Unfortunately for Harry, Hermione wasn’t the only person who was leaving for the holidays. Ron and Ginny’s preference for staying had been overruled by their mother. They had to leave for a family reunion of some sort, and Neville had apparently promised his Mum that he’d come for the holidays. Neville invited Harry, but Draco would have been insulted if he went to the Longbottom’s after turning him down, so Harry was left alone at Hogwarts.
Much of the rest of the school left to take the Hogwarts Express back to London on the 23rd. Harry waved goodbye as they tramped out the door. He was glad that he didn’t have to walk through the two-foot deep snow down to the horseless carriages at the base of the hill.
Harry turned away from the doors to the Hall, glancing over the few people who were staying this year. There were two Hufflepuffs, a couple, who looked to be in fifth or sixth year; a second year Ravenclaw girl; and Theodore Nott from Slytherin: only five students, plus the teachers. The castle would be pretty empty.
Harry decided to go check the library for that book Draco had mentioned. What was it called? Wisdom of the Wizengamot? Yes, that was it…
“What? Why?” Harry asked, flabbergasted.
“Because,” Madam Pince snarled, “Headmaster Dumbledore had it moved there. Come back with a signed permission slip from a Professor, and I will get the book from the Restricted Section for you.”
Harry walked away with a sigh. He had looked through everywhere in the library he could think of that might contain the book – the history section, politics – before asking Madam Pince where Wisdom of the Wizengamot could be found. It was, as it turned out, in the Restricted Section. But really, it was just a book! It had no spells, no recipes, as far as he knew. There were only biographies of each Lord on the Wizengamot and words of advice from each. Harry could think of nothing the book might contain which would cause Dumbledore to restrict it.
Harry glanced at the entrance to the Restricted Section, in the wall of the main library. The black stone archway was a stark contrast to the mahogany planking that lined the rest of the room. Beyond the dark archway was an equally black stairwell, spiraling down with only the occasional torch for light. Not an inviting place. He shivered as a cold wind from below gusted up the stairs at him.
Sneaking into the Restricted Section was out of the question. It was in plain view of Madam Pince’s desk, and she never seemed to sleep. Even when she left her desk to stalk the shelves, she could hear any disturbance from anywhere in the library. Fred and George swore that the books talked to her and told her whenever someone was acting up. No, he wouldn’t be sneaking into the Restricted Section.
That left getting permission from a teacher. Dumbledore was out of the running to start with; as cordial and pleasant as he was, he was the one who had taken it from the main library in the first place. Professor McGonagall? After a moment’s consideration, Harry rejected her as well. She would want to know why he needed the book, and she would see right through any trick he tried to pull. Professor Flitwick? Maybe… no, wait, he had been one of the few teachers who left for Christmas. He was visiting his great-grandchildren, or something like that. Professor Snape had the same problem as McGonagall, far too sharp to be fooled. What about Professor Silas, the history Professor? If Harry claimed he was doing research for an extra-credit essay on the Wizengamot…
Head filling with plans, Harry absently returned to the empty Gryffindor Tower.
Harry continued to scheme through the next day, spending his time lazing about the Tower and idly exploring. He had decided to approach Professor Silas about it and was crafting the pitch for his “extra credit”; he would be writing a piece on the history of the Wizengamot and its notable members. Dumbledore was of course the most famous member currently, and there was no full biography of the man. The best he had heard of was in Wisdom of the Wizengamot, so would the Professor…?
It was a pretty solid plan, Harry thought. But his scheme was rewritten in a moment the next morning.
Harry woke up on Christmas day with a tingle of excitement in the air. He had no idea why. It wasn’t as though he would be getting any presents…
Then his saw the pile at the foot of his bed. It wasn’t a particularly large pile, but it was far better than the miserable single boxes he used to get from the Dursleys. And, yes, there was a box from them right there, near the bottom. The rest of the pile was much more interesting.
Harry practically dove headfirst into his presents – plural, he had presents. He tore wrapping paper carelessly and in general gave a good impression of a feeding school of piranhas.
There weren’t as many presents as there had seemed at first glance, unfortunately. True, his friends had all sent small gifts: Draco had given him a book of pureblood genealogy, with a bookmark in the ‘P’s; Ginny had sent him a dog-eared and clearly well-loved book of Greek myths; Neville and Ron had pooled their money together to get him a sizable box of candy from Honeyduke’s. Hermione had somehow gotten a little glass figure of a troll made; it rested on a wooden base along with a pair of smaller figures with wands in hand.
Professor Flitwick, true to his word at the start of term, had a small gift: a belt pouch with the Gryffindor crest and the initials HP monogrammed on it. Harry immediately transferred his money from the little black bag he had bought from Diagon Alley into it. Professor Snape had given him a gift too, surprisingly; it was a muggle photo album, filled with pictures of a skinny boy with long black hair and a red-headed girl with startlingly green eyes. After a moment of confusion, Harry realized that the photos were of a young Snape and his mother.
Harry was reluctant to set aside the album and move onto the last present, but eventually opened up the shoebox sent by the Dursleys. True to form, it contained nothing by a knobbly black sock.
Harry tossed it into his trunk, making a mental note to burn it as soon as he learned a fire spell. He reached for the photo album once more, but as he did he realized that there was one more present waiting for him.
