Chapter 11: Dumbledore's Garden
Security here was every bit as tight as it had been in London and between the dismal weather and grim sentries, Harry wasted no time climbing into a waiting carriage along with Ron, Hermione and Ginny. Despite the Aurors and bleak weather, however, Harry felt cheered as the lights of Hogwarts castle came into view. He felt a twinge of melancholy at the thought that this would be the last time he would take this ride, but it was quickly dispelled as their carriage came to a halt in front of the castle whose large main doors stood wide open spilling light out onto the steps and beckoning the students inside. Harry's stomach growled in anticipation of the welcoming feast and he grinned in sheer joy as he stepped out of the carriage. His smile faltered as he spotted Snape.
The Potions Master stood at the head of the stairs with his arms crossed and Harry noted that the students were giving him a very wide berth. It was no wonder. He looked ready to deduct twenty points from the first person who dared to look at him. But at that moment, Snape caught sight of him and as their eyes met, Harry knew with dread certainty that he was the real target of the man's ire.
"I'll see you inside," Harry told his friends, then made his way over to where Snape was standing.
"Come with me," Snape said in an even, unemotional voice. He turned away and Harry followed him in silence through the entrance hall and down into the dungeons to Snape's office.
"Shut the door," Snape said in the same controlled tone as he sat down behind his desk. Harry complied then waited, fighting the urge to fidget as Snape regarded him in silence. It was deathly quiet here in the dungeons. Try as he might to catch some distant sound, Harry could hear no hint of the hundreds of students and faculty assembled in the Great Hall above them. He and Snape might as well have been the only people alive in the castle.
"One might have hoped," Snape drawled at last, "as a seventh year student on the threshold of becoming an adult in our world, that you would have achieved some modicum of self-control by now. Alas, that is clearly not the case."
"Professor, Malfoy –" Harry began.
"I don't care what Malfoy did or said, Potter. You know better than to allow him to provoke you. We have been over this countless times, but since you seem to believe that you can ignore my counsel, perhaps fifty points from Gryffindor will convince you otherwise."
"Fifty points!" Harry glared at Snape in outrage. "It was just a stupid fight! We've had worse ones. If the Aurors hadn't got involved –"
"But they did get involved. That is the entire point. You do not have the luxury of indulging in stupid fights – particularly not with the Department of Public Security watching you as closely as they are. I know you've been warned about them, but perhaps that warning was too subtle to impress you so allow me to clarify. Henceforth, you are not to set a toe out of line. You were fortunate that the altercation on the train was obviously nothing more than schoolboy bravado, but any conflict you engage in has the potential to escalate. Become involved in even one more public debacle and there is a good chance that DPS officials will show up at the front door to take you into 'protective custody' and even Albus Dumbledore will not be able to stop them. Is that clear enough for you to grasp?"
"Yes, sir," Harry said in a chastened voice.
Snape rose from his chair. "Come along then. I'd rather not miss dinner on your account."
Harry had no desire to miss dinner either and was right behind Snape as the man reached the door. Snape's hand was on the door handle, but he hesitated and looked back at Harry.
"Why did you defend Draco?"
Harry shrugged. "I don't know. I didn't trust those Aurors."
Snape's mouth twitched into the slightest smile. "I believe that's the first intelligent thing I've ever heard you say, Potter. Perhaps there is some glimmer of hope for you after all."
Despite the sarcasm there was no bite to Snape's words and Harry was sure he saw a trace of genuine approval in the man's eyes. Then Snape was through the door and Harry hurried after him.
Harry could hear Dumbledore's voice as he and Snape emerged from the Dungeons. The Sorting was obviously over, but it seemed that dinner hadn't yet begun. Snape headed for the staff room while Harry entered the Great Hall's large double doors. He arrived just in time to catch Dumbledore warning the first-year students that death awaited them if they ventured into the Forbidden Forest. Spotting some of the newcomers, Harry wondered if he had looked that wide-eyed on his first night at Hogwarts.
