for Tony to speak. It sounded like the others had as well. He could hear Tony shifting slightly making the bells on the stick tinkle quietly.

“I’m Tony Montague,” he said and then was very quiet. Harry wondered after a bit if he was done and if should take the stick, but then Tony spoke again. “I don’t want to be here and I don’t want to do this.” He said it with a finality. Harry could hear the bells on the stick moving. “Harry, I’m ready to pass the stick to you,” he said gruffly.

Harry stretched his hand out to the center of the circle in front of Tony, then started passing it through the air toward the sound of the bells. Tony muttered, “down a bit, mate,” and then Harry found it and took it. He held it in his hands and felt along the length of it. It was embellished with beads and bells of different sizes. It wasn’t just a stick.

“I’m Harry Potter and . . .” he was torn. He wanted to share the truth, that he was glad to be there, but it seemed like it would be seen as though he were sucking up to Healer Jordan by Tony and Mei. He fought with his general distrust of adults and their systems. Deep down, he felt safer here than he’d felt in a long, long time. “I’m going to try to . . . trust the center and . . . this process.” It was hard to get it out, but he finally managed.

Chapter Text

Just admitting out loud to a group of, well, not strangers exactly, but new acquaintances that he wanted to trust the center as well as the process took a toll and Harry broke out in a sweat that prickled under his arms. He tensed for a second waiting for the backlash from his peers. When nothing happened he hurriedly passed the staff to Gemma, remembering at the last second that he was supposed to say what he was doing so Aminah would know, “I’m passing the staff to Gemma,” he added in a rush. He admonished himself for opening up so easily. There was something about this place and Healer Jordan ( Archimedea - who names their child Archimedea? - wixen - no wonder she goes by Jordan - I thought Jordan was her first name - like Healer Andy) that he felt really good about and that’s why he was inclined to trust it. But trusting was scary and even more so was saying so. Out loud. To people. People who had violent outbursts. Why did I do it?

The bells tinkled as Gemma took the talking stick from Harry’s hand and then stopped. Harry imagined she held the stick between her knees as she signed, “I’m Gemma Boot and I’m glad to be here and to be making new friends who don’t shut me out because I can’t hear and who don’t cringe and turn away because of my scars.” Her magical voice said all these things without emotion, but Harry knew that there was emotion behind the words. He wondered if he would have turned away from her scars if he’d been able to see them or shut her out because she couldn’t hear if he had met her before he was in the same boat. His first impulse was to deny that he would have been so cruel, but then he had to admit to himself that he didn’t know. I wouldn’t do it knowingly, he acknowledged, but what about unconsciously? I might not have even noticed her. But then he reminded himself that he did tend to notice the kids on the fringe because that’s where he usually was. Though sometimes he was so caught up in his own stuff that he didn’t notice what was going on in other people’s lives. Gah. This talking about feelings stuff is worse than venturing into the Forbidden Forest knowing that the Acromantula are lurking in dark places. Harry’s skin felt clammy.

“I’m passing the talking stick to Aminah,” Gemma continued. The bells rang gently as it was passed.

“Thank you,” Aminah said softly and Harry leaned forward in an effort to hear her. “I’m Aminah Khan. I’m not sure why we’re doing this, but I’m willing to give it a try,” she said quietly. “I’m passing the stick to Mei.” The bells rang quietly. They were silent for a second, then they rang again quietly. “Mei, would you please take the talking stick from Aminah,” Healer Jordan kindly pressed.

The gentle tinkle of the bells became violent as if they were being shaken hard. Harry sat back and heard Aminah’s feet shift on the rocky terrain, imagining she did the same.

“Mei, you can do this. It’ll be okay,” Healer Jordan encouraged.

Mei let out a big sigh and then gulped in a breath.

“You know that I’m Mei Lee. Obviously, I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to have a fishtail. I can’t live in the ocean and I can only live a half-life on the land - using a stupid muggle wheelchair because my Jiāorén magic clashes with my witch magic. I didn’t ask for any of this!”

She was shouting by the end of it. Her pain was palpable - it emanated in waves that crashed against the small group. Harry recoiled. He felt his staff in his pocket respond to it as if he were being stung by a stinging hex. His reflex was to grasp his leg and cry out. He heard Aminah cry out as well and next to him he heard another explosion and Tony fell off his tree stump, careening into Harry.

Healer Jordan jumped up and cast a protection spell, “ Protego !” and the sparking in his pocket stopped. Harry twisted and helped Tony get to his feet by leaning against him and putting his arm across Tony’s broad back and grasping him by his torso, just underneath his armpits. Tony was quite a bit bigger than he was and heavy, so Harry was just able to support him. His hands had passed over what he realized must be the remnants of Tony’s arms, fleshy stumps that contained bones and muscles, rotating within his shoulders as if they were trying to reach out, but too short to be effective. He uttered, “sorry,” when he realized what he was touching. When he felt Tony get his feet back under him and start to stand up, he let go. “Thanks, man,” Tony muttered.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” Mei was yelling - her voice sounded like it was enclosed in a box.

“Mei, it is okay,” Healer Jordan was consoling. She was going around the circle and checking in with everyone to see if they were okay and collecting the staffs and wands from the teens. She explained that she’d put them at a safe distance from the discussion and give them back when they were done. Harry listened as walked several feet away and heard the clatter of the wooden objects on a bench on the outer circle. When she got back to her spot, she sat down.

“Mei, is this what happened on the bench earlier?” Healer Jordan asked.

Harry wasn’t aware of his staff sparking before, but maybe it had and he was just too busy getting knocked off the bench to notice. He was going to speak up, but closed his mouth when he remembered that Mei still had the talking stick and waited patiently.

“Yes, I was mad because Tony sat down next to me when there wasn’t enough room on the bench and he must have a wand in his pocket because there was an explosion and it burned my fin.” Mei’s voice was still coming from behind the Protego spell, though it sounded like her anger had quelled.

“There was enough room!” Tony interjected angrily. “How was I supposed to know that you’d set off my wand?”

“Tony, would you like the talking stick? Can you use I statements, please?” Healer Jordan patiently reminded Tony of the norms she had laid out earlier.

“I was,” Tony grumbled under his breath. Harry was pretty sure he was the only one who heard it, but then the paper fluttered.

“Let’s remember that everyone is trying to do their best,” Healer Jordan prompted.

Harry heard the tattletale bells on the talking stick. Healer Jordan narrated, “Mei is passing to me, and I’m passing it to Tony,” as the bells traveled from Mei to Tony.

“Tony, please tell us what happened from your perspective,” Healer Jordan asked.

“I arrived late and saw that all my roommates were sitting together, so I thought I should sit with them and the only spot was a gap between Mei and Gemma, so I sat there. Gemma moved over to let me sit, but Mei scooted toward me instead of away. Harry and Aminah made room for me, too, and Gemma scooted farther away, but every time there was extra room it felt like Mei took it instead of letting me sit. So, finally I just sat before she could take up the room and that’s when the explosion happened and the bench fell over. She did it on purpose to embarrass me. And then she called me an armless . . .” Tony trailed off, but Harry remembered and his mind supplied, “ wanker ,” unwittingly.  It seemed especially cutting and mean-spirited especially with the feeling of Tony’s amputated arms fresh in his memory.

“Tony, while you may feel you know why someone did something, no one can really know except the person who did it. Let’s keep our statements to the facts that we know and allow others to inform us of their motivation for their actions,” Healer Jordan’s voice was steady.

“I telling you there wasn’t room and to sit somewhere else and you refused to listen and just sat down anyway!” Mei shouted.

“Let’s use the talking stick, Mei,” Healer Jordan reminded.

“You can shove it up your . . .” Mei stopped herself before she finished, apparently appalling even herself, “Sorry,” she muttered.

“Thank you,” Healer Jordan acknowledged the apology in a terse tone.

“You can give her the talking stick, Healer Jordan,” Tony suggested and Harry heard the tinkling bells as it was transferred to Mei.

“Here, Mei. Can you state what happened from your perspective?” Healer Jordan encouraged.

“I didn’t want him to sit there, so I moved over so he couldn’t when I felt like he wasn’t listening to me. I’m sorry that I accidentally caused an explosion that made the bench fall over,” she said somewhat contritely.

“Can I have the talking stick, please?” Tony asked, his voice low. It was passed and he said, “I’m sorry that I budged in. I just wanted to feel like I belonged. I’m sorry that the bench fell over and that you all were hurt,” his apology seemed heartfelt.

Harry breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe they could go soon.

Gemma’s magic voice asked, “May I have the talking stick, please?”

“Sure,” said Tony.

Harry realized that it was up to him to pass it and he reached out for it again, and Tony verbally guided him until he found it and he passed it to Gemma.

“Thanks,” Gemma acknowledged, “I’m sorry, too. I should have realized what was going on, but I could only understand Mei’s side of the conversation. I should have offered you the spot between me and Harry,” Gemma’s voice was almost mechanical in its emotionless aspect, but her words conveyed her feelings.

“May I have the talking stick, Gemma?” Aminah asked.

“Sure, here it is,” and Harry heard it being passed to Aminah.

“Thank you, Tony, for your apology and you, too, Mei,” Aminah said. “I’m concerned, though, that Mei’s magic is so out of control and we’re roommates. Will this happen every time she gets angry?  ‘Cause my staff got hot when she shouted earlier and it was sparking when the bench fell over. And I need my staff to get around, I can’t just quarantine it while Mei’s near me.” Aminah had a good point.

“Aminah, can you direct your question to Mei instead of asking about her?” Healer Jordan encouraged.

“Oh, yeah. Sorry.” Aminah sounded embarrassed. “Mei, is there anything you can do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?”

Harry heard the bells and knew that Aminah had passed the stick to Mei.

“Um, yeah. I dunno. Leave the center?” Mei said sarcastically.

“Mei, what are some other options?” Healer Jordan suggested.

“I really don’t know,” Mei sounded defeated and sad. “I mean, this is why I’m here because I keep having these outbursts and I can’t be around magic things, even my broom channels my mermaid magic strangely. I was hoping that I’d learn some ways to control it.”

“That’s good, Mei. That’s what we’re going to try to do. What can you do about it in the meantime?”

“I can try not to get so angry, I guess.” Mei conceded.

“Right. What are some of the strategies we discussed earlier?” Healer Jordan coaxed.

“Counting to ten, breathing, leaving an area until I calm down . . .” Mei listed mechanically.

“Mei, can I have the talking stick?” Tony asked.

“Yes,” Mei responded. It tinkled as it was passed and set between Tony’s legs.

“Mei, I didn’t know about your accidental magic issues. That’s rough. I think the hardest thing for me about losing my arms is not what is so obvious -  that everyone is pitying me about - like being able to feed myself, go to the bathroom, get dressed, pick up something, but that I can’t even use my wand so that I can do these things with magic. I think it would be hard to have to stay away from anything magical. It’s like a double whammy,” Tony’s tone filled with an empathy that Harry didn’t expect from the Slytherin.

Harry wanted to add something . . . but he didn’t know what. He was having a hard time finding the words.

Healer Jordan asked if anyone else wanted the talking stick. Harry hedged and then the opportunity was gone.

“Okay, I want to commend you all for your good work today finding a constructive way to talk about the events of this afternoon. We’ll have many more opportunities for discussions like this. We have some time before tea time for you to rest and take care of your needs.”

“Healer Jordan, what time is tea served?” Aminah asked.

“Oh, it’s served at 3 pm,” Healer Jordan said over her shoulder. She must have been walking toward the bench where she had put the wands and staffs. She returned them to each of the teens. Harry ran his hands over his and wondered if he’d be able to tell it apart from Aminah’s.

He shook it out and accio’d his bottle of water - when he felt the familiar shape of the bottle in his hand, he knew he had the right staff. He took a sip of water and thought about what he wanted to do now that he had a little over an hour to kill.

Gemma came over and asked him, “Do you want to go back to th . . .” but her words were cut off mid-sentence. Harry waited for a second, thinking that she had been distracted by something she saw, but then her hand was on his arm, pulling his palm up, so she could write on it.

H. -J-O-R-D-A-N space “G-O-N-E” space “S-P-E-L-L” space “E-N-D-E-D” Her spelling in his hand felt sad and lackluster.

“Oh, well. It was nice while it lasted,” Harry shrugged. “Yes, let’s go back to the dorm.”

Chapter Text

The group of roommates made their way back to the dorm together, subdued and quiet in their progress. Harry wasn’t sure if the group therapy approach to dealing with student infractions was better or worse than detentions. He felt a bit queasy as a result and he had never felt that leaving detention. And I didn’t even cause the disturbance - I was just in the way.

He wondered how Tony got through each day - all the little things that add up to big things. People probably wonder that about me, too. I’m just doing what I have to do. I imagine that Tony’s doing the same. He wondered what Mei’s mermaid magic was and how it was different from wixen magic. Maybe he could ask Hermione? Would that be violating the privacy piece they’d all agreed to. Probably. He could ask Mei, but he was afraid of setting her off again. Maybe he could go to the library and use his anagnóstis to read up on it.

His anagnóstis! He’d forgotten about it, but he and Gemma could use it to communicate! She could write and he could read what she wrote! Why didn’t I think of it earlier? He was so excited that he wanted to stop right there and tell Gemma all about it, but decided to wait until they were in the dorm and he could actually show her.

Gemma touched his hand and he realized that he was squeezing her arm. “Sorry, I was thinking about a way we can talk more easily. I’ll show you when we’re back in our dorm,” he told her.

She squeezed his arm to let him know she understood. The way her hand fluttered on his made him understand that she was excited about it, too.

“Aminah, where are you headed?” Mei called out.

“I’m going to our dorm, am I going the wrong way?” Aminah asked from across the corridor.

“Yeah, it’s over here. That’s the dorm for the older residents.” Mei told her.

“Oh, thank you!” Aminah said as her steps approached, “I guess I didn’t give my staff the right directions.”

“What did you tell it?” asked Harry, curious in case he made the same mistake.

“I said ‘ Navigant dormitory room,’ but I guess I need to tell it which one.” Aminah answered. “What’s our dormitory name?” Harry asked.

“It’s ‘Montmorency’,” said Mei, with exasperation in her voice, “Everything is named after places in France, I guess.”

As they filed into their dormitory, Harry sniffed the air - it was warm and humid and smelled like the ocean. Gemma led Harry to the end of his bed and then he heard her approach Aminah and Aminah’s quiet response, “Oh, yes - thank you, Gemma!”

Harry could hear Mei’s wheelchair in her area, next to his. He couldn’t really hear Tony . . . he must be in the loo, he could hear someone in there.

He followed the contour of his bed to the desk next to his bed. The layout of the room was weird, he was noticing. It wasn’t a square as he was expecting, it was circular, but different than Gryffindor tower which was pretty spacious and each bed in Gryffindor tower had a lot of space around it. This was pretty cramped. Like a powder keg.

He was surprised by the sound of something being splashed in water really close to him and instinctively turned his head to the sound.

“Potter, don’t look!” Mei blurted out.

Harry froze for a second, “I can’t see, Mei. Remember?”

“Oh, yeah,” she admitted, “but it looks like you’re watching . . . like you’re looking with your ears. It’s kind of freaky.”

“I was just trying to figure out why it sounds like there is a pool in here,” Harry responded indignantly.  

“Oh, that’s because there is. My hydration pool. I’m about to get in it. I hate it when people watch me,” Mei said, her tone a bit more complaisant.

“I promise I’m not,” Harry said with a little less tetch in his voice.

Harry sat at his desk and tried to look as if he were absorbed in retrieving his anagnóstis from his staff along with the scrolls that Hedwig had delivered earlier. He remembered he hadn’t read them yet.

Harry unrolled one of the scrolls as he heard Mei move from her wheelchair and slide into the water. Droplets of warm water splashed on his neck, side of his face, and back of his hand. He imagined she had flicked her tail. The water had a briny smell and he was reminded of how much fun it had been to splash in the waves at the beach earlier with Hermione. Mei sighed and made noises that made him think that the water must feel good. He wondered if she’d sleep in the pool, too. Then it sounded like she dove underwater and he was splashed with a considerable amount of water. He ran his fingers over the parchment he had unscrolled and was getting ready to read and realized that it was pretty wet. He used the bottom edge of his t-shirt to soak up the water and hoped that the ink hadn’t run. He thought about the possible stain on his shirt afterward and shrugged it off. It probably had mustard stains on it already from being a hand-me-down from Dudley.

He was expecting Mei to resurface and splash more water, so leaned over the paper and tried to protect it from getting wet, but she didn’t come back up. After a bit, he was starting to get worried. He rolled up the scroll and stuck it back in his pocket and stood up tentatively.

“Mei?” he asked the air in front of him, “are you okay?”

No answer. Gemma and Aminah seemed to be involved in a conversation - Harry could hear Aminah’s side of it, or at least her low voice murmuring. He gathered that Tony was still in the loo.

“Hey, Mei - can you hear me?” he asked a little louder.

Still no answer. Also, the water seemed completely still. He wasn’t sure how big the tank was. From the sounds she made earlier, he was guessing it was about the size of a bed. The room wasn’t that big and he imagined she had room to maneuver in her wheelchair and that she had a desk and a wardrobe as he did, maybe even a bed in addition to the tank. Or maybe the tank was in place of the bed. It hadn’t smelled like the ocean the first time he’d entered the room.

He walked to the end of his wardrobe and felt around for the beginning of Mei’s space, trying to find something that he could identify to help orient him. He stuck out his foot, too, feeling the ground in front of him. He remembered his staff, and pulled it out of his pocket and squeezed it twice for the description of the area and found the edge of the tank with his hand. It was shorter than he thought - more like the height of the bed than the desk. It was made of metal, not glass like a fish tank - he realized that he was imagining something where Mei would be visible swimming around as if she were in an aquarium. She wouldn’t want to be on display like that.

“Mei, are you alright?” he asked again. She’s a mermaid, right? She can stay underwater for a long time. But she said she couldn’t live in the ocean - so maybe she can’t stay underwater? Should I be worried?

He thought about sticking his hand in the water and feeling around, then thought about what Mei would do to him if she was fine and he was interrupting her hydration time - or if, Merlin forbid, he accidentally touched her tail while she was in the water. I can’t imagine that going well, he thought.

What if I get Aminah and Gemma’s attention and they help me figure out if Mei’s okay? Then what if we’re all standing around her tank and Mei surfaces and gets really mad and hurts them because I called them over?

He recklessly stuck his hand in the water to see if he could feel Mei - just below the surface, moving it back and forth in a widening arc. He stuck his hand down a little deeper, nothing. He moved along the side of the tank and his staff warned him of the wheelchair in his path. He tried to move it, but the brakes must have been on because it didn’t budge. He walked around it and swished his hand through the water again. “Mei, are you okay? Are you in there?” he tried again. No answer.  This time he leaned over and stuck his hand down to the bottom, but it went farther down than he expected - beyond the floor. Of course, it is magically extended, so she has more space to swim. Maybe she swam out to sea.

Suddenly Harry was being hauled forward into the water by his arm that he had left dangling in the water. He dropped his staff as he tumbled into the water.

 

Chapter Text

A cold hand with a vice-like grip had latched onto his wrist and was pulling him down and down into the seemingly endless depths of the tank. Harry had barely been able to gasp a breath of air before he was submerged. At first, he fought to rise to the surface but the hand that held him was so strong and torpedoing through the water, that he finally went limp and allowed himself to be pulled. His lungs were burning and just when he thought he would explode from the pain, they burst to the surface. He gasped for air and flailed, trying to keep his head above the waves that were tossing him around - he was certain that they were no longer in the dormitory. The air whipped around them, the water heaved in swells that carried him up and then dropped him down. The briny water filled his mouth and stung his nose. He spat it out and gulped in air. It felt so good to breathe. The hand had let go of his wrist and he wasn’t sure where Mei was or even if it was Mei who had grabbed him.

He was totally disoriented and dizzy - it seemed like they had traveled straight down and then the world tilted upright when they emerged on the surface of the water. He had his eyes closed tight against the blinding sun.

A wave buoyed him up and then he was crashing down and he went underwater and then he wasn’t sure which way was up. He opened his eyes under the water hoping to be able to figure out up from the sunlight. The sea salt stung his eyes and he closed them again, but he’d gotten a sense of up from the glimpse of light that he’d seen and realized that he’d been moving down instead of up and righted himself. He burst to the surface again and the hand grabbed his wrist again.

“For Merlin’s sake, I thought you’d be able to swim, Potter!” Mei bellowed at him. “Those cursed papers. Damn.” It sounded like she was swatting at something, but Harry bobbed under water for a second, then came sputtering up to the surface with the help of Mei’s hand on his arm.

He was trying to scream “I can’t swim!” but he kept going under water. A big fish fin rubbed against his leg and he started, thinking it must be a shark, and then realized it had to be Mei’s tail.  

“What’s that?” she asked.

“I” sputter “can’t” gasp “swim!” gurgle.

“Yeah. I figured that out. Now, I’m going to get imprisoned for drowning the Boy Who Lived,” Mei sighed, “that’s just what I need.”

“Hey!” Harry protested throwing his head back to keep his mouth above water. He kicked his feet and his torso rose a bit out of the water. His trainers felt like they weighed a stone each.

“Don’t worry - I’m not going to let you drown,” Mei consoled.

“Don’t” gulp “ever” sputter “do” gasp “that” sputter “again” gulp.

“Okay, okay. Settle down, Potter. But why were you sticking your hand in my tank? That wasn’t cool!” anger flashing through her voice again.

She held him by both arms so that his head stayed above water and he was finally able to speak without getting waterlogged.

His anger was abating now that he could breathe. “I thought you were drowning. I couldn’t hear you and you weren’t answering and I didn’t know where you went,” Harry realized how silly it sounded now that he was saying it out loud.

Mei barked a laugh in response that sounded like the seals at the zoo. He had a vision of a selkie from a book he’d read in the library as a kid and wondered what her tail looked like.

“I’m not going to drown! I’m part sea creature. I can be in the water for a long time.” She hooted with laughter.

“But you said you couldn’t live in the ocean,” he reminded her solemnly, feeling chagrined for his blunder.  

“Right, I can’t live out here, but I can stay underwater for a lot longer. I just need to surface to breathe air - like a dolphin. I’m a mammal and still part human, not really a full-fledged mermaid. I can’t live at the bottom of the ocean with my relatives - I have to be near the surface. My great-great-great grandmother was a true jiāorén and somehow I got the blood. They thought the blood had been bred out after a few generations of children without a hint of jiāorén - no more pearl tears or anything fishy and then I . . . ,” she trailed off, her anger tinged with bitterness.

Harry bobbed in the water, held at arm’s distance from Mei.

“That must have been hard - to be so different from your family,” Harry said, thinking about his own family, even though in his case he had been elated to find out the reason for his profound difference from the Dursleys.

“Yeah. I feel really alone,” she said heavily, and her tail slapped on the surface of the water surprising Harry with a spray of salty water in his mouth, “I tried visiting the jiāorén when it first happened - I thought that maybe they’d be able to help me or something . . . accept me . . . but I felt even more out of place among them. Their world is so different from ours . . . everything I did was wrong-footed,” she snorted and then a little sob escaped, “I miss my feet,” she said mournfully.

“Yeah. It sucks, doesn’t it,” he agreed.

“Everyone talks about how cool it is that I can swim so fast and stay underwater and everything, even that my tail is beautiful. And yeah, that’s true. But I just want to be normal me again. I don’t want this. I didn’t ask for this,” Mei said plaintively.

“Yeah,” was all Harry could think to say. Mei sighed and gently squeezed his arms in a way that made him think that it was what she needed to hear.

They bobbed in the water. Then she let go of him with one hand for a moment and it sounded like she was trying to catch something in the water between them.

“Here you go. You should keep this,” she said as she pressed her fist into the palm of his hand. She turned his hand upward and opened her fist on his palm, letting something small drop into his hand. He closed his fingers around it. It felt small, smooth, and round. He screwed up his face in confusion, and then the pieces fell into place.

“A pearl?” he asked.

“Yes, a pearl,” she sighed, “I’ve been crying lots of them lately.”

“Oh, well. That’s kind of cool,” Harry admitted and then realized how that sounded. “I mean, not cool that you’ve been crying a lot lately. The pearl is cool. Thank you for the pearl,” he felt like he was tripping over his tongue.

“I should probably take you back. I bet everyone’s freaking out. It’s too bad you can’t see the view here, though. It’s pretty incredible,” Mei said a bit wistfully, her voice moving away from him as she turned around in the water to look.  

“Oh, is it? We’re not just out in the middle of the ocean with nothing to see but sea?” Harry asked bemusedly.

“No, we’re off a coral reef that’s teeming with all sorts of colorful creatures and there’s an island not too far away with a volcano that rises up and disappears into the clouds. I explored some of it after lunch after we got this setup,” Mei described.

“Oh, yeah. I can hear the gulls. Maybe we can come back? It sounds really great - I’d love to spend more time on the beach,” Harry said, then wondered, “hey, is this connected to the beach we visited earlier today?”

“No, I think this is a different beach, I think that one was in a different part of the world. I think this one is in the South Pacific and that one was more Caribbean. I wonder if we could get the center to connect the beaches - then I could go to class through my tank and not have to worry about getting my hydration time in,” she laughed. “Though if we’re going to spend more time in the water, you’re going to have to learn how to swim. I not going to haul you around the ocean making sure you don’t drown,” Mei warned.

“I kind of figured that we’re going to learn how to swim since our O&M space was a beach today,” Harry said.

“True,” Mei agreed. “Well, take a big breath of air, we’re going back.”

Harry filled his lungs and Mei plunged down into the depths of the ocean, hauling Harry behind her by the wrist. Again, he couldn’t figure which way was up until they burst through the surface into the dormitory room. Harry imagined that his bed got a healthy dousing of water. This time he had enough air in his lungs, so the journey wasn’t quite so painful as the first time.

They were greeted by a scream and a shout. Harry thought it must be Aminah and Tony, and then felt Gemma’s small hand on his shoulder.

Aminah and Tony were talking over each other, both were pretty agitated.

“Oh, settle down, would you?” Mei yelled at them. “I told you that they’d be freaking out,” she whispered, her voice was right in Harry’s ear as she pushed him to the side of the tank. Gemma’s hand had grabbed his arm and helped him find the edge to hold on to.

“Harry, come over here to this side,” Mei advised, “there’s a ledge that makes it easier to get out.” He edged along the side toward her voice until his knees banged into the ledge and he was able to then stand up, sending seawater cascading into the room. Gemma kept her hand on his arm as he clambered out, staggering a bit as he found he was still dizzy from the journey to the other side of the world, apparently.

Aminah and Tony were still questioning Mei about why she’d pulled Harry into the tank - it sounded like Gemma had seen it and alerted Aminah who shouted for Tony’s help - and that they were all surprised to learn that the tank was actually a tunnel that led who knows where.

“An island in the South China Sea,” Harry provided. He heard the paper flapping by his mouth again and wondered if all the papers from when he was floating around in the ocean were sinking to the bottom of the ocean.

“Are you okay, Harry?” Aminah asked.

“Yeah. Just wet and a bit dizzy,” he swayed on his feet. Was this the last time today I’m going to be knocked around by Mei or would there be more, he wondered.

“Anyone know how to do a drying spell?” Harry asked. Both Aminah and Tony said, “No,” and Mei said, “I can’t do magic until I get my Jiāorén and witch magic sorted out.” Gemma tapped his arm once, “No.”

Harry heard Gemma’s footsteps retreat and then return and she wrapped a towel around his shoulders.

“If you’re sure you are okay, I’m going back to my area,” Aminah said. And Tony agreed and he heard them both walking away.

As he was drying off, he felt the scrolls in his pocket squelch and had a sinking feeling that he’d never know who’d written them or what they said.

He pulled them out and held them out to Gemma. “Gemma, what do you think, any chance I’ll be able to read these?” he asked.

He could hear her unrolling the wet paper. “?” She wrote into the palm of his hand.

“Are they completely blank then?” he wondered dejectedly.

“Yeah, it looks like the ocean washed the ink off the parchment, Harry,” Mei offered, “Sorry.”

“Okay, I think I’ll go change,” Harry said, wishing he could remember the spell that Tony’s dad had used earlier when he dropped the pitcher of icy water on his lap.

Gemma pressed his staff into his hand. “Oh, thanks, Gemma!”

She took his palm and asked, “ G-L-A-S-S-E-S-?

Harry felt his face. They were gone.

He turned toward Mei, “Mei, do you know what happened to my glasses?”

“No, why do you need them anyway? Your eyes don’t look weird. They are actually kind of nice. You shouldn’t hide them behind those glasses.” She stated.

“They help me with the bright lights that hurt my eyes,” Harry explained.

“I thought you couldn’t see?’ Mei asked suspiciously.

“I can’t, except for bright lights, but that’s all I see and it hurts, so my shaded glasses help protect my eyes,” he clarified, a little annoyed. Am I going to have to explain this to people every single day?

“Is that why you were closing your eyes when we were out on the ocean,” she asked.

“Yes, and the seawater stung,” Harry said.

“Can I accio my glasses from the water?” he wondered.

“It’s worth a shot,” Mei said and Gemma tapped his arm twice, “Yes.”

He held his staff over the water and said, “ Accio glasses,” and was reminded of Ginny over a week ago, when he was wet with blood and venom, doing the same thing.

Chapter Text

Harry stood by the tank he’d just stepped out of, a little less dripping wet because of the towel that Gemma had grabbed for him. He tried to still his trembling legs, but they continued to knock together. He held his staff over the water, trying to summon his glasses from the depths of the tank - from the ocean floor. The South China Sea ocean floor. Maybe that was too great a distance for the accio charm to work. It didn’t seem like his glasses were going to come racing toward him, though he held out his hand expectantly.

Accio glasses,” he said again firmly, though his arm was shaking from the tremors that were racking his whole body now.

“I don’t think they are coming,” Harry admitted resignedly.

“Geez, what a pain,” Mei complained.

Anger flared up in Harry’s gut, “Hey, you didn’t have to haul me out into the middle of the ocean. I can’t even swim!” The fear he’d felt as he’d been dragged underwater hit him full in the chest - the complete disorientation, and then when he realized that he was in the middle of the ocean with nothing to hold on to and no idea if there was even a shore to swim toward, if he could manage to make his way through the water. His throat burned from the sea water and from trying hard not to cry.

“You didn’t have to stick your hand in my tank. . .” She dug in.

“I thought something was wrong,” he yelled. “I thought you were drowning . . .” he said more quietly.

She was quiet for a little bit, while he heaved and tried to get his trembling to settle down. “Sorry,” Mei muttered, “I’ll go get your glasses.” He was deluged with a wave of water as she dove down into the tank.

Gemma’s hand on his arm was almost fluttering with concern.

“Sorry, Gemma,” he didn’t know why he was apologizing to her, maybe for scaring her.

He moved his staff to his dominant hand and moved it in front of him, trying to figure out where he was. He needed to get out of his wet clothes.

Gemma tugged at his arm as if she was saying “this way.”

He curled his fingers around her upper arm and let her guide him to the loo. She put his hand on the doorknob.

“Thanks, Gemma. I want to show you how we can talk more easily once I’m dry, okay?”

She tapped twice on his arm, “okay.”

Once in the loo, he squeezed twice on the staff holding it off the floor to get a sense of the room. It was spacious, everything was at least five steps away from where he was. There was a toilet and a bidet ( what’s that? Harry wondered) at 10 o’clock, a sink adjacent to them. At 3 o’clock there was a shower and at 8 o’clock there was a bathtub. Five steps in the 4 o’clock direction should take him to the wooden bench outside of the shower that had a rack of clean towels hanging over it. Harry made his way to the bench and sat down. He’d had enough of bathtubs, but a shower would get the salt water off of him and maybe he could warm up. He was still really shivering.

He accio’d a change of clothes out of his staff, but he didn’t have another pair of shoes to wear. He wondered if a bidet would dry his shoes and went over to it to see if he could figure out what it was. The staff told him that he’d found the bidet - it sounded porcelain - like a toilet when his staff struck it. He leaned down to feel it. It was shaped similarly to a toilet, too, but instead of a bowl filled with water, there was a shower head pointing straight up. When he ran his hand over it, water started spraying of it, right into his face. He stood up quickly. It finally occurred to him what it was intended for and he blushed. Why is this here? He wondered. Then it occurred to him: Tony needs this.

Okay, that definitely won’t help me dry my shoes. He made his way back to the bench, found his pile of dry clothes, stripped out of his wet clothes and stepped into the shower. It took him a little bit to figure out the controls and at first he was blasted with cold water until he was able to adjust it to a warmer stream. It felt good just to stand under the water and let it warm him. He finally stopped shivering. Feeling around the shower stall, he found smaller faucets that worked like the buffet and when he waved his hand near them, they told him which ones contained shampoo, soap, and conditioner. Finally, he shut the water off stepped out of the shower to dry off. He dressed though decided to carry his soggy trainers rather than put them on. Maybe someone can help me figure out how to dry them, he thought. He tempus’d his staff and found out that it was a lot closer to 3 pm than he imagined.

He was feeling a lot better when he emerged from the bathroom.

“Hey, Potter!” Mei called to him from her tank, he could hear the water sloshing around her.

“Yes?” he answered.

“I found your glasses,” she sounded solemn.

“Oh, wow. How did you find them?” he was surprised. He thought they were gone forever.  

He walked nearer the tank, his staff struck the bottom. He was tentative . . . a bit nervous about getting too near Mei.

“I just swam along our path and looked for them until I found them. Here you go,” Mei said, her voice subdued.  

He held out his hand, and she placed the glasses in it.

“Thank you,” he said as he put them on. She grabbed his forearm and he flinched. “Hey, settle down. I’m not going to pull you in again. I just wanted to tell you that . . . I’m really sorry. I get so angry and I don’t think. And I didn’t think how scary it would be for you to be pulled underwater like that. I’m sorry that I keep knocking you over. I really am,” the regret in her voice was unmistakable. “I imagine that it is even worse to get knocked over or pulled underwater if you can’t see it coming,” she conceded.

“Thanks, Mei. I’m sorry that I invaded your space,” Harry offered.

“Harry, I really will try to do better, okay?” Mei’s voice broke a bit.

“Okay. Me, too,” he said.

“Thanks for giving me another chance,” she sounded teary and he wondered if there would be more pearls.

“Are you going to go to tea?” he asked Mei.

“Yes, I’m getting out of the tank now. I’ve had enough hydration to last me for a while,” she explained and he wondered if that answered his pearl question, too.

He heard Gemma coming over.

“Hi, Gemma,” he turned toward her footsteps.

She grabbed his hand and turned over his palm so she could talk to him, “ N-E-W ” space “ W-A-Y ” space “ T-O ” space “ T-A-L-K-? ” she asked.

“Oh, right! My anagnóstis!” he remembered and felt around his wet clothes until he found his trousers and the pocket of his trousers. He was relieved to find that it was still there. He pulled it out. He didn’t think it would be harmed by being in the ocean - it seemed like it was solid metal.  

“Do you have paper you can write on?” He asked Gemma.

“Yes,” she tapped on his arm and left his side. He found hangers inside his wardrobe and hung up his wet clothes, hoping that they wouldn’t make too much of a puddle. As he closed the wardrobe doors (he was tempted to leave them open to help the clothes dry faster, but then remembered what it felt like to run into an open door), he heard Mei getting out of her tank. A bit of water splashed on his stocking feet. I am going to really need to learn that drying spell, he thought.

Gemma came back quickly, he heard her put the paper and a pencil on the desk. He found the desk and pulled out the chair for her.

“Here, you write something quickly. We don’t have much time; we have to go down to tea so we know what the plan is for this evening,” he reminded her. She tapped his hand, “right.”

She pulled the chair closer to the desk and he heard the sound of the pencil scratching on the paper. He was glad she grabbed a pencil and not a quill - he didn’t want to have to wait for the ink to dry.

She tugged at his hand to let him know she was ready and stood up. He took her place at the desk and scooted his fingers forward until he found the paper. He lined up the anagnóstis with the top left-hand corner and started reading what she had written.

“Hi, Harry! I have so much that I want to talk with you about, but I know that we don’t have much time. I guess what’s most on my mind at this moment is knowing that you’re really okay after getting pulled into Mei’s tank.”

Her voice was just as he imagined it would be - lyrical and light, a bit bubbly, but not too much. He smiled softly and turned his head toward her, swallowing a bit of emotion that had risen in his throat. She squeezed his arm, it felt like a question. “I can hear your voice. You sound like I thought you’d sound,” he said, his voice cracking a little. She squeezed his arm a bit more firmly.

Harry turned his ear toward Mei’s side of the room. He was pretty sure that she was busy getting dried off.

He said as quietly as he could manage, “It was scary, but I didn’t get hurt. I’m okay. She’s really sorry, for what that’s worth,” he said with a shrug.

She pulled the paper over to her side of the desk. He heard the bed creak as she sat on it while the pencil scratched over the paper. She pushed the paper under his fingertips that were resting lightly on the desk. He ran the anagnóstis over the paper and found her new sentence.

“Does this ana-thing speak out loud in the room?”

Harry turned his face to Gemma and said, “No, it talks to me quietly in my ear. I don’t think other people can hear it,” he touched the aftí in his ear, but realized that she probably couldn’t see it from what Hermione had told him about it. So he pulled it off and held it out on his palm so that she could see it. She touched it lightly and after a bit, he put it back on. Gemma pulled the paper toward her again and wrote more.

“I think she’s trying. She really is struggling. We’re all here because of hard things and it is too bad that she keeps hurting us. I hope she gets it under control. Soon.” He read her words with the anagnóstis and nodded vigorously in agreement.

Harry heard Tony’s footsteps and realized that Tony’s space was next to his. He had been pretty quiet this whole time - he wondered what he’d been doing.

He heard Mei going across the room - to Aminah’s space, he guessed. “Aminah, if you push my chair, I’ll guide you to the dining hall for tea,” Mei offered.

“Tony, are you headed there? Want to walk with us? Gemma, Harry? Let’s go, okay?” There was a grit in Mei’s voice - like she was steeling herself to be kind and thoughtful. Harry had to admit that she had a pluckiness that he admired.

Gemma’s back was to the room, so Harry was pretty certain she didn’t know that they were mobilizing.

He called out to Mei, “We’re coming,” and then leaned into Gemma and told her that the Montmorency group was headed down to tea now.

Gemma folded up the piece of paper and it sounded like she had stowed it in her pocket. Harry put the anagnóstis in his pocket. Maybe they’d be able to continue talking at tea. He found his staff, but collapsed it and put it in his pocket, too, and took Gemma’s arm to go to tea.

He ran his hand through his damp hair. The shower had been refreshing, but, boy, this first day had been exhausting so far and it seemed like they had a ways to go before it was over.

oO0OooO0OooO0OooO0Oo

At tea, the teens sat together. The tea was set out at each individual table this time. Gemma poured out the tea for everyone. Harry was sitting next to Tony and he wondered how Tony was going to drink his tea and eat his biscuits without his dad here to help him. He leaned over and asked quickly before he lost his nerve, “Um, Tony? Do you need any help with your tea or biscuits?”

There was a long silence. Harry wasn’t sure if Tony heard him, and then he heard Tony shift in his seat and he had a feeling that Tony was thinking about it, so he waited a bit longer.

“Um, yeah. There’s a straw on the table,” Harry started running his fingers lightly over the tablecloth, trying to locate it. “It’s in the center, about 10 inches straight ahead . . . that’s it.”

“Won’t the tea burn you if you drink it through a straw?” Harry asked, worried. He held the straw, but then remembered that Tony couldn’t just grab it. Or maybe he’d grab it with his mouth when he was ready. He waited.

“Could you put milk in my tea to cool it down?” Tony asked.

“Sure, where’s the milk?” Harry was wary about knocking over glasses, so slowly reached to the center of the table trying to locate the milk.

“To you right about 5 inches,” Tony directed.

Harry could hear Mei and Aminah talking about a book on the other side of Tony.

Harry wrapped his hand around the milk pitcher. His other hand was still holding the straw.

“Here, I’ll hold the straw,” Tony said and Harry felt him take the straw in his mouth and then Tony tapped the teacup with the straw. Harry wasn’t sure if Tony did it on purpose, but it helped him locate Tony’s teacup and he moved the milk pitcher toward it. Tony tapped it again, and Harry clinked the pitcher against the teacup and then poured in some milk.

“How’s that?” Harry asked.

“A bit more, please,” Tony said through clenched teeth.

“That okay?” Harry inquired.

“Yeah. Tanks.” Harry heard the straw hitting the side of the cup and guessed that Tony was sipping it.

“Let me know when you want to put the straw down or want a biscuit, okay?” Harry offered.

“‘Kay,” Tony said.

Harry felt around for his own teacup and added a bit of milk.

“Did you want sugar, Tony?” Harry asked.

“No, tanks,” he said after an audible sip.