“Who could this be from?” he muttered, picking up the incredibly flat package. It was a square perhaps a foot square and less than a half-inch thick, with had no label. He tore the wrapping paper carefully and found that it was a wooden frame, entirely empty. However, peering through it, he saw not the dorm room where he sat, but a hidden space, only a foot deep. Within the space was another package, silvery and amorphous.
Harry withdrew it and found that it was a long cloak, made from some silver material that slid over his skin like water. He wrapped it around himself and drew it shut, pulling the hood up and drawing down an odd, transparent veil from the lining to cover his face. He wondered what the point of it was; it was a fine cloak, not restrictive and very light, but the veil made no sense. Was it a disguise of some sort?
Harry entered the bathroom to take a look at his reflection in the mirror, and couldn’t find it. His reflection… it was gone! The mirror didn’t show him at all.
Harry drew the hood of the cloak back, and grinned as his head reappeared. An invisibility cloak! This changed everything. He didn’t have to bother getting permission from a Professor; he could just sneak right into the Restricted Section! After the Christmas feast, of course.
Harry was far too excited for his planned foray into the Restricted Section to bother reading or exploring. He paced around his dorm room, slipping the cloak on and off again and again. Finally he went down to make an appearance at the feast, planning to slip away partway through with claims of a bad headache. He would get a headache potion from Madam Pomfrey, who would tell him to lie down for a bit. After reaching the dorm, he would don his cloak, take one of Fred and George’s secret paths from the Tower, and sneak into the Restricted Section while Madam Pince was at the feast.
At shortly before seven, Harry left the Tower to head down to the feast. He ran into Professor McGonagall on the way down and made small talk about his schoolwork. She confided in him that if she had her way, she would have a separate Professor for each year and smaller classes, and Harry agreed that it sounded like it made sense, but wouldn’t it be hard to find enough Masters for all the subjects? Professor McGonagall agreed, and told him that she was also worried about what might happen with the Defense Professors.
“After all, whatever curse is on the position is very real,” she told Harry. “It’s worked perfectly ever since the retirement of Professor Merrythought, almost sixty years ago: a new Professor every year, by whatever means necessary. Galgam, two years ago, was caught with three second-years under Imperius. Destul, six years ago, was found with a chimera egg. Professor Adams believes that he can escape a more brutal manifestation by taking a one-year contract and leaving after this year in favor of someone else. I worry, though - if we had more than one Professor, might it strike only at one each year, or at all of them?”
Harry shrugged. “Who knows? Besides, with any luck you won’t have to be the Headmistress and make these decisions for a long time.”
McGonagall smiled. “There is that. Albus is still in excellent health, after all.”
They entered the Great Hall and sat at the one long table which had replaced the four House tables. Not much point in separating when there were only twenty people, as Dumbledore had said the first night of the holidays.
Last night, Harry had tried to take the opportunity to get to know Theodore Nott, the only other first-year who had stayed behind, but had failed. All he had learned was that the Notts and the Malfoys were rivals for control of many of the most lucrative businesses in Britain, like the little dragon breeding that took place on the island. After divulging this information, Nott became quite unresponsive.
So instead, Harry spoke to the second-year Ravenclaw girl. It turned out that she was named Cho Chang, and she was on the reserve Seeker for Ravenclaw’s Quidditch team. The current Seeker was a sixth year named Arnold Adams, a distant cousin of the Defense Professor. Harry was intrigued by the idea of a reserve Quidditch team; Ravenclaw seemed to be the only House which had one, but it meant that their main team could practice against another full team, and that any substitutes they had to bring in had already practiced with the full team. Harry resolved to talk to Oliver about recruiting a reserve team after the holidays.
“I think that your redhead friend – what’s her name? Ginny? – may join as a reserve once Arnold leaves,” Cho said, spearing a hard-boiled egg.
“Ginny?” Harry snorted. “She hates Quidditch! Well, maybe not hates,” he allowed, “but she’s not enamored of it either. She hates it when Ron – her twin brother, he’s in Gryffindor – starts going on about it, anyway.”
“Really? Odd… she has the right build for Seeker or Chaser, and I hear she did nearly as well as you during flying class.”
Harry continued to talk with Cho, discussing Quidditch while he waited until seven-thirty, when he had decided he would fake his headache. After a while, the conversation turned to Cho’s Defense professor last year.
“Blier was alright, I suppose,” she said, “but Professor Adams is far better. Of course in June Blier tried to steal something from the Headmaster’s office, I never found out – Harry, are you alright?”
Harry had been scanning the table, trying to decide if he needed to take a few minutes to pretend not feeling well before he asked Madam Pomfrey for the headache potion, when his bright green eyes met Professor Adams’ icy blue ones. A sharp lance of pain had struck Harry’s scar, and he had instinctively slapped a hand over it.
“Fine,” Harry tried to say, but it came out as more of a grunt. Madam Pomfrey had already risen from her chair and hurried over to him, and everyone was now looking his way.
A quick charm of some sort made his skull glow with a dark reddish light, and Pomfrey frowned. “That’s im…” her voice trailed off as she glanced at Dumbledore. Something seemed to pass between them as she met his eyes, and she sighed. “I think that you should take a headache potion and lie down for a bit, Mr. Potter,” the matron said, pressing one into Harry’s hand. “Go up to your dorm after taking that.”
Harry drank the vile-tasting potion, and as he swallowed, his head immediately felt better. It also felt like it was swathed in some sort of cotton, but that was sure to wear off before long. Now, he thought as he hurried from the Hall, he could head to the Restricted Section!