Chapter 12: Tea and Immortality
Dropping History was no problem: he'd only taken it the previous year to keep Ron company. Care of Magical Creatures was another matter. For one reason or another, he, Ron and Hermione had all elected to skip Hagrid's class and none of them felt good about spurning the half-giant who was such a faithful friend to them. At least Ginny was still taking the course and they all hoped that would soothe any hurt feelings. Harry's guilt was also assuaged as the week wore on and it became apparent that the courses in which he'd chosen to sit his NEWTs would be more than enough to keep him busy.
Both Sprout and Flitwick inundated their classes with homework. McGonagall announced that they would eventually be working on human transfigurations this year and she spent the entire first lesson relating in gory detail the gruesome consequences that would surely occur if they failed to take the subject seriously. But unsurprisingly, Potions was the low point of Harry's week.
The first seventh-year Potions lesson was Wednesday afternoon and when Harry got to the classroom, he glanced at his watch to see if he'd misread the time and arrived early. With the exception of Defense which everyone seemed to be taking, most of the seventh-year classes were fairly small as students chose to specialize and take fewer courses. But the Potions classroom held only half as many students as Harry's next smallest class.
At precisely one o'clock, Snape swept into the room. He didn't say a word as he strode to the front of the class and turned to regard them all with his most imperious look. Silently, he scrutinized each of them in turn. Finally, when the silence had become nearly unbearable, he spoke quietly.
"Well, well, our last year together. I have reviewed each of your transcripts and met with your heads of house as necessary. I know what professional goals each of you hopes to pursue when you leave Hogwarts at the end of this year and I know that none of you are here on a whim or for fun, but rather because your plans for the future require it. In other words, you have no choice."
Snape let that ominous statement hang in the dank air a moment before continuing.
"Consequently, I expect all of you to take this subject seriously. You are no longer children, nor will I treat you as such. Since it is my unenviable job to cram enough knowledge into your thick skulls to enable you to pass your NEWTs, I expect your full attention in class and for your work to be completed to an exemplary standard. Failure to meet these requirements will not be tolerated."
Snape raked them all with his piercing gaze once more, then turned towards the board and began copying down the day's lesson. "Pass your homework forward then begin brewing this potion," Snape said over his shoulder.
Harry had been dreading this. He had completed his homework, but only barely and with the most minimal effort. His trepidation only increased as he watched the other students hand in stacks of parchment that were much thicker than his own. At least the potion, a salve to heal burns, was one Harry had brewed during the summer so he had no trouble with it. However, when the bell rang and the class began to file out of the room, Snape called him.
"Potter, I need to see you."
Harry suppressed a sigh and waited for the rest of the class to leave, then approached Snape who was seated behind his desk.
"Potter, you do recall that I warned you that I wouldn't tolerate shoddy work from you this year?"
"And that I specifically told you to put forth your best effort on your homework?"
"Then explain why you handed in this." Snape tossed Harry's homework onto the desk where it lay as a silent indictment of his disregard for Snape's instructions.
Harry had known that Snape would be angry, of course, and he was prepared to weather the man's ridicule and accept whatever punishment was coming. In fact, he'd rehearsed this confrontation in his mind and his answer came automatically.
"I'm sorry, Professor. The summer got away from me and I ran out of time. I promise to do better from now on."
"Good. You may start by redoing all of this," Snape said with a wave at Harry's homework.
Harry sighed. He had hoped that Snape would simply give him a zero for the assignments and take away house points, but he nodded resignedly. "Yes, sir." Harry reached for his homework, but Snape clamped a hand on it and smirked at him.
"You had the chance to do it on your own over summer. Since you failed, you will now do it with supervision. You will have detention every Saturday until you have completed this work to my satisfaction. And don't waste your time working on it any other time. I will only accept work done in my presence."
Harry stared at Snape and felt his stomach sink as he did a quick mental calculation. It had taken him the better part of a week to produce the work he'd turned in. It would take at least twice that long to manage something Snape might consider acceptable. And if he could only work on it with Snape…
"That will take weeks!"
