Author's Notes: Thanks go to my beta and to all those who sent feedback about the original draft of the fic at schnoogle or on my LJ. Your help is greatly appreciated.
Gold Tinted Spectacles
Chapter 16 - Nerves
Harry knew he was being ridiculous, but when Draco had told him about Hilde he'd been incredibly nervous. Then Dumbledore's note had arrived asking if they were both available for a joint meeting in the evening and he'd become even more anxious. Somehow facing an expert on his condition was worse than anything that had gone before. Harry found himself asking stupid questions such as: Was he what he was supposed to be like? Was he doing anything wrong? And just about every other doubt about his predicament that he could imagine.
Draco had rolled his eyes and asked Harry not to think so loud in the normal sarcastic manner he used when the Hecatemus was being an idiot. This didn't help Harry stop being a twit, but it made him feel a little better since someone had confirmed that that is exactly what he was doing. By the time the hour of the meeting arrived Harry wanted to run and hide.
[Harry,] Draco said very firmly as they made their way to the guest tower where Hilde was staying, [you're unique. Even if the Ministry did have some fantastical set of measurements Hecatemae were supposed to live up to, they'd have to throw them away when it came to you. Besides, I told you what Hilde said, she was amazed we're out of a warded room.]
[I can't help it,] Harry replied fretfully, [she knows more about what I'm supposed to be than I do. I feel like she's going to dissect me.]
They were walking down a mostly empty corridor and Draco stopped, turned him and gave Harry an appraising look. Then, much to the growing embarrassment of a third year Ravenclaw who Harry could see coming from ahead of them, Draco kissed his soul mate on the nose.
[She's nice,] Draco said firmly, [and I won't let her dissect you.]
That rather shocked Harry out of his anxiety for a moment as his lover turned back in the correct direction and began walking again, pulling him along by the hand.
[Draco,] Harry said as they started moving, [did you just call someone nice? Have you traced her family history back four generations or something?]
The Slytherin glanced at him with a raised eyebrow at the touch of sarcasm in Harry's inner voice.
[I have on occasion actually liked people,] Draco replied coolly, [and I said she was nice, I didn't say I trusted her.]
[I don't think we have the same definition of nice,] Harry decided before going back to worrying.
Draco did not have to drag him up the stairs in the guest tower, but Harry did hang back as his soul mate knocked on the door of the room to which they had been asked come. It wasn't even as if he didn't know what to expect: Draco had freely shared his memories with him and he was fully aware of what he would see when the entrance opened for them.
"Ah, there you are, Gentlemen," Dumbledore's cheerful tones greeted as he pulled back the oak door. "Do come in."
Harry entered tentatively, holding tightly to Draco's hand and trying not to let his complete panic show on his face. Hilde was sitting on a chair on the other side of the room, but the moment she laid eyes on him she rose to her feet, a most excited look on her face.
"Harry, this is Hilde," the headmaster introduced.
For a moment Harry thought the woman was going to bound forward, but she bounced on the soles of her feet and beamed at him instead.
"I'm so pleased to meet you, Mr Potter," Hilde said and her enthusiasm reminded Harry of some of the Hufflepuffs he knew.
"Harry," he said automatically.
It did not escape him that even though the woman appeared terribly excited she did not make a move towards him: she even kept her hands clasped in front of her. It was a relief that she appeared to know that he would find anything else a little uncomfortable.
"I'm so sorry if I appear a little over exuberant," Hilde told him with a sheepish grin, "but I never really believed I would have a chance to meet someone of Hecatemae origin, and one so unique as yourself at that."
Harry's mind decided that yes she definitely made him think of a Hufflepuff.
"Umm, ah, don't worry about it," he said, a little awkwardly.
It wasn't that Hilde didn't seem pleasant; it was just Harry found her enthusiasm embarrassing.
"Why don't we all sit down," Dumbledore decided with a smile. "I rescued some very fine macaroons from the staff room and it would be a shame to waste them."
[She's not what I expected,] Harry admitted to his soul mate silently. [What you showed me wasn't like this.]
[Hilde does rather seem to be wetting her knickers over you,] Draco returned in an amused tone. [I wonder if she wants to have your children, Potter.]
[Shut up, Malfoy,] he replied lightly.
"Tea all round?" the headmaster asked in his normal manner.
It took a few minutes to arrange, but quite quickly they were all holding teacups and macaroons. Harry was not sure if he could swallow anything, let alone a coconut cake, but he left it sitting on his saucer anyway.
"How was Quidditch practice, Harry?" Dumbledore asked conversationally.
"What?" the Hecatemus asked at the unexpected question. "Oh, fine thank you. Spari will give the Slytherin Seeker a good run for his money tomorrow. She's nervous, but I think she'll cope. Shame we didn't have longer to train together, given a chance she could be stunning in the air."
"I have heard you're a very good flyer yourself, Harry," Hilde joined the conversation with less excess energy than she had shown before. "Professor Dumbledore tells me you've been playing for your house since your first year. When I was at Hogwarts a first year in the team was unheard of."
"I know my way around a broom," Harry replied modestly, "I like to fly. Um, so you went to Hogwarts too?"
