Somewhere, within the incalculable set of all possible worlds, there must be one or more in which a 15-year-old Harry Potter made a fast and easy recovery from the terrible events and revelations at the end of his fifth year at Hogwarts. But not in this one. Here in this world, in the early summer weeks spent at Privet Drive, Harry urgentlysought advice and consolation from people who would understand him, people who had never let him down. Thus he found himself this Saturday morning having another earnest conversation with his father and mother.
In a way it was Version 3.0 of James and Lily Potter who were speaking to Harry now. In the first version Harry had conjured, James was too solemnly paternal and Lily too tenderly sentimental to be tolerated, and their replacements went too far in the opposite directions -- his father all Marauder jokester and his mother a kind of younger, fiercer Molly Weasley. But the James and Lily who stood before the mind’s eye now seemed like real possibilities to Harry, so he listened attentively as James assured him he need not bear the guilt for Sirius’ death.
“Harry, he was my best friend; if anybody has a right to hold you accountable, it’s me. So if I don’t blame you --”
“It means that being my father counts for more than being his best friend.”
“No, it means I know what Sirius was like and I know something of what Potters are like in situations like that. What do you think I would have done at your age if I’d had only the information you had, and only the resources you had?”
“I can testify,” Lily interrupted, “that James wouldn’t have been any more likely than you to wait patiently, Harry.”
Harry was tempted to reply that he didn’t want to take his father-at-age-15 as a model, but held back from what would sound too much like an ungrateful wisecrack. Besides, James had already gone far in their previous talks towards convincing Harry that the seemingly indefensible bullying he had witnessed in Snape’s pensieve needed to be put in context, that Snape had ambushed his own least-favorite classmates with more dangerous curses than James had used on Snivellus.
The conversation went on, and Harry found himself feeling somewhat comforted until, inevitably, the thought of the prophecy came to the forefront of his thoughts. As always, Lily had an uncanny ability to sense in which direction Harry’s mind was turning, and as always she headed off any discussion of what the prophecy meant or demanded by asking instead for Harry to talk about the same set of topics: home, school, friends, girls. Lily asked this time about how Harry was getting along with Petunia.
“Easier when she isn’t here as much,” Harry grumbled. “She usually leaves on the weekends to be with Dudley at Marge’s.” Harry went on to describe how, after last year’s Dementor attack on Harry and Dudley, Petunia was adamant that her child was not going to stay anywhere near a boy whose status as the prime target for the dark forces in the wizarding world put all those around him in danger, and Dudley had therefore been packed off to stay with his Aunt Marge over the summer. “And Aunt Petunia can’t bear to stay apart from her Duddykins for more than a week, so she’s spending the weekends with them. Vernon would probably rather join them, but he isn’t going to leave me alone in his house.”
“There’s a lot I could say about my sister,” Lily replied, “but I find it hard to blame her here.”
“I guess. It just reminds me of my place in this family again, though -- he’s the son, and I’m the fugitive alien they have to hide out.”
“You know the reason for that.”
“Yeah, because -- it doesn’t matter what I do, it doesn’t matter that I didn’t ask to be a target, it just matters that I’m a wizard and she’s a complete bigot about magic.”
“I know, Harry,andit hurts. I had to live with that too. But honey, you have to realize... It’s her son, her home. People have a right to be bigots in their own homes.”
Harry was startled by this comment. He hadn’t ever thought of it that way, and certainly didn’t expect his mother to see things in that light.
“Don’t think I’m implying it’s at all your fault” Lily quickly added. “Your responsibility is nil, Harry. You were left there. You were helpless. You had no say in it.”
Harry murmured “Dumbledore” to himself and looked up quickly to see if his mother or father had heard. If they had, they gave no sign of it. After a while it occurred to him that his mother had once more diverted any discussion of the prophecy. Harry was about to make another try when James broke in.
“I wish I could meet your friends. They sound like terrific kids.”
“They’re brilliant. I wish you could meet them too.”
James paused a moment before saying “You’ve got to give yourself every chance with them, son.”