It sounded like Gemma had sat back in her chair after finishing serving and he reached for her arm to get her attention.

“What kind of biscuits are there?” he asked.

She pulled out the paper from her pocket and he heard her writing. So he fished the anagnóstis so that he could read it. She guided it to the line on the paper.

“The plate is straight in front of you and to the left a bit. There is shortbread, chocolate digestives, ginger nuts, and fig rolls in that order from left to right on the plate. Do you want me to put some on your plate?” Gemma had written.

Harry salivated at the names of the biscuits.

“Sure, I’ll take a couple of chocolate digestives, a ginger nut, and a fig roll. Thanks!” He heard Gemma placing them on his plate.

“Tony, do you want biscuits,” Harry asked.

Harry heard the straw drop to the table and a roll a bit.

“Sure,” Tony, “Gemma, could you please put a ginger nut on a plate for me, please?” he asked so politely that Harry almost forgot that he’d been snickering at their blood status earlier. Harry tried to push that out of his mind, though it left a bitter taste in his mouth.

Gemma reached across Harry to set the plate in front of Tony, while Harry was trying to eat a shortbread. He bumped into Gemma’s arm as he leaned forward.

“Oh, sorry, Gemma!” Harry apologized. She squeezed his shoulder after she set down the plate.

“Tony, do you want me to hold the biscuit for you?” Harry asked, a bit nervously.

“Um, yeah, would you?” Tony seemed embarrassed.

Harry located the plate and the biscuit and held it in the air where he thought Tony would be able to get it. Tony grabbed it with his lips and Harry let go.

Harry found the straw again and held it up and after a bit, Tony mumbled, “Thanks,” as he grabbed it with his mouth and Harry heard it tapping against the teacup.  

Healer Jordan had entered the room and asked for their attention with her amplified voice. The noisy buzz of conversation settled down.

“I hope you’re enjoying your tea,” Healer Jordan began. “We’ve made arrangements with the instructors to continue introductions tomorrow morning, with the exception of one special guest who we’ll meet this afternoon at 4 pm. After you finish your tea, please gather again in the Mont Blanc room, but this time you’ll have the option of a short hike down to the lake.”

Mei groaned loudly.

Chapter Text

Harry shoved the shortbread in his mouth while he thought about his wet trainers and how Mei was going to handle this hike. He figured that Healer Jordan would figure out how to make it manageable for her - but he couldn’t help but speculate about how Mei would send him tumbling this time. There’s definitely a pattern.

Gemma pushed the paper under Harry’s arm and he held the anagnóstis over it waiting for her to guide his hand to the line she’d written.

“Who do you think the special guest will be?” Gemma asked.

“I have no idea,” Harry responded. He really didn’t have a clue, “Who do you think it will be?” he asked, pushing the paper back to her.

“Maybe Albus Dumbledore?” Gemma wondered.

Harry’s gut seized at that and he wondered why. He’d be surprised to see Professor Dumbledore here. The last time he’d been with Dumbledore was in his office after the Basilisk attack and he felt weird about that encounter . . . like it hadn’t gone the way Professor Dumbledore expected. As if he’d expect the discovery of an ancient whale of a serpent convalescing in a maze of tunnels beneath the school and a possessed diary that was seducing students to do its will . . .

“I don’t think it’ll be Professor Dumbledore. He seems busy with other things . . .” Harry left off.

“Who do you think will be our special guest, Tony?” Harry asked, mindful about not leaving him out.

“I dunno,” Tony responded absentmindedly, “What’s that pen thing you’re using?” he asked curiously.

“Oh, it’s my anagnóstis,” Harry held it up for Tony to inspect. “It reads text aloud to me.”

“Cool. I couldn’t hear it, though,” Tony stated.

“Oh, I have this little thing on my ear,” Harry took the aftí off and showed it to Tony, then put it back on, “that whispers quietly to me. Aminah has one, too. It works on her staff and on other charmed things around the center.” Harry explained.

“That’s handy,” Tony said, “I’m going to be getting some magical arms soon.”

“That’s good,” Harry said, though he immediately thought of how Mei’s Jiāorén magic had made his staff sting in his pocket and winced at the thought of that happening to Tony and his magical arms. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t have them yet. That would be way worse than holding your staff and having it react - at least you could let go.

“What?” Tony asked, quizzically.

“What?” Harry echoed.

“Why’d you make that face?” Tony explained.

“What face?” Harry asked honestly.

“You looked like you’d tasted something bad,” Tony said.

“Oh. I was thinking about . . .” He wasn’t sure he should talk about it. He listened to see if Mei was paying attention. She seemed to be engrossed in a rather intense, emotional conversation with Aminah.

“About what?” Tony prodded.

“About how when Mei blasted us with her magic, it made my staff sting me,” Harry said quickly, “and I was thinking about how much that would hurt if it was through your . . . arms.”

“Oh. What do you mean it made your staff hurt. Where was your staff? You didn’t have it with you when we were sitting on the stumps,” Tony questioned.

“I had collapsed it, it was in my pocket,” Harry explained and pulled the staff out of his pocket to show Tony. “And it stung like a stinging hex.”

“That would be bad. Maybe I’ll ask Healer Jordan about it,” Tony said quietly, “I don’t know if . . .”

“What?” Harry pressed.

“Nothing,” there was a finality to Tony’s voice that felt like a brick wall.

Harry shifted his mushy trainers underneath him, his toes pruning up in his socks. Harry sat quietly thinking about Mei’s outbursts. They seemed to happen when she was angry or frustrated and Harry was put in mind of his accidental magic before Hagrid showed up with his letter. I didn’t feel any magic, though, when she pulled me into the tank. Maybe because she was in the water? he wondered.

He was absentmindedly running his fingers over his collapsed staff, feeling the contours of the grain of the wood in its miniature form. His fingers brushed over the three dots that opened the extendable storage, but he didn’t press down to open it.

Gemma slid the paper on the table toward Harry. He put the staff back in his pocket and picked up the anagnóstis to read her note.

“Harry, I like being able to talk like this. I’m glad you thought of it. It’s a lot faster. My brother said you talked to a snake during a dueling club last year - he said it was really cool. His friends thought it was freaky, but Terry said it’s a really rare gift. He thinks you’re a good seeker, too, even though Ravenclaw beat Gryffindor the year before. He said if you hadn’t been in the hospital wing during that match that you would have given them a run for their knuts.

Are you ready to go to Mont Blanc? It’s 3:45, we should probably head over there.” The aftí in his ear read Gemma’s note in her clear, bubbly voice that he found both amusing and soothing.

Harry didn’t want to talk about being a parselmouth in front of Tony and he didn’t really know what to say to Gemma about the Ravenclaw/Gryffindor match . . . it still made his stomach drop to think about losing that match even though he knew in his mind there was nothing he could have done.

“Sure, let’s go down to the classroom. Are the others ready?” he asked Gemma.

She tapped his hand, “yes,” rather than writing it down.

“Okay, let’s go,” Harry said standing up.

Tony’s chair made a loud noise as he pushed it back and stood up.

“Aminah and Mei, are  you both ready to go?” Harry asked.

“Nah, you go on ahead. We’ll be there in a little bit,” Mei’s voice sounded weird, not her usual gruff growl.

“Okay, see you there,” Harry said.

“Yeah, right,” Mei snorted, sounding more like herself.

Nice. Harry rolled his eyes. She’d snort even louder if I said “hear you there,” he reminded himself.

oO0OooO0OooO0OooO0Oo

Gemma paused at the threshold of Mont Blanc and Harry wondered if there was something about it that looked different. It smelled the same. He could smell and feel the cool mountain air wafting into the corridor from the room as they approached and even hear some birds trilling in the distance . . . at first he mistook it for someone whistling and then he realized it must be birds. It sounded like they were talking to each other almost - calling and answering over a distance. He was a bit entranced as he realized it helped give dimension to the space inside the room. He could tell from the bird songs that the landscape sloped down in front of them and rose up behind them.

He realized that they had been standing there for a while, Gemma couldn’t be listening to the birds. Maybe she’s watching them?

He squeezed her arm so that she’d know that he wanted to say something and look, “What is it?” he asked.

Tony answered, “The benches are gone and there’s just a path leading down to the lake.”

“Do you think Mei will be okay on the path?” Harry wondered, conceding that he was thinking about himself as much as her. He’d had quite enough of getting tossed around today.

“I dunno. She’ll probably pitch a fit,” Tony deadpanned.

Yeah ,” Harry agreed silently, knowing that it was true.

“Where do we go?” Harry asked, not liking hovering in the in-between space.

Gemma was moving her arms, likely signing to Tony. Harry dropped her arm so that she could sign more freely.

“What’s she saying?” Harry asked Tony. He heard Gemma moving away from him, through the door and onto the crunching pathway. The birds got quieter with her noises.

“I don’t know - I think she’s asking Healer Jordan something,” Tony said quietly.

“Is Healer Jordan nearby?” Harry wondered.

“She’s way down the path, but I guess they can understand each other,” Tony said, “Hey, let’s get out of the door. There are more people coming.”

Harry could hear the man he had noticed earlier, the one who had sat behind him when the bench fell over and tried to help Harry up, his tenor animated as he was recounting traveling on the underground to someone. It sounded like it was the first time he’d traveled on it.

He was talking to someone Harry hadn’t noticed before, or at least he didn’t recognize anything about the person.

Then Healer Jordan’s voice surprised him as it came from a space just to the right in front of him, “Please make your way down to the lake by following one of the paths. We will meet on board the deck of the HMS Eden.”

“Oh, hi Healer Jordan,” Harry said, but she didn’t answer. He waited a bit more, rocking back and forth, listening to the water squishing in his shoes; he could hear the bells of the ship clanging in the distance. He then registered that Tony was walking ahead and leaving Harry standing in the doorway by himself. He quickly pulled out his staff, extended it and swung it back and forth, listening for the voice. He remembered to hold it with his index finger pointing down the length, and the aftí started telling him about the doorway and the path in front of him. He moved out of their way and they came through the door behind him.

“Healer Jordan, am I on the right path?” he asked, but she didn’t answer, but repeated the same message, “Please make your way down to the lake by following one of the paths. We will meet on board the deck of the HMS Eden.”

It must be a recorded message, Harry thought, flushing with the awareness that he’d been speaking to air again. He could hear Tony walking down the path, probably following Gemma and he started down the path after them. He said, “Navigant HMS Eden,” to his staff and it led him forward. The birds had quieted down since more people entered the space, but he could still hear the more distant trills. There was also the scent of wood burning, but light as though it were distant - a campfire.

Harry could hear other people walking on the path behind him, but they were quiet except for their feet crunching over the sandy surface of the walkway. Harry was pretty sure he was still on a path - he was following the sounds of Tony’s steps ahead of him and listening to the directions from his Navigant spell. He thought about calling to Tony to wait for him, to help guide him, but then he remembered that Tony really couldn’t guide him easily. His memory brushed over the feeling of Tony’s remaining arms in his hands when Harry had been trying to help him right himself during council. That would be awkward.

He stumbled a few times as he tread on larger rocks and he brushed against bushes and other plants that grabbed at his trousers.

His staff warned him of a tree branch that almost hit him in his face - and he reached out his hand in front until he found it and held it away as he moved around it. It was laden with small leaves that whispered through his fingers.  

He felt as though his progress was slow going and that Tony was getting farther and farther away from him. It was harder to tell if he was still on the path. The people behind him seemed to be moving even slower than he was and he was becoming conscious of a growing apprehension in his gut as he felt the gulf of distance between him and the other people. His breathing quickened.

And then he heard footsteps crunching on the path, coming up it, toward him, running, and getting louder as they approached. He stopped afraid they’d run into him. And then they stopped, not far in front of him. Their breathing was heavy from running up the mountain path.

“Hello?” Harry asked; the scribunt loqui flapped noticeably in the breeze.

A few light footsteps, and then Gemma’s hand was on his arm.

“Oh, hi Gemma. Where’d you go?” Harry was relieved she was back.

She moved to his left side and lifted his palm to write in his hand, “ S-O-R-R-Y ” space “ I ” “ L-E-F-T-. ” space “ H-.-J-. ” . . . Harry interrupted her work, “H?J? Is that Healer Jordan?” She tapped his hand twice, “yes.” She continued, “ W-A-S - LA-T-E - N-E-E-D-E-D - H-E-L-P - F-O-R - M-E-I ”. Harry furrowed his brow at this, Gemma had run it all together in her hurry and it took him a bit to figure out what she was saying. He repeated what he understood, “Healer Jordan was late and needed your help so that she could help Mei?”  

Behind them, Harry could hear distantly the repeated message from Healer Jordan, “Please make your way down to the lake by following the path. We will meet on board the deck of the HMS Eden” as Gemma wrote in his hand.

She tapped “yes,” impatiently on his hand, and then wrote “ IGOHELPMEINOWYOUGOTOSHIP ” Harry said the letters as she wrote them and pieced them together until he understood them. Before he could answer, she was off. He imagined that she could see Mei at the doorway. He felt a bit useless, standing there in the pathway as Gemma ran up the mountain path to help Mei and Aminah. The people who had been following him had passed them by while they were talking and he felt alone again. He pointed his staff down the mountain path and continued on, stumbling over stones occasionally and straining for cues that he was staying on the path and nearing the ship. The path got steeper and started zig-zagging across the side of the mountain. Dust from the path seemed thicker on this part of the trail - he could feel it coating his lungs and depositing a layer on his sweating skin and caking his wet trainers.

He slipped on some loose gravel at the bend of one zig-zag and sat down rather suddenly on the hillside, sliding down on his feet awkwardly as he tried to regain his balance. A rock had jabbed uncomfortably into his backside, and his wrist felt a bit tweaked from the sudden jolt as he landed. He managed to stand up again and brush off the dirt. A little shaky, he kept going.

He could hear the bells on the ship more easily now, he knew he was getting closer.

He wished he hadn’t been squeamish about asking Tony to lead him. Better than tumbling down a mountainside. He thought about Nio hus cherio kisa and wished he’d been able to bring the little snake with him.

Chapter Text

Harry heard some voices up ahead on the path and wondered what was going on.

Is it Tony? he thought, maybe Tony talking to the two people who had passed me?

He rubbed his sore butt cheek and then shook out his wrist and made his way toward the voices.

Tony’s voice sounded distressed - angry and a bit frantic.

“Stop doing that. Let me go!” Tony shouted fiercely. As Harry neared he realized that it was coming from the ground. Tony had also fallen down.

Who thought up this hike idea? Harry’s anger sparked and he didn’t listen carefully to his staff, stubbing his toe painfully on a rock. Resisting the urge to toss the staff down the mountainside, he bit his tongue to keep from crying out and limped along in his wet trainers. It was only the knowledge that there were people he didn’t know on the trail and concern that Tony might be really hurt that kept him from losing it completely. By the time he’d traveled close enough to ask what was going on without having to shout, he’d calmed down a bit.

“Tony, are you alright?” Harry shouted.

“Hey, do you know this young man?” It was the voice of the man who’d been talking about the underground.

Tony was cursing and it sounded like he was flailing, too.

“Yeah, is that you Tony?” Harry asked.

Tony grunted in response.

Harry’s staff told him that he was a step away from a person lying in the pathway and that there were two other people nearby.

“Hey, he won’t let us help him up. He won’t let us touch him,” the man explained.

“Do you know how he’s hurt?” Harry asked as he lowered himself down to the ground, using his staff to help keep his balance and then collapsed it and put it in his pocket. He slowly reached forward, tentatively feeling for Tony. He felt Tony flinch as his hand came in contact with his torso and pulled back. From what he could gather, he was lying on his back perpendicular to the path.

“He’s got some scrapes and bruises, but he’s not telling us where he hurts,” another man’s voice supplied, “and he won’t let us help him up.”

“Could you go get Healer Jordan?” Harry asked, “I’ll sit with him.”

“Are you sure you’re okay staying with him?” The second man said, his voice was deep and resonant, with a slight accent that made Harry think of far-off lands.

“Yeah, we’ll be alright,” Harry assured.

Harry sat quietly by Tony’s side as the two men walked away. Harry noted that the second man was mentioning the locations of rocks on the path for the first man using the face of the clock for reference. He must be blind, too, Harry thought. He wondered why the second man was here.

He let out a big breath. Why send all of us down this mountainside when we’re still learning how to get around in our newly broken bodies? It seems sadistic.

When he was pretty sure that the two men were out of earshot, Harry probed, “Hey, Tony? Do you want me to help you up or do you want to keep sitting here?”

He made an unintelligible grumble in response.

Harry shifted his position to get more comfortable (and off the bruise) - it seemed like they’d be here for a while.

Tony let out a sigh that hitched in the back of his throat like a sob. Tony’s feet started scrambling on the rocky earth, sending little rocks down the side of the hill by the sound of it.

“Are you trying to sit up?” Harry asked hesitantly.

Tony’s answer was just a frustrated yell. He lay still again. The way his was gasping for air made Harry pretty certain he was crying.

“Do you just need something to push against to stand up?” Harry asked, knowing that Tony didn’t want him to haul him up by his shoulders. He was pretty sure that’s what the shouting had been about.

Harry crawled around Tony, near his legs, feeling the ground in front of him to navigate over the loose rocks. Up above on the path, Harry heard the sounds of other people coming toward them. Tony must have heard them, too.

“Yeah, the rocks keep moving - it's so sandy here,” Tony had seemed to get control again.

He pulled his knees up and Harry sat in front of him. Tony pushed against Harry, but didn’t seem to be able to get the leverage he needed to sit up. He flopped back onto the ground and then groaned, “Just roll me down the mountain.”

The way Tony said it seemed kind of funny and sad all mixed up together. A laugh bubbled out of Harry’s lips and he tried to catch it - mortified that he had laughed.

To his surprise, Tony started laughing, too. Tears squeezed from Harry’s eyes as he laughed harder than he’d laughed in a long time. It felt good. They settled down and Harry had an idea. He leaned forward and put his hands on Tony’s shoes, “Try now Tony!” he said as his held Tony’s feet down. They pulled away from Harry, and he pressed down, and he could hear Tony straining to sit up. Tony’s breathed out heavily near Harry’s ear. He’d done it! Harry moved away a bit so that Tony could get his legs under him and stand up. Harry stood up slowly, too, holding his arms out in a half circle around Tony, but not touching him - just there in case Tony started to get fall again.

“Thanks, Harry,” Tony said quietly, though there was still a hint of laughter in his voice.  

“No problem,” Harry said, a bit embarrassed, “do you want to keep going or just wait here for Healer Jordan?” he continued.

“Let’s go before Mei gets here,” Tony said hurriedly, his voice directed toward the mountain as if he were looking up it.

Harry took his staff out of his pocket and said, “ Navigant HMS Eden,” again. It sounded like Tony had started walking ahead of him again.

“Hey, Tony.” Harry's throat felt tight. He hated to ask.

“What?” Tony responded; it sounded like he had stopped and turned around.

“I could . . . use . . . your help . . . too,” Harry had a hard time getting the sentence out.

“Oh, right,” Tony said, “what do you want me to do?”

“Could you guide me? Tell me how to get around the rocks on the path?”

“I thought your staff did that?” Tony responded.

“Yeah, it does and I’m getting better at understanding the directions it gives me, but . . .” he trailed off . . . he muttered, “Never mind. Forget it,” and started walking slowly toward Tony. He stepped awkwardly on a clump of grass in the path and stumbled a bit, caught himself and kept going. He thought Tony would turn around and start walking down the path again, but didn’t hear any evidence of it and felt his face get hot as he realized that Tony must be watching him. His staff confirmed it, telling him that there was a person standing two steps in front of him at noon and he stopped.  

“Er,” Tony started, “I’ve seen Gemma guide you, and you hold onto her arm . . . and . . .”

Harry understood.

“Listen, I think if we’re going to get down this mountain in one piece, we’re going to need to help each other,” Harry said more matter-of-factly than he felt. He knew there was truth in it. It was hard to ask for help, but easier to offer it. Maybe Tony felt the same way.

“So, how do we do this?” Tony hedged.

“How about I put my hand on your back? I think you’re too tall for me to put my hand on your shoulder,” Harry explained.

“Okay, we could try it. You’ll still use your staff?” Tony asked.

“Yeah. I’ll put my left hand on your back and use my staff in my right hand,” Harry said, stepping a little closer and holding his hand out.

“Okay, take another step,” Tony guided, he had turned around.

Harry found Tony’s back and dusted it off a bit.

“Whoa, you’re covered in dirt,” Harry said coughing, “would it be okay if I held onto your shirt?” He asked, not sure.

“Yeah, that’s fine,” Tony agreed. “Okay, I’m going to start. It’s going to get steeper soon after this switchback.”

“What’s a switchback?” Harry asked imagining a torture device that Filch would keep stocked in his office.

“It’s the turn on the trail when you zigzag across the side of a mountain to keep the trail from being too steep. My folks like to go hiking,” Tony explained. “Okay, there’s a big rock on the right, so go behind me a bit more.”  

“Isn’t that kind of a muggle thing to do?” Harry asked, a bit slyly; his staff gave him similar directions and he tapped the rock with his staff as he passed it.

“Nah. Hey - what are you saying?” Tony stiffened.

“Nothing. I just haven’t heard of wixen hiking before,” Harry said.

“Wixen?” Tony asked, and then added, “Okay, watch out the path gets pretty narrow here. There are a bunch of trees with branches hanging down.” He ducked and Harry followed right behind him, glad he was a little shorter.

“I just learned it - it means wizards or witches or both. It’s a lot easier to say,” Harry explained.

“That’s just weird,” Tony said.

“Do you think we’re really in the mountains or just in a magically enhanced room?” Harry asked.

“I think we’re in the French Alps, for sure. It is too much like the real thing to be magically enhanced. Okay, it’s getting a little steep here. Let’s go slowly. I think we went through some sort of portal. Do you feel it when we go through the door?” Tony wondered.

Tony slipped just then and lurched backward as he tried to catch himself. Harry hanging onto his shirt, pushed a bit and helped him right himself. Harry slid a little too on the sandy slope that was littered with tiny marble like rocks, but steadied himself with his staff and by leaning on Tony.

“Whoa” . . . “phew” . . . “thanks” . . .  “yeah, thanks” . . . They recovered and kept going, a little more carefully.

Harry was surprised that Healer Jordan hadn’t joined them yet. Or that Mei and Gemma and Aminah hadn’t caught up with them. Or anyone else for that matter. Didn’t Healer Jordan say there were something like sixteen people doing the residency program?

“Where is everyone?” Harry asked.

“Well, that blind guy went down to the ship to get Healer Jordan,” Tony explained.

“Didn’t both of them go?” Harry asked.

“What do you mean, both?” Tony questioned.

“There were two guys who were trying to help you get up . . .” Harry said and then started to doubt himself.

“There was just one guy,” Tony insisted.

“Their voices were totally different,” Harry negated.

“Yeah, I thought that was weird,” Tony agreed.

“Their voices were coming from two different places,” Harry went on.

“Well, I only saw one guy,” Tony was adamant and Harry decided to let it go, mostly because he had to really focus on what he was doing. It was a lot hard to follow Tony holding on to his shirt than it was to hold on to Gemma’s arm. When Gemma or Healer Jordan or Hermione had been guiding him, he got signals from their body language about what was coming up - slight pauses or subtle movements. Healer Jordan and Hermione added verbal cues that helped, too, but of course, Gemma couldn’t do that. She was really attentive, though, and really made up for it with how she communicated through the movement of her arm or she’d touch his hand with her other hand for additional information.

Tony’s shirt did none of those things. Still, it was better than his staff alone on this treacherous terrain.
“How much farther do we have to go?” Harry asked a bit breathily. This was a workout.

“We’re nearly there. Just a few more switchbacks and we’ll have reached the part that’s pretty level with the lake where the ship is anchored and then it looks like it is pretty straight and even until we get to the dock,” Tony described. “This is a pretty big step down here from this rock,” Tony said as he paused and Harry ran into his back.

“Omphff, sorry!” Harry apologized. “I didn’t know you were going to stop.”

Tony stepped down and Harry’s hand holding his shirt pulled it up a good foot or so. He moved his hand to Tony’s shoulder and explored the drop off with his staff. He moved over to Tony’s side slowly feeling the rock with his trainers (they weren’t quite so squishy anymore - though his toes felt like they were pickled) and took a deep breath and stepped off the rock to land next to Tony. His momentum carried him a step further and he lost his balance for a second, but Tony had planted his feet and Harry used his staff as a walking stick to stabilize himself and he didn’t fall.

“Wow, that was quite a drop-off. How’s Mei going to manage that?” Harry wondered.

Harry felt Tony twist around to look up the mountainside.

“It kind of looks like Healer Jordan is up there with them and that she’s levitating Mei,” Tony seemed perplexed.

“I thought she was down at the ship,” Harry said.

“There are people on the ship, but Healer Jordan is definitely up there with Gemma and Mei and that Paki girl,” Tony insisted, “she kind of stands out.”

“Her name is Aminah,” he felt a little nauseated - he was starting to like Tony and then he’d say something like ‘Paki.’ It made him really uncomfortable and reminded him of Uncle Vernon. “And what do you mean?” Harry protested.

“You know,” Tony stalled.

“No, I don’t,” Harry stated, exasperated.

“She’s so dark and her clothing is so colorful. She’s like a neon sign. And her hair - it looks like snakes,” Tony elaborated.

“Oh, well, I didn’t know,” Harry said, feeling like he was missing a lot or maybe it was Tony who was missing a lot.  

“Right,” Tony got quiet.

The path had gotten a bit easier to traverse and they were moving a little more quickly. The bell on the ship was still ringing rather rhythmically and now he could hear a faint drumming as well. It kind of sounded like there was a party on board. Maybe for that reason, the birds were less chirpy.

“Oh, watch out for that bush - it has thorns on it,” Tony warned a little too late. Harry felt the thorns catch on his trousers and he stopped letting go of Tony’s shirt.

He bent to try to free them and recoiled when the thorns sliced his fingers.

“Oh, ow. I should have seen that coming,” Harry reprimanded himself.

“How could you?” Tony grunted.

“Just a figure of speech,” Harry retorted, the sting of the thorns making him less amenable.

“Yeah. It’s kind of weird, right? How we keep using words that no longer really apply. Like today I said that something was handy. And here I am, ‘Look at me, no hands, mum!’ Nothing is handy for me, except I keep saying it,” Tony expounded bleakly.

“Yeah,” Harry agreed. He had freed himself from the thorns and sucked on his pierced fingertips.

He reached out for Tony again, and Tony backed into his outstretched hand.

“Thanks,” Harry said and they continued. His fingertips throbbed where they had been cut and he wondered if he was leaving blood stains on his staff.

I really need to learn some quick healing charms, he thought, I hope that is some of what we learn here.

He felt a little exhausted and wondered how he was going to make it through this first day.

They had just walked around the third switchback and the drumming on the ship was louder. The path was no longer zigzagging across the side of the mountain . . . they were heading straight for the sounds on the ship. Harry could hear the water lapping against the sides of the ship and footsteps on wood.

“Okay, we’re going to walk up a gangplank,” Tony warned.

Harry hesitated, pulling on Tony’s shirt as he stalled, “Wait, really?”

“It’s okay. It’s wide enough,” Tony assured.

“There’s no railing or anything?” Harry hesitated.

“No, it’s about two feet wide and there’s a raised board every foot or so, to give you some traction,” Tony explained.

“I don’t know about this. How high up does it go?” Harry felt his heart racing.

“It’s pretty steep. I’d say it’s about as high as staircases in Hogwarts,” Tony had stopped and Harry could hear that his foot was on wood now, not the gravel path. “Come on, you can do this. Didn’t you kill a Basilisk?”

“Yeah and look where that got me,” Harry shot back.

“Good point,” Tony conceded.

Harry stepped forward, shifting his hold on Tony’s shirt to his left side so he was squarely behind him. Tony started moving up the gangplank, leaning forward to adjust his body’s weight to the incline.

“Potter, stop pulling me back. You’re strangling me,” Tony protested.

Harry slid his hand down a bit so that he wasn’t tugging on Tony’s shirt so much.

“Hey, you made it!” The second man from the hike called down to Harry and Tony. His voice seemed much farther away than Harry was imagining.

Harry flinched and then tried to relax and concentrate on finding the next raised wooden plank with his foot, shifting his weight deliberately and carefully. He was really disconcerted by the way the plank and the boat seemed to be moving with the water.

Slowly as they progressed up the gangplank, the sounds of the water lapping against the ship sounded farther away and the noises on the deck neared.

On the hill behind them, Harry could hear Mei’s loud complaints. At least they made it. And then it occurred to him that they’d have to go back down the gangplank and then hike up the mountain to return. The thought almost made him pitch over the side, but he steadied himself.

Chapter Text

Harry felt like they were really high up in the air now. His legs were starting to tremble from the exertion and he had broken out in a prickling sweat that smelled pretty rank. He had stashed his staff in his pocket and was holding onto Tony’s waist now with both hands - steadying him as much as he was being guided by him. He could feel Tony trembling beneath his hands as well and knew it was as unnerving for him as it was for Harry. Maybe worse, Harry thought, he can see how far up we are. I’ve got the advantage of not being able to look down. Harry kept his knees slightly bent to accommodate the slight swaying and swelling of the boat and the gangplank. Each raised step beneath his foot felt reassuring as he made his way, one foot in front of the other, up the gangplank.

Surely, someone would have put protective charms on this gangplank to keep us from falling into the lake, Harry tried to reassure himself with the thought. Healer Jordan wouldn’t put us in a hazardous situation that we can’t handle. Right? He tried to calm the doubts that were crowding his mind.

I should have refused to go up the gangplank. I could have insisted that they find another way. Then he dismissed this idea. He didn’t want to stand out; didn’t want people noticing him.

He thought about how easy it was to cross the threshold into the Mont Blanc room and be transported to another place; the owlery had been the same way. Why can’t we do that here? Why does it have to be an ordeal like this? Are they testing us? We had a hard enough time just sitting on the benches before. Seems kind of risky to make us hike down a mountain and then walk up a gangplank. It’s almost cruel.

The voices from the deck were encouraging and definitely getting closer. Harry was pretty sure it was the two men from the path who were waiting for them at the top. They were almost there.

Tony paused at the top of the gangplank, and Harry bumped into him, almost unbalancing Tony. Luckily, the two men had grasped Tony’s shoulders and stopped him from falling and then steadied him as he stepped onto the deck of the HMS Eden. They grasped Harry by his arms and helped him step down, too. The distance to the deck was deeper than he imagined and he stumbled forward before he found his footing.

“There you go!” The second man held firmly onto Harry’s arm as he regained his balance. There was a tremor in his arm that made Harry wonder if it had been as scary to watch them climb the gangplank as it had been to do it. He let go and thumped Harry heartily on the back, reminding him of Hagrid.

“Er, thanks,” Harry offered up. He felt really relieved and a little elated to have arrived safely on board. I’m so glad I didn’t pitch over the side of the gangplank into the lake. My shoes would never dry. He was still clinging to Tony’s shirt, and he imagined that he had nearly pulled it off Tony just then, but Tony didn’t seem to mind. He didn’t let go.

“Welcome aboard the HMS Eden!” A man greeted them from a level up. Harry imagined that the man was on the Quarterdeck of the ship. He remembered a favorite book at his primary’s library that detailed all the parts of a galleon; how he had poured over that book - dreaming about sailing far away from the Dursleys.  

The boat creaked and groaned as it moved slightly in the water.

The second man was talking to Tony - he was the man who had grabbed Harry by his left arm. “Hey, why didn’t Healer Jordan help you with your cuts and bruises?” he was asking.

“Whoa, are you wearing an invisibility cloak?” Tony asked incredulously.

“Um, no. I had vanishing sickness,” the man explained a bit wearily as if he were tired of explaining it.

“Wicked. Harry said there were two people on the path trying to help me get up, but I didn’t believe him,” Tony sounded awed.

“No worries. It happens all the time,” the man responded.

“You must be Harry, then,” the man turned to Harry. Harry put his staff in his left hand so that he could extend his right to shake the man’s hand.

“Yes, I’m Harry,” he said, deliberately leaving off his last name.

“I’m Adam Ceesay,” he grasped Harry’s hand firmly and shook it. He was still trembling. Harry winced; his fingertips were tender. Now that he was this close to Adam, he noticed how tall he must be - maybe as tall as Dumbledore, even. Harry had a visual image of a very tall, dark-skinned black man. He had a very slight accent that made Harry think he wasn’t born in the United Kingdom, but that he had immigrated when he was pretty young.  

“Oh, sorry, I’m probably bleeding on you. I cut my fingers on some thorns,” Harry explained.

“Oh, let me take a look,” Adam said concerned.

“It’s really nothing . . .” Harry protested mildly as Adam turned his hand palm up to look closely at his fingertips. Harry was beginning to think that the quivering in Adam’s hand wasn’t from nerves. His voice was calm and reassuring.

“Sure, but it has to be at least annoying to have cuts on your fingertips . . . when you use them as much as you do . . . I think the ship’s captain’s quarters would have some essence of dittany,” Adam went on as he turned Harry’s hand gently.

“Tony, you should come, too,” Adam had turned to talk to Tony who was standing nearby talking to the first man.

“Okay, sure,” Tony agreed.

“Fitz, I’m going to take these young men to the captain’s quarters to see if we can get their injuries attended to. Do you want to join us?” Adam addressed the first man and Harry was glad to have a name for him.

“No, I’ll stay here,” Fitz replied.

Adam had guided Harry’s hand to his elbow as he spoke and then turned slowly to lead Harry to the captain’s quarters. He was really tall. Adam’s whole body kind of pulsed - now that Harry was holding onto his arm he realized it wasn’t really trembling at all. It was an intense energy. Adam was mindful about guiding Harry around the obstacles on the ship - piles of ropes and rigging. Harry was fascinated by the noises of the wooden ship creaking - it was such an eerie sound. The other people who were aboard the ship also seemed to be mesmerized by it because they were talking in hushed tones.

They entered through a door into a narrow corridor that meant that Adam had lengthened his arm behind him and Harry was holding onto his forearm and following in single file.  Harry felt like the ceiling was really low, too, he was tempted to reach up and see if he could touch it with his hand. Adam hunched over as he led Harry through to the captain’s quarters.

Out of the sunlight for a bit, Harry had opened his eyes, but when they walked into the Captain’s quarters he closed them again. It was surrounded on all sides by big windows that were facing the afternoon sun and the room was ablaze with light.

Adam led Harry over to a chair and placed his hand on the back of it, “Would you like to sit here?”

“Oh, wow, I didn’t think it would be so bright inside the ship,” Harry remarked as he sat down and then regretted it. He’d have to explain again that he could see light. He kind of understood it. Before this happened to him he thought that blindness meant total absence of light. He probably would have asked the same questions.

Adam didn’t say anything, but Tony, of course, asked the same questions he’d already been asked over and over again and it had only been a week.

Harry answered them wearily.

He wondered where the captain was as there didn’t seem to be anyone in the captain’s quarters. Adam had opened a cupboard and was moving around little glass jars and then came back over to where Harry was. Tony had settled in a nearby chair.

Adam pulled up a chair between them and set some items on a table. He uncorked a bottle. Harry cocked his head trying to hear exactly what Adam was doing.

“Here, Harry, will you put your hand on the table? I’ll dab some dittany on your fingertips,” Adam explained, as he gently pressed a wet handkerchief to Harry’s fingertips. A tingling sensation accompanied the pressure and Harry could smell a bitter, pungent odor. His fingertips stopped throbbing and when Adam released his hand he felt them with his other hand and couldn’t detect even traces of the cuts.

“Wow! That’s great. Where do you get that stuff? I wonder if I could buy some to keep with me?” Harry asked eagerly.

“Planning on having more run-ins with thorny bushes, are you?” chuckled Adam.

“Well . . .” Harry paused, “just seems that lately, I’ve been running into things . . .”

“Yeah. I understand,” Adam commiserated.  

“Okay, Tony, let’s take a look at you,” Adam said, turning away from Harry.

“Where are you?” Tony asked; he seemed unnerved.

“I’m right here next to you,” Adam said reassuringly.

“You’re wearing clothes, right?” Tony kind of half laughed, but Harry could tell that he was really worried about it.

“Yes, if you look at me from the corner of your eye, you can kind of see me, I’m told. The vanishing sickness is kind of a misnomer. I’m here, I’m just moving too quickly for you to see - it creates an illusion of invisibility. And it isn’t really an illness, it is more of a condition.” Adam explained patiently.

“Oh, yeah. Just barely, though. Is that why I can still see the chair you’re sitting in, but not the handkerchief in your hand? And why when you were leading Harry, I couldn’t really see his hand on your arm - it was blurring, but I could see the rest of his arm?” Tony asked.

“Yes, it affects things that are being moved by my momentum,” Adam explained.

“That sounds exhausting,” Harry commented.

“It does sap a lot of my magical energy,” Adam agreed, his rich voice expressed a fortitude that Harry couldn’t help but admire. “Okay, Tony. Can I attend to your cuts now? That one on your forehead is pretty bloody, but I think it is actually just a graze, but with a nice goose egg under it.”

“Yeah, okay,” Tony agreed.

“I’m going to daub some dittany on it, okay?” Adam explained as gently to Tony as he had to Harry. Harry realized that Adam probably had to explain to everyone what he was about to do. Harry never really realized before how much forewarning he’d received of people’s actions and intentions when he could see them coming, even if it was just a millisecond, it made a difference.

The chair that Harry was sitting was really comfortable. He leaned back in it and rested his arms on the armrests, thinking he could stay there for a while and be content.

“Okay, Tony - I think you’re set,” Adam said, satisfied.

“Harry, your trainers look soaked and muddy. Did you step in the lake?” Adam asked?

“No, it’s a long story,” Harry said sheepishly.

“Can I dry them for you?” Adam asked.

“That would be great,” Harry responded, sitting up.

He used the same spell that Mr. Montague had used earlier, “ Calidum siccum ” and Harry’s feet felt warm and dry almost instantly.

“Oh, I have to remember that one . . . especially if I’m living right next to the ocean . . .” Harry sighed, “that feels so good.”

“You live near the ocean?” Adam asked.

“Kind of,” but Harry didn’t elaborate.

Harry could hear some people talking in the corridor and then the door opened. Harry wondered if Gemma, Mei, and Aminah had made it to the ship.

“Perfect, I’m so glad you’re in here,” Healer Jordan declared as she entered the Captain’s Quarters. “Okay, everyone gather around. I know it is a bit cramped, but we should all fit once I vanish the chairs and table,” she explained in her efficient manner. Harry didn’t think that the corridor was wide enough for Mei’s wheelchair and wondered if she was here, too.

“Adam, you’re in here, right?” Healer Jordan inquired.”

“Yes, ma’am. I’m sitting between Harry and Tony,” Adam replied.

“Can you help Harry find a spot away from the table so that I can vanish it?” Healer Jordan asked courteously.

“Sure,” he responded as he stood up and grabbed the glass bottles that he had put on the table. It sounded like Tony stood up and moved toward the group of people.  Harry stood up, too, and Adam tapped the back of his right hand with his. Harry found the tall man’s upper arm and followed him to a spot on the perimeter of the room. He wasn’t sure who he was standing near. He heard Healer Jordan mutter a spell and the pop of the furniture disappearing. Other people came into the room from the corridor.

“Okay, we’re going to travel through this painting to meet our special guest,” Healer Jordan explained. Harry wondered what the painting depicted.

“When it is your turn, step up to the painting and reach forward to grasp the hand of the person in front of you,” Healer Jordan directed. “Once you’re through, turn and offer your hand to the person behind you.” Harry thought immediately of Tony, but apparently so did Healer Jordan as she turned and said quietly, “Tony, I’ll assist you.”

Chapter Text

Harry turned to Adam as people were moving toward the painting to begin their journey through it, “Thank you for healing my cuts and drying my shoes, Adam.”

“It was no problem, Harry, I was glad to help,” Adam assured, “Now here is your young friend who is always guiding you. I don’t think she knows I’m here. I’m going to go help Fitz, but maybe another time you can introduce me to her when we have more time?”

“Oh, yes, Gemma. Um, yes, I will. Thank you!” Harry dropped his hand from Adam’s arm and listened as he walked away. He felt Gemma’s hand lightly touching the back of his hand and he lifted it up so that she could write on it.

“Hi Gemma, How did everything go? Did Mei get down the mountain okay? And Aminah?” Maybe he should have waited with Tony for all of them and they could have helped each get down the mountain. He felt a little disappointed in himself that he hadn’t considered that until just now. Maybe that’s why Healer Jordan sent them down the path in the first place . . .  well, we didn’t fail completely, he rallied.

Gemma tapped his palm twice for each question, then wrote: “W-H-O” space “T-A-L-K” space “T-O” space “N-O-W-?

“I was talking to Adam, he healed our cuts - Tony’s and mine” Harry explained as they moved closer to the painting (Harry trusted that that was the direction they were headed).