A movement off to one side of the staff table caught Harry's attention. Snape had slipped silently into the hall and was standing in the shadows, obviously waiting for Dumbledore to conclude his remarks before taking his seat. Harry realized that he should probably do the same, so he waited patiently, taking the opportunity to scan the room. He immediately saw Malfoy sitting with his cronies at the back of the Slytherin table and Harry noted with satisfaction that the boy's lip looked swollen where Harry had punched him.
Next Harry scanned the staff table and spotted a woman he had never seen before who had to be the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. She was an attractive woman who appeared to be in her early-forties. She had long black hair tied loosely at the nape of her neck and wore black robes. There was nothing particularly remarkable about her; she wasn't at all flashy. Yet there was a relaxed air of easy confidence about her that gave the impression of someone who was used to commanding respect.
The hall broke into polite applause as Dumbledore concluded his address and Harry realized this was his cue to take his seat. He quickly made his way along the Gryffindor table and sat down next to Ginny. As the applause died away, Dumbledore spoke again.
"Now, I would like to introduce our new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Katrina Knight. We are very fortunate to have Professor Knight with us. She is taking a year's sabbatical from the Auror service to be here at Hogwarts and to share her considerable practical knowledge with you all."
Dumbledore turned to smile at Professor Knight who smiled warmly in return, her deep blue eyes sparkling with intelligence and good humor. An Auror! Harry couldn't have hoped for better and he enthusiastically joined in the applause for their new teacher.
Despite the distrust he'd felt for the Aurors on the train and worries over the DPS, Harry still firmly believed that most of the men and women fighting on the front lines in the war against Voldemort had to be honest, decent people committed to upholding justice and Knight certainly looked all right. Besides, Harry was determined to be an Auror, himself, and he couldn't think of a better place to start than by having one for a teacher.
Dumbledore said, "Let the feast begin!"
Platters of food appeared on the table and the hall quieted as everyone turned their attention to the feast.
"Sounds as if she ought to be good," Ron said, nodding in the direction of the staff table as he loaded his plate with food.
"She should be," Neville said, nodding emphatically. "She's only one of the best Aurors around."
"You know her?" Dean asked.
"My gran does," Neville explained. "She and her husband fought alongside my parents back in the first war against You-Know-Who."
"What happened to her husband?" Lavender asked.
Neville looked down at his plate and frowned. "He was caught in an ambush right before the war ended."
"Well, it's no wonder Dumbledore hired her then," Dean said. "It sounds as if she has plenty of experience."
"But if that's true then why is she here?" Hermione asked. "Not that it isn't good to have a competent teacher, but it's not as if we have a surplus of Aurors. I should think the war would come first."
"Her brother was an Auror, too," Neville said. "He was killed by Death Eaters a few months ago."
There was a collective gasp. "That's awful!" Lavender exclaimed.
Neville nodded seriously. "I heard my gran talking about it the other day. He was the only family she had and she adored him. His death hit her really hard and the Ministry thought she ought to take a leave of absence. She didn't agree, but the Ministry insisted, so Dumbledore offered her the Defense position."
Harry looked back at the staff table feeling empathy for the woman. He knew all too well what it was like to lose loved ones to Voldemort and he could well imagine that Katrina Knight hadn't wanted to leave the Aurors. He wouldn't have wanted to either.
"The Ministry are idiots if they think forcing her to take a leave of absence is going to help," Harry said.
"Well, at least she'll have something useful to do here," Hermione said.
Harry shook his head. "It's not the same as being able to fight back."
"You'd know all about that, wouldn't you, Harry?" Seamus said.
Harry looked away from the staff table and felt a stab of dread as he discovered that his classmates were all watching him.
"We read about London," Seamus prompted, dropping his voice conspiratorially. "So what happened? Did you really kill that Death Eater?"
"Oh, for heavens sake!" Ginny snapped. "Do you really think Harry wants to talk about that?"
"Of course, he doesn't!" Ron said forcefully. "We need to talk about something more important."
"What do you consider more important?" Seamus asked.
"Quidditch," Ron answered as if this were obvious. "It's our last year and we want to go out on top, don't we? If so, we need to get cracking. First off, we need a captain."
"I nominate Harry," Ginny said immediately.
"I'll second that," Ron agreed. "What do you say, mate? You up for leading our team to another Quidditch Cup?"