"I did warn you that you wouldn't get away with a slipshod effort," Snape said, an insufferably smug smile playing on his lips as Harry fists clenched in fury.
"I'll see you in my office this Saturday at nine a.m.," Snape said by way of dismissal.
"I can't be there this Saturday."
Snape raised his eyebrows, but before he could say anything, Harry continued defiantly.
"Professor McGonagall has set Quidditch tryouts for this Saturday morning. I'm captain so I have to be there – unless you can talk her into postponing the tryouts, of course."
Snape scowled. They both knew that there was no chance of McGonagall doing that. "Fine. Be here in the afternoon," he said impatiently, turning his attention back to the essays on his desk.
"Actually, I can't make it then, either." Harry smiled slightly, delighting in refusing his teacher.
Snape's head snapped up and his eyes narrowed angrily. "Why not?"
"I already have an appointment with Professor Knight."
"That's right. She wants to talk with me about the Auror service."
Snape's eyes narrowed even further, then his expression cleared and he shrugged unconcernedly. "Very well, Potter. We'll simply begin the following Saturday." He returned Harry's smile. "I have all year, after all."
Harry rolled his eyes. Someday, he swore to himself, he'd get the better of Snape in one of these confrontations, but it clearly wasn't going to be today.
"I'll be there," he said resentfully, then turned and stalked out of the room.
Harry's friends were waiting for him in the Gryffindor common room and he indignantly told them about Snape's punishment.
"He's only doing it to keep you from Quidditch!" Ron said, livid at the news. "I say you should talk to McGonagall. If that git thinks you're going to miss out our match against Slytherin –"
"Ron, I don't think even Snape could justify keeping Harry in detention into November just because he didn't do his homework," Ginny said pragmatically.
Hermione shook her head. "I just don't know when you're going to have time to do any of your current homework. We're going to have loads of it this year. You're already supposed to meet with Dumbledore every Monday evening and if Knight is serious about giving you a head start on Auror training and Snape keeps you half of the day on Saturdays –"
"You've got to find time for Quidditch practice," Ron interjected. "You're captain of the bloody team, after all."
Harry ran a hand through his hair and sighed. This wasn't exactly the support he'd been hoping for.
"It's all right, Harry," Ginny said. "It'll work itself out." She smiled and Harry felt his spirits lift. It didn't matter how busy he was or how much work Snape made him do - as long as Ginny kept smiling at him like that, everything would be fine.
The Gryffindor Quidditch tryouts took all morning on Saturday, but by the time Harry and his friends arrived in the Great Hall for lunch, Gryffindor had a new Chaser, two reserve Chasers and a reserve Beater. Harry had deferred to Ginny on the choice of Gloria Bonhomme for Chaser since Ginny was a Chaser herself and would be playing most closely with the girl. McGonagall, who had watched from the stands, seemed satisfied. She had given Harry one of her rare smiles and Ron seemed pleased as well. He and Ginny were giving Gloria and the others an overview of Gryffindor Quidditch strategies in hushed voices while Hermione sat close by, reading her Ancient Runes textbook.
Harry supposed that he ought to join in the Quidditch discussion, but Ron and Ginny seemed to be handling it quite well, maneuvering the salt and pepper shakers around the table as they described various plays. Besides, as Seeker, Harry had never paid much attention to any of the plays since his one and only job was to catch the Snitch.
Having satisfied his conscience that he could ignore his new players for the time being, he pulled the battered copy of Alice out of his pocket. He was only halfway through the story which resembled a very long and demented dream and he knew he didn't have much time to finish it before Monday evening.
He'd barely opened the book when Hermione asked, "Harry, what are you reading?"
"Something Dumbledore gave me. He reckoned it would help me with our lessons."
She looked more closely at the book and her face lit up. "Alice in Wonderland? That's one of my favorite books."
Harry looked at Hermione in surprise. "I wouldn't have thought you'd fancy anything this random. It's all just nonsense."