She wrote “I-N-V-I-S-I-B-L-E-?” on his palm and Harry nodded before she was done writing the word, she continued “C-U-T-S-?” and he felt a little shudder go through her hand to his.

“We both fell on the path, and I got caught in a thorn bush,” he explained and he ran his thumb over his fingertips, relishing the feeling of the healed skin.  

She opened his palm again and wrote, “T-O-N-Y” space “O-K?

He nodded in response.

They moved forward and Harry took out his staff and shook it out carefully - mindful that there were a lot of people close by.

He thought he heard someone else’s staff tap near him and asked, “Aminah, is that you?” He realized that he recognized her by scent, too, a pleasing flowery scent that wasn’t too sweet or overpowering.

“Yes. Hi, Harry,” she answered.

“How was your trip down the mountain?” he asked.

“It was challenging. Healer Jordan came and helped us. Mei was having a hard time and so Healer Jordan took her directly into the painting, so it was easier when it was just me and Gemma. Gemma’s really brilliant, you know?”

“Yes, she is,” Harry agreed.

“Oh, I was wondering how Mei was going to get up the gangplank,” Harry confessed.

“Have you heard what the painting is a picture of?” Aminah asked.

“No, have you?” Harry responded.

“No,” was Aminah’s quiet reply while Gemma took Harry’s hand and wrote, “P-I-C” space “O-L-D” space “N-A-V-A-L” space “O-F-F-I-C-E-R.

“Gemma says that it’s a picture of an old naval officer,” Harry relayed to Aminah.

“Oh,” Aminah seemed confused, “I guess I thought it would be a wizard or something.”

“Yeah, me, too,” Harry agreed.

Gemma let go of Harry’s hand and shifted away from him. He felt the air moving near him and could hear hands moving, occasionally hitting their clothes or chest or clapping together and it sounded like someone was making noises with their mouth like they were mouthing words. He guessed that she was signing with someone. He wondered who else here knew BSL.

Gemma touched his hand and nudged him forward in the line a little absentmindedly, so he used his staff navigate a step forward while he reached out for Aminah.

“Aminah, I think we’re moving forward,” he said as he found her elbow and added, “I think Gemma’s signing with someone, too.”

Gemma’s hand found his and raised it up and wrote, “M-E-E-T” space “S-H-A-N-N-O-N” and then moved his hand and he felt someone else holding his hand, shaking it.

“Hi, Shannon. Nice to meet you,” he said and he leaned toward Aminah, “Gemma is introducing us to Shannon.”

“Shannon, are you also deaf?” Harry asked, wondering if it was rude to ask, but also figured it was just handy information. Gemma tapped his hand twice, “yes,” and Shannon answered, “Yes. Nice to meet you, Harry.” Her voice had a slightly toneless quality to it; he imagined that it was hard to speak when you couldn’t hear yourself. He smiled in her direction.

“This is Aminah,” Harry offered, turning toward Aminah. He could feel Shannon pressing against him as she greeted Aminah.

“Nice to meet you, Am -i- nah,” Shannon said, having difficulty pronouncing Aminah’s name.

“It’s nice to meet you, too, Shannon,” Aminah greeted warmly.

Harry could sense that Gemma was talking to Shannon in sign language and waited patiently.

“Gemma wants me to tell you that we’re next in line to go through the portrait. She’s going to go first so that she can help you and Aminah go through, okay? I’ll go last.” Shannon explained.

“Thank you, Shannon,” Harry was grateful to have someone who could help them communicate more efficiently.

He felt Gemma’s hand on his as she moved in front of him and then was pulled into the portrait. He held out his hand, thinking that she’d grab it, then he imagined it was Shannon’s hand that guided his arm to the left and up a bit until he found Gemma’s fingertips and then her hand. She grasped it firmly and he felt himself being tugged forward. He had thought that he’d have to step over a frame, but he was just sucked forward as if he were in a vacuum - it made his naval ache in an odd way as if he had been pulled through by his umbilical cord - he could feel it in his core. Ugh, I don’t like that. It was nearly as bad as trying to dig lint out of his belly button - which usually made him pretty queasy.

Immediately he was struck by the change in atmosphere. He was glad for a distraction from the weird belly-button feeling. The air had been crisp and cool and light when they were in the French Alps, and now it was heavy, thick, and wet - they were definitely in a different climate.

He remembered that he was supposed to offer his hand to the next person - Aminah - and he stuck his hand out in the direction he had come before his feet landed on firm ground again. Gemma helped guide his hand to the right spot and he could feel a tingling as it passed through a magical barrier and then felt Aminah’s warm hand grasp his. He held on tight as she moved forward and then helped her gain her footing as she landed.

He could feel Gemma next to him helping Aminah pull Shannon through the portrait of the naval officer. “Ew. I don’t like that feeling,” Aminah groaned.

“Yeah,” Harry agreed, shaking his head trying to get rid of the feeling.

Harry was trying to figure out where he was - he was definitely in a ship that wasn’t too different from the one they just left; it was possible that it was even an identical room. The same people he had just been with were around him and talking in the same tones as they had been conversing in the Captain’s Quarters of the HMS Eden. He could hear Fitz and Adam talking of the view from the Captain’s quarters. Adam was pretty animated as he described a tropical scene that was very different from the mountains they had just been in. He sounded like a child in a candy store, so palpable was his glee. I wonder if this is close to his homeland.

Pretty soon everyone had come through the portrait and Healer Jordan addressed them.

“In a moment, we’re going to move out onto the deck of the HMS Eden, and then deboard to the shore of Fernando Po, which is an island off the western coast of Africa (in our times it is called Bioko). This painting that we’ve stepped through is a little different from the enchanted portraits that you may be familiar with. This one was painted by the controversial witch, Beryl Comstock, who lived and traveled extensively in the 19th century and experimented with painting portraits of well-known wixen and muggles of her time. She was shunned in England for her work with muggles, and left England to continue her experimentations abroad - where she painted this portrait. She combined wixen painting techniques with memories of the same event witnessed by several wixen to make portraits of wixen and muggles that are more realistic and true to life. Many of Beryl Comstock’s works were destroyed, but her daughter Magenta Comstock was able to save this portrait and left it to our center upon her death a couple years ago.

This painting takes us back to 1827 to meet our honored guest, Lieutenant James Holman, who will greet us on shore. We are very fortunate to have this chance to talk to Lieutenant Holman who lived from 1786 to 1857 and who was memorialized in this portrait on the HMS Eden. Lieutenant Holman was a remarkable muggle who was blinded at the age of 25 by an unknown illness that also at times made it difficult for him to walk. He found that the cure to his illness that threatened his life was to travel by himself into areas of the world that were unknown to most westerners at the time. I hope you’ll find him a very fascinating guest.”

Harry wondered where Mei was - it seemed like this was when she’d chime in with a groan at the very least. He was also surprised that Tony wasn’t expressing his disdain for muggles.

Healer Jordan went on, “Please keep in mind that the world has changed a lot since 1827 and some of the cultural views that Lieutenant Holman is likely to express have changed radically. I think that you’ll find that he’s rather open minded if you make allowances for the cultural differences between his time and ours. At the point that we’re meeting him, he had just begun the leg of his journey where he would confront slave traders and attempt to bring them to justice as well as assist freed slaves as they tried to return home. Later he would go on to advocate for the rights of the Aboriginal people in Australia who were viewed by the English invaders as subhuman. He was also fairly accepting of the hidden wixen community existing around him - that other muggles had not noticed. While the painting depicts a specific time and place, this portrait version of Lieutenant Holman has access to nearly all his memories, except maybe those from the very beginning and end of his life.”

This guy sounded a bit intimidating to say the least. And just getting here to talk to him was exhausting. Harry wasn’t sure he was up to meeting him. He was afraid he’d be rather disappointing to someone who had done so much with their life. Maybe I won’t have to talk - I can listen.

Why had they gone to the French Alps to get on a ship then to go through a portrait to travel back in time to Africa to visit him? It all seemed very elaborate and convoluted and Harry was feeling pretty tired. Especially now that his feet were dry and warm and it was hot and muggy. I sure wouldn’t mind a hammock and a cool drink down by the beach right about now . . .

But that didn’t seem to be on the docket.

Healer Jordan led the group out of the Captain’s Quarters. Harry took Gemma’s arm and Aminah took Shannon’s. They had to go single file through the corridor. Out on the deck, the sun was even more brilliant than it had been at Mont Blanc and Harry squeezed his eyes tight against it.

He wondered if they’d have to go down the gangplank. He stopped, his feet rooted to the spot. I don’t want to do it.

Chapter Text

Harry’s sudden stop had jolted Gemma and she stumbled a bit. Harry steadied her. Shannon and Aminah jostled into them from behind.

Gemma drew a question mark on the back of his hand. Harry could hear the people behind them, who were stuck in the corridor behind them, asking what was going on. He heard Tony say, “What’s the hold up?”

Gemma tugged on his hand, and he stepped forward letting her lead him out onto the deck more. He felt a little shaky in his knees, and he muttered, “I don’t want to go down the gangplank.” He could hear the paper fluttering in the humid breeze, but was pretty sure that Gemma hadn’t seen it because she didn’t acknowledge it at all. They stopped and Harry could feel the railing at his back. He reached out for it - his fingertips gliding over the well-worn wood. He was a little surprised that it felt so real after Healer Jordan’s explanation of where they were - inside a painting that was also the memories of several wixen. How does it feel so solid and timeworn? He’d felt a little nauseous ever since they came through the portrait and was glad to be out on the deck with air moving around, but the rocking of the ship wasn’t helping settle his stomach. He did want to be on land, but he just didn’t want to go down that gangplank. Going up it was hard enough, but he had been leaning into it. Going down, he felt certain he’d just step off the edge . . . into nothingness as far as he was concerned.

Gemma drew the question mark on his hand again. Harry was embarrassed, he could feel the heat seeping into his neck and snaking up to his ears.

“The gangplank,” he stopped. “I don’t want to go down the gangplank,” he explained, hanging his head, trying to hide his discomfort. Gemma stroked his hand in a soothing way.

He heard Aminah’s staff and guessed that Shannon had followed them over.

“What’s going on?” Shannon and Aminah asked almost in unison.

Harry groaned. He really didn’t want an audience. They waited patiently, though, and the silence was almost as hard to bear, “I just don’t want to go down that gangplank again,” Harry confessed, shuffling his feet.

“Oh, yeah,” Aminah sighed, sounding relieved. “Maybe there’s another way down?” she wondered.

Harry could hear Shannon and Gemma signing to each other and wondered what they were saying. They are probably talking about me, he felt the warmth of shame spread across his chest and neck. His legs were trembling and he was afraid they weren’t going to support him. He slid down the deck wall to the weathered floor boards. He traced the spiraling grain of a knot beneath his fingers. His heart was beating in his chest, threatening to leap out. He listened to the sounds of Gemma and Shannon’s conversation - hands sliding past each other, clapping on flesh at times, clothing at other times, little sounds of mouths opening and closing and air being released and gulped in. He wondered why Shannon didn’t speak out loud when she was signing to Gemma. Privacy? Then why mouth words? He felt rankled and unsettled; inexplicably annoyed with Gemma for talking to Shannon.

“Harry?” Aminah said from above him.

“I’m down here,” he told her, unable to hide his irritation.

Aminah’s staff poked his foot gently, “Oh, sorry. There you are. I thought maybe you’d left,” Aminah said as she used her staff to make sure the spot next to him was open and tapped her staff three times on the deck to collapse it. She seemed determined to ignore his prickliness. He could hear her hands on the wood railing and then she lowered herself down carefully next to him, surprising him when she fell against him momentarily as the boat rolled, then righting herself.

They sat quietly for a bit. It was really hot. Harry was sweating and he wasn’t even moving. He pulled off his hoodie and stuffed it in his staff.

Harry could feel people’s footsteps through the floorboards beneath him and turned his head in the direction of someone approaching their little group.

“What are you doing here?” Tony asked as he approached. “Why aren’t you queuing up to go down the gangplank with everyone else?”

Harry shook his head glumly.

“What?” Tony questioned, “You’re not going now? After everything we did to get here?”

“I dunno,” Harry mumbled angrily.

“Harry doesn’t want to go down the gangplank,” Aminah explained.

Harry was annoyed that she offered that to Tony. It made him sound like a little, whiny kid and he felt the back of his neck get hot. He pressed his hands to the deck. Maybe it isn’t too far off the mark.

“Come on, Harry. You can lean on me. We can help each other again,” Tony cajoled. Harry gave a half hearted smile.

More footsteps approached them.

“Are you kids okay?” Adam asked, “It looks like it’s our turn to go down to the shore. Do you need some help?”

“Whoa!” Tony said in surprise.

“It’s just me, Tony,” Adam said with a hint of exasperation.

“Yeah, right. Sorry, mate,” Tony said chagrined. “You just snuck up on me.”

Aminah’s voice was close to Harry’s ear, “Harry, we could ask them to get Healer Jordan’s attention. Maybe there’s another way down?” she asked quietly.

“Ugh,” Harry hated all the attention. He tried to steel himself. It would be easier to just go down the gangplank than have all these people fussing over him. He pushed against the deck wall, wanting to squeeze his body into the wood and disappear.

“Harry?” Aminah gently pressed.

Someone walked away. Harry wasn’t sure who it was, but he couldn’t hear Gemma and Shannon signing anymore, so guessed it was one of them. Maybe Shannon? Her footsteps are heavier than Gemma's.

He let out a ragged breath, “Yeah. I guess so,” he gave in.

He could feel Aminah moving next to him, her legs brushing against his as she stood up.

“Hi?” she said shyly to someone, probably Adam or Fitz.

“Hi, I’m Adam and this is Fitz,” Adam introduced himself to Aminah.

“I’m Aminah,” Aminah offered, “Harry doesn’t want to go down the gangplank again. Do you know if Healer Jordan is nearby? Can you get her? Maybe there’s another way down?”

“Oh, yes. I see her just over there. I’ll go get her. Fitz, you’re okay to stay here, right?” Adam replied.

“Yes, that’s fine,” Fitz responded, stepping closer to the group. “So, Aminah, Have you heard of Lieutenant Holman before today?” Fitz addressed Aminah.

“Oh, no, sir. I haven’t,” Aminah responded. Harry tuned out of their conversation; he was starting to feel hemmed in and decided that he’d rather stand up. His legs didn’t feel quite so unsteady anymore. He took in a deep breath and used the side of the ship to pull himself up. Gemma put her hand on his, tucking her fingers under his palm and pulling up a little. He offered his palm to her.

Fitz was telling Aminah about some research he’d done before he came to the center, but Harry couldn’t focus on it.

F-E-E-L-I-N-G” space “B-E-T-T-E-R-?” she asked him. He nodded slightly in response, but frowned a bit.

S-H-A-N-N-O-N” space “G-E-T” space “H. J-O-R-D-A-N” she told him.

F-I-N-D” space “O-T-H-E-R” space “W-A-Y” space “D-O-W-N” she reassured.

“Oh, that’s what Adam is doing, too,” Harry told Gemma. He could feel her turning, probably looking for Healer Jordan.

Harry’s stomach lurched - the nauseous feeling he had earlier was coming back. He felt really unsettled and trapped. He tried to still the tremor in his hand as it rested in Gemma’s hand. He had an urge to runaway. I can’t even run away . . . to where - an island in the African tropics in 1827? I’d still have to go down the gangplank!

Gemma walked her fingers across Harry’s palm. At first, he wasn’t sure what she was doing, and then he heard footsteps approaching them. Healer Jordan is coming over , he concluded.

“Hi, Harry,” Healer Jordan greeted from a few paces away as she approached.

“Hi, Healer Jordan,” Harry responded politely.

“I understand that you’re feeling nervous about going down the gangplank,” Healer Jordan sounded conciliatory.  

Harry nodded tightly. His eyes pricked as if they were threatening to tear up. No! He told himself firmly. No crying. Gah! He swallowed down the tears. It was bad enough that everyone was milling around him like a fragile child.

“What is it about the gangplank that’s causing you pause?” Healer Jordan asked inquisitively.

Harry balked at this question - his eyes widening. Isn’t it obvious?! His insides were shouting, but he couldn’t bring himself to be disrespectful to Healer Jordan.

“Do I have to say it in front of everyone,” he mumbled.

“What was that?” Healer Jordan questioned, leaning in close.

He couldn’t believe she was being so obtuse.

“I just don’t want to go down it,” Harry replied equally stubbornly.

“I’ve talked to . . . ah, here he is now . . .” Healer Jordan had turned away from Harry and Harry heard a cane with a metal tip sounding on the wooden deck as it approached. It didn’t sound like it was being used for support though, even though the person walking toward them had uneven footsteps as if they were limping.

“Lieutenant, thank you so much for boarding the ship to talk to Harry,” Healer Jordan greeted Lieutenant Holman warmly.

Harry was mortified. Not only was he causing a fuss, now everyone who had already deboarded the ship was robbed of their time with the special guest.

“Not at all, it is my pleasure,” he responded equally warmly. His voice had an unusual quality - theatrical and his accent was ancient - like something out of a really old movie.

He moved to Harry’s side in an uncanny way. Harry wondered if Healer Jordan had pulled him over or if he found Harry on his own.

“Harry, I would like to introduce you to Lieutenant James Holman,” Healer Jordan said rather formally. She turned to the Lieutenant, “Lieutenant Holman, I would like to introduce you to Mr. Harry Potter.”

Harry had a brief flash of thankfulness that there was no way that Lieutenant Holman would know his history - he was spared that at least.

“It’s very nice to meet you, Lieutenant,” Harry said as he held out his hand. Then he remembered that Lieutenant Holman was in the same boat he was ( literally and figuratively! ha!) and started to lower it when he heard a slight rustling noise, like fingers being rubbed together. He moved his hand toward the sound and found Lieutenant Holman’s outstretched hand with the back of his. They grasped each other’s hands. Harry let out a breath of air that could have been mistaken for a slight laugh.

“I am very pleased to meet you, as well, Mr. Potter,” Lieutenant Holman’s grasp of his hand was firm, but not painful. He didn’t let go, however.

“Healer Jordan, if it pleases you, I would very much like to speak to Harry alone,” Lieutenant Holman requested.

“Yes, by all means,” Healer Jordan replied, sounding almost courtly.

Lieutenant Holman guided Harry’s hand to his elbow and started walking away from the group - the metal tip of his cane tapping resonantly as they walked. He was limping as if it was painful to put pressure on his left foot. He was wearing a stiff wool coat that seemed like it would be very uncomfortable in this heat.

“Let us find a place where we can speak with ease away from others,” the Lieutenant offered. He guided Harry around the obstacles in their path easily and Harry guessed that he’d spent a lot of time on this ship.

“Here, I think this will do,” Lieutenant Holman stated as he stopped and dropped his arm, stepping away from Harry slightly to face him.

They were sheltered from the hot breeze that carried a pungent odor of fermentation mingled with smoke from wood-burning fires.

“Healer Jordan was very kind as to share a bit of your recent history with me,” Lieutenant Holman began.

“Oh,” was all Harry could think to reply.

“She said that you were blinded just over a week ago by an encounter with a very large and venomous serpent - one of mythical proportions.”

“Um, yeah, I guess so,” Harry mumbled.

“You guess?” Lieutenant Holman seemed surprised by this response.

“Yes, sir,” Harry replied, “that’s what happened.”

“And now you are balking at the prospect of deboarding the ship by means of the gangplank,” Lieutenant Holman continued.

“Yes, sir,” Harry said resignedly.

“It seems to me that you’ve learned quite a lot in a week . . . perhaps about your own mortality and the fragility of life . . .  and limb,” Lieutenant Holman’s thoughtful response had an unexpected effect on Harry. An oppressive weight that he didn’t know he’d been struggling under lessened slightly and he took in a deep breath.

“Yes, sir, I guess that . . .,” he stopped himself and started again, “Yes, sir. That’s it.”

“It’s a perfectly reasonable response, given everything that you’ve been through,” Lieutenant Holman agreed congenially. “Now, you’ve got to decide how you’re going to move forward.”

 

Chapter Text

Harry stood with Lieutenant Holman on the deck of the HMS Eden as it rocked gently in its mooring. The air hung heavily about them and Harry felt like he had been dipped in sweat and then coated with dust. He thought about what Lieutenant Holman said . . . about deciding how he was going to move forward. He felt like he’d been doing a lot of that already . . . moving, moving, moving. What he really wanted to do was rest a bit. He really hadn’t had a chance. Was resting moving forward? He didn’t think it was what other people wanted him to do. Resting was definitely not what the Dursleys wanted him to do, except when they wanted him out of sight, pretending he didn’t exist. That’s different from resting.

The Dursleys aren’t here, Harry told himself sternly, trying to banish them from his mind. Pretend they don’t exist!

“What did you do, Lieutenant, when . . . you first lost your sight?” Harry asked hesitantly.

“Ah, well. I was very ill and was attempting to find balm for my ailments in the healing waters at Bath so that I could return to active duty. I was staying with dear friends who were so kind as to let me trespass on their hospitality while I attempted to find a cure for my flighty gout. Instead of improving, alas, I suffered from a terrible pain in my eyes from which even cold compresses, dark rooms, and a seemingly endless supply of leeches could not release me. Finally, the pain left, but it took my vision with it and after several weeks, I felt I couldn’t burden my friends any longer and I returned home. Those first few weeks were very challenging and I don’t have much to offer you in terms of inspiration or even guidance. In fact, I was not up and about traveling independently for many months. I am loathe to speak of those first few months as they do not reflect well on my character. You, Mr. Potter, seem to be made of sterner stuff than I. I was twice your age and still, it took me a very long time to rally and seek adventure. You are already scaling mountains and plunging into the jungles . . . and you’ve only had a week to accustom yourself to your lost sight,” Lieutenant James Holman’s speech was archaic in style, but it felt sincere.

“Well, I didn’t have much choice . . .” muttered Harry darkly.

“And yet, here you are . . . aboard the HMS Eden and contemplating a journey to the shore,” Lieutenant Holman added brightly. “So, what’s it going to be? Are you going to stay aboard or venture down the plank?”

“How do you go down the plank?” Harry asked, a bit warily.

“Well, I prefer to follow some stout, surefooted fellow and place my hands on his shoulders as he descends,” the Lieutenant offered.

“I’m not sure if there are many of those around right now,” Harry stalled.

“Come on, then, let’s see who we can find!” the Lieutenant grasped Harry’s arm firmly, placed his hand on his elbow, and started moving toward the group of people who were still waiting their turn to deboard. He had a peculiar scent - damp wool, but also an overlay of sweat mixed with unusual spices - it was different, but not unpleasant.

“I’m in search of a hearty soul upon whom this lad can lean upon while going down the gangplank!” Lieutenant Holman said in a booming voice that surprised Harry. “Who is willing to lend their shoulders?”

Harry felt the heat spreading across his chest and up his neck. At the rate he was going, he was going to be permanently flushed with embarrassment.

“I can do it, Sir,” Tony answered. Harry was surprised.

“Well, there you go, Mr. Potter! You have a volunteer!”

“Hi, Tony,” Harry muttered.

“Well, you know each other! That’s grand!” Lieutenant Holman seemed genuinely pleased.

“Lieutenant Holman, this is Tony Montague,” Harry remembered to introduce them a little belatedly.

“It is my pleasure to meet you, Mr. Montague,” Lieutenant Holman said formally.

“Er. Yes. Nice to meet you, too,” Tony replied, though his response was steeped in embarrassment. Harry blinked as he tried to figure out why and then it clicked.

“Lieutenant, Tony is unable to shake your hand,” Harry said softly to the Lieutenant.

“Oh, quite right,” Lieutenant Holman responded courteously.

“So, you’re going to go down now?” Tony poked, obviously wanted to draw attention away from himself.  

Harry bristled at the poke and scowled.

“Hey, I was only joking,” Tony said teasing, stepping close enough to Harry to brush up against him. Harry put his hand on his back.

“Let’s get this over with before I change my mind again,” Harry muttered darkly wishing he had chosen the “whisk me back to my bed” option instead. He had an instant flash of his room on Privet Drive and shook his head. Not that bed.

“Healer Jordan said that there are charms on either side of the gangplank that will keep us from falling in,” Tony offered.

“Geez. Why didn’t anyone say that before?” Harry breathed in exasperation.

“She was too busy with Mei,” Tony said.

“Is she the only one working at the Center?” Harry asked in disbelief.

“There’s the Burbage fellow . . . the son of Professor Burbage at Hogwarts . . . he’s around here somewhere, too,” Tony said.

“Oh, yes, an excellent chap! Mr. Burbage!” Lieutenant Holman exclaimed.

“Whose shoulders are you going to lean on, Lieutenant?” Harry asked politely.

“Well, if you don’t mind, I think yours would do,” He replied lightly.

“Oh, I guess so,” Harry replied.

“You guess? Is there a lot of uncertainty in your time?” Lieutenant Holman questioned.

“Yes?” Harry wasn’t sure.

“Very good! Well, shall we proceed?” Lieutenant said heartily.

“Um, sure?” Harry was feeling less sure, but he followed as Tony moved toward the gangplank. We must be among the last people on board, Harry guessed - most of the noises were now coming from the shore.

“Did Gemma and Aminah and everybody go down already, Tony?” Harry asked.

“Not everyone, but mostly. I think Aminah and that one big woman with the short black hair went down - the deaf one who can talk,” Tony said.

“Shannon,” Harry supplied as it finally occurred to him who Tony must be talking about.

“Right. Her,” replied Tony.

“Is Gemma still up here?” Harry asked.

“Yes, she’s helping that Fitz guy,” Tony supplied, “they are going down now.”

“What about Adam?” Harry asked.

“Don’t see him anywhere,” Tony snorted.

“Very funny,” Harry said.

“I’m right here,” Adam’s deep voice came from nearby.

Tony squeaked in surprise.

“I wanted to make sure you were okay,” Adam continued, ignoring Tony’s discomfort.

“Adam, have you met Lieutenant James Holman?” Harry asked. He heard Adam’s footsteps approaching them.

“I have not yet had the pleasure. Lieutenant Holman, I’m very pleased to meet you,” Adam said cordially.

“Adam . . .” Lieutenant Holman paused.

“Adam Ceesay,” Adam completed.

“I’m very pleased to meet you. Your accent puts me in mind of the people of the Gambia, but you speak the Queen’s tongue very well,” Lieutenant Holman said with interest.

“That is correct, Lieutenant Holman! Very few people are able to place my accent. I was born in the Gambia, but have lived most of my life in the United Kingdom.”

“Oh, what is the United Kingdom?” Lieutenant Holman inquired.

“Harry, let’s go down,” Tony interrupted.

“Oh my, you must pardon me, Harry. You go on down, and I will ask Mr. Ceesay if he would lend me his shoulders for the journey down the gangplank while he tells me of this United Kingdom,” Lieutenant Holman said amiably.

“Okay,” Harry agreed as he followed Tony who was moving away from Adam and Lieutenant Holman.

Harry was trying to remember what it was like to gain the deck of the HMS Eden so that he could anticipate what it would be like to descend the gangplank. Down at the shore, there were squeals of delight. It sounded like a bunch of children. For a moment, Harry wondered if there was a school group . . . but then remembered where they were. Maybe village children from Fernando Po? They were definitely happy.

“Tony, is anyone there to help you get on the gangplank?” Harry asked wondering how Tony was going to manage what had to be an awkward move without arms to hold onto anything or provide balance.

“No, I think we’re it now,” Tony said with a thread of nervousness running through his voice.

“I’ll help steady you, okay?” Harry said, remembering the long step up.

Behind him, he could hear Lieutenant Holman and Adam excitedly talking about the history of England, or in Lieutenant Holman’s case, the future of the country.

“Okay, I’m stepping up now,” Tony warned as he leaned to the side as his right leg stepped up. Harry put his hands on either side of Tony’s waist to steady him as he pulled his left leg up to join his right, crouching down, rather than standing up all the way. Tony teetered a bit and Harry helped steady him. Then, still crouching, Tony moved forward a step down the gangplank, the ship rolling gently in its mooring and the gangplank settling under the weight of Tony.

Harry took his hands off of Tony’s waist for a second while he felt the railing and found the sides to pull himself up. He heard Tony move down another step and pulled himself up onto the gangplank behind Tony, then reached forward to find Tony’s back.

“Are you going to go down like that all the way?” Harry asked, unsure.

“I’m thinking about it. I feel a bit safer like this,” Tony said tentatively.

“Okay. I guess I’ll crouch, too?” Harry said apprehensively.

“Yeah, I think this is going to work,” Tony said sounding a bit more confident.

“I bet we look silly,” Harry moaned.

“Yep. I’m pretty sure we do,” agreed Tony, “Luckily, only Gemma’s watching us. Everyone else is watching Mei. She’s showing her fin to a bunch of children and nearly everyone is gathered around them.”

“Oh, yeah. I was wondering what the kids were shouting about,” Harry mused.

They slowly made their way down. When they were about halfway down, they felt the gangpank move with the weight of people getting on it at the top and stilled themselves as they waited for Adam and Lieutenant Holman to find their rhythm. They slowly added their movement back in and continued carefully on their way down.

“Okay, Harry, we’re nearly there,” Tony assured.

Harry drew in a shaky breath - filling his lungs with the briny air. His legs were cramping up in this crouched position, but he had to admit that he felt safer, too. He could put a hand down and grab the side of the gangplank when it wobbled to steady himself as well as Tony.

“Good,” Harry was relieved.

Tony rose up to a standing position and Harry followed and found that his next step was on solid, though uneven ground. He felt like he had stopped suddenly. No longer was he rolling along with the gentle waves of the lake . . . No, wait, we’re on the ocean now. Weird.

There was a slight putrid odor on land underlying the salty sea air - as if something were fermenting. The children’s noises were even more joyful now that they were closer.

Tony started walking away and Harry tripped trying to keep up with him.

“Hey, wait,” Harry said.

“Oh, sorry. I forgot,” Tony said, abashed.

“No worries. I can get my staff out,” Harry said, fishing around in his pocket for it and shaking it out.

“It’s pretty cool how small that gets,” Tony commented.

“Yeah, it’s handy . . .” Harry said and then wondered if he should have said that.

“Don’t worry,” Tony said as if he’d read Harry’s mind, “it’s weirder when people stop using words like hands and arms around me. And I noticed you haven’t stopped saying stuff like “see” and “watch.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Harry agreed.

“Still guessing? Are you, Mr. Potter?” Lieutenant Holman and Adam had just come off the gangplank behind them.

“Yes, sir,” Harry replied, chuckling a little.

“Well, we’d better join the group and see what they’re up to,” Lieutenant Holman said bracingly.

Harry smiled and heard Tony make a breathy sound like he was quietly laughing.

Chapter Text

As Harry followed the sounds of Adam and Lieutenant Holman as they walked toward the group that was gathered on the beach, he wondered how he had been talked into going down the gangplank so easily when moments before he was panicking at the idea. Lieutenant Holman made it seem easy, he realized.

Tony, following the two men, occasionally turned to make comments about the terrain that (mostly) helped Harry navigate it. It wasn’t as tricky as the trail down the mountainside to the HMS Eden had been - or maybe I’m getting better at this . . . Harry allowed. The ground was different under his feet - in the mountains it had been hard and sandy with lots of loose rocks and then small clumps of spiky plants that made squishy mounds. Here the earth was soft and spongy - each step released fragrant cut grass aromas.

Every once in a while, when the wind shifted direction from the ocean to the land, he was overwhelmed by the scents of dense vegetation. He’d never smelled anything like it before. It was so hot and humid, Harry was certain he was going to melt. His clothes were sticking to him and he felt as though he was way overdressed in his baggy T-shirt, trousers, socks, and shoes. And the wind carried the sound of birds and other animals ( monkeys maybe? ). Harry remembered the trip to the zoo where, before everything went to hell in a handbasket, he had listened to an interactive display that had recorded the sounds of the jungle - and here it was  . . . even more cacophonous in real life . . . is this real life or just someone’s memory of real life?

Soon, they were walking in sand.  At first, it was hard and compacted, then it was loose and Harry was sinking deep into it with each step. He felt he had slowed to a sloth’s pace and that he was losing ground.

“Harry,” Tony said close by.

Harry jumped. He had been so intent on navigating the sand that he hadn’t noticed that Tony had stopped.

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you,” Tony apologized, “It seems like you’re struggling in the sand. I just thought you could use a . . . some help,” Tony offered.

“Yeah, that’d be great. The sand is hard to walk in,” Harry conceded. It sounded like they were getting close to the group of people on the beach and the squealing children. He could hear them splashing in the water now. He reached out and found Tony’s back and they started walking again.

“This place is so amazing. I’ve never been to a jungle before and I guess this is a jungle - there are gigantic trees and vines and leaves and they are all so deeply green. I don’t think I’ve ever seen green like this. I mean, wow. And the ocean is so blue. I’ve been to the ocean before, but it was grey and misty and cold. And there are parrots and other colorful birds flying everywhere,” Harry could feel Tony twisting around as he was taking it all in, then he started. “Wait! Did you see that? I think that was a monkey!” Tony shouted and Harry heard a chattering noise that pretty much confirmed it. “It just ran out onto the beach and grabbed something and then darted right back!” Tony exclaimed. “Wicked! Wait until I tell Graham! He’s not going to believe it!”

“Who’s Graham?” Harry asked.

“My brother. He loves the monkeys at the zoo.” Tony confided. “The people here are covered in mud . . . like, not like they are dirty, but they are wearing it like we wear clothes. And they have these strange little straw hats that are decorated with shells and stuff,” Tony described as they approached the group of people.

Harry could hear Adam and Lieutenant Holman’s conversation coming to a standstill. He wished was close enough to hear more of what they were saying because, from the snatches he did hear, it sounded pretty fascinating. It’s kind of like talking to a ghost . . . And then an image rose before his head, that of Tom Riddle in the Chamber of Secrets and how he had started to become more solid as Ginny faded. Harry shivered though the sun was beating down on him relentlessly and the air was heavy with humidity and heat despite the cooling breeze brought in over the water. He wondered what kind of magic had to be used to make a painting this realistic. Was it dark magic? Is that why most of the other paintings by this artist had been destroyed? Why she had to flee England? What would make a memory solid enough that you can hold it and feel the texture of their clothing beneath your fingers? When he had been in the memories of Tom Riddle’s diary, he hadn’t been able to touch anything . . . it had all been like a movie . . . one that he could see and hear as if it were surrounding him, but he couldn’t feel it except for the floor under his feet. He tried to remember what it felt like. Did it change depending on where he was . . . in Professor Dippet’s office or down in the dungeons? He couldn’t remember. He had been so focused on what he was seeing and hearing, he hadn’t thought to touch anything else.

Tony stopped, jarring Harry out of his memories. Harry could tell that they were on the outside edge of a group of people who were watching something that was going on in the water. The children were running back and forth excitedly - shaking maracas? - splashing water and throwing up wet sand with their feet as they raced around. Along with their shrieks, they were talking excitedly and one repeated phrase kept popping out among the other words that were incomprehensible to Harry, “Mami Wata! Mami Wata!”

“Man, they are going to drown Mei with all those beads. She’s not going to be able to swim with them on,” Tony exclaimed, though he didn’t seem that concerned, more amazed.

“Oh, I was wondering what that sound was,” Harry said.

“The children are giving offerings to the water spirit, Mami Wata,” Lieutenant Holman supplied, just to the right of Harry.

“They think that Mei is a water spirit?” Harry wondered.

“Mr. Ceesay has described the young pupil who arrived with your group as appearing to be a mermaid, is her name Mei?” Lieutenant Holman inquired.

“Yes, Mei Lee. I don’t think she likes to be called a mermaid, but that’s probably an accurate description,” Harry explained. “She is part Jiāorén.”

“Oh, from the Canton Empire?” Lieutenant Holman asked.

“Er, I don’t know, sir,” Harry responded.

“Perhaps you’ll have an opportunity to introduce me to this intriguing friend of yours?” Lieutenant Holman requested.

“Sure? When she comes out of the water?” Harry responded tentatively. He wasn’t so keen about getting pulled into the ocean again. Though given how hot he was, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Especially if it was his decision this time. I could take my shoes off first so I don’t have to spend half a day walking around in wet shoes.

“Oh, is she going to come out of the water? What form does she take out of water?” asked Lieutenant Holman curiously. Harry thought that he was taking the news of one of their group sporting a fishtail very generously for a muggle. A nineteenth-century muggle at that. Shoot, it was a huge surprise for me and I’ve encountered a lot of magical creatures in my two years in the wixen world. Ah. He cringed. Mei would hate being called a “ magical creature.”

“She stays the same, I’m pretty sure,” Harry responded.

“Oh, it must be hard to get around on land with a fishtail,” replied Lieutenant Holman.

“Yes, she uses a wheelchair,” replied Harry, wondering if Healer Jordan had brought it down to the beach. Maybe Mei was just going to stay in the water for this part of the . . . what is this?

Healer Jordan had come over at that moment, “Harry, Lieutenant Holman - I’m so glad you both have made it down to the beach. Thank you so much!” she greeted them. “Tony and Adam, thank you so much for your help with the descent down the gangplank!” She clapped her hands together, “Lieutenant Holman, are we ready to proceed?”

“Yes, yes, of course! I’m ready when you are,” he agreed amiably.

“Greetings fellow travelers,” Healer Jordan greeted the group with her amplified voice.

“If you could please turn your attention this way, our special guest, Lieutenant James Holman, is ready to address you.” A hushed silence descended on the group. The children, though, didn’t seem to notice . . . likely because they didn’t understand the words. They continued to carry on their running, shrieking, and exclamations about Mami Wata.

Someone touched Harry on his arm and he realized it must be Gemma. He put his hand on hers in response, smiling in her direction.

She took his hand in hers and began writing, “Y-O-U space “O-K-?

He nodded in response, and inclined his head toward Lieutenant Holman, hoping that she understood that he was looking forward to hearing what the Lieutenant was going to say. Then it occurred to him, how was Gemma going to understand what Lieutenant Holman was saying. He wasn’t wixen . . . he couldn’t cast the scribunt loqui spell. His brow knitted with concern.

Gemma drew a question mark in his palm.

Harry whispered so as not to interrupt Lieutenant Holman who was beginning to address them, “Can you understand him?” he asked.

She tapped twice on his hand. Healer Jordan must have done something so that Gemma wouldn’t be left out. He breathed a sigh of relief.

“Good,” he whispered.

“My esteemed friends. You must allow me to bestow upon you my eternal gratitude for your endurance in traveling such a great distance to meet with me. I am so honored to have this opportunity to speak with you about my experiences and travels and to share some of them with you. I am greatly indebted to Healer Jordan for brokering this exchange across centuries and continents. While I know that the understanding is that you are here to learn from me, the complex truth is that I’m here to learn from you . . .” Lieutenant Holman’s voice had also been magically amplified.

Harry was momentarily distracted by a swarm of mosquitos that had descended upon the group when the breeze had stopped. He slapped at his arms hoping to squash the ones that were feeding upon him. Little vampires!

Harry heard Healer Jordan who wasn’t too far from them muttering something that sounded like an incantation and the breeze picked up again and the swarm was pushed away.

Lieutenant Holman was recounting his journey to Siberia . . . it seemed so far away and so different from where they were now. Gemma had placed his hand again on his arm and he felt grounded and reassured. It was hard to believe that this morning he had felt so utterly alone on Privet Drive, and now here he was half a world away surrounded by friends he’d just met today.

Chapter Text

Sitting in the sand on the beach of Fernando Po Island off the coast of Western Africa, Harry listened to the nineteenth-century muggle world traveler, Lieutenant James Holman, as he spoke about traveling through desolate Siberia on a horse-drawn cart. Healer Jordan and Mr. Burbage had quietly provided chairs that didn’t sink into the sand. Harry wasn’t sure how they did it, though he was grateful for the chance to sit down and he could tell that his peers were, too. They were in a generous semicircle that opened at the sea to include Mei. He thought she must be sitting on the beach not far from the group. She was uncharacteristically quiet, at least for what he knew of her. The hordes of children who had been running back and forth to laden her with shell necklaces had been encouraged ( magically? ) to leave and now it was just their group on the beach. They were close enough to the ship that Harry could hear the waves moving against it and the noises of a crew onboard.

Waves occasionally lapped at their feet. Harry had taken off his shoes and socks (before they got wet) and stored them in his staff and rolled up his trouser legs. A shade had been erected over them as well so that the sun was no longer beating up them. Gemma’s hand rested lightly on his arm, Tony sat on his other side and next to him Aminah. Harry was glad he made it down here.  

