Chapter 8 : The Fire Inside
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Chapter 8 -- The Fire Inside
The meal finally concluded. As everyone stood up, Harry leaned over and said to Arthur, “You need to find a seat.”
McGonagall beside him said. “Sara Weasley, Bill’s oldest, is at the Hufflepuff table. He could sit there. First redhead on the left.”
Harry took a look and pointed Arthur in that direction. “Or you could probably sit with the Gryffindors.” He gave Arthur a push.
Arthur walked around the long head table and stepped over to the girl in question. All the eyes in that part of the room watched his approach. The Gryffindors did seem to be smiling more. “Are you Sara Weasley?” he asked the girl.
She looked flustered for a moment. “Yes.”
“Headmistress suggested I sit with you,” Arthur explained. The nearby students immediately adjusted to make a space. He stepped over the bench and smiled at everyone, although their expressions were all a little stunned.
A West Asian girl across the table asked curiously, “Why did she suggest you sit here?”
Arthur glanced at Sara for help with an explanation, but she looked unable to come up with one. “Uh, I’m named for her grandfather,” Arthur explained.
“You are?” Sara asked in surprise.
“Yes,” Arthur assured her. “My dad and your uncle Ron were best friends in school,” he added, thinking more explanation was in order.
“I know that,” she said, in a way that made him back off from the topic. If they had been alone, he would have considered asking if her family blamed his dad for what had happened.
They watched as the head table magically was cleared. The headmistress then transfigured it into a little square stone block which was picked up and set aside. Harry and Snape were having an in-depth conversation near a door in the back wall.
“Where has your dad been, anyway?” Sara asked.
Arthur couldn’t read her tone at all. He thought about the times his dad referred to her family as the only one he had known. He leaned toward her and said quietly. “He’s been at home. Fifteen years ago he got hit with a stasis curse and some other two curses and he just slept. For a month at a time. When he woke up he couldn’t remember anything. This didn’t leave much chance for getting out.”
She turned to look at him with a dismayed expression. Whispering, she asked, “He forgot everything?”
“Even me,” Arthur whispered back. He so badly needed to tell someone that.
She gaped at him then said, “I’m sorry.”
“What? What?” the students around them asked.
“Later,” Sara insisted. “Or maybe never.”
Arthur liked her immediately. Snape and his dad had stepped up on the platform, cutting off further questioning from the other students.
“This should be interesting,” Arthur said. At her questioning glance he explained, “They hate each other,” he said with a grin.
“They do?” They were now speaking in normal tones and the rest of the nearby students were listening intently.
“From way back.” He leaned forward again and, just for her, added quietly with relish, “And Professor Snape’s potion is what made him better.”
Sara turned a grin back at him. “Now, that is interesting.”
The Asian girl across the table said, “Boy, you both are impossible.”
Snape started introducing what they were going to demonstrate so everyone turned again toward the end of the hall. “Dueling is an old tradition somewhat out of favor at the moment. What Mr. Potter and I are going to demonstrate is freeform dueling where one does not have to match one’s opponent spell for spell as in regulation.”
One of the students behind Arthur made a noise of surprise at this.
Snape went on, “This does give an advantage to the dueler who is able to cast spells rapidly.” His eyes slid darkly over to Harry who grinned with some anticipation.
Arthur found he was gripping the edge of the heavy table. “Worried about your dad?” Sara asked.
“I don’t know,” Arthur answered honestly.
“From what my dad says, there aren’t many who can beat your dad.”
“He’s out of practice, though, I expect” Arthur said.
“You don’t duel with him?” Sara asked.
“I’m a Muggle,” he pointed out. Heads turned. Arthur met their odd gazes evenly. “Why do you think your headmistress threatened you all like that?” He had assumed that had given it away.
“You’re really a Muggle?” Sara asked in total shock.
“Yes. Until we got to the steps, your castle looked like an utter ruin to me.”
“Really?” a tall boy to his left asked in delight. “They say that’s how it works, but I’ve never talked to anyone who . . . well a Muggle who has seen it that way.”
“Shhhh,” someone said.
On the platform, Harry and Snape were standing back to back. Their wands snapped up at the same moment. Sara looked at Arthur a moment longer before turning to the front. He thought she looked disappointed.
The duelers stepped away from each other, turned and aimed their wands. Arthur had to restrain himself from shouting for it to stop. He held his breath. All his life he had tried to imagine what had happened to his dad to make him so messed up. In his mind it had always looked a little like this. He closed his eyes as both of them shouted out spells and the air sizzled and cracked. About the third round he forced them open. Everyone’s attention was locked on the platform where his father had a glowing white sphere around himself that Snape spelled repeatedly with something slightly different each time.