“What do you mean?” Harry asked. It seemed his father was implying something further, but what wasn’t clear.
James hesitated, and Lily responded “What your father means, Harry, is that you need to share with them, be with them, with the living.”
“Write them, I’m sure they’re anxious to hear from you” James continued. “Get together with them, have a drink with them–”
“I didn’t say what they should drink, dear.”
“Yeah, Dad,” Harry said, “you didn’t say what brand.”
“And he isn’t going to,” Lily said in a firm tone of voice. “But listen, Harry; you know that we would do anything for you.”
“I know, Mom; that’s why I wanted to have you here.”
“And what I think we need to do for you now is something very difficult for us: we need to ask you not to call on us any more.”
Harry sat for a moment in stunned silence.
“At least for a while,” James amended.
“It isn’t healthy for you,” Lily said, “to be talking to nobody but us like this, for hours every day.”
“You need the chance to talk things through with the people in this life who care about you,” James insisted.
“But I’m stuck here with the Dursleys, there isn’t anybody here who I can talk to!”
“You’ll find somebody,” Lily said. “It’s one of your magical endowments, Harry; you attract people who can help you.”
After a tense silence which lasted some seconds, Harry finally said “I really didn’t expect this, but I guess... If I asked you here so I could get your advice...”
“This is our advice,” James said. “Our advice is not to rely so much on our advice.” James and Lily smiled, and Harry managed to return it.
“Listen,” Harry finally blurted after a few more seconds of silence, “I know you aren’t really... James and Lily Potter.”
“No, we aren’t,” the pair acknowledged, and Harry was relieved that they did so readily; it would have pained him to have to fight them on this issue.
“But -- this is hard to say... Are you only in my head? Am I just talking to myself, is that why you think it’s dangerous to go on like this, or am I calling some of my real mum and dad from... Do you believe in an afterlife? Do you know what I’m trying to say?”
“I think so, Harry,” James replied. “And I can’t really give you an answer, except to say that the mind is where all magic begins, and that nobody knows how far it reaches.”
Harry turned to his mind’s mother, to see if she could give him anything more to hang on to, and she responded:
“My favorite poet was Keats. You’ve never read him, I know, but there’s one quote I’ve always liked: ‘I am certain of nothing except for the truth of the imagination, and the holiness of the heart’s affections.”
On that note, the imagined James and Lily departed. Left alone, Harry could not recall where he had read or heard that quote from Keats. He did not try very hard to remember.
The next day, Harry was eating a quiet Sunday morning breakfast at the modest home of his aunt and uncle at Privet Drive in Little Whinging. He was seated at the dining table with his uncle, who quietly read a newspaper and stirred some more sugar into his coffee while the nephew toyed with his scrambled eggs and sipped at his orange juice. Gentle noises were carried into the house from the warm spring air outside: sounds of men and women greeting one another after returning from church, of cars rolling down asphalt, of children shouting for the ball to be kicked their way.
This, thought Harry Potter, is the weirdest, spookiest thing I’ve ever been through in my life.
Harry’s presence at the same table as his uncle, seated in a chair ordinarily reserved for real (i.e. normal) family members, eating eggs which were still warm and drinking juice which was still cold, had indeed been the stuff of his wildest fantasies in earlier years. Harry was not totally disconcerted by this unnatural situation because there was no doubt in his mind about its source; just a fortnight earlier four adult wizards had told the Dursleys they were expecting to hear reports from Harry’s own quill testifying that he was not being mistreated by his guardians, or unpleasant consequences would follow. Vernon and Petunia had taken this to heart, with Vernon going so far as to look up the protocols of the Geneva Convention on what might legally be said to constitute “ill treatment.” He even shared some of the results of this research with Harry, demanding that he point out to his friends how, by those standards, Harry had in fact been for the most part “well-treated” in the Dursley house, and if he hadn’t it couldn’t count against Vernon because he and Harry had never technically been at war.