Lieutenant Holman was seated, too, as he shared his observations. He seemed to have an insatiable curiosity coupled with an openness that meant that he made friends easily wherever he went. He was recounting an especially amusing episode of when he was traveling with his dear friend, Mr. Colebrook, who happened to be deaf and they were visiting a museum. Like me and Gemma. How do they communicate? They had special permission to touch the sculptures and his friend was guiding him to each sculpture so that Lieutenant Holman could feel them. Apparently, his friend played a joke on him and placed him at the foot of one of the guards at the museum and then stood back to watch in amusement as Lieutenant Holman figured out that he was examining the form of a live person and not a sculpture. Harry was amazed that Lieutenant Holman could tell this story with so much mirth. They way he told it, Lieutenant Holman thought the joke his friend had played on him was hilarious. Harry wasn’t sure he’d feel the same way. Gemma would never do that to me, Harry thought. He remembered how just this morning the thought of feeling the map of the center while everyone else was watching was so mortifying. Maybe you get used to it . . . whatever it is.

What he was finding really remarkable about Lieutenant Holman’s story was how when he was confined to one place he would get really sick and that getting out and about was what he needed to get well again. And he had to sneak away to get what he needed because everyone around him thought that it was too dangerous for him to travel. What was dangerous to his health was being confined, but it was the opposite of what doctors and family were telling him to do. Just hearing about it made a bile of anger rise in Harry’s throat. Fresh in his memory was being sent to the Dursleys to rest and recuperate when really what it meant was that he was put to work.

Waves lapped over his feet swirling the sand between his toes and distracting him momentarily from his thoughts and anger. The wave had come in higher than previous waves and the rolled cuffs of his trousers had gotten soaked. Mei seemed to be moving through the sand closer to the gap that opened up in their semicircle on the other side of Gemma. He could hear her tail slapping the shallow water and the shell necklaces around her neck tinkling together as she moved with each wave. If he hadn’t known she was on the beach, he would have had a really hard time figuring out what the noises were coming from.

He wondered if Lieutenant Holman knew because he had paused in his story about his perilous journey back through Siberia in the custody of the Russian Czar’s secret guard (they thought he was a spy, apparently).

The group grew hushed. Harry wondered if there was something about Mei’s expression or aspect that made everyone worry . . . some visual warning that he couldn’t pick up on. He noticed that the temperature had dropped a few degrees and that the wind was picking up. A big wave came in and nearly toppled his chair. Had the sun gone behind clouds? He could taste moisture in the air. Maybe a storm is coming in?

Mei’s gruff voice pierced the relative silence, “Get to shelter everyone, there’s a hurricane coming!” Then it sounded like she had turned and was moving quickly back to the ocean. He wondered where she’d go to be safe. Maybe swam out to the deep sea?

Surely, in a painting that is made of memories, the storm can’t hurt us? But it felt real. He scratched at a mosquito bite. It felt real. The wind had picked up and now sand was pelting the side of his face. Gemma had gripped his arm.

“Aminah, Tony?” Harry called. They answered him - they were close by. He felt Gemma reaching out for them and they stumbled together across the sand. Harry’s bare feet slid in the sand and he cried out when he stepped on something sharp, but there was no time to stop to examine it. They had moved around each other and now Aminah and Harry had their arms around Tony’s waist and Harry’s other arm was around Gemma’s shoulders.

Harry could hear Healer Jordan calling out to them, though the wind kept taking her words and tossing them away so that he couldn’t catch her meaning.

They bent over as rain started to drill into their back, harder than the sand. Wind howled and Harry couldn’t hear any voices anymore. He couldn’t hear his staff’s directions over the wind, either though it was shouting at him about the hazards that were being thrown in his path from his pocket. All he could feel were the bodies pressed against his, Gemma’s vice-like grip on his hand on her shoulder, and a sharp pain on the sole of his foot. He was pretty sure he had a deep cut.

Suddenly, they were squeezing through a small doorway, stumbling forward, and the wind-whipping noise was cut off abruptly as the door was slammed behind them.

“Here, come over here,” Healer Jordan’s voice rang out in the small space that felt crowded with bodies. It was eerie how they couldn’t hear or feel the storm anymore. Have we gone through a portal? Are we back in the French Alps or back in London? Harry wondered.

“Where’s here?” Harry asked, irritated; his foot throbbing as he limped over.

People were speaking in low voices around them. He could hear their shuffling feet as they moved to make room for the group of teens to pass through. Harry had let go of Tony’s waist and moved his arm from around Gemma’s shoulder to her arm and she moved forward. He could feel Tony (literally) on his heels.

“Oh, good. Now we’re all here. Here’s a spot for you four,” Healer Jordan said as they grew closer. “Nice job sticking together and keeping each other safe,” she sounded harried.

“Do you think Mei will be okay, Healer Jordan?” Aminah asked, voicing Harry’s thoughts as they settled into the chairs that had been on the beach.

“Yes, she’s the best equipped for this sort of thing. I’m sure she went deep into the sea,” Healer Jordan responded.

“She’s all alone out there,” Aminah whispered, but loud enough for Harry to hear.

“She’ll be okay, Aminah,” Tony assured, “She’s tough.”

Gemma shivered next to Harry, now soaked and cold after the dramatic drop in temperature. “The natives think that she’s Mami Wata,” Lieutenant Holman contributed from the other side of the small space, “a powerful water spirit who has healing powers, though she can be destructive. They may think that she brought this hurricane. They may feel that she is not pleased with her reception.”

Harry brought his foot to his knee and started gently brushing the sand away from the tender area.

“What will they do to appease her?” asked Fitz, closer to Lieutenant Holman.

There were a couple of sharp intakes of breath.

“They will bring . . .” Adam paused, distracted . . . “her more offerings,” continued Adam, who was near Fitz.

“Can we do anything to help assure them that she is not Mami Wata and that she didn’t bring this storm?” asked a woman . . . Harry thought it might be the mother who had sat behind them when the bench fell.

“I don’t think you’ll be able to dissuade them of the notion that she’s Mami Wata,” Lieutenant Holman chuckled.

A couple people gasped.

“After the storm passes, she can just come back and let them know that everything’s okay, right?” Fitz asked.

“Somehow I doubt she’ll be willing to come back . . .” said Tony in a low voice.

Harry was very curious about this room . . . it was absolutely blank to him. It had no aroma apart from the people who populated it; there were no sounds of the storms; when he opened his eyes the light was very diffused, neither light nor dark. He had no idea where they were and he found it very disconcerting.

“Where are we?” he leaned over to ask Tony.

Tony seemed distracted, though, and didn’t answer, though he made gasping noises as if he was watching something.

Gemma picked up his hand and wrote, “ I-N-S-I-D-E ” space “ M-A-G-I-C-A-L ” space  “ G-L-A-S-S ” space “ H-U-T ” space “ W-E ” space  “ S-E-E ” space “ S-T-O-R-M .”

“It must be pretty spectacular,” Harry guessed.

She tapped twice on his arm, “F-R-I-G-H-T-E-N-I-N-G space “A-N-D space “B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L”.

As much as he was glad that he didn’t have to endure the sand piercing his skin like a thousand little needles, Harry wished that he could at least smell the storm.

Healer Jordan was making her way through them casting a drying and warming spell. She had finally reached Harry and as he felt the warmth snaked through his clothes, she exclaimed, “Oh, Harry. You’ve got a nasty cut there. Can I heal it for you?”

“That would be great, thanks,” Harry said, relieved, and before he was done uttering the words, his foot was dry and smooth again.

“I love magic,” he said relieved.  

Chapter Text

Harry sat quietly for a bit while the sighted people around him oohed and ahhed as the storm raged around them. He’d put his socks and shoes back on after Healer Jordan had healed his foot.

After a bit, he got up and asked to sit next to Aminah. It was too hard to try to engage Tony or Gemma in a conversation when they were constantly being distracted by the destruction caused by the hurricane, or rather tropical storm as Healer Jordan corrected them. She had also told them that they were a common occurrence on Fernando Po.

Why didn’t she warn us that this might happen, then? Harry wondered.

Their magical hut was so secure against the storm that they couldn’t feel or hear the wind as it rampaged outside.

“I guess it is quite the storm,” he said to Aminah as he settled in next to her.

“Yeah, but not actually a hurricane,” she contributed.

“What’s the difference?” Harry wondered.

“I think a hurricane is worse, the winds are going at more miles per hour,” Aminah posited.

“Do you think the ship will be okay? What if the painting gets damaged? Then what? Are we stuck here? Or does here go away? And then if it goes away, where do we go?” Harry pondered, his heart racing a bit at the prospect.

“The painting is protected,” explained Mr. Burbage.

“Oh, hi. I didn’t realize you were there,” Harry said a bit embarrassed.

“Yep. Maybe Fitz and Lieutenant Holman would want to join us, too, since everyone else is so captivated by the visuals. It’s like being at a movie that’s all action and no dialog,” Mr. Burbage complained.

“What’s a movie?” asked Aminah.

“Oh, I guess you’ve not been around many muggles, then,” chuckled Harry.

“It’s a . . .” he turned to Mr. Burbage, “how do you explain movies to wixen?” He was frustrated that he wasn’t finding the words.

“I always tell them that they are like plays that have been captured so that they can be seen over and over again. They are like memories, but you only view them from one perspective,” explained Mr. Burbage, turning to Aminah.

“Have you seen a lot of movies?” Harry asked.

“I used to go to movies all the time with my pa when I was a kid, but I haven’t seen a lot since . . . I lost my sight,” Mr. Burbage got quiet for a little bit, and then continued, “Some of them are okay, but most are so visual that you spend the whole time trying to figure out what is happening. My pa was never really great at describing things . . . My ma does a better job but she’s pretty busy and we don’t go very often . . .” Mr. Burbage said as he stood up.

“I’ll check in with Fitz and Lieutenant Holman; see if they want to come to sit with us while we wait this out,” Mr. Burbage said heavily as he moved away.

“Are there enough chairs here for them?” wondered Aminah.

“I dunno,” mumbled Harry. He was wondering why talking about movies made Mr. Burbage so sad. How long we were going to be waiting the storm out? I wish we could just go back to our rooms.

“If this is a memory, can’t we just skip this part and move on to a nicer day?” Harry theorized.

“I don’t know how memories like this work, actually,” Aminah commiserated.

“Maybe it is like a movie, except one where you can be bitten by the mosquitos, drenched by tropical storms, and feel the sand beneath your feet,” Harry mused.

“That sounds like real life,” said Aminah softly.

“Yeah. It does,” replied Harry. He looked up toward the noise of Mr. Burbage coming back with Fitz and Lieutenant Holman . “Hi, we’re not sure if there are extra chairs around here,” Harry supplied. He nudged Tony to get his attention.

“Tony, are there extra chairs over here for Fitz and Lieutenant Holman?” he asked.

“What? Oh, yes. To the right of Aminah, there are two extra. You’ll need to get one more. I can lead you to it, if you want, but you’ll have to carry it,” Tony said, the last part he said more quietly to Harry. Harry heard him stand up and stood up, too as Lieutenant Holman and Fitz found the chairs by Aminah.  

“Okay, that works,” Harry agreed, putting his hand on his back. Harry’s stomach rumbled.

“You hungry again?” Tony teased.

“I guess so. Say, is there a loo in here?” Harry asked Tony as they moved past their little group.  

“No, I was wondering the same thing,” Tony responded as they moved across the crowded hut to the other side of the room. Harry stumbled over people’s feet a couple of times as they moved through the space, steadying himself against Tony’s back.  

“Here’s the chair, Harry. It’s directly in front of me,” Tony said, then to someone else, “Is it alright if we take this chair?”

“Sure, you go right ahead, um, er. How are you going to do that?” asked a flustered older person that Harry didn’t recognize.

“Harry’s going to carry it, and I’ll lead him back,” Tony explained.

“I don’t know how you two are going to manage that without hitting someone with the chair,” the person replied skeptically.

“We’ll manage,” Tony said gruffly.

“If we accio’d the chair,” Harry pondered, “would it hit people as it moved through the room?”

“Well, I suppose you could do it that way, but usually accio needs a bit more space than we have in here,” the person replied.

“I could just push it in front of me,” said Harry, “then it’ll just hit people’s feet, right?”

“I suppose you could do that, too.” said the person, glumly.

“Just pick up the chair, Harry, and let’s go,” Tony said impatiently.

“Okay,” Harry said as he moved in front of Tony and found the chair first with his knee, and then reached forward to locate the back. It was a wooden folding chair, he realized as he ran his hands over the back and then the seat. He folded it up and held it against his body to turn, mindful that the grumpy old man (as he silently dubbed him) was watching them.

“Hey, watch it!” The grumpy old man shouted. “You about dislodged my weight. Do you want me to float away, blown out to sea by this storm?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, sir,” Harry apologized and resisting the urge to move quickly to get away from him, deliberately shuffled around Tony in the tight space, trying not to knock up against anyone else. Tony was giving him directions, “Move to the right, now step forward,” from behind him and they started walking back. Harry put the legs of the chair on the ground and started using it like his staff to feel the ground in front of him. It was a lot more cumbersome. They hadn’t made it very far from the grumpy old man (Harry could hear him behind them commenting on their progress) when Tony said, “Here comes Gemma. I bet she’s going to want to help us.”

“Hi, Gemma,” Harry said as her steps neared.

“She asked if she can carry the chair,” Tony interpreted.

“Sure, that’s fine,” Harry said, as she took it from his hands and walked away. Tony moved in front of Harry and gave him a chance to place his hand on his back so they could go back to their seats.

“What did that old man mean that I had almost dislodged his weight?” Harry murmured to Tony, hoping others wouldn’t overhear him.

“He’s tied down to a weight. I guess he floats away if he’s not tied down. Someone said that he had an allergic reaction to a Billywig bite,” Tony explained.

“What’s a Billywig?” Harry asked.

“It’s some sort of Australian insect. Pretty harmless, except if you’re allergic to them,” Tony said.

“I wonder why he’s here,” Harry pondered.

“I guess he has to adapt to floating?” Tony said.

“That doesn’t seem like it would be that hard,” Harry observed.

“Yeah. I dunno. It seems like he’s having a hard time from the way Healer Jordan is always working with him. Maybe it’s harder than it seems.” Tony said grudgingly.

“Being tied down to a weight seems like it would be hard. How does he move around? Wouldn’t it be easier just to put on a weighted vest, or something? It seems like the wixen world could come up with some way to make it easier for him to manage.”

“It was like he couldn’t keep his arms or legs from floating . . . ” Tony whispered, but then stopped as they had reached the group.

“Here’s your chair, Harry, just two steps to your right,” Tony explained.

“Thanks, Tony,” Harry replied as he moved around Tony to find his chair. He sat down on it.

“Hey, Tony and Harry,” Mr. Burbage addressed them from his seated position - they had just passed him, “remember that you need to respect the privacy of the participants. Speculating about why someone is at the center while you’re walking through a room of people is . . . well, it’s rude.” Mr. Burbage admonished. “Think about if someone was talking about your disability like that . . . how would it make you feel?”

“You know they are, though,” Tony grumbled.

“Well, that’s why we have this policy. You know how painful it is to be the subject of someone’s idle speculation . . . please consider that before you participate in it,” Mr. Burbage finished in a sympathetic tone.

“Sorry, sir,” Harry was embarrassed to be dressed down so publicly.

“Yeah, sorry,” Tony mumbled and he went back to where he had been sitting earlier.

Harry just sat quietly for a while, tuning out the conversation that Lieutenant Holman, Fitz, Mr. Burbage, and Aminah were having that had been momentarily paused when Tony and Harry came back from getting the chair with Gemma.

His embarrassment was still burning in his chest. He also felt a resentment toward the grumpy old man, even though he knew it wasn’t fair.

The sighted people in the room were starting to talk among themselves and Harry wondered if the storm was starting to abate. Maybe they’d be able to go back to the center soon. He hoped so. He was feeling hungry and sad and angry and he really wanted to be alone . . . away from the press of all the people in that small space, away from his embarrassment, and away from all the hassle of not being able to see. He hunched his shoulders and thought about getting his invisibility cloak out of his staff.

Chapter Text

Harry’s need to use the loo was getting more urgent and it interrupted his brooding. He didn’t want to talk to Mr. Burbage again. He wanted to ignore him for the rest of the eight weeks if he could. He wished he could ask his staff to direct him to specific people. That would be actually useful, he grumbled to himself.

He heard Tony stand up and leave the area and he wondered if he was in the same predicament. He thought for a moment, then stood up and shook out his staff. He’d follow Tony. At the very least, he could ask Tony to lead him to Healer Jordan. Gah! This is so embarrassing!

Someone stood up near him and touched him gently on his arm. Gemma. He turned a smile toward her and she squeezed his arm.

He put his palm out so that she could write in it if she wanted and she drew a question mark across his palm.

He said softly, “Do you know where the loo is?”

She tapped once, “No.”

“Can you lead me to Healer Jordan so I can ask?” Harry asked.

She tapped twice, “Yes,” and he took her arm. “Thank you, Gemma,” he said.  

“Is the storm almost over?” he asked as she started walking along the narrow passage guiding him around people’s legs and chairs. When she didn’t respond with a squeeze or a tapping of fingers on his hand, it dawned on him that she probably wouldn’t see his question.

“Yes, dear. It’s nearly over. I think we’ll be headed back soon,” it was the voice of the mother.

“Thanks,” Harry said as they passed, Gemma didn’t pause, unaware of the side conversation.

As they walked through the crowded room, Harry was trying to guess how many people were in there - sixteen residents and how many people were nonresidents? Plus Healer Jordan, Mr. Burbage, and Lieutenant Holman - twenty or so? It was a pretty small space for so many people. Probably smaller than the living room at Privet Drive. Ugh. Why did I think of that? Why not the Gryffindor tower? And the stone walls and four-poster beds with their velvet red and gold drapes rose in his memory, colored by how happy and safe he’d felt there.

Gemma had stopped and Harry could hear Tony talking to Healer Jordan nearby. Harry could feel Gemma signing and let go of her arm so that she’d have full use of her arms for talking.

“Harry, Gemma says you’re looking for the toilet,” Healer Jordan addressed him.

“Yes, is there one?” Harry asked anxiously.

“Yes, I was just telling Tony - it isn’t very obvious in this room - I must have announced the location of it before your group reached the shelter. It is just past me, five paces straight ahead to noon and then turn to 9 o’clock and you’ll find the door. Tony’s using it now and it serves one person at a time. The storm is nearly over, and we’ll go back to the ship as soon as I have set up the portal. Everyone is really tired and there is too much debris from the storm to walk back safely. I’ll have it set up so that we travel directly to the deck of the ship. I was just about to tell the group,” Healer Jordan explained.

“What?! Why did we have to hike down the mountain and then climb up the gangplank if there was an easy way to get to the deck of the ship?” The question burst out of Harry before he could stop it. He flinched and took a step back, expecting to be hit for his impudence.

“Oh, Harry,” Healer Jordan’s response was calming, though he could tell she was surprised, “You sound really angry.”

He gulped in a breath and hung his head, embarrassed that he hadn’t been able to control the outburst.

“I’m sorry, Healer Jordan, I . . .” he started to say, but she interrupted him.

“There’s no need to apologize. Can you tell me what’s going on?” She asked kindly.

“It’s just that it was so hard to go down that mountainside and the gangplank was even worse . . . why would you do that when there was an easier way . . . I mean, Mei couldn’t even do it and both Tony and I fell and got hurt,” Harry’s anger was simmering as he remembered the injuries, both physical and to his pride. It was so humiliating to have to admit that he didn’t want to go down the gangplank. Angry tears were pricking at his eyes and he blinked furiously in an attempt to get rid of them.

“It’s true, you and Tony chose the scenic and more challenging path. I thought you did that because you wanted the challenge. I didn’t realize that you thought it was the only way to get to the deck. Didn’t your staff give you the options?”

“There were other ways down? No, my staff didn’t give me any options.” Harry said angrily.

“Listen, Harry. I apologize. I think there are some big gaps in the information you’ve received from the center. I had hoped that your guardians had gone over it with you last week . . . it’s clear that wasn’t the case. I’ll schedule some time tomorrow for us to go over it in more detail and also give you a lesson on how to use your staff to its fullest,” she touched his shoulder and he jumped in surprise.

“Sorry, I should have told you I was about to touch you,” she said as she removed her hand quickly. She did sound sorry.

“It’s okay,” Harry mumbled.

“I think I owe an apology to Tony as well. It seems he missed some key information, too. I’ll talk to him when he’s back.”

“Thank you. This has been a really long day,” Harry sighed.

“Yes, dinner will be ready for us and then afterward you can just retire to your room. There are no evening events tonight,” Healer Jordan expounded.

“Thanks, Healer Jordan,” Harry said respectfully as he moved past her toward the toilet. Five paces and then he turned and waited for Tony to come out of the loo.

oO0OooO0OooO0OooO0Oo

Harry and Gemma were waiting for their turns to travel through the portal back to the deck of the HMS Eden that was anchored in Fernando Po. Healer Jordan had explained to the whole group that they had a similar portal on the deck of the sister ship anchored in Lac Blanc that would return them to the hallway outside the dining hall. Harry was really glad he didn’t have to climb up or down the gangplank again or hike through the French Alps to get to dinner - though he was still peeved that he didn’t have to go through that in the first place. He’d spent so much energy just getting to the beach to listen to Lieutenant Holman, that when he was actually there, he was almost too tired to really take in what he had to offer. He wondered if they’d get another chance to talk to the Lieutenant. Lieutenant Holman was at the head of the line speaking to each person as they left the shelter.

Gemma took a step forward and Harry moved with her. He tapped her hand to get her attention.

“Did you know that there was more than one way to get to the ship when we started this afternoon?” He asked; it was still bugging him.

She tapped his hand twice, “Yes.”

“Oh,” he said, feeling irritated that he hadn’t known.

She picked up his hand and drew a question mark on his palm.

“I didn’t know that we had choices. It wasn’t clear from the message that Healer Jordan had at the beginning of the trail,” he said. He could hear the refrain looping in his head - maybe there was a visual cue, but Tony missed it, too. What about Adam and Fitz? Did they think they had choices? Harry realized that most of the people got to the deck faster than they did. They must have chosen the alternate route. Why didn’t he question it? I did question it. On the deck - when I didn’t want to go down the gangplank . . . why didn’t Healer Jordan explain that I could get to shore without having to go down the gangplank?

His anger simmering, Harry stamped his foot impatiently.

He was really ready to eat a little and then climb into bed. He hoped that his bed would be dry and that Mei wouldn’t splash him during the night. Maybe tomorrow he’d have a chance to ask Hedwig to return to the people who’d written him notes to see if they could resend what they had sent him.

Maybe tomorrow would be a nice, quiet uneventful day where he could learn how to use his staff properly and maybe get started on learning braille.

Harry could tell that they were nearly to the portal as Tony and Aminah were talking to Lieutenant Holman, and there was just the mother (as he called her now) between them and he and Gemma. He wondered how Lieutenant Holman was speaking so personally to each person as if he knew them each and actually cared about them. He was impressed.

He was speaking to the mother now. Lieutenant Holman was asking her about one of her children and the mother was quite emotional as she spoke. Harry felt uncomfortable overhearing it and tried not to pay attention. It seemed very private.

Gemma stepped forward and now it was their turn to talk to Lieutenant Holman. Now, in the moment, Harry wished he had spent more of his time in line thinking about what he’d say to the Lieutenant.

“Miss Boot and Mr. Harry Potter!” Lieutenant Holman exclaimed as they approached. Harry could feel Gemma reaching out to the Lieutenant and let go of her arm so that she could write more freely.

“Thank you, Miss Boot. I assure you that the pleasure was all mine. My, but if you and Mr. Potter don’t put me in mind of my dear friend Mr. Colebrook! If there are folks who are tempted to ridicule you because of your curious friendship, please do not give them one ounce of attention. You know best what you need from friendship - who cares what the world thinks!” Lieutenant Holman clapped Harry on the shoulder. Harry was surprised that he knew where his shoulder was to clap it and exclaimed.

“Oh, so sorry, my man. I didn’t mean to startle you. I could hear you shuffling your feet as you stood there,” Lieutenant Holman answered Harry’s unasked question.

“Will we get to come study with you again, do you think?” Harry asked a bit more plaintively than he intended.

“I expect so, Mr. Potter! Let us not let time, distance, or even tropical storms keep us apart. I feel that I have a great deal to learn from you, young man,” Lieutenant Holman said.

Gemma touched the back of his hand with hers and Harry found the crook of her elbow. She stepped away from the Lieutenant and Harry followed.

“Good-bye, sir. Thank you!” Harry said as they moved away.

As they strode through the portal this time, he did feel the small tug on his navel that Tony had described. A shiver went down his spine as he stepped onto the deck of the HMS Eden.

Chapter Text

Stepping back into the hallway outside the dining hall, Harry was pleasantly surprised by the aroma of toad in a hole and garlic roasted cabbage. His stomach rumbled in response.

“Potter!” Mei’s gravely voice greeted him and he heard the wheels of her wheelchair moving across the floor.

“Hi, Mei. Were you okay in that storm?” Harry asked as she neared.

“Oh, yeah. I had to dump all those stupid necklaces - they were so heavy! And then I just swam back here and I’ve been waiting for you all for at least an hour. Why’d it take you so long to come back? I thought you’d come back right away,” Mei whined.

“We stayed in a shelter until the storm died down - then Healer Jordan created a portal so we could come back here . . . I guess she couldn’t do it while the storm was going . . . she said it was too risky with all the electricity in the air,” Harry explained.

“Yeah, I dumped them. And no, I don’t care that they thought I was some sort of deity,” Mei said grumpily.

“What?” Harry asked, confused.

“Oh, Gemma’s just going off about how I was disrespecting the natives by dumping the ‘offerings’,” Mei groused.

Gemma stomped her foot in frustration and Harry reached out for her. Her hands were in motion and she whacked him with her wrist.

“Oh, ow,” Harry said stepping back.

“Gemma, they aren’t even real! They are some old muggle’s memory from 1827, for Merlin’s sake! Get over it!” Mei shouted.

Gemma’s feet stomped again and Harry could hear Gemma’s hands slapping against her body as she signed vehemently.

“I AM NOT MAMI WATA!” Mei shrieked as she sped away leaving Harry standing numbly by Gemma. The conversations in the hallway had all stopped momentarily. Harry felt his cheeks get hot at the thought of everyone staring at him, Gemma, and Mei. Maybe they are watching Mei storm out of here and don’t even notice me and Gemma, he tried to console himself.

He could almost feel the heat coming off of Gemma. He waited a second before reaching out tentatively again. Gemma was still signing - to herself, apparently, and her whole body was trembling. She pushed Harry’s hand away, shutting him out.

“What did I do?” he hissed angrily.

She took his hand and he resisted the urge to pull it out of her grasp - to shut her out in retaliation. She was still shaking violently as she wrote in his palm, “ ITMAKESMESOMAD!

He had to really focus to figure out what she was saying, even though he knew that she was really mad.

“What was it? Was it more than the necklaces?” Harry asked. He felt like he was missing something.

K-I-D-S ” space “ A-D-O-R-E-D ” space “ H-E-R ” space “ W-O-R-S-H-I-P-P-E-D ” space “ S-H-E ” space “ T-O-S-S-E-D ” space “ I-T ” space “ A-W-A-Y ” space “ L-I-K-E ” space “ T-R-A-S-H ”, Gemma’s trembling grew less as she wrote and he felt a tear drop onto his palm.

He didn’t really understand why Gemma was so upset, but he didn’t like her crying. He awkwardly grasped her hand in an attempt to comfort her. He was holding his staff in his other hand, and tried to lean it against his shoulder while he reached for her shoulder to pat it, but started to fall, so he caught it instead.

“Hey, what’s going on?” Aminah had come over.

“Gemma’s really upset by something that Mei did on the island,” Harry explained, still perplexed.

“What did she do?” Aminah asked.

“She dumped the necklaces from the children,” Harry said.

“Oh,” and Harry could hear her cringing in her short response.

Aminah brushed his arm as she moved to Gemma, and drew her into a hug. Gemma let go of Harry’s hand to hug Aminah and he could hear Gemma sniffling loudly.

Harry stood by patiently, twisting his staff in his hands.

It sounded like they had stepped back, so he asked, “Do you want to go to dinner now? It sounds like folks are going into the dining hall.”

“Sure, let’s go in,” Aminah said, then turning toward Gemma asked, “Are you ready, Gemma?”

She must have said yes because Harry heard her start walking toward the dining hall, Aminah’s staff tapping rhythmically beside her. Harry followed them with his staff.

Gemma guided them to a table that was on the other side of the dining hall from where they had sat for lunch and tea.

“Yes, please join us,” said Adam to Gemma’s signed request (Harry gathered).

“Thanks,” Aminah responded. Harry stood behind them for a second, wondering which seat was open, then he remembered he could navigate to an empty seat if he asked his staff and he found one to the left of Gemma.

“Hi, I’m Harry,” Harry said to the person sitting next to him as he sat down.

“Hi, Harry, I’m Martha,” the mother responded.

“Do you know Gemma and Aminah?” Harry asked.

“Well, I’ve seen them around today, but I haven’t met them yet,” Martha explained.

“Gemma, this is Martha,” Harry turned toward Gemma and ran his hand along the table’s edge seeking out her hand, but didn’t find it.

“She’s writing on Amy’s hand,” Martha said.

“Aminah. Her name is Aminah,” Harry corrected.

“Oh, yes, that’s right. Aminah. Sorry, I’m horrible with names,” Martha apologized.

“Harry, What did you think of Lieutenant Holman? Quite the character, wasn’t he?!” exclaimed Fitz from the other side of Martha.

“Hi, Fitz. Yeah, I liked him,” Harry confirmed.

“Did you hear him talking about hiking Mount Vesuvius while it was erupting? How the lava burnt his walking stick?” Fitz asked.

“No, I missed that. Wow. Lava, really?” Harry asked.

“It’s just amazing that he did that when he couldn’t see. I can’t believe his companions didn’t stop him,” Martha said, in disbelief.

“They did stop him,” Fitz said, “They made him stop when it got dark. He could have kept going, but they wanted to turn back because they couldn’t see. So he went along with them.”

“Well, it wasn’t very responsible of them to let him do it at all,” responded Martha.

“Why? He was a grown man. And he was fine, wasn’t he?” Fitz sounded put out.

Harry could see his point, but he really wasn’t in the mood for another argument. He really just wanted to eat dinner and go back to his room. He tuned out the rest of the conversation as Adam joined in.

Harry wondered where Mei was sitting and if she had recovered from the encounter. He wasn’t sure he could make it through dinner, he was so tired from the day. It had been such a long day. He felt like he had been living weeks in this one day. It wasn’t as bad as the weekend before though . . . down in the Chamber of Secrets, not knowing what he was going to find, fearing that Ginny had been killed. That was a longer day.

He shuddered at the memory.

“Harry, can Gemma and I borrow that pencil thing of yours that reads aloud?” Aminah interrupted his mullings.

“Sure,” Harry said as he fished his staff out of his pocket and accio’d the anagnóstis and the pad of paper and pencil. “Here you go,” he said as he slid them on the table toward Gemma. She took them and squeezed his arm gratefully. That made him feel better - like a bit of forgiveness for whatever transgression he had committed. He heard Gemma writing furiously on the pad and hoped that she was able to get what she needed from Aminah.

He was glad when Adam announced to the table that it was their turn to go through the buffet.

oO0OooO0OooO0OooO0Oo

As he walked back to the dormitory after dinner, Harry realized that he really hadn’t tasted dinner, he could barely remember it, except that his belly felt uncomfortably distended from all the toad in a hole that he’d consumed. It must have been good, he mused.

He felt a bit apprehensive about the night ahead - what with Gemma (of all people) mad at Mei. He hoped that it wouldn’t be too awkward in the room and that they could actually get some sleep.

He entered the room and felt the tension as soon as he crossed the threshold. Great. He asked his staff to guide him to his bed, and it started giving him directions to leave the room. Merlin’s beard! Am I in the right room?! He froze in a bit of a panic.

“You alright, mate?” Tony asked, emerging from the toilet, the sound of flushing following him.

“Oh, yeah. I just thought I was in the wrong room for a sec,” Harry said, relieved.

“You’re in the right place,” Tony said, bemused.

“Okay, thanks,” Harry said as he went toward his side of the room, trying to remember the layout. He wondered where his staff was going to lead him, if he was in the right room. Back to Privet Drive?

He held the staff off the ground and squeezed it twice rapidly to get a description of the room and figured out where his area was and starting walking toward it. The staff told him that there were three other people in the room and he figured it was Tony, Gemma, and Aminah by their locations. In Mei’s space, it described the tank and her wheelchair beside it.

He figured she was out in the South Seas getting hydrated. Does she sleep in the water at night?

He sat down at his desk to work on the letters before he went to sleep - getting the paper, ruler, pencil, and anagnóstis out of his staff. He realized that the pad of paper had writing on it. Gemma’s conversation with Aminah. He started to read it with the anagnóstis , and then froze as soon as he heard Gemma’s voice. He really wanted to read the note, but at the same time, he knew it would be a breach of trust. He felt the pad of paper with his fingertips and could discern the indentations from where Gemma had pressed with the pencil. He tore off the paper and put it in his desk. He could give it to her later - maybe she’d invite him to read it.

He ran the anagnóstis over the paper to make sure it was blank and then wrote out three versions of the same message, “You sent a note to me, Harry Potter, on Monday, June 7th that was accidentally destroyed. Could you please resend it? Thanks. HP.” He used the anagnóstis to make sure the notes were legible - it was weird to hear his own voice through the aftí - then rolled them up. He’d send the notes in the morning. He was pretty sure that the loo was free, so he stowed his writing materials in the staff and went to the toilet to get his pjs on and brush his teeth.

He didn’t care that it was only 8:30 pm according to the staff. It was time for bed.

Chapter Text

Harry pulled back the covers on his bed and climbed in. His hair was damp from the shower he decided to take. He was glad he talked himself into it. He felt much better. He had stood in the shower and imagined the tension from the day running off his body in little colorful rivulets. He couldn’t believe that he had been at Privet drive that morning, sneaking out of the house to take the train. It had been a really long day and Gemma getting mad at Mei almost put him over the edge, especially because it seemed that she was mad at him, too. He still didn’t get what was going on there.

He slid off his glasses and put them and the collapsed staff on the desk by his bed, plumped up his pillow, and then sank gratefully into it. His neck tingled in a relief that traveled all the way down to his toes. He wriggled them, delighting in the soft sheets that released a hint of lavender as he moved.

He was just drifting off to sleep when he heard Mei surface in her tank with a splash. A couple droplets landed on his forehead, startling him awake. He heard quiet footsteps on the tile floor of their room pad quietly by the foot of his bed. He tensed, wondering what was going to happen.

“What do you want, Gemma?” Mei said warily, “Come to berate me some more for my thoughtlessness?” It was quiet in the room, the rustling noises of people getting ready for bed had stopped. Harry imagined that Tony and Aminah were also listening in to the conversation.

“Okay. Thanks, I guess. I get it. We’re all tired.” Mei conceded, apparently to Gemma’s apology.

Harry heard a strange sound, like gravel swirling in a tin bucket.

“Here are the necklaces, Gemma. I went back and got them from the ocean floor so that no memory of a person would know that I had rejected their offering,” Mei explained grudgingly.

There was a clapping sound . . . Harry guessed that Gemma was clapping. The necklaces rattled loudly as they were dragged over the edge of the tank, and then water was splashing on the ground. It sounded like a whole bucket had been spilled. Gemma’s feet were slapping in water as she jumped around in delight.

“Stop hugging me! Gesh!” Mei said though she sounded happier than she had this whole day.

“Where are you going to put those?” Mei asked.

The necklaces tinkled and rattled as Gemma’s hands moved while she responded.

“Okay, whatever,” Mei said.

“Yeah, good night to you, too,” Mei said with a sigh.

The jangling of the shells and Gemma’s wet footsteps started to move past Harry’s bed, but then paused. Harry opened his eyes and lifted his head so that Gemma would know he was still awake. He leaned over on his elbow, propped up as she came over and pulled the chair out from his desk to sit next to him. He heard her put the pile of necklaces on the ground by his desk and then she wrote in his offered palm, “ W-R-I-T-E-?

“Sure,” he said as he sat up and felt for his staff. He opened up the extendable storage and accio’d the writing tools and anagnóstis and placed them on the desk in front of Gemma.

He realized that he was thirsty and wondered if there were drinking glasses somewhere in the room, but was too tired to investigate, so he accio’d his bottle of water from his staff and drank from it. It was getting low. As he listened to the pencil scratching across the surface of the pad of paper, he accio’d his wand and stuck it in the neck of his water bottle, then performed the Aguamenti charm to fill it up. He listened as the sound of the water changed as it neared the top of the bottle and then said “finite,” when he thought it was close enough to the top. He dipped his finger in to check how close it was to the top. It wasn’t as close to overflowing as he thought it might be. He replaced the lid and set the water bottle on the desk next to his glasses, in case he got thirsty in the middle of the night.

Gemma tapped his hand and he felt the pad of paper being pushed against his fingertips. He read her note with the anagnóstis .

“Harry, I’m so sorry that I got so mad at Mei tonight when we got back from the ship. I really don’t know if I can explain why it made me so mad that she would just throw away the offerings from the people there. I mean, I know that they are a memory and not even ‘real’, but they seemed real. I know it isn’t really fair to say this, but if you could have seen the expressions on their faces . . . they were so in love with Mei or maybe with who they thought she was. They were bringing her sick little babies and asking her to lay her hands on them to heal them. It was so sad and so beautiful. They really believed in her. And the thought of their beliefs and hopes and dreams being tossed aside like they were nothing, like they were trash, well, it really hurt me. I don’t know why. I was just so angry.”

Harry had reached the end of the note and set down the anagnóstis . He turned his face toward Gemma. “Thanks for explaining why it made you mad. I felt like I was missing something,” Harry said softly. “I’m glad you talked to Mei and that you feel better about it now,” he continued.

Gemma took the pad and started writing again. Harry stifled a yawn and rubbed his eyes.

She pushed the pad against his fingertips again.

“This is hard to say, but I’m going to try. I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry because I was mad at you, too. Which totally wasn’t fair. I know that. I guess because from the expression on your face when I was yelling at Mei, it seemed like you didn’t believe me. I thought about it a lot at dinner. You couldn’t see everything that was going on and even if you could hear what the people where saying, I bet they weren’t speaking English, so you wouldn’t have known what they were saying. It was really unfair of me to get mad at you. I’m really sorry about that. I’m sorry, Harry.”

Harry turned to her again when he was done, “I didn’t understand and I was confused. It makes more sense now. Thank you and it is okay.”

She wrote a short bit more, “I’m really tired and I’m going to go to bed now. Sleep well, okay?”

“You, too, Gemma. Good night,” Harry said. She squeezed his hand and then he heard her picking up the clattering shell necklaces.

“Could I see the necklaces?” Harry asked, holding out his hands.  

There was a pause and then Gemma was draping one across his outstretched hands. He took it and felt the delicate shells, little lightweight round beads that almost felt like seeds, and the rough, hairy cord that held them all together. He handed it back to Gemma.

“Thanks, I was wondering what they looked like,” he said.

“What are you going to do with them?” he asked curiously.

The necklaces clanged against the desk chair as Gemma leaned over it to write on the pad again.

“I’m going to save them. Mei might need them again,” Gemma wrote.

“Sure. I guess that’s possible,” Harry agreed, nodding.

“Oh, wait, I want to give you something,” Harry said, as he reached for the drawer of the desk. He found the papers that she’d written on during dinner and held them out to her.

She took them from him and squeezed his hand gently.

“I didn’t read them,” Harry said, wondering why it made him blush to say that.

She squeezed his hand again and then trailed two fingers down his palm, which he took to mean that she was leaving.

“Night, Gemma,” Harry said as he gathered up the writing tools to put them back in his staff. He climbed back into bed and nestled down into the sheets and listened to her progress back to her area of the room through the jingling of the shell necklaces. He had fallen asleep before he heard her set them down.

oO0OooO0OooO0OooO0Oo

Harry woke to a gentle bell sounding in the room. For a moment, he wasn’t sure where he was. He had been dreaming of riding on a train and the bell he was hearing now had been the bell on the food trolley announcing it’s progress down the corridor. He stretched and pulled at the covers and feeling their texture under his fingertips remembered that he was at the center. He woke up a little more. The bell chimed again and he heard someone from across the room groan.

He opened his eyes and was surprised to find that the light in the room was flashing - from dark to a blinding bright light. He shut his eyes against it. It was disconcerting.

“It is 6:30 am and the dining hall will open for breakfast at 7 am. Breakfast will be served until 8 am, classes start at 9 am. Your schedule has been delivered to your desk,” said a clear voice coming from the same area as the bell.

Harry stretched again and then snuggled deeper into his blankets. He wasn’t quite ready to get up. His stomach protested, though. He smiled as he realized that he didn’t have to make breakfast before he could eat it. He could just show up at the dining hall and fill a plate with food.

He heard Tony’s bed creaking as he moved in it and gathered that he was waking up, too.