Just as one attacking spell finished, Harry dropped the shield and a wide yellow blast of light came out of his wand. Snape actually ducked it. Arthur did not imagine he could move so fast. The spell shattered against the stone wall with a sound like hail. The students were riveted. Some of the Slytherins were calling out encouragement, but the Gryffindors remained silent. Arthur himself wouldn’t have risked breaking his dad’s concentration.
Snape stood up and fired something invisible, his empty left hand coaxing something out of the air. Black tendrils appeared around Harry and began twining around him. Harry incanted something to no effect. Snape crossed his arms and watched the effect take hold, clearly pleased. Harry dropped to a crouch as he shouted something. A second, ghostly version of himself appeared above him. The tendrils descended upon it as he rolled away with only a few still clinging to him. He brushed them off while chanting something.
“We can play it that way,” Harry announced with a broad grin. He aimed his wand at the floor at his feet and incanted something long. A huge snake wound its way out of the platform before falling forward and coiling itself. Harry hissed at it and it turned to Snape, who took a step back while biting his lip in thought.
“Merde,” someone near Arthur breathed in a heavy accent. “I thought that was a myth.”
Sara turned to the boy who had spoken. “It’s not,” she said with authority.
Arthur wanted to ask what they were discussing, but decided he had looked stupid enough already for one day. He wondered how anyone alive could have myths told about them, especially his own father. Many of the students looked at each other with amazed and fearful glances. The snake’s head was rearing four meters in the air, poised to strike Professor Snape, whose attempts to stop it had been ineffectual.
Harry hissed at it and it backed off slightly. “Giving up?” Harry asked his opponent. The entire Slytherin table hissed at this, which didn’t distract the snake at all as Arthur expected it might.
Snape stood a moment thinking. “Give me one more try at it,” he said. At Harry’s shrug, Snape aimed his wand and shouted something. The air in the room cracked as though a giant whip had snapped. The snake went hollow black with an outline of orange glow before it dissolved into a wisp of floating black ash.
The headmistress stepped onto the platform between them. “I think that is probably quite enough,” she said, sounding as though she were trying for tolerance.
Some of the students groaned in disappointment but then sporadic clapping started and most all joined in. As the clapping slowed the French boy, who had refrained, said in dismay, “Your hero of wizardry is an effing Parselmouth?”
Arthur gave him a dark look. The boy met it and said, “You don’t even know what that means, do you?” He shook his head derisively.
“Leave him alone,” Sara threatened.
“His dad’s a dark wizard and he doesn’t even know it because he’s a clueless Muggle.”
“Marcel!” one of the other students said sharply. “Don’t be an asinine numbskull. Your talking about Harry Potter of all people.”
Marcel crossed his arms and glowered. “Whom we’ve all been raised to worship,” he said in a low voice.
Arthur frowned at him. “You think he’s a dark wizard--that’s your problem,” he stated easily. Up on the platform, Snape and his dad were standing close together, talking.
“He’s being stupid . . . ignore him,” Sara said stiffly. “They don’t look like they hate each other now,” she commented.
“They probably don’t. Neither of them will tell me what the original problem was, which says something.”
“Snape’s a dark wizard too,” Marcel said dryly.
“He didn’t deny it,” Arthur commented casually. “Asked me if I’d rather be turned into a toad, a stoat, or a fungus for asking. So I’d suggest you ask too.”
Marcel looked a little unhinged. “Which was it?” he asked quietly, seemingly unable to resist his curiosity.
Arthur remembered the moment Snape had made his dark mark flare black. He suspected that no one knew about that anymore. “It was worse,” Arthur replied uneasily.
The students around them fell silent and stared. “You sat next to him through dinner,” Sara pointed out.
Arthur shrugged. “He’s okay once you get to know him,” he said, forcing his voice casual. The teachers were congregating beside the platform and the students were starting to leave the hall. Arthur stood up. “Nice meeting you. I should go over there, I think.” He shook Sara’s hand and gave each of the others nearby a glance with a small smile, even Marcel, whom he hoped had at least one class with Snape.
As Arthur approached, his dad turned and brought him into the circle. The headmistress was speaking. “Why don’t we go up to my office for a little digestif?” As they walked out of the hall, she asked Arthur, “What did you think?”