"Oh Harry, of course it's not! There's loads of meaning and symbolism in the story."
Before Hermione could launch into a lecture on the subject, however, Draco Malfoy came up behind Harry and snatched the book out of his hand.
"Muggle fairytales, Potter?" Malfoy said loudly, making a great show of examining the book. "Is this what Dumbledore thinks is going to defeat the Dark Lord? He really must be desperate."
"Give it here, Malfoy," Harry said irritably.
Malfoy ignored Harry's demand. "Or maybe he's finally gone completely round the bend because he knows that you can't win."
"Keep telling yourself that. Now give it here."
Malfoy shook his head in evident contempt. "You don't get it, do you, Potter? No matter what you and that old fool do, you can't beat him because he can't be beaten. He can't die. He's impervious to attack. Even the Avada Kadavra couldn't kill him."
"It didn't kill Harry either," Ginny said, glaring defiantly at Malfoy who spared her only a brief glance before returning his hard stare to Harry.
"It will next time. But even if you crawled back into whatever hole you were hiding in all summer and waited to die of old age, he'd still outlive you." Malfoy tossed the book back at Harry and strode away.
"Git," Ron muttered. "Ignore him, Harry," Ginny said. "He doesn't know anything."
Harry nodded, but there was a flicker of doubt at the back of his mind that kept him from dismissing Malfoy's words entirely. Despite his arrogant bluster, the Slytherin was right about one thing at least: Voldemort never should have survived the night Harry's parents had died, but somehow he had.
Harry pushed that thought away. "I've got to go and meet Knight."
"Maybe we can go for a walk down by the lake afterward," Ginny offered.
"That would be great," Harry said with genuine feeling.
Ginny gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. "Go on then, before you're late."
Harry hurried away, excited at the prospect of studying with Knight one on one. Expectations of the woman's skill had not been disappointed. Class after class had reported that her lessons were some of the best they'd ever had and Knight appeared to be universally admired by the students.
For Harry, however, it was Knight's practical knowledge of the Auror Service and of fighting Death Eaters that attracted him most and which he hoped to learn from her. He arrived at her office, knocked briskly then stuck his head in the half-open door.
Knight, who was seated at her desk, looked up and smiled. "Come in, Potter. Sit down."
She laid aside her work as Harry took the indicated chair and regarded him with the same appraising look she'd given him in his first Defense class.
"So, you want to be an Auror?"
Harry let out a hollow laugh. "Isn't that obvious?"
Knight raised her eyebrows at him. "If it were, I wouldn't have asked."
Harry felt himself flush at the mild rebuke, but before he could stammer an apology, Knight continued.
"You don't need to be an Auror to fight this war, Potter. The war, quite literally, will come to you. So if that's all you're in it for, you need to think harder. What happens when the war is over, when You-Know-Who and the scum that follow him are gone? Are you prepared to be an Auror in peace as well as in war?"
Harry considered. Even though it was his dearest hope, he couldn't quite imagine life without Voldemort's shadow hanging over him, but he knew he wanted that life and he knew what was required to ensure it. He met Knight's eyes and answered without hesitation.
"Yes, I'm prepared. Voldemort isn't the first Dark Wizard to come along and he won't be the last. Someone needs to be on the lookout for the next self-proclaimed Dark Lord and be ready to stop him before he comes to power. There's nothing I'd rather spend my life doing than making sure that doesn't happen again."
Knight smiled and nodded approvingly. "Now that's the sort of answer I was looking for. Come on."
Knight stood up and headed for the door with a firm, purposeful stride. "Where are we going?" Harry asked as he hurried to follow her.
Knight paused in the doorway and favored Harry with a small, wry smile. "We're going to teach you to be an Auror." Then she was gone and Harry, grinning broadly, raced after her.
Harry flopped down on the grass and lay back, panting. "I'm glad Ryan spent so much time teaching us to duel last year."
Knight stood over him with her arms folded, an amused look on her face. "So am I. You're quite good. Better than I expected, really. Heroes are usually overrated."