A splash from Mei’s tank delivered some droplets on his face. He wondered how she slept in the water. It seemed like it would be cold, even though the water was pretty warm when he’d been in it yesterday. Not really warm enough for sleeping, though.

“Someone wake up Gemma so that they turn off that gorgon-infested light!” Mei’s gravely voice rang out.

The bell chimed again and the message repeated.

Harry waited a moment, hoping Tony or Aminah would do it, but he didn’t hear either of them moving that way.

“I’ll do it,” he said reluctantly to the room as he dragged his legs out of bed and felt around for his slippers which he’d left under the bed after his shower last night. He shook out his staff and said, “ Navigant third bed on the right,” when he was standing at the foot of his bed. He hoped it would work.

He went past Tony’s bed and then his staff announced that he was at the third bed on the right. He tapped the end of it with his staff and then trailed his hand along the mattress until he got closer to the head of the bed. He shook the bed a little to give Gemma a warning that he was there.

“Gemma, time to wake up,” he said.

“She can’t hear you,” Mei reminded from the far end of the room.

Again the bell chimed and the same clear voice read out the message about breakfast.

Aminah groaned in response and he heard her toss noisily in her bed. Harry heard Tony shuffle to the bathroom and the door close behind him.

“I know,” Harry retorted, shaking the bed a little more aggressively. He remembered how surprising it was to have people touch him when he couldn’t see it coming. He imagined it would be the same for Gemma, if not more so when her eyes were closed.

She turned in the bed toward him, her breath still heavy. He could smell her morning breath and he pulled back a little and ran his tongue over his teeth.

“Hurry up, Potter, would you? That blasted light is giving me a headache,” Mei shouted from her tank.

“Close your eyes,” Harry offered over his shoulder.

He shook the bed again, then tentatively reached out a hand, feeling along the blankets until he found her form under them. He grasped her shoulder and shook very gently.

“Gemma, time to wake up,” he said more softly this time, hoping that she had opened her eyes and saw the note that he could hear fluttering by his lips.

She started and he was pretty sure that she had opened her eyes.

“Good morning, Gemma,” Harry said.

She pulled her arm out from under her pillow and tapped twice on his hand that was resting on the mattress.

“The center has been ringing a bell and flashing the lights to wake us up - it is 6:30 am and breakfast opens at 7 am. They said they put our schedules on our desks.”

She tapped twice again on his hand, and then made a swirling motion on his hand. He furrowed his brows, not understanding what that meant. She sat up and took his hand, writing, “ T-H-A-N-K-S ” space “ I-M ” space “ A-W-A-K-E ” space “ S-E-E ” space “ N-O-T-E ”.

“Okay,” Harry said and he turned to go back to his area.

“Harry, turn off the alarm,” Mei ordered.

He hunched his shoulders, not liking to be ordered around.

“For Merlin’s sake, Mei,” Aminah moaned, “stop shouting.”

He walked back to his area, feeling put out.

“Um, Harry, could you please turn off the alarm?” Mei tried a more conciliatory tone as she leaned over the side of her tank near him. Harry relaxed a little, recognizing that she was trying.

“I don’t know how to turn it off, Mei,” he confessed.

“It looks like there is a button by the door that we can press to turn it off, on the panel that operates the lights and doors and other stuff in the room,” she explained.

Harry walked toward the door, then remembered he could use the staff to find the panel. “Navigant panel by the door,” he said.

He found it. “Navigant alarm on/off button” he tried next. His staff described a round red button ( that’s helpful!) in the center of the panel. He felt around and determined that there was only one round button, so tried it and the alarm shut off. He opened his eyes and found that the lights weren’t flashing anymore - it was comfortable enough that he could keep his eyes open now.

Tony emerged from the bathroom.

“Oh, thanks for turning that off, mate,” Tony said as he walked back to his area, “That was really annoying.”

“Yeah, no problem,” Harry responded, wondering how Tony operated the panel.  

He slipped into the bathroom to get ready for the day - glad that he had most everything he needed in his staff.

Chapter Text

Harry found his schedule when he returned to his area of the room after getting dressed and ready for the day. It was sitting on top of his desk and his fingers brushed over it when he was searching for his glasses. He was surprised that it was in braille and then when he ran his fingers over the braille, he could hear Mr. Burbage’s voice in his aftí. He frowned at the sound of Mr. Burbage’s voice remembering the dressing down he and Tony had received for talking about the grumpy old man during the hurricane.

He sat down at the desk and ran his fingers over the bumps and listened to the schedule:

 

“Harry Potter’s schedule

Tuesday 8 June, 1993

7 am Breakfast

9 am Meeting with Healer Jordan in her office

10 am Navigating with your staff with Mr. Burbage in the O&M room

12 pm Lunch

2 pm Braille with Madam Flamel in the Library

4 pm Council with Healer Jordan in the Mont Blanc room

6 pm Dinner”

 

He was trying to figure out a pattern as he ran his fingers over the braille words and listened to them, but was having a really hard time finding the pattern, except in the numbers, because they were preceded by the same combination of dots each time - it felt like a truncated backward letter L.

He heard someone come out of the bathroom and figured it was Gemma because he didn’t hear Aminah’s staff. A moment later, Gemma put her hand on his shoulder. He turned around in his chair toward her and smiled. She squeezed his shoulder in response.
“How’s it going, Gemma? You awake now?” he asked.

She tapped his shoulder twice.

“Are you ready to go down to breakfast?” he asked.

She tapped twice again.

“Did you get your schedule?” he asked

She tapped twice.

He held up his, “Do we have any time together today?”

She said yes again and then touched his arm and he held up his palm so she could write, “ C-O-U-N-C-I-L ”.

“Yeah, I guess that makes sense. Are you taking BSL classes?”

She replied yes.

“Is Aminah getting up?” he asked. He hadn’t heard her stir since he’d come out of the toilet.

He felt Gemma turn toward that area of the room, her hand still holding his.

“Yes,” she tapped, then she wrote, “ S-L-O-W-L-Y ”.

He had gathered that Mei and Tony had already gone down to breakfast because he couldn’t hear them in their areas anymore.

“I’ll ask her if she wants us to wait for her,” Harry suggested and he pushed back the chair to stand up. He grabbed his water bottle and schedule and stored them in his staff first, then he shook it out and walked toward Aminah’s side of the room.

“Hey, Aminah?” he asked.

“Hi, Harry,” she said quietly.

He walked a little closer, “We’re ready for breakfast, do you want us to wait for you?”

“Oh, thank you. That’s really nice. Actually. I was . . . well, I was wondering if Gemma could help me . . .” she sounded embarrassed. “Girl stuff,” she muttered.

Gemma was behind him. He wasn’t sure she could read Aminah’s fluttering paper note from that distance.

“Gemma?” Harry said, reaching for her. She grasped his hand.

“Aminah said she could use your help,” Harry explained.

Gemma tapped him twice.

Gemma moved around Harry and he could hear her walking into Aminah’s area.

“Okay. No problem. I’ll just go ahead and go down to breakfast, then,” Harry said, not really sure if either of them noticed.

After a moment, Aminah said, “Sure, thanks, Harry,” in a vague way.

“Okay, see you at breakfast, then,” as he turned to leave the room.

Even though it smarted to be dismissed like that, he wasn’t really keen on finding out what girl stuff was and said, “ Navigant dining hall,” to his staff as he passed through the door and entered the corridor.

“Oh, hello, Harry,” said Adam’s rich voice.

“Hi, Adam. Are you headed to breakfast?” Harry asked.

“Yes, and have you met Gordon Hoolahan yet?”

“No, I don’t think I have,” Harry responded.

“Yes, we met yesterday during the storm. You and that armless boy borrowed the chair from next to me?” Gordon gruffly reminded Harry.

“Oh, right. Hi, Mr. Hoolahan, nice to meet you,” Harry stuck out his hand as heat rushed out his face as he remembered the conversation that he and Tony had been having after they left Gordon. Gordon gripped his hand and pumped it up and down and then released it. Harry could feel his weightlessness in his handshake.

He wondered if Gordon had overheard them talking.

“And his name is Tony, Tony Montague,” Harry provided, in as kind a tone as he could manage.

“Just call me Gordon. No need to be so formal here, right? Tony, eh? The armless bloke?” Mr. Hoolahan confirmed.

“Um, yes,” Harry said uncomfortably.

“Great, well, yes. We were headed down to breakfast,” Adam glossed over the discomfort, “shall we go?”

“Sure, yes. I’m ready to eat,” said Harry a little uneasily.

“Harry, would you like me to be your sighted guide?” Adam asked.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Harry answered uncertainly.

“Okay, then I’ll just step around Gordon, and here you go,” Adam said as he tapped Harry’s left hand with his right hand. Harry followed his arm up to his elbow and grasped his arm just above the elbow and fell into step behind him.

“Thanks, Adam,” Harry said.

Harry listened to Gordon as he moved next to them trying to discern what was going on. Is he walking? Floating? He really couldn’t tell.

“So, Harry, did you get your schedule this morning? Do you know what you’re doing?” Adam asked.

“Yes, I’m meeting with Healer Jordan, then I’m going to learn how to get around with my staff better with Mr. Burbage, then lunch, then I’m learning Braille with Madam Flamel” Harry was cut off by Adam exclaiming, “Oh, you get to work with Madam Flamel, that’s great. What a treasure. We are really so lucky to have her here.”

“Yes, and well, after that it is council,” Harry continued, “Are you in council, too?”

“Yes, I imagine we all are in council at the end of the day,” Adam responded. He turned to Mr. Hoolahan, “How about you, Gordon? What does your day look like?”

“Oh, well, I’m working most of the day in the orientation and mobility room with a Ms. Agatha Midgeon. There’s some time for learning my rights, too, and that’s with Mr. Burbage, and then the Council thingy,” Mr. Hoolahan replied.

“What’s on your schedule today, Adam?” Harry asked after a bit of a silence, punctuated by their footsteps in the corridor and the noises that Gordon was making - they weren’t really footsteps - shuffles? At any rate, it was a distinctive sound that would make him easier to recognize.

“I’m also learning about my rights and about how to navigate certain social situations. I’m going to assist Mr. Burbage in the morning in the O&M room while he’s working with you, Harry, and Fitz and others, and then, of course, Council,” Adam explained.

Harry could hear the sounds of the dining hall and the aroma of a full English breakfast was also wafting down the corridor toward them.

“Harry, where would you like to sit?” Adam asked as they entered the dining hall, the smells and sounds coming into focus.

“Oh, well, wherever there is room is fine,” Harry said.

“There are three seats at this table and I believe you already know the other two sitting at it,” Adam said as they approached the table. Harry recognized Tony and Mei’s voices. They were talking about their schedules, too.

“May we join you at this table?” Adam asked politely.

“Uh, oh. Hi, Adam. Sure, that’s fine,” Tony responded.

Adam took Harry’s hand and guided it to the back of the chair to the right of Tony, and then Harry heard him pulling out the chair next to him.

Mei shrieked, “There’s a poltergeist in here!”

“Mei, it’s just Adam. Chill,” Tony said in a tight even voice.

“Hello, Mei, I don’t believe we’ve met yet,” Adam said smoothly, “I’m Adam Ceesay.”

“So, what? You’re invisible?” Mei said, disbelieving.

“Yes, I had vanishing sickness,” Adam explained quickly, and then went on to introduce Gordon.

“You’re the mermaid girl, right?” Gordon asked.

Mei hrumphed, and pushed her wheelchair away from the table and sped toward the buffet, muttering to herself.

“She’d better get used to it,” Gordon said grumpily to no one in particular as he poured himself some tea.

There was an awkward silence. Harry felt like he should say something to Gordon  . . . but he couldn’t come up with anything.

“The buffet’s open, we might as well get some breakfast,” Tony said, breaking the silence.

“How are you going to do that, then?” asked Gordon.

“Yeah. Well, for now I’m going to have to ask someone to help me,” Tony said glumly and then seemed to brighten, “but later today I’m getting my arms!” He sounded like he was trying to suppress his excitement.  

“That’s awesome, Tony,” Harry said.

“I’m happy to help you get your breakfast, Tony, if you like,” Adam offered.

“Okay, thanks,” Tony muttered - Harry could tell that Adam still unnerved him.

oO0OooO0OooO0OooO0Oo

Harry cast the tempus charm after he finished breakfast to see if he had enough time before he met with Healer Jordan to visit the owlery. “It is 7:46 am,” the clear voice sounded in his ear. He cast the navigant charm and headed to the owlery looking forward to spending some time with Hedwig.

He walked through the threshold and felt the very slight tug on his navel. The sounds of Charing Cross Road drifted in through the open windows along with the morning air, which seemed a bit warm for the time of day. He guessed it was going to be a hot one and was thankful that he wasn’t stuck at the Dursley’s tarring the driveway or some other heinous task that they were likely to invent for him to do on an outrageously hot day. Remembering the garden, though, reminded him of Nio hus cherio kisa and he thought of his cool scales against his neck. Little Friend, he thought wistfully.

Hedwig hooted from her perch high in the rafters and Harry lifted his face to her and smiled, “Hiya, Hedwig. It’s good to see you, too,” he greeted. She flew down to him in an explosion of feathers against his face as she dug her talons into his shoulder. He had time to brace himself, his staff had warned him she was coming right at him, and he adjusted his stance as she settled herself on his shoulder. He reached for her and pressed his face into her feathery belly, breathing in her pine-musty scent, a bit of a relief from the stench of the owlery floor that reeked of owl droppings.  

“It’s no wonder you sit high up in the rafters, Hedwig. It stinks down here,” Harry whispered into her feathers.

“You could take her out to the courtyard, if you want to escape the fetor of the owlery,” an ancient voice spoke from the wall near the door.

Harry started, “Oh, I didn’t know anyone else was in here!” He turned toward the voice, balancing Hedwig on his shoulder.

“Well, I’m always here, aren’t I,” said the person mysteriously.

“Oh?” Harry questioned. Then he remembered his staff and held it off the floor and squeezed it to get a description of the room, and he hoped, of the person standing by the door.

But there was no person.

“Are you a portrait?” Harry asked slowly.

“Yes, what are you? Blind?” the portrait asked.

“Um, yes,” Harry responded.

“Oh, right, then,” the portrait had the good sense to sound embarrassed.

“You said there is a courtyard?” Harry queried.

“Yes, just over there,” the portrait said unhelpfully.

Harry shook his head a bit in disbelief. “ Navigant courtyard,” Harry said to his staff and it led him to a narrow doorway, down a few stairs (not nearly enough to reach the ground below the tower), and then out onto a cobbled pathway. The morning air was heavy with moisture and warm, but also fragrant with the aroma of lilacs and lavender. He could hear the breeze rustling leaves on a nearby tree. He squeezed his staff in the air to get a description of the courtyard and then navigated to the bench that it described under the tree. Hedwig’s talons on his shoulder were painful, so he encouraged her to hop down on to the bench and he fed her some of the scraps of sausages he had wrapped up in a napkin for her at breakfast. She growled contentedly while Harry took deep breaths - the garden in the courtyard was full of fragrant plants; herbs, Harry discovered as he ran his hands over some of the spiky plants that bordered the bench. He liked the coolness of the stone bench beneath his legs.

Finally, after a long while of just enjoying the quiet morning in the courtyard, Harry attached the notes to Hedwig’s leg and asked her to return to the people who’d sent them. He knew one was headed to Hermione, but he wasn’t sure who’d sent the other ones. I should have looked at them right when I got them, he admonished himself.

He took her back up to the owlery figuring it would be easier for her to leave from the tower than down in the courtyard and said goodbye to her before she hooted and took off.

“Did you enjoy the courtyard?” the portrait asked him as he was leaving.

“Yes, very much. Thank you for suggesting it,” Harry replied.

Chapter Text

Harry went back to the courtyard after he’d sent Hedwig off with the notes to read his leaflets, trying to find the information that Healer Jordan implied that he had missed. There was a little bit that could have been useful for him to understand before he arrived at the center, but nothing earth-shattering. Maybe I didn’t get everything out of the bin? He wondered. Or more likely, the information was in with the forms they got in the muggle mail that I didn’t know about. He cringed at the thought of having to ask for copies.  

He thought the leaflet titled “Adjusting to your magical malady” was terrible - it made him feel so boxed in and he wasn’t able to finish it. Who wrote this? He thought as he tossed it aside in disgust.

He checked the time again - he still had about 20 minutes before his meeting with Healer Jordan and since it was directly across the hall from the owlery, he knew he didn’t have to allow much time to get there.

He was running his hands over a fragrant plant - Rosemary - he was pretty sure - when he heard steps on the cobblestone and turned his face toward the noise.

“Hi?” he said to the approaching footsteps that were more muffled on the grass by the bench, under the tree.

He heard them snap their fingers, then pick up the leaflet that he’d just tossed aside and the scratch of their clothing on the stone as they sat down on the bench next to him.

“Gemma?” he asked.

She reached over and tapped, “yes” on his arm.

He relaxed. “How did you find me here?”

He heard the scratching of pencil on paper and figured that she’d brought a pad of paper with her. He picked up the anagnóstis in anticipation of reading her note, and when she tapped hand with the pad, he read it.

“I saw you through the windows in the courtyard.”

“Oh, where is the courtyard in the center?” He said, handing the pad back to her. He remembered that the courtyard had a covered walkway that went all the way around it with windows from the staff’s description.

“I saw you from the library,” she wrote back quickly.

“You can get to the courtyard from the owlery - there are stairs, but not very many,” Harry pointed in the direction of the stairs he’d come from and Gemma moved his arm a bit, he guessed to align it more to where the stairs actually were.

“Hey, I wasn’t that far off,” he said smiling.

She squeezed his arm.

“What do you have this morning?” he asked.

“BSL with Shannon,” she wrote on the pad.

“Is she teaching you?” he asked.

“No, she’s also a student. She just recently lost her hearing, like me,” Gemma wrote.

“Oh, did she also have spattergoit?” Harry asked.

“No, she happened to come across a Jobberknoll as it died, unfortunately, it had lived near a mine and had heard a number of explosions throughout its life and result was deafening, literally.” Gemma wrote.

“What’s a Jobberknoll?” Harry asked.

“It’s a little blue bird, but I guess it doesn’t make a sound until it dies, but when it dies it screams out all the sounds it heard in its life. I never heard of it before either. Neither had Shannon until she was out hiking near the old mine, and this bird drops right in front of her, dying and screaming. I guess it was pretty awful, but it destroyed her eardrums and there’s nothing that they can do right now, so she’s deaf like me, except that she can talk - it didn’t damage her vocal cords. She said it was okay for me to tell you and our other roommates her story - she gets tired of telling it,” Gemma wrote.

“Thanks. Did you know that Mr. Burbage got mad at me and Tony for talking about someone yesterday?”

She tapped his arm once, “no.”

“Well, it was embarrassing,” Harry admitted, cringing at the memory and the upcoming lessons with Mr. Burbage.

Gemma tugged on his arm and tapped his hand with the leaflet he had cast aside.

“What? Oh, should we get going?” Harry asked as he took the leaflet.

She tapped his arm twice, “yes.”

“Okay, I’ll go up the stairs to the Owlery because that will put me right across the hall from Healer Jordan’s office. Where are your lessons?”

“In the Braidwood room - across the corridor from Mont Blanc,” she wrote on her pad.

“Then I guess you better go back through the library,” Harry responded.

She tapped his arm twice, “yes.”

“I hope it goes well. See you at lunch?” he said.

“Yes,” she tapped on his arm and then a little swish of her fingertips on his arm felt like a wave, so he waved back as he packed his staff with the leaflets and the anagnóstis and then shook out his staff, and said “ Navigant Healer Jordan’s office.”

oO0OooO0OooO0OooO0Oo

Harry stood outside Healer Jordan’s office at 8:55 am wondering if he should knock on the door or not. He had tapped the door lightly as he neared it and his staff had identified it at the correct door. He sucked in a nervous breath, and then stuck out his hand to find the door and softly rapped twice on it.

It opened and Harry stood there for a second, thinking that Healer Jordan would greet him. When she didn’t, he said, “Hello?” to the void before him.

“Come on in, Harry!” her voice came from a distance, as if she was across the room, so he walked in hesitantly.

“I’m just finishing up with another resident, so go ahead and sit in a chair and I’ll be with you in a moment,” she said.

Harry stood there for a moment, and then said, “Navigant empty chair” to his staff and found one of the chairs in the waiting area to sit in.

He minimized his staff, but didn’t put it in his pocket. He sat twirling it between his fingers as he tried to calm his beating heart - but he felt he’d been called to the Headmaster’s office. He wished he had something to do while to take his mind off the waiting. He was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to concentrate on reading at this point and all he had to read were his textbooks and the leaflets. He thought about what he had in his staff - after all, he had emptied his trunk into the staff. He opened the compartment and uttered, “ accio exploding snap cards” and held out his hand. The pack of cards that Ron had given him landed neatly in his palm and he closed the compartment on the staff and put the staff in his pocket. He could smell their distinctive faintly burnt odor and felt the well-worn deck remembering the cover image that had Egyptian stylized-eye that seemed to shimmer through a patina of tarnished gold. He could feel the raised image on the cards and ran his finger over the eye a few times. He untied the string that held the pack together and started feeling the cards to see if he could discern the images on the other side, but they didn’t seem to be embossed in the same way that the cover image was.

Harry heard Healer Jordan again and realized that she must have cast some kind of silencing charm so that he couldn’t overhear the conversation. It sounded like they were coming this way, so Harry tied up the cards again and stowed them in his staff. He shook it out to extend it, but didn’t stand up, instead placed it in front of him and leaned against it.

“Thank you very much, Healer Jordan, I really appreciate your time,” Martha was saying as she walked toward the door.

“It’s no problem, Martha, that’s why I’m here,” Healer Jordan reassured.

“Okay, well thanks! Oh, and Hi, Harry,” Martha greeted.

“Hi, Martha,” Harry responded and then he heard the door open and close behind her.

“Harry, I need to step out a moment before I meet with you. I’ll be right back,” Healer Jordan said.

“Oh, okay,” Harry said.

“You can help yourself to tea while you wait. Ask your staff to show you the way to the tea service,” she said as she walked away, to the back of her office area.

“Okay, thanks,” Harry said to her receding footsteps. He stood up and said, “ Navigant tea service” and then went over to what turned out to be a tea cart. It had similar charms on it as the buffet in the dining hall, and by passing his hand over the cart, he was able to locate the cups and saucers, the teapot, sugar, and milk. He poured himself a cup of tea, though he got a fair amount in the saucer. He found the napkins and mopped up the mess before adding sugar and milk and located the bin to throw away the paper napkins. He stood by the tea cart sipping his tea because he wasn’t sure he could walk back to his chair with the delicate teacup teetering in the saucer without dumping the whole thing while he used the staff to find his way.

He heard a door opening at the back of the office and footsteps and the distinctive noise of a staff tapping. Mr. Burbage, Harry guessed.

He turned toward him, his teacup rattling a little in his hand.

“Hi, Harry,” Mr. Burbage greeted before Harry had a chance to say anything.

“Hi, Mr. Burbage, uh - how did you know it was me?” Harry said surprised.

“I’ve set up my staff to recognize people I know and alert me to their presence when I enter a room. I’ll show you how to cast that charm this afternoon. It’s really handy,” Mr. Burbage said.

“Okay, that’s cool,” Harry said, still feeling a little wary after their last exchange during the storm.

“Yeah. Hey, I’ll see you at the training later this morning. I’m going down there now to set up,” Mr. Burbage said as he walked away.

“Okay, see you then,” Harry said and took another sip of his tea.

Healer Jordan came back a few minutes later and carried Harry’s teacup to her desk while guiding him to the same seat he had sat in the last time he met with her in this office. Yesterday - that was only yesterday, he realized with a bit of a shock. It seemed like a long time ago.

“Okay, Harry, as we talked about yesterday, it seems like there is a gap in your understanding of the center and how things work here. I had sent the material to your guardians with explicit instructions that they should share it with you and it seems like that did not happen.

Is there anything you’d like to tell me?” Healer Jordan asked with a concerned tone.

“No,” Harry answered quickly, thinking about similar questions in primary that had led to questions that brought the wrath of Vernon down on his head. He felt the blood drain from his face and pool in his innards.

Healer Jordan didn’t say anything and Harry felt the silence stretching uncomfortably as if she were simply sitting there staring at him, waiting for him to say more.

He twisted his hands in his lap and tried to come up with an exit strategy.

“My aunt and uncle . . .” he started talking to his hands, faltered and then turned his face toward her again, “my aunt and uncle are muggles and they really don’t understand the magical world at all. I’m sure it was just a misunderstanding . . .” Harry tried.

“Well, that could very well be, Harry,” Healer Jordan’s voice was kind, but thoughtful . . . as if she stepping carefully through a bog, trying to walk only on the firm bits of land.

“I am going to visit them and interview them. I have some concerns about your condition when you arrived yesterday,” she stated carefully.

“Interview them?!” Harry sat up suddenly. “What do you mean, concerns about my condition?” He realized he was shouting and tried to bring his voice back down to a more moderate level.

“Harry, you had a number of bruises on your body that frankly make me wonder about your treatment at home,” Healer Jordan said in a steely voice.

“I just ran into a lot of things. I mean for Merlin’s sake, I can’t see and I keep bloody running into things like door jambs and tables,” Harry said, his voice breaking.

“You had bruises that look like fingers on your arm,” Healer Jordan said quietly.

“Well,” Harry drew in a deep breath, “Sometimes my uncle doesn’t know how hard his grip is, that’s all, and he’s not used to having to guide me - so he was a little rough. He’ll get better at it,” he finished quietly.

“That may be the case, but I’m still going to go talk to them,” Healer Jordan continued.

“Please don’t do that,” Harry said as evenly as he could manage.

“Why, Harry?” Healer Jordan prompted.

“They are scared of wixen - it’ll just make it worse,” Harry quietly breathed.

“It’ll make what worse?” Healer Jordan pushed.

“I can’t . . .” Harry said, feeling suddenly exhausted, and slumping back into the chair. It was deeper than he imagined and he fell back with a bit of a yelp. He struggled to sit up again.

“I promise you that I will do everything within my power to not make the situation worse for you. I will consult with Mr. Burbage whose father was a muggle and perhaps he can come along with me to help with their fear of the magical world.”

There was something in Healer Jordan’s voice that made him believe her conviction that she would not make it worse for him. He clung to that thought and nodded.

“Okay, once I’m able to arrange the meeting and talk to them, I’ll let you know. And then I will meet with you afterward to let you know how it went,” Healer Jordan explained.

Harry’s response, a quiet “okay,” was barely audible.

“In the meantime, here is the information that I shared with them that you haven’t had a chance to go over yet. A lot of it, you learned on the tour, I think. When you read through it, though, I think you’ll find some of the missing information, such as how to find different pathways in the various settings according to your needs. You’ll also learn today about how to use your staff to its fullest effect.” She explained as she pushed a scroll into his hands. It felt heavy - as if it were really long. He sighed.

“And Harry, I’m going to set up some meeting times in your schedule with our mind healer,” Healer Jordan paused at an exasperated moan from Harry. “This is standard procedure for anyone who has undergone a trauma such as you have. Many of the Center’s participants find great value in working with a mind healer. I hope you’ll approach it with an open mind,” Healer Jordan finished.

“I know this has been a lot for you to take in. I’ll recommend that you find a quiet spot in the library or the courtyard to read over the material about the center before you meet with Mr. Burbage for your lessons on how to navigate with your staff.” She said with a finality that made Harry realize that the meeting was over.

“Okay, thank you,” he said quietly as he stood up. He heard her clearing away his half-drunk cup of tea as he navigated toward the door with the heavy scroll in his hand.

Chapter Text

As Harry walked away from Healer Jordan’s desk, he stopped and turned, “Healer Jordan?” he asked.

“Yes, Harry?” she said as approached him.

“What does a mind healer do?” he asked tentatively.

“Oh, that’s a good question. They support people who are working through trauma of one sort or another,” she responded.

“What do you mean by support?” he asked skeptically.

“Well, they guide you through the process of finding healing from the trauma. Really, they help you figure out how to heal from your trauma on your own - they give you the tools you need to process what has happened to you and then help you figure out how you’re going to move forward,” she explained.

“At my primary, there was a counselor - is it like that?” Harry asked.

“Well, I’m not as familiar with the muggle side of things, but, yes, I think that they do similar things. Of course, in the wixen world, we have the advantage of magic to help us along,” Healer Jordan explained.

“What kind of magic do they use?” Harry asked trepidatiously.

“Well, often they ask you to extract a memory that might be troubling and you share it with the mind healer and work through it,” Healer Jordan said thoughtfully.

“Oh, how do you extract a memory?” Harry asked.

“It’s a pretty simple charm that allows you to share it in a pensive or another similar magical object and then you can both view it,” Healer Jordan described.

“How does it work when someone is blind?” Harry asked.

“It depends on if your memory is visual or not. If you had the memory when you could see, then you share the visuals with the mind healer,” Healer Jordan explained.

“Would I see the memory again?” Harry asked, curious.

“If it is your memory, then you see the visuals, but if you’re inside someone else’s memory and you’re blind, then you’d experience it as you experience everything now,” Healer Jordan clarified.

“Oh, so I wouldn’t see it?” Harry asked.

“No, it doesn’t bypass your optic nerve and go directly to your brain. It would be great if it did. Same with someone who has lost their hearing. They still wouldn’t be able to hear what someone is saying in a memory. If we had that kind of magic, then we could figure out a way to restore your vision completely, even with the magical injury to your optical nerve that you’ve sustained,” Healer Jordan said matter-of-factly. “But wixen are working on this kind of magic as we speak - so it could be that within your lifetime, someone figures out a way that would allow you to see again.”

“Oh, well, I guess that’s good,” Harry said thoughtfully.

There was a banging at the door as if someone kicked it.

“Oh, that’s my next appointment,” Healer Jordan said as she moved past Harry to open the door.

“Hi, Tony. How are you doing this morning?” Healer Jordan greeted Tony at the door.

“I’m great. I can’t wait to get my arms!” Tony exclaimed.

Harry felt a tinge of envy. He wished he was getting a pair of eyes for a moment, and then the thought made his skin crawl. New eyes would mean losing his eyes and that kind of freaked him out. Sure he couldn’t see out of them (well, except light and dark), but they were still his eyes, and he liked having them in his head.

“Hi, Tony,” Harry said as he heard Tony entering the room. “Good luck with your arms. I hope it goes well.”

“Thanks, Harry! I’m going to be able to eat lunch on my own today!” Tony exclaimed.

“Oh, well, it might take a while for you to manage that, Tony. I’ll explain it all. Let’s go back to the clinic, okay?” Healer Jordan said in a pacifying voice.

“Oh, okay,” Tony sounded a little deflated. “Bye, Harry.”

“See ya’ Tony,” Harry responded.

Harry went out the door that Healer Jordan was holding open for him and asked his staff to guide him to the library.

oO0OooO0OooO0OooO0Oo

At the entrance to the library, Harry held his staff up and squeezed it to get a description of the area as he closed his eyes against the bright light by the big windows on the far side of the room. The room it described was large and filled with books and seating areas. He also learned that there was a person seated at a desk not far from him near the entrance. The librarian, he guessed.

“Hello, welcome to the Perenelle Adaptation Center Library,” the person greeted. A young woman, from her voice, Harry surmised.

“Hi,” said Harry. “Is it alright if I read in here while I’m waiting for my next class?” Harry asked, holding up the scroll Healer Jordan had given him.

“Certainly. Would you like me to guide you to a table?” she offered.

“No, thanks, I can do it with my staff,” Harry said, holding it up.

“That’s fine. If you need anything, I’m here to help. My name is Besel Geller. I’m holding my hand out to you, if you’d like to shake it.” she said.

Harry took a step closer to her desk and reached out, but didn’t find her hand. “Thank you, Besel, I’m Harry,” he waited a second, hoping she’d grab his hand.

“Nice to meet you, Harry. I can’t quite reach your hand, could you step a little closer?” Besel said.

“Sure,” he took another step and his staff came in contact with the desk. He felt Besel’s fingertips graze his fingers, and leaned forward more until they were able to grasp hands and shake and let go. He laughed nervously. He liked the feeling of her hand.

“It’s always an adventure here!” she said warmly.

“Yeah, that’s for sure!” Harry agreed.

He asked his staff to direct him toward an empty table that it had described by the windows that overlooked the courtyard he had been sitting in with Gemma earlier. He sat down and rolled the scroll out on the table and extracted his anagnóstis from his staff and started reading the information about the center that Healer Jordan had sent to the Dursleys, but which they hadn’t shared with him. I bet they burned it, Harry thought angrily.

A lot of the things he learned as he read through the extensive document were things that he’d already picked up on during the tour or through conversations with Healer Jordan or Mr. Burbage. There was some history about why and how Perenelle Flamel had founded the center and the people it served. There was a map of the center that was really useful and he studied it for a while.

He finally found the section about the choices he had yesterday when he’d gone down the mountain path instead of finding the portal at the entrance that would have taken him directly to the deck of the ship as many people had chosen. He groused a little while reading it because it seemed like Healer Jordan could have mentioned it again when she was giving directions to the group. I wasn’t the only one who missed it, he protested to himself.

He realized that he was feeling the same kind of betrayal that he’d felt when the Dursleys dropped him off at King’s Cross Station his first year with his trunk and Hedwig and laughed as they left him trying to find Platform nine and three quarters.

Attempting to tamp down those feelings, he cast the tempus charm and decided to pack up the scroll and head to the O&M room.

As he was leaving, he paused at Besel’s desk.

“I guess we’ll be in here for our braille lessons after lunch. Do you know where in the library those lessons occur?” he asked.

“Yes, that’s right. There is a study room in the north east corner of the library that Madam Flamel likes to hold the braille lessons. It has all her materials. Would you like me to guide you there now so that you know where you’re going after lunch?” Besel offered.

“Sure, I have a little bit of extra time,” Harry agreed.

There was a noise that Harry couldn’t quite understand as Besel moved away from her desk - it sounded sort of like a small breeze or wind going through a confined space, like a short tunnel. He cocked his head as he listened, trying to understand it.

“Harry, I’m using a levitating chair. I’m guessing you haven’t heard one before by your expression,” Besel elucidated.

“Oh. No. I couldn’t figure out what that sound was,” Harry felt relieved. “Thanks for telling me.”

“Sure, no problem,” Besel said lightly. “The easiest way for me to guide you to the room is for you to touch the back of my chair. Here, I’ll show you where you can hold,” she said as she touched his hand that wasn’t holding his staff. He let her guide his hand to the back of her chair and he held onto it as she moved toward the study room. He realized that he was turned around as he thought the north east corner was in the opposite direction. He was glad that he accepted her offer to show him the room. And he also liked her voice - it reminded him of a warm summer day.

He had expected that the study room would be small and confined, but it was more spacious (by the echoey sound of it) than he expected. The light was also less intense than it was in the main part of the library and he opened his eyes. Besel led him back to the entrance and he thanked her for the tour and told her that he’d see her later and then set his staff to navigate to the O&M room with about five minutes to spare before Mr. Burbage’s class started. He realized that he wasn’t feeling the uneasiness that he had felt earlier and was looking forward to learning how to use his staff more effectively.

oO0OooO0OooO0OooO0Oo

Harry remembered that he needed to check the layout of the O&M room when he reached it. He asked his staff to guide him to the layout when he was nearing the room and found himself in front of a picture frame just to the right of the door. He reached out to touch it and Mr. Burbage’s voice said in his aftí, “Today, the O&M room is set up as a village with footpaths and a park. You’ll enter at the park. Ask your staff to direct you to the picnic area and wait for the class to gather at the picnic tables. There is a cooler of water on the center picnic table with glasses on the right of the cooler, I suggest that you hydrate while you wait as we’ll be doing a fair amount of walking today. If you have a sun hat, I recommend you fetch it so that you don’t get sunburned. This is a simulated environment, so the only people you’ll be interacting with today are from the center.”

Harry sighed, he didn’t have a sunhat. I could use my Hogwarts uniform hat, I suppose. He accio’d it out of his staff and stuck it on his head. He hadn’t worn it much, but it still fit.

As he was getting his hat, he heard someone using a staff approaching the room.

“Hi,” Harry greeted the person, guessing it was either Aminah or Fitz.   

“Hi, is that you Harry?” Aminah questioned.

“Yes, I’m here by the layout of the room, if you want to come see it . . . well, you know what I mean,” Harry said, faltering.

“Yeah, I know. Don’t change your language on my account!” Aminah said graciously.

“It’s funny . . . I hate it when other people do it to me, why did I do it to you?” Harry said, laughing.

“We’re all working on it. No worries,” Aminah agreed.

“How’s your morning been?” Harry asked.

“It’s been good. I worked with Agatha Midgeon on self-defense,” Aminah explained.

“Oh, how was that?” Harry asked, wondering if it was like a Defense Against the Dark Arts Class.

“It was good - it was just the intro. I guess you’ll be in there with us tomorrow. I heard Healer Jordan and Ms. Midgeon talking about it before class,” Aminah sounded apologetic as she explained the last bit.

“Yeah, I was meeting with Healer Jordan this morning,” Harry offered.

“Oh?” Aminah asked.

“She was just filling me in on some stuff I missed . . .” Harry deflected.

“Here, I’m going to check out the layout,” Aminah said, stepping forward toward the layout of the room.

“Oh, that’s cool,” Aminah said.

“What?” asked Harry.

“Did you feel it? It’s like a topographical map,” Aminah said, with a bit of awe in her voice.

“Oh, no, I didn’t do that,” Harry said, stepping next to her and bumping into her a bit.

“Sorry about that; didn’t see you,” Harry joked.

“Ha ha, very funny” Aminah said laughing.

As he lightly touched the map, he could feel ridges and his aftí told him that it was the path to the picnic area to the park. He traced his hands out to the edges of the map and got a sense for the layout of the little town that they were going to walk around - a bird’s eye view.

“That is neat,” Harry agreed.

“Ready to head in?” Aminah asked.

“Yep, let’s go,” Harry said.

Harry cast the navigant spell to take him to the picnic area and heard Aminah doing the same. He found the door and held it open for Aminah.

“Thank you, Harry,” she said graciously as he followed her in.

He heard her feet crunching on a gravel pathway before he felt it beneath his feet. He followed a few paces behind Aminah, not wanting to crowd her. They could hear a couple people talking ahead of them. Harry remembered that Gordon was also working in this room today and wondered how many different groups of people would be sharing the same space and how that would work exactly. He could pick out Adam’s voice and Fitz’s, and then he heard Martha’s voice.

“Oh, I thought Martha was sighted,” Harry said before he could stop himself.

“Martha Makinen?” Aminah asked.

“Um, I don’t know her last name, actually, but I guess so,” Harry said.

“Yeah, she can see. She’s here because of her daughter. Milla was born blind, dragon pox, I think. Anyway, Martha’s here taking the training so that she can work with her daughter more effectively,” Aminah explained quietly as they approached.

“Oh,” Harry responded, wondering what it would be like to be born blind.

They walked the rest of the way without talking, just the crunching of their feet on the gravel path, the tapping of their respective staffs, and the conversation of the people at the picnic table getting louder as the approached. Harry could also hear birds, some dogs barking, the sound of an airplane overhead, and the breeze moving the leaves on trees. It was a lot hotter in the park, too, than it had been in the corridor of the center.

“Nice hat, Harry!” Adam’s voice rang out as they approached.

“Uh, thanks? It’s all I had,” Harry explained, blushing.

“Well, most of your companions today won’t even notice, am I right?” Adam joked.

“Absolutely right,” agreed Fitz. “Harry, it’s a very nice lampshade if I do say so myself,” Fitz continued the joke.

“You blokes are hilarious!” Martha laughed.

“Amy, my name is Martha,” Martha had approached Aminah.

“Oh, it’s nice to meet you, Martha!” Aminah said shyly. “Um, but my name is Aminah. A lot of people call me Amy, though,” she laughed nervously.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, Aminah! Harry corrected me yesterday as well. I’m just terrible with names. And here, I thought I had remembered correctly. I’m probably going to call you Amy for the rest of training. I’m horrible!” Martha blustered on.

“It’s alright, really!” Aminah consoled, sounding more at ease than Harry had heard her.

“Would you like a glass of water, Aminah, Harry?” Adam offered.

“Actually, that sounds great,” Harry said, glad to have an excuse to do something while they waited for Mr. Burbage. Harry followed the sound of Adam’s footsteps and used his staff to navigate around the picnic tables.

“Here you go, Harry,” Adam pressed a cold glass into his hand. “And here you go, Aminah,” Adam said, turning away from Harry. “Thanks!”

They didn’t have long to wait, pretty soon they heard the sound of another person coming along the path. Harry was pretty sure it was Mr. Burbage, he couldn’t hear his staff and wondered if he was using it collapsed.

“Hello!” Mr. Burbage greeted the group. “Thanks, everyone, for arriving on time.”