“Um, did you decide who won?”
“Ah,” she said, glancing between his father and her professor. “I think your father would have if he weren’t quite so nice.” A tightness in Arthur’s chest loosened as he heard this. “In the interests of staff tranquility, however, I’m forced to call it a tie.”
Arthur grinned up at her. Seeing this, she put a hand on his shoulder as they started up a set of wide stairs.
Arthur had to work hard to not react when various things happened on the way to her office. A suit of armor stuck an ax out in front of him, demanding a toll or something. A painting chastised him for being out of uniform. The staircases changed orientation when they stepped upon them. When the headmistress pushed him back from the stone gargoyle he was examining, he didn’t resist. It came alive when she spoke something strange to it.
As he settled into a chair in a large, strange, round office, he thought he was more than ready to go home. His dad was deep in a conversation with Snape and two other teachers. Arthur sighed and sat back.
“Would you like a butterbeer, my boy?” the headmistress asked him.
The conversation beside him stopped at that. Arthur wondered if he were forever going to seem so stupid. McGonagall just smiled kindly and waved her wand. A dark brown bottle appeared in her hand. She handed it over. It tasted sweet, and buttery.
“Thanks,” he said to her. She smiled easily in return, easing his hurt pride considerably.
She moved to pour a dark liquid for everyone else. This led to the conversation getting even more strange than it had been. They discussed Quidditch teams for a while, then argued about scoring for something called the House Cup. Arthur tuned them out and looked at the strange instruments in the room to occupy his frazzled mind. Most of them were delicately balanced affairs with spheres and pointed metal rods, a few had feathers. He tuned back in when he heard his name.
“Well, we won’t know, will we,” his dad was saying, seemly to end the discussion. They had turned to Arthur, who gave them a questioning glance.
The headmistress stood up. “Actually, we can find out,” she said as she swept beside Arthur and reached up on a high shelf. She took down a battered, old black witches hat. “Hold still, this won’t hurt a bit.”
“You’re going to sort him right now?” his dad asked in surprise.
McGonagall held the hat out beside her. “Why not? We sort the teachers who are candidates for Head of House but did not attend Hogwarts.”
“Afraid of what it will say?” Snape asked Harry with a snide tone.
Harry sat back and exhaled. “I know what it’s going to say,” he said with confidence and drank down the rest of his small glass.
“Such certainty,” the black woman said. “Sort him out then, Minerva.”
The dark hat fell over Arthur’s eyes. Hmmm, what is this? A voice in his head said. Very interesting. Arthur held his breath as the voice deliberated with itself for a while. He hoped this was supposed to happen, that he wasn’t cracking up. You wish to be great . . .? “Yeah,” Arthur replied aloud. Then it will have to be . . . “Slytherin!” The voice announced aloud.
The hat was ripped from Arthur’s head and the headmistress looked at him very oddly. So was everyone else for that matter, especially Snape.
“I knew it,” Harry said calmly. He gave a grin to Snape when the teacher spun on him in surprise. To Arthur, he said, “Told you you could be great, didn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Arthur said in confusion. “How did you know?”
“Said the same thing to me,” his dad replied. “I had to talk to it out of putting me in Slytherin,” he added with a very victorious look at Snape who appeared about as surprised as Arthur could imagine he would.
“You didn’t!” he said, stunned. He turned to the headmistress. “Did you know that?”
She shook her head. Harry said, “I only told Dumbledore and only because I was a little worried it shouldn’t have let me change houses.”
“And what brought that on?” Snape asked a little derisively.
“Oh, just everyone thinking I was the Heir of Slytherin,” Harry replied lightly. His brow furrowed as he thought a long moment. “Makes me wonder though if my dad didn’t do the same thing . . .”
Snape had started to refill everyone’s small glass. He froze at that and turned his gaze to Harry with a positively amazed expression. Then he laughed. Arthur assumed based on the other reactions, that this must be a rare thing. Snape grabbed Harry’s glass and filled it before handing it back a little unsteadily. Harry looked very chagrined as he took a gulp. Snape continued to chuckle.
Finally, he soberly stated, “Potter, I do think we are quite even.”
“Well, that would be a relief,” McGonagall breathed in such annoyance it made Arthur grin.
After a while McGonagall said. “Severus, why don’t you take Harry around the school a bit. Arthur and I will stay here and get to know each other a little better.” She gave him a wink.
Harry stood. “You all right with that?” he asked Arthur.
Arthur, rather finished with living paintings and moving staircases for the day, nodded emphatically.