Harry sat up and scowled. "I'm not a hero!"
Knight chuckled. "Sorry, I didn't mean to offend. At least I didn't call you the 'Chosen One'. The Daily Prophet doesn't seem to be able to go a week without using that phrase."
Harry grimaced. "I know and I hate it."
"Good. It never pays to believe your own press."
"So, what do you think?" Harry asked to change the subject. "Do I have what it takes to be an Auror?"
"You're fast; you're a competent duelist; and from what I've heard you were able to conjure a Patronus at thirteen and throw off the Imperius Curse at fourteen. So yes, I'd say you have the makings of an outstanding Auror. There are some things I'd like to teach you that aren't part of the regular Defense curriculum, if you're up to it."
Harry jumped to his feet. "Of course I am!"
"Then plan on meeting in my office every Friday after your last class."
"I'll be there. And thanks, Professor. I appreciate it."
Knight's mouth twitched into a subtle smile. "On the contrary, Potter. Thank you." She turned and strode away across the grounds, her robes billowing behind her in the late afternoon breeze. Harry watched her for a moment then headed back to Gryffindor Tower to find Ginny.
The common room was nearly empty when Harry arrived, but Ginny was there, curled up in her favorite chair, reading. She looked up as Harry entered and smiled.
"How was it?"
"Great! We spent over an hour dueling and she's fantastic. She's offered to give me lessons every Friday afternoon."
Harry sat down next to Ginny and leaned forward. "You know, I was thinking about what Hermione said the other day about needing to train Aurors faster. I know you still have another year here at school, but you've got top marks in Defense. If you asked, I bet Professor Knight would let you come to the lessons too."
Ginny frowned slightly in confusion. "Why?"
"To give you a head start on Auror training."
"Harry, I don't plan to be an Auror."
"Oh." Harry felt stupid for having assumed that Ginny was planning to become an Auror, but also a little disappointed.
Ron had only briefly flirted with the notion of being an Auror until he realized that he'd need to take Potions – something he had neither the marks nor the desire to do. As far as Harry knew, he still hadn't decided what he was going to do once he got out of school, but Harry guessed that he'd wind up at the Ministry.
Hermione was guaranteed to earn enough NEWTs to go into any profession of her choosing, but Harry knew she wasn't planning on a career as an Auror, either.
That left Ginny and Harry had held out a particular hope that she would join him in the Auror service. "What are you planning to do?"
Ginny shrugged. "I'm not sure. I've thought about being a healer, but I might also follow dad into the Ministry. There's so much that needs to be done there. I just haven't decided yet."
"Well, if you haven't decided, how do you know you don't want to be an Auror?"
"Because I don't want to spend my life fighting, Harry. When this war is over I want to put it behind me. I want to have a home and a family and the kind of normal life I grew up with."
Harry looked away and spoke quietly. "I've never had a normal life."
Ginny reached out and took his hand. "It's all right, Harry. You will. I promise. Now come on. Let's go for that walk."
The rest of the weekend was blissful for Harry. He spent most of it with Ginny, much of it down by the lake enjoying the cool late summer weather. Despite all of his worries, when he was with Ginny he couldn't help but feel contented and at peace. On Sunday evening, however, Harry reluctantly left Ginny and the rest of his friends after dinner and went up to his dormitory. He hadn't yet finished his homework for Dumbledore and knew he had no more time to procrastinate.
Harry sprawled on his bed and pulled out his dog-eared copy of "Alice in Wonderland". He didn't particularly care for the story, though he did sympathize with Alice's bewilderment and he understood why Dumbledore had wanted him to read the book. Just as Alice wandered a fantastic landscape where anything could happen, he faced the same sort of challenge in Dumbledore's mind.
Harry opened the book, but as he did he remembered the last time he'd attempted to read it and the mocking comments Malfoy had made. The Slytherin's words whispered in the back of Harry's mind and to his dismay, more words whispered back. He closed his eyes, took several deep breaths and cleared his mind. Then he concentrated until the half-remembered words became clear:
… I, who have gone further than anybody along the path that leads to immortality. You know my goal – to conquer death. …it appeared that one or more of my experiments had worked … for I had not been killed, though the curse should have done it.