Harry glanced around. Everyone was staring expectantly at him once more, but this time he felt no apprehension. He grinned. "Yeah, I am."
The next morning dawned clear with a cloudless, pale blue sky. Harry had slept well in his familiar bed surrounded by his friends and was looking forward to the first day of classes. He shoveled seconds of potatoes onto his plate while Ron looked over the rumpled list of potential Gryffindor Quidditch players he'd apparently been compiling all summer.
"With Katie gone, we'll need a new Chaser. What do you think of MacAfee or Bonhomme?
"Who's fastest on a broom?" Harry asked.
"Bonhomme, definitely." McGonagall had come up behind them and was peering over their shoulders at Ron's list as well. "Though MacAfee is more aggressive. That might be more useful than sheer speed."
"What about Taylor?" Ginny asked. "He's fast and pretty confident on a broom."
McGonagall pursed her lips and considered. "He's fast enough and has a certain flair, but I'm not sure how he'd do in a match. He doesn't have the best concentration. You'll just have to try them all out, Potter, and see."
"Excuse me, Professor," Hermione interrupted with just a shade of exasperation in her voice. "Could we get our timetables?"
"Oh, yes, of course." McGonagall quickly handed each of them a piece of parchment, then addressed Harry. "I'll want to be at the tryouts, Potter. Saturday morning should be soon enough."
McGonagall continued down the table and Hermione spoke up. "It looks as though we'll be the first to see if Professor Knight lives up to her reputation. We have Defense first thing with the Slytherins."
"Why do we always get stuck with them?" Ron groaned.
"Because we can beat them even when they cheat," Harry said.
Hermione started gathering up her books. "We'd better go if we want decent seats."
"I'm not finished eating," Ron protested.
"You would be if you hadn't spent the last half-hour talking about Quidditch. Hurry up."
Ron gulped down his food as quickly as he could without choking on it, then he, Harry and Hermione set off for class. By the time they arrived, most of the other students were already present and the three were forced to take seats at the very front of the classroom. Unfortunately, these were directly across from Draco Malfoy and Harry wondered if the Slytherin was going to cause any trouble. Malfoy, however, only cast a sullen look at him then turned away.
Professor Knight came in carrying a box which she deposited on the desk at the front of the classroom. She then turned to the students and began without preamble.
"Professor Dumbledore tells me that you received excellent instruction in dueling last year, so I'm going to concentrate on teaching you how to defend yourselves from the more insidious forms of the Dark Arts."
She tapped the box and half a dozen items rose out of it and settled onto the desk. They appeared to be completely mundane. There was a pocket watch, a book, a necktie, a quill, a bar of chocolate and a key.
"One of these items is cursed. Does anyone know how to tell which one?"
There was silence in the classroom as everyone stared at the items on the desk as if expecting the cursed one to jump up and identify itself. Harry stared at them too, but they all looked perfectly normal. There was nothing to indicate that one of them was cursed.
Harry's attention was suddenly distracted by an unusual vibration coming from the right back pocket of his trousers. Frowning, he reached into the pocket and felt the stone which Remus had given him for his birthday and which he always carried with him. It was warm and was vibrating gently. Harry looked back at the items on the desk and raised his hand.
"I think I know how to tell which one is cursed."
Knight looked at him and her eyes narrowed appraisingly. "Potter, isn't it?" She smiled slightly and waved at the desk. "Have a go, then."
Harry stood up and approached the desk. As he did, he could feel the stone in his pocket begin to vibrate more rapidly. He stopped, scanned the items, then reached out towards the pocket watch.
"Careful! Don't touch them," Knight warned. She was standing at his side and he gave her a dry smile.
"Trust me, I know better than that." He passed his hand back and forth over the objects, feeling the vibration in his pocket wax and wane. Then he drew back his hand. "It's the tie."
"Correct," Knight said, giving him a shrewd smile. "Now, why don't you show us all what's in your pocket?"
Harry pulled out the still vibrating stone and handed it to Knight who held it up for the whole class to see.