With Petunia and Dudley gone, Vernon had to endure Harry’s company without his usual sources of support. To ease the stress of this ordeal, whenever (as now) Vernon was sharing a table with his unnatural nephew, he took care to seat himself at a distance and angle which gave him more than 180 degrees of peripheral blindness to Harry’s existence. The TV programming that day was not, however, cooperating. After Vernon had flippedhastily from a channel featuring ‘Unexplained Mysteries,’ then escaped furiously from a Wimbledon recap rhapsodizing over a teen phenom who was ‘a wizard with that racket,’ he settled on the ‘Goals!’ programme, only to hear the announcer exclaiming ‘Magic! There’s magic in those feet!’ With a ferocious click of the ‘Off’ button, Vernon turned and gave his nephew a stare full of threat and reproach. Harry did his best to meet this with an enigmatic smile of his own, one which said, without words, ‘We have Our ways, you know...’ A few abortive splutters later, Vernon stalked out of the kitchen.
Harry remained behind, enjoying the moment of leisure and solitude, until he heard the doorbell ring and saw his uncle rise from the living room sofa to open the door and see off the intruder. Harry could only see a sliver of the visitor from his angle, but saw an elderly Asian man robed in yellow, in a style he remembered as belonging to Buddhist monks. Vernon stared at the man, neither through speech or body language offering any hint of an invitation to enter. A Buddhist monk in Little Whinging would have been suspicious enough to Vernon in the best of moods, and now he was primed to suspect magical interference. Harry couldn’t help suspecting it himself, and drew himself closer to the door for a better look at the stranger, who smiled back at Vernon, and finally said something to him that sounded to Harry like:
Vernon, nonplussed, narrowed his eyes at the monk.
“Is that supposed to be some kind of joke? ‘Bandit here, I’ve come to rob your home’?”
“No no, that’s my name. B-a-n-d-h-i-t. Long a, like in car.” The monk gave a smile of broad relief, as if all possible objections, having been based on this amusing misunderstanding, were now cleared away and an era of friendship were about to begin. Vernon didn’t move a muscle of either body or face.
“Well,” declared the monk, “as said, I am Bandhit. May I come in?”
Vernon’s tried to wrap as much disdain as possible into his “No!” and made as if to close the door. Bandhit held up his hand and spoke again, as if introducing himself for the first time.
“Mr. Dursley, I have been walking a long time, can I come in and rest my feet?”
Vernon stared incredulously. “What -- what do I care how long you’ve been walking, why don’t you get a car like a normal person?”
“Oh. That would be against the rules of my order. Explaining our rules takes time though. Should we talk about it inside?”
“I don’t give a damn about your order or your rules--”
“But you asked me the question; should I not have answered it?”
Vernon had no immediate response to that, which gave the monk another chance to reopen the conversation.
“Mr. Dursley, I find myself hungry, would you be kind enough to allow me in for something to eat?”
After a second or two of flabbergasted silence, Vernon spent the better part of a minute explaining to Bandhit his philosophy about freeloading cheats with the nerve to expect handouts. Bandhit’s smile seemed if anything to brighten at this. “Perhaps,” said the monk “you’ll let me pay for my meal.”
“Why don’t you go to a restaurant if you have money--”
“Oh, I don’t carry money. Against the rules of my order.”
“Do you expect me to take a bloody credit card--”
“No no, as payment, I could share some stories with you; many interesting experiences, over the world.”
Vernon was now turning very red, and began furiously denying any interest in anything that had ever happened to the man on any continent. To his horror, he noticed curiosity-seekers starting to peer at the confrontation from the street and from behind windows, and hastily lowered his voice. Bandhit took the opportunity to expand on his offer.
“Are you certain you have no interest in what I can share? I’ve actually taught many pupils many things.”
“What sorts of things?”
“What would you want to learn?”
“What about, ‘How to chase away annoying beggars’?” Vernon pronounced, with a raised finger and a grin of triumph, and made to close the door.
Bandhit raised his own hand higher and doubled his own smile. “Oh, I certainly know how to help with that. May I come in and describe methods?”
