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The next morning Harry climbed up to the owlery and sent Hedwig off with a message. The rest of the day proceeded without incident, until finally Harry, Ron and Hermione were standing outside Professor Carstairs' office door at two minutes before seven, anxiously ready to begin their private lessons in digitomancy.

The Professor opened his door precisely at seven and greeted them cordially, inviting them in.

"I am pleased to say that Headmaster Dumbledore has given his enthusiastic approval for your lessons in digitomancy and occulomancy. He feels that the war may begin at any moment, and those skills may indeed come in handy for you. In fact, he prevailed upon me to teach him my family's techniques as well as you. He is a great magician of vast experience, and so he caught on in about five minutes once I explained the basics to him. Don't feel bad if it takes you three a bit longer to master the techniques."

"So, to work. Have a seat. You are aware that a wand serves as a focusing instrument. It also serves as an amplifier, thanks to the magical component chosen for its core, which gives each wand its special character and ability. In the absence of a wand we must accomplish the extreme degree of focus necessary purely by mental means, without any outside help. This is very difficult to do, and requires some training of the mind.

"Begin by sitting cross-legged on the floor. Best take off your shoes. Now rest the backs of your hands on your knees while making the 'okay' sign with each hand. Excellent. Now close your eyes and begin to envision the blood flowing through your veins. Imagine energy flowing from your chakhra point, inside your stomach about four inches below your navel, and along the nerve pathways to your brain. Focus now on your hands, and imagine power flowing from your brain into your hands. Your hands are beginning to tingle now as they fill with energy."

"Do we have to think happy thoughts to make this work, like conjuring up a patronus?" asked Ron.

"No, the only thing that matters is your focus on the task at hand. Blot out everything else from your mind, good and bad alike. If you are upset or angry, it will still work as long as you stay focused."

The lesson continued for quite some time, seeming more like Yoga or hypnosis than spellcasting. Ron ended up with blisters on his fingertips. Hermione asked an unending stream of questions, but was only marginally successful in trying to make the techniques work. Harry, however, had a gift for producing a corporeal patronus, and digitomancy was even easier for him, inasmuch as he did not have to force positive thoughts upon himself. Before the end of the hour he had succeeded in levitating a feather merely by pointing his finger at it and pronouncing the standard incantation: "Wingardium leviosa!" Professor Carstairs was very pleased and impressed, and promised that they would try some harder transfiguration spells in the next lesson.

Harry was asleep in his bed when Professor McGonagle gently shook his shoulder to awaken him.

"You have a visitor from London, Mr. Potter ... from Diagon Alley to be precise. He says he is coming in response to your summons, and asked me to be discrete in bringing you out to him. I am presuming that this has something to do with your Independent Study Group?" Harry nodded. "Well, be quick about it; you need your sleep," said McGonagle. "He is down at the front door."

Harry quietly pulled on his pants. Ron still appeared to be asleep. Then he retrieved a narrow cardboard box from his dresser and hopped out through the portrait hole. Ron, however, was still awake (though he'd been feigning sleep in order to listen to what McGonagle was saying to Harry). Harry proceeded down to the Hogwarts front entrance, thinking himself to be alone but actually being trailed all the way by a curious Ron, who hid in the shadows near the entrance, straining to hear what Harry and his midnight visitor were saying.

"Thanks for coming," said Harry.

"All part of our service," whispered a raspy and oddly familiar voice. "But I had to apparate into Hogsmead and walk the rest of the way here. All the spells around this place! Well, how may I assist you?" There was a momentary silence as Harry opened his box. "Oh my, Mr. Potter! You wish me to use this as ..."

"Yes," said Harry, sounding nervous that they might be overheard. "I know it can be done. I've read about it."

"You realize, of course," said the raspy voice, "that it will have to be much thicker than usual. And it will be costly... perhaps twice the normal price..."

"That's okay," said Harry. "I can afford it."

After more conversation revolving around price, a deal was struck, and the visitor left. As Harry turned to go back upstairs, Ron popped out from behind a curtain and scared Harry witless for a moment. "Sorry," said Ron. "But you know how incorrigibly curious I am. What's happening? Who was that-I couldn't see his face because his hood was up."

"It's just something kind of special that I'm working on. Couldn't trust an owl with it, even Hedwig. I should receive it back in a few days, and then I'll show you and Hermione."

"Come on, Harry, tell me now! What is it going to be?"

"I'll tell you in a few days," said Harry, with a tone of finality. "Let's get back to bed. I'm really tired."

Ron was not happy about being put off, and they didn't speak on their way back to the portrait hole. But the voice of the hooded figure had sounded very familiar; Ron mused to himself that it resembled a hoarse version of the voice of Mr. Olivander.

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