“Martha and Adam, before we get started I have blindfolds and staffs for you to use,” Mr. Burbage announced. Harry noted that both Adam and Martha seemed surprised by this development. He heard them crunch on the gravel and approach Mr. Burbage to receive them.

“Once you’ve got your blindfolds in place, go ahead and shake your staff three times. Make sure that you allow space around you so that you don’t accidentally hit someone as it is restored to its normal size. Also, here are your aftís. Place them on the helix of your ear,” Mr. Burbage directed.

Mr. Burbage worked with Adam and Martha for a bit while they got their aftí placed and also showed them the correct way to hold their staff. He went around and made sure everyone was holding their staffs correctly as well. “Okay, we’re going to take a walk around the park on the path at first and I’ll be working with each you on your form with staff.”

Chapter Text

Harry sank onto the picnic bench and pulled his t-shirt away from his sweating back to allow some of the breeze to help cool him down. The others in the group were also finding spots to rest and hydrate. He pulled off his hat and wiped his brow. He was tempted to dump the glass of water over his head, but sucked it down instead. He was thirsty. They had just spent a good hour, probably more, walking around the park in the blazing hot sun at a pretty fast pace. He was feeling pretty good. Tired, but good. He had learned some handy tips with his staff in the process as well as really stretching his legs. Godric, as he insisted that they call him, had taught them how to use the charms on their staffs to recognize people and say their names as they approached. It even worked when they were at a distance, so you could go into a crowded restaurant or classroom and navigate right to the person you wanted to meet as long as you had added them into your staff’s memory already. Harry really liked that feature. He didn’t like not knowing who was in a room with him and spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out who was around him.

He also liked that could do the same thing with a favorite area or table, too, or any object for that matter. They spent most of the time just walking and learning how to interpret the descriptions and directions of the staff and how to modify the settings for the situation. If you were in a familiar setting, you could set your staff to just give basic descriptions, but if you were in a new setting, you might want to get more information until you really understood the lay of the land.

Godric had them work with all levels of settings, even the setting that just vibrated in their hands, rather than giving verbal instructions. He said that setting was really handy if you had to listen to someone talking while you were walking so that you weren’t distracted by the descriptions from your staff while you were trying to carry on a conversation.

Godric thought that Harry was getting along pretty well with his staff, though he had some minor corrections to his style. Harry grudgingly conceded that they did make it easier - so that his hand and wrist weren’t so worn out by the end of the day.

Adam and Martha had the hardest time, but Harry allowed them that - they hadn’t had to navigate by staff before that moment when Godric handed them the blindfolds, so it was all new to them. Harry at least had a week or so under his belt. He wasn’t sure how long Aminah and Fitz had been working with their staffs, but they seemed pretty comfortable with everything they were learning so far, so he guessed they had had a bit more time to figure things out than he had.

They had passed the other group working in the O&M room while they were out and about in the little suburban village. Harry had heard Mei’s voice and Gordon’s, but didn’t recognize the other voices. He quietly had added Mei and Gordon to his staff’s memory as they passed them, “ Memento Mei Lee and memento Gordon Hoolahan.” He felt a little sneaky, but justified it - they after all, always knew when he was in a room with them.

Harry thought his staff might struggle with making a memento of Adam, but it seemed that the charm wasn’t just recording the visual aspects of the person, but something more, maybe their essence?

He was curious about the range of the staff, “Mr. . . . er, Godric, how far away, um, can the staff recognize someone?” He had squeezed the staff in the air three times in rapid succession to get a reading on the people around him and it had identified them all by name and described where they were in relation to him, using paces and the face of the clock as a reference. It gave all this information really quickly and Harry found that the hardest part was understanding the staff, but he was starting to make sense of it. Godric had explained that it was possible to slow it down, but that most wixen preferred to learn how to hear the fast setting because in the slow version by the time it was done describing everyone, they had moved on and the information wasn’t as relevant anymore.

Harry knew that Godric was sitting on the bench three paces away from him at 8 o’clock.

“That’s a good question, Harry,” Godric responded. “It kind of depends on what is between you and the person you’re seeking. I’ve used it to locate lost students in crowded city streets and it was able to navigate me toward them from over five streets away - and they were moving as well. When we’re in a big open space like this park and there is a huge distance between us, but not many obstacles, it is able to identify and navigate toward people who are even farther away than five city streets.”

“Wow, it seems like it could be abused. Like someone could use it to target someone,” Fitz said thoughtfully.

“Sure, it’s true. Actually, Aurors use similar technology to track the movements of known or suspected Death Eaters, but there are also charms as well as curses that prevent people from memento’ing you. It’s really similar to the trace that the Ministry puts on all underage wixen, right?” Godric explained.

“What’s that?” Harry asked.

“Oh, it’s how the Ministry of Magic knows when underage wixen are performing magic outside of school, though it only works if they are not in a magic area, right?”

Harry remembered how the Ministry had sent the owl right after Dobby had performed magic in his Aunt’s kitchen. Harry shook off a chill. That seems really creepy. Kind of Big Brother-ish.

“Why can’t they pinpoint who’s doing the magic?” Harry asked - it still irked him that he was the one blamed for that incident.

“Oh, I’m pretty sure they can, they just tell us that it is too much bother to monitor all those wixen - they don’t have the personnel to do it,” Godric explained airily.

“What if you don’t want someone to know where you are or what you’re doing? Say you’re shopping for their birthday present or something,” Martha asked.

“You can cast a number of charms that cloak you from other people’s charms, just like you can cast disillusioning charms or hide under an invisibility cloak, right?” Godric responded.

“What’s the best one to use?” Fitz asked quietly.

“Probably the masking spell, Abscondere,” Godric offered. “It can be a bit tricky. You have to be intentional about who you are hiding from and why. You can also use it to hide objects, such as that birthday present, right Martha?”

“That’s right!” Martha agreed, laughing.

“Does it just hide things visually or does it hide them from complete detection?” Harry asked, thinking about how Adam was invisible to sighted people, but not really to him. He was as visible to Harry as anyone else in the group, Harry thought as he listened to and felt Adam shifting on the other end of the bench. He was pretty quiet during this discussion of things unseen.

“Pretty completely, I believe,” Godric answered.

“Doesn’t the revealing charm override the masking spell?” Fitz asked.

“It can, that’s for sure, nothing is permanent and it all depends on the power of the wixen who casts the spell, right?” Godric said, standing up.

“Okay, we’ve got more to do today, so let’s get going,” Godric said as he shook out his staff.

Harry stood up and walked over to Fitz, “What’s the incantation for the revealing charm?” Harry asked. “Oh, it’s Aparecium ,” Fitz answered and Harry tried to commit it to memory. He’d have to look all these charms up in his Charms book. He wished he had an easier way to write things down. He had heard Martha writing down notes while Godric was talking ( she must have taken off her blindfold ).  

“Okay, you’ve done good work navigating with your magically enhanced staffs, now we’re going to work without the magical part of the staff. There are going to be times when you aren’t going to have your staff for whatever reason and you’ll feel better knowing that you can manage without it, even though it is a different experience. We’ll spend a little bit of every day we work together building your skills so that you can get around no matter what tools you have access to (or not). We could always turn the talking feature of the staffs off, but today I’m going to take your staffs and give you muggle white canes for the visually impaired. We are going to start out small and just walk together as a group on the path that we came in on. I’m going to ask you to pace yourselves out so that there are about five paces between each of you so that you don’t run into each other. The same principles apply with the canes as with the staff - you hold it the same way and move it in the same motion. You’ll be listening for the cues it gives and the sounds it makes as the metal tip hits different surfaces,” Godric was walking around the path and he tapped the metal tip on different surfaces so that they could hear how they sounded. It was more obvious than the wooden staff, the metal tip created more of a sound landscape of the area because it was louder. Harry could tell when Godric was near the wall around the picnic area. He stopped at a picnic table and picked up the canes that they were going to use and started handing them out.

“Go ahead and collapse your staff and put it in your pocket. The emergency mode will still function. I’ll lead the way and then when we reach the entrance to the park we’ll turn around and go back to the picnic area. Okay. Any questions?” Godric sounded animated - he was really enjoying this.

No one had any questions, so they lined up and waited their turn, listening to the person ahead of them take five steps before setting out. Harry was reminded of his first excursions out into the yard at Privet Drive and smiled to himself remembering Nio hus cherio kisa’s gentle guidance and companionship. He almost missed his cue to go, but Aminah behind him whispered to him, “Harry, it’s your turn to go.”

“Oh, right! Sorry. He stumbled a bit in his haste, then found a rhythm. He found it a little harder to walk in a straight line on the path, he kept meandering from side to side until he decided to use the grass on the edge as a marker and just stayed on the left of the path. He actually kind of liked the simplicity of having just the tapping noise without the constant chatter in his ear. It was like a puzzle - each new sound was something to figure out. Except when he was pretty sure that he had stuck the tip of his cane in to a fairly fresh pile of dog do. He wondered when there had been a dog running through the park. He hadn’t heard it. He could definitely smell it now and since the smell seemed to be preceding him he figured it was on the tip of the cane. He stopped to rub the tip of the cane in the grass and Aminah came up behind him.

“Oh, sorry, Aminah, I got dog . . uh . . . stuff on my cane. I’m cleaning it off,” he apologized for holding up her progress.

“Ew,” she said distastefully, “I can smell it.”

“Yeah, it’s bad,” Harry agreed. “Okay, I think that’s better. I’ll keep going.”

Now Harry had lost track of Fitz who was ahead of him. He wondered if he had stopped or if he was walking on the grass because he couldn’t hear anyone ahead of him on the path. He could hear Aminah, but she was the last person to go.

“Harry, is that you?” Godric asked. His voice was off the path a bit.

“Yeah, and Aminah’s right behind me,” Harry said. “I had a bit of a run in with a pile of dog . . .”

“Crap?” Fitz supplied, laughing.

“Yeah,” laughed Harry, “I tried to clean it off the cane. Sorry, Godric.”

“Here, I’ll scourgify it,” Godric came over to Harry and found his arm that was holding the cane and tapped it with his wand, “ scourgify!” and the lingering smell disappeared.

“That’s better - thanks,” Harry said.

“No problem. It’s one of the hazards of being in the park,” Godric conceded.

“Okay, here’s Aminah! Well done, everyone!” he congratulated, “We’ll head back to the picnic table. Keep your nose tuned for that pile of dog do and try to avoid it! Aminah, do you want to lead the way this time?” Godric asked.

“Sure,” she said as she headed back to the picnic area.  

“Godric, I noticed that Lieutenant Holman had a metal tip on his cane, too. Can our staffs be fitted with a metal tip? I kind of like it,” Harry said.

“Sure, that’s not too hard to do. We have a workshop at the center where you can make modifications to your tools. You can find it on the center’s map. It is just outside of the dining hall and is called the “Giovanni Gonneli workshop,” in honor of the famous blind sculptor from Tuscany - another one of Madam Perenelle’s friends,” Godric explained.  

“Harry, you’re up,” nudged Fitz who was waiting behind Harry.

“Oh, right. Sorry,” he stumbled forward again, heat rising in his cheeks. He seemed to be the only one who was not paying attention.

oO0OooO0OooO0OooO0O

As Harry walked to the dining hall with Aminah, they debated the merits of learning how to navigate with the muggle cane.

“I kind of liked it,” confessed Harry. “I mean, I like all the magical features of the staff, but the cane is really simple, too. It’s nice not to have someone jabbering in your ear all the time.”

“Yeah, I guess. I just feel safer knowing what’s around me,” Aminah said quietly.

“I like that, too,” Harry admitted thinking about all the times Dudley tried to trip him at Privet Drive . . . and that was before he knew that Harry was blind. He wasn’t looking forward to returning there in July. 53 suns, now.

“Hey, Aminah. I’ve been meaning to ask you. Do you go to Hogwarts?”

“Yeah. I’ve seen you there. I’ll be a fifth year, so we didn’t have any classes together, but I saw you a lot at the library with your friend who was here. I’m in Hufflepuff or I was. I don’t know if I’m going back . . . ” Aminah offered.

“Oh, why wouldn’t you go back?” Harry asked.

“My mom is talking about moving to the states and sending me to Ilivermorny,” she said sadly.

“That would be a big change,” Harry said.

“Yeah. I don’t want to. I want to stay here,” Aminah said quietly. “It’s all I’ve ever known.”

Harry could relate. The two trips they took in the center yesterday ( three, if you count the trip into Mei’s tank to the South Seas ) were the farthest from the U.K. that he’d ever been.

“Why does she want to move?” Harry asked.

Aminah was quiet for a while as if she were weighing something heavy.

“It’s okay, you don’t have to tell me,” Harry offered, realizing that he had maybe stepped over a line.

“It’s just that she’s worried . . . worried that my father will get to me again . . .” Aminah said with a bit of a hiccup.

Chapter Text

Harry stopped in the corridor. There was something ominous about the way Aminah had said it. It kind of reminded him of how he sometimes talked about Uncle Vernon, but worse somehow.

“What do you mean, get to you ?” Harry asked, his stomach clenching, sweat coating his palms and prickling the back of his neck.

Aminah hadn’t realized that he had stopped and had walked a few paces beyond him. She turned and came back, no doubt using her staff to find him.

She stood quietly in front of him. It was a heavy silence and Harry felt like he could hear her heart pounding, even though he knew it had to be his heart that was thumping. He wished someone would come along the corridor and break up the awkwardness and at the same time he hoped that no one would come. He felt a little trapped.

Finally, he heard her lick her lips. “I’ll tell you about it later,” she muttered.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked,” Harry said.

“No, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything. It’s really . . . it’s not something I can talk about here,” she moaned. “I’m sorry. I  . . . I dunno,” she was quiet for so long that Harry thought she wasn’t going to say anything else, but he didn’t have anything to offer to fill up the space. “It’s weird. I . . . I feel like I can trust you . . . like maybe you understand . . .  ” Her voice was tight.

“Oh. Well. Yeah. I get it . . . and . . . it’s okay . . . to talk about it later,” Harry said and then softly added a weighty, “I’m sorry.” He reached out and clumsily found her arm and squeezed it . . . thinking of the comfort of Gemma’s squeezes and how it made him feel a little more connected . .  . a little less isolated . . . when he could no longer look into someone’s eyes and feel that understanding, and try to gauge what they were thinking. These long pauses were hard to interpret.

“Yeah, thanks,” was her despondent answer and she turned and started walking again, her arm easing out of his grasp and he let her go. They continued down the corridor in silence.

After a bit, Harry thought of something he could say . . . and hastily threw it out . . . like a little life raft . . .  “Hey, how’s your shoulder doing? Did Healer Jordan heal it completely yesterday or is it still sore?” Harry stumbled over the words in an effort to change the subject.

“Oh, yeah. It is still a little sore, but way better than it would have been, I’m sure, if Healer Jordan hadn’t looked at it right away. . . . Thank you.” she answered quietly.

And then a second later, in a completely different tone, she said “Oh, Harry, I forgot to give you back your school robes that you lent me yesterday when it was cold. It’s in the dorm. I put it in the laundry and it should be coming back soon.”

“Yeah, right. I forgot about those. Thanks. I’ll ask Gemma and Mei, too.” Harry said.

“How do you put your clothes in the school laundry?” Harry asked, remembering all his wet clothes from yesterday.

“There’s a laundry chute in the bathroom - just put them in there. I guess they are laundered and returned within a day,” Aminah said.

“Wow. How do they do that?” Harry wondered.

“Probably magic - I’m pretty sure they know who put it in the chute,” answered Aminah.

As they approached the dining hall, Harry’s nose detected something spicy in the air. “It kind of smells like Mexican food,” he said.

“Maybe it’s Taco Tuesday.” Aminah replied a bit dully.

“Mmm,” said Harry, his mouth watering. “Oh, I bet they are kind of hard to eat without making a mess.”

“Um, yeah,” Aminah agreed quietly

“Oh, and how is Tony going to manage?” Harry wondered quietly.

“Isn’t he getting his arms today? Maybe he’ll be fine,” Aminah put forward as they turned to go through the entrance to the dining hall.

“Yeah, that’s right. I hope so. I can’t imagine . . .” Harry trailed off.

He heard Aminah say, “ Navigant table 2, empty chair” to her staff and did the same thing, halfway wondering if they’d be directed to the same chair, but Aminah reached her chair first and his staff directed him to the chair next to hers.

“The tables are numbered?” he asked her.

“Yeah, it’s in the literature from the center, to make it easier for us to navigate,” Aminah explained.

“Oh, right. I’m still reading that,” Harry explained as he found the back of the chair and pulled it out to sit down.

“Your ana-thing that reads. It’s really cool how it reads in the voice of the person who wrote it . . . where did you get it?” Aminah asked as she sat down next to him  

“Um, yeah, it is cool. Dumbledore gave it to me. He said it was Homer’s,” Harry said.

“Oh wow. Like the poet, right? Not Homer Simpson! I guess that’s cool. I heard that you and him were close. . .” Harry made a surprised noise at this while Aminah kept speaking, “. . . that probably means that there aren’t more like it,” Aminah said dully.

“I wouldn’t say that we’re close,” Harry protested, remembering the last meeting in Dumbledore’s office. “I mean I respect him and everything, but it’s not like he’s taken me fishing or anything . . .” Harry wondered if Fawkes would swoop in now with a howler. In the chamber, he had been so fiercely loyal to Dumbledore when Tom Riddle was threatening him, and now . . . now something had shifted.

“Oh, it’s just what people say,” Aminah said hurriedly.

“Isn’t it possible to duplicate things magically? Maybe we can make copies?” Harry offered, wanting to get away from the subject of Dumbledore.

“Yeah, I think that’s kind of advanced magic, but maybe someone here knows how to do it. That would be super cool,” Aminah cheered a little.  

“Did we get out early? It seems pretty quiet in here.” He observed, wondering where Adam, Fitz, and Martha went - and Godric for that matter - they had all been in the class together.

“I think I hear a group of people outside the dining hall,” Aminah said. “Out the other door.”

“Oh, yeah. I think I hear them, too. Maybe we’re missing something,” Harry said, standing up.

“Navigant group of people outside the dining hall,” Aminah said to her staff and Harry followed her.

Harry was trying to remember everything on his schedule today.

“Was there something on our schedule for this time of day?” He asked Aminah as they walked over.

“I don’t think so, but I haven’t checked it since this morning. Maybe they updated it?” Aminah offered.

“Oh, can they do that?” Harry asked, it hadn’t even occurred to him.

“Yeah, they said so in the literature,” Aminah said.

Harry was about to say something, but then realized that someone was talking to the group. They were definitely missing something.

By the time they reached the edge of the group, Harry realized that it was the introduction of the instructors that had been postponed from yesterday. He wondered why it was happening outside in the hallway.

Godric Burbage was introducing himself and it was very similar to what he had told his Orientation and Mobility group earlier. Harry breathed a sigh of relief. They probably hadn’t missed anyone. He heard Aminah utter a similar sigh.

He and Aminah edged around the group so that they were more at the back, rather than right up front where they had entered the group from the dining hall. Harry was really grateful for the lesson they had just had about how to use their staff to greater advantage. He realized that he would have been tapping people’s feet if this had happened before his lesson with Godric.

He wished he had been around Gemma this morning so that he could have added her to his staff’s memory of people, but he guessed that she’d find him soon.

Harry liked how Godric put everyone at ease and he remembered how yesterday he’d wanted to avoid him so much after being called out for talking about Gordon. Remembering that was a little embarrassing, but it seemed like Godric didn’t hold it against him. He cringed thinking about what it would be like to take a class from Snape here. That would be so awful! Oh, How on earth am I going to take Potion classes next year?!

He tried to push the thought away and pay attention to what Godric was saying . . . it was really interesting, he was talking about his own experiences as a student at the center . . . but his traitorous brain kept returning to the dungeons at Hogwarts and his caldron and slicing up worms for ingredients and he shuddered when he envisioned slicing his own finger instead of a worm. Gah! He shook himself and firmly told himself in his head, Snape is not here. You are going to learn how to attend Hogwarts without sight and you are going to be okay. It seemed a bit of a stretch and he didn’t allow himself to think beyond that . . . of the fact that in his two years at Hogwarts he’d already faced Voldemort twice, three times if you count the time in the Forbidden Forest with the unicorn, and then there was the whole facing him when he was only 15 months old. I’m not thinking about that! He told himself. He’d missed that Godric was done and had introduced Agatha Midgeon who apparently had lost a limb or two during the last wixen war . . . when his parents died. She had to be about the same age as they would have been, he realized. I wonder if she knew them? Were they at Hogwarts together? She sounded really young . . . for an old person. My parents must have been teenagers when they started fighting Voldemort . . . when they had me . . . He had never really thought about it before and it made him want to go through the photo album that Hagrid had made him last year and really look at them again . . . his throat closed. There was a wetness on his cheeks . . . and a constriction in his chest and suddenly everything around him was being pushed away, he felt a weight like he just shoved Dudley’s heavy body down the stairs and it felt exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. And the world went black in a way that was more final than the darkness he’d experienced since he lost his sight . . . he thought about that for the meerest second and then . . . nothing.

Chapter Text

Harry opened his eyes and sucked in a deep breath . . . like he was coming up for air, but he wasn’t in the ocean this time. I’m not wet. It’s not salty. It wasn’t dark, but it wasn’t light either. I don’t know where I am! But then there was a calming weight of a small hand on his arm. Gemma’s here. He breathing became more regulated. I’m laying down. I’m on a bed. . . no, a camp bed. His fingertips felt along the wooden supports of a camp bed, covered with a stiff canvas cloth. There was an aroma of peppermint. Hospital wing . . . no. . . . there are beds in the Hospital wing. It felt like it took a really long time for the thought generated in his brain to reach his throat and then his lips.

“Where am I?” he asked, his voice scratchy. He heard the paper fluttering by his lips.

Gemma squeezed his arm, then took up his hand and turned it over so she could write on his palm. “ H.J.’s ” space “ O-F-F-I-C-E ” she wrote, but she had to do it a few times before he understood. He felt really dense, like he was running in slow motion, except that he was laying down.

He scrunched up his brow, “Why? What happened?” he asked.

DO-N-’T ” space “ K-N-O-W ” she said and he could almost feel a shrug in her hands as she wrote. “ Y-O-U ” space “ F-A-I-N-T-E-D ” her finger was jumpy, as if she were trembling as she wrote.

He felt his throat close in mortification, “In front of everyone?” he whispered.

She tapped twice, “yes.”

He cringed and tried to roll over on his side, but the camp bed rocked and he stopped, afraid he’d topple out.

Gemma stroked his arm, soothingly. He found it comforting. He realized that if she had been anyone else, he would have been annoyed. He would have felt pitied and pathetic. But Gemma felt like what he imagined having a little sister might be like. It reminded him of the way Ron acted around Ginny (when he wasn’t annoyed with her) - she was someone he could confide in and someone he felt an innate urge to protect. He imagined a little sister as a person who would look up to him. Except that it seemed as though Gemma was doing a lot of looking out for him. Maybe she thinks of me as a little brother? Or maybe little sisters also look out for big brothers. He thought about what it could have been like with Dudley if he hadn’t been . . . Dudley.

His memory of the photos of his parents at their wedding floated through his consciousness, how they smiled and hugged each other and their friends. I’d probably have a little sister or brother by now if . . .

A sob escaped his lips and this time he managed to roll to his side without dumping the camp bed so that he could hold his face in his hands so that Gemma wouldn’t see.

Why does it hurt so much to realize that I can’t look at those photos anymore? It was just paper. It wasn’t like holding a person or even talking to them. Why is that so much more painful than not having parents at all. What kind of a freak am I?

He was embarrassed that Gemma had seen him cry ( at least she didn’t hear it - and he cringed at himself for even having the thought - that was mean ) and worked really hard to keep the rest of the sobs tucked away. He kept his back to her until he was certain that he could control them. She rubbed his back. It felt like something a mom would do. Something he’d seen moms do at the park or at school when other kids had been sad or hurt that he had never experienced first hand. Maybe Gemma’s mom rubbed her back that way?

He had to get up and do something. Laying there was just making him think of even worse things and he might disappear into that pit. He rolled over again carefully and sat up slowly, hanging his feet over the edge of the camp bed. He felt dizzy and disoriented. It was weird not knowing where he was.

“Harry,” a voice came from across the room. He didn’t realize anyone else was in the room.

Footsteps approached, Healer Jordan’s.

She put a hand on his shoulder, sitting down on a chair (he presumed) next to the camp bed.

“Harry, you need to rest a while longer. You’re exhausted and need to rest,” she said.

“I can’t lay here anymore, Healer. I need to get up,” Harry pleaded.

He wanted to run. He wanted to run as far and as fast as he could. Where could I just flat out run and not trip over things? Run until all these bad thoughts just fell away, too tired to keep up with him.

“I want to run, Healer Jordan. I need to run,” Harry said, standing up suddenly, and swaying unsteadily on his feet and bumping into Gemma. “Sorry, Gemma,” he said, trying to steady her, but then accidentally knocking her in the head. “Oops. Sorry about that,” he grimaced trying not to start crying again. He sank back onto the camp bed.

Gemma put her hand on his arm as she also stood up.

“Gemma, thank you for sitting with Harry. I’m sure he found your presence calming. You can go on to lunch now. I need to talk to him,” Healer Jordan spoke to Gemma, but he could also hear her signing. The speaking was for his benefit, he gathered. Gemma swished her fingers across the back of Harry’s hand, waving goodbye.

“Bye, Gemma. Thank you. Thank you for being with me,” he said awkwardly.

She squeezed his hand and then he heard her footsteps as she went toward the door. He didn’t think he was in the office where he’d met with Healer Jordan earlier in the morning. The sounds were all wrong.

“Harry, I’m sorry. You can’t run right now. You just fainted and you’re clearly still very unsteady on your feet. You need to rest. I have some nutrition potions for you and a calming draft that will help you sleep so that you can heal,” Healer Jordan explained matter-of-factly.

Harry sat down on the camp bed again and put his head in his hands.

Healer Jordan clinked together some small glass containers and he realized that she must have been holding them out to him.

He reached out for them, reluctantly but resigned. Where could I run anyway? He thought, defeated as he drank them, wincing at their bitterness.

“Harry, I will take you running when you are well enough to run, okay?” Healer Jordan said in a soothing voice . . . almost as if she understood his despair.

“There are places you can run and ways you can do it without sight,” Healer Jordan continued.

He nodded dully. He didn’t really believe her. And he really just wanted to do it right then. Not later. But he was feeling pretty tired. Maybe he’d just lay down for a little bit.

oO0OooO0OooO0OooO0Oo

When he awoke later, he was pretty certain he was alone in the room. He tempus’d his staff which he found after a panicked moment of searching his pockets for it, on a chair by his camp bed along with his glasses and learned that it was hours later. He had missed his afternoon lessons and council. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that - a mixture of relief and anxiety, he finally decided. Relief that he didn’t have to do anything at that moment and anxiety that he might have missed out on important things. He felt small and alone in this strange office and laid there for a while trying to decide what to do.

He finally sat up and he heard a little bell go at the far side of the room when he did. Not far from it he heard a whooshing noise - kind of like a fan or wind through a small crack. He’d heard it before he realized and wondered if Besel was coming toward him in her levitating chair. Is it powered by air or does it make that noise as air move under it?

He turned his face toward the noise expectantly.

“Hi, Harry,” came Besel’s pleasant voice.

“Hi, Besel,” said Harry, almost at the same time.

“Oh, you recognized me. That’s impressive,” Besel said.

“Just the sound of your chair,” Harry admitted.

“How are you feeling? Sounds like you had quite a day,” Besel said sympathetically.

“Yeah, I actually was having a pretty good day. I don’t know what happened out there,” he said wearily.

“Sometimes stuff just catches up with us . . .” Besel commiserated.

“Yeah. I guess so,” Harry agreed.

“So, Healer Jordan said that she had mentioned to you that you’d be working with a Mind Healer,” Besel said in a more matter-of-fact voice.

“Yeah?” said Harry with a lingering question in his voice.

“Well, I’m the Mind Healer at the center,” Besel informed him.

“Oh, I thought you were the librarian?” Harry questioned. He liked her as a librarian better.

“Well, yes, that, too. We all wear lots of hat here. It is a small institution,” Besel said, laughing gently.

“Wait - does that mean I’m crazy?” Harry asked, his heart speeding up.

“No, not at all,” she reassured. “And while I know what you mean by the term ‘crazy,’ and sometimes I am working with people who have experienced a dramatic change in their persona as a result of trauma, illness, or injury, and we find that ‘crazy’ is really not a helpful term, so we try to avoid it.”

“Right,” said Harry, abashed. “Healer Jordan said we’d examine memories.”

“Sure, there are times that we’ll do that,” Besel said.

“What else will we do?” Harry asked.

“We’ll mostly talk. Sometimes we’ll do other things . . . take walks, visit places, meet animals,” Besel offered.

“What kind of places?” Harry wondered. “And animals? What do you mean by that?”

“Some of the places that you’ve already visited such as the Mont Blanc room and the Samana Beach room, or even the park in Old Ellerby village. As for the animals we work with are specially trained to provide comfort for people experiencing trauma. Sometimes they can also assist with small tasks. You live with muggles, right? You’ve seen the guide dogs that some blind muggles use?” Besel asked.

“Yeah, I guess so. I . . .” Harry paused. “I don’t really like dogs,” he managed to confess.

“Oh?” Besel’s question was an invitation to elaborate, but Harry didn’t feel like talking about Aunt Marge and Ripper at that moment.

After a bit, Besel offered softly, “we have other animals in addition to dogs that can be very comforting and help wixen like us.”

“Yeah, I guess so. My owl, Hedwig . . . I don’t know what I would have done without her . . . and Nio hus cherio kisa . . .” Harry stopped when Besel gasped. He had just spoken Parseltongue. He covered his mouth as if to capture the words that had already escaped.

“You’re a Parselmouth?” Besel recovered quickly.

“Um, yes?” Harry confessed warily, removing his hand from his mouth.

“It’s an unusual ability, is all,” Besel said in her more clinical voice.

“Little Friend,” Harry said, using the English deliberately, “is a garden snake. He helped me so much while I was at my Aunt and Uncle’s house.”

“Mmm.” Besel made a non-committal sound that Harry took to mean, “keep going,” but he was thinking about how afraid the wixen at Hogwarts has been when they learned that he was a Parselmouth. Even Ron . He realized that he had been dreaming about Nio hus cherio kisa being a constant companion who might be willing to help guide him with enough worms to sustain him and now he wondered if the wixen world would be too unnerved if he was always holding a snake.

“Are we doing the Mind Healer stuff right now?” Harry asked abruptly.

“We can, if you like,” Besel replied, mildly.

“I dunno,” Harry mumbled. “I, er, really need to use the loo.”

“Oh, of course!” Besel said. He heard her moving her chair back a bit, as if to give him room to pass by her.

“I’ll be back.” Harry stood up and shook out his staff. “ Navigant toilet.”

He did need to go and he also needed a moment to think.

Chapter Text

As Harry was navigating to the bathroom in his stocking feet, he stopped a moment in the middle of the room to get a description of the room - trying to figure out where he was. It was not the part of Healer Jordan’s office that he had visited before, he was certain. But Gemma had described it as Healer Jordan’s office. The staff’s description confirmed that he was in a different space than he’d been in before and he realized as he walked to the loo that it was a small room off of the office he’d been in before. The way the staff described it, it was sparsely furnished - it sounded a bit clinical. It smelled like the hospital wing, but it was definitely smaller. The loo was just outside the door.

He didn’t feel unsteady anymore.

Returning to the camp bed, he wondered if he should be calling Besel something else . . . like Mind Healer Geller, so he asked her as he approached.

“What are you comfortable with?” was her opaque response.

“Er - I dunno,” Harry muttered. “I like Besel,” he confessed.

“I do, too, and while Healer Jordan might frown on the informality of it, I feel like it is more important for you to feel comfortable,” Besel explained.

“Okay,” Harry agreed. “Is there somewhere more comfortable where I can sit? The camp bed . . .” He trailed off, not wanting to sound rude.

“Sure, at your 2 o’clock and 2 steps from you is a chair that you can sit on,” she informed him, as she adjusted her chair so that she was facing it. “Does this mean that you want to continue talking now?”

“Uh, I guess so? Maybe just a little? Isn’t it nearly time for dinner?” Harry asked, as he found the chair and sat down.

“Yes, we could talk for about ten more minutes and then go to the dining hall,” Besel said. “Is there anything you’d like to discuss?”

“I dunno,” he said, then cringed - it seemed like he kept saying that. He hurried on to the only topic that was kind of really bugging him. “I was wondering if there was a way to keep my bed dry? My roommate keeps splashing my area.”

“Oh, well, sure,” Besel said. “There are a number of ways to handle that. A shield charm, a physical barrier, a drying spell. What do you think would work best?”

“Maybe a physical barrier? Mei seems to want some privacy, too. . . . She keeps thinking that I’m looking at her.”

He must have conveyed some emotion in that statement because Besel asked, “How do you feel about that?”

An anger flashed across Harry’s chest and rose in his voice, “Really mad.”

He surprised himself with that and clamped down his lips and sat on his hands, afraid that more would erupt.

Besel was quiet and Harry wasn’t sure what it meant. Is she upset with me for getting angry? He blinked. In these silences, he ached for sight to be able to read people’s emotions on their face. He had always been able to tell from the slightest twitch in Uncle Vernon’s mustache or they way Aunt Petunia’s lips were compressed into a tighter line or if there was a manic quality in the way Dudley’s eyes widened just how much trouble he was in. He was learning to listen to the noises people made, but he didn’t really know anyone here well enough to be able to read them as effectively by sound as he had read people by sight before. This silence is really long . . .

Harry shifted uncomfortably.

“Do you want to elaborate on that?” Besel asked. She didn’t sound angry or upset, just curious.

“I mean it is bad enough not being able to see, but then when she accuses me of looking at her! It just feels so mean. Like she’s trying to poke me - get me where it already hurts really badly. And she knows what it is like. I mean, she told me that she misses her legs and being able to walk.” Harry gestured toward Besel and then realized what he was doing and dropped his hand. “Sorry,” he said.

“It’s okay, Harry. I know what that feels like, too,” Besel said.

“It’s just that I guess that I don’t know why she wants to hurt me. Well, and it’s not just me. It’s our other roommates, too. She’s said some stuff that is really cruel,” he finished.

“That sounds really hard.”

“I mean, I know she’s angry, too. Like me, like Tony, even Gemma. Aminah’s the only one who doesn’t seem angry, just sad,” he paused for a moment, “maybe Aminah’s angry, too, just it comes out sad.”

“It sounds like you all are experiencing a lot of emotions,” Besel said.

“Well, who wouldn’t? Right? I mean, we’re all just broken and if magic can’t bloody well fix us, then what can?” Harry’s throat felt raw as the words exploded out of him, despite his attempt to keep them in.

“Harry, it is okay to be angry,” Besel said.

“It’s just . . . .” he wasn’t able to finish the sentence.

Besel waited quietly.

He tried again. “It’s just . . .”

The word was there, just on the tip of his tongue. He didn’t want to say it.

“I dunno,” he sighed.

“It’s okay, Harry. We’ve got time. When you’re ready to say it, just let me know,” Besel said.

“Okay. Thanks.” He heard, distantly, a big clock tolling the hour. Big Ben. It was 6 o’clock.

“Um, can we go to dinner now?” Harry asked.

“Yes, it is time. You can go ahead. I need to finish up some paperwork before I go down. We’ll get the barrier in place so that your area doesn’t get wet. Thank you for your hard work today.”

“Um,” Harry paused, “I didn’t do anything.”

“You actually did some really big work. And you don’t seem broken to me. Maybe changed, but not broken.”

Harry let out a breath as he thought about that.

Besel’s chair made whooshing noises as she left the little room. He wiggled his stocking feet and wondered where his shoes were.

Navigant my shoes,” he tried and was surprised when it worked. He put on his shoes and then asked his staff to direct him to the dining hall. When he reached the corridor, he got a whiff of the owlery and decided to nip inside to see if Hedwig had returned. It’s possible, right?

He realized that the reason he had smelled the owlery out in the corridor was because someone else was in there. He heard a low voice speaking in crooning tones as he entered the owlery. He didn’t recognize the voice.

“Oh, hi. Are you here for your owl, too?” The voice was female, Harry thought.

“Yes, have you seen a big snowy white owl?” Harry asked.

“Oh, yes, she’s beautiful! She’s yours?” she responded.

“Yes.” Harry smiled as he heard Hedwig’s hoot and her great wing as she flew down to him.

“Hi, girl!” He had asked his staff to take him to the owl perch and Hedwig alighted on it, cuffing him around the head with her wings as she settled on to the perch. He collapsed his staff and stuck it in his pocket so that he could run both his hands through her feathers. He could understand how an animal could provide comfort to people who had suffered trauma. He felt some of the anxiety he had been feeling talking to Besel slip away as he ran his hands over Hedwig’s silky form.

Scared. The word that he hadn’t been able to say out loud to Besel. He allowed it to form in his head as he buried his hands in Hedwig’s feathers. He felt some of the rings of tension in his throat lessen as he let the word out, even without uttering it.

He nuzzled her beak with his face and she nipped at his earlobe. He pulled back afraid she’d eat his aftí.

The woman had turned her attention back to her owl and Harry was glad for the bit of privacy it afforded him with Hedwig. He found two scrolls and slipped them off Hedwig’s leg. He had thought she wouldn’t be able to deliver all of them in one day, let alone get answers. He wondered, nevertheless, what happened to the third one. He pulled out his staff and got his anagnóstis out. I’m not going to put off reading my messages again, he thought. After a bit of awkwardness trying to read the scrolls with his anagnóstis, he also accio’d a notebook out of his staff for a little bit of structure behind the scrolls so he could read them. He also realized that because he had missed lunch, he didn’t have any food scraps in his pockets to feed Hedwig. He remembered his sandwiches from yesterday and accio’d them. They were not in great shape and Hedwig turned up her beak at them.

“Sorry, Hedwig. I’ll get you something at dinner, okay?” Harry consoled.

He shook out his staff and asked it to take him to a bin so he could throw away the sandwiches. As he was throwing them out, the woman left, saying goodbye to Harry cheerfully. He noticed that her footsteps were uneven - she limped heavily - and one footstep sounded wooden. Amputee? He wondered.

The first scroll was one of the ones he had written, so he reattached it to Hedwig’s leg. The third one was from Ron. It made him smile to hear Ron’s voice.

“Harry - How’d you manage to ‘accidentally destroy’ my note before you read it? And Ginny’s? Your cousin didn’t burn them, did he? The git. I just wrote to you inviting you to visit the burrow. Mum says you can stay with us as long as you like . . . the whole summer, if you want. Wouldn’t that be brilliant? Hermione wrote and told me all about your training at the center (and I mean all about it) - so I guess you’ll have to come after you’re done there. Oh, and I was also telling you about this bloke that dad knows at the Ministry - Mad-eye Moody. He has a magical eye to replace the one that got cursed in a wicked battle during the last war. I guess he can see out of it better than a normal eye. That’s what dad says anyway. Maybe you can get one or two of those? I guess they have X-ray vision. That could be interesting.

Anyway, mum says that we might be able to come visit you this weekend. Like all of us. So be prepared. I hope you’re doing okay and that you’re learning lots of things. Hermione said the library is bigger than Hogwarts’s. I think she was actually jealous.” Harry could almost hear Ron roll his eyes.

“So, maybe we’ll see you on Saturday. Ginny’s still working on re-writing her note, so I’m going to go ahead and send this as Hedwig is getting demanding. Ginny will send hers later.

Ron.”

Harry had a fleeting moment of worry for Ginny. He wondered how she was doing, but it was hard to imagine her not doing well with all those boisterous redheads clambering around her. He was sure she was fine. He thought about all of the Weasleys coming to visit on Saturday and felt warm at the thought. Good warm, he concluded after thinking about it for a second.

He rolled up the scroll and put it and everything else back in his staff. He took a moment to stroke Hedwig again and thank her for her trips.

“Don’t worry about flying out tonight with that letter - okay, girl? It can wait until morning. It goes to the person who wrote me. I guess you know that. You’re a very smart owl.”

Hedwig nuzzled him and nipped him gently again and then burst away from the perch in a shower of feathers that deafened him for a second. Harry stood and listened until she found a perch high in the rafters and then he asked his staff to take him to the dining hall.

He was wiping his feet on the mat by the door when a droll voice spoke to him. He started until he remembered the portrait by the door.

“That snowy white owl sure is busy.”

“Yes, she is,” Harry replied and left.

oO0OooO0OooO0OooO0Oo

Harry navigated to the table that he had begun to associate with his friends and roommates in Montmorency. He heard them calling his name before he reached it and he smiled, ducking his head.

“Hey, Harry. You alright?” Mei called out.