Harry’s uncle had been somewhat restrained, till now, by the desire not to draw attention to the oddity stalking his house. But that ship had clearly sailed. Vernon let loose with a loud flow of invective, in the middle of which the monk seemed for the first time to notice Harry lurking behind his uncle, and gave him a wave. Harry was not sure how to read this. If, as he suspected, this Bandhit was connected with Dumbledore and Hogwarts, why didn’t he say so? Harry’s suspicion gained strength when the next line from the monk was “I have a connection to your family, can I come in and explain?”
The penny seemed to drop for Vernon as well, and he lowered his voice to ask, “What kind of connection?”
“Well, more to do with your wife’s family.” Bandhit seemed to nod towards Harry. “May I come in and explain it?”
Vernon might well have backed down and dragged the monk in at this point, out of fear of magical retaliation, but this would mean losing considerable face in front of the neighbors.
“You mean, my wife’s nephew.”
“That’s right. May I come in and discuss the connection?”
“So, you’re from that school of his?”
“Oh, no” said Bandhit, much to the surprise of both Vernon and Harry.
“You aren’t together with, with those men who threat-- who talked to me at King’s Cross?”
“Did somebody threaten you, Mr. Dursley? I’m sorry to hear that. No, I had nothing to do with that.”
“Not part of all that, then?” asked Vernon suspiciously.
“I’m not sure what you mean by ‘all that’, Mr. Dursley. But I have been asked to give some lessons to your nephew.” Bandhit nodded again towards Harry. “May I come in?”
“No, you may not!”
The exchange continued, Vernon gaining more and more confidence with each second that passed without Bandhit pulling out a wand. When the monk brought Harry’s name into the conversation, suggesting that Harry might use some counseling to help him get over the loss he had recently suffered, Harry felt a moment of near-solidarity with his uncle, who was shouting that the boy could bloody well solve his own problems. Undeterred, Bandhit offered further incentives: that by helping Harry, he could be indirectly saving the lives of many others.
“I don’t know them and I don’t care about them!” Vernon shouted.
“No, Mr. Dursley--”
“That’s right, Bandit, I don’t care--”
“No, I mean, that’s not likely; you and your family are who I’m talking about.”
Vernon looked back at Harry with rage, his face plainly conveying the message: you, your kind, your fault. Harry was trying to work his own face into a suitable reply, something like what, you think I asked for this, anyway I can’t just make it go away, so let’s deal with it, but gave up halfway through the anyway clause. Vernon had finally gathered himself and spoke to the monk with a cold anger. “WE -- will take care -- of ourselves. We -- don’t want anything -- from you. Now GO.”
As Vernon was about to slam the door on Bandhit, the monk raised his arm yet again, more forcefully now than at any time previously. “Mr. Dursley,” he declared, “I am a very powerful wizard. If you do not let me in now I will turn you into a small, unpleasant animal. This would distress me very much. May I come in?”
To Harry’s surprise, Vernon remained standing, stock still, remained blocking at the door, kept staring daggers at the monk, for three, four, five seconds.
“What kind of animal?” he asked.
After the genus and species of transfiguration were established to Vernon’s ‘satisfaction,’ and the monk permitted to enter,Harry ushered Bandhit into his room. As soon as the door was closed behind them, he turned back to interrogate the visitor, but quickly stumbled on the fact he had no idea how to address a magical monk.
“Umm, Sir -- Mr. Bandhit --”
“ ‘Professor’ is fine.”
“Right. Professor, I don’t understand; why did you have to go through all that with Uncle Vernon, instead of just telling him who you were?”
“In my tradition, Harry, it’s considered a good deed if you give other people a chance to do good deeds; we say, it gives you the opportunity to ‘make merit.’ Back home, I would just walk about with my bowl, and people would give me food if they wanted to be charitable; I wouldn’t say, ‘Food please, I’m hungry,’ because then they would feel obligated, and they wouldn’t gain as much merit.”
“So you were trying to give my uncle a chance to be generous?” Harry asked.
On any previous day, Harry would probably have felt nothing but amusement at the thought of the monk pursuing this impossible dream, and satisfaction at seeing Uncle Vernon finally put firmly in his place. But Harry’s talk the other day with Lily was still fresh in his mind, and so he thought of the Dursleys’ right to their own way in their own homes.