Hilde nodded sagely.
"Best school in the world," she said resolutely. "I never made the Quidditch team though, sport is not my area."
The curiosity tickled at the back of his brain, but Harry didn't know if he should ask the question that leapt into his head. In the end he just plunged ahead.
"If you don't mind me asking," he said with a quizzical frown, "were you a Hufflepuff?"
Hilde beamed at him at cheerfully.
"Why, yes I was," she said brightly, "let me guess, my staid and sedate manner gave me away."
Harry couldn't help smiling at that: Hilde was very likable.
"My associates are all ex-Ravenclaws or similar," she confided after taking a sip of her tea, "and they despair of me, but when the possibility of a field assignment came up they were all reluctant to leave their books and I had my application on my department head's desk before the ink was dry."
"What department is that?" Harry asked curiously.
"Hecatemae Affairs," Hilde replied openly.
Harry felt a little shocked, he had had no idea there was a section of the Ministry dedicated to what he was.
"There's a whole department?" he couldn't help himself; he had to ask.
"Oh yes, there are ten of us at the moment," the woman told him with a smile
There was of course one obvious question left and Harry hesitated, but found himself asking anyway.
"What on earth do you all do?" it seemed incredible that ten people could be occupied when most of the time there wasn't even a live Hecatema to deal with.
It occurred to Harry after he had said it that if taken the wrong way his question might be insulting, but it was too late to take it back.
"Mostly we research," Hilde said, not offended in the least. "The Hecatemae of recent centuries have been quite well documented, but further back things are a little vague. We gather as much information as we can and make sure that we're prepared to help any child train. At the moment the others are rewriting the testing regulations to include male children as well as female. One of your predecessors actually predicted there would be a Hecatemus one day, but no one believed her. She was two hundred and seventy five at the time and her soul mate had just died so you can understand the department's reluctance to take the prophecy seriously."
Harry was choking on his tea: Draco slapped him on the back helpfully.
"Sorry," he apologised as he managed to breathe again, "I thought you said two hundred and seventy five."
Hilde smiled and nodded.
"I did," she replied cheerfully. "Caitlyn Mugwort I believe her name was. She died soon after she made the prediction: a shame really by all accounts she was an incredible woman. If it hadn't have been for the accident that killed her bond mate her contemporaries believed that she would have made it well into her three hundreds rather than her somewhat average life span."
Harry knew wizards and witches could live a long time, but over three hundred years seemed a little excessive. He went over everything he had read about Hecatemae over the past weeks and tried to figure out if he should know this; he came to the conclusion that it was one of those facts that people in the wizarding world just seemed to know and expected everyone else to know as well.
"People live that long?" Harry asked eventually.
"Hecatemae do, Harry," Dumbledore explained with a smile, "and of course their soul mates; a wizard's lifespan is roughly equivalent to his underlying power since magic prolongs life. You are connected to the raw power around us all which will give you a very long life, baring accidents of course."
[And psychotic Death Eaters,] Draco added dryly.
[You knew this didn't you?] Harry said, still a little shocked.
[Yes,] his soul mate returned, [I'm sorry it's just one of the things we learn, like wizards use wands. It never occurred to me that you wouldn't know.]
[It didn't occur to the authors of the books I've been reading either,] Harry replied. [Three hundred: That's nearly four natural human life spans.]
[We need to get you some better books,] Draco decided firmly.
When Harry had convinced his mind to accept that he could live for over three hundred years, he let his eyes wander back to the other two people in the room. He wished for once that his Muggle upbringing would not leave him ten seconds behind everyone else.
"If you don't mind me asking," Hilde said with a rather intense curious look in her eyes that reminded Harry sharply of Hermione, "how did you learn to shield so quickly? The scenarios we ran at the department estimated a much longer training period."
A gleam appeared in Draco's expression to match Hilde's and the feeling of glee that shot through the Slytherin made Harry very suspicious.
"Positive reinforcement," his lover said brightly.
The Hecatemus felt his cheeks go red and heat up as he realised what Draco was alluding to.
"Really?" the woman asked obviously interested. "What kind of positive reinforcement?"
Draco grinned and Harry sent him a glare: Dumbledore's eyes were sparkling with mischief.
[Don't you dare,] Harry warned. He still wasn't used to his lover's casual attitude to talking about sex.
In Harry's world there were people you could talk about sex with and people you couldn't, and in Draco's there did not seem to be a division, especially if they blushed well. His soul mate looked at him innocently and then opened his mouth, at which point Harry pounced and clamped his hand over his lover's lips.
Hilde looked a little startled by the action and Harry gave her rather a weak smile.
"Um," was the most coherent explanation he managed.
After a couple of seconds in this rather awkward tableau with Hilde looking at him oddly her eyes opened slightly and understanding dawned.
"Oh," she said, her face breaking into a surprising grin, "that type of positive reinforcement. I shall not pry further, but definitely an after bonding technique wouldn't you say?"
Harry knew when he was being teased and he let go of Draco and sat back down in his chair heavily: he was doomed he just knew it.
"Sorry, Harry," Hilde said with a sympathetic smile, "I remember what it was like to be seventeen."