"This is a Curse Detector: also known as an Auror's best friend. Its sole purpose is to detect cursed objects. This one is vibrating, which is the most common variety, but you can get them enchanted to emit audible alarms or to flash rapidly when a curse is detected. These are by far the easiest means of spotting a cursed object and anyone who's likely to come into contact with cursed items should definitely invest in one of these and make certain to carry it with them at all times."
Knight tossed Harry's stone back to him and he caught it deftly. "Five points to Gryffindor, Potter. You may take your seat.
"For those who don't have a Curse Detector, there is a spell that will reveal a cursed object. The obvious drawback to this is that you have to cast it intentionally, which means you have to be aware of your surroundings and on the ball enough to recognize a suspicious object when you see one.
"The incantation is Aperio. Everyone queue up and take a turn casting it on the items up here. The cursed object will glow momentarily when the spell hits it."
The students queued up as instructed and by the time the bell rang to signal the end of the lesson, they had all had ample opportunity to practice detecting cursed objects.
"Read the first chapter in your book on the types of curses that can be placed on objects," Knight called as everyone collected their books. "And Potter, I need to see you."
Harry looked up in surprise then shrugged at Ron and Hermione. They left with the rest of the students and when the classroom was empty, Knight spoke again.
"Not many people outside the Auror service have a Curse Detector. Where did you get it?"
"A friend gave it to me for my birthday. I want to be an Auror and I'm hoping to be accepted to the training program as soon as I'm out of school."
Knight pursed her lips and considered Harry thoughtfully. "From what I've heard you'd make a good one. We need good people. If you're interested, I could teach you a few techniques to give you a head start on training."
"Really?" Harry said, excitedly. "That'd be brilliant!"
Knight smiled. "Come by my office Saturday afternoon and we'll see what you can do with your wand."
"That's wonderful, Harry," Ginny said over lunch once Harry had told his friends about Knight's offer. "The more you can learn here at Hogwarts, the better."
"Yeah, I wouldn't be surprised if Dumbledore didn't have that in mind when he hired her," Ron said.
"I don't know about that," Harry said. He didn't like the thought that Dumbledore would choose a Defense teacher just so he could have private lessons.
"Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if Knight doesn't end up giving extra lessons to everyone planning to apply for the Auror service," Hermione said. "There's a desperate shortage of Aurors and we don't have three years to train new ones. Anything that can be done to get new people out into the field sooner makes sense."
"Potter," McGonagall said, approaching them at a brisk pace. "The headmaster wants to see you in his office after your lesson this afternoon."
"What about?" Harry asked.
"I wouldn't know," McGonagall said, handing a folded slip of paper to Harry. She gave him a small smile and walked away.
Harry opened the note and read it:
Please join me for tea in my office this afternoon. We have much to discuss.
Harry was hopelessly distracted in Herbology. He paid scant attention to Professor Sprout's admonishments that this year they would be studying the most exotic – and dangerous – plants known to wizards. Even when she produced a juvenile man-eating banana plant that tried to bite Seamus, Harry hardly noticed. He had never been more anxious to see Dumbledore and hoped that at long last the headmaster was ready to discuss a strategy for defeating Voldemort.
As soon as the Herbology lesson was over, Harry raced back to Gryffindor tower, deposited his books in his dormitory and went to see Dumbledore. The gargoyle outside Dumbledore's office was obviously expecting him. It leaped aside as soon as it spotted him and Harry hurried up the moving spiral staircase. He knocked briskly at the half-open door.
"Come in, Harry," Dumbledore called, looking up from the delicate instrument he was examining at his desk. He made a slight adjustment to the instrument, looked at it closely once more, then stood up and smiled warmly. "I trust that your first day back at Hogwarts has been a good one."
"Excellent. Come and sit down." Dumbledore beckoned Harry towards two arm chairs and a small table set for tea next to the fireplace where a cheerful blaze was burning. The old wizard sat down in one of the chairs and Harry took the other.
"It is time at last, Harry, for us to discuss Lord Voldemort," Dumbledore said, handing Harry a cup of tea then pouring his own. "To begin with, I would like to hear from you, first hand, the plan you discussed with Professor Snape at the end of last term."