“But Professor, you ended up forcing him, threatening him.”
“I know,” said Bandhit, “and that means I will lose considerable merit myself. A monk should never use force like that.”
Bandhit saw Harry frown, and tried to reassure him:
“Don’t concern yourself about that, Harry. I think I have a fair amount of merit stored up already. Your uncle will not bankrupt me.” Bandhit smiled broadly at Harry. “Though perhaps in the next life I will have to come back as a flobberworm.”
“Professor, I wasn’t thinking of -- sorry, but I wasn’t thinking about you, I was thinking, it isn’t right for you to be forcing your way into a Muggle’s home by threatening him with magic.”
“No, Harry, it isn’t right. But it is as I said to your uncle; many lives might depend on your learning some mental defenses.”
Right, thought Harry, Occlumency.Dumbledore says I have to learn it. Harry was tired of “have to.”
“Sir, I can’t let you do this. I’ll talk to my uncle. I’ll explain how important it is that I learn this defense. But I’m going to leave it up to him, and if you insist on coming in even if he doesn’t want you in, I won’t do the lessons. There has to be someplace else we could do it.”
Bandhit considered this for several moments.
“You are very determined about this, Harry.”
“Yes I am. It has to do with something -- someone -- very important to me. I’d rather not say... well, I guess if you’re performing Legilmency, you’ll find out anyway.”
“Don’t worry about that, we aren’t going to be doing Legilmency and Occlumency; not the way you’ve been learning it.”
“What will you be teaching then, Professor?”
“Several things: meditation, recognition, some other exercises.”
“And this is to stop Voldemort from messing with my mind?”
“Part of it is for that, part is to help you deal with the death of your godfather and other matters -- Dumbledore said he couldn’t tell me all about these other matters.”
Harry started to build up a head of steam once more over Dumbledore’s presumption, though the cycle of resentment was actuallybeginning to seem a bit tedious and futile to him already.
“I know that you and Professor Dumbledore had a quarrel,” Bandhit said, interrupting Harry’s brooding, and reached into his robes. “Dumbledore said to give you this letter.” Harry took it and read:
Dear Harry; I know it will be very difficult right now for you to look with favor on any project originating with myself, but I beg you to try giving Professor Bandhit a fair opportunity; let him prove that his very formidable skill and learning can assist you in developing your own strengths and skills. Please take seriously the possibility that this assistance, this improvement, could become crucial in time.
Harry thought for a moment that he heard his father’s voice once again: “In other words, Harry: don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.”
As he promised, Harry told his uncle it was his choice whether to allow the wizard monk to enter the house; to his surprise, Vernon only gave a definitive agreement when Harry said he would be forced to leave the house if Bandhit were banned. Perhaps Vernon thought his family would lose its own “blood protection” against Voldemort’s forces if Harry abandoned Privet Drive. (Harry wasn’t sure himself whether the protection worked both ways.) Over the succeeding days and weeks Harry began to build some rapport with the visiting monk. He did not learn Occlumency, but the methods of concentration he practiced with Professor Bandhit worked to the same purpose by allowing him to spot the look and feel of a projected illusion, so he would not be taken in by it. When Harry examined (in Bandhit’s pensieve) his memory of the vision of Sirius being tortured, he was shocked by how many vacancies it held; the halls and doors of the Department of Mysteries looked less like the real department he remembered than like an unfinished theatrical representation of it, sculpted out of balsa wood. Reality was something much deeper and fuller.
Harry expected Bandhit to use this opportunity to pursue his second mission: therapy for the poor traumatized youth. To Harry’s relief, Bandhit did not offer any words of Eastern wisdom on the topic of the wheel of fate, or make any attempt to prove that Sirius’ death fit into any great cosmic scheme. He did say that regular sleep and exercise were useful, in his experience. Eventually Harry became comfortable enough with his trainer/counselor to bring up his feelings about Sirius himself.