Harry opened his eyes with Voldemort's cold, high-pitched voice still ringing in his mind and felt dread grip his heart. That night in the graveyard when Cedric had died and Voldemort had been reborn, Harry had been so afraid, so overwhelmed by all that was happening, that he had scarcely paid attention to Voldemort's posturing before his Death Eaters. But now he wondered – could it be true? Was Voldemort's survival at Godrics Hollow simply a fluke of the ancient magic that had saved Harry's own life or was he really incapable of being killed?
Harry had always known that defeating Voldemort would be hard, nigh on impossible even. After all, the Dark wizard was extraordinarily powerful. But Harry had always believed there was a chance, however slim, that he could win. He had never thought of his enemy as immortal. But now that he had heard this from both Voldemort and Malfoy… Harry shook his head and forced his stomach to unclench. He was being stupid. No one was truly immortal. Voldemort had just been lying to impress his minions and Malfoy was obviously only repeating what his father had told him.
Dumbledore certainly believed that Voldemort could be defeated and Harry trusted that the venerable wizard knew what he was talking about. But just to be safe, Harry decided that he'd mention the matter to Dumbledore. That went a long way towards relieving his worry. He pushed the last uncertainty from his thoughts and turned his attention back to Alice in Wonderland, grateful to have that fantasy to occupy his thoughts.
Harry never looked at the clock and couldn't have said when it was that he finally finished the book, though he knew it was long after his roommates had gone to sleep. Too tired to change into his pajamas, Harry simply took off his glasses and fell asleep.
Harry was in Dumbledore's garden again, but this time as he wandered up and down the paths he encountered bizarre incarnations of the characters Alice had met. He met a white rabbit that lamented being late for Transfigurations where it was supposed to turn a baby into a pig. The rabbit disappeared into a hedge, but further along Harry found a cat that looked exactly like Crookshanks. It was perched in a tree but vanished, leaving only an ill-tempered scowl behind. Finally, in the center of the garden Harry came upon the Hogwarts staff table where Dumbledore, McGonagall and Snape were having tea.
"You're late, Potter," Snape said.
"But not too late," Dumbledore added. "Tea, Harry?"
Dumbledore handed Harry a delicate china cup and saucer. It was empty, but the table was crowed with all manner of teapots and teakettles. Harry reached for the nearest one.
"Don't just stand there, Potter," McGonagall said. "Sit down."
"But there aren't any chairs," Harry observed as he tipped the teapot he was holding nearly upside down over his cup and shook it. Nothing came out.
"Always making excuses," Snape drawled.
"I'm not making excuses!" Harry said indignantly as he set aside the empty teapot and picked up a short fuchsia-colored teakettle. "Where do you want me to sit, on the table?" The teakettle was also empty, so Harry exchanged it for an ornate silver teapot but there wasn't a drop of tea in that either.
"Sit wherever you like, Harry," Dumbledore said. "But you must drink your tea before it goes cold."
"I haven't any!" Harry said in exasperation,
"That's only because you aren't trying hard enough," McGonagall admonished. "I've told you that you need to pay particular attention to your work this year."
"It's not my fault!" Harry complained, snatching up one teapot after another in an increasingly frustrated effort. "There's no tea in any of these!"
"I told you he was hopeless," Snape said.
"I'm not hopeless!" Harry yelled.
Suddenly the sky darkened and a cold wind swept across the garden, buffeting the plants and rattling the teacups on their saucers. Death Eaters emerged from the behind the nearby trees and shrubs to surround Harry.
Harry dropped his teacup which shattered on the ground and pulled out his wand, but his teachers ignored the Death Eaters.
"You really need to finish your tea, Harry," Dumbledore said, shaking his head sadly.
"Forget the bloody tea!" Harry yelled at the old wizard, who was sipping his tea unconcernedly. "Help me."
