A/N Thanks to Faelaern and Jo Wickaninnish for the beta reads. Thanks to Julu and JKR's website for the Chrysalis Charm idea. Peas and carrots first directed me to the alchemy symbolism in HP. Thanks to Nic83 for cheerfully Brit picking. I guess it takes a village to write fan fiction!
"Baby" Norbert, surrounded by handlers, strained at his ropes and scorched a 20 foot blackened path in the tall grass. Fortunately, he hadn't seen his "mummy" yet.
"And we thought Grawp was bad," Ron murmured.
Hagrid shook his head at the mention of Grawp. "I never thought 'ter see the day-but Grawpy is afraid of dragons. He's off in the forest hidin'. Can't coax him home for nothin'."
"There's an ill wind . . ." Ron said under his breath. Harry and Hermione chuckled and backed up a bit when Norbert turned in their direction. Through the mist, they saw the shadowy shapes of the handlers putting a muzzle on the beast. When that task was done, one of the wizards strode towards them.
"Hey! It's Charlie!" Ron yelped in surprise.
Hagrid was beaming. "Thought he'd surprise 'ye."
Although Ron was a head taller than Charlie, he easily put Ron in a headlock and affectionately ruffled his hair. "I can hardly reach you-what's Mum feeding you?" He released a red-faced, smiling Ron.
"Harry, Hermione." He shook their hands with his strong grip. "Good to see you again. Is Norbert going to be your special project this year?"
"I hope not," Hermoine said weakly. And then realized what she had said. "Whatever Hagrid decides," she added hastily.
"Nah," Hagrid interjected. "I want you ter pick what you're interested in. Sixth year you have a lot of leeway."
"I think my leeway will be as far from dragons as I can get," Ron muttered.
"Why doesn't anyone else in the family like dragons?" Charlie asked, shaking his head.
"Maybe because we're not mental," Ron said.
Charlie laughed. "That's debatable. I wouldn't worry about studying dragons. They aren't all staying."
"Where are they going?"
"The Ministry, in its infinite wisdom, thinks that dragons will be a great deterrent to the Death Eaters. What they can't seem to understand is that not every dragon can be a guard dragon-they're kind of like Trolls that way."
"Except Trolls can't burn your building down when they sneeze," Ron pointed out.
"Is he always this mouthy?" Charlie asked the group with a grin.
Hagrid looked downcast at the thought of losing all his lovely dragons. "But we still get ter keep four of 'em-right?"
"Four that can thrive in this climate. Some winter over better than others." Charlie glanced back at Norbert. "I'd say this one would be fine here."
Hagrid looked overjoyed at this news, but Harry couldn't see why Hagrid was worried about Norbert in the first place; it didn't look as if a blizzard and a hailstorm of Stunners would faze him a bit.
Hagrid wandered off to check on the other groups, so they were able to spend the rest of class talking to Charlie, who wanted all the news about his siblings.
"So how's Ginny?" he asked.
"Fine," Harry said without thinking.
They all turned to stare at him. He could feel the heat in his face. "I, er-just saw her." And kissed her, he thought.
Ron and Hermione were both hiding smiles. Charlie looked at him narrowly, in an uncanny imitation of Mrs. Weasley. "Oh. I'll try to see her after supper. We're leaving first thing in the morning."
"And taking the loud ones with you?" Hermione asked hopefully.
"And taking a few with me," Charlie agreed. "I should be popping in a few times this term. I'm going to be all over Britain, monitoring the dragons."
As they headed back to the castle, Hermione was still fretting over what their Magical Creature project should be.
"Lavender and Parvati will pick centaurs-I reckon," Ron said.
"They can have them," Hermione said with a shudder.
"Yeah, it's not as if they can just follow Firenze around all day."
"I vote for Flobberworms," said Harry.
"We've done that."
"Diricawls?" Ron suggested.
"They would be such a pain to follow around since they Apparate at the first sign of danger."
"Flobberworms," Harry said again.
"You're not helping!"
"Ok, I'm going to regret this," Ron said with a sigh. He stopped in the middle of the path and looked at both of them.
"Well, what about studying House Elves? You seem really keen on them, Hermione-and really there isn't that much known about them. I mean, your research could actually amount to something."
Hermione's face lit up. Seeing her look so excited and happy made Harry realize just how long it had been since he had seen her look like that. She did have a rough summer, he thought with a pang.
"Oh, Ron that is the best idea!" And to Harry's surprise, she dropped her bag on the wet ground and hugged Ron around the waist. To Harry's further surprise, Ron hugged her back with his one free hand.
"I'm going to regret this," he said with a flushed face.