"He'll be fine," Draco said unrepentantly, but reached out for Harry's hand anyway, "Harry just has these attacks of Gryffindor bashfulness. I'll train him out of them eventually."
Harry had no choice but to smile at that; he could appreciate it even if he was the butt of the joke. At least the embarrassment appeared to be over for now. Hilde reached down into a bag that was sitting next to her chair and brought out a small box.
"In apology, I have something for you, Harry," the petite woman said warmly. "Draco mentioned you have some trouble in crowds, which is probably to do with your focus. It'll take time to learn the control you'll need, but I think this will help in that aim."
She put the box on the table as Dumbledore helpfully levitated the tea things out of the way, and Harry found himself leaning forward to see before he really thought about it. Draco was right there with him and Harry could tell his soul mate was as interested as he was. However, when Hilde opened the box lid which split into two parts the Slytherin felt oddly disappointed.
"It looks like a kaleidoscope," Draco commented, his voice neutral.
The small crystal sitting on a bed of red satin did not look like any kaleidoscope Harry had ever seen, but he didn't comment.
"Why hasn't it moved yet?" his lover asked, obviously curious.
"Well it is based on the same principle as a kaleidoscope," Hilde said cheerfully, "but the spells are slightly different. It's called a Prisma and it does not automatically move, the user has to make it."
Harry was becoming more confused by the second and decided that he needed an explanation before things became any more complicated.
"Sorry," he said before either Draco or Hilde could continue their discussion, "but what is a kaleidoscope? The ones I've seen before look nothing like that."
Draco was faster than the Hecatemae expert and he sent Harry a whole stream of images of a small box like the one on the table with the crystal hovering above it giving out fabulous patterns and colours.
[It's a child's toy,] his soul mate finished helpfully.
"Oh I see," Harry said aloud, "it does look the same, doesn't it."
Hilde had the vaguely adoring look back in her expression when he faced her again, but as soon as he met her gaze she smiled and it was gone. Harry was reminded that this was probably as weird and wonderful for the Ministry employee as it was for him.
"So how do you make this one move?" Harry asked quickly.
"Meditative focus," Hilde told him cheerfully. "You put your hands either side of it like this," she demonstrated, "and then you concentrate. The sharper your focus the steadier and more elaborate the movements of the crystal will become and the more complex patterns it will produce. The visual feedback makes it much easier to assess your own progress. It was designed by Portia Zola last century specifically to work with Hecatemae minds. Those of us with average brains can get something out of these, but from what I'm given to understand they're only spectacular with Hecatemae."
Harry was very curious and itching to try the new device, but he was also hesitant: he did not want to make an idiot of himself.
"Would you like me to demonstrate?" the woman asked as if she knew exactly how he was feeling.
"Please," Harry admitted before his nerves could get the better of him.
Hilde settled herself squarely in her chair and put her hands either side of the device once more. Her face took on a remarkably serious expression and Harry fixed his eyes on the crystal. At first nothing happened and then suddenly the clear cut stone twitched and Harry found himself smiling for no apparent reason.
Very slowly and more than a little unsteadily the focal stone rose into the air and came to a stop in an almost vertical position. In the centre of the crystal a blue light appeared and slowly made its way towards the edges of the stone in small tendrils. When the luminescence burst out of its container the crystal began to spin and, in doing so, it left trails of blue light behind it. Harry was fascinated, even if the movement of the stone was a little jerky and uneven, the whole thing was beautiful.
Eventually the crystal slowed and lowered back to the box at which point Hilde gave a self-satisfied sigh.
"That was lovely," Harry said quietly with a little awe in his voice.
"Would you like to try?" the woman offered and pushed the box towards his side of the table.
Harry looked at Draco, still a little unsure and his soul mate smiled.
[I'm sure you can do it,] he said supportively.
Not sure quite what he was doing, Harry glanced at Hilde and then placed his hands either side of the box as she had done.
"Now just focus on the stone," the woman encouraged gently. "Try and think of nothing else."
The problem was Harry's mind was not a quiet place: his brain was concentrating on several things at the same time. He had to maintain his shield constantly even through much of that was instinctive now, and focusing on one single thing was nearly impossible. For a frustrating few seconds he stared at the stone and absolutely nothing happened. Then Draco gently placed a hand on Harry back and suddenly clarity occurred.
The crystal leapt off its silken bed into the air and began to spin instantly. All sorts of colours flowed out of it sending what looked like tiny fireworks into the surrounding area. It was incredible and it filled Harry with a simple joy. He became completely captivated with it and his eyes would not leave the crystal at all.
[Let it go, love,] Draco's voice sounded in his mind, [put it back. That's enough for now.]
At his lover's insistence the Gryffindor let the stone fall back into the box and blinked to bring reality back into focus.
"Wow," was his undisguised opinion on the matter.
"I quite agree," said Hilde with a smile. "I don't think you're going to have any problem with this, Harry."
The young man smiled back and realised that his nervousness was completely gone. He was pretty sure he liked this rather strange woman.
[I told you she was nice,] Draco said smugly.
End of Chapter 16
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