“We’ll be back in a while, then. It’s getting late, so we shouldn’t be too long.”
When the door closed, McGonagall put the hat back up on its perch where it settled in. She then stepped beside Arthur. “Will you satisfy my curiosity, young man?” she asked kindly.
“Sure,” Arthur said.
She took an egg shaped crystal from her pocket and held it out. “Take this.”
Arthur accepted it. It was heavy and it had gold and silver running through it he noticed, when he held it up to the light. She took it back without comment.
“Come here,” she said mildly. She led the way up a small staircase to the raised half of the office. More instruments were laid out on a table here. She directed him to stand beside one of them, then stepped away. Arthur watched as the needles drifted around as though blown by a draft. She stepped back over, two of the needles sprang to her as though she were the north pole. She stepped back and they returned to drifting.
“Amazing,” she said.
“What?” Arthur asked, hoping this wasn’t yet another stupid question.
“You seem to have no magic in you at all,” she said.
Arthur gave her a smug smile. “Dad says he doesn’t care,” he pointed out.
“I would imagine he doesn’t,” she said in agreement. “Being here doesn’t make you feel left out, I hope?”
“Not really,” he replied to avoid insulting her. An emphatic ‘no’ was really on his tongue.
“Because if you did, I could give you a spell,” she suggested. She stepped around the table and handed him her wand. Hers was pale colored and lighter weight than his father’s. “It will only last for a few days, though. But you could tease your father with it,” she suggested.
Arthur grinned at that. She put her hands on his head, her thumbs she positioned on his eyebrows. She spoke a few long phrases of latin ending with, “Lumos.” A light came on in the air around the tip of the wand Arthur held.
Arthur stared at it, feeling dizzy. He couldn’t feel his feet, as though his legs had gone numb.
“Shake it and say, ‘cancel’,” she suggested.
Arthur did so and the light went out. The wand seemed to be vibrating in his hand now, warm and willing.
“Try it,” she urged. “Say ‘lumos’.”
Arthur did. The light came on again. Something in his chest warmed with it. “Is this what magic feels like?” he asked. He felt like he was floating an inch above the floor. He had to look down to assure himself that he wasn’t. He shook the wand to make the light go away.
“Don’t use it up. It will only work a few times,” she said.
“What else do students learn?” Arthur asked as he examined her wand more closely. The handle was worn very smooth where his fingers fell. He was having a hard time with this concept of school for waving a wand around, but he felt curious now . . . curious and lightheaded.
“Lots of things,” she said in that school marm tone he was too familiar with.
“Dad always fetches things with his wand from around the house.”
“That is probably an Accio. That is taught much later than the spell you have.”
“It is a lazy one, really,” Arthur commented with more than a hint of criticism. He pointed at the crystal egg she had left down on the desk and said, “Like if he wanted that, he wouldn’t walk over, he’d just say, Accio egg.”
The egg left the desk and zipped to his hand, striking his palm hard enough to jolt his arm. Arthur nearly fell backward in surprise. The egg was flickering in his hands as he caught it to keep it from falling to the floor.
“Arthur . . . “ McGonagall said in surprise.
“Did you do that?” Arthur asked her.
“By no means,” she said forcefully. Her eyes went over his features with renewed interest before they slid down the the instrument on the desk. The pointed rods were aimed at Arthur now.
“What did you do?” he said accusingly. He stepped backward and tripped on the three steps going down to the main area of the office. He caught himself on the railing and stumbled to the bottom. He was shaking badly.
She followed with much more grace. “Arthur,” she said soothingly, “it’s all right.”
He stared at his hands, afraid to move. “Why did you do this to me?” he asked in a pained voice.
She took his hand, firmly, with a grip he could not have broken if he had tried. “I did not do anything. I cannot make someone magical, Arthur. You were before, apparently.” Sounding helpfully adult she went on, “Sometimes magic gets forcefully suppressed if a child is under a lot of stress when the magic first manifests. Do you remember something unusual happening to you when you were younger?”
Arthur looked frantically around the room, wondering what he was going to do. He forced himself to think about the question posed to him. His shoulders drooped as he exhaled hard. “Once when I was five. Mum was yelling at some people in the living room. She was furious about something. I was in the front bedroom and I wanted to get away from it. The people in the house scared me for some reason.” He shook his head. “I don’t remember why now. But all of a sudden I was in the kitchen, in the back of the house. I could still hear mum yelling about people appearing out of thin air, without warning.” Arthur closed his eyes.