"Oh, now he wants help," Snape sneered contemptuously.
"We can't do your work for you, Potter," McGonagall said in an exasperated tone.
Harry turned desperately to Dumbledore. "Professor, you have to help me!"
Dumbledore looked at Harry and shrugged. "I've told you, Harry, you have to finish your tea."
Harry let out a snarl of frustration. The Death Eaters were closing in. The nearest one brandished his wand at Harry and shouted, "Off with his head!" The others immediately took up the call. "OFF WITH HIS HEAD!"
There was only one escape open to Harry. He jumped up onto the table, heedless of the teapots he kicked over. Then he leapt past his teachers to the path beyond. Not Dumbledore, McGonagall nor Snape seemed at all perturbed by this. They still sat drinking their tea as Harry sprinted away and the Death Eaters gave chase.
"OFF WITH HIS HEAD!" the Death Eaters chanted as they pursued Harry down the increasingly dark and narrow path. Tall, dense hedges grew on either side and afforded Harry no place to hide and nowhere to go but straight ahead. Harry ran as fast as he could, but the Death Eaters kept pace easily. He was gasping and nearly ready to collapse when the path abruptly ended at the edge of the cliff overlooking the sea. Harry stumbled to a halt, panting and stared down at the waves crashing on the rocks far below. He was trapped. Resignedly, he turned to face the Death Eaters who had stopped a few paces behind him. As he did, the group of black-robed figures parted and Voldemort was there, a terrible, triumphant smile on his snakelike face.
"You can't kill me, Harry. I can't die. But you can." Voldemort raised his wand and a jet of green light shot towards Harry. The spell hit Harry in the chest and sent him tumbling over the edge of the cliff.
Harry woke with a start and blinked at the sunlight streaming in through the window. Then he yawned, stretched and rolled out of bed, his strange dreams already fading from his memory. He changed into fresh clothes then joined his classmates on their way down to breakfast.
Evening couldn't have come soon enough for Harry, who was anxious to meet with Dumbledore again. So, of course, the day crawled by. Defense was interesting enough as Knight showed them various techniques for safely handling cursed objects, but he had much less enthusiasm for Herbology where Professor Sprout displayed various deadly fungi and assigned them a three-foot essay for homework.
At dinnertime, Harry wolfed down his food then waited impatiently as Dumbledore chatted with McGonagall at the staff table for what seemed an interminable length of time. Finally, Dumbledore rose from the table and Harry stood up as well. With a quick farewell to his friends, he hurried to the headmaster's office where he found Dumbledore already seated in his chair by the fire.
"Come in, Harry." Dumbledore poured tea as Harry sat down across from him then continued. "So, what did you think of Alice's adventures?"
"I hope I don't wind up encountering anything that bizarre in your mind or in Voldemort's."
Dumbledore chuckled. "I seriously doubt that you will. Alice's experiences are quite extreme. Nevertheless, I hope that her story helped you to understand that in the mind normal physical laws and the rules that govern reality do not apply."
"Good. Then it is time for us to take another walk in the garden."
Harry was much more confident this time as he descended through Dumbledore's mind. Dumbledore must have realized this because he didn't guide Harry, but instead allowed Harry to find his own way.
The garden materialized around Harry as it had before. Dumbledore was already standing beside him this time and to Harry's astonishment, they were not alone. Men and women of all ages strolled along the garden paths or sat chatting beneath trees. Children darted here and there, laughing and calling to one another as they played. Many of the people were dressed in very old-fashioned clothes, but some wore contemporary fashions and Harry thought that several of the people even looked familiar.
"Who are all of these people?" Harry asked.
"These are the people who have made me what I am. I have told you that those we love never truly leave us and that is true. They live within us. If you wandered these paths long enough you would meet every single person who has ever influenced me: family, childhood friends, teachers, colleagues. You would even meet yourself."
Harry stared in wonder at all of the people. There had to be hundreds of them. "Why didn't I see them the last time?"