"No you won't," Hermione said, pulling away a little to look up at him. "This will be a way for all of us to understand the House Elves. Then you'll see the wisdom of S.P.E.W."
"Hermione," Ron said in a warning tone, " that's the point. To understand them. Not to make them understand us. After we've spent time with them, S.P.E.W. may or may not be a good idea."
"You're right," Hermione declared. "Oh, I'm so excited." She bent to pick up her books.
"I'm going to draw up some observation sheets right now, so we can have Hagrid approve them right away." She practically skipped off to the castle.
Harry looked at Ron. "I still think we should have done Flobberworms."
"Too right," Ron said.
After supper Harry walked to Professor Dumbledore's tower for his extra lessons with some trepidation. He hadn't been in his office, or talked privately with the Headmaster, since Sirius's death last term.
A commotion down the corridor caught his attention. It was Theodore Nott, the new Slytherin Prefect, scolding a group of younger boys who looked like they were trying to sneak back into the castle past their curfew.
"The grounds are not safe for anyone-even brave Gryffindors," he said sarcastically, "unless you're well-versed in dragon-taming."
"Why should we listen to you?" taunted one of the boys. "You're not our Prefect-besides who is going to believe anything you say? Everyone knows your Dad's a traitor to the Ministry and so are you."
"Wilson! Shut it!"
To Harry's complete surprise, Ron came striding over to the group, looking grim. "He's a Hogwarts Prefect, and you are out of bounds, so he has every right to report you."
The boy wasn't backing down that easily. "He's a traitor! And a Slytherin-I'm not listening to him!"
"Then listen to me." Ron's ears were a fiery red. "Ten points from Gryffindor and I'm reporting all of you to McGonagall."
The boys gaped at him.
"Back to the tower--now," he said through clenched teeth.
Theodore Nott looked at Ron appraisingly. "You denied me a chance to take points from Gryffindor, Weasley."
Ron's mouth was a straight white line. "Sorry to spoil your fun, Nott," he said and swung away.
Harry looked at his watch and realized that he was going to be late if he didn't hurry. As he quickened his pace he wondered if Ron would tell him about that little episode with Nott. Somehow he didn't think Ron could explain why he had been "matey" with a Slytherin-no matter how short the duration.
"Harry, come in and sit down please," Dumbledore said. "I'm sure you're wondering what sort of lessons I've arranged for you and why."
Harry nodded, noticing the portraits were all awake this evening and watching him closely.
"I want you to learn to Apparate and Disapparate as soon as possible. Even though missing the Hogwarts Express was caused by innocent circumstances, it made me realize that you need to be able to travel quickly. We can't have you so alone again."
"Ginny was with me." This over-concern for his safety was starting to irritate him. They had done just fine, in his opinion.
"I'm glad she was," he replied looking at Harry with his bright blue eyes. "I'm glad you didn't have to spend time in Sirius's house alone."
Harry wondered if he should put up the Occlumency barriers, and then realized that Dumbledore would never betray his privacy like that. He could trust him not to probe. Besides he probably got quite the story from Phineas, Harry thought. He glanced at the portrait. Phineas raised his eyebrows but said nothing.
"Sir, I-" Harry didn't know how to go on. He wanted to apologize for losing his temper, but he didn't want to apologize for how he felt at the time.
Dumbledore held up his hand. "You shouldn't apologize or explain away grief, Harry. Like I said, I have plenty of possessions. I am very grateful you have forgiven me and still feel you can trust me after the mistakes I made."
"Let's say no more, unless there is something you feel you need to say?"
"I just-I just want to know--how much danger am I in exactly? And how soon will I have to meet Voldemort-do you think?" There he had said it. He was finally voicing the worries he couldn't tell Ron and Hermione, or even Ginny for that matter-since they didn't know the answers any more than he did. Surely Dumbledore could tell him something.
Dumbledore sighed. "I don't know, to tell you the truth. We've been working overtime to keep the known Death Eaters in prison. Voldemort is not likely to make a move until he has enough followers. I'm sure recruiting is going on as we speak. Luckily, he still doesn't know the end of the prophecy, so I don't think you are his first priority right now. But I could be wrong. Have you had any more dreams connecting you?"
He nodded. "Harry, I want you to have a way to leave Hogwarts. As you know, you can't Apparate or Disapparate from the Hogwarts grounds. Only House Elves, Goblins, and a few magical creatures can do such a thing. Yet when the Minister of Magic was going to arrest me, I was able to Apparate with Fawkes. I used his magic."
"Fawkes was able to Apparate with me because I was small enough to carry."
Harry didn't remember Dumbledore becoming tiny-he just remembered that he disappeared.