McGonagall shifted the hold she had on his hand. “It isn’t anything to be afraid of. You can stay here,” she said kindly. “Learn to be a wizard.”
“No!” he said sharply, jerking his hand free and stepping back from her. “I don’t want to stay here! I want to go home.” Arthur’s voice broke at the end of that. He was breathing heavily, wanting to flee from her and this room. The future looked very confused now. In a sadly pleading voice, he said, “Please don’t tell him.”
McGonagall stood in thoughtful silence.
“He’ll want to send me here,” Arthur argued painfully. “I know he will. This place is all he talks about.” Desperation was coming through in his voice and he couldn’t stop it.
McGonagall sighed. “All right, Arthur. I won’t say a word to anyone.”
Arthur almost passed out in relief.
“I will leave that to you,” she added sternly. When Arthur gave her a wary look, she went on. “Untrained magic is a dangerous thing, my boy. One of the reasons this school was founded was to collect the children who needed training, so that they would not be a hazard to those around them. One of our founders did not see it that way, but the other three did. Even now children go unidentified, as hard as we work to avoid that. Most, although not all, have a tragic result. Unrefined witches and wizards are a menace in adolescence. Magic manifests itself in damaging ways when it is unleashed late, as firestarting, animal transformation, and dementia.”
Arthur had seen Hermione’s daughter and didn’t doubt the first one.
“All I ask of you, Arthur, is that the first time you harm another, or almost do, that you tell your father immediately.”
“All right,” Arthur agreed dully. He would have said anything to assure her silence.
She stepped closer. In an exhausted voice Arthur said, “I just got my dad back. I don’t want to leave him,” he said, pleading still for her understanding.
“Arthur,” she said soothingly as she touched his shoulder. “Sit down.” Arthur retook his seat, reminding himself what she had promised. He set the egg on the desk, the flickering faded out as it rolled a bit and stopped. She pulled out a box of sweets and held them out. “Have one of these.”
He took one and unwrapped it. It smelled of strawberries. As he sucked on it, he felt the tension in his back loosen.
“Feel better?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he admitted. “You promise?” he asked.
“Yes. Arthur. I do. And I apologize for pushing too hard. I did not understand your feelings.” She closed the box of sweets. Arthur squinted at the label which looked like Weasley Wizard Wonders.
“More Weasleys?” Arthur asked.
She glanced at the side of the box. “George Weasley. The company used to make gags. Now they make sweets that make you happy.”
Arthur swallowed hard. “Don’t tell that to my dad,” he said.
“I wasn’t planning on doing so, though I expect he will learn it on his own as he gets out more.”
Arthur, needing understanding where it seemed to be free-flowing, said, “He’s having a hard time with that. It just happened a few weeks ago for him. He used to tell me about it, but he’s forgotten it.”
The headmistress rubbed her forehead. “I can’t imagine reliving that for the first time,” she breathed. A crystal paperweight on her desk flared once. “They are returning. Do try to pretend we have not been discussing such dark topics.”
“Can I have another sweet?” He held his hand out. She pulled one out and handed it over hurriedly. He peeled it and popped it in his mouth with the other one.
As they waited, she said with a small grin. “I am gratified to have been correct, though. You must have inherited some magic.”
Arthur rolled his eyes as the door opened. He found a smile for his father much easier than he had expected. Harry returned his grin and said, “Things haven’t changed much around here.” He stretched his shoulders back. “Ready to go, I expect?” he asked Arthur.
Arthur had to restrain himself from jumping out of his chair. He stood up normally and nodded.
“It was nice getting to know you, Arthur,” the headmistress said in a nice level voice.
Arthur nodded, then reached over the desk to shake her hand. She had an understanding, sympathetic expression on her face, which made him ache as he released her grip.
“I’m tempted to invite you back at the beginning of next term,” she said to Harry.
“I’d like that.”
“Consider it done, then.” As they reached the door, she said, “Good luck, Arthur.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
The walk back down through the dimness to the train station was a blur for Arthur. His heart raced when he considered how much things had changed in just the last few hours. As the train pulled away he watched the warm lights of the castle over the trees. He slept on the way back to London and had to be led out, eyes half closed, when they arrived. “I can’t hover you here,” his father admonished him. “It would attract too much attention.”
Arthur managed to wake up enough to make it on the underground to Little Whinging. Then he collapsed in bed, fully clothed. His dad pulled his shoes off and covered him with a light blanket before leaving him.
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