"Because I thought it would be better to let you wander a bit first without distraction. I should explain, Harry, that I have a certain amount of control over my mind, but you need to understand that most people do not. Most have absolutely no awareness of their minds at this level at all. If you were to delve into the mind of the average person, you would find their naked, unvarnished soul. They would have no conscious control over their interactions with you at this depth. In fact, once the trance was lifted, they would have no conscious knowledge of your having ever been in their mind at all. Through much time and practice, however, I have developed the ability to reach into my own mind and so I am able to retain a degree of control as well as the memories of what transpires here."
"So you mean that you perform Legilimency on yourself?" Harry asked slowly.
"That is one way to put it, yes," Dumbledore said, obviously pleased that Harry understood.
Harry didn't. He stared at Dumbledore trying to work out the concept of a mind looking into itself. Dumbledore smiled.
"It requires a great deal of self-awareness."
"Morning, Dumbledore," a portly man in Victorian dress said heartily as he came striding briskly up the path, his open wizards robes flapping behind him. He had a florid face and was nearly bald, but his few wisps of white hair danced in the breeze as he hurried along. "I hope you're teaching that young man something," he said as he passed them by.
"Always, Headmaster," Dumbledore called after him as the fellow disappeared around a hedge. Then Dumbledore lowered his voice conspiratorially and addressed Harry.
"Eustace Lampson. Headmaster when I first started teaching at Hogwarts. Always insisted that you should never speak to a student without taking the opportunity to teach them something."
"You can talk to these people?" Harry asked incredulously.
"Naturally. What would be the point in them being here otherwise? Of course, these are no more the actual individuals than are the portraits that hang in my office. These are only the manifestations of my memories of them."
Dumbledore set off along a broad but deserted path and Harry fell into step beside him. "Do you come here often?" Harry asked as he and Dumbledore walked along.
"Heavens, no! It takes enormous effort and concentration to delve this deeply into one's own mind alone. I have only done it once. It is far easier to allow another mind to lead the way and to simply tag along."
They had arrived at a clearing and Dumbledore stopped. "As edifying as it no doubt is to stroll through my mind, it is time for you to learn how to actively engage it. I told you last time that you might encounter anything here and I trust that Alice in Wonderland has given you a taste of the possibilities. And so…"
Dumbledore waved his hand and a pond appeared before them, complete with water lilies and fish darting back and forth. "This is not magic," he said at Harry's astounded expression. "In this place, thought can become reality in an instant and that is true of your thoughts as well."
"Simply imagine something. Form the image clearly in your mind and expect it to appear. Go on, give it a try."
Harry frowned in concentration. He looked at the pond and imagined a fountain in its place. He formed the picture in his mind as clearly as he could but nothing happened.
"You must believe, Harry. Focus less on the details of what you are hoping to create and more on your own expectation of seeing it."
Harry nodded and looked at the pond once more, imagining it to be a fountain instead. He concentrated and suddenly without a sound or any transformation, the pond was no longer a pond but the very fountain Harry had envisioned.
"Excellent!" Dumbledore exclaimed. "And very tasteful, I might add. You may also use your wand to aid you. It is another symbol, of course – one that represents your ability to focus thought and power."
Dumbledore drew his own wand and flicked it at the fountain which became a statue of Venus complete with pigeons perched atop it. Harry pulled his wand from his pocket and pointed it at the statue which obediently became a bird bath that the pigeons were now frolicking in. Back and forth, he and Dumbledore took turns creating all manner of statuary and water effects. Just as Harry was beginning to run out of ideas, Dumbledore waved his wand and in place of Harry's large Grecian urn stood an elephant. Harry stared, momentarily taken aback by the huge animal.
"Remember, Harry, anything you can imagine can become real here."
Harry collected himself and raised his wand. The elephant vanished and a hippogriff appeared in its place. It was a huge jet black creature that pawed the earth and tossed its head proudly.