"Oh, I was still here-you just couldn't see me. My form had dissolved into something small enough for Fawkes to carry. It is somewhat advanced magic, but since you mastered the Patronus Charm in your third year, I have complete faith in your ability to perform and sustain the Chrysalis Charm."
"Chrysalis Charm," he repeated, not sure what it was exactly. What do you mean by your form dissolving?"
"When your body dissolves."
"Then what's left?" Harry asked, trying not to imagine his body melting away in a shimmer of air.
"What is my essence?"
"That is something only you can know," Dumbledore leaned forward, "something only you can discover."
His confusion must have shown on his face, because Dumbledore continued. "Harry, do you know what a chrysalis is?"
"Um . . . something like a cocoon and out of it comes a butterfly or moth or something."
"Exactly. This Chrysalis Charm creates one around you-but it is not just your body which changes-that is an easy metamorphoses. Over time you will see how your spirit evolves as well."
"Just another way to talk about your essence."
Harry was thinking furiously. "How will this help me leave Hogwarts?"
"Your owl-Hedwig is it?"
"She will have to be trained to pick up the chrysalis and transport you where you need to go. Can she Apparate?"
"I don't know."
"We'll find out. Even if she can't, she can fly you to a safe place where you can Apparate."
"How big will I be? I mean how big will the chrysalis be?" Harry asked, hoping he wasn't going to bug-sized and squashable.
"At first, probably about the size or your thumb-later on, no bigger than a seed. Your chrysalis will be black at first and then green and then white and if you are sufficiently evolved-red."
"Professor, this isn't just about a way to leave Hogwarts is it?"
Dumbledore looked at him with his clear, candid gaze, and then said gravely. "No, it's not. It's also about knowing who you really are and who you are becoming-this, I think, will be necessary in your fight with Voldemort."
Harry nodded-now it made sense. He squared his shoulders, hoping this wasn't going to be as harrowing as learning the Patronus Charm.
"At first, you will come to know what it is that has always been with you-what you have inherited, if you will. It is like the base stage in alchemy. You know from you Potions study about the basic steps of alchemy?"
Harry nodded again-Snape had scared that knowledge into them their first year.
Dumbledore told him the incantation. Harry repeated it. He felt a tight constriction in his chest, as if a fist was squeezing his heart. A thick obscuring fog rose before his eyes. Then he heard, He looks just like James, except he has Lily's eyes.
No, he thought, I don't want to dissolve-that is all I have of my parents. The magic left him and the fog cleared.
"I-I'm sorry. I couldn't do it. All I could think about was that I would lose what I have left of my parents."
"I think you'll find that there is plenty you have inherited from them besides your appearance. Remember your Patronus."
Harry tried again. He recited the incantation, concentrating on his mother, wondering what he could have possibly inherited from her. A dark smoky mist was swirling all around him. He heard her voice, but it wasn't screaming this time; it was soft and full of wonder. Oh, I love it because you gave it to me. I'll keep it forever.
He was overwhelmed at hearing his mother's voice. It felt so familiar. If she had lived, he would have brought her the childish crafts he had clumsily made in school: the lopsided valentines, the tissue paper flowers. He remembered the red paper heart Dudley had ripped on the way home. His mother wouldn't have thrown it in the bin like Aunt Petunia had done, she would have smiled in delight and said, I love it because you gave it to me.
The pressure on his chest was suffocating, as his mind struggled to understand. That incident had never happened, yet it came to him fully realized. He was both the child and the one who loved the child. How could that be? Then he realized what he had inherited from his mother. Didn't he keep all of his birthday cards and every Christmas present he had ever received? You are a sentimental pack rat, Ginny had said when she saw his room.
With that thought, he pushed the magic away. He couldn't breath anymore.
Chest heaving, he swallowed and took a deep breath. He wasn't ready to talk. "I-I just realized something-about my Mum-and me too."
"I think you've done enough for one lesson. You created a chrysalis. Did you feel your body dissolve?"
He shook his head. He hadn't felt any loss at all-in fact all he had felt was a pain in his chest.
After leaving Dumbledore's office, Harry went to directly to bed. He felt open and sad and happy all at once. For the first time he knew his mother--knew her vulnerabilities--because they were his as well. And because he knew her, he could love her as a person-not just the idea of her.
He had never liked that part of himself-that "swotty, nancy boy" side that Uncle Vernon was so quick to point out and ridicule. Having a heart so easily touched by another was not a trait to cultivate in the Dursley house. He had never said those words to anyone, but now in his mind he said them to his mother, who had gifted him with a lopsided heart, easily torn: I love it because you gave it to me. I'll keep it forever.