“One thing that really tears at me,” Harry told the monk, “is the idea that when we saved him, all that we did -- we gave a man back his life, after it had been stolen from him by that traitor bastard and by the sodding... self-satisfied... fools at the Ministry. And to do it, we had to do things that nobody would believe, even wizards -- a couple of thirteen year olds, we turned back time, we turned back a hundred Dementors with a spell that shouldn’t have been; it came from nowhere, you know -- I couldn’t have done it unless I knew I could do it, and I knew I could do it because I saw myself doing it, so how did the ‘me’ I saw doing it do it? If I’m making sense, sir --”
“Yes, Harry, I get the idea,” Bandhit said.
“So it wasn’t just doing magic; that was creating something out of nothing. That was... a miracle. And after all that, to have him die--” Harry breathed deeply. “To have him die because of my stupid--” He closed his eyes tightly and pressed his hand against them. “This big miracle was all for nothing,” Harry finished, and then took some minutes to calm himself.
“You can’t say it was for nothing, though,” Bandhit finally replied. “You gave him two years of life.”
“Not much of a life.”
“He got to know that James and Lily’s son, his godson, knew the truth about him.”
“Do you think that makes it all right, makes it worth it, sir?”
“I’m sure it was a moment of great joy for him,” the Professor answered. “It’s one you gave him, and he could hold it again and again over those two years; the two years you also gave him. Is that enough to balance out the suffering before, the premature death?” Bandhit paused to consider the question. “I know three points of view,” the monk continued, “on how long you need to make life worthwhile. One answer is, that unless we live eternally, we have nothing; because anything finite, divided by infinity, equals nothing.
“Another answer is, any one moment of good that we add to life, that is infinity; infinity means ‘not calculable’ and we can’t calculate the value of a moment of good. So it doesn’t matter whether we have that for a second or for a million years or forever.”
“So,” Harry said, “that’s the way I should look at, what happened, isn’t it?”
“You should hear all points of view first,” Bandhit admonished.
“Sorry, Professor. What’s the third view?”
“That’s the view we take in my tradition. We say, the greatest good fortune is not to live the longest, or to try to live forever, but to avoid being born at all.” Harry’s expression must have communicated his astonishment at this. “When you get to be my age,” Bandhit said with a smile, “this may make more sense to you.”
“I hope I don’t live that long then,” Harry blurted out, and immediately felt mortified at having spoken so bluntly and disrespectfully. Bandhit didn’t seem offended, though; he seemed to be quietly pondering Harry’s statement.
“I think,” Bandhit finally declared with very sober mien, “that if you follow your path carefully, with the right dedication, you may very well have your hope fulfilled.”
It took a moment for the implication of Bandhit’s statement to hit Harry, but when it did, he found himself laughing almost uncontrollably. “I’ll try,” Harry finally got out, then had to cough and try to settle himself... “I’ll try to justify your faith in me, sir.”
The last stage in Professor Bandhit’s course in mental discipline involved getting Harry to identify, and begin to control, warring elements within his own psyche. Bandhit warned his pupil that the beginning of this process was deeply disturbing in what it revealed about the contents of one’s mind. “I’m going to perform a spell,” the monk explained to the seated pupil, “which gives form to your will, your desires. All of us have many desires, so you will see many beings. Mostly, they take animal shape; you’ll recognize them when you see them. They’ve been part of your mind, part of your dreams, all your life.”
Harry nodded understanding.
“But even though you’ve lived with them,” Bandhit continued, “you probably don’t accept, acknowledge them -- how many there are, how strong, how terrible. People sometimes faint, sometimes get sick. So I’ll ask, ‘are you ready?’ and you’ll say yes; but you aren’t ready. That’s OK, though, you’ll learn. So,” the monk said with a disarming smile, “are you ready, Harry?”
Harry tried to smile in return, and nodded assent. Upon this,Bandhit aimed his wand at his pupil’s head and incanted some words in Sanskrit.