"A magnificent animal," Dumbledore said. "But I should point out that anything you bring into being in the mind will have all of the same characteristics that you know it to have in the physical world. So I would suggest either bowing with haste or thinking of a slightly more docile creature."
Harry quickly imagined a horse and instantly a black stallion stood in the hippogriff's place. Dumbledore smiled his approval and nodded to indicate that Harry should continue to practice. Harry took a deep breath and concentrated, producing a kangaroo, hippopotamus, deer and fox in quick succession. But the rapid transformations were taking a toll on him. He was finding it harder and harder to concentrate and it was taking increasingly greater effort to bring his visions into being. After taking nearly a minute to turn a monkey into a sheepdog, Harry lowered his wand.
"I can't do it anymore."
"Then it is time to leave. Close your eyes and know that when you open them again you will be seated in my office."
Harry did as Dumbledore instructed. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, envisioning Dumbledore's office. Then he opened his eyes and found himself seated in his chair next to the fireplace where the fire had burned quite low.
Dumbledore, seated in his own chair, smiled. "You did remarkably well for your first lesson. As you practice you will become more proficient and you will be able to bring your visions into being with greater ease. The only limit to what you can create is your own imagination and mental stamina."
"Does Voldemort know how to do this?"
"I am certain that he has not studied this particular branch of Legilimency, no. But do not be too heartened by that, Harry. Even the untrained mind has formidable natural defenses and Voldemort is one of the most powerful and accomplished wizards in the world."
Harry sighed. He hadn't really expected a more encouraging answer. Then he remembered the question he had for Dumbledore.
"Professor, in the graveyard the night he returned, Voldemort told the Death Eaters that he had been experimenting to try to find a way to make himself immortal. He said that some of his experiments must have worked because he should have died the night he killed my parents, but didn't."
Dumbledore listened attentively to Harry then nodded. "Yes, that would be my conclusion as well."
"You mean it's true?" Harry said, shocked.
"It is certainly true that Voldemort should not have survived the Killing Curse. But even before your parents' deaths there were rumors about the Dark Arts Voldemort was dabbling in. It was common knowledge amongst his followers that he had long sought to cheat death, though of course none knew what steps he might have taken towards that end. They still don't. It is to Voldemort's advantage, you see, to maintain an air of mystery, not least because it prevents any of his followers from daring to betray him."
"You've known this all along?"
"Yes. Professor Snape confirmed the rumors I had heard when he returned to us, so I was prepared. The night your parents were murdered, I realized that Voldemort was not gone – that while his body had died, his soul had not departed to the next world. Something had kept it bound to this one.
"That is why I knew that he would return one day. And it is why I did not seek to kill him at the Ministry two years ago. Surely you didn't believe that it was misplaced nobility that stayed my hand? Do you think that I would forgo the chance to spare you the Herculean task you face? Believe me, Harry, I would not."
"But if he's immortal, if you couldn't kill him, then how am I supposed to manage it? Even if I beat him, won't his spirit just slip away again?"
Dumbledore was quiet for a few moments. When he spoke again, he sounded pensive. "That is a conundrum I have been considering for quite some time, Harry – since your parents died, in fact. But it was not until you handed me Riddle's diary in your second year that I began to suspect the true nature of what he had done. When you told me of all that had transpired with the diary, I realized that it had very nearly sucked Ginny Weasley's soul from her. That was unprecedented in my experience and it told me that even at sixteen, Voldemort was learning to manipulate souls. That cannot have been a coincidence and I think the enchantments he used to create the diary led to the eventual steps he took to guard against his own death. Unfortunately, since the diary was destroyed, there was no way to identify the spells Riddle placed upon it."
"But if you don't know what spells he used –"
"While I do not know the actual enchantments, I do understand their nature. I know what he did even if I do not know precisely how he did it."
"Then you know how to break the spells?"
For the briefest moment a look of pain flickered across Dumbledore's face and was gone. "I am confident that the techniques I am teaching you now will prove sufficient to circumvent his protections. And now, Harry, it is quite late, so I suggest that you get back to your dormitory."