He could hear Tony as well and Aminah. Gemma’s hand fluttered on his arm, gently guiding him to an empty chair.

“Thanks, Gemma,” he said. “Yes, I’m alright, thanks.”

“Man, Harry, you did a total face plant! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone just keel over like that. It was epic!” Tony sounded a little too excited about it.

Harry didn’t know how to respond. “Er, thanks?”

“It looks like they did a good job of healing your face,” Mei observed.

“Um, actually, I wasn’t aware that I hurt my face,” Harry admitted, running his fingertips over his cheekbones. It didn’t even feel sore.

“Check this out! I have arms!” Tony exclaimed and he reached over and touched Harry on his hand. His touch was cool and smooth - more solid than flesh, but not metallic or plastic. He grasped Harry’s hand a little clumsily and Harry grabbed it back, trying to understand what he was feeling.

“Hey, that’s great, Tony! They feel cool.” Harry stopped himself before he said more, afraid that he’d step over the boundary of what Tony was ready to hear and glad he was able to repress the shudder that gathered in his belly.

“Check this out . . . I can pick up a glass!” There was a clunking noise followed by a splash and Harry felt water spray his face.

“Okay, well, I’m still getting the hang of it,” Tony said as Mei guffawed.  

Harry felt around his place setting until he found his napkin to wipe the water off his face. He licked his lips. No, pumpkin juice. Great.

He dabbed at his shirt, too, as he felt the liquid soaking in.

“Sorry, I’m pretty excited,” Tony apologized.

“I can tell,” Harry replied. “And you should be. I’m really glad for you.”

Gemma’s hand was resting on his other arm and she tapped at his hand, indicating that she wanted to say something. He opened up his palm and waited.

Y-O-U ” space “ R-E-S-T-?

He nodded in response, giving her a weak smile.

She squeezed his arm.

“What were your classes this afternoon?” he asked her.

B-A-L-A-N-C-E ” space “ + ” space “ N-O-N-V-E-R-B-A-L :) ” space “ S-P-E-L-L-C-A-S-T-I-N-G ”.

“Balance?” Harry questioned.

She made a motion in his hand that he realized was writing and he got out his anagnóstis, notebook, and pencil from his staff.

As she wrote, he sat back and tried to discern what was for dinner. It kind of smelled like eggs.  He had forgotten to check the menu at the door when he came in.

“How were the tacos at lunch?” Harry asked Tony.

“Oh, well, they were a bit of a disaster,” he said. Mei snorted. Aminah giggled.

“Sounds like an entertaining lunch,” Harry said, a bit relieved that he had missed it. The nutrition potion must have worked because he was just beginning to feel hungry.

“Anyone know what’s for dinner tonight?” he asked, listening to Gemma’s pencil scratching on the paper.

“I think it is some sort of disgusting souffle,” Mei grumbled.

“How do they call the tables?” Harry wondered.

“The lilies turn colors on the table, vibrate, and whistle,” Aminah explained.

“Oh. How have I missed that?” Harry wondered.

“Maybe you weren’t touching the table when they were vibrating? It is kind of subtle. And I don’t always hear the whistle when a lot of people are talking. You kind of have to know what to listen for. It was in the literature,” Aminah said.

“They should vibrate Gemma’s bed in the morning,” Mei said.

“Yeah. Who do we ask to set that up?” Harry asked.

“Probably Godric or Healer Jordan,” Tony said.

“Yeah. Hey, Mei. They are going to put up a barrier between our areas so that I don’t keep getting wet every time you come out of your tank,” Harry explained, thinking it would be better if she had prior warning.

“Oh. Okay. I guess,” she replied.

Harry listened carefully. He still felt some of the anger he had felt when he was talking about how Mei was behaving toward him and his roommates. He wondered for a second if he had been trying to hurt her back with the whole barrier thing and he felt a little ashamed at the same time that he felt justified.  

He was straining his ears, trying to tell if she was upset by the news when the table under his fingers started shaking.

He laughed at himself for not hearing it before. Even the vibration made noise - with all the rattling cutlery and china. The whistling was also hard to miss. He realized that before when he’d heard it, he thought someone was shaking the table and it just happened when there was a tea kettle going off in the kitchen. “I guess it is time for dinner!”

Gemma put her hand on his arm and he felt her push the notebook against his fingers.

“I’ll read it after we have dinner, okay?” he asked.

She tapped his arm twice, “sure” as she stood up and offered him sighted guide to the buffet. He could hear Tony offering the same to Aminah.

Chapter Text

Harry was behind Tony as they went through the buffet line and Tony’s frustration was palpable. Harry held back from offering to help and tried to wait as patiently as he could - he had to remember to stop tapping his foot nervously a couple times, though. He was glad that Mei had gone through first.

It was clearly really hard for Tony to grasp things with his new hands - he was still getting the mechanics down.

“Oh, Merlin’s bollocks! Not again!” Tony groaned as another serving spoon clattered to the ground and Harry felt clumps of food pelt him. Great, I’m already wearing dinner and I haven’t even started eating yet.

“Sorry about that, Harry,” Tony muttered.

“No problem, Tony. It’s okay. You should have seen me the first time I made bangers and mash,” Harry said.

“What, before you were blind?” Tony asked.

“No, last week. I burned my hand and the bangers,” Harry offered. “And then when I was sweeping the kitchen afterward, I ran right into the broom closet door.”

“What are you? A house elf?” Tony laughed.

“Er. No,” Harry said.

“Seriously, dude . . .” But Tony was interrupted by someone down the line wondering what the hold up was, and he started working on cleaning up his mess.

Wingardium leviosa !” Tony said.

Harry stepped back. He wasn’t sure what Tony was leviosa-ing .

Scourgify serving spoon,” Tony said.

“Whoa! You can do magic now?” Harry asked.

“Yeah, both of my arms have bits of my wand in them to help with my magic and help me operate my arms. But since I’m always holding my wand now I have to be really careful about accidental magic.”

“They broke up your wand and put it in your arms?” Harry felt a little sick hearing that.

“Yeah, it was that or muggle fake arms that aren’t connected magically,” Tony said, attempting again to scoop out something. He managed this time and Harry was able to move in next to him and discover that he had bits of leeks, spinach, and mushroom saute on him. It was the side to the cheese souffle. He scooped a bit onto his plate. He figured he’d do a scourgify charm after he ate dinner. I hope they have a class on how to eat without wearing your food. He was kind of glad he missed the tacos earlier, even though they did smell good.

Tony had an easier time with the rolls, though Harry was pretty certain that Tony gave up on the tongs and just grabbed one in the end.

oO0OooO0OooO0OooO0Oo

After they finished eating dinner, Gemma moved their plates out of the way and pushed the notebook against Harry’s fingertips.

“Oh, right!” he said, and accio’d the anagnóstis out of his staff. He started reading what she had written about her afternoon classes of balance and nonverbal spellcasting before they went through the buffet line.

“The balance class is like an exercise class to help me strengthen my core because my balance was affected by the damage to my inner ear. I can compensate with visual stability training (basically orienting myself by looking at things), working on my posture, and doing stretching exercises. I think you’ll be doing some of that, too, because balance is also connected to vision, so I imagine you’ll need to do some of the same exercises - not the visual stability ones, though. It was pretty fun, actually. It felt good.

The nonverbal spellcasting is going to take a lot of work. I barely made any progress with that one. I didn’t really know very many spells before I got sick. Shannon did better because she’s a fully trained witch and she was able to do some before she lost her hearing. She can also still speak, though now that she’s lost her hearing, she’s having a hard time getting the pronunciation correct and she’s worried about making mistakes that could be dangerous.”

Harry lifted up the anagnóstis and turned his head to Gemma, reaching out for her arm, not sure if she was looking his way. She tapped his arm twice to let him know that she was paying attention.

“What happens when you sign to cast a spell? Does that work?” Harry asked.

Gemma grabbed the notebook again and started writing. After a moment, she pushed the notebook back to him and helped guide the anagnóstis to the spot where she added her answer.

“I guess some deaf or mute wixen have had been able to cast some spells with signs, but they can take longer to cast because of fingerspelling so they might get cursed first in a duel, but if it is just household spells, then it can work. Some really creative deaf/mute wixen have created new spells with a combination of nonverbal and signs that I guess are handy. I’m going to be learning some of those. Also, I’m going to learn American Sign Language (ASL), too, because I guess they use just one hand to fingerspell and so you can use your wand and fingerspell at the same time.”

“Oh, that’s cool. That’s a lot to learn,” Harry said.

He was thinking about the braille class he missed that afternoon - though at least that didn’t seem as vitally connected to his ability to cast magic as Gemma’s class. It seemed like braille was going to be more useful for when he was in the muggle world since the magical world had things like his anagnóstis and staff and aftí that allowed him to read and get around and he could still cast spells. Can I though? All the spells I’ve been using are through my staff. What about with my wand? Will I be able to use it again? He didn’t think he could cast defensive spells with his staff, but he really didn’t know. I’ll have to ask Godric tomorrow.

“Hey, Gemma, when do we learn about our schedule for tomorrow? Is it the same as for today?” he asked.

She took the notebook again and wrote, “I guess it changes a lot, so they do it day by day, though there are some things that stay the same like BSL and braille since they take a long time to learn. They’ll give us the schedule in the morning like they did today.”

“Did they do the rest of the instructor introductions after I fell down?” Harry had been wanting to ask for a while, but waited until it seemed everyone else was involved in other conversations.

Harry heard the pencil scratching on the paper again and wondered if she needed the pencil sharpener. He accio’d it out of his staff while he waited, guessing that they’d need it soon.

He heard Gemma pick it up and sharpen the pencil after she pushed the notebook to him.

“Yes, after Healer Jordan transported you to her office and knew that you were stable, she had them continue, but I missed them, too, because I stayed with you,” Gemma explained.

“Thanks, Gemma. I was glad you were there when I came to.” Harry gave her a small smile.

He heard her writing and waited, but then he was surprised when someone laid a hand on his shoulder from behind him.

“Pardon me, but are you Harry Potter?” The voice that asked was fragile like crinkled paper - that of a very old woman, Harry guessed.

Harry turned his head toward her and started to rise from his chair, “Yes, I’m Harry Potter.” He had a suspicion of who it was - as there was a tinge of French in her words.

“Harry, I’m Madam Flamel.”

Harry stood up all the way and turned toward her.

“Hi Madam Flamel, I’m sorry I missed your class today. I was really looking forward to it,” Harry said as he stuck out his hand for a handshake.

She grasped it and her hand felt as papery as her voice sounded and he was afraid it would crumble in his hand.

“It’s quite alright, Harry. I was there when you fell. It was alarming and I’m glad you’re feeling well enough to have dinner. Healer Jordan let me know that you needed to rest. We will meet tomorrow and I will make sure you have a chance to catch up. I was looking forward to meeting you because I’ve heard so much about you from my dear friend Albus. He’s been so very worried about you,” she confided.

Harry was a little surprised to hear this. He remembered, of course, that the Flamels were friends of the Headmaster, but never imagined that they would be talking about him. What about these other Hogwarts students here? He bit his tongue. It wasn’t this ancient woman’s fault that Dumbledore seemed to favor him. He wondered if Dumbledore had expressed his worry about Gemma, Tony, Mei, or Aminah, too.

Harry realized that he had been quiet for a long time and that he was still holding Madam Flamel’s hand. He quickly let it go.

“Oh, thanks, Madam. I’m doing okay,” he assured. He grimaced at the lie. Face planting in the middle of a gathering of wixen wasn’t really an indication that he was doing that well.

Madam Flamel patted his arm, “you’re going to be just fine. You and your friends. You’ve been through a lot. I’ll let Albus know. He’s been asking me for updates on all of you.”

A weight that Harry didn’t know he was shouldering fell off at that. He breathed deeper.

“Thank you, Madam,” Harry said.

“I’ll see you in the library tomorrow afternoon. If you come a half hour early, I can give you the basics of what you missed and it’ll be enough, I think - you seem like a bright young man  - to get you caught up,” she assured.

“Thank you, yes. I can do that,” Harry said.

“I’m just sorry you missed my talk today about Louis Braille. He was such a smart lad. Just a boy like you when he created this system of reading with his fingers. He never knew how much he liberated his peers and generations of people from illiteracy and isolation. Braille didn’t really catch on until after his death. He died young - in 1853. Such a loss. The stupidity of politics at that school - it held him back,” she lamented.

“I brought you a book to read about him, though.” She pressed the book into his hand. He felt the bumps on the spine and wondered if his anagnóstis would read braille.

“Albus gave you his anagnóstis , I know. So you should be able to read it,” she assured as if she’d read his mind.

“I was wondering about the anagnóstis . I was hoping that we could find someone who could copy it so that other students could have something similar,” Harry asked before he lost his nerve.

“Oh, what a great idea. It is so much more versatile than other readers that are available. I’ll look into that,” she said. “Now, it is past my bedtime. I just wanted to make sure that you were doing well.” She squeezed his arm and walked away slowly - a faint lemony aroma lingered where she had been standing.

“Thank you for the book,” Harry said.

“Not at all,” she said.

Harry tried the anagnóstis on the cover of the book. “Triumph over darkness by Lennard Bickel. He pressed his lips as he thought about that title. Why is everyone so afraid of the dark?

Gemma pushed the notebook toward him - he could hear it on the table. He was about to put it in his staff, when she tugged on his hand and he figured out that she wanted to look at it. So he handed it to her and found the notebook and drew it closer so he could read what she had written.

It took him a bit to find where they were on the page and he remembered that he hadn’t read the whole thing yet. He found her note about staying with him in Healer Jordan’s office after he fell.

“Do you always have this many accidents? I mean, I’ve only known you since yesterday and it seems like you are falling down and getting hurt a lot. Terry told me about some of the scrapes you got into at Hogwarts - didn’t you knock out a troll? And didn’t you have to regrow the bones in your arm?”

He turned his face to her and smiled weakly, but he wasn’t sure she was looking at him. He could hear her leafing through the pages of the book and wondered how she’d read it. Is there a reader that can translate braille to written text like his anagnóstis? Maybe there was a print copy of the book in the library. She handed it back to him and he put it in his staff.

He tapped the anagnóstis against the notebook where he was reading to show her what he was responding to. “Yeah. It seems like I’m a magnet for trouble sometimes,” he frowned. “I wish I could just be a normal kid.”

She tapped his arm three times. “What does three times mean?” he asked.

She pulled the notebook from under his hands and he heard her writing, “I understand. It’s not really yes or no. Hey, when I draw a smiley face what does the anagnóstis do? Here’s one.”

“Oh, it makes a weird little whistle. I was wondering why it was doing that. Is it just today that you drew smiley faces? I hadn’t noticed before.” he asked.

She guided his hand over a spot on the page, and the anagnóstis whistled again.

“Yeah, it whistled again. What if you drew other things? It would be neat if it could describe images to me,” Harry said.

She took the notebook again and he listened to the pencil scratching.

“What’s Gemma doing?” Aminah asked.

“We’re seeing what the anagnóstis does when she draws things like smiley faces. It kinda whistles. Hey, I asked Madam Flamel about making copies of my anagnóstis - she said she’d look into it,” Harry said.

“Oh, that’s cool!” Aminah said.

Gemma tapped his hand and he held up the anagnóstis as she guided his hand to her drawings. The anagnóstis whistled as it read over the drawings - short whistles and long whistles.

“It’s just whistling,” Harry told Gemma.

She tapped his hand three times.

“Hey, do you want to go visit Hedwig with me?” Harry asked.

Gemma tapped his hand twice while Aminah said, “Can I come with you?”

“Sure. It’s pretty stinky in the owlery, but Gemma says the view is spectacular,” Harry laughed.

“Great,” Aminah sighed.

Chapter Text

When Harry, Gemma, and Aminah entered Montmorency after visiting Hedwig in the owlery and delivering the table scraps that Harry had promised, Gemma stopped suddenly, causing both Harry and Aminah to stumble.

“What’s going on, Gemma?” Harry asked.

She didn’t answer, but stood still. Harry assumed that she couldn’t see his note. Harry strained his ears trying to figure out what was wrong. He tapped her arm to try to get her attention, but she held his hand still, as if she wanted him to be quiet. He turned to Aminah, “Any idea what’s going on?”

“No idea,” responded Aminah.

Harry let go of Gemma’s arm and shook out his staff. “Mei, Tony? Are you in here?” Harry asked.

No answer. “That’s weird,” Harry said.

He squeezed his staff to get a description of the room. And then he understood what was going on. “Aminah, use your staff to get a description of the room,” he whispered.

“Oh!”

Gemma seemed to reanimate and had reached for Harry’s hand. “ C-H-A-N-G-E-D ” space “ R-O-O-M ”. Harry nodded. He was still listening to his staff and tapped his aftí to let Gemma know.

After a bit, Aminah said, “So our room has been rearranged? There’s an extra area, too, right? Like we have a new roommate?”

“Yeah, I think so. It’s bigger and there is more room for each of us. We have four poster beds now, like at Hogwarts, with curtains and there is a wall around Mei’s tank so that I don’t get splashed anymore, if that’s my area next to hers. I’m not sure, actually.”

Gemma had left them and Harry could hear her moving the Mami Wata necklaces.

“Maybe we can Navigant to our area? See if the staff knows?” Aminah suggested.

“Seems like they could have warned us,” Harry grumbled.

“Yeah, what if we got into the wrong bed?” Aminah said.

“That’d be awkward!” Harry agreed.

As Harry stepped forward and swung his staff, Healer Jordan’s voice spoke in his aftí, “Harry, we have rearranged your room to accommodate a new student who is arriving tonight and starting tomorrow. We expanded the room as well as we heard feedback from students that it was a little cramped. The new student’s space was added to the left of Aminah’s space. We also added privacy curtains on all the beds and a wall between your space and Mei’s to prevent water splashing into your area from her tank. You can use your staff to describe the new layout and direct you to your space. Please make our new resident welcome. His name is Arig Gurgisya.”

“Oh, did you get that message, too? Aminah?” Harry asked.

“What mess-. . . Oh.” Aminah answered.

Gemma came back and took Harry’s hand to write on it, “ M-E-S-S-A-G-E ” space “ H-J-? ”.

He nodded.

L-E-A-D ” space “ T-O ” space “ S-P-A-C-E-?

He shook his head, “No, it’s okay. I’ll use my staff.”

She tapped his hand twice and went to Aminah, he guessed, to ask the same thing.

As he navigant’d to his new area, he wondered what Mei thought of the wall between their spaces. He gathered from the description that it was not something that could be seen through, so Mei had a bit more privacy than the other students now. He wondered how she’d handle the change.

At the foot of his bed, he felt for the four-poster frame of his bed and found that it was similar to the one in Gryffindor tower. The post was smooth and sculpted in a spiral pattern that undulated in a pattern that reminded him of pineapples for some reason. The curtains were heavy and velvety. He imagined that they were red and gold like in Gryffindor, but he really didn’t know. He touched his staff to them and muttered, “ Indica color,” remembering a charm that he’d learned earlier in the day with Godric.

“Aquamarine” was the staff’s answer.

“What color is aquamarine?” he wondered aloud as he heard a splash on the other side of the wall. He was pleasantly surprised that he was not doused in water this time.

“I think that’s a blue-green color, Potter. What do you care what color your curtains are?” Mei said.

“Hi, Mei,” Harry greeted, stepping out to the walkway at the end of his bed. “I guess our room got rearranged while we were at dinner.”

“Yeah,” was her short reply.

“Are you okay with the wall?” Harry asked.

“Sure. I get it. You don’t want to be splashed with water while you’re sleeping. And I like that you can’t stare at me anymore.”

“I wasn’t staring,” he said through his teeth.

“I know. It just seemed like it,” Mei said.

Harry took in a deep breath. “Have you met our new roommate yet?”

“Yeah. He was here. Tony took him on a tour of the center,” Mei said.

“Oh, okay. Well, I’m going to check out my new space,” Harry said and walked back into his area. It was larger. He followed the curtains along the top with his hand to get a sense of how high up the four-poster bed went, until he found the post at the head of his bed. There was a little more space between the bed and his desk. As he followed the desk around, he discovered that there was a chair now by his wardrobe. That’s nice. Gemma could sit there while we’re writing . . . With the curtains and the wall, he felt like he had his own space and it felt good. His staff had described a window behind his desk and he leaned over the desk to try to feel it, but it was too far back. So he squeezed between the bed and the desk and found that it was a deep window sill - big enough for him to sit in and it had pillows. So he climbed up onto it and felt the window. It wasn’t just plain glass, but had leaded panels with embossed geometric designs. He ran his hands over it for a while discerning the pattern and realized that between the squares and triangles, there were also fleur de lis. Very French , he decided. He wondered what color they were, and held his collapsed staff to them and cast the Indica color charm and learned that they were very colorful: magenta, turquoise, black, cherry red, indigo blue, canary yellow, olive green, purple, orange. He wondered what it looked like when the sun came in the window with all those colors. He leaned against the wall in his window seat and took the book Madam Flamel had given him out of his staff and his anagnóstis to read a bit about Louis Braille.

The beginning was bleak. It described Paris in the 18th century with the huge divide between haves and have-nots. The haves are prancing around in carriages decked out in silks and jewels and the have nots are wallowing in the literal sewer, starving.

Harry realized that it was a Paris that Madam Flamel must have witnessed first hand . . . and the blind were beggars with clawed, groping hands, pitied and grotesque in their helplessness and filth. Not only that, it was considered a punishment for past sins that they had lost their sight. Geez. Add insult to injury. Literally. And this guy, Valentin Haüy, who gives a poor, blind, begging boy some coins and watches him discern their value by touch and realizes that the boy has intelligence. Great. I guess I’m lucky I was born in the 20th century. . . Me. Lucky. Ha!

He put it aside. He’d have to try again later. He sat in the window seat for a while just listening to his roommates putter around in their spaces. He imagined that Aminah had checked out the space as he did, figuring out the distances between the furniture, determining what was the same and what was different. I hope they don’t go changing our space often.

He knew that Gemma had assured that Mei’s necklaces were safe. He wondered why it had shocked her so much that the room had changed.

He was glad that Mei seemed to be okay with the wall between their spaces. He wondered what the new guy would be like - what a strange name. Arig. It almost sounded like Eric, but not quite.

He heard Gemma walking over to his space, and started climbing down out of the window seat, but she tapped his hand, “no.” So he sat back and she climbed up with him. She was small enough (and so was he) that there was room for the both of them in the window, side by side. He felt her reach over him to run her hands over the leaded window and the long sigh that she let out blew against his cheek. It must be beautiful.

He accio’d his notebook, pencil, and anagnóstis from his staff so that they could talk more freely and said, “Is there a view from the window?”

She tapped his arm, “yes,” and began to write. He wondered if they could open the window so that he could smell the air and hear the noises of the city below (he imagined it was the city - just like up in the owlery).

She tapped his hand gently with the notebook and he grabbed it and read, “I can’t really see very well out of the window, except if I press my eye up against one of the clear glass panels. When I do that, the view is similar to that from the owlery, but lower and we’re facing the other direction so there are a bunch of buildings, not Big Ben, but I can see a bit of a park that looks nice.  Maybe we can walk there sometime.”

He nodded and smiled. He liked being able to hear her voice.

“Does the room look really different? It seemed like you were surprised when we first came in the room,” he asked, the scribunt loqui paper fluttering by his mouth.

She took the notebook again and wrote, “Yes, it really is different. All the colors of the curtains on the beds, and the bigger space, and the wall between your space and Mei’s. It’s like a totally different room. I thought we were in the wrong room at first, but then I saw Mei’s tank, and I knew it had to be ours, even though there were too many beds and then I saw the message from Healer Jordan and I figured she had a sound message for you, too.”

“Are all the curtains Aquamarine?” Harry asked.

She drew a question mark on his palm.

“What?” he asked.

She took the notebook, “How do you even know that they are that color - let alone the name?”

He laughed, “My staff told me. I used the Indica color spell that Godric taught us today. I’m not really sure what Aquamarine is, Mei said it was a blue-green.”

“Yeah, all the colors in here are ocean themed. It seems to be a theme throughout the center. It’s pretty calming, I guess.”

“Yeah, Hermione was telling me about the lighting in the entrance and the hallways, that it makes it seem like we’re underwater.”

“She was really excited in the library. I was watching her in there. Like most kids get in candy shops. She looked really worried about you,” Gemma wrote.

“Yeah, she loves libraries. Well, what she really loves are answers and solutions. She’s always looking for . . .” but he stopped when he heard Tony coming through the door talking to someone. He turned his head toward the door, listening.

“Hey, everyone!” Tony called out. “Oh, good you’re all here.”

Aminah, Mei, and Harry responded. Gemma started climbing down out of the window seat and Harry followed. He trailed his fingers on the bed until he found the posters at the bottom of his bed and faced the door expectantly. Harry heard a sound that he couldn’t quite place near Tony at the door. He turned his ear to listen more carefully, trying to figure it out.

“This is Arig, he’s our new roommate,” Tony announced. He sounded really happy.

“Hi, Arig,” Harry said. He felt Gemma’s hand on his arm and guessed that she signed a greeting as well.

“Hi,” Arig’s voice was low and quiet. He hadn’t moved far into the room, but Harry heard the noise again.  

Harry heard footsteps outside their door and then a sharp knock.

“I’ll get it,” Tony offered. Harry realized that he was beginning to be able to tell Tony’s footsteps apart from Gemma’s and Aminah’s. The tile in the room made it easier to hear them.

The door opened and Harry heard Tony greeting Healer Jordan.

“Hi, Tony, Remember, I asked you to tell me when you were going to return to the room so that I could help facilitate introductions?”

“Oh, right. Sorry, Healer Jordan. I forgot,” Tony apologized.

“It’s okay. Luckily, I saw you both from a distance,” Healer Jordan said.

“Yeah, we were just starting,” Tony said.

“Great.” Healer Jordan sounded relieved. “Let’s gather around Mei’s tank,” Healer Jordan paused, “Is that alright, Mei?”

“Sure, I guess. Go ahead,” Mei said.

“Do you want to stay in your tank?”

“Yes,” Mei said.

“Great, I’ll conjure some chairs for the rest of us.” There was the popping sound as the chairs entered the space - Harry felt the air moving, too, as if it had been pushed out of the way as the chair entered. He reached forward and found a chair in front of him, and walked around it to sit down. Gemma settled into the one next to him. Harry listened to Arig walk to his chair - crutches and only one footstep. Amputee. He heard Arig lay them down on the floor by his chair.

“Aminah, can you join us?” Healer Jordan projected across the room.

“Yes, coming,” Aminah said.

“Arig, can you cast the scribunt loqui charm?” Healer Jordan asked.

“No, what’s that?” Arig asked.

“It’s a charm that writes out the words you speak on a piece of paper so that Gemma and others at the center can understand you,” Healer Jordan explained.

“Oh, I was wondering why everyone had those papers,” Arig laughed nervously.

“Here, I’ll do it for you right now, and then afterward show you how so you can do it and it stays after I leave the room.” She quickly cast it and Harry heard the fluttering paper noise when Arig said, “Oh, whoa. That’s cool.”

That made Harry wonder if Gemma would be able to learn how to cast the spell that Healer Jordan had used that made Gemma’s voice audible in the first council they had after Mei dumped them off the bench. I imagine it is pretty hard to learn how to cast nonverbal spells.

Aminah had come over and Healer Jordan led her to the chair next to Harry.

“Healer Jordan, when we introduce ourselves it is okay if we say why we’re at the center?” Aminah asked. “I mean, I know it is pretty obvious for some people, but for me, sometimes I’m left guessing for a long time because it isn’t obvious to me and then I feel like I’m missing something important that everyone else understands and well, it makes me feel left out. I don’t know if you feel the same way, Harry?”

“Um, yeah. I do, actually,” Harry agreed.

“I mean, I know we’re supposed to respect each other’s privacy and I get that. And yeah, I don’t want the fact that I’m blind to be the only thing that people know about me, but also, it is something that stands out and people do notice it, so we might as well get it out of the way and move on,” Aminah finished quietly.

“Yes, of course, Aminah. That’s a very good point. I understand what you’re asking. How about we go around the circle introducing ourselves and if you’d like to share why you’re at the center, please do that and if you’d like to add something else that you’d like your roommates to know about you, then add that as well,” Healer Jordan said. “How does that sound?”

They were pretty unanimous in agreeing that it sounded like a good plan, though Harry noticed that Arig didn’t say anything.

“Okay, Aminah, would you like to start and then we’ll go clockwise from you?” Healer Jordan invited. “Let’s just let everyone say their bit and save questions and comments for later, okay?”

They all agreed, though again Arig was quiet. Harry wondered if he was nodding.

“Um, okay. So, I’m Aminah Khan and like I said, I’m blind. It has been three months since this happened.  I’m here at the center to learn how to get around with pretty much no vision (I can see some shadows and blurry shapes) and how to perform magic without sight. One thing that I’d like you to know about me is that I love to knit and I found out recently that I can still do it.”

“Uh, I guess that means I should go next,” Harry said. “I’m Harry Potter and I’m also blind. I can see bright light and it actually kind of hurts - but really nothing else. I got some venom in my eyes about a week ago. Um, something that I’d like you to know about me . . . um, I dunno. I really like flying on my broom. I want to do that again. I’m going to do it again.”

Gemma was up next and Harry wasn’t sure if Healer Jordan had cast the spell that allowed gave Gemma a voice. Apparently, she did, because Gemma spoke next, “I’m Gemma Boot. I lost my hearing and my voice and was scarred when I got really sick with Spattergoit and almost died last year. Don’t worry, I’m not contagious anymore. I’m here to learn how to sign and manage without my hearing and speech. I’m going to learn how to cast nonverbal spells and work on my balance. I really like animals and I would like to work with magical creatures some day,” Gemma said in the calm adult voice that sounded nothing like what Harry actually knew her voice sounded like, through his anagnóstis .

Mei was next and Harry heard the water splashing out of her tank as she came nearer to the edge to talk, “I’m Mei Lee. Obviously, I’m here to deal with having a fishtail instead of legs. I use a muggle wheelchair because part of the problem for me is that I’m half wixen and half Jiāorén and the magic kind of clashes. I know that everyone thinks the tail is amazing and beautiful, but miss having feet and legs and I wish I was just normal again. I want you to know . . . well, it’s really hard to choose clothing to go with a fishtail.”

There was a bit of nervous laughter after that remark. Harry realized that he hadn’t really thought about what Mei was wearing and that he was kind of imagining her wearing a seashell bikini top like images of mermaids he’d seen in books before he started at Hogwarts. He was glad he hadn’t said that out loud - he shuddered imagining the stinging hex she’d cause if he did.

“Okay, I’m Tony Montague and I’m here to learn how to use my new magical arms that I just got today and that are so cool, but not as easy to use as I thought they’d be. I lost my arms when I was apparating when I shouldn’t have been because I hadn’t passed my test yet and I was splinched. And yeah, I know that you can reattach splinched things, but not if you don’t know where they went. I guess I’m lucky to be alive, but it doesn’t always feel like that. Um. Something else about me. I’m the Slytherin champion at Exploding Snap and I am going to figure out how to use these arms so that I can defend my title if I have to.”

There was more laughter at that.

Harry was surprised. He realized he had been thinking that Tony’s lost limbs had to do with an encounter with a magical creature. Aragog or something. Splinching had always sounded so funny when Dean, Seamus, and Ron had been joking about it in Gryffindor tower . . . It never occurred to him that you couldn’t be put back together after being splinched. I never want to apparate. I probably can’t now anyway . . .

“I guess it is my turn. The new guy. I’m Arig Gurgisya. I know my name is strange - its Zoroastrian, but my family has been in England for a long time. I’m here because I need to learn how to get along with just one leg.” He stopped, but it seemed like he wasn’t done.

“I couldn’t come yesterday because . . .” There was a long pause, then Arig took an unsteady and deep breath, “because I was still recovering from the effects of the full moon. I lost my left leg when I was attacked by a werewolf, and now I’m one, too.” There was a collective gasp, but Arig went on, “I’m guessing that you probably don’t want to share a room with a werewolf. Believe me, I’d rather not, too. But I won’t be in here when the moon is transitioning. I’ll have my own room and also a potion that keeps me from fully transforming, so you’ll be completely safe.”

Chapter Text

In the middle of the shocked silence that followed Arig’s introduction, there was a wave of water that splashed over everyone who was seated in the semicircle around Mei’s tank. She had disappeared dramatically through her portal. Healer Jordan quickly cast a drying spell and as the warmth settled over them, she addressed the group, “Before you comment, please listen. Arig has requested that I have this conversation with all of you in his presence. He is very much aware of the prejudice that Lycanthropes encounter in the wixen world. Just like you, he is adapting to a dramatic and unexpected alteration of his body and the way that he goes about his everyday life, and at the same time he has encountered fear, ignorance, and shunning for something that was foisted on him in the most brutal and traumatizing way.

Unfortunately, it is not widely known that the effects of the full moon on a Lycanthrope can be controlled and rendered harmless with the Wolfsbane potion - mostly because it is a complicated and expensive potion that most Lycanthropes don’t have access to. We are trying to change that here at the center.

You have my absolute assurances that you are in no danger while you’re rooming with Arig. You are in no danger of being exposed to the Lycanthropy contagion nor to the dangers of a fully actualized werewolf.

The next full moon is on Saturday, July 3rd. The week preceding the full moon, Arig will take the Wolfbane potion which means that he will transform, but peacefully and sleep through the full moon. For extra precaution, he will stay in a warded and heavily armored room for the weekend of the full moon - and this is at his request - because he is very concerned that you feel safe in his presence and during his transformation.

All of your parents and guardians have been notified and have signed secrecy agreements. I’m going to ask you each to make a vow of secrecy as well and understand that you are not to share information about any of your fellow residents.

It is my expectation that you will welcome Arig and make him feel at home at the center, just as you have been welcomed. Arig, is there anything else that you’d like to add?”

“Uh. Well, I guess. I asked if I could be placed in the dormitory with you all because I thought you might be a little more accepting of me than the older folks, even though I’m technically a bit older than you. I am eighteen. Um, do you have any questions?” Arig added nervously.

The room was quiet except for the lapping of slight waves against the sides of Mei’s tank.

Harry was too shocked to think of any questions. His brain was still wrapping around the concept of the werewolf. He remembered someone commenting on the werewolves in the Forbidden Forest, but he hadn’t taken them seriously.

“Welcome to our dormitory, Arig. I’m sorry to hear about all that you’ve been through. It sounds rough.” Gemma was the first to speak.

“Thank you, Gemma,” Arig’s voice broke a bit when he answered.

“Yeah, man. I can’t imagine,” Tony said.

“Arig, thank you for sharing your story with us. I know that’s hard. I . . .I’m nervous about sharing a room with a werewolf, to be honest. But I also know that Healer Jordan wouldn’t put us in danger, so I’ll try to get over it,” Aminah added.

Harry felt like he should say something, but nothing that was coming to his mind sounded good and he kept rejecting it. Finally, he settled on, “Yeah, welcome to our room and the center. In the morning there’s a bright flashing alarm that talks and wakes us up, so don’t be surprised by that.”

The others laughed nervously.

“How do you . . . oh, yeah, you can see bright light. I forgot,” Arig said.

There was another loud splash as Mei resurfaced, “What did I miss?” she said.

“Well, pretty much everything,” Tony stated.

“Yeah, well, I needed to think. Arig, welcome to life as a semi-human creature. It sucks. Thanks for making my life seem like a poffle of puffskeins,” Mei said.

“Mei, I’ve asked the others to make a vow of secrecy to protect Arig’s privacy and I am asking the same of you,” Healer Jordan said.

“Yeah, okay,” Mei said.

“Okay, well, thank you all for welcoming Arig so warmly. I need to head out, but Harry, may I have a word with you before I go?” Healer Jordan asked.

“Um, sure?” Harry replied.

Healer Jordan vanished the chairs as the others made their ways back to their areas. Harry wasn’t sure why Healer Jordan wanted to talk to him and if they would need to go somewhere private to speak, so he stood awkwardly by his bed running his fingertips over the carving on the post, following the tendrils that spiraled up.

“Okay, thanks for waiting, Harry,” Healer Jordan said, coming over to where he was standing. “I’m going to cast a privacy charm so that we can speak here. Is that okay?”

“Sure, do you want to sit in the chair over here?” Harry invited, motioning to the new chair in his space.

“Yes, thank you,” Healer Jordan said and sat down after she had muttered the spell. He heard the silence enclose them as the sounds of the room were shut off. Harry trailed his fingertips on the bed, and then found the desk chair. He pulled it out so that he was sitting across from Healer Jordan.

“Harry, I told you that I would tell you when I had made arrangements to visit your guardians,” Healer Jordan said.

“Yeah?” Harry answered.

“Well, I’ve contacted them and Mr. Burbage and I are going to visit them early tomorrow morning.”

“Oh, okay.” Harry shifted nervously in his chair. He really wanted to tell her not to do it, but he had a feeling the more he argued against it, the more determined she’d be.

“I also wanted to check in with you and see how your feeling this evening. Healer Geller said that you were feeling well enough to go to dinner. Did you eat a good dinner?” Healer Jordan asked.

“Yes, I’m feeling a lot better, thanks.” Harry was embarrassed to have her attention focused on him like this.

“Have you ever fainted before like you did this afternoon?” she asked.

“No, I don’t think so,” Harry answered, thinking about when he fought Quirrell, but that was different, he reasoned.

“Okay, please let me know if you’re experiencing anything like that again,” she requested.

“Okay . . . I’m sure it was nothing,” he mumbled, placing his hands under his legs and bending forward.

“I’ll let you know about the meeting with your guardians when I return, okay,” she stood up, so he did, too.

“Okay, thanks Healer Jordan,” Harry said.

“Thank you, Harry,” she said as she canceled the silencing charm and left his area. Her quick footsteps went over to the other side of the room and he heard her checking in with Arig.

He sat for a while mulling over what he imagined his Aunt and Uncle’s reactions would be. He wondered if they were going to visit before Uncle Vernon went to work.

Healer Jordan had moved on and was talking quietly to Aminah. Harry decided to get ready for bed. He tempus’d his staff and found that it was later than he realized and he stifled a yawn.  

As he was gathering up his clothes from his wardrobe (they were still damp from his trip to the south seas with Mei) he discovered that the school robes and his winter jacket were neatly folded on the floor of the wardrobe. He put them back in his staff and went into the bathroom and accio’d all his dirty laundry from the staff. Whoa, my socks stink! He asked his staff to direct him to the laundry chute that Aminah had described and shoved them in. He had one more T-shirt and trousers and one more pair of socks and pants, then he’d be out of clean clothes. He hoped that the laundry service was as fast as Aminah described. He changed into his pajamas, slippers, and robe and brushed his teeth.

oO0OooO0OooO0OooO0Oo

Harry was just coming into consciousness when the chiming bell went off in the morning. It wasn’t quite so surprising this time.

“It is 6:30 am and the dining hall will open for breakfast at 7 am. Breakfast will be served until 8 am, classes start at 9 am. Your schedule has been delivered to your desk,” said the clear voice.

Harry could hear a vibrating noise in the room as well and figured that Gemma’s bed had been charmed to vibrate with the alarm. He smiled and stretched. He felt actually rested for the first time in a long time.

There was a groan that Harry thought might be Arig and some loud splashing noises from Mei’s side of the wall. He was really glad that he was no longer being awoken by droplets of water on his face.

He heard Tony groan, too. “Someone turn that blasted thing off!”

“I turned it off yesterday,” Harry said, rolling over and gathering his warm blankets around himself in a cocoon.  

“MMmrph,” Aminah grumbled.

Harry heard Gemma’s footsteps, different though they were without shoes, on the tile. The alarm shut off (to the muttered sighs of relief from her roommates) and then her footsteps came over to his area. She shook his shoulder, his back was to her.

He rolled over and smiled at her, “Thanks for turning off the alarm!” He extracted himself from his tangle of sheets to sit up.

He offered her his palm and she wrote, “ N-O ” space “ P-R-O-B-L-E-M ” space W-H-A-T ” space “ C-L-A-S-S-E-S ” space  “ T-O-D-A-Y-? ”.

He rubbed his eyes with his knuckles and stretched again. “I don’t know. Why don’t you look?”

He heard her picking up the paper on his desk and slid his legs off the bed, rooting around for his slippers.

She tapped his hand with the paper so he took it. He ran his hand over the incomprehensible braille, wishing it meant something to him. He felt around his desk trying to find his staff until Gemma moved it against his fingers. He accio’d his anagnóstis and the notebook and pencil out of it. He handed the notebook and pencil to Gemma and asked her where she was going to be today and then started reading his schedule with the anagnóstis.

 

Harry Potter’s Schedule

Wednesday 9 June, 1993

7 am Breakfast

9 am Self-defense with Agatha Midgeon in the O&M room

10 am Navigating with your staff with Mr. Burbage in the O&M room

12 pm Lunch

2 pm Braille with Madam Flamel in the Library

4 pm Meet with Healer Geller in Mind Healer office.