First came the snakes, dozens of them, undulating through the air and hissing in their secret language a message of vengeance to come after being trodden on so long, opening and snapping their jaws and leaving beads of venom behind, which gathered and swirled into a little sea of poison;
then the wolves padding ominously back and forth, red-eyed and rabid, turning their mad, baleful glares left and right as they stalked frantically for throats to tear out;
and last a pack of hyenas, drowning out the wolf howls with their own hysterical yells, rolling all over one another sniffing for mates and snarling threats at rivals.
Finally no more beasts emerged from Harry’s mind, but those that had were enough to crowd one another into every crevice of the room. Harry looked on, sickened and appalled, at the creatures within him, which were now staring back at their creator with looks of mockery and howling and hissing defiance at him.
As he was wondering how he could ever face his friends again, Harry heard Bandhit speaking to him:
“You’re an extraordinarily innocent young man, Harry.”
Harry could hardly believe he had heard right. The monk continued: “When my instructor performed this spell on me the first time, oh what came out...I didn’t stop screaming for two weeks.”
“But now, sir, you don’t... have all that in your head anymore?”
“Oh yes,” the monk replied, “they’re all still there. Now, let me show you another side of your mind. This you might like better.”
Bandhit performed another incantation, and Harry closed his eyes, hoping to behold, when he opened them, a pride of phoenixes and a herd of unicorns. Some seconds passed, and Harry heard his instructor speaking rapidly and excitedly to himself in some language unknown to him -- the monk’s native language, presumably. When he opened his eyes, Harry saw Bandhit staring at something too small to make out at first glance. Harry focused on the object of Bandhit’s attention: it was a little faceted crystal, about the size of a grape.
“Oh, my... well, well, well,” Bandhit said. “So it’s true,some things don’t change, even after thousands of years. Even if the species changes.... This is an honor I didn’t expect.” Harry would have thought this some kind of joke if not for the fact that the monk seemed rapt; he was examining the little grape with the eye of a gem appraiser who had found some long-lost stone of legend. “So, Harry,” Bandhit continued, turning to Harry with a triumphant grin, “I understand you love to fly, you took to the air like it was your natural element. Have you ever read the Ramayana? No, of course, they don’t teach magical classics anymore, too busy showing you how to change porcupines into pincushions. Pardon me, old man talking....”
Harry felt disconcerted at the sight of his usually tranquil instructor seeming to ramble so uncontrollably, and tried changing to a safe subject. “Where did you go to school, Professor?”
“I didn’t go to wizarding school, Harry, I didn’t need to learn how to curse people. I had private lessons from a monk who was older than I am now.”
“What did you learn from him, sir?”
“How not to curse people.”
The monk returned his attention to the small crystal floating some feet away. An idea occurred to him. “I wouldn’t ordinarily do this,” he said to his pupil, “but watch, watch what will happen when I...” Bandhit raised his wand and performed another spell, which -- to Harry’s horror -- dissolved the barriers separating the snakes, wolves and hyenas from the little gem. He didn’t know what the thing was, but if it was somehow the part of his mind opposite to the fanged creatures, he didn’t want the beasts to have a go at it.
Instantly the creatures were all over the crystal, and Harry cringed as he heard a bedlam of hisses, barks and snarls and saw a ferocious contest among the psychic cannibals to become the first to chew the little object up. But one by one, the animals which had made it to the crystal were breaking off and advancing to the rear, putting up howls and hisses of pain as they went. Harry could see that all of them were missing one or more teeth. The feeding frenzy gradually turned into a retreat, with only the occasional hyena, wolf or snake making a dash at the crystal, attempting to chew or swallow it, invariably breaking its tooth or jaw in the process and whimpering off into a corner.
Bandhit banished the creatures, leaving the little grape thing floating by itself, and gestured to Harry to come nearer to it. When he had almost pressed his nose on the crystal he could tell that for all the poison that had been spit onto it and all the claws and teeth that had torn into it, this little piece of his own mind was somehow unbroken, unstained, and unscratched. If anything, it seemed just a little brighter.
“Sir, what do you think -- what does this mean?”
“I think, Harry, that I will give you the opportunity to gain the merit of finding that out yourself.”
Harry felt a spasm of frustration -- yet another mentor stepping back, leaving Harry to deal with things himself -- but that settled quickly.