"It's not really a plan," Harry said hastily, wondering how he could explain his wild idea to Dumbledore. "Just a thought. I had the idea that if I could reach into Voldemort's mind, I might be able to fight him there. I just reckoned that since it caused him so much pain when he tried to possess me at the Ministry, that if I could force my emotions on him it might do the trick. At least I think I've got a better shot at that than of beating him in a duel."
"That is quite an inspired notion, Harry, and I do believe that you are correct. I am convinced that the unique mental connection you share will make him vulnerable to you.
"The problem is that I don't have the first idea of where to begin," Harry admitted. "I don't know how to fight a battle of the mind."
"That is why you are here. Do drink your tea, Harry, before it goes cold."
Harry gulped down half the contents of his cup. The tea was an unusual flavor he didn't recognize. "But how can I maintain the connection between us? What's to stop him using Occlumency to block me?"
Dumbledore refilled Harry's teacup. "That is what I have been researching all summer. There is a technique. It is very old and obscure. Very few people have even heard of it and as far as I know, there is only one person alive who knows how to practice it."
"Me. Drink your tea, Harry."
Harry automatically took another large swallow of tea. "What kind of technique? How long do you think it will take me to learn it?"
"It is a form of Legilimency and surprisingly, it is not as difficult to learn as you might imagine. I can teach you what you need to know quite easily."
"Really?" Harry said excitedly. He felt elated at the thought that he might soon have the skill to defeat Voldemort once and for all.
"Without doubt. But it will require you to reach deeply into the mind."
Harry frowned. "How deeply?"
"Beyond thought or memory."
Harry's frown deepened. Once he had dived deeply into Snape's mind – and had nearly killed the man. The experience had terrified him and he had no desire to repeat it.
"You will need to reach the very deepest level of Voldemort's mind," Dumbledore explained. "It is there and only there that you will be able to defeat him. Do you understand?"
Harry nodded solemnly. He supposed it made sense that in order to kill Voldemort he'd need to reach the deepest, most vulnerable part of his mind.
"Good. Now, I want you to reach into my mind as deeply as you can."
"How else do you propose to learn?"
"I – I don't know. But I…"
Dumbledore's eyes twinkled in amusement. "I flatter myself that I know one or two tricks in Occlumency that Professor Snape does not. I promise that you will not harm me, Harry. You need to learn and the only way to do so is through experience. Finish your tea and we shall proceed."
Harry sighed. Dumbledore's easy assurance did little to assuage his concern and he was annoyed at the man's preoccupation with his tea consumption. Dumbledore, himself, had hardly touched his own cup. But Harry drained his nonetheless and set it aside.
"This particular tea comes from India, by the way," Dumbledore said. "I find it to be very relaxing and it is particularly useful to the task before us."
"It makes the mind more pliable, more easily manipulated."
"But I thought I was the one who was supposed to be performing Legilimency on you."
"You are. However, since you have no experience with this particular technique, I will guide you." Dumbledore smiled reassuringly at Harry's skeptical look. "Trust me, Harry. Relax and reach into my mind. Do not hesitate. I assure you it is perfectly safe."
Harry met Dumbledore's eyes, took a deep breath and reached out with his mind. Dumbledore's mind was waiting, open and inviting. Harry could sense memories and emotions but resisted the temptation to dawdle on the surface. He reached deeper and encountered no resistance at all. In fact, Dumbledore's mind seemed to be pulling him in. Harry felt a twinge of apprehension at his loss of control, but the feeling was muted and faded almost at once.
Harry relaxed completely and let himself fall past the rushing memories and snatches of thought flashing by. In a moment, these began to diminish, thinning out until only a few scattered memories and emotions were passing him by. Then even these were gone along with the sense of falling and in the unexpected stillness, a vivid landscape opened up before him, coalescing out of the void.
To his amazement, Harry suddenly found himself standing in the midst of a magnificent English garden like none he'd ever seen before. It was much like being in a Pensieve. Harry knew that he was still in Dumbledore's mind and that nothing around him could be real, yet his surroundings felt absolutely authentic. He could smell lilac and jasmine, feel the cool breeze and warm sun on his face, and hear the buzzing of the bees amongst the flowers.