6 pm Dinner

 

“What’s your schedule look like today?” he asked Gemma.

She flapped her schedule in front of him and he grabbed it and read it with the anagnóstis noticing that it also was written with braille. I wonder why hers has braille, too?

 

Gemma Boot’s Schedule

Wednesday 9 June, 1993

7 am Breakfast

9 am Self-defense with Agatha Midgeon in the O&M room

10 am Balance with Agatha Midgeon in the O&M room

12 pm Lunch

2 pm BSL with Healer Jordan in the Braidwood room

4 pm Council with Healer Jordan in the Mont Blanc room

6 pm Dinner

 

“Hey, we’re going to be together for self-defense! And in the same room all morning. That’s good!” Harry said.

She tapped his arm, “yes!” and then waved across his palm and jumped up and left and he gathered that she going to get ready for the day.

He put everything back in his staff and listened to see if anyone else headed to the bathroom. He heard Gemma enter the bathroom on the other side of the hallway, and figured that he could go to the other one. He shook out his staff and started walking toward it when he heard Arig’s crutches alternating with one footstep on the tile floor. He stopped as Arig approached.

“Hi,” he said as the pivoting metal sounds approached. He guessed that they were the kind of crutches that had arm rings from the sound they were making.

“Hi, Harry,” Arig greeted.

“Go ahead, I’ll wait,” Harry offered.

“Hey, thank you. I’ll be quick!” Arig said as he went by Harry and into the bathroom on the left side of the hallway.

Harry went back to his desk to write a response to Ron’s letter while he waited.

He accio’d the ruler, pencil, sharpener, and pad of paper out of his staff and started to write.

“Hi Ron, Thanks for writing again. No fire, just water. It will be great to see everyone on the weekend. Thanks for the note about the magical eyes. I’ll look into it (ha ha). The address is 56 Charing Cross Rd, it has a magical entrance - the Pernel Flamel Adaptation Center. Tell it that you want to enter. What time on Saturday? I’ll meet you at the reception area. Tell Ginny not to worry. I’m okay. Harry.” He listened to it and corrected the spelling of Perenelle with the help of the anagnóstis , then he rolled it up and put it in his staff.

He listened to the sounds of his roommates starting to stir for the day and then decided to look at the Louis Braille book again. Instead of reading it with the anagnóstis , though, he decided to try to figure out some of the braille. He used the anagnóstis to read the words on the cover and then felt them carefully trying to discern the letters. He found that the “r” and “i” were the easiest for him to pick out of the letters, but it was really hard to tell the letters apart. He sagged a little wondering how he was going to learn to read by touch.

Finally, he heard the toilet door open and realized that it was Gemma who was out first. He put away the book and other things in his staff and then asked his staff to take him to the available loo.

Mei was splashing around in her tank when he closed the door and asked his staff for a description of this toilet. It was a mirror image of the one on the other side of the hallway with all the same features. When he was taking a shower, he accidentally pressed against a button that he hadn’t noticed before that brought out sponges on poles at various heights that seemed to fill with suds. He guessed that they would be useful if you didn’t have arms and pressed the button again to make them go away. Another button conjured a stool that caught him in the back of the knees and almost made him fall, but he steadied himself on the shower wall before pressing the button again and making it disappear. He decided to stop messing with the panel and just wash his hair.

He dressed in his last set of clean clothes - dingy baggy hand-me-downs from Dudley (the Indica color charm confirmed that they were a dull gray) - and brushed his teeth and hair.

Gemma was waiting for him when he emerged from the loo, her hand fluttering against his arm.

“Are you ready to go down to breakfast?” he asked.

“Yes,” she tapped against his arm. He heard Arig’s crutches and lifted his head so that he could talk over Gemma’s head. “Are you ready to go down to breakfast, Arig? Want to walk down with us?” he invited.

“Sure, I’ll join you. Hey, should we make sure that Aminah is awake first, though? It seems like she’s still sleeping,” Arig said.

“Yeah, good idea,” Harry agreed. He heard Arig moving over toward Aminah’s area and then he gently said, “Hey, Aminah? Are you awake?”

“Mrupmphh,” she responded.

Gemma left Harry’s side and he imagined that she was helping Arig wake up Aminah who didn’t seem to be a morning person.

Harry could hear the shower going in the other loo, so figured that Tony was in there as Mei seemed to still be swimming in her tank.

“Hey, Mei, we’re going down to breakfast, are you ready?” Harry asked.

“Naw, you all go down. I need to wake up a little more. I’ll wait for Tony and Aminah,” she said in a surprisingly pleasant voice.

“Okay, see you down there,” Harry said.

Mei snorted in response.

Gemma was back and tapping the back of Harry’s hand for sighted guide. He took her arm and collapsed his cane. He heard Arig’s crutches behind them and gathered that they felt like Aminah was awake enough to leave her.

“So were you both at Hogwarts?” Arig asked them as they went out into the hallway.

“Yeah, well, I was. Gemma was supposed to start last year, but she was sick, so she hasn’t been to Hogwarts yet,” Harry answered.

“So, you’re the real Harry Potter, then?” Arig asked.

“Yep, I guess so,” Harry said.

“What happened? Is it okay if I ask?” Arig said.

“Um, you didn’t hear already?” Harry stalled.

“No, nothing,” Arig said.

“Well, I had a run in with a big snake in the dungeons at Hogwarts and some venom got in my eyes,” Harry opted for the less dramatic version of the story.

“How big of a snake?” asked Arig.

“A Basilisk,” Harry said shortly.

“Seriously? I thought those were a myth,” Arig said.

“I think they are really rare,” Harry offered.

Gemma stopped. She tapped the hand that was on her arm.  

“What is it, Gemma?” he asked, perplexed.

“She wants to know what we’re talking about. I guess she couldn’t see your slips of paper,” Arig offered.

“I was telling Arig about how I was blinded by the Basilisk in the dungeons in Hogwarts,” Harry told Gemma. “The venom got in my eyes. Dumbledore’s phoenix, Fawkes, was there and helped heal me, but I guess not before the venom damaged my optic nerve.” Harry felt Gemma grab the slip of paper by his mouth.

“That’s wicked bad luck,” Arig said.

“Well, I could have died, so I don’t know, I guess it could be good luck, too,” Harry said.

“Gemma’s saying not to talk anymore until we get to the dining hall because she doesn’t like being left out of the conversation,” Arig said.

“Sorry, Gemma,” Harry apologized.

She tapped his hand and then started walking again. They walked in silence - the only sound was Arig’s crutches.

Chapter Text

“Why can’t we hear what Gemma’s saying today? Like we could last night?” Arig asked as they entered the dining hall.

“That’s a spell that Healer Jordan casts when we’re in a group, but it stops when she leaves the room,” Harry explained, catching the paper fluttering by his mouth, and handing it to Gemma.

“So, Harry, how do you and Gemma communicate if you can’t read the notes from her signing?” Arig asked as they settled into the chairs at their favorite table in the dining hall, the aromas of another English breakfast floating around them.

“She writes in my palm or we write on paper and I have an anagnóstis that reads things to me,” Harry explained.

“Oh, that’s cool,” Arig said. Harry heard him tapping his crutches on the floor three times.

“Do your crutches shrink down so that you can put them in your pocket, too?” Harry asked.

“Yeah, I saw you do the same thing with your staff. Pretty nifty,” Arig said.

“Do you have storage in your crutches, too?” Harry asked.

“Yeah, that’s the best thing about them. I don’t have to carry a book bag or anything,” Arig said.

“That would be hard, huh, with crutches, to manage a book bag,” Harry agreed.

“Yeah, it’s always shifting and hitting my crutches,” Arig said. “Yeah, I’ll be getting a magical leg soon.”

“Huh?” Harry asked.

“Oh, I was answering Gemma. She asked,” Arig said.

It sounded like there were only a couple in the dining hall, so Harry wasn’t surprised when the table started vibrating and the whistle went off.

“Whoa, what’s that?” Arig said.

“That’s letting us know that our table can go up to the buffet. It’s more of an issue when the dining hall is full. It doesn’t sound like there’s many people here,” Harry said.

He felt Gemma getting up next to him and also started rising.

“Yeah, there’s just one other guy down here at the table across the way. He’s talking to himself, though,” said Arig.

“Oh, who is it?” Harry asked.

Gemma took his hand and wrote, “ A-D-A-M ” space “ F-I-T-Z ”, then tucked it in her arm and started leading him to the buffet.

“Oh, Gemma says that it is Adam and Fitz. Adam has vanishing sickness, so you can’t see him. He’s invisible. Fitz isn’t by himself.” Harry explained as Arig started following them.

“Oh, wow,” Arig said, “I didn’t know that was really a thing.”

“The trays float, just so you know,” Harry said as they approached the buffet.

“Oh, that’s a relief. I was wondering how I was going to manage,” Arig said.

oO0OooO0OooO0OooO0Oo

“You spilled some fried tomatoes off your plate, did you know?” Arig asked as Harry was eating.

“Um, no. It’s okay. They are super slippery,” Harry said, trying to hide his embarrassment. He was just hoping that none had slid down his front.

He had been trying to corner the tomatoes with his toast, but apparently, some had gotten away.

“Oh, here comes Mei, Tony, and Aminah,” Arig said.

Gemma, Harry, and Arig greeted them as they settled into the remaining chairs at their table.

“Is anyone else in self-defense this morning?” Harry asked and learned that they were all in it, except for Mei who was going to be working with someone on managing her Jiāorén magic.

“Who’s your professor for that, Mei?” Aminah asked.

“It’s one of my Jiāorén relatives, Hǎi rén,” Mei said.

“Are you going to the South Sea for that lesson,” Harry asked.

“Yeah, wanna come?” Mei teased.

“Not today, thanks,” Harry said. He had finished up his breakfast and pushed back his chair.

“I’m going to go to the owlery before self-defense,” he announced standing up.

Gemma tapped on his arm and Arig said, “Gemma says to wait for her, she wants to go with you,” Arig said.

“Oh, okay, sure,” he said as he sat back down.

It didn’t take too long for Gemma to finish her plate and push it away from her. She tapped Harry on the arm to let him know she was ready.

“Do you mind if I tag along? I want to make sure my owl made it safely,” Arig asked.

“Sure, no problem,” Harry said as Gemma tugged impatiently on his arm.

“What is it, Gemma?” Harry asked.

She took his palm, “ W-A-N-T ” space “ T-A-L-K ” space “ W-I-T-H ” space “ Y-O-U ” space “ A-L-O-N-E ”.

“Oh, okay,” Harry said and added quietly, “In the courtyard?”

She tapped his arm twice, “okay.”

They walked in silence to the owlery, where the odor seemed extra strong as they walked into the tower - it was already warmer than it had been on Tuesday.

“Oh, wow. This is weird. So this is some kind of portal?” Arig asked as he walked in.

“Watch out for the owl droppings, they are slippery,” Harry warned as he heard Arig moving over to the window quickly. “Yeah, Gemma says the view is way above the city and that we can see Big Ben from here.”

“Oh, yeah, there it is, cool,” Arig said from the window.

Harry heard Hedwig hoot and the burst of her wings as she descended. He was glad. He tugged gently on Gemma’s arm and pointed up to the sound and she led him to the perch.

“Hiya, Hedwig,” Harry said as he buried his face in her feathers, breathing in her piney scent. He pulled out some of the table scraps he’d saved for her and winced as she pecked at his fingers as she grabbed them.

After a quick greeting to Hedwig that consisted of her own table scraps, Gemma had gone over to the window with Arig to look at the city. They were pointing out sights in the city that they both recognized from Harry could tell from Arig’s side of the conversation. He seemed pretty at ease with them even though he was quite a bit older. Maybe he also has younger siblings? Harry wondered.

Harry found the note attached to Hedwig’s leg and took it off. He accio’d the one he’d written to Ron and fastened it to Hedwig’s leg. “You don’t mind taking this to Ron, do you, Hedwig?” He asked as he scratched her head. She chortled and growled.

“Hey, your owl is a beauty!” Arig exclaimed.

“Thanks,” Harry said, rubbing his cheek against her face as she nibbled on his earlobe.

“Did yours arrive?” Harry asked.

“Yeah, he’s here. He’s not glad to see me, though,” Arig said subdued, “ever since I was attacked . . . I guess I smell different.”

“Oh, that’s . . .” the thought made Harry sad for Arig. He’d hate it if Hedwig suddenly didn’t like him as much, “that sucks.”

“Yeah.”

Harry could tell that even Hedwig felt a bit antsy around Arig, now that he was paying attention. He let her fly up back to her perch.

The door of the owlery opened. “Is Harry Potter in here?” It was Godric, Harry recognized his voice.

“Yes, I’m here, Godric,” Harry responded.

“Do you have a minute? Could you come with me?” Godric asked.

“Um, sure. Let me tell Gemma - just a second,” Harry said as he took out his staff to shake it out and also put the scroll away.

“I’ll tell her, Harry,” Arig offered. Gemma must have still been enthralled with the view of the city. She did spend a lot of time looking at it every time they came up to the tower.

“No, it’s okay. I need to tell her,” Harry said as he navigated to Gemma, he’d remembered to add her to his staff’s memory along with the other people in the dining room that morning.

“Sure, no problem,” Arig said.

Harry touched Gemma’s arm, “Gemma, I have to go. Godric needs to talk to me. I don’t know how long it will take. Can I meet you at the O&M room and we can see if we have time to talk before class?”

“Okay,” she tapped on his arm, and then three taps, “I understand.”

“Thanks, Gemma. See you then,” he said and she waved across the back of his hand.  

Harry navigant’d to the doorway where he wiped off his shoes, ignored the grumbling of the portrait by the door, and then followed the sound of Godric’s staff across the corridor to Healer Jordan’s office.

“We’re just going to meet briefly with Healer Jordan in her office,” Godric explained over his shoulder as they reached the door.

“Okay.” He heard as Godric’s staff tapped the door, then he opened it and passed through. Godric held it open for Harry and he followed him in.

They settled into the chairs by Healer Jordan's desk as she greeted them both.

“Harry, Mr. Burbage and I just returned from visiting your guardians,” Healer Jordan explained.

“Oh?” Harry responded.

“Well, I’ll get right to the point. We encountered some resistance and I think we’re going to need to involve the Ministry of Magic as well as Hogwarts as we work with them to make sure you are getting the best care,” Healer Jordan explained.

“What do you mean, resistance?” Harry asked.

“They refused to let us in, despite our prearranged agreement to meet,” Healer Jordan said. Harry was impressed at how neutral she managed to keep her voice, given how frustrating that must have been. He wondered if she’d had any time to sleep when he considered all the extra time she was spending on him and there were sixteen other residents who likely had similar things that needed to be dealt with.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Harry said, flushing, “They aren’t used to wixen.”

Godric made a noise that he tried to pass off as a cough.

“Listen, Harry. Please understand. None of this is your fault. Okay?” she paused, and then asked, “How have visits from the professors at Hogwarts gone in the past? Or from the families of your wixen friends?”

“Uh,” Harry could only think of the visit from Madam Pomfrey the week before. “Well, okay, I guess? I mean, it was only Madam Pomfrey who came last week to drop by off. It was a pretty quick visit.”

“What about when they delivered your letter?” Godric asked.

“Oh, well. That was . . .” Disastrous, he thought, remembering Hagrid knocking the door of the sea shack off the hinges.

“How did that visit go?” Healer Jordan pressed.

Harry sank into his chair trying to make himself small.

“I dunno. My aunt and uncle tried . . . to keep me from going to Hogwarts, but I got to go finally,” Harry admitted.

“And visits from your wixen friends? How are those?” Healer Jordan asked.

“Um. I haven’t had any visits . . .” He didn’t suppose the visit by Fred, George, and Ron in the Ford Anglia counted.

“Okay, well. We’ll reach out to the ministry and to Professor Dumbledore and see if we can figure out how to bridge this divide,” Healer Jordan said. “How are you feeling today? Did you eat a good breakfast?”

“I’m fine. Yes, I ate breakfast,” Harry said, straightening up a bit.

“Okay, well. Thanks. You can go on to your self-defense class now,” Healer Jordan dismissed him.

Harry stood up and asked his staff to take him to the door. As he went out into the corridor, he realized that he was feeling a little shaky. What would it mean if they brought in the Ministry of Magic and Dumbledore? How would it change things? He tried to push the thoughts out of his head. There wasn’t really anything he could do.

He found the wall of the corridor. It was cool as he pressed his hand against it. He leaned against it, collapsed his staff, then slid down to the floor. He needed to think for a moment.

He heard the door open again and held his breath. It was Godric and he walked by without noticing Harry. Harry breathed a sigh of relief once it sounded like Godric was out of earshot.

He put his head against his knees and hugged his legs. He had never had people poking into his business like this before. Even when Hagrid had to track the Dursleys down out in the middle of the ocean. After he and Hagrid spent the day getting his things in Diagon Alley, Hagrid just put him on a train back to the Dursleys like it was no big deal.

He took in a deep shuddering breath. He was pretty certain no one else was in the corridor. He lifted his glasses and wiped his eyes (they had leaked a little) then stood up. The only way this was going to be okay for him was if he didn’t have to go back to the Dursleys, but he didn’t see how that was going to happen. He reminded himself sternly that he still had seven and a half weeks away from the Dursleys.

Steeling himself, he asked his staff to take him to the O&M room for his self-defense class. I’m going to need it more than ever if the Ministry, the Center, and Hogwarts are all visiting the Dursleys . . . they are going be pitch a fit when I return if they’ve had all sorts of wixen stomping through their house.

oO0OooO0OooO0OooO0Oo

Agatha Midgeon was waiting outside the door of the O&M room when he approached it a few minutes later. He could hear her talking to someone and he remembered her voice from yesterday when he had face planted in front of everyone. He had run into Adam and Fitz in the corridor and they had both asked how he was doing. So embarrassing!

He asked his staff to tell him who was in the area and learned that Gemma was there and had started walking toward him. He turned to her and waited.

“Hi, Gemma,” he said, smiling and offering his palm to her.

She took it and wrote, “ H-O-W ” space “ K-N-O-W ” space “ I-T ” space “ W-A-S ” space “ M-E-?

“My staff. I was able to add you to my staff’s memory of people. I learned how to do it yesterday in Godric’s class,” Harry said. “Do we have time to go to the courtyard to talk?”

“Yes,” she tapped on his arm and then offered her arm to guide him. He tempus’d his staff and learned that it was only 8:32 - they did have time.

Gemma led him to the library and through the library to the door that led out to the courtyard - on the same level. The air in the courtyard was a little cooler than it had been up in the tower. Harry supposed that was because of the tree and the walls shaded that it from the sun. He was able to open his eyes in the courtyard, unlike the library. He briefly wondered why the library was so bright if it looked out onto the courtyard. More windows?

Gemma led him to the bench under the tree and they sat down. Harry accio’d his notebook and pencil and anagnóstis out of his staff. He also fetched the letter that Hedwig brought that morning, figuring he could read it while he waited for Gemma to write.

She drew a question mark on his palm. “I think it is from Hermione. Hedwig brought it this morning. I’ll read it while you write,” Harry explained.

“Okay,” she tapped on his arm and he heard her start to write in the notebook.

He unrolled the letter, then spread it on the bench so he could press the anagnóstis against it to read.

“Dear Harry,” Hermione’s voice sounded in his aftí as if she were next to him on the bench.

“I’m sorry your letters were accidentally destroyed. How did that happen? Was it that Ravenclaw who dumped us on into the sand? I wanted to warn you about her, but Healer Jordan was so strict about the whole privacy thing. I hope that she hasn’t done anything else. She seems so angry at everyone. I guess I would be, too, if that happened to me, but still, it’s not fair to take it out on people who are going through something similar. I imagine that’s why she’s there. Maybe she’ll get the help she needs.

I hope that your classes are going well and that you’ve had a chance to rest and eat, too. I was worried about how thin and tired you looked. So the letter that was destroyed, it must have just been the one where I was explaining how Dad and I were going to come get you and take you to London. I don’t think I said anything else.

I’ve been doing some research at our local (muggle) library about braille and I’m going to try to learn it. I sent away for a mail order slate and stylus . . . ” Harry paused, What’s a slate and stylus?

“ . . . so that I can learn. I’ll send you a letter in braille when I get it. I know you have the anagnóstis, but I imagine it would be nice to just be able to read something without having to use a tool to access it. Though, from my research, it sounds like it is pretty hard to learn to read by touch.

I wrote to Ron and told him about the center. He said that all the Weasleys are going to visit this weekend. I wanted to visit, too. Do you think that will be too many people? I could wait until later . . . Let me know. Take care, Hermione.”

Harry thought it was the end of the letter, but as he picked up the anagnóstis it slid over another word "remembered", and he scanned the end of the paper and found a P.S. from Hermione.

“P.S. There was one thing that I had written in other letter. I just remembered. I told you about Quick Quote Quills that will write down what you’re saying. They are not just for wixen with vision or other impairments - loads of people use them to make taking notes easier during interviews or at work. I guess they are not allowed at school unless you have special permission to use them, or all the students at Hogwarts would use them during classes. I wonder if you can get one through the center or if you’d have to visit Diagon Alley. Maybe we can go there this weekend, if you’re okay with me visiting, too.”

Harry rolled up Hermione’s letter and straightened up, turning toward Gemma and listening to see if she was still writing. It sounded like she was done, too.

She touched his knee with the notebook and he took it.

“I wanted to talk to you about why you told Arig about how you were blinded when you just met him, but you wouldn’t tell me. I guess it kind of stung and I thought we should talk about it because you are an important friend to me and I thought that maybe I was an important friend for you, too, even though we just met and everything.” Harry felt his gut seize up as he read Gemma’s note. He could also feel lots of eraser crumbles on the page and realized that it had taken Gemma a long time to compose the short note because she kept re-writing it.

He had just told Arig right away about the Basilisk venom when he asked, but with everyone else, he had deflected the question. Why did I do that?

“Gemma, I’m sorry. You are an important friend, even though we just met two days ago. I don’t know why I could tell Arig when I didn’t want to tell anyone else. I didn’t want to tell you at first because I was afraid it would scare you and that you wouldn’t want to go to Hogwarts if you heard about a big serpent in the dungeons. I didn’t tell Tony or Mei because they were both pretty, well, mean at first. I don’t know why I didn’t tell Aminah. I guess, I figured since they were all at Hogwarts, they already knew, and that you would have heard about it from your brother. So, I really didn’t need to tell it. It is kind of hard to think about.”

She grabbed the paper that fluttered by his lips. After a little bit, she reached over and laid her hand on his wrist.

He motioned with the notebook, wondering if she wanted to write more. She hesitated, then took it and he heard her writing, then she gave it back to him.

“Okay, I guess I get it. But could you tell me the story, please? Is it weird that I want to know?”

“No, I think we all want to know what happened to each other, but it’s kind of hard, too. You know?” he paused and took a deep breath. “So, what happened was Ron’s sister Ginny was trapped in the Chamber of Secrets below Hogwarts by . . .” he stopped. What’s scarier - a basilisk or Voldemort? “. . . by a boy named Tom Riddle who was a student at Hogwarts 50 years earlier. He grew up to become Voldemort.” He stopped again when he heard her draw in a sharp breath.

“Anyway, he had this diary and he enchanted it somehow and he got Ginny. So, Ron and I decided to go rescue her and we took Professor Lockhart with us, but he got hurt and couldn’t help us and then Ron was trapped behind a pile of rocks, so just I could go on. And, well, Terry already told you that I can speak to snakes, so I could get into the chamber because of that. And so I . . .” he paused, his heart was racing as he was retelling the story. Gemma put her hand on his. “. . . so I found Ginny, but Riddle was there and he was like a ghost but he was starting to get a body, I guess he was stealing Ginny’s soul to do it . . . and he set the Basilisk on me. Dumbledore’s phoenix Fawkes came and gave me the sorting hat and there was a sword in it. And Fawkes blinded the Basilisk and I fought it, but when the sword went into its mouth, one of the fangs got me in the arm, and blood and venom got in my eyes. I thought I was going to die. But then Fawkes healed my arm with his tears. I stopped dying then. I couldn’t see anything because of venom in my eyes, though I didn’t know that was why. It stung so bad. And Fawkes brought the diary to me and I don’t know why, but I stabbed the diary with the fang from the Basilisk and it made Riddle disappear and then Ginny started coming back to life. I didn’t think to ask Fawkes about healing my eyes until after I knew Ginny was okay. And once he cried his tears in my eyes they stopped hurting so bad, but I still couldn’t see. And yeah, Ginny and I went back to Ron and we got out of the Chamber. I thought that Madam Pomfrey and then the Healers at St. Mungos would be able to heal my eyes, but they couldn’t.”

He let out a big breath and realized that he felt both exhausted and relieved.

A tear fell on his hand. He wasn’t sure if it was his or Gemma’s.

Chapter Text

Harry shifted on the cool stone bench and listened to the breeze as it picked up a little, pushing more warm air into the courtyard, and moving the leaves on the tree. He wondered what kind of tree it was. He brushed his hand over the herbs beside the bench and inhaled their pungent aroma. Gemma was writing in the notebook and gently pushed it against his hand.

“Thanks for telling me, Harry. Terry did tell me some of it, but I really didn’t understand how scary it must have been. And when he told me, I thought it was scary! How is Ginny doing? Is she okay?”

“Yeah, I think so. She’s coming to visit this weekend. Well, all the Weasleys are. It’ll be a little wild here. I should probably warn Healer Jordan,” he smiled at the thought. “I think you’ll like Ginny, she’s your age.”

He tempus’d his staff and stood up, shaking it out, “We better head up so that we’re not late for class. Are you ready?”

She tapped his hand twice and handed back the notebook and pencil. He put everything back in his staff and took her arm. He could tell that she felt better than she had earlier by the way she was guiding him. She wasn’t holding her body so rigidly.

He sighed.

As they walked through the bright library, Harry heard Besel’s chair and greeted her as they got close. He stopped Gemma, “Hey, do you know Healer Besel Geller?” he asked her. She tapped “no” on his hand.

“This is Gemma Boot, Besel,” Harry introduced them, feeling mature.

“Hi Gemma, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” Besel said and Harry could hear her signing.

“Oh, do you know how to sign, too?” Harry asked.

“Yes, a little. I’m still learning,” Besel said.

“I’d like to learn,” Harry said, surprising himself a bit. He did want to learn, but he was also feeling overwhelmed about learning all the things he was supposed to learn, like braille. Really, with the scribunt loqui charm, he didn’t need to. But it could be useful to sign occasionally with Gemma, even if he couldn’t see her responses. And it would probably be hard to learn - someone would have to move his hands through the motions to teach him or describe what they were doing really accurately.

Gemma seemed excited, though, to learn that Harry wanted to learn. She signed something into his hand that he didn’t understand.

“What was that?” he asked.

“She said she’d teach you,” Besel said.

Harry smiled at Gemma, “Okay.”

“We’d better get to class so we’re not late. Nice to see you, Besel. See you this afternoon,” Harry said.

“Yes, I’m looking forward to it, Harry. Nice to meet you Gemma,” she replied.

They left the library and went across the hall to the O&M room.

Harry tapped Gemma’s hand, “What’s the layout of the room today?”

She guided him to the panel outside the door so that he could feel the map and listen to the description. He felt a little self-conscious because he could hear other people in the corridor, but told himself sternly to get over it.

It was Agatha Midgeon’s voice in his aftí today that said, “This morning, the O&M room is set up as a gymnasium with an entryway that has corridors to the left and right where you'll find individual changing rooms, and straight ahead that leads into a seating area with benches and a center walkway that leads to a large room fitted with padded floors and walls for gymnastics. Please use the changing rooms to change into work out clothes that you’ll find in your individual changing room with a locker labeled with your name. Please remove your shoes, but keep your socks on. You may bring any assistive tools that you normally use such as a staff, wheelchair, crutches, prosthetic limbs, etc. but don’t bring any other gear into the gymnasium. Extra gear can be secured in your locker or changing room. Once you've changed, sit on the benches until everyone is assembled. We’ll start there with a discussion of self-defense and then start some exercises that will, over time, lead to increased balance and strength.”

Harry ran his fingers over the map to get a sense of the layout of the room and also found that the individual changing rooms were labeled on the map, so he learned that his changing room was the third on the right as they entered the space. That’s handy.

“I guess we better head in so that we can get changed. Do you know where your changing room is?” he asked Gemma.

She tapped “yes,” on his hand and led him to the entrance. When they walked over the threshold, Harry didn’t feel the pull of the portal that the room had had previously. The room smelled kind of like the Quidditch changing rooms at Hogwarts and the sounds echoed off the walls in a weird way - he supposed it was the padding.

Harry navigated to his changing room on his own and confirmed it was his when he ran his fingers over the sign to the right of the door and it said his name. Inside he squeezed his staff to get a sense of the room and learned that it was pretty small with just a locker and a short bench. In the locker, he found a change of clothes (much newer and nicer than the cast-offs from Dudley that he was currently wearing). It was a t-shirt and joggers that felt very soft. He was curious about what color they were and did the Indica color charm to find out that the T-shirt was white and that the joggers were aquamarine. He imagined that his socks, which he was sure didn’t match, were also a dull and crusty grey. He was glad that no one was going to see his pants, if he had anything to say about it.

He wondered if he could get some new clothes while he was in London . . . he did have the muggle money that Hermione had converted for him. And maybe if they did go to Diagon Alley on the weekend, he could get some more money from his vault at Gringotts and convert some of it to pounds to use while he was at the Center. And it would be nice to have more than one pair of shoes in case his trainers got wet again.

He went out to the benches to wait for class to begin. There were some people there . . . Martha, Fitz, and Gordon. He wondered where Tony, Aminah, and Arig were, but then he heard them coming in behind him, headed to their changing rooms. Gemma hadn’t come out yet. So, Harry waited by the benches for her. It sounded like Tony and Arig were already best friends by the way they were laughing and jostling each other. They are nearly the same age - just a year apart.

He heard very soft stocking-foot footsteps approaching him from behind and turned. Gemma greeted him in her usual way by placing her hand on his arm.

“Hi, Gemma, where do you want to sit?” he asked.

She took his hand, hooked it around her arm, and led him to the bench behind Martha, Fitz, and Gordon. Harry greeted them as they sat down, collapsing his staff.

“Are you feeling better after your spill yesterday?” Martha asked.

“Um, yes, thanks,” Harry responded as he felt his face flush.

“Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to embarrass you,” she said.

“It’s okay,” Harry lied.

Gemma squeezed his arm and he put out his hand for her to write on.

T-E-A-C-H ” space “ T-H-E-M ” space “ S-C-R-I-B-U-N-T ” space “ L-O-Q-U-I .”

“Oh, Gemma asked if I could teach you the scribunt loqui charm so that when you talk she can understand what you’re saying,” Harry said to Martha.

“Oh, sure. How does that work? Is that the little papers I’ve been seeing floating around everyone’s mouths? I was wondering. So, why does Gemma write in your hand, then?” Martha asked.

“Well, since I can’t see, she has to write on my hand. That’s how we communicate. That or on paper and I use my reader to hear what she’s said. There’s a charm that gives Gemma a voice, but she hasn’t learned how to cast nonverbal spells yet. Healer Jordan can cast it for her, but it only works when she’s in the room. I guess I need to learn how to cast it for Gemma,” Harry explained.

“So, Gemma would have to write on my hand for me to understand what she wants to say?” Fitz asked.

“Yes and Aminah’s, or write on a paper and read it with a reader,” Harry agreed.

Harry taught Martha and Fitz the charm. Gordon said he’d try it later and Harry guessed that Gemma picked up on that because she didn’t say anything else about Gordon and the charm.

While they were working on that, Arig, Aminah, and Tony joined them on the bench.

“Looking good, Harry!” Tony said cuffing him on the shoulder with his new hand, “You’re finally wearing clothes that actually fit you.”

“Er. Thanks?” Harry replied. He realized that at Hogwarts his school robes usually covered his ratty hand-me-downs from Dudley. Here he’d just been wearing the T-shirts and trousers that he had because it was so hot and no one had said anything about a dress code and wearing school robes. I really need to buy some new clothes. No wonder Gemma’s mom thought I was a waif.

He felt the heat rise in his neck again and wished it would go away. He hoped Agatha Midgeon would arrive soon and start class. He noticed that some people he didn’t recognize had come in and settled in the benches on the other side of the center aisle. One of them was using a levitating chair like Besel’s, but it wasn’t Besel. It was a man from what Harry could tell from the voice. Someone came down their line of benches, “Hi Harry,” Shannon greeted as she maneuvered past Harry and sat on the other side of Gemma. Harry heard Gemma signing with Shannon.

As if on cue, he heard someone approaching with a limping gait. He had noticed it earlier in the corridor, but didn’t know who it belonged to.

“Okay, it looks like nearly everyone is here,” Agatha Midgeon began. Harry took in a deep breath and let it out slowly trying to remain calm even though the last time he’d been listening to her voice he had apparently hyperventilated. It would be really bad if I fainted every time I heard her speak.

“I’m going to go ahead and get started because I want to allow time to have a good discussion as well as time to start continuing our work of strengthening our core. So, yesterday we began by getting to know each other and sharing our stories as well as some basic strengthening exercises. I introduced some ideas that I asked you to think about for today’s discussion.

The question was 'why do you think the center believes that self-defense is such an important topic for the wixen enrolled in the residency program.' Anyone have any ideas that they want to share?” Ms. Midgeon invited. “Yes, Fitz?”

“Well, because we’re more perceived to be vulnerable, we’re more likely to be victims of crimes of opportunity,” Fitz said.

“Very well stated. That’s exactly right - it’s not that we are more vulnerable, it is that we are perceived to be more vulnerable,” Ms. Midgeon agreed. “Any other reasons? Yes, Donna?”

“Well, people might take advantage of the fact that we are more likely to ask strangers for help,” Harry had heard this woman’s voice before. It took him a moment to place it. She was the woman he’d met in the owlery.

“Yes, absolutely,” Ms. Midgeon said.

“People might take advantage of us because they think we’re not going to tell anyone about an attack or that we might not be believed and so they can more easily get away with the crime,” Shannon said.

“True, Shannon, that’s a good point,” Ms. Midgeon said.

“I think that sometimes people think of us as less than human and so think that it isn’t really a crime,” Arig said.

“Ah, yes, Arig. That is possible.”

“And they might that what’s happened to us is an act of God and so they are just carrying out God’s will by hurting us even more,” Aminah said.

“Sure, Aminah. There are some people, fortunately very few, who act on those very archaic and harmful beliefs. Please know that anyone acting on those beliefs would have committed a hate crime and would suffer greater consequences in both wixen and muggle courts in most countries if they were found guilty.

So, it appears to me that you are very much aware of your need to practice self-defense. Of course, not all crimes enacted against us are violent crimes intended to hurt us, but those are the crimes that we’re going to learn how to defend ourselves against today and in many of our sessions. We’ll have other lessons that focus on protecting our identities and bank accounts, securing our homes, and learning how to vet the people who assist us.

I know that this all seems very bleak. The reason why we are bringing our awareness to these facts is not to scare us or make us feel vulnerable; it is to give us the tools to protect ourselves so that we can prevent it from ever happening. We’re going to work on building skills so that if we ever find ourselves in a dangerous situation, we have the confidence and skills to know that we can get through it safely.

Today we’ll be working on strengthening our core with some simple exercises that we’ll adapt to our individual needs. In the future, we'll work on some magical defenses. Some can be embedded in our assistive tools - such as our staffs, canes, crutches, or even other nondescript accessories such as watches, belts, necklaces, rings, etc. So even if we’re not able to cast a spell to protect ourselves, we can be protected.”

Gemma grabbed Harry’s hand and he realized that she wasn’t able to cast any spells. He squeezed it what he hoped was a reassuring manner. He remembered the troll in the bathroom and Ron’s Wingardium Leviosa . Maybe she can still do accidental magic - like when I ended up on the roof of the primary.

“Okay, I’m going to ask you to come out to the center floor and space yourselves about two arm spans from each other. I’m going to levitate a rectangular mat that will give you a firm surface for your exercises and also define your space. I’ve charmed the floating mats with a little bell that will stop once you grab it. Unroll it so that the long edges run parallel to the west wall. The entrance that you came in is on the south wall, behind me is the north wall. Take off your socks and stand at the top of your mat (facing the south wall). Once we’re all at the top of our mats I’ll give the next instructions. While you're waiting, just breath. At that point, you can collapse your mobility tools. I’ll come around and provide individual support as well. It’ll take us a little bit to get set up and that’s okay, we’ll get faster at it as we become more accustomed to the routine. Okay, you can start now.”

Harry felt Tony stand up next to him and stood up, too, shaking out his staff. “Hey, Harry, do you want me to guide you?” Tony asked, and touched his arm against Harry’s hand that was holding the staff.

“Sure.  Thanks, Tony,” Harry said, switching hands and placing his hand above Tony’s elbow. The texture of Tony's prosthetic arm was smooth and firm and a bit cool to the touch. He followed Tony out to the mats and Tony helped him find a spot and judge the distance between him and Gemma on his other side. He heard the tinkling of little bells and was able to grab his mat when it came near.

“Maybe we can put this charm on a snitch?” Harry asked, mostly to himself, but Tony overheard.

“Yeah, I bet we could. Maybe we can organize some pickup Quidditch games in the O&M room after classes? But how would you fly?”

“Well, yeah. I want to figure that out. But bells on snitches and other people’s brooms could work,” Harry said thoughtfully.

“Gemma says she wants to do it, too,” Tony said.

“Me, too,” said Arig from the other side of Tony.

“I guess we’ll have to find some brooms and balls . . . well, and learn that charm. Hopefully, Mei’s figuring out how to manage her magic so that she can join us,” Harry said.

He heard Arig asking Aminah if she wanted to play. She sounded hesitant.

Ms. Midgeon was coming around and helping students with specific accommodations - she asked Arig if he wanted to use his crutches for balance or if he wanted to try some supports. He chose to do a bit of both and Harry listened as she showed him how to change the height of the supports for different stretches that they’d be doing.

She moved on to Tony and suggested that when there were stretches that put pressure on the arms, that he makes sure to take it really slowly and easily so that he didn’t get hurt.

Gordon also had some supports that gave him more resistance to work against from what Harry could tell. There was the man in the levitating chair that was going to be working from a seated position and then later transitioning to the floor.

Soon, they got started with some basic stretches. Harry wasn’t sure exactly how this was going to help with self-defense, but it did feel good. At first, he was really struggling with not falling over when they were in bending over stretches or balancing on one foot. Ms. Midgeon said it was common with vision loss to lose some balance and that’s why they were working on it. Gemma was also struggling with it, because of the damage to her inner ear. Even Martha, who was there to learn how to help her little girl adapt and not because she had a disability herself, was struggling to not fall over from the sound of it. That made Harry feel a little better as he picked himself up again. He was thankful for the padded floor.

Harry noted that Ms. Midgeon was really pretty skilled at describing the stretches and anticipating everyone’s needs - whether it was his, Aminah’s, and Fitz’s need to have very precise descriptions of body placement or Shannon’s and Gemma’s needs to have visuals, or Tony’s, Donna’s, the levitating chair guy’s, and Arig’s need for adjustments based on their missing limbs. He was really impressed that she was able to keep up with everyone and keep the class moving along. Sometimes she came around and did small adjustments, helping him square his hips or align his arm or leg with the ceiling. It was over before he was really ready - though he really liked the final pose, a resting position where he was just lying on his back and breathing deeply. He was pretty certain he had fallen asleep for a moment.

Chapter Text

Ms. Midgeon explained that they could keep the training clothes for their next class and simply wait on the benches if they were in the O&M room. As Harry went back to his changing room to put on his trainers, he wondered how it was going to work with both the navigation class and the balance class in the same space. Tony and Arig were in Gemma’s balance class. Harry was feeling like he could use more work on his balance, but also wanted to learn more about navigating with his staff.

He went back to the benches and found an empty space on the bench to sit. Gemma came back out and sat next to him.

“Do you have a broom here, Gemma?” Harry asked.

She tapped once on his arm, “no,” and then tapped on his chest with her finger. It took him a second to understand, “Uh, yes, in my staff,” he answered.

She took his palm in her hand and wrote, “ S-H-O-W ” space “ M-E-?

He nodded and was accio’ing it from his staff when he heard Arig approaching them, “Ha! I have mine in my crutches, too! Sometimes I’m really tempted to get it out and just fly. Especially when my arms are killing me. Of course, I can’t do that out on Charing Cross Road, but maybe I could do it here in the center.”

Harry pulled his broom out of his staff.

“Oh, wow! A Nimbus 2000!” Tony said, sitting on a bench in front of them. “Do you think I could try it? See if I can manage a broom with my new arms?”

“You mean in here?” Harry asked, his fingertips running over the familiar grain of the wood. Gemma was als