Harry turned slowly to take in the scene around him. The garden was immense; it stretched in every direction as far as Harry could see and was filled with a staggering variety of plants, all carefully tended. There was one main path which Harry was standing on that seemed to lead more or less straight through the garden, plus there were also myriad side paths and Harry set off at once, feeling compelled to explore these.
Many of the paths were wide and inviting, leading through the loveliest areas of the garden, but others were bracketed by dense foliage and were so narrow that Harry could barely walk down them. Some paths were only a dozen paces long; others stretched for what seemed to be a mile or more. Some twisted so sharply that Harry couldn't see more than a few feet down them at any point. Still others had cloying vines growing over them that impeded passage and shrouded them in darkness.
Harry couldn't have said how long he spent wandering up and down these paths. Time seemed to stand still here. But he found that every path – even the hardest – eventually led back to the main one and it was this which Harry – having had his fill of meandering – finally chose to follow until, quite abruptly, the path and garden ended at the edge of a cliff.
The cliff overlooked an ocean, a dazzling expanse of water reaching to the horizon. A stiff breeze ruffled Harry's hair as he breathed in the tangy salt air. It was an exhilarating sensation, full of the promise of boundless adventure.
"What do you think?"
Harry spun around to find Dumbledore smiling at him. "It's amazing," Harry said. "Where are we? I've never heard of any place like this."
"Nor will you," Dumbledore replied. "This place does not exist and never has. It is not a memory. What you see around you is the manifestation of my mind at its deepest level, beyond memory or conscious thought. This is the physical representation of personality and experience; a metaphor for my soul, if you will."
Harry looked around at the garden once more; at the vast, intricately arranged plantings all blending together into a subtle and complex tapestry and at the countless paths that led through them. It was a perfect depiction of Dumbledore. He looked back at the ocean. "What's this then?"
Dumbledore smiled wistfully. "I think, Harry, that I will leave you to ponder that question on your own. Come."
Dumbledore steered Harry back up the path into the heart of the garden, talking rapidly as they went. "Understand, Harry that our minds alone walk this path. Physically we are still seated in my office in a deep trance. Understand too that every mind is different. What you see here is unique to me. The manifestations of other minds will be different, Voldemort's vastly so. But it is the landscape of his mind that you must force your way into, its dangers and obstacles you must overcome, if you are to fight him and win."
"How do I do that?"
"By learning to navigate the landscape of my mind and to overcome its dangers and obstacles."
Harry glanced around dubiously. "I don't think there are many dangers here, Professor."
"Appearances can be deceiving."
Even as Dumbledore was still speaking Harry heard a deep growl and turned towards it. Standing ten feet away on one of the narrow paths and regarding Harry with a predatory stare, was a lion. Harry gaped at the animal. It was so incongruous standing among the marigolds that he could scarcely believe he wasn't imagining it. Until it lunged.
Harry didn't have time to reach for his wand or even to scream before he found himself on his back with a five hundred pound lion on his chest, pinning him to the ground. Instinctively he threw up his arms and squeezed his eyes shut, but he knew full well that this feeble defense wouldn't prevent the animal from tearing his throat out. He could feel the lion's crushing weight and its hot breath on his face. Then in an instant it was gone.
Harry opened his eyes. He was lying on the floor in Dumbledore's office, where the fire still crackled cheerily in the fireplace. Dumbledore was sitting in his chair regarding Harry calmly, a small smile playing on his lips.
"You see, Harry, you must never underestimate your opponent." He poured tea and sipped it as Harry got to his feet.
"What was a lion doing wandering around a garden?"
"It was not an actual lion in an actual garden. These are symbols, only – representations of the mind's energy. In the mind you may encounter anything and you must be ready. Tell me, Harry, have you ever read Alice in Wonderland?"
Harry shook his head.
"Then that is your homework assignment until we meet again." Dumbledore stood up, pulled a battered copy of the book from his pocket and handed it to Harry. "From now on, I will expect you here every Monday evening directly after dinner. Finish this before next week." Harry regarded the book doubtfully and Dumbledore smiled. "Trust me. It should help."